Suicide Is Not The Answer
TRIGGER WARNING: This is a post about suicide.
If you are not in the right state of mind or unprepared to read about this subject,
please stop now.
For those of you still with me, here it goes.
I just finished 13 Reasons Why. At first, I rolled my eyes a lot with all the over-the-top high school drama and unrealistic dialogue, but there was a dark undertone that kept me going. I thought maybe the main character Hannah was murdered instead of the alleged suicide. Either way, I was prepared to unearth the mystery of her death. I love a good think piece. Maybe I would even guess the ending before the final episode. It turns out I had no idea what I was in for. Even with the trigger warnings prior to episodes 12 and 13, I carried on, thinking: Can’t be any worse than what I’ve already experienced.
My college career was clouded and occupied by suicide. The winter of 2007-08 was my own personal hell. (Sounds like a great first line for a cliche story, right? Read on. The cliches get better.) Suicide is never just one person’s hell though. My three college girlfriends and I went came out on the other side together. I don’t know how any one of us could have done it alone. It felt as though God wanted to take someone important from each of us. And we each had to wait our turn. One right after the other.
It felt like it would never stop. Like those roller coaster rides at Six Flags Great America, where that first drop gives you butterflies until suddenly the smile wipes off your face and it turns to screaming, because there’s no possible way you could still be dropping — it’s too far down. Any farther and you’d swear you’re heading toward the Earth’s core. Then suddenly you’re horizontal again, but still trembling, wondering when the next drop is coming. Before you have time to wrap you head around it, you feel your body being pulled back into your seat as you head toward the sky and know– you just fucking know–something terrible is coming. Another drop? Sure enough. You scream again, so loud you’re sure your fearful energy has reverberated onto everyone in the theme park. The carney must stop the ride at any moment now. But then you reach the bottom, and you’re still alive and the ride is still going. Horizontal movement again, like a plateau. The world doesn’t stop because you’re afraid. You think you’ve caught your breath, but you’re still trembling, you feel dizzy, unsure you can survive another great drop. Until you have no choice. Your body is pulled backward into your seat again, heading for the sky. One more rush — you’ve been here, done that, so you think it couldn’t possibly affect you the way the first two had. But suddenly it’s here and you remember everything. (No more. Not again. I just can’t do this again.) All the pain and fear and screaming. So much screaming and crying and–. Each drop, no matter the depth, was just as scary.
This is what living through a loved one’s suicide (or attempted suicide) is like.
“Death comes in threes,” they say. Who started that, any way? I’d like to slap whoever first discovered this and pointed it out to the rest of us. That phrase can send you reeling. One person passes away and you walk on egg shells, terrified to wake up the next morning to find out someone else you know was next. As soon as you hear about three deaths in a row, you tell yourself, “OK, it’s time to relax again. The hell, the waiting, is over. The rest of my loved ones should be safe. Until next round … ta-ta!”
The ripple effects of suicide begin to control your every move, every thought. Each of us began to struggle in our own ways. Psychology is a powerful tool to understand the changes in one’s behavior after a traumatic event. In a semi-stressful situation, most people can keep their cool and logically work through it, but others with deeper scars are left in the middle of a grocery store having a meltdown because they can’t choose which brand of ketchup to go with because they’re terrified of making the wrong choice and losing another person they love. If I go with Hunts but the right answer was Heinz, game over. Who’s it gonna be this time, huh?
After the first suicide, the inner screaming started. I know this might sound absolutely insane for anyone who has never experienced it, but it happens. And it happens at the most unfortunate times. The first memory I have of this inner screaming was at my newspaper job in college. My co-workers started talking about the full moon. For some reason my brain instantly went to a scene from Practical Magic that talks about the “blood moon,” which meant there was a hazy, red ring around the moon. When there was a blood moon, it meant that someone was in trouble or possibly dead. When I turned around to see my co-workers running toward the one accessible window, I suddenly felt anxious. I felt like something bad was happening, even though I knew they were just looking out the window to see the moon. The large room suddenly began to shrink to the size of a cardboard box. I could feel my heart quicken and I instantly got dizzy. All while this overwhelming fearful screaming rose from my stomach, into my chest and up my esophagus. I realized I could let it out, or I could swallow it down and pretend it wasn’t there. I thankfully chose the latter. I lept out of my chair and ran toward the window to occupy my mind. I figured if I just looked at the moon and saw that it was full and there was no red ring around it, the inner screaming would stop. But it didn’t. So I put my hands on the sides of my head and just touched my skin and hair to realize I was still alive and I was OK — one piece. I began to babble about something my dad told me about full moons and continued to deny the panic attack that seemed to reach the brim. Ignoring it long enough worked that night. But it didn’t always.
Over the years, each one of us hit rock bottom. We were ticking timebombs. Some of us hit rock bottom a few months later, while others let a few years pass. I was the latter. Us late grievers struggle through our mental breakdown in a gradual manner, to the point that our loved one hardly notice you’ve changed until it’s almost too late. It felt as though a part of the past was always lurking around every corner, nibbling at my ankles like a pack of mosquitoes in the deep forest. Thirsty for my blood, begging for me to give in to their instincts and just let it be. Let what will be, be. But sometimes we can’t, so we start to run in hopes we can convince them to give in to something more stationary. Eventually you run out of energy and have to stop, and the mosquitoes will find you and start the process all over again.
I accepted my fate in the most lonely city in the world. Madison, Wisconsin. It was one of the busiest places I’d ever lived, but I had never felt so alone. I started to worry suicide was like AIDS: Something that lays dormant inside of you until it decides to show its hideous face. The memories of those who took their lives or tried to mixed with the loneliness of the city and denial of the past, throwing me into a quarter life crisis.
Sounds silly, right? Try telling that to a veteran suffering from PTSD after years fighting a bullshit war. We have young men and women willingly joining the military at 18 years old to be broken down, brainwashed and built back up into a machine that protects the country and each other. They are sent overseas to fight an unwinnable war, watching their friends, their brothers and sisters, dying before their eyes, while we watch from our television sets and drink our alcohol and celebrate our freedom, thanking those who have fought for us to live our silly, little lives. Yet many of them come home in their mid-to-late twenties, their service forgotten over time. They sit at home alone in their thoughts, too, just as I was tonight watching the show — both of us survivors of hell, triggered by some distant memory we feel will never stop surfacing. And we go into our defense mode. Our desperate mode. Our freedom mode. Our survival mode.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is not just a term for veterans. Regular people — civilians — who have witnessed their own personal hell can also struggle with it, too.
My stomach churns when I look back and think about how my group of friends used to say the phrase, “Shoot me now!” at anything that made us roll our eyes or stressed us out. Homework. Boys. Math. School. You know, meaningless shit. Or “I’d kill myself if that happened to me.” How about the good ol’ signal of putting your gun-shaped hand to your temple and pretend to pull the trigger? These are all triggers, my friends. They will send any one of us who have lived through this hell to spiral out of control. Just don’t do it. Period.
The thirteenth episode of 13 Reasons Why shared a suicide trigger warning. I braced myself, but I had to watch it. For some reason, I thought I could handle whatever it was they were going to throw at me. After all, I’d come a long way from those horrific episodes, interrupting memories, what ifs and fuck yous. I was safe at home, comfortable with my cat on my lap. Just another Monday night. Then I watched the scene and all my years of therapy and meditation went right out the fucking window.
(HUGE TRIGGER AND SPOILER ALERT AHEAD)
Hannah graphically slits both of her wrists and slowly dies as she bleeds heavily in the overflowing bath tub. Her mom knocks on the door asking Hannah what is going on with the wet carpet and bursts in the door to find Hannah floating lifeless in the family bathroom. And she says,
Hannah, Hannah, honey. It’s OK. It’s OK. You’re OK. Come here, baby. You’re OK.
She then erupts into screams for her husband who instantly weeps and cries out for his daughter.
It hovers on that scene for a moment while Hannah’s one friend Clay finishes retelling the story to her guidance counselor that failed to help her.
* * *
I cannot even begin to describe the hysteria that arose inside me. Once again, it started in my stomach (flip-flop – this isn’t real) to my chest (oh, god, it can’t be real) to my esophagus (oh, god, no, no, no, not again, not again). I felt bile creeping up my esophagus with my uncontrollable grief and was sure that between the drooling and shaking, I was going to vomit. But I guess adrenaline and hysteria can keep those refluxes at bay. It took me a few moments to realize I wasn’t reliving the memories of another person’s hell. This was television. Even though it was someone else’s story, flashbacks of all the sights, sounds, locations came back full force as though I was there all over again, watching weeping parents who had just come from the dead body. The things those parents blurted out–things a person should never ever have to hear about their friend. And while you are trying to calmly and rationally comfort everyone around you, you yourself are on the brink of insanity.
Some of us live with this fear every single day of our lives. It’s enough to make a person go mad. If you can survive that first breakdown, you’ll keep surviving, even if you find yourself back in the middle of a PTSD trip. Do everything you can to find your way back out. That’s where this blog post came in. One o’clock in the morning hysterical and alone in my apartment, I had no choice but to get it all out. I’ve decided to share it with you in hopes it continues to bring light to something so horrific. Keep your eyes, your minds and your hearts open.
Choose life, my dear, sweet friends. You’ve only got one.
If you or someone you know is suicidal,
do not hesitate to call
1 (800) 273-8255.
Put It On Paper
I have been revising my Johnny B. Good, Johnny Be Rotten short story since 2012, because I am convinced it’s the one I’m meant to publish.
Today I decided to edit a printed version and see what it would do. AMAZING!
This might sound obvious and I’ve done this with other people’s work, but not my own. If you’re writing and not doing this, I highly recommend it. I felt as though I was reading it for the first time …
Put it on paper, my friends!
Lakefly Writer’s Conference
Last weekend I attended the Lakefly Writer’s Conference in Oshkosh. It was exactly what I needed to recharge after a long, busy winter churning out copy for work without having time to sit back and reflect on the beauty of the process.
It reminded me that every few months, creatives must put themselves in front of other like-minded artists to revive their inspiration. I was grateful to have attended all the presentations I could, conversate with other hardworking writers and touch all the published book displays.
Some of the more memorable moments at the conference included:
Kristine D. Adams talked about her experiences in writing memoir and recommended techniques to tell your story. I spoke with her afterward, as writing memoir has always been an interest of mine, and we discussed capturing family history. One of my goals is to interview and record my grandmothers’ stories and turn them into biographies to remember where I’ve come from. But also to remind them how far they’ve com. Plus, it’s always a nice excuse to have coffee or tea with your grandma.
Jill Swenson of Swenson Book Development presented a novel’s worth of information on how to know when you need to hire an agent, how to get one and what to do once you start working together. She shared her knowledge of the publishing industry while inspiring everyone in the room how simple it could be if you could just find your spirit agent. Someone who believes in your story as much as you. She taught me that a writer should never have to beg for an agent’s unconditional love. NOTED!
And, finally, Orange Hat Publishing. It is a small, indie publishing company in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Kristen Bratonja, editor and head of marketing at Orange Hat, presented on the evolving publishing world, including how to avoid scams, the rise in indie publishers, and the pros and cons of each type of book publishing.
Thank you to everyone who was a part of this great conference! Looking forward to next year.
You Don’t Own Me
At a time in our country when facts are alternative and grabbing women by the p***y without consent is acceptable, standing in line to meet Margaret Atwood has become important.
I did just that on Sunday, April 30 at the UntitledTown Book and Author Festival in Green Bay.
In case you haven’t read the book or watched the new TV series on Hulu, I highly recommend both! Book first, though. Always.
The Power of Creatives
Let’s just get it out there because we all know it’s true:
Too many people were taken too early from this earth, including one of my best friends growing up. I have not experienced grief like that before and realize it will always be there, even if the intensity changes over time. While the loss of someone important to you can send you to a dark place of questions unanswered and “what if’s,” it can also wake you from hibernation.
When a friend passes away in the prime of his or her life, it can open windows, clear fog, unlock doors, free fear and knock you into the next chapter. It can give you perspective: Life is short. Things that bothered you before, seem to take a backseat. Things you’ve been putting off for years suddenly seem important to tackle.
Intangible goals aside, I focused on writing and traveling endeavors. My first goal was to reconnect to creativity by meeting up with some of my former female educators who have inspired my writing over the years.
I also kept in mind all the strong, inspirational women that have influenced my perspective of the world.
Next it was time to let the world fall at my feet. My BFF and I found out our favorite podcast, Guys We Fucked (Sorry About Last Night) – The anti-slut shaming podcast with Krystyna Hutchinson & Corinne Fisher, were touring in Chicago before the holidays! So we spent a weekend with our feminine selves in the big city.
Listen to Live in Chicago episode here.
This was the first trip I’d taken in far too long. And it certainly won’t be the last one.
Next up … Cancun in October for another incredible woman’s wedding! It will be my four college buddies (a bride and her three bridesmaids) at an all-inclusive resort — the Spring Break we never took! #CantWait
After that — who knows where I’ll end up. But I do know I’ll be going somewhere. What with this new luggage I got for Christmas and all …
Seek out adventures and the stories will come.
The Wuthering Heights Edition
A few years ago, I began collecting editions of Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights. Some were gifts from family and friends and others seemed to find me on their own.
My co-worker Kayla brought me this special treat that she found at Barnes & Noble!
Ain’t she a beauty?
Here are some of my other favorite editions:
What books do you collect?
For the last year and a half, I’ve felt stuck on the same chapter in life. And then I realized it was my fault. Being alone used to terrify me, but I’ve grown to love it. Here’s how it happened:
Thanks to wise advice from a friend who asked a simple question:
“What are your tangible goals?”
Once I realized all my goals to this point have been things I couldn’t control, I started letting go of my guilt for activities like sleeping in, enjoying a drink, binge watching Netflix, not catching up on work at home, skipping the gym, not being married or having kids, etc.
I spent so much time being disappointed in myself for not doing all the things I thought I was supposed to accomplish before bed, the end of the week or the end of my 20s. The more I let go of these internalized, every day “failures,” the more I found myself creating a routine that actually made me happy. I started focusing on what I wanted to do without forcing the activities I felt obligated to do.
My alone time also allowed me to focus on new future goals — the tangible ones.
What tangible goals have you made for yourself in 2017?
Holiday Greetings From Your Chiropractor
I see my chiropractor for an adjustment every other month or so to keep my migraines at bay, and we spent the 15 minutes with the usual small talk. But he is one of the lucky ones with an excellent memory who remembers specific details from our last conversation.
“Didn’t you mention that you were writing a book? How is it coming along?”
“What’s the novel about?”
“What other stories do you write?”
Right before Christmas I finally checked my mailbox and found a holiday greetings card from his office, and you’ll never guess what it said:
At least I know I can count on my chiropractor to hold me accountable for writing my book!
I’ve always been a little jealous of artistic people whose aesthetics are as creative as their minds. You know the ones … edgy make up, multicolored hair, layered outfits that shouldn’t look as fabulous off the hanger as it does. I see them as walking advertisements for their creative brand.
My hair is my thing. It’s always been long, frizzy, curly and out of control. There have been so many times that I wanted to do something crazy like chop it off or bleach it blonde, but I never had the guts. Even going to a medium cut left me craving for my long hair again.
But this year sucked, you guys, so I decided I was done wishing and daydreaming. It was my turn to advertise the colorful, crazy ideas floating around in my head.
And so it began …
Thank you to my friend who Photoshopped this creepy photo of me into Harley Quinn. Guess I know who I’ll be for Halloween next year!