I THINK I scared First Reader last night and that was not my intention. We
Love you, Mama, Daddy and Sister. And I miss you every single day.
were discussing suicide (well, I was discussing it, he was actively listening). First Reader and I have known and loved each other for 17 years, and never had a serious discussion about suicide.
It’s time to talk, y’all.
A friend of mine committed suicide yesterday. I loved her–still do–and yes, I’m beside myself that I didn’t know her depression was that bad. Most likely, she didn’t either.
Most of the time, I’ve found, when you trip and fall into that deep, dark hole, you don’t even realize you’re falling until it’s too late.
One of the things First Reader does when I go into what I call Spin Mode–that dark place where my brain starts spinning and I can’t make it stop, is Ground Me–he gives me small details about my surroundings that bring me back to earth and gently guides me to slow-and-or-stop the spin.
He usually starts with, “Take a deep breath. In and out. You are safe. The air conditioner is on.”
Why would the sound of an air conditioner be important? Because it’s something you don’t usually notice, and you have to stop and pay attention. Yes, I hear the steady white-noise hum of it, I feel the cool air on my face. I’m here. I’m safe. And so are you.
I’ve lost three friends to suicide this year, and my mother and sister within two months of each other in 2017. I’m not asking for sympathy, I’m doing what I consider a Public Service Announcement.
We need to talk about this.
I know it’s hard to talk about it, even harder to approach someone who’s *spinning*.
Hard to Know What to Say. Hard to Know What to Do.
I didn’t even know that not everyone considers suicide until I was 16-years-old, and I made some flip remark about it (me? make a flip remark?) and my stepfather, the Colonel, said, “No, sweetie. Not everyone thinks about driving their car off a cliff. We need to have a talk.”
And creative people seem to have a tougher time with what Holly Golightly used to call The Mean Reds. So let’s talk about it.
Let’s get real.
The first time I laid in bed, rocking myself, praying that God would kill me, I was five-years-old. I’d just watched my father drown, and my mother was, understandably, spinning. We’d been camping, and Daddy had taken my little sister and I and one of our cousins fishing. I won’t go into the details, but Daddy dove into the water to save a little kid and never came up. I remember the minute details of that day, the little ruffle-butt swimsuits my sister and I were wearing (mine was pink. my sister’s was blue), Daddy’s long legs as he submerged into the still waters . . .
The last words he said to me was, “Sit your butt down. Don’t move. And take care of your sister.”
I was four. She was three. Mama was six months pregnant with my little brother. I am awed now, that not only did she will herself to survive her own turbulent waters, she was able to drag her three small children to shore, so to speak.
While I didn’t fully understand the riptide around me, I did understand that Mama was drowning, too. And that’s what prompted my pleas to God– “God, why didn’t you take me instead? Please. Take me. Give Daddy back to Mama. She is so, so sad.”
So suicide has been a part of my life, so to speak, since I was a little girl. It is sometimes still a struggle, and I sometimes still get flip about it.
I’d say I’m better now, but I think thoughts of darkness are similar to an addiction. It’s something you learn to live with. If you’re willing to look it in the eye and say, “No, you bitch. Not today.”
It’s something I have to work at. Every day. All day. Out loud.
I had a guest overnight last night, and while he is kind and lovely and was with me the entire time, he had no idea that my mind had slipped into that spinning whirlpool. I didn’t want to talk to him about it, because, well, that’s one of the symptoms, isn’t it?
First Reader, who understands my twisted brain better than just about anyone, listened patiently as I told him something I’ve never told anyone–the roadmap I’d put in place when I made my big Swan Dive two years ago.
I was in that place where I was dog-paddling for all I was worth but couldn’t see the shore.
I remember that day, *D-Day* as I call it, vividly, too.
I have to remind myself of the long, ugly road I traveled to get there, the steps I made to make sure loved ones (including–and especially–the furfolk) would be cared for.
And here’s the thing–or one of them anyway: I’ve written a lot in my journalist days about death and near-death, and one of the things that commonly came up was Last Words. In nearly all of the near-death episodes I chronicalled for the newspaper was what these survivors thought were going to be their Last Words. In every single instance, the survivors told me their last words were going to be, “Oh shit.”
Mine were, “Well. Here we go.”
And yes. I said those words out loud.
But that wasn’t the end of my story, even though I thought it was, because there were more Last Words, and they weren’t mine.
The last words I remember from that dark time was a stranger’s words. He said to me as I was being, literally, flown back from the brink of a car crash–yes, over a bridge and nearly made it to the river–were, “Hang on, honey. It’s about to get real loud.”
I was literally helicoptered out, lifted up by total strangers, and with their help, embarked on a new journey that led me to where I am today. Is it perfect? Of course not.
I asked Grandma Jessie once, when I was in that dark place, “Grandma? When will I ever get my ducks in a row?”
She was a tough little no-breasted (double-mastectomy), blue-haired, Southern Baptist woman. Her favorite phrase in times of difficulty was *Tough Titty* which always cracked me up and still makes me smile to this day. But she paused at my question, considered it, and said in her trademark petticoats-and-pearl-handled-pistols kind of way, “Darlin’ girl. Your ducks will never be in a row. Not the nature of ducks.”
I just blinked, stunned. I’d been hoping for words that would guide me back to shore. What I got was more guidance than I possibly could’ve imagined at the time.
Life, for many of us, doesn’t look like what we thought it would look like. Our ducks won’t ever be in a row because that’s not the nature of ducks.
The best we can do is find a fixed point on the shore, redirect, and start swimming.
And if you can, bring those flailing around you with you, even if you’re just showing them the way to dry ground.
And listen for the air conditioner . . .
How Can You Tell?
What Should I Say?
What Can I Do?