I’ve spent the last month or so thinking about suicide. I had already been thinking about it for weeks before L’Wren Scott killed herself, and beyond the sensationalism of the press, I recognized something in her choice. It made sense to me.
Before any alarms go off, I want to say this is nothing new for me. It’s a rare day that goes by when I don’t think of suicide. It’s been an ‘out’ for me since I was about 12. It’s the trap door in the stage floor that only I know is there, and if the drama gets too much or the melee gets out of hand, I can just drop through that escape hatch into oblivion. Until a few hours ago, I thought the trap door gave me strength and courage, but I’m beginning to see that it might just be a pressure point that raises the stakes beyond what is safe or would be considered rational.
I was diagnosed 12 years ago with Hypomania on the bi-polar II spectrum. My manic episodes are mild and manageable and the worst that comes from them is a fair amount of envy from friends and colleagues who think I’m super human because I can be amazingly productive. I don’t know anything about L’Wren Scott’s mental state, but you don’t get to run a fashion empire without being a little extraordinary in terms of energy and drive – not to mention talent.
The depression part however is bleak and desolate beyond imagining. I’ve only had 3 breakdowns in my lifetime that were severe enough to be life threatening (from suicide): one about 30 years ago, another 12 years ago and one that started just before the holidays and seems to be lifting now.
This last one might be too fresh to write about, but I’m trying to articulate the experience because it’s not talked about much and it coincides with this very public and sensationalized tragedy, that might be better understood.
I should probably state straight out that I don’t have a psychiatrist or counselor. I’ve had very bad experiences with the profession and I don’t trust it or the people I can afford to avail of in it. (I’ll blog about this at a later date.) When I was diagnosed in 2002, I was put on Lithium, one of the few drugs that can be used for bi-polar disorders. The problem with Lithium is that it can be fatal if taken incorrectly, something the slimy, school appointed shrink who diagnosed me relished in explaining in some detail as he wrote out my prescription. He then made me promise, like an impressionable school girl, not to kill myself by overdosing. It was like handing a loaded gun to Sylvia Plath wrapped in love letter that Ted Hughes wrote to someone else.
This doesn’t mean I ignore the disorder. When I was first diagnosed, it was a relief to know that something was causing the world to flip and spin, and I realized that patience is my biggest ally. I also found early on that exercise works far better than Lithium and the side effects are far more beneficial. When I’m anxious or keyed up, exercise evens me out, and when I’m down, it lifts me up. (Again, more on this in another post.) So part of my personal therapy is getting up every weekday to lead the daily warm ups at the school where I teach. I walk 15 minutes in and back and do a 15 minute physical warm up - even on days when I don’t teach a regular class - because it keeps me even and it also benefits the school and the students. A real win/win.
What I’ve only begun to grasp this week, and particularly in the last few hours, is that there is a very insidious side to this disorder to which I haven’t been paying enough attention. A significant part of many mental illnesses is an inability to appropriately consider the consequences of behaviour and actions. In other words, I take risks most people wouldn’t because I can’t or don’t figure in the consequences. From a rational point of view, I must look stupid at the very least and self obsessed and nihilistic at the very worst.
Usually the risks I take are moral or artistic. I won’t get into the morality issues this go – stay tuned – and the artistic ones have to be taken, it’s part and parcel of working in the arts. I know it’s also part and parcel of working in fashion. (Hell, it’s part and parcel of working in the sciences, too, it’s just that the funding problems in the sciences are different.)
So I’ve begun to wonder if the suicidal trap door allows me to ignore any thoughts of danger or consequences in the plans I make? My fearlessness is another of those traits that some friends and colleagues envy, but they really don’t know the half of it. I usually think, “Well, if things get that bad, I can kill myself.” I never think of how to deal with fallout like a human being. I consider myself above that, stronger than that, and willing to sacrifice my life if that’s the cost.
The issue I am just realizing is that if I am not stable when the consequences occur, I cannot see them or address them rationally and the whole train comes off the rails. So it’s not just a matter of not being able to assess the probability of consequences, it is also a matter of not being able to appropriately address the magnitude of the consequences once they are inevitable and not knowing how to take responsibility for them and rectify them like a productive adult.
So this week, I came very close to killing myself because I can’t afford to pay my rent. If that sounds irrational, the rest is going to sound absurd. As my impending inability to pay rent got closer, I asked for a loan. It even turned out that someone owed me about that amount from decades ago, but in the end I refused the money because I just felt like more of a failure having to ask to be paid back.
Again, if this makes no sense, it’s because everything in my mind gets distorted when I’m in the throws of a depression. The amount of money didn’t matter to me; it was a failure and I was a failure and I didn’t feel anything was worth the effort – especially the effort of being paid back. I was willing to sacrifice my life because it wasn’t worth the cost of getting help.
In reading the worldwide speculation about whether L’Wren had killed herself over money and whether or not she had asked Mick Jaggar for financial help, I felt like my situation was being played out in the rock/fashion world with much more talented and better looking people. I also felt like the press and everyone was focusing on the money rather than on the substance of the issue.
The lack of money or debt represents a failure but it’s not really about the money, whether it’s 5 million or 500 (L’Wren’s apartment was worth 8 million, if it were just about money, she could have absorbed the loss). Failure isn’t quantifiable the way money is. Failure is about quality, and once you lose your sense of quality – value – worth, nothing else matters. And if you take that a step further and feel like you must punish yourself for your failure, then you have a seriously dangerous situation.
Unless her friends are lying, everyone who knew L’Wren, saw her as beautiful, talented and successful, but that probably made no difference to her. Those who don’t agree that you’ve failed just don’t understand the failure, and those who unwittingly compound your feelings of inadequacy, lead you to further depths of despair and hopelessness. None of which is anyone’s fault. Blaming anyone for their mental illness or blaming those around someone with mental illness is like blaming empty pie tins for obesity.
The media does really suck when it comes to covering these kinds of stories. I’m not sure whether they print sensationalized crap because it sells papers or whether the public will only buy sensationalized crap so they have to print it, and while the coverage of Mick Jaggar’s response was jackal-like, it made me realize that suicide causes damage from which loved ones and friends don’t recover.
It’s that thought that stopped me in the end, and while it still feels like I deserve to be punished for failing, I’m not willing to sacrifice the lives of those who care about me or who happen to be in a class I teach for my gnarled sense of absolution. The twisted irony being, that in the end it was the realization of the consequences of my actions on others that stopped me from self annihilation, but had the consequences only been mine, I might have disregarded them all together. The questions I have to address now are: is the trap door gone forever now that I know the consequences go far beyond my own? And what affect, if any, will this have on my ability to assess and take risks?
I would venture a guess that L’Wren Scott couldn’t ask Jaggar for help, or once she did, it made her feel even more inadequate. I would venture to guess that her leaving everything to him was a way of letting him know she had a kind of value or worth that the world recognizes but that she could not feel (pessimistically, this might also be sprinkled with a fair amount of 'fuck you,' but where a person kills themselves and who they intend to find them says a lot more about that). I would even venture to guess that L’Wren might have had an undiagnosed disorder, which can unfortunately reek havoc on our sense of reason and our ability to adequately judge the ramifications of our actions which most often ends up hurting those around us more than it hurts us.