The passing of Chris Cornell sparked stunned sadness in many people, in no small part because his lyrics, music, and signature singing style had given shape and meaning to their own struggles with isolation, with depression, with despair. His music helped a generation feel less alone. He couldn’t give himself the same comfort he gave others and left. He left just as my best friend left in 2012, after she fought a long, hard battle with depression. After hospitalization and trying different antipsychotics, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety meds her team of doctors prescribed for her, and after meeting with both a psychiatrist and therapist, and after trying running and meditation and writing, she finally left, with only a note to her father.
I had just talked to her earlier in the week. “I have hope,” she had said, and I believed her, because I needed those words to be true for myself as much as I needed them to be true for her. On Friday a journal editor had emailed me to say he was worried. My friend hadn’t responded to his emails about a reading he was putting together, and that was unlike her. She wasn’t just a poet—she was a fabulous poet who was published in the top magazines, who won awards, whose words transported her audience to other worlds. That weekend I tried to reach her by phone, by email, by Facebook Messenger. On Tuesday, I saw the news on her page, put there by a relative.
My best friend—the one whom I called almost every week or every other week, the one I could talk to about depression without the standard response of “I hope you feel better” or “why don’t you go for a walk”—was gone. I wasn’t angry at her for leaving. I knew how hard she had fought, how tired she was getting, day in and day out. I understood because I was fighting—and continue to fight—a similar battle. Every day, when I wake up, there is a voice that tells me I have no reason to exist.
The voice began after I finished college at 22. I thought it was a phase that would pass. I thought once I got married, it would disappear, that knowing I was loved would give me a reason to get out of bed. But I stayed single, and still the voice was there, every morning and every night until the Ambien I took at bedtime made it quieter. I also have done work to make the voice less insistent—therapy, meds, acupuncture, massage, nutrition, teas and supplements, prayer and anointing. I believe in God’s healing and the miracles worked by science but nothing silences the voice that tells me every day to die.
After my best friend’s death, I put myself on a year-long timeline to turn my own life around. I quit my job, sold my house, and moved to New York City in 2013. I wrecked my life in order to save it, to stay a bit longer, to see if I could survive on a different battlefield. Make no mistake, there is glorious magic in this world, and I am so thankful to have to have experienced it—living with puppeteers, throwing parties for writers, waking up every morning to the sound of birds singing where I live, teaching brilliant students. I am thankful for it all, but there is the other side most don’t see: me alone on weekends, wishing I had closer friends; me trying to deal with a $15,000 credit card debt—which I never had living in Colorado—on top of the $100,000 student loan debt for graduate school; me adjunct teaching and barely scraping by; me not being able to afford a good therapist for over a year; me behind on deadlines because some days I’m just convincing myself to hold on; me realizing that my meds don’t work as well anymore; me turning 47 this summer—a year single women are told they are old and invisible. There is the me who thinks she’s not going to make it to 50, the me who can’t see next month, let alone next week, let alone tomorrow morning, when I have to fight the voice again. Alone.
There are many of you out there who are just as tired, if not more so, and in dire circumstances. Some of you might have a great life on the outside, but inwardly, there is a voice that lies and lies to you all day long. It, unlike yourself, never grows weary. It takes 80 percent of your energy just to fight it, so now you only have 20 percent left to give to work, your kids, your significant other and the daily to-do list. Some of you have been fighting since you were 6, 16, 36. You have been fighting not just for a few days or weeks, but for years.
You wonder just how much more of this you can take.
All I can tell you is what I say to myself: stay. Live a day, a month, a year longer. Tell the voice to fuck off, to fuck someone else, to go fuck itself. Say it at 4 a.m., when you’re most alone, when all the world is asleep. Say it on the weekends when you’re forgotten or standing in a room full of people who don’t know about the voice, who are mesmerized by your smile and can’t see the sadness behind your eyes.
We both know the voice lies, but it uses just enough truth so we buy into the lie. The voice is very good at what it does, just like the Terminator.
Every day, I will tell it to go to hell. Every day, I will stay. I stay because some of you need to hear these words. I will stay to say them to you. I will stay just to tell you we’ll make it even though I only half believe it myself. I will stay here and help you fight the voice. Together, we will eventually make an army of survivors strong enough to kick its ass.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.