Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It gets better

I've been thinking about this post for days now. What follows later in the post may surprise those of you who actually know me. The point of this post though is, as the title says, that it gets better. Let me repeat that, it gets better. And again, it gets better.

The recent string of suicides by gay teens due to bullying is appalling to me. Tyler Clementi (18), Billy Lucas (15), Asher Brown (13), Justin Aaberg (15) and Seth Walsh (13) didn't have to die. They'd barely even begun to live. I can't believe that our society hasn't put an end to bullying and harassment yet. How can we call ourselves civilized when we still allow this to happen??? It saddens me that these young men thought their only option was to end their lives.

After watching the videos below I knew I needed to share my story too. This is the most difficult and one of the most honest things I've ever written.

When I was a teen I was just about as far from self aware as you could get. In high school I knew I was different, but I never really knew why. Looking back now, I can remember sitting on my bed when I was 16 or 17 and thinking "I don't want to be gay, I just want to be normal." At the time though, this thought seemed completely out of the blue and just plain crazy talk and so I pushed it away and carried on with high school life. I mean, it was preposterous to think that I could be gay! No way! It was a couple more years before I started opening the closet door to myself. And slowly at that.

My freshman year in college was eye opening in so many ways. I left my barely a dot on the map hometown to go to a tiny woman's college where my freshman class was five times the size of my high school class (there were 27, yes twenty-seven, of us in my high school class). I was finally exposed to, among other things, different cultures, different socioeconomic upbringings, different philosophies, different religions, and of course different sexualities.

My coming out story is far from sensational. I am one of the lucky ones and for this I am grateful every day. My family has always been incredibly supportive of me. As have my friends. I was never bullied in school for being different or for being gay (not to say I wasn't teased because I certainly was and I don't think anyone can escape some form of teasing in school, but teasing and bullying are very different in my mind). I've never been scandalously outed. I've lived a very dull gay life, and again, I am grateful for that. I know I am one of the lucky ones.

Those of you who know me in real life know that while I am snarky and cynical I am also a pretty positive person. I can find the bright side in almost anything. I'm a firm believer in every day being a fresh start. My glass is usually more than half full. What you don't know about me is that I didn't always think it would get better (but it does get better, I promise).

I started coming out to myself when I fell madly in love with an upperclasswoman who lived next door to me in the dorm the second semester of my freshman year (we'll call her T). At first I didn't understand my fascination with her. She transfixed me. I was enthralled by her. I'd never before in my short life been so deeply under someone's spell. One night we were in her dorm room and T pushed me up against the wall and kissed me. A very deep, very meaningful kiss. And that was when the light went off for me.

It would be untrue for me to say that moment was when I completely understood myself, because I didn't and I wouldn't for many years yet. But it was a very defining moment in my life, perhaps the defining moment. A point of no return if you will.

T and I embarked on what would turn into about two years of a ridiculously complicated, codependent (on my part) and somewhat emotionally abusive (on her part) relationship. I call it a relationship, who the hell knows what she might call it. I was probably more of a nuisance to her than anything else. She was, after all, straight. And she had a boyfriend. But she still slept with me.

During these two years of my life is when I first started to think about suicide. Yes, that's right I've thought, very seriously, about suicide. I've never attempted it, but I have, most definitely, thought about it many (many) times. Because I didn't think it would get better. Because I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. Because I didn't feel like anyone could possibly understand me or what I was going through. Everything was so dark and heavy and my not existing anymore just seemed like the easiest way to deal with it all. You can't hurt if you don't exist right?

As I said earlier, I'm one of the lucky ones. I've been so incredibly lucky to have such wonderful support my entire life and yet I've still contemplated ending it on various occasions. What must people who haven't had this support feel like? How do the kids (and adults for that matter) who are harassed and bullied feel? I can't even imagine. It sends chills down my spine.

In some respects I think those of us who are positive in our outlooks are more at risk for suicide (personal opinion only here, not basing this on statistics or facts, just opinion). We're the ones you'd never suspect are weighing which option for offing ourselves is best as we give you our bright smiles (which don't always reach our eyes). Should I slit my wrists or should I try to drown myself or should I jump out a window, etc., etc., etc... Smile, smile, smile as brightly as possible!

We roll these thoughts over and over in our head until they seem so abstractly concrete they confuse even us as we seek clarity in our muddy muddled thoughts. College isn't the only time I've thought about saying the hell with it all and ending it. During the 18 months it took for Ms. Ex and I to end our relationship I'll admit the thought crossed my mind a time or two. And then the thought came creeping in again when I hit the absolute rock bottom lowest point in my life six months after we were finally through. Once you let the kernel of "it would just be easier for everyone if I wasn't around anymore" into your head it's really hard to let go of it.

You keep suicide in the back of your mind as an option in case it gets worse. And you never know what might make it actually BECOME worse. It's never the big stuff which makes it worse, it's the little stuff like the grocery store being out of your favorite potato chips or not being able to rent the movie you were looking forward to or someone not saying "bless you" when you sneeze at the office. You're trapped inside that incredibly dark tunnel without a light to guide you out. The walls press in on you and though your hands might be stretched out searching for something, anything, to grab hold of, you can't find it. You're there alone in the heavy darkness spinning in circles until it just becomes too much and you crumple to a heap on the ground. There isn't anyone there standing beside you lighting a match or a lighter or holding a candle or a flashlight or the iPhone flashlight app and taking your hand to lead you out.

That's what I think about when I hear about the Tyler Clementis and the Asher Browns and the Seth Walshes. I think about that feeling of hopelessness, helplessness and despair because I've been there. I've been crumpled in a heap on the floor of that dark tunnel unable to see anyway out.

The only difference between us is that I made a deal with myself that I have to sleep on it before I do anything. And if it's not a little bit better in the morning then I can think about it again. It's always been better in the morning. Maybe it's not much better in the morning, but it's always a little better and it's been enough. And it gets better every day. The point is it does get better. It always gets better.

I'm glad I'm still here to experience my life. I have known so much joy. I've gotten to experience so many wonderful things. And I know I have a lifetime's worth of amazing things still to come. I can't wait to live them all. Life IS good no matter how corny that might sound. And for those of you who know me and might be worried, don't. I love my life and I'm in no way, shape or form even standing in that dark tunnel. And if ever I am there again at any point in my life I know now that it gets better. And I know I can reach out and find a hand in the dark to help guide me out.

The tears are rolling down my cheeks as I write this. It's cathartic and yet dredges up all these dark and tangled emotions from my past. Things I've chosen not to think about for years and years have floated to the surface and they still hurt, they still take me back to those dark places in my life, to the inside of that dark tunnel where I felt helpless, hopeless and alone. But even though it still hurts, even though I know these things will be with me forever, I also know that it gets better. And I also know that I had to go through them to become the person I am today. They made me stronger and for that I am grateful.

If you'd sat me down when I was 15 and told me what my life would be like when I was 35 I would never have believed you. No way in hell could it be possible that I'd be a 35 year old lesbian with two cats and a dog living alone in a house I own in Connecticut (of all places!!!) who sits at a desk all day at work dealing with data. None of this was on my radar at all when I was 15 (except maybe the cats, maybe). And I love every last bit of my life now. It's rich and full and all mine to live.

If you're contemplating suicide or just feel isolated and alone there are resources available to you. All it takes is being a little brave and reaching out. There are people there who want nothing more than to help you. There are people there to take your hand in that dark tunnel and walk you toward the light. The Trevor Project is a place to start.

You have too much to look forward to in life to end it. Don't you want to find out what's next? Don't you want to go to college? Or fall madly in love? Or travel around the world? Or find a cure for cancer or AIDS or some other debilitating disease? Or maybe you want to write a novel or a hit song or learn to fly a plane or how to build an ark or whatever it is that you want to do?

There are so many people waiting to meet you, waiting to see your next painting, read your next poem, listen to you sing, watch you dance or score a goal or a touchdown or simply sit down with you and laugh over coffee or tea or hot chocolate. We're there cheering you on as you strive to reach the goals you set for yourself. We are out there. And we love you for who you are. There's only one you and that is an incredibly special thing. Be the best you that you can be because nobody else can be you. Hold you head high, be proud of who you are, be strong. And know you are not alone.

It gets better, trust me I've been there. I know. It gets better.


KK said...

I'm skipping Halloween to watch football & to catch up on "life" :). I just read this--and wanted to let you know that I had no idea that you had this on your mind during that day. We both posted on 2 different sides o' the spectrum o' "Spirit Day". But, the one thing is... It does get better and I am so glad you're in my life, Puck.

Let's have that coffee soon..

Jess said...

And I'm glad you're in my life too KK. Coffee is definitely in order soon.