Posted by Jeanne Adams Oct 4 2016, 12:08 am in #HoldOnToTheLight, Jeanne Adams, Mental Health
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.
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.
In 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.
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.
But 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.
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 go 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.
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)