Monday, June 10, 2013

Convalescence


I think it’s about time to clear up some things. Things which have been bothering me for a while, but which I’ve been hesitant to share because of their rather personal nature, and I didn’t really feel comfortable sharing them on a public platform like Blogger. Which is why previous posts on more personal topics have been deliberately vague, and may or may not have left you with questions. But now, even though I find it rather terrifying, I think the time has come to elucidate some topics which I’ve been somewhat mysterious about. Things which, though rather personal, I hope will have a broader significance than just to the people in my life - whom, I must confess, I find it more difficult to talk to about this than to a (mostly) anonymous audience (probably because I don’t have to adjust my message to individual sensitivities, and my relationship with these individuals).
     ‘Convalescence’ is defined as ‘time spent recovering from an illness or medical treatment’, more simply termed ‘recuperation’. It derives from the Latin verb ‘convalescere’, which is made up of the prefix ‘com’ (the only function of which is to intensify the meaning of the main verb) and the verb ‘valescere’, defined as ‘to begin to grow strong’. The verb ‘valescere’ is, in turn, a possible derivative of the verb ‘valere’ (‘to be strong’). 
     To avoid beating around the bush - a bad habit of mine - I’ll come out right away and say it. The last six months I’ve been battling depression, and as of yet I find it difficult to see my way out of it. It’s not the first time this has happened to me, and I’m pretty sure it’ll not be the last time. As during the last time, my depression is accompanied by various symptoms. Lethargy, brooding, and finally suicidal tendencies, have stuck to me these last few months like a second skin. Recently, those tendencies have taken a leap. To put it bluntly: I made a suicide attempt. But to assuage any suspicions: this isn’t a posthumous blogpost. I am still alive, though right now I feel that adjective is only applicable in the strictest sense of the word.
     Right now I’m in a place where I can gather my thoughts and get some much needed rest. Though I don’t have an ‘illness’ in the physical sense (and I abhor the term ‘mental illness’), I think the word ‘convalescence’ applies here. Because depression isn’t something you can cure in a few days, I expect to be here for some time to come, and while I’ve been convalescing I’ve been thinking a lot about depression and suicide. One of the things I’ve concluded is that even though suicide - whether or not successful - isn’t such an uncommon phenomenon in our western world, the topic is still very much taboo. Even as I type the word ‘suicide’, I can imagine my reader flinching. It’s not something you want to think about, is it? Generally speaking, it’s not something which you want to talk about either. And yet an opportunity for dialogue is exactly what is so important, both for those who have made an attempt, as for the people who are considering it. As I heard in a TED-speech recently, it’s extremely important for the convalescence of those who survived a suicide attempt and want to ‘come back to life’ not to be regarded as if they were diseased (which is too often the case).
     I found a possible opening for dialogue about suicide in ‘the semicolon project’. This is a fairly recent project, with a simple objective and a simple symbolism. As a language nerd, the symbolism speaks to me, and not just because the semicolon is a punctuation mark which is often shunned. In a strictly grammatical sense, the semicolon is wedged between two separate sentences which can exist independently. It is used to form a bond between two statements, typically when they are related to or contrast with one another. The semicolon project chose a wider, but not less valid interpretation of this punctuation mark: a semicolon is used when the author could have ended the sentence, but didn’t. The parallel is obvious: though an (attempted) suicide may seem like the end of your life, it doesn’t have to be so. With the motto “your story isn’t over yet” the semicolon project invites all those who self harm, are suicidal, depressed, unhappy, have anxiety, have a broken heart, or have lost a loved one, to draw a semicolon on their wrist. They are furthermore invited to take a picture of this and submit it (anonymously) on the website. Not only victims, but also friends, family and/or acquaintances can participate to show their support. In the light of my own convalescence, I have sent in my picture. And though I know better than to expect much response here, I do hope that anyone who feels strongly about this, will follow my example. It’s a simple gesture, but it’s a gesture which - in my humble opinion - shows a lot more care and compassion than words ever will.

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