i have this tattoo on my wrist, and, when people ask what it means, the simple answer is, it’s the logo of the band i love. the more complex answer comes with a story involved, or a scene, maybe, to be more specific, and the scene is the kitchen at my parents’, at the house in which i grew up, and it’s a sunday morning in december 2009, and it’s the first time i’m really going to try to carry out one of the ideations in my head.
in the end, i won’t. i’ll spend the morning crying on the kitchen floor because, see, i’m barely in my mid-twenties then and there’s this band i love, this band i want to see live one day, and this isn’t about the band, per se, it’s not even about music necessarily — it’s about here, here is this thing you love, this thing that comforts you and makes you feel less alone, and here, here it is as a reminder of all these things you want to do, all these things you won’t get to do if you die, here is this thread being thrown at you, this tiny little thread of hope — and here, hope is a lie you cling to to get through these bad moments, and hope is that thing you’ll come to hate through your twenties, but hope is that lifeline you will hold onto to get through the next time you try dying and the time after that.
i tell my therapist i hate hope, and i tell her i spend a lot of time trying to put a damper on hope because i don’t want to raise my expectations, to have to deal with the tumble of disappointment.
i’ve been spending a lot of time these days putting a damper on hope because i’m waiting, in that weird in-between space where nothing is concrete and everything is, well, something hoped for, a job, an agent, a book deal, a move back across the country.
at time of posting, i’ll be back home in new york for a glorious four-ish days of seeing some of my favorite people, eating great meals, and spending time fully immersed in the book community. i’m doing an instagram takeover for the brooklyn book festival. i’m saying hello to a prospective agent. i’m roaming around all my old stomping grounds, eating whatever the hell i damn well please because new york is home and it’s been eight months since i’ve been home.
at the time i’m writing this, though, i’m trying to put a rein on my expectations. new york is a city that changes, and a lot could have changed in eight months. the prospective agent could still turn down my manuscript. people will have gone through cycles in their lives, and, maybe, we’ll be different people now. i tell myself these things not because i necessarily believe them to be true but so that i’ll be less hurt, less disappointed, if home doesn’t end up being what i’ve been holding onto these eight months.
i tell myself these things to brace preemptively against the sadness and loneliness that will come slamming back into me when i get back on the plane on tuesday to come back to california.
much of life, to me, feels like this — a constant balance between what’s in my head and what’s not. my therapist reminds me to take time to pause and assess situations, especially when my anxiety and/or depression threaten to bubble to the surface and explode. she tells me to pause, think about what i’m feeling, what i’m thinking, to collect evidence that supports whether or not my thinking is substantiated or not, to think of evidence that shows that i’m just freaking out.
and maybe that goes to show that it isn’t total bullshit when people say not to believe the lies depression tells you because, yes, sometimes, rarely but, still, sometimes, it is possible to remind yourself that the things you feel are indeed distortions your brain is creating. sometimes, the reminder is nothing more than a footnote because you’re too mired, too much in the darkness, for the reminder to be more than something you barely shrug at before mentally curling up.
so maybe i dislike that statement so much because i don’t like that people say not to believe the lies when i think of them as distortions because anxieties and fears and insecurities are all rooted in something — we’re often just making them so much bigger, so much more monstrous, than they actually are.
so maybe that’s a better thing to remember — that whatever is going on in your brain is a distortion, that the power of depression is distortion, that the insidious nature of it is distortion. it’s that kind of distortion that leads us down the path to consider suicide, to create plans in our brains and hold onto them, to think of dying as a viable option when considering the options laid before us.
because i don’t have the ability to say that dying is never not an option. as much as i have let go of a lot of my suicidal ideation, i can’t say i’ve completely stopped tinkering with that plan in my head. i can’t say i’ve completely let go.
and that, too, is okay.
my word of the year, apparently, is “stay,” and i feel like i’ve been using it kind of excessively recently, but i mean it every time i say it: stay.
it’s a word i tell myself, too, stay — stay in the moment, stay in the present, stay in this life. stay in whatever is here before you right now; the future will arrive when it does. stay where you are in the here and now. stay.
now that our pre-approved sessions are coming to a close, my therapist asks how i’m doing, especially on the suicidal end of things. i’d told her before that my main consistent conviction through my twenties was that i wouldn’t live past thirty, and she asks me how i’m feeling about that, about my most recent fear that i will die in california. i tell her that that hasn’t fully faded but it has softened. i tell her, yes, i still have that plan in my head, but it’s fading. i tell her it’s all something i’ve carried so closely, so tightly, for so long that i would feel odd without it.
she says that’s okay, that we don’t need to try to excise all that from our lives, our brains. all we need to do is turn away and look in another direction, to turn our backs on that plan, that ideation, that desire to die, to let it fade and ghost away on its own.
and maybe that’s one reason i feel more compelled to talk more and more about all this — the fact that i live with this, will continue to live with it — because talking about it is one way of turning away. talking about it is bringing it into light. depression and suicidal thinking are things that flourish in darkness and silence, and it’s why i won’t stop talking about it, won’t stop pointing at it, won’t consider them as things to be ashamed or afraid of.
mental health is like any other paper tiger, frightening in the shadow it casts when the reality is not, does not have to be, nowhere near as frightening as we think it is based on its shadow. it’s a challenge, yes, and it’s difficult and painful, and all of us don’t “make it through.” we don’t all “survive,” but “surviving” isn’t the point.
the point is trying to live the fullest lives we can. the point is trying to do better by each other, for each other. the point is to learn to live our lives in light, not in the shadows, because, god damn it, we deserve it. we deserve to live our lives in the open, not hiding, and we deserve to be seen, to be understood, instead of shunned and cast aside.
we deserve to be loved.
so, yes, maybe i’ve said this word so many times that it seems to have lost all meaning, but i’ll say it again anyway — stay.
you are meant to be here, and your life is worth living, and you are a human being worth knowing. stay. and demand to be seen. stay, and fight together for a better world. stay, and make all those things you want, all those dreams you wish you could accomplish — make them into reality.
because you are stronger than you think you are and you have something to offer the world that others don’t and your life has value, even if you can’t see it right now. just put your head down, count the days, and let time pass.