Trigger Warning: Suicide Ideation
In light of the recent passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain by suicide, and the call to reach out to the “strong” friends, it felt important to share my story.
Anthony Bourdain’s death rattled me in ways I was not expecting. I sat and wondered why the death of a person who I’d never met, impacted me so deeply. Over the days that passed since his death, I began to realize that there were parts of Bourdain’s personal story that resonated with me on a deep level. In a way, I felt he was a kindred spirit.
We’d both had numerous challenges in our lives that pushed us to the brink, to the cusp of hell. And we’d both overcome those crises and challenges, to not only survive the experiences but thrive despite them. Then one day, he decided he couldn’t make the climb out of that hole again. I wondered, “what if next time I can’t either?”
Here’s my story
Twenty months ago, my world shattered for the umpteenth time in my life. It imploded and exploded at the same time. I thought that I had survived some pretty tough stuff up to that point. Somehow I found a way to cobble things back together and thrive despite the challenging experiences.
But there I was again, standing in the rubble, that was my life, with a story in my head that went something like this…
No matter how much I show up, care for and love the people in my life, it is not enough for me to be loved in return.
My own personal history had played this scenario out time and time again, convincing me that it must be fact.
I felt I was irreparably damaged.
There didn't seem to be any other reason why this continued to happen to me. I wondered how it could be that I would give so much of myself and my open heart to others and over and over I was rejected, abandoned and not seen, by those I loved. I puzzled over how I could be so unlovable even after all the effort I put into my relationships.
The only thing that made sense was that there was something very wrong with ME.
The crumbling of my marriage was really just the icing on the cake, as it is said. It was the catalyst that plunged me into my deepest, darkest night of the soul. Even as I felt myself slipping into the abyss and even as my soul was shattering into millions of pieces, the primary thing on my mind was that I needed to remain strong.
“You are so strong, you don’t seem to need any support.”
People have said to me my whole life, “You are so strong, you don’t seem to need any support.” And you know what? I am strong. I had to learn, early on, how to survive without the emotional and physical support that I longed for. For many reasons, I believed (and was conditioned to believe) that I HAD to do it all on my own.
I got really good at bearing my own crosses and never letting anyone know when I was struggling. It became a badge of honor that I wore proudly. Not in an arrogant “I don’t need anyone” way but in a more martyr-like “I don’t want to burden anyone with my seemingly petty challenges.”
There was safety in this way of being
In some ways, I look back and recognize that there was a feeling of safety in this way of being. BUT it is also a very lonely way to live. And not asking for support let people off the hook. I didn’t ask for what I needed from others and in turn they didn’t have to step forward and offer support. In fairness, how could others have known, if I was unwilling to share that part of my experience?
Honestly, for a long time, even when people did try to offer support, I would usually smile and say my thank yous but privately resisted those attempts anyway. (I didn’t believe I deserved to be supported – can you see the contradictions here?)
Because of this, even during crisis times in my life, people assumed that I didn’t need support. In fact, it was often during these really challenging times that those closest to me would actually disappear, would no longer have time for me or were uninterested in hearing about my struggles which only served to reinforce my beliefs.
Flash forward to September 2016.
The heartbreak and heaviness of all the stories and beliefs about myself came crashing down on top of me. And I didn’t want to stay in this life experience anymore. I really believed that I was so damaged and so unlovable that it wouldn’t matter one bit if I were gone. In my mind, I believed that the world would be a better place without me. I felt very peaceful about this thinking.
Doing the mediumship work that I do, I often get glimpses of what life is like after death. I have no fear of dying. Even as I’d channeled those souls who died by their own actions, I didn’t feel any concern about having this option on my mind.
My biggest concern was not wanting to burden those people I’d leave behind.
There was some guilt around being such a strong advocate when my son went through his crisis (and the work I did following in support of mental health caregivers in the aftermath) and knowing in that moment that I could absolutely not show up for myself the way I showed up for him.
I struggled with the reality of what impact I would have on my family, while feeling quite certain that life would somehow be better for them without me in it. A constant tug of war game played out between “they’d be better off without me” and “I could not do that to them.”
Still I formulated my exit plan.
I was even bold enough to share my desire to exit with my therapist and an energy healer I’d been working with. Later, I would learn that both were extremely concerned about my desire to go through with the plan. Yet, there I was seeking out support at the same time, so I know that there was a part of me that did want to survive the crisis.
I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t touch and go for a very long time. I played so many scenarios over and over in my mind; the where, the how. I carried on with some semblance of my life throughout this time. I maintained a convincing front (at least to me) that I was doing ok and didn’t need any support. I was the strong friend after all.
During this time, I was also somehow healing. I was learning about loving myself in a whole new way. I was learning and integrating the lessons that came from the deep grief and loss that I was experiencing. Turning these lessons into gentleness and self-care. Most days it felt like I was free climbing a mountain rock face. Some days it felt like I couldn’t climb one more inch.
Sometimes the lessons come with ease and flow
Life has a way to teaching us exactly what we need to learn, sometimes the lessons come with beautiful ease and flow, sometimes we must search for the ease and flow in the midst of stuff that feels devastatingly painful.
I carried my exit plan with me for more than a year, some days thinking about it more than others. Though it became less and less my focus as time went on, there were still triggers that brought it back to the forefront of my mind. Glimpses of the worn-out stories would rear their head, trying to pull me back into the old beliefs about being broken and unlovable.
My healing work allowed me to eventually see the light at the end of the tunnel and feel hopeful about my future.
As I healed, I shifted my desire to exit this experience.
Along this journey, I learned to love and accept myself for exactly who I am regardless of whether or not other people can see or appreciate me. I learned that as I accepted myself and stopped rejecting me for all my perceived brokenness, it no longer mattered as much if people could hang with me. I’ve learned and am learning to own my experience unapologetically and show up authentically as often as I can, even if it means that the people I love, leave.
I’m still one of the “strong” friends
I’m still one of the strong friends but I no longer want to be so strong that I cannot ask for help, support or someone to simply listen when I’m struggling.
There is so much power in speaking our truths, even when it is hard and uncomfortable. When we are able to bring these dark parts of us out of the shadows, the light has the opportunity to bring healing to our lives and the lives of others.
Think of your strong friends and then reach out to them today.
Let them know you’re there for them even if they don’t think the support is needed. If YOU are struggling, please know you are not alone. Your presence and impact on this world would be missed. I know, from experience, that it is not easy to reach out for help, but please do. YOU ARE WORTH IT!
We are truly all in this together. We need to keep talking about these uncomfortable topics and keep sharing our stories so that others know they are not alone. There is no judgment here. When we know better, we can do better.
Let’s do better for each other.