31 July, 2011

Better Dead than Untrue

Reflections on surviving depression for years and years and years.

Would you mind if somebody called you mentally ill? Would you mind more if it were true, or if it were false? I do a very quick mental judo on everything that comes up in my life, every day, to categorize it as something I can cope with, or something I cannot. Since I do not enjoy crying, I concentrate on the first category and let the second fall wherever it may. This is not a good coping strategy for dealing with life, and my life is quite uncomplicated.  

I am less than two weeks away from my 39th birthday, single and never married, unemployed for I think 5 years now, a college graduate, and living in my sister’s (metaphorical) attic.

I have excellent mental hygiene. I practice pretty good sleep hygiene. I used to overeat but I may have turned that around because I found a system that, so far, has excellent results (some) for the amount of effort I put into it (very little). I very rarely experience a thought that everything would be easier if I were dead, and I never entertain those thoughts. 

I have taken medication to help with this. It helps. A couple of years ago I stopped paying for my health insurance because I figured my money (savings, unemployment insurance, termination settlement, unused paid leave payment, and and IRA) would last longer if I did that. I stopped going to the doctor for checkups, stopped getting my prescriptions every year, stopped taking them. (In retrospect I wish I had examined the costs of cancelling my insurance and spending that money on the dr. visit and the medication directly, but at the time it was not something I could cope with. See above.)

I apparently need three root canals, or to yank those teeth and do without. 

I am usually cheerful. I am often supportive and compassionate. I do not frequently express irritation, but I am often very tense, so maybe I am referring or something psychological. I am very territorial about my sleep time, and as I am writing this at 2:45am, I am feeling cranky. And perhaps a little bit less able to cope than usual.

I have entertained the idea of writing a book from time to time, but I’ve never really started a project because I couldn’t decide on a genre or topic, or become invested in a specific idea long enough to get a chapter done, let alone a story arc or continuity or plot (can you tell I’ve been thinking of fiction?) or any of that stuff. I also find it a bit hard to concentrate. I’ve got either a lot of ideas floating around wordily in my head, or what feels like none at all, and both of those make filling a page a perplexing task. Technically, I don’t yet know if this is a project of that scope either, but it would be nice if I could find a way to be self-employed, because I really find job listings depressing.

There’s a reason I’ve titled this “Better Dead than Untrue”. It’s a story about one of the mostly-bearable tragedies in life. And it sounds good, but in my opinion, almost anything that starts out “Better Dead” is a dangerous untruth. 

This story is a story about depression, the modern media, and authenticity. My father, Tex, was married twice before he met my mother. His second wife, Kitty, was unhappily crazy. She received the best medical care Tex could provide until he ran out of money, and then she received the best care the state was willing to provide without his help, which, as far as I can tell, was not quite as good as the first kind. He sent their four kids (my half siblings) away to his mother while he tried to cope with this, and how she, they, my father, or Kitty lived, I know not. 

I do not like the phrase, “threatened suicide”. There is probably some word that psychologists use to label the behavior I’m talking about (speaking up about suicidal ideation, the thoughts about suicide you are having) but I don’t know what it is. I don’t like it because it implies that people who talk about wanting to commit suicide may be trying to coerce some response from their confidantes. 

They may be doing so. They may entertain fleeting thoughts along the lines of “and then they’ll be sorry”. That can totally be manipulative, and even possibly bullshit. But Threat? Is “If I think I can’t cope and never will be able to cope with life, I want to end it” a “threat” in the way we usually use the word? Only if it is insincere, could it be considered a threat. If it’s sincere, it is a cry for help, and I think I’m going to call it a suicide alarm, unless I think of (or find out) a more graceful and descriptive expression.

Kitty expressed several suicide alarms over the years. I presume for about a decade, starting somewhere in the sixties. I was born, for those that haven’t already done the math, in 1972, so I have no personal memories of any of this. My mother told me she once was driving along with at least my older sister in the car, and stopped on the Aurora Bridge (a formerly accessible local spot for those contemplating death by jump) to encourage and support Kitty in leaving the side of the bridge, getting in the car, and driving away. 

I’m pretty sure Kitty was detained in Western State Psychiatric Hospital at various times, possibly all voluntarily inasmuch as self-admittance is voluntary. I am certain that Kitty took her own life. She did jump. From a building here in Seattle that was for many years the tallest building West of the Mississippi. I think I was told the window she used was in a ladies room. And my brother, her oldest child, blamed her death on live mobile broadcast reporting.

These days, they’d probably be sued. (I can’t say for sure. I’m not sure my family could sustain the effort involved in starting a good lawsuit, who wants to start a bad lawsuit, and maybe dead dogs ARE better left buried.) They’d probably be sued now, anyway, because they discovered, in those madcap and exciting wild early days of live mobile reporting, that if you point a news camera on someone expressing suicide alarm, someone who understands you to be broadcasting their “threat” or “promise” or “cry for help” or “dream of relief” live, on television, that person usually decides they’d rather be dead than be crying wolf. Better dead and faithful to their word, better dead and authentic, better off dead.  

I say they usually decide to jump--I don’t actually know if that’s true. I don’t know how many times it’s come up--seriously, if it’s happened twice, would you let your news team go on the spot to the next suicide alarm? I didn’t study much Communications in college, I don’t know what they teach about it. 

I also don’t know if the jumpers really think any version of the thought “better dead than untrue”. It’s a stressful situation to begin with. They aren’t at the top of their game.

Is there some guy (or lady) who recovered from their suicidal thoughts in such a situation? Do we hound that person for the keys to their success? (Actually, it’s not a bad question, but no point in worrying about finding such a person if interviewing them may be medically risky.)

This is a sad story, which hasn’t even reached the end of the suicide attempts and alarms in my family. That I know about. Being true to your best self actually means hanging in there. Turn your face to the wall, if you can’t stand looking at anything else, but eat and sleep and carry yourself on through, because maybe it gets better.

Now I’m just rambling. I had a stimulating day with my friends online, attempted to explore the intricacies of a hypothetical “Resource Based Economy” (though other than the fact that currency itself is oddly considered a resource rather than just as a marker for value and a medium of exchange, I don’t see how it’s different than the economy we do have), and am considering trying to invest some of my energy in a system for increasing productivity endorsed by one of my favorite authors (daily goal setting, by Steven Barnes). 

Recently, in my life: 

I was approached by an ex-stepdad yesterday. I think he is (or was) a buffoon. I used to hate him. He’s not as awful as many hated ex-stepdads. I’m going to stop this ringing endorsement now, with the limited approbation that his mistakes were a lot less harmful than most people's. He does not now, nor has he ever inspired any suicide ideation in me. To be extremely clear: not a bad guy.

I saw a couple of “It gets better” Spots on YouTube that were adorable and touching. Alexander Skarsgard, who I ADORE, was sweet but unintentionally hilarious (to me, at least, but I am easily amused. lucky me!) because of the camera angle or his posture or some combination thereof made him look like a sinking ship. And Kristin Bauer (who's name I've forgotten but whom I also adore but who is much less personally compelling to me because she does not make me twitter-pated) had an extremely touching, sincere, and hopeful spot that was just delightful. I am bad with names and have sworn not to go looking things up other than the words I wish I already knew, but if I ever post this publicly I swear I’ll look you up, if I can cope with that. And you know now my promise is good. This time.

I’d probably have to categorize today as “manic” rather than depressive. Please don’t kill yourself today. I’m glad you were born. I sometimes have a very dry delivery despite my sincerity, which is not helped, I’m sure, by this text only format. But I mean it--I am glad.

No comments:

Post a Comment