When the rainbow is not enuf

How did I know that someday — at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere — the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?” -Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Note: this was originally written during the final week of March 2017.

I am writing this on a bad day. I am sitting in a hammock in the middle of a university I love on a warm Florida spring day and all I want to do is scream. I am listening to Radiohead’s Kid A, which has been my bad day music for some time now, evoking peaceful black mindscapes with hints of color in the distance. Besides the title track which I need so much, songs like “How to Disappear Completely” and “Optimistic” allow me to float away from the dearth of feeling or the crushing dread consuming me at the moment.

I am writing this because writing helps and talking to people helps but I always worry that when I talk to people like this they will not want to talk to me anymore. The worst you can do is stop reading, and I will never know. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is telling me “Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon” and my heart, which for hours has been beating too fast too-fast toofast is starting to slow down.

My heart started beating rapidly when the news of a second Stetson student death in a weekend reached my inbox. I did not know either Dane Belcher or Andy Thornton, but we all chose Stetson, and that will bind us eternally. In the wake of their deaths by suicide, the pain in my chest and the air around Stetson’s campus, I reflect upon the steps I have taken since I was thirteen years old and tried to hurt myself. Since my father saw me after the attempt and said I looked like I had been in a fight. Everything I have done since then to care for myself centers around love.

Without exaggeration, my friends have kept me alive. In the worst moments, all of those nights where the tears did not stop and the —

It is four days later now. I never finished the previous thought because a friend of mine texted me to say she was on the verge of hurting herself. I was sitting in a hammock trying to calm down and write when the messages came, so I told her to come talk to me. After an hour long conversation, I needed to go work and eventually this essay stood on my mind but I could not bring myself to write it. Not on the two planes, where I read a book where a child hurts himself, nor in my downtime in Louisville, KY. Like many of the things filling my mind with static sorrow, I could not escape this but I refused to face it.

I am writing again because friends, like those who have saved my life, grounded me in a conversation about bottling up our feelings and pretending our challenges are somehow less valid than other people’s. I figured I had waited too long already to finish this. I knew that if I did not finish this it would become yet another of the demons which turn my joy to ashes.

I spent much of Monday worrying about my language. That morning, faculty and administrators repeatedly told me to watch what I said as part of efforts to help prevent any further tragedies. I still do not have the proper words to describe the tornado which tore through me Monday, but I can talk about the thing all of us can do to help those around us. We can be there to support each other.

Many of my friends come to me in their times of need. Monday I went to them. One of them gave me a big hug and choked up trying to say something like “I don’t even want to think about losing you” to myself and another of our closest friends. A Stetson graduate took me for ice cream and let me ramble in her car. People texted me to see if I needed anything from them. Connections I have made online told me I am loved and sent me messages of strength. A professor caught me on the verge of tears and asked if she could give me a hug, then gave me a second one for good measure after making me promise to tell her about this convention I am currently attending.

All of these people heard me. They saw my struggle and they made their presence and love known. They cared for me, be it in a few sentences or a chunk of their time. I am incredibly lucky to have these friends, but every one of us can be those friends for the people we care about. Those voices in the darkness reminding us that there is joy and compassion for us in the hearts of others. That we matter and are seen. That the road ahead is not one we must travel alone.

I do not know if I have written anything of value to anyone in these pages. If my friend and copy editor decides I have not, you will never even read it. I must confess that this essay may have done more for me, my heart pounding still as I finish it, than anyone else. I just hope you know that you are loved and beautiful and deserve a happy life as much as anyone.

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