Saturday, December 4, 2010
“[Suicide’s] against the law where I come from, too.” Clarence the angel, “It’s a Wonderful Life”
Last night I went to a sweet, funny, and heartwarming play about suicide.
Usually, when people think of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” they think of Christmas. But the story could take place any time of year. Ultimately, it’s a story about suicide and the intangible worth of a single human life.
We went to a stage adaptation of Frank Capra’s movie last night. Of course, I’ve seen the movie a million times, but it was the first time I’d seen the story since – like unfortunate George Bailey – I made the calculation that I was worth more dead than alive.
You see, unlike most people who are suicidal, George isn’t particularly depressed. Although he’d missed out on his dream of traveling the world, George was a happy husband, father, and business owner up until that fateful Christmas Eve. For George, principle had always mattered more than money – that’s why he turned down the evil Mr. Potter’s offer of $20,000 a year (about $150,000 in today’s money) to work for him.
But suddenly the unthinkable occurs. A sum of $8,000 vanishes – hidden inside a folded newspaper by an absent-minded employee – and George faces bankruptcy. Within a couple of hours and after a few drinks, George concludes that Mr. Potter is right – because he has a life insurance policy, he IS worth more dead than alive. Next thing you know, he’s standing on a bridge, preparing to jump into the river.
Most people think that life insurance policies don’t pay out for suicides. Actually, most do – provided you’ve had the insurance for more than two years. I know this because I checked my policy a few days before my attempt. I’d been obsessed with the threatened bankruptcy of our company, and with the shame of losing our home. Since I was a lousy wife and mother (according to me), I figured my family would be better off with the cash from my life insurance, which would pay toward the mortgage for a couple of years.
In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George has a guardian angel: Clarence Obody (Angel Second Class – he still needs to earn his wings). I don’t know where other suicidal people’s guardian angels are, but George can see and talk to his. I’d been praying nonstop for weeks for a break from my anxiety, and I continued to pray in that motel room. I would have liked to see a guardian angel – even an Angel Second Class – but maybe my angel worked undercover and kept my OD from being lethal and prevented too much blood loss from my veins. I don’t know.
At any rate, I feel an affinity to George. We both have wished we hadn’t been born (I reflected a few months ago about the way things might have been if I’d never existed). And we both thought our deaths would result in our families’ being taken care of financially. After my attempt, when I was home from the hospital, I still believed I’d made a logical decision. My husband, angry and hurt, shouted, “I’d rather live in a homeless shelter with you alive than in the house with you dead!”
But people that kill themselves to benefit their families financially are misguided. First, most peoples’ life insurance policies will only cover their families’ expenses for a few short years. Second, only about one of 20 suicide attempts are completed. The rest of the time, the attemptor wakes up alive, facing even more financial stress.
There’s the cost of an ambulance, if it’s not covered in your community or by your insurance. There are emergency room costs, well over $1,000 a day. If you’re admitted to the psych ward, you’re looking at maybe $1,500 for every day you spend there. If you’re lucky enough to have insurance, you probably still owe a deductible or co-pay. Then there is the time lost from work, as well as the stigma you’ll have to deal with if people find out: you can’t even put a price tag on that.
Suicide’s expensive. This is one favor your family can't afford.
Friday, December 3, 2010
“Nine men in 10 are would-be suicides.” –Benjamin Franklin
Are you wearing red today? I am – in honor of friends who ended their lives; in honor of my own attempt and my continuing effort to heal, and in honor of friends I have met through the SAS group that are fighting their own battles with suicide.
In honor of the day, I’d just like to present some facts, care of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Suicide takes the lives of nearly 30,000 Americans every year.
Many who attempt suicide never seek professional care.
There are twice as many deaths due to suicide than HIV/AIDS.
Between 1952 and 1995, suicide in young adults nearly tripled.
Over half of all suicides occur in adult men, ages 25-65.
In the month prior to their suicide, 75% of elderly persons had visited a physician.
Suicide rates in the United States are highest in the spring.
Over half of all suicides are completed with a firearm.
For young people 15-24 years old, suicide is the third leading cause of death.
Suicide rates among the elderly are highest for those who are divorced or widowed.
80% of people that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully.
15% of those who are clinically depressed die by suicide.
There are an estimated 8 to 25 attempted suicides to 1 completion.
The highest suicide rate is among men over 85 years old: 65 per 100,000 persons.
1 in 65,000 children ages 10 to 14 commit suicide each year.
Substance abuse is a risk factor for suicide.
The strongest risk factor for suicide is depression.
By 2010, depression will be the #1 disability in the world. (World Health Organization)
In 2004, 32,439 people died by suicide. (CDC)
Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S. (homicide is 15th). (CDC)
Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-old Americans. (CDC)
It is estimated that there are at least 4.5 million survivors in this country. (AAS)
An average of one person dies by suicide every 16.2 minutes. (CDC, AAS)
There are four male suicides for every female suicide. (CDC, AAS)
Research has shown medications and therapy to be effective suicide prevention.
Suicide can be prevented through education and public awareness.
Last year SAVE educated 10,618 youth & parents on depression and suicide prevention.
Last year SAVE received 810 requests for information from 72 countries.
In 2004 it is estimated there were 811,000 suicide attempts in the US. (AAS)
There are three female suicide attempts for each male attempt. (CDC, AAS)
According to the Violent Death Reporting System, in 2004 73% of suicides also tested positive for at least one substance (alcohol, cocaine, heroin or marijuana).
SUICIDAL THOUGHTS: WHAT TO DO
Thursday, December 2, 2010
“I'm sorry but this is stupid. It's not like with breast cancer awareness. At least with it, the people didn't choose to have it. With suicide, they knew what they were doing and did it so I can't help raise awareness for that.” – A comment regarding suicide awareness
I dug through my closet last night to find a red sweater to wear to work tomorrow in honor of Suicide Awareness Friday. It must be exclusively a Facebook thing, because the official World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10. No matter; it’s good to build awareness more than once a year. As of this morning, 15,042 Facebookers are “attending” the event tomorrow. Cool.
But as usually happens on suicide-related Internet boards and walls, the critics are front and center. Suicide, they remind us, is cowardly and self-centered. “It’s very selfish…and stupid. Anyone willing to commit suicide obviously only cares about themselves, and they aren’t thinking about the pain they’ll inflict on family and friends,” says one post. “It also shows just how much of a coward a person really is, being unable to deal with their problems.”
I wrote a few months ago about the reason I created the Suicide Attempt Survivors group in the first place – because the “Suicide Survivors” groups on Facebook were all for bereaved family members (many of them quite angry, and some of whom attacked me).
In addition, my search for books written for suicide attempt survivors yielded only a couple of titles, while there are dozens of books for family and friends left behind. (Some shameless self-promotion: because of the dearth of books available for us, I’ll be publishing my “Death to Life” blog as a book, volume 1, very soon. It will be available on Amazon.)
So we’ve established that suicide appears to be a selfish act. Really, how can I say otherwise, when I, too, have lost loved ones to suicide? I’ve experienced that toxic mix of shock, loss, and red-hot anger at people who apparently didn’t care enough about me (or anyone else) to stick around. I’ve watched families self-destruct after a mother asphyxiated herself, leaving three children, and after a brother hung himself in his sister’s bedroom closet. There is a reason why they say that loss due to a suicide is about the worst loss there is, because it implies “choice.”
As I write this, the life of a friend of mine hangs in the balance. She wants very much to die (or for her suffering to end, which is what she thinks death will bring her). I want very much for her to live. There is nothing more I can say or do; it’s going to come down to her “choice,” such as it is, and she may choose to leave me despite the love I’ve shown for her. There are many others who care for her, too, and I’m concerned about how her death would affect them. I’m not sure whether it would affect five people or 500; it really doesn’t matter. People would be hurt. Does this mean that if my friend kills herself, she is being selfish? Well, by definition, yes.
But there’s a layer of complexity here. Extenuating circumstances, if you will. No one, especially me, wants to open a floodgate by saying that suicide is NOT selfish, or even by challenging the idea that it is a choice. It’s true that people that take their lives often do so after having been begged by loved ones not to do so. And it’s also true that any given suicide is the big result of probably dozens of little choices – to go to the store, to pick out the pills, to pay the cashier …
But suicide is, first and foremost, an act of desperation. No one “chooses” to commit suicide like they choose to have fish for dinner. And if you interview 10 suicide attemptors, you’ll probably find that eight of them honestly and truthfully believed that their loved ones would be happier without them. The end result of their action is extraordinary pain for those left behind. But it’s not intentional.
Does “lack of intent to harm others” make suicide okay? Of course not. But unless you have looked into that chasm yourself – unless you have experienced pain so deep that “dead” seemed like a really good thing to be – you don’t really understand.
Unfortunately, I do understand. I’ll be wearing red tomorrow. And can I ask you for prayers for my friend who is peering into that chasm now?
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
"I'm just afraid I'm gonna miss it all ..." –Karen Carpenter, to her therapist
When singer Karen Carpenter died on February 4, 1983, of an anorexia nervosa-induced heart attack, it was the first time many people ever heard of the eating disorder. Karen had an angelic face and voice. She was 32 years old. At the time of her death, Karen was 5’4” and weighed 108 pounds.
That same year, I was 5’5” and weighed 101, making me considerably thinner than Karen. But I was not anorexic. I suffered from anxiety, which killed my appetite, and I’d been shaped like Ichabod Crane all my life. I was terribly ashamed of my scrawny, boobless and hipless frame (I’ve since grown boobs, hips, and a good-sized ass – thank you for asking).
Because of my self-image as a teenager, I’ve always had a hard time acquainting extreme thinness with beauty. When I see an extremely skinny woman, I don’t think “How beautiful she is!” I think, “She needs to get some meat on those bones!” Mary-Kate Olsen and Calista Flockhart make me cringe. I like that Marilyn Monroe was 5-1/2” and weighed 140 pounds.
A flurry of Hollywood performers have come forward to share their stories of anorexia, bulimia, and cutting (an unholy trinity of disorders that often go together). Most recently, Brittany Snow of “American Dreams” announced that during the taping of the series, she battled anorexia, depression and self-mutilation. Just a few of the others: Margaux Hemmingway, Paula Abdul, Fiona Apple, Sandra Dee, Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Tracy Gold, Audrey Hepburn, Janet Jackson, Alanis Morissette, Sharon Osbourne, and Christina Ricci.
For many years, eating disorders were seen as a rich, white girl’s disease. Young women who were spoiled and surrounded by abundance wanted their bodies to be perfect, like models’ bodies are perfect, and so they were starving themselves like bratty little children at the dinner table refusing to finish their Brussels sprouts.
But thinking has evolved. Researchers are coming to the realization that many of those who suffer from eating disorders are not Caucasian, not privileged, and sometimes, not even women. Interestingly, anorexia is popping up all over the globe, even in rural communities in Africa where food is already scarce and people are not exposed to the Western media.
I’m no expert in eating disorders, and I’ve never been diagnosed with one, although I shed 20 or 30 pounds very quickly during my bipolar mixed episode. I had several reasons for not eating: I had a medical condition that made it hard to eat; I was extraordinarily anxious and so had no appetite, and I was severely depressed and so believed that I did not deserve food. However, looking like Angela Jolie was not on the list of my priorities. (I’ve since gained back the weight, plus a good deal more. Hello, yo-yo.)
The fact is, emaciated women aren’t sexy. So I have a hard time believing that “looking good for guys” is really at the heart of most women’s eating disorders. Ask most men and they’ll tell you. They like ‘em some tits. They like ‘em some ass. When I was a too-skinny teenager, I was told by one “boyfriend” that hugging me was like holding a skeleton. He never called again.
Instead, I think there’s something to the self-mutilation connection. One phenomenon that occurs among very religiously pious women is that they stop eating as a form of self-denial, or self-punishment. Why would self-injury so often appear with anorexia and/or bulimia? No one cuts themselves to look sexy. They’re expressing self-hatred with a razor blade. They can do the same by refusing to eat, or purging what they have eaten.
Self-hatred – for all the reasons it occurs – is an equal-opportunity tormentor. Ironically, famous women might be even more inclined to self-hate, if they feel guilty or undeserving of their great fortune.
It’s not about the pounds. It’s about the pain.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
If you can’t beat it, laugh at it. Here are my favorite psych gems … so far. Enjoy. Peace/Love, Alizah.
“I was going to buy a copy of "The Power of Positive Thinking,” and then I thought: What the hell good would that do?” –Ronnie Shakes
"I WILL NOT PRESCRIBE MEDICATION." –Bart Simpson writing on the chalkboard, "The Simpsons"
After a year in therapy my psychiatrist said to me, "Maybe life isn't for everyone." – Larry Brown
CLIENT: "That’s why yellow makes me sad, I think."
FORMER DRILL SERGEANT, TURNED BAD PSYCHIATRIST: "That’s interesting. You know what makes me sad? You do! Maybe we should chug on over to mamby-pamby land and find some self confidence for you, you jack wagon! Tissue…? You cry baby!" –Geiko commercial
The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!
A man goes to see his psychiatrist. He says, "Doctor, I've been having suicidal tendencies. What should I do?" The psychiatrist replies, "Pay your bill today."
"We are bringing a revolutionary new medicine to them, a medicine with which the Federation hopes to eliminate mental illness for all time!" –Captain Kirk's log, "Whom Gods Destroy," "Star Trek," January 1969
“I’m on Adderall and Xanax. So I’m ignoring you, but I don’t care.”
MRS. BAKERMAN: Dr. Hartley, if you're looking for a new member of our group, I know a nice schizophrenic.
MR. PETERSON: Or how about a manic-depressive? At least you know they'll be fun half the time.
–“The Bob Newhart Show”
"I told my therapist I was having nightmares about nuclear explosions. He said don't worry, it's not the end of the world." – Jay London
"'Neurotic' means he's not as sensible as I am, and 'psychotic' means he's even worse than my brother-in-law." –Karl Menninger
“He fills me with hope. Plus some other emotions which are weird and deeply confusing.” –Captain Zapp Brannigan, “Futurama”
BARRY: "I wanted to ask you something because you're a doctor ... I don't like myself sometimes. Can you help me?"
WALTER: "Barry, I'm a dentist." – "Punch Drunk Love”
"I am the Lord they God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me. Out of my way, asshole." –Jack, "The Dream Team"
"I read somewhere that 77% of all the mentally ill live in poverty. Actually, I'm more intrigued by the 23% who are apparently doing quite well for themselves." –Emo Philips
Out of my mind. Back in five minutes.
"Shit happens. Mostly to me, so don't worry." –Anonymous
“After 10 years in therapy, my psychologist told me something very touching. He said, “No hablo ingles.’” –Dennis Wolfberg
"If you talk to God, you are praying. If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia." – Thomas Szasz
Reality is overrated.
There are 3 kids, named Nobody, Somebody and Crazy. One day, an accident happens and Crazy runs like hell to the police station. Crazy: "Somebody killed Nobody!" Police: "Are you crazy?!" Crazy: "YES!"
"The other day, I cried. But you know what? Fuck that day. That's why God, or whoever, makes other days." – "Precious"
"I was depressed at that time. I was in analysis. I was suicidal as a matter of fact and would have killed myself, but I was in analysis with a strict Freudian, and, if you kill yourself, they make you pay for the sessions you miss." –Woody Allen, "Annie Hall"
Religion isn't the opium of the people. Opium is the opium of the people.
Why do psychiatrists give their patients shock treatment? To prepare them for the bill.
“If one person calls you a horse’s ass, you can blow it off. If 10 people call you a horse’s ass, it is time to buy a saddle.” –John Collis
"I remember when I lost my mind ... There was something so pleasant about that place." –"Crazy," Gnarles Barkley
"Can't a person sit here and have a nervous breakdown without being asked if something's the matter?!" –Charles Barsotti cartoon
"Marge, I know you've tried everything to keep Bart under control: Ritalin, Lithium, Zoloft. Well, they didn't work. He has moved on to DRUGS." – Superintendent Chalmers, "The Simpsons"
“One does a mitzvah, and this is the thanks one gets?” –The Dybbuk, “A Serious Man”
"What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?" – Ursula K. LeGuin
DONNIE:" I made a new friend today."
DR. THURMAN: " Real or imaginary?"
"If you could understand crazy, it wouldn't be crazy." -"Splice"
TODAY'S INSPIRATIONAL THOUGHT: Some people are like Slinkies. Not really good for anything, but they still bring a smile to your face when you push them down a flight of stairs.
You have the right to quit Toxic People. (They're contagious.) –Dr. SunWolf
“I hope some animal never bores a hole in my head and lays its eggs in my brain, because later you might think you're having a good idea but it's just eggs hatching.” – Jack Handy
"I'm so happy, I found my friends. They're in my head." –"Lithium," Nirvana
Monday, November 29, 2010
“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I woke up sad this morning. I’m sure this has happened to you: you have that familiar lump in your throat and pressure on your chest the moment you gain awareness, as if you’ve just had a very disturbing dream. But the dream (or nightmare?) has already faded from your memory, leaving the blue mood behind.
I had some chores to take care of this morning, but ruminated on all the things left undone around the house. I worried again about my job and our finances, my ailing elderly father, and my mother who seems to be getting old suddenly and quickly. I cried briefly as my cat stared at me, and then I re-applied my mascara and went to work.
For somebody with bipolar or clinical depression, this nebulous kind of sadness is a scary thing. Does it mean you’re on your way down again? And if so, how low will you go? When I got to work, I filled out today’s Mood Tracker and felt relieved to see I’d gotten the same score a few times over the past month but that it had always improved within 48 hours.
The bottom line is this: “sadness” and “depression” are not the same thing. One’s a chest cold; the other is emphysema. One is a bit of heart burn; the other is a potentially fatal case of e. coli. The anti-psych people say that mental illness “labels” stigmatize people for having normal emotions (I’ll be blogging on our debates soon). The truth is, everyone feels depressed sometimes, but not everyone gets depression – at least not the kind I’m talking about.
Unfortunately, there are many bad doctors who diagnose (and medicate) “the worried well.” Their patients are people who are perturbed by a contentious divorce, or who feel unfulfilled in their career, or who are finding it boring to be a stay-at-home mom. Allow me to be first in line to say that these people probably don’t need a psychiatric label, or the pills that go with them.
Likewise, I cringe when a friend who is going through an immediate crisis, like the death of a parent, is given a script for Prozac or Xanax – especially when they’re not referred to a talk therapist. I agree that you can’t just throw pills at people when their fear or grief is legitimate and must be worked through.
But again, I’m talking about something else.
* Have you ever lost more than 20 pounds because you felt that eating was a waste of food?
* Have you experienced several months unable to sleep for more than three or four hours a night?
* Have you had to lock yourself in the bathroom at work and do jumping jacks because you were so anxious and agitated? Ten or 12 times a day? Every day for two months?
* Have you gone from someone who always enjoyed wearing makeup and pretty outfits to someone who barely showered and wore the same clothes to work for days in a row?
* Have you ever laid down on the floor of the supermarket because you were so overwhelmed and confused by the different colors and labels?
* Have you ever been envious of people on the obituary page?
* Have you wondered whether you are still capable of love?
* Have you prayed for God to take you while you are asleep?
* Have you lost the ability to cry?
* Have you ever felt as if you are already dead?
Then you have experienced the deepest, darkest shade of blue.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
“At some stages of your life you will deal with things and at others you are overwhelmed with misery and anxiety.” –Nigella Lawson
I have laundry to do. I have bills to pay. I have bathrooms to clean.
Let’s be honest. There was never a time in my life when I looked forward to any of these tasks. My mother is the neatest, most organized, most squeaky-clean person in the world. If she sees a speck of dust, she’s right there with the Pledge. My living room furniture is covered with six months’ worth of dust; I didn’t inherit her perfection gene. I don’t invite her over anymore. She’d faint dead away.
Since I got really sick, though, my procrastination over these matters has become much, much worse. When I was in my mixed state, I couldn’t – literally couldn’t – do these jobs. Organizing the laundry was overwhelmingly confusing. Accounting for things in my checkbook was like trying to remember the first 75 numbers of pi. My brain honestly couldn’t comprehend things. And I was so weak from not eating and not sleeping that I couldn’t even carry the laundry to the basement.
I’m better now. Not a great deal better, but better enough to function. Still, thinking of doing distasteful tasks doesn’t just make me feel lazy – it makes me feel overwhelmed and anxious. Is there such a thing as a fear of housework? Strangely, I seem to have it.
I’m trying to figure out why. I used to get a feeling of satisfaction when finishing my checkbook or the bathroom. Now, I just feel ashamed because I got upset when I was doing the work and I cried. Doing the bills triggers my anxiety about money. Doing the housework triggers pathetic comparisons to my mom. Besides, I live with a couple of hoarders. Cleaning the house is like taking a thimble to the ocean. So it’s hard to even start.
I have to get over this thing. I have laundry to do. I have bills to pay. I have bathrooms to clean.