“That’s not funny, L.”
As ambivert Aquarian only children, my college BFF L and I often traveled on the same wavelength, one that few others understood. We loved to tease and prank and even indulged some not-so-legal areas, all for a laugh.
But as I stood there, staring at her standing in the doorway of my apartment, crying hysterically, I had to admit that she’d never been this good an actress.
That S had killed himself was so unfathomable that my brain wouldn’t connect the ideas. She had to be joking. This had to be an elaborate, super-dark prank–one not even I could vibe with. I stood there, glaring at her, demanding that she drop it.
My roommate had to intervene.
I don’t remember the circumstances that led me to having a box of candles, but I did. So we had a vigil for him in the skeleton of Old Main. I don’t remember much about it. I may have been at work, or just lost in thought.
S was a happy guy. He was the reporter with me the time I took photos of the new campus president. The president said he was “an athletic supporter,” and S was giggling so hard he had to leave the room. I continued snapping photos, making more puns. We ran that quote in the college newspaper twice. The administration was not amused.
He was a chubby boy, a bit ruddy, from La Grange. He had a sense of humor about his size, took teasing in stride. He was always smiling, always making jokes. Self-deprecating, sure, but I was the same. Humor blunts some of the difficult realities, and I guess somewhere in my deep-seated anxieties, I wonder how I didn’t see him.
I looked, but I didn’t see.
It wasn’t until the funeral that I finally accepted it wasn’t a hoax. The lies I tell myself can be appealing, but they won’t change reality.
His girlfriend had broken up with him. (Did I know he had a girlfriend?)
He had a bottle of whiskey. (I hadn’t known him to drink excessively.)
He drove out to a remote place and shot himself. (Did I know he had a gun?)
I was never more than a peripheral friend. I couldn’t imagine how others closer to him were handling it. Like L.
Someone in the newsroom told me bluntly that if someone was going to off themselves, they’d thought it would be me.
I agreed. My hair was black. I listened to Depeche Mode and Siouxsie & the Banshees. I wore my death wish on my sleeve, working late nights, flirting with dangerous strangers, writing trolling editorials that would make Ann Coulter smile.
Plus, I had tried to kill myself before. And maybe that’s why I felt such deep regret I couldn’t recognize someone else in that kind of pain.
But it wasn’t just me. We were all blindsided.
Reading that Chris Cornell killed himself filled me with some of those same emotions. I was nowhere near as familiar with Cornell as I was S, but it seemed like with S… the suicide had been very situational. That he hadn’t made this plan to fulfill, he hadn’t had the suicidal ideations that I had had. Fantasies of falling asleep on the road and drifting to his death didn’t fill his late night travels.
At least, that didn’t seem to be the case.
His wife (oh god, his poor wife) thinks it was the anti-anxiety medications. Maybe. The suicides I’ve survived have always been complicated, not the simple cause and effect that would be easier to digest. For me, the lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety, often coupled with stress or pain, makes the spectre of suicide an opportunistic parasite. It’s there, waiting for me to lose my hold.
After my mom passed– No, before she passed, leading up to it, I had gone to the doctor to get back on depression medication. I explained the situation of mom dying, and while I was mostly all right, I wanted the drugs in hand if I started to struggle.
In home hospice, I fed my mother Ativan and Dilaudid, sweetening her gasping mouth with a cool mint wash. I watched her struggle to express herself after the stroke and then slowly fade away. All without the medication. I was surprisingly fine. It wasn’t until a month or two later that the depression hit and I started back on the pills.
A month ago I went back to the doctor. The Prozac was helping, but it wasn’t enough. The panic attacks started. And so, we upped the dose and I now have Xanax for emergencies. Some weeks I don’t take it at all, others, it’s daily.
Before the doctor upped my dosage, she asked if I had suicidal ideation. I haven’t. She seemed pleased with that. I was definitely pleased. But Cornell’s passing reminds me that it can always be there lurking. That for some of us, we have to remain vigilant. And that for a lot of people, there’s no comprehending that struggle.
It’s not just being a little down. It’s the MRSA of moods. It can strike fast and be lethal.
Try to spare love and compassion for those who fight, and those who lose that fight.
If you are struggling, here’s a list of suicide crisis lines.
Image courtesy of Creative Commons: Chris Cornell performing live in Melkweg in Amsterdam, the Netherlands by Ivo Kendra