Yet another person in my sphere has taken their own life…in desperation, depression, and severe pain.
I am no stranger to suicide as it has woven itself into my life since I was ten and a cousin ended his life at age seventeen. When I was fifteen and depression hung over me I wished I would die in my sleep. Later one of the teachers at my high school died at his own hand. The list goes on of friends, acquaintances, and family members who all got to a point of such darkness they saw no other way out. Some succeeded while others did not. And when people aren’t ending their lives outright, they are drowning in alcohol or trying to figure out which drug best numbs the pain. If this trend is so prevalent in my little world, how much greater must it be throughout the world and why?
There are many theories but the one that makes the most sense to me was prompted by this troublesome meme:
The thought of an idyllic setting such as this has passed through my mind a time or two, but not as I get older. This is a very western way of thinking, that we can whitewash our lives to the point where we believe it’s possible to escape suffering; thought forms of a mostly white population living in relative material comfort. To be sure I dreamed of the cozy home, good food, and to be surrounded by happy people when I was a troubled teen and a newlywed. As life goes on and I observe with the eyes of my heart, I realize that life hands out equal portions of happy and sad.
This is the way of things: light and dark, sun and clouds, the rainbows after the storm. In truth, as I have gotten older, I realize the necessity of healing and clearing my old wounding so I can distinguish between my inner drama and the drama of my outer world. With that understanding I know that as dramas play out in the news or in the lives of people in my inner circle, I do not need to be weakened by fear, but rather conserve my energy for the ways I can make positive contributions. When someone close to me is hurting it doesn’t have to drain my energy. I can reach out, hold a hand, lend my ears as sorrow or tragic circumstance pours out of another human being and still maintain my calm.
The wish to be void of drama, conflict, and stress is understandable in a world filled with unspeakable tragedy. At the same time, history demonstrates that strife has befallen every inch of the planet since humans took their first steps. The difference between then and now is that we lived in small, connected, multi-generational villages and could not avoid the stresses and conflicts of those around us. Wise elders created outlets for connection in the form of rituals and ceremonies designed to bring people together to celebrate or mourn. The village gathered to hear the dreams of individuals, positive or negative, and to help draw that person’s inner wisdom out and decipher what to do next. In essence, humans were once unafraid of drama and accepted every state of being as just part of life.
Certainly we have rituals now for life’s larger moments, but we shy away from any difficulties expressed in day to day life.
Today, the predominant acceptable channels for expression of angst are through paid therapists or in groups of strangers. There are support groups for every known ailment of society. They are safe but very often void of intimacy as members disperse and go on their way.
So, here we are with loneliness, suicide, and mass murder in epidemic proportions. As a culture we have resisted the pain for decades, centuries maybe, by making it taboo to talk about our woes with friends and family. We have created a wispy fantasy that all is well as long as we keep smiling. Meanwhile, hurts fester under the surface and hearts break under the pressure.
Residing in the wisdom of acceptance of suffering is the understanding that “what you resist persists and grows larger.”
What happened for me, as that unhappy fifteen-year-old who wished to die, was that I thought my family was the only dysfunctional one on the block. I felt embarrassed having a bed-ridden mother plagued by depression and devastating reactions to prescription drugs. I felt isolated because social standards informed me that it was bad juju to share one bit of my woes with anyone. I carried the hurt inside, pasted a grin on my face, and developed dysfunctional patterns of my own just to get through the day. The sad feelings and dysfunction traveled with me well into adulthood and intensified as I found no way to heal them.
In an interview with Priya Parker of Sounds True and author of The Art of Gathering, Priya says, “Recent studies show just among teenagers and middle schoolers — that different social media outlets lead to different levels of anxiety. Interestingly, I recently saw a study in Jonathan Haidt’s new work that showed that Instagram is the worst of the five in terms of increasing anxiety and increasing unhappiness and depression levels, in part because of the ways that we show ourselves on Instagram — and the kind of addictive, almost lottery-style design element of constantly checking if people have liked your post.” Anyone with shaky self-esteem is likely to put excessive emphasis on the lack of “likes” or comments and devalue themselves while comparing themselves to the more popular posts of acquaintances.
You know the way you and your friends present yourselves on social media. Maybe you are different, but the most common posts show only the best parts of someone’s life and a continued push for happy faces and positive outlooks. Imagine how someone steeped in a dark night of the soul might perceive themselves after just one afternoon of these repetitive messages. I commend those who occasionally share the down times and even the tragic circumstances as they occur, whether personally or on social media. They open a channel for real connection and bring suffering out of the closet. I do not suggest it is healthy to focus on suffering, but as we open up to each other with open arms and hearts in authenticity, we give each other permission to be REAL and the hurts gradually diminish.
My awakening arrived in phases. Phase I occurred when I asked my therapist, “Why do I have to pay someone to express my distress or my sadness?” Phase II was when I saw that 95% of massage clients check “depression” on client information forms. As I eased physical aches, many people revealed emotional aches they had not shared with anyone. When I sensed a connection between physical ailments and unheard emotional challenges, I entered a body-centered psychotherapy training in my mid-40s Phase III. There a tsunami of relief bowled me over as I witnessed 60 classmates revealing various degrees of family discord, dysfunction, and trauma they also held inside for their entire lives because of accepted societal norms and the general view of vulnerability as weakness. Whew! I was not the only one! I was not a pariah, but one of many with the thumb of silence pressed down hard against their anguish.
My ability to help clients increased tenfold as I became more comfortable with the shadow and light of myself and others.
Our hiding, our discomfort with the pain of others, and refusal to accept suffering as part of life is not working. Hiding pain behind false appearances compounds the underlying source of the pain for everyone, but especially those prone to taking life…their own or others. Showing only the bright side of your life gives a false impression that there are people who are happy all of the time, a physiological impossibility. That false impression leads us to believe that some people, the hurting ones, should be shunned. It is time to change, to come together, to embrace each other in confidence and trust. The secret, I believe, is in learning (and this can be learned) how to be WITH suffering with strength and courage rather than falling apart at the first sign of distress.
What can you do as someone who thinks about self/other violence or as a family member or friend of such a person?
· Understand that nature offers some of the best medicine for healing. Get outside daily for play and exercise and pay attention to how you feel when you come back inside. There are hidden substances emitted by trees, plants, soil and sun that stimulate serotonin production. Invite someone you know who is going through a hard time to join you.
· Learn about chemical imbalances. Let moderation be your motto. Eating the right foods, eliminating foods you may be allergic to, and taking whole food vitamins, herbal remedies and regular exercise can set you right again. These are changes in lifestyle rather that improve your life rather than band-aids that only mask symptoms.
· Research and understand biologically what alcohol and drug substances do as your body metabolizes them…recognize signs of addiction.
· Provide deep listening. Find those in your life who you can confide in and be that for others. This does not mean those who have already fallen victims of suicide did not have support. The dark pit they fell into combined with social media messages and social attitudes, such as the one depicted above, may have misinformed them that they were indeed a burden if they shared how awful they felt. Assure them they are not burdening you by listening without judgement or unsolicited advice. This does not mean it is healthy to dwell on pain and hurts, but acknowledgement by a compassionate witness is critical. The more humans feel it is ok to share their pain by getting it out in the open, the anguish diminishes instead of increasing.
· Stop posting, sharing, or speaking anything with subtle or direct societal messages that “Happy is good. Sad is bad. Don’t be a burden to others.”
· Seek out holistic ways to calm yourself — meditation, yoga, mindfulness, time in nature — rather than reaching for substances. Your body in tune with nature is designed to heal itself and provide all the relaxation and wisdom and higher experience you need.
· When emotional pain feels too intense to handle, it is time to call in professional help. There is no shame in this and therapy can turn your life around if you give it a chance. There are many free services and many therapists will work on a sliding scale if finances are an issue. My personal recommendation, as always, is Rubenfeld Synergy Method. It saved my life.
Together we can change to paradigm of silence that keeps us separate and adds to our suffering. In chaos and confusion is a window to change. In breaking silence we open the window to a more balanced and happier world.
***Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, I invite you to test how many times can you hit the clapping hands to your immediate left in 5, 10, or 60 seconds. It’s one more way to keep your fingers in shape AND will help other people see the story. Writing is my passion, so thanks for your help in spreading my work to others!
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