Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
My feeds are full of the news of the sudden death by suicide of Stephen “tWitch” Boss. Everyone is shocked that he’s dead. It’s a travesty. Simultaneously, the world is knocked off its axis by the idea that a seemingly happy man/father/husband/celebrity who appeared to be living his “best life” with everything to look forward to, in fact, committed suicide.
But, I’m not shocked that anyone commits suicide anymore. Life is hard. Many of us contemplate it, some of us go as far as to meticulously plan it, still others attempt and too many succeed. As someone with Bipolar 1 disorder, I’ve become intimately aware of the statistics that 20-60% of all people diagnosed with bipolar will attempt suicide at least once in their life and 4-19% will succeed.
Depression does not discriminate. It gives no fucks about what you or anyone else thinks your life should feel like. Mental illness doesn’t care how wealthy you are or how charismatic you are. It strikes and it’s a cruel, clingy and unjust bitch. Once she has her greedy hold on you, she doesn’t want to let go. Wave after wave of sadness, grief and melancholy battering every inch or your heart, soul and body. It’s no wonder we start to drown in the seas of sadness. Survival is not guaranteed. Only by the grace of the universe, holding on for literal “dear life” determination and the support system to keep fighting through immeasurable pain, self-doubt, loathing and loneliness until the storm passes do we get to see another day.
To the outside world, Boss seemed like a man who had everything; a beautiful wife and 3 lovely children, a loving marriage and a career that was glowing up in all the best ways. He looked his happiest when he was with his family. He literally seemed to radiate from within. However, the truth is that we have no idea what was really going on in his heart and his head. He was beloved on the internet for his big personality, devotion to his family and all the good he brought to the online world. He was someone we needed; he was light. But even the most optimistic person has worries and weight. Most importantly, who did he see in the mirror? How did he feel in his own skin? Who was the real him to tWitch? The public is left bewildered and maybe even a little scared because if “it” could happen to him, it can happen to anyone, right? I feel this deeply because I’ve been on the precipice of eternal darkness before and it’s a terrifying and out-of-control place to be.
In my weakest moments as an adolescent, I spend many hours lying awake in the night, quietly full of despair silently sobbing into a pillow because I felt trapped in an inescapable hell, completely and utterly alone. Part of me wanted to disappear and another part of me wanted to be noticed and saved but that other part wanted to cease to exist and quietly float off into the ether. I wanted the peace that could only be found alone in the silence and darkness. These were my constant, ever-pervading thoughts throughout my early teens my early 20s.
But if you were to ask 99%of the people who knew me then, they would describe me with words like “nice,” “sweet”, “smart”, and “FUN” (yep, bipolar mania, professional and consummate compartmentalizer skills), and “funny”. I laugh a lot and I like to make others laugh even when inside, I’m falling apart. I’m one of those people who always holds it together; the deeper the pain, the quieter I get about it, and the less I scream and yell about it. I retreat into myself. I hide in plain sight. If you know, you certainly know what I’m talking about. Feeling sad sometimes feels shameful because where the hell do I get off feeling sorry for myself when so many others have it so much worse? That’s what I told myself.
In high school, I was the smart, quiet “girl next door”, the “most likely to succeed” type. I got up, went to school, did my best, and got through my days pretending to be happy and good-natured; friend to everyone. I was the type that teachers and other people’s parents loved. But my thoughts were dark. I was sad, scared, anxious and angry. No one knew what was going on at home. I never told them. I was ashamed. At home, I was the victim of physical and emotional abuse from an alcoholic father. Every moment, of every day was erratic and school was my solace. From 8-3 pm every day, I was safe. I was normal.
By the time I got to college, I had become comfortable with pretending. I was on my own for the first time in my life, I was away from my boyfriend and friends, everything was new and overwhelming. I felt out of control. In the beginning, I was scared and felt swallowed up whole by the experience but then I just let go or rather I broke under all the weight of bending. Let me explain, I pretended to be care-free. I pretended to be cool with a lot of things I wasn’t. I pretended that being completely alone in a new place, wasn’t scaring me to death. I pretended that waking up with a guy (I thought was a “friend”) on top of me, slithering off like a thief in the night while I slept…never happened. I pretended that I was tougher than I was. I pretended to be happy. I pretended to be the life of the party. None of that was true. It was quite the opposite.
What the world saw was not me. It was some version of me. She was the only reason I survived. She was the fake it until you make it Debi. Or maybe I was the push it til you break it Debi. Around this time, my eating disorders kicked into high gear. At one point it was so bad that I was consuming roughly 200-300 calories a day while purging (without the binging) sometimes up to as many as 10 times in any given 24-hour period. I felt trapped inside my own body and mind. Never free to be the real me. No. I couldn’t handle that rejection.
In those days, I survived on 3-5 hours of sleep a night, worked full-time, went to school full-time 1.5 hours away from where I lived and had to drive back and forth every day and still maintained a boyfriend and robust social life. I lived like a frat boy, drinking into the early hours of the morning, satiating my id and sleeping on the sofa at my best guy friend’s house. Pretending to be okay. No one met the real me then.
There was a Debi for school, one for work, another for the boyfriend, one who pretended to fearlessly sleep on the sofa of a house full of guys, and even one more Debi for nightlife. I felt like a little girl playing dress-up. I was not ready for any of this. The time I was the most myself was in the 3 hours I was in the car alone, blaring Alanis Morrisette and Mazzy Star, singing at the top of my lungs. No one knew me. I was a lot of people for a lot of people but I was almost never “me”.
I was tortured but when I was doing what I needed to do, when I was chin-upping it I could avoid reality and the reality was that I wanted to die. Living was too painful. Breathing was a chore. Slipping on and off personalities like comfortable coats was exhausting.
It felt like everyone wanted a piece of me but only the palatable pieces. No one wanted or cared enough to move past the “me” that they needed to really see the “Me” that I actually was. This explains how the body dysmorphia got so bad. My therapist once told me that my perception of myself is so skewed that I can never trust my own eyes to know what I really look like. So, the cost of the chameleon life I led, straddling reality and pretending to be everything to everyone is that I no longer get to see the real me. I’m gone, vanished from my own sight.
As you may surmise from the previous paragraphs, I was chronically and acutely depressed with suicidal ideation and I had a plan. I even had the opportunity and motive. My point is that to the outside world and even to those closest to me, I seemed okay. Some people even called me the life of the party. I was good at hiding the darkness. I was great at pretending to be happy and go lucky when inside I was breaking. I compartmentalized my life in such a definitive way that I built a fortress around my innermost me that cut myself off from everyone and everything I loved. I lost my joy. Even when I was smiling, I was probably actively planning how, when, and where I was going to give myself over to that eternal quiet darkness that I was longing for. I was done but I couldn’t share that part of me with anyone. I didn’t want them to console or stop me. At the time, I felt like there was no way out and I was destined to a fate of pretending to be alternate versions of myself to be loved by others. The burden was too heavy but I wore it like a dress with pockets and no one seemed to notice the gravity of it all.
In the end, we see what we want to see. We choose to believe that some people have it better than others. It’s the lie we tell ourselves to help us make it through the days. To be fair, we only see what people allow us to see of themselves and they only see what we give them access to of ourselves. In a world built on flawless filters where people are so busy that they seldom look up from their screens to see a sunset, how can any of us be expected to check in on our friends who seem to be okay? Or worse the ones who seem to be good? And that, my friends, is the problem.
We live in a world where we don’t have the time or bandwidth to care about others the way that we’d like to believe we do. We’re a society saturated in our own woes and even when we want to, it can seem futile. But we put on our brave and happy faces and we soldier on until we can no longer endure.
I don’t know what happened Monday to trigger and escalate the situation for Boss. I don’t know what his “no longer can endure” breaking point but I know the pain it feels to be there in the thick of it. I know the sorrow and thick melancholy that makes it hard to breathe and even harder to live. My heart goes out to Boss and his family. It breaks my heart to think of how alone and desperate he must have felt in those final moments when no longer existing seemed the only option.
People always want to know how and why someone could do such a thing, especially when they seem to have it all. The thing is “having it all” is worthless when you feel completely alone and unworthy of your blessings; when you hurt so much that you can’t even find joy in the things that used to make you profoundly happy; you can’t function normally under the heaviness of the sadness. You begin to doubt the point of your existence and wonder if removing yourself might actually be better for your family and friends. I’ve been there and now; my daughter is there. Sometimes, I think I survived just for this moment. I’ve been on both sides of the darkness as someone’s child and now, as the parent of someone mired in the darkness and it’s worse than you can imagine.
If you or someone you know is feeling alone in the darkness, having suicidal ideation and/or making a plan, reach out for help. You are not alone. There are so many of us who have survived. There is no switch to turn or pill to take to be all better. It’s painful to survive BUT it’s worth it. Take it day by day, hour by hour or even minute by minute. The pain seems unbearable and the crisis unsurmountable when you look at the big picture, so look for the tiny moments to get you through to the next.
If you’re in the United States, you can call the suicide and crisis lifeline at 988, available in Spanish and English language, 24 hours a day. Someone is always there to listen. You are worth saving. You matter.