What everyone loses in a suicide

Sulome Anderson’s feature last week, “How Patient Suicide Affects Psychiatrists” is a great inversion of a big social problem. Most features on suicide and mental illness (including the great The Cost of Not Caring series by USA Today) tend to focus on the individual who committed suicide and the impact on their family and community. Anderson did quality journalism to create this feature, which helps humanize doctors who naturally become the bad guys in some of these cases.

Personally, last year someone I knew tried to end their life- I had talked to them the a few hours prior to the attempt, having a short conversation about family relations that turned out to be much more important in hindsight (they wanted to know if I had special insight on why I have a good relationship with my parents, and they had the opposite. I wasn’t helpful, though I tried to be). When I visited this person the following day, they were still attempting to die in the confines of the hospital room. Never have I seen desperation more fully realized. It’s profoundly disturbing, and the feature gets across that this sentiment crosses all lines of profession or experience. You don’t become truly adjusted to suicidal people in your life, even if you chose psychiatry as a profession.

Personally, I thought that my history of mental illness would help deal with this experience. I’ve never been particularly suicidal, but my choice to be an activist and socialize within the community has put me into contact with many people who are open about their past with suicide. Turns out that was all (I suppose) wistful thinking. It’s horrible to witness, even in the context I had, where I had some time to mentally prep.

This feature helped develop a three-dimensional picture of the tragedy, which I wish was available with all social problems. Everyone loses someone in a suicide, and we each lose a part of ourselves when someone we know personally attempts or completes it. And yes, as Anderson comes to- sometimes there is nothing that can be done. Zero suicides is an ideal to strive towards, but no free society can ever attain it.

We are all humans with flaws and we are not omnipotent. There is only so much we can do for those we love. All we can do is our best.

You can’t unspill blood

Bill Weinberg writes today about the incredibly tight security in and around Tiananmen Square, along with preemptive arrests of the types of Chinese citizens that might think about doing a public vigil for the massacre’s 25th anniversary.

As he points out, such over-the-top security is in itself self-defeating. He writes:

The absurd security measures speak to the ultimate futility of trying to suppress the truth this way. The virtual shutting down of the square was itself a perverse and paradoxical commemoration of the massacre on the part of the authorities. Presumably, it caused some children to ask their parents what all the police patrols were about, ironically facilitating the passage of historical memory on to the next generation—even if those children received only veiled and guarded answers. If they were hushed by their parents, this would only serve to heighten their curiosity, and plant seeds of doubt about the morality of the system.

The Tiananmen, 2005
The Tiananmen, 2005

The Los Angeles Times has a feature about what the Square was like – police everywhere, aggressive interrogations, complete blockades for any journalists who looked curious.

This whole scenario shows to me how difficult it is to destroy any memory of 1989. Even if Chinese citizens in Beijing do not know the details of the reform movement and its fate, they know that the government remembers something. One does not radically increase security around a certain date each year by chance. Even if this whole round of arrests and intimidation keep what’s in the black box inside, no one can deny that there is a black box. And it holds something. Some of us have the luxury of knowing a few of the details, but for a foreigner this isn’t part of my national history. It’s one component of 20th century protest, and fits in alongside Poland, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, and all those other democratic surges of the late 1980’s and early 90’s. I don’t walk past the Square every morning. My June 4th wasn’t like the tourists from other parts of China who showed up and didn’t know why security was so intrusive. The black box sits in the middle of one of the largest plazas on Earth. No matter what the Chinese state does, it will insist upon itself.

You can’t unspill blood.

Tiananmen on June 4th, 1989 happened. Huge numbers of Chinese participated and survived. Some of the most riveting news photography was taken and published all over the world. People remember. Mother Jones reminds us how young and jubilant these protesters were. Overall all of China there were all segments of society, but the lifeblood in Beijing were kids. Many of whom were younger than I am now, turning 24.

You can’t unspill blood.

Tiananmen Square is the site of a tragedy, even without a single protester reminding, or informing passersby. The government is fighting reform and pro-democratic movements, both within mainland China, in Hong Kong, and all over the world. But it’s also fighting a war against the past. Though economic vitality has been used as a salve for political tension, it cannot work forever. One day the catch-up will end, and China will have the same problems all developed countries have with their pasts.