On Suicide

Anthony Bourdain. Kate Spade. Another senseless life taken, another tear shed for a beloved celebrity or close friend or dear family member. We swiftly turn around and post links to suicide hotlines and numbers to call for help, thinking we’re doing our part in preventing the next tragedy. And yes, it’s one form of prevention, maybe even a solution. But it’s a simple solution to a complex issue.

This complex issue being…

What if people like Anthony and Kate didn’t even have one person to turn to? Or worse, what if they lived in a society in which it is looked down upon to seek therapy? In which therapy, if sought after, is costly, time-consuming, and inaccessible (which leads me to a startling statistic — in which 56 percent of Americans with a mental illness received no treatment in 2018 — source). In which finding the right drug is easier than finding the right brand of shampoo, and in most cases, cheaper! In which human lives are ostensibly measured by our monetary gain, our social hierarchies, our possessions, our appearances — when in reality we are fighting a losing internal battle. In which our mental ongoings are quickly dismissed, in fact, shoved aside as so utterly unimportant. Mental health? More like mental discarding. We survivors sit here in the aftermath of the last tragic loss of life and look for a quick solution. The one that won’t dig too deep to allow us to discover how confused and disillusioned we have become. We don’t want to take the time to really understand the inner workings, flaws, and pressures of modern life.

Sure, life expectancies in recent years have increased significantly. Quality of life has seemingly gotten better. People are living into their 80’s, 90’s, and beyond. So, things must be improving. Does anyone care to mention, all the while, that suicide rates have also increased drastically? On average, 129 people commit suicide every day in the U.S. (source). Perhaps we need to re-define what qualifies as a good quality of life if everyone is trying to off themselves.

Until we start asking the tough questions and having the necessary conversations, suicides will continue at the same or worse rates, and we’ll still sit there scratching our heads wondering why they didn’t ‘just reach out to someone or call that hotline.’ Because we know it’s not that simple.

Note: *I wrote this the week after Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade committed suicide (early June of last year) but just decided to post it now. There’s no current or obvious relevance other than the fact that suicide is always relevant.  I would love to see more people talking about ways in which we can improve our knowledge of mental health and access to better and more (free!) resources for every citizen.

My Highs and Lows of 2018

By the end of last summer, I was not doing well. I was facing the reality that a beloved friendship was coming to an end and that I might not be in teaching for the long haul. I thought I wasn’t cut out for it —  teaching non credit ESL to adults, to be exact, which, as some of you know well, is a truly unique field and not for the faint of heart by any means. I suddenly realized a few things all at once, namely, 1) finding a full time position is essentially a pipe dream, 2) teaching year-round without getting at least one class canceled is something to be expected as an adjunct, 3) I didn’t want to be a “freeway flier” for the rest of my life, and 4) that life can simply be very unfair and it’s a matter of perspective of how you deal with the unfairness and injustices handed to you. I know. A lot of realizations for one summer. I was starting to unravel. I told my husband, “I think I might change careers. I don’t think I can do this anymore.” My life was coming to an abrupt halt, and I didn’t know what to do. Teaching was my whole life. I gave everything to my students. I had never been in such a dilemma before.

Well, meanwhile, I was still preparing for my upcoming Fall Semester at both colleges I teach at. One of them was giving me more troubles (hence, the falling apart and wanting to switch careers), while the other was pure bliss to work at, in comparison. I figured, “I’ll let the semester run its course and in the meantime be thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

I approached the start of the semester with hesitation and, frankly, a bad attitude, but I didn’t want to bail on both schools at the same time because financially that didn’t make sense for me and my husband.

So, I started Day One of Fall Semester with gritted teeth. But, much to my surprise, it presented itself to me as a refreshing glass of ice cold water on a blazing hot day — the students’ bright, positive attitudes quenched my thirst like no other group ever had, and I quickly realized that the semester would be different than any other. Little did I know that this semester in particular would, in fact, be life changing.

As the days and weeks went by, I had to constantly pinch myself and wonder, “Am I dreaming?” Am I imagining things?” “Since when was teaching so fun – all the time?!” I would come home alive at 9 o’clock at night with energy, as if I hadn’t just taught a 3 and half hour long class. Every night, my husband would eagerly ask, “How was class?” and I would always respond, “It was awesome!” My teaching life felt like the “Everything is Awesome” song from the Lego movie. I’m not exaggerating. Well, maybe a little.

I’ve thought to myself, wondering what was so special about this past semester. I really do think it was a combination of factors. The students did have exceptionally positive attitudes, which in teaching, can make a world of difference. They were also at an advanced level; I normally teach low beginners. You can imagine the stark contrast ( 😀 ). More than anything, we built a bond as a class filled with mutual trust, respect, and interest in each other that happens so rarely that when it does, you treasure every second of it and never want to let it go.

As they say, the rest is history, and I’m no longer having a quarter-life, career-altering crisis. I’m not going to sit here and claim that I have it all figured out, ‘cause believe me I don’t. But I will tell you that I *accidentally* learned an important lesson. Instead of immediately giving up on a career I had spent the last five years building upon and working towards, I gave it some time to patiently think about my next steps, and in the midst of that waiting, life presented to me a fortuitous possibility by way of 12 beautiful students who reminded me why I fell in love with teaching ESL in the first place. Call it a gift from God, a sign from the Universe, a nudge in the right direction from the Divine…whatever it was, it saved me from making a potentially huge mistake. Life has a way of presenting fortuitous moments to you, usually when you least expect them. I can’t even describe all of what those students did for me. I almost quit my job, and then they humbly came along, not realizing that they were actually saving my life.  

The moral of my story is this — just because you are momentarily surrounded by darkness does not mean there is not a light somewhere nearby waiting to embrace you. Give your problem — whatever it is — some time and the answer will come eventually. And, have faith that you will be led to your destiny.   

Recipe for a Rhyme

It’s not that hard to make a rhyme

You just need to find the time.

Put the words on the page,

Don’t be afraid.

Inviting fear in —

That is the true crime.

All you’ll need is

 

A dash of meter,

A squeeze of rhythm,

A bit of grit, a bit of grime —

Yes, all of these can make a rhyme.

 

But more importantly

In order to make not just any old rhyme

Dig deep from the surface

Find your purpose

Don’t be nervous

You deserve this.

 

Let your inner voice speak

And remember to listen closely

It has something to say

Don’t let it get away!

 

But what will the Others think?

Forget them!

They cannot shrink

All that is you —

The fullness and wholeness and uniqueness of you.

Your entity, your being

These are your true healing.

 

So, what do you do?

Where to begin?

Time, rhythm, meter

Grit, and grime

Rid of the fear.

Be true to your nature.

Make way for your display.

And then, my dear,

One step at a time,

Line by line,

That is how you make a rhyme.

High up in the Watchtower

Self-righteously you sit in your throne

Watching and waiting upon those below

Concluding that your pre-judged notions

Are correctly wise, not full of insecticide

Before you throw the final stone.

 

High up in the watchtower,

I used to sit

Feigning content

In my well-masked misery

Unaware the poison I stole

The poison I held on so tightly to

Was filling my own hole.

 

A hole

In my brain

A hole

In my heart

A hole

In the part that is used to bestow

Love and grace and every other so-called ‘fruit’ I claimed from the very start.

 

I learned so readily

How to sit in my throne in the watchtower

It’s easy, you know

Back up straight

Shoulders taut

And then start the criticisms

“Look at him

Disobeying his parents; he knows better!

And her drinking habit is out of control

When will she learn? On her way to hell!”

 

These teachers I revered

Would preach not to throw stones,

Citing the notable eighth chapter of John

Yet they lined their own pockets with them

Ready at a moment’s notice

All shapes and sizes

Haven’t you noticed?

 

This dull one is used for the back-sliders

And this sharp one for the extremely rebellious

And that large one

Oh, don’t you worry

That one we’ll keep handy

For our dearest friends and family.   

 

Hypocrisy is an ugly, sneaky villain

It creeps up and dominates your insides

Before you’ve had a chance to realize

While everyone else has been demonized.

They turned their backs on you

And you blamed them through and through

But it was you who drove them away

It was all you.  

 

Now I know better

(Though at times the critical monster shows up

Every now and then

I have to tell him, “Your path is a slippery one — I’m not making that mistake again.”)

Than to make snap judgments

For who am I to look down upon my fellow woman or man?

I have relinquished my title as “Judger of All”

And gladly traded it in for “Live-r of Life: Doing All That I Can”

Ode to the Printed Book

What is this you suggest?

That I read through a screen  

What comfort could that bring?

On this device they call  “e-book,”

There is no page to caress

No old, musty smell to ingest,

No connection impressed.

 

I have no interest to digest

Only hope suppressed.

And I’m left

With a nook, not of beloved titles, but one

Of emptiness.

 

How satisfying it is to sit down and touch the words,

The title page, the book and its binding.

To read in great detail the quotes that hail

The author’s laborious tale.

 

Fear of page decay?

All the better, I say!

What a way to die — in someone’s loving, tender grasp.

 

“We live in the modern age!” they protest.

And, what of the environment’s plague?

How selfish are we; save the trees, save the trees!”

 

“On the contrary,” I proclaim.

“Save the Book’s essence,

Its soul, its lasting, unforgettable presence.”

 

For it was always, is, and forever will be

In the form that it originally intended to be —

 Paper made from that poor, sad tree.  

Voice Within

Dismantle the self-doubt and the pity

Such false adornments don’t suit you

Though you may think you look pretty.

 

Instead, believe those words of affirmation

Until they’re your one and only declaration.

 

Darling, you have oceans inside of you,

eagerly awaiting their spring debut.

 

It’s your decision to let them either swallow you whole

or

to lead you to your ultimate destination.