Sometimes, one breath is enough…. a #HoldOnToTheLight Post

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Once upon a time, years ago, a friend of mine and I were fighting at the top of our lungs.

At issue was a big, fat, red Swiss Army Knife.

Those of you who know me might be very, very puzzled.  I’m not a “yeller.”  I’m not a person who thrives on conflict or chaos.  I’m the peacemaker pouring oil on troubled waters.

In this instance, however, I was shouting, raging, and very nearly out of control.  I was terrified.  I was yelling in hopes that my words would get through.  My prayer, my plea, was that somehow, if I shouted loud enough, my friend would hear me.  He wouldn’t open the big blade on that very sharp knife and cut his wrists as he was threatening to do.  I’d given him the knife as a gift.  Somehow that made it worse than if he’d held a kitchen knife or some random, rashly selected blade.semicolon-tattoo-20

My friend’s despair came from years of suppressing memories of traumatic events.  When those memories bubbled out, he didn’t know how to shut Pandora’s box again.  And somehow, Hope hadn’t come flying out of the box with all the problems.

I learned all this much later.  In the moment, though, I was frantically searching for the right words, the magic key that would reach him in his pain.

What could I say?  In his eyes, I was a youngster, a happy-go-lucky friend he’d always seen as charmed and untouched, someone who would never understand the merciless darkness of his pain.

But I did.  Maybe not to the same degree that he’d been burdened, but I wasn’t really all that charmed or untouched.  No one is.  He never knew about the bullying.  Or the boys who chased me through the woods.  I knew if they caught me, I’d face a world of pain.  Or the dangers some of my friends involved me in, where my gut recoiled and my stomach heaved, where I knew I had to GET OUT.   I never told anyone about those things.

13-arrow-warrior-semicolon-tattooIn considering how I would approach this topic, so many thoughts tumbled one over another, like trapped birds trying to find a way to escape.  I dreaded writing this post.  Thinking about anyone being in that kind of despair hurts my heart.  I kept wondering, do I talk about that bullying?  Or those night terrors?

Or do I talk about that day, and the Swiss Army Knife.

I didn’t speak up about the bullying and it didn’t seem a good topic now because, for me, those things DID pass.  Somehow, even back then, I knew that I would make it.  I don’t know how I knew with that much surety, but I have a guess.  I’ve been reading since I was four.  In all the books I loved, from Robin Hood and The Black Arrow, to Lad, a Dog, to The Lord of the Rings, to the many romances I devoured in college and beyond, if you just persevered, just hung on, you could make it through whatever trial you were set.  And if you fought for what you believed in, even if you didn’t make it you had the satisfaction of having done what needed to be done.

That was the example I had.  That was the belief set within me.  While my friend read many of those same books he took different lessons from them.  And he had different, and far darker traumas to face.

Still.helpinghands

In my fear, in my utter terror that my friend would open that knife and take his life right before my eyes, I lashed out.  Looking back, although the memory is still tinged with panic, I can laugh at what I said.  It was absurd.  Perhaps though, the sheer ridiculousness of my words were the thing that shocked him and gave him pause.  The weirdness of my hotly flung threat allowed him the clear space to just think.

And what did I say?  Oh, you’ll laugh, I know you will.

I told him if he took his life, I would chase him into the afterworld and make his afterlife a living, breathing, unmitigated hell for having put me through this emotional crisis.  I told him that if he left me this way, I would hunt him down.  He would not escape me, he would not rest in some cottony limbo free of pain.  I told him that if he was so selfish as to use my knife, and leave me to explain why I hadn’t been able to stop him, and to leave me with the mess to clean up, I would come after him.

Without mercy.  Throughout time.

Now imagine, if you will, a skinny, five-foot-nothing (at the time), pig-tailed girl confronting a much taller, much more mature male friend with that kind of statement, and you’ll get a sense of the magnitude of the absurdity.  But, miraculously, those threats broke through.  It made him stop.  It made him think.  REALLY think about what this action, if he took it, would mean to everyone left behind.

I said a whole lot more, of course.  Some of it in language that would’ve gotten my mouth washed out with soap had my mother heard it. (Seriously)  Some of it sheer, desperate pleading.

just-breathe-semicolon-tattooBut the threat of serious, spirit-level pursuit?  That worked.

Why?  No idea.

But that moment to think, that deep breath, made the difference.  He handed me the knife.  He got help.  All because he stopped, and took that breath.

Many of you know that I worked in and around funeral homes for nearly 13 years.  Not only from the example of my friend, but from that work, I know so deeply that terminal choices made in the dark of despair have an enormous ripple effect.  Sometimes one kind word, one straw of hope, one deep breath taken, would have made the difference.  So many lives could have been changed.  Maybe saved.

Sometimes, that breath is about the absurd.

Sometimes, it’s about love, and friendship.

Sometimes that deep breath is the shock of anger.  But if it provides the space to actually think, to look past the moment and the despair, however briefly, it can make the difference between living and fighting, or dying.breathe

No matter what it is for you, or for someone you love, I hope you find the space, the moment, the words–even if they are bizarre and impromptu.  And for those of you staring down the barrel of despair, thinking that nothing will EVER change, I hope you’ll just stop and breathe.

Just one more breath.  Let it flow into you and back out again.  Feel it, please.  That life-affirming breath.

I know it seems like just words, but bullies semicolon-tat-colorgo off to college or another job. Trust me, they DO get their comeuppance.  Trials and tribulations press you, but like Job, you can make it through.

My friend did.  I pray that you will too.

When the darkest hour is upon you, remember that dawn will come, and you need to be there to greet it.

We need you.  The world needs you.

Stay.

 

About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

(Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Yahoo Images, and author’s personal photos)

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Comments

11 Comments

  • Thank you for this story of your friend and the difference kind words can make. This organization sounds like a great idea. Is it limited to science fiction and fantasy writers?

    • Jeanne Adams says:

      Hi Ursula! Right now, it’s just Sci Fi and Fantasy authors participating in this, but I’m sure there are many authors who would be happy to be involved.

  • Caren Crane says:

    Jeanne, what a moving post! I have no trouble imagining you really would follow a friend to the afterlife to fight for him. It sounds like Jeanne to me!

    Like you, I’ve always felt that for me, no matter how bad things ever got I knew there would be brighter days ahead. Even if I couldn’t imagine them at the time. Thank you for reminding us to watch out for the pain others may be trying to hide. None of us know how much our words may influence others. We have to remember to choose carefully!

  • EC Spurlock says:

    Jeanne, as someone who has lived in that darkness all my life and faced such moments of truth repeatedly, I can tell you that the most important thing you can do for someone in that moment is form a connection. We can tell, believe me, the difference between words and platitudes and a genuine personal connection. Knowing that there is one person out there who really cares, and who GETS IT, is what really makes the difference.

    I can also tell you from personal experience that suicide is not always a voluntary choice. Sometimes it is something that happens to you. See, clinical depression is like having another person living in your head with you and telling you only negative things about yourself and the world. Sometimes that other person takes over, and your thoughts spiral down into such a deep hole that you have literal blackouts, where you are unconscious of what is going on around you and your body is on autopilot, with your evil alter-ego driving. I can’t tell you how many times I have had blackouts like that while driving and came to myself with no memory of how I got where I was. Once I woke up to find I was heading into the back end of a parked bus at 60 mph. Another time I woke up to find I was trying to slash my wrists with my car keys. Sometimes it just happens because you’re not even really there.

    I was lucky; I decided I just couldn’t live that way anymore and made a conscious decision to change. I found a good therapist, got on medication for three years, and disconnected myself as much as possible from all the people and places that were making me so miserable. I moved 1600 miles away and changed my self-identity. I did well without meds for 30 years until my husband passed away and I felt like the world was crumbling around me; so now I am back on the meds again while I reinvent myself once more. But I know I have made it through before and I can do it again, with my sons and my friends standing by me. This time I have connections, and they will see me through.

    • Jeanne Adams says:

      Oh, EC, it is so about connection. And you have really been an amazing example, I’m sure, to your sons and friends about reinventing yourself and making sure that you have the help you need. Sometimes, too, it’s being willing to make that really hard choice of separating yourself from those people who either don’t get it, or are so much a part of the problem, you simply MUST leave them behind. I’m so sorry for the loss of your husband, and I’m so glad that you chose to once again get help and stay. Thank you. You enrich all our lives here in the Lair.

    • Caren Crane says:

      EC, I second Jeanne’s comments. You always offer us your wisdom and share from your heart, which is something I treasure. You are also creative and have an artist’s eye – something I seriously envy!

      I’m so glad you are finding your way after the loss of your husband. I hope your sons and friends help you remember what was great, before things got rocky. And thank you for sharing your experience with depression.I think I’ve told you before that my husband suffers with it, too. It can be hard to understand how he feels, since his emotional vocabulary is limited. Your post drew a clear picture for me. Thank you! And take care of your wild, creative genius!

  • Jane says:

    Nodding my head as I’m reading your post, Jeanne. Don’t have personal experience with this, but Robin Williams widow recently revealed the last days of his life and this topic was fresh in my mind.

    • Jeanne Adams says:

      Yes, Jane, that was so sad, wasn’t it? I so wished he could have found his way out of the darkness, the way EC described. He was a Light in the world, for sure.

  • Helen says:

    Jeanne

    What a powerful post my heart goes out to people who suffer and I hope that everyone could have someone to call out to help to listen and connect

    Helen