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.

Today, on the tippy-top of Bullshit Mountain, you will find Jillian Michaels’ Facebook post

Ready to climb Bullshit Mountain with me? Let’s go!

headless fatty on a bike


So. Fitness-celeb Jillian Michaels assumes that women of size feel shame when working out at the gym, in public, amongst the Thins. I call that condescending presumption dressed up to look like encouragement, inspiration, and tough-love truth. It’s a fitness neg, like when some rando approaches you at a party and says, “You’re really pretty…have you ever thought of growing your hair out?”

SCAM! Don’t fuck that guy, and don’t internalize this headless-fatty meme either. See how the woman in the photo is cut off at the neck? She’s being depersonalized because her body is somehow so shameful they had to omit her face, yet told not to be ashamed for trying. Like, don’t be ashamed to go to the gym, Fatty McFatterson, even though your body is so objectionable we mercifully protected your identity!

Super neg! The triple twisting Yurchenko vault of emotional/marketing manipulation!

I don’t hate Jillian Michaels. I have all the damn DVD’s, and one or two are engaging enough (if you fast-forward past all the “Be your best you! Everybody else is taken!” pep talk at the end).

It’s hard to be your best you when someone “cheers you on” by judging your start as a weak one before you’re hardly on the goddamn bike, or trail, or weight rack – because you don’t look like they think you’re supposed to.

It hurts when someone posts an image online to inspire you…to NOT look like the woman in the image; the woman you actually do look like today, at this very moment, except that you have a face.

It sucks to feel good about yourself for a while, then feel bad again when someone reminds you how very deficient and lacking you are.

This is the mental soundtrack for the binge, the purge, the cravings, the vomiting, the laxatives, the endless hours on some Sisyphus machine, “paying” for the binge you had when you felt like shit about yourself, or the meal you enjoyed when you felt good. The fitspo industry party line officially disowns all of the above, of course, but let me direct you to that cute little sign in every head shop: For tobacco products only.

I like your boxing workout, Jillian. But I thought your post was super-ugly. Ugly on the inside. Right where it counts.