Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of a suicide attempt that might be triggering for some readers.
Five weeks and five days ago, I tried to kill myself. I came home from work. I washed down a bottle of over-the-counter sleeping pills and a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of whiskey, and I prayed I wouldn’t wake up.
A little less than a year ago, I became a member at the Frederick Eagles Club. I did it because I was asked to help out with organizing a concert memorializing Colleen Morin, who was beloved downtown and had died unexpectedly. I was told we could use the Eagles venue if one or two of us became members. So I did it. That would ultimately morph into a bartending gig at what is affectionately referred to as “The Club” 20 to 30 hours a week.
About two years ago, I obtained my own Sheetz card. This might not sound like much to you, but it was a big deal to me. I love rewards programs, and until that moment, I had been unsure about which Sheetz card I was using because of a bevy of personal things that had happened in previous years. All I knew was that whenever I purchased something, I wasn’t getting the points for myself. A brand-new Sheetz card meant a brand-new me — and perhaps more importantly, it meant I could finally keep track of the rewards I was presumably earning.
Over the last week, I’ve been called arrogant, a fraud and a bunch of other nasty things — and this was before I wrote a column about Restaurant Week. After that, my inbox flooded with people explaining how self-indulgent I am, how awful a writer I am, how unfunny I am. Someone even worked it out so that if customers went to a Frederick bar and said the phrase “Colin McGuire is an idiot,” they would receive a free drink. Pseudo-friends I thought I had were lashing out at me. Someone from the Downtown Frederick Partnership even tweeted at me, asking if the column was “worth it,” which continues to be both confusing and startling.
I’m not rehashing these things in the name of pity. Not even a little. Still, I would have never guessed that a weird column essentially trolling for gas station rewards points would garner such fervent backlash, but as it goes, I’m used to it. Until recently, I wrote record reviews in 72 Hours that inspired some of the most vicious letters a writer could receive. So this, right now, is in no way an attempt to yield sympathy, attention or condolence.
But I was talking to a good friend last week, and she said something that stuck with me: “Why can’t we have conversations about these things more often?” And while that comment didn’t come in the wake of discussing mental health, it led me to wonder about constructive dialogue and my own fear of admitting my past publicly.
In a world where rhetoric is so divisive and intense and oftentimes outright mean, I feel that the notion of mental health gets swept under the rug. No, this isn’t my attempt at revealing some hidden snowflake colors, but rather, it’s a reflection on the truth that there has to be a space between respectfully disagreeing with someone and, say, threatening to “hit you in the face if I see you walking downtown,” which was a note I received this week.
Mental health is a very tough thing to adequately discuss these days because it’s hard to figure out the point at which compassion overshadows selfishness and patience is given the amount of respect it deserves in order to truly make a change not just within one’s self, but also within a community. We are all sad. We believe our problems are the Most Important Problems. And more often than not, it’s tough to take time to help other people when we are so busy doing all we can to take care of ourselves.
But that doesn’t mean we should be willfully ignorant of everyone’s story. I can tell you that I am a deeply, deeply flawed human being. I have hurt so many people I wish I had never hurt. I’ve lost friends I wish I could call. I’ve created distance with family to whom I wish I could write on a moment’s notice. I’m enormously selfish, irrationally angry, unforgivably lazy and embarrassingly self-centered. I also drink too much, I eat too much, and especially these days, I’m not all that fun to be around.
In short, in the last five years, I’ve become exactly the person I never wanted to be.
But what I’ve been realizing over the last five weeks and five days is that so much of life is a choice, so much of life is perspective, and so much of life is actually what you make of it. And I’m choosing to write these words in an attempt to relay a story to someone — anyone — who might be feeling more hopeless than they’ve ever felt. I’m reaching out a hand to the hands that feel they may never again be held.
Monday night, after a hailstorm of vitriol thrown my way, I showed up at “The Club” for my Monday night bartending duties. On a typical Monday night, I’m forced to close early — around 9 — because social clubs in America are struggling, and Frederick’s Eagles is no exception. I go to great pains to never reveal much about myself to anybody, so most all the banter I’ve ever had with anyone while tending bar is playful.
On this night, though, things seemed to snowball. First, my one and only regular came in. He was meeting an ex-girlfriend to take to dinner, “catching up on Valentine’s Day.” In passing, he mentioned he had read my column that day and he liked it. Another couple came in. Talk about the column began again, so they looked it up on their cellphones. The wife of the two laughed a couple of times and said she loved my writing.
Then, the de facto bar manager — the woman for whom I am forever grateful for giving me the job — came in with a few people, including her husband and some friends. Eventually, a dear friend of mine came in and sat down, too. Before I knew it, the front bar was full, the pool tables were occupied and the jukebox was loaded up with a slew of songs ready to blast from the speakers. There were times when everyone would discuss my column and the reaction it received. We would read comments out loud and laugh together. Sometimes, we would sing. In fact, a guy who berated me the previous week even came in to apologize for the things he said.
For the first time on a Monday night, I was able to stay open until the actual time the place was actually supposed to close. It was all serendipitous, of course — with the exception of maybe a person or two, I don’t think anyone came in specifically in response to anything I wrote in the newspaper. Plus, I was surrounded by people who didn’t really know me at all. Sure, they know me from bringing them beers and tickets, but most all relationships that emanate from a bar are transactional. I give them what they pay for; they give me a tip (sometimes). Eventually, everyone left. I locked the doors and sat down.
I cried. Hard.
The people who were in the bar on that night had no idea how much they meant to me, and even as I write this, it’s impossible to put my pure gratitude into words. Without knowing it, they helped ease the pain not only of all the aggression and venom that was thrown my way that day, but they also helped someone who is still recovering from something that happened a month and a half ago, someone who from the age of 12 hasn’t really figured out this whole life thing.
So, why do I share this? I share this to remind anyone who’s still reading that we never really know the effect we have on others. I’m enormously lucky to (a) wake up five weeks and four days ago, (b) have a bartending job at the Eagles Club, of all places, and (c) have life hit me in such a way over the last five years that I can now wake up and take my own mental health as seriously as I should have started taking it when I first spent time in a mental hospital 15 years ago.
More than anything, though, I’m writing this to remind anyone who needs it that, as the cliche goes, you are not alone. And self-worth, mental health, and everything else in between needs to be talked about more. Without shame. Without judgment. Without ridicule. I can take the hashtag #colinmcguireisanidiot with a grain of salt, and I can hear people denounce me as a human being through second-, third- or fourth-hand sources. On a weird, inexplicable level, I can handle it.
Other people, though? Maybe not so much. And if you take nothing else away from these words, please remember that the next time you slander a friend behind his or her back, or you yell at a family member, or you lose patience with someone who’s struggling through life, your reactions will always mean more than you might know. Good and bad. Right and wrong.
It was about 2 a.m. when I found myself approaching a stoplight, wondering if I should head to McDonald’s to grab the dinner that had eluded me all night. All of a sudden, though, my mood changed. I took a right and went a few blocks. Made a left at the second light and pulled into a parking space. Thinking about the night as I drove home, I wiped my eyes again.
Five minutes later, I had a 6-inch MTO in my hand. I paid for it with my Sheetz points.