There are those special TV shows and movies that you watch that make you sit back and wonder sometimes just how much they impacted your life and changed you for the better. Others might say “It’s just a TV show/movie, there are more important things,” but I’m here to tell you, those few brief moments of entertainment can be just as important to you as world hunger is to someone else. They can be life or death!
These characters come into our lives and we live vicariously through them once a week for several months out of the year, or for a couple hours at a time. We look forward to seeing them, to being a part of their lives. Maybe it’s an escape from the reality and droll existence of our normal lives. Maybe, for just a bit, I can pretend to be Max, the genetically engineered super soldier who escaped her past and is now helping out Eyes Only fight corruption in my absolute most favorite TV show of all time, Dark Angel. I have a kindred spirit in Max and connected on a deeper level with her than any other characters. So watching her each week was like a connection I needed that I couldn’t get in my normal life. I needed a strong feminine role model that could kick a little ass when I felt like I was being bullied, harassed, and manipulated.
Or maybe I can watch Martin Riggs be the Lethal Weapon and watch his battle as he goes from being so depressed over the loss of his wife and unborn child that he wants to commit suicide to getting help from a therapist and friends to hopefully finding acceptance and appreciating that acceptance. It’s a story that parallels my own want and need.
I haven’t connected with a character like that in a long time. A long time. Not since my mom passed away in 2015 to cancer, and I had to put my dog down a few months after. I have been closed off for a very long time. I couldn’t find joy in many things. I have had clinical depression since I was a teenager. It’s something I had dealt with moderately prior to losing my mom. But after losing her, I just wanted to die. I lost the will to live. And then on top of all of that, I had to put down my eleven year old dog, my little boy whom I loved just as much as any parent loves their children. Losing him just finally wrecked me.
Gizmo was my anchor. I find these things to latch onto. Things that make me happy. I call them “handholds” or “anchors”. They are things that I can reach out and hold onto, to help keep me from going under. Things I can find understanding in. Things that calm me. Gizmo was my anchor. He kept me grounded in sanity. Kept me here when all I wanted to do was give up and die. I told myself “after he dies, then I want to die,” because I knew from the day that I brought him home from the store, that when he died, life just would cease to exist.
In the span of 5 months I lost the two souls on this earth that loved me the most. I was an orphan. My anchors to this world were gone, and my level of despair had me actively researching how to kill myself. I was so distraught that I couldn’t find a handhold or anchor. I was breathing, my heart was beating, but I wasn’t living. I was existing.
I sought therapy throughout 2016 and went until my insurance ran out in December that year. It helped. I tried antidepressants but had too many side effects. But the therapy helped a bit, if only to get me talking about it instead of keeping it all bottled in. I felt like I had no one else to talk to. My family was getting on with their lives but I was stuck in limbo, and I felt like nobody really cared enough to want to listen to me.
Lethal Weapon premiered in 2016 and instantly I felt this connection with Riggs. We had both lost someone. We were both going through the stages of grief that kept hitting, wave after wave, dragging us down into the pits of our despair. We were kindred spirits. I felt as if I was right there next to him, sitting beside him, consoling him as he was consoling me.
I used to boogie board at Daytona Beach. Probably my most favorite spot on earth. One of my passions in life is that I love surfing and have great respect for those that can surf. Due to my health conditions, I have horribly bad balance. Like walking down the middle of the hallway and all of a sudden I’m hitting the walls, bad balance. Just awful, so surfing is out of the question for me. But boogie boarding… I could do that.
I remember my perfect wave like it was yesterday. It seemed as if it was never ending. I rode it all the way to shore. All the way. When I tried to get up, there was only inches of water between my board and the sand. It was that good of a ride. But I also remember the one time I thought I was going to die.
It was just like the scene in the movie Blue Crush where Kate Bosworth’s character, Anne Marie, was being pummeled by the waves. I got knocked off my board in a set of waves. I was a relatively good swimmer, but the riptide was making it hard to get back to the surface. Once I finally got up and was able to get a breath, I looked back to see another wave crashing down on me. I rolled and struggled to fight the pressure. My lungs didn’t get a full breath in and they were burning and letting me know I needed air.
I finally made it back to the surface, about twenty yards down from my previous spot and gasped, only to be greeted by another set of waves. I didn’t even have a chance to look back, it was immediate. Another half full of air in my lungs and I started to panic as the waves crashed in on me again and again. I rolled and rolled around. I couldn’t even fight the tumult of the waves, so I just let it carry me in.
I had rolled and slammed into the sand so much at that point, my knees were red and raw from being dragged in the sand, my fingers sore from trying to fight the waves and digging for a handhold in the sand. The boogie board was still attached to my wrist and that was also part of the problem, because it was dragging me to shore while the riptide was trying to take me out to sea.
The panic had set in and I had no clue when I was going to get my next breath. Finally there was a break and I came out of the water gasping for air. I didn’t even care if there was another wave coming, I opened my mouth and breathed deep. Thankfully I was finally in the clear. I struggled to get to my feet. I had zero energy. The water was so heavy it took me some time to stand up. It felt like several minutes but in reality was probably a half a minute, if that.
I struggled to my feet, grabbed my board and made the trek to shore and landed with a soft moist thud in the wet sand. Everybody that was standing around on the beach, or the children playing in the tide pools, had no clue what had just happened. They were all in their own little worlds. There was no “Help, I’m drowning,” call from me. I didn’t have time. I was completely ignored. And that story is the perfect analogy for my depression. I am alone. I have family and friends, but they are in their own little bubbles on the seashore. They have their own lives. Meanwhile, I’m being pelted by wave after wave of grief, sorrow, thoughts of suicide, pain, and all the stages of grief that swirl around in my brain like a milkshake in a blender.
My handholds, my anchors are gone. But there’s this one little light. At first, it’s so feint that it’s like a firefly in the woods. You’re not sure if it was real or a figment of your imagination. We’ll call this little firefly “Riggs”. Each week I got to spend some time with this little beacon of light. Each week I got to see someone that I could identify with. He became my buddy. He would talk about his pain and I would cry because I felt it too. He became a handhold.
The holidays came around. The one thing that they don’t warn you about when you lose a loved one, is that when you lose someone so close, the holidays are never the same. They hadn’t been the same since my dad died when I was almost 15. So while I was watching the Christmas episode “Jingle Bell Glock” I felt the pain Riggs felt. I knew exactly what he was feeling, because I wanted to die too. I had already gone through the first Christmas without my mom. I handled that one better actually. I even put the Christmas tree up that first year. But the other thing they don’t really tell you, is that the second year is the hardest year. That second Christmas without her was the worst.
That whole second year was the worst. I contemplated suicide. Several times actually. The insurance ran out and I started 2017 off with the lowest depression I’ve ever had. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, I’m a fairly smart person and don’t go into things half cocked. I research. And when I’m done researching, I research some more. That’s the pros and cons of being above average IQ.
So I researched the easiest and pain free ways to kill myself. I couldn’t find any surefire, foolproof way to get the job done. That’s where the fortunate/unfortunate debate comes in. Because as a person with clinical depression, negativistic personality disorder, anxiety, and severe health problems on top of all of that, I see life as mostly just pain and misery. So even though deep down I didn’t want to die, I’m in so much pain and suffering, that the only time I will ever get a break from it is when I’m dead. What a conundrum!
There’s a couple of episodes where Riggs has a gun to his head, and in one he actually pulls the empty trigger. I thought of every way that I could commit suicide. Researched the stories of survivors and what they went through. I knew that I didn’t want to do anything that would leave me a vegetable or so brain damaged that I was a burden to my family. There literally was no pain free way to die. I guess God designed it like that for a reason. There was also no guarantee that I wouldn’t screw something up.
So… rationale won out. It doesn’t mean I still don’t long for death. It doesn’t mean that how I feel is actually “living”. I’m alive but I ain’t thriving. There’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t have some minor or major freak out and beg God to kill me. I’m tired of the pain.
But in all of that muck and gloom, I had the little firefly Riggs. And then there was Baby Groot. In early 2017 Baby Groot gave me something to live for. I told myself “If I can just get through long enough to see Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 and see Baby Groot on the big screen, then I can die. That was the plan. But something happened. At the end of GotG2 we got to see Adolescent Groot. I can’t give up now! Now I need to hang around long enough to finish Groot’s story. It’s another handhold that keeps me going. I just have to keep accumulating them, then I can make it through this American Ninja Warrior Course we call life.
Fall of 2017 was here and season 2 of Lethal Weapon is on and I’ve got two anchors keeping me afloat at this point. I’m still depressed, I will always be depressed. It will always be a battle. I doubt there will ever be a day I won’t wish I were dead. But I’m still fighting.
Somehow I made it through 2017. If it weren’t for Riggs and Baby Groot, I don’t think I would have. That was the lowest of my despair. Even now, I’m still daily feeling like God’s punching bag. And now that my anchor has been ripped from me, I’m struggling again to find my handholds. When Clayne was “fired” I just felt like I was sucker-punched. Like Damon Wayans, himself, reached into my chest, Once Upon A Time style, and ripped out my mostly darkened heart and crushed what little hope it had left into tiny little bits of ash and dust.
I try to turn to my art, or my pets to find some peace and hope. I try to find love in the smallest of things. It’s amazing how one of my many snakes can bring a smile to my face, or my little mice can bring me such joy. I have a new dog as well. I got him in 2016. He’s a pain in the arse, but I love him. My self-destructive behavior comes and goes. Like Riggs portrayed in the show by turning to alcohol, I turned to smoking clove cigars heavier. It affected my health. And I knew I shouldn’t smoke and wanted to quit, but at the same time I was like “F–k this sh-t, I don’t care if I die anyway!” My mom died from lung cancer that spread to her lymph nodes. That was after surviving breast cancer 11 years prior. She died peacefully in her sleep thankfully. So my self-destructive behavior saw that as a way to get what I want. To die peacefully. I might be smart at times, but I can be incredibly stupid as well.
So I waged war within myself. I would promise myself to quit, then have a bad moment and say “screw everything” and light up. Then I would feel bad and rinse and repeat. I’m still fighting that, but I’m winning more battles than I’m losing. Smoked my last pack of cigars this week… at least for now. Next week might be a different story. But that was another example of me connecting with Riggs. I understood his stages of grief, as I experienced them as well, over and over again in their vicious little cycles.
Lethal Weapon might only be a TV show. Riggs might only be a fictional character. Baby Groot might only be a bunch of ones and zeroes coded into a computer program to display on a screen as an animated walking, talking, tree. But these characters, these shows, they help us realize that there are others out there that feel the same as us. They help us understand that we are not alone in our feelings, even when we feel like the world has abandoned us, those characters help us feel a little more loved; a little more human. And just like I did on the beach that day twenty years ago, I’m going to take a breath, grab my board, and head right back into the waves. Because my depression, this world, and let’s be honest… Trump, hasn’t taken all of the hope I got left, just yet. I’m heading out to ride the waves, haoles!
PS… I am Groot!