I'm going to share a story this week. Not my story but the story of a dear friend who fights for her life every single day. Thanks to three chronic diseases, she shouldn't be alive anymore. And every now and then she wishes she wasn't. One of the things that keeps her going? Yoga.
Read on if you want to weep and be inspired. Both are good for the soul don't you think?
***This is my friend Erin's post to her friends on FACEBOOK***
This might make some of you uncomfortable. It's also long so have a seat... :)
Saturday was Suicide Prevention Day. I found myself liking a bunch of posts related to awareness but saw only one mention of anything personal. There were no posts of any kind from anyone who had been suicidal or survived an attempt.
It made me think. One of the most challenging aspects of suicide is shame. First there is the deep shame that often causes the suicidal thoughts and then there is the shame of having those thoughts. If an attempt is made there is the shame of having hurt and disappointed loved ones, plus the societal shame of being labelled as a crazy person. We say "mental illness" now and while that is a softer, more understanding phrase, it is still an "othering" broad stroke term that can act as as distancing measure for "healthy" people.
I am pretty sure this is why there are so few real discussions about suicide. Rarely do people who have experienced it step forward to explain what it feels like. I am going to step forward today.
I have struggled with suicidal thoughts for most of my life. I have also known a few people who have made attempts and one friend who was dear to me was successful. She was very ill physically, in tremendous pain, and she had become completely unable to even leave her house. She felt she had no other option. I myself have made a handful of attempts: one resulted in hospitalization and the rest I was either just lucky or too scared to keep going in the attempt. The first was when I was an early teen, there were a couple while I was in my twenties, one in my thirties, and one serious attempt in the last couple of years. And there have been many other moments where I was on the fringe.
So what does it feel like? I am sure it is different for everyone but for me it feels like I am being swallowed by nothingness. It often starts when I am sick or have had an extremely painful emotional event. This leads to physical pain, becoming more dependant and feeling helpless. It becomes "clear" that my diseases are only going to make me more of a burden, that I will never fulfill my potential and that everyone would be better off if I wasn't around. There is often a physical sensation of being sucked into a vacuum and resisting it has actually made me short of breath.
What has kept me alive? Grace. Every time I have been in a suicidal state some kind of energy steps in. It is similar to what I have felt when I have been so sick that breathing hurts and all I can do is ask for it to stop. Suddenly everything stills and becomes totally quiet, I actually feel a softness that eases my body, my breathing smoothes and it feels like I am in a glowing bubble. I end up falling asleep for a very long time. It sounds weird and hokey, I know. Maybe it is neurochemicals kicking in, maybe not. It doesn't fix everything obviously. It doesn't let me escape from the work I need to do. It just keeps that little light inside glowing enough to do it.
Some of you will wonder about the 'whys' of my suicide attempts. We often ask the question: what on earth does that person have to be depressed about? Well we know that things like stress, trauma, maybe even the environment can alter neurochemistry. I am sure the recipe varies from person to person. In my case there are three chronic illnesses, all of which have had a huge impact on me physically, have wreaked havoc on my ability to work and be independent. And of course there are other issues as well - family issues, a few traumas, unhealthy coping habits and relationship patterns (a fascination with narcissists is a guaranteed ticket to depression and anxiety. Ugh.) All are contributing factors. The alternative healer who has helped me so much says that suicide can be a virus. It makes sense to me to refer to it in that way. I wonder if once you've been exposed to it you are always more vulnerable.
What have I tried for help? Well, I have been on every kind of antidepressant - they do not work for me and tend to make things worse. Psychotherapy has proven to help but it is brutally expensive and surprisingly hard to find. Without a doubt the best tools come in the form of movement, meditation and mental stimulation (the 3 M's). Yoga, walking in the woods, being on or in the water, trying new activities, all bring me to a state of flow: that feeling of being so in the moment and at peace that time seems to stop. Music, seeing or making art of any form, reading great literature, studying something that fascinates you (and I believe you can learn to be fascinated by anything)... All of these things help me find flow. This is why I love yoga so much: when I practice using as many limbs as possible it encompasses all of the 3 M's. When I am sick and down it can be challenging to do the poses but I am learning that even a few minutes count and not to feel shame about any limitation.
So here we are again at the end of one of my length expositions. The word exposition: its root means to expose, to lay bare. And believe me - writing about this makes me feel very exposed. It would have been easier to write something more scholarly or journalistic, something less personal. But suicide is personal. And medicine tends to miss that when it separates the data from the human story.
Now, some of you may see me as "negative". A few of the people I love most have accused me of being a "wacko", saying outright that my physical illnesses are only the result of my "negativity." Well, I am one of the few cystics (with two autoimmune diseases) who has lived this long and it takes a huge amount of positivity to make it this far. I know I should not put any weight on what they have said. But their accusations struck a chord and their cruel words are hard to shake, so I am fearful of what some of you might think.
But I have to trust that you will know me well enough to know that I hold great reverence for Life. That these battles have played a part in making me what I am. I believe that I have more strength, understanding and empathy as a result. I think I've looked through the windows of what really matters. Sometimes anyway... It's not like I don't have phases where I give up for a day or two. But I find true "positivity" doesn't involve ignoring what is difficult in life, rather it involves facing the "nothingness" and choosing time after time to turn to what inspires, to turn to Life. And I have to trust that this won't change things between us - that you will still see me for the many things that I am: the curious, quirky, stubborn, snarky, goofy, sometimes immature sometimes ancient, often OCD, arts/culture/geekery/movement addict who has so many flaws but tries to improve anyway. I hope we will still all share jokes and focus on what inspires us.
Now I have not written this because I am seeking sympathy or need a love boost. I know I am loved. Suicide doesn't always happen because of a lack of love - it often happens because of illness, a lack of understanding, meaningful support or the way it can blind a person to other options. So "let's talk" for real. If you have any questions or comments about this feel free to ask here or send me a message if that is easier. And, if you know someone who you think might benefit from my story then feel free to pass it along.
Thanks everyone. I am so sorry if this upset anyone. Namaste.
Namaste to you Erin.