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.

A Nightmare in Elm City

Please note: this story includes many things which are not real and relies on some stereotypes to make its point.

Seth O’Malley had lived all his life in Elm City.  So had his grandparents, and great-grandparents and their parents before them.  No one in the family was really sure when their ancestors had arrived in the metropolis, or even exactly where they had come from, except for the clues left by their Irish surname and the pale, freckled skin that was so common among them.

All Seth and his family knew now was that they were afraid.  Their lives might never be the same.  And there wasn’t a thing they could do about it.

When Seth O’Malley and the beautiful Emma Hansen had kissed at the altar just 8 years ago, things seemed like they were going to go well for the new O’Malley clan.  Seth was taking over the family business, a neighborhood grocery store the family had run for 75 years.  Like many of the white people in the city, the O’Malley’s had found success in business.

Unfortunately, this success was a constant irritant to the majority black population.  Generations ago, the O’Malley’s had faced boycotts by their black neighbors, who were determined to drive them out of the neighborhood.  Seth’s father could remember going through the protest line as a child to get to the family store, being spit at, shoved and insulted by the angry crowd.

Since that time, things had settled down.  The ugliness of the protests had disgusted the moderate majority in the city, and the government passed ordinances protecting the rights of people of all colors to own businesses without the fear of harassment.  It had been an uphill climb, and Seth had plenty of his own memories of dirty looks and whispered slurs, but generally things seemed to be going in the right direction.

Eight years ago, when he and Emma were married, the city had elected its first white mayor since the Civil War.  The city had a preference for Democratic mayors, but the previous administration had been so incompetent that people turned to a Republican, and a white Republican at that.

Mayor Jimmy Thorvilson had electrified the city with his promises of change, but those promises remained mostly unrealized.  Sadly, the hope and change he represented was long forgotten.  This was due in no small part to the opposition of the Democrat-dominated city council, which had vowed to “take our city back.”  Seth knew that his black Democrat friends meant they wanted a Democrat-led government again, but to him the phrase “take our city back” seemed to have dark undertones.  “Take it back from who?” he wondered, “the majority that voted for a Republican?”

The mayor faced constant rumors that he was secretly a Mormon, which many black residents of the city despised due to the church’s former racism.  The mayor’s biological father was a Mormon and he had lived in Provo, Utah for several years when he was a child, until his parents divorced.  Rumors were rife that he had attended Primary and secretly still believed what he had been taught there.  People even claimed that he was not really a resident of the city when he ran his campaign–which was against the city charter–and no amount of evidence would convince them otherwise.  What seemed odd to Seth was that all these rumors happened after Democrats first claimed the candidate wasn’t “really” white because he had spent been raised by a black step-father, just so they could reduce his appeal to white voters.  Like always, his black Democrat friends said the opposition to Jimmy Thorvilson was entirely political and had nothing to do with his race, but, like always, Seth suspected otherwise.

Mayor Thorvilson had managed to win reelection four years later, but many Democrats blamed that on a lackluster campaign by his polite, Seventh-Day Adventist rival.  They had been sure that election was theirs to lose.  This time around, they were hungry for someone more aggressive.

They had found just such a man in David Henry, a rich, black real-estate developer.  David Henry had been a celebrity in town for decades, known for his lavish lifestyle and his no-nonsense manner.  Democrats swore he was just the man to break up the deadlocked city government and turn the city around.

David Henry made Seth nervous.  As a candidate, the man regularly said things that Seth and his family thought were anti-white and anti-Catholic.  Decades earlier, he had been sued by the government for refusing to do business with whites after the city ordinances had banned such discrimination.  His most enthusiastic supporters belonged to anti-Catholic groups, the Black Panthers and the Black Vipers.  This last group was a shadowy organization that claimed black people were genetically superior to whites because of the Neanderthal DNA that all white people carry.  They sought to turn the city into a blacks-only paradise.

David Henry had started his campaign by calling illegal businesses predators and vampires who sucked the life blood out of the city.  He said he would shut down all the illegal businesses in town and make sure none started up again.  It was his signature issue.

The issue of illegal businesses was a long-running problem in Elm City.  The city had significant regulatory barriers to starting a business.  Fees were high and, except in rare cases, only a lawyer could navigate the system successfully.  People with a dream but little money often started a business anyway, in the shadows.  David Henry and many others claimed the businesses siphoned off tax money from the government and blamed them for making it hard for legal businesses to compete.  Seth knew that many businesses used falsified permits to get past government inspectors, permits which were regularly tracked for payment of taxes.  He knew that many illegal business owners paid plenty in taxes, but they could not apply for the subsidies and government contracts available to legitimate enterprises: the government didn’t check very carefully when it was taking tax money, but it was extremely careful when it paid money out.

Seth thought the illegal businesses filled niches that the larger, less-flexible legal businesses did not bother with.  He thought their owners were often more creative and innovative.  He knew them to be honest, hard-working people, who simply wanted to fulfill a dream, but had been stopped by a bureaucratic nightmare.  He couldn’t imagine the well-connected, well-funded legal businesses bothering with the kinds of risks and sacrifices that his illegal business owner friends dealt with on a daily basis.  There was a reason those market niches were open, after all.

Seth worried about the children of his illegal business owner friends.  The city had several years earlier promised college scholarships and living expenses to allow every resident born in the city to get a degree.  His illegal business owner friends were counting on those so that their children could thrive in the city legally.

They had few other opportunities in the city.  Unions had a stranglehold over hiring, and you had to know the right person to get a job.  The network of contacts was dominated by the black majority, which was why most of the illegal business owners were white.  If their businesses were banned, some of them would leave their children behind with one parent while the other fled to another city, where regulations weren’t so tight and they could work or do business legally.  Others would take their children with them and leave behind their dreams of a better life.

Once again, it seemed to Seth that the candidate David Henry was against the illegal business owners because of their race.  The way he talked about them as predators and vampires was revealing, and at his rallies he always whipped up the Black Panther and Black Viper attendees into mouth-foaming anger.

David Henry said he wanted to wanted to put Elm City first and make it great again, but Seth thought that things were actually going fairly well and, in any case, reducing business regulations and loosening the union’s grip on hiring would go a long way towards making things better.  Quite a few of his black friends agreed with him, but their moderate voices were drowned out by the seething anger at Henry’s rallies.  Henry claimed he was fighting for the real Elm City people, those who had lived here for generations, like Seth had, but with a different color of skin.  Seth thought this was ironic because Henry’s grandparents had themselves immigrated to the city from Haiti, where their surname had been Henri.  Still, his supporters feverishly promoted his goal of making the city great again, calling for a return to the city’s glory days, which happened to be the time when boycotts of white businesses like Seth’s were common.

David Henry was running against the wife of a former mayor, Sheila Jackson.  Her political ambitions were well-known.  Her husband had been a popular Republican moderate, but Democrats did everything they could to bring him down, dragging him through the mud at every opportunity.  She had run for mayor in the Republican primary eight years ago, and had lost to the great white hope of Jimmy Thorvilson.  The Democratic city council had had four years to prepare to run against Sheila Jackson, and they had kept her name in the papers as much as possible with accusation after accusation.

Seth thought that the accusations against her weren’t all that serious.  The evidence didn’t really support them and what it did reveal didn’t seem worse than what previous mayors had done.  Sure, she wasn’t the inspiring, good-hearted Jimmy Thorvilson that Democrats hated so much, but someone like him wasn’t coming around again any time soon.

Seth thought she had good ideas for the city.  She seemed to have a good head for business and a genuine understanding of what was needed.  He thought the problems were that she was a woman, a Republican and a Jackson, and that the Democrats had had four years to plow the ground for scandal-mongering.

In any case, David Henry was not exactly a role model.  He was in his third marriage, each wife younger than the last.  He had cheated on his first wife with his second wife, on his second wife with his third wife, and rumor had it that he had cheated on his third wife, but a local paper that was allied with him had bought the story to keep it quiet.  He had left a long trail of cheated partners, lawsuits and bankruptcies.  His success seemed to be built on nothing more than flash and salesmanship.  He had inherited quite a bit of money from his father and Seth knew that if the man had just invested his inheritance in the stock market and left it alone, he would be worth several times more than he was.  The candidate refused to release details about his business dealings and told lie after lie, but his supporters loved him.

Seth was even more concerned by the foreign money that seemed to come into the campaign.  Some of Henry’s support came from Zimbabwe, which was ruled by Robert Mugabe, a man who had fought against the white Apartheid-like government there in the 1970’s when it was called Rhodesia.  Mugabe had made a career out of demonizing white landowners, finally taking their land from them and plunging the country into economic chaos.  He was elected president of that country and kept power through control of the press, intimidation and other dirty tricks.  Seth was bothered by the fact that David Henry was so complimentary to Mugabe, and to Raul Castro in Cuba and the socialist government in Venezuela, as well, but many of his black friends thought he was just a nutty conspiracy-theorist.

David Henry threatened to sue the newspapers who criticized him.  He had banned a few of them from attending his press conferences and rallies, simply because he didn’t like what they said about him.  He later relented and allowed them back in, but only when it seemed like he wasn’t going to win the election if he didn’t improve his image with moderate black voters.  That was the same time period when he uncomfortably spoke to a gathering of Catholic voters, who practically booed him off the stage and tried to woo white voters by telling them “What have you got to lose?”  Henry regularly said the election was rigged against him and said he might not concede if he lost.  He told his supporters to go to white neighborhoods and “watch” the polls there.  Some of his supporters said there would be a revolution if he didn’t win, and they had plenty of guns.

Henry had also proposed to ban Catholics and Mormons from having positions of influence in the city.  He claimed they all did the will of either the Pope or the Prophet.  No one but his supporters believed this was constitutional, but the threats and the talk scared Seth and his Catholic family.  He talked about enacting harsh penalties on business owners who broke obscure regulations, penalties that could destroy Seth’s family and everything they had taken generations to build.

The long electoral campaign had been dominated by Henry’s angry rhetoric and offensive words about whites and Catholics.  Henry had even hired the editor of an anti-white, anti-Catholic newspaper to run his campaign.  To Seth, it looked like the Democrats had abandoned everything good they ever stood for and had only kept the anger and the hate.  And with that anger and hate and big promises (half of which he couldn’t deliver and many others Seth thought he might not keep, given his unscrupulous business record), Henry had won the election.

The Black Panthers and Black Vipers marched in victory.  Whites protested the new mayor.  Henry immediately began reneging on some of his promises, but he did make his hate-mongering campaign chairman his new chief of staff.  Anti-white, anti-Catholic sentiment seemed to be the one thing that Henry and his biggest supporters were really committed to.

Seth was scared.  His hopeful life had become a nightmare.  He didn’t know what was going to happen to his family and his city.  There were no options.  All he could do was pray.  And he did so, fumbling his rosary as if even it would soon slip out of his hands.

Please note: Much of the content of this story is frighteningly true.  It candidacy of David Henry parallels real events that have actually unfolded in the United States.  The darkness present in it is real.  The unreal features in this story include a level of anti-white, anti-Catholic and anti-Mormon sentiment that does not actually exist.  Any actual anti-white, anti-Catholic and anti-Mormon sentiment in the country has been greatly, greatly exaggerated here to vaguely resemble the level of racism, antisemitism and anti-Islam feeling that really does exist.  Additionally, this story deliberately relies on some stereotypes commonly accepted by white conservatives in order to make it more impactful.

My experience with discrimination as a straight white male

To start off, this is not about how straight white males are the real victims.  I don’t believe that.  I also want to clearly acknowledge that I don’t really know what it’s like to be gay. I don’t understand what it’s like to be a woman.  I have no idea what it’s like to be black.  But I do understand some.

I have experiences of my own, you see, decades of them.  Discrimination is not only leveled at a few.  If you have never experienced any at all, you are extraordinarily fortunate.  Please allow me to talk about some pieces of my life.

When I learned that a teacher I idolized believed all Mormons were going to hell because he didn’t think we were really Christian, I learned something about religious prejudice.  When I found out that friends were shown anti-Mormon propaganda at church, I learned even more.

I am not macho and I do not want to be.  As a result, accusations and intimations that I might be gay have been a part of my life since puberty.  When my date and I were voted King and Queen of a high school dance and a boy in the crowd yelled out “Fag!” I learned something about what it is like to be gay.  The bullying I went through in a Mormon Boy Scout troop was also fairly instructive.

I break expectations for men in a number of ways.  I am an introvert.  I am highly sensitive.  I also had a strong tendency towards anxiety and depression in the past.  This declined a great deal when I was able resolve childhood traumas, but it defined much of my life as a young adult.

When a “companion” on my Mormon mission harassed and bullied me because I wasn’t loud and aggressive like him and he felt threatened by my confidence in my own intelligence, I learned something about being treated like I was inferior and stepping out of my place.

When I fell into depression later and wished I could die and a local Mormon told me I needed to snap out of it because I couldn’t be a good missionary like that, it stung.  I learned something about being told I was inferior because of something I could not change.

When another missionary who was supposed to be my leader, and whom I had never met before, called me aside and simply quoted me Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ…” the message was clear.  It was a sin to be shy as a missionary.  I knew what it was like to be dismissed and demeaned because of something that didn’t really matter.

After my mission, when I was trying to get a girlfriend and discovered it wasn’t enough to be kind, thoughtful, respectful and funny and that my most awful roommates had an easy time getting dates, I knew something about being at the bottom of the social barrel.  (Not that you should date anyone out of pity.  Please don’t.)

When I was visiting my sister in New York City and went with her to a class for young single Mormons, and down the hall another religious group was watching anti-Mormon propaganda (the same as I had encountered before), I learned something more about religious prejudice.

When I fell into major depression and wound up on disability, I learned much more about being very near the real bottom of the social ladder.

When my friends abandoned me and my former best friend later told me that he avoided me because he couldn’t stand to see me that way, I learned something about being inferior.

When my opinion stopped mattering, even about my own symptoms and needs, I learned something else about inferiority.

Then, when I was working and was transferred into a job with the help of a former boss and union rules, faced strong opposition and then found out no one thought a man could succeed in the job (which I did do), I learned something about gender discrimination.

When I worked mostly with women and was regularly told “Men are…” (always followed by something negative) or “That’s because you’re a man,” I knew something about being treated differently because of my gender.

I had been misdiagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (later changed to PTSD).  At one point I had a concussion and had post-concussive disorder.  Early on during that experience, my symptoms were extremely painful and worrisome.  I called the advice nurse and she told me to report to the Emergency Room.  I did so.  I waited for a long time, even though the Emergency Room was virtually empty.  When I finally saw a doctor, the first thing he said was “You’re bipolar aren’t you?” and “I’m not going to prescribe you any medication!”  He sent me home with written instructions to return if I experienced a list of symptoms, the same ones that had brought me to the Emergency Room in the first place.  Yes, I know something about discrimination.

When a prospective employer asked me what I was doing before my job history began and quickly ended the interview when he found out, I learned something else about discrimination.

At another interview, when I was one of two final candidates, my potential coworkers, all of whom were female, were allowed to ask me questions they had written.  “Our job is stressful and we lean on each other.  We’re all women here.  How will you fit in?”  “We have a potluck every month.  What will you bring?”  I didn’t get the job.  Please don’t tell me I don’t know anything about gender discrimination.

When I was going through a number of difficult experiences simultaneously, some of which were fairly traumatic, and people who knew me well didn’t even try to understand and simply assumed I needed medication, I learned something about being treated differently.

When I discovered that my opinions and judgment about myself and my family were dismissed and ignored and that the people doing so found themselves totally justified because of my former mental health problems, I learned something about being treated as inferior.

When I finally got the kind of job I was looking for and found that a number of employees had opposed my hiring because I am a man and that I once again had to prove myself, I learned something more about gender discrimination.

When I finally separated from my wife and struggled futilely to get an equitable parenting plan and financial arrangement, even though I was no less a loving, nurturing parent to my children and in some ways more of one, I found that what people think is fair to do to a man is not the same as what they think is fair to do to a woman.  I learned something else about gender discrimination.

I do not believe that my experiences are as somehow just as bad as those of everyone else and I do not wish to communicate that, but time and again, I have bumped into discrimination, prejudice and bias.  Sometimes it has been small.  Sometimes it has been wrenching, painful and life-changing.  No, I do not understand what it is like to be a woman.  I do not know what it is like to be gay.  I don’t know what it is like to be black.  I cannot say that I have experienced the same kinds of things as they have.  I can only say that yes, I have an idea.  And I don’t want anyone else to go through it.

Why I hate my TV provider

This letter explains some of the reasons I hate calling DirecTV and why I think they should improve their customer service.  It is a letter I am mailing to DirecTV, but putting it here is kind of fun.

January 3, 2014

Dear DirecTV:

I just took a survey about my recent call to DirecTV and it got me thinking.  I had hated the experience of making that phone call and I had felt a little guilty for my attitude on the phone.  After taking the survey, I realized just why I hated it making that phone call so much.

We are in the first year of our contract and our costs are climbing as our discounts expire.  I needed to do something about that.  We hardly ever watch the content on Starz or Encore, so cutting that off was an obvious choice.  I also knew we were paying about seven dollars a month for a protection plan that we would probably never use.

So I decide to take care of this.  Knowing that calling DirecTV can be a painful experience, I go on the website first, just in case I can take care of the issue there.  I know that is extremely unlikely, but the possibility that I might not have to call in to the company makes it worth the trouble.  As I expect, I have to call and speak with someone who will try to convince me to change my mind before I can change our services.

I call the company, already dreading what was coming.  Of course, the first thing I get is a computerized telephone service that tries its hardest to convince me it can take care of my problem without a human being becoming involved.  I know this isn’t true, so in frustration I practically yell into the phone that I need a customer service representative.  I am somewhat relieved that it actually recognizes my request and says it will comply.

I speak with a nice lady on the phone.  She can’t help me.  She says she will transfer me to a specialist, who I know is going to be someone trained to talk me out of my decision.  A second nice lady comes on the phone.  She does her job politely, but I am highly frustrated and annoyed and wish I didn’t have to go through this whole process, one which could easily be done online if the company didn’t want to make it hard to drop services like these.

As I’m talking to her, she tells me the price I will be paying without the services I’ve dropped.  It’s a lot higher than I expected.  I ask her about the discounts I am receiving.  She begins to tell me, then pauses, starts talking and pauses again.  Something is odd to her.  I don’t know what it is.  I ask her how long we have before our contract is up.  She tells me it is a two-year contract and the first year will be up in February.  The things she says make it sound like we should be getting more discounts than she is seeing on her computer screen.  Finally, she gives me a total.  It still sounds like a lot to me, but I know there is nothing I can do except pay it and then pay more for another 12 months.

When I am done, I am sorry for my grumpiness.  I know that these women are just trying to do their jobs and don’t have any control over the things that bug me.  I also vow to myself to end our contract at the first opportunity.

A day or two later I get an email.  I think it’s going to be a chance to do a customer feedback survey and I’m interested.  I quickly click on the e-mail.  What I see is a reminder that you can take care of many things online, without calling customer service.  This does not make me happy.

I don’t see a place to take a survey, but I don’t look at every inch of the e-mail.  I’m too ticked off by the fact that I’ve received such a reminder in the first place.  I delete it.

Today I received a second e-mail from DirecTV, reminding me to take the survey about the phone call I’d made to their customer service department.  I hadn’t realized I’d missed that chance, so I click on the survey right away to express my disappointment.

As I take the survey, I not only realize why I was so upset, but also why I think DirecTV is a poor company.  They ask me if I would recommend the service to someone else.  The answer is no.  They ask why.  I say it’s because their product is virtually identical to the product others offer, their price is very similar (or higher) and their customer service is poor.

After I finish, it hits me what poor leadership this company has.  They have a product I can get from two other companies.  They can’t compete much on price, since the three companies have pretty much the same costs (most of which are for programming).  They are all locked into a similar business model (grouping channels into packages).  So, the only thing that really distinguishes them is customer service and DirecTV’s service is terrible.  The only thing keeping them in business is that the other companies don’t exactly excel at it either.

It seems to me that the only smart way to run a cable or satellite company is to provide gold-star service.  It’s the only thing that could set you apart.  Providing poor service is a great way to lose business to a competitor who can deliver the same product for the same price and at the same time make you happy to do business with them.  The fact that DirecTV doesn’t seem to understand this makes me think they must live in a bubble where they are protected from the realities of the world they compete in.

Of course, if it were up to me we wouldn’t even have TV.  I watch programs almost exclusively online.

Sincerely,

Allen Warner
A current customer