I know people who’ve had suicidal thoughts. I know people who've attempted to take their lives. We all do. Whether you know it or not.
Suicide has been front and center this week. From Kate Spade to Anthony Bourdain to research showing how significantly the suicide rate has increased in the last 20 years.
This creates more awareness of the challenges and perceptions of mental illness. But doesn’t really provide any answers. You know, those things we like so we can feel better.
There are many working theories of what causes mental illness but the truth is, we don’t fully understand it. There are so many factors that affect everyone differently. I’m not certain we’ll ever find one true cause of depression or other mental illness. There are the brain components, physical components, past experiences, present experiences, innate personality, society. They all interconnect in complicated ways. There is no one solution to just make people “feel better.”
I have many thoughts and feelings on all of this, but what's most stuck out to me is the increasing rate of mental illness and as a result, suicide. One thought is that something is so wrong with society that more and more people prefer death to living in it.
Yet I can't even begin to pretend to know what happens upon death. There are many beliefs but I know of no definitive evidence. Maybe it is this oasis. Maybe fear and suffering don't exist post death.
Plus who am I really to say how anyone should live or die?
I don't judge those who are suicidal. I’ve heard so many stories that I understand where they’re coming from. At the same time, such decisions are made from the depths of despair, a place of hopelessness and helplessness. Not where we want to be when making major life decisions.
And death is final. At least viewed from our physical experience. There’s definitely no going back to the way things were. Which again, I think, maybe that’s okay. What do I know?
But I also can't let go of the belief that "heaven is a place on earth." Yes, I just quoted Belinda Carlisle. Hey, 80’s pop stars could be philosophical genuises too.
No one truly knows how to live. Sure, there are a million life coaches out there telling us they do. But really I think the best we can do is learn and grow and share ourselves and our experiences with authenticity and vulnerability so others can too.
We spend so much time worrying. About money, about success, about leaving a mark, about what others think of us. Traffic, not being enough, not doing enough, public speaking, heights, spiders... I could go on an on. That doesn't leave us with enough time to love and connect, which is all anyone talks about on their death bed.
So this isn't going to be a piece on suicide and death. I think death needs to be as much a part of conversation as anything else but really, talking about death is talking about life.
So this is a piece about life. Living it and going for it and truly appreciating it because like I said none of us actually knows what happens after death. And all we really have is one single moment at a time.
So how are you going to use it? How am I going to use it? This is a question I frequently ask myself. Because it’s easy to get off track. Even writing this I paused to check on a side project. Which could have waited until I finished this.
Specifically, I often ask, does this serve my highest self? Or at least as often as I’m mindful enough to remember to do that.
Many times the answer is no and still I continue on. This never feels quite right. Sometimes it feels downright awful.
So the times I switch course or the answer is immediately yes, I feel a sense of peace and alignment in the world. Things flow more easily. I accomplish more. I connect more easily. I’m in the zone. Fate, kismet, God, etc. finds me. However, you want to phrase it. Life is better. Seemingly effortless. More peaceful. Dare I say, happy.
We all know deep down the answers to our questions and concerns. We’ve had them since birth. Think about kids before we disillusioned adults get to them. They know exactly where they’re headed with true confidence and innocence. Roadblocks are viewed as adventures.
As most adults, I lost some of that along the way and spent a minute in the self-help world. After some floundering, I realized no one else can actually know my path. Listening to others’ stories inspires us and gives us ideas, but we know deep down how we should be living our best life.
Of course, much gets in the way of that. Perceived responsibilities. Unforeseen circumstances. Impulsiveness. Loved ones. Sorry, they mean well, but can still get in the way.
We have to find courage within ourselves and through the support of like-minded others to live the life we know we’re meant to.
Yet, as many different paths as we’ll all follow, I also believe there are some mostly universals. We all desire connection. With others, within ourselves, to something greater. We all have the need to learn, grow, and experience new things. We all have the drive to express our authentic selves through some form of creativity. We all need to take care of our bodies and all aspects of our health holistically. I’m sure there are a few more but we’ll leave it at that for now.
When we don’t do these things often enough, to the beat of our own personal drum, we can develop depression and anxiety. If this goes on long enough, living can become a burden.
So I encourage those of you who can in this moment, to truly live. To be an example for those who are having a hard time doing that. There isn’t enough sadness, enough mourning in the world to make other people “feel better.” It’s only by living your life and supporting others in doing the same that we may see a difference.
And when you can’t live, lean on those around you who can. Reach out. Take a chance. I promise there’s someone else out there who understands how you feel and has been there. Even if it’s a professional. But they can’t know you need them if you don’t tell them. Do that until you can live again and then be that same support for someone else.
To continue with my tradition of stealing quotes (and then slightly altering them) “We have to be the difference we want to see in the world.”