Suicide prevention: How one writer learned she wasn’t helpless to help

Deaths in recent years of high-profile individuals, including former NBA player Tyler Honeycutt, chef/traveler Anthony Bourdain, fashion icon Kate Spade, and funnyman Robin Williams have amplified conversations about suicide.

Yet, suicide isn’t a get-out-of life tool that only celebrities employ. Nearly 45,000 people in the U.S. killed themselves in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And youth, ages 10 to 24, committed about 10 percent of annual suicides. It is the third-leading cause of death for this age group.

Still, knowing the statistics didn’t prepare me, at least not emotionally, for a recent interview.

Seemingly Simple Task

While reporting a story on bullying, it made sense to talk with someone who understood the anxiety bullying roused. I wasn’t sure there was a student out there willing to share their story, but one 18-year-old stepped up and offered his story.

A recent high school graduate, he told me he began being bullied by family members at a young age and that bullying carried over into middle school. Kids insulted him because of his nice clothing, because he was intelligent, because he was an athlete. They called him fat, though at the time he was only a little overweight. They called him gay, although he is not.

This young man didn’t cower from his bullies, he fought. But he also started cutting himself. By eighth grade, he said, he was suicidal.

I stopped typing. Wait, what? Surely he’s not still suicidal, I thought. But how can I be sure? I mean, this story is about bullying not about one kid’s current mental health. Backburner, I thought. I would come back to this later. Just ask the questions you’re meant to ask and then ask him later. Do. Not. Forget.

The young man told me how racial stereotypes perpetuate bullying even among teachers, how his grandmother was growing spiritually and helping him to grow and learn how to better fight his battles as well and about a school counselor he called an angel. “She was my light when I was in the dark and felt like I didn’t have anyone to run to,” he said.

Finally, I asked, “Are you suicidal now?” Obviously, he’s going to dodge the question or tell me to mind my own business, I thought.

But he didn’t. He said, “I’m not going to say it has not crossed my mind, but it has. I am financially unstable. I am by myself, and I’m not receiving enough hours at work. I’m stressing because college is right around the corner. Hoping scholarships and financial aid will come in.”

My heart started racing. Now what? What do I do? Is there a check list? I started surfing the web while he told his story, doing my best (and failing) to also be an active listener.

Afterward, I told him he was courageous. Because he is. Imagine telling a stranger — a writer nonetheless — that you suffer from anxiety let alone telling them you have been contemplating suicide.

Secondly, I told him to get out a pen and write down the number to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Then I found the numbers to a counseling in his community and one at his new school and asked him to take those down. He seemed pleasantly shocked that I would even care.

Thirdly, I told him God loves him. Because He does. (“We love him, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19) And he cried.

I know now I did not do all I could have done (while writing this, I am thinking and learning of more things I can do now). Neither do I know if the little I did will keep this young man from harming himself in the future.

However, I do know I’m tired of reading social media posts, watching news stories, and hearing friends talk about a loved one’s suicide and feeling as if there’s nothing I can do to help. We can all play a part.

Suicide-prevention: Need to know

A beautiful friend honoring her faithful husband

Paul would have turned 70 today. I’d like to think we would have thrown him a party with family and friends, showering him with gifts and messages of love. Instead, I write through the reality that he isn’t numbering his years anymore. He is on the other side, in the presence of God, where time […]

via Remembering Paul on his birthday — JoAnn Amicangelo

Go ahead, crack the spine. Reading is good for you… and your business

Pick a publication — The New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, Book Riot, GeekWire, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Wall Street Journal — and you’ll find a “Best of” list for books published in 2016 or endorsements for novels being prepped for release.  As a Twitter follower of all things books-related, the plethora of lists being posted this year at first seemed silly. Then I did a little research.

Taking the long view, I realize these publications aren’t filling their features pages with evergreen stories because half their staff was on vacation for the holidays. These publications have been looking out for our best interest.  It turns out, reading is more than introvert merrymaking or unproductive idleness.

Studies published last year in Yale University’s journal of Social Science & Medicine and the University of Toronto’s Trends in Cognitive Sciences reveal reading books could extend one’s lifespan by 2 years and reading fiction, specifically, could increase empathy. Of course, this doesn’t mean reading a page here and there is going to improve your life. Researchers reported lifespan increases in those who read at least 3.5 hours a week.

Why is empathy important? In general, empathy improves communication in boardrooms, on our city streets and at dining room tables. According to a Businesssolver study, employees who believe they work for empathetic employers are more likely to work longer hours, accept lower pay and stay with a company. However, while 60 percent of CEOs view their companies as empathetic, only 25 percent of employees agree.

With that in mind, perhaps you should make this the year you commit to reading that stack at your bedside or perusing the racks at your local independent bookstore. No; there’s no need to schlep through James Joyce’s Ulysses or race through J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series if those sorts of novels don’t appeal to you. Find something that suits your personality, your current state of mind or mimics (maybe even opposes) your point of view.

Perhaps this is the year you join a book club, get recommendations your local independent bookseller or participate in a reading challenge, the site offers recommendations based on your previous books. Just read. Learn something. Grow.

Need more suggestions? Quartz has some tips to get you started.

Hutchison’s well-landscaped ‘Butterfly Garden’ is nothing short of ugly

The Butterfly GardenThe Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The unimaginable happened. I found myself dining alone without anything to read. I considered shoving in ear buds to listen to an audiobook as I dined, although that seemed inappropriate for a number of reasons. First, I’d draped a white linen napkin across my lap and the bartender was wearing a black bow tie. Second, a writer worth her keyboard wouldn’t tune out the surrounding world when so many juicy stories are waiting to be overheard.

My mother, an avid reader who makes me appear illiterate, recommended “The Butterfly Garden” by Dot Hutchison, calling it an “interesting story with interesting characters.” When I questioned her lack of the word “good,” she said, “It’s well-written. Read it.”

Intrigued, I dropped a few of dollars on the fast-paced eBook about a man who collects butterflies for his garden. By collects, I mean he kidnaps them. By butterflies, I mean attractive, young women he tattoos with large, intricate wings. There is nothing the kidnapper, called the Gardener, won’t do for his beloved butterflies, including feeding and clothing them, providing literature for their reading pleasure, and honoring their requests for entertainment. Of course, the Gardner’s most notable “gift” is a stunningly landscaped garden in which his butterflies can frolic, yet never escape. He also sexually abuses them at will. Assisting the Gardner is his son, a stereotypical sadist who nonetheless is alarming.

Maya, a butterfly who takes her time doling out the details of her life before and during captivity, begins the tale in a FBI interrogation room. While the agents in charge of the case attempt to pry details from her faster than she’s willing to reveal them, the novel is anything but slow. It’s a page turner. Despite its gruesome storyline, I needed to know how Maya escaped the Gardner’s elaborate prison or if she was complicit in his terrifying enterprise.

In short, there’s nothing good about Hutchison’s vicious and heartbreaking “The Butterfly Garden.” Yet there’s no doubt the author cultivated a masterful plot fans of the genre will appreciate.

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‘A Gentleman in Moscow’. What is wit, wisdom and when finishing a novel makes you cry?

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amor Towles’ “A Gentleman in Moscow” is not on my bookshelves. The novel sits on the table beside my favorite spot on the sofa alongside magazines, eyeglass cleaner, a pen and a pad of paper. In other words, the novel is close at hand, just in case. Unlike most of my books, “A Gentleman in Moscow” is not unmarred. At first careful not to break the spine, I considered underlining just one passage: “But imagining what might happen if one’s circumstance were different was the only sure route to madness.” Soon though, I found myself arrowing, circling, starring, and exclamation-pointing my way through Towles’ 30 plus-year account of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov’s life as an un-person.

However, “A Gentleman in Moscow” is much more than an epic the reader gets to “witness.” It is a guidebook revealing how we can learn to live without and within. Living without the comforts to which we are accustomed drives some to desperation or deep depression. For some, living within means remaining in a perpetual state of meditation where few complications arise or developing a shield that prevents others from beholding their humanity and vulnerability. It means selfishness. Yet, the Count is neither selfish, desperate nor depressed, at least not for long. Instead, he is resilience.

When Count Alexander—who refuses with great wit to repent from his crime of aristocracy—is sentenced to house arrest in a hotel across the street from the Kremlin or be shot, he discovers abundance in his limitations. He is at once profoundly touched by the complicated and sweetly simple lives of those around him and touching, with his thoughtful practicality and gentlemanly considerations.

Towles has with keen intelligence and humor crafted a character study of wisdom, courage and kindness. I’ve never been sadder to finish a novel, but I look forward to reading it again, and again.

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