a failed martyr

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.

Watch Me I’m Flying

[I would like to issue a minor apology for the fact that almost all of this post is written in words and style that are distinctly Not Mine; this is something that I do not have the words to express yet without borrowing the words of others, and I would like to express my sincerest apologies for this; still, it is something I feel, and I appreciate that enough that I decided to post this.]

When I was a child, I was alone.

I was abused. My best friend tried to drown me. She would hit me, she developed a game out of “what’s the worst thing I can convince them to hallucinate”, she messed with my reality and told me I was fat and ugly, but the thing that traumatized me the most was not any of that. The thing that hurt me the most was the isolation. She had cut me off from the rest of my friends, and her favorite punishment for me was not the insults or the physical pain or even the reality manipulation and emotional abuse, it was the silent treatment, because nothing hurt me more than being alone.

When I was a child, I was alone.

I had started cutting and starving myself when I was ten; I was suicidal since I was eight. I asked my mom when I was eleven if I could check out Wintergirls or Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and she smiled condescendingly, told me that those books were too mature for me. She tried to protect me from the reality I was living; she cut me off from the idea of people like me. I didn’t tell anyone even a whisper until ninth grade, when I entered a relationship with the girl who showed me her scars, a relationship so dysfunctional it almost ended with a suicide pact, a relationship that made me the weirdest kind of happy because at least I wasn’t alone anymore.

When I first read Julia Bascom’s blog, two years ago, I cried, because here was someone like me, and she was alive, and she was writing about the things everyone turned their back on me for mentioning.

I stole a copy of Wintergirls from the library, hid it in my backpack and under my bed, and waited for everyone else to fall asleep before I read it.

I was almost hospitalized when I was 14, for having a psychotic break too obviously, and I blogged the entire time, and I was still so happy because I wasn’t hiding anymore. Because I wasn’t alone.

I was watching a musical, a couple months ago, and it hit me just how afraid I am of the future–I’ve spent my life assuming that I didn’t have a future, because I was going to kill myself (goodbye cruel world hope you enjoyed your stay) when I was twelve (and then, when I passed that, I decided on 16), and that would be that, so I would never have to worry about how I’d end up or what I’d be as an adult because I would just never grow up. But now, I’m older, and I don’t think I want to die anymore. I was (am) terrified of growing up and still being me–of growing up and still being crazy.

I’ve discovered, though, that teenagers can grow up, even those of us who are gay and crazy and trans. We don’t all die. We can survive. I’ve learned that there is a we out there, and it started with Julia Bascom:

“At some point, and I’ve told this story so many times and it never stops making me want to cry, I started hearing about other disabled people. People who were older than me, people who weren’t about this thing is going to kill me one of these days, people who weren’t about living with, living with, living with, not dying from disease, people who were disabled and alive and not sick, not dying, but raising hell and building lives and screaming, screaming, screaming when we were being killed.

People who used words like we.”

And it was amazing, because she wrote about how she learned that there were other disabled people out there, and that meant that I got to learn too, that there are other disabled people, they exist, they use words like “we” and say that we’re not sick or dying, we are here, we are existing, and I don’t have to be alone anymore.

And that opened the door for me–a door to Mel Baggs and RENT and Ozymandius and Next to Normal and stimmyabby and Mad Pride and the Icarus Project and the Hearing Voices Network and tumblr #actually tags, and so many others, a door that led to people like me who said things like we, a door that led to a community–there are gay people, there are trans people, there are crazy people and disabled people and we have always existed, and here we are, screaming, because now we will be heard, because I am writing this in hopes that someone will read it and know that you’re not alone anymore.

History was always my least favorite subject, but learning that I had a history too, it all seemed so amazing, so deeply essential. They never taught it to me in school, I had to search for it. But it’s there.

As Thing of Things wrote, in their post “We Have Always Existed“:

 

Changelings are autistic children. There is art that looks like children with Down’s Syndrome. Socrates heard voices. Henry Cavendish may well have been autistic. Soldiers for thousands of years have experienced PTSD. The demon-possessed. Prophets. Acedia. The fool capering across a Shakespearean stage or a royal court. The village idiot. Asylums. CBT is Stoicism wearing a sciencey hat. Mindfulness therapies are Buddhism wearing a sciencey hat.

I cried when I read it–

There is a black-and-white picture out there, of two women, psychiatric survivors in a world that did not want them: paranoid, fighting back. It is from 1976: we have been fighting this battle since before I was born. It is not over. But it is so much better. And we aren’t alone anymore.

See, that is the thing about being who I am: it is, inherently, rebellious. There are entire branches of psychiatry and people who have dedicated their life’s work to claiming DID isn’t real and multiple people in one body isn’t a thing and alters are just parts, not real people, and all it takes for all of that to come tumbling down is for me to say that I’m real.

Living in a society like I do, where being even the smallest amount of different is a punishable offense (even though there is nobody that is perfectly normal; being in high school means that almost everyone around me is quietly unhappy and scared, while trying their best to be perfect, and never asking why it has to be this way) and being too different gets you killed (Mike Brown, Leelah Alcorn, 300 mentally ill people shot by police each year). The ones with voices, after all, get their tongues cut out.

Yet… not always. Gay pride was started when we were hurt by the police one time too many and we rioted, for days, and now we celebrate it each year, and since then a lot of us have died but some of us have lived, and things aren’t better yet, but last year they said I could get married. It is a bitter lie that we all die–there are, right now, #RealLiveTransAdults, and not just that–there are real live mentally ill adults and real live gay adults and real live aromantic adults and real live multiple adults and real live schizophrenic adults, and I can read things they have written and they can talk to me. They’re out there. Girls like me, we can grow up, we can live. I know that, now. I still can’t believe it, not yet, but I know it, and that’s half the way there.

I’ve never been to a protest or a pride. The extent of my activism is reading blogs online and flapping so hard my back screams at me, and claiming my existence. And yet, that is a kind of rebellion too–because rebellion is not always throwing stones and screaming voices and holding signs and starting fires. Sometimes, rebellion is much, much smaller. In friendships and jokes and tumblr posts and essays, in hashtags and holding hands and sharing our stories. In existing, unapologetic, unashamed, and saying you can exist too. It’s a lie that everyone who is different is doomed: we are here, we can live, we can exist, we always have, and when they say that we’re going to die (that the world hates us and that the best we can hope for is to hide and deny ourselves and try our best to pass and hope nobody notices), they are the ones who are killing us.

The most rebellious thing I’ve ever done was staring myself in the mirror, unflinching, saying “I don’t want to be normal” and meaning it.

Rebellion is a rejection of society, and there is nothing society hates more than someone who’s different and open about it. Society hates people who are brazen, unashamed, refusing to be smaller, to minimize, to smile when people misgender you, to keep your hands in your lap and your mouth shut. To be proud of being different is the most rebellious thing people have ever done. There is a reason that solidarity and empathy are so discouraged–because if you look too hard, you might find out that we’re all different people, and you might be relieved and happy because you’re not alone. And you’re not supposed to know that. You’re supposed to think that you’re alone in your differences, so that you will be afraid of them.

When just existing is defiance, being proud is brave. When we are supposed to be hidden, being open is strong.

We’re here. We’re alive. We exist.

We’re not alone anymore.