Anxiety/Depression Part Five: Abyss. (Guest Post)

Hi guys. This post is a guest post by a good friend of mine who asked if he could share his story of anxiety, depression, and suicidation with my readers. For the sake of his privacy, he will remain anonymous. I hope you read his powerful, nakedly honest account of struggling with suicidal thoughts and know that these sorts of feelings and thoughts can happen to anyone, even you. You never know who might be struggling.

“I’ve battled depression for most of my life. I think that’s why I started acting. It was my daily escape. I could retreat inside and hide from the world. My roles were shields and applause was my drug. Instead of facing the world I could let all these different characters do it for me. I also think that’s why I was never a very good actor. Sure, I passed for one on the surface. I was a working professional for a few years. I recited all the requisite lines, performed all the requisite motions, manipulated my voice with the greatest of ease and actually brought a sincere passion to my work.

But deep down I knew I was doing it wrong.

Acting is about stripping away the walls we construct around ourselves; peeling away layers until we are exposed and nothing remains but truth. No falseness. No pretending. It’s just you, at your most vulnerable, psychologically and emotionally laid bare for all the world to see. I couldn’t do it. Despite all the characters I showed the world, I never let it see the real person underneath. Instead of peeling away layers to expose myself, I put on as many as I could to hide behind. I was clad in an impenetrable armor of William Shakespeare, Arthur Miller and Sam Shepard.

It’s been three years since I performed and as I slowly lose hold of those shields that once protected me, I’ve begun to remember why I needed them so desperately in the first place. I was never afraid of the world. The armor wasn’t for them. It was for me. I was, and still am, afraid of myself. I’m afraid to be honest with myself about who I am. I’m afraid of how little I like myself. After all, how can I expect anyone else to love me if I can’t even do it.

That fear overwhelmed me last summer when, for the first time, I developed a very real plan for suicide. All the ugliness I feel inside forced its way to the surface, when in a rare moment of honest self-evaluation, I tried to grapple with some of demons that haunt me every day.

I’ve been unemployed for most of the past two years. Until very recently I was having trouble even landing an interview. I was forced to move back into my parents’ house because I can’t afford rent. I don’t have a car. My situation would make anyone unhappy, but because of my depression it makes me dangerous. What most people would see as a temporary rough patch feels like quicksand to me. The harder I struggle to break free, the deeper I keep getting sucked in. The deeper I sink, the harder it becomes to imagine ever surfacing again.

I can’t seek help. Asking for help would validate all the horrible things I’ve thought about myself through the years. It would mean that I am as weak as I feared, that I can’t handle my own problems like a man, and quite possibly that I’m a fucking crazy person. So when another phone call from Sallie Mae prompted a heated confrontation between my father and myself, the thunderous weight of my own inadequacies came crashing down upon me and I broke. I collapsed, utterly helpless, in a ruined heap of shuddering flesh.

It was more than I could bear and like a drowning man whose lungs are screaming for air, all I could think about was how to end the pain. I didn’t want help, I wanted a way out.

I summoned all my strength and rose to my feet. Still weeping, short of breath and shaking uncontrollably, I told my parents I was going to find a bridge to jump off.

They didn’t believe me. I’ve never been so wounded in my life as when I told the two people who should love me unconditionally that I was leaving to go kill myself and they more or less shrugged it off.

So I left.

I walked out into the pouring rain and headed to the I-95 overpass.

My pace was slow. It took me nearly an hour to walk less than a mile to the bridge. When I arrived I just stood there waiting, watching the traffic splash by below me.

It occurred to me that if I landed on a car I could hurt somebody or cause an accident, and I didn’t want my problems to hurt anyone else. It’s one thing to take your own life, it’s quite another for someone else to lose theirs as collateral damage. So I kept waiting in the rain, hoping beyond hope that my parents would realize how long I’d been gone after what I had told them, and try to make sure I was okay. All it would have taken was one phone call, just one text, anything to let me know that somebody, anybody, actually cared and I would have left that bridge and gone home.

It’s not that I wanted attention. That’s the last thing I want, especially that kind of attention. I just wanted a reason to keep fighting and having even one person give a shit would have been enough.

But they never called. Nobody did.

The realization that the world didn’t give a damn whether I lived or died hit me like a kick to the stomach. My whole body felt ill. I began to feel intense guilt, not for what I was about to do, but for all the things I’d done wrong that I’d never get to set right.

I thought of my friends whose upcoming weddings might be tainted by my suicide. I thought of the time I left my little brother alone in the dark and he was so scared he cried. I couldn’t leave this world with such a heavy conscience so after waiting by the I-95 overpass for what felt like an eternity, wishing anybody knew how badly I needed them to care, I decided to go to confession.

I was going to confess to a priest, absolve my sins, and leave this world unburdened, finally free. I went to the same church where I had my first communion, was confirmed and even taught CCD.

The priest was new. Suddenly my plan went up in smoke. I couldn’t confess to a stranger. I never even went into the building. I knew I couldn’t confess to this man, so I just sat in what became a rather large puddle on the church’s rear steps. I don’t know how long I was there, but nobody bothered me. Indeed, I doubt anyone even saw me.

For the first time in a long time, I prayed. I told God what I was going to do and asked him for answers. I asked if there was any reason I needed to keep enduring this life and if so, to show me a sign before I left, because after that it would be too late. I left the church, feeling just as empty and guilty as when I got there, and started back towards the overpass.

I was about halfway back to the bridge when I passed one of my old childhood hangouts; a small, secluded beach on a pond near where I grew up. Without thinking, I turned down the path to the water and sat on the fallen elm tree with my toes in the wet sand one last time. I sat there for a long time.

I don’t know how long, but the sun was peeking through the clouds and getting low in the sky when suddenly a voice boomed out from the path behind me, “Look what I found, the thinking man!” A man in his 50’s wearing Paco jean shorts with flip flops and a t-shirt emerged from the woods.

I politely said hello and went right back to staring at the water, doing my best to make it clear I didn’t want him there. He took no mind. He comes here to fish, he explained, and as the rain cleared up there’d be plenty of worms near the surface to use for bait. He introduced himself. His name was Milton but I didn’t care. I just kept staring blankly into the water, hoping he would go away.

Oblivious, he kept right on digging for worms. I started glancing around, thinking if I found any he would leave sooner. When neither of us found any he let out an exasperated sigh and turned to go. Watching him leave made me so happy that for a brief moment I forgot why I’d ended up out in the rain in the first place.

Then Milton came back.

He sauntered up with his fishing pole and a rubber lure, happier than a pig in shit. Seeing how happy he was felt like a slap in the face. I had to leave. I had to get back to the bridge. I had to escape once and for all. I turned to leave and Milton stopped me.

‘Where you going’ he asked. I told him I needed to take care of something. I wasn’t expecting a follow-up question.

When he asked what it was I froze. I wasn’t about to tell this complete stranger that I was on my way to commit suicide, but I wasn’t expecting him to ask and didn’t have a ready answer. I hesitated. Milton pounced.

‘Can’t be that important, then,’ he interjected, ‘C’mon man, it’s a Sunday and there’s plenty of fishing to do. Sit down, have a beer with me.’

I politely declined but Milton insisted, ‘One beer won’t kill you.’

I know ‘won’t kill you’ is a common phrase but something in his voice gave me pause. I turned to face him and maybe it was my imagination or my guilt, but I swear he looked right through me. He knew. He already had a Heineken open for me. When he offered it up, I took it, out of reflex more than anything. ‘One beer,’ I told him.

We shared a drink and he asked why I’d been out getting all wet in the rain and what I was doing here. I simply told him that I used to come here when I was a kid. He asked me to tell him something about myself, so I told him I grew up in town. He told me he moved here eight years ago.

We went back and forth like that for a bit until I finished my beer. He offered another. In spite of myself, I started to find his carefree happiness to be infectious. I agreed. One more beer.

We started talking in earnest. About where we were from, what we’d done, shared our views on the world. Turns out he was an Ivy Leaguer who graduated cum laude from Penn. I told him I’d always wanted to be an actor. He asked if I’d given up. I said I didn’t know. Milton told me it sure sounded like I had. He told me I sounded like my life was already over, how sad it made him that someone so young could be so unhappy.

‘I never said I was unhappy.’ I protested. He said I didn’t need to say it, he could see it. He cast his line into the water and the two of us watched his bobber drift away. He never asked why I was so miserable, but he offered the simple suggestion that I shouldn’t give up. He never specified if he meant in acting or in life, but it didn’t matter. Milton’s just the kind of guy that wants people to be happy, whatever they do.

When his wife called to ask when he’d be coming home, he told her, ‘a little later. I’m fishing with my new friend.’

My new friend. When I heard that, after all I’d been through that day, my heart split so wide open I might have cried all over again.

We had one more beer and he cast a few more lines, but he never got a bite and he never asked why I was unhappy. He asked me about everything besides that. He asked what my favorite acting role was. He asked about my high school sweetheart. He asked if I wanted to fish again next week. And when he finally left, the last thing Milton asked was if I still had to take care of whatever I needed to do.

‘No,’ I told him, ‘I think I’m just gonna go home.’ And I did.

My parents still don’t know where I was or how close I came to ending my own life. Milton saved my life that day and I think he knows it. My parents couldn’t be bothered and my friends forgot about me, but this man I’d never met before gave the gift of his company and it was enough to save me.

We all have that power.

There are millions of people like me who reach a breaking point and find themselves staring into that same abyss. Just because they didn’t jump in doesn’t mean they aren’t still teetering on the edge. To reach the point where suicide is a real option requires complete surrender. Once you’ve done that, it’s hard to break free of that mindset and almost impossible to do so on your own.

So be like Milton. Sometimes simply being there is enough. Share your time. Ask questions. Listen. Pay attention. If you care about somebody, show them. There’s no telling when it might save them.”

As someone who’s lost two old friends in the past year to suicide, I’m so glad that this friend wasn’t the third. Sometimes, all that has to happen is for someone to listen. 

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