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“To Be Or Not To Be” (On Contemplating Suicide)

ToBeOrNotToBe

(Photo Credit: BlueGum)

Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.” – David Conroy

This for those who feel isolated, hopeless, in despair.  This is also for all the survivors of a loved one lost to suicide, and for all the survivors of the personal fight won against it. If you are here, you are meant to receive this message. Please read it all the way through.

There were 2 more suicides last week by students from the same high school from where my kids graduated a few years ago. This brings the total to 8 in the past 4 years. Although I don’t know the children or their stories, I feel the heartbreak as a mother, and as a person who has contemplated it many times in her past.

I was not really prepared to write about this yet. I have focused on the lessons from my life experiences, but not the experiences themselves, as untangling a wad of barbed wire is not only messy and painful, but difficult to know where to even begin. But I’m more unprepared to do nothing for those still contemplating whether or not they should continue to be. So let me tell you my story, just enough for you to understand that you are not alone in your suffering. And that it will get better.

*     *     *

MY JOURNEY OF CONTEMPLATION

I was always sensitive. Since I had such a loving, happy upbringing, I mostly felt the positive side of that sensitivity. I didn’t understand the other side of it in time to intercept the kind of excruciation that begged for mercy. When mercy didn’t come (and it often didn’t), the only consolation I perceived to have, with a head bloated with agony, was the choice to end it all.

After my little brother, Dedrick, got killed walking home from school, I lost all ability to cope. I was 16, a particularly unfortunate age for dark emotions, and I made the first attempt to end my life with a bottle of pills one morning before school. The plan was to die at school so that my parents wouldn’t have to find my body; I couldn’t bear to further traumatize them with the image of their dead daughter’s body after the loss of their son.

That day, I was calm for the first time since my brother’s death. There was a sense of relief, of finality, of resolve that all the darkness and pain would soon end. I gave a friend a farewell note, with instructions on the front to not open it until the end of the day. But at the beginning of the next class, a teacher came to get me, and an ambulance was called to rushed me to the hospital.

I was saved, and remorseful for the quiet pain that I saw in my parents as they tried to be extra gentle and loving with me.

But the pain hadn’t left; in fact, it got worse. A year later, I would get into an abusive relationship with a man who could not stand me being happy. He knew how to hurt me, and I didn’t know how to ignore him when he said things like, “Your brother died because you’re a bad person.”

The things that I went through in the 10 years trapped in that relationship had me feeling suicidal every single day. It got so bad that at one point, I remember fearing that even my extreme love for my beautiful, innocent children would not be enough to save me.  I resorted to whatever I needed to do to keep myself from taking my own life, in the event that being with that man didn’t kill me after all. One tactic was closing myself in the closet, sitting and rocking on the floor with my arms hugging my knees tightly, pretending that I was in a straitjacket, so that I could not move or get out until the fragile moment passed.

I would finally escape the relationship, but my sorrows were not done. It would be another decade of fears for my children’s safety, and heartaches from betrayals and judgments by other people.

So even though I was completely out of the relationship, the familiar feelings of overwhelm, of what did I do to deserve this, and of things will never get better, allowed the thoughts of suicide to barge back in. Then my precious children, the most loving, kind, sweet children a mother could ever dream to have, manifested the pains of their childhood years as the storm of adolescence rolled in.

This in itself almost killed me. I felt like a horrible mother, and blamed myself for the mistakes I made in my life that planted the seeds of despair in my children. And throughout all this, I was surrounded by toxic people.

And so, I lost my way, this time, from the inside-out. I stopped believing in myself. And I had nothing to give to my children to assure them that everything was going to be alright. The thought of suicide revisited me. It is very difficult to feel the point of living when you feel like an utter failure, and this can not be more deeply felt than as a parent who cannot help her children in dire need.

I sat one day, head in my hands, reviewing my life, my shortcomings, my terrible choices. I then realized that even if my children had shortcomings, made terrible mistakes, I would love them and know that they are worthy. I had to give this to myself, as well; how could they understand or believe it otherwise?

THE TRANSFORMATION

I forgave myself, as I would want my children to forgive themselves, to release self-blame, self-hatred, feelings of unworthiness. Then, I cleaned house.

  1. I cut out anything and anyone who did not honor or respect me. This was my defining act of self-respect, of placing boundaries, of breaking free from the chains of guilt and helplessness: my family, my in-laws, and more recently, my long-time BFF – all were fair game.
  2. I focused on love, not fear, specifically, love of myself and love of my children, the people I knew were unquestioningly deserving of it. This gave me direction and helped me disengage with drama mamas and downers.
  3. I gave to givers, not takers. This taught me to say “No” to users, so that I could preserve my generous, open heart for those who deserved it. It also gave me a sense of control of justice, which was lacking in my life throughout those trying years.
  4. I fed myself all things positive, from what I read and watched, which in turn transformed my thoughts and emotions and raised my overall well-being.
  5. I surrounded myself with only positive and genuine people. This changed my world from the outside-in, and rounded off the cycle to where I am today.

Oftentimes, we don’t understand the difficult things we go through. It seems so senseless, sometimes unnecessarily horrible. Why did my brother have to die? Why did I ever meet that cruel person? Why did my kids have to still struggle, when they were the most innocent?

Before my brother’s death, my father said someone who had strong intuitions had told him that when his daughter died, there would be a long line of people to pay respects, as far as the eye could see. In the nearly 20 years of hell that ensued, alone and hopeless, I had moments when I remembered that prediction, and I could not understand why she would say something so grossly wrong. I “knew” was going to die in that relationship. There was no hope for me, no way out; my life was over.

Had I followed through with that agenda, I would not be here now, writing to you to let you know that I made it. I wouldn’t be able to understand what you’re going through. I am writing from a positive place, but not disconnected from understanding that very dark, heavy, draining, hopeless place. I remember out of love for those who are going through it now. Yes, that includes you. I could not do this or feel this way had I not experienced it first.

Today, I am happy and stronger than ever, and have so much love in my life. If I had successfully ended my life back then, my children’s lives would have been destroyed. My little one, 6 today, would not have been born. All the people I have touched and eventually will come in contact with will have one less person to help and love them. It keeps growing, the goodness. Whether or not I have that long line of mourners after I move on, I live my life now with the joy of overflow in my heart, and it is a life well-lived.

I know you may not see this for yourself at this moment, and it’s understandable – you have valid reasons for feeling stuck. Keep in mind: you are just in a place right now where your pain exceeds your resources. You may also be in the wrong company. And your spirit is starving for positive nourishment and connection, which you may not be able to find within your circle. In fact, it is highly unlikely, because in the great big world, your circle is tiny. Venture for change.

YOUR FIRST STEPS INTO THE LIGHT

If I have one thing to recommend that you do, to start, it would be to surround yourself with GENUINE, positive, forward-moving people. Cut out all negative and otherwise unsupportive ones. It’s not being stuck-up, as I once used to think, to not allow such people in your life, even if they say they’re your friends, even if they are your family. You will heal and grow exponentially if you seriously change this part of your life, because the genuine, positive people will expose you to a lot of the other things that you need, and in your transformation, you will fill in the rest.

“Well if that’s the rule, why would these people want to hang out with me?” The genuine ones will not judge you. They will see that you want to be better, and they will want to increase the goodness in the world, and so help you. When you get to that stage in life, and you will if you keep going, you will also know who to help and who to let be.

“Where do I find them? I don’t feel like going out and meeting people.” I totally get it. I started by searching for answers through books and the internet. I found online groups of positive-minded people who were passionate, and realized the impact of being with the right people. They can’t just be “nice” – that can be a misleading 4-letter word. They have to be open, authentic, willing to be vulnerable, want to go places in life, and seek to help others.

The friends I’ve made online, I consider some of my best friends now – even though I haven’t met them because they are across the world. Now I have a compelling reason to travel!

LIFE CARDS

Life may deal you some seriously shitty hands—I know it did to me. But here are some “magic cards” for you to memorize and slap on the table anytime the hand gets particularly full of it:

Magic Ace: You are worthy, completely and unconditionally. Anything else that anyone tells you is a lie that you’ve been subscribing to. Surround yourself with positive, kind people who do not believe nor sell this distorted program. And get out of your own way – be a loyal fan of your highest self: Cheer loudly.

Magic Jack: You are a good person. You are simply at a stage where you feel lost and confused. Bad people never want to commit suicide; they lack a conscience required to have the kind of guilt and pain that comes with a suicidal mindset. You care so much that it hurts. That’s because, even through your mistakes, you are good person.

Magic Queen: You are loved. Even if it seems like your parents don’t care, or that your teachers don’t understand, or that you don’t have a single real friend, the truth is, you are loved. Sometimes, the people whom you wish to show you love are also at a place of struggle, where they don’t have the resource or ability to give you what you need. And sometimes they do, but when you are in such emotional pain, it is hard to see anything but a version of your pain, which reflects off of everything and everyone.

I don’t even know you, but when I thought about you in writing this post, I broke down and cried for you several times. It is because I understand your pain, and the thought of you going through what I went through hurts my heart deeply. So I write this from a place of immense love. Imagine how much love the people in your actual life have for you.

Magic King: Your pain is not your destiny; it is your preparation to help others. Your story is not over. You are just getting prepared for something greater than you can see. You are in boot camp, so keep going; when you get to the other side, you will find yourself stronger and more resourceful than you ever imagined. And then, pay it forward.

*     *     *

It was a long process for me to get to where I am today – it didn’t happen overnight. And it was grueling. Lots of loneliness, lots of fear, lots of doubt. But it was worth the fight. IT IS WORTH THE FIGHT.

Much Love,
Yazminh

Recommended: “Out of the Nightmare: Recovery from Depression and Suicidal Pain” – David L. Conroy, Ph.D.

17

“Midlife” (Grace Revisited)

MidlifeGrace

(Photo Credit: Uploaded by Kalaskai)

(I wrote the piece below in June of 2009, at the earliest rays of a new dawn for me.  It was one of my very few scattered attempts to write, before I established this blog at the end of last summer.  It is significant to me because I remember sitting down to write it, very calm and resolved for the first time in decades.  It was as if I blew a whistle in a storm, and the swirling moved away from me, and with utter respectful tranquility, allowed me to speak from a place both deep inside and beyond the horizon.

It was originally written in paragraph form, but I’ve rearranged its movement down the page.)

“MIDLIFE”

So this is what it is like.

One day, you wake up
and you assess your position in life because
the dust storm has died down
and the demons have tired away
and you have a breath in time to stop.

Then, without warning, you realize that
you didn’t accomplish what you wanted,
you didn’t get what you deserved,
and you don’t know what you want to be when you grow on.

You look around and you didn’t get to
have the house you dreamed
you would give to your darling children,
who have been there in the dark with you
and saved
all your lives
with the kind of light that the world desperately needs,

who deserved beautiful, bright rooms,
and a generous yard with lush grass
and strong trees
to move their memories through.

You find yourself exhausted and aching from a back
cracked in two from over-bending in ways
unseen and resulting in symptoms
misunderstood.

You remember the minds you’ve read
of individuals living in the twilight zone
of prosperity
and ignorance
and certain meanness.

You can’t help but wonder,
Did I do the right thing?
Did I teach my children to be kind and polite, thoughtful and giving,
so that they can be devoured
by the new generation of wolves?

In a panic, you turn to
your best friend from when you were untouched,
your soldier friends from when you were being touched,
and angel friends from when you could no longer feel.

These are the ones who have never judged you
for being surrounded by darkness—
conflict, trauma, dismay–
when you had nothing to give them
but tears, lament,
for their friendship.

You start to realize that w/out this shaking and tossing,
these gems in your life would not have surfaced through the sift!

They are the ones who see you and care for you
truly,
who get you
and are worth getting from you
the kinds of things that an earnest heart yearns:
links of Humanity–kindness, friendship, love–
to result in the main thing for which people strive
in so many different ways
in hopes to achieve:
Joy.

In this realization,
your fears also dissipate,
because you know you will be alright,
come what may,
and that despite the betrayals, the cruel things
that your kindness has allowed into your life,
it was not all in vain.”

Grace be with you.  ~Yazminh

9

Guilt to the Gallows

Gallows2“For goodness, growing to a pleurisy,

Dies in his own too-much.” – Shakespeare (Hamlet)

Guilt is like power: always in the wrong hands, and rarely used with proper moderation or purpose.  Like anger and sadness, guilt has purpose: to guide us and grow us, but anything more than a pinch in the mix can take over the composition of our lives.  Stereotyping truthfully here: Being a girl, being asian, and being Catholic growing up really gave me a triple propensity for feeling guilt. Extreme guilt.  I’ve come to realize that a large portion of my painful experiences in life were attached to some form of it:

– guilt about my brother Dedrick’s death, that maybe my family was too close and so we had to be punished somehow.  This  also led to –

–  guilt for getting pregnant at 19 with an uneducated, illegal alien, and trying to rectify the pain and shame I caused my parents from it by sticking it out with him, even though I was miserable, in hopes that it would turn around and ease my parents’ sorrows

– guilt over the terrible “choice” I’d made to give my sweet, innocent children such an unworthy man to represent as their father

– guilt that I didn’t become the accomplished person that everyone expected of me before Dedrick died

– guilt that I could not save my parents’ marriage after Dedrick’s death

– guilt that I could not save my surviving brother from living in the streets and in gangs to survive

– guilt that I could not keep my children from going through the pain they had to process growing up

– guilt that I could not help my mother, who mentally went wayward and made poor choices therefrom, so I had to cut her out of my life (and guilt from that)

– guilt that I could not provide a comfortable old age for my father, who, in his 70s, after having survived a back riddled with bullets from the Vietnam war; after starting over in a foreign country; after having put in much sweat equity without a single complaint, having built a good life for his family, only to have one son killed, another lost to the streets, and his daughter penned up in an abusive relationship; after all of that, still does heavy manual construction  labor to care for himself

– guilt that all of these things were because I allowed myself to fall into an imprisoning relationship, and that if I hadn’t, I could have been there to save my family.

These are just a few things that I burdened myself with guilt over (the comprehensive list is staggering – I see them floating in the peripheral).  But I don’t know if I could have avoided it – I was a very compassionate person who took ownership of my actions and mistakes, and always wanted to be sure everyone was okay, even above my own well-being.  It was easy for me to accept the guilt that bad things were of my doing, rather than hurt others with accusations.

And in the aftermath of a tragedy that made no sense and rendered my family hopeless, powerless, guilt persuaded, “If you’re to blame, then you can just change, and then these bad things won’t happen anymore.” So I carried that philosophy into my relationship at the time, striking down every instance of my screaming intuition in favor of accepting every cruel thing that Adalberto (his real name; may the truth of him be billboarded to save others) would do/say to me, including that I was a terrible person, and that God punished me for it by killing my brother.  For anybody, that is hurtful, but for a young girl who had recently lost her brother, her loving family, her friends, youth, and dreams; who was so naive that she didn’t understand about stalking or sociopaths, never dated, barely knew about sex; who was isolated from the world to make babies so a manipulative man could have permanent legal rights to stay in her country and continue to torment her; who didn’t even have internet at that time to learn all the things she needed to know in her situation, such a comment was brutal.

The funny thing about guilt, even when you can mentally process the logic of the reality to not be as guilt suggests, it seeps deep down through layers of your being.  I hated the man for his cruelty, and knew he was wrong, yet the guilt stained and stung and would not let me ignore.

But there is a grace to this part of my story.  My son, one of the things that that man hoped to chain me to him, at only 4 looked up at me in one of my crying bouts and said, “Why don’t we just leave him?”  In that instant, the tremendous burden of being obligated to stay was lifted, and soon after, my plans to escape would form and come to fruition.

I would be struggling with great guilt for another decade or so, with different people and arenas.  I had family members telling me daily that I was going to hell for not staying with my abuser.  When I stopped working full-time because my little one had febrile seizures, I had people who didn’t even have children tell me that I should be working, that I was lazy and selfish.  I had always given people compassion and understanding, a shoulder, a hand, and a dollar whenever I could, but they didn’t return even the courtesy of the benefit of the doubt.   The world was so full of confused people saying and doing unkind things, and I was told to constantly forgive and have compassion or that I was not really a good person.  I became so angry that I started feeling guilty that I was ever so nice to so many thoughtless people in the first place!  Imagine that – any excuse to feel guilty!

I had a monumental shift in my guilty tendencies when I finally had to evict own mother from my home.  That is a whole other story.  But let me tell you, once you’ve mustered enough courage to take your mother to court, game over for future oppressors.  It took a LOT for me to get to that point.  And it was one of the best things I ever did for myself.

It taught me that guilt, for the most part, was an useless emotion.  Once I got that, I was free, happy, and at peace for the first time in decades.  From this place, I have become more capable of helping others, as well, starting with my own children.

I think I am still quite accommodating, and kind (my heart feels steadily warm and full), and actually more patient than ever.  But if I don’t like someone, I’m okay with that.  If something pisses me off, I remind myself to trust my instincts and allow the process.  And, as you may have read, if I don’t feel like forgiving, I won’t guilt myself into it.  Not anymore.

Guilt is not completely out of my system.  It still pokes its head in the door every so often and says, “now?” and I have to shake my head no, and then it leaves.  Sometimes I’ll entertain it by asking it what it wants, and it tells me.  I can sympathize with it – or not.  Guilt and I rarely see each other, but I know it’s there, and it knows who the boss is.  It is no longer the grossly inflated monster that thought and directed my life for me; that one, I’ve offed with its head.

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