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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

Posts tagged suicide

Check out my interview with Wayne Kennedy here!

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Wayne and I sit down (with no notes or prep!) for a solid follow up to our first conversation a few months ago, which you can find here.

We talk about:

  • Wayne’s cool new gig at Long & McQuade
  • Recording his recent live album
  • What’s happening with his new solo album
  • Joining Avem
  • Surviving suicide attempts and living on the bipolar spectrum

We get really honest about the mental health stuff. This conversation is about as real as it gets. If you need crisis support, please phone Four County Crisis at 705-745-6484 or toll-free 1-866-995-9933.

Featured Tunes:

Grow Up Stay Young by The Anti-Queens
Of Flesh & Blood by Jenn Fiorentino
Shut Up, I’m Trying to Sleep (LIVE!) by Wayne Kennedy
…And the Hits Keep Coming by Old Wives

(In the spirit of Wayne, keepin’ it 100% CanCon and 75% local!)

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Content: mental illness, mood disorders, mania, depression, anxiety, smoking, cannabis, xanax, blood, suicide attempt, suicide threat, hospitalization, self harm, parent death, friendship

 

For years before we met, people told me I would love you. So many of our mutual friends used to tell me about how similar we were, with so many mutual interests and mutual mental health issues. And when we finally met, we connected instantly. I remember sitting on the bed in the spare bedroom of my apartment, window wide open, chain-smoking cigarettes and exchanging stories about the fucked up things that had happened to us, fucked up things we had done, and weird shit we experienced. You intermittently popped Xanex, while I packed bong bowl after bong bowl of Indica strains. We had some overlapping clinical diagnoses, and some similar but different ones too. I could see myself in you, like a mirror image. After twenty-something years of feeling isolated and loved by my other friends, but never really seen, you saw me.

We both lived with mood disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders. We were tattooed smokers, self-harmers, daughters of long-dead mothers. We both loved sex and the occasional drug binge. We both had wonderful, long-term, committed partners. We both longed to be well while simutanteously accepting that mental illness was a permanent part of our lives that we couldn’t help but romanticize and struggle with and commit to in our own ways.

I remember asking you what to do when you inevitably became manic. We made safety plans. I remember you asking me what to do when I inevitably self-harmed. We made crisis plans. I remember discussing how much we should discuss our weight and our eating habits. We made resource lists.

And then the time came when I looked into your eyes and it wasn’t you, it was this live wire, electric version of you. You started lying to me about things like if you were using or if you were hanging out with people who you knew I knew used. And then you told me about things and acted in ways that weren’t in line with the way I knew you wanted to be and I fought my way in to advocate for you as well as I could while trying to keep you relatively safe.

And then a time came where I was so depressed and had been texting you about it that you broke into my apartment early in the morning, nearly in tears, to find that I was still alive after all.

And then there were all those times I drove you to the hospital, or offered to drive you to the hospital because that was the only way you felt you could be okay.

And then there was the time where I told you about that really bizarre recurring experience I have that 99% of people don’t know I have that only you can even begin to understand. Because you’ve been through it too.

And then there was that time where you told me that you hated me and wanted to kill me. You told me I was faking my mood disorder and that if I saw you on the street, I’d better run, because you were going to kill me. But the moment I looked you in the eye, I knew it wasn’t you. It was that live wire version of you again.

And there were times where we both told each other that we couldn’t be there for each other all the time, that we needed to focus more exclusively on taking care of ourselves.

And then there was that time that your partner called me to tell me I needed to come over because our worst fear had come true and I made it around the corner just in time to watch as the paramedics wheeled your seizing body on a stretcher from your apartment into the ambulance. And I stayed back while your partner spoke to the cops and cleaned up the bloody vomit on the kitchen wall and went with your partner to the hospital where they told us they needed to take you to a bigger hospital. And then, when your stepmom called me at work the next day to tell me to come say goodbye, I raced to the hospital from work to slip my hand in your limp hand and and sang you Bad Religion songs.

“There will be sorrow no more”.

That last thing nearly ruined our friendship. But it didn’t. It took time and space. It took me adjusting my expectations and you forgiving yourself. And I am so beyond grateful that you lived. And even though we both know that we will both continue to struggle from time to time, the history of our own lives and of our friendship proves that no state is permanent. It will always end. There will always be another time for us to sit on the bed, drinking tea, and smoking, and laughing way too loudly. Because we see each other. And we’re learning to navigate what it means to be a mentally ill person with a mentally ill best friend. And that’s a pretty magical kind of friendship.

Content warning: all the usual stuff, but also specific mentions of self-harm, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts.

 

The stereotype of mad people goes something like this: unable to get out of bed, unable to take care of basic needs (ie. food, hygiene), engaging in impulses, suicide attempts, active self-harming, medicated, attention-seeking, manipulative, engaging with any and all delusions or hallucinations- and the list goes on. Some of these things hold truth for some people (heck, all of these things may hold true for some people!), and that is valid. But those are not things that hold true for me.

I identify as being a mad person for a few reasons:

1. I was diagnosed with Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, and as experiencing occasional quasipsychosis when I was fourteen. I was then treated by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and my family doctor through various therapeutic practices and also with medication.

It should probably be noted at this point that I feel strongly that if I were to undergo a full psychiatric assessment at this point in my life, eleven years after my initial evaluation, I would be given a pretty different set of diagnoses. It should also probably be noted that, while I believe first and foremost that everyone ought to have the right to treat their madness/illness/body in whatever way they feel may work best for them at the time, I am extremely noncompliant with medication and do not believe that it is helpful for me or conducive to my healing process at this point in my life. I also want to acknowledge that there was a point in my life where I did feel as though medication was helpful.

2. Sometimes, I feel mad. I feel crazy. I feel out of control. Sometimes, I am so depressed I want to die for no reason at all. Sometimes, I am so anxious, leaving my apartment takes hours because I have to check and re-check that i’ve unplugged everything in my apartment. Sometimes, I hear, and see, and feel things that other people don’t hear, or see, or feel. More often than not, I wake up throughout the night, either already breathless from sobbing in my sleep or completely paralyzed, as though there’s an alien laying on top of me. 
3. Other people (sometimes) identify me as mad. When I’m having a panic attack, or when I disclose to a close friend that I am feeling “low-key suicidal” as I call it (meaning I am experiencing suicidal ideation but don’t plan to carry anything out/am safe overall), they identify me as mad.When I disclose things to doctors, they also identify me as mad. When my family has to put up with me unplugging everything constantly and panicking about it as I drive away from home, or my partner wakes up to me crying again, they identify me as mad too.
Whether I want it to be or not, madness is a big part of my life, and, given the day, I’ve been known to argue both sides. However, the stereotype of mad folks doesn’t fit for me. No matter how unstable I am feeling, I will always get up, force myself to eat, force myself to drink water, force myself to get dressed, force myself to go to work, force myself to prepare meals beforehand, force myself to maintain relationships, force myself to take time to rest and recharge, force myself to have boundaries, force myself to care for the people in my life. I haven’t attempted suicide in eight and a half years, I haven’t self-harmed in five years, and in that time, I have graduated with an undergraduate degree (with honours), maintained a long-term romantic relationship, improved my family relationships, maintained several long-term friendships, started my career, and found stable housing (finally). I am what people call high-functioning.
I work, I volunteer, I take care of myself, I maintain relationships and extra-curricular interests. People who aren’t close to me generally don’t even realize I’m mad, and in a way, that is a privilege. However, like with any invisible, chronic condition, there is something to be said for experiences being erased by what fits more easily: physical and visible manifestation of symptoms.

The fact that I am high-functioning does not negate my experiences or the validity of my healing process.

Sometimes, I feel guilty for taking up space in therapeutic settings or online support groups for mad people. Sometimes, I feel guilty because I feel as though I’m appropriating language around mental health to describe my experiences. But the reality of the situation is: just because I don’t kill myself, doesn’t make my nearly constant suicidal ideation any less significant to my lived experience. Obviously, that’s the most extreme example I could give, but you get the idea (and I do love the dramatic…).

A lot of the issue comes down to the nature of psychiatry. Lists of symptoms fit the criteria of a mental illness, as defined by the  DSM V, so people are diagnosed and received the treatment that is supposed to alleviate those symptoms. Although this process has been life-saving in many different ways for many different people, there are tons of problems with this way of identifying and treating madness.That is an essay within itself….
The one problem with this that I want to draw attention to within this particular essay is that there exists this binary of “well”/“not well” or “sane”/“mad” or “functioning according to capitalist standards”/“not functioning according to capitalist standards”. While I’m all for resisting capitalism and not defining wellness or worth according to levels of productivity, I also happen to be a person who copes (and literally survives) by functioning. That is my way of resisting feeling like shit. This doesn’t mean that I think I’m better than (or more well than or healed than) people who are not high-functioning, simply that my way of working towards wellness and healing happens to look pretty high-functioning.

This also does not negate my experiences or the validity of my healing process.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been able to access many years worth different kinds of therapies. Maybe it’s because I was medicated for a few years. Maybe it’s because I have some wonderfully supportive, stable people in my life. Maybe it’s because my number one priority is my healing process (even when it may not seem like it). Maybe it’s because I’m a capricorn. Maybe it’s because it’s just the way I am. Maybe it’s because I was brought up in a WASPy, upper middle class, white family, and not being high functioning simply was not an option. It’s probably because of all of these things that I am a high functioning mad person.

Regardless, my experiences and my healing process are valid, even as a high-functioning mad person.

go for a walk- Sometimes getting up and moving helps the time pass faster and elevates your mood. Go for a walk around the block or walk to a place that makes you feel calm, such as a river, the lake, or forest trails
ground yourself- Make a list of what you can see, hear, taste, smell, and physically feel around you in the moment or describe something in your space (in great detail) to a friend that they may not have seen before. Being mindful of what is physically around you can de-escalate the intensity of your emotions to wait for them to pass. Create changes to what you’re sensing if you want: light some incense, take a bath, light a candle, listen to music. 
breathe- Focus on breathing in for 3 seconds and out for 5 seconds. This will encourage your parasympathetic system to kick in quicker and will give your something slow and rhythmic to follow to pass the time and take the place or racing or intrusive thoughts.
hydrate and top up your blood sugar- Drink a glass of water and have a snack. Better yet, make yourself a full, tasty meal. Your body deserves to be taken care of, and if your body is not being taken care of, your brain isn’t functioning at it’s full potential.
set a timer- Set a timer on your phone or stove for 5 minutes and sit in a chair. Count down with the timer for that five minutes. If the feelings still haven’t passed after 5 minutes, set the timer for another minutes. And then another. Keep counting, sitting, and breathing until the feeling passes. It will always pass eventually. 
reach out- Talk to a trusted friend, partner, or relative about your feelings and spend time around other people. It’s very common for people to isolate themselves when they’re feeling depressed, but you deserve support- even if you don’t feel like you do in the moment. There are a lot of people who would care if you weren’t around. Reach out to one of them. If you experience self-harm impulses and/or suicidal ideation often, make a list of people you feel supported by and keep it somewhere consistent, like your wallet or on your fridge. If you don’t feel as though you have people who are supportive around you, call a local crisis line. There are trained counsellors available 24/7 to guide you through navigating these feelings. 
distract yourself- Do literally anything to distract yourself from the negative feelings. Create some sort of art, colour in a colouring book, make a collage, go to the gym, free-write, do yoga or stretch, learn a song on an instrument, research recipes, clean, reorganize your cupboards, walk your dog, brush your cat, paint your nails, learn something new, watch a trashy t.v. show, read a book, call a friend.

engage with the vibes- Write down your negative feelings and burn the piece of paper, do a tarot reading, pray, sing, do whatever makes you feel loved and in touch with your spiritual side, if this is a thing you’re into. 

CW- Bronte Creek Project, suicide, overdose, rape, slut-shaming)
 

The last thing that happened before I tried to kill myself was the co-op students in my class told me that it was inappropriate to be sitting on the bed with the boy who had raped me a few weeks prior. In all fairness, they didn’t know that he had raped me, they just knew that I had a boyfriend who wasn’t this guy and that we were on a school trip in Temagami. So me sitting on his bunk was not cool.

I had told some of our classmates what had happened, but they also considered it cheating. They didn’t know about the ways he had manipulated me or understand just how vulnerable I was, having just had the first anniversary of my mom’s death. They just knew that I had had sex with someone who wasn’t my boyfriend. My boyfriend didn’t know.

Anyway, even after the assault, I got off on the intense attention he paid to me, so I was still close with him. I even had sex with him sometimes. After all, he’d already had sex with me, so what did it matter? He had carved my initials into his arm, so I figured that if he wanted me to sit on the bed and talk with him, I guess I had better do it. The co-op students told me that what I was doing was inappropriate, and it was like like a switch flipped off in my head. Now I know that that feeling has a name: dissociation.

I was done. I went to my bag and took every pill I could find. I had brought a bottle of extra strength advil, about two weeks worth of my Prozac and Clonazopam prescriptions, and some allergy pills. I went in the bathroom stall, and I took the pills in handfuls. (That’s always bee a skill of mine). I sat and waited.

The next thing I remember is one of my classmates (we’ll call them “R”) finding me. I think they asked me what I took. I think to this day, they probably all think I was trying to get high. After a few of my classmates gathered and realized how out of it I was getting, they finally decided get a teacher.

The next thing I remember is hiding my phone in my underwear upon getting to the hospital so that “they” wouldn’t take it from me.

The next thing I remember is waking up and swiftly removing the IV from my arm. I looked up and saw my uncle sitting in the chair at the foot of my bed. My dad walked in to the room.

The next thing I remember is being home and all my classmates getting back from their super cool winter camping trip and coming to visit me. Including him. They told me they loved me and they were glad I was okay.

At the end of the semester, I kept in touch for a while with a few of my classmates. Some of them stayed very close. Some of them are still really close. They go to each other’s weddings. They speak so fondly of this semester-long program that changed their lives. It changed mine too. It was formative in a lot of big ways. It is also something that will forever be associated with an event that changed my life.

In the end, it wasn’t the rape that did me in. It was the shaming afterward. It was feeling disconnected from what I thought was my community. It’s a story about a time “community” wasn’t community after all. And maybe it’s time I wrote down.