Please use this blog to help us remember Joshua Lee Anderson, who made the tragic and fatal decision to take his life on Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Please post any memories or thoughts you may have in the comments.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Thoughts from "Searching for Mercy Street: A Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton" by Linda Gray Sexton

Linda Gray Sexton became a suicide survivor at 21-years old when her mother killed herself by sitting in a running car with the garage doors closed.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet's battle with mental illness was over.  Anne Sexton was only forty-five years old.

In the years following her mother's death, Linda finished college, edited and published Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters (1977)got married, had two children after suffering several miscarriages, published four novels, was a critical contact for Diane Middlebrook, author of Anne Sexton: A Biography (1991)suffered from the same illness and suicidal ideation as her mother and at the age of thirty-six, was at a place in life where her mother's death overshadowed everything.

The answer to her psychotherapist's question, "How often do you think about your mother?  Once a week?  Once a month?" was "How about every day."

In her words, she "needed an exorcism" and what resulted was this brutally honest memoir published in 1994, twenty years after her mother's death.

Rather than being cathartic, she found writing Searching for Mercy Street to be more a testimony to the events of her life - the abandonment, the chaos, the strange sexual games played with her mother, the domestic abuse, Anne's multiple suicide attempts and resulting hospitalizations, the constant manipulation as well as the few positive memories such as the writing lessons received at their kitchen table.
As I told my own story, I validated my life's experiences and toughened myself; it was a part of my self-education, one that helped me gain control over what had once seemed unmanageable.  Silence compels us to look at what lies behind it, and revelation brings with it knowledge - which is why some feel as if they must write about the private aspects of their lives, in search of solace and clarity.  To speak candidly, with neither justification nor humiliation, relieves the haunting of memory and mind and becomes one way to regain our dignity and our strength. 
Yes! - this is EXACTLY why I continue to write in my journal and on this blog.  It is a testimony to the journey I was thrust on, against my will, kicking and screaming, over five years ago.

So this is a very personal memoir about living with mental illness and suicide, both her mother's and her own.  Through her own suffering, she is able to absolve her mother's action.
Suicide is an immediate and permanent solution to pain.  The pain can be either physical or emotional: emotional pain of an intensity sufficient to drive the sufferer to consider suicide often manifest itself in physical symptoms so powerful that to quibble about origin is beside the point. Pain is pain regardless of its source. None of these conditions can necessarily be conquered by willpower; neither are they induced by laziness, lack of moral ethic, or selfishness.  
In my mind I had accused my mother of these failings many times. Now, my own experience had taught me a different and quite simple lesson: suicide is a synonym for escape…She had sought death because she believed she had no alternative. A life of pain is not a life worth living. She was not a coward, but instead a realist.
After reading these words, I can't help but wonder how much is applicable to our beloved Josh. He was not at risk for suicide, so we and his psychologist thought but obviously he was. What haunts me is this: what internal pain did he suffer from and for how long?

Her words about the root cause (depression), reminds me of William Styron's short powerful memoir, Darkenss Visible - see post for thoughts.
My mother died of depression. Untreatable, unceasing depression. Why, when we refer to depression, do we think of it in the main as a state characterized by numbness and low spirits rather than intense suffering? Why, in fact, is the word pain rarely used when describing depression? The dictionary uses synonyms such as melancholy, despondency, and sadness.
These are relevant questions at the time of publication in 1994 and now, twenty years later.

Before Josh's death, I was naive and uneducated in the topics of mental illness, depression and suicide. I did not know the signs of depression/suicide, leaving it to the "experts".  Now, I cringe whenever I see the list of signs because at least half can be ticked off as applicable to Josh.

This fuels our mission of The Josh Anderson Foundation: to "provide teenagers with the mental health education, resources and support so that they will never turn to suicide."

Teenagers because they may be their own last line of defense but also parents and teachers, coaches and youth leaders.  We all need to come together to stop Death's tool from taking any more young lives.

1 comment:

Roxanne Armes said...

I find it so interesting that the word "Pain" is not used more to describe depression! When I think of depression I think of intense pain! Especially when I think of suicide I think of pain so great you just want it to end!