Sunday, September 15, 2013

Suicide Gets a Bad Rap

This post was originally written on 9/15/2013.  I am writing an update today, 8/12/2014.  Scroll to the bottom for my new thoughts. 

Last week was Suicide Prevention Week and, true to form, I'm late to the party.  I knew about the party, I got the invitation, I knew I wanted to go to the party, I had the perfect outfit for the party, but I didn't get around to putting my party pants on (I'm writing this in my underwear) 'til just now.  Please forgive me.

Because, I do have quite a few things to say about suicide, or at least suicidal thoughts (known, clinically, as "suicidal ideation") and how we (society, family, friends, ourselves as individuals) respond. 

Because I can speak from personal experience.  Because I have these thoughts myself.  Yes, have, as in current, as in on-going, as in not-cured. 

But before we get to me, let's first talk generally about how society (strangers, family, friends - those outside of us as individuals) respond to suicide, or suicidal thoughts.  Have you ever noticed the sneaky nomenclature applied to those who have killed themselves, or who are even thinking about killing themselves?

      (Don't do something so/They did something so)..............selfish
      (Don't be a/They were a).................................................coward.
      (Don't take the/They took the)............................easy way out

Now, especially if you start to do it too much (by "it" I mean vocalize suicidal thoughts, or act-and-fail on suicidal thoughts, not actually commit can't commit suicide too much, really, you can only do that that one good time), you run into the danger of being labeled manipulative, and/or crazy and/or just wanting attention

Out of their own pain, desperation, anger, sadness, fear and/or confusion (in this case, an utter inability to relate), society in general and even loved ones of those sad saps considering offing themselves utter some pretty aggressive, hurtful, unhelpful comments and labels.  This, even though they are (often) trying to do nothing but help.  They don't want you to do this thing.  They don't want you to hurt yourself.

Society in general, and family, and friends lain aside, let's consider how another specific, highly influential group responds to suicidal ideation.  Let's talk about how the medical community responds to suicide.  Here, I'll start to get (very) personal.

Oh yes, friends, this shit gets very personal right about here:

In case you don't know, if you ever happen to mention some suicidal brain-happenings within the vicinity of a Medical Professional, your ass is in for some Swift Justice, my friend.  Some Swift fucking Justice.  I use the term "swift justice" not to reference Nancy Grace's failed television program, but because what is going to happen to you, where you are going to be taken, is going to very much feel exactly like prison.  Very much like prison.  I'm going to go ahead and say identical to prison.  Maybe minimum security prison, but prison.  In fact, minimum security prison is kind of more threatening and dangerous than maximum security prison in this case, I think.  When you're crazy, you want security. 

I wanted security.  Instead, I was heavily sedated, stripped of any possible weapons, also my shoes, dressed in thin, mauve-colored pajamas, also slippers, then unceremoniously tossed into a common area full of strangers.  I was fed scrambled egg-product and Tang and cookie-things and Kool-Aid.  I was in constant fear of/for my life and, oddly enough, my (little remaining) sanity.  I was completely silent unless summoned by the Psychiatrist or a nurse, who, despite being professionals and thus supposedly much more capable than I to deal with the mentally ill, still saw fit and prudent to protect themselves behind thick, bullet-proof glass, which is daunting when you yourself have no such protection.  I watched one inmate put her lit cigarette on another inmate's face.  I watched another inmate, barefoot, climb the brick wall to escape.

Someone shat on my toilet. 

What I'm saying to you is that I once upon a time admitted, aloud, that I was Having Thoughts of Killing Myself and what I got in response was mauve pajamas and shit on my toilet. 

What I'm saying is that the social worker who lead required group meetings had short dark hair and tattoos and was kinda cute, but she pretty much ignored me. 

What I'm saying is that, as sad as it was that she ignored me, it would have been much more disturbing if she had paid me, a psychiatric institution inmate, any attention of the kind that I would've wanted, i.e. amorous attention-feelings. 

After the hospital, as a result of what I guess you could call "follow-up," I saw a variety of psychiatrists and swallowed a variety of pills over a number of years to prevent Going Crazy again.  The result was this:

The picture above shows me when I weighed approximately 236 pounds.  I was teaching high school at the time.  If you don't think that's hell, you haven't been introduced to the fresh, new hell that is Teenagers Who Sense You Have a Weakness.  They smell blood in the water.  The years I spent teaching high school were, for me, almost as bad as being in the psychiatric institution.  It was the psychiatric institution for longer, and with more work. 

Prior to weighing 236 pounds, I used to weigh 100 pounds less than that, topping out at 126 pounds, I believe. 

What happened? 


To be specific, what's called "atypical" anti-psychotics.  They're supposed to be better than the regulars, and I'm sure they are, but, please see above photo. 

I am not fat shaming.  Love your body.  Please, please, fat people, skinny people, whatever-people, love your body.  But whatever you do, love your body enough so that when you

suddenly gain over 100 pounds as the result of taking a psychotropic (or any) medication and the psychiatrist puts you on a diet when you complain to her about the weight gain, and then she asks you if you "really need to have a period?" when you complain to her about not bleeding every month anymore as is your natural cycle, you have the positive regard for yourself and your health to stand up from where you are sitting, look down on the person in question and say,

Thank you, Madam (or Sir), for your services, of which I will no longer be availing myself, as you are clearly a useless twat, and a twit, and completely vile, and utterly incompetent, and how dare you treat me like this, you are lower than the most base amoeba on this earth, in fact that amoeba can float, or grovel, or otherwise exist with a new sense of pride that it is not the worst thing on this earth as long as you, Madam (or Sir), continue to live and breathe.

then walk away, get your wits about you, and find a different doctor.  If you care enough about the other people who might suffer behind you, also write a letter to whatever authority you can find in regards to the treatment negligence to which you have been subjected. 

* Note, some unfortunate, damned souls do truly have to have anti-psychotics, or other highly side-effective drugs in order to survive, and they must suffer the horrible, gut-wrenching side effects of those drugs if they have any hope to live anything close to free of the most crippling aspects of their mental illness.  However, those cases are fewer and farther between than what is currently being diagnosed and prescribed.  For example, did you know that Abilify, a drug now being advertised as an "add-on" to treat depression (you know, the mental illness voted Most Likely to be Suffered By Housewives) is, in fact, an atypical anti-psychotic?  Didn't tell you that in the commercial, did they?  Oh, they list the possible side effects, to be sure, because the FDA made them, but they did leave that one little tidbit out, didn't they?

To be clear, and back to the topic: This, friends, is (still!) how we respond as a society to suicidal ideation, to suicidal thoughts, to suicide.  We respond with threats, with name-calling, with lack of understanding, with fear, with psychiatric institutions, with medications that have Serious Consequences and Side Effects.  We respond by distancing ourselves from "negative energy," from "manipulative" people.  (Which, honestly, is all well and good.  If you're overly sensitive to a particular nut in your life, sometimes you have to distance yourself to keep from jumping off the bridge or noosin' it up yourself.  I understand. But anyway...) This is how we respond to some of the most fragile people in our lives, to some of the people at most immediate and highest risk of death. 

Is it any wonder that those walking around with suicidal thoughts don't speak up?

Now, please allow me to get very personal, and very recent. 

Because, at the beginning of this post, I noted that I have these thoughts myself.  I used the present tense in my statement.  I used the present tense because I still, presently, as in within the last year, the last month, struggle on and off with suicidal thoughts. 

I don't know that I will ever be completely cured of depression or of having suicidal thoughts to the point that I will never have them again.  I've come to realize that depression cannot be completely cured, completely eradicated for sure for the rest of your life.  If you are someone who has had depression, I think it's something you have to deal with as it comes up, as you see it sneaking around the corner, for the rest of your life.  I think it's a chronic illness.  Sometimes it goes into remission, but sometimes it flares up. 

I think you kinda have to deal with depression in much the same way that an alcoholic deals with alcoholism - never believing that it is cured, because the second you believe it is cured is the second you are at risk of succumbing to it once more.  You have to admit to a higher power and/or friend that you struggle with depression, rely on them and hope/ask that they keep an extra, caring eye on you.  If you act like an asshole because of your depression, you have to go to your higher power and/or friends and tell them and make amends.  Not excuse, not amenities, but amends. 

Of course, you don't have to do any of this.  It is recommended, by me, but you don't have to at all.  You can sit in your hole and rot.  Consider what I did, just last month.....

Last month, I had a really rotten month, during which I experienced much depression and many suicidal thoughts, and I didn't tell anyone.  There was just all kinds of shit, from small, usual shit like fur balls, to frustrating shit like my cell phone not working due to something with a big tower piece-of-shit (I don't know, I don't understand technology shit), to random the-universe-hates-me shit like knocking the back of my head on the soap dish shit, to bird shit (or is it?) on my car shit,

Major shit.  Did this poor bird have diarrhea??

to having to clean up stranger's vomit shit, to failing at making shitty-ass Jello shit (it somehow arrived at an unpleasant combination of gummy bear consistency at the bottom, and oozy consistency at the top), to PMS shit is The Place You Need to Go

to dealing with shit-head members of the shit public at work shit, to the final, most shitty shit of all: spending my birthday entirely alone.  I did receive posts on Facebook, and a birthday card from my mother, and my insurance company, and the chiropractor I last saw two years ago, and a couple phone calls.  But not one living person looked me in the eyes on my birthday and told me that they were glad I had been born. 

Now, I know that the events and hurts I have listed here all fall under "First World Problems," a popular phrase used to name (shame?), and illuminate things that, when taken within the context of all the evil, horrendous stuff going on in the world, really don't amount to much. 

I understand and appreciate that, on my birthday, I wasn't living under a bridge or fighting in a civil war.  I was simply alone.  

Here's another reaction to depression/suicidal thoughts, though, and an explanation as to why it isn't effective, if you care that it isn't effective: 

Comparing someone's emotional state to someone else's physical state or circumstance, thusly,

That guy doesn't have any arms OR legs, and he has such a positive attitude!

Hey, at least you have FOOD, at least you're not being pimped out on the STREET!


1) in effect, comparing apples and oranges.  It is just the same as telling someone who has diabetes to suck it up because at least they don't have asthma.  Or hey, telling someone who has diabetes to suck it up because at least they don't have depression.  How did that feel?  Not so great?  Yeah. 

2) guilt-inducing, which, if you happen to know even the tiniest bit about depression and/or suicidal thoughts, you know that MORE guilt is not a good ingredient to add into the mix IF you don't want the person to pull the trigger on their own death.  As a result of the "Others have it worse" comment, the depressed suicide-contemplator now thinks, "Hey, not only do I suck and feel bad, but I don't even have the right to feel bad, which makes me feel even worse, and makes that firearm over there look even shinier and better and more perfect." 

3) a confirmation that the world sucks, and is full of horrible accidents and evil war lords, and is no place to live.  Self-explanatory, this one. 

People who have worked up the courage to express the fact that they have been and/or are thinking about suicide KNOW that they are dropping the social equivalent of an atomic bomb. 

Because talking about your own suicidal thoughts IS the social equivalent of an atomic bomb.  It can obliterate all your friends, or maybe even just one of them, or it can result in heartfelt but nonetheless pat, obligatory, minimum-level responses a la The Private Facebook Message (not helpful for suicidal thoughts, I hate to tell you, unless it is VERY specific, with absolutely no clichés, and/or you live over 200 miles away from the Suicidal Person in question), or it can send them all (or some) running towards you with SO MUCH ENERGY, even if it is well-intentioned, that it is EQUALLY as overwhelming and guilt-inducing and hard to deal with as the suicidal thoughts themselves.

So, I didn't tell anyone about my suicidal thoughts last month because of all these reasons and because it was silly and because I knew (hoped) it would pass, and because I highly suspected that it had a lot to do also with my menstrual cycle, which is so embarrassing, it's like I'm a walking tampon commercial.

I don't even wear tampons.  Think about it.  Sit down one day and think about how your vagina might feel about tampons. 

What I did do was take my last few dollars and buy myself a slice of cake from the local diner.  I also bought some birthday candles.  I stuck one candle in my one slice of cake, lit it, and just before I blew it out, I made not so much a wish as I did a declaration and promise to myself that, next year, someone, a person who was physically present, not a hologram, would look me in the eyes and tell me that they were glad I was born.  I would work on creating a life that meant that I had friends around me who loved me and enjoyed me and would find out and would show up.  I wouldn't isolate myself so much.  I wouldn't be afraid to reach out for: friends, opportunities, jobs, adventures. 

I wouldn't hide myself away like a tampon, even if I felt like one.   Or at least, I would tell someone "Hey!  I feel like a tampon right now.  And it's my birthday." 

Anyway, moving on, and in conclusion, I have a few more links and resources for you if you are like me and having/have had Suicidal Thoughts Related or Not Related to Tampons:

This blog is the Numero Uno Best Depression Describer of What It is Like To Have Depression

This is a link to a webpage that I couldn't read all of it because of my low attention span, but it linked me to some comics that made me laugh in the middle of Tampon Suicide Depression.

This is a link to a Very Good Poem that I would like to explicate as to how it addresses Life and Depression and Suicide, but I don't have the time now, it's going on 5 o'clock and I'm still in only my underwear, but please read it, you can trust me, I'm a poet.

And this.  Careful:  It's Notorious B.I.G.


It's almost one year since I've written this post, and as my birthday is coming up, I've been thinking about this post, specifically all the promises I made to be a more open person, my private hopes to have an improved life with friends, a social life, maybe a better job, progress made toward my hopes and dreams of success as a poet.  Well, guess what?  About two months after I wrote this original post, coming up on last year's holiday season, I caught a cold, which led to a major flare of my dysautonomia symptoms, which led to repeated visits to emergency rooms, which led to massive amounts of anxiety, which led to a bit of a melt down and, long story short, I now live in a one bedroom apartment with my mother in a different city and sleep on a couch and don't have a job, even a shitty part time job.  I'm out of touch with, or in very infrequent long-distance touch people I was in greater touch with this time last year.  I'm pretty much a social recluse.  I get tired -- fatigued in a way that is oppressive, like a shawl that's too heavy -- when I venture out to drive a few miles to the library.  I have a large, looming stack of medical bills. 

And yesterday Robin Williams killed himself.

The media-internet is freaking out with news of his death, and memorials are largely focusing on his humor, his joy, his sweetness, his huge humanity.

As it should be.

And I realize, again, how hard depression is.  A necessary reminder, even for someone who suffers from it.  I realize, again (again, again, again), how even a man who has specials on HBO where people come to listen to him be funny, who does USA tours, who stars in movies both comedic and dramatic, who had a wife who considered him her best friend and children and friends, even someone so grand could succumb to this horrible, horrible, complex illness that is often comorbid with anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorders, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, substance abuse and many, many other invisible illnesses. 

And it makes me wonder: what's the use?  And it makes me think: you've got to fight harder.  It makes me want to taste - not a bit of what Robin Williams had, but of what he gave.

So that whatever I leave behind, however I leave, will be loved. 

I've been beating myself up that I'm not in a better situation than I was last year, that in fact things seem to have gotten worse.  I've been embarrassed about that. 

I had the pleasure of listening to and actually catching and holding a life-changing piece of information from a brilliant teacher once. It's stuck with me - some sort of miracle because jokes, names, addresses filter through me like thin noodles through a over-sized colander.  While I was in my MFA program at Queens, Pinckney Benedict told us that the people who die from choking are the ones who get up from the table and rush to the bathroom, embarrassed. 

There's no one there, where they're hiding, to help them.

It's so important not to be embarrassed.  It's so important to open up and speak.

And speaking up's no guarantee of help. Let's be clear about this. Therapists are fallible.  Medications don't always work, and/or can make it worse. 

But speaking up is a first step.

I do that with this blog.  I hope it helps others do the same.  Honestly, I hope - selfishly - that it helps me.

That's what I'm here for.  To open up, to speak up, to help myself and others. 

Good bye, Robin Williams.  You did a lot.  You did enough?  Never.  None of us can do enough, live enough, give enough, ever.  But it sure does sometimes feel that way.  I wish you rest.  I wish the rest of us here continued life, and living, and giving, and helping. 


ButchCountry said...

I read and understood everything you posted, not only understood but relate to the post, I still struggle with suicidal thoughts, only thing that stops me is the 12 year old boy that I call Son, I take 2 meds to get through life, Mertazapine and Rispiridol (spelling optional) they keep me from climbing the bell tower or hiding behind the grassy knoll but they don't stop the urge to end it all, the last thing I want is another trip to the loony bin so I stay low key and keep my thoughts to myself. anyway, I am glad you are on this earth, perhaps you were destined to write about the subject, either way, glad your here, kinda like a kindred spirit in some way.


Amber said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my massively long post, and then still having the energy to respond! It means a lot to me. And I'm glad you are on this earth, too!

Amber said...

P.S. - I was on Risperdal, too! I was on that before Seroquel, then I went to Zyprexa, then back to Seroquel. I'm not on any medication now, can't afford it, and don't know that I would even if I could. The side effects really are something else. Anyway, again, I'm glad you're hanging in there.

Katie said...

Amber, you are the bravest person I know. I admire your honesty. I love you and consider myself lucky to have you in my life.

Amber said...

I love YOU Katie! I love your face!

Miss Riot said...

After reading this, I'm pretty sure we should be best friends. You just described my life to a T. Last night I spent over an hour crying on the bathroom floor and wailing like a banshee and thinking about doing very bad things to myself. I walk a fine line between telling the doctor whats going on in order to get the help I need and risking getting committed again. Amazing post. Totally relatable for me. So glad i read it.

Amber said...

Miss Riot,

Once I was thinking about suicide, and then I thought, "But I can't kill myself because then everyone will know what a melodramatic, sad, high-maintenance emotional wreck I am." And then I laughed and laughed and laughed instead of killing myself.