With the recent suicides that have happened among music artists, one of which I have been a fan of for quite some time, it leaves me with the realization that we as human beings simply are not talking enough about real stuff. The things that matter and shed light on the ugliest parts of reality. The normal day to day, coupled with the moments that weren’t so great. The things that happened that left a lasting bad taste on the tongue. There simply isn’t enough open dialogue out there discussing depression, suicide and self-harm. And the people struggling feel as though they are struggling alone. In the day and age we live in where anyone can get online and say anything they want, it begs to question why it is that no one is choosing to talk about this? Why are we using our platforms to gain more likes rather than dig nails deep into the topics that might be uncomfortable, but could possibly save someone else’s life? Why aren’t we having the discussions that bring about change?
We all have this intrinsic need to be liked. Approved of. If that weren’t the case than social media wouldn’t be as big of a deal as it is today. The reality is, if we all still made the effort to talk to each other and keep up with each other’s lives, social media would have no reason to exist. The need for approval is everywhere you go, in everything that you do. The simple act of smiling at the passer by in the store whom you don’t know, or using the words please and thank you — Stem from the place inside from which we tell ourselves that if I am polite then people will like me. It becomes embedded into our psyche and then by adulthood, we automatically do the things necessary to keep us in good social graces.
What happens when that need to be liked goes to the extreme of stuffing down your own torment in order to give the appearance of a happy life? When we skirt the subjects that may be too ugly and stick to the whimsical all to appeal to the masses? What happens to us as writers when we put what we really feel the need to write about aside, in order to write something geared toward the majority in a way that only affects people on a surface level? I feel like I am always towing this line of “don’t say that,” and “ah well who cares, say it.” And most of the time I am falling way off center from that line. There are topics that I would like to discuss, that I believe not only the reader but I, myself could benefit from speaking about, but I save it for another day. A day when I’m less cautious and more uninhibited. The last few weeks I was hit with the news that someone close to me is very sick and my entire world spun out. I tried many times to write something fresh and airy, but that light-heartedness in me, just wasn’t there. The fact that I need not say anything at all unless it is happy or funny, when reality is repeatedly slapping me in the face, has been bothersome to me. This idea of only saying something likeable, that touches no deeper issues has tortured my mind for weeks and today, I am sharing it with you.
Most of my teenage years and into adulthood, I struggled with depression. Later, that struggle with depression turned into a fight against suicide. It was as if I felt too many things at once, at all times. I couldn’t get a reign on my thoughts and feelings and instead was just there, spinning out. Making more of matters that didn’t exist, hypothesizing on the ones that did and wondering how to fix the ones that couldn’t be. The first time I attempted to commit suicide, I was in high school. Having been given ridiculous amounts of pain medication from my Orthopedic surgeon, the opportunity was there. I had written my letter to my family and poured all of my pills out into my hand, when someone knocked on my bedroom door. It was my older brother. As I heard the knock I got surprised, tossed my hands up and all of the tiny little pills scattered all over the bedroom floor. I could see where each one of them landed and made a mental note. My brother had intercepted a call from my teacher telling my parents that I was failing her class. He pretended to be my dad, took the information and told me quietly that I needed to do something before my parents actually found out. I shook my head okay and closed the bedroom door. As I turned around to pick up all of the pills, I could not find a single one. Not one. I fell onto the floor in a ball, crying and asking God why he wouldn’t just let me die. The thing is, I had no fear of death. I had a fear of living in that mess of internal turmoil and sadness for the rest of my life. Always inside of my own head. Never feeling worthy enough to just have one solid friendship, one real relationship with anyone. I wanted to connect with people on a real level. One where nothing was hidden, not the flaws and mistakes and not the swirling of thoughts and feelings circling the recesses of their minds. I wanted to be free from my reality of not belonging anywhere. But something that night, saved me. I don’t know how or why, but all of those tiny pills disappeared. They were gone. The odd thing is, even a couple of years later when I moved out I still never found not one pill hiding on the floor, tucked in the baseboards, anywhere.
My parents were strict and my biggest fear growing up was the thought of disappointing them, which I felt like I was consistently doing in one form or another. It’s like I already had this ideal back then, that I would grow up to be a nothing. No one that would make them proud enough to say that I was their daughter. No one that would make any real difference to this world. This wasn’t something that they put on me so much so as I put on myself. I felt worthless and misunderstood. Like the only thing that I had to offer was my ability to put on a face that wasn’t me to make others happy. When it came to friends, I had them so long as I was willing to do everything they wanted, when they wanted and never expressed a true feeling of my own. In the meantime, I was the funny one, the one who could always make people laugh, do stupid things and entertain — But inside I was dying to just be seen. I didn’t know what happy was. My happiness came from the few moments in life where I was allowed to just be myself and someone took interest in that part of me. That person for most of my life, was my older brother. And when he knocked at the door and I saw his face, I immediately felt shame for what I was about to do. I knew that he would be disappointed in me and maybe even see me as weak for having decided to kill myself. It was a moment that I would never forget, even 20 years later.
My older brother remained a person of high importance throughout my life. He was five years older than me, so at my age of 16, he was already into adulthood and with two small children of his own. As kids, he was the funny big brother who could always make me laugh, but as I started into pre-teen years he became a father figure to me. When I decided to join a softball team at 12 years old, my brother was the one who took me out to the baseball field and taught me how to pitch and how to hit. He taught me how to watch the ball and choke up on the bat, and how to throw a perfect strike every time. He spent hours with me each day, helping me to be completely prepared to try out for the team. He would pick me up from school and take me to our favorite shaved ice place and just talk with me. I could talk to him about anything and knew that he loved me without judgement. As I started getting older he became more of my friend. He taught me about music and introduced me to artists that would forever change my life and broaden my horizons. Him being a musician himself, I would sit for hours watching him play the drums and guitar, flawlessly imitating the greats of our time and before. My friends would come over just to watch him play, which made me feel honored to share in blood with someone so talented and so liked. He meant everything in the world to me. When we both were older and married with children of our own, we still never lost that ability to sit back and have these conversations that I could never have with anyone else. Things that we experienced, things that changed our perspectives, our ever-changing beliefs, and what we wanted for the future. There was no topic that we couldn’t drag out into endless hours of conversation. I felt like he was the one person that I could be honest with, share every secret with and know that we had each other’s confidence. He was my best friend. Somehow, being able to have these real conversations with someone who was just as intrigued to know about my thoughts as much as I was to know about his, was a saving grace for me while growing up. Everyday life came into the picture and we lost quite a few years together, in-between. In the midst of those years I had no one. I was in a tumultuous marriage and wasn’t allowed to have friends. That feeling of being alone in this world crept in so swiftly that I never saw it coming. Again, I felt useless, worthless and just all around not enough. I wanted to stop hurting, stop crying, stop losing friends and start being of some importance to anyone and yet here I was again, facing the prospect of suicide as being my only path to solace.
I began to use self-harm as my escape — My form of dealing with the pain that I suffered in silence with. I was struggling with the death of my child and an abusive marriage and had lost all connection to myself and to life as a whole. I wanted out, in every sense of the word. I prayed each night that I would not wake up the next morning, and each morning when I woke up – I cursed this god that let me live and breathe another day. I had lost myself to such a degree that good memories ceased to exist in my subconscious. I couldn’t remember the last time I had truly laughed, but I knew it had been too many years to count. As much as I tried to find a connection to myself and anything else, I couldn’t. It was as if someone had turned off the lights within my soul and all that was left was black. Darkness. I said out loud that I was depressed, that I felt that I needed help, but no one was listening. Maybe they all thought that I just wanted attention, but all that I wanted was to feel whole. Normal. I wanted to see something beautiful and smile, I wanted to hear something funny and laugh. I wanted to experience something touching and shed a tear. I desperately wanted to feel. Anything.
The first time that I cut myself, I couldn’t feel the pain. It wasn’t until I started bleeding that all circuits clicked and I knew that I was feeling something. And in that solitary moment, the pain that was so deep inside finally shown through to the outside. In that one minute, I felt symmetry. Like with any form of escape, that relief was fleeting. It never lasted more than a minute and often lasted only seconds. I became addicted to that congruence between my thoughts, feelings and physical existence. With anything that you become addicted to, I needed what I had understood to be normalcy inside of myself, and I chased THAT. I knew the very second that I made that choice to harm myself that it wasn’t healthy. I knew that it wasn’t part of my character to do something so reckless. I was ashamed every day that I looked down at one part of my body or another grazed in scars and fresh cuts. I was ashamed of who I had become and went to every length possible to hide it from everyone, including myself. My husband at the time made sure that I understood just how weak of a person that I was, for going to this length of self-harm. He also made sure that I knew that I was psychotic, unstable and needed to be put away. I wasn’t harming anyone else, I wasn’t visiting my pain on him or another. I was handling it in the only way that I knew how to, no matter how self-destructive it was. I wanted to die. I wanted it so badly, I could almost taste it.
When I finally found the courage to leave my marriage, I knew that I couldn’t just leave the way that I was. That I had to make a choice to do things differently. That I had to leave all of my old life behind. To handle my pain in constructive ways and to find a solid avenue by which to move through everything that I was allowing to kill me inside. I stopped feeling the urge to self-harm, when I left. But there I was, by myself, standing in grief and stained in shame, with no idea of how to turn myself around. How to let go of all that I was holding onto and find freedom in my new circumstance.
I started getting tattoos to cover the scars of my soiled past. At first I needed to feel the pain of the needle, but after the first tattoo that quickly changed to needing to walk away seeing the beauty left in its place. Instead of looking down at scars, I was now looking down at beautiful pictures that brought me comfort, instead of shame. I took something so dark and self-destructive and found healing through transforming it into something that I could be proud of. I no longer had to hide. I could show these pieces of art with pride in my eyes, and smile with the compliments. Every piece meant something special to me, and my story began to unfold on my skin. Each time that I looked at any of the artwork, I saw more and more of who I was and who I was becoming. I looked at this colorful chaos on my body and saw that I had overcome. I was no longer staring at reminders of pain, but instead looking at promises of something new. I felt hope inside. I remember getting each piece and what was happening physically, emotionally and mentally to me while I sat in the chair. I remember walking away each time feeling closure to whatever pain it was that I was fighting against inside of myself. I didn’t care if my having tattoos was going to cause stares, or questions. I cared about the meaning behind each one of them and the feeling of serenity that I would have each time that I looked at them. Years after my bout with self-harm I reconnected with my brother and confided in him about my past. At the moment he seemed to understand and sympathize with my reasons. But years after that in a heated argument, he made the effort to tell me that I should go ahead and kill myself, to cut myself like I always do because I was weak. In that moment, I was crushed. He was the one person that I had ever told of my life before and I thought that he understood. That he saw how much of a mess inside that I was in the past and loved me enough to never use it against me. I thought that he cared. There was always shame attached to the choices that I made, but there never seemed to be any true understanding for why I made them, from anyone on the outside. And that comes primarily from the fact that these kinds of things are not talked about enough or at any real length for anyone who hasn’t experienced this to fully grasp. When you’re an alcoholic or addict, there’s plenty of people to talk to who are fighting the same struggle as you. Loads of people to pat you on the back when you say how many days sober you are, but in a situation like self-harm – The silence is deafening. The dialogue just isn’t there.
I was asked not to long ago about all of my tattoos. Having had them for years now, I am used to it and have never gotten tired of being asked about them. But it brought back to memory where I was emotionally, what headspace I was in – when I got them. Each time that I’m asked, it gives me the chance to tell a story so personal and uncomfortable, that it brings pause and food for thought on the intention behind the question. It also reminds me of just how far I have come. My reasons, make people stop and think about their original first impression. It forces them to see that I am human. That there are layers to who I am as an individual and that I, just like them, come with a past. I don’t take the questions personally because the ones asking are doing what all of us as human beings should be doing. Seeing the visible marks of another person and wanting to know about their life. If we all carried identifiable scars of the things that at one time debilitated us, maybe we would be a much softer, kinder world. If we could visibly see the wounds of someone’s life written across them, it would spark our human instinct to show love, compassion and concern. But because we all walk around with our souls hidden from plain view, we treat each other with less care for the unblemished façade that we see.
This need to say something likable, to be the person that people go to in order to hear funny, light-hearted tales from, is becoming an epidemic. Life is raw. It’s unfiltered and unclean. It has depths so low that only the bravest could dive down and not be driven away by its darkness. Everyone can learn from another’s truth. After all, we are surrounded by religions telling stories of one saint or another’s past sufferings to reach the point of unconditional love, acceptance and enlightenment. And yet we live in a world that only wants to hear the “feel good” stories, that don’t make them have to examine a single speck of their own selves. We don’t want to know the struggle, just skip the minutia and get to the point that makes me feel warm and fuzzy. No life is without struggle, though. No person is without a story or unaffected by their past. We come to each other, broken and needing acceptance – but we rarely find anyone who would take the time to dig so deep, as to clearly understand us. So we talk about things that don’t matter, to be likeable. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to tell the stories that mean something. The ones that are personal and bring myself and others to a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other. I want to offer a hand to someone out there in the position that I once was in, and for them to know that they are not alone. I want to disturb the comfortable and awaken the minds of those that have fallen into a likable coma.
The human condition is a fascinating one. Why we do all of the things that we do. To think that anyone glides through this life without even a smidge of their past creeping into their present behaviors is a nonsensical ideal. How much more would we benefit from knowing the real truths behind each others scars? With the most recent suicides of music artists publicized in the media, we are seeing a lot of ‘If you or someone you know needs help, please call…” Or the tributes to these fallen artists being played out among their fellow musicians and fans. And that is all fine and well, but where are the real stories? Where are the people coming forward to the forefront who have personally struggled with suicide and self-harm, saying, “You CAN get through this. Life IS worth living. You are not alone.” Where were they before each person took their own life and where are they now? We don’t feel lonely because we aren’t surrounded by friends. Loneliness is a feeling that lives inside of you regardless of your outside surroundings. Loneliness comes with the feeling of being misunderstood and not accepted for exactly who you are, all of the dark parts of you that the world around you never sees. When we cannot share ourselves with others because either they are too closed off to hearing it, or simply don’t care to know that much about us – that creates the ideal in our heads of not being enough for someone to truly take interest. And we carry those ideals with us like a weight around our feet, always pulling us down into submersion of our own internal dialogue. We all know that life is not always pretty. It isn’t always funny. And sometimes it can be a very dark place. And yet we all make this choice to shield the ugly parts, pretend they aren’t there, and stay with our heads in the clouds.
I am eleven years out from my former struggle with self-harm and have never had the urge since to take back up that cross, because I learned something at the end. The darkness in our lives has a purpose. If there were no darkness, than we could never fully appreciate the light. We need both.
We as emotionally intelligent, human beings need to hear the stories of one’s decent into the abyss and ascent into lighter days, for us to know that we too can overcome our own personal battles to see a brighter side. We need to hear unpolished truths from humanity around us that tells us, that we are not the only one. I am just one voice. I may not make any real difference at all, but I believe it is time that our conversations with each other change. It’s time to start using our phones to do what they were intended for and reach out to each other. With depression comes silence, withdrawal. Shame and embarrassment for feeling the way that we do. Especially when the outward circumstances surrounding speak to a good life. It comes with the impression of burdening others by talking about the consuming chaos that lives within our heads. So we withdrawal from time to time and slap on a smile when we see someone or get a phone call, but the pain is still there. The loneliness still present even through our smiles. It takes real conversations, being willing to be disturbed and uncomfortable to know what another is truly battling with. To lend a hand to pull them up and out of their darkness. It takes showing that you’re there, with or without their call for help. Letting them know that you see them, for exactly who and how they are and that you are not going to abandon them or deem them as a hopeless cause.
It’s time to let go of the ideal that if something isn’t positive, that it isn’t worth the time. If that friend on social media that is always talking about their life, annoys you, maybe you should figure out why. Maybe you should contact that person and let them know that you care. Take more than a moment to better understand them and maybe you will hear their cry for help and be the one to save them from themselves. Maybe if we posted less memes and quotes and more real down to the guts, truth of our own struggles – We could then show every person in this world that feels like their problems are too great to visit on another, that they are truly not alone.