Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Benefits of Cowardice

The other day I wanted to die.

I didn't try to die, mind you, for two reasons: firstly because I am a coward; and secondly because I retained the ability to recognise that my death would affect people other than myself adversely.

But goodness I wanted to. To the point where I felt quite resentful of those people, whose wellbeing I felt responsible for - if it weren't for them my conscience would be much clearer if I could work up the courage to hasten my own demise. Which I probably couldn't, being a coward.

Killing yourself is, of course, illegal: one of those rare crimes that you only get punished for if you fail to commit it. The police can even arrest you if they think you might kill yourself. I found that out when it happened to me, the night they came to my house, threatened to pepper spray me, and took me to hospital in handcuffs.

I think about that night once or twice every day - it's a good way to bring myself back down to earth whenever I start to feel like I might not be a failure. I'm not sure there's any success I could achieve in life that would overwhelm the self-annihilation of that experience. It was a powerful sign of how badly I'd fucked up at life, and my capability for such monumental fuck-ups is something I carry with me, as a caution to not get too cocky.

Now there are people who will say to me, "You're not a failure, you're not a fuck-up, you're not a terrible person". But then they don't know me like I do, do they? It's my fundamental problem with taking advice on mental health from anyone - I know me better than you do, and if I tell you that my depression is, essentially, no more than I deserve, shouldn't I be trusted? You can tell me that my depression is an illness, but I might tell you that it's a perfectly reasonable response to the fact of my own existence, and I've got a lot of fieldwork on my side. And I know this, and I know that no matter how many times someone tells me otherwise, I'll have that knowledge in the back of my mind, and nobody can help me with that; nobody can take that away; and nobody can fully understand it, because nobody can ever fully understand what's going on inside another person. I, like everyone else, am alone.

This is what I have been trying to express: depression is loneliness. Utter, utter loneliness. And if I tweet about it, Facebook post about it, or blog about it, it's all an attempt to find some relief from that loneliness. Which can be found - comfort from other people, affirmations and sympathies help. But not for long. That stuff fades, because you know the only person who knows the whole truth about yourself is you. And you know that when words of comfort have been forgotten, you'll be left to keep company with yourself, and the words of hatred that you keep inside you and that are the only permanent thing you've got.

It's the loneliness that eats you away: not lonely because nobody cares, but lonely because nobody can help, and lonely because you know, deep down, that you don't deserve any help anyway. And lonely because you know that those times you don't feel lonely are just preludes to more loneliness.

And most of all lonely because this flaw, this production error, this mistake in manufacture that crept in when you were made, has done nothing but cause trouble and sadness to the people you care about, and because they'd be better off without you, but if you left you'd just be causing more trouble and sadness. And you can't be fixed, so you can look forward to spreading more trouble and sadness around for many years, until finally, you slink off and die. And as you lived alone, alone you will die.

I am not the only person to think the world would be better off without me in it. There are many of us. And though our friends will deny it, some of us right. And some of us are wrong. Some of us live in unremitting agony, unable to ever shake the obsessive conviction. And some of us swing back and forth, believing in a lighter world with a rightful place for us in it, until inevitably remembering the handcuffs and the slow shuffle out the door as the children watched. Some us are trapped, and after searching their prison desperately for false walls and hidden doors, take the only reasonable way out.

And some of us find ourselves thankful that we are cowards.


FiveFrogsBlog said...

Oh honey. Big hugs. I'm glad you didn't go through with it. I'm sorry you feel so shit. xxxx

Anonymous said...

Ben I'm in awe of your ability to document what is an absolute bitch of a condition. It is cruel in the way it incapacitates us and in the impact it has on those who care.
SO much more needs to be said about the police response. I had cops toting guns turn up, because I had simply mentioned the word.
The response is appalling and is not being talked about in the murky fug of clinical depression.
Perhaps you can give those of us who follow you on twitter a 'word' to recognise when you are heading down so we can know that it's grabbing you again.Not so we can mutter platitudes, but simply so you know there are people out there for you.

Marrra said...

You made me cry. Not because it's a sad story, but because you put into words how I feel every day.

I know there are others out there who feel like I do, and knowing at least two of them (you and my dad) makes me feel awful that you have to endure the same terrible feelings I do. But you are right. Each and every one of us is alone. Because nobody really knows us like we do. And we feel like we deserve it. That we're not worth anything better.

I have attempted suicide, but was stopped before the knife pierced too far into my skin. That was my lowest point. I felt that even those who loved me would be better off without me, that I was causing more harm than good by simply existing. I ended up getting a tattoo on my wrist, of a smiley face and the word LIVE, to hopefully snap me out of it should I ever go for that route again. To remind me, through the fog of blackness, that people really did love me and that I did have things to live for, no matter what my brain told me.

Every day is a struggle. And people don't understand how much. Depression isn't a big thing. People just see you as feeling a bit sad, a bit down. And if they can get over it, you should be able to. Stop being so sorry for yourself and HTFU. If only they knew. But they can't.

... I didn't mean to rant on all this, but once I started, I couldn't stop - like a trickle that started a flood. But I wanted to, I don't know, not thank you for making me cry, or say sorry for the way you feel, but ... I don't know ... be there. For you. For me.


Anonymous said...

It's an awful, clawing, parasitic illness, made more complicated by the fact that not only are the hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness one feels symptoms of the illness, but so are the reluctance to seek treatment, the belief that one doesn't deserve help, and the complete lack of hope that a treatment out there might help.

The police have next to no training in mental health, their role is purely to transport you as safely as possible to hospital - it's fucked but sometimes that's all that stands between "an attempt" and "success".

I don't see a failure to act as cowardice - it looks to me like the tiniest part of you that wants to survive is making itself heard - and I think the benefit of that is it gives you another chance at recovery, and hands back some control to you, rather than leaving all the power with the illness.

Thank you for describing your own experience of depression. I hope you find a way through and see that you, like everyone, is worthy of help, and that help is available.


Unknown said...

Wouldn't it be nice if somebody invented an antidote for depression? I would be first in line.

Sorry you fell so shit right now and hope that the blackness starts to lift for you soon. In my experience, it always does.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for having the courage to speak about this so openly.


Shelly Connors said...

After 13 years of taking medication I still know to expect my depression to rear it's ugly head every couple of years and send my into the lowest of lows which make me want to turn away from everyone who loves and cares about me, I don't want to talk about what I'm feeling, I just don't want to feel. This last time, in June, my husband asked me to see my doctor about something else knowing he would get to my depression. I've had a change of meds and my diagnosis has been changed. I have bipolar 2. Makes sense. I can fly as high as a kite where I feel I am about to lose control. My lows are debilitating. I've had to drop out of uni. It's just too hard to concentrate! I also started seeing a fabulous therapist who has really helped me. I am learning my triggers for both the ups and downs and lots of coping strategies for the anxiety that comes with it. I'm okay at the moment. I have no advice for you Ben because what is right for me may not be right for you, but one thing I will say is be kind to yourself. You have the courage to speak about how you feel so you have the strength to heal. Sending you love xxx

MargaretBeth said...

Each of us is alone on this crowded old planet that hurtles through space around a gigantic ball of fire. Life really is ridiculous, isn't it? It's nice to grab someone's warm hand from time to time so we know we're all alone together.

Depression is vile. I hope you feel better soon.

Laetitia said...

Description alone can make some people not take the 'only possible way out'. The next time I see anyone in need of a little love I'll show them this post, they are not alone.


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Anonymous said...

I just read your satirical article about John Howard and climate change and thought it was inspired, so I came to read some more of your work. I wasn't expecting this blog post at all but I just wanted to thank you for it. Much of what you wrote could have come from my own brain, but I've never heard anyone else say it before. I don't quite know what to say, but thank you for writing about this.

Anonymous said...

Ben, I'm very sorry to hear of your depression. I have to say, if you think you're not worthwhile, then you don't know yourself as well as you think you do.

I don't know whether this will help or not, but after a thirty year struggle with PTSD, from which it seems, I am suddenly recovering (and it looks like completely), the hardest thing I had to learn was that today is just today. That doesn't sound like much and maybe it won't be the same for you, but the most valuable lesson I learned in managing my condition (and it was also the hardest) was not to assign the way I was feeling on a particular day to the rest of my life. It was very difficult not to do that given I couldn't see a way forward so therefore couldn't see how my life could ever be any different, but then bang, along came the breakthroughs and soon there was no stopping my recovery.

I learned that sometimes I just had to say "I'm having a shit of a day, but it's just today. I'm having a shit of a day, and you know what, I'm entitled to." That recognition and acceptance helped me a great deal.

I hope you'll find a way forward too.

With all best wishes.

Mephitis said...

Do you read 'hyperbole and a half' at all?

I have nothing useful to say, because I know you know it all and it means nothing to you right now. But anyway. Most of us have the same feelings at some time or another. You can get through. You have before, you can again. So do it.

Anonymous said...

It is so difficult to write on this subject, and this is fantastically well done. Which makes it extremely valuable.

Sometimes I think depression must be the most interesting phenomenon in the world. Because it is such an amazing success story (albeit the success of something insidious and unspeakably ______). It is so good at what it does to a person, and what it does relates to the value and meaning of life, selfhood, and community. It must be the most interesting phenomenon in the world. Trying to talk about depression is like trying to talk about great art. Which is why, I s'pose, it is so easy to romanticise, and also so easy to misunderstand if you haven't directly experienced it. And to come full circle, that's why this is such amazing writing, Ben, and so valuable. Thankyou, and long live cowardice.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you are a coward, Ben. The place is better for you being in it.

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Jewel said...

Thank you for the courage you showed to speak about this so deeply and openly!


Anonymous said...

Ben, thank you. I always come to your blog. I know it'll either make me laugh (you clever, clever man) or put the shit that I feel into perfectly articulated prose. Either way, it's wonderful.
But I wish you felt better more often. There's no way you're as awful as you think.

Doug Quixote said...

I've been there done that Pobjie.

Severely depressed for about a decade after the deaths of my mother, father, uncles aunts and best friends, all within a few short years.

I lost the decade from 1999 until 2009 or so.

I have come through it, you can too.

Life is an endurance test.

Personally I find it hard to imagine a world without me in it. Though I suppose it may continue to exist :)

Just get on with living, one day at a time.

Erin Marie said...

I am identifying with this post very strongly today.

Thank you for always being honest with the world.

Anonymous said...

What are you Ben? Some black hole for depressives? Shore if everyone is taking the piss, but I would have thought they would have takin it seriously. Seriously I lost interest half way through, I know I am taking meds, the size of rice, how the hell do they make any difference. I hope I make you feel bad. The robot said to kill yourself, bye

Anonymous said...

Here's a poem

The Benefits of Cowardice

I'm a coward when I dream
That the devil is at my window
Change sides
Breathing hole in my blankets when I sleep

I'm a coward
When my mum gets ditched
By my "Dad"
I say "What About Me?"

I'm a coward when I razzed
By the bully I just beat
In front of a crowd

The Benefits of Cowardice
You never know
What a Coward will do?