Suicide Prevention

The death of Robin Williams has led to a lot of discussion among my friends on FaceBook.  One of the things that has got a lot of discussion is the topic of suicide and suicide prevention.

First, let me say that I am not a trained counselor or suicide prevention specialist.  We had some instruction on that back when I was in the Air Force and my own experiences may give me some insight but that’s all I have to offer.  Perhaps for someone it will be enough.

A number of people have expressed some anger from the aspect of “think of how you’re hurting the people left behind.”  Well, from my experience, from “suicide prevention” materials I studied in the AF, and from people I’ve talked to, a person who’s suicidal can generally go one of two ways. In one, they just don’t believe that anyone cares, or that people would be better off, that their death would be a relief to the folk they leave behind. The other direction is that, yes, they know they’ll hurt people. But they’re still suicidal so now they feel guilty about the pain their death would cause, which makes them feel worse, which makes them more suicidal, which makes them feel more guilty, which….

In neither case does “think about the people you leave behind” serve as a useful approach to take.

Suicidal people do think about the people they’re leaving behind, and the thought makes their feelings of depression worse. They are mistaken. On an objective level what they’re thinking is wrong. But their thought processes are messed up by the same issues that cause the depression in the first place.

Now sometimes, “think about the people who care about you” can help but you do need to remember that both of the above are very common reactions. Does that mean that there’s no way out? Of course not. A lot of it depends on how far one has gone down the path before intervention. I’m just pointing out one of the elements of depression is ones perceptions and emotional reactions are all screwed up. “Think about the people you’d be leaving behind” is generally not a good approach for a person who is deeply depressed and suicidal and is quite likely to make the matter worse.

One of the problems, and one of the defining points of going from “depression” to “suicidal” is the belief that it won’t pass, that you will never be happy, or anything other than miserable, ever again. You might “know” on an intellectual level that it’s bogus, that it will pass, but you feel, down inside, that it’s forever, that you don’t even have one happy day ahead of you. You might know better, but you don’t believe it.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t approaches that do help. Probably the simplest, and surprisingly quite effective is to just be there, be stubborn about leaving (frequently a depressed person will try to drive you away, thinking in their depression that they’re doing you a favor by doing so, that they’re not “worthy” of having friends or family around). and let them talk about whatever.

And sometimes, it means medication either temporarily to get out of the current cycle or possibly permanently. When I had my bad episode the first doctor to prescribe antidepressants for me said that because of the severity of my depression I’d probably be on medication as a prophylactic measure for the rest of my life. As it happened I found something better, far better, than medication (since the medications that worked for me had certain side effects that negatively impacted “quality of life” and also put some extra stress on my marriage–you can make your own guesses; I’m not going to say more here). I found that for me (not saying it would work for everyone, or even anyone, else) that getting involved in “outdoorsy” activities like hunting and fishing (hiking, less so), cleared things up in a way that none of the medications ever did.

But the combination of medication and counseling got me out of that very bad period. And the thing that my friends and family did that helped the most was get me into that counseling and to a doctor for the medication.

And, yes, I know that the two paths I described before are not “either/or”. It’s also “and” because I managed to feel both of them at once, mutually contradictory or not. (I did mention that depression screws up your thinking, right?)

Another thing that isn’t very helpful is to ask a person why they’re depressed.

When you try to answer that question, your “reasons” sound silly to yourself. And so you feel bad for being depressed over such “trivia”. This results in feeling even worse.

That’s one of the problems. Everything is so backwards from what a non-clinically-depressed person thinks.

However, the ones who really deserve a bitch-slap are the ones who sneer at “suicide attempts” and “depression” as a “ploy” for attention. While that might happen sometimes, the “cry for help” is generally not a “ploy”. If they’re crying for help via the means of doing something potentially lethal to themselves (unlike, say that scene near the beginning of Earthquake where Liz Taylor’s character dumped a bunch of sleeping pills in the toilet and pretended to have taken an overdose).

If they’re going that far, then that “cry for help” is because they really need help.

Even a half-ass suicide attempt which is highly unlikely to work means a person really needs help. Really.

For that matter, even a faked suicide attempt is a pretty serious cry for help, and may well be a first step toward something more serious.


Feeding the Active Writer

A bit late today, but here we go.

Italian Parmesan Chicken

This is another of those ridiculously easy recipes, or at least ridiculously easy if you have the Italian salad dressing ready to hand.  If you want a no-sugar/extremely low carb version, I have a recipe for it (included) but that’s a bit more work. Of course, you could make, and keep, the dressing itself at any time and use it for this recipe.

The chicken:

4 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken. (I use the bagged chicken from my local supermarket.  It’s cheap.)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese. (You can use the powdered “grated” cheese as well, but the “shredded” cheese produces what I think is a more pleasing texture to the result.)
2 cups Italian salad dressing.

Place the chicken in 1 4-5 quart slow cooker.
Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top.
Pour the salad dressing over all.
Cook on low 8-10 hours.
Stir slightly when done to distribute the cheese and drippings through the chicken.

And that’s it.

Really.  That’s it.  Except to enjoy.

Low Carb Italian Dressing:

1 cup vegetable oil.
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp finely minced garlic (I believe I’ve mentioned before that I like garlic?)
1 Tbsp onion powder or minced dried onion.
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp basil
2 Tbsp dried mustard.

Combine the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Close it.  Shake.

Refrigerate for storage.

Options:  You can use olive oil instead of vegetable oil but in that case you’ll want to bring it to room temperature for use.

Again, enjoy.

Shakespeare in Hell, a review

First let me apologize about missing “Feeding the Active Writer” this past Monday.  I had nose surgery in mid July and starting this past Thursday I was suddenly having bad nosebleeds, culminating in a trip to the ER and follow up with my ENT.  I appear to have recovered, but still want to take it easy so as to not spring any more leaks. (Red just is not my color.)

I’ll get back to Feeding the Active Writer next week.

Today, it’s “Shakespeare in Hell” by Amy Sterling Casil.

At it’s heart, it’s a basic concept.  Dead people.  In Hell.  However the simplicity ends there.

We start with Bob Haldeman of Watergate infamy near the time of his death receiving a visit from a mysterious woman who shows him a toy from his childhood and speaks to him of magic.  Later, we jump back in time to the same woman–the Dark Lady from Shakespeare’s sonnets–appearing to William near the end of his life and asking him to write one final play.

The story proceeds to Hell itself.  Beelzebub, Satan’s lieutenant, is bored.  Dancers such as Isadora Duncan choreographed by Busby Berkley bore him.  He seeks instead a play and so goes to the “Cave of Writers.”

It is here we meet Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe, and the Dark Lady (who is a writer herself) and are offered a chance to escape from Hell if they can write a play that pleases Lord Beelzebub.  Is this true or is it another lie from the Lord of Lies?

Enter William Shakespeare as the story delves into each of the main characters as they seek their paths to either redemption or an even more terrible Hell than the one they already endure.

It’s a story about hope and despair, about damnation and redemption, and how the difference between lies within each individual.

Five stars.

Feeding the Active Writer

This week:  Italian Meat Loaf

There are several variations of the meat loaf recipe that one can use.  I did a Mexican Meat Loaf before.  This week I’m doing an Italian theme.  Unlike traditional meat loaf, this is done without bread, cereal, or other grains.  The secrets to doing a really good meat loaf this way are first, to use the leanest ground beef you can (generally sold, progressively leaner, as ground chuck, ground round, and ground sirloin; locally we also get “extra lean ground beef” which is the leanest yet).  The less fat in the ground beef, the less shrinkage and the less the loaf will end up swimming in liquid (normally absorbed by the bread or equivalent) during cooking.  The second secret is lots of egg, which helps bind everything together.

3 lbs lean ground beef (chuck or leaner)
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 12 oz. can tomato paste
1 cup diced bell peppers (I use them from frozen bags so how many bell peppers that might be, I don’t know).
1 cup diced onion (ditto)
4 Oz chopped fresh mushrooms
5 eggs
1 Tbsp finely minced garlic (for folk who know me, this is actually a remarkably small amount)
1 Tbsp Oregano.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ingredients.  The best way really is to get in there with your hands (I don’t need to remind you to wash them first, right?  Oh, I just did. 😉 ) and squish it all together until it’s thoroughly mixed.

Place the mix in a 4-5 quart slow cooker.

Cook 8-10 hours.

Let cool.

Portion.  I like to cut it into eights like a pie and remove the pieces to zipper bags to freeze to take to lunch.


Pantsing vs. Plotting

One of the great questions of the writing world:  Pantser or Plotter.

Um, yes?

When I first got started writing, I’d have an “idea”.  Since I write mostly SF and Fantasy the idea was usually in the form of some story gimmick:  what would it be like to play tennis on the moon?  How would an EMT service on the moon work?  Suppose psychic powers existed but were really, really limited?  Suppose “her world exploded” wasn’t a metaphor but literal truth?

And then I’d sit down and start writing, making things up as I went along.

Most of the time the story would fall apart and I’d have nothing.  I’d have an opening and either be going in circles or just get stuck and have no idea what to write next.

So I started plotting in advance, outlining the things that happen in the story.  I’d still have the stories fall apart in my hands but at least I wouldn’t have written a bunch of finished text before reaching that point.  And I learned that I can work from an outline.  If I ever do collaborative work, that can be important.

So, for a long time then I was a “plotter”.  But I often didn’t adhere closely to the outline.  Instead, I’d find the story going in different directions.  That was okay.  I could just pause, redo the outline to reflect the new direction, and proceed from there.  Sometimes it might take several iterations through that before I was done.

But here’s the thing.  The final stories weren’t any more likely to sell when I plotted than when I’d pantsed.

Enter Dwight Swain and his book “Techniques of the Selling Writer”.

One of the things Mr. Swain had in his book, on preparing for writing a story, was having a “starting line up.” This meant defining five elements of the story:  situation, character, goal, opposition, and “disaster”.  Your character exists in an initial situation.  He has a goal he’d like to achieve (which could simply be avoiding some bad thing happening).  There’s opposition to the character’s goal (usually a “villain” of the piece, but not necessarily).  And some bad outcome from failure to accomplish the goal, the “disaster”.

The stories of mine that failed to get off the ground in the past were usually over the lack of some element in this starting line up.  So, lately, I started to spell them out explicitly before starting writing a story.  Oh, if I have an idea for a story opening or something I might write that to get a feel for things and then pause to create the starting line up.  But I do it, every time.

And the result is that I’ve found myself going back to pantsing.  I can just write the story because the elements I need are there.  I can wonder a bit in subplots, explore character a bit, take some time letting minor characters strut their stuff, but with the starting line up to give direction I can keep the story moving in the way it needs to move.

So now my outlines, if used at all, tend to be smaller bits meant to work out particular story problems, a kind of guided free association to figure out how to resolve challenges. (Character is here.  I need him there.  How do I get him there?)

But that’s how I work today.  Tomorrow?  Who knows.  I’ve changed my working method before and there’s no reason to suppose I won’t do it again.

Feeding the Active Writer

This time Barbeque Pulled Pork.

Most commercial barbeque sauces are loaded with sugar.  But I like barbeque, and have for as long as I can remember.  So I found a recipe which was okay, but wasn’t quite there.  Over the course of several iterations I tweaked it until I was happy with the result.  So today, we’ll have the recipe for homemade, low carb barbecue sauce and and use some of it in making some pulled pork loin.

I like a  sauce that’s tomatoey (that’s totally a word; I don’t care what my spell checker says), smokey, heavy on the garlic, and with some “zing.”  This recipe fits the bill.

The sauce:
6 strips of bacon, chopped fine.
1/2 cup finely minced onion
2 tbsp finely minced garlic (I buy it in jars pre-minced so I don’t know how many cloves that would come to–I like garlic).
12 oz tomato paste
1 12 oz can Diet Coke with Splenda (I kid you not!)
1/2 cup sugar-free catsup (Heinz has that available here)
2 Tbsp mustard.
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 Tbsp hot sauce (or to taste.  I use Cholula original because their Chili Garlic is no longer available–did I mention I like garlic?)

Fry the chopped bacon in a saucepan.  A two-quart or so should be fine.  Stir frequently to prevent clumping.

Add the onion and garlic cook over medium heat until the onions are soft, about 3-5 minutes.  Here’s one place where you can tweak the sauce to your taste.  If you like the sweeter taste of roasted garlic, cook it on the longer side at this stage.  If, however, you prefer the sharper taste of raw garlic, cook a bit less here or even wait until the onions are done before adding the garlic.

Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, and then simmer covered for 20-30 minutes to combine the flavors.  If you consider it too thick for your taste, add some water.  I usually add about one cup.  The result is a little “chunky” because of the bacon bits, onion, and garlic.  That’s normal.   You can blend the final product to smooth it out if you prefer.  I don’t bother.  The chunks give it character.

That done, I filled a 24 oz glass jar to set aside and had some left over.  We’ll come back to that left over sauce later.

The  pulled pork:
Take one pork loin, 3-5 lbs, and cut it into 4-5 chunks.  Place the chunks in a 4-5 quart slow cooker.  When cooking in the slow cooker, I use slow cooker liners to save on cleanup.

Cook on low 8-10 hours.

Now, traditionally, you would take the pork chunks out of the cooker and pull it apart with forks.  I don’t bother.  By this time it is so tender that you can simply take a large, metal, slotted spoon and stir.  The pork will fall apart nicely and the juices that had cooked out of it will mix in with the shreds.

Mix in barbeque sauce.  How much you use is largely up to you.  For my taste, the amount left over after making up the batch above and filling the jar (for more barbecuey–totally a word–goodness some other time) is just about the right amount to flavor a batch of the pulled pork.  If you like to go heavier on the sauce, indulge.  If you prefer a lighter touch with the sauce to allow the flavor of the meat to come through, be my guest.  In the end, the Active Writer cooks to please himself and perhaps his family.

I made this batch for my lunches to take to work, so the final step was to let it cool, then portion it out in single servings in zipper bags.  So I take a bag to work, add the contents to a microwave safe plate along with some non-starchy vegetables, and microwave until warmed through.  Makes a hearty and tasty lunch.

Immigration Policy

In another forum, I was discussing the topic of immigration policy.  Specifically, supporting legal immigration while not supporting illegal immigration.  The question arose of children of illegal aliens, brought here through no fault of their own.

In the case of these kids there are two options as I see it. First, either they are still kids in which case the only realistic thing to do with them is send them back with their parent(s). Second, if they are not still kids, then as an adult they chose to stay here illegally and that’s on them.
The above options are for children brought here from out of country. In the case of children born here to illegal alien parents, there are two different options because of “birth citizenship.” The first is that the parents may choose to retain their parental rights, in which case the child goes back with them (As far as I’m concerned amnesty followed by promises of future border enforcement is a non-starter.  “Fool me once….”) but, as a citizen, may return on reaching adulthood. The second is that the parents may, at their option, give up their parental rights and allow the child to be taken into foster care and possibly adopted by an American family. In neither case do the illegal aliens remain in the US.

Now, while that would be the base policy I would also agitate for a bit of flexibility to deal with innocent mistakes, paperwork errors, or being misled in procedures that lead to someone through no intent of their own being here illegally. I’ve known people who’ve had that happen, My wife had that happen. (We filled out my wife’s paperwork after our marriage. I sent it off. Only between the time when we received the paperwork and we sent it off the location to which it was supposed to go changed. After a period of no response, no response, no response, we ended up hiring an attorney who helped us resolve things.  And I checked.  Our copy of the forms said “send here”.  Lawyer said, “No, send there”. And the “there” is what finally got things straightened out.)

Oh, and I would bend. over. backward. to encourage people I think of as “Americans who just happen to be born elsewhere” to come here, people who could read the Constitution (the Bill of Rights in particular) and the Declaration of Independence, and basically say “Duh” (Or call it, oh, say, 85% or more agreement), people like Darryl Hadfield and Sarah A. Hoyt. I don’t much care how they get here, so long as they do get here to counteract the “we’re going to come to America and turn it into a replica of the place we just came from” folk.

And with that, I leave you with this musical interlude: