collecting the betters

Last week, a 16-year old named Maddy Yates posted a video to YouTube moments before she killed herself. Here is a partial transcript of that video:

“I know it’s not OK for me to be doing this, but I just can’t do this anymore. It feels like I’m being swallowed whole into myself. It physically hurts. Sometimes it hurts so bad that I throw up, and sometimes I just get panic attacks. I know this is selfish. You know, the doctor prescribed Prozac for depression and anxiety, but those are just fancy words for “selfish.” I know that I’m going to hurt everyone who loves me, and I really do love them too. But I’ve been like this for so long, and there’s still a chance that the worst day might still be coming. And I just don’t see how this is a bad idea because it’s like someone’s on the 12th floor, and the room behind them is on fire. And they’re standing on the window ledge and they have a choice whether or not to jump and get away from the fire or just stay and die a slow, excruciating death. It feels like that.”

Compare the stills of Maddy from this video to photos of her taken weeks and months before. She doesn’t look like the same person. Even without the transcript, you can see she is desperately ill.

I wish we could agree to stop using the “suicide is selfish” trope. A person suffering from the sort of clinical depression or other mental illness that drives a suicide attempt already has a tape running in her head, on a continuous loop, that says “YOU ARE SELFISH WORTHLESS BAD AND UGLY. YOU HURT EVERYONE WHO LOVES YOU AND DISAPPOINT EVERYONE WHO TRIES TO HELP YOU. DO THEM A FAVOR AND TAKE YOURSELF OUT.”

While we’re at it, let’s also strike the word “cowardly” from discussions of suicide. It’s used with naïve suicide-prevention intent – to somehow goad people into staying alive to prove they’re not chickenshit. There are many words to describe the suicide’s state of mind, but “cowardly” isn’t one I’d choose for someone brave enough to put a pistol in their mouth and shoot.

Let’s be real about the “It Gets Better” trope in terms of depression. The whole truth is this: If you are prone to this kind of depression, it does get better, but then it’s probably going to get worse again. Then better. Then it might get really fucking bad. Then maybe better; even much better.

But you likely won’t get better and STAY better. This particular illness isn’t linear. You have to ride the circle. You have to go up and down like a skateboarder in the pit. It is a skill you can develop.

Sadly, the only thing that allows most people to understand this is life experience. The weight and the story of years allows you to…collect the betters. The times when you are OK or even great. The more betters you rack up, the more chances you have to see a bit of the world; to get engaged enough in things so that when the really fucking bads come along, you have more to draw on. You have a little extra air in your tank from the betters.  You might wake up and think, “Today is the day I am done,” but somewhere inside you is a memory of the joy of a long hike or a great book or something else you experienced when you were OK; something to stand in for the meaning of life – and it buys you a breath or two to reconsider. It might even give you enough hope to call for help; enough time to get your medication adjusted.

Granted, while this is a lot like trying to remember feeling not-nauseous when you’re on a boat pitching back and forth and you’re lying in a pool of your own vomit, it can be done.

Not always. But sometimes.

5 responses to this post.

  1. Suicides seriously mess the survivors up – I’m witnessing an example of that online right now. I think that’s where it comes from. I would never in a million years accuse a minor of being selfish for suiciding, especially a girl. With regards to older men suiciding, that can be a little more complicated, involving as it can a whole bevy of people who have been trying to rescue the dude for decades. The same brain chemistry issues may apply, but some people just don’t want to be rescued, even when they have lots of support and autonomy.

  2. I’ve read that men feel a different kind of shame than women do about their depression, e.g., it’s supposed to be a female thing. Womanish.

  3. This is literally amazing. Having battled depression and anxiety with suicidal thoughts and self-harm, I can relate to being told I’m selfish and cowardly, and it never sat right with me. Thank you for articulating what I could not.

  4. You’re welcome. Be well!

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