A Man with a Flashlight


Susan Aldous interview part 2
May 7, 2007, 10:45 am
Filed under: Depression, Drug Prohibition, The East, Undiscovered writers

Susan Aldous is back! In the second part of our conversation we talk about her current charity work at a Thai women’s shelter, her wild adolescence, and being a mother.

See previous posts on Susan here, here, and here.

Hi Susan,

Good stuff! Thanks for such substantial answers, I’ve put them up on the blog, for all five of my readers! Here are my next questions. If this starts to take up too much of your time, just let me know and I’ll understand completely.

HI there Jonathan,
Back in the saddle and getting settled in Thailand after a grueling convoluted trip back home from my original home. Hi to all five readers by the way!
Ok, so here goes round two!

You’re still working part-time with prisoners, but you write that most of your time now is spent at a women’s shelter with abused women, single mothers, and women with HIV. Tell us a little about what you bring to these women, or indeed what they bring to you.

I spend a good amount of time with the women, perhaps not as much as I’d like, but each little bit surely counts in such a place. Number one is just being a friend, someone who cares and shows attention and encourages them with their lives and the lives of their kids. I help them feel good about being mommies, I help them feel important in their illnesses, I strive to be a part of all that they go through as best I can. Something that they particularly like is having their photos taken, especially with their kids and newborns. A tiny gesture on my part, but huge for those participating. A photo magically cements their relationships with their children and builds self-esteem. As for the HIV girls, it shows they will not be forgotten; they have a souvenir to send to their families back home, they will not be erased after they pass on. We play and glam it up, it’s so fun.
As for me, wow, somehow going to spend time with the girls is an exercise in serenity, happiness and the celebration of life, it’s a blessing of love to them and in return in my own life. Serenity in the sense, it’s a beautiful, quiet, safe place and I feel that the women are given dignity and that is so rewarding, I partake of the spirit.
Additionally it’s a joyous venture having twenty-something snotty nosed kids jumping all over you, hanging off of your arms and grabbing your legs so that you cannot escape. It can go from serenity to a madhouse in mere seconds. We all hug and kiss a lot too-joyful, joyful!

Shifting gears somewhat – I confess that for me, one of the most entertaining parts of your book was the description of your teenage years. I can call it entertaining because I know you survived and put it behind you, otherwise it would be depressing. To say you raised some hell wouldn’t really do it justice – you had probably done more drugs at the age of 14 than most people manage all their lives. You describe putting on shows for your friends where you would cut and pierce yourself, and burn yourself with cigarettes – sort of exhibitionism and self- destruction at the same time. I thought it was fascinating because it seems like you were trying so hard to escape the normalness of life. Indeed you told a friend you might kill yourself.
Not everyone goes through this, but many young people do. What can be done to make their struggle easier? How do you feel looking back at your adolescence?

It’s very surreal looking back as if that person died when I was born into a new life of caring for others. Somehow though, the old person is my bridge to reach those who hurt and ache now, a gift if you will. I respect all that I went through as being a great teacher. It’s been odd for me to hear how shocked folk are by my past when they read the book. I suppose it was normal to me and par for the course. In fact, I just read the book in print for the first time yesterday, and I felt that even by today’s standards I was definitely hard core and it was nothing short of a miracle that I survived to tell the story and to even make something good of the mess.
My greatest desire is that some young person will pick up the book and be affected for the better by it, that they will identify and it will offer hope and a way out. So many folk are affected by suicidal notions and attempt to kill themselves, many sadly succeeding. I think we can all make it easier on those who suffer by being honest about our own failings and weaknesses. It starts by being honest with ourselves, then by being real, open, available
and really listening.
Not only did I threaten to kill myself, I tried to several times, all in hopes that someone would rescue me and plant me on a more satisfying path. I was trying to escape normalcy, but more accurately, I wanted to find truth, a way of life that did not match the nine to five box that I was told I should get into. I was desperate for answers; I searched in all the wrong places. Finally I found what I needed to not only give me purpose, but to arm me for life’s difficulties and reach out to others. We live in hugely materialistic societies, where we are building walls against each other. Folk are isolated and lonely. The latest trinkets, the unfulfilling education, the grand job and the perfect marriage do not satisfy-there has to be more soul satisfaction, something to get passionate about.
Nothing better than being a part of the solution. If we want friends we have to be one. We can all reach out to a soul who is hurting and in turn find happiness as a bonus byproduct. We don’t have to have all the answers to help someone; we just need to be a friend.

At the age of 16, you leave all of that behind and decide to give your life to serving others. In your book the transformation seems almost effortless. Was it really that smooth? Can you describe how it happened? Did those feelings of being lost or desperate ever come back later in life?

It was a fast and easy transformation initially. Not dissimilar to asking someone to leave poison, fear and loneliness behind and showing them where to dump it, someone did that for me, so I walked from my past into something way better. That was the easy part, I had nothing to lose but the harder bits followed later. I battled with life, obstacles, lack of funding and relationships that left me sad. I met with folk who did not want help. I battled with my own selfishness, pride and anger. I had much to overcome within myself and to learn how to love and unselfishly care for others. I had to deal with disappointment time and time again in so many forms; I had to deal with the knowledge that I had disappointed others. It can be a
lonely job and sometimes you have to fight those closest to you to keep on going. The path that I have chosen, so few walk on it and it can be a solitary process at times.
All my battles and sadness though have a purpose and they teach how to empathize and help another, they are productive, therefore the old feelings of being lost have never returned in 30 years. Even the worst day now is better than my past, while some of my present days can be pretty frustrating, I can now make them work for me and others. A higher purpose!

You’re now a mother. Like a lot of hippies who have started families, you must struggle over what to tell your daughter about that era of drugs and free love. How do you deal with that question?

I have always been exceptionally honest and open with my daughter; of course all information has had to be age appropriate too. I have used my past to share with her the pitfalls of life and the solutions to these situations-I have tried to give her the tools to deal with such situations. She in turn, as all teens will do has hidden some things from me. However, she is on the overall extremely open with me and usually ends up ‘fessing up. She can ask me anything and sometimes she asks some pretty heavy sexual questions, which I welcome as it’s better to hear it from mom than to have misinformation from her peers. She knows she’ll not get in trouble for asking, and only a wee bit when confessing some wrong, but there’ll be big trouble if she lies and hides things and I find out later. Honesty pays in my house, even when it’s a hard truth to bear.
Like me, she’s had to learn some things the hard way, but we work through them and she’s a great kid with many gifts and even on her bad days she always somehow draws on her resources and pulls through.
Life was hard for me as a teen, but I’d hate to live in my daughter’s generation, I feel it’s much harder and the peer pressure is insane. I admire her for her fighting spirit at times, it’s just not easy and it’s hard being a mom at times.

That’s it for now, thanks again for taking this time!
Jonathan

Thanks to you too. All the best,
Love, peace and tie-dyed,
Susan.

“Dusty” Susan Dustin
P.O. Box 33 Suanyai Post Office
Nonthaburi Thailand
11003
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/onelifeatatime
http://onelifesusan.homestead.com/OneLife.html

Even after learning the hard truth about my blog’s limited readership, Susan comes through with another batch of detailed, hard-hitting answers. Much appreciated!

One last round of questions is coming up, so if you have any questions for Susan you’d like me to ask, this is your chance to email them to me.

Susan Aldous’ new book is The Angel of Bang Kwang Prison, published last month by Maverick House. Maverick House also published the memoir of Chavoret Jaruboon, Thailand’s last prison executioner, The Last Executioner.

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Seung-Hui Cho and “Oldboy”
April 24, 2007, 12:09 am
Filed under: Depression, Movies

Odd, but about the only worthwhile comment I’ve read on the Virginia Tech murders was written by a movie critic. A.O. Scott gets it about right. Movies aren’t to blame. Would that it were that simple.

I haven’t written much about this here. Obviously it’s an important story, but I don’t have much to say. Discussing prevention measures, if indeed any are feasible, should wait for a thorough analysis of what led up to the murders, to the extent it is knowable.

I will only add that this seems like a good occasion to reflect how serious an illness depression is, and how important it is to treat early and aggressively. But it’s not clear that was the issue here. Cho’s depression was noticed and may have been treated. Earlier detection may have made a difference, or it may not have. Some sickness, inevitably, will not be healed.

I recommend two great books on depression: Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon and Peter Kramer’s Listening to Prozac. Beyond depression itself, they contain fascinating insights into the relationship between brain chemistry and personality.

In the future, early screening for depression will be as routine as screening for prostrate or breast cancer.