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Born With a Rusty Spoon: Episode 69

"I did not recognize the warning signs of danger and death. This demon—a severe clinical depression—crept upon me with the stealth of a world-class thief,'' writes artist Bertie Stroup Marah, continuing her astonishing autobiography.

All my life whenever I had felt sorrow or despair, I had managed to talk and laugh my way out of it. This time was different. I was tired, angry, and cried a lot. I could not determine the source of my misery, but it felt as if my entire soul were engulfed in debilitating pain. I did not know that my situational depression had created a chemical imbalance that was responsible for my condition. This ignorance nearly cost me my life.

Because of this imbalance, I could not focus my thoughts or make accurate decisions. I had lost all perspective. I viewed everything as a negative, overwhelming circumstance, with which I was incapable of dealing.

"Paralyzing influence" is an apt description because physical exhaustion is part of the package. Depression caused me to wrongly believe I had failed everyone—myself most of all. In reality this was not true, but this mentally and physically debilitating illness led me to believe that I was a hopeless, helpless failure, and that everyone would be better off if I weren't around. In attempts to analyze my worthiness I wrote lists of "good" versus "bad" attributes. My "bad" list was always the longest and included my menial dead-end job, my failing marriage, my lack of skill and expertise as an artist, my inability to fully financially support my sons—the list went on. I believed I was a fraud and a no account phony.

I intimated to my best friend, Gloria, that I was depressed. But I did not allow her to know the full extent of my illness. I did not share the truth with her or anyone else. I kept my tears, my agony, and my suicidal thoughts a secret. My outwardly happy and seemingly jovial nature somehow concealed the truth from everyone.

Finally, I decided to take action. The decision gave me some relief, and yet, at the same time I was overwhelmed with sadness that I would not live to celebrate my forty-third birthday. I was mourning my own death—but I could not comprehend the pain my death would bring to those who loved me. I would look at my family and think how I hated to leave them. But my next thought was always how much better off they would be without me. In hindsight, I am astounded that I could have harbored such distorted thinking, but I did.

There were practical matters to take care of. I disguised my interest as self-protection when I asked Jessie about the knock-down power of the .38 caliber handgun I owned. A couple weeks later, I carefully composed messages to everyone in my family and to Gloria apologizing for my imagined failures. I told them that I loved them and begged their forgiveness for what I was about to do. I kept these notes in my desk at work as I made my final plans.

Larry had grown tired of running our liquor store, a break-even proposition at best, and he wanted to be rid of it. We sold the business to our two employees and Larry took a job driving a truck.

On the evening of February 11, 1982, Larry was to leave on his second long-haul trip. Kelly was scheduled to work the night shift at the refinery, and Monty was out with friends. I saw this as my opportunity.
I went home after work, prepared a meal, and had dinner with Larry. He did not notice that I was operating mechanically. I wished him well on his trip and bid him goodbye.

After he left, I cleaned the kitchen. I left a copy of my life insurance (it had no suicide clause) on the kitchen counter, along with a note that the house payment had been made. I took a few sleeping pills to dull my senses, drank a couple shots of whiskey, retrieved the .38 revolver from the bedroom and walked to the car with tears streaming down my face.

I drove to our bank, which was located in a nearby strip mall. I made the house payment and deposited my check in the night depository. Still sobbing, I drove across the parking lot and parked in front of a clothing store that was closed for the night. That's where I sat for a while gently touching the pages of farewell messages to those I loved.

My face wet with tears, I picked up the gun and stepped outside the car. I pressed the muzzle to my heart and I looked to the Heavens as my finger tightened on the trigger.

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