The other day I heard about (another) recent suicide. I’m not surprised that call centers are getting more calls and more people are dying by suicide. Suicide happens when people feel like they have no options; like they can’t live in their life or in their head anymore. Our lives and our heads are more hostile than usual during this pandemic.
I am not a mental health professional and I am ill-equipped to give any advice or information, so I’m just sharing my experiences and thoughts.
If you are worried about self-violence for yourself or someone you love, stop what you’re doing right now and call a professional who will help get you through this moment, and the next, and the next.
Call 1–800–985–5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 or call 1–800–273–8255
Also, know that I am safe and in a healthy place right now. I have no intention or plan to harm myself, and I’m working my ass off to stay that way. I’m wearing a mask for my mind and gloves for my heart, so to speak. I’m now taking the mental load of this pandemic threat to my mind as seriously as I am the viral threat to my lungs, and taking necessary precautions for both. I’m sharing this, not to scare you or make you worry for me, but to let you know that you’re not at all alone if you’re struggling, and that it can get better enough, for now.
The first few weeks of this, I was paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. I felt brittle, jumpy, bleak. What we were facing was new, but I could feel my mood inching toward a familiar place; the deep pit. My depression. The black walls were closing in at the periphery. A static state of panic and uncertainty is hell on the nerves. The things I normally cling to as positive and normal were suddenly rife with uncertainty. It wounded my heart knowing that I could hurt and be hurt by friends and family without knowing it. It feels like being poisonous and poisoned at the same time.
I was crawling out of my skin with claustrophobia, feeling shame for all the many advantages I have over those struggling with the virus, sinking under extreme poverty, facing abuse, or who are actively there, fighting against the virus….my shame and my fear went on and on and kept me sick to my stomach. I was feeling millions of screams from all over the world going up at the same time. It felt like too much because it IS too much. I was suffering trauma. We are all suffering trauma.
Fear and grief, severe depression, they do things to our brains that are similar to experiencing physical pain. I felt physically sore and drained from all the emotions. My thoughts and judgement were so murky, all I knew was that this bad feeling was going to last forever and there was no hope.
The first thing that started to pull me back up on flat land was saying my fears out loud. One night, a few….time (?) ago… I told Robb, matter-of-factly, that I was waiting to die and to abandon him and the kids. He reacted similarly to that one time a few Earth years ago when I told him, “Of course I think about suicide sometimes. It is a plausible solution when the world would be better without me, and I without it.” That is to say, he looked right into my glazed-over eyeballs and said, “What the actual fuck, woman!? NO! That’s not accurate or normal or real and your mental disease is making you believe things that just aren’t true! Stop it! We’re getting you help right now!!”
Both times, I felt a little stir, a little crack of light coming into my blackness when he spoke. It was like, “Ah. Interesting. Perchance I’ve let the depression and anxiety monsters take over and those fuckers are telling me lies. Let’s see what we can do about that.” Then the hard work followed. I got on meds, I took my meds, I went to therapy, I changed whatever in my life was making my head worse, I took consistent care of myself, I built difficult boundaries, I stopped drinking, I carved out time to address my needs and, eventually, I didn’t feel weak or ashamed for needing that time, that extra care, that attention, that help.
Look, I wasn’t ‘handling the pandemic badly.’ I don’t think that’s a thing. But I was neglecting to address my mental health when it was going to need a lot of extra TLC.
You’re not doing this whole living-through-a-pandemic wrong. You’re not especially bad at this. You’re not alone in feeling like it’s too much, like it feels TOO scary, TOO sad, TOO hard, TOO horrifying, TOO trapped….it is. It does. It’s not that your heart and brain are weak or bad. You weren’t built badly. You get through this moment, and then to move on to the next, and then the next, and you are doing what needs to be done.
I think we should take the threat of mental breakdown and suicide as seriously as the threat of physical illness. Not that we need to add ONE more thing to fear, just that this downward spiral is as insidious as the lung one, and this one is laced with shame. Unlace it and let’s fucking talk about it.
Don’t lose yourself to this. Stubbornly tend to your mental health. Sacrifice politeness and other people’s needs of you. Say no and walk away, turn inside, breathe, meditate, walk away from the things that are causing you the most stress and pain, if it is at all possible. ASK FOR HELP. TAKE HELP. Over and over and over again.
It definitely reveals privilege, luxury, and tippy top hierarchy of need that I am able to prioritize my mental health, but…so the fuck what. I’m needed on this planet, so I’m taking care of myself as best as I can. In so doing, I can take care of others, too. My chronic illness is depression, and the worst version of that ends in suicide. I’m taking that threat very, very seriously.
So. Talk to a therapist there, or here, or here. There are programs now that are inexpensive and designed specifically for COVID-related trauma (if you’ve had a good experience with one, or have suggestions, please message me and I’ll add!) Take your meds. Identify the things that ping your bad feelings and, if at all possible, find a way to get away from them.Talk to the people in your life you trust most with your you. Say it out loud. All courtesies are off right now- we are now in a world where we can say “Stay 6' back, motherfucker!” so we can also say, “I’m not right. I’m hurting. I need you.” or “You don’t seem well. You need help.” We need to worry OUT LOUD, productively, pushily, about each other, and most importantly, we need to worry that way about ourselves. “Where’s your head? How’s your heart ? What do you need to feel more whole and calm and you now?”
Things that have worked to keep me standing:
- Sleep more
- Drink lots of water
- Drink none alcohol (it’s a depressant). Try it. Truly.
- Step away from media/social media. Setting my phone down, I can actually feel my scalp relax. Make limits. You’re allowed to. In fact, you must.
- Exercise. Even if the weather is shitty and you’ve got no apps or videos or equipment- it might just be stretching or jumping jacks or planking or yoga or push-ups or walking laps around your house. MOVE YOUR BODY.
- Read an actual book. Let your mind go into creative, imaginary places.
- Read solid information about the virus and how to prepare and prevent. Be very mindful about what you let in your brain box. Set limits.
- Meditate. I highly recommend this app. It’s easy to use and consistent. Been listening to the daily meditations and have the music on in the background almost constantly, either in headphones to myself, or piped loud for the whole family to hear. I can feel my heart rate slow down when it’s on.
- Get fresh air. Even if it’s obnoxious, face-hurting cold midwestern air, get a little.
- Take vitamins and eat healthy foods, as best you’re able. A good poop can really clear the mind.
- Laugh. You’re allowed to. In fact, you must.
- Take your time. There’s no need to rush right now. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, explore it. Don’t feel dumb or bad about staring at the wall for a while. Breathe into it. You’re allowed to take the moment to take care of you. There are few urgencies right now.
- Take one day, one moment, at a time. Today might not be good, but there are other chances. Like Groundhog Day, if you don’t like how you handled something today, try again tomorrow. Tweak it. Forgive yourself. Be so, so gentle with your precious you. You’re not doing this wrong. It’s OK to hurt and take the time to work on your own health and healing. In fact, you must.
So, that’s where I am today. Working my ass off to stay mentally healthy because my life is on the line. I hope you do the same. We whisper about suicide in low tones like if we say it out loud, it might hear us, or like we might awaken some ancient curse. No more. We will work to prevent this death, too.