Flight Risk (20 hours in the Psych ER)

 

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Monday, 5:15pm: “Hey, it’s me. I’m in the Emergency Room. I’m feeling suicidal. They sent me to Psych. I left work. I don’t want to be here. I want to go home,” I choked on the words between sobs while on the phone with my dad. This was not how I wanted to spend my Monday afternoon, or any afternoon really. How did I end up here?

Monday, 2:45pm: I look up from my notes I took during a training on Friday to read what I have typed. Only, instead of reading about how to use Skype for Business, the only words I see are the only words that have been going through my head for the last week: I want to die. I need to die. I want to die. I need to die.

“Well, shoot.” I think to myself, “That’s not good.

You see, this is how it starts, how it always starts: a nagging feeling that won’t go away; a thought on repeat in my head. And then I cycle downward: a roller coaster there’s no getting off of; a hole I can’t climb out of; a mountain I can’t climb.

This is how it starts, how it always starts: with me trying to talk myself off the metaphorical cliff before I metaphorically jump; trying to talk myself down before I do something drastic.

And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked myself down, how many times I’ve come so close, how many times I’ve thought I just want this to all be over.

But I can tell you this: it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to struggle with suicidal thoughts 98% of the time. It’s exhausting to feel like you don’t deserve to be here, don’t deserve help, don’t deserve the love and support that you get from the friends and family who surround you.

Sometimes it only takes one person who listens, who is somehow able to convince you that you do deserve to be here, you do deserve to get help, despite what all the voices in your head are telling you.

When you’ve been struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts for as long as I have, you start to see the signs, read the writing on the wall if you will. And every time you enter that spiral, it gets harder and harder to get out, to talk yourself out of it.

And I have to tell you this, friends, I have to, even though it hurts: on Thursday, I was so so so close to ending it all, but somehow, by some sort of miracle, I was able to call the Suicide Hotline.

So, on Monday, when I felt myself entering the spiral, I knew that if I didn’t go to the ER, I would not make it out this time. It’s a terrifying thought process, guys, knowing that your life lies in your hands, or rather, legs, finding the strength to get yourself the help you deserve.

Because you do, guys. You do deserve the help.

But I’m also telling you that it’s not going to be easy, especially if you drive yourself.

It took me 25 minutes to get out of the car once I got to the hospital, and I was panicking each and every second of those 25 minutes: I cannot do this. I literally cannot do this. I’m not strong enough to do this. I could just jump right now; I’m literally almost on the top floor of the parking garage. It would be so so much easier.

Eventually, however, I made it out of my car and into the hospital. Eventually, I made it through the halls of the hospital I have been in so many times before: the hospital I was born in; the hospital I’ve visited family members in; the hospital I had my appendix out in. But this time, the hallways felt so much longer than they ever have before, and I felt like the walls were caving in around me. And when I made it to the ER doors, it took me another 15 minutes to walk through them: to remind myself that I deserve to be here, to get help, to get better. That I don’t deserve the bad things that happen in my life.

And here’s where it starts to get hard, not because I don’t remember what happened because I do. I remember everything. It gets hard because I don’t know how to tell you what I’m about to tell you. But I’m going to try because you all deserve to know. And maybe even my lack of words will be enough to help someone else.

I don’t know how to tell you that as I was sitting in the general ER next to the elevator that goes up to the Psych ED (or CPEP from here on out), I already felt dead. If you ask the tech who brought me up to the CPEP, she’d tell you that I had dead eyes–there was nothing behind them: no light, no life, no hope. When one of the ER nurses came to retake my heart rate, because having a panic attack while sitting in your car really messes it up, she said, “Poor thing. You look like a ghost.” I didn’t have the energy to tell her that I felt like a zombie: mostly dead, not really living, trying hard to fake my way through life.

I don’t know how to tell you that I wasn’t considered a flight risk because I drove myself, but I really wanted to be anywhere but there: gone, dead, home, whatever, anywhere but here. That my urge to run was greater than my urge to live. 

I don’t know how to tell you that the CPEP is the best place to have a flashback, and trust me, you’ll have many. There are only so many times you can hear Get off me. Get off me. Get off me. from someone being restrained before your own trauma catches up to you. And everything you’ve tried so hard to forget over the last nine years comes rushing back to you. If anybody understands how traumatic rape can be, it’s the ones who deal with the aftermath, the ones who see the broken, hurting people walk through their doors every day.

I don’t know how to tell you that I felt like I was 7 years old again, and for the first hour before my dad arrived, I’ve never felt so alone.

I don’t know how to tell you that I feel guilty for being “strong” enough to get help because I feel like it diminishes the strength of the people who didn’t.

I don’t know how to tell you about the guy who had been in the CPEP for three days because there where no beds upstairs, who, after my dad left at 4:30, sat next to me as I slept because no one should be alone here, especially not pretty girls with sad eyes.

I don’t know how to tell you about me waking up at 5:30am on Tuesday sobbing because of the teenager they brought in who was restrained, and when the nurse asked me what was wrong, all I could say was he’s scared and wants to go home. Because here’s the thing about that place: everyone there feels too much. Not only do we feel our own pain, but we feel each other’s. I felt their pain when they told me their stories, and they cried with me when I told them my story at 8:00am on Tuesday after being with them for 15 hours. I poured my heart out to strangers when I have a hard time telling people I know what’s happened. I told them everything: the rape, the self-harm, the eating disorder, the suicide attempt, the suicidal thoughts, the relapsing.

I don’t know how to tell you that you lose track of time because the only clock I could find was the one behind the locked doors of the nurse’s station. Everything’s locked. You can’t get in or out without a key. You’re physically trapped, which is fitting because every single person there feels trapped in their own mind.

I don’t know how to tell you that being there 18 hours before I saw a psychiatrist instead of the normal “get in, get out in 6 hours” probably changed the way this story goes, probably saved my life, probably is why I was discharged instead of held for 24, 48, 72 hours.

I don’t know how to tell you that I had a hard time yesterday adjusting to the “real world” after being in CPEP for 20 hours. That place began to feel like home, not so much because of the place itself, but because of the people. It’s like when you visit a foreign country and experiencing culture shock when you return back home. I miss the way the people made me feel: you know the warm feeling you get when you are around people you love. Because they understood my pain in a way that most people can’t. They reminded me that I’m not alone. They touched my life in a way that I can’t even describe, and I honestly really hope they’re doing better.

We’re all muddling through life, and sometimes it’s good to be reminded that there are people out there who are hurting as much as you are, struggling right along with you.

I’m so so so glad to be alive. I finally feel like a whole person instead of a broken nothing. I feel alive. I feel happy, but life is still hard. I’m still struggling with so many things.

But I know now that help is not too far out of reach. I deserve to be here.

You deserve to be here, too.

 

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And so I kept living

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, marking the start of Suicide Prevention Week–I feel like a hypocrite for even mentioning it. Because this last month and a half has been the worst time of my life mentally–my depression has come back with a vengeance, and coupled with the overwhelming anxiety I feel on the daily, it’s felt like a hurricane has ripped through my soul: total destruction everywhere, levees broken, the walls of my body destroyed. This last month and a half has seen countless panic attacks and flashbacks, overwhelming suicidal thoughts, me almost driving into a tree, and, unfortunately, it’s also seen me relapsing–self-harming again after not doing it in 7 years.

It’s also seen me reach out more–ask for help. Depression has this way of making me feel like I’m the worst person in the world; that I deserve everything that has happened to me. So, normally, I pull away, revert back into myself. Because here’s the thing: when the demons attack, sometimes I’m afraid that I won’t make it out of the battle. I pull away to soften the blow, to lessen the crater that my departure might leave. I’ve come to realize over this last month that when the bomb drops, people will get hurt whether I pull away or not–I’d rather confide in people and have them care about me than walk through this storm alone, even if sometimes I feel like an inconvenience. Even if I feel like letting people in, telling them what’s going on in my brain is a burden to them.

We all need people.

Even though you’re trying as hard as you can to pull away from people, they just won’t stop caring about you.

And so I kept living despite the feelings of inadequacy, the feelings of worthlessness, the thoughts in my head telling me I should not be here.

And so I kept living despite the thoughts I’ve had for as long as I can remember: I can’t go to school today because it’s going to burn down; I can’t get out of bed because the floor’s going to collapse; I can’t go out for recess because the world’s going to explode.

And so I kept living despite those thoughts that, apparently, most people do not have every day for their whole lives.

And so I kept living despite the shame of my past, the weight of it all, the regret, the hurt of what others have done to me and what I have done to myself.

And so I kept living despite the “I’m sorry”s, the number of times I’ve written and ripped up the words: To whoever finds this.

And so I kept living despite how scared I am of the dark, how weak I feel.

And so I kept living because if I didn’t, I never would have gone to Guatemala and led a young girl to Christ.

And so I kept living because the Buffalo Bills have not won a Super Bowl, and I’ll be darned if I kill myself before I see that.

And so I kept living because I want to fall in love, even though I’m terrified of being hurt.

And so I kept living because I still have so many jokes left in me to tell, so many words within me just waiting to be written, so much laughter left to burst forth from my mouth.

And so I kept living because of the cotton candy that paints the sky during sunrises and sunsets.

And so I kept living because there are so many books in this world I have not yet read, so many places I have not yet seen.

And so I kept living because sometimes all this pain that I’m feeling, all the hurt, remind me that I’m alive.

And so I kept living because the most vicious thunderstorms produce the most beautiful rainbows, and I want to be beautiful.

And so I kept living because I am not alone, and I have a God that is bigger than all my shame, all my hurt, all my fear.

And so I kept living because if I can help just person know they’re not alone, then let me do that.

 

The Elephant We Can’t Talk About

I was never going to write this blog post. I was ok with keeping it to myself (well, except for the two people I told: one of my very best friends and one who unfortunately got dragged along for the very uncomfortable metaphorical ride). 

I wasn’t going to share this because it hurts, and it’s hard, and it’s admitting that sometimes I’m very much not ok. I wasn’t going to write this one just like I wasn’t going to write the one where I talked about my rape, but the response to that one was more than I expected, in both good ways and bad ways. But, I need to talk about it, and sometimes I prefer writing to talking because I can erase my mistakes; there’s no awkward pauses; there’s not me saying “Abso-fruit-ly.” (which has happened more than I want to admit.). So, I’m writing about it: I’m writing about it because I need to say it. I apologize to my family members who find out a lot of things via my blog. But… I have to do what I have to do.

I’m being honest here, guys. These last few weeks have been arguably the hardest of my life. The darkness is cyclical, and yet totally unpredictable. Every four to five months, it comes back, and there are always signs it’s coming, but I can never predict how bad it’s going to be. I can take an educated guess, like meteorologists who track hurricanes. I can follow weather patterns, historical data, past experience, but all I have is a guess. Luckily, it’s hardly ever as bad as I predict it will be, which is good because I always imagine the worst. The dark period lasts about a week, it’s hard for me to get out of bed, and I feel empty, exhausted, and alone.

This time, however, instead of like a week of thunderstorms, it’s like two weeks of Hurricane Katrina: levees are breaking, homes are flooded, and there are millions of dollars in damages. But instead of happening to one city: it’s all happening to me. And instead of bodies piling up, it’s just my past being replayed over and over and over again. And I can’t stop it. Or rather, I don’t know how to stop it.

I try to maintain a sense of normalcy. I get up, go to work, and then go to the gym, even if I’m still so conscious of the fact that not even two weeks ago, I had literally the worst panic attack and flashback I’ve ever had while working out.

By now you’re probably thinking, “Well this is all grand and good, Kaleigh. But we already knew that? What’s the giant pachyderm that you can’t mention.” 

Well, friends (and I can call you friends because if you’re reading this, you probably are. And if we’re not, we probably should be. Unless you don’t have anything nice to say), the slightly smaller pachyderm is this: I struggle with suicidal thoughts. Some of you knew that though. I’ve mentioned them before and also previously. I’ve given them names because it makes it so much easier to call them on their crap. On the good days and ok days that is. I promise all of you that the good days/ok days (because when you suffer from depression, ok is good) are most of the time, like a solid 75%, which in college, is all you need: C’s get degrees. In real life though, it’s not the greatest.

On the bad days (23% of the time: year), it’s so hard to call them out because they drown out all the other voice–those of my friends and family, even my own. I’m not the loudest person, so my voice gets lost in the crowd. So, all I hear is “do it. do it. do it. You won’t.” On my bad days, I’m exhausted from fighting with my own mind. On my bad days, I don’t sleep well. On my bad days, I give more than I have to give because I’d rather focus on someone else’s pain than my own. I want to help others because I cannot help myself.

 

On my worst days, about 2% of the time (or, if I did my math right, 7 days a year), it’s impossible. On those (approximately, 7 days, sometimes more, sometimes less), all I want to do is die. But I don’t actually want to die. It’s just a feeling I have.

And I don’t really know how to describe the difference between actually wanting to die and just feeling like you want to die. I don’t know how to describe it in a way that makes sense to those who haven’t been there. I don’t know how to make you guys understand that all I want to do is stay alive even if everything in me is telling me that it’s not worth it.

So, here’s the giant pachyderm: Monday was the worst day. It was a rainy day, not just emotionally, but actually, physically rainy. I was on my way to the gym because again, trying to fight my way through this by following my routine, when I found myself almost off the road, heading for a tree.

And I don’t know why. Because I didn’t decide to almost drive into a tree. I just… I think I stopped fighting for a second.

And it was terrifying because I’ve thought about it, sure, but I always just laugh it off and say, “Not, today. I’m too busy living life.”

It’s like the night I attempted suicide: I just stopped fighting for one second, and suddenly, I was no longer in control. It’s only the second time it’s happened, but that’s way too many times.

Here’s the thing, guys. I’m ok with talking about my rape, and my depression, and my eating disorder, and my self-harming, and everything that’s happened in my past. But, I still struggle with talking about what’s going on in my present. Because, like, sometimes I think my presence in the present isn’t a gift. Sometimes I think the world would be better off without me. I mean, honestly, I really wonder who would miss me?

And I know that those thoughts aren’t rational because I have friends and family who would definitely miss me, but mental illness isn’t rational. It pits your mind against itself, and the only loser is you.

I mean, the only loser is me. I’ve felt that way for the last two weeks. Like I’m fighting a battle I can’t win. And there’s still this stigma in the church and society about people like me.

Because sometimes I still get asked if I deserved to be raped. Sometimes I think I did.

Sometimes I still get told that if I just want to die, maybe I’d be better off dead. Sometimes I think I would be.

Sometimes I get told that this is happening to me because I’m not a good enough Christian, that I don’t pray enough, that I’m not enough whatever, that I’m not enough period. Sometimes I think the same thing.

But here’s the thing, guys. They’re wrong.

There’s this elephant in the room, and we have to talk about it.  Because people like me, we need encouragement. We need love. We need patience. We need people to know they can’t fix this, but they can still listen to us when we need it most.

We have to talk about it because approximately every 16.2 minutes, one person commits suicide. One in four people suffer from some type of mental illness.

And we have to talk about it. We have to talk about it the same reason I talk about it, why I give people advice and encouragement when I can’t help myself, why I let people vent to me when I have nothing left to give: we need to know we’re not alone.

Here’s the thing, guys. I’m not ok yet. The storm’s still coming–sometimes, it lets up just a little bit, the sun starts to peek through, and a rainbow starts to form (did you know that I love rainbows?). I don’t know when it will stop.

But, every day, I get a little bit better.

I’m still exhausted, guys–emotionally, physically, mentally. I’ve gone from having a panic attack at the gym that lasted 1.5 hours, to having this overwhelming sense of anxiety for five days straight, to just being so depressed that I feel like I can’t. I just… I can’t.

And I realize now that I don’t know how to end this post. I don’t. Because in a week full of flashbacks and freaking out because you see one of your rapists walking the track (which, on the good days wouldn’t bother me. Heck, I was able to help one pick up his stuff after he dropped it when I literally ran into him. Don’t text and walk people) and almost driving into a tree. In a week full of all that stuff, I still believe God is good.

I still believe there’s a reason why this happens, why everything’s happened.

I still believe, even when my past decides to take a crap on my head (ironic, considering a bird literally almost pooped on me today).

I don’t know how to end a post where I talked about feeling like I want to die (I don’t actually though, guys. I still have too much to do).

I don’t know how to end a post where the flood waters are still rushing in.

I mean I could end it awkwardly like I do with every single conversation I ever have.

I don’t know.

All I know is that somewhere out there is a rainbow with my name on it, and I’m going to fight like heck until I see it.
Update: this post has gotten bigger than I ever imagined. If you need anything or want to talk, you can meesage me on Facebook or Twitter (links to both along the side of my blog). Heck, you can even be my friend.

 

Here’s to the Ones Who Try So Hard

One minute you’re sweating your face off at the gym, and the next thing you know, it’s twenty minutes later, and the fingernail-shaped crescent moons dug into your arm are the only thing grounding you in the present, but this time, even that isn’t enough.

One moment you’re on the treadmill all too aware that you’re the only girl in a room with five guys (and those numbers are enough to make your stomach turn). All you want to do is leave. But you can do this. You can do this. You can do this.

You’re so close to finishing your workout when you catch the glimpse of one of the guys in the window. He bears a vague resemblance to one of the guys who raped you, not enough that would normally bother you, but enough to push your already anxious self over the edge.

Suddenly, you can’t breathe. Your heart catches in your throat. The room starts to spin. As you step off the treadmill, the room starts to go black. You bend over, trying to catch your breath, trying to keep the memories away long enough to get the heck out of there. As you go down the staircase, which is basically a metal tube, you hear voices behind you. They’re talking and laughing, not about you, but about weights or basketball or something, but in your panic-stricken mind, it doesn’t matter. Immediately, you’re transported back to that school bathroom, and suddenly, the ceiling starts closing in on you; you feel like you can’t breathe. You can’t get out of there fast enough, running down the last few stairs, pushing the door at the bottom with as much strength as you can muster, and walking as fast as you can down the hall, finally collapsing on a bench.

You try to catch your breath; your heart is pounding out of your chest, and all you want to do is keep those memories at bay. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t keep them away. You don’t know how long it’s been–seconds, minutes, years. It feels like seconds. Someone may have walked by asking you if you’re ok because apparently, you look spaced-out. But you don’t hear them: you’re so far into the own memories of your past that the only thing you can hear is: Bitch. Slut. Worthless. All you can feel is their hands on your skin, which you realize later is your own finger nails digging into your arm so hard that they leave marks that are still there 24 hours later. And you can’t breathe, partly because your lungs are on fire and partly because you feel like their are hands around your neck.

You drink water bottle after water bottle to get the taste of shame out of your mouth, and eventually, the memories start to fade. But the pounding in your chest is refusing to quit, and your lungs are refusing to stop sprinting a mile a minute. Your leg is sore from the bouncing it’s been doing for the last twenty minutes. And all you can think is: I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to go home. I’ve got to go home. Which really translates to, I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get out of here.

You start to head down the hallway to the locker room, trying to keep your hand from shaking by rubbing it up and down your leg, but, you get a quarter of the way down, just to the door of the weight room, and you feel sick like you’re going to throw up.

You turn around, and head back up to the hallway, alternating between leaning against the cool wall that feels so good against your sweaty, panicky skin, and pacing up and down the hall. Every time you try to take a step down that hall towards the locker room, you feel nauseous. So so nauseous.

It’s been half an hour now, and you’re wondering what the heck you’re going to do. You need to go home. You need to. You need to. But you can’t face the locker room that’s so similar to the bathroom you avoided for the last month of middle school.

You don’t know what to do. You’re so close to just going to the weight room and sitting down, not to be creepy, but because you need to be around somebody, anybody. You’re gathering up the courage when all of a sudden, you see a girl you know–someone you knows your story. Someone who, without hesitation, when you asked them to go to the locker room because you’re having a flashback and panic attack, went with you and talked with you for another hour as you tried to calm down.

And that’s how long it takes: another hour. It takes another hour to calm yourself down long enough to drive home, another hour for your heart to stop racing the demons, another hour for you not to feel like you’re going to pass out. Another for you to stop thinking about everything you’ve spent the last nine years trying to forget.

And then you get home and take the hottest shower your skin can stand. And then it takes who knows how many hours to fall asleep because every time you close your eyes, you’re transported back, and all you have this time is a prayer that this time, you’ll fall asleep. And you do.

When you wake up the next morning, you don’t know where you are. You don’t really even remember what happened, until you look at your arm and realize that the fingernail-shaped marks are still there.

The day after the worst panic attack you’ve had in months and the worst one you’ve ever had in public, you go to a wedding. Trying to hide the fact that your hand is shaking from the anxiety you still feel. Trying to hide the fact that you still feel nauseous. You dance the Cha-Cha slide and the Cupid Shuffle, and you walk to your car by yourself at night. Halfway there, when the panic begins to set in again, you look up at the sky, and you see the stars, and you remember that God is there no matter what.

A day-and-a-half after the worst panic attack, you go to Church, still feeling the residual effects: you’re exhausted and anxious and your heart is still pounding. But then God has this way of reminding you that He’s got this. You can climb this mountain.

And now it’s a few minutes past the 48-hour mark, and you’re just starting to return to normal. Your heart isn’t pounding as hard. You’re not as tired. You feel less and less nauseous as the minutes tick on. You no longer feel like the world is caving in around you.

And you’re trying so hard to convince yourself that you’re not crazy–other people feel this way sometimes, too.

Here’s to the ones who try so hard, who are so scared of being vulnerable but do it anyway.

Here’s to being vulnerable because sometimes, being vulnerable, allows others to know your story. And with others knowing your story, they can pick you up and walk alongside you when the going gets tough.

Or, in my case, walk with me to the locker room and spend time with me on a Friday night, instead of with their boyfriend, when it felt like my world was falling apart.

Here’s to the ones who care for the ones who try so hard.

 

 

Celebrating and Grieving: 5 years ago, I was given a second chance

Today I am celebrating, but I’m also grieving. I’m celebrating because five years ago God saved me from myself. I’m grieving because other people are not as lucky as I am.

Many people are not as lucky as I am.

And so I’m torn. I want to celebrate the second chance at life I was given, but I also want to be sensitive to those who are grieving, especially to the family who, one week ago, lost a brother, nephew, cousin, grandson, son. I’m acutely aware of their pain, and I want to respect it.

But I don’t really know how to celebrate and grieve at the same time. I imagine it’s similar to rejoicing your grandfather’s life while at his funeral. Except it’s not the same thing. One person lived; one person died. I lived; Jake didn’t.

And I don’t know how to explain that. I don’t know why I’m still here and why he’s not. My life isn’t worth more than his, so I don’t know why I drew the “second-chance” card.

I have so many questions and not enough answers—I wish I had more. I can wish things were different, but I don’t know what good that would do.

The only thing I really know how to do right now is say I’m sorry.

I’m sorry. I truly am.

That’s all I can really do. I don’t know the circumstances of Jake’s death, and I don’t really know the family, so I have to be content with knowing that everybody around them is grieving also.

I’m grieving too.

But is it selfish to be celebrating?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But right now, in this moment, I need to be celebrating because depression is unpredictable and destructive.

And I need to celebrate the fact that I’ve lived one more year. When you’re living with depression, every day you wake up is a celebration because our minds are fighting a civil war for control of our bodies: death versus life. And it’s not that we want to die, because we don’t, at least not most of us, not really. We just don’t know if we want to live. At least not like this. It’s like we’re living in this purgatory between living and dying, waiting to decide if we’ll be sentenced to life or death. We feel like we’re stumbling through life–a tumbleweed being blown by the wind–a witness to life, not an active participant.

Depression and other Mental Illnesses cause you to feel as if your world is spinning out of control, a merry-go-round that doesn’t stop.

We’re not crazy. We just feel like the world is too heavy for us. It’s a roller coaster that only goes down. It’s a never-ending tunnel filled with darkness and a thousand tons of dynamite. We’re wandering around in this big world, and we feel so small. We don’t know if we’re ever going to be ‘ok’ again.

And we probably won’t. Because even when we’re happy, we’re always cautious. We know the darkness is just around the corner. It comes in waves, and right now, we might be swimming, but soon we’ll be drowning. And with each wave, it gets harder and harder to get out of bed, to breathe, to think, to have any energy whatsoever.

You have your own opinions on suicide, which is your right. You have yours, and I have mine. I also have my own theories about why some people die young(er than others). But right now, none of those are important.

What is important is trying to understand.

Depression is a battle, and five years ago, I almost lost. I should have lost. But I didn’t, and I wish I knew why.

In the middle of my deepest, darkest moment after swallowing those pills, God called me back here. I still don’t know why.

However, I do know that God knows what’s best even though sometimes what’s best can hurt the worst.

I do know that five years ago, in that moment, my demons were in control of my mind and body. I had to get out. (Imagine a fire consuming your house. You have to get out even if the only way out is by jumping through a window.)

I do know that God knows what He’s doing, and I wish I knew what He is doing, but I can’t pretend to know the inner workings of the omnipotent, omniscient mind of the Almighty.

We can’t always choose whether we live or die. But Jesus did. He chose to die for us so that one day we can be with Him.

We will be with Him.

I don’t know everybody’s circumstances, but I do know mine (and if you’ve read my blog, you do to).

I don’t know why I got a second chance, but I’m trying to make the most of it.

I rejoice in the good days and the bad days because depression is unpredictable and powerful.

I rejoice because I know that whatever happens in this life, God is in control.

Aladdin’s Genie is Free

Robin Williams died today*.

*August 11, 2014.

He was an actor, a comedian, a father.

This is sort of, kind of, but not really, about that.

Preliminary reports indicate that he killed himself; he had been battling major depression (and Bipolar disorder) as of late.

This is about that: Mental illness.

Statistics show that 1 in 4 people suffer from some sort of mental illness. I, like Williams, suffer from Depression. This blog has told the story of my life as I deal with the everyday happenings brought on by my illness: the triumphs, the failings, the high-points, the low-points. I’m trying to raise awareness for the demons from which I suffer, because I can’t fight on my own.

We cannot fight on our own.

People like me need a support system: a group of people who can see past our happy face, people who hear past our jokes, people who find the hidden nuances in our “I’m fines.” People like me don’t want to be seen as weak.

We’re not weak; we’re strong.

Mental illness is hard to understand if you don’t know what it’s like to have one. I’m going to put it as simply as I can:

Our minds are fighting a civil war for control of our bodies: death versus life. And it’s not that we want to die, because we don’t, at least not most of us, not really. We just don’t know if we want to live. At least not like this. It’s like we’re living in this purgatory between living and dying, waiting to decide if we’ll be sentenced to life or death. We feel like we’re stumbling through life–a tumbleweed being blown by the wind–a witness to life, not an active participant.

A few weeks ago, my sister switched the placement of a few apps on my iPhone. I freaked the heck out. I had a mini Mental breakdown.

To her, it wasn’t a big deal.

To me, it was.

Depression and other Mental Illnesses cause you to feel as if your world is spinning out of control, a merry-go-round that doesn’t stop. And when we can’t control the big things, we try to control the little things. For me, that means my apps have to be in a certain order; my socks have to match my outfit. For others, it means they count each calorie that goes into their body. For still others, they turn to drugs or self-harm to try and control and numb the pain they feel.

We’re not crazy. We just feel like the world is too heavy for us. It’s a roller coaster that only goes down. It’s a never-ending tunnel filled with darkness and a thousand tons of dynamite. We’re wandering around in this big world, and we feel so small. We don’t know if we’re ever going to be ‘ok’ again.

And we probably won’t. Because even when we’re happy, we’re always cautious. We know the darkness is just around the corner. It comes in waves, and right now, we might be swimming, but soon we’ll be drowning. And with each wave, it gets harder and harder to get out of bed, to breathe, to think, to have any energy whatsoever.

I’m exhausted. I could stay in bed for 100 years and still be exhausted. The floor is lava, and I can’t get out of bed. But, I’m not crazy.

I have an illness. And there are millions of people just like me.

Just like Robin.

We’re your neighbors, your relatives, your friends, your classmates, your worst enemies. (But even I wouldn’t wish this feeling on my worst enemy.)

Everybody in this world is hiding something. Even the funniest people can be suffering from Depression.

Mental illness is not a joke.

Mental illness is a battle. It’s a fight every single day. Some of us survive; some of us do not.

I almost didn’t.

I don’t think suicide is selfish, because I’ve been to that point where it feels like the only option. Suicide isn’t selfish because we think about everyone and everything.

Committing suicide isn’t a sign of weakness, because the strongest people in the world can only be strong for so long.

I don’t care if you think suicide is a sin or not. This isn’t the time or the place to discuss it.

Suicide is what happens when the pain you’re enduring is exponentially greater than the strength you have left; some of us run out of strength sooner than others.

Our sicknesses are as big a part of us as our blood and our bones. It’s not all we are, but it’s an inexorable part. Some of us accept that, and some of us can’t. By which I mean, some of us learn to live with our illness, and some of us only learn how to die with it. But either way, we hold on for as long as we can.

So, yes. Robin Williams was a fantastic actor and stand-up comic. But he was also a man who had an illness and just needed room to breathe. And I understand that, because I’ve been there before, and maybe someday I’ll be there again.

And even though I don’t know exactly what Robin Williams was going through, I can understand. I hope wherever he is that he is happy; he’s pain free; he can breathe again. He suffered long enough.

He was fighting demons and just wanted to be free.

Aladdin used his last wish to set the genie free.

He’s free.

He’s free.

He’s free.

One day, we’ll all be free: free from the stigma, free from the pain, free from this world.

Here’s to the ones who survive, and here’s to the ones who didn’t.

And here’s to Robin:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”- Dead Poets Society

Thank you for contributing your verse.

Thank you for the laughs. Thank you for your movies that have changed so many people’s lives. Thank you for the tears, for reminding everybody that we’re still alive.  Thank you for showing everybody that words and ideas change the world. Thank you for everything.

(If you are someone you know is suffering from depression/is at a risk for suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline at: 1-800-273-8255)

Is Happiness Inherited?: The Fault in Our Happy Gene

When was the first moment you realized you were different? Was it in 6th grade when you cried so hard about going to school, you made yourself sick, and your dad let you stay home because giving up was easier than fighting? Was it in Kindergarten when your teacher called your parents asking if you had an ‘attitude problem,’ and your parents had to respond that, no, you did not have an attitude problem, you just didn’t like to talk?

I’ve always thought I was depressed because I was sexually assaulted, but now I think that maybe I’ve always been depressed in a way. Having something to blame it on is easier than admitting we have a fault in our genes. Are we born depressed? Is there a fault in our ‘happiness Gene’ that makes us predisposed to Depression? Or, do we somehow grow to be depressed along the way?

When I was in Elementary school, my parents sent me to a counselor because I didn’t talk to people, not even my relatives. Before my 1st sister was born, while I was the only grandchild on my Mother’s side, I would point to what I wanted; if I wanted milk, I would grab someone’s hand, drag them to the kitchen, and point. I knew how to talk; I just didn’t. My parents taught me sign language so I could communicate from my High Chair: ‘more, food, drink, down, please.’

After Sister 1, and especially after Sister 2, I started talking a little, but I still didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted. I would set up a Board game on my Grandparents’ table and just sit there, waiting for someone to ask if I wanted to play a game. And then I would nod, and all would be right with the world.

So my parents and my doctor sent me to a counselor to help me out of my shell. But the thing is, I liked my shell: it kept me safe; it was my own personal sanctuary of the mind, where I could be some where else, and be someone else, and I didn’t have to deal with being me. I know other kids didn’t like me much, but did I ever like me much? Was I just super shy, or was I unsatisfied with myself? Did I not talk because I didn’t want to, or because I felt as though I wasn’t important enough, as if my thoughts weren’t valuable enough to be vocalized?

Because sometimes I feel that way now. There are so many things I want to tell people, things I’m thinking, opinions I have, but I keep them to myself. And I think, I think… I do this for two reasons: 1. I know I talk too fast and am hard to understand. It’s easier to remain silent than for me to have to repeat myself. I saw a speech therapist for a while; it didn’t really help. 2. I think I’m scared of rejection. Not the “No, I won’t go out with you” Rejection either. I’m terrified of the “Your Thoughts Aren’t Valuable” type of rejection.

Sometimes, I don’t think my thoughts are valuable, which is why I write. There’s no awkward silences, no unnecessary “ummmms…” while I try to figure out the exact right words for what I’m trying to say. When I write my thoughts, I don’t have to share until they’re perfect. When I speak, I’m not assertive; I don’t know how to make people listen. I’ve never been good at standing up for myself (but I’m getting better). When I write, it doesn’t matter because the people who are reading are the ones who want to.

So back to the question, “Are we born depressed and somehow grow into it along the way, or do we wake up one day and realize we can’t get out of bed?” Was born depressed? Did wake up one morning and decide I wasn’t beautiful? Or have I never felt comfortable in my own skin? I’ve always enjoyed playing dress-up. Did become depressed all at once, or have I become depressed slowly over my life? Because if I was born with a fault in my happy gene, that would explain a lot.

Like why I read so much as a child, choosing to read rather than engaging with the world around me. I’d get five books out of the library and have them all read by the next night. Reading is an escape for so many, and I was no exception. I would be the characters in those books. I’d be going on their adventures, and for a little while, I wouldn’t be me.

It would also explain why I didn’t talk, why I didn’t let people get to know me, why sometimes I still don’t–there wasn’t/isn’t anything worth getting to know.

It would explain the way I’ve always dealt with anxiety: picking at scabs until they bleed, turning a bug bite into a scab–self-harm before I knew what self-harm is. I remember one time when I was little, and my anxiety had gotten a little out of hand. My mom walked into my room at midnight because my light was on, and I was crying. I had 7 bleeding scabs that night, and all I could do was mumble, “I need help.” I need help. Three words I never uttered before, because I was too ashamed to admit I needed help. I used to always try so hard to be perfect.

(Those 7 bleeding scabs and the 3 words that followed are why I think I live my life at a 7.) Eventually, I started cutting and then stopped. Eventually, I stopped eating and then started again. But I haven’t quite learned how to stop picking, picking my scabs as the nagging voices of my anxiety are picking away at my self-esteem. It’s like an old, itchy sweater of bad habits that was once too big and is now too small to take off.

One day I’ll figure out how to stop this, too, but it’s like a security blanket for my anxiety; it’s how my Dad knows I’m in over my head and can’t handle Finals Week. I’ve been finding I do it less, which must mean I’m learning how to deal with my feelings.

I wish I could blame my Depression on my past situations, because placing blame is always easier than accepting the fact that we have a character flaw because of a fault in our genes. But I don’t think there’s blame to be placed. I thought about disappearing many times when I was little, years before I attempted suicide. I’ve never felt ‘normal.’ I don’t even think I’d recognize Normal if he ran into me at Starbucks, causing me to spill my coffee all over his jeans and t-shirt. I don’t think I’d recognize Normal if he was the hottest guy on my college campus.

So was I born depressed and felt it slowly and then all at once? Or did it happen all of a sudden? I don’t know. But I do know that normal is overrated. Normal makes life boring. And I’m beginning to accept and love myself: Depression, Flaws, and all.

Just Keep Swimming

Disclaimer: this post is a post I’ve been mulling over for a few weeks now. I’ve been trying to figure out the way to treat this subject with the sensitivity it deserves, because yes, I can be open and candid about it, but for some people it’s just not easy. The wounds are too fresh. I’m showing you my cards here. I’m wiping off my poker face. I’m putting it all on the table. This post, like so many others, is about suicide. And I need, no, I want, you guys to know that before you keep reading. Because I understand that some of your wounds are fresh, but I also know that sometimes talking about can speed up the healing process. I also know that sometimes talking about it can make it worse. So, if the latter is the case, stop reading. I don’t want to make your burden heavier than it already is. Make yourself a cup of tea and go to your happy place. If the former is the case, make yourself a cup of tea and read this post. Either way, I want you all to know that you are loved, and there are people out there who understand your pain, who will be willing to help carry your burden.

 

It’s been 4 years, 1 month, and 1 day since I attempted suicide. I survived. Yet, so many others do not.

I’m not going to give you statistics, because if you want to know, you can look up the numbers on your own. I’m not going to give you statistics, because this isn’t speech class where I need numbers to convince my audience to agree with me. It’s not that I don’t have facts, because I do.

Fact: Suicide is a moment.

Fact: Depression is a race.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that there are people who love them.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you. If you stop and rest, it begins to grow on you.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that there are people who love them. Because all of sudden, life hits them in the chest, and they realize this sadness will never go away.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you. If you stop and rest, it begins to grow on you. It’s like a vine that blocks out the sun, a python strangling the joy out of you, and rust that corrodes the bones.

Fact: Suicide is a moment. A moment when someone decides they are tired of running. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that there are people who love them. Because all of a sudden, life hits them in the chest, and they realize this sadness will never go away. And they dare themselves to do it.

Fact: Depression is a race, and if you stop running for even a second, it catches you. If you stop and rest, it begins to grow on you. It’s like a vine that blocks out the sun, a python strangling the joy out of you, and rust that corrodes the bones. And it’s so easy it sit there and let it consume you, because it whispers to you of an eternal sleep.

Fact: Life is made up of moments.

Fact: Life is a race.

When I am up high, I get scared. Because I’m telling myself, I could really do this. I could. But then, when I think these thoughts, I think of how great it would be to fall in love, how great it would be to travel the world. And I return back to normal. But I hold on to the moment and the thought of what it would be like to travel through the air. And I know I’ll probably never take myself up on the dare again, but the memory gives me a comfort that the day is mine to choose. Because the memory of how I felt in that moment when I swallowed those pills is tucked away in my brain like a sour candy stored in my cheek. I don’t like sour candy.

Some people do.

Some people take themselves up on the dare, because they don’t see how life can get any better. And I can understand why, because sometimes I’m tired of running, which is usually 2.5 minutes after I begin, because I have asthma.

Some people take themselves up on the dare, and they leave their families behind. And their families are left picking up the pieces and are trying to make them fit. But like a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece, it will never be the same.

And we can’t save everybody, but we should certainly try.

Because I know first-hand how devastating a suicide can be. My mother lost a cousin to it, and my dad did too. And they almost lost a daughter.

And in the last year, my high school has lost two graduates to it, and now the families and friends are wondering why.

I don’t know the reason for other people, but I know mine.

And I think society is talking about it more, which is good, but I think people need to better understand that this is a disease. People like me can’t just snap out of it. Because we can recover for a while, but it will inevitably return, so we live our lives in the moment. The future is scary, and it’s not always guaranteed.

Because it’s all too easy to drown in an ocean of tears, and sometimes we forget we can float in salt water.

 

 

My Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Imagine that you are fighting by yourself in a war against an army that is 7 billion strong. The other army has all the weapons available to them; you, on the other hand, have only a plastic fork and a metal trash can lid to defend you. Clearly, you don’t stand much of a chance. But, you, being the innovative person that you are, use the fork to dig yourself a hole. You jump in the hole, and use the metal trashcan lid to cover the hole and protect yourself from the bombs and bullets that are raining down on you.

This is Depression. The bombs and bullets are life and everything it throws at you. The fork is the voice inside your head telling you to fight like hell to survive—a voice that can be silenced so easily. The metal trashcan lid is your own personal sanctuary, wherever or whatever it may be.” –What doesn’t kill you

This is Depression. This is not the “my dog died and now I’m crying” feeling. This is not the “my boyfriend broke up with me, and now my life is over feeling.” That is sadness. Sadness is normal. Sadness is when things in your life are going wrong. Depression is sadness when everything is going right.

I don’t have trouble admitting this now. But there was a time when I did. There was a time when I would paint a smile on my face every day in order to make myself presentable. There was a time when I would be happy on the outside and a wreck on the inside, and I would try my hardest to hide it. So if you asked someone to describe me, they’d probably say: “sister, daughter, friend, musician, writer.” Which, technically, is true. But, if asked to describe myself, I’d say: “sister, daughter, friend, musician, writer, happy on the outside, sad on the inside, two sides of the same coin that never spin in tandem.”

And clearly I don’t have trouble talking about it anymore, considering most of my posts are about depression (for which I am #sorrynotsorry). But most people don’t, won’t, can’t talk about it, but we need to. Because the fact of the matter is, every thirty seconds, someone in the world takes their own life. And it doesn’t matter who this someone is—your friend, a neighbor, someone two states away, someone an ocean away—a lot of other lives are affected. So the death of these people should matter. But people tend to ask “so what?” People tend to say, “Suicide is sad, but it’s not my problem.”

It could be your problem. One day it could be someone you know. Someone you love. Because 3 and a half years ago, I was 15. 3 and a half years ago, it was my problem. 3 and a half years ago, I sat on my bed like I do every night, but it wasn’t like every night. Because that night, I had written a letter, and I had taken some pills.

And somehow, I am still here today. So that makes me one of the lucky ones. Because when I jumped from the edge of the cliff, ready to test gravity, my parachute opened.

But there are other people who weren’t so lucky. There are other people who lead a seemingly normal life. People who haven’t had bad things happen to them. People who are the top of their class, captain of the football team, well-loved by everybody, who are just like me, whose story begins with 4 simple words: “I suffer from Depression.”

And for a long time my two sides of the same coin were like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The side I showed in public and the side I showed in private were two separate people existing in the same body, but who refused to acknowledge the other existed. Because I wanted to be perfect, and by perfect I mean “socially acceptable,” and I was afraid to show people what was really going on. Beneath my smile was struggle, and beneath my big laugh was bigger pain, and beneath my light was dark. And generally, people are afraid of the dark, and spiders, and clowns. I am too, but for the longest time, I was afraid of myself.

I feared the truth. I feared the pain. I feared being vulnerable. I felt trapped in a dead end tunnel, surrounded by hundreds of tons of dynamite, with only one way out. And I thought about that one way out every day. (somedays I still do, because I think if I looked hard enough, I could find that letter stashed away in my room, and that terrifies me even more). But that’s what this is. That’s what Depression does. That’s the struggle. You don’t beat it once, and it’s gone forever. You have to beat it over and over and over again.

It’s the annoying neighbor who refuses to move. It’s the voice over the loudspeaker you can’t ignore. It’s the feelings you can’t run away from. And eventually you become numb to it. It becomes normal even though none of it is normal. What you fear most isn’t the pain inside of you, it’s the ignorance inside of others (and if ignorance is bliss, then I am in hell). It’s the shame, the embarrassment, the whispers in the hallway, the knowledge that you are not as strong as you think you are, the fact that people believe you are crazy. We don’t want any of these things. That’s why we hold it in, why we hide it, why we refuse to get help. Even though it keeps us in bed every day, even though it keeps us shut off from the world, even though it makes us empty no matter how many times we try to fill ourselves back up, we hide it.

Because we would rather tell the world that we stayed in bed today because our back hurt than tell the world we stay in bed every day because of the oppression of depression. If we break our arm, people will line the streets to sign our casts. If we need an appendectomy, people will come to our bedside to wish us well. But if we have depression, our friends wave “Sayonara, see you later.” If one part of our body fails us, people are encouraging. But once our brain is no longer in our favor, people are discouraging.

Depression is one of the least talked about sicknesses, which is ironic because it’s one of the most documented. People push it under the rug, ignoring the noticeable bump it makes. We all want to heal, but right now Depression is the gaping hole in the heart of society we won’t see a surgeon for. And ignoring it won’t make it go away.

If you’re going through it, remember that you’re ok. And it’s ok to talk about it. Because Depression is ok. And Depression is not an identity. As much as I hate the low places my Depression has brought me, I’m also grateful. I’ve been to the valleys, but I’ve also been to the peaks. And I’ve been through the dark, but I’ve also seen the light. And if there’s one thing my hurt has taught me, it’s taught me how to have hope and faith. Faith in myself, in others, and faith that everything will be ok. And maybe one day, we will all learn to love ourselves. We will learn to love ourselves despite our struggles and despite who society wants us to be.

Because I believe in a world where nobody hides their ugly, because I’ve learned ugly is beautiful. I believe in a world where our ability to overcome obstacles is more highly valued than our ability to dodge them. I believe in a world where we are supportive when someone else is struggling.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s true strength is measured in how far you’ve come. And that we can’t do this alone. We are people, and people aren’t perfect. So let’s stand strong and be perfectly imperfect together.

 

What You Don’t Get to Say to People With Mental Illness

They say to write what you know, and if that’s true, here’s what you don’t get to say to us.

1)      Snap out of it. If I could snap out of it, I wouldn’t be here right now in this moment. Yes, I know everyone feels sadness at some point in their life, but in my case “at some point in their life” translates to “every freakin’ day,” or a hopeless pit of despair where it’s so dark, I’ve forgotten what light looks like. And I know everyone feels anxious, but that’s not the same as having an anxiety attack, which is best described as: “a terrifying lightning storm of despair, self-hatred, and the absolute certainty of my immediate death.”

 

2)      You don’t look depressed or conversely, you look depressed. Thank you, really I appreciate it. Thank you for letting me know I can’t be sad, because I don’t look sad. Conversely, thank you for letting me know you can see my sadness. I appreciate knowing that it must be real now.

 

 

3)      You must have asked for it somehow, or you must have done something wrong to be depressed. I asked for a pony, but all I got was this lousy feeling of impending doom. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

 

4)      What’s wrong?  I don’t know what’s wrong. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be here, right now, in this moment. Yes, it’s true that a particular event sparked what would eventually become known as Depression, but right here, right now, in this moment, everything’s wrong and nothing’s wrong, and I’m still trying to figure out how that can be. (You can ask me what’s wrong, but don’t expect a coherent answer).

 

 

5)      Stop focusing on the bad stuff. Thanks, now I feel horrible about myself, because I’ve tried this many times. I’ve listed out all the good stuff about life, but it hasn’t worked so far. And right now, I’m not feeling very hopeful, because the Evening News begins with “Good Evening,” and then proceeds to list off all the reasons why it isn’t. And yes, they usually conclude with a little “bright spot” showing that there is in fact light at the end of the tunnel, but this tunnel isn’t getting any smaller, and I’m not getting any closer, and really, right now, the light bulb is rather dim. I think it needs to be changed. And you know it’s bad when a listed side effect of anti-depressants is: increased suicidal thoughts. I’m sorry, but isn’t that why we started taking this little happy pill to begin with: to make us just happy enough so we weren’t thinking about suicide all the time?

 

6)      Just pray about it. I have witnessed the power of prayer, but prayer can’t fix everything, and you’re making me believe that I don’t have enough faith. Are you implying that the way I feel somehow equates to my lack of faith? Because if so, let me explain to you that my faith is quite intact. Because it takes a lot of faith for me to get out of bed in the morning, to believe that the ground won’t fail beneath my feet. I have enough faith for the both of us.

 

7)      Being busy will help distract you. Ignoring an issue, doesn’t make it go away. I’ve discovered this when I ignore homework.

 

8)      Sleeping all the time isn’t healthy. Maybe not, but it’s the only escape I get from my feelings. If I could sleep for a week straight, I would. Because sometimes I have too much pain to be awake for. Sleeping is like death, without the commitment, because I know one day, I will be temporarily happy, and I want to be awake to see it.

 

9)      You’re doing this for attention. This is literally the worst thing to do for attention. If I wanted attention, I would wear a clown costume as I was riding a unicycle while juggling. It’s much easier. And that way, the stares and whispers would be because of something good.

 

10)   I understand. No you don’t. The only way you’d understand is if you have the same feelings I do.

 

Instead of saying those, try doing these instead:

1)      Sincerely listening to what we have to say. Let us vent. It’s healthy for both parties involved, because when you need someone to vent to, I’ll be there.

 

2)      Talk to us like we are normal people. Treating us like we are different is no good. Invite us to do things. We are the same person we were before, but we are just dealing with an issue less visible than a broken arm. We are not broken.

 

3)      Tell us that you still love us, and that you support us.

 

4)      Learn about the problem we are dealing with. Talk to other people you know who are struggling so you know better how to help us.

 

5)      Ask us what we need or how you can help. Even if that means sitting next to us so we are not alone.

 

 

Remember: You cannot cure us, but you can help make our lives more enjoyable.

 

see also: “What Doesn’t Kill You”  “You’re Better Off Dead