For anyone who knows someone who is struggling but doesn’t know what to do.
Last month I was invited to participate on a suicide prevention panel at a music festival. During that session, a counselor told us to turn to one another and practice asking a question. We were told to establish eye contact and ask, “Have you ever thought about dying by suicide?” Now, we weren’t told to answer; this exercise was designed to break the ice so that the next time we had to ask that question, it wouldn’t be the first time. The next time, the word “suicide” would cross our teeth less like a curse and more like the open door to a safe haven, welcoming the heart-torn into a confident embrace and understanding.
During the panel, I shared my belief that suicide is the fatal result of a restricted perspective, of a perceived lack of an audience. I told them that I believe the fundamental lie that depression, addiction, diagnosed mental illness—or really any number of disorders—offer us is that we have somehow waived our right to personal interaction and the gift of experiencing life with someone else. The truth is a diagnosis or a dark season could never dissolve the fact that we exist for the purpose of being noticed.
My job lands me squarely in the middle of millions of people each year, giving me more practice and opportunity than most to notice people. Every day, a fair few stop by the TWLOHA booth to talk or ask questions or share a bit of their story. Not every story is happy. Not every story ends with encouragement. Some end with sighs and a subconscious stoop in posture. Some end with no clue of whether or not I will ever see that person again. Honestly, there are festivals I go to every year because I need to see how certain stories are playing out.
My most frequent plea behind the booth is that I hope the people I meet have safe places and sounding boards back home. My hope is that they find people like you. People who are reading this and wondering if their story can ever have a positive impact on someone else. People who want to help but don’t know how. People who know how but are afraid.
One of our most popular phrases over the past year and a half has been “You Are Enough.” It comes from an incredible blog post that speaks to the power of perspective and offers a rallying cry for those who need additional convincing of the enormity of their existence. But there is a subtle flip side to it too.
Yes, you, who are struggling, are enough.
But, you, who are lost in your questions of how to care for the people in need, are enough, too. You are enough to get the ball rolling in the direction of recovery, of hope, and of help.
I am not going to pretend like I have figured out all the nuances of how to keep people hopeful and alive. There is no perfect script. But your dreams of your son’s wide smiles are enough. Your confused tears and tight hugs to hold your friend together are enough. Your awkward and fear-laced questions to your father are enough. Your love notes in lunch boxes, your voicemails sung to “The Simpsons” theme song, your scrapbooks that look like ransom note collages reading “I will do anything to get my friend back” are enough. Your 2am rescue missions to local bars, your favorite baby animal pictures, your touchdown dances, your off-key hymns, and your dog-eared pages of your favorite book are all enough. Your own stories of darkness and the role your loved ones played, your admissions of insecurity and confusion, your recounting of your journey to counseling, your reliving of the lessons you learned in relapse, your black-and-white memories turning into collaborative paint-by-numbers are all enough. And since they are enough, they should be shared and given as frequent and generous reminders that you were never expected to go through any part of life alone.
The words that kept me on this planet were “We will make it through this.” It was a friend inviting herself into my story. Yes, I needed counselors and books and practice and grace. But first I needed a friend. And she was enough. She was more than enough.
An older gentleman approached the booth this year, and after I shared our mission statement, he said, “Well I don’t know anyone who sounds like that, thank God.” I responded that that made me sad because there is no shortage of heartache going on all around us at all hours. To confess insulation is actually an indictment on either the breadth of your community or the lack of vulnerability. Both are terrifying.
Suicide prevention has to amount to more than an individual somehow rediscovering a will to live. It has to be a community event. It is utterly unfair to place the onus on someone’s buckling knees to ask for help when we as a society have done such a poor job of asking questions conducive to living. As we fight for the people we love, we should take confident inventory of what we are fighting and how we can fight it. The stigma that keeps our friends from asking for help is the same sense of silence that convinces us that we are somehow incapable of offering help to the hopeless.
But you don’t need to have all the answers, to have read all the books, to have letters like MD, PhD, or LMHC following your name in order to save a life. Your eye contact, your broken record reminders of solidarity, your questions, your affirmation of the beauty of the life staring back at you—this is how suicide prevention starts. If the lie suicide offers is “I am as alone as I’ve feared,” then there is no shortage of ways that it can be disarmed, debunked, and outed as a fraud.
Your voice is the single greatest weapon we have in this fight. Your cracked, trembling, tear-seasoned voice. So today, I urge you to unleash your vocal chords. You need only sing loud enough to remind those you love that they are not alone. Welcome their questions as your own. Ask if they feel hopeless to the point of the death, if they fear they won’t wake up tomorrow. Then cry. Give thanks. Tell them you know how they feel, or maybe that you don’t but you won’t let a lack of experience be a barrier to love. Embrace until your hearts beat in unison. Tell them “You are enough,” and I am confident that, in their own way and own time, they will say “You are enough, too.”
This NSPW, we’re going to equip you with new ways to participate in suicide prevention. Check back here each day this week to see how you can join us. With your help, we’ll see lives change and we’ll see people keep living.