Round about a few years ago, give or take some, I was going through the darkest of days.

Frankly, I was caught by surprise by how bad off I was, as I stupidly thought that the cancer and divorce which I had gone through years prior, were the darkest of the darkest days. But nope. Those things were but a candle compared to this inferno.

The inferno wasn’t made up of just one event, but a cascade of events. A death by papercuts if you will.

The things that sliced me open accumulated over time. My nest became unexpectedly empty under awful circumstances, my dad and dog died, job loss, a broken arm, and abandonment by folks I thought were my tribe. All of it added up. A tiny slice at a time, opening a gaping hole in my soul so deep and dark, I could not understand the point of the next day. I mean, what for? More of the same? I mean, how much do you get beat down to go, “Yeah, I’m down for more of that tomorrow?”

The shape I was in was a shock to my little usual Suzy Sunshine optimism. What I remember about that time is that this “Fall seven, stand eight” girl could not only not get back up, but that she didn’t want to get back up. She saw no point in getting back up. She didn’t understand why one would want to get back up.

I think that for the first time in my 50 years, I finally “got” the glaring difference between the sadness and stress and grief of cancer & divorce, and the raging yet dull edged fury of full on depression. Because in all the hard shit that had come to pass before this dark time, I had wanted to rally, to kick ass and get myself on my feet. To reinvent myself. I would never say, “Why is this happening to me?” No, I was the girl who would kick myself in the pants and say, “Well Chicka, it happened, so get a move on.”  No matter how bad it was, I saw myself with the power to change it, to do what it took to right my ship. I always wanted to get things “better” again. I always remembered how good things could be and wanted to get back to that. And I did what I could to light that shit up.

But this dark hole of which I am speaking, it was different in many ways.

I didn’t have the energy left to even ask why it was happening to me, I truly didn’t care why it was happening to me. Trying to improve it didn’t even cross my mind, because in my mind, it was unimprovable.

I forgot what better was, and what it felt like, so I had no motivation to change a thing. I was in a dark tunnel where nothing would change, nothing could hope to change. Where in the sad times in the past, I could always see the light at the end of the sadness, this was just more darkness ahead. More and more darkness. I forgot what light even looked like, or that it existed, and most of all, I forgot what it felt like on my skin.

Depression doesn’t allow you to long for something you don’t remember is out there. It hides what is out there. I couldn’t remember good times. And when you can’t remember joy, you don’t know to work toward it, or even long for it.

You can’t long for cotton candy if you’ve forgotten it exists, much less forgotten the glorious taste of it in your mouth.

All I remember about this wretched space which haunts me still, was the absence of hope or belief that things would or could get better because I forgot what “better” felt like. Better wasn’t an option that I thought existed for me. I had complete amnesia about better; a forgetting of joy.

Looking back, I realize it was a bit of classic learned helplessness, papercut by papercut, coming to believe that there was nothing I could do about these things, and that all I could expect, given this forgetting of joy, was a lifetime of more of the same awfulness.

People often think suicides are a choice made between this great life with kids and success and handbag design and all that, and death. But really what many suicides are, are people who can’t remember what better feels like anymore. It is people who are making a choice between just two things; this awfulness with no end in sight, or nothing…finally feeling the absence of awfulness.

It is for them, not the choice between death and the great life and potential that we see…no, that item, that better life is no longer on their menu of things to imagine as a choice. People who take their lives really don’t want the choice of “nothing” any more than you or I do, but they want this-the awfulness to stop. So, it is two choices, more of this, or nothing. “Better”– the better we outsiders see, is not an option.

That is what depression does, it steals better and hides it behind a dark curtain as if it never existed. Leaving you with just the choice of door number one, or number two.

It does a lots of other sneaky shit too. I remember during that time, becoming acutely aware of my sense that people were exhausted from listening to me. Or at least that was my perception. (Depression likes to tell you that too.) I remember that I just stopped talking. I lost the energy to talk. I decided to stop reaching out for someone to listen. And at some point, I simply couldn’t reach out anymore…lifting my hand to do so required a skill set that was just gone.

I started thinking thinks you just don’t want to think. I, or the depression, also started trying to convince myself that people would be better off without me to contend with, without all of my exhausting stuff.

I rose each day thinking, “All I have left to look forward to for the rest of my life is more of the same. To wake up every day feeling this way-hurt, abandoned, alone and reminded of what I don’t have.” It was a wicked kind of dull slice.

They say in biblical history, that Jacob wrestled an angel all night long. I used to up for a wrestle and frankly, I was good at it. This was different. This was a categorically, solid “Uncle.” An, “I don’t give a shit anymore about fighting.” I saw my odds of winning as zilch. And most importantly, I couldn’t remember what I was fighting for anyway.

I can only describe what I remember as feeling as if I was wrapped in a thousand blankets; muffling sound, stifled interactions and movement. And I just didn’t care about getting out.

So I laid down.

One of my favorite writers, David Foster Wallace took his own life. He gave us insight into this choice before he left. In an essay he said, “The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

He describes two choices here, get burned horribly or jump. This is the difference between sadness-shock and grief, and what I now know are the true blue hot flames of depression. With sadness, there is a remembering of the good times, a grieving of it, a longing for it-for better days. But with depression, there is an absence of ability to see the third choice, an inability to see that there is a plan C, or an option of “better” feelings or days.

In these last few days of this suicide epidemic, much has emerged on social media about depression and suicides. Of course the myths roll out, stupid stuff-like it’s a selfish act and about who will go to heaven. People admonish from their behind the screen pedestals that even wealth and fame and success don’t insulate us from depression’s ability to burn even the richest and brightest of us. People say some stupid shit for sure. Platitudes appear, suicide hotlines are broadcast, and people proudly post memes. “Ask someone for help, cause we love you.” “I’m here for you,” they yell from across the screen.

I am not saying these things are all for naught. But here is the rub, people who are wrapped in layers and layers of blankets can’t ask for help, and often can’t pick up a damn phone.  They don’t remember what they should want to ask for, or what another life felt like.  Just getting to you, asking you, is not an option. And when you are convinced that the person on the other end doesn’t care what you have to say anyway, you just don’t ask.

It is the equivalent of us standing on the ground, saying as Mr. Foster Wallace so eloquently says, “Don’t jump!” Or standing on the pier, while someone is going under in the water with rocks anchored to them, and saying, “Swim Lauren, swim.”  It is not helpful people. It offers little other solution to the person who thinks, “Well duh, why not jump, I am getting my ass painfully burned here?”

We don’t offer a plan C, just tell them not to choose plan B.

One of the best things I read during my dark time, was this blog where the guy talked about just getting through the next few minutes. Getting through five minutes, getting through a day, a minute at time. That is an important clue here, we forget the simple importance of elements of minutes and seconds, when we are people who want the big picture.

~~~~

I supposed if I were to go back and look at the posts I put on Facebook during that time, it was pretty clear things were bad. No, they weren’t drama filled, woe is me posts, but more like posts asking for prayers that things turn around kind of thing. A definite absence of typical Lauren sunshiney, happy posts. It was likely, very clear to everyone that life was not good for me here at the ranch, more so by who I was not anymore, than by what I came right out and said.

One day, as I laid wrapped in my layers, the doorbell rang.

I remember it clear as the bell. I tried to avoid answering it, but she saw me through the window, so I had to. I shuffled over in my bound up blankets and opened the door.

There she stood with a small pink box tied with a ribbon, waiting. Uninvited, but clearly waiting for me to let her in. She, with what I knew were her impeccable southern manners about not showing up somewhere invited, had done just that. She wasn’t going anywhere, that was clear. So I let her in.

I knew this mom since our boys were wee. She had seen the ugliness of the divorce and the cancer I had been through. But I hadn’t seen her in recent years, and certainly had never had a one to one talk with her about troubles, I think ever. She was however, a Facebook friend.

But here she came in and sat down, right dead ass between me and the flames. She simply announced that she could see that something was very wrong based on my posts on Facebook.

And for 120 minutes, maybe more, she sat on my screened porch and listened to me cry, and tell my story of all that had gone wrong. She didn’t tell me that things would get better, or even try to remind of better times, and she didn’t offer any bullshit platitudes. She just sat with me, in this space, ticking off more minutes and then hours.

And then she stood up. And because my arms were still so bound up, she stepped forward and hugged me. For a long time, she hugged me solidly and warmly. Now, a hug to most people is not a big deal. But being single, short of my kids who were gone, I had very little human touch for many years. I had felt unhuggable of late. And rarely had someone initiated a hug with me. But she did.

I cannot tell you what happened, but I remember the feeling to this very moment as I write….it was like energy transferred into me. Good solid love and light infused in me in that hug. The human touch rewired something in my brain. It reminded me for those seconds, of what “better” felt like.

And she handed me the pink box and told me she made this for me. And she left.

I opened this perfect box with a perfect ribbon. Inside was a tiny, round pound cake. The most clean and pure gesture one could imagine. So simple, moving me in ways I cannot explain.

No one had given me anything in so long, that perhaps I had come to believe I was not worthy of such random acts of kindness (or at least the depression had pushed me to believe that.) So, the notion that someone baked for me, that simple act of nurture alone, rewired and sparked anew, something profound in me. It too, reminded me of “better.”

All of this that she did, was nudging me without words, a second at a time, toward remembering the feeling of better.

Here is what I learned. You don’t feel the flames so much with a mouthful of pound cake.

It is a little known fact that pound cake, a tiny slice at a time, reminds your taste buds and your brain, no, your whole damn circuitry, of what “better” feels and tastes like.

This tiny slice of “better,” unlike the slice of a papercut, was the superglue I needed to heal. To spark and remember that there was a plan C to work for. To remember what light felt like. To remember on my tongue, the taste of better.

It was indeed, a slice of better.

~~~~

I am so much better these days. I live in better.

These days, I often question my place and my purpose on this earth, and I often find myself thinking about the term, “All that I have done, and all that I have failed to do.”

In suicides, I think the media and we, tend to focus a lot on speculating what was “done” to have caused it. Her husband left, he had a drug problem. Often, we forget to remember, all that we failed to do. No, we can’t ever stop a person from doing what they are gonna do, we can’t magically correct biochemistry.  But I know now this truth, that if we can get them through another minute or hour, and maybe give them a bead on joy, who knows how those minutes can add up.

We are scared of what to say, but it is simple. It is not the enormous glorious pontification that brings someone out of the dark, or extinguishes the flames. We can’t do that, we simply can’t buy them a fireproof suit, or talk them out of feeling the heat or even out of jumping. And we just can’t bring enough water to put it out. We think that is what we must do, but it is so less complex than that.

What we can do is this. We can hold space for a few moments or hours or even days, between them and the flames. And fill that space not so much with words, but with love and cake, and even hugs. We can choose to see our friends who have forgotten that taste of joy and better, and choose to do things to remind their senses of this feeling.

Maybe in that time where we sit with them, just maybe, we can give them a bead on “better,” on remembering a third option, and most importantly, how good that option can feel.

This requires action from us not them, to make that happen. Not a “Hey call me” not a “Call this hotline number.” Not a, “Hey reach out, you know I’m here for you,” kind of thing, where we are failing to do. No, this is a Pure Ass capital D, Do. A Show Up Uninvited at the Damn Door with a Pound Cake and Don’t Leave Until She Answers kind of thing.

We all see people going through hard times. You know this is true. It is everywhere. Social media is such a double-edged sword, as it often can make for hard times. But the one thing it does do is allow us to see what’s up with our tribe. It gives us the ability to take a pulse on our people, near and far, and see what they going through.

We know it.

We see it.

And how often we fail to do something.

So right now, today, on this Sunday, I ask this of you. Sit and think of someone this minute that you KNOW darn well is going through a rough time. Someone who has disappeared from posting, someone who has even said out loud they are struggling. Someone who, because it’s not rocket science, you can do the math of their life events and say, “Man she’s/he’s got it so hard right now.”

And today, not tomorrow or later, knock uninvited (because love trumps even the best southern manners) on the person’s door with nothing but some minutes and your version of pound cake. Or send an email if he/she lives far away. Don’t stop emailing, don’t stop showing up if they don’t answer.

Just bake the damn pound cake, or fudge, or just get a basket of blackberries. Go mail it if you have to, just get it in their mouth. And I implore you, don’t forget the teenagers on this list, because a dark tunnel for the rest of your entire life is infinitely harder to imagine and bear the thought of at 14, than at 60. Don’t just tell these children, “It gets better,” remind them what “better” feels like, and show them how to find it again and again, a bite and a minute at a time. And don’t forget the veterans either.

I promise you this truth because I know it firsthand. This simple act will remind your friends of what love and care feels like, but most of all, it will reawaken and rewire “better.” And that, begins the bridge to trusting that it is there.

And that, is a good thing. It is something. It is minutes. It is a possible option. It is door number 3.

Hold space for this person between the flames and them. Who knows, it might just be the space needed, and in the time needed, to eat an entire cake or stand in a hug, which will get them through to the next minutes. Then hopefully, the next Do-er will show up with their version of pound cake, and the next and next, reminding our sweet friend’s brain over and over of what “better” feels like, until that choice, that option, is real again.

In the end, if nothing else, you have given them better, even for just a moment. And that is a good thing.

This I believe and suggest, is how we change a world that has come to this, a bite, by buttery bite, at a time.

 

“If you know the way, light it for others.”

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