Category Archives: angst

Suicide is NOT selfish…

I’ve spent the last two days trying to figure out how to say just this. Suicide isn’t about being selfish, or thinking only of yourself. It’s about a depth of pain and despair that most people will (blessedly) never experience. Having been there and come out the other side, I know how it feels. People who commit suicide are, in my opinion, some of the most unselfish people in the world. You can’t possibly know how hard living can be until you’ve faced down that choice.

Deciding to NOT kill yourself is probably one of the most incredibly painful things a person can do in that situation. Let’s talk about selfish. Selfish is smoking when you know that it can make your child, who is forced to sit in the car with you, very ill. Selfish is drinking and then deciding that it’s OK to drive the two blocks to get home. Selfish is eating your Subway 12″ sandwich while staring into the eyes of a homeless person who hasn’t eaten in a couple of days. Selfish people have more money than they could ever spend, and still feel that people on food stamps are “gaming the system.” Selfish is whatever one person does, knowing that someone else is suffering due to that action or for the lack of whatever the benefit is. I’m pretty sure that dying isn’t depriving anyone else of death. Putting an end to pain that you suffer silently is not selfish. Selfish is what the people who know you’re in pain are, when they turn away. Every time you judge someone with an illness – whether it’s mental or physical – you’re the selfish one. People suffer from depression and other mental illnesses suffer in silence and in secret because society as a whole won’t tolerate less than that. Society says “I don’t care how much it hurts. I don’t want to have to see that.” No one cares how hard it is to talk to other people, or get out of bed. Who really gives a crap about how much effort it takes to get to work in the morning, as long as the rent and water bill gets paid? One of the most often asked questions is “What do you have to be depressed about?”

Mental illness requires justification. When it comes to physical illness, there’s no question of justification. No one asks a cancer patient if they really need chemo. The need for Prozac, and Xanax, and Valium is routinely questioned. Visits to a rheumatologist for Lupus are not used during your work review to determine your value to the company. Visits to a therapist or psychiatrist often are. The need to take time off for surgery is understood without question. The need to take time off for depression is looked upon as a personal failing. A person with advanced cancer can choose to discontinue treatment in exchange for a higher quality of life in the final months. A person suffering from mental illness is expected to life a life made infinitely worse by medication, no matter what. There are innumerable research projects searching for better, less debilitating treatments for chronic physical illness. Every effort is made to address medication side effects such as sexual dysfunction, weight gain, mental fog, and dozens of others for people with atrial fibrillation, or high cholesterol, or cancer. Very few studies are going on to address the same side effects of psychiatric drugs, leaving the patients to live lives that would be considered intolerable to someone with a physical illness. Suicide is not the way out of depressions, except in a visceral way. Ending your life doesn’t solve the problem in any way that is meaningful to society. Suicide ends the problem for the one person most intimately involved. It does get everyone else off the hook. The ones left behind can blame the victim by calling him selfish, saying she was weak, and declaring that he gave up. A woman who dies of breast cancer is never decried at her funeral as having given up, though. Where are the people who acknowledge how very brave a suicide is for having struggled for so long through so much pain? Where is the compassion that could have saved that person? person who kills herself declares open season on character assassination. It’s perfectly OK to comment at the funeral on the lack of personal integrity he showed in taking his own life.

I wish there was a way to show you how incredibly difficult depression and mental illness is. There should be some way to put into words just how much strength and fortitude it takes to get out of bed in the morning when your body feels like it weighs tons and has been chained down. How it feels to feel nothing. What it is like to pretend to have feelings of any sort. There are no words to express how much you want to be with people, but how hard it is to listen to them. I watched this video yesterday, and it came close.

Maybe you’ll understand.

 

Getting Older

Being just weeks away from my 54th birthday, my mind has been wandering over to the “OMG! I’m not young any more!” aisle of consciousness.  My husband reminds me that age is just a number and we’re only as old as we feel, but really…when I get up in the morning I feel more like 84 than 54.  My own fault, to be sure, but still.  So, what am I doing about it?  I’m giving eating better a half assed effort, and I’ve made it to the gym once a week for three weeks.  No need to rush these things.  I’m also climbing the stairs more.  My right knee feels that this is perhaps a poorly thought out maneuver, though.

One other thing I’ve been doing is making a list of all the “getting older” books I have.  I have several.  The one I’m starting to read now was given to my by my husband.  “Getting Over Getting Older,” by Letty Cotten Pogrebin (one of the co-founders of Ms Magazine) wrote this 17 years ago, so we’ll find out how relevant it is in 2013.  I’m hoping for some serious enlightenment and reassurance.

Post Sprititual Renewal Angst

So now we come to the part of the year that is the most contentious.  At least for me.  I have the most contradictory wants, feelings, and thoughts immediately after PSG than any other time throughout the year.  Everywhere I look, I see the ads competing for our money, appealing to our desires and vanities, urging us to follow or abandon our personal values.  Sounds rather extreme, doesn’t it?

At PSG, everything seems so straightforward.  Kind is good, mean is bad.  Helping is awesome, ignoring someone’s need is not.  Acts of quiet generosity are supreme, while taking from another without permission is loathsome.  I don’t pretend that everyone there subscribes to this, but for me, this is how it is.  There seems to be no ambiguity in the interpersonal rules when I’m there.

But then I come home.  No matter how much I try to maintain those principles and feelings, they fade quickly.  Not the underlying values, those are with me always, but more of the ability to follow through.  At PSG, there’s very little fear of being taken advantage of.  My inclination to help and to accept aren’t based on a barter system of feelings, but rather more of a pure intent.  It could be that there is no expectation of repayment when I’m there.  I don’t expect anything in return.  It’s nice to just do something for someone and know that their day was made a little nicer, easier, less stressful, or just plain better because of some little courtesy I have extended.  Not so in the "real world," or Mundania as many PSGers call it.

In Mundania, the overwhelming majority of all kindnesses are performed, by most people, with the full expectation that the kindness will be returned.  The young man holds a door open for a pretty girl in hopes that she’ll stop and talk to him.  The extra tip to the paper delivery person is in hopes that the paper will, indeed, actually be on the front porch.  Few people hold the door open for the young mother with a stroller unless refraining means the door will slam in her face.  Almost no one lets the shopper with just a few items go first, especially if the line has been long and the shopper’s cart is full. 

Beyond behavior, I’ve found that the dichotomy of values comes more brilliantly to my attention in ads on TV and print, both of which are in short supply at PSG.  For example, I was leafing through a More magazine this morning and saw an ad for Birkenstock sandals.  I had a pair for 10 years, but they died a sad death last year, so the ad caught my eye.  Then I noticed the facing page.  A stilletto platform shoe with red and tan leather was pictured, the article entitled "Stylebook: Fashion for Grownups."  That’s when this contradiction of wants, feelings, and thoughts really lit up my neurons.

At PSG, we’re earthy, unconcerned (for the most part) with appearance, very concerned with our spirituality and need for community.  For more than a thousand people to come together in a small space to camp, drum, dance, sing, and learn as a cohesive family of sorts is an amazing thing.  There’s always some that I don’t like very much, some I find very strange, some that find me very strange.  There are also people who have become my PSG family, who are new friends, old friends, and friends-to-be.  To illustrate some of the characteristics of PSG you need to picture a place where you can lose a wallet with cash in it, and find it turned into lost and found (a cooler left in a public place) with all the cash still there.  It’s a place where there are many vendors selling everything from clothing to candles to incense to crystals, but who feel comfortable leaving their shops to attend workshops without worrying about theft.  Forget to bring sunscreen?  Someone will have extra.  Tent developed an unfortunate leak?  Ask around – there is always someone who brought an extra "just in case."  Having an emotionally difficult time with anything at all?  Stop by Psyche’s Grotto, because there is certain to be a certified therapist available to help you get through it, and if not, there is no lack of available shoulders for you to lean on.  Want to wear that plaid kilt with a striped shirt you love?  That’s cool.  Awesome kilt, by the way.  Fashion is completely relative at PSG. 

Then we all come home.  Back to the bills, the sullen neighbors, the grouchy bosses, the massive unpacking and cleanup.  That first day back is always a shock to my system, and I almost always end up going to bed early.  Tomorrow is just fine for going back to real life.  Well, now it’s tomorrow.  Real life is cleaning up the house, reviving my poor houseplants, lettings the dogs know that I didn’t leave them forever and that I still loved them.  Real life is having my grandchildren over for the day and making jello, watching him play the PS3, and coloring as much of the driveway as possible with her and the sidewalk chalk.  It’s making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off, doing laundry, unloading the camper, and mentally preparing for work tomorrow.

That’s when the true dichotomy hits me.  As I do all these "day after PSG" things, dressed in my tank top and wrap skirt (hippi clothes, as Micah calls them), I wonder what to wear tomorrow.  Makeup or no?  Headscarf (this year that was my preferred PSG hairstyle)?  Probably not.  It’s back to Mundania in the truest sense.  PSG equals relaxed, no makeup, no haircolor, letting my gray shine to the world, doing what I want for anyone without worrying it will be taken the wrong way.  Work means makeup, "appropriate" clothes, constant worry that my gray hair is holding me back (from what?  from where?), and policing my inclination to do random acts of helpfulness in check, lest someone feel obligated to do something for me in return. 

It’s like there are two of me.  The one is so much more real, genuine, and open.  No getting annoyed while driving, no feeling the pressures of time.  Cheesecake?  Sure!  I am still me at 215 pounds, and eating a piece of cheesecake doesn’t alter me in any fundamental or meaningful way.  The other me reads articles on "A Better Body With Age: Real Women’s Inspiritn Stories."  Worries that the wrap skirt should really wrap a little more, because us fat older women shouldn’t be showing any leg.  Stops in the hair dye aisle way too often, torn between that awsome L’Oreale Golden Blond or the Medium Golden Brown that used to be my hair.  Feeling late to work when I arrive at 7:40, when 8:00 is the actual start to the day.  I yearn for the first me to take over, to kidnap and dispose of the second me.  At the same time, I envy the second me – knowing that she is the one the world is more comfortable with.  Knowing that the second me is the one who could be 140 pounds of sexy older woman, with perfectly styled Golden Blond hair and fashionable shoes and a pencil skirt.  Neither one is really me, though, and I know this.

What I don’t know, is who is the real me?  I think I’m part of both – a dichotomy in my own self.  I realize that the problem isn’t the wrap skirt vs. the pencil skirt.  The problem is in having my values defined by my environment – PSG vs. Mundania.  Being true to the women’s libber that was surgically implanted in me in the 60’s, while being forced into the modern world where makeup is queen and a promotion could hang on just the right amount of makeup to be youthful while still looking mature.  No one can live happily with that dualality.

Solution?  I haven’t got one.  My answer has been to keep two separate worlds.  My personal space of wrap skirts and birkenstocks takes over at the end of each day ruled by khaki pants and the appropriate application of makeup.  I think it’s no wonder that people, especially women, are more anxiety and depression prone than ever before.  I think we need a better way.  I just don’t know what thay way will look like.

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It’s not ok.

I love dogs.  Actually I love animals.  Throughout the years I’ve had rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, birds, fish, dogs, and a cat.  I’ve rescued baby squirrels and baby birds.  I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid hitting possum, raccoon, birds, and butterflies.  I think that animals are more real than people.  You know where you stand with a dog or a cat.  Your social status never impresses a pot-belly pig.  A hefty bank account will not encourage a horse to follow you.  Animals know what’s important and what’s not.

I know that everyone doesn’t share my love of animals, and that’s ok.  There are people who leave their cats shut in a small room all day while they’re working.  They tie out their dogs in all kinds of weather.  They forget to feed the hamsters, and expect birds to be happy in a half square foot of space for their entire lives.  I’m not happy about that, but I can’t fix the world.

Other people have a burning hatred for animals.  These people kick dogs out of their way.  They toss cats out of cars on country roads.  They go out of their way to step on bugs.  And some, for reasons that are alien to me, kill animals.  Like dogs.  Like my dog.  Like Buddy.

Buddy and Lucky (another of my dogs) were out in the back yard and discovered a small hole in the fence.  Being the free spirits that they are, out they went.  Lucky came back soon.  Buddy didn’t.

Jeff searched as long as he could.  Galal and I looked for a couple of hours – all over White County from halfway to Monticello to Brookston and along Highway 43.  It got dark, and we had to stop looking.  I was going to continue looking on Saturday morning.  Before we left the house to look on Saturday, we got a phone call.  A woman’s husband had been driving north through town and saw what he thought might be Buddy.  I had placed a couple of notices on Craig’s List with a photo.  Jeff got into the car and drove to the spot.

Buddy was there.  But he was dead.  We don’t know if he was hit by a car or if he was shot.  He still had his collar on with my cell phone number engraved on it.  Jeff and Nate (son-in-law) came back home, got a tarp, and brought Buddy home.  We buried him under the apple trees with his cow toy.

Being the type of person who stops to make sure birds that fly into my windshield are ok, I naively think that other people should stop if they hit an animal.  Had the person who hit Buddy stopped right then, they would have found his tag and could have called me.  Buddy might have lived if he’d gotten medical attention.

If he was shot, which is what it looked like might have happened…why?  Aside from being a large dog (St. Bernard/Collie mix), Buddy was the sweetest, most gentle dog I’ve ever known.  The only thing strangers were to Buddy was friends he had yet to meet.  His tail, all plumey and beautiful, never stopped wagging.  No matter how many table tops he cleared with it.  If you’ve never seen a dog that size plop down into a puppy bow, you don’t know what cute is.  Why shoot a dog – or any animal – and then walk away as if the dog was so much roadside trash?

What makes people do things like this?  The world is such an incredible mess.  There are people dying because the food they need is being used as political currency.  Other people are dying for a religious war that no one can win.  We hate this group because of their skin color.  We hate that group because they have a different opinion of how government should work.  We hate yet another group because they fall in love with the “wrong” people.

And we shoot dogs…just because.

What hope is there for this world, when there is so much wrong, and so few people really doing anything to fix it?