In case you didn’t know, September is Suicide Awareness Month. I know, fun times! (Many trigger warnings on suicide ahead, because that’s pretty much all we’re going to talk about here, so if you need to dip out, I more than understand.)
If you’re a regular reader of the blog, then you know I’ve struggled with Depression off and on my whole life, and that this is a subject that is very important to me.
If you suffer from Depression, then you know how hard it is to describe it to someone who’s never had it. It’s so much more than being “sad”. Depression makes you feel like negative space in the shape of a human, an entity that can’t even muster the energy to cry anymore, where it feels like it doesn’t even matter how much you don’t matter. It’s incredibly difficult to reach out for help when you’re at the bottom of that well.
So! I’m going to pause from dick jokes and judging people’s eyebrows for the week and share something a little (a lot) different with you, and then we can discuss, if that’s cool. It’s something that I wrote on the subject of suicide. Two somethings, actually.
They’re, oh my god, poems that are in this month’s issue of The Hunger journal. I know. Poems! Just bear with me.
Like all sad/angry girls in high school, I was both a painter and a poet.
I started painting again last year and started writing poetry again a couple months ago after a 25-year hiatus. Poetry and painting were the only things I was even semi-decent at in high school, and they were really the only reasons I ever bothered to show up to class.
I wasn’t sure if I still had it in me at all, so I gave it a shot and submitted a few new poems to just a handful of journals. I was truly blown away when The Hunger accepted two of them and gave them a safe and supportive home. These are actually my first published poems ever. (At 43! It’s never too late, friends.)
These two poems are about the early deaths of two of my favorite painters. Click the links in pink below to read the poems on The Hunger journal’s site:
About: Jackson Pollock struggled with what they now believe was Depression and Bipolar Disorder, and self-medicated with much, much alcohol. Famous for his “drip paintings”, he died in a drunk driving car crash at the age of 44. (44! For the love of Zod, he was my age.) It was officially declared an accident, but witness accounts say he crashed the car deliberately.
His mistress, Ruth Kligman, who was also in the car, survived and went on to be the mistress of Willem deKooning, another one of my favorite artists. Willem deKooning’s wife referred to Kligman as “the pink mink”. I would have certainly called her worse. Kligman’s best friend, Edith Metzger, was also killed in the crash.
About: Mark Rothko had a successful career as an artist. Like way, way successful – for his entire career. Famous especially for his red “color fields”, he died at the age of 66 after suffering with Depression and slashing his arms with his painter’s knife until he severed an artery (as well as taking an overdose of barbituates). Alone, on the floor in his kitchen, he died one of the most successful artists of the 20th century, from the very same painter’s knife that he used to make his art.
I can’t take that. I cannot take that image. As an artist, it haunts me in my spine. His death makes me cry every single time I think about it or look at one of his paintings, and I cried off and on for a whole day when I wrote the last lines of this poem.
Depression doesn’t discriminate, whether you’re wildly successful or living in the gutter. It’s an equal opportunity disorder, and it’s killing people every day. Suicide rates in the U.S. are actually rising. Depression is a health crisis and a goddamned epidemic.
I’ve written another dozen of these poems and I’m planning to make a chapbook of them along with creating accompanying paintings about artists who left us too soon due to untreated mental illness. (I’m hoping to donate the profits to mental health charities if I can find someone to publish it. I don’t know what else to do, I just feel like I have to do something.)
As author Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess we all know and love says, “Depression lies.” It tells you that everyone would be better off without you. That this is just the way things are. That’s there’s nothing you can do to stop it. That you’re out of options.
Let’s all say it together: Depression lies.
I wrote these poems because if you’re an artist, there can often be an added obstacle to seeking help. Everyone tells you that as an artist you’re supposed to be “tortured” and that it’s normal.
Maybe you feel that you write or paint or create from the darkest part of yourself, and you’re afraid that if you “fix” that part, that you won’t be able to make your art anymore. If your entire identity is your art, then not being able to make art anymore is like death in itself.
You suffer in silence because Depression tells you that getting treatment will change who you are for the worse, even when you’re so low that you curse each new day that you wake up alive, angry and numb that you have to face yet. another. day. That’s when Depression whispers in your ear, “Hey – you think this is bad? It’ll be even worse if you do something about me!”
You suffer in silence because you think “tortured” is just the way artists and writers are. Maybe you’ve been taught that suffering builds character. Maybe you think were meant to live this way. You’re just one of those people who “spends too much time inside their head”. These are lies that Depression has told me I don’t know how many times in my life when I was down in the well. Just suffer. It’s who you are.
If you’re trying to make a living from your art, you more than likely have limited or no access to mental healthcare on top of everything else.
What do I want?
I want the normalization of the “tortured artist” and “tortured writer” to stop being a thing.
I want people to have access to resources that teach them ways to take care of themselves and make their art at the same time.
I want to start a dialogue about Depression, suicide, and artists, be they painters, writers, poets, dancers, sculptors, or musicians – and what the communities that rely on and serve artists can do to help: schools, galleries, writing workshops, museums, art fairs, record labels, dance studios, and community centers.
I want posters in classrooms, formal discussions in about how to spot Depression in ourselves and our peers, mental health lessons to be added to curricula, support groups, foundations, you name it. I want people to talk about this instead of suffering in silence.
And I’ll tell you what else – I want the people who make money off the backs of artists to pony up for it. I want them to give away free ad space for suicide hotlines in their magazines and journals, foster a network of mental health professionals that they can refer their artists to, hell, just ask their artists how they’re doing, donate some profits from gallery sales or book sales to mental health charities, start a charity of their own.
Take care of yourselves, folks, and if you’re struggling, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Don’t listen to the lies that Depression puts into your head.
Thanks for listening. I promise next week we’ll be back to dick jokes and eyebrow judging and whatnot. 🙂