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Sometime in my late twenties I started asking close friends if everyone thought about killing themselves all the time.
“I mean, is this like a human condition sort of thing?” I’d ask over a beer or a coffee (a jocund raconteur, I am). “Like, does everyone walk around with a not-quite-voice in their head going youreafreaknobodylovesyougohomeandhangyourself pretty much every day, and is everyone else just way better at dealing with this voice-ish thing than I am?”
The person sitting over the other beer or coffee would usually then crinkle their forehead in alarmed concern.
“I don’t think I’m actually going to do it,” I’d reassure. “I’ve thought about it every day for like ever and I’ve never actually done it. I mean, I did try that once when I was nineteen, but that was a stupid white- girl-cry-for-help type of attempt and shouldn’t even really count.”
The person sitting across from me would ask if they needed to call anyone.
“No, I’m fine,” I’d say. “I’m just asking if you ever feel this way, too. Like, I used to think I was a huge pervert until I figured out that everyone thinks of weird sex all the time just like I do. I mean, not everyone. I know some people don’t and I also completely validate asexuality as an identity. But you know what I mean. It’s pretty normal to be obsessed with some pretty kinky sex stuff. I wonder if maybe suicide is similar? Something that everyone thinks about but nobody talks about.”
The person across from me would usually take another sip of their drink and say they thought about it sometimes, and everyone probably did sometimes, but thinking about it every day was probably not normal, and maybe I should go to a therapist and get on antidepressants.
“I know I should,” I’d say. But I didn’t. Not for years.
It was a point of pride that I wasn’t on antidepressants or in therapy. A psychiatrist in college had told me I would probably never be able to function without medication. He also told me I drank too much, and, in my opinion, asked me a few too many questions about my sex life for a fifty-something dude. He was obviously the Patriarchy and I sure as fuck wasn’t going to listen to a word he said. In fact, I was going drink more and go off my medication just to prove he was a Freudian fossil and I knew myself better than reductive, androcentric Western psychology ever could.
And you know what? I functioned. I got myself out of bed every morning. I held jobs. I went out. I made friends who were talented and intelligent and kind. I didn’t get too close to anyone. I knew none of them really cared about me. I worked and worked. I wrote books and films. I imagined jumping into rivers and out of windows. I started nonprofits. I taught poetry to at-risk youth. I drank a lot. I toured the world with my art. I hated and isolated myself. I got myself out of bed every morning. I walked around and talked to people. I knew I was a parasite and a monster and it would be better for everyone if I were dead. I knew this thought was probably not objectively true. I kept moving. I got myself out of bed every morning. I got older.
It was enough to keep doing things, I told myself. I remembered a character from Infinite Jest who had untreatable screaming depression but was still married and had a job and went about a “normal” life on the outside despite his frothing neurons. Depression is the modern human condition, after all. How could you live in the world with any awareness and not become overwhelmed with sadness about death and violence?
There was something stoically yogic about continuing to do what I hoped was “good work” while my brain and emotions hurled me around like a sadistic eight-year-old terrorizing a gerbil. I realized I was some new spiritual hybrid of martyr and bodhisattva. I was definitely probably enlightened–to be so sensitive and aware and yet to continue to walk through rain to the subway and make eye-contact with baristas and pay rent more-or-less on time. I was so virtuous you could puke.
I was a bachelor-monk. I was thirty, I slept on a twin-sized mattress on the floor under a Ganesh wall-hanging, and I was afraid I might be too unstable to ever be in a romantic relationship again.
But sometimes a pretty girl with blue hair appears out of nowhere and well, what can you do. When I told her I thought about killing myself every day, she didn’t run away. This was encouraging. Weeks passed, then months. She kept not running away.
Eventually, though, she told me it did upset her when I talked about my chronic impulse to off myself.
“But it has nothing to do with you!” I said. “I’m not asking you to fix it. No one can fix it. It’s all me.”
“It still affects me,” she said. “I love you.”
It felt like my heart fell straight through my chest and smacked on the floor between my feet. At the same time, I felt the teensiest bit less closed off.
Whatever depression is, it makes you feel like you’re the only person in the world. That no one could possibly understand you. That you’re outside of the “normal” human society that works meaningfully and follows Game of Thrones and eats brunch and loves and is loved.
Love did not “save” me. I did not go back on antidepressants for my girlfriend. But the experience of being in love has helped me understand that I have a responsibility as part of the world to be part of the world. I affect things, whether I want to or not. People care about me, whether I think they do or not.
My brain is not always right. No one’s is.
There are no magical, breezy “normal” people who are one-hundred percent stable all the time. We all have to navigate our inconsiderate emotions and brain chemistries to try to function in the world. Sometimes this navigation requires extra energy, or help from friends, families (chosen or biological), and doctors. Sometimes it requires meditation, sometimes medication. Sometimes it really is all you can do to just keep living until something opens up. I’m taking antidepressants because they help me.
I’m using the tools I have to become the most effective human being I can be. I’ll keep doing this every day I’m alive.
Jade Sylvan is the author of Kissing Oscar Wilde, and also a poet and performing artist based in Cambridge, MA. Read more about Jade's work at http://jadesylvan.com.