Category: Writer’s Desk

all about writing, words, fiction, writing projects

Suicide for Beginners Survey Update

calling yesterdayIt’s July 1st and I’m still not finished logging the Suicide for Beginners survey responses. Why is it taking so long? I had originally planned to be done with this part of the project by the end of April. So what the fuck happened?

I have Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety and mild OCD.

How the fuck is that an answer or excuse? Ahhhh – most of the people who took my survey KNOW why that’s a profoundly important answer.

As a person who has Major Depressive Disorder, I have very low energy at the best of times. Not everyone who has this disorder is always low energy. Some people with it are only low energy during a depressive down-cycle. Some don’t experience low energy as a symptom at all (I didn’t for the first half of my life of living with depression). But the majority of us find having depression emotionally exhausting and physically draining. I have a day job, a kid, a mom who depends on me to run her errands as she is physically unable to do so herself, I have pets, and all of this would reasonably make anyone a bit tired at the end of the day. But put depression on the heap and I’m done for.

I have tried getting some surveys logged in the mornings before work when I have the most energy. But most mornings I have enough trouble getting myself into the proper mind-frame to face a day of customer service.

There’s a whole other factor at play here as well. I’ve got no filter for other people’s emotional baggage. I’m also excessively empathetic. Reading long surveys in which I ask people to talk to me about the darkest and most vulnerable part of their lives is truly hard. For one thing, people with mental illness disproportionately experience abuse over people who aren’t mentally ill, particularly in childhood. So these surveys are filled not only with the pain of having mental illness, but the pain of abuse, disregard, bullying, disrespect, and marginalization.

These people are my community. They are my tribe. They matter to me almost more than any other people on earth. So it’s really fucking hard to sit down and hear all their pain and just fly through survey after survey – boom! Boom! Done. I FEEL their pain in no small part because I have experienced all of it for myself. It’s overwhelming.

So I’ve had to take it slow and take long breaks because it’s fucking heartbreaking to actually hear so many people’s stories about living with depression. Lordy, and this survey doesn’t even cover any of the co-morbid diagnosis’ most of us live with.

There’s another factor that’s made it hard too – those survey respondents who spewed mean shit at ME. But I’m saving that for the next installment of:

WHY IT’S JULY AND ANGELINA ISN’T DONE WRITING SUICIDE FOR BEGINNERS YET.

I’m just about to read survey #530 out of #584 total “completed”*.

*Survey Monkey’s idea of what constitutes a “completed” survey is pretty remarkable. There are some surveys they counted as “completed” in which the respondent answered exactly 5 out of 25 questions. Translate that into orgasm talk and you’ll have a riot on your fucking hands.

My original plan was to be finishing my first draft of the book by now. Shit.

But this is the very THING I’m trying to shed light on, isn’t it? That living with depression means adjusting your expectations and your goals because if you don’t do that you will hate yourself more than your brain already tells you to and you’ll struggle even harder. One of the most important things you can do for yourself as a person suffering life-long chronic depression is to accept that it will limit you a lot of ways, some of them obvious, many of them not.

I have 54 more survey responses to log. It doesn’t sound like much, but I logged in about 15 of them last night and felt so drained from it that I’m still feeling it this morning.

Once I’m done logging the responses I will be sorting my spreadsheets to reflect the numerical order of the answers which also means I have to clean up the notes and crap I scattered all over them that will get in the way of ranking them. Once I get everything ranked and cleaned up I will take each individual spreadsheet and evaluate my findings and take notes on what I think they mean. Then I can begin to actually WRITE THE DAMN BOOK.

I had originally planned to be done with my second draft by the end of the summer so I could start sharing with beta readers and writing query letters to agents. With non-ficiton you don’t actually have to wait to finish your book before querying agents (whereas they will not even consider your novel if you query them before it’s finished) you just need chapter outlines and a synopsis, but I know I have to write this book no matter what and I need to have written it to properly query it. It must take shape first before I present it because I’m not 100% sure how I’m going to arrange the book and prioritize the chapters until I’m writing it.

Will it even be done by 2018? I don’t know. I do feel a sense of urgency as mental illness is being offered up more and more as an explanation and the core issue behind mass murders, homophobia, racism, and pretty much all crime. Which is excessively wrong – people don’t understand mental illness who don’t have it and they also don’t understand how a human can kill another human so obviously mental illness is linked to violence in their minds. This must stop! Obviously, my book may not help stop people from being ignorant and keeping all of us mentally ill people chained up in humanity’s claustrophobic closet of horrors, but I can’t give up just because my project might not achieve what I hope it will help achieve.

First I have to write the post about the people in my community who are making things worse for the rest of us, but especially ME as they tell me to fuck off. Then I’ll get as many more survey responses logged as I can today.

 

Authenticity in Writing and Other Stuff

grooming is good

(You’ll have to scroll down for the thoughts on writing because first there’s other stuff)

I’m super excited about the family vacation we’re going to take on June 14th. It’s pretty much all I’m thinking about. Except that I really want to get my Suicide for Beginners survey responses all logged before I go on vacation so I’m thinking about that too. About how I keep missing opportunities to plow through them after work. I faff around making food for my kid, doing dishes, and then I’m exhausted and sit around thinking about all the things I should be doing before vacation and do nothing else.

This is the main thing that sucks about having depression. The lows come and go for me and they can be super bad, but I don’t really have highs. I just have no energy. Even when medicated, which has certainly helped.

I need to sew some stuff for my trip. Well, just for in general, because hot weather is mostly here and I’ve been very uncomfortable. I need some culottes so I can ride my bicycle without knotting my pant cuffs and so I don’t die of heat exhaustion related to wearing long pants all day at work where it’s so hot I break a sweat just from fetching a cup of water from the water cooler.

Now I need to make myself a new bag too because yesterday I pretty  much destroyed my main one by spilling coffee inside of it. A lot of coffee.

I think I just have to lock myself in my office tonight without any booze and work on the survey results. And again tomorrow night. And again on Friday night.  Then I can sew this weekend.

WRITERS: BE AUTHENTIC…

Random writer thought – I truly despise it when book promos promise to make a reader cry. My goal in reading a book is never to be made to cry. Ever. I hate crying and worse than that I hate knowing that an author relishes the idea of manipulating their readers into feeling sad or so happy (??) they break down crying. Claiming that your book is so emotional your readers are going to ball their eyes out strongly suggests that you measure your success as a writer by how much you can manipulate the emotions of your readers rather than by how much they enjoyed your story-telling. It suggests to me that you’re in it for the satisfaction of moving people to some strong emotion and not to write great stories. It tells me your focus is off and that it’s kind of creepy.

If a book promo suggests that a story is going to be tragic – I feel like I’ve already been betrayed as a reader. I will not read the story. But if I did read it, I would not allow myself to be drawn in emotionally because I’m already prepared to be betrayed.

I see this a lot on Twitter. You have very little words with which to hook a potential reader. Don’t waste them promising to wreck a reader emotionally. Say something about the actual story. I say this as a person who’s total crap at writing promos, so I get it, writing promos is hell. But at least try.

Writers who live to manipulate the emotions of readers are just as unpalatable to me as writers who live to moralize. Emotional manipulation and moralizing are terrible reasons to write and having either of those as your core goal and your starting point with any story will permeate your whole story with a stench that most readers can smell a mile away and will resent you for.

Please, fellow writers, be in it to tell amazing stories about interesting people and places and events. Please be in this writing gig to share your authentic imagination with the rest of us. If you’re authentic in all your writing then you’ll move readers naturally.

Time to go wash my hair before work.

 

Memory of Soft Plastic

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So many ghosts live in my skin with me listing out all the the tastes and scents they miss. Hot fat blackberries splitting open under the weight of summer heat, releasing warm dark spicy juices down proud drawn thorns. The sick musk of wild animals talking to each other through the pitch of a new moon, their sharp resinous language we call primitive but which says everything with elegant brevity, nuance lost on our cumbersome language chains.

My past is slowly being archived into sensory memory more than literal memory. In the middle of the day I suddenly smell root beer and green apple scratch-n-sniff stickers like they’re abbreviations for everything that matters and I remember every sticker I ever peeled out of a book or off a strip, the emoticons of the ancient past we used to cover envelopes with. I will be on the phone at work explaining to a customer that I can’t advise them on the use of frankincense to combat cancer and suddenly everything is lime essential oil and I remember my entire 45 collection which I play only slightly more than I play my dad’s 45 collection, now lost to me. I’m in the basement of Rare Earth in Ashland learning that I have enough room for David Bowie AND Madonna.

There are places in my memory that smell like soft plastic, like the empty junk store in Talent Oregon where I spotted the Bionic Woman barbie doll I absolutely had to have. I had to save up my allowance to buy her and the box she came in smelled of shop dust in a way only a disused pawn shop item can do when I finally took my coveted doll home. That place was full of ghosts long before I ever stepped foot in it but I think I might have dropped my own off there and never picked it up again.

Plump rosy cheeked dolls smelled of apples and cinnamon and drew me to them like people trapped in porcelain. I watched their eyes while I ate eclairs in the basement pastry shop. I distrusted their velvet gowns and shiny hair, they were too fine and precious, the way Christians often described Satan’s insidious infiltration of everyday people’s lives. You could be eating a slightly sweaty eclair in a small town and not notice the ghosts all around you looking for egress.

I knew more then than I know now about the ghosts in all things. I knew my place among them.

Duran Duran smells like sandy summer crushes, like ripe pheromones drunk with ice and pineapples.

In my least macabre moments I’m convinced I’m here to propel others forward to their destinies, that mine isn’t important, that mine isn’t the point, that I’m the traffic officer of invisible dreams.

Unthread me from your spool.

I am rogue spirit.

 

 

 

Nosy Parker

whiskers

I’m a nosy parker. I don’t believe you can be a writer and not also be a nosy parker. This whole idea that there’s virtue in not caring what anyone else does or thinks irritates the shit out of me. Perhaps you, as a human, don’t act on your curiosity, but can you be alive inside and never be interested in other people’s lives?

Being curious about what people think, how they live their lives, why they make the choices they do, why they won’t eat broccoli (was it finding half a worm on their plate that turned them off the green floriferous crucifer, or do they just hate the taste?), and how they got their hair so big – this is a normal human trait and isn’t the same thing as judging them for the answers to these questions. Though, making judgments about people is also a very important thing humans do. It’s how we avoid getting into cars with serial killers.

I think it’s disingenuous to claim you don’t care what anyone else thinks or does. It’s something people say when they find other people’s curiosity distasteful. It’s a smug untrue thing to claim. Only a very dull minded person or a narcissist genuinely doesn’t wonder or care about what anyone else is up to.

I will admit that the curiosity of writers is necessarily greater than average. I will admit that my curiosity is non-stop during all waking hours. I’d even argue that my dreams reflect my mind continuing to be curious while I sleep in addition to processing what it sees and has experienced. I am in a constant state of observing everything around me. Color, light, shape, composition, movement, action, noise, interactions – all day long. Much of the time I observe silently. I squash the constant questions that come to mind because I’ve been taught it isn’t polite, it isn’t okay to ask people personal questions unless I know them intimately. I’ve been taught it’s a bad human quality to want to know everything about everyone in the world.

But I know it really isn’t. I know this is human nature. I know that our sense of curiosity is how we learn, how we progress, and ultimately how we survive a constantly changing landscape. So I don’t feel any shame about being a nosy parker. I just try to reign it in for other people’s comfort.

Why The Title “Suicide for Beginners”?

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There WILL be typos in this post. If that’s all you have to comment on after you read it, keep it to your damn self.

I explained the title of my book “Suicide for Beginners” in the long post I wrote about the project. A couple of people have commented on this title unfavorably. One person thinks it’s too dark, that my project should be called something more like “how to survive suicide”, and another person has suggested I “be careful” with this title as it may be triggering.

Here’s the deal: first of all, I am not writing a book about how to survive suicide. My goal isn’t to save lives for the sake of saving lives. My goal in writing this book is to offer other people like me peer support and to help people with serious depression feel less alone. If it helps them hang on longer to possibly find some therapies or meds that offer real relief and a better quality of life or if it just makes a single person feel more understood and less alone for a few hours, then I have accomplished my goal.

Secondarily, this book is meant to offer real insight to people who don’t know shit about depression so they can stop acting like turds and offer better support to the people in their lives who suffer from it. EDUCATION. Education from the very people who know most about it – US. The people who live with this shit day in and day out.

Thirdly, while I understand and respect the concept of triggering vulnerable people and would like to not be a person going around triggering people, the title of this book, should it come up in a person’s online search for methods to kill themselves will be a deep disappointment. If someone is already looking online for ways to kill themselves, they have already been triggered. They’re already at code red. Seeing the title “Suicide for Beginners” may make them think they’ve found a handy step-by-step manual for killing themselves, and won’t it be a deep fucking disappointment to discover that instead it’s a title to a book that may actually provide the temporary balm they need to get through another day. At worst, they’re determined to kill themselves and they’ll keep looking for what they need to help them. My book won’t be it.

So to suggest this title is “triggering” seems strange to me.

The other thing is, if we cannot use the words that describe our crisis and/or our worst experiences, even to each other, how the fucking hell are we going to talk honestly? The truth is that if you are like me and have experienced abuse and also have mental illness and have wanted to kill myself (or just never wake up again) at different points in my life, and have horrible anxiety and panic disorder, life will offer constant triggers. That’s a fact. We DO have to take care of ourselves and sometimes that means we have to avoid people/places/conversations/topics etc.

Exploiting vulnerability for entertainment or for shock value is not my gig and I absolutely understand why people in my community are becoming more vocal in their objections to these things. Rape scenes in books and movies that are brutal and explicit are, more often than not, unnecessary and for those who’ve been through it themselves – it’s like being forced to relive the worst day of their lives.

On the other hand, people who haven’t been raped often downplay the brutality of it, think it isn’t that bad, really, because at least you’re not dead. Society on the whole agrees that rape is “bad” but when it comes down to it they also don’t feel comfortable ruining men’s lives when it might have been nothing more than a “misunderstanding” or that the women who are raped are somehow at fault. So, when writers and artists depict violence or dark mental landscapes – do you really want them to soften the blow, turn down the lights, and let people who don’t understand continue to believe in their hearts that other people’s suffering is not something they need to concern themselves with?

Not me. I would much rather that truths be revealed with as much raw honesty as possible, in conversations between individuals, in art, in culture, in education.

I’m not okay asking people to NOT depict rape, suicide, illness, or murder in their works of fiction. For at least a millennia, telling stories has been the best way humans have found to tell their real stories in a way that others will remember and repeat. Fiction has been an important mirror of ourselves, well, forever.

Rape is a horrible thing that happens to thousands of women and some men every single day and is accepted by society to a shocking degree – this stuff needs to be in the open. You can’t tell fiction writers not to have rape in their books. It’s like saying you can’t have characters who get divorced or have  babies. Rape, abuse, depression, suicide, mental illness; these are every-day things millions of people experience. That’s a fuck-ton of stories needing to be told in one way or another. You can’t ask anyone not to tell the stories they experienced in real life in fiction, or to not share the brutality of abuse they have gone through or seen others go through just because it reminds you of what you went through and it hurts. Demanding we not use words like “rape” or depict rape or other “triggering” words is another way of trying to silence people.

I will NOT be complicit in silencing truth.

Suicide is a real problem for people who suffer from mood disorders in particular and mental illness in general. We do not create it, we do not fixate on death (or on simply not existing, a passive form of suicidal ideation) to shock the people around us, and we do not kill ourselves because we are desperate for attention or because we’re selfish assholes.

The title of my book is deliberate. It’s what I would have given to myself when I was a teen first beginning to unravel, when I was just a beginner to the damnation and darkness I was plunged into and have never been free of for the last 33 years. Suicide for Beginners is the book I wish had been already written when I was 13 and self harming for the first time. It’s the book I wish I could have given to people around me too, who didn’t understand what I was going through and whose ignorance made my journey even harder.

While this book isn’t only for beginners to suicide, but that’s the concept that started it. If I could have known how many other people there were out there with the same struggles as mine, the one thing I would have been spared was feeling desperately alone in a sea of humans who are wholly alien to me. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties and started talking openly about my struggles that I began to find others who knew what I was talking about, who empathized and understood. It didn’t fix my depression to know others were going through the same thing as me but it DID give me courage, it did make me feel less isolated, it did give me more strength to face this lying asshole called depression.

My ultimate goal isn’t to save lives but to improve the quality of living for people like me by providing messages from hundreds of other people with serious depression that say “we understand” and “we care about you” and to provide data from those same hundreds of people on things like what are the five most important things we can do to manage our depression/anxiety. Useful information straight from other sufferers, not from a lab or a statistics farm.

I would love to see the numbers of suicides drop dramatically in my lifetime but before we can reduce those numbers significantly, we need to educate the masses and stop them from making us all feel infinitely worse. We need to listen to the mentally ill more and to the media’s interpretation of mental illness less. We need to reduce isolation, reduce the stigmas, and we need to remind each other that, collectively speaking, we’re a pretty  vibrant, funny, empathetic, and awesome community of people and the world needs our perspective.

I’m interested in the truth. All of it. There is no gentle conversation we can have about suicide. There is no gentle version of killing one’s self or of passive self destruction. So let’s not tip-toe around it, okay?

One last thing. A pivotal moment in my life as an aspiring writer was when I wrote a piece of first person narrative for an English class in 10th grade. I chose to write an interior monologue of someone trying to kill themselves. The character I chose for my fiction was male but the monologue was mine. It was a scenario I’d run through my own head many times. I fictionalized something dreadfully dark I was going through and I spared no one’s feelings. It didn’t even occur to me. I wrote honestly and when I turned it in I was suddenly terrified. Why the fuck did I have to open my own jugular in front of my teacher’s eyes? When the day came to hand our papers back to us I was all nerves. He chose the best few stories to be read aloud to the class. He read them himself. He chose mine.

The other stories were about the spring break vacations students took. The students laughed and nodded along with the stories. But when Mr. Pierce read mine the class went dreadfully silent. The class remained stunned and silent as we were dismissed for recess. He talked to me after class about literature I might enjoy. He spoke to me about continuing to work on my writing. He was impressed with the rawness of my story, with the choice of subject.

What Mr. Pierce did NOT do is call the infirmary and get me committed to a psyche ward, which if I’m being honest, would have been a welcome relief to me. Mr. Pierce recognized truth in fiction and he treated me with respect and I believe he was offering me an opening to reach out as well. I didn’t take the opening offered but I did feel empowered by having a teacher actually listen to, and share, something so deeply personal to me. He saw value in the truth and that’s the first time I understood what one of the societal roles of writers really is. To mirror reality.

The title of my book will not be changed to reflect a falsely positive view of depression. It will not be changed to comfort those who want to believe that it’s really just a matter of changing one’s perspective. The title is completely intentional and an honest reflection of the purpose of this project.

I will not apologize if it makes anyone uncomfortable.

I Run Towards Arrows

try to follow if you can

In my mind I live life operatically. In reality I live like an animal balloon wheezing out its last squeak. I run towards arrows like a reckless soldier who knows her luck, such as it was, has diminished into negligent margins. I make wide gestures of living because I don’t know how to keep my thoughts and limbs tight. I’m a constant explosion of raw thought and strange spaghetti words stuck to peeled paint ceilings falling deftly, silently, into the mouths of witless dreamers.

Most of the time I doubt the substance of my own bones. I’m the bitter ghost of all abused children, the patron saint of broken skin. Most of the time I feel myself disappear  beneath the weight of human suffering. I can’t breathe when you can’t breathe. I can’t move on when your nightmares burn through your last defenses and you construct walls to hold your bleeding fear in check.

Whatever I am is less important than holding your wings out for your free-fall from earth’s atmosphere. Whatever I am is less important than helping you find the light burning quietly through your solar plexus, the same light that will ignite bonfires across a universe of unquenchable thought.

I can’t make you see yourself in your own mirror. All I can do is reflect you in mine where you shine like a spirit without anchor, where you shimmer into a pool of collected precipitation.

I will always break your fall here in the cotton mornings.

I will give you my skin. I don’t need it where I’m going.

I will give you my voice. It’s the only weapon I’ve ever mastered.

I will give you my heart, because a lifetime of shattering couldn’t prevent it from mending under the protective film of poetry.

You are magnificent. This morning, right now, in every stumble towards the next frame, the next conversation – YOU. ARE. MAGNIFICENCE.

Go on. Close your eyes and dream.

I will never be far from you.

 

The best medicine for depression is as unquantifiable as love

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Sometimes we have to stop talking, stop breathing, stop thinking so we can hear the shadows singing to us under its sweet breath. Sometimes a voice reaches us that is so gentle, so ethereal that we travel across a weightless universe into new skin. People like me need new skin as often as we need new arrows.

Listen!

You feel let down, sorrowful, destitute. I know there’s no easy answer for this ague, I know there’s no cure or water to drink against the terrible dark we face every day. But perhaps there are sounds so angelic that some of us can feel love in the barracks when we’re standing on the sharp edge of yesterday.

This imperfect life is colorful if completely painful and suffocating.

If you’re standing on the edge of a precipice in your life right now, if you’re thinking about jumping into the dark merciful death you’ve been dreaming silently of for years – I still love you. I AM you. You aren’t alone. It isn’t just me that hears you, understands you, and values you – it’s all of us. We are many.

I would like you to stay with us another day. Maybe just another few minutes. Whatever you can give us. We want you here with us. No one can understand you as well as your brethren in emotional perpetuity.

The best medicine for depression is as unquantifiable love.

But it has sound. Many sounds.

Share yours with me.

Share yours with US.

This is mine for you:

Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole

This is what love feels like.

The end.

She is he is he is she

West Side

Words used to hit me like Morse code across a hot wire, used to run through my mind like a ticker-tape of lyrical image juxtaposed against a violent sky of napalm burn. Now I sit down with these insipid glass bones and paper heart that only speak when I set them on fire with damp matches.

I drag my bloated feet down familiar streets singing uncomfortable lullabies about babies in trees that fall, giants that consume snappy bones and bowls full of the effluvium of human desire. Neighbors laugh uncomfortably as I shuffle past them with my bruise-y pall. I make things worse throwing my head back in laughter like a mad hungry hyena, whites of my eyes brushing their hackles with Christ-thorns.

I will devour you like tough sponge-cake. I will eat every rough crumb until you’re lost inside my labyrinth of sick organs. Only way out is to become a flood of words rupturing my spleen in the early hours when my teeth are soaking next to the bed and my dreams are wandering dangerously close to truth.

Let. Me. Bleed.

I dream the reflection of your God. He is priceless fodder for reinvention. She is the moon of all bones. He is the water to your glass. She is the substance of your sight. He is the rot to your body. She is he is he is she.

The she and the he is everything together. Separately each are nothing.

Nothing.

Between the She and the He are a thousand beautiful permutations of creation.

We are everyone.

 

Suicide for Beginners: Early Survey Results

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Look at this peaceful pretty sunset…it’s as if the world doesn’t know that for some of us it’s always getting dark.

As of right now 1,138 people have taken my survey. Of that number 549 people have completed it according to Survey Monkey’s definition of “complete”. But the majority of the completed ones were complete enough to be very useful for my purposes.

So what is the purpose of this very long and personal survey about depression and suicide? You can read the project manifesto right here:

Suicide for Beginners: Manifesto for a Project

Too lazy to read all that? I’m writing a book about living with serious depression that is meant to help people like me feel less alone by putting together in one book the voices of many people who suffer from serious depression as I can fit in it. Want to know more? Click the link. It’s all there.

Well, I can’t speak for everyone like me, but the survey will allow me to share the voices of hundreds of people like me. Reading the surveys, for me, is both heartbreaking and uplifting. I’ve only read about 75 of the responses so far but I’ve already had many of my own feelings supported by others and I’ve learned some new things.

One thing I can share with all of you people who don’t live with serious depression:

WE HATE IT WHEN YOU TELL US TO “THINK POSITIVELY”

Fuck you guys who say that. If you’ve ever said that to someone who told you they are depressed – you’re grounded! Next time you have the urge to tell someone that, duct-tape your mouth shut.

WE HATE IT WHEN YOU TELL US “OTHER PEOPLE HAVE IT WORSE THAN YOU”

That’s a really nice way to say “your pain doesn’t matter”. Seriously, FUCK YOU.

WE HATE IT WHEN YOU TELL US HOW WE CAN “FIX” OURSELVES.

If you haven’t ever lived with serious chronic depression, shut up. You aren’t qualified to give advice to those of us who do. Just stop it with the “just get more exercise” or “take Vitamin D” or “try yoga”.

This survey was hard for a lot of people to fill out. Overwhelming, triggering, or just too long. I totally understand – and to all of you who felt this way and couldn’t finish it – I truly appreciate that you tried! I know it was asking a lot of you.

Part of what made this survey difficult, I believe, is that it’s not geared towards gathering scientific data. The purpose is to gather very personal thoughts, experiences, and struggles that are, at the best of times, difficult for many of us to discuss openly. For some people it is literally unsafe to do so.

For those of you who finished filling it out and were able to answer all the questions – I deeply appreciate your input and the bravery it takes to speak up.

For those of you who don’t have serious depression but helped by sharing the link to this survey and giving my project shout-outs – thank you so much! Your efforts have helped me gather so much good information to work with.

Normally when I embark on a project I think is really cool or could be great but needs other people’s input – it falls flat and I end up walking away from it due to low response/interest. I worried that it would be the same this time. As soon as I hit 300 completed surveys and had read about 20 of the responses I got temporarily overwhelmed. Reading the responses gave me a huge sense of responsibility to the respondents to do proper justice to this project. Now that so many people have trusted me with some of the most painful experiences of their lives – there’s no going back, there’s no ditching of this project.

I am filled with a sense of gravity and accountability.

I am also feeling seriously humbled.

Here’s what happens next:

I will print out all the completed surveys and read every single one of them.

As I read I will be compiling data in some spreadsheets where appropriate (like counting how many people listed “get enough sleep” as one of the most important ways they manage their depression).

I will then make an outline for the book: chapters, topics, etc.

Then I will write introductions to each chapter to introduce the information and quotes from the surveys.

Edit the fuck out of it. Edit it some more.

Then I have to decide if I want to print this myself or shop it to an agent. I have time to decide that. Distribution is more important than money with this project, so seeking a publisher might be best.

I plan to have the editing manuscript ready for shopping or publishing by the end of this coming summer.

Suicide for Beginners: Manifesto for a Project

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UPDATE: TAKE THE SURVEY

When I went through my first nervous breakdown* when I was 16 years old I had only the support of my few close friends to help me through it. I had no therapy, no doctor sanctioned medications, no support groups with other mentally ill people. I had sharp instruments for cutting away the cancer of my mind, myself to talk to on paper in mad circles, and eventually cigarettes to calm the black storm circling in my head. The nervous breakdown came after at least a year of serious suicidal ideation culminating in a close call with death.

When I look back now I wish to god I’d had access to professional help. I wish I had known how to seek it, how to even ask for it. I wish I had had the support of others who’d already gone through what I was going through who had experience navigating life with mental illness in a relatively healthy way who could share with me all the options I could explore.

I learned coping skills but that path, unguided, was dangerous and spiritually and physically very pricey.

I have been blogging about my struggles living with mental illness for years and have all this time been brainstorming ways I can help other, less experienced, mentally ill people navigate their way to managing their mental health with more support, education, and empathy than many of us have done in the past. I’m calling this project:

Suicide for Beginners

It’s going to start with a survey about living with chronic depression. My goal is to get at least 2,000 people to fill it out. It’s alright for me to tell the world about my personal experiences, but I’m ONE person. There are other people blogging and writing books about this too. They represent a decent number of voices. But there are millions of us. MILLIONS of people with chronic depression struggling to live a good quality of life and, unfortunately, way too many struggling to simply stay alive another day.

FUCK SUICIDE

Unlike a lot of people, I don’t get angry at people for killing themselves. My first thought is “At last you’re going to be completely at peace, lucky bastard”. I feel such deep empathy and sadness, not because another person is dead, but because another person found life as unbearable as I have done so often but didn’t pull through and I know that the likelihood they could have pulled through if they’d had a stronger personal support network, better access to treatment, or if they hadn’t had mental illness in the first place, would have been much higher.

If a person really desperately needs to die, I respect that. But I believe that a lot of lives could be saved, a lot of lives could be BETTER and more worth living if the stigma of  being mentally ill weren’t so pervasive and toxic, if people suffering from chronic depression had more resources and the non-mentally ill population weren’t such complete uneducated turds so much of the time.

The aim of this project is to collect the experiences and the notes of as many people who’ve struggled with chronic depression but have (so far) survived and found therapies and tools for living with their mental illness that have allowed them, in the worst cases to – er – not die from it, and in the best cases – live well in spite of it.

In living openly and vocally with mental illness (particularly about my depression), I’ve made a lot of other people comfortable sharing their own experiences with me and the most important thing I’ve learned from hearing what others have to say about it is that my voice is very small against the whole – we’re a really diverse group of people with a lot of different routes to relieving emotional pain (or numbness, as the case may be) and coming out the other side alive. Two things have significantly changed my quality of life: CBT and SSRI’s, but there is zero doubt that the things that have worked best for me have not worked best for others.

To offer something truly deeply valuable to my community, it must include many voices, not just mine. Some people need Jesus in their mental health management plan whereas Jesus and I agree that he can’t make enough water into wine to convince me he can do a damn thing to fix my brain, some people need marathon running because they really like the smell of sweat, some people need cheese because cheese is awesome and almost enough reason to live another day when everything else needs tossing in the incinerator. Some people are allergic to psychiatric medication, some people are allergic to herbal remedies or simply find they aren’t effective. Meditation eludes some people while it centers and strengthens others.

The one thing I truly know is this:

ANYONE SELLING A PANACEA FOR WHAT AILS YOU IS AN IGNORANT MAGGOT-BRAINED CHARLATAN.

The other thing I know for sure is that if cheese isn’t your Jesus, your cultural/emotional/spiritual tribe IS. So if what ails you is chronic depression, I know that the thing most sure to empower you is to be carried forward on the wings of those who know exactly what you’re going through and who can help you feel less alone and unjudged.

Feelings of isolation, alienation, and loneliness can be deadly to people like us.

As I was writing this I just saw a twitter post from a writing acquaintance saying that her best friend’s son committed suicide 13 days ago and she’s writing the obituary tonight.

FUCKING HELL.

It never feels a moment too soon to do something more to try and help my tribe.

The reality is that there will always be successful suicides. But I believe, truly, deeply, madly**, that we can reduce the numbers by a great deal with the death of the stigma attached to mental illness, with greater societal and peer support, with better education, and with widely available (better) mental health services.

Let’s do this, bitches!

The survey I’m writing and asking people who suffer from chronic depression to fill out will form the main content of the book I’m writing.  I will collect as many personal perspectives and advice from people who’ve been living with chronic depression and present those perspectives in chapters that share: what kept people from killing themselves, most effective treatments, least effective treatments, the gifts of mental illness (YES), the most supportive things friends and family have done to help them through the darkest moments, the worst pitfalls to managing mental illness, and what ways the stigma against the mentally ill has affected their lives.

The purpose of this book is, in simple terms, to be a giant group hug for everyone who needs one even though group hugs are pretty ghastly if you have a co-morbid diagnosis of anxiety like I do. The purpose of this book is to help people with chronic depression feel less alone. Its purpose is to shout across the universe to each other, to buoy each other up, to carry each other forward to another morning and beyond that (hopefully) to a better quality life with a lot of good days in-between the bad.

This book will be like group therapy, but without the bad coffee, stupid chairs, oatmeal aesthetic, and the horrible terrible canned bullshit those of us who’ve never been brave enough to attend group therapy imagine everyone spouts like vomit.

I’m gonna need a lot of participants in this project. Please tell me you all are going to help me with it?

This is the book I needed desperately when I was new to wanting to die every day. This is the book I needed when I first experienced the dread of discovering I’d woken up to another day on earth. This is the book I want to give to my younger self, and with the suicide rates still dreadfully high amongst teens, this is my letter of love and survival to them.

I’ve had a lot of wonderful support over the years for my writing, for my emotional spillage, for telling you everything you were afraid to know until you knew it. Will you all please help me get this book written? As soon as I get the survey finalized I’m going to flood you with links to it. Will you help me reach my goal of 2,000 people filling it out?

I don’t often ask you to link my blog posts anywhere but I’m asking you to link the shit out of this one, first, because it’s the manifesto to my project. And next I’m going to hound you to link the hell out of the survey as soon as it’s posted. I will be relentless for once because this project is the most important one I’ve ever embarked on. I’m going to be the biggest thorn in your ass for the next few months to spread the word about Suicide for Beginners because I believe this is my Raison D’Etre.

No, really, I’m going to annoy the shit out of you all because this is the most important thing I’ve ever attempted to do with my life.

Can I say one more thing, or are you too exhausted from this post already?

You know what else is motherfucking exhausting?

DEPRESSION, YOU LOVABLE ASSHOLES.

I forgot what the one more thing I was going to say was because now I’m thinking about cheese.

This is the project I’ve been fomenting since I was 16 years old, shortly after my first cup of coffee, when I shared a poem I wrote with a friend of mine who cried because my poem really hit her in the gut. I had the formative thought “If the only thing I ever do with my writing is reach people like me, then I’ll be a successful human” And it was that day I knew I had to write something to reach people like myself when I was skilled enough.

Help me. I’m asking you all and I’m not taking “no” for an answer.

 

 

 

*I’m not sure we still call them nervous breakdowns. I believe when hallucinations of any kind are involved we now call it a psychotic break. Samesies to the sufferers.

**RIP Alan Rickman, you weird adorable beast!