Monday, February 28, 2011

Taking Lives

Having been floating around the media for the last year or so, the debate regarding euthanasia is one that is both sensitive and polarising. While politicians rant about this on the floor of parliament, it has stirred some emotions in the general public also - my mother once told me that killing yourself is selfish because you leave so much pain behind.

The question is - would you still be so certain when faced with the decision yourself?

Inevitably, there will be people who befall tragedy - car crashes, accidents at work and even old age can take away measures of mobility and freedom in a person. It may come in the form of mental illness, comas, paralysis, and yet they can all have a huge impact on a person's quality of life. When they realise what's happened, sometimes they can spiral into the depths of depression - especially if they've become wheelchair-bound and realise that many of the things they're used to doing they can no longer do independently or at all. Then, there's the psychologists and support groups who attempt to embrace them and get them off on their new path with head held high and a new lust for life.

For some groups such as the elderly, this isn't so much an option. The prospect of losing a loved one that they've had side by side with them for decades is haunting, hanging over them like dark clouds before a thunderstorm. Life without their loved one can often feel worse than the threat of death regarding their own lives. Likewise with cancer patients; while there are times where it seems that there is a chance of them besting cancer, all too often the end result is an end to their life - and sometimes it can be an almightily painful one at that.

Envision for a moment then, that your loved one was suffering terminal cancer. They may only have one month to live, or maybe a year. Regardless though, you know that they will die soon, too soon. You know that all attempts to defeat the cancer have failed, and you know that their final months will be marked with great pain.

The question I ask is - if they asked you to help them die, would you?

For many people, they would say no without thinking twice. Others could find themselves with an internal battle over it, with their love for the other person weighing against the person's desires. We all know what it is like to lose a loved one (whether it be through death or a broken relationship) - the seeming loss of light, the almost wrenching pain as the brain tries to wean itself off the loved person that seems to enhance each and every thing we do.

In the end, we may decide to help that person, or we may decide to have no part in it. In some cases, we may decide to get other people to intervene, whether it be to merely preserve life or to 'knock some sense into the fool' as one person I know called it when broached with the topic. In any case, the decision is one that will inevitably weigh heavily on a person's conscience, without any situation seemingly being a positive one.

How may people then, truly act on the person's wishes? How many have the fortitude to see past their own instincts and desires and do what is truly in the best interest of the person? In many countries around the world euthanasia is still considered illegal (and it some cases, tantamount to murder), while suicide itself no longer is. The irony in this is delicious - euthanasia itself refers to suicide to relieve pain and suffering. How can you possibly draw a line between taking your life to relieve suffering and doing so because of mental illness? At some point, the line becomes blurred - and yet lawmakers don't seem to realise exactly how indistinct those lines actually are. Are they actually arguing against suicide? If so, you can't have it both ways - either legalise suicide or don't. Are they arguing against physician-assisted suicide? If so, they need to debate on that.

Life is something I hold in very high regard - one of the strongest motivators behind my life philosophy. And yet, I've been scoffed at for also being in favor of abortion, in favor of euthanasia and also in favor of assisted suicide if the need be. While life is precious, quality of life is also. This is something that is a very complex issue, and with many avenues conflicts of personal ethics and philosophies the further you dig deep. One such area was in regard of personal freedoms. Originally, I considered it hypocritical that Western countries in particular all too often toot their horns about how democracy is right and about how freedom is held above all else, and yet they still hold on to seemingly selfish laws about issues such as giving a person the freedom to die. And yet, that comesinto my own conflict about my own philosophy regarding abortion. I completely believe that if a parent or parents don't feel that they are capable of appropriately raising a child in this world, then they should abort it. Yet in saying this, I'm disregarding a child's freedom to challenge the world they've been brought up in and create their own excellent quality of life, even if they aren't able to make a decision regarding ending their own life yet. This is only one dilemma that carries with it such a web of ethical and philosophical conflicts, and as a people if we are to move forward regarding this we need to better understand the reasons behind these issues in the first place.

The key is self-awareness; to understand the conflicts and unravel them we must first understand why we think what we think and do what we do. I don't believe there are enough people who do that in the world sadly.

However, why should we forbid something that we ourselves cannot give reason to forbid it in the first place?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Price of Altruism

Although I didn't expect to be writing about this so soon, sometimes the timing of certain events isn't quite so...eloquent. Tonight, I helped a suicidal person gain clarity on some of the issues plaguing him, and (hopefully) set them on the path back to truly living life. Sometimes, the greatest deeds are those that go unnoticed.

A forewarning - this blog post will be full-on and uncensored. Some people may see this as intense, depressing, and/or a myriad of other nice and not-so-nice things. I'm writing this so that people can understand why I have made some of the choices I have made, and that so people can hopefully discover a greater appreciation for those who live to help others.

This is about the night I saved a life.

It was two years ago. I was in my third year of university and I was teaching out of town. I ended up staying with a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless). We fell out of touch up until a few days before I started, and I only found out shortly before I started that it was because his parents had recently separated. While I was uncomfortable with the idea of jumping in on his life with something like that just happening, by the same token I would have been left with a lot of difficulty getting to/from where I was teaching. So, I went and stayed with him.

The first week and a half or so was pretty good. I serttled into the school I was at pretty comfortably (although I didn't do a lot of teaching because of assessments and events), things were clicking well where I was staying, and I was looking forward to really making the most of the five weeks I had. It wasn't until the end of the second week that things started to go downhill.

The first blow came from my mate's father. I don't know all the details, but things between them had deteriorated to the point where we were both kicked out of his house (it was in his father's name, so yeah). We were given two afternoons to move everything out of his house. We ended up having to live out of his mother's loungeroom (and to this day I wish I actually told her how much I appreciated her taking me in when she barely knew me and had no obligation to do so), and managed to get everything out of the house. This was difficult for my mate - I don't know what was going through his head at the time, but I know he needed a hug on at least one occasion.

The second blow was was from my supervisor. I was part of a research project at the university - part of which involved a evaluation of a live lesson (for my uni mates, this was Julie Lancaster's project - I was doing a differentiated lesson). The lesson itself was complex in the method of delivery. At the end of the lesson, the researcher appladued me for taking on what was ultimately a difficult lesson, and feedback on the whole was positive. My supervisor however had different ideas. This was the first full lesson she had observed - prior to that point I had either casual teachers supervising me or I had the class to myself. Ultimately, she put me as 'At Risk', and pushed me off on another supervisor who proceeded to treat me as the special case. It was crushing - I was more or less going completely back to basics and wasting my time on things that weren't doing anything except damaging my self-efficacy. It was difficult for me to work with a new class, but nonetheless I managed to balance it.

The third happened on a weekend. I had done the weekend back home for an event that I didn't end up attending for personal reasons. It was a Saturday night I headed back to where I was staying, and I discovered that it was a night of partying because close friends of my mate were down from Queensland, and it was the first time he'd seen them in ages.

The night went well until words were exchanged and egos were set alight. Then it all went downhill.

I wasn't in the room at the time when it all went down, but I was there for the fallout.  It started with my mate and another person there, but it eventually grew to involve my mate's ex-gf. When you have three people with volatile tempers going off at the same time, it's bound to end badly.

This went on for well over an hour. Eventually, my mate's ex-gf ended up storming outside angry at my mate, my mate was getting aggressive with everyone, and the third person was ready to get violent with anyone (including me when I tried to step in and get everyone to back off).

The next events I remember vividly, as would anyone who has done what I did that night.

At one point, my mate's ex-gf was out the front by herself, quite depressed and upset. She asked me to go back inside and get her keys. Not finding them, I returned outside to find out she had disappeared. Telling my mate, we agreed to split up and search surrounding streets for her. I returned home after combing the streets and not finding her. He didn't.

I don't know what happened between them, but I'm reasonably certain he had either found her or contacted her. After being unable to get into contact with him via phone, a family friend who had stuck around after the blowup got in the car with me and we drove around searching for him. Unable to find him, we had just returned home when the family friend got a message on her phone from my mate. To paraphrase, it said "Please tell my daughter I love her and I'm sorry."

After calling the police and getting them around, my mate called me. He was on the train tracks, and was going to jump in front of the next train heading past. I spent the next few hours in a desperate attempt to try and get him to come around, while also trying to keep the police updated with information and everyone that was awake calm. We had the highway blocked off, and all trains cancelled. It was like a balancing act - the police were trying to get me to push him for information about where he was, but I also knew that it wasn't safe to do so because of how he was mentally. There were also several times he hung up on me, where I was left without any idea of whether I had any effect on him and where I simply had to hope.

Eventually, he called me and told me where he was. I went and picked him up, and after a short detour we ended up at the police station. There, I was given custody of him. I could not let him out of my sight, and was responsible for his wellbeing. At the time, I was only 20. To have that kind of responsibility for anyone can be challenging. I can only imagine what another person my age then would've done when given that choice. For me, that choice was always about what was in my mate's best interests. I had not slept, and it was the morning after before we left the police station. I had no sleep, but I was still repairing the damage from the night before the next day.

Looking back on that night, I can still feel what I was going through - the ever-present fear that I couldn't save a suicidal friend, the empathetic pain that numerous people were feeling behind the fight, the anxiety that every time he hung up was the last I would hear from him. These were all things I had to process after the event, and while trying to handle everything else going on at the time too. That's when things started to go downhill.

First it was his random leavings in the night (for reasons I won't go into here). These were kicks in the gut for me, especially when I woke up the next morning to find him gone and couldn't get into contact with him. Then it was the whole saga with his less-than-stable ex wanting back in on him and their child's life. I was trapped in a fishbowl - I had everything going on around me and had nobody to lean back on. I couldn't lean back on my mate even if he was better because I didn't know how much of his behaviour was him genuinely more positive and how much was a mask.

Breaking point came midway through the fourth week. The night before some sort of blow-up between my mate and his father resulted in me spending half the night disassembling things and shipping them back to his old house. This came at a cost of me preparing what I needed to prepare to teach the following morning. I walked into work that day with a feeling of dread, as I felt really bad for not being prepared even with extenuating circumstances having occured. Informing my supervisor of what happened, I was given a lecture on how everyone goes through hard phases and a spiel on another teacher who had to battle cancer.

That was where I broke. I was completely emotionally drained, I had little sleep and I was feeling worthless. I ended up walking out of where I was teaching that day. A week later, I left where I was staying, and a month later my mate and his ex-gf got back together and moved up to Queensland.

I was left to pick up the pieces and to try to reassemble myself. My mate cut off all contact with me shortly after moving, and didn't reestablish contact with me until a few weeks ago. My studies suffered, and ultimately I left the degree I was in. To this day I still don't know what I mean to my mate, whether I was simply someone in the right place at the right time, or if he really did care about me (although his mother said I was an angel sent by God). I was left completely emotionally trained, and I had to try and pick up the pieces myself. I was left to fight what I was feeling alone, and what stung the most was that I felt like the person whose life I saved didn't really give a damn about me. And yet, I had to live with that. This is the true price of altruism.

Given the same scenario, I would make the same decision in a heartbeat. Not because I know the outcome or because it's what people see as the right thing to do, but because I want to give someone a chance at life. What defines me as a person is nothing more than a deep-seated drive to help people - nothing more, nothing less. However, this comes at a cost. When you are giving so much to the people around you, often you aren't getting back what you're putting in. You become emotionally drained, and over time you can feel more and more stressed out and wound up trying to handle everything going on around you.

I won't lie - the events that happened in those weeks have left wounds that I'm still trying to heal from today. What people need to understand about anyone who gives a lot to other people is that they themselves can be fighting a lot of battles - just because they're helping you oesn't mean that you shouldn't make it known to them that you're there for them too. I wish it was a lesson I learned earlier. I am a tormented soul - there are demons so dark that it pains me to just think about them. There have been countless times where I've needed a hug and never gotten one, and there have been countless times where I've reached out to help someone only to be left baring wounds. These are things other people don't see, but they're the battles that take the greatest toll on me. Despite this, if anyone is in need I will always throw everything aside and do what I can to help them, even if it comes at a price.

Tonight, I gave someone guidance to stop considering taking their life and instead learn to live life again. Sometimes I wonder if other people put more or less thought into helping others, whether they put themselves before others and whether they need ulterior motives to act in such a way. The world we live in is becoming increasingly grey, and what people see as the right thing to do is become increasingly subjective. There are people out there who have been brought up in broken families and broken homes, people who have everything material but nothing emotional.

For some people, the gift of life is the greatest thing you can give them.

Monday, February 14, 2011

30 Days, 30 Memories

One week ago I decided to jump in on the 30 Day Song Challenge. It wasn't to brag about my taste in music (which admittedly has been described by several people as 'awful'), nor to seek attention. I joined it as an avenue to express myself.

Sometimes the most innocent things can have roots that run much deeper. Take for example a girl who buys a copy of The Big Issue on her way to work every month. To passersby, it looks like she' simply helping out a guy on the street. Perhaps she's a 'philanthropist', or perhaps 'she simply wants to help out those less fortunate'. Others around her might see her as simply a good person.

Consider for a moment then, that perhaps she was only homeless herself six months ago, three months ago, last month. She might be buying a magazine from her brother or sister. Maybe she herself is on the brink of being homeless once again. There are many battles that a person faces that the rest of the world is blind to seeing - this is why I place so much importance on being open and friendly to other people; you never know what battles they are facing.

Sometimes, the battles a person faces cause them to become withdrawn. While internalizing everything can be a good coping mechanism for coming to terms with whatever they are trying to deal with, it also makes it more difficult for other people to understand what's going on and thus give them the support they need. It is these deepest moments of personal reflection and understanding that it is most important for one to express themselves so that people can understand where they're coming from. If I'm being honest to myself, the reason I started this blog was to be able to express myself, not for glory or self-glorification or any kind of attention seeking.

For the 30 day song challenge, it's become a very...reflective exercise for me. Therapeutic in a way I suppose. Music for me is a genre where I can connect emotionally to the world around me - particularly through the lyrics. From this first week alone I've walked through some of my happiest moments, as well as my darkest ones.

These are my songs from the first seven days of the challenge:

Day 01 - Your faovurite song

Emilie Autumn - Opheliac

This is the song that first got me hooked on EA. She is a spectacular artist, being able to broach serious personal challenges such as bipolar disorder, rape and depression with dark humor and a lyrics that are raw and poignant.

Opheliac is one of those songs that manages to combine intense lyrics with an almost sadistically playful melody. The overall effect is something that reminds me of a chucky doll - cute on the surface but hiding something so much more sinister beneath.

Day 02 - Your least favourite song

Rick Astley - Never Gonna Give You Up

Unfortunately, I wish I could say that there was some hidden meaning behind choosing this song. There isn't though - I just hate listening to it :P. If I was to put more into this I could probably choose a Pink song for reminding me about my ex, but that's neither here nor there.

Day 03 - A song that makes you happy

Daft Punk - Technologic

I'm very much a thinker - although you can't always see it, I spend a lot of time contemplating a range of things. One of the most important things I've learned is that sometimes you just have to put everything to one side and spend time doing nothing other than existing.

For me, this song represents that. There's no intense, thought-provoking lyrics. There is no soul-resonating melody, or muse-like vocals. No, there's nothing else other than a catchy tune. Sometimes, that's all we need.

Day 04 - A song that makes you sad

Evergrey - Broken Wings

This was a difficult day to find an appropriate song for, because 'sad' to me is a very generic emotion that often can be better described. In the end, I could think of a song that managed to fulfill 'sad'. Angry, hurt, envious, wistful, isolated, despairing...but not sad.

This song for me is a very strong reminder of the price I've paid in giving my all in being there for other people and helping them when they're doing it tough. There have been a number of people in my life who have just leeched from me time and time again, but haven't been there for me when I've needed it. This kind of one-way street is something I'm working hard to try and change. The price of altruism is a great one, and you can't always give everything to everyone when they need you - sometimes, you need people around you who are willing to be there for you when you're doing it tough. I haven't found that network of people yet, but I'm still trying.

Day 05 - A song that reminds you of someone

Emilie Autumn - Shalott

Danny Danny Danny, what a clusterfuck of a life you had when I jumped smack bang in the middle of it.  Although you're an extrovert, a party animal and many other things besides, this song reminds me so much of you when you were doing it tough. While you always have on this macho, alpha-male facade, deep down you're a rather sensitive guy. You need to think less about how other people see you and just do what makes you happy.

Day 06 - A song that reminds you of somewhere

Epica - Solitary Ground (Remix)

For this day, I went with a more metaphorical somewhere rather than a physical one. For those who've noticed me become absent-minded and withdrawn, when things are tough I often disappear into the depths of my own mind. ALthough it's difficult to explain, somewhere in there is a place where I feel secure despite what's going on around me - an eye to a storm if you will.

The reason why I went with the remixed version of this song is because it tends to match that real tempest I feel when a lot of things are coming down on me at once.

Day - 07 - A song that reminds you of a certain event

Nightwish - Nemo

One day two years ago, I saved a life. It was a series of events that ultimately caused me to walk away from where I was teaching, my university degree, and so much more. It left me a shadow of myself, and a whole lot of other things besides.

I feel the time to tell this story is coming soon. For now though, it's not yet right.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


So, quite possibly against my better judgement I've decided to start blogging things.

What's going to be contained in this here blog? Good question. Me, I'm a thinker. Why not share it I suppose? :)

And yeah, I suck at intros, so enjoy :)