I have had a powerful week of taking in stories of resilience for my new documentary project. The hottest pain point I can imagine in dealing with children’s mental health is losing a child so desperate to relieve the pain of mental illness they kill themselves.
Surviving that. How does one do it? I learned sometimes people don’t. There is a high correlation between people who lose children to suicide and then complete suicide themselves. I learned that it is more compassionate to say complete suicide instead of commit suicide, because “commit” implies a crime, as in “he committed a murder.” I learned that there are incredible people helping other people through the pain that surrounds suicide in powerful ways.
All this I was able to learn because people were willing to share their stories openly with me. I see these stories as anecdotes of inspiration and strength. I’ve listened and marveled at the strength of the human spirit. Two women I spoke to had lost children to completed suicides. One of those children was just fourteen years old. The other child was 26 and left behind a 5 year old child. Out of those tragedies came this: a bond with each other that is tangible to an outsider. An understanding of the suffering like nobody on the outside could possibly get. A resilience to take these tragedies out into the wide open and transform that event into an inspirational strength to help others. What better gift?
One of the moms has invited others to walk with her towards an open conversation about children’s mental health. Her daughter had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when she was younger and had struggled with managing the illness. Transitional youth (18-24) in this country are tragically ignored in many ways, but especially in the area of mental health. Because of privacy rights that have taken a left turn, transitional youth with a brain illness like Bipolar Disorder are left with a brain misfiring, often telling them not to tell their parents. Suicide ideation is common. Their parents can not get information on their child because of the rights (but are certainly expected to pay for any outstanding bills the child incurs along the way.) Often unaware of the pain their child is in, they are unable to guide their child to treatment options. It’s not uncommon for that child to wind up homeless, addicted, in prison, or dead. Listening to these stories reminded me as a culture we must do better.
I’m struck by the strength that comes from sharing these stories. It’s the thing that people point to as their support. God is often mentioned as key. One woman, whose story will be shown on 9/10 (this Saturday on Lifetime), was abducted as a teenager. She was held in captivity by a man and his wife who tortured her for seven years until she escaped. They kept her in a box. Colleen’s story, “Girl in a Box,” will be followed by a documentary on the Northern California events. Colleen openly shares her story to help others on their life path.
I talked to many people in my own circles last week that were having a hard week. It usually centers around too much to do and not enough time to do it or unexpected life changes. But when I meet people who have gone through experiences like surviving suicide and torture, it reminds me about what’s important. We are here to help each other. We are here to listen to others, even when we are sucked into our own dramas. We are here to take our traumas and transform them to good that can help other people.
We are here to remember why we are here.
When I hear the grim news someone has taken their own life, I think of the desperation and hopelessness they must have felt and wonder why the love of their family and friends wasn’t enough. I have discovered in me, it is not easy to ask for help and even harder to accept. I am my own worst enemy. I do believe in the not too distant future things will be better, for that I am grateful. As you eloquently penned “we are here to remember why we are here”
You’re right! It is hard to ask for help. I’m the same way. It’s something I work on. I think what makes it really hard is when you finally ask for help and someone isn’t there for you. For me, that brings up all kinds of past triggers. I try to remind myself it’s not personal and everybody is doing the best they can. That’s why God gave us great friends like you. Thanks for being my forever friend.
Wonderful article Jamie. I was just thinking today of two people who helped me in an unexpected way when I was young and in the middle of what would be called a “clinical depression.” All of the people I considered friends were keeping their distance and I couldn’t blame them. I wasn’t much fun to be around and I didn’t even have a name for what I was living through.
Her name was Lily Wo and was from China. I don’t remember his name but he was a war veteran. All they did was show up at my home and take me out for ice cream. They simply treated me like a normal person. We ate ice cream and they told stories about some of the hardships they had experienced in their lives and were supportive and kind to me. They made all the difference. When I learn that a friend is in crisis I don’t shun them and I don’t try to fix their problem because I can’t. I just try to treat them in the same way I always have and be available to listen.