Mother’s Daughter

By Erin
Your mom says you were born at 12:30 on a Thursday. Your grandfather drove through the night to kiss your forehead. She tells you he said, “This child has a beautiful soul.”

You were born in the early summer, a month before your brother turned 2. You’ve heard this story a thousand times, he crawled on your mother’s bed and said “here baby, here’s a water balloon.” The balloon is red and you know those words by heart as if they’re your actual memory. You are your mother’s only daughter.

It is a Friday when you decide to take your life. You think it’s Friday anyway, days don’t mean very much anymore. It tastes like freedom at first. Like quitting a job or breaking up with someone you don’t love or leaving a city for the last time.

Then you’re in the hospital and you can’t even piss by yourself. You sit on the edge of the hospital bed. Slowly, it probably takes five minutes for you to get up. It takes steps, it needs to be planned out. There is no more fluidity for you, every movement must be a conscious choice. It feels like prison.

Step one, you raise your back from the bed. Slowly. Everything is slow now. Then you pivot to face the nurse. There’s always a nurse watching. Not the same nurse. There have probably been six here today. Always watching as if you might strangle yourself with the IV cords . You might.

You face the nurse and then you move your legs. Not too fast. Slow down. You put your feet on the floor. Grounding. The waiting feels like hell.
Your head would hurt except it barely feels like you have a head at all, like you’re just a body and the command center is your bladder.

You can’t see anything past the nurse, you can’t see the room. You know what it looks like though. You’ve been in this hospital before, you know because the woman at reception recognized you.

You stare at the nurse with your feet on the ground trying to figure out what face to make to signal that you’ve found some kind of balance. Then comes the lifting. You hate being lifted, you don’t trust it but you don’t get a say anymore, your life isn’t really yours anymore. She lifts you and puts you on the toilet they’ve rolled out for you. She and the other nurses turn slightly to give you some kind of privacy. They can all hear the pee hitting the sides of the tin bowl. You don’t have the energy to be embarrassed.

The nurse tells you you’re beautiful. She’s the one who moved you from the emergency room to this one. You don’t know what floor you’re on.

She says “you’re so young, you have your whole life ahead of you.”

“I don’t want it.”

She doesn’t care.

“God is on your side.”

“Okay.”

Maybe he is. You prayed for the first time two weeks ago and here you are, still alive. Maybe that’s on purpose, maybe you’re meant for something bigger. A sob wracks your body, “I just hate myself is all.” She’s known you for less than 24 hours so she probably isn’t being ironic when she says, “I’m sure you have so much to live for.”

Your mom is there. You don’t remember when she got there. You remember screaming for her last night. She says “hey boo.” You don’t want to look her in the eyes so you stare at the wall behind her and say “I’m giving this experience a 0/10 star review on yelp.” She laughs because she loves you. You don’t let yourself think about how scared she is. She asks you what you took. She’s maybe the fifth person to ask but she’s not a doctor, she’s your mom, so you tell her.

That afternoon you ask about her childhood. You don’t know why, you want to hear about something happy. You want to hear about her before you. She tells you about growing up on a ranch, about the horses and the fields and her mom and her dad. You think about your grandma. She’s dead, she died when you were 8. You don’t remember it, you remember crying.

You think about your other grandma, she’s dead too. You think about your dad after the funeral, after the fourth time in your life you’ve seen him cry.. You think about him saying, “I couldn’t look at you while I was giving her eulogy.” You think about your mom telling you later that your Grandmother loved you and that losing a mom always makes you think about your daughter. You’re glad your dad isn’t here. You close your eyes.

You can feel the pills in your throat.

You think you’re yelling. You think you’re yelling louder than you have ever yelled. Your legs are flinging themselves back and forth like you don’t have any control over them. Your head is smashing itself against the plastic side of the bed and the nurses keep telling you to stop. You can’t say anything but you’re thinking “if I could fucking stop you don’t think I would?”

You’re thinking “somebody help me.”

You’re thinking “please.”

You weren’t allowed to watch TV as a kid except for a Winnie the Pooh VHS when you were sick. You’re six, maybe seven and you have a fever. You’re not faking it, your mom took your temperature but you won’t ask if you can watch Winnie the Pooh.

What if she thinks you’re lying and the next time you’re sick she doesn’t believe you. What if you really are faking it. What if you’re making it all up. You feel like you need something concrete. Maybe if you puke that will prove how sick you are.

Maybe if you try to kill yourself.

You don’t remember the ambulance ride. You remember crying. You remember laughing. Begging the nurses and doctors to make small talk with you like it was some kind of routine appointment, like it was all a joke.

You remember being too nauseous to move, puking every time you lifted your head. The nurses wanted you to change into hospital clothes. They told you so many times. Like when you were a kid and your mom was begging you to dress up for Christmas dinner. “Please just wear this dress, Erin, your grandparents will really appreciate it.” became, “put on the dress before I get to three,” became, “ma’am you have to change, it’s hospital procedure.”

You didn’t want to dress up, you didn’t want to change, you didn’t want to be naked. Even alone you don’t want to be that exposed. You remember them taking off your clothes. You remember screaming. You remember your mom telling your dad in the kitchen “we can’t keep getting into these power struggles.”

You can’t remember when you started feeling powerless.

They always ask “so Miss… Dorsey what brings you here?”

Just like that, every time.

“So Miss Dorsey…”

And every time you say, “I tried to die.”

It sounds so silly. It sounds like you’re saying “whoopsie” It doesn’t sound like, “I couldn’t be alive anymore.” It doesn’t sound like, “my life isn’t worth it.” They always ask why.

Your brain is foggy and you can barely sit up and you don’t know how to explain it. You don’t know how to explain that you have always felt like this. You don’t know how to explain that you have been moving through life with a monster in your brain and you have spent years fighting it and hating it and hoping someday you will beat it. You don’t know how to explain the ice cold of realizing there is no monster. You can’t say out loud that you are the monster.

So you say, “I just don’t want to be alive.”

You say, “I hate myself” and the doctors nod, they scribble something down and they walk away.

Your mom never asks why. She looks at you and says, “are you hungry?” She brings you your teddy bear and holds your hand. For a moment you think the monster goes away.

It’s a Friday when you decide to murder your mother’s daughter. And it takes until Monday for you to be sorry.

Self-Care: It’s All for the Best

Over the last year or so, I’ve witnessed the definition of self-care steadily devolve from a credible mental health exercise into nothing more than a buzzword to preface cute Facebook statuses about excessive Netflix binging or poor eating habits. I don’t necessarily take issue with the misuse of the term, you gotta do what you gotta do for those Facebook likes–I know that as well as anyone. However, I do worry that people are actually mistaking these detrimental practices for being true examples of self-care. Allow me to redefine this once-useful bit of jargon by describing what does and what doesn’t constitute ‘self-care’.

Self-Care is an intentional action to take care of your mental, emotional, and physical health. However, in this blog post I will narrow the scope to talk mostly about the mental health aspect. This definition may seem vague and encompassing at its surface level, but there’s more of a science to it than you’d think. To get a better idea of just what is and what isn’t a form of self-care, I’ll break things down into more specific examples.

Self-care is experiencing, acknowledging, and attempting to understand your emotions.

You’re simply not going to alleviate symptoms of anxiety or depression by ignoring the more dynamic, short-term emotions that they facilitate. Trust me, I tried it for years. It’s much easier to pretend you’ve simply been misfortuned by a consecutive string of bad moods and that things will turn around in time than it is to accept that there’s a greater, more deep-rooted issue at hand. Allow yourself to feel these emotions. Allow yourself to feel these emotions, but not without acknowledging them. Acknowledge these emotions as the unfavorable, unwanted states of being that they are. It would be foolish to expect any sort of solution to a problem that you shy away from identifying. Only once you’ve acknowledged these unwanted emotions can you begin to dissect, understand, and invalidate the irrational anxiety that drives them.

Self-care is treating yourself well.

Treating yourself well means taking care of yourself. It means setting yourself up for success. Treating yourself well is eating healthy. It’s finding time to be outside. It’s getting plenty of sleep. It’s providing yourself an outlet by making time for the things you’re passionate about. Write. Draw. Sing. Dance. Wear tiny glasses on the brim of your nose while you assemble a ship in a bottle. Whatever productive activity gives you that feeling of relief and enjoyment, do it. Treating yourself well is exercising regularly. It’s finding more time for positive relationships and spending less time in toxic relationships. It’s being heard by others and it’s being heard by yourself.

These practices are not cure-alls for depression. Concerned-yet-oblivious people in your life will suggest otherwise, but they simply aren’t. These practices will, however, leave you better equipped to fight your battle. They provide a boost in energy, satisfaction, and self-esteem–resources that are particularly scarce in the midst of depression. Treating yourself well means taking every advantage you can get in this fight. It means being committed to progress, even when it’s in the form of baby steps rather than instantaneous restoration.

 

Self-care is striving to be someone that you can feel good about.

In this respect, self-care is more than just an action. Self-care is a process. It is a culmination of many actions and behaviors that are for the benefit of your well-being. In time, self-care becomes a mindset. It is knowing what’s best for you and having the discipline to do it. I can attest that self-care is a process. It wasn’t any single action that led to some miraculous overnight transition. In a sense, it was a bit of a ‘fake-it-til-you-make-it’ progression.

I didn’t feel good about the person I was. I wasn’t necessarily doing anything bad to justify that feeling, but I also wasn’t really doing anything good. I was a bitter person. Friends often dismissed it as purely sarcasm, but there was at least some level of negativity swirling beneath it. Though I didn’t always display it, I often found myself feeling jealous of others’ successes and occasionally feeling joy in their failures. It was an unenjoyable and exhausting way of living.

I didn’t want to feel that way. I made a conscious effort to be nicer to people. I had many slip-ups, I still have some slip-ups, and I will continue to have an occasional slip-up. That’s OK. Still with every positive interaction, I felt a little bit better about myself. The better I felt about myself, the easier it became to have these positive interactions and the more joy these positive interactions provided me. It became a self-sustaining feedback loop. It eventually reached the point where this behavior became a large part of my self-image. I became someone that feels no greater reward than seeing a friend succeed, and someone that feels no greater hurt than to see a friend hurting.

You just have to put in the groundwork to get there. Be kind. Compliment strangers. Volunteer. Go out of your way to help people. Be there for your friends. It will pay off splendidly.

Self-care isn’t necessarily isolating yourself and avoiding large social settings.

That’s not to say it can’t ever be a wise decision, though. If you’re feeling low, obviously going to a party and getting wasted isn’t going to do your physical, emotional, nor mental health any favors. It’s not self-care. But neither is isolating yourself. There’s no shame in losing battles to social anxiety from time to time. I’m not suggesting that staying at home and missing out on a few parties is some kind of terribly destructive behavior. However, it’s important to see the situation as it is.

Undoubtedly there are many instances that warrant it, but framing every ‘staying-in’ night as an act of self-care gives yourself an intrinsic excuse to settle into the comfort zone dictated by your anxiety whenever it pokes its head out. Self-care isn’t letting anxiety go unchecked. Self-care is recognizing anxiety, understanding the role it plays in your life, and knowing that its voice of discouragement doesn’t have to speak for you. Your anxiety is not you. It is an intrusion of you. Don’t let it make your decisions for you. Before opting for a night alone on the couch, make yourself thoroughly answer the question:

“Exactly how would this be a form of self-care?”

Self-care is NOT turning to vices for the short-term relief of negative emotions. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting there’s no therapeutic value in an end-of-the-day glass of wine or whatever your legal-in-30-states poison may be. Far from it. These things in moderation can do wonders for shaking the unnecessary burden of stress that remained latched to your shoulders through your evening commute home from work. I’m talking about something different here. There’s using a vice to shed stress that is past its expiration date, such as in the previous example, and then there’s using a vice to suppress the stress or emotions associated with a still ongoing battle. The latter example is a dangerous game of denial that is begging to drag you into a downward spiral of substance abuse and instability.

Look, I get it–facing adversity, conflict, or confrontation sucks. You don’t want to do it. No one does. But drowning the anxiety and apprehension with alcohol or drugs won’t do anything to resolve the underlying issue. It’s still going to be there tomorrow. And the next day. And every day after that, until you finally face it head on. Using vices in effort to ignore a problem’s existence won’t drive that problem into extinction. It will, however, drive you into extinction if you use it as a coping mechanism for long enough.

Self-care is forgiving yourself.

Progress is a bumpy path. It won’t all be smooth sailing. There will always be highs and lows, the goal is just to get those highs to outnumber the lows. Mistakes, slip-ups, and regrets are inevitable. This doesn’t mean you should simply dismiss them, but you shouldn’t beat yourself up too much about them either. Identify them, learn from them, and grow from them.

There’s just as much opportunity to learn from the bad as from the good. It’s all part of the process. Reward yourself for good work. Take pride in it. Consult yourself about mistakes. Figure out how you can avoid making them a second time. Focus your mental energy on doing better in the future, not on condemning yourself over the past. Forgive, but do not forget.

Being There

Check in on your friends.

If you’re concerned that a friend may be in a low place, talk to them about it. Ask them how they’re doing. Don’t wait for that friend to reach out to you. It may never happen. Speaking from personal experience, it is incredibly difficult to bring yourself to ask for help when struggling with depression. It took me 7 years to do it, and even then, it was far and away the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Make that step easier on your friend by providing them with safe and comfortable openings for difficult dialogue.

There is no guarantee that this effort will result in your friend opening up right away. Personally, were someone to broach the subject with me when I was at such a low, I have no doubt that I would have initially responded with denial and deflection. That’s OK. Don’t allow conversational resistance or push-back to deter you from expressing your concerns in the future. Persistence should not be sacrificed for the sake of avoiding potential annoyance. Your efforts will make a positive impact, no matter how hard it may be to perceive.

 

Provide support and reassurance.

Depression does a great job of convincing oneself that nobody else cares. Don’t allow your friend to fall into this illusion of isolation. Make your presence and care impossible to ignore by being compassionately and consistently there for them.

Depression also has a knack for stripping an individual of their sense of self. Don’t let your friend lose sight of the beautiful qualities that stick out so prominently to yourself and others. Remind them that they’re loved, but not only that, remind them why they’re loved.

Every day with depression is an internal battle. To gain ground in that battle:

  • One’s conviction of outside love and support from friends and family must be stronger than the destructive delusions of solitude that depression promotes.
  • One’s awareness of and belief in the positive characteristics that exist within must be stronger than the feelings of worthlessness that depression deceives one into believing.

It isn’t a battle that can be won overnight, and in fact, it never truly ends. There are still days that I’m on the losing end of it and buy into the lies that depression feeds me. It’s a process, but as a friend, you have the power to act as a catalyst to get your friend to a position where most days are wins.

 

Quit walking on eggshells.

Asking your friend how they’re doing is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough on its own. Be prepared to listen without judgment. It may be an uncomfortable subject for you, but realize that it’s infinitely more uncomfortable for the person actually going through it to talk about.

Since making a promise to myself in January, I have made a point to talk openly and unabashedly about my struggles with mental illness. I bring it up in conversation with friends, both in casual and serious context. Friends listen to me, and I have no doubts about their care for my well-being, but their discomfort with the discourse is as clear as day. The reaction anytime I mention the word ‘suicide’, in any capacity, is how I imagine Harry Potter would feel after shouting “VOLDEMORT!” into a megaphone. Luckily I’m in a place where I’m not seeking comfort from these conversations, simply trying to erase the stigma. But what if that weren’t the case? Part of my whole M.O. at my lowest points was not wanting to be a burden on anyone. The hesitancy and uneasiness unmistakably displayed in both body language and dialogue whenever I broach the topic would surely be enough to scare me away from opening up in a time of need. Though it may be well-intentioned, this behavior is very much complicit in the continuation of the stigma associated with mental illness.

It’s important that, as a friend, you make a serious effort to speak directly and to listen unflinchingly. Show concern without exuding judgment. People don’t want to be felt sorry for, so don’t react with expressions of shock or sympathy. Listen intently. Maintain eye contact and display inviting body language. Provide patient and understanding encouragement whenever your friend struggles to get through a certain part of the conversation.

Whatever it takes to get you to this level of comfortability with this subject, you need to be doing. I am more than happy to help in any way I can. If reading this post isn’t enough, I’m willing to chat with you on the phone or in person. I will go into full detail about my absolute lowest points. I will give an Oscar-worthy acting performance playing the role of your friend in need. I will simply sit 3 feet away while we repeat the word ‘suicide’ back and forth for an hour. Whatever it takes. You owe it to your friends to be well-prepared for that conversation should it ever arise.

The Origin of My Best Self

Over the last year, it seems to me that the frequency with which we’re forced to confront the tragic reality of suicide has grown higher and higher.

It has become evident that mental illness is not a condition that discriminates. It does not follow logic. It affects people from all different walks of life. It affects them differently, and with different levels of severity.

I see progress being made. But progress isn’t satisfactory enough when there are lives on the line.

I see good intention. I see a desire to listen and support without judgement. But I experience reluctance. I experience a discomfort with the subject that makes it far too convenient to circumvent in conversation. I experience a stigma.

I’m tired of hearing tragic stories of celebrity suicides on the news every day. I’m tired of the heartbreak I feel everytime I think about my hometown community losing one of the most contagiously room-brightening personalities I’ve ever encountered. I’m tired of nobody doing anything about it.

On February 5th, 2018, I made a promise to myself that I would no longer be complicit in the stigmatization of mental illness. I wouldn’t ignore my struggles with mental illness, I wouldn’t downplay my struggles with mental illness, I wouldn’t avoid discussing my struggles with mental illness.

Today I decided that wasn’t enough for me. I’m tired of dealing with this epidemic in reactionary fashion.

I’m not presenting myself as some mental health professional. I’m not suggesting that my experience with mental illness is universal. I’m just going to talk about things I’ve felt, things I’ve experienced, things I’ve realized worked for me, and things I’ve realized were destructive for me. I don’t know that anyone will find my story relatable, but if there’s anyone out there going through it right now, then I owe it to them to be open and let them know they’re not alone.

I plan on using this platform to share about my experience with depression. About my experience with suicidal thoughts. About my countless experiences driving around aimlessly, trying to work up the nerve to drive off the road. About how I finally asked for help. About how much better things got. About how much people care. About how much there is to live for.

I hope this platform evolves into a community that fosters discussion and support between one another. I hope this platform turns into a place that others share their stories, either by name or anonymously. I hope this platform serves as a translation guide for individuals that haven’t experienced mental illness, but have a loved one that’s fighting a battle with it right now. I hope this platform serves as comfort for anyone out there who may need it.

My Best Self’s first post is something I shared on Facebook back in February, a time of tremendous hurt in the New Bern community. Davis Cook will never be forgotten. I dedicate this platform to him. Every ounce of my effort to fight the stigma, ease the hurt, and reduce the prevalence of mental illness is with Davis in mind.

If anyone wants to reach out–to discuss problems of their own, to ask for advice, to provide their testimonies on My Best Self or just to me personally, or offer any suggestions for how to make this message reach as many of those who may need it as possible–my inbox is always open. I encourage you to reach out. You are important, you are loved, and you deserve to be heard.

Talk to somebody. It gets better.

Talk to somebody.

It gets better.

I know all too well how difficult it is to have these conversations. I’ve had them, dozens of them now, and I’m in a far better place because of them. However, I’ve still been rather secretive about this part of my life with all but a few of my closest confidants. That changes today. I want everyone out there that’s going through it to know they’re not alone. Not even close.

I spent years internalizing my feelings and letting a festering depression control my life. I put on a smile every day, careful not to leave the slightest clue of my mental state for my friends or family to detect. Pride kept me from reaching out for help, from showing any sort of vulnerability. Over time, things continuously built. Suicidal thoughts started coming along, then later becoming far more frequent and specific–to the point they’d be better described as “plans” rather than “thoughts”.

I don’t know what kept me from doing it, but I didn’t. I finally brought myself to reach out for help. An immense burden was immediately lifted off of my shoulders. I went to therapy. Things got steadily better, despite the countless day-to-day ups and downs of life. I haven’t looked back since.

Irrationality thrives in isolation. Talk to someone. These conversations seem difficult, and they ARE difficult, but far less difficult than carrying that burden alone. Our greatest longing in life is to be seen and to be heard, and thus, our greatest purpose in life is to see and to hear. People care about you. They will listen to you and they will do their absolute best to understand and help. If you don’t believe anyone will listen or care, then talk to me. My inbox is always open and I am happy to listen to and talk through any problem, no matter how big or small.

You are loved.

Talk to somebody.