My Definition of Hero

suicide3   suicide7

I was going to make note of the death by suicide of Robin Williams, but so much of what I might have to say has been said in my series of posts I recently wrote here, here and here.

I cannot know what the layer of complexity of celebrity does to one’s psyche as I’ve never experienced it, nor will I.  I just know as a normal nobody that the despair and sense of nothingness and desperation to make the pain end were palpable in my case, and the selfishness this desire engendered wasn’t pretty, or rational.

Suicide touches us all – at least in the first world countries.  Really, is there a person reading this who hasn’t known someone to commit the act?  In my own case, the first suicide I knew of was the mother of a school friend, and then I knew of several other kids over the years who had parents who killed themselves – talk about selfish!  Yep.  (But hey, I’m not judging as I was in that exact position years later.)

When I got older, luckily I never had a friend commit suicide (although that is a terrible phenomena for lots of teenagers), but I remember my mother had a colleague from work who did kill herself.  My mother’s reaction was much scarier to me than the shock of it – she said she understood it and could see doing it herself if things got too bad.  Well, she’d already tried when I was eight years old, for gods’ sake, so even though she did a half-assed job of it, she wasn’t repulsed by it.

My father’s reaction to suicide is exactly that – repugnance.  He’s had tough times, too – lost two wives to death (not by suicide, but illness), lost his job and family and house.  And he tells me that he never, not once, thought of harming himself.  I don’t think that makes him some sort of hero, but it is an interesting contrast between my parents and does speak to why they fundamentally have such different world views (and are long divorced.)

As these two’s daughter, I admit to swinging both ways.  Mostly, as a former mental health professional, I have a tremendous amount of compassion for the state of despair that underlies suicide.  But I’m not quite as sympathetic to the act itself because of the devastation left in its wake.

When one is in the pit, they are usually not thinking about that devastation.  About the wife or father or child who will find the body in that state, who will panic and try desperately to revive their loved one, or have a sense of their world shifting on its axis in one horrible moment of thudding reality as they see a head blown off, or smell piss and shit from a body hanging from a belt, having let go of its sphincters.  These are some of the realities that the person wanting to just end their emotional (or sometimes physical) pain doesn’t take into account usually.

And the ripple effect of this devastation – no person thinking of suicide can anticipate this.  One suicide in a family can make others so much more acceptable and then that much more likely to occur.  Kurt Cobain had a long family history of suicide.  Not uncommon.  Probably also a long family history of depression and/or substance abuse to self medicate, too.

I, too, come from a family history of both unipolar and bipolar depression.  I’ve certainly suffered from it and so have my son and mother – well, I’ve written a fair amount about her bipolar illness.

The one thing that makes my mother my hero is the following – unlike my father who has a strong, visceral repugnance to suicide and self-harm, my mother does not.  She views it as rational, acceptable, understandable – even a release in some cases.  But up to now she’s made a conscious decision to NOT do it.  I’m not saying she isn’t still flirting with idea; she certainly is, as witnessed by last year’s contact with the State of Oregon (a tragic/comedy of errors apparently as nobody she talked to even knew what the hell she was talking about!).  But flirting and doing are two different things.  And she’s been clear – she doesn’t want to kill herself because of the effect it will inevitably have on me and my son, her grandson.

She is less concerned about me at this point, but she’s very concerned about her grandson.  I can appreciate this, as he’s quite frankly, more volatile than I am.  For one thing, he’s younger – for another, as a man, his choice of method would most likely be more fatal than a woman’s (this is only going by statistics, but I’ve talked to him about it and what he’s mentioned is no doubt close to 100% fatal.)

So my mom, my crazy and crazy-making mother who will be 80 on August 29, doesn’t want to create a family legacy of suicide.  And for that, she is and always will be my hero.  She is doing something that is, for her, extremely hard, because every time she’s in the pit, she wants to die.  Every single time – even on medication.  But she’s learned over time that her pit is temporary and if she can just ride it out, she will feel better eventually.  When eventually is may not be predictable, but eventually will come.

So that’s my definition of hero.

I do feel sad that Robin Williams couldn’t hang on a bit longer.  I do understand both intellectually and on a gut level, the despair that drove him, but I don’t think I could ever say he’s a hero, because he has either perpetuated a family history (I don’t know his family background with mental illness/substance abuse/alcoholism/suicide) or perhaps even worse, now created a legacy of suicide which is not the thing any parent wants to pass on to their kids.  His pain is over – his family’s is only continuing.



A Question of Suicide – An Answer of Life – Part 3

In an effort to wrap up my posts of the last two days, I wanted to talk about a very important point that my journal entry in Part 2 alluded to, but that I didn’t discuss too much.

And that is curiosity. 

The question that I struggled with during this time of despair was one of the tension between control and mystery.  On the one side, having control over my life could mean having control over my death.  Is that always bad?  I don’t know, but for a woman in her mid-30’s not suffering from terminal cancer, it did seem like a pretty draconian solution to a probably temporary problem.  In my case, my depression lasted end-to-end about six to eight weeks, give or take.  And that, by the way, is fairly textbook.

Depression has a familiar pattern, you begin to feel worse, then over time you get to the point of feeling basically nothing, and eventually you start to come out of it.

With major depression, the six to eight weeks is about the maximum an “episode” lasts, although for people with this diagnosis, they can have episode after episode.  In my case, I had this one major episode, and then much less intense, even mild, episodes of depression.  I still have times when I’m on the low end of the mood scale, of course, but these seem pretty normal to me now and rarely last more than a few days or up to a week or so.

But back then, in the middle of all this muck it was hard to keep to the idea that this would probably, on its own, eventually lift and I’d be able to feel again and even feel good again.  So control looked like a viable alternative.

Then there’s the mystery of life.  Which in my case included having to ride out this time and be open to the possibility that it might happen again.  And if I chose to live now, there were no guarantees that the next bout of depression might not be even worse.  Of course, there was also the possibility that it might never ever be as bad, too.  And that, with the tools I was learning in therapy and in life, I might be much happier than I currently was.

That’s the thing about mystery – it’s . . . mysterious and there are no easy answers.  Stuff happens.  Serendipity is allowed.  Maybe you even get to make it to Paris.  Or fall in love again.  Maybe, though, you do get cancer and die in your 40’s.  That’s the mystery of it all.

And then there’s curiosity.  Even in my depths, my curiosity of the future probably saved me most of all.  The glimmer of this – the wondering of how my son would turn out, of how I might change and grow, and even just how the world would change . . . those questions actually kept me anchored in life.

Even when it was hard.  Even when I just didn’t care about any of it.

I have given a lot of thanks for being, essentially, a curious person who is rarely bored.  Or put another way, when I do feel bored, it’s usually because I haven’t been able to engage my curious nature quite yet.  But there’s always something that will pique it eventually.

After all, 20+ years ago I had heard of computers and worked with them, but the internet?  Not so much.  And laptop and tablet computers, iPhones, and kindles – all in the future.  And all things I now use every single day.  The list could go on and on.

Ultimately, my curiosity caused me to hang on until it got better, and to keep working hard on myself.  It doesn’t mean I have ever reached any amorphous ideal of perfection, but I’m definitely better than I was.  I am definitely happier, too.  And I’m definitely fully engaged in the mystery of life and living in the present (at least most days!)


Writing & Reflection – 3/13/93 – A Question of Suicide – Part 2

Again, these entries were written over 20 years ago in a very dark period of my life.  I am not there anymore, thankfully!   But . . .if you feel that you are vulnerable to suicidal thoughts, please do not read this post.  I would hate to contribute to darkening your journey even a little bit.

Yesterday, I posted Part 1.  Before I present the entry today, I promised to talk a bit about how I got out of the pit.

My period of time in this pit had been triggered by a very brief relationship, one that I thought would be easy to handle.  I was wrong.  I wrote a lot in my journal during this time and had to remind myself that the abruptness of the end of this relationship had set off a tumbling downward into a trough of despair.  Were I not in analysis at this time, I might have been able to brush it off, or utilize compulsive activities like eating or buying stuff to numb out the pain.  But I was just at the point where these old coping behaviors no longer worked.  That’s a tough time because until you have something more positive to replace the old behaviors and thinking/feeling patterns, you’re stuck.  For me, the downward spiral was sudden and overtook me completely for awhile.

The while was about six to seven weeks.  But those were probably the hardest six to seven weeks of my life.  I realized my friends were unable to help me, and my therapist certainly couldn’t be on the phone with me 24/7 even though she was available when I needed her.  I wasn’t close to either of my parents (and they were definitely contributing factors in my despair) and I wasn’t about to burden my son.  I did write in my journal, but looking backwards, I only found a few entries written when I was at my lowest point.

Believe it or not, I managed to get to work most days and nobody went hungry.  If I had to describe my mood, once the despair hit hard, it was like I was a walking shell of a person.  I must have “passed” well enough, because nobody moved to get me committed to a mental hospital.

In essence, I had to tough it out.  I wasn’t ready to consider medication at all (later, a sponsor who was a psychiatric nurse said I should have taken meds – that “pain” was the not the same as “suffering” and I was suffering.)

I also agreed that I would call my therapist before I did anything rash.  I certainly had fantasies of non-existence that primarily ran to just not waking up the next day, or driving off the bridge, things that would be quick or painless.

But I suspect the final healer of this deep depression was time.  As time passed, and I continued to talk about it and tread water emotionally, I began to see some sort of light that started small but got a bit larger and brighter day by day.  The day I woke up and realized I wasn’t considering death was a good day.

This is the journal entry I wrote the day after the one I posted yesterday; it, too, is pretty dark, but there are a few moments of some perspective:

 Last night it was ugly fat cow don’t deserve anything.

Tonight I still feel dark thoughts, murderous suicidal thoughts.

Wait Without Hope

The only semi-answer to suicide is I wouldn’t get to see how the story turns out.  If I kill myself, the problem with that answer is that I do know [how it turns out].  I die anyway and maybe I’m raped, beaten, tortured by someone else, or ravaged by a disease . . . AIDS or cancer, etc.  Maybe I’m hit by a car and go into a coma state.  Maybe . . .

So with suicide, I exercise a measure of control over the end.  I pick the time, I pick the method.  I can do it rationally.

But I’d be living without a sense of mystery . . . trading that for control.

All of life’s the tug of:

The Mystery – the “Only don’t know” and “Wait without hope” and along with this, the tremendous anxiety and knowledge of inevitable human suffering and human joy.  The pay-off is creativity, love, beauty but only maybe

And Control – and along with this, quelled anxiety and “the end of the book”, but also no spontaneity, a lack of joy, a lack of emotion, a “living dead.”

And the problem is – I can only control myself and my reactions.  Not other persons, places or things, no matter how much I try.  The greater the pain of living – the more I want to control it, to clamp down on it.  Suicide seems to make too much sense if I’ve chosen the control side.

Something happens after death.   I go back to the source, maybe I return and maybe not.  I don’t care – all I know is that I’m out of my gross body, and out of emotional pain and human suffering.  And that trade-off seems worth it.

The downside is not seeing how [my son] turns out, not seeing grandkids, etc.  But maybe I’ll have a spiritual way of doing [this], so that won’t matter.  I’d like to think [my son] would hate me if I died, but he’s sure to hate me more as a mother if I stayed.

Being a paralegal is deadening to my mind and spirit.  And my body brings me nothing but shame.  No one else can stand to look at it, including me.  It will be horrid thin or fat – especially old (thin or fat.)  Whether filled or empty, it’s just sacs of skin.  Disgusting.  Disease festers there.  So what’s the point?

The only pleasure I feel is [sensual] – my heart is like a stone.  I do love [my son] but that’s it.  I know I am completely alone.  I pay someone to listen to me and mirror me – big deal.  My friends don’t get it and never will.  There are no men – they reject me because I am who I am.

I lost me completely somewhere and I am coming to terms with that.  I’m not coming back and it’s only [a matter of] time before I need to end this nonsense.  Planning needs to be done to protect [my son] but other than that there’s no real point to living just to feel depressed and lonely over and over again.  To be financially strapped, to be bored, to be continually rejected, to not want to be here much longer.

These are too familiar feelings and, as a thinking, rational human – I don’t know if I can stand just existing.

I don’t know if I can Wait Without Hope – for the murderer.


Well, that’s dramatic!

I didn’t harm myself, I never stole pills, and didn’t “accidentally on purpose” get into an accident of any sort.  Actually we did talk about those accidents in therapy and I knew if I somehow just showed up with a cast on my arm one week, that this would entail much conversation about whether this was an accident or not.

I mentioned that one other thing that contributed to healing was poetry, and it was during this time that I had discovered T.S. Eliot.  Here’s the end of the portion of East Coker, from Four Quartets.  This will probably be a more familiar portion of the poem, but it continues with the theme of waiting without hope, but attempts an answer that is, dare I say, more hopeful?

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.