Resurfacing

I cannot even begin to adequately express the relief that my move is over.

Nearly every night since the move (which was over two weeks ago), I’ve sat in my living room looking around at my place, unable to fully grasp that I’m really there.

I expected this feeling to fade quickly once I settled in, but as it turns out, unpacking and assembling furniture and making the place mine… has only served to make the whole thing more surreal.

It’s hard to explain why this is. I’ve been living in my own place, to some degree or another, since I was sixteen–a decade now. Of course, at first it was dorms and only during the school year. But haven’t lived at home for a full summer since my first year of undergrad, and I got my first apartment–shared, of course–before I turned twenty. I had an apartment to myself for the first year of graduate school. I’ve shared three different apartments with two different partners, and had more than a dozen different non-partner roommates.  Phone calls with strangers are one of my least favorite things in the world, something I often have to bribe myself into doing, but calling to put the utilities in my name is so familiar now that this time it inspired only the faintest flutter of anxiety. I’ve packed and unpacked, requested mail forwarding, and changed the addresses on all my bank accounts… more times than I even want to think about. I could probably list all of the places I’ve lived if I had to, but only because I’ve never been good at cleaning out the address book on my amazon account, and dorm building addresses can be googled. It’s a long list.

 

All of which is to say… almost nothing about this experience is new. But somehow, it feels different than every time before, for reasons I haven’t been able to really pin down. The closest I’ve come to explaining it is to say that this is the first time I’ve had my own place where I felt like it was happening for real, and done entirely under my own power. I’m not a student, not living someplace temporary, not sharing space with another person who owns all of the furniture. This is my real life, and I built it. Damn.

—-

Another thing I’m overflowing with gratitude for is that, for the first time ever, I have my own pets. I love having pets–I grew up with dogs, and fell in love with rats while working with them in the lab. My girlfriend had rats that I bonded with when we were together, but they were still hers, and went with her when we split. I’ve wanted to get my own ever since, but was waiting until I was sure I would be settled for awhile. Finally that is true, and I got my girls this past weekend.

a tiny black rat next to my hand

Dax huddles next to my hand.

tiny brown rat with no eyes holds a treat

Geordi eating a treat, adorably.

Geordi was born blind (hence the name). This doesn’t appear to hold her back at all–in fact, she’s much more interested in exploring than Dax, who spends a lot of time hiding and startles easily. Rats don’t have the greatest eyesight to begin with, and rely heavily on touch and smell, so I have every reason to expect that she’ll live a fairly normal life. Of course I try to be considerate and give her lots of audio cues when we’re playing, and I won’t rearrange the cage as much as I would if both my ratties were sighted.

Anyhow, I’m having loads of fun getting to know them, but I won’t gush about them too much more here. If you feel like getting bombarded by adorable baby rat photos, you can follow me on instagram.

Anyhow, all of that said–though life is looking good these days, I’ve been slow to return to life as usual because I’ve also been exhausted. Moving is an incredibly anxiety provoking process for me, and that plus an annoying cold have ensured that the last two weeks have been pretty low-energy. I’m finally starting to shake it off though, so hopefully I’ll be back to posting regularly now. I have some exciting things to tell you about in the near-ish future, some changes to the site hopefully by the end of the year, and of course the return of link roundups ASAP. Oh, and I will probably rant about Ebola, because the media is losing its shit here in the US and they’re driving me fucking bonkers.

 

*jedi hugs* all!

It’s good to be back.

I’m not dead, just moving.

Hello internet friends.

So here’s the thing. Almost immediately after I told y’all I’d be writing here again, my current roommate asked me to move out. As I was subleasing and she is on the actual lease, she is totally within her rights to do this, but as I just moved into this place in May, I was pretty bummed. Moving is expensive and stressful, and being told for the second time in a year that the person I was living with didn’t particularly like living with me made me extra anxious about finding a good match for a roommate.

See, I totally thought I would HAVE to find a roommate, because LA is expensive, I don’t make that much money, and oh, I just started paying for my own health insurance, negating what little wiggle room I had in my budget. And that’s what I started out doing–looking at established apartments that were short a roommate, and looking for roommates to go in on a place with. At first I wasn’t getting many responses, and then I found a kick-ass group of people that I tried to get a place with. Unfortunately, twice in a row we picked seemingly awesome places that then fell through because the landlord decided to be sleazy about things at the last minute [changing terms, refusing to take blatantly illegal and unfair clauses out of the lease, etc.]. After the second failure, our little group disbanded and decided we’d be better off looking on our own.

Now, moving already pushes all of my anxiety/insecurity buttons. I don’t like thinking about money all the time, especially as it makes me focus on my shame about not making more or knowing what the hell I’m doing career-wise. I don’t like spending large sums of money. I don’t like not knowing what my living situation is going to look like in a month. Negotiating with landlords stresses me out, but I’m also terrified of agreeing to terrible exploitative terms and getting royally fucked over.  Basically, moving is the worst.

Add on top of that two failed opportunities for a place and dealing with the emotions of three other people about that failure, and I was pretty fried.

And then a miracle happened.

The day after finding out we definitely weren’t getting the second place, I made appointments to see as many apartments as I could in one afternoon/evening. Since I don’t have a car, this required a fair bit of Uber-ing, but I decided to swallow the cost just to hopefully have the whole mess done. I saw a bunch of places with roommates that may have worked okay, but I wasn’t totally thrilled with for one reason or another.

And then in the middle of my rapid-fire hunt, I got a call about a place that I’d totally thought was a scam–a one bedroom apartment for a similar price to a room in most two bedrooms in the area where I’m looking. I live on the west side of LA, which is more expensive than some other areas, but living close to my friends and work is basically a requirement given my lack of car. On the west side, one-bedrooms or even studios with full kitchens are ALWAYS substantially more than my maximum possible budget would allow. This one was in my budget and a 1-bedroom, not a studio–almost certainly too good to be true, right? But I had been curious enough to email and ask about it, and I got this call back offering to show me the place that night. I still figured there had to be something horribly wrong with the place at the price they were offering, but since I was on a roll, I figured why not?

Turns out, the place was not a scam. It is an older building, and the kitchen is tiny with an ancient stove/oven, but everything is functional and clean. The reasons for the low price are somewhat complicated, but basically all stem from the fact that it used to be a two-bedroom apartment that has since been split into a one-bedroom and a bachelor, and because of the way that was done, they can’t legally lease it as an independent apartment–the tenant in the bachelor is on the main lease, and the one-bedroom is rented as a sublease.

While there are some minor inconveniences that result from this setup, for my particular situation, they are totally worth it to have my own place.  So I’ve signed the [sub]lease and will move in on September 30th. This will be the first place of my own I have outside of student housing, so I’m pretty excited.

All that said, while the biggest anxiety [will I find a place?] is over, I’m still sort of a ball of stress.  Packing. All of the expenses of setting up a new place[I've never furnished a living room!]. Moving by paying actual movers to move 100% of the stuff, since circumstances are requiring me to move on a weekday and having friends help even with boxes isn’t really an option. Having to take a day off work to move, after already taking days off for stress-related health issues earlier in the month. And what if I’ve totally made the wrong decision, and I’m miserable there and have to go through this whole process again sooner rather than later?

 

So yea. This is why you haven’t heard from me much lately. I’m starting to feel like I have a handle on things though, and it’ll all be over soon. Fingers crossed that everything works out, and that I’ll be writing interesting stuff again soon.

Post from Greta Christina: “Trans People, Pronouns, and Choosing Between Social Justice and the Chicago Manual of Style” 

[Edits for clarity, thanks Kasey!]

In the linked post, Greta tears apart a long grammar-stickler-rant on the pronoun “they” that basically amounts to: ‘”We can’t use “they” as a singular gender neutral pronoun because it will break the language, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”

I’m 100% in agreement with Greta that that is fucking horseshit.

We need a gender neutral 3rd person singular pronoun. “They” works. So do a number of other options, of course, and I’m glad to use those for a specific person if asked to do so. In terms of being able to refer to a hypothetical singular person, gender unknown, in my writing, however, it is useful to have a word that everyone already agrees is a word to replace either the clunky “he or she” or the totally-not-okay default-to-“he” (because men are clearly Default Humans, AMIRIGHT?). “They” fits that bill. Chicago Manual of Style can go fuck itself.

On a related note–I have to teach SAT/ACT grammar, and currently I have to teach my students that “they” can ONLY be plural. I handle this by explaining to them that this is currently a matter of debate and that they may see “they” used as a singular pronoun elsewhere, but for the purposes of the test they should consider it plural.

Insight is awesome, but it isn’t magic

There is this interaction that I have versions of a LOT. In and of itself, it isn’t a bad thing (and so PLEASE do not feel guilty or weird if you have had a conversation with me that sounds like what I’m about to describe)… I largely find it frustrating because I have it so fucking often, and have yet to come up with a way to respond to it that feels satisfying to me.

Here is how this tends to go down.

It starts because I am having, or have recently had, a Bad Brain Day/Week/Month. What this typically means is that I have been experiencing some type of overwhelmingly strong emotional response–maybe I’ve been having panic attacks, maybe I’ve been getting disproportionately bummed out over some particular event, maybe my brain has been spinning off into depression-ish thinking for a variety of reasons. Whatever it is, it is significant enough to have been playing a big, big part in my experience of the world during whatever time period I have been dealing with it, and may even be causing me to significantly alter my behavior to compensate for it.

So this thing has been going on with me, and someone I am fairly open to about such things asks me how I’ve been, and I tell them. This could be a friend, a family member, even my therapist. I then explain, to the degree that I am comfortable doing so, the emotional issue I am having. I am able to be incredibly articulate about what I am feeling, and why I am feeling it, and to the extent that it is irrational, I explicitly describe it as such. Often, I explicitly state that part of what is distressing to me about this experience is that I understand that it is irrational, but I cannot stop having the thoughts/feelings.

The person I am talking to then responds with something to the effect of “well at least you’re aware that your thoughts are irrational, and are able to counter them/deal with them so rationally”.

*cue inarticulate aggravated noises*

Here’s the thing. The vast majority of the time when I am struggling mentally/emotionally, I AM able to cling to at least some small thread of rationality, and I am able to understand, at least partially, where my feelings are coming from/that they are not grounded entirely in reality. This isn’t to say that I always understand every aspect of my own psyche (no one has perfect self-knowledge), but I do certainly have enough understanding to be useful.

This IS a great thing, in that it has kept me from being more of a danger to myself or others, and in that it allows me to implement self-care strategies as needed in order to mostly pass as a not-crazy person in many of my daily interactions. It’s a huge part of what allows me to be a basically functional, self-supporting adult.

I also understand that there are lots of well-meaning reasons why people give me the “but at least you understand your craziness!” response. Sometimes they are genuinely surprised/impressed by my ability to articulate things so clearly/dissect my own motivations, either because they struggle with that themselves or because they aren’t used to hearing people with mental illness talk about it the way I do. Sometimes they don’t know what else to say, and are just trying to respond with something positive. Sometimes, as in the case of my therapist, they are trying to get me to “give myself credit” for using the coping mechanisms I have learned/countering the negative thoughts.

All that said… despite what the cliches about flashes-of-insight on therapists’ couches may have taught you, understanding your emotional responses does not allow you to magically turn them off. At best, insight allows you to apply strategies to manipulate those responses in more favorable directions, and that still takes significant effort, which is FUCKING EXHAUSTING. When I am explaining that I’ve been having a tough time lately, part of what I am telling you is that I have been working really hard to keep my emotions/negative thoughts from completely incapacitating me, and I am fucking TIRED and it SUCKS.

So when someone hears that, and turns around and tells me “well at least you are able to understand/control what’s going on in your head”, it’s hard for me not to hear that as “well, be grateful that it isn’t worse!” Which, as I hope you know, is not a particularly helpful response to anyone experiencing hard things.

I don’t have a great way to sum this up, so I’m just going to say this: when someone tells you about something they are struggling with, suppress the urge to immediately go to giving advice, praising how they are handling it, or trying to help them see that it’s “not that bad”. They may need/want one or all of those things, eventually. But maybe don’t start there. Maybe just start by making them feel heard.

Keely’s Reading List — Week of August 29th, 2014

So, here we go guys… my first roundup of stuff-I’ve-shared-on-facebook this week.

A few general notes before we begin:

  1. These lists are not in any way an attempt to be comprehensive coverage of all the things I thought were good/important in the last week. I do not have the time or brainpower to be anyone’s primary news source, and no one is asking me to be. Rather, this is stuff that I happened to share, which is some subset of the stuff I am reading that I think others might enjoy seeing, or should see, or that I want to hear people’s opinions on. 
  2. As you’re probably already aware, my interests are eclectic, and they also wax and wane with time. Sometimes I’m reading more science related things, or more feminism/activism things, or more silly fun things. It all shakes out in the long run, but the just fyi, the various categories will not have the same balance week-to-week.
  3. There are a bunch of blogs I read all the time, and find almost every post interesting/insightful/worth talking about. I try not to share every single post from those blogs though… I figure if people wanted that, they could subscribe themselves. Instead, I largely share things that I either spent a lot of time thinking about, or had some additional commentary to add.

TL;DR… don’t take my inclusion or lack of inclusion of any particular thing in these posts too seriously. 


Mental Illness

Anne Theriault of The Belle Jar had a piece this week on the Washington Post’s website called Mothering With Mental Illness. Anne has a long history of depression and anxiety (which she often writes about eloquently–if you aren’t following The Belle Jar yet, do check it out sometime) and also has a husband and son. This piece was an intimate look at her life with them, and it was both heartbreaking and beautiful. It was also one of the only things I’ve ever read that has made me think that maybe I could be a good mother even if my own mental health issues are not ever 100% controlled. I’m not sure I want kids for a number of other reasons, but I was surprised to realize how comforting and heartening I found this.

Zen Pencils, a great webcomic site that mostly takes great quotes from inspiring people and turns them into comics, had a great comic this week remembering Robin Williams. Interestingly, Zen Pencils’ writer Gav agreed with me that of all the memorial pieces in the wake of Robin Williams’ death, the WTF podcast episode was the best. The episode is mostly an interview Williams’ did for WTF several years ago, but it is a very intimate conversation that I think does a particularly good job at getting at what was special about Williams’, and Marc Maron’s brief comments that frame this conversation on the memorial episode are also very touching (seriously, try not to tear up when Maron’s voice cracks just a tiny bit at the very end).

Miri of Brute Reason had a great piece on the Daily Dot inspired by the media coverage of Robin Williams’ death: 6 ways to have a better conversation about mental illness. Later in the week, on her own blog, Miri hosted an interesting Open Thread, asking people about what things they do for self-care.

 

Science stories

So there’s this project called “Think Write Publish” (not a huge fan of the generic name) that exists to tell science policy stories in a long-form narrative journalism/creative nonfiction format. As science policy and creative nonfiction are two of my favorite things, I can’t believe I didn’t hear about it sooner, but I’m now working my way through all of the recently published stories. Even if you don’t want to join me in reading ALL of them, I do strongly recommend, “What Fish Oil Pills Are Hiding”, which discusses a massive environmental problem severely impacting the Chesapeake Bay (which I grew up on the shores of) and, more broadly, the marine life along the East coast of the US. 

On using comedy in science journalism.

Comedy is best when it’s relatable. My usual advice is “assume the audience is at least as smart as you are, but doesn’t know what you know”. This is a useful rule for making sure you are informative but not preachy, and not condescending.

 

A science writer won a Pulitzer, which is pretty cool. The link is an interview with him which I enjoyed.

News/Politics/Feminism/Activism/etc

If you somehow haven’t already watched Jon Stewart talk about Ferguson and how Fox News talked about it, uh, go do that.

I’m still a bit weirded out every time I see something of actual value come out of cosmo, but this story, an Occupy protester’s recounting of her experience being arrested, convicted, spending a few months at Riker’s, and walking away with a new cause–speaking for inmates–was one of those things.

And speaking of good-things-from-interesting/odd-sources, we have this infographic from Playboy on Catcalling:

Should You Catcall Her?

beginning of the infographic… go read the rest.

More from Miri at Brute Reason, who asks a great question–Are Anti-Rape Devices the Best We Can Do?

The Ice Bucket Challenge seems to be dying down a bit now, but this article does an okay job of articulating my biggest problem with it–we shouldn’t be relying on public awareness and 1-off private donations to fund medical research. I also got a giggle at the #TacoOrBeerChallenge, which encourages you to eat a taco or drink a beer or whatever, and also donate to pro-choice organizations.

An OB/GYN evaluates the feticide case in Indiana 

A Native American explains the difference between appreciating and appropriating native culture, and then details some ways to do the appreciation bit.

Will Everyone Shut Up Already About How the Nordic Countries Top Every Global Ranking? 

Two pieces on how women and men are perceived differently at work.

And two pieces on recent feminism-and-gaming internet controversies.

Explaining to my friend that a group of anonymous gamers flooded a woman with two weeks of constant abuse over allegations made by a bitter ex-boyfriend… without confirming all of her long-established preconceptions of gamers as a rabble of immature young boys… was not easy.

 

 

cute/fun/sexy/silly

A writer and an actress from Orange Is The New Black are dating, and it’s adorable. Another cute lesbian celebrity couple I’ll be following on instagram.

Man 3-D Prints A Concrete Castle In His Backyard 

3D printed castle!

3D printed castle!

There is now an emoji-only messaging app, which amuses me. Sadly it is iOS only at the moment, and most of my friend’s have android phones, but hopefully I’ll get to play with the app eventually.

Miscellaneous

Brilliant take on teenager’s writing ability by xkcd. Do go read the whole thing. 

Person 1: Weird--another study found that kids who use SMS abbreviations actually score higher on grammar and spelling tests. Person 2: Why on earth is that a surprise?

first panel of the comic…. go read the rest!

One of the few food blogs I still read (there are so many! And there are so many other things to read!) is Joy the Baker. Mostly because when I don’t read her, I miss her. She’s become like a fun, quirky, honest, food-obsessed friend. Who just happens to not know who I am, but whatever. Anyhow, this week she posted about her favorite vegan egg substitutes and vegan carrot soup and pistachio baked donuts, and I had to share all of it, because I have lots of vegan friends and because pistachios. Also, she turned me on to this post about the history of cornbread that I found absolutely fascinating.

French school kids have the greatest school lunches.

A new project in Austin, Texas is building a community of tiny houses for the homeless, which is pretty cool.

Formal Yale college professor discusses some of the problems with the Ivy League, and how they contribute to depression in students. More broadly though, he’s discussing the purpose of an education, the consequences of a belief in a meritocracy, and how to live a meaningful life. It spoke to me on a number of levels–as a person who struggles with the cycle of “grandiosity and depression” he describes as a result of how we educate our “promising” or “gifted” kids, as a tutor/mentor to overscheduled, brilliant-but-passionless teenagers and college kids, as a person concerned with the societal values reflected in the way we structure education, and especially “elite” institutions. I may read this guy’s book, I guess is what I’m saying.

Dating advice and media recommendations from Captain Awkward and her commenter community.

As I mentioned above, I love creative nonfiction. I especially love essays. I may get into why and recommend some of my favorites some other time, but for now enjoy this big list of awesome essays to read, most of which are linked to in the piece. I don’t know if reading them will “make you a better person”, as promised in the article’s unfortunately click-bait-y headline, but there are definitely some very solid reads in there. A bunch of them are now on my kindle.

The Dark Side of Almond TL;DR : Almonds are great for you, but they also require lots of water to grow, and in the US we grow them almost exclusively in California, which is currently experiencing an unprecedented drought. Well fuck. 

 

a little dose, v2.0

Hello folks!

I know, I know, I said I was done with writing here. I still am, in a sense–for the moment, most of the personal, confessional-ish stuff I’m writing remains not for public consumption, and is either staying locked up in journals or posted anonymously elsewhere. I’m also working writing some more formal essay-ish things which are likewise not ready for viewing by the wider world. 

But after a number of discussions with some lovely people in my life, I realized that a lot of things that I currently write without thinking of them as “writing”, would actually make for content some people may enjoy? By this, I largely mean things I regularly share on my personal facebook page–news, blog posts, and comics related to science, politics, feminism, mental health, relationships–along with my brief or not-so-brief takes on them.  Sometimes I have serious, informative things to say, sometimes I’m snarky, sometimes it’s just “whoa, isn’t this shit cool you guys?”, but in general, people tend to enjoy my mismash of interests and perspective.

So, I’m rebooting A Little Dose, but doing things a bit differently this time around. First, anytime that I write long-ish commentary about something I share on my personal facebook or elsewhere on the internet that I think a larger audience might enjoy, I’ll post that here as well. Secondly, things I share elsewhere with brief commentary or none at all will be rounded up into a link post once a week or so.

If it isn’t what you want from me, I totally understand. This isn’t completely divorced from what I’ve done in the past–a number of my old posts grew out of posts on facebook or other platforms–but I understand that it is still different. I won’t be offended if, after having the new stuff hit your feed for awhile, you decide that you don’t like my new thing and unfollow. 

Eventually, I may toss in some original posts that are more of what you all are accustomed to from me, but for now, this will be the main thing I have on offer. I hope that at least some of you enjoy it. 

I’ve missed you guys.

*jedi hugs*

Goodbye, for now

I’ve been putting off writing this post for awhile, but the time has come to bite the bullet and put this out there:

For now, I am walking away from this blog. No more sporadic posting, just closing up shop.

This has been a really, really tough decision to reach, as you can probably imagine. I began writing here at a real crisis point in my life, and the writing itself and the feedback I received were both truly invaluable in getting through that time and in beginning to figure out who the fuck I am in the absence of my long-held identities as “the smart kid” and “student” and “scientist”. I have been humbled by the many people who have thanked me for helping them, and honored by those of you who have shared your stories with me.

The reason I’m leaving is pretty simple. Most of what I feel drawn to writing about lately is, for one reason or another, something that I’m not willing, ready, or able to share under my real name. I can’t give you a single specific reason for this, because there are many. Some things are stuff I don’t want to be searchable by employers (current or future). Some are things I’m not ready to share with some people in my real-world life, and though obviously not everyone I associate reads this blog, my name being attached means it’s super easy to find.

And part of the problem is, in the realm of more creative endeavors, I want to give myself permission to play around more. To try things that I’m not at all experienced in or good at, just for fun. And while in theory, this shouldn’t be a big deal to have out in the world (we should all be entitled to play!), it seems really risky at this stage in my life and career to “play” with certain ideas and modes of expression totally in public.

I am not, of course, disappearing from the internet. I have a twitter account and a tumblr, both used somewhat sporadically and informally, but you can connect with me there. The contact form on this page, as well as the facebook page for this blog, will stay alive. At the moment, I have no plans to remove any of the current content, though there may come a day (well into the future, if ever) that I choose to do so. I may also start another blog under my real name for the purpose of talking about the process of  teaching myself a few new skills through a variety of MOOCs, but I’m not sure about that quite yet.

I am also definitely going to be starting a new personal blog under a pseudonym, which for obvious reasons, I won’t be linking up to this one in any way. This is sad, because I know some of you would probably follow me if only you knew where to go. If you know me in real life, trust me that if/when I have a new blog up and am okay with you reading it, I will clue you in. If we have interacted repeatedly online (I have commented on your blog, you’ve commented on mine, we’ve interacted at captain awkward or in the forums, or we have exchanged personal emails), I may feel comfortable filling you in. If you feel you fit that bill, shoot me a message via facebook or the contact form on here, and I may add you to the list of people I’ll inform when my new, more private place is ready.

Of course, my writing style and interests will stay largely the same, and if you and I run in the same internet circles, you may put two and two together and figure out what new pseudonymous blog is actually written by me without any help. If you do, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t share that publicly, of course, but of course don’t feel that figuring it out in and of itself is some kind of violation of my privacy. I know that this is the internet and nothing can stay secret forever, and that isn’t my expectation. Really, I’d just like to be able to not have things I am just fucking around with be at the top of my google results when a potential employer looks me up.

 

 

And phew, that’s about it you guys. Just two more things before I go.

1. I want my current readers to know that I in no way regret writing here. I take nothing back. I’m just ready to move on, for now.

2. To future googlers-of-my-name: this blog was a record of my thinking during a difficult and transitional period in my life. I make no apologies for having been a person who went through some hard things and spent some time figuring all that out in a very public way.

 

Goodbye, my friends.

 

<3

 

—Keely

 

On Suicide [in memory of Kate]

I sat down to write this post for the first time one year ago, when the news had just reached me, tears still drying on my face.
I shut the computer. I wasn't ready. Too raw.
I've tried again a number of times since, but have never been satisfied with what I came up with. Today I realized, though, that this is not about my pretty writing, and acting like there is some perfect thing I could say is actually rather self-centered and silly. I wrote a spur-of-the-moment epic status on facebook, and it seemed to bring people some comfort. For the sake of keeping a record that is more accessible than a facebook status, and to process this day a little more, I've expanded on that status here.

One year ago today, a woman I had known practically since birth took her own life.

Kate was one of my mother’s best friends, starting back when my mother was roughly the age I am now. When I was little, before Kate had kids of her own, she often babysat me while my mom worked or went to college classes. The first phrase I spoke was “hot tea”, because that was what Kate would always exclaim as she shooed me away from hers.

Once Kate started her own family, I saw her a little less, but she was still a frequent presence for most of my childhood. At any major family celebration–major birthdays, graduations–she was there with her family. In the summers, she often brought her kids over to swim with my siblings and I, either in the Chesapeake Bay in the backyard, or in my grandparents’ swimming pool. Many years I saw Kate and her kids more often than I saw many of my cousins, and at events with extended family, Kate’s kids would be absorbed into the big chaotic group of children.

When my family moved a few states away when I was 14, my mother’s closest friends, including Kate, made her a scrapbook/cookbook, full of pictures of over a decade of birthday parties and beach days, alongside everyone’s favorite recipes. Kate contributed several, but the one I always remember most is her carrot cake, because it is literally the only carrot cake my family will make: “Ms. Kate’s Carrot Cake”.

Unfortunately, in more recent years, Kate dealt with a degenerative spinal condition that caused her a great deal of pain and gradually decreased her range of motion. She eventually developed severe depression, though it seems no one in her life knew quite how dire things had become. And then she killed herself.

After my family moved away from Maryland, my mother kept in touch with Kate, and I saw her maybe once a year or so, on visits back to Maryland. While I have fond memories of Kate and always enjoyed her company on the rare occasions when I got to spend time with her as an adult, we weren’t exactly close. She was my mom’s friend, not mine.

All of which is to say: while Kate was, unquestionably, part of my life, on the list of people hurt by her death, I’m pretty far down, after Kate’s kids and husband, her extended family, and her close friends, including my mother. I am not writing this in memory of her because I am hurting or in need of comfort.

I’m writing this because I’m fucking angry.

I know that Kate was struggling.  I know that depression is an evil, lying fucker, and that living with daily pain can drive people to dark places. I have deep empathy for those things.

But Kate also had options. She had friends and family who loved her. She had the ability to access treatment. And she chose not to do so, not to stick around.

Kate was in pain, and her pain is over now. But the pain of her loss ripples through the lives of everyone she loved. So many people will always wonder “could I have done more?” or “why wasn’t I worth sticking around for?”

I know that Kate was a kind and giving person, and that she never would have wanted to cause this kind of pain, which can only mean that she succeeded in convincing herself that, for some twisted depression-logic reason, we’d all be better off without her.

That’s a horribly fucked place to be, and it breaks my heart to know she was there. But I also wish I could go back in time and shake her. To tell her that her children need her. Her friends need her. That everyone who loves her would truly do anything to help her, and that the proof is all around her if she could just let herself see it.

I know that there is little utility in being frustrated with people who are dead, and so I try not to focus too much on these thoughts.

But the senselessness of it all still kills me. It is stupid and awful and unnecessary for Kate to be gone. So many people miss her. So many people never even got to say goodbye. All because at one, crucial moment of despair, no one was by Kate’s side to say “no, please, don’t. Stay.” Because at that one crucial moment, she couldn’t bring herself to reach out for help.

That will always be absurd, unfair, wrong. That will never be okay.

As is the case for any tragedy, the various people who knew Kate have processed her loss in different ways. Some reassure themselves with the thought that at least she is no longer in pain. Some, like me, get angry.

There isn’t really a “right” way to process this, and I have no desire to take away anyone’s comforting thoughts. But to my mind, there isn’t any bright side to Kate’s suicide. The world lost a beautiful person, who most likely died feeling horribly alone. The only meaning I see to be gleaned there is “mental illness fucking sucks”.

But here is what I think we can take from this story.

 

If you are a person who has, in the past, struggled with mental illness and particularly with suicidal thoughts, file this away for future reference: no matter how alone you feel, your suicide would affect more people than you can imagine. Someone would care. No matter what that evil lying fuck depression is telling you, deciding to quit life also means deciding to hurt all of those people.

If you are a person who is currently struggling with mental illness, hopelessness, or anything else that makes life feel not worth bothering with, PLEASE GET HELP. Call a friend. Make a therapy appointment. (Here are some resources  that discuss how to do that if money is a barrier). Really, to start out, anything is better than nothing. Isolation feeds despair. Break out of it anyway you can, even if that feels pointless.

If you are currently contemplating suicide, make sure the help you get is immediate. If you need someone to talk to, there is hopeline (1.800.442.HOPE). If you are literally taking steps to physically harm yourself RIGHT NOW, call 911.

And finally, if you are any variety of human who cares about other humans, listen up.

If a close friend tries to talk with you about scary, painful things like depression and suicide, don’t judge or dismiss or shame them, tell them to “just cheer up”, or insist that their life is so good, they HAVE to be happy.

When people come to friends with problems like mental illness, what they need more than anything is to feel seen, and to feel like someone is in their corner. They need to know that you acknowledge their problem as real, and that you still see value in them even when they are in a dark place, far from their best. You don’t need to say much, and it isn’t about saying “the right thing”. Mostly, your job is to listen.

If you observe that a close friend appears to be struggling with mental health problems, do ask questions. If they aren’t getting help, suggest it.

To a large degree, people with depression have to choose to help themselves–having all the good, helpful friends in the world doesn’t help if you don’t let them in enough to help. The one thing you can do, as a person on the outside, is to let them know that you are someone they can lean on, if/when they are ready.