Calling Out Me

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 marlboro_manour 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.

8 thoughts on “Calling Out Me”

      1. me either, just that in my mind, it was different…no worries, I just have been in the mental health field for 30 years now, and realize it is brain chemistry. I appreciate your take on it, but don’t feel that any part of a chronic disease or its manifestations are selfish 🙂 That is the old psychologist in me

  1. You know, I had suicidal tendencies when I was a teen and that was because of my environment at home. I really can’t go into the details because most would consider me crazy or having a “mental illness” and I do agree with you–suicide is one of the most selfish acts anyone can commit. Since his name will remain nameless (out of respect for you) I will say my heart sank when I found out he died. When I found out the cause my heart sank even deeper. What was he going through to make himself do that? It can’t be just drug and alcohol addiction, it’s much deeper than that.

    Also I have to say that people are getting Mental Illness and Emotional Disorder mixed up. I would assume that this man suffered from Emotional Disorder rather than a Mental one. Drinking alcohol and freebasing/shooting/snorting/popping dope goes much deeper than some mental breakdown, this malady touched the very Soul. All that stuff is is a replacement for that void within them that needs filling, much like gamblers and materialistic people.

    So I would have to ask–did he suffer from a Mental or Emotional Disorder, or a combination of both?

  2. Unfortunately I have had four family members successfully commit suicide in my lifetime–two of my mother’s family and two of my husband’s. My mother lived with depression/anxiety most of her life. She attempted several times to die by starvation which she confessed to me much later in her life. She felt it would appear like natural causes and not be a stigma on the family. But of course each time she got “sick” a hospital stay would pump her back up with fluids. Ultimately in the end at 74, I think she carried out this intention.

    My mom, aunt, uncle, father-in-law and step father-in-law did not drink alcohol or have a drug problem. They all suffered deep depression for various reasons that took them to the deepest low that they couldn’t find their way out.

    Were they selfish? Were they emotionally or mentally disturbed? Does it matter? They were hurting and my heart aches for them. It wasn’t about me or their families.

    1. Linda, thank you so much for sharing this. Does it matter??? — I think you are right. Here I will liken it to cancer (not that it’s the same thing). What’s the point in being able to detect it/or precisely name it if we don’t have any way to cure it?

      And, by the way, in case I wasn’t clear enough — I am not advocating for the labeling of anything as selfish or not. I’m just delving into my own mind on the issue, deliberately avoiding judgement of myself as right or wrong/a saint or an ass. This is an exploration.


  3. Well, it is a clinical diagnosis….but whatever it is called, it is a chronic disease which has a symptom convincing the person that the world we be better off without them, and that the only way to stop the pain for everyone is to take their lives. Same as paranoid schizophrenics believe, (wrongly but as a symptom of the disease) people are out to poison them, or they need to kill someone. Katie, I appreciate your take on it for you personally, I really do. It does seem selfish to those left behind, or to take your life when others would give anything to have theirs. But I think when you look at intent, or what drives it, most often it comes from a place of wanting the pain to end, and the family to be better off without them. It is not a logical thought process…because it is a disease, and it is chronic and cyclical…and has haunting symptoms.

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