Content warning: suicide
My name is not Alan Smithee. Unlike the Hollywood directors who ran from their projects, I want to attach my name to this post. I just can’t. There are people in my life who get upset when I write about depression and suicide. I don’t want to upset them. I can’t upset them.
While I was in line getting coffee this morning, I heard two women in front of me say, “Holy shit. She. Is. Such. A. Bitch!” I have no idea who these women were. I have no idea who the “she” is or what she did (or rather, what these women think she did). But maybe she’s like me. Or even you. Maybe she’s had a tough day, week, month, year, decade…life. Maybe her wounds are deeper than you or I can ever possibly understand. Maybe she just can’t “be happy” (as so many of us are often told by those we make uncomfortable when we dare to take off the faces that disguise our sadness).
These women don’t know that I heard them. These women don’t know that I was shaken by their words. I wish I had stood up for the human they were publicly trashing before settling into their lattes. But I didn’t. It’s not a new idea and there are plenty of memes circulating online that remind us that “We’re all going through something.” We are. We all are.
I’ve been in a long and dark depression for several months now. It’s not the first long and dark depression. It’s just the latest one. Some of my friends and family recognize this. Some I’ve even told. Most, however, don’t notice. It’s not their fault. I’m good at hiding it. It’s a skill I’ve honed since I was in my early teens when, for the first time, I sat on the corner of my bed with the bottle of pills I had stolen from my parent’s medicine cabinet. My dog sat at my feet looking up at me, and not knowing the difference between a painkiller and a biscuit, hoped one would fall to the floor. I didn’t take the pills. I don’t remember if I even opened the bottle. I’m lucky that way.
I once wrote a suicide note. I’ve actually written several. Most have been in the form of poems, but this note was 10 pages of single-spaced confessions. It was the only one that I truly consider to be authentic to its purpose. I wrote it nearly 15 years ago and I’m still here. I’ve managed to survive. I’ve found just enough light to carry me through nearly 5500 more days. When I’m in my deepest, darkest spaces, I read it. Maybe that’s weird. But it reminds me that even at my worst, I managed to remember that there still was room for something better.
I wrote in the note, “Suicide is a disease, like alcoholism or gambling. Once you let into your life—you always have it. And like that gambler who tries desperately not to make one last bet, or the drug addict who yearns for one last high, with suicide, you have to do what you can to control the urge to take that one last breath.”
While it’s naïve and silly to think of addiction as “something you let into your life,” I still feel like most days are a battle against the urge to take my last breath. Regardless of the therapy, the meds, the breath work, meditation, yoga, long hikes on winding trails, or any number of other treatments, suicidal thoughts are never more than a couple of degrees of separation away. If not suicide…at least death. When someone famous dies, I sometimes think how lucky they are. They won’t have to feel again. They won’t have to struggle again. They won’t ever again have to cry for no reason when they hear a song or are simply stuck in traffic.
Still, my life is very different than it was 15 years ago. I’m married. I have a teenager. They help keep me alive. I don’t tell them that because it’s not fair and way too much baggage for them to carry. Art keeps me alive. Music. Love keeps me alive. There’s so much anger in the world. So much hate. I feel all of it. Deeply. Beautiful things make me cry because I sometimes feel like I’m the only one who sees them. And that makes me both sad and responsible. As long as I’m alive those beautiful things remain alive, as well. I take that seriously.
The fact is that the world is hard for me. I don’t fit anywhere. I don’t belong anywhere. I’m emotional and intuitive. Even as I work to overcome the stories, I tell myself (as written about extensively by authors like Brene Brown, Jennifer Pastiloff, Dan Harris, and others), they remain strong. They remain powerful and fueled by cocktails consisting of equal parts doubt, fear, judgment, self-loathing and just a dash of body shaming and failure.
I have no idea if this post will ever see the light of day. I don’t know if it’s being written for you, for me, for the women at the coffee shop, or the woman they ripped apart. I just know I had to write something. Because I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one who is wearing masks, or ornate costumes designed for the daily performance. None of us are alone. While we may not all know each other, we are far from imaginary. Our combined energy creates a tangible object to which we can all tightly grip. Our combined love creates light. Five thousand days later, I’m still here because I know we can all help each other even as we struggle to help ourselves.
It wasn’t until just know that I figured out why I felt so drawn to write this post, even if I can’t put my name on it. It’s for the women in the coffee shop who were in line in front of me. I should have offered to give them a hug. Because now I see that even as I’m going through my own challenges and even as the woman, they labeled a bitch is apparently going through hers, they are too. They just might not know it.
Alan Smithee (also Allen Smithee) is an official pseudonym used by film directors who wish to disown a project. Coined in 1968 and used until it was formally discontinued in 2000, it was the sole pseudonym used by members of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) when a director, dissatisfied with the final product, proved to the satisfaction of a guild panel that he or she had not been able to exercise creative control over a film. The director was also required by guild rules not to discuss the circumstances leading to the move or even to acknowledge being the project’s director. (Wikipedia)