The Death Membrane

hokusai_yureiI spent much of my life convinced that I wasn’t meant to live at this time on this earth.  I have detailed before why this is so, so I’m not going to go through the whole list again.  Instead, I’m just going to highlight a few before moving on to today’s post.

I have never decorated any place I’ve lived because I’ve never felt at home.  Now, this might be because I haven’t found the right place yet, but I think it’s more because I knew at quite an early age that I simply did not fit.

I got teased throughout elementary school, junior high, and high school.  I was semi-popular in college, but only after I totally remade myself over from the sad sack I was in high school.  I lost a ton of weight, slapped on the makeup, started dressing outlandishly, cut my hair asymmetrically, and wore mismatching earrings.  By then, I knew there was no hope in hell that I could fit in, so I decided to be as different as possible.  On a vanilla campus like St. Olaf, it wasn’t that hard to stand out, especially because the place was so damn homogenous back when I attended.

I made friends easily, but I was careful not to let them in too far.  It was another lesson I had learned early on–those closest to you were the ones who could fuck you up and over the worst.  College was pleasant enough, until I started falling apart.  During my third year, I would black out while talking to people or while attending class, and I would come to about ten minutes later with no idea what the hell had just happened.  The funny part was that the person with whom I was conversing (or the prof of the class) never had a clue that I was gone.  In fact, I got all “A”s and “A-“s that semester.  Granted, I did for most of the rest of my earlier classes as well, but I was actually awake in those.  For that one semester, I fell asleep in every fucking class every single day.  Ok, I’m not sure that ‘fell asleep’ is the best term for it, but it’s close enough.

In addition, I was blacking out while driving, too.  The same thing would happen in that I would come to ten minutes later with no idea where I was or how I got there.  I have no idea why I never got in an accident during that time in my life, but I am very grateful that I didn’t.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t say that I was blacking out because it was more like, one minute I was awake and then ten minutes later, I was awake again.  It’s hard to explain, but take my word for it that it was no fun to experience.

During the same time, I was in the middle of my first true love relationship.  I loved him with all my heart, and I just knew we were meant to be–despite the fact that we weren’t.  From that relationship I learned that who I was wasn’t enough and that even when someone said he loved me, I couldn’t take it to be true.  I have had the unique knack for picking partners who confirm my worst fears about myself, which, in turn, makes me shy away even further.

After D and I broke up for the last time, I was shattered.  I tried to carry on, but I did a piss-poor job of it.  I went to Asia for a semester abroad, and while in Thailand, I started a very destructive relationship that reinforced the notion that I didn’t deserve to be treated, well, like a human being.  It’s a good thing that I had to leave Thailand, or who knows how it would have ended up?  He never hit me with his fists, but there are many ways to kill a woman’s soul.

Back in America, I went off the rails.  My self-esteem, which has never been good, plunged.  I became convinced that I didn’t deserve to live.  I was a horrible person who should just die already.  I engaged in self-destructive behaviors, partly because I couldn’t care less if I died.  No, it was more than that.  I wanted to die, but I didn’t have the strength to actually end my life.  Yes, that’s how I thought of it.  I was too fucking weak to kill myself, so I tried to kill myself through neglect.

We don’t talk about suicide much as a culture because it’s not a very comfortable topic.  We rather pretend it didn’t exist or that it only happens to other people.  Well, I can tell you that approximately fifteen years of my life, I thought about it every day.  Sometimes, it was only a brief thought, and sometimes, it was a drawn-out fantasy.  Ironically, telling myself that I could kill myself if it got too bad was one of the things that got me through my worst depressions.  I have heard that from other people who suffer severe depression as well.

“I could always slit my wrists.  Along the vein, not across it.”  “I can get in my car, turn it on, and fall asleep.”  “I could walk into a lake, like Virginia Woolf.”  “I could just not get out of bed.”  “I could hang myself.”

What stopped me?  Fear.  I didn’t know what was on the other side, and I was afraid that it was worse than life on earth.  Love.  I didn’t want anyone I loved to find me.  I live alone, so the chances are, it would be my brother or a good friend coming to check on me a week after not hearing from me.  That would not be a pretty sight.   After I got my cats, it was because they needed me.  Sure, other people could take care of them, but not as well as I did.

For those years, I wandered this earth as if I were a ghost.  I got so good at not being present, I’ve had people not acknowledge my presence, even when I was standing a foot away from them.  I was so convinced that I didn’t belong and that I wasn’t worth seeing, I made myself invisible.  Believe me, that’s hard to do when you look the way I do, but I managed it.  I was dead inside, anyway, so why bother trying to look alive?

Now we get to the crux of the matter.  During this time in my life, I would sometimes see this visual phenomenon when I was driving on the interstate.  It’s hard to describe, but it’s like there was a wrinkle running down my sightline, and it was shimmering.   It was calling to me, and it was all I could do not to turn my car to follow it (which would have been detrimental to me and to anyone around me).  This happened a few times before I realized that I was seeing the death membrane.   No, that’s not a real term–it’s one I made up to describe this phenomenon.  What is it?  It’s the thin line (literally) that separates life from death.  It strongly called out to me, and it was beautiful.  Scary as hell, but beautiful, too.  Every time I resisted going to it, I felt a tiny twinge of regret in my heart that I didn’t give in to its siren song.

I don’t know when the daily call of suicide started muting itself.  It’s not something that abruptly ends–at least, not for me.  I still think about it from time to time, and once in a while, it flares up.  You see, I’m still not comfortable in this world.  I’m still not totally sold that I want to do the hard work necessary to feel like a viable human being.  Hell, I’m not even sure what that would entail.  I’ve been a mimic for so long, I’m not sure I can be the real thing.  More to the point, I’m not sure I want to try.

17 Responses to The Death Membrane

  1. I’ve been suicidal twice in my life. more accurately, during two periods of my life. The first was around 1990, when I was failing out of school because I wouldn’t leave my apartment for weeks at a time, which makes it hard to pass classes. Really, the two attempts I made then were pretty pathetic. No one even realized that I’d tried.

    I got everything pretty much put back together after that, though it took better than a decade after that before I finally graduated. I thought everything was going well. Then I got a job making markets in options. I was, at best, a mediocre options maker. I understand now that being a mediocre options market maker is more impressive than being really fucking good at a lot of things, but the stress reduced me to the point where, at 2am one Monday morning, I found myself looking at a full bottle of vodka and a half bottle of Xanax, wondering whether taking all of them would mean that I didn’t have to go to work in the morning. Time to find a new career.

    I never had the feelings of not being worthy of being happy. For me, other than the job stress, it was (and still is) pure loneliness. I may deserve to be happy, but the universe just doesn’t care. If you do roleplaying, I felt like an NPC in my own life.

    So, I kind of get what you are talking about. I *think* about committing suicide all the time, but there’s no urgency in it. It’s purely an intellectual exercise, rather than something I’d actually do. I’m not going to believe that I’ll never be there again, though. Not after thinking I was cured before.

    I do completely understand the bit about feeling responsible to the cats, though. I can’t say that it ever kept me from killing myself, but I certainly did think about what it would mean to them. Them and my younger sister. I think, if I killed myself, it would hurt her too badly to contemplate.

    I’m feeling better this weekend. I actually talked to girls this week!. One of them, tonight, was a complete stranger, rather than being a friend of a friend, or someone I’d met online. Just someone at a booth at a science fiction convention in Bloomington. Things just sort of happened, and I talked to her. Okay, yeah, it turned out that she had a boyfriend, but, still, that’s a hell of a lot of progress for me.

  2. Minna, I’m so sorry for your pain. I’m sorry if I’m missing something you’ve described before, but there must have been some neurological cause for your blackouts. I hope they aren’t troubling you any more.

    Someone very close to me recently suffered from a mild case of clinical depression. It’s insidious. Happily everything’s okay now, but shaking it isn’t simply an act of will.

    started dressing outlandishly, cut my hair asymmetrically, and wore mismatching earrings

    I gather the response you got wasn’t completely positive, but that just shows how people are different. My reaction would have been along the lines of “marry me.”

    I’m lucky — my ego is far too massive to really allow serious contemplation of suicide. I’m also very lucky that no one in my high school class killed themselves (or died for any other reason, actually — a statistical fluke I don’t mind at all). I’m sorry such thoughts still haunt you. Speaking for the living, I much prefer you being among us. You have many friends who love you and would do the same, but please, if you feel the impulse to do anything radical, you can talk to me.

    J. Michael, I wish you luck in meeting someone. You know as well as I that gaming / science fiction / comic books are heavily male-dominated pastimes, but that just makes women interested in them rare in two ways: statistically improbable yet possessing unusual and valuable qualities.

    Myself, I quite gaming in my 20s after concluding it was no way to meet chicks. And right after that, due to my terrible sense of timing, they released Vampire: The Masquerade and a zillion hottie goth chicks started playing. Oh, well.

    Oh, and Minna, I love the phrase “death membrane.” It sounds like a Lovecraft title, and would make a terrific band name.

  3. ” I was dead inside, anyway, so why bother trying to look alive?’
    Girl, I hear you.
    I have failed suicide attempts (2) behind me as well, and I took about a decade to recover. My recovery wasn’t just dealing with depression, but the recovery from abuse.
    The last two years have been incredible in both horrible and amazing ways. I’m glad I am here.
    Unlike some Governors, we didn’t quit. 😉

  4. Michael, it’s not that I don’t feel I deserve to be happy. Happy doesn’t even figure into the equation since I have no idea what that even looks like. I want to be at peace with myself. That’s it.

    Greg, I should get the blackouts checked out by my doctor. I tend to think of everything as psychological since I have so many psych issues, but who knows?

    In college, I began to get a rep, and I have no idea how. People would ask the guy I was dating (D) how they could date someone like me. This guy I didn’t like (who, ironically, is now my state senator) once said to me, “You party, right?” Me, “No.” Him, “You drink, right?” Me, “No.” Him, “You do drugs, right?” Me, “No.” Him, “But you wear black!” Gee, you got me on that one.

    I figured out much later that people must have been confusing me with this Korean woman who WAS wild and crazy and who also dressed in lots of black.

    Death membrane. Yes, I’ve always liked it, too. Hm. Maybe I’ll write a story about it.

    whabs, my soul sister. You see things I didn’t even know were there. Thank you for that.

  5. There are loads of people out there who do value you (raising hand & shouting me! me!), just the way you are, without any expectations.

    I had this bizarre friendship a while back, this person who was like “you’re so funny but so negative” and “you’re so intelligent but so cynical” and “you’re so xxx but so yyy.” And it was so crazy-making I told her to fuck right off. After I explained to her that I have friendships with people only if they accept me as I am without trying to analyze me and I do the same for them. I never try to get inside other people’s heads, and I never have the expectation that someone else is perfect cuz I know damned well that I’m not. It was such a relief to cut that person out of my life — I never regretted it and never looked back.

    Nobody is perfect. No perfect life exists. It’s all about acceptance of the highs & lows & valuing & honoring the positives, coming to terms with the negatives. And having a really good therapist from time to time when life really fucking sucks. I’ve had a couple of stellar therapists that were true life-savers. It never ceases to amaze me how good women (and men!) can let some twisted (usually passive-aggressive) insecure person make them feel utter despair. My darkest days have all been courtesy of some insecure dickhead taking out all of his frustrations & insecurities on me, trying to drag me down. After 15+ years of being in those sorts of relationships I can spot them a mile away. Not that it matters now cuz I married one of the good ones. BTW, coffee guy sounds like one of those…

    Have you seen the StoryPeople one that goes something like “she said she usually cried once a day, not because she was sad but because life was so beautiful & so short”

    Make the most of every moment you get, and remember that you are loved.

  6. SMR, thank you for your beautiful comment. I know exactly what you mean, and I know it mostly comes from within these days. Oh, sure, there will always be people who are eager to put me down, but none can do it better than I can. I feel so fortunate to have people like you in my life. You are one of my StoryPeople, and my life is far richer with you in it.

  7. there will always be people who are eager to put me down, but none can do it better than I can.

    There will also always be people who are eager to pick you up (in more than one sense, come to think of it).

    Having too big an ego can be a problem, of course (and I should know), but I hope the day comes when you’re as good at boosting yourself up as your friends and loved ones.

  8. Minna… I don’t know what to say (there’s too much of it too indistinct to put into words), but I hear you. One thing I can say, selfishly, is that you’ve been making a difference in my life, opening my horizons and making me think and causing me to rethink some convictions I’ve had for years and years – and I’m thinking, if you can do this for me (and others, of course), how come you can’t do it for you? Are you not listening to yourself? Are you denying yourself what you give to others, and if so, may I plant a pointy boot on your behind to point out the unfairness of it?

    You have a sharp mind and you know how to problem-solve for others. Methinks that you are capable of problem-solving for yourself as well if you (the habitual Minna) get out of your own way. It may take some bullying 🙂 but from where I’m sitting, it would be SO worth it. That mountain of self-defeat has passes in it and the view from the top is pretty amazing. You can’t see all that’s available to you as long as you’re bogged down in the ravine at the bottom, you know.

  9. Greg, you got it. I know I have to be my own BFF, but it’s really difficult.

    Iratwo, you fucking rock. You nailed it. I have much more faith in other people than I do in myself. I tend to see things as either/or. Either I’m successful, or I’m a failure. Either I’m doing a great job, or I’m fucking up royally. I gotta remember the baby steps.

  10. I know I have to be my own BFF, but it’s really difficult.

    I find it a strange thing mystifying. And it troubles me greatly. You’re likable as hell, and anyone can see how much love and admiration your regular commenters here have for you. I wish you could feel a tenth of that for yourself.

  11. Minna, I’m glad your thoughts of suicide are intermittent now. I went through a seriously rough eighteen months recently too, and had to talk myself down a few times. The fact that you’re not thinking of suicide every day is actually huge progress. You should give yourself credit for that.

    Your inner peace may not come immediately, but you are making progress towards that goal.

    And – you are a valuable person in my life. I love your wit, your intelligence, your questions, your cynicism. I will never mistake you for some random other person of Asian ancestry (WTF – “y’all look alike to me?”). I like your unique qualities. Keep putting one foot in front of the other!

  12. Greg, it’s hard because I am a negative person in general, and doubly-so when it comes to me. I see all the stupid shit inside of me, and I don’t like it. I’m just trying to make peace with myself. For now, that’s the best I can do.

    Choolie, I hear you on the talking down part. You’re right. Baby steps do count, but they still seem so puny at the time.

    You have made such a difference in my life, too, and not just as my teacher. I think one of the reasons we get along so well is because we have similar qualities and traits. One foot in front of the other. Good advice, that, but what about Repulse Monkey?

  13. Minna,

    First I need to say it is an interesting process working backwards through your posts. Never having been a big blog reader before, it is a new experience. Your honesty and willing to lay the deeply personal out there for all to see is engaging on many levels. Thank you.

    I, too, had a time that I considered ending my life. I, too, told my therapist that I would not promise that I wouldn’t kill myself, only that I would call him first. I needed that option at control over my own life to give me a little tiny bit of bedrock to stand on in the cataclysmic upheaval that was going on in my world. I know now that,for me, my suicidal thoughts tend to spring to life most when the real source is anger.

    Sad, mad, happy, pain. The four basic emotions. In my family you couldn’t get mad. It was verboten. It didn’t matter that my mother leaked her anger, that she didn’t have, all over the place in condescending tone and comments that made the object of them feel small and in her passive-aggressive behavior. And happy? I remember in high school a friend telling me her philosophy of life. It it involved happiness. I felt surprised and it made me wonder briefly. But I tucked it all away. In our family you could feel sad and you could feel pain, that was all.

    When I finally started taking a sledge hammer and crowbar to that box (and interestingly I was renovating an 80 year old shotgun house at the time), all that anger flooded out. It was overwhelming and then empowering. It was the first time I had to reframe and redefine what I understood life to be and what it meant to be human. In retrospect, it was interesting the paradigm that I had lived under and how it made me interact (or run from) life, people and claiming my own best self.

    I’ve had other bad times. Recently, its seems like it has been a year and a half of slogging through the muck, mostly grief in this case and all the accompanying emotions that go with it. But I have learned I can get through it. One step at a time. And I try to honor the moment. That’s the hard part when it hurts so bad. Part of my paradigm shift was to understand that life is a journey. It is a process. And to suck the marrow from life I need to live intentionally. There is a goal but if all I see is the goal, then I miss many beautiful and connective things along the way.

    I wish to honor that in you. That you too have chosen to slog through the muck, the shit, whatever it is that keeps trying to suck your boots from your feet or your feet out from under you.

    And, maybe it’s trite (and I hate to feel like someone is telling me how to live so please don’t take it that way), but that you can feel the deep pain means also that you are capable of feeling the deep, surprising joy of life, if you can pause and be still for a moment and just be.


  14. Crystal, thank you for sharing your own story so eloquently. You have a way with words, and I am grateful that I get to read them.

    It’s funny (in a bitter way) that your family upbringing sounds so much like my own. Except, it was my father who exuded anger, and the rest of us had to tiptoe around him. I stuffed the anger deep inside me because, as you said, it was verboten in my family. Not only was it verboten, it was…scary, threatening, and bad. Because I bottled up so much of it, when it did come out, it just exploded.

    That in turn made me fear it even more.

    Thank you for your compliments. As I have said many times, the written word is my comfort, my solace, my shelter, my haven. I am much better in written what I think and feel than I am in saying it.

    In addition, I think if I’d had been able to read a blog similar to mine as I was growing up, it wouldn’t have been such a damn struggle to reach where I am now.

    I completely understand the need to hold out for deciding your own death. It’s a little bit of control in a world in which there often seems to be none. It’s one reason I’ve struggled with eating disorders for so long. I am good at them, damn it. I have total control. So what if it’s a fucked-up thing? It’s still MINE.

    I am sorry that you’re having a difficult year and a half. I hope that you have friends and family with whom you can share your feelings. Or your therapist, if you still have one. Or a spiritual leader. One thing I know is that I can’t do it on my own, no matter how much I think I should be able to do so. It’s very difficult for me to ask for help, and it’s even more difficult for me to accept it.

    I know, though, that during the rough spots in my life, I do have friends and family who will be there to catch me if I fall.

    P.S. Since I DO have complete control over my blog, I fixed your typos.

  15. Minna,

    Thanks for the typo fixes.

    And thank you for your concern. I do have friends, spiritual companions, an occasional counselor and a wonderful husband who has a bit of all of those. And I have gotten to the point where I can ask for help and seek it out when I need it. I don’t know about the burden shared saying but I do know that I can’t do it alone and that articulating what is going on and what I feel to another helps me move on down the journey’s road.

  16. Crystal, I am glad that you are surrounded by people who love you, support you, and are there for you. In the end, you will have to do the work, but it’s a lot less lonely when you know that there are other people cheering you along the way.