I had high hopes for 2012. 2011 was such an unbearable year, I thought that it could only get better. Briefly, it did. And then it all went to hell, for me and mine.
The death toll of 2012 rivaled the first five minutes of a Michael Bay movie. Loved ones and loved ones of loved ones were lost to accident, suicide, illness, and just shitty, shitty luck. When I wasn’t powerless with regard to my grief, I was powerless in the face of grief suffered by people I love deeply and dearly.
My attempts at finding love or even a halfway interested lover failed repeatedly, and early 2012 brought me a very badly broken heart and an utter loss of hope, not to mention a great deal of frustration and confusion. Many of my friends were unlucky in love and went through relationship strife as well.
There were a number of friendship upheavals about which I remain unsure, and I believe 2013 will involve some restructuring.
Things began to turn around for me toward the end of the year. Slowly, like the Titanic attempting to avoid the iceberg.
- I finally got a full time job at an amazing organization, working with phenomenal people and the best office dog in the world. I love my job. And it almost pays me enough to live on.
- As part of a last-ditch attempt to find somebody I might want to date, I showed up to a bar one evening with a book and a thirst for Scotch, and hoped that the woman I’d messaged on OKC wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time. Since I was pretty much over dating by this point, I wore the same unwashed jeans I’d been wearing for the past several days and a shirt I never checked for stains, and I didn’t bother to wait to start in on the whisky. I’ll go ahead and skip to the end of this one: She’s wonderful, hysterical, loving, caring, and has the prettiest, smiliest eyes. We just finished moving the rest of my possessions to her apartment in SF. She likes my cooking. (ETA: She has corrected this statement to make sure I know to call it OUR apartment.)
- My cat Thumper is in good health and happy in our new apartment, which is much smaller than our house in Oakland, but cozier and has many soft and warm things for him to sleep on. He even has his own chair, from which he can observe his neighbor cat girlfriend, Foxy. He and my lady absolutely adore each other.
- I opened up about a very serious topic in a very public forum and was rewarded by a show of love, support, and trust from individuals known and unknown to me.
2012 still sank, but I and many of my friends ended up on life rafts, paddling toward 2013.
I don’t think anybody expects 2013 to be amazing. But I am hoping that we all have the space to recover from losses, strengthen new and old foundations, and remind each other that we love and care for each other, that we are there for each other, and that we may occasionally want to give up on everything, but that we won’t give up on each other.
I can’t help but be a little optimistic; I’m in the best place I’ve been since maybe 2008. I’ve found love and employment, I have a roof over my head, and my cat has the most adorable mitteny paws in the world. Things are not easy; I don’t know if they ever will be. But it isn’t all difficult, and for the first time in a long time I really feel like it’s worth it to keep working, keep fighting, and keep pushing through. I am not in a place where I can say, “Bring it, 2013, I can take whatever you have to throw at me.” I am, however, in a place to say, let’s do this.
So. 2013. Let’s do this.
Last night I was talking to a friend of mine who is going through a really tough time, and she mentioned something that I related to entirely: the active and conscious effort she is having to put in to not jump in front of a bus. Now, before you all start screaming about intervention and 5150, let me explain something, first.
Because I think, given some of the ridiculously stupid shit people say about suicide to me and to others, it’s time to come out of the closet: almost every day for the past couple years (and actually, for much of my life) has included the conscious decision to survive the day. Some days, that’s easy. Some days I have to actively remind myself of why I should choose to live. Some days I just make myself numb with weed, watch tv and let the hours slide by, because that’s all I trust myself to do. But I choose to live, every day, whether it is a good day, or a bad day, or a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
People talk about suicide in terms of weakness and strength, selfishness, rudeness. All of those things are factors. But there’s also the issue of perspective. Which is to say, what might seem like piddlyshit to one person might be devastating to the next. I have yet to meet the circumstance that would be sufficiently devastating to send me over the edge, but that doesn’t mean I won’t (doesn’t mean I will, either).
2010 and 2011 were brutal, and 2012 has brought blow after blow after blow and let me tell you, I am fucking tired of wishing that my heart had an “Eject” button. I am tired of living with everything I’ve had to live with (here is where I will get the “Buck up! That’s just life!” comment from some jackass who has never experienced the desire to just fucking end it. Save it. I know life is hard. But when every day in a given week—or every other day, or even a single day—feels like being thigh-deep in the Swamps of Sadness after watching Artax die, it becomes a little overwhelming).
Thus far there is nothing I haven’t been able to weather. People call this strength. But strength is a trap. When people expect you to be strong all the fucking time, showing weakness is nigh on impossible, which is why for the vast majority of my friends, this post is going to be news. There is no real break from being strong. There’s (prescription) drugs, but in the rare event that they work—my body laughs at most drugs and tells them to come back with something stronger, next time, in a bad Russian accent—while they mute the depression they also mute everything the fuck else, and I would rather feel everything I am feeling than feel nothing. I will resort to them when I know it is impossible to drag myself out of some pit without them, but not before.
And it’s really difficult some days when somebody says, “You’re strong, you can do this” to respond with, “I know,” and not with, “Fuck you. I want to be weak, this time. I want to give up.”
I don’t call it “strength”. I call it “determination”.
People talk about how selfish people have to be to commit suicide. Yes. Ultimately it is a selfish act. It is an act done for that person and that person, alone. They may have convinced themselves that people would be better off without them; obviously most of the time they are utterly incorrect. But that justification at its foundation remains a selfish one.
The experience will be different for everybody, but part of my conscious decision to live involves remembering all the people who would be hurt and confused by my death. But, as I said, I have yet to experience something devastating enough to make me lose sight of them, and I remain fully aware that this is a possibility. So I never judge people who have genuinely attempted or committed suicide—not for their selfishness. I just assume that the decision was made at a point where the people they loved stopped being real to them in the face of whatever anguish drove them to the act.
I find that the people who don’t understand this have little-to-no experience with that level of depression and pain, and are assuming that whatever depths of sadness they have experienced are the most extreme anybody else might suffer as well. I have begun calling it “emotional privilege” in my head. I’ll never forget the day I was watching The Wall with a woman I was seeing and she turned to me halfway through the movie and said, “But why doesn’t he just get over it?”
(Click to see entire picture @ the source)
Now, let me make something clear: I am not defending suicide as an option. If I thought it was viable, I might not be sitting here in my messy room writing this post while I have Top Gun on in the background to unheavy this shit a little bit. I have lost people to suicide. Both friends and family. I have experienced that particular hurt and confusion, the search for answers, the need to find meaning in an act that causes such extraordinary pain to those who have been left behind, the endless questioning—what if I had been there, called more, texted back, remembered to say “I love you”? Oh, God, what did they need? What could I have done?
But what I am saying is that this has been my experience. And I am not the only one who feels that way. And talking to my friend yesterday was helpful to me, and hopefully to her, because when it becomes a shared experience, when you can remember that one other person has some understanding of it, then it becomes more difficult to forget that there are other people in your life, in general, and more difficult to lose sight of them.
Most days I’m fine. I’m not always walking around in a lightless slimy pit of despair, and I don’t want to give the impression that I am.
This post isn’t a ploy for attention. It is not a plea for help. I am not writing this for your advice (in fact, unless you have something in mind that is mind-blowingly new and possibly alien, don’t fucking bother. I’ve been dealing with my own issues far longer than you have and I have made my decisions for how to manage my situation consciously and with pretty comprehensive knowledge of what is available to me). Actually, it was really difficult to make the decision to write it, because I don’t want my friends to change the way they act around me or talk to me. I don’t want people to freak out, or worry. I am hoping that everybody realizes that this is not new and that I am still exactly the same person they knew before they read this. I want the opposite of attention.
This post is partly an attempt to educate, but mostly putting myself out there in the hopes that the people who need to find this post, do. And when they do, I hope they reach out. I’ll be waiting right here.
The very first thing I did in 2011 was wake up, shower, and go to the grocery store to buy the ingredients to make Raspberry Crack† for Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman.
At the time, I thought: holy crap. I am leaving a year filled with pain, anxiety, emotional abuse, misery and more pain. And I am leaping into a year that begins with one of my favorite authors and one of my most beloved musical artists, as well as some of my best friends in the world (Hi Whitney and Alexei!). Around a kitchen table. At which I will be sitting. Wow.
What could possibly go wrong?
Ultimately, very little. Very little had to go wrong. 2011 was a year of trying to convince myself that I could survive the status quo. Little secret between me, you, and the rest of the internet? Almost didn’t happen. Survival, I mean. 2011 brought me the closest to suicide I have been in a decade.
Sounds dramatic, right? I guess suicide is dramatic, but I don’t intend to make a splash with the idea.
I mostly mention it to give you some context, Gentle Reader, for my mindset coming into 2012. I have spent 2011 trying to put my head and my heart back together. I have been questioning and trying to come to terms with who I am and the choices I have made. I have been wondering what my place is in this world, and if I even have one. I have been lost, personally and professionally. And with regard to 2012, I am not as optimistic as I might like to be. I see SOPA and NDAA and the economy. I see my empty bed and my empty wallet. I see my grad school loans only overshadowed by my law school loans. I see an election year that is terrifying in its lack of viable candidates and a surplus of terrifying candidates. I see rage waxing and worry that my strength is waning.
I have found strength in myself that I didn’t know I had. I have friends who are so phenomenal that it’s a little overwhelming. This blog has a nonzero number of readers (that nonzero? That’s you. You are not zero—not The Zeppo [that's Xander]. Mazel tov). I have things to work toward in 2012 that aren’t just about trying to find reasons to keep living. I’m still funny. My cat remains adorable.
So my resolutions for 2012 are:
- To remember that I am loved by amazing people.
- To come to terms with the decisions I have made to this point.
- To consciously and carefully let go of as much of the baggage I’ve been lugging around with me as I can.
- To stop carrying the world on my shoulders.
- To practice guitar more often.
- To try at least five Scotches I have never tried before.
- To find a hottie or two to hang out with/hook up with.
What, you thought they would all be emotionally intense and interesting?
My biggest resolution, and one I hope to keep more than anything is this, though: I want to live. 2011 was about survival and subsistence—emotional, physical, and economical. It’s time to find ways to live. I wish that were as easy as it sounds, but it’s without a doubt worth working and fighting for. So I guess 2012 is going to be less about just trying to hang on, and more about climbing.
Happy new year, Gentle Reader. I hope your resolutions are wonderfully easy (or nonexistent). I hope 2011 has been amazing for you, and that 2012 will be even better. I hope there is no climb for you. I hope when you look around at the world in the new year, that it’s either a world you know you can live with, or a world you know you can change for the better (or both). I don’t yet know what the world has in store for me. I guess…let’s all hope for the best.
†Raspberry Crack is something I make, that my friends named, and that appears to be fairly addictive. The look on Neil Gaiman’s face when he first tasted it will be something I hope to use to get some incredibly nerdy and hot girl into bed some day.
In the last week, I received news of the deaths of no fewer than three people I know. One of those was somebody with whom I went to high school. Two of them were friends. Two of the three were suicides.
I have been flailing emotionally. I didn’t realize it until today. In the process of this flailing I managed to be extra irritable, totally failed to communicate properly, and I appear to have alienated somebody I really like. This was a major failure on my part—normally I am much more in touch with how I am feeling, and why. Additionally, some of this might have been avoided had I managed to mention any of this to anybody.
I. Death death death—afternoon tea…
I think this is first due to the magnitude of the news: the untimely death of one friend has enough of an effect on a person. The untimely death of three in rapid succession is just overwhelming, like a personal version of Eddie Izzard’s murder standards: Well done! Three of your friends died recently, two by their own hand? They must get up very early in the morning.
II. Family Traditions
Then there’s the suicide bit. The people in my family tend to kill themselves, either quickly or slowly (or in the case of my grandmother, both). Suicide and attempted suicide run rampant in my family. So there’s that. Additionally, I haven’t figured out where I come down on the issue, myself. I have heard suicide characterized as rude, selfish, tragic. I believe strongly in the idea that we should have complete power over our own lives—not just how we live and die, but whether we live and die (to the extent that we have that choice to make).
I also believe strongly that the day I give up and take my own life, I have failed, utterly. But that’s not to say I don’t believe that despair cannot be so all encompassing that death seems like the better option, and that’s not to say I haven’t experienced that level of despair.
Grief is probably the biggest emotion I just swallow and deal with. When I have multiple levels of headfuckery going on around the grief, I choke on it—without, apparently, realizing that I am choking.
But then there’s the standard issues—the questions, the guilt, the realization that now I get to miss these people forever, that there will never be another chat conversation, another movie, another night of Jameson shots and bad bar food. There’s wondering about who they left behind: their families, their lovers, their pets. There’s the inevitable: would my being there more have changed anything at all?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t talk about any of this stuff because I don’t even know where to begin. I prefer not to waste words, and to avoid statements of the obvious like, “This makes me feel sad.” I tend to only say such things to people who are grieving with me over the same people—as more of an acknowledgement of what they are feeling than anything else.
While avoiding statements of the obvious, and chewing on the complicated, I fail to communicate anything at all.
Obviously that has to change. I just haven’t the faintest idea of how to change it.
In the mean time, I am going to watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in honor of one of them. I am going to raise a glass of Jameson to all three of them. And if I have enough Jameson, I will likely pull out my guitar to sing a song I learned for yet another dead friend.
Three people I know are dead. This makes me sad.
Four names, four suicides, one month. ETA: And to bring in October, we have a fifth: Raymond Chase.
We keep thinking that the world is improving for queer folk, and in some ways, it is. The percentage of people who approve of (or at least won’t stand in the way of) gay marriage is growing. Acceptance and the ability to raise non-traditional families in places that are not New York City or San Francisco is growing. Movies about queer people that do not end in the gay character dying from disease or in a fire are increasingly common (good job, Hollywood).
But we can’t take progress for granted. We cannot assume that just because things are getting better for some, that they are getting better for all. Let’s take a look at those names again:
Seth Walsh: 13 years old.
Asher Brown: 13 years old.
Billy Lucas: 15 years old.
Tyler Clementi: 18 years old.
Raymond Chase: 19 years old.
We still live in a world where for some, being perceived as a homosexual is more horrifying than taking one’s own life. Where some of our children think that it is okay to taunt others for being gay (regardless of actual orientation), because being gay is bad. Where some of our children are dying because nobody thought to tell them that it is okay. That being perceived as gay is not the end of the world. That potentially being gay is not the end of the world.
These five young men are not the only teenagers who have taken their own lives over being homosexual or being perceived as homosexual. In fact, it is estimated that 1/3 of teen suicides every year are queer. But these five illustrate something that is very important: we are really, really not doing enough for today’s youth. Queer and otherwise.
And this is not just about finding your neighborhood gay kid, slapping him or her on the shoulder and saying, “hey, you’re okay.” (Although, if that’s all you’ve got, then please do it.) This is about teaching your own children, regardless of their leanings, that bullying is not okay. That being queer (or otherwise different) is okay. That if they see somebody being bullied for being different, the best possible thing they can do is be a friend to that person or quietly find some way to show some support.
We need to be people that these young men and women can trust, that they can come talk to. We need to be people who will not judge, and who will help. We need to be people who can show love and care even when our own belief systems are being challenged. And we need to teach our children to do the same.
Junior high and high school are brutal social arenas. We all forget that when we escape. They are holding pens for people who are at their most socially, hormonally and sexually volatile–and in competition with one another. We either need to give them swords and let them have at it–or teach them tolerance, understanding, and kindness.
Let’s not add any more names to this list.