My Abuser Was Not One Dimensional

Author’s note: This piece is based on something I wrote to some friends while writing a chapter for my webseries. I’m leaving it in its unedited form because that’s how I want the message to be seen. 

Writing about the bad times isn’t hard. That comes easy to me. I’m safe now. The bad times are now a weapon I wield rather than something I’m running from. Know what’s really hard? Writing about the good stuff. I have to keep forcing myself back to Scrivener to keep writing because I don’t want to acknowledge that they happened.

Because why does it fucking matter if there were good times? She fucking abused me on and off for most of my life, and then for 5 years nonstop toward the end of my living there. Why does it fucking matter that sometimes we went to restaurants, and travelled that one time, and used to talk a lot, and went places and stuff? Why the fuck does it matter?

It’s not like any of it mattered when she was trying to kill me. It’s not like it mattered when she was sexually abusing me, beating me, berating me, making me think I was a worthless piece of garbage who would have been better off aborted. None of it mattered when she ran out of the house yelling about getting a gun, then came home 3 hours later and sat there at the table with an oddly shaped paper bag, letting us wonder which of us she’d shoot first. It’s not like it mattered when she made my grandmother her literal slave, made her try to breastfeed her, grabbing her breasts and basically sexually assaulting her, made my grandmother wipe her ass, wash her, clean up her piss.

NONE OF THE GOOD STUFF MATTERED WHEN SHE WAS MAKING OUR LIVES A GODDAMN LIVING FUCKING HELL ON EARTH WHY SHOULD IT FUCKING MATTER NOW WHY DOES SHE DESERVE TO EVEN HAVE IT ACKNOWLEDGED WHY THE FUCK DO I EVEN REMEMBER IT I’D BE SO MUCH HAPPIER REMEMBERING ALL THE TERRIBLE SHIT THAT HAPPENED TO ME AND NEVER REMEMBERING THE GOOD TIMES THEY WERE SO IRRELEVANT TO WHAT SHE DID TO US

It’s not. not for me. For you it is. Read this blog post, read my story, watch my webseries, and remember that there were good times for me with her. Remember that I used to enjoy spending time with her. That she used to be my best friend. Remember that people are never one dimensional. They rarely only perpetrate evil. Remember that they’re not cartoon monsters, that they do good along with the bad. Remember that they can be great hosts while also beating their children. They can be very charitable, while also enslaving their families. They can be the person you turn to for help while also being a sadistic, barbarous, vicious abuser.

Remember that they can be the reason you get up in the morning, while also being the reason their son tries to kill himself.

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Why I Never Discuss Tragedy in Its Immediate Aftermath

Short answer? Because it’s maddening. It’s so infuriatingly predictable and horrible. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that when tragedy strikes, my first thought, after registering the shock and horror of what happened, is to consider all the ways that the tragedy will be exploited, and guess how long it’ll take until that happens. I’m rarely wrong. Every time there’s a mass shooting, I count the seconds until Wayne LaPierre issues a pro-gun statement, and wonder whether it’ll be him who speaks first, or the anti-gun crowd, neither side able to wait until the bodies are actually cold and buried before they pick them apart for scraps of an argument.

 

Here’s the long answer. Every single time I’ve lost my cool, and in a moment of pure anguish and frustration written a diatribe against whatever social ill I felt was the “real” cause of whichever tragedy had just happened, it made me feel good for around 10 minutes, but then inevitably sucked me into an irrelevant argument that left me feeling terrible, and utterly disconnected from the empathy I knew I should be feeling. In the aftermath of the Yishai Schlissel stabbings at the Jerusalem Pride Parade, I was so angry I got on Facebook and said that I hoped this would cause the Nations to hate us, because maybe if they used this as an excuse to start persecuting us again, we’d get an idea of how wrong and hurtful our homophobia really is. But of course the world doesn’t work like that. Violence doesn’t beget understanding, it begets more violence, until the whole world is blinded by it.

 

This is especially relevant when we have a suicide in the religious, or formerly-religious world. Immediately, the vultures descend on the body, from both sides, each claiming the suicide victim as their martyr. He died because of mental illness, and we need to do our utmost to address this serious problem. No, counters the other side, she died because her frum family, shitty, callous people that they were, tortured her so relentlessly about her choice to leave religion, that she finally killed herself. No, you don’t know the whole story. No, you don’t know the whole story. And on it goes, the buzzards feast, and secondary to the entire discussion, is the reason the discussion is happening: A person died.

 

A few years ago, an IDF soldier was found dead with his weapon next to him. The circumstances around his death were a little murky, but since he had been an open survivor of abuse who had described his struggles on his blog, certain activists immediately jumped to the conclusion that it must be suicide, because it fit the narrative they wanted to promote. And as just a cause as I’m sure they felt their co-opting of tragedy was, as just as I’m sure everyone who exploits tragedy for their agenda feels it is, they did so without regard to the feelings of the family, the actual mourners who were now left bereft of a son, a brother, a cousin, and on top of all that had to read agenda-driven speculation online while their loved one awaited burial.

 

Personally, I decided not to discuss it at the time. I can’t tell you why—it wasn’t because of this policy that I have, which, at the time, I didn’t yet have—but something stayed my opinions. About two years later, I got a Facebook message from the sister of that soldier, thanking me for not jumping on the bandwagon that was using her brother’s supposed suicide as a soapbox for their opinions. She told me that they still weren’t sure what it was, and that she appreciated the fact that I hadn’t used his death to make a point. That was the moment that I realized what had stopped me from discussing it—the understanding that the very worst time to discuss tragedy, is immediately in its aftermath.

 

If we intend to teach, to educate, to change the world in a way that prevents tragedy from happening again, then the absolute worst time to discuss it is when emotions are running high, no one is particularly interested in discussing things rationally, everyone already has an opinion that you’re not going to change, and nothing new will be added to the conversation that one billion other people with a Facebook account won’t already be saying. And of course all these post-tragedy rants range from the mildly to wildly offensive, not just to people on your friends lists, but also to the victims and their families who have to hear the world fighting for the endorsement rights to their pain and suffering.

 

If you must speak following tragedy, if you absolutely must say something because it hurts too much to keep it all in, try to think about what the victims and their families want to hear. Make it about them, not yourselves. What we might call slacktivism might just be compassion. A world standing in solidarity, saying “We’re here for you, all of us, and we have a lot to say, but we understand that right now is not the time to say it.” And yes, changing your profile picture to include a different overlay might not actually change anything, but you don’t need to immediately start changing anything in the direct aftermath of tragedy. If there was something you could have done about it, presumably you would have.

 

But the tragedy happened. And there are people who suffer in its aftermath. And those people need love, and support, and a feeling of safety and security while their world crashes down around them. They don’t need your opinions, and they don’t need your agendas. There’s always time for that later, when the passion and anger has subsided, and we can begin to discuss how to prevent it from ever happening again. When you won’t say things you’ll later regret. When you won’t lose friends because you absolutely had to speak your mind. When your words are motivated not by an angry desire to watch the world that allowed such tragedy burn, but by a love and empathy that needs the world to heal.

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Why I Eat So Much

I never realized how complicated my relationship with food was until I moved. I’ve learned a lot since I moved, particularly how messed up my relationship with food is. It started with being able to cook. I was able to cook when I used to live at home, but it wasn’t so simple. Nothing really was. Cooking was a kind of trade-off requiring serious consideration of cost vs benefit. On the one hand I would have yummy food when I finished cooking, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t be safe while cooking. Not emotionally, anyway.

Abuse is insidious in the way it affects your life so completely, ruining even the little things that should be ordinary and routine, performed without thought or consideration of consequences.  Like cooking dinner. Like going to the fridge to see what’s in it. Like going to the kitchen to get a fucking banana. It shouldn’t be difficult. It should be something you don’t even have to think about, something you just absently get up and do while engrossed in a show you’re bingewatching on Netflix, or a conversation with your best friend about “oh my god did you see what she was wearing?!?” It shouldn’t require cost-benefit analysis.

I’m pretty fat. There’s no sugarcoating that. I can already hear people tapping away at their keyboards, typing messages to me telling me I’m handsome, and not to hate my body, and to love myself, and blah blah blah. Save it. I’m not ashamed of it. I don’t hate my body. I do wish it were different, but I’m ok with what it looks like. I don’t think I’m ugly. I’m just fat. Get over it. It’s not because I have a glandular problem, or slow metabolism, or one of a dozen other excuses I could come up with (not to delegitimize people who actually have these problems)—it’s because I eat a lot. But what’s interesting, and what I’m beginning to understand, is why I eat so much.

I’ve been fat for most of my life. It started in third grade for reasons that aren’t really relevant right now. I started significantly gaining weight, however, after my abuse was kicked up a notch. My room was the only safe place for me in the house. My room had a door I could lock, or at the very least barricade if my mother tried hurting me. I spent a lot of time in my room, especially if I was cutting school, which happened more and more as the abuse went on. But locks weren’t a perfect solution. I can’t count the number of times she broke the locks, or broke down my door. Sometimes I would just forget to lock it, and she would get in. Or I left it open to let the cleaning lady in, and my mother would rummage through my stuff while my room was being cleaned. Most of my stuff she wasn’t interested in, but what did interest here were my books and my food.

I’ve paid hundreds of dollars in fines to the library because she stole my books and wouldn’t give them back when they were due and couldn’t be renewed because other people had placed holds on them, or because the books were irreparably damaged. My food interested her, not because it was food she couldn’t have gotten from the same grocery I’d gotten mine from, but because the food was mine. Her rationale for stealing my books and my food was that she had given nine months to my gestation, her pain to my birth, and fourteen-odd years to raising me and “giving me everything.” This, in her mind, entitled her to everything that was mine. It entitled her to my food, my books, and my body. It entitled her to abuse me. She took my stuff because it was mine and she believed she was therefore entitled to it as some twisted reparations I owed her as her son.

What this meant, was that the notion of leftovers didn’t exist in my mind, neither did security in the knowledge that I would have food to eat the next time I wanted some. What that meant was that every time I got food, whether it was takeout Chinese, a bag of popcorn, some bagels, a pack of lox, and some cream cheese, or a bag of oranges, I had to eat it all, right then, in one sitting, or at the very least in one day, or it would be gone the next time I wanted it. Of course I could have just ignored the fact that she was stealing from me and just have kept buying more food as I needed it. But it wasn’t the fact that she was stealing from me but the reason why she was stealing from me that made me want to thwart it.

Every time she stole it triggered me. It made me feel unsafe, like I didn’t even have a room, a fridge, a tiny little space that was mine and mine alone, a space in which I had control over my life and my decisions, in which I had some privacy to just be the person I was becoming. It reminded me that I had no control over my life, over my body, that whatever she wanted she could have, and whatever she wanted to do to me she could, because I had no say in my life. It was a complete breach of whatever illusion of security or privacy I had made for myself, and it scared me. So I had to eat everything I bought, regardless of how much it was, or how sick it made me. I had to eat it because eating all of it, even to the point of nausea, still felt better than that feeling of insecurity I felt when she stole from me.

Cooking was a whole other problem. Every time I cooked, she would stand over me, trying to see what I was making, commenting on how it smelled, asking if she could have some. I never responded to her as I had stopped talking to her completely when the abuse got really bad, but what she did was unbelievably triggering to me. I would keep the lid of the pot on, even if I smelled the contents burning, just because I didn’t want her to see what I was making. I wanted something for myself. I wanted some privacy. I wanted there to be something in my life that she wasn’t forcing her way into, and even though this stubbornness was harming me, I needed it. I needed it just for the sake of my sanity. I needed it to feel like a human being.

If I walked away for even a minute—just to pee or get another ingredient—she would run over to the pot, lift the lid, smell it, sample it, and make sure I knew she had. If I didn’t take the pot with me to my room when I ate whatever I had made, she would scrape the dregs out of the bottom of the pot, and then stand outside of my room loudly commenting about it. She would even dig through the garbage if I had thrown something out, either to taste it or to see what I had made. As pathetic as it was to see, it infuriated me and triggered me that she would go to such ridiculous lengths just to impinge on my privacy. Just because she could. Just because she felt entitled to it. To me.

This may seem like a weird power struggle to someone reading this who had the good fortune of being raised by loving parents in a safe environment, but when you’re abused, normal flies out the window. It loses its definition. There’s no such thing as normal. Everything has subtext. Everything has a deeper, manipulative meaning that may not be readily apparent to uninformed observers. Everything means something else. Everything is a power struggle. Everything. Is. So. Fucking. Triggering.

Eating too much was the only way for me to keep my sanity. I couldn’t leave leftovers. If I put something in the fridge, I’d constantly be worrying about it. Cooking food wasn’t a good option either, because it would involve subjecting myself to an hour or more of my mother talking to me, leaning over me, commenting about me, being around me, triggering me. Even going to the fridge to get what was there wasn’t ok for me because it meant she would see me, start talking, and trigger me. I wanted to minimize the time I had to deal with her.

Takeout was the best option. But the thing about never feeling secure in your next meal is that even when you know you can have food whenever you want or need it, it still makes every meal feel like your last. Which meant that even when I ordered takeout, even when I knew I was going to be buying all three meals as I needed them, I’d still buy too much, and would therefore, invariably, eat too much, just to make sure I had eaten enough and wouldn’t be in such desperate need of food if my next mealtime came and for whatever reason I couldn’t get any food.

If I bought takeout, I’d buy two entrees, two sides, a soup, and two sodas, eat it all, and feel like my stomach was coming apart at the seams. Another byproduct of never feeling safe with my food was the speed with which I ate. I’d wolf my food down, which, as anyone can tell you, especially when dealing with large quantities of food, is not healthy. If I bought stuff at the local grocery, I made sure I had more than I needed just to be sure, and then ate all of it. I ate until it hurt. I ate until I felt safe.

I haven’t lived there for 5 months and counting, and I’ve come to realize some things. It started when I got my regular-sized fridge. When I moved into my apartment, my landlady provided me with a wine cooler in lieu of a fridge. It was fine really, because I had brought a minifridge with me. But for the first four months of living there, I didn’t have a freezer, which was not only annoying, but also a painful reminder of the place I’d left. When I lived over there (I’m loathe to call it home), I had eventually bought myself a minifridge—the same minifridge I brought with me when I moved—but it didn’t have a freezer. We had freezers in the kitchen, but I had no way of ensuring that what I put in there would stay there, and I tried my best to keep the time I spent out of my room to an absolutely minimum, so I never bought anything that needed to be stored frozen.

When I finally got my regular-sized fridge, complete with beautiful freezer compartment, it finally felt like I had a normal home—a home that was mine, that I controlled, in which I was safe. I couldn’t place the feeling, but I knew it felt right. This past Thursday night it finally hit me: For the first time in my life I have a fully stocked kitchen, fully stocked refrigerator, fully stocked freezer, and I have control over all of it. It’s completely safe. No one can use it to control me. It’s mine. I finally have control over what I eat, when I eat it, how much of it I eat, and whether or not I want to save some for later.

If I want to make myself dinner, now all it involves is googling a recipe, going over to my cabinet, getting the ingredients, getting stuff from my fridge, cutting it all up, mixing it all together, cooking or baking it at my leisure, all safe from any worry of being triggered, manipulated, controlled, or otherwise made to feel unsafe. It’s no longer a calculation but a reflex. I’m hungry—I make food. I’m full—I stop eating. If there are leftovers, I put it in the fridge. When I want it again, it’s still there. I no longer have to eat the way I used to. I no longer need to feel like my stomach is exploding to feel safe. I no longer have to spend time deciding whether or not it’s worth leaving my room. I’m safe. I’m home. I can eat like a normal human being for the first time in my life and it feels amazing.

Spices feel amazing. Ice cream feels amazing. Putting the container away feels amazing. Leftovers are a miracle. I’ve lost ten pounds in the month since I’ve gotten my fridge and I could not be happier.

It’s still not perfect. I didn’t just magically stop eating too much just because I realized I don’t have to. It’s an ongoing process. Sometimes I have to actually tell myself that I’m safe, that I don’t have to eat anymore, that just feeling satisfied is ok and that I don’t have to eat until it hurts. Sometimes that isn’t enough and I really feel like I need that feeling. I’ve started keeping a gallon of water handy and chugging that until I feel that same fullness. That helps sometimes. Sometimes even that isn’t enough and I still eat like I used to. It’s going to take some time until I get used to this new life, but in the meantime I’m happy that I’ve even come this far.

On the first night of Pesach past, I asked my rabbi if I could say Birkas HaGomel after surviving for so many years where I used to live, including two suicide attempts. He told me that I didn’t meet the halachic requirements, but the blessing encompasses everything I feel, and everything I want to say to God about my life, so here goes: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַגּוֹמֵל לְחַיָּבִים טוֹבוֹת, שֶׁגְּמָלַנִי כָּל טוּב.

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How NaNoWriMo Saved My Life

My family has always been a little skeptical of writers. My grandmother, especially. “Oh, they’re being paid,” she’d say, as if the act of accepting money nullifies whatever idealism and feeling the author poured into the piece. It really annoyed me. I mean, I’m a writer, aren’t I? I’ve even been paid for some of what I’ve written. As any self-respective content-creator, I was duly offended. I’ve since learned that she’s only half wrong: There is writing that is purely opportunistic, words penned to promote a specific agenda or idea with no feeling behind it; voiceless words, pushing platitudes that a thousand thousand other people have pushed, each varying only slightly from the empty words of their predecessors—those variations being only a way of shoehorning the same tired, irrelevant, manipulative idea into something designed to hook the brainless masses. Those writers should be dismissed for being paid.

And then there’s writing you feel in your core. There is writing that makes you want to laugh, cry, jump for joy, punch walls, pull off your clothes and jump into a pool wearing nothing but your skivvies, and sit curled up in a corner alternatively talking to your security blanket and shoveling half-melted ice cream into your already caramel stained mouth, all at once. There’s writing that changes you. There’s writing that calls to your soul with a voice that demands to be heard. There’s writing that is born of passion, experience, and a burning desire to share with the world a masterpiece, painted by pen, one word at a time. There’s writing that alters the life of the reader—that can save or destroy the life of the reader. Such is the power of the written word. Like any other implement, it can build or destroy, beautify or befoul, inspire or devastate. Trust me, reader, when I tell you that it has the same effect on the author as it does on you.

Writing has been my outlet, the method why which I heal, and my contribution to a damaged world I hope to do my part to heal. Through writing, I can express what I can’t bring myself to utter. I’ve felt everything I’ve made my readers feel, and more. The more I’ve written, however, the more I’ve come to realize that as cathartic as the experience of writing can be, nothing compares to the power of a reader’s feedback. The timing makes this all the more significant for me: It’s November, and NaNoWriMo saved my life.

Those of you who follow my blog are familiar with my story. For those of you who aren’t, here’s what you need to know. My life completely fell apart six years ago. It took me a while, but after around a year, and with some help from a certain special someone, I was finally ready to write about it. I wrote a very long article for Ami Magazine, which was published. It’s hard to describe how liberating it felt to tell the world about my life after suffering silently for so long. I knew I needed to do more. For months my friends had been buzzing about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which is a sort of contest put on every year by the Office of Letters and Light, to see who can write a novel within 30 days. There aren’t really any prizes, but you do get serious bragging rights. There are write-ins, and all sorts of motivational tools on their website. If you’re going to write a book, November is the time to do it. And I wanted to write a book.

And so, I did. Fifty-some-odd-thousand words in two weeks. I barely ate or slept. This book was going to be the meaning for everything that had happened to me; it would give reason to all the suffering—it would be my reason for living. It took everything out of me, but there it was: My story. It was a memoir, not a novel, but still. It was pretty cool. I spent the next week and a half editing the thing, rewriting parts that needed fixing, correcting the odd typo here and there. Finally, about a week ahead of the deadline, I had something I thought was publishable. (It wasn’t, but I was a kid, so what did I know.) Proudly, I walked to the Fedex office three blocks away, and had my manuscript printed and bound. And there I stood, holding what had kept me going, my raison d’être, in my hands, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about that.

I remember feeling at once profoundly euphoric and profoundly meaningless. Those pages in my hand had been my life, from the time Ami had published my article to the time my manuscript came out of the printer at FedEx, and now I had it, and I wasn’t sure what was next. What if it was rejected. What if it was never published. What if my purpose never came to fruition. I walked out of that FedEx Office smiling and crying, and into a nearby subway station to catch a train home. And as I stood there on the platform, watching the train coming, a voice niggled at the back of my consciousness, asking “What if?” For the second time in my life, I considered it. Indeed, what if. I’d never see my purpose fulfilled, but then again, I probably wouldn’t anyway. What if. What if I didn’t have to wonder. What if it ended right there, with my life literally in my hands. What if.

I got on that train instead of jumping in front of it, but that feeling of meaninglessness didn’t go away. The euphoria did, though, and the next day I showed up at the last write-in of NaNoWriMo profoundly depressed. As I sat there flipping through my manuscript, my laptop dinged, notifying me of incoming email. It wasn’t from anyone I knew, but the subject said it had to do with my book, so I opened it. It was from a friend of a friend who had seen the summary of my book on my NaNoWriMo page and had a similar history. We chatted a little bit, and got to know each other, and then she sent me her story. It was remarkably similar to mine, right down to the family history of mental illness, abuse, anxiety, and PTSD. She told me how much it meant to her to see someone writing their story—her story—knowing that there were other people out there who knew what she was going through, and who cared about her.

And right then, I knew what my purpose was. That feeling of meaninglessness went away. I knew that my purpose was not just to get my book published, but to use my abilities as a writer to help others who don’t have a voice, who are either not ready or able to express themselves, tell their stories, or begin the process of healing. My purpose was to be there for those people and tell them that they are not alone. As I wrote in another piece on this blog:

…I discovered a purpose, a silver lining, almost, to everything that had happened. I still didn’t like the process, or the fact that I had to experience any of it, but God’s purpose started making sense–the good I had been looking for was beginning to make sense. It may seem odd for me to call the fact that I have the benefit of such unfortunate experience a good thing, but, to me, there is nothing more beautiful than that first smile breaking across a face stained by too many years of crying. If my experience means that I can be the cause of that smile, then that’s the purpose–that’s the good.

So, yeah, that’s how NaNoWriMo saved my life. What’s your NaNoWriMo story?

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What You Need to Understand About Suicide

Author’s note: This post is very triggering. Please do not read it if you don’t feel you can handle it. Take care of yourself. If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

On the way home from a road test in New Rochelle this morning, I turned on the radio to listen to the Geraldo show. Larry Mendte was filling in, and the topic was Robin Williams’ suicide. Since I saw the story online last night I’ve been reading articles, tributes, compilations of his greatest acts and quotes, and, of course, watching his movies. I’m in middle of Dead Poet’s Society. Robin Williams was a great man who not only inspired countless people, but touched every one of our hearts with his comedy. Who hasn’t watched Mrs Doubtfire at least 10 times? He will be sorely missed by the world, and we all mourn his passing.

Except, apparently, for Larry Mendte. No, instead of opening with a tribute to Robin Williams, Mendte decided to open the show with a ten minute diatribe about how selfish, unforgivable, disgusting, and cowardly Robin Williams was in taking his life. He touched upon all the usual talking points whenever suicide finds its way into the news: It’s the easy way out; It’s the coward’s choice; It’s selfish; How could he not think of his children and wife? Mind you, this was after Mendte admitted several times that he had neither suffered from depression or suicidal ideation in his life, nor had any education on the subject. And yet, somehow, he felt qualified to give his tens of thousands of listeners his opinions.

And then he opened the show for callers. He asked his callers to please explain to him, because to him it was unfathomable, how a man could do something so terrible. First two callers up agreed with Mendte’s assessment of Williams’ suicide. “You’re right, Larry, it is selfish and wrong, and I will never forgive him for what he did to his family.” “It’s the pharmaceutical companies. They overprescribe medicine and it makes people do crazy things like this.” Finally a call came in from someone who actually suffered from depression, and I thought oh maybe just this once a talk show host will accept education when it’s offered. Nope. The caller described his experience and his history of depression and suicide pretty well, but after he hung up, all Mendte could say was that he didn’t know, couldn’t understand it, and still found Williams’ suicide unforgivable.

Meanwhile, I nearly hit a barrier on the FDR drive I was so angry. And it’s not just talk show hosts and people who are paid for their opinions. These are commonly held beliefs. People think depression can be cured by funny cat pictures or a motivational speech. They think that depression is something people pretend to have because it gets them attention. They think that suicide is something people consider lightly, that someone standing on the edge of that bridge, or with a gun in his mouth, or a fistful of pills hasn’t considered the impact their action will have on the people they love. They think it’s a selfish act. And you know what? It is. But not in the way they think.

I speak as someone who attempted suicide more than once, has suffered on and off with depression for three years of my life, and who grew up with someone who was rendered quadriplegic by a suicide attempt. Depression is not a bad day. It is not laziness, or a lack of proper motivation. It is an utterly debilitating inability to feel. Anything. It is an emptiness that cannot be filled by any amount of money or any number of people. It’s your soul taking a hiatus. And sure, a person suffering depression can smile, or laugh, but that smile is a mask, that laugh is a lie. They don’t penetrate beyond the depth of the skin and flesh required to make them. We laugh and smile because we desperately wish we could feel it, and we never show you our true sadness and emptiness because we either care about you too much to worry you, or we don’t think you’ll understand.

This is what people don’t understand about suicide when they call it a selfish act. Human beings are born selfish—there is nothing more selfish and demanding than an infant. As we grow older we learn to take care of ourselves, and to empathize with other people and their needs. We train ourselves to temper our self-interests for the benefit of the people we care about, but as human beings with needs, sometimes we need to be a little selfish. Sometimes that selfishness takes the form of alone time, and we blow off a friend because we just can’t deal with people at the moment. Sometimes it takes the form of a shopping spree we know we can’t afford just because we need to be cheered up. Sometimes it’s telling a friend that they’re toxic and that you need time away from them, or a significant other whose heart you know you need to break because the relationship has to end.

We who suffer with depression and suicidal ideation have gotten into the habit of being selfless, of stifling our needs, our feelings and emotions, for the benefit of those around us. We put on that mask every day because someone counts on us, or because we don’t want to burden you. We put others first constantly, neglecting ourselves to help others. That’s why, so often, the nicest, most thoughtful, most caring people you meet suffer from depression. We understand how it feels, and we deprive ourselves every day to make sure no one else needs to feel the way we do. And no, it’s not healthy, and we should take care of ourselves, but that is the nature of the beast. We don’t feel enough self-worth to value ourselves before others.

Suicide is the culmination of all those times we weren’t selfish, all those times we forced ourselves to smile, or to laugh, or go out, help you move, drive you to the airport, not take those sick days or vacations. It’s all those times we thought of maybe telling the world to go to hell for a few hours and doing something for ourselves, but then chose not to because of our obligations to the ones we love and their expectations. It’s the end game, where we look back on all the pain, all the suffering, all the sadness, the anger, fear, uncertainty, dread, anxiety and hopelessness, all the times that people dismissed our misery, trivialized our experiences, called us liars, abused us—it is that single moment of devastating clarity when we realize that we are human beings, and we are entitled to be selfish every now and again, and we jump, we pull the trigger, we swallow those pills because once—just once—we decide to look out for ourselves and make the pain and emptiness just go away.

In that moment, when I stepped in front of that bus, I apologized to everyone I’d be hurting, but I kept walking. I thought about all the responsibilities I’d be leaving behind, the void that would need filling in my absence, and I looked at that bus and I walked toward it. And in those few seconds as I stood there, hoping the bus wouldn’t swerve out of the way, I felt free and in control for the first time in my life. I felt like I was finally—for once—doing something just for me.

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