[trigger warning: depression, suicide]
Last night I found myself in a restroom that had a panic button next to the toilet, and I had an almost uncontrollable urge to push it.
It wasn’t the first time I had this urge. There is just something about red buttons… I know I shouldn’t press the emergency button in the elevator, but I think about it, almost every time. I know, I fully know, that I shouldn’t break the glass and pull the red fire alarm in the hallway, but I think about it. Almost every time. When I was a kid, there were fire boxes on the street corners in Newark. I wanted to pull every one of those. Sound the alarms!
I’m not sure why. Perhaps I just want to be certain that that they work, in case I actually need them, sort of like crying wolf. Perhaps it has something to do with old movies and TV shows. The Big Red Button was always critical to The Plot. Maybe I’m looking for a more interesting plot line?
Perhaps it’s because it is forbidden, and I want to break the rules. Perhaps something deep down in me wants to cause chaos. A little touch of Project Mayhem! Or maybe I just think it could be funny.
If I did it tonight, it would be for humor, I thought, as I washed my hands.
Kevy-Kev was a funny guy. A real joker. A self proclaimed Super Clown. An alarm going off in the middle of his memorial service could be funny. Couldn’t it? Maybe he’d appreciate the humor of it. Maybe he would’ve wanted to push this button too.
As his wife tells it, last Wednesday morning they were in the kitchen, having tea, and talking. He had her laughing so hard she almost pissed her pants. It wasn’t just a regular morning. It was a really good morning.
Then he left the house, drove to the train station, and stepped onto the tracks.
Now, we all wish he would’ve pushed a panic button. Set off some kind of alarm. Told someone exactly how he was feeling. But he didn’t. So no one knew. Of course he had his issues. But he hadn’t confided in anyone, and no one could possibly see something so drastic, so final, coming.
I know a lot of people think about doing things that they never speak about. I know a lot of people suffer silently. Self medicate. Cover it up so very well. I know that some of you reading this know exactly what I am talking about.
We have had 4 friends commit suicide in the past 4 years. I feel as if an alarm has been sounded. I have no idea what can be done to respond to it. But I do think we need to talk about it. I do think we need to talk about depression and suicide openly and honestly and regularly, until the stigma and shame no longer exist.
There is nothing, nothing any of us can do to ease someone else’ s mental distress if we aren’t aware of it. Nothing we can do to help unless we are open and honest and talking about it.
I know that sometimes, mental illness is such that reaching out for help is impossible. And sometimes it is such that offering assistance seems impossible. Depression and illness can render people helpless, detached from reality, and detached from the ability to hope.
I know sometimes this is the way it ends. And it sucks.
The words I write here seem meaningless right now, but I’ll write them anyway. If you are feeling depressed, disconnected, disinterested in life, tell someone. Talk about it, if you can.
And if ever you are thinking about taking that drastic, final step, if you still have the wherewithal, find a panic button. They are everywhere. Friends. Family members. Teachers. Doctors. Pastors. Strangers. Firehouses. Hospitals. Churches. Meetings.
Call a hotline*.
Press a button.
*Suicide Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. Later this summer a National 988 number will be available as a mental health 911