Tag Archives: pain

To be or not to be: pondering suicide

Suicide freaks us out.

It does so because most of us know someone who has attempted suicide or succumbed to it. Many of us have experienced depression or have loved ones who struggle with it. 

It especially freaks us out to see someone as apparently happy and successful as Robin Williams take his life. It’s sad and shocking. It hurts, and comfort is hard to find. 

My father committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning when he was 48 and I was 14. My brother, who dragged my dad from the garage that day, shot himself in the head at age 33. Three close friends have died by their own hands, losses that weigh heavily because they occurred more recently.

There are many things to clean up in the aftermath of a suicide, from the physical premises to the emotional mess. Days of shock give way to questions, introspection, guilt, sometimes shame or blame. We’ve seen it played out in the American media in the past few weeks.

My mother felt guilty for our family’s collapse, yet she had struggled to keep a sick husband and three children afloat with little income. There was mental illness in the family tree and both my father and brother suffered for a long time from a host of burdens, all exacerbated by substance abuse. There were several “interventions” with them that didn’t work.

As a girl, I had no idea what to do about my father, who suffered a rapid mental and physical deterioration from alcoholism. Telling him I loved him didn’t help. As a young woman, I steered clear of my brother because his drug use (booze and cocaine) scared the hell out of me. I was always worried he would hurt someone. It turns out he only hurt himself.

I’ve had decades to ponder these events and what I have learned is neither new nor comforting: Despair can be overwhelming and you can’t always help people. You should certainly try, but sometimes people can’t be helped. There are so many things in our lives that screw us up and drag us down, and some of us just don’t make it. 

For more helpful advice, I think An Unquiet Mind and Night Falls Fast by Kay Redfield Jamison are the smartest, most compassionate books about suicide. Jamison is a professor of psychiatry who lives with bipolar disorder and has attempted suicide. As such, her writing is informed by professional expertise and personal experience. She is someone who has been there and really understands the pain and all the issues around suicide.

Thinking about Robin Williams, I remembered a wonderful passage in a biography of Virginia Woolf. One of the most important writers of the 20th century, Woolf was dogged by mental illness her whole life and killed herself at age 59.

In most writing about her, Woolf is depicted as a tragic figure, often defined by her suicide. Author James King said the fact that Woolf achieved the literary success and philosophical influence she did while struggling with mental and emotional illness for 59 years “constitutes another kind of greatness.”

I love that he recognized her survival as an achievement in itself, and I think we should celebrate Williams in the same way. What fortitude he had to sustain those hilarious comedy routines and to remain active and creative as long as he did! How blessed we were by his presence.

Medical marijuana bill goes to Illinois Senate

Illinois physicians could prescribe marijuana to patients with specific terminal illnesses or debilitating medical conditions under legislation approved earlier this month by the state House.

The proposed legislation creates a four-year pilot program that requires patients and caregivers to undergo background checks, limits the amount of marijuana patients can have at a time, and establishes cultivation centers and selling points.

Lawmakers voted 61-57 to send the measure to the state Senate, where a version of the bill was approved in 2009. Senate President John Cullerton’s spokeswoman said he supports the legislation.

Gov. Pat Quinn hasn’t said whether he would sign the measure should it reach his desk.

Supporters said marijuana can relieve continual pain without triggering the harmful effects of other prescription drugs. They touted the legislation as a compassionate measure that would save patients from the agony caused by illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV.

“I know every single one of you have compassion in your heart, this is the day to show it,” said Rep. Lou Lang, the sponsor of the bill. “… Let people feel better, let them have a better quality of life.”

The bill lists more than 30 medical conditions for which patients can be prescribed marijuana.

The legislative proposal prohibits patients from growing their own marijuana. Instead, the state must approve 22 cultivation centers, as well as 60 dispensaries where patients could buy the drug after getting a prescription from a doctor with whom they have an existing relationship. The legislation sets a 2.5 ounce limit per patient per purchase.

Patients who choose to take marijuana automatically consent to submit themselves to a sobriety field test should a police officer suspect they were driving under the influence of the drug.

Lang, a Democrat from Skokie, said the bill is the strictest in the nation. Still, opponents say the program would encourage the use of marijuana for recreational purposes.

“It’s going to cause confusion in our communities,” said Republican Rep. Mike Bost of Murphysboro. “… I will guarantee you that we will be back adjusting this legislation … because of the problems that can occur or we will be back in this floor for the legalization of marijuana.”

Lang and other supporters have been trying to legalize medical marijuana for several years. A measure that had cleared the Senate failed in the House in 2011, when six Republicans and 50 Democrats voted yes.

Quinn has said the bill’s sponsor hasn’t reached out to him to build support on the measure.

The Democratic governor said he was recently visited by a veteran suffering from war founds who was helped by the medical use of marijuana. Quinn said he was “impressed by his heartfelt feeling” on the issue.

“I’m certainly open-minded to it,” he said.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

A report issued earlier this month by the Pew Research Center poll showed that 77 percent of Americans say marijuana has legitimate medical uses.

Rep. will wait on medical marijuana vote in Illinois

Illinois state Rep. Lou Lang has decided not to call his medical marijuana legislation until next week.

The Skokie Democrat told The Associated Press he’s still not certain he has the 60 votes he needs for passage.

He says he has most of the necessary votes but there are “a whole bunch of people who are wavering.” He will continue talking to them over the weekend and try again in the Legislature’s second week of its fall session.

Lang believes marijuana should be available in limited amounts for people with specific illnesses who get pain relief from the drug.

It’s the tightest such measure in the nation.

Eighteen states allow medical marijuana use and two of those recently OK’d recreational use.

Arkansas to be first in South to vote on medical marijuana

The Arkansas Supreme Court decision to keep medical marijuana’s legalization on the ballot introduces some unpredictability to the November election and shifts attention to an issue that might not be easily defined by party labels.

That’s no small feat for an Arkansas election dominated by predictability when it comes to national politics and partisan bickering when it comes to the state level. With Republicans aiming to win control of the state Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, this may be one of the few issues where Arkansas voters won’t hew to traditional party lines.

That’s a situation supporters and opponents of the proposed initiated act are counting on after justices last week rejected a lawsuit challenging the ballot measure. The unanimous decision means Arkansas will be the first southern state to ask its voters whether to legalize the drug for medical purposes.

Both sides of the issue say they’re counting on help from both parties to win the debate.

“The support is not as divisive as you would think,” said Chris Kell, campaign strategist for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, the group pushing for the act’s passage. “I’m getting as much or more help from Republicans as from Democrats.”

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana in some fashion, and three states are expected to vote this year on the drug’s full-scale legalization. But the debate hasn’t been waged in the South, where putting measures on the ballot is more difficult and with conservative legislators throughout the region unlikely to take up the matter on their own.

“I think it’s a sign that marijuana policy reform is an idea that is coming of age now across the nation, rather than just in the states where we’ve seen it so far,” said Morgan Fox, communications manager for the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project, which has contributed most of the money for the Arkansas effort. “It’s really an important moment.”

Opponents of the measure already have an active network of church leaders and other conservatives in place from past ballot fights, including the successful 2004 campaign to ban gay marriage in the state. But after losing a bid to strike the measure from the November ballot, opponents say they’ve got to build a coalition that goes beyond the conservative activists they’ve relied on for those campaigns.

“I think the success of our campaign against this measure is going to hinge more than most campaigns on our ability or someone’s ability to mobilize coalitions that don’t normally work together to oppose this measure,” said Jerry Cox, head of the Arkansas Family Council and a member of the Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values.

Cox said that includes reaching out to law enforcement and medical officials that he says could speak out against the act.

The big unknown is just how big of a role either party will play in the debate, especially with so much attention focused on dozens of state House and Senate races in November. The state Democratic Party doesn’t traditionally take a stand on ballot measures, and a spokeswoman said the party didn’t plan to change that when it comes to the medical marijuana proposal.

State Republicans opposed medical marijuana in the party’s platform adopted earlier this year and a spokeswoman said the party opposed this measure.

Two of the state’s top Democrats – Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel – have said they’re voting against the measure. But opposition from either party’s leaders doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see elected officials going out of their way to talk about it on the campaign trail, especially in legislative races focused primarily on issues such as tax cuts and budget issues.

That reluctance shows just how much of a newcomer Arkansas is to the medical marijuana debate, and that’s a position that makes it more difficult to judge it by traditional party lines.

“It just doesn’t work on the same continuum that partisan politics operates,” said Jay Barth, political science professor at Hendrix College.

Or, as University of Arkansas political science professor Janine Parry said: “Voters are of two minds or 16 minds in a good many places almost every election year.”

It’s that kind of unpredictability that Arkansas voters are known for. This is the same state that in 1968 simultaneously elected Republican Winthrop Rockefeller governor, Democrat J. William Fulbright senator and gave its electoral votes to American Independent nominee George Wallace. More recently, it overwhelmingly re-elected Beebe two years ago when voters rejected Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s bid for a third term.

With that kind of history, would a state that hands Republicans control of the Legislature while legalizing medical marijuana be that much of a surprised primarily on issues such as tax cuts and budget issues.

That reluctance shows just how much of a newcomer Arkansas is to the medical marijuana debate, and that’s a position that makes it more difficult to judge it by traditional party lines.

“It just doesn’t work on the same continuum that partisan politics operates,” said Jay Barth, political science professor at Hendrix College.

Or, as University of Arkansas political science professor Janine Parry said: “Voters are of two minds or 16 minds in a good many places almost every election year.”

It’s that kind of unpredictability that Arkansas voters are known for. This is the same state that in 1968 simultaneously elected Republican Winthrop Rockefeller governor, Democrat J. William Fulbright senator and gave its electoral votes to American Independent nominee George Wallace. More recently, it overwhelmingly re-elected Beebe two years ago when voters rejected Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s bid for a third term.

With that kind of history, would a state that hands Republicans control of the Legislature while legalizing medical marijuana be that much of a surprise?