Saturday, June 26, 2010
"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it
will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." - Albert Einstein
I’ve always thought it strange the way people wish to be whatever they’re not. I have many friends of Indian and African descent, and their vision of beauty includes fair skin. In fact, in India, one can often discern what caste someone is from by looking at her skin tone. I can walk into any Indian store and purchase “Fair & Lovely” skin whitening cream. (It doesn’t really work, but it sells like hotcakes.)
On the other end of the spectrum, blonde-haired, blue-eyed people put themselves at risk for skin cancer and premature aging by frequent visits to tanning salons. Hair dye is available in every color under the sun, and contact lenses can change brown eyes to blue and blue to brown. So what is the “right” color to be?
But it’s not just appearance – really, it’s everything. Married people wish to be “free,” while single people are lonely and long for that soulmate. People living in the country think life would be so much more exciting in the city, and people in the city yearn for the peacefulness of the countryside. Children wish they were older so they could do what they want, and adults yearn for the carefree days of childhood.
The point is that we all think we would be happier if we were just something … ELSE. But that magical point of time and space and appearance never seems to come. For those of us who suffer from self-esteem issues, from depression, and from anxiety, happiness and peace are always unattainable, because they involve some fundamental change in reality. We think, “If only … THEN I would be happy.” Interestingly, when we do get what we think we want, we STILL manage to think, “If only … THEN I would REALLY be happy.”
They say the secret to happiness is not getting what we want, but wanting what we have. If only it were so simple. Then, we would REALLY be happy!
Friday, June 25, 2010
“God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” – As attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr
A few years ago, for my birthday, my son gave me a special stone to put in our garden. It says, “Serenity.” The dictionary defines “serenity” as “the absence of mental stress or anxiety.” Interestingly, when I was hospitalized for depression the first time, many years before my son existed, I shared a room with a 16-year-old girl whose parents had named her “Serenity.” She went by “Reni” for short. She’d been there for two months when I got there.
I thought it was a beautiful name, and Reni was a beautiful girl. The problem was that hospital staff had to watch her 24 hours a day, to make sure she didn’t cut herself or purge what little food she was taking in. When Reni took off her clothes to put on her nightgown, her emaciated body looked just like the bodies I’ve seen of concentration camp victims. She had starved herself, literally, almost to death. She had scars from cutting all over her body. Her wall was adorned with photos and cards from her many friends at school, where she’d been an honor student and a cheerleader. But clearly, Reni was facing demons.
I remember thinking how her parents must have wanted her to have a peaceful life, to name her Serenity – and yet she was treating herself brutally. I have no idea what had happened in her past to cause her to be so self-punitive, but 16 years before, her arrival had been celebrated with the giving of a name associated with peace and happiness. Ironic, don’t you think?
I’m going to give her parents a pass. I don’t know if they were horrible parents, but somehow I doubt it; I think her trauma came from elsewhere. I’m going to assume they were the best parents they could be, that they showed her love, that they gave her the material things she needed. And still, something happened to Serenity somewhere along the line that caused her to choose a life of pain and self-punishment. And her negative choices were outside of her parents’ control.
“To accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed” is an extraordinarily difficult thing for me to do. I constantly worry, fret, and get angry about things I can do nothing about. In fact this trait lies at the base of all my anxiety and my depression. I want so badly for things to be different; I get anxious about the future; I have strong emotions about things that are far outside my locus of control. Sometimes I want people to act differently, to make different choices, to do what I want – but I can’t make it happen.
Serenity seems so far away. How I envy those people who have been able to capture it.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
“(I had) a disease of terminal uniqueness. Nobody had ever suffered like I was suffering.” -Marian Keyes
Here Marian Keyes was talking about alcoholism. But she could easily have been talking about depression, anxiety, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, cutting, recovery from sexual abuse, suicidal ideation … you get the picture.
We, every one of us, is unique. That’s a blessing; what a bland world it would be if we were all alike. But when we suffer, our primary feeling is that of isolation. Our entire lives revolve around our pain, and we feel utterly alone.
It doesn’t even help to have people try to validate us with platitudes such as “I know exactly how you feel!” Because we know they don’t. The ultimate “alone” act is suicide. Suicide is something that can’t be shared with anyone else. Even if we die in a pact, each individual dies alone.
So why do we isolate ourselves just when we most need to be reaching out? Why do we feel so unlike other people that we are quick to dismiss their suffering rather than find solace that someone else has gone through what we have been through? Because we allow the devil to wallow in the details. “She’s not like me. Her abuse happened when she was 10. I was only 6.” “He slit his wrists the wrong way. He didn’t REALLY want to die. I do.”
If we really want to heal, we need to start looking at what we share with others who suffer. We need to find areas of similarity. This is not so we can bring each other down, but rather to build each other up. We all have different life histories, and various diagnoses, but we have one thing in common – our suffering was so severe we made a choice to end our lives. And we all survived that choice.
We can learn from one another. That’s why we’re here in this group. Let’s soak up every bit of hope we can get – including the hope that if someone else achieved happiness, we can, too.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
“Suffering occurs when you clash with reality. When your illusions clash with reality when your falsehoods clash with the truth, then you have suffering.” – Ronica Coldiron
We all come into life with basic assumptions, I believe. That’s the reason infants cry – they have a sort of assumption that if they make noise, they’ll be fed. As we grow, we continue to form assumptions – that mommy will be there when we open our eyes during peek-a-boo, that daddy’s arms are strong enough to hold us, that the monsters under the bed won’t get us if we’ve said the magic words.
Grown-ups have assumptions too. Like our assumptions as kids, they’re rooted in some idea of security. We assume if we work hard, our job will be there to sustain us. We assume our house won’t burn down as we sleep. We assume our husband will make it home safe from work each night. We assume our children will grow up healthy and happy.
Because we have these assumptions, we feel angry and betrayed when suffering hits. Our company goes bankrupt; a spark flies and our house burns to the ground; our husband dies in a traffic accident; our child gets leukemia. And we rail against God if we believe in him, or the Universe itself if we don’t. We’re enraged because life isn’t fair.
People have vastly different coping mechanisms to explain this. Some people believe in the Law of Attraction, which states that we attract either good or bad things based on where we put our focus. (This doesn’t explain a lot of things; I’ll save that for a different day.) Some believe in Karma – if we suffer in this life, it’s because of something we did in a past one. Some believe that God pre-ordains everything.
My own coping mechanism has always been to always expect the worst, so I won’t be disappointed when it happens. But that’s not so helpful anymore. It leads to pessimism, which leads to depression, which leads to a sense of hopelessness and futility … so that I feel sad even when things are going well (because, I tell myself, any minute they could start going poorly!). And even with that negative outlook, I still manage to find myself blindsided when disaster strikes. So what good did it do?
I don’t have an answer for suffering. I do know that at the same time as so many people who are hungry or sick struggle so hard to live, more than one million other people around the world take their lives every year, and another 20 million people attempt it. (I could have a LOT of members on my Suicide Attempt Survivors page!) Clearly these people have suffered. Did they “Attract” the wrong things? Did God do it? Did Karma bit them in the ass?
Or were their expectations just too high?
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
“Stairs are climbed step by step.” – Turkish proverb
Last year, I had surgery from which I had to heal. The healing process followed a trajectory. Every day I felt a little less pain, and every day I got physically stronger, until I was all healed up.
Recovery from a nervous breakdown and suicide attempt, I thought, would follow a similar trajectory. Once I was on meds and had a good treatment plan, I thought I would feel a little better each day and then one day I would be well.
But the process hasn’t been so smooth. Oh, I’m definitely better than I was last year at this time. But “well” hasn’t happened yet, and the trajectory is anything but clear. I have a few OK days, and then, on a day like yesterday, I crash and it feels like I’m starting all over again. Even on my OK days I still don’t feel “normal,” or what I remember my “normal” to be.
If I could put all of life’s stressors on a shelf for a few months, and have no worries at all; if my medications didn’t seem to feel different every day; if I didn’t have to think about job or money or family or health or future; maybe that trajectory would be smoother. Unfortunately, life gets in the way. The phrase “One step forward, two steps back” has a whole new meaning for me.
Wellness is still my goal. But how soon I’ll get there, and how many steps backward I’ll have to take before I do, is anyone’s guess. Still, I’ll keep climbing step-by-step toward that goal. The only other option is to give up – and I’ve tried that one already; I don’t want to go there again.
Monday, June 21, 2010
“God always answers our prayers, but sometimes the answer is no.” – Unknown
I am a Christian. A doubting one, but a Christian just the same. When I got sick last year, I prayed for God to take my depression and my anxiety away. I prayed constantly for two months, and begged to feel God’s calming presence. I asked other people to pray for me.
These prayers were not answered – at least, not until long after my attempt when I got on the correct medication, which has improved – but not taken away – these negative feelings and thoughts.
Now another prayer has not been answered. Many people have been praying for little Miasha, only 10. She has now died after complications of surgery for spina bifida.
Her big sister, a “daughter” of mine, already struggles with severe depression. No one ever needs a sibling to die, but Leah even less so. She has already lost so much in her life that this death seems to come as a cruel joke, an exclamation point at the end of a long sentence filled with traumas. I feel so sad for her, and very afraid for her as well.
Which is better – to believe in a God that doesn’t answer heartfelt prayers, or to believe there is no God at all and that our lives are meaningless? Sometimes I envy atheists because things seem so simple for them. If something bad happens, they don’t have anyone to blame. But on the other hand, if something good happens, they don’t have anyone to thank, either.
I’ve tried to be an atheist in the past. It just doesn’t work for me. I find myself railing against the God I don’t believe in, inside my head. If I’m angry at God, then I must believe in him. Right?
I don’t know why God allowed me to be sick. I don’t know why he allowed Miasha to have spina bifida. I don’t know why he has allowed Leah to go through so much pain in her short life, and I don’t know why he allowed her little sister to die on top of it all. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
But I do know that I imagine asking him these questions some day, which must mean that I want to be with him when I die. Because despite my doubts, despite my anger, despite my questions, I still somehow believe that God is the author of all that is good.
Dear God: Please take little Miasha’s soul up to heaven, where she can be at peace, without pain or fear. And let her watch over her dear big sister on this Earth, who will need strength from you to carry on. Amen.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” - Deuteronomy 31:6
They say suicide is the coward’s way out. I’m not sure about that. It takes a certain amount of “courage” to look death in the eye and be willing to fight all the body’s natural impulses to survive, then do something painful like cut into your veins or pull a trigger.
But it is a twisted, misplaced kind of courage. It is a courage that says death is better than life, when we really don’t know what awaits for us on the other side. It’s a blind courage, not good for much of anything. It’s not the kind of courage it takes to stand up for one’s beliefs, against great opposition, or to run into a burning building to save a baby.
Once you have woken up from an uncompleted attempt, the enormity of your situation sinks in. You have all the same problems you had before you tried to die, and now they are compounded. You have angry relatives and a hospital bill to pay. You have explanations to give your friends or employer. If you thought you had problems before, just wait for the days after.
In a way I’m envious of those people who were already at home full-time – homemakers, the retired, young people out of school but not yet working. Because the day I got out of the hospital, I had to go back to my full-time job, and resume all my roles out in the real world. What I really wanted to do was hide, but that wasn’t an option for me – I had a family to support. So I had to go back to living, just a few days after fully expecting to die.
That was a scary thing. A year later, it still is. I’m not 100%. I hope to God that someday, I am. But facing every day; being employee, wife, mother, daughter, and friend – that takes a kind of courage. It’s not running into a burning building, but it’s courage just the same.