Help and Living

Blue ice I think I’m finally ready to write this post. Bear with me.

Some days–not very often now, thank the gods–I feel frozen. (No, not that Disney movie.) Just…encased in a block of ice, so cold-numb it burns. Afterwards I’m always glad for habit and giri, because they carry me through. During the freeze, though, I feel almost-nothing. The temptation to physically hurt myself just so I can feel something is overwhelming.

And then, the other thoughts arrive, the way they have since I was about ten years old and realized this is hell, and I can leave if I plan it very carefully. I can just go. That was a revelation, one which gave me a desperately needed illusion of some kind of control.

Yes, I’m talking about suicide. Have I attempted it? Yes, privately, telling no-one. I’m not sure whether to feel grateful those attempts didn’t work, or embarrassed to be admitting to them now, or both.

I’ll be thirty-eight this year. I never thought I’d live this long. What ended up saving me was the Princess–the instant I knew of her existence, my life wasn’t my own anymore, and all my plans to step out of this world became null and void.

But oh, sometimes I longed to, and I suspected all the love and duty in the world might not be enough to stop me.

One of the reasons I went to therapy was the urge to just leave the planet was beginning to reach parity with my fierce desire and obligation to remain for those I love. The pain, anxiety, and panic attacks were bad enough to seep through protective numbness, and I needed help before I did something irrevocable. When I eventually caved and went on medication, both Calm Therapist and Frau Doktor were very clear that if the thoughts of offing myself grew more intense, I was to call either of them, my emergency phone tree, or 911, and keep going down the list until I found someone to talk to.

Fortunately, that particular side effect didn’t hit me. Just nausea.

I still think about it. They’re passing thoughts, usually when I’m stressed. It’s a “last best card” thing, the idea that I at least have control over that most basic of decisions–whether or not to keep breathing. Like those experiments where dogs and monkeys get better when they have some type of control over being shocked–the ones who can’t escape the random shocks just get apathetic and don’t even try to work free anymore.

Frau Doktor nodded thoughtfully when I told her about this recently. (We’re still fine-tuning my dosages.) “Very common, with trauma,” she said, carefully. “The time to be worried is if those thoughts suddenly become more intense. Any change in them–more frequent, more intense–is a cause for concern.”

It eased my worry to know those passing thoughts are natural, if not normal. It’s sobering to think about how close it was–that even my absolute devotion to those I love, those I have to survive for, those who depend on me, might not have been enough.

Why am I writing about this?

Simple. To tell you, if you’re in that position, if you’re keeping it as a last best card…don’t beat yourself up over feeling that way. That feeling, that thought, is something that happens. It doesn’t mean you’re broken, or weak, or inadequate. It probably means you’re exerting some kind of control over a hellish situation, that your brain and body are attempting desperately to cope. I’ve been there: in the numbness so huge nothing matters, in the pain so intense you’ll do anything to get out of it. In the place where calmly considering how to end your physical existence is logical and even appetizing. Believe me, I understand.

But please, please, try for help before you make any move. Call someone, anyone. (I want to add: who might not have an agenda to make it worse, because in your position, you know best about that.) If all else fails, please listen to me: you will be missed. I will miss you, even if I don’t know you. Even if we’ve never met. You are precious. You matter to me. Please, try for help. Please don’t hurt yourself.

That’s all I wanted to say.

  • “Giri” is a great word, thanks for teaching it to me. It’s been my lifeline many times but I didn’t know how to articulate it.

  • cassie

    thank you for posting this. I have had the same trajectory of coping, up to and including the motherhood piece. I recently discovered, thanks to an app, that my worst depressive time is a few days before my period (tmi, but useful info), so yay perimenopause. your posts are always so helpful to me because you’re honest about your struggle and so, since I admire your strength, I can admire my own. which is usually fairly difficult. thank you for that.

  • Maria

    You are so right about the ” last, best card” thing. Been there, tried that, fucked it up. Then, in a weird twist of Fate, it became a career (Not in THAT sense!). Didn’t want to see a shrink and find out I was crazy, so volunteered for a suicide hotline. Discovered that UNDERSTANDING what the callers were ( or weren’t) feeling and being able to run the alternative option numbers with them made BOTH of us feel a bit better, and more hopeful about the “world-as-it-is.” Not that I’m trying to trivialize things by implying that there is a one-size-fits-most magical solution. No such animal! Just underscoring your point, actually, that finding an objective listener, who can provide feedback that gives the seeker a little distance from the crumbling precipice is a good thing. Also adding that if one option doesn’t seem to be doing the trick, there is no shame in dropping it like a hot rock and taking a different tack.

  • Tina R.

    Much respect for posting about this often difficult-to-discuss topic. I have witnessed how it affected my daughter, as there have been 3 suicides at her high school in the last 2 years. This post reminds me again to have another conversation with her about her feelings and the need to talk about issues before they reach the point that oblivion seems like the better alternative.

  • Michele

    Lili, thank you for sharing this. thank you for staying with us. thank you for making us understand. thank you for the intricate and beautiful worlds you give us. you can’t help what you think, but you can be mindful about your thoughts, and accept yourself for all of them, the good and the bad. thank you for being human. Trauma is not just something you live through, it is something you live with, and thank you for getting the help to keep surviving. I gotta say it, I love you, your work speaks to me, and my world is a brighter and better place for you and your characters.

  • beezley

    You put a name to it – it is my last best card. Since 2011. But it’s farther down in the pack than it used to be. You are one grand woman, Lili.

  • Stephanie

    Oh how I know this feeling. I hope you don’t find it inappropriate for me to say to you, and to those who commented before me, and to those that may read this and not comment at all that “You are not alone, we are not alone”.
    I don’t know how I white knuckled it and made it through, because it took me some time to find the Right Doctor, the One who would help me fight my way to a better place. I do still get this frozen feeling you describe so well, and I do know the private hell of an unsuccessful attempt, and no matter how much stronger I have become, I still feel the allure of that last, best card.
    I think this is why I love the Kismet series so very much. She fights. She fights even though she can’t imagine coming out alive on the other side.

  • Michael

    Always available to those who are running down that phone list.

    National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

  • Thank you Lilith.

  • Oh wow! Just look at all these positive responses! This is proof of how you touch people’s lives and what you mean to us. I’ve said elsewhere that your books have given me pleasure and comfort in times of great stress. How delighted I was to find that the person from whom those wonderful stories originated was herself an extraordinary, intelligent, witty, humorous, and, like myself and others, troubled human being. Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

  • Dameon Strother

    I know you understand the importance of sharing his piece of your heart. If you didn’t you would have kept it all for yourself. Thank you for sharing. Thank you.

  • I also thought it about it from time to time, but it was firmly removed off the table the day my sister attempted it and was hospitalized. Now, when I start feeling that way, I know it’s time to adjust my medication and call my therapist. It’s a horrid feeling. Grasping at that last card like it’s a ‘get out of jail free’. I wish that more people would talk about it, so there would be more social awareness. Thank you for sharing this. You are amazing and my heart honors yours.

  • Kelly

    Thank you. Been there – felt this. Don’t go there as often anymore.

  • mulletbraid

    Ah, yes. That final bit of autonomy, that final control and its combination of reassurance and dark allure. Yes. For some of us it’s situational and for some it’s cyclical and sometimes it’s both. It doesn’t matter; depression may come back, and when it does, there are tools to hammer it into submission. Thank you for the (timely) reminder.

  • mulletbraid

    Argh. My proofreading skills suck. That first “its” needs no apostrophe. and the third does and doesn’t have one. ARGH.

  • Since you mentioned it, I popped into admin and fixed it. *grin* All better.

  • mulletbraid

    Thank you!

  • Hi Lili,
    All I can say is, please don’t. I had a pretty unhappy childhood, with marital discord, an alcoholic parent, and a needy, desperate mother, who I am still looking after as she painfully and slowly deteriorates (she is in hospital, again, right now). Also juggling being a sole parent to three kids, and a very busy, full time professional career.
    Luckily, the thing that keeps me going most is- curiosity. If something happened to me, I would never know what happens ‘next’. Did my closest friend get to live again fully after being widowed? Would my oldest son make a success of himself after all? What would happen to my daughter? My pets? Game of Thrones? If I pass away, none of these questions would be answered, to my satisfaction. Life is really a series of never ending questions, and if you are curious (or nosey) enough to want the answers, you’ll have to stay around.
    It doesn’t make pain any less, but sometimes, it can make living easier- and curiosity is, after all, the besetting vice of any writer. I don’t know if it will work for you, but it sure works for me. Cultivate your curiosity- and make close friendships, because your female friends will save you, over and over again- and will be happy to be of service. Women make the world go round. I love men- but couldn’t live without my besties, women to whom I can say anything, anything at all, and not be judged.
    I will be thinking of you, from my upside-down perch in sunny Sydney, far from your rain-drenched, Pacific Northwest home.
    Drop down to see us one day- coffee’s on me.

  • nightsmusic

    What stopped me the first time was my husband and not wanting to leave him. The second was our small children. The third was not wanting my grown children or husband to be the one to find me. That’s the only reason I didn’t follow through. And what surprises me is, I’m terrified of dying, of leaving everyone behind, of missing all of life and then in the next minute, I think it would be good to be done with it all so I am a conundrum, I suppose. I do find that with age, the panic attacks, the negative thoughts, the whole ‘I can’t go on’ wave of feeling that sometimes engulfs me has lessened.

    Grace to you for having the strength to put this on the table. You are definitely not alone.

  • One of the reasons I continually come back to your blog is for your truth and honesty. Things like this are extremely difficult to talk about, most especially in a public forum such as a blog. Which is why it is so important. There are so many people going through terrible times right now and find it impossible to talk to others about it because there’s a stigma attached to depression: it’s something people talk about in whispers in the corner of a dark and empty room. It’s something that needs to be shouted about though.
    Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for “the last best card.” Thank you for still being here to share your stories with the world.