Pushing silence out of suicide’s way


Recently, I decided to take a course called Introduction to Counselling because I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a Masters and before I can even apply there’s a bunch of pre-requisites to be completed. One baby step at a time.

My ultimate goal, a never ending journey in the past few years, is to find a way to do something for money that complements my writing but will bring in more money than my writing has and will enable me to be self-employed.  I love the idea of doing more than one thing to make money. In fact, going to one job, in one place, for the whole day just seems like too many contradictions: a luxury, a penance and some retro fantasy that seems really outdated, especially if you have an artsy background.

Now, those of you who know me know that I’ve had way more than an introduction to counselling in my own life. Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt. Pretty much already have the PhD in life experience.   But, no, that’s not true because I don’t, have a PhD that is, and because it’s different when you’re on the other side.  Surprise, surprise. Counselling is harder than it looks, and so far, in the class, we’ve only been practicing with fellow students, people who aren’t desperate, or even if they are, aren’t expecting you’ll be able to help them help themselves, for real.

It’s been a fascinating experience because it takes away any illusion one might have about other people being so much more together. They’re not. Simple. Done. Wipe the hands. Everybody’s got their shit. It’s an absolutely hallelujah moment to recognize that everybody’s got their shit and, well, so what?  Next. Moving right along.  The question is, are you dealing with it or inflicting it?

I mean if Robin Williams is done, what hope is there for the rest of us? And I really wonder if that’s what some of the more fragile out there are going to think. I wonder if the suicide hot lines are going to be off the charts this week with people who feel this way after the tragedy of Robin Williams taking his own life.

On  a more positive note, I feel like we are reaching a turning point, a barely visible shift when it comes to depression and other mental illnesses being taken seriously, and it’s been slower than proverbial molasses. People finally get that depression is an illness, not a sign of weakness, and most importantly, it’s real. Don’t dismiss it. Don’t moralize. Don’t ignore the signs. Don’t think you’re better because you’re always just fine thank you very much. Hold the cliches. You know what they are. Think on the bright side. You’re glass is either half empty or half full. Cheer up. It’s not so bad. Count your blessings. What have you got to be depressed about?

When I was in high school and suffered what I consider my first major bout of depression, I might as well have been naked on a raft in the middle of an ocean with nothing but a Bengal tiger and a hyena for company. It was the 1970’s. Depression? What’s that? That’s how alone, how ashamed, how isolated and desperate I felt made worse by how everyone around me reacted by not reacting at all. I could feel the shame. Was I embarrassing them? I can still recall the misery all these years later, and the misery of every time the darkness beyond black has descended. Immobilized. Ashamed. Here but not here. Stuck. And yet still a worthy human being. Right here. Me. Deal with it.

I have experienced the suicide of someone I loved. I know the devastation first hand. His name was Mac Rymal. I have heard about the suicide of someone I played basketball with for five years in high school, attended her funeral, and the pain of knowing how and what she did, leaving behind three young daughters as a result,  is something I think about regularly. I’ve always wondered how her girls, one just a baby at the time, have made out in life and I have never forgotten her. She was the captain of our championship basketball team. Her name was Donna Digby.

It might surprise you to know that the death rate for suicide is higher than the death rate from motor vehicle accidents. It surprised me.

It’s no longer okay for the S words to remain in the closet. Are you thinking of killing yourself?” is a legitimate question. It needs to be asked when it needs to be asked. It won’t push someone over the edge.

It’s so long overdue, one loss after another, to kick those other two S words: silence and stigma, to the curb.

Expanding End-of-Life rationales

whiteflowerYesterday, as I often do first thing in the morning, I was listening to The Current on CBC and the show just happened to be about euthanasia, specifically about the laws in Belgium as they related to medically-assisted death. Now, I admit, listening to that topic is probably not the best way to start a dark, grey, rainy January morning but what can I say? I just turn on the radio and life (and death) streams out.

I was horrified to hear the tragic story of this 64-year-old woman who opted for euthanasia in April 2012 after suffering from chronic depression for years. Her son found out about her decision, the day after her medically-assisted death.    And in Belgium, where she resided, it’s legal for someone to opt for medically-assisted death in response to a chronic physical or psychological illness.

Now, in Belgium, they have just extended medically-assisted death for children who are in unbearable pain from a terminal illness and with the consent of their parents and doctors.

As The Current highlighted, Quebec is in the process of debating Bill 52 which would legalize medically-assisted dying.

Oregon is the state you want to live in, if you are determined to control your end of life in the U.S.A.

I think anyone who has experienced depression and recovered from it might agree about how bad an idea it is that chronic depression be included as a legal reason to end your life. Being in the bowels of a depression with seemingly no end in sight is an incredibly painful experience. The mind is altered during a serious depression. It’s not a time when decision-making based on an assessment clouded by depression is to be trusted. The very nature of depression creates a lessening, if not outright loss, of hope which can mean less than objective insights into the possibilities for recovery or a belief that life will and can be different.  2013photos_flower

I have known two friends who committed suicide and I have watched my mother be taken off dialysis and wait for her body to shut down naturally, lying in the corner of a horrible four-bed hospital room for more than three weeks.  The three weeks it took for her body’s systems to stop seemed anything but compassionate to me.  After two years on dialysis, and at 84 years of age, she’d had enough and opted out. She rejected the treatment that could prolong her life; a life she deemed no longer worth living because of the treatment.

I often wondered to myself how a doctor’s compliance with a patient’s wishes to stop dialysis is more acceptable than a medically-assisted death that’s more active. My mother’s decision was an active one that was questioned more than once to be certain she understood the consequences of her choice in the same way, I assume, a person would be questioned in an active medically-assisted death.

In Belgium, the legislation apparently refers to active and passive euthanasia.   It seems to me that doctors and nurses are continually faced with choices and decisions that require them and their patients to participate in passive euthanasia.

It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I listened to a 90-year-old friend speak about why it’s important that death, regardless of circumstances, be allowed to descend upon its own time that I began to waiver in my own belief in end-of-life choice.

Should there be a difference between chronic physical and psychological conditions when it comes to having the right to choose to end your life? If so, what are the differences?

January mood watching


DSC_0535As someone whose life has been buffeted, paused, accelerated and dictated by moods for as long as I can recall, I have always been fascinated by the impact of mood on creativity.

I don’t know if it’s a scientific fact but it’s been stated ad nausea that individuals diagnosed as manic depressive or bipolar can be extremely creative. Moods push introspection. Maybe it’s as simple as that. Which came first? The mood extremes or the soul inflicting itself on the brain’s chemistry? Nature. Nurture. Is there an in-between?

There’s a recognition, at the very least, that there’s been a dislocation away from that other place – the comfortable, busy one -where just getting out of bed, doing the dishes, friends, family, working, exercising and planning the next vacation is enough.

When well, days fling themselves impatiently past analysis, questioning, indecision. You forget about that hiding place –  the quiet, controlled space; no interference –  that’s sure to elbow its way to the forefront of time again – guaranteed – especially if it has descended in the past, more than once.

Depression strikes fear into the body’s memory, especially in those who have recovered from it more than once (is recovery ever fully possible?). They’ve resourced every ounce of will to put one foot in front of the other to recreate a life anew; one that builds upon the one they used to have and that used to work before that one disintegrated. Depression as grief. A life changed.

In the past, depression has been known to birth bad and/or brilliant poetry. Now, it’s more likely to suggest itself in un moments. A blank page. Indifference. Indecision. And writing, that form of expression that’s as natural as breathing, is sometimes confiscated as well.

Chronic bouts of depression can force a series of starting overs that become more exhausting as the years accumulate. Beginnings are required, more so it seems to me, for those who live with the irregular return of descent than for those who have never been captured by its creeping reach.

Building a life from scratch every few years can be exhausting. As someone else once wondered about in an essay on his father’s struggle, did his father wake up one day and ask himself, should I answer e-mail, should I go for a walk or should I just put an end to this pointless exercise?

Looking back on my history there is no disputing the decades-long personal case study that transforms flow to a drip in activity.  When the stillness descends, I ask myself what might have been if consistency of anything had been a faithful friend?  What would be through the window of the reliable – in work, in relationships, family and friends?  Would that type of security have enabled a more steady flourishing?

I once did an exercise in What Colour is Your Parachute. It asks readers to draw a chart of the most significant things that they recall, positive and negative, in decade-long increments.  When I did that exercise, the obvious was visually revealed. My chart resembled an EKG.   There were no undulating foothills, meandering streams, or sloping ravines. Instead, jagged ups and downs. Definite. Assertive. No denying. Full-on foreign expeditions, backroads, detours. Up/down. Up/down. Keep going. Days in. Days out. Vast horizons, blinding tundra, barren fields, rocky outcrops until a slow rejuvenation, the half hidden path back to equilibrium.

With therapy, with medication, a single paper white in the grass emerges. One green shoot, then another. Easy to trample as the momentum towards the next beginning gathers.