“What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak. It was born in the moments when we accumulated silent things within us.”
— Gaston Bachelard
“Farooq, Abu’s unresponsive”. I was standing on the Manhattan-bound platform of the 20th Avenue D train station in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, 3:45PM on an otherwise unremarkable Monday afternoon last month, September 18th. (With my luck, of course it’d be one week after 9/11.)
Nothing, and I mean nothing, except the prospect of losing my loved ones, has, does, or ever will scare me, yet the only way I can describe Ami’s voice on that phone call is absolutely terrifying, because it suggested the sinister chance the aforementioned had occurred. Sure, my darling angel mother is anxious by nature, but she’s always composed and docile on the phone.
This was different.
“What do you mean unresponsive?” I shouted, over and over and over again.
“He’s not answering me! Come home! Where are you?” she kept pleading.
“I’m at 86th. I’ll be there in 5 minutes. Call 911. I’m calling them right now.”
I started running. I couldn’t tell you where I summoned the energy, either to run then, or write now. Everything these past five years feels like I used to. I used to work out. I used to take care of myself. I used to be happy. I used to jog six miles every morning, rain or shine, junior year during college. I used to write. I used to read. I used to recommend. I used to be active on social media. I used to something of a reluctant folk hero (in the industry, the technical term is resident cheerleader), someone to look up to (all jokes aside, why would you ever do such a thing), because I’d been through hell and lived to tell the tale, by which I mean I survived an ugly childhood, withstood a lifetime of unspeakable abuse, illness, poverty, loss and grief, bore it all, kept my demons at bay long enough to go through the motions expected from the only son of immigrants, went through school, attended the best schools, earned 3 degrees in 5 years, met and lost the love of my life, hated the rat race, couldn’t stand being another nameless, faceless cog in the corporate machine, swallowed inconsolable anger, pain and despair inward, fell to rock bottom, tried to kill myself, failed at that, stayed at rock bottom, tried to kill myself again, failed at that, found myself at rock bottom, saved myself at rock bottom, climbed out of rock bottom, then spent the next several years trying to save the lives of as many souls I could, mostly fellow sojourners in this oft-maligned Millennial generation, whose only apparent sin was to be born between 1980–2000 and inherit baggage we didn’t ask for. At least that’s my operating assumption and working hypothesis. I’m not special. This means we’re not Snowflakes. I didn’t want to lead at first. I was walking down my own path, and found a crowd of like-minded, progressive young adults gathering behind me anyway. Everybody tells me I’m the cheerleader. Nah. Don’t get it twisted. I’m just a vessel to reflect back the unconditional love, support, and loyalty you’ve always shown me. In the here and now, the way the world is, we really are all we’ve got, love does win, and sometimes any corner of the Internet, as long as it uplifts, honors, and validates you, will do. Where were we? I used to do all this. For the culture. For the fam. For y’all.
But then things started to happen, bad things, then worse things, then hell. I got evicted. I became homeless. My endocrinologist told me the lump in my throat might be a cuddly-sounding unspecific nontoxic nodular goiter, or it might be thyroid cancer. I was the victim of identity theft, extortion, falsely accused of several crimes by my ex-roommate, then, when attempting to clear my name in court, was arrested at the courthouse, needlessly interrogated by clearly bigoted detectives who subjected myself and another individual under arrest to their serenades of quite literally bragging about how Great Trump’s Making America Again while being transported to central booking, mocked my religious observance and laughed when I asked when sunset would be, as I was either kept inside a shitty interrogation room at Flushing’s 109th Precinct, or inside a holding cell *while in handcuffs* at the mercy of an intoxicated inmate, both of which were windowless cages, for the longest eight hours of my life, all while fasting during this past Ramadan. For four months, I dealt with this black cloud hanging over me, a wildly unbelievable series of injustices levied without cause or explanation, with grace, poise, and elegance. Not to kill them with kindness. Far from it. When you’re honest, and you know you’re innocent, and the heavens smile on you with a bit of luck and lawyering, the score takes care of itself. I don’t crack under pressure. I don’t succumb to suffering. I cleared my name, all charges were dismissed, and I moved on with my life. I mention all of this to say: I don’t take breaks from my life’s work (activism centered around mental health advocacy and suicide prevention outreach, and writing) until and unless I’m forced to. Something snapped in me today. I had to write this, because I don’t like this heavy feeling I’ve carried for the past month, where nothing looks, tastes, feels, smells, or sounds good, and it hurts to breathe. So here I am. Also, I’m extremely self-ware, so I know I’m rambling, and this is far from my best writing, from a technical perspective, and there’s about a million edits I could make, but sometimes your run-on sentences are all you can come up with. It’s been a while, and I’m worse for the wear. Bear with me. I’m trying to bear with me.
Somehow, I found myself sprinting and speaking somewhat coherently to the 911 dispatcher. I can’t imagine the image now, of a frantic man running down several avenues while screaming his father’s name, address, DOB, and other pertinent information at breakneck speed. They kept getting the cross streets wrong. If I had the breath to spare, I’d have cursed whoever designed the city map under it. Ironically, a car almost hit me on the way home, and I tripped and nearly lost my front teeth, so perhaps I’d need an ambulance of my own.
I got home, found my mom, then my dad. He looked like he was sleeping. Instinctively, I checked his neck for a pulse. I felt something, then ran to the bathroom and brought back some cold water to splash him with. Nothing. I pinched his finger and cheek. Nothing. I tried everything I could think of during those moments to wake him up. Nothing. The silence swallows you.
EMS arrived at our apartment a few minutes after, and ran through the usual procedure and protocol. They suspected stroke. They tested his blood sugar. Normal. They tested his blood pressure. Normal, then high, then rising higher.
It was clear: Abu needed to be taken to the hospital, or he wouldn’t make it.
“Where should we take him?” they asked me. “At this hour, not Maimonides. Our only option is Coney Island”. They couldn’t fit the stretcher into my parents’ bedroom due to the postwar Tetris design of our hallway. They carried my father out, with him inside a white bedsheet. I wished then, as I do now, for that moment, not to have seen the sight. The more I think about it the more I accept: mortality isn’t to be feared. It’s just part of the process.
At the ER, Ami and I waited for what felt like hours while they ran tests. We called my cousin, and his mother, my aunt, a dual-board-certified specialist. She suggested I ask the attending a few specific questions about Abu’s tests.
Thank God, no suspected stroke.
Thank God, no cranial hemorrhage.
Thank God, no brainstem hypoxia.
Thank God, no cerebral infarction.
Thank God, regained consciousness.
They ran several more tests, paying special attention to his heart, liver, and kidneys. Biography might lie. Biology never lies. Not even an hour into our stay at the ER, they found severely elevated markers for chemical overdose. Diagnosis: paracetamol poisoning resulting in severe hypertensive emergency.
Abu attempted suicide. Of course it gets worse.
Suicide attempt. 63 years young. Surprise.
Male suicide is a silent public health crisis.
Male suicide is 3.5x female suicide. (AFSP)
Suicide: pain > threshold/resources for pain
Everybody knows about me and suicide.
My ideations. My attempts. My life since.
Ami and Abu have attempted before, too.
Suicidality has a definite genetic basis.
Depression is like an infectious disease.
Abu’s attempted at least twice before.
So this isn’t new to me. It is what it is.
Nightmares aren’t scary if they’re reruns.
What do you feel when your hero feels like quitting?
What do you say when your hero feels like quitting?
What do you do when your hero feels like quitting?
Abu was admitted to the inpatient medical tower that evening (Monday, September 18th), was transferred to the psychiatric inpatient program Tuesday, October 3rd, and was discharged last Friday, October 13th. Funny, Friday the 13th never scared me before last week. Why? Simple. I thought he’d attempt again, and we wouldn’t be as lucky the next time. It’s hard to keep rolling double sixes. Even a hard seven, it’s not what you’re looking for.
Ami, upon my insistence, flew out to Dallas that Friday, September 22nd, for a much needed vacation away from the madness and sadness at home. She’s my queen, in case you didn’t know. My queen deserves the world. My sister and baby nephews are my world, her world, and Abu’s world. So I gave it to her. Ami and Baji are flying back here tonight, actually. I can’t wait to see them. It’s the one thing keeping me happy and sane now, kind of like Ross’s sandwich.
For three whole weeks, I was alone at home. Ami was in Dallas, Abu was at the hospital. I deeply missed the silence and solitude, but didn’t know quite what to do with it. Of course, it felt familiar. I had it for five whole years, while I was away at college and grad school. I moved back five years ago, and the past half decade was been anything but silence and solitude. I tried to sit with myself, promised myself I’d finish Brown Grass this month. Nothing clicked.
I thought the art would bleed through. Creative constipation is a real bitch.
I have always faked it til I maked it. (Yes, maked it. Let me live a little. lol)
What does this mean really? I can gas myself up, hype myself up, talk myself up in front of a mirror, hell, even without a mirror. I’m telling you this right now, you have to be your own greatest cheerleader and champion in life.
I told myself I’d meet this insurmountable challenge with equal parts indefatigable spirit and indomitable will. I did before, why not now?
This shit was, is, and always will be my life. It runs in my proud blood, miles beneath the translucents of my calloused wrists, scaffolds these battered sinews, hallowed sinuses, aching nerves, and forever burning muscle fibers.
It’s been demanding nothing less than my all every single day in and day out. What’s the line? The one from Scarface? That one. The one we’ve all said.
You’re fucking with me? You’re fucking with the very best.
Sometimes even your best isn’t good enough. Nothing clicks. Sometimes, you can’t do it by yourself. Sometimes, you need to say the hardest word, “no”. Sometimes, you need to say the second hardest word, “help”. I’ll say it. Help.
Abu’s been depressed his whole life. Like father, like son.
He was orphaned (the original definition related to the loss of one’s father, as it was understood this guaranteed the loss of one’s financial security, social standing, position, and stability, etc.) at the tender age of seven years old.
All he’s known in life is hard work. Like father, like son.
I’m not surprised, upset, or shocked he’s flirted with disaster like this before. Anybody familiar with anxiety, depression, and mental illness in general will tell you what suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and suicidality are all about.
Still, it’s shaken me to the very core, to have nearly lost my best friend, my coach, king, mentor, teacher, my father, over a few handfuls of Tylenol PM.
I’ve been there before. Sometimes sleep is your only friend, and worst enemy.
Depression is drowning but not being able to die. Depression means having an abusive relationship with yourself. Depression is when your heart and brain stop loving each other but still eat at the same dinner table together. Depression is having a cold which convinces you to believe you deserve to have it and will have it forever. Depression is a clause of tremendous suffering, a sentence of failure punctuated by the briefest success and joy. Depression is a literal fight for your life every goddamn second. Depression is hey don’t be sad cheer up it’s all in your head. Depression is invisible.
Anxiety is a permanent black cloud looming overhead. Anxiety is living inside the bastard grandchild of a hurricane, tornado, tsunami and earthquake. Anxiety means worrying about worrying because worrying means worrying. Anxiety is when your body decides every second is a ticker tape parade and guess what your heart and lungs are the guests of honor. Anxiety is cold sweat in a hot shower. Anxiety is avoiding Times Square because fuck every slow moving tourist and their souvenirs and crowds spelling disaster. Anxiety is running out of time when the clock stops ticking. Anxiety is transparent.
Where is he, where am I, where are we, now? I think we can move forward. Abu’s agreed to take his medication. Abu’s agreed to undergo outpatient cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I moved back home permanently to take care of him and Ami, making some necessary adjustments and painful albeit ultimately insignificant (when their value is compared to that of my parents) sacrifices along the way. There’s a lot more I want to share and write this weekend. I’ve decided to start a crowdfunding campaign to recoup some if not all of Ami and Abu’s lost income and medical insurance benefits, as I was shuttling back and forth between the hospital and home for nearly a month, and was the only point of contact, as well as the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP) caregiver for both Ami and Abu from April through August. Due to Abu’s hospitalization, we lost the Medicaid CDPAP benefits normally rebated and refunded as cash, billed at $11/hour for 112 hours during September, and another 112 during October. Each month’s payment ($1232) is nearly one month’s rent. We also lost Ami’s benefits because her former insurance provider, Fidelis Health, suspended her coverage for no reason on August 30th. She receives half Abu’s hours, billed at $11/hour for 56 hours, $616 each month during September and October. Ami and Abu lost $3696, despite my best efforts to restore and recompense their coverage, and I lost as much if not more between consulting, editing, speaking engagements, and other freelance work. This is to say nothing of my having exhausted my savings taking care of Abu’s rent arrears, utilities bills, and other basic necessities. I wish I had known sooner how much he need(ed)(s) my help. I wish he’d spoken up. I wish toxic masculinity didn’t mean bottling things up, and not asking for help. I don’t want to be like that. I’ll ask. Help.
Hence, I’ll be setting a goal of $3700 with a GoFundMe link and page coming shortly, sometime tonight or tomorrow morning. If you’d like, you can make a direct, immediate, one-time contribution to this fund, via Chase Quickpay (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or Paypal (email@example.com). I promise I’ll get back to the used to’s: reading, writing, recommending. Until then: from the bottom of my appreciative, sincere heart, thank you, thank you, thank you.