I am sad. I am sad I didn’t know my friend as well as I thought I did. I am sad I was too busy to notice the subtle isolation, the loss of weight, the lack of connection we normally shared. I am confused. I don’t get it. Could I have done something different? Why did he take his life? Why didn’t he reach out to me?
If only we could read each other’s minds to that degree. We can’t. We can’t know the inner workings of even our most precious loved ones. We can, however, take a close look at how we view mental health and our beliefs about access to mental health care services. Seeking help from a professionally trained therapist has historically been kept secret. The stigma and shame of asking for help still exists. Seeking help is considered by many as a sign of weakness, of not being strong enough to pull yourself up from your bootstraps and just deal with it alone.
Therapy sessions are traditionally held behind closed doors. Have you ever heard the saying, we are only as sick as our darkest secrets? When you shed light on shame and put your dark thoughts and feelings right out in front of you, they can’t grow. Not all of us feel shame, some of us just need guidance on how to navigate the difficult situations that life throws at us. Like the wicked witch of the west, throw water on that bitch and she melts into nothing. The same thing happens when we shed light on our most shameful thoughts and feelings. They can’t survive in the light. It feels so good to tell someone how we really feel. Unfortunately, we have grown apart. We have joined the world of the socially isolated with our constant connection with everyone else, but the people right in front of us. We are too busy. We are too heavily laden with our own complicated lives that we’ve lost the emotional connectedness with our closest friends.
So, you’re saying it’s my fault? No. We are not responsible for someone dying from suicide. When someone wants to take their own life, they will, despite how much you tell them you love them. As a parent, a spouse, sibling, understanding you cannot protect anyone from feeling pain and suffering is a hard lesson. Each one of us has to experience the good, the bad, the happy and the sad of our own lives. We need to learn how to weather those storms on our own. We can model how to think, feel and behave through our own life events. We can come alongside our loved ones with empathy and encouragement. We just can’t do it for them. Damn. If only they could learn from our mistakes. Most of us are experiential. We need to do it ourselves, our way.
Here are some Tips from the Trail you might want to consider as you grieve the loss of your loved one.
- Allow yourself time to grieve. We all grieve differently. There’s no right or wrong way. There’s no time frame. Learn more about grief here. A great book to read and share with everyone you know is called Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss by Pat Schwiebert.
- Take a look at how you regulate your mood through the day. We all work to maintain an even mood from the minute we wake up in the morning. Some of us get our dopamine fix (feeling of reward) through exercise, by doing yoga, walking in the woods, calling a friend, or laughing. Some coping strategies used to better our mood are less healthy. For example, smoking cigarettes. It works immediately, but not for long. Thus, the easy habit of chain smoking. You get what I mean. How we recover from traumatic life events is very individual. Figure out what works best for you.
- Seek help to learn new coping strategies. Normalize mental health care by seeking care yourself if and when you need it. We all go in and out of emotional wellness. Read this Trailtalk® blog about what it means to be emotionally healthy.
- Remember that therapy can be intermittent. Emotional tune-ups can happen periodically depending on your current season of life. How you use therapy is up to you. You can go to therapy regularly, or just when you need help navigating a difficulty that life has thrown at you.
- Join us at Trailtalk® as we work to shed light on the shame and stigma of emotional care for everyone. You and your peers are active and functional. Many of your friends and family members don’t feel “sick enough” to go sit on a couch with a stranger and talk about their feelings. You are part of a disenfranchised group of folks who need and deserve emotional care and don’t seek help. Shift the paradigm with us and think in terms of mental wellness instead of mental illness. Let’s practice preventive mental health care like we do preventive physical health care. Add in routine emotional tune-ups™ to your health care program.
Contact us if you want to walk and talk about suicide, grief, and how to adapt back to your best self after a traumatic life event. Happy trails to you and yours, Allison