I Can See the Stars Again

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

The original writing I did on this post was under the title “I Can’t See the Stars at Night” roughly two weeks ago–writing that took a hard turn, and escaped me, putting me off track completely.

But things can shift rather suddenly.

When I got home from work tonight, more than an hour-and-a-half late, I took the dogs for a walk. As I was heading out across the front lawn, I heard what I initially mistook for some sort of chorale. It turned out to be the yipping of my neighbor’s Chihuahua, on the far side of her property, a distance that, on this magical night, transformed the aggravating noise into a brief delusion of angelic harmony.

How are such mistakes made?

I was also stopped by police on the way home for speeding. “Going over 40 in a 35 zone,” said the cop, who was rather quick with the whole process and let me off with a warning…without even calling it a warning.

At any rate, my abandoned piece on not seeing the stars started off as an idea about “self care”—those things we do to avoid burning out at work, or charring the circuits in other facets of our lives—as well as the need to have self-care back-up plans.

One of my main self care strategies…at least during the warmer months, although I will do it throughout the year so long as it’s dry enough…is to sit out on the deck, drink in hand, staring up at the stars. I usually listen to music on my headphones, as much to drown out the noise of passing cars and other neighborly cacophony as to help focus on the experience. Just simply listening to music, while disengaging from everything else is also a big self care piece for me…although much harder without something magnificent upon which to gaze.  Plain darkness, or the light of a few candles can work in a pinch.

I’m not good at plain meditation.

red moon blog

The moon at night through the smoke…bloody enough for you?

This summer, though, the stars in this part of the world have been blocked out more than once by, to steal a line from the Sanford Townsend band, smoke from a distant fire.

These blockages went on for days upon days, reaching into weeks. The only way they lift is with heavy winds, or a bout of rain…neither of which has been in abundance in the stretch since May.

Of course, even if you get a bit of rain, the clouds also block out the stars.

To now steal a line from Bananarama, it’s been a cruel, cruel summer. Despite a fun trip to Southern California, and an abundance of warm, sunny weather here at home, there’s been a perpetual fog hanging around my head. A sense that things had tanked, and were not going to improve. I was fighting to keep away from teeth-grinding, profanity-spitting, head-banging despair.

The unusually hot, dry weather meant I had to fill my rain barrels repeatedly with a garden hose, just to keep the plants on my deck from burning up. I stopped counting how many times, although in the past I can’t recall having to do it more than twice without the rain intervening.

sunflower sun

Stare into the sun…it won’t hurt your eyes…the smoke is protection.

But it wasn’t the weather—the heat and the lack of precipitation—that was at the core of my despair, so much as it was a personal situation…or, hey, let’s call it a work situation.

I got word today that the situation has changed, that my teeth-grinding, profanity-spitting, head-banging despair was unnecessarily dire.

So I’ll revert back to happy head-banging, with my world suddenly, and perhaps ridiculously optimistically, changed.

Changed to the point where being pulled over by the cops barely registered as a thing that happened.

Changed to the point where the yipping of a Chihuahua could be mistaken for a choir.

Changed to the point where I wish you similar good news and good happenings in your life, and I wish for myself that I won’t get too convinced that this news is some kind of actual solution, and that I won’t revel too much in anyone else’s misfortune.

And I look forward to a few more nights this year where I can actually stare up at the stars, music filling my ears (Chihuahua-based or otherwise), and sipping on, say, a mineral water.

Enjoy your last week-and-a-half of summer.

Peace.

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A Searchlight Soul

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Chester Bennington completed suicide by hanging on Chris Cornell’s birthday, just over a month after Chris Cornell completed suicide by hanging on the 37th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ suicide by hanging.

For those unfamiliar, Bennington was best known as the lead singer of Linkin Park; Chris Cornell was best known as the lead singer of Soundgarden; and Ian Curtis was best known as lead singer of Joy Division.

Now, Linkin Park’s music makes me want to grind my teeth, spit, and curse—and not in a good way. And I never got into Joy Division beyond owning a ‘greatest hits’ collection for a few years as an undergrad. I am, however, a big fan of Soundgarden, as well as another of Cornell’s bands, Audioslave—not such a big fan that I ever made it to a concert. But, living in Seattle, I would see members of the band at other bands’ shows around town in the way back of the early 90s.

cornell dark

How would I know?  Cornell from ‘Fell on Black Days.’

I have no idea if Cornell’s suicide was related to Curtis’ beyond coincidence. But Bennington’s was directly connected to Cornell’s. They were friends, and, from what I understand, Bennington took Cornell’s death particularly hard. Both Cornell and Bennington had struggled with addiction and mental health issues during their lives.

But the takeaway shouldn’t only be that a life marbled with addiction and mental health issues leads to suicide. That makes it too easy for people to distance themselves from suicide, its causes, and our potential susceptibility to its draw.

In the wake of a loved one’s death, thoughts of suicide can arise or increase, and suicide attempts climb.

In the wake of a loved one’s death from suicide, those thoughts and those attempts climb significantly higher.

There are those who have criticized Curtis’, Cornell’s, and Bennington’s suicides by pointing out that they had achieved success, or had spouses, friends, children…all of which should have somehow prevented them from committing suicide, much less having thoughts of such.

That’s a natural impulse—to want to point out why we never would have killed ourselves in similar circumstances. But it’s also false comfort.

Just try to imagine finding yourself in a space where money, success, and a loving family can be discounted as not providing enough impetus to go on living. Imagine finding yourself in a space where you actually feel the people who care about you most will be better off without you. Imagine being so deep into that thought process that you can’t find your way out—that it seems completely logical—that suicide actually seems like the only rational decision.

I could get into explanations of survivor guilt, or what grief can do to people, or the impact of knowing that a friend reached the conclusion that suicide was an appropriate response to the world around them–a world that you were part of.

But I’d rather you think on how declaring yourself immune to something, insisting you are completely separate from some problem, is the first step to blocking your understanding of that problem…or worse, blocking your compassion toward others affected by that problem. You can feel for the families and friends of those who complete suicide without feeling the need to condemn the dead. That condemnation does nothing to help the grieving, or anybody else, least of all you.