Please know that the following is nothing more than an account of those recent events which led me to conclude that this particular post might, in a very small way, help set a precedent for openness about mental illness—or just bummed-outness—and of support for those who suffer from it. I humbly request that you do nothing more than read on and go about your day, letting whatever sticks stick, and knowing that talking and listening and being vulnerable are only a matter of being brave. Read and be brave.
Joseph stepped off a chair and into thin air fifteen days before Christmas.
While I don’t know specifics, my brain cannot help but imagine the scene. To speed the process of understanding what the hell happened and why, I stay up late and read about his final neurological signals, about how exactly they fired and where they ended up. What I come up with strikes me as Joe Strommer’s last miracle:
The part of Joe’s brain called the frontal lobe told its fellow brain parts to get on with it, firing the signal from dendrite of the first neuron on down the axon (spurred on by that handy myelin sheath) and across to the dendrite of the second neuron, so on and so forth, leaping across synapses until it hit the other necessary brain parts, which executed the following admirably:
The spinal cord bowed and yessired, sending the signal down the highway faster than you or I or Joe could stop it. On its way down, the cord bumped past the cerebellum, growling along the way that it ought to make itself useful and make sure those limbs know where they’re going for once.
The occipital lobe pointed the way to the line between before and after. The parietal lobe, the part that says over and over, you are here, told the rest of Joe one more time you are here, and there is where you want to be.
On my screen I see him exhale and step off the chair, but at the last second he knows he made a mistake. Too late: the world goes from Joseph is to Joseph was. That simple switch: what a sucker-punch.
It should not have been this way. It shouldn’t be that life makes you not want to live it.
When I realize just how big a waste of time researching Joe’s hypothetical neurobiological chain of events is, I switch to staring at the ceiling. The clock reads 1:23, then 3:48, and next I am waking up to the same ceiling and the same everything.
In the nights since, I have often lost ground—the soul slipping, struggling for purchase on the slick surfaces of hours and minutes. My bicycle tugs from the garage, says to take a ride, to pedal hard until I believe that one hard steady breath will find my friend and breathe him back from the dead. But outside it snows. It’s cold.
Joe loved to ride.
I’m sad sometimes. I don’t know if it’s more or less often than your average human, but I suspect that lately it’s been more, and worse. There are more bad days than good ones, and it’s not just because of what happened to Joe, or because my writing isn’t where it should be. It’s everything, it’s nothing—my family history of depression and anxiety and other flavors of mental illness, my not having experienced any form of physical intimacy pretty much ever, the gap between where I am and where I want to be in my professional and home lives, etc. It all leads to a vague, lack-ish ache somewhere between my eyes and my knees. It burns and itches and pinches like a skinned knee, only there is no Band-Aid, and if I go crying to someone, they will not see how it bleeds, how it runs in rivulets into my relationships, my work, and my writing.
At least this is what I suspected, and so I have kept quiet even on those occasions where I think, albeit obliquely, of leaving like Joe did.
That is, until the other day when I very nearly posted the following in the middle of a particularly suffocating crisis:
For two hours yesterday, I mapped a different life for myself, the one I sacrificed for writing six or so years ago because I was convinced of the romance in words.
Now each word—nothing more complicated than a small packet of marks which we’ve given significance to and ordered into a neat arrangement of meaning—is only another struggle, so many fights heaped on top of one another, Conrad’s “crop of unextinguishable regrets.” How convenient that the selfsame quote which marked the cliff I went over in high school—the one that led into a lovely drop, a deeper love affair with fiction, a conviction in who I was supposed to be—marks a different freefall.
My words feel like spider-webbed glass— useless, but without the decency to shatter and by doing so offer the grim satisfaction of finality. They let threads of wind through, and an incessant whistling that must be distracting for you. It is maddening to me.
It’s not the arranging of words that I am having trouble with, but the arrangement of meaning. The words are there, and too many of them. But the stories have gone away. I am afraid they are never coming back.
I feel I’ve committed the worst sort of treason by wanting to duck out of this now. Now, when there is no going back without admitting to the waste of four years and more, years which were supposed to be the good ones, which were instead filled with my burning bridge after bridge without thought of myself, without mercy on my future.
And yet: I think I’ll stop writing now.
“Very nearly” of course means I did publish it, but soon after made it a private post, thinking (perhaps correctly) that it was self-indulgent and lugubrious. Especially since I titled it This Winter Has Teeth and Is Out for Your Bones. Really? Ugh.
It was a mistake that I’m now glad I made—a friend, and a clutch cheerleader since my rowing days in college, sent me an email saying 1) she had read my post and 2) she hoped it wasn’t the truth.
It was and is, though I wish I knew how to make it a lie. While I am endeavoring to change all of the above, publishing that post and reading my friend’s letter proved that admitting to chronic blues will not—or at least should not—be met with apathy or scorn. So here is what I have been trying to say this whole damn time: being sad does not equal weakness, and should not equal silence.
Having lost a friend, spent three years post-college living with my parents, published nothing, and having had
two three six of my six MFA applications rejected, it’s been hard to avoid the truth that I may very well be depressed, and harder still to admit it. But now that I have, I can get on with trying to believe that things will change, that they will get better, that (ohpleaseohplease) I will be admitted into a program and will publish and will make a living with words, that maybe I won’t always be single and living with my folks.
The soul slips, retrenches.