A long a narrow pavement behind the garage of our old home, on a cold night too distant to recall in detail, I stood to give the stars a sidelong glance, poked a 9mm semiautomatic Llama at my temple, and pulled the trigger.
Nothing. I went back to bed, tucked the gun under my pillow, and wondered why I was a failure at everything, even in my attempt to kill myself.
Others had succeeded where I failed.
A couple of years later, while at the Rembrandt Hotel for an all-nighter with some friends, I received word that my best friend Alvin had passed away. His sister found him in his private bathroom, naked, his wrists slit, his blood so dry as to suggest he had been dead for a day or so.
In life, Alvin was anything but dull. Like me, he was a bookworm, a man oftentimes charged with being too learned for his own sake. Some of our happiest moments revolved around the exchange of books, and reading them together at a curb near my home.
He was fond of mental calisthenics, of breaking the rules of logic and reason. As an everyday exercise, we would throw at each other problems to solve with a bit of an out-of-whack kicker: each of us must be able to quote an author who shared our views.
In the middle of our conversation, Alvin would break down in tears and relate to me his one frustration. Unknown to many, Alvin had been suffering from a physical condition which prevented him from sleeping soundly.
That same condition, which already left him weak and unable to cope with life, triggered in him a level of depression which he could not control, let alone dispense with.
Both poor and without means for an operation, we tried coming up with every possible solution without the needed expense. I felt so sorry for my good friend who, after our numerous times together, had to walk home to deal with his condition alone.
The real painful thing about Alvin’s suicide was the fact that I was told about it by his family one full year after it happened. Beneath Alvin’s bed, his family found a bunch of unsent and unread letters addressed to me. The letters were his own testament to his frustrations, his cries in the middle of each passing night without anyone within hearing distance.
I never got to read the letters.
Last week, as I was busy preparing for an interview with Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin at a Starbucks a stone’s throw from the Supreme Court, I chanced upon a live video feed over Facebook.
Brian Velasco, the drummer of the band Razorback, was either sitting or standing over a ledge on top of a building. He looked distraught. He was speaking into his phone, but the wind was so strong that it blurred his speech.
Then without warning, he leapt off the ledge, falling, falling until all went dead. The whole thing was captured on live video and lasted no longer than a couple of seconds. I watched the live Facebook feed until the end.
Through the years, other suicides of people I was personally acquainted with had reached my ears. One particular story was that of a young and beautiful woman whom a good friend of mine had had a relationship with and one whom he loved. She allegedly hung herself in a closet using her phone charger.
Even after reading a ton of literature on the subject of self-destruction, Albert Camus’ book “The Myth of Sisyphus” not the least, I am still unable to grasp what drives people to kill themselves.
I, for one, cannot fathom my own bouts with depression without hitting snags and rips in the reasoning. I know of the complications people face on a daily basis, not the least my own, but none so disturbing and intense as one’s own feelings of isolation.
I have read nearly everything on the subject: from the claims of medical science to the rigmaroles of philosophy. Despite the world’s advancements into the principles and the politics of the individual and collective psyche, it is apparent that humanity has yet to break the barriers when it comes to understanding our own depressive states.
For some reason, I have learned to cope with my tendencies toward self-destruction through the years. Writing and reading literature has helped much. It forced my mind to contemplate worlds far removed from my own.
This gave me elbow room to nudge thoughts of self-destruction aside for a more riveting life found in another world, however brief.
When I saw the same tendency for depression in my daughter, I immediately introduced her to books, to the literature of her day and age, even throwing in Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” in the stack of readables.
I am aware of the book’s notoriety, how it allegedly triggered suicide in many women at the time of its launching in the early 1960s. I taught my daughter to overcome depression two ways: by facing the darkness and feelings of isolation that fueled it, and by trusting me to be there for her come hell or high water until the time comes when she can deal with it on her own.
I here posit no clear answers to depression, no single solution to our sense of defeat, save perhaps the time-tested qualities of love, patience, and familial warmth. Family and friends must be quick to discern whether their loved ones are under the iron grip of depression or not.
As for the sufferers of depression, it’s important that there are people who know.
Likewise, courage, while oftentimes overrated in relation to clinical depression, should not be easily dispensed with either.
To have the abyss look back into you as you look into its eyes is no trifling matter. A level of daring is required if only to safeguard one’s resolve when choosing life.
“There is scarcely any passion without struggle,” Albert Camus once wrote. Why is this so important in our effort to overcome depression? Because whatever we may be going through is just life beating us, shaping us, and molding us into a weapon fit for battle.
Perhaps changing the manner by which we perceive our isolation and aloneness and our wanting to end it all might just be what we need to say, “bring it on.”
To all who suffer under the grip of depression, from feelings of defeat, take heart. It is a fact of life that no one gets out alive. Our death is certain, our end always a hair’s breadth away.
What we do in life to improve ourselves and other people, as an act of compassion to ourselves and others, might just be the trigger we need to care for our fellow sufferers closely. To reacquaint ourselves to the purpose of life, the kind worth its weight in struggle, what better way to begin and end it all. G