Remembering Grayce

Grief in a digital age is a surreal experience.

I wasn’t sure if I could go to the memorial, or if I should, but I wanted to.

I wasn’t sure if I’d be welcomed, I was worried it would be intrusive of me to show up somewhere, uninvited, knowing no one.

And I’m pretty sure Grayce wouldn’t have expected me to come.

I’ve gotten to know Grayce more and more ever since she died. People from all over the world have posted their memories of her on her facebook. We complain so much about social media, bemoaning what it has done to society, but without it, this space would not exist. All over the world, the people who would be grieving Grayce individually are now connecting and sharing and remembering.

From facebook I heard about the memorial in Minneapolis, at her parents’ farm. I connected with one of her friends there, and with another Evergreen alum who would be driving from several states away to attend.

And so I flew to Minnesota.

It was my first time in Minnesota, my first time renting a car, first time attending a memorial for a friend, first suicide, and as I exited the freeway the banks were covered in thistles and dandelions and I could almost hear whispers of botany, the poetry of the plants she studied and loved.

She sticks to our fingertips

like thistle honey

her sweetness remains on our tongues.

The hills of Minnesota were green and vibrant, and I welcomed the warmth without the humidity I’d grown accustomed to in Texas. Her parents live on a farm with no town in sight, and as I approached the base of a driveway so long you can’t see the end, three people greeted me.

The ceremony took place in front of the barn. Loved ones shared their memories, sang songs, played drums. People continued to arrive, a long procession bearing homemade food to contribute to the festivities.

Grayce loved her potlucks.

People remembered her independence, laughed at her stubborness, marveled at her adventurous spirit. Her life ended far too soon, but it was a life well lived.

She laughed from her belly, with her head thrown back.

She ate from the woods and danced with the moon.

She read in Spanish and dreamt in Turkish.

Even though she’s gone she’s left behind a sticky sweet web

her friendship

her community

her love

gathered in the sun under a blue sky

singing songs for Grayce.

She was magic.

Sometimes, depression is terminal.

Later I sat on the grass with her friends, and one of them pulled out a salve, made with Grayce’s recipe, containing rose hips that Grayce herself had picked. She passed it around, encouraging all of us to partake in Grayce’s plant magic medicine.

Programs lay in the grass, the smile that filled her whole face peeking between green blades as people laughed and ate off of paper plates.

Online, someone posted a poem she wrote about spring, and you can hear an appetite for life, screaming, pulsing, lusting. An appetite she was no longer capable of feeling.

How much she must have longed for rains to wash away her stagnancy.

I was honored to sit in community with the people who knew Grayce better than I did, who loved her more intimately. I was afraid my grief would be appropriative, as if I don’t deserve to her mourn her when others knew her so much better, but they welcomed me. They carried me with them.

Long after the memorial was over and the sun had set, we walked down a dark trail to White Sands, on the shore of the Mississippi river. Beneath my feet the sand felt fine as ash, and it glowed in the light of the full moon. An unattended bonfire was waiting for us, which was fortunate since we’d come ill-prepared for fire making (though well-prepared for wine drinking.)

Kelsey sent her hoop around the moon and back again.

She pulled out a much smaller container of salve, one Grayce herself had made, and with reverence we each took some, rubbing into our palms what her hands had made.

She passed around a crystal that had been held by Grayce, and read aloud poems they’d written together, both serious and silly.

Sitting around a bonfire, getting to know her more and more, piecing together our stories and memories until together we’ve remembered a more complete Grayce.

We’ve shared our Grayce with each other and in sharing, grown richer.

She has brought us together.

What I remember most is her gaze, how when I ran into her on Red Square, she would stop, turn her attention fully on me, eyes bright, nodding and affirming, seeing.

And I remember how goddamn loud she would Om in the mornings.

And her stinking armpits.

And nettles. Always nettles.

On the plane ride home I wrapped myself in the dull smokey softness of my clothes, warmed by the company of so many good souls, and thought to myself, yes, Grayce would approve of this. This is what Grayce would have wanted.

Advertisements

I can’t & I’m sorry: the thoughts before suicide

When I’m suicidal, I’m angry at other people. They ask me to hold on, to not give up. They beg me to think of my family, my friends, who will be devastated by my death.

What right do they have to tell me what to do with my body, with my life? I think.

I suffer.

I suffer so much, so deeply.

When I heard Robin Williams had died of an apparent suicide, I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t shocked, not even slightly. Just immensely sad, and scared.

Bipolar is deadly. Depression is deadly.

With each depressive episode, I find myself feeling helpless. I did everything I could, I think, And I still couldn’t stop this. 

Or, even worse, I failed to do everything I could. I brought this on myself. I fail at life, I can’t do it. 

I can’t.

In the moments when I have been closest to suicide, those are the words playing over and over in my head, the ones I sometimes cry out into the isolation. I can’t. I can’t do this any longer, I can’t suffer like this, I can’t cry any more, I can’t sit around and wait to be well, I can’t keep trying to live.

And then: I’m sorry.

To call my suicide selfish would be to deeply misunderstand the act. When suicidal, I hate myself for burdening the ones I love. I know my suicide would hurt them, but my depression feels like even more of a burden. I know how much it hurts them to see me struggle, and I don’t want to hurt them like that any more. I want it to be over, I want them to be able to live their lives without the burden of my pain. I want us all to be able to move on.

I don’t talk much about the times when I’ve been suicidal. I’ll bring it up occasionally, briefly, when talking about those times in my life, but I never go into detail, because I don’t want to upset anyone. Suicide is really scary. I’m not sure who it’s scarier for, the people on the outside, or the people on the inside.

The people on the outside, who have never been suicidal, they don’t understand how anyone can feel that way. They are afraid, deeply afraid of it, so they reject, minimize.

You’ll feel better. Don’t be selfish. It’s only temporary.

The people on the inside, who have reached out to touch the edge of death, we’re afraid because we’re wondering when things will get bad enough that we take the leap. More like a stumble really, because leaps take too much energy. When will we stumble over the edge into a decision we can’t take back?

When we are suicidal, nothing feels temporary. Everything is agony.

In fact, I wouldn’t say that I’m afraid of suicide. I’m afraid of what comes before suicide, the pain and anguish that could eventually lead to that decision.

Robin Williams was one of the survivors. He’d been to rehab, been through numerous treatments, had every resource available to him. He’d been fighting the fight for sixty-three long years. One of the thoughts that keeps me alive in my depression is There’s still more out there. There’s more to try, more medications to test out, ECT if it comes to that. Yoga. Good food. Routine. Community. Maybe those things will finally cure me.

When there’s nothing left to try, when I find myself again incapable and broken, then what will I do?

I will do my best not to listen to the repetition in my mind: I can’t, I’m sorry, I can’t, I’m sorry, I can’t, I’m sorry, I can’t.

I will do my best to listen instead to the people around me: We love you, we will not give up on you. We love you, we will be here for you, for as long as it takes. We love you, no matter what. We love you, we will share your suffering. We love you, we do not resent you. We love you, we know this is not your fault. We love you, no matter what.

These are the things we need to say to people who are suicidal. Do not call us selfish. Do not chastise us or plague us with platitudes. Just repeat, again and again: We love you, no matter what. We love you, we love you, we love you.

If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255. Talk to someone. Email me. Many, many people have felt this way, and many of us survived. You can too.

(For my friends and family, who might be concerned about a post about suicide: I’m not suicidal right now, nor am I depressed. All is well.)

forgive me

forgive me for my memory lapses, for my strangeness, for my quirks.

forgive me for my unreliability, for my moodiness, for my erratic energy.

forgive my shaking leg,

my bitten nails,

the clench marks in my palms.

forgive me for the times I’ve knowingly sent myself deeper into depression, for the times I haven’t fought, for the times I’ve dropped the ball.

forgive me.

because every time you forgive me, I get a little bit closer to forgiving myself.

Movement and Mindfulness: Self Evaluation

At the Evergreen State College, we don’t take individual classes, we take programs that integrate several different fields of study. We also don’t receive grades; instead, we write self-evaluations, and our professors write evaluations of us and assign credit. This is my self-evaluation from winter quarter of my second year, when I dropped out of the intensive linguistics program I was taking and joined a program focused on health.  

I joined Movement and Mindfulness for winter quarter. I was expecting a class that focused on personal health through practices such as pilates, yoga, mindfulness, and meditation.

Almost immediately, this class required me to confront the torrent of thoughts and emotions normally pushed aside in favor of schoolwork. Through weekly journaling, I grew more aware of my thought processes, and began shifting my mental focus away from the stresses of life and towards the good. I developed a practice of nightly gratitude meditation. As I turned my attention towards the good that had happened during the day, instead of thinking about what I should have done, I noticed an increase in both my self-esteem and my mood. As I read in Bruce Lipton’s Biology of Belief, I began integrating his theories on using the conscious mind to create health and happiness.

For my research project, I tackled the issue of depression in American society. The statistics on depression are frightening, as cases are rising and antidepressants  are plummeting in efficiency. I chose to read The Chemistry of Joy by Henry Emmons, a book that combines Western medicine with Eastern psychology to create a holistic approach towards depression. I explored the relationship between external factors (such as diet, exercise, and sleep) and internal factors (spiritual openness, mental outlook, and brain chemistry) in tackling depression. I was able to incorporate this research into my class work as I learned different ways to move through weekly yoga and pilates classes, and different ways to calm my mind through various meditative practices. The lectures on nutrition connected directly to the balanced diets suggested Emmons, and I began taking a more practiced look at my own eating habits.

Movement and Mindfulness was a life-changing class, as I read about the techniques that lead to healthier, happier lives, and then put those techniques into practice through yoga, pilates, meditation, and journaling.

Move Yo’ Body: UJam

I’m sure you’ve heard of Zumba, a dance-based aerobic exercise class. I haven’t been dancing as much since I left high school, and Zumba is a really fun way to get back into dancing while also getting a killer workout. (Seriously, the right instructor will leave you in stitches within twenty minutes.) I recently discovered UJam, which is similar to Zumba with more “urban beats” (according to the description at my gym.) The instructor in Petaluma, Monica, is amazing. Her enthusiasm never wanes; she’s always giving high fives, and she’s great at leading us in the choreography.

When I took ballet, dancing was about perfecting your form; it was very much about what you looked like while you danced. I was always tentative with my movements. I was afraid of looking silly.

I realized a long time ago that dancing requires confidence in your movements, but I haven’t had a chance to apply that until UJam. The dances are upbeat and fast; if you aren’t paying attention, you’ll quickly get lost, which means you don’t really have time to worry about what you look like. After a few weeks of going to Monica’s class, I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on the choreography. I thought, “Yeah, I bet I look as cool as Monica.” It only took a few glances in the mirror to realize that no, there’s no way I look as cool as Monica. I look ridiculous, and I’d rather just not watch myself, because it’s not about how you look. It’s about moving your body and having fun. Keep moving. Just keep moving. If you mess up a step, no sweat, just keep going. There’s no time to stop, and besides, everybody else is focusing on themselves, so no one cares if you make a mistake.

When I was going to Zumba in Olympia, there was this little old lady that came to every single class. I don’t think she was even physically capable of doing most of the moves, but she would show up every day, and stand in the back of the class, elbows bent, doing an enthusiastic little step-touch. Occasionally she’d attempt a turn, but mostly it was just step-touch, step-touch, back and forth. She wasn’t there to win a dance-off; she was just there to move her body. And she’s the one I think of when I’m clutching a stitch in my side and trying to move limbs that feel like lead. If she can keep showing up and keep moving, then I can too.

 

 

Review of “The Chemistry of Joy”

The Chemistry of Joy: A Three-Step Program for Overcoming Depression Through Western Science and Eastern Wisdom

by Henry Emmons, M.D. (with Rachel Kranz)

289 pages. Simon and Shuster.  $15.

Depression is a highly stigmatized and deeply misunderstood disease that plagues more and more Americans. While more and more doctors are prescribing antidepressants, they are proving to be less than successful at curing depression. In light of this failure of modern science, Dr. Emmons provides a practical guide to finding joy. Emmons integrates his knowledge of brain chemistry, natural and Ayurvedic medicine, Buddhist psychology, and his own techniques for joy, and breaks it all down into a specific plan to help anyone conquer depression.

This book is split into three sections: Understand Your Brain, Know Your Ayurvedic Type, and Discover Your Buddhist Emotional Type. Although somewhat repetitive in the information presented, it is presented differently each time. This allows readers to accept the information in whatever form is most appealing to them: as science, psychology, or spirituality.

Emmons also emphasizes the individuality of each person, encouraging readers to pay attention to their own symptoms. Although Emmons describes three different types of depression (in three different ways), he regularly states that not everyone fits into a category easily, and that often, patients find themselves a mix of the different categories. He supplements these statements with timely narratives of his own patients. These real-life examples of the sometimes-clinical symptoms bring the problems to life, making them easier to recognize and instilling hope of recovery through the success stories of other people.

Dr. Emmons is a psychiatrist who uses alternative methods in his clinical work. He practices general and holistic psychiatry, and consults to several colleges and organizations, as well as organizing retreat programs through the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing.

Move Yo’ Body: Yoga

In my second year in college, when I was severely depressed, I took a yoga class, thinking it would be good for me. That’s when I thought I hated yoga. Sitting still, alone with my thoughts, was torture, and I made it through mayyyyybe four of the ten classes.

Fortunately, I gave yoga another chance. For the past few years I’ve been using the free videos through Yoga Journal. The videos are great: there’s a wide selection, and you can choose videos based on length, difficulty, and type of yoga. Having the videos available at any time, from the safety of my bedroom, is a big plus, but I tend to quit after twenty minutes. That’s enough, right? I’ve paid my dues.

And then I joined a gym! I love yoga classes for several reasons, but mostly because I’m too proud to leave a class early. It’s the only reason I struggle through an entire hour of yoga. It’s also nice to have an instructor who can correct your form or answer any questions you might have.

I don’t always love doing yoga. There are poses I hate, there are days when I just hate yoga in general. But I still do it, because I love yoga for what it does for me. It helps me feel strong and balanced, which are two traits I lose when I’m depressed. It also challenges me to practice mindfulness. Every time I practice yoga, it’s a gentle reminder to pay attention to my thoughts, and to focus on the present moment instead of constantly stressing and problem-solving.

If you’re ever in San Francisco, there are two free yoga classes (that I know of) that happen every week. On Tuesdays, over four hundred people gather at Grace Cathedral for one of the most powerful classes I’ve ever attended. On Sundays, a much smaller group practices yoga at Dolores Park, which is a refreshing break from being indoors.