Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month 2018

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I wasn’t sure I wanted to write this blog, but the more I stewed on it, the more I was certain I needed to. I didn’t want to cause drama, or make people worry, and I certainly didn’t want to admit it to myself. But here goes.

In the course of law school, you are told on the first day that a majority of your year will end up as alcoholics or with depression, and maybe a few of you will even die from these. A bunch of cocky 1Ls will think “I’m a smart person, I’m sure that couldn’t be about me.” Some may even laugh about already belonging to those groups and being “ahead of that curve”.

In the course of life, each person may be called to face their own traumas-maybe even secondhand. And there is no weakness in not feeling like you’ve got a grip on it. It’s human to reach your depth and feel like you’re drowning. I think of a quote that a professor once told me on Suicide Prevention Day: “I won’t tell you that it gets better. But you don’t have to face it alone.”

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I lost a friend in June, the third friend I’ve lost to depression. I say “I” because these are only my thoughts-but truthfully, more than just “I” experience this loss. She was a friend from law school, and we were so alike that it just felt more personal. I want to talk about the four things I learned since then, and why they’re important.

  1. Shallow Self-Care Won’t Heal the Painful Wounds

When I first started the summer, I spent a lot of time doing things that I wanted to do-art, writing, tai chi, “spa days” and the like. I wanted a full emotional reset from my academic year and I picked my favorites from a list of suggestions. When I lost my friend, I wondered why those things didn’t help. Everything I wrote was empty, art felt more sad than healing and even my beloved face masks did nothing to fix the way I felt lost.

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As it would turn out, the only way to deal with those big emotional issues is the hard way. The late-night-crying-for-no-reason way. The grapple-with-big-questions-that-don’t-have-answers way. The look-in-the-mirror-and-just-feel way. As it would turn out, not one of my coping mechanisms tools was helpful in processing the loss of my friend. I had to reach the end of my shallow fixes to really understand that I needed to work on myself. That’s not to say that all those self-care things aren’t worth it. When I get stressed, I still engage in those beauty-creating moments. But when the hurt is deep, your self-care needs to be that much deeper.

2. Suicide Fear for People Who Understand (The “Will I Be Next” Debate)

If you have ever been suicidal, you may very well have experienced this. I wouldn’t say that it’s Survivor’s Guilt, but more like Survivor’s Anxiety. At some point in the coping process, you start to wonder what makes you so different from the person you lost to depression (suicide). And if you can’t find those differences, the all encompassing question then becomes “Am I next?” Now, at the surface, it sounds very self-absorbed. But it’s much deeper than that.

My friend had many of the same characteristics I did. Emotional trauma, a history of assault, a heart as big as the ocean with enough emotions to cause hurricanes, law stress, being in a state that wasn’t welcoming to our identities, and more. She was brave, and she fought hard. She had battles not many people knew, and I’m sure some that even I didn’t know. But when the news came, I wasn’t mad at her, I didn’t judge her for it. I sat and cried and wondered about what had led her to that point. And seeing the similarities, I began to wonder that all important question.

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Because if I were in her shoes, as I have been from time to time, I don’t know that I would have made a different choice. And knowing that, what was it that would be my “moment”? Would it be a large, life impacting event? A bunch of small things that I couldn’t control that became too much for me? One poor choice? I became so engulfed in this paranoia that I would be next, that the spirit of death was coming for me, that I think I extended the grieving process far longer than I otherwise might have. I isolated myself, because I didn’t trust myself. I wasn’t suicidal, I was afraid that I would become so.

3. Taking Care of Yourself is Selfish-and It Has to Be

At a certain point, the tie that binds people who have suicidal history and those who we’ve lost from it becomes lost on people who have never contemplated or lost someone before. A good friend graciously agreed to go to the funeral with me, and at the end, I found out this was the first time they’d ever been to a funeral for someone who died from depression. I remembered what it was like for me that very first time and I wept for them. I wanted to make sure they were okay, but I was so entrenched in my own grief that I couldn’t step out and make that effort.

I remember I panicked for the first week after she died and sent every “strong person” I knew a message, asking if they were okay. They didn’t know why I did it, I just tried to carry on a conversation with them to make sure they knew I cared. Every person who had ever admitted they were depressed, anxious, or otherwise emotional got a text or message. I was scared. I was scared that suicide had become an infectious disease that would take away all of my friends (or me) if I didn’t actively try to stop it myself. And I grew so weary that I collapsed into myself.

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A couple friends asked if I was okay. I lied to them, because I didn’t want them to worry that I would, indeed, be next. I spent a lot of time avoiding calls, messages and social media in general because I couldn’t take any more bad news. And that was when I realized that my self-care needed to really focus in on self. I allowed that isolation. I took a chance on letting myself work through the grieving process. I stopped communicating with everyone for two months. (With the caveat that I still texted my parents to let them know I was doing okay.) And I broke down. I cried, I existed, and at times, I didn’t sleep for days at a time. I checked off the stages of grief when it was time-not when I thought it was time. And that meant that life kept on going while I was stuck.

When I finally began to reemerge, I was more honest. I told friends that I spent time grieving, about all the emotions I’d felt. And even though I knew I’d been selfish, I knew that it was because I had to be. I had to spend that time focused on only me because I wouldn’t have survived it else-wise.

4. You Can’t Do it Alone

This may seem like it flies in the face of the last point. It was at the end of the two-months recovery time that I began to seek out friends. I chose to go (the very first day) to see counseling services to prepare myself for reintegration into life as I had come to know it. I started going on friend dates. I put myself out there, because I knew that I needed to. The truth is, without my husband covering for me, I wouldn’t have been able to heal this summer. Without counseling services, I’d be a wreck right now. Without those good friends, I would be alone. And those are just small snippets of the network I have amassed.

I chose to get off of social media, and I told everyone that I was stopping this blog for a while. And all of those things are true. I need to learn how to be my own person, not someone who compares their successes and failures against the polished social media posts that make everyone seem perfect.

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But it’s September, and that means it is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. And although those we have lost will not read these words, this blog is for the people who are left behind. The people who are still fighting in the trenches. The people who are still wondering if they will be next.

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I know that it’s hard. And I know it’s scary. I’m not going to lie to you. Life sucks. And then it gets better and then it sucks again. But you don’t have to face it alone.

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Frankly my dear…

I’m a pretty complex creature. I have good days, bad days, days of all kinds of things. I’m an extroverted introvert and I could list a ton of labels that would go on for days. What I wanted to be, for a very long time though, is frank. Just very up-front, not wishy-washy. i want to call things like I see them, and have other people understand it as I meant it.

Which is why I started blogging in the first place. It’s why I tell the hard stories, the ones that are personal, the ones that enrage. Because if no one else will say anything, I have to. And that goes double for the topics I am passionate about: mental health and ending rape culture. This should come as no surprise-I talk about pretty much nothing else.

Something came up recently that crossed my mind and I thought I’d share it here. It’s a mental health blog day, so I want to be upfront with that. I’ll be talking about self-harm (although only about scars-no descriptors or pictures) and I will be talking about moving forward and healing. I’m going to start with the story I just submitted to The Mighty.

“My self image has always been a love-hate relationship. I grew up in a world where a woman who was headstrong, opinionated and loved herself just didn’t exist. That’s not to say that I had no support to be those things, but rather that I listened to everything else. Everything that was telling me how not good enough I was, how unacceptable it was to be me.

“I started self-harming as a freshman in high school. It wasn’t a cry for help, or a plea for death. It was a desperate attempt at a reprieve. I didn’t want to die, I just had no other way of expressing the pain and the level of emotions I felt on the inside. And although my skin has been forgiving, I avoid looking at my arms. I can see each and every scar and I think that hurts more than it did making them. The few people who know say that they can’t really see them, but it doesn’t matter-because I can.

“So I decided I was going to get a really pretty tattoo-something to cover them up. The most of them were on my left arm, so the location choice was easy. I spent weeks designing, critiquing and reworking until I had everything I wanted. It was a beautiful representation, the most lovely piece of artwork I’d ever made. I chose to remind myself that if I am unhappy, I can change. So I made a promise to myself that whenever I was frustrated or I didn’t like the choices I’d made, the situations I was in, I’d move on to something I did love, and that made me happy.

“When I was explaining my choice of design and placement, I picked my words carefully. I wanted to remind myself that life was beautiful. I picked the placement so that I would never self-harm there again. Why? Because I’d worked so hard on that art and destroying it was something I absolutely could never do. The hope and love that it represented were things that simply had to last much longer than the pain of a blade, or the pain on the inside.

“Later that night, as I reflected on what I’d said, I cried. If I could have such reverence for art-why couldn’t I have it for myself? I’ve spend decades becoming the person I am. A piece of art that takes that long is something that should be treasured far more than something that takes a few weeks and yet I’d spend half that time tearing it down, devaluing it and ripping at the very fabric of its creation.

“The thing is, I only let four people know I was getting my tattoo. I told two of them the meaning behind it and I kept the final design a secret from everyone except the artist. I sat down in the chair and when I got up again, the art on the inside was finally reflected on the outside. I keep looking at my arm, not seeing the scars that reminded me of how sad I was, how fragile and full of self-hate I was. Instead, I see hope and the promise I made to myself that unless I can say “I wish for this” to my choices, I have the power to change the situation, the duty to make myself happy, and the courage to be exactly the wonderful artwork of a person that I am.”


With that in mind, I went to work yesterday and my arm was uncovered-so everyone saw. I’m quite frankly very proud of the art, and the meaning and I had no problem telling everyone about it.  I even told them why. And the looks I got back were, well, they were interesting. And that’s what got me thinking.

I wanted to tell them the story of courage and beauty and love–self love. And the reactions were varied-usually some place between a pitying “I understand” or a shocked “I didn’t know that about her”. I’m not upset at either of these, but it made me think about why I was telling people in the first place. I’m not a “sharing” person, but I wanted everyone to know about it. So where was the disconnect?

I was so frank about what I wanted people to know because if no one is going to start the conversation, then I will. And as I said, if that means people give me looks, ask nosy questions or change their opinion of me, then that’s fine. Because maybe it’s the first time they’ve come in contact with these issues-and I want them to know that their preconceived notions might be wrong.

**Disclaimer-my work people are really great. They weren’t judgy or nosy, nor did they look down at me-I’m just saying that those are the reactions I’ve had from others.

 

 

 

 

The Realities of Post-Emo Culture

This post is both a personal story and a personal mission statement-which in all honesty should neither come as a shock or as a surprise.

When I was younger, and by younger I mean in high school, I reached a point so low in my life that for many, the thought occurred that I might not ever come up again. I have made my peace with that time in my life, choosing to try to live in a way that prevents a recurrence, or at the very least, provides a safety net for any time I may “go dark”.

I remember being in weight training class and wearing a hoodie. It was warm in the weight room, and without thinking I pulled up my sleeves. What ensued next is something I won’t forget. There were only four girls in that class, and being one of them I squeezed my way in to the group. There was one person I knew, one person who was very strong and one who, much like me wore black every day, converse and was what the world would consider emo. The girl I knew looked at me strangely then looked away. The girl who looked like me gave me a sad smile and motioned for me to pull my sleeves back down. The strong girl shouted at the top of her lungs (or it seemed like it anyway)  WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! She at least waited until we were back in the changing room before she interrogated me further.

I hurriedly tugged my sleeves down, before anyone else saw what they saw. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, a few weeks later I was turned into the office for the same issue, and that path has since led me here.

I think there’s a common misconception that the group of people a decade ago who listened to My Chemical Romance, Pierce the Veil, Black Veil Brides, Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco and others, those who wore black with multiple studded belts, those who did their eye makeup dark and heavy, those who were pale-almost like goth pale but with occasional neon colors, those who did wild things with their hair faded into the abyss after they reached their twenties.

I think that what people see now are the remains of those people, the “emo kids” who have tattoos, stretched lobes, band shirts or who listen to the same music and remain at the edges of society as a forgotten trend, being assimilated into current culture. There was the “scene” trend which followed after “emo”. There was the grunge-resurgence which is making it’s way now. And yet, there’s a very large issue with this way of thinking.

It’s a pretty accepted belief that some of the trends, some of the behaviors that belonged pretty stereotypically to the “emo” culture have died out with their fashion. By died out I also pretty synonymously mean “grew out of”, as most people think that the things you experience as a teenager and early adult really just don’t stick with you. Like drawing those little S things on your school books or listening to music REALLY loud. But there are plenty of things that stay with you, or could stay with you from your younger years. And I’m going to call on one behavior in particular.

Self-harm.

A 2008 (nearly a decade ago, when emo culture was still very prominent) publication by the US National Library of Medicine reported the following nonsuicidal self injury (NSSI) statistics: 2008 Website

  • 1/3 to 1/2 of US adolescents have engaged in some type of self injury.
  • Cutting and burning are the most common types of non-suicidal self-injury.
  • 70% of teens engaging in self-injury behavior have made at least one suicide attempt.
  • 55% had made multiple suicide attempts.

And here are the statistics from this year: 2016 Website

  • 3%-38% of US adolescents have engaged in some type of self-injury
  • 13%-24% of US high school students have engaged in some type of self-injury
  • Self-injury may occur as young as 7 years of age, but typical age of onset is 12-15 years.
  • Self injury at the college level is reported to be between 30%-40%

You see, the thing that no one talks about is the fact that the people who belonged to the
“emo” culture (and everyone of that same age) grew into the adults who are in college today. And no one says anything about the fact that instead of a generational age limit on self-injury, there is one decade or so of individuals who are still being viciously beset by self-harm.

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–If I could express how much I miss being that weight, with that hair and that impeccable ability to look pissed, I think this picture does it best. This is one of my favorite photos. Period.–

Anyway, what is my point of posting a pre-instagram photo with a blue filter? You see, I once belonged to the group of people who identified (or were identified by others) as emo. And I loved it. It was the only time I ever felt comfortable as a person.

But.

I remember coming across an article somewhere about the realities of self harm in younger adults and thinking:

Wow, no one really talks about this.

And I thought about all the things people really never talk about and knew I couldn’t stay silent. It’s a concern that shouldn’t be brushed off as a phase that people just get over. It’s a real danger and more people should talk about it.

The Evolution of Self: A Portrait

Years ago I had an art teacher tell me that I was no good at drawing, or coloring, or creativity. Those concepts carried into my time as a high schooler, making me avoid art class with a passion. I chose instead, to put all of my efforts into music-where I learned to play various instruments with adequate skill and sang my  heart out in groups and solo. It is the story of my music education that I will hold onto for another day. When I found myself in a visual art class one year, I went to the teacher and explained that “I sucked”. It wasn’t because I had been certified as an individual without artistic powers or that I wanted mercy in the expectations, but because someone had told the impressionable child-me that I was no good and I carried that with me as my own truth. My high school art teacher told me that I didn’t suck and kept after me to keep trying. When my first entry on a larger project was complimented by TWO art teachers, I was confused.

I thought I sucked.

And yet here I am, a number of years later still and I find both coloring and drawing to be comforting. My skills are unpolished and although I find it relaxing, I would not say I am an artist. If you ever wondered what a difference havig art in classrooms can make, please use this story. If you’ve ever wanted to know why I have the utmost respect for teachers with passion, use this story. And when you combine the two, you’ll understand why this is one of the life-defining moments in my life.

I struggle daily with how to define myself. The labels which have been handed to me do not present a complete picture, and there are not words for the other parts of me. As I explored this, I realized that I am in a transient state, changing, moving and shaping myself constantly. I have no labels, because I do not need them. I am an unfinished work of art, still being planned out by an artist who hasn’t decided where this project will go.

I look back on that moment in high school when I struggled with my identity. Perhaps it’s just high school, perhaps I was different. I didn’t know that by breaking down the walls of my childhood-the misconceptions that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t worth investing time in-I would be doing the best thing for myself.

It has been 8 years since I stepped foot inside the high school I would graduate from. I was a junior when I took the art class that convinced me I didn’t have to be perfect to make something beautiful. 

I didn’t have to be perfect to make something beautiful.

So here I am, almost a decade after I began my transformation into the adult I will become. I haven’t finished changing, and in fact, I imagine I will be someone new before I finish. But the thing is, those words stuck with me. The teacher I had in high school is both someone whom I admire deeply and a source of great inspiration to me. She pushes me still to see the world in a different way than may be easy, or colorless. And so one of the things I’ve been working on this semester is exploring that change. What I came up with I’ve been putting into writing, becoming more assertive in what I need to say. What I don’t show people often is that I also put my messages into drawings. Sometimes they are tattoo sketches far too big and detailed to be reasonably priced, sometimes they are metaphorical and drawn in an utmost surreal context. But then there’s this piece.

The Evolution of Self: A Portrait

  I so named it that because I wanted to show how my change is both reflective of who I am now, and the product of who I was. I’d like to take a moment and explain what I feel the message is. You don’t have to like it, just consider it.

The basic content is: a waterfall, a phoenix and two sets of hands. That much, I gather you could figure out for yourself. The next layer are the words in the background: Transform, Brave, Love, Acceptance, Beautiful, Hope, Life, Forgiveness, Growth. There is the color scheme to consider, the level of detail (and shading) in the hands, the size of the hands and the “decoration” of the hands, as well as the way the background is set up. 

The nine words are the ones I had to learn the hard way. They are reflective of self, things that were not always easy for me to fully grasp.

The background grows darker, more assertive as it approaches the bigger hands, more concrete. The waterfall is closer to the small hands. The left side of the picture in general is lighter, less defined, more washed out. 

And the hands themselves. On the left, you have a child’s hands. They are reaching out for help, open and expressive. The nails are painted black, and the waterfall is suggestive of losing oneself, “going off the deep end” and trying to “keep my head above the water”. The hands themselves are lightly shaded, as though the owner is becoming invisible. And yet there are bright red marks on the arms-dashes, hope and love. I can promise you that this isn’t a shock-and awe piece, but a true to life representation of the way my arms looked spring of my freshman year. I don’t talk about it often, it isn’t a story too many people know, but now they will. Those two words were the things I wanted most out of life-hope of a better life and love that would heal all wounds. And yes, I really did cut them into my arms with diamond Os and the Es facing vein length. It is honest and brutal.

On the right, there is the me that I am now. older, stronger hands with imperfections (like crooked fingers) reaching out to the younger me, the me that is representative of the 2-3 million people who engage in self harm each year. The right side reaches out, without judgement, offering safety and hope and love to those without. The nails are blue and a silver wedding band is there. But if you look closely, the scars are still there, silent reminders that what was done cannot be undone, but can make you stronger. 

In the end, it was never about being right or being wrong. It was always about being the person who broke free from their shell to embrace something new. I may not be perfect, but I made something beautiful: a new life. And that is the true evolution. Like a phoenix, I took my failures and created brilliance. I cannot wait to see what comes next.