The Neolithic: Revolution or Evolution?

I, like you, am a small piece of a community, which is part of a society, which is a piece of an ecosystem, which is part of a planet which is part of a solar system, which makes up a bit of a galaxy, which is one of a cluster, which is part of a supercluster, which is part of a universe.  And yet, I am also a collection of individual cells, organized in differentiated organs, each with its own role and each of those cells is itself a small community of organelles, including the nucleus and the mitochondria that were once different species and each of which harbors a community of genes, which struggle individually and separately to replicate themselves through cell division, reproduction, survival of the individual person, survival of the community, survival of society and so on.  I am a part of a larger whole and I am a whole of smaller parts.

The grand organization I exist in developed slowly, very slowly, over billions of years, beginning with the simplest genes, or so we assume, and developing more and more complex forms of organization.  We now live in a multi-species community.  It is hard to call it anything else.  We convince ourselves that we are its masters, that we have molded it and not the other way around, that we have shaped the plants and animals around us into a world that meets our liking.  Perhaps we have, but things are never so simple.

Since the Neolithic Revolution brought multiple species of plants and animals into permanent relationships with human beings in different parts of the world at similar times, we have come to depend on a variety of other species for our existence, and they have come to depend on us.  It is more than symbiosis and it is something different than an ecosystem.  Human beings and our numerous allied species have transformed much of the planet into something we find more suitable to the propagation of our genes.  The plants and animals that evolved into human beings’ pleasures or pests have succeeded in propagating their genes in a way that would have been unimaginable to our hunter-gatherer forebears, if they ever thought to imagine such a thing.

Look at corn, or maize, as it is more properly called.  It descended from the humble teosinte grass and is so different from its ancestor that its origins are still debated.  Human beings bred and adapted this plant in Mesoamerica, as they bred and adapted wheat in the Middle East.  Or did the plant evolve to take advantage of human agriculture, making itself more appealing to us so we would spread its genes far and wide?  Did we choose corn or did it choose us?

I am more fascinated with the chili pepper, a plant that evolved long ago to be pleasant to birds, which spread its seeds, and unpleasant to mammals, which don’t, except for human beings, the only mammals that eat the fruit of the plant and have happily spread its seeds around the globe without once thinking they were doing the plant a favor.  Did we choose chili peppers or did they somehow choose us?

There are some species that have clearly joined up with human beings voluntarily, especially pests, but also cats and dogs, two carnivores that seem out of place in human society.  Cats’ participation in our communities appears to have been completely voluntary and some people believe dogs also domesticated themselves, joining up to get a regular lunch.  Maybe someday a raccoon subspecies will tame itself in a similar way.

But what about cows?  Cows no longer exist as a wild species.  We feel sorry for them.  I think that is appropriate, but at the same time, they are a spectacularly successful species mostly because human beings like to eat them and drink their milk.  If people never ate them, never bred them, how many cows would there be?  Cows may suffer, but their genes are fulfilling their one and only goal: reproduction.

In any case, human societies stopped being exclusively human thousands of years ago.  We are now part of a web of interdependent species.  Many of the species we rely on would struggle to survive in any other environment and we would struggle to survive without them.   We are part of a new ecosystem that can pick itself up and move in toto from one continent to another, an ecosystem that has cut down forests, drained swamps, filled in shallow seas, terraced hills, irrigated deserts and paved over grasslands in all but the least amenable climates.

Trees, grasses and corals are among the species that have played similar transformative roles, making homes for numerous other species, but ours is just a bit different.  In forests, grasslands and reefs, there are also complex relationships, but it is less important which species of tree, grass or coral is providing the home and which species play other roles, like pollinating flowers or spreading seeds.  In contrast, human ecosystems require a specific set of species.  Since the dawn of the Neolithic Revolution, when people move they take their web of species with them.

The hybridized human ecosystems that developed after Columbus have been more successful than the older ones.  The new mix of plants and animals that we can’t live without is one of the reasons for the huge growth in human numbers during the last few centuries.

So, was the Neolithic Revolution spark a new way of life or a new kind of life?  Was it cultural change like the Industrial Revolution or evolutionary change like multicellular life?  Are we really separate from the plants and animals we rely on?  Or do we need them as much as we need human society?  And is there a difference anymore?

 

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What I Know to Be True

One of the few things I regret from my nearly 50 years as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (formerly the Mormons), was standing up in church and talking about knowing the church was true.

I know what experiences I based those statements on, but I no longer believe those experiences meant the church was the one and only church with authority to act in the name of Jesus Christ. I believe such experiences are available in other churches and religions. I believe they do indicate that God exists, but I can’t say that for sure, either.

The one thing I know is that it is wrong to mistreat other people. I know it is right to be good to each other. I know it is right to be kind. I know it is wrong to deliberately hurt someone else. That’s the sort of thing I know. Everything else is belief.

My Faith Transition in Brief

I recently joined a new church. I was previously a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which decided after I left that they are not, definitely not, going to be called Mormons anymore. At least that is what their new president decided. We’ll see how well it works.

Last summer I officially joined a radically different church, called the Community of Christ. It used to be called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, so it was not a big move in some ways, but it was a very big one in others. It resembles a change from the Southern Baptist church to the Episcopalian church.

My beliefs are currently unsettled and evolving, but I still like some of the heretical beliefs of Mormons, which were disliked in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as much or more as they were in the Methodist or Catholic churches and are liked even less by the church’s modern progressive membership. In fact, I may be more of a heretic in my new church than I was in my old one. Even so, I feel more secure within its fold because my old church’s band of permissible belief and dissent was somewhat narrow, while my new one is unusually broad.

Despite my differences with some of the Community of Christ’s teachings, the beliefs I share with them are the ones that matter most to me and they are the primary reasons I joined it: love comes first, all people are of equal worth and we are all on a journey together towards greater light and truth. For these and other reasons, I find myself wishing I had always belonged to it and I am jealous of those who have. My new religious mission is to help lifelong members of my new church see how lucky they are.

Why Occam’s razor works for science, but not religion

For those who don’t know, “Occam’s razor” describes a way of choosing between two different explanations for the same thing.  It basically means that the simplest explanation is the best one.  It was named after a 14th century Scottish scholar/friar (because pretty much all scholars were all churchmen at the time).

It is my observation that Occam’s razor really describes an almost universal human strategy.  It is the way human beings approach truth.  “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” is one example of how people apply the principle to ordinary life.  This saying basically says the simplest explanation for human behavior is the true one.

The problem with Occam’s razor is when it is used as a way to determine absolute truth, rather than determine what truth is most likely.  It’s not unusual for people to use Occam’s razor as an argument-ender (Hypothesis A is simpler, so Occam’s razor says A is true. End of discussion.).  The problem with this is that the principle is only as good as the data we have.  More data can change what the simplest explanation is.  What we thought was the simplest explanation can turn out to be very complicated.

For example, for most of the period that human beings have been around to contemplate the world we live in, most people believed the sun revolved around the earth.  That was the simplest explanation.  Until the 16th century, it was, in fact, the explanation demanded by Occam’s razor in almost all human societies.

What changed?  More and better data.  Europeans realized that the model of the universe they were using didn’t explain the movements of the planets well enough.  If all the planets revolved around the earth, they didn’t stay in nice, neat orbits.  The geocentric model of the universe became more and more complicated.  Copernicus put the sun at the center and the motions of the planets were all described by nice, smooth paths.  More data made a heliocentric model of the universe the simplest explanation and it was eventually adopted by everyone (until it became clear that the sun was not the center of the universe, either).

The amount of data we have today makes a geocentric model completely impossible (the few people who claim to doubt it are obliged to say the data is false).  We have sent people to the moon and machines to the farthest reaches of the solar system.  We have taken so many photographs and measurements of objects in space and of the earth from space that a geocentric model of the universe isn’t even an option.  It’s easy to forget that there was a time when the simplest, most scientific explanation for the motion of the sun, moon, planets and stars was that everything revolved around the earth.

When Copernicus first described his theory, there was nowhere near as much data available and only experts knew the data existed.  At first, Copernicus’ model was only highly probable, not proven, and non-experts had little or no reason to believe him.  We judge the critics of Copernicus and Galileo a bit too harshly.

There is also a flaw in the human mind.  People have a hard time with concepts like “almost certain,” and “highly probable.”  Human beings see them as meaning the same thing as either “true” or “false,” depending on what they are inclined to believe.  If you are willing to believe an idea that is “almost certain” or even “highly probable,” you will probably see “highly probable” as being the same as “true.”  If you really don’t want to believe an idea, you will probably focus on the inherent uncertainty in the term “highly probable” or “almost certain” and say that the idea is “false.”

This is a problem in science, for both scientists and the public, since science rarely declares an idea to be completely true or false at first.  In most cases, science initially rates ideas as being “probable,” “unlikely,” “highly probable,” etc.  Scientists themselves often take sides in scientific debates and talk about their side as if it were “true,” while scientists on the other side talk about it as if it were “false.”  We can hardly expect the public to be more nuanced than scientists are themselves.

As scientists accumulate more data, their ideas stop being “probable” and become either “highly probable” if the evidence supports it or “not very likely” if it doesn’t.  Then—if we’re lucky—more data will show the idea to be either “proven” or “disproved.”  This has happened again and again.  It is how science works, as a whole.

Take evolution.  The amount of data Darwin was working with was fairly small, but over time, biologists described more and more species and archaeologists dug up a seemingly immense number of fossil, with approximate dates provided by dating methods that have themselves gained more and more certainty as more data has been accumulated.  Biologists examined minute cell structures under the microscope and then geneticists added in DNA evidence.

The amount of evidence that supports evolution is now staggering, with much of that evidence discovered in the last 50 years.  Of course, not everyone believes it, for the same reasons human beings rejected previous new ideas: they don’t know the evidence and hearing any uncertainty about an idea they really don’t like is the same as hearing that it’s false.

Of course, not every idea in science is proven to be true.  Some are quietly forgotten as new evidence shows that they aren’t just unlikely, but false.  For example, scientists used to declare that there was a sharp division between animal intelligence and human intelligence.  That difference is slowly blurring as scientists accumulate more data.  New evidence always seems to contradict that idea, rather than confirm it.  The idea that there is a large gap between the intelligence of human beings and that of all (other) animals is headed for the dustbins of history.

This does not bother scientists because science is supposed to be the best description we have of the world around us and how it works, and science is always evolving.  That’s the whole point of doing it.  Some ideas in science are now beyond dispute, but others are not.  The disputable ideas are the ones scientists love investigating and arguing about, by the way.

Religion is not science.  Religion does not purport to be “the best description of the world available,” but “the truth.”  It also makes claims about things that cannot be investigated, proven or disproved.  That’s the whole point of religion.  “Highly probable” is not an acceptable level of certainty in religion.  Religion is supposed to go beyond the available data.

Religion is, indeed, a matter of faith.  For the believer, it is a matter of knowing true things that cannot be discovered by science.  In a religious context Occam’s razor becomes unhelpful because it describes what is most likely true, given the available data, while religion is supposed to describe what is true, without any available data.  That is the very definition of faith.

For example, does evolution disprove the Bible?  Some people believe that it does, but many others believe that it does not.  These believers do not see the question as being “Is the creation story in Genesis true or false?” but rather as “Can the Bible be true even if the creation story is false?” or “Can my religious beliefs be true if the creation story in Genesis is false?”  Millions of people have decided that the answer to one or both of those questions is yes.

For the religious, it is not a question of what is most likely, but of what is possible. Religious people arrive at their beliefs through methods that are not subject to scientific investigation.  When they use science and evidence to test their religious beliefs, their question is not usually “Is it likely that my religious beliefs are true?” but “Is it possible that my religious beliefs are true?”

While specific beliefs of religion can be proven or disproved, the scant evidence surrounding religious belief almost always leaves some uncertainty in general matters, enough wiggle room for people to say “Yes, my central religious beliefs can be true.”  For true believers, the possibility that their beliefs are true is all they need, since they didn’t base their belief on physical evidence in the first place and never expected to have proof of them.

That’s the attitude they have if they’re objective, which most people aren’t.  Most people will do the same as they do with science, except it kind of works in reverse.  When people want to believe in a religion, any uncertainty about evidence that contradicts it will make them see that evidence as “false,” but when people don’t want to believe in a religion, any evidence that “very probably” contradicts it will be seen as “certain proof.”  Believers will think the evidence is irrelevant, while doubters will think that the belief in question has been as thoroughly disproved as the idea that the sun revolves around the earth.

In sum, Occam’s razor is a useful tool, but it is not the same as proof.  When applied to faith, it loses its usefulness.  In addition, the human emotions surrounding religion will cause most people either to exaggerate what it says or ignore it entirely.

Religion, Atheism and Critical Thinking

To begin with, I have to say that I believe in God, but I do not believe atheists are going to hell.  In my opinion, there is little significant difference between believing in goodness and believing in God.  I am more confident in the eternal fate of an atheist who tries to be the best person they can than I am in the fate of a believer who muddles through life without making the hard choices that true goodness requires on a regular basis.

I believe I am on firm ground on this, by the way.  Changing your opinion is easy.  Changing your character is not.  As far as I’m concerned, character is what counts, now and forever.

So, when the New Testament, for example, talks about the need to believe in Jesus Christ, I see that belief as being measured by a person’s actions, not their opinions.  And if we cannot change our opinions after death, we are all in trouble.  Imagine being stuck with the opinions you have now for all eternity!  I know that a belief in God is not just any opinion, but is it so different that it cannot be changed after death?

My religion leads me to this view, of course.  While I am not an “active” Mormon at the moment, the church’s teachings still inform my beliefs and the idea that people can choose to convert after death is essential to the religion’s view of life, death and the eternities.  So, the arguments I have made here are really nothing more than a way of explaining and defending Mormon belief with generic terminology.

As a result of this belief, Mormons do not usually fear for the eternal fate of non-believers.  I am hardly alone in this perspective.  While individual Mormons may look at some of their loved ones and believe they are bound for hell, most Mormons are quite optimistic about the fate of the people who are dear to them.  The religion gives you a choice in how you see others.

The real issue I wanted to address, however, was the claim that religious people (especially Mormons) abandon critical thinking to maintain their beliefs.  I had to include the above paragraph so that I didn’t contribute to—or participate in—the atheist-bashing that is so common in American culture.

It is simply not true that religious people do not engage in critical thinking.  It is not even true that Mormons do not engage in the practice, no matter how many people may claim otherwise.  (For examples of Mormons using critical thinking, see Joanna Brooks and Jana Riess or the sprawling website By Common Consent.)

Someone who does not use critical thinking will encounter facts that counter their beliefs and ignore them.  Someone who uses critical thinking will encounter those same facts and see if there is some way they can be reconciled with their beliefs.  They ask whether it is their understanding of God and religion that is wrong, rather than rejecting the facts or abandoning their beliefs.  They ask whether they need to adjust and adapt their beliefs.  They ask whether rejecting one of their beliefs will really diminish the rest of them.

Someone who engages in critical thinking does not immediately abandon their beliefs, although they may do so eventually if they can find no way of reconciling or adapting their new knowledge to their former beliefs.  I’m not saying that critical thinkers never come to the conclusion that they must abandon what they previously believed.  It is clear that some do.  But the majority of critical thinkers with deep-held beliefs about God do maintain most of them, without rejecting the new facts they encounter.

In sum, you cannot divine a person’s character or their eternal fate by asking if they believe in God, and neither can you use the question to assess a person’s critical thinking skills.

 

 

Avoiding Suicide Again

As a response to the death of someone I knew, I have written about my attempt to kill myself more than 20 years ago and my subsequent hospitalization.  I ended up at my parents’ home.  I never tried to kill myself again, but I did set out to do so a couple of times in the next few years.  Both times, something small stopped me and the impulse passed.

It was hard for me to find medical treatment when I returned to my parents’ home.  I did not have insurance.  They wouldn’t take me at the local mental health clinic, because they were overwhelmed with demand and a single hospitalization was not enough to put me on the list of patients who most needed care.

I did have an evaluation with a psychiatrist there.  He was kind and well-meaning, but he misdiagnosed me as bipolar.  That created two major problems for me.  First, it kept me from getting the kind of help I needed.  Second, it made the problems seem permanent, with the only solution being medication.  People in the mental health field sometimes compared it to diabetes, a permanent problem requiring a lifetime of medication.  So, when medication didn’t help, I didn’t have any hope.  There was no other solution offered to me.

There are a few things, at least, that make it difficult to diagnose mental health disorders.  First, the symptoms are sometimes very similar.  It can be like trying to tell the difference between a bad cold and the flu.  Second, doctors have to rely on patient reports and their own observations.  There are no tests they can run.  Third, the lack of tests makes it impossible to be sure that the mental health diagnoses doctors use are describing separate, unique disorders or that they describe all mental health problems.  A diagnosis might actually describe multiple problems, for example.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is now in its fifth version, referred to as DSM-5.  Further revisions are inevitable.

If patients don’t know what to report or have difficulty identifying their feelings, that creates one problem.  If they don’t present classic symptoms, that creates another problem.   I have read that a diagnosis description is considered accurate if 80% of psychiatrists reach the same diagnosis when following it.  That amazed me since it allows for an error rate as high as 20%, or one in five patients.  This may not always matter, but the differences in treating bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder are fairly significant.  One is treated primarily with medication.  The other does improve very much with medication.

I did not present the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder at that time.  I was not connected well to all of my feelings and didn’t know how to describe them.  The different traumas I had experienced were either blocked from my memory or either I or therapists did not consider them to be serious enough to cause trauma.

Part of the problem is that people respond to trauma differently.  It may be genetic.  It may be from an accumulation of factors in the environment, or both.  In the end it makes no difference why some people are affected by trauma and others aren’t, any more than it matters why some smokers develop emphysema and some don’t.  You still have emphysema.  Why it was you that got it and not some other smoker is not particularly relevant to either you or your doctor.

The mental health clinic referred me to a therapist who charged on a sliding scale.  I found a doctor who would manage my prescriptions.  He was perhaps not the most reputable.  My mother had gone to him and was not convinced they knew what they were doing there, but there was no other option.

I couldn’t function.  I didn’t know why.  I met an old acquaintance who offered to help me apply and get an interview for a job.  It would have been a great job for me, but when I sat down to fill out the application, I couldn’t do it.  I was frozen.  I decided that if I couldn’t even fill out the application there was no way I was going to be able to do the job and I dropped it.  This did not go over well with my parents.

Feeling frozen was the same reason that I had been unable to work or study in my last semester before coming home.  I could not force myself to do things.  No amount of will or self-manipulation would work.  It was the same feeling I had when confronted with a high diving board.  There was nothing in the world that could get me to move my legs, go to the end of that board and jump off of it.  This feeling is so strong that I have sometimes wondered if I could jump out of a plane with a parachute if it meant saving my life.  I am pretty sure I would need someone to push me out.

I did not recognize this as anxiety.  No one else called it that, either, although I was eventually prescribed an anti-anxiety medication (which did not help).  I also did not understand that the fight or flight response to fear has a third variation: freezing.  That was (and is) my main response to fear and it does not seem to trigger the same response from doctors.

Before I was hospitalized, I told my doctor about the intrusive thoughts of suicide I experienced.  Nothing I could do would keep them out.  They came into my mind over and over.  I was once able to stop them briefly by imagining a melody, a harmony and a third harmony at the same time, but that was difficult and I couldn’t keep it up.  My doctor was puzzled and took me across the hall to the psychiatrist who worked at the college health clinic.  He listened to me, was supportive, and prescribed me lithium.  This upset the therapist I was visiting, but it seemed to help.  Lithium is primarily used to treat bipolar disorder, but the psychiatrist who prescribed it did not diagnose me with that either at the time or in the hospital, where he also treated me.  It was probably a major factor in the diagnosis I received later

Just as my intrusive thoughts of suicide were not recognized as being obsessive or compulsive, my inability to act was not labeled as a symptom of anxiety or attributed to trauma.  I did not understand it.  My parents (as I always refer to my mother and step-father) really did not understand it and I lost their support, although they still allowed me to live with them.  With a little time, my mother’s support would return, but after I said I couldn’t work or go to school I never had the support of my step-father.  That was the end of that.

I was not much fun to be around.  My friends avoided me.  I was so frozen that I couldn’t do much.  For my part, I avoided people, since they were the primary cause of my anxiety.  I had lost the emotional support of my parents.  Since I wasn’t working or functioning my self-esteem plummeted.  And I had no hope things would get better.  So I got worse instead.

My first experience in the hospital had been positive.  I decided that if I got to the point where it seemed like I would kill myself if I wasn’t hospitalized, I would check myself into the hospital.  That day came.  They admitted me.  This second hospitalization qualified me for treatment at the mental health clinic.

My second hospitalization wasn’t as positive as my first one had been.  After the first week they transferred me to an unlocked ward.  I imagined walking out and killing myself.  It wasn’t an actual plan and I did not seriously consider it.  I did not understand it at the time, but the feeling of safety I had in the hospital was partly a feeling of safety from myself.  In the unlocked ward, I did not feel that safety.

They tried some new medications for me.  The doctor tried one of the anti-seizure drugs that is commonly used to treat bipolar disorder.  I was also prescribed an anti-anxiety drug at some point, but I didn’t keep taking it.  While anti-depressants never helped me much, anti-anxiety drugs made me loopy.  The side effects were worse than the symptoms they were meant to treat.

So, I did not get better and now I didn’t have the hope that hospitalization would help.  I started planning out how I would kill myself.  I took my time and prepared slowly, over time.

When I was finally ready, I took my preparations and got ready to leave.  I went to say goodbye to my pet parakeet, which my mother had encouraged me to get.  I named him Sam and then got him a mate that I named Trina.  He was my best friend until he died about five years later.  His cage was on the floor and he was sitting on top of it (I have never caged my birds).  I got down and told him I was leaving and wasn’t coming back.  He knew enough words in that sentence to understand what I meant.  He fluffed himself, as birds do after something unpleasant happens, walked over to me, placed his beak right next to my lips and sat there, motionless.

My heart broke.  I couldn’t go through with it.  I gave up my plan.  My pet bird, who I had because of my mother, saved my life.  Some years later, I wrote a poem about it.  Here it is:

The Trouble with Pets

I didn’t think anything

Would save my life that night,

Nor did I hold in my heart any desire for rescue.

I had prepared.

I was ready.

I would accomplish the deed.

I gathered my things

And went for the door,

Passing by the birdcage,

Which, at this hour, was on the floor.

Goodbye, I said, to the parakeets,

As they sat atop the cage.

And in words I knew the oldest knew, I said,

I’m not coming back.

Sam (as the oldest was called) fluffed himself,

As birds do after unpleasantness,

And he walked straight across the cage to my face.

Though at that time he shunned touch,

He placed his beak near my lips

And held it there,

In a prolonged kiss.

You can call him a dumb animal,

Who did not know, did not understand,

But to me, his act will never be but one of love.

This little creature would miss me.

As I loved him, I could not go out that door,

And I did not, because of love.

So I am alive today,

Truly, because of many things,

But, just as truly, because of one powder-blue sparrow-sized bird.

 

If you have thoughts of suicide please talk to someone you trust and/or call a suicide hotline.  Call 1-800-273-8255 or go to http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/, where you can chat with someone online.  They have services for people who speak Spanish as well as people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Avoiding Suicide

Recent events have prompted me to tell a part of my history that I have shared with few people.  Not only is it a part of life that is generally kept private, even secret, it is a history that tends to hurt people in the social and employment areas of life.  It seems time to talk about it anyway now, partly because of recent events in my community and social group, partly because of growing national awareness about the problem and partly because I no longer wish to base my decisions on the fear of what might happen.

Someone I knew killed himself this week.  As if that weren’t tragic enough, he decided to take the life of a loved one before doing so.  This last danger and difficult tragedy gives me added reason to talk openly about this.  The actions of someone I knew personally hit me in an unusual way because when I was a young man I was suicidal and intended to kill myself on more than one occasion.

I want to note that this history is not a reason to treat me differently.  These events happened decades ago.  I do not need special treatment from others and I do not need to be handled with kid gloves.  Criticism and teasing are not a big deal and if you feel inclined to harass me, my history is no reason to hesitate.

The first time I took any action towards taking my life was when I was a graduate student.  The desire to do so did not come on me suddenly or without warning.  The thought had been with me for months at a time during the previous nine years.  I had hardly gone a year without feeling suicidal part of the time.

It is hard to say what made this particular period deeper.  It could have been the realization that I would not have the career I had wanted.  It could have come from watching my friends and acquaintances find love and get married while I remained alone and single.  It could been a result of increased social isolation or even a lack of vitamin D.  What is certain is that I hit stormy waters that were more turbulent than any I had known previously and I very nearly sank under the waves.

There were multiple turning points in my life around this time.  One of them was when I finally spoke up and told a friend what I was thinking.  My thoughts of suicide had become so frequent, so real and so difficult to keep out of my mind that I felt I had to make a decision.  At that point I was doing well enough that I could consider the effects my death would have on others and the thought of my mother’s grief was enough to keep me from deciding on suicide.  Instead, I decided to tell a friend and roommate what was in my mind.

If you have thoughts of suicide, call a suicide hotline.  Call 1-800-273-8255 or go to http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/, where you can chat with someone online.  They have services for people who speak Spanish as well as people who are deaf or hard of hearing.  If you have someone you trust, talk to them about it.

My friend helped me connect with the help my local church offered.  I have received strong benefits from therapy, but I cannot say that talking to this particular therapist made any difference in how I felt.  It turns out that the relationship you have with a counselor has a lot to do with how successful therapy is, so if you seek counseling and do not feel that connection, ask for or look for another one.  There is no need to feel embarrassed or guilty; it is too important an issue.  Unfortunately, I did not know this or understand it at the time.

The counselor encouraged me to go to the doctor and get an anti-depressant.  I did, but it didn’t help.  For whatever reason, anti-depressants never did me much good.  I took them more out of hope and trust in my doctors than out of any benefit I received.

My mood declined further.  After a few months I had a particularly bad day.  I went home.  My roommates were all gone.  I found my roommate’s hunting knife.  I went to the tile area outside the bathroom where I thought the blood would be easy to clean up and slid the knife across my throat.  Nothing happened.

In the movies it is so easy.  This was not.  I didn’t even draw blood.  I don’t really know why.

My failure frustrated me.  I blamed God.  I cried out to him in anger, “You won’t help me and you won’t let me die!”

I went to my room and hid for a while.  I calmed down and the impulse passed.  If I had had access to a firearm, I would not have been so lucky.

A few days later, I had an appointment with my doctor.  I told her what I had done.  She sent me to the hospital immediately.  She sent someone with me and I was not left alone until I was admitted.  I didn’t feel I was in any danger and didn’t see the need for their concern because it had been days since my attempt.  The attention felt nice, though.

I was diagnosed with major depression and was admitted to the locked hospital ward.  I could not leave and that did not bother me.  There wasn’t anywhere I wanted to go and it had been many months since I had had enough energy to do anything.  I was just very bored.  There aren’t many distractions in a psychiatric ward.

During the first part of my hospital stay, I made another attempt to kill myself.  I thought I could drown myself.  I had seen this done in a movie, so it must be possible, right?  I was concerned I would draw attention to myself if I filled the bathtub, so I filled the sink.  I held my face in the water.  It turned out the impulse to breathe was too strong.  I lifted my face up, gasping for air.  I didn’t try again and I didn’t tell anyone I had done it.

I felt extremely comfortable with the other patients.  It turns out that people in a depression ward are often kind and understanding.  Even nicer, I was with people who knew what I felt and did not look down on me for it.  For the first time since sixth grade I had found a social group where I felt completely comfortable.

I was not eager to leave this safe, accepting environment, but hospitals are basically focused on patient exits.  Before two weeks were up, my step-father came to get me and took me home.  I had gone out of state for college and it had been years since I had lived with my mother and him.  I had been unable to work for a few months before my suicide attempt (I lived off savings, if you’re curious) and had worried that I would end up on the streets.  Thankfully, I did not.

As I write this part of my story, I can see how lucky I was compared to some people.  I had someone I wanted to live for.  I had a friend I could confide in.  I had access to some kind of counseling and medical care.  I had a proactive doctor and access to a hospital.  I had a supportive family and a place to live.  I was fortunate.