Thursday, February 6, 2014

Erica Rivera On Depression and Suicide

I never write blog posts on this website, but the recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman struck a chord with me, and I need to say something about it.


I am not, nor ever was, an addict in the conventional sense. I don't drink and I've never used drugs. But when I wrote about recovering from anorexia in my memoir Insatiable, I often compared eating disorders to addictions. There are chemical changes in the body and brain of an anorexic, which I believe are comparable in severity to those of a drug addict or alcoholic. Anorexia can kill you just like drugs or alcohol can (in fact, it came close to killing me). So, it is with authority from that experience that I say the following...

The New York Times recently published an article about the last few days of PSH's life. In it, several people--a fellow Narcotics Anonymous member (biting my tongue about how inappropriate that is), a fellow traveler, an editor, and some other folks in the neighborhood--mentioned how they'd seen the actor about town. Most reported that he looked out-of-sorts. There he was bellying-up to the bar, there he was slouched over in an airport cart, there he was having dinner, there he was at the cash machine. One person quoted in the article mentioned how bad his skin looked.

Gabe Delahaye, a writer and comedian, published a blog post today called R.I.P. Everyone about how disgusted he was with the New York Times piece. He was particularly appalled by the people quoted in the article.

"We do not have to give a quote to the New York Times just because they asked us for a quote. We do not have to write a Tweet just because we are waiting in line for the bathroom. We can spend entire days in silence if we so choose. You can keep your mouth shut. It is possible," Delahaye writes. 

While I agree with much of what Delahaye had to say about the vapid and vulture-esque nature of modern journalism, as well as the public's hunger for an itty bitty piece of fame, I also wondered, "Why didn't these people say more to Hoffman while he was alive?"

I know despair, intimately. I've never been shy (at least online or in print) about the fact that I've thought about ending it all on a couple of occasions. You know what stopped me? The kindness of people. That's it. That's all.

Sometimes it was looking at the faces of my children and imagining them growing up motherless. Sometimes it was a man who took the time to have a conversation with me. Sometimes it was a co-worker who gave me a hug. Sometimes it was a Twitter follower DMing me to say, "Are you alright?" Sometimes it was a therapist providing a safe place for me to unload.

I'm no longer in a place of despair, nor do I have active symptoms of an eating disorder, but once in a while, those demons whisper to me. Like a recovering addict, I have to stay vigilant and take care of myself. I still have down days once in a while, but not to the extreme I used to. I also have a lot of love in my life and that keeps me strong and steady. Perhaps PSH didn't feel like he had that. Enter heroin.

Before PSH's death, I found myself zeroing in on a few people I followed online who tended toward the dark side. Their tweets often sounded suicidal. I didn't know these people, per se, but I contacted them anyway. I let them know that I was paying attention and that I was concerned. I urged them to get help and seek support. Maybe that was overreacting. Maybe it was creepy. Maybe it was all in vain. I don't know. But they're still alive today. I'm not saying that's because of me, but I can't imagine how I would have felt if I had decided to shut up like a good little bystander and later found out that they had harmed themselves.

I know that when someone hits rock bottom, they often don't "hear" other people offering to help. They can't see beyond the bleakness of it all. But what does it hurt to speak up?

Here are some things you could say that might be helpful if someone's on the brink:

"I'm worried about you."
"Are you okay?"
"Want to talk?"
"How are your kids?"
"Would you like to come over?"
"Do you mind if I stop by?"
"Can I sit with you a while?"
"How can I help?"
"What can I do?"
"Do you need anything?"
"Is there someone I could call for you?"
"Let's go for a walk/to the movies/get lunch."

Sometimes the person doesn't want to talk face-to-face or even on the phone. There's a lot of shame and embarrassment when you feel like you don't have your shit together. That's where texting, email, and the Internet can be helpful. The important thing is: If you see someone struggling, Say something. Then say it again. You never know when your words will have an impact.

We need to watch out for one another. Ultimately, it's only relationships that heal. How are you tending to yours?