I don’t know anything about suicide. I’m not trained in it and I have no idea how you talk about it. But I know this, nothing I thought about it when I was younger is true.
Maybe it was the message that was sent to us in the 80s, but I thought people who committed suicide had nothing to live for. Their lives were going nowhere. They had no friends and no family who cared about them. They were probably on drugs. I blame afterschool specials.
I never thought they were successful people with rich lives and loving families.
Of course, as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned the sad truth that getting the point where it feels like the best option for your inner pain is to end your life can happen to anyone.
So, maybe the reason we want to talk about Kate Spade is more than because we own one of her cute bags that has a story behind it. Maybe it’s because we start to wonder how you can tell if someone is reaching the point of running out of options to cope with the reality of being human. Or if you do see it, what can you do to intercede? These are tough questions. I don’t have any answers, but I do have some thoughts on coping with life.
For the most part, most of us have been taught to put forth a very together persona. Be it at the check out line, on Facebook, or even out with our friends, we rarely get real about inner pain. Perfection gets a platform; pain does not. And when we do share our not so pretty sides, we make sure we encapsulate it in humor or a flip assurance at the end that we have it all together.
The reality is, sometimes we don’t have it all together.
While I’ve never been suicidal, and I don’t mean to compare this to that, I have been low. I’ve been hurt. I’ve been lonely. I’ve been squelching my inner feelings so hard that I thought I might just self-combust. None of it was fun, and some of it was dark. Darker than I would have ever imagined I could be when I was younger.
I started out life as an optimist who truly thought she could control the narrative her life and her feelings by being upbeat and positive. I had pluck. In many ways that saved me. It got me through a rough childhood and into a really stable life. But what it did was set up this expectation that my only options were to put forth a very happy, confident picture of myself that while somewhat true, was not the entire story of who I was. It fashioned itself into a bit of a cage. Cages suck.
To this day, people have an expectation that I will enter smiling. I’m sitting in the coffee/sandwich shop I frequent and here’s what John said to me before I ordered, “I thought it just got brighter in here. You have the sunshiny smile.” It made me smile more, but as I thought about it, that sunshine smile of mine has kept me from a whole lot of honesty and getting the support I needed from my friends.
Being honest with my friends is relatively new for me. I was just having drinks in Denver with a childhood friend, a very close friend, and she remarked that she never really knew how tough my childhood was. That was by design. No one really knew. Most of my early life was about being likable. Being fun. Being responsible. Being together. I let in a few people, but not many. For me, people in my life had disappointed me, so I didn’t trust many.
What I created was this pattern of “I’m fine. No, I’m great!” that did more harm than good. People saw me as open, candid, with sense of humor that made everything I was sharing a joke to take off the edge off whatever I was expressing. I came across as outspoken, fun, and feisty, but was hiding the not so sought after side of me that was lonely, disappointed, frustrated, and unsure.
Eventually, all of these tried and true coping mechanisms that served me so well while growing up, stopped working. I found myself in a dark place.
Interestingly enough that was the year most of you discovered me. I started a blog and randomly had a big hit with “The Default Parent.” Good Morning America called. I was enjoying some success and experiencing some mild fame, things I always thought I wanted and would love. Guess what? It just made me feel darker.
It was then that I realized that something was off with me because in the midst of all of the blogging buzz, with people, strangers, writing me all day everyday about how much they loved my writing, my message, and me, I couldn’t process any of it. It would land and feel nice for a few minutes and then it would pass and I would wonder why they thought that and be mired with self-doubt and emptiness. Emptiness!!! WTF, right? I was overwhelmed by the attention and love because at my core I felt unlovable.
Ugh. That’s a tough sentence to write, but it’s probably the truest thing I’ve ever written.
Like most people, I stayed in the dark place far too long until the only way out was to reach out for help. I remember emailing my friend, a therapist herself, asking for a recommendation. She didn’t ask why, but right away sent me a name and encouraged me to call. I called. When the therapist offered me a time the following week, I somehow had the wherewithal to tell her I had to see her sooner. I did. It was the start of whole lot of honesty I had been hiding from.
Therapy helped me see so much about myself that I didn’t understand or maybe I did, but didn’t want to accept. Turns out, there was far more to me than that sunshine smile. I got the opportunity to reexamine who I was and learn that I could change my behavior and my reaction and live more authentically and be more satisfied. I did. I am. It’s a process. One of the things I changed immediately was that I let in my friends.
You know how your friends tell you that you can reach out to the day and night and they will be there, but you still cry in the closet alone? I learned you have to stop doing that. You have to take them at their word and text them when it gets dark or dial their number when you feel overwhelmed with whatever you are struggling with.
And you don’t have to make it palatable. You don’t have to make it funny. You don’t have say everything you have on your mind and then end it falsely with, “but don’t worry I’m fine.” Some times you aren’t fine. And friends, real friends, will not only be okay with that, they will feel relieved that they can tell you when they aren’t fine either.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe you’ll read this and it won’t resonate, but I don’t think we call upon our friends enough. I don’t think we put ourselves out there enough to get support when that dreaded feeling of thinking life is too much comes over us. I think that even if we say we have this relationship with our friends, most of us suffer alone with the really tough stuff. And we don’t have too.
I don’t have any answers on suicide and I sincerely hope I haven’t said anything that hurts the truth about why people end up feeling there’s no other option. I just wanted to share with you that I think we can do better as friends. Instead of assuming our friends will be there for us…literally any time…it’s a conversation we should have with them and explicitly agree to.
Here are the basics: We can text or call each other any time. We have a code word for when it’s dark and need immediate contact. We can be fully honest about our feelings without having to make them okay for the other person to hear. There’s no judgment. We will not tell anyone what is said in that confidence, not even our spouses. That, believe it or not, is a big deal.
But most important, we will actually take up our friends on this if we need them. That’s the covenant that matters.
I have those friends. They know who they are. (I love you guys and you know you have saved me!) They’ve gotten the call from the closet. They’ve dropped everything and listened. They’ve never judged me. They’ve not told their spouses. They’ve even reached out to me in their time of need too. Because that’s what this pact is about…once you show your vulnerability to them, they feel safe to do the same. Middle-aged wisdom is that vulnerability is the new strong, dammit!
No matter how happy or together or successful you are, you’re still human. Being human has some real challenges, and the only way we get through them and enjoy life is by having friends who support us and we support right back. I know for me, the courage to reach out to them and their generous, loving responses have made all the difference.
Take care of you and take care of each other.
I’m sure this isn’t everyone, but here’s a sampling of my friends who I couldn’t make it through without. The cover shot of this blog was at my beloved (understatement) Gramma’s funeral. My friends came in a mini snow storm and one brought flower for all of us to wear in our hair. That’s love.