Friday, March 5, 2010

You Just Have to Find the Light

Every now and then I get to a place that I don't like very much. It's dark, empty and very lonely. I've been making visits there for as long as I can remember. My first conscious memory of visiting the dark place was when I was five.

I've been thinking about writing about this place for years. I used to think that I was the only person who visited the dark, empty, lonely place but I eventually learned that it wasn't true.

Last week I read about Andrew Koenig, a man whom I've never met, but I know him. He was a fellow visitor of the dark place, but he lingered there too long and was unable to leave.

I recall the theme song from M*A*S*H; it had that refrain that hypnotized me: "Suicide is painless; it brings on many changes; and I can take or leave it if I please." I sang that refrain in my head for years.

The first time I tried to kill myself I was fourteen. I took an overdose of Valium. My dad had been in an accident on his squad car and injured his leg. The doctor had prescribed Valium to help him rest. I came home from school and was alone in the house. I took all of the pills that were in the bottle, but there were only four or five. No one noticed anything was wrong until I was attempting to wash dishes after dinner and was rather wobbly on my feet. I don't recall much of the evening; my sister, who was 12 at the time, has supplied some of the missing details. My mother called the doctor. I'm not certain what she told him but she put me to bed to sleep it off. My sister watched me all night, afraid that I was going to stop breathing. I am still sorry for putting her through such trauma.

My father was visiting this Christmas and asked me about why I dropped out of college without graduating back in 1977 (I eventually went back to school and finished what I had started). I explained that I had been on the verge of an emotional breakdown. I told him that I had been on a downward spiral for years, ever since my suicide attempt back in 1971. He looked puzzled and asked me where he was when I made this attempt. I told him that he was there, but I recognized that he honestly didn't remember.

Please don't judge my parents harshly; I don't any more. They didn't have a clue as to what to do with me. My father left all child rearing decisions to my mother. I believe that he really doesn't remember. As for my mother, she couldn't accept that a part of me was broken, she wanted me to be whole and thought that by pretending that I was fine she could make it so.

It has taken me years to understand that my parents elected not to notice my emotional pain because they had no mechanism for dealing with it, no frame of reference for how to help me.

There are a lot of people who are in the dark place. It's not just dark, it's unrelenting darkness. A pitch black place where there is a total absence of light and the worst part is that you believe that there will never be an end to the darkness. You feel that you have only two options--to live with that oppresive darkness squeezing your chest so hard that every breath hurts, or end the suffering, escape the dark by ending life itself. It's not death that you desire; it's the absence of the hurt. You just want the darkness to go away.

Over the years I've developed a sort of sixth sense for suicides. When I was still teaching, I was a part of a team of four teachers and we taught 80 students among us. We took a personal interest in our students and tried to intervene as soon as we became aware that a student was having academic problems. We had a team meeting with one of our students whose grades had begun to slip. One of us asked a fairly innocuous teacher type question, "Where do you see yourself in ten years?" She responded, "I won't be doing anything in ten years." My colleagues just looked puzzled and considered her response to be teenage doublespeak meant to confuse adults. I looked at her and had this moment of total clarity. My question hung in the air, "When did you decide to kill yourself?" I remember that she didn't look surprised although my colleagues gasped rather loudly. When she spoke her voice was soft and quiet, "Last night."

I don't recall her name any more although I can still see her face. I hope that she is still hanging with the world; I hope that she has found her way to navigate the dark times. The name that I do remember is that of another of my students who went home and hanged herself one day.

I wish that I could tell you how to stop someone that you love from taking the ultimate step but it's not that simple. Both of those young women were suicidal; one I heard and the other I didn't. I was able to tell one that I understood and that the darkness really wasn't permanent, but the other, I didn't catch; I didn't hear her pain. It's not a science and blaming yourself is futile.

I've found my own way but I don't presume that the conclusions that I've reached have any universal application. I find it of comfort to recognize that I am not alone. There are a lot of people who find themselves in the dark place at various times in their lives. The beacon for me is that I've come to believe that there is a light somewhere in that darkness and that if I just hold on long enough I will find that light again. 

I think that suicide is about hopelessness, a sort of emptiness that seems infinite. I've worked through a lot of this with the help of some good therapists over the years. In addition to talk therapy, I believe that depression may be linked to a chemical imbalance and when that is the case,  prescription medications are necessary. My medication of choice is Paxil.

I've also learned to allow myself to give in to the dark. Sometimes I refuse to function. I sleep a lot, cry a lot, and demand nothing of myself for a day or two. I think of it as my renewal time.

I encourage parents to listen and to not be afraid to make direct inquiries if you suspect that your child is suicidal. You can't plant the idea in your child's mind by asking but you may get an honest answer if you ask an honest question. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 29. Gay, Lesbian, and transgender young people are even more likely to attempt suicide.

We rarely talk about suicide. Survivors tend to bury their attempts, to refrain from sharing their stories. I think that there should be a Suicide Anonymous organization where survivors can go and say, "Hi, my name is Sheria and I'm a suicide survivor." People who are contemplating suicide could come and share their thoughts in a safe environment and hear from people who fully understand where they are and how they got there. We could also tell them with credibility that suicide is not an answer.

I cannot declare that I am safe from suicide. To do so would be arrogant. I can say that I no longer consider suicide to be a desirable option. I choose life with all of its sorrow because there is also such sweet joy in living. I accept the darkness because I know that it is not endless. I decided that the time was now for me to write about this part of me because I'm tired of the secrecy and the shame. I know that there are others out there who have wrestled with these same demons and I think that it is important that we share the hope. When I was younger, I used to think that dying young was brave; now, I know that real bravery is choosing to live.

The video is of Kathy Mattea, a singer whose voice is like a cup of hot chocolate. I was fortunate enough to see her perform live; it was one of the best concerts that I've ever attended. This song is one of my favorites, "Standing Knee Deep in a River (Dying of Thirst)." I found this cool widget that has the lyrics. Just use the controls to the right to pause, slow down, or increase the speed of the scrolling.

Lyrics | Standing Knee Deep In A River (Dying Of Thirst) lyrics


Ms. Moon said...

Well, you have many sisters and brothers who know a home in the Dark Place. You know that.
And yes, it helps to share all of that. To talk about it. Thank-you.

aims said...

Wow, Sheria. That very song was like my theme song a while back. I get it ...

I also understand when you talk about the dark place. I've battled depression since childhood, too. My parents dealt with it the same way yours did. I'm just now getting to the place of forgiveness myself.

A couple of years ago you and I became friends. I knew we had much in common - I just didn't know it went this deep. I admire you and thank you for speaking on this subject. Maybe someday I'll be able to do the same.
I love you!

Joy said...

This is a powerful post, Sheria. Thank you for expressing this so eloquently and honestly. I've been in that dark place from time to time, too. Your idea about SA is a good one. That Kathy Mattea song says it, doesn't it?

Glad we're still here. :-)

Sarcastic Bastard said...

This is a brave and touchingly honest post. For the record, I am overwhelmingly happy that you are still among us.

I have been diagnosed as clinically depressed myself and have struggled with many of the things that you have posted about here. Fortunately, I have never seriously considered suicide, but I have considered it all the same.

I remember Leonard Cohen saying that he considered suicide, but thought it would be "unbecoming" at his age. That made me laugh because I found it so true and so Leonard-like.

I love you and please be sure that you are not alone with your dark days.


Sybil said...

dear Sheria, Thank you so much for sharing these words with us. I think there is a time that we all feel liek crawling into that dark place and it is good to hear we are not alone. In our family at the momenet we have a great Nephew who is struggling in that very same place. Thankfully we have been able to get a councillor who is helping and for that we are grateful. I do so agree with you though about a "suicides Annon. would be a great idea.
Much Love Sybil x

Mark said...

This kind of authenticity is essential. To you, to others.

William Styron writes very beautifully about depression. When we make art out of pain, as he does as you have here, it's redemption.

Indigo said...

I'm all too familiar with that dark place. These days I've learned to not fall into the trap of addictions to escape it. And yes, some days it's still hard to keep my head above the water.

As for suicide...let's just say I discovered a hundred different ways to kill myself slowly and some more swiftly. All you and I can do is admit when we enter that space and hold out our hand to those who know we go there and grab on tight.

I love the concept of the scrolling lyrics. I've favorited the site so I can visit. Thanks as always dear friend. (Hugs)Indigo

Nance said...

My metaphor for suicidality: sometimes we're standing in a kitchen full of blinding smoke; in order to find the courage to move forward to discover what needs to be done, we first have to grope behind us for the door knob to the exit. We have to locate it, feel it, twist it a little, just to make sure that a way out is possible. That only makes sense for humans. When we stay and try to move into the smoke, we often stay for someone else's sake, and that makes sense for humans, too. We stay in the belief that we may be of service. I know that you are...and maybe never more than with this post.

Gerry said...

I have had a number of people during my 78 years who touched my life with their anguish and suicide. One was an uncle found dead under circumstances suggesting suicide after he had caused a scandal in his family and was divorced for it, plus he was an alcoholic, but I wasn't right there as I was when a young guy shot himself in the heart who had worked for us for 2 years. He shot himself once in the abdomen and then went to his Uncles house and took his rifle and...But for two years he ran through my consciousness every night and I would moan, "why did you do it, Darwin, why did you do it?" I vowed I would take another step when I knew someone was contemplating suicide rather than go through those months of if I had just said something...It's hard when you get there after the shot, too late. Thank you for struggling to get past temptation to stay with us and shine the light of your intelligence on many problems.

Yasmin said...

you have written eloquently on that "Dark Place" a place that I myself have been visiting for the last seven years or so, at the moment I'm in the light and looking forward as opposed to just fuctioning, and all I can say is that six years ago I picked up the phone and talked for 3 hours to a lady who actually listened to and brough me in from the ledge, I don't know what made me reach out that night but I also felt quite peacful as I had made a decsion, but thank god I'm still here.

When things get dark for me I just go with it but try to stay away from te ledge.

Powerful post Sheria

Thank you


Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Wow, what a powerful and personal post. Thank you for bringing us a little closer to your inner person.

jack-of-all-thumbs said...

Old friend,

I'm not shocked by your post, but of course I am saddened. And while you clearly have considered it more seriously than I have, the contemplation of suicide is not a completely foreign one to me. As a science-type, I think that chemical imbalances play a larger role than circumstances alone. Otherwise, the poor and suffering among us would hugely outweigh the affluent and healthy, but 'unhappy' people who have chosen to check out under their own terms. Chemicals (and the genes that create them) rule, sad though that may be.

However, I do reserve the right for a later date. As my final refuge against any well-meaning attempt to prolong my time here.

But as for you. And now. Your voice is needed. As is your insight. I too, missed at least one cry for help from one of our charges. I still have his picture.

Sandra Moreano said...

I just past the one year anniversary of my elder brother's suicide. He had been in and out of that dark space for years. I am grateful that he waited until he was 57 years old. He made several positive lasting contributions to this world. Unfortunately he rarely reached out for help of any kind. It seemed to be against his creed. Your entry brought me great comfort as I forget the kind of pain he was in.

My dark space is a tarry pit. Once I get in, it is hard to climb out. Crying a river of tears often gives me the lift I need. Followed by a lot of reaching out, be it giving or receiving. If there is no one around to give to me, then I give to someone else. I need the love and care passing between myself and other life forms in order to feel it all.

Bea said...

Yes, I've been to that dark place as well. Thank you for describing your reality. At first, I thought I was reading an entry written by someone else, not you, and even scrolled up to make sure I was reading yours. Shocked, yes, for I have met you, and to me, you are a strong and wise person, filled with love and humour. But now, I'm not so shocked after all, because it is because of where you have been in your heart, mind, and soul that has made you that strong and wise person. As to my experience, I have a story to tell as well, though not as dramatic as yours, it was enough for me to understand, and to seek the Light. Take care, good friend! love, bea said...

Thank you. Especially for reminding me to remember hopefully, for most of us, that the dark is temporary.

Anonymous said...

FUNNY YOU SAY THAT SHERIA.... I am going on Paxil but not for depression just for some other things that I have. That I talked about in your blog entry. I hope you will go to a doctor and see a doctor and maybe get on paxil it sounds like your stuggling with depression or have in the past
yourself and I hope you will go get help for your problems. Please?


warrior scout said...

my wonderful online friend.. you know that so much of life is shared. the emotions we all scale in this human experience are the same- just the level of intensity of each differs for each individual. i would imagine that my recent post is reflective of yours albeit unknown.

i started that post with a pic of virginia woolf, who was brilliant and tortured and finally filled her pockets with stones and walked into the sea, likely hoping to end the constant battle she had to wage.

we all have this darkness, and when it shrouds, it can blot out any memory of anything resembling sunlight. for me this darkness involves intense self-judgement, isolation, and a certainty of the removal of anything that connects me to others. i completely understand the need for hot chocolate. i find music to be one of my only solaces.

i am humbled by your candor and your clarity. take a wish for peace from me and keep it in your pocket..