Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thoughts About Life and Death

Robin Williams
My heart broke when I heard the news about Robin Williams. It's not that he was my favorite comedian or actor, though there's no doubt he was outstanding in his field, it's more that he was someone who touched so many people in so many ways. Since he took his own life, people are talking more about suicide, giving opinions and expressing their thoughts and frustrations. I was surprised to see the number of individuals claiming this act was a selfish one, not knowing the full story. It's easy to speculate, especially when the media are feeding the public imprecise or incomplete information.

People quieted down some when it came out that Williams had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Usually when an illness like this is diagnosed based on symptoms, the brain is already drastically changed. In the case of Parkinson's and MS, dementia often goes hand in hand with the physical symptoms. This is the very reason why my sister in law killed herself. She said she could probably learn to live with the physical issues of the MS, though she made it clear that lying in a bed listening to the fucking birds chirp wasn't her idea of living, but she could not stand knowing that she was losing her mental capacity.

In the case of my brother's best friend, it was really his demons that got to him. He had been drinking off and on throughout most of his adult life, and when his wife could no longer take his nose dives off the wagon, she filed for a divorce. She ended up with full custody of the kids and stayed in the house. The couple remained friends, though she was careful about not letting him stick around when he was drinking. He hung himself from a tree in their yard shortly after she drove the kids to school one day. This was after a period of being sober, but not that long after a bad relapse.

Of course there's a part of me that understands how this kind of action could be seen as selfish. It was a message, in part, but I also know the deeper pain and suffering that leads to wanting out, especially when you're trapped in a cycle of self destruction. No, it's not fair to those left behind, but those left can probably never quite understand what mental anguish and emotional pain the other person is enduring. As my mom always says, you can't compare wounds, meaning your emotional pain may not be the same or even similar to what someone else is going through.

Some people use painting, writing or running as a means of expression, and sometimes that can alleviate the misery or help express the inner trouble, but there are times when nothing works. It's not merely being depressed or sad, it's a black hole, pure torment and the dogs of hell all wrapped into one overwhelming, never-ending nightmare that seems impossible to get out of, or worse, it's apathy and numbness.

It's when you feel yourself giving up that it's most important to reach out, but most of us who are forced to ride the big bipolar roller coaster are better at isolating when things get really bad.

In the case of an added illness, I often wonder how I would respond. Already, I've had tremendous trouble keeping my feet on the ground. I deal with chronic pain from various ailments including the endometriosis, a heart valve leak that leaves me fatigued a lot and past and present injuries with some nerve damage in my foot that is anything but pleasant. There are times when it feels like too much, but being diagnosed with something that affects the brain or something like ALS or MS is a whole other ballgame. It makes my shit look incredibly trivial. When it comes to courage, the people who face these kinds of challenges are true heroes. Could you really go on, knowing you would be forced to live with such limitations, becoming someone entirely different from the person you are or have been? Would you even want to? If you knew your fate, would you be able to face it?

There are people who do.

When I had meningitis, it affected my brain. I can't describe exactly how it did, but I know my thinking isn't the same as it was. It probably never will be. It's unsettling, but I continued because I had hope that these glitches I was experiencing would sort themselves out over time, and I was so in the moment of merely surviving, that I didn't think too far ahead. Well that and I'm terrified of death. It scares me more than spiders, and anyone who knows me knows how phobic I am when it comes to arachnids.

Had these glitches in my brain function not improved at lease somewhat once I started to get my bearings, I don't know what I would have done, and whenever I'm tired and have a little flash of what it was like back when all I could really do was remind myself to breathe, eat, wash and occasionally get out of bed, it worries me. Which is worse, facing a life you don't want to live or facing your biggest fear and ending it? Back then, the pain meds made me forget myself enough to temporarily float in a less painful haze, and I'm sure that helped keep me going. So here I am, often wasting time, just waiting for nothing in particular. I go through the motions, frequently frustrated at my own life and circumstances.

I know being limited to the point where I'm a burden is not how I want to live, but when you land in a situation suddenly, you usually end up coping as best you can. I think of Jean-Dominique Baubyack and wonder how things would have been if he had been given the choice to opt out. I believe in his case, it was more than mere acceptance, and he wanted, at least on some level, to live.

I rarely think of suicide the way I did before. I'm not sure what changed, but part of it has to do with knowing that the low points usually give rise to beautiful highs.

My reason for thinking out loud in this post is to remind people not to be so judgmental. Everyone has different breaking points, and we just can't put ourselves in someone else's shoes enough to know what that person is fully experiencing.

I remember a big debate in a forum once with one group of people condemning Ryan Dunn for drinking and crashing his car, killing himself in the process and another group having some respect and compassion for him, his family and his friends. He had struggled with addiction in the past. Some of the same people who said terrible things about Ryan deserving his fate were quick to claim how tragic is was to lose Amy Winehouse, who somehow didn't deserve her fate. I think it's tragic to lose anyone who has battled their own demons. Me saying this doesn't mean I condone the behavior of either. It just means I have enough compassion to understand what can lead a person to make such bad choices in life.

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