We’re going to cover some rough terrain here in a minute, so I’m giving you the playlist first.
“Suicide Is Painless (M.A.S.H Theme)” – Johnny Mandel
“Wide-Eyed and Legless” – Andy Fairweather-Low
“Still Remains” – Stone Temple Pilots
“Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning)” – Vertical Horizon
“If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out” – Cat Stevens
“Keep Me In Your Heart” – Warren Zevon
“I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight” – Atlanta Rhythm Section
“All the Time” – Barry Manilow
“Some People’s Lives” – Janis Ian
“Stand Tall” – Burton Cummings
“Not Enough Love In the World” – Don Henley
“Can’t Get It Out of My Head” – Electric Light Orchestra
“Past the Point Of Rescue” – Hal Ketchum
“Things Can Only Get Better” – Howard Jones
“The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)” – Jason Mraz
“Close My Eyes Forever” – Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne
“Walk On the Wild Side” – Lou Reed
“I Taught Myself How To Grow Old” – Ryan Adams and the Cardinals
This is a tough one for me to write.
And, sure, I could say I’m writing this on the off-chance I may help someone else, but who am I kidding? That would be a haughty thing to say, and uncomfortably presumptuous and naïve. But maybe? Maybe? Maybe someone else out there will feel a little less alone.
The truth is that I’m writing because fate forced me to. See, each week I peruse Atticus Review’s submissions and figure out what pieces go together in a theme. It’s a miracle, really, how there are always a short story, a flash, and a poem that share a common thread, and when I find that thread, I base my editorial on it. Well, this week’s theme is self-destruction, so here I am, writing about some gritty stuff. I’m writing about this because the Submishmash Oracle dealt me this card, and I am not the type to ignore synchronicity.
Posing totally nude for Playboy would be less revealing than this feels, but I’ll say it, because it’s something rife with stigma, and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s a power-hungry stigma. I’ll say it, because saying it somehow removes a lot of that power. So, yes, I’ll say, I’ll utter, I’ll admit: suicide has always been an option for me.
I’m not proud of it, and I know it’s not normal, but there are a whole lot of factors that hardwired me to be suicide-prone. Not the least of which were my mother’s threats when I was a kid, when things got especially rough, that she should just throw herself off the L&C tower—formerly the tallest building in downtown Nashville. “Oh,” I would think to myself, “You can just do that?” And that got my wheels turning.
Turns out that, yes, you can. Well, when her life was hard, my life was hard, so guess how I coped? Out came the razors, but I wasn’t really committed to dying. I was smart enough to know that if I committed suicide badly, I might be stuck living in even worse circumstances. But seeing my blood, feeling the sting—it felt kind of good, like a big relief, as if each cut let the pain trickle outside of me. I no longer had to contain it.
But I always had a plan, just in case something truly horrible happened. I knew where all the knives were; I kept plastic bags in hidden places. Now, this might sound strange, but this back-up plan gave me courage. That’s right: it helped me to try new things, to take chances, because if things didn’t turn out right, I could just turn out the Big Light.
I guess, now that I think about it, I’m writing to give other people some insight into the thought process behind something this incredibly nonsensical. I realize it doesn’t make sense, but it’s not black, and it’s not white. It’s difficult to understand, and I don’t claim to speak for everyone in my boat. Also, as you’ll see here in a bit, there is some sound logic behind my own thought process. Oh, and this tidbit doesn’t automatically make me mentally unwell or crazy; it just…is. My therapist has given me a clean bill of health. For real.
My deal is that I’m easily brought down by a perfect storm of circumstances. I do not walk around in a cloud of depression, and I do not take medication for depression. The thing is that I wasn’t raised to have the greatest sense of security or confidence or optimism, and I wasn’t taught any coping mechanism beyond prayer, which, now that I have grown into an agnostic adult, is useless. So when too many of the right things go wrong: bam.
In my past eighteen adult years, I’ve taken responsibility for this and filled my arsenal with meditation, visualization, talk-therapy, vitamin and mineral supplements, diet, exercise, yoga, hypnosis, occasional medication, and—perhaps the most important—humor. But anyone who has ever tried to disengage from childhood stuff knows how stubborn those knots are to untie, and how easy it is to revert to unsophisticated and unhelpful patterns. Not to mention that there are brain chemicals and hormones involved, which are at least a little bit out of my control.
Probably most people who encounter me every day would be surprised to hear this. A big, giant percentage of the time, I am even-tempered, confident, governed by logic more than emotion, and—get this!—usually the voice of reason, the one who sees both sides of the story and thinks of various reasons why something might have happened. And I’m usually happy and optimistic—not in a saccharine kind of way, but just in the way I get through the day.
But something gets short-circuited when too much disappointment comes at me from too many angles, and then begins the ticker-tape—the one that reminds me of the most awful things anyone has ever said to me or about me, from small criticisms to relationship-ending tirades. I have an elephant’s memory when it comes to these things. You’re disgusting. I hope you die. You must be so jealous of how pretty your sister is. You’re crazy. You were a mistake. You should have never been born. I feel like your nursemaid. You’re going to hell. You are unforgiving. And so on. You get the idea.
Somehow, when I’m low, the great things people have said drift away, and the wonderful things in my life don’t have as much significance. And then “logic” takes over. Like, okay—a big thing for me now is my incredible amount of student loan debt, which, by a horrible miscalculation, I thought I could afford to pay back, maybe not easily, but at least without the payment being more than my mortgage. When the thought of it becomes overwhelming, I reason that I’m worth more to my family dead than alive, that I’m depriving them of great things by shelling out so much money for my education, because—unfortunately—the only way of getting rid of student loan debt is either paying it back for decades, or dying. And when I feel truly desperate—especially concerning a mysterious neurological ailment that leaves me weak and in excruciating pain one side of my body—it makes good sense to me that my life must be insignificant, and that I’m doing my son and husband a disservice by being alive.
But I understand that I’d be making that decision for them. The scary part is that my brain reasons differently when it’s desperate and it’s a tough hole to get out of.
These days, it’s laughable to think of my half-hearted suicide attempts, the ones I really, really wanted to work. I want to tell that self to get a grip, because, hey—there’s this awesome show called South Park that you really won’t want to miss out on. There will be wonderful things happening. And most importantly, if you drop those goodbye-and-plus-Merry-Christmas cards in the mail, there’s pretty much no turning back unless you want to be embarrassed for the rest of your life.
There are a lot of myths surrounding suicide, and they bother me. It is most definitely not the easy way out. It takes a lot of courage and guts and pain. It is not pretty or clean or simple. And I think that many of us—the peeps who think about it now and again—are probably smarter than average, because we tend to feel the weight of world, the weight of others’ pain, not just our own problems. Which brings me to the myth that bothers me most: it’s not always selfish. As I mentioned this before, reasoning becomes wonky when things get bad, and many of us think that we’re doing other people a favor; we believe we’re doing the selfless thing. Also, telling us that it’s “a permanent solution to a temporary problem” is dismissive and often inaccurate. Many problems are not temporary, but they can be managed. Oh—and anger is a natural response for loved ones to have toward a suicide attempt, but it only makes things worse. Seriously.
I hope, if nothing else, that I’ve given a helpful perspective. These days, I’m quite confident I’ll live a long time, but I know that my “option” will keep popping up. Silly, I know. But taming dragons is hard, and takes a lot of practice. I practice extreme self-care, which entails spending time with people who truly care for me and cutting ties with those who have cut me too deeply, too often. It means staying off Facebook. It means standing up for myself when I’m getting trampled on, and getting massages. Mostly, it requires self-forgiveness.
Well, Ilse Munro, it was you who inspired me to bare my underbelly this week. “Winter Wonderland” is a masterpiece. I’m not sure I’ve read another story that so brilliantly gives various perspectives of a suicide attempt, including the attempt-er herself, whose voice is not a crazy one, but steady, normal, kindhearted, and sensitive. The tone and structure are admirable, and the shifting points-of-view were conveyed effortlessly.
“My Own Particular Destruction” by Melina McTigue creates a lot of tension in 585 words. I love how the protagonist walks into danger, intrigued by it, unafraid, and then remains stable after a hushed transformation.
Rachel Marsom-Richmond has filled “Invocation” with so many unforgettable images that I wish I could bottle them all and sprinkle myself with the concoction when I need inspiration. The pain of imagination, the pain of writing—all right here.
And, you know, even though writing can be painful—this piece was; I can say that with no hesitation— not writing is more painful, for me at least. Writing keeps me alive. It allows things to trickle out of me without compromising my blood supply. And it’s a hell of a lot healthier for my self-esteem.
Now, do me a favor—tit for tat. I’ve exposed a lot here. It’s taken me a while to get to this point, and I want to use my lack of shame for good. I know we writers (and non-writers too) can be a broody and sensitive bunch, and you may have similar feelings, and probably hide them or only show a teensy bit of them in fiction or poetry, but please: I want you to stick around. I’m being selfish here: I really, really, really want you to not die. So please don’t die. Please? Here’s a hotline: 1-800-273-TALK. Or if hotlines feel a little too afterschool-special, chat me up. Chat someone else up. Talk about anything, really. I get that things are complicated; I get that there are very big problems out there. I’m here telling you that at least one person does not minimize what you’re going through.
There are times I wish my past-me had someone like my present-me to just understand. The best I can do is give my present-me to you. But only if I’m alive, which I fully intend to be for a long, long time.
Photo Source: Socialnomics
Wow, Katrina. Perhaps the publisher shouldn’t be weighing in here, but I feel compelled to respond. Thank you for your courageous, image-rich, pulsating letter to the reader this week. It reinforces my belief in what we do – and how we can make a difference. Your hurl-caution-to-the-wind approach is altogether liberating for any writer worth her weight in mineral supplements. As usual, I’m digging the playlist, particularly the stellar tunes by Steely Dan, Warren Zevon, and David Gray. May I add “I Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself” by Elton John to the mix: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82wU5NfRfr4. Quite a jolt to my teenage veins in the ’70s.
Dan, the publisher can totally weigh in wherever he wants, because he’s the reason we’re all here. Your inspired vision keeps me going, week after week.
Great Elton addition, dude. I was going to include “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” but I did it last week, or the week before. I also meant to add The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” which has meant a lot to me throughout the years….
They say happiness comes from leaning into pleasant and unpleasant feelings and experiences with acceptance… way to lean in.
Kilowatt, I am humbled by your continuing support. Thank you. You of all people lean WAAAY in, and I salute you.
Katrina, I appreciate a lot of what you said here, especially the part about suicide being neither “the easy way out” nor “selfish”. As someone who has had two close family members kill themselves in the recent past, opinions like those – so often voiced in a tone of annoyed superiority – have always rubbed me the wrong way. It takes a lot for someone to go against every natural instinct for self-preservation, and the idea that it’s done frivolously, like spending too much money on a new coat, is ridiculous.
Anyway, you aren’t alone, especially in this day and age when it seems like everyone of our generation is wracked by anxiety and depression, not to mention student loan debt. I’ve always said the flip-side to the American ideal that “anyone can make it here through hard work and determination” is that if you haven’t “made it” or you owe money, then you must be lazy and worthless. Too often, that’s how people are made to feel, but luckily for us it isn’t true. Anyway, thanks for sharing with all of us.
Randy, I’m so glad you wrote. It really warms me that something here spoke to you. Thank you so much for letting me know.
Katrina, this seems like a good time to finally act on my long-standing intention to tell you how much I enjoy your editorials here. You’re always brave, funny, and articulate, and none of your subjects are easy. I understand this one well, and I want to tell you that, for a youngster like yourself, you’re well along the road to wisdom — much further along than I was at your age. Learning to let go of the “ticker-tape” (also known as toxic interject) is a lifelong process; good to get on it early. I feel privileged to share your journey. Write on, my friend.
Brent, I had no idea you’d been reading! That really makes me happy. You are wonderful, and having your support means so much to me.