A good friend recently asked me when I knew I’d be an artist.
This isn’t the answer I told her. But it’s probably more true.
I’m not writing this because of him. I’m writing this because I’m angry and I demand change. And people only change when it becomes harder not to. It is now harder not to change. And so I’d like to tell you this.
Since I was 10 years old I’ve had depression. I was treated with medication and therapy for a few years and seemed to get better. That was temporary. I haven’t since been treated professionally, but over the years I’ve tended to self medicate. I smoked for 10 years (I quit 8 years ago). I’ve drank heavily for the past 8 years. (I’m trying to quit. Or at least back off).
It comes in strange waves for me. 18 good months, then 4 bad. 12 good months, 5 bad. What’s helped me most as I’ve grown older is that the good has always showed up again. I’ve lived long enough to learn that everything’s temporary. And I plan things. I come up with ideas I’m too excited about to give up. So I get through.
I haven’t been suicidal since I was 21. I attempted or seriously contemplated suicide about a half dozen times before that. I’ve been really lucky that every time I’ve been there, I had someone around who loved me out of it.
Becky Sparks. Dad. Mom. Matt. Rachelle. Nicole. Davis. Dawn.
Those are the names etched into the walls of my heart, that I look to every time it comes back. They are the ones who got me through.
The last time, though, I was alone.
I was living in Santa Fe, a year after dropping out of school. A year of drugs and fucking up. It was my birthday, my 21st, right after Thanksgiving. I’d been thinking about it for a while: there was this mountain village about 20 miles from town, with this beautiful look out. Once Rachelle and I were there and saw a mountain lion. A part of me believed that if I died there I’d become one. So that was the place.
I drove there through a storm, an early winter mountain storm, wind whipping and rain, thunder, the clouds backlit shards. And being me, I was smoking, with the window down.
I was about a mile from the place when the wind blew the ash off my cigarette, into my left eye. I screamed and rubbed it and swerved. When my hand came away, I couldn’t see. I’d wiped my contact out.
I have terrible vision. Driving one eye down, on top of the storm, was not going to happen. I pull over to look for the contact, and I spent a damn hour in that car on the side of the road, looking for that lens.
I was very concerned about driving safely on the way to my suicide.
By the time I gave up searching I was so furious and hungry I turned away and drove slowly home.
And that was it. For some reason that was the last time. I remember considering it a day or two later and just thinking “… nah.” (I lived the next six months with only one contact. The vision in my left eye got increasingly better sans lens).
About two months later I moved back with my folks. A little less than a year later I was heading back to school, this time in the north. I’d never been north of St. Louis before (well, not that AND east of the Mississippi).
I was packing my car for the big drive to the middle of alfalfa farms in western NY. And when I leaned into the passenger seat, to jam one last bag in, I saw something glint off the steering wheel. I went around to the driver’s seat to get a better look.
And there it was. A small round piece of clear plastic, tinted slightly blue in the center, hard and dry and crusted to the steering wheel, a contact lens stuck just out of sight from someone sitting in the driver’s seat.
I said good bye to my parents and drove away. And I laughed for the next 900 miles.
I don’t know if I believe anything about God except that she has a sense of humor. And sometimes really good timing.
That was the day: the day I left Texas for NY, that I decided I wanted to make things for people. To be an artist. And also the day I knew that nothing could ever beat me.
I know how incredibly fortunate I’ve been to be surrounded by love my whole life. And that while my struggle has a happy middle (it’s not a happy ending because it’s not over, it keeps on and it always will), others aren’t as fortunate.
I’m tired of horrific events catalyzing what we should have been doing all along.
You, reading this: you know someone who is in extreme pain. Maybe you are, personally.
If it’s you, Get Help.
Call 1.800.273.8255 and talk to someone.
Do something small, share, and get help. Sometimes all it takes is getting thru the next five minutes.
And if it’s not you, I hope you’ll do something too. Consider the following:
- Reach out to someone you think needs it. Show someone love.*
- Volunteer at a phone line, or make a donation. The AFSP is a wonderful organization.
- Pledge to do the Out of the Darkness Walk, in Boston on October 25th. I’ll be there.
* So here’s the really shitty thing about Depression. Sexism may have perfected victim-blaming, but Depression invented that shit. Depression convinces you that your problem is not worth someone else’s time, that your sadness is shameful, that you are doing someone else a favor by not saying anything, by letting go. It tells you over and over that you deserve this. You deserve to feel this way. People stay quiet because the disease demands it of them. Which only adds to the experience of loneliness. The moments that have saved me are when someone saw that I was in pain and distracted me with a joke, an adventure, something. They pulled me out of the drain. Do that for someone.