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.