The CDC released statistics that the suicide rate in the United States has gone up 30% since the year 1999. That information and the recent high-profile suicides in the news gave me this reaction:
Totally. I get it.
The world sucks, it’s fucking hard, nothing seems fair, and a lot of times it is very difficult to see the point in any of it. I mean, what is the point? I am not sure if we ever figure out what the point is. At times, it seems like most of what we have to do all day is fucking bullshit. So why do it? Luckily, all that bullshit doesn’t stick around forever, it leaves and makes room for new bullshittier bullshit.
I am sure you have heard the catchy quote “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” People who are not in it like to feel it can all be summed up with that little bumper sticker. I remember the first time I heard it, I thought to myself “Fuck Off!”
If you dig deep enough into this blog, you will find some posts about how I hated myself as a teen and early 20-something. My thought patterns were formed through rape by grandfather, bad grades from my inability to focus my attention, and violent bullying and teasing by my classmates because I was smaller and shyer than everyone else. All that negative feedback was my only feedback, so I believed that I was a stupid, ugly, worthless faggot.
Here’s the thing: They don’t get to win. And another the thing: Fuck Everyone.
My whole situation came to a turning point when I told my father that his father had abused me. His reaction at the time seemed oddly detached and insensitive, not what I needed from my father. [After decades of hindsight and the deaths of both father and his father, I see things clearly. I wasn’t the first little boy that my grandfather raped. Sharing that information with my father brought up stuff in his life he never managed and guilt for not keeping me safe.]
The next week, my cousin Erik shot himself. My first thought was “He actually did it.” Not because I knew he was going through anything, but because I was. His contemplations were the same as mine. [He and I had once been referred to as the ‘black sheep’ of the family by his father at a large dinner where I was seated directly across and heard it, even though it wasn’t intended for my ears. A lot, or most, or everyone else in the family was quite visibly more successful than us].
There was another high-profile suicide earlier that spring. There are still candles and flowers placed on the bench in the little park next to his house where he shot himself. He has become the poster boy martyr for teenage angst for a whole new generation.
Erik took my suicide off the table. Erik saved my life. His removing himself from me hurt so much. I saw how much it hurt his whole family. I couldn’t create the hurt I was feeling inside for anyone else.
The rest of my journey to where I am today had several dead ends. I read a lot of different books about different beliefs, I tried a lot of different ways of thinking. I ended up not a Buddhist, or a believer in Jewish mysticism, or a follower of A Course in Miracles, or anything. I am a Darwinist, an Atheist, and a believer in the organic randomness of the Universe. The summer after Erik died and I told my father, I spent it alone at my other grandparent’s lake cabin. I went on long walks, I read books, I lived with myself, inside my head, alone. I would lie on the end of the dock at night and stare up at the stars and memorize their placement, close my eyes and keep their picture in my memory. That summer saved my life, it made my life. I made promises to myself that are just who I am now. I recognized my way of thinking was broken, it needed to be changed, and only I was capable of doing it in a way that would feel right. I made a promise to myself to think, then react, to always behave in a way that made me proud of the person I was, and to never think I fully understand anyone else. The transformation was not easy, or quick, or perfect. It was a daily exercise that I reset every morning.
Just like everyone, my journey out of depression is unique to me. I was able to do it through staunch stubbornness and determination. For others, different ingredients are better. The importance is finding the path and not being discouraged by a few dead ends.
Fast forward to last year. Michael killed himself. We had a 25 year friendship that started with us dating. He moved to Los Angeles to follow his dream and go to school, I ended up at Amazon in a position of being able to help him out financially. Against everyone’s advice, I cosigned a couple student loans with him. How could I not help someone achieve their dream? His expensive design school did not result in an immediate high-paying career. His depression and substance abuse, mixed with the student loan collection calls we both were getting pushed him away until we only spoke briefly about his student loans. When I learned of his death, I texted him and whoever had his belongings responded “Who is this? You’ve heard about Michael, right?” At the time of his death, my number wasn’t saved in his phone.
When anyone dies, I initially feel like I have failed them as a friend. Like somehow, I could have saved them, helped them, corrected their course. Or at least I could have made sure they knew they were loved, that they changed and influenced my life, that I am better because I knew them. I have made expressing my gratitude and appreciation for the living a daily exercise to help with this loss I experience when someone dies.
I am no where near where I want to be and not even sure where that is. Is there ever a destination or is it always just the journey? Is it always just trying to improve yourself, improve those around you, improve the world in your own way?
Here’s the thing: The trick is to keep breathing.