The Canary in the Coal Mine

#depression #selfharm #suicide

At some point in college–years ago, now–I remember finding some of my old poems on DeviantArt. I wrote a lot of poetry in high school, but after I went off to college, the ability to do it mysteriously disappeared and I haven’t written a single poem for at least six years.

Whatever ideas you may have in your head about poetry written by teenagers, I was fairly good at it. I preferred to write structured, rhyming poems, and even tried sonnets and villanelles. It was fun. I gave them to partners sometimes.

As I looked over those old poems, I didn’t feel embarrassed or silly about them. Actually, I felt a little terrified, because I noticed something I’d never noticed before: they were completely full of suicidal imagery.

I don’t mean vague metaphors, although those would also be concerning. I mean lines like “I laid down on the railroad tracks / And waited for my train to come.”

Where did that come from? In those years before I ever consciously felt suicidal, why was I putting that stuff into my poems?

And then I felt even more spooked because I realized that dozens of people had read those poems. My partners read them. My friends read them. My teachers read them. They were published in my high school literary magazine.

Nobody fucking thought to ask why the fuck I was writing poems about willingly getting run over by a train? Or falling from a great height? Or going to sleep and never waking up? Really, nobody found that in the least bit concerning?

And then I thought, of course they didn’t. Because that’s Just What Teenagers Do. Because Hormones and Angst. Because They Don’t Know What They’re Saying. Because They Just Want Attention. Because it’s #JustTeenageThings to graphically imagine killing yourself and then put that in a poem that dozens of people read.

And look, I don’t know, maybe plenty of teens wrote poems like that and then went on to have absolutely no mental health problems whatever and live happily ever after. Or maybe they did have mental health problems but they had nothing to do with the thoughts that led them to write those poems.

All I know is, it could’ve actually made a huge difference if someone had noticed that and asked me about it. Maybe a few years later I wouldn’t be contemplating where the best place on campus to kill myself would be. Maybe by the time I was sitting on the couch in my dorm suite, looking over those old poems on DeviantArt, I wouldn’t be on antidepressants (there is nothing wrong with being on antidepressants, but it’s still nice to avoid it when you can). Maybe all of my friendships and relationships wouldn’t have been tainted by depression in some way, maybe today I wouldn’t have laid in bed till 1 PM trying to get myself to give a fuck about anything at all, because years later, I’m still not actually “recovered.”

Maybe I would be giggling as I tell this story to my friends: “Can you believe that back in high school they sent me to therapy over some dumb poems I wrote?” and everyone would say, “Wow, that’s so ridiculous, they make such a big deal out of nothing!” And I would never know what a bullet I dodged, and this, despite all my irritation, despite the money my parents would’ve spent, despite the embarrassment I would’ve felt, would be a victory. This is better than spending years wanting to kill yourself and then living the rest of your life in that shadow. Trust me.

We need to start thinking prophylactically about mental illness. It is easier to help a teenage girl who says, “But what’s really the point of life if I don’t have a boyfriend?” (yes, this is what I said, who’d have thought I’d grow up to be so gay) rather than an adult woman who says, “All of my relationships have been failures, I’m never going to get a job I actually like, I’m going to spend the rest of my life regretting all of my mistakes and also everybody hates me because I’m so sad and pathetic all the time.”

See, the time to unlearn all of these awful ways of thinking would’ve been then, not now.

But it didn’t happen that way, because not one of the dozens of people who read those poems stepped up and took them seriously. “Teenage angst” is a fucking punchline in our culture.

Except I never grew out of it, and eventually nobody was laughing anymore. Least of all me.

~~~

This is not something I’m willing to discuss privately with anyone, no matter how well I know them. If you have a response to make, please leave it as a comment rather than contacting me in some other way.

Advertisements

Escape Routes

#sexualassault #suicide

Sitting in a cab, I wonder how hard it would be to jump out if I needed to, if I noticed that the cab isn’t going the right way. (And do I know the city well enough to tell?) Traffic rarely moves fast here and there are a lot of stoplights, but I’d have to get out of the street fast so he wouldn’t run me over.

I like parties, but even then, I always think about leaving them. I think about when I will leave, who I will say goodbye to, how I will manage their reaction if they feel I am leaving too soon, and what I’ll do when finally, finally I’m alone again.

Whenever I’m in a relationship serious enough that ending it would necessitate a “breakup” rather than a fade-out, I imagine how and why I would initiate a breakup. What would they have to do for me to fall out of love with them, or to leave them despite still being in love? How would I say it? Who, or what, would fill the gaps they would leave in the landscape of my day-to-day life?

I plan my escape from cities, just like my parents did before me. I planned my escape from my American “hometown,” and then from the city in which I went to college, and now from the city I love most. Not because I want to leave, not this time, but because I’m afraid I’ll be forced to.

There was a period of time when I was constantly trying to figure out how to escape from life itself. Things I considered, if not seriously: tall buildings trains pills car crashes illnesses. Although I thought about it a lot, I didn’t actually intend or plan to do it. What I needed was the comfort of knowing that I had a way out.

It is ironic that despite finding change so difficult to cope with, I can sometimes only comfort myself by thinking about leaving or escaping or disappearing. Otherwise it feels like people and places are growing on me like vines, crawling on me like insects, and I need to keep shaking them off.

But in another way, escape is often a matter of survival. In that cab, in that relationship.

Being read female means always having to plan for escape.

But besides, no matter how much I enjoy something, I’m always devoting some little space in the back of my head to plotting escape routes out of it. Whether it’s a car or a room or an event or a relationship, I need to know I am free to leave.

Feelings of Hopelessness

#depression #mentalillness #suicide

One commonly cited symptom of major depression and persistent depressive disorder (formerly known as dysthymia) is “feelings of hopelessness.”

“Hope,” and by extension “hopelessness,” is one of those vague concept-nouns that most English-speaking people “just know” the meaning of, but it’s probably difficult to imagine what it’s actually like to have no hope. How that looks. How that feels.

I am one of those people about whom others speak using phrases like “bright future” and “high achieving.” When I graduated from college and joked that my diploma is the most expensive piece of paper I will ever have, my brother said, “But what about the deed to a house?” He said it with a tone like it’s self-evident that I will someday own a house.

I don’t think I will own a house. I don’t think I’ll ever own anything that costs more than a few thousand dollars at most, but that’s okay. That’s not really the issue.

I’m sure that the reason people are so optimistic about my future is part privilege and part the fact that I genuinely do come across as a capable person who works hard and accomplishes things. It doesn’t really matter. I don’t see what they see.

On “good” days, I just don’t give a fuck about what happens to me more than about six months out. It’s not anything I have any interest in. I’m sure it won’t be especially great or happy or fulfilling, so I have no reason to think about it.

On bad days, I’m actively afraid and horrified about my future. I don’t think I’ll ever find a stable relationship close to home. If I decide I want children, I will not have anyone to have them with, nor the money to give them a good life. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford to live anywhere I’d actually enjoy living. I think that my job, if I manage to find one after I finish my degree, will be awful, dreary, boring, low-paid, even abusive. (Sadly, this does seem to describe many jobs in my field, though certainly not all of them.) I think that my friends will start their own families and largely forget about me. I think that my own family will always be just out of reach, an expensive plane ticket away, growing older without me there.

I think about the frankly ridiculous notion that you can either have a low-paid but fulfilling job or a high-paid but unfulfilling one, and my friends’ frankly useless reassurances that “Well, at least you’ll be doing something you love, right?”, and I just know that I’ll be stuck with a low-paid and unfulfilling job for life, miserable while at work but with no money to do anything pleasant while outside of it.

Tell me truthfully–if you were certain that your future was going to look like this, would you be all that interested in seeing it happen?

Although I’m not suicidal at the moment, I have been in the past, and I can say that this profound sense of hopelessness influenced it. (There are other factors that contribute to suicidality, obviously, such as feeling like a burden to your loved ones, being in so much pain you can’t stand it, etc.) If the endpoints of the spectrum of my feelings about my future are “meh I don’t give a flying fuck” and “oh god please don’t make me,” well, what really is the point?

For now, the point is that I’ve managed to convince myself that my hopelessness does not follow from the evidence. There are reasons to be worried, yes, maybe not too terribly optimistic given the economy and the political climate and the profession I chose and the city I want to live in, but there is no reason to believe that I will never, ever, have anything I want in any domain of my life, be it family or finances or friendship or romance or career or location or leisure. That just doesn’t make any sense. Nobody with as much privilege as I have, and as many social resources, gets fucked that badly.

Right?