Friday, February 8th, 2008
Scott O’Neil had lifelong battles with depression and suicidal feelings, until in 1982 he made a mind-over-matter decision to change his life, as voiced by his six-word memoir above. When he felt better, he began volunteering at a suicide hotline. He was excited to be included in this book, but had a lot of anxiety about being asked for an illustration. He says drawing several drafts of images about his depression started to pull him back into it, but ultimately he overcame it, and is proud to have rated a full page. He wrote me and explained:
“Life was going along fine until I turned 12, when I started to feel depressed. At first, it wasn’t all that dramatic, just a little bit sad all the time. But by the time I was 13, I started a 6-year run of feeling suicidal at some point every single day—sometimes dozens or hundreds of times a day. The depression grew in frequency and overall burden. By the time I was 15, it was debilitating, and I required what seemed like an herculean effort just to get out of bed.
The suicidal feelings continued unabated, and when I reached out for help, I received none. My parents wouldn’t even talk to me about the depression or suicidal feelings, and I didn’t understand why. Years later, they told me they’d used all our mental health insurance for my mother, who was battling her own depression, and they didn’t know what to do about me.
Somehow, I slogged my way through junior high and high school, one bullied and harassed day after another — finally graduating 350th in a class of 850, with the minimum number of credits necessary.
High school was so awful, that I never even considered college (it would have been a disaster, anyway). So in 1981, I headed into the work world, hoping that a new venue would turn things around. Unfortunately, depression and suicidal thoughts followed me everywhere. After so many years of heart-ache, I thought more and more about ending it all. And believe it or not, that was a comforting thought.
I’d been fighting to overcome my depression for six years, and given that I felt so close to the end of my life, I decided to try something new. Heck, I couldn’t possibly do *worse*, could I? So I decided that rather than fighting the depression, I would try to accept it and everything that came with it. I was obviously unable to overcome it, and all those years of pretending to be normal or nonchalant about it was no small effort.
So in July of 1982, I resolved the following: from that day forward, I would accept how I felt and let things happen the way they happened. No more fighting depression. No more worrying about depression when I was happy. If I was depressed, then I would go ahead and feel depressed; if I felt suicidal, I would experience it without denial. It was scariest decision I ever made, because I could easily have ended it all. But fortunately, it was the last scary decision I ever made.
Within two weeks, I had my first day free of suicidal thoughts in over six years. A week after that, I had two days. Two weeks later, I had two consecutive days. And pretty soon, I was going entire weeks without considering suicide. No drugs, no therapy, no counseling, no electro-shock, just me and the changes I made to myself. One decision, repeated every day (about 9,300 days worth at this point), that turned my life from unbearable to unbelievable.
And thus, the memoir, “Changing mind postponed demise by decades.”
As for the image, here’s a bit more of what it represents to me:
I also gave up drinking in the summer of 1982. I wasn’t a heavy drinker (just a beer or two on the weekend), and I also wasn’t old enough to drink (only 19 at the time). Mostly, I gave it up because I was an unpleasant drunk; however, pissing off the guy who used to buy for me certainly accelerate the process.
In the winter of 1982, emboldened by my success in beating back depression, I told my family that I did not believe in God. I actually stopped believing in Him very early on (maybe age 10 or so), but never had the courage to tell them. But I was sick of being someone that other people wanted me to be, so I struck out on my own in every way I could.
Having thrown off the triple-shackles of depression, alcohol, and religion, I slowly remade my own mind to the point where I found peace, happiness, and got myself an education (both the college and real-life kind). And thus, the image is a brain that looks like a car, with peace-sign mag wheels, cans on strings tied to the back, a “.edu” bumper sticker. Underneath, there is an open trap door, with a bottle of booze, a cross, and a hangman’s noose harmlessly falling away.
And lastly, just a quick word about what I faced in creating the image. I can’t really draw, so it was difficult from the start. But the process of working through five or six different possible images and having to think about those years of depression started to depress me afresh. I considered hiring someone else to do the drawing (as you know from our email conversations). And when you insisted that I do it myself, I considered hiring someone anyway and lying to you.
But as the process wore on, I realized that I hadn’t come all this way in 25 years just to fold at this point. Since 1982, I’ve never shied away from painful or disturbing experiences or thoughts, and I didn’t want to run away from my own past just to make things easier. It didn’t make the depression disappear, but that didn’t matter to me — only to those who care about me, and I figured they’d get over it.
Besides, I thought the worst thing that could happen would be that the publisher would hate the drawing and refuse to put my memoir in the book. And I’d be no worse off than I was before, and how bad could *that* be?
So I continued on, through multiple images and drawings, until I settled on the one I sent to you.”