Wednesday, January 09, 2008

In Memorium: the “bright star burns out quickest” and other BS

A few weeks ago I received the kind of phone call nobody wants. A friend of mine, let’s call her “Emma”, informed me that a mutual friend and fellow equestrian performer, we’ll call him “Mark”, had just died. This was bad enough. To make matters worse, it was not illness or accident, but an act of desperation and hopelessness. I'm still processing it. You know those "five stages of grief" (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance)? The denial part lasted about a day: shock. The "anger" part is still here to a greater or lesser degree. I'm skipping "depression" and "acceptance", keeping the "anger", and adding "frustration" and "proactiveness"(for lack of a better word).

I’m angry because a 23 year old, talented, bright, charming lad was so messed up and hopeless that he opted out. My anger is not the anger of confusion, but rather the anger of regret and indignation. Is anybody remotely connected with this group of performers (you know who you are) shocked that such a horrible thing occurred? Yes, we’re shocked, but because it did happen, not that it could have happened. It’s a huge blow when something like this occurs, and the result for the survivors is naturally going to be shock. However, given the “live for today” lifestyle and lack of a structured, well-modeled home life, it’s no surprise that a young man with a creative, emotive, passionate nature would feel the slings and arrows of life so keenly that he decided the only light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train. According to “Emma”, “Mark” felt he was unloved and that he had totally messed up his life. I seriously doubt either of these things were true, but that’s how he saw it. I can empathize, as most of us can. Who hasn’t felt like a screw-up at times, or that “nobody cares”? These kinds of self-defeating tracks often play in our heads starting around puberty and grow to frightening complexity by the time we struggle through the teenage years. Add to that a propensity for recreational drugs and a lack of a decent father figure, and I think the scales are heavily weighted in the “disaster” direction. I’m pretty sure that, given my tendency toward depression, I probably would have “opted out” at some point in the last fifteen years had I befuddled my brain with chemicals. What kept me slogging on was the knowledge of what a trauma that would be for any friends and family, no matter how distant from them I felt.

This ability to put oneself in the other person’s shoes, in this case the survivor’s, demands a head free from the ravages of mind-altering substances. Yes, this is just my opinion. However, does anybody want to argue with me on this point? No? Good. Because I’m all out of patience with the “A little of this or that (insert fashionable narcotic) isn’t that bad. Gosh, everybody does it.” I saw “innocuous” drugs like marijuana and Extasy mess with some of my peers (and housemates) in college. They used them as excuses for relaxation and communion with friends. The only discernable net result I saw was loopy or maudlin behaviour often coupled with “deep” meaningful conversations which were mostly forgotten by the participants by the next day. I know scores of people who manage to get together and have a good time with each other without the need to medicate themselves into misty-eyed stupidity. The inability to commune meaningfully with people who are supposed to be your intimates and friends seems to call for some serious therapy, not recreational drugs that induce a false sense of “oneness” or artificially lower inhibitions. When a person has to “self-medicate” in order to get to a place where he can “have a good time”, or, in a personally observed instance, finally grieve for his girlfriend who drowned in a tragic accident a year previously, this seems like a sign of dysfunction and a need for professional help. This approach just seems like replacing one mask with another, and I don’t see how it helps anything. To that let’s add the very real spectre of brain damage, which even marijuana, let alone the “harder” stuff, induces over time. But I’m digressing atop my soapbox. I’ll stop now.

As is pretty obvious from the above paragraphs, a good deal of my anger is born of frustration. I’m frustrated because, despite the fact that anybody with a lick of sense knows that drugs and alcohol do not help, but in fact greatly exacerbate depression and other mental imbalances, more people like “Mark” will continue to go the same “party ‘till you drop” route until their personal poop hits the fan. Maybe I’m reading things between the lines that aren’t really there, but how many guys like “Mark” are going to die in our little ren faire/carny/party central circle before people figure out that the “eat, drink (and take drugs) and be merry, for tomorrow ye die” is not just a misquoted bit of scripture but more of a news flash?

I want to DO something, hence the lame “proactiveness” item, but what? As soon as I have a snail mail address, words of condolence will go out to his brothers and fellow performers who were almost as close. It’s the closest thing to a big hug we can give from a distance, and they need to know something that “Mark” had lost touch with: that they are not alone and that somebody does care. The problem for me is, what else can I do that doesn’t come across as all preachy and glib and clichéd? This letter has already crossed that line, I’m afraid, and I haven’t even gotten to the theological questions. It’s dangerously close to “Drugs and alcohol killed this boy! They are a tool of Satan!” The tools were part of the problem, but they were not the cause.

Placing blame ought to be one of the stages of grief. It’s definitely part of survivor syndrome. “It’s my fault! If only I had been there!” cries the brother/mother/friend. This is, at bottom, pride talking, but it’s borne of sincere anguish and self-doubt. It’s a vicious cycle. The suicide feels like a failure, and the survivor feels an even worse failure for failing to sense the despair of the suicide in time. This is the thought process that stops most of us from doing “the deed”. Does a mind clouded and distorted by chemicals get to that point and rationalize it away, or is it stunted into a totally inward-gazing world-view of the moment where the universe consists only of the “self” and the pain it feels? It isn’t that those moments don’t happen for the average depressed person, I’ve been there. It’s just that they are part of a nightmarish buffet of other feelings and thought processes that routinely place the act of “checking out” in the back drawer with all of the other unacceptable things we just can’t do because we love, respect, or have even the remotest consideration for those who would be hit by the psychological (and physical, in some cases) shrapnel of our actions.

This is already too long, so I’ll stop now. If anybody has the gall to say something like, “Well, he was such a bright star, and they burn out the fastest, you know!”, I will have to swallow my bile and/or refrain from cocking a fist. Yep, still angry. “Mark” was a bright star, but last time I checked they’re supposed to burn for many, many years and give light and heat and happiness. Here’s another analogy, equally lame: He was a flame that should have burned long and bright, but pouring gasoline and magnesium powder on it, while making pretty sparks and big balls of fire, sort of messed up the lamp, you know? I could go on beating this idea to a pulp with stupid metaphors, but I’ll just shut up now. I want to shake the other boys and crack their heads together and knock some sense into them. Will “Mark”’s death shake them up in a good way and make them take stock of their lives and encourage them to change course and pull their heads out and get with the program…or will they just keep running to various substances? Hasn’t worked out so well for their daddy, and even worse for “Mark”.

I know I need to say more on this, for my own mental health, anyway, but I need to process it all some more, and right now I’m just getting riled up. One last thing, though. "Mark" (you know who you are): you were loved, you were not alone, and you were not a "screw-up". You are missed, however, in the worst way. You know all this now, but I wanted to say it, anyway.

1 comment:

Atomic Bombshell said...

Very well expressed. Thanks for sharing your views on this sad occurrence, Neb.