Suicide Isn’t About YOU

Better Than Bullets, macro shot of a lightbulb with a black background

People feel really strongly about suicide. They think of it as one of the worst sins and one of the biggest betrayals of love and society and friendship. People routinely describe it as “selfish” and “cowardly” without truly understanding what it feels like to be a person facing the kind of desperation and pain that people feel who are struggling with a desire to kill themselves. It’s an alien action, it goes against the animal instinct of survival, it’s something people who have never wanted to die can’t even imagine feeling because that’s how deep the narrative of survival against all strife goes. It’s so alien to our ingrained instincts that there have been a few thousand years of not really talking about it or even trying to understand it.

If we measure the length of time people have been killing themselves by the level of taboo suicide has maintained all that time – I have to ask you:

IF NOT TALKING ABOUT SUICIDE AND NOT ADDRESSING THE UNDERLYING PROBLEM AND TELLING SUICIDAL PEOPLE HOW SELFISH AND COWARDLY COMMITTING SUICIDE IS HASN’T CHANGED THE RATE OF SUCCESSFUL SUICIDES IN THE WORLD, IS THAT TACTIC WORTH HOLDING ONTO?

AND IF YOU’RE HOLDING ONTO A TACTIC THAT DOESN’T MAKE ANYTHING BETTER – DO YOU ACTUALLY CARE THAT MUCH ABOUT IT AT ALL?

MAYBE YOU’RE JUST A SELFISH FUCKER WHO DOESN’T LIKE TO BE INCONVENIENCED BY OTHER PEOPLE’S PAIN.

Maybe it’s time people stopped doing what doesn’t work and focus on discovering what the underlying problems are and figure out ways to address it. This requires open conversations in which people who don’t know what it feels like to want to die/kill themselves endeavor to find out from people who do, and in which people who do want to die/kill themselves are willing to open up to people who genuinely want to learn what that feels like and help and support them.

People are so smug accusing successful suicides as cowardly and selfish. But what about all the billions of people across the world who make unhealthy choices even thought it puts them directly at risk of death. Driving cars, eating shit food, drinking to excess, having sex without protection, taking drugs, eating puffer fish… as a world society we seem to accept that people are constantly taking their lives into their own hands to engage in activities that are dangerous to their health and might kill them but this is okay as long as we’re not positive it will kill us because then we can claim to not really know?

More people die every year in car crashes than by suicide and yet we never blame people for continuing to drive cars. In fact, if you choose not to drive a car people will think less of you and badger you for being a burden to them any time you ask for a ride. I know because I still don’t drive a car and I’ve heard it all. Every time you get into your car you are literally risking death or gambling against killing other people with your vehicle. We see no dishonor in this as long as you’re not drunk or on drugs when you die or kill someone else in your car. We don’t tell people they’re selfish for risking their life every time they get in their car.

People who kill themselves come from all walks of life and there’s a rainbow of desperate reasons they do it so there’s no way I can be a voice for all of us, and I don’t want to try. I want people outside of us to make a better effort to understand what it’s like to have serious depression and to wrestle with such low self esteem and self loathing that dying feels like the only option that makes sense. Talk to one person with suicidal ideation and you know more than you did before but you need to listen to a lot of us to understand what feelings are universal and which are individual.

You think suicide is selfish and cowardly? I think it’s cowardly and selfish to keep making those of us who struggle with depression feel worse about ourselves when we’re already hanging onto a thread of self worth against an ocean of self loathing that threatens to eat us alive. You have a right to your opinions but I think if you go around being angry and disdainful about people killing themselves without making an honest effort to understand why they do it and what you might do to help people hang on longer – then you really don’t give a shit about anyone but yourself. You really don’t care about anything but what YOU have to lose or what pain a person might inflict on YOU.

And what is the definition of  selfish if not that?

If the only contribution you have to make to the suicides of the world is to denigrate them then you’re no better than the mental illness that tortured them to death. You’re the worst kind of selfish and cowardly. I would also posit that you’re lazy – pronouncing poor character on people you know nothing about and don’t intend to spend any time to understand.

What are you so afraid of? Are you afraid that you can catch our illness? Are you afraid suicide will rub off on you?

It’s natural to be angry when someone you love dies, and especially when they take their own life. I’m not making light of how hard it is for the people who lost their loved ones to suicide. All I’m saying here, boiled down to the simplest plea I can make is this:

Please try to understand the level of internal pain and struggle it takes for a person to over-ride their animal instinct to survive in order to kill themselves. Please do your best to learn about the mental struggles that tend to lead to suicide and do your best to be a support rather than another cog in the gear that propels people to the end of the known universe to free-fall into the great wide nothing.

Here are some things I think it’s important to understand:

Suicide isn’t inevitable for people with mood disorders. This means that with good support and people around us who don’t judge us or freak the fuck out about our ups and downs we can stabilize and manage our mental illness in such a way that we’re at significantly less risk of suicide.

Suicide is rarely an act of selfishness. More often than not the people who successfully kill themselves believe they’re doing the world a favor by leaving it.

It takes a great deal of resolve to kill yourself. Having a great deal of resolve isn’t a quality of cowardice. If you knew how many people have planned and obsessed over their own suicide but didn’t do it or succeed at it you would see that of all the people who struggle with the desire to die, only a few manage to follow through. I’m not saying you need to see them as brave, but I’m saying that cowardice is the suicidal person’s friend and not the other way around.

People who struggle with suicide often have an overabundance of empathy and love for this world we all share to the point where they can’t shut out other people’s pain and seeing abused animals rips them to shreds. So in some respects they’re dying because of your pain and everyone else’s pain in addition to their own.

Suicide isn’t about YOU, it’s about unbearable pain in the spirit and love that can’t be reconciled with pain.

So stop being so selfish with your empathy.

UPDATE: I would like to acknowledge the comment a twitter acquaintance of mine made on this post (you can read it in the comments) which I think is good perspective and something I actually know to be true but which I didn’t give credence to in this post: it’s generally not true selfishness on the part of those who have a hard time dealing with suicide – it’s fear. They feel fear and it’s worth having empathy for how frightening suicide is to most people outside of it. I agree with Jonathan. If I can ask others to have more empathy for people who struggle with suicidal ideation and depression, it’s also important for me to have more empathy for how scary this subject is to people who don’t experience it directly.

But Not Like This

A hundred times I’ve laid down in the middle of a dream and waited for it to finish lying to me and I hold my hand out to someone I don’t know who’s waiting for their dream to stop lying too. We always find each other. It’s like the worst prom in the world where everyone is chewing through the walls with chainsaws and knives and eventually the slow song ends and everyone waits in silence for the dust to settle before running to the exits in panic. I want to exit too, but not like this.

We is me and you and her and him and they and the everyone hanging out in the unknown dark waiting to emerge clean and new-baptized in their own skin to the truth that shines through them into the light where we all end up. But not like this, not like this.

Water rises over bridges, mountains fall down across plains. Spirits rise above bones, ashes fall down across memories like butterflies smothering tissue-thin blossoms. We reflect everything around us and everything reflects us back. I have clothed myself in black and chains, moving through your life recklessly like the thing you try to lock away but can’t keep hidden. You hate me because you hate yourself. I have clothed myself in wreaths of blossoms with my hair falling to my waist. You love me because I remind you of your young heart. I see it crushed, we all get crushed. But not like this, not like this.

I will give myself over to the light when it releases me from the shadows where I’ve grown taller than my fears. When it becomes more than what I’ve found in the dark. I’ll give myself over to the light when there aren’t any hard questions left, when I’ve run out of coins for this parking meter of lost souls. I will give myself over to the light when there’s a surfeit of love for the broken down queens of solace. When the richest see themselves reflected in the faces of the poor. I will give myself over to the light when it lays down for me first. But not like this, please, not like this.

 

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All Your Unasked Questions About Grieving Answered

(This picture is relevant because of concrete, or because of rain being something weird people associate with sadness. Whatever, I just like this picture and I bet no one wants to see more pics of my brother’s ‘human remains’ box.)

Angelina Answers ALL your Unasked Questions About Mourning Etiquette

Q: What is the right way to mourn?

There’s no such thing as a right or wrong way to grieve. There certainly are healthier versus more destructive ways to mourn and if you choose to drink yourself to oblivion I refuse to judge you but you can expect the people who love you to worry and maybe try to temper your choice. But that’s because they love you. If you were to ask my advice I would say to do your best to choose the healthiest ways of grieving that you can, but it’s okay to fall apart and it’s okay not to fall apart.

Q: My cousin is freaked out that he hasn’t seen me cry over my mother’s death, am I a creepy fuck?

To cry or not to cry… a tough dilemma for no one but idiots. Some people don’t cry when they lose someone close to them, it isn’t the more common reaction and will freak some people out. Feel free to ignore those bossy fuckers. Some people will cry constantly, some moderately, some will only cry on Tuesdays, and some just don’t cry. Sometimes you can’t actually see their hearts on their sleeves or in their throats. Sometimes they’re calm because their beliefs allow them to be and some people look calm but are being shredded with sorrow inside where it’s safe and private.

Q: Everyone thinks I’m a rubbernecker and insensitive because I want to know all the details about how ______ died, should I retire from society and live in a cave?

I’ve been fantasizing about living in a remote cave for over two decades, but not because the first thing I always want to know when I find out someone has died is HOW? It’s absolutely natural and normal. In fact, a lot of people want to know the details but a lot of people are taught that this is ghoulish and insensitive. It’s not. It’s an incontrovertible fact that we’re all going to die so it isn’t surprising that when other humans around us die we feel connected to it almost on an animal level. How’d they go? Was it painful? Could that happen to me? What does it LOOK like? In fact, it would be weird as shit if most humans had no curiosity about how the people around them are dying. However, sometimes the people closest to the death don’t want to share those details and that’s also normal. Don’t be offended if they choose not to satiate your curiosity, they may be feeling protective of their loved one in a way that you wouldn’t.

Q: I want to drape my house in black sashes, accept lots of lasagnas from neighbors, and wear nothing but lavender for two years but my neighbors won’t bake me lasagna because they’re scared of me now that my windows are covered in black and my mom won’t bring me lasagna cause she says I’m being melodramatic. What to do?

Sigh. I love lasagna. There’s nothing you can do about how others react to how you’re expressing your sorrow. The Victorians were obsessed with lavender as a mourning color and draping everything in black so I suggest you set up a fancy chair in your yard and wearing your very best lavender ensemble and visibly read something depressing like The Mill on the Floss or Madame Bovary (which I HATED). You might even consider enhancing your ensemble with a veil. If your neighbors think your show of grief is inappropriate, bizarre, or really bad theatre they can fuck right off. Your grief isn’t a show they get to direct.

Q: I just found out _____ died and I didn’t know them as well (or at all) as others do but I’m still having trouble dealing with it and I’m super sad. Am I allowed to be as sad as people who knew ____ better than me?

When David Bowie died I cried and then stayed up until 3am trying to process my sadness and then asked to stay home from work the next day so I could be sad without judgement or expectation. I didn’t know him personally at all but he made my life such a better place so I was deeply affected by his death. Being sad and having trouble accepting or processing a person’s death isn’t reserved just for the people who knew them super well. Your sorrow is real and you never have to apologize for it to anyone. Your sadness isn’t less important than anyone else’s.

Q: When my wife died I only felt better when I wore her underwear but then my kids found out and want to know if I’m a lot creepier than they used to think I was.

See the first Q, there is no wrong way to express grief or make yourself feel better. Is it hurting anyone? Is it hurting you? No? Carry on! I’m actually more worried that they seemed to have already thought you were creepy. Maybe you want to have a good talk with them, but in the end, if wearing your wife’s underwear is what helps you deal with her loss then you DO IT. For my own sake I’m going to assume they’re all freshly laundered. We all wore my brother’s hats when he died. I still wear one sometimes when I miss him.

Q: My mom wanted to throw out all of my dad’s things when he died. Is she some kind of sociopath? How could she not care about his things?

I don’t know if she’s a sociopath or not but I know that some people feel no attachment to a person’s effects when they die. For some people, when you’re dead your gone and your things aren’t going to bring you back or make them feel better. Some people feel a strong connection to the things that belonged to a loved one who’s died. It’s normal both ways. If you really want to know if she’s a sociopath I suggest searching through HER things to see if there’s any evidence of bed-wetting, dead pet carcasses in boxes, or secret fires. I hear those are the things to be worried about if you find evidence of all three.

Q: When my partner died all I wanted to do was fold myself up into a tiny little envelope of pain and roll down the river styx. Why can’t I do that? Why won’t anyone let me do that?!

Because people are selfish bitches and they don’t want you to fade away from them. Isn’t love stupid? But look, wanting to float away and ignore everyone around you is natural and okay. It really is. You aren’t actually obligated to think of other people’s feelings in your grief. But if you could bring yourself to check in with the people who love you enough so that they can give you the space you need without worrying so hard, you might find they try harder to understand and respect that the way you’re dealing with loss is the best way you know how.

 

If you find I haven’t answered ALL your unasked questions as promised, I’m afraid you’ll have to submit questions in order for me to answer them. Go ahead, give it a try!

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Can’t Fold the Day Away Like This

I can’t fold each day away as neatly as I need to, like starched sheets in a haunted hospital. I can’t turn the lights out on unfinished thoughts and unshed tears. I can’t brush this ache away that’s stretching itself out in my chest and filling my head with thin cobwebs of spent affection I have to lay on gravestones now. I can’t go to sleep with the trees bent double over your heart shedding leaves like tiny weightless bones. I can’t be done with today when it means I have to leave you where you cannot follow.

We collected souls like broken seashells we hoped to glue back together and send back into the big soup to swim to fresh shores where open coconuts and cool shade protect new life. We collected each other the same way and I see now what I couldn’t see before – that this was a contest of wills versus the great weight of sorrow filling every pore. I thought all I needed to do was give you a map of every person who loves you and you’d find your way back from the deep waves trying to swallow you whole.

You called last drinks while I was down. It wasn’t fair, but I can’t put up walls between us when we’ve been imprisoned in the same dark rooms. I don’t have it me to be angry at reflections of the darkest parts of my own spirit I’ve seen in you. I don’t have it in me to blame you for letting go of this godforsaken place. But your going means I have to fight harder, hold on tighter to the sinking ship this planet is because when one mother leaves the others must hug tighter the vulnerable, the lost, and the broken.

And what are you doing now? Watching us weep? Weeping with us? I don’t know where you are or what fire you’re breathing but you better be dancing, running, and catching assholes in your douche-net. I was going to say I expect more of you now than before. But this isn’t true, and we both know it. You’re free now of all expectations and service.

In ways I can never explain to the living we’re closer than ever before because now you’re everywhere I am, you’re everywhere I go, you’re everywhere I want to be. You’re there in my uncomfortable dreams and in the arch of my shoes. There’s nowhere you aren’t now. That’s the beauty that’s hard to hold onto when the heart is full of pain and loss. But just beyond it, you’re everywhere and we carry you through to the places your body has never been.

 

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For Sonya by Hayley Humphrey (a guest post)

It is so hard to find a beginning to a piece I don’t want to write, something that I wish there was no need to write. There are so many things that I want and need to say.

I have no wish to say goodbye, I simply wish to honour a dear friend and pay tribute to her.

I was lucky to find Sonya early on in my Twitter journey, she had an energy and humour that were impossible to resist. I had found a kindred spirit and she led me to so many more kindred spirits. We had a #tribe. For the first time In my life I belonged to a tribe of the most creative,loving people from all classes, backgrounds,genders. We were people who didn’t just use Twitter to sell or promote, but to chat, to empathize, to laugh and joke and post silly pictures. I saw Sonya as our #tribe leader, the Mother Earth of us.

I loved Sonya’s art, her humorous animals, her illustrations of people. Sorry Jennie, but I will always picture you wearing Crocs and carrying a bumbag. Sonya did some brilliant drawings of some her tribe. She had offered to draw me but I felt self conscious about how I would look, that and fearful of understanding the technology involved to get a picture of me to her. So I never took her up on her offer. I so wish I had. I wanted her to draw me as a small, deaf Super Hero, delivering hugs anywhere they were needed. I’m sorry Sonya I wasn’t brave enough to trust your pencil.

I had this fantasy that we would meet up in the flesh one day and now I have to let the dream go.

I see Sonya as having presented to us a colourful kaleidoscope of art, of hilarious tweets, funny photos, when on the other end of her kaleidoscope, was a pain and depression that could block out the light and the laughter.

I do not see it as a weakness that she could not stay with us, depression is a strong enemy to fight. It tells you lies, presents you with a reality that is dark, lonely and incredibly painful, sometimes even the best medicine, the best of love from those close is not enough to stop the darkness, to let the light back in.

But I do not want to remember Sonya with the sorrow and regret. I loved her too much for that.

I will remember the joy that she gave me and the rest of the #tribe. I’ll remember reading the threads of tweets between her and Niko, the pun bating. There had been many occasions when I would cry with laughter at the threads of tweets between her and Niko and others too, and then could not explain to hubby what I was laughing about.

I will remember the stories and photos of Fat Cat and Fang. I will remember her love of Beyoncé, of science, of fast cars, and dinosaurs.

When my Writers Block was getting me down we would discuss how to tame my sucky muse. We tried out varying scenarios but the best one was to tie my muse to the chair and tell her ‘shut up and write’

I am not saying goodbye as I believe that the people we have lost live on inside us. Without Sonya it is like all the colour has been removed from the world and all is grey, the colour will come back, but not for a while.

Losing Sonya made me think how terribly sad it is that we wait until somebody has left us to tell them just how amazing they are, how important they are to you. So in Sonya’s memory tell your family and friends that they are wonderful, give help and support to these battling with depression. And me I will forever imagine my muse tied to a chair, in Sonya’s memory.

In my forever novel, I am writing about my version of heaven. In my heaven everyone has their own piece of heaven that is filled with what ever they want in it.

I am imagining Sonya, driving a fast car, Fat Cat in the passenger seat. Running alongside the car are several dinosaurs. And Sonya is telling Fat Cat ‘See Fat Cat no feathers on the dinosaurs’

Goodnight my friend, thank you for your love and friendship. I will miss you and I will train my muse in your memory.

My love always

Hayley X

Letter to Sonya

I’ve been putting off writing to you, writing about you, letting myself access my feelings about your sudden exit stage right. I’ve skirted my grief, I’ve tried talking to you about this big-ass elephant in the room with my eyes closed as though I might be able to find your spirit if I concentrate hard enough and then hold hard to your collar-bone or your writing wrist, or any part of you I have never even seen in person.

I’m afraid that if I don’t say everything I know about you/knew about you that I’ll vomit it up in my sleep and choke to death on it. The most important thing anyone needs to know about you is that you have a bigger hard-on for Beyonce than Jay Z. Haha. Just kidding, Jay Z’s was just a little bit bigger than yours. You love cheese (though I always secretly suspected you loved it less than I do), pizza, salsa, chips, but talking about any other food bored you. Or at least you said it did until this year you started to get kind of excited about cooking new things. You ridiculed me for my use of cloth napkins and we almost came to fisticuffs over it. But mostly that was because you ganged up on me with that guy who shall not be named and Jennie too. I only minded because I’m an awkward git who doesn’t always follow the joke and I wasn’t sure how to be cool in a situation that obviously called for being cool when I’m just not that cool.

I learned that sometimes when you get an idea or a joke in your head you’re like a gangling puppy who gets so excited you trip over your front paws and overwhelm people with your enthusiasm to the point that people push back. I was so happy to find I wasn’t the only grown-up who does that. For all you could sometimes accidentally bite harder than people expected, you were wickedly funny most of the time while still being the kindest person I’ve ever met. Sometimes I would read along with your conversations with others on Twitter and laugh out loud but not take part myself because I knew I couldn’t keep up and would ruin the jokes. Your humor was infectious and light and it was like a shot of morphine in a dark terrible world.

You loved SEX. SEX is good. Remember when we took part in that writers’ talk about sex in novels with other writer friends? That’s the first time I started getting to know you. I’m pretty sure when you heard me talk like sex is nice and all but not earth shattering you were stunned into disbelief. We were that different over the things that didn’t matter so much.

You love exercise, fitness, physical activity of all kinds, ACTION.

You loved those things. You loved animals more than most humans and this is something we always had in common. You could hear the world outside you, you couldn’t shut it out, and so much of the time it was torture. For me too. There have been few people in my life who could hear it all the way I could so finding out you heard all the pain in the world like I do made you a kindred spirit. I know that hearing one story about an abused animal could make you want to mother the whole world as strongly as you wanted to shut it the fuck down. Neither of us could do much more than witness and testify, which, honestly is much too religious sounding for either of us.

You were one of the kindest and most fierce women I’ve ever known. You lifted other women up all the time, every day. You reached into the darkness and lifted scared and weeping souls up into the light as though it was as ordinary as making a grilled cheese sandwich. Your reach has been long, your bright influence has been felt across a universe of unstable stars.

You had no patience for a multitude of stupidities. I loved that about you.

We loved all the animals, even the awkward ones. Even the snarly ones. The furless, patchy, greedy, toothy, grumpy, fluffy, little, enormous, clumbsy, graceful, and feral ones. There was no such thing as an unlovable non-human animal.

You loved cars. Fast cars. Vintage ones. Red ones. Porche ones. Whatever.

You loved unstintingly, without shade, without pause. The people you loved knew they were loved.

I know you loved me. I know you understood me and still loved me. You wouldn’t let me remain silent very long. Mother hen, reeling your flock in to check for fox damage. You were one of the best defenses against overwhelming despair of the magnitude that could lead to suicide.

So here we are. I know how hard you’ve tried hanging onto your meat-cage in the last couple of years. I know how fucking hard it’s been and I know that it’s your husband and daughters who’ve ultimately kept you hanging on even though you might not have even let them know quite how bad things have gotten in your mind and your heart. I know the people you most desperately wanted to protect, you held back the tides for the most. They might have preferred the flood.

I thought you’d made it past the brimstone burning at your heart. I thought you’d gotten past the gatekeeper of hope.

I can’t think of anything I might have done or said differently and yet I want to go back and do things differently.

I know that there was nothing anyone could have done in the moment you signed off. Not the power of God or the Devil would have had any effect in that moment. Not your family, not your friends. I believe you were overcome by the ugly noise of the world we live in. Maybe there was a different better medication you could have taken, maybe there were different choices all of us could have made all along the way, but I don’t think it would have mattered in the moment you said “ENOUGH”.

I can’t lie, Sonya, part of me is jealous. It’s not what I’m supposed to feel, but part of me knows that the ugliness can’t reach you now. Just like with my brother. I don’t believe in heaven or hell but the one thing I’m sure of is that the torture of everyday life goes quiet when you leave the shell of your body behind. I believe you’re at peace now. I’m not coddling myself with this belief. I’m not trying to fit a crown of kittens onto my misshapen head so that I can feel better about you being gone. Nothing’s really going to make me feel better about you being gone. A life of abuse and torture melts away when there’s no corporeal body left to hurt. The slights and torments of seeing with eyes that can be poked out, of hearing with ears that can be ruptured, and feeling with skin that can be burnt to bone can’t reach you where you are now and for that I’m thankful. You were too full of the world’s pain to bear any more.

Your love was bigger than you could hold onto with your small frame. You filled rooms with it, you filled pages with it, you filled silence with it. No one could fill the empty spaces it left in you fast enough. We were all running fast with your heart trying to stitch the holes up with thread but it kept breaking and breaking and breaking apart in the eye of needles too small for our fingers to find in the dark.

Now that I’ve started writing to you I don’t want to stop because it will feel too much like a real goodbye. I can’t do that, can’t say goodbye to you.

There are a lot of people who don’t understand what kind of strong bonds can be made between people online. We know better how bonds between introverts actually thrive when we get to control the flow of conversation, walking away when we need to, coming back when we’re ready. We conduct what I think can legitimately be called endless threads of conversation. There’s no real beginning or ending. We just pick up the thread when we need to or want to and let it drop when we’re feeling raw and edgy.

You have been like a spirit sister to me. You find me when I’m lost, tease me when I’m too serious, inspire me to move forward when I’m at low ebb, and make me laugh hard just because that’s the best thing any of us on earth can do.

You confided in me and I cherished your trust because I know how hard it was for you to tell anyone what you were really feeling for fear you’d be a burden, cause pain to them, or scare them. I know the thought of hurting others emotionally caused you physical pain. There were times you knew you hurt someone without meaning to and it tortured you for days, sometimes weeks. And they never knew it, fucking idiots.

I was going to brave Texas and Texas weather, nail fashions, overabundance of cowboy boots, and dust to see you. If I could afford it I’d been flying down there now to say goodbye in person. It’s disgusting how money can be a hard barrier between friends in different states.

I was going to send you the seeds from the California poppy you saw a picture of from my yard (see above). I waited a month for seed pods to ripen and now they’re sitting on my desk going nowhere. In the last several months you’ve been photographing wildflowers and it hasn’t escaped my observation that they’re an apt analogy for people like you and me. Especially you. You bloomed hard and fierce and bright and got better and more beautiful after hard frosts and soil-cracking droughts. You rose up above the hard scrabble and opened your face to the world with a kind of fierce challenge. You shouted out over storms and through still mornings the same challenge every day that you were made of swords and meat and lean muscle (and probably pizza too), and that no one could get past you to hurt the ones you love the most.

And then, like a wildflower, you vanished from the landscape just as fast as you arrived in it.

“You are not awful and this is why I love you. (Feel free to engrave that on your urn)” were the last words you said to me. (<—-for anyone who knew Sonya this is pretty much an expression of UNDYING FRIENDSHIP. The only way that comment could have delivered more Sonya love is if she invited me to engrave that on a giant piece of cheese.)

I can’t be angry with you for leaving, but I’m gutted by your permanent absence. You made my daily life so much richer, so much better. Knowing you were out there holding your heart and soul up above the floodwaters gave me so much more courage than I had before, made me feel like I can do this impossible thing. And now I have to do the impossible without your example, without your laughter, without Fatcat and Fang. I might be just a little bit angry about that.

I love you Sonya.

Take Your Own Arrows

cremains

I went to my first therapy intake in years the other day. All the hours of my life cried out to be seen and heard and accounted for. I’m never in therapy at my darkest moments so I come with some unintentional armor guarding my heart and my entrails. It takes so little to dent the anger-tempered metal.

It feels important to tell every psychologist that my dad once told me to vacuum the lawn and that though it filled me with doubt about the order of the universe I did it because I was too scared not to. The words always dry up in my throat because it’s ridiculous to tell anyone that I have, in true fact, vacuumed a lawn.

I know I could use a silent ear regarding Zeke’s death. I’m not sure what I can say when a thousand things are always trying to speak at once through me in a giant coagulating mess of noise. I miss him. I think the hardest thing is that I expected to die before him and yet, here I am. I would have taken every pain in his stead, but that’s not how life works. I have to take my own arrows, collect my own offal in pails arranged carefully under a thousand leaks in my body.

I believe our personal power and our greatest weaknesses always stem from the same source. The things that make us vulnerable also makes us strong. Perhaps I think of it in too simplified terms for some, but for me it comes down to the idea that light can’t exist without dark, that cold is meaningless without heat, and good has no context without bad. I even named my company after this concept; sugar and pith – the sweet and the bitter. I don’t believe in fairy tales because they’re obsessed with vanquishing the dark so that light can prevail, but morning is nothing without dusk. Fairy tales are incomplete stories, bastards of the truth which is ultimately more rewarding as well as devastating than fantasy.

I need a therapist to help me swim to the bubbling sunlit surface of water from a thousand feet deep in the alien darkness full of changelings and dancing muscles. Can therapists do that?

The greatest gift in my life has been the long slow discovery that I’m not alone in this dark.

It’s peopled with a thousand spirits kin to me. When I stop struggling to swim and let the waves tow me under I can hear all of them speaking with buoyancy at the same time; with joy and love and the fear stripped from them like it was nothing more than thin streams flooding porous tidal stones.

Can there be reconciliation for as many selves as I have been?

 

Suicide Contagion

the furry hat

I haven’t been able to truly write in ages. I don’t even know how long it’s been at this point. I just started to write again before my brother died. I was starting to work on Suicide for Beginners and then I was thrown into such a terrible wave of my own shock, depression, and grief that I couldn’t wade through without getting lost. So I drifted further away from the page until it felt dangerous to try to access this project.

You can retreat from things that call to you for a while, maybe even for years, but eventually their noise gets to be so loud you can’t hear anything else above them. I don’t feel ready to write about suicide and all the people who opened up their veins to take my survey and yet I feel an incredible responsibility to my tribe to sit down here and find my way because it isn’t just my thoughts and experiences needing sharing, it’s so many other people’s voices and experiences that need to be held up to the light of love and empathy.

I just heard the expression “suicide contagion” for the first time and it makes me feel incredibly angry and protective of my tribe. This is the same ignorance that made people believe that listening to heavy metal could make you commit violent crimes. It implies that people are so suggestible that a song or a tale of suicide can inspire a person to do something completely out of character that they would never have done if it weren’t for someone setting the example for them first.

Let me tell you that no one, NO ONE, commits suicide to be cool or make a point or to cease to exist unless they already had the urge, the impulse, or lacked the self preservation of mentally healthy people. So check yourself and your fucking dreams of contagion to explain away your heartbreak at losing a loved one to suicide.

I don’t honestly know if finishing my project will make a difference but what I do know is that I can’t sit back and not fight for all of us who struggle with depression and anxiety. So many of us are more scar than flesh. So many of us are hanging onto thin threads for lifelines even though we have, collectively, such an incredible long list of people we’d give our whole selves to protect and love.

Not sure I’ve ever truly deeply loved a person who wasn’t mentally compromised to some degree and brilliantly lovely.

There are so many things to fight for. None of us can fight for everything every day. What an overwhelming burden it is to live in such a broken world. What an overwhelming thing it is to live at all. What a terrible burden it is to be born and have to carry this heavy mantle of imposed expectation to make of this abbreviated time on earth matter to other people.

Suicide isn’t contagious. Mental illness isn’t contagious. If someone you love seems to “suddenly” succumb to the influence of some depressed person or is inspired to kill themselves because someone they admired killed themselves – you need to get honest and understand that this person you love was already dreadfully conflicted and haunted.

“Contagion” is an ugly word. “Suicide contagion” is a hideous and ignorant expression.

I don’t know how to safely access enough of myself to work on Suicide for Beginners but it’s abundantly clear that the work needs doing.

Tonight I tried to open my Scrivener files for “Suicide for Beginners” and there was nothing. I have to start all over. Maybe this is for the best even though it makes me want to punch things.

Good night, tribe. I won’t abandon you. You’re always here in my heart. We meet in strange dream landscapes experienced sleeping and awake.

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American People Deserve 3rd Season of Rosewood

rosewood

Dear Fox Broadcasting Network,

It has come to my grim attention that my favorite show, Rosewood, may not be renewed for a third season.  I don’t want to – (hyperventilates into paper bag) – be melodramatic or anything, I know we’re all getting exhausted by hyperbole these days, but cancelling Rosewood would be like taking a beautiful lotus flower and rubbing it into the dirt with a pair of creepy Vibram “shoes”. You’ve created a crime-based show (a huge demographic) that’s well written, beautifully cast, superbly acted, and engaging as hell. The only reason you could possibly consider cancelling this show is that you wish the ratings were higher. I get it, the reason you’re successful is that you brutally cut out anything that doesn’t get the highest ratings. Are you sure you’ve done all you can to promote this gem? I don’t think so because with a show this solid the only way it doesn’t get the best ratings is that you haven’t done enough work to get the word out. I’ve told everyone I know how great it is. I do this for free out of love but obviously I haven’t got the reach you have. Or the money. If you give us a season 3, I promise to work harder to promote Rosewood. In fact, I will write a smashing appeal to potential viewers today to tune in to the rest of this season. But you can do better, I know you can!

Some shows take more time to catch on. Especially if you’re doing something fresh like writing for a truly diverse cast with story lines that might challenge some people (gorgeous bi-racial scientist lesbian relationship – yo!) and, let’s face it, Morris Chestnut just might be too beautiful for some people to handle. But some things need that extra time, that extra push, for everyone to become as invested as I am. This may be one of those shows.

In the last few months I have struggled hard to keep my spirits up. Rosewood is one of the shows I look forward to seeing every week. When I watch it I see a more hopeful reality. One in which most crimes are solved, science applied to dead bodies is cutting edge and cool, where community is a wonderful melange of race, age, and background in which people deal with their problems with grace and wit. And maybe some occasional (totally understandable) violence. Sometimes when I’ve had a particularly rough week I sit down and watch some earlier episodes just to be in a place I like with characters I find inspiring and engaging. This show makes all the bad news in the world just a little (lot) more bearable.

I feel I should at this point make a full disclosure: I hate sunshine, especially Florida sunshine, and cheerfulness. But even I, confirmed fan of winter weather and a permanent curmudgeon, find the beautiful colors on your show and Rosie’s cheerful demeanor endearing. This is almost certainly because the creator of the show (and writers) were smart enough to pair Rosie with Detective Villa, no less beautiful but way less annoyingly sunny. I love Villa so much.

Please give us a season 3 of Rosewood. You don’t owe it to me or anyone else, but it’s probably the most civic-minded decision you could possibly make this year to keep America hopeful, smart, and beautiful.

Sincerely,

Angelina Williamson

Feral kitten tamer and unknown writer.

 

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Angelina’s Guide to “Basic Good Manners”

foot and cat on couch

Here’s a picture of my cat and my feet all over the couch. Also, the principle behind my official guideline on “basic good manners” is inspired by my friend Debi who summed up good manners today as “don’t be a dick”. That’s pretty much the crux of having basic good manners.

Today I heard it suggested that putting your feet up on furniture, whether in someone else’s house or your own, is bad manners and that people who put their feet on any furniture have not been brought up well. It was also implied that I, uncouth Angelina, might not be capable of learning or comprehending “basic good manners”. This was all said by a person I have considered a friend for years. This is not the kind of shit you say to someone you like or respect in any way shape or form. Which is interesting because it is often thought that having good manners is a sign of being a respectful person.

At least, I guess it is in some circles, but it’s my opinion that the use of proper silverware, where you put your feet, whose hands you shake or don’t shake, whether you keep your hat on inside or not has nothing to do with real respect for others. It’s all a superficial social agreement that groups of people come to about what the “proper” way to behave is. Most of it is total bullshit. What you consider to be “basic good manners” is likely to be heavily dictated by regional, socioeconomic backgrounds, cultural, and even generational influence. So be careful how you throw your judgement around at people for having different ideas of what “basic good manners” are, you might actually be acting like a boner-fied* dick.

Angelina’s Guide to “Basic Good Manners”:

Fuck “basic good manners”. The most important thing you can do is treat everyone with kindness, respect, and generosity of spirit. This transcends “proper” social mores every damn time. What’s considered “proper” or “good” manners varies wildly depending on many factors, so large groups of people are always going to disagree on what this even means. Be kind, be respectful, and show generosity of spirit.

It boils down to not being a dick.

If you’re in the company of really religious people, try to be mindful and not swear like a motherfucker or talk about what a great drinking companion Jesus would have been, unless you know them to be cool with that kind of humor.

If you’re a really religious person in the company of an atheist, try to be mindful and not preach or expect them to not talk about what a great drinking companion Jesus would have been.

Don’t be a dick.

If your family is super casual and really likes to be comfortable and put their feet up on the furniture, invite your guests to do the same.

If you’re at someone else’s house, don’t put your feet up on the furniture if it’s all fancy and couches are white and uptight or if no one else is putting their feet on anything but the floor.

Don’t be a dick.

If you don’t know anything about using special forks or eating with a knife**, don’t worry about it if you find yourself in a fancy house where people like cleaning multiple utensils per person per meal, you’ll probably just do it wrong anyway.

If you are a family that uses many special utensils per person per meal and have a guest that eats with you but only uses a fork of one size for ALL THE DAMN DISHES, just be thankful you’ll have fewer dishes to wash and don’t look down on your guest for not being raised in a multi-sized-fork household.

DON’T BE A GODDAMN DICK.

 

*I did that on purpose.

**I was raised as a vegetarian – I don’t eat anything that needs to be sawn through, geez, give me a break!

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