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

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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.

I never grew out of needing a dragon tail

63f23c6809bddf9597b4c6236a8c747aThere is a girl I ‘know’ online, she’s a twenty-something artist and a writer and suffers from crippling social anxiety and it struck me, when I heard she suffered from social anxiety, that it was a great irony.

Why? Because I had concluded that with my own social anxiety, I would be ‘able’ to do a live poetry reading if I could somehow inhabit someone like her, change skins, climb into her person-suit and read the poetry through her eyes.

So obviously the next thought was … that’s really weird. Why would you be able to read your poetry aloud in front of people if you were her but not if you were you? The conclusion must have something to do with self-hatred on some level, but it’s also about what you want to project.

Sad to admit, I don’t want to project me. I want to project someone like a photographer may appreciate and project through that appreciation the beauty of someone else. I’m a behind-the-scenes type. I didn’t used to be, I was the belly dancer at the front of the school play, but the difference was, I still wore a mask. That time the mask was dark paint, a wig and a veil.

Some of us need veils or metaphoric veils or some type of guise to be ourselves. For me it used to be a few drinks – dutch courage. I didn’t even know it, but before going out I would swig a bit and then I could go through with it. Not a good method. When the ulcer nixed that option, I retreated further than I thought possible, unable to face going out without my mask.

I see others, people who are not attractive, people who are silly, people who are absurd, do it all the time, and I admire them and wonder, how is it that they can do this and I cannot? I’m not certain of anything other than, when you feel this way, it’s like you are under a microscope, on a petri-dish and everyone who looks your way is shining a light on you and you can’t stand the inspection.

It is an illusion or delusion of course, because people see individuals less and less these days than ever before! We truly can walk around and be invisible and ignored! But when you feel that scrutiny it’s like sunburn, you just have to get out of the sun even when it’s not really happening it feels like it is!

A few of my friends, normal, not overly attractive people, can stand up there and do anything and everything. They are admired because they appear to have no fear or they feel the fear and do it anyway. I despise my inability to do this, but I do not despise it in others, I understand it in others, I have empathy for it in others, so despising myself is another point of hypocrisy.

Any delusion is hypocritical. A feminist may starve herself because she sees a ‘fat girl’ in the mirror, who does not exist, and despite believing it doesn’t matter what you weigh, she’s caught up in it nevertheless. It’s like being hypnotized. If you take anxiety meds you are released from them, but it’s artificial. I have yet to find a ‘natural’ method, though much is made of natural cures, none have worked thus far.

All I’m really saying by this, is, how interesting to imagine, just by being someone else we could be ourselves. I think of those robot or clone films where people are asleep and send out their robot version. How much I dislike that idea of living and life, how I don’t like the idea of women behind veils, and yet, when I think of standing up and reading my work I want to put on the dragon suit I had as a little kid so badly. I want to wear it underneath myself (my true dragon self) as I did when I was a kid, and the teacher would pull out the tail and say ‘she’s done it again’ and call my dad.

I am you see, a dragon, and I want to be a dragon, and if I cannot be a dragon I would like to be my friend who looks a little like Jennifer Beal whom I liked very much in Flashdance and it’s not a creepy reason at all because I don’t fancy my friend, but I would be able to read my poetry out loud if I had her curly hair and brown skin. Ironically she is more scared than I am, and if I ever met her off WP I would say ‘what an irony, you are too scared to be you and I am too scared to be me, shall we be dragons?’