Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Best Way Out

A good friend to my family passed away last week.  He was just 36 years old, though I remember him as the delightfully quirky teenage kid that could wrap his feet behind his head, thread Oral-B through his schnozz and floss his sinus cavities, and give my kid brother a notion of a challenge at Mario Tennis on N64.  Oh, and he taught me how to make napalm.  I knew he was peculiar.  I loved it.  He fascinated me.  I also knew he was teased for being different.  In addition to being beautifully odd he was also thin and gangly and not remotely athletic.  He and my youngest sister had a special friendship.  They adored one another because they both identified as misfits or outcasts.  Although misfit for very different reasons, they found support in one another.  It was always platonic, though I think he wanted it to be different.  There just wasn't anything there for the other party.  I had no idea he suffered from severe mental illness.  Crippling Bi-polar Disorder.  It plagued him, even though he was a successful attorney with his own law practice.  Eventually it grew too strong for him and he ended his life.

I am so sad.  Why does it seem like depression and mental illness only claim the lives of the eclectic, artistic, imaginative, and unique among us?  It's never the successful business professional in the news for cashing it in.  Why Robin Williams?  Why not Trump?

I'm quite familiar with the darkness that can claim an imaginative brain.  I've experienced it.  I've taken on demons.  I've fought shadows.  I've battled the worst parts of myself.  I've been to the brink and looked over the edge and ultimately decided to stay on the ground.  My brink was in a CVS parking lot in 2015.  I was that low and I don't have any diagnosable illnesses outside of some treatable depression and anxiety.  I can't imagine how hard it was for my friend to have soldiered on for as long as he did.  I am sad and I feel it is tragic.  But I understand.  It's a way out.  A foolproof way to not feel pain, ever again.

I had two friends end their lives when I was in my teens and early twenties.  I still think about them from time to time.

What I'm about to say is in no way a commentary on what these friends of mine did, or on the actions of those who choose to end their lives.  I am a huge proponent of individual thought and personal choice and it is not my place to criticize or question the decisions of others.  I respected them then and I respect them now.  I just want to talk about the ugliness I've seen and how I have found, to date, ways to go on.

Robert Frost once wrote "The best way out is always through."  That simple idea carries immense power.  I know from personal experience that there are ways out that aren't necessarily through.  You can go around.  You can walk away.  You can avoid.  Or you can ostrich.  But I can promise that the best way to get out of anything is to push through it.

There were two albums that I give credit to for helping me through my own personal low: "I See A Darkness" by Bonnie Prince Billy and "Carrie and Lowell" by Sufjan Stevens.  Neither of these records are fun.  They are both dark, emotional, and RAW.  I remember being questioned about why I would go to such dark music when I was already in such a dark place.  Why not some Beach Boys or, God forbid, MOTAB?  The best way to disperse darkness is to shine light on it, right?

I was concurrently listening to a podcast called "The Hilarious World of Depression" where well-known comedians, actors, and artists share their own personal experiences battling depression.  The very first episode addressed the counter-productive effect of positive, happy music on depression.  Every person experiencing depression feels alone and misunderstood.  When someone in that state listens to happy music, they just see one more person that doesn't "get it."  Yet when you hear some dark, sad, melancholy music with visceral lyrics, it feels like there is someone else sitting next to you at the edge of the abyss.  Someone who relates to how you feel.  Someone that experienced it and was able to create a beautiful piece of art from it.  It's a way through the depression.  Through the pain.  It's not avoiding it with distracting pop music.

I'm currently still pushing through.  Sometimes it's too damn hard and I look for alternatives.  Easier paths.  Smooth road.  Happy trails.  But for me, right now, it's all about through.  I'm going to the gym for the first time in my life.  I'm watching nutrition and staying active every day.  This is how you fight through obesity.  It's not easy, but it's the best possible way.  No pills.  No fasts.  Just massive adjustments to life.  And those are NOT easy to make.  I've ignored them for years, even though I know they're there.

I'm so sorry for my friend and his family.  I'm sad that he had to fight such a curse through his life.  But I'm happy his pain is over.  And I'm grateful to have had the chance to experience his beautiful soul.

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