Posts Tagged ‘Suicide’

The title of this post was inspired by that of an article published in 2013 in BBC News Magazine, The adults who suffer extreme homesickness, which describes the struggles adults have coping with homesickness.  Spanish footballer Jesus Navas, for instance, suffered from homesickness so severe it induced panic attacks that kept him away from training camps and pre-season tours. It is said he has overcome his homesickness through counselling.

I found the article while searching for “homesickness, depression & suicide”. I was led to search on this subject because when you belong to an adoption group you cannot avoid the subject of suicide and while reading the study according to which adopted offspring are nearly 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than nonadopted offspring,  I recalled the story of The Little Prince and the word hiraeth.

The Little Prince  is one of my favorite books. Little Prince commited suicide by receiving the snake’s venomous bite to return home and to be reunited with his beloved rose (“I can help you, some day, if you grow too homesick for your own planet,” said the snake). [See my blog post The Misunderstood Little Prince].

“I can help you, some day, if you grow too homesick for your own planet. I can–“

Homesickness in adopted children is overlooked or ignored.

When I watched the documentary Mercy Mercy [link and link], which featured the heartbreaking story of two Ethiopian children, Masho and Robba, adopted by a Danish couple, I recognized in Masho a little girl I once was  suffering from homesickness.

Homesickness in French is “mal du pays” (literally “country-sickness”). Despite the way it’s coined, homesickness isn’t necessarily about home (neither about country). When you’re homesick, you’re not literally just missing your home, you’re missing what’s normal, what you’re familiar with, the people you love.

I felt homesick and axious the same day of my arrival to America when I first met my adoptive parents (whom I had named “the yellow-haired woman and her fat American man”) at the airport.  My arrival day (or “the day I got you”, as my adoptive mother would say) was on December 2nd. Less than three weeks later I cried the entire evening during their  Christmas party with their employees.  To console me, the yellow-haired woman gave me the gift which should have made me happy: it was a doll I fell in love with during my first Christmas shopping in America (the first toy I ever wanted  that she had pretended to refuse and she had put it back on the shelf) but I was inconsolable. I cried while unwrapping it and continued to cry while everyone around me was dancing, drinking, celebrating, and speaking aloud.

I was scared of being in the middle of strangers. I was homesick. I missed home (orphanage). I missed my country. I missed my friends, the nuns, the caretaker. I missed foods. I missed everything I was familiar with and everyone I loved. But my homesickness was ignored. A friend of the yellow-haired woman took a photo of us.

To console me, my adoptive gave me the gift that should have make me happy, but I continued to cry...

To console me, my adoptive mother gave me the gift which should have made me happy…

The American who took the photo attributed my cry to fatigue. He said to me as if he was talking to a baby, “…. tired, tired… tired..” , while another was saying, “… spoiled,…, spoiled…” And he put me on pajama and to bed, but the yellow-haired American took me with her because I kept crying in my bed. At the end I sobbed and then I pouted while she tried to console me. And the American ‘photographer’ took another photo of us.

I pout

I sobbed and then I pouted…

It was still a mild form of homesickness. I was a happy child despite being homesick and being eager to return home (house where I lived with my father). I was told that they (first orphanage staff, and then the second orphanage driver-director) would search my home (I had given them my former home address). From my understanding of adoption, I would go back to Korea to my father after staying for a while with the American parents. Thus my homesickness was similar to that of a child in a summer camp, aggravated by being in an entirely different environment people, culture and language.

But the homesickness grew deeper. I became melacholic and very nostalgic of my birth country less than a year after my adoption. As it grew deeper it became hidden, invisible and was never noticed by anyone….

Homesickness is a too weak word to describe adoptees’ feelings.

I attempted suicide many times during my teen years and in my early 20s. I was 13 at my first attempt.  I also attempted and thought of attempting suicide in my 30s, until I joined an adoptees online group in my late 30s.

I remember feeling an intense nostalgia, longing for something, for a missing something during those years, but I didn’t know and was unable to identify what I was nostalgic of, what I was missing or longing for.

Homesickness can have similar symptoms to depression. In extreme cases it can develop into a panic attack while it can also result in social withdrawal, sleep disruption, nightmares, and concentration problems and can lead to suicide. [see list of some of the signs of homesickness]

 But homesickness is a too weak word to desbribe my feelings. Nostalgia, longing, yearning are not the right words either. I found the right word just this year, at 49. That feeling was/is hiraeth.
Image from Facebook page, Is Adoption Trauma?

from Facebook page, Is Adoption Trauma?

Hiraeth is a Welsh word that has no direct English translation. An approximate definition  of hieraeth would be: a homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. It is a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, or an earnest desire for the lost places of the past. [wiki]

Hiraeth bears considerable similarities with the Portuguese concept of saudade.

Saudade describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return. A stronger form of saudade might be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover, or a family member who has gone missing, moved away, separated, or died. [wiki]

Houaiss Dictionary of the Portuguese Language defines it as “a somewhat melancholic feeling of incompleteness. It is related to thinking back on situations of privation due to the absence of someone or something, to move away from a place or thing, or to the absence of a set of particular and desirable experiences and pleasures once lived.” Dictionary from the Royal Galician Academy defines it as “An intimate feeling and mood caused by the longing for something absent that is being missed. This can take different aspects, from concrete realities (a loved one, a friend, the motherland, the homeland…) to the mysterious and transcendant.”

Saudade is similar but not equal to nostalgia, a word that also exists in Portuguese.  It is also associated with Galicia, where it is used similarly to the word morriña (longingness). Yet, morriña often implies a deeper stage of saudade, a “saudade so strong it can even kill.”

Hiraeth, a word that describes many adoptees feelings

Hiraeth is a word that describes many adoptees’ feelings. I first saw it on my Facebook Newsfeed. It was posted by Sunny Jo, a Korean adoptee and the author of the book From Morning Calm to Midnight Sun. Since then it was posted, shared, liked or commented by many adoptees on their timelines and in FB adoption groups or pages (and most likely other online groups). I also wrote two posts related to my feeling of hiraeth on this blog [link and link]. For instance the image above comes from the Facebook page, Is Adoption Trauma?

Hiraeth is much more than homesickness [link].

It can mean a longing (yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, or an earnest desire) for something or someone, not just for home. It’s a soul-deep longing. It has  the sense of being so much part of the place, the person or the thing, that when you’re separated from it you feel incomplete. [link]

For the adoptees, it’s a soul-deep longing for their mother, family,  people or homeland they were separated from by adoption; for their lost mother tongue and culture; for their lost true self…

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My mother would play children’s vinyl records , such as Cinderella, Snow White and Gingerbread Man the first few weeks after my arrival.

Although I didn’t understand English, not even one word, I was fed up with the fairy tales, as I could recognize them from the illustrations of the books that accompanied the records. But I often asked her to play Gingerbread Man which was new to me.

My mother had another old record whose cover represented a yellow-haired boy on a planet. It seemed interesting to me, but she didn’t want to play it.

Six months after my arrival, my parents moved back to their homeland, Quebec, to finalize my adoption. Accordingly, I was forced to learn their mother tongue, French, and to forget my mother tongue, Korean, as well as the little bit of English I had learned.

To teach me French, my mother stopped playing the English records, and she would play instead the record of Le Petit Prince (in English: The Little Prince) which she had refused to play before. The book included many illustrations, but French was so difficult for me then that the only words that I came to underestand after a few weeks were “Dessine-moi un mouton” which means “Draw me a sheep”.

I read the book more than two decades later, in 1999, after receiving it as gift from a friend. Below is the picture of my book. (The book and the record of my mother had the same picture on them).

Le Petit Prince (English: The Little Prince) is the most famous novella of the French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Published in 1943 in New York, it has been translated into 220 languages and dialects and has sold more than 134 millions copies in the world.

You can read online the summary or the full version in English.

I notice since my adolescence that when grown-ups say they love the story of The Little Prince, they mean that they love and understand children.

My mother loved the story of Little Prince. And she loved children too. Most of the family reunion pictures taken before my arrival shows her playing on the floor with her nephews and nieces. She was also loved and known by the neighbor children to be the coolest and the most understanding mom of all.

My mother loved me, but she never understood me.
She never understood things that were written in her favorite book The Little Prince, yet the cover of her book/ record showed that she had read/played it many times.

For instance, the meaning of “tame” which is well explained by the fox to Little Prince, in chapter 21.

“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince. “I am so unhappy.”
“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”
“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince.
But, after some thought, he added:
“What does that mean– ‘tame’?”
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”
“‘To establish ties’?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”
“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower . . . I think that she has tamed me . . .”

When I first met my mother at the airport, she was nothing more than a stranger who was just like hundred other strangers. She was nothing more than “an American lady with yellow hair” to me. And I had no need of her.
But it seems that on her part, she needed a child. She negleted to tame me. She didn’t even take a second to introduce herself. She took me in her arms, she kissed me, she touched my arms, she touched my face, she touched my head,…, and she kissed me non stop. Had she taken the trouble to know about my birth culture before my arrival, she wouldn’t have kissed me. I was disgusted by her lips on my cheeks, by her smell, by her perfume. She was so elated to have a child that she didn’t see me grimacing and wiping discretely my cheeks with my hand when I had the chance.

Yet it was clearly written in her favorite book how to tame, and the importance to tame.

“Please– tame me!” he said.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me…”
“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me– like that– in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…”
The next day the little prince came back.
“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you… One must observe the proper rites…”
“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.
“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.”

Many adoptive parents don’t understand the importance of taming. They want their adopted child to bond with them immediately, when it doesn’t happen the way they want, they label the child of RAD. They then try to force the child to become attached to them using various technics of attachment therapy. Some give up their adopted child for adoption after only few weeks or after years, while some other return their adopted child to his/her country of origin.

Korea delivers its children directly to the prospective adoptive parents. It is not required for the prospective adoptive parents to go to Korea or to meet/tame the children before adopting them. Adopted children of Korea have to call the strangers they have never met before “dad” and “mom”.

As another example of what my mother didn’t understand was my wish to return home. I liked staying in her home, but I became homesick after a few weeks of my stay.

She saw me every night lying on the floor with tears in my eyes, but she thought I was scared of my bed,  she had read in the Holt’s booklet that Koreans slept on the floor. Had she taken the time to tame me before making me call her “Mommy”, she would have known that I actually liked sleeping in my bed. Had she taken the time to learn Korean, she would have known that I missed my friends of orphanage and she would have known that I lay on the floor to pray my dead grandmother to bring me back home, to bring me back to my father.

She saw me one night crying aloud and packing the things with which I came and I went out to go back to my “planet”. But she still misunderstood me; she thought I was only a spoiled girl.

She never knew that, years later, I have tried to commit suicide several times. Two of the attempts were to go back to Korea. (I hadn’t read yet the book then).

Yet, in chapter 17 of her favorite book, the snake proposes Little Prince his help if he grow too homesick.

“I can carry you farther than any ship could take you,” said the snake.
He twined himself around the little prince’s ankle, like a golden bracelet.
“Whomever I touch, I send back to the earth from whence he came,” the snake spoke again. “But you are innocent and true, and you come from a star…”
The little prince made no reply.
“You move me to pity– you are so weak on this Earth made of granite,” the snake said. “I can help you, some day, if you grow too homesick for your own planet. I can–”
“Oh! I understand you very well,” said the little prince.

And in chapter 26, Little Prince commits suicide to return to his planet.

After a silence the little prince spoke again:
“You have good poison? You are sure that it will not make me suffer too long?”
I dropped my eyes, then, to the foot of the wall– and I leaped into the air. There before me, facing the little prince, was one of those yellow snakes that take just thirty seconds to bring your life to an end. Even as I was digging into my pocked to get out my revolver I made a running step back. But, at the noise I made, the snake let himself flow easily across the sand like the dying spray of a fountain, and, in no apparent hurry, disappeared, with a light metallic sound, among the stones.
I reached the wall just in time to catch my little man in my arms; his face was white as snow.
“What does this mean?” I demanded. “Why are you talking with snakes?”
“I am glad that you have found what was the matter with your engine,” he said. “Now you can go back home–”
“How do you know about that?”
I was just coming to tell him that my work had been successful, beyond anything that I had dared to hope.
He made no answer to my question, but he added:
“I, too, am going back home today…”
Then, sadly–
“It is much farther… it is much more difficult…”

I don’t blame my adoptive mother for not understanding me. She only knew of me a happy and grateful face as the people told me repeatedly how I was lucky to be adopted and how I should be grateful.

How could my mother undertand me as an adoptive parent, when there exists no adoptive parent who understands the importance for a child to live on his/her planet? (Planet being the home, the community, the birth country, the “birth” mother, the mother tongue, the birth culture of the adopted child.)

Blinded by the desire for a child, the prospective adoptive parents call their home the child’s home before getting to tame the child; and they call “birth mother” any pregnant mother who seemed to be vulnerable. When the adoption process gets delayed for some reason, they say, “We want to bring OUR children home NOW!” They don’t understand that the child they call theirs is actually someone else’s child. They say they want to a help a poor orphan who has no home and spend $30 000 to bring a child to their home, but they won’t give the same amount to help an entire village and community that could raise the child at his/her home.
They don’t understand that a child separated from his/her mother (birth country, birth language,…, birth planet) will suffer.

“Only the children know what they are looking for,” said the little prince. “They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; and if anybody takes it away from them, they cry…”

Grown-up think that adopted children from foreign country must be happy to have been saved from poverty. They think a child having 100 new toys is happier than a child having one old toy. They don’t understand that a child doesn’t need to live in a rich country to be happy.

My parents didn’t understand that the toys they offered me didn’t make me happy. They couldn’t understand that growing up in Korea, without toy to play with, was not a reason for me to be sad. They didn’t understand that despite their love, I missed my “planet”. They didn’t understand that everything they gave me couldn’t replace all the losses due to international adoption. Learning two languages don’t fill the void left by losing a mother tongue.

Little Prince saw on the Earth, 5000 roses, like the rose on his planet, in one garden, but he still has chosen to return home where there was only one rose, the rose that has tamed him, and three volcanoes.

He was standing before a garden, all a-bloom with roses.
“Good morning,” said the roses.
The little prince gazed at them. They all looked like his flower.
“Who are you?” he demanded, thunderstruck.
“We are roses,” the roses said.
And he was overcome with sadness. His flower had told him that she was the only one of her kind in all the universe. And here were five thousand of them, all alike, in one single garden!
“She would be very much annoyed,” he said to himself, “if she should see that… she would cough most dreadfully, and she would pretend that she was dying, to avoid being laughed at. And I should be obliged to pretend that I was nursing her back to life– for if I did not do that, to humble myself also, she would really allow herself to die…”
Then he went on with his reflections: “I thought that I was rich, with a flower that was unique in all the world; and all I had was a common rose. A common rose, and three volcanoes that come up to my knees– and one of them perhaps extinct forever… that doesn’t make me a very great prince…”
And he lay down in the grass and cried.

After finding a well, Little Prince discusses with the narrator. A little water can also be appreciated like a Christmas present, just as a single rose out of a whole garden is all that is really needed.

“The men where you live,” said the little prince, “raise five thousand roses in the same garden– and they do not find in it what they are looking for.”
“They do not find it,” I replied.
“And yet what they are looking for could be found in one single rose, or in a little water.”
“Yes, that is true,” I said.
And the little prince added:
“But the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart…”

Adoptive parents celebrating the “Gotcha day” don’t understand that their adopted child might feel sad at their birthdays or Gotcha day. The adopted children don’t know how to name his/her feelings because they are raised to feel grateful all the time.

My adoptive parents never knew I was sad on my (faked) birthdays. My “gotcha” day is 12 days later. However, they noticed I seemed depressed every November. They belived it had to do with the lack of sunlight.

The conversation after finding the well makes the little prince homesick and he tells the narrator that it is the anniversary of his descent to the Earth and that he has returned to the place he landed.

“You have plans that I do not know about,” I said.
But he did not answer me. He said to me, instead:
“You know– my descent to the earth… Tomorrow will be its anniversary.”
Then, after a silence, he went on:
“I came down very near here.”
And he flushed.
And once again, without understanding why, I had a queer sense of sorrow. One question, however, occurred to me:
“Then it was not by chance that on the morning when I first met you– a week ago– you were strolling along like that, all alone, a thousand miles from any inhabited region? You were on the your back to the place where you landed?”
The little prince flushed again.
And I added, with some hesitancy:
“Perhaps it was because of the anniversary?”
The little prince flushed once more. He never answered questions– but when one flushes does that not mean “Yes”?
“Ah,” I said to him, “I am a little frightened–”
But he interrupted me.
“Now you must work. You must return to your engine. I will be waiting for you here. Come back tomorrow evening…”
But I was not reassured. I remembered the fox. One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed…

Has any grown-up understood yet why some Korean adoptees go “home” to Korea to commit suicide? Has any grown-up understood yet why a Swedish study show a higher rate of suicide and severe mental health problems among international adoptees?

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