Jenga Blocks of Life

There I was. Lying on the cold empty floor for the third straight day in a row. Simultaneously contemplating my own personal nothingness and everything I felt the world owed me. Wishing I could make the overwhelming noise in my head go away. The noise of imperfection and self-doubt, the ideas of failure and emptiness dominated my feelings. I played my roll. Why don’t I have a house and a new car? What about my happily ever after? What’s wrong with me? I deserve more than this. Or do I? Perhaps I don’t deserve any of it, and that is the reason I don’t have any of these things. If you have ever felt this way, you already know where the mind can rapidly wander in these hours of darkness.

Suicide, It’s the only answer right? The sun will continue to rise and set without me. I am just doing the world a favor by eliminating dead weight. If I can’t win at the game of life, maybe I’m just not intended to play it anymore. I have yet to make a lasting contribution to this world; shouldn’t I be much further along in life? Maybe I am just not destined to succeed. I suppose that settles it then. I am going to kill myself. But how? Maybe I should sleep on it. I gathered a few pillows and a heavy blanket and flopped myself onto the couch. I slept as if it would be my last time this side of the soil.

I awoke suddenly to the phone ringing. It was my wife. Not again I thought, not another fight. She deserves better than me. I quickly gathered myself in an attempt to leave before she got home from work. I rushed down the stairs of my apartment. Car keys firmly in hand, my mind strong with the sentence my broken heart had delivered. I jumped into the car and pulled onto the main street in front of the apartment complex. Success, I escaped without confrontation. At the very most she would be upset I was not home, at least I wasn’t lying in the floor refusing to go to the doctor. Fuck, I uttered out loud! I need a smoke.

As the smoke billowed out the cracked window I realized that I was driving my coffin. But where should I bury it? It has never been in my nature to harm another living soul. So now all I needed to find was a location fit for rapid acceleration, prompt deceleration, but also free of potential victims. As I continued to drive my eyes began to swell. I could feel the warmth from the tears as they rolled down my face. Not again. I knew I had to pull off before I was a hazard to traffic. As I exited onto a side street my phone began to ring again. By the time I realized I had already instinctively answered, it was too late to hang up. Hello?

The voice of my wife came through the phone. She asked where I was, and how I was feeling. I told her I still didn’t feel well. She believed I just hadn’t been feeling well. She had no knowledge of my dark plans. To her knowledge I simply had a flu bug. Again, she asked where I was. Not really sure why I told her I was going to the doctor. But I did. I’m not even sure why I actually went. I do know for certain, had I not gone, I would not be here to tell this story. Maybe it was a last ditch effort of my soul to preserve what was left of an otherwise crumbling mind.

As I sat anxiously waiting on the doctor in that little sterile room, I pondered what I was going to tell him. Why am I here? Soon after these thoughts passed, the doctor arrived. How are you? I haven’t seen you in a while. What are you in for today? At that very moment I decided to tell him the truth. I looked at my feet and told him I didn’t see my place in the world anymore. Stone sober, I told him I couldn’t stop thinking about just ending it all. He calmly told me, it’s okay. You are safe here. We will get you some help. The next hours and days are a blur.

I don’t even remember arriving at the mental hospital. The first coherent moment I had was when my family came to visit me. My mother, father, sister and wife were the first to visit me. My parents drove 3 hours just to come and see me. They brought pizza and a deck of cards. There is nothing in the world that can replace what I felt in those fleeting hours. The raw simplicity of being surrounded by loved ones is almost indescribable. We played spades until visiting hours were up. We all hugged and said our goodbyes. As I walked back to my room, I couldn’t help but feel loved. I fell asleep reflecting on the wonderful time I had with my family.

Over the next few days, one other person came to visit me from my life outside those walls. I only received one phone call. The shortage of visitors hurt beyond measure. I learned very quickly who was actually there for me. While it was a bad thing for me at the time, in the long-term it was a wake-up call. My foundation in life consisted of this handful of people. With these people around me I felt bullet proof.

During my stay I experienced many methods and activities to cope with Depression and Anxiety. Those activities included exercise, meditation, listening to music, art therapy, and group counseling. While I found myself deep in my feelings during art therapy, I did not have my “moment” until we played a game as a group. Who would have thought that a seemingly mindless game built to simply declare a winner, would set my heart a blaze like a raging forest fire.

After dinner one evening all patients in our wing of the hospital received an invitation to play a late night game as a group. Most of the group jumped at any opportunity to leave the detention wing. We followed the group leader down the hallway to the main therapy room. She asked us to gather our chairs into a circle around a small metal table in the middle of the room. She pulled the game Jenga down from a large bookshelf and placed it on the table in the center of the group. The air in the room was instantly so thick with disappointment you could have cut it with a knife.

She explained that it was a good game, and anyone who did not want to participate was welcome to return to their room. Not a single person moved. She quickly set the game up, and declared herself as the first move. As the game progressed the group became still with determination. Not a soul in the room wanted to knock the pieces down. I however was restless, and unimpressed with this ridiculously futile game. What is the point I thought to myself. So when my turn arrived again, I knocked the tower over.

As the pieces fell the noise echoed across the metal table. I was filled with relief that the game was finally over. However, I was quickly asked what I had learned. I paused for a moment. I lost? She told me to take a closer look. Albeit not impressed with the activity, I humored her. I stood there looking at the pile of wooden pieces scattered across the table. Time had stopped. All eyes fixated on me. And then, BOOM!!!

Through the chaos of the scattered wooden pieces I saw it. My foundation! There it was, standing in the middle of the pile. My foundation stood just as strong as it always had. Was I really so blind my entire life? How could I have missed this? It was always there holding everything up. Even in the wake of disaster, it still stood strong.

She asked again, what do you see? My eyes began to swell again, this time with joy. The room drew so quiet awaiting my answer that I could hear my own breath. I explained. You see this piece I am holding? This is me. The pieces still standing in the center are my foundation. They are my family, friends and loved ones. The pieces that fell are negative thoughts and feelings. They are the things we feel we failed at, or maybe feel we deserve in life. Sometimes they are self-inflicted, other times they are imposed onto us by society.

So even when all the pieces apparently fall down, we will always be left with a foundation and our own free will. When we allow all those negative things to build upon us, eventually they too will come crashing down. This is when we feel low, suicidal even. But how we react after the collapse is our choice. No one should be allowed to tell you how to feel. I know it is hard at times. I understand. But remember, no matter how you feel you will always have that foundation and free will. The choice is yours. The choice has always been yours. I know. I was one choice away from ending my own life.

You can even decide to pick the rest of the pieces up and rebuild your tower. Just apply the lessons life has taught you so far. Build your tower stronger. Perhaps even invest in a stronger foundation. Just don’t ever give up. Giving up isn’t a choice. Giving up is the opposite of choice because you will forever remain paralyzed and afraid in that empty place. The choice is yours. The choice has always been yours.