Thursday, July 26, 2012


The Ozark Empire Fair opens tomorrow in Springfield, and when it's fair time I'll always be reminded of two things: the almost-innocent air of romance and possibility, and the time I tried to kill myself.

It was 1994 and I was a successful newspaper columnist and editor, living in black depression. One night I walked into the detached garage of my home, closed the door behind me and started my car.

I was in the hospital for 10 days. I spent a lot of that time swallowing sedatives, staring at polished metal masquerading as mirrors, and wondering why I was supposed to paint wooden boxes as a form of therapy. I lied and I told them I wasn't a threat to myself or others, and they finally let me go with a diagnosis of major depression and a prescription for Paxil.

In the 18 years since, the depression has come back, abated, returned. Unreliable waves of black, here without much warning, then gone. Most of the time I've been able to deal with them.

(And it's different from depression brought on by events. Those things may be bummers, but they have an obvious beginning, a clear reason. These bouts of depression always come unexpectedly and often emerge during relatively good times; perhaps that's what makes them so startling, so unsettling.)

Right after the stroke I thought about killing myself. But it wasn't because I was depressed; it was simple calculation, weighing the value of life as a physically diminished human and deciding it wasn't worth it.

Last month a small wave rolled in, but I shrugged it off. Writing about it helped. The sun came out in a few days. No big.

This time the wave crashed into me on Sunday. Just before it hit I felt almost giddy. Then it smashed in and knocked me off my feet, and now I'm trying to swim to the surface, trying to find some air so I don't drown. I am doing so without much success.

This feels like 1994 again. I don't write that as some sort of ominous warning. I'm just comparing the weight of that summer to this one, the same way I recently thought about last summer. Funny how just a couple weeks ago I thought this would be a new season of blooming. Try as I might, I can't evoke that sensation now. In this heat I feel numb and everything feels frozen, dead.

Smitty called today, worried about what I've been writing these past few days. He wanted to know if this involved Calliope. The truthful answer to him was no. This isn't about her. It's not about the stroke. It's not about work. It's not about anything. It's a rogue wave. I just happen to be in its path.

"Nothing to worry about," I told Smitty, and I meant it. I'm not writing any of this to send a message. It's not my way of reaching out for help — help is beyond me, bluntly. All I can do right now is try to outlast this wave and hope the black water recedes soon. Pity I never learned to swim.

I know this much: I won't return to the bin. No more art therapy and group therapy for me. No more rooms without mirrors. No more shoes without shoelaces. I'm already depressed. That shit would send me over the edge, and Hunter was right. The only people who know where the edge is have already gone over.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This explains a whole lot about you, old man.