**Disclaimer: I am not a licensed mental health professional and all mental health concerns should be advised by a doctor, therapist, or certified mental health professional.**
Surviving the suicide of my first love and kid’s father was a twist I never thought my life would take. But here we are, three years later, still living on after the whiplash of the tragedy that changed our lives forever.
I am who I am today because of what his choice called out of me. I am hand-crafted to not just endure, but walk through pain with magnificently messy courage. And it’s not just me who was refined by this fire. My kids are resilient, truth-seekers who bravely practice managing some of life’s BIGGEST emotions everyday. I am in awe of them. Of us. We’re nothing close to the family I imagined us being… we’re way more badass! And tender. I would never have chosen this path for us, but I can’t help but see the wealth we have because of it.
I made a choice after he died. I chose to stop being silent about truth. I chose to live at my highest level of integrity all the time. I chose to teach my kids how to be relentlessly honest with kindness, compassion, and vulnerability. One of the ways I teach them is in the way I engage in (age-appropriate) conversations with them about suicide, mental health, and feelings. I, along with our robust circle of support, am training them to not “fix”, stuff, or silence their “big” emotions (anger, shame, sadness, even excitement), but rather feel, manage, and consciously choose what response they’d like to have in regards to what they feel.
Mental illness, suicide, emotional pain–they are excruciating to watch our loved ones navigate. But there are invitations within these situations asking us to grow—to widen our ideas of love and expand our edges of what it means to truly live. These are invitations, not requirements. They are opportunities not all choose to accept. Saying YES to embracing the truth of these storylines takes deliberate courage as living in the hard reality of these brutal situations can be some of the hardest work of our lives. But the reward is this: While there will be pain, there is no suffering in truth.
It’s when we use filters that we begin to lose a grip on reality. When we sift out the “uglier” parts of our life and decide to only show what we know is widely acceptable and valued, we deny our truth. Pretending things are different then they are, wearing masks to hide insecurities, presenting confidence where shadows of shame lie are all ways we live outside truth. I’m not going to act like radical honesty isn’t difficult! Sometimes it’s agonizing to be the conversation-starter on hard topics or calling out the dormant relationship-killers lying under the surface of every word or interaction. But it’s the only way we can live whole.
Truth-telling isn’t easy, but it becomes habitual with practice. And after a while, you’ll realize there’s no other way to live. Jesus was right when he said, “The truth shall set you free.” Living in complete honesty with yourself and others allows you to live fully expressed and one hundred percent authentic! That means you never have to hide parts of who you are or filter what you need to accommodate others. Can you imagine?!
So, whether it’s you or a loved one who is struggling with the decision to live or die, the most important thing to recognize it’s your truth. That might sound like: Life is a complete shit-show right now. I am drowning in shame and agony. No one understands. No one sees me, knows me, or cares. I feel broken beyond repair.
All of those things may be your truth today. And the truth of tomorrow is this (whether you can see it, feel it, or know it for yourself, it’s true): Nothing lasts forever. Not even this moment (or years) of agony. You are not alone. There is nothing new under the sun, and there are others who fight battles like the ones you are fighting. It’s hard to be seen, known, or heard when shame is so heavy, but that doesn’t mean no one cares for you. You are not broken. No one is, though we may feel it at times, we are not problems to be fixed, but rather masterpieces of art unfolding along the way (some of us are splattered paint or mosaic art formed of a thousand shattered pieces, but art, nonetheless). If you have a beating heart in your chest, you are worth the fight to keep living. There is more than what is in this moment, I can promise you that.
Heavy. This is the heavy duty life stuff. This is why Glennon Doyle calls life “brutiful”. Because life is damn brutal and beautiful, all at the same time. The brutality and beauty are mixed up in the same moments. It’s our job as humans to keep trekking through the brutal parts to see the beautiful ones. It’s there we remember why it’s so important to keep living. We weren’t created to be happy. So if you’re not happy, that doesn’t mean you’re doing life wrong. We were made to experience life: the heartache AND the pleasure, the pain AND the joy, the loss AND the gain, the empty AND the filling, the lack AND the love. If you aren’t experiencing all of this, there’s more LIFE for you to find!
I have two encouragements for those walking painful paths right now:
1. Find out how you can love yourself well. Do you need to practice hardcore self-care, build rock solid self-trust, discover helpful resources? Do it. These are the first steps for you to find unshakable peace. But only take on what is YOURS—you are never in charge of someone else’s choices or actions. There is so much power in choosing what is yours and gently handing back what is not. This is part of living in integrity. Examples of things that are your responsibility to manage: your emotions, truth, triggers, needs, self-care (health, emotional/mental well-being, boundaries), integrity, and your own best interest. Examples of things that are NOT yours to manage: other people’s choices, truths, integrity, responses to life/you/your truth, emotions, needs, self-care. I get it, there is a teeny, tiny fine line between what is yours and what is theirs when we’re talking about mental illness (especially suicide), addiction, and abuse. All I can say is there is FREEDOM in recognizing what is yours to carry. The way you get crystal clear when everything seems foggy and blurred with panic and surging emotion is through radical self-care. Learning how to hold space for yourself and practicing hard core follow-through on commitments to self will help you identify every little “thing” (things that upset you, misplaced blame shifts, codependency, toxic relationship dynamics) very quickly. This online course is a GREAT starting point for clearing up emotionally muddied waters.
2. Speak truth. Do not pretend what is happening is NOT happening. Name the elephants in the room. Call them out and face the fears these elephants try to suffocate you with. This takes an incredible amount of courage to do. I do not underestimate how terrifying this can be. No matter what “elephant” we’re talking about here (be it suicide, toxic relationship/family dynamics, domestic violence, child abuse, infidelity, etc.), it is vital that you navigate these conversations with your safety as the number one priority.
In regards to a loved one who is straddling life and death, speaking your truth might sound something like, “Listen, I know things feel out of control. I imagine you’re not feeling seen and known by anyone right now. That’s got to carry a lot of heavy feelings like shame with it, I bet. While I don’t want to pretend to know what you’re feeling right now, I want you to know that you matter to me. You choosing to live or die matters to me. I am here to support you however you prefer, but if you’re going to talk about ending your life—whether slowly with substances or by suicide—I am going to take that very seriously and seek help for and with you.
You are very important to me and I believe that as long as you have a heartbeat, there is hope for better solutions for what’s happening inside your head right now.
What can I do to help you today? Do you want to talk for a bit or can I look up some resources online to help you?”
Again, regardless of what the circumstance is that needs the steel blade of truth to slice it down the center, your safety and well-being should not be compromised in doing so. If you are feeling the weight of responsibility for a person’s life, a certain outcome, or emotional state, you have some work to do. This “work” includes clearly identifying what is yours and what is theirs to change, fix, or choose. (Hint: Remember, you’ll never be in charge of another adult’s life choices.) If you are struggling to figure out what is your responsibility, I recommend working with a therapist, coach, or practicing some radical self-care until you feel confident in deciphering your emotional world from other’s. This online course is a wonderful tool to learn the basics of finding where your power is, even in the most seemingly powerless situations.
Life is never what we imagine it will be when we start out living it. That’s universal (whether people admit it or not!). Mental illness is not a failure to thrive, it’s part of some of our journeys in life. Our work, whether on the inside or outside of mental illness, is simply this: to gain understanding. Sometimes that means seeking to understand our own emotions and sometimes that means seeking education on how to help or get help. If there is one thing I’ve learned from walking beside my husband through a decade of depression, anxiety, and undiagnosed bipolar, it’s this: We all have more to learn about ourselves and the ones we love. So, don’t close the door to knowledge and perspective. Keep searching to widen those perimeters and expand your view. The greatest treasures in life are born on the edges of what we understand.
My heart is standing with all those treading in the depths of life and death today. I promise, with every heartbeat, there is hope.
I am not a licensed counselor or expert on suicide. I only have my experience and the many stories of others who have walked the stormy waters of suicide with. It is important to seek professional guidance (@national_suicide_prevention lifeline 1-800-273-8255) for yourself or your loved one if ending one’s life is mentioned. I believe that every mention of suicide should be taken seriously.