The ISIS Crisis

The Middle East is a complex, complicated area mired in sectarian power struggles—struggles of which most Americans have absolutely no concept or understanding, and that includes many of our policymakers, past and present. Furthermore, many of our past interventions there have done little more than create more chaos in the region. President Obama is right to take his time figuring out a strategy. America cannot and should not go it alone; we need our NATO allies. But more than the involvement of NATO and other European allies, we need that of Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, yes, even Iran who is no friend of ISIS (now going by IS) and has already been involved in the fight against them. All of these countries have a stake in the outcome of these regional crises, and there are many—ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to unrest in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen.

To place American soldiers on the ground in Syria or Iraq, without a clear strategy or end game (e.g. – How do we define a “win”?) is irresponsible and short-sighted. Furthermore, who do we trust? Within the various militia and rebel groups fighting in the region and against ISIS, there are numerous “bad guys,” fighters who hate the West but would align with us to advance their cause. However, once that alliance has ended, they would turn on us with the weapons we supplied them. If we intervene in Syria, we are essentially assisting the brutal Bashar Al-Assad regime (whom we’ve been railing against and trying to force out of power) as well as aligning with Iran and Hezbollah, both Syrian allies. See? It’s complicated.

There is no easy, quick, or cheap solution–military engagement is expensive. (It is striking that somehow this cash-strapped nation always has money for war; for education, healthcare, and infrastructure—meh, not so much.) Dropping bombs and placing more American soldiers on the ground in harm’s way should not be the only solutions. Remember, our soldiers represent about 1% of the U.S. population so once again, very few Americans will bear the burden of these armed interventions. Military personnel deserve to have their Commander-in-Chief and congresspersons deliberate and discuss strategy with cool heads, not the hysterical “bomb, bomb, bomb” mantra that so often spews mindlessly from the mouths of seemingly war-hungry legislators.

Perhaps, as Jeffrey Sachs suggests in his article below, Let the Middle East Fight Its Own War on ISIS, the U.S. should put greater effort into helping solve the pervasive problems of “poverty, hunger, drought, and unemployment” in the region. This would do more to heal and strengthen these countries and create goodwill towards the United States than dropping bombs on them ever will.

Below are some related articles with brief excerpts from each.

The Way We Were

In short, some of the problems that dominate today’s headlines are partly due to local forces for which neither Clinton, Bush, nor Obama are directly responsible. But many of them also reflect specific foreign-policy blunders made by one or more U.S. leaders, and the travails of 2014 are in many ways a delayed reaction to two decades of bad policy choices.

Let the Middle East Fight Its Own War on ISIS

If the US had a real strategy for national success, we would let the Middle East face and resolve its own crises, and demand a UN framework for action. We would team up not with NATO, but with the UN Security Council, and put others (for once!) into the lead. We would actually mobilize to solve the real problems facing the region: poverty, hunger, drought, and unemployment. Those are the crises that at the end of the day cause men and boys to fling their lives into useless and suicidal slaughter. If just once in our times US politicians had the bravery to build coalitions to improve the lives of the people through development rather than through bombs, the US public would be amazed to see how much agreement and goodwill could quickly generate. Instead we head to war.

Obama’s Speech on ISIS, in Plain English

And sure, ISIS does deserve it. The group is a nasty collection of slavers, rapists, thieves, throat-slitters, and all-around psychopaths. The trouble is: so are the people fighting ISIS, the regimes in Tehran and Damascus that will reap the benefits of the war the president just announced. They may be less irrational and unpredictable than ISIS. But if anything, America’s new unspoken allies in the anti-ISIS war actually represent a greater “challenge to international order” and a more significant “threat to America’s core interests” than the vicious characters the United States will soon drop bombs on.

The question before the nation is, “What is the benefit of this war to America and to Americans?”

That was the question the speech left unanswered. And the ominous suspicion left behind is that the question was unanswered because it is unanswerable—at least, not answerable in any terms likely to be acceptable to the people watching the speech and paying the taxes to finance the fight ahead.

ISIS threat to U.S. mostly hype

ISIS has Americans worried. Two-thirds of those surveyed in a recent Pew Research poll said they consider the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to be a “major threat” to this country. But are such fears really justified?

Despite the impression you may have had from listening to U.S. officials in recent weeks, the answer is probably not really.

Yes, Americans should always be mindful of the threats posed by extremists. But as the case of U.S. citizens in Somalia suggests, Syria could very well end up being a graveyard for Americans fighting there rather than a launch pad for attacks on the United States

Obama’s Illegal War

The United States has used unlawful force persistently since 9/11. Rather than stem terrorism, it exacerbates it. In February, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) asked the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “Is al Qaeda on the run and on the path to defeat?” The answer: “No, it is morphing and — and franchising itself and not only here but other areas of the world.”

So, You’re Afraid of Tyranny?

As of November 2008, TYRANNY became America’s greatest fear.

Death panels, FEMA camps, chemtrails…TYRANNY(Yeah, I know, but some Americans truly fear this stuff.)

All manner of things like the Affordable Care Act, taxation, background checks, Mrs. Obama’s healthy eating initiative, and the fight for racial and gender equality have been labeled as tyrannical mandates sure to destroy America as we know it.  (Yeah, I know, but some Americans truly believe this stuff.)

But, let’s be honest, some Americans don’t know what tyranny means.  CAP LOCKED or not.

Merriam-Webster has defined the word thusly:

1 : oppressive power <every form of tyranny over the mind of man — Thomas Jefferson>; especially: oppressive power exerted by government <the tyranny of a police state>
2 a: a government in which absolute power is vested in a single ruler; especially: one characteristic of an ancient Greek city-state
   b: the office, authority, and administration of a tyrant
3 : a rigorous condition imposed by some outside agency or force <living under the tyranny of the clock — Dixon Wecter>
4 : an oppressive, harsh, or unjust act : a tyrannical act <workers who had suffered tyrannies>
Even though many patriots seem to be confused as to the word’s meaning, their fear of tyranny is not entirely without merit.  While they will argue that the stockpiling of (evermore dangerous and military-like) weapons is necessary to defend against tyrannical rule, they seem to be confused as to where it is coming from.
I know, I know, I know.  Obummer, Big Gubmint, the Framer’s, etc. Obama can do better, Congress is on what seems like another planet, Jefferson and company were fairly intelligent men.  But, look again at the definition above.
Oppressive, harsh, and unjust acts.  Oppressive power.  The tyranny of a police state.

(cough, cough)

The tyranny of a police state.

 
“If citizens cannot trust that laws will be enforced in an evenhanded and honest fashion, they cannot be said to live under the rule of law. Instead, they live under the rule of men corrupted by the law.” ― Dale Carpenter 
 
Whoa!  Before you scream at your screen… “All cops aren’t bad cops!  A cop’s job is dangerous!  They are just taking steps to ensure that they make it home alive.” …  I know this.  Most people know this.  This is not about making all cops look bad.  This is about making bad cops former bad cops.
 
No rational person believes that our nation’s police officers shouldn’t protect themselves.  But consider this.

“In 2013, 33 law enforcement officers were killed by gunfire. While it is a morbid statistic, it is the lowest number since 1887. Meanwhile, in 2012, police committed over 400 justifiable homicides for the first time in more than a decade. This trend would suggest that crime is increasing…but it isn’t. It only means that officers are more frequently resorting to violence.”

 

We also know that investigating suspicious activity is a part of the job description.  But seriously? Cruel and unusual.

““Nothing was found inside of Mr. Eckert,” the police report notes. So after he woke up, he was released — after 13 hours, two rectal exams, three enemas, two X-rays and a colonoscopy.”

Likewise, none of us want to live in crime-ridden neighborhoods.  But one in three Americans are in criminal databases.

“Researchers report that more than 40% of the male subjects have been arrested at least once by the age of 23. The rate was highest for blacks, at 49%, 44% for Hispanics and 38% for whites. Researchers found that nearly one in five women had been arrested at least once by the age of 23.  They further determined that 47% of those arrested weren’t convicted. In more than a quarter of cases, subjects weren’t even formally charged.”

 

Look.  America is a nation of laws. We trust our police departments with the task of keeping law and order.  Without them (both laws and officers), things would be a little chaotic.  I’m no more into anarchy than you are, but this is getting out of hand and lives are being lost and destroyed.

So, if you are honestly afraid of tyranny, ask yourself a few questions.  Why are our cops earning respect at the end of a gun barrel rather than with community involvement?  Why should our civil rights be suspended just because we are in the presence of a guy with a badge?  Why are our peacekeepers training with the military?  Why are they using military hardware?  Are we insurgents or are we citizens?  And, finally, what are we going to do about it?

Ignoring overzealous, ill-trained, or power-hungry officers does a disservice to We, the People.  It also does a disservice to the majority of good cops out there honestly trying to make our communities safer.
 
If you are honestly afraid of tyranny, this should concern you.  Not black you or white you.  Not liberal you or conservative you.  But American you.
 
Liberty and Justice for all, right?
 
Further Reading
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Ferguson Is Your Future Too

(I wish I could say I wrote this, but alas! This post is the work of the Institute’s Cherubic Adonis, the victim of a particularly nasty tech issue.)

This is your future, America. The events in Ferguson, Missouri are a symptom of a broken country. You know it’s broken. You see the damage and you look the other way because it isn’t your children who are being killed at a frightening pace by authority figures in our society. But one day soon, it will be you and your children who are the victims. They will be drawn into the battle on one of the two sides.

Either all Americans share certain “inalienable rights” or none of us do. The problem stems from your own inability to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Prejudice. Now, when I say prejudice, I don’t automatically mean race, but racial prejudice is a big part of the problem. People can be prejudiced in any number of ways. Political prejudice (left vs right), economic prejudice (rich vs poor), intellectual prejudice (intellectual elites vs common man), sexual prejudice (men vs women) are all equally as bad for our national health. Until we, as a society, recognize that we all have value, none of us will really be worth a damn.

Local police forces are now paramilitary units who use counterinsurgency and urban-warfare doctrine to establish control of their areas of operation at any cost. Now, I realize that many people will read this and say, “Oh, you’re exaggerating. This is an isolated incident” but is it really? Take a look and you’ll see that these atrocities occur with staggering regularity in America. Some folks think that this squall will pass (and they may be right), but I guarantee you one thing, this storm isn’t over.

Looking the other way when someone’s rights are being violated doesn’t strengthen your rights. It weakens them. Sooner or later you or people like you are going to become very upset about something (perhaps a big gubmint takeover of *insert cause here*) and they are going to go to the streets because of it. When they do they are going to find out what many minorities in America already know: America does not care about you. America cares about its image and it won’t tolerate you making it look bad on the news. America is a sixteen-year-old girl taking a selfie. America is a self-absorbed douchebag talking into their Bluetooth in the checkout line at the grocery store. America will step over your bleeding (and maybe dead) carcass on its way into a Starbucks to get their caffeine fix. America only cares about America. You aren’t America. America isn’t you. You have become a cog in a machine and if you get worn out or break down, it won’t matter. The machine will continue grinding away. Today it’s Ferguson, Missouri, but soon it will be YourTown, USA. It won’t be fair. It will hurt.  You’ll whine about it and maybe your friends and relatives will be killed or maimed by the “authorities” but don’t expect anyone else to care, because you don’t care right now. In fact, expect people to giggle with glee at your misfortune. Expect to be made into a meme. Expect to be shot through the door when you ring the doorbell and cry for help. Expect to be exploited, first as political fodder and then as comedy, because that’s what America does.

I leave you with an old quote about America by Carl Schurz, “My country right or wrong.” Most people have heard it before but that’s not the whole quote. The whole statement reads, “My country right or wrong; if right to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Until we are all prepared to set America right when it is wrong there won’t be any right to celebrate.

We are here.

So Ferguson happened.

The pictures say a lot, don’t they? What they say depends on who’s doing the looking. To me, it says dangerous times are ahead.

If you recall, I wrote about this very thing many months ago. In that piece, the militarization of America’s police departments was discussed. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we know that Ferguson has been a forward moving train..gathering steam..barrelling toward us at a speed sure to cause massive damage when it finally made impact. Armored vehicles and military grade weapons are not new. SWAT teams are not new. Abuse of authority is not new. So, I won’t go into all that again. This begs the question: Are we truly surprised? Or are we simply expert reactionary Facebook/Twitter/Instagram protesters?

If, indeed, you are truly surprised..or if you really don’t understand why minorities, all across the nation, are angry..or if you find it impossible to fathom the type of desperation, frustration, and hopelessness that causes you to destroy your own communities…

“Hence I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”

“I was going through the hardest thing, also the greatest thing, for any human being to do; to accept that which is already within you, and around you.” –Malcolm X

We are here.

Remember when I said it depended on who was doing the looking? Yeah, well, African-Americans have always been here. This type of drama plays out on the stages of our communities Every. Single. Day.

America has done this. America – with her high handedness, her conceit, her total lack of will to right her wrongs – has done this. America is masterful at “breaking” a subset of people, at burdening them until they collapse to their knees, then punishing them for not standing up straight. (Bootstraps, anyone?) Systemic racism is like kudzu in the foundation of this nation. It has sprung up around -and intertwined itself with- every aspect of life. So much so, that far too many can’t recognize what a privilege it is to not be black in America. America wants to keep us in check with The Dream. (That they began waking us up from before we got too deeply involved in it.)

Americans have allowed it. (And by Americans, I mean ALL of us. Hang on, black folk, I’ll get to you in a minute.) There has been silence where there should have been shouting. Heads have been turned when we should have faced issues head on. Apathy has replaced action. The face we show to the world has got to be flawless, but our inner workings are as ugly as homemade sin. That ugliness fuels riots and rebellion. Unfortunately, when a people is left without power, they react in ways those without such experiences can not possibly relate to.

But, here is the thing…you don’t need to relate. You need to acknowledge. So, you’ve heard of Michael Brown. And Trayvon Martin. You posted about how sad it was for their families. You posted about the senseless waste of life. You may have even found a local march in an attempt to show your support. And then, you moved on with your life. Life does go on, right?

Not for Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Russell, Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen, Alonzo Ashley, Wendell Allen, Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham, Manuel Loggins, Ezell Ford, Kimani Gray, Amadou Diallo, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Sean Bell, Orlando Barlow, Steven Washington, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Travares McGill, John Crawford III, or Eric Garner. To name a few.

The constitution was meaningless for these young men and thousands of others like them. But, guess what? That means that the constitution is meaningless for you, too. Today, your kids are pretty safe from lying in a pool of their own blood for hours in the middle of the street. What of tomorrow? Don’t think for a moment it can’t happen. It has already happened. For years, disgruntled blacks complaining of police brutality, harassment, and use of excessive force were ignored. Remember? We had it coming. We deserved it. We were whiners. While you were giving the “birds and bees” talk to your kids, we were giving the “statistics show that you will probably have an encounter with police, so this is how to avoid being shot” speech. Then one day, a funny thing happened. Your neighborhood cops became overzealous. They demanded respect without being bothered to return it. They began bursting into your homes, with or without warrants. Just like that, our problem became your problem. Welcome. You are here. What are you going to do about it? Point guns at officers of the law? You just might get away with it, but black people….

“America’s greatest crime against the black man was not slavery or lynching, but that he was taught to wear a mask of self-hate and self-doubt.”
“So early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.”
― Malcolm X

….know they would be shot down. Immediately. So what do we do? March and sing? Riot and loot?

No.  Plan our lives!  We must give up on the notion that America cares. Still waiting for forty acres and a mule? Ha! Hell, we can’t even eat skittles or jaywalk! The first step is to know your worth. Self hatred, doubt, and lack of pride are the greatest enemies we face. Stop allowing this country to dictate your value. We must be present. Present in our homes and in the lives of our children. Present in our communities and programs that lift one another up. Present in our classrooms where we learn how to play the game.  Present in our children’s classrooms to ensure they are well prepared to face the world. And, like my Grandma always said, “America ain’t giving away nothing. Money talks, bullshit walks.”  Therefore, we must purchase our equality with the only currency power accepts – ballots and dollar bills. These are our weapons; we must wield them well. The logo on your foot, the name on your rear, nor the initials on your purse are more important than the number on your bank balance. Finally, speaking of walking, high step it to the voting booth. You can’t expect to be heard when you don’t speak!

“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” –
Malcolm X

So, yes, we are here. But we don’t have to remain here. Stand for something.

 

Further Reading

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/07/26/wealth-gaps-rise-to-record-highs-between-whites-blacks-hispanics/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/14/police-killings-data/14060357/

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/Modern-Parenthood/2014/0815/If-They-Gunned-Me-Down-on-Tumblr-Pressing-parents-to-take-a-second-look

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/michael-brown-shooting-us-cannot-lecture-others-on-human-rights-amnesty-says-9677800.html

 

Ferguson, Pt. II

See also, “Ferguson, Pt. I.”

More links of interest and diversity concerning the shooting of Michael Brown, 11 days ago.

  • Reparations for Ferguson: Total police control over black bodies has echoes in American history. 
  • Amnesty International sends team within US for first time 
  • This Doesn’t Make Any Sense
  • Gov. Jay Nixon’s Executive Order
  • “…Those who are determined to hate every African-American murdered by police (or anyone, for that matter) have managed to form an opinion that a simple theft is worthy of a death sentence if one’s skin is not light enough.
  • 90 year old Holocaust Survivor Arrested for Protesting
  • Getty Photographer Arrested
  • How the rest of the world sees Ferguson
  • US cannot lecture others on human rights, Amnesty says, as Egypt appeals for ‘restraint’
  • In “Google” English: (from a moderate German paper) 
    “Farewell to the dream of a post-racist society
    The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson testified deep-seated racism in the United States. The position of African Americans has changed since Martin Luther King hardly improved. OF SEBASTIAN MOLL , NEW YORK
    15 August 2014 08:27 Uhr
    LZ Granderson felt painfully in the sixties set back when he saw the pictures from the small town of Ferguson in the State of Missouri at the beginning of the week. “Let go of police in full riot gear, the dogs on black demonstrators – which reminds all too much of Alabama in 1965″
    The African-American commentator for CNN was not the only one in the United States, had to think during the events of the last days of the hardest times of the struggle for civil rights for black Americans almost 50 years ago. After the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a police bullet last Sunday makes in American sentiment is growing wide, that has changed in the situation of blacks in the country since the days of Martin Luther King fundamentally nothing: “It is for us never give justice “, Mychal Denzel Smith wrote in his blog for the political weekly The Nation . “The death of Michael Brown shows us once again that we are simply not allowed in this country.”
    Officially, the cause of Brown’s death is not yet clear. The police officers involved claim that a gun had gone off accidentally during a scuffle with the officers Brown. Dorian Johnson, the friend and companion Browns that night, but has a dramatically different version of events. According to Johnson, the police had the two black young men who were on the way home, harassed for no reason. As an officer then tried to pull Brown in the police car, this broke free and began to run away. Then opened the policeman, whose identity is not yet revealed, the fire. As Brown was hit by the fatal shooting, he had already stretched according to Johnson’s arms in the air to surrender.
    Video: USA – Hundreds protest after the killing of a black youth
    Hundreds have protested in St. Louis, after the police had killed an unarmed black youth. Security forces fired tear gas and smoke bombs at the demonstrators. Video Comment
    The demonstrations in Ferguson and throughout the United States, where breaks in the streets of many cities of the anger over the incident train, obviously tend to believe Johnson’s version. And for good reason: Only the events of the past week show a deep-rooted institutional racism of American law enforcement.
    Series of racist attacks by the police
    So died on July 17 in the New York City borough of Staten Iceland, the 43-year-old Eric Garner, while police officers wrestled him down on the street. On the video recording of a witness is clear to see that Garner had not attacked the officers and that he also did not sit down to defense when he was attacked.
    A few days later was shot in Dayton, Ohio, the 22-year-old John Crawford of policemen. Crawford was just going to pick out a toy gun for his son in a Walmart. And last Tuesday, two days after the death of Michael Brown, the 25-year-old, mentally handicapped Ezell Ford was shot dead by police in Los Angeles. According to eyewitnesses, Ford was attacked without warning, thrown to the ground and shot in the back. A reasonable suspicion against him there was not, except that he lived in a “problem area”.
    Page 2/2: Significantly more African Americans in prison
    The series of incidents, however, is only the culmination of a known issue. Civil rights have long been then that the American legal, regulatory and penal system suffers from a deep-seated racism. “I’m tired of every time to be afraid of being shot or arrested if I walk by a police officer,” LZ Granderson wrote in his commentary.
    The fear is well founded. So the new New York Mayor Bill de Blasio joined to the beginning of the year with the promises that ignominious stop-and-frisk strategy to end the NYPD. Under “Stop and Frisk” were allowed officials hailed on the street at random and without reason to suspect persons, browse and take into custody. From the vexatious practice, however, 80 percent of Latinos and African Americans were affected. Black and Latino neighborhoods felt terrorized.
    Institutional racism as a “caste system”
    The Inhaftierungszahlen for black Americans speak for systematic racism of American institutions. So 60 percent of American prison inmates are black, even though they make up only 30 percent of the population. Therefore, the sociologist Michelle Alexander speaks of a “caste system”, by the particular black males are permanently excluded from participation in American society.
    At the level of law that the picture is just as bleak. Thus, two years before the acquittal of the security guard George Zimmerman, who shot and killed an unarmed youth Trayvon Martin, ensured considerable anger among African Americans and citizens of real learning. Therefore, many were surprised, was condemned as last week in Detroit Theodor wafer for murder. Wafer had the black youth Renisha McBride shot that was kicked after a car accident on his door and asked for help. “That was after all, a little balm to our soul”, Denzel Smith wrote in the nation .
    USA torn apart because of racial problems
    The anger over the ongoing, deep-seated racism in the United States, which makes currently in the protests across the country after the Michael Brown incident wide, yet is large. Louder and louder the voices who believe in the United States will never change anything for African Americans are. So writes the black essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates that “America rests on a foundation of white supremacy”. American society is written deeply and irrevocably racist loud intellectuals like Coates and Alexander. Because neither the civil rights legislation of the sixties nor the election of Obama had really changed anything. “You get the knife sticking 20 inches deep in our shoulder, one centimeter pulled out,” said Coates.
    In Ferguson and elsewhere in the country, meanwhile, is trying with difficulty to prevent that the protests degenerate into open street battles the police. These had to be used on Tuesday and Wednesday tear gas and armored vehicles, demonstrators were taken away by the dozens. The United States is once again deeply torn because of race problems, and after six years of a black president. The dream of a post-racial society to flare up briefly after the election of Obama, seems more caught up than ever.”

     “Yo, check the diagonal
    Three brothers gone
    Come on
    Doesn’t that make it three in a row?
    Anger is a gift…
    Brotha, did ya forget ya name?
    Did ya lose it on the wall
    Playin’ tic-tac-toe?
    Yo, check the diagonal
    Three million gone
    Come on
    Cause they’re counting backwards to zero.”

Ferguson, Pt. 1

Some links I found interesting about what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri:

The Struggle You Don’t See

Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto.
(I am human, I consider nothing human foreign/alien to me.)
Publius Terentius Afer: The Self-Tormentor;” Act I, Scene 1, line 25 (77)

In 2001, I find myself at the top of a skyscraper. It is windy this high up. The city is lovely, the air is crisp and autumnal. And I catch myself thinking something that scares me. I immediately leave the balcony, take the elevator to the ground floor, and sit on a bench. I cannot cry. I wish I could. I don’t care that I’m in public. I am terrified of myself. .  

I am a college senior. I am severely depressed. And I have just had my first suicidal thoughts. 

Yes. I do believe, when we’re brutally honest with ourselves, something along the lines of “I wish I were dead” or “they’d be better off if I died” drifts through our minds when we find ourselves in a really unpleasant situation.

But the thoughts in 2001 weren’t like that. This was not a fleeting thought. I was seriously contemplating…

My thoughts were focused on planning. The how-to’s. And you will hopefully note, I am not going into detail of that planning. 

Later that week, I went to a mall, just to watch people and attempt to distract myself. That ended up pretty much the same way. I had a GREAT plan in place for that mall. 

Alas, I over-think things. I couldn’t do that to my family. Or the people at the mall. Or….the possibilities of many people I felt I owed my continuing existence, even if I wasn’t fully convinced I was right and they’d get over it. 

Again, I left. I blinked back some tears this time. I safely drove back to my dorm and called my parents. They were and are amazingly supportive. I assured them I was not going to do anything to hurt myself, but I told them that I was scaring myself. (I think my mom said something along the lines of, “I don’t think you will hurt yourself, we believe in you, but I do appreciate you telling us this.”)  Lucky for me, a fall break for school fell on the very next weekend.My parents arranged for me to come home and see a new psychiatrist. 

I was diagnosed with “treatment resistant depression.”  This means, simply, that I can be on anti-depressants and I’ll sometimes need to “jump start” the uptake of serotonin and all those other incredibly neurological chemicals with a new medication. I did start an additional medicine, and in a short time (less than 2 weeks), I was felt–well, not depressed. More like a person who enjoyed things in life, rather than going through motions so as not to stand out. I started cognitive behavior therapy, which trains me to recognize and deal with the dark thoughts when they bubble up.

I’ve found, over the years, I’m quicker at picking up when the black dog approaches, and take appropriate steps, thanks to kind support networks of family and friends. They hug me. They don’t always accept “fine” as an answer to “How are you?”   

They sit with me in silence. We share stories. They invite me to lunch or tea (and as I heal, it becomes a happy habit.) We laugh (yes, people with depression do laugh on occasion.) We listen. Serious, hardcore listening.

In essence, they accept that I have a chemical imbalance that benefits from medicine, like many forms of diabetes. Only my chemical imbalance doesn’t occur in my pancreas, but in my brain.

I really do not talk about it online. For starters, it by no means defines me. Yes, it is a part of me, but I am more. True friends know this. They know, for example, about that time I misspoke and said “promiscuity” in a course when I meant to say “potential” …

You get the idea.  

So while the US invaded Afghanistan, I threw myself into reading about Japanese war crimes in WWII. By no means is this a happy or even “meh” topic. It’s sickening. But I had read a book (prior to the depression reoccurance) about Hiroshima. So I threw myself into my school work, and when that was done, educated myself about Japan during WWII. 

This, I realized, is how I cope. I throw myself into academics. I can distance myself from my self. It works for me.

When I learned of Robin Williams death yesterday, I was sad. 
When I learned the death may have been a suicide, I was further saddened. 

But I saw people posting things on facebook and twitter that, quite frankly, frustrated me.

Take, for example, Friend Z. Friend Z knows about my depression, but their response when I confided in them was, “You have nothing in your life to be sad about. Just cheer up and stop thinking about it.” 

Um….thanks. I cannot imagine why no one told me that before, and I also had no idea Friend Z knew everything in my life.  

So Friend Z is posting about how we need to treat depression as a real illness (agreed, because it IS). But the justification from Friend Z was something along the lines of “because we lost someone famous.”

What am I then, Friend who tells me to just cheer up or “be happy?” What are we non-famous people who suffer from depression? And yes, it’s truly suffering. What are those who have/has or are suffering from depression supposed to make of that? We’re not as important? We should just, in Z’s words to me a while back, “be happy?”

Now–to switch gears a tad, let’s fast-forward a few years. I am in a long-term committed relationship, and the person starts having delusions and psychotic breaks. I find myself on the “other side” of mental illness, and it’s really hard. It’s trying for us both personally, but I’m not leaving because of many reasons. Love is a strong bond. Staying by this person’s side and talking them through an episode is trying, but essential–at least to me. 

I’ve been asked by people why I didn’t leave at the first break. Again, love. But also…the opening quote. “I AM HUMAN….” 

Now, there is no shame is acknowledging that you don’t understand whatever the illness is; there is no shame in admitting you have an illness!

But fully, 100% deserting someone you know is suffering–I cannot fathom that. I understand being fearful of unusual behavior, changes in behavior; call a helpline FOR yourself, do not assume the person who appears ill will call just because you gave them the number. It’s a good thing to do, but calling yourself can help equip you with tools for yourself and the person. 

Sure, I don’t understand it, but I get that you’re afraid and I will hold you tight and talk you through this, or just reassure you I’m here, you’re real. And I will help you get help, whatever form that help may be. 

I think, by my own nature, I would do this for anyone. Maybe it’s selfish on my part? I don’t want anyone dying or hurting themselves or feeling alone when I could have possibly stopped it. You will not scare me away. And if I am scared, I will gather a team of people I trust, who know and understand mental illness, to help me help that person.

We are all in this life together, and we can make it better or worse for someone hurting from a wound not visible to the eye.

I understand the frustration from not understanding an illness you cannot see. I cannot claim that I was always as sympathetic as I am advocating now. Live and learn?

If Williams’ death is ruled officially as a suicide, then let’s continue to live, and let’s learn from this tragedy.

Research. Learn that mental illnesses are biochemical and what the person is experiencing may be absolutely terrifying to them. 
Reach out. You may be turned away, but keep reaching out. “Let’s have lunch at X at noon on Friday.”

I could go on, but these are just my opinion/thoughts. 

I highly recommend the National Alliance on Mental Health’s website as a starting point for more  information on mental illnesses, the politics of it, symptoms, support (for everyone affected, family members, etc.), and advocacy. 

Addendum: An attempt at suicide should not, in my opinion, be viewed as a mere cry for help or attention. It should be taken as exactly what it is: an attempt at ending your own life. 

[Crap, it's 2014 and I have to write that?]

If you’re struggling, if you have struggled, if you’ve supported someone who’s struggled with mental illness…I send you big hugs. Nothing is alien to me. If you need help getting treatment, check out NAMI’s state chapters, your parish or county’s public health options, etc. 

The most dangerous thing is to not address this. Please, let’s keep this dialogue open and flowing.