Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gay Suicide

I have mentioned at times in passing my own bouts with depression and suicidal thoughts – which I fully put into action once and which very nearly succeeded. The gay media and to a lesser extent the MSM will mention the problem of gay teen suicide. Admittedly it is a huge problem that needs to be addressed. A less discussed or even acknowledged problem is that of older closeted gay suicides. Having seen several therapist along the path of my journey, as well as two different psychiatrists (mostly for anti-depression medication while working with my therapists), all indicated that a significant percentage – perhaps as many as 50% - of older men trying to deal with being in the closet and/or come out as I did end up taking their own lives. Many go unknown to the gay community much less their families since these individuals never come out and merely take their own lives via single vehicle accidents and other methods that look accidental or are explained as such. Yes, the vehicle went out of control, but was it deliberate?

I am sure that some readers are thinking “what in the world would get individuals to such a point?” Depression is a very real condition and one surely does not think straight when in its depths. Everything is gloomy and there seems to be no light on the horizon. Combined with this outlook is a very real sense of utter and total exhaustion. Just trying to go through the motions of life is such a labor that you just want it all to stop. In desperation and due to unclear thinking, there seems only one way to maker it all stop. When I took the bottle of pills (which would have finished me off but for the ex b/f forcing me to go to the hospital) after an all day hearing in the divorce case where opposing counsel happily badgered, gay bashed and worked to humiliated me, my only thoughts were that I just could not do it all any more and that I had to make the pain stop. I would do ANYTHING just to make the pain stop. I truly was not thinking beyond that.

To make my point that I was not an isolated instance, here are some quotes from various entries on a fellow blogger’s blog who is in the coming out process and feeling at times that his entire world is crashing and he becomes disheartened and depressed. I will not identify him, but I consider him a friend and we have talked a number of times on the phone about the difficulties of making the journey to self-acceptance and a new life as a gay man:

“last couple of days have been thinking a lot and contemplating a lot of things, like what if one morning I just didn't wake up........”

“its becoming more of an effort just to do what I used to enjoy and that is singing, singing means happiness and while I go through the motions its hard to stand in front of a congregation of about 900 people and sing all about the praises and how wonderful our God is..............I have broken down in tears several times at work this past week...........think I am loosing my mind.”

“sat the other night with a bottle of Jack [Daniels] and sleeping pills for about 2 hours contemplating,”

I can identify completely. Before I came out to my wife, I seriously thought of possible outwardly “accidental” means of ending it all. I would be driving down the Interstate and contemplate undoing my seat belt and wrecking the car. I know that the only thing that stopped me was the fear that I might not succeed and would end up paralyzed or worse. A more attractive method I thought about was a “surfing accident” where I merely went surfing and appeared to drown. Winter surfing where hypothermia would take care of what drowning might not succeed in doing seemed the best bet of all. A “broken” leash and lost board would set the process into play easily. I in fact did paddle out a couple times thinking it would be the end, but each time somehow found the strength or clear headed thinking not to follow through.

What is the answer? I am not sure. A society where one’s sexual orientation is a non-issue would obviously do wonders in reducing the problem I would think. Until that day arrives, however, reducing homophobia and the internalized self-hate it fuels is one part of the solution. Churches that do not constantly condemn gays or do little more than give lip service to being welcoming and supportive of gay members would help as well. Another part of the solution may be simply increasing awareness of the problem and helping closeted gays and lesbians to know that (1) they are not alone and (2) it is possible to survive the coming out process even though it may be a difficult path. Certainly the Internet has made this far more possible than in decades past. Yet another part of the answer is perhaps fostering an atmosphere where individuals will at least be truthful with their doctors and seek professional help. Among men, there still seems to be a significant stigma that seeking the help of a therapist or psychiatrist is not “macho” or “manly” - just one more aspect of the f**ked up nature of American society.

I would like to hear the thoughts and/or experiences of others on this issue.


Java said...

You say "I am sure that some readers are thinking “what in the world would get individuals to such a point?”" Oh, man! I know exactly how one gets to that point! I've been there numerous times. Never got as close as you, though. I'm very very very glad your attempt failed.
You make some very good suggestions for helping older gays come out. Or for that matter helping ANY homosexual. But how to implement them? One person at a time? I'm on the team now, but was against it just 2 years ago. Progress? For me it is. For gay rights it is, though a small drop in a really big bucket. I just wish I could do more.
Maybe we could buy a bunch of advertising space, billboards and print media, and post "It's OK to be gay" on them. It might make things worse for a while, as many would oppose and make a big stink. But sometimes that's a good thing, as it gets people thinking. Funding for such an endeavor? I have no idea. I'm a big picture man, the details are in the details.
Thanks for bringing up the topic.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing these thoughts and comments. We often underestimate the mental duress that accompanies the stigma, rejection, alienation, opprobrium, and hate, simply because the biologically normal desire for the same sex is reviled by the god of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The gods of the Greeks and Romans weren't so shallow and tribal, having recognized human drives have both a divine and mortal aspect, but the tribal priests, the Roman emperors, and dominators snub such passionate love as "against nature." Says who? Saint Paul? That loon with his delusions?

The strife of "coming out," at any age, may be perilous, as Arab Muslim friends tell me of their homeland's hate, and Iran demonstrates with lynchings like the blacks in America's deep South. Even stranger, is the wide-spread homophilia among blacks, and the horrible hypocrisy against black homophiles in an apparently matriarchical-based culture (at least the U.S.) It all illustrates how vastly unique, different, and wonderful human diversity and pluralism CAN BE. It also illustrates how hateful those who claim absolute knowledge of nothing can inflict on the innocence of love.

That homophiles experience a higher ratio of mental disorders, especially of the emotional and affective disorders, should surprise no one. We not only have to dethrone the religious and psychiatric myths of the past, we have to endure their lectures of how "it ought to be." As if they have a clue. And when ostracism and the impulse for self-destruction does not succeed, then BLAME of every malady known to man ensues. Louis Crompton's excellent "Homosexuality & Civilization" shows the centuries when civilization was suppressed by tribal religious beliefs of pacificism, such that all ordeals suffered could be linked to women or to the "third sex." We call that period the Dark Ages, and it continues wherever superstition trumps knowledge, wherever religious priests trump human experience, and wherever freedom and love bring contentment, rather than a "veil of tears."

I have several posts dedicated to homophiles, mental health, and approaches to it. It's a complex web of interconnections that need to be faced dialectically, compassionately, and heuristically, not dogmatically by the likes of more metaphysical nonsense. But, I would stress two features above all. Medical help is often afforded through a primary caregiver, and if not amenable, then through psychiatry, which at least acknowledges anatomy and physiology of brains and minds.

Secondly, homophile support groups that dialectically engage its members, not the pandering to pity parties, but serious inquiry into the conflicts that percolate as a free, open, and honest inquiry is the ONLY way to confront the opprobrium, dejection, and frustration we may encounter. The one risk is to be "vulnerable" to being challenged, but the offsetting risk is to be left without resolution, concern, or discussion at all. While empathy is highly desirable in all situations, most mental disorders are a disorder in our thought processes, not demons or mad dreams that haunt the wicked and insane. The only way to surmount the conflict is to identify it, face it, and learn to overcome it. This is NEVER a passive process, but an engaged dialectic.

Many medicines provide relief, some even provide solutions, but underneath it all is unresolved conflicts -- or our own, or others' invention. Here is where "community" of "like to like" is invaluable, not because a straight shrink cannot understand a homophile's conflict, but because most shrinks cannot think in a basic algorithm most of us need to survive daily require.

The quest never reaches its destination, but is the journey itself. Understanding ourselves, our modes of thought, our modes of life, and our individuals distinctiveness, while sharing many common features, is intrinsic to the dynamic of life itself and to flourishing in particular. The basic need is to learn how to adapt to our environments, ever changing though they be, and to the rough and tumble of life's unexpected obstacles as measures for a race to win, match, or place.

Anyone seriously suicidal should seek a competent medical intervention to provide reprieve until one gets one's bearings back from the deluge of confusion, conflict, uncertainty, anguish, and sense of powerlessness. Once the medications succeed, the next step is to begin the dialectic, the discovery, the question-and-answers, the faulty thinking, the problematic blindsides. Only each of us, hopefully with others' support and help, can accomplish that task, and once we embark on it, we often wonder why we waited until a crisis to begin the journey.

Anonymous said...

In relation to this post, you may find these three posts of interest. These concern my experience with coming out and the hardships I had to do. It was all I could do to not end my suffering permanently:

Michael-in-Norfolk said...

Thanks all of you for your thoughtful comments. I truly believe it is important for those of us who have survived the "coming out" process to share our thoughts and stories so as to help other make the journey successfully.

Anonymous said...

How sad it is to realize that we are all victims of those who belittle others in order to lift themselves up. True. We are all different, but not so much that we need medical help. Depression is a health concern, undoubtedly. However, the cause for this, in your case, is not a medical concern. It is not a sickness or a disease. This is why it becomes so much more important that we understand and accept ourselves before we look to others for approval. Truly Pat Robertson will never accept you, nor even give you the right to live as a human being (since you're part of such a small percentage). There are many things brought onto us by others who are mean and evil. Their purpose is to destroy. It is disheartening to think that we have to seek assistance from the medical community for medical conditions -- illness, sickness, disease (these are the things for which we seek medical assistance). It is all because of someone (or a number of someones) who believe they are better than us. They look down and point to anything they can possibly find to tear others down. Honestly, if it weren't Gays, it would be some other category. How else could they be superior? It is elitism at its best. And, sadly enough, there are many Gay people who take on this same terrible characteristic. A goal (lofty though it might be) for the New Year is that we have true acceptance once and for all for each other and everyone. We all need encouragement from time to time, but we shouldn't have to seek medical assistance. We are not sick or diseased. We have only succumbed to the evilness of those who find themselves superior to us. Many times these people are those closest to us -- our families and friends. So, it is ever moreso encumbent upon us to be confident, and caring for our own sake as well as those who might derive something good from us as well -- regardless of who they are or who they love.