St. Roch Blues: A storm rages in New Orleans

Chapter VIII

[Names have been changed]

“I love you,” I whispered. Perched on my chest, Ava repeated the words back to me.

A little over a week later, she broke us up to be with someone else.

This story is, as all of them are, more complex, but in the next weeks, as I obsessively replayed the movie in my mind, these were the only two plot points that mattered.

We met in Chicago when we were both in long-term relationships. Like my own relationship at the time, Ava’s was perpetually rocky, and so we confided in one another about the circumstances of our dissatisfaction, as friends.

Then she visited me two summers later. Newly single, she and another friend, Nadie, came to explore Seattle, beauties sans commitments. On the first night of their visit, having given them my bedroom for their stay, I was preparing to sleep on the couch when Ava came into the living room, bent over, and kissed me on the lips.

I’d never had a woman make the first move before and it caught me quite by surprise. The following day was spent exchanging furtive looks until that night, with Nadie gone to bed, Ava once again came to me. A couple days later, the two of them returned to Chicago and that was to be the end of it.

Do Not

The Air

New Orleans is far and away the most idiosyncratic city of all I’ve lived in, a village from the past thrust haphazardly into the future, with a personality so distinct that, at times, it could feel like a foreign country. It was exhilarating, but also wearying.

I avoided Hurricane Isaac by three days, but not the damage. Almost all of New Orleans outside the economic hub of the French Quarter was without power. With temperatures in the 90s and humidity thick as taffy, I sweated through my first weekend, unable to sleep, crushed by the atmosphere.

Like many of the inhabitants of New Orleans, my new roommate, Donatella, was not locally grown but had nonetheless embraced the city as her one true home. She did her best to give me a proper welcome, greeting me with a shot of vodka the moment I stepped out of the taxi before bar hopping me to the French Quarter. Insistent air conditioners whirled in the Quarter, but there was no escaping the  oppressive heat.

Southern DecadenceI wasn’t suffering alone. The entire city was on edge, even with Southern Decadence providing a festive aura of greased up, naked men dancing in the streets. My first night, I tagged along with Donatella who was tending bar at the AllWays Lounge, a home and performance space for the proud mutants and outsiders of New Orleans. Nudity and liquor were flowing, but the move and the heat had melted my energy.

“One second,” Donatella commanded after I told her I was calling it a night. Reaching under the counter and into her bag, she came back up wearing her radiant, incorruptible smile and holding out a box cutter. “Take this. Just in case.” The darkened St. Roch neighborhood was no place to walk without protection, especially on a roiling September night.

The Clouds

As had been the case with some of my previous moves, a budding romance distracted me from the difficulties of adjusting to a new locale. This year, it was Ava.

Ever since Seattle, we’d been exchanging daily texts and emails, with plans for her to visit in October. Built upon a three-year friendship, our relationship blossomed quickly. In discussing the future, it was suggested that she move to New York City where she could further her fashion career. It meant more time apart, but after seven years of travel, two didn’t seem so long. To have a beautiful woman waiting at the finish line felt like a perfect, Hollywood ending.

Meanwhile, even though my savings went a long way in New Orleans’ cheap economy, I wasn’t taking any chances. I accepted the first job offer I received, working at one of New Orleans’ most mismanaged 4-Star restaurants. The nightmare conditions were due almost entirely to the GM, a ladder climbing egotist who ruled disinterestedly as the restaurant’s sommelier, yet rarely made appearances in the presence of a customer.

That job taught me that New Orleans rewarded free-spiritedness and penalized a work ethic. As the year progressed, I naively believed I’d be rewarded for dependability, but instead, my coworkers enjoyed their holidays off while I served an empty dining room. I should’ve heeded Donatella’s warnings. She encouraged me to look for less regimented employment in the essentially citywide, gig economy. Alas.

The Wind

I suffered through the heat until it broke in October. The city came alive again as it prepared for its second favorite holiday, Halloween, AKA warm-up for Mardi Gras. I explored the city with my roommate, but the party generally came to my door. Donatella’s irresistible personality drew in everyone, and so our apartment was a hive of varied and interesting strangers blowing through. Almost literally.

St Roch AvDonatella had sold me on the “shotgun”-style house, a floor plan that abandons hallways and fourth walls for an unbroken passage from front door to back. In my roommate’s perspective, this nurtured a free-flowing, open, and creative living environment. Fine in theory, but in practice it meant no privacy.

My room was the only route to the kitchen from Donatella’s room. I erected a partition out of thick sheets, but even with flimsy doors between our separate spaces, all barriers were essentially ornamental. Sound carried indiscriminately. With Donatella being a fully realized, independent, and carnal woman, I went to sleep many nights with headphones affixed to my ears.

Work drained my spirit and home didn’t provide the rejuvenating solitude I needed after spending the day with people. New Orleans was exhausting me, and not in the fun way.

For this reason, Ava’s daily messages and looming visit were my sole source of restoration in those early months. When she finally did arrive at the end of October, we had the kind of sublime reunion so rarely enjoyed by long-distance lovers. Seeing New Orleans – its towering churches, the Museum of Art, the street performers – with Ava’s fresh eyes made the city beautiful. There was no awkward acclimation period, no time wasted on rediscovering our groove. Laying together after reacquainting our bodies, we spoke of our love.

But she couldn’t stay. On my own again, real life nullified the highs of our romantic weekend,  each day proving anew that the Big Easy cared nothing for my worsening mental state. My daily notes to Ava grew increasingly despondent, and so, when in early November she told me she couldn’t keep the relationship going, a part of me expected it.

The Trinity (Cropped)

The Storm

I couldn’t even reel in private. Donatella walked into my “room” just as I hung up with Ava. She was kind enough to offer a comforting hug and invite me out to drown my sorrows in booze. Strangely, that night I turned down her invitation.

Depression was overwhelming my entire being. I knew it was too much to count on Ava to shoulder my burden, so while the breakup devastated me, I understood. Until, that is, the inevitable Facebook post of Ava with her new boyfriend some weeks later. Now there was an acute sense of rejection to go with my loss.

For a time, Donatella was an unbelievably gracious source of comfort. When I had to work from 9 am to 11 pm on Thanksgiving – the one holiday I celebrate – she greeted me upon my return with a bear hug and a plate of leftovers. She then escorted me out for drinks and lively karaoke performances (her, not me).

After tiring of Kajun’s Pub, she used her key to let us into the closed Allways Lounge. Under a soft, orange glow, we sat together at the empty bar’s piano, shoulder to shoulder, neither one of us knowing what we were doing, and riffed for hours. From our staccato notes emerged restorative, shattered music. I felt weightless for the first time in months.

We walked home with the rising sun, raw with emotions. That night I’d seen the darkness in Donatella that she mostly covered by emitting light like a strobe. She opened up about a history of abuse, a wound still tender, both from the pain she had endured and the guilt she felt for another victim left behind. Her heavy and intimate confession underlined a growing platonic affection between us more substantial than anything I’d had with Ava.

Naturally, it didn’t last.

The Wasteland

The Devastation

Years of itinerancy had taken their toll. I was unable to make the simplest human connections knowing that in a short time I’d be gone, a barely remembered name popping up in a newsfeed. People were temporary and I was a ghost. Ava’s disappearance had been particularly crushing; for a brief time, I’d fooled myself into believing in her permanence.

Amplifying this instability were the unending guests passing through our doors. Donatella signed us up to host  couch surfers. I’d wake up to unknown out-of-towners on the couch; sometimes they were bar patrons she’d met the night before who’d taken her up on an offer of a place to crash. If I had had a door on my room, I might have found the rotating cast of strangers vaguely endearing.

The depression would not relent. Under a confluence of factors, no one cause, my mind had become a tempest, volatile, erratic, boiling over one moment in manic rage, then leaving me hollow and weeping on my floor. I couldn’t even feel in possession of my own emotions.

It’s easier, now, to accept why Donatella lost patience, but at the time it was just one more battlefront, our once close friendship degenerated into screaming matches. It was a cruel irony that a woman who welcomed everyone and readily accepted any sexual, gender, or racial identity, found my illness so intolerable. Perhaps it just hit too close to home.

And yet, no one hates a person with depression more than the person themselves.

In December, distraught over everything – my job, my home, my broken heart, myself – I resolved to end it. Suicide had always hovered in the back of my mind, a personal nuclear option, but now, I woke up and went to sleep contemplating it. I made a plan: At month’s end, I’d throw myself off of the Crescent City Connection into the Mississippi River. The thought of sinking brought me rare moments of peace.

I suppose I gave myself a buffer, in part, because my brain goes through cycles and I knew there was a possibility I could still rise out of stark misery. Instead, each day, I felt worse. I became a practical mute at work and stayed offline, falling further into isolation. When no one seemed to notice, I took that as confirmation of my worthlessness, justification for my choice.

Marianne noticed.

On an evening in mid-December, my D.C. friend from college appeared on the caller ID. Surprised, I almost let it go to voicemail, but succumbed to curiosity.

“Hey,” she said in her hesitant, unassuming way. “Hadn’t seen you post lately, thought I’d check how things were going with you.” Without hyperbole: Marianne saved my life that night.

I didn’t admit to her what I planned to do, probably attempted to sound lighthearted and casual, but after we talked briefly, I hung up and bawled. For once, the tears brought relief. Such a simple act; Gomorrah spared for the benevolence of one friend.

Life on the Bayou

Clear Skies, Again

Life didn’t immediately improve. Climbing out of the depths is a process.

My rift with Donatella grew apace and after five months, I relocated to a new apartment in Mid-City with co-workers. The job remained a drudge, but an incredibly lucrative one. I earned more money serving the well-heeled of New Orleans than I’ve ever made at any other job. I could pay to see a show or buy a necessity without checking my bank account. I reached my savings goal so easily that I gleefully quit my job a month and a half early.

Despite my mental state, NOLA gave me extraordinary, one-of-a-kind experiences: waking up early on Fat Tuesday to drink Irish coffee in a crowd of colorful costumes on Frenchmen Street; sinking into mud while watching Fleetwood Mac at Jazz Fest; dancing upstairs at Blue Nile and being kissed by a stranger; feeling the city’s incomparable rhythms pulsing from every street corner. Hell, even the graphic gay porn playing on the TVs upstairs at Phoenix Bar was delightful in its own way.

Cracked by Mother Nature and enshrined by ineffectual governance, the city’s splintered infrastructure can’t hide that underneath it all, NOLA and her people are big-hearted and dynamic. Still, like that friend who always knows where the party’s at, sometimes you’re just not in the mood to answer her call.

Which is to say, I’d take any opportunity to visit New Orleans; I’ll just never live there again.

In the summer, New Orleans’s suffocating heat and humidity returned, but planning for Boston invigorated me. After only one more year, I would finally arrive in the Promised Land.



Keep Reading: Chapter IX – Boston

Gray Clouds: Diagnosed and depressed in the Emerald City

Chapter VII

[What’s in a name? Well, whatever it is, some of these names are made up.]

Seattle is a dichotomous city: Hills and valleys, waterways and mountain ranges, limitless summer sun followed by an oppressively gray winter. Fun fact: Seattle’s annual rainfall doesn’t even put it in the top 20 of US cities, but from late October to April, the skies are shrouded in a blanket of drizzling clouds trapped overhead by the Cascades.

I arrived in the heart of summer, filled with optimism for the future of my project. This uncharacteristic positivity was in large part due to the pending publication of a Washington Post article I’d written about the financial travails of my travels. Though personal finance was the least interesting part of my project to me, when the opportunity to write a feature article for a national publication presents itself, a fledgling writer jumps at the opportunity.

The patron of my opportunity was Marianne, a friend since college who at the time was designing at the Post and had put the idea in the ear of an editor. Marianne and I have the type of friendship in which we catch up infrequently, but always with ease and an appreciation for our mutual side-eyed view of our lives. She’d witnessed and supported 10 Cities/10 Years essentially since its conception.

The featured article, complete with photo spread, provided my first taste of wide exposure and brought a flood of attention. The online comment section was divided evenly between those expressing admiration for my goal, people calling me an idiot, and pedants crowing about a typo. Truly, it had reached every demographic.

I rode the high of having my first major publishing credit for a few weeks, which led to local interviews with radio and digital publications and hearing from people who I hadn’t spoken to since high school. I was even recognized by a stranger on the street. Fame!

Luxuriating in the moment, I reunited with Ashley, yet again. As geographically removed as we had ever been, we still couldn’t resist each other. Her absence from my life left gnawing emptiness. She flew out and together we ascended the Space Needle, visited the aquarium, attended a Ryan Adams concert, and spent the still warm evenings huddled in dark booths. We didn’t even fight, a true rarity for us.

Our third go-round lasted only two months.

For years, Ashley had ridden the ups and downs of my sporadic attention, tolerating an art project that she didn’t understand and I couldn’t justify. Whatever she saw in me, whatever drew us together, it was in spite of my single-minded dedication to art, not because of it. All she wanted was a family and a home near her parents and I, well, I couldn’t say what I wanted. But it wasn’t in North Carolina.

When I ended it for the third time, it was with the understanding that there wouldn’t be a fourth. As long as we were holding on to the possibility of reconnecting someday, we’d both be miserable. And so, with an eviscerating finality, it was over.



I told the doctor everything.

It was mid-January and I had returned to familiar territory: jobless and scrambling to put together enough income to make it another month.

In the wake of yet another break up and the rapidly dwindling interest of the public for 10 Cities/10 Years, my mental state had taken another precipitous drop. My circumstances didn’t help. Weeks before Christmas, my coworkers at Levi’s and I learned that our store was closing in January. 

With the winter months a job desert, I responded to an online posting for a medical study. Déjà vu, all over again.

The psychologist, Dr. Alden, explained that they were studying the efficacy of a new anti-depressant. I had never taken any medication for my depression (self-diagnosed in high school, and confirmed every year of my life afterwards), but I was in a low place, and Seattle’s unvarying gray skies only made matters worse. I couldn’t keep fighting my brain chemistry unarmed.

For an hour and a half, I shared: career missteps, romantic failings, family history, and the current uneasy state of my nomadic existence. I checked off almost every box for depression – trouble sleeping, lack of appetite, suicidal ideations, loss of interest in activities, repetitive negative thoughts – and looked to be an ideal subject for the study. One thing gave her pause: my drinking.

“If I put you on this drug, you’ll have to cut out all alcohol. Is that something you think you can do?”

I paused a beat before saying, “Of course.” She must have known it was a lie, but she pushed ahead anyway.

Having reached the conclusion of my interview, she was preparing to sign off on my admission to the study when an off-hand comment made her go back to her notes. Earlier, I had mentioned feeling more buoyant in the sunnier months. She quickly flipped back through her folder.

She read off a series of questions.

Do I have periods where I feel sped-up? Do I rapidly swing back and forth between extremes of self-confidence and self-doubt? Does my libido increase dramatically in happier phases? Is my creativity affected?

The interview went on like that for a few more minutes, with me answering in the affirmative for nearly every inquiry. When she had read through the full list, she looked up at me, sighed, and informed me, “I can’t add you to the study.”

The medication was intended to treat clinical depression, which I’d always assumed I had. Instead, she explained, my symptoms suggested Bipolar II (typified by hypomanic phases instead of the more erratic manic episodes of Bipolar I).

Her diagnosis, cursory though it might have been, provided two strands of relief. Firstly, having a framework to describe the oscillating swings of mood and personality that had dictated my identity since I was a teenager helped me feel that I was no longer at the whim of some unknowable trickster god. I could understand my cycles, and therefore, myself.

The other source or relief: since I wouldn’t be in the study, I didn’t have to give up drinking.


Even without a job, I refused to spend every night locked up in my room. About once a week, I met my former coworker, Albert, at the Rabbit Hole, a cocktail bar less than ten minutes’ walk from my Belltown apartment. Sometimes we played a few abysmal rounds of trivia or a couple games of skeeball. Behind the bar was an alluring and statuesque Venus who Albert swore he’d marry one day, just as soon as she knew his name.

One February evening, while sitting at the bar, a short, young woman, plainly dressed, took the stool next to me. I’m not usually one to chat up a stranger (strangers generally approach me) but the whiskey had me feeling outgoing so I introduced myself. By chance, she was a visitor from Pennsylvania, traipsing through the Pacific Northwest on her own. We had an immediate rapport and began exchanging travel stories.

With a knowing look, Albert excused himself, leaving me alone with my new companion, Dahlia.

After a couple more drinks, I offered to give her the almost-local tour. From the Rabbit Hole, we walked a half mile through the cooling evening towards downtown Seattle to try Von’s, a garish cocktail lounge where they spin a wheel on the wall every half hour to determine what the current special will be. It’s usually some variant of martini in the $4 to $5 range.

Topics flowed with ease as we rapidly progressed through family, career, past travel, and even former relationships. We shared a restless worldview and waxed sibyllicly of the locales we would one day explore. A half dozen drinks into the night, we finished our discount martinis and ordered another. The quiet inner monologue that grows ever more insistent with alcohol was screaming that this was going somewhere.

Leaving Von’s, I offered to bring her to the Space Needle. It had grown laSpace Needle (at Night)te and the iconic site would be lit up brightly against the dark clouds. Like me, Dahlia preferred walking to taking a car, and since Seattle is deceptively small, we continued our evening with a mile-long stroll back through Belltown.

Conversation started to taper off during the walk, either because we had exhausted all obvious roads or because the alcohol had chemically transformed from social lubricant to depressant. Nearing the Space Needle, we stopped into Seattle’s beloved 24-hour diner, the 5 Point Café, for another round.

Dahlia made a point of mentioning that she was staying at a hostel, though she wasn’t quite sure where it was in relation to our current location. Sitting on those black vinyl stools, confident that I had accumulated enough evidence to know where this was going, I leaned in to kiss her.

Abruptly, she rebuffed me before I made contact. I retracted, stunned and ashamed. It certainly wasn’t the first time I’d had a kiss rejected – whiskey isn’t just a social lubricant – but each time, it’s always deeply embarrassing. No means no, infinitum: I apologized and hoped to salvage the night by changing the subject.

I suppose the rejection – or, from her perspective, the intrusion – had irreparably shifted the tone of the evening, because the conversation quickly soured.

Slipping through an alcoholic black hole, I emerged on the other side firmly enmeshed in a heated debate with Dahlia about moral relativism. I’ve no memory of how the conversation began, but with each passing exchange, our volume increased in inverse proportion to our civility.

She argued that no person or society has the right to dictate to any other person or society their moral values. I took the, perhaps, more provincial view that a society – and by extension, humanity – could not function if we did not enforce some sort of moral code.

I assume we’re all familiar with Godwin’s Law.

“You would let the Nazis kill the Jews?” This inarticulately worded question seemed like the logical conclusion of her position, and I assumed the only possible response was “no.” I assumed wrong. “You would let the Nazis kills the Jews!” I repeated, this time not a question, but an accusation.

She held steadfast while my mind locked onto that one phrase like a glitching robot trapped in an inescapable loop. With deepening incredulity, I rebutted her every point with that refrain, until, finally, pissed off and not a little drunk, she stormed off to the restroom.

Ten minutes passed before I concluded that she had, in fact, exited 5 Points, leaving me with the bill and a hazy understanding of how the night had flipped so dramatically, so quickly.

Pike Place Brick (Cropped)

And then the skies began to clear.

Seattle’s shifting weather mirrored my mental oscillations, and either because of that or despite it, the city remains among my favorites of the ten years.

Friendships made a big difference. One couple, Clarice and Tom, welcomed me into their home frequently and introduced me to varied and fascinating people, including Rhiannon, with whom I enjoyed burlesque shows, speakeasies, and casual misanthropy.

My two month job search ended in March when I found one of the most laidback and lucrative waiting jobs I ever had, bartending on Blake Island for visitors to Tillicum Village and the customers of Argosy Cruises. My young and sprightly coworkers often complained about working hard (we never did), and in their company I felt like an elder statesman, having lived a thousand different lives. I could have lived in that summer feeling forever, but I had more roads ahead.

With my exit a week away, my coworker, Brielle – an inveterate hostess – threw a raucous going away party at her apartment. Having seven cities in the books, I felt like a man on a victory tour. In two years I’d be in New York, and before that, all I had to do was live it up in New Orleans and Boston.

Little did I know that an old face from Chicago was about to blow everything up.

It was Seattle in late August; I couldn’t see them yet, but clouds were on the horizon. They always are.

Keep reading: Chapter VIII – New Orleans 

A photo of Martin Manley, a Kansas City sportswriter who blogged about his suicide.

“My mom said I was always a happy baby.” The Suicide of Martin Manley

[This post obviously deals with suicide. Do not read on if the subject makes you uncomfortable.]

Martin Manley killed himself.

This in and of itself isn’t so unique. Thousands of suicides happen without much notice. Manley was a public figure, a former sports writer for the Kansas City Star and editor for the website Sports In Review. However, what makes his suicide bizarre is that he created a website (no longer active; going to the URL now could subject you to a virus) to explain his reasons for his actions. The final thing he wrote was a post for SIR.

In his final post, Manley explains:

The reason for my departure is 100% within my ability to control. You see, earlier today, I committed suicide. I created a web-site to deal with the many questions a person would rightfully have. It’s called It went live today. In my opinion, there is no question which you could conceivably ask that I have left unanswered on that site. My goal with this post is closure for SIR.

Martin Manley shot himself in front of a police station. His final post touched on some of his reasons, but mostly he seemed to just want to put everything in order. The website he created was split into 2 categories, ‘Life’ and ‘Death.’ I won’t try to summarize or pull quotes. There was too much there to be crammed into a single blog post. The man laid bare his entire existence, from beginning to end, and if people are interested, there are mirror sites where people can still read his writings.

martin manley


There are two reasons this story caught my eye (besides for the sensational angle of it):

First, he was from Kansas. He says that he lived in Topeka and then moved to Overland Park. Both of these cities are about 30 minute drives (in opposite directions) from my hometown of Lawrence. While I haven’t lived in Kansas in years and I was never one to read sports stories in the newspaper, I have to imagine that I have a lot of friends and old acquaintances that were familiar with this man, maybe even regular readers.

Secondly, there was something he wrote in his Pictures section of the site:

These are pictures of me when I was around one. My mom said I was always a happy baby. It seems odd to me that would be the case considering I’m not sure I ever really learned what happiness was as an adult.

Emphasis mine. That really stuck out to me, because my mother has said the same thing of me. She says I was her “sunshine baby.” This has always struck me as odd because for as long as I can remember, I have dealt with depression. I’m sure for anyone who has dealt with lifelong depression it’s hard to remember a time when you could be roundly described as “happy.”

If this story blows up, and it likely will because of its odd, viral nature, it will almost certainly spur a conversation on suicide. I hope it does. But if the comments on related articles are any indication, the conversation may get buried in dross. As soon as a public suicide hits the internet, the opinions start flying: People should be allowed to kill themselves. People who commit suicide are idiots. Only God can help you fight depression.

Everyone brings their preconceived ideas to the topic and nothing of importance ever gets discussed. The conversation takes bunny trails off into topics such as “Is depression genetic?,” “Is suicide wrong?,” and “Is there a God?” Personal agendas get brought in and pretty soon no one is talking about what really matters: How do people who have suicidal thoughts cope?

There is no single answer for everyone, and I don’t feel like getting into my personal beliefs on the topic. (I’ve done so elsewhere.)

It’s that phrase that keeps coming back to me: “My mom said I was always a happy baby.” We all have loved ones in our life and we think we know them, we think that we know what they’re capable of. Part of the reason that suicides so often take us by surprise is that most of us pride ourselves on being perceptive, at least when it comes to the people in our lives.

The TV show House M.D. had an episode where a main character committed suicide. At the time, there was considerable online chatter about whether it was just for shock, many arguing there was no hint that the character was going to do it. But, as unexpected as the episode was for me, it also struck me as incredibly true. My own personal experience of suicide was with someone who I (and, I imagine, most of the kids who knew him) thought was the happiest, most well-adjusted person.

I wasn’t familiar with Manley. I’m sure as people unpack his website and his backlog of articles things will come out that will make his suicide “obvious” and easy to predict in that perfect 20/20 hindsight sort of way. And maybe he had hinted at it to his readers for a while, I don’t know.

But the broader truth is that suicide isn’t something we usually can predict, especially not with our loved ones. There are those who display early warning signs, but for every person on suicide watch, there is a ‘happy baby’ who takes their families and friends by complete surprise.

I think what Manley was trying to do (what the writers of House were trying to do too) is bring this difficult conversation to the forefront and get people talking. Your opinion on Manley’s actions are irrelevant. It happened. Where do we go from here?


If there is any one person in culture having this conversation the right way, it’s the stand-up comedian Maria Bamford. She talks openly in her routine about her Bipolar Disorder and suicide. One of her best bits is called “Stigma” and you can listen to it on Spotify. I can tell you that for someone with depression, it is one of the funniest, most cathartic comedy routines I have ever listened to.

I don’t know if society will ever be capable of taking on this topic in a way that doesn’t fall back on preconceived judgments and fears, but I hope that if anything positive can come out of Manley’s death, it will be a willingness to look at this subject with fresh eyes.

Let us not hide from this.

A Note On Suicide

Note: I am Bipolar.
I wrote an original version of this at my lowest point.
I saved it and edited while I was in the midst of an upswing.

Suicide is an option.

It’s not the best option. It’s not even a good option, but it persists as an option and for some of us, that immutable fact colors all of our experiences, past, present and future.

There exist in this world humans who have never considered taking their own lives. They’ve lost a parent or had their hearts brutally broken or lost every worldly possession on a bad investment and the worst decision they could imagine was losing themselves in a bottle for a night or cheating on their carb-free diet. Better places, fish in the sea, rainbows after the storm.

These people are so foreign to the existence I, and those like me, know that we would be unable to communicate, two aliens speaking in different languages.

I don’t recall the first time it occurred to me to take my own life. It wasn’t my first option. As a child I fantasized about running away (a family trait) and even left cryptic notes on my pillow meant to only be found after I was long gone. I never followed through.

Those escape fantasies eventually morphed into darker desires. Perhaps it occurred to me that running away wasn’t a practical solution, or maybe I simply accepted that only death could bring the sort of permanent personal release I sought while simultaneously inflicting the sort of deep, corrosive pain I felt. Outside of dull knives rubbed over veins, I never attempted.

Depression in its deepest wells is as painful as anything that can be inflicted physically. And like a wounded animal, there is an instinct in us to strike out at others, both to protect ourselves and to spread our pain.

On my fifteenth birthday, I learned that my school mate Nick had hung himself. Despite having grown apart as friends – or because of it – I spent the formative years of my life blaming myself. I didn’t truly celebrate a birthday for a decade and I obsessively dwelt on it every year as the anniversary approached. It’s not that I don’t still think about him, but my acute awareness of the tragedy has lessened with time.

In its place has resurged my latent suicidal tendencies.

As a disease, depression must be more deadly than cancer and AIDS combined. Suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and thrill seeking behavior can all be direct or indirect byproducts of depression. Taking solace in anonymous sexual partners or even smoking cigarettes are also ways of seeking release from despair.

While depression is prevalent in a substantial portion of the population, it remains the least understood and most maligned medical condition by people who do not suffer from it. People with depression have almost no hope of finding a sympathetic (let alone empathetic) audience among those outside its grasp. We are weak, pathetic, whiny and, most importantly, downers to be around.

Yet, depression is as much a product of biology and a reflection of one’s true self as sexual orientation. A straight person is far more likely to support a gay friend than a non-depressed person is to support (or even tolerate) a depressive. Homosexuality is not a disease, nor is depression a choice.

The amount of pat advice and ineffectual platitudes that have been launched at me over the years is staggering. Most of it is the equivalent to someone telling a gay teenager, “Just try being straight.”

I will have depression until the day I die, which quite possibly could be by my own hands (either through active or passive means). Medication and therapy could conceivably help me forge on, but they are not a cure. And while financial success, finding love and achieving artistic renown would make my life better and more bearable, this depression would not magically dissipate.

Depression is not logical, it’s chemical. While the depressed mind creates its own twisted logic to explain why one should be depressed (ad hoc arguments), there need not be a reason (and usually there isn’t).

My specific form of depression is particularly cruel because I am Bipolar II. Any time I experience any amount of euphoria or pure bliss (rare peaks), I will experience a subsequent and likely far more severe crash to follow (the valleys). My every happiness is prepackaged with its equal share of despair.

I’ve spent most of my life surrounded by those with one form of depression or another. Perhaps we are drawn to each other. I’ve seen friends at the edge. I’ve experienced what I believed was the last conversation I would ever have with them, and felt the odd mix of utter desolation and blessed relief. Despair for myself, for losing a friend, and relief for them, for escaping their pain.

The truth is, every day we are alive is both a victory and a defeat. I have not succumbed, and yet knowing that I will live every day with this disease inside me weighs heavily on me. What harm might I cause to others because of my disease?

The thought that I might pass it on to potential offspring is heartbreaking.

This is the reality I have resigned myself to inhabiting. Religion, medication, companionship are all temporary salves. And mostly ineffectual.

I don’t want to die. I want to live and accomplish and create and find true love with someone who understands, forgives and protects me. I want all the things that every person wants.

The difference is that, for me, for others, and maybe for someone very close to you, suicide is an option.



In the era of constant connection, how do some remain invisible?


Like most writers, artists and non-hunks/babes of the world, I was largely anonymous in my teen years. I had my friends, my groups and my failed attempts at finding love that inevitably led to heartache, but while I was a bit higher profile than some (due to my role in my church’s youth group), I still felt invisible.

I can’t imagine anyone at my 10-year high school reunion stood around asking, “Where is Joseph?”

When I entered college and left behind my childhood faith, I wandered away from many friendships (not all) and into a new social realm. Despite this radical shift, though, I wasn’t any better known in college.

There is an underlying trait (perhaps flaw) to my personality that keeps me from being the center of attention. I am quiet. I do not demand attention by sheer force of will or charisma. I have no ‘flash.’ It can take me weeks if not months before I open up with new people (coworkers, drunks at the bar, etc.). With every move, I think, “This’ll be the year that I’m different, I won’t be shy, I’ll come out the gate being the person I am at the end of the year.”

And every year I start at zero.

I Don’t Have Asperger’s, But…

Maintaining eye contact is incredibly difficult for me, a feat of conscious control. Likewise, idle chatter is a burden. On my good days, I can bullshit with people for a few hours before I feel worn out. On my less-than-good days, I don’t even try to fake it. My responses to generic questions like “How are you doing?” are rote and practiced, intentionally closed off to discourage dialogue.

Well, I’m a writer. I’m not describing anything unique to my species. There are certainly boisterous, outgoing writers, but those types of people are rarer and (this is the snob in me) I often wonder how serious those types of writers are about their craft. I write because it’s the only way I feel comfortable communicating. If I was better at socializing, would I even need the form?

My kind of anxiety-ridden ‘artist’-type has always existed. I’m nothing new. But we live in a very unique age that allows us socially phobic types to be more expressive, less hidden. Less invisible.

The internet provides a multitude of venues for being heard. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, any of the other dozens (hundreds?) of forms for communicating that only the world wide web could have fostered. Though I’ve tended to be slow to adopt the evolving medium, once I am onboard I engage pretty obsessively. This is the nature of us quiet, pensive types. Given an outlet for our thoughts and emotions, we will not hold back. We’re fire hydrants bursting forth. (As if to substantiate the social anxiety we have carried all along, our oversharing often turns off large swaths of people.)

As one could imagine, this trait isn’t always the best. In fact, it’s kind of the worst. We become so accustomed to sharing our every thought that we struggle to turn it off. Most noticeably during two periods: Contentious events (for instance, a presidential election) and ‘dramatic’ personal events (like a break up).

Flashback to a month ago: The re-election of Barack Obama happened to coincide with the sudden and crushing termination of a relationship I foolishly pursued. No good could come of this.

Foreseeing a disgusting convergence of gloating posts alongside self-pitying emo lyrics, I didn’t like what I (the online ‘I’) was about to become. So I shut it down.

I went offline.



I didn’t erase my online presence, I merely decided not to participate. I went invisible again. I returned to the days when I didn’t (couldn’t) seek validation through how many red notifications I woke up to.

And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. This bursting fire hydrant suddenly got the wrench.

My self-imposed rules: No Facebook. No posting, no commenting, no liking, no presence. I still logged on and read posts (I think social networking is for the most part a good thing), but unless someone sent me a personal message that required a response, I didn’t add anything to Facebook.

No Twitter, either. I’m not a big tweeter (or, whatever), but I tweet occasionally and I retweet what I enjoy. So, none of that.

No Foursquare, no ‘checking in’. No commenting on articles, either. No doing anything to impose an online presence. And as a voracious reader of online articles with comment boards, this was no easy act of self-control.

Most pertinent to this site: no blogging. 10 Cities / 10 Years went silent for a month. I still wrote posts, but I either saved them as drafts or published them privately (now public).

For one whole month I avoided contact with anyone outside of New Orleans, and frankly I haven’t been all that social here, either.

As my month away progressed, drops of friends and family trickled in. A few people texted, commented on my wall or called me. These people, to my surprise, noticed my absence. And they were concerned.



I have a mental illness. On this site, I haven’t shied away from discussing this fact because I believe the topic should not be ignored. I am not alone, of course. Mental illness is tragically common in the population. Unfortunately, we as a society generally ignore the topic until it’s forced to the forefront by some unthinkably horrific event.

The mentally ill are not created equal.

My mental illness does not mirror that of Adam Lanza or James Holmes. At worst, my harmful impulses are inward, never outward. I have never harmed another person (except in the way we all hurt each other), and I never would. There is no cure-all for mental illness just as there is no one symptom common to all people who suffer from it.

Mostly, I feel comfort in invisibility. Human contact is exceedingly difficult for me. I created this project in order to challenge myself in this regard and I have definitely grown because of it, but growth does not mean transformation. I am and will certainly always be someone for whom human interaction is a struggle. Having my trust abused and feeling betrayed by close relationships only makes it all that much harder. Regardless, every venture outside of myself will always require an effort of Herculean mental strength.

For most of my life, being invisible has both been my severest curse and my greatest relief. I write because the voice inside my head will not be silenced and I need it to be heard. But when I feel weak, ugly, tired, sick, poor, despised… translucence is a welcome trait.

I don’t know what it’s like to not be mentally ill. I don’t understand how those types of people see the world, no more than they understand me. Us.

The mentally ill deal with their pain and persistent, haunting ghosts in the shadows. They are the invisible. Until they are not. And then, usually, it’s too late.

I am still here. I will still be here for the foreseeable future. Some days are worse than others, but I’ve lived with this long enough to believe I will continue to muddle through. I fight this mostly on my own. But on rare occasions, someone steps through the ether to offer their presence.

In the wake of Sandy Hook, maybe we’ll do a better job as a society of addressing mental illness, in all its forms, to prevent the tragedies from continuing to pile up.

But I fear that more than likely we’ll return to ignoring the invisible sickness.


We don’t talk about these things.

When I was in high school, my brother helped me realize something about myself that was fairly obvious, something that I knew but didn’t know.

I was depressed.  Clinically.

My brother used to host a Bible Study in our basement for guys our age, high school, where the discussion was mostly about lust and masturbation (the most commonly deployed weapon of Satan), although the topics ranged the spectrum of teenage male interests (so, you know, masturbation).  One night, after the group had left, my brother and I kept discussing our lives and something clicked.

He found his Senior Psychology textbook and read me the symptoms of depression.  I was a dead ringer for something like 75% of them.

Once in college, psychology became a main area of emphasis (outside of English) and between my best friend being a Psych major and my own self-interest in the subject, I became fairly well versed in the subject.

I have family members who have been professionally diagnosed as clinically depressed and bipolar (a.k.a. manic-depressive), so it is no surprise that I would also suffer from a similar disease.  Additionally, I have family members who struggle with panic attacks, a condition that is rooted in the same brain chemistry as depression.

My self diagnosis:  SAD.  Seasonal Affect Disorder.  There are other names for the condition, but nothing quite as fitting as SAD.

Now, I am aware, few people like the winter as much as the summer.  Enjoying warmth and sun over cold and clouds isn’t symptomatic of SAD.  But, feeling your entire mental and emotional perspective tank into despair because there is less sunlight and less reasons to be outside definitely points to the condition.

Actually, to truly diagnosis myself, I’d say I have Bipolar SAD (not really an official condition, but an apt descriptor of the swings).  A select group of friends can tell that when spring hits, I am a completely different man than who I am in winter.  I love spring.  I love the beautiful weather, I love the warm rain, I love the women in short skirts (love, love, love).  But I love it all the more because the chemicals in my brain are kicking into overdrive in reaction to the increased sun.

Should I self-diagnose myself?  No.  But I have.

Should I be self-medicating myself with copious amounts of alcohol?  Definitely not.  But I do.

Depression isn’t the shameful secret it once was in our society, but that doesn’t mean we are honestly accepting of it.  We openly talk about the medication we’re on, we watch television characters struggle with it and we have our Dr. Phils to tell us it’s normal.  But no one wants to deal with a depressed person.

I don’t talk to people about my depression.  Not my family, not my close friends, and not a psychiatrist (I’ve never been, but I highly recommend sessions to anyone who feels the need to talk).  There are one, maybe two friends that know me well enough to know when I’m depressed versus when I’m manically happy, but most everyone else just sees me as a mellow guy who is sometimes pissy, while occasionally in a good mood.


When I was a freshmen in high school, a friend of mine killed himself.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know that anyone does.  It took me many, many years for me to come to grips with his death.  While I can’t claim that he was my best friend, I can definitely say he was a better friend to me than I was to him.

I will always remember the week that he died: I randomly ran into him on the way into school at the beginning of the day, Monday or Tuesday.  That semester, we didn’t have classes together and our schedules didn’t coincide, so I saw him rarely, though we were in the same circle of friends.  When I saw him that morning, I said ‘hi’, and asked how he was doing.

Or maybe I didn’t, honestly.  I don’t actually recall because at the time the interaction felt so insubstantial.

Until the next Sunday morning, my birthday as it happened, when I walked into my church and a friend told me, Nick was dead.

You never know the opportunities you have to matter in someone’s life.  But you will always remember the missed opportunities.

“There aren’t words to say; word’s aren’t remembered, but presence is.” ~ Derek Webb


I am a man who deals with his depression daily.  I understand it scientifically, medically, logically.  I combat it when I can, but bear it when it breaks me down: knocks me to my knees, leaves me with my fists in my eyes and tears streaming down my cheeks.

Honestly, there is a part of me that believes one day this condition, this disease, may best me.  There is such great irony in the fact that I am an eternal optimist when it comes to other people’s lives and the fate of humanity, yet when it comes to my own existence, I am the consummate pessimist.  Of course, that is the disease.

But there are people out there, people in my life who I love so dearly, and when I see them struggle with the same condition I have, the condition that plagues my family, the condition that overwhelmed Nick, I feel compelled to struggle on.

We are a miserable lot, the depressed.  We ruin relationships, we abuse drugs, we fail daily.

But we are trying.

We, The Depressed

We, the depressed, are the artists of the world.  We are the geniuses.  We are the engines of history.  Ironically.

Because while, historically, it has been the mentally unstable that have furthered humanity more than anyone else, it has also been the same group that has despaired and departed the youngest.

(We’re also the comedians of the world, believe it or not.)

We smile and we frown, we work our jobs and kiss our loved ones.  We are responsible adults who, like everyone, nostalgically think of our innocent youth when we were simpler, freer.  We can be happy, but we get sad, like you do.  The only difference is that our sadness breeds thoughts we cannot control, emotions we cannot bury, and impulses we must, must, contain.

This is our lot.

But we are trying.  For what that’s worth.