Kate Bornstein has had a profound effect on my life in a way she may never know (unless I decide to get brave and tweet this post @ her).
In September, I saw Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger as a part of the Austin Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.
In the film, she talks about her book Hello Cruel World which offers 101 alternatives to suicide. Bornstein basically says that she doesn’t know why anyone shouldn’t kill themselves, but she might be able to offer a way to make your life more worth living, whatever that means and whatever it takes.
It was advice repeated several times throughout the film: make your life more worth living.
As someone who’s survived a suicide attempt, that thought, that idea, that phrase has proved instrumental in helping me get back on track in a productive way.
Because as we all know, life doesn’t always go as planned. And as someone predisposed to depression, when things start going wrong and I start to feel overwhelmed, it’s easy for my brain to move to this space of, “Why am I still alive if I’m only going to X?” Whether that X is working at a call center or struggling to pay rent.
Whenever I feel like I’m not making the most of this second chance, it weighs on me. In an existential way. I haven’t had any suicidal ideations since I got out of the hospital 7 years ago. But even being hip deep in depression can be quite deep enough.
Bornstein’s advice gave me another way out. Instead of sinking further into depression, feeling that I’m wasting this time and not amounting to anything worth being alive for, all I have to do is grasp onto one thing, no matter how small, that could make this situation better.
I don’t have to fix everything. But being able to think, “How can I make my life more worth living?” pulls me up instead of down. It helps me clarify the area putting the most stress on my psyche, so I can focus my energy on how to change that.
It doesn’t even mean I know any faster. Sometimes I don’t know what I can do for weeks or months. It still takes time to sort out the root cause of dissatisfaction. But thinking that I could possibly do something and wondering what that might be gives me a sense of power in what would otherwise feel like a hopeless situation.
Asking, “How can I make my life more worth living?” allows me to imagine a life that’s better than the one I have now, in a way my depression never could.
It’s still hard to live a life that isn’t as worth living as you’d like sometimes. But even that glimmer of hope some days can be enough to sustain me.
It’s hard to stay grounded in your desires, sometimes, when the world wants to pull you one way or the other. I’ve found that when I’m feeling overwhelmed and out of control, it’s because I’m allowing the needs of others to factor too largely in my lifescape. It’s because I’m giving too much – more than is sustainable.
Asking, “How can I make my life more worth living?” redirects my energy back to myself, giving me space to think about what my needs are and if or how I could privilege them more fully. I’m always afraid of being selfish, when really, I am probably being too accomodating.
Plus, Bornstein said in the film that no one has to worry about the cosmic consequences of making their lives more worth living because she’s willing to shoulder the weight of any transgressions. “You do whatever it takes to make your life worth living,” Bornstein said. “Anything at all. It can be illegal, immoral, self-destructive. There’s one rule – don’t be mean.”
My favorite part of this mantra, if you will, is the HOW, which implies that I can. I’m not asking whether or if I could make my life more worth living. I’m asking how.
These thoughts came to me today as I’m thinking about making another shift in my life, and wondering what it might look like. I think having someone else make the imperitive helps, too. Knowing that someone else out there cares if my life is worth living and wants it to be so.
Now, I’m sure all my loved ones want my life to be as worth living as it can be. But there’s something about the visual recall of that moment at the end of the film. Something about Bornstein’s passion and conviction that my life deserves to be worth living which still calls to me, six months later.
If I start to feel hopeless or like it’s too hard or there’s nothing I can do to fix anything, if I can just remember her voice, it’s like a buoy, keeping me from sinking down.
I’m not sure at what point I became conscious that this was helping me. But I would remember that film, seemingly out of the blue, and just thinking about it would give me strength. And in the last few months, I’ve been trying to keep that phrase more in the forefront of my mind on purpose.
It feels like my life is an onion. I was lost for so long. But now I’m just peeling off all the layers of my life that aren’t working for me, one by one. I have a sense of purpose again. A sense of direction. What am I doing with my life? Finding ways to make it more worth living.
And maybe that can be enough.