Category Archives: The Suicide Files

The truth about trauma: it hurts.

Leelah Alcorn and transgender suicide

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 11.34.27 PMI want to scream at them.  I want them to feel the full guilt of losing their child, of killing that child. And yet, I want to give them space to mourn the child I believe they loved, even if their love was fundamentally, devastatingly flawed. I want the pain to stop – not just Leelah’s but all trans children who find themselves desperate and despairing. Because Leelah’s story isn’t new. It isn’t even that original. And that’s what makes it so hard. How many more Leelah’s are out there, waiting to end their lives? How many Leelah’s does it take for change to happen?

In the early morning hours of December 28th, Leelah Alcorn stepped in front of a semi-truck on an Ohio Interstate and died by apparent suicide. Her suicide note was posted to her Tumblr account for the world to read (it has since been removed but you can read the gist of it here). It described her struggle to find acceptance for being transgender in her conservative Christian family. She was 17 years old. She claimed to have understood she was trans when she was 14. Her parents sent her to therapists in the hopes of “curing” her. They sent her to a psychiatrist who fed her Prozac to treat her depression. They removed her from school and cut her off from social media in an attempt to limit her exposure to “bad” influences.

What none of these adults could bring themselves to do,  was to love this child for the girl she wanted to be, openly and publicly. Instead her parents loved her for the boy they believed they were entitled to.

The Christian community she belonged to called Leelah “selfish and wrong” and told her to turn to God for answers. In her words:

Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning.

What we have here is failure of love on so many levels. Caretakers who should have been there to help her develop her own identity, let her down. Instead they suffocated the life out of her until death seemed more meaningful than life itself.

Leelah’s suicide hits a nerve.

Like 41% of trans people, I am myself a suicide attempt survivor. Unlike Leelah I was assigned female at birth and later transitioned to male. But like her my family held conservative Christian values. I grew up listening to my father call AIDS God’s way of punishing homosexuality. My mother policed who I played with at school; lesbians were out of bounds. By the age of 12 I was thoroughly depressed and contemplating suicide. By 16, my father – a psychiatrist himself – placed me on Paxil, an SSRI similar to Prozac. By the age of 21 I was consuming an even heavier concoction of psychiatric medications including Zyprexa, Wellbutrin, Effexor, and Lorazepam. I attempted to kill myself. I was briefly hospitalized.

By 24 I had come to the following conclusion: either I live my life alone and miserable, as the woman my family wanted me to be but that I felt wasn’t me, or I needed to transition to male and let the chips fall where they may. The thought of transitioning all on my own was terrifying – but marginally less terrifying than losing consciousness and dying. So I was assessed for hormone treatment and began testosterone injections. I cannot describe the relief that I felt once the transition was set in motion.

Transition doesn’t solve all your problems. Whatever traumas we carry with us do not suddenly evaporate when we begin to live as our authentic selves. And once we give ourselves permission to be as we are, we must still deal with the bigots and hate mongers who feel entitled to define us. But my burgeoning identity gave me enough hope, enough faith in my own validity, in my own value as a human being, that I started to want to live again. I imagine it would have done the same for Leelah, had she gotten that far. Had she not lost hope too early. Had she had the right supports in place.

Leelah complained that the “It Gets Better” movement, popularized by sex columnist Dan Savage, didn’t apply to her. For her, things just seemed to get worse. How much worse must things get before we stop torturing our children for being different from the norm?

I don’t believe Leelah’s parents purposefully tried to hurt their child. But they clearly didn’t know how to help her and turned to a flawed dogma to guide them. The people they reached out to for help, failed them. And while I sympathize with their grief, my sympathy is muted.

Because there is work to do, for the hidden Leelah’s scattered all over the globe – past and present. Some getting beaten to death because of who they are. Some beating themselves up night after night as they try to make sense of who they are. I feel a primal cry rise up in me like a volcano and I just want to scream and scream.

Too many trans children are forced to fight invisible wars within themselves because they lack the support they need to realize that their lives are meaningful and valuable. No one should have to die for being trans. Parents, lawmakers, doctors, therapists and the public need to shake off their collective apathy. We need our children to learn the true meaning of love.

And they need to learn it now.

Background reading:

Trans Teen Dies by Suicide, Leaves Tumblr Note: ‘There’s No Way Out’ 
http://jezebel.com/trans-teen-dies-by-suicide-leaves-tumblr-note-theres-1676351625

Transgender teen who died of an apparent suicide: ‘Fix society. Please.’
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/12/31/transgender-teen-who-died-of-an-apparent-suicide-fix-society-please/?tid=pm_pop

High Suicide Risk, Prejudice Plague Transgender People
http://www.livescience.com/11208-high-suicide-risk-prejudice-plague-transgender-people.html

Canadian crisis hotline set up to help shunned transgender youth
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/crisis-hotline-for-transgender-youth-set-up-in-canada/article22279927/

It Gets Better project
http://www.itgetsbetter.org/

Check me out on OP

I posted a personal piece at the Original Plumbing magazine blog. This one was tough to write, I’ll admit, as it deals with a hard topic that a lot of transsexual people struggle with at one time or another. Which is why I felt it was important to write.

Trigger warning: this piece deals with the aftermath of suicide.

Let me know what you think…

http://www.originalplumbing.com/index.php/society-culture/surviving/item/803-suicide-s-butterfly-effect

 

Sex, Lies and Suicide

If I had to choose only three events in my life that have shaped who I am today, they would be:

1 – My decision to transition (Jan 2004)

2 – My friend A—‘s suicide (Apr 2005)

3 – My father’s death (Sep 2005)

I’ve had other key events in my life, like the move from Prince George, Canada to Pretoria, South Africa when I was 11 years old. Or the trip my father and I made to the Yukon the year before that. Or in 2001, when I ended up in the psych ward on suicide watch. Or 1999, when I won a scholarship to study French in Quebec City.

But the impact those events had pale in comparison with the three events above.

My decision to transition

In 2004, when I decided to start hormone treatments, I had very little reason to live. I had been severely, suicidally depressed since my late teens and simply could not shake it, despite heavy doses of medication and regular counselling appointments. Transition was a last kick at the can before calling it a day and ending it. I mustered the last of my energy and dove into a new existence, a more authentic one. I had never been so terrified in my life. But the transition itself went smoothly. I got a job as a man just 4 months after starting hormone treatments. People called me “he” and “sir”, with a few exceptions, basically from Day 1. My height helped, as did the hair that sprouted all over my legs and arms, thick and dark. Later it sprouted on my face too, and I welcomed it with open arms. The physical act of transitioning seemed fairly painless. Emotionally, though, it wasn’t so easy.

The Suckiness of Suicide

As I recently learned at the Gender Odyssey Conference, the trans community’s suicide rate is astronomically, disproportionately, unacceptably high. While the general public has an attempt rate of 1.6%, 41% of trans people have attempted suicide. Think about that. That’s almost half of the trans community. That’s crazy.

When A— died, I wasn’t ready. Not that anyone can ever be ready for something that cuts so close to the bone. It broke something open inside me and left me bleeding in ways I didn’t know was possible. Part of me felt jealous that she got there first. Why couldn’t it have been me? I wondered. I was the one who was always on the brink of slitting my wrists. I was the one who talked about overdosing, hurling myself in front of oncoming traffic (something I’d never do, btw – as it’s a terrible thing to do to the person behind the steering wheel), or jumping off a bridge. Yet here I was, still alive. And the one person to whom I had always been able to reach out, had beat me to it.

But the real emotion it awoke, the one I still wrestle with on a daily basis, is the guilt of knowing I did not try hard enough to stop her. It’s quite common for suicide survivors to feel guilt; I’ve read the literature. But in my case I know it’s warranted. The day she died, she left me a voicemail, telling me she was going on a long journey. I could read between the lines. Her partner had contacted me a few days earlier to let me know that she was worried about A—. I had brushed her off. And when the message came in, I listened to it, dialed *69 to find out where she was calling from, and promptly let it go when the number was revealed as blocked. I went to see a movie with a friend knowing full well what A— was up to. That is, my head knew that her call was a suicide note. My heart, on the other hand, was completely dead. I simply shut down. A day later I called her partner to find out if she was OK. K— informed me that she had died. I felt like I was acting in play, or that any minute someone would shake me awake. But nobody did. It was all real. There was no going back.

I’m told I need to forgive myself; we all make mistakes. Besides, it’s very likely I couldn’t have done anything to stop her. Even if I’d been there to get her call. Or if I’d contacted her partner when I received that voicemail and we’d been able to track her down, she may well have killed herself another day. You can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. I get all of that. But the guilt stems from knowing that I didn’t even try. I had given up on having a positive impact on her, or anyone else’s, life. I’d given up on my agency. I was simply an observer, separate from the world. What I did didn’t matter at all. Life just happened. That’s how I felt at the time. And it meant that I didn’t reach out when maybe I could have made a difference.

I wish I could’ve at least tried.

The Death of a Father-Figure

When my father passed away five months later, in September, it seemed like more proof that I had absolutely no effing control over the world. The timing couldn’t have been worse. He had found out only months earlier that I had started my transition (I had kept it a secret for fear of upsetting him and my mother). A co-worker had accidentally outed me when she referred to me by my male name in talking to my father (she didn’t know I was trans). My mother disowned me. My sisters refused to get pulled into the drama and simply stayed on the periphery, where they remain. It felt like Karma. Like what my mother had told me, and a few of my teachers too — that I was bad. That I was the architect of my own misery. I deserved to die, my mother wrote in her email messages; she wished I would’ve died instead of my father. Part of me agreed with her. My entire existence seemed like a waste of oxygen. Worse still, part of me felt like who I was, was somehow contributing to all the misery around me. Maybe my act of disobedience, my decision to transition, had unleashed the wrath of God. My father used to believe that AIDS was God’s way of punishing the gay community for their sinful acts. Maybe A—‘s and my father’s death was God’s way of condemning me too, for going against nature. For thinking I could defy God. My mother would certainly agree.

Moving on has proven challenging. Eight years later and I have a good job, a strong partnership, a home, a dog , friends. The suicidal feelings have faded, mostly. But the guilt, for the pain I caused my father and my family, for the lack of empathy that led me to dismiss A—‘s pain, or at least not reach out to her more, those feelings are still pretty raw beneath the surface.

Honestly, I don’t know how one moves on from that.

Living with Suicide

The day A— died marked a turning point for me. Suicide was no longer just a theoretical concept; it was real.

It’s hard to describe how it felt: I remember a kind of hissing noise in my ears, like when a radio channel isn’t quite tuned in. It also felt like either the event itself was a dream, or my life was an episode of the Twilight Zone, and sooner or later the show would be over and everything would return to regular programming.

Except, of course, that didn’t happen. I remember driving to the house where A— had lived and where her friends now gathered after her death. We sat around in the living room, some of us having never met before. K—, A—‘s partner, seemed the most well-adjusted of all of us. She described going to the coroner’s office to identify A—‘s body. She described how, earlier in the day, she had seen A— amidst the city traffic but had been unable to follow her to wherever she was headed. She mentioned that A— had made personal videos instead of leaving a suicide note. She offered to show them to me, but I declined. They weren’t made for me, I said. I eventually saw one of them at the memorial we held in her honour. She looked drugged, out of sorts. She advised us, her friends, to love each other. She said she felt she had given too much of herself at times, and not enough at others. It was hard to watch.

I later found out how it all went down. A— went to the Sandman Hotel, poured herself a glass of wine and ran herself a bath. Someone, maybe K—, told me she drank Chinese herbal medicines to relax herself, then she slit open her wrists and bled to death. I calculated the timing and realized that while she was doing this I was at Cinecenta, a movie theatre at the university, watching a documentary on the life and times of Edvard Munch, the guy who painted The Scream. A— had left me a voicemail earlier in the day, telling me that she was going on a long journey. I had listened to it and dialed *69 to find out where she was calling from but the number was blocked. I had known something was wrong but instead of contacting K— or anyone else, I chose to go to the cinema with a friend. I felt sick thinking about it.

Unlike K—, I hadn’t had to ID the body once they found her. And yet, without something tangible, some actual proof that she was no longer alive, my brain struggled to make sense of it. I thought back to our last conversation, when we had enjoyed oysters together at a local restaurant. That had been three weeks earlier. She had seemed somewhat subdued but not depressed.

I found myself seeing A— everywhere. Strangers constantly reminded me of her as I walked the streets. When the feelings overwhelmed me, I listened on repeat to David Gray’s Sail Away and Jorane’s Film III, songs A— herself had introduced me to. A restless numbness seeped into my soul.

I visited K— often during the aftermath. I admired K—‘s strength; she seemed so much more grounded than anyone else, a role model on how to handle grief. And yet she had been closer to A— than all of us. She was hurting too, of course. I remember her calling me and asking if I wanted to go to the bug zoo with her. Sure, I said, and off we went. I think it was a Sunday afternoon.

The bug zoo was fascinating. I was mesmerized by insects that disguised themselves so effectively that you couldn’t tell them apart from a leaf.  Or the scorpions that turned indigo under a UV light. Or the tarantula the guide placed on my hand and that crawled up my arm, harmlessly. Or the spider that had figured out that it could copy-cat the black widow quite effectively even if it had no poison of its own. A black widow’s bite, the guide explained, rarely kills people but it hurts on a par to a woman giving birth. I wondered how much pain A— was in when she died.

After the bug zoo visit, we went our separate ways, K— and I. Eventually she met a nurse and moved to Vancouver. We visited a few times, but slowly drifted apart. Maybe I reminded her too much of A—. K— conceived and had a baby. I never got to meet the little girl, though I hear from friends we have in common that she is quite cute. I am happy K— has been able to move on. She deserves a happy, enjoyable life.

But for me the descent into madness continued after A—‘s death. Five months after she killed herself, my father passed away from cancer and my family disowned me for being transgender. It seemed like a cruel joke, like the universe was trying to tell me something, only I couldn’t figure out what. The Twilight Zone episode that my life had become continued on; I tumbled deeper and deeper into the abyss.

(to be continued)

When relationships hurt

Relationships come and go. Like everything in life they ebb and flow. But when you find a pearl, you don’t want to let her go. M is a pearl.

When I met M I knew I’d found someone unlike anyone else I’d ever met. She was smart, funny, exuberant, and had a joyfulness to her that was infectious. Her heart was big and generous and she broke through my crusty exterior like a butter knife cutting into soft, melty butter.

I thought the good times would never end; I didn’t want them to.

I thought we’d get married, have babies, and grow old together.

Part of me still hopes we will.

But everyone has baggage, and some of us have a heavier burden than most. I’d never met anyone who’d had to go through what M faced. She ran away from home at 11 and escaped an abusive household, but the scars of her troubled childhood accompanied her into adulthood.

I know a thing or two about troubled childhoods; I have my own scars – some of them etched into my wrist quite literally.

But M has a fighting spirit; her fearlessness mesmerized me from the first day I met her. Her ability to articulate complex thoughts about her past and about her politics was astonishing, especially considering she had never finished high school. Hers is an unusually bright mind.

The closest she ever came to having a supportive family was T, a radical feminist lesbian 9 years older than her that adopted her when she was 16. While she only lived with T for a year and a half, they connected enough that she calls T her adoptive parent. They are close to this day. Note, she doesn’t call T ‘mother’. That word is forever tainted by the unspeakable deeds her biological mother inflicted upon her. Who can blame her.

Maybe that’s one of the keys to our relationship, that bond over non-existent mothers. I don’t pretend to have lived through the horror that M faced with her parents, but I’ve experienced enough parental neglect that I can empathize at least at some level with what she’s been through.

My own mother turned her back on me for good in my early twenties, disowning me for being a transgender man. The last time I spoke to her was in 2006, a year after my father passed away and two years after I first started taking hormone treatments. Neither of my parents approved of my decision to transition. And because they come from a conservative culture, with conservative friends, I did not feel comfortable attending my father’s funeral. I grieved on my own, a continent away.

But long before I transitioned, my relationship with my mother was toxic. In her eyes, I was lazy, stupid, and purposefully disobedient. I could do no right, and when I became suicidally depressed, she refused to talk to me about it, asking that we “let the scars heal”. She meant her scars, not mine. Now, I realize it must be difficult for a parent to watch their child descend into the depths of a suicidal depression, but I wager that most parents would seek help for their child and stand by their side. My mother’s only effort in this direction was to have my father, a psychiatrist, give me sample anti-depressants that the drug reps dropped off at his office. I was never taken to see a psychiatrist (other than my own father) and I was never taken to a psychologist or counsellor.

As far as my parents were concerned my depression was genetic. And that’s all there was to it. Pills were all that were needed. Never mind that they made the suicidal thoughts worse. But my parents wouldn’t have known that. Because we didn’t talk about why I was taking them. They figured it was my job to tell them what was going on, and I figured it was better not to say anything – because who wants to tell their parents they want to kill themselves?

I did eventually seek out help on my own, long after I’d left my parents’ home and fled to a different continent (my parents lived in South Africa and I settled in Canada). But by that time, the depression had gotten quite severe. Long story short, I still suffer from it; and I still see a therapist. Sometimes I still contemplate suicide, but I haven’t acted on those impulses in over 10 years. I’m proud of that accomplishment.

Needless to say, M and I both have trauma, and while that shared experience brings us together, it can also send us in a tailspin apart.

Maybe that’s what happens in relationships. We rub up against each other’s raw spots and we bleed and bleed. And if we don’t learn how to quell the blood, well, things can end badly.

I worry about that, especially these days.

The suicidal thoughts are back for me. And M is struggling with behaviours that I can’t help her with, behaviours that, I’m sure, once helped her deal with the trauma of her childhood but now simply cause her to hurt herself. It’s mostly related to body image and food. For the sake of her privacy, I’ll leave it at that.

Figuring out a path forward, a path that doesn’t lead us in separate directions is the challenge we face. We are at a crossroads. And it’s foggy out there. But I’ll keep looking for the light. Because I love her. And because I want to live. I need to remember that.

To Repeat, or to Not Repeat

Attunement, disruption and reparation. Those are the ingredients of a successful relationship. M and I are pretty attuned, most of the time, but we have our moments. Usually because something the other is doing provokes memories from our trauma-based histories. And once the disruption occurs, the road to reparation happens slowly, moment by moment, until equilibrium is restored.

Maybe that’s the trajectory for my moods too. Step 1 is attunement with my own needs, my sense of myself as a whole, capable person. Step 2 is the depression, which causes me to dissociate from myself and enter a state of disharmony with my own needs and wants. Step 3 is where I attempt, sometimes not so successfully, to regain connection not only with that part of myself that is whole, but also with the environment, which I form a part of.

Really, I am the product of my environment, my history. But I also hold in my hands the ability to shape my environment, my story, moving forward. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes I forget. And when I forget, the moment seems to drive me rather than me driving it. That’s when the pain is at its worst. Why is that? It feels like all my power is seeping out of my body; and I feel totally, completely vulnerable. Not fun.

One way to control people, is to convince them that, not only is the world a dangerous place, but also they are incapable of navigating that world on their own. I feel like that was a message that I received early on in life. I remember one particular instance where my mother told me not to trust strangers, ever. A fairly innocuous message. But in my fear-based world view, it meant that when I ran into my sister’s best friend on my way home from school the next day, I categorized her in the stranger category and refused her offer of a ride home.

Because that was the message in our household. Anyone who wasn’t part of the family was basically under deep suspicion. And the flip side, if an authority figure in the family ordered you to do something, you did it – no questions asked.

I am not a rebel by nature. I want to please those I trust. I want to be a good person. But as I grew into a disaffected teenager I no longer believed that the messages I was receiving from my parents, my teachers were true. But because it wasn’t safe to dissent, I simply withdrew from life.

I killed myself – became a living dead.

The world is full of people who are dead but breathing. And I’m not talking about those unfortunate people who are dependent on a breathing machine. My father, for example, shrank smaller and smaller as he grew older. His personality, the space he occupied in the world, it all shrunk. Until finally he was crawling around (literally) on his knees and later got pushed around in a wheelchair.

I loved my father deeply; admired him deeply. But I don’t feel like he ever truly got the chance to flourish into the best person he could be. Sometimes I worry that I won’t have a chance to flourish either. The years tick by and life doesn’t seem to get any easier. The years feel shorter and shorter every time they pass.

How do I interrupt that dialogue? How do I make the remainder of my life count for something? Even if it hasn’t exactly turned out the way I thought it would….?

The body remembers: leaving depression behind

Well, whatever the slump is I went through last week, it has passed. I seem to be able to again experience joy and moments of perfect clarity. In fact I feel like something has clicked, at work, and personally. I feel a new sense of confidence in my own abilities and in the knowledge that I can learn things, that the curious child within can experience wonder once more.

That’s the thing about depression. If you can just hang in there for long enough, if you can just get through the suicidal feelings, some insight occurs. A release. Sometimes it’s not enough to make up for the abyss you have to crawl through to get there, but sometimes it really is. This time it was.

But I wouldn’t wish the abyss on my worst enemy.

And somehow, the release that follows seems so tentative, fragile even. Like the thread might break again at any moment, and you might tumble into the darkness once more, never to emerge again. I really don’t know if I’ll make it through next time. We all have our breaking points. How many breakdowns does it take before you decide that that’s enough, you’ve gotten out of life what you can, now it’s time to move on to the next energy state?

But let’s not be morbid tonight. It’s Friday night, and I just got back from a birthday party. Let’s just enjoy this moment, shall we? An oasis between the miseries.

Why is it so much easier to feel crappy than good? Why does it feel so much more real? Like really real, not just pretend real. Does happiness ever feel that real to other people? If I was able to experience happiness to the same depth that I seem to experience depression, I think I would float up into the sky like a bubble and never come down.

My father once told me that he thought my problem was that my superego (conscience) was too strong and my id (desire) too weak. I should mention my father was a professional shrink, and I was reading Freud at the time. Interestingly I had self-diagnosed just the opposite. I felt that I was evil inside, rotten to my deepest core. I did terrible things like masturbate and think bad thoughts. I was lazy and stupid, or so my mother claimed. Oh, and I was transgender? Surely this all meant that my conscience wasn’t strong enough to keep my evil desires in check?

I think in a way we were both right, my father and I. My superego was strong because my desires and appetites ran deep; two sides of the same coin. But my superego was winning out. And in its authoritarian view, I deserved to die.

Maybe one never truly shakes that kind of self-critical voice. It softens to a whisper when I am drunk, but roars back to life when I’m sober again. I can reduce it to a whisper by healthier means, like practice loving-kindness or just giving myself space to be in all my non-glamorous complexity. But it’s not my default setting. Not by a long shot. Twenty to thirty days. That’s how long it takes, apparently, to establish a new habit.

Can I try to silence the self-critical voice for 20-30 days? Do I have that much control?

And if I fail, how do I make sure that, when I am choking on my own despondency, I don’t choke myself right out of life?

I want to live. There, I said it. Now body, remember.

Subject to change: on blogging your way back to life

At some point you have to make a choice. A choice to  live your life despite what you lack, what your weaknesses are, the opportunities you’ve missed in the past. Those opportunities aren’t coming back any time soon. You can feel sorrow for them. Go right ahead. But what’s done is done. Now isn’t the time to wallow.

I realize I should change my About page. The quote from Seth Godin is about sharing things you know with an audience. Don’t write fiction and don’t write diary entries, he says. And here I am doing both on my blog. Because I don’t write to educate anyone. There are enough wanna-be educators out there. I write because it’s like exercise. It keeps my fingers nimble, my demons ever so slightly at bay.

I don’t know why writers are prone to depression. But I don’t think being depressed makes you a better writer. When the darkness engulfs you, the last thing you want to do is write. Because you can’t write unless you have something to say. And depression silences you.

That’s why fiction appeals to me, especially when my brain is wrapped in shadows and I feel myself tumbling into a mental abyss. I like the way that fiction or poetry accesses that part of the brain that exists beyond logic. When I’m depressed, my mind exists beyond logic.

As for diary-writing, it’s not that I set out to make this blog a personal account of my mood disorder. I write whatever comes to my fingers. And most of the time I happen to be thinking about the meaning of my life, about my struggles with achieving mental health. About how being trans has altered the trajectory of my life. So that’s what appears on this blog. I’m as surprised as anyone that so much of my time is taken up thinking about this stuff. Who knew?

But maybe I could choose a topic. Just one to focus on. Wouldn’t that be easy? But I can’t seem to do it. I feel like it’s censoring the other sides of myself. And I’ve had enough of censoring myself.

So much of my childhood was taken up with being silenced – by teachers, parents, the church, a corrupt political system. And the depression itself. The ultimate silencer. It takes a strong will to live to break through the silence. The irony is that by the time that I learn to accept that yes, I do want to live, it’ll be time to die. Let’s hope not. The will to live is a muscle I’m still learning to flex.

So you’ll have to forgive me if I’m just happy to be typing about whatever. To the unaccustomed reader the blog and this post in particular may seem to meander without direction. But for me, knowing how hard it is to just sit down and write? Every evening or morning I manage to do it, I am thrilled. It makes the whole day seem so much better. Small things, small acts.

The act of blogging is my act of rebellion. It’s my way to say to mental illness – here I am. I am still alive. Take that, will you?

And if I happen to say something worthy of other people’s attention in the process. Well, that’s a nice bonus.

Falling

I seem to have tumbled over the deep end this weekend. A reminder of what depression feels like. A reminder that sometimes, I am not well. A reminder to be gentle with myself.

Depression is more than a disease. It is a death sentence. It robs you of the words, the images, the hope that makes life worth living. It’s an implosion that shudders through your body and emanates out of you like waves, like what I imagine a city goes through when it is hit by an atom bomb. The strangely beautiful mushroom cloud, then the air full of dust and debris and bodies.

The bodies I face are those that never existed or that should have. They are the mother who should have loved me, the father who should have been healthy enough to defend me, the sisters who were adult enough to see that our family was a disease in and of itself.

How dare I write these words. How brazenly I condemn my family. What if it isn’t true? What if it isn’t their fault at all?

What if my own misery belongs to know one but myself. I am its creator, its nurturer.

How do live with myself then?

The truth is I am going through an identity crisis. Or should I say, a lack of identity crisis. The facts are like leaves falling off a tree. They land here and there but there’s no pattern to it, no reasoning with it. They lie there on the soil, dry and dead, waiting for someone to rake them up again, throw them away or compost them.

Worm food. That’s what I am. I can feel myself rotting.

I had a teacher once. He told me to write at least 4-5 hours a day. “If you want to be a writer,” he said, ” you need to write”. I told him, essentially, to piss off. I worked until 6 pm each night and didn’t have the energy to sit behind a desk and write for four hours more. A person needs to have time for life as well. “It’s you choice,” he said. Yeah, it’s my choice not to spend my life doing something meaningless that no one cares about anyway.

Yeah, it’s my choice not to indulge the side of myself that is constantly seeking attention, pity, sympathy.

In Jeanette Winterson’s powerful memoir “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” she writes: “I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself.” How do I forgive myself? And how do I know if I deserve to forgive myself? There are bad people in this world. Maybe I am one of them.

The apartment is empty tonight. M is away, camping with a group of friends. I was invited but declined. i needed some time to myself, I said. What I really needed was time to feel sorry for myself.

M has been thinking of planning a pity party. Maybe once a month. We would save up all month on all the reasons our lives suck, we would gather these reasons together and once a month we would share them with others. Together, we would feel sorry for ourselves, and then, at the end of the night, we would wander down to the ocean, with pieces of paper on which we have written these feelings down. We will burn them in the night. Let them go up in flames. We will experience some sort of catharsis. That’s what ritual is for.

How many months will it take before the catharsis is complete?

What if the pus of self-pity just goes on and on. What if that is my identity.

I’ve been thinking, lately, of dabbling in fiction. My father didn’t have a high opinion of fiction; he felt it was just make-belief. Ironically, he loved Homer and Virgil. As long as it was myth; as long as it was Literature, I suppose it was alright.

But I don’t think it matters what my father thinks anymore. I’m 34. He’s just shadow of a ghost that still, occasionally, haunts me. He’s just the man imprinted on a medallion I wear around my neck to remind me. That he once was. That he once claimed to love me. That I once let him down. Or more than once.

In Jeanette’s memoir she writes: “I believe in fiction and the power of stories because that way we speak in tongues. We are not silenced. All of us, when in deep trauma, find we hesitate, we stammer, there are long pauses in our speech. The thing is stuck. We  get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words.

I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence.”

I’m done with conspiracies. It’s too painful.

Bad Air Day

Some days you feel like even the air you breathe in hurts. I don’t know why it happens, or what starts it. Oh heck, sure I do. It’s my birthday on Tuesday. I’m turning thirty-four. Gawd, I had to pause after I typed that. How did that happen? There was a time that 34 was about as old as men got. And here I am, still feeling like my life hasn’t really started.

It’s been a rough ride of late, emotionally. Mostly just feeling drained and tired. And feeling like my life isn’t panning out as planned. It’s not that I wanted great riches and red carpets, but maybe a clearer understanding of what it all means would have been nice. Now I’m writing in the past tense, as if it’s all over. I sure hope it isn’t. I’m not ready.

This weekend I’m going off to Vancouver Island to visit with a friend I haven’t seen since, well, 2007. Wow, that’s six years ago. We used to live together back in the days where she was attending university and I was unhappily working at a sketchy self-publishing operation with her sister. I even tried killing myself one night, in the basement suite we shared. L came home to an ambulance whisking me away after I’d called my own sister to say goodbye and ended up telling her I’d taken an overdose. I didn’t really want to die – not yet.

L and I went our separate ways eventually. I’d always felt that she never had much respect for me. She was a theatre student with little patience for the corruption that comes with rampant capitalism. She was loud and opinionated and smoked pot and jaywalked and climbed over private property fences and got drunk and constantly lived on the edge of chaos. I was fascinated and horrified and so was she, as she got to know me.

Here I was: quiet, risk averse, serially depressed and as stubborn as she was but in a very different way. I confess I was slightly infatuated with her wild nature, and she was beautiful too. But I hated how angry she got at me, how little she thought of my life choices and how much she dismissed my introverted way of being.

We lost contact after I abandoned her sister during a painful relationship breakup. Her sister had been one of my first close friends when I moved to Canada, and she had actually introduced me to L. The reasons I abandoned her are complicated, involving feelings of being overwhelmed after my father’s demise and going through my own nervous breakdown. I figured that was that – I would never see A or L again.

While we rarely see each other, we’ve made amends, sort of. I apologized to A for the way I left her, and explained to L that I had done my best at a difficult time. We moved on and now here we are, six years later and I am staying with her for a night. This time, I have my partner M with me. I have no idea if they’ll get along. L is now a mother of two, living in a small town, and I am, well, a copywriter for a company whose CEO self-describes as a “rapacious capitalist bastard”.

As I prepare for this trip, I can’t help feeling the grief of one of the most painful periods of my life wash over me again. The memory of that pain is still pretty raw, and it still hurts. And I wonder what will happen this weekend, if it will be like old times, if it can ever be like old times again. That said, the old times weren’t that great. But the friendships, they mean something. Still.

That’s the thing about hurting. It doesn’t get easier. Sometimes we forget.