Cancer or a Tornado

I have a golden rule with books: 

"If it's crappy in the first 100 pages, it will not get better. Stop reading."

Unfortunately, for some strange reason, I haven't instituted this rule with blogs.  "If it's crappy in the first hundred words, stop."  I was really upset by the loss of Robin Williams, not because of his celebrity, but because he has been really outspoken about having bipolar disorder.  It's probably part of what made him such an empathetic, entertaining actor.  

I unfortunately clicked on a link to a very popular blog.  I refuse to link to it, but suffice it to say, it is the most visited Wordpress blog, and it is hosted by a husband and father who likes to say shocking things to get attention.  He calls them "absolute truths," as though giving them a Christian spin makes hurtful, awful things less so.

What he said about Robin Williams in the first hundred words had me shaking with anger:

"I can’t comprehend it. The complete, total, absolute rejection of life. The final refusal to see the worth in anything, or the beauty, or the reason, or the point, or the hope. The willingness to saddle your family with the pain and misery and anger that will now plague them for the rest of their lives.

It’s a tragic choice, truly, but it is a choice, and we have to remember that. Your suicide doesn’t happen to you; it doesn’t attack you like cancer or descend upon you like a tornado. It is a decision made by an individual. A bad decision. Always a bad decision."

First, let me say that I absolutely understand what he is saying.  He is saying that suicide doesn't just happen to someone.  And he's partially right in that respect.  The rest of it is bulls--t.  And it went on for 8,000 words.

Suicide is a terrible final thing, but as someone who has grappled with the absolute terror and despair of living, I kind of want this writer to shut up.

Bipolar is not the same as depression.  The author says that he has struggled with depression, and he may have done, which makes his lack of sympathy so much more disgusting.   If you imagine that depression is a straight line of moods and actions and feelings with and deep trough, then bipolar is being dropped into that trough from a great height of ecstasy.  It is the happiest moment of your life, followed by the death of the person you love most in the world repeated over and over.  I maintain that Robin Williams' unique ability to play characters of great emotional depth while smiling is due to this.

Now the hard part.  I'm going to tell you why, one moment ten years ago, I wanted to end my own life. There are some parts of this story I've never told anyone.

I had done everything right.  It started quite gradually, and then one day I just couldn't get up off of the floor.  I didn't even have that much warning.  I cried for days, then when I stopped crying, I started hurting more.  There was this constant, gnawing pain in my chest, and even moving blinking took monumental amounts of the energy I no longer had.  So, I did the right thing.  I dragged myself up off of the floor with the help of a friend and went to the doctor, who gave me an antidepressant and suggested that I do regular exercise to help my mood.  At first, I had no idea how on earth I was going to exercise.  I barely had the energy to shift gears in the car.  But somehow I did it.  The antidepressant began to take effect, and in about 6 weeks, I did feel better.  A lot better.  

I had my energy back in spades, and it was wonderful.  All of a sudden, I was a prolific student again with amazing ideas.  My final paper for one of my courses that term was about 25 pages long, when the professor asked for 8.  He always gave a minimum, but I had so many interesting things to say that I'm sure he instituted a maximum after that.  I had so much energy that I didn't need to sleep!  I didn't need to eat either!  For the first time, I was able to go to the gym for two hours without feeling hungry after.  I lost 30 lbs (over 2st for my UK readers) in 6 weeks.  I looked and felt amazing.  I spent my rent money and more I didn't have on new clothes and shoes.  While awake one night watching the horrible infomercials that come on at 3 am, I decided to start my own t-shirt printing company.  I had so many funny, clever things to say that they simply had to be in the world.   I practiced piano for longer than I'd ever managed before, and had the idea that the frequencies of various notes in Bach pieces were so brilliant that they could be re-arranged into binary code, then letters.  I had a notebook filled with personal messages for me from JS Bach.  

You may notice that the last two are pretty strange.  They aren't the strangest things that I did, but I felt so good that I didn't even notice the cliff I was about to fall off.

It was so sudden that I didn't have time to go to the doctor to say something was wrong.  One day, I just crashed. It was beyond the pain I had felt with the depression before.   You know the phrase "hitting rock bottom"?  Anyone who has felt that feeling of depression knows a terrible secret.  There is no bottom.  Your mind can cause pain like no other.  It wasn't a "refusal to see the worth in anything...or the hope."  I couldn't move.  How are you supposed to see the beauty of flowers or trees or family or faith if you literally cannot move. I laid in the bed, not eating, not really sleeping.  I got up about twice a day to pee and drink from the faucet in my bathroom, but I literally had to drag my body like I was paralyzed.   I would try to sleep at night, believing every single night that I would die and finally get to see Jesus, finally have relief from the infinite pain.  It wasn't a "complete, total rejection of life."  I didn't reject life, but I wanted to reject the pain.  I believed that I couldn't possibly live anymore.

It was more insidious than cancer because well-meaning people told me it wasn't real.  They told me if I prayed more or had more faith, it would go away.  What they didn't know was that I spent more time praying during that time than I ever had before or have since.  I spent hours asking God to take me or heal me.  I quote him every scripture that I had ever read about preserving me, about "having a hope and a future."  But he remained silent.

It did descend like a tornado, wrecking my life and my body and any faith I had left.  Then came the day where I said "No more."  God wasn't answering.  I had been completely alone for a week, and although people would miss me, I wasn't real anyway.  My spirit and soul had ceased to exist.  It was just my body that stubbornly refused to follow.  I stopped drinking water even.  I held my cat and prayed that someone would find me if it wasn't time.  When they didn't, I took it as a sign that it was time for me to go.  I needed the pills though, so I went to the store for them.  I almost felt light again, having made the decision.  It was once I decided to die that I found relief enough energy to complete it.  My suffering had an end point.  Many accounts of death, suicide or not, have this element, as I have read since.

I took the sleeping pills.  It was going to be over, and I wanted to see my best friend one more time, so I summoned the energy to find her.  She saw me and then immediately put me in her car and took me to the hospital.  I remember the doctor asking me to tell my mother over the phone what was happening.  I think I said I didn't really want to die but it was too late because I was already dead.  I remember lying on a gurney and the fluorescent lights passing above my eyes.  I remember throwing up and the IV they put in my arm.  I remember spitting on the doctor who came to ask me questions through even more blinding pain.  He had birthed me again into a world of pain from death, and I was angry.

But angry is an emotion that is not just pain.  And so began a journey back into the land of the living from the Valley of the Shadow.  It took almost two years to get better.

So next time you read of suicide and think it's not part of a disease, think again.  Suicide doesn't happen in a vacuum. It is a result of a sickness so unimaginable that a spirit is all but dead while a body lives.  I managed to get a defibrillation and now have a daily pacemaker to cure my mind, but Robin Williams was not so lucky.

He died as a result of a disease of the mind, just as if his body were rife with cancer or a tornado sucked the life from him.  The rate of suicide in the US is more than car accident fatalities, and it has not budged in decades.  As many as 20% of bipolar sufferers complete a suicide attempt, with 3 times as many men as women.  Mental illness has a death rate, just like cancer.  Think about that the next time you are tempted to say someone "chose to end their life."  He didn't choose it.  I didn't choose it.  Just like it wanted to take me, it took him.  Rest in peace. 


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