Suicide. Not really any other word to say it.

This is a roaming post, with possible follow ups as there are so many elements I am attempting to understand, they cannot all be addressed coherently at once, my apologies for that. This post concerns topics that may be triggers and disturbing, please contact your local support numbers if you are in need of assistance, seriously, do so. I don’t know what those contact numbers might be for you but please use the internet to find one and take any steps you need to start a process of communication – talk to someone. There is always a someone even if you have to be assertive and blunt to get them to listen to you. We misunderstand each other all the time, it is okay to be rude to be heard when it is really important, even if you don’t really have the words to explain, just say, even if it’s your Mother tell them: ‘Please, this is important, can you hold your own thoughts and opinions for just one moment to give me the time I need to express myself.’ Whomever it is, they will forgive you. If you wish to message me, I will reply. 

There is an elephant in the room. ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ is the closest the elephant has been named in a good long while. I am late to the party in regard to the programme but late is better than never. We don’t talk about suicide, teenage or young adult suicide in particular, because research tells us the butterfly effect will implement and we will encounter a hurricane of like response. I think that is bullshit. In all the involvements in my life experience I have never encountered a multiple response. I do know that in our small town (50k folk) there were 4 recent deaths by suicide in one weekend that were not found to be related in anyway, that for a small town is a horrifying number, even more scary when you look at the age of these four boys, they all identified as males and were all teenagers. If we don’t arm our young people with appropriate weaponry (information) then how can they arm themselves appropriately (holistically)? It’s not an easy discussion with an easy answer, yet, how can we not discuss it? The programme is set in the US, the problems are no less identifiable to someone from NZ therefore likely relatable in many first world countries. It is hard to discuss anything in absolutes, that is where science comes in and, at times where science gets in the way. I am going to share my experiences, season this with research and go from there.

There is a huge anomaly with research that I want to point out, this is something that disgusted me when I first discovered it and it still does, with empirical (observation based research) data there are certain readings that are called outliers that are ‘removed’ ostensibly to maintain the integrity of the research. These are those that are outside the ‘bulk’ of the research and considered those unique individuals that ‘corrupt the data’. In the United States currently all data relating to Native Americans is considered  ‘outlier’ data in the general population. In relation to suicide, Native Americans have the highest, most violent and most successful suicide rates all of all Americans yet these statistics are not included or well represented in the national standard, so not to skew the statistics. It is unbelievable that science, that research purported to be seeking truth, would distort information to better serve the median of a population. Unfortunately, this is the general first world scientific approach to any question, including the uncomfortable questions and the research attached to these questions. My point is, whatever research is presented in any news article, ask yourself the question, for whom does the research serve and whom are not or are misrepresented here (as outlier)? As a general rule, scientific studies should provide any outlier data that has been removed somewhere in their findings section or appendices but this is not likely to be included in more general articles relaying evidence from those studies.

If you are still with me, you are more patient than most. Where do I start with my personal story? Do I begin with my nephew and the most beautiful smile of satisfaction I saw in him not knowing after-the-fact that the satisfaction derived from his intended end of life; or my sons young classmate that we both knew for so many years who was gone out of the blue with no explanation… suicide and unintended/accidental death take us by utter surprise. I have found, in regard to reaction for the bereaved, it is hard to differentiate between suicide and accidental death. Shock, rather obviously, is not unusual, I think reaction to sudden death is no different if accidental or self-inflicted until one discovers the truth in relation to cause of death, both are simply horrifying. In the case of both, understanding the truth of the situation is no less important. In the case of suicide I believe it is all the more horrifying in that you search for what you should have done to stop the event… accidental death hits just as hard, there will always be the two hardest words in the English language, the ‘if only’s’, there is probably nothing except the conscience in your head that can give you some peace of mind. Ultimately the difference between accidental/sudden death and suicide, is intention. All sudden deaths are appalling, yet suicide is meditated and therefore intentional, for those left behind, in grief, there will always be a question of guilt, a question of what should I have done, what didn’t I do… one of the highest suicide rates in the world is in my country. The majority of those suicides are young men although there are plenty of females too. I would like to see that change.

I remember my first recognition of my mortality and how intense the experience was. It was the moment I realised that not only were my parents mortal but I was too. It was in 1986, I was 8 years old and Halley’s Comet was putting in an appearance. I was hungry for astronomy not that I really knew what this entailed at the time but I was desperate to view the comet we had been talking about in school and the idea inflamed my mind with possibilities. The weather in NZ was poor therefore visibility was impaired, but apparently it was the worst viewing opportunity in 2000 years due to placement of Earth, our Sun and the comet but we didn’t know that at that time. I remember multiple nights of my Father and I traversing the long driveway of our home seeking to view the comet. The last night of possible viewing the sky was clouded and a gentle rain fell upon us, my father had put me up on his shoulders to walk and said to me in a relaxed offhand way: ‘Well, I won’t ever have a chance to see Halley’s again, but you might be alive to have another chance in 2061.’ That moment was a game changer for me. I realised that my Father would be dead by then, and that I might be too.

I can’t remember any further interaction we had, I am sure we discussed a few things… the thing that stands out for me is that a year later I was suicidal, seriously suicidal and I can’t imagine any 9 year old being that way now. It utterly horrifies me that any child would feel such grief, shame, loss, pain… enough to want to cease living. Yet I did. I really did. I prayed to God continuously to just make it easy for me, to kill me. When that didn’t work I put some research in and found I didn’t have the physical strength to complete the tasks, I had enough to create scars but not complete my intended task. But why was I looking to end it all? Simply, there was no safe place for me. The father who had walked me down the drive night after night to view Halley’s Comet was not on my side anymore. My parents went through a messy divorce (she cheated on him, my brother found out and told our father….) and well, I was alone. My two brothers had always supported one another, I was, in their words, smarter than them and our mother didn’t beat me, like she did them. But she had other ways of being manipulative, I didn’t know which way was up with her. I brushed my hair wrong she bashed me with the hairbrush (that doesn’t count as physical abuse apparently), she confused me by withholding her attention, support, love and contorted everything I shared with her, so I stopped sharing… it is all a bit hard to explain. But she had her reasons, she had been seriously abused and had no support or been taught, let alone to survive, but to heal. I knew this, even at such a young age, but it didn’t help. I was a young child, abandoned by my family and the school I went to found every weak point and pushed on it viciously.

I was constantly shamed at school.  For my haircut, for my hand-me-down clothes, for my dumpy figure, for my glasses, for my families socioeconomic status… girls invited me to their houses just to gather more information to shame me with. This was before the digital age, before Myspace, Facebook, Whats app, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter… we had to use wall mounted telephones in the main shared area of the house to physically speak to others in their homes, or physically go to their houses. Boys bribed the girls in my class to tell them if my hair colour was the same as my pubic hair, then without my knowledge this ultimately private information was made public knowledge. My diary was stolen and read our loud to large groups at school. It is hard to describe how awful it was, I had no safe place, no genuine friends to find comfort or companionship, no safe place at home, the only place I was safe was when I was alone. So I cultivated aloneness. After accepting it wasn’t easy to die I decided to keep myself ‘alone’. This means building serious barriers, they failed time and time again, but I kept trying. But there were glimmers of light. A girl transferred to our school and chose me as a friend, I had her support for a couple of years before we went to different High Schools. When I was 15 I was called in to speak with a school councellor. It had been noted that I had been truant a lot and the schools policy was to have the school councellor speak with the teenager, no punishment involved with non-attendance just come and speak or not speak. I didn’t speak much but the councellor was worth his salt and got a clear picture of part of my story, enough to give me a life line and some tools with which to manage. I am not going to say anything was roses after that but I had tools that helped me survive and push through, to survive long enough for my brain to mature and connections to be made that were bigger than the small world I was existing within. I, again briefly, encountered another councellor a few years later, who provided me with another source of support and understanding getting me through another trying time that I was unwilling to share with my family.

Whether teenagers engaging with a councellor express that they have had any worthwhile assistance from them, I think it is a very beneficial service, especially if they are providing tools, not judgement, and not expecting teenagers to admit to them in a potentially one time visit everything that they have been unable to share with anyone else. If they can coax this out of a teenager that is wonderful, but likely there is less time to develop the trust required for this level of self-expression particularly if you are expressly fishing for information outside of the immediate experience of the individual. For this you need good counsellors in place and my country just announced a well funded mental health fund focussed on 18-25 year olds. I think this will be beneficial if it is being managed correctly. If it doesn’t rely on non-outlier data, if the councellors are real people that find ways to engage with their possibly one off clients. If, they can get those willing to take their own lives to speak about the potential of surviving. What life might look like on the other side of hard and dark times. What their future could be.

Going back to Thirteen Reasons Why. It has been cathartic for me to watch the series. It was hard but helped me to remember that others went through similar childhood/teenage experiences and many are going through them right now. And that although I felt desperately alone then, I am not alone now. It reminds me to speak openly and honestly with those around me in my day to day life, to remember we all have our baggage and that the person in front of you might be having a terrible day. It reminds me to be kind. To always, always be kind.

Errant.

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Daring Greatly

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So, a while ago I wrote about the dangers of, or concerns around, striving for perfection. I don’t think I made clear that I believe, think, feel that recognising our imperfection and striving to be authentic and continue the active process of becoming ourselves is the key to our ability to enjoy our lives to the fullest and express who we are with meaning and therefore satisfaction. I think these are the things that lead us beyond Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into a new realm of more holistic needs that are better suited to humanity’s way of being, within the current culture, and may well lead to a revolution, perhaps even enough of one to start to change our evolution.

To the evolutionary biologist, evolution occurs over a long periods of time (millions of years kind of time). The smallest amount of time most are willing to suggest this has measurably occurred in humans and other species (referred to as rapid evolution, contemporary evolution or evolution within an ecological timescale) is within 50-100 generations. In today’s worldwide culture we tend to use the word ‘evolution’ rather loosely when what we often mean to reflect is a paradigm shift in an individual’s experience (as opposed to an entire species genetic direction). Yet, there is increasing evidence that species of many kinds are passing on learning to their young which is enabling them to enter their world with greater advantage and adaptation and, depending on your definition of evolution in biological terms, this is starting to influence the scientific worlds take on evolution. The recognition that evolution is not just genetic adaptation but is beginning to be seen as 50% genetics and 50% environment (or some similar measurement) is becoming more commonplace.

Returning to the idea of ‘perfection’, in terms of evolutionary biology homo-sapiens have never been perfect. There is a bit of a trend currently to idealise different periods of our evolutionary history such as pre-agriculture or the paleolithic period. The truth is that there is no time in human history that humans were perfectly in harmony with our environment or perfect in any particular way. “Humans are not at the pinnacle of any evolutionary ladder… Evolution is always working from existing parts… Organisms are not in ‘perfect harmony’ it is more that evolution just has to be good enough.” (Prof. Marlene Zuk, 2014). How many of us feel that we are ‘good enough’? I wonder if we started to think that we were just good enough if that might help many of us fill the void of doubt, fear and shame that drives us toward worthlessness, self-loathing, overthinking, over analysing, anxiety and depression…

In terms of religion or philosophical belief, without getting into great depth across multiple belief systems, there is a strongly familiar repetition that we are moving towards rediscovering, finding or reaching for perfection. Do our religious beliefs ever suggest that we were born imperfect? That our road leads us towards authenticity and that this is the greatest honesty we can achieve? It is easier to lose ourselves to a saviour that will cleanse us of our imperfections than to take the more honest and seemingly harder road toward just being our imperfect selves. It is easier to succumb to addictions, be they substance or material based, than accept our vulnerability. As researcher Brené Brown asks, in her infamous TEDex talk, how many of you see vulnerability in yourself as weakness yet when you see someone else expose their vulnerability you see courage.

The road to happiness, it starts with allowing yourself to be vulnerable. To be yourself, not who you think others think you should be but who you really are. It takes great risk and potentially terrifying honesty. In a world where we are told to ‘harden up’ or buy into the consumerist/capitalist idealism, and swallow the culture, politics or pseudo-psychology that is sold to us in bite size nominalisations, what we might really need to do is allow ourselves to be courageously vulnerable so that we can begin to accept our imperfections, feel worthy and experience innovation, creativity, real connection and happiness.

 

word errant satiety image courtesy of alltelleringet on deviantART

 

 

 

Time

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‘The hidden world has it’s clouds and rain, but of a different kind.

It’s sky and sunshine are of a different kind.

This is made apparent only to the refined ones – those not deceived by the seeming completeness of the ordinary world’

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (1207-1273)

As illusion or reality, or within the eye of the beholder, time is relative. Relative in the sense that how we experience it, from the subjective or objective self; or that other place referred to sometimes as the ‘observing self’*. From each of these places time differs. From each of these places the ability to learn, adapt and change differs.

From the objective self, that recognises the seemingly simple fact that the matter that makes up our unique form can interact with other matter, time is about measurable forces: It takes two minutes to brush the teeth in my gums in my mouth, I know the length of time my tea requires to infuse before removing the teabag and adding milk, sugar or cold water then calculating the measure of time before I attempt to consume the heated liquid to avoid harming my delicate body. It is formed from physical interactions and the memories of those interactions. This is our sensory self.

From the subjective self, somewhat less precise measurements appear. Emotion enters the frame which creates all manner of differing perspectives on time. Time to heal. Time to calm down. Time to catch the trout that eludes me. Time to write that poem that is on my mind. This kind of time is highly relative. We all need a different amount of time to manage, understand and come to terms with our emotions. This kind of time relates to our culture, our environment, our genes, our experiences, education, beliefs and morals… the list is perhaps in-exhaustive depending on the subjective consciousness of the ‘whom’ that writes it. This is our thinking, feeling, sensorial self.

From the observing self another kind of time entirely is engaged. What is the observing self? Since your birth your cells have died and regenerated. If we were entirely biological beings with no consciousness or ability to form lasting memory networks then we would not retain any sense of ‘I’. We may retain object consciousness on a basic survival level, fire equals potential harm therefore caution is required, but not retain a sense of ‘I am this particular being that holds memories and information pertaining to my subjective existence’. The observing self is a form of consciousness that overarches, or integrates, all of this. It is that I we enter sparingly, some more than others, that sees connections, knowledge, experience and emotion differently. This is our mystical self. The self that observes our subjective (and objective) self.

What real life application does these potentially esoteric observations offer? The ability for growth and change. The ability for intuitive moments and great leaps of consciousness and understanding. The opportunity of an experience beyond the immediate and potentially known ‘self’ within which to temper experience. A ‘place’ beyond the temporal, reaching into something much deeper; that which is called by many names (and religious/spiritual traditions) and is open to all to experience directly, exposing and developing their identity with something greater than any individual, the whole. The whole and our journey of our developmental and eventual evolutionary journey to become. Evolution# comes from small change. Perhaps beginning to understand ourselves provides greater opportunity for progression.

 

*Arthur J. Deikman, M.D: ‘The Observing Self’ Beacon Press, Boston, 1982.

# Not to belittle or confuse this ‘sacred’ scientific word that usually relates to progression or adaptation of a species over many, many generations

Word errant satiety image courtesy of jonathanjessup on deviantART

Reverberate – love song triptych

Tears of Sorrow JollyPen

Let the shuddering tears take you

The tremors will subside

The tide will change

Healing will fill you with calm

Embrace the painful moments

Grace, will come

You will wake and know shame

You will realise that guilt is of no use

Self-induced punishment a waste

Of your potential

Embrace the honesty of real pain

Let suffering guide you

To greater integrity

Sweetheart, let the tears come

Truth will follow

 

This is a little series of love songs I have started. They are written for my beloved self…

 

words errant satiety image courtesy of JollyPen on deviantART

musical offering Tracy Chapman ‘At This Point in my Life’

 

 

Rise

The rise

I had covered my fragility with a skin of stone. Believed that to be needed was to be loved. That to be compassionate was to avoid causing pain and therefore meant to deny the self. That to be loyal was to lock away the truth as a secret. That the jewel of my consciousness needed a protector. I wore the future as a brittle crown that cut and bled when I strayed from the path others wished me to walk. The butterfly of my soul flutters incessantly within the labyrinth prison of thought I have bound myself within. But to offer false hope is cruel. Trembling, I sought to open the window to allow my soul back in. Remembering the fall I realise I have allowed devolution to go too far with half-truths and excuses of why fear was too strong. But ascent is still possible. It is absolutely vital and ravenous, I hunger for it.

 

Words errantsatiety image courtesy of Trichardsen on deviantART

Parting Mist

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A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.‘ Shir Hashirim – Song of Songs – Chapter 4 vs 12, Tanakh & Old Testament

The searing heat of love burns away imagined seals of self. Through the mist emerges truest self, freedom from treacherous bonds of consuming demons of doubt. Beauty rising from the poisonous steam of dross shed, accepting, powerful, graceful and alive.

Words and image errant satiety