Snapshots of My Depression #5: The Poem in the Wallet

A big part of my depression has always involved a feeling that I was hurting others, that I was thoughtless, self-centered, and incapable of changing. There were many times, particularly in high school, that I felt this so strongly that I had suicidal ideation. I remember thinking that that made me a unique sort of suicide. In my mind, I wasn’t considering ending my life for the “normal” reason, but for this more noble reason. I thought that the “normal” reason for attempting suicide was because you didn’t feel you could handle life anymore. It was a way to cope with extreme sorrow or extreme pain. But my suicide thoughts were higher than that…mine were more about helping the world escape me. I thought it was a noble sacrifice. Of course, as I’ve come to understand, my suicidal thoughts weren’t about that at all. They were exactly the same as what I identified as “normal” suicidal thoughts. They were all about escaping pain. I felt great pain inside when I thought I had hurt others. I felt great pain inside when I thought I should have known better. I felt such pain that I couldn’t see any escape from that pain, and the best way to cope would be to run away from it so far that I would be dead.

The website (the first result on a Google search for suicide, and what other credential does it need, really?) says this: “Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.” I believe that’s true. People who say that suicide victims are selfish have no idea what it’s like. Yes, some people can be equally sad, depressed, and despairing, and never attempt suicide. But those people likely had a different set of coping resources. It’s not selfish, it’s not a lack of faith; it’s simple math. If Pain > Resources, then Suicide > Life.

But I was talking about high school. There were still many years until I’d understand that. Just as there was no world wide web yet, and no yet, neither did I have the coping resources then that I have now. Back in high school, it went more like this:

What is the point of living
If your life is spent
Ruining the lives of others?
Would it not be a
Far, far better thing
If you were dead?
Oh, some may feel pain at the loss
But would that pain not pale in comparison
To the pain your continued life
Would continue to inflict
On still others?
Perhaps the answer is to change
But change is not always possible
We can not change our very being
We are what we are.
But in those brief moments of enlightenment
When we are permitted to see ourselves
We are not always satisfied.
If we realize that the change can not come
Because the brief moments are so brief
And the enlightenment never lasts
Never lasts long enough to change,
When these moments occur
Should we not take immediate action
Before the enlightenment is gone?
Change may be better than death
But is not death better than stagnation?
                                            MJS 3/29/93

I was a senior in high school. I wrote that poem on a sheet of looseleaf, and carried it in my wallet, as a reminder. I wrote it during a moment of “enlightenment.” Moments of enlightenment were the moments when I hated myself, and I called them “enlightenment” because in those moments, I felt a clarity so different from the confusion of my everyday life. In that clarity, it was so obvious to me that I was broken. That I was wrong. That I was, on balance, doing more evil than good. And I carried this poem with me as a reminder of that. A reminder to my everyday self that I knew better. But moreso, a reminder to myself during the next moment of enlightenment, as encouragement to have the courage to follow through with a suicide plan. Because I was always so scared of committing suicide. I could never slit my wrists, because I was too scared of pain. I could never sit in my parents’ garage with the cars running, because I was too scared that I would be found there before it was complete. I thought this poem might just help me gain the courage to knew what I believed was right.

I still have the original looseleaf page with this poem on it. I found it tonight in a closet, tucked in a folder marked “Miscellaneous.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever shared it with anyone before. Maybe one or two people, but certainly not many. Reading it now, I’m surprised at how well it’s written. I’m surprised at the Tale of Two Cities reference in it, although I do recall reading that book in 12th grade English. I’m surprised at how subtle and calm it is. There’s a recognition that people would miss me, that my death would be mourned, but an argument that that pain is less than the pain my continued existence would cause. I’m surprised at how suicide really seems to him to be a rational last resort, a resort to be taken because nothing else seems to work. I’m also surprised to find that these exact same thoughts still sit comfortably on their throne in my mind. They are still there, and I believe they will never leave me. But now Resources > Pain, and I can withstand them better. Suicide is no longer on the horizon for me, but the Voice has never changed.

4 thoughts on “Snapshots of My Depression #5: The Poem in the Wallet

  1. you said you realized you were broken…I think we are all broken. Some maybe more than others, some in different ways. We all handle being broken in different ways. But I keep in mind something I read that said long ago people used everything they could because they had so little. They even used the broken pieces of clay pots. Everything was important to them, even if it was broken. You always tell us God loves us and He uses us in many ways. We are important to Him even though we are broken. We just have to keep reminding ourselves of that when we are feeling broken beyond repair.
    Maybe we should think of His love as the glue to help mend us. 🙂


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