Tag: depression

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.

Tomorrow Isn’t Every Day

spring skeletons

I’m watching my alpine strawberry seed tray nervously every day, ogling the great nothing that’s happening in it, wondering what deity’s ass I’ve forsaken (all of them, no doubt) for my trays to exhibit such barrenness. I wish my own reproductive organs were this shut down by now, but the machinery keeps churning on with depressing regularity.

Thankfully a few of my zinnia and tomato seeds have sprouted, so all hope’s not lost.

Except that El Drumpf* is looking more and more like he’s going to win the primaries and I can’t fathom a world in which such a hideous post-script of the human species gets to make rules we all have to follow. Mostly I can’t abide the thought of having to listen to him and see him for the next 4 years. I thought I couldn’t be more ashamed of my country than when Bush was leading it, the fact that my country elected his father and then him for 8 long torturous bloody devastating years still stings.

So maybe all hope really IS lost.

It has rained triumphantly all weekend. The northern California reservoirs are all full! This is cause for joy, truly, in this drought-prone chunk of land. I have done nothing but watch garden shows on youtube all weekend. It’s a minor miracle every day that I get some dishes done and get dressed when I don’t technically have to, because my inertia continues to drag out into a thousand damp dark sunsets.

I watched SNL tonight and I’ve come away obsessed with the idea that Leslie Jones should have been cast as Maria in the Sound of Music skit because that would have been hilarious. I don’t think she was in any of the sketches tonight. I love her.

I’m feeling my kittenlessness this week.

When I woke up this morning the first words in my head were “Don’t be a scary Barry, be a harry cherry” and I thought “this is my brain without caffeine!” but then I remembered that my coffee has very little caffeine in it and this is just my brain pretty  much ALL THE FUCKING TIME. So, you know, business as usual.

Something I’ve been thinking about is the irony of writing a book all about depression but having to struggle hard against the inertia and exhaustion of my depression to get any work done on it. I’ve logged 542 people’s responses to the questions “What are the 5 most important things you do to manage your depression?” and “What are the 5 biggest pitfalls to managing your depression?”. I’ve got 42 more to go before I sort through at least 3 other very important sections of the survey before I really dive into the meat of the book. So sometimes I find myself wondering what the fuck I’m doing to myself trying to write this thing.

But every time I sit down to read the survey answers and catalog them I’m reminded to take my medication, to remember that depression is a lying son of a shit, and I’m with my tribe when reading the survey responses and I feel less alone and I remember that this is what I want to share with everyone else in my tribe. This connection, this sense of normalcy in an alien world, this sense of shared torture and the demand that the world listen to us, accept us, understand us, and help us when we need it.

So maybe it’s going to take me a long time to do this thing, or maybe the sudden bursts of energy will propel me farther and faster than I imagine possible, but I know that this is the thing that I most need to work on besides my own self care.

Sometimes I think if I had a perpetual soundtrack of Gregorian chants and pre-1900’s choral music in my head I’d always be okay, that the world would have a timeless context. A kind of serene meditative simultaneously uplifting vocal expression that would over-ride all the hate in the world and fill it with meditation and love.

But the legacy of such music that I find so soul-soothing is actually founded on a religion responsible for so much violence and evil and – dammit – it’s this shit I want to keep my mind from pinning its wings to all the time. Nearly everything humans have done in the world is evil except for art, music, and storytelling. I  need to shout this until my lungs burn with the truth – that no matter what bloodshed humans across the planet get up to, (and they get up to a lot), the love expressed in music and art most often reflects our better wishes, our truths (both dark and light, but honest) and honesty is where enlightenment begins. Whether the inspiration is from Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, or from secular mediation – music and art is where we most often find true humanity.

When we were in Israel, the morning prayers of Islamic families were so hauntingly beautiful to me, I could see into the human heart through their worship. When I’ve listened to Christian choral music I have felt so full of light and peace I can see into the best instincts of humans. When I listen to gospel I hear such a mix of pain anchored in faith and hope I see straight into the human spirit.

On and on the world goes, whether or not I care to share the ride with it. Whether I live or die, it will all keep spinning. The evil will continue to jostle the good for space. Light will muscle through the dark and the dark will turn the lights off, over and over and over.

So what does any of it matter anyway?

I may be terrified for my country, feeling the stranglehold of bigotry continue to consume it, and I may despair for humankind – all these terrible things. Yes. All these terrible things. But I want to be here tomorrow to hear a little more music, to tell a little more story, to smell the sun evaporate the wet winter. I want to be here for that because even though I can’t illuminate all the darkness, or even a fraction of it, the inch I can light will help someone else see. I want to be a small torch in the darkness for others.

If you’ve never struggled with suicidal ideation or the obsessive thought that to not-Be would be infinitely better than Being, then you might not appreciate how important it is to be able to say, at any given time “I want to be here tomorrow”.

I don’t always want to be here tomorrow.

Often when I’m driving around town on my Vespa I consciously think “I don’t want to die today” and every single time I can honestly say that, it’s a gift. Every single time that thought comes into my head I remember the thousand times I didn’t really care if I died or not, which isn’t the same as wanting to be dead but is its insidious cousin. To care is worth celebration.

This isn’t something I generally express to anyone because this is scary to people not like me. The idea of being cavalier about whether one lives or dies is anathema to most humans.

I don’t wish that everyone on earth stay alive just for the banal sake of being alive. Life is cheap, ultimately. The universe doesn’t particularly depend on any single one of us to be alive to keep on keeping on. We’re all just tiny specs in the great earth eco-system.

What I wish for everyone is that as long as they’re alive they find light, however small, in their existence. That they feel loved, even for a while, to know that they’re lovable. That they experience the desire to wake up tomorrow morning, because it’s such a good feeling to go to sleep hoping that tomorrow will be worth getting up for.

 

 

*El Trump-O.

Push My Dark Buttons

empty dark bar

I carefully cleaned and filed my nails until they were all shiny and respectable. Then I planted seeds in trays with wet soil and my nails are filthy and look like I’ve been clawing my way across wet oily train tracks smelling of creosote and damp steel.

Yesterday I let a close friend and her classmate interview me for their psyche class. I said yes to it because this is the thing I must do. They asked me about my childhood. They asked me a lot about my childhood. I felt like a wax doll rigged with explosives. On the surface I believe I was calm and matter of fact, but my internal organs got tangled up over skeletons of the past I thought I’d slayed a long time ago but which, apparently, still have sharp teeth. I recounted a story I’ve never said out loud to anyone though I’ve written it down many times in journals.

I just now realized that the only person I’ve ever told that story to was the psychologist who diagnosed me and is dead.

All the way home I sucked on the irony of having been triggered into a panic attack and a dark place by being asked personal questions about my past and my mental illness so soon after 1,203 people took my Suicide for Beginners survey in which I asked them the most personal painful questions about their depression and suicidal ideations which many couldn’t finish because it was triggering and stressful.

Mad respect for every single person suffering mental illness who tries to bring it into the light, whether they can or can’t go through with it. It’s so fucking hard to talk about. It makes us so vulnerable in a devastating way to talk about it, particularly to anyone who isn’t like us and doesn’t know what it feels like to live through this unwelcome hell.

It doesn’t take a lot to push my dark buttons. You can be simply asking me if I think communes are cool and I’m likely to explode my venomous opinions about them without warning at the end of which you’ll want to wash yourself with fresh lye soap.

I’ve spoken a lot on this blog about how I am a master at subterfuge. Reading the small number of surveys I have so far, this is shaping up to be a universal theme. People who have serious chronic depression develop great skill at not showing it to protect themselves (and more often than not, also the people they care about). It isn’t that they’re necessarily lying so much as they’re super skilled at showing you only the parts of themselves that they think you can handle. After all this time trying to describe this facility, necessity, and what may be the great phenomenon of seriously depressed people being perceived as cheerful funny upbeat people, I still can’t quite tell you how we do it or how it isn’t really a lie at all. It’s an amplification of some signals and the obfuscation of others. They both exist honestly in us, we just choose to keep the less accepted ones safe in quiet shadow.

I’m amazed at how vulnerable I constantly feel about my mental illness after over a decade of being vocal about it. I still feel alien, small, creepy, flayed, and disconnected from my corporeal self.

Is it even possible to change public awareness of mental illness so that I don’t have to feel like a naked Smeagel-freak at an Edwardian ball every day of my life?

I have to believe that if we all speak up and demand to be heard and treated with the same respect as people with broken bones that the world will respond. The other option is insupportable.

I have a couple of new brain ticks*

“Robin Williams has probably sat in many redwood hot tubs”

and

“Sha-sizzle!”

(a real Jazz-handy number I find simultaneously amusing and distressing)

I think I might be getting to where I can’t listen to a lot of music without taking me to an unhealthy emotional place. I read one survey response that mentioned this and it felt like a brick being thrown at my head. Like a horrible blinding truth splitting my brain open. Can I have gotten too vulnerable to music? Music has been such a guide, support, and pleasure for my whole life, can it be pushing my dark buttons now too?

I know a lot of things I don’t want to know. About myself. About the world. About the people around me. About the universe. I’d like to restrict the flow of knowledge the way blood can constrict the flow of oxygen.

 In the end it doesn’t matter what I want. There is only what IS, and what IT becomes.

*Thoughts or words that repeat in my head randomly and often without invitation or context. FOREVER.

Suicide for Beginners: Early Survey Results

IMG_20160206_181206

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

IMG_20160215_122117

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!

Inertia, Garden Talk, and My Bicycle

droplets

Don’t dew drops look so refreshing? Like little siplets of water for fai-

Dudes. I’m so tired all the time these days. That whole spoon thing? WHAT THE FUCK ARE SPOONS, ANYWAY?!* I don’t feel depressed in an emotional way but this level of inertia is indicative of a depressive cycle. I think somewhere between forgetting to take my meds frequently since getting a day job and the fact that in my job I must talk to humans on the phone all day my energy level has hit a patch of zero gravity and is floating somewhere just out of my reach.

It’s also exhausting trying to spend more time not drinking alcohol. It takes way more effort than you can imagine if you’re not me.

What I tell other people with chronic depression is that even though you can’t lift your  body out of your chair or out of your bed and you know for fact that even if you could get up, doing so will render you into a pile of useless insensate fleshy matter, you have to try. If you don’t make the attempt you will absolutely sink deeper and deeper into the dark place of no return. That’s what I tell other people.

So that’s what I’ve been telling myself. I try not to be the kind of person who gives advice I don’t follow myself because those people suck. I know that one of the best ways to combat inertia is to push through it, to get your body moving. So last week I walked to work one day. It honestly felt fantastic. A couple of days later I walked to work again but got a ride home. As I expected, my feet hurt all weekend, but whatever. I also gave my bicycle a test ride. I haven’t ridden in in ages because the last three times I rode it my tires went flat. Flat bicycle tires are a real set-back to forward motion. I rode my bicycle to work the day before yesterday and dropped it off at the shop on my way home because the gears have been slipping and that’s kind of freaky and not awesome.

I’m not going to lie, the thought of walking to the shop down the street to pick up my bicycle sounds absolutely exhausting, it felt good to move this past week. I know that if I ride my bicycle a few days a week it will help me break through the inertia without making my feet scream. So I’ll walk down there and ride my bicycle back and I’ll feel good afterwards.

We’re also getting 3 yards of compost delivered today. I got all my bare root plants last weekend. I got a Morello sour cherry tree (to match my other one), a Strawberry Free white peach, a Pink Pearl apple, 3 pomegranates (Wonderful, Sweet, and Desertyni**), and 3 table grapes (Thompson, Flame, and Black Corinth). All of them need planting this weekend. It’s also time to do winter pruning on my roses and fruit trees. That takes energy.

Everything takes energy. Jesus. Except for drinking coffee. Making coffee takes energy but at least drinking it gives you back some of it. I love coffee.

I also love rain and so far we’ve had a pretty rainy winter. It’s such a relief after so little rain in the last few years. I’ve gotten so much sweet rain on my garden that my lettuce bed is doing fabulously well. Have a look for yourself:

P1040265

I haven’t been able to get really good lettuce going in the whole time I’ve been back in California. What’s managed to grow has been bitter and gone to seed quickly from the heat and insufficient watering due to drought. But for the last two weeks Max has been eating ham sandwiches with lettuce on them that I grew in the garden. So fucking satisfying! This lettuce is sweet and tender. I’ve also got corn mache*** growing in there. Last year the corn mache I grew was still small when it went to seed so I never tasted it. I love it in my salad mix! You might also have noticed my shallots in there? I didn’t think they were going to come up at all because they took so long but at last! There they are.

I’ve got a bunch of wild flower seedlings coming up that I spread in late fall. I can’t wait for them to bloom! I do have a blooming calendula right now but it’s one that self seeded from my plants last year. Though I noticed that I’ve got calendula seedlings everywhere I put wild flower seeds too because it’s part of the mix. I love how a small garden can yield so much pleasure for so little effort. I mean, setting the whole thing up took some effort but the lettuce that’s giving so much pleasure now literally took 5 minutes to sprinkle the seeds and scratch them into the soil. Because of the rain I haven’t had to water at all. Now I have a bed full of baby lettuce to pick. The wildflower seedlings? Same thing. A couple of minutes to scatter them, a couple of minutes to scratch them into the soil.

I just saw a goldfinch on the hedge across from my window! The birds are very busy in the neighborhood this morning. It’s such a wonderful noise. I wish I was a bird.

It’s time for me to get dressed. Drink more coffee. Get out in the yard for a few minutes before I melt back into the haze of inertia that swallowed me whole.

 

*That’s the precise number of spoons I have.

**People who name plants piss me off sometimes. What a stupid name. As though adding a “y” in there makes it exotic or cool. I got it in spite of its stupid name because the lady at the nursery says it grows well here and has gotten rave reviews from everyone she knows who’s tried it. What can I say? I bought her sales pitch.

***On my seed packet it was called “corn mache” but Wikipedia indicates that it’s generally called corn salad OR mache (or any number of other names, the list is long) but not corn mache. Whatever, sticklers, it’s delicious!

Bottleneck

glass

I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage in 2 1/2 weeks. I’ve been super grouchy and prickly. I haven’t wanted to be around any humans. Yesterday was a particularly thorny day. Got my feelings hurt on Facebook by a group of people that brought me to tears. I try to wear a thick skin when skating around on social media but sometimes thoughtless spears and careless conversations stab through the softer bits. Not drinking alcohol means a whole layer of protection is missing.

I’m still on a news fast. I’ve been on a news fast for almost 2 months. There’s no way I can let myself go back to reading the news while I’m not drinking. I can’t handle it. I see the headlines so I know what everyone’s getting mental wedgies over but I have clicked on no news links and watched no news programs. I miss The Daily Show a lot. The day I found out Jon Stewart is leaving the show I felt so betrayed and depressed. When the only sane voice in news gives up on us all – it’s pretty much OVER. I realize that someone else will take his place. I also realize that his team will still be there writing and producing a good show, but without him…I can’t even bear to think about it right now.

I have spent a lot of time on my couch under my favorite blanket watching Murder She Wrote. Most days that’s all I can do after I come home from work and take care of Max and do a few dishes. My days off I try to get work done on my apothecary business. But to be honest, I’m just tired all the time.

I know I’m not going to be like this all the time. I know this fog will lift. I know I’ll move forward. I know I’ll get some energy back. So I guess I’m just in a holding pattern until I can dislodge whatever has been blocking all my words and shake them loose. Every morning before work I open Scrivener and I try to get a few words out. Some mornings it’s like shoving my head into a plastic bag, other mornings I squeeze out a couple hundred words and it feels great. I try not to focus on all those times I wrote 5,000 words in a day.

I’ve found solace in quilting some evenings and have almost finished the quilt my friend Pam sent me over 6 years ago. I’ve also been finding some peace in my front garden. I don’t like my back yard. That’s where the dogs poop and we don’t keep up with scooping it up. It’s over-run with bamboo and oak. But the front garden is all mine. I can sit on the porch to enjoy it. I can do little things to it, plant just a couple of flowers, weed one bucketful, and it makes a big difference because the front is so small.

I’m excited about making more potions. I’m excited about learning to make soap which is the next skill I want to add to my arsenal. I still love living in the house we live in. I’m still incredibly happy to be in Santa Rosa. I love this place. I’m excited that Max is taller than me* and his shadow mustache is growing more distinct. I’m enjoying the last kisses on those baby-soft cheeks of his because they’re going to be rougher soon. I’ve let him mature at his own pace and it’s paying off.

Five years ago I worried so much about his eating issues and now he loves trying new foods and though he still doesn’t like much produce for its own sake, he ate fried plantains not long ago, ate coleslaw on a pulled pork slider, and eats avocado (and sometimes tomato) on hamburgers. He’s become a gourmand just as I predicted he would someday be.

My mom is doing really well. She gets stronger all the time even though she still feels tired a lot. I’m hoping this year will be surgery free for her.

I guess I’m giving all the updates today.

I’m going to pour another cup of coffee and chisel a few more words out of my brain into one of my manuscripts. Later I will be heading to the library to renew my card and find history books on San Francisco in the 1870’s if they have any, and costumes from the same period. I also might look up a book or two on typhoid for fun.

I hope you all have a peaceful day!

*He thinks it bothers me that he got taller than me so don’t break it to him that I enjoy seeing him grow taller.

Out Here in the Weeds

musard in field

I keep telling myself that it’s time I stopped sharing my own personal meltdowns publicly and instead put them in books where fictional situations and characters can chew on them righteously without making me feel scraped out personally.  Time to truly become the puppeteer behind the curtain pulling the strings and making people believe in levitation and other untrue things.  I think my motivations for making my anxiety attacks and depressive episodes public aren’t particularly nice.  Mostly I want everyone to suffer – I want them to have to go through this shit too because I think there will be a lot less bullshit attempts to convince me that mental illness isn’t really an “illness” so much as a vitamin imbalance or a lazy person’s descent into negativity that is completely avoidable with daily positive affirmations, ditching wheat, ditching meat, ditching sugar, or whatever it is YOU ditched that changed your fucking life forever so that everything is coming up disco pants and summer days.

Fuck that.

Disco pants is #72 on the list of 127 Things That Freak Me Out.

It’s funny because my dad (not the biological father) and I had a great lunch together the other day during which the question of my mental illness came up and, typical of his generation of wishful thinkers, he wants to believe that this mental problem of mine was created by the fucked up start to my life (the commune years) that made me never feel safe.  And then the part where he and my mom fought all the time.  And then the part where they split up and my mom had a major breakdown at the same time I did.  He thinks that these circumstances are why I have anxiety, that I wasn’t BORN WITH IT.

We agree that experiences in life can play a big hand in a person’s mental state. Zero argument.  But he really doesn’t believe that people are born with different wiring.  Like so many other people.

Science has already proved that some brains really are wired differently – that some minds physiologically function differently or less optimally – depending on the brain you’re talking about.  I think it boils down to people experiencing existential discomfort at the idea that human emotions and thought patterns can be boiled down to little more than chemical conversations between the brain and the nervous system.  It implies a lack of control and it also implies that feelings don’t come from our spirits or whatever essence you think makes us uniquely who we are.

As if it’s somehow frightening to think that our chemical makeup, the quality of our blood, the size of our arteries, and the electric pulses in our brains are IT.  I have no patience for that fear.  I am much too busy fearing real things like being murdered or raped or ending up homeless with Pippa living inside my coat.

It’s all well and good to discuss the whys and wherefores and the origin story.  But when you’re in the trenches it doesn’t fucking matter one bit.  You know it isn’t good.  You know you didn’t do anything on purpose to bring it on.  You want it to not happen and you try everything in the world that people swear will change your life and in the end you’re still just in the head you were born with and its now got all the extra baggage it’s acquired from living life as a person whose brain doesn’t work optimally in the world it must function in.

The only part of this that I’m not sure about is whether I can claim that I’m not actually broken, that I’m just different?  When one is in the Autism spectrum it’s much easier to make a case for simply having a different operating system.  People with autism actually have different brains – differences you can SEE with EYES in imaging.  So do people with ADHD.  Their brains literally look different when functioning, work differently than the average brain.  Certain parts are less or more developed than in the average.

But mine – mine may not really be built differently.  If I’m being honest when I’m looking at all the data that’s available to me so far, it really does look like I’m not a different model of brain but a brain that came off the conveyer belt with some missing screws and a permanent oil leak.

What does that mean for my self esteem.  How can I frame my shortcomings as strengths?  How can I make it seem like having a few screws missing is a blessing?

I’m getting off the boat now.

What if I told you that I have no ego invested in being the top of the line model human being but I wish to fucking god the radioactive emotional meltdowns could be surgically removed?

They used to call that a lobotomy.

Today I’m all calm and post-meltdown philosophical but yesterday I wanted to tear my own heart out and if it weren’t for the mess, I would have done it.

If I’m going to continue being honest then I have to say that I AM a broken human with band-aids holding my pieces together.  It’s not popular to admit this.  Why am I not framing it in a positive awesome superhero way?  Probably because when you spend so much time using all your superhero powers to keep your violence from going inwards you become too tired to parse meaning nicely.

Us broken people and us people who are wired differently and us people who are neurologically atypical all have something in common.

We can see things the average person is blind to.  We know things the average person can’t know.  We feel EXTRA.  We smell MORE.  We hear EVERYTHING.  We see in the dark.  We understand your raw heart and we can fill it with empathy in a way you can’t describe but you’ll FEEL long after we’re just a blurry memory.  We can find answers that live in places most people can’t get at.  We’re intense.  We’re exhausting.  We’re pretty LOUD when we aren’t completely SILENT.  A lot of us die of drug addiction, suicide, heart implosions.  Our natural death rate is higher than yours because we live harder just staying alive.

We have gifts.  Gifts that have lit this world from its first experiments in agriculture and rolling wheels to the elegant quantum theory we take for granted now.  We are the wild ones who leap farther, swim deeper, jump higher, run faster, think more abstractly, and articulate the dumb-water from which humanity dragged itself to find the light.

I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t materially matter whether we were born whole but different or born broken and are therefor different.  What everyone else needs to recognize is that we are your storytellers, soothsayers, and collective memory.

Out here in the weeds is where I belong.  Out here with the body dumps and strong medicine.  Out here between the chain link and the luxury cars.  Out here with the homeless and the litter.

I know you can never be completely comfortable in my company unless you’re part of this wild tribe of mine.

I don’t mind if you lie and say you never feel out of your depth with my violent feelings.  I don’t mind if you lie and say I never trouble you.

Out here in the weeds there is no drowning.