What kind of person cuts off her parents?: an experienced reflection on an article admonishing Meghan Markle to involve her father in her life.

What kind of person cuts off her parents? I ask myself this fairly often. While I had no interest in or emotional connection to the recent royal wedding, or any royal wedding for that matter, the confident, opinionated commentary on the relationship between Meghan Markle and her father has been of particular interest to me. I’ve been intrigued primarily because I’m curious to see how the world perceives her decision and the judgment it hands down. Is she a brave, sensible person who has enough self-confidence and self-respect to do what is emotionally sound for her? Or is she a selfish, cold-hearted spoiled, snobbish individual who is icing out anybody who is of no use to her? Is this occurrence evidence that blood isn’t always thicker than water or is it an example of an inhuman abandonment of the unconditional love and loyalty popular culture associates, and basically prescribes, with family life?

Is she a brave, sensible person who has enough self-confidence and self-respect to do what is emotionally sound for her? Or is she a selfish, cold-hearted spoiled, snobbish individual who is icing out anybody who is of no use to her?

While I do not need the public or media to form an opinion on this, I have been curious to see her handle this very personal and intimate issue in one of the most public spheres in the world. As she tries to merge lives with a royal family and create a new, shared life with another person, she is also trying to negotiate significant familial dysfunction. It’s almost like observing a phenomenon in an experiment which is surprisingly common but placing it under the most stretching and intense conditions. I’ve been curious to see if Meghan has all of the answers to these questions because I’ve yet to form my own.

I should start by saying my personal rule in life is that I cannot make a judgement on anything I do not personally see and hear myself. I can have feelings and opinions about the hypothetical situation presented to me or supposed actions a person is said to have taken, but I am generally reluctant to commit to a harsh judgment or fervent, positive appraisal of a person’s character based on hearsay. Only in extreme cases–where it is blatantly obvious and the festering reality is so thick you couldn’t cut it with a knife and would need a hacksaw (I’m looking at you, Donald Trump and company)–do I move towards a more definitive opinion. Although a very passionate person who sometimes loses check of this value, it keeps me oriented in about eighty percent of situations.

 

Is this occurrence evidence that blood isn’t always thicker than water or is it an example of an inhuman abandonment of the unconditional love and loyalty popular culture associates, and basically prescribes, with family life?

I explain all of that because I believe context is everything and it is so hard to know a context without witnessing it firsthand. Just as victors write history, any description of context is shaped by the intentions, beliefs, and prejudices of the person relaying it. That makes situations like Meghan Markle’s, which people are often all too eager to weigh in on given the domestic nature of the issue, particularly hard to judge. While I may be wrong, I am reluctant to confidently assert Meghan should put family first, do what is natural, and let bygones be bygones–because I know from personal experience that this sort of thing is so disorienting, dysfunctional, complicated, messy, politically fused within a family, that Meghan Markle may not understand the situation or her feelings herself.

So when I was laying in bed, trying to wind down, naturally the most sensible thing I could be doing was reading the news on my phone, (Fox News of all things which hinges forcefully on the emotional). Sometimes their human interest or other stories not trying to convince us the White House isn’t burning down while the hems of their pants and suit jackets begin to smolder from the giant fire behind them (which generally means they are intended to be a distraction), can be thought-provoking. Occasionally, I will see some reason to an article but generally it is abrasive sandpaper preaching close-minded, restrictive and completely unrealistic social norms to a willing choir and calling them “family values.”

Clearly I have a lot to say on this topic so I’m going to break it into two posts. That way it’s more digestible. Some of the questions I’m working through are personally relevant to anybody who has biological family (so all of us) and I hope you stick around to read it and tell me what you think. I’ll post the other half by Friday 6pm Eastern Standard Time (EST, United States).

In the meantime, and before I tell you what I think, I encourage you to read the article: Meghan Markle is ‘playing a dangerous game’ with dad Thomas, royal biographer says.

I’d also love to hear what you think about situations like this. If you have thoughts, please let me know!

 

Holy Hell.

I got my dream job and move in a month. This is like one of those dreams where it’s July but you dream it’s the first day of school and you somehow ended up there but you’re late, the only one who hasn’t done a huge project, and trying to bide time until you can figure out how you got there and what the hell happened in the last few hours/days/months that jumped you from one part of your life to an entirely unfamiliar part.

I’m excited but because I am so caught off-guard, it seems too good to be true. I just feel like it’s like I felt in college or high school a few times when I walked into class one day feeling really good and satisfied with how on top of things I was, how much time I had to finish a project after pacing myself well and taking it seriously, only to find out that it was a false sense of confidence because the reason I wasn’t overwhelmed was I didn’t realize there was a project worth 40 percent of my grade due at midnight.

Kind of like that.

White men scare the shit out of me.

I’m sorry to have such a loaded title. But it’s the honest title and I feel like it wrote me if anything. To any white men, I’m sorry if this offends you. I suppose it’s fair for you to be offended.

I live with a wonderful, kind, 6″3′ tall, white man and he is, if anything, living proof that my sudden and abrupt fear of certain white men isn’t the most rational thing about me (although, statistically, it has some grounding given the over-proportionate cases of violence, specifically mass violence, committed by white men between 17-55). As a white woman, my saying this, even from my own perspective, is a little too “trying to deny my privilege by separating myself from it.” But here I am, shaking, with as much lactic acid in my calves as when I played intense sports. A subtle but insidious tremor running through my muscles like adrenaline disguised as electricity. Random jolts jump-start my muscles and, like a reflex bump to the knee, I flinch as if I’m about to stand up only to realize how silly that is and, although alone, feel embarrassed and sink reluctantly back in my seat. And this is just a recollection of a response to an episode, not even the effect the situation itself had on me (the one I am about to describe).

Sitting at the tiny table in a crowded restaurant, I memorize the pattern of the wood grain on the table while trying to tune out all of the stimuli I have picked up, the seemingly innocent environmental factors which only I would notice and consider screaming flags of warning. I don’t think I could put two words together out loud but given that my hands are itching to shake and pick at something, tear a napkin or something apart before it tears at me. And out of nowhere. I feel about as embarrassed as I felt as a kid, maybe nine or ten, when I went to haunted houses and couldn’t do it. I’ve made a fool out of myself, yet again, primarily to myself.

And in spite of how many times this has happened, I go through the same routine all over again as if it is the first time I misread a situation. Like a few years ago when I went to this haunted orchard where you go in many different haunted houses and a haunted hayride, all the while scary shit casually walks around the orchard too–and I gritted my teeth, grinding them together and locking my jaw so hard I thought it would snap, pressing the tops of my bottom front teeth forcefully and intently against the backs of my top front teeth.

I got through most of it. Until we tried to go through the haunted asylum which was too much for me, too close to home. They sat us in a doctor’s waiting room with a mirror where the actors on the outside could see us and beat on the walls as blood red words showed up. The nurse asked for volunteers to go first and be the first patient this quack sadist doctor was supposed to see, and I would assume experiment on like they did back when anybody who didn’t look like they walked out of Stepford or Pleasantville was sent to an asylum for lobotomies and to get needles stuck through their brains. Naturally nobody volunteered and she pressured me to do it. I sat down on the bench while we waited for the doctor to see us, wincing as if the wall behind me might lift and somebody grab me forcefully and slamming my feet to the floor as if preparing to resist being dragged forward. When she opened the dark door and I could hear joyous screaming as they waited for me to walk through, those same muscles in my calves slammed their feet to the floor like a driver breaking to stop a gruesome accident. And I said I couldn’t. She paused and finally she said okay and opened the door and my ex, who was my ex at the time, left with me. The tool bouncer announced to an entire waiting line about 50 yards long calling us chicken liver or something and how nobody chickens out of a haunted house and holds things up when other people were waiting to go in. He shouted to the crowd that we wasted spots in a group and that meant they waited longer. I was too pinned up, locked inside my own body and all the chemicals flashing through it but I know the part of me that was processing the shame had never wanted to bury her boot through somebody’s scrotum so badly. But that version of me, the one who can do anything but shrink into a dark corner, was a stranger to me at the time, almost a so unfamiliar to me I would have said I had never met her.

I have PTSD. But somehow I have the awfully lucky PTSD in the respect it’s like those doctor’s bills when you go to the emergency room in July because you’re sick with something that, a year later when you get the bill, seems silly. I can’t point to a moment, a week, a year that caused it. I can’t say exactly who but I have an idea. I grew up in a home where I can remember seeing violence for the first time at age 4 and the last time I experienced it to a degree I didn’t know if I was getting out of the situation in tact, I was a senior in college at 22. And at least once to a hundred times every year since then depending on if I was in college or not. All white men. And while I know it’s “#notallwhitemen” it has been all white men in these situations and, when you can’t be sure you are safe with people who are supposed to care for you and protect you, you form the rigid, subconscious instinct that you can’t trust strangers who fit the same description. After all, wouldn’t you guess, if you had to, that between a man related to you and a man you don’t know, the former is less likely to be able to do something to hurt you?

I don’t like it when anybody has their hands in their pockets but white men, especially if they look like the type who could be frustrated, lonely, and feel like the world cheated them, scare me. I always feel badly when I’m walking down a dark street at night and I cross it when I hear footsteps, especially those heavier or that thud differently like a man walking with his hips and stomach forward, leisurely, not hurried or self-conscious and measured like the cadences of most women’s walks. I feel bad because before I turn my head, I start looking for an escape route. And when I dare look over my shoulder and see a black man, I almost feel sorrow or remorse because I know from my male friends who are black, especially those who are bigger, they are really self-aware around white women and they’ve said it makes them feel badly or frustrated or hurt or degraded, or accused of terrible things. But I am really mindful of the fact that black men in this country have to be more careful, especially around white women because they could get shot for calling the cops, much less what might happen should somebody jump to conclusions. I try to make sure when I see black men out that I make eye contact and say hello, that I clearly am not afraid of them. And I know some white people do clutch their purses harder and there is something true in there. But truth is, I look up and see a black man, and as badly as I feel because I’m making unfair assumptions about white men in this moment, I look up and see a black man and relax.

While this might sound manufactured, think about it this way. If there are ten solo cups in front of you, six red and four blue, and you are told to drink all ten. Five of the six red cups make you violently ill. While you know it isn’t all red cups, if you come back a year later to the same experiment with red, yellow, blue, green, orange, etc. cups in front of you and you are told to drink half, would you go straight for the red cups?

It’s because of experience. The people who have repeatedly hurt me and threatened me the most have been white men. And the men that spook me half the time, almost all the time, don’t deserve my fear. But in my world, frustrated white men without jobs or frustrated white men with blue collar jobs who are told off by their middle class foreman all day, or some other boss, they come home drunk, tossing beers in their truck beds on the way, passing out in the garage when your mom locks them out, then come roaring alive when they wake up and stumble inside, picking a fight tin he middle of the night and before you know it, you’re in your closet, pressed as far into the dark corner as you can be and as hard into the wall as possible, scrunching up your toes and sucking in your breath to keep every piece of you in the shadow in the hopes that if that door is opened and somebody calls your name, and if they happen to open your closet door because everybody knows you hide, maybe the light won’t bounce off your toe nails.

It’s like when you shoot a toy cap gun and it kicks back a little, making pop, pop, pop noises that pierce the air. I’m the cap gun. And my bloodstream is the chamber. Except it’s jolts of fear, alternating between stunning and shocking me. Am I going to freeze? Do I try not to move and not create the very situation I fear? I do what you might do if you were bracing yourself for an expected hit. I freeze and drop all other thoughts and concerns for the sole and consuming, very demanding task of running a cross-assessment between my risks, resources, vulnerabilities, and options trying to determine as quickly as possible whether I should make myself as small and unnoticeable as possible, make myself as distant and unreachable as possible, or blow up and take up more space to ward off a less serious threat. I do this every single time I walk into a room. And when it gets too much, especially when I can’t stop it even around a person I trust more than anybody in the world who is living proof that I don’t always have to be afraid, I lock myself in the bathroom and try not to breathe, lest I be heard, and push my forehead into the cold, blue tile or wall of the tub. It doesn’t go away and every time a man walks by me, familiar or unfamiliar, I simultaneously experience the shame and immense guilt of making an unfounded and ridiculous accusation that, to me, feels like a dire warning.

It is redundant and harrowing every single time.

Afraid of the dark. (Relevant Re-post about Reluctantly Emerging from Depressive Episodes)

I’m feeling better. This is the moment that always scares me because it is in such close proximity to when I have felt my worst and I can still taste that bitterness and feel how it makes my mouth water as if I’m going to vomit so violently I can feel my stomach spasm. I’m […]

via Afraid of the dark. — There Ain’t No Atlas.

It’s been a while.

If I still have any followers, hello! If not, well I get it and we all move on with our lives.

I kind of went MIA in October and I tend to do that, have big goals and just disappear when things pile up. I relentlessly criticize myself at a normal base level but it increases when I don’t meet the high expectations I set for myself. This validates the things I already feel about myself and I consider myself a failure and just close myself off. It’s kind of like when you have a fort and it is invaded by people seeking to do damage, except I am that person and to protect myself from any vulnerability to the impulsive or unintended choices of those outside of the fort walls, I close the gate and trap the worst offender in, accepting there will be a max level of damage I can do to myself.

Screwed up. I know. I’m all kinds of screwed up and I’ve been working on that for a long time. I’m not sure if that is a reflection of how ineffectual I am at becoming a functional human being or how screwed up I was at the beginning of the process.

Anyways, when I am not doing so well on a psychological level, one of the most damaging but, ironically, also protective measures I automatically kick into gear is a set of cold, silver (as I see them), heavy metal walls that drop with a deafening and absolute thud. Nothing is getting through but I’m also not getting out. Sometimes this goes so far that I struggle to force myself to respond to my surroundings, such as acknowledging people speaking to me. In my experience, that can become tense, which slips into a heated conversation and, before you know it, it’s volatile and I have more damage to account for than if I had quit while ahead.

Your basic mal-adaptive behavior. Anyways, I’m a little better. And like every time, hoping this is the time that I manage to put protections in place to prevent doing this to myself to this extent again. And knowing that will probably be futile despite my stubborn will at present. I just never seem to be stronger than the forces of depression, PTSD, and all of the ghosts of memories crawling along my skin.

I really haven’t been doing well.

I really haven’t been doing well and I have no idea where or to whom to go or what to do to be anything other than the person I inevitably am. I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus. I know I said I would post once every day this month for my BLOGtober OUTtober efforts but, since I posted 2-4 times some days last week, I gave myself a bit of much needed space this weekend. I have a migraine at the moment, probably a residual effect of a really bad panic attack I had Friday night. It was embarrassing and I feel like such a weak and self-indulgent person.

I go to bed and have nightmares. The night before last, I had a very graphic nightmare where my ex (who, for the record, hasn’t done this) was upset that our friends were mad at him for leaving their apartment dirty with tons of veggies on the floor (I don’t know why). I was kneeling behind a wicker chair where our friend was sitting and my ex, Michael, was waving a gun around mad and saying if they really called the cops, he was going to shoot me or himself. He hadn’t decided yet but he knew one of us was had a one-way-ticket out of that house.

When the sirens whirred into the neighborhood and arrived outside, he glared at our friend for calling the cops and got this desperate look on his face. I asked him not to shoot me but I also begged him not to shoot himself. Hating myself for being frozen and hiding behind the chair when I should have been protecting our friends or stopping him from hurting himself. But I was afraid and time seemed frozen. It didn’t seem like it would actually happen.

Then he made a sudden decision and I remember screaming, knowing my scream wouldn’t reach him in time, as he pushed a glock under his chin, pulled the trigger, and an explosion of red shot throughout the room, some of it landing in my mouth, its salt making the bitter reality poisonous, as his head, ripped off from the force of the gun, rotated while sailing high up in the room and making a wide arch where it slowly tumbled through the air down to me, hitting me. And as slowly as this all happened, it was all within an instant too. It was as if, because I didn’t just deserve to experience the instantaneous consequences or the drawn out imagery, my mind and time itself split in two so I could simultaneously experience it so quickly I didn’t have time to react and so slowly I  could record every detail for every dream I would have after.

I have that nightmare in some form all the time. It has never been Michael before and, because I love and care for him, it was an agonizing, heart-wrenching, unfathomable nightmare. I woke up both grieving and knowing Michael wasn’t dead. I called him to make sure because it was so real, so many of my senses were engaged, a small part of me thought the lucidity of the memory couldn’t have been anything I imagined. Michael never did that. Somebody in my life did that, with a long knife, and it unfolded fairly similarly but he didn’t kill himself. A part of me that day, I think, is still frozen in that moment, numbed to anything that happened after, and is stuck reliving it during impulsive dreams and the random moments my heart rate accelerates to 185 beats per minute when I drop something and start to shake, my body unsure for a moment what is about to happen to me.

My body starts sprinting into that nightmare before my mind knows what it’s being dragged into. Sometimes I am trying to save myself. Sometimes the shooter. Sometimes an observer. The night I got this memory, I was just home sleeping so I could work the next morning on my spring break from college. Somebody else had been drinking and doing drunks. Another person engaged in a screaming match. Although I tried to stay away from a fight I had seen a hundred times before, I couldn’t listen to somebody get hurt so I stepped out to defuse the situation, finding myself trapped between fear, confusion, and this nightmare that won’t let go of me.

My ex came out 6 years into our 7 year relationship (interview III).

This is a follow-up piece. You can find…

the first post in the series here.
the second post in the series here.
the first interview in the series here.
the last interview before this one here.

Me: Hey.

Michael: Hay. The beginning stages of horse shit.

Me: Huh?!

Michael: Think about it. Horses eat hay and…

18527261_10209187970242639_965695857254557158_oMe: Okay I think I’ve got it. No more segways. And I swear, if you bring up Paul Blart Mall
Cop. Cause I know that’s where you’re going and I don’t want to talk about King of Queens again. You need to move on.

Michael: I wasn’t going to do that…

Me: We were together too long. I could just interview you in my mind and get the same answers.

Let’s talk about the whole coming out relatively late thing, age 30. You’re a counselor. How do you think that impacted you?

Michael: I think I was afraid longer. My family is very conservative and they don’t agree with it. Fear is why I waited 2 or 3 years after I came out to you to tell them and I didn’t even tell them on purpose. My mom asked me and I said yes. And my dad found out somehow (I think my mom was worried about me and told him).

Me: What do you think made your mom ask you?

Michael: We’re close and she was wondering for a while and she wanted to know if it was true.

Me: But you know I did subtly prep her when I was worried about your well-being and called to tell her I think she needed to drive the hour to check on you.

She asked me why you were so anxious and since I couldn’t say, Oh, he is bisexual and since your family follows pundits like Rush Limbaugh, he’s afraid he won’t be accepted, I told her that you didn’t feel like you had social support for some things in your life because, as the youngest child and only one to graduate college, you felt pressure to act like you had everything together. I tried to keep it ambiguous but to impress on her the seriousness of the situation.

Michael: Yeah. I know. I don’t care about that. I am glad you did it the way you did it, knowing what I would want, because it was easier to tell her when she knew how anxious I was and how afraid I was to show them who I really am. It was like a weight off my shoulders because since our family doesn’t talk about things, I don’t know if we would have ever gotten there.

18527116_10209188452654699_3109046233448553177_o (1)
I included this one because I thought it fit given it looks like I’m excited I just found out I’m going to hear some gossip… and because Michael looks really photogenic here… He’s single, ladies and gentlemen. Ok, probably too weird.

Me: Okay so tell me how your family is doing now. Who knows?

Michael: Just my mom and dad.

Me: Why not your brother, sister, and nephews?

Michael: I feel like they’re more closed-minded than my parents. I honestly do. If it’s outside of their comfort zone, they don’t get it and don’t really want to explore the idea. My parents try to get it I think.

Me: When do you think you’ll tell them and how?

Michael: I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that. But I just feel like I would do it when it’s inevitable, like bringing a guy to Christmas and they’d figure it out. I still worry about that one though. I don’t know why. I am afraid that maybe my sister wouldn’t want me around my nephews, maybe, but I don’t know if she would though. I don’t think so but I’m afraid it could happen.

Me: What do you know of their opinions on this topic?

Michael: Nothing. They just don’t talk about it. Like at all. It’s just not a topic of conversation.

Me: How does it impact you that they don’t know?

Michael: It’s still hanging over my head. And I try to act like it isn’t because I don’t want to tell them but it’s hard to ignore. I feel like I’m still living that double life, like that secret life. And yeah with my parents, it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders–

Me: Are you talking to me through your Apple watch while showering?!

Michael:Yeah!

Me: Technology is weird. I’m just going to leave that one alone.

Michael: But I just don’t feel like I will be relieved after telling them.

Me: But you didn’t think you’d be relieved after telling your mom and dad before they knew.

Michael: True. I think it kind of helped that they had an idea. Kind of like you hinting at it to my mom so it wasn’t such a shock. I don’t think my brother and sister have any clue.

Me: Yeah, I don’t know if that is a good way to do it or not. I just made a judgment call and was trying to put your well-being first without taking away your right to privacy and make that big decision on your own. I took a lot of tums when your mom and I were texting because I was just fraught with guilt and anxiety about what I should and shouldn’t say. I just kind of tried to not deny anything or go out of my way to convince her you aren’t because I didn’t want to make it worse when you did tell her.

So I know this is really different for your family. How is your dad responding to it now versus how he did initially?

17492995_10208739703236244_8982091458121934150_o
This is Michael with my mom. We’d already broken up and I think she already knew at this point. He wanted to tell my family first to sort of test how it went because if they didn’t accept him, he didn’t want to tell his family.

Michael: When he came down to see me that day you were worried about me and I was going through that stuff, my mom told me he knew while he was standing right there. And I thought she meant about my anxiety and she said he knows everything. And I just thought, oh shit, this is awkward. We were in my apartment and we just had a discussion. She told me before that huge talk, in my room while he was in the living room, that when he found out he told her he’d suspected it for a while.

He didn’t talk about my sexuality directly but he said he knows what’s going on and it doesn’t change anything. He still loves me and supports me. I think my parents try really hard to be supportive now and sensitive, like not accidentally saying something that could offend me. I really appreciate that. I think it says a lot that he is being really mindful.

Me: Yeah, I’m really proud of your parents. I know they have had less exposure to LGBT+ topics or experiences but they handled it how I expected they would handle it. I know not all people are this fortunate but I had a good feeling your parents would love you more than it might scare them initially. They love you pretty unconditionally. When your mom told me she knew, I just tried to kind of be supportive and acknowledge that line that probably isn’t as politically correct because in our ideal world, people are immediately accepting and it is no different than heterosexuality. And as much as I hope we get there one day, I think we have to be realistic where we’re at now.

I’m comfortable with LGBT+ topics and it was still an adjustment for me because it was so personal. So I tried to make sure she knew that I had had to process it and it was okay to feel conflicted as she got used to the idea. For me it wasn’t so much about who you were going to be sleeping with. It was about the sudden sense of change and just reforming my relationship with you around this new and really important information…

…did she say why he suspected it or if they talked to each other about it before they knew?

Michael: No, she didn’t. I don’t know if they would have talked about it.

Me: I don’t know how you didn’t ask. I mean to each his own but I’d want every detail so I could analyze.

Michael: Ok, I will so you can analyze for me [laughing].

Me: You don’t have to but… I will do it.

Maybe you should just show up to a family function with a shirt that says, I’m gonna make American gay again. MAGA, bitches. Did I tell you I bought you a magnet that says Make American Gay Again? I’ll give it to you when I see you next.

[As he is getting ready and singing] Why don’t we talk later?

Michael: Okay, I’ll ask my mom those questions and get back to you.15235410_10207780456055664_8615438083598685341_o

Me: K. Send me a picture of your co-worker’s planner. So I can go have planner envy. Just take pictures of all of it. The outside. Everything. Just go up to her and be like, I know this is random but Imma need a picture for my ex-girlfriend who–

Michael: Who turned me?

Me: I hate you. Byyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeee.

Michael: Love you. Kiss my puppies. Byeeeee.

Michael’s piece–if he stops procrastinating, Michael–should be up tomorrow morning. If you’re curious to hear what he has to say about what it’s like to come out at 30 in Trump’s corner of the world, with friends and family who love him and support Trump, check it out.

Suicidal thoughts, a faulty system, and societal shaming, oh my: why getting help is easier said than done.

If you’re reading this on your phone, I suggest turning it on its side and reading it that way because it looks better and is much more palatable.

I know I already posted the interview today but I saw this article and had to link to it because I have been seeing a lot of people echo this in regards to their personal experiences and I think we don’t discuss it enough as a society. It seems as if we always have enough energy and time to make simplistic statements about how suicide is 4.pnga “permanent solution to a temporary problem” and those struggling with suicidal ideation simply need to “get help” as if there is some infallible checklist and, if they just complete it, they won’t commit suicide.

I think about suicide, a lot, and I think the reason people are eager to write it off with a simple fix-all suggestion but don’t have the same attention and interest in taking an honest look at the state of mental health in our society, is the same thing I have realized in a dragged-out, exhaustive few years of trying to help myself and get help for suicidal ideation: suicide is such a complicated thing and trying to understand it requires going down the rabbit hole. There you find yourself caught in an overwhelming, chaotic Wonderland that unsews the fabric of your mind and resews it asymmetrically.

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While I do enjoy the concept of Wonderland, I can appreciate why people prefer the simple reasoning of “if a person feels suicidal, then he just has to do this and he won’t be suicidal anymore” to a world that turns all of that reasoning upside down and inside out to the point you can’t form any definitive opinions on it–because there are no set logical rules that govern suicidal ideation. You have to be really comfortable with ambiguity and willing to accept the dissatisfaction of not being able to write out a solution and file it away as a job well done–or you just have to experience suicidal thoughts and what it is like to try to do anything about them.

This article is important and I think you should read it so I won’t go further than my personal experience because I could ramble and turn this over in my mind a hundred times today, which I probably will. But what I will say is that my experience corroborates the questions and argument Sarah Schuster is making. All aspects of my life–in terms of getting an advanced education, being an athlete all through college, exercising, taking medication regularly–fit the description of things people say you can do to ward off mental illness. I did them and enjoyed it–and they didn’t work. They don’t magically ward off depression like some silver bullet because suicide is so much bigger than what my extracurriculars were in high school and college, what is on my resume now, or what I do on the weekends. We sell these easier narrative that mental illness is the fault of the individual–they aren’t self-disciplined enough, they are snowflakes, dramatic, all of things that give society a pass from seeing this really pervasive and severe thing that drastically affects people’s lives. But time and time again we see depression doesn’t discriminate and you can try to avoid it, and some people succeed, but you choose it no more than you’d choose to be born into a violent home. It’s just there and it’s all you’ve ever seen and it gets a bracingly strong grip on you before you get the chance to choose.

I have an extensive history of trauma. I started showing mental health symptoms in college when it just felt like my legs were cut out from under me. Suddenly the way I had metaphorically walked in my life had to be entirely different. The way I experienced the world and my vantage point was entirely different. And the problem was, like most people who experience mental illness, I didn’t have any background in that and had no idea how to fix myself. I kept trying to will myself to be able to do everything like I always had, to be this well-rounded and just very capable and whole person, all while being certain I had never actually been that person. So I would promise people things and take on responsibilities I believed I could manage–because I had been able to do it my entire life and because I so passionately wanted to. And I still haven’t found an answer to that.

I have a really, really strong passion for life and certain things. When I get glimpses of my actual self between episodes of mental illness, I burn with and emit heat, passion, and enthusiasm for the things that are important to me. But it doesn’t matter how much you love the water and how much experience you have boating or how much you want to embrace the blessing of wind and sail–if there is a substantial hole in your schooner, you’re not going to get very far. Depression is my hole. It is the hole in which I hide and this spiritual, mental, and emotional puncture from which all of the effort, energy, will, belief, and passion I want to channel towards things sometimes leaks and other times pours. And I have tried a lot of ways to fix that hole. And sometimes, if I am lucky, I can repair it just long enough to believe the sinking is behind me and to get a taste of what it feels like to sail on a gorgeous, windy day. But my mental illness is acid; give it time and it will erode or eat or find some way to destroy any repair.

So in spite of the fact that I was about to complete my second master’s degree and third degree in the eight years since I had graduated high school, one day when I was on my way to my graduate assistantship, I needed to abruptly find somewhere to pull over on a 3side street like you do when somebody is about to vomit in your car. I put my head against the steering wheel and felt as if somebody kicked me in the gut and was squeezing my heart so hard I thought I’d burst, ear drums and all. All along, the part of me that doesn’t fit the stereotype of depression was sitting on my shoulder telling me to calm down (because of course it would be so easy from her worldview). I tried to make reason outweigh the physical sensations telling me I was standing in a pit as all of the pillars I had tried to build in my life crashed deafeningly down into a heap of ruin.

I tried to call my ex and he was at work so he didn’t answer. So I called my mom who was with my cousin, five hours away in my hometown. They were having lunch and she answered the phone with a laugh in her voice and said, “hey baby!” which is what she calls me when she’s feeling good because I’m the second and youngest child. Because I feel so much pressure to carry out this facade that I don’t need anything and have it together in a family where it has been common for my brother and cousins to drop out of high school, I wasn’t and still do not tell my family how much I struggle because I don’t want to burden them or wallow in the privilege I have accrued since I went to college, making my problems seem laughable and weak in comparison to their own.

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This is the work of artist Camille Rose Garcia, the illustrator for a new edition of Alice in Wonderland published by HarperCollins.

Needless to say, she was not expecting that call. I put my head against the cracked steering wheel of my car and I sobbed and hyperventilated, not being able to determine what my next step should be so I could get back to work and be functional like everybody else. It felt as if there was some bacteria rapidly eating away at my brain. If you asked me to tell you where the epicenter of that bacteria is, I could without hesitation point to the part of my head where I swear I can physically feel it at times. Somehow–and I can’t remember how–I managed to call the campus psychiatrist I had been seeing for months and make an emergency appointment. Surprised to see me in that raw of a state, he told me I needed to skip my evening class, in spite of the fact that I had a group presentation, and go to the emergency room immediately. I agreed to go but said I didn’t want to abandon my group so first I was able to give them my materials for the presentation’s activity and what they needed to be able to do the presentation without me, all with a suffocating heap of regret, guilt, and shame.

Then I went to the hospital where I sat from 5pm to 4am and was seen by a doctor who, clearly, had to stop more immediate problems like actual bleeding, and emptily asked if I had a plan and all of your basic suicide checklist questions. Then a social worker who was equally professional and distant came in and talked to me about how I was doing, if I had calmed down, what was upsetting me and my plans for going home, getting a good night’s rest, accepting where I was and beginning to rebuild from there. By this time, ashamed and feeling as if I should, I gave them the lighter versions of where I was emotionally. I had tried to convey how seriously and painfully this situation was hitting me but when their concern did not seem to match the intensity of my belief that I was better off dead and just needed to actualize the inevitable, I resigned and toned it down to say what I knew needed to be said so they could feel as if they had done everything needed to avoid liability. Two women from this volunteer crisis organization came in and talked to me. They were much more genuine and made me sign a plan that they would call me at the same time every day and if I didn’t answer, they or the social worker would call the police and send them to my apartment for a wellness check. It felt as if I had broken curfew and was grounded and couldn’t be trusted; which, given the potential danger they thought I could pose on myself, was fair. But it also made me feel as worthless and an inappropriate burden as I thought. They gave me materials to think about a daily outpatient 8-5 therapy program to properly address my illness and said we could talk about it the following day.

Nobody ever called me. Ever. Thankfully I lived with my ex who was finishing up his training to be a clinical and mental health counselor. He called the hospital and the numbers we had been provided and they were all dead ends. I just slept for a few days until I could trust my hands to not give in to these strong desires and then, like a coward, I slunk back into my work and my life. I’ve been in the neighborhood of that severe a moment point a few times since. I’ve called and chatted and communicated with the emergency services numbers. A few times they talked to me long enough that I was so distracted by the conversation I relaxed and could sleep off the heightened anxiety. There have been other times I waited so long I gave up and did something like emotionally drag myself out of the house for a walk to avoid what I thought was inevitable if I was alone. Other times I walked away from reaching out feeling just as misunderstood and dismissed as I felt that day at the hospital. (It varies and although it should certainly receive more support in order to do its job, it is a wonderful resource and I encourage you to use it if you need to do so; I might not be here without it. I don’t know).

What I will say is a card or a handout or a phone number, as much as we want to feel comforted by the delusion that is all we need to fix suicidal people, is only part of the answer for most of us and it is so much more daunting than you could know if you haven’t been there (and I mean there as in more than the what-if questions we ask about our lives and worth and suicide at some point in our lives). It’s hard and the hardest part about it, is I feel as if I live in a world that thinks I am weird and broken and of less value 2because I am this way and as if I am stuck on my pain and not willing or able to move past it like others. In my opinion, that is why people kill themselves. It is because they are trapped on the top floor of a burning building but people walk by on their lunch hour without feeling the oppressive heat from it because, in their world which is supposed to be the grounded world, there is no fire. And when you are trapped in a burning building that is rapidly chasing you to the top and there are no fire crews or emergency services coming to get out, and everybody thinks a pail of water will do for your imaginary spark, you sit there and try to decide between the agony of burning alive or taking your chances and escaping it, even if that means you probably won’t survive.

I clearly had more on my mind than I thought today and it just kind of poured out of me as I tried to write what I anticipated would be a two paragraph plug for this article and its finer points. If you feel this way and to you the world is burning, know that I believe you and I acknowledge how scary and blisteringly, scorchingly painful this moment is for you. And I hope you find a way to delay your fire long enough to put it out. If you need to spit out your own suicidal thoughts manifesto like I just did, I’ll read it if you need to say it to somebody.

We Tell Suicidal People to ‘Get Help.’ But What Happens When They Do?

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A Mighty feature by Sarah Schuster.

Again, if you need help: if you just type suicide in google, the first hit should be your country’s suicide hotline (which is of course incredibly sensible). If you’re in the United States, you can start here. 

Interview with my ex who came out 6 years into our relationship (part II).

This is a follow-up entry in a series of shorter entries to provide context. You can read the first one here. 

This is the second part of the interview. The first is here.

Me: How did that change our relationship?

Michael: I think it changed for the better. I think we realized we were meant to be friends and were oil and water. But we also realized through everything we have a strong friendship.

Me: But how do you think it changed things when we were still a couple for that last year?

Michael: Oh yeah. I forget we were still a couple after that.

Me: Which is funny because when I was writing that intro earlier, I was trying to explain there are no cut-and-dry, black-and-white lines in our relationship, that I felt like it ended then but we just never said the words and were technically together for another year. That’s why I think I have been able to forgive myself and forgive you for some of the things that, in more typical circumstances, could have been hurtful but weren’t as important given where we were.

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Michael: Right. You were stubborn about it and tried to convince yourself it could work from September 15 to August 16 and then I kind of noticed you had gotten to the point I’d been at for a while where you knew it was over but didn’t want to say it. I’d say I didn’t know for sure until early October when we broke up and you started sharing some of your thoughts with me that I knew you’d been ready to move on with your life for a while.

Me: All things considered, in spite of the fact that you determined you were bisexual or gay and wanted to experiment, how did you feel that towards the end of our relationship I was really checking out, especially since–and I think it’s fair to say–I had always been the more committed one?

Michael: I felt hurt. I started seeing it slowly happen in September. I felt a little hurt but also felt more relief because I realized I didn’t feel as guilty for our history.

Me: Do you care if I ask if you were still doing the chatting thing during the last month or so of our relationship? Because I felt like you didn’t really stop after that summer in 2015 but I haven’t really been concerned enough to think about it. Also, know I don’t care if you did.

Michael: I don’t know. I might have been but I might not have been even though I did before. A lot of things just blend together now and it’s hard to remember things concretely.

11060464_10204227927124661_2000663678018066708_nMe: Were you angry with me that I was quitting? I actually don’t know this one,

Michael: Initially, yes but when I paused and realized how long you’d been trying to make it work and how much we had been through, I started realizing it was only fair that you got to move on and I was relieved you were starting to think of it considering I thought if we ended things you would have been hurt for a really long time.

Me: Is there anything you would change about how all of this happened? Things I did or said? Things you did or said?

Michael: I think the one thing I would change is telling you sooner and not be afraid that you would react in a way that I couldn’t handle. And just not do the stuff I did and be up front and honest with you.

Me: Why did you think I would react like that? Which is fair, I’m kind of a hothead.

Michael: I felt that despite your acceptance of LGBT people in general, in that situation your emotions would run high and you wouldn’t be as tolerant because it was too personal. Oh, I have my meeting soon.

Me: Okay we can wrap this up and talk later but just making sure, are you okay?

Michael: I’m just a little, I don’t know, sad.

Me: Why?

Michael: Because I wish I had just done things differently. That I hadn’t done some of the more hurtful things.

13920124_10206985761828805_5157449574869169903_oMe: Ehh, I think the one thing this has taught me is relationships are messy and if you’re going to let yourself care about somebody that much, you have to accept that there will be some lack of congruence between your feelings and them needing to be free-willed humans who are just figuring things out. I did things too that I think I will always wish I could be different, that I will be afraid define me which is why I still always feel like I have to atone or I want to talk about it, walk through the things I might have done on my side but I think I’m taking a page from your book on this one and accepting that some things, like your identity and these questions regarding your sexuality, are bigger and eclipse the things that are maybe influenced by it.

Michael: Yeah, I agree. I think that’s why I have gotten to a point where I don’t feel guilty anymore and it makes me feel, I don’t know, more free or more relieved. I just didn’t think you would get to the same point and so now that you have and that you’re not caught up on things I did wrong or you did wrong like you were when we were still together and you were hurt, it can actually feel like it doesn’t have to be as big of a thing.

 

Michael had a meeting to get to so we ended the conversation but we may finish it up later this week or month and he is going to be writing his own guest-post as a follow-up. If he finishes it today (9 years of experience suggests that won’t happen), I will post it tomorrow. If not, I have my own ready to go.

There is a new interview up. Go here to read more.

My ex came out 6 years into our relationship (interview).

I strongly recommend you read the blog post that goes before this (it’s actually split into two shorter entries. Click here to read the first one.

 

Me (awkward because we’ve been on the phone for 30 minutes now): …hi.

Michael: Sup.

Me: This is the most awkward conversation I think we’ve ever had and that includes when you told me you were questioning.

Michael: Want me to talk in a Trump voice so it’s great? What do you want to know about me that you don’t already know?

Me: Is there anything you think I don’t know that you would be comfortable telling me? I feel like if it is important, I know it.

Michael: I think I’ve known longer than what I probably told you… that I was just in denial of my own sexuality but also didn’t want to accept it because I knew it would hurt you. But then I realized it was hurting you from not telling you and hurting me as well.

Me: Can you explain more how it hurt you?

Michael: I think being in denial just limited my options in what I should do. I loved you during that time but like you said before, I didn’t embrace it in fear I wouldn’t have support or anybody left because I was afraid I would lose you. So I didn’t give myself the chance to do anything about it and instead had this thing I was afraid of.

Me: Did you ever try to tell me and change your mind before I knew?

Michael: Yeah. I tried to play it off like I was joking but now looking back it was just my way of slowly accepting and testing the waters to see how you would respond. Like do 15128973_10207765738727740_3747544522836714370_oyou remember when we were watching Will & Grace junior year and I acted like I was confessing to be gay? I don’t think I knew at that time but I was playing with it.

Me: How did you expect me to react when you imagined telling me?

Michael: I was afraid you’d throw something at me–get upset, and walk out and never talk to me ever again. Just get really pissed off and that would have devastated me because the one person I knew I could trust and who would support me leaving would make me feel like I lost everything. I thought even if my parents might not accept me when I finally told them, I’d still have you so it would be okay.

Me: Wait, you thought I would get physically aggressive?

Michael: No. I don’t mean that. I mean I do but I don’t. What I mean is I always had it built up in my head like it was going to be this big, scary thing and that’s just what I imagined. I was anxious about it so what I imagined was worse than I knew it would be.

Me: How long do you think you knew before I knew?

Michael: I think I knew maybe six months before I told you, so maybe around January to March 2015 I knew.

Me: What was the tipping point? Was it gradual or did it hit you all at once?

Michael: I think when I realized, I noticed I was checking out men too, just noticing them.

Me: Did you ever think about just living with it and marrying me and not telling me? We were getting to the point where we were starting to deal with the inevitable engagement questions.

Michael: Yes. I didn’t want to hurt you and I loved you and thought we would be together for forever so I was just going to keep it to myself. But then I realized that over the course of our relationship, there were a lot of…

Me: Murky?

Michael: Yes, murky times where I didn’t know if the conversations I was having with women were cheating or not cheating but they felt wrong. But I still kept feeling like I needed to do it. Then I started having them with men. It seemed like I just kept gravitating towards that our whole relationship.

Me: What do you think made you do it before it involved men?

Michael: I think I knew and have always known but was in denial and thought if I talked to women online then I could prove to myself I was straight.

73616_454161377905_773892_nMe: Were you physically attracted to me then?

Michael: Yes. But I wasn’t sure if it was just you.

Me: So if you were dating a woman, why do you think you needed to do that to make sure you were interested in women?

Michael: It’s hard to explain. Maybe I was trying to make sure I wasn’t just attracted because of our emotional relationship and that I was attracted to women in general.

Me: Makes sense. That’s what I think you told me before. I’m going to change gears if you are okay with that. Let’s talk about when you came out.

Michael: You were the first person. I didn’t even tell Matt. I think he had an idea but I never said it to anybody else.

Me: Can you walk me through how it happened when I found out?

Michael: I remember when you came across some of the conversations I was having. We were searching for your car keys and you picked up my Ipod touch. When it lit up from being picked up, it had all of these message notifications on the home screen and that’s how you knew. It was really hard. I felt like my life was ending but also it felt relieving, like a weight was lifting off my shoulders, all while the world was crashing down. If that makes sense.

Me: What do you think of how I responded?

Michael: I think you responded a lot better than I thought you would.

Me: Even though I was mad about the secret conversations?

Michael: Yeah. I remember a lot of crying, mostly mine, and you were really, really angry and hurt because it was cheating to you. That’s what you were focused on. You rose your voice about the cheating and were hurt. You didn’t seem to even notice it wasn’t all women.

Me: How did I respond when you told me you might like men?

Michael: It was like an angry aha moment, like that explains everything but you were afraid and when you get afraid, you get angry. I got the death glare and I think after we talked some, you walked stormed off because you needed to process. It was like you knew but when it was actually there and it might change everything, you needed time to process. You didn’t want to say much until you had I think. On some level though, I think you were relieved.

I think before, you thought I was just doing something I don’t know shitty because this had happened a few times earlier years in our relationship and it was happening again. You were more understanding when you realized why I was maybe doing it. As much as you didn’t want to believe it, you were more understanding and you seemed more supportive and aware.

Me: Did you expect me, being mad about the sort of cheating, to tell everybody and “out” you?

Michael: That was another fear of mine when I imagined telling you but I knew you could do it but that you’d understand and wouldn’t do it to me. No matter what. You might tell somebody in confidence to talk and process but I didn’t think you’d blow it wide open.

 

There is a second part of this interview that you can follow here. Also, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below or email them at atlasgriffin12@gmail.com.