Suicide is One Expression of Anger (I)

Anger comes in many forms, and suicide is one way to express it.

Ashley was nine months old, seven months adjusted, when I felt the full wrath of anger. It had perhaps always been there, but maybe I subconsciously kept it under control.

For four months, I had been telling everyone that there was something wrong with my child: she was not sitting independently, she was not often moving intentionally and her very infrequent movements were significantly slower than her peers. The healthecare workers eventually listened to me and added her to the local pediatric care. She had a neurodevelopmental therapist and had just gone through a brain fMRI. However, people around me were hesitant to agree with me. They were concerned about my mental well being, and didn’t want me to have needless worries. Besides, Ashley often smiled and cooed at people, so they felt she was absolutely normal. “She’s only seven months old!” they’d say, “you can’t use the real age of a premature baby till she’s 2, and many seven month old babies can’t sit independently!”

Although worried, I carried on with my life plans. I had gotten a full scholarship from the local University, and enrolled in a PhD program in Engineering. I took Ashley to the University childcare centre and they gladly received her.

Ashley cried and cried at the care centre. She’d eat and sleep and then cry. However, the centre manager told me it was normal for young babies at that age to behave like that when just starting daycare. “She will be fine once she gains more independence.” the manager assured me.

One day, I finished my day’s work and went to pick up my child. I was a fair distance away from the care centre when I heard a loud cry. I knew immediately it was my child. She was lying on a bean bag, screaming non-stop, while one of the teachers was trying to calm her down. “What happened?” I asked. “She didn’t like being put down. She wants to be cuddled constantly.” the teacher answered. I picked my crying child up, and she quickly calmed down. “I’m sorry, but we don’t have enough teachers to be constantly carrying babies around.” The centre manager came and said to me. “We aim to help children develop independence.” she stressed that point again.

That was the last time I saw the centre manager. The second day was Ashley’s pediatric visit. Her brain scan was “complicated”, and it needed further interpretations by a neurologist. The pediatrician said Ashley had significant developmental delays, and that an average childcare centre would only delay her further. I nervously asked :”do you think my child has cerebral palsy?” The doctor looked rather grave and didn’t answer me immediately. After a long and uncomfortable pause, she slowly nodded her head and said :”it’s a possibility, but we can’t be certain at this stage.”

That fact took a while to sink it. From the moment my placental fell off at 33 weeks pregnancy, I had been tortured by two sets of facts: on one hand, I knew the risk of my child having cerebral palsy was much higher than normal; on the other hand, she appeared to be doing what many normal babies were doing after her age was adjusted. However, the confirmation of the doctor put something heavy in my chest. I was slowly suffocating, but I didn’t know.

My dad offered to help me looking after Ashley, and I became a part-time student. I was busy making these changes in life and temporarily forgot about that heaviness in my chest. My naturally Epicurean husband, unaware of my unsettling mental state, agreed to take on a job and was sent overseas for a month. I still remember watching his taxi driving off while carrying Ashley in one arm, sitting down on the staircase, and took a selfie with my happy child.

Then the heaviness struck. I could not sleep at night. Worries came rolling like thick, dark clouds before a storm. “What if she never walk nor talk? Would we need to send her to an institute?”. Things got worse when I started thinking about my future. I had travelled and lived a life of freedom till now: I was a professional engineer with a decent pay; we have a house and a big backyard; I played my favourite sports at a semi-professional level; we live in a socialist country with many pockets of beautiful nature to discover. I had many plans for our family: we were going to travel more in the world and at home; we were going to camp in the wilderness and go on months of road trips in a van; I was going to get my PhD and become an academic and my husband was going to start his own business; I was going to teach Ashley how to play many sports, and everyone would be so envious of our little family! All of these weren’t going to happen anymore. We were going to be tied down to one spot for the rest of our pathetic lives.

And then the anger came. “Why me?” I thought, “I’ve been a good person, I never stole nor killed, and I’ve always treated people nicely. Why not that fat, disgusting wife of one of our friends? She’s not only overweight, but also a cheating scumbag, yet they have a normally developing child! How unfair, how unjust! What have I done to have such injuries inflicted upon me? Who on earth would do this to me? God? but I don’t believe in gods! Who and how can I avenge such injustice?” an emptiness suddenly seized me: no one inflicted any injuries on me. I have no one to blame and nowhere to take out my anger. I was trapped in an invisible cage with the only thing I could punch – myself.

It was 2, maybe 3, in the morning, when I found myself sitting in front of the computer, searching for the most painless ways to kill myself. Apparently cutting my wrist is pretty slow as it takes a long time for all the blood to leave my body, which is why sitting in a hot bathtub is recommended to speed up the process; pills sometimes can do the trick but if you don’t die from overdosing immediately then it’s pretty painful too; firing a gun into my brain was an easy one, but often it still wouldn’t lead to instant death, and where on earth can I get a gun in this country? Damn socialist piece of sh*t, as if they knew owning a firearm wasn’t a thing for everyone.

I was desperate. I started to pull my hair out and run around the house screaming. I was becoming insane.

To be continued…

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About distractions

Distractions are lethal. Small distractions result in temporary lost of concentration, which may lead to producing a piece of work with lesser quality; big distractions often have much worse consequences, and they sometimes drive one into making unethical decisions with much dire consequences.

We often place much thought on the things that distract us and attempt to remove them in the hope of stop being distracted. When on a diet for weight loss, many would fill the fridge and lunch boxes with healthy food instead of the previous less healthy options; when feeling attracted by a handsome woman/man while in a committed relationship, many would choose to simply avoid the person they feel attracted to. Offices would ban access to social networks in the hope of forcing their employees to concentrate on work, and parents would restrict access of screens from their children to help them concentrate on “things that are good for them”.

However, it’s not things that distract us, it’s the ignorant mind that makes decisions to allow things to distract us. How many overweight people end up leaving healthy food rotting in their fridges while making additional purchases for junk food? How many adulterer end up having affairs after months of trying to avoid the handsome woman/man? The inability to access Facebook at work would not stop one from accessing over the phone, and even the most strict parents would find their kids accessing screens without their consent: either from a friend’s phone or from a public internet cafe.

Whenever we decide to assent to a emotion, we should pause and think: is my decision rational and in accordance with virtue? Would a wise person stuff his face with junk food knowing it’s important to loose weight? The attraction to a handsome woman/man is natural, but it’s irrational to give assent to accepting a private lunch/dinner invitation from that person, and one must have the courage to decline it. When getting paid to do a job, it’s only just to fulfill your end of bargain by completing the work before catching up with personal affairs. When it comes to children, since their rational minds aren’t fully formed, it’s up to the adults around them to demonstrate the virtue temperance, so they will develop the ability of self-control.

Epictetus said: it’s not things that disturb us, but our judgement of things.

It’s not things that distract us, but our willingness to allow ourselves to be distracted.

Learning to suffer nobly

Several friends of mine also have children. They are normal, healthy children, seemingly perfect and without any defects. My friends laugh and play with their children everyday, posting beautiful photos on social networks, filled with joy and happiness.

There have been times that I’d go to bed wishing that maybe tomorrow my child will miraculously be healed by some kind of divine intervention. Wishful thinking such as this only leads to that heavy disappointment and dread when I wake up finding my child still crippled.

I suffer quietly.

Dr. Viktor Frankl in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” compared suffering to gas in a chamber: “If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.

My suffering is perhaps nothing compared to what Dr. Frankl had to go through: years of living in concentration camps, treated like an animal, suffering through hunger, diseases and emotional abuses. All I have to endure is to look after a child with Cerebral Palsy(CP). Still, my suffering fills me up, makes me teary and afraid of the world. What would other parents think of me? Oh that poor woman, stuck with that crippled child. Does her child have a disease? Could her child infect mine? I’d better stay away from them, we belong to different worlds.

These thoughts, however horrific they may seem, belong to me. I’m scared others may think this way because if I had been one of them, I’d think this way, and I have been thinking this way. Did I not turn my eyes away from those parents with mentally retarded or autistic children, even years after I had accepted my own child’s disability? Did I not stare at that woman working in the local supermarket, thinking, oh there’s something wrong with her and I’m scared?

It isn’t the things themselves that disturb people, but the judgement that they form about the things.” – Epictetus.

Upon listening to these wise words, I revisited those impressions of mine: “My child is disabled, many parents would either pity me or stay away from us because they don’t want to see ugliness in this world. My child is doomed to be alone for the rest of her life. She will not be able look after herself, without me, she will die.” How much of this is factual, and how much is my imagination?

“My child is disabled”, that’s true, she has CP which will most likely to stay with her forever. However, CP itself isn’t scary, it is just a medical condition, and many health experts in the world are working very hard to help these children who have it.

“Many parents would either pity me or stay away from us because they don’t want to see ugliness in this world.” it’s true that people tend to turn away from things that are abnormal, we are trained this way through evolution. Would other parents pity or stay away from me? Maybe, however, is it within my control how others would act around me? No! well then, throw away the thought!

“My child is doomed to be alone for the rest of her life.” The future holds no promise, if I can’t control how other parents think, how can I control how other children think of my child? Well, I may influence my child’s attitude towards socialising by taking her to playgroups, maybe build some relationships with other parents. One thing for sure: the way I act around others will influence her forever. I must have courage, go out and interact with others appropriately, make things within my control happen – at least make an effort to hang out if other parents ask me!

“She will not be able look after herself, without me, she will die.” She will die, regardless of me being alive. While I’m alive, it’s my duty to look after her and care for her. I can influence how much she’d be able to look after herself by teaching her, tutoring her, but ultimately, it’s up to her how she’d live her life after I’m gone.

Seneca wrote to Lucilius on groundless fear that “we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” Just how much of my suffering came from my imagination? When I peel away the apparent emotions associated with the impressions, is what’s left really worthy of the tears?

I can not escape my suffering, but I can at least learn to suffer nobly.