I’m sure I’ve been like a lot of you- watching reruns of Parts Unknown and wishing that it just wasn’t true. Another suicide following right behind the death of Kate Spade. In my hometown, there was an unusual number of teen suicides during our last school year. It was so shocking that our community and school system have acted to put plans in place with mental health professionals. I’m all for anything that can help.
CNN had a beautiful tribute to Anthony Bourdain last night. We heard his co-workers struggle for words, pausing to gather their thoughts or perhaps wait for that moment to have the breath to speak. It seemed to me that Anthony had been masterful at letting people see exactly what he wanted them to see. It made me think- aren’t we all a bit like this? Don’t we all hide parts of ourselves?
While I have never felt suicidal urges, I have felt despair and hopelessness over the course of my life. No matter how low I felt, though, I was able to keep up my masquerade. Early in my adulthood, I was at such a pit in my life, yet no one around me knew. That was because I didn’t want them to know. I kept every emotion close, not allowing for the meltdowns until I was alone in my bed or crying in the shower. This was definitely by design, and I was a pretty good actress.
I wonder, though, was I that convincing or were people not truly watching and listening to me? Let me preface that thought with the fact that I fault no one for missing the clues that I was struggling. I worked really hard at keeping my problems away from everyone around me. Would I have opened up if anyone had asked the right questions or dug a little deeper in a conversation? Maybe, but probably not. My act was too important.
I’ve been married twice. In my first marriage, I was not seen or heard at all. While not unkind, my first husband simply didn’t have any interest in me or my well being as time passed. We were not hostile, not unfriendly, just not caring towards each other. I’ll tell you this- it is possible to live in the same household with someone and not know them.
Now, my second husband (my REAL husband) knows me–the good, the bad and the ugly. He notices when I’m a bit off in my mood or behavior and presses me until I give in. I’m lucky. I know that I would continue to hide my emotions without his prompts. I also know that it is a positive release to be able to talk with him about anything.
I have three children (ages 14, 22 and 25) who also have the uncanny ability to sense when Mom is feeling stressed. As their mother, I have that same sixth sense about their emotional state of mind. We have very open relationships with no topics off limits. Questions are welcomed and answers can be truthful without judgment. However, I still hold back from them at times. I think that’s just my “Mommy protection mode” kicking in. I don’t want to burden them with my problems.
As for my friends, I hate to admit it, but I keep up the act. It’s rare for me to share what I’m really thinking. People think of me as this sunny personality full of quick smiles and loud laughter. That is me, most days. Not every day, although I won’t show it.
I need to get beyond the act. We all do. It’s important for us to share our feelings- all of them. It’s okay for us to have fears and regrets and struggles. It’s fine for us to reach out for help–to friends, family, teachers, doctors or mental health professionals. It’s time to drop the curtain and be ourselves without hiding. Let someone in.
Let’s go another step further–it’s also time for us to reach out to others. We need to ask how someone is doing and truly wait for the answer. It’s time to put down the phone and have real conversations. It’s time for us to keep an eye on our friends and family- even when we think they have it all together.
Life is tough, but life is beautiful. Life is also meant to be shared. Be vulnerable. Be a listener. Share your story. Listen to others. Don’t be afraid.