Losing a Peer to Suicide

***This article discusses suicide. For anyone in need of help, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.***

“Depression takes root when the picture of the past is more powerful than the picture of the future.”
-Amy Bleuel

I wear a tattoo on my right arm that carries a message. It’s a simple design, a heart that doubles as a bass clef which, in part, becomes a semi-colon.

It symbolizes that I am driven by love and harmony, that I have a song to keep singing.
The inspiration for my tattoo comes from Amy Bleuel, the founder of the suicide awareness and prevention movement known as Project Semicolon. The semicolon was selected as the symbol of survival because it denotes when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. Continue reading “Losing a Peer to Suicide”

Welfare Isn’t the Problem

Up until I was 13, “welfare” was what kept food on the table. There certainly weren’t luxuries and my mother didn’t sit around in slippers and curlers. She always worked.

We moved often. Transiency and low-income often go hand -in-hand. I don’t remember feeling that I lacked much, however, I remember being bullied about my clothes, about my free lunch ticket, about where I lived.

I certainly did not feel entitled.

Fast forward fifteen years. I had been teaching for several years, in a Title 1 school. One day my principal made a remark to me on the hopeless situation of the students. Something along the lines of – all we can do is feed them and teach them to follow directions because they can’t handle learning with everything else in their lives.

It was in that moment that I am certain I displayed the most perfectly delivered “you’ve got to be shitting me” faces ever seen.
I challenged my administrator on this immediately, telling her that I myself had been “one of these kids” all through grade school.
My principal looked shocked, but not the least bit contrite. She simply asked me, in amazement, how I ever possibly “made it” growing up in “that” environment.

Having lost the desire to be overly tactful, I responded that I was fortunate enough to have teachers and administrators who, unlike her, had not given up on me based on my socioeconomic status. In hindsight, I think the attitude of my principal came from a caring albeit ignorant place. Convinced that her students were stuck on the bottom tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, her main expectations for their schooling became providing daycare, safety, and crowd control.

This is an example of why the efficacy of “welfare” cannot be analyzed without taking into consideration the bias projected onto recipients of supplemental services. When people are seen as stupid, lazy, or otherwise ill-equipped to create success for themselves, the labels tend to stick no matter how untrue.
When I see people posting about pee-tests for food stamp recipients, or condemning someone because they have a cell phone or own a television I really would like to come unglued.

My annual taxpayer contribution to one person receiving the two most commonly discussed forms of assistance (food and temporary income assistance) is less than the pennies I drop in the “need a penny take a penny ” jar at the quick mart each year.
The big deal people are screaming about here is not how much of their hard-earned money is being wasted, it is about how superior they can make themselves over someone else.

Welfare Myths

Meloncholia, Robert Frost and Me

Sometimes, I find myself with an almost insatiable urge to be forlorn. It’s a self destructive desire. I’ve gotten pretty good at seeing it before it becomes a tremendous mess, but it lives within me, and in the fall season, it seems to beg for my attention with the relentless persistence of a politician canvassing the neighborhood.

As I write, it is October, and recently, I have been staring out the peephole of my happy mindful, in-the-moment existence, looking to see what else might be there. No meds, two weeks. Why? Not due to said minfulness, certainly. No, it is the product of an inward drama, a passive agressive power play by overtaxed rational thought, silently provoking cognitive distortion out to play.

Two weeks. By last Friday I was past meloncholy. I was a crabby irrational mess. Okay, not to everyone, not all day, not even all that noticeable to most folks, because I have beaten the snot out of that demon, and it only gets a small chance to nip at my heals. But I knew I had gone too far.

So, I regrouped, watched some Fox news and taunted my rational thinking right back into working order. By the way, you may want to write that coping skill down to use for yourself, because it is extremely effective.

So what happened? Why did I let myself slide? Is it some kink in the armor common to folks who have suffered chronic, repeated trauma? I don’t know, but I’m pretty damn well sure its not common for folks who haven’t. It leads me to believe that most people have to wonder… why on earth would anyone ever mess with something that is working well? Why on earth would you want to feel anything other than good?

For me, this fall from grace, this deadly attraction, happens because there is a part of me that is severed when everything is going well. A part that consumed my identity for many, many years. A poet, a dreamer, a beggar, a world traveler, a liar, a thief, a storyteller and a miracle worker. A creature of constant thought. My inner dialog was endless, whether in a class, at a movie, giving a speech. It never stopped. On paper or in my own imaginings, I was constantly creating, pondering, tasking. I have stacks of papers, journals, cocktail napkins filled with thoughts that demanded to he written. Lecture notes that contained nothing of the lecture, except perhaps the homework. Characters ever so slightly less than fictional, words, tender words, jagged words, so many words. Epiphanies. It never stopped. I can’t explain it. I spent so many years in one degree of disassociation or another, it just happened. It defined me through my twenties, where it slowly began giving ground until the scattered bits of my present self learned it was safe to come out and play.

Now, most days, it is literally just a thing of my dreams, and there’s the rub, because it was my drug of choice.

I want every reader to understand, we are all so much more than the simple sum of our interactions. We don’t catalog and file our experiences, we live them. We grow, we flounder, we thrive because of or in spite of them, but we are formed of them. I am made of sorrow and joy and both have their place within me. It is through self-isolation and sorrow that I remain able to tap that magnificent state of overwhelming creativity and emotion. I wish cheesecake was my trigger, but, nope.

So, two weeks. 14 days, out of which I manged about two endorphic days of mental nirvana before I caught myself. Impressive really. I’ve never been able to slap myself in the face so quickly before. I think it may have been the last hurrah, but in have thought that before. Either way, I’m not afraid. I can do this.

Dear reader, I weave this little piece of me into your life , in faith and trust that you will look at each person with a little bit more awe, a moment’s more thought, and acknowledge that even the most hateful words may come from a place inside someone that is sorry, so very sorry to be so horrid, and screaming to be loved, but at that moment, simply and utterly lost.

I leave you with Robert Frost. I read this in 6th grade. I said to myself, “This poet is inside my head.” I placed myself in the role of Sorrow. It is still one of my favorites, for “not yesterday I learned to know, the love of bare November days.”

My November Guest

MY Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.