The small town that I live in has experienced it’s share of youth suicides. In the last three years, 3 young men have taken their own lives for reasons we will never know. The recent death of Robin Williams has everyone talking about mental health and as horrible as it all is, talk is good, so very good, because it keeps us thinking and watching and listening and searching for better answers and more help.
I had a moment in Camp Empowerment last week when we were discussing how we make choices. One girls suggested that pro and con lists always work for her. I wondered out loud if the answer you wanted was ever different than the answer that can appear on the list. Another girl chimed in with this, “Well, I have wanted to kill myself, but I know that it isn’t a good idea. People would miss me. It would be hard on them.”
Right then I started to sweat because I am not a trained counselor or specialist in any such thing. I have never worked for a suicide hotline or have any claim to being expert in the field.
Yet I do know how it feels to be down. I know how it feels to be so far down that you can’t really see up. I have lived with my depression like many live with it and that is really what you chose to do…you choose to live with it.
And so that is what I said, “You know deep down ending things is not right so you make a choice to live through the hurt.”
I used to spend a lot of time thinking there was something terribly wrong with me. Of course there was and yet I also spent time thinking I should be able to change it if I just did this and that and this other thing. So when I finally sought treatment after the birth of my son, a kind nurse gently saved me with these words, “It’s not your fault, honey. It’s chemistry.”
I got some meds and I was able to pick my head up long enough to look around and examine more closely what I needed to do.
Medication is not magical. It does not solve everything for everyone. It does not cure that restless and sometimes hopeless and persistent feeling all of the time. What my medicine does for me is give me the ability to put forth the effort to do all of the other things I need to do to stay on top of or ahead of the cloud, the monster, the hole. I need to walk and talk and write and connect and move and see a counselor and cry and write some more. Without medicine, not only do I not do these things, I don’t know I need to do these things.
I have never contemplated suicide. My down is either a low grade solid gray or an amped-up and overwhelming red anger that makes no sense to me when I am well.
And that’s the thing. When I am sick, I cannot imagine being well though I know enough to understand that I have been well and the sickness is not what I want to choose.
It takes constant vigilance, constant monitoring, constant attention. Self-care is not a weekend at a spa. It is a daily walk, time to write, a deep breath in the middle of a tense conversation, an evening meditation, a visit or two or three to the doctor to manage medication, talking to therapists and friends, yoga or pilates, and books upon books upon books. It is a quiet room and the shades drawn and petting my cat and loving up my dog and more deep breathing and healthy food and reaching out to my husband and not comparing my journey to anyone else’s. It is the work of my life and sometimes none of this works. And so what is left is to wait it out, let it do it’s thing before that storm passes and I can see the clouds roll away and I can step out into the light again. That’s what I do. I try to always step out into the light.
It will be controversial so say I get why people choose a different path. There are so many who are hurting more than I ever have and if that is true, then I get why they seek relief. Many will say it is selfish, but that is not true. It is, at their weakest moment, their only version of self- care they can think of. What I want to say is that you just alwaysalwaysalwaysalwaysalwaysalwaysalways have to go toward the light. It is there. It is waiting for you. It can be yours for a minute and then another and then another. Minutes stack up to hours and it is soon a day and then another and you get to live and work and fight for a better way.
But it is a fight and sometimes people lose. And so, all I want to do is help people with the fight. I want us all to be helpers, lovers, watchers, listeners, encouragers, hand-holders. Let’s be fighters with big hearts and warm hands and tender gentle ears. We can all do that. I know we can.