“This world can take everything from us,
can forbid us everything,
but no one has the power to keep us from wiping ourselves out.” – Emil Cioran (eternal pessimist, died a recluse- “suicide by wasting?”)
“Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker.” (Friedrich Nietzsche- suffered a mental breakdown at aged 44, among other things, from which he never recovered.)
I often wonder if I carry a responsibility to be more open about the truths of mental illness. Or, rather, open at all. Or rather, admit that it even exists…. within myself. I started a silly blog once. I intended it to be anonymous for this very purpose. It didn’t turn out that way and evolved into the silly blatherings of a woman who thought there was purpose in owning an identity given her at such a young age, medicated for it, and came out the other end. It backfired tremendously. Talking about it in such a frank manner only made it a gaudy, ornamental elephant in the room- a dramatization of who I really was. The words just poured out of me and turned me into something I wasn’t- an overly dramatic banshee of verbose poetry and flash fiction. There was one thing- or person- or friend- perhaps beautiful muse- that did come from it, which I do not regret. Yet, for the most part, it was ridiculous blather.
This past Tuesday, my cousin’s wife committed suicide. After he failed to reach her on the telephone, he came home to find her in her bathtub. She’d put a .45 to her temple after fully stocking the kitchen with groceries, tenderly making their bed upon which she splayed her favorite hoodie, and left steady-handed, carefully-worded letters to her husband and a few friends.
She was part of our family for seven years, and in those seven years, she was never a woman known to be given to mental illness, despair, disillusionment, or inescapable sadness, not even to her husband. This was not a marriage in trouble. Quite the opposite. These two humans, my cousin and his wife, did everything together. They enjoyed all the same interests. They laughed together. Constantly. They fished together. All the time. They took precious Facebook photos together. She had a huge social network of friends who adored her, including her husband and my mother. She was a country girl, no doubt. She loved getting dirty, catching gaters, and running her and her husband’s fishing and boating business likaboss. Her unflappable greeting each time my mother answered one of her phone calls was “Hi, Aunt Jeanne. It’s your favorite niece-in-law!”
On reflection, the only hint my cousin could conjure was her more frequent mentions of how tired she was. In the stoic and methodical letters she left to him, it became clear that her fatigue was emotional and not physical.
Yet, everyone within miles of her realm of influence had absolutely. zero. clue. Not a single soul, many with whom she spoke on a daily basis, was anything but completely and utterly shocked.
But I know how she engineered that. I know exactly how she did it, and exactly how it made her feel.
It’s simply a false vacuum of reality painstakingly, and often subconsciously, constructed over time. It is a mask of normality patched together in the image of all the social norms perceived in the life swirling just outside of one’s reach. Its construct is based on shame, guilt, worthlessness, emotional exhaustion, and a darkness to which the soul can travel that few humans can ever conceive. This is not a place one finds themselves upon waking overnight. It’s a long journey into that abyss, one in which the scenery never changes but your perception of it warps in darwinian time until there comes a day when all you see and hear around you is acutely not what others see and hear.
That is where a road in the mind forks. One person, such as myself, living in this same intolerable vacuum, will scream aloud for someone, anyone, to puncture that bubble because although that journey and that mask took years to create, I realize how false and fragile it is, and how quickly it can be dissolved by merely shedding my mask before one whose feet are firmly planted where my toes no longer reach. Another person, such as Amanda, cannot see the bubble but only what the peepholes of her mask show her. Her perception has become irrevocably real, her mask flesh, and to even the soundest mind, there is no escape from flesh but through the destruction of life.
How can one person see the bubble and the other cannot? How can one person see the fork in the road and another sees only a straight path on a dead-end road? How can one be so loved, so surrounded by those who’d hold her hand in an all-night vigil as she sheds that mask, no matter the screams or chunks of farce that must be bleached away, yet not see any hands at all?
It seems to me that, in 2016, with all the attention paid to ending the stigma of mental illness, the fact that anyone can define that kind of stoicism- the mask of zen hiding a gauche perversion of the psyche- as a personality strength is confusing and antithetical. The failure to have the courage to reach out, to anyone, is a weakness. A terrible, tragic, and selfish weakness.
And that brings me back to my original perplexion. Do I have a responsibility to be vocal about mental illness? Do I have a responsibility to talk about how I have learned to live alongside it, maneuver around it, find courage and strength in knowing I need help rather than creating a false reality of strength in the lie of normality?
Only five people on the whole of this planet know who, or what, I truly am. I am not something I talk about in casual conversation. Diagnoses of the mental sort are not something I talk about. I am not even sure I believe in them. But I do believe in dark places. I do believe in that mask of zen and the vacuum of false realities. I’ve worn that mask, and I’ve found myself locked in that vacuum. But I also believe that no one has the right to allow someone to love them, emotionally invest in them, rely on them, lean on them, cry with them, laugh with them, plan their lives around them, and then violently and purposefully rip themselves away from the world.
There are no do-overs. There is no absolution. This person has not only taken themselves away, but taken away the options of all those in their sphere of influence. They have irreparably, and without permission, changed the course of the lives of dozens, or hundreds, of people. They have damned them to a life of questions never answered, pleadings never heard, guilt never assuaged, anger without a target, screams without a receptive ear, inextricable violent memories- the permanent intricacies of the scars of the most selfish damage a human being can levy upon another.
I’ve admitted to at least one, or all, of those five people who know the me behind the mask that suicide has never been a thing that has crossed my mind, not even in my darkest of moments. I’ve joked that I am far too narcissistic to think the world could possibly be better off without me.
The truth is that I feel a responsibility to whatever chaos patched my organic subatomic particles into a living being, a responsibility such that as long as there is air within my lungs, I must breathe it. Whatever may come. However laboured that next breath may be. However painful that next inhale and exhale, as long as my lungs expand and contract with that beautifully perfect mixture of nitrogen and oxygen, I must allow them to expand and contract.
The stardust that congealed the chaos which became me is still within me. Who am I to scatter it to the aether, only for it to congeal into some other being, perhaps far more frightening and damning than I could ever be?
I have no right.
No one does.
Nietzsche also said
“I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.
Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.
‘What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?’ thus asks the last man, and blinks.
The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea; the last man lives longest.”
I am not the last man, and I am surely not the overman. I am merely a flea among fleas, with a responsibility to take every breath required of me, even when accepting my own fate, over the bridge, toward the Übermensch I may never become, but have no right to deny myself, but more importantly, to deny anyone else.
Narcissism or self-deprecation?
Perhaps both, or neither, depending upon one’s impoverished understanding of Zarathustra. And fleas.
I know that I cannot create a caricature of myself for the benefit of others to define mental illness or to navigate the labyrinth of the darkest corners of the mind. I cannot lead anyone by the hand through that maze. I cannot stop those whose mask of sanity has fused to their flesh so tightly that the only way they can free themselves is to crumble back to stardust, the velocity of their final wisp of existence and the violence of their self-destruction measured in Planck time.
I can only take responsibility for my breaths, for those who are bathed in them and those whose breaths search for my body in turn. I can only think of human things, wonderful and awful human things, like unsated passion, the desire for a flicker of life in eyes looking into mine, my desire for them equaling their desire for me.
I can only take responsibility for the lives I brought into this world, the men who look to me as the woman who will define all other women in their lives. It’s a yardstick any mother would be a coward to shatter.
I am no coward.
But I am also no savior.
I cannot take responsibility for those who do not want to be saved. I can only look into the stars on this Blue Moon and think of eternal recurrence, all that which is repulsive, but also all that is divine.