Dear Papa Bear,
A few days prior to Thanksgiving, I was informed that my aunt had committed suicide. She shot herself in the chest with a gun, and it was very sudden and tragic. She left no note, no reason as to why she did it.
I don't know how to cope with this. I've never dealt with a suicide before, especially with someone in the family.
How do I get past this? It hurts so bad to know that she's gone.
Meep (age 26)
* * *
I’m sorry you have experienced this tragic loss. This is an important topic to address during the holidays because it is a time when suicide rates go up, so I appreciate your writing to me now. There are many reasons people commit this tragic act, but since you don’t tell me much about your aunt, I will have to talk in generalities here.
Let me start by talking about the suicidal person. You might (or might not) know from this column that I tried to kill myself at the age of 18. Like your aunt, I didn’t leave a note, which really upset my family because had I succeeded they, like your family, would never have understood why.
I will try and explain why. You must understand, first and foremost, that a suicidal person is not in their right state of mind. Depression, pain, severe anxiety can lead to irrational thinking and actions. Before I did what I did, I considered writing a note, but I honestly didn’t know what to put in it. I just wanted to be done and out of my life. So, Meep, please understand that the fact that your aunt didn’t leave a note doesn’t mean she didn’t care. She simply was too far gone to know what to do or say anymore.
You might be surprised to learn that in cases of suicides only 15%-38% (depending on which study you look at) leave a note. It’s much more common that they don’t. Even when they do, the note most often will not include a reason for the death or any sense of closure.
So, do not look at the lack of a note as a snub to you or your family. Instead, you might want to take a look at the things she left behind (photos etc.) as a better indication of her feelings for those close to her.
The other thing about suicide is the suddenness of it. I’m guessing that you had no clue that this might happen. No signs of depression or previous attempts? When my husband died without warning last year, the lack of closure, the fact that I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye, burned my very soul. People have a need to say farewell. There are many ways you can do this to give you closure. One way I did this was in the dispensing of Yogi’s (my pet name for Jim) ashes on his beloved Mt. San Jacinto. I said goodbye to him there. Of course, if your family holds a funeral, that is also a good way to say your goodbyes. You can write a note to your aunt, too, telling her what your feelings are and how you will miss her. This can be therapeutic.
Finally—and this is the hardest lesson I have had to learn—you do not get past something like this. It will always be a part of you. What you do learn is how to deal with it, how to, hopefully, learn from it. The longer we live, the more people we will lose over the years, and it is important for you to understand how to cope with and accept it (I’m talking to myself, too, here). The best thing you can do for yourself is to live in the present and to better appreciate and love the people who are still in your life today.
You are not alone, remember that. Talk to others about what has happened. Hug them and love them and lean on them—and let them lean on you, too. Be there for each other.
Life is about both hello’s and goodbye’s. Both are important lessons in our lives.
Hello, again. I just want to start off by saying my deepest condolences for your loss. I can't imagine what it's like to lose someone you care for so much and thank you for continuing to do this in spite of it.
I'm not entirely certain how to work this question, so I'm really sorry if it's confusing.... I used to be really smart, but not anymore, so I lost a lot of my vocabulary. Anyway, how do you know when to give up on something? I mean, does a person get a great realization or something? It's just I've wanted to work in veterinary medicine since I was 6, and now that I'm doing it ... I'm positively awful at it.... I can't do anything right. I'm just shy of a year at my job and I don't seem to be getting any better at it. I'm always being yelled at for my screw ups and I'm trying my very best but it's pretty clear it's just not enough.... I've had two panic attacks at work already. Thankfully, I was able to keep it hidden both times, so at least I didn't get fired. But I'm starting to think my mom was right, I'm just useless and not good at anything. That I should just find a dead end job that requires no skill or brain power and that's it. But, I'm just not ready give up.... Am I, as the expression goes, not seeing the forest for the trees?
Once again, thank you for your time.
Galileo (age 27, New York)
* * *
Before I answer in more depth, what do you mean "I used to be smart but I've lost a lot of my vocabulary"? Did you suffer an injury that caused you to forget words? What's going on there?
* * *
Not an injury, but couple years ago, I terribly sick and it really messed with my mental facilities.
* * *
What was the illness, please.
* * *
Would you believe Lyme disease? I was in the that lucky percentage that it affects brain. I haven't been right since.
* * *
Okay, I believe I have enough information now, thank you. Let’s talk first about the Lyme disease. Very sorry that happened to you. If you haven’t already done so, I would apply right away for social security disability (http://www.disabilitysecrets.com/social-security-disability-lyme-disease.html and confer here, too: http://www.ssdrc.com/ssd-lyme-disease.html and here http://fromlymetolife.com/category/social-security-disability-for-lyme-a-how-to-guide/). You are probably eligible for government assistance because of your condition. You need to get documentation from your doctor and go through an application process, of course. Sometimes, sad to say, you also need to call an attorney to get what you deserve (our lame government often fights tooth and nail before it gives money to people who qualify, but it is worth the effort).
Okay, next: your job. Do your bosses at work know you had Lyme disease and it affected your mental faculties? If not, they really should know. Perhaps they can change your workload in order to compensate; if they do know and are still treating you this terribly, shame on them.
It’s not your fault that you are having these problems. Please don’t blame yourself and put all the guilt on you. You had a disease and it hurt you; would you blame yourself if you had fallen, struck your head, and suffered some mental impairment? No, you would not, and neither should you for this. Also, shame on your mother for calling you useless. I wish I could hit her on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. “Bad, Mom! Bad! No! No!”
What you need is a supportive voice or two or three in your life. I suggest you take a look at the following links for resources and advice:
Galileo, before you go worrying about your career, you need to take care of yourself and learn how to manage what has happened to you because of this disease. Please take some time to do that, and then we can talk again.
I have had depression for almost 8 years but was diagnosed around 4 years ago. Now, I didn't have much in my life, my parents had split when I was young, my dog died on Christmas morning, I have been bullied and have Asperger’s. I found out about furries at a relatively young age, and since then I have always hated my life and wanted to, become, a character from a furry comic. I can't really explain my case but I notice things happening to me but can't change that. I've been to too many counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and mentalists to feel happy about my life. I have been having extremely suicidal thoughts lately as I have delved further into the furry universe and I have almost distanced myself from what is reality in my mind. I honestly don't know what to do anymore as I can't live in this reality while my mind thinks and believes in so many others that are better. I need help or I don't think I can play this game of charades (life) anymore.
Fisker (age 17)
* * *
I understand exactly what you are feeling; really, I do. And since you have tried psychologists, psychiatrists, and other counselors, I won’t refer you to them. You’ve come to me, and I am honored.
You and I both know that life can be cruel and unfair. I just lost my love, Yogi, a few months ago, and, believe me, especially those first few weeks after his death, I wanted to follow him. But death is the easy way out, living is the challenge.
So, why are we alive? Why are you, Fisker, subject to so much grief? Is God just a cruel torturer, watching us suffer as He laughs at us from his throne in Heaven?
No. Fisker, what you and I (all of us) are is spirit temporarily encased in a mortal coil. We are here, in the physical world, to learn, and one of those things we must learn is sadness. It’s been said that God never hands us more than we can handle, but I don’t think that’s true, either. Sometimes we can’t handle it, and some people who can’t handle it take their own lives.
I’ve questioned my existence for a long time, and even more now. When I was 18, I attempted suicide, but, of course, lived. Today, I am alive even when my dear Yogi is dead. The only answer I can come up with is that we are not yet done with what we have been sent here to do. If I had died at 18, this column would not exist and I couldn’t try and help others. If I had taken my life after Yogi’s death, I wouldn’t be here now to help you, either.
My piano teacher told me something similar. He suffered from a stroke, was in a coma, and even believes he saw the other side. He came back, though, and is now my teacher. He has been there to comfort me in my loss and has become a dear friend. He told me the other day that he thinks one reason he lived and recovered was to be my friend.
Fisker, you are still here because whatever powers that be that have given us the universe want you to be here. You are only 17. You have a great deal of living to do. Although things are tough for you right now, I can guarantee that they will change. And, since you are at a very low point right now, my prediction is that they will get better. (You can only sink so low, right?)
Your life will change. YOU will change. OMG, I am such a different person now than I was at your age. And you will be, too, when you are mine. The thing you must do now is hold on while you get through this bumpy ride because if you do you will eventually find yourself on better footing.
If I can do it, you can do it. I’ve been through my parents’ divorce; I’ve been through bullying; I’ve been through death, and more. Hold on and you will someday find your reason for being here as I have found mine: this column.
In the meantime, I am here for you. You can write me anytime.
I've been a lurker on this website for a year, circa. I've never written you, my issues have just seemed too insignificant, but now, I really need an ear. This isn't furry related, I'm sorry about that, but...
If you decide to post this on your website, I'm going to say this to readers- please don't read if you're contemplating suicide, or you're simply sensitive to the topic.
This letter's going to be a little hard for me to write, and a little hard for you to read, so I am just going to dump it on everyone from the beginning.
On the night before this letter was written, my friend's father committed suicide.
Now that you know the gist, I'm going to go into detail, trying to be as unemotional about it as possible. Only the facts.
This friend and I are very close. We're also neighbors, she lives right across from me, so I often hang out at her house. We've been through a lot together. I brought her into the fandom (she's a sassy Siamese), we've shared classes and done work together.. Let's call this friend Carly, I guess.
Yesterday started out normal. It was Sunday, so I shot her a text in the morning, just a simple greeting and a joke. Got up, worked on some homework I procrastinated on, groaned because I'm pretty sure I missed half the math problems, drew and listened to music, cooked some, it was all normal, right? Everything was going alright.
Until I saw the cop cars.
My father came into my room and told me there were cop cars, four of them, located in Carly's driveway. I'll be the first to admit I don't have the best attitude when it comes to cops. My first thought was, 'Someone's getting arrested, maybe there was a mistake, maybe they're key witnesses to something, maybe they're bored and hauled a bunch of cops over here for some petty reason, they're gonna take someone away...' Even with some of the things I thought of, my parents said I was exaggerating. The things I thought of didn't even touch what really happened. There was no ambulance, so I assumed nobody got hurt.
So, after some pacing and worrying, I calmed down and drew some more.
My phone buzzed. I knew that notification sound, it was the messenger I only used with Carly.
I opened that messenger up, and my heart stopped.
"Syntax, my dad committed suicide." (She didn't actually use Syntax, but you know.)
Five simple words.
I knew her father. He'd laugh whenever I accidentally passed out overnight at their house. I'd help him prepare meals. I liked him. If I had to choose a second father out of fathers I knew, it would be him.
So, those five words left me a crying mess for the night. My parents tried to cheer me up, but I wouldn't take it, I just curled up and drew, wrote, anything to escape. I couldn't do anymore schoolwork.
Now, to the day I'm writing this letter. I slept horribly. I did text Carly that my family and I are here for her, always and forever, that our door is never closed to her. She's clammed up, understandably. In the phases of grief, she's probably still numb.
I skipped school today. I do feel guilty about skipping school because someone else's father committed suicide, as if I was just using it as an excuse. I've been crying most of the morning, it took a lot to get up and do something. Eating and drinking made me feel like I was going to puke. I just feel terrible, over someone else's father!
I really am angry at everything at this moment. Carly's father, especially. Damn him for leaving three children behind. I'm not even going to apologize for my language, that man deserves more harsher words than the English language has. Carly's mother left him, and Carly hates her mother, so in a way, she has no parents. Damn that man, how dare he call himself a father? Damn school, I'm going to have to return to it tomorrow, and I still must work, even in the face of all of this. Can't time just stop for a second and let me breathe?
I've tried extending a hand to Carly. She's clammed up, but I extended it anyway. I just really wish I could hug and support her, but I don't think she'll let me, and that stings.
Even as I write this, time's blurred, the colors of my room seem a little darker. My head's cloudy. I did nothing but lie in bed for fourteen hours, probably slept some of that, so I think that cloudy head is from mourning and oversleeping.
My question is, where do I go from here? How do I live on when something like this is facing me?
I hurt for my friend, hell, I hurt for myself. It's terrible. The world's terrible, and it's hard to comprehend how it's still spinning. Since Carly only had her father, she's probably going away. Close family may be able to come over and look after everyone, but chances are she's going to go to a completely new environment, with new parental figures, and I'm extremely worried for her. She's not the most mentally stable, and has considered suicide many times. Will this be the last straw? Please, help. Say anything, anything at all, I need to hear something.
Your raven in mourning,
Syntax (age 15)
* * *
My sympathies to you and to “Carly” and her family. I understand completely what you are feeling. When I attempted my suicide, my mother was very angry at me for a long time. I didn’t understand at first, but I do now. To the survivors, it feels as if the person doesn’t give a damn about his or her loved ones. It seems like a slap in the face. As you noted, Carly’s dad leaves a family behind and has taken away so much from them.
But please note this.
Depression (and the suicides that sometimes result as a consequence) is an illness. When people are severely depressed, they don’t think rationally. The days before I tried it (actually, I tried twice), it was like I was a zombie, living in a hazy dream. I didn’t do my school work, I didn’t talk to people, it was truly bizarre. I was legitimately out of my mind at that time.
I’m not sure what led to Carly’s father’s suicide, but I’m sure the decision didn’t come on a whim; he must have been struggling for some period of time. It’s very sad no one noticed and he didn’t get help, but that’s academic now. Some people are very good at hiding it (I was, too, and it completely took my family by surprise), so, please, no pointing fingers as to who is to blame for missing the signals.
Also, don’t feel weird that you are in shock and it is affecting your life. As you said, you are close to Carly and you liked her father, so it is logical to be in mourning, too. Just because it wasn’t your father doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt (you said he was like a second father, so, yes, that’s painful).
Don’t just assume that Carly will rebuff any gesture on your part. I would, if I were you, begin with a nice gesture, such as sending her a thoughtful card (actually, buy one and drop it in the mailbox to expedite it, or just writer her a letter—and don’t send an ecard, send a real card or letter), and in the card write your heartfelt sympathies and emphasize that you are there for her to talk to. Ask her to email you or call you or text you when it is okay to come over and give her a hug and shoulder to cry on.
Something that concerns me deeply here is you mention Carly has also thought of suicide (this could be an indication of a genetic predisposition in the family). She needs some counseling. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255 and talk to one of their counselors, both for you and for Carly, and ask them for advice on how to proceed in this situation. They are there to help.
Life at these times can, indeed, seem dark. The most effective weapons against the darkness are love and kindness. If you wield them, you can survive this and most any other challenge.
* * *
Dear Papa (again),
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly.
I contacted the hotline, and the hotline told me to contact the school. The school has much more authoritative power than me, so I am sure they can handle making sure Carly gets proper counseling and assistance. I am uncomfortable leaving the health of my friends in hands I cannot see or control. Tomorrow morning, I will speak to them about Carly's thoughts and actions, and what's going on, so at least I have power over that. I will most likely request to know what they are going to do from here.
You have a point about my unrelenting anger towards the father. What's gone is gone. I can point fingers all I want, I can point it at myself, but he's still dead.
Somehow, I have managed to gather the energy to get out my schoolwork. Actually working on it is a whole other story, but I'm sure I can get it done.
Thank you again,
* * *
When it comes to something like this, I try to reply ASAP.
A combination of help from school counselors and also your support for your friend is a good strategy. Did the online hotline do nothing other than refer you to the school counselor? That sounds a little disappointing. I might have to look into that and see if there aren't better hotlines out there.
I know it's hard to concentrate. I'm trying to do some work here myself, knowing that my dear friend's mother is suffering a brain hemorrhage and I can do nothing about it. I'd go see him, but I have a cold and am fearful of making him sick and making matters worse.
This is life, though. I could get all philosophical on you as to my beliefs as to why this goes on, but it wouldn't console you much. I hope you will be somewhat comforted by the fact that people do care about you and what you're going through.
[Updated September 19]
Hey, Papa Bear!
I'm so glad your column is still here. I don't know if you remember me from a letter I wrote a while ago about coming out as furry to my parents and the disaster that resulted. Well, they still won't let me be furry, but that isn't quite what this letter is about, at least not fully.
So a lot of stuff happened since I last wrote. I'm in my senior year in high school now, and I'm super excited. My future is starting to come together and it's looking good. I did some growing up and whatnot as well. I'm a whole new person from a year ago.
But it's not all good stuff that happened. Last September, my twin brother took his own life. It caught us completely by surprise and it hit us hard. It's been getting better, but there are things that are still sitting in my head and I don’t feel comfortable bringing it up to my parents or a counselor because I don't quite understand them myself. I won't go into all the details about his suicide, but I will say my brother had his issues and definitely wasn't on the right path. He and my folks had their share of fights, and they got very nasty at times. I was never told the whole story and I was ok with that, I didn't need to know his business, but I did listen to every argument and what I heard should never be spoken between parents and child.
So fast forward three months, I'm seeing a counselor. Being furry comes up somehow. Long story short, parents have the last word, I'm told to "take a break" until I'm eighteen, and I was forced to get rid of my fursuit. I gave it to a friend who is holding it for me so I'm not that upset about that. But with all we went through with my brother's death and how they've been with me about furry, I feel a measure of bitterness towards them. I still love them and care about them, that has not changed at all. But I can't help but feel so bitter and resentful towards them. I think much of it comes from a vibe I get from them that they don't see anything wrong with what they do. Like they never admit wrongs and I never remember them simply saying sorry to me or my siblings. Ever.
I'm sorry for the wall of text. I just worry that I'm being unfair by feeling the way I do and you were so great to me when I last wrote. If you've got any advice or tips for me, I would sure appreciate them.
Zanda (age 17)
* * *
I remember you, yes. I'm so very very sorry to hear about your brother. Tell me, was he your maternal or paternal twin?
It would really help me with the answer if you could tell me anything about what your brother and parents fought about. That's important. Also, tell me more about your brother. What was he like? What did he do with his time? How was his school life?
It probably goes without saying, but I think your parents forcing you to give up the fursuit--even for a short time--is foolish. Well, more later.
Write again soon,
* * *
Ok, well my brother was maternal. He was a great kid, smart kid too. He was planning to be a doctor and he was going to be great at it. Until he got to high school where he got into drugs. My parents really cracked down on him, they took away a lot of freedoms and privacy. They started hiding money from him and going through his stuff. They also kept him from hanging out with certain friends that were up to no good and that's what most of the fights came from. The fighting never got physical but it was loud. Lots of hateful words back and forth. His school quickly went to crap. The house was really on edge a lot, with my brother and parents always angry with each other for something, my younger sibling and I had to kind of stay out of the way. I never felt ignored or anything, just that everyone was short with each other.
Does that help much?
* * *
Yes, my next question is: did they get him professional help for his drug problem?
* * *
They did. He was also ADHD and had insomnia. We had been getting him help and very good help. But I can only guess that we didn't know how bad things actually were. I know that frequent marijuana and alcohol would make any medication he was taking not work or do something completely unwanted.
* * *
I think I get it now. All right, please bear in mind, again, that I am not a trained therapist or psychologist, so take what I write here with a grain of salt.
I’ve seen what happened to your brother happen to others: over controlling parents who believe they are doing the right thing by their child, but, instead, they stifle them so much that they become miserable. The common result of this is turning to drugs or alcohol, as your brother did. Am I blaming your parents for what happened to your brother? From what information I have here, yes; yes I am. Like I said, I’ve seen it before: parents who drive their kids so crazy that they run away from home, turn to drugs, and/or kill themselves. (In an ideal world, you would have to take a test before breeding, but, sadly, any unqualified person can breed). On another note, I’m not saying all suicides trace back to Mom and Dad; often, it is mental illness, which is not a parent’s fault at all, other than not recognizing it.
How your parents treated your brother is probably why you feel resentful because you know it, too. But, as you said, they will never admit wrongdoing. Because of that (and because I could be wrong, after all), it would be unwise of you to point a finger and say, “You did this.”
There is nothing that can be done for your brother; tragically, it’s too late for him, but it isn’t too late for you.
Here’s what you do. While recognizing that (and I believe this) your parents love you and your brother at some level, their parenting style is so off-kilter that it is actually a danger to your mental well-being. Insulting your children and hyper-controlling their behavior is poor parenting. Ideally, they need some heavy counseling on how to be good parents, but you’re already 17 and it’s rather too late for that to benefit you much.
Recognize that it is okay not to agree with your parents and it is also okay, even, for you to blame them for what happened. So, stop feeling guilty for feeling the way you do. What you feel inside your heart is completely legitimate.
Once you get over feeling guilty that you believe your parents to be culpable, you need to let go of your anger and resentment. These things destroy your soul; they harm you, not anyone else.
It’s very fortunate that you “did some growing up” and are doing well in school. You’re going to need those two things, because the best thing for you to do is to get out of your parents’ house and out of their control as quickly as you can. You will benefit greatly to get out of their manipulative grip. I’m super-glad—as you might say—that you were able to give your fursuit to a friend for safe keeping, because—I firmly believe—one of the best things you can do for yourself is be furry because it is a way to express yourself freely.
You need to take charge of your life and live it as you feel best. That is the best way for you to survive. I have a feeling your brother was unable to do this. He let guilt and his heartache over not being able to express his true self get to him, and that’s why he turned down the wrong path. I also surmise that your parents—noting that you are twins—think you will repeat your brother’s mistakes, and, therefore, they are probably going to be even more controlling of you in their misguided belief that dominating your life is the solution because you are too naive and inexperienced to know your own heart.
Am I close here?
You tell me.
* * *
[Updated September 19, 2015]
Your words are very relieving and heartening to me. Like always, you've hit the nail on the head. If you'll indulge me just a few more questions, I think we can just about wrap this up.
I reflected on your words about letting go of guilt and resentment all day and what I think I should do. I think that the guilt will fade over time. My worry is about the rest of my feelings. I don't know if I can ever truly let go of the anger and resentment I have about what happened, (or if I even WANT to let go of it) without some kind of closure or understanding between mom and dad. And I'm not after them to face up to any crimes or anything like that. I don't want it to be their fault, what I want is for them to understand what I feel, why I feel it, and for them to just plain deal with it. I don't want their apologies or their sympathies. The way I see it, what we went through changed us forever, and we will never be like we were. I believe I'll always have that angry stir in my chest when I think about the night my brother argued with dad about whether he'll get pulled out of sports for hanging out with one of his "stoner" friends. I'll never forget the last thing he said. My dad's exact words to my brother were "Get the fuck away from me, you little shit, and go to your room. I can't believe you're that pathetic to be around those people." So they both went to bed. I want them to understand what that did to my brother and I, and realize that the damage is already done and mostly permanent. As I write, it is starting to sound more and more like I want to stay mad. Honestly, as much as I hate to say it, I do want to stay mad. Maybe that is wrong of me, maybe it isn't. But when they do what they did, then tell me right to my face that I have no right to blame them for my twin brother's death, I don't see why I should let that go. I don't want to let that go. Do you think I should go back to my counselor about bringing this to my parents? SHOULD I bring it to my parents at all?
Alright, my next question isn't as heavy. I've also thought about what you've said about taking charge of my life and I agree. I feel it's time for me to start setting boundaries with my folks and making my own decisions. I want to begin distancing myself from mom and dad and making my life my own. Since they aren't willing to step down a bit until I'm 18 this April, I need some help on how to get started. Do you believe looking into getting out of my parent's house now and moving in elsewhere is an option? Moving out is just another thing on the table, anything you want to add on is greatly appreciated.
I want to thank you again for how you've put up with me. I also want to thank you for listening well and being so good to me and everyone else that writes to you. You're doing great things with this column. It's obvious that you care for your writers and your advice is always considerate, wise, and well put. I wish you luck in all you do. Definitely gonna go after a copy of your book when it's done!
* * *
This might be a surprise to you, but it is not always necessary to forgive someone who has done you harm. When do you forgive someone? When they are truly sorry for what they did and try to make it right. In the case of your parents, though, it doesn't sound as if they are mature enough to recognize that they are (at least in a big part) responsible for what happened to your brother. I can well imagine that they--especially your father, sounds like--made your brother feel like he was worthless; and many people (especially sensitive people) will take that to mean they might as well die because even their parents think their lives have no meaning.
So, no, you don't have to forgive them. But do watch out for feeling hatred for them. Instead, recognize that they are severely flawed people and, therefore, what they say and tell you to do will probably do you more harm than good.
I don't think telling your parents will make them change their mind. Ideally, it would be wonderful if they would agree to go to family counseling with you (I'm guessing they would refuse that). That's just my opinion, though, and you are wise to further discuss this with your counselor and see what he or she thinks.
Before you make a move, make certain you have a solid plan and that you will be able to take care of yourself; maybe, with luck, even get a higher education. Not only should you have a plan, but you should have one or two backup plans, as well, because, God forbid, if your first plan fails and you don't have any alternatives, can you imagine asking your parents if you could move back in with them?
You say in your first letter that your future is coming together. Hopefully that means you have some things in the works that will help you to achieve independence. I'm happy to help you out with that, but I would need to know more details first.
I'm very sorry about how this part of your life has turned out. In many cases, if I had read that a young teen was upset with his parents and felt they didn't listen, I would try to figure out a way for them all to stay together, but the wrench in the works is your brother's death and their unwillingness to do anything about it (that is, anything to heal the wounds) and that they are, furthermore, doing the same thing to you as they did to your brother.
I'd be very curious to hear what your counselor says about this. Talk to him and give me an update. Remember to look before you leap.
(Warning: the following letter describes a very disturbing suicide; if you are a very sensitive person, please do not read this one)
Dear Papa Bear
I only recently learnt about you, and from what I can tell, it'd have been very helpful to know a lot sooner. But, I suppose you play the hand you're dealt, make the best of it and all that. I apologise in advance for taking up you time and there's a couple things some people could find triggering in here, so be warned.
For me, everything started about six years ago. I had just got into high school and made friends with a couple guys who were in university. You know, make friends with older, university guys who are all into the same geeky things as you, because your parent decides to send you to a sport focused high school where you get bullied for liking geeky things. Or, that's what I thought at the time anyway. They were really nice guys and we became very good friends over the next three years.
There were 2 guys in particular I grew very attached to. Like a father-son/brother kind of relationship. Riaan and Danie. We were almost always together. Either I was with them after school and in the evenings, or I sat in Skype calls and chat rooms with them. Inseparable, you could say.
Riaan always said it was like having a younger brother, and he liked that. Partially because he didn't have much of a family. His mother and father hated him, his siblings were continuously told he is the worst of the worst, he didn't really have a pleasant upbringing. Add in the fact that he was severely depressed and often suicidal, cripplingly self doubting and loathing, and had severe anxiety and you have a recipe for disaster.
Danie had an abusive father who slept with everything that he couldn't drink, smoke or snort. His mother ended up grabbing him and his brother and leaving. Socially awkward, shy, and nervous, sort of your typical nerd.
And then there's me. Father cheated on mother, ran of with his mistress to Tanzania and disappeared. Single mother left trying to raise two kids with the father only caring enough to help when convenient for him. Socially inept, awkward, nervous, permanently stressed out and mildly depressed even at the best of times.
Some of our other friends used to joke that we were pretty much just one constant self help seminar. Gave us three a nickname I can't remember. But it was ok. We were happy with the way things were, and we wanted to keep things that way.
Everything was fine up to that point...
About 3 years ago, I was in my second last year of school, I ran over to go visit Riaan at his little student flatlet. Thought we could finally marathon the resident evil movies, like we'd been saying we should. Funny that I have a really bad memory because of a head injury I got when I was 3, but I can still clearly remember everything about that night, right down to what magazines and games he had laying on his desk. Anyway, walked in, everything was dark, thought a bulb blew or something. I walked in on him sitting in his shower, hunched over. He had gone and taken his father's shotgun, the same one his father took on hunting trips to the Karoo to hunt springbok.
I yelled, but nothing, just a loud, sharp ringing in my ears followed by a shower of red. You'd be surprised how loud it actually is.... I can't really remember what he looked like, but I can still clearly remember the grotesque rose on the wall, where every chunk of brain, bone and blood landed. How he sat before, where he fell after. It's this permanent horror still burnt into my eyelids, always there the minute I close them.
No notes, no reasons, nothing. His parents arranged a “private funeral” and dumped what was left in an unmarked grave so it could be forgotten.
That's when things fell apart. I stopped caring. Danie stopped caring. We gave up. Eventually we forced ourselves and each other to move on. We bottled everything up, pretending we were ok. It worked, for the most part.
They all finished their courses, got jobs, I finished school and went off to college. Life went on.
Couple of months ago we found out Danie pretty much destroyed his liver. He was down and out for a while, barely alive and dropped off the waiting list unless he stays sober for at least one year.
Now I've got this constant feeling of dread hanging over me. I can't focus on anything or get myself to care enough, either. I think I've already given up without even thinking of trying to put up a fight and that's what scares me most. I just don't know what to do anymore.
I'm sorry about babbling on and taking up your time. I feel like a complete asshole dumping all of this on someone else and asking them to help, but at this point I've written this about a dozen times and chickened out at the last minute. So, I thought, what the hell, if you sit quietly in a corner, nothing will change. But I thank you for your time, and I'm sorry for taking up so much of it.
Jean (age 20, South Africa)
* * *
That took real courage to write your story to me. I can’t imagine anything as horrible as what you went through when you witnessed your friend’s violent suicide. Please do not apologize or in any way think you are taking up my time. This is what I’m here for, although I have to admit this one may be out of my league. As you know, I am not a licensed psychotherapist. It might be clichéd, but have you sought one out?
In part of your letter, you say that you and Danie moved on, but I don’t believe you have. Danie is killing himself with alcohol and you are deeply, deeply scarred. What Riaan’s parents did to the body is an insult to his memory. I understand what they did, but I won’t condone it.
All three of you are victims of a society that doesn’t accept those who are different. For a while, you found a solution by creating your own support group, but Riaan, sadly, fell apart and shattered that circle. Normally, when someone goes through a tragic loss such as this, I tell them to seek out support, perhaps go to grief counseling or a local support group of people who have lived through the same thing. In your case, however, I worry that this would just remind you of the trio you already once had, and that would just bring back sad memories. Nevertheless, educating yourself about the grieving process, which is unique when it comes to suicide, may help. Here is a website that has useful information. If you are religious, you might also seek out help from your local church or temple.
But there are several other things I would like to suggest you do, too.
First, make sure you are not blaming yourself for any of this. Riaan’s suicide is not not not not your fault. I’m not sure you’re feeling that way, but if you are you have to get that notion out of your mind.
Second, if you are feeling powerless, empower yourself by being there for Danie. This will help both of you.
Danie internalized his grief, and the result is that his grief manifested itself in alcoholism. You’re also internalizing your grief and damaging yourself in a different way. Have you allowed yourself to cry? Grieving is a catharsis that you must go through before you can continue with your life. You might also be angry at Riaan for what he did. That’s okay, too. Let it out. Yell, scream, shout out your anger. It doesn’t make you a bad person to be angry, and, once you let out that anger, you will feel much better and, actually, not feel so angry anymore. It is very unhealthy to keep grief and anger inside you. I cannot emphasize that enough.
The next thing you need to do is recognize that in life we often go through major transitions. I have gone through two of them: my attempted suicide at age 18, and the discovery, at 40, that I was gay. Both times, it was like I died and was reborn. Both times were extremely difficult for me, but I managed to emerge on the other side. Riaan’s suicide is like that. The breakup of your circle is like that. A phase of your life has died, but that doesn’t mean you are at the end of life.
You are in transition.
Recognize that you are in a transitional phase of life, not at the end of it. This feeling of dread hanging over you is the image of Riaan’s suicide repeating in your soul like a broken LP.
The Buddhists have something called a 49th Day Ceremony. They believe that when someone dies, there is a 49-day period called the bardo that is a time between one life and the next. After the bardo the soul is reincarnated into the next life.
Although Riaan died three years ago, you can still perform a ceremony not so much for him but for you (and Danie). My suggestion to you is that you create a ceremony that is significant and specific to you. It should include two parts: in the first part, you commemorate the old life, and in the second part you celebrate the new. For example, you could take something that was Riaan’s or that signifies Riaan’s life in some way, tie it to a helium balloon, and let it soar far far away. Then, in celebration of the new life, you could, say, plant a tree in his name and let that tree’s new life represent his. After performing this ceremony for Riaan, guess what? Do the same for yourself. You need a rebirth, as well. Again, if you can convince him, get Danie in on this, as well.
Ceremonies are not an empty gesture. There is a reason that we have them in all religious, spiritual, and cultural traditions. They are a way of giving form to concepts and beliefs that would otherwise seem too abstract to us. They help us to cope with—and celebrate—the changes that are inevitable in life.
In essence, Jean, the reason you are feeling the way you are is because, despite what you think, you haven’t actually moved on and you haven’t grasped the idea of life and death as a transition, not an ending. With transitions, there is hope, while the idea of death as an ending offers no hope.
Embrace that life is in flux. Nothing really dies, sweetie. It just changes. It’s okay to grieve over the loss of what once was and to miss your friend, but please see that this is not the end of hope. There is always hope, love, and rebirth; they are as much a part of life as death is.
To start off, I've always been different. Being a furry, a nerd, among many other traits, has not made me into the most relatable person. I'm just too weird.
But lately, I've been feeling more distant than usual from everyone.
Last year has been very hard for me. I've been diagnosed with a genetic malfunction that changed everything about my life. Everything. I'm signing this letter anonymously and changing all the info (except age) to try and cover my tracks, because it’s hard for me to tell anyone about this unless there's hardly any way they can track it back.
So, time to come clean. The ... malfunction ... is called Turner Syndrome. Basically, imagine a girl that will NEVER go through puberty, and you have me. I can fake some things. I take a shot every night to increase my height, and take steps to make myself feel normal. I've gone through surgery after surgery (I HATE them. I once had such a panic attack before one, they couldn't put me under until I calmed. Don't know why.) I'll never have a child naturally, and my appearance is much less than pleasant.
You can probably imagine the mixed emotions I'm feeling about this. I was on anti-depressants for a bit (at 14 years old!), grades took a hit, and life just felt pointless. My self-esteem is non-existent. I can't be left alone with my thoughts.
My question pretty much is.... Where do I go? How do I pick myself up from this hole I've dug? I don't know what to believe in. I rejected religion for science, but now science has told me I'm stupid, ugly, short, awkward, and infertile.
A furry I'm VERY close to noticed the shot in the fridge and asked me about it. I told her nothing more than, "I take a shot every night to grow." She's shown me nothing but support, but I feel hollow, unloved, and slightly misunderstood.
Sadness isn't the only emotion brought on by this. Anger came with the package. I stopped using furry social media because I couldn't stand to listen to the melodrama, couldn't stand thinking about how much I would give to be able to whine about a troll being a bully online. No, I'm stuck with this.
So now I'm a shell of who I am. Bitter towards my peers and myself.
What do I do? I feel so different. I feel so exiled. I'm 1/200000 at this point, just with two of my qualities. What do I believe in when the truth's turning me into someone I don't want to believe? Please, help. I can't help myself anymore. I'm the laughing stalk of the Internet because I'm a furry and a nerd, and the laughing stalk of real life because I'm short and ugly.
Sorry for talking your ear off.
Your exiled furry, Anon. (age 16, Virginia)
* * *
My turn to talk your ear off :-) (and you didn’t).
Thank you for your willingness to share your letter with my readers. That takes some courage, even if you sign yourself as “Anon.” Just so I have this straight, I believe that Turner Syndrome is a genetic condition that occurs only in women and has to do with one of their X chromosomes either being missing or incomplete. Interestingly, this is not an inherited disease but occurs by accident and is very rare. You mention short stature, infertility, and you say you’re “stupid.” The research I did said that women with TS have normal intelligence, but because they have some problems with spatial concepts they can have trouble with math. Other symptoms may include (but don’t necessarily include) heart, kidney, liver, and thyroid issues; hearing loss and ear infections; scoliosis and other skeletal problems, including loss of bone density; and such physical anomalies as puffy extremities, numerous moles, low-set ears, webbed neck, receding jaw, and short stature (as you mentioned). I assume the surgeries you mention were related to these physical traits and hope you have no internal organ issues. In addition, shyness and social anxiety is often heightened among those with TS.
Okay, that’s the technical stuff (mostly for the benefit of my readers, as I’m sure you know this). Let’s address some of these issues.
You mention the bickering of furries online, trolls and such, and how that irritated you and seemed trivial compared to what you are enduring. Well, yes, perhaps, but in writing my column I find that much of that petty fighting is the result of more serious issues in those people’s lives.
This is not to make light of your illness, which is certainly serious. But what can be done?
To begin with, stop blaming—or feeling let down by—science, medicine, God, etc. Also, and most importantly, don’t blame yourself. You have been dealt a bad hand at the poker table, but the talented card player knows that bluffing can win the game—and by bluffing, what I mean is attitude. Take two people with Turner Syndrome: one is very negative, bitter, angry, hopeless; the other has the same symptoms as the first, but she is upbeat, hopeful, and active in her life. Even if neither one gets better, which one is going to have a better life? Will attitude cure your disease? No, but it will change who you are. Right now, you acknowledge that you have dug yourself into a hole, and the shovel you have used is called bad attitude. How do you get a better attitude? You find community support in people who understand. I would like you to contact the Turner Syndrome Society of the United States (http://www.turnersyndrome.org/). Their website has all kinds of resources, including two support groups in your home state and a reference to a doctor in your state who specializes in TS. Getting help from people who care about and understand you is a huge step toward digging yourself out of your black hole.
I want to also suggest you take a look at this page http://tinybuddha.com/blog/8-tips-to-help-create-a-positive-mental-attitude/, which will give you some positive tips. Buddhism, remember, is not a religion, but, rather, a life-affirming philosophy. You could do a lot worse than studying the teachings of the Buddha. A point I want to especially emphasize in the link above is to realize that you are not your disease. You are not your pain or your emotions. You are something very much larger than all of that. Transcend the trappings of the mundane world and you will discover you are a part of a Universal Being. Studying Buddhism will help you to step outside yourself and realize the larger picture.
One more thing you can do: remember to hug. Hug your friend, hug your family, and tell them you love them every day. It works wonders.
Hope that helps!
I have this friend that I met weeks ago, and we really hit it off.... We talked, joked, played around, and had fun.
Well, today, he mentioned that he has cancer and 1 year to live. He said that he'd stop talking to me so that I wouldn't get attached, and it hurt.
Now he's not talking to me. I'm depressed and scared.... What do I do??
* * *
This might sound rather cynical, but my first reaction to your situation has to do with a couple of experiences I have had. On not one but two occasions, I have had furries tell me they were dying or near death and it turned out to be a lie because, for some reason, they wished to break off communication with me and didn’t have the guts to just tell me. One of them even texted me, pretending to be his father and telling me his son was dead (good gravy). I also had a non-furry once call me and say he was in the hospital about to get a quadruple bypass and that he might die on the table—only to find out a few hours later it was all a lie to get sympathy from me.
The first thing I would do, if I were you, is try to confirm the story. Try to contact other friends of his and check out what’s going on. If it’s all a lie because this guy no longer wants to talk to you, grant him his wish and shut the door, nay, slam the door. I’m sorry if this sounds horrible of me, but the whole “I have one year to live” thing rings like cliché to my ears. I would bet you $100 right now that it’s bullpucky. Why? Because you just met him a few weeks ago; he was joking around, happy, care-free, feeling fine. All of a sudden he’s going to die in a year? Alarm bells are ringing here, and if untrue, then you have a right to be angry about his emotionally manipulating you.
But! I could be wrong; wouldn’t be the first time. If confirmed (and I am serious that you should check out his story and not just take his word for it) and he really is terminal with cancer, then he needs a friend. Emotional support and encouragement are some of the best medicines for a person who is ill. You don’t have to offer solutions; just your mere presence can help immensely. No one wants to die alone and friendless. I’m hoping that this friend is somewhere close so you could actually visit him, but if that’s impossible, use the phone or Skype (texting is not sufficient) so that he can hear your voice and/or your face.
If you are having trouble contacting him, employ the same strategy as above and try to contact his friends and family. He and they need to know you’re a real friend who wishes to be supportive in this difficult time.
It's been several months since we last associated with each other from here. The question here is about how hopeless I've felt about the fandom, most of my family, and my social life altogether since birth. Unfortunately, this is partly in innate due to a certain condition that I'm incredibly ashamed to reveal here on the net, so I'm not going to say anything of it at all.
Lately, it hasn't been very happy for me among people. It's an endless loop that things make me happy, not people. I can never really get along with anyone even to my siblings and mother like nearly absolutely everyone does in the general public & fandom.
As much as I am said to be a good artist, I'm not social at all after much "Post Traumatic Social Disorder," sheer bitterness, and unfair experiences I've had with people. This is not only in the general public, but EVEN in the fandom, and in the end, I've decided to depart from FA too.
Even to those I met locally, I don't consider them a friend at all anymore despite them possibly seeing otherwise. The reason? Their friends are jerks, and they associate with those jerks, so I've been fed up and flew away from them. (metaphorically speaking)
After a lifelong "warfare" of fights, undue solutions, burned bridges, broken hearts, and so forth, this is what turned me into a perfectly unforgiving and "spiky" person. Frankly, I wholeheartedly with I wasn't this way, but from how I've molded, I have to live with it, like a stuck mask. In fact I plan to add a bonehead mask to my persona anyway.
This has caused me mental issues & I hate everyone for it. I can only say that I trust father and my best furiend, who is a blue ice dragon that's also local. I'd be thrilled to live with him as a roommate this summer 2015 or it's all bust.
Nonetheless, I'm exceptionally unhappy and infinitely angry against the world, the furry fandom as a whole, and every single life form since birth who wronged me. I can't help it though; I wish I could be let nicer if they gave a chance. But the damages are done; I wish I was never born. u.=.u
If there was any side of social/sentimental hope, I will say that I do have a crush on a particular scalie that we probably all know and love. I'll leave you on guessing who. Reason I mention this is because I really would like to give it one last go & give myself the final chance to show my friendship, generosity (even as gift artworks), & care. I would really hope he'll be okay...maybe meet in May 2015? ;)
Anyway, going back on track here, I've had inevitably difficult social issues to the point where I've become incredibly hostile, overly defensive, and ultra-unforgiving. It's sad, and there's literally very few people I trust.
Goes to show that I don't take the word "friendship" lightly
Regardless, please suggest me anything healthy, reasonable, and practical. I've also been envious of others even to whom I knew well, and I just remain distant and isolated to avoid conflict forever, even among other circumstances in general.
Your wisdom to others and even to me are much appreciated.
~Sad, unhappy Western Electro-Lunar Skydragon, Azure (age 21)
* * *
It would help me a lot to know what this "certain condition" is, which I'm guessing is actually a big big part of why you are having these troubles. If you wish, I will keep the letter off the website.
* * *
It's called "Asperger's Syndrome," a variant of Autism, and I have a high-functioning kind of it too.
And you don't have to keep the letter off the website, probably shouldn't this time anyway. I just don't want the data to be lost like I thought it was, is all. Do what you must like you normally do. I like hearing about it. :)
I think I was merely in irrational fear of having revealed exclusively the condition right away on the site, but I'm okay with it in any way now. It was a false alarm. I apologize for the inconvenience. Carry on. :)
(that and I was really tired last night writing it before bed time, so I was prone to crankiness & paranoia!)
* * *
Asperger’s is nothing to be ashamed of. Many furries who have it have written to me suffer from this condition. Some of the symptoms of Asperger’s include social anxiety disorder and depression. People with your condition may also be hypersensitive and have a heightened sense of the importance of adhering to rules and codes of conduct.
This would explain why you have had such a tough time dealing with other people. Not accepting that people are not perfect, you are easily offended by any perceived wrong that they might do—either to you or anyone else. For example, even though some of your friends have not directly wronged you, you associate them with bad behavior because they have other friends you have deemed to be “jerks.” When you create such a high standard that it becomes impossible for anyone to earn your approval, the result is what has happened to you: no friends and complete isolation.
My prediction, therefore, is that this dragon you like will eventually let you down, too, and you will reject his friendship.
Having no friends and isolating oneself will also exacerbate your feelings of depression and hopelessness.
The solution to your problem, then, is treatment for your Asperger’s. The good news, too, is that many people who have your condition get better and better at managing it as they get older. Again, don’t be ashamed—instead, get help. You can learn more here: http://www.autism-society.org/living-with-autism/
Wishing You Luck and Health,
My name is Ross Smith and unfortunately I suffer from bipolar disorder. I've found every day it gets harder and harder for me to cope; at some points they lead to serious panic attacks that I can’t control. What do you think I should do cause my parents say I fake it and doctors don't seem to be interested either.
JD Husky (age 25, United Kingdom)
* * *
Are you sure you have bipolar disorder? Panic attacks are not the same thing as being bipolar. How did you come to the conclusion that you were? Bipolar disorder is a disease in which sometimes you are extremely depressed; this can be followed by manic episodes, although sometimes irritable and grouchy. Sufferers do not necessarily alternate between highs and lows, however. For example, they might have lots of depressive episodes but only occasional, and relatively mild, periods of being “up.” It’s like having your nerves go from sluggish to hyperactive in an unpredictable way. Have you been formally diagnosed?
Bipolar disorder is not only about one’s mood. The illness can also impair your memory and ability to concentrate, affect appetite and sleep, and give you anxiety attacks (this last one sounds like you). Suicidal thoughts are also a risk; if that happens to you, please get help immediately. You can call the national suicide hotline at 800-273-TALK or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. There is no charge. For the United Kingdom, go to http://www.samaritans.org/ or call +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90.
Being bipolar can make life difficult, to say the least. It makes it harder to form relationships, hold down a job, and makes you more vulnerable to drug and alcohol addiction, high blood pressure, migraines, and even heart disease and diabetes. Because of how it affects mood and impulsiveness, it might cause you to make rash decisions that are not in your best interest (like deciding to quit a job or break off a relationship for no good reason), and it can cause your self-esteem to plummet.
Many people don’t realize how incredibly complex bipolar disorder is, and no two people who have show exactly the same symptoms. Medical professionals have developed three categories for the disorder, therefore: 1) Bipolar I, which is the kind people usually think of with extreme highs and lows of mood; 2) Bipolar II, which involves milder highs (hypomania) coupled with severe depression; and 3) Cyclothymia, the milder form which is marked by cycles of hypomania and less severe depression.
If some or all of this describes you, then, yes, you could be bipolar, and if your doctor acts uninterested, then I would find another doctor. Too bad you can’t do the same for parents who are unconcerned about their own child’s health or call him a liar.
Some good news: even without medication, there are a few things you can do, non-medical-wise, to ease symptoms, including such simple things getting enough rest (and doing so at the same hours each day), eating healthy foods, getting exercise, and doing other techniques (yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, a relaxing hobby) to reduce stress. You can also keep a journal tracking your mood swings and other symptoms, which might help you figure out if there are some things in your life and environment that contribute to these episodes. People with bipolar disorder can, with help, lead normal and happy lives.
If you can’t get help from your family or can’t get a doctor, contact the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Their website has a wealth of brochures, and they offer peer support as well. Visit their site at www.DBSAlliance.org/FindSupport/. The DBSA is in Chicago. You can still take advantage of their publications, but you might want to contact an organization in the UK, so for that I would recommend Bipolar UK at http://www.bipolaruk.org.uk/.
A note on comments: Comments on letters to Papabear are welcome, especially those that offer extra helpful advice and add something to the conversation that is of use to the letter writer and those reading this column. Also welcome are constructive criticisms and opposing views. What is NOT welcome are hateful, hurtful comments, flaming, and trolling. Such comments will be deleted from this site. Thank you.