Saturday, October 16, 2010

It Gets Better

Like so many others, I've been shocked and saddened by the recent suicides that have been publicized in the media over the last few weeks. I love Dan Savage's It Gets Better project, though I can't make it through a single video without weeping.

I've also read a lot of criticism of the project, the primary one being that it seems like people are just offering the mantra without offering anything concrete. It's scary for me to expose this part of myself, to tell this part of my story. It's not a secret, but I don't think there's anyone in my life who knows the whole story, except me. I'm not going to tell it all here because, well, it would take too long.

But I do want to tell a bit of my own story, because I know what it's like to feel so depressed that you want to die. I know what it's like to feel like you have a toxic and shameful secret (though my secret was not about my sexual orientation). To feel so alone, and so damn different that you cannot fathom how life could ever change, could ever be anything different than what it is. Which is unlivable.

For me, one of my reservations about the It Gets Better project is that sometimes it doesn't, or it doesn't for years. And when you're in that darkest of places, you can't see beyond the fact that it's not okay now, and you can't fathom that it could be better. Someone telling you that it gets better might be a lifeline for some, but it may feel so far out of reach for others. And perhaps it's true that for many people, their problems are purely situational, and getting out, leaving that small-minded town, or high school, or family, will be all the catalyst for change that they need. Going somewhere where gay people are accepted, if not embraced, really is all that it will take to help those kids. I don't think my story is as much for them.

Because it's not true for some. For me, in fact, it was just the opposite. Going to college, while in some ways a liberation, also threw me into a complete tailspin. While in retrospect I'd flirted with depression for years (and I certainly had a raging eating disorder by the time I left for college), it was my freshman year that I went through my first major depression, and made a half-hearted suicide attempt that landed me in the hospital for a week. Half-hearted because I was simply too depressed to do more than that.

I wish I could say that that was it, that was the worst it ever got, and it really got better from there, but it didn't. Not for me, not for years. I landed in that place over and over again. I have a clear memory of taking a walk with my boyfriend. It was spring, one of those achingly lovely spring days in New England, where winter is finally gone. This is now over 20 years ago, and I still remember the color of the skies, and trees starting to flower. I can also remember how empty and dead I felt. I remember sitting down by the side of the road, and when my boyfriend asked me what was wrong, I couldn't answer. All I could think was, "What's the point? I'm just going to sit here until I die because I cannot see the point of living like this anymore." I was 19 years old.

The roots of my depression are deep and varied: family history, abuse (not within my family), alcohol, just to name a few.

If depression is the roots, then healing is the tree, and my tree is strong and vibrant, but it took time, a long time, to grow.

So, for those who, when some loving soul tells them "it will get better," ask "HOW?" Let me tell you some things that worked for me. Your mileage, as in all things, may vary.

Quitting drinking.
Medication. (I'll note it took different trials of different things to find something that helped me.)
Therapy, and lots of it: individual, group, multiple times a week.
Love. This is the kicker, the biggest part. I know people say that you have to love yourself before others can love you, but I say no, that's not true and I'm living proof. People loved me, kept loving me, and *still* love me, all through those long hard times. Sure there were good times in there, but so much of those years is colored for me by the darkness. Between the meds, the therapy and the love, I started to heal.

And here comes the cliche. You know what? It *did* get better. It got better because I worked, so hard, to make it better. Because somehow there was some tiny spark in me that fought for that, even when all of my conscious self was just done and wanted to die. And one of the things that I learned from those horrible bouts of depression is that when I'm in that place, my brain is lying to me. The part that says, "this is never going to change, it's never going to get better, you're worthless and no one loves you because you ARE unlovable." Those are lies. They are lies my brain told me, and if your brain is telling you those things, it's lying.

How can I know that? How can I say that about people I've never met, about you? Because I believe it's true of all human beings. Okay, granted, there are people who've committed such atrocities that it's hard to see how they can be deemed worthwhile, and honestly, I've not worked that one out yet. But, if you're some scared middle schooler or high schooler who's being tormented and bullied simply because you might be different, because you might be gay, or not white, or fat, or...whatever, I can say with completely and total belief, you are a worthwhile person who deserves to live, who does not deserve to live in agony. And internal pain is every bit as agonizing as physical pain. I know, I gave birth 3 times. I'll take the agony of labor any day of the week over depression (though I'd have some serious explaining to do about that).

You are not alone. This may be one of the true miracles of the internet, that it can connect people across the world. There are people out there who are like you, and there are people who aren't like you who will love and accept you for who you are. Who won't ask you to hide your true self. There are more allies around you than you may know. Yes, it sucks that it's on you to find them, but they're there. We're here. We're listening. We want to know your story, so you have to stick around to tell it.

I know these numbers are being published in many places, but I'm going to add them here. If you need someone to talk to, if you are feeling like you're at the end of your rope, call:
  • the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
*taking a deep breath and hitting publish*


Dorothy said...

Thank you for sharing this! It's always helpful for people to get other's perspectives, especially in a way that can be really helpful!

Anonymous said...


I don't have a problem with the "It Gets Better" project, but I want to know where the "Fix It Now" project is. I know the parents don't always know what's going on, but IMO, there is way too much impetus on the bullied to "just ignore it." Change schools, home school, MOVE... isn't that better than losing your child?

And I'm not exonerating the schools, either. Letting kids develop their own social hierarchy is one thing, but letting some kids abuse others is a different matter.


Lisa M. said...

Love you, Lissie.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for having the courage to share your story. You nailed it with "your brain is lying to you." The damnedest thing to shake is that feeling that all of the dark thoughts are true, that we're totally alone in our suffering, that nobody could possibly "get" us or love us, and that it wouldn't matter if they did, anyway.

I'm glad you're out there making a difference for people. :-)

Dakota said...

Your post struck a cord sense I've been fighting depression for as long as I can remember. I to owe friends who were able to see through my front to the real me and love me for who I was becoming rather than who I was.

gloria p said...

That took courage, Lissie, and it shows the strong woman you have created within yourself. You have always inspired me with your ability to focus on the needs of other people. I hope you will find a way to help young people with depression and bullying issues in the future.

I know depression intimately and it's a heartache to see it in your own child but there are options available that were not there even 30 years ago. And it WORKS!