Tag Archives: Suicide for Beginners

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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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.

 

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.

All Roads Lead to OCD

strange life

I grew this peculiar mold on some mushroom stuffing and I couldn’t be prouder of it if I’d done it on purpose. Part angora bunny, part alien spore, and part sea anemone, I think it has the potential to inoculate us all against congenital misconceptions, diseased ideals, and tumors of ill will. Because – LOOK AT THAT BEAUTIFUL BEAST!

Today was a big day for our household (in a good way) and I’m over-stimulated, tired, wired, unquiet but desperate to find a great big static void in my head so I can wake up refreshed and continue with my most important project – the Suicide for Beginners project.*

One of the things buzzing loudly in my head is the discovery of “Pure O” or “Purely O” which I never heard of until one of the respondents of the survey said they were diagnosed with it. So I looked it up. SHITE. IT’S A DESCRIPTION OF THE STATE OF MY BRAIN AT ALL TIMES. WHETHER SLEEPING OR WAKING THE SAME SHIT IS GOING THROUGH MY HEAD AT ALL TIMES AND IT’S THE REASON I WAS FINALLY DRIVEN TO SEEK MENTAL ASSESSMENT AND THERAPY.

My assessing psychologist was reluctant to diagnose me with OCD because, while I clearly had the obsessive thoughts, I seemed to lack the compulsive behaviors that are generally associated with OCD. So he simply put in the notes “shadings of OCD”, though a few years later a psychiatrist said I definitely had OCD, no shadings about it.

I think it’s important to note that I was much too ashamed to tell my psychologist about the compulsive twisting of fabric around my thumb and fingers that I’ve been doing since I was 7 years old. I have a permanent callous on my thumb from this. I do it all day long if I’m not consciously NOT doing it, which takes a lot of work. I also failed to mention my dermatillamania that results in my scalp being covered in scabs and sometimes I pick at my arms and legs too. It’s shameful and awful and until I realized I was purposely not telling Dr. Judine about these two compulsive habits I hadn’t openly admitted either of them to myself.

Does it matter? Maybe this shit doesn’t matter to people who don’t live with a constant flush of violent, inappropriate, and horrible images flashing through their heads all day, but it matters to me to find out WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS FUCKING SHIT THAT THERE’S NO DISCERNIBLE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MY DAYTIME BRAIN ACTIVITY AND MY NIGHTMARES?

To know that others experience this, that there may be a bunch of people like me, who live with this same shit – that matters a lot to me. To have a name for it or a succinct summing up of what this shit IS matters a lot to me.

In any case, I did some reading tonight (much too stimulating, should not have done that after a long big day) and I discovered that not all mental health professionals recognize Pure O as a real diagnosis. I read one irritating article that was totally interesting that pointed out that there are covert and overt compulsions and that many professionals may not recognize that many compulsions are largely invisible.

I will have to do more reading on this all later.

It’s already 1 am as I write this and my brain couldn’t be more wired. My body is so fucking exhausted from a long week and a constantly hurting back. I want to spend all day tomorrow working on sorting the survey results for Suicide for Beginners. I should try to sleep. Not sure I can.

I’ll try. Soon. You should too, probably.

 

*Philip doesn’t want me to call it a “project” when it’s clearly a book I’m writing. I would argue that it’s more than a book, it’s arguably the most useful thing I’ve ever worked on and because it didn’t start with the survey and it won’t end with a book – it feels distinctly project-ish. I almost said “project-ile” because my brain won’t stop. “Assicle” happened earlier today and just a couple of hours ago it started repeating “Sarah, syrup, syrup, Sarah, Sarah, syrup – ad infinitum”

Suicide for Beginners: Early Survey Results

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

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

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

Suicide for Beginners: Manifesto for a Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am filled with a sense of gravity and accountability.

I am also feeling seriously humbled.

Here’s what happens next:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suicide for Beginners: Manifesto for a Project

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UPDATE: TAKE THE SURVEY

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

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

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

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

Suicide for Beginners

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

FUCK SUICIDE

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

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

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

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

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

The one thing I truly know is this:

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

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

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

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

FUCKING HELL.

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

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

Let’s do this, bitches!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know what else is motherfucking exhausting?

DEPRESSION, YOU LOVABLE ASSHOLES.

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

**RIP Alan Rickman, you weird adorable beast!