Back in 2010, I saw the band Frightened Rabbit play a beautiful show at a little venue in Portland called Berbati’s Pan.
I’d been listening to their album, The Midnight Organ Fight, almost non-stop for a long time at that point. It’s such a sad set of songs, but so earnest. So beautiful in their vulnerability and in lead singer/songwriter Scott Hutchison’s way of describing heartbreak, loss, depression and thoughts of suicide that is intimately relatable and also unlike I’ve ever heard it said before.
Scott went missing a couple days ago, with friends and family describing him as having been in a “fragile state.” Police in Scotland found his body today. A few days ago, he and I were both 36. Now he was 36, and I still am.
As part of the encore that night in Portland, they played “Poke,” a simple, spiraling, probing song that he sang with an obviously aching heart even so many months and years after he’d first felt the feelings that compelled him to write the song.
When the song finished, I said to my friend that I hoped I never felt as sad as it would take to write a song like that. My friend, mostly joking, assured me that I never would because I didn’t care about anything enough to feel truly heartbroken about loss.
That turned out to be wrong, unfortunately.
I myself have struggled deeply with depression over the past several years. It has affected every part of my life. My work, my relationship with my partner and my kids and parents and siblings and friends and co-workers and… my ability to love and be loved. My ability to even show up and live in the world.
I never understood the idea of suicide. What could lead you to that end? But then I started, years ago, imagining running and jumping through the window of my maroon-gray cubicle and crashing down to the ground. Or just smashing my forehead as hard as I could against the edge of my desk.
It’s been at different times bewildering, terrifying, crushing, and at most other times the total absence of feeling. Ultimately it has been an invigorating call to action, a persistent directive from my mind and body to live with loving conviction.
But it’s exhausting.
I’ve been doing really well lately, but the depression is still living with me. Still lurking, tugging at me, threatening to tie me up while I sleep so that I wake up and unexpectedly can’t get out of bed. Sneaky son of a butt.
Those darkest of dark times were relatively brief, and nothing really happened. I had people to talk to, and was never especially close to acting anything out. Never made plans, only inexplicable urges and emptiness. I was lucky, or something, in a way that Scott Hutchison wasn’t this week.
It scares me. My heart is too heavy today.
The world as it is right now is enough to push earnest, sensitive people over the edge if we’re not careful. I feel completely overwhelmed most of the time. Exhausted.
Luckily, these days when the depression tries to tug at me, I sometimes catch it in the act. I know what it’s trying to do, and I know how to make it let go. I talk with people I love. I find some sunshine. I hatch a scheme. I think as deeply as I can about losing the things I love, which I find makes me feel similarly deep appreciation. I sleep. I get up and get outside.
Usually, though, I wake up after a few days or weeks and realize I’ve been under water again. And I start trying to swim up to the surface.
The turning point for me really came when I understood that my depression was, in some way, there for me, not against me. It’s been showing me the darkness of dissonance so that I know with conviction to seek the light. It sits as a constant reminder against backsliding into a lack of purpose.
If you’re struggling in any way, you’re not alone. Reach out to the people you love. Lean on them and love them well. And if you reach out and it feels like there’s no one there, reach a little further. You might not recognize the hands you find at first, but we’re here for you. We’re all here. We're all in this together.
Scott Hutchison, you personally have given me the gift of hope many, many times. I’ve listened to “Old, Old Fashioned” and known I’m not alone, or to “The Twist” and admired your ability to write so cleverly about the things I'm feeling. I’ve listened countless times as “Poke” became “Extrasupervery” became “Keep Yourself Warm,” and I’ve felt and known things I don’t have words for.
It bends my mind a little to think that this man who couldn’t keep himself above water in the end helped to keep so many of the rest of us afloat with his life preservers disguised as art.
So, today I find that I'm feeling deeply sad not in a depressed way, but in that way of being really fucking sad about something truly heartbreaking. And I’m thanking everything in the universe that I’m still here, thanking everything for the fountain of joy and energy and love that is my beautiful family, and for the thick web of loving friends hanging below me like a safety net, and for the fact that I’m going to be okay. That I am okay.
And thank you, Scott, for being there for me when I needed you. Even now.