On survival, and enough.

It’s two-thirty in the morning. I’d like to be sleeping. Instead, I’m propped up on a corner of the sofa, bleeding like a stuck pig and trying not to whimper audibly as I wait for this horse-tranquilizing dose of Advil to quell the menstrual cramps that feel like a dozen animated claw hammers trying to escape my uterus from within. I’m tired, and I’m cranky, and it hurts, and this sucks.

But I’m alive.

Connie’s not.

* * * *

Connie is a friend of mine.

Well, sort of. We straddle the liminal area between “acquaintance” and “friend.” We keep in touch mainly via Facebook; if we’re hewing more toward the “friend” side, maybe Facebook Messenger. We have lots of fun when we see each other, which is not very often. Chunks of time elapse when I don’t think about her; she’d say the same of me. She’s a wonderful person I enjoy spending time with, but ultimately, she’s peripheral to my life. We all have that friend, floating in our circles, present but outside the orbit of our inner networks. Nice to have, when you remember. The Pluto of friends.

I have one less of those now, because Connie died yesterday. She killed herself.

Connie was a friend of mine.

* * * *

If you forced me to sit down and make a list of all my friends in order from most to least likely to kill themselves, I would have (1) politely excused myself to scurry away from you, because that’s fucked up, and (2) put Connie pretty low on the list. Her death is a shock (although probably not any more so than any other suicide, but she’s not any other suicide, she’s Connie). It’s not just that she was a happy person, or a calm person. She was an open person. Open to change, open to growth, open to whatever she felt the universe was nudging her toward. The kind of person who thought the universe nudges — who could reframe tragedy as a painful push toward an ultimately right direction — and who found that exciting.

That openness seemed like anti-depression insurance: when I think of myself in the throes of depression or anxiety, I see a person who is fragile. Brittle. Unable to absorb the slightest shock; crumbling in the face of wholly invented terrors.

Openness, flexibility, and acceptance seem like the antidote to grief. For Connie to be gone means that there was some pain so overwhelming in its destructive powers — so sudden, or huge, or unforeseeable, or all of the above — that no amount of flexion could withstand it.

Terrifying.

There’re a partner and son picking up her pieces. They love her fiercely, and I don’t doubt that they would have leaned into the storm with her, bolstering one tired soul with two stronger ones until whatever sudden fury had broken over her abated enough to allow for some perspective. They would have held her while she bent as much as she could then absorbed the excess of pain like sponges, to wring out a safe distance away. It might have hurt them as well, but I don’t doubt that they would have done it gladly. I don’t doubt that they are heartbroken that she wasn’t able to know that in the moment when she most needed that knowledge.

* * * *

I could just as easily be dead. Once, I sat on a bed asking my husband, tearfully but politely, if he’d mind sitting with me while I took all the Valium I’d saved up, because I thought I’d feel better if he were holding my hand when I died. If he’d agreed, he’d be observing the eighth anniversary of my passing this autumn.

(From the perspective of a person who wants to die, announcing this wish to loved ones is a terribly ineffective plan. From the perspective of a person who didn’t die and no longer wants to, it was a great fucking plan. Possibly the best plan.)

Instead, I checked myself into a psych ward. I gave up my shoelaces. I participated in group self-esteem building exercises during the day and stayed up alone at night to watch late-night television to try and laugh so I could feel like a human person again. I sat mutely in the visiting room, playing Scrabble with the friends who came every evening to help pass one hour of each thousand-hour day, unsure how to respond when the schizophrenic woman on the vinyl sofa sprang to life, turned away from her husband, and announced, proudly, “I fucked a dog!”

I worked hard and leaned on people harder, and now my current life is wonderful enough that I have a hard time talking about it: it’s an embarrassment of riches that simultaneously elates me and makes me feel acutely like the privileged jerk-wad I sort of am. I will gladly deal with processing those feelings of jerk-wad-ity to have this life, to not be dead.

* * * *

Still, things are not “fixed,” and there’s one negligible but telltale sign that I live on Planet Almost-Dead instead of Planet Normal. It’s a small orange bottle. The kind for prescription medications, the kind that’s child-proof until it becomes adult-proof when you need to take a pill. The kind that collects in the far reaches of the cabinet, holding dribs and drabs of antibiotics never taken and painkillers never used, and disappears every few years when you move out of your apartment and start fresh in a new place with a new cabinet.

I move a lot. It moves with me. It usually ends up behind one expired tube of Neosporin and in front of one tub of hair putty that didn’t live up to its sexy bed-head promises. It’s a small, orange bottle with half a dozen tablets of Paxil.

It’s my bottle, and my Paxil, and no matter how hard I try to pretend that I live on Planet Normal with everyone else — no matter how much it seems like I really, really do — the bottle greets me each morning to remind me: no. I don’t. Pretend all you want, but if you’d like stay on Planet Almost-Dead instead of Planet Kaput, you’ll swallow that pill. Good girl. There is no fresh start, no cabinet without its jaunty orange presence.

It’s the biggest small orange bottle in the world.

There are other things I do as well: therapy, exercise, yakking about feelings on the internet. They all help, and they’re mostly just “life” rather than “self-care” at this point. Ninety-nine days out of 100, I go to the gym simply because I enjoy going to the gym. Therapy these days mostly consists of chatting about what I’ve been up to, like having a coffee buddy with a co-pay. Writing on the internet is fun. And three days out of seven, I completely forget to take my pill. Four or five days out of seven, if I’m being honest with myself. I don’t notice any adverse effects until I forget for more than seven or eight days in a row — I notice myself getting shaken when someone else who yaks about things on the internet is critical of the way I yak, and realize that I’m on thin ice. It only takes a day to even the keel back out.

I’ve done a lot of hard work to build the life I have now. I know I’m lucky to have the self-awareness and perspective needed to take care of myself, and to have people in my life who will happily step into the breach next to me if my reserves ever fail me again. Who will fill in my gaps of their free will and will remind me of that, repeatedly if they have to, because when you need someone to be strong for you in that way, you also need reminding that you are worth their strength.

I’m also lucky to have that bottle. I wish Connie had had a bottle of her own, whatever that might have meant for her.

* * * *

I don’t typically talk about all of the above. I’ve been trying and failing to write something about my experience in the psych ward for nearly eight years; this is the first time I’ve put more than three words together.

I could have died in 2007. I got through that moment with a lot of help, and today, it seems almost dream-like; I have a hard time imagining that I really would have killed myself. But then, I have an equally hard time imagining that Connie would have ever killed herself, and she’s dead now.

It makes me think: maybe I’m not stranded on Planet Almost-Dead with the universe’s other troubled souls. Maybe Planet Normal is just a myth that keeps us all striving for perfect; maybe we’re all already on Planet Almost-Dead, and the best we can hope for is to stay there until we reach a ripe old age. Maybe our jobs are to keep ourselves grounded there, and to help others do the same when we see them unmooring. To cling to one another and to those small things; to clutch our friends and our little orange bottles, and just keep going.

And some of us will stumble because sometimes it hurts too badly. It’s heartbreaking and makes no sense and gives us no option but to continue trudging along, survivors in one way or another. Our choice is to try and forget the loss, or to take what lessons and love we can from those who’ve left us and make sure that those, at least, continue living, ephemeral and intangible though they are.

Maybe that’s the best we can do, and maybe that’s entirely enough.

I hope it’s enough for Connie.

—–

ETA: I’d originally changed Connie’s name, out of concern that this might feel like my co-opting someone else’s tragedy. But un-naming her didn’t feel quite right and still doesn’t, and I think it’s important to bear witness to the life and death of this real person. Her name was Connie, and she was wonderful.

119 Comments

  1. Thank you for opening up about this. I know it has helped me, and I have no doubt it will help others. I am glad you kept up residence on Planet Almost-Dead because Planet Normal does not exist, and it never did in my opinion. I am happy to have met you.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. What a powerful piece. It was so well-written and gut-wrenching. I am flying out in a few hours to attend my brother-in-law’s memorial service. Very few people know he took his own life. It’s been hard to understand and yet I’ve had moments (yes, I am very lucky to not experience depression so only moments), where I felt hopeless after breast cancer and a partial knee replacement. The day passed. Later, I thought, if I felt like that everyday, I would seek help. It is a darkness I’ve never experienced before. Even thought it was fleeting and I went back to my hardwired, hopeful self, it helps me to understand others who “just can’t do it anymore.” I could never live like that every day.
    Sending positive vibes to you for your loss.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. You’re such an amazing person, Michelle. I’m so glad to know you, and that you’re in my life for me to admire, especially when being so brave as to share a beautiful piece like this.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. This is beautiful. I’m glad you’re here, and I’m sorry about your friend Carol. I have no doubt that the world would be a better place if she were still with us. To everyone else reading this who could very easily not be here today, I am glad you are still with us, too. You contribute your own unique light to the world that was not here before you and will never be here again after you.

    I have an uncle who killed himself a few years ago, and I just couldn’t believe it – all of my happy memories of him just started running through my head. The last time I saw him alive he held my baby girl and made her laugh and laugh; he just connected with babies and small children in a way that I have never seen. My mom later told me some stories that made it clear just how sick he was, but he grew up in a culture that just simply didn’t acknowledge that mental illness exists. And now he’s gone.

    Anyway, life is precious and it’s always sad when it’s taken away too soon.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. It’s been two years since my friend Kathy died, suicide. She was never ever on my radar as someone who might choose that option. Such a strong fighter she was. Until she wasn’t.
    In the end, though, once the scars had replaced the wounds, her suicide helped me finally make the move to Planet Still-Alive. I was a long-time resident on Planet Almost-Dead, with the occasional day pass to Planet Normal, but ultimately Planet Normal was not a good fit. Now I think I’m going to settle for good on Planet Fuck-It because I’ve got shit to do now and dying isn’t on that list anymore.
    I’m sorry for your loss Michelle. I’m glad your husband didn’t hold your hand and watch you die.

    Liked by 8 people

  6. When I was eight years old I found out that this world has nothing to offer to me but I didn’t seriously consider killing myself till I’ve married my ex. I had few unsuccessful attempts which sometimes I regret sometimes not. The main reasons why I didn’t try more is the fear of heaven and hell, being punish for mortal sins which include taking your own life. I don’t really believe this places exist but in case, I don’t want to suffer again in another life, I already had enough suffering in this one.
    In 1997 after 13 years of marriage and watching my ex do it I decided to follow his footsteps and became unfaithful. It was a revelation. For the first time in years I didn’t want to die no more. The feeling was so addictive and I never look back. Our relationship ended in 2006 after battling in court for 3 years, he didn’t want to sign.
    Now, I want to die still but I don’t mind living either. That’s positive in my book.
    I’m glad you didn’t succeed killing yourself Michelle or otherwise who will be our mentor in blogging U courses?

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I really appreciate your posting this. Connie should be remembered by her friend. It really takes a lot of courage and strength to tell your story in this way, but I am sure it is going to make a difference. Someone reading it may just reach out for help now, knowing you pulled through. Others may realize keeping that bottle is not shameful but necessary. I know I’m glad you’re alive and in my blogging community.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you for honouring Connie. Michelle, this well written piece is so inspiring. 15 years ago I sat alone in a hotel room with not quite enough pills, and four years ago entered a psych ward with my family’s help. Today I am so thankful that I am on planet new normal and trying to find my way through and around it. Writing like yours helps me understand why I am here. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. This was very moving.
    Greetings from another Planet-Almost-Dead resident. I struggle with Planet Normal.
    One thing about living on PAD is that you really really feel for the people that get any where near it. Poor Connie, in the last moments of desperation she must have felt so alone and disconnected, and ironically there is a world full of people that know that place and would understand.
    It just never feels like it in the moment.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I think i’ve decided to move to Planet Fuck It with Melanie; it seems like it might be the sanest place.

      Things like this are a double whammy — painful for the loss of a friend and fellow human, and painful for the reminder of how utterly alone and dark that last place is, and how that darkness warps your thinking.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Michelle, this was so well written and poignant! Very sad and hard to believe. One of my nephews lost a close friend this week under the same circumstances. Thankful you were able to make it through your pain.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you for writing something so devastating and beautiful and brave. And for publishing it.

    Can I nominate you as Special Envoy for the Promotion of Interplanetary Peace and Culinary Experimentation? The galaxy needs you.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. 1. Aw, shucks. Jeez. Thank you. That means a lot.

      2. That sounds like a lot of responsibility, and I have a pretty full schedule of loafing and pastry-eating these days; maybe there’s some kind of emeritus role?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks for sharing with us because it makes it easier for us to share our stories – our “unbeautiful” stories. Of which, I have been in the process of doing. My beautiful and beloved niece took her life by hanging, one year ago from last October. It has devastated our family and I don’t wish that on anyone or on any family.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. This was so hones t and I am grateful that I’ve read it. Thank you for giving me a soul cleansing cry. Thank you for reminding me how far I’ve come from spending weeks in bed feeling that I was worth nothing to anybody. Thank you for shaking me and realizing how good I have it even though, it’s not that great. And thank you for making me realize that in my darkest moments I made the right decision to ignore the negative thoughts to go any further and tell someone.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Trudy, of all the responses to this post, your’s resonates the most with me. COFFEEDRINKER2 made a very astute observation, “ironically there is a world full of people that know that place and would understand” regarding feeling alone and disconnected. Continue to ignore the negative thoughts and talking to someone.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. There are days of backsliding.. where you feel swallowed up but I’m breaking old habits, making new ones that don’t include bad self talk, it makes it easier when I’m not always able to talk to someone. But I do keep open lines of communication with my circle positives.

        Liked by 4 people

  14. I didn’t see this until today. I’m so sorry for your loss. And for Connie’s family’s loss. I’m so sorry for Connie’s pain.

    I do believe Planet Notmal is a myth. And while I don’t believe some of us feel much more keenly, I do believe some of us have little pockets or cubbies or sulci in which we get trapped when we feel keenly. Like finding a small cave at the bottom of the Geand Canyon, and being in that cave when there’s a rockslide. Trapped in the depths.
    I’m glad for your orange bottle. Even if it seems seventy stories high, I’m glad for your small orange bottle.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. I’m sorry about the loss of your friend.
    I’m impressed with your authenticity and commend you for sharing your story. Sharing it was touching, and it is a beautiful tribute to your friend’s life. In a way, you said to her, wherever she is, that it is ok what she did. Nobody is perfect. Nothing is.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I only very very VERY recently acquired a little orange bottle for myself, moving me out of Planet Climb-the-Walls to Planet Sorta-Calm. I have called the psych ward on my husband and my mother in law. I thank you for talking so openly about your struggles, and Connie’s struggles. We don’t talk about mental challenges nearly enough, and I think that if more people knew that there wasn’t a Planet Normal for so many… that maybe it wouldn’t be as hard, or as isolating.
    I have never met you, and rarely comment, but I wanted to let you know that I appreciate what you do in this space. Thank you for your strength and your voice.
    I’m sorry for your loss, and appreciative of your strength.

    Liked by 5 people

  17. Beautiful tribute to both your friend and your own strength. There is no such place as Planet Normal; none of my friends–and certainly not I, myself–believe in Normal, planet or condition. There’s just staying power and friends and love. I was recently shocked to hear about a former co-worker’s suicide. She had been the most positive and inspiring person I knew, much like Connie as you described her. There is no way to know or understand the demons she carried, just as Connie’s action is incomprehensible to those who knew her well and loved her (you can’t call someone a friend and not love them).
    Depression is a much more common disease of the mind than insurance companies are willing to address–or maybe that’s why co-pays and sessions are generally so limited by most plans, as if you can cure depression with drugs and 10 sessions with a therapist. Suicide is something people need to be aware of, but no one wants to talk about–or hear about, it seems. Yet many depressed people commit suicide to end the pain that their demons inflict. You know it because you had once reached that point.
    Sharing your story so openly probably helped at least one reader to have the courage to face up to their own or a loved one’s state, leading to at least one life saved. I don’t know you, but I am very proud of you for sharing both your own story and Connie’s. It took a great deal of courage to take on the subject, much less to take it on so poignantly. Thank you for being you and for making others aware. And thank you for seeking help instead of death. The world needs more people with the honesty and openness you shared. And you did so with such beautiful words.

    Liked by 4 people

  18. Thank you for sharing. A very very close friend of mine told me a few years ago that she had gotten very close to ending it all. She said she had her stuff all organized and divvied up, and she was planning on driving her car off a bridge. She told me this a few months after she decided she didn’t want to die, and I hate to say it but I completely freaked out. I started crying and yelling at her out of sheer fright, anger, and guilt.

    I can’t even imagine the hole in my life she’d have left behind if she’d gone through with it. Thinking about it, even years later, makes me want to vomit. I deal with depression/anxiety issues and while I’ve never gone on medication, it gets bad enough that I haven’t ruled out the possibility someday. As daunting as meds seem, the thought of sinking into that darkness so deeply that I no longer want to live scares me more. It’s a terrifying, difficult, surreal thing, but it’s important to talk about and learn from. I’m so sorry for your loss, and for Connie’s family. I’m glad you made it through.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Thank you for sharing your story Michelle.
    Yes, her name was Connie and she was my best friend.
    “Planet Normal” is just another light in the sky now.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Thank you for sharing this story about Connie and revealing your own testimony about suicide. You are incredibly brave, and the way you tell your story is poignant. You raise incredible awareness for others who have faced or are facing mental illness in some way.

    I am sorry for the loss of your friend, but I am glad you found your “small orange bottle” and that all your hard work is paying off since that time in your life. Enjoy it all! Happiness wins!

    Your writing is amazing, BTW. I read a lot of your pieces on The Daily Post. This is the first time I have visited your personal blog. Thanks again for this story.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. This post gave me a lot to chew on. This is my wish for humankind- may we all find our place in this world and be non judgmental and compassionate for those that couldn’t.

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Hi Michelle,

    I’ve only just discovered your blog tonight, through Robin Lucas’ Dry-Humping Parnassus (another first-rate blog, as you discovered some time before I did). And of course I don’t know you. Still, I want to tell you I’m glad you saw fit to tell your husband about your plan to leave this world back in 2007. I’m glad for the very selfish reason that I wouldn’t have got the chance to read your story if you had taken an overdose of pills, and that would have been a pity. Because your post about suicide was beautifully, honestly written, and it captured the terror and confusion and guilt and heartbreak of someone who has contemplated ending her life, but also of those who are left behind when a loved one chooses to surrender to the abyss.

    I’m sorry to say that my life has been touched by suicide, too — more than once, but most recently and most cripplingly in 2002 when my wife’s sister ended her life in a Dallas apartment. It was not her first attempt, and my wife — I’m sorry, it’s difficult to say this, but she is now my ex-wife, in part because of the event I’m describing here. Nancy, who took care of her little sister Robin right up until Robin’s death at the age of 38, has been unable to shed the anguish and guilt of her sister’s suicide. Nancy, too, had attempted suicide, when she was a teenager, and she was saved by Robin, who noticed her sister’s distressed breathing after she’d taken an overdose of pills. Nancy certainly would have died had Robin not come into her bedroom in the middle of the night.

    I’m telling you these things, I suppose, because reading your story has caused me to revisit these memories tonight, and it’s important to me that I write something in honor of Nancy and Robin while I feel moved to do so. Lord knows I’ve wanted to write about them plenty of times before, but I’ve mostly felt stifled and unworthy of the emotional effort required to honor the two people, yes, two, Robin and Nancy, who left that awful August day thirteen years ago.

    Only once before have I written about Robin’s suicide. I composed a poem to Nancy, called “Gravity,” in the spring of this year, and because it’s short I hope you’ll forgive me for including it here, in the comments section of your first published words about the desolation and hopelessness that drove you to plan your own death. I’ve never attempted to publish the poem before now, though I did read it aloud in May at a small poetry reading in Denton, Texas, and I’ve shared it with six or seven close friends and family, including Nancy and our three children, now mostly grown. I hope you’ll accept it as a token of the sympathy and respect I have for you and for anyone who has been deeply affected by suicide or suicidal wishes and has emerged more or less intact from that lacerating experience.

    I was at a poetry reading earlier tonight, where I read two of my poems, though “Gravity” wasn’t one of them. I’m glad I chose to read Robin Lucas’ poetry after I got home — because it is amazingly funny and sad and moving all at once, and also because his blog included a heartfelt recommendation to his readers to make the leap, using the link he provided, to yours. I made that leap. I hope I’ve expressed how happy I am to have done so. In some way, your story has helped me absorb and accept some of the pain of my own experience.

    Gravity
    By Sonny Bohanan

    Your sister’s face,
    bloated, blackened, three days gone
    when a firefighter axes the door.
    Knowing it’s coming
    does not prepare you
    for the power pain has
    to destroy all it loves,
    all it despises, you.

    Her notebook opens
    to the last page: Let gravity
    do the work, tighten the rope.
    Gravity.

    Knowing it’s coming
    makes it hard to move.
    Gravity grows more ghastly
    by the day, takes us all to ground.
    That’s the world.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for sharing that; I’m sorry for Nancy, and Robin, and all the lives in their orbits that have been impacted. All we can really do is share our stories and hope that that allows us each to digest our experiences a little; if my writing this has helped do that for you then it was totally worth writing, no matter how scary it was to publish it. That’s a real stunner of a compliment — thank you, and I gladly accept your gift of poetry.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Michelle,

        I saw your reply to my comments when you posted it a few weeks ago, but I had meant to jump back in here to say thanks for your kind words and your understanding. You’re a tremendous writer, by the way, and I’ve enjoyed subscribing to your blog. Well done!

        Like

  23. Planet Almost-Dead isn’t so bad when you realize we’re all one thread away from snapping, and that, as you said, Planet Normal doesn’t really exist. But it makes me wonder why some people choose to leave when the majority don’t even second guess staying.

    I’m where you are now. I can’t fathom what I was thinking in the Black Hole, even though I was the one who went through it. It doesn’t feel like the me I know. I’ll tell you what: I don’t miss her, but I’m stronger because of it.

    Thank you for speaking out. It always helps someone to hear the bright side of life.

    Liked by 1 person

Say it, don't spray it.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s