Sometimes I feel like giving up.
Sometimes in life I feel like giving up. Sometimes the thing I want most in the world (at that moment) does not come to pass, and in fact my worst nightmare is visited upon me. Sometimes I feel as though there is simply no more fight left in me and I can’t even summon the energy to explain, let alone to blog.
There are days when all I want to do is lie in bed like a beached starfish and cry and sleep and stare at the ceiling without a thought in my head. Every effort seems to take 1,000 times more energy than normal, and it feels like the very air that surrounds me is as thick as chocolate pudding.
The dishes pile up, the dirty laundry doesn’t quite make it to the basket, and it’s all I can do to flush the toilet. And then there’s the guilt I feel for letting down everyone around me. And the sadness and isolation I feel for being so profoundly misunderstood.
If none of these things resonate with you, congratulations. You have never experienced depression. You have no idea how lucky you are.
But I’m writing this for the rest of you, the ones who get it. I want to implore you to be gentle with yourself, as if you’re recovering from major surgery. It’s okay to sleep more or do less, for a time. Screw the effing dishes.
I do, however, urge you to seek help if this is not just a passing phase. Because sometimes the passage of time is on our side, but not always. Yes, the sun comes out tomorrow, and/or you get some rest and/or remember to eat something, and things look brighter. Or your situation improves. Other times, time feels like the enemy, and can seem like an endless wall of pain and isolation that stretches before you and is insurmountable, inevitable, and monochrome. That’s a time to reach out for help.
I get it. I really do. You are not alone.
Be gentle with yourself. Get help. Don’t make any major decisions that you can’t come back from, because then you’ll truly be out of options.
For today, just breathe, okay? Breathe, rest, and let the rest of the world take care of itself. You have my permission. (Not that you need it.)
Sending you love and light from a place not far from where you are, my fellow depressives. By the time you read this, I’ve probably come out the other side, back to the land of functioning adults, just as I always do, and have learned as I age that I always will. Until the next wave of depression hits. And so on.
I’ve made it this far. So can you. I’m promising you, there’s a crest to the wave, and what you can see from up there is beautiful and miraculous and oh, so worth it. You just have to hold on. And to do that you may sometimes need help. And that’s okay.
There’s no loneliness vaccine.
I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Leo Kottke in concert the other day at a lovely little venue in Seattle called Demetriou’s Jazz Alley. I’ve written about Kottke before. He’s a supreme talent. I highly recommend that you see him if given the opportunity.
He intersperses his amazing music with stories that are often every bit as good. On this night, though, he said something that kind of made me sad. I’m paraphrasing here, but he mentioned that he tours alone and he lives alone, so talking to us is really his only social life.
He was half joking. But the man is 73 years old. The thought of that level of loneliness is kind of heartbreaking.
That got me thinking. There’s really nothing that corelates with loneliness. You certainly can’t tell by looking at a person. Kottke is talented, active, still touring. He’s led a successful life. None of that staves off loneliness.
You can be rich or poor, young or old, famous or unknown, smart or stupid, kind or cruel… and yet none of that prevents or encourages loneliness. It’s like there’s no real way to thwart it. There’s no loneliness vaccine.
You can do your best to spend time with other people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll befriend you. You can be active in your community, but that doesn’t mean anyone will want to spend time with you. You can dedicate your life to caring for others, but still, there’s no guarantee that anyone will care for you.
A lot of people are lonely in a crowd. So loneliness doesn’t even corelate with isolation. Loneliness stands alone. That’s scary as hell, if you ask me.
What’s the special sauce that prevents loneliness? I haven’t a clue. I’d love to hear your thoughts. The only thing I know is that we need to reach out to one another. We really do.
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The other day I witnessed something awful. I was working on the Fremont Bridge here in Seattle. It’s 30 feet off the water. Right next to it is the Aurora Bridge, which is 170 feet off the water. Before they put up the higher railing on the Aurora Bridge, the only bridge in the world more known for suicides was the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Fortunately the higher railing has reduced our statistics dramatically, but some people are extremely determined.
It had been a really good day at work. The end of my shift was fast approaching and I was looking forward to going home. Then I heard the sirens. I looked up, and there, standing on the thin, fragile railing, 170 feet above the canal, was a teenaged boy. He stood there, motionless, as the fire engines and police cars gathered around him. They didn’t get too close. Several officers were trying to talk to him, but he wasn’t acknowledging anyone, as far as I could tell. He just stood there, on the brink of death, gazing off to the horizon.
And I felt like a bug pinned to a display board. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t look away. All I could do is quietly say, “Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it, oh God, please don’t do it.” My heart was pounding. I felt sick. I have never felt so helpless in my entire life.
I’ve been a bridgetender since 2001. This isn’t my first rodeo. But in the past I’ve only experienced the aftermath. I’ve either heard them hit (which is a sound you’ll never forget), or I’ve heard the fire engine race up and them coax the guy down. This time I had a front row seat for the most pivotal moment in someone’s life, and I couldn’t do anything to help.
Then a woman came running up the sidewalk, her arms outstretched. An officer stopped her just short of the boy. He still didn’t move. He stood there for 30 minutes. It felt like an eternity.
Then, thankfully, he decided to climb down. But to do this he had to make a 180 degree turn on that railing and squat down. That was the scariest part for me. I was thinking, “Wouldn’t it suck if he changed his mind and now he accidentally fell?”
Eventually he got down and they were able to get him in the ambulance. They drove away and reopened the bridge to traffic and everything went back to normal. Sort of. But meanwhile I was nauseous from the adrenaline dump. I went home to an empty house and had no one to talk to about it. Oddly I was ravenously hungry, but was so sick I couldn’t eat until the next day, after having had several nightmares.
Post Traumatic Stress. That’s a problem. Because it won’t be the last jumper I witness when I work on this bridge. All my coworkers have seen several. And they say it’s worse when they actually jump, especially when they hit the ground or a building instead of the water. Clearly, I’m going to need some coping skills if I’m going to deal with this on a regular basis.
So I decided to take advantage of my Employee Assistance Program and see a counselor. I had my first appointment yesterday. We talked about suicide and what it means to me personally and what it means in general, and she gave me several things to think about.
She said that some people are in so much emotional pain and feel so out of control that they take the control of the one thing that everyone can potentially control—their death. It’s an awful choice to make, but some people may think it’s the only one they have. Others are under the influence of drugs and are making irrational choices in general and this is just another one of those irrational choices. She also said it was normal for me to feel sympathy for this person’s pain and confusion. That’s a very human reaction.
Then we discussed the difference between sympathy and empathy, because that’s what I clearly have to work on. Here are the definitions:
noun, plural sympathies.
- The intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
I have always taken pride in the fact that I’m a fairly empathetic individual. I can put myself into other people’s emotional shoes and act toward them accordingly. This is a skill that not everyone possesses. I get frustrated by insensitive, oblivious people. But it never occurred to me that sometimes empathy is not the best thing to have.
Because, you see, I took that young man’s emotional pain into my body. I mean, I really felt it. And because of that I had to deal with it in the aftermath, kind of like having to expel poison. Not good.
So my homework, probably for the rest of my life, is to learn to not take people’s pain on board. It’s okay to feel sympathy, pity, sadness for that person and what they are going through, but I really need to not take it into my soul. It isn’t mine. It doesn’t belong to me, and I don’t have to take ownership of it. What a concept.
Wish me luck.
Sunrise, a boat race, and my view of the Aurora Bridge from work.