Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: suicide

The unbearable numbness of being…depressed

Content Note: In this post, I’m going to talk frankly about suicide, suicidal thoughts and ideation, and severe or chronic depression. Please don’t read if these things are trigger points for you because I want you to take good care of yourself.

crying into the night.
When will this pain ever stop?

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide spurred a lot of thought about suicide in me–and pain. Actual pain for a man I had never met and hadn’t really thought about except tangentially over the past few years. Here’s part one of my thoughts and musings on the subject. Let me expand on these thoughts, starting with the last one: stopping the stigma surrounding depression and suicide.

There is still a lingering belief that you can conquer depression by pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. “Just think positive thoughts!” “There are people who have it much worse than you do!” By the way, this last one? Never say it to someone. Ever. I don’t care what the circumstance is, it’s a shitty thing to say regardless. Yes, it’s true someone has it worse, but someone also has it better. Plus, someone else’s suffering doesn’t negate your own. In addition, while gratitude for what you have is a good thing, it’s not helpful to have someone else scold you for not being properly grateful enough. And, again, it touches on my earlier points. We already know what we have to be grateful for. We already know whatever it is you think you’re telling us. Or conversely, there are plenty of people who have pretty rough lives. No, it may not be starving in a refugee camp, but that doesn’t negate that it’s still shit.

“Mind over matter!” “The mind can do anything!” The last is from a story I heard on NPR about someone who had to deal with a close friend dying by suicide (and had interviewed him about his suicidal thoughts before he (the friend) actually did it) and later, the brother of the friend who died by suicide as well. The friend’s therapist told him this, and I was appalled. Want to know my own therapist’s (my last and best one) take on this? When I was telling her that I felt I should be able to think my way out of depression, she said to me, “Minna, your brain is what got you here in the first place.” It was a light bulb moment for me, and while it didn’t stick around long, it did plant a seed that continued to flourish.

Side note: Drugs. There’s a disturbing trend for some people (both on the right and the left, for vastly different reasons) to decry antidepressants at the top of their lungs. Whether it’s because they’re ‘not natural’, ‘pushed by Big Pharma’, or ‘turn to God instead’, they need to STFU. I am not the person to go immediately to drugs, but I also know that they can help–they really can. I’ve been on three of them, all in the SSRI family–Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa), and each one really helped me for approximately a year. Unfortunately for me, the effectiveness wore off, and when I tried them again, the result was disastrous. They actually made me suicidal, and I hastily had to get off them stat. By the way, a side note to the side note: During this period, I had a doctor’s visit. Because of the suicidal thoughts, I couldn’t eat, and I lost nearly twenty pounds in two months. My doctor, who was a fanatic about weight (side note to the side note to the side note: she was a fairly new doctor to me. I had to leave my last one for stressful reasons), noted approvingly that I had lost weight. I explained the situation and said it was because I was deeply suicidal. She faltered for a few minutes then quipped feebly, “Well, it doesn’t matter why you lost the weight as long as you did it!” I was shocked by what she said, and I never went back. Later, in retelling the story, I realized that she probably felt deeply uncomfortable by what I’d said and joking about it was her way to deal with the discomfort. This is a perfect illustration of what not to say to someone who is in a lot of pain, but it’s not uncommon.

I know it’s difficult to be with a friend who is seriously depressed. I’ve been both the depressed and the friend of the depressed, and while the former is harder, the latter is no walk in the park, either. It’s hard to see someone you love suffering so much without wanting to do something about it. In addition, let’s address the elephant in the room–a severely depressed person may not be the most pleasant person to be around. In addition to being self-destructive, they may lash out at anyone who is near them. Part of my own depression was pushing away people I loved and pursuing people who were incapable of loving me because deep down I didn’t feel I deserved love. I was never outright nasty to my friends, but it’s not uncommon. And, as in the case with any kind of relationship, the friend in question should not feel guilty about setting boundaries with their depressed loved one.

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Anthony Bourdain and the legacy of depression

Content Note: In this post, I’m going to talk frankly about suicide, suicidal thoughts and ideation, and severe or chronic depression. Please don’t read if these things are trigger points for you because I want you to take good care of yourself.

I read about Anthony Bourdain’s suicide the first thing when I hopped on social media on Friday. I saw one of the people no my Twitter TL posting a clip of Bourdain and saying it was a good way to remember him. With a sinking heart, I Googled Anthony Bourdain and found out that he had died earlier that morning. For whatever reason, I immediately thought it was suicide, and I was saddened when I saw it was true. I felt even worse when I read that it was his good friend and fellow chef, Eric Ripert, who found him. I can’t imagine being in that position, and my heart hurts for Ripert.

I’ve always loved Bourdain, ever since I first saw No Reservations many years ago. His lust for life, food, culture, and people (not to mention alcohol and cigarettes) was fully displayed wherever he went. What I loved best about him is that he would approach every culture with respect, not viewing them as a curiosity or specimens in a zoo. He showed the good and the bad of the country he was in without sensationalizing it in either direction. He was a good ally, even though he probably would never use that word or recoil in horror if he heard himself being described in that fashion, which is one reason he was a good ally. But, this post isn’t about that. I will write more on that later, however.

I watched No Reservations voraciously, living vicariously through Bourdain. I like to travel, but I also…don’t. I’m very much a homebody, and I have a hard time with the actual travel. I love visiting new places and exploring, and very much like Bourdain, I prefer not doing the touristy things. I’d rather eat where the natives eat, see the funky local stuff, and go way off the beaten track. I am never as bold as Bourdain was, though, as my anxieties oftentimes got the best of me. I loved the way he would eat anything placed in front of him, and he was gracious about it, even if he didn’t care for it. He was a good model of how you should act when you visited another country. He was the opposite of an ugly American, though he’s painted as a bad boy in his own country. Or was when he was younger, at least.

I hadn’t watched his shows recently, but I saw him being fierce about #MeToo, which started because he was dating someone who had been one of Harvey Weinstein’s victim. Again, I will write more about that later, but for now, I’m going to focus on the suicide. Every time I saw a tweet or quote from Bourdain standing up for #MeToo, I smiled. Even though I no longer watched his show much, I still had a soft spot for him. And, yeah, I’ll admit I had a massive crush on him when I first started watching the show, and I still found him intriguing years later.


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I Believe I Can Fly

I was listening to NPR on my way to taiji on Saturday, and it was in the middle of a story by a guy named Jake who had interviewed his friend, Brian, about his (Brian’s) suicidal tendencies. I was dropped in the middle of the story, so I didn’t have all the background, but it was immediately gripping. Brian’s voice was flat, stripped of all affect. and I immediately recognized it as deeply depressed. I assumed it was recent, but soon found out that it was from 1999. That made more sense with some of what he was saying, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

It was fascinating to me because I think about death a lot, and even though suicide isn’t on the forefront of my mind that much these days, it’s still tucked away in a corner, ready to break its way out. I have never woken up and been glad to be alive. The best I can do is not be sad that I’m not dead. So, Jake’s interview with Brian after the latter tried to kill himself for the second time. Jake simply wanted to try and understand why Brian felt the way he did, so he lets Brian do most of the talking.

The thing that struck me is how rational Brian sounded in his explanation as to why suicide was the answer to his problem. The brain can justify anything, and his brain had honed its justification to perfection. When Jake asked him if he thought suicide was selfish*, he responded by saying that it was selfish in the way going to therapy was selfish. It was a way of solving a problem, he explained in a clinical voice. He wasn’t trying to convince himself or Jake that this was true; he actually believed it. He was convinced that his solution was no different that trying to work it out in therapy.

This is the insidiousness of depression. Listening to Brian, I could say, “What you’re saying doesn’t make sense. Suicide isn’t the same as therapy at all.” But, I understood where he was coming from. When I was deep in my depression, I was able to convince myself that I was toxic to the world and that it would be better off without me. It didn’t matter how many friends I had or what anyone said to me; I was convinced the world would be better off with me dead.


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RIP, Chris Cornell

I woke up this morning to the news that Chris Cornell is dead. Not only is he dead, it’s possibly a suicide. I reacted strongly to the news, and that surprised me. See, I was never a big Soundgarden fan, nor an Audioslave fan. I was not into the grunge movement at all, but of course I knew who the slight guy with the huge voice was. I was in the middle of writing another post when I read an article on FB about Cornell’s death, and I can’t get it off my mind ever since. I’ve been listening to this on repeat for the last half hour:

His voice is otherworldly. There’s something angelic about it, but also earthy. Like many gifted people, he made it seem effortless when he’d glide from a growl to falsetto with ease. Every time I heard him sing, I thought he was not meant to be living among us. It was always metaphorical, though. Like, a voice like that is meant to soar high above us, not mingle with us mere mortals. He is one person whose singing can send literal chills up and down my spine.

I’ve listened to several of his covers, and they are incredible. He takes the song and makes it his own without losing the core of what made the song powerful in the first place.

The thing is, when I listen to Cornell sing, I can’t help but feel all the emotions pouring out of him. The pain, the rage, the agony. Especially the pain. Cornell lays it all out there every time he sings, and there’s a steep price to pay for that.

I think that’s what I can’t get over. More than losing an incredible talent that could evoke so much emotion from his listeners, it’s knowing he was such a conduit for all the darkness in this world. One of the downsides to being creative is being exposed to all the shadow emotions that most people deny, shy away from, or simply don’t realize exist. I don’t think you have to be mentally ill to be creative, but I do think you have to be open to things that aren’t always safe or good for you. The trick is knowing how to control it and not let it control you, and that line is invisible at times.

It can be a burden to see things others don’t see, to feel things so deeply, your heart literally aches. I don’t know if this was true for Chris Cornell, but his voice says it was.

Chris Cornell is, was, incredibly attractive for so many reasons. I joked that I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers, and it’s not just his piercing blue eyes and intense gaze. It was the whole package, including that incredible voice and, yes, his brooding nature. I’m attracted to the darkness as are many other creative types.

I’m sitting here, stunned, by the death of a man I didn’t know, never met, and only knew through his music. I can’t put into words why I feel this way because I simply do not know. I haven’t been hit this hard by a celebrity death since…Alan Rickman. That one made sense to me; this one does not.

I wish I had something pithy or wise to say to wrap up this post, but I do not. All I can say is it’s so fucking sad that Chris Cornell is dead. Another one taken from us way too soon. RIP, Chris.