Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

To Keep Our Souls Above Water

The weight was unbearable. And the gravity of every step we took increased exponentially. Once we exited the church into the sunlight, I choked in ragged crying jags that shredded my heart like broken glass, my face sweaty and flush. I felt defeated, flattened, unmoored from the little stability I had finally gained at that point in my life.

Less than two weeks earlier, I was sleeping in my dorm room when I got the call from a mutual friend.

"Kevin, Brian killed himself."

I remember half-hearing the news, still not quite awake, and I asked my friend what had happened.

"We don't know exactly, only that he shot himself."

That whole summer prior to me going away to college, our friend Brian had been getting more and more belligerent when he drank. And more and more depressed, something he hid from most of us except for his closest friend from our group and his girlfriend. There were rumors of money he owed and other kinds of substance abuse, but the reality was we really didn't know what was going on. He kept himself pretty well insulated from our questions and instead made sarcastic jokes about everything. He was charming and funny, and so we all assumed he was just going through a bad patch, but that he'd be okay.

I remember it was hard to be around him at the end of the that summer. Many times when we'd be drinking together, he'd get so out of the control that he started breaking stuff. One time he broke a window where we were having a party, cutting himself badly and not really comprehending how wasted he was.

And not caring either.

Which should've been a bigger clue for us -- but for me, I had my own set of anxieties and panic attacks and bouts of depression. Going away to college was a big step forward for me and I really wanted to get my proverbial shit back together again. I had already taken a year off after high school, struggling to keep my soul above water in the dark well of my heart.

My friend's funeral was the first one I had ever gone to, and being a pallbearer completely crushed me. All I could think about was me and my emotional mess and the moments I considered taking my own life. My dad was a cop, so there were plenty of guns in the house.

But I didn't, and over 30 years later I haven't forgotten the darkness. Instead, I now prefer the lightness of life, finding purpose and meaning in life. I'm thankful because I also have a loving wife and children, and supportive friends and family.

With the recent celebrity suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, the subject of suicide is back in the spotlight. Based on a recent article I read referencing the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, "Suicide rates have increased in nearly every state over the past two decades, and half of the states have seen suicide rates go up more than 30 percent." And today, too many American men are dying lonely and alone, without close friends, and the suicide rate is again climbing for men over 50 years old.

It's complex and getting worse and America "currently has no federally funded suicide prevention program for adults."

My friend Brian didn't shoot himself in the head, he shot himself in the heart. Gun to the chest and pulled the trigger. His message in his suicide note and the way he did it made clear he felt like life had broken his heart, that he had broken his heart, his emotional well a poisoned viscous darkness. He was sorry for those he hurt, but obviously was too hurt himself to go on.

Whether you or someone you know has had longtime mental health issues, or if you've been subjected to domestic violence or sexual assault and are struggling with the aftermath, or if other sudden traumatic changes in your lives has unmoored you from stability, suicide prevention is a conversation we should all be a part of. We need to do away the stigma associated with emotional and mental struggles, and embrace the fallibility of being human, and the fact we can and do heal. Too many of us have lost ourselves in our own dark viscous wells, and with a little help from each other, from our communities and funded prevention services, and even from God, we might be able to keep our souls above water.

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