Saturday, January 28, 2012

Birthday 43: Carpe Diem

Lanterns above the Mad Hatter tea cup ride.

January 26th was my birthday.  The day before my birthday was preceded with a week of deep blue funk.    It took a week of meditation and social networking abstinence to make things right again.  The day I finally cleared that hurdle was January 25th, last Wednesday.

Now, the week in question must have been prey to some horrid cosmic influences (besides the CMEs that plagued the upper atmosphere that week) because there was a spike in the suicide rate among Airmen. Twelve Airmen took their own lives between January 1st and the 23rd.  That's unreal.  And in the Air Force culture, it feels unforgivable. So the military's response to this kind of spike is to stop all operations and look at what is causing the problem. At upper levels this is a valid response.  When the order gets filtered down to lower levels it may suffer a bit and turn into an email like the one I got that said I was required to come to work on January 26th and participate in mandatory fun and don't-kill-yourself briefings.  

After a week of working through anger and sadness to get myself out of a deep, blue funk, the very LAST thing I wanted to do was attend mandatory-fun and don't-kill-yourself briefings.  A co-worker said, "Tell them if you have to sit through this you will kill yourself." I laughed, but there was a small truth there.  I wanted to celebrate, not wade through mindless talks about depression.  I made it out of a little whole, and I wanted to smell clean air and drink coffee in the sunshine.  

So I hijacked my birthday.  

Months ago my sister and her boyfriend, Dimitri, grabbed tickets to a Disneyland after-hours event for JPL employees.  Tickets were for January 26th, my birthday.  The park would close at 8 to the general public and remain open to special ticket holders.  We had 4 tickets, so I planned to keep my son from school that day and bring him along for the celebration.  This is a once in a lifetime kind of thing, so having my office demand my presence on this particular day was deeply ironic. 

My birthday was a blast.
My sister and I at 1AM after Birthday 43 celebration was over.

I ate junk food.  I rode anything that was open.  I screamed like a kid.  I danced down the street behind the parade.  I freaked out when I saw Tigger.  (He was day-glo orange!)  I was a kid again.  I haven't had that much fun on a birthday since I was 6.  

I seldom make a big deal about my birthday.  I assume people will forget it.  I don't ever expect a cake or presents (When I get them I am always grateful, however.)  I never plan parties.  This year was different. though. This day was different.  This was MY day.  I didn't want to attend a suicide briefing.  I was rewarding myself for making it this far, through whatever crap I had gone through in my life and would go through in the future.  I was seizing the day. 

In my 43 years on this planet I have endured death in the family, countless moves and painful goodbyes, heartbreaks, teasing, being used, being forgotten, the guilt of hurting others, spiritual upheaval, watching my son struggle with autism, divorce, depression, denial, loneliness, yada, yada, yada....  I have also lived in other countries, seen amazingly beautiful creatures and people, watched my son overcome autism, made supernatural friendships, and have been constantly (and I mean constantly) amazed by nature. You would have to pull me kicking and screaming from this planet, this time and this space.    

The twelve Airmen who took their own lives must have been at the depth of sadness. Each one of their lives is irreplaceable. I know that suspending business to review what went wrong is the generally the right thing to do.  Looking at ourselves and our co-workers and asking, "Are you doing ok?" is a great start.  But doing this over and over can have an adverse effect.  Bringing the discussion of suicide to the front of conscious thought over and over may create the perceived option of suicide where none existed before. 

I've been depressed.  It's sobering.  For me it was like a dark fog that clouded my brain so that the things that anchored me to this world were becoming obscured.  To some people I think it's full of screaming sounds and firey colors and light, so painful and loud that death itself is the relief.  For some it might be the dark, still ocean that obscures the friends that care, the sunshine, and the small things that anchor them to reality, until its vapor invades their lungs and smothers their life.  And for some, I think the boundary of this reality and another universe becomes a fine line, and they willingly go to the other place, sensing, for some reason, that life is better over there, not here.  

I kicked my depression with trips to sunny places (a basic SAD cure and one reason I live here in LA), art therapy and journal-writing.  I have a network of friends in place.  Guided meditation, writing this blog (and others), along with time alone in nature is my psyche's EMS.  I have even found solace in twitter hashtags that gave me proof I wasn't alone, something that made loneliness disappear in an instant.

The day after my birthday I found out that, while I was chasing Tigger at Disneyland, an 18 year old kid threw himself off of the ledge less than a mile from my patio, where I sat and had coffee that morning.  He was trying to get to the next world. His mother, sister and others had spent the morning trying to talk him back to reality.  They watched him run and jump off the ledge to his death.  He left them behind.  His mother and sister had to watch the fire department airlift his body from the rocks below.  Later they will have to pick out his clothes for a funeral.  They will have to answer questions.  They will carry guilt with them the rest of their lives.  They'll have to carry the memory of the moment of his death the rest of their lives.  This is what suicide does to the living.  This is why you seize your days.

I don't need a briefing to understand this.