Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Penelope Trunk tackles the suicide of Bill Zeller

And I’m glad.  There will be enough talking heads spouting their opinions, doing more harm than good. 

Case in point: A teenager in small-town Iowa committed suicide last July, and the local news anchor condemned the act on air with a stern reproach: “Suicide is never the answer.”  As though he could scare away suicide with his disapproval.   Of all the things to say, KWWL chose to render judgment rather than extend compassion. 

Perhaps I am uniquely sensitive to such remarks, having been suicidal for quite some time ... but isn’t that the point?  Scoldings convey reproach, instead of any sort of understanding or empathy. “If you’re hurting, there is help.”  A thousand other axioms might have actually been helpful in reaching out to others in pain.  Suicidal people chastise themselves enough without others chiming in.

So I’m glad that Penelope wrote about his death, because she can speak from a place of courage instead of fear.  Having experienced sexual abuse, she’s endured much of the same trauma.  When you’ve actually gone through terrible things, you know better than to say all the wrong things to people in genuine pain. 

I’m also glad Bill Zeller publicized his last words.  In so doing, he gave the public a glimpse into the despair that leads to suicide.  People will judge him regardless, but at least it won’t be for someone else’s version of why he did it.  

I understand, even though I don’t.  I can’t pretend to have any concept of the agony he endured over the course of his lifetime.  In a perfect world, he wouldn’t have been shamed into silence for his feelings.  He could have spoken his truth looking forward to compassion and understanding instead of condemnation.  But that is not the world we live in.  It is a world where people feel it is easier to die than to be looked upon with the stigma of mental illness.  It is a world where people internalize the hatred of everyone around them and pull the trigger.

My comment on Penelope’s post:

"He couldn't stand the idea of how the truth would cause people to think differently of him.  Was that really his own distortion, or did he accurately internalize the stigma that would befall him?  We, as a society, let him down.  Something is backwards if you can be honest in death, but not in life.
The sad part is, the shame and hiding reinforces the crippling alienation (when in fact, sooooo many people are hurting).
The sadder part is, people will pretend to be compassionate and empathetic towards Bill Zeller NOW, when they never would have in real life.  Same with all the publicized gay teen suicides over the past year.  GIVE PEOPLE YOUR LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE WHILE THEY ARE ALIVE.
Not a single thing he wrote seemed "crazy" or even "abnormal" *given what he has been through* - I guess I share your amazement that more people do not succumb to suicide given the trauma life inflicts on so many. 
Those who are suffering cannot speak their truths for fear of the condemnation of others - just look at your last post!!!  People cannot even conceive of the kind of despair so many go through.  They are the sort who judge suicidal people as selfish...all the while their only concern being how the death affects THEM.  Hmmm.....
When I write about trying to come back from the brink of suicide, I sure as hell don't do it with my name attached.  Would I ever work again (will I anyway, LOL), is there a snowball's chance I could be a legitimate member of society ever again? 
I almost killed myself 3 years ago.  And 2 years ago.  And last year.  There are a lot of days I feel as Bill did; the pain and darkness have been intertwined with your very being for so long that there's just no way out.  Most days I don't see a way back from all that has happened.  Your courage to keep trying gives me hope.  I have tried to "get help" but not found the kind I really need.  It's not as easy or available as everybody thinks ... and even if you DO get real help, that in itself incites revulsion in some.  Is it any wonder that people feel trapped and hopeless?"

Secrets kill. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

“Anytime you need a friend....

I will be here...”  So sings Mariah Carey. 

But some words are only true in a song.
“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”
Maybe those are the kind of friendships other people have.

Lucky bastards.

In the real world, you don’t always get back what you give. 
“Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Walk beside me and be my friend.” -Albert Camus
In my life’s darkest times, no one has “shown up” for me. 

If I wanted to hit the bars, there are a bazillion people, friends-cousins-acquaintances, I could call up.

If I wanted ditzy bimbo friends to gossip with about who’s sleeping with who, I could go be another dime-a-dozen trollop down at the bar all hoed up with my group of girls. 

But when your life’s falling apart:

  • Do you call the friend who’s not there for the little things to be there for the big things?
  • Who can’t be burdened for an hour lunch...for a life crisis?
  • Should you unload on someone too busy to post back on Facebook, much less reply to an e-mail?
My so-called “best friends” have known about all the major losses in these past several years of my life ... and not bothered to call or see how I’m doing, or even if I’m alive or dead. 
“Everyone hears what you say. Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you don't say.”
For a time you continue to reach out anyway, to act normal, hiding your pain so as not to be a burden.  You try to be the kind of friend you wish you had, until that nagging question in the back of your mind one day leaps to the forefront: where WERE you?

Where were you when life was kicking my ass?

When I couldn't get out of bed?

When I had no one?

I didn’t even show you the darkness, I pretended for you...wasn’t I a good enough actor?

I know, I know: it’s always more fun to knock back a few margaritas with the happy, laughing bunch.

Failure might be contagious.  Despair is catching. 

And I...am a leper? 

So before you shut me out completely, best friend, I will throw you out along with the rest of the world. 

I never wanted you to feel sorry for me.  I didn’t need your pity.  I did need to look in your eyes and see that I was the same person you called “friend” before this bulldozer ran over my life. 
"When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares." ~Henri Nouwen 

"But oh! the blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one's deepest as well as one's most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely. Oh, the comfort - the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person - having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away." ~Dinah Craik, A Life for a Life, 1859

"A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud. I am arrived at last in the presence of a man so real and equal, that I may drop even those undermost garments of dissimulation, courtesy, and second thought, which men never put off, and may deal with him with the simplicity and wholeness with which one chemical atom meets another." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

HATRED KILLS: Seth Walsh, suicide, and bullying gays to death.

"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."

Do these words ring any less true today than when Martin Luther King Jr. first spoke them in the 1960’s?

Fifty years later, people die, and we stand by.

2010 draws to a close with coffins nailed shut on good people who succumbed to their tormentors.

That’s right: this is America, and it’s the year 2010, and kids are killing themselves in the land of the free.

How hard should it have been to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

Think there was a chance in hell it would’ve happened without Obama in office?

I am almost as incensed at the lack of outrage as I am at the injustices themselves.

Examine for a moment the teenage bullying epidemic Ellen DeGeneres refers to in this PSA:

Seth WalshAsher Brown. Tyler Clementi. Zach Harrington. The nameless others we’ll never know about because it seemed easier to commit suicide than to face the hateful condemnation of society. Can you imagine living with the internalized hatred of strangers, friends, peers, family members?
"While their straight friends and siblings can hope to fall in love and have their most important partnerships lifted up, celebrated, and supported by the community, the best that sexual minorities can hope for is to slip under the radar, unnoticed by those who would call their loving partnerships abomination.
Some internalize this condemnation. They accept the message that their deepest impulse toward love and intimacy is an affront to God. And since that impulse is an ineradicable feature of who they are, some come to see their very existence as a blight on the world."
“Their rejection of me is as deep as their faith.”
Excerpt from "Gay Suicide and the Ethic of Love: A Progressive Christian Response," by Eric Reitan

It’s a national travesty, yet no one seems to give a damn.

YOU don’t have to care if YOU aren’t gay. Right?

See if this rings a bell:

“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” -Martin Niemoeller, on the failure of Germans to speak out against the Nazis.

Maybe you throw around phrases like, “That’s so gay,” equating homosexuality with stupidity. Harmless?

Or call someone ‘faggot’ as the worst possible insult, but you wouldn’t dare utter ‘nigger’ because that’s vile…if you think it’s not hate speech, you’re wrong.

Perhaps you tolerate gay people…instead of valuing who they are, much less *loving* them…

Maybe tonight another young person bows out of the torture, because: 
"even if the self-hatred does not sink in all the way, the experience of alienation from the community, the sense of being alone in the world and despised by the community, can lead to suicidal despair"
-- Reitan, Organized Ugliness and Gay Suicide

No mother, brother, sister, friend should EVER have to endure this kind of senseless loss. Chely Wright, founder of Like Me, was on the Nate Berkus show earlier this week in support of Seth Walsh, who could no longer cope with the cruel bullying he was forced to endure at school. Wright spoke openly about how close she came to suicide as a closeted lesbian. “When you wake up every day and you know that a good portion of the world doesn’t like you for who you are naturally born to be, it hurts.” Her phenomenal autobiography Like Me outlines her breakdown and subsequent renaissance. Find out more about Chely’s work on Facebook, follow her organization Like Me on Twitter, or join the No H8 Campaign.

As for me, I am ashamed to live in a country where the ignorant, the hateful, the intolerant - the bullies - reign in tyranny.  In a seminal piece on this issue, Reitan argues that, "The problem runs much deeper than overt bullying" ...
"Harrington killed himself, not because he was being bullied, but because he became painfully conscious of the self-righteous intolerance of a large segment of his community."
 Never give hatred a forum. 

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it." – MLK Jr.