The growing chronicles #3 Hypochondria


It’s still a man’s world

a world where most of the earth

would stone two women in love

and those women who break the glass ceiling are often

unrecognizable as women

for they eat

with their bean soup

the dry wafer of other females
If I tell you

I am not prideful

it is the quiet and the book

an occasion of solitude

interspersed with longing

I’ll never be a loud mouthed girl to hang your spurs upon

but still I know how to talk to the moon

and I believe in you
At night

poorly lit by lamps

like yellow faces downcast

we walk vigorously

hand folded in hand

and that simple act

I cherish

above any gift or benediction
When we are apart

monsters live under my bed

shadows rinse in continuing pass

the joy of breaking bread

shatters

as bloodied

the unseen art of war

within gentle hearts

causes my pulse to spike

and in time succumb

to hypochondria

 

For it is you

who taught me first

this is how you wade in shallow water

not listening to the buzz of insects

searching for a way in

and this is how you swim in deep water

not minding the curdled heat reflecting in

masks off the surface of thought

you can if you really want

stand solid against the onslaught of fear

crawling beneath your skin as the sun

grinds us down into withered and parched semblance

you can if you really want

defy time and tendency and take a deep breath

learning to stretch far in the distance

without air

 

When I wake

and the thunder of your absence

breaks my resolve

when the smell of you is fading

in the comb of your absence

I hear your voice skimming water

like touchstones seeking entry

one by one you build your fortress

installing me against the ravage

that pit I carried every year

before you walked into my life and said

fear cannot win as long as you believe in love

The barrier of herself

The bird

who is not a bird

but has mosaic feathers

dipped in tar

this bird

who is neither oil nor waterproof

sinks

and then

licked by white fire

lent by God or fishermen

some happen-chance salvation of sorts

this bird

rises as phoenican ships will be

swallowed momentarily by

cresting waves the size of

mountains

bursts with light only matched

by a lifting of spirit into cloud

casting her netted permanance

against rush and churn

of life fighting with itself

this bird

who now possesses compass and ink

soars in oxygen and silence

this bird

who spent years

fearing how

instinctively breaks through

the barrier of herself

Just when she thought she was complying, she raged and broke apart

Things at a distance …

The child learns

Not to burn herself on cooker top

Not to hold someone to their word

People don’t always return

Love

Things learned at a distance

Words do not describe reality

Reality is not as they say

Life is funny and tastes of rain

One moment it flows then everything stops

Changes course

And you

Child

Sometimes you are forgotten

For adults

Don’t always recall

The necessity of keeping their word

 

And that child

Grew with restraint and without rule

Clad in scraps of query and uncertainty

Unobserved, she learned not to learn

She didn’t sharpen her pencil and master how to take orders

Her mind they thought gifted but her’s was just a glib mouth with fast words

Sounding beneath the press of water, betraying its weight

Underneath she had no end to her dislike of being told what to do

And they told her

You’ll regret the way you are

Discipline helps breed patience

Patience is honed a virtue

She had none

Never learning her multiplication tables or grammar

She slipped as she ran

Away from the rod

He’d hit her you see, too much, and caused a break

Until she didn’t know how to mend her cracks

Only fury lay

Between her fingers spread against the sun

Silly frivolous fury, the kind girls are mocked for

Usually they are scolded, Child don’t you know? Real suffering exists! True pain! And you have so much and you dare say you are discontent?

Even the shame of knowing on the outside she was a white parody of excess and indulgence

With her predictable dysfunctions all signs of a weakness of spirit

Delving into emptying with hands tied by nurture and the unbearable shake of seeing

If you just got up every morning and jogged, if you just put that cigarette down

You save yourself you know

Of course she knew and like a woman weighted with stones she wanted to walk deeper into the water because every scratch of her fabric was flawed

Why did you let me be born?

Why not give my time to a marvelous well-adjusted mind who will study science and never play hooky?

She played it all the time and had nothing to prove nor music within her movement

No piano to learn

As long as someone

Who wanted to learn

Would

 

And she

Wished to walk in olive groves hurting her bare feet with dry shrub

As the Corfu sun burned her scratched arms

Creating ugly stains for how she felt inside

Marks of time mottling her skin

Brands of all the times she tried not to be

Herself

And invariably

Returning to the mirror time and again, a looking-glass behind her eyes

There was her father’s jaw and elongated forehead

His thin red weathered skin tried by the hour

When they found out some DNA was stronger and certain people were genetically likely to outlast others

She laughed

Because she’d known that for years

You only had to taste the quality of their time

and in the future

They ran dry like a Texan Arroyo long baked by merciless sun

 

Her father once said

You reap what you sew

and she has thrown herself into air

With no seeds and no design

Just the bare howl of being aware

Knowing the grief she was ashamed and compelled by

Ticking in her imperfect hiccup of a soul

Unable to avoid the error of her need

To rebel against the majority who never seem to mind

But plod perfectly in time to some hidden chant

While she spun, losing ground, hurting and grasping

Never ready to fit herself into a shape commensurate with moving forward

If there were an edge to the world she’d be the one to push herself

Off

The last

250px-Scared_Child_at_NighttimeNothing is always a hard and fast rule or outcome

we cannot predict as well as we might think

divining over two sticks to find the source

I know this as I know my own heartbeat

for myself and many others

not having children makes you hold onto yourself too much

you value the debris and memories and fixtures of your past

with emotional microscope, unable to grow beyond reflection

as if they were your child’s blanket, your child’s first tooth

you look at self portraits

feeling the emotion a little less of love approximating love

self-love isn’t always narcissism

it reduces however like a sauce

until there is less than more

while loving another expands

until it lifts us off our feet and sends us into the air

that kind of love frees us from preoccupation

obsessing and writing ourselves over and over

this is my life, this is my dog, this is how I am, look at me!

your gaze shifts to another, you learn how little you matter

how to open yourself up, love someone else without end

suddenly you are not important and unconditional is

 

it is funny to imagine my mother knowing this more than I

it is sad to think she was a mother and we do not have that in common

she has walked where I will never walk

and though it was hard for her to accept

she knows more from having been than I ever will

I who still hold onto, my own memories of me

the only child who wasn’t meant to thrive

living up to her proportion

not obsession or self-love but a lack of other

diminishment in legacy

there will be no follow-up

no future after I am dust

the line will simply close

like it was cauterised and sealed, never having existed

 

at times I feel I owe those in the past

something more than quiet death

or history forgotten and emptied

dressing corpses with semblance

but I have nothing more to offer

no search for fame or history

I am simply myself

who at the close of day will inherit the sum

all who came before, all who will not carry on

an envelope licked and sealed

sent away to the dead letter depot

 

I look at my hands they are empty and long

I think they look wistful as the feeling inside of me does

if I could stop considering myself

hording small memories in tight boxes

holding on because if I let go

there is just an empty glass

neither half full nor half emptied

gone is the liquid of the future

I am it … this is all

now

and it feels disquieting

wrong at times

to be the last of my kind

I think of how it will only grow stronger

as they die and I remain

watching memories like old films damaged by time

 

this may seem bleak but if you stand solitary

watching the entire world play out their multiplication

like a concert with different scenes and costumes

you feel yourself evaporating knowing there is nothing more

no heaven for the empty. no hell for the sinner

and purgatory

is here on earth surely

I suppose that’s why I do what I can

now

sometimes that is not possible because

my heart is wrapped in butchers paper and thick with sorrow

a doom perhaps, just a shadow of future

when I am strong enough I stir and reach

when I am weak I stay so still air is louder than me

at times I do not exist though I live

I am just a poor transfer

a smudge of a fingerprint left on glass in an empty house

vanquished of plan

 

what will I do when they depart?

how will I cope being the last?

it was my intention to gather other lives around me

a blanket of DNA my home-grown spun family

nature didn’t permit such outcome, possibly

with our inheritance this was less cruel

than leaving children to grow into

miniature versions of disease’s burden

the curse and the lightning of uncertainty

mental illness heating mercury

like fevered flag

 

some would say, abuse ends

when there are no more left to collect

it is a relief to think of sleeping undisturbed

unaware of beginning and end

but at night I admit

sometimes that terrible fear curls around my neck

and I remember being a child

alone in the dark

knowing one day

it will be

permanent

as I am

the last

Masochism

tumblr_mfrhau9jIq1s0qvy5o1_500I’m afraid again

A queer feeling

As we trace our gloves on dusty balcony

You forget you’ve told me the story before

And repeat yourself

I watch

Feeling I am a mind reader

Mouthing well-known words

But for the ball in my mouth

I want to ask

Do you think it will bounce?

If you lay me down as your eyes say they want

If you have me now

Under this awning in the frigid cold

You’ll spoil my dress and your coat

And feel later it was not worth

The dry cleaning bill

You’re a man who suits the world of before

And doesn’t know his lines after

If you could squeeze until I choked

Without consequence

You would unflinching

I see this as I see stain in drafted light

As I feel you spear me like tendered filet mignon

Right through the middle

Your eyes roll like cut glass within red flesh

The devil peers out at the culmination

Spent and angry you hurry me to pull myself back on

Leading me by the funny bone in my plastic arm

Charge through the crowd to view the art show

Impatient though you caused our double crease

Like a thief without fingers weeps for what he has not pinched

Standing by the first mounted painting you pause

With the skin of you and the drink of me

Drying irresolutely

Then I see it

So fast, a flash and burn FURY

Hot house light splintering in storm

I know

For all the love, all the cabinets of delusion

It’s a farce I lay myself before, opening my mouth

Birthing cavities for empty souls

Adoring walking pain, stilettos of disregard

Stabbing with familiar falling shards

Self-harm wrought by masochistic ardor

To break my puzzle

Like coming home

A known bewitchment

Tearing apart sound

Mental Health Month Day #13 “Dying in secret”

This is the most personally honest & difficult post I have written.

Body Dysmorphia / Anorexia / Bulimia / Dieting / Shame / Overweight / Underweight / Orthorexic
For many, dealing with ‘real world problems’ an eating disorder or unhealthy relationship with food or self-image, is going to seem vain, unnecessary, small-minded and petty. If you’re one of those people, reading this won’t be interesting.
For the rest of us who at some point or another have experienced one or more of the above and/or been close to someone who has, this has a real world relevance and to dismiss it as a ‘rich white girls disease’ is to ignore the many people who die indirectly or directly or get sicker, every year. What good is shaming someone if you perceive their ‘problem’ not to be worthy enough for inclusion?
Let’s assume for a moment, any eating disorder or body-image issue, IS taken seriously and isn’t derided, insulted, demeaned and made fun of. Let’s assume people feel they CAN talk about it without pretending they have no idea what it is, because of fear of being judged and told; ‘Get a REAL problem rather than a made-up one!’ Tell that to the kids who die in hospital EVERY DAY from issues related to body-image.
It’s easy isn’t it? To condemn someone and say they’re petty and vain for having any type of body image disorder. Do you imagine they chose that life? That they want to be held hostage by a strange madness that seizes their otherwise rational faculties and enslaves them?
I’m not going to say vanity cannot play a part, but the vast majority of kids and adults who experience this of both genders because it affects men and trans also, feel this way because of a build up of reasons not just self-consciousness about the way they physically look. We can prove this though we should not have to, by showing the relationship between parents with eating disorders and their off-spring and the increase in likelihood their off-spring will go on to develop some kind of eating disorder. Likewise this is true even when that off-spring is adopted away from their family. In other words, it’s not just socially learned – some of it is inherited/biological.
The most recent body-issue out there is Orthorexia, and it’s trending because it has formed around a phobic over-response to the ideals of health and the fears of ‘bad’ food that dominate our society. Orthorexics will literally fear eating certain types of food because of everything written about them. For example if we took the various guidance of health gurus we would not eat; Any gluten, any fried food, any sugar, any non-organic produce, any alcohol, any dairy. We’d be left with rice-crackers, seaweed, vegetables and apple puree. Yum.
It may seem absurd, or an over-reaction but if you take health seriously it is easy to develop without intending to, a phobia of eating most foods because of this. You feel everything you eat is bad for you, so why eat it? You only want to eat things that are good for you and if you cannot then you skip eating. You may not be able to afford to eat what you want to eat and that presents problems as well as finding it hard to socialize because of your restricted diet.
More people than ever before have ‘restricted’ diets. Maybe they are gluten-intolerant, allergic to dairy, celiac, have a peanut allergy, are on a diet, have diabetes etc. Many menus calorie count, some break down the fats and ingredients. It is easy to obsess more than ever, and social media fuels this. There are sites devoted to this and other extremes as well as an increase in hard-core fitness programs that exclude many foods.
When someone has a tendency toward obsessing over this, maybe due to a pre-existing condition like body-dysmorphia, it’s not hard to become Orthorexic and fear eating a lot of food. The hard part is because it’s based upon health, it’s hard to find a healthy way of quitting being Orthorexic. How can you tell someone, eat less healthy food sometimes! The jury is still out on the ‘cure’ for this, but usually it comes to a crisis point and the sufferer realizes they are being controlled and they either embrace that and continue or let it go a bit and become less fanatical about how and what they eat. But it is not easy.
Anorexia is the fear of eating and the equating of food with weight-gain and negative feelings/experiences. Anorexics may eat but they often avoid it and limit their intake. Some purge afterward. They usually lose weight sufficiently that people will begin to notice. At first they are praised for being so ‘beach body ready’ and later on when they begin to grow hair on their skin as an extreme response to starvation they are made fun of. Anorexics have the highest risk of dying due to the lower rates of a ‘cure’ and they are often hospitalized.
Bulimia is characterized by bingeing and purging or even simply throwing up after eating. Typically a bulimic has many of the attributes of an anorexic and may starve themselves also or be an anorexic who purges. Other times they may purge but not necessarily lose sufficient weight to be seen to be anorexic although health-wise they are at great risk because of the strain throwing up does to our heart. Combined with inadequate nutrition and the strain of throwing up typical side-effects include broken veins in the face and hands, digestive disease and scarring, tooth decay and stomach problems.
Many people with eating disorders are on a ‘spectrum’ that doesn’t fit the absolute diagnosis of one specific disease, they are considered to have an eating disorder and then it is characterized individually.
Over eaters / binge eaters – an eating disorder characterized by over-eating to cope with stress much like anorexia that is heightened by anxiety and stress. Over-eating can include periods of extreme denial and starvation, it can also include purging. Over-eating can cause fluctuations of weight that put pressure on vital organs, and also can be a very isolating disease with a higher risk for suicide for all types of eating disorders. Sufferers may also gain extreme amounts of weight and suffer the judgement and ridicule that many over-weight or large people suffer because of our societies obsession with lower weights and their stigmatization of ‘fat’
Working out – Sometimes people who work out to lose weight or become fit can become obsessed with it. Whilst not always connected to an eating disorder, this can relate closely to body dysmorphia and shares the ‘control’ factor crucial in all eating and body disorders because it is thought, they all seek to control their surroundings because they do not feel they are in control in other ways.
Body dysmorphia is not an eating disorder but it can lead to, cause or exacerbate an eating disorder. Body dysmorphia is the incorrect transmission of an image of oneself. You can see a photograph, a mirror reflection, a film, of your body and you will not see your body the way others do.
How is that possible?
I have no idea. It seems absolutely impossible. I would NEVER believe it IF I had not A. Experienced it directly and personally B. Known so many others who did C. Professionally worked with many who did. Just like those who are not raped cannot always understand how life-changing rape can be, we seem to struggle to empathize and understand unless we have directly experienced it, which is sad.
To some extent it seems like a delusional disorder, or type of madness. I mean if you think you look a certain way but do not, how can you see yourself physically that way?
And yet you do.
People suffering from any of the above, often have other conditions such as anxiety, low self-esteem, they may be survivors of sexual abuse, they may have been raped, they may be being bullied. Depression Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar are other co-morbid conditions that often occur simultaneously. The secretive life of someone with this can be so secretive nobody ever knows they suffered.
Any type of eating disorder is pretty hard to ‘cure’ it was once thought Anorexia could never be cured it could be lived with. Nowadays anorexics and others, have access to treatment if they have the money for the often expensive treatment centers or if they are insured. Treatment can include hypnosis, group therapy, aversion and its opposite ‘exposure’ therapy, cognitive-behavioral and many other methods. Nobody knows the exact ‘cure’ rate but many go on to live healthy lives.
Then again like any addiction or disease, it is possible to switch one for the other. When someone who was say, formerly bulimic is ‘cured’ they may simply take their need for control and place it elsewhere. They may become obsessive-compulsive, they may generate more anxiety, they may take up smoking. It is important to look closely at this because some of the alternatives are as if not more dangerous.
Please note, this is the first time I have ever talked about my own experience in relation to eating disorders or body dysmorphia and my teeth are clenched because it’s like standing naked in public and goes against a history of being expert at hiding these things when they existed.
My friend and I had a secret group where we would binge, purge, starve. Eventually we stuck with starving because we felt badly for wasting food. At 16 a gym teacher said I needed to drop a few pounds, a dance teacher said the same thing and so I entered the world of starving for the sport, which many can relate to. At 17 I began swimming four times a week and during this time of a year, I didn’t starve myself, I was simply too hungry to! It felt great, I was free of the demon.
Except that’s never what happens. The reason we know such things are mental disorders is because they are inherited (children of anorexics have a higher risk) they exist irrespective of culture or income (yes, Hispanics and Blacks have eating disorders too, they were just ignored by the main-stream who believed it to be an Anglo middle-class disease, likewise with boys and men) and it’s usually deeply hidden and never talked about and is a form of delusion-disorder, you SEE things that are NOT there. IE: You are skinny and you see fat.
I can remember being in a dance class and watching all the tan girls in their leotards with their long legs and necks, so graceful and then looking down and seeing my inner thighs all flabby and squishy. It wasn’t true, they weren’t, but that is what I SAW. I remember being at a dinner party and suddenly running to the bathroom and throwing up everything I ate, and covering it expertly with a breath mint, nobody knew and it seemed like a super-power, in fact it was a sickness, an invisible and terribly destructive sickness invading my every thought.
At 18 after my boyfriend had left me, the old demon returned (a need to control) and I began to throw up whenever I ate until I was a dangerous weight. Few people knew, including my parents because I was excellent at hiding things related to my eating disorder. I went to college and in that first year it was the worst it was ever. I realized I was going out of my mind and it controlled me completely, I sought help. I went to a therapist about it and how it related to being abused as a child and other things that had happened in my life. This helped.
The main ‘cure’ of my eating disorder though was not what the magazines would like me to say. It wasn’t that I saw the light, I got better, I’m a shining example. Oh no.
I was ‘cured’ because I was in a relationship and I had nowhere to purge, or throw up after eating and I couldn’t not eat because I lived with four people and they would have noticed. there was only one bathroom, the house was small the walls paper-thin. After a while I realized I just couldn’t hide my disorder and as I was also sharing my bed and happy in my relationship I stopped.
That seems a pretty pathetic reason huh? I thought so.
It also wasn’t true, it was another layer of the delusion.That’s like an alcoholic not drinking in public, doesn’t mean they are not an alcoholic. People say, if it’s a disease you cannot control it, but who said that? Of course you can! You think you can anyway, but really it controls you. When I was alone, even for one night, I would stuff things in my mouth until I nearly burst and then throw up, or I would eat absolutely nothing or I would stare at myself and see something hideous. I didn’t and couldn’t talk about it because we all know what others would say. You are vain. You are shallow. You are pathetic. You cause this. You waste food. You deserve what you get. But it wasn’t vanity it was self-hatred and self-loathing, a desire to be that eight year old again, free of everything. I didn’t know why, I didn’t connect it to sexual abuse and other things that so often are the triggers and markers for at-risk youth to develop eating disorders.
But years later when I was single again I began to starve off and on. I saw that the ONLY thing keeping me from having a full-blown eating disorder again was circumstance! I wasn’t cured at all! I was simply living with the secrecy like a double-agent, patting myself on the back for my success when really it was underneath the surface controlling me. For someone who was so open and honest I was a huge liar, nobody knew, and the more they didn’t know, the more I couldn’t say.
HOW can we have so much control that if we live with someone else it may help and if we are alone we immediately fall back to it? How serious and real can it be then? I think it’s very serious and very real, imagine looking in the mirror and seeing someone who isn’t there! I still do. I cannot see the ‘real’ me in the mirror but what I try to do is surround myself with people who eat healthily but normally, and ensure that I don’t let ‘the voices’ lure me back into bad habits.
I have slipped a few times, notably in times of high stress. I realize for some it is impossible to live with the disease relatively well, for some they are so sick they really do benefit from more intensive treatment and/or hospitalization. I was never as sick as some of the girls (and one boy) whom I knew with eating disorders but that doesn’t mean I was well either. After a very serious bad experience I fell back into starving myself the denial felt redemptive, in my twenties I felt I was far too old to be doing this, and yet I was (many anorexics are over forty, everyone assumes they are 18, the age-bias means many do not ever get treatment). That year I went to visit school friends back in Europe, they all told me how unhealthy I looked, how I had no chest, no flesh, and I felt like I lived with a chimera inside of me, dictating this awful tendency to reduce everything to controlling how much I ate.
In our society if we perceive a disease to be ‘chosen’ or ‘self-selected’ and the person had a choice, then we blame the person who has that disease. We say “I’m not going to understand this disease or empathize because I blame you for causing it, therefore it’s not like a disease you didn’t cause.” What we fail to understand is, while we judge, we judge a far wider number of people who witness that judgement and thus, never seek help, we also instill a sense in the disease-sufferer that their disease is a choice, a bad habit, and their fault. In other words we compound the problem all because we condemn people for something we don’t understand. How many times have you heard someone say; “Those damn anorexic models I have no sympathy for them” We believe that kind of illness is essentially a weakness of character or worse, enviable and thus, we resent them. Would we say that if someone disclosed they had ovarian cancer?
I use my own example because I have NEVER publically talked about having an eating disorder before. I would say it’s a lot like being an alcoholic, you are ALWAYS an alcoholic just like you are always someone with a potential for eating disorders. I did go down the road of Orthorexia and left to my own devices would be merrily heading down it now (except it’s not merry, it’s ridiculous and it’s crazy) and equally I still have body dysmorphia. I can only believe that by admitting this as I have here, I encourage others to get treatment. I personally found therapy very helpful and the other thing that helped was ensuring I took the right vitamins and minerals to balance myself and become less unhinged which I was exacerbating by poor nutrition. It is a vicious circle.
It is very hard for me to recount this, I have tried to delete this several times, feeling that if it gets ‘out there’ I will lose control and I realize, that’s what I have to do and what we all have to do if we experience these feelings. For a long time I could not hang out with people with eating disorders, they triggered me. I am such an independent person ask anyone but when it comes to eating I’m not at all I’m a complete follower and that baffles me. I still struggle to eat when I’m alone or at dinner parties, there are things I will always have and need to always remind myself I have, to face them and not deny them, because then they win.
The grand irony is, I have always been genetically thin, so even if I never had this, I would have been picked on for being underweight, and that’s the farce of it, you can look any way and nobody really knows what’s going on for you, they accuse you of being anorexic when you’re not, and commend you for having a good figure when you’re starving yourself, the mixed-messages of our society increase our propensity to be sick.
For some they are genetically wired to not respond to those triggers, whilst others are genetically engineered to respond to them, recent studies show there is a definitive link between DNA and the development of any type of eating disorder. Therefore it’s not all in your head and it is all in your head. But for years we were told it was the spoilt princess syndrome, would that make anyone want to admit it?
It is a form of madness I am certain of it, and as such it belongs in the mental health category almost more than anything else. Society does not help, the continual bombardment of thin bodies really doesn’t help. I have been told I was thin my entire life, and I realize, thin doesn’t even MATTER it’s not IMPORTANT and I don’t even find really thin women attractive! Sometimes it’s not about wanting to be thin, in my case it never was, it was about seeking control and having a really bad relationship with food that was very love-hate. Personally I think bigger women are far more beautiful, proof that an eating disorder or body dysmorphia is not always about weight or thinness, although for some it is.
I had a fear of letting go of being a child, of growing up, of intimacy, of body-shame due to sexual abuse, of self-hate due to low-self-esteem. Those were my triggers, those were my things that led me to develop eating and body disorders. For others it may be the same or different. The thing we all share is a need to control what we feel we do not control – a feeling of being out of control. Sometimes people cut themselves, sometimes people do drugs, sometimes people control what they eat. Equally, if you do not see yourself accurately in the mirror this can be a manifestation of self-hate that was inculcated or indoctrinated and it can lead to a skewed self-image which is at the root of body dysmorphia.
I feel an intense embarrassment and shame at admitting this about myself. I know when I press ‘publish’ I will immediately regret this. And that’s why I’m doing it, because it’s time. Time to end the shame. If you read this and think I’m another white-middle-class-whiner who invents a disease, good day to you, but for those of you who ‘get’ what I’m saying here, I say to you, let’s talk about it, let’s get the monster out of the closet and get to the bottom of it, because the one thing that we hate most of all is admitting it and coming clean, that’s what we avoid at any cost, and that’s exactly why we must.
I’m sorry this is all about me, it was the only way I could find to truthfully tell the story.

Mental Health Month Day #9 “Suicide”

Crossposted

The first time I was personally touched by suicide, a friend’s mom took her own life, her kids found her in the bath, I heard about it second-hand around the age of eight. I remember thinking how I would feel if I found a family member dead, and I tried to be nicer to my friend whose mom had died. I remember other kids said things about how the mom was selfish for doing it, I didn’t join in, there was even then, a part of me that didn’t see it that way.

The second time I was personally touched by suicide, my grandfather took his own life. He overdosed on Valium and was found the next morning when he hadn’t come down for breakfast. He was an artist and a long time Depressive, but despite that, everyone was shocked that a man still in his prime would consider death a better option. I remember people saying; “What a waste, he was so talented” and “How selfish, he had two children and a wife.” Although I didn’t think it at the time, I now wonder, does that mean it’s not selfish if you have no one? Is it more understandable or acceptable if you are not talented? Again, how things are phrased can stick with you.

At the time I saw my grandmother trying to come to terms with it. She ended up drinking the pain away, and developed an addiction to drinking for many years before she joined a cult and through this new-found sense of belonging quit drinking and became happy once more. Whilst we didn’t particularly like her being part of a cult we were glad for her restored peace of mind, but when I think back on it now, I also think we were relieved, we didn’t have to look in the face of grief anymore, everyone wanted to get on with things.

And that’s the hardest part of suicide, how people cope or do not cope after the fact.

Who is left behind, what fall-out carries on sometimes for generations.

One of the first questions a therapist asks is if anyone in your family has committed suicide, there is a reason for that. People whose family members commit suicide have a far higher risk of committing suicide themselves. Some have postulated whether this is ‘learned behavior’ or ‘permission granted’ or biological/in our DNA.

I can definitely see why people who have relatives who commit suicide would go one of two extremes. They are either going to be the last person to commit suicide, because they know first-hand its fall-out, or they may feel that because someone close to them did, it gives permission for them to follow suit. I can also see how some people are genetically at higher risk because something within their DNA makes it more favorable than for others. This doesn’t seem so very different from say, the God Gene.

There definitely are, as with addicts, two camps, the person who just won’t kill themselves under any circumstances and those who will. We may never quite know why, there may be many factors that go into that, but the people who are ‘at risk’ versus those who are not, are often hard to distinguish because in many ways they may both exhibit the same symptoms.

Many times I hear people say that those who commit suicide are ‘weak’ and ‘selfish.’ I have never thought they were. I see no good coming from condemning someone who was sad enough to take their own life. If we do it to discourage others, well it’s not really working, and whilst I would never advocating encouraging anyone to commit suicide or over-justifying those who do, I see no good in criticizing them after the fact. They made a decision, they chose to do it, who are we to say they are weak?

At the same time, we all hope someone will find the ‘strength’ or conviction to keep living. Nobody really approves of suicide except in extreme cases such as euthanasia for those who are suffering and in agonizing pain. Even then, in America, this is a very divided subject with those against, believing no murder is justified including the taking of ones own life, whilst others, often those who have seen it personally, can attest, some terminally ill people have the right to end their suffering.

So if we look at suicide of ‘healthy’ individuals, where do we place the depressed and the mentally ill on that scale? In some Scandinavian countries there have been people who have petitioned the Government to be euthanized based upon mental-illness. This has sparked outrage among those who believe this is tantamount to murder, and in no way qualifies as a terminal illness. Technically mental illness is rarely terminal although many ways, mental illness accompanies terminal diseases and exacerbates their symptomatology.

But even without being terminal, can mental illness ever be ‘bad’ enough to warrant or justify the taking of ones own life? And if we open that flood gate, how do we close it again?

I don’t claim to know the answer, I’m not sure anyone knows the answer yet but the side of suicide we don’t consider as often, isn’t just prevention or reason(s) behind suicide, but the aftermath.

Another friend of mine lost her mother to suicide. If I had to say, without hesitation I would say she became a more responsible, compassionate person as a result. But that doesn’t negate the extreme pain she still feels with the loss of her mom. Given a choice, every day she would wish for her mom’s return over any compassion she may have. The positives cannot outweigh the negative reality of losing someone you love.

If her mom had been deathly ill maybe she would have held a different view, I have never asked her, but either way, it is hard to imagine being ‘okay’ with someone’s suicide. That said, when Brittany Maynard committed suicide (euthanasia) in Oregon a while back I was profoundly moved by her videos and writing on the subject prior to her choice to end her life. Still very young and with a beautiful family, Brittany was terminally ill and knew in a matter of months she would be in excruciating pain and there was no cure and only awful suffering.

Many people condemned her for ‘taking the easy way out’ or ‘going against the will of God’ but I recall admiring her so much for her resolve and strength. I simply could not imagine making that choice, let alone going through with it. Her family moved to another State where Euthanasia is legal in order to be eligible and she made her plight and story public in an effort to educate people on the right to die. I believe in the right to die in part because of her efforts to show it is not the same as suicide.

With depression and other mental illnesses that are not responsive to treatment, it is not hard to imagine why people can be pushed to the brink and wish to end their lives. Should we consider euthanasia for severe cases of mental illness? Currently I don’t think we should but I recognize I may change my mind as more information becomes available. When I stop and think about living with say, Schizophrenia and other illnesses your entire life, in misery, without respite, and medications not working, I can definitely see why someone may wish to end their life. So why do I hesitate in condoning suicide or euthanasia in those cases?

Maybe because whilst we see mental illness as a disease, it’s not terminal and until something is actually ‘definitely’ going to take your life, we have this belief that there is hope, and we should not end our life based on feeling badly. Is this dismissive? I would say in some instances, yes, because there are chronic pain conditions that may include mental disease, that it could be argued, are as devastating to someone as a terminal illness. Perhaps we should give everyone the ‘right’ to choose if they live or die, and I would agree with this except for a worry that sometimes in certain mind-sets we don’t have the right objectivity to ‘choose’ without bias.

Mental illness is one of those biases. When you are mentally ill you can really see the world through a different lens. If you have not ever experienced that, believe me when I say, one day you can feel hopeful, the next it’s like the color was sucked out of the world and the pain you feel inside is unbearable and often without any cause. When that goes on for a prolonged period of time each day can be agonizing. It is definitely understandable that when people feel this way they may contemplate suicide.

The argument against this is – people typically commit suicide or attempt suicide when they are panicking or have calmly given up (the two extremes) they either panic that they will never feel differently and ‘stop the pain! stop it now! stop it any way you can!’ or they feel reconciled to their fate, they do not believe it will ever change, and so they give themselves permission to let go.

Perhaps that is why the very young and the very old are the two groups most likely to take their own lives.

As mentioned earlier, there are many who no matter how bad it got, would never commit suicide. That isn’t necessarily anything to do with personal fortitude or strength, it may be a genetic proclivity, or several factors, but they often perceive those who take their lives as inexplicable. They cannot and will not understand, and they feel understanding is condoning. I would argue, understanding is NOT condoning it’s understanding. We need more understanding.

Mental illness is not always visible, so we often do not know someone is suffering from it until it’s too late. Signs to look for include giving away what we own, a sudden sense of peace and feeling good, high anxiety and stress and the bequeathing of things previously withheld. Of course that’s not going to ensure you accurately predict whom among us is at risk, because just like in the film 13 Reasons, so many people exhibit signs and so many do not, and that’s no guarantee of anything. Additionally suicide can be a sudden choice, you literally realize in a moment and bam, it’s too late.

One population aside teenagers that I believe will increasingly be at risk for suicide is the elderly. More so because our grandparents social security and pensions were more robust than ours will be with some exceptions. It is simply more expensive to live nowadays and the money we will need to live even relatively well in old age, is often more than we can save and invest. Poverty and loneliness are two of the main reasons the elderly choose to take their lives. The third is illness. This can include mental illness. We sometimes believe the value of a person’s life diminishes with increasing age, but every life should have the same value.

The elderly have less resources than teens and in a way, less hope, because they are ageing toward death, whereas a teen has their entire life ahead of them. Sometimes hastening ones death can seem a good choice, to end suffering, loneliness, worry, financial concerns. The elderly can feel they are a burden, they can feel they are not wanted in our ever busy society that highlights youth. Additionally, are we ready as a society to take care of the many who will devleop dementia, which often carries alongside it, chronic depression? Is loading an eighty year old with heavy duty medications and antidepressants all we can to do help them?

Caregivers of the elderly will also experience mental health issues as a result of the hard work they do. Presently elderly patients are over medicated and have less resources for talk-therapy or other treatments. It is deemed simply easier to stick them on a lot of medications and hope they’ll die than treat their suffering compassionately and with an understanding their lives, however long, still hold value. Is it any wonder then that so many elderly are at risk of suicide and premature death? As long as we judge people based on their economic ‘worth’ and believe the elderly ‘had their time’ we will never improve this and rates of elder-abuse will grow.

So whilst we can do more to look out for people, we will never prevent someone from committing suicide if they are absolutely set on doing so. What we can do is save the ones who do not wish to and need a reason not to. It may seem absurd that anyone should really want to die, but there will always be people who do, they find different ways, they take risks, they drive their cars too fast, they may join a terrorist group. Often very unhappy people choose suicide by proxy, by putting themselves in danger and waiting to see if it will take them.

Suicide and mental health are always going to be interrelated and there is a lot the people around those people can do to prevent a successful suicide, but ultimately the best we can do is not judge those who die, for what possible good comes from that? Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to try to understand why someone did what they did. Sometimes there is nothing to understand. But with understanding we can learn, whereas if we simply condemn, we learn absolutely nothing.