My Latest Suicide Attempt: 11.11.11
Ruminant With A View
by Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
“From where/a red tomato/lies rotting/I am only/a few steps away.”—a tanka by Saito Mokichi (1882-1953)
After completing the manuscript of her last (posthumously published) novel, Between the Acts, Virginia Woolf fell into a depression similar to that which she had earlier experienced. The onset of World War Two, the destruction of her London home during the Blitz, and the cool reception given to her biography of her late friend Roger Fry all worsened her condition until she was unable to work. On 28 March 1941, Woolf put on her overcoat, filled its pockets with stones, and walked into the River Ouse near her home and drowned herself. In her last note to her husband she wrote: “Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ‘til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V[irginia].”—Source: Wikipedia
TEANECK New Jersey—(Weekly Hubris)—11/28/11—Too soon, you may say. It’s waaaay too soon to be writing about a suicide attempt a week and four days old (as though one could, should, speak of such an event, or aborted event, as though it were a newborn; something cooing and gurgling in its crib).
But, given my proclivities, perhaps it is, instead, high time. Perhaps there is not enough time left to write this column. My odds, at 60, with (now) four serious suicide attempts behind me—roughly one every decade; one coinciding pretty neatly with a major death in my no-longer extant family-of-origin—are not good: I’ve studied the actuarial tables. I’m more than a bit like the San Andreas Fault, or Mount Saint Helens, or the Santorini volcano: not a place near which to vacation.
AND I have given up—long, long, long given up, on “talk therapy.” The only child of a therapist, I cut my teeth on Freud (Sigmund und Anna), Jung, Adler, Horney, Reich, Erickson, Fromm et al, et al, et al, world without end. I’ve had about thrice as many shrinks as husbands, and those of you who know me well will realize that’s quite an integer.
The paramedic who collected me from my all-but-Roman-bath (I’ll spare you most of the details) told me, earnestly, “But, there’s so much to live for.”
I squeezed his hand and said, “I was lying on the analysand’s couch decades before you were born, My Dear. Now, Hush.”
I’d like to have said, “Now, Hush, before I slap you silly, You Babbling Infant!” but he was a darling, yarmulka-ed youth, barely possessed of a beard. Why should HE have to know some salmon never make it upstream, never even clear the shallowest rapids, but beat their iridescent heads to pieces on the rocks? Perhaps he will never know, and that will be a great good thing.
The quotes I’m using in this piece come, for the most part, from the grandest congeries of essays I know that deal with Depression, and her more malevolent half-sibling, Bi-Polar Disorder. I am most assuredly a Unipolar Bear, with a great dollop of ADD not diagnosed until this very year. (Just my luck to be surfing the very cusp of psychopharmacological knowledge, a tad ahead of the stuff that might have kept my board better glued together.)
You’d think SOMEONE might have noticed that I’d begun seven fully funded (plus T.A.’s) Ph.D. programs—two of them requiring a scant two years of residency—AND an M.D., but completed none of them; felled, each time, by Depression and, unbeknownst to me, A.D.D. How I ever wrote 14 books is beyond me. I only, after 59 years, got my office organized—truly immaculately organized after some genius (and I am NOT being ironic) got me on Focalin this past spring. Then, I finished the novel I’d been laboring over for a decade in two and a half weeks.
Think what I might have done had I been on Prozac and Focalin from age eleven, which is when my Depression first unequivocally announced its existence. In fact, I’d had night terrors—pavor noctis—since three, but the death wish came at eleven. I was at Ephesus, with my parents, and knew, without a doubt, that everyone I knew, and I, myself, were mortal; and that they, whom I loved best, would be the first to go.
I was inconsolable.
As writer Russell Banks phrases it: “ . . . in my view the world is such that any other response to it than sadness and anger would be inappropriate.”
Most of the time, that’s true, Russell; most of the time. And the times of enormous joy, seemingly relentless creativity, and body-blistering passion only serve to show up the true depth of the troughs of misery, despair, boredom, ennui, and what have you in between the little peaks.
The human landscape. It sucks. Big time.
And my own stretch of it has truly sucked. I could list the deaths, the illnesses, the losses, the denials, the dashed dreams—the particularly sucky stuff of my particular life—but I’ve written memoirs covering most of it already.
This latest descent I chalk up to Post-Partum-Ness, in that I wrote this glorious novel in under a month’s time, after wrangling it like a brahma bull in a convenience store for well over ten years. The Focalin—two tiny doses a day—made me able to sit and write for eight-hour stretches: Voila! Novel accomplished.
Then came the crushing wave of grief. WHY THE F%$K HADN’T SOME EARLIER GENIUS NOTICED I HAD ADD 30 YEARS AGO?????!!!!!!!
The waste. The loss. The irretrievable years.
It took a while to hit me, and then, like quakes and tsunamis, one always following the other, like alpha and beta, a second shock sent me spiraling. I went to Greece—my other homeland—in September, with a terrible sense of foreboding . . . and found innocent, guileless friends and a former-still-belovéd-lover and the whole damn country going over the falls like that benighted priest in “The Mission”—vilified, bankrupted, nailed to a cross and assigned an impossible penance.
Too much for this salmon. Too many leaps of faith. Too much attrition.
My 60th birthday came and went in hell; hell being Greece, the most beautiful and now economically ruined little former democracy on the planet.
One good friend told me a story kept out of the news so as not to affect Cretan tourism. A group of some 40 or 50 men, women and children, ruined by the new austerity measures (read: ruinous cuts in pensions; absurd reassessments by the Greek IRS; lay-offs; skyrocketing fuel and food prices) went quietly to a distant island forest, and set themselves—and their children—on fire.
But, Hush! Can’t tell the tourists such stuff. They’re the only source of incoming euros now.
I came back “home” in a state of shock. Not only had my own creative and professional life been blighted by a simply-treated disorder we’ve all known about for 40 years; but my beautiful Greece, the land I’ve loved since age nine, when I first went there, was circling the toilet of Europe—which dumped it there in the first place.
I’ll give it to the Germans, the Russians and the French: they never really lose, do they?
So . . . please don’t blame me if I felt like opening my veins AND downing about 50 Clonazepam at a time when I believed no one would be coming home to rescue me from reality.
I’ve had it, is what I’m trying to say. When I was 21, and my father died at 57, I took a great many pills and was hospitalized for about a week. I wrote, on a sheet of paper on that hideous psych ward, one sentence that has stood me fairly well all these decades: “Today is not tomorrow.”
There’s just a shred, a glint, of light in that sentence, and it was enough to get me out of there and going again. But now, I’m not so sure.
As the Spanish Proverb states: “I don’t want the cheese. I just want out of the trap.”
Obviously, I have to get OUT of the cheese-and-trap-circuit quickly, but how, and where might that elsewhere, that cheeseless, trapless elsewhere, be?
I tried to tell my broken-up husband that it was not his fault; that it had nothing to do with him. I believe suicidal spouses have been singing this same refrain since long, long before Virginia wrote and left behind her famous note for Leonard Woolf.
I tried to tell him that I am tired of living in a house with a swamp in the basement, a pack of ogres in the attic, nails on every surface, and ceilings so low I bang my head wherever I turn: in other words, I am tired of living in my own MIND.
To quote Nancy Mairs: “Life [is] a ramshackle structure, and I [am] such a painstaking architect with outraged sensibilities.”
There’s no happy ending to this piece, Dear Reader.
There’s only this. Having poisoned me with Haldol at the Holy Name Hospital ER and, thus, having precluded my re-starting my Focalin for several weeks’ time, I am suspending my disbelief till I can once again ingest the substance that brought this aged Sleeping Beauty to life in the first place.
I will abide in this ramshackle structure that much longer.
But, I do have to tell you, today looked exactly like yesterday; and I don’t hold out much hope of tomorrow not being today . . . in every detail.
Still and all . . .
“In the middle of the journey of our life/I found myself in a dark wood./for I had lost the right path.”—Dante, “The Inferno”
“And so we came forth, and once again beheld the stars.”—Dante, AFTER “The Inferno”
PS: In my usual tradition of going on, after debacle, as though there had been none-to-speak-of, whistling in the dark, as it were, I began making our annual holiday cards days after leaving the hospital. The photograph on the cards spells out the word, “Courage,” in Modern Greek; the following quotes and short poem accompany the image:
Even in these terrible times, we must continue learning to love; hoping to believe in our better selves. These are my few rays of “found light” shared in the dark winter of 2011, Dearest Ones . . . EB-H
“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I’d like to see you in better living conditions.” – Hafiz
“We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, our ravages. Our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to transform them in ourselves and others.” – Albert Camus
“Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past.” – Jack Kornfield
“The truth is we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free.” – Nelson Mandela
“True love is not for the faint-hearted.” – Meher Baba
“How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday you will have been all of these.” – George Washington Carver
“The outer work will never be puny if the inner work is great.” – Meister Eckhart
“Be modest now, like a thing/ripened until it is real,/so that he [she] who began it all/can feel for you when he [she] reaches for you – Rilke
“Are you looking for the Holy One? I am in the next seat. My shoulder is against yours.” – Kabir
“Do you know what astonished me most in the world? The inability of force to create anything. In the long run, the sword is always beaten by the spirit.” – Napoleon Bonaparte, upon dying
“If one is to do good, it must be done in the particulars. General good is the plea of the hypocrite, the flatterer, the scoundrel.” – William Blake
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do children as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller
“The secret of human freedom is to act well, without attachment to the results.” – Bhagavad Gita
“No seed ever sees the flower.” – Zen Teaching
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“And all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” – Dame Julian of Norwich
“May I and all beings be filled with lovingkindess. May I and all beings be safe from inner and outer dangers. May I and all beings be well in body and mind. May I and all beings be happy and free.” – The Buddha
“The earth-colored glass/makes everything seem diverse,/but that glass eventually shatters./Your lamp was lit from another lamp./All God wants is your gratitude for that./Lend, is the divine command./Make God a loan of your existence.” – Rumi
“Don’t you sense me, ready to break/into being at your touch? – Rilke
“The mind creates the abyss, and the heart crosses it.” – Sri Nisargadatta
“As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapons of love.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Out beyond wrong doing and right doing is a field of luminous consciousness. I’ll meet you there.” – Rumi
“Compassion is a verb.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
“You do not have to be good./You do not have to walk on your knees/for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting./You only have to let the soft animal of your body/love what it loves . . .” – Mary Oliver
Maranatha, Namaste, Shalom, Peace, Love, Agape, Hope, Suspension of Disbelief, Elizabeth
“For Greece, Winter 2011”
by Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
The fragile, gritty pumice
of Santorini has survived
millennia: floating above the
wine-dark storm like sea-foam
incarnate; and, like your soul,
lighter, more buoyant than you know.
Float now, above the black abyss,
above grim Tartarus: light, weightless, ageless.
You were meant for
some safe, simple harbor.
Come to rest there, a testament on black sand.
I’m probably speaking well out of turn, but I take the liberty of an ancient friendship to make the following comments. At the age of 60 (hard to believe) you have discovered the key to a successful and productive life. Some people never do. You have around 30 years of creativity before you. And you have wisdom and knowledge that you could never have had at 20. You could become the Grandma Moses of American literature. Diana Athill, the great English essayist, published her first award-winning book at 71 and is still pumping out wonderful memoirs at 94. I shall follow your future career with great interest. If you have produced the oeuvre you have with a millstone round your neck, then it seems to me that the sky is the limit from now on. Don’t you dare deprive the world of your writing. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life. Make it count.
Ted Michael Morgan
As one who struggles with depression, I understand much of what you voice. The medication generally works but I still have to work at living each day. Thank you for your writing and spirit.
Michael has said it better than I could. He’s absolutely right. As you quoted somewhere else, “The mind creates the abyss, and the heart crosses it.” It doesn’t have to jump into it. Me agape, D
As E B-H, a favorite writer of mine, recently wrote, “Even in these terrible times, we must continue learning to love; hoping to believe in our better selves.”
You have written beautifully,as always.
Yes,it is one day at a time,or more likely, a few hours at a time.
You must shift your focus off yourself.
Find someone that needs help,your help.
Then,focus only on that. It helps.
Laura, I DID find someone who needed my help . . . and lost my “self” in that being, AND the grand, fragile country disintegrating about that person, my second home, Greece. This was not a case of being too much in and of myself, but of being completely outside and without my “self.” Despair can take many forms, but if one’s barriers dissolve and one bleeds into the miseries of the world, one can be just as lost as he or she who blithely skips past human suffering as though it were not his or her concern at all. Truly, as I quote Russell Banks above: “ . . . in my view the world is such that any other response to it than sadness and anger would be inappropriate.” It’s a hard stance to step back from when one’s faith leaves one…..
Breathe. Meditate. Create. We love you.
Am so sorry I didn’t see your column ’till now. And I’m so happy you are not successful in everything!
Folklore tells us that the most precious stone in the world is a millstone. Please don’t take this most precious stone of your talents and desire (however small it might be from time to time…) to write off of this precious stone of a planet! We are starved for the nutrition of detail illuminated with humor, of which you are the Queen.
Love, ever and always,
I am so sorry I didn’t see your column earlier. Dealing with my own problems. As was said above, I am so glad you haven’t succeeded in everything.
Your posts on facebook and weekly hubris are always interesting to me. I would miss hearing your voice.
Success is another thing I don’t understand from being brain damaged from physical abuse and two brain tumors. I too have struggled with being misdiagnosed for years. I feel some empathy for what you say about suicide.
But its not a path I chose to take. I guess ultimately, I feel I can look back at my life and say, I will relive the bad again, not so much for the sake of the good, but because I would want the things that I fought for still to be fought for and the people I have loved and helped to be loved and helped, regardless of the outcome. I would still continue to write and record music, not for the audience, but because the sounds in my head need to be recorded. That is all I have. So far it has been enough.
Elizabeth: During the last five months of illness, pain, and despair, I have come to depend on the love and support of friends. Truly, that has saved me. And one of the most loving, helpful, and sane voices has been from YOU, a woman I have never actually met but feel that I have known for years. You have no idea how valuable your words and affection and understanding have been to me over the past few awful months. I am gradually and happily getting well now and I credit you with much of it. Thank you so much for being who you are. I cannot bear the thought that you might somehow stop being there. Please, please hang in. Something wonderful is about to happen.
Wayne, My Dear, after six decades of Depression and, now, being hit by this latest asteroid from the great blue yonder, I am tired of the fight. Soooo tired. And where can one go to escape the pain in one’s MIND, one’s SOUL, My Dear Friend??? This pain that seems, this time, without bounds? I try to suspend my disbelief yet again, but it is a heavy thing, and my arms have just about given out. Love you! You, for whom life is still a benison…. e
I understand being tired of the fight. I truly do. But you must continue to fight. Fight, fight, fight. It will be so worth it in the end. And the rest of us, selfishly, want and need you. And love you.
Did not Milton say: “He who kills a man kills a reasonable creature. But he who kills a book kills reason itself.” In killing yourself, you would abort the books that you are writing at this very moment and will write in the future. You would then be killing reason. Do you wish to be complicit in this crime?
Wise, if unreadable, man, Milton. My disbelief is suspended about a millimeter above sea-level, Sanford—but a millimeter is not to be sneezed at.
Wayne, as ever, thank you for your ENORMOUS compassion and caring. From the midst of a temporarily really-sucky life, you offer me hope. Gotta love a guy like that. xoxoxoxoxoxo e
Christine J. Couneli
So fragile. So strong.
No. So honest.
And honesty is usually hidden. Especially from ourselves. Not to mention our therapists, and beloved others.
Courage. Always foolish. But so necessary. As you are too. Keep company with us. Share the words, the spirit, the battle, your presence. C.C.
Jeanne van den Hurk
Dearest, I wouldn’t dream of offering you one syllable of advice. I know it well-meaning advice – and even loving encouragement feels like acid poured on tender flesh. I only wish to say that here is a lap for your tired head. A heart that is seared by your pain. Do all that you can. When you can do no more, rest yourself in the arms of the nearest earth angel. I am afraid I may insert my ego inadvertantly, so I will not say more except that those whose hearts are open to your words, and are able to withstand the howling gales of pain sweeping off the page will know themselves more intimately and honestly than before they read your story. Stay with us and teach us. We will do our best to give you respite and a shelter – fragile though it may be.
Dearest Jeannie, thank you. For everything on and off the page…..
Danny M Reed
“For Greece, Winter 2011”
by Elizabeth Boleman-Herring When Robin Williams stopped breathing
The fragile, gritty pumice I knew Why because the guns of August
of Santorini has survived are upon me as well and my grandfather
millennia: floating above the successfully did the same at his age 64.
wine-dark storm like sea-foam I am not attempting Poetry here, clearly,
incarnate; and, like your soul, but this poem of YOURS, Elizabeth, struck
lighter, more buoyant than you know. me so soundly amid this Tartarus
Float now, above the black abyss, I believe we share at the moment
above grim Tartarus: light, weightless, ageless. that I had to Copy and Paste
You were meant for it next to my Response which
some safe, simple harbor. like Dark Matter insinuates it-
Come to rest there, a testament on black sand. self into the Spaces between.
I feel very bad Today and my Family and my World are collapsing as the doctor I have become and the doctor I so desperately needed Today smiled helplessly and hopelessly at each other, knowing full well the cure is at hand, bound by Policy and Procedure and Fear, prescribed and exhumed another worthless moneymaker. The cure, like all other effective treatments that are not moneymakers, is out of reach. When I left DC I was determined to face all this without drugs and I even quit my Box O Wine treatment and pruned the vast Pharma-Tree. But I can’t fight human nature nor the heavens. The Cosmocratic gods assigned me to a thousand deaths. The Death Camp survivor told me Man’s search for meaning has a backdoor, the Mind, and in childhood I dissociated from reality and my body undergoing this death. Sometimes whole families held hands and walked into the electric fence while others remained, giving away their last piece of bread. Why? Because they knew they were going home; NOT this physically disturbed Greece Today, but the spiritual one they remembered in their youth, beautiful and lovely in every way. I drink the kool-aid of dissociation and Quixotic madness because I have seen this “existence” we call life in a mirror and it lightens my Soul to see it, NOT as it really and truly is, but AS IT SHOULD AND OUGHT TO BE. God, I want to go Home. I apologize, Elizabeth, my mind has left me and I must go retrieve it. Thank you love
Ahhh, Danny. THIS is why I wrote this column…which some have termed “savage” or “brutal.” It’s not, as you know so well. But it IS written from a land where only a few of us live and in a language only a few of us speak . . . thank Heaven. For some of us, there are never going to be any “meds.” Their effects are quixotic; their side effects unspeakable. And “self-medicating” also does not “work.” My best “treatment plan” was Greece, and movement, but when things are really bleak for me, I can’t even crawl out of bed, out of the house. But you KNOW all this. I simply, simply want you, and my few other compadres, ALWAYS, ALWAYS to know: you have company. I SEE you. I am LIKE you. And I love you, us, as we are…. Ever, elizabeth