For the past several months, I’ve been listening to a podcast called Suicide Buddies. It’s about two comedians who research and discuss famous suicides. And they tell a lot of suicide jokes.
It’s crude. It’s not PC. But that’s my kind of humor. And I listen mostly for the great rapport between the two hosts of the podcast. Those guys just crack me up and that in itself can lighten my mood when it goes dark. The podcast is definitely not for everyone and I can see how it can be triggering for some. But they don’t make fun of suicidal people or suicide itself and certainly don’t try to trivialize it. One of their aims is to destigmatize suicide and talk about it in an open, honest, and funny way.
I think it’s safe to say most people have had suicidal thoughts in the past. But no one wants to talk about it. It’s the same reason why people don’t want to go to therapy or even discuss their problems with friends or family. They don’t want to seem crazy. No one wants to feel weird or be shunned for their innermost maladies. That’s understandable. But I’ve just never been that way.
I’ve been pretty open about my suicidal thoughts. Well, maybe suicidal is too severe of a word. I think about dying a lot. I think about being dead. A lot. There’s hardly a week that goes by that I don’t think about having my head bashed in by a heavy object or being riddled with bullets until I’m just a smear on the floor. When I stand back and look at the mess I’ve made of my life, and the mess I’ve made of relationships, I think it would just be easier to be obliterated. But as far as actively taking my life, I haven’t thought much about it. My parents co-signed on my student loans so I’d hate to leave them 50 grand in debt. So for all those who are concerned, don’t be. Not yet anyway. I’ve still got a few years of payment left.
I’ve talked with a few friends and acquaintances about their brushes with suicide. I get it. I empathize. And we talk about it. And I hope they feel better afterward, for being heard and for not being judged. Because I’ve been there too. And I’ve wished someone would have been there to listen to me. So I try to be the listener. I always try to be the listener.
And I make my own jokes about it. I don’t try to hide it or deny it. I think in some ways, it’s just a part of me. There’s a darkness there that has been with me for so long it’s like it’s own limb now. I almost feel like I can’t go about my life without at least addressing it to others. ‘Cause I know they can see it, like a giant lump in my throat.
And I hope my own talk of suicide and wanting to be dead doesn’t get others down but helps them to face their own thoughts of death and dying. That having these thoughts may not be normal or all that healthy but it does happen and it’s doesn’t mean you’re crazy and it’s probably more common than any of us think. But we’ll never know the full scope because no one wants to talk about it. But talking about it could be just what some people need to lessen the severity of their struggle. At least momentarily.
Back to the podcast, the hosts have talked about their fight with mental illness, the years of therapy, medication, and other methods to quell their suicidal tendencies. And through all of that, they still struggle to this day. For the most part, they are better. They still slip up. They relapse. And they are far from cured. But they feel they have a better grasp on it than they used to have and that in itself can feel like a monumental victory. And they aren’t the only ones who continue to struggle. I’ve read about celebrities with access to anything they’d ever need to achieve mental improvement. And some of them have had tremendous success. Some have had moderate. And some haven’t seen much success at all.
And it makes me wonder if these people have access to the best resources and still can’t shake their depression, how am I supposed to get better with nothing more than my diary and a bag of Doritos?
It all feels pretty hopeless a lot of the time. There are degrees of depression. Certain kinds can be treated in certain ways. And maybe some can’t be treated at all. And it’s not always this Lifetime movie madness of staying in bed for weeks at a time or constant crying. Sometimes it’s more subtle. It’s the kind of depression that digs deep and lives inside your bones. It doesn’t disturb your daily functions. It just settles in and lets you know it’s there to stay. It’s like a continuous buzzing in your ear, a lash in your eye, a punch in the face at every step. It’s not an outward curse. It suffocates invisibly.
And until you’ve been there, you’ll never understand. It’s easy to scoff at suicide, to say it’s selfish or a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I hate that phrase. It comes from an assumption that depression doesn’t lodge into your lungs and doesn’t stay with you for months, years, decades. But it does. It’s often unyielding. But until you’ve reached that point of complete hopelessness, looking at your life and seeing a landscape of agony as far as your pained mind can imagine, to feel as though death is the only relief to all the pain that courses through you each day, you’ll never understand.
But it would be helpful to try, to not be so quick to condemn but to make an effort to empathize and offer help in the form of listening or just being there as an anchor when everything feels like it’s spiraling out of control.
Again, it differs. It’s a bad day. A horrible week. A tumultuous year. It’s a cranky minute, a desolate week, a half hour of agony. It’s self-harm, crying fits, bad moods, desires to die, cravings for food or sex, binge-watching television and screaming at a loved one. It’s about releasing, pushing the pain out however necessary to feel better. Sometimes it’s about actively killing yourself. And sometimes it’s not about wanting to die but just not wanting to be alive anymore. It could be so easy, like a light switch. How can that not be tempting to some?
I’ve just never seen the harm in talking about self-harm. Sure, it’s not the best topic to bring up at a baby shower or wedding reception but between close friends and family, I think it’s beneficial, might even bring each other closer. It helps for the one listening to get a grasp of what you’re going through and provide a new perspective on your journey. Who knows, they might have been there once too. Might even be there now. It might help for them to know they don’t have to go through it alone. That they don’t have to leave. That they can stick around for a bit longer and talk it out.
I could feel myself rotting. My skin was sandpaper. My heart a hunk of meat.
I was dead for a few years. Crushed beneath student loans, liars, and the realization that I’d lost all I’d built my life to achieve. I was no artist. I was a con. I was no friend. I was a fraud. Friends, Family, and The Father fled and I was left alone to bear the weight of failure. But I was not strong enough and succumbed to the stress, the shame, the disappointment of departed dreams.
It was an avalanche, crashing on top of me, propelling me to the floor, grinding me into the dirt.
And then I thought I was alive again.
Someone came along and gave me several months of mouth-to-mouth. They gifted me a breath that burrowed its way back to my desiccated body. But when they broke the kiss, that connection to life did not linger and I was left in limbo, teetering on a thin string between life and death, losing all identity of being alive and all the peace of being buried.
It hurts to be in the middle, to be torn between two realms of being, to not belong to the day or the dirt. A lot of times, I don’t care which way I fall as long as it’s a clear conclusion. I would feel just as comfortable in a coffin as I would under a comforter.
My heart beats every few weeks. It reminds me I’m alive again. And so does the pain. It’s not the kind that sinks into me like a hot knife but the kind that gently evaporates all my joy. It arrives through the doorstep, dancing silently, getting to work with nimble fingers, picking up pieces of me and peeling it from my being: art, writing, pets, music, and food. It’s a more subtle searing sensation that’s not visible to others. It lurks in a lonely mind when I’m not occupied with work or worry. It’s the pain of being scraped hollow. It’s the pain on looking back on a life that had no real value.
It is not the pain of what has happened but the pain of what has not.
My heart halted. My spirit stopped. But my body continued to age and so much time was stolen from me. It was a 7-year gap of gaping wounds and unheard screams. It was a failed book, a failed relationship, a withering of animals and blossoming animosity.
And when I think about the mess I’m still in, the darkness deepens, blinds me to any future at all. That crushing weight descends on me one more time. It pulls at my eyelids, lulling me to a glorious rest, a sweet promise of permanent peace. But bills and responsibilities to jobs and family keep my eyes open. I reluctantly fight the urge to lie down. I want to give into it. I want to welcome it. But I can’t. Not just yet.
I can laugh and cry and carry on with my day. I can scream and howl and binge eat and nap away my week. I can work hard and impress my bosses. I can listen to the worries and daydreams of others. I can construct a daydream of my own, a vision of a better time, a better life, a better opportunity. I can act like a living person. Because, in many ways, I am one again. But it’s only a temporary recovery. I was carried out of a pine box prematurely and I’m left to deal with the consequences.
My path has been lined with sour honey and I’m forced to trudge through the muck to face more agony. And on this day each year, the clock resets and I regress a little more. More dreams die. More people disappear. My outlets are drying up, including the divine. God does not listen to my cries. He’s only interested in dictating my direction, the ebb and flow of fire in my head, and the distractions and derailments that set me back even further. He’s a voyeur of the coldest kind.
It’s impossible to go back. It’s daunting to look forward. All I want to do is just lie down and sink into the sticky substance. To be enveloped in the bittersweet bath. To rest. Because I know, I’ve always known, that I just don’t want to be here.
I dream almost every night. Most people do. Most people can’t remember them. I can remember that I dreamed, just not what I dreamed about. And it’s frustrating because my dreams are often either pretty boring or pretty nice and I want to be able to recall a good feeling. ‘Cause I sure don’t have them in waking life.
And I always wonder why I remember some dreams vividly and others not at all.
A few weeks ago, I dreamed that I was in a building that looked a lot like a Blockbuster. I had an uneasy feeling, like I was out too late and should be at home or had a weird feeling about being at that location (maybe because most Blockbusters are closed and why the heck would I be in one?) but I shrugged it off.
Moments later, a guy came in carrying a gun. I was alarmed, of course, but tried not to freak out. Maybe he was just carrying it to make himself feel better or in case anyone tried to jack his membership card. I reasoned with myself that I would be okay. People only get shot on television and in movies. It doesn’t happen where I live.
But he turned to me, stepped up to me, and shot me in the ear.
The first thing I thought was, “I knew I shouldn’t have been here.”
I didn’t hear a gunshot or even feel anything but my vision turned into diamonds shining against a white light. I fell to the floor and once I hit the ground, I knew I only had a fraction of a second to live.
So I prayed to God to forgive me.
And then I felt this relief come over me. I don’t know if it was because God had answered my prayer or that I felt better that I’d had a final chance to get right with God or that I was just finally dead and didn’t have to be sad anymore.
And then (and this hasn’t happened before) I realized I was dreaming. But by that time, I knew my mind was being pulled back into consciousness. I felt myself being shot through that slippery tunnel that connects reality and dreams. And as that happened, I tried to get up from the bloody floor and fly away. I wanted to take over the dream but it ended before I could lift off the ground.
Most dreams of mine feel random but I could determine a link between this one and my waking moments of contemplation. I had recently listened to a podcast in which a guy said he woke himself up from his dreams by killing himself in his dreams. I guess he had the lucid dream experience down pretty well.
And I’ve been pondering the idea of reconnecting with God. I never turned full atheist but I just gave up on trying to get God to ease the ache in my heart. All the church and prayer and scripture never seemed to make a difference. I was, as I still am, beyond reach. Yet God is always in the back of my mind. I don’t know if it’s Christ convicting me or just that old time Christian guilt at work. All I know is the Holy Ghost is haunting me and it kind of sucks.
While the dream obviously incorporated the different things I’d heard, experienced, and thought about in the weeks leading up to it, it might not be anything significant. It probably stood out to me because it was the first dream I’ve ever had in which I could feel myself dying. I usually wake up before the last breath. But not this time. And instead of it being scary, it was strangely satisfying.
After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.
-Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
I keep trying to remember that when I die, none of this is going to matter.
I watch a lot of television and listen to a lot of music. But it’s all mostly fluff, nothing of real substance or educational value. It’s comprised of gossip and gore. It’s white noise. It’s filler to filter out the the continuing thoughts of sadness. Because when I’m alone with nothing to distract me, like right before I go to sleep, in that stillness, the depression comes marching, filling up my mind with footsteps of failure, reminders of bad decisions and lack of relationships. And it makes it hard to rest easy when my head is on the pillow.
My mind is hardly awake except for when I try to go to sleep. That’s when it lights up and pops with memories of decade’s past mix-ups and melancholy. It piles on top of me like a blanket of bricks. I sweat. I suffocate.
It’s only when I lie down for the last nap will my mind finally ease. I take some comfort in that, knowing that this will all end one day, the thoughts that clog my head, the ever-reaching terror, the clinging need to tear myself down. It will all cease to be. I just have to cease to be. Sometimes the trade off seems more than acceptable.
But even the release of death is diminished in its comfort when I think about my new destination. What if I go to hell? I might be a lapsed Christian but that Christian guilt is still as prevalent as ever, even stronger than my faith in God ever was. Isn’t it funny how we can retain only the worst aspects of a religion, relationship, or experience? We forget the jokes and only remember the jeers. We look past the accolades and focus on the fumbles. I’ve shed God’s good graces long ago but I still bear the weight of his condemnation.
One of the things that terrifies me the most is that I might not ever see peace, not in this life or the other. I might be tortured forever and it’s a fate I can’t even comprehend. I can die to get out of this. But I can’t die to get out of that. I can’t squeeze my way through, can’t bargain or bleed out to escape.
I can only comfort myself by thinking that hell is only a possibility while this current damnation is a definite reality. What if I could slip out of this? What if something better is waiting? I am now in my own hell. And then there is either another hell or a possible heaven. I’ll never win in this life but at least I have a 50/50 in the other. Is that a chance I’m willing to take? Sometimes, I think yes.
When I turned 27, I made a few plans. I told myself when I turned 28, I would start drinking in hopes of finding happiness. What if booze loosened me up a bit, made me less nervous and more fun to be around? I thought about trying it, thought that maybe a nice glass of wine or a few beers after a stressful day would help me cope. And if that didn’t work, when I turned 29, I would start having sex. The physical release in addition to the intimate meshing would help graft me to the ground, would help me feel less alone. I thought that a connection, no matter how casual or carnal, would be better than the severed state I was in. There’s nothing like a deep orgasm to open your eyes to how nice things can be. If that didn’t work, when I turned 30, I was just going to kill myself. Well, I never started drinking and I never started having sex. My 30th birthday was in December. I’m still here.
I’m not sure how serious I was about the suicide. I think when I made those plans for blood, sweat, and beers, I was far enough removed from them to actually follow through. There was the smallest part of me that hoped it wouldn’t come to that, that in the intervening years, something would change. Something would get better and I wouldn’t feel the need to die. But nothing has changed. Those years were wasted away with more dieting and more craving, lost acquaintances and more shirt folding.
It’s just fucked up to even think something like that, no matter how serious or frivolous those thoughts may have been. But I keep hearing the call of death. Every few months, the call gets louder and my thoughts go grim. And it doesn’t feel right to keep having these thoughts, to keep thinking about dying so much. Sure, most people have thought about it before but the thoughts are like answering machine messages that play on a loop. And I worry that this will always stay with me for as long as I’m alive, that one day I might answer that call.
I just need some relief. I wake up every day miserable and I go to sleep either wired or weary. I’m manic and irritating and easily angered. I want to run away from everyone and give everyone a hug. I need support, friendship, validation, and possibly some medication. I am not okay.
But I’m not going to do anything any time soon. I’m not actively seeking death at the moment and maybe if death came to me suddenly, I might even try to reject it, but I also feel at this moment, death doesn’t feel scary but saving. But I won’t be the one to pick up the phone. I couldn’t even crack open a beer, much less bite the bullet.
This past Saturday, I came home and found my cat Moses beside my bed. He was lying on the ground in an unusual manner, his rump sticking out from underneath the bed. An odor of wet excrement wafted up from his location. This wasn’t new. He’d been having stomach issues for the past several months, a revolving door of constipation or diarrhea. And although it wasn’t my favorite job, I grabbed the pet wipes and tried to pick him up to wipe his rear end.
I picked him up and he whined. I put him down and looked at him. His sides expanded and contracted at a fast pace. A worrisome pace. I stood there for a while, took a deep breath, and picked him up again. He grabbed at my bed but I held him against my chest and took him to the den where there was more light so I could see.
Once I made it to the den, Moses meowed in pain and squirmed in my arms. I bent over to lay him down on the ground when he swiped his paw at my face and dug his nail into my nose. He ran from my arms and I went to the bathroom. I’m very anal about my face so I flipped on the bathroom light to see the damage. It felt like his whole nail had gone through my nose but once I inspected it, it was more of a deep scratch. I put some alcohol on it and then went back to Moses.
He was in the dining room and hiding underneath the dining room table, his breathing labored again. My stomach tingled now. I knew this wasn’t good.
I went to reach for Moses and he whined again. And then he looked like he was trying to throw up, his bony shoulders rising as he retched. I stood up and walked from the living room to the dining room, my stomach vibrating now, like a cell phone buzzing in my bowels.
Ohgodohgodohgod this is it.
I went back to Moses and he had drool hanging from his mouth. I’d never seen that before. My own breathing became labored. I didn’t know what to do.
I went into my parents bedroom and…and then I didn’t know what to do again.
“Mom, Dad…” I started. Mom woke up. “I…uh…Moses. It doesn’t look good.” And the buzzing in my stomach shot up into my throat. Out of nowhere, I started sobbing.
“I know,” she said. “He was really sick earlier today.” She got out of bed and I covered my face. The tears came in short, stabbing bursts. “We tried to call the vets we knew but they weren’t open,” she continued. “No one answered the emergency numbers we called.”
I stood to the side as Mom moved past me to check on Moses. I paced the den again and tried to collect myself. I thought I had prepared myself for this moment. He hadn’t looked good for a long time. There was always a piece of me that worried it was going to happen soon, that he didn’t have much longer. But I tried to shrug it off. He was old. He wasn’t as quick. He had some tummy troubles but he wasn’t in terrible shape. It was just old age at work. He was okay. He was okay.
But he wasn’t.
I work in a retail clothing store. There are only two other places to shop for clothing in the town and they have less options than our tiny store provides so the majority of people come to us.
The town I work in is filled with older people. There are no opportunities for jobs or fun things to do for youth so as soon as they graduate high school, they hightail it out of town and find a larger space far away with more choices. The whole town is basically a nursing home.
Because of this, I see a lot of death and decay at my job. There aren’t many companies here that require its employees to wear suits and the employees that do wear suits can afford better quality than what we provide. So every time a younger person comes in to buy a suit, it’s usually because someone has died. And if it’s an older person, they are usually buying something new to wear to church.
It always goes one of three ways:
“I need a suit for a funeral and I don’t know what size I am.”
“I need a suit for church and I don’t know what size I am.”
“I need a suit for my husband for church (or funeral) and I don’t know what size he is.” They go on to tell me how the husband has lost a ton of weight due to illness and/or advanced age.
And the illness and/or advanced age will then lead to the wife to want a pajama set for the husband while in a nursing home or for recovery after surgery. We don’t carry pajama sets. We never have. No one else around here does either. That only adds to the stress of a sick spouse. And I have to be the recipient of their frustration.
I am constantly bombarded with older people and their disintegrating bodies. They’re always shrinking in size and health and when I look into their pale, watery eyes and observe the folds of their skin and the stray eyebrow hairs and sun damage on their deeply lined faces, it’s almost as if they’re sucking the life out of me as well.
It’s hard to always hear about how someone is sick or someone has just died. It’s awkward for me. I never know how to react. I don’t want to seem cold but I also don’t want them to fall apart on me so I try not to let them focus on grief. I express my condolences but then I get down to business, measuring their necks and arms for sizes, smelling their stale stench, assessing the misshapen bodies due to years of hard labor or disease and wondering how I’m going to fit their many bumps and grooves. It doesn’t help that our suit selection is piss poor. And oftentimes, so are the customer’s attitudes.
I’m young to them. But to me, I feel as old as their weathered faces and limp gray hair convey. I’m going gray myself and finding my eyes are crinkling more and more when I smile, the creases in skin not plumping back the way it used to. I see myself in them, tired and broken down and sometimes just angry to be alive.
I feel like an old, defeated man. I’ve led a privileged life but I hesitate to even call it a life. I’ve filled up my short years with decades of despondence. I peaked at 23 and my life and body has gone downhill since. It’s been a combination of bad luck and admittedly, a bad outlook on my part. I’ve lost friends and faith and a passion for art. I’ve lost some opportunities and passed up on others. And now I work in a dead-end job with half-dead customers. I have made no difference to anyone. I’ve put myself in a debt I cannot get out of and I have burdened my family with my lack of finances. I’m not talented enough to reach my readers. I am not kind-hearted enough to keep friends.
And most of the time, I don’t even feel well-suited to suit up a customer for a casket or convalescent home.
I wasn’t going to mention this because I hate when people talk to me about dead or dying animals and I wanted to spare you all that uncomfortable reading experience. But something happened recently that I think is worthy of writing about. If you’re sensitive to such matters, you can skip this one.
Anne-Marie: Charlie, will I ever see you again?
Charlie: Sure you will, kid. You know goodbyes aren’t forever.
Anne-Marie: Then goodbye, Charlie. I love you.
Charlie: Yep… I love you too.
-All Dogs go to Heaven
Our family dog, Sam, passed away in October. He was 14-years-old. It was a sad time but he had advanced in age and I saw it coming. So when it happened, I was prepared. I was sad but I was also relieved that he was no longer hurting.
Our family dog, Sam, that we had for fourteen years passed away in October. My dad took him to the vet after we’d noticed he’d been acting strangely. The vet informed my dad Sam had suffered a stroke some time earlier. Sam was given medication but it didn’t help. A few days later, he passed away.
It was a sad time but because of his advanced age, concerning behavior, and grim vet visit, and I saw it coming and so when it did happen, I was prepared. I was upset but also relieved because I knew he wasn’t in pain any longer. For a few days after the vet, I lived in a fog of intense worry, scared each day would be the day he’d die because he was getting worse but also hoping it would go ahead and happen so he wouldn’t continue to suffer.
I thought my dad would take him back to the vet and have him put to sleep. And maybe that was his plan. But he didn’t have to. Sam knew it was time and walked to the pasture behind our back yard. He laid down under a tree and closed his eyes for the last time.
I had a dream the other night…
I walked along my usual dirt road route. I concentrated on my iPod and tried to find a few uptempo songs to carry me through the next mile when a school bus zoomed right by me on the narrow dirt road. It shot up a cloud of dry sand that landed in my eyes and the crevices of my mp3 player. When the dust cleared, I saw the driver had horns jutting out of either side of his head.
That’s when I knew it was time to turn around and head home.
The distance from the dirt road to home lengthened the farther I walked. My stomach tightened with a growing anxiety I couldn’t place. That’s when the memory of a dead kid crept into the forefront of my mind. He was found underneath a small bridge in a shallow body of water near where I was walking. His face had been torn away. He had greasepaint smeared on his hands.
The road lengthened even more as the school bus appeared in the distance in front of me. But during the time it took for the bus to circle back around to me, it had changed. It was armored with steel rods like some kind of brace or support system fused to the sides. It tore into the dirt and kicked up a blinding cloud of dust. It charged toward me, the engine growing louder. The sound caught up to me first, entered my ears and invaded my body.
I saw my house on the horizon and ran as fast as I could to make it to my front door before the school bus could make it to me.
I burst through the door to my kitchen and found my mom putting away dishes. I wheezed as relief pushed away the engine noise in my guts. I told her about the school bus.
As I spoke to her, she closed the cabinet door and turned to me. There was something off about her face.
“What’s wrong with your nose?” I asked.
“It’s just blistered,” she said. But as we talked, it grew bigger and bulbous. It flushed red as if all the blood vessels in her nostrils had burst in unison.
Something wasn’t right. I took a step back. I kept my face to her as I inched closer to the front door. My hand reached for the doorknob as her nose bloomed into a blood-filled ball.
And then she lunged.
One of my co-workers went in for her usual dialysis on Monday. There was a complication. She was transported to the local hospital. Then transferred to a different hospital. On the way to the second hospital, she died. Just like that.
I’ve known and worked with her for four years. And she was one of the coworkers I liked the best. She trained me when I became a supervisor. She was an older lady who had lived everywhere and had her hand in several different businesses. She was interesting and cultured and an overall cool lady.
I don’t think it’s really sunk in that she’s gone. So many people come and go in that store, quitting or retiring, and I never see them again. It sucks but you move on. This feels like that. It’s like she’s retired. I feel like I might see her pop in every once in a while to check on the store. But I won’t. I won’t ever her hear her page a supervisor over the intercom or see her in her department or joke with her about the dumb customers.
I feel kind of bad but I’m okay. I’ve been fortunate that not many people I’m close to have passed away. And it’s not that she and I were exceptionally close but I did work with her and see her often over the past four years so I guess she counts as someone close. I don’t know how to handle it. And so I don’t.
The whole thing is just so weird. It’s in these moments that, of course, you reflect on death and how it works. She went in to get her treatment, like she always did. Something routine. And then over the course of a couple of hours, she’s dead. It’s the suddenness of it, the jarring transition from life to death. She was a person and now she’s a body. She’s gonna be scooped out and put away. She’s going to be replaced at work. She’s going to be gone wholly and eternally. I will never see her again for as long as I live. It’s hard to wrap my mind around it.
it is hard to live
when one is bereft of breath
while walking on lungs