The “It Gets Better” project was originally created to address the issue of suicidal ideation among GLBTQ youth. The purpose of the project was to highlight that if you hold off on committing suicide, things will eventually get better and you won’t want to end your life anymore. You can progress from being a struggling teen to a successful adult, and all you have to do is hold out for some hope.
But what if it doesn’t get better?
Or what if it gets better for a little while, but then gets worse?
The major critiques surrounding the “It Gets Better” project focus on the lack of intersectionality and the lack of a concrete plan regarding how to make things get better. But as a disabled person who struggles with daily passive suicidal ideation, I’d like to point to another problem that the movement doesn’t address: sometimes, due to a combination of trauma and genetic factors, suicidal ideation is symptomatic of a mental health condition and is something you will struggle with for an extended or life-long period of time; sometimes, due to the patriarchy, systematic oppression, and societal discrimination, you will always be experiencing the triggers that can lead to suicidal ideation.
Let me give you an example from my personal life.
I’ve been in treatment for my disability/mental health concern since I was nine years old. When I was twelve, I started a medication regime, and when I was fourteen, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, some of my symptoms started shifting, and a medication provider in a psychiatric hospital suggested that I might actually have borderline personality disorder (I’ve never been formally diagnosed with BPD because of the stigma surrounding it in the mental health community, but that’s a whole other can of worms). Regardless of what my actual diagnosis is, once of my symptoms is consistent passive suicidal ideation. Anywhere from a couple of times a week to a couple of times a day, the thought crosses my mind that I am worthless and everyone would be better off if I killed myself. I sometimes (uh, actually, quite often) wish I would die in my sleep, get cancer, or get in a car accident. Sometimes the despair is so intense that I break down into racking sobs and try to sleep all day because sleeping is a dry run for death. I have a plan on how to carry out my ideation, but I’m in a good enough place emotionally that my providers and I trust that I am not going to act on this plan, and if I do get close to acting on it, they (and I) trust that I would reach out and get help before things got out of hand. Despite being “well” enough to not act on suicidal ideation when I have the means to, it’s still pretty disturbing to experience this level of worthlessness and wanting to die on a regular basis.
In addition to my psychological symptoms, society’s prejudice against disabled and neuro-a-typical people impacts me greatly. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t discuss my diagnosis or treatment in public because it’s wrong to do so; I’ve been told that having children would be akin to child abuse because no child deserves a parent who has a mental health concern; I’ve even been told that I would be “a good candidate for Jack Kevorkian’s services”. I frequently am bombarded with incredibly problematic messages from both society and people I know personally that imply that I have no inherent worth because, at this moment in time, I am not able to maintain gainful employment and contribute to our capitalist society with taxes and expensive purchases. Instead, I am a drain on taxpayers because I am taking their hard-earned money through handouts from the government. Even if I’m having a “good day”, hearing these toxic messages constantly can trigger passive suicidal ideation. It’s a no-win situation.
The long and short of it? For about seven or eight years, “it” has not gotten better.
But I’m still here.
The point I’m trying to make is that the type of passive suicidal ideation (or active suicidal ideation, for that matter) that stems from trauma (sexual, physical, and social/societal) and from a pre-disposed chemical imbalance is a little bit like diabetes. It’s a tired and trite comparison, I know, but hear me out: for some people, the type of diabetes they have can go away with a drastic change in diet and exercise regimes. For some people, the type of suicidal ideation they experience can go away if they seek treatment and work on their self-esteem. For other people, the type of diabetes they have is permanent and they always need to be monitoring their blood sugar and maintaining insulin levels so that they don’t die. For other people, the type of suicidal ideation they experience will always be there, but as long as they practice self-care and actively seek treatment, they can cope with it.
Some people believe the apocalypse is coming. For some, it’s Biblical; for others, it has to do with zombies, or maybe Donald Trump. One thing I can tell you is that if shit ever hits the fan to that degree, the coping skills that a person has to keep from killing themselves while experiencing life-long passive suicidal ideation are invaluable. Your mental health concern may not go away or “get better”. Or, maybe, like the way you feel about Donald Trump being elected president, things will get worse (either until the election is over or, heaven forbid, until his 4 – 8 years as president are up), and then they’ll get better a little bit later. But you know what? Even if “it” does not get better, you can still be a BAMF and get through it. Saying “it gets better” can be a bit of a misnomer, a bit ableist, and a bit of a “white girl feminism” philosophy. However, it is possible to cope (sucky, maybe, but totally possible!) and to keep on fighting, even if all you have to fight is a stick when you’re stuck in the woods. Healing is not linear, folks. Holding yourself up to society’s standards of what a neurotypical person should and should not experience regarding emotions isn’t helpful, either (especially if you are not neurotypical yourself).
It might not “get better”.
But survival is always, always possible.