I’ve been having so many different emotions, all of them intense. I feel hurt, angry, ashamed, and scared. After I write about my feelings, I feel wrung out, and I just crash. I have also been practicing escapism. I don’t watch television, except on Election Night, but I cruise around the Internet for hours. I do shopping on ebay, check out forums on some of my favorite sites, argue politics, read the news, and follow links. There are a few things that I actually enjoy doing: walking, photography, and, of course, playing my violin. Last night I practiced for hours, mainly Bach’s Partita in E. I’ve always loved listening to the S&Ps, but I had assumed that playing them was far beyond my reach until Scott Bosley, of violinist.com, encouraged me to try. I was inspired to try them again after reading “Bach for Pauline.” I’m finding the thread on intonation in this piece interesting and helpful. Music takes me out of myself and puts me in touch with something much bigger. I’m blessed that way.
Sunday, when people at church spoke of their Joys and Concerns, I spoke about my problems. I told them everything I’ve written about in this blog except for the tragedies in my personal life. My feelings about these were just too strong for me to handle. I was really scared before I spoke. My worst fear was that I would cry out for help and no one would respond. I asked for people’s help and support, including hugs. I got a lot of hugs. I love hugs. I also got offers to help me in my job search and in other ways.
People’s responses to my confession about my suicidal thoughts varied from totally off the mark, as I see it, to the expected, to the unexpected and miraculously good. A lot of people told me that I’m a good, kind person who has helped many people. I like to think that I’ve helped people, but I don’t really know. Almost nobody has ever said, “Thanks. You really helped” or something similar. Why? I make a special effort to express my appreciation to other people for lots of things and I almost always get the same response: a surprised look. Why don’t people say, “Thanks”? What would it cost? Are people afraid that they would be bound and obligated to someone if they express appreciation? I asked myself, “When was the last time that someone said ‘thank you’ to me or praised my work?” I had to think for quite a while before I could answer my own question. There is a traditional American song called, “Give Me the Roses While I Live,” which says, in part:
Kind words are useless when folks lie cold in a narrow bed
We often don’t realize how much power we have over each other. One friend pointed out to me that committing suicide can set an example to others who have flirted with the idea. I know that suicide, like many forms of mental illness, can be contagious. “No man is an island separate unto himself…Each man’s death diminishes me.” (John Donne) The people who implored me most intensely not to kill myself were those who had been suicidal in the past or who had experienced the suicide or near-suicide of someone close to them. What these people said to me had especially strong effects on me. We are all members of the same community.
As always, some of my brightest moments in the last couple of days involved playing violin. On Sunday, I taught two students, both aged seven, whom I like very much. The little girl was so excited about coming for a lesson that she couldn’t contain herself. She was jumping up and down with excitement when she came into my home. That little girl has a beautiful smile and she smiles a lot. Monday night I went to my orchestra rehearsal. Just before I left home, I had a panic attack. I was scared to face my friends because I’ve screwed up again. The person who gave me a ride to rehearsal is a dedicated amateur photographer, like me. He showed me some of his photographs, which were awfully good, and talked about photography. The rehearsal took me out of myself. I just floated on the music. When the friend gave me a ride home, we listened to a CD I had copied from him. We didn’t talk while we were listening to the CD. I felt content, a feeling I haven’t had in a long time.
This is a follow up to my previous entry.
Last night I wrote another long entry to my blog but, alas, it got lost in cyberspace. It was late and I was tired, so I just went to bed.
Wednesday night one of my friends came over and gave me some hugs, as he had promised. It was wonderful. When we started talking, he didn’t say anything about the problem, even though I was crying, and, at first, I couldn’t understand why. Then I remembered that a lot of people, especially men, have trouble discussing such things. I looked at himthen, and the look of concern on his face was a real gift.
The day after I was fired, the drama took a comic aspect. I was awakened at about 8:30 AM by someone yelling at me in my home. Since I live alone, this was unexpected. It was the police, coming after me as though I were a hardened criminal, because I had walked away from the ER the day before without being seen by a psychiatrist. The police told me that they had come to my home the night before, around 6:30 PM, and pounded on the door and hollered for me. I was home at that time but I didn’t hear them. They returned in the morning, pounded and hollered again, and, when they got no response, went to the management office of my condo and got the key. They returned, pounded and hollered some more and then came in. Once inside they hollered for me but I didn’t even wake up until they were almost in my bedroom. (Many people, including those I’ve lived with and several bosses, just can’t believe me when I tell them that I can sleep through several loud alarms.) I had anticipated the return of the police and made a plan, which I followed. I went quietly. I did ask whether they had a search warrant and they said no. They told me that there is a provision in law empowering them to enter someone’s home if the person’s life is in danger. While riding to the hospital, without handcuffs this time, I chatted with them about home repairs, car repairs, and the Internet. When we got out of the car, one policeman asked me if he could take my picture and I said, “Sure.” He told me that when he gave a description of me the previous night, he couldn’t remember what kind of hat I was wearing, and his buddies had teased him considerably. He wanted a picture of me with my hat on. He photographed me with a Polaroid and I told him that I’d like a copy of the photo if it came out well. He agreed and made a photocopy for me when we got into the hospital. Maybe I’ll scan it and post it on the Internet. He also found and retrieved the gym bag I had left behind when I walked out of the hospital the day before. After a wait which was unusually brief for an ER, I was seen by a psychiatrist who talked to me for a few minutes and then discharged me. I treated myself to a cab ride home.
Thursday evening I had a lesson scheduled with one of my adult students. I knew that he would be a good person for me to talk to. He is a deep thinker and very spiritual in a non-mainstream way, like me. I emailed him a link to my latest blog entry and asked him to read it before coming over. This man spoke with me directly, and with gentleness, wisdom, and understanding, about my problem. He started by telling me some of the things that other people have told me, i.e., think about the things that give you pleasure in life, like a beautiful fall day or playing your violin. I told him that these things aren’t enough. What makes life worth living is love. He told me that I have the love of music, of being with my friends, etc. I told him that this was not what I meant. He had the good sense not to argue with me about it. He talked to me about the importance of an idea in my head. Ideas are very powerful. If I have the idea that my situation or, worse, my self, is hopeless, I will always be unhappy. If I hold the idea of hope within me, then I can enjoy living, minute by minute and day by day. I’m not sure whether he really said that, but that’s the impression I came away with. In this discussion, we reached the essence of the matter. My problem can not be solved by making a list of things to be grateful for, as some people have advised, but only by doing something with the idea that governs me. This man is very, very wise and he helped me so much.
I have been heartened by the responses of so many people, both friends and strangers. I’ve received emails from several people I’ve never met who read my blog. People who have struggled with the same problem I have were very honest with me. Some understood my problem better than others; some responses were more helpful than others; but they all cared enough to write and encourage me. This, too, has been a gift.
I’m always so tired when I finish writing about this.
I was nearly killed in a car accident 3 1/2 years ago. I couldn't keep up my attendence at work, so I was forced to leave. This was after 23 years of working hard, days, nights, and weekends, and doing damn good work. Management was quite inhumane. Since I had no income, I had to sell my humble cabin in the woods. It was my spirit place. Then there were tragedies in my personal life. My boyfriend became physically ill, then mentally ill. Our relationship ended abruptly 1 1/2 years ago, when he beat me up, trashed my home, and attempted suicide. I was unemployed for 2 1/2 years. I was very scared and very depressed. I was almost out of money. I have no family, significant other, or good friends to help me. Last December I was very sick and very seriously suicidal.
I got a job and started there June 1. In general, I liked it. People left me alone and let me do my work. My boss was very smart and nice. The work was well beneath my level. I have a Ph.D. and 30 years of postdoctoral experience. I did the same work as a kid just out of college, and he is bored. I took a huge salary cut in this job compared to my previous job. What the hell -- I had health insurance, a 401(k), and there was a gym in the building where I worked.
I have several chronic intermittent health problems, the worst being asthma and migraines. I missed a lot of time from work because of these, but my boss let me work extra hours so I wouldn't have to take leave. I did damn good work and I did it quickly, usually several weeks before the deadline. HR and Management gave me a written warning and put me on probation because of my hours. I spoke honestly to my boss. I told her, "I know you want to get rid of me." She said, "No I don't." I said that I want to leave and told her what I didn't like about the job, and she agreed. I told her that I would look for a job with more flexible hours or telecommuting, better pay, and more stimulating work. She said, "OK. Look for another job, but don't feel you have to hurry. I'll give you a good recommendation." I thanked her for her for being civilized and went back to work. This past weekend I was sick. I had two episodes of food allergy, choking, and acute asthma attack simultaneously. Monday I came in to work two hours late. Tuesday I brought a note from my doctor. Wednesday (today) I was fired.
Of course, I knew this was coming. During my recent, long unemployment, I did a lot of thinking about what makes life worth living. Love and money. I can manage without one for a while, but not without both. I decided that if I became unemployed again, I would not face it alone; I'd opt out of life. This is not a spur of the moment decision made wildly or hysterically when faced with an acute crisis. This is what I'm thinking about for the rest of my life. I went down to the gym, thinking I'd work out, but I crashed in the locker room, just sat and cried. Women came in and asked me what the problem was and I told them. One woman was a lawyer, and I asked her what my legal recourse is. She said that there is none, that in the state of Maryland, you can be fired any time for any reason, and it's not even worth seeing a lawwyer. Another woman was a psychiatric social worker, and she knew how to handle the problem quite well. (Bless her.) One woman gave me a hug (bless her, too). A woman from my office came into the locker room, and I told her to go tell my boss and the woman who is HR that I was suicidal. Of course, people tried to talk me out of suicide. I thought it strange that people wanted to prevent me from killing myself, but no one had helped or would help me to go on living. Someone called the police. They patted me down to check me for weapons, handcuffed me, and took me to the E.R. for a psychiatric workup. It was damn humiliating. They asked whether I wanted to call someone to meet me at the hospital, and I said no, I have no family or friends. I honestly couldn't think of a single person who would leave work or whatever they were doing and come to the hospital to meet me. The E.R. they took me to was the same one that they took my ex to when he attempted suicide. As soon as I could, I walked out. I must have had some survival instinct because, knowing that I couldn't carry my belongings home, I took my comfortable shoes and some clean socks out of my gym bag and left the bag there.
I don't have a car any more, so I walked a mile or two, took a Metro train, and then a bus. I had the strangest combination of feelings. I thought about going home, putting on that pretty black velour dress that I bought and never wore, swallowing a bunch of pills, wrapping myself in my new, warm comforter, and going to sleep for good. Alternately, I felt light hearted, like I wanted to buy myself some ice cream and go to the zoo. I went into Barnes and Noble and blew some money on calendars and a CD. I figured that I would look at all the pictures in the calendars soon, in case I'm not around in 2005. Then I went to Starbucks and blew some more money on coffe and cake. I had not allowed myself to indulge at Starbucks for several years.
I thought some more about my job. Our contract runs out next year and I'd be kicked out then if not before. Four of the people who worked for my boss, including me, have left in the last year or two, and of the four who remain, three are planning to leave. One woman left just a few weeks ago. She got a job that paid a lot more and was more in her area of specialty. She, too, had missed a lot of time because of a long commute and health problems recently. She was my boss's pet, but she still had to leave. She was much luckier than I in that she found another, better job. Also, she's a newly wed, and I'm sure that helps. I plan to speak to her. I think (or hope) my boss is feeling guilty now. I guess I should hit her right away for help finding another job.
Now where am I? Physically, I'm in my home, but metaphysically, where am I? I was completely certain about suicide earlier, but I'm not now. I certainly will not put myself through the shame, fear, pain, and lonelines of chronic unemployment, lack of health insurance, losing all my money, and facing it all alone again. My psychiatrist was a bitch. I won't get any help from her. If I'm going to stick around for a while, I should make some plans. Do I want to see my students for the next couple of days? I should look into unemployment comp. (Last time, I was ineligible.) I should apply for jobs. Maybe I should just decide which organization I want to leave my remaining money to (I wonder whether the ACLU has a death-with-dignity fund), do it, and swallow those pills. I rewrote my will and got it signed this past spring. Honestly, I don't feel like doing anything. I want to talk to a friend and I don't. Writing all this in my blog was a good idea. It is cathartic. I can tell some of my friends to read it if and when I feel like it. I have asked one friend to come over and give me some hugs, and I hope he does.
The many uses of a blog include life (and death) in general.
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Pauline Lerner is from Rockville, Maryland. Biography
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