January can be one bloody ugly month in northern climes. Christmas has come and gone; your New Year's resolutions are probably dead in the slush; the skies and everything else in your corner of the world are grey, grey, grey.
So is your soul, and you find yourself waking up one morning, wanting only to go back to sleep ... permanently.
Today's been such a day for me.
I've felt compelled to die since I was a child. In the last eleven days or so, I've felt the chokehold of the old suicidal imperative in a way I've not experienced in over 30 years. The trigger? Being with my family for four days over Christmas -- being in a home full of loved ones, lights, dogs, food, warmth ... then coming back to being alone in an apartment that used to be the home I shared with the husband who left me over four years ago, the man whom I can't stop loving.
Coming back to face, as I have faced for exactly seven years now, a spate of illness, injury, and loss that has not relented. Seven years ago today, I fell ill with a flu that lasted three weeks. I was working full-time then, and I managed to return to work for 1.5 days at the end of January. That was it. I won't detail here what had occurred to throw me out of my life as a competent, healthy, social, viable person; I only know that exactly seven years have passed, and that a quadruple whammy of major depression, complex PTSD, various autoimmune diseases, and a brain injury have just about totalled me.
Today I awoke to another day alone, another day with no structure, no company, no goals, no work. I made myself some lemon water for breakfast; I ate two bananas, fed my two cats, and did it all through a rageful haze -- a ferocious urge to die on this harrowing anniversary. Seven years. Seven fucking years.
I pulled on every layer of winter clothing that I have, and made myself go out for a walk. The temperature was in the -15C range, with a wind chill in the minus-mid-twenties. I noticed the buds on a magnolia bush down the street. They were intact. So was I, dammit. Upright, walking, moving against the black tide.
(Photo: Leora Wenger)
I started to think about writing this post. Started to think of how I've written other posts that urge people to STAY when all they want to do is check out for once and for all. Thought about the responsibility I carry, now that I've put that order out into the world. Thought about the people who responded to those posts, people who thanked me, people who took the idea and ran with it. One of my friends told me that a support group she's involved with -- and then another support group -- decided to use the STAY imperative as a practice.
I thought about impermanence. Thought of a line I read in a book by Pema Chodron one day while nosing through a bookstore; how I opened a certain book and read: "Impermanence protects us." Three words that blew my mind. Three words that told me, Everything is changing all the time.
Even the suicidal imperative changes. Even the suicidal imperative is impermanent, if I choose to pull myself through and beyond it. I am typing now to save my life, and possibly yours.
While I was walking, I started to think of a list of STAYS. I'm going to list them here, and invite you to add to the list.
Far too many good souls have checked out -- have given up -- have thrown themselves over the edge between life and death. Robin Williams, one of the sweetest, most generous souls ever to have graced this planet, took his life last August. His death was a catalyst -- a tidal change agent that has galvanized people around the world to dig into why -- why -- we give in to the urge to kill ourselves.
I remember Robin and my previous STAY posts in this blog ... and I pound the keys in order to survive this day. Here's my list. Here's why I, and you, should STAY in the world for one more day, and then for one more day after today.
Give yourself permission to not do that thing you've been resolving to do for weeks, months, years. Allow yourself to have blown your New Year's resolutions, just for today. Let yourself feel as shitty as you need to feel ... without going over the edge. Let yourself feel, period. Emotion is the ventilator that will release the pressure of the thunderheads in your brain.
Run yourself a hot bath and climb into it. Cry your eyes out into the water. Tears heal. Tears release the pain. Tears are an opened valve on a pressure cooker.
MOVE. Even if it's only to take one deep breath, MOVE.
Tell someone how close to the brink you are. If you think that no one in your world wants to listen to you, tell yourself, Bullshit. Someone does want to hear you. Phone a friend. Phone your therapist if you have one. Phone your pastor. Phone a crisis line. Pray. Tell your dog or your cat. Tell someone. Ask that someone to take your hand -- literally or in imagination -- and walk you, step by step, back from the brink.
Play a certain song, and keep playing it. I've created a "Stay Alive" playlist on my computer. It includes (so far) "Have No Fear" (Bird York), "Hold On" (Tom Waits), "Love" and "Love & Hard Times" (Paul Simon), "My Declaration" (Tom Baxter), "Blackbird" (Kenny Rankin), "You Are Not Alone" (Curtis Stigers), "The Gift" (Annie Lennox), and "This Is To Mother You" (Sinead O'Connor). Create your own STAY ALIVE! playlist and play it over and over.
Find one thing to be grateful for. One. You can do it. I am grateful today that I still have a roof over my head, and heat to warm me against the winter cold. I am grateful that I have a computer, and that I can type these words. I am grateful for tea, chocolate, my cats, my friends, my grit. I am grateful that I've made it this far today. I'm grateful in advance for anyone who reads this post and decides to stay alive.
Notice the surprises, the miracles. Those magnolia buds down the street from my apartment are miracles. They're withstanding a killing cold. After my walk, I logged on to a forum that I participate in for people who live with major depression and other disorders of mood. Somehow, a banner had been inserted above my name. The banner says, "Inside all of us is hope." One tiny leaf extends from the stem of the "p." I have no idea who did that, or how it got there. All I know is that it's there, and that it surprised me. Another surprise: an envelope I pulled from my mailbox from a literary journal I'd love to subscribe to if I had any money to do it with. On the envelope was a quote from poet Sharon Olds: "Between love and language I choose / love and language."
Remember how you've pulled your soul back from the brink before today. Think explicitly about what you did to STAY. Make a list of your STAYS. Use them. Now.
Acknowledge that you're at rock bottom right now. Better that than at the brink of the existential abyss. At least if you tip yourself over at rock bottom, you won't fall far enough to die.
Eat. Drink water. Your brain will ease if you nourish and hydrate it.
Nestle yourself into bed with lots of blankets and pillows. If you have a teddy bear, grab it and hold on for dear life. If you have a dog or a cat, snuggle in. I have a cat who lets me kiss his belly and sweet-talk into his fur. If you have a little creature who lives with you and depends on you, think about what that creature will be left with if you die today. Then think about what that creature will be left with if you choose to live.
Choose to believe that you're not alone in this. All over the world, other people are teetering on a similar brink. Tell them to STAY. Sit right where you are and make STAY your mantra, your message to the world.
Read something beautiful. Grab a book you love and find your favourite lines in it. Commit them to memory right now. Read and repeat. My lines for this moment, from Rainer Maria Rilke: Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. / Just keep going. No feeling is final.
STAY. STAY. STAY.
I'm pulling for you. I'm pulling for me, determined to be a phoenix who will arise from this seven-year cycle, fire from the ashes. I'm pulling for us.