Contributing Writer Rich Smith..
My name is Rich Smith. At the age of 12 I found my 15 year old brother dead from suicide. At age 18 I was hospitalized and diagnosed with PTSD by my social worker and was told that I may be either schizophrenic or bipolar by the attending psychiatrist. At age 26 I was hospitalized for a third time as a result of a manic episode, diagnosed with Bipolar I. There have been many times throughout my 20’s where I've heavily contemplated suicide. Three different times I had actually attempted, each time getting closer to real results. All the pain and struggle that was endured during all these years, has brought me to where I am today.
The best way I can describe my perception when I am suicidal is this analogy of a very narrow view with no peripheral of hope. Call it tunnel vision. What this is, is a singular focus on the most negative thoughts and emotions that are stuck on my past disappointments, present sufferings, and a hopeless future. This wretched black hole sucks me into a frame of mind that simply isn’t capable of generating optimism, containing this selective listening that feeds on its own pitiful downward spiral. The only way to pull myself out is through a trapdoor of insight that’s covered by so much overgrowth that it might as well be undetected. The worse the current situation, the thicker the overgrowth shrouding that peripheral of hope.
I should note that I never just suddenly decide I’d like to end my life on a groundless whim, as I’m sure that is simply not how it typically works. It’s always built up over time from life not working out, especially when prolonged heavy depression sets in. I’ve found that the heavier I drink and don’t take care of myself, the heavier that depression sinks. These are the worse case scenarios leading to my most vulnerable states, susceptible to clouded judgment and feelings of worthlessness.
Every now and then when I scan back over my journal entries that I’ve written over the years, I often see a couple common themes revolved around my drinking and drug use that I had been recording. I notice multiple entries having to do with how low I’ve felt, often with great regret, the next day or two after I went hard with drinking or getting into cocaine. I found at these times, also during the times of actual drinking and getting high, are when I become most suicidal. Over time the simple math behind the reason of this, had become more obvious. When I have trouble coping with difﬁculties in my life, I had always found drinking to temporarily comfort me and numb that pain. I’ve been told this is a “poor coping skill”. Over time I’d eventually ﬁnd myself even lower than I had initially felt with my struggles. At that point, those struggles had only accumulated, seeing as how they were masked and never taken care of properly. Overwhelmed, I’d eventually feel defeated and would become inexplicably incapable of daily tasks such as showering or doing laundry. I didn’t need to be drinking for months in order to encounter this type of behavior during a depressive episode. However, the drinking did certainly accelerate frequent lethargy. During these times the quality of my life had been deteriorating without my own awareness or consent. The lack of awareness as to how I got to this point was never as clear to me in that moment, as an outsider might suspect it would be. As we often come to ﬁnd, awareness certainly is the ﬁrst step toward any needed change. During times where you are too close to something of signiﬁcant hindrance in your life, you’re quote, unquote “in-it”. You’re conﬁned to that tunnel vision of a narrow perceived reality that’s incapable of seeing any light at the end of the tunnel.
The ﬁrst time that made me decide to quite drinking, for an extended period of time, was due to the chance of losing a very close friend. I am so lucky to have met such a friend who is so caring. She straight up told me she could no longer be my friend if I were to continue drinking. At that time I was also abusing pills alongside the alcohol, which made everything that much worse. I’m sure she didn’t like the person I was while I was inebriated. Not to mention how irresponsible I was with our friendship. She also couldn’t bear to see what I was doing to my life. At that time I couldn’t stand the thought of losing such a great friend. I also realized in that moment how far low I had sunk. This was a wakeup call. An action had to be taken. I now know she took a chance on losing me as a friend, in the plausibility of gaining a better me. She did this because she believed in me. She knew I was very smart and capable of so much more for myself. Just as most people are, when they’re without the insecurities brought on by shame in making poor life decisions.
We will never know exactly the pain others endure, and in that we are all alone. However in this case, in sharing with her my life story at some point early in our friendship, she was able to ﬁnd the right words and actions to ﬁnd a way into my heart, where I could resonate with any merit to life’s worth. I quit drinking for 5 months at that time. With a much less clouded vision, I began to see the light.
The second time I quit drinking was for a similar reason as the ﬁrst, along with the fact that all aspects of my life were revolved around that same line of action. This time, once I decided the dependency and comfort seeking just weren’t worth going back into that place of despair, I made a conscious decision to quit for myself and no one else. This time was notably much different than the ﬁrst. No one had suggested quitting to me. It wasn’t one particular topic that made me choose to quit. It was this great abundant intuitive feeling of being ready. I’m not sure where this random readiness came from. Whether it was from just being sick of the highs and lows that came with my drinking over the years, or maybe I had ﬁnally reached a level of maturity. The reason simply didn’t matter. It was just time. I was unknowingly determined. This has been so much easier than the last time. I personally believe the fact that I was now ready, is the single reason alone for this to not be so difficult as before.
The simple notion, for myself, is when life is good and I’m feeling good about it, I don’t have suicidal tendencies or desires to escape my cruel reality. It’s certainly inevitable for not only people with mental illness to also get depressed. If people without severe mental health concerns get through their own personal battles of depression through strenuous perseverance, coming out on top stronger and braver for had doing so, imagine the capabilities & potential someone with Bipolar or Schizophrenic hold, for example. Call it bitter sweet or just plain bitter. It’s all pertinent to one’s perception which is completely within their own control, but maybe just over time. I’m just a ﬁrm believer that you, and you alone, have to be ready and aware, for that perception to take place. The perception that works best for you, and is sustainable. To feel trapped in your own skin, alone, and with no feelings of control over your life, must be one of the most helpless experiences to encounter. So bad that one feels the only option is opting out. What if we could opt out of the entire feeling of despair, but without giving up? What if we could simply opt out of feeling the need to try so damn hard every single day to remain stronger in every possible way?
Once during an extremely depressed episode, another dear friend of mine who also knows my life story, once asked me, “What’s the worst that can happen? …”. Well, as I was gearing up to reply with a laundry list of dreadful possible outcomes that seem far worse than even death, I thought what audacity for them to ask such a question? So I challenged this and answered with; ‘relapsing another manic episode driving me to the psychiatric center - for god who knows how long this time, a ﬁnancial crisis, deteriorating relationships I may depend on for emotional support, amongst becoming so depressed I can’t take life anymore and I end up killing myself.’ To her reply, “Is that, all?” she asked as she stared me straight in the eye with a serious expression on her face. I was taken back and no where near ready for that response. During the next thirty seconds or so as I stared down at the ﬂoor marinating on her question, oddly enough I captured a glimpse into what seemed like an enlightened way of reasoning, in retrospect. It opened my eyes to the fact that I have already suffered so much, that it begged to question, 'what can’t I handle anymore?’ This entire conversation had seemed to wipe away all of my worst fears. I actually became at ease. Furthermore, since then, at times I’ve been able to tap into this attitude of “why not make the best of this life, while I’m here. See what I care.” Because for whatever reason we’re here and we suffer, life is still impermanent.
And in that we win.
SWIFT RIDE is a 4,000+ mile bicycle ride across the USA to raise funds and awareness for mental health and suicide prevention. May 2019.