I got the call on Thursday - an artist I know was calling, and I picked up the phone, just having had coffee with another artist pal, and it made me giggle.
Next time, just trash your house
"Hey man, what's up?" said he.
"Surrounded by freakin' painters today," I said, hiding my phone beneath my steering as I rounded a corner onto Gaudalupe Street. "Painters everywhere," and I giggled again.
Anyway - this artist never calls and I had a feeling I knew why he was calling. We have a mutual friend (another freakin' artist) whose been really depressed lately.
"I wanted to talk to you about Michael," he said, and I knew it was coming but I just hoped I was wrong. I sucked in a breath.
"Yeah, how's he doing?"
"Well...he's in the hospital."
The details aren't too terribly gory but I'll spare them for you. The other artist and I talked - mostly about how he knew that Michael would want to be talking to me, and that he himself was really grateful that I'd been chatting with him lately about depression and meds and therapy because he was finally reaching a place where he wanted to get some help. I wanted to call him right away, but the friend on the phone said Michael was still in-patient and I should call Michael's wife in a couple of days.
I pulled over when we hang up. Fuck. That place is not so far away for me that I don't have a lot of empathy for people who head there. And I *know* depression like an old and unwelcome friend - but I also had to stop, because it's just so easy to slip into the whys, and why bothers that always accompany hearing that someone else just doesn't want to live anymore.
I put it out of my mind and got immediately back to what I'd been working on, and around towards the end of the day I noticed an unread message in my inbox from Michael, and I opened it. Turned out it was from Michael's wife, and it said, "Hey, this is Margie. Michael says he's going to get help now. Thank you for talking to him." It was dated three days before. Maaaaan.
Today, I made my call, to Michael's wife. I didn't really *want* to make the call - there are so many better things to do, you think to yourself, then offer advice or friendly words to the wife of a suicidal patient - but that logic fell apart in about thirty seconds and I dialed her number. Turned out Michael was already home on an outpatient program, and she put me on and we talked.
"So what did you hear?"
"Heard a little about your method," (and I'm not telling what it was) "and I just gotta say - most people use pills."
"Yeah, well, the body tends to vomit pills up," he said. "I wanted something more certain."
"Now that you mention it - most of us who've used pills weren't successful."
We laughed. We laughed the gallows humor of the failed suicide.
I didn't ask "why?" There is no reasonable answer and if you've been there, it's a terribly stupid question. I can only say that if you get to that place, it seems like the Only Good Idea there is. Thank goodness for meds, therapy, pills, exercise, sex - whatever you can use to chase that feeling away. Alcohol and drugs Are Not recommended, but we've used those too - however, if you're really In It, illicit medicines are just the freaking worst. Alcohol (even a *little) brings on this strange internal warmth that is very conducive to feeling convinced "they'll be sorry." Cocaine and amphetamines just make me think of more elaborate ways to die. Psychedelics make death seem groovy - a terrible deterent for the melodramatic amongst us.
I had a day planned of drawing - I'm a writer and I don't draw, but everytime I do it makes me think about art a little differently, makes me understand (perhaps) artists a little bit better in terms of their challenges. I have a book on drawing cartoon characters, and I had it all ready when I made the call. As Michael and I rang off with each other, talking of med taking and therapy and a couple visits a week to the gym, I settled into drawing a space man when I realized I wanted a cigarette. And I couldn't find them anywhere.
As I searched, I became more frantic - this is a long-standing symptom with me, which I'd hoped my diagnosis would make go away. Now they think maybe a new diagnosis (ADHD) and some Straterra will help. My strategy has been figuring out how not to lose things, but my cigarettes Had Just Disappeared. I began to panic - really panic, and swept surfaces and paced my house and threw things. The enormity of the sadness of Michael mirrored my own once upon a time, and all the issues I'm dealing with right now, work and learning, schmoozing and networking, getting known and getting calls again, confronting my illness and trying to keep it from running my life, all of it rose to the surface as I began to pick up plates -
for nothing is more satisfying in the whole wide world than smashing a fucking plate
- and the bees began to buzz in my head (and I actually hit myself a few times, an ancient coping mechanism) and I was certain that the elves that steal my stuff so I can lose my mind were laughing at me, mocking me, taunting me, and I threw more things, pulled the sheets off the bed frantically looking, wondering if it was really possible that I would ever be well, until eventually I just collapsed into a miserable heap on the couch, house askew, mind blank.
I had found my girlfriend's cigarettes in the melee and I lit one, and thought back to Michael. He had said, "I'm never going to watch TV again," and I remembered when I'd made that call, as a teenager - at least getting out of the house seemed to help - and I looked over at it. Behind the tv were my cigarettes. I hadn't been anywhere near the tv today, and yet, there they were. I could see them. I got up and got them, squeezing them in my hand.
I still have no idea how they got there. It was almost like I needed it, needed to feel the pain and panic and frustration and anxiety just enough to push everything to the floor and break a few plates. Sometimes my rage brings me great clarity...not this time. It just brought me enough mess around me to remember that the life I've built since the time I was depressed enough to want to die is worth cherishing - and worth continuing to clean up and make even better.
Go ahead. Smash a plate. It's a remarkable focus agent. And it gives you something to do afterwards, which is sweep up the pieces and start over.