Suicide is painless…

…or is it?  The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have shocked the world.  How could people with so much money, privilege and opportunities hang themselves?  That method of suicide is very hard for those who loved them to cope with.  Most of you know that I have a chronic mental illness but I have a particularly intimate knowledge of suicide.  Two of my cousins killed themselves, one by gun and the other with medication.  I lived in a village that suffered a contagion of suicide during a ‘dustbowl’ depression.  In the UK I managed a nonprofit project for people dealing with the effects of severe mental illness.  Somehow the last telephone call on Friday night always seemed desperate and you wondered if the person would survive.  Finally, I have thought so often about suicide or nihilism myself that I hope I have talked myself out of it.

The last thing that anyone needs is castigation or judgment for feeling so desperate that you no longer wish to live.  I had my first bout of depression at age 7 and then a more serious illness when I was 20.  I was young and convinced that my living conditions (with a mentally ill mother) were the only contributing factor.  In a future life, I would get a job that didn’t stress me and marry a man who would look after me.  Never did find the former but I did marry my husband who loved me so much that divorce was never an option in his eyes.  Over the years, we both learned that I had a life-long illness that I had unfortunately inherited (why not money, for goodness sake?).

I can’t claim to know Kate or Anthony but from all reports, they were kind, loving, quirky, charismatic humans who had inner, mostly hidden, pain.  I hesitate to use the word demons because it is so generic and unfair.  When I was working in the field of mental health I would give talks to student nurses and social workers with one of my volunteers who had schizophrenia.  Despite all of them nursing or caring for people with severe mental illnesses, they struggled to empathize.  You truly do need to walk a mile in a person’s shoes to know their angst.  What surprised the students the most is that we were articulate, funny, knowledgeable and well-educated.  They rarely had an opportunity to see the hospitalized person after they had recovered from that breakdown so this was an eye-opening opportunity.  We don’t usually recover from a chronic diagnosis – we just manage our illness to the best of our ability.

So let’s talk about suicide.  One of my clients had a very severe mental illness, most likely one of the bipolar illnesses.  Every time he had a psychotic break, delusional and manic, he recovered in hospital but a little part of him died inside.  To make it worse, he didn’t react well to the medication.  Every day he would see a relative, walking the main street, who also had the inherited illness but had retreated into homelessness.  It was as if he were looking in miserable mirror.  He talked to us so many times about his sense of hopelessness.  There were other clients who could bounce back much better.  It was as though our Fairy Godmother gifted us with self-deprecating humor, a sprinkling of fairy dust and charm to balance what ‘Malificent’ gave us.  One day he called the office, having escaped from a locked psychiatric unit, and said goodbye to me.  I knew immediately what was going to happen and called the authorities.  In the weeks following I comforted his family and friends but they found his body in a wooded glade, having taken his life.  Normally, I would feel just deep sadness and regret.  In his case I understood his pain and the relief he sought.

CNN had an expert talking about a contagion of suicide which is an excellent way to reference this.  Was Anthony inspired by Kate or was it just some awful coincidence?  I mentioned living in a village with this contagion earlier.  It was a farming community and the crops had failed for the third year in a row, leaving many of the farmers with huge debts.  It had a knock on effect for other workers such as painters, electricians and plumbers whose invoices were ignored.  One farmer, who I knew, shot himself.  The plumber hanged himself in the garage a few days before Christmas and it continued.  I completely understood – these people had lived in this area for generations.  What would they do if they had to leave their farms and businesses?  For some of them it was unthinkable to live in a nearby town in rented housing when they had always lived on the land of their forefathers, in gentle silence.  Our community was grief stricken and all of us took some blame.  Did we not say hello one day or be over critical about some work?  One wife could not forgive her husband for the manner of his death.  All I could hear was “How could they do that to their family”, “Selfishness”, “Other people manage without money”.  No one kills themselves without feeling such anguish that life no longer seems feasible.  The very nature of mental illness is that it makes you selfish and sometimes narcissistic but that is a symptom not a personality defect.  Not everyone who takes their own life is mentally ill but surely in that moment it’s moot.

So, why do we think about suicide?  I can only talk about my own experience and it doesn’t really make any sense.  Having volunteered all my adult life, I know all too well about the resilience of the human spirit.  People can lose everything, be imprisoned in a concentration camp or tortured and still live a long, happy life.  Last week I had three long days of work and an event.  I managed the work and enjoyed it but I had to leave the event with an anxiety attack.  I stayed in bed for four days with my mood going up and down.  Thoughts of hopelessness and failure were flitting through my head just as quickly as writing a story about fairies.  People with psychoses sometimes hear voices that can be disturbing.  Their illness makes them unable to perceive that these are just delusional thoughts created by the psychosis.  I know what my thoughts are but can’t control them.  On the outside, I just look haunted but with so much psychotherapy, I can switch up my mood in a second so that I can manage an interaction.

Getting older, in my case, is making my illness more difficult to manage.  I suspect the natural drop in estrogen is contributing.  With the help of my doctor, I have been changing drugs, combinations and strength.  Right now it is difficult for me to do the other things that help such as eating well, no alcohol and exercise.  Here is an example of one of my thoughts. “Whales are being found with lots of plastic in their stomachs” “Perhaps if I cooked from scratch I could avert this” “That’s not possible but perhaps I could just eat bananas and avocadoes?” “Life isn’t worth living anymore; do I have enough air miles to go to Switzerland for assisted suicide” “What about Teddy and Toffee – I can’t leave them”.  At the end of these thoughts, which go on for hours, I am utterly exhausted.

Two days ago I felt exactly like that but today I went out to lunch with my friend and we had a genuinely lovely time.  I have gone for a walk, cleaned the house and have been asked to do a really fun job next week.  The job will exhaust me but the accomplishment will help my mood.  Now I can anticipate a good weekend, living for the moment.  There is not much likelihood of a cure or completely successful treatment for me.  When I think objectively, I realize that life is full of beautiful moments and I try my best to avoid stressing myself.  During all of this, I feel so sorry for those people who do take their own lives but pity whatever drove them to it.  I hope that this post might help someone who is considering suicide or those who have lost someone.

If you feel desperate please share your feelings with someone you trust or reach out to –

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

“We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.”

1-800-273-8255

Advertisements

Love at first sight…

“I love you!”
“I love you more!”

I was working in the countryside last weekend and I met a lovely horse.  It took me ages to persuade the horses, calves and donkeys to come close to me.  Then it gave me great pleasure to show my colleagues how to handle livestock.  Did you know that horse’s eyes magnify images so you are much larger and scarier than you think you are?  We gently blew into the cattle’s noses and they blew back.  The delight on my city friends’ faces was a joy.

I lived in the countryside for many years and part of my heart is still there.  In my last post I said I wasn’t blue but it took an appointment with my psychiatrist this week, to realize that I am low.  Dang those chemical imbalances!  A medication has been added to my daily potion for a short time and I hope to be back to my old self soon.  Every time this happens, I am taken by surprise; perhaps it is a self protective mechanism in my brain.

There is no particular reason for it other than working more hours than usual and being stressed.  The change is seasons affects me too and the stupid daylight savings time.  The additional drug makes me sleepy but I can feel it’s influence already.  Aren’t we lucky to live in the modern age of medicine?  Teddy was so ill recently with a systemic infection that they gave him antibiotics that are used to treat the Plague!  That scared the life out of me.

I may not post or read blogs as much as usual but I will be back (Arnold Schwartzenegger voice).  Sometimes this medication elevates my mood more than it should, so my posts might be more interesting than usual…

Hasta Luego!
donkeys.jpg

Venom

Black Widow Spider

I decided to create my blog on WordPress because I thought there might be less negativity than other forms of social media. For the most part it has been a perfect way to express myself in words and pictures. Twice in two weeks, however, I have received comments that were both negative and unpleasant. The first time I decided to call out the racist, Racists come in every color, but the second comment I deleted. Despite my initial common sense reaction, deep down I felt hurt, low and discouraged.

Many times I have sympathized with fellow bloggers, truly hurt, when someone has made a nasty comment. Why do people do this? It is a free press but kindness and etiquette should still come first even if you vociferously disagree with another post. Occasionally I sigh when a new follower has very different political view or set of morals but I can still appreciate them.

This particular comment was in response referred to my post Courtship by an Angel which was very quickly followed by My True Valentine – a testament of my love for my husband. You can read the post about Angel but here is a quick summary: On my recent trip to Mexico I hired a local driver, about 37, married with children. At the end of our time together, he started complimenting me and indicated that he might like to cheat with me. NOTHING HAPPENED nor did I do anything to encourage him. I was utterly complimented by a much younger man desiring me.

The comment was from a regular follower (no longer I assume) and I suppose that’s why it is so upsetting.

“This is so sad and the ‘delighted giggles’ at a man willing to cheat (on his wife and children) is part of the problem and only encourages men to overstep the mark. I pray all women gain a high sense of self- esteem and not rely on compliments by anyone else to boost them. Yes, it is nice to be healthfully complimented but seriously, ladies, wise up to the deviance”

My self-esteem is low; mental illness gives me a strange form of body dysmorphia and a general insecurity about anyone liking me. As for flirting or, more accurately, being engaging – I do it with everyone and every species. Babies, old ladies, cats, dogs – they are all prey to me charming them into submission. If only it was truly that easy to have self-esteem and not rely on compliments… I suspect I hit a nerve and I truly sympathize with anyone who has been profoundly hurt with infidelity. It is not deviant behavior, though, just human.

My personal experience is that there are much worse things that can happen to a relationship. My father mentally abused my mother and abandoned both of us. As humans we find it hard to be with just one partner or the divorce rate would be lower. None of those statements, or my flirting, indicate that I endorse cheating in relationships or life. Forgiveness is a wonderful quality and I wish I were better at it. I feel that some of my followers read my blog about churches but neglect to see older posts that talk very openly about sexuality. For any new followers – I am a left wing liberal who loathes our President, guns and a stupid wall. Ironically, I can no longer have physical sexual intercourse because of a rare medical condition (which I will talk openly about in a future blog). It struck me that some of my sadness and longing for a ‘normal’ sexual life might be emanating from me like a beacon.

Let’s lighten this blog up! I was chatted up by a handsome young man in a foreign country with a different culture. For all I know my open personality and solo traveling was a signal that I might be available. The one wise thing I did was not to make him feel bad when I was alone with a strange man in the back of beyond. But as for charming…it continues. I have two older admirers in the produce department of my local supermarket. One is Hispanic and he likes that I thank him in Spanish. The other is Southern and loves my accent. Last week they were subtly fighting for my attention. Southern Gentleman, with some teeth missing, won the battle and we started chatting. I laughingly said, “I can’t be the only lady with a foreign accent in here”. He deftly responded, “But you are unique…” I walked off with a spring in my step and as far as I know neither of them intend to leave their wives for me. It would be a waste of time because my preference is a full set of teeth and a tad younger. 🐆

Mental illness is a REAL illness


This is not a political post; I am all too aware that the Affordable Care Act was anything but. Unless something miraculous changes in the Senate, mental illness will no longer be included in the new health plan. So…not only do I have a variety of pre-existing conditions but the one that makes me most ill (and yet is least expensive) will not be covered. For some reason, addiction and mental illness has been put in one category. From my work and personal experience, mentally ill people often self-medicate but they are not the same. I have a clearly inherited condition, much like heart disease, and there was no element of choice. I am not criticizing anyone who has an addiction – there is enough blame to go around.

Let’s take this past week. It started on a high with Teddy’s birthday and then rapidly went downhill. Why? Even I want to slap myself because it was no good reason at all. Our roof has been leaking and the contractor took three days to repair the ceiling, leaving me trapped in the master bedroom which has a large bathroom and closet. Toffee (my elderly cat) and I had to go there so that she wouldn’t escape or get in their way. I had great plans; I would write blogs and binge watch girly TV shoes. Mentally I was paralyzed. Thoughts started spinning in my head about how fat and useless I am. I am neither of those things. I couldn’t watch anything other than old Bones episodes because I couldn’t concentrate. Then the physical pain started to set in. When you sit in an anxious state, you start getting cold and stiff – it was almost 90 degrees outside but the air-con was on for the contractor.

I was determined to do better the next day but the anxiety was rising. My thoughts were, “what do I really need to prioritize in my life?” My ridiculous conclusion was that I would be really happy if I got back to 1** lbs. (about 6 lbs. less than I am now). I joined a free weight loss internet club which told me I was already within my BMI range and that I would have to eat 700 calories a day to lose 2 lbs. a week. This is a glimpse into a world of disordered thinking, especially with eating. Then the sciatica kicked in. I was fully aware that I could have sat in the yard, watered the garden or tidied my filing system but again – paralysis.

By the third day, I had drunk a small glass of vodka with anti-anxiety medication because the paint didn’t match (our ceiling has not been painted in 13 years). I spoke to poor, long suffering Teddy who could hear a panic attack coming on and he agreed that we would ask them to leave. Teddy would finish the painting after our roofs have been replaced in the next few months. As soon as the contractor left, I sprang into action, steam cleaning tiles, polishing our leather suite and assembling everything back in the room. My sciatica really hurt after all that but endorphins got me through. All throughout the 3 days and nights, I had horrifying nightmares that meant that I was really sleep deprived despite being in bed most of the time. My eating deteriorated to almost nothing except snacks and vodka. Perhaps I should revise my thinking about putting mental illness and addiction together?

Now it is all over and I am on the way to feeling better. I ate properly, stopped drinking vodka and went walking to help with the sciatica and general good health. Then, I lost my sunglasses. It felt like the end of the world – I searched the house and garage. It culminated in texting my husband in California to see if he had seen them. Finally, good sense prevailed and I ordered another pair from Amazon at $7 – less than two lattes. I am still hugely annoyed at myself for this whole week. Why couldn’t I just deal with it? This is the true cost of mental illness, a life mostly wasted because of tortured thoughts. Mine are benign, as are the majority of people with mental illness. There is real physical pain, too. The only time I felt happy with an illness was when I was in a full leg cast for almost a year. For once people could ask me what was wrong and not be embarrassed about the answer. Sometimes you need sympathy for an invisible illness.

If the act passes without amendment, mentally ill people will end up in and out of psychiatric hospitals or often prisons because they haven’t been able to access regular help at their psychiatrists, psychologists or doctors. In the end that costs more than a quick visit to the shrink.

Random moments of happiness

mountain-laurel

Mountain Laurel

I am struggling to write and read just now. Many apologies to all my wonderful followers and those I follow for being absent. I have talked about my chronic anxiety and depression many times so no need for any further explanation. Between sad bouts, I experience moments of great happiness, for which I am thankful or life would not be worth living. These are some of my recent moments.

Mountain Laurel

Close up of mountain laurel blossom

Close up of mountain laurel blossom

My lovely neighbor with green fingers gifted me this tree a couple of years ago because it wouldn’t thrive in her garden. I was very anxious because my fingers are not green (blackish) and then this year we had flood, excessive heat and finally a terrible cold snap. Some of my tropical plants died but the lovely Laurel has new growth and exquisite lavender flowers. They have an intense fragrance which my neighbor could smell as she approached my house. I now just buy plants and ask my gardener to place them in the right spot – it is working, so far…

The Dead Grasshopper

dead-grasshopper
This poor little green person probably did not survive the hard frost and fell out of our house planks. He was perfectly preserved and so green. Normally these noisy critters frighten me because of how they jump but I do like their songs. It was fun to really examine his little body and hold it. There truly is beauty in death. After I took his photograph, I left it on the rock. When I went outside later, some lucky bird had eaten a freeze dried snack. I wonder if she thought, “they are usually juicier than that?”

The Tulle Filled Nest

Romantic front door

Romantic front door

This is a photograph of my front door decorated for Valentine’s Day. My Mountain Laurel neighbor loves to decorate her presents with ribbons and tulle – almost too nice to open. I keep them to use myself and had created a bow with pink and white tulle sitting atop the beads. We had a windy day and suddenly the bow was gone. A squirrel or bird probably has a pink tulle lined crib and I just smile at the thought. Maybe they also had the freeze dried snack…

The Syrian limo driver

During my recent contract work, I was paired with a Syrian-American limo driver. He was courteous, respectful, articulate and charming. You probably expect me to say something about executive orders and how nice Middle Eastern people are but the truth is he was Cougar Eye Candy. I am purring softly as I write this. He was tall, slim and handsome with dark hair, white skin and the most exquisite grey/green/blue eyes with long black eyelashes. I flirted outrageously in Arabic and English, wondering what I would have done with him were I 30 years younger…

The Spanish Translation

In a previous post, I talked about the coffee barista from Jerusalem who is Muslim. He works at my local Argentinean/Venezuelan Café. Those two sentences somehow encapsulate the interesting diversity of Houston. This week I went in for my usual cappuccino and he was serving on his own. The lady in front of me could only speak Spanish and although coffee guy looks Hispanic, he can’t speak it. I offered to translate and I think I got three beef empanadas correct. The lady looked Latino/Indio and was utterly confused by the blonde Texan lady translating to the ‘Spanish’ guy. It’s a wonderful world.

More happy moments to come…

My first book! – Free on KindleUnlimited right now

kindle image

This is a reblog of the post about my book. For a limited time, it will be free to KindleUnlimited readers if you would like to download it. It is short and an easy read.

I finally did it and my first book, Letters from Cairo by Kerry Duncan is now available as an EBook from Kindle/Amazon from both the UK and US sites as well as other European countries. For a brief moment it was the best selling guide to Cairo when it had only sold 10 copies – I guess no-one wants to go to Cairo… It is a short book and the title says it all, ‘This is a memoir not a travelogue’. There is another book with the same title but it is much more expensive than mine and I bet it’s not as funny! The current price is $4.49 – about the price of a Venti Latte. It is published on Kindle Select so they may reduce the price at times to market the book. It is available on a variety of Amazon sites including Amazon UK.If you don’t have a Kindle you can download it to your PC or other small device with this app – https://www.amazon.com/gp/digital/fiona/kcp-landing-page?ie=UTF8&ref_=kcp_pc_mkt_lnd

It is a poignant, hilarious and revelatory memoir about our expatriate posting to Cairo during the second Gulf War between 2002 and 2004. Some of you may empathize if you have been to third world destinations but the essence is about my battle to deal with illness in a foreign country during a very stressful time. The book is short, despite 10 years of writing, editing and agonizing about writing a memoir. Although I had worked as a research writer in the old country this time gave me an opportunity to hone my writing skills for pleasure. Writing this blog has opened my eyes to the joy of sharing with other writers and photographers. Thank you, all my followers, for giving me the confidence to finally publish. A very special thank you to Ed Mooney, my very first follower, who encouraged me and taught me WordPress etiquette.

This is the link to the book on Amazon US – http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Cairo-This-memoir-travelogue-ebook/dp/B015JFY1F0
If you read it (some may be able to borrow it) please give me a review.

Conifer and blossoms, Salt Lake City

Fuzzy!

Fuzzy!

Doesn’t this gorgeous blue conifer look furry and wintery? Blue conifers do not seem to grow in the swampy south and I just love seeing them in the northern climes. It was really very hot, mid 90s, and yet the conifer was in full bloom. This post is really just a collection of photographs but the last few weeks have made me wonder why Salt Lake City didn’t flick my switch. Every destination is a prospective new home in my head so I am picky about the pluses and minuses.

Green Hydrangea

Green Hydrangea

I mentioned in previous posts about Salt Lake City that I was concerned about the number of homeless people, many of whom were mentally ill. I could see that there were two issues; Mormons are very generous to those in need and life, perhaps, must be extra difficult if you are mentally ill or alcoholic in a strictly religious environment. When I spoke to people about the problem, they said that many of them were incomers and I quite believe that. It is a safe city so those most vulnerable may feel safer and there is a homeless shelter. There were signs all over the center saying, “Don’t give the homeless money, you know where it goes” or words to that effect. I usually concur with that but on two occasions people asked me to pay for a meal for them.

sunflower-seeds

Finally, I decided to do something about one young man who really concerned me. I had noticed him at 8 am on the main drag, muttering to his self and likely hearing voices. The whole day was roasting hot and I saw him again at 5 pm in the same place. He seemed agitated and I thought my accent (and general eccentricity) might frighten him. I assumed that the locals were generous with cold drinks and food but he was so ill, he should have been in a hospital. When I got back to my hotel there was a police cruiser with a perfectly blond, clean cut young officer in it. I motioned to him to lower the window and immediately his face looked concerned.

white-on-blue-hydrangea

In short, I told him the whole saga; he listened carefully and told me that there was a homeless shelter quite close. I explained that community mental health had been my field of work and that this young man was really ill. To his credit and my relief, he said he would go and check on him. I know he thought I was a crazy lady but maybe I opened his eyes to a problem that goes beyond people who live on the open road.

Blossoms at the Temple Complex

Blossoms at the Temple Complex

There is really no criticism of the people of Utah – they are generous and friendly (if a bit odd) but if I lived there I would spend all my time helping waifs and strays. We have so many people in Houston in the same position and they usually beg under bridges. I try to keep some gift cards for fast food places – although they are not always received with gratitude! One lady was about to argue that she would prefer money until she saw my face…

Multi-colored blossoms in park

Multi-colored blossoms in park