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As you might imagine, I got a few letters about my recent column about suicide. Actually, it was a lot of letters. For days. I read them. No matter how angry or instructive, I appreciate them all because they were written with complete sincerity, even if some had only two words, the second being “you.”
After reading carefully and responding as best I could, it was obvious that I had some work to do in order to educate myself further on this very complex and painful issue. I am quite thick-headed, but not so much that things don’t occasionally permeate.
In the piece, I said there are some things I obviously don’t get. So I would like to thank you for taking the time to let me know where you’re coming from. None of it was lost upon me.
I cannot defend the views I expressed. I think that would be taking an easy out. I put them out there plainly and must suffer the slings and arrows — fair enough. I won’t attempt to dodge them. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t be taught a thing or two. I have no love for a fixed position on most things. I am always eager to learn something. I promise that I will dig in and educate myself on this and do my best to evolve. Again, thank you.
In the short amount of space afforded here, hear me out. Like a lot of people, I have battled depression all my life. It’s nothing special, in that it’s too common to be considered unique. This state has made me have to do things in a certain way to remain operational. There have been some truly awful stretches, as I am sure there have been for anyone who deals with depression, that have at times rendered me almost paralytic. Hours pass and I slow-cook on a cold spit. I have likened it to being a peach in a can of syrup yet fully conscious. In an attempt to keep moving along, I must stay in the immediate present tense, acutely aware of everything happening, like driving a car on a highway. If I conclude that I am not citizen grade, I do my best to avoid people so I do not act unpleasantly. No one deserves it. This has kept me in hotel rooms, my kitchen and the corners of gyms. When I have a show that night, it’s minute-to-minute.
One of the only things that gives me a breather is music. I medicate with it.
What has perhaps kept me from seeing things differently about severe depression is that I am sure I don’t have it.
But the power of severe depression was brought up quite a bit in the letters I received. Your anger toward me on this, believe me, I got it.
I serve. That is what I do. It is, to me, the most fortunate position to be in. I have an audience. It is because of them that I get to eat, move — everything. Each member of this audience is better than I am. Braver and more real than I see myself. The only thing I fear besides being misunderstood, which would be my fault anyway, is failing these people.
For decades I have talked to and gotten letters from people who tell me that something I did helped them, or saved them from killing themselves, helped them get clean, stay clean or come out. Never once do I really think that I had anything to do with anyone staying alive, but I get where they’re coming from. All of them are better than I am and it is them I serve.
In my mind, all of this is mine to screw up. While I don’t take myself seriously, I take them with a frightening degree of seriousness. They can take or leave me at any time; they have options. They are all I have and, beyond that, I feel I have a duty to serve them because they have made me better.
I guess this is what makes me wrestle with the issue of suicide, when it pertains to those who have an audience, or kids, or both. I feel nothing but debt to my audience. I will try my hardest, but I will never be able to even the books. If I checked out, I would be running out on the bill.
Like I said, I am trying to evolve on this. I have a picture in my mind. There is a person — one with a family and a huge audience — who is on one side of a seesaw. The family and the audience are on the other side. This person’s condition makes him heavy enough to tilt all of them up in the air and send him to the ground. He didn’t want to go, but the condition outweighed all of them and even he couldn’t stop it. Is that, albeit crudely drawn, basically it?
I understand it is my task to learn about this. It might take a while, but I will get on it. It is my belief about an ingrained sense of duty that will make this challenging, but I am always up for improvement.
I got several letters thanking me for what I said. However, it was the ones that took me to task that made me think the most.
To those I offended, I believe you and I apologize. If what I wrote causes you to toss me out of your boat, it is to my great regret, but I understand and thank you for your thoughts.