A year ago yesterday (January 17, 2017), I got released from the psyche ward for the second time in two months for suicidality, a bipolar crash, and clinical depression, among other things. That same day, a year later, a dear friend’s brother was claimed by suicide. What is the difference between us? Did I make a choice to live? Did he make a choice to die? Does someone who takes their own life have freedom of choice? I argue no. They don’t.
Freedom of choice involves the ability to make conscious, awake choices. It involves clarity of mind and heart. It involves a healthy mental, emotional, spiritual state. People who are claimed by suicide do not have these things. No one, in their right (meaning healthy) mind does such a tragic act willingly. It may look like they made a choice. They may even believe they are making a choice. But they didn’t.
Someone high, someone drunk, someone under siege, someone under attack, someone in extreme pain of any kind cannot make conscious, clear choices. And for some people, the depression, inner pain, outer pain, PTSD, bipolarity, and other mental illnesses are simply too strong to leave someone clear of mind and awake enough to make such a choice. Depression is a monster that speaks lies in your head. Well, sometimes it speaks, sometimes it whispers insidiously, sometimes it screams and drowns out all rationality. And sometimes all it screams over and over is: “I can’t take this anymore. I need to die. This needs to end.” And the disease of depression convinces that person that they are making a free choice—THAT’S part of the symptomology of depression and mental illness—it makes you think you are well. It makes you think everyone else just doesn’t understand. It makes you think you are in your rightful power as an individual to control your actions. And these are all lies, these are symptoms of a disease.
I knew someone once who, when a friend was claimed by suicide, said: “That selfish sonofabitch.” The victim had left two children. To the outsider, this person committed a selfish act. He was essentially an asshole.
Part of the problem with believing suicide is a choice is the definition of the word and the language surrounding it.
Suicide, as defined in most dictionaries goes something like this: the intentional and voluntarily choice to take one’s own life.
The words surrounding this definition are ones like: committed, took their own life, chose to end it all.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “suicide claims the life of a suffering person.” Perhaps words like the following might be more appropriate:
Tyrannicide—which may sound insulting, but a person who becomes ill enough to kill themselves is not killing THEMSELVES, they are attempting to kill the pain, the monster, the tyrant inside. The person claimed by suicide is a victim, and in no way a willing victim. It is analogous to being possessed by a monster. It’s the monster that pulls the trigger, it’s the monster that takes the fatal leap. The person unwillingly and unwittingly hosting such a creature essentially—if untreated (and sometimes even if they are treated)—becomes powerless over the depression.
Some would say this analogy doesn’t work because possession implies a spiritual, demonic force. I am not suggesting that—although, I believe that is possible (there are physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual diseases), I am more using the image to help people see that the person claimed by suicide did not make the conscious choice to end their own lives. If the possession analogy doesn’t work for you—try thinking of the person with fatal cancer as being possessed by a monster that eats its host from the inside out.
Fideicide—the killing of faith. Someone overwhelmed by a disease can easily lose faith. Someone claimed by suicide is trying to end their hopelessness, not themselves. The disease has swallowed their faith.
Facticide—the killing of facts. The monster of depression distorts the fact the ill person is worthy of living, is worthy of help, has the ability to choose otherwise.
Claim—the word “claim,” comes from the roots of words meaning, the act of shouting out, to demand, and to take sometimes by force. This seems far more accurate than the deliberate and voluntary choice to take one’s own life.
Cancer claims lives, heart attacks claim lives, strokes claim lives, diabetes claims lives, Alzheimer’s claims lives. Depression is every bit as much an illness as any of these. Bipolarity is, PTSD is, and so on. So is addiction.
Addiction and depression tell lies—it’s part of their symptomology. So does bipolarity. As someone who suffers from several mental illnesses, I know as soon as my head says, “You’re doing better, stop taking your meds,” that that is the disease talking.
Depression (and to be clear, I do not mean sadness, or the blues—I mean clinical depression) and addiction have the ability to smother rationality and the ability to ask for realistic help. Just as Alzheimer’s takes away the memory piece by piece, depression takes away freedom, hope, the ability to seek help piece by piece. Just as cancer little by little eats the body away, so does depression and other mental illnesses eat away at the ability to think clearly and rationally.
Saying someone chose to take their own lives—in addition to being inaccurate, is harmful to everyone involved. It puts us in the power of blame, of judgment, and of the ability to slide into the need to protect ourselves from pain and the reality that depression is real, that depression stalks people, that depression is fatal. Some people would much rather believe suicide is a choice because it separates themselves from the possibility to being devoured by a monster. Lastly, it is crushing to the family of the victim to say they choose such a thing. It implies deep self-centeredness, it implies they loved themselves more than their families and friends. It implies they didn’t care about others. People who die from cancer are not abandoning their loved ones or choosing their own lives over theirs. They are not being selfish by dying.
When someone we love is claimed by suicide, the world collapses for the survivors. It is devastating. And people close to them often say things like: “Well, at least they are not suffering anymore,” which is exactly what one says when a loved one dies of cancer. Inside we know suicide is a disease. And combined with depression can be fatal.
People whose disease compels them to attempt suicide are not crying for help. Attempting suicide is an expression of mental illness—a bursting of a cyst, the manifestation of a sickness. And, also tragic, is the fact that many people cannot afford mental healthcare before its too late.
Suicide is also not a sin just as dying of cancer is not a sin.
Compassion, understanding, and an ability to listen openly and face reality is what we must offer when someone we love dies of suicide. No blame, no judgment.
And what of someone like me who suffers from depression and suicidality and is still alive? Before my symptoms became overwhelming, I was able to seek and accept help. My mental cancer was advancing in strength and severity, but it hadn’t gotten to the point of no return. I was still able to have just enough measure of mental clarity and freedom of choice, to get help.
And that is the only difference between my friend’s brother and myself. I am not better than him, stronger, I am not less selfish, or anything of the sort.
I am lucky. I simply don’t have as severe an illness as him. And that is of no credit to me. Some people survive cancer. Many don’t. I survived depression and suicidality. He was taken—claimed—cut short. He was murdered by a cruel disease.
Reflections on the Past Calendar Year, 2017, and Looking Ahead to 2018
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Last year, at this time, I was in the psych ward begging the nurses to kill me. Luckily, they said they didn’t do that sort of thing in the hospital. I spent 9 days there. My second time in the 2 months. I spent my 49th birthday there. The staff brought me a cupcake, which they said was against the rules. It was yummy. You really haven’t lived until you hear a room full of psychologically ill people singing you happy birthday.
And here I am. As far as I know, alive.
You are an integral part of my being here. You supported me 100%, and even though most of this saga was chronicled on my now lost, Radiance Moo-Cow Facebook page, you know the story. I have no secrets.
I have been criticized for sharing so intimately about mental illness. You know I do it to destigmatize it all. You know I do it to help people see someone can exist and function productively and positively—some days better than others—with a chronic, and at this point, incurable, mental illness.
Anywho, things began to lift, not so coiendentally in the spring, with your support, therapy, and a long, struggling, scary, frustrating search for the right combination of meds.
And, of course, there was the unwavering love and support of Mandy, Sam, Ben, and Daniel.
Around late winter, early spring I found Love in Action UCC. I cannot emphasize enough how important that was, and is, to my recovery. The accepting, supportive community, the aliveness of service, the many new friends, and the purpose I feel and truly have there working with lgbtqia youth, and watching those programs grow, is so healing.
Then there are the adopted kids I have taken under my wing and have helped get through some rough times. They too have helped me perhaps more than they know. They are not just adopted kids—they are friends.
Then too, there was my journey into realizing my meds did not take away, as I so deeply feared, my creativity. They have helped hone things, focus things, but the creative forces are still there, and for that I am more grateful than I can say.
Yes, there was, and is, all the ongoing shit with trump and his terroristic regime. Yes, there was, and is, all the ongoing shit from the far-right terrorist extremists. Yes, there is still the transphobia and the daily challenges I face simply existing in the world—the public world. And yes, there are still bouts of deep self-hatred and dysphoria. These have, thankfully, lessened lately though, and for that I am relieved beyond measure. Yes, I am still living under mountains of debt and the fear of being taken to court for those debts. Yes, I still cannot help support my family the way I would like financially. Yes, I truly believe I am not yet ready to handle a full-time job in any field. Yes, I still have my obsessions, magical thinking, paranoid thinking (and I do not use that last word lightly), and my anxieties, fears, throttling storms of PTSD, and the like.
And I am here, and yes, I still talk with much hyperbole and drama. I’m Italian.
Looking ahead, I see my role as a mother changing and growing more and more into being a friend.
Looking ahead, I see a future of growing and living into my role as a mentor of lgbtqia youth. I see myself exploring the possibilities of taking a stab at stand-up comedy and performance poetry, and to return to storytelling, and perhaps even giving concerts/kirtans. I see myself making a CD of my music and publishing another book(s) of poetry. I see continued discoveries into myself as a transwoman, as a woman, as an aging woman, as someone exploring the wonders of their sexuality and the on and off desire to be in a romantic/intimate relationship with someone. Yes, I am still a budding pansexual.
Looking ahead, I see more poems.
Looking ahead, I see reconciliation for those in my life who still do not accept me or want me around their families.
Looking ahead, I see new friends weaving their way into my life, and I in theirs.
Looking ahead, I see doing my best to tend to the medical conditions that are gradually developing in this body of mine.
Looking ahead, I see more prayer, more devotion, more deepening, more diving into, more blossoming, more treasuring, more sharing, more joyous my spiritual journey, which, of course, encompasses everything in my life, my every breath.
Looking ahead, I see more healing in our world, and me doing my little part in that healing.
Looking ahead, I see things in the world perhaps getting worse before they get better.
Looking ahead, I see more taking care of myself and setting boundaries for my safety.
Looking ahead, I see more ways to give, in both secret and out in the open.
Looking ahead, I see less shame.
Looking ahead, I continue to see the goodness, resilience, compassion, wisdom, and power of everyday people.
Looking ahead, I continue to notice the little things, the big things around me that are beautiful, mysterious, wondrous, and important. I continue to actively look for and see/experience gratitude for these things and more.
Looking ahead, I know there will be days when I want to die, when I will be unable to leave my bed, my house, or to eat. No, I am not calling this to myself. I am ill, and I live with that illness every day, and while I am doing OK, I know this disease of mental illness is relentless and reminds me everyday that it is there, lurking, hungry. I am not in delusion about that. At some point it will drag me under again– hopefully not into the suicidality I walked with everyday for months. The writing of suicide notes, the making plans of where, when, and how, the carrying of knives and box cutters, the taking them to my wrists.
Looking ahead, I also see healing and the right support to get me through those times. And while I am afraid, everyday at some point, that the beast is just up ahead behind the next happy, good moment, I am comforted that I can get through it with you and my ability to ask for, and to receive, love and help.
In short, because, yes, I am still short, and likely will remain so, and perhaps I may even grow shorter as the years go by (by-with), looking ahead, I see positive possiblities. I see you. I see me, and today I see me with some measure of self-acceptance and even, I daresay, love.
And it’s still winter. The local world is wrapped in biting cold and sparkling snow. And I see its beauty and dangers. I also, looking ahead, see spring.
Looking ahead I see more glitter, unicorns, stuffed animals, and hippy skirts.
I see this moment, looking inwards, outwards, here, now. And looking ahead, for the first time in years, I see more here and now’s. More moments, each one unpredictable—no matter what I envision—each one full of possibilities and unexpected joy and hardship, each one full of me, you, the Divine, and a world full of people who care, who take care of one another no matter what the media says.
I love this country. I really do. I will never forget, however, that it was, and is, being born from violence—genocide, slavery, and corruption. It was also born from a deep thirst of religious freedom and the ideal where anyone could come to live out their lives the way they chose.
Yes, we have a terrorist imbecile in the white house. Yes, it has a barbaric administration. We also have you. We also have many who will resist and fight, and care—maybe not in the ways you think they should, but they are do, and in their own ways are living out their lives the way they choose—a life of generosity, compassion, kindness, love, and humor.
And yes, there are those who have no choice in how they live—those who have no independence. There are the oppressed, the marginalized, the hated, feared, the hungry, the homeless, the people without healthcare, or enough money to live on no matter how many hours they work at a minimum wage job. And of course, this must change. The dangers of capitalism, the patriarchy, white supremacy, the attacks on the environment, racism—these all must change and be dismantled. And it is hard. Most days it seems impossible. I truly believe we can do it though. I truly believe we can, and are, rising up as never before. The powers of good are getting stronger every day, and you and I are a part of that energy.
Yes, this country is deeply flawed, and we can look around and see those flaws, and rightly so, everywhere we look. And we should. We need to be awake to what we can do to help make positive, lasting changes in our country. We need to bear witness to each other’s pain. We need to listen to each other’s stories of sorrow and victory.
Yes, there are people living kind, compassionate, good lives—I daresay the vast majority in this country are trying to do so. They love their kids. They do good in their communities. They offer you a hand when you’re down. They do amazingly inventive, hilarious, useful things. They do their best to live in such a way as to promote basic, human decency.
Yes, this country is a mess. It is also a tapestry of wonder and of good people creating peace and a safe place for all. There are many people who do not let hate live in their homes.
And no, I am not going to say we are the greatest country in the world. There is no greatest country. There is only a world of souls woven together by threads of hope in the face of great, unholy darkness.
I am a trans woman….I have tasted oppression and marginalization. I have received death threats, and been the target of hate. I fear going out of my apartment every day. And yet I go. I go with the faith that the good people will always outnumber the ignorant, misguided, brainwashed, hateful, hurtful people. And it has never failed to be so in my experience. For every act of hatred aimed at me, there have been a hundred acts of kindness aimed at me also. The vast majority of my days I go out into the world, and while afraid, realize I am OK.
And no, I am not free. I am not truly independent. I am held back by my gender, by my mental illness, by my not being able to pass. I also can share many gifts and strengths by being trans. My mental illness may prevent me somedays from getting out of bed, but it also helps me see the world in magical ways, and it heightens my desire to be more and more compassionate to myself and others.
Yes, I am free to fight, and I do. I am an activist by my very existence. I am free to let you help me, and I do, and you do. I am free to help you. I am free to troll the world with beauty, courage, compassion, and humor. I am free to be me even as, in the same moment, I am not.
Today, I am going to change the name of this day to Interdependence Day. We all need each other. We all need one another. And if today the best you can do is post a meme about justice, then you have helped the world. Today I might need to be carried. Today I might be able to carry. We are all inextricably connected. We even share the same air as trump.
I believe in us. I believe in you.
I believe in our capacity to help one another, to see the good, to assume the good in one another. I believe in our desire for justice, equality, and the genuine acceptance of one another. I believe in our power to fight, to speak out however loudly or softly we can. I believe in the good people doing acts of kindness every day. I believe in love. I believe in the collective power of our vision and that it will one day prevail. It is already spreading. A fire is burning in our hearts. A light is shining from our eyes. We can rise up, lifting one another, and learn how to help change the things that so desperately need changing.
I am going to celebrate Interdependence Day by bringing a meal to a family in need. I am not bragging, but if I was, who fucking cares? Announce your goodness for all to see.
Happy Interdependence Day.
I love you all. Thank you for all you have done, and will do to help me survive the illnesses I carry. I would not be here today were in not for good people like you.
No One was there when I opened the door after being awoken by a frantic knocking. I stood there, afraid, and yet, by some miracle, invited No One in. I cleared off a chair and invited No One to sit down. I asked if they needed a drink of water. They nodded yes. I turned to get some water and No One started weeping. I stopped, knelt at No One’s side, and took their hand. No One wept like a torrent of rain. They collapsed off the chair and into my arms. They started to try to speak through the sobs. I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I caught pieces of words and phrases: Lonely, please, it’s chasing me, afraid, tired. I rocked No One in my arms and they wept for a long time. In fact, Time stepped aside and let us be together for as long as No One needed. I was grateful for Time for letting go of control and allowing No One’s pain to be witnessed in the kind of timelessness they reserve for dreams.
No One gradually wept into a deep sleep. I stayed there, holding them in my arms on the floor. My legs started tingling and falling asleep. I got up slowly and lifted No One into bed. I stroked their hair and pulled the blanket up over their deeply breathing body. I sat down in the chair and wondered why No One had come to me. Who, or what was chasing them? What could I do to help? And with those thoughts drifting through my heart like wisps of mist, I too fell into a deep sleep.
Inside (or outside?) my dream, No One had risen from the bed and stood radiant and strong, alive. I watched in awe as No One began to change their form. Their body shifted and fluttered, lighting up like a million fireflies, taking on other shapes and forms, until, at last, No One had transformed into Everyone, and it was then I understood why they had come. But then, Everyone too began changing shape. Their illumination settled a bit, and their form, a moment ago like a sun that somehow fit into the space of my apartment, began to shrink in size. As Everyone continued to distill in form and intensity, their light became focused and channeled to a specific spot in the room. It was then I understood why Everyone had changed. They had changed, wonder of wonders, into myself. And yet somehow, Everyone was still there. We were one being, one light, one heart. And No One suddenly flickered into the room, never to be alone again. And I let myself, wonder of wonders, be embraced by Everyone, as they rocked me in their arms, for I had collapsed from the chair weeping like the rain.