• Tom

The People You'd Leave Behind

I have this theory that most people are full of shit on the internet. That includes me. Life is easier when we only share our protected selves. There’s clenched fear in being honest. With that said, the only place I am confident and fearless is in my writing. That’s not a brag – that’s the definition of latency. So here goes.

I have another theory, too. We don’t talk enough about what Churchill called “The black dog.”

Mental health. Depression. Suicide.

Yeah, unpleasant, isn’t it?

I have struggled with bipolar disorder and clinical depression for more than a decade. Some days the Wheaties don’t go down right. Some days the world goes completely black. Even with the meds. Even with years of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Even with an unquenching thirst for the big answers to life. Even with a daily push for positivity. Every goddamn morning, I wake to fight the black dog in my bedroom. I punch above my weight. So far, I’m winning.

This leads me to Meri.

I met her at group therapy. She was an artist and a writer. We became friends and went to poetry and spoken word events at the Mercury Café in downtown Denver. She always noted the level of intensity I brought to public speaking. We even co-wrote a few poems. Meri, like me, had some serious suffering under her belt. She first tried to take her life at 15. Last year, she succeeded.

November 6, 2020. She texted me the night before. As is common with suicide, I never saw it coming. I’ve been sitting with this innate need to champion her all too short life. Frankly, I still don’t know how to do it properly, but maybe this LinkedIn post will help others who struggle in silence.

Moments like these, what Jacques Derrida termed “The unexpected arrival of the other,” are a swift kick to the face – awakening me to the realization that our little routines are a paltry fortress against the simple fact that life is chaos.

Empathy is inevitable when you see yourself in the other. I saw myself in Meri. Perhaps too much. I hope she’s in a better place, free of pain. Happy.

If there’s one thing I want to make clear, it’s that there’s no shame in speaking up. People love you as you are. You are not alone. I know this for a fact when I experienced a massive outpouring of support from friends in November of 2018. They saw in me what I couldn’t. I’m getting there now.

Please take care of yourself. Mental health is health. Period. If you’re a man, bury the stigma and be as brave as you can be. Do it for others who struggle. Be your own advocate. Do it for the people you’d leave behind.

It’s worth it.

Even when those Wheaties aren’t going down right.

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Bus terminal. Greying hair as thick as straw, You shave in the sink Before you fall black and down On the cold-smeared-shit tiling of the Greyhound bathroom. There is no life before Fent, she said. He