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Content note: This post contains graphic discussions of suicidal ideation, and anxiety. 

There are the things we don’t tell each other, the things that skulk inside of us, the monsters that threaten to devour us. They are the things we sometimes cannot even put into words, though we see other people who struggle with them and whisper yes, I know, yes, and reach out our hands to brush them, to confirm that they are real, to know that we are not alone. These are the things that frighten us, that stalk us in the dead of night, that push and pull our bodies when we try to sink into sleep.

These things are not ordered, they cannot be carried; they are at best dragged behind us, where they leave a slithering, slimy trail that is both sticky and glossy in the dull light of reality. We feel the need to brush the trail behind ourselves so no one sees it or steps in it, to leave no trace, to become smaller and smaller and smaller so we cannot be seen.

They are not to be spoken of. Not ever, anywhere. They are wrong and disturbing and to expose yourself is to be vulnerable. You must put on a strong and bold face even when things are nipping at your ankles. At times, it seems pointless to try having any emotions at all, because they’re all wrong.

I. The silence

I was talking with a friend the other day. We live far from each other now so we catch up on chat when we have a chance, although we’re both busy people so as often as not the chat window consists of a single ‘hello’ with no response, or a ‘you have to read this book’ and a link to Amazon or Indiebound, depending on which one of us is making the book recommendation. Sometimes he calls when he’s on the train home and I sit in the hallway painting my nails while we talk. He laughs at me when I drop the phone and swear. We try to see each other a few times a year, but that doesn’t always happen.

He tells me a mutual acquaintance posted something troubling on his blog the other day, and I go look. He’s written about a near-accident, the thoughts that went through his head during the incident and after, and the part of him that wishes he had lost control. I know the feeling; sometimes, when I drive the long, windy, redwood-lined roads late at night I think about sinking the accelerator to the floor and just going straight until I hit something. Or I’m driving up those switchbacks, you know the ones, right where 128 and 1 meet, and I think about plowing through the guard rail instead of cranking the wheel hard over.

The moment of weightlessness that comes with the fall. Sometimes I dream about it.

My friend tells me he was worried until he called our friend. I say that it’s sometimes hard to remember that other people don’t live like this, don’t experience that feeling every day, and we don’t mean to scare people. I resist the temptation to tell him that we’re normally so good at cleaning up, and that I’m sorry he had to see our friend like that. Don’t worry, I want to say.

There is a shocked silence when I say that, though.

I had no idea, he says. I think about what happened when I told him about my anxiety, which was once so intense that it was virtually impossible to leave my house, let alone the county, the thing that kept me from visiting him in his new home for years after he’d settled there. The thing that made me have heaving panic attacks in the aisles of the grocery store, made me hide under the bed in abject terror.

I had no idea, he said then.

II. The conversation

I had a conversation with a few friends on Twitter the other night. We dropped in and out, weaving around each other as we talked. It became one of those sprawling conversations where it’s impossible to @reply everyone involved but we stubbornly refuse to use a hashtag. Followers catch bits and pieces depending on who they follow and when they check their timelines and then the conversation is gone, an ephemeral moment swirling away unless you want to search for it.

I love this about Twitter sometimes, the spontaneous salons that arise, the flurry of intensity for half an hour or an hour, the quiet disbanding of the group when everyone’s finished talking. There’s something strangely intimate about it even though it is being conducted in a public place where anyone can listen in, or participate.

We were talking about mental health, about anxiety, about the frustrations in our lives. It was a cool, dark evening and people said things they wouldn’t say in the light of day; not bad or wrong things, just things. Things about living with mental illness and having a brain that is constantly out to defeat you, out to twist your thoughts and words, out to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. A brain that tells you that you are not enough and will never be enough, one that pushes you to seethe with jealousy instead of being proud of what you can do.

I tell a friend that I grade my days, and I’m not kidding. I even break it down by category, I explain. My ‘tasks of daily living’ that day was a D. I hadn’t showered, gone outside, made the bed, made the phone calls I was supposed to. I’d barely eaten. That’s not a bad idea, she says, the grading.

Some days are 100% A+ Number One perfect days.

There aren’t very many of those.

III. Here, alone or not, I am not a bowl of grapes

Other people whisper to us. They thank us for the conversation, they say that we’re putting their feelings into words. They say they’re glad they are not alone. For a few moments in the depths of Wednesday night, or Thursday morning, depending on your time zone, the silence is broken and there is a conversation. People are talking. Their slime trails are showing. They take things out of boxes and pass them around and talk about them; oh yes, I got this one on a trip to the frontal lobe. 

These conversations don’t happen very often. Most of the time, you feel isolated in a universe of stars too far away to touch. You can barely perceive them, and they’re spreading away from you so rapidly that you have no chance of catching them. You are alone, your brain tells you. Alone, alone, alone. Your brain reminds you that you shouldn’t bother reaching out to anyone, and it tells you that no other brain is broken like yours. You are a bad and wrong thing, it says. You should suffer alone.

You should panic in a sea of anxiety, you should lie sleepless in your bed.

I have a cat on my lap. She’s purring to herself, when she’s not biting my arm. It’s her way of expressing love. I think. Sometimes days go by where I only talk to the cats, where the sound of my own voice starts to sound alien and strange. She likes it when I lie on my stomach on the floor so she can sprawl out on my lower back. Her archenemy likes it when I crawl under a blanket so he can crawl underneath too, purring to himself. He kneads the covers until he farts and then falls asleep.

It’s easier to relate to them. They don’t care if I have a slime trail.

IV. Sea changes

I watch the sun glitter on the water from the bridge and I wonder for a minute what it would be like to sail over the edge, arms outstretched, feeling the wind between my fingers. To fly for a few moments. I know that’s not how it really happens; read a coroner’s report sometime if you don’t believe me.

We are told over and over again that these things we drag taint us, are distasteful and shouldn’t be discussed in public where anyone could be exposed. And when they attack our first response is to go into hiding, to say nothing, or to mouth banalities to convey the image that all is going well, and everything is fine.

I had no idea, is what people will say later.

We spend so much time in isolation and so much time developing a front, a mode of engagement with the world that does not betray our inner turmoil, that we feel intensely vulnerable when we are just ourselves.

Yet, it is only as ourselves that we can confront the things we drag, and it is only in knowing that you are not alone that you can be comfortable in yourself.


  1. Nyssa23 wrote:

    Thank you for writing this. It really helps to know I’m not alone.

    Monday, July 30, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  2. Nine wrote:

    Thank you from me as well. This post came at just the right time for me. It’s given me a push to get through my writer’s block and write about the things I’m afraid to admit.

    Monday, July 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  3. Thae86 wrote:

    De-lurking to say thank you. Talking about staying at home all the time, your brain telling you that you’re evil or corrupt…YES. I go through this; at times I don’t know why. I have this idea that someday I’ll just “get better”. I’m slowly starting to realize that after 25 years of PTSD and depression, it’s not going away. I just need to learn how to cope.

    Monday, July 30, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink
  4. Megpie71 wrote:


    I’ve been there. I’ve spent my time driving down the road, with every lamp-post a temptation, knowing it would just take a little twitch at the right time, and all those problems could vanish. I’ve had my days where my to-do list is granular to the point where “put on bra: left tit” and “put on bra: right tit” are separate challenges, separate tasks, and achieving each of them is up there with “research and write 1500 word essay on $TOPIC_YOU’VE_NEVER_THOUGHT_ABOUT” some other day. I’ve had the days where it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, I’m doing it wrong, and I’m breathing all wrong, and living all wrong and thinking all wrong and the little salesdemon for suicide in the back of my head is sounding so convincing. I’ve been the one writing about living this, and discovering these posts on my little blog get so many more comments than just about anything else, many of them from people saying “yes, this! This is how I feel too”.

    I think this is the real triumph of the internet – that we, the ones who have been trapped inside our own heads, can get out and tell others how it feels, what it means to live this, to be this, and what the obstacles look like – and discover how many other people are out there, struggling with the same things under the impression that this was “normal”.

    Monday, July 30, 2012 at 11:10 pm | Permalink
  5. Rosalina wrote:

    Thank you. I wonder sometimes if it is getting worse with age or if it is the Seattle weather, but I have to walk around in public playing the civilian and wondering when my brain is going to implode. It becomes especially difficult in customer service when you have to do the emotion work of pretending all of the time, with all of the bullshit small talk. And I just sit and wonder, who else out there feels like this…

    Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
  6. LinZ wrote:

    For the longest time I thought I was alone, that something was really wrong with me. It was not until going to therapy did I realize just how bad my anxiety was- that my of ”normal” was sky high. Now I think of myself as in recovery from anxiety, just like an alcoholic will always be an alcoholic and go to meetings- I too have to work a program. Everyday I meditate, do a little yoga, hopefully exercise, and i track all of it. Looking at the charts on my wall I can look back and see the hard says and weeks where I ”fell off the wagon.” I hope I keep up with my program, and thank you for sharing yours.

    Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink
  7. hel wrote:

    Thank you.

    Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
  8. Joy wrote:

    We are alone, together.
    We are not alone.

    Thank you.

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink
  9. moviemaedchen wrote:

    Thank you. I relate so strongly to every word of this. Perhaps I will finally work up the courage to write up my own piece, say the things I haven’t said.

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  10. chelsea wrote:

    thank you.

    Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  11. Serket wrote:

    There’s a knife in my bag. It’s just a tiny one, part of a corkscrew, useful for opening stubborn wrappers.

    I grade my days by whether I think of sleep or death, and how often, and if the latter whether it is death doing something useful or merely ending things.

    It’s funny to me, right now. Of all the things I never expected to be true of myself, this is the hardest.

    Thank you for this writing.

    Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  12. hamrove wrote:

    I rarely personally address the people whose writing on the internet means a lot to me, so I apologize if I’m overstepping here. I know it may not offer much comfort but I want to express my admiration for your ability to enrich my life (and other lives) with your writing, even as you negotiate the depths of this kind of despair. Your work remains an anchor for me on days where my own inner life feels chaotic, in large part due to your humility and authenticity. Whatever the monster has taken from you, you clearly haven’t let it take your integrity; that’s no small feat.
    Many of us have a tendency to idolize people who don’t suffer anxiety, doubt or despair. We think that they got there because they worked harder or were more deserving, that they’re missing the flaws we carry. I am more impressed and touched by someone who manages to so eloquently articulate your insights even though the slithering, slimy trail is such a constant part of your life. Thank you for being one of the people who elevates the discourse.

    Saturday, August 4, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink
  13. EEB wrote:

    Thank you so much for writing this.

    I no longer talk about my anxiety or depression, other than to say, “I’m sorry,” a lot. I’m sorry I didn’t return your call (leaving out that I had to hide my cell phone because every time I looked at it my chest would constrict), I’m sorry I can’t meet up with you like we planned (leaving out that the thought of stepping out my front dorr seems as impossible as bounding across the Grand Canyon), I’m sorry I didn’t get the kitchen cleaned (leaving out that I couldn’t even make it out of bed).

    Talking to the people closest to me hurts too much. If I hear, “Well, just don’t think about it,” or “You shouldn’t dwell on the negative,” or, “Have some ice cream; that always makes me feel better when I’m sad,” one more time, it may just push me over that edge I spend much of my energy trying to back away from.

    I used to be able to talk to my therapist about it. An insurance change means I don’t have a therapist or a psychiatrist anymore, and after months of searching, I’m starting to lose hope that I’ll ever get one. I be too open with my doctor, because even the highly edited version makes him concerned, and I don’t want to end up at the mental hospital. Again. He just fills the script for my anti-depressents and anti-anxiety medication and tells me to try and relax.

    I feel alone all the time. I want friends so badly, people I can really talk to, but the thought of what I would have to do to make friends scares the shit out of me. It’s nice to know that there are people who understand.

    Sunday, August 5, 2012 at 1:07 am | Permalink
  14. CRH wrote:

    thanks for this, really really empathise with comments from EEB – when I was going through a tough time recently if one more friend told me “cheer up, think positive”, I was ready to punch them and I am NOT an aggressive person – its just frustration that they so didnt get the space I was in.

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  15. LE wrote:

    Thank you for sharing. I can relate to this so uch andd it is nice to know we are not alone.

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Permalink
  16. S wrote:

    As a mentally ill autistic person, I am learning how to balance the silence with the conversation. I fear the slime trail takes over the conversation, but the silence prevents me from seeking support that would be helpful.

    That precocious, witty student teachers display favoritism towards, also compulsively doodles to avoid picking at hir arms during class.

    Thursday, August 9, 2012 at 1:24 am | Permalink
  17. k wrote:

    Lots of D+ depression days lately. I buy vegetable juice and buttermilk just in case I can’t make myself eat. I’m way behind on bills and basic stuff. I need to call my therapist because I have already missed an appointment without canceling. How can I be this far into treatment and feel this shitty.


    Thursday, August 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Permalink
  18. hr wrote:

    Reading this means so much to me. There have been times where my fascination with/curiosity about jumping off the subway platform reaches a level that scares me. I haven’t considered myself suicidal for years, but the interest is still

    Saturday, August 11, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink
  19. KB wrote:

    Recently lost the love of my life, my job, my apartment–and uprooted from the city I love. I feel ashamed, humiliated and contemplate ending my life daily. I thought I was the only one who felt this way. I know full well not to talk about this, because to share means being institutionalized. I feel stronger knowing others feel like this. I feel like I can make it. Thank you.

    Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Permalink