Where Do We Go From Here?

My friend and upstairs neighbor committed suicide a week ago and it feels a little like a bomb has exploded in the center of my community. Watching my friends struggle to process the news and dealing with complicated feelings all while trying to make sure that my friend’s partner is well supported has been… difficult. Amelia and I weren’t all that close of friends, especially in the last few months or so, but hir death echoed like a shockwave across the community. I feel responsible for us not having been closer friends and at the same time, I’m not sure what I could have done differently.

As a survivor of childhood sexual assault, it is a challenge for me to be around overt displays of sexual behavior. I have a feeling some of my friends consider me to be rather prudish about sex, but it’s just really complicated for me. Even when it is modeled in healthy ways, it feels unsafe or at the least deeply uncomfortable for me to be around people who are being really flirty and aggressively sexual. Amelia often made me feel triggered in this way. Watching hir relationships with people often left me feeling vulnerable in a way that made me feel unsafe. I had planned on trying to set some clear boundaries around the specific behaviors that made me feel unsafe, but I also didn’t want to cause hir more distress when ze was already so overcome by depression so this conversation was never able to happen.

Now I have regrets. I regret that this conversation was never able to happen because it makes things feel unsettled, unresolved. And now instead of mourning for the loss of a friend, it feels like I lost a friend who could have been a much closer friend if it weren’t for my hangups around sex and sexuality. I regret that I was unable to be a better support for hir when ze was still alive because I was afraid of being triggered. I regret keeping my distance as much as I did because I was trying to protect myself. And I feel deeply alone in all of this because it feels like everyone else’s relationships with Amelia were much simpler. I feel like I can’t say “I miss Amelia but our relationship was difficult at times and it’s complicated” without coming across as a giant asshole.

My therapist reassured me yesterday that I’m not a giant asshole, but somehow having someone who gets paid to listen to me tell me that doesn’t dissolve those feelings. Of course she says I’m not an asshole. It’s part of her job to help hold me together. I don’t know how to resolve my feelings around this. I feel deeply guilty and angry and oftentimes very alone. How do you get support from people who you’re afraid are going to judge you harshly, even as you feel you probably deserve it? Is it possible to have imposter syndrome when it comes to grief?

And if that weren’t enough to deal with, I’m also struggling with the guilt I have over the realization that a few years ago, I could be the cause of all of this grief in my loved ones. There was one day back in 2012 where I had a plan in place. I was ready to die and all I needed was for my partner to leave for work and leave me alone in the apartment. I had made up my mind and the only thing that kept me from dying that day was my partner seeing something in me and knowing that I needed help immediately. She didn’t go to work that day. Instead we went to the emergency room and I signed myself into a locked psychiatric unit for a month. But I can’t stop thinking about what would have happened if she hadn’t realized where I was. She would have come home from work and it would have been too late. But when you’re in that mindset, when you’re ready to die, the consequences of your actions don’t register. I know that for me, I wasn’t thinking in that moment of anything except ending my pain in the only way I knew how.

So how do I move from this guilt, this anger at myself, into a place of healing and moving on? I know it has just been a week, but this feels like the longest week I’ve ever had. I feel stuck in my grief and alone with my guilt. How do I let people in without inappropriately centering the conversation on myself? It all just feels like some horrible dream from which I can’t wake up. How do I be a better support to the people I care about so that this doesn’t have to repeat itself in the future? How do I be a better person to myself? If only I had all the answers.

(Image description: A photo of my right wrist with a tattoo of a semi-colon nestled between a sinus EKG rhythm)

2 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here?

  1. You are generous, kind, loving human being with a compassionate soul toward others. We haven’t had many in depth conversations in recent years, though I deeply relate to many of the experiences you have written about and can understand the instinct to go into certain thought patterns and cycles of emotion that seem natural as it is happening. Then, there are times in my life like this moment. Right now. My heart is breaking for you because you’ve lost a friend, no matter how complicated, and because I recognize how harshly you are judging yourself about hir suicide. I think it is natural for empathetic, compassionate people to consider the needs of others before their personal needs. Unfortunately, living that way is not healthy or sustainable. Your decision to create some distance in your friendship with Amelia sounds like it came from a place of self-care and to provide the time and space you needed to determine what kind of changes or boundaries felt important to introduce into the friendship so you could feel more safe. That’s a great thing, my friend.

    Making healthy change in life can be very challenging and be exhausting sometimes. And you have been doing it. As I read all of the questions you’ve been asking yourself this past week about how you could have been more supportive, what you could have done differently, etc, each of your questions resonated with me because I’ve wrestled with these same kinds of questions. Some of them very recently. The answer is a hard pill to swallow, and it is also the truth. There is nothing you could have done differently. You couldn’t have saved hir. If ze was determined to follow through with ending hir life, nothing would have changed that. I considered my own attempt while thinking about that and it rings true for me. I imagine if I had been in a room with a partner that did not leave me and took me for psychiatric help, that would have been the only thing to keep me safe.

    Going back to the questions running through your head. They are very shame based questions that make it sound like you believe you did something wrong. You identify the feeling of guilt. Amelia’s death is a very sad tragedy, of course. You did not cause it, you did not suggest it, you did not help hir carry it out, you had nothing to do with the decision ze made. On a related note, as survivors of sexual assault and people in the process of learning how to navigate the world with any kind of mental illness, whether it is anxiety, depression, bipolar, a personality disorder, eating disorder, etc, in a place of relative stability, we need to remember to care for self first if there is any hope of being able to offer help to others. It’s like they tell you as you prepare to fly, in the event that the oxygen masks come down, put your own mask on before assisting your child or anyone around you.

    You have a beautiful heart. I’m so sorry you are experiencing this and I hope that you begin to heal in time. Feel free to reach out if you ever feel like it. Much love ❤️

  2. You don’t pay me jack, and I don’t think you are a giant asshole. I also think that it’s entirely normal to feel guilt over not doing enough, and probably each of hir friends are feeling tremendous guilt. Your guilt is overshadowed by shame, which, when you’ve survived childhood trauma seems to be pretty much an integral part of every. f(*&ing. emotion. ever. But I suspect that others in hir circle have trauma backgrounds, and feel shame over not doing enough, either for specific reasons or without even knowing what exactly they feel ashamed about.

    The main thing I think about while reading this, though, is: I’m not sorry you kept some amount of distance from hir. I’m sorry you -had- to do so to maintain your own stability, and it certainly wasn’t hir fault you had to, but I think there’s a good chance that, if you had pushed yourself to spend more time with hir, you yourself would have spiraled into so much additional anxiety and depression that you might have tried to kill yourself, and succeeded, and it probably wouldn’t have prevented hir death, anyway, and then your community would be mourning the loss of two people they love, not one.

    Sometimes we are helpless. And that is SO. F*&^ING. HARD. to just sit with.

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