Letter to Self: Your Place at the Table

The thing about now is that it instantly slips into the past the second you register it in your cornea and your brain. Now barely exists and yet it’s the most important fraction of time in our lives. What you feel now is going to change. Change is one of the few constants in life. Yeah, you want to shout out for change to fuck itself. You seem determined to undermine yourself just as soon as you understand on a cellular level how desperately you need to change. I understand. It’s really important that you know I’ve been there where you are now. I’m offering no judgement against you.

Your value isn’t contingent on being perfect, being wise, being healthy, or being happy. So push all that crap off the table and start over. Your value is contingent only on evolving into the best self you can be. Not as you’re tempted to compare yourself to others. Others don’t matter here. Here is where you build your own damn yardstick. You did this a long time ago. You did this when you first felt yourself slipping out of your own skin in shame and degradation. You sat up, you realized that the yardstick you’d been measuring yourself against was a fucking joke, a horsehair whip to make you bleed. A horsehair whip you took from trusted hands that told you you deserved it and you had no reason not to believe it.

You sat up and broke that horsehair whip in half and threw all the empty yardsticks in the trash and began to build your own. Remember how long it took you to do that? Years. It wasn’t overnight. It was like remaking yourself in a new image. In a new frame. You had to hammer yourself into it every day, remind yourself that you weren’t the worthless piece of shit you heard others say of you. You sat up and demanded your place at the table of life, with your own silverware, your own place card. And it took so much strength to make demands instead of accepting life as an invisible spirit.

Things feel as bad as they did back then but you got through that. You need to remember that you got through it stronger than you started off. It wasn’t because of anyone else. You wanted to die almost every day but you hung on because you had a wildflower’s roots clinging to the cosmos through the poorest soil. All of this is to say that you’re there again and the only way you’re going to move forward is if you sit up and demand your place at the table.

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.

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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When Self Care is the Hardest is When We Need it Most

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Cultivated purslane going to seed. I saved a bag of the seed. Hopefully it’ll grow true to the plant – not sure it will – this is what often stops me from saving seeds in my small garden, worries that the seed will not grow true. I don’t often plant hybrids, I do plant all OP (except for my beloved Sungold tomatoes, those are hybrids and might not even be OP) but I have a small garden space and often grow multiple varieties of a vegetable a year. Cross pollination in a small garden is a real issue. But I’ve decided to save a few seeds anyway. Purslane, red Orache, and summer squash this year.

I have not been taking good care of myself. For ten days we didn’t drink too much. Then we went right back to drinking lots of beer. I don’t exercise because of how much it always hurts my feet or something else. It’s always something. I have been eating way too much cheese. The only thing I do right any more is to drink lots of water. I also still eat a lot of produce, but this is largely cancelled out by all the cheese. I don’t sleep well (though I never do, so is that even worth reporting?) I’m depressed and anxious all the time without any breaks in it to come up for air. I wasn’t taking my meds regularly for a little while but at least I’ve really cracked down on that and for the last couple of weeks have been very consistent with taking them every day.

So little writing for all of 2016. This is the worst thing of all. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to the desk and be disciplined about writing no matter what. That’s why I’m here this morning. Earlier in the year I was working hard on my survey and by the summer time, when I started to actually sit down to write, all the energy I had was sucked up by work, which I quit, and then sucked up by trying to re-boot my business because Philip got laid off and I couldn’t find a job. No writing. Then I tried writing but it was all about my brother and grieving. Anyway, I got on a single track before he died and couldn’t get off it. Every time I sat down to write I would end up on the same track, saying the same things every single time. No matter where I started off, I’d end up in the same place. So I just stopped writing at all.

Yesterday I woke up really late and felt like garbage  because I stayed up ridiculously late and drank an insane amount of beer while watching Leonard Cohen videos on youtube. I was angry with myself and then I had a very rich, way too rich even for me breakfast that made me feel even shittier. So I got out into the garden. For over an hour. I pulled up all my tomato plants, the dying zinnias, the summer squash plants, and the woody rosemary that never recovered its last trim. I planted a baby rosemary in its place. I picked the first few ripe radishes which my mom said were almost too hot to eat. They aren’t a hot variety so it must have been the growing conditions. I also harvested a bunch of our everlasting spinach. I planted my boxwood plant in the side yard bed finally (I will be topiarying it), got our cape gooseberry planted too. I got completely covered with soil and for the first time in a long time I felt a little better.

Why is it so hard to get myself to do things I know are important to my mental health? Once out of the habit it’s so tough getting back into it. Yet when I do – I feel so much better. It’s creating the daily habit that has to happen. Once you do, it creates a momentum.

My body is really craving greens and vegetables. More than I’ve been eating. The other night I roasted some cauliflower, potatoes, and carrots with some rosemary salt. I ate a big bowl of them with ketchup but no cheese. It was so good! Another dish I made is one I’ve been wanting to make for a while – I made pulau rice. My friend Rohini gave me some of her favorite packaged spice mix and told me two methods of making the rice and it turned out so well! I didn’t have any frozen peas which I really wished I’d had but it still turned out great with carrots, onions, and potatoes diced small. Then I made a palak paneer to go with the leftovers. I have made paneer before but didn’t feel like doing that and I don’t know where to buy paneer in my city (probably could get it at one of the Asian markets but I haven’t checked yet) so I ended up using this cubed feta I had in the fridge. I hadn’t used much of the feta before because it was really dry and kind of chewy. Good flavor, but not what I wanted for my salad or couscous. So I used it in the palak and it was so good! It was tangier than paneer, but texturally very similar. I used a garam masala blend I made from scratch last year but never used. So it was a little old but it was really tasty!

That’s the kind of cooking I’m craving. I can’t be attempting totally authentic Indian food or Greek food, necessarily, but doing my take on them is where it’s at. At least my spice blends were authentic. (The one I made was from my vegetarian Indian cookbook by Monisha Bharadwaj) I especially love spinach dishes. Palak paneer, spanikopita, and spinach quiche are a few favorites.

I can’t be on facebook as much as usual. I have way too many people I love on there to stop checking in and hanging out a little, but I’m skimming past political and ranting posts. I’m bypassing as many angry posts as possible. If I soak up any more of that I risk letting more passive suicidal thoughts to take root in my spirit and heart. I can’t afford it. If anyone thinks I’m a cop-out or don’t care about all the people hurting right now, all the scared people out there right now, all the abused and threatened people – then you don’t know me AT ALL. If there is anything in me to contribute to the world to make it a better place, to help people become safer – then I have to shut everything out for a while. Dead people can’t help make living people safer or heard or lift them up. That’s a fact.

Unless you’re religious, then I suppose you always turn to dead people to lift you up. But never the less, not even Jesus can vote or march or step in to literally give you a hand when you need one.

For mentally ill people to be of service to others, they have to take care of themselves and that often means shutting out the noise. That often means disengaging for long periods to recharge. Our batteries do not hold charges for very long.

I feel guilty so much of the time not being able to do more, needing to be in retreat mode so often. Honestly, when I’ve gotten myself to a better place, I don’t know that tackling political things is where I’m needed most anyway. I need to get back to my Suicide for Beginners book because those of us with serious depression and anxiety need intersectional support more than most people. We have a lot to offer others in empathy and action and support, but not when we don’t have enough of it ourselves. Depression and anxiety don’t give a shit about your gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, they hit people across all lines, across all borders both literal and figurative.

I have to keep acknowledging the guilt that I’m not stronger than I am and keep letting it go. I’m strong in ways that aren’t necessarily evident. But if I don’t take care of myself, that strength is inaccessible to everyone, including myself.

So, if you’re like me and struggle with serious depression and anxiety, please let me entreat you to do a little check – are you practicing good self care? Or have you been neglecting it like I have? What is the self care you need to practice? (Feel free to literally tell me in the comments) If you’re not practicing much self care at all, or worse, like I have been doing – you are being self destructive (even if mildly), how about doing one thing for yourself today that you know will help you feel better and stronger that you’ve been neglecting to do? Don’t worry about ALL THE THINGS you should be doing, how about just do ONE thing today that you haven’t been doing?

Today I got up, grabbed my cup of coffee, and headed upstairs to my computer to write a post. A post that isn’t about death, or politics, or the hatred that’s consuming the world. I wrote about the thing I did yesterday that made me feel so much better for a little while. And in doing so, I have (today) done something else that I’ve neglected for so long I don’t even recognize myself anymore – I wrote a post before doing anything else. No matter what else I do today (or don’t do), I will have done something today that I need to do every day.

About the writing – I believe that all writers (and I believe this is true of all artists) sometimes must go through fallow periods. Periods of time when they aren’t writing but are just experiencing life. You have to recharge your writing brain. It used to be that I would write at least a blog post or a journal entry every single day even if I wasn’t writing poetry, non-fiction, or fiction. It was a discipline that kept my writing muscles flexed. But regardless of whether or not you continue to write little journal entries, there are periods of time where you must let ideas germinate, or invite new ones in by going out and doing things and getting out of your head. Just as fields must lie fallow to rest in order to regenerate and be able to support more demanding plants in a later season or year.

But I have lain fallow long enough. It is now unhealthy for me to continue to eschew the writing. I have to find my way back. But I can only think about today or I’ll crumble. Today I wrote.

Vampire Facelift

vampire facelift

The amazing thing is that this makes sense to someone in a professional medical capacity. Only in Los Angeles!

I’m trying to get back into the usual flow of life but I’m not sure I had a particularly good flow of life going on in the first place. I got derailed in my efforts on Friday to regain any sense of normalcy when the postman delivered my brother in a box. Holding that heavy box and knowing it’s the weight of all that’s left of my brother’s body was awful. It’s a totally matter-of-fact thing that I didn’t think I’d have such a hard time with. Intellectually I don’t, but holding it made me break down. My mom and Philip also broke down. Then we made an altar around the box of remains and felt a little better.

On Saturday I spent most of my day developing an aromatherapy blend for grieving to put in the diffuser my mom brought home from Zeke’s bedroom, a new addition to Zeke’s life given to him by his best friend Jen Jo. Against nearly all recommendations for grieving blends, we decided we liked jasmine better than rose damask for the floral middle note. Rose is the one single essential oil that is in nearly every single blend recommended for grieving. I love rose damask but my mom and I found the jasmine more uplifting and over-all more effective for our own feelings of grief and loss. So I now have an essential oil blend for grieving which, once I have labels, I will package and put in my shop for sale for others who may need the same support we do.

Yesterday I knew I needed to get moving on my Sugar and Pith work. I have a mailing list to put together, products to make, lotions to perfect, and farmer’s market applications and samples to package up. So. I sat on the couch for a really long time because it was a thousand degrees out and that’s stupid. I was angry with the weather but lacking the energy to do anything about it.

Finally I cleaned the kitchen, cooked some tomatoes down for sauce, and got to work on my lotion trials. Mostly because I really need lotion and it’s ridiculous to buy some more when I have all the ingredients to make my own and a fair amount of skill by this time. Skill is what I wanted to perfect, though. I made three new batches. The first one was just as weird texturally as all my previous batches. I mean, the stuff goes into the skin wonderfully well and is awesome but it looks weird like overwhipped cream. Which, I believe is exactly what the problem was. So I spent my late afternoon and evening developing my lotion-making skills. I’m almost there.

Then I ate an entire medium sized pizza. Fucking gluttony.

Here we are at Monday and I feel as low energy as ever. Still no jobs in this house (I have resumed looking for work, though I scarcely see how I will find anything decent that I can do with my bum foot and lack of uber-specific super-powers every employer demands and seems to think they’ll find) and Philip is working his ass off looking for a good job. Lots of recruiter action, no interviews. Well, there’s a phone interview today but for a job he probably won’t get hired for and can’t actually commute to.

I continue to watch episodes of Poirot all day long. I think I’ll rewatch some Miss Marple today. But first, I think I better go water the front yard. It threatens to be another scorcher today. Boooooo. I better go shower and water the yard before I sink too deeply into this physical and mental malaise brought on by extreme monetary stress and horrible sadness.

At least I’ve got kittens!

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Gardening is Like Religion

Echinacea Purpurea

I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God(s) or Deities that are imagined in the likeness of human beings. I don’t believe in higher powers with lists of rules and regulations that must be followed to avoid spiritual stagnation, or worse, damnation. The idea of a higher power with a thirst for blood, vengeance, and world domination seems like a shabby reflection of humankind rather than an elevated and evolved energy/being/power. Most depictions of Gods and Devils bear a striking resemblance to the emotional maturity of a human toddler.

Every time I talk about my garden, about gardening in general, about how I feel when I’m in the thick of my plants, I’m talking about my version of religious practice. In my garden there is no plant that is lord of all the plants, there is no law that is the law of all beings, and the idea of virtue is egalitarian. I give dandelions pride of place just as I give roses pride of place.

My garden is a small ecosystem, a universe constantly expanding and contracting with the seasons, with new information, new ideas, established roots, thick bark and thin. Within the small ecosystem of my garden there are micro ecosystems and all of them reflect the greater universe all around it.

When I finally got myself a diagnosis for my mental illness it was clear that I needed the support of medication to keep myself safe and healthy, but my psychologist asked me what I do in my life that is calming, that makes me feel good, centered, and happy. I told him that deadheading my roses always pushed my anxieties aside, that it brought a quietness to my brain that I rarely experience otherwise. I told him that one of my keenest pleasures was to cut roses to place around my house. He suggested I make my roses part of my daily self-care, part of my mental health-care routine.

This morning I watered my front and side gardens and then deadheaded my roses. I brought my cup of coffee out there with me. I was still in my pyjamas. When I’m out there with my plants I’m not an infirm obese middle aged woman, I’m just another spirit among kin. The plants speak to me in color, in shade, in density, in volume. They speak to me in shattered petals, old scabs, and new sap. When I’m in my garden I make sense, I belong, I am never shunned nor judged. I am not lord of my garden, I’m part of it.

My garden full of wild sproutlings, sudden inexplicable deaths, and regal insectary towers reminds me at all times simultaneously of my insignificance and my influence on the outcome of universal truth. I matter here, I just don’t matter more than anything else does. I am equal with the plum tree and dandelions alike. When I’m weeding I know what’s truly bothering me the most because nothing amplifies my worries more than total silence and the bitter tears of false dandelion smeared across my hands. I can’t make my brain stop playing the endless tapes that cause it so much distress, but when I let them play while I’m buried waist high in my wildflowers, their power over me is diminished as everything is leveled among the plants and the locusts chewing on them.

I’m struggling pretty hard right now to be okay with humans, with BEING human. I’m struggling pretty hard right now against my own brain that doesn’t exist peacefully in the world in which it must function. Even with medication I can’t shut out all the noise of all the pain others are going through, all the spirits being crushed  by systems that oppress love and celebrate hate.

My garden is my religion. My religion is the smell of hot blackberries hanging heavily sweet on the summer air. My religion is camouflaging myself among the Lacy Phacelia as though I grew from a winter seed up into a six foot tall flower that looks like a synchronized Busby Berkeley number performed exclusively by purple caterpillars.  My religion is trial and error, accidentally thick pasta, opera playing full blast over a bowl of rising bread dough, my accordion playing Amazing Grace into the golden hour. My scripture is knowing to deadhead roses to a 5 leaf set.

It isn’t my place to give benediction, it isn’t my place to request favors of a God I don’t believe in. What I CAN do is let my plants breathe with me and you and the stars above.

My garden is my religion. It’s a place of healing, belonging, and perspective.