Every word that follows has been written by a beautiful 20-year old woman who regularly struggles with thoughts of suicide. I have nothing to add to her words.
Scars are forever. And the thing about scars is that you can cover them up, layer them even. And you can walk around with all the confidence and happiness in the world until one day, someone or something tries to peel off those layers you’ve worked so hard to put on. And suddenly you’re aware again, and everything plummets to the floor, including that confidence you worked so hard to find.
Words are often that something that peels off those layers to reveal a nasty scar you thought would have been healed by now. Sometimes these words have nothing to do with whatever it was that cut you in the first place, but something triggers in your mind and in a split second everything comes crashing back down.
Like being cut by ice, you may not feel the pain at first. You’re too numb to your surroundings, and your outlook on life is very logical, unattached, and strong. Until you’re in a warm, nice place, maybe a place you didn’t even know could exist because you didn’t know so much warmth could exist. Then amidst the warmth you begin to feel that cut, and it’s deeper than you thought.”
These were the thoughts of the 15 year-old me.
American dies by suicide every 12.3 minutes.*
The first time I thought about suicide I was 15, but there wasn’t actually a thought. I just stood up and started walking through my tears toward the bathroom at 2AM. I remember trying to process what I was doing as I reached for the bottle of Advil and struggled to open it. I stared at the ingredients and thought, “I wonder what would happen if I took this whole bottle.” I didn’t want to end my life – it was an uncontrollable, unwanted response . A last resort. I got the bottle open and started to pour it into my hands, and I froze. Not because I was in danger, but because the thought of not waking up the next morning didn’t scare me.
90% of those who die by suicide had a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.*
When people say that “suicide is selfish” or “why would you do that to your family,” I can only say one thing.
The first thing I thought about was my mom finding me the next day, then my sister, then all of the phone calls and screaming, the funeral, the lifetime of grief they would feel. And I knew they would miss me.
Saying “suicide is selfish” implies that I am gaining something from considering it, that I don’t know that I have people who love me, and that my experiences do not justify these thoughts. It’s a dismissal.
So I didn’t take it very seriously, until it happened again in my car when I was 16. Then again and again when I was 17, 18, 19.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 44 and under.*
For me, I was running from my situation in the only way I knew how. I was trapped in a cycle of sexual abuse. I was blamed for what happened to me by some people who were supposed to protect me, then accused of lying about it. I started to become numb and my mind would wander so I didn’t have to feel – I stopped being present during the abuse. I didn’t “decide” to think about suicide – it just became another part of my being. “If they don’t care about what happens to me, why would they care if I just stopped existing?”
Sometimes the pain was so intense, so physically overwhelming, I just wanted it to end right then and there. After I left, sometimes my body would think I was being abused and my mind had no control over it, no way to grasp reality. How do you tell someone who constantly feels like their body is not their own that they should be strong and hold on? That they need to realize it’s not real. It’s not real.
But it was real. It is real.
Suicide is not selfish.
Suicide is real.
I share the words of this young women with her permission and because of her desire to bring awareness to the reality of suicide. You know her, or you know someone like her.
Is there a way today that we can reach out and love someone who is suffering so silently?
Please share your thoughts.
Some questions of the heart are not easily answered, and the topic of hope is one of these complex, deep-seated matters.
Click here to read PART ONE of this blog, and hear how six people answer the question, “What does hopeless feel like?”
This is PART TWO – the words of these same people when they were asked two more questions: “Can hope and darkness co-exist?” and “What triggers the rebirth of hope?”
Reader #1: “I think you have to move through the darkness to find the hope. People have to go through the motions of every pain to be willing to find the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s what triggers hope; you work through your ‘stuff’ and create the will to see the light or silver lining.”
Reader #2: “Hope and darkness can co-exist. Many times a day, dark thoughts come to mind (worry is my darkness). What triggers hope is when I remind myself to feel strong, to know that I can’t control the situation, and I can’t fix people. My mind knows, and my heart knows, but sometimes my body doesn’t respond well. One day at a time, and sometimes it’s one moment at a time, but my hope wins every time because I’m stronger for the past I’ve overcome.”
Reader #3: “Hope and darkness cannot co-exist, because they are opposites. It’s the principle of action versus an equal but opposite reaction – it’s one of the most mind-boggling facts, but there are trillions of these positive and negative reactions occurring in your body at one time, and that includes hope and darkness. Think about it…when you close your eyes, that’s the exact opposite of opening them, and you can’t do both at one time. Because hope and darkness are opposites, when one is created, the other diminishes. Darkness cancels out hope, and hope cancels darkness. They cannot co-exist. To create the rebirth of hope, darkness has to die.”
Reader #4: Hope and darkness can co-exist, usually with some healthy tension. Sometimes I have fought off darkness, but other times I have welcomed it, believing that hope was undeserved. I believe we have to accept hope, to make a choice that we won’t let darkness claim too much real estate. We can do this by creating a mental image of what hope could bring.
Reader #5: “I had trouble seeing hope when I lived in darkness. The darkness enveloped me, and if hope was there, I couldn’t see it. My hope was triggered when I remembered that other people loved and needed me. I had to choose hope by choosing to be there for others.”
I have no wisdom to add to the heartfelt words of these beautiful people, so I will leave you with the words of one more who says it so well:
Reader #6: “Hope and darkness can co-exist. Hope is what you hold onto when you are surrounded by darkness; it is the one part of your consciousness that keeps you from sinking too far into yourself. The only thing that can trigger hope is the realization that you are worth more than how you feel. If you find something beautiful to focus on, you can begin to look at the world differently. It is like discovering things for the first time, and it pushes you away from the darkness.”
Perhaps our decision today, no matter where we are emotionally, is to focus on something beautiful!
Can hope be restored?
In our time-constrained and limited perspective, we tend to focus on our own little world, our own heartaches, and our own losses. That’s natural, and I am not asking today that we look further, or that we be more concerned about the trials of another. There is time enough for that.
Allow me to share the idea of restored hope.
The beautiful words of this hymn, Whispering Hope, were penned in 1868, nearly 150 years ago. Isn’t it amazing that those people knew, just like us, the burden of hopelessness. They also knew, however, the promise of hope restored.
Soft as the voice of an angel,
Breathing a lesson unheard,
Hope with a gentle persuasion
Whispers her comforting word:
Wait till the darkness is over,
Wait till the tempest is done,
Hope for the sunshine tomorrow,
After the shower is gone.
Whispering hope, oh, how welcome thy voice,
Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.
If, in the dusk of the twilight,
Dim be the region afar,
Will not the deepening darkness
Brighten the glimmering star?
Then when the night is upon us,
Why should the heart sink away?
When the dark midnight is over,
Watch for the breaking of day.
Hope, as an anchor so steadfast,
Rends the dark veil for the soul,
Whither the Master has entered,
Robbing the grave of its goal;
Come then, oh, come, glad fruition,
Come to my sad weary heart;
Come, O Thou blest hope of glory,
Never, oh, never depart.
Whispering Hope, Septimus Winner, 1868, Public Domain
As I pondered the topics of hope and hopelessness, many questions stirred in my mind. It seemed important to frame my questions within the context of a personal relationship with a friend or family member. This fictional story was written to set the stage for the important questions I wanted to ask.
Memories of Christmases Past
We were nestled comfortably under the large green branches of our Christmas tree, the same artificial prickly one that had graced our living room as long as I could remember. As children, my sister and I loved Christmas morning. She especially was filled with anticipation, each year coming into my room long before dawn to insist that we peek at the pile of presents we knew awaited us.
Her yearly ritual began with an official counting of the presents; whose pile was bigger and who had the largest gift. Next, she would cajole my parents until finally, dreary-eyed and coffee in hand, they joined us around the tree.
My sister needed no sign of approval to begin. While I savored each gift and lightly lifted the tape that held the wrapping paper in place, she unceremoniously ripped each shred of colorful paper from its box, tossing it carelessly behind her. Next, she would quickly survey the gift and place it into a growing side-pile before moving quickly to the next wrapped gift. At the end of her frantic routine, she would select her favorite present and keep it in her grip for the remainder of the day.
Questions Stirred on Christmas Morning
Pleasant Christmas memories built one upon another, until we held to an unquestioning belief that Christmas would always be a wonderful day.
It seems we were programmed by yesterday’s experiences to anticipate what tomorrow would hold. Based on that, I have begun to wonder, do yesterday’s experiences create a foundation of hope?
And if hope is built upon yesterday’s experiences, what does it mean for the one who has never been programmed by the beauty of yesterday? And what does it mean for the one whose present circumstances speak more loudly than the positivity of yesterday?
Those are the questions that stirred in my mind last Christmas morning, as I looked over at my now adult sister. We were comfortably nestled on the couch, wrapped in warm and snuggly blankets, not so different from our childhood. Gone, however, was the joy of the morning. Her eyes seeped loneliness, and her hands no longer reached in anticipation. Instead of her favorite present, she clutched despair in the emptiness of her own hands. Or, perhaps more accurately, the emptiness of despair clutched her.
Though I enticed her with thoughts of yesterday and anticipation of the future, I knew she could not see the beauty of life that I still saw.
Looking for Answers
And so, on that Christmas morning, my heart was stirred to question:
What does her hopelessness feel like?
Is there any chance that a remnant of hope still exists within her dark world?
And is there anything that might trigger a rebirth of hope?
To help me answer these questions, I turned to others who could share from their own experiences.
You know them, those ugly four-letter-words. We can’t avoid them. An acquaintance blurts one out, right in the middle of a soccer mom-conversation. Shock! How do you react to that? “I’m sorry, Sue. Can you say that again?”
After a while, you hear those ugly four letter words so much that they begin to slip out of your own lips. Denial! What just happened? I’m not supposed to talk like that.
And what about those cute YouTube videos, where parents capture every first, including when their three-year old casually drops the F-bomb. Angry! Why would a parent expose a child to that?
Maybe it’s a spouse who hurls ugly four-letter words in the midst of a heated argument, calling you names that no one should have to absorb. Wounded!
Ugly four-letter words: They shock; they assault our senses; they disappoint; they wound; they anger – and then they pass.
There is another four-letter word that is equally unavoidable. Sometimes it bursts into our lives, right in the midst an otherwise beautiful day. Shock!
It is a message makes us cringe and shrink away from its reality. Denial!
It is a circumstance that we should not have to face – ever. Anger!
It is a hurt that reaches into the depths of our heart and squeezes until we feel that we can absorb no more pain. Wounded!
That word, that experience, is an ugly four-letter word: L-O-S-S. It shocks; it assaults our senses; it leaves wounds; and it stirs anger – and it does not pass.
Life-changing loss comes in an unlimited array of circumstances and magnitude. It comes to each of us, if not today then tomorrow. Perhaps you have experienced loss because of one or more of the following:
- The unexpected words of a spouse: “I don’t love you anymore.”
- The destruction of emotional health at the hands of one who is mentally, physically, or sexually abusive.
- The slow deterioration of body as disease takes over.
- An addiction that steals more and more of your life or the life of a loved one.
- A career that disintegrates before your very eyes.
- The absolute devastation that accompanies the tragic death of someone you love.
- Regret over years that cannot be reclaimed or relationships that cannot be renewed.
- The unfulfilled dream of parenthood.
- Or perhaps you have experienced loss from a wound so deep that I haven’t even the imagination to consider it.
We feel nothing if we don’t feel the pain of our own loss. It accompanies us as a dark shadow, and we live with an emotional overflow that can become crippling: depression, heaviness, fear, anxiety, anger, resentment or bitterness. It takes no effort to focus on our own loss.
We are not so equipped to feel the pain of another’s loss. I admit that, for most of my life, I lacked true empathy. I naively assumed that grieving over the death of a loved one lasted only a handful of days, until my brother’s death interrupted my life. Only when I was inconvenienced by health issues could I fathom the discouragement of chronic illness. Until I was alone, I could not imagine the sadness of becoming a widow. This is not about me, though.
This is a challenge to look beyond our own L-O-S-S. It is a reminder to look for and listen to the heavy hearts of others instead of dwelling on our own wounds. Everywhere we go, grief exists, oh so silently. It is the mom at the grocery store whose son is addicted to heroin; it is the young father at church who was just diagnosed with terminal cancer; it is the acquaintance who sits alone on the reality of physical abuse; it is the cashier who is going through a divorce; and it is the friend who is struggling with depression.
We barely need to scratch the surface to uncover the pain of L-O-S-S.
I arrived late, but no one seemed to notice. I longed for one of my classmates to see something amiss in my eyes, to hear my silent plea for help. If one did recognize my pain, I could not tell.
Challenge: Look with fresh eyes among your circle of friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. Is there pain and loss that you have forgotten, overlooked, or underestimated? Is there deep pain barely masked by a layer of the daily responsibility to hold life together? Is there pain buried by shame or hidden from the judgment of others?
Help us learn from your experience. Leave a comment, and share how you have learned to recognize the needs of others and respond with compassion and support.
What guilt have you carried, or do you carry still? Perhaps it is your role in a broken relationship; that last phone call that was not placed in time; the failures of motherhood; or the regret of bad choices.
The Heavy Yoke of Guilt
Is it a gender mishap that we women tend to carry the guilt of the world on our shoulders? If we were intended to do so, wouldn’t we have the broadest shoulders, the most powerful legs, and unending stamina? More like oxen, let’s say.
Have you seen oxen work the farm? Burdensome yokes on their shoulders, as they drag a heavy weight around and around, one tedious step at a time.
7 Questions Alex Trebek Never Read
I love Jeopardy, and I love Alex Trebek. But I hate those really smart contestants who seem to know everything about ancient history, literature, art, geography, and other stuff that most of us never learned in school.
As Americans, we should be well-equipped to understand what’s going on in our country, but I’m guessing that most of us are more knowledgeable about pop culture than some of the more “serious” topics.
Let’s see how you do with a bit of pop culture:
- Do you know who won the 2017 Super Bowl?
- Do you remember what famous country music star got her start on American Idol?
- Which music legend owned a place that he named Neverland?
- What color did Johnny Cash always wear?
- What famous professional basketball player was often recognized by his initials, M. J.?
- Which horror movie begins with the words, “Children of the ….?”
- Do you know which Nicholas Sparks book tells the life story of Noah and Allie?
- Can you give the names of two famous actors who were given the single name, “Brangelina?”
- Can you name three social media apps that people use nearly every day? The following are just a few: a, b, c, d.
- Which of Donald Trump’s daughters has the most public visibility?
- What type of music does Snoop Dogg perform?
Now let’s see how you do with other issues that affect us as Americans:
- How much has the rate of inflation increased/decreased in the last year?
- Do you know how many American soldiers died in the Vietnam War?
- How many NYC firemen died in 9-11?
- How many refugees have fled Aleppo?
- How many women die each day from domestic violence?
- What is FICA?
- Can you explain the electoral college?
- What percent of eligible citizens voted in the 2016 presidential election?
- How many countries have a U.S. military presence?
- Can you name four amendments to the United States Constitution?
- In what year did American women achieve suffrage?
I’m no Jeopardy whiz, and maybe you’re not either. That’s why I made sure you have all the Google links necessary to check things out for yourself.
But tell me, was I right? Were you able to answer more questions about pop culture? Or did you answer more of the Jeopardy-type questions? (If so, you might want to audition as a Jeopardy contestant!)
Things You Should Know
If the producers of Jeopardy let me create my own category, I would simply call it, “Things You Should Know.” It would sound like this:
Alex: More than 20,000 of these are placed each day in the United States.
Contestant: What are calls to domestic violence hotlines?
Alex: One out of three women will experience this in her lifetime.
Contestant: What is physical abuse?
Alex: Every year, more than 3,000 women do this because of domestic violence.
Contestant: What is lose their lives?
Alex: Domestic violence situations are the most dangerous type of calls for these public servants.
Contestant: Who are police officers?
Alex: Violent relationships are most likely to begin during this four-year age range.
Contestant: What is 19 – 22?
Alex: Only 34% of domestic violence victims ever do this.
Contestant: What is seek medical aid?
Alex: Women who leave a battering partner are this much more likely to be killed within two weeks after leaving the relationship than at any other time.
Contestant: What is 70 times more?
I doubt my Category, “Things You Should Know,” will clear the producer’s cut, but that doesn’t mean it’s not information worth knowing…and sharing.