September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. But for a disabled person like me, it’s just not my day.
What would be a “threat of self-harm” for you, is a “personal choice” for me.
What calls for an intervention for you, calls for a pre-suicide party for me.
Your movie is It’s a Wonderful Life. My movie is It’s a Wonderful Death.
When it comes to people like me, suicide is rapidly becoming normalized. Or more exactly, suicide is being erased through re-branding. “It’s not ‘suicide’! It’s ‘ending your life on your own terms’!”
But I want a great pre-end of life. I want to live on my own terms.
People say to my face, “I could never live like that.”
I do live “like that.”
I’m getting more “like that,” right now.
Here’s what assistance in living allowed me to do on my own terms.
Spoiler Alert: None of them involved committing suicide.
1. I aced toddlerhood. The lack of walking made my toddle top-notch.
The author and her older brother.
2. I had an unusually good pre-school/kindergarten experience in that my early education was educational.
Ingrid Tischer on the day of her kindergarten graduation in Greece, New York, circa 1969. She is wearing a rainbow vest and skirt sewn by her mom. Note the clutching of the diploma and school-bestowed book-bag, and anxious expression — all indicate a future in literary fiction writing and nonprofit fundraising.
3. I wore a Milwaukee back brace from when I was 4 until I was 13, when I had a full spinal fusion and walked my 8th-grade graduation in a body cast. Then I sat down, because a body cast is f&*king heavy.
Milwaukee back-brace used to treat scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian, National Museum of American History.
4. I attended and (eventually) graduated from The American University in DC with a degree in Philosophy. In the 80s, it was pre-ADA and The Stigma was strong in me so I dealt with my disability through denial, drinking, and not dealing with a nagging demi-depression. But it was a good time, as well, because although I was losing physical strength, my friends helped me do whatever I needed to do.
My college yearbook photo, from 1986. That is some 80s hair and I’m pretty sure that was my typical “vintage” sweater, complete with a musty smell and a few discreet holes.
5. I managed to move to San Francisco in 1991 — FRIENDS, again — and I slowly put together a life that in many ways grew out of being a volunteer and then Administrative Manager at the now-defunct Women’s Needs Center, part of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics. The queer and/or women of color there showed me through the power of their example how to — finally — recognize the political nature of my identity as a disabled woman.
6. Shortly after getting the WNC job, I landed in the ICU for a week with the effects of undiagnosed respiratory failure and was nearly killed by well-meant oxygen. All the headaches, exhaustion, and depression for 15+ years? Much of it was from untreated sleep apnea and limited lung capacity. In 1993 as a skinny 27 year-old woman, I was a very early adopter of the Respironics Bi-Pap S/T. Back then, NO ONE my age/gender had one.
7. Yada yada, much ground lost, function-wise, one very painful end of a relationship, some serious barriers to work, too may deaths of friends, and not getting ONE literary agent to take my novel on, and…I got married and got The Career Job. Right now, I’m feeling what could be (mild) depression. It could be related to my neuromuscular disease. It could be stress from living in a barrier-filled world. It could be menopause. It could be going to memorial services for people who killed themselves where there’s a ringing silence about their pain. It could be all of that. It’s a problem. The solution, however, will not be suicide.
My husband, Ken Stein, and I at the Berkeley protest we helped organize in June 2016 against the disability suicide movie “Me Before You.” Ken’s sign is our wedding photo that expresses, “Better wed than dead.”
So, just to be absolutely clear: