I don’t take my coffee black. The taste reminds me of cigarettes. Any coffee, actually, has me patting down a nonexistent shirt or coat pocket for an imaginary pack. I always laugh inwardly, reminding myself that I was never much of a smoker. A few cigarettes here and there in high school, but that all ended when I turned eighteen and smoking became less cool. What’s the fun of doing something when you’re allowed?
The light caramel-colored liquid before me is something like coffee. Its steam dances before my eyes, tying and unknotting itself in tranquil hypnosis. Music by some indie band no one’s ever heard of pours silently from the speakers overhead.
I bring the cup to my lips, sucking in the heat. I’m overtly cautious about taking the first sip. I always burn my tongue.
“So how would you do it?” asks my cohort. I almost forget he’s there.
We’re on the subject again. We talk about it quite a bit. And I pour over the list: Hemingway made of mess of himself with a gun; so did Kurt Cobain and Hunter S. Thompson. Virginia Woolf lined her coat pockets with rocks and waded into the River Ouse. Sylvia Plath incubated herself within the oven. I don’t like the thought of making a mess. And Old Conrad said it best, “Let them think what they like, but I didn’t mean to drown myself. I meant to swim till I sank—but that’s not the same thing.”
There isn’t an easy answer here. Both of us know that. A couple of nights before, I thought of hanging myself using my bed sheet. In 2008, I thought asphyxiation by plastic bag was a nice way to go. But I am from the water, and water is where I’ll return to.
It sickening to think that we live in a nation where most mental health issues are quickly written off as a cry for attention. We find ourselves in an era lacking empathy. Children are bullied until they crack. Adults suffering from depression are told to suck it up. Girlfriends and ex-girlfriends and best friends and family all have the same response for the issue, “There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s all in your head.”
It’s all in our heads until we’re dead, anyway. That’s the sum of things, isn’t it? The problem doesn’t exist until we’re huddled in the corner feeling isolated and alone and—regretfully?—take our own lives. And then we run the risk of being called a coward.
“Everyone has problems,” one person tells me. This belittles the depressed. It echoes that we’re somehow selfish. “I have problems, I don’t try to kill myself. People who kill themselves just leave the mess for someone else to deal with. They can’t have my sympathy.”
Sympathy for the decease is unnecessary. It’s always for the family. Calling someone they loved a coward is just, well, makes you less of a human being. You lack empathy. You can’t place yourself in their shoes. They’ve lost someone who meant the world to them in the one of the most tragic ways impossible, and you take it upon yourself to belittle that tragedy as an act of cowardice.
Depression isn’t selfish. Suicide isn’t cowardly. Your opinion is just a stain on this society. If you actually read something other than memes, you’d understand what goes on in the mind of someone who suffers it. Just because you’ve been sad sometimes, doesn’t mean you’re depressed. Just because the weight and worry of having to make your next car payment or mortgage, doesn’t mean you’re on par with those who find waking up in the morning a chore.
It’s not something you get over. And it’s not something that you can control. You can’t just “rewire” your mind or think happy thoughts and it goes away. It’s an illness. A cancer of the mind that spreads throughout your being. It pollutes your thoughts. All the love you receive from others, it doesn’t even register. You have no right to force your damn opinion on the matter if you’ve never stood on that hill, watching the electrical storm moving your way, and not being able to run for cover. Because that’s what it’s like for me. And when it hits, it’s crippling.
I take a drink from the cup. It’s cooler now. The sugar’s settle at the bottom and the coffee is bitter. My hand reaches for my breast pocket and a chuckle.
“Well,” I say, “how would you do it.”
And the Voice looks me in the eye. It’s a personification of every fear, every doubt and anxiety, every moment when I look at the mirror and don’t recognize the face looking back me. It’s the Voice that reminds me of how worthless I am during those dark hours of my life. It’s the Voice that nudges my shoulder and tells me that maybe it’s time to stop fighting. It’s a battle I’ve fought for years now. My forever adversary. My burden to carry. And maybe one day I’ll lose the war.
But to call me cowardly? Well, fuck you.