A short poem about being a plant mom.
One year ago today, I went to the psych ward.
A brief guide on mental health as told by someone who isn’t a professional but sure has a lot of practice.
Notes from my mom calling me on a Wednesday.
This is the last thing I wanted to write about. I feel like the weird chick on social media who is oversharing about her mental health. I am over-exposing myself, … Continue reading What to do when you can’t ask for help
I debated titling this post a lot of things. But what I wanted most was for it to be honest, withholding no truths just because they’re hard to talk about. I was fifteen the last time I tried to kill myself. In twelve days, I will be 25. That I have lived a whole decade since my final suicide attempt is a daunting miracle. This post isn’t composed in the tradition of Thought Catalogue articles where I regale you with what I’ve learned. Things I tote as fact may fall into fiction in the years to come. This post is a confession and a love letter.
A cavern of ten years separates me from my adolescent self. A decade rumbling with an education, travel abroad, trauma, recovery, relapse, exhale and belonging. It didn’t get better all at once. At times, it got worse. There were years when my why was another person’s name; when the intention of my breath was someone else’s lungs. I didn’t want to be the hardest thing someone else had to talk about. I didn’t want my name to become something my loved ones struggled to say. You can’t live for other people long term. This is your life, and anyone who glorifies the sacrifice of yourself inside your own existence isn’t honoring you. Nevertheless, this is how I made it out of my teens. Survival is still survival. Sometimes, a crawl is all you can do to move your days in the direction of something better.
I’ve uncovered so much better. I didn’t get there alone. It took mentors, teachers, books, poetry, art, and above all else, community to rally my midnight spirit. Life is never done singlehandedly. It took the surrender of everyone I thought I was supposed to be, which hurt more than it didn’t. Grief surrounds this mythical, future me who has it all. She’s thin and perfect and romantically attached. She doesn’t exist. I had to surrender the idea of her to grasp the realities of myself. And there’s grief in the surrender because she housed so much of my hope for so long. She was all my hope, and when I had something more than hope when life presented an opportunity, I needed to release her to grow onto myself. Relinquishing this fantasy Marisa meant admitting that she was never going to happen, that there was no alternative universe where I was all of those things I begged to be. But there is this Marisa. She’s right here, and I need to take the best care of my current self in order to blow my own mind.
We, as a society, mourn suicide but shroud depression and attempts in shame. My goal in writing this is not attention, or even to break that myth. I’m just saying that my life has been a rustbelt town I wanted to escape so many times before. That there were entire years I begged God not to curse me with morning, and yet, I’m still here. I’m not damaged for surviving. I’m not the worst things that have happened to me. I wouldn’t want to relive them, and yet, I know I ebulliently celebrate my life because this life has been hard-won. These are stories not routinely told, and if the storytellers are willing, maybe they should be.
The best way I can tell this story is as a letter to my younger self, about everything that’s happened in the ten years I wasn’t dead but could’ve been. I am a descendant of her fortitude. Every day I live is a monument to my former selves.
Dear Marisa (age 15):
Your life feels like a party no one showed up for, I know, and more days than not, you feel like the last one picked for kickball. Every day you continue living is you picking yourself. Know that this matters. It’s the only way I’m able to write this letter now. The ten years sewing my words back to you will not fly by. The worst day of your life is still ahead of you. But so are all of your best days. Your favorite songs have yet to be made, and you’ve yet to meet most of the people who will change your life.
I wish words existed to convey my gratitude to you. You wanted out of this life with everything inside of you, but life wouldn’t let go. Somehow, you held on. We both know there were so many days you could have dug that knife deeper into your skin, but you didn’t. The kindest thing you could do for yourself then was to minimize the self-abuse.
Life morphs, and we don’t notice until the transubstantiation is complete. Change offers no neon signage, but it strikes you. You’ll learn that your greatest achievement has never been how little space you can occupy. Success is something greater than going to bed hungry. And one day, five years from fifteen, you’ll eat dinner in London, and purging won’t even occur to you. Believe it or not, a few years following that, you will love your body. You’ll quit wasting wishes on life in a body without memories. You’ll stop hurting it because it’s the closest thing to you. Perhaps you had to take up this much space to carry such a big life, a bold life, an existence so luscious and supple and full it craved a vessel to match.
Some people persuade you to regard your abundance as excess. It isn’t. That is just the universe reminding you that they aren’t your people. Rejection is a redirection. You are so loyal that you will hold onto terrible situations with both hands and white knuckles until life drags you away from every wasteland. Quit settling for graveyards when you deserve gardens. Go where the life is. It’s waiting for you. You, my darling, are a fireworks display wasting all her light in the wrong places. Stay light. Stay open and big and loud. Live with all the life you’ve fought so hard to show up for. Do it with abandon and courage because that’s your guide. You wish your words were pastel. They are nothing short of neon. That’s so your people see you when you show up.
You will learn that your boundaries are not effigies to set on fire for everyone you care about. Self-care is the ultimate boundary issue. It demands that we declare ourselves sacred spaces—divine in our imperfections, holy for mere existence. And in these ways, acts of self-care become miracles. It will take you most of this upcoming decade to perform that miracle for yourself. Nobody tells you that a lot of survival looks like struggle. Past the struggle, you can transcend survival and thrive. My thriving is a descendant of your survival—of those countless lonely nights when you stared into the abyss and marveled at how it didn’t swallow you whole.
There’s nothing noble in destroying yourself. You feel like an extra puzzle piece most days, a nomad so desperate for a home. Your existence is the direct result of the universe needing you. You have a purpose and a place, and life will reveal it to you on long flights, 3am conversations, moments so spectacular you never could’ve fathomed them—those sharing space with you are your chorus, reminding you how much you matter.
My life is not perfect. My apartment is a complete wreck. I have student loans. I am addicted to social media. I am insecure sometimes and constantly worry I’m putting myself out there too much. But there is a me to put out into the world. There’s a me that exists and the why of her life is not someone else’s name. Your life is not a metaphor, but something meant to be lived. Thank you for living. Sometimes, I’m homesick for your grit. I miss the tenacity it took to spin gold from the gray matter. Then, my heart pounds. Like a knock on a door, you return to me. You never left.
All my love,
Marisa (age almost 25)
I’m struggling with self-worth right now. I’m struggling with staying alive. I’m an optimist sandbagged by depression, desperately clawing for hope. Everything hurts right now: my body, my head, my spirit. It all feels so heavy. Is it always supposed to be this hard?
I feel like I have to force people to love me. I chase until I am breathless, heaving. Love was introduced to me as something I had to earn. I never unlearned that. When you’ve never really been wanted your whole life, when the only thing you’ve been to others is option rather than priority, it’s hard. I wish I could gloss this with poetic language, make the pain sound pretty, but it’s not. My emotions and mindset are coarse, brutal, unrelenting. My head is desolate, my throat tight, stomach heavy. I can’t even call it rejection, as it rejected implies that you fit somewhere at some point. I am aimless, a nomad homesick for community.
People don’t want me as a person. As a concept—something consumable, disposable, ready at their leisure—I am wanted. But my vulnerabilities, my hopes and hurts and everything in between—nobody is interested in that. I know this because when I ask for help, I am shamed. How dare the concept think she’s a real girl?! How could you reach so close to others that you almost touch them?
I don’t want to be alive right now. And I know this is so utterly hypocritical to my last entry, a stark contrast in message. I meant every word I wrote last time. I mean every word I’m writing now. With every breath, I’m fighting to stay here. The last thing I want to be is a tragic tale. Part of this stems from believing that I am capable of multitudes, that I can offer others something good. I still believe, as cloudy and everything is, that the best is yet to come. I cannot house the responsibility I do as a sister and friend and mentor in this world and end things. Even if I can’t be loved back, I am obligated to everything/one I’ve ever loved to continue.
But the other part is that I don’t want people to discuss me, and say “if only I knew, I would have done something”. Let me be clear: No you wouldn’t have. I’m fighting for my own life because I know nobody else will do it for me. They will watch me drown, as I am screaming for help, and trust that some other person will throw me a lifejacket. That other person doesn’t exist, and you don’t want to be inconvenienced. My screams make you uncomfortable, and you will feel relief when they stop.
My mental health and self-care is my responsibility and no one else’s. I am not pawning it off or expecting anything from anybody else. But, then, if I fail at this. If this is the monsoon season that drowns me, please don’t come to my wake wishing you knew and proclaiming your love for me. You don’t love me. You loved an idea that served you. You didn’t know because you only saw and heard what sounded sweet and looked pretty. You were never interested in me, and it’s hard for me not to hurt over that. It’s hard for me not to ache and cry and wonder, “why not me? Why never me?” Why, after I learned to love myself, after I did set boundaries, after I have been my own knight in shining armor, after I have tried therapy and exercise, and got all the accolades was it never enough? I could never ascend from the option category of anyone’s relationships.
“You are not a reflection of those who cannot love you, Marisa. You are abundant. They are smallness. It’s profoundly unhealthy to emotionally flog yourself over matters you can’t control like this. It’s out there. What you’re starving for is out there.” I tell myself these things a lot, repeating affirmations like prayer until they are spoken into reality. I try to soothe myself. But being regarded as inconsequential by so many for so long inevitably affects a person’s self-worth. It happens over and over and over, reader. It happens whether I want it to or not, regardless of strategy or lack there of. Rejection finds me. Scarcity finds me. I attract all the things I ultimately repel. They just linger long enough to remind me that I do not love being alone.
No answers are hidden in this post. This is not a scavenger hunt for hope between sentences. Suicidal is familiar for me. I’ve burrowed and barreled my way through agony and made transportation systems of my emptiness before. It never feels easier, never lighter. I would more than willingly take a lifetime of this, if I knew I would be loved as something other than an afterthought. But I don’t have that guarantee. Depression, anxiety, and suicide are dragons I’ve slayed before, but I’ve never overcome my lack of belonging. Loneliness is another beast entirely, savage and unrelenting. I can’t banish it through binge-ing, purging, sweating– I know this because I’ve tried. You cannot be a village unto yourself. I cannot make a community out of only me and be my only support system, and I don’t have a solution. I put myself out there. I am a good friend, sister, daughter, co-worker. Hell, I’m even liked. It is exhausting to put my whole self out there every time, all the time, and have nothing reciprocated. I don’t think I can keep doing this, but I don’t know what else to do. I am an oxymoron– always brimming with life and fire, while always so close to the grayspace that is suicidal. I don’t want to be that anymore.
Sure, they’ll miss me, but will they mourn me?
I type this in two pieces– half of me wants to delete yesterday’s entry. Admitting my suicidal thoughts and throwing that admission into cyberspace is terrifying. To allow these words to exist validates them as a reality I steer through every day. But sometimes, all pain wants is for us to acknowledge that it exists and it’s allowed to take up space. It’s allowed to breathe too. I feel naked. I worry about if my employer or a future employer reads this. I worry about friends or family seeing this.
Before going further: please read this without alarms sounding off, without binding me in yellow caution tape. Suicide is serious. It should be taken seriously, but I think that we can do that without jumping immediately to “GO SEE A THERAPIST”. The jump signifies how uncomfortable we are hearing about depression and suicide– a societal cringe at the face of genuine discomfort. We don’t want to hear it, and maybe this is why we lack the words to discuss depression and suicide. What I can say is that the discomfort of hearing that your loved one is suicidal pales in comparison to the agony of living with a death wish. It’s not so much about saying the right thing but daring to listen.
Like I said, I wasn’t sure if I should keep yesterday’s post up, let alone add to it. But this is worth talking about. Today is not a bad day. Today is manageable, but depression is a hypersensitive condition, volatile and subject to change. There’s not much to report, no updates. Maybe that’s a good thing. One of these days I’ll introduce myself further. Today is not that day. Today is Tuesday, and I’m here.
The words are tethered to my tongue, and somehow, unraveling them feels like a Herculean task. Then, I came across a Buzzfeed article written in memory of Aletha Pinnow, who took her life at the age of 31. Her sister, Eleni, authored a poignant and heartbreaking letter about her sister. In the text, Pinnow admits, “It seems like the only reason depression and suicide are such pervasive problems is because we don’t know how to talk about them,”. I, with that, want to talk about it. I’m done beating around the bush in moody poetry and euphemisms. I want to call this exactly what it is, to name the shadows inside myself: I am suicidal. With the limited vocabulary and hesitancy of what repercussions there will be for posting something like this, I don’t know how to beat these thoughts. They’ve plagued me for more than half of my young life. But I do know how to write, and while society hasn’t dug deep enough to find term to frame depression and suicide, I’m going to try to find them. I’m self-conscious about having my picture attached to this, about allowing my name to be tied to this. I’m worried about what people will think about this. But part of the problem with depression and suicide is how nameless it is. We share our stories in past-tense, never acknowledging that silence becomes self-mutilation. For as much as it terrifies me that this letter’s digital footprints will follow my future, I want to live more than I am afraid.
Like I said earlier, I’ve been suicidal before. I’ve crawled out of this before. But every time depression claws its way back to me, it feels unfathomable to outrun it. Depression makes a grain of sand into a ton of concrete—with me beneath it. Sunday nights are the worst. Almost every Sunday, my brain fades to gray, and the only pulse I feel surges, “End it. Just end it”. I make myself a promise, “Just make it until Friday, and then you can end it”. I think about the clean up—about an after that doesn’t include me and all the rubble you can’t see but someone else would have to move. Were I to end my life, I want the transition for everyone to be as smooth as possible. Life will go on whether I am alive or not. It goes on. It always does.
I am inconsequential. This is a fact in numbers: there are 7 billion people on the planet. The loss of one nameless girl who apologizes for things that aren’t her fault will go largely unnoticed. I live in a city where I have no support network and know few people. For instance, I’ve been writing this at my desk at work and no one has noticed. My life is in cities I no longer call home. I’m not the first name on anyone’s tongue. The only way I know love is through a secondary language, the second part of a compound sentence. I feign gratitude for table scraps of affection. I want to be grateful for being loved at all, but the shrinking fighter in my head reminds me that I deserve to be loved without a parenthesis, that I do not have to settle for scraps that will leave me little more than starving.
My head plays musical chairs between my depression and coaching myself through it. Frankly, I’ve had some pretty scarring experiences in counseling, and sometimes, that withering warrior in my head is better than all the “professionals” who I’ve seen. I tell myself that mattering cannot be quantified. I remind myself that when I was in high school, a classmate took her own life. I’ve never forgotten her name, and we never met. I’m addicted to inspirational quotes, to writing sincere cards and letters and text to those in my life who I love. I put out into the world all the things I hope to get myself, in the hope that (at the very least) maybe someone else won’t hurt like I am. To a small community of people, I am an example. What does it say to them if this is how I chose to leave? How can I express such love and affection to them and abandon them? This is the main reason I say alive. I do not want to be a cautionary tale told in someone else’s words. I don’t want to be an excuse or colored by all the things I couldn’t mend together.
My reflexes urge me to end this entry on a hopeful note, on something that will make another’s eyes comfortable. I tend to do that—wrap agony in a bow so its delivery is soft and comfortable to other people. Hope is scarce. I feel like a have a golf ball lodged in my throat all the time and a dagger in my chest every day. What I wouldn’t give to not feel broken. What I wouldn’t give to feel belonging—to actually belong. I’m homesick for all the women I’ve been before. Homesick for all the selves who survived. I know they are still with me, but it’s hard. “Marisa, see a counselor” “Marisa, please go get help”. I know therapy is about fit. I know it is a process. That process has been a painful one for me, one with condescending and violating people under the title of “professional”. “Marisa, please try anyway”. I’m trying. I am. The fact that I am breathing, here, performing to every expectation like nothing is wrong is evidence of my efforts. So good at smiling that (if I never mention it) you won’t notice the tsunamis inside me.