Last week I read this heart-breaking story about Penn track star Madison Holleran, who took her own life at age 19. It struck a chord, as it does every time I hear a story about the devastating effects of suicide, untreated mental illness, or addiction.
The earliest memory I have of realizing the devastation of suicide was in childhood begging my mom to explain to me how not one, but two of my uncles could take his own life.
It didn’t make sense, as it doesn’t to most people who haven’t experienced the pain themselves.
My mom tried to help me understand, saying that they truly believed the world was better off with them gone. It was hard to comprehend as a 10-year old, who was left watching the intense grief and pain it left behind.
But, as I grew into adulthood I began to understand…by truly being empathetic as well as experiencing times myself when it seemed too hard to go on.
The thing is we all struggle in one way or another – we just don’t always talk about it.
There are the times when people expect you to struggle…grieving the loss of a loved one, a tragic event, divorce, diagnosis of an illness, job loss, moving, a new baby.
Then there are the times you may not talk openly about, but are major stressors, such as infertility, miscarriage, relationship strains, infidelity, job pressure, financial problems, abuse, unresolved childhood issues.
But, sometimes it is just life that gets you down. Maybe you have no idea why things seem so hard or you don’t feel great.
Maybe you aren’t following your passion or living the life you always dreamed about and feel stuck.
Maybe it’s parenthood and the range of emotions it evokes. Or you are juggling so much, it seems impossible to prioritize your wellness.
You may even spend much time and energy trying to figure it out on your own, when it is actually a chemical imbalance that you have no control over, but a doctor can help you with.
Whatever the reason, determined or not, large or small, it doesn’t matter WHY.
It is what it is and that is okay.
That is the message Madison’s parents want to spread …“It’s always OK to not be OK. It’s OK to show people you’re not OK.”
Madison only showed the positive, happy parts of her life on social media. It appeared like everything was fine, making her suicide a shock to many.
She is not alone in the appearance part – I think many people stick to the sharing only the good parts of life on social media.
It’s great to throw in doses of imperfection to keep it real, but the problem is not what you share on social media. The problem is when everything appears to be fine, but you are afraid to share with anyone that there is a problem.
You pretend everything is okay, even when you know it is not okay. You don’t want to seem weak or imperfect or be judged.
And you are often right…some people will judge you. Their comments may make you feel even more defeated, hopeless, weak, or bad about yourself.
Admitting you have a problem to the wrong person can easily backfire and make you feel shame, which in turn makes things worse.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are loving, compassionate, and non-judgmental people out there. One person may be all you need. But, wouldn’t it be great if this was the norm? If it was always okay to talk about not being okay?
Untreated depression, like Madison had, is a primary cause of suicide. Let’s make sure that depression never goes unnoticed, because talking about our mental health is the norm.
Let’s spread messages of unconditional love, hope and support.
Let’s remove the stigma associated with mental illness and addiction. Instead let’s focus on non-judgment, empathy and equality.
Let’s think about mental wellness, instead of illness. We all need to prioritize our mental and emotional wellness, whether we have a diagnosis or not.
Admitting that you are not okay, know matter how small or how large the issue may be, is the first step towards feeling better. Then you can find the right support. Hopefully realizing that no matter how deep you feel down, things can get better.
It is knowing that you are not alone and you are loved.
So, today I ask you to not only think about how you view yourself when you are struggling, but how you view other people.
Are you hard on yourself and avoid admitting when you aren’t okay?
Do you look down on someone who fights addiction and think, “How could anyone ruin their lives with alcohol, drugs, gambling, food or sex?”
Do you comment with pity to a friend who admits that she is in therapy or on an anti-depressant? “Oh, you poor thing.”
Do you gossip when you hear about infidelity, job loss, or financial ruin? Do you call people with a mental illness diagnosis “crazy,” even if it is in jest?
Or do you listen with love and empathy? Do feel compassion because you know we all have struggles…sometimes it’s just on a different spectrum…but the core is the same.
Do you feel self-compassion and try to do everything possible to take care of yourself and your wellness?
We may not be able to change everyone in the world, but at least we can think about how we act…towards ourselves and towards others…and maybe it will rub off.
Maybe love, non-judgment and empathy will be the norm.
Maybe we will readily admit when we are struggling, because we know the struggle is where true strength and growth are found anyway.
With an abundance of love,
PS – A few years ago, I shared a poem, “My Law of Life,” a childhood friend wrote and dedicated to me during our teen years. Ten years later he took his own life. I can’t bring him back, but I want to continue spreading his love, evoke a little compassion and hope that others feeling such intense pain will know they are not alone and choose to live.