Is the time ever right for suicide?

dsdepression_550pxWhat does it say about American society that more middle-aged people now die of suicide than of car accidents?

While I wouldn’t say that suicide rates are soaring–the suicide rate for middle-age men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000, according to the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)—these numbers do represent a dramatic increase from previous norms.

For men in their 50s, suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent in the decade from 1999 to 2010. For women, the largest increase was seen in those ages 60 to 64, among whom rates increased by nearly 60 percent during that decade.

A few weeks ago I was stunned to hear that an old friend of mine, a woman in her 50s, had committed suicide by hanging.

I have bad days too, when I just want to lay down my load and become a lily in the field.  We all do.  But to actually plan and execute a self-hanging?  That I find hard to fathom.

Apparently most men commit suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wounds, while women are more likely to take their lives through overdoses of prescription medication.

According to the CDC report, poisoning deaths were up 24 percent overall from 1999-2010, while hangings were up 81 percent.

Whenever I find myself feeling too despairing, I remind myself that I have to hang on at least until my two children are independent and self-sufficient.

The truth is that if you have children, there can never be a right time to commit suicide.

Your children are always going to be counting on you to be blazing the trail ahead, setting the example, holding the fort.

It would be terribly selfish of me to give up and take my own life.

I believe that people should have the right to make their own end-of-life decisions.  If I were diagnosed with a terminal disease, I would want the ability to dictate the circumstances of my death.

And it’s true that in some ways, we are all living with a death sentence.  All of us will die sooner or later—of that we can rest assured.

For some people—for instance, the hunger-strikers at Guantanamo—courage wears a suicidal face.

All in all, it’s what we do with this short, precious lifetime that matters.  What do we want to be remembered for?  What do we want to leave behind?

I want to be remembered as a woman who confronted the challenges of my individual life, and my zeitgeist, head on.  Who did not give up, ever.  Who looked on the bright side and tried to see the glass as half-full.  Who blazed a trail for those behind me to follow.

There are some desperately serious situations to which suicide is a rational response.  If I were to come to such an impasse, I hope I would have the courage to do the right thing.

But in the meantime, I will continue to embrace all the challenges life throws at me, and meet my own expectations for being a stalwart mother, daughter, sister, friend and teacher.  It’s the least–and the best–that I can do.

Who, me? Depressed?

Sometimes you just have to wonder if there will ever be good news again.

I mean, really good news.  The kind that makes you want to just lift up your face to the sun and grin like a sunflower.

Lately I cringe inwardly every time I open the newspaper.

In my local paper, drunk driving routinely kills kids and people fight endlessly about town budgets and whose backyard should get the wind turbines or the PCB dredging from the contaminated river.

The national news is warning darkly of a coming “Taxmageddon” in January 2013, when, according to The New York Times, “the federal tax bill for a typical middle-class household — making in the neighborhood of $50,000 — is scheduled to rise by about $1,750. This increase, which would come from the expiration of both the Bush tax cuts and the Obama stimulus, would follow a decade of little to no income growth for many people. As a result, inflation-adjusted, after-tax income for the median household could fall next year to its 1998 level.”

And then there’s international news, where we learn that suicides are up sharply in Europe as a result of the economic downturn, while over in Afghanistan suicide bombers have just struck hard in a coordinated attack on supposedly secure neighborhoods in Kabul—a taste of the summer fighting season to come.

April 14, 2012. Photo: Reuters

Never mind the weather, which is showing no signs of getting back to normal.  Did you hear about the massive hailstorm in Texas last week?  Or the tornadoes whipping across the Midwest?  Or the fact that there is a fire watch almost every day now here in Massachusetts, because of the extremely unusual springtime drought conditions?

A motorist sits in a truck partially buried in slushy hail near Amarillo, Texas. The Texas Panhandle storm dumped several feet of nickel-sized hail, stranded motorists in muddy, hail drifts and closed a highway for several hours.
(AP Photo/Courtesy of Amarillo/Potter/Randall Office of Emergency Management)

Downed power lines litter 24th Avenue Southwest at the Lindsey Street intersection after a tornado hit Friday afternoon April 13, 2012 in Norman, Okla. Photo: The Norman Transcript, Kyle Phillips / AP

I have been squinting at all this out of the corner of my eye as I rush off to teach, to meet with students and colleagues, to bring my younger son to soccer practice or piano lesson, to cram in some exercise for myself…all the various commitments that make my days and weeks a blur of action.

Today for the first time, and by design, I did not schedule a single appointment.  I left the day wide open so I could finally get out into my garden to fertilize and prepare the beds and plant the spring greens and herbs.

I spent most of the day doing just that, all the while worrying to myself about what will happen if the rains don’t come at all this spring. Already the river is as low as I’ve ever seen it; the ground is so dry it’s dusty.  In April!

Between the bad news and the scary weather, it’s enough to drive anyone to anti-depressants.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), today one in 10 Americans over age 12 is taking an antidepressant.  Twenty-three percent of American women between the ages of 40 and 59 are on anti-depressants. That’s nearly one in four middle-aged women.

Do I need an anti-depressant?

I do feel depressed when I think about what’s going on in the world around me.

I am not happy to look ahead to 2013 and foresee a tax increase that, together with the double-digit health insurance premium increase my employer anticipates, is going to mean yet another year where my real income goes down, while the cost of living just goes up and up and up.

I feel depressed when I read that Rick Santorum just took out a lifetime NRA membership for his 3-year-old daughter (who, by the way, suffers from a generally fatal chromosomal disorder), while Mitt Romney is courting assault weapons fans at the 2012 NRA convention.

There’s just so much to be depressed about!

But it’s a legitimate depression.  If I were to get on the anti-depressant bandwagon and dull the edge of my depression with drugs, I would fear losing my grip on reality and becoming just another Brave New World-type soma addict.  What kind of life is that?

Allowing the full scope of the world’s problems to sink in to my psyche is painful, but hiding from it would be cowardly and useless.

On this quiet Sunday I will take the measure of my own melancholy.  And then I will rise again on Monday, determined to keep fighting the good fight for a better world.

Enough already!

I know it’s not just me.  So many people I’ve talked to this week are feeling it.

It’s a kind of low-grade malaise, nothing you can put your finger on, just a weary, burned out sense of ENOUGH ALREADY.

Enough bad news.  Enough of the stock market endlessly gyrating downward.  Enough unmanned drones picking off clerics in desert hideouts.  Enough executions.  Enough police brutality.  Enough racism.  Enough bullying in the schools, and in the Congress.  Enough global warming.  Just ENOUGH ALREADY!!

But you know what?  There is no magic wand that can make these problems go away. We’re sleep-walking in some kind of collective cultural trance, living through a waking nightmare in excruciating slow motion.  What we need to do is WAKE UP and stop our goose-stepping death march.

That’s what the people sitting out in Liberty Plaza Park, Wall Street, are trying to do.  They’re trying to break the trance by doing something radically unexpected.

In our country, we sign online petitions and donate funds by cell phone, but we don’t sit out in the rain and use our collective voices as natural amplifiers. We don’t publicly put our bodies on the line.

Or maybe we do.  I am too young to remember the Civil Rights protests or the Stonewall riots.  I’m way too young to remember the workers’ strikes of the 1930s.  But these acts of resistance live on in our American collective unconscious, and it’s time to tap into them now.

The antidote to the vague sense of despair and depression that so many of us seem to be feeling these days is, quite simply, ACTION!  If we let this creeping malaise get to us, it’s all over.  We might as well just admit defeat.

And that, my friends, is unthinkable!  So let’s rouse ourselves, let’s prick ourselves in the flanks, let’s get out there and fight the good fight!  It’s the least we can do for the country and the planet that needs us–terribly.

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