Today we had planned to share a Tiny Bloggers house update, but life went a different direction than I was expecting. Instead, I’ve decided to write about mental health and suicide. What I fun surprise for you! If this is something that is too triggering for you, feel free to skip. If this is something that you think doesn’t impact you, I’d implore you to just give this a read and think about what you can do in your own life to make mental health a priority and an open topic of conversation.
September happens to be Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and while I know these are uncomfortable topics to talk about, that’s exactly why it’s so important to do. While progress has been made, mental health and suicide still carry a stigma that physical health issues don’t. But just like someone can’t will a cancerous tumor to go away, mental health challenges like depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, etc aren’t things that someone can overcome by just having a better attitude or having their loved ones care enough. Nevertheless, mental health is still something that in so many circles we talk about in hushed tones, or not at all. And all the while, every year more than 41,000 people in the U.S. commit suicide.
You might wonder why this needs to show up on the blog…there are lots of important issues that we don’t grapple with here. But this is a place where sometimes we talk about our lives outside of decorating our houses…and today I’m trying to step up to the challenge of honesty around this difficult topic by sharing that someone I care about took her own life last week. A brilliant, compassionate, funny, curious, driven, genuine woman who I was lucky to call a co-worker and a friend. She was 34. Even though you didn’t know her, your life is worse with her passing because she brought so much not just to those who had the luck to know her but to the whole world. The world is darker without her in it.
I am so sad. And angry, and guilty, and sometimes numb. And sometimes I laugh, or get lost in the mindless all-consuming effort of a hard run, or celebrate the amazingness of love in a really beautiful wedding, or see an electric sunset and think about how incredible the world is. (Yes, all of that happened in the last few days. It’s been busy.) And then I think how Alex doesn’t get to have any of that anymore, and how deeply fucking unfair and terrible that is. And then I’m mad at her for not being able to see that beauty and how she was a part of what made it so beautiful, and then I’m so sad wondering what she was thinking and feeling in those final moments. And then I’m mad at myself for not seeing how serious this was or saying the right thing when I talked to her a few days before she died, and then I remind myself that she was sick and it wasn’t her fault or my fault anymore than it’s someone’s fault who has a heart attack. And sometimes I want to talk to other people who cared about Alex and hug and cry, and sometimes I want to be alone and stare off into space, and sometimes I want to work and feel productive, and sometimes I want to put on a bridesmaid dress and celebrate love and not think about anything else. And then I think how my grief and guilt and anger must pale in comparison to that of her family, who lived so long with her radiance and now need to confront life without her in it. And it takes about 30 seconds to cycle through all those thoughts and feelings and then I start again.
That’s a lot of really personal stuff, and you might be like, “whoah, that’s a lot to share on the internet with strangers.” But for anyone who is struggling with mental health or suicide -– themselves, or as a friend/family member, it’s so important for you to know you’re not alone. Alex’s family asked us to talk openly about how she died to continue combatting the stigma around mental health, so I feel some obligation to do that from whatever platform I have — at work, and in my personal life.
I also feel an obligation to talk about how she lived, because she was incredible. Things got bad really quickly, and what I want to remember about her is what defined her for the first 33.5 years of her life…that she committed her career to making college a reality for tens of thousands of students, she grappled with her role in fighting injustice and racism, she loved to dance, she was utterly devoted to her family, she did Peace Corp and loved to travel, I introduced her to the amazingness of Hamilton, she and I fought about Bernie vs. Hillary in the primaries and a text message from her was the only reason I could get out of bed and go to work the day after the election, she cared about things on a global level but was also incredibly focused on individual people and the impact our decisions have on one another, she thought deeply on every issue and question that she came across and was never satisfied with the imperfection of it all. That’s just a tiny bit about the inspiring, complex, full person that she was.
There’s not really a natural conclusion here. I guess just like death and grief are jarring and full of non sequiturs, so too is this post. So here are some resources if this is a topic that unfortunately resonates with you. If anyone out there has advice for what to add I would welcome that…I’m still just beginning to wrap my head around this subject.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 if you are considering suicide or are concerned about a loved one: 800-273-8255
- Find someone to talk to. There is no threshold for how “serious” things need to be for you to see a therapist. We believe in preventative medicine for our bodies, and there’s no reason that it’s any different for our mental health. Or if you’re going through something difficult, you don’t have to do that alone. I know finding someone can be a daunting prospect (especially with insurance considerations). If you’re in Massachusetts, I’d recommend giving the Social Work Therapy Referral Service a try — you give them some info about what you’re looking for, and your schedule, location, and insurance coverage, and they recommend some options that fit your needs. If you live somewhere else, try googling around for a referral service because many cities/states have them. Keep in mind that finding the right fit can take work, so it’s okay if you see someone and it doesn’t feel right — that doesn’t mean therapy isn’t for you, it just means you should keep looking into you find what’s right for you.
That’s it for today. Just a heads up that I probably won’t be responding to any comments on this post, because I need a little time for myself and the energy I do have for others is being spent caretaking those who are grieving this loss too. But I so much appreciate you all and the comfort I feel in sharing this with a group of strangers who nonetheless feel like a community of support. Take care of yourself and each other.