Saturday, September 3, 2011

I didn't win

I'm just finishing the book Lit by Mary Karr, a poet who dated David Foster Wallace in the early 90's. In the book, Karr goes through her life as an alcoholic raising a son. The book is well written, but the whole God thing at the end is kind of a turn-off for some reason. At the point where Karr reaches sobriety, her emotions begin to overwhelm her. Soon, she becomes so depressed that she thinks about suicide. In the end, she doesn't do anything, but gets help because of the thoughts she was having and the plan she had formed and started to carry out. She claims that her suicide attempt was the lamest ever, but I think anyone who takes any action or even anyone who has a plan shouldn't consider that somehow less serious. I used to think that way too though. Somehow because I only drew a little blood and was forced to vomit an only slightly toxic level of aspirin, it didn't feel like anyone should take notice or take it seriously. Despite my attempt being pretty half-assed, it still showed how much pain I was in at the time, how confused and helpless I felt and how much I thought I couldn't take it any longer. It was never really about wanting to kill myself, it was about wanting to be out of the pain. Obviously Karr was in a similar state. Who knew we both held our own key to freedom?

Suicide is a sensitive topic. There are some people who believe that under no circumstances should anyone off themselves, and yet it's common to suggest that a pet be euthanized to keep it from suffering. Somehow it is seen as having compassion to put a pet down if the animal is in poor health and not living a quality life, yet those same principles don't seem to apply to humans. Some people even go so far as to say that suicide is "demon inspired" or a sin, though I hope that those outdated ways of thinking are changing. Some religions have even tried to create laws forbidding suicide. I'm not sure what the punishment would be for anyone who broke this law. The big exception is in the religion of Jainism, an Indian religion that focuses on non-violence. Apparently, it's not only OK, but widely accepted to starve to death as long as one feels his or her life purpose has been served. The legal issues of suicide, no matter what the religion, are a different story. In general, it is considered a criminal act to commit suicide or assist or encourage a suicide, even if it is a "mercy killing".

Many years ago, my sister-in-law (D) killed herself. She had several attempts before she was successful, and everyone around her tried to get her help. Still, we all understood why she did it. When she first was diagnosed with MS, she experienced recurring blindness in one eye, numbness and difficulty walking. These symptoms she could tolerate. She used a cane to walk, bought an eye patch to use when she experienced blindness and got used to falling down quite a bit. The one thing that pushed her over the edge was losing some cognitive function. This, she told me, she couldn't handle. When she went to an MS group support, she listened to how others would deal with their issues. There was one lady who was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, who said that she took great pleasure just lying in her bed listening to the birds sing outside her window. In typical D fashion, she told me that she had no desire to sit in bed and listen to the fucking birds sing. During her suicide attempts and my efforts to try to convince her to stick around, I was constantly questioning how selfish I was being. When she finally succeeded, it wasn't a shock, but there was still this great sense of loss and questions of whether or not we did enough.

Sometimes people don't get a choice though. In the memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby, the Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the author describes his life after a stroke that left him in a condition called Locked-In Syndrome. Basically, damage to his brain stem rendered him completely paralyzed except for his left eye. In an incredibly horrific situation, he somehow managed to make the best of it. While the book is tragic, it is also incredibly inspirational. How anyone could look on the bright side in that kind of situation is truly amazing.

Wow. I guess this is a pretty depressing post.

I'll leave you with a song that's stuck in my head by the Eels:

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