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 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.