Suicide and Love

(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.

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Outback

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I need to find a way to capture some of this feeling before it dissolves in the atmosphere of the city.

It’s flat, the outback. It reminds me of the way the world felt when I was a kid, yanno, big. Big like when you stand outside at night and stare into the universe. That awestruck thing of you being so small, so insignificant, that liberating thing of some getting some goddamn perspective. Oh hey ego, shut up a tic and look at this cool shit, hey?

Over the anniversary of my 10th year living in Australia, we explored Lake Mungo, the ghost of a lake that once was. Now a dry and flat expanse covered in alien vegetation, 50, 000 years ago this place was freshwater mussels, giant marsupials and people. Some of their bones remain around the edges of the extinct lake and our guitar toting tour guide showed us ancient fire pits, fossilised fish scales, preserved footprints and freshwater mussel shells that looked as if they had been deposited on the ground just yesterday. Actually, the mussel shells were perhaps one of the most striking things – the fact that they did not look old gave me a strange sense of vertigo, a connection with the past and a palpable understanding of how recently that lake existed in the history of things.

For centuries the fossils and things have been preserved in a museum of mud and sand but now the wind is uncovering them and slowly they erode and disintegrate, blending with the dust and sand. Poetry like that is the kind of shit that puts a lump in your throat. Mortality, ephemerality, it makes you feel lonely and sad but in a good way, a poignant way. Isn’t everything just so fucking beautiful when you remember that it’s all temporary?

It’s dry, the outback. To an untrained eye it might seem hostile to life but in fact the biodiversity is astounding and you see things that are so alien and specifically evolved to the ecologies which they inhabit. Brilliantly coloured parrots screeching in voices that somehow remind me of Fran Drescher, lumpy turd shaped lizards with giant mouths, Emus that look like dinosaurs and a run like terrified but athletic nerds, beetles with markings that look tribal and might get them entangled in an online argument about cultural appropriation, weird fungus that is the texture of a pavlova filled with black nightmare weirdness and flowers with petals that feel like dry straw.

You have to stop though, you have to stop and stand still and pay attention. That’s a good rule of thumb in general when it comes to the natural world, remembering that it doesn’t exist to entertain you. The animals and plants have their own shit to do and if you take some time to tune into what that shit might be, you realise just how little you know, just how many worlds exist right before your mostly blind and ignorant eyes. It’s humbling.

“Humble” seems like an old fashioned word doesn’t it? I’d love to see a renaissance of humbleness. Can somebody bring it back into fashion? I don’t mean humble as in subservient or lacking in pride. I mean… Remembering how little any one person can ever truly know, remembering there is always more to learn. Always.

It’s bright, the outback. This part will go down as one of the great memories of my life. The part where we got out of the car and clambered up white sand dunes. When I reached the top of my first dune, I let out an involuntary and childish squeal of excitement and I started to run along it. I’m grateful for the times when I forget to be self-consciousness about what a giant dork I am.

I’ve never been on sand dunes before, not proper ones like this. They were a thing of myths, of the books I read in my childhood. It is utterly thrilling to be somewhere that just looks and feels so different from anything familiar and I swear, my heart raced with excitement as I bound down the side of the first dune in giant gravity propelled leaps! I ran through the flat valley between the dunes then up another, down another, up again. I felt a manic, brilliant joy.

When I paused for my breath to catch up on me, I realised that the white expanse seemed to be spinning and flickering just a little, as if my brain couldn’t quite take the exertion, the heat or the brightness of the sun reflecting with such intensity on the white surface. I wondered if I was going to faint and the idea seemed so hilariously pathetic that I burst into laughter. Then I stopped to breathe in the place and listen to the absence of traffic, the wind, bugs and the occasional bird or rare other tourist.

I watched him in the distance, my travel companion who is one of the great loves of my life and who has a thirst for adventure and novelty that feeds and ignites my own. I knew, through the excited grins we had shared all day, that he was finding this as magical as I, albeit in his own way. He looked up into the sky and I followed his gaze, it was a bird. The internet tells me it was probably a nankeen kestrel.

It hovered and wove silently through the sky and as it came towards me, that feeling of awe I had been experiencing all day seemed to reach a climactic peak. As it flew directly above me, I literally fell to my knees and watched it pass in front of the sun, an act which caused its feathers and much of its body to glow. Holy. Fuck.

I have a voice memo on my phone from after that moment. My voice is faint, trembling. You can barely hear it over the wind but I wanted to transcribe my words, rambling, unaltered.

“Today I saw the sun shining through a hawk while sitting on a sand dune… and I’m so glad I lived for this. I wanted to take a photo or a video for the memory and for writing about it but I thought that would be really inferior. And I thought about the shame I feel for taking photos instead of living in the moment. 
But then I thought about how we’ve always told stories, the thing that makes us human is telling stories about the things we do, that’s why we take photos of everything and try to record things… that’s something really special about us… that we… we tell each other stories about what we’ve done, what we’ve eaten, where we’ve been. It’s how we learn, it’s how we relate and I think we should tell all our stories. I don’t think there should be bad stories. I think we should tell stories about the most poignant moments in our lives, the moments when we run across sand dunes but also the time we shit our pants on the tram down Sydney Rd or the sex we had that was just so filthy or… the time we wanted to die.”

Exactly a week before I was running on the sand dunes, I wanted to die. The theme was one I had written of before, unhappiness with my health, sorrow about how significantly decreased my abilities are, chronic pain, lost potential, fears of things worsening, missing painting with the ever-present ache of lost love. I felt trapped, I had temporarily stopped seeing the colour in things. All I could see when I closed my eyes was a recent x-ray of my fucked up body and all the ways in which I cannot have the things I love.

Exactly a week afterwards, I sat in the dark where we had set up camp and though the suicidal inclinations had passed, I was still feeling tenuous. I decided to risk trusting this relatively new love of mine with the story of my sadness and he gave me the generous gift of listening and then just holding me for a little bit. Something lifted after that, it is such a fundamentally human need to have our sorrow witnessed. And our joy. One of the most meaningful things you can give another person is to listen to them when they tell you how they feel. I am tremendously grateful for the people who have loved and listened to me and I hope I do the same for them.

The next day, I was watching the sun shining through a hawk on a sand dune. Then I stood up and went to my love, we embraced and showed one another various treasures we had discovered – old fashioned glass fragments, dead bugs, bones. We both went wandering in separate directions again and I played a game with myself where I walked along the flat sand with my eyes closed until eventually I reached a dune that meant I was now climbing upwards with eyes still closed. Suddenly my foot touched air and, gasping in surprise, I fell onto my arse, I had reached the top of the dune and had fallen onto the other side of it. I laughed, filled with joy over how effective such a simple game had been at delighting me in this magical place.

I made a second voice memo.

“I can’t remember the last time I was this happy. It’s that thing… that thing where you have to tell the stories you don’t want to tell. You have to accept your vulnerabilities you have to (the wind gets too loud here and my voice is too faint to decipher for a moment) … somehow it just frees you up. It frees you up to feel good. It’s that Brené Brown thing about vulnerability it’s…oh my God I just found a little jawbone!”

A week ago I wanted to die. A week after that, I visited a place so special that it unlocked passions for the natural world which had lain relatively dormant within me since childhood. When we got back to Melbourne, my mood dropped and I cried when I walked into my house. But it was nothing dramatic, I’m feeling a lot stronger and my cat has been demanding cuddles which always helps me keep it real, yo.

It’s important to remember that the pain is real but so is the joy. It is so important to be reminded of how incredible the world is and I will hold onto that for dear life.

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Suicide

There have been a couple of times in my life where I have felt suicidal and though I’ve briefly mentioned it before, I don’t want to talk about it in detail so I am going to. When I was a teenager, I observed that my favourite artists were so often brutal, awkward and unattractive in their honesty which had the effect of making me feel more comfortable in my own skin and less alone, so I challenged myself to be the same. I still try to. Enough stalling, here goes.

I don’t know what it takes to be part of the Totes Legit Suicidal Club because I never swallowed any pills or jumped off any bridges. Though, at about the age of 12, I became very fascinated by the warning message on my aerosol deodorants “Intentional misuse by deliberate concentration and inhalation can be harmful or fatal.” I only tried to misuse my Vanilla Kisses body spray a handful of times and don’t remember much more than dizziness and once, a slightly uncomfortable headache. I remember the emotions though, I remember the shame.

The shame wasn’t about my flirtation with mortality, the shame was about my inability to commit to my demise. At that point, I had been chronically ill for some time and felt myself to be a burden on my family and to have no purpose or future. I felt that I was nothing but a shadow of a person, heavy and stagnant and the gesture of self-destruction felt like it would at least be… something.

And of course it would be an escape. Perhaps the worst thing about chronic illness, worse than the humiliation, the pain, the isolation… the worst thing I remember is the boredom. The days that melted into each other, stretching endless and tedious behind and in front. Sometimes I fish about in my head for memories of those years and only get feelings that make me uncomfortable and vague memories of bedsheets and shitty TV shows. I know that this wasn’t the entire truth of those times because as an adult, I see the privileges from my childhood but I believe that being ill for so long made me perceive everything through a very deep depression.

Bored and caged animals will pluck their feathers out or chew at their flesh. I have an intimate familiarity with that impulse and for some years I was the cliché of teenage angst, late at night when the frustration, self-loathing or tedium became unbearable, I would take to my arms and legs with a kitchen knife, slowly slicing shallow red lines into my flesh. It is not in accord with popular opinion for me to say this, but it truly felt as if that behaviour curbed my violent impulses and I recall the ringing in my ears and the nauseous calm I felt as I watched bloody lines appear. It was like white noise, it blocked things out and focused my attention. Cutting is seen as an unhealthy behaviour and certainly mine was a symptom of a great unhappiness, however I think that channelling the violent emotions I was feeling into something that had no long term negative effects on my physicality was actually… helpful. I am not necessarily defending the behaviour, though I do believe it kept me from something more drastic.

I haven’t cut myself in years, having learnt more “constructive” and “adult” ways of dealing with my emotions. However, in 2014, when I turned 30, I was thinking a lot about how I wanted to be dead. My (then undiagnosed) Thoracic Outlet Syndrome was at its worst, I was in constant pain, unable to sleep, dependent on my partner financially and unable to do any of the things that made me feel valuable, excited, alive. It had been over four years since I first had problems with my arms and it seemed to only be getting worse. My future and prospects felt bleak, once again I felt like a burden, once again I was the thing I had been working so hard not to be, once again I was nothing.

It felt like a Chinese finger trap, the harder I struggled, the tighter the grip it had around me. I was bored, frustrated and just so sick of trying. And now I had access to the Internet, I thought about how easy it might be to just research the most painless, simple methods of self-annihilation. I was an adult now, maybe this time I had the willpower to follow through and…

And I thought of Wes. And I knew how I might ruin his life if I did this. And so, though it was incredibly hard to do so, I told him how I was feeling and he implored me to keep trying, he promised he would help. In honesty, I half hated him for it at the time, half hated him for the way his love meant I had to keep trying when it felt so hard and I was so tired. So completely spent.

But I kept trying. In honesty it was for Wes at first and not for me, but slowly things started to improve during 2015. I found mindfulness meditation which has helped me be gentler with myself and better tolerate the things I hadn’t control over, I found my cat, I did some volunteer work, I started working on a web series, I started learning to sing. I got a diagnosis. I fell even more deeply in love with Wes and back in love with someone else who I never thought I’d see again.

So this year, 2016, has been kind of incredible so far. The diagnosis of TOS has transformed my self-perceptions and given me a sense that my future is no longer hopeless. I have an abundance of love. And for the first two weeks of this month, we were filming the web series that I first conceived of in 2014 when I was thinking about how I would like to be dead. Filming was the most scary, exhausting, stressful thing I have possibly ever done and I was so ecstatically happy. I rediscovered a self that in 2014, I thought I had permanently lost and I felt like the poster child for an “It Gets Better” type project. I am struggling to express what those two weeks meant to me but there were so many times when I was thinking to myself “Remember this. Remember that if you had given up, you would not have gotten to do this.” While feeling, truly feeling, that it was all going to be better from here.

Two days after we finished filming, my body seized up with pain from computer work and I was blindsided by the sudden onset of old, morbid thoughts. I was devastated, my body felt like a trap again and the joy I’d been feeling felt like a sick lie. For just a little while, I resented how amazing I had been feeling for how hard I was now crashing. But the people I love helped pull my head out of that ugly place and though I am now feeling a little shook up, vulnerable and prone to moments of sorrow, I do believe things are improving.

It’s just… it’s not a straight line pointing upwards for the rest of my life. My body will always cause issues, horrible things will inevitably happen and there will probably always be many things I am unable to do. I may always be taunted, in my vulnerable moments, by the self I could have been if only my body hasn’t failed me so many times and I’ve now had to face the unpleasant reality that suicidal thoughts may not be something a person can permanently escape. This might be something I have to battle again because that is what life has to do, life has to fight.

But if/when these morbid thoughts reawaken in my head, here is what I will tell myself: Despite how seductive it can be, suicide is not the opposite of stagnation. Fight and be proud of yourself for doing so because life fights. And remember, when you wanted to die, you could never have known how amazing you’d feel when you moved to Melbourne, produced and starred in a stupid musical theatre comedy that would receive rave reviews, married your best friend in a pantomime unicorn outfit, roamed the streets of Berlin with a wonderful lover, lay on the side of the planet and stared into the stars with a man who makes you feel alive, spent two weeks in a studio filming the most ambitious project you’ve worked on up to this point, danced all night, played with your cat, painted for an hour without pain, baked a cake, learned to rap, laughed with your idiot friends… the list of good things far outweighs the negative. These things, these moments of joy and triumph are always worth it.

Always.

On an almost daily basis, I struggle with the feeling that I am nothing and it’s true. I am. We all are. Ultimately, we will all be helpless in the face of our own mortality, it’s just that people who have their body fail when they are young have to face that reality earlier than some. In the smallest fraction of time, everything we know will cease to exist. In the interim, I am taking the resources I have and making some fucking spectacular moments with them, like fireworks exploding in the cold and dark night sky.