amidst ashes: surviving suicide

I wrote this piece for Young Mormon Feminists but it totally applies to y’all, my original readers. Much love!

Young Mormon Feminists

In recognition of September being National Suicide Prevention Month

Last year I got this close to killing myself, but I survived.

It hurts to talk, to think about the experience. I went to BYU for a semester and within a few months I was severely depressed—on the brink of suicide. My lifelong perfectionism had finally caught up with me, and it was tightening around my neck in an invisible noose. They were dark times, endless days of pain I can’t even put into words. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to wake up. There was no rest for my soul; not in prayer, in conversation, in closeness. An untouchable emptiness inside me itched constantly. I got headaches from clenching my teeth from anxiety. I moved through the days with a constant wish that a car would flatten me.

I made feeble attempts to live, one of which was joining a BYU therapy…

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Voices

There will always be voices.

Voices that tell you what you are.

Where you’ll go.

Who you can be.

There will always be voices, and only you can choose which voices you believe.

Last week I was playing with a toddler who asked me to help him set up his train tracks in a circle. Later, while he was playing, he said to me in his sweet baby voice, “You’re so nice, Maney, you’re so nice.” And for some reason, his kind little words made my heart grow so big.

That was a voice I wanted to listen to.

He was much kinder than I am to myself.

There will always be voices, voices telling us that we aren’t worthy of love, or that our plans will fail, or we aren’t needed or wanted, or that we’re useless and worthless and bad.

Banish those voices, my dear readers. You are wonderful.

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” -Christopher Robin

Poetry Friday: Stand

Stand

You blend in, cottage,
with your pastel friends.
They dot the hilly landscape
and brighten cloudy days.

You stand firm in the
winds and mists and webs and years,
listening to the gulls call
over hungry, icy ocean rolls.

You can’t hear the trees,
but they speak of you,
whispering to me that you,
you, cottage, are a stranger.

And no matter how bright your paint,
or sturdy your walls,
or patient your heart,
you’ll never belong.

But I watch as you stand still
and firm and constant and smile
even as trees whisper,
cold suffocates,
and mist rots your wood.

Because you understand,
and I understand,
the need to just
stand.

See Maney Love

Once upon a time, I spent the last month in San Francisco as a nanny. Good, good. First time I lived out of state, ever. I guess this should have made some kind of impression on me, but really I feel like I’m just in shock that I’m home again. I spent the greater part of June/July feeling nervous that this was my last day, and I wouldn’t even die near my home or with my family.

I appreciate that for others, a quick jaunt to the beach for a month wouldn’t be a really big deal. But for me, it was. Maney, you think, you sound like you were sent to fight in a war. But you forget, dear Reader, that for people with anxiety/depression/PTSD, every day is a battle against yourself and the world. It’s exhausting. I reiterate Seneca’s words: “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” (This is something I tell myself on bad days.)

So the lesson I learned in San Francisco wasn’t very grand. Kind of boring really, and definitely oblique. And frankly, I don’t even know if I’m right. But over all those hours and days and weeks of fighting to live and love and just exist, I found that when we go, we only have one thing left on this earth. We only have the good and bad things we did that affect those who live on. The letters we wrote, the hugs we gave, the insults we shouted, the isolated days we folded our arms and hid ourselves. And maybe those stupid, stupid things we said are all that get remembered. One of the brightest quotes in my memory of my best friend is “No one cares if you blow your nose.” How could he have known?

Hate cankers the soul, Readers. If this is your last day, I hope you show someone how much they mean to you. Even if you’re quiet about it, at least recognize the beautiful change within your own heart. Tell yourself that you can love, and just keep choosing to love everyday. Notice your gift.

And share it.

In closing, this is a song about love that I think is just really pretty. (Mat Kearney covers “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen.)

Not Knowing, Just Hoping

You guys know that I started coming off my happy pills a few weeks ago. (I only have about a week to go and then I’m done.) It’s been kind of frightening; I was so afraid that I would sink back into that dark, numb place again, which would mean that I would have to take pills for possibly the rest of my life. And I’ve also been wondering a lot lately if I will forget what it’s like to be depressed. And am I still clinically depressed? Should I still label myself that if I graduated from taking happy pills?

Well, I got one answer today in the shower. My grandpa came over this morning to fix a leaky faucet and he left a few of his tools around the bathroom. I turned around in the shower to grab the shampoo and there it was: a large red razor with the rusty blade exposed. My heart skipped a beat, I think, as I picked it up to get a closer look, squinting because I wasn’t wearing contacts. I remembered how I purposely ignored the disposable shaving razors during those hard times. And in that instant, as I retracted the blade and returned it to the shelf, I realized that yes, I will probably remember what it’s like to be depressed.

I think I’ll always remember.

And that is my blessing. Because while I remembered all those times the razors seemed so tempting–and just those flimsy shaving types, not even the real deal–I also remembered the strength it took to put suicidal thoughts out of my mind. I remembered that I am strong. I realized that the habit of living that I have developed will help me in the future on days when even to live is an act of courage.

I’m no hero. I’m probably not even as strong as I give myself credit for. But I have been “just enough” for so long that now it is a habit. Dealing with dark thoughts has become easier. And on bad days, I remind myself what my counselor loves to say:

“I am, in and of myself, of infinite worth and good enough.”

And so are you.

I think this is going to be my last post for a while. I finished classes at the end of April and now I have some free time to reevaluate who I am and what I want to do with my life. We both know that I want to be a writer. And as much as I love blogging, I think I need to go back to novel writing until Fall semester starts. Of course, I might not even return to this blog; who knows? That’s the beauty of life: not knowing, just hoping. And I hope to see you all again soon.

Cutting Strings

For a long time I had this image in my head of a bunch of helium balloons tied to the ground with strings, straining against their bonds, dancing a little in the breeze. I imagined taking a pair of scissors and, one by one, cutting them free, watching them fly into the never-never blue, watching them shrink into nothingness, watching them join the stars.

In my mind, these balloons were pieces of me. I longed to be set free from this world, to fly into that beautiful, mysterious unknown. After a while, the phrase “cutting strings” came to mean letting go of my worldly cares, pretending that life was beautiful, and closing my eyes to my pain. But then one day I was at my friend’s gravestone.

(You should know that I searched for journal evidence of this moment, but I couldn’t find any; therefore, I am forced to tell this memory as a story, remembering the details as best as I can.)

There had been a beautiful bouquet of balloons floating peacefully above his stone a few days ago, but there had been a windstorm the day before. A vase of flowers had tipped over and shattered on his cement, and a few of the tangled-up balloons had popped, holding their whole brothers near the glass shards in the grass. I saw this, and I was filled with some inexplicable need to set the balloons free. So I knelt in the grass and, careful to avoid being cut, I used one of the pieces of glass to sever the popped balloons’ strings from the bouquet. Then I meticulously untangled the strings, and one by one, I released each of the whole balloons into the air. They sprang back into their soldier-like guardianship of his stone, content in their place in the world, secured by their strings.

I had desired for so long to set myself free from my pain, but I thought that I would need to distance myself from life in order to do so. Clutching the scraps of ribbon and balloon in my hands, I realized that maybe cutting strings meant that I needed to cut away the pain and fear and guilt that I had been carrying around with me.

We are meant to stay grounded to this life. This is where we belong. Being free, cutting ourselves loose into the metaphorical sky, isn’t real freedom. That is the land of the lost. Unless God calls you back into the sky, you are meant to be here.

Some strings do need to be cut; just make sure they are the weights that hold you down, not the lines that hold you to life.

Depression

It’s like when your baby brother spits up a clam-chowder-like concoction all over your neck and shirt and over your shoulder onto the carpet. You are revolted but you’re the only adult at home so you know you’re going to have to clean it up sooner or later. A sour milk smell is rising and he’s bawling in your ear and you can feel the slime oozing under your shirt and drying, making your shirt stick to your skin and you just stepped in a chunky puddle and how is he still spitting up?!

You could abandon ship. Drop the baby and rip your shirt off and run and take a shower and pretend nothing’s happening. La la la, I can’t hear you, I’m safe.

Or you can deal with the problem. Allow yourself a moment to accept reality and maybe get some paper towels or something. Yes, now you’re the adult in the situation so you have to figure this out. I suggest lots of soothing and scrubbing and possibly some scented candles.

But. In that moment, when you take on the spit-up:

“How can this smell so awful? What are those chunks? Why am I doing this? Why did this happen to me? Why don’t I just leave this alone and let someone else take care of it? This is never going to come out of my clothes. I won’t be able to shower off the smell until Mom gets home. Why am I doing this? This is disgusting! It doesn’t make sense! I don’t want to deal with this it’s not my fault can I please just deal with someone else’s problems…”

In that moment of facing your problem, you are heroic. You are invincible. You are perfect.

Spit-up is like depression. You’re the only one at home, so even though the situation’s beyond horrifying and definitely not your fault, you’re going to have to clean up the mess sooner or later. To be honest, I’m still scrubbing, and while I find the task uncomfortable, I refuse to abandon ship. My brother is counting on me.