Friday, August 15, 2014

Frank conversation

Robin Williams on his last birthday 7/14
In the wake of Robin Williams' death I've had two very honest and revealing conversations with close friends about depression and suicide. Inspiring us to speak candidly about this problem could be the funnyman's final gift to his audience.

My oldest friend confessed that she recently had contemplated suicide. I was not surprised to hear this -- I think I know exactly when it was -- but it was, of course, troubling. She said the only reason why she didn't do it was that she had the wrong kind of pills (meaning, for the most part, non lethal) in the house and was afraid that if she tried and failed she'd end up in the psych ward.

I didn't respond by telling her to "buck up." I know that she views me as tough ("Life can grind you into the dirt and yet you somehow get back up") and I didn't want to make her feel inferior. Instead I told her of a time more than 25 years ago when I thought about it. I was in so much pain that killing myself seemed like respite.

I didn't do it that night because I didn't have any pills and my little disposable Bic shavers couldn't do sufficient damage to my veins. I remember laying in bed, too depressed to move, cataloging everything I had failed at and was sadly amused that I could now add "coming up with a way to kill myself" to list. I heard the train rumble past my window and contemplated throwing myself on the tracks.

But then the sun came up again. I had a cat (her name was Wilma) to feed. I took a shower. It was a new morning. God had given me another day. So, as my oldest friend put, I somehow got back up. She seemed surprised that suicidal despair had washed over me, too. I wonder how many people we pass on the sidewalk each day are suffering similarly.

I think my confession helped my oldest friend feel less alone in her thoughts and fears. And, hopefully, she knows she can turn to me when she feels desperate and I'll understand.

I also talked to my friend John. He's no stranger to depression. He's been unlucky in love, lost the mother he was very close to, lost his kid sister to drugs, and has battled heart disease. Right now, at 60, he's underemployed and frightened about his financial future. Yet he says he's never entertained ending it. Ever.

This surprised me. For while I'm a Christian and my oldest friend dabbles by reading Depak Chopra, Joel Osteen and the Dali Lama, John is not spiritual in any conventional way. Yet his reason for not doing it was simple and powerful -- "What about the person who finds me?" Looked at that way, suicide to him seems monstrously selfish. He's right, of course. Suicide is (almost always) a selfish act. And it's good to be reminded what a nice man John is.

These conversations were sobering but they weren't sad. Sharing the intimate stuff is important. It brings us closer. And it helps combat the isolation that can be so crippling when we're depressed.


2 comments:

  1. Powerful conversations, indeed.

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  2. I've contemplated it, too and the only reason I didn't was Lauren and Duty. I didn't want to hurt them.

    More people than we imagine have probably felt this way at one point and, like you, picked themselves up and kept going.

    But I can understand why some do not.

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