I happened upon your amazing post tonight. I wanted to contact you to say “thank you” and to tell you that you were also telling my story. I have bipolar disorder; I’m very open about it and how it affects my life. My family knows, most of my friends do.
The holidays are a misery for me. I am almost always suicidal from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, and this year was very difficult. Thanks to my family and friends (and my doctor), I pulled through without harming myself. Though I’m beginning to feel better, I am still very fragile right now. Unfortunately, my “best friend/boyfriend” can’t handle it when I fall into the abyss, and tells me I should, essentially, be “present” and “think happy thoughts.” I should have shot him, but I just broke off with him.
So, here’s the issue (maybe you have a better take on it than I do) that has plagued me since my breakdown ten years ago: I know my life has value to others, but why does it feel it has no value to me? Is caring how my demise will affect the people in my life enough to continually live through these murderous lows?
I don’t have any answers for these questions, and I don’t know where to look within to find them. Michael, what stays the hand? Do you know?
I’m not going to pretend to say its easy to come up with an answer to your question or say that your words don’t make me feel infinitely small in my inability to provide you with an adequate answer. Not because there isn’t one, but because to pierce through that gigantic darkness requires a patience and understanding of the person that I lack in regards to a complete stranger. And I’m not a trained psychologist. I highly advise seeking counseling and help if you feel like this. But I’ll say a little something because this is not the first time someone has asked me something like this. And I mean not the first time today.
So this is me just talking straight with you. I’m a poet so some of that straight talking is going to sound like Radiohead Lyrics, Hallmark Cards and Dr. David Burns masturbating to Ben Harper. But I’ll try my best.
I can tell you that I have been in the darkness that absorbs the past and blurs any concept of a future. Where you live in a constant present moment that is made up of only your fears of the past and the future, your guilt and shame, living in ultimate nowhere. I have been in so much pain that I didn’t want to live or even have been born if I could escape it. I also know that feeling is strange to me now. That outside of it, I can barely understand it.
You say that you always feel this way from Thanksgiving through New Years. I looked at the calendar recently and noticed there are all kinds of other months in the year. I understand how a person can forget that. There also isn’t a guarantee that you always return to darkness. Sometimes things actually do get better.
My bipolar friend Alan, said this to me in an email recently:
“I am 48 years old and am a self-employed and own a web design company. I was working on a term job in Canso Nova Scotia when I could no longer function and was later diagnosed with bipolar II (depression) about 15 years ago. Like yourself, I was informed of a six-month wait to see a specialist. Much noise was made to see someone within a month. I bounced around the system for many years before finding a drug that worked for me for many years. I stopped taking any medication in the fall of 2007 after suffering no relapses for well over 10 years.”
Basic summation of my Hallmark story without Full House music: even this can change.
This person drifts away and though they come back you get to enjoy things that the dead don’t. Peace is nothing compared to the raging fury of the joys of life. The sound of laughter. The taste of your favorite food. The knowledge that you are completely and totally ignorant of all the joys you cause. The chaotic force of your every action and the imprint you make on the people you love.
In the darkness you are blind. Recognize that. Rationality crumbles and your brain chemistry tries to take away everything you want and wish for to get away from the pressures of wanting it. Be easy on yourself. Remember that this feeling will pass. And if it comes again, it will also pass.
In regard to people telling you to have positive thoughts and the desire to commit murder as a result, I totally and completely understand.
You can’t base how you feel about yourself on the ignorance of a loved one. As you won’t understand this person when you feel normal again you can’t expect someone who hasn’t lived through it to understand it. I’d go fucking apeshit on a person who told me to be positive when I’m depressed. May as well tell a cripple to run on broken legs.
However…they know not what assholes they be.
People are raised on happy endings and stick to it clichés. No one knows the right thing to say about mental illness. We don’t have training. Most of them mean well and speak not because they think they know the answer but because no one taught us how to shut the fuck up and listen. Everyone wants to help to not feel so helpless.
(IE Journalistic Masturbator responds to stranger’s suicidal tendencies with awkward poetic ballad aimed to change life, cue movie montage and save the day like some Hassidic Inigo Montoya. “My name is Michael Kimber, your disease is an asshole, prepare to die disease! The pen is mightier than the sword. Fezzik! Fezzik! I need you! This piece is getting away from me. Fezzik please!)
Brief pause for Princess Bride related excitement to subside. Back to the point.
I know that you’ve taken a lot of hell in a lot of seasons. And you’ve walked forward. Each year you’ve lived past those Thanksgivings and the barrage of be happy and be loved and be grateful with nuclear explosions of winter, hateful chemicals, Christmas trees, family photos, Wal-Mart Commercials and bullshit New Year forced happy celebrations. Remember that the Holidays are bullshit. No one is as happy as the photos. And eventually we stop faking our way through winter and get past the snow and commercial clean smiles.
Remember that first feeling of spring.
Those moments when the nightmares end. When just being alive is a dream. That feeling of the sun on your face and the realization that living moment to moment isn’t a complete and utterly losing battle. It comes. It has year after year and as long as you hang on it will come again.
(Think positive! It all gets better soon!)
On some real shit, life isn’t ever going to be without mind shattering pain as long as you give a shit. Pain is the mortgage on love, on self, on life.
The only reason you feel pain is that you are alive. Who you are from the first moment you were born is the movement of pain to pleasure. Your mother’s screams became her tears of joy at having you, the person she loves me more than she ever thought possible. That first pain when you lost your virginity lead to that eventual orgasm and screaming joy life and pain and shaking knees and getting to play with your favorite things.
The skinned knees from repeatedly falling to the ground lead to that feeling of flying on your first bike as the world flooded past you and you moved like the wind. The tears of grief and loss of things you don’t get to hold in your hand and keep forever are remnants of the joy others create in you. Our bones creak; skin sags and hearts have difficultly beating, because you can’t hold all that life in you forever without exploding, you have to break to let more life in. It’s good to break. As your mother lost pieces of herself to make you, so do you lose your old self each time you dip into the darkness. A new you emerges each time. Stronger for the suffocation.
I’m a better person for what I’ve lost.
There are no erasers in life. You can’t take it back. All the joy I create now was formed in the compassion created by that darkness. You are no less alive then the people who don’t know the darkness so fully. Who haven’t fought that war with themselves to live every single day, not to the fullest but at all. Because you don’t have a choice in living it to the fullest. Your extremes, your ups and downs, that feeling of horrifying pain, of everlasting fall, creates a completely and totally different emotional geography then someone who doesn’t face your struggles. Your world is vaster, more in one lifetime then you ever wished, but it is life and you are fucking overflowing with it. Don’t curse yourself for that knowledge, or hate yourself or feel guilty. You are brave and strong and worth being alive. Don’t blame yourself for having scars. War does that.
The things you have are so much significant for how far you have to go to get them.
Death promises nothing. The world is no better for losing the fullness of your experience. Because others walk through darkness without your knowledge. You can help them. You can help yourself. You owe it to yourself to do everything you can to live.
You are breathing right now when others in your situation weren’t lucky enough to have your strength, your family. Hold onto that. You are lucky. You are blessed to have the courage to live through what you have and you hold that control. When you feel you have lost it, go get help. Because you’ll get it back and you’ll remember that strange sense of how could this happen that I feel now.
Staying your hand for how you’d make your family feel if you left isn’t enough. Remember how they make you feel. How you make them feel even in the worst of your misery. That the world comes back. That you’ll see again. And the world is so fucking beautiful when it comes back. When you can feel those joys you’ve missed, when you’re in the moment without anyone having to tell you to think happy thoughts. You’ll be there again.
Remember that every year you go blind and later on you see again.
Wait till you can see again.
You aren’t numb; you aren’t an absence of life.
It took a lot of people loving me and a lot of therapy and work to see again.
But I do and I love it so much more for having myself back, for having waited.
Even the pain of losing the girl I loved more then anything, I can see her and I can see us and how we were and I just feel so fucking grateful that I ever got to have that in my life. That I know I made her life better even when I could barely take care of myself. You are capable of loving and being loved in the worst of your own nightmares.
I’m not saying be wildly optimistic. I’m saying work, and wait, until you are rational again.
There is still love for you, the love that exists in others that you’ve touched in the past and love that you don’t even know exists yet because you haven’t created it. We can’t help but create pain in ourselves and others as we go through life, but we create love too and happiness and joy out of that.
The universe came out of the darkness.
So will you.
PS Make a frown into an umbrella, beat the shit out of a leprechaun to get the gold at the end of a rainbow and remember that your glass is half full…. of shit right now. But it won’t always be. Sometimes there will be orange juice.
AKA The Aryan Inigo Montoya
Thank you very much for your thoughtful and generous response. I’m fortunate to have a good psychiatrist, but it’s a question I guess I will always struggle with. I will, however, keep this email to read when the night descends on me again. It poses some strong arguments for living that I can’t quarrel with (nor would I want to).
Please know that this message you took the time the write means a great deal to me. I’ve read it over and over, and, finally, this is something beautiful that makes sense, even within the fragile state of mind I find myself. I’m better today than I was yesterday, and better yesterday than I was the day before. I have to remind myself of all of this.
Your kindness and clarity helped me, Michael. The finger is off the trigger and I am emerging once again.