Speaking Truth about Suicide

I have been seeing more social media posts and questions regarding the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain than ever on the subject of suicide, and it stirs up a lot of deep emotional stuff for me. Most of what I read is well-intentioned and perfectly valid but still, possess an ignorant and even harmful bias and privilege that I cannot ignore. As much as I loath listicles, I am posting a few points to consider about mental illness, addiction and suicide (ok, really a bit of a long list), from someone (me) with lived experience with mental illness, suicide attempts, recovery, and family with addiction and mental illness:

1. Mental illness and addiction are not a choice or a moral failure. They are the result of a combination of biological and social origin and usually triggered by trauma or other environmental factors.

2. Most people who suffer from mental illness and addiction lack healthy coping skills (and often the opportunity to learn them) which are taught to us by our parents, our schools, and our peers. This is how they are socially created and perpetuated. We need to look at ourselves and how we are perpetuating the problem and trying to solve the problem as a society instead of demonizing an individual.

3. Many people who attempt suicide have reached out for help, and have been in therapy or recovery. Sometimes therapy dredges things up that were buried so deep that working through those issues is too painful to face, and no layperson has the training to work through those kinds of issues, while professionals are limited by insurance regulations, heavy caseloads, and a secure and emotionally safe long-term environment in which a person can work through these things. For many people, such services are not available because of funding for services, lack of insurance, overcrowding of available services, and the stigma of obtaining such services.

4. If you really want to help someone in crisis, ask them what they need and listen to them (within ethical reason). Don’t tell them what is best for them. If they don’t know what is best for them, and you don’t have the training to deal with a crisis situation, actively help them find resources, and keep your ears open to listen to and acknowledge their pain without judgment. This is the most compassionate thing you can do for someone who is suffering.

5. If a person reaches out on social media and says they are struggling… acknowledge their cry for help. Even if they have cried for help 100+ times, they need to know who they can count on for support. If you have healthy boundaries, you can let them know what you can and cannot do for them, then follow through to the extent that is safe and healthy for you. Don’t assume that a person is being manipulative or needy because they are in pain. Don’t tell them that their feelings are wrong. Just acknowledge their pain and what it is that you can or cannot do for them.

6. Telling someone to reach out for help is a form of victim-blaming. Yes, we need to let people know what resources are available, but we also need to learn to be more compassionate toward and aware of the people whom we profess to care about. Sometimes depression and anxiety present in other ways such as constant happiness, being overly helpful to others, or excessive creativity or productivity.

7. It’s ok to be angry or confused by the death of someone who has committed suicide or had an accidental overdose. Anger and confusion are part of the grieving process. However, it is NEVER ok to tell a person who is suicidal that suicide is a selfish act. They are already feeling that they are the worst person in the world. Introducing ideas that make them feel worse about themselves is selfish on your part because you are thinking about yourself as the survivor of the act, making you the victim of their suffering.

8. If you haven’t experienced true long-term depression, addiction, anxiety or complicated grief, don’t compare your experience to that of someone who has struggled with these. Acknowledge what you can’t understand and don’t project your experience of therapeutic activities (religion/prayer, medication, yoga, meditation, support groups, positive thinking, diet as medicine, etc) as the one and only answer to their problems. All of these are healthy parts of a whole person and of a productive recovery, but none alone can cure mental illness or addiction. Recovery is a life-long process, that sometimes ends with the person deciding that they have suffered enough in this life. It is ok to grieve a completed suicide, but remember that it is always better to support a person while they are still alive in being the best version of themselves they can be than to blame them for choosing to end their pain. Recovery is also highly individual… don’t tell a person that what they are doing is wrong just because it didn’t work for you.

9. While we’re on the subject of positive thinking, manifestation, and other spiritual ideas… a person who is in so much pain that they want to end their life is not able to process such advanced ideas. While these ideas are valid throughout all faiths, they have only been fully realized by the masters; and the master knows that a person must start where they are, that mastery is nothing more than the continual failure and re-commitment to a practice, and that a person cannot fast-forward from crisis to enlightenment. If you are telling a person that their emotional state is a result of not doing a particular practice correctly, you are participating in victim blaming (and deep denial of your own spiritual and/or emotional state).

10. Don’t only focus on celebrities… 22 veterans and 141 civilians committed suicide per day in 2016 in the US.

11. Support social services, mental health and addiction services, and vote for people who will fund these programs.

12. Practice some compassion in your everyday speech. Words like crazy, insane, borderline, and psycho are hurtful to people suffering from mental illness. These words are part of what perpetuates the negative self-images held by that person.

** P.S. This is by no means a thoroughly inclusive or correct list… just pieces of one person’s lived experience and education.

The Middle Ground between Faith and Fear

Things have been pretty crazy for a lot of folks lately, myself included. No details necessary about my own stuff, as it is all pending, and I’m doing the footwork to cover all available options, and I’m not willing to continue the negative spiral that comes from talking about problems more than solutions. What I will share is that I know that what is happening is preparing us for those things that we have been working toward… it is clearing the path of the baggage that is weighing our potential down, and that an abundance of opportunities exist to help us reach our goals.


We may not see all of the answers right away, and the path may be painful at times. But the path is illuminated by the steps we take, and everything we need is provided exactly when we need it. It is a matter of faith which, when based in gratitude and direct action,  yields the fruit of our intentions.  I place my faith on my prior experience that even when I was at my worst, I had what I needed because I did what I needed to do… when I was homeless and pregnant, I had a car and couches to sleep on; When I was broke and my son had a birthday, a bag of groceries with a cake mix and teddy bear anonymously showed up on my doorstep; when my partner died and I was alone in a new town, I had his friends that helped me get through the crucial first year; When I was a wild teenager with a parent who could not be a parent, I was offered a job and a stable home.  I could cite a slew of other experiences, all of which share a common thread of progress and setbacks, followed by more progress. None of it was easy, and it all required a lot of footwork and perseverance.

The hardest part of fear is the unknown.  Sometimes the outcome is elusive or not what we expected, and in some instances, we can work our whole lives and not live to see the change our work helps to produce.  But that doesn’t mean that our efforts are in vain.  Nor does it mean that we need to be miserable during the process.  We must be realistic and allow ourselves to feel and process our disappointment, grief, fear, and despair when they arise.  We can take true comfort and in the empathy of shared experience, and even find humor and joy in the midst of our experience.  It is vital that we celebrate what we can when we can.  

I was taught that fear and faith cannot live in the same house; that if you had fear, you were not acting in faith.  My life experience speaks differently.  Both are projections toward the future grounded in our past experience.  Both are highly emotional experiences.  And both are strengthened and perpetuated by our actions.  I’ve spent my life living in fear and anxiety, but faith has allowed me the courage to step beyond the paralyzation of fear to a different experience, and the results I’ve experienced have been a direct result of my efforts.  My faith isn’t in a power greater than myself or in miracles.  My faith is an act of gratitude for the resources that were available to me when I was in crisis, and for the opportunity to do the work that I had to do to create the change I needed in my life.  It is not a modality with which to stuff or hide my fears or frustrations.  I allow my tears to release the fear that holds me back so I can move forward.  Those tears reveal the messages behind my fear, which I can then use to guide my next steps.  In this, I have found that faith and fear do live in the same house, and are mutually beneficial.

However, I cannot say all of this without recognizing that despite my own experiences and intersectional marginalization, I hold a degree of social privilege that many do not have.  Some of the resources that I’ve had are a result of privilege.  Some of those resources I’ve had to search out and fight to get or create.  As much struggle as I’ve experienced in life, there are millions of people who suffer, and through no fault of their own, do not have the opportunity or resources that I’ve had.  My faith is also based on gratitude for having benefitted from these resources, and the fact that I can use what I have gleaned from these to help others.  I learned how to seek out and create resources from those around me who were struggling.  The bonds we made helped us create the resources that we needed to move forward in life… this is the foundation of community.  And my faith for all of those who are struggling lies in the strength of that foundation.  It is when we are isolated from our community that we lose our strength and support, and it is to those that are isolated and struggle for the opportunities themselves that I reach out, and I believe that it is morally incumbent for those who have privilege to level the playing field and create those opportunities and pathways for those who do not have them.

When things don’t work out as planned, it’s ok. It may not be the right time, or something better is getting ready to sprout. Life constantly responds to our needs and our intentions whether or not we recognize these opportunities. Adversity, tragedy and things that seem senseless give us the opportunity to grow, to recognize what we have, to learn more about love, to regroup, and to take the time we need to come to the wisdom and understanding of how to apply it in our lives so we can move from potential to action.My experience speaks to this, and I am holding for myself and for each of you who are experiencing the same: that there is a middle ground between the extremes of faith and fear from which we can use both to find our resources and create the change we need in our lives.

 
Stay blessed.

The Game

The Game:

Modern life and the American dream;

catharsis at best, dangerous at worst.

The opportunity behind both is the potential to rise above, step out of our current chapter in our story, even step out of the story itself.

Letting go of our stories, not identifying…

then how do we identify, and with what, with whom, for how long, and when?

When does our identity shift again?

What about reality, authentically being in the moment?

Being mad, being hurt, being happy, being confused, being scared, being joyful, being connected, being disconnected, being obsessed…

being human.

Marketers and Gurus are one and the same…

don’t let them drive your idea of what you are supposed to be;

don’t let them tell you what that is supposed to look like.

We’re caught up in this illusion of individualism,

yet we crave connection above anything else

And spend our time and our lives trying to buy it, earn it, sell it, create it, rate it, sing it, write it, play it, act it, trade it, legislate it, kill it.

We perform;

even in our own space.

This tug of war between what we want and what we think we need

and the only way I’ve ever found

to get out of that space

is to love,

to give,

to receive,

to speak kindness,

to touch,

to give my time and attention.

For love is the only freedom that allows us to be fully human with one another.

While the world continues its demand that we stifle everything which defines our humanity…

conscripting our best qualities for its own purposes,

and discarding the rest, so that we always have a void to fill

from which someone else can profit.

Where is the freedom in that?

© 2018 HAWilcox

#me too… We’re all in this together.

A few weeks ago, millions of women on social media have been trending the phrase “Me Too”, to bring awareness to rape culture in light of the scandals behind Harvey Weinstein and the infamous “casting couch”.  Since then, at least 23 other men (as of 11/14/17) who are public figures have been accused of sexual harassment and/or assault, most by several women, and some by men.  These accusations and the self-disclosure of people on social media exposes a quiet epidemic of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse in our society, and I am grateful that public discourse is taking place.  I am also grateful for the many men who are not only speaking up in support of women, but also to let us know that this affects men who do not meet the definition of “masculine” in our society.  Just as women are socialized to compete with each other for the attention of men through jealousy, and are taunted by media and marketing that continually promote low self-esteem, men are socialized to be more masculine through bullying that calls them a sissy or a girl, and through violence, and even through sexual assault.  It is no less traumatic, and every man experiences some level of this in their childhood as a form of gender-policing.

It’s important to emphasize here that men (regardless of sexual orientation) and transgender (across the gender spectrum) people suffer from rape culture as well.  Sexism drives how we shape our cultural notions of masculinity, which is based on belittling men and boys by comparing them to women and girls in an effort to get them to conform to masculine ideals.  Men have a higher rate of rape by both men and women than most people realize (around 9% reported, actual numbers are more difficult to estimate because of the stigma attached to reporting rape).  Transgender people have an the highest rate of sexual assault across the gender spectrum at a whopping 50%.  It’s also important to recognize that women can be equally abusive toward both men and women with behaviors that are included in the definition of, and stem from, rape culture.  However, this article is relatively hetero-normative because rape culture stems from the concept that gender is a binary construct and that heterosexuality is the prevailing norm in our culture.  Future articles will be posted that address these issues as they specifically and respectively affect men and transgender individuals, and the LGBTQ community.

Rape culture is not solely about sexual assault; it is about a myriad of concepts, behaviors, traditions, and idioms in our culture that promote misogyny and the subjugation and objectification of women.  Its very definition is the pervasive normalization of the above-listed behaviors that minimize and excuse sexual harassment and assault.  The phenomena isn’t new to sociologists.  Multiple studies have exposed several layers to rape culture.  The first, and most universal piece is the account, or the social script… which is a story that a person will give to re-frame their behavior to remove guilt by using either an excuse (reason why), or a justification (circumstance) to avoid stigma, shame, and culpability for their behavior.  Both recognize the behavior as wrong, but deflect responsibility for the behavior.  The second, and equally universal piece, is the Neutralization technique.  These are a type of justification that a person gives for their behavior to assuage their guilt.  Criminologists Gresham Sykes and David Matza found 5 neutralization techniques to be common across various criminal and ethically questionable acts, and they are pervasive in rape culture.

  • The first is Denial of Responsibility, where the perpetrator claims to be a victim of either situations beyond their control or circumstance.
  • The second is Denial of Injury, where the perpetrator believes that their actions did not actually cause any harm to the victim.
  • The third is Denial of the Victim, where the perpetrator believes that their victim deserved what happened to them.
  • The fourth is Condemnation of the Condemners, where the perpetrator minimizes the response of those who condemn the act in an effort to shift the blame and focus from themselves to those who are condemning the act.
  • The last is Appeal to Higher Loyalties, where the perpetrator holds some belief (often religious or moral in nature) that their actions are justified as part of a scriptural or other “moral” prerogative.

Another study of Convicted Rapists Vocabulary of Motive by sociologists Diana Scully and Joseph Marolla found a common theme of 5 neutralization techniques to construct rape as acceptable in the rapist mind.  Not surprisingly, these techniques are perpetuated in everyday life: in the court-room from defense attorneys, in hushed conversations about what she was drinking or wearing, in trainings offered to girls and women to prevent themselves from being raped or assaulted (and the lack of training for boys and men on how to not harass or assault women), in the porn industry, and even in women’s fashion magazines.

These five techniques are:

  • Framing Women as “Seductresses”- Her fault, slut shaming, how she dresses or behaves. Essentially, this frames the rapist as being helpless to control his urges and a victim of the woman’s seductive powers.
  • “No Means Yes”- She didn’t really mean no… women are the gatekeepers of their virtue, they are supposed to say no to save face, but they don’t really mean it. This is rooted in the idea that a woman is supposed to be sexually coy and a man sexually aggressive.
  • “Most Women Relax and Enjoy It”- Sound familiar? Recently touted by top government officials in talks about laws regarding women’s health issues.  This idea continues to prevail despite the long-term physiological and psychological effects of rape, including injury, future sexual dysfunction, PTSD, depression, and stigma.
  • “Nice Girls Don’t get Raped”- Another form of slut shaming. Often used against sex workers, minority or otherwise disenfranchised or marginalized women such as single mothers, women who have been part of an extra-marital affair, women who have had several sex partners, women who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of rape, and women who are dressed provocatively.  Yet another way of deflecting responsibility for the actions of the perpetrator.
  • “Only a Minor Wrongdoing”- Rape isn’t as bad as it seems. It’s just sex.  It’s ok for men to be aggressive.

These were the justifications used by rapists when interviewed extensively, and these patterns are pervasive in our society.  We see and hear these daily, in terms that are summarized nicely on the Only With Consent website, which includes a list of beliefs and actions that we see and hear every day, and often dismiss as benign.  The current exposure of perpetrators in the public eye is just the tip of the iceberg, and a very important one.  It is helping victims of sexual harassment and assault speak their truth and find solidarity with others in their community, many of whom were not open about this shared experience.

Even more importantly, men are beginning to step up and ask us to define the elements of sexual harassment, consent, assault, abuse.  Some are asking about ways to communicate with their partners, families, and friends about their experiences.  Men are realizing their culpability and stepping up and admitting that they have been a part of this phenomenon.  Men are opening up about how they feel, often stating that they feel that they are walking on eggshells around women for fear of saying or doing something that could be construed as harassment or unwanted touch.  Men are also stepping up and admitting their own experiences with being sexually harassed or assaulted.  This is a good sign.  We need more of this.  A great blog addressing men’s relationship to how we perpetuate and can begin to change rape culture can be found here.

In short, men have many ways to stop participating in rape culture.  Stop engaging in jokes that demean women.  Think about the language we use regarding women… is it demeaning?  Dehumanizing?  Objectifying?  Learn about enthusiastic consent.  Don’t assume consent… communicate with your partner.  Pay attention to examples of how media, music, and marketing perpetuate rape culture.  Call out other men when you see or hear them engaging in these behaviors.  Check your beliefs about gender roles, sexuality, and violence.  Admit when you realize that you have engaged in these behaviors.  Call out sexism the way you would call out racism.  Go a step further and study power dynamics and privilege in society.

Rape Culture isn’t going away.  It is another shameful part of our culture and history that we need to address, and it takes all of us to find our voice, to learn and speak up about it.

#metoo = #we’reallinthistogether

Gratitude, Patience, and Compassion

A friend of mine called the other day sounding distraught, and left a message saying that I’m one of the most grounded people she knows, and of course, my mind immediately started arguing with her statement instead of accepting the compliment.  Strangely enough, she’s one of the most unfailingly positive people I know, so I guess that makes us even… if we’re playing that game.  We constantly compare ourselves to those around us, and fail to recognize our own attributes.  There is value in comparison, but it is important to maintain perspective.  In this case, I mean a realistic and positive perspective about our own value and inherent worth.  For me, this starts with the ability to be vulnerable and feel safe.

We want the safety of being vulnerable with others, but we rarely allow others to be vulnerable with us… or perhaps we don’t recognize vulnerability when it hides behind a mask of anger, anxiety, or frustration. Paradoxically, we are often more compassionate with others than with ourselves; yet we place people on a pedestal, and when they act human, unless they are in our “circle”, we demonize them for being so.  I meet women every day who admire so much in others, but don’t recognize their own worth… I’ve been that woman too. It still sometimes shocks me when another woman tells me that she admires me.  Those people we have placed on a pedestal are our role models, and we can’t bear to see them as fallible, vulnerable human beings, because our own self-image might be shattered.
We are socialized to always look like we have it all together, and we spend enormous amounts of energy on self-deprecation and striving to be more like the people we see around us.  We are taught from an early age that we must work three times as hard as the guys, and not receive praise or validation for our work, and that we must compete with other women for validation from others.  We are taught that our value is not inherent, but dependent upon our relationships to others…  daughter, sister, girlfriend, wife, mother, grandmother.  But Never. Just. Woman.

Perhaps it’s time to be more of ourselves… warts and all, and more accepting of the same in others.  As long as we are constantly comparing and competing, we will never be happy.  I’ve found this to be true for myself…  I’m not competitive with others for the most part, but I’m constantly competing with myself, trying to be better, do better than I have before.  When I slip, I find myself in a spiral of self-deprecating thoughts intended to motivate me, but often does the opposite.  This is that vulnerable space of which I speak. What I’ve found is that gratitude is the key to being patient with myself and with the world around me.  When I sit in a place of gratitude, even for the negative experiences in my life from which so many opportunities have taken root, I am able to hold space for the patience, curiosity and tenacity necessary to nurture those opportunities into fruition.  In this space, I find a sense of awe and wonder that feeds the compassion it takes to work through those places in which I feel stuck so I can move forward.

It’s often easier to hold this space for others whom we love, but not for ourselves or for those with whom we experience conflict.  So there is my new challenge for myself.  I hope you will join me in finding ways to practice more patience and compassion for ourselves and for those with whom we are in conflict, through gratitude.  And perhaps, our own vulnerability will lead us not only to compassion, but to seeing that connection which binds us all in the space where “other” does not exist.

 

Recharge

Some days we feel helpless
against the tide of lists and details
which plague our existence
our livelihoods
our thoughts
Needing to create order
to induce a sense of control
Order is a neurotic symptom
and control an illusion…
There must be a point on this spectrum
where my need for these is sated
Where the routines and constants
that enable the quiet contentment in the soul
are not disrupted
even as the world rushes by
or as we run to catch that bus headed for success
Where we can sit
right where we are
and start with whatever is right in front of us
and make order
of that place in the universe
which we occupy
in any given moment.

©HAWilcox2017

 

Priorities~ A Rant

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but it seems that every time something important is happening in Washington DC, most corporate and social media outlets re-direct our attention to scandals and frivolous details instead of the main story.  This week, 3 main stories are happening, but only one is flooding social media and consistently mentioned in the news.  First, Hurricane Maria is no less devastating than the recent Harvey and Irma, but because it hasn’t hit the US Mainland (just one of those pesky territories), it’s not at the top of anyone’s list.  Second, the current ACA Repeal bill, the Graham-Cassidy bill, will be put to a vote within the next few days, and if passed, will deny millions of Americans basic health care and strip some of the protections for women’s health care.  And third, many NFL players are joining Colin Kaepernick in silent protest of police brutality against African Americans.  All three are life threatening, but only one is receiving major attention by our president and media, and that one, though no less devastating or important than the other two, is the one that has been twisted into a free-for-all debate over free speech rather than honoring the actual intent of the protest, and which overshadows the immediate threats to millions of American lives (including Puerto Ricans and American Citizens living on the island in the case of Irma and the millions who will not be able to get healthcare without the ACA).

This morning, I’m truly ashamed of our national priorities.  Ok, so I’ve been ashamed of them since the 2016 Election, but that’s another story.  I think that the question is, Where do we go from here?  Perhaps it’s time that we stop fighting each other over the details of who is more important and which threat is more immediate and what constitutes free-speech vs dissent vs disrespect, and focus on the fact that all of these are important.  All of these point to a system that is inherently racist, sexist, ableist and cares nothing for the working poor without whom our economy wouldn’t exist.  They also point to the fact that our infrastructure cannot support the sheer numbers of people affected by natural disasters, which are increasingly more dangerous and more devastating due to climate change.  Additionally, they show how unsustainable our system is when it’s workers cannot take care of their basic health and work, and those who do not work will not be able to afford the goods or services being produced.

Perhaps it’s time that we focus on the reality that we have so many systematic failures in our current government, lifestyles, economy and priorities that no one will be unscathed in the end, and that unifying for solutions is a necessity if we give a damn about our future as a nation, and even as a species.  There are solutions out there, and many people are doing what they can to be a part of it.  However, the energy that we are wasting over every little distraction and scandal that comes down the line could be better put to civic and civil engagement.

I may be wrong.  I may not have all the answers…  but I’m not giving in to the latest sensationalism and I’m not giving up on our potential to create a sustainable and equitable solution.