The Mental Health Journey #2: The High Wire

There’s healing in the telling of our stories.
— Deb

Yesterday, I woke up sobbing again. This time though, it was different—it was violent. I was set off and determined to end the hurt. The car ran idle for no more than twenty minutes before I was gripping that ice-cold wheel, hot tears streaming down my face. The City of Grande Prairie is single handedly responsible for preventing the most selfish of accidents that morning—the roads had been plowed, but the four-foot snow medians remained. I couldn’t cross that center line if I tried.

I did a lap around the city, howling like a wounded wolf, ignoring angry and worried phone calls from my wife. The darkness was all consuming and tasteless, selfish and opaque. Trying to remember it is like trying to peer into a black out with my eyes closed—I can fumble around by feel, and do my best, but I’ll never actually see what lay at my feet.

Eventually I answered the calls and was persuaded to come back home. I tried to fight my way back out of the house after returning, which (as I should have known) was a fool’s errand. Who knows if I’d be writing this right now if my wife was any less the person and woman she is. I remember being on my back, tears filling my ears as my arms were pinned to my chest and the full weight of my family pressing my back into the laminate.

The spirit of my entire being possessed Steph as she straddled me, reminding me of the names of everyone I was trying to leave behind. Remember this conversation, she said. And remember I will. Like the sun itself, her eyes have been burned into the back of my mind, and her words are the pulse in the world that I walk to.

Once the dust of the morning was settled, the day went on as they tend to.

Steph went to work, and once left to my own mind, one thing was clear: I cannot afford to just talk about getting help anymore, I needed to take a step. I made that phone call and finally got a map to the staircase that leads out of this pit.

Our vehicles fell victim to this cold snap we’ve been in, and Steph had to take my car to work. I had two and a half hours to myself, time I used to center myself again. I gave myself to Bubba Sparxxx and Timbaland and channeled everything I had into house work. I washed the shame and embarrassment out of the floor & the bed sheets, and I washed it out of my hair. When I emerged from the steam, the rock in my stomach remained, but my eyes were open. I packed my bag and readied myself to steady myself.

I’ve sat in the lobby of therapists and councilors before, but after filling out the paperwork, it would take the hand of God to hold me in those waiting rooms. Three or four separate times yesterday I thought about leaving, but each time the thought would surface, I’d try to sink back into the world of West Baltimore, my new buddy Ta-Nehisi and a Beautiful Struggle that was not my own. Eventually, it worked, and from behind me, a brunette in hip glasses called my name in a soft voice.

We talked briefly about what set me off this time—something pushed a small snowball down the hill on Wednesday, and the brick-wall known as Monday morning sealed its fate. It’s just the latest in a series of difficulties, though. I had always been worried that if I went into a professional mental healthcare facility and expressed the suicidal thoughts that I live with, that I would be committed. I was always worried about snap-judgements and auto-prescribed medication if I spoke about the glorious highs and devastating lows I go though. None of that happened. We spoke, and I was honest. I told her about the family history of suicide and the constant feeling of being “third in line,” and she reassured me that, today, it’s easier for a man to put a phone to his ear than a gun to his head—but it hadn’t always been that way. My grandfather and father were victims of a disease and the times, the same disease haunts me, but time is finally on my side. The tools to break the cycle are within reach, and for the first time ever, I’m surrounded with compassion. It goes beyond my wife—it’s my co-workers, my bosses, my family.

If my life were narrated by Will Smith, ala “The Pursuit of Happyness,” right about now he’d say:

I call this part of my life The High Wire.

I’m preforming a dangerous and potentially deadly act, but I have no fear because of the safety net around me. I can see the sun rising tomorrow, and though I can see the halo of darkness around it, I don’t wallow—I don’t dread. I’m excited to learn how to be a better man, to fill my tool box and become strong enough to carry this ball and chain, rather than drag it behind me for the rest of my days.