I do not know how to start this post except for this:
I have been suicidal for most of my life.
I still am, some days.
When I was younger than I am now, I saw this as beautiful. Before I was even legally old enough to be on tumblr, I ran one of those tumblr depression blogs, black-and-white, sad quotes, pictures of my cuts, the whole nine yards. It’s been deleted, so don’t ask me for it. I dreamed about death being as soft and gentle as sleep. I fantasized about slowly wasting away until I disappeared. I wasn’t going to grow up; I was going to be Tragically Beautiful, Died Young, eternally a shy twelve-year-old with a messy ponytail and good grades and a sad backstory. A fairy, a waif, a whisper of a tragic yet inspirational story. Of course, being this way took a lot of work; but that didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that it had to look effortless, or else the illusion would be dropped. And I did know, on some level, that it was an illusion (why else would I have the crippling sense of inadequacy that I did at failing to live up to this image? why else would i not shower for a month until i was looking decidedly un-beautiful? more to the point, why else would I still have a pulse?), and I learned a few years later that it was impossible, but it is only in recent months that I have begun to give it up as an ideal.
See, the ideal of martyrdom is beautiful. You are single-minded, radiant, giving yourself up fully, saying: here i am, do as you will, set me on fire or tear my heart from my chest or drape me on a cross, and i will be a saint forevermore. It is a transformation from the altogether messy and wretchedly human plane to the elevation of idea, symbol, archetype. You are strong, content, brave. It is forever. Yours is not a life; it is a story, and this is its ending, the narrative resolving with you as the selfless tragic heroine.
But it doesn’t quite work that way. Your burn gets infected, and you ask your therapist for a bandage and neosporin, and the pus is decidedly not romantic, even with a capital R. It is so easy, so tempting to idealize wasting away to nothing; harder to glamorize half-digested cookie dough clinging to your fingertips while skype calling your best friend. Sometimes “I want to die” is less a dramatic climax and more just a part of a life that also involves things like “laughing with friends” and “not wanting to die” and “doing homework” and “kissing girls” and “watching mythbusters”. Sometimes life is just… life.
Of course, at the time this would have seemed unbearably ordinary. I didn’t want to live to be normal. I wanted my life to be Dramatic, a Grand Epic. I kept trying to shove my life into stories and narratives, even when it didn’t fit, and I blamed my life for that (just have to end it before you can mess it up too much) instead of blaming the boxes. I didn’t want a small-scale life with a few friends when instead I could be worrying about grander things like ‘philosophy’ and ‘what a sad story it is of Corrupted Innocence that a 12-year-old is writing funeral plans’.
(This is to be distinguished from the definition of “normal” which is, like, “neurotypical cishet vs weird freak”; I have, if anything, I have moved farther away from “normal” in the sense of “neurotypical cishet”, mostly because “coming out and figuring out the gritty details of family and school as a queer-ass crazy” is one of those things that don’t fit well into most Grand Stories out there. Also, it is very sad that I was writing funeral plans at twelve; however, the fact that I was focusing on “wow this is such a tragic story, it’s going to be so beautiful when I die” instead of “hey maybe instead of doing this I could talk to my friends or accept my mom’s offers of getting me help” is kind of fucked.)
Here are the facts: While other kids dreamed of being a veterinarian or a fashion designer or a teacher, I dreamed of being dead. And there is a very real sadness to that, a wistfulness, a tragedy, even a grandeur in a way (stories about death: generally considered more deep and meaningful than stories about life as a chef), and when you are eight years old and suicidally depressed and you read far too many fantasy stories because nobody will talk to you, it is not exactly like you should be blamed for any of this, and doing so only adds into the And Society Rejected Me angle of your tragedy. And now you are fifteen and trying to choose a college and your brain short-circuits because you are still having difficulty seeing yourself as a person with a future and you are trying to unlearn this disaster of a life you have forced yourself into but it feels like losing the only purpose or dream you have ever had, and you sit down and you start to write.
There is a sort of appeal to stories like Amanda Todd, Leelah Alcorn, Phoebe Prince. A save-the-world story and a tragedy, all wrapped into one. It is really no wonder teen suicides are so contagious–one is publicized and several follow in their stead–because they are kids, canonized by society by their death, and which sad kid on the other side of the screen doesn’t want to be a saint?
There are things that you think you cannot live through. Cliff Pervocacy calls it, on his blog, The Worst Thing In The World. You do anything you can to avoid it. It is terribly melodramatic and incredibly terrifying, because you honestly believe that you will not survive if it happens. It’s not quite that rational, though; it’s more a feeling than a thought. A desperation, a need. An “I will do anything it takes.” It might be the end of a relationship. It might be falling into a pit of snakes. For me, almost everything is like The Worst Thing In The World; when I’m depressed, even just surviving another day can be The Worst Thing In The World.
So, my point is, I’ve had a lot of practice with trying to avoid things I think I cannot live through. I’ve also had a lot of practice with living through things I think I cannot live through. And by this point, I’ve discovered that life is, in fact, livable. The Worst Thing In The World happens, and you do not know how to deal with it so you cut or puke or have sex or cry yourself to sleep or scream at your best friend, and “the next morning I woke up and had to pee.” Life carries on, and not just the grand and glamorous and romantic parts of it. Because those aren’t the important parts of it. The important parts are the parts that show that you’re alive, goddamnit.
There is an important distinction, to me, between two kinds of self-harm. One is “it makes me feel better, and that’s good.” The other is “it makes me feel worse, and that’s good.” The first is a last-ditch survival attempt, even in the most ironic and contradictory way, using self-destruction as self-preservation. The second is self-flagellation, the idea that There Is A Correct World Out There And It Is The One Where I Am In Pain.
Of course, both can be melodramatic, both can be awful and confusing and crushing and just plain painful. But in my life, at least, I slowly morphed from holding onto my own destruction as a lifeline, to idealizing it as simply being, not the lifeline of a terrified child, but as the Correct Thing (aesthetically, morally, instinctually, intellectually, whatever, doesn’t matter).
I am learning this distinction, today. I celebrate the first–play with matches if you think you have to play with matches, just stay alive–while at the same time trying to destroy the second, trying to teach myself that no, in fact, there is no correct world out there, there is no right thing to do or grand plan to follow, there is just your life. Go out and live it (whether that means eating too much candy on halloween or cutting deep between your ribs or both).
One is a grasp upwards, trying to survive when you want to die; the other is an intentional fall, trying to survive when you want to live. Stay alive, keep staying alive, and keep going when you can.
Of course, this is terrifying. The idea that there is no One Right World, that there is no path out there for you to follow, no guide, no judge, no grand epic or destined plan, there is just you, and you are 15 and alone in a giant world and you don’t exactly have a great track record at the whole existence thing.
But terrifying things happen, and then you wake up the next morning in a terrifying world, and you are still alive, and you still have to pee. Life goes on. It is not good, not yet, not for me, but it is so much better, and that matters.
I may be a failed martyr, but I’m getting better at being a person.