I’d like to post the various crisis lines, and I have been doing that a bit this week, and call it a day, but I also feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t also address the elephant in the room when it comes to mental health and suicide prevention in 2021, and that is a more complicated conversation.
Or maybe even conversations.
I was chatting with someone the other day about being in SE Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida and I thought their question to me was quite insightful. After chatting about how we are doing, about having power out and feeling very grateful that we were only dealing with minor damage and other issues, she asked me:
“But, how are you, while living in a trauma zone?”
One, I thought that is rather insightful because frankly, yes we are lucky and grateful, but all around us, every day, in places that we know, and have spent time in, there are people who were not so lucky. There is vicarious trauma all around us, and we are left to simply figure out how to help where we can, but also just keep going on with our normal day-to-day.
So I talked about how it’s all just SO MUCH, that it wears on you. As I mentioned on my professional blog, it just leaves you without the mental capacity to do any long-term thinking or do creative things. It’s hard to consider what your 5-year plan is when you’re just trying to figure out how to navigate today, and for many people, just doing that is so wearing that there’s just nothing left. And, when there’s nothing left, what do you do? How do you cope, let alone enjoy life?
What I didn’t talk about was how much I already felt like I was living in a trauma zone. Since March of 2020, it’s been all COVID, all the time. Before that, my wife and I lost 3 parents between us in 2019. It’s been three years of stuff that wears on you. It’s been hard, and I constantly have to remind myself that it’s not too much, that there are still moments that I can enjoy life, but at the same time, I’d be lying if I said all of this wasn’t wearing on me too.
On the other hand, I go back to what I said about the hurricane. We were pretty fortunate compared to how hard some other areas very close by got hit, and while I know the last 3 years have been tough, and have simply been A LOT, to deal with, I also know how privileged I am to be working, making enough money for us to live pretty comfortably, not really having racism and sexism being pointed at me. And yet, even while knowing that, there are still days when I wonder if this stuff will ever end and at what point will it break me.
What do I tell the people who are dealing with those things that I get to avoid, and so much more, every single day, over and over again? What do I tell people who’ve lived in poverty their whole lives, whose parents lived in poverty their whole lives before them, about suicide prevention? Do I share the crisis telephone number? Yes, but what then? Where do they go to get more treatment options? Where do people who are being truly oppressed every day because of who they are, go to feel like it’s worth staying? What hope can we provide that these things that wear on them are actually going to get better?
So, the thing I want us to talk about this year is not just encouragement to call a hotline or to reach out to a friend for help, or even to tell our stories and erase the stigma around mental health issues. I want us to consider doing more than that. I want us, as a society, to figure out how to provide hope. As much value as there is in all of those other things if I can’t provide some hope that things will get better, that we are working and advocating for things to get better across all areas of our culture, then I can’t honestly say that there is a reason for someone to hope, and at the end of the day, the thing that truly prevented me from taking my own life when I was at my worst, was the hope that life wouldn’t always be that painful.
As it turned out, my life wasn’t always that painful, and even in times of pain, I can look back and remember that.
How do we provide that hope for others who have been beaten down and worn out with life right now? Where does their hope come from?
Most importantly, what are we doing to provide hope for the people around us? What does it look like for you? What ways do you have, right now, to help give hope? Is it providing some food for someone who is hungry? Is it advocating for better mental health resources? Is it standing up to oppression and bullying?
Yes, we can all share resources, and we can all do what we can to be open about mental health, and erase stigma. We can all, also, find a way to help someone who is feeling hopeless right now, find some hope, all while advocating for the big things that would provide hope for millions.
Maybe, if we can provide hope that life can get better for everyone, in tangible ways, we’d all have a little more resilience when events are wearing on us. That is how we turn this around and help people get unstuck from their own trauma zones.