Still, I Burn


IMG_6430Today had been an inexplicably bad day. I texted my best friend that I wanted to hurt myself. It’s how we hold each other accountable. If we admit to wanting it, we’re less likely to do it. The anxiety monster was screaming in my head and I felt like I was teetering on the edge of a self-destructive manic episode.

The day started fine. I got up early. I went swimming. I got dressed. I was okay. Then it started. That prickly feeling that everything is wrong. It got progressively worse. Eventually it reached the point where my hands were shaking and my heart was racing. I hid in the bathroom to try to pull myself together. The “I’m Fine” mask gets too heavy sometimes and I need a little break. This time, the little break turned into a breakdown. Thinking about one of my favorite places in the world, Tintern Abbey, usually helps to center me. This time I burst into tears and promptly threw up. Fuck. At least I had a mint in my purse and it was nearly lunch time, so I could go buy a toothbrush and toothpaste.

I have no trouble admitting that I’m not all right. I know I need help. I can analyze the things I think I know I’m not in a good place. I used to fantasize about crashing through the concrete barricade and into the Tennessee river. The only thing that stopped those thoughts is that now I have a car that probably would just bounce off the barricade. Hell, it probably knows how to swim. (Side note: It’s a Smart car)

I am desperately trying to find some humor in this. If I don’t, then I’m just fucked up and hopeless. If I can laugh about how fucked up I am, at least it shows I know how fucked up I am, and that’s good, right? You’re less crazy if you know you’re crazy. It’s the people who don’t know they’re crazy you have to worry about. Shit, now I sound like I’m monologuing.

But now nothing is funny. Took my phone with me to the bathroom (because who doesn’t) ready to post a snarky tweet about OJ golfing with the “president,” and I see that Chester Bennington of Linkin Park has committed suicide. That insidious beast Depression has taken another one. How do you hang onto hope when the people who help you do that lose hope themselves?

I know what comes next. I like to call it “People Who Don’t Get It: A Play in Three Acts.”

  • Act 1: He was rich and famous, he shouldn’t have been depressed. That’s stupid. If I had his life I wouldn’t be depressed.
  • Act 2: He was probably on drugs. Did you hear about Carrie Fisher? And Prince? Stop acting like he had some disease. He made his choice.
  • Act 3: Why are you so sad? You never even met the guy.

Then the curtain comes down, until we lose another one. But first, let me help you read between the lines. Depression does not choose which helpless minds into which it sinks its teeth. It doesn’t care who you are or what you have. All it wants to do is eat you alive. You can be rich and famous and it won’t matter. Depression doesn’t discriminate.

We don’t need to speculate about drugs, nor should we. People living with mental illness also live with a stigma that makes it hard to seek help, so they find ways to cope. For some, drugs are, well, the drug of choice. It doesn’t change anything. Depression and addiction are very real diseases, and both are deadly.

Why do we grieve for strangers? When it’s someone like Chris Cornell or Chester Bennington, it’s because we recognized that the demons haunting us were after them, too. They channeled their pain into music that helped some of us keep hold of that tiny, flickering candle of hope. If it started to go out, we could turn to them to relight it. When another light goes out, the world turns a little bit darker. Don’t criticize someone who grieves for losing a source of hope and inspiration. If you don’t know our war, you have no say in how we honor our fallen.

I don’t really know what else to say. My light still burns. It flickers, but it burns.