(Trigger warning for discussion of suicide and disability, this is actually a positive post but it’s still very intensely emotional stuff.)
Earlier this year, I stood on the edge of a train platform in New York City and nearly jumped. I had been struggling with suicidal ideation for the last two years, my chronic pain had pushed my brain into a clinical depression that was almost relentless and I had experienced several major mental breakdowns, the accumulation of which, coupled with a traumatic event, had left me feeling utterly useless and hopeless and so I stood on a train platform and contemplated jumping. In fact, the only thing that stopped me was the thought of Wes, one of my partners, having to pay a fortune to have my mangled body shipped back home. Sometimes I am still blindsided by the horror, the sickening realisation of what I nearly did.
Lately, my life is really incredible. My arm has been slowly improving and I’m getting back the things I thought I was losing forever, my ability to paint and write and drive and just… just live with some freedom of movement, without my body feeling like a cage that is shrinking smaller, smaller, smaller. I had lost all hope that I could ever be so lucky and so I feel my luck with an intense gratitude and a deep, heartbroken sadness and compassion for everyone who is currently lost, and scared, and hurting and may never be as lucky as I am.
I am also intensely aware that I don’t want anyone to think my life is only better now because my arm is getting better and frankly, that isn’t true. My life actually started getting better before the surgery, it started getting better on the night when, back from New York and in an abject, miserable, broken state, body trembling and eyes red from crying for days, I screamed at Wes to help me, to please help me, please why wouldn’t anyone help me.
He called suicide hotlines and they were not helpful (this is not a criticism of that resource, it’s just the advice that was offered was… ok it wasn’t useful so maybe this is a criticism?) and so instead he called my mother and with her advice and the help of some of my friends and lovers, Wes organised for me to go on suicide watch. For the next several weeks, I had somebody by my side every day and through that process, I realised how loved, how very loved I was. I realised how important love and community and kindness is and my life started getting better.
Then I started meditating, and reading books on shame and daring greatly and grief and finding Buddhism, and practising self-compassion and loving kindness and learning from the wisdom of an ancient philosophy that someone called “positive nihilism” which suits me well as it’s is all about love, connectedness and how to navigate the facts that suffering and change are unavoidable truths.
And I went on SNRI antidepressants as we came to realise that though my reasons for feeling unhappy were valid, nonetheless my health had pushed me into a clinical depression and my brain needed some assistance climbing out of that. And I was already getting therapy and that helped a little though not as much as the support of my friends and family because the mental health support system is overstretched and besides I was tired of the dehumanising process of being a problem to be fixed, that was in fact part of what was hurting me so badly.
And I went through loss, I had two important relationships fall apart at the exact same time and felt the ache and hurt and heartbreak and confusion that comes from conflict with those you love and then I practised self-compassion and honouring my heartbreak and sadness and letting myself move through all the stages of grief and anger and loss and letting go. I am still moving through those but the process of doing it with a great deal of compassion for myself is strengthening me further as heartbreak doesn’t have to harden me or destroy me, but instead can soften me to the pain of others. And as my compassion grew and therefore my sense of connectedness to others, my life started getting better.
And I started letting go of shame. I was shaming myself a little less for not earning money and struggling with mental health problems and I was valuing myself a little more for the contributions I was making in the world. And I realised my principals are entirely about kindness and that made me feel strengthened and driven. I decided I was going to be ferociously kind and I started to get more in touch with my anger (with unfortunate mishaps along the way because I’m still working through trauma and anger and it’s messy stuff) and I started to get more in touch with my pain. And my life started getting better.
Earlier this year, I stood on the edge of a train platform in New York City and nearly jumped. Sometimes I am still blindsided by the horror, the sickening realisation of what I nearly did. I saw oblivion and what I went through had the trauma of a near death experience. And now I look back, I can see that during that time, I felt utterly alone, utterly worthless and utterly helpless because I thought that my disability made me unworthy and meant I could not live a full life.
So though my life is definitely made -significantly- easier because of the surgery and the fact that I’m one of the lucky ones who might be able to get better, I want to reject the toxic notion that the only reason my life is better now is because I am starting to become more abled bodied, more “normal”. Yes, it’s true, I’m happier because I’m seeing that I can start to follow my biggest dreams again. Yes, I’m happier because life is fucking easier. This is true. But it’s not the only truth and not the only possibly positive outcome.
Because it may not have been the case. It was entirely possible that the surgery wouldn’t work and the thing I realised, before I went under the knife, was that even if my body didn’t improve, I could still live a good, full, rich life, it’s just I’d have to work a whole lot harder than most people and I would need to surround myself with gentle people who would not resent me for the things I could not do or be. In fact, I’m still disabled it’s just… less than I was.
So I really want to say this with as much emphasis as I possibly can… if you know someone who loudly complains about their pain, please think twice before you shame them for “whinging” because you don’t know what it feels like to be inside their skin. If you know someone who is engaging in acts of self-harm and suicidal ideation, please don’t dismiss them or get angry at them for the state they are in. It’s so hard to look straight at pain, it’s so hard to look at people who are suffering because the sheer existential horror of it scares us and so we’d rather look away in fear and disgust. But I need to say this with as much emphasis as I possibly can, the only reason that I am alive today is because of the people who didn’t walk away, didn’t angrily chastise me, who instead sat with me through my pain and reminded me that I could have joy. The only reason I am alive today is because of the people I gave love to and who loved me in return.
Let me say that again. The only reason that I am alive today is because of the people who didn’t walk away, didn’t angrily chastise me, who instead sat with me through my pain and reminded me that I could have joy. The only reason I am alive today is because of the people I gave love to and who loved me in return.
Disabled people and the chronically ill can have amazing lives, do amazing things, make the world richer, kinder, wiser. But so many of our struggles are invisible and so much greater than you may perhaps realise so please, as much as you can, strive to be patient and generous and kind and to realise that though someone might have more struggles than you, it doesn’t mean they can’t have brilliant, beautiful, valuable lives. Please, I implore you, behold the pain of others and of yourself with gentleness and kindness, not pity and anger.
My life started getting better when I started being kind to myself and surrounding myself in kindness. That was the thing that saved my life and made me want to stick around in this world for as long as I possibly can, love. Just love.