Death. Ice on a Mosquito Bite. Some Thoughts. (Again.)

Photo credit: Darren Hester.
Photo credit: Darren Hester.

I’m afraid this will be a rather short post this evening. But perhaps that’s just as well. Some of you regular readers might be getting a bit worn out, what with my posting twice a day. And most of it not too cheerful.

I am offering a report. This was my assignment today.

Some things need to to be dealt with. They just do. This needed to be.

And there also gets to be a point when you know that it is time. That it can be dealt with and that it has to be dealt with.

So I did what I usually do when it’s time to work out some serious, unpleasant things. I stayed in my pajamas, ate badly, drank an endless stream of very strong, very sweet tea, watched TV. And worked at this.

Oh, and I took a long nap.

I have two thoughts about it now. I’m not sure either of them are new, but I have them with a bit more clarity

A) I’ve been afraid my whole life of what I might do, either to myself or to someone else. I never attempted suicide again after that first time, and although I did self-harm, it never entered the realm of dangerous. Still, the urge to harm oneself is terrifying and confusing, not terribly unlike feeling you are possessed by the devil.

Photo credit: Alvegaspar.
Photo credit: Alvegaspar.

B) We harm ourselves because pain of one kind or another is simply unbearable. Death promises to end it. Self-harm is at least distracting, like putting ice on a mosquito bite. We might decide it’s about guilt or self-hatred or the general futility of life, but that’s not what it’s really about. Those are simply the ways we try to make sense of the urge after it’s already in our heads. We might think it’s about shame, but it’s just as likely the shame itself is the pain we are finding too much to bear. It was for me.

Oh, and the cat has retired from killing bugs. She now restricts herself watches them. Just thought you might like to know.

I am going to sleep really, really soundly tonight. Even if I need to kill all of my own bugs from now on.


The Belt, the Door, the Closet, the Chair

Police boots.
Police boots.

I was taken into care when I was about a year a half. I have mentioned that before: here and here.

I don’t know why I was, actually, although I have it narrowed down: either because my mother hit me over the head with a chair or because my father raped me with a pair of scissors.

They overlap in my mind because of the shoes. Shoes that looked a bit like this. There seemed to be so many of them, although there probably weren’t. I just wasn’t used to so many people in uniform in the house. With such big shoes.

The shoes came back a few times. They sat in the livingroom and talked to my mom while I played with blocks. I remember that. They didn’t take me away that time.

I was afraid of their faces, so I looked at their shoes.

I do know what happened after I came back.

My dad staged a terrifying and dangerous “interrogation,” insisting I report back to him what I had “told.” I still don’t know if I ever told anyone anything.

And then I tried to kill myself. Because, really, what was the point if I was going to have to live like that, among those people, and become like them?

I went to the hall closet where my mom kept a belt specifically to have handy to beat us with. I thought I could make a noose with it. But there were technical difficulties.

To hang yourself, you need something to stand on. A stepstool wasn’t tall enough. And the the chairs were too heavy and too far for me to drag.

Whenever I am reminded of what I suffered or how there seemed to be no escape from a world I did not want to belong to, I feel the same degree of despair. It is sometimes so hard just to be with that.


Je suis desolee.

Maaf kijiye.



I’m sorry.

I can apologize in five languages. I know how to say I forgive you in only one. Maybe that’s an accident or maybe that has something to do with me. I can recognize when I have wronged someone, but I don’t know how to forgive.

Most people working at healing some kind of emotional wound–any kind of wound–will tell you that you need to forgive those who have wronged you in order to heal. Others will tell you the whole idea of forgiveness is offensive. What was done to them cannot be forgiven.

Forgiveness is an essentially contested notion: we cannot agree on what forgiveness means or whether forgiveness is required. But we do agree on its importance.

In my experience, whatever it is we are angry or hurt about, the person we most urgently need to forgive is ourselves. We need forgiveness for the ways the damage to our souls has been allowed to continue to harm us long after the perpetrator stopped. We need forgiveness for the poor choices we’ve made as a result of the past that allowed the past to go on hurting us. We need forgiveness for the ways we went on harming ourselves for reasons that were never our fault.

Reverend Desmond Tutu says that forgiveness is always available to us. All that is required is an earnest confession of our wrongs.

So here goes:

I’m sorry.

Je suis desolee.

Maaf karen.



I’m sorry for expecting the impossible from myself for far too long. I’m sorry for not eating right most of the time. I’m sorry for attempting suicide at 2 years old. I’m sorry for considering it again all through 9th grade. I’m sorry for cutting myself in high school and again in college. I’m sorry for every one of my destructive relationships. I’m sorry for being so slow to understand I deserved better.

I am.


teddy.bearTrue story.

I’ve got a lot of those.  I wanted to share one with you.  There isn’t a moral to this at the end or anything.  Don’t look for one.  It’s just a story.

I was always a little worried I was crazy or would become crazy.  I think I’ve mentioned that before.  Less so as I got older, and I seemed to be able to manage life–you know, pay bills, go to work, come home again.  And then I also started to realize that crazy is just another disease, like diabetes or high blood pressure.  You do what you need to do, and you deal with it.  And life goes on.

I was also afraid I would become suicidal.  In my mind, they aren’t that different.  Since I don’t want to die.

Anyway, I told my preschool teacher  I wanted to kill myself.  I was about 3 or 4.  What’s strange about the memory for me is it’s one of the first memories I have where I just know it happened, like knowing my birthday or my name.

I’m also pretty sure I was quoting someone else–I was talking about something specific I had heard, which was my mother’s suicide threats.  I wasn’t really talking about myself, but I was little and it’s hard for a kid to know how to talk about these things.  There are picture books about your first trip to the doctor, and toilet training, and having two dads, but nothing on mommy trying to die.  So it was hard to get the point across, and I guess I didn’t do it as well as I might have liked.

I found myself in a children’s psychiatric ward for observation.  That was easier on my folks than telling the truth–either to themselves or to anyone else.

The worst part is they left me there without my teddy bear.  It tears me up inside just thinking about it.

Further Confessions

I should perhaps begin by saying to those people who read here because you care about me at a personal level that I love each of you.  I will not leave you.  Promise.  You may not want to read the rest of this, because it will worry you.

This entry is not for you.

It is for anyone out there in the blogosphere who has felt intense despair, who has felt overwhelmed by life and just wanted a break, and who finds the experience of being inside their own mind and their own skin unbearable.

Because I get it.

I hate myself.  This is not a value judgement.  I am not saying this makes me a better or worse human being. I am saying it like someone who hates broccoli or having their head surgically removed.  Because being myself has been nearly unrelentingly painful.  And I don’t like it.

Being inside my head hurts.  In general, I have had two choices about this: to suppress the hurting in some way, which deadens my general experience of life, or to let it hurt.  Neither has been a good choice.

That is not my fault.  It is the fault of experiences I have had no control over and the fault of being human with a full repertoire of emotions and important needs that are painful when they aren’t met.  In other words, it is the result of circumstances and realities over which I have no control and for which there are no good solutions.  I could stop being human, I suppose, but that does not sound like a good solution to me.

I suspect, actually, that nearly everyone who has lived a decently long and full life knows what I am talking about.  At some point, most of us have found ourselves feeling terrible and unbearable anguish for one reason or another–we lose an important relationship or a dream, or are betrayed and for a while it can really hurt.  If that goes on long enough, we start to get depressed and hopeless.  We question the point of all of this.  Despair sets in.  Sometimes, suicidal ideation crops up.

For some of us, that vulnerability within ourselves is hard to take.  Some people seem to be able to articulate despair and anguish without any reservation.  Good for them.  I bet they score higher on tests for psychological resilience than I do.  Keep it up.

For others–like me–it causes us terrible shame.  Why can’t we tough it out?  Why can’t we bear the pain with a little more grace, even if we can’t stop the pain itself?  Why is the pain so great I want to die?  Every day?  I mean, seriously, is it that bad?  I want to–and maybe you do, too–tell myself to toughen up and lighten up and get over it.  But I am human.  And I can’t.

And it does hurt that much.  Whatever “it” is.  It really does hurt as much as we think it does.  Whatever is in our heads is real, at least for us.  And that is who counts.

I’m just saying I understand.  And that I think it’s okay.

It’s okay to fantasize about a way out.  It’s okay to think pills are a neater way to go than a gun (they aren’t).  It’s okay to envy the person who finds comfort in a needle or a bottle.  Fantasies do not become reality unless we act.  And it’s okay to wish a break from life were possible without being dead.  Our wishes are only wishes.

Life is hard sometimes.  For everyone.  There are times when none of us are strong enough to manage it.  You aren’t alone in that, and there’s no need to feel ashamed about it.  You will, somehow–manage, I mean– but feelings are their own thing.  They will go on being whatever they are.

And for those of you who read all the way to the end of this, thank you.  You have allowed me to set down a terrible burden.

The Thought of Death in the Morning Goes Well with Tea

Black tea. Source:

I wake up most mornings thinking I should kill myself.  I get up, put tea on, use the loo, feed the cat, and then start thinking I should die.

This has been going on for years.  It doesn’t happen every day.  Just most days.

I’m not suicidal.

It took me a long time to realize that, and these kinds of thoughts used to scare the pants off me.  Especially in the days when I really was depressed, because suicidality and depression go together and I really didn’t want to wake up dead one morning.  Well, so to speak.

In reality, not all suicide is about despair.  Some suicidal gestures are about rage or impulsivity or both.  I ought to know.  I’ve seen a lot of them.  Suicidal gestures, I mean.

So, the rest of the story from the juice/chair incident I wrote about in Scent of a Lion: Trauma and the Brain is that I woke up in a pool of blood on the floor in the kitchen and went looking rather dazedly for my mother.  I found her in the bathtub with her wrists slit.  The water was pink and tasted salty.  I am not entirely sure this really happened, but I am mostly sure.  Sure enough.  The fact that I tasted the water is oddly convincing for me.  Perhaps mainly because it’s such a strange thing to do, and so exactly what I would do, and so intensely, vividly there.

I am sharing this with you, my reader, not to shock or horrify you.  I don’t want pity for what a rough start I had in life.  I am telling you because I am not so very different from other people, and if I found my mother semi-conscious after the climax of a raging fit, you might have also.  Or someone you know might have.  Maybe not a mother, but maybe a father, or a sibling, or a friend.  And you–or the person you know–might be very confused about that.

Our bathtub did not look anything this elegant. Source:

Losing a loved one to suicide is always deeply distressing.  It’s a loss, as much as any loss is, but it also has that added element of being almost completely incomprehensible.  Why would you choose to die?  Was life really so awful?  Was there something I should have done?  Why didn’t I see it?  It’s doubly puzzling when even what we are told about suicide doesn’t quite fit.  We can try to make it fit, but it doesn’t.

People who engage in enraged acts of self-harm are always in a great deal of pain, or at least communicate that they are.  That part fits.

But angry suicides blame other people for the distress they are in.  Their gestures are often public, as if to say, “Look what you’re doing to me!”  Sometimes, they literally say it.  I know my mother said it to me.

Mainly, what doesn’t fit is that raging suicides are raging.  They are really and truly angry, even if they may also be saying how much pain they are feeling–which does make a certain degree of sense.  After all, we sometimes do lash out when we are hurting.  Just maybe not so much.

Essentially, the raging suicidal gesture is a way to hurt other people by hurting someone important to the people you are trying to hurt–namely, yourself.  And that’s very different from simply giving up on life, or even trying to communicate in the only way you know how that you are hurting.  And, the thing is, it works.

It does hurt.  I know it hurt me.

The reason I wake up in the morning thinking I should die is that I once woke up in the morning and my mother told me she wished I were dead.  And then she nearly killed me, and after that she nearly killed herself.

I still can’t make sense of it, and it still hurts.