Back in 2007, I was trying to learn how to give up on my life-long dreams and accept a life of folding sweaters at Macy's and waiting to die. I was pretty non-functional in every way that someone with a mental illness -- in my case -- bipolar disorder, could be dysfunctional. But in the fall of 2007 I started this blog and went about the long, exhausting path of getting back into the world. Starting the blog, which seemed like a lark I would maybe update for a month, then never look at again, eventually saved my life, along with several other people, places and things that all came into motion the next two years until I got to a point where I could leave St. Louis and get back out into the Big Wide World and resume my quest for whatever this life is.
The year of the last presidential election, 2008, is a period that is admittedly fuzzy for me because I was so heavily medicated, was writing six blog posts a day and shifting back and forth between cautious optimism and making calls to the suicide hotline where I would just cry for an hour. Somewhere in all that I met writer Erica Kennedy online. I can't remember if I sought her out or if she found me via my blog. That was a time in my life where I wrote a lot of writers, looking for advice or encouragement. I'd struck up some email and Skype chat relationships with quite a few people who'd taken an interest in me and my work. But I, woefully, still had no clue of what I was doing. Reading my clumsy correspondence now seems embarrassing, as in all the notes I read like a desperate kid begging for any kind of feedback -- but would really like a compliment. Any compliment. All my wordiness just read like, "Love me. Love me. Love me. Please like me. Please."
A pat on the head and an "A" grade, the story of every brainac who feels they never got enough praise -- alternating between fawning desperation and a quiet seething. I was pathetic, but I don't beat up on myself too bad about it as being pathetic is a small thing, preferable to things like severely depressed and self-destructive.
I've made a lot of progress since my last severe bout with depression. There has been the occasional slip up or set back, but nothing of the bad old days of not being able to distinguish reality from what was in my head and feeling my actions were of no real consequence. My impulses that once seemed overwhelming, eventually retreated to the sidelines. My confidence returned. And what was once pathetic was replaced with that odd mix of altruism, empathy, selfishness and bourgeois entitlement that prompted me to name myself "The Black Snob" in the first place.
And because I'd promised myself, many years ago during the Bad Old Days, that if I ever got stable I would try to mentor and be there for other people and openly talk about my illness, and that's what I've tried to do.
But I always have to remember that even though I'm better, I'll never truly be finished with it.
Erica's sudden death reminded me of that. The same week she was found dead in her Miami apartment had followed a week where another friend of mine was suicidal and I was encouraging that friend to go to the hospital and get treatment. And I was proud he had done that and was glad to see him taking it seriously and I almost started to feel a little good about myself.
I didn't feel like I had the right to have some big profound grief over Erica's passing because I hadn't spoken to her in a year or more, other than the occasional email or Twitter exchange. And being public with my illness is a constant negotiation of what I put out there for public consumption and what I save for myself to maintain my own health. But I'd be lying if I didn't say that it affected me and brought back all those old thoughts and feelings and made me question if I was truly well, if I was really safe, if I'd beat back the worst of it and would remain in the clear. And I felt it was such a selfish thing to be thinking about myself. So I debated writing anything at all. Because what right did I have to say anything about someone I knew in both the most superficial and the most personal of ways, in that we were closest during a time I've largely blurred out in an anti-depressant, sedative-induced haze, and were most distant once I'd regained my footing and finally won a hard fought peace with my brain. So I have this thing full of the word "I" that's screams "me, me, me, me," when I feel it's much more appropriate that it not be about me. And I wish I hadn't written it and I'll probably regret posting it three seconds after, but in it, there's at least an explanation why I didn't write about Mitt Romney today.
Because I didn't want to. And I just can't be made to care in this moment.
Everyday is a war and sometimes you don't win. And a momentary sadness can blossom into years. And it can feel like forever. And its that feeling of it never ending, that every day will be like the one before and none of your actions are of any consequence that make you just want to disappear. And there was a time I so badly wanted to disappear and I didn't care what happened to me. But someone loved me more than I loved myself and the things that made me pathetic kept people in my life, people who would carry me when I stopped doing so. So that now, more than eleven years since that first time I considered ending my suffering by ending my life, I can look selfishly at now and shudder and be filled with the horror that if I had done what I wanted to do from 2001 until spring of 2009 (which was die as I thought oppressively of death, off-and-on, for essentially eight years straight) I wouldn't have done the things I'm so proud of now.
I wouldn't have met Erica and I wouldn't have made the friends I've made. I wouldn't have seen America elect its first African American president. I wouldn't have created this site. I wouldn't have seen my younger sister carry the family's first grandchild this year, my nephew. I wouldn't have met the people I'd long admired. I wouldn't have moved to Washington, D.C. I wouldn't have seen myself get better and figure out how to live and control an illness that used to consume my ever waking moment. I wouldn't have met the army of people who took interest in me -- for better and for worse -- but ultimately helped me get to a place of resiliency I have enjoyed for many years now. I'm so selfish for these people, places and things and moments and memories I wouldn't have had if I'd given in to that urge that told me I'd never have these things.
That I'd never find peace.
But now that I have it, I have something to lose. And I fear that most of all. Losing what I fought so long and hard for. But being afraid has never really stopped me from doing anything I wanted to do. I suppose it won't this time either. But I'd be lying if I said these things didn't affect me.