Monthly Archives: April 2011

suicide

have you ever thought about killing yourself? i have. for many, many years i thought that was totally normal. it wasn’t until my life got much better that i noticed the absence of this soothing thought: to just disappear myself … now, when that kneejerk image arises occasionally, i know it’s a warning sign: something’s not right.

i grew up thinking that suicide was a completely normal way to die. some people die of cancer, others of old age, and others of suicide. the good thing is that this normalized suicide. the bad thing is that this normalized suicide.

so … let me try this …

let’s imagine you’re thinking of ending it all. you just can’t think of another way out of that thing that just seems to crush you. debts, a broken heart, a feeling of uselessness, terrible loneliness, a sense of being trapped …

how do you feel? overhwelmed, right?

can you relax just a tiny bit of yourself? just a bit … maybe your hands … maybe the way you sit on the chair …

here’s a strange question.

how does your brain feel?

yes, feel that brain. just for a moment.

sometimes it feels like it works well, doesn’t it? maybe that was a long time ago. but there probably was a time when it felt like it worked pretty well. maybe when you played with that dog. oh – dogs aren’t your thing. sorry. maybe – maybe it was when you hung out with your buddy when you were six … can you do me a favour, look for a time when your brain worked ok?

thanks.

so … i wonder … how does your brain feel right now, compared to that time when it worked well? is there a difference?

there is?

it feels a little – weirder, doesn’t it? maybe a bit cloudy? or perhaps it’s a just a bit noisy in there.

can you do me, and yourself a big favour?

i know life feels awful right now. i’d really like it, though, if you could wait with your decision to destroy yourself. please wait with that decision until your brain feels better.

if you don’t know how to make your brain feel better, stick around, please. i have a bunch of ideas we could try. and i know people who have way more ideas. they’ve worked, too. as terry wise, a woman who survived suicide, says “there are other ways to overcome pain.”

heaven

heaven.  i’ve always liked the sound of the word – the soft consonants immediately conjure up the fluffy clouds of my childhood image of heaven – it’s like this huge, downy, unimaginably comfortable bed up there where the sky is always blue and the sun, stars and moon always shine.  maybe there are harps playing somewhere and manna, a food made by and for gods, is available in inexhaustible supply; the taste never grows old.  up in heaven (definitely up!), people (souls? angels?) live in never-ending bliss.  it’s like chocolate, cointreau and orgasm all rolled into one.

somewhere around the twentieth word or so of writing this, it all started to feel a bit cartoony.  the memory of a famous german animation film started to rear its head.  it’s called “ein muenchner im himmel” (“a guy from munich in heaven” – watch it – even if you don’t understand the wonderful narration, you’ll definitely get the gist of it).  the important part for us that this guy, alois, hates it in heaven because there is neither beer nor snuff and he has to rejoice and sing hosanna all the time.  fortunately god has mercy on him and proposes to make him his emissary to the bavarian government.  so alois is sent off with his first letter to the government – but as soon as he touches the soil of his beloved munich, “he felt like he was in heaven.”  he gets so busy drinking beer that he never delivers even the first letter, which is why the government, to this day, lacks divine counsel.

so there are a number of things – heaven as a childlike fantasy, as a caricature, heaven as boring, heaven as a very individual thing.  lisa miller, in her book heaven – our enduring fascination with the afterlife – touches on them all and at times wonders whether our minds are too limited, too two-dimensional to think about this place.  or is it a state?  a feeling?  god’s love?  it may be this confusion as well as our relatively good life that make it all a bit too difficult to think about.  this results in an ever declining interest in this – thing (we still don’t know what or where it is.)

barack obama’s former preacher, the revered jeremiah wright, complained about this in a 1990 sermon at his chicago church.  his “educated friends,” he said, wished he wouldn’t talk so much about heaven “because that’s so primitive, you see.”  but wright argues

if i drop heaven, i’m going to lose the first verse in my bible … i’m going to lose two of my ten commandments … i’m going to have to stop praying my favourite prayer, ‘our father’ … i’m going to have to do away with the second coming; i’m going to have to get rid of pentecost.  i’m going to have to throw revelation out of my bible … don’t make me drop heaven!

i find the reference to “primitive” interesting but before i muse on that i must tell you that one of the things i disliked about miller’s book is that she had to go and do the old abrahamic faith thing.  well, i’m sorry, but heaven isn’t only populated by christians, jews and muslims.  buddhists, especially tibetan buddhists, have a complex, intricately worked out theory about heaven; the idea of heaven exists in confucianism as much as it does in daoism.  examples from lesser-practiced or older religions include the eternal hunting grounds of some first nations and the valhalla of norse religions.  and we haven’t even talked about other major religions yet, such as hinduism or sikhism – wikipedia’s entry on heaven will point to more.  i don’t expect the writer on such a topic to cover all of them, but i do expect either a nod in their direction or an explanation of why these other heavens weren’t discussed.  the global context within which everything happens nowadays just does not allow us anymore to ignore the multiplicity of cultures and beliefs.

let’s go back to the primitive and, why not, to our friend alois.  the interesting thing is that while alois had all sorts of complaints about heaven, he DID go to heaven, and heaven was a familiar place.  if you watch the movie and don’t speak german, you’ll still understand the story – st. peter, the angels, the voice of god, and that it’s up in the sky.  this is because heaven is ingrained in us, and arguably not just through cultural learning over the generations but perhaps deeper.  maybe it’s “just” our imagination, our dreaming – don’t we all want to have a place where everything and everyone is cleaner, shinier, sexier, safer, more loving, more exciting; just perfect?  maybe there is such a “place”, in a physical, ethereal or mental abode.  maybe it starts in the heart.  or maybe, as miller recounts in her book, we can literally build it right here.  i’m grateful to her for familiarizing me with the history of habitat for humanity, a powerful international “nonprofit, ecumenical christian housing ministry that seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action.”  habitat for humanity started with a small christian commune in 1952 named koinonia, founded by clarence jordan, which was

“a demonstration plot for the kingdom of god” (a demonstration plot is where farmers experiment with new seeds or planting techniques – and then invite their neighbours to come see what they’ve done.) … jordan invited his neighbours – the grandsons and -daughters of the slaves and sharecroppers who had ploughed that land for generations – to work with him.

miller recounts the story of georgia solomon, who grew up near koinonia.

when she grew up, and had three babies and not enough to eat, the people at koinonia built her a house.  “i made it through my trials and tribulations,” she said, “and now i’m striving for eternal life.”

maybe heaven is food on people’s plates, smiles in their hearts and roofs over their heads.

oh! it’s poetry month!

DSC_3219abrakadabra
into this evening, this evening of mist and
silvery-grey clouds
abrakadabra
flies the crow, the big, big, crow,
can you see it – ?
no you can’t, it’s made of stuff you can’t touch
but it’s there, can you feel it – ?
aaah, yes, abrakadabra
the evening crow with its big wings, and on its back
the large mage of night,
with those coat-wings that touch your dreams and you wake up
abrakadabra
knowing, KNOWING it was true, and you shiver and fall back asleep
abrakadabra
and when your eyes open again, you wonder
was that a shiver of dread, of wonder, delight?
can you hear it – ?
was THAT the bird that just flew by, shadowing clouds
that still bear a feather of pink?

mental health camp YVR ’11: diversity

okay, after great breakfast meeting with raul this morning, we’re starting to roll with this year’s mental health camp! the theme this year is

diversity!

maybe even with the exclamation mark 🙂

it was through great conversations with jay peachy and steven schwartz that we came up with the idea. diversity is about

diversity of opinions
diversity of religion
diversity of ideas on how to deal with mental health
diversity of sexual orientation
diversity in age
diversity in ethnic backgrounds
diversity in socioeconomic status
diversity of ability
and … ? (please feel free to add!)

each one of these topics contains vast, interesting fields in and of themselves. just think of the topic of mental health among british columbia’s south asian population; the diverse/diverging of the radical psychology group (here with another diversity topic: gender and bodily difference); or mental health and christian churches. we could even look at diversity from yet another point of view – adding the topic/twist of mental health to existing bodies of research, such as the growing area of research into tourism and mental health.

as always, mental health camp will be about the intersection between mental health and social media. that is, speakers and participants will discuss issues that touch on both topics, in whatever weird and wonderful and different ways. also, this will continue to be a grassroots-based event. as long as a speaker has something interesting and constructive to contribute, it is of no consequence whether she or he has a PhD in psychiatry or is a master in the art of living a life touched by mental illness. come one, come all! it is, after all, about diversity.

the event will take place on july 23. this time our location will be gallery gachet, who are graciously donating their space to this event. mental health camp YVR ’11 will be an all day face-to-face conference, with a significant social media aspect (e.g. hopefully we will have social media stewards again who will tweet and facebook about the event). we will probably have around 10 sessions.

everyone’s input is welcome! and let us know if you’d like to volunteer.