Monday, September 19, 2011

Dark Hour Friend: An Essay I Rediscovered after Watching Anderson Show (Guest Gloria Vanderbilt)

I've just watched Anderson daytime show today, Monday, September 19th. His special guest was his mother, the fantastic Gloria Vanderbilt. I found the show inspiring, enlightening and, in a way, a lifesaver. It made me grab Anderson Cooper's book Dispatches from the Edge and reread it, and also check out Ms. Vanderbilt's books. I'd love to read them.

I read the story in Dispatches, and I applaud mother and son for having the strength to talk publicly about their lives. I applaud them because I know it's not easy to talk about loss, because no matter how good a healer time may be, it is still painful. What doesn't kill you may make you stronger but, as it seems to be in this case, it also makes you a better person all-around--more understanding of the inner universe, and also of the world around you.

The show also brought to mind the first essay I ever wrote and was published. I called it "Dark Hour Friend" and wrote it under pen name because I was too ashamed to use my real name. Because I was writing about depression/suicide from a suicidal (or deeply depressed) person's perspective.

As much as we're trying to talk about this topic today, suicide still remains a taboo, a sin that cannot be forgiven... Having been there (not anymore, for a very long time, writing and photography have literally saved my life), on that brink of life where seemingly the only escape is through death, I don't think that suicidal/depressed individuals want to be suicidal. In other words, they don't "sin" on purpose and, therefore, their souls don't deserve the eternity of burning hell.

The truth is that depression is draining, exhausting, taking a big toll (sometimes an ultimate one) on the body and the soul. People suffering from depression, suicidal people, need to know that there is support, help; that there are people there to listen to them without judging, people who really hear them and try to understand.

I can only praise people like Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, to have the courage to talk about suicide and, in the process, save lives and help people walk from the darkness of depression back into the light of hope.

Thank you!

Below is the essay I wrote many, many years ago, as Alex Shapiro. Thanks again Patricia Spork for having the courage to publish it, oh, about a decade ago or so.

As always, thanks for visiting!
Alina Oswald
Author of Infinite Lights

Dark Hour Friend

Life is a miracle, a blessing! This may be true but not for everybody. For some of us life is a prison in which we are forced to spend our days for our loved ones' sakes. I wonder sometimes if anyone bothers to understand "us," the suicidal ones, or try to comprehend our suicidal thinking. Suicide is still perceived as a taboo, as something shameful, wrong, the ultimate crime that would forever damn the soul and send it directly to hell…  or is it?

I'll try, here, to unlock a door and let a sliver of light into a suicidal person's life—mine—or better said, what used to be my life because suicide, like depression, doesn't happen overnight. It usually takes its sweet time.

The sadness comes and goes. Sometimes sadness thorns itself so deep inside my soul, I feel the need to escape, and the only way out that I can see is through death. When the pain takes over my present existence, here, in this physical life, I worry less about what will happen to my soul in the next life, after my ghost crosses the hollow dark waters of the Styx.

This was (still is at times) a feeling I learned to hide deep inside, like a dark, yet escape secret. I feared that by opening my heart and thoughts to the wrong person I might hurt myself to the point of no return, where I'd have more pain that I could carry.

Suicide doesn't just happen. It is not something that I decide I desire when I face a new day... or night. I did not wake up one gorgeous morning and made up my mind that "that" particular day I'd be suicidal. It just doesn't work that way.

Then, how does it happen?

For me it started with depression, with "not-good-enough" kind of feelings I got from pretty much everybody around me. Over time, my life experiences proved what other "well-intended" people had told me many years ago and made me feel that I had to strive for perfection, otherwise, I was not good enough.

And I tried, but could never become perfect. Over time, I discovered that even perfection could be relative, depending on the person defining it.

A lifetime of failures and rejections drove me to suicide. I remember holding a kitchen knife, my unsteady hand pressing it along the blue veins, hard enough to leave a pale trace on my skin.

Suicidal thoughts put me in a trance during which I planned and watched my own departure from this world over and over again. The self-destructive thoughts left me weak and shaky, terrified of everything around me.

I was lucky to have somebody who really understood me during these dark moments, someone who allowed me to talk about my feelings without fear of being judged in return. My friend knew when to give me a hug and when to leave me alone. And when words were too much. My friend was always there for me, before and after my dark hour.

I remember the night death showed up at my window... I knew the plan by heart. All I had to do was go for it... and so I did. Without any prescription medicines I could use at the time, I hopped in the car and drove to K-Mart. The cashier advised me about the strength of one of the several boxes of sleeping pills piled up in front of me. I looked at her blindly and filled the plastic bag with razor blades and pills. I wanted... well, there was not enough time for creativity, so, I decided to use what some refer to as the basic plan, especially for women.

But before I could do anything, I had to stop by my neighbor’s house and say goodbye. After all, he'd helped me out when I recently moved in the apartment just because he "happened" to be around and available that day.

I had the feeling that night that he already knew my plan the moment I stepped inside his kitchen. He asked me if I was all right and I did not answer. We just talked about nothing in particular and watched TV. When I decided to go, I pressed his body closed to mine. I needed a last, warm, human embrace. His heartbeat sent small waves of hope through my shirt. He hugged me back as I began to cry. There were tears of sorrow and pain... and love. I was to leave his sweet embrace for my dark and lonely apartment, a hot bath and death, still certain that there was no other way out.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

The way he asked, the sound of his voice where different, all of a sudden. Somehow I knew he could read my mind. Right there and then I realized he was my only salvation and my reason to struggle through life, one moment at a time.

"Thank you. I have to go now..." I mumbled, unable to say more.

"What're you gonna do once you get home?" he asked again, his eyes refusing to let my gaze slip away.

That's when I lost it and he didn't mind. He let me dampen his shirt with my tears and held my body until the last sob shuddered through it.

"You are not going anywhere! You sleep here, on the couch, and I'll watch you." His voice was firm but so comforting. He refused to let me die that night, and imprinted his life's content into my soul.

He brought me from darkness and back into the light, and I survived through him and because of him.
Can't help but think about the future. What if darkness takes over my mind and soul again? What will happen when I won't have my friend close by to really listen and understand my sorrow?

I can't predict the future. Nobody can. Life is like a swing, a flutter through the suffocating air of a southern summer day. Keeping a grip on the swing's rough metal chains aches my fingers. It hurts, but I hold on for the sake of my family and my loved ones, and I keep swinging. All I have to do is let go to free my hands... and my soul.

There are no guarantees. There are dark hour friends, always there to listen and comfort.

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