Nearing the end of a year tends to put me in a contemplative, forecasting frame of mind. A few years ago I adopted the idea of choosing a theme word for the New Year, rather than getting bogged down with a long list of resolutions. I am all in favor of setting SMART goals and ideally its what we do when we set our New Year resolutions. The traditional ‘lose weight, gain financial independence, etc.’ doesn’t easily fall into the category of short-term goal setting and can be very frustrating when wanting to witness concrete progress and short-term wins in our achievements. Things like weight and bank balance can fluctuate for so many reasons making it feel challenging and discouraging to consider that box permanently checked.

Life happens and we have to adjust accordingly if we aim to maintain our sense of homeostasis or continue reaching for long-term objectives. 2018 has been eventful; full of blessings, travels and adventures. All charged with bittersweet gains on the heels of some devastating losses. Particularly, losing a beloved teen friend to suicide in late 2017. I haven’t shared much about it because in the midst of keeping going; I’ve been processing and grieving and doing my best to take action on ending the epidemic. It’s so complicated. But, Why is it so complicated? My heart aches for anyone who finds themselves in such a desperate moment. Most of us would do whatever we must to stop it.

I recall a video that came across my social media newsfeed shortly after that happened about a person who survived an attempted suicide after jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. His name IS (not, “was”) Kevin. He states matter-of-factly that the moment he jumped, he already had regrets; explaining that he really didn’t want to die. He really only wanted to end the pain and frustration he was experiencing. I think all of us at some point will feel overcome with extreme emotional or physical pain which can become unbearable without relief, even when we aren’t already experiencing a mental health crisis. November is a time of year we typically associate with thankfulness. Finding things to feel gratitude toward is helpful for maintaining perspective in difficult moments. But what happens when a person loses that desire to seek hope in their everyday existence?

I am sitting here this morning in a local coffee shop as I write this post. The table next to me is filled with retired military veterans yammering away and clearly enjoying a cup of coffee. We haven’t ever discussed it, but I am very aware that these individuals have most assuredly found themselves in the midst of the worst of human conditions. Yet here they sit, smiling and laughing and overcoming. Whatever they have witnessed, something in their spirit has transcended that heaviness. I do not presume to know their private battles, but I sit here and witness their public zest and participation in maintaining contact with others in the community. I’ve seen them here before, playing cards, drinking coffee and connecting with each other. It’s a simple everyday gesture and it probably goes unnoticed in many ways which I conclude is unfortunate. Yet, it is endearing all the same.

It saddens me to know that others out there will experience a day less uplifting. I think its a mistake to try and oversimplify what leads one to despair and another to debilitating emotional paralysis. The factors are varied and things like mental health are not easy boxes to check as the condition of ones total wellness can fluctuate with their circumstances. Our culture often places excessive emphasis on finding ‘happy’ and not enough attention goes to finding ‘healthy.” It simply is not reasonable to expect to be happy all the time. But, depressed and or discouraged and similar also are not a desirable way to feel for extensive periods of time. It is a very real challenge with many different factors. Like so many other things, each case is unique and it is not especially helpful to try and homogenize such a complex condition.

Ultimately, I do not presume to have all the answers. I am merely chronicling here that I have a sincere and compassionate heart for improving our culture and our access to better mental healthcare. I am experiencing a strong need to acknowledge the collateral losses as they have added up over time in my life and so many others. Is there anyone whose life has not been touched by suicide? The list is too long. Even one loss is too many but there have been so many. I remember the years and attempt to calculate the losses over time… a classmate’s father overwhelmed by debt and job loss, another classmate’s mother shattered by her partner’s infidelity and divorce, and the loss of several classmates. There are more. Each significant and tragic. I add up the numbers and find the double digits to be alarming though the bell was already buzzing loudly in my mind before now.

It occurs to me that all the things I have been doing now and for decades are in many ways driven by these losses. The single thread that ties all my random interests together is mental health. It is an epiphany.

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