People keep telling me I need to step outside of my comfort zone. I don’t have one of those. The definition of a comfort zone seems to be things people do every day and have become accustomed to. Habits are things people do every day, but a lot of habits don’t really comfort people. For example, biting your fingernails is a habit, but I’ve never seen anybody biting their fingernails who looked comfortable. Smoking cigarettes is a habit, too, but now, you can only see people shivering outside while they do it. They don’t look very comfy, either, but people can get used to almost anything, even torture. If they’ve been convinced that they deserve to be tortured, they’ll even find a new torturer when the original one wears out or dies.
Loneliness is when you can’t find anyone who sees the world the way you do. It’s made of never watching football and not wanting to shop or be entertained anymore. It’s made of not wanting to compete with anybody for anything but being forced to compete anyway. Everything has been turned into a competition, even singing and dancing, and most competitions only have one winner. You can watch all the entrants’ love for music and dance be transformed into pain as, one by one, they are told they aren’t good enough to be number one and eliminated. Number one gets all the prize money and the chance to be able to keep singing and dancing instead of something else for a living, like asking people for proof of medical insurance. People with crushed spirits are at a disadvantage in competitions because they have trouble finishing things.
What you are reading right now might become the world’s longest suicide note because that’s the only competition I think I might be able to win. I might die of natural causes before I finish it, though. First off, dead people don’t buy anything, so the current record holder was nowhere near the top of my search results. It took way more time than I thought it would to find out that in 2011, a guy named Mitchell Heisman, who killed himself on the steps of Harvard University, left a 1,904 page suicide note—-and that didn’t even include a manifesto. I don’t know yet whether the pages were double-spaced or not. What I did find out using my phone calculator is that if I write one page a day, to have a shot at winning this contest, I’ll have to stay alive for five years, 2 months and 20 more days.
To make the thought of having to stay alive that much longer bearable, I had no choice but to sign up for some modern jazz dance classes. I’m probably going to have to do more than that, though. Who knows? If I can finish writing 1905 pages, I might be so proud of myself that I’ll change my mind. I’ll just have to resist the temptation to speed it up and write 10 pages a day, but so badly that I bore myself to death before I even get close. Did I mention that his suicide note has gotten some positive reviews on Goodreads? Maybe the worst thing about the contemplation of impending death is the desire to achieve some kind of immortality that so often accompanies it. Page 2 tomorrow.
Page 2. Okay, first I have to confess that it’s not the tomorrow I referred to on the previous page. It’s four days later. It turns out that having modern jazz dance classes to look forward to isn’t nearly enough to keep me from longing for a more timely death. That’s why I went to see my old therapist. She thought it might be a good idea for me to check myself into a hospital. I had to remind her that I wasn’t rich. By the end of the session, though, we had agreed that it would be a good idea for me to try medication. I’m on day four of Zoloft. Maybe you can help me determine whether or not it’s doing any good or if I start to sound either more rational or more optimistic after being on it for a few more days. I say more rational OR more optimistic because I’m not sure it’s possible to be both. More of either would be good.
I’ve been afraid of medication since my younger brother was put on Ritalin and Elavil as a child to help my parents hide that they were abusing him. The doctors diagnosed him as the one with the problem—ADD. When he got to be an adult and aged out of the foster care system, he didn’t have a regular doctor, so he replaced Ritalin with meth and Elavil with pot. He went to prison for that, and never recovered from the torture he suffered in there or the injustice of everyone always getting away with hurting him. A few years ago, for the second time in his life, he cut his own throat. He died that time. Because of his success, I’m classified in a higher risk category for suicide. I don’t want to become a boring statistic, so I’m hoping all the positive reviews people wrote for this medication are true and not written by freelance writers on assignment for the drug company. “Zoloft saved my life! It took away my panic attacks and depression. It allowed me to relax and be myself for the first time. Now I even find myself singing in the shower! ” At this point, I’d settle for just finding myself in the shower.
In the meantime, while missing work, I’ve been trying to figure out how Mr. Heisman managed to stay alive long enough to write 1,904 pages if he was really suicidal. What I have figured out is that everything he had to say in those 1904 pages could probably have been condensed into one sentence: I am unable to love or be loved. That’s really the crux of the matter of life or death. Oh, I get it. I’m not judging him for all that writing, for creating a linguistic labyrinth of complex philosophical concepts regarding historical events to hide in. It’s really tempting to write at length about all the possible reasons why you can’t love or be loved. That’s because you probably want your death, if not to have some kind of purpose, at least to have some kind of effect on those left alive. I think purpose is religious and effect is scientific. Love is neither. Ironically, many suicides are sacrificial last-ditch attempts at love, selfless gestures toward helping to rid the world of people incapable of love. They’re like red warning flares sent up to warn us about all the hazardous conditions that love can’t exist in.
For example, the day before yesterday, I tried this online suicide chat hotline. I had to create an account and then press “chat now”. As soon as I pressed it, I saw a message saying that there were 14 people in line ahead of me! I was advised to keep watching the screen and to press the start button as soon as it reappeared to avoid being timed out. During the visible fifteen-minute countdown of the suicidal people ahead of me, I wondered what kind of mental health magicians must be working on this hotline to be able to talk people out of suicide in under a minute. When my turn came, I pressed the button and was sent to a screen where I had to provide the same information that I’d provided to open the account. Then, another screen opened and said that someone named Justin was available to chat, but when I tried to type something, I was booted back to the log-in page. I tried logging back in and getting back in line twice but the same thing happened, although there were only 8 other people in line ahead of me the other two times. I’m not sure if it was a glitch in the system or something I did wrong. Maybe one of you could try it let me know whether you actually got to chat with someone and if it was helpful, or whether they just told you to call 911 to go to a hospital. That wouldn’t have been helpful for me. Just thinking about a hospital bill is enough to give me a panic attack, so maybe it’s a good thing I wasn’t able to chat with Justin after all. More later. I’ve already learned not to give specific dates right now.
Killing yourself is a major commitment, it takes a kind of courage. Most people just lead lives of cowardly desperation. It’s kinda half suicide where you just dull yourself with substances.
At the job I quit most recently, they named that desperation “Thirsty Thursdays” which was a blanket invitation for staff to meet at a local bar to anaesthetize themselves with alcohol. If it were possible to choose to wake up retired or with a different job with the same pay and benefits, I wonder how many people would still be there. Is there a singular form of the word staff, or can it still be a staff if it’s just one person?
A lot of people think meeting for a drink at a local bar is relaxing and fun. It’s true that alcohol can make it easier to relax around other people. Unfortunately, it can also make it easier to accidentally stop acting. Most jobs require non-stop acting. Acting is so revered by our culture that celebrity actors are paid millions of dollars. Almost everybody is a better actor than the celebrity actors who are supposed to be our acting role models. Most people don’t get juicy interesting parts, but they have to pretend they’re happy with whatever part they got–even if that part only has like five lines that they have to say over and over hundreds of times a day every day. Maybe something like “Good morning, Stafford, Hamlin and Associates. How can I help you today?” Of course, after 12:00, they have to remember to change “Good morning” to “Good afternoon”. If they forget, they’ll likely lose the part to some understudy waiting in the wings.
Okay, where was I? That’s one of the symptoms of extreme anxiety. You forget what you’re doing. When you add depression to anxiety, you also forget why you’re doing it. We dedicate the majority of our life energy to staying alive. Most of our waking hours are spent trading our energy for money. If we’re lucky we can use some of that money to buy experiences that make us want to stay alive longer. Maybe that means sharing some of our money with people we care about, or going to a concert and being in celebratory rhythm with thousands of your fellow humans. It could mean exploring a part of the planet you’ve never seen before to get some new ideas and fresh inspiration. When there isn’t enough money left over after staying alive to buy any reasons to want to go on living, people stop wanting to live. That explains this study that showed that for every $1 increase in the minimum wage, the suicide rate would go down from 3.5% to 6%. See, this is exactly how the current record-holder of the world’s longest suicide note probably ended up with 1,904 pages. Instead of just saying something like “I don’t have anything good to share with anybody and it hurts, it hurts!” Probably not even an actor could say that without crying. He didn’t want to cry, so he went all the way back through the history of religion and government to try to understand the power structure that his inherited hurt started in. It IS kind of scary to cry because you can never be sure if you’ll be able to stop in time.
Sometimes statistics can help you feel so not alone while you’re waiting for your will to live to return. For example, the suicide rate in the U.S. has jumped 33 percent from 1999 to 2017. Actually, the word the statisticians used was “increased”, but I changed it to jumped because at least some of those people probably jumped to their deaths, making it a more accurate word. This statistic lets me know me that 14 of every 100,000 people feel at least similar to the way I do right now. Mental health professionals should probably make up a national phone tree of suicidal people so we could call each other, but then they’d be out of a job. Some of the suicidal people might make friends with each other and become part of understanding support systems. Others would probably try to compete with each other to see who could commit suicide first. Still others might try to start a suicide cult so they could finally be in charge of something and use the phone tree to recruit new members. It’s very important to the leaders of suicide cults that everybody in the cult kills themselves at exactly the same time, kind of like synchronized swimming. I guess you could call them death choreographers. People love choreography of any kind, even the kind of death choreography army generals perpetually create.
You can get all kinds of useful information from statistics, too. From this statistical chart, I learned that I would have a much better chance of not killing myself if I moved to Mexico right now. The U.S. ranks 27th in suicides, while Canada ranks 47th, probably because in Canada, people don’t have to pay extra to be sick or sad. Mexico is all the way down in 131st place! I can’t really be sure whether the people there are happier or just determined to stay alive no matter how miserable they are because they’re afraid of burning in hell for eternity if they kill themselves, though. I’ve been learning to speak Spanish for the last 30 years because I visited Mexico a few times and people did seem happier even if they still believe in hell. The subjunctive tense is really hard, though.
Another common symptom of extreme anxiety is frequent changes in subject. For example, now I’d like to talk for a moment about sheepherding. To get this sheepherding job, I’d need three months of previous experience. Sometimes the working conditions aren’t great, but it pays more than I thought it would, and benefits include such luxuries as water for bathing and laundry in addition to drinking water. Three meals a day are provided. Plus I’d be on the range 50% of the time. All these years of singing that song and I’ve never been home on a range even once. I’d have to give sheep medicine if they got sick and guard them from wild animals. I figure that once I quit my job due to social anxiety, and it goes on my record, I’ll only be able to apply for jobs that don’t require a lot of human interaction. I’m not sure how to go about getting three months of sheepherding experience. I’ve never even met a sheepherder and I don’t know anybody else who has, either. Never having to meet people must be an even better benefit than water for bathing. I just wish I’d run across this job a lot sooner. My whole life could have been different.
Yesterday, as you may recall, I ended by talking about sheepherding. For today’s anxiety-induced abrupt change of subject, I’ll be talking about boxing. This morning, I went to see my therapist so I could wonder out loud in front of somebody which part of me is going to win this internal battle. She only looked at her watch once while the parts took turns interrupting each other, which the judgmental observer part of me found both rude and counterproductive. My therapist says that a good goal would be to get rid of the judgmental observer part. That’s the part the berates me for being injured and having limitations that other people don’t have. I already know It’s going to take more than 25mg to shut that part up.
The battle between the other two parts can be described as a perpetual boxing match. In one corner, there’s the contender that wants to live long enough to be happy. Let’s call that part the Great Colorless Hope, which describes life without happiness while removing any hint of racism. The Great Colorless hope weighs in as a bantamweight at 118 pounds because she’s always needed to be accepted by a society that values her for her appearance. However, that makes her able to move unbelievably fast—and far, and gives her incredible stamina. Her footwork is impressive and she is able to bob and weave with great alacrity, avoiding the majority of her opponents’ attempted blows. One of the secrets of her success thus far is that she never lets her guard down. Unfortunately, this is also true outside the ring.
In the other corner, there’s the part of me that just wants to give up already. Let’s call that part the Great Promise of Peace. I don’t really think I need to explain that one. The Great Promise of Peace weighs in as a super bantamweight at 122 pounds. A four pound difference doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t. She cares less whether people accept her for her looks. She also lets her guard down more often and takes more chances to go for the win. She’s more offensive than defensive, but she has less stamina. You might be tempted to think that they’re pretty evenly matched and that with superior footwork, focus, and defense the Great Colorless Hope stands a pretty good chance. Maybe you’re even ready to bet on her since that bet would pay more if she wins. But what makes the Great Promise of Peace so dangerous isn’t her weight class or her aggressiveness. It’s her reach— which can extend decades back into the past.
Then there’s the matter of who the contenders have in their respective corners. In a real boxing match, each contender has a corner man, but to avoid being sexist, I’ll say they each have a corner person. That person does a lot of important things, not the least of which is staunching any bleeding or throwing in the towel if a boxer is injured to the extent that to continue the fight could result in permanent injury or death. For many years, the Great Colorless Hope’s corner person was somebody that was also secretly working for the Great Promise of Peace. They’d show up without a water bottle or any vaseline, sometimes under the influence. If a series of uppercuts followed by a right cross was called for, they’d advise a body punch and a left jab. You get the idea. Finally, the Great Colorless Hope caught on and fired them. It took a long time to find a replacement she could trust, or to trust anyone at all, so she had a lot of matches without a corner person, which took a toll. But it’s not just the level of knowledge, commitment, skill and experience of a fighter’s actual corner person that can decide the outcome of a fight. It’s also the people in a fighter’s metaphorical corner.
Those corners can get really crowded. A lot of people pay for what I’ll call corner stuffers. They take up space and make a lot of supportive-sounding noise. If you do that, you have to be sure you pay them enough, though, or they’ll be tempted to accept offers to double their income by also cheering for your competitor. If you can’t afford to pay anyone to be in your corner, you have to depend on people liking you enough to volunteer. Since almost all people have to act for a living, it’s hard to tell which ones to believe. That’s been the only good thing about what I hope will be this final bout. Now that I’m thirsty, bleeding and almost down for the count, it’s showing me who’s really in my corner.
That whole boxing thing yesterday was exhausting. It definitely made me want to write more than one page a day to be able to get to 1,906 pages faster. Then it occurred to me that I don’t have to have a certain number of words on each page! In fact, Mark Z. Danielewski, one of the most brilliant writers alive today, has written books in which the number of words on each page is determined by the content and the meaning of the word. I’ll show you what I mean with this word.
See how to more fully express its meaning in a visual, visceral way, it can’t have any other words close to it? Anyway, my friend Bill (no, a different, alive Bill) recommended that I go to a meeting to break out of isolation. So, today, I went to a 6:30 a.m. 12-step recovery meeting held at a local church. They’re almost all at churches because churches charge less to rent rooms than other businesses do. On the door, there was a flyer advertising a women’s religious retreat. In this size font were the words
Women’s Retreat Feb. 7-8
Then, in this size font, it said
Near the bottom, it said in this font size
Great food and fun!
See, this is one of the reasons religion has never been a source of comfort for me. But this flyer did make me realize that I can use different font sizes to fill more pages, as well as better express the importance of things. Before I’m tempted to launch into some boring tirade about the patriarchy, let’s get past the flyer on the front door and into the meeting. I’m not allowed to say anybody’s name that was in the meeting because that would be breaking their anonymity. I can relate stuff that people say, though. Today, it was like a contest to see who could come up with the best story analogy to describe hitting bottom. I’m still pretty close to a bottom right now, so I listened closely. The winner, hands-down, was the well analogy.
This is a shorter version, but it went like this:
Back before I got sober I lived in darkness. It was a lot like being down inside a well, and with each passing year, I went a little further down, and the light became a little harder to see. Our eyes eventually adjust to darkness, and our perception changes. Instead of feeling trapped and scared, I started to feel safe and protected in the well. Nobody could hurt me there. After somebody threw me a ladder, sometimes I’d try to climb up, but a rung would break, or I’d slip and fall even further down. People dropped food into the well to keep me alive, and slowly, I got accustomed to just staying alive on whatever scraps people dropped down the well, and I quit trying. That’s when I fell all the way to the bottom—and that crash landing hurt. It hurt so bad. I was too far down to even reach the ladder anymore. People thought I might already be dead and stopped throwing scraps. For a while, I felt so broken I thought I’d just lay there until I really was dead. I don’t know how, but even though I could barely see the faint glimmer of light above, I used the remaining strength in my legs to brace myself against the sides and inch my way up the sides. As I progressed a little further up each day, my muscles grew stronger. It didn’t even matter what the light was and I didn’t try to idealize it—I just knew that it was something different and that anything had to be better than how I’d been living.
I thought he did a pretty good job describing depression and hopelessness and how, in the end, you have to save your own life. And how a lot of times, when people try to help you, they’re just enabling you to stay stuck. In fact, I thought he did a little bit too good of a job, like maybe he was auditioning to become a professional motivational speaker. His delivery was smooth and polished without a hint of strong emotion accompanying his words. I heard them, and related but I didn’t feel them. Maybe if I’d tried to talk today, I could have provided some teary, snot-filled accompaniment. You know, really made them come to life.
I’m not at the bottom of a well, but the state of my apartment reflects my current mental state, which could be described as “in disarray”. Here is the most comprehensive definition of array I could find. As you can see, one of the definitions is “a great number of items”. For example, there is a vast array of used Kleenexes on nearly every available surface of my apartment, including the floor. My body seems to be taking this breakdown as an opportunity to grieve every loss I’ve experienced throughout my life-time, but was too busy surviving to feel at the time. Another definition is “arranging items attractively for public display”, which I have not done for several days. Yet another is “arranging things in neat rows or columns”, which I have also not done. Several pairs of shoes litter the living room, coats are draped on chair backs, pajamas pooled on the bathroom floor. Neither does my mind currently fit the definition “a group of elements forming a complete unit.” I have to say that I found the number of military definitions disturbing. Being in array probably does help you find your car keys faster, but too much array, and all your creativity gets transformed into military conformity. It’s all about balance, right? If that’s true, shouldn’t really happy people hang out with really depressed people? Shouldn’t some really happy person be seeking me out right now to achieve balance? I wonder how long it will take them to find me. They might have a better chance if I left my apartment, or maybe that’s just the Zoloft talking.
Well, if the Zoloft is talking, it isn’t saying much. I managed to show up for one of those jazz dances classes I foolishly paid for right before having this nervous breakdown. That’s because I happened to mention it to a friend as a possibility. He then texted me every hour on the hour to encourage me to go until I finally said I would. Now there’s video in my phone of the dance instructor doing the shim-sham so I could provide proof that I’d gone and get him off my back. What made me temporarily believe that I had enough rhythm to learn modern jazz dancing, I can’t say. Clearly I was mistaken. I spent an hour trying unsuccessfully to emulate the teacher and the other three female post-middle- aged students in the class as they smoothly eight-counted steps, jumps, leaps, boogie-backs, and crossovers. Unable to stop crying last week, I’d missed the first session where they’d learned the terms and practiced all these moves. My performance, which I was forced to watch in the mirror that covered the entire back wall, could best be described as zombie-like. However, unlike this laughably low dose of Zoloft, the exercise did manage to keep me focused enough on something for an hour to keep from weeping uncontrollably.
I’ve learned that it’s possible to have deep realizations in the midst of a nervous breakdown. One of those realizations is that even though I’ve tried not to be, in some ways I’m just like my mother. It’s been traumatic to discover that I’m just as jealous—I’m just jealous of different things. Maybe I wouldn’t starve my children so that I could go on a cruise because I was jealous that somebody where I work went on one and bragged about it. But I’m jealous, all right. I finally have to admit that. At first I was only jealous of people who’d been wanted and loved by their parents. Now, I find myself envying just about everybody. Take those lucky bastards with bi-polar disorder for example. I’d give my eye teeth to be able to stop crying and wishing for death long enough to grab my credit cards and life by the balls to book a fabulous trip to Vegas, with none of those pesky thoughts about how —or how much —I’d pay for it in the future, either. I’d be able to whoop it up, buy everybody drinks, and believe, however briefly, that the sky’s the limit, baby!
Even schizophrenics have it better than I do. They get to wander around in their own little worlds hearing non-existent voices talking TO them. They get to remain oblivious to all of the very real voices talking ABOUT them behind their backs. Actually, I suspect that schizophrenia might be caused by being lied to all the time. Like when someone pretends to care about you in front of other people so they can look like a good person, but you know from what they do when nobody is looking that they really don’t. When those someones are your mom and dad, it’s hard to believe anybody else after that. Sometimes I feel that I might be one of them, because I sometimes imagine that people are talking about me, but then sometimes I find out that they really are, so I can never be sure when I’m just imagining it. The saddest part is that I never imagine they are saying anything good, just that they are disappointed in my limitations and consequent sub-standard performance. I just can’t seem to get removed far enough from reality to qualify for schizophrenia.
Then there are the people who are able to dissociate! What a fabulous super-power that would have been to have! When my father strangled my pet guinea pig to death in front of me because I didn’t clean my room, I could have just left my body and never even remembered that I’d seen it. Instead, even fifty years later, whenever anybody wants to evaluate my performance, I want to run away—and hundreds of times, I have, but now I’m too tired. I guess I’ll have to believe there’s a medication that can keep the terror down to a manageable level so I don’t make everyone around me uncomfortable. A lot of times, especially in the workplace, where they have the power of life and death over you, people are as uncomfortable around me as I am around them. The crippling anxiety of PTSD, coupled with my running-away habit don’t often let me stay at any interesting job long enough to get good at it. I’m no genius, mind you, just smart enough to be miserable knowing I’m intellectually capable of much more, yet emotionally capable of almost nothing. I’d have tried medication sooner if I hadn’t believed it might either give me the courage to actually commit suicide or dull my ethics to the point where I’d be willing to take a job at a payday lending establishment to survive. I may have to admit that I’m jealous like my mother, but unlike my parents, I have some principles I won’t compromise.
Page 8 Well, that was embarrassing. Two young police officers who looked like they might have graduated from high school in June of last year just showed up at my door to check on me. If I’d listened to my messages this morning, I would have known to expect them, and maybe I’d have gotten dressed and looked a little less like someone who needed checking on. Instead I opened the door red-eyed from weeping, wearing gray polka dot pajama bottoms, a peach-colored long sleeved t-shirt, and Santa footies. I found the Santa footies in a Christmas stocking that had been left for me in my locker at my other job when I went to pick up my last two paychecks yesterday. For some reason, I’ve still been able to go to my second job. Maybe that’s because helping to take care of a sweet little old lady is not very stressful. I know that my saying “little old lady” sounds like a stereotype or cliche, but she’s actually shrinking. That’s why, last night, I spent an hour hemming one of her nightgowns so she wouldn’t trip and fall over it getting up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. She isn’t even done healing from the bruises from her last fall yet, so I want to do whatever I can to prevent another one. It seems like once people get to be 90 years old, they are adamant about never buying any more new clothes, even if they’re really rich and really need them. I suggested it, but she refused and didn’t even want me to tell her son that all of her nightgowns were too long for her now. I know how it feels not to want to be a bother. Sorry, there I go, abruptly changing subjects again.
One of the police officers at my door was a young woman who had a soothing voice and training in how to make the experience less humiliating. The other one was a young man with dark curly hair who just kept smiling uncomfortably. She told me about “resources”, like counselors who would come to your house if you can’t make yourself go out. When I asked how many thousands of dollars I would be billed for that, she said it was free. I was amazed. To my further amazement, I received a phone call shortly after that which I did not answer because it said it was from an unknown caller, but they left a message giving me an emergency phone number and said they’d call again later. I don’t know how to convince people that even though I can’t stop crying long enough to function right now, I’m not making any active plans to kill myself.
First off, I’m only 8 pages into this 1,906 page suicide note. To be fair, considering that I’ve not been able to force myself to go into the building of my first job even to sign my timesheet to get paid, I guess I can’t blame people for doubting my ability to reach my goals. I’m almost positive that I’ll never end up killing myself, though, especially right now. I realize it’s a terrible reason to refuse to die, but I wouldn’t want to give my mother the satisfaction of outliving all of us. She’s 81 now, which is older than anybody else in my family has ever lived to be, and I feel compelled to stay alive at least longer than her, even though sometimes it’s hard knowing that she’s still out there wishing me dead. Over the years, she’s only wished me dead intermittently, so it’s been hard to defend against. Or maybe I’m projecting. Admittedly, I have thought about how relaxing it would be to die. It would be even more relaxing than a 1 hour full body massage for just $139.99.
Anyway, it’s not really necessary to kill yourself these days. I was really surprised to learn how my brother died, because I always thought he would opt for suicide-by-cop. It was important to him to expose the injustice of the world. The fact that he didn’t was even sadder in a way because it meant that he’d given up on the idea that justice even exists. I don’t have to make a plan to kill myself. I don’t have to look for someone to sell me some street heroin to overdose on, or buy a gun to shoot myself with, or orchestrate a fatal car accident. I don’t have to do a thing but keep being unable to go to work. This is the fate which awaits me. Ironically, that knowledge is part of what paralyzes me. I’ve always been able to order myself to stop wallowing in self-pity and pull myself together, to remember what could happen if I don’t keep going, but that doesn’t seem to be working anymore. It’s like my body has already endured so many adrenaline surges in response to constant terror that to get any rest I have to just peacefully accept my fate. I do think it would be more humane if there were an assisted suicide program for people who experienced excruciating long-term psychic pain. That would make society look really bad, though, so they keep saying that people just have chemical imbalances in their brains and that if they just get on the right meds, they can live happy, productive (emphasis on the productive) lives. I can’t say I believe it, but I’m willing to try it.
Page 9 Here was the view from inside this morning:
H A M
g r o u n d
I said I’d go to the movies today to see Knives Out with one of the people who is worried about me and wants to help keep me from isolating. I’ve already had to tell her that I couldn’t do the pre-movie dinner part that we originally planned, but I’m still hoping I can do the movie. Theaters are dark and you get to stop performing for a while and let somebody else do it. Yesterday I went with her to look at a cat that showed up at a friend of her’s house two months ago. They put ads out, but couldn’t find the owner and it’s bossing their cat around, so it needs a new home. The ride in the country, smelling hay, and seeing horses was nice. It was also nice to see how this father loved his sons. It made me sad, though, that I’m not stable enough to have a pet that would help me be more stable. I still miss my bird every day. Maybe losing him was the last loss I could bear.
I hate to say it, but I’m becoming discouraged with this project already. Here I am, only on page ten, trying to compete with a guy who whipped out 1,904 pages. See, this is a prime example of how I set myself up for failure by setting unrealistic goals. I’m forever underestimating how much further back my starting line is. See, I tried to ignore the fact that the current record-holder of the world’s longest suicide note had an inherited trust fund to live on and I don’t. That means I have to maintain some kind of job to stay alive long enough to write 1,894 more pages. Call me a pessimist, but I question whether it’s possible for someone poor and suicidal to stay alive that long. It’s hard enough staying alive while you’re poor without becoming suicidal. Once you’ve done a cost benefit analysis that concludes that the rate of return on energy expended for survival no longer justifies the expenditure, it gets nearly impossible to take positive action. That’s why I need drugs to help me want to live right now. All I can say is I hope they start working pretty soon. Yesterday, I wasn’t able to stop crying long enough to go to see that movie and disappointed my friend. Today, I got to double my dosage to 50 mg, and I only cried for two hours. Hello, brave new world!
I just hope I don’t suddenly become so optimistic under the influence of these drugs that I start setting even more unachievable goals, like becoming physically fit or going on a date. This afternoon, while scanning Craigslist for less stressful jobs I might be able to do, I found this one. I called them immediately, and left my name and number after the beep. Forest ranger is the perfect job for someone like me. That’s why, like desperate people so often do, I started being tempted to look at this ad as a sign from the universe. That reminded me of the time that I was taking care of an old man who always watched religious channels on TV. His favorite preacher talked a lot about sowing seeds and reaping blessings. He said if you sent money for a prayer rug, he would combine his energy with the energy of the whole congregation to fill it full of blessings before sending it to you. I was thinking if I could get enough blessings, I might not have to get married again, but when the prayer rug arrived, it wasn’t even made of cloth—it was just paper with the letters RUG on it in the shape of a bath mat.
Not much has changed since then. Like Zoloft so far, the universe doesn’t have much to say, but other people do. Just last week, Facebook put an ad on my timeline for a free seminar on how to achieve permanent full recovery from PTSD. They told you to set aside two hours for receiving this life-changing information, and that at the end of the presentation, they would give you a book containing it for free. Well, they should have said three hours, because after the two hours, they spent another hour telling you that they were offering you a program with a $12,000 value for only $4,000 dollars and answering viewer questions that I suspected were fake. The free book turned out to have about one page of somewhat useful information on it. However, one of the things they said their $4,000 program included was a human support system. It turned out that there is a PTSD support group right on Facebook that you can join for free. Sometimes I go on there and say positive things like “PTSD isn’t a mental illness. It’s a normal human response to trauma and abuse”. Or maybe somebody says they haven’t punished themselves for a whole month and I’ll say “Way to go!”. You never know when an encouraging word might make a difference to someone.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about encouraging words. It’s hard to accept them from people who had parents who loved them and who have successful lives and families and homes of their own. On the one hand, it feels good that such people could care about me and what happens to me. On the other hand, it hurts to be reminded of how little I am capable of, and how little I therefore deserve, compared to them. It’s a good thing that I’ve read a lot of books and had a lot of adventures while running away over the years. I just hope I have 1,893 more pages of stuff to talk about that isn’t so sad or boring that it makes whoever reads it suicidal.
We’re going to fast forward a couple of days now. Being depressed doesn’t give you a lot to write about. That’s why you don’t see any TV sit-coms or reality shows featuring depressed people. We’re like the snow that used to appear on black and white televisions after the stations all went off the air. That was before people had to be entertained 24 hours a day. People seem to be really entertained by the misery of others. There are lots of reality shows about various kinds of misery, so why not depression? The Biggest Loser features the misery of overweight people. They put them in a competition to see who can lose the most weight and win the grand prize. You can watch them sweat while they exercise and cry when they aren’t able to achieve their goals. So you don’t feel like a bad person for being entertained or at least distracted from your own misery by their misery, you can cheer and be happy for them when they do achieve their goals.
To have a reality show for depressed people, the names of contestants would have to be sent in by their therapists because depressed people are less likely to enter contests or want to be filmed. Depressed people without therapists who submit their own names should be given a higher priority in the selection process. Those without a therapist or a permanent address would be moved to the top of the list. The competition could use a point system to determine the winner. For example, contestants would get 10 points for getting out of bed in the morning. Okay, let’s make that staying out of bed. That way, nobody could get points for just getting up to use the bathroom and then going back to bed. Getting dressed is harder, so that could be 15 points. Preparing and eating a meal could be 35 points, 40 if it isn’t a bowl of cold cereal eaten in bed or a sleeping bag. Leaving the house, apartment, tent, or freeway underpass with your face washed and hair combed is a big 75 points. If the reason you are leaving is to buy drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, subtract 50 points, because a) the show would be sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and b) tears, whether of misery or joy, increase viewer ratings.
One of the highest point values, let’s say 1,000 points, would be for smiling. That’s because smiling is the single most important tool for survival.
Of course, there would have to be strict criteria for what constitutes an actual smile. Judges would have to consider questions like:
- Are the sides of the mouth curved upwards in a symmetrically pleasing manner?
- Are both the zygomatic and the orbicularis oculi muscles fully engaged?
- Are the teeth, or, for those without dental insurance, gums, fully visible?
Until today, I didn’t even know I had a zygomaticus muscle in my face. Now that I do, I’m pretty sure that mine must be worn out. There seems to be some disagreement among experts about how many different kinds of smiles there are and what they mean. This article claims there are 19, but that only six of them are even remotely related to happiness. The rest of them are for reassurance, showing social subservience or dominance and hiding misery. Another article focuses on just 10 different kinds of smiles, but both articles agree that there’s something called a Duchenne smile, a genuine response to a happy feeling. I guess you could call Duchenne the ultimate judge of smiles because he conducted experiments on people’s faces using electric shocks to see how their facial muscles would respond. He really learned the difference between a smile and a grimace. Sorry, where was I? I was compelled to keep following links to learn more about electroshock therapy. So far I’ve learned that it got a bad name because it was abused by hospital staff who wanted patients to suffer more silently. Also that Ernest Hemingway shot himself right after receiving some.
I’ve often wondered if electroshock therapy would be helpful for me. It might be like the ultimate clean slate. I’ve asked myself if I would be willing to trade losing whatever good memories I have to be rid of the traumatic ones, and the answer is yes. The day before yesterday, I had to ask my health care provider for permission to up the dosage of this antidepressant, to skip the 20- day 50 mg stage altogether and go straight to 100mg. I still couldn’t get through a day without crying, much less activate the zygomatic muscle in my face, that all-important smile muscle upon which my survival depends. I only have a few more days left of my leave of absence, after which I’ll be expected to resume my duties. That’s why I’ve been practising in the mirror, but the best I’ve been able to achieve is what I think must be the expression that made it necessary for somebody to invent the word “wan“.
On Wednesday, perhaps in response to my overly oily, unlaundered appearance, my therapist suggested I stop punishing myself for being unable to function and do something nice for myself. She also said that just because my mind keeps alerting me that I will be homeless soon doesn’t mean homelessness is the only possible outcome for me in reality. She says that there are jobs out there I can get and do, and that there are resources that I haven’t explored yet. She also thought it was a good idea to up my dosage. While even 100 mg isn’t able to stop the panic whenever I think about my job, I have to admit that since upping the dosage,, I’ve been able to take a shower and wash my hair. (50 points) Also, yesterday, I played a music CD. It only took me 45 minutes to be able to find one that wasn’t attached to some pain-causing memory, some long-lost brief glimpse of happiness. Thank you, Aretha, for providing exactly the right balance between despair and hope, pain and joyful transcendence— but mostly for insisting on retaining your dignity through it all. See how I inserted a link so you could enjoy her music? I thought you could probably use a break about now, too.
In three more days, I have medical permission to raise the dosage to 200 mg. If the anti-depressant doesn’t restore my ability to smile soon enough, it’s good to know that some recent studies show that electroshock treatments have been effective for people with PTSD. Whether they are covered by my insurance, I don’t know. I suppose that point is moot, because if I can’t smile, I’ll lose the job and the health insurance. Anyway, let’s pretend I can get treatment without a job or insurance. It works like this: They have you think specifically about a traumatic experience and give you the shock while you’re reliving it in your mind. The shock has the effect of obliterating whatever you are thinking about when you receive it, which would be awesome! A few years back, I had high hopes for neurofeedback therapy . It was supposed to be a drug-free scientific way to retrain my brain patterns. The only difference I notice after having had 20 sessions is that now, whenever I have a flashback of some horrid event, my body physically shudders. It’s like it reestablished a previously severed connection between my brain and my body. Probably for most people, that would be a good thing, right?
I don’t know how many sessions of electroshock therapy I would need to get rid of all my traumatic memories. Wait, there I go again, being tempted to set another unreasonable goal. Even being able to get rid of a dozen or so would probably help. I’d name them the dirty dozen.