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.

My Blogtober Project.

This entry is a follow-up to a previous entry which you can find here (I recommend reading it first or this won’t make as much sense).

14567480_10207527117322354_4177760255090210184_oWith that being said, he is a big reason I want to do OUTtober and Blogtober together this month. It made me realize that while I can get heated about things like same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ rights, I have a lot to learn and still have some subconscious biases that I need to continue to address. Because of this, I want to use this project as a learning opportunity and a means of becoming a better friend, peer, and community member. Although we are from different geographic areas, we both come from backgrounds where LGBT rights and social issues are not given the recognition or respect they should receive. As social media has shown us, there are plenty of people will never behave towards the LGBT community with any decency or respect. There are also, however, a lot of people who are prejudiced (which is still wrong) because it is unfamiliar to them and they haven’t had to grapple with it.

I don’t have a ton of readers. Quite frankly, I don’t know how regularly people read my blog and I’m okay with that. This experience, I hope, will check some biases which I may still have and also help me determine how I can better handle conversations with others who may not be as accepting. I am going to have some guest posts from members of the LGBT community, a set of interviews with Michael where we talk about his experience being in a “straight” relationship and questioning, and I’ll be reading and summarizing some articles on LGBT topics for students selecting colleges, how LGBTQ is defined, and an introductory understanding to the LGBT community for individuals who may be unfamiliar with it.

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Photo by Sanketh Rao on Pexels.com

My goal is to post an LGBT-related entry every day for October. If you manage to see this, wonderful and I hope it helps us both to learn. If there is something you notice that you think I could do differently, if you agree or disagree, if you have questions, please let me know! Also, if you happen to be less comfortable or familiar with LGBT topics and have something you want to talk about or learn about, chances are I could benefit from learning about it too and can ask others or research online to find the answer. If you don’t feel comfortable commenting here, please feel free to reach out to me via my contact form at the top of the blog or emailing me at atlasgriffin12@gmail.com.

Thank you and I hope you check out my interview entry with Michael which will post tomorrow at 9am EST. Please consider commenting below. I would love to hear your thoughts (regardless of what they are; I’m always open to feedback).

Happy Blogtober!

 

Important context for upcoming interview with former significant other who came out 6 years into our relationship.

Michael and I were together for seven years. He was and remains one of my best friends. He was my college sweetheart, my first sexual partner, and became a very close member of my family. After we graduated college, he moved to a new state with me where I got my first master’s degree and then completed the coursework for a second while he worked on an MA in clinical and mental health counseling. A first-generation college student, he was also the first person in his family to pursue a master’s degree and it was a challenging road we both walked together. Although we had broken up months before, when I went to his graduation, it was hard not to tear up because of not only how proud I was but how it felt to see him accomplish something which I had also poured my heart into. Needless to say, our bond runs deep and we have history.

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Photo by juan mendez on Pexels.com

But we also have had some challenges (as he will explain in his guest post and I will share in my own).

Six years into our relationship, he began questioning his sexuality and seven years in, we ended our relationship so he could have the room to explore. Up to the sixth year, I still very much wanted to be with him and it was really hard for me to both support him in this huge, life-changing moment and process ending the most serious relationship I had ever had.  I think we both believe our relationship ended that summer but we tried really hard for another year.

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Although we both did things that weren’t our best moments in life and didn’t end things how we ideally would have, we both acknowledge that our former partner at some point did things or had moments–doubts, thoughts, actions–that weren’t perfect, some of which we have shared and some of which we have decided to let rest. It took some time but it became very clear we were meant to help one another through some formative moments in our lives. I like to hash things out and dishonesty grates at me. It is acidic and wears a hole in my stomach, whether or not I am the one who is being dishonest. I cannot stand to ignore elephants in the room. I need to identify them, categorize, and tag them so I can check in later. Michael is more of know what’s important and avoid confrontation sort of person.

There are things we could discuss and we both know that but our relationship has changed so radically, it doesn’t matter anymore. His identity has completely turned our relationship on its side and as much as it gave me a brutal mental whiplash in the beginning, it has helped wash away moments where we weren’t perfect and also made me realize while I was familiar with LGBTQ issues, it was never as personal and complicated for me as it was right after I found out.

This entry has a short follow-up. Please visit this link to check it out here.

 

Although this is a personal subject, Michael and I both put it out there knowing people may have opinions and that’s okay. If you have just general comments, feedback on the post/project, questions, etc., I would love to hear them. If you aren’t comfortable submitting them as comments, you can complete the contact form at the top of my page or you can email me at atlasgriffin12@gmail.com.

My promise to myself for October.

I am committing to myself and my need to prove to myself that I can absolutely crush it this month. It’s been a long time since I felt that way. I struggle with consistency and actually following through on goals and plans so I’ll need to work on that.

If you have any tips for being consistent and making sure you follow through, I’d love to hear them.

In the meantime, I’m going to watch this video of my dog one more time just going at this puppacino like it’s her life’s purpose and try to have the same enthusiasm and motivation for my month.

Happy October!

 

Where in the Hell did you come from?

So often, I pause and think how in the hell did this happen to me? And you’re going to think it’s me complaining, being a hot head, or venting about something that frustrates me with you. And that would all be fair. I am a hot head and I do get really, really, really frustrated with you. It bears repeating. You really, really, really get under my skin. More than I think I ever have with anybody who I actually liked as a human being.

But nope. You’re wrong. It’s in those simple, quiet moments that you don’t think matter, that you don’t expect joy to creep up on you, that I just have to take a step back because what I have is imperfect, yes, and really challenging but it is all of the best things that I thought were unrealistic in a relationship. A relationship has never stayed this new for me. There are some things that get really old really fast and I think they just make me realize that they get old because they are the same issues manifesting themselves when we don’t address them. But I have the best of both worlds right now in that I look at a picture of you or a text you send me and my heart just feels like it pops, and yet I have that comfort and intimate friendship that takes longer to develop.

You are a challenge for me. On the daily. I didn’t like you when we first met, as you know, and it was a challenge to learn to like you. Then I learned to respect you and like you as an individual. Over time you became a friend, then a best friend, and way further into knowing you than you would ever expect, it finally dawned on me what was there. It’s like it just pulled up matter-of-factly in a cab one day, got out with its suitcase, walked into my life and unpacked like it had been there all along. I’d been so incredibly proud of how platonic and balanced our friendship was, that we were the example of a man and woman being friends with absolutely no doubt or romantic interest. Our chemistry was what I thought was the best kind to have, buddies who could work together on projects, balance one another, argue and push one another, but absolutely just kill it. My greatest fear in our friendship was that it would change, not in the way that it has but that it would drift away. So when this happened, when one day in the middle of a joke I suddenly sensed a question mark somewhere in my mind, it was really disorienting. It was the first time in my life that the expression I had to stop and put my head between my knees or I was going to vomit was actually physically and concretely true. I didn’t care how it looked. I suddenly got that random, off-balance feeling you get when turn in too many circles way too fast and stopping realize you’re going to fall over and crack your head open if you don’t sit down. It wasn’t a cliche emotional epiphany punctuating this culturally overrated storybook formula. If anything, the small part of my mind that could think outside of focusing on keeping my feet rooted to the floor and my head above my feet, took it as a sense of foreboding that moment was anything but idyllic and something had been so permanently changed I would find it had been lost rather than another thing gained.

But now, regardless of anything, as a best friend alone I don’t think I could love you more. And in spite of all of that, you are a challenge for me almost every moment of every day. Sometimes it’s a frustrating challenge, a decent amount of the time. Others, it’s the same way you challenged me as a friend, pushing me to be a better version of myself every time I get somewhere I think I have it figured out. Now it is where I could be a better partner. And as frustrating as that is–and as much as I will be willing to vehemently swear you’re wrong to my last breath–I become a better friend, person and version of myself every day you are in my life.

You are one of the most ideal things that has ever happened to me without the disgusting cliche of being perfect. I guess that’s probably one of my secret reasons for complaining sometimes; because perfect is so artificial and gross to me, I feel better when remembering it is flawed but genuine. Somehow in so many ways you’re everything I didn’t have in my mind for this formulaic, color-in-the-numbers life but you’re also everything that, if I had believed I could have it, I would have wanted in somebody I could be with. And I would have never guessed, even in all the years I knew you before this, that it would have been you. Truth be told, I’d have bet on the majority of people before you and somehow that longtime platonic buffer built the sort of bond strong enough it didn’t need more than friendship and is more durable because of it. In spite of all of the frustration and as much as I dug my feet in and refused to humor this question I suddenly felt compelled to ask myself, you’ve made what it means to have a “person” come to life and take meaning for me.

I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve. I am a hothead–sorry to say, we’re both probably stuck with that. I definitely have my protective shell. My bark is louder than my bite. All of those things. But I’m really fortunate you’ve been patient enough to give me the room to grow into some of the challenges of our friendship and subsequent something else because for the first time ever, I feel as if something really extraordinary and powerful could happen in my life. Just like I hate admitting you’re funny, I’ve never liked admitting to people that I like you. Although it was clear we were good friends, the warmest acknowledge of that anybody would see was that I was willing to tolerate you for an indefinite amount of time. Ever since that I’m gonna pass out or puke moment, it has become annoyingly clear I like you so much that, if I had to choose between you and a glass (actual glass) of iced, cold fountain Coke, I would almost stop to think about picking you.

Does that make me crazy?

I heat up. A ball in my gut, just a lumpy nothing-of-a-rock pushes on me from the inside and lights a spark. Heat, not the kind of warm heat when you step inside your well-lit home on a cold winter day, but a shallow heat that will burn faintly and exhaust quickly, crawls to the tips of my fingers and toes. It lazily floats through my blood and takes up residence in its own pit behind my eyes. I don’t know if it’s anger, frustration, disappointment, fear, hurt. That nameless feeling is the one I get in all of those situations. It just bathes my motionless body in it like warm milk.

The nerves in my skin and some part of me inside, the most vulnerable part of me, divide the unpleasantness. The outer layers of my skin resign to being unsettled with no physical reason. Confused and unable to determine the cause of the mildly agitating sensations, I can feel the entire outer layer of myself, my skin, my muscles, everything, curl up in inpatient frustration. Bracing itself.

Meanwhile an entirely different process occurs inside me as I feel my emotional self retreat, shrinking back from the points where it joins the tips of my fingers, connecting me to the world outside my body, shuttering and pulling itself in from my legs and my throat and my chest, rolling up on itself like an armadillo, absorbing whatever unnamed emotion made it past my skin. Whatever sharp object it grabbed as it sank back to its refuge, it holds, like a terrified snake that has wrapped itself around a knife but, because rolling up is what it does to protect itself, can’t release the tension that holds it there.

Like a President and a Vice President, the ball that holds me inside and the shell of my body that keeps everything unknown at a distance mutually and systematically have separated because the risk of having the two of them together is greater than the benefit. Together, they both become vulnerable. Instead, like boats in a game of Battle Ship, they spread apart because if one takes a fatal hit, at least one might avoid being punctured.

All of that happens. In seconds. That’s the beauty of routine and the remarkable nature of repetition. I do it on autopilot now, even with the slightest notion of possible hurt. At this point, it’s really my body’s decision. It’s like an overflipped switch; now it can flip itself and the defenses slam themselves into place like a veteran of bomb raids. My mouth, caught in the middle but forgotten, is still, uninformed by the inner recesses of my mind and deprived of the muscles and motor functions at the corners of its lips.

You can ask any questions you want. Blank eyes will be your answer. Because you’re speaking to an empty room that doesn’t reach the bottom of the well where I hold myself. Not that it matters. You won’t miss my voice. You likely wouldn’t even notice the silence if it wasn’t saying something about you, something which you then hold against me. My absence creates chasms of silence that your self-important words fill as is only natural.

I love you. Well, the part of me that can feel when it isn’t compacted into this claustrophobic ball really loves you. But I need not say this because you don’t miss my voice. I’m not even sure you’ve really ever fully heard it. You miss the reassurance that its presence means you aren’t accused of something. You don’t care what it has to say and it’s not personal to you. It’s just not important enough to even realize how much of me you’re missing. And I try so much to show you. I practically beg for you to glance but your screen holds your eyes a willful prisoner.

Is this all in my head? Am I too demanding? Or is it realistic to write letters you think the addressee will read? Is it too much to ask you to look at what I hold for you to consider for longer than four seconds before you return to your Facebook, trying to recuperate that missed time? Probably.

Simple steps for when you most need a lifeline.

So one of my favorite quotes when I’m not feeling well (and by not feeling well I mean I’m having a really hard time with suicidal ideation. I don’t actually want to die but it’s almost as if there is something chemical that keeps triggering that switch) is, just to give you a heads up, ironic given the topic. But, for some reason, it works for me. As ironic and insensitive as it may sound (I am a firm believer in being genuine and still mindful to wording things as sensitively as I can), in that moment I  get some relief from an old FDR quote. Paraphrased, it’s basically: when you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on. I figure if a sailor’s knot can hold a ship to a dock, it can sure as well at least keep me holding on for the time being.

It’s not a quick fix but it’s a reminder of what I need to do. Tying a knot is a skill you need to know before you need it and its utility is to hold something together. This is my metaphorical knot when I need something to hang on.  Different things work for everybody and I’m not saying it will work for you but if you’re like me, you keep trying something new, never expecting anything to stick and then something seems to have at least a little adhesiveness. Because because mental illness is a fickle and confusing thing and I can only speak to my experience, I suggest the following. If it works for you, then it has made writing this impromptu post worth it. If it doesn’t, as hard as it is, keep trying because something could surprise you (even if you feel like that is a Hallmark thing to say and there is no way that could happen, been there).

Okay, so let me walk you through it. Chances are, if you don’t feel well, you aren’t up to doing a lot of things, so determine tasks with your depressed self in mind, meaning don’t get overly enthusiastic about solutions that sound great when you feel well but will be barriers when you don’t.

Below you’ll see that I address the note and use the word “you” instead of “I.” I write “you” because, at least for me, when I’m having suicidal ideation, the person telling me I can’t get past it might at the moment feel like the real me but it isn’t. And the real me isn’t going to be there if I’m that bad so I essentially write a note for myself for when I need it. It’s short, sweet, and in that moment I can trust it because I know the better version of myself that thinks more clearly wrote it knowing how hard that moment is.

Step 1: Address your note. Keep it short. Example:

Hey Atlas,

I know you don’t feel well right now and you’re not up to a lot but just trust me on this one, do each of these things your list and it will be okay.

Step 2: Write down the following on a piece of paper (these exact words in this exact order):

Something that brings you relief:
Something that brings you comfort:
Something that makes you feel connected:
Something that makes you feel supported and loved:

Note, these should be very easy and simple to do. Mine, for example, are as follows:

Something that brings you relief: Open up your Cooking Craze app. Don’t spend any money but play this until you can at least think.

Something that brings you comfort: Put on your soft hoodie, pick up three things that you can easily put away/throw away in one minute. Put on either your I want to process and embrace the suck right now playlist or your pick-me-up playlist. [I actually have mine under the playlists tab if you are into this idea. Or you can just go here:]

Something that makes you feel connected: text somebody you miss. All you have to do is say, “Hi.” When they respond, respond back. It only has to be one sentence.

Something that makes you feel supported and loved: Open your planner, page 3 or 4. [This is a page where I have written down things that people have said to me in the past, including myself, that have made me feel loved or good about myself. It can be validating like acknowledging something I have done well or just an expression of how the person feels).

Step 3: If you took the time to read this, you clearly haven’t quit yet. Love, Atlas.

I prefer a handwritten note because I’m almost always home when I need it but it can be an email, a note in your phone, whatever works for you. For me, the note just says, Hey, you believed in this enough at one point to write it down. 

If you try it and it works, or if you try it and it doesn’t, I’d love to hear about it. I haven’t ever read about this particular coping solution but I’m sure somebody else has written about it at some point and it kind of fits within the overall umbrella of making some sort of plan. Whether it is this or something else, I hope you find something that helps you.

Do you have other things that work for you? Have you tried anything that didn’t work?

Sucker.

I want a lollipop. I want a red lollipop full of swirls and a stick as long as my arm. The colors should spin like a merry-go-round, or the spokes on a bike, round and round until I’m dizzy from head to toe. When I hold it up it should stick out like a red kite on a blue sky line, shaping clouds of white elephants chasing circus peanuts. It should exist forever and never run out of licks. It should be everything I want it to be.

But I wake and I open my eyes and it’s only a sucker. It cracks when I bite it, like grinding rock against rock. It sticks to my lips and to my jeans when I drop it- and I always drop it. The taste dulls. Fields of cherries become watered down, flooded out. I want a lollipop but he gave me a sucker, sticky and now fuzzy, cracking and dissolving until one day it will only be a soggy stick.