Anniversary of Sorts, Just Passed

18 05 2010

But one is lost in any case.  There is no escape

They never ask why build

It was just over 20 years ago that I was admitted to the ICU of a mental health clinic.  I was in ICU for 3 days and then spent 2 weeks in the regular residential clinic before being discharged back to the world.  I returned to school and completed my quarter of science and literature classes as though I had not, a couple weeks before, broken a window and started sawing at my wrists with shards of glass.

subdue this fearful agitation

It’s all more dramatic in text than in actuality.  This is why I’ve prefer not to write about it although the hospital itself and the people (that woman and that woman and that man and the doors) stay in my head, wanting to creep out.   I cannot help but shape the words when the reality was totally banal.  It was a cry for help not even a real attempt–for certainly, had I intended more severity, I would not have screwed around with thick dull pieces of glass.

No deep retreat conceals the soul, you need no knife at all to root it out, no deeply driven wound to find the vital parts

It is only by strange circumstance that I remembered that this year is the 20th anniversary of one of my interludes with insanity. Within the few weeks, I’ve encountered two books and a newspaper article that directly pertain to depression and suicidal ideation (to use the DSM IV term).

1.  Kay Redfield Jamison’s Night Falls Fast, understanding suicide.  The book was $1 at the recent Seattle Friends of the Library Book Sale and I could not help myself.  Jamieson is one of the most perceptive writers, in my opinion, about depression, art and bipolar illness.  I’m in the middle of the book.  It is a good one.

2.  A graphic storybook called Ocean of Despair by Thor Harris, the percussionist for Shearwater (whose album The Golden Archipelago, I just explored in several blogposts).  While this is a very personal book as Harris explicitly details his own severe struggle, it has moments that very clearly express the senses of agitation and active torment that often characterize severe depression when laced with anxiety.

3.  The weekly The Stranger’s cover story about suicide, To Be or Not to Be by Brendan Kiley.  Kiley’s article is a very honest investigation of suicide, including the roots of Christian opposition to suicide (Augustine and the early Church’s concern about the popularity of martyrdom; NOT the Bible), suicide and the elderly, suicide prevention and the concern that actually writing or talking about suicide will cause people to commit suicide.  As is typical with articles in The Stranger there is a heated discussion in the comments following the article online.  These are worth reading because they beautifully illustrate the range of response to the idea of suicide.

I assume it is because I’ve been reading these lately that I’ve been reminded of one period of time where I was in that space where

mysteriously and in ways that are totally remote from normal experience, the gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain

and could not still it–sleep, of course, is unavailable, and there is

this almost terrible energy…nothing seems to help

I have stolen the words of other people because I cannot write about it right or correctly and they already have.  The details of this episode (the only in which I’ve ended up in hospital) seem unimportant.  Only that I’ve always been with issues regarding self loathing.  One might explain it with genetics but even more clearly all of the surgeries I had as a child and young adult–all the folks, before I could speak, well meaning I’m sure, that approached me with a soft voice and then cut, or pierced, or squeezed or emerged out of the utterly fearful haze of anesthesia as disembodied voices, as creatures.

a Cleaving in my Mind–/As if my Brain had split

The fact I’d often chosen to cut myself, just a little bit, to let the bad feeling out, is probably not unrelated to the fact that, to cure me, the doctors had to cut me.

Sequences ravelled out of Sound

At any rate.  I’ve moved past this–though I periodically lacerate myself with negative thoughts I don’t actually cut myself.  My family, my husband, my therapy, my meds, my yoga, my babies and just some hard work have all served to bring me to a different place, where I don’t need the knife.

I’ve had other problematic episodes, including one that found me at Emily Dickinson’s gravestone hoping she’d pop up and tell me about perseverance; however, I’ve worked very hard to come to a different (safer) place.  The more hostages to fortune one has, the more compulsion one has to protect oneself in order to protect them.  Having children, especially, will do that. For their sakes, I have no right to go off the deep end so I’d better take my meds and do my yoga and go to therapy if needs be and, if it gets too out of hand, get myself committed so they can take all the dangerous objects away from me.  When a person opens a door on suicide as an option, the door doesn’t close.  However, and I would say this to anyone who has opened that door, one can stopped rebelling against the things that might help keep it away.    It is not a weakness to ask for support–nor is it romantic or strong to try to vanish–I say this because, silly as it seems, the little voice that pops into one’s head at particular times says “weak, weak, vanish, be strong and disappear, everything you know is a lie.”

The thought behind, I strove to join/Unto the thought before

And anyway, what the children do is they make me want to see what is going to happen. And the world makes me want to see what will happen.  The newly excavated hole in the snag in our yard makes me want to see what will happen as well; so do the seedlings that appear to be sunflowers.  And the ocean which is out there.

I know that depression takes all this away, but the more I build it, the more structures I put into play, the more experiences I have inside me that give me this glimpse of life the less likely depression will be successful when when it tries to take everything away.

I should add, with all the work I’ve done, I’ve also been very lucky.

And it has not been like that for others–like Virginia Woolf, like Paul Celan, like [insert name here], and like Walter Benjamin–hostage to bad luck, dead on the French border in the fall of 1940.

My dog looked at me from the darkness.

Trust in the world


It is worth having this wherever it might be seen


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Quotes are by Emily Dickinson, Clarice Lispector, Anne Sexton, Seneca, William Styron, Edgar Allen Poe




One response

19 05 2010

Love it, Jen, especially your description of collecting reasons to stay, the kids, the hole in the yard, the structures, both literal and figurative, that lean you onto the side of life. I get exactly what you mean. And the connection between the cutting, early years, and the cutting, slightly later, makes sense too. If I’ve learned anything it’s how much body we are and how much memory is lodged in body. And even though I’m crappy about staying in touch, within touch, it makes me happy big to know you are here where I am. So Happy Anniversary and Happy All the Things You Know Because and Happy Being Who You Are. Because there’s no one else like you we know who gets the animal thing and the planet thing and the hole in the yard thing. xoxox

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