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.
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.
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!