Sky Fish, Suicide, and the Importance of Love
[trigger warning: mental health, self harm, suicide, abuse]
Note: this is a very personal experience, as are all experiences with mental health, and this is not intended to try and box in or define a “normal” or “correct” experience with mental health, suicide, or anything else. This is not a one-size-fits-all on how to relate to people with suicidal ideations, nor a field guide to caring for folks with depression. This is my very personal experience, and if you can glean something beneficial from it, tits. But please always remember, even though there are some universal rules (be fucking kind, asshole) how extremely individual everyone’s experience is. Ok. here we go.
And suddenly it is the 28th day of August, and the last time I wrote a word was the 12th of May, which was what I though was going to be one of the hardest weeks of my year as I processed a whole lotta loss. Most notably the anniversary of, and the first time really dealing with the feelings around, the loss of my mother. But it turned out just to be the warmup for everything that was to come. I re-read that post before I wrote this one, and my oh my, I had forgotten what an emotionally tumultuous week that was for me, everything that had come up for me during that time, only a small piece of which I shared in that entry. And how very alone I felt through it all.
I’ve spent all my life working really hard to keep my emotional tap solidly closed off. It’s one thing that I’m really good at, if I do say so myself! My therapist would probably write me a letter of recommendation for it, to be honest. But it’s also something I’ve really been working on countering this past year, because despite my bragging, it’s not actually a positive trait. I’ve been slowly learning to feel stuff. I spent 30 years not doing that. I was taught extremely young that my feelings were bad, sinful, shameful, and that they got me hurt, or others hurt. And my brain is super good at staying alive and safe, and has developed a lot of fancy coping mechanisms to keep me that way, despite many attempts to alter that state, and one of its most important tools (or most frequently used, at least) is to just shut down all feelings. There are just too many of them! They are too big. I don’t know what to do with them. They are scary and make me feel like that child that’s about to get beaten to the brink of consciousness, or worse, again. So… just don’t feel them and then we don’t have to deal with any of those things. High five, buddy. Good problem solving skills. Crisis averted!
But our brains aren’t THAT cool, and all those feelings and memories and traumas and everything else are still in there, kicking around in the background, subconsciously or whatever, just taking up space rent free in the back of our brainpan causing mystery trauma responses and anxieties and panic attacks and weird emotional reactions and basically fucking shit up “for no reason.” And yeah, okay, you can blame getting your heart broken and it hurting for a billion years and it feeling like your entire world is ending, or crying every time you hear that song, or sleeping to avoid your feelings on being a Pisces all day long (I do, it’s fine), but maybe it’s also because your heart first got broken and kinda stayed that way when you were like… really little, back when you were first taught that you were garbage and not worthy of loving. Just some second-hand bought-and-paid-for thing that someone else threw away. That you were everything that was wrong and broken and painful, mercifully repurposed to fill a role, look the part until you were too inconvenient or no longer needed, then getting tossed away without a second thought like the black-and-blue trash you always were. That ever since your first memories you have been taught in loud and quiet layers that you are a burden, you are the problem, you are something no one ever wanted nor ever will want and you should be grateful that you are allowed to exist in the first place, much less be shown any crumbs of kindness. DO YOU THINK MAYBE THAT’S WHY? Hm? Fuckin’ astrological fish.
Fucking therapy man, I’m telling you. Identifying all these deeply-rooted beliefs that have been subtly shaping the way I view myself, and also the way I have responded to the flow of relationships, of all types in my life, including and possibly most importantly with myself. And identifying shit this deep has been FUCKING HARD. And this hasn’t even been the hard stuff! But I’m super not ready to talk about that here. But suffice it to say, it’s been a lot and I’ve really been struggling. But if I can make it through all of this, I think I’m going to be a much better person for it. A lot more level, and a lot more in touch with myself. But to bring this back to the present, to the point, it’s been a lot. And the week of May the 12th was incredibly difficult, and I think it would have been for anyone, but especially for someone dealing with this sort of trauma therapy.
The week that followed was so overwhelming/heartbreaking that my actual literal blood-pumping heart stopped doing heart things and I ended up in the ER for a bit. And hooked up to wires for a while. Then on anxiety medication, which was probably a good call. And more-or-less since then I have been fighting for my life. I’ve had good days and bad, good weeks and tougher ones, I went through some really dark times, and one or two actionably dark moments mostly thanks to the side effects of a new medication coupled with my already sketchy depression, but here I still am. And I’m writing for the first time in months, so that’s probably a good sign, right? I’m not even really sure what I’m writing about today. I know what I wanted to write about, but that hasn’t been what I’ve been writing about, but maybe that’s okay. But maybe it’s an avoidance tactic. I don’t know.
I wanted to write about suicide. I wanted to talk to you about that a little, but then I got anxious about worrying people, or bumming folks out, or scaring them off or whatever else. But I think it’s an important topic, because it’s one that we don’t really like to talk about too much if we can help it. I mean, a year or so ago or whenever it was that a bunch of celebrities killed themselves, oh we loved to talk about it then. It was glamorous then. We poured our hearts out then. We talked about how much their lives inspired us. How their deaths touched us. How tragic it was. How everyone is always there for anyone who is suffering, because every loss is so hard on us. Us us us. Me me me. We shared the suicide hotline like it was the newest meme then! But the trend passed and the glitter got swept up and suddenly suicide wasn’t the hot gossip anymore, and it went back to that taboo topic that you roll your eyes at or tell your friend to stop being so dramatic about or to just go talk to their therapist about or if they’re gonna do it just do it already. And that’s shameful. So I’m going to talk to you really bluntly and honestly and uncomfortably about suicide.
I saw this meme on Facebook recently. It was, I guess, less of a meme and more of a picture of a tweet. I’ll put it below. But it really struck me in a way that few things do. It read “growing up suicidal is kinda weird cause I didn’t think I’d still be alive right now so I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with my life or where I’m going because I never planned on being here for it.” And that’s one of the truest things I’ve ever read. It’s something I verbalized for the first time just before I turned 30, but don’t think I’ve really sat with until quite recently, and honestly… I’m still not totally sure what to do with the information. And it’s weird, because I’ve always been really driven, and really accomplished. And I’ve done a lot! And I think that that’s part of why. I really didn’t think I had very long to do the whole “life” thing, so I just crammed as much life as I could in to every single day. But now I’m 31 years in and holy shit, life is still going?
I’ve been depressed and suicidal my whole life. I’ve had it pretty well under control for the past 8 or 9 years or so, until this recent medication side effect issue, but my first attempt was when I was around 11 or 12 years old and I swallowed a bottle of pills. When I was 19 I tried to jump out of a moving car on the highway on the way to my wedding reception. I had made almost a dozen attempts by the time I was 20. And literally NO ONE CARED. Like… people knew. No one took me seriously, I guess? It was an annoyance. A phase. Attention seeking. Just needing more Jesus. Whatever. When it would come up to a point that it would have to be addressed, it would be addressed violently. So I got good at hiding the ideations and any harming. The depression, I think, my family just wrote off as a side effect of being raised by a violent alcoholic. I don’t know, honestly. The more I try to figure out their logic the more of a migraine I get. At one point when I was maybe 10 or so my parents had some church folk “lay hands” on me for healing (very much without my consent). There was casting out of evil spirits. There was unsupervised dates with untrained and unlicensed church counselors. This sort of super un-helpful and future-therapy-inducing bullshit went on til I was a teenager that got kicked out of more than one church and everyone just kind of gave up on me, I guess.
I started seeing an actual therapist for the first time when I was 19 and had moved to South Carolina. I was seeing her not because I had been depressed for nearly 2 decades, nor because my best friend had just died like 2 months prior and I was dealing with massive situational depression, but because I was starting an antidepressant medication for my fibro pain (it’s a thing) so my PCP wanted me to see a therapist as well (probably also because my depression was pretty fucking obvious? But that was never directly stated). On my first visit she asked me if I had ever had suicidal thoughts. I told her I had. She put her pen down and coldly and calmly told me that if I told her that, she would commit me on the spot, put me on a federal list, and that would follow me for the rest of my life and basically my life would be over, and it would probably fuck up my husbands career (he was a nuclear engineer going into submarine service in the Navy). She gave me the opportunity to answer her question again. In tears, shaking and terrified, 19 years old, alone, newly married to a boy whose job I didn’t understand and whose life I didn’t want to ruin more than I was afraid I already was, I told her I was sad that my friend had died, but had definitely never been suicidal. And suddenly I felt like that scared child, hiding my mental illness all over again. It would be years before I’d see a therapist, or just about anyone else for that matter, that I felt safe opening up to about my mental state. In that time I’d make several more attempts on my life and harm myself fairly severely.
(note: as far as I know, there is no such list and my first therapist was just truly, truly awful. Every therapist I’ve seen since has been wonderful and compassionate and helpful and I’ve been able to talk to them very openly. They have been supportive, provided me with help and resources, and haven’t tried to forcibly commit me or threaten me. I am very transparent with my mental health providers, which is extremely important, and they are very good and kind to me. Please seek out good care. Interview your therapists. If they are shitty to you, know you can walk out that door with 0 explanation and find a new, better therapist. I did not know that at 19 and I wish I had.)
Happy. Joyful. Kind. Creative. Bubbly. Funny. Outgoing. Caring. Optimistic. Loving.
These are words that have been used to describe me my entire life. And I think they’re pretty good and honest descriptors. I think I am genuinely all those things. Or I endeavor to be, at least. A happy and kind and generally “make the world a better, more beautiful place” kind of person. But I also have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, amongst other things. You’ve seen the memes and whatnot, talking about people like Robin Williams, that highlight that often we think of depression as super sad, mopey, emo-gothic people who are just sad and dark and talking about suicide and misery all the time, and then one day the just up and kill themselves and everyone saw it coming and no one is surprised. And I’m sure that happens. But more often, I think, you get people like him. People that see the beauty and joy and hope in life, but also see the pain and the darkness. And are very realistic, in their own ways, about the way the scales balance out. At some point, even if there is beauty and goodness and joy in the world, there is pain. And at some point, there is just too much. And there is a breaking point. That point is different for everyone. We all have different tolerances, different things that factor in. Stuff that makes things hurt more, stuff that makes the scales level back out slower. And you just never know what that is for someone else. It’s certainly not evident from the outside.
Several years ago a friend of mine took her life. I really looked up to her. She was so strong and smart and creative and kind and amazing and beautiful and had everything going for her. And she had been through so much and fought so hard. We shared that. We shared a lot. And we had talked a little about how we had had different stories, both hard, and we had kind of come this far together, in a way. And then one last deep heartbreak happened, and that was it. The straw. And she was gone. And I still miss her and think about her a lot. It surprised me so much, and also didn’t in the same sad breath. But recently I’ve been really meditating on her loss again. It’s been hitting home in a really personal way. How that sort of heartbreak can pull at those deep, deep traumas. Those deep scars that still itch with flashbacks and old lies and abuse. How sometimes one more person tossing you away is just the last little fracture, tapping into the crevasse of ancient pain. And it’s just one little break, but it’s the one that finally destroys the structural integrity, and it’s all over. Sometimes it’s more than what it looks like in the moment. Sometimes, always-times, it’s a hundred thousand little moments and words and memories and things that we’ve stored away in our hearts and brains and other situations and experiences that are jenga-towered inside us, but the jenga tower is an antique and it’s also made of glass, and the box got dropped a bunch already. We never know what each other have been through; it’s not always what it looks like from the outside. Be gentle.
Suicide is something we need to be able to talk about more openly without being told to just go see a therapist (hey guess what, I see a therapist twice a week. Also, that’s dismissive and really hurtful. Also therapists are really expensive!), or to just do it already or shut up about it. I’m not saying I want to bemoan my life, sitting around talking about how I wish I was dead all the time. That’s not my jam, nor do I think it’s actually really anyone’s jam who’s suicidal. What I’m saying is, when people are struggling to keep their head above water, we need to create a more compassionate community wherein we can express that honestly. No, I don’t need more (or literally any) Jesus or to try yoga or basically for anyone to try and fix me. I don’t need you to pity me, kindly go fuck yourself. I won’t speak for anyone other than myself, though I suspect a lot of people probably agree, but when I muster up the courage to reach out to someone I trust about where I’m at, what I’m dealing with, I’m not looking for solutions or for you to cure or fix me. I’m not trying to burden you or bring you down or guilt you or anything. I just need a little human connection, a little love, a little support, a little compassion from someone who gives two shits, or hell, even one shit that I’m alive, and cares for reasons other than what I can do for them or provide for them.
No one is actually suicidal for funsies. It’s super not fun. Looking at your life and honestly thinking “bleeding out in my shower seems like a far superior choice to another moment of this” is not a light thought, or something that people come to because they’ve just had a bummer day or because one thing just didn’t go right. Hear me when I tell you that to get to the point of actually deciding that it is time to clock out for good, knowing everything you’re leaving behind, everything you’ll never get to do, the books you’ll never read, the adventures you’ll never get to have, that you’ll never get to tell him that you still love him, that you’ll never get to wake up with your cat again, whatever… and making that choice comes after walking around with the worst pain and emptiness for weeks, months, YEARS, and just finally breaking. If you want to help care for your loved ones, reduce the risk of breaking, don’t be a dick about it. Don’t tell them what to do. Don’t get weird, don’t freak out. Just be kind. Just fucking love them. Sometimes their trauma brain has told them old stories about how no one loves them, and a reminder that there are new, truer stories now can make a lot of difference.
So, let’s TL;DR this shit, shall we?
Things have been really hard and I tried to kill myself a few weeks back because of some new medication and pre-existing depression, so I got inspired and wrote this blog about suicide.
Mental healthcare needs to be more accessible and destigmatized especially in religious circles but also literally everywhere, and we all need to be better at talking about mental illness.
We all balance [good things, beauty, joy, happiness] and [bad things, pain, suffering, sadness, depression] differently, and not all our scales work the same way. There’s a breaking point, and you don’t get to judge that for any scale except your own, and be gentle even judging that one.
Stop trying to fucking fix people, and just be a good fucking friend to your friends with mental health issues. Yes, even if they tell you they’re suicidal. Don’t freak out. They’ve been living with this for a long time, they know what they’re doing. Just be kind, let them know you love them. That’s probably what they need more than anything. To know that, in your eyes, they’re not a burden. They’re not trash. You’re not their friend out of pity. You love them exactly as they are. Just, love them. You might be the first.
Note: As always, I am super not looking for recommendations for cures or remedies or tips or tricks. I do not want your thoughts on how to fix or cure me or generally improve my life. If that’s your takeaway from this, read it again, because that ain’t it. Unless I specifically ask for recommendations, I am not asking for them. I also do not want your pity here. I am doing well, and this is an empowering space to express the good, the bad, and the ugly of a super badass lady (that’s me) without fear. No pity, and no miracle cures allowed. If you absolutely cannot help yourself and just must do something to try and fix things, you can buy me Vault Coffee Roasters gift cards. I have terrible night terrors from the CPTSD so I drink a lot of coffee. I’m kidding about the gift cards, but also, I mean… I’m not.