**Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide, depression, anxiety and even violence. If you or a loved one needs help, please call the call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), National Suicide Prevention Lifeline**
I kept my promise, and I walked, after many of my kind friends and family pledged money for me to do so, in the Walk Out of the Darkness for my town. My friend and I raised $500 together! First: thank you, if you donated or just sent happy thoughts. My anxiety skyrockets when I have to go to big group events. But I did it!
We were each given a small stone at the beginning of the walk.
I held mine in my hand, as we walked, and it’s really hard to explain all the thoughts my mind was flinging. Once upon a time, I was a Virginia Woolf scholar; she put stones in her pockets, walked into a river and drowned herself. It was supposed to symbolize a weight that we would throw into a stream at the end of the walk. It did just that. I held that stone in my hand and prayed, hard. I prayed for the weight to lift. For me, for my loved ones, my friends, their friends, and anyone I don’t know whose life I have touched.
The stone is not poetic, because suicide is not poetic. It’s heavy, so a rock is a good symbol. But there is nothing romantic about Virginia Woolf’s suicide. There was nothing Shakespearean about her drowning, or about her contemporary, painter Dora Carrington, who ended her life after the man she loved passed away. (Just have a peek into their story, if you want to see an un-romantic love story with an un-romantic ending; Romeo and Juliet never had better opposites.) If suicide is a stone dropped into water, then one of the rings I have noticed in my life is occupied by historical figures like Woolf and Carrington. As I walked, I thought about the English “treatment” Woolf received for episodes of psychosis in which the birds spoke to her in Greek. I thought about Carrington’s utter dependence on this other person. I do not know what mania or psychosis feel like. I can imagine centering life around one other, too-fragile body. I thought about these women, who died almost a century ago, at their own hands, and the help they did not have.
Time whooshed, then–I swear, I could hear it–as Walter made folks laugh by waving at everyone. He does that, sometimes, in the sweet way that children love to wave, to see the way others react, to use the key they have suddenly learned to turn. I heard them laughing, and I saw his dimpled hands. His life. It terrifies me (perhaps the source of the whooshing sound is terror) that I am responsible for his existence. It terrifies me that, one night in Spring, 2007, I made a plan to end my life. How could I have known, as young and rejected and hopeless as I felt, that my future was so bright? His light exists because my twenty-two-year-old-self did the right thing.
And then, as I was writing this, and time passed, even dragged as we struggle with getting our son healthier, longer sleep, and the media ran away with a story about a woman who committed suicide in Washington, DC, by running her car into barricades at the White House and the Capitol. Her name was Miriam, and her infant was in the backseat. Once again, misinformation abounds about postpartum depression and other mood/anxiety disorders and, of course, suicide. My online community, mental health bloggers, has responded with a blog carnival “For Miriam.” This post is now for Virginia, Carrington (who hated “Dora”) and Miriam–I knew none of you, but your deaths weigh heavily on my heart, because you represent the writer, the lover and the mother, in me.
My biggest donor was someone I’ve never met, but may meet one day. I hope so. I know her daughter very well, but I had had no idea that her life had been touched by a parent’s suicide attempt, until she wrote about that experience in a note attached to her donation.
Long-time readers of this blog will know, of course, that I interacted with, but never met, a tragically young woman who died last year. Rachael, I walked for you. I cried for you, and I’m crying for you, now. I wish that you had found the blind faith that lead me through my darkest time, the faith that there would be something better, eventually, and that it was just hidden, for now.
Now, I have passed 750 words, and I haven’t even told the story of anyone I have actually met; please understand this–suicide touches so many lives in so many unpredictable directions. Those of us who succumb to fantasies or ideations about an end to pain cannot understand this, because our vision has darkened around the edges. Pain does that. Psychological torture–depression is torture, make no mistake–erases so much from the imagination. A future, a better life, relief from the pain, these become unimaginable.
Imagination is the light that I would give to anyone who begins to contemplate death as a release, because the ability to imagine light returning to the world is the super power that gets us through the darkness.
I need to mention the people I do know, personally, and love dearly, and have almost lost. I am lucky, to have never lost someone close to me to suicide. In my family, my father and his sister are the two people whose hospitalizations touched me deeply. My father was “sick” when I was seven- or eight-years-old, and that was a big turning point in all our lives. He never received a good diagnosis or proper treatment. We aren’t speaking, at the moment. My aunt is a bright light in my life; she was absent from large chunks of my life, when she was clawing her way back to the desire to live, the will to go on. I suspect that there are many extended family members, on both sides, who have spent time as inpatients for treatment after a suicide attempt or depression deep enough to tempt them.
A friend who had been close to me in high school reached out to me, after I started writing this blog, to show me his beautiful family and confess that he had won that wonderful life after a hard battle with true mental demons. You know who you are, and I thank you, friend.
To all my friends who have said “me too,” in real life and online, I say, “thank you.” You cannot know how much it helps erase stigma, especially the stigma my own mind shoves onto me, when someone I love tells me about depression, anxiety, or a time when you thought you couldn’t take another minute of this life. You did take it, right on the chin, and you went on, and I love you. I love that you are in my life. Your stories lift me up.
These walks are brilliant, because they are visible. As someone at the walk I attended said, they give a place to gather, out in the open, without any questions asked. We were all there because suicide had touched our lives, but we didn’t have to tell those stories, if we didn’t want to. Sometimes, a smile from a stranger who knows is more important than sharing a detailed story.
Writing this has been exhausting. I’m not sure it’s particularly cohesive, but I’m out of energy. I should include links to references and sources, but I’m done. If you’re low on energy, but you relate to one of the bits I’ve compiled, here, find a way to say “me too,” to someone. It might not make all the difference, because you can’t save anyone but yourself. All you can do is offer a little light. This is my offering.
I tossed my stone into the stream, and I did not feel any weight lift. But I said my prayers over that pebble, and promised to write this, and to keep writing. I offer nothing but pebbles in streams, because I don’t know where the rings will go, as they grow, out and away. It is faith that there is good in the unknown that got me through the time I could no longer see a reason to keep going, and since that time, in 2007, my faith in that unknown goodness has only grown.