Posts Tagged ‘suicide’

If you are familiar with my reviewing practices, I like to give my bottom line up front (BLUF) then dissect it in detail. My BLUF for 13 Reasons Why (both the Netflix series and book) is that I loved them and hated them, simultaneously. In either case, I recommend reading/watching to explore your own opinions. You will love them, or hate them, if not both. And in either case, I think it is a topic that belongs in our media so that it can be discussed and approached more openly.

And now to it…

Anyone who knows me, in both the real and virtual worlds, probably knows how I feel about suicide. I survived my own mediocre attempt as a child; then I plunged into self-destruction and self-harm as a teenager. I lost my way, disappeared into my own darkness.

Since recovering from that entire period, I have been very verbal about my experiences. I inadvertently ended up talking to hundreds of high school students on how I dove into writing after I failed to kill myself, how I used the words to drag me through and out of self-destruction and depression. Maybe it is because I am a writer and that makes it compulsive; maybe it is because I never want anyone to feel alone in that place the way I did.

Suicide is a topic very close to my heart. More than my own experiences (because, like I said, my attempts were fledgling then indirect), I have collected a volume of stories on the subject. After I wrote How to Kill Yourself Slowly, I received hundreds of emails from suicidal people. With many, we connected. They told me their pain and all the things that brought them there. We talked about what it was like to be in a place where you wanted to die. And they imprinted on me. All of them. The details are now an amalgamation in my unreliable memory, but I feel them still.

With my own pain and the others’ branded on the soft tissue inside of me, I am judgmental on the subject. I have so many perspectives to weigh the portrayal against. I admit I hold a certain set of expectations. Yet I always devour the media with ravenous curiosity because, in truth, even if you do not succeed in dying, you never fully leave that place. You always have one foot, one toe maybe, left lingering in those twisted shadows.

I live in the city with the highest teen suicide rate in the nation. Chris Cornell just killed himself. This is real. This is a thing in our culture.

I know the topic of suicide gets people all jumpy. It’s ugly; it’s uncomfortable; it’s taboo. Maybe it should not be. Maybe if it was not such a secret, people would not suffer in secret. Maybe if we talk about suicide, write about suicide, watch about suicide, we won’t inspire more suicide; we will instead invite conversation about it. Conversation that could save some lives.

In any case, I approached 13 Reasons Why with mixed feelings. Were they going to do it justice? Were they going to glamorize the idea of taking your own life? Were they going to trivialize and mainstream it? Was it going to be stupid? Yet I resolved to indulge with an open mind. Here are my experiences and impressions of it. Spoiler free, so much as I can help it.

Watching 13 Reasons Why

In case you have managed to miss the buzz about the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why is a series about a high school girl (Hannah) who kills herself and leaves 13 audio cassette tapes detailing the “13 reasons” why she committed suicide. Each tape centers on one perpetrator, and the tapes are passed from person to person, with an ominous shepherd hovering in the peripheral. The series follows one person (Clay) as he listens to his tapes to discover his role in Hannah’s death.

Initially, the series had me with suspense. The premise is fascinating.

“We’ll never know why they did it.”

“If they decided to end their life, nothing anyone did could really stop them.”

I have heard this sort of rhetoric around every suicide I have been near, at the funeral I attended. That is what suicide leaves: a wake of questions, doubts, blameshifting, and guilt. But what if you could know? What if someone filled 13 sides of audio tapes with the detailed story of why?

In addition to the sheer curiosity generated by such a story, experiencing the tapes with Clay personalizes the narrative. I wanted to know why he, a seemingly decent if not oblivious kid, had made such a list. I wanted every episode to be his. And so, instead of sleep, I clicked Next Episode and Next Episode…

As Hannah began to unravel her tale of woe, I found my mixed feelings resurfacing. I definitely connected and empathized deeply with Hannah. I was undoubtedly enthralled to find out how she could decide to meet her end. Yet, near the middle of the season, the pace began to lag. The offenses and perpetrators became increasingly “high school” and less shocking and upsetting. It almost felt as if Hannah (or the writers) was groping for more to blame. However, at the end, with the full picture in sight, it did make more sense, and it became clear that all the pieces were in fact very necessary. They were contributing factors.

What ultimately seduced me over were the characters. Most notably, how flawed the characters are. Not a single character, not even Hannah, is simply good or only bad. They are each complex and confused and contradictory. They struggle and falter the way we all do, especially at that awkward and vulnerable high school age. I appreciated that the story showed how many mistakes Hannah made, how she contributed to her problems, how she made it difficult and sometimes impossible to help her.

I know that was what a suicidal me was like.

Hannah struggled; Clay struggled. At one point or another, I loved, hated, sympathized with, cursed, felt sorry for each character (except maybe two). It felt real, and reality was what this story demanded.

Once a certain turning point in the story happened, the plot captivated me once more. I was sacrificing sleep once more. I learned with Clay, perhaps as slowly as Clay, how all these many factors amassed to crush Hannah. And my heart broke for her when that killer blow was dealt.

Watching Hannah’s suicide was brutal. I cried. Like ugly, hysterical, soul crying. I was that 12 year-old girl again; I was that 17 year-old girl again. I was wrapped back up in that darkness that so many times almost pulled me under. And it was strange how comforting it felt. The scene was beautiful in just how viscerally terrible it was.

I can honestly say that my opinion is that the series did not glamorize suicide. Hannah is not shown as this perfect, innocent victim. She is not authentically worshiped as she is mourned after her death. People still hate her; people still talk vicious shit about her. Her parents’ agony is palpable. The show examines more the negative consequences for the people left alive than it depicts her being liberated from her strife.

Instead, my chief complaint is that the anti-bullying propaganda is both belabored and irritating, like being assaulted with the idea. The message is applied far too thickly and unnecessarily as if the show’s creators needed to have it to make fixating on suicide acceptable.

I do not like the persistent suggestion that anyone, especially focusing on a potential high school love interest, could save her. It is an excellent examination of how the small, seemingly insignificant things in life culminate into something larger, something crushing. It is also an alarmingly analysis of causality and all the ways small cultural behaviors are deemed safe yet can lead to something so dangerous. As I read through the inane stepping stones to her demise, I kept thinking, so what? Get over it! Yet it makes sense when you can see the full picture, when the minor infractions are revealed as breadcrumbs to the greater trauma.

Yet the show just keeps beating on the idea that if just ONE thing went differently, she would be saved. Bullshit.

There is never any way to know “what if.” With suicide, with anything in life.

No experience is the same for two people. There is never going to be able to judge what is “enough.” What might kill one person, might just traumatize another, and might go relatively unnoticed on another. All based on the chemistry and biology of their brains, their dispositions, and the compilations of their life experiences. Even just comparing me to me, enough to kill me as a teenager does not even register compared to what I estimate it would take to get me back to that mindset now. And that’s not because my life is better or worse or I am stronger or weaker, simply different. Incomparable.

Additionally, I took issue with Hannah’s narrative itself. Hannah presents a very detailed, logical, near clinical analysis of how she ended up on a suicidal precipice. She speaks about her pain and suicidal influences with the detachment and calm that I can muster decades later. In my experience and in my understanding of other experiences, that sort of encompassing perspective, that kind of sanity cannot coexist with self-destruction. If one could see things so startling clear through the pain, the delusions necessary to kill oneself could not consummate themselves.

Now, every suicide is different. Every pain and every person is different. I cannot reliably say that no one has reached clarity as part of their terminal journey. Yet the portrayal contradicted my expectations and struck uncomfortably against my internal definitions. I mean it did make more sense when her later traumas were revealed, yet the personal critique remains. If she could see so many things so clearly, why could she not see the other side of this temporary horror?

I wanted her to. The entire series, I wanted her to, even knowing how it would all end. And I consider that burning, sustained desire to be a success on the part of the show.

Despite my doubts and critiques, when I survived the last episode, when I considered the series as a whole, I loved it. I do not think it portrayed suicide well; I think it portrayed a suicide well. I think it told one story. One flawed person, one clumsy life–beautiful, unique and irrelevant, mundane.

Reading 13 Reasons Why

When I started 13 Reasons Why, I had no idea it was based on a novel. However, once the credits enlightened me, I of course had to follow my viewing with reading.

Reading a book is always a more intimate experience for me than watching an adaptation. Reading puts the narrative inside my brain rather than before my eyes, but I am happy that I experienced 13 Reasons Why in this order, series then book. In all honesty, the adaptation is close, as close as perhaps Fight Club (for me). Crucial changes yet overwhelming loyalty to the story.

So I binged on the book as I binged on the show, and I began to note all the distinctions between the two versions.

The show’s largest deviation from the novel, in my opinion, is the inclusion of additional perspectives and side stories by developing and following several of the collateral characters. This makes for a more rich (and more watchable) story, rounder characters with backstories. Something that could go into a second season with a dead protagonist whose tapes are spent.

In Hannah’s depiction in the book, these characters are flat, villainous in certain instances. The show tries to make them more balanced, give them redeeming or at least empathetic characteristics, give origin to their behaviors. It makes for a more dense and interesting plot, but it does shift the audience’s perspectives and sympathies.

The book confines the audience to Clay and Hannah, which amplified the appeal of the story for me, making it more of a case study on a suicidal youth and her suicide bystander. I was less worried about it being an accurate rendition of suicide and more taken in by the intriguing dynamics in the story.

I found it easier to relate to Clay’s direct, closed narration in the book. Hannah’s story is in first person in both instances, yet in the show we see it reverberate mostly through Clay but also fragments of the other players. The book definitely put me more in Clay’s head. With the series, I empathized with Hannah. Yet with the book, I felt Clay.

In the show, Hannah’s narration sounds more detached, resigned. It was actually unsettling to me (see above) because she seemed too objective and clear-headed for suicide. The book reads with the anger and emotion that felt more appropriate to my expectations. Her distorted perceptions and thoughts seem more clear and enlivened, even when they same words were used.

Without these distractions, Hannah’s narrative was more raw and consuming for me. Hannah’s fixations are annoying; her reasons are irrational. They should be. We never should be able to bob our heads along and say how justified the suicide was. It should be illogical, frustrating, even sometimes stupid. Then we have Clay interrupting her narrative to remind us she was wrong, to keep us tethered to the nonsuicidal perspective.

Hannah seems mad that no one tried to save her, yet she never tried to save herself. She claims she kept attempting, yet it sounds like (from her own words) she is seeking out failures, hunting for justifications for how she feels. Nothing is ever good enough for her. The way depression breaks your mind. The way we seek out ways to confirm our own distorted, destructive ideas about ourselves. Terminal self-fulfilling prophecies. Convenient harmful excuses. I know I am guilty of that, even still.

The show also upped her trauma, made her reasons more reasonable. Yet I found the book to be more resonate. More real to me. The fragile truths about our own weaknesses. The things we don’t want to believe we would do. When I read the book, I heard the deformed thoughts and twisted perceptions I expect with suicide. It shouldn’t make sense; it shouldn’t be reasonable because suicide is not reasonable.

For Netflix, they made Hannah “more” traumatized and “more” rational to make the topic more palatable. Because the realities of suicide are too uncomfortable for our culture. I liked the less desirable Hannah of the page.

The show also changes Clay. Instead of being another victim of the tapes and a cog in the process of her revenge, he is resistant and confrontational, even vengeful on the perpetrators identified on the tapes. Again, it makes the drama interesting and more digestible for people to watch (we love to think there is justice in the world), but it changes the larger message.

At some point along the way, more with the book than the show, I realized Hannah’s suicide then distribution of the tapes is like a school massacre turned inward. She takes this passive-aggressive way of selecting victims and taking revenge. She does not kill or physically harm them directly, yet she still spreads the pain that she thought no one noticed. She is still aiming to make them pay.

All Told

So after all of that rambling and waffling, what did I think? Like I said in the BLUF, I loved them. And I hated them. Some twisted, blended dance of the two. On the whole, I enjoyed both the show and the book. I understood and accepted the changes the show chose to make in the adaptation. I even enjoyed many of them, but the book remains my preference of the two. Both have their limitations and warts, yet in the end, both worked on me.

For me, the story (book and show) is about perspectives. Hannah’s, Clay’s, all the “perpetrators,’” all the bystanders’. All are narrow and flawed, incomplete and at times utterly inaccurate.

Perspective fascinates me. How every experience is inevitably influenced and distorted by perception, perception we can’t escape. How there is no unified reality. One single thing can (and is) interpreted a thousand different ways by a thousand different people. This is the reason Seven Types of Ambiguity is my favorite book. Teen depression and suicide speak to me, but I am even more drawn to the examination of perspective. That is why I connect to this story.

I do not think 13 Reasons Why is a great or amazing portrayal of teen depression and suicide, but I do think it is a brilliant depiction of a spiderweb of interactions and perspectives surrounding one pivotal knot.

We want there to be a reason; we want suicide to make sense or maybe mean something. However, the point of the book (for me) was that even with 13 tapes detailing 13 reasons in excruciating detail, it still does not make sense. It still does not provide enough reason. Or the right reason.

My interaction with this story, either on the screen or the page, affected me. Gravely affected me. It infected my mind, lingered on the edge of my thoughts and dreams every day. The scenes, the characters echoed in my brain, deep into the darkest corridors inside me. It all brought me back, stirred up feelings long starved and dormant. Not in a negative way, not even in an upsetting way. It conjured a strange yet comforting nostalgia, like finding my way back to a part of myself forgotten. I felt that damaged little girl at my core, and something in that connection was healing.

There is nothing wrong with still connecting with the darkness, with remembering and honoring all the things I have done and felt. I find it distinctly safer to maintain that relationship, lest the darkness swell and fester unchecked.

If you are hurting, do not stay silent. Nothing in life is permanent. No one can be completely lost. Had I succeeded all those years ago, I would never have seen the life that unfurled in front of me. Or the life yet to reveal itself. I would never be able to gamble with my circumstance in every decision and experience the beautiful joy and pain tethered to each course. My darkest times are still my times. Mine to own and experience, learn from and move on from.

If you are lost, do not hesitate to reach out. You can still email me. A distant voice typing on the internet without judgement. christina[dot]bergling[at]gmail[dot]com. Just don’t message me on Facebook; I get too many unsolicited dick pictures there.

Christina Bergling

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As some of you may recall, I recently talked at a couple schools about writing. It started out innocently enough, just volunteering at my daughter’s school as part of their readathon and helping out a friend teaching Technical Writing for the first year. Then a teacher with whom I often share the zumba dance floor heard about it and asked if I would speak to her class too.

I agreed, of course, thinking talking to another high school class would be easy. Especially talking about horror writing versus technical writing. The middle school aged group had gone so well, been so engaged and fun, that I was willing to try again. Plus my editor always insists that any promotion or publicity is good. After all, I thought it was just one more class.

Oh, no. No no no.

At some point between the request and fulfilment, it became like a real thing. By the time we were finalizing details, I was slated to speak in an auditorium all seven periods of the day, talking to 29 classes totalling about 900 students.

Insert my utter panic.

I am not entirely sure why I was so intimidated. I definitely do not enjoy public speaking; I do not have any particular talent for it. It makes me nervous to stand up in front of a group but nothing close to anxiety. I got over it every time I had to stand up in front of soldiers to train them, even when I had no idea what I was talking about.

The auditorium, the size of the audience, and the multiple speeches surely upped the ante, but as scary as they could be, these were all good things.

So, like a true writer, I gooogled the word count I needed for a thirty minute speech, and I wrote the entire thing out. I showed up at the high school, my nerves vibrating under my skin, with my entire speech printed. I even wrote it in my speaking voice rather than my writing voice (because they are very different).

The teachers were overwhelmingly welcoming. They were genuinely excited to have me there and have me speaking, and that felt amazing. I began to tell myself I could do this; I was going to do this. Under my nerves, I knew the itching anxious feeling was normal, part of it that would pass.

It was intimidating up on that stage, under those lights. My husband mocked me beforehand, saying I could not possibly be jittered over talking to some high schoolers when I have belly danced in front of hundreds of people over the years. Speaking has always just been so different from dance, a different part of the brain and my emotions. Plus, I think I am better at dancing than public speaking (it would not be hard).

That first period was rough. I clung to my printed speech like my life depended on it. I awkwardly paced the stage like a sedated jungle cat. I lived for the cough drop keeping my ill throat lubricated.

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But I made it.

I kept my speech rather basic. I introduced myself, explained I was a horror writer there to talk about writing. I started with how I was inspired to write in elementary school and sort of chronologically walked through my writing career. At this point, I could see the gaping yawns and bobbling heads.

Then my speech took a hard turn. I pulled out my battle with depression, my failed suicide attempt, my bipolar diagnosis, How to Kill Yourself Slowly. Then I suddenly had their attention. I could almost gauge the shock when my narrative changed–sort of, did she really just say that? Is she really talking about that?

I cannot tell my writing journey without including those aspects. My writing, my work does not exist without my broken brain that produces it or my unsavory life experiences that have shaped it. It would feel inauthentic for me to leave it out and speak about my books sterilely.

So I poured out my black, little heart all over the auditorium stage, and I talked to these high schoolers the same as I would to anyone else (minus the normal slathering of curse words and a few punches pulled to stay in bounds on hot topics like suicide). To my mind, if I could decide to try to kill myself at 12, how could I talk to them like children who had never experienced anything? Age 17 was the most formative in my life, and that is right where they are right now. It had to be the raw honesty.

After that chunk, I continued on my little story of being published and being an author as a side job, all the basics of my books and what they involve. Then I opened it up for questions.

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Q&A is my favorite part. I enjoy the questions; I do far better with them than giving a speech. The interaction keeps me out of my own head. The kids were really fun to chat with. They asked me a range of questions, from the canned questions their teachers expected reports on to just random things like my favorite color or favorite Walking Dead character (Negan, currently). They asked about my family, my kids reading my horror writing, why I would write if it didn’t make money, all the things I might write in the future.

After many sessions, I had kids come up and talk to me one-on-one. Some wanted to talk about their writing or being sent to the counseling center for it (been there!). Some wanted to talk about their favorite book franchise. Some just wanted to talk.

I think I got better and better with each delivery of the speech. I at least became less dependant on my notes. Though it was just utterly exhausting. By the last two periods, I was giving my speech while sitting on the steps to the stage. Maybe not very professional but it is what I needed. I do not know how teachers do it.

Overall, I think it went really well. I ended up enjoying the experience completely. The teachers were awesome to work with. The kids were fun to interact with. It was surreal to walk the halls and have them whisper about who I was as I passed. The pseudo celebrity experience is still just strange for me. Mostly fun though.

I think I started to forget that getting published really means something. It has been two years, nearly exactly, since Savages was released. It took me months to come to happy terms with the fact that it actually happened, that the dream had come true. Yet in those two years, I have become complacent with my new reality, writing and promoting every day, comparing myself to every blindingly successful author. This experience reminded me that it is something, that it does matter. Even if just to me, it matters.

It is also awkward for me to consider myself now a public speaker, talking to kids about anything. Part of me wonders if I have anything worthy to say to an audience, the same part of me that wonders if I have any writing worth publishing. Yet I keep writing, so I will keep doing this as well, as long as I am invited.

I have already been invited back to this school, and ultimately, if my silly little talk inspires one kid to write or deal better with being depressed or anything, I will happily continue to do it for free. And if it helps me sell books, all the better.

 

Christina Bergling

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SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
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TheWaning_CoverThe Waning

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
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(I wrote How to Kill Yourself Slowly when I was in college. Initially, it lived on my blog, Bipolar Swirl, until it was published by Denver Syntax. Over the years, I probably received hundreds of emails from people who related to it. After talking to so many suicidal people and continuing in my own recovery, I felt like I needed to document what happened after, what came after the suicide failed. So I wrote the second half to this piece, How to Survive Surviving. For a while I looked for a place to publish the pair, to get it out into the world, but ultimately, I think it might belong right here, on a blog like where it began.

Suicide and self-destruction are familiar topics in my life. I tried to kill myself when I was young and followed that up with a barrage of indirect, self-destructive attempts. I have lost two people in my life to suicide and know more than that who have attempted. If you relate to this piece, please do not hesitate to reach out. My email is christina.bergling@gmail.com. I am not a professional; I cannot fix you. I cannot promise to respond immediately or that I will say the right thing. But I will listen, and I will respond. None of us need to be alone in this darkness.)

How to Survive Killing Yourself

Part One: How to Kill Yourself Slowly

There are so many ways to kill yourself without taking a razor to your wrist or tightening the noose around your neck. The secret beauty lies in the indirect methods. You want to savor your pain, taste your own decay, and kill yourself slowly.

The process should be started when you are young and weak, ignorant. A preexisting mental disorder or a trauma is helpful, but the twisting dance of both intertwining together is best. Maybe crazy is in your blood, passed down the line from a great-grandmother that spent her adult life tied down and shocked senseless in a mental hospital. The legacy of mental illness snakes silently through your genes, only visible in the awkward interactions at family get-togethers. Insanity is painted in the wrinkles of all of their repressed faces.

Never say crazy. You can never say the word crazy.

Their swirling disease now pounds through your mind, taints your world. But you don’t discover this sickness until your world has abruptly been ripped apart. Maybe your entire childhood was a jumble of shifting illusions teetering on a framework of lies that suddenly crashes down in one breath to expose an ugly reality. The life you thought you had vanishes. It did not exist.  Your parents never loved each other; they thought kids would make it better. You were born to save a failing marriage. You find out from your mother’s journal two weeks before she moves out.

You can use your mother’s nervous breakdowns as an example. Hear the slamming door and the stifled sobs from the other side. Watch her tiny body tremble, face turn deep red, small hands clench until the knuckles are a ghastly white. Listen to the tones of her incoherent babblings to herself, up and down, screeching, moaning. See her crumble on the stairs or the kitchen floor in a frantic fit of tears. Her body convulses. This is a good path to follow, an easy plummet to the bottom.

A failed suicide attempt at the age of twelve with your mother and sister arguing in the other room will get you closer to death than you could imagine. You need to nurture a blind hatred of your life and everything in it, blot out the sun with the thick, warm pessimism that nothing will ever get better. Embrace your own darkness and depression. A morbid fascination is comforting.

You want to turn yourself completely over to your disease. Trust the distorted and deformed thoughts that seize your mind. Yes, you are worthless. Yes, no one gives a shit about you. Yes, you want to die. Let the black emotions that taint your veins consume you. Curl up with hatred and sadness. Make sure any flicker of hope is snuffed out.

Your mind is no longer your own. You look into the mirror and see a stranger behind the glass, laughing and tormenting you. Her voice lacerates your mind. You begin to hallucinate sober. See your own slashed arms held before your eyes. Watch the walls bleed.

People can ruin this plan. Support from others can weaken your conviction. You cannot want to be helped or saved. Start by developing a horrible relationship with your father who you loved so dearly in childhood. He is the man who coached your elementary school softball team, who watched your first horror movie with you, who even would play Barbies if no one was looking. But he will become unrecognizable to you—a stranger in the shell of your dad.

Perhaps begin by fighting with him about moving his girlfriend in. He lied about her for months. She has the biggest ass you have ever seen; she tries to be your mother but is scared of you, as she should be. Scrape and claw for your lost father and a glimmer of the relationship you once had until he is telling you at least once a week how worthless you are and how you are fucking up his life. He watches stone-faced as you cry and again try to convince him to care about you. You pick at the gray comforter on your bed and beg him to please, just once, tell you that he loves you. He looks at you and walks out. No emotion; he must never show emotion, just like his father. Only you bring out the hidden temper and a stinging backhand from him.

Maybe also get disowned by his family twice—for having a party at his house while he is out of town and for being a horrible daughter and person to him, their golden boy. Make sure your family devalues and ignores you and your problems.

You should also get close to friends who will abandon you. They will leave you for boyfriends, girlfriends, new people, anything to get away from you. They say that you are too fucked up and need to get over yourself. Become dependent on one person who will tell you she can’t deal with this when you finally ask for help. She cannot even say this to your face; she writes it down in her illegible handwriting during class. You can barely make out the words with the tears blinding you. You actually trusted her; you thought you could. She was the only person you had cried out to. You were fucking up her life too.

Take this as proof that you should never ask for help. Instead, surround yourself with people who do not care about or notice you—except for a few shining individuals who will stop you from taking a swan dive into the asphalt but will overlook a few destructive behaviors. Your disease goes unnoticed here. They joke about it with you. You are not too much for them to deal with; you are nothing to them.

You need to have sex with assholes. This is vital. Lay down for the kind of man your father has become. They don’t want you. They are drunk, and your more attractive friends are already taken. High school dropouts with bullshit jobs who only drink constantly or peddle their drugs: baggy clothes, disheveled hair beneath a hat, glazed over eyes, tattoos, calloused hands, the smell of hours of laying carpet or tossing beer cases. Taste the alcohol and cigarettes on their tongues and follow them into the room. You pretend to fall for their pathetic lines, a blur of syllables you only know to be false, but you are just using them too. Dragging you into the bathroom in the middle of a case of beer. Phone calls at 2 a.m. telling you to come over when they are already trashed. A motel room you barely remember. Let them ignore you afterwards; let them treat you like shit. Have sex that makes you hate yourself. You feel nothing anyways.

Live in dangerous distractions. Find the joy in destructive behaviors. Drinking will poison your liver and amplify your disease. Dark depression will become overwhelming as the balancing cycles of mania are repressed by the alcohol. Any rational thought is washed away, and your control dissolves. You are perpetually lost and disoriented in a rotating world of the same faces and anonymous parties. There is no reality.

You will also need a healthy addiction to smoking. About a half of a pack of menthol lights a day should blacken your lungs nicely and get the cancer going. You use smoking as a crutch – angry, smoke; sad, smoke; bored, smoke. Painkillers also nibble at your liver and bring a distortion to your mind. You convince multiple doctors to prescribe them to you until you are red-flagged for Vicoden, or you get them from people at parties. It is a quiet addiction where having a curved spine and uneven legs are a perfect explanation. You must even eat fatty and salty food in excess and refuse exercise. Five packets of salt on your fries. Tell people that you are trying to kill yourself slowly in as many ways as possible. Jokes dispel concern.

But most importantly, you have to discover self-mutilation as a way to cope with the controlling, overpowering pain inside you. You feel the tingling below your flesh, are saturated by the screaming thoughts in your mind, listen to your strange reflection’s persuasive words. Do it. Just once. It will make it all go away. It will make you feel better. Burns at first because you are too terrified by what you are doing to yourself. A curling iron, a lighter, cigarettes. Your trembling hand then the bite of the heat and goosebumps racing over your skin.

Then you embrace the behavior and move on to cutting. It is a beautiful transition, as if you had been a cutter all your life. Your hands quiver until you fall into that heavy trance. The world falls silent except for your thumping heart. The sharp knife twitches in your hand. An awkward, tentative cut then another—deeper, deeper, always in a line. Your body disappears; you feel nothing but the slice and the thick tranquility to follow, letting the blood escape in front of the other in the mirror. She always smiles.

You need to lie to disguise all of these distractions. Tell your parents you’re working or staying at a friend’s house when you are out drinking or having meaningless sex. The cigarettes and the smell are your friend’s, not yours. The burns are from the popcorn popper at work. You convince yourself that your lies are true in front of your parents. If they question you, you get so enraged that they simply believe you. You learn to lie fluently; it becomes easier than the truth.

Cradle all the consequences of your destructive behaviors close to you. You need to dwell on every one, turn it on yourself, blame yourself completely. Make decisions that you can torture yourself over for years. They are excuses to hate yourself, reasons to be fucked up. You go back to bed with the same men or always the same type of men. They don’t care about you, and you feel dead inside. It must be because you’re worthless; it must be because you’re not good enough for better. You miscarry a child before you know you are pregnant. You must have drank it to death; it must have rejected your body. You take the wrong drink from a guy and are too drunk to fight back when he pushes himself on you. You must have drank too much; you must have let him. It all has to be your fault. Perpetuate your self-loathing, and dive deeper into your disease.

Above all, you must resist help in any form. You need to distance the few who care about you. Shove them away. Isolate yourself, and wrap yourself up in your pain. Refuse therapy of any kind even when your mother forces you to go as a child and attempts to bribe you with $50 as an adolescent. Don’t trust the friends who swear they won’t leave, promise they aren’t scared off by your insanity, and tell you that you really do matter. You must never talk or cry out no matter how desperately the words of a thousand expressions press on your teeth and try to escape off your tongue. Restrain your tongue; bar your mouth. Let it all fester and grow silently like a cancer inside you, killing you slowly.

Part Two: How to Survive Surviving

Well that didn’t work. You’re still here. Still drawing a breath. Still shambling like a zombie through the day to day. Still “alive.”

Now what?

You couldn’t quite press that razor through your wrist, couldn’t quite drink past your body’s preserving instincts, woke up spared from the cost your risks should have collected. All that was there to greet you was a suicide hangover and consequences. So many consequences.

All of your cowardly attempts failed—the tall and the small, the passive and the direct—just to leave you here, wearing the scars of self-mutilation like a roadmap to your abandoned quest. Yet another failure. Those ravenous emotions have left you a hollow shell; the denial of your destination has left you meaningless.

You never told anyone as you were sweetly courting Death, hoping to charm him into snatching you up and saving you from this life. Yet now, they all know. There is no more suffering in secret or keeping that devious little adventure to yourself. You can see it in their eyes when they look at you, look down at you with the condescension of “I told you so.” Your mother tilts her head and looks at you longer, searching for more warning signs she missed. Your father smirks when he asks you about therapy, pleased to have been proven so right. Your friend constantly brings up that stupid shit you did when you were so trashed, forcing you to remember even when alcohol was kind enough to let you forget. What an embarrassing mess you were; don’t you forget it. It’s so glaring back in a social life, so exposed out in their light.

Nothing about this is easier.

They said suicide was the easy way out; who knew they were so right? You thought if you endured and clawed over to the other side of survival, it would surely all be downhill from there. It never crossed your mind that if you did in fact persevere, you would be neck deep in the wake of your termination inadequacy, still hearing the echo of your moaned laments.

Welcome to a whole new hell.

You tell everyone you’re so happy to be better. Those words just roll around sour in your mouth, threatening to choke you behind a thin smile. There was such a seductive freedom in having no responsibility, liberation in having nothing to lose. Victimhood, in all its glory. No expectations were hanging above you out of reach; no risk was there to slip around your neck and hold you back. In the darkness alone, you felt like yourself, your truest self. Suffering made you authentic; it made you something. It was the only way you’ve truly been special. Pain was honest while recovery just feels like a lie.

And what’s worse, you want to go back. You were given the gift of second chance, and you desperately want to return it. You want to run screaming back to your cell. You catch yourself fantasizing about curling up in your darkness. It felt so eloquent to be dying, so poetic to be tortured. It felt safe at the bottom with only a gentle trajectory to the end ahead of you. You knew where you were going, and the journey to get there was irrelevant. There are no repercussions if you skip out on Death’s arm.

Like the addict feeling the sweet, tempting caress of your vice, you feel yourself nuzzling the memories of waking up drunk and bleeding. Who is that beside you? You don’t care because he made you forget who you are. Hearing yourself cry for help takes on a nostalgic tone. That bitch in the mirror was laughing at you for good reason. She knew better. Didn’t you know yourself best there, at the bottom, through her eyes? Raw and honest and weak. It would just be so easy to cut once more. You could bleed just a little, just to ease the pressure. You could just dip a toe back into that dark pool. That would feel better.

It’s too much of a contradiction. How could learning yourself prove so difficult? You’ve been trapped in this skull with her your entire life. You thought you knew the broken self so intimately. How can she be such stranger, conducting covert operations throughout your emotions and sabotaging you in plain sight? All the alcohol in your underage years didn’t drown her; all the smoke you sucked down didn’t choke her. No seedy stranger took your irresponsible invitations to snuff you both out for stupidity alone. She persists like an infectious disease.

In the end, you can’t escape yourself—any of them.

After what it took to dig out of that hole, when the fuck does it get easy? You sacrificed your escape and your self-important pain; where’s your reward, your pat on the back? Instead, you are greeted with condescending comfort and empty offers for help. As if they could crawl into your cage and save you now.

How are you supposed to forsake that version of you that still feels so true? How are you supposed to drink without wanting to drown? How are you supposed to fuck without hating yourself? You have flirted with the other side, let it swipe an icy finger across your heart; how could you ever just live like one of them now?

There has to be a death. All of the fixating and striving must be sated. You must ultimately make a sacrifice to those gods of destruction you have been worshipping for so long.

The old you. You slaughter that self, offer her up, leave her behind in memory. You feel the void at first, an aching hole in your very center that begs you to crawl back down and fill it. You are dragged across the broken glass of mourning as you let her go and all infectiously awful devices she used. Like any other death. Then you make the choice to move on.

In short, you are forced to wake the hell up.

Giving up on being a wobbling sack of victim, you prop yourself up on atrophied legs and stagger away from your suicidal life. One sloppy and pathetic step at a time. You made the choice not to consummate that fate, or in the least, you made the choice not to try and die again—slowly or otherwise. Now, do something.

Choice is a new concept. You curl your fingers lazily around the idea of a shiny new circumstance, yet unfortunately, you find no one else is going to conjure it for you. You are left there in the wake of survival, twiddling your thumbs and waiting for your spirit guide until the silence and solitude teach you that you actually have to pay for what you want. And everything in life has its price.

You reluctantly accept this idea that you are responsible for your life. Not your parents who didn’t bother to notice your pain, not the friends who didn’t want to deal with you when you were so depressing, not the strangers who mocked you with easier and better lives. Only you. Ultimately, you’re still alone. Time to redirect the depth of all the energy you used to dig your grave.

Other people do still exist though. You should know by now; you can’t survive without them. It was so easy to forget them buried in your own mind with your own torture blotting out the sun. While you were busy dying, they were busy trying to live around you. Your best friend gave up on you and fled into her relationship with her boyfriend. Friends turn into acquaintances or cast members in your flashback sequences. Your mother spills her guilt about the traumas she didn’t know you were suffering all over dinner, year after year. Your scars gave her scars. The flames you set to yourself spread, burned all of your bridges, singed anyone close to you. You were just too busy choking on your own smoke to notice. They were running around trying to douse the collateral damage, and you just saw them running away.

It is so arduous to just open your damn eyes. It feels so safe with your eyelids squeezed shut and reality hidden in the dark on the other side. You don’t get to survive as the victim. You don’t get to be at the mercy of your life anymore. You have to actually stand up and face how crazy you were thinking in that place and how crazy it is to want to go running back there.

Making decisions, taking responsibility, being in control is hard. You poured alcoholic accelerant on your own bipolar fire and plunged headlong into the crash; you put yourself vulnerable in a house where you could watch the crack heads climb the walls; you blamed your pain and used it as an excuse to not leave and start a new life. You enticed all the consequences with each cowardly choice. Of course, you want to cower down and scamper back into Self-Destruction’s welcoming arms. Her love is rough, but at least she doesn’t make you do anything but suffer. Break out of that Stockholm Syndrome and see her for the paralyzing bitch she always has been.

The tipping point in your recovery ambushes you from between huge paintings of male erotic art. An unexpected sanctuary for the key to your brain. Resistance is the root of all suffering. So simple, printed in the pages of the book penned by your gay boy’s eccentric sugar daddy. When he hands you the self-published book between drags on a cigarette, a nude and erect statue behind him, you never fathomed it would change your life. Yet the idea splits your consciousness at the seams. No amount of crying will heal the fracture in your diseased brain. No amount of regret will erase that hazy night you don’t remember saying yes. No amount of wishing will make any of them love you. Life is what it is, and all the shaking laments you can muster will not influence it one iota.

After this one catastrophic realization, its children start assaulting you in an avalanche. Acceptance is a slippery slope and skids you right into other secrets that have been laughing in your face all along. It’s all in your head. And your head is one manipulative bitch. You learn the words perception and perspective; then you learn the word distortion. Then you put them all together and start filtering every raging emotion of yours through the concept.

Of course it all really happened, but reality stops at the perimeter of your cell membranes. One interaction with your nerves and it’s all a wash of perception thereafter. Suddenly, the depth of choice makes sense. You see that every single thing you do is a choice. The stimuli hits you; then it becomes how to react to it, how to process your emotions and responses to it, what actions to take to change or influence it—all choices. You find your fraction of control in the uncontrollable.

You seize that power and stop blindly allowing your circumstances and blurry emotions to lead you. Instead, you start deciding how to react to the information coming in and the feelings awakened in response. Responsibility attaches.

You’re crazy. The sweet marriage of tainted genes and traumatic life highlights have damned you. Railing against the gods at the injustice only solicited crushing silence. Defying the cruelty of it by trying to escape into suicide left you in a puddle of failure. None of it made you magically sane; none of it made some creator decide to reconsider. Deciding to deal with it, on the other hand, embracing its reality and finality and learning to dance with it could just allow you to live through it.

Just this idea of ownership has the breath of panic tickling your lungs; you feel the manacles clipping around your wrists and ankles already. Your heart palpitates against the idea of sacrificing a free ride under the exemption title of victim. Yet, at the same time, could you be free? No more being tormented by outside forces, no more being trapped, no more being at the mercy of something or someone else. Your life can be yours, and you can change it.

Another secret: it all changes. Nothing in this life is permanent. Absolutely nothing. As quickly as your reflection shifted into a stranger and laughed in your face as you cried, you find yourself working as a contractor in Iraq, getting a glimpse of what real pain could look like and learning to appreciate the life you wanted to forfeit. You get slammed in the brain stem by the realization of how much you would have missed had your direct methods succeeded at 12 or your indirect methods from 17 into your 20s, how much your life has consistently and quietly remade itself.

That death you were so anxious chasing is the only permanence. Everything short of that is negotiable, variable, evolving. You could have opened up your jugular one day to miss finding utter perfection in a moment watching your daughter and her father marching and banging cymbals in the basement. You could have lived every day optimistic and hopeful to continually and relentlessly be shoved to the dirt by the Fates, like your mother. There is no telling.

That is the catch. You have to pay to play. Let that curiosity motivate you. Let the guarantee of some kind of change and realm of possibility keep you gambling on life. You never saw the fuck buddy who confirmed your lack of self-worth and left you in tears advancing into a violent love. You never predicted a lost pregnancy paving the way for a child you hadn’t dared fathom. You never conceived of finding yourself in such moments of happiness that those demons inside you could feel dead and decaying.

Bite the bullet. Belly up your pound of flesh. Maybe you finally try therapy—yet again. Only this time you don’t ramble on from the couch to validate your pain. It’s not about confirming your defect or excusing your sympathy. You actually let her words break upon your brain, apply to your life. Disease is not damnation. Symptoms can be wrangled and ridden, even without the numbing and neutering of medication. Maybe the work is worth it; maybe change is possible.

Expectations will be your downfall. Every time. Standards and daydreams of what your life is supposed  to be; masochistic little ideas that only serve to mock you down in reality; delusions spawned from an inundation of media where it all gets tied up in a neat little package, birthed from the lies they have told you to comfort you. Your mind resists this silly notion that things do not always work out, that you aren’t somehow guaranteed what you desire. The good does not always win; the hero does not always live; the wicked are not always punished. Life is a cold and unfair bitch, doling out randomness that leaves you wanting for that to which you feel you are entitled.

You expected your father, your family to love you unconditionally, to forgive and cradle all your weakness. You could not deal when their human limitations and emotional reactions corrupted your relationships from the ideal. You were going to be published and successful by now. Romance was going to easily sweep you off your feet and procreate a happy little family for you. Expectations, goals without striving.

Wash those ideas out of the scar tissue of your mind. You learn to stop and identify all this as mental idealizing and migrate it instead to physical actions. It feels foreign to reach inside your own head, pluck out an idea or feeling, hold it out in front of you and inspect it. You turn it over and over in your hands, letting your eyes discover the origin, the depth, the color. You divorce yourself from those gooey emotional strings struggling to keep it inside and actually see it for what it is. Then you plop it back in and make the choice of how to respond, learning to follow the flow of life and abandon those silly archetypes and ideas.

They will call you a pessimist, but pessimism is a survival technique. Liberated from expectations, disappointment cannot find you so easily; things can only turn out better than you thought. It does not mean you have discarded dreams, goals, or pursuit. It only means that you embrace the reality that none of it may happen, and that that reality is survivable.

Amidst the shards of your dark mind, squinting against this strange alternative understanding, you sit reeling. You don’t know how to think as this person. You don’t know how to be ok. All you know is to do something. Time to start making sacrifices. Yes, you have to sit with your pain, be uncomfortable in rigid sobriety against it. Yes, you have to embrace the consequences for your victimhood and everything surrounding it. Yes, you have to risk; tie your heart on a string and dangle it above the lions in hopes of luring something worthwhile. Consider your bet on the table.

Most importantly, you start to appreciate your pain. You feel yourself begin to wear your survival like a badge of fucking honor. You made it. Crippled and limping as you may be now, you earned that. You have been educated by torment. Lessons in the cold dank of the bottom. Your mind has been cracked wide open to see a whole dark and shifting side of life, another depth and degree of yourself. You were bestowed with a rare perspective, and now you allow it to guide you through the black and out into appreciation.

 

Christina Bergling

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