Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reach across the chasm.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. I am passionate about mental health and alleviating the suffering of people, sitting shiva with them to mourn life's losses, offering presence in the midst of pain, and pressing into the awfulness before trying to explain it away. I hurt for the people who cannot bring themselves to dare to experience the inherent pain of hoping, for it forces us to acknowledge that the world is not how we wish it would be. I care about people who are hurting so badly that they inflict pain on themselves in search of some sort of congruence, some sort of release, some sort of escape, some sort of way to quiet everything that unceasingly intrudes.

I feel a bit conflicted today, though, as I post articles and comments about suicide awareness. I also care deeply about people who hurt others, and know that this, too, is within the realm of mental health awareness. There's not a world awareness day for people who commit acts of violence against others. We don't circle around these people in the same way, we don't have empathy and compassion for people once they have crossed that line. And there are many reasons that this is true. But here's the thing, found in an old, simplistic saying: "Hurt people hurt people." There are studies that suggest that hurting others can be just as psychologically traumatizing as being hurt by others. And it is this that makes me think that maybe people who hurt themselves and people who hurt others aren't so different. We're all hurt, and we all do our fair share of hurting.

I don't have answers or profound thoughts or startling insights to contribute, and I don't want to invalidate the pain of any person who has suffered and struggled to find a place of hope and health. I can't fix anything, and I am not any better at grieving and facing pain head on than anyone else in our numb society. But on days like today when we are all a bit more willing to consider the pain of others, I have to wonder what would happen if we took the risk of truly connecting with others - across racial/cultural/economic/mental health/educational/political lines and with the desire to truly unite in our humanity, in our shared pain, in a place of grief and hope. Maybe today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, we can reach across the chasms that separate us in order to grasp the hand of another human being who loves and hurts just like we do.

"Whether you are red, brown, yellow, black, or white
Man with a husband, or a woman with a wife
We can debate until the end of time who is wrong or right
Or we can see ourselves as one
Cause it all comes down to love."
~ India Arie, One

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Being the best just might be the worst.

I am beginning to think that being held up as an example of what a person should be is the worst thing you could ask for in your life.

Top-of-their-class students check in to hospitals with anxiety disorders because they are afraid to fail. The "good" kids are known for going "wild" after years of repression and perfect behavior. Poster people for sobriety feel they have to hide in shame when they relapse. The Biggest Loser may or may not have engaged in behaviors of disordered eating. Pastors do all the worst things they tell us not to do. Olympians and professional football players have heart wrenching stories of depression and self-destruction after they are no longer the best in the world. Justin threw eggs at someone's house and abused a flight attendant. When you're held up as the "best" of something, who are you supposed to ask for help? When you're always the example, who can you let see you fall?

I won something recently, and I didn't want anyone to know. I didn't want to have to live up to myself or the expectations that would be placed on me for being a "winner." I didn't want anyone else to feel like they should have done something "better" to win. Is that what we are all killing ourselves for day after day? So that someone will put nice words around our names in front of other people? I think maybe that's all winning is. It doesn't feel worth it.

I've never liked competition. It has always felt like people-ranking and worth-assigning to me. I know that healthier people can do it and do it well, in ways that are about the achievement of objective greatness not tied to self-worth. They are stronger people than I am. I know the darkness in myself wants to have people say nice things and give me prizes so that I can believe in a better version of me. I'm not being falsely humble, here. I'm saying that people are excited to put the things they win out for the world to see, but that those are only a part of ourselves. My shadow sides are just as much a part of me as whatever I win.

We try and try and try to live up to an unrealistic version of ourselves, and then at some point, we just have to explode. Do you ever feel like one of those models who talks about how she is always trying to look as good as the version of herself that's on the magazine covers? We are presenting ourselves in ways that are photoshopped, and it's impossible to live up to that.

I want people to love me when I lose or forget a deadline or eat a whole frozen pizza every bit as much as they love me when I win or turn in great work on time or go to the gym in cute workout clothes. Maybe they would, but who's brave enough to put all that out there and see what happens?

I want a world where we can be loved for all the worst things about us right alongside all the best things about us. I want to stop having to hide all the things I'm bad at. What's even worse is when you have to give politically correct answers for areas in which you need to grow, all the while knowing that you have to list a fault that is appropriately negative without being downright horrible. Too horrible and you've blown it. Too positive, and you look arrogant and unteachable. We're aiming for that sweet spot of invulnerable disclosures and trite humility.

Maybe if we lived in a world where mistakes and full range of self were allowed, Justin could have just told people to leave him alone years ago. Maybe people would be allowed to make mistakes and get grace in the midst of them instead of having to hide in shame. Maybe more people would seek mental health treatment when they need it instead of hiding from the pain of stigma and judgment.

And maybe if we all stopped pretending to be perfect, we would all find the love and acceptance we're truly longing for in the first place.