I’m going to cut to the chase: a good friend of mine took her own life recently. No one, it seems, had any idea that she was anything but happy and certainly no one knew she was considering suicide.
She always seemed super happy, excited and supportive of others. She was full of energy and it was a joy to be in her presence. We practiced yoga, danced all night, and went on double dates together. She attended every workshop I hosted.
She was the emotional support for others considering suicide. She taught other friends yoga, meditation, tapping (a technique to relieve stress and anxiety). In her writing group, where members shared “roses” and “thorns”, she never had a thorn.
Was she pushing away the demons and therefore denied them to herself? Was she just hiding them from others out of shame? We will never know.
It’s been a heart-wrenching time, full of tears, confounded attempts at understanding, blank stares, and regret. It had been 4 months since we talked. Could I have done something? Would it have made a difference? How did that much time pass without us communicating?
It is actually the people who never talk about suicide that are most at risk. Talking about it is often a cry for help. I thank God for those people. The people who reach out, who are willing to show the dark cut of their heart, and say “this fucking hurts and I don’t know what to do.”
While I couldn’t help my beautiful friend, she has renewed my commitment to being proactive in reaching out for connection- and for help. To expose that soft, aching part of my heart that we ALL have. To share that.
In sharing the grief, the pain, the depression, the anxiety that visit me like uninvited guests, I give permission for others to share their own.
I am a health coach, a yoga instructor and meditation group facilitator- it might be easy to presume that I “have it all together”, “figured it out”, that I am “at peace and in harmony”. And while I have those moments of peace, to be totally honest, I often feel like a freaking mess.
I bite my nails, I chew my lips, I fall prey to the temptation of free candy, and sometimes I decide to eat like utter crap, like when I bought a baked mac and cheese thingie from a big box store this past week. I knew I was doing it to self-soothe, to feel good for the few minutes it would take to eat it.
Part of me scolds these behaviors: “How can you call yourself a health coach?” I breathe into this discomfort- this goading. I try to remember that this judgmental voice is my ego protecting itself. That if I can isolate this shameful behavior, deny it a home in my mind and body, then I can maintain my image, my “goodness”.
But it is exactly this separation that causes all the pain, all the sorrow. When we deny these wounded parts of ourselves, we find it hard to face these wounds in others. We end up judging others in a misguided attempt to feel a little better about ourselves (pro-tip: it doesn’t work).
These dark emotions are here for a reason. Telling us to slow down, get some sleep, take time for ourselves spend time with friends. Different messages for different people. You need to do the painful and difficult work of paying attention to what your body and heart need in that moment. To embrace the darkness; to be intimate with it.
There is a story of Milarepa, a Tibetan yogi. Upon returning to his cave dwelling, he encountered a swarm of demons. He tried to chase the demons away, and they just laughed at him. He tried to teach them the teachings of the dharma, hoping they would be changed and then want to leave. They just stared and stared. He was getting desperate.
In that moment, he realized it was his attachment to wanting them gone, his resistance to the demons, that was giving them their strength. He then announced that he was surrendering and asked them what he could learn from them. To his amazement, all the demon disappeared. All but one, the ugliest, largest demon with the hottest breath and sharpest teeth.
Understanding that he had not fully surrendered- that he had not become intimate enough with this particular demon- Milarepa stuck his head into the very mouth of this demon. In that moment of extreme acceptance, the demon finally vanished.
This work of facing the demon, to have the strength it takes to fully surrender, is the work of a lifetime (maybe even several if you’re into that). Some demons are bigger than others, some more manageable than others. But we all have them.
Each one of us must come face to face with our own demons. Maybe that means working with a mental health professional, a healer or a spiritual guide, but its also important to surround ourselves with friends committed to doing their own work. Maybe it’s a yoga or meditation community, a writing group, your faith community, or a group of close friends.
Just don’t hide. You can’t hide the hurt without hiding the heart. You can’t hide the shame without hiding your face.
Poet Mark Nepo says it so heart-achingly well…
“We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved, and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time.
When we hesitate in being direct, we unknowingly slip something on, some added layer of protection that keeps us from feeling the world, and often that thin covering is the beginning of a loneliness which, if not put down, diminishes our chances of joy.
It’s like wearing gloves every time we touch something, and then, forgetting we chose to put them on, we complain that nothing feels quite real. Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world but to unglove ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold and the car handle feels wet and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being, soft and unrepeatable.”