"I thought about killing myself this week," Joey blurted out.
"Okay, so what did you do?" Gary asked, kind of jokingly.
"No, really, for the first time in my life I seriously thought about killing myself. Obviously I didn't try, mainly because I was afraid I wouldn't succeed," Joey interrupted. He had tears in his eyes. "I'm totally embarrassed telling you guys, mainly because I'm not sure that I could give you any one reason why I even started thinking about it. I started thinking about my life and where it's going and the thought just came into my head."
"I've thought about it too," Ken said. "I don't know how serious I was about it, but the thought has crossed my mind."
"I think most of us have thought about it, especially when we were first diagnosed," I added.
"No, it wasn't the same. I started thinking about my life. I try to keep it so simple but it just keeps getting more complicated," Joey said. "Sometimes I feel like such a loser."
"What are you talking about?" We all seemed to think and say it at the same time. "You are not a loser."
"Even though you're not working every day," I said, "you volunteer at three different places each week and help out at other projects when you're asked. You don't have to work a 40-hour a week job to be successful. I think you are busier and more involved now than you've ever been."
"I know," Joey answered, "but you all know how much I loved my job. I loved working. I've always taken care of myself, never looked for handouts. Now it seems like I'm just another one of those people living off the government. I thought about going back to work but it's so tough finding a job that will pay me enough to survive, and what about my medical bills? I'd have to find a job with benefits that cover pre-existing conditions. And anyway, who wants to hire someone with AIDS?"
"That can't be the only reason though," Miguel commented. "I know if I would have to quit working it would get me down, but I don't think it would make me want to kill myself. Plus you guys are always bitching about that; even if your health would let you go back to work you doubt that you could find a job that you could survive on let alone challenge you."
Joey responded, "No, there's more to it than that. I'm getting tired. I'm tired of taking the pills, tired of never feeling great, tired of worrying about every lump and pain, tired of fighting the government, tired of being tired. Everything just caught up with me. There's no hope for my future to get any better."
"I know what you're talking about," Ken said. "Early on, I woke up each morning wondering if that was the day that I would get hit by the AIDS bus. Now sometimes I wonder if it will ever happen, that this is the way my life will be until I die of old age. I bet there's a better chance of me getting hit by a real bus."
"I agree with you guys 100%. All this contributes to the emotional roller coaster," Gary added. "I'll wake up some mornings and for no reason just be really down. I hate using the word depressed, I think we all do, but depression is becoming such a part of my life. My mood goes up and down like a roller coaster."
"See, you guys know exactly what I'm talking about. Sometimes I have so much trouble just coping with day-to-day life. It takes all I can do to just maintain, and I sure as hell don't want to start taking another pill," Joey said. "I guess it's time to start seeing a counselor."
"You know what else could help?" Jerome asked. "Remember back in the day when we were losing friends left and right? We would stop by and wash people's dishes, clean their houses, do their laundry, walk their dogs, just sit there and talk. We were caregivers. We took care of them. Now it's time we took care of each other."
"What do you mean?" I asked. "I thought we were doing just that."
"Obviously, we're not doing it well enough," Jerome answered. "One of our friends thought about killing himself. We all have to be more alert. I know we all have our emotional swings, but we have to be more alert. We have to be able to tell when someone is getting close to losing it. When we ask someone 'How are you today?' we have to really mean it and listen to their answer."
"You're so right," Miguel added. "Our physical health is kind of consistent, usually at the same level most days. It's our emotional health that goes up and down now, and when we notice someone spiking down we have to make ourselves available."
"Wow," Ken said, "it seems like we go through cycles. When folks were dying we were there to make their last days a little easier, a little less painful. Then when the meds came around we were just so happy to still be alive that we kind of just took care of ourselves. Now we have to be caregivers again. Except this time we are mental health caregivers. We have to be able to tell if our friends are just having a bad day or if they really are at wit's end. We have to be there for each other, to help each other cope, to help each other survive."