New York, NY
1 April 2012
I found out today that a friend killed himself a few days ago.
His death makes me sad and makes me think how sad I would be if I lost you and felt I had not done as much as I possibly could to help you.
I love you and I hope you are ok.
Over the years, especially recently, you have spoken to me about your severe anxiety, depression, PTSD and other issues, and about wanting—at times—to kill yourself.
I have tried to be a good friend, to listen and, when you asked for it, give you names of therapists and other resources that could help you address these issues.
We haven’t spoken in a few weeks, so maybe you are feeling great these days and I am worried for nothing. If this is the case, I am very happy for you.
After losing my friend Tony, I can’t be silent. I have to ask: Have you followed up and sought help for the issues bringing you such pain?
If not, I beg you, call one of those therapists whose names I shared with you a few weeks back (after your request to me), or to seek help in other ways.
Even if you are feeling good these days—especially if you are feeling good—now is the time to do something about all this, while it is easier to take steps that connect you to support that will help you survive the times when you are not feeling so happy.
If you are feeling down these days, I still urge you to seek help. I know how hard it can be to seek help when we are down, you know I know this, but I still hope you will try. It could save your life. Just as importantly, it could help turn it around.
I keep learning and still have to keep reminding myself that nothing in life is permanent. Not joy and not pain. LIFE is not permanent! But it does not have to be painful. We may have to do some hard work to make things better, but things can get better.
As you know, I use Surat al-Asr as my mantra in times of loss, pain, confusion, and fear. This Qur’anic prayer tells me: Time itself is a witness, all humanity experiences loss and pain, except for those who have faith, do good works (or are of service), and live as an example of honesty and as an example of patience (and forbearance).
I’ve shared this with you before, and this painful reminder is impetus to share it with you again.
My friend Tony is dead, and I am still here.
I do not know why, but I do know this has been one of the resources that got me through those terrifyingly bleak times when I considered doing what Tony did.
How does this simple yet powerful prayer work for me? As any mantra, repeating it means I change the tape in my head from whatever terrible tape to this pre-recorded, familiar, repetition. In that way it functions like any prayer or ritual in which we can seek refuge.
But this prayer is pragmatic in other ways too.
It comforts me by reminding me that my pain and suffering is not something I alone endure—“The Ages witness: all humanity experiences suffering”—and it gives me practical steps I can take, solutions to my pain, loss, and confusion:
The prayer directs me to have faith. To me this means making a choice to believe things can get better, even that a specific someone or Something loves us. Sometimes I have had to simply trust that this was true even when I doubted it deeply or didn’t feel it. But then, that is why it is called "faith." :) Sometimes it has been faith in, belief in, someone other than myself, someone who told me things do get better. At those moments, again, I did not believe it was true, but I could believe my friend believed it, and, ”borrow” her faith. At times it has meant a faith in a Divinity, Most Merciful and Most Compassionate, Greater than any trouble I might face, an Everlasting (internal) Resource any one of us can tap into, in times of loss or not.
The prayer suggests that I do good works, that I be of service. I take this to mean reach out and help a friend or volunteer in an effort to improve my community. Doing something good for others gets my focus off my problems. When I do this, I shift the focus from the running commentary and obsessive concern with my own problems to the world outside my head. This liberates me from the not-so-merry-go-round of nasty thoughts *in* my head (that nasty committee that never has anything nice to say to me about me). There is always someone can use our help, so why not shift the focus from our complaints to gratitude and to service? Let us improve the world we find ourselves in! It sorely needs it. And we end up feeling better about ourselves because we are doing something positive in the world, rather than feeling stuck in, or focused on, our pain, fear, and confusion.
The prayer suggests that I live as an example of honesty and truth. What this means to me is that I am supposed to walk through my fears and be rigorously honest with myself and others about my fears and the reality (or falseness) of them. Living as an example of honesty means letting go of my fantasies or the narratives I spin about how things are. When I am truly honest, I can see what I can change and what really needs to change. I also see what is not in my power and how, if I have no power over it, it makes no sense to spend time worrying about it. You know what I mean: If I have a role to play or choices that could be different, I can do that, if I can’t, well, then I can’t. Talk about freedom! Living a life of honesty and truth also means unburdening myself with someone I trust about what I have done or am doing, or what I am feeling, all of which helps me not live in shame, secrecy, or fear. This frees me from carrying the burden of my troubles all by myself. Living honestly and in truth also means removing that awkward, painful, conflict and stress that arises when I say one thing (to be polite or because I am avoiding a confrontation), but I really mean or want to say another. This type of honesty also can be daunting, but it too sets me free.
Lastly, the prayer says I am to try to live as an example of patience and forbearance (while facing all my troubles). This to me means, “Don't give up.” Ever. It is a reminder that things get better. Things change. The hard work we can do (therapy or whatever path we choose) takes time. We didn't get into our mess and messed up way of thinking overnight. We won't get out of them overnight. We have to give time time. I know the despair can be all-encompassing, I have felt it. But I also have learned—as I am sure you have too—that I am strong in patience. No matter what troubles that befall me, even when despair feels like a reality convincing me to my bones, something that I feel as if I KNOW will always be my reality, I can be patient. I can wait the pain out. It too will pass.
Trust me. Things do get better, if we do our work and we are willing to wait.
Things have gotten better for me, and I promise they can get better for you too.
Love, Light, & Peace,
P.S. I would add one more thing to all my fabulous (& unsolicited) advice above (): Music. I know you love music. And that’s great, because music moves us, changes our mood, reminds us things get better (and have been better). Here are some of my favorites that have so far worked to get me through some pretty tough times:
“I Look to You” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYFfmFeFGZg&feature=related as sung by Whitney Houston (RIP) or the GLEE version with Amber Riley, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQgO5TtBF6g
A soft strumming song I just recently discovered, by City and Colour, “O’ Sister” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gi-crVagUok&feature=youtu.be
“It’s a Beautiful Day [don’t let it get away]” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=co6WMzDOh1o by U2
“Feeling Good” by Michael Bublé, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Edwsf-8F3sI&ob=av2e, or the Nina Simone version, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHs98TEYecM
“I Am Changing” by Jennifer Hudson, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYuFvu2gdFU
P.P.S. What are your favorite songs to get you through tough times?
Bio: Kamal Fizazi is a writer, activist, lawyer, policy wonk, strategic planning and program consultant, and all-around good guy who spends his time thinking about and working on issues of human rights and equality, diversity and inclusion, democracy and social justice, equity, gender, sexuality, public health, HIV/AIDS, addiction, mental health, recovery, faith-based anti-oppression efforts and interfaith organizing, and Lord only knows what else.
You can follow Kamal on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kamalfizazi or on twitter: @kamalfizazi. You can also read his blogs on http://izazif.wordpress.com and http://wholooksinsideawakens.blogspot.com.
Additional notes and links:
Suicide claims 36,500 lives yearly in the USA; close to one million attempt it each year.
Suicide Prevention & Support:
Solidarity & Fundraising: