Many thanks to purveyor of minimal drone Christopher Elmore for being so open and thorough with his responses here. Suicide is never easy to talk about, but Elmore dives deep into his story. The struggle with his mental health resulted in a magnificent opus of meditative minimalism titled I Am Still Alive. A very small batch of 30 copies was just released on his own Editions Black & Blue, which you can and should grab over here. And while you’re at it, give a listen to his other work (under the name Sleepyhead), all of which is available for the price of your choosing.
What is an ideal death?
An ideal death to me is one that occurs naturally and without major complications, after a life that most would consider “well-lived.” A well-lived life is a life that continues after death: a life that family and friends would celebrate for years on end; a life spent in pursuit of mastery, and concluded with evidence of a craft well-honed; a life spent looking forward rather than always looking back.
What makes you happy?
Spending time in the supportive company of loved ones and those that inspire me to keep living. Creating art and music, and along with that, being able to learn from criticism, mistakes, and failures throughout the process rather than beat myself up over such things as I tended to do in the past. Also: looking at art, going to live shows, and buying art and music from like-minded people whose work I admire. Finally taking charge of my mental health, after years of struggling without diagnosis, medications, or therapy, after years spent in fear of medicated happiness and the social stigmas attached.
How can you die happy?
I could die happy if I live a life that, by my definition above, would be considered well-lived. I’ve still got a long way to go before I can feel that way, but I think I’m finally heading in that direction. May the next thirty years of my life be mostly free of the depression, fear, self-loathing, inactivity, and regret of my first thirty years.
How close have you come to death?
The closest I’ve come to death was on December 30th, 2014. The first half of the year was spent in relative isolation in an ongoing and not-yet-diagnosed battle with depression and anxiety. Suicidal ideation began to take over my thoughts, and I had seriously considered jumping from a high bridge and plunging myself into the James River while living outside of Richmond, Virginia. I decided to finally open up to friends and family about how bad I was feeling, and eventually took up a friend’s offer to move to Chicago and spent the next few months in vacant bedrooms and on couches while I found work and searched for permanent housing.
I spent Christmas Eve and the four days that followed in the hospital after voluntarily admitting myself to the psychiatric ward, went back to work on the 30th, and yet I still didn’t feel right. I went back to the hospital and tried to get readmitted for an overnight observation because I didn’t feel safe, got turned away after some time, and it was then that I decided I was ready to die. I started walking toward Lake Michigan. Factoring in wind chill, the low was expected to reach -40ºF overnight. I saw myself breaking through the ice and jumping into the freezing water beneath it, surrendering myself to hypothermia or drowning, whichever wanted to take me first. I called my family, intending to say my last goodbyes and explained how I was feeling and what I was planning to do. Over the course of about two hours, they talked me out of it. I finally made my way back to the hospital, explaining to them that if they didn’t keep me overnight, I would not live to see 2015. Nearly two years later, with the assistance of daily doses of sertraline and weekly talk therapy sessions, I am still alive.
How can you make your life better?
Taking care of myself and others, both physically and mentally.
What does kindness mean to you?
William Cody Watson said it best with his answer from a few years ago:
“Kindness means being honest with someone. Kindness means helping someone, without a sense of self-accomplishment, without a sense of ‘what’s in it for me?’ Kindness is laughter. Kindness is an embrace. Kindness is a smile across the room. Kindness is a conversation where no one is waiting for their turn to speak. Kindness doesn’t come often, but when it does — you know it immediately, and it washes over you and it resonates.”
Where do you find love?
First and foremost, my grandmother, the most important woman in my life. I love her more than anything. Also, my girlfriend Danielle, whom I initially met in Florida at a Halloween party several years ago. We reentered each others’ lives late last year, bonding over mutual dealings with mental health issues, and have since talked each other down from panic attacks and cheered each other up after bad days at work. I can’t begin to describe how much I appreciate having the love and support of someone who doesn’t immediately view my battles with depression and anxiety as a red flag. One of her nicknames for me is Sleepyhead, the name that I now use for the hypnotic, droning synth music that somehow eases her anxiety when she’s listening. I’ve sang her to sleep to songs from the likes of Leonard Cohen and The National, and she’s sang me to sleep to Neko Case’s “No Need To Cry” on more than one occasion. I’ve been venturing well outside of my comfort zone since we started talking, and I’m a better, more confident person because of her.
When were you most afraid?
December 30th, 2014, for the reasons mentioned above. My grandmother’s old age and diminishing health over the past few years have resulted in several short-term hospitalizations and life-or-death medical procedures that have scared the everliving shit out of me. My heart breaks every time she tells me about how poorly she is treated by my grandfather and by some of my aunts and others who have abandoned her because they no longer wished to help take care of her. I try to call her daily and I cherish every phone call as if it could be our last. I’m going to be a fucking wreck when she’s gone.
How do you listen to music?
Music streams, MP3 downloads, vinyl, tapes, CDs, live performances, whatever I have access to at the time. I’ve been trying to spend less time listening to music during walks, opting instead to listen to and appreciate the sounds of whatever happens to be going on around me.