When I applied to college, my common application essay was entitled 'A Smile Has the Power to Save a Life'. The title was so cliche I cringed when I typed it. The title was simple; it was ordinary; it was nothing tremendously special. The essay, though, was centered around a story I once read about a man who took his life when he jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. A Doctor, Dr. Jerome Motto to be exact, was part of two failed suicide barrier coalitions on the bridge. He recounted the most difficult loss for him that occurred in the seventies. The man who took his life, in his thirties at the time, left behind a note on his bureau that Dr. Motto and the assistant medical examiner found. The note simply stated, " 'I'm going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.' " I know and fully understand that a smile is not the solution to suicide prevention. It is much more complex than that. A smile is simple; it is ordinary; it is nothing tremendously special. To someone determined to end their life, though, it has the potential to be everything but simple, to be anything but ordinary.
In today's society, we are stuck. Stuck to our phones, to our tablets, to a different world than the one we are supposed to fully exist in. Trapped in a place where a read receipt demands a reply and a snapchat requires reciprocation. Trapped in a place where an email requires an immediate response and a photo needs a different filter. We don't look outside of it. We don't look up.
We need to start looking up.
The story of the man who took his life is a reminder that contrary to what we may believe, ordinary actions hold extraordinary power. A very good friend once gave me a magnet that was decorated with the words of Leo Buscaglia: 'Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.' It is the little random things that matter, the little random things and moments that have the power to change life as you know it.
World Suicide Prevention Week begins September 7. If you never look up to appreciate the beauty of someone or something around you, do so this week. Remember that everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Offer your seat to someone who looks like they could use one. Take out an earphone, or maybe both. Hold the door for someone. Tell someone you like their shirt or their glasses or their freckles or their shoes. Compliment someone's ideas and intelligence. Reach out to an old friend and let them know you think of them often, and ask how they are doing.
Listen and understand.
Rachel Naomi Remen said 'The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention... A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.' When you are with someone, when you are near someone, you can hear what they are feeling in the silence. Sometimes sitting with someone in that silence is the most powerful thing you can do to help. Where words sometimes fail, an immediate presence provides and offers love and support without having to be asked for them.
Everyone has a story that deserves to be told; allow yourself to be in the audience every once in a while.
If you are struggling, it is okay to allow yourself to be the storyteller, too.
It is okay to recognize the strength in your daily battle, to recognize that sometimes, just to live is an act of courage. It is okay to share your story. There will be people who believe in you and root for you when you are incapable of doing either for yourself. Allow yourself to let them. Mental illness is more often than not misunderstood and if you have the chance to help someone understand, it is okay to take it. You can help them understand that even on the tough days and the ones that seem impossible, you continue to fight. That sometimes life gets too heavy for you to carry on your shoulders all alone. That sometimes the simple things are the most difficult and that sometimes getting out of bed in the morning is your Everest to climb. Help them understand that though something happened in the past, it can still tremendously impact your present. Help them see that a lot of times you need to remind yourself that if breathing in and out was all you did today, you are okay. Help them understand the reality of depression, borderline personality disorder, bipolar, OCD, anorexia, PTSD and the hundreds of mental disorders people combat every morning and every night.
Helping others understand your pain may allow you the opportunity to recognize that what you are going through and who you are as a person are two entirely different things.
You are so worthy of life and of living it; sometimes it just takes someone else to help you realize that. Sometimes it is the small things you do too, that help someone else realize the same thing about themselves.
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. There is one death by suicide in the United States every thirteen minutes. Only half of the Americans who are battling major depression seek treatment and of the half that do, 80-90 percent are treated successfully with medication and/or therapy. It is up to us to create an environment where mental illness isn't synonymous with crazy; where seeking treatment for it is as simple as finding a physician to get your yearly physical. If we allow ourselves to look up and listen, to try to understand and accept, we allow the possibility of creating a new way of life where treatment can be sought and battles can be fought without judgement or negative repercussions.
Never be afraid to tell your story; there is extraordinary power in the truth. You are not alone. You do not have to be alone. Honesty is hard, and it is scary, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable requires tremendous strength. I hope you allow yourself to be that, though. I hope you see that you are worthy of love and a life that you get to do more than just survive. I hope you realize that though you have struggled or though you are struggling you are braver than you believe. Your feelings are valid simply because you feel them and you are valuable simply because you exist. Your thoughts and opinions and ideas matter and have the potential to change the world. If you feel small and scared and overwhelmed I hope you allow yourself to tell someone. I hope you recognize all you have experienced and grown from and how each and every part of those experiences came together to create the person you are in this very moment. I hope you know that that person is a remarkable being. You are a remarkable being. Ernest Hemingway once said, 'We are all broken, that's how the light gets in.' Let the love and support of someone else help light your way when you are alone or in darkness. Be that light for someone else, too.
We are stronger together; we just have to allow ourselves to be.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.