BY MATTHEW ROBINSON
In life, there always seem to be a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Conversations that shouldn’t happen. Jokes that shouldn’t be made. Thoughts that shouldn’t be thought. Actions that spawn from those thoughts that should never be taken. Sometimes one can cross the line and make your way back to the safe side. Sometimes one can never uncross the line. I flirted with the line and in my mind, I crossed the line.
I brought my left foot forward to the invisible line running along the line of scrimmage. My freshman nerves calmed as I looked across and saw one of the senior cornerbacks staring into my eyes. The center snapped the ball, and I ran straight at the cornerback. He back pedaled, but it didn’t matter. I was five yards past him before he turned his hips and ran parallel to me. The distance widened as I broke ten yards away from him.
The white lines on the grass flew past me as I sprinted. The ball fell into the triangle created by my thumbs and pointer finger coming together. I cradled the ball in my arms as I heard the senior say, "Shit." After more drills and more upperclassmen trying to put me through the trials of practice, grass stains covered my knees and a smile crossed my face. I was the starting receiver on my freshman team, and the varsity coach was taking notice of me.
In the spring, baseball started and, once again, I was in the starting lineup. During one practice, I stood in batter’s box. The four lines closed the box around me. Inside this box was confidence. The coach threw the ball roughly seventy miles an hour and I leaned back and threw my wrists at the ball. A ting sound resonated as the ball and the aluminum bat met. The ball shot straight over the short stop’s head.
After a few games, I batted in the middle of the line-up. My confidence was never something that I questioned. Whatever I had to do, I did it without thinking. However, soon that way of life began to crack. Questions like, "Does anyone really care about me? Should I even be alive?" began to corrupt and erode away my confidence and happiness. Suicide became an everyday thought. I started to cross the line.
That summer I became depressed. My alarm erupted with music, but I only heard dull noise. I lounged in the dark basement and played video games all day, the only light coming from the dim TV screen. The plain white walls encased me, refusing to let me leave. I isolated myself from everyone I loved. The sun shone bright, the blue sky invited everyone to go outside and play. I secluded myself to my house, not wanting to play football or baseball.
As the sun set and revealed the stars arranged in their constellations, I finally wandered my way up to my room. My brother snored in the bed next to me as I quietly laid my head down onto my stiff pillow. I pulled my knees to my chest, and covered my frail body with the blanket, even though it was seventy degrees outside.
My appetite decreased, and, when I took my shirt off, my ribs were visible. My once toned arms now looked as if they would break if I bumped into a wall. My body was no longer suited for sports. If I hit a ball, it would barely reach the outfield. One hard hit from a linebacker would break my body in two.
A ranging river of thoughts started to flow through my mind. Thoughts of if my life was worth living, and how much better off my family and friends would be if I were no longer alive. Soon I reached the point where I only sat in a chair in my living room. I rocked back and forth with a blanket wrapped tightly around my body, as I tried to give myself some form of comfort. I watched late night shopping commercials thinking to myself, "Who needs this shit?" Sleep eluded my mind like a running back weaving and side stepping between defenders.
I never understood why someone would want to take their own life. I viewed it as an escape, an easy way out. That was a line I could never imagine crossing. That was until the knives on the kitchen counter became more prominent than before, waiting to slice into the soft skin of vegetables, fruits, or meat. They were never intended to be used to slice into the soft flesh of my wrists; cut through the veins that circulated life into my body.
My mind reached out to the knives; reached out to the idea of taking a knife and ending everything that caused this problem in my life. I imagined myself lying in a pool of red blood as I slept away the pain. The sorrow and the dread of waking up and having to live the same life I lived the day before would spill out of my wrists.
After the thought of using knives, the thought of using pills entered my mind. In the pill cabinet, my mind reached out to all of the different colored bottles: the pink ones, purple ones, and red ones. They wanted me to mix them all together into a cocktail of death. I wanted the physical pain in my body to be gone, yet no amount of pain killers could cure my problem.
Luckily, one thought was stronger than suicide. Every time I pictured killing myself, I saw my four-year-old sister coming downstairs to start her day. She would get a bowl of cereal or a piece of bread to cook into toast, but instead of a happy morning of cartoons, she would find my motionless body. She hadn’t played in her first organized sport, had her first date, received her license, or gone to prom.
If I would’ve taken my own life, I would never see the joy on her face as she slipped on her first softball uniform. I would never see her back into a garbage can as she learned how to drive, or scare any boy who wanted to take her to a movie. Her older brother would never get to enjoy summer vacations in Duluth with her, watching the large cargo ships sail into port, or play Marco Polo in the hotel pool.
Then, I would picture my parents wondering why I killed myself. The image of my dad looking at my old baseball team pictures; remembering how he drove me to every practice and every game. The high fives we shared whether we won or lost would be but a memory, never to happen again. I couldn’t allow myself to miss those moments or allow anyone to find my dead body.
One morning, I went up to my mom while she was getting ready for the day. I sat on the white porcelain toilet while she brushed her teeth and told her I that I wanted to end my life. She told me everything would be okay and my parents would get me help.
A few days later, I was sitting in a chair in a small office with a lady dressed in a brown pant suit who had a list of questions to ask me. My mom and dad sat behind me, and waited to hear what I had to say. The lady asked me how I was feeling, what a typical day was for me, if I was abused physically or mentally, and what thoughts I had about ending my own life. I responded to every question. Her last question to me was, "Do you feel like you are being followed or tracked by anyone?" My first thought was to say, "Who wants to know?" but I figured that now would not be a good time for a joke. After the session, she set up an appointment to meet with a psychiatrist.
Two days later, I sat in another room barely big enough for two chairs; this time without my parents. The man who sat across from me was roughly forty years old with a full beard and small round glasses. I was disappointed when there wasn’t a couch for me to lie on as my problems poured out of my mouth. Instead, I sat in a wood chair with hard padding as the psychiatrist asked me questions and would scribble down everything I said.
I told him about my thoughts of splitting my wrists open like an axe splitting logs, and how I wanted to take a handful of medication and fade away into the absence of life I thought I was. I told him about how my friends at school had grown distant, how a girl I liked ditched me during the homecoming dance, and how that made me feel like a worm drowning in dirt during a rainy day. For a year, I met with this man once a week and we would discuss my weekly activity. He gave me an antidepressant and told me to exercise regularly because exercise would release endorphins that would make me feel better.
After one year, I was cured of this mental affliction. Never again would I want to take my own life. My lines were defined and I was on the safe side. At least that’s what was implied. A handshake from my therapist and a "If I see you in public, I won’t say anything to you unless you say something to me first," statement were my parting gifts. No one told me that for the next six years, I would fall back into the pit that almost brought me to take my own life.
One month after the doctor told me I was no longer depressed, I began to have extreme mood shifts from a kid on Christmas morning to a son staring down at a parent in a casket. For a week, I would feel like I could do whatever I wished. Suddenly, I would drop down to feeling as worthless as a shoe without its pair, only to rise back to pure elation a few hours later, only to drop back down again, all in the same day.
Thoughts would constantly run through my mind so fast that I could barely form them into a complete coherent thoughts. I would not stop talking: words flew out my mouth, but they wouldn’t form a complete sentence. At my church group, I talked to anyone who would listen. I felt like I could reach up to the heavens and touch Jesus if I wanted. Nothing could stop me from doing whatever I desired to do.
When I was at home, I had uncontrollable anger. I took my Playstation 2 controllers and whipped them across the room so hard that when they hit the wall the plastic cracked and the buttons snapped off. I put a fist sized hole in one of the walls, slammed my fist so hard into the light switch that I broke off one of the plastic knobs, and cracked the other one. One morning, when I was in the shower, a thought that I can’t even remember caused me to slam my fist hard into the shower wall cracking the tile in every direction.
My grades began to suffer. I no longer received A’s or B’s on my homework. Instead, I received C’s and D’s. When I looked at a piece of homework, my eyes blurred the words together. My mind would jump to other topics. I tried my best to succeed in my academics, but, no matter what I did, I continued to be below average. One assignment, in my English Composition class, was to describe in detail an object that was assigned to us. I was assigned a clock. I focused as best as I could on the round circle, the twelve numbers, and the hands that ticked away time that I could be doing other things.
When my teacher passed the papers back to everyone, I couldn’t even read the black ink that I typed because my teacher had covered every inch of white space with red ink. I stared at the piece of paper as if it were the single most important piece of paper in my life. The red letter "D" at the top of the page was the only thing clear enough to see.
The spring of my junior year of high school, the junior and senior baseball players took a Greyhound bus twenty-eight hours to Orlando. As my dad pulled into the parking lot of the high school, all the players walked by dressed in sweatshirts and sweatpants. They wore the team’s blue hat with a large white "M" on the front. I didn’t say a word to them. The sun was still set, and the air was cool and crisp. My stomach felt like I swallowed a twenty pound weight. When I sat next to my best friend, Nick, I looked out the window and saw my dad waving. I tipped my hat over my eyes to cover the tears that slowly streamed down my cheeks.
The feeling of wanting to curl into a ball and die was taking over my body. When we reached Tennessee for a dinner break, I was the last one off the bus. I pulled out my cell phone and called my parents. As soon as my dad picked up the phone, the sucking in of air choked the words in my throat and I couldn’t tell him what was wrong with me. Finally, I managed to tell my dad what I was feeling. I told him I wanted to come home, that my chest felt tight, and that I was sad. He told me I was probably homesick and that I should try to stick it out. I knew it wasn’t homesickness because I had gone on weeklong mission trips away from home. My dad managed to calm me down and I went inside to try to eat something, but that twenty pound weight was still in my stomach keeping me from eating any food. When we filed back onto the bus, I tipped my hat over my eyes.
Finally, Orlando came into view and we could see the light blue ocean with small waves crashing on the light brown sand. People littered the beach. A family ate lunch out of a picnic basket. The kids drank their juice boxes and softly laughed as they ate their sandwiches. Guys threw a football, dove and splashed in the cool water while girls tanned their brown lean bodies. Everyone couldn’t wait to swim in the salty water, while all I wanted to do was drown myself in it.
I called my dad up again and told him my suicidal thought. He called my coach explaining the situation and the next day I was on a flight back home. That was when my parents decided to tell me about the history of Bipolar Disorder in the family. My mom was bipolar as well as my older brother. My mom prayed that I wouldn’t inherit the disorder but the genes found their way inside of me.
I went to see another psychiatrist and this time I realized that a year of counseling would not cure me. I would be this way for the rest of my life, and I would depend on medication to keep my mind balanced. Once I started taking the medication, life seemed to slow down. At first, the medication seemed to work. My mind was no longer racing like a person late to work. My thoughts would actually form into coherent sentences that I could understand. I still wasn’t fixed though. I still wasn’t the person I was during my freshman year of high school.
Eventually, I made my way back to the football and baseball field. I still wasn’t the same person I was freshman year. The lines were still blurred and I wasn’t sure which ones to cross and which ones to not cross. My box of confidence was still missing.
It wasn’t until I was in my third year of college that I had a conversation with my mom about how I was really feeling. She told me she didn’t believe I was Bipolar. Being a nurse, she suggested we slowly reduce my dosage. My doctor agreed with this. As the dosage was lowered, I suddenly could think clearly. My box of confidence was beginning to form around me. My doctor said he believed I had Performance Anxiety. I wanted to know why he would say I was bipolar if he always thought I had Performance Anxiety. He said he never believed I was bipolar. He assumed that since my family members were bipolar, that I was bipolar too. That very well could’ve been an assumption I made too.
Maybe I stayed on the medication because I really wanted to be better. Maybe I never wanted to cross the line over all the years I went to him and tell him he was wrong. Maybe he wasn’t very good at his job. Either way, I never went back to him. Now I go to a therapist. With his continued help, my lines are back and I haven’t wanted to cross the wrong lines again.
Matthew Robinson is a Technical Writer at a non-profit organization. He graduated with his bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin - River Falls. He is a lover of sharks and sports.