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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How to Not Kill Yourself (Lessons from the Retirement home)

Because it's National Suicide Prevention Week
because I just wrote a book about suicide
because I am depressed this week-
I thought I should write a post about how to get through clinical depression.

So, I've lived in my mom's retirement home for the past two months with my daughter. I'm staying there because after being sick with a mysterious illness for two years, losing my business, everything I own, and my father; I had to move out of a trailer park. You could say I know a little bit about depression, not just because of many spectacular life events that have been thrown my way but also because, as it turns out, porphyria makes you super crazy and suicidally depressed. It floods your brain with neurotoxins. It also starves your brain of oxygen. Autistic children have high levels of porphyrins in their blood, so do Alzheimers patients. Lots of undiagnosed porphyrics get locked up a schizophrenics.

So the retirement home is the best place for me to be right now. I don't move very fast anymore and neither do they. My brain is being damaged by my disease and I think slow and forget stuff, but they don't ever notice.  When I feel unattractive because I am losing my hair, I remember that Ida lost her leg to gangrene last week. Yes, she is 80 and I'm in my thirties, but after a while I stopped seeing her as "Old Lady." Now I see her as "Ida" and realize that we are all just human beings. Inside-she doesn't feel 80.
She just feels like Ida.
Just like I don't feel "Homeless" or "Sick" or "Mentally Ill."
I just feel like Sunny.

How to Not Kill Yourself

1. Play pretend.

Use your imagination. You did it when you were a kid all the time. You still have it.
 I got through this last year by imagining a conversation I will have with my daughter when she is in her thirties.
"Remember 2012? You must have been 6 years old? That was a terrible time."
"Not really," I imagine her smiling as she shrugs. "I remember summer camp when I was eight, though."
"Yeah, you were a bitch. Where are the Doritos?"
Because even though it seems like the biggest, most serious thing in the world, given enough time everything will fade, it will become lighter.
Imagine that everything is already okay and work backwards from there.

Right now, for example, I am imagining that I am already a famous author, grateful that I went through such a hard time so I could write about it and help people.
If you are depressed, you are already using your imagination to predict the worst case scenario. If you're going to be delusional anyway at least give yourself happy fantasies.
And- this is hard to believe but I promise you it's true-
You get to choose.

2. Accept Change and Loss

Because (bad news) it's going to keep happening. Despite what TV tells you about how your life is supposed to be perfect and there is something wrong with you if it isn't- suffering is the human condition.It's not about getting from where you are now to happy, super happy joy joy joy . Yes, you will have some of that again, but nobody has that all the time, not really.
So you don't have so far to go. It's just about finding some peace that makes the occasional suffering all right. That is totally doable.
 If you live long enough you will lose everything-your looks, your loved ones, your health, maybe your sanity. Your kids are going to send the Salvation Army in to take all of the shit you are buying at Ikea right now and cart it off, moving you into a place with a bunch of old people. All those jerks at work-the fuckups and the ones who have power and the ones who gossip and the people who seem like they are doing so much better than you are? It's going to happen to them, too, if they are lucky.
Maybe that seems like an odd thing to say to a depressed person but think about it-
most of the shit that is happening right now really doesn't matter.
And the things that do matter have a tendency to work themselves out.
All my new friends at the retirement home? They seem just as happy and simultaneously unhappy as all the younger people I know. They just complain about different things. It's the same.
Every time you lose something you can find a gift in the experience, something you have learned.
I lost all my shit and had to move into a retirement home.
Look at all the stuff I learned.
Find something to be grateful for.

3. Quit Pretending

I read a quote from the Buddha last year that said-
"Live in this world as if you are living in a room with a live cobra at the door."
I didn't get it then but I do now.
The cobra is our own fear.
That everything will fall apart, that we will lose what we love, that we will get sick and die. Or, if you are suicidal, that you will have to keep living in so much pain.
I've spent a lot of  my life trying to ignore the cobra. I definitely find myself pretending to others that I have no cobra.
"What's that in the corner?"
"Nothing. I'm fine."
As if they don't know, as if they aren't busy throwing a brightly colored rug from Ikea over theirs right now.
The more you acknowledge the cobra the smaller it gets. It doesn't go away, but it agrees to sometimes take a long nap and quit freaking you out.
Then you can tell other people about it,
and then we don't all feel so alone.

4. Make art
If you don't already-start right now. Pick up a guitar or a paintbrush, write a poem ( or even just a pissed off letter to the universe) get a scrapbooking kit, bake a bunch of zucchini bread- search and find something that you still love to create and do it as if your life depends on it-because it does.

 If you suck, do it anyway.
Everyone alive has the ability to make art of some kind. It's your birthright-no different than the capability to use language or make calculations. If it was required in school we would all develop this skill set, but it isn't so everyone thinks it's some special thing only talented people can do-like a magic trick. It's not.
We evolved, or God gave us (or both) an instinct to transform the experiences we are having into something else-
something beautiful or painful,
to inspire the other members of our species or make them think,
to reach out and connect to each other
to make us feel a little less alone.
We were given this gift because life is really hard. Think about the billions of people who have lived before us. There has always been war, famine, sickness; babies died, ships sank, and no one even had TV to take their mind off of it. So we painted our story on the walls of the cave, we sang out our sorrow as we worked in the fields as slaves, we lost ourselves in each stitch of the quilts we made from scraps for our children. And that's the secret to it-after a while (even when you're trying really hard to stay focused on the uniquely hopeless, dire and  tragic nature of your own situation) you lose yourself in the magic of what you're doing.
There is no better antidepressant than that.
Use it. Right now. That's what it's there for.

The part of us that creates is the part of us that is God.
If you lose everything,
if everyone else has thrown up their hands and gone home because they are sick of your sad sack depressed person bullshit,
if  it looks like there is no way out,
that is the part of you that knows where the parachutes are hidden in the dark,

that part of you will lead you home .


  1. beautiful. Can't wait to see you interviewed on the Today Show for your book. I can say, "I knew her when" (not that I know you...)You don't go through the dark patches you have endured for nothing. It's not in vain. It will be perfectly clear in the end.

  2. Despite everything, you are still more beautiful than all the smug, self-important haters out there who (think) they're better than you.

  3. Despite everything, you are still more beautiful than all the smug, self-important haters out there who (think) they're better than you.

  4. Beautiful, even from the old age home.

  5. Thank you, Sunny! I'm going to cook my cobra and eat him for dinner!

  6. Beautiful!! This made my day. I needed a major inspiration and you did that! <3