Friday, October 29, 2010

Is this normal? Friday, Oct. 29, 2010.

“To study the abnormal is the best way of understanding the normal.” –William James

Today was notable because of what I did NOT feel.

I did not feel depressed about anything in particular.

I did not feel angry.

I did not feel hopeless.

I did not feel anxious.

I had a lot of work for my job, but I did not feel overwhelmed.

I did not feel tired because of my meds. (This is a big thing.)

I did not feel speedy because of my other meds.

Today was a stellar day. I felt the way I used to feel. I felt the way I imagine “normal” people feel most of the time.

What will tomorrow bring?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Actually, I’m laughing WITH you. Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010.

A man goes to see his psychiatrist. He says, "Doctor, I've been having suicidal tendencies. What should I do?" The psychiatrist replies, "Pay your bill today."

Clearly, life has become hellish for the young man in this short film. He downs a whisky as he looks over the papers on his desk – a pink slip, a foreclosure document, bankruptcy papers, and a divorce order. He signs his “To Whom It May Concern” letter, tosses it on top of the pile, and walks out to his car.

After a long drive down unpaved roads, he locates an obscure clearing in the woods and parks his car. He then proceeds to connect a garden hose from his car’s exhaust pipe through the driver’s side window; puts on a pair of dark glasses to block out the sun; reclines his seat and prepares to die.

The screen goes black. Then, suddenly, it’s dusk. The young man wakes up with a start. He’s alive, his engine is off, and his gas tank is on E. What the …? The camera pulls back as he gets out to find a car behind him, with the garden hose now inserted through the other car’s window – and a dead man inside.


I watched this five-minute film at a film festival several months ago. I was sitting between my mom and my husband. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life. I was laughing so much, tears were running down my cheeks. I don’t remember if my mom or husband laughed; I’m sure they were uncomfortable. And so was I. But I couldn’t help myself. As a suicide attempt survivor, this little movie touched my funny bone.

Wiki defines “black comedy” as “a sub-genre of comedy and satire in which topics and events that are usually regarded as taboo, are treated in an unusually humorous or satirical manner while retaining their seriousness. The intent of black comedy, therefore, is often for the audience to experience both laughter and discomfort, sometimes simultaneously.”

I have always loved black comedy. Black comedy is part of what’s allowed me to survive two decades in a newsroom. Not everybody gets the joke. I once asked a new friend if she liked black comedy; she replied (in all seriousness) that she was only familiar with “The Cosby Show.” But at work, where we covered rapes and murders daily, we basically had the choice to either laugh or cry, and we often chose to laugh.

Of all the taboos, suicide (or attempted suicide) is probably the tabooist. “Heathers,” which I wrote about a few months back, is probably the most classic. There’s also “Harold and Maude,” “My Suicide,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” and “Suicide the Comedy.” But it’s a short list. Much more often, suicide is the stuff of depressing drama. IMHO, the best of the bunch: “Leaving Las Vegas” (with Nicholas Cage’s most brilliant performance, which practically made me want to kill myself!), “The Hours,” “The Virgin Suicides,” and “21 Grams” (thinking of this one still gives me goosebumps).

Since my suicide attempt I’ve been amazed by the number of times I’ve seen suicide depicted on television shows, such as “Law & Order” and “Fringe.” (Of course, it was always there, but it’s like when you find a spot on your carpet – once you know it’s there, you keep noticing it.) I’m more concerned about my loved ones that might be watching with me than I am for myself – it’s just a plot device to me.

But drama isn’t as cathartic for me as black comedy can be. The very act of laughing in the face of something so horrible says, “I’m not afraid of you anymore. You have no power over me.” It’s a form of closure for me, and I suspect I’m not alone.

Perhaps it’s time to dig “Heathers” out again. After all, “I knew that loose was too noose ... uh... noose was too loose.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unringing the bell. Wednesday, October 27, 2010.

“Welcome to your life. There's no turning back.” – “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” Tears for Fears

Western civilization breaks history into two parts – BC, or Before Christ, and AD or CD, for after. As I was going through the family photos saved on my computer a few days ago, I realize that I now break my own personal history into two parts – before my suicide attempt and after.

I found myself starting at my face in birthday and Christmas and vacation photos taken before my major depressive episode that started in the fall of 2008, wondering if that person could have foreseen what was in store for her. Of course, I’ve been battling bipolar since 1980, and I’ve suffered a number of lows and at least two dysphoric manias. My smiling face in a lot of these old photos belies my true feelings.

But there is no comparison between the way I felt back then and the way I would come to feel from late 2008 through the summer of 2009. I was so sick that I had no frame of reference. I couldn’t believe I could ever climb out, because I had no experience with being in that deep of a chasm. It was like comparing a case of tuberculosis to a case of the sniffles.

And because I took action in a motel room that morning, unfortunately, my “before” and “after” affects others, not just me. I rung a giant bell, and I cannot unring it. Once you have attempted suicide – especially if your attempt was potentially lethal and not just what some would call “a cry for help” – you can’t forget it, and neither can your loved ones. The damage is done.

The son of my mother’s best friend hung himself a few years ago. His act shattered his family. We spoke of the family situation last night, briefly, when we had dinner with my mom. Suddenly the conversation ended and the subject changed. The suicide of a friend or family member is no longer something that can be comfortably discussed in my presence. I cannot unring the bell.

The very small selection of friends who know about my attempt communicate with me periodically, and they ask, “How are you?” I know what they mean. It’s a different question now than it was before. I cannot unring the bell.

Thank God, my liver is in good shape due to the 24-hour drip of N-acetylcysteine I was given to combat my acetaminophen overdose (one of the doctors actually referred to the clearing of my liver as “a miracle”). And the deafness caused by my aspirin overdose went away. But I wear bracelets to cover the permanent scars on my wrists. I cannot unring the bell.

Damn it. I wish I could unring this bell.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Beside the fence. Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010.

“The hardest struggle of all is to be something different from what the average man is.” –Charles M. Schwab

Guess what? I was born into a dysfunctional family.

I guess I can pick a number and stand in line, because I only know a few families that are “functional” (and I’m judging them from the outside; I could be wrong about them).

Every dysfunctional family is dysfunctional in its own way. In my case, my father had high-functioning autism (also known as Asperger’s Syndrome). He has never been diagnosed – the diagnosis itself didn’t even exist until the 1980s – but he is what you’d call a “textbook case.” My father has never made direct eye contact with me; all of our conversations (from the time I was a child until now) have revolved around camera parts; and, lacking empathy, he said and did many things to me as I was growing up that were (inadvertently) abusive.

My mother drank to deal with the loneliness and frustration of having a spouse that could not connect with her emotionally on even the most basic level. She didn’t drink every day; she worked full-time and kept the house absolutely perfect. But when she did drink, I sensed a gulf between us. My father was an emotional vacuum; my mother became one on those occasions that she did drink; and I had no siblings to share my experiences with. Both of my parents loved me deeply, but something was askew.

For some reason I’ll never understand, I took after my father – so much so, in fact, that I believe if I had been tested as a child, I would have been placed on the autistic spectrum. I was adept at going inside of myself from the time I was 4 or 5. I preferred to walk along the fence and tell stories inside my head rather than play with the other kids on the playground. I was 6 when I decided I was going to be a writer (a solitary craft), and when I drew pictures of myself as an adult, I never included a husband or children; only a dog.

When I communicated with other kids, I monologued – an Asperger’s trait – often having memorized my side of the conversation ahead of time, because it never occurred to me that conversation was a give-and-take thing. And I shared all the startles and phobias my dad had (also an Asperger’s trait) – loud noises, bright lights, flying.

But at some point – I think around seventh grade – I began to do something my father could not. I began to notice that my behavior was unusual, and I longed to be part of the “in” crowd. I began to study the way people talked, moved, and dressed, and I began to copy them.

Unfortunately, it would be years before I got it right; it wasn’t until I got a degree in psychology, became a journalist and had to relate to people in a deeply empathetic way that I truly became “NT” (neurotypical). In the meantime, I could never fit in – and I desperately, desperately wanted to. I always sensed that I didn’t quite fit in, even in my own house, with my own family, in my own church, in my own workplace.

And this sense has never left me. It’s hard for me to imagine that someone knows how I feel, because I feel that my very molecules are different from other peoples’. Interestingly, I’ve been told many times that I’m “good with people,” and “fun to be with.” My own therapist thinks I should be a therapist.

But inside I’m still that little girl, walking alone beside the fence.