Apr. 8th, 2009 09:28 pm
theladyrose: (Default)
[personal profile] theladyrose
I'm writing this in honor of national occupational therapy month, though I should really be working on my occupational therapy paper. A number of conversations in class and with various others inspired this.

In response to the all-encompassing influence of the medical establishment shaping our lives from birth to death, we're forming collective identities from medical conditions. Diagnoses dictate the treatments we receive or don't receive, assuming that we have access to health care in the first place. We're begging the public, the government, and the medical establishment to recognize that chronic illness and disability breach our traditional notions of what it means to be a human being. Chronic illness and disability can take away our ability to participate in the occupations that give our lives meaning, to take place in the events we use as developmental milestones, to carry out the roles that make an impact on family, friends, and the community at large. For the living, we focus on the direct impact of illness, learning to treat symptoms, arrange transportation to medical appointments and action committees, and wrangle with the mounting experiences.

Death, as it goes without saying, changes everything. After mourning, there's no more action we can take on behalf of the deceased, but none of us want to remain in the existential quagmire of stagnation. We want to believe that more can be done, and that our efforts can leave some lasting mark on another life when we can no longer express what we've lost.

The loved ones of those who die too soon, whether it be violently or accidentally or from illness, often turn to activism to hold despair at bay. No one wants to feel disempowered by the realization that we can only control the outcomes so much. If we could just get the rest of the public to become aware and fund their cause, eventually no one would needlessly die. So many medical and safety advocacy interest groups needlessly compete rather than ally with each other as they duke it out in Congress to get their legislation passed, to get their cause granted a "National Day/Week/Month," and to get their grants funded for research and public awareness campaigns. I don't doubt the inherent worth of these campaigns, but taking action for our own cause does not have to take place at the expense of everyone else.

It is far too easy to remember that suffering is universal no matter what its form, that pain can cripple us all. Yet how realistic does it actually sound to take the time out to acknowledge each other's experiences, compared to raising $x for a particular research fundraiser or issuing a pamphlet about the latest treatment for disease Y? Abstract actions are harder to implement, even when we hold ideals core to our sense of self so strongly. We could all use support in being alive, to paraphrase Stephen Sondheim's number from Company. Becoming mindful of and reaching out to those silently and not so silently struggling is a lifelong endeavor.

Suicide prevention, in particular, epitomizes the complexity of engaging in person-to-person advocacy. From what I've seen, those of us who join the call because we've personally experienced what lifelong damage suicidal impulses and completed suicides leave on the living. But bringing back people from this edge can be exhausting, and it can be all to easy to fall into the void ourselves when we can no longer carry our own weight along with others'. My inner researcher wonders how many of those who work in suicide prevention have seriously thought about committing suicide, how many have attempted suicide, how many of these attempts were recorded, and how many eventually complete suicide. My inner humanist wonders how we can better take care of these last responders called upon at the eleventh hour. I keep thinking that learning more about the problem and submersing myself in therapy research will help me shed light on implementing a solution, but sometimes I think I'm being carried out further into the distance.

People are like islands, the literary Vesper Lynd said before she killed herself. Sending out lifeboats in search of the adrift and transporting them to safety is a great start, but ongoing follow up care a necessity if they're not going to return to drown in the sea of trouble.* I can only hope we build more solid bridges to those who feel unanchored to the shores of human life.

*Bonus point if you understood the obscure reference to Tracy di Vicenzo.
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