Dita Parker

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Live to tell

Yesterday, the 12th of August, was International Youth Day. Yesterday, Robin Williams' suicide was all over the news. And the Academy was chastised for its "Genie, you're free" tweet, for implying, even inadvertently, that suicide is always an option, a way out, which I'm not sure was the message they were going for, but if the discussion that ensued comes back to message the UN was trying to convey about youth and mental health, so be it.

So can I just say something on the subject, not from a professional but a deeply personal perspective and experience? Well, I'm going to anyway, so if you don't wanna hear it, it's time to click on.

The summer before the last year of junior high, O spent a fun evening with his buddies, went home, tied a noose around his neck, cuffed his hands behind his back and hung himself. That's where his parents found him two days later, Sunday night. My sister lost a friend in college, a smart, witty and bubbly girl that one night stepped in front of a train. My husband's cousin shot himself in the army after a squabble that, by all accounts, could have been resolved with a sit-down.

Nothing connects these people apart from the fact that they were young, they are gone and no one had a clue that's where they were headed. Nothing in their demeanor, speach or actions hinted at thoughts they could have been thinking for a while. A spur of the moment thing then? We'll never know, we can only guess, and wish they had talked to us, someone, anyone, about the knots in their mind and the pain in their chest, whatever made the heart so heavy.

Isn't there always a clue, we're just too clueless, blind, insensitive to see? Here's the thing, and feel free to object, but we live not double but triple lives. There's the public level and persona we take to work and school, a personal one we share with family and friends (which may extend to people at work, school, etc.), and a private life we may share with both of the above, or not. Never fully, that's for sure, and it's always a personal individual choice how much and with whom you share that inner life.

Some have no problem talking about anything and everything with anyone who'll listen. Some have problems talking to others, period. It's not necessarily a matter of chemistry, temperament, trust, how long or well you know someone, some external condition, but an internal struggle or shadow, and I guess that's what baffles us not privy to that information, that personal inner lever. How could someone so full of life harbor thoughts of death?

It's easy to lose connection with colleagues, with friends, even family. It's just as easy to lose connection with yourself. That rich inner life can turn on you, overwhelm you, and some are better equipped than others to fight and find their way back, to sort it all out. But what becomes of those too tired to seek help themselves? Those who don't have anyone to help them seek help? Those who're told to stop crying wolf, to snap out of it? Those who do seek help but never get it, for whatever reason?

My oldest is now a preteen. Well in advance, and many times since, I told him something I was told in my youth, something that helped me, something I hope will help my kids through the turbulent years ahead. "I have bad news and I have good news. The bad news: For the next few years, life will suck. When you don't know what and how to feel you will feel ten ways at once. You'll love everything and everyone one day and hate the same with a vengeance the next. The good news: It will pass."

I've only had one thing to add to that: Don't be afraid of your thoughts, your impulses or your emotions. A full life, a rich inner life, is not a life without strife but a true to life honest life without the rose-tinted glasses, a life where you face and embrace the whole spectrum, not just the rainbow. If your thoughts, your impulses or your emotions do start frightening you or overwhelming you, you must bring it up. Talk to a friend, a family member, doctor, teacher, priest...whomever you feel most comfortable talking to. If they can't help you, they will help you find someone who can. If you feel death would be preferable to feeling what you're feeling, you owe it to yourself (because that's who you're stuck with, that's who you need to get along with, get to know, first and foremost) to get to the bottom of it. Why not see this thing, your life, to the end, whenever that end comes, because rest assured life inevitably and eventually grants a death wish even if we never lift a finger to further it. So why hurry.

I once walked alongside someone with a diagnosed, debilitating depression. One of the longest and most frightening and frustrating and humbling walks of my life. Long because it took two and a half years. Frightening because I feared she'd lose the will to live. Frustrating because there was nothing I could say or do to help her or heal her, my love couldn't save her, all I could do was walk with her while she did all the work, the hardest part, sorted out all the unfinished business that burdened her soul. Humbling because she let me be there all the same, in all my utter uselessness and helplessness, and because she talked to me, showed me that inner life of hers, trusted me with it.

This much I can tell you about our walkabout: There will be days, weeks, months when you will be certain you will never pull through. Amid those thoughts, somewhere in the back of your mind, another thought flashes, dim and distant, occasional but definitely there: It doesn't have to be this way. Seize that thought. Reconnect with yourself. If you never felt that connection in the first place, search for it. Build it. Build on it. Take all the time you need, however long that is, and it may be a very long time, but there's no hurry. You may have to shut out the world and focus on yourself and yourself only while at it. Some people will understand and they will be patient. Some won't and they will be cruel. Seek professional help if that's what it takes, take the label, the diagnose, the meds if need be, just don't give up on yourself. Every day decide to hold on for one more day. Repeat. Every day. There will be setbacks. That's OK. Don't rush it. Don't expect a road to Damascus moment. You don't have to find Jesus, the meaning of life or anything of the sort, just your way back to yourself. One breath, one moment, one day at a time.

Take this with a grain of salt or through the container at me but give things another think before you act on any impulse or emotion, as strong as they are, as all-important or permanent as they may feel. And don't always think too long before you speak, as scary as it may feel, as crazy as it may seem. It's your life so stake your claim. Own it. Own it.

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