Letter to Brian: April 12, 2016

Dear Brian,

One week ago tonight I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of being able to see the incredible Jane Goodall speak here in Austin. I was completely mesmerized from the very moment she stepped on the stage and started telling us the stories of where her love of animals began. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been completely head over heels in love with animals of all kinds.  As a young girl, I often carried around a styrofoam cup filled with dirt and earthworms as little pets; Mom would occasionally receive a call from a disgruntled mother telling her that I had, yet again, forgotten my “cup o’ worms” at their house and I’d be sent back over there to collect them immediately.  Turns out, that was one of Jane’s first experience with critters as well; when she was very, very young her mother had found that Jane had taken a handful of earthworms to bed with her.  She gently reminded Jane that without dirt they would die so the two of them went to the garden together to return the worms to their home.  That began her journey with animals and Jane’s mother is the person she credits the most for supporting her in carving out a path for herself in her lifelong career of studying, caring for, writing about and sharing her knowledge of animals with the world.

That part really struck a chord within me having just lost our Momma, Brian.  I recall Mom telling me stories not only about my worm friends but of injured birds, bunnies, toads and mice as well as crickets, grasshoppers and snakes.  And when I would find a dead bird in the yard, I somehow thought, at such a tender, young age that the bird deserved better than to lie there in the grass alone– that it needed a proper and respectful burial.  I’d collect the bird and gently place it in a little box (usually the boxes that Mom’s checks from the bank were shipped in) lined with Kleenex I had constructed into a little bed, blanket and pillow so the little winged creature could spend eternity resting comfortably.  Nice thought and all, but sometimes I would forget to bury them and Mom would be alerted to their presence in my room by a persistent odor… only to find that I’d placed the box under my bed and had proceeded to forget about it.  I know it must have frustrated her, but she was always so loving and never got angry at me when she’d find a decomposing bird in my room, when she’d wake in the morning to find that my giant grasshopper had somehow escaped from the jar I’d placed it in and was lurking somewhere in her kitchen or even when I set up a little “morgue” on the back patio and was performing an autopsy on a dead mouse to determine the cause of death. (She gave me the freedom to be curious instead of ruining my experiment by pointing out the obvious– that a mouse found floating in the dog’s water bowl likely died by drowning.)  So to hear Jane speak so highly of her own Mom who encouraged her love of animals really touched me deeply. And of course, we had a father who was a veterinarian; that only furthered my interest in creatures of all kinds.  You and I both loved going for rides to the farms and visiting the clinic to watch him work.

She then went on to speak about a stuffed animal, a cow, given to her by a friend.  She named it “Cow.”  Again, that rattled something deep in my insides as I recalled a stuffed cow I had purchased for myself in college (yes, in college) and I too named him “Cow.”  From my lofty seats in the upper stratosphere of the Paramount Theater, it looked shockingly identical to my own Cow and I felt an increasingly deep connection to this famous, gentle stranger standing behind the podium below.

So many things she spoke about resonated with me but I’ll share just a few with you.  One thing in particular that hit home is about “stuff” and America’s obsession with collecting “stuff” we don’t need.  I was reminded to shop more thoughtfully in the future– if not only by shopping more frequently at thrift stores to purchase used items then by really thinking hard about what I’m about to purchase and considering if it is truly something I need.  She offered this quote from Mahatma Gandhi:

The Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.

We are destroying our planet with greed.  I want to be more aware of how my actions affect not only those humans around me, but also the humans, animals and environment all around the world.  Every action we take has a reaction elsewhere.  It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the effects of your actions when you aren’t immediately effected by them– but I want to try and do better by the world.  And I was reminded during every single second of her talk that I still feel this ache so deep in my heart and my soul for not having a career working with animals.  It’s where my desire has always been.  I need to really figure out what I’m so afraid of in terms of trying to make that a reality for myself someday.  I know both you and Moooomie would want that for me, too.

I was also reminded of how shockingly similar animals, particularly chimpanzees, are to us humans.  They too display bouts of anger and rage, of sadness and grief, of joy and love, and they can show among each other acts of greed and acts of altruism.  I’ll forever possess a desire learn as much as I possibly can about them and all animals, really.  I’m constantly reading books about them– canine massage, Tellington Touch, stories about animal intelligence, dog breeds, cat breeds, rescue stories… I can’t ever learn enough.

Jane also spoke of what we call promoting”tolerance” in our society.  She proclaimed how she prefers the idea of respect over tolerance;  because, as she said, “You tolerate roaches in your kitchen.  You should not tolerate a human being for their differences, you should respect them.”

After I’d already been waiting in the autograph line for nearly an hour, the man behind me began to grumble to me about feeling slighted because those who were waiting in line with young children were allowed to go straight to the front of the line (being a school night and all.)  I couldn’t have cared less that I may have waited in line an extra 20 minutes if it meant making room for her to spend some time with those kids that are showing a passion for the future of their world.  I told him I thought it was very kind of her to do that for the kids and I didn’t mind the extra wait; then I turned my back and continued to dig deeper into the book that I knew by end of the evening would contain her hand-written signature.

The line twisted around and around and at times it didn’t seem to move at all.  There were a few moments when I thought about how tired I was, how much my back hurt, how I shouldn’t have skipped dinner and how badly I had to pee and almost left the line to go home.  But a little voice inside kept reminding me to wait it out.  As I approached the end of the line and she was only 10 feet away from me, I spotted a little arrangement of purple and gold flowers and instinctively knew that was a reminder that the little voice inside me was you and Mooomie all along. And then, after a nearly 2-hour wait in line, I found myself standing just inches away from her as she signed my copy of “In the Shadow of Man.”  I was utterly humbled and awestruck.  I only managed to barely choke out the words “thank you” as she handed my book back to me and our eyes locked for just one brief second.  For her, I realize that moment was no different from any other interaction she’d had with the hundreds and hundreds of people in line before me; but for me, that moment was life-changing.

Seconds later, I stepped out of the theater into the night air I burst into tears and cried all the way back to my car… and continued to cry the entire drive home.  Like ugly cry.That was just the kind of moment I would have called excitedly to share with you and Moooomie and it made me ache so badly for both of you. I know you were with me, I could feel it the whole time… but it’s just not the same.  It’ll never be the same.

Love Always,


Oh. My. Stars. She's signing my book... She's signing my boooook!!!!!
Oh. My. Stars. She’s signing my book… She’s signing my boooook!!!!!










Letter to Moooooomie: March 25, 2016

Dear Moooomie,

I hope Brian won’t mind another letter to you tossed in here.  I so badly wanted to call you the other day.  I finally received my final tooth/implant after a year-long process of multiple surgeries, $4,000 and a whole bunch of healing time in between.   You were the first person I called when I found out, a year and a half ago, that one of my lower teeth had not fully healed after my jaw fracture all the way back in 1996 and it needed to be removed.  You were with me each step of the way through that long process… until now.

Since you were so far away in Minnesota, I sent you picture updates of what my sore and swollen mouth looked like right after my first surgery for the extraction and bone-grafting… and, in true Moooomie fashion you were empathetic and checked in on me often.  It meant so much to you that Leashya was with me through the whole process and took care of me afterwards.

post surgery
Disgusting. And, as it turns out, quite painful.
My new hardware.

Four months later I was back for my 2nd surgery to insert the post and do some more bone grafting.  My friend Marissa brought me that time and took great care of me; she even texted you a picture of me in the chair just as they were about to get the anesthesia started. You thanked her for being there.  I know you were so grateful for her, and Leashya, caring for me when you could not. When recuperating back at my place that evening I sent you this gem to prove to you that yes, I was relaxing in my “jammies” as you had instructed me to do:

See, Mom? I’m totally resting.

When I was in the dental office a few weeks ago to have impressions done before my implant tooth could be made, the dentist took a picture of me with those mouth-spreader things to show off all my toofers just like they did for my before/after pictures when I got braces in the 7th grade.  When she showed me the picture, I began to laugh uncontrollably (because the picture was absolutely hideous… and awesome.)  Soon the dentist and hygienist joined in and the 3 of us were having a great time. But shortly after the laughter stopped I started to tear up because I had just realized that a stupid picture just like that is exactly the kind of thing I’d have sent straight to you so we could laugh about it together.  I likely would have told you to print it out and hang it on your fridge or put in your wallet… and you totally would have done it, too.  So here it is, Momma. My dentist and I collectively decided that this just might have to be my Christmas card this year:

say cheese final
Say CHEESE! Hilariously ugly.
A brand new toofer!

You always took such good care of both of us kids, Mooooomie.  And I probably called you way too much… but I loved hearing your voice often and it felt so good to be loved as much as you loved us.  Each year on the anniversary of my car accident you would send me flowers to tell me how grateful you were that I survived; you treated August 11th just like an extra birthday for me.  You were so proud of me when I crossed the finish line of the Nashville marathon 4 years after breaking my spine– you were just beaming and I was so grateful that you flew all that way to support me and cheer me on.  You, Auntie Barbie and my friend Laura were the best cheerleaders anyone could have asked for.  Even from so far away you still made me feel so, so loved! Flowers on my birthday… every August 11th, cards for no reason, care packages “just because,” a mother’s day card and gift from my cats (aka YOU) and you even sent flowers to all four of us sisters featured in the “Four Sisters” documentary on the night of the premiere.  If for some reason you couldn’t be at any important events in my life in person, you made every effort to be there in spirit and for that I will always be so grateful.

I often hesitated to write too much about the details or specifics of my self-injury when you were still here because I knew that, as my Mom, reading about that would hurt you deeply to know how badly I hurt myself. I wanted to be honest but admittedly was a little guarded about it. You never wanted either of your kids to be in pain because you took that pain on yourself as most parents, particularly mothers, do.  I know that is only one of the millions of reasons Brian’s death was so painful for you.  I can’t imagine the agony you felt in your heart as his mother and to outlive him.  This may sound absolutely ridiculous, but the first time I hurt myself after you died, I was worried that wherever you are now that you could see what was happening and I actually found myself saying out loud to you, “I’m so sorry, Momma… but I have to do this.”

I recently wrote a letter and spoke about an experience I had seeking medical attention after a serious cutting episode.  Most people have responded with only kindness and empathy and for that I’m so grateful as I know it’s a bit of a risk to put myself out there in that way.  The typical response from those close to me involves them telling me they wish I wouldn’t hurt myself that way, that it saddens them to know that I’m in that much pain.  However, not all the feedback has been kind. This is something you wouldn’t expect a parent to say in response to their child hurting themselves:

“Does that truly make you feel better about yourself? If it is, it doesn’t seem to be working! You aren’t comfortable with who you are and that is your primary problem.  If you were you wouldn’t be hurting yourself like you do.”
 And that’s OK, not everyone is going to be supportive… and not everyone is going to understand.  But here’s the beauty in that– I can choose who I allow to get close to me and those who I need to distance myself from.  While I can’t control anyone else, I can control how I respond to them… or, in some cases, to not respond at all.
I so wish you and Brian were still here.  I love this song so much… it always makes me think you guys.  Maybe someday I’ll be able to listen to it without crying.  Have a listen and know I love you both.
Don’t Say Goodbye
Publisher: Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
I’m drinkin’ rain and taking pictures in the dark
With some flowers in my hair and a hole inside my heart
And the hole you left in me is so deep and it’s so wide

If you look I think you’ll see through right to the other side

Take the stars down that I wished on
Take the stars down from the sky
Take my heart and leave me here but when you go don’t say goodbye

I used to wait for trains that never come
I would wait for yesterday but I was waiting for no one
So now I don’t look for you to come walking through my door
Those were just the longings of a child who doesn’t live here anymore

Take the stars down that I wished on
Take my tears so I don’t cry
Take my heart and leave me here but when you go don’t say goodbye

So say a prayer for the ones love left behind
Cause a broken heart grown cold is the hardest burden you can find
There’s a bottle where god keeps all our tears saved up inside
But it’s gonna take a river for all the ones I have cried

Letter to Brian: March 22, 2016

Dear Brian,

After inhaling some delicious Chinese takeout recently, I received this fortune… for the second time in my life, actually.  I don’t take that coincidence lightly.


Honestly, I typically pay much less attention to the fortune than to the delicious cookie, because (aside from the fact that I have a deep-seated love of cookies) often they are useless gems like this one I’ve had taped to my monitor at work for the past few years:


I guess I shouldn’t say “useless” as that is certainly decent enough advice… for people who don’t know any better.  I, on the other hand, feel the warning was wasted on me as I’ve known not to do this for many, many years.  Perhaps this fortune would have been better-suited for the same person who requires the “DO NOT EAT” label on those little silica packets they put in a box of brand new shoes.  But I digress.

I’ve always said I’d be open, direct and honest in these letters to you… and I have been.  Not everyone who reads this blog is a fan and they have taken the time to let me know that and obviously, they are entitled to their opinion.  But those closest to me have been overwhelmingly supportive of my writings and have had only encouraging things to say; they are proud of my ability to make myself vulnerable.  The feedback I have received from total strangers has been so touching; to have someone thank me for being so honest and raw because it gave them the courage to do the same makes putting my own struggles out there worthwhile.  A large part of being human is the connections we make with others; and this blog has helped me form some very meaningful connections with friends– new and old.  Most importantly, it has helped me to continue to heal from things that have hurt me.  Many of the same things I speak about hurt you in similar ways as we were growing up.

While two specific people have described my entries as “torturing myself” by “continually reliving the past” I would beg to differ.  These are things that have been bottled up for a very long time and now, at age 42, I’m becoming more confident in myself and my ability to finally begin working through those things and set healthy boundaries for myself.  We all have our own issues.  We all have our own struggles.  But each of us has to make choices that are going to be best for our own well-being and those choices won’t always be what others might want for us. And having said that, if there is someone that undermines my emotional well-being and brings me more pain and emotional suffering than joy… well I deserve to distance myself from any relationship like that.  It’s taken me much too long to realize that but I do deserve that; I owe this realization to the support of the very caring therapist whom I’ve been seeing for the past 4 years.  I’ve recently begun attending support group meetings here in Austin for “Survivors of Narcissists, Borderlines and Anti-socials” who have also had to detach themselves from harmful relationships with others, particularly family and parents but also with regards to ending romantic relationships that are not healthy.  It’s been comforting to be in the company of a group of individuals with whom I share so many similarities; there have been moments where I swear we’ve finished each others’ thoughts because we know exactly what words are coming next.  Because we’ve been there.  All of us have had to cut ties with one (or more) people in our life because of an extremely toxic relationship; to have the reassurance from others who share such similar histories has been incredibly therapeutic, and validating, for me.

Someone who claims to love me said this to me after my last blog (copied and pasted):

“Don’t quit your job though because with all the things you say about yourself to the whole world will find its way to prospective employers.  They check on that now.  I suggest you no longer write a blog like the one today because do you think an employer would hire you after reading that stuff??”

I have no idea where that came from. I have no plans to quit my job so it was such a peculiar thing to say.  However, even if I did have those plans, that “warning” wouldn’t discourage me in any way because of the support I’ve received from strangers and friends alike.  I mean, it was disappointing (and revealing about where I stand with that person) but I certainly won’t let it discourage me.  I’m a flawed person, surely… but I’m a good person. Who isn’t flawed?  The world is full of others who suffer from depression, struggle with self-worth and self-harm and suicidal thoughts.  The only way to reduce the stigma around these struggles is to talk about them openly.  This illness does not make me any less qualified than any other person out there.

So getting back to that first fortune which said, “If I bring forth what is inside, me, what I bring forth will save me.”  So far, it’s been working for me… because I’m still here.

I miss you and Mooooooomie so, so much.  I’ve been loving the chilly nights we’ve been having here. It’s been refreshingly cold sleeping with the windows wide open; but I’ve stayed cozy in the warmth of the 2 blankets I crocheted– one for you for your last birthday and one for Mom for Christmas that same year.  Moooomie told me that she slept with her blanket every single night and that it was, in her words, “like my bee-yoooo-tee-full daughter giving me a hug each night.”

I had a reading with an intuitive/psychic this weekend.  I’m fully aware that many people do not share my belief that there is validity to what they do.  But it brought me so much comfort to hear from you and Mom and Grandma Mary! I was absolutely blown away by the experience.  It was encouraging to have you and Mooomie validate the decisions I’ve made recently with regards to setting safe boundaries for myself. (Which the intuitive brought up on her very own within the first 15 seconds of our session!)  I’m typically so quick to second-guess myself so having you both reaffirm my choices was reassuring for me.  And to hear that she was picking up on Grandma Mary’s “sassiness” absolutely made my day! I could totally picture her in my mind giving me a little wink to go along with that mischievous smile of hers when she was being coy.  I’m so glad y’all are together on the other side.  Mom missed you so much, dude.  She was never the same after losing you.

Please take care of one another.  I love you guys!






Letter to Moooomie and Brian: March 11, 2016

Dear Moomie and Brian,

Soooo… I follow a Facebook page called “Confessions of a Funeral Director.”  Today he shared a great post that read:

Can we please stop using the phrase (and it’s numerous variations) “heaven needed a new angel?”

We can find better ways to express our grief and condolences than by using a cliche that overlooks pain and the reality of loss in the here and now. God has plenty of angels and I really doubt he needs another, especially when it has caused the bereaved so much pain and suffering. Death is hard, grief is tough and we need to uses phrases that acknowledge that difficulty instead of diminish it.

I really connected with that so much.  I should have just kept scrolling on by (after giving the post the “thumbs up”) but I did what I absolutely should have known better than to do– I clicked on the comments.  And then proceeded to read them.

There was a note from a woman who had said she was upset at repeatedly hearing “Well, this was God’s plan” at the visitation for her 19 year-old nephew who died by suicide.  In response to that, a self-proclaimed “devout Catholic” offered this gem:

“Give me the proper phrase.  I’m sure it wouldn’t do to meaningfully approach a parent of a victim of suicide with, ‘Oh my… I’m so sorry for your failure.‘ Just EXACTLY what would you like to hear???”

I’ve discussed this before but it just angers me so much.  I mean, as a non-believer it didn’t offend me one bit when people said, “I’m praying for you” or “I lit a candle for you at church on Sunday.”  Nothing about that was hurtful though we both knew full well that I do not share their beliefs.  I was very aware that the message behind their words was one of love and genuine caring.  So I can totally respect that and I appropriately responded with “thank you.” But to tell someone who has just lost a loved one that they are “in a better place” or “God needed him more” is a bit too far for my own comfort.  Why is it so difficult to just say, “I’m sorry for your loss?”  Or simply just be there to listen?  Or just offer a warm hug in silence?

In that same Facebook thread, while it was chock full of people who feel the exact same way that I do, there were a number of people chiming in to say, “lighten up” or “if you’re an atheist you just need to shut up” or “what is wrong with the world that it is so full of ‘politically correct’ overload nowadays?  I’m going to say whatever I want, you can’t take my Jesus away from me!”  I just don’t see it that way. Wanting someone to be respectful of where I’m at doesn’t equate to “taking away their Jesus.”

If I know that someone who is of faith is struggling with the loss of a loved one, I will willingly offer up an “I’m praying for you” to them.  My prayer might not be the same as their prayer, but I know it is meaningful to them just the same.  I don’t see anything wrong with meeting the other person where they are at without imposing our own beliefs onto theirs.  To me, it’s about respect.  And honestly, telling me that it was “God’s will” for my brother die by suicide at 35 wasn’t OK.  Nothing about him being dead was OK.  It wasn’t then and it isn’t now.  And regardless of what I believe, I would never impose my views on someone at such a delicate time such as grieving the loss of a loved one.

I wasn’t surprised but I was bothered to see the number of hurtful comments being slung at one another; from non-believers to Christians and vice versa.  I don’t see how someone who claims to be a “child of  God” could say to someone grieving the loss of their child by suicide, “I’m sorry you failed at being a parent.”  It’s ignorant.  It’s cruel.  It’s inexcusable.  And from what I know about the bible, it isn’t very Christ-like, either.

I have a friend who is an atheist.  She had been at a party and had spent a bit of time having a nice conversation with a woman there.  After a bit, this woman asked her where she attended church.  My friend told her that she didn’t attend church and she was actually an atheist.  To which the woman replied, “Oh my!  Really???  But you… you seemed so nice!!”  It upsets me when people seem to equate a moral compass with religion.  You don’t need a higher power to be a good human. I’m a kind person. I smile at strangers. I hold the door open for people.  I volunteer.  And today, when using the last of the toilet paper in the bathroom stall at work, i went to get a new roll out of the supply closet so the next person wouldn’t be caught stranded on the toilet with no paper.  Because that’s how I roll.  (Get it?  Roll?  Toilet paper??  OK… moving on.) I just thought it might be nice to save the next person the discomfort. I try to treat others as I’d like to be treated.  I get that from you, Moooomie.  You were one of the most caring people I’ve ever known.  It is such a blessing to hear people tell me how much I remind them of you.  And Brian, she passed that kindness on to you, too.  I still hear from people who knew you that say how sweet of a person you were.

Gosh, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reached for my phone to call you, Momma.  Today I took myself to lunch and sat there and cried alone over my chicken fajitas and then, with time in my lunch break to spare, I drove back to the office and sat in my car in the parking lot and cried some more.  After I’d gathered myself together a bit a few co-workers invited me to walk down the road with them to watch President Obama’s motorcade go by.  It was a really cool experience and I immediately thought of how I should call you to tell you I just totally waved at the president!  Not long after that thought crossed my mind, I found a penny.  Then just a few moments later I looked at the grass and spotted some dandelions growing there.  I was immediately reminded of our childhood; Brian and I would ride our bikes to the neighborhood grocery store with a bag full of pennies to buy some candy and we’d usually come back with little handfuls of violets and dandelions we had picked for you on the way.  You always smiled, hugged and thanked us and put them in a little vase in the window behind the kitchen sink to show them off.  They might have just been weeds but they were more than that to us and you made us feel as though we had just given you the entire world.   Maybe the penny and that memory on my walk today was you both letting me know that you actually were already sharing that moment with me.  I really hope so.

Oh, and Moooomie!  I thought of you at the dentist last week; I was there to get impressions done for my final implant.  (Can you believe it?  It will be a whole year by the time I’m all finished as the tooth came out last April!)  Anyway… my dentist had used that plastic mouth-spreader to take a good picture of my teeth to send to the lab and I nearly had tears rolling down my face when she showed me the picture.  It was awful. And hideous.  And AWESOME.  It made me immediately think how that is exactly the kind of picture I would have sent straight to you.  In fact, remember that time when we were talking on the phone when I was at my lunch break at Carlson and I was telling you how yummy my food was?  You asked me what I was eating and I told you to hold on… that I’d send you a picture of it so you could see.  You surely were expecting to get a picture of a bowl of soup, or a slice of pizza or a sandwich.  But instead, I had taken a huge bite of my casserole, opened my mouth wide and snapped a picture of the contents of my mouth mid-bite… and I sent it to you.  You laughed so. hard.  I loved your laugh… and I adored making you laugh like that.  Brian and Moooomie, you both had such infectious laughs and I dearly miss hearing them both.

I’m really doing my best to stay grounded here without you both.  Some days I sort of feel like a plant that has been re-potted though carelessly…. so the roots aren’t really taking hold again, you know?  You both leaving me has left me feeling disconnected from the world in a way that admittedly concerns me and can’t quite be put into words.  But please know that I’m doing the very best that I can.  I have amazing friends who love me and have been so supportive.  I’m still going to therapy 3-4 times a month which has been helpful. And, most importantly, I’ve made breaks from relationships that were not serving me well.  Taking care of myself in that way has become more important to me and I’ve come to realize that sometimes connections need to be severed when it comes to people with whom I have an unhealthy relationship. It’s important for my own self-care and growth and, quite honestly, my survival.

Well, I guess that’s it for now.  I’ll leave you with the words of Grand-MaMa Mary:

“I love you dearly.”




An article worth sharing…

A friend sent me a link to this article and I felt it was worth passing on to share with all of you.

It’s always so helpful to read these kinds of things that remind me that I’m not alone in having these feelings and that it’s OK to talk about it!  Please take a moment to read and share!

On being chronically depressed and suicidal

on the life I could have lost, on the lives we could still be losing

A few days ago I told a roomful of people — both strangers and friends — that I am chronically depressed and suicidal.

Notice the present tense. I am still chronically depressed and suicidal. I am pretty certain people don’t really believe me. I look like I am the furthest away of being a person you would think is thinking of ending her life every other week, if not day.

That is the whole point though.

There is no telling how someone with chronic depression and suicidal tendencies should look.

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that what follows is entirely my personal telling of my story, I am not speaking on the behalf of all depressed and suicidal people, because they are complex conditions — they cannot be reduced to one person’s story.

I have had countless people tell me that I have so much light on my face, that I am full of life. I tell them paradoxically, I have so much light on my face, and I am full of life, precisely because I think about killing myself all the time.

Life becomes a choice. It is not something I am automatically wired for, just for mere survival. Every single day, it becomes a fight. Do I want to live?

When I was younger, that answer often came back with a flat “no”. I did not want to live. Life was meaningless, often tedious. I did not understand why I had to exist.

I consider myself lucky. I had a few years when it all went away, out of my thirty-plus years of living. I stopped questioning my existence and I had thought I was recovering from my chronic depression. . I know of many others who are less fortunate. They had never seen a day of light.

I now know. My depression and suicidal tendencies will likely not go away, ever. They are always there, just waiting. It takes only a split second to feel that sinking feeling all over again.

Life has gotten a lot more complex and also simpler. I have stopped looking at life in binary terms: do I want to live or die? I started to understand I could want to live and die at the same time.

I have learned to see nuances between being neurologically depressed and psychologically depressed. They are intrinsically tied, some would say they were one of the same. Yet I have some days when I know I am experiencing shitty emotions not because I have an unbalanced psyche. I know that is just my neurological system malfunctioning because I was not careful about up-keeping it through sleep, diet, movement. I exert an extraordinary amount of effort just to be relatively functional. I know I cannot fight the hormonal imbalance during my monthly menstrual cycles. Once a month, I just try to let myself be. If I am weepy, I just let myself weep. I keep myself away from people because I know I have magnified reactions to everything.

Some other times, I know it is my unexcavated emotions that are affecting my physical health. Unexpressed emotions, repressed grief, denial of some sort, overwhelming sadness, triggers of old wounds. If I don’t address them in some ways, I start to fall physically sick.

Once in a while, I cannot deal with myself. I have overwhelming melancholy and I let myself go. I start to binge eat. I hide from the world. It snowballs. I start losing all perspective. My hormones and neurons are all over the place. My emotions are out of whack. There seems to be nothing left in me. I cannot move. I feel like dying. All that pain, it can just go away.

Else, I could be experiencing one of the most balanced periods of my life, and yet I experience moments of existentialist suicidal tendencies. I think of dying not because I am sad or numb or empty. I think of dying because intellectually, I question all of this. Yes, my life could be amazing and it could have meaning, but so? It is a rabbit hole.

I can tell myself: it is the process, the journey, the love, the evolution. I can look at it spiritually. But what if I just don’t care — about spiritual growth, about human evolution, or anything?

Sometimes, it is not the pain that drives me closest to death. It is when I am my most sane self, and I find tiny moments in-between when I just simply don’t care.

Here is what that keeps me alive. I cannot find it in myself to end my existence knowing that people would have to spend the rest of their lives dealing with it. How can I be someone who knows what it is like to carry so much pain and be the same person who delivers exponential pain to people I love?

So I try. I try to live. Since I don’t see the point of survival, I try to be brilliantly alive. My life has to be extraordinary, on my own terms. It is not enough for me to merely exist.

And I am curious. I love to create. As much as part of me is borderline suicidal all the time, I am curious about what I can make out of this. When life itself is not an incentive, it can be incredibly freeing, because I have a lot less I am afraid of losing. For me, it is not about losing money, people, reputation, it is about losing my will to live, so I am unafraid of most losses just so I can feel truly alive. It is easy to quit that cushy job or make a seemingly insane decision when the other side of the equation is feeling like I want to end my existence.

In a parallel universe, if I didn’t know people love me, curiosity and the desire to create may not be enough to sustain my life. It is also not enough to live just knowing that people love me. Both are essential in keeping me alive.

I deeply empathise with those who end up taking their lives successfully. I am even envious. I know what it is like. To exist at that brink, to feel so much pain that even the mere thought of death is a relief. Or to feel so numb that nothing is capable of being an incentive to live. Or to look at humanity sometimes and be like, “really?”.

I am not sure if I will always be capable of reasoning. To be reminded that people love me, so I just can’t. But I have also lived through moments when I am not capable of remembering. To be so overwhelmed that I don’t give a shit about my curiosity. I understand why some people make that choice.

Yet it breaks my heart each and every time I know of someone ending their lives. I understand, I empathize, I am envious, but I still get so, so, heartbroken. Life is not binary. The world is less without them. We have lost permanently, what these lives could have brought to us.

People get all confused when I tell them I am chronically suicidal and depressed as though I am describing the weather. Maybe some of them think I am doing it for the attention.

It is important to reduce the stigma, the misconceptions. There are so many others out there who are less lucky than me. I have been blessed with people who love me. I never used to know, but I lived long enough to know, to be capable of knowing what love feels like. There are some of us who do not experience that. Some of them are unable to express the weight they are carrying until the deed is completed. They are afraid to be judged, censored, dismissed.

We wouldn’t judge someone for telling us that they have diabetes or any other long-term chronic illness. Why do we not acknowledge the life-long suffering of people whose brains are attempting to eat away every single bit of them?

We tell them it is not real, to get over it. If they could, why would they choose to tell us about it, even though they know how they are going to be seen?

The chronically depressed/suicidal people I personally know are the most empathetic, generous, creative souls I have known. I shudder to think what I, individually would have lost if life had taken them away from this world. I would be so, so, much less without them. I don’t know who I’ll become if I thought that I was alone.

It makes me really upset and angry when we lose people this way, especially young humans who haven’t had a chance to experience a fuller spectrum of life, or for reasons that can be mitigated — bullying or trauma. They experience all that pain and they think, that is it. Why live? They think they are their wounds. They think their wounds make them unworthy of life.

And there are some of us who because of unjust circumstances, never ever got to get a hold of this condition. They did not get to experience anything else other than pain. They have never gotten the breaks I have been given.

I am not sure if I would still be alive if I didn’t make the decision to visit San Francisco in July 2011. If I didn’t have that one single friend who told me it was okay to be me, when I was in my early 20s and numb. If I didn’t fall in love when I was 15. If I wasn’t afraid of heights when I was 10. If sleeping pills weren’t accessible in Singapore. If I didn’t start to meet people who saw me beyond my pain and chaos.

I was an extremely pale shade of myself for two decades of my life. My life only truly turned when I hit 30. Even then, even now, it is still questionable.

I discovered agency — that I was capable of making choices. I can now choose to live. I felt back then I was forced to buy into a life I didn’t want, now I am capable of consciously choosing to live. I started to see myself and accept myself, only because people saw and accepted me first. I learned more about my condition. It started to feel more like a blessing and a curse, instead of just seeing it as an lifelong affliction.

I have accomplished a lot. For my work, for the people in my life. My accomplishments are not to be seen in my resume. They are to be felt. This is the life I consciously choose.

But if you, the reader, have in any way derived value from me — whether through this post, through something else I have written or made, through my love or friendship, through something I am not even aware of;

think about all those times I chose not to die;

think about the ones who are still trying to make that choice. Think about the ones who have chosen the other way. Think about what we as a whole, may have lost, or are still potentially losing. Because we saw them as less. Because they are afraid to tell us. Because they didn’t know we love them.

Link to the author’s page:

On being chronically depressed and suicidal

Letter to Brian: February 24, 2016

Dear Brian,

You know that whole “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” thing? It’s a trap, I’m sure of it.  The past 6 years have been filled with a whole bunch of sadness and I don’t feel a shred stronger.  I don’t have my head buried in the sand, I realize there are many people out there who are going through (and have been through) much, much worse.  But for me, personally, I’ve never been very well-equipped at handling stress and hardship.  I’ve been getting through it and all… but not without feeling–every single day– like giving up, harming myself, crying myself to sleep and begging the universe for the energy to keep going.  I can thank my depression for that unwelcome quality.

After being home in October with Mom to celebrate you on the 5 year anniversary of your death, she died one month later.  She was all I had left of our little family.  Just when my heart was beginning to piece itself back together, I lost her too. Since her death, my blood pressure has been holding steady at a distressingly high level so I’ve been put on medication to help bring it back down again; so far, it isn’t working very well.

About 6 weeks ago I got a letter from my father asking me to give him back all of the money that he had to pay out for my Mom’s half of their house in the divorce (that she left to me) claiming it would be a “loan” and I’d get that money back when he dies.  I knew he was going to ask me for it, I’m just surprised it took 2 whole months for that to happen.

Then about 3 weeks ago, out of the blue I get a suuuuuper lengthy email from someone who is no longer in my life shaming me for things I have shared in my blog.  It really shouldn’t have mattered to me but I’m a good person so of course hearing someone tell me that they don’t like me is going to hurt and so, like the weakling I am, I cried until I started choking and my eyes swelled shut and then I cut myself. (Yes, I’m fully aware that an emotionally healthy person would not have responded that way.)  I didn’t sleep a single wink until the airport shuttle came to pick me up at 3:00 in the morning for my trip home to Minnesota.  Clearly I don’t handle stress well because the next night I broke out in shingles due to the stress.  Awesome.  The letter doesn’t bother me now because frankly, it just doesn’t really matter anymore.  Besides, sending a letter like that only 3 months after someone’s Mom dies is just selfish timing if you ask me. I’m blessed with so many wonderful friends who all know the truth and what’s in my heart and love me unconditionally. I’m so grateful for that.

But guess what… the good news keeps coming.  Yesterday, I happened to stop home for 5 minutes during my lunch break and I got SERVED.  I’m being sued by a woman for a positively frivolous car accident a year and a half ago.  While the insurance company did file in her favor, the choice she made to make a right turn directly in front of me was a terribly poor one.  But because there were no witnesses (other than my ex-boyfriend in the car with me) they filed in her favor because, without enough room to react, I bumped into HER.  Exceptionally minimal damage in our incident but apparently the $100,000 that my insurance policy allows isn’t enough money for her and she’s decided to slap me, personally, with a lawsuit.  Because I didn’t already have enough on my plate, you know.

My whole life my depression has told me that I’m not good enough, that I don’t deserve respect and that I can’t handle life in a healthy way.  And most of the time I’ve agreed with it.  In case you’re wondering… YES, I’m still taking my medication religiously and yes, I’m still going to therapy.  I’ve been going to therapy since I was 17 years old.  Maybe I’m doing it wrong?? Since early childhood, I’ve always had this feeling, my entire life, of “treading water.”  As though I’m out there, doing all I can to keep my head above water.  It’s exhausting.  Just when I feel as though I’m beginning to reach dry land I’m hit with another setback… or another depressive episode (or anxiety-riddled episode) or worse–  a setback and depressive episode at the same time.

I didn’t write you about this when it happened… because I was hurt and angry… but I’d like to tell you about it now.  The night I got back from Minnesota after 2 weeks there for Mom’s funeral, I cut myself pretty badly.  It’s not as though I didn’t have anyone I could call and talk to– and I’d received an overwhelming stream of support for those 2 weeks– but the urge had been building and building and building and once I was finally alone I just needed to do it.  It was what it was. A few days later, on Monday, I went back to work.  It was so hard to be there, trying my best to get back into a flow of “regular life” knowing full well what I had ahead of me– not just in terms of grieving, but getting through the holidays and then having to deal with all the stress of the details of Mom’s estate and making sure everything gets taken care of.  That same afternoon, I had a follow-up appointment with the psychiatric resident I’d been seeing monthly for my medication refills.  As always, I was honest about the cutting– I don’t ever lie about it to my caregivers.  Her response was exactly what it shouldn’t have been. 

For starters, the look of shame on her face was difficult enough. But from there she went on to force me to show her the wound.  No therapist or psychiatrist in all my years of treatment has ever forced me to expose myself to them in that way.  They’ve always taken my word that if I absolutely needed to seek medical treatment that I would do so.  (Mind you, all of my injuries have been ones for which normal people would have sought out medical treatment and all of them would have required stitches).  But the difference is that it is insurmountably humiliating to go to a doctor and say, “Hey big guy, I just put an 11-inch gash in my left leg; can you just go ahead and stitch that back up for me??”  If you cut yourself in a kitchen accident, you aren’t going to have a psychiatrist called in to tell you that you should be locked up.  Although ONE time in 2001 I did go to urgent care to seek treatment for a wound because my close friend was worried about it and made me promise I’d go– I gave her my word so I went, fully prepared to be humiliated.  But I lucked out that time– the doctor was very kind and warm towards me.  I produced for him my medication list, the names and numbers of my therapist, psychiatrist and group therapy leader.  He warmly told me that he was sorry that it had happened but that he realized I was in control of the situation and that he wouldn’t call for the psych consult as he didn’t feel it was necessary.  He let me leave the office (after getting 10 staples in my thigh) with some dignity and self-respect, which I was not expecting.  What a kind, kind man.

But this psychiatric resident I saw the end of November, after forcing me to lift my sleeve to show her my injury, gasped in shock and disgust.  She said, “Laura, this is really bad.  I mean, really, really bad. You absolutely need to promise me that you’re going to go see a doctor today.  PROMISE ME.  If not, you need to know that I could have you put on a psychiatric hold.”  I tried to assure her that I was completely fine but was just having a rough time.  But that just wasn’t what she wanted to hear.  She went on to tell me I could lose my arm and even die from this wound.  No sensationalism there, huh?

At that point, 48 hours had already passed since the injury occurred and, because of my 30 years of experience, I was fully aware that after 8 hours, they will not stitch up the wound.  I told her this and said that in all my years of self-harm I’ve never ever had an injury become infected.  It’s a terrible coping mechanism to rely upon but I’m always very careful and always very clean.  I assured her that I absolutely did NOT require medical attention.  However, with her continuing to present the threat of being “detained” I promised her that I would go.  Boy, did I ever regret that decision.

That evening, I went to urgent care, accompanied by a dear and caring friend.  It was just awful, Brian.  The nurse was pretty nice to me, though the look of disappointment when I told her why I was there was pretty obvious.  But when the doctor came in and asked me to show her the wound, she rolled her eyes and looked at me with such pity and shame.  It was so humiliating.  Then she asked me, “Why are you even here?  We can’t do anything for you, it’s been too long!  And it’s clearly not infected so I don’t know why you bothered to come in.”  I continued to tell her the only reason I’d come was because I was instructed to do so and I kept my word.  I was so embarrassed; I went there and paid yet another $75 to have a doctor shame me for what was already causing me a great disappointment in myself.  No medical treatment… just the indignity and a bigger dent in my checking account.  What a waste.

I dodged calls from the psych resident for a few weeks after that.  Then, in December when I was back at Mom’s house trying to go through all of her belongings, she called again. I decided to take that call.  She asked me if I had sought out medical treatment like I told her I would.  I sort of unleashed on her because she was being so condescending.  She was so sure that medical treatment was necessary.  I told her that yes, I did go see a doctor.  She asked if they stitched me up.  I said, “Of course not!  I told you that they wouldn’t.  It had been too long.”  She then asked if they gave me antibiotics.  I replied, “Of course not!!  The doc looked at the wound, told me it wasn’t infected.”  She said, “Well, what did they do for you?”  To which I replied, “They did NOTHING ma’am.  Aside from embarrassing me and charging me $75 to do so, they did nothing. It was a complete waste of my energy, my time and my money.”

A week later, I received a letter from her stating they were dropping me as a patient.  I was fine with that, as I did had no interest in pursuing sessions with her any longer.  However, I did send a follow-up letter to her to let her know the ways in which she might improve her bedside manner in her future interactions with self-harmers.  Maybe it will help, maybe it won’t.

Oh well.  Guess I’ve rambled on enough for today.  Thanks for listening, as always.  I miss you and Mom so much, dude.





Letter to Brian: February 10, 2016

Dear Brian,

You would have turned 41 years old today.  I plan on celebrating your day by watching your favorite movie, Gladiator, and pizza and by lighting the candle Leashya made me a few years ago.  These little ceremonial things are really important to me– I don’t ever want to stop recognizing this day.

I’ve had a rough go of it, lately.  I had a full-on meltdown on Wednesday evening last week.  I watched Mom’s memorial video 4 times in a row and just cried and cried and cried until I fell asleep.  I’d had an alright day so I’m not completely sure what prompted the breakdown; although my theory is that since I didn’t drink any alcohol at all that night I wasn’t completely numbed-out like I usually am.  Yes, I’m aware that this is not an acceptable coping mechanism for the long-term but for now it certainly does help.

Unfortunately, so does cutting.  After all these years, it still helps.  I know that’s the last thing that those who care about me want to hear and believe me, it’s the last thing that I want to tell them.  I injured on the 25th of January… a pretty substantial one, as always.  And, unfortunately, after a rather shitty experience late this past Friday evening I broke down and cut yet again.  That makes 3 times since Mom died in November.  It’s far beyond humiliating to admit to that but I’ve always been upfront with you in these letters and I want others who suffer from this to know that having a setback now and then is OK as long as they’re getting the help that they need… which I absolutely am.

I was back home in Minnesota this past weekend to celebrate at Auntie Barb’s 60th surprise birthday party.  It was a short trip but so worth it to be there for her special day; she was so surprised and so happy to see me.  I wish you and Mom could have been there, too.  It felt so strange to be back there this time.  The last two visits were for the funeral and to clean out her house, so pretty much just business and sorrow.  This was different… I was going strictly for a social visit this time.  Mom’s absence was even more pronounced this time and I felt completely “orphaned.”  I had a dozen offers of places to stay when I was there. I’m deeply blessed to have so many people who care for me; it’s comforting to know that I am welcome to stay with all of them.  But… none of them feel like home.  I felt, for the very first time ever, a complete visitor in my hometown.  Mom wasn’t there to pick me up at airport or to bring me back there.  I really missed that.  I always looked forward to standing outside watching the traffic go by and watching for her white Subaru wagon to come into view.  I’d get in the car, we’d hug and she’d say with delight, “Hullooo, my honey, how are you??”

Physically I haven’t been doing so great, either.  I’m now on blood pressure medicine… my elevated blood pressure started right after Mom died.  I can’t stop eating so I’m gaining weight pretty quickly.  I’m tired and achy nearly all of the time.  And today I found out I have a shingles outbreak and I want to scratch my flesh off of the bone.  I was told it was likely brought on by stress– it started this weekend.  After the night I had on Friday, I have to tell you that I’m not at all surprised.  Stress has a lovely way of manifesting itself in glorious ways.  I’m kind of over it!  I’d say it’s far more fascinating when it’s happening to other people, though.

That book I contributed to is available for sale now.  I don’t make any money off of it but I don’t mind at all… that wasn’t the point of joining the project.  The point was to help others grieving a suicide loss.  And honestly, it’s just a thrill to see pieces of my own writing in a real, live book that people can pull off of a shelf and buy.  They’re running another series and this next time I’m participating in a book about living with self-harm.  I was asked to be a co-author and to help construct the questions for the participants to answer… it was pretty easy to rattle a whole bunch of them off because the subject matter hits so close to home.  It’s shockingly easy to write about things that you know so much about.  I’m really looking forward to this project and I hope that it will help a few people, too.

Well I guess I should go order myself that pizza to get your one-person birthday celebration started.

Cheers, dude.  I love you.




Letter to Brian: January 21, 2016

Dear Brian,

I’m turning 42 in a few days, can you believe it?  I’ll keep getting older and you’ll always remain 35 years old.  I’m pretty sure you’d find a lot of joy in teasing me about that for eternity.

It just occurred to me that Mom was 42 when her Dad, Grandpa Don, passed away. I could never have imagined that when I reached that same age that both you and Mom would be gone and I’d be completely on my own. No family, no children of my own, no husband or special man to share my life with…but hey, I’m still here, trudging along because that’s what I’m supposed to do, I guess.

I’m doing a little better than when I last wrote you, I guess… but hiding away still just feels like the right thing to do most days.  I know that people mean well when they offer up all kinds suggestions like, “Please call me, if you ever feel sad and need to talk.”  It’s a really nice thought and I know it comes from a place of loving kindness.  But these days, it seems very few people answer the phone anymore.  Myself included.  It’s far easier, impersonal as it is, to text people instead.  I remember one night feeling pretty sad and needing to talk to someone; I tried calling 6 people in a row, not one person answered.  Either I had horrendously terrible timing or I should take the hint that no one really wants to answer the phone when they know there is a good chance they are going to hear whining and/or sobbing on the other end of the line… for which I honestly wouldn’t blame them one bit!

I get it, I really, really do.  A conversation I overheard at the salon on Tuesday night sums it all up. The gal in the chair next to me was telling her stylist about a friend of hers who suffers from depression; she said it was “so exhausting” being her friend and that it was really hard talking to her sometimes because the negative feelings can be sort of “contagious” and she just doesn’t want to deal with it some days.  She said, “I know she’s really trying and all but she’s just not getting better.”  That’s totally me!  After all these years and years of therapy and medication changes it still comes in heavy waves that knock my to my knees and leave me gasping for breath.  It’s getting old, you know?  And I wouldn’t judge anyone for wanting to distance themselves from me during those times.

I actually had a friend in college who kind of “ghosted” and disappeared, stopped communicating with me.  A few years after that we sort of reconnected and I asked her about it.  She told me it was just too hard; she kept trying to help me but I just wasn’t getting better and she grew tired of trying so she quit. It hurt to hear that, but I understand what she was saying. That’s sort of why I feel it’s easier to just withdraw and remove myself from connecting with others; it feels better to not call on anyone and avoid feeling the pain of unanswered phone calls or the humiliation when they look at me with pity and disappointment when I slip up and fall into my old pattern of self-harm.  It’s very possible that all 6 of those people were truly busy that night; most of my friends have husbands, children, families and important jobs.  However, what my depression tells me is that all of them looked at the caller ID, rolled their eyes and said to themselves, “I just can’t deal with this right now.”  But like I said, I really understand!  I wouldn’t want to hear my same old sob story time after time, either if given a choice.  That’s exactly why I tend to deal with it alone… not only to avoid feeling the possible rejection but also to spare them the agony of talking to a “Debbie Downer.”  That phrase is a bit of a joke… but there’s also a lot of truth to it.   That’s one reason these letters help me so much– I can talk to you about all of the things that I don’t want to dump on my friends.  I dig that about writing to you.

It really sucks that this week I’ve been rushing to my mailbox after work every day not in search of a birthday card from Mom but for the copy of her autopsy that I should be receiving any day now.  Not cool.  Mom was the one who made my birthdays so, so special.  I’m not looking forward to this one.  If she couldn’t be with me, she’d order me a cake and flowers and make sure Leashya could pick them up and help me celebrate.  She made all occasions so special.   Every single year on August 11, the anniversary of my car accident in 1996, she would send me flowers and tell me how grateful she felt that I survived and that I was still in her life.  That day was like a bonus birthday for me because she always took time out that day to tell me how very special my life was to her.  This past August was the ONLY year in 19 years that she didn’t send flowers and she actually sent me an email to apologize for that.  She was going through a divorce and about to move out and live alone for the very first time in her 65 years and yet she was feeling bad for not sending flowers to ME.  But that’s just how she was… she always put us kids and our feelings before her own.  ALWAYS.  I’m very aware of how very lucky it makes us that we had a Mom who made us feel so important to her.

For some reason I was just reminded of one of the times that I auditioned for the Minnesota State Fair.  I don’t know what year it was, but I do know that it was after 1997– that was the year I got in and actually made it to the finals and got to perform (something I had written myself) at the Grandstand in front of 11,000 people.  (That VHS recording makes me so happy because you can hear her cheering for me soooo very loudly.  She was so proud of me that day.  But back to the other audition… she was hurt that I didn’t let her know I was auditioning because she wanted to come see me and cheer me on.  I told her there was “nothing to see, really.”  I figured if it was good enough, I’d make it into the competition, but if I didn’t get chosen then that would be my validation that it wasn’t worth the trip for her.  She didn’t care.  Regardless of what other people thought, she was always there to support and cheer me on and was always proud.  I regret not letting her come support me that day– there are a lot of people who didn’t have a Mom care as much she did and sometimes I really took that for granted.

I miss her so, so much.  I saved some truly bizarre things after she died… things I am not ready to part with.  I should be ashamed to admit this, but I found a little clump of her hair on the floor of her bedroom… I kept it and it’s still in my jewelry box.  Her toothbrush now sits on the bookshelf in my bedroom because I’m not sure what to do with it but I can’t bear to throw it away.  The same toothpaste tube she was using is in my bathroom drawer and I use it, but VERY sparingly because I don’t ever want it to be empty and feel as though I have to get rid of it because why on earth would I save an empty tube of toothpaste?  I still have a bag of chocolate covered pretzels that she sent to me in a Halloween care package; I can’t bring myself to eat them because she touched them; she made them with her own hands, placed them in a little plastic gift bag and wrote my name on the tag.  As a thinking adult, I realize these are just things and aren’t the real essence of Mom.  But there is something so different about holding things she touched that make me feel closer to her somehow.

If you and Mom could visit me in a dream again soon I’d say that would be just about the best birthday gift I could ever imagine.  So if you could get on that dude, that would be great.

Miss you guys… hug each other for me.





Letter to Brian: January 15, 2016

Dear Brian,

After the dump-fest of a letter I wrote you the other day, I got to thinking…. maybe I should go into more detail about depression and what it does to me, personally, to help others who also read these letters better understand exactly what depression is… or what it isn’t.

In our session on Monday, my therapist told me that that one way in which she’s heard people describe major depression is that you’re just as sad as if someone has died… though no one has.  Though I once heard something else that resonated with me even more: Sarah Silverman says, “Depression is feeling homesick… except you’re already home.”

There is a popular phrase amongst sufferers like me: Depression Lies.  It’s freaking true!  Your mind manages to distort things in such unpleasant ways that you literally believe only the worst things about yourself.  There’s a filter of sorts, at work, really.  They talk about what is happening in the mind of someone who suffers from body dysmorphia; a person might have reached a deathly low body weight leaving them appearing skeletal yet somehow, when they look at their reflection, they still see someone who is overweight. They will continue to starve themselves of the nutrition they need to survive in an attempt to lose even more weight. Until they seek help, it’s never going to be enough. There’s something happening in their brain that makes it impossible to see themselves as they really are.  My brain also has it’s own kind of flawed lens through which I see myself in relation to the rest of the world.

For instance, when my marriage of 8 years ended, we ended on spectacular terms and only words of great kindness were exchanged between us.  He told me what a smart, funny, loving, kind, caring and wonderful person I was and that he was grateful to have been a part of my life for those 8 years.  And the one-year relationship I was in after our divorce ended quite painfully but respectfully and very lovingly; we had nothing but kind words for one another as we parted ways for good. However, my most recent relationship somehow has left me feeling as though I’m “off balance” enough to not deserve someone who loves and cares for me despite my obvious flaws… and that maybe I’m just”too much work and effort” for anyone to bother being in a relationship with.  We haven’t spoken a word to one another since we split up and I’ve taken his impression of me to heart for some reason.  Why is it so much easier for me to believe his image of me (after only 2-1/2 years together, only one month of which we actually lived together) rather than the wonderfully kind things my ex-husband said after living with me for an entire 8 years?  You’d think that I’d be inclined to believe the person who spent the most time with me and really got to know the truest version of me but no… my depression instead tells me that I’m broken beyond repair and undeserving of love.  Why? Because someone tells me that I can be “too needy and insecure” sometimes?  I mean, who hasn’t been either of those things at one time or another?  Why is it so hard for me to believe that perhaps I might actually have enough wonderful qualities about me that make me just as loveable as anyone else?  Not that I’m looking for it, mind you.  After what this last year did to me in terms of my love life as well as the soul-crushing grief I’m currently experiencing, I’m nowhere ready to be in a relationship with anyone but myself for many years to come, I’d imagine.

What depression isn’t is a fleeting feeling or regular sadness.  It lasts longer than weeks and months and doesn’t go away on it’s own, it has to be treated.  Depression isn’t a sign of weakness or a character flaw.  Depression isn’t a choice. It’s also not all emotional pain; there are many physical side effects from depression.  It can mess with your gastrointestinal system.  It can cause sleep disturbances.  It can screw up your appetite– you either can’t stop eating or you have no appetite at all; sometimes it fluctuates between the two.  It can cause chronic headaches and back pain. You know that achy, exhausted, run-down feeling you have when you’ve got the flu?  You’re tired all the time, sore muscles and joints, everything feels physically more difficult?  Yup, feels like that.  All the time.  But because you don’t have anything that outwardly makes you appear sick you get to hear fun things like, “Put on your big girl panties and suck it up.”  Or, “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps!” How about, “You have to CHOOSE to be happy, you know.”  Or some multitude of variations of, “You know so many people have REAL things to be depressed about, don’t you?”

I know much of society believes someone choosing to end their life because of a deep depression, like you did, is a selfish choice.  You know that I’ve never believed that because I know what it feels like to be in such a prolonged state of profound sadness that you have great difficulty seeing any way out.  I came across a quote today by David Foster Wallace that really hit home with me and it might put into perspective for other people why I feel the way I do:

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

Another quote of his that seemed to scream, “Yes!  That’s exactly what is happening in my head!!” was this one:

What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.

That’s how I feel about all of these letters to you– they help me and all, you know, to feel like I can still talk to you– but they all still seem to leave me feeling insatiable.  It’s as though I’m just never quite able to articulate things as fully or as eloquently as I could be to really express what it feels like inside my mind.  It just always feels like there’s so much more to say.  Who knows?  Maybe the right words don’t even exist and I’ll keep on writing these letters to you forever… feverishly grasping for the perfect words like someone endlessly swinging at a piñata in a pitch black room but never making contact; and, all the while, because it is so dark, they do not even realize that there is no piñata there.

So for the time being, I will keep on writing these letters to you, dude.  Whether or not the “perfect” words exist, I do not know.  But I do know that it sure helps to try.


Letter to Brian: January 11, 2016

Dear Brian,

Now that you and Mom are together again, I’m feeling lonelier than ever.  I miss you both so much and… well… if I’m being honest, I’m jealous that you can be with one another now in a way that I cannot be with either of you.

I’m pretty sure this letter is going to be a complete drag for you to read, dude.  I’ve got a lot of really ugly shit going on in my mind these days and I’m about to air it all out. It’s so helpful that I can be so in-your-face honest with you in these letters in a way that I just can’t be with other people.

It’s a new year.  This past year was pretty much a shitty one for me.  I suffered through the most painful breakup of my entire life; twice in one year, actually… with the same person.  I moved three times… I don’t recommend it.  Our parents divorced after nearly 43 years.  Our family dog, Jake, died. October marked 5 years since you ended your life… and one month later Mom was dead too.  Just… not my year.

Last week I watched the film”I Smile Back” starring Sarah Silverman as a suburban wife and mother who struggles with major depression and crippling addictions.  There just aren’t any words to adeptly describe how much I connected with her character.  There were times it felt as though someone had crawled inside my head and decided to make a movie about the craziness that goes on up in there.  There were moments it was terrifying and then there were moments of peace as I realized this movie, and it’s popularity, meant that surely there must be many more like me and that brought a bit of comfort.

I don’t have a husband or children, so that part of her character I obviously couldn’t relate to… and honestly, my depressive disorder is one of the primary reasons I chose NOT to have children.  If not only for my fear of screwing them up beyond recognition then for my fear of passing on this genetic disaster into yet another generation.  I vividly remember what it was like as a 1st grader who wanted to die and still, 35 years later, I have flashbacks of that first self-harm incident where 6 year-old me sat cross-legged on my bedroom floor in front of the full-length mirror and sobbed as I punched myself in the face over and over and over.  I was a painfully awkward kid and my depression only made it harder for me to really connect with others (and for them to connect with me) so it could be quite alienating.  I had no desire to bring a child into this world who had even the slightest chance of having that same devastating disorder because I likely would not have had the capacity to care for them as much as they deserved.

It wasn’t only her familial status I didn’t relate to but also her blatant promiscuity and cheating on her husband… neither of those are things to which I can relate.  She clearly used sex as a coping mechanism along with alcohol, cocaine and the abuse of prescription pills.  While I admittedly rely on alcohol and the occasional “herbal refreshment” to ease my emotional pain, my primary drug of choice is, and always has been, self-injury.  Back in my 20’s there were times I’d cut a few times a week and, for a brief time, it was several times a day.  In the past 10 years or so it has reduced to about once a year, maybe.  While I’d love to be able to say that it never happens anymore or even go as far as to promise it won’t ever happen again, that just isn’t realistic for me.  I know it’s not what people who care about me want to hear because it’s disappointing… upsetting… disgusting… and so many other things, I’m certain.

I saw someone berate the ending of the movie saying it was “too depressing.”  She tried, but she just wasn’t getting better. I loved the ending because it was HONEST.  Because it was REALISTIC. Because sometimes the illness IS bigger than the person’s strength to get over it.  That’s how we lost you, Brian… your depression was stronger than your ability to overcome it.  And for me, it is a constant battle to not give in to it, too. Some days are great.  Some days are absolutely terrifying.  But the majority of them are just… tolerable at best.

I injured myself again on Saturday, November 28th.  I had just returned home from 2 weeks in Minnesota for Mom’s funeral and had been through the wringer.  I thought about cutting every single day since she died but there were always people around and the urge just kept building and building and building… I was exhausted. The very first moment that I was really alone I gave in to the craving and I just did it.  It was ugly and it was deep… much like all the others before it.  And yet… it helped.  Immediately I felt a relief from the pressure that had been accumulating after weeks of not really allowing myself to feel as much pain over losing Mom as I knew was inside me.  Much of my energy had been focused on all the work that needed to be done and I knew I couldn’t fall apart because I’m the only one left to take care of it.

I’ve spent a lot of time these past few months withdrawing from the world.  I just don’t have the energy for it, you know? I’ve had people repeatedly remind me not to “wallow” or “feel sorry for myself.”  I’m sure their intentions are good but it hurts so much to hear that.  I wish more people understood that when I barely have the emotional bandwidth to deal with the necessary items (i.e. getting myself to work every day, taking care of my laundry, housework, grocery shopping, caring for my cats, paying my bills and basic hygiene) finding any strength to get out and socialize is nearly impossible.  My emotional bank account is suffering like never before.  Just like a “real” bank account, I say it’s only responsible to use your money to pay expenses necessary for survival before you start spending it on the “nice to haves.”

I appreciated that the film showed how depression is bigger than just “having a bad day” or a reaction to a traumatic event.  Living with a chronic, major depressive disorder is so very different from what some might refer to as a “situational depression” when someone is depressed following the loss of a loved one, a failed relationship or losing a job.  Not to discount the feelings of deep sadness those individuals feel, but typically those feelings don’t last for years.  I’ve always said that my major depressive disorder has left me with the mental equivalent of a “weakened immune system.”  What might not set back the average person might knock me over completely.

You and I come from a family riddled (on both sides) with chronic depression, suicide attempts, eating disorders and substance abuse issues.  I’ve been dealing with my illness for my entire life.  I know what it’s about. I know what I need to do to survive when another episode hits.  The decisions I make for myself might not be what others want me to make… nor what they think they might make for themselves in a similar situation.  I don’t make the choice to withdraw from socialization to hurt anyone’s feelings or to “seek attention.”  It’s quite the opposite, really.  Let’s I have been invited by a group of friends to join them on a 5 mile hike after I have just sprained my ankle… I’m going to decline the invite.  Why put myself through the agony and only slow the group down or, worse yet, require that someone carry me?  I’m going to sit it out on my couch, thank you.  I’ve decided to call the emotional equivalent of this “brain sprain.”  My psyche is badly injured and I dislike slowing other people down… so I sit it out knowing full well I have depleted any energy I have left to “fake it” to make a happy hour gathering tolerable for myself as well as those forced into my desolate company.

Or how about “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?”  People don’t really want to hear what’s on my mind… it’s not pretty in there right now.  It’s like when someone asks another person, “How are you?”  How many people do you think want a truly honest answer?  I’d venture to say that more often than not it is a rhetorical question; certainly most people would stop asking me that question if I answered truthfully every time.

Don’t worry too much about me, Brian. I’m doing my best to not completely separate from the world.  I still go out and socialize and spend time with people and even am capable of having moments of joy once in a while.   But for the time being, I’m focusing on my mental health and I’m doing my best to not push myself beyond what I’m prepared to handle.  One day at a time, as they say.  And yes, I’m still going to therapy every week. So I’m still working on it.

I miss you and Mom ferociously, Brian.  You two were all I had left and I feel your absence so deeply.  Mom and I talked on the phone every single day!  I still reach for my phone to call her a few times a day and it’s agonizing.  If wherever you are now you’re able to “talk” to Mom please tell her how much I love her and miss her.  I don’t believe in “closure” with regards to your suicide and Mom’s unexpected death… I need to learn to survive in this new “normal” but know there is no such thing as closure when it comes to losing my whole family.

Love always,