I stood in our hallway staring blankly past the new gray paint that covered the walls. We had recently painted over the old, dank, butterscotch-colored paint and given our hallway a much needed face lift. The light grey really seemed to brighten up our home…..
Except for that day.
There was no brightness. No glimmer of hope. No future that seemed better and brighter. It felt like I had spent the entire week in a big pit, working tirelessly to get out of it…. But the more I tried to scale the walls, the more slippery and difficult it became – as if every attempt to climb was met with more rocks and debris breaking off the sides, until there was nothing left to grasp. Just smooth, slick, muddy walls…..and me. Sitting at the bottom, with my head hung, and my hope buried.
So there I stood. In my home. Expressionless and defeated.
I could hear my husband in the bedroom, and the baby somewhere in the house crying; a sound that ignited feelings of guilt and shame, because his constant crying was evidence that I was an incompetent mother. If I was a better mom, he wouldn’t cry so often (or so I thought). The tears started to pour relentlessly as I tried my best to silence any violent cries that might alarm my kids or my husband. I walked lifelessly to the bedroom and asked Tyson for the car keys.
“Are you sure you’re going to be okay”? He asked displaying intense concern.
“Yeah, I just really need to get away for a little bit. Be alone. Clear my head”.
He (hesitantly) handed me the keys, and I forced a little smile in his direction to reassure him that I was going to be just fine and everything was okay. As I approached the front door to leave, I saw my 7 year old sitting on the rug, watching the blades on our ceiling fan spin. He turned to look at me with the sweetest, most innocent smile….and my heart broke into a million little pieces.
Because – in that moment – feelings of failing my son and raging shame washed over me. As I looked at that beautiful smile, all I could think were things like:
“I feel so bad that he has a terrible mother like me.”
“He deserves so much better than what I can give him.”
“I am so sorry I’m your mom…..”
And with a new set of frustrated tears, I rushed out the door and took off in the car.
I had been through difficult times before. Times where I felt hopeless and lost. Times where I wondered if the emotional suffering would ever end, or if I was just cursed to experience lifelong bouts of sadness and despondency.
But this…this was different. It was relentless, it was torturing, and completely unavailing.
As I drove, I kept thinking – sometimes yelling out loud – how I couldn’t do this anymore. I couldn’t live this life and be the person my kids and my husband need and deserve. I had let everyone down. And I KNEW deep down that their lives would be so much better and happier if I was gone. Maybe then, someone better and more capable could take care of them…..
In that moment, I really, truly believed that. And it scared me. It scared me so much, because – in my frenzied state of mind – I desired a way out so badly. I just wanted to end the emotional and mental torment, and I was convinced that, ultimately, it would be the best thing for everyone.
And, I thought of how I would do it…
That’s when knew I needed to call someone immediately. But…. I wasn’t sure who.
I didn’t want to call a family member or friend, because I didn’t want to put them through emotional distress too…. and have to face them at every get together with an unpleasant memory hanging over our heads for the unforeseeable future.
Same with my husband. I didn’t want to scare him, and I was worried I might say something I’d regret.
I knew I needed to talk to a professional, but I hadn’t been to therapy in years and didn’t have any therapists information.
That’s when the thought came to me to call suicide prevention hotline. Although I’ve never considered myself suicidal, I knew that the thoughts invading my mind were dangerous, and I had lost a significant desire to live…..
So, with my voice breaking and tears still streaming down my cheeks, I asked Google to call the number to Suicide Prevention Hotline. I pulled the car over and held my breath as I waited for someone to pick up.
“Hello?” said a friendly voice. It was a woman, and she sounded relatively young.
I sat there choking on my cries, unable to spit any kind of sentence out. How do I even start this conversation?
“Hi”. I said a little weakly.
“Hi”, she replied in a gentle, yet reaffirming tone. It kind of reminded me of how an adult would approach a child who is lost and trying to find their parent. You don’t want to scare the child away, so you interact with them carefully and calmly to let them to know you can help them and they can trust you.
“What’s going on?” she asked again in the same tone.
“I’m….just…..really having a hard time right now.” still crying as much as ever.
“Okay. Can you tell me what you’re having a hard time with?”
“I just….I can’t think straight. I’m a terrible mom, I’m a terrible wife, and I feel like my family would be so much better off without me. I don’t know how I can possibly wake up and do this all over again tomorrow, and I just keep replaying those thoughts in my head….. and I didn’t know who else to call. I’m sorry….maybe I shouldn’t have.”
“I’m glad you called. This was the right place to call. I am a counselor and have my degree in psychology. I volunteer here at the call center twice a week, because I WANT to help people like you. There is no place I’d rather be or nothing I’d rather be doing than talking to you right now”.
“Okay”. I said, feeling a little more relaxed.
“So, tell me why you think you’re such a terrible person”?
I proceeded to tell her all the things I did wrong. I didn’t give my kids enough meaningful attention. I couldn’t keep a schedule. I wished I could cook more healthy, organic meals. I couldn’t keep up with the laundry. The dishes weren’t done and dinner made by the time my husband came home from work. I’m not organized and projects never get finished. I didn’t graduate college, and here I was, a stay at home mom, and doing a lousy job at that.
I was a failure.
She listened to me spill my guts. She was so patient, and finally, after I had rambled off my perceived imperfections for about 10 minutes, she said;
“You don’t have to do or be any of those things to be worthy of your family’s love. They don’t need you to be successful or a gourmet chef or a college graduate – they just need YOU. You don’t have to live up to any expectations to be of worth. You just need to exist. To be here on this earth, breathing. The fact that you’re here gives you great worth. And that worth doesn’t change because of what you have or haven’t accomplished. All your family needs and will ever need is your presence and your love.”
Her words really resonated with me, because I had always lived my life believing that I earned and kept people’s love by living up to expectations….or because of my talents and accomplishments. I based all my worth on everyone else’s approval, and when I couldn’t be all the things I believed would secure love and worth, I fell to a place of complete and utter despair and disconnect.
With the two recent suicides of celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, there seems to be more open dialogue surrounding suicide. A lot of people are scratching their heads, asking; “But didn’t they have it all? Money. Fame. The love of millions, and the love of their families….”
But, you see, suicide doesn’t come from a place where there’s lack of love. It doesn’t happen because an individual feels unloved…. It comes from a place of feeling unworthy and undeserving of people’s love.
Love. The strongest, most powerful and connecting human emotion one will ever experience. So when someone feels unworthy of love – or they think they’re not adequately reciprocating that love – OR they think they’ve failed the people around them, then….what’s the point? What else is there to live for? Constant doubt, feelings of unworthiness, and feelings of shame create the perfect habitat for darkness and hopelessness. Fear, shame, guilt….. Some people are more resilient to these emotions, while others let it eat away at their very core. It gets to a point where it is unbearable. Excruciating, almost. And that, for many, can become the birthplace of suicide.
So what can we do? This article shares a very helpful perspective on this woman’s experience and thoughts on suicide. I would urge you all to read it!
Also, please please please please read or download Brene’ Brown’s book titled “Men, Women, and Worthiness.” It talks a lot about shame and how deeply it affects our thoughts, actions, and feelings of self worth. You can download it on Audible, HERE
Be vigilant and proactive with your mental health.
Take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Give help when you’re able. Recognize the times you are barely able to keep your head above water and don’t feel guilty for saying no when you have to. Likewise, take advantage of the times you ARE able to help others and give of yourself freely, without expectation. I promise this will enhance your recognition of your self worth.
Learn and practice empathy.
This is something mentioned in Brene’ Brown’s book. Empathy is very different from sympathy. Empathy allows us to fully understand one’s emotions and circumstances, rather than feel sorry for them from a distance. Brene’ mentions that you don’t have to have been through the exact same experience to have empathy for another person – you just need to know the feelings and emotions. We’ve all experienced some kind of sadness, despair, self-doubt, loss…. use that to bring yourself to the level and understanding of the person who is suffering (it’s important not to pretend or say you know EXACTLY what they’re going through), but rather, be present with them in their grief.
Separate individuals from their actions.
Sometimes the two become so intertwined, we end up believing that we ARE what we do or say – good or bad. People need to know that they are loved for who they are – not for what they’ve done, or the social or economical status they’ve achieved. Love your children, your family, and your friends no matter what path they take, and remember to remind them of their worth. The way we speak to one another has a huge impact on one’s perception of self worth. Example; “Wow, you’re so stupid, I can’t believe you did that….” Versus “Wow. That was a really stupid thing to do….” The first sentence emphasizes self and identity and breeds shame, while the second sentence emphasizes action and instigates guilt – which isn’t harmful like shame and can motivate change. Really pay attention to how you talk to the people you love, AND how you talk to yourself!!! *Read more about guilt vs shame in the book ^^^
Lastly…..Just be kind.
Kindness is so simple, yet it’s effects are so immeasurable. It can change everything. Reacting with anger, resentment, bitterness, and sarcasm may make you feel better temporarily, but the domino effect from those actions could be catastrophic and irreparable. Be kind to those you don’t think deserve it. You never really know their whole story. Maybe the rough looking young man who cut you off in the grocery line is trying to stay sober, but the withdrawl is hard and his emotions are heightened. Be patient. Or maybe the teenager yelling foul language at the pool goes home to an emotionally abusive home.
Or you never know….maybe the young mother who’s children are throwing raging fits at the grocery store spent hours on the phone with suicide prevention hotline the night before…..
We are all suffering somehow. Lift each other up. Be less judgmental. Help carry eachother’s burdens, be kind and positive, and reach out to someone for the same when you can’t do it all yourself. We all have SO. MUCH. Worth. The gift and influence of YOU, is great. It is powerful, it is needed, and it far-reaching. The world is, and will always be, a better place with you in it.