Blog Post 6:
The Beginning of the Battle, Treatment,
If thoughts come with wings
and enter our minds from outside ourselves, conceived and born in a great nameless abyss that holds everything possible, good and bad, within it, that is how and from where my first thought of suicide, at age thirteen, came to me.
It was not the result of an equation I had set to solve: “How do I end the sorrow that I have been feeling, off and on, for a while?” and been unable to work out any answer to except one: by ending my life.
Nor had this thought been born of a collection of stories of pain that I had listened to, people seeking but not finding another way to stop the hurt, in which I saw a profile that was a mirror of my head and heart.
The first time the thought of suicide came to me, it stunned like lightening on a clear day. I didn’t know where that thought had come from, but I knew I didn’t want it. I knew I shouldn’t have it. And I knew it would terrify my family as much as it did me if I told them.
And so I kept that thought to myself. I told myself that I would never think it again; that the same wings that had brought it to me
had carried it far away.
And for the moment so it seemed: as swiftly as it had come, it had gone.
But thoughts, though they may come to us with wings, sometimes root themselves like seeds.
The thought of suicide that came to me at thirteen came again.
Though never again did it come with wings. Now it came from within.
Origin stories have tremendous power, and the one I soon told myself about the genesis of my evermore frequent desire to end my life was that it was a destiny written at my birth: I was sad from the beginning and I would be sad until the end; until I took my end into my own hands and chose for myself the day I would leave this earth. At twenty-five, after years of struggling silently with depression, that is exactly what I decided to do.
Weeping, I scrawled a two-page suicide note in letters as tiny as my spirit felt and sealed that anguish in an envelope not nearly thick enough to bear the weight of the words within it.
But to end a life, any life, including one’s own, is not a decision that the heart easily accedes to.
I did not make an attempt. And the words in the suicide note that were supposed to be my last were followed by many more the next morning. I told my family that I no longer wanted to live. Weeping, on their knees, they begged me to get help.
By that, I knew they meant see a psychiatrist.
Psychiatry did not equate to help in my mind. It equated to every horrible depiction of psychiatric care I had ever seen in movies. It equated to the school psychologist my teacher had sent me to as a child because I cried every day; the psychologist who could neither accept nor comprehend that I cried simply because I did not want to be in school. I hated it. It equated to not only being medicated, but medicated against my will and so heavily that I would lose who I was. And I didn’t want to lose who I was.
“Too sensitive” was a “character flaw” that I needed to “fix”. More than one person had told me that. I didn’t understand why insensitivity was considered a strength. It was not sensitivity that committed acts of savagery. Nor could I fathom how it was possible that everyone did not have intimate, firsthand knowledge of the abyss. Depression felt like a sane reaction to an often insane world. A world so disrespectful of the night that it wrenched dreams from slumber; mutated them into something foul; branded them with a name that would come to serve as a synonym for terror and cruelty; then breathed life into them and set them loose upon the world. Nightmares were real.
I did not know that there was a difference between sadness and depression, nor that injustice could give rise to action and not only pain and paralysis. It felt as though losing my grief over things that should grieve us would be to lose a part of my humanity. The death of my body was preferable to the death of my soul. Everything is black and white in depression. I could not see the part of my humanity that I had already lost: joy, nor how much else within me had already died.
Fear of losing my humanity was not the only loss that scared me. There was something else in me, exquisite and wild, that I did not want touched. It did not protect me against sorrow, but it was a shield against the madness that can set in when you do not fit in. I was sure therapy would seize it, and with merciless hands, attempt to destroy it. And if therapy failed, I had no doubt that medicine would succeed.
That gleaming oasis of sanity inside me was my questions.
I had a lot of them.
Until other people started pointing it out to me, I never realized exactly how many questions I ask, about everything.
This is my brother showing me the pictures from his and my sister-in-law’s honeymoon in Italy.
Picture 1, question 1.
Picture 2, questions 2, 3, 4, and 5.
Picture 150, questions 486, 487, 488, and 489.
(Note to reader from my brother: In actuality, I could answer ALL of her gelato questions because I am OBSESSED with gelato. Everything else about her questions is accurate. She really does ask THAT MANY QUESTIONS.)
Endless questions are a hallmark of childhood. In the process of getting older, we exchange questions for answers. Sometimes this is a good thing, like when you learn something new and your world gets wider.
Other times, that exchange of questions for answers is not a good thing, and your world gets smaller.
When the answers you are given don’t make sense to you, you do one of two things. You accept them anyway, even if you don’t agree with them.
Or you keep asking the questions.
Depending on your questions, who you ask, and how much power they might lose as a result of new answers, the consequences for questioning are enough to mute many. Jail cells are full of those who refuse to remain silent. Numbers have long carried out the brutal work of counting acts of savagery instead of new songs sung. Every weapon of war is stamped: ANSWER.
Even tiny, seemingly insignificant questions
carry with them the potential to topple empires, for as the poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote, “from the smallest things the largest things are born”.
When the voice of depression assails you, it is extremely difficult to find value in your questions, no matter how great or small they may be, instead of someone else’s answers.
When the voice of depression is silenced and questions can be asked, they carry with them the potential to lead not only to danger, but also to salvation. That salvation is called “Time and Place”.
At first, Time and Place may seem small. That’s when their often unspoken but accurate name is: “The Time and Place in Which I was Born”.
“The Time and Place in Which I was Born” is a spot that can only be seen when a thousand microscopes harness their power as one. It’s the remains of a second after it has been sliced into millions. It’s a speck of dust floating in the breeze
but it has taken on the proportions of an entire planet.
The rules on that planet are called “THE ONLY RULES”. The laws on that planet are called “MORAL” and “JUST”. What is normal on that planet is named “NORMAL, PERIOD”. And if none of it makes sense to you, you may be the one who is considered senseless.
But when you keep asking questions
those questions serve as bridges to other times and places. They lead you sideways and backwards and forwards. “The” and “in Which I was Born” meet the fate that all border walls should: they are demolished. And “Time and Place” live the large lives that they were meant to.
History provides pickaxes and shovels and commands: unbury me.
Culture exchanges the glimpses captured and sometimes caged in photographs for a lens the size of the sun, and trades, “See me” for “Meet me. Know me”.
You find the companionship of others who refuse to stop asking, sometimes just a few doors down in the “Time and Place in Which Your Neighbor Was Born.” (Within the tiny “Time and Place in Which You Were Born”, there are always a myriad of even smaller “Times and Places in Which Someone Else Was Born”.)
Time and Place defend you against attacks.
The Time and Place in Which I Was Born:
The Time and Place in Which I Was Born:
(“The Time and Place in Which I Was Born” is full of hypocrisy, just like “The Time and Place in Which You Were Born”…in which everyone was born.)
Time and Place:
Time and Place protect your sanity.
The Time and Place in Which I was Born:
Time and Place:
“Progress” removes its mask to reveal its many other faces: opinion, egocentrism, ethnocentrism, nearsightedness, environmental destruction, slavery...
“Normal” is returned to the realm in which it belongs: absurdity.
The Time and Place in Which I Was Born:
Time and Place:
Beauty reclaims its rightful name.
The Time and Place in Which I Was Born
Time and Place:
Time and Place wrench difference away from those who consider it a scourge, a justification for oppression, a thing to be stamped out permanently, an illness to be cured.
A loathing of difference is in actuality a fear of a minute and often random selection of distinctions so multitudinous, so infinite, that the sky itself gapes in awe to see its own vastness mirrored on earth.
Without difference, the grass would have the same form as the moon.
The moon would be the same size as a stone.
The sun and the rain would both cool, but never warm.
Snowflakes and mountains would be indistinguishable.
Humans would lose not only what makes them different from each other, but different from all else that lives.
And a moonless, starless sky would ultimately swallow everything up leaving only a waveless, soundless, midnight sea.
Existence owes its life to difference. Time and Place offer difference the protection it direly needs. Questions help us reclaim curiosity over fear as an immediate reaction to difference. Questions can cause our minds and hearts to grow.
A repudiation of difference, a profound ignorance of Time and Place, a silencing of my mind as an attempt to silence my sorrow: this is what I feared I would find in a psychiatrist’s office. Unfortunately, those fears were not groundless.
I was medicated to the point that I could do almost nothing but sleep, and when I spoke, my speech was slurred. When I called the doctor, telling him in a drawl, that I thought the dosage I was on was too high, he asked me, “What do you weigh?” I’m barely five feet tall. My clothes were hanging off me. A person with cataracts who came across me on a dimly lit street in the middle of the night could tell I wasn’t large. After I told the doctor my weight, he cut my dose from 200mg to 25mg. Two numbers that I will always remember. To this day, that doctor is a professor at a medical school.
Shortly after I started these appointments, I told a friend everything. She told me:
On to doctor number two, who turned out to be only mildly better than doctor number one.
THAT is when I decided I would take matters into my own hands and cure myself of depression.
I went to the library. I pulled about eight psychiatry and psychology books from the shelves. At an empty table with chairs to accommodate four people, I spread before me texts that contained the collective knowledge of thousands. Experiences and teachings laid one upon the other, building a house of healing piece by piece with the assumption that the foundation was stable. Those who entered in search of a cure assumed the same.
I opened book one, read sentence one, sentence two, and then I stopped. Impossible and absurd were two apt words to describe the task I had set for myself. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I couldn’t stop crying. And the deepest wish in my heart at that moment was not that I no longer walked the earth, but that I’d never placed a foot upon it, that I’d never lived at all.
I couldn’t heal myself. But I was sure that the right combination of words existed that could. I vowed that if I ever found them, I would write the road map for others that I wished I possessed, to take people suffering from depression directly from the abyss
to the mountaintop
without any detours or potholes or stops along the way.
Of course, even on the mountaintop, there is sorrow. There is no universal road map to take you from pain to peace. Neither is there a straight path to healing, just as there is no straight path in life.
But there are lists, and I love those.
The list I’m going to give you in the next post is called a list of return: everything that helped me sing and soar again. It’s beginning number four: the beginning of getting better.
October 22, 2019