Well, heck, wow, gee. I've spent 11 years now writing this column. Why? Because it's interesting and challenging. Because it's a chance to learn about people. Because your stories are amazing. Because Salon has health insurance! (And is an amazing group of people.)
Random thoughts for the end of the year: Weird dates. We had 12-12-12, now we've got 12-21-12. I'll miss the weird numbers of 2012 when we go to 2013, and then we can look back to 1913!
For the new year I have a definite plan for the novel now. It's weird how long I've been talking about it -- and working on it. It started in 1995 when I started taking the N Judah from out by the beach to a temp job downtown. Money was low, we were newly married and I was trying to keep up my end of the economic bargain even though in my heart I just wanted to be a bum and write all day. So this story started taking shape in my notebook as I would ride the N Judah -- the old Boeing cars that had the single seat.
It wasn't really a story then. It was just a bunch of images and words. Now it's a whole universe of people and situations, but I think I finally have found the string to pull to set it all in motion, and I have found the mechanisms by which it operates as a narrative. So that's exciting. I've always wanted to "be a novelist" but found that to "be a novelist" one had to "write a novel," which is harder. I mean, I wrote these long things full of words that had the same people in them and some kind of setting, but that's different. So I have a plan by the end of February to have 50 pages and an outline. I mean, I've got tons and tons of incidents written and ideas described. There's a setting and a timeline stretching back to a few thousand years B.C. and some maps of the land and lots of research on various important items ... but I need a solid first 50 pages and an outline! And that's what I'm going to do! And why am I telling you this?! And why am I yelling? I don't know! Somebody stop me!
I guess it's because I like you and I tend to ramble on and it's near the end of the year and liberties are taken.
Maybe also because last night we had our Salon holiday party in the new San Francisco office that overlooks Market Street and the Powell Street cable car turnaround, and it was a great vibe. Our (relatively) new CEO Cindy Jeffers was there, as were all our local and beloved old timers and all the new folks too. Later, after standing around chatting and playing with the dogs and catching up, we played this game called Cards Against Humanity that was hilarious and sick and fun. A good time was had by all.
Well, I hope you get some time off. We work so hard in this country, and we can kind of forget what it's like to just chill out and have fun. Ever since my pretty scary cancer year (three years now; yay!) I've thought, Wow, dude, you survived, you should just cherish every day! But I still get grouchy and mean like the world is against me and I'm a failure and blah blah blah. I do! It's crazy but I do! But I'm feeling good now and hope to keep feeling good, and I hope to keep writing this column ... although at times I need to intersperse columns with other things, and I probably should more often, like in the old days. So we'll see what can be done about that. As time allows.
I'll take some time off so the next column will appear, probably in the New Year, unless I get a sudden burst of energy and just have to write a column over the holidays. Which could happen. Just don't count on it. I plan to lay around and be a no-good layabout. We'll know when it's time to get back to work. The sheriff will come.
Have a good holiday. Kiss somebody. Feed your dog. Play some music. Eat a lot.
And, OK, now, here's a column. And maybe it doesn't sound like the cheery column you'd want over the holidays, but I respond to the letters that are there. And maybe it will help somebody else who is feeling down over the holidays.
Eight months ago, I attempted suicide for the fifth time in my life. I woke up to a coworker and two policemen knocking on my door. The coworker had been worried since I didn't show up to work for a week, and we were close enough that he knew the troubles I had been experiencing.
After realizing they weren't going to believe I wasn't home, I opened the door and let them in. They asked me what happened, checked my house to make sure everything was safe and then took me to a hospital for overnight observation due to possible liver damage. The next morning, I was transported to a psychiatric hospital, an experience I will never forget.
Ten days I spent in that place. I met lots of people my age and was given handfuls of drugs until they found what stuck. After those ten days, I was released and moved to a partial treatment program for 14 days. Essentially, I would show up and participate in group therapy for about six hours a day. I made a few friends I'm still in contact with, and absolutely loved the worker who led the group.
Following the group therapy, I was assigned a psychiatrist and a therapist and underwent some other testing as well as the seven medications they started me on. I was diagnosed with depression, thyroid issues, and ADHD. I returned to work close to two months after my suicide attempt, fully prepared to be as fantastic as possible.
Four days of work, and I plotted suicide again. My boss didn't seem to understand the state I was in and was being overly pushy to me, like he wanted me gone. I didn't show up on the fifth day, fully planning to make this suicide a successful one. Fortunately, my coworker notified authorities, and they talked me out of it.
Two weeks later, I was released from my job. I've spent the last six months on unemployment and without any insurance. My meds ran out long ago. Yet, I feel more confident and content than I have in years. It seems that I have been able to overcome the loss of my sister, grandmother, two best friends, family friends and college pals that occurred in the few years before this incident. I've finally let go and realized my own mortality in accepting theirs. Each death was a tragedy, and I ran away from each one with the help of pot, coke and alcohol. I haven't done coke since March, I've only smoked a couple of times with friends, and I drink far less frequently than before.
Is it possible that I've overcome that which ails me of my own volition? Or should I still look to returning to the medications I was prescribed once I'm able to find employment?
Suicidal No More
Dear Suicidal No More,
I'm going to just say to you what I would say to anyone, including myself, which is that once you identify certain things that seem to work, cling to them for dear life. If you made some friends in the hospital, contact them and be with them and stay close to them. If you really loved the group leader, keep attending a group with that leader. This is your life now. These people are your salvation. Stay close to them. Call them, talk to them and reach out. And let them advise you. It may be that you can't return to work for a while. But stay connected to the people who have helped you, with whom you feel safe.
I mean, seriously, when you read this, call them. Now. Not tomorrow. Not some vague future time. Right this minute. Make appointments to spend time. Do not stay in your apartment. Ask them to call you every day so that you do not isolate. Set up a system that keeps you in contact even when you forget that that's what you need to survive and be happy. Because you will forget.
Because here is the thing: The way the mind works, we tend to make errors of interpretation. Our short-term thinking is often flawed. So when we go off the meds and things are OK, we begin to believe that things are OK because things seem OK right now. But things are not OK. We are setting in motion the conditions for another collapse. When we are cheered up by participating in a group, and then we feel better, we tend to think, Gee, I'm better, I don't need that group. But the truth is, the reason you feel better is because you were attending the group. You can easily slip right back into the old state of mind if you don't continue the things that worked in the first place.
This seems to be true of addicts and it also seems to be true of people who tend to get suicidal or have large up-and-down mood swings.
And so, this is just general advice for everybody over the holidays, and it's nothing new or original, but just a reminder: The things we do that work, that keep us sane, they only work if we do them. So over the holidays, whatever you regularly do to keep sane and fit and happy, find ways to keep doing them. If you work out, keep working out. If you are staying in a strange place, find ways to exercise there. Run. Walk. Get outdoors. Find a gym. If you attend recovery meetings, find them where you are and huddle close with your people. If you are in therapy, have a plan. If your therapist is on vacation, then do some substitute activity that puts you in touch with your own feelings and reminds you that you matter, that you are loved, that you are cared for. If that means writing in a journal, write in your journal. If that means talking with close friends, talk with close friends. Reach out. Stay close to those who hold you up. Eat well. Sleep well. Sing well.