It’s a tightness in my chest, a heaviness in my throat, an emptiness in my gut. It puts my head to ringing and an ache behind my ears and a pressure behind my eyes.
Have you pried a knife out of your own hands and mopped up your own blood and put fingers down your own throat to bring up the pills you put down yourself? I’ve spent my whole life trying to save myself from myself, and tell me, now, how I am supposed to love myself?
Because I am a bringer of death and an eater of poison and someone who has carved red lines into my own body to let out the pressure I feel sometimes because of who I am. I feel it always.
You do not understand. You do not understand unless you have lain in a puddle of your own blood and hoped that someone will find you before you bleed out. You do not understand until you have woken up in the hospital for the 7th time to tell the psych doc that if he puts you on a 5150 you will lose your job and have nothing to live for and he will see you back here in a body bag. You do not understand taking the bus home from the hospital because if you tell your friends or your family they will watch you . . .
You do not understand what it is to know that the enemy at the gates is you. You do not know what it is to walk tall and straight-spined through life afterwards knowing always that the pills won’t work forever and you might end up sick again. And to know that the people who love you when you are sleeping at night and feeling happy sometimes, might not love you when you are sleeping all day, for weeks, and then not at all, and not even crying because crying is for people who feel sadness, and you feel mostly empty when the pills stop working.
You do not understand, just as I do not understand what it is to experience the above in a different body than my own. Why is it that we only understand the things we’ve lived? Why is it so hard to talk about them?
There is a decade that I hardly remember because of the drinking and the drugs and then the pills they gave me to try to make me better that turned life into this horrible, bearable grey thing that I would rather not remember.
They see me and they do not see the me that waits at the periphery of happiness, the me that I feel sometimes in the night, waiting. If I let my guard down I might drown myself one morning and I don’t want to drown. But there are two I’s, and two wants, and I’m not sure sometimes which is the right one. The killing girl I killed with therapy and medication and deep breaths–in, then out, in, then out–or the girl who survived. That girl has had a whole life now, a lot of it happy, and she hasn’t tried anything in years now. But there are knives being sharpened in the dark of lonely nights, and there are times I dissolve into panic and fear and she whispers things to me that I stopped saying a long time ago.
But outside this perspective there is my life and it is often good. I want long, hot summers full of it. I want hours and days and weeks and years to walk limber-limbed through life and the enjoyment of it. I want loud dinners and kissing and sleeping under the stars and climbing mountains and listening to rain and making toast. I want to live.
Because my mother would never recover. Because I’ve seen little of this world and I have a book sitting unfinished next to my bed. I still tell myself these things every single day and I still hope that it’s enough. It’s been enough. But I cannot and will not relax my grip on the knife I still carry in the darkest dark of some nights, and I still cannot imagine myself old. I still cannot imagine myself free. I still cannot imagine myself whole. And I will never love myself all ways, because the girl I was and still am is a person worthy of fear, and I am so scared most bad days, and so grateful when they end, and so certain that someday they won’t.
Maybe it’s hard to hear it over the sound of my own trauma. Maybe we all have our own problems and mine are difficult to talk about because they aren’t easy to fix in a country with limited access to mental health services and a society built upon polite conversation about anything besides suicide, racism, violence, disability, hardship, inequality, strife.
Because the world I see when I am suicidal is real. It is a world where people die from diseases we’ve already cured. It is a world where people are pushed to self-medicate with meth and crack and heroin because they are cheaper and easier to access than prescription drugs. It’s a world where people receive worse care based on the color of their skin. It is a world where mental illness is so stigmatized that people are ashamed to ask for help. It is a world where rates of suicide are rising at an alarming rate, especially in children and members of marginalized communities. It is a world where we put sick people in prison instead of providing them care. It is a world where I, a white, cis, able-bodied white woman from an upper-middle class family, have spent most of the last decade uninsured and fighting for access to treatment. I wonder sometimes what I could have done with that time and energy. I wonder sometimes what we as a species could accomplish if we were willing to talk about our problems and work to solve them.
We cannot be understood, or loved, or supported when we hide who we are and what we feel. I am deeply ashamed that I could not cure my insanity despite my privilege. I am deeply ashamed to inconvenience other people with my trauma. I am deeply ashamed to be disabled by illness. But it gets better. It gets easier to talk about and managing my symptoms gets easier with practice.
I have found that radical honesty about mental illness is treatment in itself.
I am writing this a few days after getting dropped from my health insurance and finding out my psychiatrist is moving because she cannot afford to live in my town, all during a drastic overhaul of my medications and the resulting instability. And I’m still here. I still have people who are willing to hold me together when I am falling apart, they took me to the ocean yesterday and it was still beautiful. I still find joy in writing. The moon still rises. The world is both the place I see when I am sick and the place I see when I am well, and I’m at my best when I can honor both perspectives and be overwhelmed by neither.
Please, talk to your friends. Ask them if they are well. Listen to them when they are not. Sometimes we just need to have our trauma heard. Sometimes we just need to be left alone. Sometimes we need to be dragged out the house kicking and screaming to look at the ocean. But mostly we need to live in a world where the darkness is less overwhelming. Health care starts with providing people access to doctors and medications, surgeries and treatment plans, but it must include sunlight, hugs, friendship, nourishing food and clean water and time spent in nature, hobbies and habits and meaningful work, comfortable housing, equality. Joy.