There has been lots of chat about clinical depression in the last few days since Robin Williams chose to end his life.
Some experts say that suicide is always a shock and a surprise to other people, that people can’t imagine that anyone would choose to die rather than face another day.
Suicide is not a shock to me. Often, I am more baffled by people who don’t choose to die.
I started writing suicide notes when I was in my teens. They were a way to explore my relationship to life. Where was I in pain or torment? What did I want to stop and what did I want to hold on to?
I have never, ever, not once, attempted suicide, unless you consider drinking innumerable half-gallon mugs of Coca-Cola suicidal. I know it had a long term cost. Kurt Vonnegut wrote that he was “committing classy suicide by Pall Mall [cigarettes]” and that was something I understood, though my own coke problem was brown and sticky.
Death and rebirth is vital to a shaman, to a healer. We need to walk into hell to move through it, need to let old patterns and understandings die to create new ground for new birth. There is no transperson who has not dreamed of rebirth, but the problem of death before that is very challenging.
Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Unless you let things pass away, embracing loss, you can never let new bloom, never embrace transformation.
This attitude has gotten me into trouble with therapists, who have accused me of encouraging suicidal ideation in their patients.
Death is always a close thing for transpeople. We dance with it all the time in our quest for rebirth beyond oppression and pain.
I read a narrative from a transwoman last night who was explaining her choice to attenuate her life, to cut herself back in the world. Because she can never be female, she believes womanhood is outside her grasp, which leaves her as a man with fetishes like autogynephilia.
She now lives what she considers a hermetic life, though with no obvious spiritual practice. In contrast to people in the world who indulge their own egos, she feels virtuous and appropriate cutting herself back.
This attenuation is so very common with people whose nature is stigmatized and shunned by society. We cannot let who we are be visible, or we will be be called a liar, so we bury it away, trying to kill it off. “How old were you when you found out that you had to die?”
I call this phenomenon induced or selective depression.
You can just call it suppression. We create our own depression by suppressing our nature, disconnecting from a world where we can neither be ourselves or be who others expect us to be. We attenuate ourselves more and more until there isn’t enough of us left to engage the big, challenging, demanding world.
Encouraging transpeople to be bold and confident in showing themselves in the world is the only way I know to face this threat, so I do that all the time to any suffering transperson I see. I encourage them to face death to claim rebirth, try to show them the possibilities that they have been so deliberately estranged from.
A therapist is someone who sees something in us that we do not yet see in ourselves, and often that is the possibility of becoming beautiful beyond our current pain.
That encouragement is very, very difficult for me to find. Often, I have to try and do it for myself, but that is far from the most credible process. It is important to find someone who can share your dream, someone who can carry it forward when you are too weak or too hurting to do that. A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and sings it back to you when you forget the words.
I instantly understood Mr. Williams choice to end the game. I do wish he had been able to find enough to get through his dark night and have a rebirth, but at sixty two years old and with the weight of all those years and expectations on him, he must have found it too challenging. How can he let what was weighing him down die and find rebirth? How could he find new ways to be intense and fresh in the world? There comes a moment, and we just know it is time to go.
Personally, I am being challenged to move beyond my own suppression by the demands of my family, the demands of being in the world. Rather than understanding my position, though, they just expect me to pull myself up by my own bootstraps, using the old tricks I used to man up and do the work required.
That feels like an enormous burden to me. I can neither go backwards to meet their expectations, nor can they go forward to support a new bloom.
Breaking my own suppression on demand, even as the tools that might help me break it are removed — access to a vehicle is eliminated, for example — feels like too much of an ask. It is a chicken and egg problem; which comes first, the rebirth of energy or the energy needed to have the tools and attitude I need for rebirth?
Induced or selective depression — suppression — is something every transperson has had to face. I have understood it since I was 19 and a young counsellor told me that I appeared to be depressed, but didn’t fit all the diagnostic criteria. I wasn’t clinically depressed, but clinical suppression isn’t something that is in the DSM.
Rather, suppression is just in the hearts of every transperson who plays small to squeeze themselves through a world where trans is just too freaky to engage.