In memory of Madogay.
I think about suicide a lot. I mean. I think about what it means, the part it’s played in my life in terms of being a depressive symptom. I am to a point at which I recognize it as I am experiencing it and can be mindful of when I feel suicidal; enough to know that, at my core and despite what the wicked voice in my head may tell me – I. want. to. live.
I also think a lot about how misunderstood suicide is by the general public. It’s one of those, “you had to have been there” things. How can one understand what it is if one hasn’t experienced the feeling of being suicidal? And yet, a person who doesn’t have cancer can easily, almost instinctively, have compassion for those with cancer, or diabetes, or any other aesthetically tangible condition. It’s no big secret that mental illness is not perceived or treated in the same way. In many cases, the disease is ‘invisible’ and hidden from view. This phantom phenomenon of mental illness intensifies the struggle for those who live with it.
Suicide must be talked about. The word, “suicide”, must be uttered in public conversation as “breast cancer” or “AIDS” have been entered in to the public arena of discussion. We cannot address what we deny. This is something that tugs at my core. I will keep this conversation going. As suicide survivor JD Schramm proclaimed during a TED presentation, “because of our taboos around suicide, we’re not sure what to say, and so quite often we don’t say anything… It’s a conversation worth having.”
As part of the conversation, I’ve included in this post a quote, a poem, and a song. The quote, by writer William Styron, centers around the experience of depression. The poem and song are about suicide. I wrote both with my cousin, Madogay, in mind. She shot herself about a year ago.
:: Quote ::
“In depression this faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent. The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come- not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoying- or from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to activity- but moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes. And this results in a striking experience- one which I have called, borrowing military terminology, the situation of the walking wounded. For in virtually any other serious sickness, a patient who felt similar devistation would by lying flat in bed, possibly sedated and hooked up to the tubes and wires of life-support systems, but at the very least in a posture of repose and in an isolated setting. His invalidism would be necessary, unquestioned and honorably attained. However, the sufferer from depression has no such option and therefore finds himself, like a walking casualty of war, thrust into the most intolerable social and family situations. There he must, despite the anguish devouring his brain, present a face approximating the one that is associated with ordinary events and companionship. He must try to utter small talk, and be responsive to questions, and knowingly nod and frown and, God help him, even smile. But it is a fierce trial attempting to speak a few simple words.”
:: Poem ::
In the moment it’s decided,
during the research and planning, and fantasized exit strategy stage,
there is no color scheme
no white or black
it’s neither irrational nor rational
it’s neither immoral nor moral
it’s neither selfish nor selfless.
It feels as a primal tug does;
an emotional drug
it makes sense
and gives relief
it’s not ugly and dark as you may view it to be.
If given the choice,
we all want to ‘be happy’,
if we had it our way,
we’d live to 102.
Do people choose to get cancer?
Or choose to lose a child in an earthquake?
Would you choose to eat hemlock?
Or give a jellyfish a long, warm embrace?
suicide is a confusing, shocking, sad and inexplicable thing,
but it is what it is
and will be what it will be
and will continue as it has
But we have a choice to acknowledge it
and give it a voice;
let it speak.
Written Thursday, 8.4.11.
:: Song ::
The photo was taken by Odawni Palmer on Thursday, 6.3.10.
The song* was written and performed by Odawni Palmer on Sunday, 8.7.11.
*The ‘scribbling’ track in the background is a recording I made of me writing out the lyrics to the song, as they’re sung.