It was already warm. The concrete made it 10 degrees hotter. The metal rail burned my hands at first, but as I gripped it tighter, the pain went away. I wasn’t focused on that. I was watching the cars below, gauging how far up I was and if the fall from the overpass would kill me or not. I stared down, wondering if I should go head first to make sure I would die on impact or if a quick hop and plummet would do the trick. I leaned forward.
I was deeply depressed, stressed and sanded raw from pretending that everything was fine. It was not. At least, I guess it wasn’t. I didn’t really feel much of anything. I was busier as an actor than I had ever been, rehearsing my 5th show that year and already cast in two more after that. That’s what I was doing on that overpass, walking home from rehearsal. I had made it through that rehearsal without screaming, without an attack, without suddenly sobbing, or breaking into a rage. I earned praise from the director for the day's work. I was in demand, I was praised, I was even loved. I knew this, but it meant nothing. I know that sounds cold. I felt nothing but pain and dread and nothing mattered. Nothing made me happy. I could be co-staring in the next Tom Hanks movie, nothing. Win an Oscar, nothing. Nothing mattered. At all. I could make the cast laugh in rehearsal, but I couldn’t feel it. I felt nothing except crushed, flat... hurt. Everything hurt, everything felt unreal, like it was happening to someone else; it was all I could do to keep myself together. The role I played most was ‘normal’ Tom Stewart and in that I was struggling, the cracks were showing…
People don’t really understand. They tell me I don’t really feel that way, or I should try to get some sleep, it’ll all be better tomorrow. No, it won’t, I've tried. To those who say “snap out of it!” or my personal favorite “Think positive!", sorry, you don't understand. I know they’re only trying to help. It’s like telling a drowning man “Hey, don’t drown”. It adds to the weight, to the anger and hurt. They smile but you feel more alone. I was a disappointment to everyone. I could feel the disappointment off people, one of the few things that made it though the fog. Didn’t matter if it was real or not.
I would have breakdowns. I had had several during the show I had been doing that summer, in front of the incredibly understanding cast and didn’t want to put anyone through that again. The worst one, the first big one I had around anyone I couldn’t stop crying and shaking. I couldn’t breathe. Two cast mates held me, telling me it was going to be okay, asking me to breathe slowly. I heard my cue, and walked out and did my scene, tears streaming down my face hidden from the crowd by the red tinted glasses my character wore. The audience couldn’t tell, only those who had been offstage with me knew anything was up; it hit me so quickly most of the actors didn’t realize what had happened. I would struggle hard to hold on until I got home or at least to my car. All my strength not involved in the show was being used to keep me from screaming. I skipped any events with the cast (they must have thought I was the most unsociable SOB ever) holding it until I collapsed in the shower. I wanted to follow the water down the drain. Sometimes I would find myself on the floor, unable to stop sobbing, or just staring at the ceiling for minutes, hours. Time didn't matter. I didn't care, I couldn't. I knew this was not me, but it was me now.
All this was a new world. I had made it though years without any serious problems, the usual sadness and feelings of being down, but that would go away in a couple days, or a week. That was not depression; too soft, too mild, too feeling sorry for myself. Depression hurts. It’s a constant dread, of something coming and you don’t know what, pressing against you, holding you down while everything closes in on you. Depression has weight, it has size, it physically hurts, and it wants to kill you.
I felt it coming, I held it off but it was like stopping a river with your hands. I snapped like a tree in a hurricane, like a twig, like a little boy. The first time it hit me, it broke on me like a wave, slamming me, overwhelming me, nearly drowning me. I was on the floor, sobbing so hard my nose gushed blood. But I kept working because it was the thing that got me off the floor, out of the house. Working on a show got me out of my head, I was allowed to be someone else. I was exhausted and worn down, but my characters were not. I could put on a costume, step on a stage and the voices beating on me would quiet, somewhat. We all have the voice in our head that narrates our day: mine had turned against me. Sometimes my keeping busy worked fine, sometimes it was detrimental. But, it got me off my back; it forced me to struggle hard to control. It made me be around others. It helped to keep me sane.
My physical health was affected. I started the year at 5'9", 156 pounds; by the end of my summer show commitment I was 138 pounds, a weight I hadn’t been since Jr. High. I know people worried about me. I looked like hell, I was in the darkest of places. I would just start crying in restaurants, or on the street, tears streaming down my face without warning. I took to carrying tissues, napkins, anything I could pull out and pretend I was blowing my nose. People don’t understand crying in public, it frightens them and makes them cross the street so as not to be confronted with a stranger's sadness. It's understandable, but horrible; I was horrible. I was causing misery to myself and everyone around me. I know I hurt people. It knew would be better for everyone if I just left.
I leaned out. My hands still gripped the railing of the overpass. I watched the traffic below. I felt the contents of the backpack shift and slide to the top of the bag against the back of my head. I had always tried to be a good person, to help people and sometimes failed on both counts. As the heels of my shoes lifted I knew I was about to fail my self, but I didn’t care, I thought it best if I just went away, stopped hurting those I loved. The cars seemed even louder, even closer. I remember breathing deep and holding it, like I was about to dive into water…
…And I let myself back down slowly. I took a step back, and dusted my hands off on my jeans, let my breath out… and continued home. I looked straight ahead, shaky, keeping away from the rail.
Suicide is an impulsive act, your mind is trapped in a corner it built and can’t find its way back out. Killing yourself seems to be one of the most logical if frightening things you can do. It only takes seconds to convince yourself to do it and if the means are readily available to you when you decide to take leave, well then, why not end it? It only makes sense.
It wasn’t the thought of what my death would mean to my loved ones, my family and friends that stopped me. That would have made little sense in my senseless mind. No, I was afraid that the fall might not kill me, and I didn’t want to make the drivers, hurrying home oblivious of the personal drama going on over their heads, to be even the least little bit responsible for my death. It wouldn't be fair. As the youngest of four, and later the older brother of two, I knew something about unfairness. I couldn't use them to kill me, that seemed grotesque. Stupid reason, and maybe petty, but I’m still here.
Yes, I'm still here, and I will remain so, but I have to watch myself and I know it. I'm growing out my hair and facial hair so I don't look like me anymore. When friends ask how I am I say that on most days I just want to die, the bad days are when I think about how to make that happen. I haven’t had any of those bad days for a while, and any day not bad counts as good.