Today, I'm 9 years old.
I write this letter to myself every year on the anniversary of my suicide attempt. The point of the letter is for me to take the time to reflect upon the past year and, once again, celebrate a failure.
I know that celebrating failure is uncommon. But, of all the successes I can count, I have learned the most from my ineffective attempt to kill myself.
This is how far I had gotten into my letter this year. I was sitting on my couch writing it as the news about Robin Williams' suicide came across the television. I had to stop. The echoes of that past pain, the place where I was when I fostered the attempt, came rushing back to me too fast and too hard to navigate.
I felt deeply for Mr. Williams and his family, like most people did, I think. But, it wasn't because I knew him or that he was this wonderful figure head in my life or anything. I felt deeply because I remember that place and what it feels like. It surpasses lonely.
I've read many tributes to Mr. Williams. I've read many reactions to his suicide. None of which come as any surprise to me.
When I attempted suicide, I received the same types of feedback. Some of the reactions I heard only in whispers as they were spoken in such a way that I was not supposed to hear. But, I did.
“What a blessing that she survived, unless her soul were to spend an eternity in Hell.”
“What a selfish act. To attempt to abandon her children.”
Yes. I heard all of these things. Yes. They hurt. But none of them hurt as deeply as I was hurting in “that place” and none of these statements made me feel as lonely as I did when I was in “that place.” I listened and never spoke a word in my own defense.
I've found people say these things sometimes because it helps them to grieve when they are otherwise helpless. So, instead of allowing these brash comments to hurt me, I allowed them to soften me and realized, “This person is speaking from a place of pain and misunderstanding.” Because, it really is that simple. I understand pain and misunderstanding. Therefore, I can empathize instead of becoming angry.
The truth, in response to these claims (the things people say to try to make it “all better” or to make sense of what has happened within themselves), is often too hard to hear. The truth is, when I was in that bottomless pit of depression, I didn't feel cowardly.
I felt helpless. Hope Less. Broken.
When I tried to kill myself, leaving my children and family behind, I actually thought I was doing them a favor---liberating them from the sickness I saw as “me.”
I wasn't afraid of my soul going to Hell. I was living IN my own personal Hell...what exactly is the difference? You are going to tell me that when my Soul meets my Father and he sees I'm broken by the weight of this world as He also knows it that he would throw me into to the pit of fire because I feel? Because, I haven't suffered enough? I do not believe that.
That threat may work for someone NOT in the pits of depression. The threat means nothing to someone swimming in the throes of it. Nothing. And, that's what it is. A threat. It does nothing for the family members left behind after someone's suicide either.
Today, nearly a week after I started the letter, I am sitting down to finish it. My tears are not gone and I know finishing it will only make them come back stronger. But, finish it, I will. Because as long as I have breath and the where-with-all to write, I will continue to speak about the things no one wants to speak about. I just don't think I would have sunk to these depths and survived if I were to keep it all bottled up.
This year, I learned that I am Human. As much as I would like to say, I'm from another planet because this one doesn't really reflect the ideal of what I think a home planet should reflect, I can't. As much as I would like to point a finger of blame at the mysterious and ever elusive “them” for all the problems in the world, I've had to learn there is no “them”...only us.
When I realized “they” were a part of “us”, I felt this overwhelming responsibility to DO something. WE cannot continue to act that way.
Still yet, the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness continued as I realized my own ineffectiveness to change anything. Then, I started thinking really hard. I can't stand on a soap box and preach to an unengaged audience. “They” whether a part of “us” or not, will not listen.
You walk. That's what. Words, in the end, mean very little. So, I went back to what my Dad used to tell me over and over again as a child, “Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.”
Very true. I decided to walk the talk. My “talk” says, love is the only answer because love is the only truth. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13.
Before my suicide attempt, I was taking care of an elderly lady who had been rendered speechless due to a stroke. I was with her on the day she died. She spoke on that day only to look at me and state the location of this verse. So, yeah...I paid attention to that and it kind of stuck with me.
I didn't fully understand it, though. Not until recently. Not until I tried to stand on it and realized how hard it was.
Love is all the things this verse says. It is also very difficult. It's so much easier to react to things with anger and fear than to admit that something inside you has just cracked open. It's much easier to discount someone in the name of hate than to reach inside yourself and find compassion instead. Much. Easier.
It's also very hard to change. It's hard to go from this stoic, know it all, judgmental person to becoming one that is softened and vulnerable. It's also scary. It's always scary to lay down your armaments in the face of battle. But, truly, the best weapon we have is our hearts, though we've long forgotten that. Because we have long forgotten the power of our hearts and emotion, we are often swamped and overrun by them. Feelings and emotions have been pushed aside in our culture for something more ambitious...something tangible...something that we can manipulate into a feeling of power because, otherwise, whether we admit it or not, we are weak and compensating for it ineffectively.
Do you know how hard it is to hug someone who just said you missed a good chance at going to Hell? Its excruciating. But, I managed to find that place we both had in common and that place was pain. I could hug the hurting person while the ego lashed out with all its justifications in light of its own pain that it didn't understand.
Our collective pain is speaking volumes right now. While our collective compassion is rising in the face of our ever changing world. At the same time, we are grieving (whether we realize it or not) the things of the past that are slipping away. One of the key stages within grief is anger. Not only is getting mad in the face of grief a given, it is kind of essential. But, anger is not the reconciliation stage. That isn't where you find true peace.
Anger is not what heals us, but rather cracks us open to healing potential. At the anger stage, we have to decide if we are willing to let go of our familiar (anger) coping mechanism and address the underlying emotions. That's where we fail. Many of us stop at anger and hold onto it viciously...like a life support device because the feeling does bring a bit of fuel to an otherwise vast deep darkness. Its a spark in that darkness and many hold on to it for dear life. And, whether they know it or not, anger will eat your soul more vicariously then depression. Each have a place to be dealt with and that place is not found in the outside world. It's found right in you and sometimes that is the scariest place to turn. Many people are afraid of their own shadow. And, most of us have never been taught to adequately deal with our sensitive emotional bodies. We've allowed them to lie in neglect because our culture teaches us that it is something to be pushed down in strides toward more material pursuits.
But, no matter how far you push it down, the emotional body does not go away. Even if you aren't listening, it affects you. Even if you don't want to feel, you do. Some of us are just better at pretending that this doesn't exist. And, we pretend because, it's hard to feel. It's easier to be angry. Its safer if you are defensive instead of vulnerable. But safe or easy, we also still retain our vulnerabilities even if we deny them. Why not embrace them and nurture them, instead?
I've a feeling that Mr. Williams' death, because of the matter of his celebrity, will open more and more doors to conversations about suicide, depression and what happens as someone discovers their own mortality through the diagnosis of a life threatening illness. These will be hard and heated conversations. But, much awareness of suicide and depression will also be presented. I'm going to look for that and allow myself to be affected by the reality and pain that depression and suicide bring, again. And this time, I will step forward in love, not pain and anger. Because, “I am a human being and nothing human can be alien to me.” Maya Angelou. If you've never heard the poem, you kind find her reading it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePodNjrVSsk
“You are a child of the Universe, no less than the Sun and the Stars. You deserve to be here.” Max Ehrmann .