I'm not suicidal, but...
This morning, the first thing I did was open my phone and check Facebook. (I know, I'm not supposed to do that...anyway...) Sadly, I read of Anthony Bourdain's death. I regularly watched his show "Parts Unknown", and he opened up a global perspective to me that nobody else has. He wasn't a polished travel professional -- he was a very personal person. From watching his show, you sensed his love for people and food and all that food & dining embodies in most global cultures: community and family relationships, respect for unique physical surroundings and the food it provides, the unmatched joy of sharing a home-cooked meal with someone in their own home. Similarly, this week, we all learned of Kate Spade's death. That hurt, too. Kate was the ultimate girlpreneur who crafted a mega business from a love of playful pops of color and cheeky expressions like "Eat cake for breakfast" and one of my favorites:
She who leaves a trail of glitter is not ever forgotten. -Kate Spade
While looking at their repertoires, passionate lives and successful careers, we are all totally, helplessly shocked by news of their suicides.
How could people who seemingly had it all resort to this ending?
Why would they even want to end their lives?
I'm not suicidal, but...
Obviously, I didn't know Anthony or Kate personally, but I do know suicide personally...very personally. Like the demon in the closet that was always lurking.
To be clear: I'm not suicidal, so please don't jump to conclusions and call/comment saying, "Love ya". I'd like to share my story in hopes of helping people who are suicidal, whilst not distracting from the real pain of hopelessness. There was a point in my life when I was hopeless enough to attempt suicide.
I was 10, maybe 11, years old. I remember the piece of floor I was sitting on -- rough, musty berber carpet. I remember this overwhelming sense of hopelessness.
My childhood was rough. My parents fought constantly. My mom left my family when I was 10 years old. I didn't see her for months, a year maybe? The details leading up to the event are a little foggy, but my emotions are still vivid. Both of my parents lives fell apart from that moment on, and it only got worse. I was actually relieved when my parents split, because I thought their lives might get more peaceful. It didn't. It only got worse.
I remember even as a 10-year-old, I was smart and aware. Aware of pain and suffering, sin and its consequences. Aware of the horrors of grown-up life. Aware of good and evil spiritual forces. I didn't really have the names for them back then, but they were felt.
I was also oddly aware of the fact that problems are hereditary. As in, people learn behaviors from their parents that proceed to create their habits and lives.
This minute understanding peaked my interest, and since then I've come to know that this is generational blessings and curses, whereas people are prone to act however they were taught in their adolescent years. If your parents used to bottle up their emotions, then you probably do, too. If your parents are alcoholics, then you will probably become one, too. I've even heard from a social worker friend of mine that babies separated at birth from their parents usually are prone to the exact same drugs, substance abuse and sexual deviousness that their birth parents had. Even if they have no memory of those parents.
I wasn't aware of all of those facts when I was 10 years old, but I was aware enough to know that I was beginning to display characteristics that I hated, which I learned growing up. Rage, hatred for people, selfishness, aggression, taking out problems on food, etc. What I knew at 10 years old was that I would end up like my parents, living a life they hated and creating a hellish life for my own children.
Please know, my parents are not to blame. More than anyone else, satan is to blame. I believe that I have a great calling on my life to bring people to freedom in Jesus, and he was scheming to end my ministry before it started. Part of that scheme was to cause chaos in my family home growing up, and another part was whispering to me constantly about how hopeless life was. In fact, the more I tell people that my childhood was rough, the more I find that my childhood was average. Most people grow up in rough situations but we just don't talk about it, because: (A) We don't like to talk about pain, or (B) We don't want to dishonor our parents. I get both of those. I struggle to write this now, because I don't want to dishonor my parents. But for me it helps to honestly admit, "They did the best they could." Their parents didn't raise them any better. I didn't even know my maternal grandmother was alive until a few years ago. And I only learned my paternal grandparents' names this past week. My parents did the best they could. (Maybe it's time to confess the same thing of your parents.)
The reason I wanted to write this blog post was to paint a clear picture of hopelessness that I don't think most people understand. Most people react to the headlines and think, "I just don't see how someone as personable as Anthony or spirited as Kate ever thought suicide was the answer." Well, you're ignorant of the thoughts of a suicidal person. And if it really matters to you to help these people, than you need to begin by understanding.
Unfortunately, we often don't detect someone's blatant hopelessness until we read his/her suicide note. This post is written in hopes of preventing a few more of those. This post is written, not to the few who will attempt suicide, but to the many around each of those people who are not detecting hopelessness at the times it is critical to do so.
How often we as a society ignore the cries for help until it's too late? And apparently, we're only getting worse at being aware of everyone's real, deep issues.
According to a new study released by the CDC this year: “More people die of suicide than from car accidents. Male suicides are 75% higher than female suicides. And suicides are up 25%.” (Thanks, Meiko Seymour, for highlighting this stat.)
At 10 years old, I thought my life was hopeless. I thought, even if I happen to get out of my parents' home, their patterns of fighting and distrust and selfishness will not leave my being, because I was raised (read: trained) to behave that way. I detected those demons in myself, and I didn't know there was hope to NOT be that way one day.
So I tried to cut myself.
Fortunately, I was also very sheltered and didn't know how exactly to go about doing it. Turns out a dull pair of scissors was a blessing in disguise. It didn't work.
In hopelessness, knowing that I would have to endure the life I was trying to avoid, I sat on that rough, musty carpet and cried for hours -- I think all throughout the night.
And that is when I met God for the first time. He spoke to me. Three words that changed my life forever and my eternity forever:
I love you.
The way he said it, and the way my heart felt it, was like nothing else. It was like a tsunami of love, and I was overwhelmed. The evil presence that was around me, lurking and whispering, immediately vanished. And all that was left was God and me.
What I absolutely don't want you to get out of this is that a supernatural sight/sound from God's voice is the only thing that can prevent a suicide. In that regard, I hesitate to share my story. This isn't the normal "come to Jesus" moment that most Christians have. In fact, for those of you who are super theological, I wouldn't even say I "came to Jesus" at that moment. I didn't start loving God then, I just knew I was loved. When you're young, you don't really even need to display love as much as you need to feel loved. And maybe that's how it is with God still for me, 18 years later. I'll let the petty people debate if that's right or not.
The point is, God will intervene in suffering people's lives, and I believe more times than not He chooses to use His people to do it. Could someone have reached out to me and listened to my pain and been the voice of God to me? Yeah. I think so. In fact, God probably asked people to do that, but it was "too touchy of a subject" and "I don't know her well enough" and a myriad of other excuses we have when presented with people's real pain.
If you read no further...
I always write with this in mind: What's the one takeaway I want my reader to get out of this? But today, I don't just want you to take away, "You might could prevent someone's suicide", but that:
You need to re-connect with your loved ones.
You need to reach out to your loved ones and let them know you love them. And then you need to listen. Listen to their sighs between sentences. Listen to the "small issues" that are really bigger ones. Listen to the pauses where they don't want to reveal too much, because we Americans think we're supposed to bear all our own hurts and pain. It's sad, isn't it, our culture is so "connected" yet so disconnected when it comes to real matters. We have 2,000 Facebook friends and no real friends. We don't know who we can really count on, who has our back through thick and thin.
You can ensure that the people whose backs you have know that they can rely on you. For small matters and big matters. And in doing so, they will more than likely return the sentiment. Oftentimes, we don't know who to call when the world is caving in because we haven't already established those relationships. If it isn't a hard season of life for you, create those connections knowing it is someone else's hard season, and yours will happen sometime, too.
If it is a hard season of life for you, reach out and be clear that you need a friend. I would be happy to be your friend, and so would the people around you. We just don't know that you're hurting. But we would happily help to bear your burden. I love it when someone calls me and needs to talk. I feel so much purpose in listening to people, whether friends or mere acquaintances.
Love and be loved. Start the flow of love by reaching out with a phonecall or a coffee date.
Am I suicidal?
I have to confess today that I have been heavy-hearted this entire year because I see how disconnected we really are. I have a hundred people a week asking, "How are you?", but some don't even let me answer before they ask the next person, "And how are you?" I have a couple thousand "friends" on Facebook, and only a handful of real, authentic friendships. I'm in between friendships, as is common for millennials, and it's hard to know whom to trust. I've lost friendships, whether by distance or bad decisions, and I have a lot of new friendships. It's a bit of a lonely time for me.
Luckily, there are a couple of things that are my absolute saving grace. Firstly, I have a deeply loving relationship with God, and I have never felt hopeless since that day 18 years ago. The entire reason I wrote this post is because I can still vividly remember that day. The day I was utterly hopeless, which was also the day I met HOPE Himself. But what about people who don't know God? My heart breaks for them...
If that's you, will you email me at email@example.com and let me introduce you to the God who created you on purpose? Because He loves you, and I'd love to share that with you. God says:
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11
I didn't know this Bible verse was true when I was hopeless, but now I do. Things can change. You can find hope. Let me help you. If not me, talk to someone you know. We want to help.
If you prefer, there is a national hotline that is available 24/7: 1-800-273-8255.
My second saving grace is that I have a beautifully authentic relationship with my husband. I can talk to him about anything, even suicide, without worrying that he's going to institutionalize me. I can be completely intimate with him, and feel so known and loved and accepted. He is the greatest representation of God's living love in my life. But what about people who don't have a confidant? My heart breaks...
Success breeds loneliness
I know people (and known of people) who have nobody that they can lean on. People who are the Superman/Superwoman type. What is so striking to me about Anthony and Kate is that they were top dogs in what they did. Has anyone ever presented culture and cuisine the way Anthony has? To me, he wasn't a chef. He was a sociologist. He had a cross of giftings like none other: food and people. And Kate wasn't a handbag designer. She was a culture creator. Her company isn't good bags, like Coach (irony, right?). Her namesake company is a mindset, a lifestyle, a way of being. She was gifted in truly understanding her audience, and she was equally gifted in business.
Who could Anthony and Kate lean on?
That's what's hard about rising in success. As my favorite professor used to say, "It sure is lonely at the top."
Let's not conclude here, okay? Let's not say, "Poor Anthony and Kate. They were just too successful." No. How about, we all are acquainted with people more successful than us. We all think they're The Haves, and we're The Have-Nots. The person in the corner office, while you're in your little cube. The person with the beautiful, large family while you're single and bitter about it. The person with the house or closet that you envy. Unfortunately, it seems the more we have, whether accolades, money or toys, the more distant we feel from other people.
If you suddenly rolled up in a Range Rover, would people treat you differently? Would your friends start treating you differently? Would you feel comfortable talking about your problems with them?
That's how it feels rising in success. It feels good to rise, but you feel distant, too. Which is lonely and hard. And you can fill it with money and stuff, but at the end of the day, you have nobody to help bear your burdens.
This applies to you, because "successful" people include you and the people you know. Most of my readers are middle-class Americans. YOU ARE ALL wildly successful compared to your great-grandparents and the other half of present-day America, not to mention the world. You have spending power. You drive a decent car. You live alone, because you can actually afford to. You're successful. And so are the people around you. But success breeds distance, and we need to bridge that gap.
It doesn't matter if you aren't "close" to those acquaintances. Bridge the gap. People's lives hang in the balance. Get uncomfortable. Risk rejection. Engage in deeper conversation. Bridge the gap.
I don't like to explicitly state the takeaways at the end of my writing, because I feel it loses its artful flair. The best writing doesn't tell you how to think. You simply know deeply, and you remember each time you recall the story what it is the author wanted you to feel and then go do.
However, this is too important.
I need you to remember these things:
- People are lonelier than they seem.
- Suicide is a result of hopelessness: "It will never get better".
- God's love saves, and He will use you to spread His love.
- It's uncomfortable engaging in people's issues, but the alternative is worse than momentary discomfort.
- You need to reconnect with your loved ones.
- Start with a phonecall or a coffee date.
- Ask real questions about real life.
- Listen. Don't jump to respond. Listen.
Suicide is on the rise. I hope the love of God is also on the rise in the hearts of believers. Will you be a part of His tsunami of love?