“How do we forgive ourselves for all of the things we did not become?” ~ David ‘Doc’ Luben, from “14 Lines from Love Letters or Suicide Notes”

/Portals/14/EasyDNNRotator/61184/2vmm2jv5.jpg
September 8-14 is Suicide Prevention Week

“You were said to have died of suffering. […] You died because you searched for happiness at the risk of finding the void.” ~ Édouard Levé, from Suicide

  stigma_2

Monday afternoon. Stormy and cool, 74 degrees.

I’ve been holding on to the center of this post in anticipation of this week. You see, this post began as a reflection on Robin Williams, but after doing some pondering, I decided that the subject matter was so much bigger than one person. To that end, I have included lots of links that I hope may be useful to anyone just wishing to learn more, anyone looking to help a friend or family member, or anyone feeling a bit lost.

If the information I have gathered here helps even one person, then the entire reason for this blog and some of what I try to do here will have been validated.

This week is Suicide Prevention Week, and September is Suicide Prevention Month for the military. You might be surprised at the statistics related to suicide. Follow this link for a detailed list of suicide facts. Go here to learn more about military suicides, or call the Veterans’ Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, option 1.

Suicide Oncoming2

If you think someone you know may be suicidal, here are some key warning signs from AAS (American Association of Suicidology):

How do you remember the Warning Signs of Suicide?
Here’s an easy-to-remember mnemonic:

IS PATH WARM?

 I  Ideation
Substance Abuse

Purposelessness
Anxiety
Trapped
Hopelessness

Withdrawal
Anger
Recklessness
Mood Changes

A person in acute risk for suicidal behavior most often will show:

Warning Signs of Acute Risk:
Threatening to hurt or kill him or herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself; and or,
Looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means; and/or,
Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary.

These might be remembered as expressed or communicated ideation.  If observed, seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional or calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a referral.

Additional Warning Signs:

  • Increased substance (alcohol or drug) use
  • No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all of the time
  • Feeling trapped – like there’s no way out
  • Hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and society
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Dramatic mood changes

If you are looking for a crisis center near you, click on this link.

Suicide StickFigures5

Here are a few key facts to ponder:

  • According to the New York Times, suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern that a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.
  • The Center for Disease Control reports that U.S. suicide deaths now outnumber deaths by automobile accident, the rate has jumped almost 20 percent in the last decade The suicide rate among Americans 45 to 64 has jumped more than 30 percent in the last decade.
  • One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds around the world, the World Health Organization says in a new report that finds few countries have specific policies focused on preventing suicide.
  • According to SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices in Education), there are twice as many deaths due to suicide than HIV/AIDS.
  • There are four male suicides for every female suicide, but there are three female suicide attempts for each male attempt. (AAS)
  • Each year, 1 in 65,000 children ages 10 to 14 die by suicide.(SAVE)
  • Last year, 185 active-duty Army soldiers died by suicide, surpassing the 176 soldiers killed in battle in Afghanistan that year. The Army’s annual death toll from suicide has more than tripled since 2001, when 52 active-duty soldiers took their own lives. (Huffington Post)
fenway

“And the whole landscape seems littered
with fallen dreams.” ~ Richard Jackson, from “Possibility”

A few weeks ago, I encountered an emotional body slam the likes of which I had not experienced in quite a while when I heard of Robin Williams’s suicide, and while it may seem a bit strange that I was so affected by the suicide of someone I had never met, you have to understand that I grew up with Robin Williams, first as the alien Mork, and then later with all of his various movie incarnations and one-man shows.

To me, the comic/actor’s frenetic energy belied his incredible wit and intellect. Williams could improvise instantly on any given topic thrown at him by the audience. In the Disney movie Aladdin, Williams first improvised his lines, and then his character was animated. His performance in Bird Cage with Nathan Lane makes it one of the few comedies that I will rewatch. Williams was a throwback to the very physical comedians of the 40’s and 50’s.

Robin Williams in Las Vegas
Robin Williams in Las Vegas (Reuters)

Of course, like any actor, Williams had his hits and his misses, but even in his misses there were moments of pure genius.  It’s as if no one project could contain him, his persona always bigger than the vehicle. But I loved his turns in dramas as much as I loved his comedies. It was his face, his ability to move his face in improbable ways, and his deeply sad blue eyes. Like many people, if I had not already read of his depressive episodes, I never would have associated the man with suicide.

Yet as we now know, on August 14, the funny man chose a final exit, one from which he would never return. And that isn’t funny at all.

Of course there was the morbid reporting, the details of the death, the rampant speculation, including some bizarre claim about the Illuminati. Nothing can hold the vultures at bay. Yet within all of this were a few nuggets worth notice: Williams was talking about future projects. His family was unaware of his suicidal thoughts.

And what this means is that Williams, in death, was much the same as any other person considering suicide: how much is hidden from everyone, how much is faked, how little is actually shared—until it’s too late. Although his unrestrained demeanor was on display for the public, we can never know of the great sadness he kept private.

And that is the very nature of suicide: its two opposing faces.

“Silence. Everything here is now clothed
in strict grief; and this passion,
like bad kerosene, barely burns.” ~ Cesar Vallejo, from “Plaster”

As I’ve said, I loved so many of the man’s projects, but I stayed away from his recent television show simply because the previews seemed a bit forced. I really don’t know what I mean when I say that, only that it just didn’t appeal to me. I loved him as the killer in Insomnia, and the creepy stalker in One Hour Photo, and as contrived as it was, his turn in Jack broke my heart. Unlike many, I loved the fantasy of What Dreams May Come, and he remains my favorite Peter Pan from Hook.

But I won’t hesitate to say that my favorite Robin Williams’ movie was Dead Poets’ Society

Years ago when I was teaching an American literature class, I used the movie Dead Poets’ Society to discuss place as it influences characters. I invited the students to view the movie in a different way, paying attention to the time period in which it was set, the cloistered effect of an all-boys’ elite boarding school, and the different roles of the three main characters (Keating, Neil, and Todd) and what made them outsiders.

As Keating in Dead Poets’ Society

I always thought that casting Robin Williams in this period drama was genius. The fact that he wasn’t completely restrained only added to his characterization as the prodigal student returned in the role of faculty member; his interjections of John Wayne impersonations only cemented the fact that Keating would never really belong at Welton Academy, no matter how much he tried.

And while some of my colleagues criticized the movie for being too simplistic and predictable, I found myself loving it for so many reasons—watching the moment Todd sounds his barbaric yawp, seeing the young Josh Charles as the lovestruck teen. And who can forget the final scene when the boys stand on their desks in an homage to their captain . . .

To this day I cannot watch DPS without weeping at the ending, at the loss of the artistic tortured Neil, at the forever changed idealistic Todd, and at the tempering of the inspirational Mr. Keating for the sake of the status quo. Williams’s Keating was the kind of teacher few of us ever encounter in real life, but the one whose classroom we all wish we had sat in, even if for only an hour or two.

But I would be remiss if I did not address the elephant in the room:  the irony of the plot is not lost on me now as I write this. The character Neil commits suicide rather than be forced into a role he cannot play, and everyone is left to pick up the pieces and go on. It is the coda that we do not see: Mr. Keating walking out the door knowing that a beautiful light has been extinguished forever.

R. I. P. Mr. Williams. We are all poorer for your passing.

If you’d like to find out how you can get in involved in the fight against suicide, please contact AAS’ Central Office at 202-237-2280, email us at info@suicidology.org, or reach out to us via Facebook or Twitter. If interested specifically in making a donation to further suicide prevention, or in the U OK? t-shirt campaign, click here.

Music by Richard Walters, “Infinity Street”


                   

Post Hoc

It happened because he looked a gift horse in the mouth.
It happened because he couldn’t get that monkey off his back.
It happened because she didn’t chew 22 times before swallowing.
What was she thinking, letting him walk home alone from the bus stop?
What was he thinking, standing up in the boat like that?
Once she signed those papers the die was cast.
She should have waited an hour before going in; everyone knows
salami and seawater don’t mix.
He should have checked his parachute a seventh time;
you can never be too careful.
Why didn’t she declare her true feelings?
Why didn’t she play hard to get? She could be out at some
nice restaurant right now instead of in church, praying
for the strength to let him go.
It all started with that tattoo.
It all started with her decision to order the chicken salad.
Why was he so picky?
Why wasn’t she more discriminating?
He should have read the writing on the wall; listened
to the still small voice, had a lick of sense. But how could he when he
was blinded by passion? Deaf to warnings? Really dumb?
Why, why, in God’s name, did he run with scissors?
If only they’d asked Jesus for help.
If only they’d asked their friends for help.
If only they’d ignored the advice of others and held fast
to their own convictions, they might all be here, now,
with us, instead of six feet under; instead of trying to adopt
that foreign baby, instead of warming that barstool
at the Road Not Taken Eatery and Lounge, wondering how it might all
have been different, if only they had done
the right thing.

~ Jennifer Maier

 

 

Note: I began writing this post on Monday. Then in the middle of it, I learned that Robin Williams had killed himself, and then nothing made sense any more…….

“Perhaps—I want the old days back again and they’ll never come back, and I am haunted by the memory of them and of the world falling about my ears.” ~ Margaret Mitchell, from Gone With the Wind

Monday afternoon. Cloudy and probably rain, 84 degrees.

Last night’s super moon was spectacular. I’m so glad that the clouds didn’t overshadow it. When I got up to let the dogs out, the entire backyard was awash in moonlight. So incredibly perfect.

The other day, I saw something I’ve never seen before: a buzzard was hanging out in someone’s front yard, munching on something . . . well, dead. Brett and I drove by, and he said, “Hey, that’s a buzzard!”

Of course I had missed it, so I drove around the block and then slowed as we neared the yard in which Brett had seen the bird. I saw it, and it was huge. Unfortunately, it heard the car and took flight. My, those wings, so massive. It was really something to see; we couldn’t have been more than twelve feet from it. I mean, I’ve seen them in the air, but never this close, and this still.

The other cool thing that happened is that Brett and I went thrifting, and I found a set of glass fish snack plates. I only have one fish plate left, and I’ve never had the snack size (about 5 inches wide), so I grabbed them. A while back I had looked on E-bay, and a set of two of the large fish plates was going for $30. Too pricey. I got eight of the small ones for $20. Such a deal.

Of course, to balance the two good things are two horrendous dreams: In both dreams, I see fire burst through a wall, and I immediately wake up—same image for both dreams, same reaction for both dreams. It has me more than a little paranoid, checking cords and connections, making sure nothing is frayed or a hazard. This particular scenario really has me unnerved.

“Later I’ll sweep away the nest—empty,
again, of everything but a blind
belief in the possible.” ~ Peter Everwine, from “Another Spring”

In spite of the fire dreams, I’m feeling pretty good, and I suppose I have good reason: Social Security has finally, finally approved my disability claim. As a brief refresher, I was first forced out on disability in October 2007. I’ve been fighting with social security ever since.

I know that I am fortunate that I was covered for long-term disability through George Washington’s policy, but the endless fight with Social Security has taken a toll on me. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve filled out the same forms, answered the same questions, had the same interviews. So even though they wanted to date it retroactive to November 15, 2012, I decided to accept.

When I asked the lawyer why that particular date, she said that they noticed from my therapy notes that I had taken a real downturn at that time . . .

No kidding. Really? How incredibly astute of them, she said, with more than a trace of bitter sarcasm . . .

What this means is that I don’t quality for Medicare until May of next year (for some reason, dates, times, confusing). And the backdated benefits that I’ll receive all have to be paid to my long-term disability carrier anyway (it’s part of the agreement), so the date doesn’t affect me that much. The irony is that the effective date would have meant so much a few years back when Corey was unemployed, and we were struggling, really struggling to keep my health insurance and a roof over our heads.

Oh well. Whatever.

“All of us who are concerned for peace and triumph of reason and justice must be keenly aware how small an influence reason and honest good will exert upon events in the political field.” ~ Albert Einstein

USS Peacemaker Tall Ship (barquentine)

    

“A liberal is a man or a woman or a child who looks forward to a better day, a more tranquil night, and a bright, infinite future.”  ~ Leonard Bernstein    
The American Rover Tall Ship (Hampton Roads)

Still feeling puny. I didn’t sleep well last night (as usual), but it was particularly trying: sleep one hour, awake another hour, sleep one hour, and so on. Around 4 a.m. I got on the computer, thinking that I might post, but instead I looked for images and quotes. Thinking that I had done enough to tax my tired brain, I went to bed. Six a.m. awake. Seven a.m. awake. Corey arrived home from work around 7:30, and I was still awake.

Maddening, quite maddening.

Anyway, Tuesday afternoon. The sun is shining intermittently. The Jack Russells are asleep beneath the chair, and Tillie is trying mightily to get Brett to play pool ball with her.

Speaking of the Jack Rusells, Alfie, the smallest dog in the house, has begun to do something new: For the past three or four weeks, he has taken to sleeping with his head buried in my shoulder and his body pressed against my side. It’s quite cute, actually, except that I feel obligated to remain in the same position while he snores quietly into my ear.

Still no joy on finding the part for my computer, which I don’t quite understand. I mean, it’s an HP. The part had to come from somewhere, so why can’t we find it? It’s a right-wing conspiracy; that’s what it is.

“Beware
At war
Or at peace,
More people die
Of unenlightened self-interest
Than of any other disease.” ~ Octavia E. Butler

USS Niagara Tall Ship (brig)

Speaking of right wing and things that I don’t understand, Fox Not-the-News won the coveted first row seat vacated by veteran UP reporter Helen Thomas. Why? How? Is the White House so afraid of Fox that they will capitulate to them in the hopes of better coverage? Not going to happen.

Unbiased coverage is one of the most basic tenets of journalism. Report the news. Don’t comment on the news. That being said, political reporting is an entirely different beast. Everyone has an opinion. Reporters interview other reporters for commentary. I can deal with this as long as the facts are correct, as long as those commenting do not play fast and loose with truth.

Of course, this cannot be said of Fox, which consistently plays with the facts, makes huge gaffes (mixing up Shirley Sherrod for Maxine Waters anyone?), and takes things out of context. Truth is completely insular, presented as something elastic to be stretched and shaped depending on whim. This is not journalism, nor is it news. So why then reward them with a seat at the table?

I am increasingly disappointed in this administration’s lack of balls. Obama came roaring onto the scene, full of good ideas and better oratory. But once in office, it seems that he lost at least half of his fire. I mean geez, he has a Democratic Congress and he still cannot get anything done because of his need to be liked by everyone, or so it seems. Granted continued obstructionism from the right doesn’t help, but it’s not the only reason for the lack of progress.

Obama was elected on a platform of change, and yes, there have been changes. But the Republicans are threatening to reverse those changes if they retake power, and it seems that everything coming out of this administration is transitory, sort of like cotton candy. I’m waiting for the Dems, especially the administration, to realize that they have some advantages before they piss them away this November. I fear that it will be a long wait. 

“Politics: ‘Poli’ a Latin word meaning ‘many’; and ‘tics’ meaning ‘bloodsucking creatures.'” ~ Robin Williams
USCG Eagle Tall Ship (barque)

Speaking of (yes, I know that I’m repeating this phrase) things that I do not understand:  supporters of Arizona’s immigration policy continue to act as if America sprang up as a populated nation, instead of emerging from generations of immigrants from all over the world.

What confuses me about this issue is the Constitution. Well, not the Constitution itself, but the right’s continual shift on said document. I mean, the tea baggers and their fanatical female trifecta Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Sharron Angle constantly preach on strict adherence to the Constitution. Yet as a result of Arizona’s xenophobia regarding all things Hispanic, Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) are coming out in favor “rethinking” the 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to anyone born in the U.S.

According to the Huffington Post, in addition to McConnell, “Sens. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have all called for re-thinking the 14th amendment (to one extent or another). And as a Democratic source points out, back in April 2008, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) introduced a bill that would have required at least one parent to be a legal resident in order for their child to be granted U.S. citizenship.”

Which is it: strict adherence or adherence only when it suits the platform?

“Education should prepare our minds to use its own powers of reason and conception rather than filling it with the accumulated misconceptions of the past.” ~ Bryant H. McGill
Amazing Grace Tall Ship (schooner)

Finally, I found a wonderful paper on political misconceptions written by Brendan Nyhan, a University of Michigan political scientist. The paper was referenced in an article written by Marty Kaplan, Director, Norman Lear Center and Professor at the USC Annenberg School.

Kaplan’s article, “The Best of All Possible Americas,” discusses the intimidation of the free press we once knew by right-wing pressure groups. As I mentioned above, instead of reporting the facts, journalism has morphed into a deformed entity; as Kaplan states, the media has become so afraid of being labeled “lamestream” and “liberal” that “the job of fact-finding has been replaced by the grotesque practice of “balancing” charges with countercharges.

Nyhan’s report, “When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions,” analyzes why people continue to believe things that they think are true (WMD’s, anyone) even when presented with facts to the contrary: “Corrective information in news reports may fail to reduce misperceptions and can sometimes increase them for the ideological group most likely to hold those misperceptions.”

Take, for example, those who continue to insist that the president is not a U.S. citizen (aka birthers) even when presented with evidence that he is. The insistence on continued belief is strengthened by ideology. In other words, facts do not necessarily change a misinformed individual’s mind, especially if that individual is politically partisan. Truth does not always out.

Why is this important? Well the misinformation being dispersed by outlets such as Fox is taken at face value by certain segments of the population because this misinformation reinforces beliefs that are already held. This information, whether or not factually valid, is ingested and remains solidly embedded in those who believe it even when faced with factual corrections. And—and this is the most important point—those armed with this misinformation vote.

More later. Peace.

Music by Cowboy Junkies, “Mariner’s Song”