When was the last time someone asked you how you’re doing and you told them the truth? When was the last time you asked someone how they’re doing and then listened? I’m not talking about a Facebook rant about how miserable your day has been and how you need a glass of wine. Or a comment back on someone else’s post. I’m talking, real, face-to-face conversation. Vulnerability. Authenticity. Kindness. Caring.
In my years of observation of people both as a social worker and a human being, I think everyone’s most basic of needs come down to this: We want to be seen and heard. We want to know that someone sees us, feels us, and knows that we exist. We want our voices to be heard and validated. We generally want to feel like we’re a part of something bigger than us. Being in relationship and connected to another human being creates that feeling for us. While I don’t want to discount the power of online relationships–I think those can be great–I think there is greater power in sitting across the table from or on the couch next to someone and being totally transparent. Holding space for whatever it is they want to share with you, and them doing the same for you. Sometimes, what we ask someone to hold isn’t comfortable. It’s sad, scary, painful, heavy. But those are the things that need holding the most, and with the most tender of care.
I was 12 the first time I seriously contemplated suicide. I had had fleeting thoughts for a long time; thoughts that death would surely be better than the life I was experiencing. I don’t remember how I first heard about suicide, or how I knew that cutting my wrists would do the job. But there I was, standing in my bathroom with a rusty razor blade pressed against my wrist, and suicide had became a tangible, plausible option. I looked at the blue veins, slightly raised through my pale skin, and wondered if it would hurt. I wondered how long it would take. I wondered if it would take away the pain in my heart and mind. My thoughts were suddenly snapped back to the bathroom door as my grandmother yelled my name. She always yelled at me when I was in the bathroom accusing me of “taking too long.” Sigh. Who times your bathroom trips? Apparently she did. My thoughts raced. What if this doesn’t work? What if it takes too long and she busts in? Trembling with fear, I placed the blade gingerly back into the medicine cabinet. My fear of her wrath if my suicide was unsuccessful outweighed the potential relief of taking my own life.
In those days, I felt supremely alone. At school, my friends’ lives were much different than mine. I was not allowed to give out my phone number, and did not have friends over or go to their homes. As much as I wanted to belong, in my mind, I didn’t. At home, I was the burden. The child who was not supposed to be. Abandoned by my mother at age 4, my alcoholic father and codependent grandmother took me in. There was never any mistaking that my grandmother would have rather had her eyes removed with a dull knife than raise another child. And yet there we were.
I learned to fly under the radar as a coping mechanism. I kept quiet and became a people pleaser. If you’ve never been there, trust me: it’s exhausting. But in high school, I began garnering a little independence. I got a job, and needed no one for anything. That worked for a really long time: pleasing others but never needing them for anything. And then one day, it didn’t work anymore. The load had become too heavy, and I needed someone. I looked around my life, and there was quite literally no one I trusted completely to help me bear the load. So I called a therapist. That was 16 years ago.
Asking for help was, by far, the scariest thing I had ever done at that point in my life. Asking for help is, indeed, scary for everyone. It’s an admission that I don’t have it all together, and that I can’t get it all together on my own, and that I need the presence of another human being to help me get through. If this is you today, let me tell you this: As scary as it feels, asking for help is by far THE most COURAGEOUS thing you can do. If there’s no one in your life you trust to hold space for you, go see a professional. And, quite frankly, even if there are people in your life you trust, you will still benefit from seeing a professional, as not everyone in your life is capable of carrying all the load, all the time. Find a support group, something–anything. Don’t suffer alone. I promise you are not the only one who feels this way, and there are more people who want to help than want to hurt.
I find it no small irony that World Suicide Prevention Day is on my birthday, September 10. Every year, I am reminded that I kept living, even when everything inside me wanted to die.
Friend, keep living. Even when everything inside you wants to die. Just. Keep. Living.
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