JOSH’S NOTE: I suppose there’s a first time for everything. I’ve never felt the need to post any sort of warning before a post before but today is just a little bit different. Today we are diving into some deep shit and I feel the need to offer a fair warning to anyone of my regular readers, social media friends who are checking out this post and those who have happened to stumble upon my weird little world. If you suffer from depression or have suicidal thoughts, elements of this post could be potentially triggering. Life may not always come with trigger warnings, but I sure do. Please proceed with caution and know that help is out there in the form of loved ones, friends and professionals.
JOSH’S NOTE PART 2: I am in no way a professional.
JOSH’S NOT PART 3: I want to thank my dear friend Monica for the picture I used for this post. She pulled me out of a funk and put me in front of a camera even though I wasn’t feeling too hot about myself. She helped me smile for the first time in a long time and I’m forever grateful that I have someone like her as a friend.
Let’s begin, shall we?
I truly have no idea how long I have suffered from depression. My therapist and I’s best guess dates back to my parent’s divorce in the early 1990’s. As a matter of fact, many of my mental health issues were only discovered in the last few years following major life incidents. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Imposter’s Syndrome, and Avoidant Personality Disorder. Many of these issues have been there for years but went undiagnosed.
For a short-while, following my parent’s divorce, I was sent to a therapist and I know the word depressed was thrown around during these sessions. I was never treated, medicated and no follow-up ever happened.
I don’t know why.
In the spring of 2000 I attempted suicide.
I was struggling with my identity and orientation in a time when being gay and coming out wasn’t commonplace or accepted. There were no gay kids in my tiny high school of less than 500 kids so I was alone. I was living in an abusive home and, though I had friends, felt like I had no one to talk to.
One afternoon when I got home from school, I found myself home alone. It had been a typical nightmare of a day and for the first time it all felt like too much. All of the pain and frustration I had been feeling all of those years had found their boiling point and I broke.
My dad kept a loaded handgun in the top drawer of his dresser. I knew it was there and I knew it was loaded. I don’t honestly know if he thought I was clueless to its existence or just didn’t care enough to keep the thing locked up with his other guns.
I made the short walk down the hallway and retrieved the weapon from its place in the drawer. Back in my room I sat on my bed, feeling the weight of it in my hands. It was heavier than I had expected. Not overwhelmingly so but the thing had a pretty good heft to it.
I sat with that gun in my hands for what seemed like hours, days. I analyzed every inch of it, studying it. I like to know how things work so I studied it, trying to figure it all out. It was going to be the weapon on my demise so it was only fair that I understood everything there was to know about it.
Then became the question of how to do it. I mean, I knew the basics, pull the trigger. End of story. But where to aim? The head seemed like a logical choice so I started there.
Like I said, the thing was heavier than I expected so holding it at an angle to put a bullet through my temple was proving tricky.
The next logical move was to put the gun in my mouth. Let me tell you right now, guns taste disgusting. I can still taste the oily steal in my mouth even now, over 15 years later. The tang of the metal as it rested on my tongue.
I sat there, silent, hand on the trigger, gun barrel in my mouth and I pulled the trigger.
My dad may not have locked the gun away safely or put a trigger guard on it, but he did store it with the safety engaged.
That safety saved my life.
With the adrenaline of moment fading I bolted back down the hallway with the gun and put it back in the drawer, the barrel still wet with my spit.
I thought I would never stop shaking.
It is believed that one in five people struggle with mental health issues. This is a bit hard to believe when you are so lost and alone in your own head, struggling to get through the day. It’s hard to realize that when you’re at a party or work or on a plane or in class, that you aren’t alone. That the odds are someone else is stuggling with the same problems, traumas, or realities as you.
For someone who has never dealt with depression or suicidal thoughts, the idea of wanting to die can seem absolutely absurd, especially when it comes to those with fame and money and notoriety. “He was so funny.” “She was to talented.” “He was so rich.”
What people don’t realize is that none of those things will stop a mind from being or becoming unwell.
At the end of the day the brain is an organ. Like a liver, a lung, or a kidney the brain can become sick and damaged. It doesn’t always matter what we look like on the outside and I’m not just talking about vanity. Someone can seem happy, funny, talented and well off but be dealing with powerful demons that only they can see or attempt to comprehend.
I deal with depression on a day-to-day basis and, most recently and well-documented in the pages of this blog, have struggled deeply with a dramatic relapse of many of those feelings I tackled as a scared teenager 18 years ago. In all honesty, I spent the better part of the beginning of this year considering suicide. These feelings have nothing to do with wanting to die. I don’t want to be dead, I don’t want my life, my work, my hopes, my dreams to die.
I want the pain to stop.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Depression is a bitch.
To the depressed and suicidal mind, you can feel trapped. The feelings of suffocation and loneliness can be, at times, overwhelming and even unbearable. There is an almost daily struggle between the sick mind that craves an escape and the human inside that wants to cling to hope and life. It is simple human nature to want to survive but mental illness can be a powerful and isolating force that overpowers those instincts.
Depressed people don’t want to die. They have those same instinct to fight to live but so often fought for so long and so hard that they no longer see any other options to deal with the pain that has gone so far beyond what they believed they could tolerate.
I, like so many, don’t like talking about or even bringing up my mental illness. So often you hear of suicidal people being regarded as seeking attention or being cowards. Why on earth would I want to be lumped into all of that?
When someone has cancer or a broken leg or even one of those other vital organs get sick, we commend their struggle, their battle, their journey. We wear a ribbon and raise awareness and walk out 5ks and do what we can to support and help.
I think Jenny Lawson put it best in the book “Furiously Happy” (which, if you haven’t read her, please do, for your sake):
“When cancer suffers fight, recover, and go into remission we laud their bravery. We wear ribbons to celebrate their fight. We call them survivors. Because they are.
When depression sufferers fight, recover, and go into remission we seldom even know, simple because so many suffer in the dark… ashamed to admit something they see as a personal weakness… afraid that people will worry, an more afraid that they won’t. We find ourselves unable to anything but cling to the couch and force ourselves to breathe.
When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but no one you week allowed to celebrate.”
Carrie Fisher talked about it. Often. Most notably in her one-woman show “Wishful Drinking” which is one of my favorite things to watch when I’m feeling down:
“Mania is a little bit like a bank error in your favor. It’s like liquid confidence. When the tide is in, it’s all good. But… when the tide is out, the mood that cannot and should not be named, comes over you and into you. Because naming it… naming it would be an act of summoning it.”
Depression is real.
People who suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety or other mental illnesses don’t need anyone criticizing, belittling or judging them. Believe me when I say, they are already doing that to themselves.
If you’ve been there or, even if your there now, I give you credit. I can’t pretend to know what you are going through in the slightest. You issues are not mine and mine are not yours. While we could have the exact same diagnoses, our respective journeys could never be the same. I don’t even have great advice to offer if I’m being honest. I commend you, as you should yourself, for surviving as long as you have despite wanting nothing more than to fall apart and crumble from the inside out.
Congratulations on making it this far. Through this day. This hour. This minute without acting on your thoughts.
I know you want to live. I want you to live. I want me to live.
I want to live to share my story, my struggles and my triumphs. I want to be a voice and an inspiration for those who feel they have nothing. I want to grow. I want you to grow. I want us to know that, through all of this, that though we are hurting and in a place that is beyond what we feel we are capable of dealing with, we can get through it.
I may not fully understand it yet, but I am here for a reason. We all are. I’m stronger for what I’ve been through. As are you. As are we all.
I know it’s not an easy thing, to believe that death is not the only option. I struggle with this regularly and have struggled with it recently. I have been where you have me. I am where you are. I’m on the edge of the cliff ready to take that plunge and ready to accept the darkness as my only option.
But my beating heart is my hope.
I’m a big fan of music. I like to soundtrack my life. One artist in particular that many know I am a fan of, is P!NK. On her last album there was a song that spoke to me on a level like no other. So much so that the opening salvo of my book “You’re Doing It Wrong” are lyrics from the song.
“I’ve already seen the bottom,
so there’s nothing to fear
I know that I’ll be ready when the devil is near
I am here”
I love this song. Is anything. Give it a listen.
Or there’s still Carrie Fisher’s wisdom, “I heard someway say recently that ‘many of us only seem able to find heaven, by backing away from hell.’ And, you know, while the place I’ve arrived at in my life isn’t precisely everyone’s idea of heavenly… I could swear that sometimes, if I’m quite enough, I can hear the angels sing.”
So I guess what I want people to realize is that when it comes to depression and suicide and depression, just because you can’t see or understand it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Know that so many of us are fighting a battle that you couldn’t possibly comprehend. We often struggle in silence and a war wages on inside of us that destroys us to our core.
Know that we don’t want you to change your profile picture or post that damn suicide hotline number whenever someone high profile commits suicide. We know the number. We can google that shit. We’ve got that. What we really need is the love and support of those that we care about. We care about so much that we don’t want to burden you with our demons. We don’t want a colored ribbon, we want someone to be there with some Ben & Jerry’s and a shoulder to cry on.
And for those walking in the dark, searching desperately to find the light. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, because I need to hear it, we aren’t alone. The problem with spending so much time in the darkness is we don’t realize how many people are right there with us. Within our reach. We can’t see them, but they are there. Any maybe your strength is what helps them keep moving towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
Know that you matter.
Your struggle may help someone reach their triumph.
Maybe mine will.
Let’s keep searching, together, for the light and find out.
I am here.