I love the quote, “Sometimes things fall apart so better things can fall together,” although until I looked it up today, I had no idea Marilyn Monroe said it. (As an aside, the rest of that quote speaks volumes about the kind of pain she’d experienced. A deeper dive is at the bottom of this post.)
Anyway, I’ve always believed in the first half of that quote, embodied in the fatalistic 80s catchphrase “Shit happens.” Looking back, it’s so glaringly obvious that I’ve long had serious depression because the phrase doesn’t have the insouciance of “C’est la vie,” its spiritually-similar phrase relative. Instead, it says that life is suffering until it ultimately ends. Cheery stuff, right?
I operated under that obviously unhealthy mindset through decades of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and therapy representing every school of psychiatric thought. I thought I was worlds better, but like most men, I’d mistaken movement for progress because despite all the work, I never believed that quote had a second half.
Earlier this year, I started to chip away at the edifice of dysfunction that I’d constructed inside my head. I started to realize that I wasn’t broken, weird, or the reason behind everyone else’s pain or failings. (One of the things that has fascinated me is the realization of how incredibly egomaniacal my depression was/is. I genuinely believed that I caused pain and suffering and bad things to happen to people I love. Not because of my direct action or inaction, but just because I exist. I am sure a research grant waits for someone to investigate if narcissistic behavior and depression come from the same area of the brain because they are incredibly similar in tone. They just differ in expression.)
I also learned the power of connection, with my inner self, with others, and with a spiritual side of me that I thought I was too streetwise and cynically smart to have. I recognized that an important part of my deep internal depression came from not honoring who I really am, namely an intensely gifted, sensitive, and creative man. I also made halting steps toward telling my wife and others when I was in one of my dark places, which required a more profound courage than I thought I possessed. I started meditating (still a work-in-progress), doing yoga (albeit infrequently), and working to connect more to a bigger spiritual power. (Sometimes, I call it Source, other times it’s the Creator, the universe, or God. Sometimes, it’s Nick because anyone named Nick would be cool to hang out with.) As a result, I slowly came to accept that the quote had a second half.
Or so I thought. Over the last month, things have fallen apart in major ways and to a degree I have not felt for a decade. But instead of opening up and demonstrating that I’d learned from all the lessons this year, I shut down and went deep inside, to a place where I always go when things look bleak. Why? Self-defense, I guess, because when the external world causes nearly overwhelming pain, the last thing my mind wanted to do was remain open to it, even it that meant refusing help.
And so I did. I spent the last month sitting with thoughts of suicide and being in the dark. (My depression is nothing if not incredibly patient, vigilant, and opportunistic.) It was only over the last few days that I started emerging from the cave. In part, it was because I shared what was happening with my wife, Leigh, and she didn’t run screaming into the night or look at me like I was a sniveling coward. She loved me and that support helped me take more steps back into the light. Am I all the way back? No, because the real world problems still exist, and until I feel more confident about them, they will fuel the depressive voice inside me. However, I am in a much better place now than I was last week, when I was better than the week before.
The trouble is that I am unusual in that I shared what was happening with someone. Most men don’t. Instead, they internalize their suffering, doubt, depression, anxiety, frustration, sadness, loneliness, and anger. With no one to share these feelings with, no one they feel they can tell without judgment, life becomes nothing but pain and darkness. 33,000 men in the US every year feel they have no choice but to kill themselves.
That is a tragedy beyond comprehension, both because of the loss of life and because of the years of enduring a pain that most people cannot begin to understand that precede suicide. It’s why I’m dedicating my life to bring hope to those who are suffering.
What can you do to help? Wish me well, think supportive thoughts, send me your love and strength, and tell me if you know of ways I can spread this message.
If you are suffering in your own personal darkness, please share it with someone, or reach out to me for support. Together, we’ll get through it.
Deeper dive into Marilyn Monroe’s quote
The full quote: “I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”
Read that quote a few times. Feel the intense sorrow, isolation, and loneliness that she voiced, only for her to try to slap a Band-aid on her pain in the last sentence. She did what so many people with serious depression do. She created a mask she used to cover up the sadness and when she let the mask slip slightly, she overcorrected and put it back in place, augmented with a “Just kidding! Life is fantastic!” statement. I feel so incredibly sad that she suffered like she did.
By the way, I have a newfound, deep respect for her. If you’ve never done so, you owe it to yourself to do a little digging into things she said, if nothing else.