RIP, David Foster Wallace:Some Thoughts on Suicide & Depression

David Foster Wallace committed suicide this weekend. 46. Hung himself.

The guy had made a career out of being brilliantly insightful and funny. Yet he somehow ended up on the dark side from which suicide seems the only out.

I’ve tried to write about depression over the last couple of years, because I know a fair bit about what it feels like to be on the wrong side of it. I’ve lived with others who’ve been suicidal. I understand depression in a whole slew of ways.

I’m on the other side of it these days, and think I’ll stay on the other side a while yet. I still struggle with being all happy-sunshiney, because, let’s face it, that works for demure screen sirens of old, but for the rest of us on Planet Earth in the here-and-now, happiness not some ubiquitous state we tap into with the flick of a finger or a “Hey, I know!” notion in the morning, as much as Dale Carnegie wants you to believe happiness is always a choice.

Even now, the quasi-adversities that pepper my life temper my glee-factor something fierce, but that’s humanity for you. I’m in touch with my moody glory. I can often think my way into better moods, though, as much as I like to mock the notion.

I mock it because depression is when the ability for levity and “opting out” of moods takes its leave.

Real” depression is a whole ‘nother beast than the “normal” depression. I can shake my depressions these days because they’re just that: normal. I know it might all be better again tomorrow. I know bad days are just part of the mix, just like finding surprise bad produce in the midst of your seemingly selectively-chosen product when you get home from the veggie store. Shit happens.

But not to severely depressed people. Even trying to “think” your way out of it doesn’t work. I wrote this posting on August 15th, 2006. What you don’t see is, that even though I talked a good game on the night of the 15th, the 16th became the first and only time in my life that suicide seemed like a good choice. There was a point in the day when I came apart. I came wholly apart. I worked alone in my office that day and had a complete breakdown to the point that I had an “emergency” call placed to me by my old therapist I hadn’t spoken to in years. A 45-minute conversation talked me down from that fever-pitch of suicidal thoughts, and things were a little better in the morning.

I remember that blackness now, and even thinking about how I got to be from the person I loved earlier that year to the woman I was that day just sends shivers up me still. Because I know, as much as I loathe the easy way out that suicide is, as much as I pride myself on taking on any challenge and usually winning… I know I was ready to give it all up. And I have no idea how I got to that point.

That’s the terrifying thing about depression. When you’re no longer yourself, how can you possibly act in ways that are right for you? When you have no logic, how do you make the logical choice?

Depression isn’t something that occurs to the weak. I’m here to fucking tell you I know more about “surviving” than most people of my age, and I almost didn’t survive my depression, despite having survived so much else in my life.

(As I’ve said in the past: My suicidal depression was as a result of trying to suppress my period through birth control pills. I’m not sure I will ever take birth control again. I still recommend it for the average woman, but believe me I do so with massive caveat emptor attached. However, my life went off the rails at the same time, for what was pretty much the existential “perfect storm”, and perhaps the hormones were just the straw on the existential camel’s back.)

Weak is not a word people ever, ever, ever describe me as in real life. Not in any definition of the word.

Yet somehow the stigma of depression = weakness endures. It’s why I’m so hell-bent on writing about it, because *I* have no stigma about the depressions I’ve had. Why should I?

And someone like David Foster Wallace just inexplicably disappears from the planet one day because he’s committed suicide. Was he depressed? Probably. Maybe we’ll find out. Either way, William Styron’s incredible Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness is something I think any moody creative type should read. The look that brilliant novelist takes at his own suicidal depression and the links he explores, believing his suicidal tendencies perhaps had to do with his creative nature, is something that has stayed with me over the years.

I’m obviously a highly introspective writer. I do it well, it’s my schtick. That said, there are dark and dingy places in the recesses of my mind that require stoicism and fearlessness, but particularly tempering, before I go trekking through them, and I find it healthy to remember just how much toying with the shadows of our psyche can unsettle us at times.

Styron quoted the book of Job from the Bible in the opening of Darkness Visible, and it’s something that anyone who has truly, truly endured depression can understand.

For the thing I greatly fear is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.”

~The Book of Job

In depression, the trouble always comes.

Because, when you’re depressed, being around life itself reminds you of everything you once had and feel has now become lost to you. It’s the inability to connect your reality with what your perception is, no matter how much you may be aware that it’s your perspective that’s the problem. It’s like looking at life through a cracked, distorted mirror. No matter how you try to defragment the view, it’s your perception and not the image that is broken.

Depression makes no sense. Suicide can never be understood. Unless, for the briefest of moments, it once seemed to make sense to you.

And even though I had that moment of clarity when “out” seemed better than “in”, I still don’t understand the choice of suicide. I don’t understand how life can make death seem appealing. I don’t understand having the courageous mix of fear and foolishness required to take that easy, all-too-permanent out, since all I had was the notion and not yet the motivation to make it so.

All I really understand about depression is that it’s not about weakness. It’s about something that we as a race still don’t understand, and we still can’t control. But we can at least try to talk about it. We can help remove the stigma that comes with a diagnosis of depression or mood disorders. We can make it easier for people, however brilliant and famous they are, to admit they’re powerless over this thing that’s come from the shadows only to choke all the light.

All I really understand is that it’s a crime, in this age of information and knowledge, that such rampant ignorance and judgment still exists regarding depression.

Because it’s why people like David Foster Wallace often think a rope over a rafter or a bullet in the head is easier than trying to end that chokehold of darkness over their light.

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