Suicide (Ain’t No) Solution

Where to hide, suicide is the only way out
Don’t you know what it’s really about

Ozzy Osbourne – Suicide Solution

In 1980, Ozzy Osbourne sang about deliberately drinking to death in the song Suicide Solution, from the album Blizzard of Ozz. Purportedly about the death of AC/DC singer Bon Scott, the song’s lyricist, Bob Daisley, eventually revealed it was about Ozzy Osbourne himself.

In 1986, John McCollum shot himself to death, allegedly after listening to the song. He was nineteen. The band was taken to court, and ultimately the case was dismissed; it was deemed unforeseeable that a song about suicide might incite someone to do it.

In 2017, a girl near my home in New Jersey,  Mallory Grossman, killed herself after being viciously bullied. She was twelve.

This past month, two well-regarded celebrities – Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain – ended their own lives.

And last night, I found myself wanting to join them.

Here’s the thing: the decision to end one’s life is one’s own alone. Nobody can make that decision for you. The reasons for making that decision are as varied as the colors of a rainbow, but in the end it boils down to a single feeling: despair.

John McCollum felt despair. He was certain – absolutely certain – that his life would never get better. Did Suicide Solution lead to his despair? I’m certain it didn’t, and it isn’t really clear if he even listened or paid attention to the song. He was known to be depressed, and most likely suffered from a chemical imbalance common to millions around the world.

Mallory Grossman also felt despair. She believed in her heart that her life was worth nothing, and that nothing would ever improve. Her despair was brought on by severe mistreatment by her peers; perhaps she came to believe their insults, or perhaps they crushed her soul to the point where she saw no escape. But in the end, her focus narrowed to a single solution.

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, almost certainly, also felt despair.

And so did I.

To make a long story short, I recently made a mistake regarding a family trip that cost several thousand dollars and led to us being unable to travel together. In the grand scheme of things it really isn’t a big deal, but the realization of my mistake renewed in me a deep depression. I felt it coming; I could almost see myself slipping away from the outside.

And last night, as I lay in the dark with these thoughts whirling through my mind, despair revisited me. I felt my focus narrow, a long black tunnel with only one exit. None of the solutions that my family – who were only trying to help – suggested were acceptable. I longed for escape. I was between a rock and a hard place. I wanted to go somewhere no one could ever follow me. I wanted to die.

It was a fleeting moment, withered after a night’s restless sleep, but it’s a feeling I haven’t had in a long, long time. It isn’t gone yet, but it’s simmering in the background for now. And while I can’t stop the depression, and I can’t stop the despair, I can stop short of ending my life. I can do this because I have a lifetime of experience that tells me all things pass with time. I have been here before, and I survived.

Our children, our teenagers – they don’t have this. All they know is that once they were happy, and now life is unbearable. How could you see a way out when every fiber of your being tells you nothing will ever be worthwhile again? How can you possibly weather the storm when the storm is all you know? How can you know the difference between passing rain and the end of the world?

They also don’t have a strong support network yet. When I cried out last night, literally dozens of people rallied to me. I received texts and messages from people I hardly know, offering advice and talk and a friendly ear. Knowing there are people in the world affected by me helped. Young people only have parents who don’t ‘get’ them, and friends who are too wrapped up in their own struggles to see. Very few teenagers have a rock to anchor them.

But I can promise you – I hold this in the highest regard, because I don’t make promises often – that things change. People come and go, and the terrors of your life today will only be memories tomorrow. I know the struggle is unbearable, and there will be days – weeks, or maybe years – when you simply can’t cope. When all there is to do is hide, and fuck the consequences. And that’s okay. Hide. Sleep. Weather the storm in whatever way you can.

To finish with another quote, despair is really a mistake. You can’t ever truly know what the future is going to hold. And however bleak it seems now, there will be a day when you’ll be able to look back and gather strength from the fact that you made it through. If you kill yourself … you’ll never be able to see it.

So despair is not only a kind of sin, theologically, but also a simple mistake, because nobody actually knows.
In that sense there always is hope.

Patrick Curry – Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity

If you or someone you know feels at risk of suicide, please reach out. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, talk to someone about it, and seek help.

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoRyan Olson

Self-Harm and Seeking Attention

For a long time, I tried to hide my self-harm scars. Luckily my arms are fairly hairy, so they aren’t quite as obvious as they might otherwise be. My upper arm is considerably more noticeable (the deepest scars are there), but I generally don’t wear sleeveless shirts. In fact, I used to wear long-sleeves throughout the year, which in the heat and humidity of a New Jersey summer can be pretty miserable.

I would hide my scars in the same way that I would hide the cuts themselves, back when I was actively self-harming. It was a compulsion, an addiction, and it came with questions from anyone who saw the marks. I didn’t want to talk to people, I didn’t want to interact, and I certainly didn’t want the false sympathy and blank stares from people who didn’t, and couldn’t, understand.

I don’t worry as much about it anymore; it’s been over fifteen years since I last cut myself. The scars are as healed as they’ll ever be, and what’s left (dozens of raised, deep ones; hundreds of smaller lines) are a permanent reminder of what I used to feel, and who I used to be. I’ve come to terms with it, and I no longer care what people think. In fact, as I’ve started moving into a realm where as an author of books about depression I need to more actively talk about these subjects, I find it actually helps bring light to a condition that needs desperately to be talked about more frequently.

But not everyone is like that. I know people who tattoo over their self-harm scars. I know people who simply cover them year-round. And I know people, of course, who still actively hurt themselves. And what I’ve found is that, for the most part, those who hurt themselves do it in secret. They do it surreptitiously. They do it with the hope that no one will ever find out.

I bring this up because there is a common misconception about self-harm that it is, at its root, an attention-seeking device. That the people who do it are subconsciously crying out for help, trying to get people to pay attention to them, and doing it in all the wrong ways. I actually think most of us self-harm for a very different reason.

I was never interested in attention. I never wanted people to see my cuts. I was happy if I made it through a day and no one spoke to me, or even saw me. Instead, I cut for a singular, simple reason: I needed to see blood. There was a compulsion in watching the pure white flesh beneath my skin split open, well with blood, and trickle down my arm. It was, to me, aesthetically pleasing, and felt good to watch.

Believe it or not, I didn’t particularly enjoy the pain. The pain was something to be endured for the sake of seeing the blood. After I cut, after I saw the blood, my anxiety would be reduced. My stress would be relieved. I could settle down in the comfort of my bed and sleep, pass from the world, and forget I ever existed.

Now of course, there are people who also cut for the pain. For the sensation, to relieve the numbing nothingness that is depression. Physical harm, of course, releases numerous hormones and chemicals throughout the brain and body, many of which are pain-relievers. This in itself can be an addiction. The sense of peace that comes from self-harm may easily be attributed to this.

There are people who cut because it gives them control. Too often we feel like the world around us is beyond our control, beyond our ability to influence, and hurting ourselves is something we are in control of.

And often, we can’t help it. Because it is an addiction. It becomes a compulsion, something you can’t help and can’t control. They do it day after day because, like smoking or alcohol, you simply have to.

There are also people who self-harm in other ways. Cutting is common, but there are people who burn, who scratch, who bang their head against the wall and throw themselves down stairs.

And none of this is to seek attention. Sure – there might be people who do it subconsciously because they’re not getting the attention they need from the people they need it from, but honestly, I think this falls into the minority. Most of us hurt ourselves because we want to, for ourselves. Because we have to. Because there simply isn’t any other way to cope.

Lastly, it’s also important to recognize that self-harm and suicide are not the same thing. The vast, vast majority of people who self-harm have little to no interest in actually killing themselves. Whilst I have had suicidal moments in my life, the cutting was never correlated with it. And I never cut to die.

So for all of you who self-harm, know that there are people in the world who understand. There are those of us who truly know what it’s like, and why you do it. And we understand you might not be looking for attention, or wanting to kill yourself. I can’t say I condone self-harm – I think it’s important to seek help if you can’t control it – but I understand it.

And you aren’t alone.

The Difficulty of ‘Normal’

If you were to meet me in the street, or at a party, or maybe at work, it’s unlikely you’d suspect anything. I’d seem like a bit of a hipster, long hair and beard(ish), maybe a little socially awkward, but outgoing, polite and smiling. I’d shoot the breeze, talk about little things comfortably, and most likely put you at ease.

And it’s quite possible that, at that moment in time, I might feel just like that. ‘Normal.’ Nothing wrong with me, nothing to see here.

But that wouldn’t be the deeper truth. It wouldn’t be reality. Because, of course, I suffer. I suffer from depression, from bipolar, and a chronic lack of belief in myself. And most days, it’s a struggle to find the motivation to get up in the morning, to go to work, and to do the things that are considered just that – ‘normal.’

There are two aspects of this to understand. The first is the obvious one: that people who suffer inside don’t always show it on the outside. I might be miserable, desperate and wanting to crawl into a hole, but I’ll still paint that smile on and interact, because I know how to hide. I know how to fool. There was a period when I didn’t know how to do that, and waaaay back in school everyone knew exactly who – and what – I was. I was the freak, the loner, the outcast; I was the depressed kid who cut himself and hid in the toilets.

In the many years since, I’ve honed the art of the façade to a fine skill, and rarely is there a day when I can’t make you think I’m just simply fine. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel rotten and awful inside, because I usually do. But you’d never know.

ABCB3247-E4C6-48C9-AC7C-25E7B443BB6B.jpeg

But there is a second, more subtle aspect to this duality that I think should be understood better. Sometimes – just sometimes – I really do feel okay. I feel just fine. In fact, sometimes I feel great, like I’m being productive, getting things done and making people happy. I feel like a normal person.

What I think is often misunderstood here is that when someone feels good, it’s usually taken that since that can feel that way, there’s no reason for them not to all the time. After all, there are people in the world who just feel fine every day, who weather the worst with a smile, and find the positive in every scenario.

Sometimes I even fool myself, and this is, of course, dangerous. When I’m in a high, I feel like I can do anything, accomplish anything. I’ll set myself on tasks that are impossible, make promises I can’t keep, and take risks that are far more dangerous than their reward. And sometimes, I feel so good I wonder why take my medication anymore? I clearly don’t need it – I feel fine.

Should I stop taking my medication, of course, I crash; abruptly, destructively and completely. But even if I don’t, the truth is that I can’t maintain that high forever. The period of intensity will end, and I will return to the abyss. Whether I want to or not.

This is the difficulty of ‘normal.’ A lot of people will assume that if I seem normal, I am. And worse, that if I truly feel normal, there’s no excuse for the aberrant behavior that comes with my illnesses. In the end, I can only make it through like one day at a time, and some days are simply going to be better than others.

So please don’t assume that a happy person is happy all the time; don’t think for a moment that there isn’t a raging battle deep inside them. Instead, cherish the moments of positivity that rise from the muck of despair, because they might not come again.

Photo Credit:

unsplash-logoIgor Ovsyannykov

unsplash-logoIlya Schulte

Creature Comforts

I did not have a pet growing up. My mother hates animals, and my father knew how to keep the peace. Not having a pet growing up, I didn’t know what I was missing.

When I met my wife, however, she came with a cat. His name was Shelby. This is him:

Shelby (Profile)

He was a proud, aloof, and very British cat. He liked me, but he loved my wife (he would drool when he picked him up). He was strong and independent, an outdoor cat, and fought like hell to protect his territory. But when it came time for us to leave England for the United States, we had to leave him behind. Although he went to a good friend of ours who we knew would give him a good home, it was still a sad parting. A few years later, he died.

Over here in the U.S., we were renting for quite some time, and couldn’t adopt a new pet until we were able to buy a house. When we did, it wasn’t long before another cat became part of the family: Pia. Here she is:

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She couldn’t be more different from Shelby: intensely social, very vocal, at times psychotic, and with a deep intelligence that covers knowing how to open doors to what her humans want from here at any given moment. And she adores me.

We have a routine. Every morning I pick her up and we cuddle for a few minutes. She doesn’t leave me alone until this happens. Every night when I come home, I lie on the couch and she jumps up on my chest, settling in the crook of my arm, and falls asleep for an hour or two. This happens every day without fail.

There is a point to this, too, beyond sharing essentially my entire social life (yes – two cats). In the decades since I left home, I’ve learned a great deal about myself, and about people. My day job keeps me in the service industry, and I help dozens of people a day. Often, I see people come into my store with animals: most often dogs, although the guy with the parrot is probably my favorite. I know these creatures for what they are: service animals. Some are for blind people, some are in training, but many more are therapy animals, there to help that person cope with something in their life: a great, unknown weight that drags them down and stops them from the simplest of things, like going out in public.

I feel for these people deeply, because I’m one of them. My depression, my bipolar, manifests in drawn-out waves of intensity, and there are times when I can’t get out of bed, either – never mind going out in public or making it to work. I know what it’s like.

And since getting Pia, I know exactly why these people have therapy animals. As much as they are a tool for coping with loss, trauma and mental illness, there are so much more than that: they are a symbol of something so many of us are missing in our lives.

You see, while animals most certainly possess a wide range of emotions, there is a level of self-awareness they lack. As D.H. Lawrence once said:

“A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

Animals get their love and care from others, and reciprocate in kind. Their lack of self-awareness translates into a lack of self-pity, which in turn translates to something we so desperately need: unconditional love.

Pia will love me whether I am happy or sad, high or low, ecstatic or depressed. She will love me when I’m there every day, and she’ll love me when I return from a week’s vacation. Pia’s love depends solely on how I treat her, and not on the fickle whims of human self-absorption. And why would I treat her with anything but love in return?

Whether I’m happy or depressed, Pia is a reminder that there are things in the world that are wholly good. That despite what people do to each other and have done to me, there is something – some creature – that loves me anyway.

That gives me worth when I feel worthless. It gives me hope when I’m in despair. And it gives me love when I feel abandoned by everyone around me.

So why am I telling you about my pets? Because I believe everyone in the world can benefit from socializing with the incredible creatures we share our planet with, and for those of us who struggle with our mental health, they might just change our lives.

Or maybe even save them.

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoAnete Lūsiņa

Memories and Dreams

I dream a lot. In fact, I dream almost every time I sleep.

I also sleep a lot.

Sleeping used to be the way for me to escape the awfulness of being alive, back during the darkest days of my depression. As my illness mutated and changed and I found medications to keep me balanced, the sleep followed me. I sleep at night, without difficulty. I sleep when I’m not at work. I sleep during the day, often for hours at a time. I take naps, snooze, drift off … you get the picture.

And when I sleep, the dreams come. They aren’t bad dreams; nor are they particularly good. In fact, most of my dreams involve mundane, everyday things, like brushing my teeth or driving to work. I can even remember some of them, long after the initial grogginess of waking has left me.

I am also—sometimes—aware that I’m dreaming of the dream. Not necessarily to the extent that I think to myself, “what an interesting dream”, but because the continuity of my dreams fluctuates, and when it morphs from one location to another, and one scenario to another, a part of my mind that keeps track shouts out, “this isn’t where we were just a moment ago!”

But the clarity of the dreams is, as usual, somewhat opaque. Through a fog of distance and sleep, they return to my waking mind as a faint memory of an event that may or may not have taken place. I think most dreams are this way.

But for me—perhaps because of my illness or the medications, or just because of my own perception—this becomes a difficult thing in my head. You see, I often find that I can’t distinguish between the memory of a real event and the memory of a dreaded event. When the event is terribly fantastical and otherworldly, yes—it’s easier. But since so many of my dreams involve things I actually do every day, I find I can’t recall if I actually did something or not.

This is apparently more common than I realized, but when I suggest to my wife that I definitely turned the heat down before going to bed, yet in the morning it’s still on 70°, it’s still disorienting. She appears not to suffer from this problem; nor does anyone I talk to about it.

Dreams, of course, are experiential, just as are actual events—we generally believe they are happening when we’re dreaming—but upon waking, they usually disappear rapidly, or are relegated to a memory state separate from reality. For example, I can recall a memory from very early childhood: taking a bite of a hotdog. And I remember that it was, in fact, a dream, because I remember waking up and thinking that it was funny how in my head only a moment had passed, when in the world outside the whole night had come and gone.

But I also remember images and events—great castles in the fog, ski accidents, conversations with friends—that I have no basis for comparison. These are all things that definitely might have happened because in the past I’ve seen or done all those things. Yet I can’t be certain because I so frequently dream of those things as well.

It’s disturbing to see someone at work, or in your own home, and remember some bit of knowledge about them—only to find that you don’t actually know it because you’ve never actually discussed it.

It’s equally disturbing to think you’ve driven your wife to work and returned home, only to wake up in bed. And when memories of dreams begin to intersect with memories of reality, it brings the whole nature of reality into question. What’s real? What isn’t? And what, if anything, can be trusted?

I don’t know if this is an aspect of mental illness or something that everyone experiences, but it’s disturbing nonetheless, and something I wish I had a better grasp on.

What are your thoughts? Do you remember dreams as dreams, or do you also sometimes confuse them with memories of actual events?

The Mutations of Mental Health

I read a post recently that made reference to the idea that mental health is not just something for the mentally ill to worry about, any more than physical health is only for the sick. It’s health and something that everyone has to manage for their own well-being. This is important to consider because there’s no line in the sand between the mentally well and the mentally ill; it’s a gradient in millions of colors, and your place in it can change from moment to moment.

Like many people, I first came to terms with my depression in my late teens. But there was no moment of revelation, no incident; no day that I woke up depressed, having been cheerful and happy the night before. Rather, I remember a gradual fading of interest, a sense of boredom and ennui, and a graying of the world that took place over the course of an entire year. By the time I entered my senior year of high school, I was skipping classes, staying in bed all day, and cutting myself with razors.

Now, some fifteen years later, I’m a different person. I hold a steady job, have a teenage son of my own (who thankfully isn’t showing any signs of depression yet), and have written several novels. But am I well? Oh, heavens no!

Since my teenage years, there hasn’t been a day that I haven’t felt depression of some kind. There hasn’t been a moment that I haven’t identified as depressed, or mentally unwell in some capacity. It’s simply that over the years, my depression has changed, mutated into other things, and redefined itself. Only a few years ago did I get a diagnosis of Bipolar Type II, and set myself on a path of therapy and medication to cope.

I say cope because there is no cure. There is no getting ‘better’. This is fundamental to understand. Our mental health is not defined by ‘ill’ and ‘well’. I may feel better on some days than others, but in the end what I really needed was a way to handle the incongruent messages my brain was sending me. I believe this is true of everyone, and whilst some people have coping mechanisms that work without outside aid, for many others it requires coaching, relearning, and often, medication to rebuild the pathways in our brains.

In the end, I will probably always identify as depressed. Not even bipolar, because that could change into something else down the line. But depression has been the one constant in my life for more than fifteen years, and there’s a small part of me that doesn’t want it to ever go away. But I understand now that my mental health is not fixed: it’s a fluid, ever-changing spectrum, and as it has changed over the years, it will continue to evolve in the years to come.

I just need to learn how to cope with it.

unsplash-logoLiam Welch