I was hesitant to write this. I’m even more hesitant to share it. I’m afraid of the stigma that comes with labeling oneself with a mental illness, and I’m ashamed of that fear all in the same breath. I’m ashamed that I struggle with mental illness. I feel weak. I feel like a failure. And, every day, people around me, whether in physical presence or virtual presence on the web and social media, reinforce those feelings.
Every inspirational post that says something to the effect of “choose to be happy” or “choose to be stronger” or “enjoy the bumpy ride” makes me feel weak for being, well, “weak.” This post, “21 Tips to Keep Your Shit Together When You’re Depressed” articulates my feelings on the subject quite well, and actually offers some good advice, so check it out if you’re struggling. I promise, it won’t make you want to punch someone the way the “just be happy” advice does. Because that’s one reaction I have every time someone who just doesn’t get it tries to give me advice. But I also feel shame every time someone makes me feel like I should be stronger, or tells me that I should be going for a run because that makes them feel all better. Or when someone says “Oh, I don’t need therapy; I’m emotionally strong.” Or every time someone makes a comment about being healthy, being more active, being more productive, doing more.
I feel shame. I feel weak. I feel embarrassed. I feel isolated. I feel like I can’t talk to my friends because if they give me one more platitude I will either scream at them or choke them or cry or all three at once.
But Andrea Gibson has this wonderful bumper sticker that she sells at her shows. It says “Fuck Shame.” And then it has the address for a website she helped build, called “Stay Here With Me.” It’s where people share their stories of depression and suicide attempts to help others that are struggling.
So I’m taking her advice. Fuck shame. Especially after the news I received a few weeks ago. Fuck shame. Fuck silence.
I drafted the following almost a month ago. It was nearly a week before that when I got the news. It was something I couldn’t even write about. I still feel a little uneasy writing about it, because it’s not entirely my story. But, in that way that our stories merge with others, that’s what happened here.
I was about to go to sleep when a friend messaged me on Facebook.
He wanted to let me know that a mutual friend had passed away. Well, that a mutual friend had committed suicide.
At first, I didn’t really know how to react. I hadn’t spoken to this friend in years. We used to be close. We worked together all the time, spent time together—not on dates, exactly, though sometimes they felt like they could have been. We seemed to understand each other’s depression on a certain level, though we never actually talked about it. We played air hockey together, and always ended up tied by the end of the session, saying we’d have to play again—you know, just to break the tie. Sometimes I wondered if he didn’t lose on purpose, to make sure there was a tie, to make sure we would play again.
He gave me the strength I needed to leave the Church. He had come home from his mission early, if I remember correctly. He told me that when he went to talk to inactive church members, he took the ex-communication paperwork with him so that people could get exed if they wanted, so that they wouldn’t continue to be bothered, continue to have people try to convince them to come back to something they didn’t believe, didn’t want to be a part of.
It made me realize that I wanted to leave, that I didn’t want to be a part of it. I hadn’t been practicing for a while—had even tried out other churches by that point—but he gave me clarity on that point. He helped me feel like I could let go.
Looking back at it, I’m not sure that he was able to do the same.
In the nine, almost ten years since I moved away from home and to a different state, I only saw him once.
I don’t know what happened to him. I don’t know if he got married, if he had kids, if he had a girlfriend, or if he was alone.
I know that, whether he had a partner and children or not, he felt alone. He always felt alone. But he was always so funny, always so ready with a joke, that very few people saw how desperately unhappy he was. Maybe even he didn’t see it.
After I stopped chatting on Facebook that night, I turned out my light and I cried. I don’t know for how long, but I cried. I cry again every time I think about it; I cried when I told two friends about it, because I thought I needed to talk. Talking about it didn’t help. I just cried.
My tears are empty; they don’t bring him back. I wish I had kept in touch with him, I wish I had been around. I feel like I would have seen how broken he was. Because I feel broken too. As clichéd as it may be, writing that down, it is an honest statement.
That same day that I heard, I had spent a couple hours—I had been spending days, if I’m honest with myself—thinking about ending it. One day after school, I came home so full of anger and restlessness and a strange sort of apathy underneath it all that I wanted to split out of the skin that felt as if it couldn’t possibly contain my tumultuous emotions. I wanted to relieve the tension, found my skin itching for a tattoo, my fingers tingling and reaching for a knife. I didn’t do anything. It would have been pretty easy to, in that moment, but I started to feel guilty about the mess it would leave for other people, for my emergency contact, for my mom.
Who would take care of my cats?
Because, even though all I wanted was to relieve some tension, in that moment, I wasn’t sure if it would stop with the moment of release. I wasn’t sure if a small split would do it, or if the apathy that sat underneath the restless anger would consume me.
People throw out, almost flippantly, “If you really wanted to die, you would have killed yourself by now.” I’ve probably tossed out that phrase myself, at one point or another, and even repeated it to myself. But I can say that that’s just not true. There are times when I do want to die. More frequently than I like to think about. In those moments, there’s nothing else that I want. Sometimes I’m in that place for days. The accusation “you don’t really want to die” at times sounds like a challenge.
How long did he have to be in that place? How long? How long was he suffering? Why didn’t anybody see it? I would’ve seen it, I would’ve known. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to do anything, but I would’ve seen it. Sometimes knowing that someone sees me is what keeps me from leaving.
My friend, I’m sorry that I stopped seeing you.