Let's Talk

I’ll begin with a small confession here: we have labored over this particular post. We’ve looked at death by suicide from a number of different angles. We’ve hunted down statistics, we’ve written drafts and we’ve deleted drafts. We have sought out other voices when our own have failed us, and you know what? This is still hard. All the intellectual labor hasn’t brought me (I’ll just speak for myself here) any closer to producing a concise, concrete note. Yet, here we are

 So often death by suicide is talked about in such a personal way. And it should be. There is nothing more personal than matters of life and death. But death by suicide is also our collective concern.  It is not just an individual experience; it impacts us all. For the most part, we don’t talk about it. We avoid this taboo subject because of stigmas around depression particularly and mental illness in general. These are culture-specific stigmas within many of our communities.

 Today’s post isn’t so much a reflection on the statistics—they’re as disheartening as you can imagine. Rather, this is our best effort at becoming more attentive neighbors and friends and family members. Perhaps you already know some of the red flags to look out for: feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, increased social isolation, family history of depression/suicide, loss of significant relationships, having the means to harm oneself. Those signs are important, critical to be aware of in our loved ones. But what about the things we miss, the behaviors that get tangled up with cultural expectations and stereotypes?

With Black folks, for example, it doesn’t always go down the way you’d think—young men are the largest number of deaths by suicide. It looks more like risky behavior, putting the self in harm’s way to deal with desperation. (for further reading: http://nopcas.org/a-look-at-suicide-in-our-communities/)

Perfectionism is counted among signs to be mindful of along the road to death by suicide. When that drive to do well takes a turn into shame and guilt, when there’s no room for error, our friends/family/neighbors may be struggling with perfectionism. Among our Asian American brothers and sisters, silence regarding the potential harm in perfectionism has played a role in deaths by suicide particularly among young women. (for further reading: http://reappropriate.co/2015/07/why-is-the-new-york-times-rendering-the-suicide-deaths-of-asian-american-invisible/)

 As many of us know, deaths by suicide (and attempts) are far more frequent among young LGBTQ folks than their straight peers. When our communities are so vulnerable, we have to combat the urge to isolate, and instead be more proactive in looking out for one another. (for further reading and more resources: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/facts-about-suicide).

 Let’s keep talking, family.

 

Some helpful resources:

National Suicide Prevention LIfeline

www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

1-800-273-8255 (Available 24 hours a day)

 

Seattle Crisis Clinic

crisisclinic.org/find-help/crisis-line/

1-(866)-4-CRISIS/1-(866)-427-4747

 

 

 

Already Free

This month we’ve been thinking about the issue of suicide as an individual experience and as it connects to some of the wider issues we’ve been talking about throughout our blog. In light of the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and so many others, we’ve been looking for words in the midst of our grief and wordlessness. Melissa Harris-Perry is a writer, professor, television host, and political commentator with a focus on African-American politics. Below, we’ve included her creative use of the category of suicidality to help broaden how we think about the larger social implications of what’s happening within the black experience.

Please note: The writer is making use of the idea of suicide as a way to symbolize the desire to escape one’s suffering and oppression -  this is not in support of death by suicide. For any readers struggling with suicidal thoughts or feelings, or any survivors of suicide please be aware there may be some triggering language.

The following excerpt is from the Anna Julia Cooper Center:

This piece was originally performed on July 6, 2016 at Sidewalk Cafe in New York City as part of a show by Jamie Kilstein & The Agenda.

“This is the suicide note.

I have been writing it a long time. In the quiet place. The lower left side of my brain. This place is my Walden. Where I write.

I read Thoreau in high school. Tenth grade. Fell in love with it so deeply I even fell in love with the small-boned, dark-haired, earnest man standing before our class of rowdy teens pleading:

‘I went into the woods because I wish to live
deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and
see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not,
when I came to die, discover I had not lived.’

I listened. Sighed.

I would be Thoreau – escape a town that had already done violence to my body and my intellect. Create in quiet space. Advance confidently in the direction of my dreams.

I hadn’t read Hurston yet; didn’t know yet what it meant to be the Mule of the World. Didn’t yet understand all the privilege, power, history, whiteness, and maleness that let Thoreau chill for a couple years at Walden. I hadn’t read Faulkner yet; didn’t know that I am Southerner through and through, so ‘given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.’ I hadn’t read Morrison yet. I didn’t know that even if I escaped to freedom, even if I stood in the clearing with Baby Suggs Holy and loved my black flesh, that the slave catchers would pursue, and send me fleeing to the shed, with my children, and the knife, and Sethe’s choice.

When I was 15 I thought I would go to Walden and write. Now I just go to the quiet place. Lower left side of my brain. The only part not taken up by bills, emails, demands from every single person who wants every single thing from me. And there I write it over and over. The note.

Don’t be sad. We are all replaceable, even though we are utterly unique. Each snowflake is an expression of the inexhaustible creativity of God, but we don’t mourn each individually with the Spring thaw.

Don’t be shocked. Colored girls consider suicide, ‘cause damn it, the rainbow is enuf.

Even the Queen. Bey. Did you see her? Everyone wants to talk about the Oshun. The birth, the water, the yellow dress, the bat and broken car windows. But I saw. The ledge. The leap. Down. Down. Is that how long it would take?

This is my Walden. The quiet place. Where I write. And what I write is the note. The exit.

I sense your judgment, concern. What hypocrites you are. How we love, celebrate, revere, build monuments to the slow suicide enacted on our behalf.

‘Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got
some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter
with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity
has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I
just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up
to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the
Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want
you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the
promised land!’

We applaud that suicide. Revel in it.

For our entertainment we gladly cheer the gladiators of suicide by CTE.

We danced and sang and fucked and pretended not to notice while Michael and Prince killed themselves for us.

We like suicide as long as it is martyrdom. We are only shocked by the swift and sure final act that renders the black body unavailable for use by others. That says – this suffering will not be endured.

Igbo Landing. 1803. South Sea Islands of Georgia. The people were stolen from Africa. In return they have stolen the ship. They cannot turn it back. They will not be enslaved. So they turn and they walk. They walk all the way across the water. Back to Africa. Back home. Julie Dash tells us the story in Daughters of the Dust. The Igbo who walk back cross the water. Generations who tell the story of the Igbo who would be free. Until she reminds us: no one can walk on water. No one can fly. Igbo Landing is revolutionary suicide.

This is the suicide note. I have been writing it a long time. In the quiet place. The lower left side of my brain. My Walden. Where I am free.

Revolutionary suicide, ‎Huey tells us, ‘is not a death wish; it means just the opposite. We have such a strong desire to live with hope and human dignity that existence without them is impossible. When reactionary forces crush us, we must move against these forces, even at the risk of death.’

My Black girl suicide might not be what you think.

Do you imagine me Sandra Bland, wasted in a Texas jail cell, the imprint of the system sitting roadside on my back still visible? My laugh still audible?

Wakiesha Wilson, supposedly self-hung from a two-foot phone booth in LAPD lock-up?

No, no. Not that.

I am not writing that note here by my Walden. Here I am not a mule. Here Donald Trump will never be president and I don’t have to be with Hillary. Ever. Here I don’t have to pretend Bernie cares about black folks or that Ms. Warren is Cherokee.

Here by my Walden they didn’t cancel Nerdland or Doc McStuffins and they ain’t coming for Shonda cause green-eyed Jesse spoke a fraction of truth.

Here it is quiet and baby boys walk to stores in the rain safely with hoodies up. And play in the park with toy guns and still go home for dinner. And grandma drives home from work without having to give an officer a blowjob and no one thinks sex with an unconscious girl constitutes ‘action.’

This is the suicide note. I have been writing it for a long time. We have been writing it for a long time. We, the black people. We despised folks whose stolen bodies built this nation without pay or acknowledgement or gratitude. This is our suicide note.

Oh Freedom
Oh Freedom
Oh Freedom Over me
And before I’d be a slave
I’d be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free

And if you cannot read it; if you are not literate in our language, cannot decipher the characters on our page, we brought you the interpretation in dance. Barefoot. In the water. With fire.

King Beyonce.

Prince Kendrick.

The revolutionary suicide note…

I break chains all by myself
Won’t let my freedom rot in hell
I’ma keep running
Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves

This is the suicide note. If you are reading it, I am already dead.

Dead to oppression.

Dead to patriarchy.

Dead to sexism.

Dead to racism.

Dead to homophobia.

Dead to hatred.

Dead to nativism.

Dead to partisanship.

Dead to small-mindedness.

Dead to violence and ignorance.

This is the suicide note. If you are reading it, I am already dead. Already free.”

--

We hope to address suicide from a therapeutic and critical social perspective in our next blog entry.

Grief as a Personal and Collective Experience

The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
 
9/11.
 
Charleston.
 
Orlando.
 
We, as a nation have just witnessed another moment in our history that will be forever burned onto our collective experience. Alongside numerous other events, we may ask ourselves, decades down the road, “Where were you when the Orlando Massacre took place?”
 
Some will have been getting married, celebrating the birth of a child, fighting cancer, attending a funeral. We all have personal and distinct events in our lives that inevitably take place alongside the unspeakable violence that happens in our public spheres.
 
Grief, in this way, can feel infinitely complex.
 
It stirs up in us the most vulnerable parts of our humanity – feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, a sense of “too much” and “this cannot be.” What do we do with joy and celebration that happens in the midst of this kind of grief? What do we do with our own experiences of pain and violence in the face of such acts of hatred towards our LGBTQ community? How do we reconcile all of this within our bodies at once? These questions speak to the intersection of our personal and collective grief, the distinction and connection of our experiences.
 
In this way, our response to grief is always both personal and collective. The first experience we encounter may be a feeling of overwhelmedness at the complexity of our predicament. Our recovery starts when we allow the fullness of who we are to intersect with the realities of our larger world, when we give ourselves permission for our feelings of helplessness to just be. Over time, we come to find that that experience in our bodies--that feeling that tells us we can’t do this on our own with our one mind and our one body--is actually a true thing. It’s at this point we are able to realize that healing in isolation is never complete and that we need each other. Here, we come to see that your grief is really my grief, is our grief.

Muslims In NYC Remember The Lives Lost In Orlando

On Islamaphobia by Jacob Tobia

What happened when an Orthodox Jewish congregation went to a gay bar to mourn Orlando

Making Our Way through Grief and Loss

Recently, we’ve been thinking about grief and loss. These are fundamentally human experiences and a couple of the main reasons people seek out counseling. Live long enough and we all become familiar with the grief that comes on unexpectedly—with the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the experience of a natural disaster or other calamitous event. The loss impacts us on every level and makes us feel out of control. And then there’s that other grief, the sustained grief of living every day under the weight of oppressive realities like racism, sexism, homophobia (to name a few).

To grieve is both a conscious and unconscious process; it is our way of getting back the control we feel was lost during the traumatic event. Our methods of grieving are as varied and diverse as we are. Perhaps we meet our loss with sadness, with self-doubt or in the case of sustained trauma, with internalized oppression. We compromise who we are to protect ourselves from further pain and loss.

So how do we create a new normal or at least  find moments of reprieve? How do we care for ourselves in the midst of sustained grief? Check out the video below. In creating this powerful piece, the artist does something different; he refuses to allow his grief to define him.

How do you respond in the midst of your reality? In what creative ways are you combatting areas of sustained grief in your life?

On Black History

all that was

taken

from me

is still here

-- root | immortal

_________________________________________________________________________________

where are my legs. where are my legs.  i had to give them to my babies so they could swim back home to me. back home to me. back home to me. i rubbed the sun all in their hair. Every single birth. i rubbed sun in their hair. so they remember who they look like. who they look like who they look like. me. to lose love that way. to have to watch them be opened like that. all the way down to their mouths. time will never know my skin. wild with everything and nothing but them. i sang into their blood. each and every one of them have my voices in their bones. they will come home. i know they will come home. the whole sky had to hold me when the world came to eat my children. that fear. that pain. that fear. that pain. that fear. that pain. that fear. that pain. that fear. that pain. that fear. that pain. that fear. that pain. that fear. that pain. that fear. that pain. that fear. that pain. that fear. that pain. that fear. that pain. that fear. that pain. that fear. that pain. wake up my loves. into me. i will come to you every night. every single night. because you do not understand your nose. or your feet. or the boats in your eyes. you do not remember me. and you suffer. you suffer. you suffer. you suffer. you suffer. you suffer. you suffer. you suffer. you suffer. you suffer. swept with banzo. swept with banzo. swept with banzo. you suffer. you hate yourself. you hate me. this is death for a mother. how many deaths. i am your mother. i am your mother. i am your mother. i am your mother. i am your mother. i am your mother. i am your mother. i am your mother. i am your mother. i am your mother. remember me. remember me. remember me. my hands in your heart. i won’t let you go. I will find you. worlds away from me. i am your beauty. i am you. no matter how much bleach you must drink. every night i will come into you and repair. relove. undo everything that is not me. i memorized you. i will walk over all waters to come and get you. bring you back to me. they do not know. they do not know. they do not know. they do not know. they do not know. they do not know. they do not know. they do not know. they do not know. they do not know. they do not know. they do not know. they do not know. they do not know. they do not know. they do not know.  they do not know i put salt in each one of your skin. each and every one of your skins. they do not know that salt preserves not only fruit. but children. you will remember. you will remember. you will remember. you will remember. you will remember. you will remember. you will remember. you will remember. you see. my love. you see how your body is beginning to slow glow with stars. you are remembering. you are mine. you have never been anything else.

--africa’s lament

 

Both works from the exquisite poet Nayyirah Waheed. Follow her at nayyirah.waheed on instagram and find her collections salt and nejma at nayyirahwaheed.com

Mental Health and our Bodies

Many of us experience stressful feelings on a daily basis. They may lead us to question our choices, our worth, or our capacity to handle the tasks in front of us. A steady stream of anxious thoughts and feelings keeps our bodies on high alert, potentially impacting our sleep, concentration, appetite and energy levels. We don’t always have a say in what comes at us, but paying attention to and addressing our bodily needs can have a really positive effect on our mood and decrease our feelings of stress. Below we’ve highlighted a couple of ways we’re seeing people start to make these connections both personally and collectively.

A personal Reflection:

http://www.afropunk.com/profiles/blogs/op-ed-yoga-saved-my-life-that-s-why-i-m-passionate-advocate-for

National Wear Red Day (February 5, 2016): A Movement

https://www.goredforwomen.org/wear-red-day/

A Year in Pictures

Our lives were likely filled with both beautiful and painful moments over the course of the last twelve months. If we even glanced at the news we were greeted by unspeakable injustice and all manner of despair, we witnessed feats of incredible courage and hope.

The Atlantic magazine published a photo retrospective capturing some of the most significant moments of 2015. Join us in taking a moment to reflect on this year as it comes to an end: 

Getting Free

The heaviest thing you will have to carry as you move forward is regret. Make sure you’re not carrying too much.
— Staceyann Chin, poet & activist

There are many different ways to think about wellness and positive change. One we are particularly fond of is through the lens of freedom.  Freedom looks like speaking our truth even when our voices shake, using our voices to make room for others’ stories to be told. The change we want to see takes our passion and our commitment but it is worth it. 

This blog is a space where we’ll highlight voices that encourage that journey toward emotional, relational and collective freedom. Below you’ll find the transcribed excerpt of a spoken poem by Staceyann Chin, a spoken-word poet and performance artist, writer and activist committed to anti-oppression work. Chin is a woman of both African and Chinese descent and a Jamaican immigrant residing in New York. Her powerful words are nourishing and challenging us this week. Please be aware she uses some strong language.

TRANSCRIPTION

Today I am so glad I’m a girl because yesterday my mother told me to write my story
No matter that I will write her in unflattering terms
“Write” she tells me “and I hope the book sells so you can afford to
raise that daughter with a heart just like yours”
And everything was better between me and my mother
It didn’t matter that she left me twice.
No matter that in Jamaica in 1972 she had to choose her safety over mine
Yesterday she said “Write, my daughter”
And the world righted itself
And I wish every mother whose daughter survived the burial of these unspoken things
Would give her permission to say what happened
To write down how she survived the terror of being that small girl in a world that so deeply favors men
I wish every cunt had the courage to be her public witness
I wish every woman had the pen, the clear view and the support she needs to scream
What happened to me was not my fault
What happened to me was not my fault
What happened to me was
Not
My
Fault

If you're interested in watching the full performance from which this is excerpted, you can visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUbgoU1F-l0.

Check back here for next week’s inspiration!