On suicide

When I was a child, my mother used to allow me to wander the library unattended. She is a genealogist, and for the most part, the library is where there were computers or other machines that connected to archives. I tagged along, happy to be left alone to explore my wonderland. 

I remember the moment I first laid eyes on that spine in the philosophy section. At first, I was drawn to the idea of a German female author (Emile Durkheim) talking about suicide. Little did I know it was a Frenchman postulating on the reason why people turn to suicide. I sat in the aisle, my back to the shelves, searching for answers. Turning the first page, I realized this book, this crisis, this epidemic of existential proportions, was older than me (1897!) I wasn’t the only one searching for answers. I had not come up with this concern myself. 

I was twelve years old. 

A year earlier, I had spent hours in the same library, reading my summer book list from start to finish, at times tagging along with my mother, and other times persuading my friends to come with me. To explore the library, full of possibility and knowledge. I rarely read non fiction, rather traveling through the young adult classics and fantasy sections, save for my time spent reading biographies of the greats: novelists, classical musicians, architects, artists. I was obsessed with the world’s beauty. I longed to be part of a world where beauty and luxury existed. I believed it was possible. 

At twelve, I experienced loss from suicide. She was 14, a girl I more than loved, a familiar. My tribe. My heart.

Sitting there, alone, tearing through Durkheim, I searched for the answers no one could give me. Why? How? What does this mean? Can I catch it? Is all hope lost? What happens to her now? To me? Why does this hurt so much?

The answers in this book puzzled me, frightened me, excited me, angered me. Mostly, they left me pondering more often how suicide happens. I was searching for answers and it just prompted more questions. 

That year, I began to tempt fate myself. It wasn’t like playing Russian roulette. I was alone and in pain. I was searching for answers, for comfort, and I found nothing. I’m convinced that my obsession to solve the puzzle of how pain turns into death, how people die in pain, has kept me alive. 

At 14, I became involved in group therapy where other survivors of suicide came together to communally ask the questions I found in the book. Some weeks I went to every group offered. It was then when I came to the realization that the pain that causes a suicide is transferred from the victim to survivor. It creates a link that perpetuates pain, and the only way to relieve it is to discuss it, in community. 

I started my own group, then found others with whom we started a non-profit. It became the thing I woke up for every day. I developed a peer mentoring program, an adolescent survivors of suicide group, then a train the trainer program that was taught throughout the country to peer mentors in high school and resident advisors in college. I created spaces where people could continue to ask Durkheim’s questions. I was obsessed with finding the answer to this problem through the pain left behind in survivors. 

But when I left these groups, when I came home, I was often in more pain. I was more disconnected. People were still attempting and completing, dying, all around me. Despite the hours logged managing a suicide hotline and teaching others about suicide prevention and self care for grief and loss, I never received the help I needed. 

Lesson 1: Sometimes the helpers need help too. Often, the helpers find little help. No one sees them as having weakness.

When I was 16, after the loss of my sister and grandmother, I created a plan to take my own life. The most serious of my several  attempts landed me a spot first in the emergency room, then strapped to a gurney in the back of an ambulance, and finally placed in an inpatient psychiatric facility for adolescents. “Why did you attempt to take your life?” A weary nurse asked upon intake, removing the laces from my shoes. I responded that I no longer could be in my family of origin. And, because of that, I had no one left alive who was safe. 

In this place, I had conversations with children and adolescents who had the risk factors and warning signs I used to teach teens when discussing suicide prevention. I was the hypocrite, and all I could think about was studying for AP exams. They were my only hope for leaving my family behind. I craved safety I had only read about in the books from the library. In this place, we openly talked about pain, about anger and loss. We all chased Durkheim’s questions. Alive but dying inside, we collectively pondered how we’d gotten to this point so early. 

Sadly, we didn’t come to conclusions. The majority of those I shared space with for 9 days died by suicide or overdose, or became incarcerated for drugs or violence. 

Lesson 2: Pain is rarely just physical. No substance, legal or otherwise, can lessen its grip.

At 18, i completed my first thesis on suicide, mainly highlighting and applying the works of Durkheim and others from that era to collected experiences from suicide support groups I facilitated and suicide hotline calls I managed. I analyzed themes, still desperately searching for answers. My cerebral approach created distance from my own pain. 

I was surprised when my mother asked to read my paper. 

One evening, after one of our long drives down the coastline, my mother taught me about my family history of suicide. My premature birth was a result of her own attempt following my father’s desertion just weeks before. I was horrified. Upon sharing this with my stepfather, he recounted the many times he prayed when my mother and I would take our iconic coastline drives. She used to write suicide notes, stating she was going to remove us from the suffering. She was going to save me from my future pain. 

Lesson 3: Pain can be genetic. It can be contagious. 

They say “you’re only as sick as your secrets.” In a family or environment where safety is rare, where love is conditional, where trust is optional, and loyalty is constantly questioned, children are never taught to seek community. They do not learn how to ask for help or share pain openly. The pain, suffering, anger, and loss is not resolved, and grief continues to take hold. 

Eventually, if not resolved, isolation, desperation, and paranoia sets in. Hope is lost. The existential noose pulls tighter, the box closing in, and options become limited by the weight of the pain. 

Lesson 4: The only way out is through.

What have I learned now, in my many years of continued research, exposure to survivors and victims of suicide attempt and completion, and from my own treatment for trauma? 

  • How someone dies fundamentally changes your memory of them. 
  • A shared distribution of weight lightens the load for everyone.
  • Pain is only lessened by the reduction of stigma and the increase in open discussion about what brings the pain.
  • Pain leads to shame, which leads to isolation. 
  • Some of the best medicine is community.

I have dedicated my life to making better memories. Only when we talk openly about and process the pain is it possible to remember people, places, and things with greater fondness. Only when we feel safe can we process the pain. 

Safety and community can break the cycle. Safety and community are the answer for which I have been searching. Safety and community, not substances, reduce isolation. Safety and community prevents suicide; it creates and maintains the best memories. It creates a beauty in this world that, too, can be passed from generation to generation. 

Lesson 5: It’s ok to fail. It’s ok to ask for help. 

I am forever grateful for the ones who have picked up the phone or answered my cries for help. There have been many along my path, and I remember them all. Thank you for reminding me that life’s beauty is not just something I can read in the fantasy section. 

And for the hundreds of souls who I have lost along the way, especially my heart, you continue to drive me to search for the answers, to create solutions. We can do better; we must be better. I carry your hearts in my heart. 

In the end, only kindness matters.

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Things we said today

Tonight I went on a date with someone in whom I should be interested. He’s nice, intelligent, moderately good looking, and kind to me. But I don’t feel a thing. In fact, if I’m honest with myself, I haven’t been feeling anything for anyone since September of last year. 

Why does that stick in my mind? Well, that was the last time I touched someone whom I love. In my bones I love him. In my toes, my heart, my soul I love him. He is AMAZING in his own right, but he makes me better. And even thinking of him prompts a course correction. Sometimes, I think about being sneaky or desperate or manipulative. And then, just the thought of him aligns me back to neutral good. 

I recently met a man who felt like he was regularly stuck between settling with a woman and having a family or chasing the compulsion to join a monastery. Many years ago, he said, he met his twin soul. They split, though their hearts are still aligned, and he worked to move on. She had an existential crisis that conflicted with his. He dated others for shorter periods of time and he’s convinced himself that he’s ok they aren’t together. 

“For the last 6 years, I’ve found myself thinking of her quite a lot. At times I even think I should ask her if I should move to Arizona to try again… And we haven’t even spoken.”

Oh, how I know that feeling. The feeling of perhaps not having a family or deep, meaningful connection after the parting of twin flames. There’s nothing else left. 

I find it interesting that others go through this loop: feeling continually pushed by a force who left to journey into themself. The deep love and deep awareness. The connection of two third eyes. It’s both exhilarating and debilitating. 

The thing I have learned most from my celibacy, I told my new monk friend, is that the most important relationship one can have is with one’s inner child. There are many quiet moments where I find myself holding that inner child, stroking her golden curls, wiping her tears, and giving all the love I can muster to her. She has become my biggest priority in life. And, somehow, turning inward toward that small child inside has allowed me to be more comfortable alone. When she cries out, I find that I can calm her. When she feels desperate and anxious, I can love her. 

If that twin soul, that great mirror, had not left my side, my home, my bed, I never would have connected with my inner child. Why would I? He was the perfect parent to her; he taught me what she needed, how to listen, and how to respond. He taught me patience while she acted out, while she stomped around to get her way. He waited outside her cave when she needed time and smiled at her just right when she was terrified. He taught her to breathe deeply and rhythmically. Now, I find myself staring at her in the mirror, putting on smiles until she smiles back. Now, I find myself meditating daily to breathe with her. My twin took my shadow self, pulled it out, and loved the hell out of it. And then taught me to as well. 

Being alone is awful. Being alone with someone else is worse. Every day, I’m more grateful to have the time to hold that little girl and adore her, unabashedly and unconditionally. Every day, I’m glad he taught me to love her no matter the obstacles. Every day, I’m glad he left me so I could learn to do it alone. 

“Someday, when we’re dreamin’, deep in love and not a lot to say, then we will remember, the things we said today…”

Black Albatross

It was more than 18 years ago now,

The day I watched your face

Turn from violet to blue to an icy white.

I stood there, holding your hoodie.

Complete shock.

This accessory smelled more like you than you.

I remember my mouth going dry from surprise and terror and fear and panic.

My ears recall the utter silence. Pin drop.

Those fibers on the black lining, rubbing.

Your body, more limp, making you look like a hanger, no longer holding up your clothes.

You’d cleaned your room. Spotless. Pledge.

No feelings, just data. Vacuum.

You and me, alone, in a clean room.

You lifeless, me dead inside. Mirrors.

I didn’t do anything. I just stood and watched. I’ve regretted that.

It was our only time alone before all the tears. I’ve regretted that too.

I remember you like you left yesterday.

Wearing socks.

I’ve stayed quiet with regret for so long.

What would I say if no one would judge?

I’d talk about the sigh of relief my chest exhaled when I saw your lips turn blue.

Knowing I could get out and not worry about you.

Chasing my dreams without thinking of the mess you’d become.

I’d tell someone that the last words that left my lips in that room was, “i couldn’t save you. I never could.”

It wasn’t I’m sorry or I love you. You were my loss, but a loss.

I’d express my anger that you left me at the worst time, without a friend. A best friend. You rejected me.

How I gave up my bunk beds because you’d slept on them with me, because I couldn’t stop seeing you hanging.

How you made me more different than I already was. Now I was the girl with a dead friend. Now I’ve watched someone die. Now I have even more issues.

Unrelatable and alone.

How you knew. You knew I had no one to help me with this. No one to turn to.

I wanted to yell at you, to call you selfish. But that wasn’t correct.

I would say I have never quite gotten the hang of being around dead bodies because you were the first. And there was nothing comforting about it.

How every time I’m around one now, how every time I even see Jesus on a cross I see your face.

How I never understood. How I don’t understand. Did you not trust me?

How sometimes, in those first few days, I slept easier knowing you were safer.

How sometimes, in those first few years, I hated you. I hated me.

Guilt. Relief. Anger. Calm.

You changed my life for the worse.

A terrible scar across my heart.
All I could show was pain or nothing.

For so long, nothing.

In a child, out an adult?

Protecting you then honoring you?

Who does that for me?

And all I seem now is selfish.

If only I felt safe enough

To say it while still alone in your room.

Perhaps then, this pain could dissipate.

The Alchemist

To the one

Who loved this body

Broken, wounded

Ravaged by where others had been

Taking on the darkness

That lived, burrowed deep inside

Drinking from this vessel

Always knowing its poison.
To the one

Who, with eyes like lasers

Gazing deep into this heart

Boring into this soul,

Coated the myelin sheath

Around faulty synapses

Corroded from trauma

From those who’d come before

Strengthening all chakras

Always knowing its depletion.
To the one

Whose uttered words

Like a sacred language

Became the guiding voice

A radiant light in the darkness

Comforting the small child inside

Desperately pleading for reassurance

Coursing through these ears

Into these veins

Filling empty spaces with compassion.
To the one

Who, now with this body nearly restored,

Has drifted away

In need of wholeness

Of detoxification of spirit

Of compassion and comfort

Of deep, healing restoration

Your essence is enough

Surrounding us both at once.
To the one

Who, with vulnerability and kindness

Taught this broken heart to mend

These broken wings to fly

These blind eyes to see

Who, with gentle wisdom

Taught a body, mind, spirit

To heal, to harness its power.

Who, with divine alchemy

And pscionic power

Revealed the magic inside.
To the one,

Whose healing touch

Still felt on this body,

Whose stare,

Still slowing this nervous breath,

Whose voice lingers in these ears,

Whose mage hand, holding mine

Still guides this soul through the dark river

Whose alchemy,

My constant companion.

Never to be alone again.

Engine Failure & Progress

Check-ins are important. When I was in 8th grade, I was part of a dynamic, legendary song and dance group called the ShowStoppers. We wore red dresses covered in sequins, heavy nylons, dancing heels, a ton of makeup, and curls. It was epic. I was the worst dancer in our troupe, and I had gotten in on my singing voice. I had never taken dance lessons, unlike the other girls. However, I learned something about dancing in my year there–when you are performing turns, it’s important to have a focal point to reference. That way, you don’t become disoriented, you stay grounded.

Focal points have helped me stay grounded and also have allowed me to assess progress in my life. It’s been 3 months of continuous meditation, 30 minutes twice a day, 3 months of intensive trauma therapy (EMDR + resourcing has sometimes taken several hours a week), 3 months of pilates and yoga, 3 months of exploring my spirituality. And, strangely, the more present I have become, the harder it was to realize that 3 months went by so quickly. I just felt present, putting one foot in front of the other, making my pirouettes without thinking. These things in life have become habitual. Self-care has become habitual.

This past week, two incidents came into my life that were able to serve as focal points, as places where I could assess progress. I have recently started a new role in Washington DC while still living in the San Francisco bay area. This has increased my travel schedule significantly and has also put me in contact with new people. My first day of work was Wednesday, where I spent the day meeting policymakers and staffers. Thursday, I was to be in an all-day meeting with 15 people who would work together to develop policy recommendations for the new presidential administration. This is the most prestigious table I would ever be around, and I was looking forward to just being at the table to listen. I knew, however, that the woman who forced me out of my last role would also be at the table. She has been a significant trigger point for me in the last 2 years, and the last time I knew I would have to see her I actually suffered a considerable panic attack at my partner’s home in front of his group of friends just anticipating having to see her. He and I nearly broke up because I overwhelmed him with my anxiety. I was unstable. When I finally did see her, I vomited, hid in a bathroom stall, and, eventually, experienced a seizure in the middle of a Chicago street…at night. This woman really overtook my senses and shut down all my responses. Naturally, I was concerned about having to be in a meeting with her, so I discussed this with my therapist, who worked with me to process my feelings toward her. While I am still working on processing her representation in my life, that session where I could process through what was left over from this woman’s abuse allowed me to make different decisions. I arrived at the meeting place 20 minutes early, got a feel for the space, and allowed myself to feel present. When she walked into the room, I noticed that I didn’t tense up at all. When she engaged me, I allowed some small talk but also put up clear boundaries, allowing myself to feel safe and present while in her presence. When she tried to undermine things I said, I felt no need to defend myself, and I allowed myself to feel comfortable with a difference in opinion. In the moment, I didn’t notice I was doing something different…but looking back, this is the first time that I could notice a completely vanished trigger. What affected me so deeply in March had no power over me at all. I could breathe into the present moment with no anxiety about the past or fear of the future. And it was so much easier than expected.

The evening after my all-day meeting, I was to take a late night flight back to San Francisco, with a short layover in Atlanta. I had to be somewhere else in California for meetings the next morning, so I was anticipating sleeping on the plane. I love sitting over the wing, at the window, especially during sunset. Getting up to cruising altitude, our cabin heard a loud “POP”, followed by a pillar of black smoke coming from behind the right wing. This wasn’t normal. As the cabin crew prepared to make an emergency landing in North Carolina due to sudden engine failure, I could hear the terror, panic, and fear in my fellow travelers. I found myself breathing deeply, feeling personally comforted that things were under control, which allowed me, in turn, to help comfort a woman for whom this was her first flight. As I landed in North Carolina and looked on my phone to see how I may be able to get another flight back before my meetings started in the morning, I reflected on the last time this event occurred. In 2011, I was part of an emergency landing outside of Palmer, Alaska, coming home from Fairbanks. It wasn’t the emergency landing that got me panicked, but the feeling that I was going to miss one too many graduate classes, not allowing me to graduate. While trying to get a new flight, I had a horrible panic attack, yelled at just about everyone, burst into tears, and called my (sleeping) boyfriend every minute on the minute, leaving him messages. I was a mess. I made it back for my class just in time, but I had a seizure the second I was finished with that class from all the drama I had created. This time, I was able to remain calm, even encourage others while they freaked out about missing their connections. I noticed I wasn’t alone–this hadn’t just happened to me. We were a stranded collective, which allowed me to stay grounded, calm, and humble. When we got shuttled back to the airport, I calmly stood in line, calling my administrative assistant to let her know I may not be at the meeting in the morning, making contingency plans. I waited at the desk and firmly asked to be put on the only flight out that evening, stating that waiting until the morning was not my preference. I got re-planed, and was able to sleep soundly on the plane, making it to my meeting in the morning a few hours away.

Engine failure doesn’t happen every day. Neither does having to sit in a room on the other side of the country with the person who harassed you for 2 years. But little moments do repeat every day. Little moments are able to be your focal point–they can keep you grounded, they can act as a measuring stick. Awareness comes from allowing yourself to put space between those moments, put space where there was once noise. This is the gift the last 3 months have taught me that I haven’t really noticed: the gift of stillness. You see, crazy things happen to everyone. It’s really up to us to make it dramatic and traumatic. It’s up to us to carry around those moments as weights on our shoulders. Once you realize that you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your reaction to it, you’re free.

“Spiritual progress is like detoxification. Things have to come up in order to be released. Once we have asked to be healed, then our unhealed places are forced to the surface.” –Marianne Williamson

Healing is an amazing feeling.

Love,

Blonde

xox

 

Massage Therapy & Surrender

I attend Pilates and yoga 6 times a week, not only for a workout but to set time to meditate in a community. Yoga is a powerful mindfulness activity and also binds you to those with whom you practice. After meditating for 35 minutes twice a day for nearly 3 months, I have been feeling freer and thinking that I am completely Zen. Imagine my surprise when I attended a yoga class last week where my instructor kept saying, “Blonde. Shoulders away from ears, lengthen through the spine.” All I could think was, “MY SHOULDERS ARE SO FAR AWAY FROM MY EARS!” until she came over and gently adjusted my posture, showing that, indeed, I had been holding on to something I didn’t even notice was there. It reminds me of those times when you get a massage from a massage therapist and they lift your arm or leg and state, “you can let go. Just make your limb weightless.” Usually I think I am totally giving in to their therapy, but I actually hold on just enough to feel like I’m still in control.

We’re shit at relationships. Why? Because even when we say we trust people, even when we say that we’ve let go or given in, our neocortex is screaming for us to maintain control. Maintain the status quo. Keep social construction. Feed the ego. We’re so prideful that we don’t even see that we’re not even seeing. We build magnificent safeguards in order to hold onto the semblance of control. If only we knew how free we could feel if we surrendered fully.

“Spiritually, no action is more important than surrender. Surrender is the tenderest impulse of the heart, acting out of love to give whatever the beloved wants. Surrender is being alert to exactly what is happening now, not imposing expectations from the past. Surrender is faith that the power of love can accomplish anything, even when you cannot foresee the outcome of a situation.” –Deepak Chopra

Surrender is probably the concept I struggle with the most. I want others to be vulnerable with me, but even the act of saying that I want others to be a different way means that I want to hold onto the control. At times,  I want to pray for things to happen–for an exact answer to my questions. I don’t want to listen. I don’t want someone to make his own decision or conclusion. I ask for patience and grace from others and yet I get impatient in doing the same. However, every time I let go and receive, I receive the exact thing I need at the time. The thing that will bring me the happiness for which I long. All I can do is show up, allowing others to also show up. And there is beauty in that. These micro-adjustments are so critical in our lives–allowing someone to tell us or allowing something to make us more aware of those things we struggle to release. These daily micro-adjustments that bring awareness to the places where we still hold on are critical. They bring us back to present, to what is inside of us that can be released–removing us from the impetus to seek external changes to internal problems.

May we listen before prescribing…for even as we ask, even as we pay for the massage therapist or the regular therapist, or even as we kneel down to pray, we waste our time and money when we don’t allow someone else to be the expert. May we have more space for receiving rather than holding so tightly to the things we think are best for us.