I Need Not Flee.

I love to watch geeky TV shows. I’ve written about superheroes, but now I’m going to take my geekery a step further. BUT there is a purpose for it, so hang in there…

I watch the show Westworld on HBO. Westworld is a theme park of sorts. Its set in the Wild West and there are tons of characters with whom park goers interact. There is just one catch – the characters are androids. Androids so sophisticated that you cannot tell them apart from humans. Androids programmed to think and feel. In fact, those feelings are so realistic that they include pain.

During one poignant scene, one of the androids signs up to have part of his brain extracted so that he can interface with the main server. Appalled, the human says, “We don’t have ANY anesthesia.” The android responds….

The pain is just a program.

These words had my brain turning immediately, because as humans our perception of pain can vary greatly. Some people have pain tolerance that is higher than others, while some people literally can’t experience physical pain.

I surmise that emotional pain is much the same way. Some people are more tolerant of it than others. I’ve written before that I think I might be one of those people who is more bothered by emotional pain. Yet, I have learned to cope with it in greater ways since my stay in the hospital and subsequent therapy.

You see, through therapy, I was able to view my thoughts and resulting pain from a new perspective. For weeks, I would say something negative about myself or discuss suicidal thoughts and my therapist would respond, “But that’s just a thought. You don’t have to believe it.”

It annoyed me.

I was annoyed, because while it was just a thought – my body and my heart had a response to that thought. It was weeks before I finally widened the gap between my thoughts and my emotional response. You see, once I was able to slow my emotional response to the thoughts, then I could choose to acknowledge the thought and then believe or disbelieve it. Slowly, very slowly, I was re-programmed.

Re-programmed Pain

I’ll never forget how it felt to disbelieve a suicidal thought. Everything within me relaxed. My spirit exhaled. I had been afraid of myself, my thoughts, for so long that I did not know what it was to experience something besides self-hatred.

Self-love was a very far way off. I’m still working towards that one. Each day, I re-program pain or, rather, my response to it. You see, now that the gap between thought and feeling exists, I am able to experience pain from a new perspective.

Pain is just a program.

Pain is a program that our body and spirit run when we need to learn something, remember something or yearn for something. It is there to tell us that things are important.

“Take note!” Pain says.

It is the fleeing, avoiding, suppressing of pain that causes it to be insurmountable, because there is a truth about pain that few accept.

Pain never goes away.

Think about it. Do you remember the first time you lost someone? Or maybe the first time someone made fun of you? In one instant, you can bring all of that back to your mind and experience it again. And this is only looking at pain from a past perspective. In the present and the future, pain exists too.

I cannot run from it, because it will come in one form or another again. If there is a constant in the universe, then it is that people experience pain.

While this is sad and grieve-some,  I can accept it. Once accepted, I can begin a reprogramming of my response to pain. Since I can never get away from pain, then I must deal with it, process it, learn to experience it.

Yes, pain is a program I cannot outrun, but it is also re-programmable. I can experience pain, learn from it and watch it pass.

For as constant as pain can be, it does pass. There is a reprieve. I need not flee.

Candidly,

Ash

 

 

Refugee of the Masquerade

The way I talk about my depression has always been a difficulty of mine, especially when it comes to that time I planned to take my life. Those words, “a plan to take my life”, are not my own. They were given to me by my therapist shortly after my stint in the hospital. You see, I needed to talk about this thing in group therapy, but I didn’t have words.

So he helped me find them.

I am eternally grateful. I used his words for years. Sometimes, I find myself still saying them. It’s my default setting.

Another word, that I use to describe those precarious days was given to me by Brene Brown. The word is ‘breakdown’. This usually comes out of my mouth when I’m not trying to be serious. It’s like a pleasant, shorthand for “I was going to kill myself”.

Recently, I wrote here about stigma and mental illness. I loved how Jim Carey had come up with his own twist on the word ‘depressed’. Not even a few days later, I sat in front of a book that encouraged the reader to find their own language for the darkness in their life – whether it is an event, ongoing illness or season of life. He encouraged the reader to go so far as developing a description for the many dark parts of their lives.

When I Came to a Dead End

I’ve been reflecting on this for several days. I think the best way to describe my ‘breakdown’ would be to call it a “Dead End”. I had come to a dead end, a great canyon emerging in front of me. Within that giant canyon was my death. There was no way over it. No way under it or around it. Turning back seemed impossible. I made a plan to bungee jump into that giant canyon, because it was the only way I could see forward.

I think some people don’t mind having a persona that they wear around the office or on stage or with their mom-friends, etc. Maybe they know it’s a mask and they are able to wear it and remove it as needed. I don’t know whether that is healthy or not, but I’m willing to consider that some people aren’t affected by the masks they wear. They know who they are and who they may have to be AND they know the difference between the two.

I, however, was wearing my mask as my identity. I didn’t know what I wanted so I created the mask that seemed the most acceptable to others. At first, the mask made the road I was walking on easier. It helped me move forward, gained me approval. I felt confident in her.

Then, over time, the road got bumpy and twisty. The Mask maintained the charade, requiring things of the real me that felt like prostitution. She was hiring the real me to do the hard parts, delivering a crisp check in the morning. Except, the real me couldn’t cash that check or take it to the bank. It wasn’t my form of currency. The real me spiraled into poverty of the soul.

The Mask and I walked the path for years, each day creating a larger and larger chasm in the distance. When we reached that chasm, a dead end forming in the road, it was either her or me. Either the mask had to jump or I would. And the mask – she’d been calling the shots for a long time. The real me felt worthless compared to this façade the world saw. If I couldn’t be the façade, then my life needed to end.

Now, I’ve told this story before and it has been pointed out that I could have just let the façade go. Why didn’t I just let the façade go? Because the person underneath the façade – the real me? She was worthless. That’s the reason I had adopted the façade in the first place. The real me deserved to die. I truly felt that, believed that. No amount of preaching God’s love to me over thirty years had changed it.

I didn’t deserve to be alive. I didn’t want to be alive. I didn’t want to exist.

The Line I Crossed

The person I was, the mask, it died the day I went to the hospital. I remember them taking my blood pressure and heart rate – the numbers were off the charts. Alarmingly off the charts, dangerous. My emotional state was tearing me apart. I think of the way it felt, to walk into the emergency room, knowing that I was the emergency. The Mask was literally seizing inside of me, stroking out, dying.

I’m not sure who jumped first into the giant chasm at the dead end, but I know that we both fell together – the Mask and I. The façade didn’t survive. Though I had expected to die from the fall, I lay bleeding out in the dark instead. How could I navigate the dark chasm as the husk that I was?

One of my favorite songs has these words to describe how I felt:

“When I chose to live, there was no joy. It’s just a line I crossed. It wasn’t worth the pain my death would cost. So I was not lost or found.” From “After All” by Dar Williams

Every moment since I crossed that line has been lived in the dark chasm. I thought it was death before me, but discovered that it was simply the unknown – a land without the Mask. I’d like to say that I haven’t doubted my worth since then. I’d like to say that the relevancy of my existence has been proved each and every day.

I cannot say those things. However, I can say that the darkness is a beautiful mystery. This chasm is lonely in good ways, solitary. No mask accompanies me. I am simply a refugee of the masquerade, looking for a home, living day-to-day.

Sometimes, that has to be enough.

Candidly,

Ash

 

Paul, from the Mental Ward

It’s Thursday so I’m throwing back. This is a piece I wrote last summer when a friend asked for prayer. She had a former student who was thinking about suicide and was not sure how to respond or who to tell. Mostly, more than the logistics, she also felt uncomfortable.

Suicidal thoughts are uncomfortable – whether they are yours or not. They are also some of the most common thoughts. So common that many people don’t even know when they are having them or that they even hear people say them without being alarmed. Perhaps the scariest thing about a suicidal thought is the connotation of the word suicidal.

I had a very religious upbringing and so I am constantly reminded of things I’ve read in the Bible. When my friend shared her concerns and fears, these are the things which came to my mind. I hope they help people understand that even in the great light of Christian faith, death or suicide were contemplations of many who lived and were revered in the Bible.

Paul, from the Mental Ward

I grew up in highly religious environment. I spent parts of 9th grade discussing speaking in tongues and whether people went to heaven after dying by suicide. Except we didn’t use phrases like death by suicide. We used the phrase committed suicide, as in committed sin and damned to hell regardless of whatever that Jesus guy said.

I said {religious} not spiritual.

(Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in highly spiritual environment too, which is why I still **believe-ish** today.)

After having a plan to end my life and not enacting it and going to the mental hospital and entering intensive therapy for weeks and now years and tons of medication changes and what feels like ten years of emotional growth crammed into two…I can honestly say one thing.

I still struggle.

Weekly, the times I think about taking my life are more than I can count on both hands. Nothing is fixed. Nothing is healed.

And if committing suicide is a sin, then what is thinking about it?

I have sat in a dozen church pews and been told that even looking or thinking about another woman is adultery for married men. They don’t say much about women looking at other men. {religion}.

So what of my daily contemplations? What of the day my life almost ended?

The day I found myself in the mental hospital, I had been a Christian for 20 years, 8 months and 17 days. I spent the majority of that time trying to get rid of suicidal thoughts. Honestly, that desire, to have pure thoughts, to be without sin? It was one of the largest driving factors in my suicidal ideation. You see, the more I tried to get rid of the thought, the more often it came.

My therapist spent weeks of daily therapy repeating, “It’s just a thought. You don’t have to believe it.” I’ve spent years trying to believe him.

I do believe him. Daily, I believe him and believe that thoughts are just that. Just thoughts. Not sins. Not murder. Not suicide.

Just thoughts.

It’s been over a year and then some. And I’d like to tell you about a man who, like me {and many, many, many of us}, was torn between two desires – to live or to die. And he didn’t know which was best. He truly thought dying was better, but living meant more, was worth more.

Living was harder. It was a sacrifice.

Dying was easy. Beneficial.

His name was the Apostle Paul.

And he didn’t hide his thoughts or his desires. He wrote about them openly.

They don’t have power, unless you give them it.

For me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more…So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.” Philippians 1:21-23

Death is an end to pain and it is easy. As humans, we face pains that seem too great for us. Death sometimes feels the only answer. Pain never goes away. It abates and come again, whether it is physical or emotional, it never passes forever. It is part of life.

But Paul was convinced of something. He was convinced that he would go on living.

And that he was not alone.

We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am in the midst of it.”  Philippians 1:30

And as I finish writing about this Paul, from the mental ward, who lived in prison and chains {literal and metaphorical}, I have two desires that are different.

I desire that the church hear suicidal thoughts and that we struggle together.

Suicidal ideation is common and exacerbated by being hidden away.

When we say that we want to die, please know that we mostly mean we want {pain, fear, insert emotion here} to end.

Please help us remember that there is more to life.

Please help us remember {together} we can struggle.

I have been and am convinced to live… by the giant {together} that was my group therapy experience.

What if I had been convinced to live by the giant {together} of a church?

How beautiful.

Candidly,

Ash

My Brain Off Drugs

I have an alarm set on my phone in two different apps to remind me to take my medication. I have routines to try and keep on track. Yet, my system failed me yesterday. Today, at 2:00 PM I discovered yesterdays pills in  my skirt pocket.

We were running all over the place for Evan. He had a neurology appointment and a pre-op appointment for his dental surgery. My regular schedule was scratched. Systems fail. Safeguards go off duty. It happens.

I use a journal to track trends in my mood, behavior and thoughts. It helps me to refer back to other times when I’ve missed medication. I’m able to prepare for what is coming or at least able to tell myself it will pass in approximately 72 Hours.

The Last Time I Missed My Meds…

One of my particular medications is quite dose-dependent. I’m not sure that is an official  way of describing it or anything. I just mean that when I miss even one dose, then everything goes to shit.

Late Afternoon on Day Missed – I start having enormous, incapacitating anxiety. I literally have to distract myself from reality in order to cope. Usually, I immerse myself in a book, while also playing games on my phone. I do the two things at once. The multi-tasking helps to keep my brain from catastrophizing everything in existence.

Day After Missed Medication – I’m hypomanic. Everything is wonderful. I accomplish all of the things. I consider starting a new career, business or non-profit (I’ve learned NOT to do this the hard way). I call people just because I want to talk to them. I decide to clean the house top to bottom at 11:30 that night. I go full steam until 4:00 AM, when suddenly I feel like I’m completely alone in the world, everything is awful. Suicidal thoughts come to mind so frequently that now I HAVE to sleep in order to not harm myself.

Two Days After Missed Medication – I am now completely catatonic. I awake to thoughts of self-harm. I don’t want to eat. I go back to sleep. I sleep 14 hours that day, because I cannot cope with the vicious thoughts bursting through my mind.

Three Days After Missed Medication – I only missed one day so things start to even out here. The last two days I took my medication on time so I’m stabilizing. I still can’t do much of anything. And this is why….

Thinking of Hurting Yourself…..Hurts

Maybe it is just me. Maybe I respond to thoughts of hurting myself more dramatically than others. Actually, I’m willing to strike maybe from those sentences. I’m super sensitive to my internal state. I’ve read that this is part of my personality (INFP). I’m willing to venture a therapist would have some recommendations on how to cope better. Right now, I’m still sans therapist (though I have an appointment in two weeks).

For me, thinking of harming myself, contemplating suicide – these are just thoughts. I don’t have to believe them. I don’t. I know they are lying to me or at the very least false notions. When these thoughts come a couple of times a day, I’m able to use this strategy/idea to calm my emotional reaction to the thoughts.

When I’m off my meds? There is no time. Literally, thoughts, images of cutting myself and other awfulness are so frequent that I can’t focus on anything else. Sleep is my only reprieve. I’ve learned HOW to go to sleep by deep breathing and repeating one phrase over and over.

{Breathe in.} All I have to do is sleep. {Breathe out.} All I have to do is sleep.

So I sleep.

When I wake if the thoughts are still galloping like a warhorse, then I put myself back to sleep. Eventually, I wake up and the thoughts are slow and I’m able to say to myself, “These are just thoughts. I don’t have to believe them.” Then, I go and reward myself for staying alive by drinking mountain dew or eating a donut. Honestly, its the only thing that can motivate me to get out of bed.

This is my brain off drugs.

I wonder if other people experience this too.

Candidly,

Ash

 

No One is Alone

Last week was a rough week. We’re struggling. It’s nothing new, but it feels new to say it here so very frequently. Maybe new isn’t the correct word. Maybe “uncomfortable” is the word I am looking for. I am used to handing out my struggles in snippets and side stories, not in full disclosure. This “Candid” blog thing is really different. I mean, I’ve written about my struggles before – that is not new at all. I guess sharing my struggles this frequently is uncomfortable, challenging in a different way.

I have to be honest with myself.

Really, “Candidly Ash” is probably just a message to myself to keep it real and in greater frequency than before.

Back to the struggling…

Friday night my husband and I sat on our bed. The covers have marker spots and spill spots from various children, despite incessant washing. I fingered at a new mark – mascara? Who knows. I said words to him about the futility of life. Running on an empty tank. It honestly reminded me a little bit of that song “Going the Distance” by Cake (follow the link to listen). In the song, a man is racing for a something he yearns for, except the race is actually over and no one is watching. Sometimes we race, not for an audience, but for ourselves and the people we love. No one sees it; no one commends us. On and on we go. That song by Cake is honestly a stellar piece of poetry in my opinion. Too bad they made it a song. Ha!

I’m digressing. Back to the talking to my husband.

Somewhere in the discussion, I talked about waiting for things to get better and that maybe I would just set a deadline and if things weren’t better by then….Well, maybe that would be the time to end it all. You know, suicide. It was silent then, as I buried my face apathetically into a pillow. I couldn’t even cry.

Then, he whispered, “Please don’t leave me.”

And I cried at the sound of his desperate words. I don’t have a date or deadline and I’m not leaving him anytime soon. No plans, no actions. Just thoughts.

Then, after our really solid crying, we moved onto the portion of the evening in which we distract ourselves with TV.

It’s probably my favorite part of the day, because we always watch *something* together. We aren’t really one of those couples who do separate things in the evening. Like we always come back from the ugliness of the day by staring at Netflix. Precious Netflix.

Of course, we decided that since it was the weekend a movie would be good and so we ended up watching a Denzel Washington movie that the XBOX was offering up for free. It was called “The Book of Eli”. I’m not really into spoiling movies for people so here is a one sentence synopsis. A man defends the last copy of the Bible post-apocalypse. Pretty interesting concept and Denzel is, as always, superb.

Later that night, at the 3:00 AM hour, I woke up and on a slight whim decided to read my Bible. I literally read for an hour, just randomly paging to different spots. After coming across multiple spots where the Bible lists genealogies (so annoying) I turned over to Job and read how God decided Satan could basically lambaste Job with suffering. In fact, God even partakes in the lambasting.

Job responds and his friends respond and there is a lot of dramatic monologue by various parties. Of course, Job’s script is the best and some day I vow to make a video just quoting Job, because its fabulously honest and ugly and beautiful. Honestly, it is hard for me to narrow down my favorite parts, but I’ll try.

I would rather be strangled – rather die than suffer like this. I hate my life and don’t want to go on living.

Job 7:15-16, NLT

Yeah, I’ve been there. I’ve felt that. I feel that.

I find it extremely comforting and ridiculously morbid that I enjoy reading other people’s suicidal thoughts. Yet, I think that is precisely  what I need and what other people need. It is why I write my own thoughts here.

No one is alone.

I may think I’m the only one running on fumes. I may not want to go on.

But I’m not the only one.

Candidly,

Ash

P.S. Songs enter my mind all of the freaking time. When I typed “No one is alone.” I thought of this song from “Into the Woods” and when I wrote “But I’m not the only one” I heard John Lennon singing “Imagine.” I think my brain is just a giant song database, honestly. Ha!

 

Help from My Friends

We moved here with so many expectations. As my husband and I did the rundown on our last six months, we were both completely dumbfounded at all that has happened. One of us said something about “expect the unexpected” followed by sardonic snorting. (I am an excellent “snorter”, by the way. Not of drugs or anything, just laughing snorts and sarcastic ones too.)

We are so jaded.

First, the whole idea of expecting the unexpected is a sham. If you expect the unexpected, then doesn’t that make it expected? I am not the first one to point this out, nor will I be the last.

Second, no matter how hard we try, humans make assumptions about the future. It’s healthy in so many ways – planning for the future, taking next steps. It’s also a sure fire way to anxiety. I literally have anxiety about my anxiety about the future. Why can’t I just let it lie? I mean, I can visualize the next thirty years of my life in the span of 30 seconds. If I tell myself to stop thinking about the future, then I just think about not thinking about the future – which is really just thinking about the future.

Oh yes, anxiety is a bitch. Sigh.

At points in my life, I have been so depressed that I had no dreams. In fact, I remember several seasons of my life in which I listened to Dar Williams’ “I Have Lost my Dreams” on repeat. Each time I hoped it would help me find a new dream, something to hope in. Sometimes, when the past and present are so bleak, we need a quality hope for the future.

I think the wide majority of my suicidal ideation is tied to a vicious combo of depression and anxiety. In those moments, when the thoughts of harm come to me, I usually don’t want to feel the pain of the past, present or future.

Growing up, I just turned music on and sang it out. I don’t know when that became socially inappropriate, but it did. I turned to fiction novels, specifically fantasy and sci-fi. Why? Because they have nothing to do with reality. I wanted to be as far from reality as possible.

Sometimes, I still do.

Honestly, I think a little bit of that is healthy. I need breaks from the onslaught of depression and anxiety. Taking breaks can be healthy, as long as that is all they are. You see, for a long time I took hiatuses (the exaggerated term for breaks) and I would return to the world, the onslaught, and the breakdown would be even worse.

I cycled like that for years and years. Shit happened. Sang myself out of reality. Shit is still happening. Read myself out of reality. Shit will happen. Try singing and reading myself out of reality. Fail. Maybe I should end it all? How can I end it all? When?

Stop.

I don’t do that anymore. I try not to at least. Now, I have this thing called a safety plan, in which I have to confess to my husband that I want to take my life. We’ve been at it for three years now and it is no easier than day one. Well, maybe it is actually. I mean, we’ve been doing the dance of communication for a lot longer now. He doesn’t ignore comments like, “I can’t handle this anymore.” And I desperately try to understand when it takes him an hour to get to me or he tells me that I need to call my sister or my best friend.

It’s been three years now. I have some dreams – things like maybe becoming a therapist or fostering kids. Yet, I know, deep down that the paragraph I just wrote likely disqualifies me from those things. How could I ever help someone else when sometimes I can’t even help myself? (Right now, I want to stop writing this shit and go eat 25 cookies.)

Yet, truth is an evolution and the truth that I am learning is that everyone needs someone. No one gets by without a little or even a lot of help every now and then. I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know if my dreams will ever be made reality. I do know that if I expect the unexpected from people?

Then, successfully managed mental illness would stop being a disqualifier to helping others. Rather, it would be a qualifier for helping others. Because I know one thing, those that have known the deepest pain have been the best helpers in my life.

No, not just helpers.

Healers.

Candidly,

Ash