Suicide Isn’t About YOU

Better Than Bullets, macro shot of a lightbulb with a black background

People feel really strongly about suicide. They think of it as one of the worst sins and one of the biggest betrayals of love and society and friendship. People routinely describe it as “selfish” and “cowardly” without truly understanding what it feels like to be a person facing the kind of desperation and pain that people feel who are struggling with a desire to kill themselves. It’s an alien action, it goes against the animal instinct of survival, it’s something people who have never wanted to die can’t even imagine feeling because that’s how deep the narrative of survival against all strife goes. It’s so alien to our ingrained instincts that there have been a few thousand years of not really talking about it or even trying to understand it.

If we measure the length of time people have been killing themselves by the level of taboo suicide has maintained all that time – I have to ask you:

IF NOT TALKING ABOUT SUICIDE AND NOT ADDRESSING THE UNDERLYING PROBLEM AND TELLING SUICIDAL PEOPLE HOW SELFISH AND COWARDLY COMMITTING SUICIDE IS HASN’T CHANGED THE RATE OF SUCCESSFUL SUICIDES IN THE WORLD, IS THAT TACTIC WORTH HOLDING ONTO?

AND IF YOU’RE HOLDING ONTO A TACTIC THAT DOESN’T MAKE ANYTHING BETTER – DO YOU ACTUALLY CARE THAT MUCH ABOUT IT AT ALL?

MAYBE YOU’RE JUST A SELFISH FUCKER WHO DOESN’T LIKE TO BE INCONVENIENCED BY OTHER PEOPLE’S PAIN.

Maybe it’s time people stopped doing what doesn’t work and focus on discovering what the underlying problems are and figure out ways to address it. This requires open conversations in which people who don’t know what it feels like to want to die/kill themselves endeavor to find out from people who do, and in which people who do want to die/kill themselves are willing to open up to people who genuinely want to learn what that feels like and help and support them.

People are so smug accusing successful suicides as cowardly and selfish. But what about all the billions of people across the world who make unhealthy choices even thought it puts them directly at risk of death. Driving cars, eating shit food, drinking to excess, having sex without protection, taking drugs, eating puffer fish… as a world society we seem to accept that people are constantly taking their lives into their own hands to engage in activities that are dangerous to their health and might kill them but this is okay as long as we’re not positive it will kill us because then we can claim to not really know?

More people die every year in car crashes than by suicide and yet we never blame people for continuing to drive cars. In fact, if you choose not to drive a car people will think less of you and badger you for being a burden to them any time you ask for a ride. I know because I still don’t drive a car and I’ve heard it all. Every time you get into your car you are literally risking death or gambling against killing other people with your vehicle. We see no dishonor in this as long as you’re not drunk or on drugs when you die or kill someone else in your car. We don’t tell people they’re selfish for risking their life every time they get in their car.

People who kill themselves come from all walks of life and there’s a rainbow of desperate reasons they do it so there’s no way I can be a voice for all of us, and I don’t want to try. I want people outside of us to make a better effort to understand what it’s like to have serious depression and to wrestle with such low self esteem and self loathing that dying feels like the only option that makes sense. Talk to one person with suicidal ideation and you know more than you did before but you need to listen to a lot of us to understand what feelings are universal and which are individual.

You think suicide is selfish and cowardly? I think it’s cowardly and selfish to keep making those of us who struggle with depression feel worse about ourselves when we’re already hanging onto a thread of self worth against an ocean of self loathing that threatens to eat us alive. You have a right to your opinions but I think if you go around being angry and disdainful about people killing themselves without making an honest effort to understand why they do it and what you might do to help people hang on longer – then you really don’t give a shit about anyone but yourself. You really don’t care about anything but what YOU have to lose or what pain a person might inflict on YOU.

And what is the definition of  selfish if not that?

If the only contribution you have to make to the suicides of the world is to denigrate them then you’re no better than the mental illness that tortured them to death. You’re the worst kind of selfish and cowardly. I would also posit that you’re lazy – pronouncing poor character on people you know nothing about and don’t intend to spend any time to understand.

What are you so afraid of? Are you afraid that you can catch our illness? Are you afraid suicide will rub off on you?

It’s natural to be angry when someone you love dies, and especially when they take their own life. I’m not making light of how hard it is for the people who lost their loved ones to suicide. All I’m saying here, boiled down to the simplest plea I can make is this:

Please try to understand the level of internal pain and struggle it takes for a person to over-ride their animal instinct to survive in order to kill themselves. Please do your best to learn about the mental struggles that tend to lead to suicide and do your best to be a support rather than another cog in the gear that propels people to the end of the known universe to free-fall into the great wide nothing.

Here are some things I think it’s important to understand:

Suicide isn’t inevitable for people with mood disorders. This means that with good support and people around us who don’t judge us or freak the fuck out about our ups and downs we can stabilize and manage our mental illness in such a way that we’re at significantly less risk of suicide.

Suicide is rarely an act of selfishness. More often than not the people who successfully kill themselves believe they’re doing the world a favor by leaving it.

It takes a great deal of resolve to kill yourself. Having a great deal of resolve isn’t a quality of cowardice. If you knew how many people have planned and obsessed over their own suicide but didn’t do it or succeed at it you would see that of all the people who struggle with the desire to die, only a few manage to follow through. I’m not saying you need to see them as brave, but I’m saying that cowardice is the suicidal person’s friend and not the other way around.

People who struggle with suicide often have an overabundance of empathy and love for this world we all share to the point where they can’t shut out other people’s pain and seeing abused animals rips them to shreds. So in some respects they’re dying because of your pain and everyone else’s pain in addition to their own.

Suicide isn’t about YOU, it’s about unbearable pain in the spirit and love that can’t be reconciled with pain.

So stop being so selfish with your empathy.

UPDATE: I would like to acknowledge the comment a twitter acquaintance of mine made on this post (you can read it in the comments) which I think is good perspective and something I actually know to be true but which I didn’t give credence to in this post: it’s generally not true selfishness on the part of those who have a hard time dealing with suicide – it’s fear. They feel fear and it’s worth having empathy for how frightening suicide is to most people outside of it. I agree with Jonathan. If I can ask others to have more empathy for people who struggle with suicidal ideation and depression, it’s also important for me to have more empathy for how scary this subject is to people who don’t experience it directly.

Can’t Fold the Day Away Like This

I can’t fold each day away as neatly as I need to, like starched sheets in a haunted hospital. I can’t turn the lights out on unfinished thoughts and unshed tears. I can’t brush this ache away that’s stretching itself out in my chest and filling my head with thin cobwebs of spent affection I have to lay on gravestones now. I can’t go to sleep with the trees bent double over your heart shedding leaves like tiny weightless bones. I can’t be done with today when it means I have to leave you where you cannot follow.

We collected souls like broken seashells we hoped to glue back together and send back into the big soup to swim to fresh shores where open coconuts and cool shade protect new life. We collected each other the same way and I see now what I couldn’t see before – that this was a contest of wills versus the great weight of sorrow filling every pore. I thought all I needed to do was give you a map of every person who loves you and you’d find your way back from the deep waves trying to swallow you whole.

You called last drinks while I was down. It wasn’t fair, but I can’t put up walls between us when we’ve been imprisoned in the same dark rooms. I don’t have it me to be angry at reflections of the darkest parts of my own spirit I’ve seen in you. I don’t have it in me to blame you for letting go of this godforsaken place. But your going means I have to fight harder, hold on tighter to the sinking ship this planet is because when one mother leaves the others must hug tighter the vulnerable, the lost, and the broken.

And what are you doing now? Watching us weep? Weeping with us? I don’t know where you are or what fire you’re breathing but you better be dancing, running, and catching assholes in your douche-net. I was going to say I expect more of you now than before. But this isn’t true, and we both know it. You’re free now of all expectations and service.

In ways I can never explain to the living we’re closer than ever before because now you’re everywhere I am, you’re everywhere I go, you’re everywhere I want to be. You’re there in my uncomfortable dreams and in the arch of my shoes. There’s nowhere you aren’t now. That’s the beauty that’s hard to hold onto when the heart is full of pain and loss. But just beyond it, you’re everywhere and we carry you through to the places your body has never been.

 

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For Sonya by Hayley Humphrey (a guest post)

It is so hard to find a beginning to a piece I don’t want to write, something that I wish there was no need to write. There are so many things that I want and need to say.

I have no wish to say goodbye, I simply wish to honour a dear friend and pay tribute to her.

I was lucky to find Sonya early on in my Twitter journey, she had an energy and humour that were impossible to resist. I had found a kindred spirit and she led me to so many more kindred spirits. We had a #tribe. For the first time In my life I belonged to a tribe of the most creative,loving people from all classes, backgrounds,genders. We were people who didn’t just use Twitter to sell or promote, but to chat, to empathize, to laugh and joke and post silly pictures. I saw Sonya as our #tribe leader, the Mother Earth of us.

I loved Sonya’s art, her humorous animals, her illustrations of people. Sorry Jennie, but I will always picture you wearing Crocs and carrying a bumbag. Sonya did some brilliant drawings of some her tribe. She had offered to draw me but I felt self conscious about how I would look, that and fearful of understanding the technology involved to get a picture of me to her. So I never took her up on her offer. I so wish I had. I wanted her to draw me as a small, deaf Super Hero, delivering hugs anywhere they were needed. I’m sorry Sonya I wasn’t brave enough to trust your pencil.

I had this fantasy that we would meet up in the flesh one day and now I have to let the dream go.

I see Sonya as having presented to us a colourful kaleidoscope of art, of hilarious tweets, funny photos, when on the other end of her kaleidoscope, was a pain and depression that could block out the light and the laughter.

I do not see it as a weakness that she could not stay with us, depression is a strong enemy to fight. It tells you lies, presents you with a reality that is dark, lonely and incredibly painful, sometimes even the best medicine, the best of love from those close is not enough to stop the darkness, to let the light back in.

But I do not want to remember Sonya with the sorrow and regret. I loved her too much for that.

I will remember the joy that she gave me and the rest of the #tribe. I’ll remember reading the threads of tweets between her and Niko, the pun bating. There had been many occasions when I would cry with laughter at the threads of tweets between her and Niko and others too, and then could not explain to hubby what I was laughing about.

I will remember the stories and photos of Fat Cat and Fang. I will remember her love of Beyoncé, of science, of fast cars, and dinosaurs.

When my Writers Block was getting me down we would discuss how to tame my sucky muse. We tried out varying scenarios but the best one was to tie my muse to the chair and tell her ‘shut up and write’

I am not saying goodbye as I believe that the people we have lost live on inside us. Without Sonya it is like all the colour has been removed from the world and all is grey, the colour will come back, but not for a while.

Losing Sonya made me think how terribly sad it is that we wait until somebody has left us to tell them just how amazing they are, how important they are to you. So in Sonya’s memory tell your family and friends that they are wonderful, give help and support to these battling with depression. And me I will forever imagine my muse tied to a chair, in Sonya’s memory.

In my forever novel, I am writing about my version of heaven. In my heaven everyone has their own piece of heaven that is filled with what ever they want in it.

I am imagining Sonya, driving a fast car, Fat Cat in the passenger seat. Running alongside the car are several dinosaurs. And Sonya is telling Fat Cat ‘See Fat Cat no feathers on the dinosaurs’

Goodnight my friend, thank you for your love and friendship. I will miss you and I will train my muse in your memory.

My love always

Hayley X

Letter to Sonya

I’ve been putting off writing to you, writing about you, letting myself access my feelings about your sudden exit stage right. I’ve skirted my grief, I’ve tried talking to you about this big-ass elephant in the room with my eyes closed as though I might be able to find your spirit if I concentrate hard enough and then hold hard to your collar-bone or your writing wrist, or any part of you I have never even seen in person.

I’m afraid that if I don’t say everything I know about you/knew about you that I’ll vomit it up in my sleep and choke to death on it. The most important thing anyone needs to know about you is that you have a bigger hard-on for Beyonce than Jay Z. Haha. Just kidding, Jay Z’s was just a little bit bigger than yours. You love cheese (though I always secretly suspected you loved it less than I do), pizza, salsa, chips, but talking about any other food bored you. Or at least you said it did until this year you started to get kind of excited about cooking new things. You ridiculed me for my use of cloth napkins and we almost came to fisticuffs over it. But mostly that was because you ganged up on me with that guy who shall not be named and Jennie too. I only minded because I’m an awkward git who doesn’t always follow the joke and I wasn’t sure how to be cool in a situation that obviously called for being cool when I’m just not that cool.

I learned that sometimes when you get an idea or a joke in your head you’re like a gangling puppy who gets so excited you trip over your front paws and overwhelm people with your enthusiasm to the point that people push back. I was so happy to find I wasn’t the only grown-up who does that. For all you could sometimes accidentally bite harder than people expected, you were wickedly funny most of the time while still being the kindest person I’ve ever met. Sometimes I would read along with your conversations with others on Twitter and laugh out loud but not take part myself because I knew I couldn’t keep up and would ruin the jokes. Your humor was infectious and light and it was like a shot of morphine in a dark terrible world.

You loved SEX. SEX is good. Remember when we took part in that writers’ talk about sex in novels with other writer friends? That’s the first time I started getting to know you. I’m pretty sure when you heard me talk like sex is nice and all but not earth shattering you were stunned into disbelief. We were that different over the things that didn’t matter so much.

You love exercise, fitness, physical activity of all kinds, ACTION.

You loved those things. You loved animals more than most humans and this is something we always had in common. You could hear the world outside you, you couldn’t shut it out, and so much of the time it was torture. For me too. There have been few people in my life who could hear it all the way I could so finding out you heard all the pain in the world like I do made you a kindred spirit. I know that hearing one story about an abused animal could make you want to mother the whole world as strongly as you wanted to shut it the fuck down. Neither of us could do much more than witness and testify, which, honestly is much too religious sounding for either of us.

You were one of the kindest and most fierce women I’ve ever known. You lifted other women up all the time, every day. You reached into the darkness and lifted scared and weeping souls up into the light as though it was as ordinary as making a grilled cheese sandwich. Your reach has been long, your bright influence has been felt across a universe of unstable stars.

You had no patience for a multitude of stupidities. I loved that about you.

We loved all the animals, even the awkward ones. Even the snarly ones. The furless, patchy, greedy, toothy, grumpy, fluffy, little, enormous, clumbsy, graceful, and feral ones. There was no such thing as an unlovable non-human animal.

You loved cars. Fast cars. Vintage ones. Red ones. Porche ones. Whatever.

You loved unstintingly, without shade, without pause. The people you loved knew they were loved.

I know you loved me. I know you understood me and still loved me. You wouldn’t let me remain silent very long. Mother hen, reeling your flock in to check for fox damage. You were one of the best defenses against overwhelming despair of the magnitude that could lead to suicide.

So here we are. I know how hard you’ve tried hanging onto your meat-cage in the last couple of years. I know how fucking hard it’s been and I know that it’s your husband and daughters who’ve ultimately kept you hanging on even though you might not have even let them know quite how bad things have gotten in your mind and your heart. I know the people you most desperately wanted to protect, you held back the tides for the most. They might have preferred the flood.

I thought you’d made it past the brimstone burning at your heart. I thought you’d gotten past the gatekeeper of hope.

I can’t think of anything I might have done or said differently and yet I want to go back and do things differently.

I know that there was nothing anyone could have done in the moment you signed off. Not the power of God or the Devil would have had any effect in that moment. Not your family, not your friends. I believe you were overcome by the ugly noise of the world we live in. Maybe there was a different better medication you could have taken, maybe there were different choices all of us could have made all along the way, but I don’t think it would have mattered in the moment you said “ENOUGH”.

I can’t lie, Sonya, part of me is jealous. It’s not what I’m supposed to feel, but part of me knows that the ugliness can’t reach you now. Just like with my brother. I don’t believe in heaven or hell but the one thing I’m sure of is that the torture of everyday life goes quiet when you leave the shell of your body behind. I believe you’re at peace now. I’m not coddling myself with this belief. I’m not trying to fit a crown of kittens onto my misshapen head so that I can feel better about you being gone. Nothing’s really going to make me feel better about you being gone. A life of abuse and torture melts away when there’s no corporeal body left to hurt. The slights and torments of seeing with eyes that can be poked out, of hearing with ears that can be ruptured, and feeling with skin that can be burnt to bone can’t reach you where you are now and for that I’m thankful. You were too full of the world’s pain to bear any more.

Your love was bigger than you could hold onto with your small frame. You filled rooms with it, you filled pages with it, you filled silence with it. No one could fill the empty spaces it left in you fast enough. We were all running fast with your heart trying to stitch the holes up with thread but it kept breaking and breaking and breaking apart in the eye of needles too small for our fingers to find in the dark.

Now that I’ve started writing to you I don’t want to stop because it will feel too much like a real goodbye. I can’t do that, can’t say goodbye to you.

There are a lot of people who don’t understand what kind of strong bonds can be made between people online. We know better how bonds between introverts actually thrive when we get to control the flow of conversation, walking away when we need to, coming back when we’re ready. We conduct what I think can legitimately be called endless threads of conversation. There’s no real beginning or ending. We just pick up the thread when we need to or want to and let it drop when we’re feeling raw and edgy.

You have been like a spirit sister to me. You find me when I’m lost, tease me when I’m too serious, inspire me to move forward when I’m at low ebb, and make me laugh hard just because that’s the best thing any of us on earth can do.

You confided in me and I cherished your trust because I know how hard it was for you to tell anyone what you were really feeling for fear you’d be a burden, cause pain to them, or scare them. I know the thought of hurting others emotionally caused you physical pain. There were times you knew you hurt someone without meaning to and it tortured you for days, sometimes weeks. And they never knew it, fucking idiots.

I was going to brave Texas and Texas weather, nail fashions, overabundance of cowboy boots, and dust to see you. If I could afford it I’d been flying down there now to say goodbye in person. It’s disgusting how money can be a hard barrier between friends in different states.

I was going to send you the seeds from the California poppy you saw a picture of from my yard (see above). I waited a month for seed pods to ripen and now they’re sitting on my desk going nowhere. In the last several months you’ve been photographing wildflowers and it hasn’t escaped my observation that they’re an apt analogy for people like you and me. Especially you. You bloomed hard and fierce and bright and got better and more beautiful after hard frosts and soil-cracking droughts. You rose up above the hard scrabble and opened your face to the world with a kind of fierce challenge. You shouted out over storms and through still mornings the same challenge every day that you were made of swords and meat and lean muscle (and probably pizza too), and that no one could get past you to hurt the ones you love the most.

And then, like a wildflower, you vanished from the landscape just as fast as you arrived in it.

“You are not awful and this is why I love you. (Feel free to engrave that on your urn)” were the last words you said to me. (<—-for anyone who knew Sonya this is pretty much an expression of UNDYING FRIENDSHIP. The only way that comment could have delivered more Sonya love is if she invited me to engrave that on a giant piece of cheese.)

I can’t be angry with you for leaving, but I’m gutted by your permanent absence. You made my daily life so much richer, so much better. Knowing you were out there holding your heart and soul up above the floodwaters gave me so much more courage than I had before, made me feel like I can do this impossible thing. And now I have to do the impossible without your example, without your laughter, without Fatcat and Fang. I might be just a little bit angry about that.

I love you Sonya.

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.

Why The Title “Suicide for Beginners”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will NOT be complicit in silencing truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will not apologize if it makes anyone uncomfortable.

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.

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.

The Death Of Me

All my clothes have holes.  Dark and bitten.  My memory hides underneath the eucalyptus oil on the warm night air.   If I shed my cloth it would cover the earth in black cotton.  Never mind.  Never mind.  The alarms have stopped ringing.  The smoke is nothing more than vapors in ghost pipes.  This airport hasn’t seen more than bones in twenty years and the chattering teeth are nothing but talking skulls.  Don’t run.  Don’t turn away from five am.  Don’t pretend you’re awake when you’re struggling not to bleed out in dream.  I know this sleep and it’s a tunnel that leads into the dark if you forget your body laid out, half under cover and half sprawled into the bite.

The cliff calls almost as loudly as the stripped rusted frame of the crashed Ford full of weeds and branches and restless memory.  You know it called you to the edge where the ghosts dance like punks and never fall.  You know you reached your hands out across the chasm and felt freedom stab at you and you met it with open arms, with the calm hands of suicide.  You can say what you want to everyone but the mountain knows the truth.  It never dies on the trail of grass and spirit.  You have never left it, dead as you were, you will never leave it.  You are recorded through the rocks and dirt and scrub and bush and the free-fall you have been taking ever since you walked away from the precipice.

The tunnel may have been narrow, but it was clean. It was open for the wake.

 

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Inspiration for this piece is “Young Wild Girls” by Bruno Mars