Its OK to Just Float Right Now Were All Going Through a Hard Time

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Content note: This piece contains mention of suicidal ideation and intent.

You’ve heard how 2020 seems to be challenging everything we know about coping — whether it’s anxiety, anger, uncertainty, or all the above. But the environment of stress that we’re facing now is nothing new. It’s just impacting more people now. Climate change, election, racism… if anything a pandemic has forced us to come to terms with how and why we’ve ignored these issues — and their effects on our mental health — for so long.

ishonest No.313 - Prevent Acne

No.313 - Prevent Acne

Because there’s also more to this deep ocean of emotion than simply #TalkingAboutIt or checking in with someone.

As I write this I’m getting ready to move to a new city. Yep, I’m moving during a pandemic — a double feature event the universe created to make me reevaluate all I’ve ever known about my own coping skills.

It’s funny, though: Whenever I talk about how stressed I am (yeah, moving is stressful), people don’t mention the pandemic (also stressful). Instead, they say, “I heard moving is more stressful than divorce or death.” And as someone with deep suicidal ideation… that f*cking scans.

Getting better at #TalkingAboutIt

Earlier this year I wrote about how connections are built on acceptance of vulnerability, but conveying vulnerability requires having the words and courage to describe what’s going on inside you. As any ever-changing, shape-shifting person (aka pretty much everyone) would know, developing that kind of awareness can be hard as hell.

…when Chester Bennington died by suicide. Something in me responded, just a crack. Then in 2018, when Anthony Bourdain passed, the ice under my feet shattered.

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I didn’t realize it then, but when I was younger and very religious, passive suicidal ideation was a form of comfort. Those “heavy” thoughts would shift into fantasies of life beyond death. It didn’t hurt that my identity at the time was “emo Christian teen,” which meant sharing these thoughts was safe. I either got the reaction “she’s going through an emo phase” or could hide it behind just being really excited about meeting Jesus Christ.

Once I became an agnostic adult, however, sharing those thoughts was frowned upon, labeled either too dark or too heavy. So, for the benefit of others, I taught myself to ignore those feelings. I ignored them for years, siphoning that anxiety and depression into other areas of my life, until 2017 when Chester Bennington died by suicide. Something in me responded, just a crack. Then in 2018, when Anthony Bourdain passed, the ice under my feet shattered.

Suddenly, after a very long time of not, I needed to tread water again.

It’s exhausting to tread and explain at the same time, so if you’re wondering what it’s like, journalist Elly Belle has written a guide that compassionately advocates for a more nuanced way of talking about suicidality.

Rates of suicidal ideation and suicide have been going up, even though stigma has decreased.

ishonest No.232 - Pigmentation & Blemishes

No.232 - Pigmentation & Blemishes

To develop emotional awareness, you have to be honest about the root cause. Sometimes the journey of finding the root is another way to authentically talk about it.

Here’s how we’re #TalkingAboutIt on ishonest this month (and beyond):

How to swim alongside your friends and loved ones

If you’re here primarily as a listening partner, one of the most supportive things you can do is this: Move away from defining help solely as positive thinking or action. That’s still the stigma talking. Instead, ask the person how they want to talk, if they even want to talk, and stay with them when they can’t tread anymore.

There have been many times this year when I felt too tired to tread — when, because of the pandemic, all my flotation devices (a term Anna Borges coined to describe the tools for managing suicidality) were out of reach. When that happens, there is often only one thing left to save me: floating myself.

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When you’re floating, your ears are underwater, so it can be hard to hear the other person, but this muffle is necessary for focus. If I’ve resorted to floating, it means I don’t have the capacity to tread, swim, or act on advice — and I need the other person to recognize that. To see what I’m going through, hear why I’m going through it, and just acknowledge that staying alive is all I’m aiming to do right now.

There isn’t any shame in floating, in just surviving.

If you’ve never been in the “survival” mindset before, this article on time- moving vs. ego-moving by journalist Kelly Yeo might help. Experts theorize that these two mindsets can (potentially) help people navigate difficult bumps in their mental health journeys. Although this concept is still in early stages of research and doesn’t have practical implementations, the idea of it has taught me to develop a lot of much-needed self-compassion.

It’s OK to float because I know when I put my head in the water that people I love have told me they’re ready to watch over me until I’m strong enough to tread again.

For those who often feel alone in this experience, I hope this series makes you feel seen.

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