I refuse to reference the actual incident here since I found out yesterday that the NY Daily News sent its writers a memo on keeping their SEO Marketing in mind by using buzzy words. So I will choose my words carefully regarding the passing off a certain well-known individual this week, because this piece, like everything I write, isn’t crafted for hits.
This is my gut check.
If you want good storytelling, I will refer you to a certain David Simon’s piece on the man – not any kind of sweeping tome trying to make sense of things that defy such folly, but an illuminating human story of a brief encounter.
Less-than-ideal brain chemistry has messed with my life but I’ve seen more extreme forms of mental illness devastate the lives of people around me. It’s a real thing like I know diabetes is a real thing. Not everyone agrees with me for, I think, two reasons. First, there is a lack of objective measurement (MRI, blood test, EKG). Any screening test a patient takes for something like depression is self-reported and not all that simpatico in terms of the scientific method. In our age of reason, we tend to believe that things not measurable are not worth attention. Or real.
Second, our American identity is intricately bound to the myth of the self-made man. We control our own destinies and anything can be overcome with a strong will and a bit of elbow grease. So what we call mental illness is actually just a sign of a weak mind. To fix it, we have to strengthen the mind; things like therapy and pharmaceuticals are crutches. This perception is not helped by what I believe is the backlash to this Marlboro Man attitude, the huge, irritating, and squishy self-help market.
It’s no wonder people avoid seeking treatment. It’s no wonder we speak of stigma.
But while I know all this is true, I get slightly more than angry when I hear of someone taking his or her own life.
I think of people I’ve known who would have done, and did, anything to stay alive. Most especially I think of Ashley as we approach the anniversary of her death. I sat with her in the chemo room. I saw her almost every time I was at the oncologists’ office, even once I graduated from once every three weeks to once a month;from once a month to once every three months. Whenever I was there, I stopped in to look for her and usually she was there, icing her port, hanging out with her mom and sister, networking, teaching the nurses the proper way to organize coupons. She always greeted me with a strong hug and reminded me that she’s needed to beat this disease in order to stay around to raise her kids. She traveled the country seeking treatment options, explored alternative therapies, befriended people on the fringe, and underwent years of chemotherapy. She would have kept doing it too, if her body hadn’t given out.
I know it’s not fair to compare. Not even apples and oranges – apples and bricks. Maybe cockroaches and rats would be more apt.
Still, knowing better, I get angry at people who cash out.
I can’t get totally past believing they are selfish. So you’ll pardon me, I hope, if I refrain from posting memes celebrating the life of a man who was undeniably a great artist. I won’t say RIP or make trite comments about finding the elusive peace.
My thoughts are with those he left in his wake — No, not the impersonal, voyeuristic, warped grief of celebrity-obsessed people; the people who actually knew him, loved him, spent holidays with him, broke bread with him.
They have to put shattered lives back together, just like Ashley’s husband, kids, parents, friends did. And do.
Meanwhile, I’ll be over here in my hypocritical little corner, trying to live up to my lofty language.