Suicide Shatters article

I recently started following the Suicide Shatters page on Facebook, and today, I saw this article written by Kristina Cowan, who has experienced the death of immediate family twice in her life, the first was her mother’s to cancer, the second was her brother’s to suicide. She quotes a line from Dr. Maxine Harris’s book, The Loss That Is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father. : “[I]t only takes one shattering event of sufficient magnitude to change one’s core beliefs about life.”

In Cowan’s own words, she writes, “They’ve changed my beliefs — for the better. I’ve learned not to ask why bad things happen, but how to cope well with such bad things, and turn them into something glorious. For me that means when I remember my brother, I’m challenged to love the people around me better, to forgive faster than I’m inclined, and to be kind when I’d rather not.” I understand and feel a lot of what she feels. I have always been a kind person, but now I’m even kinder to people, especially strangers… even the ones who bump into me on the street. But at the same time, I think I am far less tolerant of a lot of things: lack of empathy and compassion, arrogance without something concrete to back it up, and even things like people interrupting me or each other in group settings. I’m less patient with complaining and irrational worry, and I’m also far more critical of day to day superficiality that people seem to love to discuss and fill their lives with. Example: the other day, a colleague gave me a really hard time for not remembering the name of some famous actor (apparently it was Jared Leto). She said, “Yvonne, really? How can you not know this?” Chances are that someone who says something like this is probably really catty and gossipy in real life with her own friends, and she’s not someone I’d want to waste my breath on at work. I simply responded that I don’t really focus on celebrities and their lives in my free time. She got the message… At least, I think she did. And I’m sure she also wrote some nasty instant messages about me after. I really can’t be bothered by people’s stupidities and shallowness. Some might find this narrow minded of me, but I don’t want that kind of life. There’s an art to not giving a shit. It’s important to judge people not by isolated comments or conversations, but as a whole person. And she as a whole person is not appealing to me.

AFSP appreciation event

Tonight, I was invited to attend the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s first appreciation event for top fundraisers. The group was far bigger than I thought it would be — there were at least 30 people who attended, a mix of fundraisers/walkers, board members, and junior board members of the New York City chapter across all five boroughs. I spoke with a number of fundraisers and board members, and it was a great feeling to be part of a group of people who were clearly passionate about the cause we’re all supporting. One junior board member I spoke with had lost her aunt, who was also her godmother, to suicide a year ago. Another fundraiser, whose first name I recognized from the top fundraisers list last year, had lost her little brother to suicide in December 2013, just five months after Ed passed away. Talking to her hit very close to home for me. Even though Ed was really my older brother, in so many ways, he felt like my younger brother. He never had a real opportunity to grow up to be a mature adult. It wasn’t his fault, though.

She talked about the pain and shock she experienced when she learned her brother had died, and she said that she began seeing a therapist about a year after his suicide. She was diagnosed with “complicated grief,” which is a condition in which a person has lost someone close to her to death, but the survivor struggles to grapple with the death, which results in time moving on, but the survivor not. I had no idea this was even a condition one could be diagnosed with.

One thing she said really resonated with me — she was so angry afterwards when some of her own family and friends just withdrew from her. It’s as though as soon as they knew her brother died and it was because of suicide that they decided to just ignore her, some for over a year. That made me so angry. I could actually feel pain seep through me when she said this, and I could see the hurt on her face as she described the whole experience. “I get that people don’t always know how to respond when someone has died, especially when it’s something as sensitive as suicide,” she said. “I was like that for a long time before my brother died. But sometimes, it doesn’t really matter what you say or do as long as you say or do something. Just show that you are there and care.” She said that after that experience, she realized who her real friends were and who really cared, and she just separated herself from the ones who turned away from her. It’s so interesting how similar this is to my own experience and how I changed my own outlook on people after that.

Exchanging experiences with her was emotional for me, as many moments I held back tears listening to her speak about how isolated and alone she felt, and how she felt like she could never really be herself ever again. I still feel moments throughout every day since Ed has passed when I feel like no one really understands me or what I’ve gone through, not just because of Ed’s suicide, but because of all the experiences in our lives that led up to that hellish moment he jumped off that bridge. Everyone seems to think it’s all about his suicide. If he were still here and struggling, no one would pay me any attention. And even worse, no one would pay him any attention, as they did up until the point he died. We all know this is true as awful as it is to write it out. When you have someone very close to you experience mental illness and/or suicide, the way you view the world is completely different. There’s a completely different level of empathy you have for what others’ experiences are and how they perceive the rest of the universe. There’s little that can accurately describe it. Every day is a different type of hurt. But at least it’s a small comfort to know there are other people who care enough to share their own experiences and support a cause they believe in.

Strawberry rhubarb syrup

This year, I’ve made a goal to make use of seasonal produce that I’m not familiar with to challenge myself to be more creative in my cooking. A few fruit and vegetables that are on this list include rhubarb, figs, beets, summer squash, and artichokes. Some of these are clearly higher maintenance, like artichokes, while others, like rhubarb, are just foreign to me. The only way I’ve ever had rhubarb was in a strawberry rhubarb pie a friend’s dad made when I came over to her house. So I figured the easiest way for me to use it for my very first time would be by making a strawberry rhubarb syrup I’d then use for homemade soda.

I don’t drink soda at all unless it’s made from a small or local company that doesn’t use high fructose corn syrup. I stopped drinking soda after the second time I had braces when I was in 7th grade, and it was a great thing that I did it then. Because of this, it’s even more gratifying when I made a syrup for soda myself because I know exactly what I put into it, and I know that there’s nothing artificial about what I’ve made. And it’s pure sugar, for better or for worse. It’s a lot of effort, but it makes me really happy at the end, and it makes me even happier to share it with other people who can appreciate pure ingredients and the taste of real fruit flavors.

Depression awareness week

April 20 through 26 this year is Depression Awareness Week. I found out because I started following this Facebook page called Suicide Shatters, a group that seeks to raise awareness around mental illness and suicide. By following this page, I’ve actually learned a few things about depression and suicide that I’d never thought much about before, such as the fact that there’s still a large group of people out there who actually have either the nerve or complete lack of empathy to believe that mental illness is a big hoax, that people should be “left free” to address any “mental distress” that they may be experiencing.

I feel sorry for people who really believe this. It only reveals their lack of understanding of human experiences that are different than theirs. Empathy is a quality that most people don’t actively think about when they have to ask what they value in people. Unfortunately for me, every single day, it’s one of those qualities that is always top of mind given the experiences I’ve had. And because most people I seem to meet have little to no empathy that they outwardly and readily show, I guess it’s no wonder sometimes I feel so shut off from the rest of the world.

Random apology

An old friend who I stopped speaking with last year suddenly e-mailed me an apology today. She said I was a true friend, and she said she was sorry that she got so upset with me after a senseless comment I made to her last year, which she took extreme offense to and overreacted about. As soon as I realized she was being hypersensitive and neurotic, I stopped talking to her and told her why. At that point in my life, I couldn’t handle having any more people in my life who I had to walk around egg shells to be around, or who were just extremely negative.

In a past version of myself, I might have obsessed over this e-mail and wondered why she sent it, what prompted her to write me, why she was even thinking about me after so much time had passed. But in the current version of me, I really felt little to nothing. I’ve stopped caring about things as much as I used to, especially things that are just insignificant or dramatic without reason. However, there is one point she made in her message that I read twice: “One of your greatest assets is that you are not superficial.” She said I was one of the most real people she’s ever met. We live in a world where we’re always wondering who’s actually authentic and who’s fake. My cynical (yet realistic) side thinks that most people are either fake or just not the type of people I want to be around, perhaps because their values in life so greatly clash with mine. But it’s comforting to know that someone who I am pretty much at odds with now admits that I’m authentic, and superficiality isn’t something I value at all.

 

Visiting friend

Tonight, I had dinner with a college friend and her colleague, who are both in town for a work project for the next few days. I hadn’t seen her since last April, when I was in Phoenix with Chris and my parents to see the Grand Canyon. Then, she was supposedly happily married and planning to have a child. Today, she is divorced, single, and happier than ever.

It’s crazy how time flies. It really doesn’t feel like a year ago since I last saw her, and it’s hard to believe that in the time that has passed, she decided to not have a child, leave her husband, and get a new job. So many changes can happen in such a short time frame, and it’s hard to keep up with the why’s and how’s of the decisions that everyone in your life makes. I know in a nutshell what led to the dissolution of her marriage, but I’ll probably never get the opportunity to hear all the details. I guess that’s not a bad thing because maybe I don’t really want to know or shouldn’t really know. But then that makes me wonder: how do you really determine what you should know or should not know, and how do you draw the line, and with what people? You don’t want to seem like you are intruding or trying to invade someone’s privacy. As though it helps me at all personally to know the most intimate details, and I’m not going to be broadcasting it everywhere anytime soon. Why we are friends with people isn’t always as simple as people think it is.

Maialino

Like many other New Yorkers who like to eat out, I am a huge fan of Danny Meyer. I have no idea what he looks like or what his personality is like, but I love the restaurants he has either started or been a part of. Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, and Eleven Madison Park are restaurants that I have had some of the best dining experiences in my life, so I was really excited to finally get a reservation at Maialino, his other well known and loved restaurant in the city. Everything we ordered tonight exceeded expectations along with a couple of surprises. When Chris ordered us a pork belly appetizer, It ended up coming to the table in the form of a pate mixed with duck and duck fat and was paired with these delicious little pickled cucumbers and apricot jam. The cocktails were artfully crafted and smooth, and surprisingly they were not as expensive as we thought they would be. We had some quick small talk with our waiter, and he laughed when he heard that the reason we came was because of Danny Meyer. It’s only in cities like New York where patrons would actually know or care about “celebrity chefs.”

I have a friend who is visiting New York this weekend who I will meet with tomorrow, and since she’s only been to New York a handful of times, she looks at New York as the city “that has everything” in terms of food and cuisine. And she’s right. As New Yorkers, we take for granted the variety and quality we have in this city. Sometimes, I can feel myself getting complacent when I’m deciding what to eat next when it comes to restaurants. Shame on me (to be fair, it’s mainly because we need to pick a restaurant near the theater district, which is notorious for catering towards tourists). It will be sad one day to finally leave it, but as long as we are here, I want to relish it as much as possible.

Passion fruit Chobani

For the longest time for breakfast in the last two years during the weekdays, I was primarily eating fruit. Most of the time, it was grapefruit or an orange, and other times a banana. I realized I couldn’t eat a grapefruit every morning for breakfast after I started getting tooth sensitivity in the back of my mouth. It’s sad when you think you are doing good things for yourself, and then you realize that these “good things” are actually causing other parts of you (your teeth!) harm by using their evil little acids to eat away at your tooth enamel.

I started deliberately incorporating protein into my breakfast recently after being told by a trainer that I’m not getting enough, so occasionally, I will have yogurt or oatmeal on work day breakfasts now. And this week, I discovered the joy that is Chobani 2 percent Greek yogurt with passion fruit on the bottom. I’ve never, ever seen real passion fruit in yogurt before, so this was (sadly) a huge highlight of my work day. And it didn’t taste artificial at all; it tasted pure and sweet and slightly sour the way it should. It even had the passion fruit seeds in it. I proceeded to hide the one remaining passion fruit yogurt cup in the fridge and then ask our office manager to buy more for future weeks.

Sometimes, it’s the little things during the work day that make things all better.

Wendy Davis

I’m about three quarters through reading Democratic senator Wendy Davis’s memoir Forgetting to Be Afraid. Davis is most well known for holding an eleven-hour long filibuster to block a measure in Texas in 2013 that would have included more restrictive abortion regulations. She is truly a Fruit Loop in a sea of Cheerios in Texas.

About the first half of the book goes through a very detailed account of her family, her childhood and her life through age 18, and it’s almost painful to read about some of the things she had to go through. Her mother went through such a dark period after their father left when she was young that she almost tried to commit a family suicide by putting all three of her children in the trunk of the car and turning on the engine in the garage. A neighbor randomly knocked on the door, concerned about Davis’s mom, and just said he wanted to “check in” on them to see how they were doing. In the end, that single visit is what made Davis’s mom decide against the suicide and realize that she needed to continue going on.

Because of this and a few other key experiences in her life, Davis says she believes in angels. Everything happens for a reason, even when the worst things happen. Reading her book and going through experiences in my own life, I really believe that everything, even the most excruciatingly painful experiences, happen for a reason and serve some purpose in our lives. In some ways, it can be perceived as merely justifying past experiences or mistakes, which could be a fair argument, but if we have no hope, we really have nothing to move forward into our future. I believe in angels, too.

 

Teasing

Last night, I had a dream that Chris and Crista were teasing me relentlessly, and not in a happy, fun way. It started out as cute and fun, and it immediately became vicious. They both had an evil cackle, and I gradually felt like I was resenting them. I began walking away from them, and their laughter only grew louder. They were laughing at me, and the laughter was not ending anytime soon.

While it wasn’t a pleasant dream and left me feeling annoyed when I woke up, I thought about how well the two of them get along and what they have in common and what they don’t. They liked each other immediately when they met each other, and they both have very important roles in my life. But I hope this never happens in real life.