Thoughts on Suicide and Self-Harm

Disclaimer: I am doing very well. I have a regular therapist and am taking anti-depressants. I have not had a serious depressive episode since January. I just want to share this side of my life in order to make it easier for other people going through similar situations and feeling alone.

I am fine.

You are not alone.

Content Warning: Suicide and self-harm

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are topics I think about a lot, and especially upon moving to California. At every station there are signs that read “Suicide is Not the Route” with a hotline provided. Other than laughing morbidly at the pun, I hadn’t given these signs too much thought, or I thought I hadn’t, but they stuck in my mind my like the proverbial bad penny.

I had a conversation with a driver recently that really brought things to a head. We were talking about BART, the often delayed public transit system of the Bay Area, and the driver said, “Yeah, my girlfriend’s train got delayed the other day for like an hour because someone killed themselves on the track.”

“Wow,” I said. “Do you know where that happened?”

“No,” he said, “just somewhere. How selfish, though, right? To inconvenience so many people.”

“That probably wasn’t on their mind at the time,” I said.

I am a suicide survivor. I attempted suicide twice, once my junior year of high school and once my sophomore year of college. Since then I have suicidal thoughts frequently, especially in times of heightened stress.

I would like to say, to ward off worries, that I am currently seeing a therapist and on a regimen of anti-depressants. I do not need worry, but I would like to open a discussion.

Suicide is a terrifying thing, often because people who have the most knowledge about what it’s like are no longer with us. We only ever get outsider views of what it is.

Suicide is not glamorous. Suicide is not artistic. Suicide is not needy. From my experience, suicide is my brain running into a corner. The world narrows until there is only a single option. All other possibilities are undermined by suicidal logic. Relationships seem worthless, meaning becomes impossible, and even day -to-day actions resemble climbing Mount Everest without oxygen.

But what is hardest for me now isn’t even the suicidal thoughts themselves, it’s people’s attitudes towards suicide and self-harm, the silence and stigma that surrounds these issues.

I am not a bad person because I attempted suicide. I am not a bad person for talking about it. I am not alone in being a suicide survivor.

Time for another online confession: I have also participated in self-harm.

In my first few years of college, I would scratch myself from time to time, usually on the stomach where I knew no one would see any residual red marks. In later years, I started to cut myself, on the wrists, the upper arm, chest, and stomach. I never cut very deeply, but for a long time I had to wear long-sleeve shirts, sweating in the summer heat, to keep from frightening people. (Positive update: I haven’t cut myself since January.)

It isn’t considered “natural” to self-harm. Humans evolved to fear and avoid harm, self-harm feels therefore counter-intuitive and strange.

Most people think of cutting as a form of attention-seeking. In high school when the whole “emo” aesthetic appeared, self-harm was widely described as needy, dramatic, selfish, creepy. One person I told about my self-harm described it as “masturbatory”. One ex-friend told me I was “just doing it to get attention” and that it was “stupid”.

But self-harm is also a coping mechanism. For me, cutting has never been a serious attempt at ending my life. For me, it is about releasing stress. It is terrifying to feel trapped in your mind, running through the same evil thoughts again and again. It helps, temporarily, to focus on a physical external pain.

I’m not trying to excuse what I do. I know that hurting myself is in fact, hurting myself, as well as the people who care about me and want me to be healthy. As I mentioned earlier, I am also on anti-depressants and in weekly therapy to help me live with my depression.

But I am tired of people making sweeping statements about self-harm and suicide when they have no firsthand knowledge. Being on the front-line with a mental health issue is fighting for your life every single day. And sometimes you get fucking exhausted. And sometimes you engage in self-harm. And sometimes you just need to get through it however you can.

I don’t want to be quiet about this. I’m not looking for pity. I’m not doing this to get attention. I’m doing this because the silence is overwhelming.

To my fellow people in the trenches, you’re not alone. You’re not a bad person because you have mental health problems. You’re not a bad person if you self-harm, and know that wherever you are, however you are feeling, I am on your side.

Another Open Letter

Content Warning: Discussion of suicide and grief

 

 

 

It feels like every morning I wake up and something new has happened to shake me to the core.

Carleton College is a private institution of higher learning. It is deeply flawed in many ways. It is still struggling with a past rooted in racism. It is still working to provide justice to those who have been sexually assaulted on campus. It is still a long way from being an equitable community.

But it is also full of some of the best students, administrators, and professors in the world. I am so grateful to have met some of these beautiful people.

There are some who I never got the chance to meet.

In my junior year, Paxton Harvieux, Michael Goodgame, and James Adams were killed in a car accident. I did not know any of them well, but over the next three years, I came to know them through the people they left behind.

This past year, Zach Mitchell was taken by cancer at the age of twenty-two. I had a few conversations with Zach. One of them I’ll never forget, we were out in the prairie the summer of 2014 and he told me about being diagnosed while studying abroad in New Zealand. I remember being amazed with how open he was and how positive and vibrant he was. I still wish I had something as genuine to give back to him.

This morning, another Carleton student died. I did not know Sid Ramakrishnan. I will never meet him now. I have no doubt that he was a being as human and wonderful as the rest of us. And I have no doubt that this is another wound opened in the already bleeding heart of a community I love.

I have no words to tell you how to feel. No words to tell you what to do with this loss. I only know that I love you. Absolutely and fully. And if there is anything I can do, I will do it. I know that the ways we cope with grief are not always “healthy” or “normal”. And I don’t really care about those labels. I just want you to take care of yourself and to know that you aren’t alone.

I wish I had said it sooner. I wish I could say it more.

You are not alone. You are loved. You are enough.

There are times when the world shrinks. And all you can see is the promise of relief, an escape from the pain and the fear and the shame . But there is a corner, and I promise you, I promise you, you are about to turn it. And the world on the other side is really beautiful, if you can just hold on.

For many months last year, and on and off again through the last six years of my life, I have struggled with depression. Sometimes it is set off by particularly stressful events. Sometimes it just sneaks up on its own.

I have attempted suicide twice and I stopped keeping track of how many times I’ve considered it a long time ago.

It is not something that I control. It is not something that is my fault. It is not something that I need to feel ashamed of. It is my brain releasing different levels of serotonin and dopamine.

If you have also struggled with depression and suicidal ideation know this: it is not your fault. It is not something you need to feel ashamed of. It is your brain releasing different levels of serotonin and dopamine.

That doesn’t make it suck less. It doesn’t make your pain less real, but it isn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything to deserve it.

And don’t listen to people who don’t understand. Don’t listen if they describe people with depression as “weird” or “too much”. Don’t listen if they say you’re being needy or that you’re doing it for attention. Don’t listen to those people because they have no idea what they are talking about.

Listen to me.

You are not alone. You are loved. You are enough.

There aren’t any words I can say to bring back the people you have lost. The only thing I have to offer is this thought, it’s weird and out there, but so is life:

If you are thinking of someone, then their memory is triggering neuronal cascades in your brain. These neuronal pathways trigger chemical, that is to say physiological, that is to say physical reactions. That means that when you think about someone, they really are still there with you. They are in your heart beat, they are in your breath, they are with you.

They are always going to be with you.

 

 

A Long-Delayed Post About Mental Illness

Trigger Warning: Discussion of depression and suicide.

(Finally posting this because I just posted about vulnerability and the Break the Silence event is coming up.)

I started working on this post last summer. I haven’t posted it yet because 1.) I’m scared and 2) I’d rather tell people this in person. But the reality is that I don’t know when I’d have the opportunity to sit down with people one by one, or if I’d ever have the courage, or if I’d want to dump that on people when they weren’t ready for it.

So if you aren’t ready for this or would rather hear it from me in person, please stop reading and give me a call.

The point that I’m avoiding is that I’ve been struggling with depression since I was about sixteen, that is my junior year in high school. I didn’t realize it was called depression or that anyone else might be going through similar things until my freshman year of college. In high school, I just thought I was bad at being a person and worse, just a bad person. I had trouble focusing and getting out of bed. I lost interest in everything. I snapped at friends for no reason. And I had suicidal thoughts.

I have attempted suicide twice in my life. Once my junior year of high school, around the height of my depression, when one morning I just couldn’t stand up. The other time my sophomore year of college when everything else in my life was pretty darn perfect, new job as an RA, happy, healthy relationship, still loving my school, and I found myself crying almost every day for no reason. Eventually I reached the place where nothing else made sense, and the spiteful voices in my head had hissed at me for long enough, and I just sat down and took some pills. The only reason I stopped was because I had a meeting. Thank God for the ceaseless call of punctuality.

That was definitely the low point. And I’ve had bad days since. Days when I couldn’t stop crying, when the world around me shifted without warning into the prehistoric gray, the land of mist and fog. In that place the only way out seemed to be self-destruction. I’ve since had more suicidal ideation, that is thinking of ways to end my life, making semi-plans, without necessarily taking steps to accomplish them.

I don’t really want to go into those details, though, other than to say this: please don’t minimize the experiences of people with mental illness. It is really and truly an awful and isolating thing to go through and is only made worse by its stigmatization. It is a physiological over-stimulation of the brain’s chemical processes in response to stress and no less “real” than any other disease that attacks the brain. As if the pain were not enough, putting the blame on the person struggling with the illness adds unnecessary shame and isolation. And believe me, it isn’t as if the person hasn’t been telling themselves the same words. I can’t count the number of times I told myself “Get over it, Laura, it’s only in your head.”

But I consider myself to be unbelievably lucky. I’ve been surrounded by friends and family members who have done everything they can to support me, who have sat with me and saved my life over and over again, often without knowing it. I’ve been privileged enough to go to a college that offers counselors. I have health insurance. I have the language to talk about this and people willing to listen.

Tragically, this is not the case for most people with mental illness. And that’s why I’m really writing this: beyond attempting to end the silence that surrounds and confuses mental illness, there are some things we can all do. Be on the look-out for friends going through similar struggles. Although the symptoms vary from person to person, you can look for withdrawal from typical activity, dramatic changes in sleeping and eating patterns, withdrawal from social involvement, and spontaneous and seemingly random mood shifts including anger, aggression, or crying as some common signals. Hopefully you’d notice these anyway. If these symptoms continue for extended periods of time or are accompanied by other negative thought patterns, it might be a good idea for the person to talk to a professional. If not a professional then a supportive friend can be helpful, although also terrifying.

This isn’t to say go out and start diagnosing people, it’s to say be aware.

And if you do think you have a mental illness or if you’ve been having suicidal thoughts, please, please reach out to people. It’s one of the scariest and most difficult things to do, but you are incredibly and unquestionably worth it.

Thanks for reading, and if you’d like to talk this through with me or someone more qualified, please do. I’m putting this out there as a conversation starter and not an exhaustive diatribe. Though it did get lengthy.

As an end note: thank you to everyone who has helped me knowingly or unknowingly throughout the years. I wouldn’t be here without you, and I am so grateful every day. I have been doing amazingly well. In 2014, my breakdowns were relatively low and often sparked by outside events rather than simply occurring at random as they have in the past, and 2015 is breakdown free so far! I don’t know how long this trend will continue, but it is encouraging!