=“If there’s a way out it will be step by step through the black....
I know serpents will cross universes to circle around our necks.
I know hounds will cross universes to circle around our feet.
I know they're close, step by step, one's beside me to kill me or to guide me.
Why wouldn't I be trying to figure which one out?”
-Magnolia Electric Co., “Ring the Bell”
It’s been 9 months since I seriously considered suicide. This is the longest I’ve been this happy since I was twelve years old, wandering around the world like it was always going to be small and I would always understand my place in it. My place was in words, in creating something. I’ve been writing since I can remember, small hands feeling proud for filling two legal pads with one story of scrawling penmanship. I’ve played and sang songs. Smeared paint in light and drawn in the dark. Then comedy taught me that even if the thoughts or emotions driving me to create started out dark, I could change the way I expressed myself and make the end result only happy, partly for myself but more so for those around me.
When I started writing jokes, I dropped all other writing pursuits. It was too difficult to take myself seriously when everything seemed like it could be made fun of. Not everything can be, but when jokes are new, you're always one turn away from that laugh. I stopped seeking out more serious art to consume as well. My best friend’s told me he really only spends his time on things if they’re fun. Why would he want to watch a movie that’s going to make him sad? Fun’s clearly the best experience. He has a point. I’ve had more fun in the three years I’ve been around comedy than I had in the twenty-four years beforehand combined, and fun is the best. These three years have been the brightest and worst years of my life. I’m hopeful things will keep balancing out, and soon they’ll just be the best years. But in doing comedy, I’ve disconnected with part of who I am. I’ve done so on purpose and subconsciously at times.
Consciously, I wanted a break. Indulging the serious side of my mind for twenty-four years was exhausting. It didn’t really bring joy to people around me except for the times when it pushed me into chaos that my young friends could construe as reckless play. I’ve subconsciously cut off the more serious part of my mind because if I explore it, I’m worried it will lead me down a darker path again. It didn’t always lead to sadness, but it was closer to the darkness than laughter. Fun is safe, I told myself. Fuck being sad. If I don’t take things seriously, if I just seek fun, maybe I can manage to never be sad again.
But that’s nonsense, and the serious side of me brings something to who I am and to the world. Maybe I’m better off without it, but I’ve decided I’m not whole. I can’t be afraid of it anymore. So how do I connect with it without letting it take over? I think my hope at this point is that I’ve learned enough that I can wade in the dark without risking the drowning. But it's been so long since I've accepted it that I can't blindly trust it. I have to try to understand. So this is part of that.
I’ve tried for years to write something on suicide, hoping it would help others and be something I could look on for perspective if I drop again. It’s been a part of my life since I was 15, I think. Then it was more angst-filled probably. Yells among close friends turned to long drives on country roads repeating phrases until I was drained and came back to my bed. Long drives turned to having nowhere to run, curling up, telling a friend I thought there was something wrong with me and that I needed to commit myself for a while.
The last time I seriously considered it as an option, I was most frightened by the fact that it didn’t seem like an option. It seemed like something that was going to happen. Scratch that. The time before last, it seemed like it was something that was going to happen.
I escaped from it that time through a panic attack. I’d been having an increasing number of them, largely related to an assault I hadn’t dealt with, whether I have now is an issue to unpack separately. But this attack was different. I started thinking about all the people in my life. I started thinking about comedy. About getting to see my friends come up in comedy. Seeing the beautiful things they would do. All of the things I wanted to see that I knew the future held. But I panicked. Because I knew I had already decided to kill myself. There was no going back. I was going to do it. I couldn’t escape it or get it out of my mind. I curled in the dark and felt the future slip away because I was already trapped in letting it go. The next morning, with the panic gone, I could process what had happened. I’d wanted something. I hadn’t before. That was all I needed to push ahead and slowly pull out of the pattern I was trapped in. I had something to pull me forward.
This last time I wasn’t scared of losing the future. It just seemed like something I kept forgetting to do. Like every year I found a to-do list, and suicide was always at the top and just became more and more necessary, but every year I forgot to do it or put it off again and let myself become close to more people I could hurt. I felt like I’d made a mistake in living the last time. I wasn’t a part of the future. I’d died a long time ago, and now I couldn’t touch the world. I couldn’t connect with the people I loved. I knew there was good out there, but it wasn’t for me. Even if I spent all my waking hours working and at open mics, smoking and laughing, that feeling still stuck and dragged me back. I always came back to depression even when I tried to deny it. Then I always came back to the feeling that I just shouldn’t be here. Then it wasn’t something I felt. It was something I knew for a fact.
Some of my joke books have scattered suicide notes from the past years. Proof again that I couldn't just run from everything and try to laugh it away. A page of illegible high jokes and then: “I can’t shake this feeling. I am not me anymore. I am rotten and hollow, a ghost with walls foolishly entangling itself. None of it is for me anymore. That’s why this is right…. There was no coming back, and I’m sorry I kept going for so long and placed myself in your life. … I am always going to come back to this. The more I put it off, the worse it will be. I’m sorry. I’m less myself and less capable of touching the world each time I stay.” This time I wasn’t sure if leaving a note was something I should do. If I had a right to do that when I knew erasing my voice was the choice I was making and that, ultimately, it was the right one.
I talked to my friends about it. In the years prior, talking about it was the first step toward escaping it. Once I said it out loud, it lost validity. The idea stopped echoing in my head when it had somewhere else to rattle. The last two times, saying it had done nothing. I could still talk about it though, and while I pushed away most people and things in my life so that I wouldn’t hurt them as much when I went away, there were one or two people I could keep talking to. One because she understood. She talked about similar things. It felt more scientific in some way to talk to her about it. Less like I was asking for help. More like I was dissecting a beast not everyone had discovered. She was a colleague. The other I could talk to because he didn’t understand at all. He’d never been to that place himself really, but he was more and more always around and could see the difference in me and wouldn’t let it go.
So I could talk still, not all the time, but people in my life wouldn’t give up on being around. I kept slipping, but part of me kept trying to mechanically reach out because I owed that much to the people in my life. I planned it, but I didn’t fully disconnect.
When I was alone, I started hurting myself as often as I could, hit myself with things thinking that I could hurt myself badly enough one day to break something and get pills for it or just acclimate myself to pain enough that I could kill myself in a way that would hurt without withdrawing reflexively halfway through. I went to mics then had panic attacks and went home and tried in a dissociated state to drink enough of something and keep it down. I knew it wasn’t the best option, statistically didn’t work that well, had other risks, brain damage foremost. I stopped caring about the plan I had put thought into and started just trying. It was way past time.
But as always, there were people. It didn’t matter if they saw everything. They saw enough to make it difficult. And I was too weak to run away from them. Then something happened outside of me that hurt me. I wasn't equipped to handle it, and it consumed me. Things were worse, but I couldn't kill myself after someone had hurt me. I didn't want it to look like their fault.
While I was lost in the hurt, I think the depression ebbed, and really it was about time for it to. Every episode, I think, is on a timer for me. Every time it’s just a waiting game, seeing if I can outlast it. Every time, it seems more hopeless, seems like I’m less and less able to connect and see anyone else’s reason. Every time, it seems more and more like the times when I’m low are the times when I see the clearest. The dark is truthful. Coming back up again is the lie. Every time, I believe that more and more.
That’s what scares me. Once in awhile, I’ll believe again that I was wrong for not going through with it last time. I'll ask myself: Should I now? I’ll disconnect or become dissociative and unable to talk to the people close to me because I’ll believe I shouldn’t or just because everything gets caught in my throat in a panic. The words will start repeating again, that I’m wrong, that I should do it. It comes in spurts. But what if it comes back for longer? It seems impossible that it won’t. It’s been a constant companion through the years. So I don’t know what else to do but try to turn and face it and see through it. Let myself feel it and process why it keeps coming back to me again and again. Comedy taught me how to laugh, how to make everything that happens bend toward a lighter heart in the end. Comedy showed me a world of beautiful people trying to do the same. I can never know them all, but if I can follow their light, I know I'm not lost.
Comedy saved me. It will always be there to save me, but if I've learned anything, it's that it can't do it alone. Maybe this part of me will always exist. But maybe, step by step, I can learn to walk beside it and find myself better for doing so in the end.