The loss of
author David Foster Wallace this week to suicide at the age of 46 has obviously
left the world bereft of a huge talent.
He wasn’t my favourite author, but I liked his cheekiness and I liked
his style. I certainly can’t claim his
talent, but we were both smart asses and oddballs and much given to digression
in our writing. (I think his was
deliberate though. Until I get an agent
and an editor, I just tend to ramble on and on.)
But let’s talk
about suicide for a minute.
We’ve all known
people who’ve done it. Hell, on those
meds I was just taking, I came pretty damn close myself. But for my friends, my “it’s only the drugs,
it’s only the drugs, it’s only the drugs” mantra and my knowledge of what these
nasty little chemicals were up to, I could well have been taking the big Dirt
Nap months ago.
When I was in
the midst of the pharmaceutical turmoil, I remember expressing my despair to a
friend of mine. “Don’t be ridiculous”,
he said. “Suicide is for losers.”
I don’t think
it’s that simple. I don’t think people
kill themselves because they are overwhelmed by the enormity of it all – but
maybe some do. I think it can be the
little things accumulating – fear, a sense of inadequacy, loneliness. I think
you can just get stuck and not know how to get UNstuck.
For others, it’s
a response to trauma – some grief or hurt so overwhelming that the only aim is
to make it stop. And in those cases, I
don’t even think you’re functioning as a human being. I think you’re just some terribly Hurt Thing and that you can’t
ever imagine a way out of that. I’ve
dealt with rape victims in my practice who’ve been in that condition – and it
makes me adamant that rape, by definition, should be classified as a form of
murder. Because it really does kill the
soul. The United Nations declared it a
War Crime insofar as it pertained to the conflict in Bosnia and I think they
got it right, but I’d like to see that definition acknowledged across the board
and around the world. I’d like to see
it reclassified as a hate crime in our Criminal Code at the very least.
In the eulogies
I’ve been reading, it appears that David Foster Wallace had been struggling
with severe depression for some months prior to his death and had even been
hospitalized for it.
I don’t think
I’ve ever been depressed, at least not when it hasn’t been chemically
induced. Even then, even at its worst,
I could still laugh. I thank God that
at the core of myself is laughter. No
matter what life throws at me, that has always come through for me.
But I know for
other people, it’s not so easy.
is only now becoming less stigmatized and people are coming out of the closet
and seeking help when they feel depressed.
And here’s the thing. Doctors
say that depression affects women more severely and in different ways than it
does men – but naturally, most studies and most of the research dollars have,
until very recently, only explored how depression affects men.
This is pretty
fucked up because depression affects twice as many women as men. This is true across the board regardless of
racial/ethnic background or socio-economic status and if you look at the stats
in about 15 developed nations around the world, they do not deviate. Although men and women suffer from bipolar
disorder at roughly the same rate, women typically experience fewer manic
episodes and a larger percentage suffer from the “rapid cycling” form of the
disorder, making it difficult to treat.
depression such a dirty little secret?
Is it because we’re afraid if we say anything, people will say we’re
hormonal? Are we afraid of the shame?
Nonsense: if you broke your arm, wouldn’t you go have
someone take a look at it? Isn’t your
mind at least as important?
If you feel depressed to the point where
your life has lost its joy and if thoughts have suicide have begun to intrude
upon you – or even more mundanely, if you exhibit the less severe symptoms of
depression (check out the Canadian Mental Health Association’s description), please contact your doctor immediately.
Start the ball rolling. This is
a medical emergency. Treat it as one.
And if you have
a friend or a loved one who is struggling with depression, for God’s sake,
don’t wait until you drop by one day and stumble across the body. Do
something! Talk! Be there!
OMFG: if it weren’t for my
friends, I would never have survived the topamax ordeal and while it drove them
all bananas, I’m sure they preferred listening to me cry to eating cucumber
sandwiches at my funeral.
by degrees and early intervention is crucial.
I give you the
man himself. This is from David Foster
Wallace’s 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College:
Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an
excellent servant but a terrible master.
This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the
surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth.
It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with
firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible
master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long
before they pull the trigger.
Don’t be afraid
to ask for help. There is no disgrace
in being human. By the same token, we
all stumble and we all WILL stumble.
Reach out a hand if you see someone faltering.
You might just
save a life.
Till next time,