May all of your dogs be happy.
Daily inspiration at GoComics/Reply-All-Lite
May all of your dogs be happy.
Daily inspiration at GoComics/Reply-All-Lite
I read an article today on a young girl’s suicide.
A family member – I can’t remember which one – was quoted as saying “I wish she had told us how bad it was.”
I hate those words.
I hate those words.
I hate those words.
If someone you love is telling you they’re in pain, don’t wait for them to prove it.
If someone you love is telling you they’re in pain, don’t wait to see how bad it is.
If someone you love is telling you they’re in pain, don’t wait to see if they’re serious.
If someone you love is telling you they’re in pain, don’t trust them to get to a hospital. Take them yourself.
If someone you love is telling you they’re in pain, don’t trust them to call a hotline. Call for them and hand them the phone.
If someone you love is telling you they’re in pain, don’t assume someone else is in charge of helping them. You be in charge for now.
If someone you love is telling you they’re in pain, don’t assume they have others to call. Assume you’re the only one they have to talk to for now.
If someone you love is telling you they’re in pain, don’t assume they’re opposed to doing something you think is extreme or unimaginable. What seems extreme or unimaginable to you may seem to them like a relief, an escape or the only option to them for now.
If someone you love is telling you they’re in pain, don’t just say there are other options. Help them to find other options for now.
If someone you love is telling you they’re in pain, don’t say you wish you knew how to help them. Ask them how you can help. Offer ideas. Be persistent. Keep offering.
If someone you love is telling you they’re in pain, don’t assume it will be okay. Take steps to increase the odds it will be okay. At least for now.
If someone you love is telling you they’re in pain, don’t do nothing. Do anything. Get involved. Be helpful. Take action even if it’s tiny. Often the tiniest of actions help the person in pain to get through the pain for another hour or day.
If someone you love is telling you they’re in pain, THAT is their cry for help. Don’t assume they have it in them to keep crying for help.
I’ve been thinking lately about being helpful.
I like to think I’m a mostly helpful person. I have limitations, like any normal person. And sometimes, when I’m not feeling that well, I have some extra limitations, but generally I like to think I’m pretty helpful.
That’s not to say I help everyone.
I don’t help everyone.
Some people I don’t help because they’re too hard for me to help. I’m only good at certain things. I’m good at giving rides or listening or sitting in hospital rooms. I’m good at bringing food and dropping off magazines. And I’m good at helping with legal matters, which is often helpful.
But I can’t really help people who need much more than that.
And I can’t really help people who need too much or ask too much or turn help around into an annoyance. You know, the person you bring groceries to and then they complain about what you brought?
I assume we all have one or two of those folks in our world.
There are other people I don’t help because I know they already have their helpers in place. So I take my help elsewhere…to people I think have less of an accessible support network available to them.
On a scale of one to ten, I would say I average out at a 6 or so on the helpfulness scale.
I could definitely be more helpful if I didn’t have to work so much, but, well, you know how that goes.
What trips me up is when other people aren’t helpful. I never know what to do.
This past week, I pondered three particularly unhelpful situations and my role in managing those situations.
In the first situation, someone who I am sure thinks of himself or herself as helpful, did something that happened to be really unhelpful for me. This person, who I believe is a good person generally, sent me information regarding a criticism of my work on social media.
Now, I should say, I have a pretty strict rule about haters: I don’t engage.
I learned when I first became syndicated that there are lots of haters out there. And they seem to have more time on their hands than non-haters. And they want to engage.
But engaging with a hater just means you’re taking time away from everything that enables you to be creative. It’s bad energy.
So I just don’t do haters. I almost never respond to them and I almost always block them immediately. Perhaps they go on hating for hours or days or months. I don’t know and I don’t need to care.
More importantly, I’m not built in a way that I can engage in negativity and then move forward in life positively.
Negativity affects me. And not in a positive way. Negativity just takes from me. It doesn’t give anything of value to me.
So, when the person I know to be a generally good person sent me a link to social media hate directed against me, I had a problem. I instantly felt like I had to at least check out the hate to see if it was something to be dealt with. Because once in a while a hater has a point.
In this case, the hate was low level hate. It wasn’t anything substantial enough to spend too much time thinking about, much less worrying about.
But I wondered why someone good would have taken time to send me something negative. I wondered if it was on purpose, or whether they were trying to rile me up or get my attention.
Maybe they were just bored. Or maybe they wanted to interact.
I only know that the episode taught me I need to be clear with the people in my world.
I don’t do negativity.
I don’t want to know who hates me and I don’t want to spend time thinking about anyone I might hate. It’s distracting and upsetting and contrary to the constant goal of moving forward.
And that brings us to the second situation.
Later in the week, a lovely group of kindred spirits got together to talk and bond and laugh while eating and drinking. As always, we welcomed new potentially kindred spirits to our group with open arms and the hopeful curiosity that comes from hearing certain stories from certain group members too many times already.
One new member was particularly dynamic, engaged and, for lack of a better word, not shy. This new member took the initiative to meet everyone and talk about topics that were truly interesting. I was pleased to see someone new engaging so energetically and passionately.
The next day, that new member dismissed us all rather rudely on social media. The new member dismissed us as being many bad things, from closed-minded and intellectually lazy to just plain stupid.
I would have been shocked had I not been so tired from a week of snow blizzard challenges.
In my too-tired-to-give-a-shit state, I deleted all of the social media remarks this person had made and sent a sweet email saying “sorry we didn’t hit it off and have a nice life.”
Even now, as I write this, I am trying not to give this person even one extra second of my time or attention. But seriously,…. really?
I know. I know. This person has a problem. Or this person is an A-hole.
Okay, let’s just all agree on one thing: that person was not helpful.
You weren’t helpful, you )(*&^%$ idiot person!
Whew. That felt good.
So, to recap:
(1) please don’t send me negativity in an email; and
(2) please don’t disrespect members of any group I belong to on social media after socializing with them for five hours with the assistance of alcohol.
Now, Number (3) unhelpful scenario really deserves its own essay, but I’m too tired to write two separate essays so I’ll sum it up quickly.
Number (3) happened today.
While walking my dog, I ran into a local who felt obligated to remark on my physical appearance. This person had noticed a change in my physical appearance and just had to let me know it had been noticed.
I was floored.
And I was tired from explaining satire to a nine-year old (more on that later).
Basically, I forgot how to handle someone who is really just being nosy.
I am in no way proud of this conversation, but this is how it went:
Nosy Nellie says “I notice you’ve lost weight.”
Me says “Uh, well, um, yeah, well, no, not really.”
Nosy Nellie says “Well, you look like you did.”
Me says (after rolling my eyes, I believe) “I was on medication for a condition. It makes me very bloated. Now I’m off of it. So now I’m not bloated. I hate it. But it happens. And it is what it is. And thanks for making me feel self-conscious.”
Okay, I didn’t say “thanks for making me feel self-conscious.”
I’m not quite that bold yet.
But I felt like saying it.
And I felt like saying “You know what? Just be quiet. You can never go wrong by just keeping your mouth shut. Believe me.”
But I didn’t.
But typing that sentence just now felt really good.
So lesson number three is don’t comment on anyone’s physical appearance unless it’s a really basic good thing you’re saying.
Tell them you like their outfit or jewelry or makeup. Tell them they look pretty or healthy or alive with the joy of the moment. Tell them you’re glad to see them or that their smile lights up a room.
But don’t comment on a person’s appearance just to get information about how or why they look different to you.
It’s not your business. It’s just not.
And it might not be their favorite topic.
And that’s not your business either.
Which brings me back to just being helpful.
I wouldn’t have minded if the person had asked me nicely if I was doing well and offered to help me if I ever need a little extra help.
I wouldn’t have minded that.
I’ve said similar things to neighbors and colleagues and friends in the past. I’ve let them know that I’m here for them if they ever need me for anything. I’ve let them know subtly that, if they’re going through something, I’m available to help.
I think that’s helpful.
So please, just be helpful.
Don’t create scabs or pick at scabs.
We don’t need more scabs.
Ugh. That’s a horrible note to end an essay on, huh?
Okay, let’s turn this around and talk about the power of the brain.
I am always fighting my broken brain and so I’m always excited at any sign the brain can be changed.
And today I got my sign.
My niece came over to discuss satire and civil rights and political correctness.
And to watch Nickelodeon with me.
And we made Rice Krispies Treats.
We looked up recipes on the internet to see how we might make them interesting and decided to add the caramel Hershey’s Kisses left over from holiday baking.
So we (i.e., me) starting melting the butter and marshmallows.
And then we (i.e., me) realized we were actually out of the caramel kisses. So the Rice Krispies Treats were just the regular kind, which is fine.
I told the nine year old about the missing caramels at least two or three or seventy five times.
But Nickelodeon was on.
And apparently Nickelodeon trumps anything that comes out of my mouth.
Cut to a few hours later when the sister-in-law picks up the niece and her share (four bags) of Rice Krispies Treats.
The niece comments that the Rice Krispies Treats are especially delicious because they have caramel in them.
Yes, she tasted caramel.
And yes, we’ll never let her forget the missing caramel.
So, apparently the power of persuasion is significant.
Now we just need to persuade regular people to just be helpful.
Before you think you know what this post will be about, let me warn you, it’s only tangentially related to the subject of suicide.
Suicide is not my favorite subject.
Suicide is a complicated, painful and tricky subject.
But suicide is the subject that prompted me to write this post today, thus the title.
But don’t worry. This post is about much more than that uncomfortable word I just said.
This post is about appreciating difference. Specifically, it is about acknowledging and really “getting” that the way the suffering or recovering person thinks is much different than the way the loving, supportive helper thinks. In other words, what one person needs could be different than what others believe they need.
Before going forward, let me iterate and reiterate that this is only my thinking about my life experience. These words only represent what I have experienced and what I have witnessed as I have tried to help others. In that way, these words can only really be helpful to those who relate on some level – or understand.
So, back to suicide.
The really unfortunate and annoying news is that I have suicidal thoughts. I have many, many, many suicidal thoughts. Its just the way my brain is wired.
I don’t like it. I don’t choose it. I don’t benefit from it.
It’s just the way my brain is wired.
I won’t go into my family history or my brain chemistry or my relentless efforts to eliminate or diminish these thoughts. That’s personal health information and, quite frankly, I hate debating what I’ve tried and what works or doesn’t work with others who may or may not have had similar experiences.
It’s just not helpful. At least not for me.
But, I will say that I have tried almost everything available, both traditional and untraditional. And although many tools help me to successfully manage the impact of my thoughts on my ability to function and thrive, few tools help to actually diminish those thoughts.
And so, I live with suicidal thoughts.
I live with suicidal thoughts the way others live with whatever they live with. Everyone has a condition, whether it is theirs or the condition of someone they love or care for.
Everyone has something.
That, to me, is comforting. The universality of discomfort actually helps me to keep my own discomfort in perspective most of the time. And proper perspective, for me, is life saving.
The problem with my suicidal thoughts is that they are ridiculously strong and far more persuasive than the thoughts of those who love me or are in the business of helping me.
This isn’t sad or a shame or awful. This is, for me, just a fact of my life. I think about my brain chatter the way I think about any medical condition. It needs to be dealt with as well as possible on a daily basis to avoid any periods of unavoidable health crisis.
Those who are against suicide, for good reason, believe that suicide is wrong or bad or not the answer.
I can’t disagree with any of that. I wouldn’t recommend suicide, generally speaking.
But my brain doesn’t have a problem with suicide. My brain tells me that suicide is a good thing – a better alternative than any of the other alternatives. My brain tells me that suicide is the right thing to do and that it’s inevitable.
If you’re reading this and you’re uncomfortable with those words, then welcome to my life.
Even I am uncomfortable with these words. In fact, I hate these words. I especially hate having to discuss these words from time to time. I hate the fact that I can’t just ‘get over’ the thoughts in my head. But these words live in my head, trying to take over from time to time.
So here’s the question I grapple with in trying to help myself and, more importantly, help others.
How do you help someone who believes what their brain or body is saying? How do you help them without defaulting to persuading them to listen to your helpful brain chatter instead of their unhelpful brain chatter?
The bad news is that I don’t have the answer. At least not today.
To date, no good argument about God, love, life, family or anything else I value most highly has been effective enough in the mental battle of thoughts.
It’s not that I don’t understand the arguments. I do.
It’s just that my brain thinks differently. And my brain thinks it’s smarter about this particular subject than the brain of anyone not living my life.
My 2016 is, in great part, dedicated to helping understand how to bridge the gap between helpful intentions and actions that are actually, effectively and even substantially helpful.
Toward that end, a few observations:
Everyone is suffering or recovering from or managing something. But everyone is different. What helps one person may irritate or agitate the next person. Just be aware and sensitive and open to considering a million different ways to be helpful.
Ask the person you hope to help what is helpful for them. And then honor what they say, assuming they’re a decent communicator.
And never underestimate the value of the tiny gesture.
Dropping off popsicles or magazines or hot chocolate might be the gesture that relieves the person’s pain long enough that they can manage the moment and move forward. Just be sure to thoughtfully match the drop off to the special limitations of the condition. Someone having trouble eating or drinking will welcome different treats. Someone having trouble reading or focusing will welcome different media. It’s better to ask what a good treat would be than to surprise the person with the wrong treat. It’s not that the wrong treat isn’t appreciated…it’s just not helpful. Surprises are for celebrations, not comforting.
Helping the person obtain resources that make life more comfortable are often invaluable. Does the person need groceries delivered? A space heater? A fan? A really great straw? Maybe they need a lift to an appointment or someone to go through their mail.
So many ways to help. So so many.
And, of course, helping the person to alleviate even the smallest stressors can help immensely. Ask them what they are most worried about and help them find a way to relieve the burden of that worry. Remember that a person who is struggling is often incapable of making even simple decisions. Your ability to help accomplish simple tasks might provide the person the break they need from life’s basic – but debilitating – stressors.
Just do something.
And never believe that anything short of face-to-face is unacceptable.
Send the email or text – even if it’s just an xo or a heart or a smiley emoticon. We complain about emoticons when we’re feeling oh-so-smart and bigger than life. But most of us welcome the same ridiculously simple emoticons when we’re feeling small and alone.
And, as I recently discussed with a friend dealing with his own family situation, don’t be scared of the person in pain. Engage the person in pain. The person who is engaged in any way with others is relieved, to some extent, while they are engaged.
And never stop asking or suggesting things that might help. The person you want to help might say no today but say yes tomorrow. The person you want to help might benefit from the 179th suggestion you make even though they poo poo’ed the first 178 suggestions.
And finally, at least for the purpose of this post, remember that the person’s condition is only a part or a piece of the person’s life. Remind the person, through conversation and engagement, that their life is far more than the present moment. Focus on their profession, their interests, their talents. Focus on their stupid collection of whatever stupid things they collect. Stupid collections of stupid things provide great comfort during difficult times.
Everyone is dealing with something. Whether you’re on the up side of life today or the down side of life, you can ask for help, be open to help or, hopefully, give help.
So do something.
Thank you to everyone who helped 2015 be better. Let’s all help 2016 to be better still.