Full Disclosure: Thoughts on Depression & Suicide

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Many people have asked me to write a book. Below would be part and parcel of any book I am finally currently working on. My truth. Some may be surprised, perhaps disappointed, but I cannot be phony.

Full Disclosure: I was not an active follower of either Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain. In this day and age of social media and celebrity, I certainly knew who both were and what each brought to the table, pun intended. Enough money was never enough to purchase the eponymous bag that made Miss Spade a household name and worthy to be Jeopardy clues. I should have been quite a fan of Mr. Bourdain, but truth be told, watching his programs discouraged me in recent years. I was reminded of all I have lost since the first of three major surgeries left me even more mobility impaired than I had been for the first 42+ years of my life. Additional truth be told, I’m a fashionista wanna-be born in the wrong body and a frustrated hostess with the mostess not to mention a grounded adventurer.

The two recent high profile suicides this week have raised the serious topic of depression once again. Seems that it takes the hard to believe self inflicted deaths of the famous for this to be covered across all media save the occasional news reports of rising incidences of teen suicide as well as those among veterans. A few years ago, the death of beloved Robin Williams highlighted the topic that still today seems taboo. Not only suicide but the underlying issues of mental illness which includes depression. The term “mental illness” can conjure up negative images, even severe conditions such as schizophrenia, psychosis or perhaps a murderous Hannibal Lector. Depression is a condition under the vast umbrella of Mental Illness and should be appropriately discerned. With Robin Williams, the vast majority of fans who only knew him from the small or big screens making us laugh found it unbelievable that such a person could be desperately unhappy, depressed. Do we really WANT to know that friends and family or celebrities can be feeling hopeless?

For those who know me or have read previous blogs or followed my Just Call Me Geri FB page, you probably know that my Mother (the one who chose me from a picture in the newspaper), from my earliest consciousness, impressed upon me the importance of not feeling sorry for myself. The message included the tacit warning that no one would like me, that showing self pity would give reason for people to turn away from me. Would be decades later that I would learn that there is a significant difference between whining and legitimately feeling down due to my circumstances.

By no means have I had the worst life, far from it, but I started life with strikes against me, first being born in a deformed shell that would embody my soul and personality. Being abandoned in the hospital by biological parents who left instructions behind that “no pictures to be taken of this baby” added 2nd and 3rd strikes, yetvi was never out.
I won’t list the entire litany of hardships faced through now 50 years but some include:
Being told to accept I would never get married;
Being asked why I would want to have a baby and do to them what happened to me;
Being backstabbed at a summer camp by someone supposedly to have been family;
Being backstabbed by that same person when she lied to my parents about supposed injustices inflicted by me (in my perspective, was quite opposite);
Hearing sighs, groans and whispers when people had to help me in/out of cars or up stairs (who’s going to help Geri?”);
Being advised it’s easier if I stay away so no one would have to deal with me during emergencies;
Being “gently” told I could never provide a home for a man I had feelings for;
Being “harassed” by a married man who knew I would have little to no other intimate opportunities;
Being belittled and disrespected in hospital facilities when known I was on my own;
Having inappropriate medical treatments or not having appropriate medical interventions (that led to my current incapacitation);
Being at mercy of caregivers who can be rude, rough and larcenous;
Being at the mercy of Government restrictions; and
Being told I’m too depressing to talk to…

When at 40 I had finally obtained a Master’s Degree to begin a long in trying to figure out career, I was soon stymied, having that career cut short by 3 surgeries that left me in worse shape than before. The last two surgeries I never would have consented to had I been warned my mobility would be all but lost completely. I would have opted for shorter life span over non quality of life. When over 10-30 years ago I’d fall into pits of despair, I struggled mightily, conjured up plans, fingering bottles of medication, really my only option. Remembering the haunting conclusion of Edith Wharton’s “Ethan Frome” always prevented me from trying anything self destructive with my car, the only other possible tool at my disposal.

796AB887-BC2C-4222-BA44-9D6D4CF62A3AYet, I always dug deep, as far inside as I could to keep the wavering flame from going out. Once such night in the wee hours, I remember sitting on the floor by my bed sobbing with heaving muted screams. What brought me back was thinking of “my kids” and their parents …how would they explain to them that I gave up? When I was still able to sit up prior to first spinal surgery of 2015, I willingly put my meds out of reach. My evening pills then were set aside for only one night at a time as I no longer trusted myself. I was still trying to hang on. And now when many days, especially recently, when I really want an out, there is no possibility that I can do anything to harm myself. My therapist and I have laughed about this ruefully. A cosmic joke?

This disclosure can possibly hurt my alternate career in the making …aiming to be a successful inspirational speaker but this is my truth. I’m not asking for people to feel sorry for me, but to understand that there are no easy answers.

More additional truth be told, I’d much rather laugh than cry. I actually enjoy having others laugh at my sometimes corny, other times bawdy, humor. I really should find an amateur Stand Up/Sit Down Comedy venue. Ridiculous irony from the universe, I’m rather an extrovert. God couldn’t have made me an agoraphobic?

I have my “highs” when I have several engagements booked, when I do feel of use and that my life has purpose. But then the lows come rising up (oxymoronic?) when I can’t seem to break through, catch that one break. My life is not one that made headlines because of national crisis such as the Boston Marathon Bombing. I didn’t lose otherwise normal limbs while fighting for my Country. Am I making sense? I didn’t come of age in Social Media where Promposals to kids with Special Needs go viral or a child on the spectrum shoots multiple baskets to close out a final game of a season. I DO NOT begrudge these later generations of kids who have benefited from widespread inclusion. In fact, I’d like to think I helped pave the way. Perhaps I have been “of use” to quote John Irving’s Dr. Larch.

Depression can take deep hold of anyone. For those suffering, suicide can seem like the only way out. Others may see it as selfish. Feeling like a burden is not easy even as many will proclaim one isn’t. Once a person experiences that initial thought, sometimes from earliest memory, it’s impossible to entirely erase from one’s mindset.

Please have compassion for those who have left via their own actions. And if you can handle the truth, unlike those whom Jack Nicholson’s character claimed couldn’t, reach out to those who may be struggling. As I suggest to students during school presentations, when encouraging them to look after each other, wouldn’t you want someone to look after you? For those who are struggling, please try to let someone know you’re hurting, reach deep down inside to find the courage to reach out for assistance. If Jesus cried out to his Father with no shame attached, so may we cry out for help.

Beauty and the Beast – More Than A Fairy Tale

MeThis weekend opened the long awaited live action “remake” or re-imagining of the Disney animated modern classic Beauty and the Beast, a movie near and dear to me for many and some complicated reasons. No longer a “cartoon” film but one with live actors, this version is likely to affect me even more.

The “original” premiered back in the day – a phrase I use too much as I get closer and closer to 50 this coming October. And really 1991 wasn’t all that much back in the day considering I started out in 1967. Disney’s great new era of animated features began two years earlier with its release of the fabulously entertaining The Little Mermaid. I don’t remember why I wasn’t fully enticed by Ariel (though I can guess) at the time but when Beauty and the Beast was released, I became a grown up fan of each new annual animated feature. Brain cells storing the memory of my first viewing of what would become an Academy Award Best Movie nominee are long gone, but I do remember being as enchanted as countless little girls wanting to be Belle. And I remember being hopeful for the message that I spread today…that people need to look beyond what is on the outside…that people who look different are regular people …not to be afraid of but worthy to befriend and perhaps even love. I didn’t relate so much to Belle (though I loved her love of books and her feisty independence) as I did to the Beast. Though many believe I have self-acceptance of my body differences there was a long time when I thought I was a freak, a grade or two below Beast level and to be honest, those thoughts rise up every now and again.

Belle, the plucky village girl dreams beyond the typical role of a woman in a provincial village with “stuck in the past” residents including the overbearing and chauvinistic Gaston. Gaston only wants Belle because Belle doesn’t want him. And later when Gaston discovers the Beast, he becomes enraged – how could anyone turn him away for a head horned pawed covered with animal fur man beast? This story “as old as time” does not need me to recap how it ends. Instead I write this about how Hollywood and Society still don’t understand how this is too much an one sided story and why it affects me so personally.

The summer before I was to enter college a well-meaning important person in my life had wanted me to be careful at campus parties. Though Smith was and still is a women’s college, male students from surrounding colleges as well as town residents were known to attend house parties. For various reasons that can wait for another blog, I did not participate in usual HS social activities. My inner party animal (pun intended) was waiting to get out. This person knew I was excited to leave home and enjoy all that college had to offer yet worried I was too naïve and inexperienced with partying situations. She later told me she agonized over how to properly prepare me for potential danger. She finally blurted, “Geri, be careful at parties where guys are likely to drink too much and become drunk. A group may see you and decide to make wagers as to who can fu@& the handicapped girl…” Horrified is too much an understatement of how I felt in that moment. I could be seen as a freak experiment? I had finally emerged from my almost 5 year self-imposed moratorium on talking to the boys in my class because in 7th Grade the all too common puberty related self-doubts took a stranglehold of my self-esteem.

I had always known I was different – having congenital deformities of all parts skeleton. I wore unbending prosthetics and my malformed arms/hands/fingers only reached below my bust line. My below the waist body is even more weird — my ugly legs and feet that don’t allow me to walk. I had been used to stares in public and questions of “what’s wrong with her?” as early as I had conscious awareness. I was actually an outgoing little girl, as plucky as Belle herself I believe until adolescence and hormones took over. And I had talked to, even kicked at times, the boys in my classes up until 6th Grade. Finally by the time 2nd half of HS Senior Year arrived, I emerged from my shell and began communicating, however difficult, with some of the guys. Yet I waited too long and I was not invited to my Senior Prom – again chalking it up to that no one wanted to go with the funny looking Geri even as I had grown up with all my classmates in our small school district.

And now this special woman was warning me that again I could be seen as freak just as I was keen to start a new chapter of my life, determined to push myself out into the world – even if it was an all-female college.

See the connection now as to why I feel a kinship to the Beast? Yet life is not a fairytale with all happy endings. No magical transformations swirling in cinematic glory. And the Beast was a guy who was loved by a woman – the way it is generally in both reel and real life. Many more men with physical disabilities are likely to be married. We see this in many more feature films and our everyday world. Women are traditional caregivers. In my many hospitalizations over the years, several in rehab settings, I’ve seen women therapists have relationships with their male patients. The Boston Marathon, while horrendous in its initial terror and tragedy, has in time brought out stories of nurses and other health care providers who have married male survivors with various life changing injuries/conditions. And while I, embarrassingly, have never been in a romantic relationship, I have nonetheless been interested in a few gentlemen over the years. And a couple of times, mothers of a two men I liked would intimate that I should not get my hopes up, that I was not wife material and could not provide a home – in other words, I would be a burden. For those who don’t know my background, I was abandoned by my biological parents at birth – was I too much a beast baby and perhaps would be a burden? These questions have followed me throughout my life.

I still want to see this new version of Beauty and the Beast, for the music I love, for the banter between Lumiere and Cogsworth, for the fairy tale ending that true love sees beyond the beastly exterior. I still want to have that hope for myself.