Three holes to fill: I’m lonely, horny, and ornery. Or, in clinical terms, I’m depressed, (hypo)manic, and anxious. In the end, I’m screwed.
I am not a recovering melancholic. I continue to overthink.
The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain got me thinking about my attempt fifteen years ago and the struggles I still face.
People who don’t know me well don’t see the real me—the reeling me. Although I’m not actively suicidal, I must fight every day passive thoughts about wishing to die. Some days I’m so depressed I have to force myself to take a shower. Being with people hurts. I tell myself that life is meaningless and I’ll always be miserable, unable to work full-time.
Someone I hadn’t seen in years asked me recently if I ever thought about becoming a teacher. I’m well-spoken, she said, and full of interesting ideas. I told her she caught me on a good day.
“Check with me tomorrow morning,” I said. “You’ll see I’m a different person.”
Of course I’ve thought about becoming a teacher, but becoming a teacher feels impossible. I’m not confident enough to stand in front of a classroom. I’m not brave enough to make mistakes—mistakes I might learn from. I don’t believe in myself.
People of faith often talk about doing God’s work. They’re called to fulfill a higher purpose beyond themselves. I worry that my calling never came and never will. All I hear is my own voice, putting me down, on an endless loop.
There is a counter-argument. My writing—regardless of my mood—is a spiritual endeavor and writing about depression and suicide might save lives, including my own.
A previous version of this essay was published in The Intimacy of Communication.
Throwing Judo Moves
Originally published in French in 1976, Symbolic Exchange and Death finds Jean Baudrillard incorporating into his thought the work of Marcel Mauss, a French sociologist who studied gift exchange in primitive societies. Mauss wrote about rituals in which each member is obligated to give gifts, receive gifts and provide counter-gifts, all of which contain traces of the person’s soul. The “goal” of the ritual: a gift-receiver must overwhelm a gift-giver with a counter-gift so powerful no further counter-gift is possible. In the process of trying to one-up each other, tribal members deliberately waste excess resources to ensure no one accumulates too much wealth.
Baudrillard views these rituals as a radical form of symbolic exchange, a concept he uses to critique capitalism. Emphasizing community and submission to fate, primitive peoples put to shame American values like greed, self-importance and celebrity worship.
Civilized societies based on economic exchange retain elements of symbolic exchange that haunt modern life. Still, Baudrillard argues, if we wish to save what makes us human, we must challenge the homogeny of the capitalist system with a gift it can’t return. We must force the system to humble itself before the world.
Nothing is more spectacular or subversive than suicide.
Death as creative act. Suicide as counter-gift. This is Baudrillard’s private revolution against capitalism’s reign of terror. People in Western cultures don’t kill themselves, Baudrillard contends, because resources are scarce. They crack under the pressure of mandatory consumption, their bodies too weak to enjoy a lifetime supply of products and services they don’t need and never asked for.
Thankfully, we don’t have to die to issue a challenge. We can commit theoretical terror, like Baudrillard does in his writings, or we can sacrifice ourselves through super-obedience to the logic of the system, devolving into passive-aggressive citizen-robots. In both cases a duel commences in which the weaker party throws what Baudrillard calls “judo moves” at its much stronger opponent, turning the system’s power against itself.
While I’m intrigued by Baudrillard’s provocative analysis, I’m here to issue him a challenge of my own. We live in a violent world rooted in socially constructed systems of power, oppression and abuse. We hurt, so we hurt each other. Rather than responding to violence with more violence, we must learn to forgive ourselves and each other for all our trespasses.
An understated but radical concept: forgiveness as the ultimate counter-gift.
There’s no reason to forgive someone who hurt me, just as there was no reason for him to hurt me in the first place. As a survivor who learns to forgive, I resist an impulse to give up. I can then devote myself to promoting an ethics of what I call “compassionate anti-violence,” which means fighting for empathy without punching people in the face.
This is not merely a personal healing. Survivors who acknowledge the truth of their ordeals are free to confront evil and protect others from harm, reducing suffering throughout the world. Poverty, slavery, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, terrorism, war: these are just a few examples of social and political traumas that threaten individual lives and the foundations of entire cultures.
Of course, anger and sadness are normal responses to injustice. I don’t deny anyone’s right to express outrage or disgust, but staying angry increases misery. To make matters worse, many survivors mistakenly blame themselves for events beyond their control. An inner-directed forgiveness has the power to heal self-inflicted wounds.
An Existential Burden
I live between extremes. One moment, I’m hypervigilant—scanning my environment for threats, startled by the sound of my heartbeat. A few minutes later, I’m numb, disconnected from reality, an imposter in my own body—a classic case of depersonalization.
When I’m hypervigilant, I’m keyed up from living in protect mode. When depersonalization sets in, I’m desperate to confirm I’m alive. I find danger lurking in all directions, each step a trudge through the middle of imaginary battlefields.
There’s a reason for my distress: as a child I endured years of physical and psychological abuse. As a teenager, in addition to clinical depression, I received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, an existential burden no amount of medication or therapy will ever erase.
Everyone suffers. My attacker was hurting when he hurt me. I assume he struggles to make sense of his actions years later. I don’t want to compound my suffering—or his—by hitting back.
Of course, I’m no saint. I’ve hurt family and friends, even lashed out at strangers. One spring day in 2003, I took more pills than my bottles directed. This got me a date with an ER nurse whose name escapes me. She poured me a pitcher of soot water to neutralize the poison.
“You’re so young,” she said. “You have so much to look forward to.”
There’s a chart somewhere with my personal history. I don’t know if I thanked her for filling in the blanks.
- thesis – antithesis – synthesis
- Id – Ego – Superego
- talk – text – data
- conservative – liberal – anarchist
- client – therapist – transference
- duty – honor – country
- lather – rinse – repeat
- shadow – reflection – unconscious
- signifier – signified – referent
- FOX – CNN – TMZ
- kids – marriage – bankruptcy
- alcohol – tobacco – firearms
- everything – must – go
- death – burial – resurrection
- location – location – location
- life – liberty – property
- transportation – security – administration
- stop – drop – roll
- top – bottom – switch
- rock – paper – scissors
- duck – duck – goose
- imaginary – symbolic – real
- cave – typewriter – tablet
- legislative – executive – judicial
- cash – credit – debit
- people – places – things
- there – their – they’re
- mind – body – soul
- bacon – lettuce – tomato
- YOLO – CEO – GMO
- heels – boots – curves
- Tinder – Grindr – masturbator
- terror – surveillance – democracy
- faith – hope – charity
- father – priest – warden
- Netflix – Hulu – Prime
- Facebook – Twitter – telegram
- diagnosis – treatment – prevention
- intrusion – avoidance – hyperarousal
- thesis – antithesis – synthesis
my therapist says overthinking
can be a defense mechanism
overthinking can be
a defense mechanism
overthinking can be
an unfenced metaphorical prison
it’s not my fault
my therapist says
can be used against me
my therapist runs a mom & pop
Oedipal arrangements shop
with thirty-one flavors
of oral fixation lollipops
overthinking can be
a dense intellectual prism
a defense mechanism
anxiety is a preexisting
paid for by a
my therapist ties
Freudian slip knots
to agoraphobics flying
kites in parking lots
it’s not my fault
it’s not my fault
I don’t believe
it’s not my fault
my therapist is the reason
I’m in touch with my feelings
c b snoad
Just Another Manic Monday (Through Sunday)
I am the free will of my Self
I am the life of my Self
I am the breathing breath of my Self
I am the paper pen yellow tablet of my writing Self
I am the Right Here Right Now of my present Self
I am the visions of my viewing Self
I am the mistakes of my erring Self
I am the sadness of my desperate Self
I am the shower I washed my Self today Self
I am the chicken potatoes juice of my Self
I am the wandering of my restless Self
I am the problems of my troubled Self
I am the sitting chair Self on the floor Self
I am the room of my loafing Self
I am the limited Self that limits my Self
I am the passing moments of the times of my Self
I am the Poetry of my Poet Self
I am the wall ceiling lights hallway of my Self
I am the memory of my forgotten Self
I am the sleep of my snoring Self
I am the habits of my habitual Self
I am the pills of my medicated Self
I am the lunatic of my Beautiful Self
I am the age twenty-three years of my old soul Self
I am the Second Stanza of this Poem Self
I am the movement of my do-it-yourself Self
I am the silence of my silent Self
I am the child of my infantile Self
I am the doctors of my evaluated Self
I am the tyrant of my terrorizing Self
I am the asthma of my allergy Self
I am the confusion of my poorly worded Self
I am the lazy of my boredom Self
I am the thirsty of my parched Self
I am the sex of my fucking Self
I am the gender of my penis Self
I am the dreamer of my dreaming Self
I am the misspelling of my phonetic Self
I am the sound of my hearing Self
I am the impending end of my doomed Self
I am the dying of my living Self
I am the editing of the original copy of this Poem Self
I am the free will of my Self (still)
I am the omissions of my censored Self
I am the attack of my alien Self
I am the sloppy penmanship of my hurried Self
I am the trauma of my traumatic Self
I am the inmate of my prison Self
I am the space-filler of my occupying Self
I am the steadiness of my constant Self
I am the adjectives of my descriptive Self
I am the technology of my robot Self
I am the ALL CAPS of my little Self
I am the liar of my lying Self
I am the aching of my aching Self
I am the nausea of my nauseous Self
I am the cramping of my right hand Self
I am the arch of my barefoot Self
I am the Responsibility of my Self
I am the waiting of my patient Self
I am the insurance of my hospitalized Self
I am the No Exit of my inescapable Self
I am the No Self of my Self
I am the culture of my Self
I am the human nature of my Self
I am the helplessness of my learned Self
I am the Existentialist of my philosophical Self
I am the villain of my evil Self
I am the hero of my savior Self
I am the money of my worthless Self
I am the questions of my ambiguous Self
I am the peace of my fragmented Self
I am the graduate of my undergraduate-degree Self
I am the arms hands fingers of my Self
I am the clothes that hang about my body Self
I am the pointlessness of my pointless Self
I am the enemy of my Self
I am the perpetrator of my Self
I am the Becoming of my Self
I am the refusal of my Self to fully be my Self
I am the empty of my hollow Self
I am the Unique Insignificance of my Self
I am the __________ of my __________ Self
I am the water of my wet Self
I am the belabored point of this ranting of my Self
I am the happiness of the pursuit of my Self
I am the feeling of my numbed down Self
I am the crossword puzzle of my wordsmith Self
I am the fear itself of my fearful Self
I am the free will of my Self (yes still)
I am the shadow of my presenting Self
I am the gentle tap on the shoulder of my lover’s approaching me Self
I am the Possibilities of my future Self
I am the logic of my illogical Self
I am the God of my non-believing Self
I am the reading of my scripted Self
I am the italics of my italicized Self
I am the absurdity of the absurdity of my Self
I am the flavor of my tasting Self
I am the fart of my farting Self
I am the loser of my losing Self
I am the vapor of my phantom Self
I am the dog-walker of my dog-walking Self
I am the unshaven mask of my follicle Self
I am Nothing More Than the Everything of my Self
I am the depression of my depressed Self
I am the moving away when people come towards me Self
I am the sole participant in the world of my Self
I am the hyphen of my self-esteem Self
I am the fulfillment of my Amazon Order Self
I am the balls of my naked Self
I am the ME of my ME Self
I am the free will of my Self (of course still)
I am the neurotic of my psychotic Self
I am the rage of my macho Self
I am the repetition of my repetitious Self
I am the repetition of my repetitious Self
I am the anticipation of my anticipatory Self
I am the navel of my gazing Self
I am the THE of my THE Self
I am the simile of my metaphorical Self
I am the Buddhist of my mindful Self
I am the activities of my daily living Self
I am the violence of my violent Self
I am the syntax of my grammatical Self
I am the hunger of my insatiable Self
I am the appearance of my doppelganger Self
I am the signs of my signified Self
I am the cost of my expendable Self
I am the desire of my longing Self
I am the reactions you have to this Poem Self
I am the disaster of my post-apocalyptic Self
I am the television of my TV Self
I am the free will of my Self (on and on and on)
I am the stock boy of my stocking-groceries Self
I am the knife of my cutting Self
I am the process not the product of my writer Self
I am the compassion of my nice guy Self
I am the darkness of my light Self
I am the smell of my nostril Self
I am the grunt of my brute Self
I am the drifter of my drifting Self
I am the rhythm of my rhythmic Self
I am the embers of my burning Self
I am the English of my language Self
I am the unconscious of my Jungian Self
I am the proof of my self-evident Self
I am the okay of my okay Self
I am the glasses of my bespectacled Self
I am the free will of my Self (it has only just begun)
c b snoad
I am the line below my name and date on this page of my Self
A young psychoanalyst named Fliess once asked Freud how a therapist knows when a patient has been cured. “When the patient realizes therapy never ends,” Freud said.
I’ve been thinking about taking a break from therapy in the near future. After at least one monthly session for the last decade and a half, I’m ready to move on.
We all tell ourselves stories about ourselves, each of us simultaneously a personal expert and unreliable narrator of our lives. We awake each day in the same body we went to bed with, but our worries and neuroses, played out in dreams or nightmares, don’t disappear overnight. Our core conflicts persist but manifest in different ways according to our moods or external stressors. Yet every morning we begin again in the middle of things, psyching ourselves up for the inevitable challenges of facing the world in front of our mirrors.
My personal narrative includes memories of individual therapy sessions spent crafting and revising an inconclusive autobiography, therapy itself a series of stories-within-stories, a self-reflexive automatic writing of the soul.
There’s no cure for the trauma I’ve suffered, but I’ve learned to recognize the sound of my own voice again, which speaks to the kindness of my therapists. A kindness I’m now showing myself.
I took away three main ideas from Alina N. Feld’s brilliant analysis of depression in Melancholy and the Otherness of God.
First, philosophers from Ancient Greece to modern times have seen the Melancholic as a visionary soul vital to humanity’s recognition of its own simultaneous vulnerability and power. The Melancholic thinks and feels at a higher frequency than “normal” people. This leads to greater distress and untold suffering for the afflicted, but this pain is survivable. Those who attend to the vibrations of what today we call depression become wiser human beings.
Second, living with depression requires courage. The Depressed must feel the fear and proceed anyway. At the heart of Being lies the specter of Nothingness; the Depressed encounters Nothingness but doesn’t back away from it. There is value in appreciating the vertigo of contemplation before the abyss.
Third, in order to reach heaven one must go through hell. Depression feels like hell on earth, but its torment is far from eternal. The life of the Depressed is a spiritual journey, a path to freedom in the face of terror. There is no Resurrection without Crucifixion.
My book, The Intimacy of Communication: A Spiritual Encounter, is now available for purchase via Amazon and the CreateSpace store. I may add a Kindle version too, but that’s still a work in progress. Direct links to purchase my book:
I’m sure many of my readers are familiar with ordering books on Amazon. Besides clicking the first link above, you can go to amazon.com and type “charles b snoad” in the search box and up pops my book.
Besides clicking the second link above, to order via createspace.com switch from “site” to “store” and type “charles b snoad” in the search box and up pops my book.
This has been an amazing process. CreateSpace, an Amazon company, makes self-publishing easy. You don’t have to spend a fortune to set up your book, unless you opt for their “professional services,” which I didn’t need. I highly recommend CreateSpace.
Below is the full book description, followed by my author bio. Thanks for your support. If you like the book, please consider writing a review on Amazon. Hope you enjoy it!
Is there space for intimacy in a hyper-connected world? Charles B. Snoad employs the wisdom of French philosopher/provocateur Jean Baudrillard in a spiritual quest for meaning in the Digital Age. Fighting against rampant consumerism and a cultural imperative that everyone must text, Tweet and overshare on social media, Snoad argues for authentic communication, or fully present, device-free conversation. In the process, he also seeks to understand his twenty-year battle with depression. If depressed people pose a threat to corporate values like rationalization, organization and flexibility, does depression carry with its suffering a temporary path to freedom? By sharing his story, Snoad hopes to break the stigma surrounding mental illness. Personal essays in this collection cover wide-ranging topics in philosophy, psychology, politics, religion, media studies, sociology and critical theory. The book concludes with thoughts on the power of forgiveness to transform our souls in the wake of social, political and personal traumas. This is a text with depth no instant message can convey. To follow along, the author recommends we silence our phones.
Charles B. Snoad is a summa cum laude graduate of Elmhurst College with a BA in English. At Elmhurst he won multiple poetry and short story awards, and served as opinion columnist for the school newspaper, The Leader. He discovered French philosophy shortly after college and quickly fell in love with the works of Jean Baudrillard, his intellectual hero. Snoad lives in Wheeling, IL, and works as a writing tutor and copy editor. He’s maintained his blog Sharp Left Turns since 2008.