However this muse expresses herself, it is all the sound of a heart in its pure, full existence…well that is my opinion anyway…music makes for a liberated soul. Like staring blindly or blankly at art; having no words or even thoughts, just the definite feeling it resurrects in your soul.
“I hear the train a comin…”as I cross the river. Mr. Cash’s song sifts slowly through my mind while the CP Rail train blows its horn near Edworthy Park…” I am lost in the over stimulation until I return to myself from beyond, noticing the music has slightly shifted gears while I dreamt of another sound.
Music transports me in nearly every form.
“All I ever wanted was a chance to catch my breath…watching the world go by, take each day as it comes…” more lyrics floating through the mind’s musical eye, but what is actually playing now? While I imagine this other song is Nick Drake’s, magically soft yet definite and strong voice as he sings about the Black Eyed Dog knocking at his door…how the universe speaks to us is sometimes trickier than the trickiest reasoning I can conjure up at the drop of any hat. The universe knows what is just around the bend.
I am filled with gratitude and peaceful memories this early summer morning. Little did any of us know what was coming; it was a train alright, carrying the black eyed dog to its destination. In this moment however, I simply felt that heavy and thick connection to the spirit world through the music…
There is a part of me which again drifts off to the remembered sound of Dirty Vegas and one of the most memorable nights I have been blessed to experience. It was long ago now, back in the days of the drink and drug where time often blends together and memories can remain somewhat shady…except for the music that played. I find that wherever the music is clear and soul deafening, memory lives in vivid, startling color.
The album, Dirty Vegas saturated what was left of our senses that night. She danced for me and every movement remains etched in memory.
The glistening of her tanned skin, the way she never broke her gaze from mine as she swayed, writhed, and ground herself to me; she was muscular yet wholly feminine with every touch, motion, and gesture. The smile on her face sat crooked, mischievous, and full of every dream she had of me. Behind her glowing, sad eyes there danced a light of hope, flickering as the candles behind her dripping, sweating frame… there was joy that night, some of the last we might have known and in that joy, there was an exchange of spiritual identities…an opening of ourselves in a way led by the music which played…
Music, the mistress I dreamt of from a tormented childhood; it takes shape now as the light which often leads me back to the here and now… where Nick Drake sings sweetly in my ear.
But Nick Drake is memory too; he reveals light beneath the cloaking darkness of a past wishing to forget itself. There is no doubt, each and every moment I am filled with his wondrous magic I am also lifted to another place and time where my sickness danced with another within the shroud of my darkest cloud. I am grateful for it, despite the nature of the more torturous memories.
Often I can find the gratitude for each and every memory, not simply those which I have labeled “good” or “beautiful” or “valuable”… fact is, the older I get the more valuable each piece of my past or piece of me becomes. Regardless of the nature of those pieces once placed under the microscope of positive versus negative. The past has become like art to me, capable of being interpreted in real time, as opposed to being a solid form of mental, emotional and spiritual oppression. I am grateful for that, as the past is having a much harder time shackling itself to me in the present which of course leads to great hope for the future.
With a third surgery looming off in the near distance; I have to admit that enjoying full revelry over the life I have been granted thus far, slips away rather quickly… despite the fear, I am constantly, or so it seems, shown the magic of each moment as opposed to those I once chose to believe were magic. I am often found imagining all that is and thanking God for all that was…even those items I made every attempt to erase or forget at one time in my life.
The struggle recently is to fend fear off smartly and let it all be whatever it needs to be…and have a little faith in the outcome. Easier said than done sometimes, as it will be the third surgery in a twelve month period and this will of course entail, all of the after effects that go with tinkering with one’s spine more than a couple of times. On the brighter side of this twelve month period, it has now been over one year since my last cigarette. ☺
…The truth is that every time I feel fear creeping up inside of me, and on bad days it is nearly every hour, I turn to what has worked through nearly eleven years of sobriety. I turn to prayer and I turn to quiet meditative moments.
I turn to my family, amazing friends, and I turn to the fellowship God has placed me in with its very specific and reasonable means to finding peace in storms we cannot imagine. I try and continue to work with others, although admittedly, my strength and abilities are getting strained with every passing day. I will, no doubt, endeavor to persevere until the day of surgery next week and as soon as it is reasonable thereafter. The proof of its value is undeniable to me; for that deep understanding in my soul, I thank God and all of the amazing people he has placed me around.
There is so much that I am grateful for.
Although I feel the presence of God in nearly every step I take, when fear creeps in like a thief in the night to steal my faith and faithfulness, I start to imagine He is slipping away. It is not that I believe He is leaving me, instead, I watch myself, as though I am somewhere outside of self. I witness me slipping further and further into fear with every small, often subtle choice I make and this only serves to separate me further.
The scariest part of this for me is that when I find myself deep in fear, fighting for seeming survival, the symptoms of my depression are not far behind. And unfortunately as I get older, these symptoms have begun to get undeniable and more severe with each passing day. I was bottoming out again into the abyss and my mind wandered and wondered...so I began looking into how these symptoms might be affecting my fellows in this great big world.
The statistics are a bit misleading due to lack of reporting, but approximately 20 percent of us will experience mental health issues in our life time. In Canada, suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths for individuals between the ages 15 and 24 while the numbers are a total of 16% of people between 25 and 44. Unfortunately the numbers of those afflicted with mental illness, reported suicides, et cetera is low, is due to the fact that less than half of those people who have felt depression or anxiety will see a doctor about the specific symptoms.
In the United States, suicide takes approximately 40,000 people each year; again these numbers are based on reported suicides and reported mental illness, which I imagine is quite low. The suicide rate among returning soldiers from the Iraq/Afghanistan wars is 22 per day and Time magazine along with CNN have reported that these numbers are a low estimate based on similar characteristics as previously mentioned. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is the primary diagnosis, but of course one of the symptoms of PTSD is serious and debilitating depression.
I took a few moments to mention the above statistics for obvious reasons, but the main point I would like to make is that all of the sources; Time magazine, CNN, Headline News, CDC, and Canada Mental Health suggest that these estimations are low. It appears to me that the main reasons for the low figures might be due, in no small part, to lack of reporting by individuals suffering and family members of the deceased once a suicide has been negotiated.
Personally speaking, this past year the symptoms of said depression began kicking the literal shit out of me more frequently than ever before. Not including those times when I was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol previous to eleven years ago. I became worried when ideations began turning towards plans and the thoughts became comfortable rather than appalling. Instead of sitting on it and risking God knows what, I checked back in with a therapist and started therapy again.
It is very true what they say that helpers are often in need of help themselves. I am extremely grateful for the mentors I have had through my career and life, who helped me recognize a definite need for self-care and self-repair as well as a need to outside guidance.
Through months of talk therapy it became increasingly obvious to my therapist, and to me as well if I am honest, that medication might be necessary for at least the short term. He was making every reasonable attempt to avoid the medical route and I was grateful for it and began to realize how stubborn I had become over the issue. However, my spine began deteriorating again which had a definite and immediate effect on my mental and emotional state.
As he put it in one of our last sessions before I agreed to try medication; he said, “David, would you rather be dead or on medication…?” He was repeating to me what I had said to him during a session. I had said the exact words to a client years ago. The message hit home. I would rather try and find a viable solution than end up killing myself… there was and remains no doubt in that statement.
Some people may be thinking, ‘but if you knew you were in danger, wouldn’t that keep you from doing it? I mean wouldn’t you be able to find a way out of it?’’ My only reasonable answer is, maybe you are right? But what if you are not? What if my brain, like yours was telling me it was ok that I could handle it, I should be able to handle anything for any number of reasons…what if out of desperation, I did it in a moment when that same brain failed to tell me anything of use because it could not? It is a bit of a mind fuck because it touches on so much about having a mental illness in general; the truth is that when untreated and even when treated sometimes, the mind has difficulty recognizing reason and rational reactions to the world in a meaningful and helpful way.
This of course makes it seemingly impossible at times to translate the stimuli and information into a “reasonable or rational” reaction. Expecting someone to be able to see things “like normal people” or “your way” when they are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness and potentially require medication is extremely unrealistic. This type of expectation usually leads to severe frustration for both the individual suffering and those around them.
As mentioned previously, today I turn immediately and steadily to the things which have worked for me through the years. And even though I was practicing the disciplines with vigor and intent, I noticed the suicidal ideations had quickly found their home again in my conscious mind where they slowly became less undesirable to the thought.
The feeling of a wet blanket or towel became heavy on what felt like the front of my brain and above my eyes. At the same time, the sensation of crying at the drop of a hat returned regularly and sometimes it was simply far too strong to resist so I found myself weeping as though something tragic and important had just went horribly wrong. However, when I looked around and process the facts intellectually, all seemed well. The truth is that up until the spinal failure, things were going well and my mind, although struggling, was seemingly stabilizing to the facts at hand.
Anyone who has experienced depression or any kind of mental illness however, will understand that although I was consciously aware of the blessings; I was equally aware that my emotional state was deteriorating at a rapid rate despite those blessings and in spite of all my efforts to combat the situation. When I was able to intellectualize matters, I could spell out all of the wonders that really do make up my life. The trouble with depression is that telling yourself things like “you are just being ungrateful” is not helpful. In fact it can be down-right detrimental and it began to take that shape.
As I stared into that all too familiar abyss, it stared deeply back into me, threatening to take me under just as it had in my past. It began to penetrate the furthest regions of my memory where the old tapes sit dormant, waiting to illuminate an old, darkened pathway leading me from hope into despair.
Here I thank God for prayer because without it I would not have made it to this moment, I shit you not…keeping in mind that prayer lead me to seek help from people who have been placed in our society to help. Prayer works and is wonderful, but had I sat only in prayer, taking no further action, I may not be here writing this to you today.
I do not believe that prayer is meant to replace going to a doctor when we need to or designed to keep us from seeking other help if we need that. Perhaps prayer is the process which prepares us and makes us willing to do what it takes to get better… I can get behind that as it seems to whittle away the stubbornness and bullshit we can sometimes cling to; that I cling to often enough.
I would not have found my way to be clear and honest with my mentor and therapist, as I had been allowing ego to use pride, which would have become my down fall. I would have avoided the family and friends who mean so much and help me in ways I cannot even describe. I would have found many good reasons to stay away from the fellowship which guides me silently and discreetly. My brain had already begun formulating arguments against continuing contact and further isolating myself from any and all who could lend a hand.
These factors were the answers to my prayers and each one of them in their own particular way led me back out of the abyss, even if each of them did not know where exactly, I was coming from.
It has been determined, and not by me, that there in fact is a chemical imbalance in my brain. The truth is, I needed a doctor and medication after all of these years to help balance the chemicals out and right the ship. We have exhausted other avenues and it is where I sit today. I accept it because to not accept it seems counter intuitive and counter-productive. The alternative seems far too bleak. So bleak that I cannot understand why I danced with it for so long… except to say I felt many pressures to reject the notion of medication; some of my own creation and some very real ones from the outside world.
I have always suggested people seek proper care for their situations; a doctor if they have physical or mental injuries, medication if a doctor deems it necessary, auto shop if their car is broken, a tutor if they need help in a particular subject, et cetera. But when it came to me I struggled and struggled with surrendering to what had been suggested for a very long time.
I can sit her e and write this however, because I did not drink or use to medicate myself the past 11 years…
However, part of my “success” were the outlets I used in order to keep the symptoms of depression at bay; promiscuous sex, excessive working out, over working, unsafe and toxic relationships, anything which allowed my brain to repeatedly release the wanted chemicals. However, as I remained sober and these expressions became less and less attractive to me, the symptoms slowly crept back in. The final straw was losing my ability to work out at all for a long period of time.
The months went by and bang…it hit me like a ton of bricks.
My depression eventually got my attention. I cannot tell you how lucky and blessed I feel that I was and am sober going through all of this stuff with my spine and mental health. I actually feel like I have a chance; not only to get better and live a full life, but to actually let God make me useful to Him and my fellows.
…But what of those who had no particular reason for wandering into a group of like-minded individuals trying to start a new way of life? Well this is where this process of “becoming well” may be made much more difficult.
We have information available at our finger tips; twenty four hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. There is no end to the information we are inundated with and unfortunately some of that information or opinion is not only cleverly disguised as fact but it is also false and/or purposeful misinformation.
Opinion is not fact.
An example is this blog posting.
I am stating my opinion and thoughts to you about depression based on both my personal and professional experience with it.
I am not telling you how to diagnose it, whether you need medication or not, whether medication is right or wrong, or whether we as the human race look too quickly to medicate and ignore other factors or whether we under medicate.
My opinions on those matters are that if you swing a pendulum from one extreme to the other (not medicating to medicating) you end up on the other side of that pendulum for a period of time. The back and forth always takes patience and in society the pendulum does not find the middle ground until the people who make up those societies find themselves free of hysterical ideas and perspectives.
That is simply my opinion and even at that it is only a mere drop in the mental bucket of what I am dipping into. I have simplified a very complex issue; society’s reliance on hysterical notions to fuel trends. What a topic. I will leave that for sociologists.
I do want something from each of you with this tiny little morsel, however.
I want you to understand that whether you believe in mental illnesses or not, they exist and they are crippling someone you know or have known. I want you to understand that whether you believe in medication or not, they are necessary for some of those people living with mental illness.
I want you to try and forget what the ignorant have said about mental illness. Try and wash those ideas from your mind and find a clear white wall to reflect upon with your new images; images of understanding, love and of tolerance for other humans whether we understand their particular issues or not.
I could list many things I have heard from coworkers, students, clients, and the general public working in the field as a social worker through the years but that list is not only extensive but I believe unnecessary. You each have heard many things and have probably said many things about mental illness; it is time though for us to be more creative than what we have been told by ourselves and others. It is time to settle for nothing less than improvement in our dealing with other human beings. It is time to stop waiting for someone else to do better than we ourselves believe we are capable of.
I want you to live, as another of my friends has succumbed to her illness and by the time I finish this piece, several more of our fellows will fall to suicide. The pain in our hearts and those who are affected by loss is monstrous and will remain for the rest of our days.
Think of all you may have lost in people who have suffered and continue to suffer.
Imagine your kindness being a key to life.
To saving a life you may not even know you have saved.
Carry that with you.
We cannot know what we do not know.
One of the biggest things we tend to be unaware of is how we have impacted and continue to impact the people we connect with on this planet. I want you to think about this if you don’t mind. I want you to simply try and become a sliver of light in someone else’s pervasive, insidious darkness for that, I think is the point of it all.
I want you to live, all who suffer. But I will not pass on disappointment or bitterness should you succumb. I know it is hard to come forward; it was hard for me and I am not nearly as stubborn as I once was. Please don’t let pride or ego get in the way of you living. Of you continuing to touch others in ways you may be unaware.
I want you to live!
A few months ago from somewhere deep inside of me, I wanted to live… it was not conscious, as I could not find a single reason to stay. My brain had betrayed me. It had failed me when it promised I could always be ok. I needed help from others and I would rather you seek and get medical help than suffer alone and take your own life.
I promise however, that I will not judge you if you decide to continue in the dark. I have been so close in that darkness I cannot muster any judgment. I will pray and continue to write about it as long as I feel it deep within me and necessary. I will continue trying to connect to others and hopefully in that connection, we may help each other for even just that one moment we need it most.
I happened to meet a friend who I had not seen for a couple of years. She told me of her battle with depression and how close she came last year to ending her own life’ I was taken aback by how eerily similar not only our stories but timelines were.
You see I could not imagine the world without her even though I do not see her often. Knowing she is out there touching people’s lives the way only she could fills me with love and hope. The thought of the world being denied her touch gives me shivers deep inside my soul today, as I think back to our talk. Although our visit was short it was so full of depth, warmth, beauty, and understanding. Her presence left me filled with light and love for the remainder of that day.
I thank God she stayed. Just as she said to me after we had parted ways.
I wish this could have been all about music and remembering the wonderful life I have been given in connection to the sounds, but the truth is that train carrying the black eyed dog came round the bend sooner than anyone thought. The dog barked briefly and stole off into the night with one of our sisters. She took her life after her long battle with depression and alcoholism.
We are heartbroken and her absence will be felt for a long time. I will have the music of that day however, and the music will continually remind me of what is deep within us as human beings. It was the very day I found out she had taken her life. I am grateful for that music, it serves to comfort me even now, as I type through tears and heart ache.
Those who knew her, loved her for all she was; bent parts and all. I found her strength remarkable and her faith unshakeable. Some might suggest those are impossibilities of reason given how she left us, but those people would be wrong because they may not understand what it takes for some of us to simply make it through a day as human beings.
While I sat watching the screen during her funeral and saw pictures of her smiling, I was overwhelmed with emotion, but I could see so clearly her love for every part of the difficult life she had been given and her uncanny love for her God and Creator. Most of the pictures where she was photographed alone had her looking heavenward with the kind of smile children get when their parent’s love penetrates every pore of them.
When the child perhaps knows that despite the pain, the love which exists transcends all things including their suffering. She was extremely spiritual and knew with all of her being that she was going to see Jesus and find her God lovingly waiting for her.
I wish this sober life was not so damn real sometimes. That it did not hit me square between the eyes like it does…luckily, that kind of wishing evaporates as quickly as it comes these days. The reality of it all is necessary and true. The desire to disconnect from it, albeit equally real in and of itself, is unnecessary. It is a part of the fantasy built by decades of wishing my life away in a vein and more often than not painful attempt to remain disconnected from anything I may have ever loved.
It was watching the screen at her funeral when the sensation of God washed over and through me. Where I was left with what seemed like an awareness of old becoming more solid in her smiling, loving face… I would so much rather grieve for your loss than to not have known or loved you. I would no more want to replace this grief than I would want to replace the brief time we had.
Even now as I type the words, it feels real. It feels true. I will be honest, this feeling is not dependent on how you leave this world, although I want you to stay, I understand sometimes we have to go. The love I have and the memories we share will not change because of the reasons you are gone.
I guess what I really want for each of you is to simply know that there is help out there and that my hope is you reach out if you need too. I tried to make this as clear as possible, but I must be honest I have had some trouble finding my voice amidst the wonders, the beauty, the magic, the grief, the stress, and the steady pain flooding in from all corners of my memory.
I want to leave you with an image.
Of beginnings and endings and how each of those things is wondrous in its own right.
Thank you and may you all find your peace.