September is Suicide Awareness Month. I find it heartbreaking that I have to write about this topic, because in my mind, that means there’s a need. There’s a need to save lives with words of comfort, encouragement, and hope; and where there’s a need, there is tragedy and loss that have already taken place, and we’re standing in the background with those words, trying to place them in an order that can remind us to stay. Because sometimes, our words don’t make it in time.
I’ve been thankful and blessed to have gathered any remnants of courage to speak candidly about my own struggles with depression. This is not an easy thing for me to do any day of the week – just drop my guard like that. Even though I write about my depression, and a surge of my own vulnerability comes through in my writing, I’ve noticed that speaking about my depression and letting the words come through my mouth verbally is intensely much harder. So, I’ve taken the harder approach. Once a week, I meet with my therapist to talk. As I slunk into the floral sofa in her office, I meet her soft gaze and we allow the words to find their way out. I remember the first time I met with her, trying to answer the question “why are you here?” And I couldn’t do it without breaking into tears, which I later learned were tears long coming! Because it’s always been difficult for me to open up face-to-face, those tears came pouring out as a final release of a blockage that’s been holding back the dam, if you will. After that, the words came out easily, sometimes even in laughs and moments of “aha!” I also learned that the reason why I’ve been holding back the tears and the decision to even seek help was because I didn’t want to admit that I needed any help. At least not this kind of help. I could eat right and roll out my mat five days a week for a sweaty practice, and I would never have to worry about the thoughts in my head. This is the mentality that I had, and because I thought that seeing a therapist was the last resort to a serious mental problem, I steered clear of speaking with someone. I can do it on my own.
We can. We can do anything on our own until we can’t. Until we’re so tired of life that we can’t get up in the morning; until we’re on six different anti-depressants and can’t feel anymore; or until something much worse – until we end it all. I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure of meeting people on this difficult path in life, but my relationships and encounters recently have somehow eerily converged around the theme of depression and suicide. And because I am a writer, I see it as my duty to yank someone out of their pits of darkness, because if I can save you – I will.
Statistically, since 2015, suicide has been the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, specifically for people within the 25-34 age range. More recently, we’ve seen the suicide rate rise violently for people even younger, in schools and in the workplace. I think of kids being bullied or being raised in dysfunctional families or being exposed to trauma at an early age with no outlet of expression or healing. To say that this is sad is the most understated adjective we could give it. This is an epidemic. I will also go so far as to say that the correlation between this and the other epidemic (drug overdoses) is tightly intertwined.
We’re losing beautiful, talented, loved souls who have so much potential and courage and strength for this world than they could ever imagine.
It’s not enough to be sad or to mourn a loss. It’s a step, yes. It’s a vital step, to allow the heart to cry for a life cut too short. But it’s what we do after that – that’s what matters. That’s the difference between going to a funeral and going to a graduation. That’s the difference between posting “RIP” and hugging that person because you love them so damn much. We need action. When our grief has overflown, we need a path forward. We need to channel that grief – which is really love – into something that will help one more person stay. I’ve taken a genuine liking to the quote below. It reminds me that my grief is just love undirected. We can show that lost love the way, for ourselves and others.
This action, for me, means personal work. It means seeing my therapist every week and being committed to showing up. It also means that I’m honest with her about how I’m feeling and what is on my chest, because if I need to lie or cover up, I’m only hurting myself. And it also means feeling all of my emotions as they arise. There is a place in my body, mind, and soul for each emotion to be felt and analyzed. If I can use all of me to experience these emotions, I can learn, trust, and then let them go.
So can you.
Mental illness is a disconnect from those other parts of yourself. When our mind becomes too loud and too afraid, our thoughts create a vacuum. In that vacuum, we weave our own Hell. And because we’ve cut off the connection to body and spirit, our physical body freezes and stops nurturing our growth, and our spirit shuts down any euphoria or ties to faith or the “bigger picture.” We ache. We become numb.
This isn’t pretty. It’s not meant to sound polite or packaged in a way that will make people comfortable. Depression and suicidal thoughts are what nightmares are made of. We need to be insanely aware of this, to the point where we’re uncomfortable even talking about it. Because the minute we reach complacency here, we’re throwing back that dirty cover over this epidemic, and over the people who are struggling underneath.
There is a powerful Buddha quote that I am always reminded of. He said:
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
Our suffering begins in the mind. It begins with every thought that runs a thread down into the rabbit hole, until we’re scouring the bottom of our deepest fears. Alone. But just as we’ve created that suffering, so too, can we create our salvation. I promise you that the trip back up from that bottom is the hardest one yet. But we have the means. We just need the reason.
Maybe the reason for you is your kids or your spouse or your family or your friends. Maybe it’s something deeper, like your craft or your passion. I invite you to start peeling back the layers until you find your reason to be your very own Self. Allow the reason you take on your fight every day to be YOU.
Because YOU are loved, YOU are needed, YOU are stronger than any debilitating thought you’ve ever had about yourself. YOU are not rejected nor abandoned nor less than nor not enough for this world. YOU play a role in this story, YOUR story. YOU are the only one who can save you, but YOU are not alone.
You have every means to stay. You only need one reason for one step forward, one day at a time. This fight to live? To be seen and loved and accepted? This fight is lifelong. It’s given to you because you are worthy of it. I even think it’s because you were never meant to lose at all. When your suffering begins in the mind, can I invite you to pause, dig deep, and fight like hell to find the salvation in the same place? Because it’s there.
Here are some resources that have been essential in this fight. Please check them out and share them with your family and friends.