The thing about depression is that it magnifies the bad and diminishes the good. And the worst part is the loneliness you feel when you're caught up in it.
Carol was the only one who could take that loneliness away, which is why it was so hard when we broke up after seven years. But what kept me from going over the edge was that we actually kept sleeping together.
We were about a year and a half into this new cutting edge therapy when I went to a coffee shop to see a friend of mine play guitar. I was standing in line before the show to get coffee and I felt someone touch my elbow behind me. It was Carol, and she smiled at me and went to sit over with some mutual friends of ours.
The show began and I watched my buddy sing. I looked over at Carol enjoying the show when this guy walked in. He walked up to Carol and put his arm around her. Then he started running his hand up and down her back. That’s when I realized he was her boyfriend, and I would never see her again.
I ran out of the shop, drove home, took a razor blade from the medicine cabinet and tried to kill myself. I remember crouching down on the floor pressing so hard with that razor blade against my wrist. I struggled, shaking and gasping and barely able to breathe while almost but not quite cutting through the vein. Finally, my body gave out and I collapsed. Somehow I found a phone number, some 800 number for a suicide hotline, and I called it.
I got a guy on the phone who could not have been less impressed with my little situation. I don't know if he was burned out or if he had lost a couple that night, but I was two minutes into my story about the boyfriend and the coffee shop, and he said, “Buddy, do you have a plan for how you’re going to kill yourself?”
I said, “Yeah, I have a razor blade.”
And he said, “No, no. It’s way too messy. Waaaaay too messy. And it hurts. Trust me. You do not want to use a razor blade. How about a gun? Do you have a gun in the house?”
I said no.
“Are you sure you don’t have a gun in the house?”
I said, “Yeah, I’m vegan, and we don’t usually have guns.”
He said, “Ooooh, vegan? Concerned about your health are you? What about pills? Do you have pills in the house?”
“I think I have some Advil in the bathroom,” I said.
“Advil?! You don’t have anything stronger than Advil?”
This went on for more than an hour. I cried. He told me to go to the hospital. I told him I hadn’t met my deductible yet which made me cry even more. Finally, I just passed out. I don’t know if he counted that as a save.
I woke up the next morning on my living room floor, completely ashamed of myself because I had failed. It was another thing I had failed at.
I looked down at the floor and I saw the check I had written my son for all the money in my bank account. Then I saw the note I had written. I thought, “You know, I’ll just go down the street to the bridge over I-5 and jump. People do it all the time, just go, just go now do it.”
This will tell you where my brain was at – I looked down at the note and noticed it had yesterday’s date on it. I figured I should cross off yesterday’s date and write today’s date. Because the only thing worse than leaving a suicide note is leaving a suicide note with a bunch of dates crossed off.
So I came up with a plan. I would ask the universe for a sign that I should stick around, but in the meantime, I would stop eating.
I didn’t stop eating altogether; I just ate less and less as the months went by. Which was easy, because honestly, if you start out vegan, you don’t have far to go. After a month, my diet was basically broccoli and turnips. Death by salad. But as soon as I made this deal with the universe, weird things started to happen.
My buddy Mark started coming over to my house all the time.
I had known Mark for a long time, and he was one of those guys who never leaves his house. He would go to work, he would go home, and he would go to the Dollar Store to buy his groceries. He was like a hermit with three caves, and all of a sudden he was banging on my door asking me to go do stuff with him.
Then my friend Eve called me out of the blue. I hadn't seen Eve in about 20 years. She said, “Hey, I'm driving up from California to Spokane to see my grandchildren. I want to stop in and catch up.”
Eve was a 75-year-old hippie who lived in a bus and ran a very successful grow operation in Humboldt County.
Now Eve had this magical power that I did not want to deal with: If there’s something you don’t want to talk about, she would get you to talk about it. It’s like waterboarding but with hugs.
She drove up and within 10 minutes she had the whole story out of me. She said, “Say no more, I’m moving in. Somebody has to keep an eye on you.”
Living with a 75-year-old hippie was just as awkward as I thought it would be. The first day I came home from work, she was sitting on the couch in her bathrobe and she said, “Oh, I forgot to ask you. How do you feel about nudity?”
I said, “We’re all wearing clothes here. Always. Twenty-four-seven, 365. Always wearing clothes.”
When I wasn’t with Mark or Eve, I was out walking. For hours. It was the only thing that could get me out of my head.
But all this time, I was actually getting worse. First of all, I was starving. I had lost about 30 pounds, and cookies were starting to show up on my chair anonymously at work. I was getting pretty cranky because that's what hunger does to you.
One night, I was home, and I couldn't take it anymore. Eve was out working the land somewhere and I stormed out of the house because I hadn’t found a reason to live yet.
I yelled to the sky, “If you want me to stick around you better show me something because this is going to end soon. This isn't going to last much longer.”
And right then I got a text. It was my friend Kathy. She wrote that she had stopped by my apartment, knocked on the door and left some soup on the porch.
I had never been so angry at soup. Soup was NOT what I was looking for. I was looking for something big. Red Sea, burning bush type kind of thing. Definitely not clam chowder.
By this point, I was back at my apartment, furious. I stepped over the soup to show it how much I didn’t care and opened the door. I was hit with a wave of heat.
I staggered toward the kitchen, which was glowing orange. I had left a pot on the burner.
Everything around the stove had curled up or melted. I thought, I don't want to hurt anyone. I don't want to burn this apartment house down, please, don’t let me hurt other people. I only want to hurt myself.
I turned off the burner and fell to the floor. I started saying why, why, why, why, why?
But then after a few minutes I started saying, thank you, thank you, thank you, over and over again.
I've learned a lot since that night in the coffee shop. I had been chasing faith my whole life. What I've learned is that faith is a choice.
The other day, I was in the kitchen, listening to the radio, and I found myself dancing. Alone. Just me and Sheryl Crow.
I used to be scared of being alone. Now I know that I'm not alone. My life is filled with love even when I'm the only one in the room. Dancing with someone is great; it’s sexy and romantic. But dancing alone is joyous.
Paul Currington told this story live for Drunken Telegraph at the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts in Tacoma, Washington, on April 14, 2014.
This story was originally published at KUOW on Dec. 8, 2014.
The Seattle Story Project: First-person reflections published at KUOW.org throughout December. These are essays, stories told on stage, photos and zines. To submit a story - or note one that deserves more notice - contact Isolde Raftery at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-616-2035.