Talking About Suicide at Parties

For most of my life, I have faced this ongoing issue: I want to talk about suicide at parties.

Not just at parties, but I want to talk about suicide at school, online, at work, in the community, at concerts, in the car, on vacation and everywhere in between.

Why? That part is easy! Suicide has never been an irrelevant topic for me. It’s always been there, it’s always existed, and the idea that suicide happens and not only does it feel like an option, but sometimes an obligation, means that even on the happiest days of my life: I want to talk about suicide.

 

Here’s the thing: Nobody wants to discuss uncomfortable topics constantly. There is an unwritten rule of “a time and a place” for things such as politics, abortion, religion, drug problems, LGBTQIA issues and so on, but guess what? For some people, those “I hope she doesn’t mention it at dinner” issues are EVERYDAY life, and therefore shouldn’t be met with such hesitation.  These topics are hard to talk about for a reason, because they matter.

Alongside religion, politics and other taboo topics that people have had to fight the silence about, suicide is a major topic. It’s something that people either scream about, or whisper. There is no way to meet the topic of depression, self harm and ideation with a monotone voice: and that’s how it should be.

So here we are: I just had my 5-year high school reunion.  About 30 of 110 people attended, and it was at a bar, so I didn’t stay long. I stopped at each clique of people to let them know: I’m still here, still loud, still fat, twice as lovable, a hundred times as wise, a designated survivor and despite all the good things that have happened… I want to talk about suicide at parties.

First of all: many of my classmates didn’t know I work for a lawyer, nor did they know my poetry has been published in journals many times so I guess I don’t talk about myself anywhere near as much as I think I do (brownie points!)

So, I was talking to my friend Victor at this party about how hard it is for me to not explain the way I feel to people in every social setting. I want them to know how I feel about my trauma, how I deal with it, and I want to attest to the fact that I’m doing fantastic, even though sometimes I don’t look the part.  During the discussion, Victor mentions the Netflix show “13 Reason Why” which we both watched as soon as it came out. It was a very controversial show for good reasons: it was insensitive, but real; and there were people fighting for its realness as well as against it. I happened to enjoy it, but I’m also mostly in a good headspace, so I can’t speak for everyone.

Upon Victor mentioning “13 Reasons”, I remembered that just a few weeks ago I found a list I wrote my sophomore year (2009), which contained “reasons to live” and “reasons to die”. It fell out of a Shakespeare book that I was gifting to my friend Jacob.

At this point in the conversation, it’s time to talk about Suicide… at a party.

Over the years, I’ve been un-invited to places, I’ve been unfriended, I’ve been looked over for this: for the fact that my honesty doesn’t ask much of its place. My honesty goes with me wherever I am, and it doesn’t need a formal introduction. I am going to talk about my mental wellness and my mental illness wherever and whenever (as long as I don’t put another person in danger), because as someone who has been considered troubled since childhood, this topic never ceases to matter. It’s never “not the right time.”

I told my friend a few things I remembered on the list and how I had planned to sit down and compare the almost-decade old list to my current mental list of “reasons” to live or to die, something I think most passive or actively suicidal people carry around in one of their brain pockets.

For the sake of preservation, I won’t mention the actual names on the list of “reasons to die”, but rather what they stood for.

2009: Reasons to Live:

 

My mom

Beaker (my dog)

(Seven names)

Spongebob, Roseanne

The Phantom of the Opera

Facebook

French Class

Cameo

Poetry

5,000-dollar teeth

Jaynie, Josie, Lindsey

My hair is beautiful

Living for other people

 

2009: Reasons to Die:

 

Drugs

Self-harm

Starvation, my body, purging

Never perfect

Men and women

(Two names)

Worthless, not good enough

Annoying, obnoxious, loud

Monster, disgusting

Judgmental, rude

No common sense

Selfish

Not beautiful

 

Right off the bat: It’s clear. The reasons to live were more so THINGS and PEOPLE and the reasons to die are more so opinions or actions. I would have to say that is still true for how I currently feel about it all.

Right now, in 2017, I feel like I have been through a lot. I mean, hasn’t everyone? Life only gets harder, but if you’re lucky, you get more equipped. Right now, I am soaking in the rays of kindness from the people who pour it into me. I “take the donut” any time I can, but offer baker’s dozens to whomever needs, even if they can’t ask.

The last three or so years are very blurry and yet crystal clear. I didn’t realize I was experiencing small increments of emotional trauma until after the fact, but now it’s something I must deal with each day (I love my ongoing paranoia, fear of abandonment, instability in friendships and fear of visibility!! Oh, and the nightmares are cool, too) – and all of that bad stuff and the good shoved in the crevices of it has brought me to a point where I can say I actually don’t want to die *that bad* most* of the time now.

The reasons to live can be broken down into: people, pets, things and attributes. I chose to live for my mom, my friends (specifying Cameo, Jaynie, Josie and Lindsey – who are still my greatest friends), things I enjoyed such as French class and the television show Roseanne, and the fact that I was lucky to have such nice teeth.  The reason it’s easier to live for THINGS and PEOPLE is the “fomo”, or fear of missing out, the idea that these things will still exist without us, but we won’t get to experience them. I can remember being 15 and worrying that I wouldn’t get to enjoy another French fête, or another party at Lindsey’s, I wouldn’t get to quote Spongebob, write a poem or pet my dog. Those seemingly small, situationally replaceable things brought the only moments of joy to my mind.  Nearly a decade later, I can say this: I still choose to live for all the same reasons. I choose to live for my mother, my pets, the same friends I’ve mentioned, as well as all the ones I’ve met since then, I choose to live to enjoy television shows, for the potential to write another poem, for the memories of French class, for the fact that my nice teeth allow me to smile at strangers and sometimes that makes other people’s day better.  The same reasons, and yet the motivation is completely different. At 15, I reluctantly chose to live for these things. I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “I guess I won’t die today, for this reason.” – and now, I scream I WON’T DIE TODAY!! FOR ALL THE REASONS!!

At parties, it’s easier to focus on the positives. At social events and on social media, we paint our best selves for the crowd because we don’t want to be pegged as failures.  That’s something I’ve always struggled with – I can’t lie on social media. If I’m not doing well, that’s what I say, and if I say I am well, I mean it (but it could be subject to change at any minute, I’m sure).  People socializing at a reunion, everyone’s talking about places they’ve been, telling jokes, talking about the future, and I just want to brag about how I’ve survived the past. Not to always be the Debbie Downer, but I feel like I need to weasel myself into conversations to let people know that I DIDN’T KILL MYSELF and they should know ALL THE REASONS WHY, not because I want praise, but because I know in a room of 50 people, I’m probably the only one who is going to address the uncomfortable topics head on, and I think, especially in small towns, the scope of focus and education on mental wellness/illness is pretty limited. “Did ya hear about the stigma?”

Now that I’ve addressed the good stuff, I want to talk about the “Reasons to Die, 2009 Edition”. It boils down to: opinions I had of myself, things I did, things other people did.  Now, being self-aware this translates to: Things Out of my Control. I couldn’t control other people, I couldn’t control the opinions I’d formed about myself, I couldn’t control my eating disorder or self-harm issues (at the time), and it all seemed like way too much work.  If I’m being blatant, the main reason I still consider suicide a valid option is actually because I can’t control everything. I can’t guarantee anything, I can’t paint a picture of my future and have it solidified. Even when you are independent, everything is up to chance and also depends on the actions of other people. When I’m in my dark corner, I still want to die for all these same reasons: because other people do drugs (an ongoing subject of discomfort for me), because of my body (being even more overweight than when I wrote this), because other people will abandon me and refuse to give me closure, and because the opinions I have of myself – are opinions other people have of me, and no matter how much good energy I fathom out into the world, I am never going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s easier to live with the idea of Not Existing than to live with the idea of never living up to the expectations other people have of you, or even worse, living up to the bad ones.  Most of these opinions of myself were given to me by other people, or by society as a whole. I still think I’m judgmental, but not rude; I still think I am obnoxious but not always annoying – these things came out and developed into charming traits that individualized me instead of putting me out of the group. Instead of living in the margins, I threw a gala in the sidelines and all the other weirdos chose to attend. I have presently overcome my struggles with self-harm, but it will always exist, and although the people whose names I put on this list never actually gave me closure, I closed the door myself and realized there is a time and a place where you don’t need to wait for answers from someone else anymore: sometimes their silence is the actual answer, and the echo you put into it.

When I found this list, I can’t say I was shocked. I knew that, fundamentally, I didn’t change. I just grew (change is not equivalent to growth, and growth is not equivalent to change – I cannot stress that enough). In growing, my mental “List of Reasons” that I carry around with me everywhere I go is really just a more logical, tangible version of a sloppy, angsty note I wrote as a child. The problems I had in high school grew into things I understood better as I developed my understanding of mental health and what made me who I am.

When I was younger, I wanted to talk about suicide at parties for the wrong reasons. I wanted to bring up my mental health because I wanted attention for being different (to quote one of my classmates, I had nothing else going for me aside from being radical, and that’s the only way I ever got attention). I would bring myself to places and talk about hurting myself, talk about death and how hopeless everything was because I thought it would make people love me.  In the last decade of  Talking About Suicide Absolutely Everywhere, here are some things I’ve learned:

  • It’s okay to talk about suicide at parties. The right people will hear you, and chances are, there is someone there who needs to listen to what you have to say.

 

  • It’s okay to be suicidal and not talk about it all the time (it’s still real!)

 

  • Talking about real, uncomfortable topics during situations that have been deemed socially inappropriate actually brings light to the level of empathy your friends carry. It’s important to surround yourself with people who share similar levels of empathy and understanding of the condition of the world, because those are the people who make you feel safer in your ongoing decision to Not Die.

 

  • The people who love you, do love you, and will love you, whether you talk about your struggles or choose not to.  If your mental illness makes someone “love you more”, that may not be the healthiest situation, because they should love you as much as they do, and only seek to understand you more through your stories. Your mental wellness has absolutely no say in your right to be loved or to what ferocity.

 

  • Never, ever say “no one will love you until you love yourself”. Delete that sentence from your brain dictionary. Apologize to everyone you ever said it to – because that degrading sentence will be on another 15-year old’s “List”, and they may not have a dog, or French class to keep them here if they feel like no one will ever love them.

 

  • It’s okay to be better! Accepting any level of “good” after a lifetime of bad feels dishonest, but it’s okay to let go of your love affair with depression sometimes just to enjoy the good days (or hours, weeks, months: whatever amount of time comes to you this way).

 

  • You can un-learn the opinions other people have taught you of yourself whether they are based on truth or not.

 

  • And ultimately: The fear of talking about suicide at the wrong time should never stop you. If you need to talk about it right now, no matter how inconvenient it may feel: it is smarter, better and safer to express those feelings than to bottle them up. I know this.

It’s 2017, and at parties sometimes, I shit talk people I once loved to make myself feel better, I make crude jokes, I invite myself into conversations that didn’t involve me, and most of all: I talk about my mental illness. It’s something I will never apologize for again, because had I seen this long ago: those things made me human.

Vulnerability and honesty are what makes us human, and there’s never a wrong time (party or not) to ask for someone to be on the receiving end of your humanity.

My list of reasons to live now may just be a bunch of scribbles, but one thing will stand out: humanity.

Humanity.

 

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