Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Suicide: The Taboo Conversation

I've often shared too much information in this forum. I've put myself out there in ways some suggest is too much. I do it because in this high paced, social media world where everything is marketed and branded, we've stopped telling the truth. We tell what looks good.  We talk about the topics that are #trending. We don't talk about how alone so many of us feel.  I share so maybe one other person who might be feeling the same way might feel less alone.

One of the things we don't talk about is suicide. Last week I had a conversation with a stranger. It began as small talk, but then the subject veered towards suicide. Not a subject for small talk with a stranger, mind you, but it came up.  "Have you ever thought about it?" he asked. Talk about being put on the spot.  Before I could censor myself, I nodded.  "Yes, it's cross my mind from time to time," I told him. "Me too," he said.

I stood there listening as he told me how his room mate has a gun and he used to go to where the gun was kept and he would hold it. He would wonder if he had the guts to do it. I didn't stop him to say any of the things a friend or family member might say like, "its a permanent solution to a temporary problem" or "it gets better." I just listened. For some reason, he needed to tell me, or someone, this story. And I needed to hear it.

Before our encounter was over, I told him to hang in there. "You too," he said.

Suicide is one of those things that scare us. I think it's probably a rare person who hasn't had those fleeting thoughts at some point in their lives, although they might not admit it. It's one of those things we can't really discuss with friends or family because they have a stake in our staying alive, staying the course, hanging in there, waiting for it to get better.

About six months ago a friend committed suicide. She made the decision she could no longer "stay the course."  For those of us who survived, we were left with the questions people always have. Why?  What was the last straw? Could I have done something?

The real question I have is "If she couldn't make it through this life, how the fuck am I supposed to?"

We are surrounded by hopelessness. From a government in gridlock to random shootings of children.  The economy sucks. The elderly have to choose between medication and food.  A friend can't afford his HIV meds and wonders why he should even try.

Yesterday I let some of that hopelessness and the hopelessness of another situation take me to that dark place we don't talk about.  I wondered how I really could keep going on. Was there a way out?  But then after a few minutes, I snapped back and put my happy mask back on and forged forth.  "Fake it until you make it," they say.

This is not a suicide note. No intervention is necessary. I just want people to be able to say, "Yes, sometimes life feels kinda hopeless and I'm scared, mad, sad <insert any emotion>." Then we can lift each other up and find the hope that still exists out there and within each of us. It's the loneliness and hopelessness that makes us feel alone.

Don't tell me it gets better. Show me.  Hold my hand and let's find out.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Television Characters as Friends

I grew up in a television generation.  My parents grew up in the infancy of television, so it wasn't yet the way of life  it became with my generation.  We grew up watching The Brady Bunch in first run episodes. We saw Gilligan's Island go from black and white to color. We didn't blink an eye when Bewitched gave us a new Darrin. 

Growing up with the ever present television gave us a cultural common denominator. We shared a common experience with the neighbors across the street, down the block, or across the country.  Television made the world a little bit smaller.

With that ever presence, I grew up with fictional characters who I sometimes wanted to be, have as friends, or at the very least, be like. When Steve Austin (the astronaut, not the wrestler) became bionic, I wanted to be bionic.  My first female television crush was on Lindsay Wagner.  The Bionic Woman.  My first male crush was Mark Shera, from S.W.A.T. and Barnaby Jones.  I was ten years old and already knew something was different about me. I was also a big fan of The Rookies, especially that dreamy Bruce Fairbairn. Television was becoming the way I understood the world and found out who I was in that world. 

Ten days ago, the world lost Bonnie Frankin, Ann Romano from One Day at a Time.  A few days ago, Rhoda's Valerie Harper admitted she has terminal cancer.  Tonight, I watched as J.R. Ewing, played by Larry Hagman, was laid to rest.  I don't know any of those actors personally, but I was there when Ann Romano struggled to raise two daughters on her own.  They were my older sisters.  I learned how to be a friend by watching Mary and Rhoda.  Even as an adult, I loved to hate J.R. Ewing, even if he was the same man who lived with Jeannie.  Television characters become part of our lives.  Yes, I've never lost sight of the fact they're fictional, but they still affect us. 

The power is television is amazing, and I'm a little sad to see the ones I grew up with leaving us.  When Lindsay Wagner goes, I'm sure I'll be in a formal state of mourning for at least a month.  Jaime Sommers was the older sister I always wanted. Steve Austin was the older brother. I used to fantasize they'd come get me and take me away to some exotic adventure.  

I immersed myself in television as a child and wrote to actors and joined fan clubs all the time. It was my escape from the reality of my childhood.  A sissy fat boy who knew he was different and had to find a way out. The people on TV seemed to have the answers.