Suicidals rarely speak to one another about The Subject. To be fair, Suicidals almost never speak openly about their ideations. Consequently, I have little idea if my experience as a Suicidal is anything akin to that of others. But I do know that I have felt misunderstood by Non-Suicidals. Also, the few times I have read and heard from Suicidals - Stephen Fry's essay and Shawn Colvin's interview on Oprah to name two - I have felt the relief that comes from hearing from one's tribe.
In light of Robin Williams' passing, I'm going to expose my relationship to Suicide as a concept and as an on-going reality in my existence. In doing so, I hope even one person will learn something constructive. It's likely that some will be offended because several have been offended in the past. It is possible, however, that another Suicidal out there will feel a little less lonely and get just a little more breathing room ... for it's the isolation that is so utterly suffocating.
After yesterday's news, many Non-Suicidals (hereafter referred to Non's) have written and posted, "When depressed, call a friend."
As someone who has been in the vice grip of Suicidal Ideation all her life and as recently as May, I can attest to this: By the time you're contemplating nooses and knives, there are no appropriate friends left. Either you've pissed them all off, or the shame keeps all depressive thoughts hidden. If there had been a trusted friend or therapist, a Suicidal wouldn't have come this far down the road.
Additionally, perspectives on Life and Death are so intimately personal that most people cannot talk to a person contemplating suicide without being activated themselves. Then the tightly coherent Suicidal has to listen to a Non's flimsy impromptu polemic on Life. This leaves the Suicidal mute, unheard and unrelieved of burden.
I get it - it's hard to listen to someone who is having a hard time with the idea of living. But please don't be so glib to think that we Suicidals haven't already tried phone calls. That kind of listening takes training - a lot of training. In fact, trained personnel are often not trained enough.
Twice I've called Suicide Hotlines in the middle of the night, only to hang up on them. I don't know what they teach those people. Maybe you're only supposed to call if you have a gun to your head. But I deeply desired someone anonymous to listen. I just needed to funnel these inchoate thoughts into semi-tangible words. Instead of listening, I twice received "counselors" who seemed offended that I wasn't in the middle of my suicide plan.
Years ago, I met someone who worked as a counselor at Northwestern Memorial's Mental Health Hotline. He told me of a woman who called in every night as she was going to sleep. None of the counselors knew who she was, but they were all aware of this "regular." She simply wanted to say good night to another human being, and they were generous enough to let her. Technically should she have been using the Suicide Hotline? Maybe not. But suicide isn't about technicalities. It's about terror and fear ... it's the monster who is uncontainable by protocol.
I've learned to stop talking to friends when I feel suicidal. I only get responses which frustrate me. I get responses which try to fix me, change my mind, block me or shake me. I get responses which have more to do with them and are completely unhelpful to me. Adages like "We love you" and "It's not fair to other people" are not helpful when I am longing for relief.
So, what would help? What, pray tell, could a Non do or say when confronted with this knot of. Life and Death?
Well, first of all, it would feel so great if someone would just say, "You sound like you are in so much pain right now."
To know that I'm sitting with someone on the same page always helps me breathe a little easier.
And then maybe something like:
"I'm not where you are right now, so I can't honestly say that I know how you feel. I'm not going to try and fix you - if you're this far along, I'm sure you've tried and thought of everything. So I can't *do* anything for you. But I can sit and listen. If you feel like you're having to hold yourself together ... if you feel like you just want to let go for once, I'll listen and let you let it out. And because I'm not in your position, you don't have to worry about me. I'll sit and stay steady while you let go and get it out of you."
It is likely that many of us will know someone who commits suicide. My freshman advisor locked himself in a car and turned on the engine during my spring break. A friend hanged herself at the magic age of 27. Sometime before the age of 30, a slightly distant aunt drank insecticide and lay down under the enormous cherry tree at the family house. These are just a few.
And anyone in the arts will know someone who takes their own life. Why the arts? Because we are creative people who live in the realm of vulnerability and uncertainty. We embrace independent thought, and some of us will take it as far as choosing to take ultimate control of our lives.
Will I someday take my own life? I don't know. But I do know that I am solely responsible for my happiness, and I am the best judge of the best path. Some have said that they would never commit suicide because of the hurt it brings to others. But I also know firsthand that living out of commitment to others only breeds resentment and eventual hate. So either I live with inner peace, or I die. That is my commitment. And as a Suicidal, the fact that I get to choose gives me breathing room.
Robin Williams, Godspeed. All of Genie's wishes have now come true.
* I do not speak for all Suicidals. I only write for the illumination of a particular mindset which is not extensively covered in the media.
Friday, May 16, 2014
A dear friend messaged me with this trailer for ABC's new pilot Fresh Off the Boat at 6:53am, a testament to his enthusiasm for the project and for my people.
Today's Moral: Be careful when messaging Eliza. She can get *very* wordy. Reply is below.
This is going to be a lengthy response because it's a topic I've been thinking quite a bit about lately. My different personas have distinct responses to Fresh Off the Boat.
First, as an Asian-American actor, I love it. It looks smart and funny, and it's a perfect way to get Asian experiences mainstreamed. I hope it survives for a few seasons, and I appreciate the strides we are making.
On a personal level, it hurts to watch the trailer. My own experience was so blisteringly and unrelentingly painful that watching "Asians having fun" increases my feelings of alienation. How will it feel to be a suicidal Asian-American teenager seeing a pretend Asian family cracks mainstream jokes on network TV? A part of me balks at the idea of America seeing a bunch of quick-witted jokey Asians. I fear that our deeper underlying issues will be dismissed even more. The rate of untreated mental health disorders and domestic violence in minority cultures is so high, and this is due to shame and silence. Will the TV empower us or shame us more?
I do, however, concede that we may actually be increasing our odds of finding help by bringing our culture into the mainstream conscience. But the skeptical side of me looks other minorities and wonders if that's just another TV pipe dream.
Personally, I champion the writing that brings our ghosts out of the closet, the writing that pinpoints and damns the deeper cultural behaviors that poison my people. Jokes about food and mistranslation and the Old Country feel shallow sometimes. But perhaps laughter can mitigate the harder times. Perhaps levity can ironically help us change the terrible ways we treat each other which arise out of the simple and base fears of being an immigrant.
In the meantime, I will support any ethnic voice which emerges into mainstream media. At this point, any ethnic writing takes bravery. The world gets better by one step at a time, even if that step is slightly different from mine.
I just challenge those of who know better. Let's go beyond the gimmicky, food-centered and obvious topics into the hearts - dirty, tired and damaged though they may be - of our people. The cliche holds here: the Truth - if we have the courage to write it - will set us free.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Flying in the face of Cynicism and and Scorn … defying Petty Disdain and Paltry Excuse, I, Eliza Shin, resolve to live every day of 2014. I shall mark each day of the twelve months of 2014, and in declaring so, I throw my arms out and lay down my defenses. Instantly, I am vulnerable to your doubt. In days to come, I shall be vulnerable to my own ridicule and fatigue. Nevertheless, today I stand and proclaim my intention to live out 2014.
How?? Why???? Thanks for asking! :)
Basic Premise: I will do *something* everyday for a month. New month? New Thing!
Basic Premise: I will do *something* everyday for a month. New month? New Thing!
Inspiration came from three distinct sources:
1. Elizabeth Gilbert's glowing Happiness Jars
2. Matt Cutts' 4 minute incisive TED talk "Try Something New for 30 Days"
3. Anna Chui's splendid article on LifeHack "Here's a Shocking Truth If You Think You've Wasted Your Life"
It all started with the inspiration to do a year-long Happiness Jar. As great as that idea is, I tried a similar project before, and the novelty wore off sometime in March or November. So, Matt Cutt's talk gave me the idea to refresh myself each month with a different "marker." The clincher was Anna Chui's article. The knowledge of death - that there is an end to life … the knowledge that we are not suspended in a gelatinous eternity - is what summons our vitality.
So, my January days shall have a Happiness Jar.
Other possible Things/Markers/Summoners of Vitality include
Write a poem
Ride my bike
Take a photo
Clean the house (oh my!)
Give to a charity
Play an instrument (I have 5 to choose from at home)
… and whatever other iridescent hummingbird of an idea flits across my vision in the days to come.
People in my own family have scorned my idea of greeting the new year with Resolve … but this Kimchi Babe is undaunted. I'm spicing this year up. Welcome, fellow adventures, to this thing we call Life!