There’s a real strength that comes from knowing your own limits (or, in some cases, seeming lack of limits). I’m writing specifically from the veteran’s viewpoint, but the concept applies to anyone who has consistently overcome obstacles they didn’t think they’d be able to overcome.
It’s easy enough to accomplish the impossible when the choice is taken from you.
In the instance of service, there is rarely ever a choice. Service-members are faced with terrifying obstacles from the time they join – from entering a tear gas chamber for the first time to entering a battle for the first time – and presumably anyone reading this who relates has survived those challenging obstacles and gained the confidence that comes along with it.
Something else comes along with it, too.
“Overcoming the odds” is an addictive accomplishment that can leave us feeling like we’re failing when life finally settles down. The feeling of “I can handle more than this” can often be replaced with “I SHOULD be handling more than this,” and we can easily become addicted to living on the edge of burnout – or worse, on the edge of life and death. There’s a healthy way to process that feeling, and a plethora of unhealthy ones.
I once wrote that “Duty is when idealism must be suppressed in favor of rationality,” but the idealist must eventually come to terms with their emotions once more, and eventually you WILL be presented with choices (for some, this prospect seems far into the future). As someone who is trained to handle the impossible, choosing not to add too much to your plate is sometimes difficult. So make sure the things you add are PROductive and not DEstructive.
Go to school. Buy a house. Get a hobby. Play music. Work two jobs and pay off debt. Help others! (Seriously, no matter how much you’re doing, you’ll eventually feel like there’s no point to any of it if it only benefits you). Get into art. Study. Read. Workout.
The other option is to become addicted to TRAUMA rather than STRESS. I’ve been there and done it, but sometimes it’s like we’re tempted to build a checklist of things that are stacked against us in order to validate (to ourselves or others) what we’ve overcome. It’s important to realize that the world isn’t set out to hurt you. You aren’t cursed to a life of pain. There are a lot of tools and resources out there for you to use your resilience in a positive way, but don’t get set on being in pain just so you can overcome it.
As survivors, we need to be aware of this phenomenon. All this said, I’ll be closing on a house at the end of the month (as many of you know), and have decided to return to school full time in addition to working. I’m very excited to see what I can learn from history, and to delve once more into the humanities.
Let others celebrate your victories with you, not just the trauma you’ve overcome.
As a prior enlisted Sailor, I have a way of stating things in a straight forward manner…This article was very nearly entitled, “Let’s Put the “I” Back in Suicide,” but I thought that might be a bit much for a lot of folks.
This is obviously a complicated topic to address, as made obvious by the fact that hundreds of people who are a lot more intelligent and qualified than I am have been attempting to address it for quite some time (and much to no avail). I’d ask that any influencers reading along try to bear with me and see the value-added despite any choppiness. I’m also not claiming to have a 100% solution, because, as we will discuss below…there IS no 100% solution. First, I want to make a couple of broader points that apply to both a person contemplating suicide, and to a person they might approach for help:
We (as leaders, family members, and friends) have ZERO control over the actions of other humans. Society is largely built on the illusion of control, and that illusion is primarily carried by “the fear of consequence”. Think about any establishment or order and there’s bound to be some consequence that holds it all together. (If you aren’t saved, you’re going to hell. If you break the law, you’ll serve time. Disobey an order, you’ll lose a rank. Cheat on your spouse, they’ll leave you.) When a person gets to the point of seriously considering suicide, it means they’ve become apathetic toward a world of consequence. There’s no questioning it: if a person makes that call, it’s their own, deeply personal decision to make. Take your own moral compass and emotions out of it. It doesn’t matter if you think they’re being selfish. It doesn’t matter if the shock wave effects everyone or if someone else has to fill their boots during the upcoming deployment cycle. Those are all valid points, but none counteract that only an individual can decide whether or not to end their own life. In fact, of the folks who contemplate or commit suicide, many do so because they feel they’ve lost control and are making the one decision that ONLY they have control over. This point is critical to all of my later points. What they really need is a reason (sometimes even the tiniest hint of a reason) to choose to live.
THE SAME EMOTIONS THAT CAUSE SUICIDE CAN PREVENT US FROM HELPING TO OVERCOME IT: Fear, Guilt, Shame, Loneliness, and (bet you didn’t think this one was gonna be on this list) Loyalty. I’ll further explore this idea below.
While the use of policy to address suicide prevention no doubt stems from the best of intentions, we have all seen the result of that effort. Military personnel all the way up and down the chain, veterans, medics, firemen, police officers, and even children are still choosing death at alarming rates. The more I develop my mission in the world, the more people reach out to me as someone who can help. I am deeply honored (seriously) to help however I can by offering actual solutions, but I also have to share the lessons and patterns I’ve observed with others who WANT to help, but are doing so the wrong way.
The first thing I generally hear from people who reach out to me from the brink is this: “Dude, seriously, please don’t call the cops.” Or, “Bro, seriously, don’t call my Senior Enlisted Leader.” They expect us to call someone else because they sense our fear of failing them.
Everyone is afraid to feel responsible for another person’s suicide.
There’s no easy answer to why life is so difficult, so it’s difficult to be confident that you can be the one to stop them from pulling the trigger. Going back to point number one though, that simply isn’t your decision to make – it’s not your decision, and therefore, it is not your responsibility. Preventing suicide is not about being anyone’s savior, it’s about helping them find the answer to their desperation within themselves. It’s not that you shouldn’t care, but you MUST accept the fact that they are going to make the call one way or another. You have to be tough (but very gentle) in your love. Allow them to be free and expressive, but don’t allow them to manipulate you. Offer unconditional love, and offer acceptance of who they are…offer support of their dreams for life, and tell them you hope they don’t choose to end their lives, but don’t beg or plead, and don’t feel like you need to pass the responsibility off to someone who is a virtual stranger to them.
People are still afraid to reach out because of professional consequences and because of their own reputation. They hold their careers and the outside perception of who they are in a higher regard than they do their own lives. This is a cultural problem. So many of the people who have reached out to me have told me how stupid they feel for reaching out because “You’re younger than me,” or because “I’m a damned CPO,” or because “I haven’t been through what you’ve been through.” Guilt, shame, and fear prevent communication and cause suicide. I don’t think that’s really news to most people. One relevant emotion I hadn’t acknowledged until recently though, either in my own journey or in my experience helping others, is LOYALTY. Loyalty has a HUGE part to play in military suicide – in all suicides, really. People on the brink don’t want to put “the weight of their demons” onto “someone who has enough to deal with already.” They don’t want to fail their units by not being deployable. And they don’t want to turn to someone who they haven’t already established loyalty with. (Enter “TQV” – it isn’t about saving, it’s about empowering through an attitude of resilience and defiance. It’s about cultural revolution.)
Your Commanding Officer doesn’t want to talk to the CMC about his mental health problems any more than your E-3 does. It doesn’t matter how “good” the CMC is, people want to talk to someone who genuinely cares about them and understands where they’re at (Granted a CMC could do both of those, and most CMC’s would genuinely want to help as evidenced by their decades of service…but think about it from the perspective of the E3 or the CO.) What it takes is a strong team dynamic which is reinforced by personal resilience. Combine that with actual solutions to dealing with high stress situations, and a kindred spirit to discuss spiritual and mental health matters with without having to tiptoe on ice for fear you’ll offend them, and we’ll be well on our way toward reducing those problem statistics.
In short, sending service members to mandatory and redundant annual training is not going to prevent them from committing suicide. What it WILL do is cause service members to feel responsible for the decision of a grown ass person who chooses to end their own life. They’ll think they missed signs that may not have existed, or that they should’ve done more. When approached, they won’t feel empowered to support their peers, they’ll feel obligated to pass them up the chain and further complicate their lives by publicizing what should be an inner-circle issue. Stop pretending that everyone doesn’t go through it. Stop trying to regulate the human experience. Most of all, trust yourself to be the pillar of support a person needs as THEY make a crucial decision about their own future.
I typed in the name of my new website just now, so that I could begin sharing its intent.
As I did so, I felt a bit burnt out. More than that though, I felt the weight of conviction and a rebellious sense of purpose in a world that tells me I don’t have one, or that I can’t have one, or that I’m not qualified to achieve it. That I’m not qualified to achieve my purpose.
You see, I already know what my purpose is. Ever since I was a child, I’ve felt the strong urge to help others. To advocate for the broken, mistreated, or misunderstood. To heal them, show them how they should be treated, and to understand them. It’s all been inspired by my journey to to heal myself, to find those who treat me with kindness, or to find the people I can be understood by.
And they’re out there. You’re out there. It’s just such a complex problem to digest and address with a tone of victory.
The Quiet Visionary. Maybe I’m being too quiet – I’ve never been one to self promote, and I always feel like advocating for my own skills and purpose is too proud a thing to do. I think that a lot of people who can heal our world feel the same. But I couldn’t just start typing after I entered my web-address – there was another step before I got to my present screen. I had to click one more link.
And that’s what this is, right? My site. My blog. My space. My voice.
Mental health awareness is such a huge issue that almost everyone from almost every walk has to at least acknowledge it. Which one of you doesn’t know a person who has ended their life early, or tried to? Which one of you hasn’t thought about doing it yourself at some point, but refused because of faith, honor, love, or fear? How many more could be reading this if they hadn’t already lost that battle?
Fuck mental health awareness. We’re already aware of it.
The problem is that so many people who could honestly contribute to the healing of our country are held back from doing so by misconceptions that have existed for FAR too long. I’m held back from doing so. And that’s not a complaint or a pity party, it’s a challenge. So many people survive adversity and come out on the other side with a story to tell, only to be warned that they shouldn’t tell it.
It’s too private. It’s too shameful. It’s too real. You’re not educated enough. It’s too late to become educated enough – you have a family now. You have responsibilities and bills and all you can do is keep working your life away in a desperate grind to stay afloat.
Nah, man. It’s time to challenge that.
Every single day people are literally choosing to blow their brains out or hang themselves in their own “living” rooms because the way we are treating mental illness is NOT working. NARCAN is now available over the counter, because people choose to run to drugs where a more obvious solution is absent. Almost every veteran I meet has been diagnosed with PTSD, because our nation would rather throw money and mind-numbing drugs at problems than to see them properly addressed. Many within my own circle will judge the stance I’m taking because people should just “turn to God.” I believe that God gave us the tools to overcome adversity together, and it’s not always enough to just project the things that pain us into the sky and be freed of them.
Most of the people you engage with beyond the surface level are proud to share with you conditions which replace their own names in illustrating the adversity they’ve overcome. You’re not a person – you’re a person battling depression. You’re a person battling bulimia, anxiety, PTSD, or anorexia. You’re a person battling. As if anyone out there is not battling.
You’re so thankful when you finally find someone else who is battling the same disease that you are…perhaps they can understand you. Disease, when written regarding mental health, is a word created by other people to monetize issues that have been faced since the dawn of humanity. The truth? The truth is that mental diseases and spiritual brokenness are the same damned thing. Honestly, at this point – with suicide rates skyrocketed and diagnosis at an all-time high – what’s the harm in trying a different approach?
I may not have a master’s degree, or a doctorate (though I hope to find the means to add those tools to my kit), but I think I have an even more valuable tool. MY story. I can help the broken to heal, because I’ve healed from being broken.
Anyone who scoffs at this post or the language in it hasn’t been in the place I’m talking about. But SO many have. And SO many are still there, and hiding it. Military leaders. CEO’s. Waitresses and strippers and whores and soldiers and children and happily married men and women and preachers and teachers and cooks and druggies and the homeless population that we try SO hard not to see. None of them is more important to me than the rest, and none of them has less potential than another. They all just need an advocate. Someone to give them the time of day, an open ear that won’t judge and can offer advice based off of practical experience, not some text book.
That’s the crux of what America’s mental health issue is, and it’s also the key mission of The Quiet Visionary. People don’t need to pay hundreds of dollars an hour to a therapist who tells them only that they’re “intellectualizing their emotions” and lacks any hint of empathy or compassion. If that sounds like a story based on experience it’s because it IS. The one time I sought professional help, I found someone who was professionally disconnected from the world’s problems. Someone who lacked the experience to relate to the world’s darkness. People bound by a code of ethics that prevents true connection or understanding, people who seek to drag the broken into the light without understanding why they haven’t been there in the first place.
Humanity is not a shameful experience. Real answers do exist. Cut yourself some slack. Pain is not something to be hidden. It’s something to be shared that others might better avoid it.
I may not have a degree like they say I should. And now, well into adulthood with a wife and child of my own, I’ve found myself thus far incapable of dropping everything to return to school. Sure, education is a great enhancement for tools forged by hard experience. By what use is a tool adorned with jewels if it’s never been forged in fire and quenched into its most durable form?
Better a plain and humble sword that was made properly than a jeweled one made of softest metal.
I can help you climb out of the pit. I know the path. I’ve been there before. And I’m working so hard for you, behind the scenes. Processing my story into something digestible. Not something to cling to, but something to learn from. And not because I’m better than you or because I’ve been through more, but because it is simply my purpose to do so. To change the broken stigma of mental health “awareness,” and give folks who are in pain actual solutions to their problems.
But every advocate needs an advocate. Help me build my platform so I can help those who are in the dark to understand the darkness, and thus overcome it.
You will hear more from me. If you need help, reach out to me anytime. It doesn’t matter who you are or how we’re related. I see the world’s hidden pains. The only real solution is unconditional love. Whatever happened to unconditional love?