Here we go again

Trigger Warning: I am going to talk about my experiences with mental illness and suicide. If these things upset you too much, I hope you will skip this post but stick around the site. Our recipes and stories are generally much more palatable.

In my first draft of this post, this was the point that I eventually got to, but this is not something you build up to. This is literally a matter of life and death.

If you are considering suicide, think about us.

We know what you feel. We know darkness, hopelessness, bottomless despair. Your situation is completely different from ours. And exactly like ours. We know your pain and we love you. Believe us, there is hope; there is love. There is someone who cares about you. Don’t give up. Reach out. Please. Reach out. Here are some folks who can help. Please, let them.

If you are in crisis, stop. Don’t do anything. Call these folks for help.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24
1-866-488-7386

If you’re not in immediate danger, please act anyway. There are professionals who can help. There are medicines. There is therapy. Now is the time to find out what works for you.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has advice for finding professional help and support groups. They have lots of other good information as well.

The National Institute of Mental Health has great information. More than just help, if you are interested in the science or the history of mental illness, check them out.

And please, please ask for help. We love you. The world needs you. The future has a place for you.

Now back to our regular programming…

I am adding the above warning to Angela’s post on the same topic. I know some of our friends — and likely some folks we don’t know — were affected by her post. We are truly sorry for springing that on you. We know exactly how intense the emotions can be.

No excuses, but an explanation… Angela putting that out there is amazing. I am so proud of her for opening up about something so difficult. She is not an open person at the best of times. For her to be able and willing to open up was remarkable. And like pulling off a band-aid, it needed to be done quickly if at all. Hence our failure to add a warning to her post.

But her story is out there now. So it’s time for my story. Hi, I’m Paul, and I’m crazy as a betsy bug.

Hi, Paul!

See?

It’s no joking matter, except that it is a joking matter. While “crazy as a betsy bug” is an accurate if cornpone diagnosis, my actual disease is bipolar disorder. I’m manic-depressive. Normal folk have mood swings. I have the roller coaster from hell.

Um, so where’s the joke? True, my disease is the source of many of my problems. I’ve lost money, jobs, time, relationships, and a marriage. It was actually my first wife who explained my condition to me; after we were divorced, she, with considerable vehemence, called me “a sick fucking psycho with a bipolar disorder.” After that pleasant phone call, I did some research. She was right. I found a psychiatrist and with just a few pills I was much better.

I won’t attempt to define the disease. The folks at the National Institute of Mental Health have that covered. I am bipolar II fortunately — just crazy enough to really screw up my life. Not crazy enough to end up in an institution. So far.

Right, jokes. It turns out that you are currently reading my silver lining. Bipolar disorder has a strong link to creativity. The mania and hypomania that speeds up our brains tends to rev up the creative circuits quite well also. That is assuming that your brain is not so overloaded that you end up walking down the street preaching the gospel. Naked. And even when creativity is what you get out of the deal, the tide can turn. As bright as you can be, the blackness of the depression is crippling. Van Gogh anyone? And Virginia Woolf filled her overcoat pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse to drown.

Again there is a much better source of information. Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., is an expert on bipolar disorder; she co-wrote the book on the subject, Manic-Depressive Illness: Bipolar Disorders and Recurrent Depression. She is a scholar and an excellent mass market writer as well. Her memoir, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, is beautiful and heartbreaking. She also wrote Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. If you are interested in the arts, this is a book you should read. It shines a new light on many of the masters.

Dr. Jamison also wrote Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide. If you have no experience with suicide, I’m happy for you, and this book can help you understand a little. If you do have experience, you can get a sense of why. And if you have ever considered suicide, this will hopefully show you why not.

I have experience with suicide.

When I was 13, my mother and I drove to rural Greenleaf, Mississippi, to visit my grandmother. When we went into the house, her bedroom door was closed. I think that’s when I started to cry. That certainly told me something was wrong. She never closed that door. I pushed open the door, moving the small table that she had placed in front of it. She was sprawled on the floor beside her bed, my late grandfather’s shotgun beside her. She had tied a length of thin green ribbon around the trigger and looped it around the stock in order to fire the long weapon.

This was my first real experience with death, and the grief and the guilt were overwhelming. My mother and I both wondered what we could have done differently. Visit her more? Bring her to visit us? Why? Just why? It wasn’t until much later that I noticed one of the two calendars in her bedroom. One was the standard drugstore calendar. The other was something like that, but it was older. I always assumed she liked the picture, a nest with beautiful robin’s eggs. Then I noticed the date; it was the month and year that my grandfather died. I didn’t understand depression and mental illness then, but the idea that she had lived with that much sadness for so long was heart-wrenching.

I have considered suicide.

Now you know Angela’s story. She even gave a good account of my side. What she didn’t tell you is that, for an instant, when I found her on the kitchen floor I considered just letting her go and going to slit my wrists. I didn’t obviously. I called 911, and after the worst 20 minutes of my life, the ambulance arrived. After five endless days, she came out of the coma. I can tell you long and often funny stories about her recovery. (Okay, just one. Angela was in the ICU during the World Cup. I was afraid I was too mean to the Brazil fan nurse until I met his German immigrant co-worker. Wow.) For now I should stay on topic, though.

During my unhappy first marriage, I wondered about driving into a tree. I didn’t have anyone I was worried about, and I didn’t have airbags. I suppose I thought of my mother, but truth be told, I was just worried I would screw it up.

After things started to fall apart for Angela, a lot of the stable foundation I had began to crumble. But as dark as things got, I had Angela. I do that to her. I couldn’t be without her. And my life isn’t without hope or promise. Hell, we’ve written three books. Those will outlive me so if I keep writing, I will be that much more immortal. But the feeling can still take you.

And because it bears repeating…

If you are considering suicide, think about us.

We know what you feel. We know darkness, hopelessness, bottomless despair. Your situation is completely different from ours. And exactly like ours. We know your pain, and we love you. Believe us, there is hope; there is love. There is someone who cares about you. Don’t give up. Reach out. Please. Reach out. Here are some folks who can help. Please, let them.

If you are in crisis, stop. Don’t do anything. Call these folks for help.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24
1-866-488-7386

If you’re not in immediate danger, please act anyway. There are professionals who can help. There are medicines. There is therapy. Now is the time to find out what works for you.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has advice for finding professional help and support groups. They have lots of other good information as well.

The National Institute of Mental Health has great information. More than just help, if you are interested in the science or the history of mental illness, check them out.

And please, please ask for help. We love you. The world needs you. The future has a place for you.

Yeah, it's all creative, but...
Why We Haven't Written in a Year