Beyond Shades of Gray

By Sharleigh ThomsonSeptember 16, 2017

We often talk about suicide as something clear and defined. You’ve either attempted or you haven’t. But the truth is, there’s a gray zone. It’s a place where you’re desperate to escape from everything and being willing to die to do so. A place where you might have the means, the will, the plan, the note—everything
but the follow through.

I got stuck in this gray zone for quite some time. Maybe because of how silent and stigmatized the conversation around passive suicidal ideation is. Or maybe because somewhere between my brain and my mouth the meaning of what I was trying to say kept getting lost. Or maybe there just weren’t enough syllables in the English language to contain the gravity of what I was going through.

In any case, the weight of the gray is what landed me, sobbing, in the waiting room of the university counseling center.

Thereafter, I started therapy. Talk therapy. The primary concept of which is to talk about your feelings and experiences. I’m not a talker. I’m a listener, and a reader, and a Netflix-viewer.

Nevertheless, I tried.

I sat on the tiny couch every week and tried desperately to spit out a sentence. My counselor, bless his heart, was and is incredibly patient with my inability to vocalize. We tried tons of things to get me to open up. At the top of the list was writing out what I was feeling.

But I was stubborn. I believed that writing was some sort of cop out. Like if I couldn’t say it out loud, it didn’t deserve to be heard. I kept coming home from therapy in tears. The words I was clinging to still stuck in my throat. I was trying, but I couldn’t understand how to make what I said match what I was thinking. I couldn’t make my words hold weight.

I couldn’t talk.

So after yet another major suicidal episode, I finally gave in and did what I should have done all along. I wrote.

It started out dark and emotional—a list of grievances and apologies and self-loathing. But it quickly became something more. Something personal, and beautiful, and hopeful.

I wrote the spines off of four journals. I discovered that lined paper makes my hands go silent. I learned that bullet points can break down my problems in a snap, and that sometimes it is just as therapeutic to stare at a blank page as it is to fill it.

I wrote plays and poetry until the spacebar fell off my keyboard. I published blog posts about my personal experiences with mental health and suicide. I put my hurt on paper, where it became real and tangible and conversational.

I wrote doors and walked through them. I wrote open the windows and poured all the hope I had onto parchment.

I wrote my way out of destruction and started rebuilding myself page by page.

It’s been two years since I started therapy and I’m not done yet. I still find myself silent more days than not. And there are days when my thoughts and memories are a foreign language I can read but not respond to.

But something has changed. I still feel myself going dark, but now I am willing to keep creating things and searching for hope when things get rough. I am finding ways to make myself heard. And at long last I don’t feel like I’m writing my epitaph every time I open my notebook.

I found writing, and in doing so I found a way to keep myself from getting lost in the gray. I found the tools to keep myself moving forward and to heal my own hurt. I found something that makes me feel real and alive. It wasn’t easy, but I found it. And the reason I was able to find it was because I stayed.

Because I was made for more than feeling small and numb and wordless. I was made to live in technicolor—not shades of gray.

So on the days that I cannot empty my mind  into the air, I will open my journals. I will point to the pages and say, “Look, this is where I spent my courage. I am not speaking, but do not count me among the silent. I am screaming the only way I know how.”

This is the year of writing unabashedly. Of being unashamed and unfiltered in my work. It is a brave, reckless act of self love.

This is the year of finding out what I am capable of—what I was made for.

If you’re lost, if you’re trapped in the silence—please know that there is a way out. And it does not involve you leaving. It involves you staying.

Staying through the pain, the silence, and the darkness.

Staying through the snow, the wind, and the thaw.

Staying to see how your story will come to life.

Maybe writing isn’t how your story needs to be told. Maybe it’s painting, or running, or sign language, or dance, or music.

But whatever the way, keep trying to find it. Whatever the obstacles, don’t stop until you’ve found a way to make yourself heard even when you are silent.

Don’t stop until you’ve found what you were made for. It’s out there, I promise.

You just have to stay and find it.

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Comments (4)

  1. Katie

    Thank you. So very much.

    Reply  |  
  2. G

    When staying becomes unbearable, writing helps. Thank you.

    Reply  |  
  3. April

    I noticed that I use writing to to just come out of my shell about my depression and come out of my shell also about my writing skills. I use writing as a coping strategy. When I feel like I am going insane I write. When I am in a quiet space I can write for days, weeks or even months.

    Reply  |  
  4. Carol Frutig

    Your writing is beautiful. Authentic. Real. I’ve dealt with depression for over 30 years now and my “staying” power is waning. I’m not ready to stop just yet though. Reading your blogs help. I am old. I feel old. I use all of my resources, psychiatrist, therapy, medication. Staying is the goal. Finding a reason to “stay” is the quest. What u write is inspirational. I understand. I know I have “to stay to find it.” I have been looking for a long time. (lol) But, I will keep looking. Keep writing. You have hit a nerve here. It all helps. Thanks

    Reply  |  
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