Saturday, February 09, 2008

I Want A Rope

There was a girl named Brenna Rose born some time ago who was pink and perfect, a happy little baby for the first year of her life. When she was about one she was diagnosed with severe brain damage and autism on top of that. If you’re not familiar with autism, it essentially severs the sufferer from contact with the world around them. Inside, they are still a thinking, feeling human being, but with little or no normal connection through their eyes, ears or voice. Depending on the severity, people may be able to do no more than gauge the sufferer’s approximate mood from their actions.

Some time in the eighties a method called facilitated communication came into being. A facilitator would hold Brenna’s hand and help her to type on a large keyboard. Some suspected this method because the facilitator would be holding her hand and looking at the keyboard, and she would be looking randomly around the room. But she could answer questions that the facilitator could not have known the answer to, and thus the door was opened.

Now that her family could finally talk to her, and ask her how she felt and what she wanted, they were overjoyed. At the end of the session, they asked her if there was anything she wanted. She replied immediately, “A rope”. You can imagine their confused surprise, possibly thinking that she wanted to jump rope. But no, she wanted to hang herself. At the tender age of twelve she wanted to end her life, because no one really knew her or understood her.

Thankfully, with the help of facilitated communication, she found the connection she had been missing and has now developed into a happy, productive adult with an education and even a job. Even with the severe disability and massive challenge that her handicap and autism presented, she was able to work through the things that bothered her, and move on to developing as a person.

So, why do so many people walk around feeling miserable when there’s no real obstacle to them to work things out with someone. People, teenagers especially, feel that no one understands them, or knows what they’re going through. Well, nobody has a prayer of understanding you or knowing what’s going on if you don’t tell them.

If you’re thinking about a rope, or a handful of pills or some similar solution, stop, and go tell some one about it. If they don’t get it, tell someone else. The human experience in this life is so similar in so many respects, there’s somebody out there who knows exactly what you’re feeling, and many more who can at least understand it. A friend of mine lost a friend to suicide some years ago and the truly terrible thing about it was that no one even knew he was having a rough time. Any of his friends would have gone to great lengths to help him out, talk to him or get him some treatment. Instead he held his tongue and is no more.

And even if you’re not considering suicide, even if all it is, is that you feel awful sometimes, or all of the time. What’s the sense in saying you’re fine when you’re not. Obviously the check out girl at the grocery store doesn’t want to hear about it, but lots of other people ask, “How’s it goin” all the time, and might be surprised to hear a tale of woe, but would easily be able to identify with you. The only obstacle to your communication is yourself. You need no facilitator, you're capable.

I walked around for most of my life feeling misunderstood and keeping my grief to myself. My closest friends were all guys who could be a help sometimes, but it took meeting my wife before I finally had a true confidant. But even then there were things that were beyond her power to fix. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve been to a shrink, most of my friends have (the same guy actually) and most of them feel better. It takes some outside perspective to put you to rights sometimes.

So, don’t hang on to your misery. There’s this image of the long-suffering soul made popular in literature and movies. And while it’s true that adversity does push people to new levels and inspire artists to great works, these aren’t people who wallowed in it and clung to it. Don’t sit around and nurse your awful feelings. Like anything, if you feed them, they will grow. There’s a line from a Smashing Pumpkins song that always sticks in my mind, “Intoxicated with a madness, I’m in love with my sadness”. What the hell kind of existence is that. People go through rotten times all the time, but the objective ought to be to get past it, and you can’t always do it yourself.

Brenna is my friend’s kid sister. He speaks about her to schoolchildren and the effect is always stunning. My other friend with the suicide story does the same. Myself, I’ve lost a friend to suicide, and nearly lost my best friend that way. If you’ve got a similar experience you need to share it with people. Nobody ever taught my generation how to communicate with and support each other. As a result it took us well into our thirties to get the hang of it. Schools are finally starting to get into this, but it’s really up to people to foster these connections on their own. Share your experience, make your shoulder available.

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