[12 May, 2012]


A few events this week brought up some thoughts on what it is that I am trained to do here... As a therapist in training, pain and hopelessness are part of my job. Sometimes, I am the only one holding on to any hope for the lives of the people I work with. Sometimes, even this hope is not enough. Sometimes the hopelessness gets overwhelming.

Spring is the season for suicides, though I thought by May we would be more in the clear. And yet just this week:

  1. The mom of my colleague who committed suicide 2 years ago is doing the San Francisco overnight Out of the Darkness walk in June. The walk is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and happens at night so that you finish walking at dawn, thus symbolically coming out of the darkness about this issue. A link was sent around to support the mom who, of course, is walking in her daughter's name. The walkers do this thing where they light candles in paper bags along the path, and these lanterns have the names of the people the walkers are honoring written on them. I hope that this experience is reparative for the mom and her team; I hope that they find a sense of community and compassion from others. This reminder though made me remember, again, how there we were in class just a few days before, talking about psychology things. While we contemplated what brings about changes in people, she secretly couldn't imagine the dark days getting any better. 
  2. Today I also found out that two days ago, a UC Berkeley student jumped from a 6th floor story of his dorm, about 1 mile from where we live. The report says that they are still investigating whether this was truly a suicide, but the air on campus makes it seem that it was. After all, this student's last Facebook update was: RIP [student's name] 11/18/91 – 5/8/12.
  3. Finally, there's this. A person I didn't know at all, but someone who is still touching the hearts of internet friends and acquaintances. This is tragic because, all existential crises aside, the act of giving up on life so completely is jarring. The ripples of grief are broad and it's difficult to wrap my mind around an act so counterintuitive to the survival and adaptivity of human beings. No matter what explanations are offered to me–it's the circle of life, we are all regenerated energy, everybody dies eventually–being confronted with someone giving up on a fight against their pain can feel as if any hope that things can look up for people is sucked right out of me. 
Suicide is an act of hopelessness. In their suicide notes, people often say things like, "I tried, I really tried everything I could think of, and yet nothing helped to take the pain away." I can't speak for everyone's experience, maybe there are situations in which nothing really truly can help, but I have to hold on to the thought that there is hope, that there is quite often, most of the time, some way out. Life is not a steady line of happiness or unhappiness. Downs exist, really really lows exist, they may even exist most of the time for some people. But ups, even really pale ups, some subjective versions of better, they also exist, they have to, for everyone. But in those dissociated states at the moment of suicide, people cannot fathom the alternatives to pain. It's my job, then, to not drown in the hopelessness, and to believe in the possibility of better.

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