Every once in a while, my brain tells me that I should off myself. It’s not like it is a surprise, being that it is generally the bottom of a months-long descent into depressive garbage, but as familiar as I am with this deal, feeling suicidal is terribly unnerving. Actually, it only feels unnerving now, when I am out of it and can’t fully comprehend what it feels like to be in it. This is partly why it is so terrifying. Only in retrospect does the full breadth and depth of insanity reveal itself. In the moment, I am able to understand that suicide is a bad idea, but the feeling is like watching a check engine light combined with an odd temptation of relief.
The sleep issues come first. Usually, there is not enough followed by too much. The isolation is harder to pin, but usually gets noticed by my friends in recovery, my therapist or my family pretty quickly. I stop writing. I stop playing music. That happens sometimes without being a harbinger of the Vague Doom, so I don’t always pick up on it. Eventually, I make a mistake of some sort, usually around the intersection of time and work, and that throws the machine into gear.
The thoughts I can deal with. I have become fairly decent at following and observing these chains of thoughts, usually ending in, “I knew I always have been and will be a piece of ….” It’s the feeling that is more difficult, especially when the thoughts don’t follow closely. When the trains are running parallel, I can at least understand that my distorted thinking is causing the pain and isn’t actually real. After I uncouple these trains, the lethargy, insomnia, and toll of the fight make the overall feeling quite challenging to deal with. And, this is where the suicidal thoughts come in. Waiting with a shiv in the alley, it hits just after I looked to see if it was there. And that, my friends, is when you're in a pickle.
So, with this as our starting point, let’s take a look the how to cope with The Petty Tyrant’s looming inauguration. To begin with: I am not some sort of Pollyanna soothsayer, telling everybody that everything will be fine. I feel his election is an unequivocal disaster. But, much like my depression, I need to take full responsibility for my well-being and actions to affect change. Here is what I’ve got.
1: Find the people who have had success in dealing with this issue. Do what they do.
In my case, it was mentally ill people in recovery from addiction, engaged in a life-long process of health. With the election, it is the people who have been fighting the hard, good fight on scale of a lifetime, not an election cycle. Many groups in this country have been fighting these forces for longer than I. There are those who have known more pain than I can conceive of and still have thrived. A life of hopeful action in the midst of unimaginable cynicism is possible. They can show me how.
2. Do what inspires you. Daily.
I don’t mean this in a Pinterest sort of way, either. This is not the same as taking a fun class, or finding a hobby. It is figuring out why you are on this rock and doing that, potentially at cost to some of the comfort you may have found to this point. For me, if I stop therapy, recovery, playing music or writing, I’m sunk. If I work in a job that is not in line with my values, I’m sunk. If I retreat from matching my sense of injustice with action, I’m sunk. Maybe not today, maybe not next month, but at some point, The Dark will envelope me. I find that I am at my most hopeless when I am least active. I have the most regrets when I am not living fully. This presents a dazzling and terrifying opportunity. If I truly want to affect change, I need to identify what comfort I am willing to relinquish, even if that comfort is simply inertia or habit.
3. Find a fortress.
I have a group of around fifty men who I can call when my internal experience gets untied from the dock and is drifting downstream. I don’t like all of them all the time, but I know that in a pinch, they will show up en masse. I have people I trust to advise me on important issues where my mind might be clouded. I am safe in most areas of my life these days, even when I’m having a rough go. This is imperative for all people. If you are dealing with cruelty of any form, in any relationship, make a plan to address it. That might look like something as simple as unfriending somebody or it may look like setting boundaries with loved ones. You may feel called to separate yourself from people. It is equally as important to construct a positive community of fellow-travelers. We need friends and allies on this road.
4. Seek perspective.
There is no shortage of literature on the efforts of humans to live fully and with love in the face of tragedy. In fact, I think that’s pretty much all we do — attempt to ignore tragedy or embrace it and live with fullness. I have never killed myself and have not attempted for over a decade. We have been fortunate to never experience an illiberal president. We have never had a coup. It has been ages since our last civil war. Our elementary schools don’t have drills to prepare for nuclear holocaust. We have coped with all of these situations, as horrific as they were. I have never found that fighting the reality of addiction or my mental illness has yielded results. Acceptance has given me those in abundance. My favorite readings acknowledge the reality of pain without saccharine attempts at ignoring it. Yes, I have depression. Yes, he will be my president.
5. Kick into gear and retreat on schedule
We all start with feeling like we need to get involved. If you’re looking for recommendations from me, you are doing it wrong. Pretend that you are with a person you absolutely adored and that you need to find them the single most inspirational activity you could find for them. Something that is so meaningful to who they are at their very core that you feel like it could make them feel useful enough to forget everything else they are doing. Now, figure that out for yourself. I am in the enviable position of being essentially forced into doing that which I find most useful, or else I get all depressed and weird feeling. I am truly grateful for that. That being said, don’t go all in for too long. Nothing is worse than getting super excited right before being incomprehensibly demoralized. Keep people around who can tell you when you have half-a-foot in the gutter or are flying too close to the bug zapper.
I don’t think we can afford to wait to laugh. There have been times where I thought I wasn’t capable of laughing because I was too far gone, but it turns out that I just need to get primed for it. I need permission to laugh, especially when it comes to things that break my heart. I have learned that there is nothing funnier to me when I am depressed than jokes about depression. Granted, I don’t laugh out loud, but then again, I never really do that. The Giant Toddler’s entire being remains absurd, despite him being a danger to all I hold dear. The danger of fascism comes when we are all too afraid or busy to laugh. Well, one of the dangers at least…
7. Keep an eye on your consumption.
I hate suggestions like this. We all know it, but it’s important. In my case, I need to keep an eye on a lot of things. I am also terrible at this, like everyone I’ve ever met worth knowing. I need to make sure I take my medication. I need to balance my need for sleep with my need for inspirational nighttime working. I have to consistently consume meaningful art and music, not just whatever is on or around. I need to read for context, analysis and preparation for action, not just for facts. Twitter’s food equivalent is diet soda: Not too terrible for you, but something that when consumed constantly probably isn’t good and that perhaps may some day contribute to the destruction of humanity. A sedentary lifestyle is not conducive to world-saving. It’s difficult to take care of anything when lying in a fetal position. Take care of yourself first. Always. Help your friends and loved ones do the same, especially by your example.
8. Aim at being present.
When I am fearful and feeling the pull of the black hole of depression, it is nearly impossible to be with anyone. The difficulty in connection is stunning. Even though I am convinced that this connection is what makes life worth living and it is what pulls me out of the depths, I can hardly carry on short conversations when I’m really in the thick because I can’t remain present. Becoming convinced that worrying about Trump picking Tom “Coupons for Medicare” Price can wait until I’m done playing Legos with my three-year-old. This process can be shame-filled and exhausting, or it can be kind and invigorating. It’s my choice.
9. Embrace it all.
There are some who are able to ignore what is happening, who are able to pretend they are not feeling like they are feeling or thinking what they are thinking. Good for them. For the rest of us, it is important to remain open and empathetic to the experience of those around us. Yes, there are times where I think I might be able to live off the grid on some sort of idyllic, farm-island, but I am committed to making this place a little better and I think I’d be miserable anyways. Don’t harden your heart. Find spiritual practices that remind you of the beauty of the world and the awe that can be inspired in you and to others through you. Then, once you’re recharged from that, go back out and get broken again. Repeat.
10. Cool it on the resentment.
I am not one to advocate simply letting go of our anger. If that were possible, I would know about it. Everything I’ve ever let go of has bloody scratch marks all over it from me trying to take it back. I have found that through examination of my anger and how it connects with my fear and expectations, I am able to find who and where I look for safety and assurance — which eggs I put in what baskets. I am able to see that what I dislike most in others is generally related to the deficiencies I find in myself, or places where I feel intensely afraid. I try to hide this from myself and others, which leads to all sorts of unhelpful behaviors. I will never advocate complicity, but I find that accompanying my resistance with empathy is more effective and sustainable than relying upon the false heat of righteous anger.
11. Control will only get you so far.
It’s hard to get enough of something that almost works. I find that I am trying hardest to control things when I am feeling most powerless and afraid. I have a hard time trusting the universe. I read too much as a child, and was specifically interested in serial killers, the Milgram experiments, The Stanford Prison experiment, The Holocaust, The Rape of Nanking, the various American wars, and other lighthearted explorations of human nature. So, forgive me if I struggle in accepting that the world is a kind place and that everything happens for a reason. I have found an alternative to what I perceive is a willfully-ignorant view of human behavior. It is this:
I possess something pure in me. You do too. Pain cannot take that from us, nor can death. This is what we share, and these connected parts of us are bigger than anything dark in our world. Our safety and the safety of our children is already certain. We already have it. So, there’s no point in me trying to ensure outcomes impossible for me to control. I am responsible for the effort — specifically my reaction to life. I trust that we will do the best we can and that it will be enough.
If you don’t dance on a regular basis, you should. I am not only an occasionally-depressed person, I am an expert-level mover when sounds are playing. I have been to a club exactly once in my life. I have only danced as part of a performance behind the translucent stage curtain when my friend’s band was playing after ingesting a remarkable mixture of chemicals that made not dancing impossible. But, I can get down. This is the type of action that you can perform even if you aren’t feeling it. Give it 30 seconds and see what’s up. If you can make it through five minutes of dancing to James Brown, Lizzo, LCD Soundsystem, or Beyonce without feeling some measure of empowerment or relief, I want independent verification.
If you have any other ideas, let me know. God knows I could use them.