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  • Daniel DeMarse

Till I End my Song



Content Warning: Mental illness; suicide attempt


I wasn’t necessarily at the end of my rope. That’s the funny part. There was a pretty normal amount of rope.

For most of my life, I have lived in and out of intense despair and psychosomatic mortal peril, extorted by Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Or, as Elliott Smith once penned, “A happy day, and then you pay.”

Another element goes into doing such a thing. It might not be because of any compounded trauma. It might have nothing to do with anything going on in one’s life externally. But it’s always about feeling cornered. By wolves. In some way.

One must escape.

Not to say that the external events precipitating this were not intense. They were. I felt alienated from the two people in my life who were closest to me, outside of immediate family. I had left one of them for the other, then pivoted, pleading for the one who I had left to take me back. I was also receiving unilateral ECT treatments three times a week and was very forgetful and bipolar throughout that time.

Much like Hamlet’s, this indecision was overcome by submitting to the death-drive. That’s why I did it.

Musing on the actions, events, and, yes, traumas that led to this, I muse as well on ‘the first domino’—and often, all too often, the examples my mind provides me with are deceptively insignificant, unglamorous. Their ripple, however, extends quite far.

I had told my friends and my family about being ‘bluesy’ before—a description of my state of being that was just playful enough to deter further emotional excavation on the part of the person to whom I was talking.

This wasn’t ‘bluesy.’

It was something not so passive. It was an evil rotgut. It was deep depression, and that, I think, is a different breed.

Maybe, for all my restlessness, the SSRIs gave me akathisia, and I just didn’t know how to dispose of what I have ended up calling, “The Dropping Feeling.”

So, in the summer of 2015, I made a serious attempt on my life.

I rolled a joint and smoked it and went to YouTube on my computer and searched Radiohead’s “Videotape” from the basement recordings with Thom Yorke on piano and pressed play and then, as if controlled by strings, I walked over to the window and opened it and sat on the sill knees up and looked down at the set of stairs leading to the basement by the side of our building and the concrete courtyard below and before the song was even finished I just kind of let myself tip over. I fell 7 stories going 70 miles an hour. My mother told me that her mother, my grandmother, had been looking after me from Heaven. As for this, I don’t know. What I do know is, as I fell, my head hit an AC unit and my body windmilled away from the stairs. Instead of landing on my head, I landed on my left arm, which broke in half. I survived because of that AC unit.

Maybe that was my grandmother. Or it was pure luck. But I survived.

When I think about it all, sometimes I wonder if being open is a repellent, not because people reject your openness, but because they are simply indifferent to it. People can feel offended by their indifference to something they are told to feel something about. Indifference, to me, is a bigger obstacle than rejection. But, I share with you, anyway, and call it a sacred thing.

Though I made my attempt at the start of that summer, I would not end up getting surgery on my broken arm until late in the fall. By then, I was at McClean Hospital in Belmont, a suburb of Boston. Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, and David Foster Wallace being the McClean alumni, I knew I was in good company.

So, I walked around with my arm in a sling for three months, eating loads of Percocet for the pain and going to appointments with a doctor whose job it was to induce seizures in my brain.

Now, recently, I have plumbed more and more into my own life through expression. I used to make it a point to write about what I didn’t know, maybe a perfunctory response to the bromide “write what you know.” Well, now I am.

A crucial element of my writing has always been openness. Underlying my work is a desire to connect with people and make people feel. When I write I am not a cynic, even if outwardly I can appear to be. I wish to exalt myself, and exalt you, reader, with me. If I am to have this borrowed time called the rest of my life, I might as well do something like this with it. Sharing with you is meaningful to me in exactly this way: I exalt, and you feel alive. That is the covenant between reader and writer. As Mr. Ezra Pound once pleaded with Mr. Walt Whitman: “Let there be commerce between us.” I want to make someone feel less alone, in my commerce with them ––because they read it, and it stirs them, and when something stirs us, we feel more alive.

Helping someone get through something, in a way, is why writers exist. Maybe, in this case, the person I’m helping is me. Maybe writers, in their selfish, solipsistic furor, write to help themselves and end up indirectly helping others with their experiences. As for the larger takeaway, I desire to bring visibility to people who suffer from mental illness, just like I do. I have learned a lot, spending my 20’s in and out of institutions, psych units, and interrogation rooms. I thought it was all over when I turned 30—but it wouldn’t be. That’s how I’ve learned that things can always get worse, and the fat lady singing might not be ending her number just now, and myself with still more abdications and salvations ahead.

As for fate: making the decision to end one’s life, the way I see it, can always possibly be the result of the quietest of perfect storms, a negligible disturbance, and plenty of rope left.

But if the moment comes, you, too, might feel as though you were led by strings.

At least, in reading the writing, we can be free from the burden of time’s heaviness and feel lighter than air.


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Art by Yoo Young Chun


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