Thursday, August 30, 2007

Say what?

We humans are an interesting lot. We form opinions about things, and even if we think we don't express our beliefs, they come through when we're not paying attention. It happens to everybody.

This afternoon I had a one-on-one meeting with a colleague. We got into a discussion about adults with learning disabilities and special needs. I mentioned a student who had endured gran mal seizures as a child and teen and had incurred brain damage as a result. She has made remarkable progress at school, and although she was almost unresponsive to us a year ago, she's perfroming better than the other students in her class now.

My colleague mentioned that her class tutor has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism. She said he's learning a new job at the supermarket where he works and as long he stays on his medication (for what, I don't know) and lives with a lot of structure, he's "highly functional."

She went to say, "Treatment and therapy can really do wonders. My sister-in-law is bipolar and she's working as a cashier now. She started as a grocery bagger, but she's been able to handle the new job very well."

I kept my mouth shut, but I thought, "A cashier? Is this all that people with bipolar disorder are believed to be capable of? Cashiering as an accomplishment?"

I was tempted to blurt out that I had bipolar disorder and I had left cashiering for even harder things more than 25 years ago. It's really amazing what we bipolars are capable of. Must be the drugs.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Things you might not know about me:

  • I am afraid to drive. (but I do it anyway. I just don’t turn left.)
  • I’m a vegetarian.
  • I detest portabella mushrooms.
  • I love puppets.
  • I have to look at the keys when I type and I don’t use my thumbs.
  • I’ve never had a broken bone.
  • I’ve never been hospitalized.
  • I think shooting stars are the best.
  • I am a terrible housekeeper, but I don’t care.
  • I find swearing to be profoundly satisfying.
  • I believe I would die from sadness if I couldn't have cheese. Cheese makes my day worthwhile.
  • I organize my weekly wardrobe every Sunday, right down to the underwear and jewelry, and then I hang up the outfits in chronological order.
  • I’ve never had a martini.
  • I am so deeply, deathly afraid of police, I doubt I would be able to report a crime if it meant having to speak to a cop.
  • I have three secrets that my friends, family, and spouse don’t know.
  • I once sang the Oscar Meyer Weiner song on the radio.
  • I am not at all ticklish. Not even a little.
  • I actually enjoyed the movie, Showgirls. More than once.
  • My wedding was so unusual it was on the evening news.
  • I adore hand drums; I own no fewer than four djembe drums and at least a dozen small percussion instruments.
  • I never believed in haunted houses until I lived in one.
  • There is not a day that goes by that I don't wonder if, when the day comes, I will die from suicide or natural causes. As long as I have options, death doesn't scare me.
  • I own several dozen wristwatches, but only five have working batteries at any one time.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Journey to the Center of the Earth

There's a reason why airfare to Phoenix is so very inexpensive in August. It's called heat. Never have I felt such seriously brutal heat.

Whose brilliant idea was it to establish a major city in the middle of the desert?

Actually, I had a wonderful and lovely time in Arizona, but that had nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with the reason I was there. I was there to visit a friend, a friend I barely knew according to conventional measures, yet chronology and geography aside, I realize I've known her on the soul level for quite some time.

I met my friend on the Internet. The amazing thing about the Internet is that it continues to make the world more accessible. My friend and I met on a forum where we were discussing the nature of hope and the concept of trying. We took up writing long, soul-searching email messages wherein we discovered that we had laid the foundation of a spectacular friendship.

When it came time for me take a vacation, there was really no decision to make about where I would go. It wouldn't have mattered had my friend lived in Maine, Alaska, or Arizona. With the possible exception of Alabama or Mississippi (humidity), I was going to go wherever she was.

After a week in Arizona, I realized that spending time with the right people is what's most restorative about vacation. The location is almost irrelevant when you're in good company.

My vacation was fabulous.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Vicarious hair and other parental nonsense

When I was a little girl, my neighborhood nickname was "Mag the Hag." I earned this nickname in part because I had long, white blond hair that was usually a tornado-like mess. My mother had always dreamed of having long, flowing blond hair herself, but since nature had given her thin, fragile, black hair, her next best hope was my hair.

It's tough to have long hair when you're a little kid. Stuff gets tangled in it, it's a lot to manage, and in the days before instant conditioner or even a decent creme rinse, the after-shampooing comb-out was nothing short of child abuse.

My mom was beleaguered by the household duties of a 1960s housewife, which included raising the four kids she had borne in a span of only five years. Having a daughter with high maintenance hair was not a very practical choice, but my mother's desperation for good hair was bound to be vicariously experienced through me. Except...we had very different ideas about what makes hair beautiful.

My mom had enough to do during the ins and outs of a normal day without having to put too much effort into fixing my hair. This meant that ninety percent of the time, she pulled my hair back into a high ponytail and sent me on my way. On a special day, I might get braids (which she could never get quite right, as a boy who sat behind me in second grade pointed out repeatedly), and for holidays, there was the exotic and highly anticipated bun. With hairspray.

I hated ponytails. I thought they were uninspired and an insult to my inner princess. I dreamed of long, flowing hair that rippled in the wind. To help myself achieve this vision of hair beauty, I almost always tried to pull out the ponytail immediately upon stepping into the backyard. There were two problems with this, yet they never dampened my Rapunzel-like aspirations. The first problem was that my mother put my hair up using regular rubber bands. They were a bitch to get out unless you could see what you were doing, which I could not. After making a snarled mess of my hair with the stubbornly stuck rubber band, I would usually abandon my attempt and go about my day, unconcerned about the cotton-candy shaped blob of hair on the back of my head, complete with twisted-up rubber band dangling in the knot, too embedded to fall out. I opted to ignore that which I could not see in favor of enjoying the long strands grazing my cheeks in full cooperation with my dream of seraphim's locks. From an outsider's perspective, I can see where Mag the Hag may have seemed appropriate at the time.

My mother was exasperated by my stubborn insistence on trying to get my hair out of the ponytail, and around the start of fifth grade, I was allowed to get my first salon haircut. I had the majority of my hair cut off into what was then known as a pixie (let's hear it for Mary Martin, liberator of all little girls being forced by their mothers to have long hair).

My mother didn't totally throw in the towel for a few more years, as she started bleaching my now-changing hair color back to blond starting when I was about 12. Highlights were still a relatively unknown technique in the hair world, so Mom, Nice 'N' Easy and I had a standing appointment in the bathroom every eight weeks or so. My mother was willing to give up on the length of my hair, but when it came to the hormone-induced end to having a blond-haired daughter, Mom wasn't going down without a fight.

I always felt that my hair was mine and nobody else's, although Mom disagreed. My mother wrung her hands in anguish as I eventually eschewed blond hair, and then proceeded to change my hair to every color that L'Oreal makes--and a few they don't. My hair has been very long, layered, straight, permed, short, extremely short, avant-garde, mainstream, and just about anything else you can think of. Except pink. I never had pink hair. Not on purpose.

I am in my 40s now, and my mother still gives me grief about my hair. She had to concede that I wasn't going to wear makeup, not even "just a little lipstick before going out." Maybe she decided to pick her battles, and as her own hair hasn't aged well (not that it has ever, in 72 years, had the chance to be gray), she's still holding out hope that I can get away with long, blond tresses. Moms. They always have so much hope for their children.

My mom didn't leave her vicarious aspirations at the end of a hairbrush. Oh, no. My mother always wanted to be a dancer, so I took tap and ballet lessons for five long, painful years where I succeeded only in demonstrating my unconquerable lack of coordination. On my sister's 12th birthday, a piano showed up in the house in the middle of the party. I asked my mom, "My sister going to take piano lessons? I thought she wanted to learn the flute." My mother gave me that patient, condescending look that only mothers can give and said, "Well, you're both going to take lessons."

I was confused. I looked my mother in the eye and said, "But I don't want to learn how to play the piano. That's boring." My mom, for whatever reason, wouldn't take lessons herself, and so I was forced, for seven long, long years to sit at the piano every day wondering how this practice time was fulfilling my mother's dream of playing the piano. I think my parents had envisioned evenings of the family gathered around the piano with me taking requests and providing live entertainment. They hadn't factored in my complete and total lack of interest in playing this instrument, let alone the absolute absence of talent or natural ability on my part.

What a disappointment I must be to the Gods of Vicarious Fulfillment. I was a totally withdrawn dork in high school, firmly distanced from activities and the popularity that comes with them. I didn't become a dancer or theater star, I failed at all athletic pursuits I was forced to endure, I continue to refuse to bleach my hair, I haven't touched a piano in almost 30 years (nor do I want to), I'm seriously fat, I didn't marry JP but when I did marry, I eloped(!); I refused to have children, and I gave up a lucrative and trendy career to work with disadvantaged immigrants.

Sorry, mom. You tried, you really did, but unfortunately for you, I did succeed in one thing you wanted: I learned to think for myself and stick to my guns.

Saturday, August 4, 2007


In case you missed it before, let me recap my feelings about suicide. Suicide is a fundamental right of being human and it's a personal choice. Just as some people choose to live, others find that their most appropriate option in life is to leave it behind. Unless you've been there, it's easy to underestimate exactly how much pain has to be accumulated in a person's life to make leaving more appealing than staying.

There are many, many people who believe it is their duty to do anything--anything--to stop another person from committing suicide. I say, why is it anyone's business? Do a Web search on "suicide prevention" or "suicide support" and you'll see what I mean. Where does this attitude come from that deems it appropriate to "save" someone from suicide? Why is there an arrogant assumption that only people who are unfit to think for themselves would consider suicide? They say things like, Life is a gift not to be wasted. Life is not a gift; it is biological happenstance and we do what we can for as long as we can once we get here. Still the words keep coming: Hang on, there's hope, you just need to see another day, things will look better when you're not so emotional, you just need to talk about it, blah, blah, blah. Talk about it? In this country, you'll actually get hauled away by the police if you so much as discuss the possibility of ending your own life (trust me on this).

People who feel adamant about interrupting the life/death path of another person are asking the wrong questions. and pursuing the wrong answer. The issue isn't about what you're doing to stop someone from committing suicide; the issue is this: What are you doing to help eliminate the intolerable pain and suffering from the life of the person who is contemplating suicide? Suicide isn't about death nearly as much as it is about pain and stopping pain.

It is cruel to stop someone from committing suicide when in the end that action will only serve to make you feel better but without easing the horrible burden of suffering of the person who wishes to die. Why don't people get this? Why does anyone feel they have the right to stop a suicide when they haven't done much, if anything at all, to alleviate the pain that brought on the desire to die?

I truly, passionately believe that if you can't help me slog through Hell, then you haven't paid the price of admission to discuss my final options. Screw you if you think you do. I know what it's like to feel abandonment. I know what it's like to realize that at the most painful, godawful time in your life, you are going down that path alone...very alone (see link). Don't act like you've been with me all along when you really just jumped out of the bushes at the last turn.

So, here's the irony. I've started to receive newsletters via email from a suicide prevention and support organization. Now, I spend a fair amount of time on the Internet and I certainly have visited my share of message boards and made extensive Google searches on topics of a personal nature. Never, ever have I compromised my privacy by doing anything under my real name. Never. Imagine my surprise, then, to find these e-newsletters coming to my work email address.

I am not a detective, but I can connect very obvious dots. In this case, I think it's safe to conclude that someone else signed me up for this "help." Un-fucking-believable. My immediate reaction is to be profoundly offended and outraged by the presumptuous, arrogant attitude of the person who, having taken stock of my deficits, thought they should "suggest" I need help. If I knew who this person was, I would say, "Where were you a year ago when I was seriously grasping for a lifeline? Where were you 18 months ago when I was actively planning my own death? Why do you think it's OK to imply I need help, yet you are such a coward, rather than just ask if I'm OK, you sign me up for something behind my back? Why can't you sit down, present your suggestion, and discuss it with me? Why do you think it's OK to comment on my life via anonymous suggestions? What's coming to my inbox next, Weight Watcher's coupons?"

After my initial outrage, I realized that irony snakes throughout this situation. Sending this newsletter to me is like buying a rosary for a monkey. It's poorly thought out and ultimately, a wasted effort. I'd have to say that I'm the last person who is open to the concept of "suicide aversion." No, no, no. I'm the woman who believes you get to choose how you die, just as you get to make all of the other big decisions that come with being human.

Both my husband and my therapist asked me if I really mean it that I wouldn't stop another person from committing suicide. My husband took it a little further and said, "What if it was someone you loved?" Well, if it were someone I loved, I would talk it over with them to make sure they understood the implications of the decision. If that person was really adamant about suicide and there was no way for me to provide comfort, then yes, I would respect his or her decision and step away. I would not, however, send anonymous email suggesting that the person needs an intervention.

I cannot respect the suggestions of a person who not only doesn't respect my right to choose, but who also can't look me in the eye or tell me to my face that they think my emotional health is somehow theirs to comment upon. This is not a case of someone showing concern or trying to be a friend. It's a case of someone blatantly passing judgment on me in a complex situation they are not equipped to understand.

Screw that.