The ripple effect of suicide

Drawing of Camp Counselor

[TW: Description of Suicide Attempt]

The summer I was 15, I was at a camp where we lived in sailboats for a few weeks, learning to sail. Midway through camp, all the adults and counselors were at a meeting elsewhere, on a different boat, some 10 minutes away, leaving the teenagers alone on their own boats. Most of us on my boat were on deck enjoying the sun, but my roommate was not — worried at her absence, I went to check on her.

She had cut her wrists direct across, there were pills bottles and pills everywhere, and she wasn’t moving.  She looked like me — she was pale with blonde hair.  My brain felt pinned down by the sight of her.  She didn’t move until I touched her and she started crying, saying she was so sorry over and over again, and something like it shouldn’t have been me that found her. I talked to her, tried to see how deep her cuts were and how many pills she’d taken. I cleaned it up, I turned her wrists over.

I stayed with her for a moment and then called and asked for help, shielding her from view. I felt absolutely dazed. I knew she shouldn’t be alone and I knew we needed someone who could get her help and I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to die immediately, but I didn’t know how to execute that. Which is approximately what I said to everyone. The eldest guy said, “Well we need to get on the radio, what are you fucking stupid!” And I said, “I don’t know where to radio to.” He pushed past me and messed with the radio until it reached adults.

The push is the thing that broke my daze and I cried for two or three hours. Cried quietly while staying with her until help arrived, cried explaining how I’d found her, and cried loudly and uncontrollably when she was gone. I couldn’t eliminate the image of the blood on her arms from my head, on this apparent corpse that looked eerily like me somehow more in death than in life. And then I stopped crying, I couldn’t cry anymore. The images were still there and wouldn’t go away, but my ability to feel had gone.

She went to the hospital, had her stomach pumped and her wounds bandaged, and was taken home by her parents.

The entire camp watched Dead Poet’s Society, which has Robin Williams and is partially about suicide, that night, and I didn’t want to because I knew the subject matter and that it made me cry and I couldn’t imagine what it would do to me in that state. They made me though, suggesting it would distract me.  It didn’t make me cry, though, it didn’t make me feel anything. Nothing felt real. I just did what I was told. I didn’t even get bored.

My camp counselor suggested that I was probably in shock, that he definitely was, and that it would pass and that they couldn’t really do anything for me but talk if I wanted to. Others told me it wasn’t a big deal and she hadn’t died, so I shouldn’t be worried about it. Anyway, she’d been threatening to hurt herself so she could go home, so how was it a surprise. It was just a cry for attention.  There was no comfort, no one there who could comfort me, no one I knew.

I recovered from the acute stress reaction in about a week, and it was awful.  Not feeling anything had been so superior with dealing with my anger and shame and fear, for being so “fucking stupid” and being rattled by something that “didn’t matter.” It was the first of what would be many difficult mental health experiences in my life.  It is also where my mind would dwell when I started cutting myself when I was in college, it’s where my mind would dwell when I became suicidal myself a few years after seeing it — on walking into a room and seeing what I thought was a bloody corpse, there by self-inflicted injuries, bright red on white skin.

This is part of what people mean when they call suicide selfish.  It doesn’t go away for other people either.

On the insidiousness of Depression, Suicide, and Robin Williams

yowoto-aladdin-hugging-genieIt’s hard to see something like this happen to someone like Robin Williams, much like Stephen Fry’s revelation of attempted suicide last year. It reminds me that if I make it to 63 I will still be someone who struggles with depression and who could fail in that struggle at any time. It reminds me that it will never go away. And it reminds me that it doesn’t matter how much I accomplish, accomplishments will never be bulwark enough against the thing.

Living with chronic conditions, including depression and I imagine addiction, is remarkably difficult, even when those conditions are “under control,” because you’re just a bad day or a single wrong step away from them being massively out of control. And the daily grind of dealing with them, all the energy and money poured into treatment and counsel and behavior and environment can build up without warning and pull you down.

I am lucky that all my conditions are treatable to some extent. I’ve been on medication non-stop for 22 years and I will have to take medicine every day until I die. It is remarkable, really, that I’m alive, and I am grateful for it and the science that’s made it possible. But some days are a punch to the gut. And some days I am physically unwell. And some days I am sad. And some days they all happen at the same time. And some weeks are just collections of those kind of days. And some months are collections of those weeks.

I’m having that sort of a month, but I am OK. Because there are a lot of people in the world who love me and who I love and I know that, and many of you are here on Facbeook. Depression lies, but I don’t think it could ever convince me I didn’t love you all. And that is enough for today. And tomorrow I’ll figure out tomorrow.

Happy Friday the 13th – Zombies, suicide, and me talking abortion

Friday13Sometime, next week probably, I am going to discuss Richard Dawkins and abuse and trauma, but this week I thought I’d end on an upbeat note, since it is Friday the Thirteenth and I do suffer from friggatriskaidekaphilia.

1. ZOMBIES

I miss Ian ’round the old FtB haunts, but he’s still doing many interesting things. As a fan of 1. pop culture, 2. zombies, and 3. anti-racism, I am fairly certain that I am the precise audience for this.

In the following presentation, given in January of 2013 in Kelowna, BC, I explore the parallels between zombie movies and anti-racism, with examples drawn from classic horror scenes. I discuss how we can learn to understand racism in a contemporary context, and understand the role our subconscious plays in our interactions, and how we can use this knowledge to avoid and combat racism in the same way we use it to avoid and combat zombies.

http://crommunist.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/dont-go-in-there-talking-about-race-racism-and-race-issues-in-the-time-of-the-zombie-apocalypse/

2. SUICIDE

I make no secret of my deep love for Jennifer Michael Hecht.  My intellectual crush on her is boundless.

When you take your own life, you normalize suicide for people who liked you and who are like you. Once the numbers reach a critical mass, as they have in the military today, it is a massacre.

http://theamericanscholar.org/to-live-is-an-act-of-courage/?utm_source=email#.Ui9Zx2Q5zNo

3. ABORTION

Finally, yesterday I did my first toe-dipping into media appearances related to my new job with the wonderful as ever Jamila Bey.

From increasing the number of doctors trained in the procedure to working with social services agencies, Provide is working to ensure that all American women are able to exercise their constitutional rights despite living in jurisdictions that seek to impede this.

http://voiceofrussia.com/us/2013_09_13/Abortion-rights-organization-Provide-1675/

 

10 Sensible Gun Policy Changes

1. Acknowledge that, in a time of modern weapons, the Second Amendment makes no sense.

Until we are OK with individuals having tanks and nuclear weapons, we have to accept that the ability for the people to overthrow the government is not going to come from individual possession of guns.

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2. Take some lessons from how we treat driving and apply this in ALL states to ALL sales

A citizen who wants a gun and a concealed carry permit should go through exactly the same training and recertification as a cop would… it’s easier to get a gun as a citizen than as a cop.

  • Pass written test that includes safety instruction and horror stories
  • Pass practical test that includes safety test
  • Pass psychological test, screening for violence
  • Punish swiftly and harshly for having a loaded gun on you while being under the influence
  • Require gun insurance
  • Require yearly registration updates
  • Tax

3. Limit magazines to six bullets and don’t let them be detachable

Is there a single legitimate use of firearms that requires more than six rounds of continuous fire? Certainly not hunting. And not any sort of self-defense that’s realistically imaginable, unless you’ve recently antagonized a Mexican drug cartel

4. Code guns so that they can only be used by the person they are registered to

I saw it in Skyfall, it must be possible and Wikipedia confirms!  The technology is imperfect, but if there was a push, it could undoubtedly be effective very soon.  Adapt all guns, except those that are being kept as historical relics, to be adapted so that they can only be shot by the person with matching the fingerprints or biometrics of the person to whom it is registered.  No more easily stealing guns from your mother to mow down kindergarteners.

5. Limit gun purchases to one every thirty days

Ponder, for a second, the fact that I cannot walk into a C.V.S. today and purchase half-a-dozen packages of Sudafed, but I can walk into a gun dealership and purchase a .50 caliber rifle of the sort that U.S. snipers use in Afghanistan. In fact, I can buy six or ten—there is no limit imposed by law. Should the gun dealer think it fishy that I might want to acquire a weapon capable of downing a small aircraft (much less six of those weapons) he may report the purchase to the A.T.F. But in most states, he’s not required to.

6. Recognize that gun control is about reducing the chance of gun violence and it is impossible to eliminate it entirely

We are never going to eliminate gun deaths, there’s just no way to do that.  In the same way we cannot eliminate all car deaths, but we can make it safer and there are no good reasons not to.  When someone protests that an individual law isn’t going to completely end gun violence it needs to be recognized that this is a useless argument.

7. Recognize that most gun policy is (and should be) about how to prevent the routine daily deaths from gun violence, accidents, and suicides not just how to prevent massacres.

What happened last week was a horrific tragedy, but the number of gun deaths on a daily basis is just as much of a tragedy.  In 2010, 180 children under the age of 11 were killed by guns.  As tragic as 20 children being taken in one incident is, where’s the outrage for the other children?

Sandy Hook reminds us that we have about five times the murder rate of any other advanced country, and that most but not all of the difference is guns, and in particular concealable guns… But Sandy Hook is utterly atypical of our homicide problem.

8. Accept that people love shooting guns that are incredibly dangerous, and keep those guns many of us would like to ban at special gun ranges where they can be stored and taken out onto the range

Here’s an idea: If people really have a need to shoot Glocks and Sig Sauers at a firing range, how about the firing range own them and keep them, and enthusiasts drop in and rent the firearm of their choice for an hour or whatever? I know this violated the capitalist principle of ownership, and yes, it impinges on “freedom,” but it seems to me to slake the thirst in a way that maybe people could get accustomed to over time.

I think it’s important here that people could still own their guns, they just would have to store them in a safe place.  In the same way that Israel requires guns to be left behind by soldiers rather than taken home  – the implementation of that policy reduced soldier suicides dramatically.

9. Teach the actual statistics of gun crimes and gun control

I know this is a difficult and intractable problem of part of the public being resolutely uninformed and denying reality, but to have a real discussion about fixing the problem, people on both sides of the debate need to talk about the actual facts and what has and has not worked in the past.  There have been hundreds of example cases of gun control policies — instead of knee-jerk saying we need to ban guns or that gun control couldn’t possibly work, both sides need to look at the actual facts on the ground.  Let’s recognize that gun control more obviously affects suicide rates than homicide rates and recognized that reducing suicide rates is also a worthy goal, not a reason to ignore policy.

The NRA promotes myths about gun control that need to be countered with actual facts.

10. Let’s stop talking about “bans” and “control” and start talking about “regulation” and “safety”

Gun control is not gun elimination — it is about regulating the use of guns and who can have them.  In the same way the name of the “pro-life” movement has framed the abortion debate, the idea of “bans” and “controls” are language that is used by the NRA and other gun-enthusiasts to frighten people away from sensible ideas that are really gun “regulation” and gun “safety measures”.  Surely if we are OK with drugs being regulated, we can be OK with guns being regulated — and drugs are designed to save lives, not to destroy them!

11. Create ammunition policy as well. License, regulate, and track bullets.

Gone

I’ve been gone for a few days, in part because I started school, and in part because there was a tragedy at school. I couldn’t muster interest in Internet Words when I wasn’t even able to offer useful words to people right in front of me.

Which brings me to this.

I’d like you to do something for me. It might just be for me.
Or you might use it to help someone else later.

Take out your phone (or, if you’re reading this on your phone, congratulations on efficiency!)
Open your contact list, or whatever, and type an ‘A’. Hit the space bar, and then type in ‘Suicide Hotline’.
The extra first letter means that the number will always be at the top of your contacts–useful in an emergency, and a good reminder that you have it.

The actual number to use will vary, but here’s a (very incomplete) list:

US of A: 1-800-273-8255
The Netherlands offers online therapy, as well as phone-in services.
The UK: 08457 90 90 90
Australia: 13 11 14
Israel has Mental Health Aid hotline(s) for a variety of different language speakers. Click the link to find the correct one.

So put it into your phone.  Acknowledging suicidal ideation is messy and complicated, and too often we decide it’s easier to pretend they aren’t really serious, they couldn’t be that depressed. Don’t do that. Call this number. Hand over the phone.

You don’t know what to say? You don’t have to. You just have to take them seriously, and try to get them the help they need. This is a first step.

Do it for me?

Feel free to add numbers for other countries in the comments