Death

Yesterday, I learned that one of my mentors from undergrad had passed away. He was the conductor of the orchestra, in which I played viola, the person who taught me how to be a professional musician. As a friend who was also influenced by this mentor put it, he “made me feel like not just a student, but an artist.”

I don’t think there are words to say how sad this news makes me. But at least there are points of comfort. Facebook is swamped by pictures of former students with our beloved mentor. Memories, so many memories are being shared. Banji and I have been reminiscing with each other. I’m hoping there will be some kind of memorial service where we’ll be able to pay our respects. I doubt all the former students who come will fit on the stage at once. A great person. A great, full life. So many people changed for the better because they knew him. Not really much to mourn, but we’ll do some of that too, because it’s human nature.

I’m angry because now that’s 2 people who were important to me, dying in the same year. Dying less than 5 months apart, actually. And quite suddenly, from my perspective. At the same time as I’m struggling with other difficult shit. WTF, Universe?!

Sometimes I wonder if I’m cursed. Or if I’m being punished for something. What could I have done to deserve experiencing so much loss, so many deaths, over the course of my short life? Eleven deaths in less than thirty years, and that’s only counting the ones that were particularly significant to me (not loved ones of loved ones).

Most of why I’m angry is because I’m scared. Who else will die? Might the mentors from high school whom I often think I should contact, but then forget about, have already died? What about my other mentors from undergrad? The people I love, any one of them could die at any time. Which brings pain, sadness, mourning, people coming together and bringing with them all their complex, conflicting emotions. Having to deal with my own intense, complex, conflicting emotions. The risk of going on autopilot again and not being able to interact genuinely with my loved ones, they way I want to. Knowing I’ll never get to talk to the deceased person again, tell them how much they mean to me, or even say goodbye.

And the guilt. How can I live my life, make my decisions about what to do, whom to spend time with, if I’m so afraid that the person will die?

I don’t remember the last time I saw my uncle alive. I think it was Christmas. I don’t particularly remember our interaction. I was happy to see him, of course. But I just kind of took it for granted that he was there, and always would be. And now he’s gone.

I do remember the last time I saw my mentor. He was high on the energy of having just finished conducting a concert, which I had enjoyed as a member of the audience. He seemed incredibly happy to see me. It’s a fond memory, but a guilt-ridden one, too. I had asked him about coming back to play with the orchestra as an alum – a proposition he really seemed to like – then never followed up.

Any possibility of apologizing for that, any chance of making up for it, any chance of playing in an orchestra he’s conducting ever again … all of it, gone. I had my reasons for making the choice I did, at the time when I made it. But I regret not contacting him again, never going to see him again, and I’m sad and angry that now there’s nothing I can do … except attend the memorial service, if it happens. I haven’t heard of there being any plans for one yet.

In the meantime, I don’t know what I want to do. I feel a drive to pick up my viola again, to play it more, maybe even find an orchestra to join, so I can play on in his memory. I want to improvise or possibly even compose something in honor of him. I want to dive headlong into my dream of composing music professionally – which beings with composing music, period. And I want to shut it all out by playing The Sims 3 or Oblivion or watching Star Trek: Voyager – anything to take my mind off of things, keep me from feeling all this pain.

The images of knives cutting into me are coming back again, and my sleep cycle has been shattered. I’m too tired, too close to tears, to fight it. Time just keeps passing, I’m doing nothing with my life, and people keep dying. How long until I just fade away?

The Healthcare Headache Continues …

I thought I had the answer: I would take a 3-credit course, in part out of interest and in part because it would make me eligible for my school’s “voluntary” part-time student insurance. But today I learned that there are no longer any part-time student plans available – whether that’s because my school dropped them, or the insurance company stopped offering them, I don’t know. I just know that I was very confused and frustrated when one part of the site still said I could opt-in to the voluntary insurance, but when I clicked the link it said no plans were available.

I’ve reluctantly accepted that they’re not offering insurance to part-time students, based on the mail-in forms having last year’s dates. They just didn’t bother to update the whole website. Lazy bums. (Acceptance doesn’t make me any less angry. It just saves me the trouble of trying the same thing over and over again just to be repeatedly disappointed by the results.)

I’m disinclined to trust the $400/month short-term insurance plan offered by an affiliate of my school’s insurance company. The very nice representative I’d talked to called back, reminding me to apply in time for coverage to start on the date I’d requested. She also re-sent the information she’d initially sent me. I’m tempted to call her back and thank her for her help. But the attached PDF clearly stated that prescriptions weren’t covered; when I tried to see if other plans were available, the one she’d recommended disappeared, so there were no plans available at all! I know I can call her back and ask questions, but I don’t want to risk wasting money (that I don’t really have) if the information she gives me turns out to be wrong.

In light of all this, paying nearly $2,000 to take a class purely out of interest became a lot less appealing – especially since a similar one might be offered for free on Coursera. I started listening to the lectures for one of my Coursera courses last night and found them to be positively fascinating. It felt so good to just soak in the information. No deciding what to wear, traveling, finding parking, potentially being late, awkward social situations, and consequences for not doing assignments required. So, I’ve decided to drop the 3-credit course I’d registered for at my school, and go the continuous matriculation route. A relatively small fee means I’m still a graduate student, really!

That still leaves the matter of health insurance.

I’ve decided against going to see a psychiatrist for the time being. The SAM-e (along with other factors) seems to be helping quite a bit, especially on days when I remember to take 2 doses of it (400 mg 2x/day, total 800 mg per day). It’s not perfect, but it’s at least as good as the antidepressants I’ve tried so far, with less adverse side effects (maybe because it doesn’t contain weird, unnatural chemicals?). It’s not exactly cheap, but I think I’m saving money over seeing a psychiatrist and paying for medication, especially if I need brand-name instead of generic. I can buy the SAM-e in 3 clicks and have it shipped to my front door – no phone tag, traveling, disclosing personal information to a stranger, and waiting at the pharmacy required. It might not be the best, but it works better for me right now. I can’t help wishing I’d found out about it years ago.

Health insurance suddenly seems a lot less important if it’s not the only way I can afford to treat my depression. Wakana doesn’t take insurance; I’ve been paying her at a discounted rate out-of-pocket. Insurance wouldn’t cover the SAM-e anyway. Hospitals are required to give life-saving care regardless of whether you have insurance. The only thing left is preventative care, which I’m hoping I can find a clinic for nearby. To my knowledge my state isn’t among the insane ones trying to shut down Planned Parenthood, so I intend to begin my search there.

(In case it’s not blatantly obvious, I hate going to see doctors. So, for most things, I wouldn’t bother seeing a doctor. If I’m miserable with a cold or something, I’d rather be miserable at home where I have access to things that help – like tea and soup – instead of at the doctor’s office.)

And in October I should be able to shop for an insurance plan on Healthcare.gov, so hopefully I’ll only lack health insurance until January. Hopefully.

Let’s be honest, I hate making these decisions. But this is the hand I’ve been dealt, and I need to do (or choose not to do) whatever it takes to protect my mental health. I’ve been burned by conventional medicine and the insurance required to make it remotely affordable, so I’m finding alternative ways to take care of myself.

Finances

I finally updated the spreadsheet in which I keep track of all transactions in my checking and savings accounts, for the first time this calendar year. Yeah, it’s been that bad.

Thank goodness, I’ve been recording the vast majority of the transactions (and all but two of the important ones) in my checkbook. I had added some random amount to the balance when I was supposed to be subtracting the amount of a check I’d written, so my checkbook and online statement disagreed regarding how much money I had. Updating the spreadsheet has resolved the issue, I think. There are still a couple transactions that haven’t hit the online statement yet.

While I might not be happy about the steady decline in my funds, I do see updating my finances spreadsheet as a return to functional humanity. Here’s hoping I can continue to keep it updated, and that soon the numbers will begin to (at least periodically) go up!

Mother-of-the-Bride Zilla

Fox and I have had our eye on a potential venue for some time now. It seems like a great deal, near a delicious and affordable caterer, with places to stay nearby … pretty much everything we could want in a wedding venue, plus breakfast at no additional cost. We just need to visit the place, ask some questions, and make a decision: yay, nay, or let’s look at some other venues and compare.

I’ve been itching to go check it out. Planning a wedding might not be the wisest decision right now, but it’s something that helps me feel energized and motivated. It gives me something concrete to look forward to in the foreseeable future. An outlet for my creativity. A goal. We need to secure a venue, so we’ll have a definite date, so we can do everything else.

Fox’s folks asked to come with us when we go visit the venue, which is a couple hours’ drive away, figuring we could make a mini vacation out of it. That sounded wonderful to me, I just wanted to invite my mother to join us – largely so she wouldn’t feel left out. Based on past experience, she’d be quite miffed if she found out we’d gone to see a potential venue with Fox’s parents but without her. She’s my mother, I want to try and have a healthy relationship with her, so I figure part of that is reaching out and including her in important things like this. She might even have something useful to contribute – she’s smart and has a lot of experience in the world, so I value her opinion highly.

Mother of the Bride and Bride arguing

idoidoweddingplanning.com

But when I asked Mom about her availability on Sunday, all hell broke loose. She didn’t seem to want to commit to a date and time at first. She raised a myriad of concerns:

  • Was this really my idea, or was I just going along with Fox and his parents (who suggested the venue)?
  • What about the venue she had suggested? We should get an updated quote from them.
  • Can they accommodate our entire guest list, even if it rains?
  • What’s really included in the deal? Are there extra expenses we’re not aware of?
  • Who’s paying for this and how?
  • Pretty much everyone will have to travel a distance; most people will want/need a place to stay. That will reduce the amount they’re willing to spend on gifts and/or give directly to us – if they come at all.
  • The places to stay near the venue are small; the nearest big-name hotel is 20 miles away.
  • What do I mean I don’t plan to wear makeup?! I don’t want my face to look red and splotchy in my wedding photos, do I?
  • My new haircut is too short. There aren’t enough layers.
  • We should call and ask questions before taking a long, expensive trip out to the venue location.
foal hugging mom

too cute not to share

I think some of her concerns are legit and I appreciate her raising them.

  • Getting an updated quote from the other venue is a good idea, but there were a few things about it that rubbed me the wrong way.
  • The wording on the website is a bit ambiguous, so it wouldn’t hurt to ask whether the indoor space alone can accommodate our whole guest list.
  • Always ask about additional expenses. Tax and tip can make the difference between “affordable” and “too expensive.” And I intend to get as much in writing as I possibly can.
  • We’ll need to make extra-specially sure there are sufficient accommodations for guests near the wedding venue; we intend to look into securing a group discount from one or more of the closer inns, possibly also the big-name hotel.
  • She definitely has a point about calling to ask questions first. It can save us a lot of time and money, especially if we don’t like the answers we get.
    • But I hate making phone calls and really want to see the place in person. Road trips can be fun and worth the expense, if you do them right. Fox’s Mom is treating us and she already called to make reservations.

I think some of Mom’s concerns are actually an attempt to manipulate me, regardless of whether that is her conscious intent.

I’d be more inclined to take her concern about whether this is really what I want – not just what Fox and his folks want – seriously, if she weren’t also trying to control what I put on my face. How can she claim to support me in making my own decisions and acting on them, if she’s choosing to interrupt a discussion about an important decision I need to make (and want her input in!) so she can criticize my appearance? That’s the last thing I need to be worrying about right now. It hurts extra because I had just stopped beating myself up over (my warped perception of) my appearance; just chosen to love and accept myself as I am and to focus on healthy things that are important to me.

I’m choosing to accept my face as it naturally looks instead of just going along with society’s obsession with female “beauty” – which is all about covering up one’s natural appearance with expensive products. Why do I have to wear makeup if Fox will be next to me in the exact same photos, his face naked? If Mom can’t support – or at least quietly accept – my decision to passively stand up against a faceless nameless “society” by¬†not wearing makeup, how can she support me in actively standing up to people I love and admire?

Money is a very serious concern. Fox and I don’t have much of it; we need to be careful and we need to budget. But there is money set aside for the wedding – mostly promised by Mom and Fox’s folks. In the meantime we’re working on what we need to do be able to support ourselves financially. There are better ways to bring this up and have a conversation about it that might help us instead of undermining whatever hope and determination we’ve managed to muster. When I don’t have the answers I feel anxious and guilty; those emotions quickly turn into discouragement, the last thing I need if I’m going to get anywhere.

People will do what they need to do and will give what they’re willing and able to give. It’s important to Fox and me that people come and have a good time. We can use all the help we can get, but we’re not inviting our loved ones to the wedding because we want them to give us stuff. We’re inviting them to celebrate something that’s really important to us, and giving people who rarely see each other an excuse to come together. I really don’t want to exclude anyone because they can’t afford a hotel room – that’s why we plan on looking into group discounts. But the bit about expenses reducing the amount we get back in gifts just seems manipulative: it pokes at a basic human instinct (wanting to get stuff) and distracts from the bigger picture, for the purpose of making me question a decision I’m considering making.

Fingers with strings tied to them, controlling a puppet.

By the time we were done, I thought I didn’t want to do any of the wedding planning if it’s going to be like this. I felt completely wiped out and discouraged, all the energy and excitement I’d had gone.

I’m past obsessing over the tiny details that the bridal industry blows way out of proportion, so you think the fate of the entire universe rests on you picking the right design for your customized napkins. My goal is to throw an amazing party – which means we need a nice accessible venue, a variety of delicious food so everyone has something to eat, music people can dance to, some organization of the time (e.g. ceremony, first dance, etc.), access to places where guests can meet their basic needs (e.g. sleep), and clear communication about all of the above (e.g. invitations, a website). Everything else is icing on the cake.

This perspective is my armor in the battle that is navigating the bridal industry. But I don’t have armor to protect against what Mom threw at me. Her criticism of my appearance was an especially “low blow” because, try as I might to assert the contrary, I have internalized society’s messages about how important it is for a woman to be “beautiful.” I want to look good in my wedding photos, but there are other ways I can do that – such as wearing clothes I find comfortable so I’m not grimacing in pain, hiring a competent photographer, and having a genuine smile on my face because I’m enjoying myself. If my mother thinks all that isn’t enough, I still need makeup on top of it to prevent people from being tempted to burn my wedding photographs, what value does my life really have? If I can’t stand in front of the people I love and trust the most in the world and be accepted as I am – if the people I’m choosing to share this amazingly huge and meaningful transition with can’t wholeheartedly celebrate it with me – because I’m not wearing makeup … either she has a devastatingly low opinion of me, or she thinks the people on our guest list are incredibly shallow.

This wedding is a really big deal. It’s going to be the first, and very likely the last, time I’ll be in the limelight in the middle of a very large family (especially if you combine my and Fox’s families). It brings up a lot of anxiety. Will I be accepted as I am, having made the choices I’ve made – from as big as the building in which we’re celebrating, to as small as naked pores on my face? The whole wedding is a reflection of Fox and me: the people we associate with, our taste in food, music, fashion, our consideration of people’s needs and preferences, the degree to which we’re willing to perpetuate heteronormativity.

I think Mom’s scared because she sees everything I do as a reflection of her; from her perspective I am her reflection – she doesn’t seem to see me. She wants the model of what a daughter and her wedding should be, so she’ll be accepted by a family she’s afraid of disappointing. For some reason she finds it too painful to look at who and what I truly am. And often – far too often – so do I.

Crossroads

I’ve been playing phone tag with Psychiatrist C-1 for over a week now. He said, “I’m unlikely to answer when you call because I’m with clients all the time, so let me know when’s a good time for me to call you.” So, I gave him a few hours today, which I spent within arms reach of the phone. Nada. He couldn’t take 5 minutes between clients to call and make an appointment.

Now I’m at a crossroads. I have a strongly-worded voicemail prepared in my head, which includes the following:

Are you even taking new clients? If not, please let me know. In fact, please find a colleague who is taking new clients and have them call me. If so, call me back with a day and time to meet next week, and I’ll be there.

Yeah, I’m pissed. Dunno how much it comes through in the typed version of the words, but if I spoke them aloud, you could tell that I’m pissed.

I’m glad I’m pissed. The anger gives me energy. So much better than sleeping all day.

The thought occurs that this is a really crummy way to start a new therapeutic relationship. I’m already resistant to going to see a psychiatrist, if I’m angry with him I’m more likely to do stupid things like not show up for appointments, or not take my meds. That would be such a waste. Maybe I should call him and say:

If you couldn’t take 5 minutes between clients to call me today, then clearly you’re too busy to meet my psychiatric needs. Please have a colleague who is accepting new clients call me.

Or maybe now just isn’t the time for me to be dealing with psychiatrists. What do you think?

In other news, I decided to take a course called “feminist theory” at my school. It’s not directly related to my major, but I’m insanely curious about it. Just as if not more importantly, it keeps me matriculated with part-time status, so I can still get health insurance at a remotely-affordable rate from my school. Win!

The Forge

A video recently showed up on my Facebook feed; it is a message from Eric Lim (whose sister committed suicide) to anyone who’s hurting – essentially, to stay strong. Its central message is to use the pain as a source of strength, to turn “destruction into creation.” My initial impression was that it was too violent, and I didn’t like the message that the hits would never stop, nor that I should let myself be forged into something.

But the second time I watched it I could see past my emotional responses and appreciate how realistic a portrayal of emotional suffering – particularly from guilt – it is. I want someone to wave a magic wand and make it all go away, so I’ll be happy and healthy and whole again. But that’s not reality, and claiming that it is really wouldn’t help anyone. Pain and suffering are a part of life; some of us seem to have more of it than others. The point is that we’re not alone, and we don’t have to let it break us, and we’re not “abnormal” or “crazy.” As much as it sucks, my pain and the depths of my emotions and my ability to live with them are my greatest strength. My depression symptoms are actually the worst when I’m struggling not to feel.

I’m going to post two links to the video. The first is the initial context I viewed it in: a page on Upworthy. I really don’t like the way they portray it because their focus is on how heroic Eric is; they call him “superhuman.” They separate him from the rest of us, those who really struggle to see our pain this way, those who don’t feel like we can fight the monster. Good for him, but I’m the scum of the earth, what can I possibly do? I don’t want to be forged into something that can “hit back” – does that make me a horrible person? Clearly I don’t deserve the help offered near the end of the video.

Upworthy: "Put a cape on this guy, because the way he fights this monster is superhuman."

links to the video on Upworthy.com

The title of the Upworthy page creates a dichotomy: man vs. monster. The monster at least seems to be Eric’s sister’s suicide, a choice she made, an action she committed in a time of crisis. Some of us, who have at least considered and may have attempted suicide, may get the message that we are the monster the superhuman hero is fighting.

In other words, it pits the loved ones of those who lose their struggle with suicide against the people who actually contemplate, attempt, and/or “successfully” commit suicide. We are the monster. We are the thing that makes the people who “survive” us superhuman. The antagonist whose only purpose is to highlight the awesomeness of the hero.

I really don’t think that’s what Eric meant to do. I think he needed to work through his own pain and wanted to send a message of hope to us, the people contemplating suicide because we don’t think we can take any more hits from the monster. He speaks directly to us. The first thing he says at 1:00 is, “I love you,” and at 3:00 he says the core of his message for anybody hurting – I’ll let it speak for itself.

the Forge; two figures fighting in fire

links to foranybodyhurting.com

I’ll admit, as great as it is that Eric Lim was able to reach out to us through his own pain, I still feel like this is by and for people who are concerned about and/or affected by others committing suicide. So much – practically all – of the information and perspectives you find about suicide is from the perspective of outsiders, people who aren’t contemplating it for themselves and may have never contemplated it for themselves. Medical experts. Professionals. “Survivors.” I feel like I’m an exhibit at the zoo. All the information about me is by and for people outside the cage of suicidal ideation, who are looking in, studying me, and trying to figure out how to prevent me from exhibiting a certain behavior.

But my voice never gets heard. And more importantly, I never get to hear directly from other people like me. I tried searching for information on suicide from the perspective of people who have contemplated it, are contemplating it, and/or have attempted it. It is, at best, extremely hard to come by.

There’s an article in Health Sociology Review Vol 22 Issue 3 that looks promising, but I haven’t been able to access its full text because it’s too recent. I had to put in an inter-library loan request with my school library to gain access to an article, published in 1990, about feminist perspectives on studying suicide. I’m also struggling with two obstacles: 1) I’m sensitive about this topic, so I find it more difficult and more frustrating than usual to try and sort through potential (primarily online) sources of information, and 2) I often have trouble determining which search terms to use to get the most relevant results.

I also have another gripe about language. At Relay for Life, which raises money for the fight against cancer, very specific terms are used. A person becomes a “Survivor” the moment they are diagnosed with cancer and stays one, regardless of whether they are in remission, receiving treatment, or terminally ill but still breathing. Those of us who love people who currently have, or once had, or died from cancer are called “Caregivers.” We’re respected, but we leave the limelight to the people who actually have/had cancer.

Suicide (prevention) Land is a whole different story. For some reason people who might not have even known their loved one was contemplating suicide until it happened are called “survivors.” People have suicidal ideation. People attempt suicide. People commit suicide. People try to prevent suicide. But are there any clear terms to refer to all these people? Would such terms even be helpful?

I’m not even sure what terminology would apply to me. I know I don’t want to die anytime soon and I don’t have a plan, but sometimes I think and feel like dying is the best/only option and “I should kill myself.” I struggle with it almost every day. AND I’m still alive.

Fuck this shit. I’m a Suicide Survivor. A person who struggles with thoughts about suicide and/or self-harm and guess what? “I’m not dead yet!” I truly feel for people who have lost a loved one to suicide, it must be really horrible. I don’t mean to discount their pain. But until they’ve had to live from day to day with being the biggest danger to their own well-being – and all the stigma that comes with it! – they are not “Survivors.” No more than I am a Cancer Survivor, having never had cancer myself, just because I went through the agony of powerlessly watching while multiple loved ones died of it, in part due to patterns of behavior they enacted upon themselves (i.e. smoking cigarettes).

I respect the difference between feeling pain while loving someone with the disease, and being the person who has it. People talking about suicide / suicide prevention should do the same.