I started changing my dating behaviour about 1.5 years ago, and it’s become clearer and clearer to me that what I want – need – from people in my life is stability. Reliability. Strength. Not as in, being strong for me – but enabling me to be able to, give me the strength to, the power to, the courage to take care of whatever I need to do.

(cn depression, trauma, suicide, spoilers for The Night House)

This ain’t the hottest of all takes for social relationships, but it’s certainly unintuitive to me, because my isolation trauma has always pushed me to try to squeeze out as much positivity, emotion, hype, affection, love as possible out of every connection that I had because tomorrow it’s probably gonna be gone again. And, partly because being a neurodivergent traumatised political queer person isn’t the most simple person to be around, but also partly as a self-fulfilling prophecy, it has so far proven to be true. That kind of sentiment, that you don’t really trust a connection, people can feel that, and it feels weird. And trying to push the affection out of it is literally being pushy. That’s uncomfortable at best, and eventually everyone cuts it. I don’t do it consciously, but as self-fulfilling prophecies work, it happens, it confirms itself, the emotions don’t change, and it all repeats.

I know how this process works, and I know how to intervene. I know I need to make smarter decisions, even if they’re unintuitive, and in the moment where I need to make one trust myself to have made a correct assessment from a distance. That way, better experiences happen and cycles get broken. I know this works because it has worked. My social life has improved and gotten more reliable in the last few years, and the pattern of people I get closer to has changed too. That is inherently good not because those people were bad, but because breaking cycles is inherently good, and getting closer to people who aren’t just the old pattern doesn’t mean I can’t get closer to people who would confirm to that pattern anymore. In fact, making healthier experiences can help me live those connections in more healthy ways too.

But then, the universe happens. I make a mistake – a grave mistake – sometimes, unforgiveable mistakes. I hurt someone, not knowing even though retrospectively I should have, and the connection is gone. And not just it, but others follow, as a long-term repercussion. Mistakes I make unknowingly have always followed me through my entire life. Part of the reason is that I confide in everyone who’s important to me, because it’s a part of my emotional landscape, but also because I feel I’m not allowed not to. A friend told me I need to stop because the world isn’t ready for what she considers the unearthly, but more importantly unhealthy and unrealistic, ethical standards I have towards myself. I don’t agree with her; other people do, in their own words (usually not as hyperbolically).

One base ethical principle of mine is to do what I can’t not do. But in a world with group dynamics, terrible communication, traumata and unjust systems that only make everyone who’s involved hurt even more, sometimes there is no correct decision to make. I was never able to accept this, and for the longest time, I didn’t have to. But extraordinary circumstances push the boundaries of what any ethical principle can be applied to. I find myself being paralysed. I look up to the sky and ask, what the fuck do you want from me? I don’t even believe in God. Sometimes a thought is so strong, you need archetypical acting to let it exist.

A friend who’s been there a handful of times in the moments where this escalated has always only repeated the reassurance that sometimes, there is no right decision. In the moment, it helps, but outside of it, it achieves the opposite. I need to be able to believe that there are correct ways to do things because I need to believe that all of this shit can go somewhere. I look at an imaginary utopia, a world without capitalism, the patriarchy, transphobia – any systemic oppression, really – and, most importantly, without traumata, and I ask myself, what can I do to help us get there?

I must believe that we can get there. Not in my lifetime. But in the very, very long run, I need to believe that we can improve. Sometimes I can’t even believe that people want to improve; themselves, the world, other people’s lives. In those moments, I can barely hold on, but I can, because I can still trust in myself to want to do the right thing. But when I start to doubt that I am able to do the right thing – the thing that people I respect would say are the right thing – then everything falls apart. It shakes my very fundament. Nothing suggests more distinctly that I am not able to do the right thing if there is no right thing. That is a mutually exclusive status. No way around, no amount of emotional labour or political work or accountability or self-improvement or karma points to do anything about it.

When that fear becomes conviction, that makes me suicidal. Almost always, that’s just a baseline emotional vibe behind the breakdown I know I’ll get out of. But sometimes, in the worst moments, when I can see vividly how much damage exists in the world because of actions I took, no matter how much people tell me how immeasurably I’ve improved their lives, when the doubt that I deserve happiness is being confirmed by people’s actions to whom I’m a political topic more than a person, when my depression is so strong that all my conclusions about things are being sufficiently distorted and I once again can’t call anyone because everyone’s always busy, and, most importantly, when I stop being able to believe that there can be a world in which situations like this don’t happen anymore, then that turns into my emotional reality.

Before my severe depression ended in 2018, I was suicidal a lot – sometimes twice daily for weeks. That all stopped. But sometimes, it comes back. The feeling reaches back out, and it feels so familiar. The neuropathic pathways to make the conclusions that lead from desperation to suicidal ideation are paved; they’re overgrown, but walk the old path often enough and the cement is re-revealed.

A horror movie I found recently, The Night House, one of the most terrible titles for a horror movies I’ve ever seen, has a main character, Beth, who was clinically dead for a few minutes as a young adult. What she saw when she was dead was nothing. Literally Nothing – like an entity, the ultimate terribleness. She’s suffered from depression ever since, but her husband was her counterweight for 15 years. But, and this kicks off the movie, he kills himself, and, as we find out, he does so because the Nothing has tried to use him to get her back to it. On the metaphorical level, the husband was mentally ill and had always hidden it from her in order to protect her, but eventually succumbed, and with the kind of mental health landscape that she has, she builds an inner supernatural narrative around it. (It works very well as a movie, in my opinion, and hits both on the narrative and the metaphorical level.)

When the movie reaches its climax, the Nothing is about to try to get Beth to kill herself. In the real world, she has stepped onto the boat her husband shot himself on, with his gun. It’s not hard to see what happened there, in “actual reality”. But her best friend and her neighbour, two people constantly worried about her and how she’s taking her husband’s death, are near, come running and shouting, she hears them, gets pulled back into reality and allows herself to be embraced by people who love her. She puts down the gun herself, but she did so because she was reminded that there is a life that she can live.

When the narrative approached this point, I said, out loud, in my living room where noone but me was sitting, “Oh my god”. I knew what they were doing. I knew what was gonna happen before it did, because I know this trope, that in desperation, we need to fall back on the people who love us. I’m far enough beyond my severe depression that I can take this as a hopeful outlook, but it hits me still for the same reason for which I’ve hated this trope for most of my life. That reason is that that narrative is the only one that exists. The people who lived through hardship and come out alive the other end always had people who helped them. I’ve not been literally alone my entire life, and in fact I’ve had a small number of people who have improved my life significantly and who helped me become a person I appreciate much more than I ever did before, but I’ve never had reliability. People tell me I can call them if I need to. But then I do, and they don’t pick up. Or they hang up on me because they need to work tomorrow. After I called them because my partner hit me.

What am I supposed to take away from that? What happens to the people who go through hardship but have noone to fall back on? The fact that the only narrative that exists here is the one in The Night House suggests to me that it is unimagineable to be able to get through life alive if you continue to be on your own. And this is psychologically confirmed too; humans aren’t made to be alone. We need to be able to get by alone for a time, but noone can honestly think that we should be able to be happy alone. It’s great if you can make that happen too. But you don’t lie on your deathbed in an isolated mountain bed after a life of living in the woods alone and die with a smile on your face. There are gonna be people who will disagree with me, who say this exists, and I don’t believe them. Any person who does have an end like that had people in their life earlier.

Where is my narrative? What is my narrative? What do I have to do to get out of this alive?

I stick to my ethical principles so rigorously because I’m the one who will always have to live with myself if I don’t. Betraying what I fundamentally believe in would kill me too, it would destroy the most essential parts of my identity. But what happens if staying true to my principles and staying alive seem oppositional? Or if there actually is no choice at all that my ethical principles are able to be applied to? In the past few years, I have had several choices where one option fundamentally betrayed part of my ethical fundamentals while another fundamentally betrayed another part.

In those moments, I became paralysed. I lose faith, I lose hope, I lose identity. In the worst ones, I became suicidal. And in the worst one, I tried to kill myself. And noone came running. Noone was there. There was noone I could call. There was noone I could talk to afterwards. There was just nothing. I’m still alive not because I had character development and rethought my situation, but because I wasn’t able to do it. It felt like a physical barrier, as if I was a computer trying to divide by zero. It wasn’t gonna happen, and I can’t imagine that ever changing. I haven’t tried again and, from what I know about trauma, probably won’t, because trauma gets better with time, exposure and work, and I have tried to work on this as much as I possibly can, to try to not cause even more damage. I hope it’s enough.

I’ve had a number of people in the last few years who I’ve had very strong feelings for. All of them went away. One just disappeared – I have no idea if they’re even still alive. One wasn’t able to live with the damage I had caused, even though they emphasised with my situation.

And one even more important one than the two of those just… didn’t act. There was all the emotion, intention, affection and appreciation, but nothing happened. They were not able to find it in themselves to even try to spend time with me even though they say they think about me all the time and are terrified of even the thought of losing me. I tried to keep that connection alive in any way I possibly could because I thought I must be the problem so I must make it easier and easier. But nothing worked. Eventually – and this is character development – I realised that that thought establishes the premise that I’m so hard to deal with that I need to sacrifice so much just in order to be able to be around, and that that’s not an okey way to think about yourself.

Of course that’s how I feel anyway, and it’s been often confirmed. I’ve had many people tell me they have some interest or even feelings but aren’t able to put in the work they think I require. A negative self-image is impossible to work out if you constantly get confirmed in it. But that’s why this was character development – because I made the decision that that’s not how I can tolerate to feel about myself. Even if I still do. I have been confirmed, not by people telling me but by analysis of my own feelings and behaviour, that this was the correct decision. Noone can be allowed to make me feel that way, and my intuition has already started shifting to ensure this.

When another person, as important to me as the last one, started to spend more time with me and voiced an uncomfortableness of a behaviour pattern, I figured out why I have that pattern – and then said, you’re gonna need to have some patience with me. That’s a complete novum; previously I had always asked for more time, assured my intentions and feelings, tried to prove change on the spot and emphasised on my awareness that whatever the discussion is about needs to change. This is the way better approach. That person appreciated it, felt better anyway – and the connection has only grown stronger since.

Making smart decisions against your intuition is how you get out of cycles. But in order to be brave enough to make these decisions, you need courage; I need to know that if I fail, I won’t die, can recharge, get myself back up by being supported and loved the way I want and need to be, and then can try again. So stability and reliability – giving me exactly that feeling; that conviction, that strength – is the most valuable thing people in my life can give me.

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