David Foster Wallace and the Infinite Footnote

One snippet struck me about all the obits I’ve recently read about David Foster Wallace, who took his life on September 12: “According to his father, James Donald Wallace, his son had suffered depression for more than 20 years which had become more severe in the months prior to his death.”

Twenty years is a long damn time to feel like shit, people. Although, of course, the thing about depression is it comes and goes. (Usually. If you’re lucky.) As a fellow sufferer, I can tell you that for me it’s been more like having some kind of autoimmune disorder. You have remissions and acute periods, and when you’re sick you just keep going to the doctor to see if they can come up with some combination of drugs, therapy, exercise, prayer, that will bring you back from the dark place.

Because I do believe it’s a place. Sometimes I think that I, and all my fellow wounded, go away for awhile when we’re sick. It’s the land of three o’clock in the morning. It’s the photo negative of reality. Try to read, and words – once your friend! the only person who speaks english and is happy to see you in your travels in foreign lands! – slip off the page. Try to eat, and food sticks in your gullet. You lose weight, and people tell you look great. Mysteriously, your skin clears up, and for awhile you do. But the whole time, the spectre hangs over you: What if this time, this time, I can’t get back from the shadowlands?

Kurt Vonnegut once said for people who come from suicide-prone families, option D is always “maybe I’ll kill myself.” Vonnegut’s mother died. I lost a cousin, way too young, under one of those circumstances where you think, if he’s just been a year older or a BAC point less drunk, he wouldn’t of done it. Still, his family lives with a raw wound that never stops smarting.

For myself, I’ve made a promise that I just won’t ever do it. It sounds easy, but for someone from my background and curious brain chemistry, it’s as big a commitment as getting married. So: I go to my doctors. I take what they prescribe. I get, as they said in The Meaning of Life, a little walking in. And I have friends, real ones that I can call at four in the morning, who are kinder to me than anyone on the planet could possibly deserve.

All this to say, that if you’re thinking about following DFW, we’ve got people for you. Also, as a morbid aside, if you’re really tempted, got to the Googles and look up what suicides actually wind up looking like. I’m here to tell you, that will totally ruin your last facial. Also? Somebody has to clean up. Don’t let it be your favorite people on the planet. They love you.

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3 thoughts on “David Foster Wallace and the Infinite Footnote

  1. You described it perfectly – I have been dealing with depression for most of my life. It is like a place you go to – and hopefully can pull yourself out of before you go in too deeply. I thought of suicide often as a teenager, but like you, it is not an option for me now – but only because I deliberately choose for it not to be. Thank you for being so honest and forthright.

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