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Some days ago I returned to my home in Massachusetts, USA from Newfoundland, Canada. Ah, Newfoundland, what a remarkable place!!! For me, at least, its unspoiled beauty and natural wonders provide a brief respite from the chaos I feel so intensely when I am at home and engaged with the distressing issues facing our world. I miss my time in Newfoundland where I am able to embrace nature, simplicity, and beauty.

Of course upon returning home, catching up on my emails becomes a priority and one message that caught my attention was an article by Sally Dugman called “Preventing Miseries,” focused on suicide. In her article she cites an interesting piece by Edward Curtin, published in Countercurrents.org and entitled “Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World.” My reading of this important article led me to believe that Curtin was arguing that as we walk through life, participate in the challenging demands placed on us, and try to close our eyes to the horrors around us and the destructive aspects of our capitalist and highly destructive culture we are, in essence, committing “slow suicide.” He also indicates that some people who have internalized fully the expectations of our demanding culture but who find themselves unable to meet these expectations take their own lives more abruptly than those of us who simply try to cope and in the process lose our authentic selves. The solution Curtin seems to suggest to this profound dilemma is to remain true to ourselves, view the world with open eyes, and to directly name and work against the injustices that surround us.

I agree with Curtin that to move through life committing gradual suicide is no way to live, but to take in life’s horrors and to try to live authentically and to speak out against the evils surrounding us is also fraught with enormous pain. I know that from being a psychologist and a mother of two genuinely beautiful children who, from very early ages, did question concepts presented to them as “truths” but which seemed anything but true to them. I also know from my own first hand experience the extraordinary pressure, heartbreak, loneliness, and outright rejection anyone who speaks truth to power endures. Suicide definitely happens in those who try to perform as expected by the society and when they fail, they take their own lives. And people do commit suicide slowly by mindlessly participating in the rat race without ever challenging its horrors. But many who try to live authentic lives, who remain able to see that the emperor has no clothes, who allow the painful cries of kids taken from their parents at the US/Mexico border to resonate in the deepest part of their hearts also commit suicide as the pain and feelings of despair, heartbreak, and powerlessness are unbearable.

In his article Curtin cites R. D. Laing a number of times as a way of supporting his view that living by remaining “asleep” to life’s atrocities deprives the person of meaning and joy. But Laing also told us that tying to live authentically and to “see” with the unspoiled eyes of the child is what makes people “mad,” causes them to say – and I quote Laing here from an interview he did years ago with Dick Cavett – “I’m checking out and I’m not coming back.”

So I don’t know what to say really. Unless the whole society awakes all at once, together, how can we ask individuals to stand alone in the bitter wind speaking about the everyday horrors which abound in our world? I don’t think it is the fear of death that silences authentic souls, rather it is the grinding down of their energy, hope, and spirit. I think the issue is more complex than just waking up one by one and fighting against oppressive forces. That is necessary for sure, but to underestimate the excruciating pain being awake embodies is a mistake I think. Finding a community to support us as we try to walk authentically is perhaps one answer. Finding ways to emotionally sooth our broken hearts is maybe another solution. Embracing goodness and hoping sometimes to also receive that in return may help. Naming our feelings of powerlessness and questioning if, in fact, we have no agency, and crying and screaming sometimes might also have their place.

Regina Edmonds is a psychologist and former college professor living in MA, USA

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