Things I Liked In 2018

 

 

There was so much going on in 2018 that I leaned on journalism, podcasts, and art more than usual to challenge, clarify, and enrich my understanding (and for comic relief too). I listed the most memorable of those things below, and I’d love to hear about your favorite things to read, listen to, and watch this year in the comments or on Twitter.

To read

Amber Wyatt Told Her Story Of Rape. This Is How The World Responded. by Elizabeth Bruenig

The Best Way To Save People From Suicide by Jason Cherkis

My Own Devices by Dessa

Finding David Sedaris by Katie Herzog

Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong by Michael Hobbes

Here’s How Cornell Scientist Brian Wansink Turned Shoddy Data Into Viral Studies About How We Eat by Stephanie Lee

Protest Isn’t Civil by Vann Newkirk II

100 Million Americans Have Chronic Pain. Very Few Use One Of The Best Tools To Treat It. by Brian Resnick

There Is Only One Trump Scandal by Adam Serwer

When Children Say They’re Trans by Jesse Singal

When The Muzzle Comes Off by Rebecca Traister

To listen to

1A: The Persistence of Segregated Schools

The Black Goat: The Year 2018 In Review

Circle Of Willis: Children At The Border

Everything Hertz: Shit Academics Say With Nathan Hall

Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers: Bought To Rot

Unerased: Dr. Davison And The Gay Cure

A Star Is Born Soundtrack

Tatter: Mission Creep (On Carrying Implicit Bias Too Far)

Two Psychologists, Four Beers: The Replication Crisis Gets Personal

To watch

Bad Times At The El Royale (and the soundtrack is fantastic too!)

Black Panther

Blockers

ContraPoints

Crazy Rich Asians

Culturally Determined: Life With Depression

NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert: Wu-Tang Clan

Queer Eye

Wynonna Earp

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Brother Ali’s Song about Losing His Dad to Suicide

I’ve seen Minneapolis-based rapper Brother Ali in concert several times, and he strikes me as someone who’s as kind as he is talented. When I told him at a Chicago show that I had previously chatted with him in Orlando, he tried to remember me. He told me that he doesn’t recall faces due to albinism-related vision issues, but he recognizes people through reminders of previous conversations. He rapped about his experiences in “Us”: And I go with the feeling from the start/Blind in the eye, so I see you with my heart/And to me all y’all look exactly the same/Fear, faith, compassion and pain.

All of this is to say that I’m a Brother Ali fan and my expectations were high for his 2017 album, All The Beauty In This Whole Life. I think it’s a musical masterpiece, and “Out of Here” is a standout song. The lyrics are a detailed expression of his feelings and thoughts after losing his dad to suicide. In this post, I included all of his lyrics (in bold) and my comments (in italics) with some links to relevant research.

I recommend watching his performance of the song before reading the rest of the post:

Okay so it might appear
To an outsider that you found your way up out of here
They’re saying you died of suicide
People who are suffering may view suicide as an escape from a painful life. I like how Ali phrases the third line, because it removes the stigma associated with other phrasing (e.g., commits suicide).
That’s the last thing I want to hear
They tell me that it’s hardly fair to blame myself
What a hell of a cross to bare
You didn’t say it in your letter
But the fact that I failed you is loud and clear
Suicide can be a particularly painful kind of death to grieve because 1) it means someone you love was deeply hurting and 2) there may be more of a sense that you could have prevented it, if only you had acted differently in some way. It’s a common response for people to tell you that someone’s suicide is not your fault, and yet, it can be hard to refrain from blaming yourself for not stopping the person.
Found out the amount of fear
You would drown when you found yourself naked staring down a mirror
And partners are supposed to lay the cards bare
I left you playing solitaire, and I promise you that I’m sincere
When someone dies by suicide, it might feel like there was a misunderstanding or even a kind of dishonesty between you if you didn’t know the person was contemplating suicide. I think Ali is saying that his dad might have been trying to tell him how he felt (‘lay the cards bare’), but that Ali felt like he failed him by leaving him ‘playing solitaire.’ Powerful imagery.
If you’re looking for some judgment, you won’t find it here
Let’s be honest here
I can’t say I’ve never known that kind of despair
When the clouds appear, how’s life fair
Some people erroneously perceive people who die by suicide as selfish or weak. However, Ali feels compassion and humbly links it to his own experiences. He may also be fearful about his own future (e.g., will his suicidal desire increase to the levels that his dad’s ultimately did?).
I just want to draw you near
As he sorts through the different feelings, there’s a basic desire just to be close to his dad again.
Not to make it about me, but how could you check out
Before you really allowed me a chance to sit down and hear?
I think I would’ve listened
Or were you saying it all along and I just missed it?
You sang your swan song, we all dismissed it
Ali acknowledges that the suicide isn’t about him, but feels a frustration about his father leaving without trying to ask Ali for help first. He then changes course and tries to look for signs that his dad *tried* to reach out, but that Ali missed or ignored it.
Because you filled the room with laughter
I watched when you thought no one was looking at you
In hindsight, I wonder where your smile went
When the party ended and you swallowed it
I saw you swallow it
Sometimes, people who have lost someone to suicide say they saw it coming, but others feel completely shocked. It can also switch back-and-forth in the mind of a person as they try to make sense of it.
Okay so it might appear
That you took yourself up out of here
How many cries soak through your disguise
Before you drown in your silent tears?
Okay so it might appear
That you took yourself up out of here
How many times can you fight for your life
Before you throw that white flag up and volunteer? (x2)
Here, Ali seems to be trying to figure out the threshold that was crossed before his dad killed himself. I don’t know if this is Ali trying to understand if his own life obstacles and past suicidal ideation might ever exceed that threshold or if he is trying to understand his dad’s experience better (or both).
I’ve had car accidents
Where everything is slow motion no matter how fast it’s happening
Every second that pass stretches so that you can watch it unraveling
But can’t always react to it
Your whole life might flash before your eyes
The minute when you transition to the other side
But what can actually happen in that time?
In-between the leaping and the moment you collide
In-between the trigger and the blast
In-between you let go of the wheel and you crash
In-between the moment when you swallow the last pill in the bottle
Turn out the lights, roll the dice on tomorrow
Is there a moment to reflect, can there be regret?
Is there a wait, not yet, let me reset?
Or is it just too painful to accept?
That maybe death just seemed best
I think Ali is trying to imagine what his dad was going through at the time he died by suicide since he cannot ask him about it. He’s wondering if he crossed his dad’s mind or any reluctance emerged that could have prevented his death. Or was it more like an uncontrollable-type of experience where he felt like he was watching himself but could not change the outcome?
Suicide prevention researchers, such as Thomas Joiner (1,2), have argued that an innate drive for survival and fear of death saves the lives of many people who desire suicide. I have heard Joiner describe this as a ‘flinch’ that people might experience right before or during a suicide attempt. He has presented compelling anecdotal evidence of this through stories of people who survived suicide attempts. Kevin Hines, a suicide attempt survivor from the Golden Gate Bridge, said he felt instant regret after he jumped. Along with others, suicide prevention researcher Mike Anestis, has proposed that this window maybe an opportunity to prevent some suicides through means restriction during high risk periods
I heard this as Ali arguing for not taking one’s life, even in the face of repeated, seemingly unjust hardships…’you can go down swinging.’
Okay so it might appear
That you took yourself up out of here
I’m trying not to resent you
But you left me defenseless in the life we share
Every man before me in my fam died by his own hands
How am I supposed to understand my own role in the plan
When nobody who grows old stands a chance?
Ali lost both his dad and his grandfather to suicide. He’s wrestling with sympathy for his dad and his own feelings about being left behind.
What about this mysterious dance
Made you cut the cord to the curtain in advance?
But these are questions I can only ask
The person looking back in the looking glass
Ali recognizes that he is full of questions that now must go unanswered.
I’ll close by saying that I am truly sorry if you’ve lost someone to suicide – this post is dedicated to you. I’m especially thinking of a friend who is going through this now. Research by Julie Cerel and colleagues suggests that each suicide affects a large number of people (even larger than previously thought). It’s imperative that we increase the effectiveness of suicide prevention efforts. If you need support, please consider some of the resources below.
Resources
You can find a therapist through the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy, and you can find a support group for survivors of suicide loss through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has an online chat option, and their phone number is 1-800-273-TALK.

Logic Performs a Suicide Prevention Song at the VMAs

I’m quite certain that I’m no longer in the target audience for the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs). Fortunately, I found out about an incredibly moving VMA performance through the American Association of Suicidology listserv. I have never seen any other live performance like it. Logic, Alessia Cara, and Khalid performed a song named after the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: “1-800-273-8255”. It has raw lyrics from the perspective of someone experiencing suicidal ideation. In my work, I have heard people express sentiments just like those in the song. It feels real to me – the painful and hopeful aspects don’t feel sugar-coated or contrived.

That, in and of itself, likely reduces some of the stigma associated with suicidal thoughts. But, Logic went even further for the VMAs. He contacted a mental health organization and asked suicide attempt survivors to be part of the performance. During the song, the cameras show a diverse group of people who have survived suicide attempts standing with shirts that have the Lifeline phone number on the front and “You are not alone,” on the back. “You are not alone,” is a powerful message that specifically speaks to a major risk factor for suicide: loneliness. While there are demographic differences in the overall rates of suicidal behavior, people of all backgrounds can be affected by suicide. It was a powerful visual display of many individuals, each with their own journeys, standing together as survivors.

In addition to however many people saw the performance live, the youtube video has been viewed over 3 million times in 3 days (only 2 million were my views). All of those people probably have the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline memorized.

I am curious whether more people reached out to the Lifeline following the VMAs. This is a question that could be partially addressed through their call center data (update: it appears the call volume did increase) or perhaps via Google search trends (which was one useful tool in examining how 13 Reasons Why impacted its audience). It seems likely that this type of widely-viewed content impacts people and their perceptions of mental health. I am grateful that Logic chose to use his platform in a responsible, compassionate way.