Suicidal tendencies; dancing with the devil that lives inside your mind.

On May 18, 2017 we lost Chris Cornell, the legendary alt-rock singer whose sudden, shocking death left a wide path of mourning in its wake. I saw the tweet almost immediately and I knew it was going to be a tough one for his fans. Since he died so young, and these days 52 is pretty young to shuffle off one’s mortal coil, we waited for the cause. When it finally came, I knew it would be an even tougher blow for people.

Whenever someone commits suicide, it shades the mourning into something akin to anger at the person who died. Let’s face it. Losing someone is hard. You have a lot of powerful emotions and they can be very hard to manage. Nobody wants to feel despondent. Rage at least gives you some illusion of control over the whole thing. Anger puts you back into a position of power when the choices of someone else pull the emotional rug out from under you. You hear words like “selfish,” or “cowardly,” thrown around, mostly because it’s easier. It’s also more socially acceptable. If someone buries a 500-lb person, you’d never go up to the person’s family and say anything negative about the choices that brought him or her to her end. You show sympathy.

Direct suicide, however, comes with a much more visceral reaction, even though – technically speaking – they sort of come from the same place. One’s just a hell of a lot faster.

I never get angry. I know all too well the seductive lure of suicide. I know what it feels like to be so overwhelmed you just want the pain to *end*, right now, no waiting. I’ve thought about the unthinkable more than once.

I’ve thought about it recently.

Part of it stems from the depression and mental health issues I’ve had all my life, I’m sure. At least I hope so. I hope that it’s not normal to contemplate such a horrible thing, even when things aren’t going well. Even if things never seem to go well.

To me, the presence of suicide is the absence of hope, and that is a bleak, bleak place to be.

Whenever I hear of someone who has died this way, my heart immediately breaks for them. I think about their final moments that they had to spend alone, with this monster in their mind, a lying, seductive devil that convinces them there is only one option left.

I have wrestled more than once with this darkness. It’s terrifying.

And every time I hear about someone losing their battle to that monster, it fills me with my own terror. I’ve been where they were. I fear I will be again. And I worry that one day all hope will run out for me and I’ll do the unthinkable, because it is by the hair of my chinny chin chin that I made it through those scary times at all.

So what brings someone to such a desperate end?

Lots of things. We all have different thresholds of what we’re willing to endure to survive. Pain. Trauma. Financial worry. Sickness. Fear. Exhaustion. The option to punch your own ticket sometimes seems preferable than living on under the weight of such overwhelming conditions. Sometimes we as humans feel painted in a corner and it’s just easier to check out than to keep fighting a losing battle one more day.

And sometimes the thoughts are fleeting. Like, “Jesus, I should just fucking down a bottle of pills and get it over with,” but you keep going, one foot after the other, trying to find your way to some sort of break that will help you recharge your batteries. You know you only think these things in a weak moment, when you’re feeling particularly drained, but you don’t *really* mean it. It just gives you some sort of sense of control to say it, which is important when everything in your life is whirling around out of your control.

Other times, the scarier times, you begin to plan. You start to think about how you will do it, and maybe even arrange your life in such a way that it could accommodate such plans. Maybe you start to give away things that matter to you, or write your goodbye letters. Maybe you talk about it more, and people who know you dismiss is as some “cry for attention,” because they just can’t see someone so strong, someone who has so much to live for, doing such a “selfish”, “cowardly” thing.

It is in this period we need your compassion and your help most of all. It is in these moments that we feel selfish and cowardly, and such dismissal reinforces those negative, bleak feelings. If talk of suicide is someone’s “cry for attention” – GIVE IT TO THEM. They’re still in the planning stages at this point, and in that stage their mind is a war zone trying to list all the reasons to stay and all the reasons to leave.

If people heap onto their shame and their own feelings of low self-worth and failure, it can give a lot of ammo to that monster that resides inside their brains, who tells them things *regularly* – like, “You’re such a burden. The people you love would be so much better off without you.” “You’re such a fuck-up. Just end it already.”

People will say it’s selfish for someone to consider suicide, and maybe it is – but these are vulnerable people who are under the influence of the worst kind of liar that hides in the shadowy places in their mind, who convinces them a selfish act would actually be a loving one.

And they’re so out of gas at the moment, they’re ripe to believe it.

The first time I contemplated suicide was when I was thirteen years old. I was only 13, but it was the fourth time I had dealt with the fear of sexual abuse. I was raped at four as most know, but I had two near brushes with nefarious types before I turned twelve, which set off my radar that I was in trouble. One was with a preacher, who sat me down in an empty church to talk about my faith. I remember two things: the blue leisure suit he wore (I think this was probably mid-70s) and the gawdy gold ring he wore on his pinky finger.

He laid his arm on the pew behind me, leaning in close, with that seductive tone in his voice, as he spoke about his concern for my soul.

All sorts of alarms went off and I was glad that I got the heck out of there. I don’t even remember how I escaped, but I assume my parents probably came to get me to take me home.

Thank God. Literally.

The next brush was some stranger in a car, who tried to pick me up as I was heading home from school. He drove slow enough to keep up with me while I was walking, not saying anything at first, and then finally rolling down the window to offer me a ride. I shook my head vigorously and all but ran home.

So when my friend decided to take a guy we had both met to court for raping her, I kinda felt at that point that this was my lot in life, to forever run from these kinds of men who only set out to hurt me. Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to feel that hunted, but it’s fucking terrifying. When I heard that this guy kept a gun in his glove box, in a car I had ridden in, the terror became unbearable.

Imagine the feeling of having zero control over your body, up to losing your very own life. The powerlessness that comes with that is crushing.

And keep in mind that this emotional baggage was something I shouldered all alone. There was so much shame heaped onto my young shoulders, thanks in large part to the way our society views women and how my religion viewed sex in general. I had yet to tell ANYONE what I had gone through. There was no other voice to combat the monster in my head, who used my own religious upbringing against me. I was damaged goods. Corrupted. Unlovable.

What. Was. The. Point?

So I sat at my kitchen table with a knife to my wrist and I thought about the long road ahead of me, one I walked alone, confused and afraid. I was going to have to face this guy in court, and likely be the thing that ensured he’d face legal consequences for fucking around with a fourteen-year-old girl. That’s what they told me anyway. It was more than just “he said/she said,” with my testimony. I could prove that he was lying when he said he had never met us or taken us for a ride one afternoon at lunch at school.

I could prove that I saw him drive off with her in the car that day in question.

That’s a lot of weight for a thirteen-year-old girl to carry all by herself. Finding out he had a gun, and I might be the thing that jeopardized his very freedom, put me in a precarious situation. I felt like I was teetering on the edge of the abyss, with life on one side and men in general on the other side, playing this tug of war with me and my sanity hanging in the balance.

When you feel that powerless, you’ll do anything to seize control of something, of anything, even if it’s ensuring no one would ever be able to hurt you again, even if it means you have to hurt yourself first.

And so I was over it. I sat there at that table, tears running down my face, as I tried to end it before life ended me, without my choice, as was the pattern of my entire life up till that point.

At least this time, for once in my fucking life, I’d have control over my pain and of my fear.

Then the phone rang. It was my best friend Jeff, in a rare long-distance phone call that his mother usually never let him make. This was back in 1983 when there were no cell phones, no Internet, no Facetime or Skype. If I wanted to communicate with my bestie, I had to sit, write a letter, mail it out and wait for about four days to get a response. Long distance phone calls were expensive, and neither one of us had a job. We were at the mercy of what our parents could and would afford. When we lived in the same town, we talked every day on the phone. His was the lone voice that helped me through the dark silence that followed my dad’s death. After I moved away, I held on for deal life thanks to weekly letters that came addressed solely to me, that made me feel special, like someone in the world gave a damn about me.

Turn that feeling up to 11 and you have the joy I felt when I could talk to him in “real time” on the phone, even when he was 300 miles away.

I picked up the phone and was greeted by his cheery voice, so happy that we could chat for real instead of just exchange letters back and forth like we had done for the year or so before then.

I burst into tears, unable to hide the pain anymore. When he asked me what was wrong I finally told him. Likewise he burst into tears, to tell me that he couldn’t imagine life without me, and that he needed me. As a gay teen in Texas in the middle of the 1980s, he was going through so much he couldn’t even tell me at the time. So I had no way of knowing what a lifeline I was to him, even though I totally was.

But the lying monster in my brain had never let me consider that, because it was too busy keeping my focus pointed inward towards the abyss. I was stunned when he said these things to me.

It was enough to put down the knife. Just knowing someone gave a damn, and – the really important part – didn’t stop loving me when I told him my greatest shame, literally saved my life.

I credit this to divine intervention. I don’t share my faith a lot, but this one event convinced me that not only is there a God, but he/she/it cares what happens to me.

Thanks to that phone call, I once again had hope where there was none.

I didn’t seriously contemplate suicide again until sixteen years later, when I faced yet another overwhelming crisis, one that involved my kids.

And this was even after I lost my newborn son to a fatal heart malformation when he was nine days old. When the paramedic came into the bedroom where I waited with Tim (who was a day short of five years) and Jer (who was three), he broke the news to me as gently as one could tell a young mother that her beautiful baby was, simply, gone. I felt the will to breathe leave me and started to sink to my knees. This man grabbed me by both shoulders and held me up, forcing me to look him straight in the eye. He reminded me that I still had two other children who needed their mother to be strong.

It wasn’t hope necessarily, but it was purpose, much like being there for my bestie who needed me back in the 80s – and that was just as powerful a motivation.

Those two children became my reason to live. And I struggled with every decision after that to give them what I thought they needed. Dan finally got diagnosed and treated for his bipolar disorder. I worked hard to support the family as the sole breadwinner, while managing the new complications that came with living with the disorder, and all the treatment options we had to work through to get to ANYTHING that might help.

But the damage for my young sons was already done in all those dark years before we understood what demons drove my first husband. Thanks to Dan’s illness, my two remaining children ended up removed from the home, with never-ending hurdles I had to jump in order to get them back. The harder I fought, the more life pushed back. I was powerless and in pain, once again. Only this time I felt I had lost every single thing left to live for. I started the planning stage in January of 1999. I couldn’t bear facing the anniversary of Brandon’s death without my other two children. I decided to steal a bottle of Dan’s powerful pills, go to my youngest son’s grave and just go into eternal sleep like he did.

Even with a success story, even after I soundly beat the devil before, it’s amazing how long suicide lingered in the back of my brain as some sort of escape hatch if life gets to be too much.

A stranger I met through the internet picked up on my defeatist dialogue and spent an entire night on the phone with me to remind me how many things there were still left to fight for, including my two kids who, even though the state of California may not have agreed, still needed me to fight for them.

He barely knew me from Eve and we’d never meet face to face, but this angel didn’t get off the line until he was sure I was okay.

He restored my hope so that I was able to keep fighting. Within a year I had made the hard choices the courts demanded of me, which included dissolving my first marriage. By 2000 I got my kids back.

Someone refilled my tank. It wouldn’t empty again, for real, until 2015.

There were moments of weakness, though. When my chronic back pain threatened yet ANOTHER job because I just couldn’t make it to work regularly, I remember vividly sitting on the edge of my bed, in the nagging awful pain that had become the norm for me, thinking what was the point? I was a burden to those I loved, who virtually had to take care of me.

As fiercely independent as I was, that was a very hard pill for me to swallow.

The Mind Monster whispered constantly how much better off my family would be without me. I had worked tirelessly for years to ensure the survival of my family, and I couldn’t work anymore. That fucked with my identity.

And the pain I was in was relentless, shading everything in black tones as I struggled just to get through any part of the day I was conscious enough to muddle through.

The rest of the time I was out on heavy narcotic medication – missing out on my marriage and my kids… and my life.

But I was able to talk about it, to avoid the planning stages for the most part. I maintained my hope. I found reasons, no matter how small, to keep going.

Suicide still lingered in the back of my mind though, as the ultimate “break glass in case of emergency” option. If things got a little hairy, I still had access to pills that would help me check completely out, painlessly and efficiently.

It helped me maintain that illusion of control I’ve always wrestled with. If things got too bad, I knew what to do.

In 2015, things got “too bad.” I had a mental collapse of sorts, the worst one I had ever had. Depression and anxiety are no joke. They have leveled me in the past, starting after my dad died and I skipped school for ten days, hiding away in my bathroom day after day, in the warm womb of a bathtub as I struggled to find SOME way to comfort myself and heal, when I felt as bereft as an eleven-year-old girl could possibly feel.

Fast-forward thirty-four years and I found myself unable to handle life again, despite being a 45-year-old. My promising writing career had flat-lined. I went from making more money than I had ever made in my life back to struggling for each and every goddamned penny again. And it was completely out of my control. There was nothing I could do. So I relented and considered Plan B, because being homeless again was NOT an option. After being out of work for four years, I couldn’t find a job to help my family. Our economic situation was dire, struggling each and every month to pay the rent and keep our fragile little house of matchsticks from being blown over by the hungry wolf at the door.

I felt once again powerless, out of control and without hope. I lived my whole life for the dream of being a successful writer, and that success felt like it was over in a minute. The Mind Monster had a fucking field day with that. I truly felt that no matter what glimmer of happiness I could wrestle from the greedy hands of fate wasn’t ever going to be enough to justify all the days, months and years of pain, fear and hopelessness I’d endured.

It just never felt like it was going to stop. The liar that lives in my brain whispered in my ear that I had failed at everything and had a purpose for nothing. I disappeared into my room for about three days solid, even throughout Mother’s Day. I didn’t get out of bed. I cried a lot, almost anytime anyone would talk to me. As a result I didn’t talk to anyone, which was the scariest moment for me. I didn’t talk to my family. I didn’t open up to my husband, who had no clue how to handle my breakdown. I probably could have sent Hal a message and he would have been kind enough to talk me down from the ledge, but that wasn’t what I wanted. Not only had I run out of hope, I wasn’t interested in anyone renewing it. I knew the drill by this point. Yeah, it got better. And then it got bad again. And then it got worse, the price my Mind Monster always told me that I had to pay for any little morsel of happiness.

I wasn’t worth a good life. Clearly. Every good thing that happened would last a minute, and then I got thrown back into the wood chipper to tear up any idea that I was special.

That was why I lost my dad, remember.

It was a tough, tough period. Once again Jeff called me, worried because I hadn’t been online to talk to him every day like I have always done since 1995. It was no longer the 1980s. We could communicate in real time all the time, even with phone calls that became a lot less random the older, and more financially independent, we both got.

But this time I couldn’t bring myself to answer the phone. How could I face him 34 years after he had saved my life and tell him it had all been for nothing?

(And yes, I know after all those years, raising my kids, loving my husbands, creating my career out of thin air, that it wasn’t “nothing.” But that’s the lie. And it’s running fucking non-stop in those dark bleak moments.)

I got myself out of it that time, but it was a freaking miracle. I was as close to dancing with the devil as I had ever been. I’m reminded with every death by suicide that getting that close and still beating that sonofabitch is not a given.

So I feel nothing but sympathy for the person who falls to their Mind Monster, the one that convinces them of all the lies, that they have nothing to live for, to just end it – even if it is just to make the pain of the moment stop because it’s just too fucking much to bear.

I hate that they went through that alone.

I hate that they succumbed to the lie.

And I hate, most of all, how fucking seductive that lie can be.

That Chris’s death came at the expense of drugs that were supposed to heal him makes the loss even more acute. He was doing all the right things, and yet…

So I don’t know what the answer is. I just know we have to keep talking. And those who love us have to keep listening, *especially* when there’s a cry for help.

And we can’t give up. Because it is in that bleak, black moment of hopelessness where our control will slip and we can do unthinkable damage not only to ourselves, but to the people who love us most – even when we can’t seem to love ourselves.

If you’re thinking about suicide, it is my hope that you reach out and talk to someone. It does get better. Sometimes it even gets great.

And it’ll probably suck again too. Such is life for everyone. No matter what your Mind Monster says, it is not because you are a bad person. It is not because you are worthless. It isn’t because the world would somehow be better off without you. It is because we are all fighting our own type of battle, to varying degrees of success.

But you still matter.

To someone out there, you may be their lifeline helping THEM to hold onto hope. To someone else, you may be the very moon and stars, even if you don’t know it.

Even if your Mind Monster won’t let you see that.

But you still matter.

You really are here for a purpose and a reason. Life is about finding out what both of those mean to you and the people around you.

So if you’re hurting, if you’re feeling powerless and hopeless and vulnerable, if you’re feeling like the only person in the world who can touch the depths of those things, reach out to someone. It’ll be the hardest, bravest, most important decision you will ever make.

And one day, maybe you’ll help someone else who is feeling powerless and alone. You’ll give them strength. You’ll renew their hope.

And what greater purpose is there than that?

****

I wrote the above blog post several weeks ago, but I stopped myself from publishing it. I thought maybe it was too late to say these words. It no longer felt like posting a virtual life jacket that might have stopped just one person from drowning. Instead talking so frankly about the lure of this devil felt like an homage to suicide itself.

“You’re weak,” the devil whispered. “And now everyone will know.”

So I backed away from it. I justified it that the Mind Monster needs no foothold and I wasn’t about to give him one.

It was yet another lie.

This week I was faced with being on the OTHER side of the glass, with someone who was going through their own personal crisis, a single mom whose life was imploding around her with a failed relationship and a crushing economic downturn. “I just want to die,” she sobbed. And I totally fucking believed her. I stopped everything that I was doing to  share my story, weak or not, and to take her into a hug and hold her up when she wanted to fall – just like that paramedic did for me all those years ago.

I knew in that moment THAT was my purpose. It made the pain I’d been through matter, and there’s nothing more empowering than that.

But then, by Thursday, when I heard about another artist losing his battle with the Mind Monster, and I realized that maybe I’m strong and okay now – but remaining that way is not a given.

Remember, I told you I had thought about breaking the glass even recently, during my own devastating economic downturn. What others consider an unthinkable option still sits there in the back of my brain like the ultimate escape hatch.

So I’m posting this. With any hope at all, this will replace the seductive lure of suicide as my “break glass in case of emergency” option. Not just for someone else out there, but for me as well.

Because that’s what we need most to win our own private wars. We need any hope at all.

When you feel hope is just beyond your grasp… keep reaching until someone reaches back. Because they will if you just give them a chance. It is the hardest, most terrifying , most powerful thing you can do to defeat that Mind Monster, even if it is one hairy, scary battle at a time.

That’s how wars are won.

Let’s win this one.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-8255 – available 24 hours a day

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Slip slidin’ away…

I was first diagnosed with depression in 1999, after my second serious suicide scare. It wasn’t the first time I had wrestled with it, though. Not by a long shot. I’d say the monster reared its ugly head first in 1980, after my father died and I ended up skipping school for a week straight.

At the time, I would rather get lost in the world of Luke and Laura than deal with my reality: a life without my father. I loved my dad more than I loved the moon or the stars, or even God himself. Daddy was all that to me. He filled my world with positive, uplifting thoughts that insulated me against a cold, cruel world. I never felt safer, more valued or more loved.

gindaddybeech

Honestly I didn’t know how to handle this loss. And I shouldn’t have known how to handle it. I was eleven. I was just a kid. A scared, lonely, grieving little kid.

Much later, when I was a parent of a couple of scared, lonely, grieving little kids, I knew by experience what not to do. The early 1980s didn’t offer that same guidance to me. My mother was the breadwinner, out of the house much more than she was in it. She was taking care of practical matters. As a child of the 1930s, there was no hand-holding to be had. There was doing what needed to be done. Life sucks. Bad things happen. Just muscle through and trust God.

But I couldn’t trust God. God had taken away the only person in the world that I felt gave a damn about me. This was the second major betrayal as I far as I was concerned. If anything, the only thing I could trust God to do was throw more shit at some innocent kid like I deserved it.

Getting lost in fictional worlds that were forced to make sense … well, made sense.

So I skipped a week solid. It started with one day. I knew I couldn’t handle life, and I needed a break. People who don’t understand depression, who see it as just a case of the blahs, one you can easily brush off if you just try hard enough, will shade this emotion as laziness. What they don’t understand is that being forced to “human” – for lack of a better word – when you are in the clutches of depression is painful. Physically painful. When I called in sick, I wasn’t lying. I didn’t feel like going to school. Everything hurt. I felt that ambiguous unwellness that made me question if I WAS coming down with anything.

In actuality, I WAS coming down with something. I WAS unwell. And it was an illness that would lace its nasty little fingers throughout my entire life.

That day turned into two, which turned into three. Once you’re pointed down, it’s easy to keep slipping further and further, until everything spins out of control. I racked up so many days that the school had to phone my mother at work to intervene, which she did with punishment because she too didn’t understand that I was sick. School officials didn’t get it either. I was shamed in front of my whole class by our PE teacher, who decided, in his infinite wisdom, to grill me in front of everyone about my excess absences.

Again, as an eleven-year-old, I had no idea how to handle it. No one knew how to teach me to manage life with this beastie on my back.

People get too caught up in the “mental” part of mental illness. Because it stems from the mind, people who are blissfully unaffected by these ailments of the brain think you can simply “decide” to be better. Mind over matter! You can do it!

I couldn’t.

Still can’t.

Thirty-five years later and I’ve done the therapy thing. I’ve done the anti-depressant thing. I’ve battled suicidal thoughts and I’ve won. I’ve done meditation. I’ve done more holistic healing with natural supplements. For decades I’ve studied about depression, learning to recognize the warning signs so I go into battle prepared.

I’m self-aware as fuck.

That hasn’t made it any easier. In fact, it’s terrifying to realize that I’m one negative thought away from sliding down that slippery slope to a place I really don’t know if I’ll be able to return.

Thirty-five years later and I can recognize the symptoms. Every ache, every pain, every sleepless night and every long nap during the day, so I don’t have to “people,” every urge to do something destructive, every battle to do something helpful… I see the little beasties in the corner as they lie in wait to pounce the minute I turn my back. Seeing them, knowing that they’re there doesn’t make them any easier to fight. It still demands the same steely-eyed focus and determination to get in the ring with these bastards and face them off, no matter how broken or bloody I might feel in the moment.

2015 left me pretty bloody and broken. This loss of my mother, and the depression its courting, is – in a word – overwhelming. All the same patterns are emerging. I’m not sleeping at night, which is typical. This screws up my days, making me feel unproductive, lazy and all the other stereotypical BS I’ve had to field my whole life as a night owl. This fuels the beastie, whose taunting whispers grow a little bit louder the very second I’m by myself with no outside chatter to quiet them, which is another reason staying up all night by myself is a bad, bad idea if I can’t find a way to be productive.

I’ve decided to handle this mourning period a little differently than all the other times before. I’m not inexperienced when it comes to grief. I lost my dad in 1980. Three years later I lost my Uncle Tom (his brother,) and a year after that we lost my two-year-old niece to Reye’s Syndrome. Brandon died in 1995. Daniel died in 2003. Auntie Babe in 2010, and now… in the four years since I’ve moved to California, I’ve lost my Uncle Mac and my Mom.

This doesn’t even count my Aunt Gertrude, who helped fill the void for the McCandless family after my Dad died, or any of his other brothers and sisters that all disappeared off of my family canvas over the years, one by one. Even in the Voight family, we’ve lost Steven’s grandpa.

I’ve even lost a good friend and coworker I never expected to lose, one who died of heart failure when she was only 26.

It may seem like my perspective is warped – that I’m focusing on the bad stuff instead of the good stuff.

No. My life is just that unbalanced.

In my life I’ve been to seven funerals. The only wedding I’ve been to has been my own.

So… yeah. Things get a little hard to manage sometimes.

I’ve dealt with it all the way I was taught to deal with it. Do what needs to be done. Life sucks. Bad things happen. Just muscle through and trust God.

One thing that has always been my focus after a death is taking care of the living. It is my one and fervent desire to make life easier for survivors, to shoulder the burden and responsibility so that they never feel as alone and bereft as I did when I was a grieving eleven-year-old.

When my two-year-old niece died, it devastated my mother. Like I told you in my previous blog, she loved her grandbabies something fierce, and this loss – which added to all the other losses my poor mother suffered (both her parents, both her sisters, her husband, etc.,) – finally brought her to her knees.

It was up to me to help hold her up again. I steeled my spine and marched forward the only way I knew how.

Get through it.

Do whatever you need to do, but get through it.

So I stuffed down the grief to take care of her. When Brandon died years later, I did the same thing for my sons and my husband, Dan. I stood ramrod straight with all the strength I could muster. Strength for other people. Strength to take care of them, to make it easier for them.

The beasties could have me if they wanted, and they often did. But I was determined not to let them have anyone else I loved if I could help it.

This time around, there’s nothing to do but feel. I couldn’t go to Texas for the funeral. I wasn’t part of the planning process, which included pre-made arrangements. I’m the one who feels the loss the strongest in my current household. My sons are men now, who have been raised to have a much healthier view on loss and mourning than I ever did – thanks mostly to my determination to make it okay for them – so now the people around me are the ones holding ME up. This means there’s nothing else to do but fall apart.

I get to feel the grief this time around, with nothing left to distract me.

I’m hanging on with a death grip, because I know I have to do whatever is possible so that I don’t slide down this hill again.

Of course I know from experience that I’ll get through it, even though moments of hopelessness will rear their ugly heads. This is nothing I haven’t navigated before, and a lot less prepared than where I am now. I know some moments will suck, and some will feel normal. I know that nothing eases the pain but time, and sometimes not even then. I know that this is yet another tear in the fabric of my soul that will heal in yet another scar. A battle wound, if you will.

Being human is not for the fainthearted.

Right now it’s just me and the beasties, and what rotten little beasties they are. They tell me to indulge the pain – to feel it, because I deserve it. They are the ones that whisper all my sins in my ear, taunting me with regret. They’re the ones that, dare I laugh or smile, condemn me for being heartless and inhuman.

In the exercise, which I finally found a way to manage and even enjoy, I feel guilt that I’m happy. I can be happy eating a cookie or ten, that’s okay for the beasties, because they know that gives them plenty of room in the future to beat me down for being weak.

But doing anything productive to save myself? CLEARLY I must be stopped.

I’m doing that a little differently too. I won’t be stopped. I’m going to shake free the shackles and do everything I know I need to do to protect the only person there is left to protect…

Myself.

Inside is that same sad, scared eleven-year-old, and thirteen-year-old, and fourteen-year-old… that same bereft mother who had to bury her child… that same seventeen-year-old romantic that had to bury her hero.

Over the years she’s done a lot to make it better for everyone around her.

Now she gets to focus on making it better for herself… to nurse old wounds and new, with all the same steely-eyed determination that has kept her mostly upright no matter how many rounds she’s gone with the beasties.

I won’t give an inch. I can’t. The cliff I walk has always been narrow and crumbling. Each battle I fight is life or death, because if I lose my footing I’m afraid I’ll plummet down to my own premature demise.

In the words of my beautiful #10 – I don’t want to go.

In my life many people have said how strong I was to endure the pain I have. I always shrug it off. I don’t see that as strong. Life sucked. I kept moving forward until it didn’t. One step in front of the other. That’s all I’ve ever done.

You want strength? This admission of weakness is strength. This is me saying I don’t feel strong right now. I feel scared. I feel sad. I feel hopeless. The beasties have surrounded me and I’m terrified to face them again, especially after they nearly won their battle this year.

But I will face them. And I will keep going. This time I get to be the time-traveling doctor who reaches back in time to soothe and comfort a grieving child who has now been orphaned.

It’s my turn to say, “I’ve got you. We’re going to be okay.”

It isn’t easy. It hurts like hell. And it’s scary to admit these weaknesses. It’ll be even scarier when I finally find a new therapist to help walk me through all these beastly little mental landmines I’ve been navigating mostly on my own, the same clueless kid I’ve always been.

But if I want to actualize the life of my dreams, manifesting it out of sheer will and determination, I can’t keep pretending everything is okay when it isn’t.

I’m the good girl no longer. I’m imperfect. Flawed. Unwell. Scared to human.

And you know what?

That’s okay.

I’m not made worse by this condition. I’m not weak or crazy because I struggle with depression. It’s an illness. And just like any other illness, confronting it and dealing with it early is key to managing it.

That’s all there is left to do.

I’m going to get out of my own head, which is filled with negative, lying voices that want me to destroy myself, that tell me it’s pointless to try and improve anything when nothing in my life indicates that I can conquer my demons for real. They want to shame me as weak because I have all these complications to manage. They want to make me feel like I’m alone, that no one understands, and that it’ll never get better.

This has been my battle for 35 years. I’ve managed it poorly over the years, chasing those temporary fixes that make me feel good for the moment, like overeating, or playing hooky from school, or getting blissfully wasted on whatever intoxicant looks appealing at the time, whether it’s booze, sex or shopping.

Today… I’m going to do something different.

I don’t just want to feel “good” anymore.

I want to feel “well.”

This is my Monday motivation.

phoenixquote

Nuts, Crazy, Crackers, Bananas.

The word “crazy” gets thrown around a lot, and there’s usually not much more to it than, “That’s behavior I don’t understand so I’ll just toss it in the ‘crazy’ category so I know what to do with it.”

It’s a very small word with a lot of different definitions. Some of them are quite negative, and justifiably so, but I think the overuse of this word has actually robbed it of the impact that in some cases it needs to have.

There are some folks who think I’m crazy to be a “comedy groupie” for Hal Sparks, and that driving all over the continent to see him is bizarre, freaky or nutso. Granted it may be outside the norm, but generally speaking I and several others like me are mentally sound enough not to take it to a dangerous extreme. We don’t stalk him from the bushes or have unrealistic expectations of non-existent relationships; we simply enjoy him as a performer and get a lot of enjoyment out of the traveling to new places and meeting new people with similar interests.

It’s like watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show 1000 times in a theater – it’s a form of entertainment we enjoy and therefore continue to do to add some pizazz in our otherwise boring, “normal” lives.

Same thing with friends of mine who are covered in tattoos. They get judged for being “crazy” to permanently scar their skin with intensely personal artistic expressions they’re brave enough to wear for a lifetime on their body. Yet again these are folks who maybe love something to an extent “most” do not – but that doesn’t make them crazy.

To me crazy is when you no longer have any real control over your behavior, and this self-destructive drive manifests itself outwardly.

Just dismissing someone as crazy often means it’s their problem and you don’t have to do any more than judge it from the comfort of your armchair.

In fact, many people enjoy the spectacle. Which is why Charlie Sheen’s meltdown has become headline news lately. People are lapping it up and don’t care a smidge that there are innocent children involved who have to deal with this obviously disturbed individual on a constant basis.

There’s a part of human nature that likes to see the mighty fall – or the average do something completely apeshit so they can be amused, entertained or otherwise distracted from THEIR boring, “normal,” day to day.

Dunno… sounds kinda crazy….

The problem with this cavalier, voyeuristic exploitation of the word “crazy” is that when someone’s crazy behavior indicates a serious mental illness, no one is willing to give it any kind of credence at all. “They’re just crazy,” people dismiss, and because of that we get things like what happened in Tucson.

At some point someone who was really fast-tracking right off the rails interacted with someone else – someone sane – and they could tell that something was “not right.” Yet there’s a part of us that refuses to believe that someone could really be that disconnected from reality and thus really not *dangerous* (just ‘crazy’,) so we generally look the the other way or worse… wash our hands from our own responsibility to intervene. We pass it off to the next person and the next, figuring it’s not our problem until we are the ones with the gun to our heads.

And maybe that’s what we fear. It’s a lot easier to say, “That person is crazy,” than invest ourselves and risk ourselves to get involved and find a brake to the runaway train.

Frankly we don’t want the responsibility.

It’s scary… especially when you’re dealing with someone who is mentally disturbed.

The other side of this indifferent coin is we don’t want to be wrong. We don’t want to mix up the crazy, because some crazy is okay.

Is it a normal, quirky crazy that means they just have a habit they’re a little *too* passionate about (by our own definition)? Or is it locked up in the book tower, pantyhose on the head, taking shots at innocent bystanders crazy?

If we’re going by the former definition we’re all a little crazy in one way or another. Fortunately most of us won’t get to the latter because we aren’t really crazy at all. We’re quite sane, even if a bit quirky or unusual.

What’s crazy-insane is when we step over the line between the two. For most of us that’s a brick wall as high as the sky we couldn’t really get around because we’re just not capable of it.

The switch hasn’t flipped.

For others whose switch is wired a bit differently, it’s a chalk line on the sidewalk that just keeps moving further into dangerous territory every time someone just dismisses disturbing behavior as “normal/crazy.”

With this kind of ambivalence, true “crazy” gives way to psychotic eventually.

How does one go from not having a record, able to get guns, then go on a shooting rampage? It doesn’t happen overnight… many people are exposed to these warning signs way before the actual event. We watch it happen in disbelief, unable to believe that someone we could know or even love is capable of doing the unthinkable.

It’s a place none of us want to find ourselves, and being a spectator of this downward spiral is even more disheartening… because the ones who manage to dash over that line are generally incapable of recognizing the behavior because they’re NOT crazy – they’re sick.

I went through this with my first husband Dan, who was mentally ill when I didn’t even know it. I thought he was working through understandable emotional issues from his childhood, I had no idea there was something physically wrong with him to spur on “crazy” behavior.

What a revelation it was to me years later to find out that this was a misfiring in his brain that meant through therapy and medication he could be *better*. And by that point I knew that nothing else would stop the downward spiral until he self-destructed completely.

It was a life raft that I know in my heart too many people never get thrown. They end up lining the streets as the homeless or populating jail cells and self-medicate with alcohol, drugs and other equally self-destructive vices. Meanwhile spectators from the safety of their “non-crazy” lives are willing to dismiss this troublesome or frightening behavior as some sort of personal failure rather than a symptom of a tormenting mental illness.

In the same way we dismiss others as crazy, we try to assign our own mental attributes onto them as if they are sane… or at least as sane as we think we are.

It’s as fun to judge these sad souls as it is to watch them stumble and fall… which is why Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen dominate the headlines whenever they act as crazy as we as a society have already decided they are.

I find it all terribly, terribly sad. Because I know it’s all terribly, terribly unnecessary.

And I think if anyone ever really understood mental illness they’d never fling around the word “crazy” as some dismissive label to stick on anyone we don’t understand.

Mental illness is nothing to laugh at – OR dismiss.

In fact, by dismissing this behavior as just generic “crazy” we in fact validate this disturbing behavior and encourage it to get worse. And it will get worse. Nothing tests the boundaries like true “crazy”. It will keep erasing that line on the sidewalk and marking it further and further until someone is brave enough and strong enough to put a stop to that behavior.

It has to be someone outside of the individual, because they are too ill to make this determination for themselves.

And, just as a personal aside, anyone who encourages the deranged delusions of someone who is seriously mentally ill just to make a buck should be ASHAMED of themselves certainly – but I would make an argument that legal charges should be filed if these sick individuals act on any behavior these charlatans encouraged.

Because we have an equal part in the “crazy.” If we witness this troubling behavior and do nothing, not only will the mentally ill person be a danger to him or herself, but we will be an accomplice to the behavior we could have alerted someone else to before it went too far.

This is especially true of anyone who is married to or related to someone who is so clearly off the rails.

Love them enough to get them the help they are not well enough to know they need.

Some are quite adept at manipulating health care providers to fly *just under* the radar (and IMO are even MORE dangerous because they’re at least sane enough to know how crazy they are), but those who live with these folks day in and day out KNOW what’s going on.

I’ve been there. I know. I know the excuses that you make. I know the way you use yourself as a barrier between the person you love and the world around them. I know that you are equally tormented because you don’t know what it’s going to mean for your life and your family if you have to take drastic measures (like getting someone committed so they can get the extensive 24/hour care they need ASAP).

It’s scary. I get that.

But I can promise if you don’t get help for them somewhere down the line they will do something so extreme, so unequivocally crazy your choices will be taken away from you in the same way that your loved one’s will be taken away from him or her. That prospect is a lot scarier.

Especially when it becomes a legal issue you will be considered an accomplice to the behavior for your failure to properly meet the needs of this person when they needed you most.

If strangers are stepping in, take the hint.

So if you are anyone you love are facing some very upsetting mental disturbances, reach out for help. Don’t cross a line that cannot be uncrossed.

Sometimes the most loving thing you can ever do is to make the hard choice for someone who isn’t able to make choices for him or herself.

And if you’re lost in your own head and you are having a hard time deciphering fantasy from reality… know that I don’t think you’re “crazy.”

I think you’re sick.

I know it’s easier to believe those things you want to believe, but nothing good comes from fixating on a fantasy. The more you need to deny reality to make sense of your delusions, the more you risk the people around you. Nothing is worth the reality you already have.

Please, PLEASE get help.