February 2023

My Pen Is Mightier

After 9/11, I waited for The Moment.

I was only six when the Twin Towers fell, but even then I understood that being Muslim in America was going to be difficult. I imagined that a teacher would burst into my elementary-school class, point at me and scream, “Get out of this country, you terrorist!” I feared that my friends would look at me, wide-eyed, and never speak to me again.

“How Does It Look?”

I was born in the mid-1950s into a family where juvenile (type 1) diabetes played a prominent role. A year before my birth, my brother, age four, was diagnosed; when I was three, my sister, age thirteen, received the same pronouncement. As the “healthy” child, I watched my stressed parents try to manage the disease using the existing therapies.

Slow Demise

On Christmas Eve of 2016, I received a phone call from Baltimore’s Shock Trauma Center.

“Hello, this is Dr. T,” the caller said. “I’m the physician for your son, Adam. He was rushed to Shock Trauma last night. He jumped off a three-story building and landed on a car. Fortunately, he was under the influence, so he fell like a rag doll and only fractured three vertebrae.”

“My son . . . what?” I gasped.

Empty Bottle

I suppose, in retrospect, my cousin’s death should have been labeled as a suicide.

Her depression and self-medication with copious amounts of vodka might have served as a premonition of her early demise. Her controlling, narcissistic, Catholic mother doled out plenty of guilt after my cousin’s divorce. Loneliness was her steadfast companion, along with a usually almost-full bottle of vodka.

Chilled Breaths

Stepping off the bus, the first faces
I see are the same every February.
Hard construction hats, yellow vests
flashing, grit etched upon their faces.
Daylight Savings ensures that these
are the last sights of light before
entering sterile linoleum floors.

Section 12

We medical providers care for countless patients who feel depressed. For those folks, sometimes life feels so difficult and terrible, that they have thoughts of wishing they didn’t exist, or that the world would be better if they didn’t exist. Sometimes these patients have a plan to end their lives. The more concrete the plan, the more we worry.

High Stakes

As a practicing child and adolescent psychiatrist, I’ve been trained to treat depression and evaluate suicidal risk. Yet when it comes to working with an adolescent who expresses a wish not to exist, trying to clarify what’s actually meant feels daunting.

I’m reminded of this one Monday morning as thirteen-year-old Paula sits across from me in the interview room.

My Marriage Was on the Rocks

When I was 31, my marriage was on the rocks and I considered suicide.

It was shortly after the birth of our second daughter. My husband’s main income-producing customers took their business elsewhere. In oxytocin-induced, breast-feeding bliss at home with our girls, I trusted that he’d recover. But he was in denial regarding the severe downturn in our financial stability, and he recovered neither emotionally nor financially. My bliss shattered.

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