Strongest People I Know

Content Notice: talk of suicide, ideation, judgmental assholes

I had a bad day yesterday. I thought maybe I should end it all. These weren’t plans to actually kill myself. These are the thoughts I live with on a daily basis. Some days they’re easier to ignore. I wondered what was the point of living. Then I heard the news of Chester Bennington’s death. He killed himself. As my friends were sharing how much Linkin Park’s music had helped them in their teens, I also saw a lot of people with no understanding of mental illness, blathering on about “taking the easy way out”.

And it all brought it back to me. That time when I was 15 and attempted suicide. I was called all sorts of names. How stupid could I be to try to kill myself? Don’t I know it would hurt my mother? I started therapy then and have been in treatment since. I’ve had several ideation events. And the guilters were always there. I need to think about my daughter. How much it would hurt my family; my friends. How could I be so selfish?

There’s this idea that people who commit suicide are weak. They couldn’t handle their life and its circumstances. Korn’s guitarist Brian Head Welch said Chester took the “cowardly way out”. I cannot speak for Chester, but I can speak as someone who has attempted suicide. As someone who will always have ideation. Living with mental illness is fighting a war every fucking day. We’re fighting ourselves and also dealing with an ableist medical system. We have to deal with well-meaning people with their empty platitudes. We have to deal with cruel insensitive people like Brian, who think mental illness is just something we can get over.

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Modified version. I will not post the original.

We deal with people making memes shaming the use of anti-depressants. Supposed friends will tell you they are there for you but then walk away from you because you’re “too depressing”. And these people wonder why we don’t feel comfortable sharing our struggles with them.

You want to prevent suicide? You do that by helping us fight the stigmatization of mental illness. You do that by calling out shaming bullshit advice or memes like the above. You do that by examining your own biases and admitting that you too need to learn a thing or two. You do that by demanding better health care and treatment for mentally ill people. You do that by viewing mental illness like you would any other chronic illness, as something that cannot be “gotten over” but instead as something that the person dealing with can learn to cope with. You do that by demanding that therapists are actually well versed in their field, and that they also learn social justice because a lot of depressed people are also marginalized in a lot of different ways and that all plays a part in it. For fuck’s sake learn how to properly tag triggering content. On Facebook, hide links to potentially triggering content in nested comments. Accept that sometimes you will mess up and will be called out and maybe it won’t be as gentle as you’d like. You fight the stigma by NOT centering your feelings but those of the depressed person.

Telling us how our death would hurt someone is just a way to manipulate us by guilting us. We KNOW it would hurt our loved ones. I know my daughter would NOT be better off without me. And you telling me how horrible I am for having ideation just makes me feel worse. You don’t prevent someone’s suicide by reminding them of how horrible they think they are. You end up reinforcing the intrusive thoughts and negative self image.

Some days I don’t like myself very much. Yesterday was a bad day, but I was reminded of my strength. I was reminded of the strength of my friends who are also dealing with mental illness. Do you know how much strength it takes to get out of bed; out of the house? How much strength it takes to deal with assholes who judge you without knowing anything about mental illness?

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RIP Chester Bennington. Your music touched many and I hope you’ve finally found some peace. 

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"You're so fat"

Trigger warming: weight discussion, actual numbers mentioned, fat phobia, fat shaming by doctors, mentions of death and suicide, mention of eating disorders

Author’s Note: When I mention “family” I mean uncles, aunts or cousins. I don’t mean brothers, mami or grandma.

I am fat. At 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing (last I checked) close to 260 pounds, I am medically considered obese. Whenever I have physicals all my vitals are “perfect” but I’m told that will change if I keep being so damn fat.

The doctor’s scale doesn’t scare me anymore but it used to. I still remember being in the nurse’s office waiting to see the doctor. I’m weighed in front of some other kid who was waiting his turn. The doctor looked at the number and said “oh que gorda” (how fat!), looked at the boy waiting and told him not to worry, he wouldn’t weigh as much as I did. Every time I saw that doctor he had a comment to make about my weight. All he ever said was to go on a diet. He would ask if I ate a lot of junk food. No. He asked if I was active. Yes. It wasn’t until years later that another doctor figured out I had a “lazy” thyroid. And people’s reaction to that news? “Oh well that’s why you’re so fat!”

Anyway, I told my mom I didn’t want to see that doctor anymore. So, we go see another doctor (old doctor’s son-in-law because our town in Puerto Rico was small, apparently all the doctors were related. My dentist was jackass doctor’s daughter, but I digress). Son-in-law would tell me the same thing. I was fat and I needed to lose weight. But they wouldn’t tell me how. Mami and I ran into him once, I was already taller than my mother, who’s 5 feet tall, by that time. The “good” doctor looks at me and says that I was so “big and fat”, it looks like I was the mother and my mother the child. I was barely 11. My mother is short and thin. I’m tall and fat. People never believe she’s my mom. It’s a little frustrating having to justify my existence. “Your mom is so tiny! How did you get so BIG? Oh my, how was she able to birth you?” Well, I wasn’t born this big, for one. But whatever.

My weight has always been a hot topic in my family. Everyone would tell me I was so pretty and I’d be so much prettier if I wasn’t fat. I was told no man would want me. I was told not to eat so much. My brothers ate as if food was going out of style but they were never told to stop. They were growing boys after all. I barely ate and when I would indulge in the rare cookie I was told to stop being such a “puerca” (pig). If I didn’t do my chores properly I was chastised. “You’re so big and fat, why can’t you clean these dishes?”

Family I hadn’t seen in years would comment on how fat I’d gotten. Then I get my first period and since Puerto Rican grannies have no sense of privacy, soon all my aunts knew I had become a “señorita” (a young lady). So they hoped that now I would lose weight. I hoped so too. Whenever I would complain to mami about the fat shaming I endured she would tell not to worry because I just had “baby fat”. I believed that until I hit twelve and I needed a bra bigger than my mother’s.

Above I mentioned a doctor found out why I had such a hard time losing weight. At 14, I was finally diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Finally, my family thought, with the pills they give her she’ll lose weight and become beautiful.

I left Puerto Rico a few months after that. In NYC I had doctors tell me I was too fat but at least they gave me diets to go on. At my heaviest in my teens I was weighing 231 and wearing a size 20/22. I hated myself. I starved myself but nothing I did made the weight go away. So then I’d become depressed and binge. I’ve never been formally diagnosed with an eating disorder but I’m pretty sure I was displaying symptoms.Then at 15, I attempted suicide and the nurse at the hospital asks if I was depressed because I was “fat with no boyfriend”.

My teens were rough, I was battling depression, we were homeless, I was bullied in school. I wasn’t eating properly because 1) the shelter we were in didn’t provide adequate food and 2) I didn’t exactly go out of my way to eat properly when I had the chance. I went down to a size 9/10 in pants. I was weighing 175lbs. That was the lightest I had ever been. Everybody was so proud of me. That’s when I realized that people would rather see me thin and sick than fat and healthy.

I’ve gone back to Puerto Rico three times in these past 12 years and every time my weight is brought up. The first time I returned to Puerto Rico was for my grandfather’s funeral. I was 16 and worried that I was too fat. I was worried my clothes wouldn’t fit. My grandpa was dead and I hadn’t seen him in two years but I was worried about disrespecting his memory with my fat. Grandma told me not to worry. Grandpa was watching down from heaven and he was happy I was there. Grandma wasn’t very kind to me growing up, but she’s changed a lot since then and I’m thankful to her for easing my mind. That’s another post for another day though.

The last two times I visited Puerto Rico were so my daughter could meet my grandma. My family talked about how fat I used to be. My weight was a big topic. They kept telling me how tall and big I was. How solidly built I am. One elderly cousin kept saying I was so “skinny” compared to how I was when little. Oh, how thankful she was that I had lost all that weight. I’m far too pretty to be so fat. What they don’t know is that I weigh more now than I did then, it’s just that I’ve grown up and the weight has redistributed and I also have some muscle.

I’m bottom heavy and my legs have always been criticized as being too big, “like tree trunks”. My hips are wide and my thighs cause thunder; baby also got back.  It took me a long time to be able to appreciate my body. It was only last year that I finally conquered my fear of bathing suits and went to the beach in a one piece showing my legs in all of their fat, hairy glory. I walked on that beach and felt proud of myself. Then I see a cousin I hadn’t seen since I was 11 and he says my arms are flabby. I don’t feel anything. It doesn’t bother me like it would have back then. I acknowledge it as a fucked up thing to say and then I realize, well my arms do jiggle but so the fuck what?

I tuck his comment in the box in my mind labeled “fuck boy opinions” and told him if my arms are such a problem he was free not to look at them.

The scale doesn’t scare me anymore. I only weigh myself at the doctor’s. I see the scale and think in my best cheesy western movie voice “it’s you again.” I’m weighed and they tell me the number and I acknowledge it and just tuck it away in the box in my mind of “stuff about me that isn’t that big of a deal”. My weight is right next to “hates Twizzlers”. I think about it once a while, I may even obsess over it (why would anyone like that devil candy?) but when it’s time to get serious I put it away and focus on important things.

I spent far too long hating myself for something I can’t change. My genes are the way they are. I can’t change my bone structure. Even at 175 I was still “curvy”. That won’t change. I will always be fat and I have no desire to lose weight and that is OK.

Depression vs Art

I’d like to consider myself a bit of a visual artist but these past ten years with depression have almost completely sapped whatever ability I had. I think I’ve made about five drawings in ten years. When I do create something I’m told I’m talented. But I just cannot seem to keep the inspiration or even the motivation going.

You hear a lot about how mental illness contributed in some way to an artist’s work; that they channeled their pain into their art. Whether that art be music, painting, writing etc, the point is they channeled it to mean something. My depression just spirals and loops back into itself and all I ever get out of it is more pain.

Which then makes me feel even shittier for not “depression-ing” right. Which I know is ridiculous, I know it’s just depression shenanigans and troll brain talking. I know it all rationally, but I still cannot shake the feeling that I’m a failure at depression. Isn’t that sad?

Lately, I’ve had a few ideas for a drawing and I can see it in my mind’s eye, but when I try to actually make it happen I draw a blank. (At least I’m punny?)

That’s what hurts the most sometimes. I know I have some talent at least. I know that I can make something beautiful but depression is always there just waiting to tell me, that no actually I can’t.

I remember having a pastel charcoals set when I was little. I used up the sketch pad rather quickly. I loved just sitting on the porch and drawing whatever came to mind, blending colors and getting my fingers covered in multi-colored dust. Sometimes I think maybe I can do that again, sit somewhere quiet, armed with a sketch pad and pencil and just draw what comes to me. But the fear is there; taunting me. Waiting for the first pencil stroke to land on the page, so the depression can start its bullying: why bother?, nobody will like it. You aren’t any good.

Why can’t I just ignore that, especially when I know that what my depression is saying isn’t true? It’s a never ending battle.