Incognito Press

truth. knowledge. freedom. passion. courage. Promoting free-thinking, activism & rogue writing.

Posts Tagged ‘depression’

Esther and Easter: How One Human Being Can Change The World

Posted by E on March 27, 2016

Elisa Purim Easter2016By a conspicuous alignment of calendar dates, 2016 is a year when the Jewish holiday of Purim, a holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people by Queen Esther, coincides with Easter Week (and also with Holi in the Hindu faith – the Festival of Love). Only this week, when the stars have aligned Purim and Easter, does it strike me how many parallels there are between these ancient holidays. Not just in the acts of charity toward the less fortunate that both Jews and Christians engage in, but also in the flourishing spirit of hope that surrounds us all.

It was a couple of summers ago, when I was visiting an old friend from university at her place in Cornwall, that I rediscovered the story of Esther. It was the summer I was studying in preparation for my conversion to Judaism, but that week religious texts were the last thing on my mind. I had stopped for an overnight visit at Joseé-Anne’s house on my way to Massachusetts, where I planned to spend the better part of a week in Provincetown and Cape Cod. I hoped to find inspiration for my new book Daughters of the Air, a retelling of The Little Mermaid, along the grassy dunes of Provincetown’s beaches.

We had just finished dinner and were sitting out in her backyard, sharing a bottle of red wine, as twilight painted mauve streaks across the skies. Joseé-Anne was chain-smoking, as she always did when we talked poetry. We gossiped about old schoolmates and professors and chatted about how hard it is to get published these days. I had just told her of my Judaism course when she turned to me and asked abruptly, “Do you know the story of Esther?”

flower of hopeI nodded yes, although at the time it was just a passing familiarity. An orphan raised by her uncle, kind-hearted Mordechai, in many ways Esther was the original Cinderella – chosen above all other maidens as the king’s new bride. Chosen for her beauty and quiet intelligence, Esther not only captured the king’s heart but was able to spark his compassion and thereby save her people from being put to death after an evil plan had been hatched by the king’s close advisor, vizier Haman.

“You need to learn about Esther,” Joseé-Anne repeated. “You need to absorb her spirit into yourself. This was a young girl who had nothing, whose people were persecuted, who was secretly Jewish and in danger. And yet she saved the nation of Israel. She didn’t do this with connections or money; she had nothing but her desire to change the world and save her people. And she did it.”

We fell quiet. Joseé reached over and wrapped her arm around my shoulders. “Find the courage that Esther had. If she could find it within herself to stand up against a king and be so brave, any of us can do whatever we put our minds to. It’s a matter of faith – being alone in the world and having faith that something greater than yourself is there, watching for you. Even in the darkest moments, when there is no light or hope on the horizon, if you believe as Esther did, you will find the strength.”

sunny_daffodilsBoth Easter and Purim are about hope. About rising out of the ashes of humanity’s frailty and finding kindness and compassion when faced with hatred, which almost always stems from fear of the unknown, of things and people who we perceive are different from us. Whether it was Jesus forgiving his Roman executioners, or Esther who managed to save the Jewish people from their executions, both holidays depict the triumph of a single person’s empathy and fortitude over the hatred of the many.

Purim and Easter both signify a new beginning, as well as the end of winter and the birth of spring. Along with Holi in the Hindu religion, they celebrate love toward all human beings. Together, they are holidays infused with happiness and hope for a new future.

This is a message I need to take to heart more than ever before – I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s disease back in December and survived a major depression and suicide attempt this January. A symbolic spring – the rebirth of dreams and possibilities – is something I need more than ever before.

If you can find it within yourself to help me on this journey, please send a message of support through Patreon.

Happy Purim  phoenix

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Posted in depression, jewish, judaism, suicide | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Become a Patron and Make a Difference

Posted by E on March 22, 2016

green valleys red tree

I really need your help, folks. As a rule of thumb I don’t like to depend on others’ generosity and I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t absolutely crucial. But honestly, it is.

The first and last time I begged for spare change was a year ago, in order to finance my research trip to Eastern Europe. My crowdfunding efforts and book project were publicized in a front-page section of the Toronto Star on May 5, 2015. I managed to generate approx. $2000 through private and online donations, which was enough to pay for my flight and most of my rental accommodations in Bucharest. However, while working on the book I experienced a major depressive episode which was worsened by my mother’s death in December.

Researching in Romania, 2015

Researching in Romania, 2015

I’ve found it extremely difficult to work on my manuscript, which is all kinds of awful since it involves stripping away layers of multi-generational pain and heartache in my family. It didn’t help that my research into my father’s Securitate archives in Bucharest this past spring led me on a path toward discovering that my father had actually been killed by Ceausescu’s secret police.

In January I ended up in hospital after a suicide attempt, and my road to recovery has been rocky. To put it bluntly, I’ve found it extremely difficult to see a point for my life, for the traumas my parents went through…. I know we all feel like this sometimes, but I honestly didn’t see a purpose to my existence; I didn’t feel that anybody would care whether I lived or died.

An acute example of this manifested in the weeks right after my mother died – two of my closest friends didn’t care enough to phone me in person and see if I was okay. It was a brutal thing to discover – that people I really cared about, who I’d helped generate thousands of dollars in grants and helped immensely in the past – people who I thought cared about me also – seemed more interested in posting selfies of themselves in new outfits than in sending a single message of condolence. However, in the last couple of months I have come to realize that it was a blessing in disguise – it’s only at hard times that you discover who your real friends are.

I won’t deny it; it’s been awful trying to understand the roots of cruelty – whether the source of my parents’ childhood traumas or my own, or even to understand indifference and lack of empathy in people who I thought were good friends. And then there’s the issue of figuring out how to get out of bed in the morning. Believe me when I say that trying to self-motivate yourself after a suicide attempt, when you don’t see any value in your own existence, much less in your own work, is one of the hardest things in the world.

But recently I’ve stumbled onto a new means of both inspiring AND supporting myself while writing – by surrounding myself with people who actually want to be part of my artistic process. People who care about contributing to the arts, even if it’s with a single dollar every month. So this week I set up a new crowdfunding site on Patreon.com and I hope that I can connect with new people who will be my new family.

My Patrons are the family I never had – a family that supports and sustains me through the process of creating writing that aims to make a difference. I need each and every one of you, and everything I create is dedicated to you. Please support me by becoming an Arts Patron and make a difference.

Those who know me are aware of how badly I was exploited as a teenage girl – first by a radical homegrown terrorist group called the Heritage Front, and afterwards by Canada’s own CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Network), who exploited my story as a teenage kid and stole my identity for a 1998 film called White Lies, which starred Road to Avonlea’s Sarah Polley. While I lived in hiding after sending white supremacists to prison, dumpster-diving for survival, CBC producers were enjoying the limelight and financial benefits, along with Emmy and Gemini nominations, for a movie that wouldn’t have existed without my suffering.

I’ve never had any breaks in life, and I don’t say this because I expect any sympathy, because I’ve seldom received it. I am only stating a fact – that I need every single one of you because I have no family or fallback options. I put myself through university and graduated Magna cum Laude, I published in prestigious literary journals without knowing the editors, I won every award I’ve ever received with sweat and hard work, without any connections. I have nothing at all but my mind and my writing.

I ask only for a $5 donation every month, and you will be first to know about new books and artistic projects I’m involved in. I will give you an advance copy of every new book I create, and my promise that I will continually work on producing writing that aims to make a difference in the world.

Little-Match-Girl-Illustration-By-Rachel-IsadorI appreciate any contribution, no matter how big or how small. You can donate any amount you feel like. Even $1.00 can make a difference, if enough people contribute.

In centuries past, artists depended on the generosity of strangers and art patrons to fund their creative processes – and although we might live in the 21st century, little has changed. The Arts is still a field marked by poverty and uncertainty – most of the time you don’t know where your next funding source will come from. Often you don’t even know if people appreciate what you are trying to do until the work is out there.

But in those dark, rainy days where you are alone with your doubts and your demons (and those bills that need to get paid), it sure would help to know that someone out there cares about your work.

PLEASE consider being a part of my life. Help me find the inspiration I need by letting me know that others see value in my art. Please tell me that my work matters.

Please help me by becoming a Patron.

Posted in art, grief, inspiration, romania, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Medicalization of Grief

Posted by E on August 29, 2015

sadness heart tree

We like to think we live in a diverse, tolerant, understanding society, when nothing could be further from the truth. The Cult of Positive Thinking has made it socially-acceptable to be shunned for expressing real emotions: sadness, grief, any manifestation of loss that isn’t perfectly encapsulated by a prescribed set time, after which you are supposed to “move on.” There are craploads of online articles that purport to answer the question “What is normal grief?” (emphasis mine), “What is the difference between grief and clinical depression”, “Grief – What’s Normal and What’s Not?” and “A Helpful Guide to Coping with Grief and Loss” – as though something like this can be easily slotted into a How-To guide. As if, you can grief for a certain period of time, dependant on the degree of closeness to the deceased, and afterwards you’re clinically abnormal if you do.

So what is “normal”? Three to six months for an elderly parent? Nine months for a spouse? One week for a pet?

Leo Dec2011 smallWhen my beloved cat Leo, who was like a child to me, had to be put down in 2012, I could tell that my grief wasn’t socially acceptable. Of course, no one actually came out to say, “It’s just a cat,” but I know that’s what they were thinking. His death affected me viscerally for two years, well past socially-acceptable norms. I didn’t think of Leo’s soul and spirit as a “cat.” He was a family member. But in our world, there is an unspoken denigration of any species other than Homo Sapiens. And in this society, nobody wants to talk about grief. After all, how long are you supposed to grieve a “pet”? A week? Is the loss even considered “serious enough” to take time off work?

What if it was a child? How long are you supposed to grieve, before you are expected to put your best face on and be a “role model” for the world? Years ago, I read about the tragic, violent death of two New York City children murdered by their live-in nanny. Stabbed to death in their bathtub, during bath time, to be precise – a violent and brutal end to lives that never had a chance to bloom. Their mother had kept a meticulous blog of their life, full of wonderful, creative activities – picnics, playdates, the best Manhattan kindergartens money could buy – and when they were murdered, social media swarmed upon those photos. There was a kind of disturbed glee at the fact that someone in an upper-class, $10,000 per month rental apartment, could suffer loss.

But loss always feels the same. Whether you’re in the lowest or highest income brackets, to lose a child – indeed, anyone you love deeply, with all your heart and soul – is the worst ache you can ever experience. And yet the expectation was that, after a certain period of grief (say, a year), the family would move on with their surviving middle child and life would go on. Indeed, they did – they established a foundation and art scholarships in the names of their dead children and nowadays are all about being positive and carrying on the dead kids’ “legacy”.

PROZAC SAMPLE ADI wonder how much of that “positivity” is the result of social expectation. If you “get over” such a tragedy, you’re a role model for “moving forward.” You get to go on talk shows and get applauded for being “strong.” If you don’t, you’re a loser who must be mentally ill. Personally, I couldn’t recover from such a loss. I’d want to die. We all die anyway, right? So why live with pain for another 40+ years (statistically speaking, based on my current age)? How does one recover from such a loss and get to be a poster child for Positive Thinking?

ritalinWe live in a fucked-up world where the DSM-5 (Psychiatry’s Holy Bible) classifies grief as a potentially-abnormal phenomenon, a mental illness to be medicalized and treated with psychotropic drugs (a billion-dollar annual industry) if need be: Prozac, Paxil, Lithium, Ridalin, and everything in between. The meds are only supposed to mask the grief that you’re not supposed to manifest in polite society, to mask the unacceptable pain we all feel but aren’t allowed to speak about.

Don’t make any assumptions about me and my stance on this field, by the way, particularly as my BA was a double major in Criminology and Psychology – essentially both being fields of study focused on classifying human beings as criminals or abnormal – but these days I wonder all sorts of things. I guess it’s understandable, especially since I’m grieving the loss of my own mother.

My mother isn’t dead – not physically, anyway. But for all intents and purposes, she is gone. Taken by a disease worse than cancer and stroke and traffic accidents and all things combined: Alzheimer’s. You see, when a person gets cancer, there is time to grieve and say goodbye. Preparations for departure get made. When it’s a car accident, the initial shock is brutal – but at least you don’t see your loved one in a vegetative state for years, trapped between here and there.

But this horrible, awful thing – nobody gets it. How could we evolve as a society in terms of human rights and technology, yet at the cost of burying our true feelings deeper and deeper?

Sadness is NORMAL. Grief doesn’t have an expiry date – it lasts as long as you feel it in your body. I experienced severe trauma in my first, formative ten years of life. It still affects me today. And it’s certainly not for a lack of counselling or Prozac. But sometimes trauma, grief and sadness can take decades to resolve. And sometimes, a part of it remains with you for life.

And that is perfectly fucking NORMAL.

Iablanita bridge 2

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

I feel like my mother is dead already, but it’s not politically-correct to mourn her yet. People don’t understand when I say that she’s gone, because technically she’s still alive. And I recognise that for as long as she’s alive, it’s socially unacceptable to grieve as though she’s dead.

And yet, she is.

My mother was an awful, abusive, neglecting parent – mostly because her own “mother” didn’t care to raise her and her father had died in her infancy. She grew up wild and feral, with no maternal instincts, and I wasn’t a planned pregnancy. And therefore I too, skinny and alone, raised my own self.

And yet today I feel something I’ve never thought I could ever wish for – that the abusive, unkind person she used to be still existed.

Iablanita bridge

One of my favourite photos with my mother – one of the very few

Because I could be angry. I could hate her. Because I could try – as ineffectually as it might be – to lash out, and at least attempt to explain how her behaviour affected my life.

But all there is now is a shell – a person with the same DNA, but a body vacant of its spirit. She’s only 70 years old, but early onset Alzheimer’s has taken whatever had remained of her. I’m only grateful that, even though I had a 50-50% chance of inheriting the APOE gene from her (which she tested positive for) as well as from my maternal grandmother who also died of Alzheimer’s, my 23andme results show that I did NOT get the Alzheimer’s gene. Although it’s something that still terrifies me each time I forget someone’s name, each time I have to search my brain for a particular word.

And so yesterday, while visiting her at Mount Sinai hospital, I hand-fed her dinner and couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down my face. Because she is a child now – a child who harmed me in so many ways and will never understand how she has scarred me. But now there is nobody to stand on trial, nobody to hold accountable.

So while I spooned rice, turkey mash and gravy into her shaky mouth, it dawned on me that the person who wounded me is gone. Dead. There is only a small, vulnerable child left in her place. But nobody around me understands this because, for all intents and purposes, this woman is still alive.

So perhaps I’m not supposed to grieve and mourn the death of her. After all, we’re not allowed to mourn the non-dead. To mourn longer than usual. To express any sorts of feelings of raw pain and anguish, of depression and loneliness, because there is no motive. The pain of my childhood is long behind me, right? And my “mother” is not dead. Not clinically, anyway.

And yet, I am.

.

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Posted in death, grief, personal, psychology, sadness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The girl in the picture is me

Posted by E on August 19, 2011

The girl in this picture is me. Or rather, it was me. The me I was between age 16-18. The me I lost when I left Toronto, after testifying against a bunch of neo-Nazi leaders who led an organization co-founded by a CSIS agent. Founded, and funded, by our own Canadian government.

Nobody knows what it is like to live in the underground. It’s been romanticized, glamorized, but unless somebody’s actually lived it, nobody can imagine the toll this life can take on you.

Nameless cities, countless names, and through it all, you just ask yourself, Why do I bother? Why not just let them find me – the ones who kept tracking me down, phoning me in the night with threats like “we’re coming to get you,” and “rats end up in the sewers.”

By writing this entry, I’m coming out. Not as gay (that happened a long time ago!), but as a poser. A faker. An impostor.

This is an open letter to all my friends who will be reading this, whether via this blog or through my Facebook account link. Friends I’ve made in different cities and different countries. Friends near and far who have all called me by different names. I’m here to tell you that no, I wasn’t going through eccentric, creative phases whenever I changed cities and switched names.

 There was a reason for it. At least at the time. But as the years went by, I found myself repeating a pattern that was no longer necessary, yet I didn’t know how to stop – lying. Lying had become part of my identity. Lying about my past, my family, my name. All of it as easy as a knee-jerk reflex. Because when you discard identities like you do clothing, sometimes you don’t know how to relate to others without exposing yourself. Even when the threat has long ended.

So for all those who called me Emma in Nova Scotia or Kat in Ottawa or Elisa in the GTA, or the countless little monikers I’ve worn between one place and the next, this entry should provide the answers to some of the questions you’ve always been too polite to ask.

Why am I “coming out” now? Some of you know about my novel Race Traitor, which is loosely based on my own story. You probably didn’t realize there was a connection. What you’ve been told is that it’s a cool little thriller I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. What you don’t know is that it’s full of demons. Not of the supernatural kind, because those can be vanquished easier than those who come to you in the night, through nightmares and flashbacks and terrors that leave you shaking and wondering what the hell’s the point of going forward.  These demons are real people, and they are out there in the world. Seducing and recruiting young, impressionable people, into movements that rob them of their minds and souls. And you owe it to this world, and to all of those lost youth, to understand what happened to me. And what forced me to write this book.

The irony is, this fall my memoir was going to come out with Penguin. I turned them down, because they wanted me to expose myself and offered me nothing to compensate for the threat to my life and that of my loved ones. So instead of telling my secrets, I turned the memoir into a novel, and wrote new secrets for a new character. I’ll never regret this decision. It led me to create an updated story that will reach far more readers than the decade-old story of a girl who disappeared in 1993.

I paid the price for my privacy. I had to publish it myself. Sure, it came close to being bought several times, but ultimately rejected with comments like “this isn’t pertinent to our society anymore. The heyday of right-wing extremists is over.”

Then the shootings and bombing in Norway happened. It was a wake up call for me. Ultimately I had to fire my agent, take my career back into my own hands, and publish the book myself. Incurring, of course, the silent disapproval of nearly all my writer friends who were horrified that I’d subject myself, and my manuscript, to the ghettos of the “Indie” world. Regardless of the quality of my writing, no respectable newspaper or magazine would review my work now. I’d effectively committed career suicide.

So where does this leave me? Yeah, I guess I could go around peddling my wares on writers’ forums now. Bombarding everybody with tweets and emails begging them to buy my book. But I won’t bother to do that. I won’t plead, beg, or steal you attention with requests that you buy it.

All I wanted to do is to tell you the truth about me, and the truth behind my book. If you don’t like the subject matter or don’t want to waste five bucks on something that took me over a year to write and a lifetime to escape, I don’t give a shit. Really.

 I don’t really give a damn about anything anymore.

Posted in books, canada, commentary, crime, freedom, germany, history, letter, life, literature, news, politics, press, publishing, thoughts, toronto, writer | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Why I Don’t Expect Anything From You

Posted by E on May 3, 2011

 

Let me say this now: I don’t expect anything from you. From anybody. All my life I’ve had to prove myself. You’d think by now I would get used to it. But there’re a very distinct difference between getting used to something, and accepting it as pure, undiluted fact.

I believe it’s along this crevice of uncertainty where a lot of artists trip and fall through. Not because they don’t have passion and belief in their own abilities, but because that vision comes to be chipped away, slowly, incrementally, over the years – at first by other kids in the playgrounds of our childhood, then by the parents who scoff at their dreamy progenies and try to corall them into soul-murdering professions lest they risk permanent dissaproval. Whether it’s a tacit dissaproval or a barrage of rejection letters, eventually confidence can come to collapse unto itself like an erosion of rock formations along a sea edge. The rockface is corroded in invisible increments, for months and years, and after a while simply dissolves into the seawater below.

I can’t even start to pinpoint where I began to fight against the wave. It would probably be easier to ask when I didn’t have to struggle. As far back as I can remember, I was always in the corner, watching others come naturally into that which took me eeons of strength and resolve to achieve.

I was the angry kid, the jealous kid, the one who came to school unwashed, snot-nosed and with lice. No parent ever helped me do my homework, pack my lunch or iron my school uniform. Everything I ever did, I did alone. No one celebrated my small victories or wept with me over my petty defeats, over the courtyard bullying, the horrible names kids love to call outsiders like me.

In this new country of Canada I no longer wore a tattered dress or ran around the streets like a stray dog, but the physical and mental scars of my past turned me into an angry, defiant teenager who didn’t fit in anywhere. After years of peer bullying and foster homes, I dropped out of high school, fell in with a rough crowd, later turned against them and moved across the country. And finally, at 18, I pulled my shit together – I took a high school equivalency exam and to my surprise passed it on the first try.

Why not reach higher, I thought, deciding to apply to university next. Based on my entrance essay, I was accepted into every university I’d applied to. Ecstatic and in awe, I decided to share my good news with a Youth Employment Services counsellor at the downtown youth bureau, thinking he’d believe in me. To my shock, he took it upon himself to pull me into his office. He closed the door and gestured for me to take a seat. “I heard you’re applying to university, Kat.” (that was my nickname then).

“Yes,” I beamed. “I got my acceptance letters this week. Can you believe it? From all of them.”

“Hmm, right, yes,” he said gravely. “I wanted to speak with you about that. You do know that university is very, very difficult, don’t you? It’s extremely tough to keep up with the academic demand. Not a lot of people make it.”

“I don’t think I’ll have any problems,” I said.

He frowned. “Yes, well, the thing is, I would hate to see you fail after a semester. You do know a lot of first-years drop out after six months, right? I’d hate to have you lose your place in our program, only to start from scratch in a few months…”

I was furious, looked him right in the eye and said, “I won’t be back here. Do you think I WANT to be in a program that discourages me from pursuing higher education? I mean, you’re a social worker, aren’t you supposed to encourage me? I know I can do this. I don’t need you to tell me what you think is good for me. You know absolutely nothing about my potential!”

Over the four years that followed I was a Dean’s Honour List student, received scholarships every year and graduated magna cum laude. But along the way, I learned that no matter how certain I am of something, no matter how palpable my vision is, I cannot make anyone else have faith in me.

We live in a world where people have been knocked around so many times that they have become jaded. Where miracles don’t happen anymore. Where it is easier to dismiss someone with a flick of the wrist or a sarcastic comment than to give them the benefit of the doubt. And where your worst adversary is another wounded person angry at the world for dismissing their own dreams; someone who’s given up, and now serves to mock and ridicule those who still struggle forward.

To be perfectly honest, other than my partner and the odd friend here and there who have known me long enough to witness the blood, sweat and tears that have propelled my goals into realization, I don’t really think anybody believes in me. Sure, I am surrounded by well-meaning, good people, but do they REALLY think I can succeed?

Does my agent genuinely think I’m a brilliant writer? I honestly don’t know. Probably not. Does he even believe he can sell my book, or just that its subject matter makes it an easy sell? It’s hard to tell. Will the publisher who buys it take a leap of faith because she or he genuinely loves my writing, or will the decision be made simply on a financial calculation at the pub board? Likely the latter.

What I’d love more than anything is to have that dream we all have – to be recognized for our talents, to be praised, to be loved. I mean, isn’t that what we all want? But through my life I’ve received surprisingly little praise, fewer compliments still, and certainly more rejections than acceptances. I’ve never been “discovered” or hailed as a genius of any sort. The few compliments I’ve received make me oddly uncomfortable; I hear them so infrequently that I’m suspicious of their intent. I may have published a few pieces here and there and won my share of grants, but it was always through a blind, anonymous jury. And afterwards, nobody’s ever called me up and said, “you know what? I really loved your work.”

I’m being sincere (and perhaps slightly bittersweet) when I say that I’ve always been the little match-girl, standing on tiptoes in the snow outside a beautiful mansion, peeking into a world where I’ve never belonged. And as much as I’d love to be invited inside, that’s just the way it’s been and will probably always be.

For someone who has battled depression and suicidal impulses most of my adult life, this is a very difficult thing to accept – that nobody will ever save me but myself. That if I don’t choose to live, nobody else can do it for me. Just like nobody else can have faith in my ability to thrive like a dandelion through cracked cement. Only I can do that.

That’s why I don’t expect anything from you. I’ve never gotten anything for free. I know that I have to constantly fight back my own fears of inadequacy and self-doubt. The truth is, I may not have had much of a childhood, but the one thing, the ONLY thing, I have clung to, is my idealistic faith in people and their ability to accomplish that which is closest to their hearts. If I didn’t, if I’d become as jaded as the world around me, what would be the point of anything?

If you enjoyed the read or found it useful, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar .

Posted in agent, art, artist, perseverence, rejection, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

In memory of Nadia, in memory of myself

Posted by E on June 23, 2010

Now that I think about it, it was about two springs ago, around that time of the year when the ice thaws out and winter dissolves into spring, that I was watching the news and a missing person alert flashed over the airwaves. The haunting photos of a beautiful brown-haired girl proclaimed her disappearance from Carleton University in my old alma mater town of Ottawa. Her name was Nadia Kajouji, and this June she would have turned twenty-one years old.

It had been approx. five years since I’d graduated and moved away, first to teach English in South Korea, then to find better opportunities for employment back in the Toronto area. But Ottawa has always been the one Canadian city closest to my heart. Some of my happiest memories involve the long walks I used to take by the leafy Rideau Canal, or writing poetry under the shade of a tree on a hill overlooking Major Hill’s Park and the turbulent waves of the Ottawa river.

Although I had gone to Ottawa u., I was quite familiar with the Carleton campus, particularly with the gymnasium where I used to practice fencing with their varsity team. As I now watched Nadia Kajouji’s parents plead for information about their daughter’s disappearance, my mind replayed my winding walks across the Carleton grounds – from the bus stop where the inter-university shuttle spat me off, past the flock of tall concrete buildings that formed the campus residences, and down the steps that led to that all-too-familiar girls changing room, which always smelled like chalk, cedar bleachers and dusty corners, and resounded with the sound of combination locks clanging hollowly against locker doors.

As soon as the newscasters told of how Nadia had left her radio playing and her wallet on the counter of her dorm room, taking only a pair of skates with her on that terrible evening, I knew what she had done. While I was her age, all those terrible winters ago, I’d also walked across the Macdonald Bridge and looked down into that endless sheet of ice, wishing badly that I wasn’t such a coward.


Throughout my fourth year of school, I fantasized about dying, wrote letters and feverish entries in my journals, packed my things neatly into boxes, and stocked up on pills and online how-to tips. I knew precisely how I was going to do it, and no Ottawa U prof or concerned friend knew how to broach my change in personality.

And yet, so many friends and classmates undoubtedly had noticed my dark eyes, my lack of sleep, my A-average grades slipping down and down and down…..I didn’t care, I was already dead inside. I’d come out of a psychologically-abusive relationship with someone who couldn’t care less about me, who broke every promise made and shattered my heart into a million pieces. And I thought that without this person’s love I was nothing, that I was totally worthless.

Finally, a close friend who was doing her masters in a medical-related field, insisted that I go see an MD. Not a counselor, but someone who could actually prescribe me something. “There’s no difference between what is going on with you,” she said, “and someone suffering from a physical ailment. There’s only stigma. But if you’d fallen and broken your leg, would you not go to a doctor to mend it? You just have a deficiency in serotonin, and a MAO-inhibitor would help you get back up.”

But guess what? Unlike what I’d learned in my psychology classes, awareness doesn’t mean that Poof! everything magically goes away. I knew without a doubt that I was clinically depressed, and it still didn’t stop me from wanting to put my plans into action. Within a month of being on Prozac, I felt amazing. Able to concentrate, to read again, a pleasure I thought I’d lost forever – and with all that newfound energy, I was invincible. I could finally put my energy to use, and complete the plan I’d set in motion months earlier. I emptied all the sleeping pill packages I’d hidden in my bedroom and woke up in the hospital hours later, having been found by my landlady’s daughter. After that attempt, I saw a counselor twice a week and my dosage was increased. It was another couple of months before the self-destructive thoughts receded.

As I now watched the news and learned with the rest of the world that Nadia’s depression had escalated so visibly, yet nobody had taken measures to assist her, I was certain that it was only a matter of time before the Rideau river thawed and her body would be found. Her poor, poor parents, I thought, looking at their photos on the Facebook group that had been created to publicize her disappearance. Having grown up in an abusive home and the foster care system, I’d never had any parents of my own to turn to; to think, Nadia did have a supportive family. And still, this happened to her.

And sure enough, the day when they found Nadia came six weeks later, just as the birds were returning from their southern burrows and new leaf buds were bursting through the trees. As her grieving family was laying her to rest back in the Toronto area, police began to launch an investigation, prompted by information that was seized from her computer records.

As it turned out, not only had nobody stepped in to help Nadia at her most vulnerable time, but someone she had been chatting with online in a support forum had encouraged her to take her own life. This person turned out to be a pudgy, middle-aged man in Minnesota with a perverse fetish for watching attractive young people hang themselves via webcam. He posed as a young girl while talking to Nadia, expressing a similar desire for suicide, and urged Nadia on and on toward her inevitable demise.

It took more than a year of inquiries, along with a Fifth Estate documentary investigation that determined that the pudgy middle-aged man, whose name is William Melchert-Dinkel and who is a registered nurse no less, had had a virtual hand in the suicides of scores of other desperate people all over the world, including a 32-year old British man by the name of Mark Drybrough. Apparently he had used some of the knowledge of his profession to assist suicides via the Internet and posed as various individuals in order to coax people into taking their own lives via suicide pacts. He is also estimated to have personally helped at least five others kill themselves.

At the end of this month we will find out if William Melchert-Dinkel is going to be convicted and serve the maximum thirty-year sentence that he’s facing. But no matter what happens to this sadistic, pathetic excuse for a human being, nothing will bring Nadia or Mark back. As I mourn the loss of a girl I never knew personally, yet shared so much with, I am reminded of the wise words uttered by sixteenth-century English reformer John Bradford: “There but for the grace of God go I.

Any of us – our friends, siblings, children – could suffer from depression. It’s not something to turn the other cheek to. If you suspect that someone you know is chronically affected by this, don’t act polite. Don’t “give them space” and assume that they’re going to be fine. Talk to them. Go along with them to a clinic. Keep them close, in heart, in mind, in spirit – or you might lose them forever.

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