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.

Take Your Own Arrows

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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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The Dark Side of the Survey Results

kitten in a cup

One of the hardest things about logging the Suicide for Beginners survey results are the mean things some respondents have said to ME. I know the survey was hard for a lot of people to take. I know it asked a lot of deeply personal questions about the darkest part of people’s lives. I felt it was necessary. If we are ever going to get other people to understand what it’s like to live with mental illness, if we are ever going to get people to stop stigmatizing us – I believe we have got to talk about the toughest and darkest parts of it. Some people really hated that I did this. They painted me as the enemy. And it hurt. There were a number of respondents who lashed out at me but this one that I read last night was one of the most horrible things to have someone from my own community say to me:

I find it interesting that in the first part of this survey you’ve asked IF the respondents have suicidal thoughts or ideation, and now you’re assuming that we do, and that it’s a serious desire. PS, the title of this survey is actually pretty shitty. It’s like you’re encouraging depressed people to think about or plan a suicide attempt. You kind of suck, and when I say kind of, I don’t mean that. I mean you seriously suck and if even one person harms themselves because of this, you’ll be at least partly responsible.

First of all, there was no assumption involved.  I never asked IF respondents have ever struggled with suicidal ideation. I asked HOW OFTEN with the possible answer of never. It is a fact the majority of people who have suffered from serious chronic depression do, at one point or another, struggle with suicidal ideation or passive suicidal ideation. So the entire survey is skewed more to people who’ve experienced it than not. But if you’ve never experienced suicidal ideation then the question WHO KNOWS YOU THINK ABOUT KILLING YOURSELF? is not applicable and instead of excoriating me in the comments box one could easily say “not applicable” (as a number of respondents did).

Out of 529 respondents (so far logged) only 29 of them have never experienced suicidal ideation of any kind. You let those numbers sit with you for a few minutes.

Second of all, if you thought the title of my survey and of my book is pretty shitty, you could easily have chosen not to take it as this survey (like most surveys are) was 100% voluntary. This particular respondent, ironically, gave incredibly long responses to most of the open ended questions. For thinking I suck so bad, they clearly wanted to be heard and counted (which was the point of this survey)

So FUCK YOU for being such a mean-ass unsupportive member of our community.

I was seriously tempted to discard this respondent’s survey altogether. But this survey isn’t just about ME. It isn’t just about YOU either. It’s about hearing from as large a swath of our community as I could and attempting to represent many voices and many experiences when I write my book about depression because one of the huge things people don’t understand about depression is that those of us who have it experience it in many individual and different ways. We aren’t all the same, we don’t all agree with each other about how to eradicate the stigma, or what the most effective treatments are. To help people truly understand what depression IS they need to do two things simultaneously: understand that no two people’s experience of it is exactly the same while understanding what the most universal problems are that we experience as a community so that those things can be addressed.

So I logged this person’s answers with everyone else’s in my spread-sheets while actually kind of wanting to hurt myself after reading her comments. So this brings me to the part where she suggests that the title of my book and my survey are so triggering that if anyone hurts themselves because of this title I’ll be partly responsible.

I do not take responsibility for anyone else’s actions, EVER. That’s the kind of thing people say when they want to shame or guilt someone about something, and it works on a lot of humans. Especially emotionally and mentally vulnerable human beings. The title of my project may make someone curious and think “What the fuck is this?”, but anyone who takes a few minutes to find out what this project is all about will know IMMEDIATELY that it isn’t a guidebook for killing yourself.

The only way I’d feel at all responsible for someone harming themselves is if I told them what shitty person they were, because telling people they’re shitty human beings is mean. If you don’t like something someone has said or done, you can tell them without being a huge sphincter about it.

So, to this person who told me how much I seriously suck: do you take responsibility for making me want to hurt myself? Did you stop and think for even one tiny second that the person you made those comments to still struggles with the urge to self harm every time someone is an asshole to them? So yeah, for a half an hour after reading your comments I wanted to hurt myself because I’m trying my damnedest to help bring light and understanding to our community and you just shit all over me like I’m a fucking toilet.

But I don’t actually hold you responsible for making me want to self harm. The truth is, a lot of things make me want to hurt myself, not just assholes. Whether I do it or not is a fight between me and my mental illness. If my mental illness wins, then it still isn’t your fault. I mean, you’re still a jerk, but you don’t control my actions. Sometimes I don’t have control them either – because depression is a bigger asshole than you. Something I think we can both agree on.

This person is definitely NOT the only person who hurled mean comments at me personally, as the person asking them questions they didn’t like. The “gifts of mental illness” question elicited quite a few negative responses. At least 10 respondents said variations of this theme:

THERE ARE NO GIFTS OF BEING MENTALLY ILL, GO FUCK YOURSELF.

I understand. I seriously do. I almost didn’t include that question on the survey because it’s a tough one to swallow for many people – even just to contemplate it. I’m very thankful I listened to my gut on this one and left it in the survey. The biggest surprise was how many respondents were able to list at least one gift of being mentally ill. Many named multiple gifts and some of them were incredible, funny, and cool. You have to be at a certain point with your own journey with mental illness to see past the hateful pain of it to the extraordinary benefits. You have to be really secure in the idea that to admit to benefits doesn’t erase the horrible aspects of it. They co-exist.

The problem with being a person with mental illness giving a survey on mental illness to other mentally ill people and asking them to be honest and share raw and very private things is that they lash out at me and I have a very hard time not taking it into my heart as a personal assault. I have so little defense against people telling me to fuck myself when I’m putting myself out there all the time to reach out to others in our community. It hurts. I know that ultimately it’s NOT really about me, rationally I know this. It’s not my first lap around this lake of hell fire, but it still hurts.

So this is the other reason why logging the survey results has taken so long and I’ve had to take so many breaks from it. It physically hurts me to read all this pain, to take it in, to attempt to quantify it, to be the moderator and researcher while also being the subject of the research. It’s deeply personal and I’m a sufferer so I can’t ever step outside of the answers and pain.

So why do it? Why stick with it?

I’m so glad you asked me this.

Because I’m tired of doctors and scientists who don’t actually have mental illness themselves telling my community who we are and what kind of pain we should or shouldn’t experience. I’m tired of outsiders explaining us to everyone else. The only people who can properly explain what it’s like to have any kind of mental illness are those who experience it. I want doctors and scientists to keep working at coming up with medical information – but they need to listen to us too. The patients. They need to believe us and not treat us like crusty little growths sitting in their offices who don’t know anything about our own experiences.

We need to be heard. Not just one or two of us. Our whole community needs to be heard – both our individuality and our universal struggles.

Depression is a serious killer and people keep telling us who we are instead of letting us tell them who we are. They need to shut the fuck up and listen. That’s why I need to do this even though it’s really hard and even though people in my own community are telling me I’m a piece of shit.

The good thing is, and the thing that keeps me coming back to the spreadsheets, is that a definite majority of the people who took the survey understand what I’m trying to do and appreciate the chance to be part of it. It reaffirms that I’m on the right track.

Something else that’s really bothered me a lot are the respondents who, in the section where I ask them what they would say to someone struggling hard not to kill themselves, have laid on a thick blanket of bullshit about how you shouldn’t kill yourself because of all the pain and devastation you’ll cause other people, that at your worst moment you should be living for the sake of other people’s comfort.

I have a huge problem with anyone suggesting that your pain is nothing compared to the pain of others. But I don’t have time to go into this now. I have to go eat some breakfast, clean up some kitten poop, and then log some more surveys in.

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.

 

I Lie to Everyone Some of the Time

sky in my head

Don’t care where anyone else sleeps on their conscience. I can only ask myself how I got to this thought, this feeling, this judgement, and then ask myself if it’s who I am, if I died 60 seconds from now “Is this who I am, is this how memory will record me?” and cast my shadow against the wailing wall for all to pick at, discuss, and cruelly dissect. Because humans, no matter how evolved we become, are still creatures limited by our state of flesh and blood.

When I crumple in a heap of indigestible feelings and thoughts I would rather die than anyone see my face on which everything is writ in smudged chalk and ancient language. I would rather die than explain myself to other humans, but humans intrude cheerily and with love, so I lie to them with good cheer and equal love and everyone moves forward exactly one centimeter towards no gain.

I understand that this is how it will always be. Even if I were to tell all the secrets and expose all my arteries to the light – this is how it will always be. Hanging onto minutes like lifelines, waiting for the tide to turn, waiting for the waves to choke out idle curiosity. Can’t abide the casual eye on my aspirating valves, slowing to death under the weight of a nightlife I can’t control or escape. I’d sooner choke on the seaweed tangling around my feet than swim to the surface of this fight.

I lie all the time, every day. Whether it’s wrong or not depends entirely on how far into my world you’re entrenched. That I lie to everyone for my own protection is an incontrovertible fact. White or black is only one way of looking at it. Survival or death is another way. I lie to everyone. There is no one I don’t lie to about the core of my life experience. I parse out dark truths as much as those around me can handle them but never all at once, never more than a patchwork of truth. No matter what I say, there’s more I’m holding back.

We’re all masters at subterfuge, my spirit family. Almost everyone in my tribe knows better than to share whole truths. Our survival depends on the art of half truths and making other people feel good about our chances of survival. We spend most of our time making sure the people around us are as comfortable as they can be, we lure them into hope like mermaids calling sailors to cliffs that look like pillows of marshmallow gold.

I want to let the flesh fall and the bones talk. I want to walk the creeks with my veins open and my truth available to every curious mind. I want to share all this shit with everyone who thinks they’re ready for it, who wants to know, to understand, but –

I have a responsibility to tread lightly around humans more tender than myself, humans who still feel hope, who burst with spiritual optimism. I have a responsibility not to crush them with my darkness.

I have optimism too, but it’s darker and older and isn’t rainbows, unicorns, bunnies, innocence, mercy, or love.

My optimism is bloody survival. It’s war anthems being sung by the dead when there’s no one living left to rejoice in winning. My optimism is that the earth will reinvent itself without humans and be better and healthier for it. My optimism is that we will all be here forever as gasses and soil and sand.

This is good enough for me.

This is good enough for all of us.

 

Why The Title “Suicide for Beginners”?

tiny button

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.

The Truth is Brittle

seedling hat

This seedling, beacon of hope, adorable, and gambler against the odds is dead now. But that’s not the moral of the story.

Yes it is. That’s always the moral of the story. Shit happens and then you die.

When I cry in front of people I have the overwhelming urge to hurt myself. This is something I started admitting out loud about 5 years ago but I suspect people always assume I’m speaking either hyperbolically or metaphorically. Or that they wish I was.

I’m not.

I still harbor a lot of secrets when it comes to my mental landscape. Over the years I’ve been leaking the truth drip by drip like some torturous archaic coffee machine that delivers your brew viscous, strong, and cold. You have no idea the lengths I’ll go to protect myself.

Unless you’re part of my tribe, my community of mentally ill people, in which case you do.

This process of opening up the dark vaults, exposing the wild colors and noises, the involuntary x-ray sight through the human heart, it’s slow and deliberate. Every step feels like it might be the end of the tracks, the point of no return, the final evaluation in which we’re fossilized in our own emptiness.

When I tell people about picking at my skin I want to shiv myself. I feel dirty and disgusting. I didn’t start admitting to the dermatillomania until recently. There’s so much shame in it. ABJECT SHAME. Even though I know, intellectually, that it’s a response to the condition of my brain, to the environmental landscape of my youth.

I will always have secrets from everyone, for their own protection. Every year I say more, share more, shed light on new corners of my psyche, and yet there is always more that remains in darkness.

There are times when I look around me and all I see are vaginas and penises. Genitals walking around, pontificating, gesturing (!!), and orating. I’ll be on a bus and every single human I see is a giant genital. It’s not a hallucination (I’ve had those too and know the difference), it’s a perspective. Not knowing a person’s gender is perplexing and intriguing because they don’t appear clearly to me in any particular way.

I can often see into the hearts of people, whether I want to or not. I can see the pocked diseased tissue, I can see the secrets they’ll never confess to, and I can see the way love seeps into crevices into which love has no place. I can’t fix what I see because I’m not Jesus, Muhammad, or Buddha. Whatever. I can see the dust of hopelessness, I can feel the damp loose lullabies of the pitch spirit, and I feel the ton of rocks pinning my chest to the great wide nothing.

I never tell people how often I want to not exist or how often I want to die because normals aren’t strong enough for that truth. And that’s the fucking truth. But I’d tell anyone like me how often I want to not exist or how I want to die, because I know you won’t become hysterical, judgemental, or scared.

I’ve asked a lot of people to open themselves up to me in my survey and as I tally up all their answers and make categories all of us can fit into I am deeply humbled by my community. I’m aware of things I haven’t opened up about on my blog where I’ve professed to be completely honest and I have to admit to my own limitations. I feel an arrow wreck my heart with every new survey response.

I know you. I know all of you. It’s as though I was given a conduit to the valves of your hearts when I was born and through my life I’ve felt you all out there like sisters and brothers in spirit.

Pretty sure my arteries have been open to you since you were born too.