February 24, 2011
Sometimes I get this startling headline in my e-mails from friends who are still struggling with accepting that they became HIV positive. My initial reaction is usually to panic and keep e-mailing the person asking him to call 911, 311, 411 or any of the numbers that have 11 in the end, just to make sure that Big Brother gets involved, turns into the good mother for once and get him help. Or, I ask him to see a therapist immediately (a cheap and sane one).
After many e-mails, I get angry with this young man when I see his online profile status changing into something like "Girlz night tonight ... YAY!" Well, peeps will always be peeps. But away from this endless story of "Oh, my God, I am gay and Poz." In reality, this suicidal mentality raises a very important question: Why do HIV-positive Muslims (or even non-Muslims in some cases) want to kill themselves? Are they trying to get some attention, feeling so voiceless? Are they even serious about it?
In fact, you do not usually e-mail people telling them that you want to kill yourself if you really plan to do it! As someone who suffers from suicidal thoughts, most of the time, I can assure you that the times I was so serious about ending my life were the times that I did not tell anybody about it. I behaved in public quite the opposite of what was going inside me. I did not want anyone to ruin my plan.
My problem was, the only plan I could think of as an easy and painless way to do it was buying rat poison and eating it. And man ... the picture they have on the poison pack is of an ugly rat that made me feel humiliated. If they just had a picture of a nice little cute mouse it would have made my decision much easier ... but I did not want to think of myself as a rat! And an ugly one.
Anyway, these inner thoughts encouraged me recently to research about why we might come to want to commit suicide, as HIV-positive people or even more as HIV-positive Muslims. So I took a bunch of books with me on my trip to the Caribbean! It was such a nice trip generally -- me relaxing but at the same time reading all these books about suicide! The funny thing is while I still turn many heads towards me, once they see what I am reading, guys would run away. Can't blame them: Who wants to talk to someone educating himself about suicide?
To understand this issue, we have to look at it as a cohort behavior... and I have to clarify that even though I know -- as I said earlier -- that most of those who claim that they want to commit suicide are not serious about it, what scares me is that their desire to kill themselves reflects a deep anger and hate towards themselves, which could be more damaging than the issue of suicide itself. The anger they have that they became HIV positive ... anger that they are gays ... or even anger that they had sex -- all this anger is directed to the inside; and death seems to become the Morphine that sedates the pain that comes with this anger.
Interestingly, I found from my readings that suicide exists in all of us. Suicide is as old as homicide. The major difference is that the ethical and legal constraints associated with homicide are less when it comes to suicide in most societies. The consequences of a failed suicide are not similar to those of a failed homicide, as there is an understanding in civil society that you own your life to a certain extent.
Muslims are among the least to show suicidal intentions in general. I couldn't find data concerning HIV-positive Muslims or LGBT Muslims, yet, my observation has been that HIV-positive Muslims show the highest suicidal thoughts. Islamic view is that your life belongs to God, which indicates that suicide in Islam is connected with a feeling of atheism. People feel that they cannot be Muslims and HIV positive, especially if it is considered a synonym for homosexuality.
The other interesting fact about suicide is that it usually appears among non-conformists -- those who feel that they don't belong to the group. Therefore, Muslims who get infected with HIV may feel a disconnection to others in their social arena or even their own community, which could be the only place where they feel some conformity. When you are part of an immigrant group in any society, where things get more complicated, trust me: It is this terrible feeling of further inner isolation.
Social bonds usually hinder the growth of suicidal thoughts; with the absence of those bonds, suicide becomes less a stranger and the suicidal thought starts to grow and become visible. The fuel to this thought is similar to the fuel of any murder thought -- hate -- but this time, it's hating one's own self. So much anger is directed to the inside, which makes suicide an ultimate punishment. However, when this goal fails for any reason, the hate remains there and turns into destructive behavior. Destructive behaviors could include falling into drug abuse or even promiscuous sex (as if HIV is not enough, so you need to complete the whole collection with other STDs).
I am not trying to take this less seriously. Suicide continues to be one of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. I do not doubt that some are serious about it. I am more concerned about those who do not really want to kill themselves, yet their wish to die outweighs their wish to live. They will eventually turn into walking bodies with no soul -- nothing will make them happy, and it will be normal for them to find conformity with drugs or other actions that involve absence and disconnection from this world which they don't want to belong to anymore.
The point is, there is suicide and there is suicidal behavior. The latter needs attention and must be addressed. As I see more Poz people falling into the margins of life, I wonder if I will be there one day. Finally, what to tell someone who is suicidal? Well, first, let's start by telling him to e-mail me :).