Suicide

Read the title again.  This could potentially be upsetting.  [Slightly, you may or may not want to read this.  You know me offline, and you might not want to know this about me.]

A classmate of mine attempted suicide in Spring 2013.  A friend of a friend committed suicide a week and a half before Christmas.

One would think that after seeing the shock, the confusion, the guilt and the pain experienced by the people I would be completely put off the idea of suicide, and yet, in my darkest moments, I’ve come closer to actually doing it than I feel comfortable with.

A lot of the bookmarks on my web browser have to do with suicide.  I’ve made two detailed suicide plans (one as a backup in case the first one fails), right down to where I’d get the materials I need.  I have in my phone text history, a series of text messages sent between me and a friend written at a time when I thought that the pain of dying of asphyxiation over the course of a week was preferable to the pain of living my life.  Might I note that at this point in time, the reason why I felt life was not worth living was basically that I had written something rather stupid and someone I respected had seen it, and a dog I liked had died (and I couldn’t find a photograph of the dog that I was looking for).  Each of the factors on their own would have been manageable, but given who I am, that pretty much set me up for failure right then and there.

I look back at that now and think of how ridiculous it was to want to die so badly over something so small, and yet even now, I have moments where I find myself going over my suicide plans again and again, wanting to be released from the pain of living in this world.  People often like to tell suicidal/depressed people that things will get better.  I always find that difficult to believe.  I already have everything I could have ever hoped for, and yet it’s still not enough for me to want to live.  I don’t know why.  I wish I did, so that I could stop this.  Deep down, I don’t want to kill myself.  I don’t want to feel like death is the best option for me.  But I do, sometimes.  It scares me.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about suicide a lot.  For the past week, nearly every day, I’ve hit a point where I have seriously entertained the notion of harming myself (although I know that I’m most likely not going to make an attempt on my life).  When I was hospitalised, the first thing that I thought of was that after I was released, I might be able to use the pain meds to commit suicide (a subsequent check of the chemicals showed that they’re not actually suitable for suicide).  Thinking of the pain that I might cause to others if I committed suicide used to be enough to persuade me that it wasn’t a good idea, but it’s getting increasingly hard to believe that anyone would actually be upset.  I honestly believe that most of the people I care deeply about dislike me and I even think that my parents would be ambivalent about my death and move on quickly (even though logic tells me that this is most likely not true) because I’m slowly losing touch with reality.  Now the only thing that can reliably make me consciously choose to live is the knowledge that there’s a pretty good chance I won’t make it and I’ll wake up knowing that as much as I fail at life, I also fail at death, and I don’t know if I could deal with surviving a suicide attempt.

I don’t have a point I’m trying to make, I’m just trying to vent my emotions, really.  This is about as bad as things get for me, and I’m not always this insane.  [Slightly, if you’ve read this far, I’m sorry.  It’s extremely unlikely that I’ll do anything, so you don’t need to be worried about me.]

Careers and Decision Making

I know I’ve posted about this before and honestly not that long ago, but since I’m a high school senior, this is something that I’m being forced to consider and something that I feel a great deal of anxiety about.  I continue to find it absolutely ridiculous that in the eyes of the law, I am not considered mature enough to decide who I wish to marry, I’m not even considered mature enough to make my own healthcare decisions (I had to fight with my parents to get anti-anxiety medication to help me cope until the exams) and yet apparently everyone thinks I’m mature enough to decide on what I’d like to do for the rest of my life.

First things first, I’m really, really sheltered.  My family is upper middle class, I’ve never had financial worries of any kind (until recently when we’re starting to look at universities and that’s kind of an issue…but that’s another matter) and I’ve not been exposed to the real world.  How is it at all possible for me to make a reasoned decision considering important factors like employability, expected salary, standard of living etc when I have never been exposed to any of the problems that are associated with not being able to find a job, or having a job that barely pays the bills.  I’ve never experienced hardship of any kind, and my decision-making really reflects that.

Secondly, I’m seventeen.  I’ve experienced probably less than a third of my life (17*3=51…I think I can assume that if my depression doesn’t kill me, I’ll likely live to be more than 51) and despite the recent posting on identity, I still haven’t figured out mine.  If I can’t even figure out my sexual orientation with any certainty, and I’m only just beginning to develop a strong values system, how can I be sure that what I think I want now is what I actually want?

Thirdly, I have mental illnesses that distort reality a bit.  In the careers decision, I think my anxiety is really distorting how I see things.  I could be hedging my bet, going for the option I think I’m most likely to succeed in, or I could genuinely desire that option.  I don’t think I’ll ever know.

That’s a lot of negativity…and at least some of it is probably driven by my anxiety and worries that I’m going to make the wrong decision and either be subject to “I told you so” or soul-crushing regret.

In favour of my ability to make this decision, I may not be old enough or mature enough to be making the perfect decision, but I’m still already more mature than my ten-year-old self, and honestly, if I wait until I’m ready before I make every decision, time is going to go by far too quickly.  If I let my anxiety rule my life like this, I’ll never find happiness, because I’m just going to be waiting for a day that will never come.  I’m never going to be ready, and I’m probably about as ready as I need to be to make a decision that I won’t regret because even if it ends up being the ‘wrong choice’, I can still answer to myself because it’s the best decision I can make at this time.

As for whether at seventeen I can determine whether what I want now is what I actually want… my teacher was talking to me earlier today and I said “I’m seventeen, I doubt what I want now actually means anything”, to which he replied that he didn’t think I was the type of person to make decisions without carefully thinking about them or decisions without regard for the future (which is actually what a good friend of mine said about me a few months ago).  He’s right that I should probably trust what I want now (as much as I don’t like to admit it, he normally is).  Even if it isn’t what will make me happy for the rest of my life, it is, at the very least, going to make me happy now, and as my teacher pointed out in the same discussion, life is short.

Whether or not I’m ready to make this decision, I’m going to have to make it, so I might as well have more faith in myself.  There’s no real point in doubting myself or my ability to make the right choice for me.  I need to stop listening to the people who tell me that I’m not mature enough or rational enough to make the decision and start listening to people who believe I can do it.  My mental illnesses introduce enough negativity into my life, I don’t need to listen to the negative people.

More On Identity

Yesterday I wrote about values and how that’s important to identity.  It’s the obvious thing people think about when they discuss the idea of identity.  I’ve been thinking lately of another aspect of identity that is often overlooked because it doesn’t apply to everyone, but one that can be very, very important to the people that it does apply to.

Disability.  Mental illness.

Those aren’t things that people often think about when they think about identity, but they’re important.  Here’s why.

When I was younger, I struggled with many things (you can read about one of them here, but I also had other difficulties with social skills, motor coordination etc.).  I’ve been called all kinds of things.  ‘Lazy’, ‘stupid’, ‘stubborn’…  But in the sixth grade (after a learning specialist at my school suggested it for the second time), my parents took me to an educational psychologist who gave me a provisional diagnosis of ADHD.  Although I do not actually believe I have ADHD, the label was and is so important to me, because for the first time, I allowed myself to consider the possibility that I might actually not be broken or weird.  That I might just be a different kind of normal.  That there might be others out there who struggle the same way I do (which there are… I’ve found a few, although at the time I felt really alone).

It’s so easy to say “don’t let [diagnosis] define you/your child”.  It’s so easy to think that nobody wants to have labels like ADHD, autism, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia…  That’s not really true, or at least it isn’t true for me.  I’d rather have a word to describe my struggles, because it lends validation to the very real challenges I face in my life.  Because ‘anxiety’ is always a better label than ‘overreacting’ and if I had ADHD, that would be a better label than ‘lazy’ or ‘stubborn’.  [I read an excellent post about how labels are great as long as they’re the right label, but I can’t remember for the life of me which post it was or even where I saw it.   This post was heavily influenced by that one and I’d love to credit the author.  I will edit to include a link if I can remember.]

Having depression as an identity to validate the fact that certain things are harder for me than they are for people who don’t struggle with depression is really different from using my depression identity as an excuse to not make an effort to minimise the impact depression has on my life.  I try not to do too much of the excuse-making.  In fact, if someday I’m lucky enough to recover from depression, I’m (hopefully) not going to give up on recovery because I’m afraid of losing the identity.  But for now, I do have depression, and having that identity is better than being called lazy on those days when I simply cannot do something because getting up out of bed in the morning is the hardest and bravest thing I can manage for that day.

It Hurts Even When You Don’t Mean It

This is going to make me sound ungrateful and horrible, but I’m going to say it anyways, because it’s how I feel and I’m not going to hide from that.

I had a discussion/argument with my parents tonight.  The gist of it was that we were speaking in English and my mother suddenly asked us (my brother and me) to speak in Chinese.  We did for a bit, and then I kind of forgot and started speaking in English.  My father said: “How stupid are you?  You can’t even understand a simple instruction to speak to your mother in Chinese.  You don’t give me any reason to support your education if after learning Chinese for 12 years you can’t hold a simple conversation with your mother in Chinese.”

Being called stupid is a problem for me.  One of the ways my anxiety disorder expresses itself is that I worry about how intelligent other people find me.  I worry about it a lot.  I worry about the scores I get on tests.  Even when I get full marks for a particular question, I worry about whether it was phrased in the most perfect way possible.  I worry about whether what I say was appropriate to the situation.  I worry about whether it sounds insightful or lame.  I worry about…

Long story short, being called stupid, under any circumstances hurts.  I know when my father says that, he doesn’t really mean it.  I know he’s just angry and upset and he’s just venting and coping with his emotions in the only way he knows how.  I know he has his own issues and that he would never intentionally hurt me.  But he does.  Sometimes he says the most hurtful things.  Sometimes he takes things that he knows are my insecurities because I once trusted him enough to tell him, and he’ll use them against me when he’s upset.  Sometimes he’ll say things he doesn’t mean when he’s hurting.  And no matter how much I know he doesn’t mean it, no matter how much he apologises later, it still hurts.   It still makes me feel like I don’t deserve his love, or anyone else’s love.  It still makes me feel worthless and stupid and I still believe the hurtful things he says.  It hurts even when I know he doesn’t mean it.  And what’s said can’t be unsaid ever.

In Which I Ramble About Anxiety and Self-Diagnosis

I’m in the hospital so I now have a lot of free time to write stuff so I can get a few things off my chest. Wednesday was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me. A lot of stuff happened and because I’m not currently in a depressive episode, I felt a lot of it pretty intensely.
I finished my mock exams. Chemistry. Three papers of it in a day. I was feeling really, really apprehensive about it because I feel a lot of pressure to do well because I’ve always been good at chemistry and therefore people have high expectations, or at least I think they do. I was also feeling a bit excited because my chemistry teacher had said that he thought I’d find the questions fun (which in his language, means they’d be really hard, but interesting…that didn’t help with the apprehension much). Anyways, the exams were fun, as promised, but because I hadn’t studied and because I missed a week of school right when we were doing the chapter on carbonyls, I found there were quite a few questions I wasn’t confident about answering.
Cue anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorder enters stage right. Honestly, I was kind of expecting that I’d have anxiety about the chemistry exam afterwards no matter what. That’s how my anxiety disorder works. I worry about everything, but particularly about things where the public perception of my intelligence and/or ability might be at stake. Reason and logic do not play a role in anxiety and even when I know how to answer a question, I worry about getting it wrong, or writing a technically correct but silly answer. Couple that with having to be assessed in a subject taught by my favourite teacher and it’s a near certainty that I will spend a great deal of time worrying about how I did.
Lately I’ve been having a new kind of anxiety. In addition to my performance/social/scared-of-the-dark/checking-behind-doors anxiety, I’ve started to have anxiety about my identity. Specifically about appropriating struggles of other people. I was initially self-diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Having that self-diagnosis made it possible for me to ask for help from a therapist (otherwise I would have thought my problems were too insignificant to deserve help) and it allowed me to accept that certain things are difficult for me due to my mental illnesses. The emotional validation of a diagnosis, even a self diagnosis was, for me at least, a major part of self acceptance and taking the steps I needed to take to improve my life and move forward. I didn’t take self diagnosis lightly at all and I carefully considered my symptoms against the diagnostic criteria and against the stories of personal experiences of people with depression and anxiety. Even so, I did have a certain degree of self-doubt, wondering if maybe I was overreacting and exaggerating (professional confirmation of my depression and anxiety made this worry go away, thankfully). More recently, I’ve been wondering if I might be autistic. On one hand, I see a lot of myself in some of the autistic people I’ve met, I identify with many of the things autistic bloggers write about and as far as I can tell, I meet the criteria for an autism spectrum disorder according to the DSM-5 and ICD-10 (I don’t meet the criteria according to the Cambridge Lifespan Asperger Syndrome Service, but on that one, the only criteria I don’t meet are the ones for lack of imagination).  My mother has mentioned that she can see why I might be autistic.  A few autistic individuals I’ve met online as well as my counselor who has an autistic son believe that I might be autistic.  Despite this, and despite my previous self-diagnosis having been confirmed to be correct, I worry nearly constantly that I’m appropriating the real struggles of real autistic individuals.

Part of that self-doubt comes from the fact that I realise that I have a certain bias in this.  I want an autism diagnosis.  That sounds like an odd thing to say, because who would want to have a disorder?  But if you look at it another way, whether or not I have the diagnosis, I am who I am.  Getting a diagnosis won’t make me magically and suddenly autistic.  The only thing a diagnosis can change is how I approach who I am.  An autism diagnosis could help me learn to accept why I am the way that I am, and that is really important.

Some people don’t get that labels can make you feel like you belong. They can make you feel you have a place where you fit in. And that means a lot when you’ve felt like you don’t belong, like you’re disconnected… Everyone deserves to feel like they belong. Please quit attacking people for labeling themselves when it helps them to realize they’re not alone. What others label themselves really doesn’t affect you.

lirpaiswolf

I don’t know if any of that made any sense, and I don’t think I really have a point I was trying to make.  If it didn’t make sense, I apologise, my painkillers are making the world feel a bit distant at the moment so my reality is distorted.

Perfection

I have a nasty tendency to hold myself to impossibly high standards of perfection.

This started when I was younger, when I couldn’t make friends my own age.  I tended to seek attention from adults, who although they wouldn’t be friends with me, tended to at least be willing to spend time and interact with me.  I received compliments on my maturity for my age and my intelligence, and as a result, I started to associate my perceived maturity and perceived intelligence with my self worth.  You can probably imagine where that led.  Fast forward to now, and I feel the most anxious when I say or do something that isn’t perfectly mature or intelligent.  I feel anxious when I don’t get full marks on tests and even when I do, I feel anxious if my choice of words in my answer doesn’t match the model answer, because I worry that the teacher will think I’m stupid.  I feel anxious if I say something and it turns out to be wrong, or when I have to admit that I don’t know something.

The one thing all those anxieties have in common when I look at them is that they’re very, very human things to do.  If someone got full marks on every single test and their answers were phrased the same way as the model answers, they’d likely be accused of cheating.  It’s normal to say something and later find out you’re mistaken, or to have things that you don’t know and admit to not knowing those things.  I never have a problem with other people being mistaken, or less-than-omniscient, and yet when it comes to myself, I obsess over every single tiny mistake that I had made.  Every single imperfection.

It’s not healthy.  The more I hold myself to these standards, the more I disappoint myself and feel worthless.  The more I fail to achieve what I expect for myself, the further I slip into depression (but that’s just my experience, not necessarily anyone else’s) and feel like everyone would be better off without me.  But also the more I disappoint myself, the more I feel like I owe it to the world to be better to make up for my mistakes and I hold myself to even more ridiculous standards of perfection.  If I could just break free from this vicious cycle, I’d probably be significantly happier, but disordered thoughts do take time to change, especially when they come from experiences in my childhood that have been constantly reinforced for years and years and years.

Courage

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.” — Thucydide

I’m very much a person who lets her fear rule the course of her life, for better or for worse.  Fear is a very natural emotion, and it’s one that warns us we’re heading for danger before we get in too deep to save ourselves, but as someone who lives with an anxiety disorder, I have to be very careful about knowing whether  my fears are justified or whether they’re anxiety disorder induced fears which also seem very, very real when I’m worrying about them.

My most recent encounter with this has to do with university applications.  I’ve applied for a variety of courses, some ‘safe’ and some that are ‘not-so-safe’, and I’m struggling to make my decisions about what to do with my future.

Let’s start from the beginning.  Last October, I was about to only apply to three vet schools, but my favourite teacher suggested I add Cambridge to my application because since I was able to see the advantages of other universities and wouldn’t be heartbroken if I didn’t get into Cambridge, I might as well apply because it wouldn’t do me any harm.  I recently got an offer, and my teacher admitted to me that he’d all along felt that I was not applying to Cambridge because I was afraid of rejection (and I could write a whole post on just that…maybe I will).  Now that I have the offer, I have pressure on one hand from my parents who don’t want me to go to the UK, and pressure from my teacher who has supported my UK university application along every step of the way and who thinks that Cambridge would be a very good fit for my personality, and I’m stuck in the middle.

In my previous post, I talked about my struggles with needing approval from others, so the pressures on me to make a certain choice are especially difficult to deal with.  I know that no matter what I decide, whether it’s with my university applications or anything else in life, I will most likely have to disappoint some people, and that is a very, very hard thing to accept but something I’m going to have to work on.  But now I need to realise that the only person I truly need to avoid disappointing is myself, because this is my life and I am going to be the one most affected by the decisions I make.  I also need to look on the bright side of things, no matter what choice I make, there will be someone who supports my choice and agrees with me.

The secret of happiness is freedom.  The secret of freedom is courage.  If I have the courage to make my own choices, I will have the freedom to live my own dreams.  If I have the freedom to live my own dreams, I can find fulfilment in my life.

Approval

A while back, someone described his horse to me.  He said his horse would bring him things, or bring things to little children, and speculated his horse probably wanted the approval.  A year later, I got a dog.  It was easy enough to realise that she’d do things for a reward of getting to play fetch, but eventually, I realised that even when she wasn’t being rewarded with her favourite toy, she’d still often do what I asked.  My approval was enough reward for her to comply with a request, even when she didn’t want to do whatever I’d told her to do.

Approval isn’t something we often talk about, and yet, it’s something that governs most of our lives.  My earliest memories involve seeking the approval of various adults I liked.  Even now, I find myself evaluating my self-worth, not on my own terms and values, but often on whether I am able to gain the approval of the people I like.

It’s perfectly normal to desire approval from others.  We’re very social beings, and our desire to please others is what makes us able to function as a society.  Sometimes, though, we find ourselves trying a little too hard and giving up too much to be accepted by others.

I hate disappointing people.  I really, really do.  I hate it to the point where I will agree to do things that are difficult/unpleasant for me if someone asks me to and I will make huge decisions in my life that aren’t necessarily the best for me just because I don’t want to disappoint someone.  I have known for quite a while that I’ve been spending my life living someone else’s dream, and yet I didn’t want to change, to live life on my own terms, simply because the fear of disappointing others and the desire to gain their approval was so strong.  In small things, this is okay, and it’s what helps people to have smooth social relationships, but when I make big decisions according to what others want, it can really hurt me, because I’m not making the best decision I can for me and that can have a huge impact on my future.

It’s hard to break free from the need to please others, to gain their approval.  The reasons why I do that are so tied up with my past, and my self-worth being predicated on others’ opinion of me and my anxiety regarding other people and everything… But I have to do this.  For me.

Fear

I was talking to someone about IB exams, and we both agreed that the absolute worst part of the exams is waiting for the exam results once the exams are over.  One of the things that came up is that we’re often afraid of failing, but if we do actually fail a test/exam, we’re normally less upset about it than when we are waiting and wondering if we’re going to fail.  Why is it so?  Why is the sense of finality (even if it’s about something negative) so comforting?
I’ve been thinking about this all afternoon, because that’s pretty much what anxiety is, isn’t it?  Worrying about things happening and making yourself even more upset than you would be if it did actually happen.  And the worst part is, I can’t stop thinking about whatever it is I’m worried about, even when there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.  In fact, I think I worry the most when there’s nothing I can do about the situation, which on one hand makes absolutely no sense (after all, why worry if the worrying can’t change things), but on the other hand, it makes perfect sense (feeling out of control in a stressful situation strikes me as a reason for being worried).
I think the reason why worrying is so much more painful than our worst fears being realised is that the finality brings us some kind of closure.  Certainty is always comforting, if only because an unknown fills us with a need to change, to do something to alter the course of our future, while certainty gives us a starting point from which we can assess possible options.  It’s hard to assess options and prepare for the worst case scenario before it’s happened because we’ll tell ourselves that we’re being pessimistic and ridiculous, but also because it feels too much like we’re getting ahead of ourselves and tackling a problem that hasn’t even happened.  Waiting for something to happen just makes us feel really useless and not in control, because there is absolutely nothing we can do to resolve the uncertainty.
Humans like to control their destiny.  Or rather, we like to feel we do.  We get so much comfort from the illusion of being in control that we blame ourselves for things that aren’t our fault.  It’s so much less painful to believe that we’ve done something to deserve the bad things that have happened to us than to believe that we actually can’t prevent them from happening and sometimes bad things just happen to people.  Feeling like we’re lost or floundering when we’re just sitting around worrying while we wait for something to happen is therefore far more awful than actually having something bad happen and feeling like we can take steps to minimise the effect it has on our lives.

When tiny things become big things

I had a fight with my father today.  I got invited to a cocktail-type event to meet other people who are applying to the same university as I am.  I was informed I could bring guests.  I asked my parents for permission to go, and immediately they took it upon themselves to write to my school and ask the principal if there were students from the lower years interested in the same faculty who wanted to go to learn more about the profession and the university.  I didn’t mind at all, I’m always happy to talk to other people and happy to share my experiences with them, and I was quite willing to bring some of them along to the event, because I think it will be a good experience for them.  It was how my parents decided to handle it that I wasn’t happy about.  I would have preferred to have been more involved in this process because the invitation had been extended to me, not to them, and also because of my anxiety, I like feeling like I’m in control of the situation, because it helps curb my worrying a bit (and I’m already worrying because I feel like I need to make a good impression on the other people who will be there).  I mentioned to my parents that although I was allowed to bring guests, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to invite so many to come with me, especially as I believe that ‘guests’ was meant to be interpreted as family and/or significant others.  My father took this as a personal attack, started getting angry, and things went downhill from there.  Honestly, I think I was at least partially at fault for this turning into an argument.  I could have remained silent, I could have presented my side of this more tactfully, I could have done any of a hundred things to make the situation better, but I didn’t.  So a situation that honestly wasn’t that big of a deal suddenly became a huge deal.

Now I sit here and wonder why that happened, and I start to realise that it’s the small things.  The nervousness I felt at being invited to this event, the fact that my parents invited guests for me without really consulting me about it, the fact that I felt nervous because I don’t know these guests that well, the fact that… and so on.  All the small things added up together meant that I was stressed and I wasn’t thinking clearly and I said things I shouldn’t have said.  Even now, it feels like a much bigger deal than logic tells me it is, because I’m afraid.  I am really, really afraid, and I’m not even sure of what anymore because all of the fears whirling around in my head are getting mixed up together and I can’t even process my thoughts clearly anymore.

Today was hard.  There simply isn’t any other way to put it.  And hard days happen sometimes.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better.