Finding a life worth living

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you are or you believe someone is at risk of dying by suicide, please dial 911 or the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

Special note: This is a story I wrote several years ago before I entered the field of mental health and didn’t know the symptoms of depression or that suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults.

While I was on the periphery of the story told below, the experience had a profound impact and changed how I view people who behave in troubled ways. Behavior is communication and sometimes people who are in emotional or physical pain behave in ways that provoke irritation, frustration or anger from us. Do your best to be calm in the face of another person’s internal crisis and offer what compassion you can.

be kind

Paul and Rick fought on the Tuesday before winter break and again on the Wednesday that classes resumed. The first argument was over the cigarette butts. Paul flicked the last of his cigarette on the ground even though a black metal canister was right beside him. Rick, the building’s maintenance man, walked by just as the butt landed on the ground. In a polite way for Rick, but a rude way to Paul, Rick barked that Paul should use the ashtray. Paul shouted where Rick could put the ash tray.

The second argument continued the first over the disposal method of cigarettes but was also fueled by Paul’s inattentiveness to clean spaces. Rick had just mopped the floor and Paul walked through it, rather than around.

As the full-time maintenance man, Rick walks a tight rope of self-restraint in word and action. His job is menial enough–unplugging toilets, changing lights, cleaning up vomit–without people deliberately and immediately wrecking what he just finished wiping up. On this second day of blatant defiance of common courtesy, Rick ignored self-restraint and came to our office. He complained loudly and expletively to us about Paul. He demanded we do something to stop Paul or he would.

image-from-rawpixel-id-401529-jpegI agreed with Rick and understood his frustration at our students. My coworkers and I wished Paul would quit being rude. But we didn’t know how to stop him or any of the other inconsiderate students in the Adult Learning Center. Many students ignore the rules and procedures. But for these two incidents, Paul was the student caught at it.

We told Rick we would talk to Paul. The Adult Learning Center’s director took Paul aside and said we would have to call the police if he acted this way again and, especially, if he threatened Rick. She advised Paul to avoid Rick and save himself from further trouble.

Paul is one of an endless stream of students in Adult Basic Education Centers who hope to make up in basic education skills what they didn’t learn when they were kids. So many of them, though, are missing more than just the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Dozens arrive without homes, teeth, cars, jobs, food, and hope. We try to give them encouragement, but we know the center is here because society doesn’t know what else to do with them nor does it want to do anything–meaningful at least–with them. It’s a daytime holding place. We don’t know where or to whom some students go to at night.

I understand some of the societal causes of their problems, but my critical, judgmental voice tells me that life shouldn’t be that hard for them. I don’t vocalize it as Rick does, but I’m thinking the same thing: “Use the ashtray. Walk around where he’s mopped. Learn your multiplication tables. Why do you go out of your way to make life more difficult for the rest of us? Can’t you act like you remember even one thing you learned in kindergarten?”

All these thoughts bulleted through my head as Paul walked past my desk. And after he walked by I didn’t give Paul another thought. For emotional protection, I don’t think very deeply about our students. I don’t ask them personal questions nor do I tell them about my life. And they don’t ask me either. They know what they don’t have and they don’t need me to remind them.

After I finished working I went home and didn’t think any more about Paul and Rick until I came back after the weekend. Sadly, that Friday, Paul didn’t think any more deeply about himself than what I had. He hung himself in his basement bedroom where his mother found him.

My boss and Paul’s teacher went to the funeral. Rick and I stayed behind. My boss said the minister didn’t know many personal details of Paul and didn’t have a lot to say about him in the eulogy. She shook her head.

I tried to learn more about Paul by reading the newspaper’s obituary. A professional portrait was used in it. It showed a smiling, dark haired young man wearing a suit and tie. Pictures probably do speak a thousand words. But these were words of happiness and good health that were from sometime in Paul’s past. In the weeks we knew Paul, he wore only faded blue jeans and worn t-shirts. He rarely combed his hair. My mental picture of Paul was one of anger, defiance, and loneliness.

Rick came into our office after the funeral. He consoled us, or maybe himself, with the comment, “he’s in a better place now.” He didn’t express any remorse about his feelings toward Paul. But I wondered if he regretted his harsh judgment like I regretted mine. We talked a few more minutes and then we all got back to work.

The next day I came to work and Rick, the maintenance man, was mopping the floor. This day the floor would stay clean.

 

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A little something to get you through

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Some people like to pray.

Others,  as soon as they hear or read the word prayer go a different direction. They are more open to the concept of phrasing such as an inspirational quote, a mantra or meditation. What phrasing do you prefer when you are working to settle down your over stimulated mind?

In 12-step groups, people pray and meditate and whatever other approach helps them build a relationship with a Higher Power, Universal Intelligence or

G. ood
O.  rderly
D.  irection.

Most importantly, while they are developing a trust in a spiritual side of their human experience, they take what they like and leave the rest.

The Serenity Prayer most commonly is associated with 12-step recovery groups. People in these groups open and, often times, close their meetings with this prayer.  But if you don’t like the concept of prayer, you can call it a statement or philosophy. Call it whatever helps you receive the underlying message contained in it.

But the prayer’s effectiveness comes in differentiating between what you have the ability to address in this moment and what you are powerless over. The crux of the matter is you are powerless over other people’s thoughts and actions but you have absolute power to change your own thoughts and actions.

You may not always have control over the first thought, those buggers move around so fast in there, but once you are aware of it, you can make a conscious decision to change it.

And it is an act of courage to change yourself.

What changes are you making today? Could you share on this post as you may be the inspiration someone else needs.

Love and light,
Brenda

P.S. A shortened version of the Serenity Prayer is most often recited at 12-step meetings. The full prayer, usually attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr, is as follows:

God, grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And Wisdom to know the difference

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
Amen.

 

© 2018 Brenda Henning

Hold on, help is available

tide will turnSuicide is a symptom not a set of instructions. But as it manifests in the illness of depression, it can masquerade as a command, which sounds reasonable to the individual who is coping with it.

I have learned a lot about the brain and how fragile AND resilient it is. One thing I have learned is to not say someone committed suicide. Someone dies by or from suicide or from complications of depression, just as you would say someone died from a heart attack or from cancer. Someone who is suffering from this illness doesn’t make a choice as the word commit implies.

There are many forms of depression just as there are forms of cancer. You might say in a general way a person is fighting cancer and then you might follow-up with what type of cancer. And depending on what you hear, you would have a reaction to it as you know certain types of cancer are more aggressive than others. Depression is similar: Some are low-grade, episodic and others are persistent and aggressive. While a person may have “killed herself,” ultimately it was the depression that killed her.

Along the same language lines, instead of saying “I am depressed,” we encourage people to express it as “I have depression.” People don’t declare “I am cancer” but that they have cancer. It’s a way for those suffering to separate themselves from the embarrassment that could be implied by saying “I am.”

Think about the illness of a cold. “I have a cold,” which has its own course and while symptoms can be managed, masked or minimized the cold can’t be cured, as opposed to a person’s experience of temperature cold. “I am cold so now I am going to get a jacket to solve my problem.” People are complicated and so many things are dependent on individual factors as to understanding the “why” of a person’s mental state.

suicide prevention logo.pngIt’s not easy; however, depression can be treated and managed. If you are struggling, force yourself to reach out to the Suicide Prevention Hotline, your local emergency room or the person sitting next to you. And if you are the person being reached out to, then access support to help your friend or family member by calling 911 and ask for a crisis intervention team.

H.old
O.n
P. ain
E.nds

With treatment and hard work, we can make it through one more day. It is hard work to fight demons within and the demons without. But we can and will do it.

© 2018 Brenda Henning