What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger…Right?

I know that mental illness, and particularly suicide, are really not laughing matters. I mean, not unless you are really irreverent and have a dark sense of humor. And by “you” I mean, of course, “me.”

A few months ago we unexpectedly saw a family friend who has struggled with these issues. But even at that, like most people who are drawn to my family, he has a robust sense of humor. So when I asked “Bob” how he had been, he said his life was a huge failure. He lost his wife, his kids, his job…sort of dire. So what am I supposed to say when he asks me how I’m doing? That everything in my life has fallen into place beautifully? So I said “unlike you, my life has been a flaming success!”

And with that, Bob busted out laughing. Whew. For a guy who is clinically depressed and dangerously suicidal, at least he can still have a laugh, right?

Later in the day Bob noted that he was having a terrible time sleeping, but the doctors would only give him a limited supply of Ambien, and wouldn’t give him Valium at all. Yes, I walked right into that one and asked why, and he said because he’d try to kill himself with Ambien. So I remarked that it was understandable that they wouldn’t give him more pills. But Bob pointed out that his attempt had been unsuccessful, so how dangerous could the Ambien really be? It hadn’t actually worked! And we laughed again. About suicide and a crippling mental illness.

Of course, because I am unbelievably inappropriate, I asked Bob if I could blog about the whole situation. His whole face lit up when he realized I was willing to boldly step beyond the boundaries of good taste, and common decency, for the sake of a blog entry. He enthusiastically said “Yes! Please do!”

I know that some of you are thinking I’ve crossed the line here; we can’t sit back and laugh at human suffering. I guess I see it a little differently; I spent the day with someone suicidal, and we laughed and told stories all day. I’m not naïve, I know that even my sparkling wit isn’t enough to overcome a physiological condition. And not just because it’s not sparkling enough.

But Bob laughed, and we all ate lunch, and he showed me pictures of his kids and his (ex) wife and his dogs…all the dogs he ever had, dead or alive. He lovingly described each of their personalities. And no one pretended that anything was different than exactly what it was. Bob is desperately ill, and none of us can help him. So no matter what happens, I will always think back on that day and smile and remember that for a brief moment in time at least, we laughed and looked at pictures and made fun of the scariest thing I’ve never seen.

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18 Responses to What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger…Right?

  1. The Regular Guy NYC says:

    Sometimes laughter is the best medicine. We sometimes forget that these people are human beings with the same emotions as anybody else. Even though things might be dire putting a smile on their face helps a bit.

  2. Dr. B says:

    Thanks Jill for reminding us that a person is not defined by a disease but rather is a human being with a difficulty that can be managed. I know Bob is feeling tons of loss, but your acceptance of him exactly the way he is will go a long way in Bob accepting Bob. I hope Bob is in therapy because he deserves every chance to be safe and happy. When life hurts there is always help available. Bob’s first step was to trust you to understand and accept. And, you did…good job!

    • Jill Foer Hirsch says:

      Bob is doing, and has done, everything someone who is this ill can do. As I’m sure you know, sadly, there really is no cure or panacea, so I think it comes down to one day at a time. I don’t see him often at all, but someone I love very much loves him very much, and he touched my heart that day.

  3. Pam Waits says:

    I wish the Bob the best and hope he’s getting help from a professional. Perhaps seeing your post and reading comments from strangers who also care what happens to him will make a difference. It’s always darkest before the dawn and hopefully the dawn is beginning for Bob.

  4. This was a great post. People who are mentally ill are still people and deserve to be treated as people. Husband worked in mental health facilities (before we met) and he has stories about the patients that he has shared with me. Some are quite touching.

    As we both know, sometimes life just stinks and it’s okay to acknowledge that. It’s good to know that there are people who love you no matter what and that is a true gift.


  5. Lisa says:

    Thanks jill, i remember that afternoon and it meant a lot to me that we could laugh together. You tastefully approached the subject and successfully brought it into the light.

  6. bethteliho says:

    Hi Jill. This is actually so weird cuz I JUST published a post about this subject, although not a humorous slant. But, I appreciate your post so much. I love that you didn’t treat him like he was diseased and couldn’t be spoken to and joked with. I bet he felt very …..normal that day. In a way. In his way. What a gift that he can joke around and share stories, surrounded by people who respect and care about him. My heart aches that he (or anyone) has to be afflicted with mental illness.

    • Jill Foer Hirsch says:

      I follow you Beth but hadn’t caught up on your posts yet. I’m looking forward to reading it. I do love when I can spend honest time with someone…no pretense. The ultimate “it is what it is”, and yes, so sad. Not just for Bob, but for his whole family. But the bottom line was it really was a nice day, and we laughed all afternoon. Some people don’t get that ever…

  7. katecrimmins says:

    The holidays are a tough time for people on the edge. I’m having lunch with a friend of mine on Monday. She is not like Bob as far as suicidal but she gets very depressed at the holidays. It will be my job to somehow make her laugh. I will think of you and probably say something very inappropriate that will hopefully make her soda come out of her nose. You are a good friend.

    • Jill Foer Hirsch says:

      I was thinking about the holidays being a rough time and thought it was good timing for this post, which I wrote a while ago. Please, in my honor, be as inappropriate as possible. I want to hear back that your friend snorted and grunted and everything else!

  8. mimijk says:

    I hope your post gives him a smile…and a reason to keep on going. He’s got friends who love him clearly. And that ain’t all bad…

    • Jill Foer Hirsch says:

      I wish that were enough…I don’t think it’s possible to understand what it really feels like for him. But yes, I hope he does see this and smile!

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