how we help each other stay

In my dream, my young trans friends were committing suicide. We heard about it on the radio, on the news, through the grapevine, and everything was tears and loss. In the dream, people were giving up. Why stay when it’s always this hard? Why keep on fighting? Why put up with the shame and hostility? Why continue to walk into this wall of depression? In the dream, I didn’t know why they’d done it — only that now they were gone. I woke up sure that the dreams were real, a sinking feeling in my chest, and for a long time I continued mourning, sure that when I logged in to social medial this morning, I would see a long stream of remembrances and sorrow for these beloveds.

It is nobody’s business to tell anyone not to kill themselves, I know. Sometimes it is the only right way. In my experience, though, it feels like the only right way a lot more often than it actually is.

What do I want from this writing this morning? I want to gather up some hope. I want to acknowledge the tremendous power of depression and turn it another way rather than at and into our own throats. I want real help for those who are suffering. I want a culture that can offer more than social media posts and secret-style “just ask the universe for what you want and you’ll get it!” messaging in response to anyone who has lost the ability to find the point in all of their pain.

And, too, I guess what I really want is to say that I see you. I see you who are hurting. I see you who are isolating in your safest inside place. I see you who are 100% certain that you are alone. I see you who have done nothing but cry all weekend. I see you who can’t get out from under the covers. I see you who looks so functional on the outside but is all fragments and torn shame inside. I see the smiles you are giving others so that they don’t worry about you. I see the way you are so practiced at being fine.

(I’m not saying this to call you out or expose you, to leave you feeling like all your good and self-protective work is a sham. When I say I see you, I mean that I get it. You have a witness if you want one. You don’t have to be alone in there if you don’t want to be.)

I believe that you don’t believe that anyone can see you. And I believe that you are ashamed to think that someone might. And I believe it if you say it doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t have mattered much for me, either, when I was tied up in the knots of depression. You see everyone around you looking like they’re fine and you wonder what’s wrong with you. Why can’t you be normal? I asked myself, deep in the tears, why can’t I be normal?

(Let’s say 1 in 10 Americans report dealing with depression, which is what the cdc reported in 2011 —  remembering that depression is surely underreported, as are most things that we are embarrassed or ashamed about — we can still hold the possibility that, in fact, depression is a common experience. We aren’t abnormal after all. But that doesn’t help. Knowing this doesn’t actually help.)

When I have been depressed, I have been certain that no one would care about how bad I felt. I was embarrassed and ashamed. My worst depressions in recent years have been hormonal, and even knowing that — knowing from experience that as soon as I bled, I would feel better — did not alleviate the weight of the lead blanket that depression had flung over my shoulders. I was 100% certain I was alone, that no one could (or would want to) understand what I was feeling, that I was weak and pathetic and just needed to get my shit together.

I see how you protect yourself. Of course you protect yourself. I see the hurt under the armor. I can’t do more than see it, but I see it, and I can sit here with you while you walk through your own fire.

That’s all we can really do for each other. There’s not much we can do to fix someone else’s loss or sorrow or pain; we can’t make it not exist. We can’t undo what’s been done to them. We, as single individuals, will not transform our culture into one that cares more about human lives than power and prowess and might. But we can walk underneath all the advertisements and we can turn off social media and we can dodge the self-righteous positive thinking take-responsibility-for-your-own-story coaches and we can sit down with those we love when they are hurting and just be with that pain. And sometimes it won’t be enough. But we can show up for each other in this human way in spite of that possibility.

This is extraordinarily tender work, especially when what we know works best is to isolate, to keep our most vulnerable selves protected even from the people who love us most. Especially when we are sure that when our friends, our lovers, our families, our communities find out that we are not the uniformly strong-and-capable selves we pretend to be, they will leave us in disgust. Maybe you have even been left in this way; I am sorry those people were not strong enough to sit with their own vulnerability in order to help to cradle you.

I don’t want you to go. I want you to share what’s inside you, the bleak and the tarry and the terrified and the isolated. I want you to tangle your fingers into those of someone who loves you and let them hold you even when you are sure that you don’t deserve to be loved. I want you to hear that your life matters — not just because of what you will or won’t do, not just because of the genius you carry that only you carry — but because of exactly your precise youness.

In my hardest depressions, I would tell myself, maybe tomorrow will be different. Not necessarily better (I wasn’t in a place to even consider better at those times), but at least different. And that was enough to stay.

This post won’t change anything. It won’t make the depression better. It is to say that I have been there — give my history, I can bet that I will be there again — and though I don’t know what you’re feeling, I know how painful my own depressions have been. I am sorry that you are aching, and I am sorry if you don’t see a way out right now. In my experience, these feelings do shift, open, ease. I don’t want you to hurt yourself. You are not alone. Please let the tears out, let the words out, write and scream and sob and sleep, do what you need to do to keep yourself here.

Your life matters to me and to others. I am so grateful that you exist.


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