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.

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