Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Sammy

Today’s piece is written by one of my best friends, Sammy. My friendship with Sammy is the kind where I  can genuinely say we know each other to our cores and I really mean that. I can’t say that about very many other people.

With Sammy (and my other best friend from home, Gina) I feel so lucky. They are two of the only people I have ever met that can truly empathize with my feelings and emotions in their entirety. There is just some sort of unspoken connection we have – I can’t explain it, but I know it’s there. There’s just no other way to describe how well we understand and relate to each other. Without them, I would be lost. Without them, I would literally think I was broken. 

Sammy is always the first person I reach out to when it comes to my blogging ideas. For one, she inspires my creativity unlike anyone else – she’s always pushing me to try harder. For two though, I know she has amazing words that are worth sharing. I always want her thoughts and experiences to be part of my projects.

When Sammy sent me this piece, she said, and I quote, “I feel like a fraud, it’s not really about suicide.”

I want to stress that statement because I feel like it brings up such a great point. I feel like there are so many instances where we allow ourselves to belittle our own feelings, convincing ourselves that they’re not worthy of being acknowledged because they may not be the “norm” or the “extreme”.

Part of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is acknowledging the fact that all experiences are different, but they are all equally as valid. Sammy’s experiences with suicidal thoughts are uniquely hers, as are everyone else’s. 

In my opinion, progress comes only after certain steps are taken. The first step is acknowledging that your feelings exist and are legitimate. The second step is voicing those feelings. Only after both of those steps, will you be able to accurately begin making positive change. 

It’s scary though! In most cases, it’s easier to brush off thoughts and emotions that we are struggling with. It’s easier to convince ourselves they’re not “bad enough” to be “real”. It’s easier to slide under the radar, silently grappling with our emotions, rather than acknowledging and vocalizing them. 

I can tell you from experience though, that the harder route brings so much more success and happiness. Your experiences and thoughts are so valid and they are so worth sharing. You are worth being cared for. You are worth progress and change. You deserve happiness.

Somehow, Sammy found the strength to share her words, regardless of the doubt and insecurity she initially expressed. I hope her words encourage some of you who may feel similarly to do the same. 

Check it out: 

I have this dream and it’s always the same. I’m in a mansion overlooking the ocean and the valleys of California. I walk through the french doors into the foyer, through the halls, until I’m standing where I can see the doors that lead to the back. The house is vacant and quiet but there is a woman outside in a long lace nightgown and long hair, both blowing in the wind. She’s standing on the balcony ready to leap into the unknown. I never see her face and I never try to save her, but I know who she is: she’s me. 

I need to emphasize something about this dream. It does not bring me satisfaction. It does not seem like an end to all my problems. It’s just one of many scenarios I craft up in my head when I want to end the thoughts and the sadness. 

I picture killing myself because it’s a way to picture killing the thoughts, but there is never a desire to kill me, the living human body form of me. I’ll keep the highs but I want to chuck the lows over a building, drown them in a tub, pour a bottle of pills down its throat until it is no more and I am left with only the positivity and the sanity that I know I am capable of. 

I was driving in the car the other day – the windows down, the music just right. It was one of those moments where I checked my surroundings and I felt the beauty of it all, this thing we called life. Fuck, I felt truly ALIVE. But then, the unsettling feeling came over me and my mind told me to cherish this moment for it would not be this way tomorrow. And guess what? My mind was right. The next day, I couldn’t look at myself. I felt ugly. I felt gross. I felt I couldn’t do anything right. I felt like a failure – living at home still, working the same job I told myself last year I’d get out of to find my dream job. I made all these promises to myself and where the fuck were they now? It didn’t matter yesterday that I hadn’t accomplished all my dreams yet, but my shortcomings sure as hell mattered the next morning, my mind said they did. So that is what I focused on all day. I sat in front of the TV smoking weed until I reached the kind of high where you just don’t: don’t think, don’t move, don’t talk. 

My depression is interesting. I know how loved I am, it never blocks that from me. Sometimes it will try but I am able to swat it away before it solidifies into an actual feeling. I know I am not a burden on others, and I know my passing would hurt many. I mean this, not because I think I’m the greatest human to walk this earth, but I have felt death and I have seen it break those who I love. I have watched and experienced the passing of others and that is partially the reason I battle depression in the first place. That and the fact that is has always lived in me in some way. 

I take these thoughts seriously. I’ve never taken them as my desires or my truth but I do take them very seriously. Suicide is not selfish, not when you know what is truly going on inside someone, but that does not make suicide the answer. Please seek help if you are hurting, and fight with every ounce of you to stop the thoughts from becoming actions. It is easier said than done, I know. Suicide is not the action to take. Kill the thoughts, not yourself. Every living soul is different and every case of depression is different, but I believe that suicide is always the same in the sense that it does not solve anything. It only passes the hurt along. 

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Alyssa

I am very excited to share a piece today written by my friend, Alyssa. Alyssa is someone I have known for years, yet have never been all that close with. We were in the same sorority in college, but a couple pledge classes apart. 

The reason I mention this though, is twofold. For one, it helps to prove my point that you really never know what someone is struggling with at any given time. And two, I just want to say that I was taken aback by Alyssa’s genuine willingness to share. Talking about suicide and suicidal thoughts is terrifying. Sharing something so intimate can make you feel completely exposed and beyond vulnerable. Somehow, Alyssa was able to put that fear aside and contribute to this project anyway. She shared some of her most intimate feelings and experiences for me, someone she has never been extremely close with, and even more so than that, for all of you reading.

As you will soon see, Alyssa is still in the midst of her recovery process. Having said that, she has still found a way to explain her mental health journey, and how it ties into this month’s theme of Suicide Prevention Awareness, in hopes that her words will positively impact someone else.

I may have said this in the past, but I cannot stress enough how meaningful that is. Being able to put words to some of your demons is hard enough. Sharing those words with the world is even more difficult. Like those who have shared before her, Alyssa is one of the few people that has found a way to break her silence in hopes of breaking the stigma.  

Without further ado, check out her piece here:

Suicide and depression are complex and are so unspoken that it becomes difficult to find the words to express the darkness. It is hard for me to understand the effects these diagnoses have on my brain, let alone on my life.

For many years, I was able to keep these things hidden. I struggled constantly and knew I wasn’t like everyone else. Something was wrong with me. I grew up thinking I was a defective version of a human, flawed beyond fixing. I lived my whole life constantly criticizing myself and convincing myself I was not enough. If you can’t imagine, this becomes extremely exhausting. A daily battle with yourself, filled with negative thoughts and feelings of shame and guilt. Feeling guilty for just being alive. I lived basically my entire life inside of my head, never taking a breath of fresh air or stopping to enjoy what was around.

Having depression and suicidal thoughts is like walking through darkness with your eyes closed. Everything just seems pointless and confusing.

For years, I convinced myself that I could beat the flood of negative thoughts by myself. By the time I turned 21 though, I knew it was a serious problem that I could not solve alone. Around this same time, I was also still battling my eating disorder – a very physically harmful component of my anxiety. I was sick, but I was able to realize how unhealthy these habits were really becoming.

I panic every time I think about the effects that 8 years of an eating disorder had on me. It ripped my life right out of my hands and forced me to think I did not deserve anything. I was not worth love or life. Suicidal thoughts were not foreign to me. They had been very present in my head ever since high school. 

One day, as I sat on my couch wanting to die, I was scrolling through my phone when I came across #projectsemicolon. I immediately thought to myself that I needed this tattoo. As an impulsive person (probably not much help from my anxiety/depression), I was on the way to the tattoo parlor in under 10 minutes. For those of you that have not heard of Project Semicolon, I highly recommend looking it up, it is beautiful.

This tattoo gave my life a little bit of purpose. It was exactly what I needed. I promised myself that after I got the tattoo, I would confess to my mom that I needed help. She had been in the dark just like everyone else in my life. Keeping all of these things hidden became too easy, and that is a scary thought. I was struggling more than ever and I was not okay. I wrote my mom a note explaining everything, put it in my nightstand at home, and left it there for “the right time.” (Now my only wish is that I would have asked for help sooner).

Finding mental health services alone seemed impossible, but telling my family about my anxiety and depression was the last thing I wanted to do. I did not want anyone else to feel the way I felt, and for some reason, I thought it was something they would take personally.

Since then, it has been two years and a rough road to recovery. There have been days where I wanted to give up, but my support system has kept me going. I would be lying if I said that recovery is smooth, because there have been times of relapse and obstacles. I have spent months crying and not feeling like myself. I surrounded myself with people who bring love into my life and helped me see positivity. My friends and my family are the reason I am alive today to share my story. I am forever thankful for all that they have done.

Along the way to recovery (where I still am today), I have endured a lot of self-discovery, both good and bad, but all of it makes me a stronger person in the end. I am thankful for yoga, coping skills and ALL of the mental health services. Two years later, and I have no shame seeing my therapist weekly or taking medications to help my brain reach a healthy place – both things that seem to have a negative connotation. There are still days that seem never-ending and way too difficult, but the main thing recovery has taught me is to enjoy the little things. I have learned to celebrate all of my minor accomplishments (and some days they may be smaller than others.)

On my journey to recovery, I have found my passion, which gives me purpose. Something I lacked my entire life, until now. My preschoolers bring a special kind of light into my life and filled a hole I did not even know I had. They make me feel happiness – a feeling I had long forgotten.

Some days, my accomplishment is just making it through the day with minimal tears. It’s the little things that make life worth it. To this day, I still struggle wrapping my head around all of this, because it’s something I’m still battling. But for now, I have started to see the beauty in the world. Throughout this process, I have learned that I am worth love from myself and from others. I will continue to take life day by day, minute by minute, because at the end of the day- All we have is now.

I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides. You are enough. You matter. The world is a better place because YOU are in it.

Learn more about Project Semicolon here: https://projectsemicolon.com/

 

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – LJ

The piece I am sharing today is written by the very talented, LJ. If you read my blog pretty frequently, you probably remember her post from Pride Month. Something about the way LJ writes is so captivating to me. 

As you will soon read, her piece is about her stepdad and his struggle with Parkinson’s disease. I love the insight her story gives to this month’s topic. In my opinion, it’s easy to assume that suicidal thoughts have a direct correlation with mental illnesses like depression, but it’s easy to forget how many other factors can drive someone to want to take their own life as well.

The point of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is to share a variation of stories in an effort to shed light on such a taboo, stigmatized topic. This is LJ’s story.

As painful as it probably was for her to share these words, they are so important. More than 10 million people worldwide are currently living with Parkinson’s Disease. After doing some of my own research, I also learned that, although suicidal ideation is known to be a very serious issue in patients with Parkinson’s disease, there is a lot that is still unknown. Doctors are still trying to figure out a relationship between suicide, age, medical treatment and disease within patients with Parkinson’s.

Having said that, LJ captures his stepdad’s experiences, and how they impacted her family in her words below:

May 17, 2016.

If I had known on this day the events that would happen the next morning, I would have done things differently.

May 18th, 2016 at 8:39 am

I had just finished unpacking my work bag and was talking about my weekend plans with a coworker when I received a call from my mom.

Barely audible and between gasps of breath, my mom informed me that she had just found my step-dad, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

My step-dad’s name is Bob. He married my mom when I was ten. He is the love of her life and he seamlessly became another father figure for my brother and me.

A few years ago, Bob was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. If you do not know, Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain – neurons. While many people associate Parkinson’s with shaky movements, not many realize that the disease also has a huge impact on mental health.

When I think about it now, I realize that I experienced the complete life cycle of Bob’s Parkinson’s. Before my very eyes, I watched this bubbly, adventurous, and energetic man transform into a mere shell of himself, full of anxiety and pain. Parkinson’s had won.

While learning about my step-dad’s suicide was devastating, what torments me still is the impact it’s had on my mom. Seeing the woman that has consistently been the force of strength in my life break down is heart-wrenching. Knowing that there is nothing I can do to fix it is debilitating.

A lot of people say that taking your own life is selfish, but I refuse to accept that dialogue. I know that my step-dad loved my mom more than anything in the world. He would have done anything in his power to ensure her happiness. Parkinson’s destroyed his mind and his will to live.

I strongly believe that if Parkinson’s stayed the fuck away from my family, things would have turned out differently. I wouldn’t be constantly wishing I had called home on May 17th 2016.

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Kathleen Pt. 2

 Today’s piece is the second half of Kathleen’s story. Here she shares her experiences with recovery and self-love.  If you have not yet read part one, I highly encourage you to first start there. 

I know I said it before, but Kathleen’s words are so raw, and because of that, so important. 

The nature of blogging is supposed to be concise, yes, but I think it’s extremely difficult to wholeheartedly share a story of struggle and recovery in such a short format. Each word that Kathleen writes has so much meaning, and because of that, I felt so compelled to share it, length and all.

I think one point I really want to stress though, is that suicidal thoughts are so far from a one-size-fits-all type of “problem”. Kathleen’s struggle developed in conjunction with her eating disorder. This is not always the case. The more we open up to share each of our unique experiences, the more others struggling will begin to realize that they are not alone. Although each of our feelings are uniquely ours, we are all in this together. 

Without further ado, here is pt. 2: 

My “final recovery process,” lasted just over two years. There are so many things I want to share about those two years. So many life-changing moments. Moments of lucidity and transformations that ultimately resulted in me finally fully healing from suicidal thoughts and the eating disorder. I hope that by sharing a few of these moments I will be able to help someone else find hope, restoration, and a path to become fully-healed.

First of all –I came to realize that there was an urgent need to stop thinking the way that I had been thinking.  This was no easy feat, as many of you reading may know.  It is also especially difficult when you are malnourished, drinking to numb the pain, and when you have felt, for 18 years, that the earth would be better off without you.

But in meeting Kitty and the George’s, I realized that suicide and eating disorders kill people at an alarming rate, often times without warning or intent.  On June 13, 2002, I also realized that suicide was real, it wasn’t enigmatic, it was final –and it leaves behind a pain that is indescribable.  In order to stop considering suicide, I had to tell myself over and over again, “Suicide is NOT AN OPTION.”  I told myself that for months and months on end.  There were many dark moments during my final recovery process, but it was too dangerous to allow suicide to even be a consideration.  No matter how hard things became, and no matter how truly dark, empty and desolate my whole life felt, I had to continuously tell myself, “Suicide is NOT an option.”

Thankfully, I was very, very blessed to have my dog Gretz by my side to help me in these darkest hours.  His fur soaked up more tears than I knew were possible to cry.  During this time, he never left my side. Sometimes he was even the ‘only reason’ I felt life was worth living.

Secondly, I came to realize that there was much more left to heal beyond my suicidal thoughts–I also had to truly nourish myself.  Before skipping lunch for the first time, I had never felt suicidal.  It was stunning how quickly the under-eating and purging changed my ability to handle my feelings in a rational way. They drastically impacted my mood. My body didn’t have the nourishment it needed to help balance my emotions. And although, yes I had been very sad about my appearance in the past, I had never considered suicide–not until my brain was malnourished.

Think about it this way: imagine if you decided to stop feeding a baby.  How would that baby react?  Would it be content, joyful, and able to self-soothe?  No, not at all! It is nearly impossible to feel happy, self-soothing, rational or stable when you are not well-nourished.

Third –I finally gave myself permission to take recovery seriously. This was not my first attempt at healing. In fact, by this point, I knew my family was extremely tired of my constant cycles in and out of poor semblances of recovery. Taking recovery seriously this time was very bold and new for me.  This piece of my healing meant that, even though I still battled constantly with feeling desperately unworthy of living, I still managed to put myself first.

Somehow, this time, I found a way to start recovering just for the sake of recovering.  In my previous attempts, I always had a reason that I needed the quick fix. Whether it was because I wanted to go back to school, or because I wanted to make my parents happy, there was always something I felt like I needed to accomplish. The flaw in those attempts though, was that I ignored the fact that I hadn’t yet found myself worthy enough of actually healing. I just wanted a problem to go away so I could live “normally” again.

I had to finally get comfortable with putting aside my idea of my “life’s timeline” (ie: get my Ph.D. b the time I was 33, get married before 35) and I had to make healing my number one priority. No matter how long it took, I gave myself the permission to heal WITHOUT FEELING GUILTY ABOUT IT.  I gave myself the same permission we afford people who have visible, physical illnesses –we do not expect people with cancer, for example, to feel guilty about the time and treatment they need in order to heal. Why should this be any different? This mindset allowed me to accept that working on healing was a worthy pursuit.

Fourth –I now believe that part of the reason I suffered for so long is due to the commonly repeated misconception that “no one can ever fully recover from an eating disorder”. After meeting the George’s and Kitty, I realized it was just not an option to let that statement be true. I had to come to understand how wrong it was that therapists often told me to “learn to accept that I would always dislike parts of my body” and that “there would always be days when I felt fat.”  After seeing what the eating disorders had done to Kitty and the George’s lives, I felt compelled to want more from life than how I had been living.  I could not accept mediocrity, knowing the pain the George’s and Kitty were living with. I vowed to never use the word “recovered” unless it was fully and completely true.

I started with baby steps. The first baby step was just to allow my brain and self to get used to the concept that I could, one day, actually, love my body. I then began to dream that recovered, in all ways, existed. I started to consider that fully healing was possible. I had to learn to cling to, and believe in, hope. Hope became an enigmatically powerful force in my healing process. A Song About Hope

Fifth –I got pissed off.  By getting pissed off, I got motivated.  I got pissed that people had told me I wasn’t capable of recovery. Whose right was it to tell me what was or was not possible in my life, my brain and my body?!  I got pissed off at the professionals that had set limitations on me, which propelled me to fully and honestly heal every single nook and cranny of what led to me to consider suicide.

Then, I also began to examine what “body image” meant to me. My body image had become society’s view of me rather than my view of me.  That epiphany compelled me.  It compelled me to start believing that I deserved a co-existence with and within my body. Slowly, I began to form my very own body image. It took nearly two years for of self-talk, a lot of positive post-it notes on my mirror, a lot of time spent without looking in a mirror at all, a lot of simply ignoring my brain when it said something negative…and a lot of talking to myself in ‘dog voice.’

Yep, I started looking in the mirror and talking to myself like I talked to my dog:  “Aren’t you just the cutest!  Oh, I just want to smoosh that face with kisses.  You are the best human ever!  I love you so much!” –I realize that might sound silly, but, it really did help.

You see, my dog Gretz never compared himself with the dog next door.  When he went outside, he didn’t check to make sure every piece of fur was in place. He didn’t think he was any less than other English Setters who had more fur and more spots.  He didn’t base his self-worth on how much kibble he ate the day before and he most certainly didn’t want to go “o-u-t-s-i-d-e for a w-a-l-k” because he thought his butt was too big.

People loved him and thought he was absolutely adorable.  People thought he had just the right amount of spots.  Perhaps most importantly, people, and Gretz himself, thought he was worthy of unconditional love because of who he was, broken tail and all.  Gretz taught me that a mirror is not an enemy nor does it hold any power over me.

The reflection I see in the mirror now is very surreal.  When/if I pause for a moment to look at myself, I see a reflection of life and happiness and peace.  I no longer see my body in pieces or my face as ugly.

I believe that everyone deserves to realize the truth that Gretz taught me: It is a given you ARE beautiful, because you are alive. Simple as that.  (Gretz’ story: https://youtu.be/mDKIdrSg5jk)

*

Oftentimes I am asked, “How do you know that you’ll never go back, I mean can you really say you’re recovered?” or, “Do you ever have urges, think you’re fat, or ever think of suicide?”

My answer to those questions is this: I spent many years chasing after the enigmatic word “recovery.”  Now healed, I can see that during all those years of chasing recovery, I was actually just chasing after a whole and healthy brain and a spiritual peace, two things that the eating and body image disorders had convinced me were not possible.

After a year of doing nothing but focusing on healing, I had made many strides in my healing process. Regardless, there were many days on which I had to talk myself into feeling happy. In many ways, I was still dealing with the feeling that I was about 18 years ‘behind’ in life.  Cognitively, I was able to tell myself to “choose happy thoughts and embrace a unique path,” but that didn’t automatically mean that happiness was visceral.

One day, two friends of mine, Joe and Chas, recommended I go talk to a Priest. I had long before stopped going to church. At one of my darkest points, I had even started to believe that God created me to die from suicide.  But Joe and Chas somehow convinced me anyway. I remember on that day, the Priest said, “Well, tell me what’s on your heart.”  In that moment, I bared my soul and said, “Now healed from so much, I still feel lonely because, while I was focused on healing, I didn’t form any friendships.”  I remember the Priest genuinely suggested, “Pray for friends.”  Seriously?  That’s it?  Pray for friends?  Wow, what a wasted hour of my life, I thought.

I left his office certain that nothing would be different. As I walked to my car I fought back tears thinking, “Great, I have my health and my brain back, but I still have no friends –thanks, Priest.”

As I got on the road to face the mess of traffic, I began to take a scornful look at the long stretch of cars ahead, I saw something.

I saw the sky.

And the sky was blue.

The sky was a bright blue with big fluffy white clouds. Nearly fifteen years later, I still remember it so clearly to this day.

The miracle in this?  I realized that I had been so entrenched in depression and an eating disorder, that for 18 years I hadn’t even noticed the color of the sky.  I had been living my life under a sky of gray, believing that was all I could have and all that I deserved.

But on that day of seeing the blue sky I remember thinking, “Anna doesn’t even get to see the sky anymore…”  In that very simple moment, something clicked: I realized that my negative thoughts about life had held me bound in such a negative cycle for so long, and they needed to be resolved.

On the way home, I stopped at one of my favorite book stores in Ann Arbor, Michigan and picked up what would be a book that changed my life: Peace Is Every  Step, by Thich Nhat Hanh.  From there forward, I have felt happiness and I have seen the blue sky, no matter how cloudy the day.

Since then, I have been tested time and again by life challenges, some greater than I ever could have imagined.  But nothing life brings my way has or will ever drive me to consider suicide an option again. Nothing has or will ever trigger the return of an eating disorder. God, nourishment, spirit, my friends and family, Gretz and I transformed my brain, thoughts, soul, and body. I firmly know that Life is meant to be lived, and enjoyed, in health and peace and with humble respect for who I am, broken nose and all.

And, since I have healed, life really has come full circle.  I went on to be the Education and Prevention Coordinator of the Gail R. Schoenbach F.R.E.E.D. Foundation where I developed the College Speaking Tour –speaking out about eating and body image disorders and suicide.  I became Policy Director of the Eating Disorders Coalition and through this, I was able to address BMI report cards through the CDC. I also have the humble privilege of speaking every year at Leslie George’s Memorial at James Madison University and her sorority is now my sorority; I became a Tri Sigma in 2014.

At present, I am a Health Insurance Advocate at the only law firm in the country, Kantor & Kantor, LLP that has a dedicated eating disorder practice. There, I write appeals on behalf of patients and families when they are denied treatment (we also handle much more than eating disorders).  I feel so blessed to have a circle of trusted friends and colleagues. My family and I are close again, I have repaired my finances and my spiritual health, and I know that one day I will achieve my educational goals.

I also became an Aunt to the most amazingly sweet, kind and perfect nephew  who has never known me as “Aunt Kathy with an eating disorder.” He has only known me as “Aunt Kathy.”

I have been a ‘mom’ to seven English Setter rescues. I am a hospice volunteer. I sit on the Educational Committee for the MT American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I am a healthy runner, an artist, a mentor and…Life is full.

Life is not always easy, but it is wonderful and I am so blessed to say that, since I traversed those two long and restorative years of healing, nothing life has thrown me has made my mind default to thoughts of suicide again. I will never ever be thankful for the times I was suicidal and suffered the eating disorder, but I will always be thankful for the healing process that resulted.

I deeply hope that by sharing these experiences I can help others to see that the gift of life without suicidal thoughts is yours to behold. I hope I can help others to believe that you can undo years of damage. You can work hard at your healing towards whatever is healthy for you. You can embrace your unique body and self. You can begin speaking to yourself in a language of self-love, not of self-deprecation. You can decide to begin the process of living again.

There is hope and there is freedom and there is also no shame in suffering or recovering.  May you go forward from reading this to find…your blue sky.  

**Special thanks to Alex for her blog and for her seriously-amazing patience.  Thank you to the George’s and Tri Sigma for keeping Leslie’s legacy alive through the Speak Out.  Thank you to Kitty for sharing Anna with us.  And to all those who have lost a loved one to suicide, depression or an eating disorder, my deepest and most sincere sympathy.  If you need help: American Foundation For Suicide Prevention **

Also, if you would like to see how Kathleen and the Leslie George Speak Out have impacted some members of the Tri Sigma sorority at JMU, check out this video I made a couple years back: https://vimeo.com/136264045

 

 

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Kathleen

As a special two-part series, I am extremely humbled and proud to share the words of Kathleen MacDonald – someone I consider to be such an inspiration to myself and so many others.

I first met Kathleen during my sophomore year at JMU. As many readers know, I was part of a sorority in college. Every year, during February, my sorority would put together a “Speak Out” for Eating Disorder Awareness Month. The “Speak Out” functioned as a safe space, where students were encouraged to come listen and share stories related to struggles with body image and eating disorders. The event was in honor of a sorority member, Leslie George, who passed away after losing her battle with bulimia. Kathleen (for reasons you will later read), hosted this event every year. 

When I heard her story for the first time, I was blown away. She seemed like the happiest, most loving, kind-hearted, vibrant person in the room. I couldn’t fathom that she had gone through the experiences she was explaining to all of us.

Kathleen’s words changed my life. She changed my views on beauty and self-love. And more so than that, she taught me that inner demons are often so easily hidden from the outside world.

These two parts will be lengthy, but they are without a doubt worth the read. Check it out:

By most accounts, I should not be alive today.  To this day, I am not sure why I survived what so many others have not.

No one ever sets out to have the deadliest of all mental illnesses: an eating disorder, and all its accompanying symptoms of depression, moodiness, etc.

No one ever sets out on a diet, hoping that one day they will be suicidal.

And even though I am guilty of having once said, “I wish I could have anorexia for just a little while,” it still wasn’t a “choice” for me to suffer from that mean and terrible disease.

When the eating disorder took root, it changed my brain chemistry and rid me of the ability to have good sense.  Ironically, despite being trapped in its prison, and despite all of the hell the eating disorder brought to my life, for the majority of the years I suffered, I never felt like I had a serious problem. I never felt I was ‘sick enough’ compared to people who were thinner than me. Most people didn’t know that I lived daily with humiliating inner-embarrassment, pain, and shame because of what I saw in the mirror.  To boot, at my worst, when I was severely suicidal because of the eating disorder, the day I reached out for help after using laxatives for 18 years, my doctor patted me on the knee and told me, “I wish I had more patients as thin as you” (a comment that he and I eventually discussed, in depth, with good results).

I want to start my saying: To all those who suffer with eating and/or body image issues, depression, and suicidal thoughts, and to all those who love someone suffering, I hope with all my heart that the words in this blog might meet you with compassion and kindness, encouraging you to realize that you are not alone, and that you deserve to believe in a day where you live free from whatever is making you endure thoughts of suicide.  I hope that, no matter if you’re a sufferer, or a loved one or friend of someone suffering, after reading this, you begin to realize what I began to realize back on June 13, 2002: that no one was created to die by suicide, that you are beautiful and wonderfully made…and that YOU deserve to love yourself, and treat yourself with loving-kindness, every single day.

My story is a long and complex one, but like many people, what pushed me to develop an eating disorder was nothing out of the ordinary.  When I was about 10 years old, I began to feel pressures to look thin and pretty.  Coincidentally, around the same time, I broke my nose.  Because I never had my nose ‘set’ by a doctor, my nose changed shape and it became the subject of discussions and teasing; I was called “mogul nose”, among other things. Up until then, I never gave a thought to whether what I looked like was pretty/not pretty, good/bad, attractive/unattractive. When I broke my nose, I became acutely aware of what I looked like to other people, and acutely aware that people did not like my face.  This caused me to feel intense confusion and sadness because, at just 10 years old, I realized that all the things I thought people liked about me – my kind-hearted, loving nature, and strong relationships with friends and family- didn’t matter, because I wasn’t “pretty.”

When puberty hit, I grew even more uncomfortable with my appearance, not because I noticed the changes so much, but because other people started commenting on my body and its (natural) weight gain.  Our society sends a very loud message to (especially) young women that “thin is pretty.” I didn’t handle the teasing about my body very well. The utter confusion that wreaked havoc on my mind and spirit was horrendously painful.

Fast forward ahead two years – two years of me feeling heartbreakingly ugly. I’m 12 years old.  It was the first time I watched an after-school-special about a young woman who falls victim to anorexia. The movie made eating disorders look easy and attractive. The movie made it seem like anorexia fixed that girl’s life. It made her pretty and made everyone value her more.  That movie, coupled with my lack of self-worth and the pressure I felt to be thin and pretty, compelled me to take a simple step the next day that would change my life forever.  The day after watching the movie, I skipped lunch for the first time.

I was 12 years old.

Like most people who suffer from an eating disorder, I never intended to have one, let alone to have it take up over half of my life.  I thought my ‘diet’ of skipping lunch would make my happy, pretty, and well-liked.  I thought that I would only be on a ‘diet’ until I lost a few pounds. Surely then I would receive approval from my friends and family. Surely then they would think that my body looked good.  I had no idea that this ‘diet’ would actually drive all of my friends away.

The next time I ate lunch was 18 years later.

It may seem odd that I can remember the exact day, but it’s because, on that day, I actually called my mother to say, “I ate lunch.”  Most adults don’t call their parents to report that they ate something –they call to tell them about a job promotion, an engagement, or a completed graduate program. I called because I had eaten some food.

But for me, it was a big deal.  It was the first time I had eaten during the day (outside of a hospital setting) and kept it down, in 18 years.  I was scared to not purge, but I was also so proud of myself.

My mother, however, wasn’t able to be excited with me –and looking back, I don’t blame her.  She had suffered 18 years of hell because of the way the eating disorder made me feel (moody, depressed, angry, etc.).  In response to my phone call, she said, “Great. Now, what are you finally going to do with your life?”  I faked a response that wouldn’t let her know how deeply her words hurt, and we hung up the phone.

When we hung up, any feeling of hope and accomplishment I had immediately turned to visceral and deep sadness, intense self-hatred, hopelessness and suicidal planning.  I sat there realizing that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life beyond that moment of eating lunch. I felt ridiculous knowing that I actually thought eating was an accomplishment.

Just when I thought I had finally made a breakthrough, my heart sank and I cried because I felt like such a failure.

So I called in sick to work, and I stayed home and I wept.

I wept about what a waste my life had become.

I wept thinking about what a waste I had been for 18 years –focusing so much on whether or not I was fat and basing my happiness on whether or not my pants fit the differently than the day before.

I wept because I had disappointed my family, disappointed myself, and lost all of my friends.

I wept because I, a former 4.0 student, had been kicked out of college twice because of the eating disorder and my resultant inability to handle going to class.  (Oh, and after re-entering college at age 28, they told me not to come back second semester because I was still too sick to feel attractive enough to attend class. Yes, that’s how warped my brain was.)

I wept because I had depleted IRA’s and at least $60,000 in mutual funds to pay for food, laxatives, food, laxatives, alcohol, and more food and more laxatives.

I wept because I had wrecked my credit after failing to pay doctor bills, student loans, rent, etc.

And most of all, I wept because I realized that I might never be able to get rid of the thoughts that had been controlling my life, making me miserable every single moment that I was alive.

The thought of having to live this way for the rest of my life felt unbearable.

I finally decided that if I couldn’t overcome my body image issues, bulimia, and anorexia, I did not want to live.

Unlike what I saw in the movie when I was 12 years old, what I was going through was not simple or pretty. It was not about being thin, it was not about getting attention or winning friends.  Up until the day that I ate lunch, I honestly believed that the thinness I had sustained for those 18 years would someday, somehow reward me –it didn’t.

Being thin never ever resulted in anything positive.

So, I purged my lunch.  Disgusted with myself, I ate more, and purged that, until I eventually felt numb.  I remember crawling into bed and begging God not to let me wake up.

But I did wake up.

The next morning, after weighing myself and glaring in disgust at my puffy post-bingeing/purging face in the mirror, I broke down crying over my bathroom sink. I was alone and tired and felt so ugly. I just wanted the vicious cycle of my pain to end.  I stared into the mirror, looking for any sign of hope in my eyes.  I saw none.

What I saw was someone looking back at me who was so very tired of just barely “getting by.”  I saw someone who was so very tired of depriving their body and mind, but someone who couldn’t seem to stop the deprivation.  I saw someone so very very tired of life being so empty.

Exhausted of the cycle, I pulled out my laptop and decided to search one last time online for help.  Of course, in all of my Google searching, I didn’t find a single free treatment option. All I found that day was one single nebulous sounding group called The Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action (EDC).  There was a “Get Involved” button, so I clicked on it, typed in my name and email address, and shut off my laptop. Then I started officially making my plan.

About a month later, I received an email from the EDC.  They needed a speaker to present to Members of Congress and their staff as to why people with eating disorders deserved insurance coverage for treatment.  I called the then Policy Director of the EDC, Dr. Jeanine Cogan, and told her why I thought I could help them out as a speaker at their Congressional Briefing.

On June 13, 2002, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak.  Little did the EDC, or my only remaining friend, Jim (who accompanied me to DC), know, I had a plan.

At the Congressional Briefing, first, a doctor spoke. He gave definitions and talked about what a “typical” eating disordered patient is like. The whole time he spoke, I tried to act as if nothing he said resembled me at all, trying to convince myself that if I didn’t fit his mold, I couldn’t possibly be someone who was sick and slowly dying.

Then, a woman named Kitty Westin got up to talk about her daughter who suffered from anorexia.  Her daughter’s name was Anna. When Kitty got up to speak, she brought along a picture of Anna –a big 18×20 poster-sized picture.  In the picture, Anna was smiling, sitting somewhere in the mountains, looking into the camera with a peaceful contentment in her blue eyes.  Anna looked healthy and alive.  But as Kitty continued to speak, I realized that the reason she was telling Anna’s story was because Anna was not alive to tell it on her own.

Anna had committed suicide because of her torturous battle with anorexia.

Anna was the first person I knew of who did exactly what I had wanted to do so many times over the course of my 18 years suffering.  And, Anna was the first person who made me realize how scared I was of my plan.

But after Kitty finished, I got up and calmly read my speech as if I was ‘fine.’ To give you an idea of just how fine I was that day, here is how I ended my speech:

“I wake up knowing that if I continue being sick, I will die. I wake up, therefore, wanting to go to therapy so I don’t die and become a statistic… I do not want to live my life as a result of these disorders. I want to live my life beyond anorexia and bulimia and all the years of torment and mistakes made… I never dreamed that throwing my lunch away one day would, 18 years later, result in me seriously considering suicide– for two years, every day, all day.”

I wasn’t fine.

And I was doing more than “seriously considering” suicide like my speech suggested. My plan was that June 13, 2002 would be the end of my life.  I had planned my suicide, and no one knew.  

I had planned to give my speech and then follow-through on my plan –in hopes that it would make people take note of the seriousness of eating disorders.

The Congressional Briefing concluded and there was a line of people waiting to talk to me.  I thought they wanted to congratulate me on how good my speech was.  But every person said something along the lines of, “You have to get help.  You’re going to die.”  I just kept telling everyone, “No, don’t worry. I used to have an eating disorder.  I’m fine now.”

I do not remember any of the 20 or so people who hugged me after my speech, except for two.  The very last people I spoke with that day were Mr. and Mrs. Ron George.  I will never ever forget how Mr. George, trying to refrain from gently sobbing, his face red and wet with tears, took hold of me and said, “I lost my daughter to bulimia, you need help or you’re going to die.”  And as I hugged him, I wanted so very much to collapse in his arms and beg for help…  But I couldn’t.  I had a plan.  So, I’m pretty sure I probably looked at him and said, “Don’t worry, I’m fine.”

Yet something happened at that Congressional Briefing –a miracle.  Between witnessing Kitty’s agonizing pain, and hearing Mr. George pour out his heart about losing his daughter Leslie (all the while holding me, a complete stranger), something clicked inside my soul.  It was in those moments that an undeniable surge of some unearthly spirit of hope took over, and I somehow mustered up the wherewithal to vow to myself that I would do everything in my power to finally stop. I would finally stop maintaining my thin-as-possible frame. I would finally stop exercising to maintain my weight and self-worth. I would finally stop using laxatives. I would stop purging and starving. I would stop believing that I had been sick for “too long” to get help. I would stop believing I was ugly.  And perhaps most importantly, I would stop believing that suicide was an option.

I am very humbled to tell you that instead of June 13, 2002 being the day I took my own life, it became the day that I began my final recovery process…and I never looked back.

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Julie

Today’s piece is one I have been dying to share for a while now, well before I came up with the idea for this month’s collaborative project. 

This is a piece written by my aunt, Julie. In many ways, she has been someone I have idolized for so long. As I grew up, I was always so proud to have so many interests in common with her. To me, she was like the success story I wanted to one day become. 

I first read this piece a few years ago. I still remember how relieved I felt when I finished it. I remember feeling like “Oh…okay!  She’s not flawless, she’s human. Cool, I can be that. That’s attainable.” It was as if, in that moment, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I remember feeling this urge to share the story with everyone I knew, in hopes that they would feel the same. 

This was long before I started to go to therapy, mind you. This was well before I was comfortable admitting that I struggled with anxiety and depression. This piece was one of the first real eye-opening experiences I ever had with regards to anything involving mental health. It was one of the first times I realized that maybe I wasn’t okay, and if I wasn’t, that wasn’t wrong. It was one of the first times I didn’t feel alone. 

When I knew I wanted to share pieces for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, this is the first one that came to mind. Not only is Julie an extremely talented (published) writer, but she’s also a volunteer counselor for the Crisis Text Line

In case you have never heard of it, the Crisis Text Line is a 24/7 support service for anyone, in any type of crisis, at any time. It is an AMAZING resource. Check it out if you haven’t already.

Although I could go on for hours, I don’t want to ramble too long before introducing Julie’s piece. I hope it touches you in some of the same ways it did for me. Here it is:

 

The Fall of Strangers
Julie Greicius

Sometimes I write that she runs to the edge of the rooftop. Fifteen stories below, I’m running uphill on the sidewalk. She speeds up for momentum, so that she’ll fly past the instant when she might change her mind. The park isn’t safe at this hour, so I’m under the streetlights. I feel strong, so I lengthen my stride and decide to run farther. She vaults out past the edge, and gives herself to gravity just as I’m fighting it. For a second, she’s in flight. Our hearts are pounding. A few more steps and I’ll catch up to her.

Other times I write it straight: In 1996 I witnessed a suicide in New York City. I abandon imaginary details. I don’t really think she was running. Not at her age, in her state, or in those shoes: sullen mauve pumps, one of which landed askew next to her. It would be wrong to say she launched like a diver, or dove like a bird of prey. For all I know she might have been pushed. I only know for sure what I finally saw: her body on the pavement, head smashed beyond recovery, brains fanned out across the sidewalk.

I was working that year as a biographer’s assistant, at a small desk built into the underside of a loft bed in a one-bedroom apartment. Those were the early days of telecommuting. The woman I worked for lived just across town on the Upper East Side. We’d check in by phone, but most of the time I worked alone, interrupted by field trips to public libraries or longer getaways to private archives to find letters and diaries that belonged to people I had never met, most of whom were already dead. When I worked at home, days often ended at five o’clock with me realizing I hadn’t spoken a word to another living person all day.

I loved my job, loved holding the aged, handwritten letters of strangers, examining the journals of others and exploring the idiosyncrasies of families that were impeccable on the outside and daft on the inside. They felt familiar. I grew fond of the people I researched, and they became my community by proxy. I had freedom to work when and where I pleased, and to disappear whenever I wanted to. I lived with my fiancé, who was finishing medical school and rarely at home. When he was, he was fitfully asleep, or a shadow of himself, consumed by work.

I was good at being alone, I thought, even though I was lonely some of the time and mildly depressed—a condition I dismissed as indigenous to New York, something I could handle.

At the end of the day, every day, I got out to run. Running in Manhattan put me back among people. And there were no people I would rather have mingled among more than the people of New York City. I would run from our apartment on 107th street through the neighborhoods on Amsterdam and Columbus, past the bodegas and towering apartment projects over to the giant hill at the upper western corner of Central Park. I’d run into the park and make a double loop around the reservoir. I’d pass people on rollerblades, lovers in arms, children with nannies. And by the time I got to the East Side the crowd was all Burberry and fine terriers on leashes. When I wanted a shorter run, I ran through Riverside Park along the Hudson, over broken crack vials and, further south, through the islands of flower gardens set in the cobblestone. I ran by people on park benches staring alone at the river, people with children and dogs, teenagers in tunnels. I ran in every kind of weather, from the worst heat to the heaviest snow. Running was my drug, my release, my state of grace.

By the time I left my apartment that afternoon the sun was setting. I ran down West Side Drive, from 107th down to 72nd Street and back again, and then on past my own block. A light rain started to fall. Ahead, I saw the lights of fire trucks in front of a building—maybe a fire alarm or a car accident. There were no police lines, up, and no one seemed distressed. So I kept to my path.

A group of people stood looking, their eyes all pointing to something on the ground. As I passed them, I suddenly saw her: a woman in her mid-fifties, curly hair, gray skirt, a single shoe on the ground near her foot. Cinderella. Her head had made a pit in the pavement. But there was no pit. The side of her skull was flattened against the ground. Her brain speckled the sidewalk all the way to the small bushes that bordered the building from which she had dropped. The same sidewalk where I suddenly realized my feet were falling. Now I was on tiptoe, horrified, leaping past what I had already disgraced.

Of all the thousands of ways we encounter strangers, meeting someone at the moment of their death is possibly second in intensity only to meeting them at the moment of their birth. Between those extremes, we pass by with indifference in grocery stores or airports, or confront with clear intention on battlefields or in bars. But to witness this woman alone on the pavement, destroyed, was more than I knew what to do with. I had no basis for processing it, no precedent for understanding the absurdity of how we had just made contact.  

A few minutes faster and I might have blocked her, stopped her, or obstructed her fall. Maybe just one person on the street below would have been enough to change her mind. Then again, she might have struck and killed me. But I wasn’t there when she fell. Should I have been? I was no one: a pedestrian, a jogger, a passerby. The cement was there to catch her.

I stopped running and sat on the curb. There were footsteps behind me, and then a hand on my shoulder.

*

Over the next several years, my fiancé, Mike, became my husband, and we moved to the suburbs of San Francisco to raise our two children. One afternoon my friend Stephanie called and asked if I would go to see Jason, a friend of hers whom I’d never met. She was traveling, and had received an email from him saying he was in trouble. He had stopped drinking a while ago, but was drunk today, far gone, and sounded like he might be thinking about taking his own life.

I don’t know what made her think I was qualified to give that kind of support. My husband said it might be safer—for Jason and maybe for me, too—to call 911. That might have been true.

“What am I going to find?” I asked her.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I just think he needs someone.”

I drove to his house. I didn’t find it easily, but soon realized that he lived in a house behind a house.

When I reached his door, I noticed the lights inside were off. Maybe I was already too late. I wondered if he was hurt or if I was going to get hurt. A small sign on the door read JASON—a note to help people find him. He wanted to be found.

I opened the screen door and rang the doorbell. I waited, then knocked. Still nothing. I opened the mail slot and yelled into it. “Hey Jason! Answer the door!”

Another minute passed, enough to scare me.

Finally I heard someone coming. He opened the door. His eyes were red and glassy. At the base of his bleached-blonde hair were black roots, tousled as if he’d been sleeping. He wore sweat pants and a T-shirt. “Hey,” he said. The apartment smelled like cigarettes and maybe pot. Definitely alcohol.

“I’m a friend of Stephanie’s,” I said. “She said you weren’t feeling so hot so I came over.”

“Stephanie,” he said slowly. “That girl. She’s good people.”

He opened the door wide and let me in.

“She was worried about you.”

“Yeah. I don’t know. I have a fever or something.”

His apartment was dark and stuffy. A small plant struggled on the kitchen table. He sat down on a small couch by sliding glass doors.

I sat down in a chair facing him. And there we were. I remembered once sitting in a therapist’s office back in New York. I was crying and crying—I couldn’t handle it after all—and she leaned down to the floor and pushed a box of tissues toward me without ever lifting her ass off her chair. I never went back.

I didn’t come there to sit back and stare at this man. I had nothing to say to him politely over a coffee table.

I said, “I’d rather sit on your side. I came here to make sure you’re okay.”

I stood up and climbed over the coffee table straight to him, sat next to him and took him in my arms. He fell into me and I squeezed him hard. He shifted and turned so he could fit more closely. He sighed. “Thank you,” he said. He pulled his legs close to his body and curled up. I think I said, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

He wasn’t crying. He breathed heavily in big sighs. Maybe he was relaxing, or just trying to breathe. I didn’t know how much he’d had to drink, but I guessed a lot.

We were quiet for a while. I had rushed over quickly after my friend called, right after a shower.

“Your hair is wet,” he said. “You smell so clean.”

“I think I know how you feel,” I told him. “I’ve felt exactly the way you’re feeling right now.”

“When?” he asked. “Tell me.”

But I couldn’t. The answer was “yesterday.” I thought it would terrify him.

*

Yesterday: I pulled the point of a razor across my skin and made a cut on the back of my left hand, on the flesh between my finger and thumb.

I wasn’t even close to admitting what I had been feeling in the previous weeks. I kept my life in a rush of accomplishment, so the empty spaces would blur, and was now at a halt, alone, leaning against a counter in my bathroom.

The pain stung, corrosive, but the color was rich and red—unmistakably healthy. The sight of it made me feel strangely robust, in spite of how I felt emotionally. Here was the blood that propelled me forward, the same blood that could tell me I was young and fertile, or mortally injured. I took my time, in no rush to see it end. Then I thought of my children and husband and job and responsibilities, covered the cut with a sober band-aid, and left the house.

I wondered, if someone was going to confront herself finally and truly, if it could only be done violently.

But that wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to die. I want to look over the edge, to confront the stranger in myself, and stand my ground.

*

“A while ago,” I lied. “I cut myself to sort of punctuate what I was feeling. It was like this huge cavern of loneliness and despair opened up in me, and I could make it small and manageable and put a band-aid on it. I didn’t think anyone else would understand.”

“I know,” he said.

But he didn’t know, didn’t see that the band-aid was still on my hand.

“So I’m here and you don’t have to be alone,” I told him.

“You know, you sound like you’re good at this,” he said. “The way you just showed up and let me hold on to you. Like you know twelve-step programs.”

“I don’t know. I guess I think it’s something we all need at one time or another.”

“That’s how sponsors are supposed to be in AA. They’re supposed to be there for you.”

“I mostly know them from The Wire.”

“I love The Wire!”

“Yes, well, Bubs is all I know about AA.”

“Bubs!”

There was Jason, this stranger in my arms, suddenly very much alive. In that apartment, I might have found anything. Or he might have never even let me in the front door. He would need therapy from someone more professional than me, or an intervention, but at the moment, he just wanted to shoot the shit.

We talked about television, about his sponsor, and about differences between suburban and city life. I said it wasn’t as easy to walk outside and enjoy the anonymous comfort of humanity like you can in the city when you feel alone. Jason agreed, or nodded, or mmhmm’d.

“But do you do this a lot?”

“You mean show up at stranger’s homes when they’re sad and sit on the couch with them?”

He laughed.

“No, I don’t.”

“And Stephanie just asked you to come over?”

“Yeah.”

“Stephanie. Shit. You know when you let people lean on you, when you help people, you forget about your own problems.”

Stephanie had called more friends, people Jason knew, and in a little while they showed up with their baby and gave Jason more distraction, more love, held on to him when it was time for me to go home to my own family.

That night he called. He sounded happy, relieved—and maybe a little in disbelief that the world had come through for him, stood in his way of a path he didn’t really want to take at all. And I told him that he rescued me, too. Months later I told him that it really was the day before that I had been feeling the way that he had. That it was my own vulnerability that qualified me to hold him up, to really understand how he felt, to hold him like some kind of fragile scaffold.

*

One of the bystanders had come over to me. He must have seen me run straight through the crime scene (was it a crime?), and I was ashamed.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

I nodded. That anyone should be asking how I was doing when a woman lay dead twenty feet away astonished me.

But I wanted the comfort. I asked him what happened, who she was. He said no one knew.

“Did she live there?” I asked, indicating the building above her.

“I don’t know. If she did, nobody knew her,” he said. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes,” I said, and stood up. “Thank you.”

I couldn’t pick up where I left off. I walked home because it didn’t make sense to run. Nothing made sense. I had no idea how long that feeling would last.

At home, I turned on the television to keep me company. Four different channels had shows about suicide. They were melodramas, made-for-TV movies, a talk show, and stand-up comedy. I turned it off.

I walked back up to the scene. The entire block had been tied off with bright yellow tape and flares at 109th and Broadway to prevent cars from coming down the street. From a distance I could see the woman’s body was covered now, her shoe still lying next to her.

I wondered who she was, what had provoked her, what weight had brought her down. There was nothing in the papers the next day, nor any day after.

I called a friend and she came over. We put our feet up and had a drink. She spent the night and slept next to me in my bed like my sister used to. We talked in the dark and soon fell asleep.

** Originally published in the anthology Rumpus Women, Vol. 1, editing by Julie Greicius and Elissa Bassist **

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Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Chase

When Chase and I talked about the idea of him writing a piece for this month, I can honestly say I did not expect this outcome in the least. I mean that in two ways. First of all, his writing blew me away. But secondly, I was also almost angry at myself for not wholeheartedly understanding Chase’s relationship with his depression until now.

Chase is someone I’ve known for years. I’ve told him many times how I felt that, from such an early point in our friendship, it seemed so easy to be open and honest with him and his friends. We used to just get drunk sometimes and share some dark shit and it never seemed weird or uncomfortable. But how could I feel like I was able to be so honest with someone, yet simultaneously not realize the extent to which they’re struggling?

That’s the thing about depression and suicide though. Most people don’t realize the severity of other’s struggles, until, in some cases, it’s too late. That’s why I loved this piece, though. It’s such a perfect example of the complex relationship between inner demons and outside support.

Chase’s words and vulnerable and honest, but I don’t think I need to explain them much more than I already have because they truly speak for themselves. I hope, if nothing else, they’re a simple reminder that these feelings are so real and so valid. Without further ado, check it out:

You become so infatuated with the thoughts of being alone, having nothing, looking in the mirror and hating yourself. Day in and day out you wake up and hurt. You lay in bed, not wanting to lift your head from the pillow because the only time you feel at ease is when you dream. Fake smiles and fraud laughs make you seem okay, but deep down you just want to be in a dark room. Silence is your only friend.

This darkness has taken over my life for over a decade. The depression has never left me, it only comes and goes like summer storms. Sometimes there are rainbows at the end, and sometimes there are flooded streets – each time a different result.

When it comes, the storms bring lightning like slit wrists and broken knuckles. The thunder is multiple missed phone calls and voicemails from loved ones, crying for you to answer the phone. Torrential down pours where your mind seems unable to find any sort of happiness, leaving you aching to end your own life because you cannot bear to cope with the pains of everyday being. The occasional rainbow is your only hope at wanting to stay in this life – the only thing reminding you that it can be beautiful.

My depression has led to suicidal thoughts and actions. I was generally sad. I hated my mental and physical states and who I had become. My life, as it seemed to most people though, was a good life. Good guy, good health, good job, good friends, good family. Everything was fine. But I could never seem to see that. To me, the negatives outweighed the positives in all aspects. I was a whirlwind of hate, anger, self-harm, and sadness, believing that this world would be a better place if I could drown myself in the ocean and never be found.

That was my goal. On Thanksgiving of 2013. I was going to swim as far as I could, out into the sea. Far enough that I could not have the strength or willpower to swim back to land. Hoping I would eventually go delusional from hypothermia, my chest cavity churning with salt water. My mind and body would go numb and I’d sink to ocean’s floor where no one would find me. That’s what I thought I needed to make me feel at ease again. To feel whole.

I was stopped though, as thunder rolled in. One last voicemail that I would listen to before I made my attempt to swim out into the freezing waters of the Atlantic. The words that someone said to me still ring in my head. That night, I listened to those words again and again, repeating the voicemail over and over. The syllables silenced the provoking sounds of the waves crashing on the cold, hard sand, as I sat, ready to end this once and for all. As I contemplated my fate, those three words stuck, and the pain slowly drifted out to sea. The storm ended and this time the rainbow came.
Love conquers all.

Thank you,
Chase

Pride Month: Bia

Today’s post is about a very talented friend of mine, Bia Jurema.

In case you missed it, earlier this week LA-based artist, Somme‘s debut music video made the front page of NYLON. Why is this cool? Well for starters, Bia was the cinematographer and editor on the project. What makes this doubly important (read powerful, significant, relevant AF) though, is that Bia was part of an all queer and female-driven crew. With the help of the team including Lindsey Byrnes, Sam Atkins, and Sam Byrnes-Mandelbaum, this project came to life (and made headlines in the process).

NYLON describes the video as “not your typical LGBTQ love story”, but to be quite honest, I don’t even think that does the video justice. It is so much more than that. The first time I watched it I literally had chills. To say Bia’s work is professional is an understatement – it’s captivating. Her artistry, coupled with Somme’s talent and the efforts of the skilled team make this piece, without a doubt, one worth watching. Check it out below:

Even before this video was released, I knew I wanted Bia to be a part of my blog this month. Bia and I grew up in the same hometown. With our constantly overlapping social circles and her beyond-outgoing personality, it’s no surprise that we were friends as teenagers. Having said that though, I think the coolest (how many times will I use the word “cool” in this post?) part about knowing Bia is seeing the person she has grown into these past few years. Although we literally live on opposite sides of the country, and talk rarely, it is hard not to notice the person Bia has become. From the bad-ass, brilliant people she surrounds herself with, to the influential projects she is a part of, it seems like Bia is doing it all. Not to mention the fact that uh, she’s gay and owning it.

As I told her, there is a reason why I saved Bia’s post for last. For starters, this video an amazing example of LGBTQ-driven content (and why we need so much more of it!!!!). But also, I knew Bia would have some meaningful words to share that I think will help to bring these posts this month full circle.

Without further ado, check out Bia’s interview about her life, her work, and some advice she has for anyone reading:

1. First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you?
Sure! My name is Bia Jurema – I was born in Brazil, South America where I spent the early part of my childhood. I moved to America when I was eight years old. I now reside in Los Angeles, California working as a filmmaker/photographer – I direct, shoot, and edit narrative, documentary, commercial, and branded videos.

2. I think I know you well enough to answer this question, but for those of you who don’t, what made you interested in film and photography? Why is that the career path you chose to pursue?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been terrified of having a “normal” job. In my opinion, art is the greatest vessel for us to demonstrate our potential as conscious, emotional, flawed beings. That consciousness inside of each of us is a very precious thing to me – I’m weary of wasting it. So, film/photo always felt like the best way of, quite literally, capturing that.

3. Speaking of, can you tell me a little about the video attached?
Certainly! My friend Somme is an incredible artist. One night we were cruising in the car and she played me her single off of her new EP – I immediately vibed to it. She asked if I wanted to shoot and edit her music video and I jumped at the opportunity.

As two gay women, we knew we wanted it to be queer. Her cousin, Lindsey Byrnes, is an incredible, accomplished photographer who wanted to direct the music video. She also happened to know a professional ballet dancer, Sam Akins, who would make for a perfect cameo. Suddenly we had ourselves a queer ensemble and got right to work.

You can read a little more about Lindsey’s intentions as the director in this cool write-up NYLON did for the premiere.

4. What does working on a project made by all queer people mean to you?
It means so much to me. I grew up knowing like two gay people, so my coming out process was definitely slow and awkward. I had little to no examples of what it meant to be gay and thriving. This was
pre-Netflix era, so there wasn’t much queer television representation either. Fast forward to 2017: I’m fully out, living in Los Angeles, my inner circles are mostly comprised of queer people, and I get to make art with them? To me, this is the definition of a dream come true.

5. Can you tell us a little bit about what it means, in your opinion, to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community?
It’s like when you’re young and start figuring out that your eyesight may not work like everyone else’s. Things are a bit blurry, but you wouldn’t know better since this is how you’re used to seeing the world. But, then your mom takes you to get your first pair of glasses, and she slowly slides them over your face and suddenly the whole world is new. Everything is clear. And then you wonder how you ever got by before this. That’s what it means to me.

6. Do you want to share a little insight into your coming out experience?
Like I mentioned, it was slow and awkward. I was your quintessential tomboy growing up, until I got to the age where I realized, ‘Oh, I’m a girl. I’m not supposed to look and behave like this.’ I feel sad that our world so strictly assigns colors, interests, fashion, and god damn personality traits (!!!!) to a gender. It’s heartbreaking that I felt like I had to “fix” myself to appease a set of standards I did not sign up for.

I finally came to terms with my sexuality a couple of years ago. I fell in love with a girl in college who I’m still dating now – it’s been 3 years. Her name is Kate and she’s pretty great. OK, weird that rhymes. Anyways, I slowly told a couple of people about Kate and I, but our relationship was definitely still a secret. I was interning in New York City a couple summers ago when I called my mom and told her via a drunken phone call. After that hurdle, we sat down and told all of our good friends, who then helped us spread the news organically. Most people we’re pretty much like, “Yeah, we knew” but it was definitely a shock for my mom. She got all of the offensive questions out of her system, but now she’s pretty great about it.

7. On the topic, how would you explain what the word “Pride” means to you?
It means living an unregimented life, free from the heteronormative pressures of society. It means pursuing the virtues of love and happiness. It means fulfillment.

8. If you had one piece of advice for those people still figuring out their sexuality, what would it be?
You’re not late. You’re not early. Figuring out your sexuality is an unorthodox and intimate process, that is unique to each individual. Don’t pressure yourself to fit any labels, but know there is power in their embodiment.

9. There is also a lot of the people who read this blog that do not identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Is there anything you want to say to that demographic of readers?
Thanks for your support! It’s cool to see people existing outside of their echo chambers and looking to the internet to expand their horizons.

9. What are your hopes for the future? (For yourself, for the country/world, etc)
I really need another Rihanna album, STAT.

You can check out more about Bia here:
Instagram: @biuh
Website: biajurema.com

Pride Month: Chrissy

Remember last month when I said how crazy and mind-blowing it was to receive so much positive feedback regarding the Mental Health Awareness Month posts? If you had told me then that these Pride Month posts would receive even more views, shares, and positive feedback, I probably would have never believed you. 

More on how appreciative I am for all of that another time, but I did want to touch on it for a reason. The writer of this piece is Chrissy, a friend of my friend Laura. It was so beyond humbling when Chrissy reached out to me to write a piece for this blog (thanks to you too, Laura). This kind of interest from people like Chrissy is exactly why I wanted to start this project in the first place. 

I think Chrissy’s words are important for many reasons. As you will read, she explains a common misconception that many people struggle with. For some reason, there is still this unspoken belief that, as a female, you can’t be both gay and pretty. There is still this massive lingering stereotype that gay men are all chiseled Gods with wonderful taste in fashion, and gay women are masculine,  sports-loving, for lack of a better term, “dykes”. 

Not only do I strongly disagree with this long-standing theory, but I actually believe it can be really detrimental to both people within the LGBTQ+ community, and people still coming to terms with their sexuality. To see what I mean by this, check out Chrissy’s piece below: 

“You’re too pretty to be gay.”

A phrase that holds more power than I could ever imagine. Most people who utter it think it’s a harmless joke after feeling unsure of how to react when I disclose my sexuality. But I wish so badly that I could show them the self-conscious whirlwind it sends me down.

I used to feel so much pressure from society to “be a certain way”, and at first, that meant trying to be “straight.” I was unhappy and uncomfortable in my own skin. I felt empty – like I had no purpose in life when I could not live it, or express myself, the way that made me happy. I felt like I was constantly drowning. There was no coming up for air until I could let the part of me out that would help keep me afloat.

When I first started coming out to people, I felt obligated to be the “right kind of lesbian.” What does that even mean, anyway? Ask most close-minded people, and the responses you may get are “butch” or “dyke”. My personal favorite? “Lipstick lesbian.” A term that is thrown around like some foul, derogatory thing, like it’s the “wrong” lesbian. I felt I had something to prove, as if I had to show people that I could be the “right” kind of lesbian. But not anymore. I love women, and how I look and how I dress doesn’t change that. I am free to love who I want, and that, that is what pride is about for me. This month is meant to show people that it’s okay to not fit in a perfect box. Not everything is black and white. It’s something to celebrate, not something to put others down for. Love is beautiful in its entirety.

While I’ve come to terms with the fact that there is no wrong way to love, I still struggle with getting to the stage of readiness where I can tell other people about who I love. My reality of being a lesbian? Imagine every time you met someone new you had to preface with “I’m straight”. It sounds absurd, right?  To announce your sexuality as if it could make or break a relationship. Or worse, that it’s something that could put your life in danger. That’s the reality I live in. With every new move, every new opportunity or experience, any time there’s a chance to meet someone new, it’s a thought that’s in the back of my head, constantly. How to do it, if I should say it, playing out the worst case scenario of how someone might respond. 

As the years go on, I have realized how much it consumes my life, and though I have become more confident with who I am, the fear of people’s responses has grown stronger. I literally feel an obligation to come out again, every time I meet someone. When I was dating, I felt like I had to explain to everyone that I was gay before I could bring my girlfriend around. Needless to say, the anxiety won out most of the time. Unfortunately,  it has been the cause of many breakups, which is infuriating. I want to be angry at all the people I feel as though I have to explain myself to. But who’s fault is it that I have to explain myself? That is the million dollar question. Where did this notion that I have to “get permission” to be gay around people I consider friends come from? Without anywhere to direct that anger, it can bubble inside. Combined with the anxiety it brings, it’s like the angel and the devil on your shoulder, only worse, because they are both whispering terrible things into your ear.

Working in healthcare, I feel as if I will forever be living a double life. I feel obligated to hide the truth about my sexual orientation for fear that it will impact being hired or being able to maintain a job, or worse, how my patients view me. While I want to be angry at the people who make me feel like I have to hide, I am actually more upset with myself for letting other people have such a hold on my life and how I live it. I don’t feel like me, not completely. Because a huge part of me is missing for the majority of my day, and instead, it is always just tucked away in my mind.  While most of the time it’s not something that’s actively a part of my day, it’s impossible to permanently evade the “do you have a boyfriend?” question. A question I so desperately want to correct, and say, “do you mean ‘do I have a significant other?'” I wish I was just bold enough to respond with, “no, but I have a girlfriend.” That day has yet to come though. I am hoping one day I’ll be brave enough because that day will be the first that I feel infinitely free.

 While I would like to think we’ve made progress in this world, it’s still a very scary place to live in. The fear of rejection can make you feel like such an inadequate human being. It can waste you away into nothingness, and infiltrate your every thought until you actually start to believe that you aren’t worth it, that you’re wrong, and that you’re not enough. If there’s one thing I want people to take away from this, it’s that they are enough. They are worth it. Rejection does not define you as a person but rather, it speaks volumes of those who are unwilling to open their minds. It is so incredibly important to rise above those people and love in the way that feels right to you. That’s why “Pride” is such an amazing experience.  You can feel the power of love, and you can sense the strength of all those who have risen above the worst of it. That strength is what we need.  That strength gives people hope. That strength is why I’m here today.   

You can also check out Chrissy on Instagram: @chrissy_wojo

Pride Month: LJ

Today I am extremely happy to share a post written by the very talented, Lawn aka LJ. I met LJ freshman year of college, and I remember feeling like she was just immediately one of the most friendly, outgoing, and accepting people I had met thus far. 

Freshman year of college is weird AF, you’re trying to get to know people, find your niche, and feel comfortable in a foreign place. I was lucky to have been introduced to LJ through another friend of mine, Kara, and our friendship just felt natural. I’m pretty sure the first time we hung out she literally let me drag her along to a concert hours away from our school, for an artist she had never heard of, and even welcomed us to sleep at her house afterward too. 

Anyway, the reason I asked her to write has nothing to do with that (lol), I just wanted to give a funny little backstory. I asked LJ to write because I think her ideas are extremely important. I’ve been following her on Twitter for years now,  and I just feel like there is so much substance and importance to the things LJ tweets and retweets. I just had this feeling that if I reached out to her, she’d have something unique and valuable to share. 

To be honest, LJ’s piece surpasses what I even expected. I know this month is about “Pride”, but like I have said before, “Pride”, and the meaning behind it, encompasses so much more than just positive experiences. Her words aren’t necessarily about a coming out story or a supportive moment, quite the opposite actually, and I think that is what makes them powerful. I don’t want to give too much away with my summary, so just check it out here:

I’m gay, but don’t tell my coworkers

June. The month many LGBTQA members of our society are looking forward to every year. Why? Well, because it’s the month corporate America so generously gives to the LGBTQA community as a chance to be unapologetically proud of who we are and who we love.

For starters, I am a cisgender gay woman and my pronouns are she/her/hers. I am out to pretty much everyone: my parents, my friends, and even the random girls I meet around midnight in bars while I’m in line for the bathroom.

However, there is one group of people to which I have never uttered the words, “I’m gay” — my coworkers. While many of them probably assume my identity because I never bring a date to our staff parties and can rock a pantsuit better than Ellen, they never bring it up.

Kenji Yoshino best describes this term in his book, Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. In Laymen’s terms, to cover is to tone down a disfavored identity to fit the mainstream. It’s not a new term and it isn’t solely attributed to the LGBTQA community. There is also racial covering and sex-based covering, but this post focuses on LGBTQA covering.

People cover for many reasons. I cover for fear that my homosexual identity will undermine the quality of work that I produce. I don’t want to be known at work for my sexual orientation because I don’t want to give anyone a reason to dislike me for something that is irrelevant to my work performance.

Is this thought process messed up? You bet. It’s hard going to work every day feeling like I have to censor my true self to cater to the bias and comfort levels of other people.

But covering doesn’t make me feel safe and “in control.” Instead, I feel ashamed and dishonest. I’m ashamed that I care so much of what current and future colleagues may think of me and I feel a dishonesty that is so privileged because I can pass as straight.

It’s also discouraging to think that people I work so closely with every day might suddenly shift their opinions of me because of who I have feelings for.

I guess I have to decide what’s more important to me, the comfort of others or how beautiful my girlfriend will look at our next holiday party.