Sunday, February 26, 2006


Left to my own devices this weekend, I'm feeling pretty awful. It feels like my brain has been hijacked. I wonder to myself how long it's going to be before I can think about something without my mind wandering back to the current situation.

Elizabeth is my best friend in Korea, there's no doubt about that. However, I feel guilty about the last few weeks. Her "mania" had irritated me, and I hadn't been overly kind to her. Most of it was in my own head, but these thoughts tend to have a way of seeping out. Often, when we were talking, I had the thought of "calm down, woman!" Circumstances over the last few weeks had cancelled our regular Friday shopping trips and dinner, which was our time to reconnect and decompress about our work week. I've missed them.

Last February something similar happened. She'd been noticeably upset for a few days at work. At one point, I left my classroom and sat down beside her in the teachers' room and asked her what was wrong. She initially replied "nothing," but I pressed her on it, and told her I knew there was obviously something upsetting her. She collapsed her face into her hands and started to cry, saying "Jenny, I want to suicide."

We talked a bit, but I had to get back to class. I worried, then, what I should do. Should I tell my boss? Would that jeopardize her job? What do I do?
I talked to a couple of friends. One advised me to be there for her, call her, counsel her as best I could. Good advice. Another, who has been teaching in Korea for years, told me that suicide is viewed differently here. As a matter of fact, I just checked my inbox and I saved his e-mailm dated February 14th, 2005:

"About your co-worker that is
talking suicide - is she foreign or Korean, cause
really that makes a big difference. If she is foreign
she needs to get the hell out of Korea right away. If
she is Korean, I would say there is not much you can
do for her being a foreigner - having a foreign person
tell her life has limitless possibilities is not true
in this culture, most Koreans only have about 20%
control over their lives through their whole life, you
may just make her more miserable. Keep in mind that
suicide in Korea as well as other Asian countries is
seen as romantic and dramatic, and that suicide has
been on the rise in recent years. You can't blame or
put pressure on yourself for any actions this person
takes, just have a good time in Japan cause I am sure
everything will be fine."

I was on my way for a weeks vacation in Japan during the Lunar New Year's holiday. Before I left, I took all advice I got to heart, and I called Elizabeth at home. She was sobbing and repeated her wish to end it all. I encouraged her to talk to a professional, and she said she had, but it hadn't helped. We had a good talk (though I never did find out what the real trouble was.) I assured her she could call me anytime and talk about whatever she wanted, and I would listen and not judge her for anything. We call each other fairly often, but we never have really talked about what had happened. She's been fairly stable since, with only a couple minor instances of extended and overt unhappiness.

My "being there for her" is still a true offer on my part, but I wonder if my distance lately prevented her from reaching out. While I may not have caused her current bout of depression, I certainly didn't help. Thinking about it makes me feel brutal, and I've been thinking about it a lot.

I want to talk to her, but I know I'll want to ask questions that she might not want to share. I know it will be uncomfortable for both her and I.
My boss promised that when she got the green light to go visit, she'd call. My phone didn't ring all day, save for my mom who is rightfully worried. It means Elizabeth is either still in ICU, or unwilling to have visitors. At the end of this all, I really do worry pride is going to get in the way of progress.

I wonder if I'll ever see her again, and if I do, I wonder what's going to happen.


wooj said...

Hmmm... I'm not sure what that person means when he says suicide is viewed differently in Korea. If there's one difference, it's in how people view psychiatric counseling. In the U.S., it's almost commonplace to go see a shrink. In Korea, people are reluctant about it unless really necessary, in which case they tend to do it secretly out of fear of getting branded a "psycho." This may have been a reason why things went so bad with your friend, because she wasn't active enough in seeking help and taking mediation, etc. You could help her in the future by accompanying her to visits to the psychiatrist. Having someone accompany you in whatever you're doing is regarded important by Koreans in general.

Anyway, I'm sorry you had to go through such a traumatic experience, and I wish your friend the best.

Kevin said...

You might want to be pushy about visiting her in the hospital. Find out where she's being housed and maybe you can barge in to see her. Wooj is right to imply that presence-- just being there-- is important for Koreans.


Jelly said...

Thanks for commenting Wooj! You're certainly right about the stigma attatched to seeing a shrink here. I think a lot of people could benefit from talking their shit out!
I certianly will offer to go with her, but I doubt she'll take me up on it.
Yah, Kevin, from what I hear she was supposed to be released today. Not sure if she was, but I think I might try to call her tomorrow.