February 1974: It happened so fast. Looking back on it now, I suppose I should have seen it coming, but I didn't. That's what happens when you don't know your own mind as well as you should and it only took a moment to make a bad decision.
It was late on a frigid winter night when I dropped my girlfriend off and started the drive back home. I was driving down a long, wide, tree lined boulevard and it was during one of those times when I was in the depths of a deep and dark depression. I couldn't really point to an exact reason why. It's just something that happens from time to time, and it was on that street, at that very moment, that I was moved to act.
I punched the accelerator to the floor, and spun the steering wheel to the left, taking aim at a clump of oak trees that were just down the road a bit. The car lunged forward as the rear wheels dug in for traction. However, just before impact, the car hit a patch of ice and began to slide sideways. The loss of both traction and control scrubbed off speed and made me miss my intended target. Instead, I slid past, just missing it, hit a glancing blow off a snow bank, and slammed into a tree just beyond where I had been aiming.
I just sat there for a while, bleeding from the nose and forehead, staring through the shattered windshield, at the smashed frond end of my car, with the steam billowing out and curling up into the night sky. It took a little while to come to the realization of what had just happened and I remembered my shock at how I could have done such an impulsive thing on a whim. Naturally, I made up a bullshit excuse of how I “lost control” of the car because I didn't want anyone to know that I had tried to do myself in and even worse, failed miserably in the attempt. In time, my private humiliation passed and I put the thing behind me, rarely thinking about it anymore.
It was the tragic and untimely death of Robin Williams that got me to thinking about it again. While no one will ever know what was going through his mind in those last few moments of life, I can understand how such a thing can happen.
Depression is about feeling isolated and hopeless, but it does not necessarily mean that you feel unloved, alone, or unwanted. You can be in a room full of loving friends and family yet, when the fog of depression falls like an impenetrable shroud, you can no longer see them. Depression is a deceptive thing that has you believing things that simply are not so. It also brings into sharp focus all of the hurts and failures of the past and catastrophizes the future, while leaving the present as just another long day that must be plodded through on the road to nowhere. Depression can feed on itself, resulting in a downward spiral that will leave life dangling by the delicate thread known as the human survival instinct.
That's when it happens. Something (and it could be anything from a bad medical diagnosis to a relatively minor frustration) comes along and finally snaps that last thread. Everything that has happened in the past leads up to that final moment, when the cool quiet of oblivion seems preferable to being alive. It's that moment when isolation and hopelessness have overcome the will to survive and the rope is stretched, the wheel is turned, the trigger is pulled. It could be a completely spontaneous act, done in the heat of the moment, because the consequences no longer matter. It brings to mind the words of a Lyle Lovett song:
"You can make just one mistake,
And it can take you to your grave, honey
One bad move can turn your world upside down It's such a shame 'cause you've been so good up to now"
I *HAVE* been good since that one time so long ago, but still have to fight the impulse more than I'd like to admit to myself. Fortunately, I know my mind a lot better than I did back then but still, when I read about the suicide of one so prominent, I am reminded of how vulnerable I am and that I need to carefully guard my own mind. Someone reading this may read it and simply not be able to understand how such things can happen. That's OK because I really don't understand it myself.