Think: paul, marc, and Suicide Prevention Day

Life is, a compassionate and bittersweet post by Summerstommy2, written as a reminder that September 10, 2015 is World Suicide Prevention Day.

I’ve sat in Emergency waiting rooms praying for friends who, at the last moment, reached out to say “I can’t go on. I’ve taken _____________ soon the pain and sadness will be gone.” I’ve tried “talking” friends down, to put one foot behind the other, to step away from the abyss, back towards the light. I also know what goes on in your head when the emotional/physical pain is too much, when guilt, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness make death seem like a solution. An aching loneliness, a world without love and friendship, a world that would be better without, and wouldn’t miss you. A darkness deeper than a black hole.

May 21, 2012: “As I rode the train this week, paul* and marc* popped into my mind because I’m relapsing and I’m scared. I wander back into the country fair, the theme park where wild rides suspend laws of gravity and time, fun house mirrors distort, all is fake, all is real. The steady one foot before the other becomes a carefully planned out chore, otherwise a headlong rush. The 24-hour non-stop, tracer glow of neon lights, a munch scream, an angry yell, a convulsion of tears. How close am I to that fearful time when I lost complete control; when I felt so broken that I couldn’t be fixed?”

Two days before, on May 19, 2012, I posted paul* and marc*: a requiem. I knew them in the mid-1970s. Below is an edited version of the 2012 post.

In his early 20’s, wearing a plaid shirt and blue jeans hanging loosely off his body, with wheat- coloured hair, a soft-spoken voice, and incredibly blue eyes, showing deep pain and sorrow, paul* arrived at my parent’s doorstep for a “play date.” His worried mother wanted to get him out of his room where he retreated, rarely leaving, or interacting with other family members or the world outside. I was “set up” to be the distraction from the dark thoughts that filled his days – the irony, of course, being that I was chronically depressed and probably bipolar.

But, forced by both mothers to participate, I suggested going for coffee – a quick and easy to way to get him (and me) out of the house. We sat opposite each other; he spent most of the time staring into his mug, and playing with his donut. When nervous or uncomfortable, I bramble on about everything and anything, hardly coming up for air.

Subconsciously, I realized he was far more depressed even than I was; his despair wasn’t going to vanish over a few crullers and cups of coffee. I wasn’t stuck in my room by choice, but by circumstances. I was lonely, but he was more than that. At 18, I almost understood his bleakness. Having dates or a girlfriend wasn’t going to return the paul his mother wanted back; that paul might be gone forever. Her dreams of his returning to college or looking for work hinged on him believing in himself. He didn’t anymore. I gave him my phone number, and told him to call me if he ever wanted to go for coffee, to a movie or just talk. He never called. I heard through my mother that he was reading books on suicide, and appeared to be starving himself to death. Then I left home, my parents moved, and the contact broken.

I like to think that paul made it; that whatever had darkened those gorgeous blue eyes lessened. That he got the help he needed to leave his room and rejoin society. That he found the belief in himself to finish college, get married and have grandchildren. But, I have this horrible, gut feeling that he is one of the suicide statistics.

A day program in an outpatient’s setting could have helped paul, I think, deal with his withdrawal, and give him the confidence to rejoin the world. Maybe medication and counseling could aid him in exploring his rejection of the world and life. Allow him to leave his bedroom door open.

My connection to marc was through mari*, the younger sister of a friend, I had grown closer to over the years. Tall and lanky, marc for some reason reminded me of my current hero at the time, Jack Kerouac. I had devoured and redevoured  On the Road. During an extended visit with mari one spring, I spent a lot of time with marc. He was funny, warm, a great storyteller, wonderful listener, spontaneous, albeit a drinker, and soft drug user. We would be having a silly conversation one minute and a deep philosophical/ethical one the next. He made me laugh til the tears ran and my sides ached. His hello and good-bye hugs enveloped you in genuine warm and fellowship. We said goodbye, and his “come back soon,” and my “I really hope so” were honest. Looking back, even then, I think I sometimes saw the mask go down and a hint of pain, of tragedy, of something that he used drinking and drugs to forget come through.

marc and I didn’t correspond much (this is pre-email, smart phones, facebook and social media days!) When she wrote, mari always passed along marc’s hello, his “when the h**l are you heading back for a visit?” and “do you miss me?”  Then came the tear-stained letter – marc took a shotgun, went into the woods, and blew his brains out. Folks found him when he was gone for several days. His friends were all shocked – no one had seen it coming. Everyone put the blame on his drinking and drug use. But I had a sense it ran much deeper than that.

Something happened to him that caused him great pain, something he used a “painted on” smile, booze, and drugs to cover up. Something so traumatic, it forever skewed how he viewed himself. Whether he would have sought and/or received professional/peer mental health help/support will, of course, always be a big if. Had he reached out, he would find others with similar pain, similar “secrets,” similar sorrow, similar hopelessness. He could learn he wasn’t alone in his darkness. Sharing might well have saved his life.

On September 10, 2015, stop for a moment. Think about people such as paul and marc. Think of those on the front lines dealing with folks who have so lost their way. Think of those who stepped back from the abyss. Think with compassion. Think without judgment. Think without condemnation. Think.

geography of my mind

Mental Geography

Artist: O. Louis Guglielmi; Completion Date: 1938


Unstable again. Free falling. Falling. Failing. The familiar, horrid feeling of losing control. The gentle creep of ideas, obsessions, anger, binging into my mind. Demons almost lost, found my address again. And again. And again.

Can’t function. Can’t spell. Can’t type. Can’t read. Can’t remember. Can’t forget. No cocoon of medications, weekly therapy to help send the demons back to those cob-webbed corners where they should stay. Yet, called upon to help others whose dance with mental illness goes from waltz to mosh pit.

Desperate pleas to help write will as will to live is gone. Control freak becoming more controlling. No point in addressing issue as person would never acknowledge any physical weakness, any mental health problems.  Dementia (and I am too familiar with this to not recognize) descent beginning. Anger, denial and blame framing another’s perspective on life, relationships, caring and support.

Me as support? Why does this happen? People come to me as if I am an oracle, a wizard, a miracle worker, a “fixer,” moral, faithful, loyal. I guess I hide my mental illness well. Sometimes people figure it out. Sometimes I take a step back so they can process who I am. The difference between sanity and insanity. I am not who the person sees. I am what they perceive.  Acknowledging either means making self-distant examinations. For example, perceiving the future with out the filters of pessimism or romanticism.

I can change my physical geography, but not the geography of my mind.