During my last year of college I finally decided to seek help for the mental and emotional issues that had been crushing the life out of me for years. My struggle with suicidal impulses had started years earlier, but it took the intervention of some friends in the UC Irvine fine art department to tip me over the point of asking for help from outside parties. It was not a heartening process – I was involuntarily hospitalized for 48 hours, prescribed antidepressants that made me feel as dull and lifeless as a block of granite, and encouraged to reach out to my family members.
That was difficult to contemplate. I did, and continue to have, a very complicated and dysfunctional relationship with my family. I didn’t trust them, which was no shock, since I really didn’t trust anyone. I was at the breaking point, however, so I made the effort, and one of the people I called was my older brother Paul.
I had no idea how the conversation would go – I’d never felt like Paul and I understood each other even remotely, and I’d always suspected that both of my brothers harbored deep and indelible feelings of contempt for me. I was utterly dominated by self-loathing, and wouldn’t have been at all surprised to hear my brother say out loud that he despised me as much as I despised myself. But Paul did no such thing. He listened closely to every word I said, no matter how halting or slurred it was. He completely bottled up his tendency to wield aggressive humor in a way that I’d always found threatening. He told me he loved me, that he wanted me to stay with him, and that he couldn’t stand the thought of me taking my own life. He said the pain and grief of losing me like that would destroy him.
I don’t remember how long we talked, and I didn’t cry until well after the conversation ended. But that conversation has always stayed in my mind. That was probably my worst period of internal darkness, and more people stepped forward to help me through it than I ever would have expected. Paul was one of the most important of those people. I think it’s no exaggeration to say that in those hours of wretched, drowning need, I begged my brother for his help, and he responded in a way that saved my life.