Complicated relationships with suicide and the meaning of death.
Saint Jerome Writing by Caravaggio
[Crossposted to Medium]
First things first: I’m collecting donations for the Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention 5K walk which is happening on November 5. Here is my story:
When I was 17, I attempted suicide. It was through a suicide prevention crisis hotline that got me the help I needed. I am also bipolar and the National Health Association report those with mental disorders are 30 – 70% more likely to attempt suicide. I know too many people who have either thought of or attempted suicide and I want those numbers to be 0. I tattooed a semicolon on my wrist to be a constant reminder my story, and everyone else’s, is not over.
I’m also walking for my mom who attempted suicide in 2001. Suicidal thoughts know no age, no race, no income barrier, no religion and more. Please help me fight against suicide prevention by donating to my walk.
The resulting donations have been amazing! My original goal was $200 and I doubled that in the first two days, and tripled it within a week. If you have a few bucks to spare, please considering donating!
This essay has changed topics at least twice before final publication. First, it was a meditation on spiritualism of the pagan variety which is long overdue and definitely needed. Then on to recounting seeing my mother for the first time in over four years which turned into talking about suicide.
Which, you know, is a sunny topic.
Suicide and I have a complicated relationship: I started writing a book when I was in my pre-teens about it (which made for interesting fare for research at the library) and then there is my own attempt at 17 which was a revelation and a curse. A revelation I was not alone in my attempt though at the time it seemed like no one had ever felt that way and a curse as just like talking about mental health is a stigma (let alone having any mental illness) so too is talking about suicide, especially if you attempted. I rarely talk about my suicide attempt and enough years have filled in from then to now the recollection of what happened is hazy: the smooth move of my arm to the bottle, the bottle opened, the drugs down my throat, then as the drugs took hold, the very thing pushed me to die was now attempting to have me live.
(I need to note here friends got to me just in time and force fed me hamburger whose grease had not been drained which prompted me to throw up every last thing in my stomach, which of course included the drugs. The EMTs were called, which led to my mother being called, which led to them not taking me to the hospital as I had already thrown up the drugs and my mother is/was a nurse so I should be “fine.”)
What I didn’t mention to my story in AFSP was my mother’s reaction – something along the lines of “I got called out of work for this?” to direct quote, “Next time you try, don’t use my pills.” While contacting a local suicide hotline IS true, the motherly lack of care of me and my brain following my attempt never happened.
When I attempted suicide, there was some reasoning behind it: I didn’t feel like I belonged; I wasn’t loved by anyone; no one was there for me. When mother attempted suicide in 2001, we never really found out why she attempted — or the whys when she attempted again a few months later. Perhaps there were no reasons on the attempts but here she is, 15 years later on still being an asshole to everyone and ruling as if her suicide mattered and mine did not.
Nothing has changed. Everything has changed.
As the decades have passed, I catch brief glimpses of that day. I know it was spring/summer. I know my action was spur of the moment and not planned though it was never far from my thoughts. I know that singular attempt was enough to want me to live a life worth having. I wanted to go to college, see the world, maybe get married and / or have kids.
All the things I have wanted and continue to do.
I want a life not just to live but to be alive.
The Art of Sentimentalism — are we defined by our stuff?
[Crossposted to Medium]
The collection of “me” stuff began in my late teens after one of my mother’s manic episodes when she tossed out most of my brother and I’s childhood. Since then, pictures, mementos, and anything helping to define who I am or was I saved no matter how insignificant it can or could be. (I saved the certificate for the year I won the school spelling bee which cracks me up years later as I’m a terrible, terrible speller. Long live autocorrect!) There is not much that marks my childhood other than spotty memories, a small wooden box of things I saved from grade and middle school, my baby book, and a handful of print pictures. My younger brother has fared much worse as his amount of childhood things is even less than mine.
I think often of what will happen to my stuff when I die. While my sites will go dark (no one would be paying the bills), I diligently have them crawled so one day, I hope, someone will stumble across my work and say, “Goddamn! This woman was prolific! (And far interesting as well.)”
Like most, I want to not necessarily be in the index but at least a footnote to the memories of the world.
As I continue packing, I occasionally find bits of past Lisa and now I debate, “Do I keep it or do I toss it?” While I have not read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I do know the book posits you should only keep things giving you joy. Imagine the shock of my bookish friends when I told them, since October 2014, I’ve donated nearly 1500 books to various library systems. My collection remains mostly of my Austens, my Pratchetts, my collection of Anglo-Saxon/Medieval/Viking histories, my Salingers and Fitzgeralds, and my TBR pile which is too fucking enormous. I got rid of books I didn’t see myself reading again, or referencing, or even in some cases, caring about. My Austens, my Pratchetts, and the rest of “my” books spark joy so those got kept. I slashed through my DVD collection as I spent several long nights converting the 100+ collection of physical to digital media to be placed on my server with 90% of the physical media to be donated. If I want to watch Bridget Jones’ Diary for the 900th time, it is simply a matter of a few clicks rather than digging out the DVD and going through that ritual. These are things bringing me passion and joy where as 4-Eyed Whores does not. (It’s nerd girl porn. Literally.)
(4-Eyed Whores was given to a friend and not buried in the pile to be given to the library. What kind of monster do you think I am?)
The book cull will get even more severe as I sort what I’m taking to my next future home versus what is going in storage until it can be retrieved – again. My Austens, my Pratchetts, and most of the books bringing me joy will be snuggled in their cardboard homes while a smattering of them will be placed in my new home while even more will be donated to the local library system.
(And for those nearly hyperventilating, I was vaguely smart into cataloging this current collection before the donated books went into their box. I did not do this to the first culling back in October 2014, which is my shame but I’ve already come to terms with that.)
(And I haven’t gotten into the details of the hundreds of books I lost when my brother’s basement flooded in the winter of 2008. My stuff was stored there between moves and I lost most of my paper everythings.)
Even with the great cull of books and physical audio / visual media, there are many, many boxes I have cataloged (of course, I am a librarian) simply labeled “office knickknacks.” Lanyards from the many conferences I’ve attended. The remnants of the Etsy shop I used to maintain and the items I cannot get rid of. Tchotchkes from vacation pasts like the miniature of the Pieta from when I was in Rome. (The Vatican has a killer gift shop, yo.) Plastic photo boxes of things saved from trips like brochures, plane tickets, and other small items (one plastic photo box for each European trip = six boxes). Stuffed animals made or bought for me. Various electronic doohickeys that belong to something but I have no idea what and I should probably not throw those things out. I am keeping those things, though those cardboard boxes outnumber the book boxes 2:1. Those things do give me joy and mark me as a person.
Lee Randall, in her piece “For the Love of Stuff,” furthers my argument stuff is a narrative of one’s life and “my things are me and I am my things.” I felt some relief in reading this essay because I was growing tired of the constant barrage of pieces written on the new “minimalism” and you’re saving the world when you get rid of things that you no longer “need.” Not want, but “need.” I want people to get a sense of who I am when they come into my home, to get a feel what I like and what makes me happy. White walls, sterile furniture, and smattering of arty pieces just don’t cut it.
I want physical reminders these are the things “sparking joy” which also give deeper meaning to my person.
We have come to the point of things given to us by boyfriends past. There is a tiny collection of Beatrix Potter mini-books M. gave me which I kept, the love note still inside. The picture of P. and I at his brother’s wedding and we both look extremely happy. The nightclub t-shirt given to me by A. when he was working as a graphic designer. The earrings given to me by TheEx though their matching necklaces have long since been donated. These trinkets do not pain me and for most of them, I smile at those memories. These are things kept.
When I got to my apartment in Connecticut, I found many things given to me by TheBassist which got tossed into a box. The breakup was still too fresh and I was indecisive on whether or not to keep them. Friends suggested, since the breakup turned out to be brutal rather than amicable, I burn them. Instead, I kept them. They’ve been taunting me since with their presence in my storage locker a reminder of a time in my life when things weren’t going so great. When I was unpacking, and now packing again, I pushed that box out of mind to be dealt with at another time. Now that time has come where I must ask myself, “Do I keep, toss, or donate these items?”
Memories are sneaky bastards. What seems so clear one day can be muddled the next.
I strive to keep a positive attitude on the relationship between TheBassist and I as a whole as it wasn’t all bad and we did love the other, but clearly not enough to give the relationship a foundation it needed to keep going. I have these things that while they no longer give me pain at times, I have given them some kind of value and I wonder if I get rid of them, will the memories fade even faster and soon to be forgotten? Do I want to forget him as completely as possible? How important was he in my life that keeping those items won’t intensify what pain is left even in their innocence of just lying in that blasted box? Will I “find joy” in getting rid of them?
These may seem like insignificant answers to many of you — the obvious answer would be, of course, to get rid of them. But these things, I’d argue, are not things to be easily replaced. The signs he made me when I got off the plane or his band’s CD he has lovingly inscribed to me or the Neil Gaiman book he gave me years ago, also inscribed. Once those things are gone, they can never be replaced since their tangibility and worth is only for me.
But I must reframe these questions to how keeping these things will affect my relationship with TheExHusband. As most of you know, he and I are working on getting back together and when I land in Louisville in October (after spending September at the cabin), we are seeing a couple’s counselor to work on the things we should have worked on in our marriage. TheExHusband has been and always will be my always. Is it fair to him for me to keep the mementos of TheBassist, even if I claim their innocence in value? Are they worth keeping as a potential sharp thorn to what has happened these last few years?
What fills me with joy?
For many, if not most, the building of one’s personality through things seem kind of silly, maybe even trite. We should be known, it would be pointed out, for what we have done and how we treat people rather than what decorates our homes. But I cannot agree to that point, at least wholly, just yet. My mother erased much of our childhood when she threw almost everything out and while many have things that spark them with joy about their growing up years, those years are empty for my brother and I. Keeping things, no matter how insignificant, allows me to fill in the holes of my life where once nothing existed. But I ask again – should I save anything or everything? Curate my memory to be only of joy and light and not negative reminders of things gone wrong?
Aren’t I, in effect, whitewashing my own history to satiate whatever I think will help me be whole?
I have issues with people wanting to erase our social history by, for example, taking cigarettes out of movies from 50 years ago now we know cigarettes are carcinogenic. The past isn’t always sunshine and roses and the idea of “the golden years” is a myth.
Each generation has its own atrocities and in the attempt to remove the bad, we’ve gilded the good and gilt can flake off.
In the end I will more than likely keep the book and the CD (and the Joy Division t-shirt I left at his house since it’s my favorite one) and the rest will get tossed. I don’t need the hand-lettered signs, the letters, or the random knickknacks he has given me. They are just “things” where as the book and the CD have whole different set of values. I’m sure, knowing me, the tossing of the rest will be some kind of exaggerated march to the bin shoot and the ceremony of dumping the items down the incline into the bowels of the apartment building. Those items blur the line of worth between keeping and donating and in the end, they are just simply junk.
What would 24 year old Lisa think of 44 year old Lisa?
[I’ve started posting weekly over at my newsletter with bits, bobs, and summaries and while it seems I’m neglecting this site, I don’t plan to. Think of the newsletter as Fanciful Delights on steroids. View the archives to get a feel and come join!]
What does it mean to be fearless?
This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately and I frame it as, “What would 24 year old Lisa think of 44 year old Lisa?” Would she approve, shake her head, be curious or angry at some of my choices? Would she be proud of me or disappointed? With the information guiding her, would she make different choices to shape another version of me?
I suppose it’s odd to become obsessed (because that is what it is) about a conversation that could never take place. (And if I know anything about time travel, you cannot cross meet yourself in the past for the sake of disrupting that particular reality.) But here I am, feverishly thinking about it and wonder what the fuck have I done with my life, how can I fix/change it, and how can I put my past into real rest while keening for the approval of 24 year old me.
These are questions no one, despite what they tell you, has perfect answers to. To be successful, to really be close to successful, the choices have to be close to nonexistent. Small choices and decisions that will shape the world as you want it but it will be slow and not the insta-quick sold by snake charmers.
Let’s get back to 24 year old Lisa. In the year she was about to turn 25, she met a boy on on the internet and within a few months of meeting him, packed up her bags and with less than 500 dollars in her pocket, took the airplane ticket he offered her and moved to the Bay Area without knowing a soul. They lived in an illegal apartment slash walk out basement where the landlord was a dominatrix who lived with her submissive on the main floor. The illegal apartment had two rooms, a toilet, and a kitchen sink. Showers were to be taken in the main living area as well as where we kept the food.
It shant be no surprise to anyone Lisa and her fellow broke up a few months later when he told her at a conference in Las Vegas (flight and hotel paid for by his company) he had met someone else and was going to move in with her. As luck would have it, when Lisa got back to the Bay Area, the submissive moved out (or was kicked out, I could never really remember that particular detail) and Lisa moved into his bedroom in the main house. Eventually she got a job, moved on with her life, and well, we know where that path took her.
What does it mean to be fearless?
Today we would call Lisa at 24 stupid, reckless, irresponsible, and a risk taker. I would call her gutsy and fearless. She saw a chance to get out of town she was growing to hate to an area that might prove to be wonderful. She knew she would land a job somewhere, eventually, and pay her own way. She navigated Oakland, San Francisco, and Berkeley like a pro. But while these things were slowly coming together, she lived off of generosity of friends as well as by luck.
I would repeat a similiar scenario several years later when I left a relationship with a man who was to be my future husband for a possible job and another boy across the other side of the country. The relationship, and the job, didn’t last but three years. Then I moved on my own to be with myself across the country again to finish college and get a life I saw myself living and bore no resemblance to the one I just left behind.
This is a pattern driving most of my life: taking chances on the unknown in the hopes that the result would give me what I want. Necessary knowledge of possible events, of future choices, or something secure (housing, job) never came into question. I knew I would have housing, a job, and things that I needed. Not necessarily what I wanted but always what I needed.
What does it mean to be fearless?
Twenty four year old Lisa was beset with sometimes crippling anxiety but its form was different than Lisa at 44. Then it was physical and now it’s mental. I thought nothing of hopping in my car and driving miles and miles for something when now if I’m doing anything longer than 100 miles, I need to get my car looked over even though my car is in excellent shape. Then I was on the go, on the move, and now I’m a homebody who comforts in telly and knitting because I get weary of social events. While it was rare for me to ever be home any night of the week, now it’s rare for me to not be home any night of the week. I clubbed until 2AM and worked at 6. Now I’m, mostly, in bed before 10PM – 11PM and up between 7AM – 8AM. Then I made a lot of rash and what would be considered risky decisions. Now I cross-examine anything that could remotely go outside my closed life.
Lisa at 24 was an adventurer at heart and while me at 44 still has that same desires, my adventuring has taken on other forms.
The argument could be made my bipolar, life choices, and decisions is what configured who I am today and I would tend to agree with you, but there remains an element that is missing and I believe that element is fearlessness. Even with all of that being said, the move to the east coast for a job that may or may not work out (hint: it didn’t) was an inspiration (as someone said to me) because I was willing to take that chance. Those close to me, seeing the red signs I was refusing to see, saw it was irresponsible and too risky. I was fearless but with a penalty and is it any wonder being fearless in the future seems like a very bad idea. If it’s not guaranteed, then what’s the point?
I speak with 24 year old Lisa a lot these days and while she shakes her head at some of my antics, we both agree there are no regrets. Bad choices and decisions, sure, but no regrets. We discuss the good things that came into my life based on those risky decisions. Not all but definitely some. We’re pretty proud of our achievements because we’re now not two divided persons of past and future but a whole being with memories of current and past and the soon to come.
So I ask you again, what does it mean to be fearless?
And the answer is simple: Living with no regrets.