This is an excerpt from the novel that I’m writing. The background is that a bipolar man, the narrator, confronts a roommate over her (Rachel) depression. He tells of his own experience attempting suicide to cajole her into accepting what is happening in her own life. I also refuse to put commas in front of ‘but’ if I feel that it breaks up the flow of things too much (so back off on the grammar). Read and enjoy (it does have a happy ending of sorts).
It was a missed class. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for a college student to not want to go to class, but the apathy that comes with depression is not the weariness of mental fatigue that comes with chronic studying. I just didn’t go to class. All I did was watch Futurama all day and feel like nothing. I made it to more classes later in the week, but the pull, the subtle unconscious pull toward simply existing in a bare state crept up. As I mentioned before, depression and mental illness is insidious. The baby step approach that my depression took was like boiling a frog to death. I had experienced depression before and I knew exactly how it felt, but it is only in the later stages that it becomes obvious from an internal perspective. It was the same for her. Small naps that looked like fatigue but grew until they encompassed the entire days spent listening to Tina Fey.
Grace didn’t notice anything, she wasn’t that inserted in my life at that point beyond knowing that I took a lot of pills that she was too polite to ask about — what came next would take her by surprise. Instead, Grace watched the slow decline and handled it by doing more things around the house. At first she complained that I wasn’t picking things up, but quickly noticed that I wasn’t 100% and did a little more. Multiple times she cajoled me to go to the doctor’s because I was so tired, she thought it was mono. I told Rachel that I should have seen it then, the perpetual exhaustion that came from daily tasks, but I didn’t see it. If Grace had known and looked up the names of the pills I had she would have pieced it together rather quickly, but she didn’t and she hadn’t. Unlike Rachel I’m not a sleeper, I’m a starer. She slept her days away and stayed in the warmth of the bed wishing for the day to disappear so she could possibly claim that she made it through another one — only to repeat it tomorrow. I stare. I go comatose in a cognitive way that leads to lethargy but not sleep. Instead I devour television. Not new television and searching for novel stories and ideas to expand my point of view or entertainment, it’s reruns. Over and over I would watch episodes of things I had seen a million times and memorized the lines to and passively absorbed until the shows transformed into a comfortable blur that made the comatose state progress at a quicker pace than its slow blurring of time and events. I would sit and stare for hours on end to the point that the backs of my knees hurt from resting against the frame of our cheap dumpster-dived loveseat that had collapsed cushioning in the front from years of abuse by likely drunk sophomores enjoying their first taste of freedom and beer and the nerves running down my legs were pinched against the hard wooden frame.
Events outside of the living room and bedroom seemed distant and intangible. The abstractness of time itself, which we take for granted as linear and concrete, slowly tore itself apart and became a wash of possibilities that never fully came together into a concrete plan. Instead, the linear progression toward commercial breaks and laugh tracks guided me in a way that made a modicum of sense. Classes went first and then reading, slowly my eyes seemed to wear themselves out and I couldn’t even comprehend books. It was all disjointed and out of place, I wanted sense and I couldn’t supply it myself and I wished to whatever deity that could exist irregardless of good or evil that I could make sense of it again one day. Never did it occur to me that I had a problem because my mind had already unraveled to the point that self diagnosis was impossible.
All that there was was a hole in my mind and my soul, a lacking, and emptiness, I wasn’t sad, I was just absent and slowly couldn’t bare to feel nothing anymore. I would cry sometimes without reason, just sitting and crying but without weeping — tears would form and flow and I felt like I was missing something. It felt like sadness, but it wasn’t, it’s something else, it’s something else.
One would think that at this time Grace would have noticed, but that is the brilliance of what happens every time. There is a deep dark shame that developed, always develops, and requires perpetual lying to cover up. We held different schedules and it was easy to cover up the fact that I never left a room, all I had to do was shower and change clothes. But that too started to slip toward the end. Later, I would learn that Grace was concerned about me but didn’t know how to interact with me anymore. What first seemed like someone slipping under the pressure of classes devolved into a bizarre series of lies that never quite lined up but made enough sense considering their disjointed origin. She should have stepped in, but then again, that’s asking a lot of someone. Now Grace always steps in — after slipping so far it becomes necessary to have a rock of some sort to absorb the inability to function or take care of oneself.
I survived in that state through Christmas, scaring my family because of how distant I was. They recognized that something was wrong, I even got a pep talk about suicide. But words never stop someone from acting, never. Action is the only thing that ever can produce a result. I had moved on from television to David Sederis that Grace had given me in an attempt to cheer me up for the Holidays while she was with my parents talking about what to do but coming up with no answers about how to approach me in my state. I listened to his albums over and over and they brought me a modicum of joy to listen to the disfunction of his family and his life play out in such a public way. David Sederis did not save my life, it only lengthened it. I went back before New Years with her to escape and feel normal but I didn’t do anything and I didn’t feel normal and I wanted a vacation that going to my parents couldn’t supply, a break from reality. Grace went out and I stayed in but lied to Grace that I was going out. She would be back late and I could always say that I drank too much and came back early. That’s also something I was doing at the time. I was drinking heavily.
Alcohol is a depressant and is possibly the worst thing to imbibe when depressed. It’s bad when manic, and when mixed, but depressed is by far the worst. What makes it so tempting is that it lifts the fog of nothingness into a pleasant warmth that feels comfortable. Life seems bearable and living from hour to hour becomes day to day. The only thing is that it worsens the next day, and then the next, and then the warmth dies away and only leaves a habit that barely scratches the surface of the waking coma but I continued because it was the only thing that was working and I couldn’t think straight enough to stop. By all measures I’ve been an alcoholic at multiple points in my life, most alcoholics are self medicating, I self medicated myself into oblivion sometimes. For New Years, I drank myself into oblivion in a desperate hope that I would find some relief. It was a lot. I drank nearly a third of a 1.75 liter bottle of gin. I was not hungover the next day — depression always feels like a hangover so maybe I was but couldn’t tell. But it did me no good, I was just as bad and desperate for a release.
Grace had noticed my drinking by that point and was going to mention something, it’s hard not to notice a fresh handle of gin nearly half gone in a single night when I was supposed to be out having fun. But again, she didn’t say anything hoping it would clear up on its own. She didn’t see what would happen next, nor did I, she didn’t expect it because she didn’t think it was possible for someone who was as high as I was during the summer to fall to such lows. The joyful fun friend couldn’t just disappear.
Voices started. Sort of. It was a perpetual onslaught of thoughts about worthlessness that started to drive me insane. Every second of every day was filled with thoughts of despair. With increasing speed I would start to relive events in my life. Having a good memory like mine is useful in life, but in depression it is a weapon against myself. Events of humiliation, failure, of every negative thought and event left in my mind started to leap forward in my consciousness as I relived the events over and over until all I ever wanted was an escape, any escape. I was worn down to nothing after living in a world absent of anything but the horror show of the depths of my mind that nothing was able to cut through, not even alcohol. So one day after about three weeks, when Grace was gone and I had no one around to possibly lean on I tried to escape. I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t care any more. Anything that would blot out my mind and the reliving of every last humiliation dating back to when I was 7 was what I wanted and I wasn’t able to think in any cogent way imaginable.
Half a bottle of Klonopin, 2mg – 15 pills, half a handle of gin.
I passed out feeling good, feeling relaxed, feeling like this was a good way to go.
Grace found me.
I was lying on the loveseat with my legs propped over the armrest and was not responsive. She called for an ambulance after she saw the empty bottle in the kitchen. It saved my life that she found it and they knew what happened.
I remember waking up, I still don’t remember how many days it was that I was out — klonopin interferes with memory. I wasn’t in a psych ward yet, I was still too sick, but I was quickly ushered up into that strange hell hole.
There I met the army of professionals who were hell bent on making sure that I wouldn’t die by my own broken mind. All day I would stay in my room and nap and try to read. Most of my time was spent on my bed too bored and too tired to do anything else besides curl up on the gurney that never felt like a bed but rather a foam mattress that a child might have in his bedroom so that it didn’t cater to curves but resisted any pressure on it. I just stayed like that for hours looking out of the fifth story window at the snow covering the roof of the parking ramp. It wasn’t the overdose that was doing it, it was simply the depression dragging me down into an abyss of nothing that I was now trying desperately to claw my way out. Food was automatically ordered for me if I didn’t select anything for myself. Surprisingly, the food tasted good, the mac and cheese was excellent. But I wasn’t hungry most of the time. I didn’t order food the first day I was there and it wasn’t until dinner that they noticed I hadn’t even left my room for anything and they carried my food into my room. I didn’t eat that day. I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t eat, my brain couldn’t be bothered to eat. Twice a day I met with psychiatrists and psychologists. Once in the morning which was a team of psychiatrists and a pharmacist and residents learning the ropes and then in the evening to talk with a resident who was still learning how to work with the mentally ill by examining them in the most extreme throws of illness. There I also met people who made me want to live. It isn’t inspiring, not in the slightest. This isn’t one of those stories where I went to some dark hole of an asylum that was filled with good people and I developed everlasting friendships and eventually freed myself from the evil doctors and lived a happy life. Those places don’t exist and the doctors saved my life as well. One Flew Over A Cuckoo’s Nest is a lie. A sad pathetic lie that has no relationship with modern reality written by a man who fabricated tales for a living. What I was confronted with was vocational therapy, whatever the fuck that is, I never went, round the clock surveillance that included getting my vitals check at 4 fucking AM, and the cast of the place made me see where I was, and what I was. People with fresh cuts down their forearms going lengthwise and not laterally, half a shaved head with a bullet wound in the wrong place, schizophrenics zoned out on too much Seroquel taking in the latest advice from HGTV — I was a part of this group and I didn’t want to be. I downed the maximum dose of olanzapine, 10mg, felt vaguely more stable after two days and lied my ass off to get the hell out because I couldn’t stand the thought of being associated with that cast for one more minute (4am vitals check also). I still felt like shit, I felt like shit for a long time after that, but being disconnected, being trapped in my room with a book I couldn’t read or comprehend and to this day I still don’t know anything about and have reservations about ever reading again for fear of dredging up that experience through tangential association, that made me feel worse than being back at home with Grace. So I lied. I probably shouldn’t have, but I did and somehow I’m still alive.
I wanted to go back to Grace (who saved my life) because she came to see me. The day after I was admitted to the ward she came on the bus, riding 45 minutes out to the hospital and probably standing, waiting, for the bus for 10-15 minutes just to make sure she could make sure that I was still alive and breathing and not permanently ruined. I wasn’t talkative at that time. I was still pretty far gone and depressed. And she cried. She didn’t just cry about the fact that she nearly lost her friend, she cried because she didn’t care enough to step in and help, that she needed the wake up call of me falling into a coma to act in any way to save my life. In the saddest way possible, it brought us from being friends to being siblings. She would never let me out of her sight again.
This I told to Rachel.
She said she felt like some of the things that I said, a lot of things, and that she might do the same thing I did. All she had to do next was agree.
It was a Friday.
I took her to University Health Services for an emergency appointment.
I sat with her holding her hand while she waited to see the psychiatrist on call. At first they said that they didn’t want me back there with her, which is normal, but she insisted and I came along. I never said anything, I had to let her talk and respond to their questions. But her inner life unfolded for me in brutal details down to the cuts on her legs that she was slicing into herself in an escape from the cloud of depression and emptiness that cried out for anything, even pain, to fill it. Harold didn’t know this, they hadn’t had sex in two months. She brightened when she talked about cutting herself in detail. The feel of the razor blade initially scared her with its lightness and it felt like it would be painful against her index finger and thumb which would rest against the side of it when she would apply pressure. At first she just held it, not knowing what to do. She thought of just cutting her arms but then Harold and the rest of us would know. So she sliced the insides of her thighs. The instant adrenaline shock to her mind from the rough tearing of her skin and smooth slice of the blade deeper down in her flesh set her free from depression for a split second. She knew where she was cutting and the possibility of nicking her femoral artery added excitement to the pursuit as well as a possible final relief from everything. Soon she dulled the blade by raking it against the metal that encompassed her desk so that when she pulled it across her skin it wouldn’t slice but tear like a paper cut making it more painful and more fulfilling. At home I would discover that this was how she planned to kill herself one day. She would just press a little harder and cut a little deeper and it would all just go away. She didn’t have to show the scars for me to know that this had been going on for a long time. I found blood in our bathtub one day about 6 weeks before and she claimed it was her period. She lied, like all depressed people do to cover their shame.
She revealed this only to me and the psychiatrist as she squeezed my hand tighter as she tore more and more of her life out for display and analysis. No one ever would know the full story beyond her being depressed and seeking help. I would never tell and neither would she. It was a rather easy diagnosis in the end and the doctor proscribed an antidepressant. We set up a regimen to protect her from possibly overdosing on antidepressants in a last ditch effort to end everything. She would also have to show me her razor blade. At the pharmacy we were early to pick up her meds, both pharmacists know me by sight due to my years of experimenting with nearly every drug on the market. We waited twenty minutes in Walgreens for them to process the prescription. It came to $5 in order to save her life, without insurance it was over $100 according to the little “Insurance saved you this much” info on the prescription bag. Back at the house she led me into the bedroom. Underneath the dresser where a small cut out in the baseboard left a gap between the floor and the wood she stowed the blade. I bent down to my knees and fished it out. It was caked with dried blood and slightly rusty from the blood corroding it. I turned around and saw her standing there with her pants and underwear around her ankles sobbing showing scars running from her vulva to her knees. She asked what I thought of her now. The lines of scars were criss crossed with scabs and fresh cuts just starting to heal over. I hugged her and said she would survive.