The Slippery Slope of Creativity, Depression and Suicide
“We all have problems.”
This is a platitude that was spoken to me in a professional atmosphere in order to sweep whatever was / is wrong with me under the carpet. While it’s entirely true — and we could argue about subjectivity for at least 10 minutes before I tell you to fuck yourself — the fact is this is the sort of thing people who suffer from chronic depression have to go through on a daily basis in order to somehow remain attached to the outside world. Every one of us has heard it, and every one of us I’m sure hates it.
Last week, I received the news that Bill Bumgardner from Indian / Lord Mantis took his own life. I didn’t know Bill very well — we’d only hung out under a dozen times over the last five or six years since I met him — but he was always very good to me, the sort of person who always made sure your glass was full and you were laughing at something incredibly negative. The sort of person you wouldn't think was depressed, unless you knew the tells that indicated how hard they were trying to hide it. Everyone is full of secrets. A lot of good people memorialized him, and I’m afraid I can’t do any better than them. But I can talk a little about the subject — the shitty cloud that surrounds a lot of creative types, the weight that a lot of you are carrying around your necks. That’s something I’m well-equipped to do.
When Fred first approached me about writing dick jokes for CLRVYNT, my first pitch was to write about depression, because that’s a natural leap from phallic comedy. It’s been nagging at me for a while now: how to approach it, how to tell my story without making it all about me. In light of recent events, it seems both poorly timed and also the exact right time to talk about it — sort of a conundrum. And in the spirit of being self-centered (and also out of respect for what everyone else is dealing with in their own private mental jails), I can only really speak of my experience. I understand that contradicts what I just said, but I can’t speak for any of you — only to you.
In a lot of creative individuals, you have a chicken and the egg sort of quandary: What came first, the depression or the creative output? In literature, art and music, you can see since the beginning that people used these things as a way to express and relieve pain. Even in Hemingway’s cocksure work, there lies a certain melancholy, which is made apparent by (spoiler alert) his own suicide. And, of course, there are the fabled tales of people so driven by their creations that they chose to end it all when they felt they’d completed their life’s work (or fucked it up so badly that there was no coming back from it). Over the years, suicide and depression have been romanticized, like they’re a gift without which some people would no longer have anything valid artistically to say — that happiness was the death of all art, that it caused people to be … boring. There are entire genres based around glorifying depression with absolutely no concrete ideas about resolution.
Some of this shit has turned depression into a joke, a meme of some kid with sideswiped hair and 17 lip piercings telling their parents to fuck off. It packages serious mental illness as a commerce-friendly commodity: teenage rebellion akin to how labels tried to package grunge, making it “safe” and spreading it to kids across the world. And that’s a problem because it gets it into naïve people’s heads that being depressed or having a mental illness is somehow “cool.” And these already intellectually deficient superstars buy it hook, line and $inker. I’m not one to pontificate about common morality, especially in an age where everyone is offended by everything, but that kind of shit is repugnant. Same with the majority of “DSBM” bands or whatever genre is built around the illusion of depression. Am I saying that every person, every band in these genres is faking it? No. But the ones that do? You’re assholes, plain and simple.
I’ve suffered from depression the majority of my life, under different diagnoses, different names and different treatments. I’ve been told I’m mildly depressed, have anxiety disorders — even for a lengthy period of time was told, believed, and was treated for bipolar depression. I first realized that it was a problem and not a phase sometime in 2001. I’d been fucked up and moody all throughout high school, but it never seemed like anything besides the usual experience kids had at that age. My first real experience with depressive disorders and treatment was when my mother finally snapped. The death of my father in 1993 had (obviously) deeply affected her, and I watched for years as she gradually withdrew further and further into herself. Eventually, it got to the point where she was unable to leave the house due to paranoia and just generally feeling uneasy with the outside world. This was at a time when depression was more just a trope on procedural TV shows or movies, an excuse for someone cutting up a person and fucking the stumps. No one in the real world paid much attention; it was swept under the rug.
I casually mentioned this to my doctor because I was concerned with how the quality of her life had gone to shit, and she was presented with a diagnosis of agoraphobia and a prescription to Paxil. I watched her gradually steal her life back from nearly a decade of mourning and illness. Of course, life being the cosmic joke that it is, she died from something entirely unexpected and unrelated a year later while I was dropping someone off at the train station. A year later, I was (metaphorically) looking at myself in the mirror, and realized I’d dropped out of college and was just sort of floating through life in a gray fog. I decided to try treatment.
Like I said, I’ve never had a really strong diagnosis that improved my life. I never tried therapy because I always thought of it as bullshit, and I also refused to fully submit to the fact that there was a lot of shit wrong with me. I cycled through different pills searching for whatever would help. Effexor was the one I was on the longest, but even that didn’t fully suppress what was rattling around in me. So, I turned to self-medicating because I make very poor choices. First it was simple — Xanax and Valium — but then I was introduced to Soma and Vicodin. For the majority of 2002-2010, I was an absolute fucking disaster; I ignored my health and was always on something. Eventually I turned to drinking, probably because my parents were both alcoholics, but as hard as I tried, I was never able to cross into dependency. I’ve chalked that up as another in a long series of personal failures.
I woke up one morning in the spring of 2007 and was told that I had tried to commit suicide the night before. I remember very little from it, to be honest. I had been drinking and taking Xanax — a usual night — when I had a very vivid aural hallucination. I began to hear babies crying in distress, dozens of them. As you might have guessed, I also didn’t have a happy childhood, so this was the trigger I was looking for to let go, to stop failing, to walk into oblivion. Well, that is, "be carried" into oblivion, because I took enough Xanax to make walking somewhat of a challenge. I was discovered and kept awake (thus alive), but apparently I repeated that I was a failure, over and over, in the sort of tone someone would tell you that it’s raining outside. Complete disinterest in my own death. I suppose it could have been the massive dose of Xanax mixed with Jim Beam, but it could also be that I was just ready to go and the details bored me.
Few things make you feel like a bigger asshole than waking up after a suicide attempt. It’s a humbling experience, the sort of thing where you have a few paths ahead of you: You can chose to follow the motto of “if at first you don’t succeed,” or you can figure that if you fucked up once, then your next attempt you’ll probably put on a Judas Priest record and only blow half of your head off. I obviously am not ghost-writing this from the other side, so we’ll skip the details. I just withdrew from the world even further, broken and ashamed.
I eventually went back to the doctor and received the diagnosis that I was bipolar. And I was put on a strong anti-psychotic whose non-generic costs a fucking mortgage payment if you don’t have insurance. And it worked! For about four months. I was back to square one. I made the decision to try to fix myself any way I could without the help of my doctor, a man who made me entirely lose faith in the medical profession. And I went out, got a job, began to try to eject poisonous relationships from my life and did my best to stop being poisonous to others. I tried to find purpose.
And for a while, I truly did. I made it five years. I dropped as many of my bad self-medication habits as I could. I somehow thought that I had discovered the key to removing depression from my very core. And I was fucking deluding myself. Around November of last year, I was beginning to show every sign of fucking my life up again — the anxiety, the paranoia, the urge to withdraw into my own world. So, I decided to seek professional help. I tried therapy. I found therapy to be complete bullshit, but enjoyed swearing in front of the therapist because for some reason it made them uncomfortable (the little joys). I got back on medicine, albeit a much gentler dose. I took tests and was finally properly diagnosed as having lifelong recurrent chronic depression with generalized anxiety disorder. I was finally comfortable with allowing myself to have this condition, but not let it own my entire life. And then my insurance fucked up and I’m back off meds, but no one expected a happy ending.
My point for making you skim through all of this? It’s not to make you feel sympathy for my experience, but for those of you who have never experienced depression to see what just one person’s struggle with it looks like. And for you to look at the people in your life — especially the ones who trust you enough to open up about their own struggles — and try not to relate to them or put yourself into their shoes. That shit helps absolutely no one and will just piss that person off. Try to be patient with them, be supportive of them, let them know that someone gives a shit — because that could be the one thing that keeps them from punching out early. The most fucking absurdly bullshit thing you can do for someone who’s depressed, no matter how much it tests your patience, is to tell someone to “get over it,” because that’s the sort of thing that lets them know what they already worry about: that their condition is a burden to someone they care about. It’s like adding extra shit on an already stuffed shit sandwich. It’s not the sort of expression that will end the situation well for anyone.
Music can be a release of these emotions, a way to lighten the load for a little bit or document a certain moment in time. And for some, it’s enough to keep their demons at bay. But it’s not a cure-all. Just look at Elliott Smith, Nick Drake — Jesus Christ, even the singer from Boston. As much as this message is directed at those who know someone battling depression, I also want those of you who are going through it to understand that you’re not alone, you’re not a failure (at least with life; you could be dogshit at volleyball for all I know) and there are options. If you’re going to kill yourself, why not wait just a bit longer, try some other treatments, exhaust your options? You’re going to fucking die someday anyway. What’s another few days, weeks, even hours?
Finally, I want to say that if those things didn’t work and the end result is someone walks offstage a few songs early, there's no shame in it — especially for the people who are left behind. It’s a complete fucking farce that the surviving loved ones are looked upon with suspicion that they could have done something, that they’re damaged goods. Don’t you fucking think they already feel that way? The guilt is theirs to carry; it has nothing to do with you and if the only contribution you make is to chastise instead of be supportive, then there’s a good chance the wrong person killed themselves. To many, suicide is a coward’s act, but those people have no idea what the person who opted out was going through. It’s none of your business.
It’s unfortunate that this country is more concerned with where to shit and who took their dick out during Miss America to put time, effort, and proper research into mental health and mental illness. Sure, candidates always say that they’re going to do a lot for the afflicted, but until we as a whole send some kind of message that this is an issue that needs to be understood and treated, it’ll be the same business of fucking the country over that it’s always been.
“We all have problems,” indeed.