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.