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.

 

Advertisements

The more you say, the less they listen

Affiliate disclosure: I have linked to other websites which sell products. I currently do not have any affiliate relationships with websites to which I link on this post. What that means is if you go to a website that I’ve linked to and you buy something from them, they will get all of your money and I won’t get a commission. I linked to them because I bought something from them and I liked it and it improved my life. Disclosures will be updated as required.

I mentioned only a couple of things (within a 10 minute conversation) to be of help to my young adult son. Did he welcome my advice? NOT AT ALL. Instead, he told me “the more you tell me to do something, the less I want to do it.”

Okay, then. So, my son isn’t open to positive suggestions. How is he going to figure out life? He is so young and there’s so much that he doesn’t know.

Perhaps, you’ve run into this dilemma, too, if you’re the parent, teacher or other adult-figure in a teenager/young adult life.

What is it about young people that you tell them “go west, young man,” and they go south?

Developmentally, rebellion is a rite of passage for teenagers. You will notice it in two categories: social non-conformity rebellion (hence, pierced lips, purple hair, etc.) and parental non-compliance rebellion (you tell them be in at 10 p.m. and they come in at 10:30.)

It’s a tricky balancing act to know when it’s time to allow a child to assume more responsibility for themselves. But, as soon as human beings are potty-trained is the time to allow natural consequences to occur, within a developmentally appropriate way.

The sooner a person has to clean up his/her own messes, the sooner s/ he is motivated to learn from them and find effective ways to manage his or her life.

So, fast forward to the teenage years. With peer pressure, temptation, and executive function not fully developed what’s an adult to do? The greater part of a relationship with a teenager is listening and to ask questions which are open-ended, affirming, reflective and provide a summation (OARS). Dr. John Coleman covers this in a modified way in his book “Why Won’t my Teenager Talk to Me?”

Some examples of how to approach not only your teenager/young adult but essentially anyone, include:

  • “What do you need from me” instead of “this is what you should/need to do.”
  • “Help me understand,” instead of  “you’re not listening to me.”
  • “I see you worked as hard as you could,” instead of “why didn’t you study more/work harder?”

Barring any significant health issues or outright dangerous rebellion, most teens are highly sensitized to the pressure of succeeding. As one teen told me: “I’m well aware of the importance of the SAT exams and when my parents nag me about it, it just causes me to feel more stress.”

Teenagers have a heavy work/school load and each of them has a unique approach to arranging the order of  tasks.  When parents give unsolicited advice, it can cause the stack to topple because teenagers are easily influenced by perceived judgement from important role models. So, instead of telling them how they should carry their load, ask them what you can do to help them carry it. And, if they tell you, “nothing,” then allow them autonomy. If the load topples, let it fall. You serve as the calm bystander ready to assist if asked.

Overcoming adversity builds confidence and resilience. Some of the best change makers, leaders, and inventors in history learned from daunting circumstances and mistakes.

As Thomas Edison said: “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.”

edison

© 2018 Brenda Henning