What I Wish I Could Say

Preface: I’ve been trying to write these thoughts down for a while now, but often times the hardest part of being a writer is trying to figure out how to best tell the story. And I don’t know if this is the best way to tell this story; I don’t know that there ever is a “best way” because, in the search for perfection, we all fall short. I’m telling it anyway because I have to. It’s a compulsion of mine: I want to be heard, and maybe with being heard I can give a voice to those who feel like they don’t have one. Depression, anxiety, and mental illnesses in general steal so much, and sometimes they steal our voices. And I refuse to let them steal mine. What is below are bits and pieces from conversations I have had with my therapist over the last few weeks, clipped together in a way that’s orderly and coherent–unlike what’s going on in my head, unlike my conversations with her. Therapy is wonderful on so many levels: it’s made me more observant of my own behaviors, allowed space for me to be self-reflective, to ask the tough questions. But it’s also made me feel worse because now I’m talking about what I’m feeling and the thoughts in my head instead of just ignoring them. And maybe, by sharing this, it will help someone else.

I went out and looked at the stars last night: climbing out of bed at one in the morning, a blanket wrapped around me as tightly as possible, tiptoeing down the stairs, trying to avoid the squeaky spots, opening and closing the kitchen door as quietly as possible to avoid detection. I do this a lot: look at the stars, especially when I’m panicky, anxious, on edge. There’s a beauty about them, illuminating the sky to make it appears as though it’s 50 different shades of grey as they dance around the wispy clouds. Unfortunately, there’s too much light pollution where I live to get the full effect of their beauty, but it’s enough.

I do a lot of the other thing too: tiptoeing around, walking as close to walls as possible to avoid detection, making myself smaller–hoping to take up less space both physically and metaphorically. Maybe if I pretend I’m invisible, I’ll actually become invisible; invalidating myself and my feelings to hopefully leave fewer footprints behind.

It’s not that I don’t want to make an impact on the world. I do. But there’s this constant fear in the back of my head that I won’t make it out of this cycle; I’ve been down this spiral so many times, and maybe this is the time I won’t make it back up. So, maybe, if I pull away, stop talking to people, stop letting people in, they won’t be affected by my absence as much. Erasing myself from their lives because it’s harder to miss someone if they never existed in the first place.

I feel like people have given up on me–we can’t fix what’s going on, so we might as well not bother doing anything. Even though there are so many things people can do if they just ask the right question: what do you need?

But maybe it’s not other people who have given up on me; maybe it’s me who has given up on myself.

I’ve been broken for so long, been trying to pick up the pieces, and I keep dropping them. Maybe I think there’s no hope left for me because I’ve felt hopeless for so long. Because the anxiety and the depression keep coming back, and every time they come back, they become harder and harder to beat. And I’ve written so many suicide notes over the last four months, I’ve lost track. And I’m trying my hardest to stay alive; I’m doing all I can–going to the store, having coffee with friends, writing as much as I can, leaving my house, going to the gym–but this unbridled panic won’t go away. I can’t leave my house without my anxiety shooting sky high, can’t go to the gym or the store without having a panic attack, can’t have a panic attack without it being accompanied by suicidal urges.

But the point is that you’re trying to stay alive. Your sense of self-preservation is kicking in. 

But what if my self-preservation isn’t enough to stop the thoughts in my head from taking over? Like I can eat food and not self-harm and go to the gym, but what’s the point if I can barely make it through a workout without feeling like the world’s going to collapse around me? What’s the point if I don’t feel safe anywhere, not even in my own home or my own head? If I feel this hopeless right now when I’m doing everything right, what happens when something goes wrong?

You handle that when you get to that. One step at a time. 

My favorite mixed idiom to use is: I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it. My brain has always raced to the finish, trying to think up every possible “what if” that could ever happen, trying to solve problems that probably won’t ever happen. I talk myself out of doing more things than I talk myself into doing. But the point is: I don’t feel safe. And maybe I should have given up a long time ago.

But you didn’t. You reached out. You got help. You checked yourself into the ER the last time you felt suicidal.

It wasn’t the last time. It wasn’t even the worst time recently. I’ve thought about checking myself in again. There have been nights, many nights, where I’ve thought I wouldn’t make it through, where I should’ve asked for help, and I didn’t. I don’t want to inconvenience anybody, be a burden to anybody, which goes back to the walking as close to the walls as possible, not making eye contact. I don’t want them to see me the way I see myself.

How do you see yourself?

I feel like the worst person in the world. Even though I know it’s not true. I’m afraid to let people in, to tell them what’s going on in my life, the thoughts in my head because I don’t want them to hate me the way I hate myself. Which is ridiculous because I know that what’s going on in my head are lies and that if I keep things to myself, they will eat me alive. But I’m afraid people will give up on me because “I’m too far gone, too broken, not worth enough.”

I think those things about myself all the time, feeding off the lies told to me by the people who broke me. And I feel shame and guilt for thinking those things, for feeling like I deserved what happened to me, that it’s all my fault. Some of the time, I still feel shame and guilt for what happened to me.

I know it’s not my fault, and that nothing gone in my head is rational, but I don’t know how to tell people what I feel without sounding crazy. Maybe I am.

But maybe it’s the world that’s crazy, maybe it’s the world that’s broken, and maybe I just feel that chaos and brokenness more because I’m more sensitive: I feel what people around me feel. So not only do I feel what I’m feeling and my own hurt, but I feel what they’re feeling and carry their hurts with me. And that’s a lot of hurt for one person.

It is a lot of hurt for one person. So how do you deal?

 I don’t deal, not always. I used to block out what I was feeling until I became numb, and then I would self-harm to feel something, anything. Physical pain is easier to fix than emotional pain. And now I write, and sometimes I still self-harm. But I’m learning to deal.

After my dad left the ER, one of the other patients came and sat with me as I slept, not in a creepy way, but in a “We’re all in this together. Pretty girls with sad eyes shouldn’t be alone here.”

But maybe it’s more than pretty girls with sad eyes who shouldn’t be alone. Maybe none of us should be alone. We should know that we have people in our court supporting and encouraging us, praying for us and loving us.

And right now, I’m drowning. Trying to tread water as I keep my head above the waves, but I’m oh so tired. I’m oh so weak.

But you’re recognizing your weaknesses, and you’ve given a name to them.

That’s all any of us can do, really. And right now, I’m having panic attacks and suicidal urges, and I’m feeling hopeless and like I can’t find my way out, and that’s ok. It’s ok to feel these things, to admit that I’m struggling, to admit that my life isn’t perfect. And the only thing I can do is what I’m currently doing: trying to stay alive despite what the thoughts in my head are telling me, despite what I’m feeling.

Because sometimes, when my soul is heavy, when the depression and anxiety are too much, I look at the stars. The same God who painted the night sky in all of its shining glory created me, and that is enough.

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Letter to the One Who Attempted Suicide

Dear (Friend),

To be honest, I’ve thought about what I was going to say in this letter for a while now, and I’m still not quite sure that I have the right words. But that’s the thing about words: context is everything; you take them out of a context they were meant for and place them in another, and they make no sense, or they change the meaning of the new context. If you do this enough times, the words become useless—displacing and relocating until the original meaning is lost. Right now, you’re probably hearing a lot of words from family and friends, some you may be even saying to yourself. Don’t take these words out of context. Your friends and family are probably telling you that they love you. Don’t turn these words into an “I love you but….”

You may be feeling a lot of feelings right along with these words: anger, sadness, shame, maybe even some guilt.

Everything you are feeling right now is valid. Every emotion you have and don’t have is valid. Somedays you might be feeling everything at once, and some days you might be feeling nothing at all—you might not know which one is worse, neither do I.

I don’t know your story. I don’t know what led you to attempt suicide. I don’t know if it was a genetic predisposition, or a single event, or a series of events that culminated in this one cataclysmic moment in your life. Whatever happened, your past is valid. Don’t let anybody tell you different. Don’t let anybody take the pain you might be feeling away from you to assign it to themselves. You are grieving. You are hurting. They, too, may be grieving and hurting, but this is not about them. This is about you. To take the focus away from you is to invalidate the pain you are feeling. Let the emotions roll over you like waves, take them as they come, one at a time. That’s all we can do: focus on one moment at a time.

I’m writing this letter; I’m telling you all of this because I understand. I understand what it’s like to be on the front lines of this very real battle. I understand what it’s like to feel as though giving up is your only option. I understand because seven years ago, I, too, tried to kill myself.

Seven years later, I’m still trying to pick up the pieces of my life. I’m still trying to recover. I’m still wrestling with tough feelings and intrusive thoughts that won’t go away. Sometimes I still wonder why I survived when so many others do not, maybe you’re wondering that too. Maybe you’re wondering what you did to deserve all this pain. I don’t have all the answers. In fact, for every answer I don’t have, I have a million more questions.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned in the last seven years, time goes on. Time goes on, but I still live my life in terms of anniversaries: I focus on how long it’s been since the events in my past because that way I don’t have to focus on the future. The future terrifies me simply because it’s unknown. I live in terms of anniversaries because they’re set in stone. I know what’s happened in my life, but I don’t know what’s going to. And that terrifies me.

I look to the past because it helps me gauge how far I’ve come: I’ve survived x,y,z, and today I did a,b,c.

I don’t know where you are in your healing journey, or even if you have begun healing yet. I am going to tell you that the journey ahead of you is going to be long and hard. I tell you this not to scare you, but to remind you that you are a survivor. You are strong. You can do this. And you need to have faith in something—I don’t know if it’s God, or if you wonder if God’s abandon you. I wondered that too for a long time. For me, the only thing I could believe in for a long time was gravity. I had faith that the ground would stand firm beneath my feet, holding me up when I was too weak to stand. Then, only then, was I able to reclaim my faith in a higher power.

Believe in something. It’s the only way you’re going to get through this.

I’m not going to say that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem because to do so would be to deny the truth that sometimes this pain doesn’t go away. I’m also not going to tell you to stay here because there are people that love you. If love were enough, the world would be different.

I’m telling you that depression will come in cycles—high tides and low tides. Somedays it’ll feel like you’re floating on air, like you’re weightless, you can do anything. Somedays it’ll feel like your chest is collapsing because the weight of the world is too much to bear. Have faith that this too shall pass.

Somedays it might seem that you’re living in at the South Pole, where the sun doesn’t rise for months at a time. But, even there, there are months where the sun doesn’t set. Have faith that in the darkest times, there will be light again. If you ever need to be reminded of this, look outside at the darkest night. Sometimes the only way to see stars is to have darkness.

I am telling you to stay here because right now you are walking through a valley, but when you start climbing up the other side, when you reach the top of the mountain, the view is so beautiful.

I’m telling you to live for the little things. Find what makes you happy and do it. Read, write, dance in the rain, pet every animal you come across, listen to that music, eat that cupcake, go see that animated movie. Sometimes we are so focused on the road ahead of us we forget to live in the moment. Sometimes we are so focused on the here and now we forget that it’s not forever.

I don’t know if this letter has helped or hurt or really if it’s made any sense at all. But I’m going to end with this personal story:

The summer after my freshman year at college, I went to Guatemala with a group of students. One day, we went to a multi-story mall. A smaller group of students and I, while exploring, went to one of the upper levels of the parking garage. As I went and stood next to the barrier and looked around and over to the ground, I thought that I was going to feel the urge to jump. I always had before, which is why I tend to avoid heights. But in that moment, as the sun was beginning to set and the horizon was turning to hazy dusk, I felt this sense of calm and peace rush over me, if only for a moment. That’s how I know I was beginning to heal.

A few days later, we were serving dinner in the Guatemala City dump. A teammate and I climbed onto the top of the bus and looked around. As I looked over the dilapidated, rundown metal shanties in front of me, I caught sight of the mountains in the distance. In that moment, I was reminded that beauty and brokenness can live right alongside each other. Out of brokenness comes beauty.

 

You are beautiful.

Love, your friend,

Kaleigh

 

 

 

Suicide In the Snowy Moonlight

Seven years ago–February 12, 2010–was a day much like today: it was dark, dreary, and cold. Forecasters were calling for snow, and a thin layer of fog blanketed the sky, creating a palpable sense of heaviness and uneasiness. A perfect storm was brewing.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the day I tried to die.

For some people, the thought of someone actively trying to kill themselves is unfathomable–it goes against ever innate response in the human body. Our bodies try so hard to keep us alive, and, most of the time, doctors try to prolong life as long as possible. But sometimes our body’s will to survive can be overpowered by the brain: mind over matter, as some people would say.

For some people, their suicide is carefully planned: the day, the hour, the method are all accounted for; arrangements are made; goodbyes are said. For some people, like me, it’s sudden, unplanned, a split second decision (or lack thereof), a brief moment of your brain saying, “I can’t do this anymore,” a moment where your brain turns off.

Those of you who know me, know my story. Those of you who don’t, reading any of my blog posts will fill you in on the events that lead up to my suicide attempt. This post is not the place.

This post is about the moments right before, during, right after, and years later. This post is me, trying to make sense of everything, seven years later.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about the events leading up to and the moments immediately following my suicide attempt. Trying to recall them is like trying to remember the one movie you saw once a long time ago, and when you try to describe it to your friends you’re like, “You know that one movie with that one scene where such-and-such a thing happens,” and you start to get frustrated because you can see what happened but you can’t quite put it into words. It’s kind of like that. Or it’s kind of like the time you knock yourself out when you go sledding with your Youth Group and get a concussion: you can remember being at the top of the hill and then being back at the top of the hill, but everything in between is kind of fuzzy.

I don’t remember writing the note, swallowing the pills, or even how many I took. I can’t even tell you how long I laid there before I threw the pills back up. Time has a way of being distorted: some moments seem like forever, and some seem like no time at all. It’s like that time I was raped, and it felt like I was lying there for hours, but in reality, it only took fifteen minutes.

I don’t remember how long I laid on my bed. But I remember watching the snow fall outside my window; the moon was bright that night, casting shadows of falling snow on the opposite wall. I remember feeling so heavy and so tired that I closed my eyes. I remember being jolted awake by a quiet whispering voice, like a gentle breeze on a hot summer day. “You’ll be ok.” (if I ever get a tattoo, that will be the one.)

I remember throwing up the pills, shoving the letter I wrote into one of my many notebooks, and then not telling anybody what happened for a while. If I pretended it never happened, maybe I would just forget that it ever did.

But the thing about secrets is that keeping them is so hard–they’re hard to carry.

Eventually, they start bubbling up to the surface, threatening to pour out of your mouth at the wrong times. I remember the first person I told, and then the second. I remember sitting down in the teen room at my church with my Youth Pastor and a youth leader telling my parents, with the snow lightly falling outside.

I remember the look on my parents’ faces; my dad pulling me into a bear hug, squeezing me tight as if he never wanted to let me go.

I remember telling my friends and then my Youth Group (some of the relationships have never been the same but I’ve also made so many new ones). And now I’m sitting here, telling random people on the internet, although if you’re reading this, we can be friends, too.

I remember the years since that day: the good times and the bad. The healing and the step-backs.

For all the things I don’t remember, there are a million things that I do, whether I want to or not.

I have more questions than I have answers: Why did I get a second chance when so many others do not? Why did this happen? What was the point of all this? 

Sometimes the guilt I feel for surviving when so many others do not makes it hard to get out of bed. Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve a second chance; maybe I’ll mess it up, but sometimes, I’m ever so grateful.

It’s been seven years since that night, and I’m trying to make the most of every moment. I have faith that God has a marvelous plan for my future, one that I cannot even begin to comprehend. I try to remember my past because it makes me grateful for the moments I’ve been given, the moments yet to come.

A few years ago, I found the suicide note. I ripped it up and threw it out the car window while I was driving, watching the pieces of who I once was blow around in the wind.

It’s been seven years, and the scar on my wrist (that I don’t remember cutting) from that night is not really a scar anymore. It’s more of a faint line of lighter skin among skin that’s slightly darker: light in the darkness, reminding me of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.

It’s supposed to snow tonight. And I hope there’s a moon. Something about the way that the moonlight reflects off the snow making the night seem brighter than it should be is so beautiful.

I live for the beauty, and I hope the world is more beautiful with me in it because I know it is with you.

 

 

 

 

Black Holes and the Light That Escapes

There’s this idea about Suicide: that it’s a choice; that it’s selfish. I’ve never seen it that way.

We all make choices every day. We choose what clothes to wear; what to eat for breakfast; what route to take to work (depending on if we’re late or not); what to have for dinner; what to fill our evening spare time with; what time to go to bed.

Our body’s natural instinct is life–it fights like hell to keep us alive. It’s the Fight or Flight Response in dangerous situations. It’s why you can’t manually strangle yourself because as soon as you pass out, your lungs will start breathing again.  It’s why our lungs burn after holding our breath for too long as we dive down to the bottom of the pool.

In people like me, who suffer from Depression, or in those who suffer from similar mental illnesses, there is sometimes a disconnect between our body and our minds. Our bodies work so hard to keep us alive while our minds are trying to convince us that death is better.

Depression is like a black hole–so thick and dense and gravity filled that no light, no anything can escape. I have days like that: days when it’s easier to lie in bed, when the weight of the expectations placed on me by myself and others is so heavy I feel like it’s compressing my chest, when the gravity of my past is heavier than my hopes for the future. On days like that, my mind is playing a tug-of-war game with my body. My mind wins for a while, but then my body kicks in–helping me put one foot in front of the other, shoveling food into my mouth, even though I tell myself I don’t deserve it; helping me get dressed, pulling one arm through my shirt and then the other; helping me get out of the house; making me exercise, because even though I don’t want to do it, it’ll help me in the long run; helping me do all the things I enjoy because maybe they’ll make me happy again.

Our bodies try so hard to keep us alive. But on those days where my body is doing all the work and my mind is working so hard against it, I feel like a zombie, like I’m going through the motions. I’m physically present, but not all there–like a stranger me watching myself on TV. My body does all the work while my mind is dead weight.

On the night I attempted suicide, my body was on auto-pilot. It’s like it was tired from fighting my mind every day, it just gave up. The time between going to bed and throwing the pills up is almost a complete blur. I remember bits and pieces: writing the note, swallowing the pills, the voice whispering, “You’ll be ok.” but it’s like I wasn’t in control. I was like a zombie being sucked in by a black hole, doomed to never escape, to be sucked in and pulled apart atom by atom. But then something–God, my inner instinct to survive, whatever you want to call it–kicked in.

Scientists don’t know a lot about black holes.Theoretical physicists posit that they may be able to be used for time travel–that if you can travel through one fast enough that you may be able to travel to the past or maybe even the future.

Some nights when the darkness is bad, I find myself being transported back to that school bathroom. I’m transported back to when I was raped–feeling them touch my body all over again, hearing the words they whispered into my ear Slut, bitch, worthless.  Sometimes I’m transported back, and I’m watching it unfold like it’s not happening to me, but there’s nothing I can do to stop it, which is worse.

The mornings after these dark nights, I look in the mirror and the dark circles under my hollowed out eyes remind me of someone else, who I was years ago when I was too far gone to ask for help.

Dark holes are too dark to be physically seen, but scientists know where they are by the way they affect the space around them.

I know that depression and mental illness is real because of the way it makes me feel: empty, alone, worthless.

On the good days, the intrusive thoughts are hypotheticals: what if I? What if I drove into a tree? What if I jumped from this balcony? What if I swallowed all these pills that fell into my hand? What if I cut myself using this razor? These are the at least I’m still alive days.

On the bad days, the intrusive thoughts are commands: do this. Sometimes they’re dares. Drive into a tree (you won’t). Jump (you won’t). Swallow these pills (it’ll be fun). Cut yourself (it’ll feel good). These are the zombie days.

On the really good days, there are no intrusive thoughts. On the really good days, I am productive and happy and free. These are the few and far between days.

For every one thing scientists know about black holes, there are a million things they don’t know.

My biggest question is: do they end? Or do they just go on forever, ad infinitum, to inifinity and beyond?

I like to imagine that at some point instead of being all black and dense and gravity filled, that they change to light and sparse and zero gravity. And instead of being sucked in and ripped apart, you float and are put back together. Order to the chaos. Restortation to the destruction. Yang to the Yin.

Even if the possibility of that is slim to none, I like to believe it’s true because I know that darkness isn’t all there is.

Because I used to think that my fear of heights was because I was afraid of falling. Then one day I realized it’s because I am afraid of jumping.

And when the intrusive thoughts come back, and I’m tempted to just jump, I’m reminded of the time I went to the mall in Guatemala, and as I looked down from the sixth floor parking structure, I realized that I didn’t want to jump. I live for that feeling again.

I stopped swimming and taking baths because I was afraid of drowning, but I now trust my body to keep me alive.

I know that darkness is just the absence of light, and on my darkest days I look at the stars, because on the darkest, clearest of days, a single candle can be spotted 30 miles away (if the earth was flat).

I have hope that on the other side of black holes, flashes the most spectacular light.

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.

A Mile is Forever

A little over 4.5 years ago, I attempted suicide. I was young, broken, hopeless. There was a stigma attached to Mental Illness and Suicide. We, as a society, have gotten better at talking about it, on addressing it, on treating it. But this stigma is still prevalent, still attached to depression and suicide the way conjoined twins are joined at the hip. 

This has been a hard week. Robin Williams’ suicide has drawn a lot of attention, spurring media coverage and blog posts fueled with speculation and judgement, fact and fiction, horror and sadness. And for people like me, people who are battling depression and suicidal thoughts, this has been an emotional and triggering time. 

We try so hard to fill our lives with happy things, things that will (hopefully) try to help us forget all the pain, sadness, and despair we are feeling. We have to consciously focus our thoughts and energies on keeping us alive: life is no longer about thriving; it’s about surviving. It becomes a race against time, because we’re all going to die someday. But for some of us, the road to death is filled with shortcuts. Life is no longer “How many more years do I have before I reach the average life expectancy?” LIfe is now “How many more times can I pull myself back from the brink before I’m out of strength?”

And we don’t want life to be this way. I firmly believe that life is a gift, and as such, it’s to be enjoyed. For some of us, that’s harder than for others. I would like nothing more than to believe that all people are good, life is always beautiful, nothing will ever hurt, and love will always win. But, I can’t. I’m not that naive. I’ve seen enough news, been through enough pain, experienced enough of life to know that people aren’t always good, life isn’t always beautiful, things will hurt, and love isn’t always enough.

But I still try to enjoy life. Some people are good, and some people are bad. Life is beautiful, and life is ugly. Things will hurt, but some things can heal. Love is powerful and beautiful, and it can win some battles, but it’s not always enough to win the war. Yet, I still want to fall in love, with life, with a person. I want to enjoy life and put 110% into everything I do with what time I have left. I have hopes and dreams. I have great friends, a great family, and a strong relationship with God.

I had all these things 4.5 years ago, too, and it wasn’t enough to stop me from swallowing pills. The love pulling me to earth wasn’t enough to counter-act the need I felt to be free. Love isn’t a fix-all solution. Boy, do I wish it was. It would solve so many problems, and it would have caused my life to play out so much differently. 

If love were the answer, I would have never gotten to my darkest point. I would have never had to force myself to consciously think about what I was doing: using scissors was dangerous, taking medicine was dangerous, walking to the store was dangerous, going up high was dangerous. I discovered it’s all to easy to not think and put yourself in harm’s way. Which is how I ended up taking pills and slicing my wrist. I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing; it wasn’t a choice I made. I stopped thinking for a moment, I momentarily stopped plugging the holes in the dam, the guards stopped forcing the drawbridge close, and the darkness attacked. The flood-gates opened, and every thought of inadequacy, hopelessness, and fear–the very thoughts I had been trying to surpress–came back all at once. 

I was drowning even though I was standing on solid ground, and all I wanted was to breathe again. So I took the pills, and I sliced my wrist. Time seemed to slow down; it was a race agaisnt the clock, and I was running out of time. You’ll be ok. I got up. Threw up the pills. Bandaged my wrist. And continued on with life as if nothing happened.  But it did happen. And I couldn’t pretend that it didn’t. 

It didn’t kill me. And I was angry. I was angry because fighting every thought that comes into your head is exhausting, and no amount of sleep will help fight the tiredness I feel. I was angry because I felt too weak to fight, and I’ve never liked the idea of being tortured. I was angry, but I was also scared.

I was scared that I’d let my guard down again and be back to that place of inescapable hopelessness and darkness. Fear is a powerful motivator, just like love.

If love were the answer, I would have never gotten to my darkest points. But then I would have never gotten to my heights, either. I would have never felt the joy of leading a child in Guatemala to Christ. I would have never felt the relief of breaking the surface of the waves and coming up for air; I’ve learned that no matter how hopeless I feel now, I won’t feel this way forever. I would have never be able to find happiness in the little things; sometimes the little things are the big things.

 

Next week, I start my Senior year of College. I never thought I would make it this far, and I’m terrified. But that’s ok. Because 4.5 years ago, I had one dream. Today, I have another. I’m still young, still healing, and sometimes I still feel hopeless. But I took that step forward, and now I’m looking behind me at all the shattered dreams, shattered hopes, shattered innocence left scattered in my past’s path, and I feel a sense of hope. 

Because, yes, life is still rough. My soul is still fractured to its deepest corners; depression is still my constant companion. And right now, it hurts more than ever because healing means getting up and moving, and sometimes moving hurts more than just lying there. Life is pain, and I’d rather take it standing up than sitting down, moving forward than lying down. 

And I hope you do the same, whatever’s happened in your life. I hope you take comfort in the fact that even on the darkest night, your eyes can still see the flame of a single candle a mile away. Right now, a mile may seem like forever, but I’ve learned that even the smallest steps are progress. 

 

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)

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.

 

 

Normal Day: I attempted suicide 4 years ago

Today’s a normal day: I’m sitting in the library, at my normal table, people watching because that’s how I draw my inspiration, and it may seem counter intuitive, but sometimes watching people and getting caught up in the world I imagine for them is the only way I can get my homework done.

Today’s a normal day. Except, it’s not.

4 years ago, almost to the day, I tried to kill myself. I can remember the time and the place. I can remember it all. And now, I’m sitting in my Campus library, in my normal spot, wondering how on earth I made it this far.

How did I get here?

What am I doing here?

And sometimes I find myself wondering if people make up stories about me like I do them. Do they know who I am? Do they know what I’ve been through? If they do, are they judging me for it?

You see, yesterday, I posted this picture of one of my Facebook statuses on Twitter:

Which is kind of a big deal, because my Facebook friends are people I know, and only people I know can see it. On Twitter, however, that is not the case. It got retweeted by one of my friends, and people who I don’t know favorited it.

I think it’s a good thing, because maybe what I’ve been through can help them even if I haven’t met them?

But are they judging me? Because they don’t know me, and it’s easy to form judgments about people you don’t know.

Because yes, I’ve been sexually assaulted, which has led to me living with depression, attempting suicide, and battling anorexia. And it would be easy for people to judge me.

But what I’ve been through doesn’t define me.

I am so much more than my past.

I’m a Christian whose faith in God has been strengthened by what I’ve been through.

I’m a Survivor who has used what I’ve been through to help others. When I went to Guatemala, I was able to lead a young teenage girl to Christ because I was brave enough to share my story.

I’m a writer and a poet who is writing a book, because I believe in the power of words.

Today is a normal day: I’m sitting at my normal table in the library, studying grammar with my friends, people watching, and making up stories about their lives.

Today is a normal day. 4 years ago, I tried to kill myself. I’ve been waiting for my life to begin, and it’s already begun.

I was living my life when I went to Guatemala, climbed up to the highest floor of a mall parking garage, looked down, and didn’t want to jump.

I was living my life when I wanted to jump to end my life.

I was living my life when I tried to hide my past.

I live my life every day despite how numb I sometimes feel inside, and despite my heart being ripped out of my body through my throat whenever someone says, “You have no reason to be depressed.”

This pain I feel is real, and despite choosing to live after deciding to die, it’s present in my life right now.

So, I’m living my life every day, even though depression sometimes makes my life kind of gray.

Each day is a new shade of gray. 50 shades of gray: depression edition.

Today is a normal day even though big things have happened in my life recently. I’ve found healing and hope and love. The scar on my wrist reminds me of where I’ve been.

Every day, depression threatens to take over my life, because depression doesn’t care that I’m a white teenage girl who lives with her parents, who can afford to go to college. I guess that makes me average.

I just want to be normal. That’s why today is a normal day, despite what happened 4 years ago.

 

The Letter No One Read

We are now 1.49 years into this journey known as my blog. And by now I’m sure you know a lot about me.

In case you don’t know a lot about me: I use humor to hide my pain.

That’s it. That’s all you need to know about me in a nutshell.

But, many of you know the whole, ugly truth about my life. And I’ve talked about many things on this blog–Depression, Sexual Assault, self-harm, my eating disorder–but, there’s one thing I’ve never really talked about. I’ve talked about it briefly in passing, as if it were no big deal. Honestly, it is a big deal. And honestly, I need to talk about it, because I’m on a journey of healing, and you know what they say about healing…

To put it bluntly: 3 and a half years ago, I attempted to commit suicide.

Looking back on it now, I have no idea what led me to that point. I have no recollection of what straw broke the depressive’s back. I can’t remember the days and weeks leading up to this event. But I do remember that dark, dark night.

I remember coming home from Youth Group and thinking, “I can’t do this anymore.” I remember cutting my wrists, crying quietly as the blood dripped from my skin, I remember writing a letter, and when I was done, taking some pills.

And then I remember crawling in bed, waiting to die. I remember hearing a quiet, yet strong voice.

You’re not alone.

3 words. So simple. But they saved my life. (It’s amazing the parallel here. 3 words saved my life. 3 words describe life: it goes on.)

I threw up the pills. I hid the letter no one read, and with it I hid the memories of this night somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind.

That is…

Until last night when I found the letter in a stack of notebooks on my bookcase.

I cried as I read it, because I saw so vividly the night when 15 year-old me decided to write it. And last night I realized how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown, how much I’ve learned.

Dear whoever’s reading this,
If you’re reading this, I’m probably most likely dead. And I bet you wish you knew why. I do too. The truth is, I don’t know. I have no idea, but I feel like I’m drowning. My lungs are filled with water, and they can’t take in air. I’m finding it hard to breathe. And I don’t really know where I am, what I’m doing, where I’m going. I can’t live like this any longer.

I’m not sure you’ll understand. I don’t either. But things have happened to me, and I can’t tell you. I’ve never been one to ask for help, and I can’t start now. Because right now, my pain is too much to lay on you. I’m hurting. I’m bleeding colors I didn’t know existed. I’m crying emotions I shouldn’t feel. I’m so filled with self-hate, I can’t feel anything else. The world is so full of ugly, and all I want to be is beautiful.

I’m fighting a war I shouldn’t be fighting. I’m defending myself from me. My mind is a booby trapped maze filled with hundreds of tons of dynamite. My body is a graveyard for all the battles lost. I’ve tried to fight harder and harder,but it’s exhausting to fight without back-up. It’s exhausting to fight at all. My life is a roller coaster that only spins down. And I can’t live it anymore. They’ve won.

I’ve never been good at goodbyes, so don’t imagine it this way. It’s more of a TTFN–ta ta for now. I’m trying to find happiness some place else other than here, a place where I can’t find peace.

I hope one day you find it too.

Clearly we know how this turned out.

I’m alive.

I’m breathing.

I’m fighting.

My demons haven’t won.

This isn’t for sympathy. I’ve had plenty of that.

It’s for acknowledgement. It’s my “I went off the Deep-end, and I survived” medal. I’ve always been a fast learner, and each experience teaches me something new.

I’ve learned no matter how many times I think I’m drowning, my lungs will always come up for air. I’ve learned life is a normal roller coaster. I’ve seen the valleys. I’ve seen the peaks. I think both are beautiful. I think life is beautiful. And sometimes, a little comedic relief in the form of a Tweet is the best way to deal with pain.

This morning, I burned that letter (metaphorically, of course. I’m no Pyromaniac). I cut it up in little pieces, and I threw it out the window as I drove down the road. And as I looked behind me, I saw little tiny pieces of someone who no longer exists scatter in the wind.

And it was beautiful.