On June 4, 2016 I stood on some rocks in St. Elizabeth.
The wild sea was in the background, goaded by the jagged, hidden rocks beneath into throwing up its frilly frock in protest: when would it get to roll rampant over the shoreline, then sweep back out towards the horizon, carrying all it kissed in its wake? Why was it held hostage here in the churning shallows?
I stood watching its temper tantrum with something like awe. I tried a thousand times to take a picture of my feet, nicely pedicured, standing there on the rocks but the camera wouldn’t work. Or maybe it was just my hands.
I glanced behind me, where somewhere my friends and husband sat blithely awaiting my return with no idea of the importance of this reunion between me, rock and sea.
Eight years earlier, I had stood on those same rocks, staring into that same angry sea. Knowing it had come for me. And that I was ready.
Eight years ago, I stood staring into the depths of an angry ocean, the sea its own siren call. Yes, I thought. She understands me. We understand each other. We belong together.
Eight years ago, the exact circle of friends who awaited me that day had also been waiting for me then, seat saved for the friend who had surely just slipped out to the bathroom, or for some water.
Eight years ago, unbeknownst to them, they each had an envelope with their names on it.
Buried in my drawer (but not so far they couldn’t soon be found) were stacks and stacks of envelopes, names written in careful curls and swoops. Even in that I was meticulous: I wanted the whimsy and the art, the wit and the word-craft all to be present in each letter, lovingly written even amidst the steel resolve that I had to leave. I wrote that it just had to be. That it hurt too much to stay. That I loved loving and laughing with them, but that afterwards, the pain always cut too deep. That it was like the acid-burn of frozen fingers once the ice stopped feeling good.
That it wasn’t them. It was me. And this was just better for everyone.
The letter to the smiling man with dimples was the hardest. What words could I write to truly absolve him of living through his girlfriend’s death? Still, he had a letter with his name on it. With careful curls and swoops.
Eight years ago, I knew the sea was unpredictable and many were the souls sat hidden within Treasure Beach’s briny belly. I knew no one could be blamed. I knew it was time.
Yet somehow, against all odds… I stood on those exact same rocks 2 weeks ago. They hadn’t changed, but I had. I had survived that day on the rocks. I married that dimpled man. I had his children. I switched jobs, then switched jobs again. I went back to school for my postgraduate degree. I grew. I forgave some pretty major events in my life. I healed.
I laughed. I loved. I released.
On June 4, 2016 I stood on some rocks in St Elizabeth.
Feet planted. Heart full. Back straight. Hope restored.
And I released the last traces of that ghost into the sea. I watched the tide race back out, carrying her towards the horizon and I smiled.
Depression isn’t ‘sadness’. There is nothing as simple as ‘snapping out of it.’ Be patient and steadfast with those you know suffering from it. Be gentle and kind with the world in general: you brush against many more than you could possibly imagine. Depression presents in a thousand different ways.
In my case, I was surrounded by love. I never doubted that I was loved. But depression insulated me from being able to reach back out to the hands so desperately stretched out towards me. I’ll never stop feeling such gratitude for those who stood unflinchingly by me, even when not aware or sure of what was happening or why.
Michelle, I believe you knew you were loved. I believe you knew people would listen. I think maybe you were held silent hostage by the depths of your depression. You’ll never know how desperately we wish we’d had that breakthrough with you. It’s hard not to wonder what anyone could have done or said differently. It’s hard to let this go.
You’re still so loved. You’re still so precious. It’s just that now we must add ” deeply missed” as well. Goodbye curly-haired music-lover with the Bambi eyes. RIP Footie.
I add this grief to my shelf, your name to my memorial. I send your name softly cross the sea.
And I will walk gently along shorelines and cliff sides in case there’s a soul looking for a reason to look away.
Or for a cookie. For courage.
BLOG NOTE: If you are struggling with Depression and/or Thoughts of Suicide, please GET HELP. The world will NEVER be better without you in it. This is a LIE. You are LOVED. You MATTER. You are here to make an impact on some tiny part of this giant world. Someone needs you to be exactly who you are, and ALIVE. Text a friend. Call a cousin. Reach out. Let us in. Just “keep waking up” until one day it begins to make more sense.
23 is a pretty young age to know you’ve got maybe 2 years left to live. Sure, others face death much earlier, but still. When you’re 23 and facing a death sentence, it can be a pretty tough pill to swallow. But swallowing pills wasn’t really on the cards- pills seemed way too complicated and unpredictable for what was ahead. Because really, what was ahead was probably going to involve razors. That was what I decided I would do. Y’ know… once I’d killed myself.
Tough sentence to read? It was a tough season to live through.
A little over a year ago, I wrote this blog post apologizing for having been silent for the 5 months prior to the post. What had happened was that my students (I was still a teacher back then) had FOUND! MY! BLOG!!! And basically, the beautiful deniability every writer grants himself/herself was shot to crap every time my beautiful, beaming, nosy lil kids asked me a question based on whichever part of my soul I had bared in whichever post they were referencing.
It took me 5 months, that post admitted, but if I were going to be the kind of blogger I really wanted to be, then I was going to have to take a breath and keep being honest with myself and with my readers, all 10 of them…1500 when it wasn’t a school night. I swore that student or no student, I was going to keep living and telling my truths. I WOULD BE UNSTOPPABLE. That was April 13, 2015.
The next day, a friend I knew from birth killed herself.
These are my first blog-words since.
Every time I have tried to write around this defining moment of my life, pick another topic, poke another joke at myself, my words have dried up, disappeared into this deep chasm inside myself. And I’ve sat, liplocked for over a year, heartbroken and trying to call this mourning a thousand different things. Tonight I call it what it is. Was. Is.
Survivor’s Guilt. Why me? Why did I make it? Why didn’t she?
As with many other suicides in the world, the first thing people said when they heard was, “Impossible! She’s the HAPPIEST person I know!!!!” She sure looked it. Bright. Focused. Happy. Colourful. A tiny whirlwind. A dynamo. All words I might have shouted into the darkness too, if I hadn’t been crumpled into a speechless, weeping lump on my kitchen floor. Instead, my first words were, “Jesus.” And I wasn’t cussing. I wasn’t praying. I was… I was asking a question, I think?
I think the rest of it would have been, if I had air in my body to make more words, “How come?”
How come me and not her? How come her and not me?
Do you know what kind of depression has to be at work for you to take a long term planning view of dying? Do you know how “up” your “give” has to get for you to decide that since there’s no way it’s going to get better, you should at least make sure you do it right…YEARS IN ADVANCE??? And for me, during that time, so few people knew that there could have possibly been anything wrong with me. I was the smiling-est, laughing-est, joking-est, curly hair-flipper in the world. Needed acerbic wit? Biting sarcasm? Gentle humour? I knew how to read a room and deliver the lol buffet that would make the most impact.
Inside, though, I veered from screaming for death to a numb certainty that nothing at all mattered, so what difference did it make if I hung around another day or two or ten? Die now. Die later. That’s what my life had boiled down to. And as a cold acceptance of my certain fate settled down around me like a terrible blanket, I became almost clinically organized.
I began to pay off my debts. I paid attention to which possessions impressed and excited which friends and family, mentally earmarking my legacies for each. I wrote and re-wrote wills and ‘final’ letters. And never, not ONCE, did anyone accidentally stumble upon the realization of how bad it was, how dangerous I’d become.
What I’m trying to say is that depression doesn’t always dress in black and carry a gun. It isn’t always that drunk chick trying to cocktail her way into oblivion. It doesn’t always leave breadcrumb trails of misery and heavy sighs in the dark. There isn’t always a soundtrack. If we don’t want you to know, you probably won’t. It’s our weird way of trying to free you from guilt.
Something else it’s not: an easy way out. No matter the method, the soul that’s torn from us this way has fought and fought and fought against all kinds of devils. Noisy ones that wrestle angrily and thunderously, and drown out hope. Silent ones that lay themselves heavily across hope receptors and feel almost like a kind of sleep. Sorrow that spills into the world and drowns all the joy. Gloom that makes it too hard to breathe, hard to survive another day just to realize the “prize” is simply a long line of the other days behind it. Living becomes such soul-searing work that anything else seems more appealing.
God help the souls slipping down into that marsh right now. It’s hard. It’s cold. It’s scary. And once you’ve found yourself flat on your back at the bottom of that pit, if you ever make it out…you never forget it. Never. And you recognize it more easily in others. The vacuum pulsing softly in chests, biding time until it explodes and sucks its person in, leaving just a space where they used to be.
You learn to be more of what you craved then. You learn to probe others’ anger for the wound beneath. You listen carefully. You speak mindfully. You walk softly. You love fiercely. You live gently. You want your very existence to be a beacon, signalling that yes! Escape exists, hope exists, and happiness is real. To swear it’s safe to ask for help, to take the hand, to fight to try. To just keep waking up. One more day. Then another. Until the night is just another part of the day’s story, and nothing in it scares you anymore.
To promise that the impossible is POSSIBLE: you can be whole again. Healthy again. Happy again. And that that’s true even if you need to do it with help- intervention, medication, ongoing therapy, whatever it takes!
Get ready for some Jesus, because He’s the only reason I’m still here. Sometimes I can be so reluctant to mention Him, like I want to give Him plausible deniability in case He needs the space for I don’t know…His fledgling political career? But the truth is simply that first God gave me a mother who prayed like my life depended on it (which it did) even when she couldn’t figure out why she felt such urgency. He gave me a friend who stuck devoutly by my side until I began to hope there could be hope (for his troubles, I married him!) Then one night, God very much reached His hand into my room and basically said, “You in or nah?” and I grabbed it like it was LIFE itself. And, as it turns out, it was. I will never forget that moment… the moment when I knew I was looking at a decision, when I KNEW I was choosing if I was going to fight to LIVE. Or give up and die.
I didn’t die. Obviously.
I didn’t die then. And I haven’t died about 3,234 times in the 9 years since then, because God is the gift that keeps on giving. But that April night, as I sobbed in the kitchen, watching my bagel burn, I realized I hadn’t fully lived either.
Somehow, underneath the softening of myself- the curbing of cruel tongue, the return of happy hugs, the slow scrubbing of sarcasm from my conversations, the preternatural patience with people, and a burning desire to help, teach, encourage and love- there was, and had always been, a kind of fear. A fear of loud living, as if the noise of my truest self would re-capture the Dark’s attention. And so I lay a smiling shroud over New Natalie, and convinced myself it was safer for everyone that way, a muted vibrance to my legend. A slumping of shoulders. A slipping away from spotlights and limelights and all the other lights I would normally have gravitated towards. Loud and confident as long as my back is to the audience. A fantastic conductor, where once I’d have aimed for being star soprano.
Basically, I have accidentally become the world’s most colourful shadow. But I turn 34 this year. I don’t want any more shadows over my life. Now’s the time to take a deep breath and FACE THINGS.
So, I’m sorry Mommy-friends, for the unplayed playdates, the hangouts that were never organized, the parties that we missed.
I’m sorry friend-friends, for huddling deeper into some sheltered circle of myself. For calling less, and “I’m sorry”ing more.
I’m sorry husband, for the hours I spent away from you, tucked into the pages of a safer world.
I’m sorry children for not running with you more. Literally, physically running with you- arms outspread as an airplane, or tucked in as a dinosaur. How I have yearned to. How I have held myself back.
I’m sorry siblings, for folding this big sister up and squeezing her under the weight of a thousand “I’m fine, just busy”s.
I’m sorry old friends, new friends, family and family-types.
I’m sorry for living my life parallel to yours, in a perplexing series of emotional hide-and-seeks.
I’m sorry for being so ‘open’ with my life lessons and insight, while so desperately closed off with my real struggles.
I swear I didn’t realize it before. I swear I didn’t do it on purpose.
I was just trying to save my life.
Some primal survival instinct kicked in, and I’ve been living in my head where it’s safe, and packing it tight with anti-memory materials like Netflix marathons and mermaid novels.Yet still, woven through every accidental space are memories of Jodi. Demanding recognition. Demanding a goodbye.
I’ve just been so afraid she could take me with her. I should have known better.
Everyday I add another tile to this mosaic. They’re not all sparkly, but they are all mine. They are all part of my story. They are all going to be in both my book and the movie that will follow. I will graciously allow both Zoe Saldana and Kerry Washington to plead for the role of me, before deciding ultimately to play myself.
I am happy. I am healed. I am whole.
I am HERE, dammit.
I’m here. And with my feet firmly replanted, I can finally tell you goodbye. I’m sorry I never knew you were roaming the dark neighborhood I once lived in too. I’m heartbroken that I couldn’t be a hand reaching over the edge for you. I’ll never truly get over this hollow inside me. But I hold out every hope, my darling, that you found Light on your way. And that I’ll see you again. This is my hope. This is my goodbye.
I’m going to try hard to live as loudly as I possibly can now.
I hope you hear me, wherever you are.
And me for writing this, and you for reading it? Well, we definitely earned some cookies. For courage.
BLOG NOTE: If you are struggling with Depression and/or Thoughts of Suicide, please GET HELP. The world will NEVER be better without you in it. That is a LIE. You are LOVED. You MATTER. You are here to make an impact on some tiny part of this giant world. Someone needs you to be exactly who you are, and ALIVE. Text a friend. Call a cousin. Reach out. Let us in. Just “keep waking up” until one day it begins to make more sense.