The Easy Way Out

I first wrote this two years ago but with recent celebrity losses stimulating “discussion”, it bears repeating.  “Suicide is not an easy way out.” My own contemplations of suicide and my battles with clinical depression fuel my emotions, along with the thoughts of three friends and former students who in the last year have opted to take the “easy way out.”

“A brave man once requested me,
to answer questions that are key,
‘Is it to be or not to be,’
and I replied, ‘oh why ask me?’”

“’Cause suicide is painless,
it brings on many changes,
and I can take or leave it if I please…
and you can do the same thing if you please.”
Theme from MASH, “Suicide is Painless” by Johnny Mandel

I don’t believe there is anything easy about committing suicide nor do I think is it totally painless. That would be two of the major reasons I don’t attempt it. Some say, “It’s taking the easy way out.” When you are sick like me, one may find it may not be the easiest of ways out. I don’t mean sick as in “I have a terminal illness and it is going to eat me up from the inside out” kind of sickness but the “I’m crazy as a bed bug” kind of sickness. I have suffered from clinical depression for over forty years now so I believe I have the right to say, “I’m crazy as a bedbug.” Also, like a world-class alcoholic, I have become very adept at hiding it. You see, almost daily, I still have thoughts of suicide or when I do something I consider “wrong,” there are the thoughts that I deserve to be hurt in some way even if I do it to myself. YES, I JUST CUT OFF MY FINGER ON PURPOSE!!!! I’ve done neither so suicide may not be the easy way out after all.

Being suicidal and repeatedly not pulling the trigger, not slitting a wrist or taking a short step out of a very high window is hard. I spend some of my “very best” depressed “self-speak” contemplating, quite morbidly, the pain of a bullet entering my head as opposed to the pain the same bullet would have on the people I leave behind. The people I love and, despite my depressive hate speech, those I know to love me, at least I think…maybe. My wife, my daughter, and son-in-law, my grandchildren, who I don’t yet know as well as I want, my brother and my friends. So far, my belief is that the pain of my action on those I leave behind would be greater…therefore, I don’t do it. There is also the fear of the unknown. Am I going to find myself inside of a vat of boiling “hellfire and brimstone” for instance or am I just going to “wink” out of existence? Both options are scary, as are others, and I find I am not a very brave person or is “sticking out” the mental anguish, in itself, brave?

Clinical depression is one of the odd ducks of mental illness. “Oh you are just a little blue…” and the Grand Canyon is a little hole. Logically you ask yourself, repeatedly I might add, “What have you got to be depressed about?” Right now it is a non-functional tractor and lawn mower, but they should not be “life-altering” should they? Or, friends and loved ones ask, “Why are you depressed?” Those questions are quite tiring because there is no answer.

My depression is due to a tiny, little, itty bitty chemical imbalance in my brain. AND IT IS TREATABLE, once you figure out it is nothing more than a disease. No different than diabetes, or arthritis, or toenail fungus except that for some reason it seems to be much more embarrassing to say, “I am clinically depressed and suicidal” rather than “I have toenail fungus and it is yucky.” It shouldn’t be.  We need to dispell the stigma of “I’m crazy as a bedbug” and treat the illness.

These thoughts and my own depression were triggered by a phone call. A friend told me of a suicide. I didn’t know the man; I know the family he left behind and can only imagine the pain they are going through. The unanswered questions, “Why?”, “Why didn’t I see it coming?”, “What did I do wrong?” Suicide was not an easy way out for them. Suicide was not due to an incurable and painful illness like cancer. It was due to an incurable and painful illness like clinical depression.  There are no answers to the “Why” and “What” questions.

His suicide has me, selfishly, thinking about ME. I worry that someday suicide will appear to be the easy way out…that I won’t have enough clarity of thought to keep me from pulling that trigger. No there is nothing easy about suicide including the contemplation of it. Before you react, NO! I do not need to be put on suicide watch…at least yet. I’ll try to let you know and you should be paying attention. This blog post is for the people who have not had their clinical depression diagnosed or those who have and still battle it every day. You are not alone. There are many of us out there, a depressing estimate of one hundred and twenty-nine million worldwide, one out of every ten Americans and even more depressing, eighty percent never receive treatment. I was lucky. There ARE people you can talk to. If there is no one in your life, try these:
National Suicide Hotline (800) 273-8255
Teen Health and Wellness Suicide Hotline: 800-784-2433
Crisis Call Center: 800-273-8255 or
text ANSWER to 839863
For more statistics copy and paste http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/statistics-infographic

If you are interested in reading more “Ravings of a Mad Southerner” or other writings by Don Miller, please use the following link:  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

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FOR LAURA…AND ME

 

I’ve tried to write this tribute a thousand times.  In my head, as I put it on paper, the words never come as easily as I would like and never seem to do her justice.  You asked simply, “Tell me about my mother.  I never got to know her.”  Laura, it is a huge task because I never got to know her as well as I would have wished either.  I empathize because I lost my mother at an early age and wish I had time to know my own mother better.  I do know where your question comes from.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, specifically the week of September 10th and I feel led to write about the woman who prevented one suicide and possibly a second, one at the cost of her own life.  I need to write it for both you and for me…maybe more for me.  I remember that terrible morning…and still feel the sense of loss accompanying it.  I can only imagine the loss you feel and the hardships that go with that feeling.

Laura, I have suffered from clinical depression for the past forty years…this year.  In the spring of 1977, I had no idea what was causing my anxiety and despair.  I feared I was just going “crazy.”  Had your mother not interceded in my “craziness” I may never have been diagnosed, or worse, may have followed through with a terrifying, soul-searching debate involving myself and a pistol.  It was she who consoled me, quieted my tears and suggested I go to my doctor.  Suggested is not a strong enough word but the only word I have.  She gave me a fighting chance, one I have not squandered…yet.

I remember her deep laugh and somewhat gravelly voice due in part from too many Virginia Slims.  It was a different time.  A pixie in stature and butterfly in personality, she never-the-less cast a huge shadow over all those she touched…and not because of the awards she had won but because of the person she was.  As a second-year teacher, I was terrified of her until she disarmed my fear with her laugh…and her care for an immature, twenty-four-year-old child.  Your mother was never too busy to give council.  She was a mentor, a friend, and a mother figure.

I remember so many conversations, many involving you.  I remember those first few years of my career, dutifully reporting to the storage room behind the lab that contained her “very cluttered” desk.  Asking questions, trying to understand how electrons could be both a particle and a wave, or how I could have such a good life and feel so depressed.  She, teaching me right before I had to teach a class that could have cared less about quantum mechanics or why all objects fall at the same rate regardless of mass.  Somehow making it all understandable to a history major masquerading as a physical science teacher.  Until the afternoon after I had fallen apart.  The afternoon after my conversation with my pistol.  She cried with me as I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain what I was feeling…despair, hopelessness, and desperation, not realizing she was living on the other side of suicide until a morning when it was too late.

She was proud of you, that you can be assured.  More importantly, she would be proud of you now.  I remember an impish or elfin little freshman from so long ago…so much the image of her mother I now realize.  Your mother was so very delighted and content to have you close by.  Lugging a huge musical instrument from class to class, from our conversations I realize, as a grown woman, you have been lugging around a huge burden all your life.  In some ways, the same burden your mother carried around, never letting on.

Your mother was a loving person and person who was loved…by students, her teaching peers, and her administrators.  She was respectful to her classes and her classes were respectful of her…not to say she didn’t believe in tough love in some, necessary situations.  She looked for the best in people and I believe she was rarely disappointed.  In many cases, you get exactly what you look for, something we should all remember.  The most important thing you need to remember about your mother is that she loved you and she was proud of you.  I believe she is proud of you now and the sacrifices you have had to make.  You have been a loving and dutiful daughter.  She would also be sad because of those same sacrifices and would tell you to unburden yourself.

Laura, your mother had a very profound effect on not only me but everyone she mentored, and most assuredly those students she encountered.  I am saddened you didn’t get to know her as well as I did as an adult, but I’m also confident she taught you lessons you don’t even know you learned.  I believe the best way to learn about your mother is to consider the “metaphorical” mirror.  If you gaze into it you will see more of her than you realize.  I believe you are a lot like her…in the most positive of ways.

With love, Don.

This is National Suicide Prevention Month.  To learn how you can support suicide prevention, please use the following link:  https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide and you feel you have no one to talk to please call their life line at 1-800-273-8255

To read more from Don Miller please use the following link to his author’s page:  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM