Pain Is

Copyright 2014 by J.S. Stephens. All rights reserved, although feel free to download to read offline. Comments or questions to me.

Dedicated to my oldest, dearest friend.


I cleared my throat, forcing the darkness away. Again.

But I can't, not now.

So I snuck out of the house, evading my parents, softly rolling my bike until I could get on it and ride, ride like the wind, dodging cars and dogs and all sorts of barriers until WHEE! I was almost outpacing the demon darkness. A stray sentence came back to me, spoken by my best friend, "Promise me, promise me you will never take your own life. I love you, you know that, so promise me."

"I promise," I said solemnly, "I will stay alive for you."

So far, I've been able to keep that promise.

Living with recurring depression is not easy, I promise you. Living with undiagnosed depression, other than self-diagnosed, is just as hard, maybe even harder. But I'm pretty stubborn, and I made a promise to my best friend decades ago that I would never die by my own hand. Other relationships come and go, but my connection to my best friend stays, thank God. Even though she is in another time zone, we talk, we email, we text, we keep in touch. She is the only one who frankly asks about my darkness, and I'm honest with her.

I lie to everyone else.

Lies of omission, to be honest, but lies all the same. The same sort of skirting around the true nature of my dates, calling them outings with friends, not dates. Younger people don't understand the lies of omission, the neutering of love, the constant fear and guarding of the soul. They blithely talk about dates, talk about boyfriends, girlfriends, partners, whether opposite or same sex, it's all the same to them.

This lie blends in with the other lies, the "I'm fine", and "She moved for her job." Ha. She moved because she left me for another woman.

Now I can feel the darkness rolling in again, as the news breaks that Robin Williams committed suicide. Naturally, people are aghast, wondering why, when he had so much to live for, so much happiness.

I know. Pain is sometimes too much.

It starts innocently enough. A co-worker says, "I don't understand, that was so selfish of him, to leave his wife and children behind. How could he do such a selfish thing? Why couldn't he just shake it off?"

I stop eating my lunch and get up, taking my plate of half-eaten pasta with me to the trash can. Sometimes, it just hurts so much you can't see past the next minute. The darkness is too much, too real, too solid to overcome. But of course, I don't say anything. I just get another cup of coffee to take back to my desk, as I often do when depression is encroaching. Some people turn to alcohol, some to drugs, some to sex, some to high risk activities, but I turn to caffeine. It's part of my long ago promise not to hurt myself.

I sit in my office, listless, unable to concentrate. The news has triggered a tsunami of pain, of darkness, and I'm struggling to see my way out. I can't even call my best friend, she's on vacation on another continent right now. And it's probably late evening, so she'll be sharing dinner with her husband. I have no one to share my dinner with.

The insistent chime of email penetrates the fog, so I grab the mouse and start opening requests. Sheer stubbornness and discipline get me through until I am enveloped in the mundane minutia of my job. The darkness can stay away, people depend on me for answers, and in some cases, I'm the only one who can answer the questions. No one else in my department has my level of skill with taking raw data and massaging it through a database, spinning out finely nuanced reports. I hurl myself into my work, hoping to push through until the darkness lifts.

Driving home is hard.

I've avoided going home for several hours, puttering around in several stores, running errands, deciding to treat myself to a quick supper out. It's good until the TV at the restaurant is showing endless loops of the news of the day, and the niggling voice comes back. You can't keep a girlfriend, she left you. You didn't pay attention to her needs, so she found someone else. World can get along without me.

I struggle with this as I go out to my car, navigating the short stretch of highway to my town. If I drift into that lane, the other driving won't have time to react, and I'll be dead. I shake off the temptation. I don't even have a pet, I'm afraid I'll leave it uncared for if I decide to check out.

But how? I pull into the driveway of my run down rent house, the one I got in a hurry after I was asked to leave. Nothing leaks, so that's good, and the neighborhood isn't too bad yet.

I call out, "I'm home," to my empty house. I pause to pick up my mail, sifting through as I go slowly up the sidewalk, unlocking the door by rote.

She sent me a card.

Just a postcard, showing a beautiful waterfall from their travels, but contact nonetheless. "Hey, I'm thinking of you, wishing you could join us. Remember, when all seems lost, you can always find a tiny bit of hope. I love you, and want you to come visit us when we return stateside."

I stare at her familiar handwriting, feeling tears welling in my eyes. My best friend still loves me. It's not much to go on, but it's there, a reminder of my long ago promise.

I enter the house and go straight to my computer, searching. I find a number and call it, finally saying the words I've avoided all of my life.

"I need help."



Return to the Academy

Author's Page