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 many of you know, mine is not a “personal” blog. While I write memoir for philosophical purposes on occasion, my primary mission in writing is to help people who “live on the edge” because of their mental health struggles, so I rarely post updates that are exclusively personal. In this case, I’m making an exception:
I wanted to post a brief explanation for why I haven’t written much this week and why my posts may be intermittent for this entire month:
I’ve taken yet another foray into home ownership. Hopefully this is the last time for a good decade or so. This will be my 4th home purchase (with three sales) and my seventh move in eight years. I should do a post about how living in high stress environments is addictive and tends to make you take more risks than you did before, but I’ll have to save that one for another time.
As many of you know, home buying is pretty stressful stuff and nothing ever goes as planned. BUT – I’m very thankful that my wife and I will have the lovely place below to call our home.
While dealing with the home purchase, we also added another member to our family – Lady will hopefully enjoy the fenced in back yard pictured above.
So – steady progress toward our long term goals, but it means taking a brief hiatus from writing so much.
Can’t wait to get back in touch with ya’ll! Keep us in your thoughts until then!
My thoughts for the day(cade). I’m about over this running in place thing. I’m always strategizing about how to live authentically but also break away from institutional control. Financial independence is the Millennial American Dream – not a house we can’t afford or a truck that shows how in debt we are. I think my generation largely just wants to live a simpler life – and many of us are BUSTING IT to make that happen.
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 shall begin this post with a bit of alliteration for my own amusement:
“Hello, honorable humans.”
Now, down to the crux of it: This post will no doubt get long, but I think there’s a lot of value added for ANY blogger. I’ve been developing and testing blogging strategies since I began this blog in May. I’ve learned a lot, and decided to compile it monthly in hopes that it will help others who are aspiring to build their network. I won’t take information away each month, I’ll just highlight new gouge so that people who have already read previously published portions can skip to the good stuff. This time, nothing needs to be in bold because it’s the first iteration. Here are some simple blogging strategies to help develop and expand your readership:
Be predictable. What if I told you that this post about blogging strategiesisan example of a blogging strategy? (Pretty obvious, many of you are thinking.) Anyone who has been blogging for long can tell you that a lot of what we do is about “value added,” and someone might follow my blog exclusively because they want to see what lessons I learn in the future that they can then apply. Once they’ve followed, they can decide whether they’re interested in my core mission, which is contributing to the fight on mental health issues. I think it’s nice to have a couple of “repeat posts” scheduled (ones where the theme doesn’t change but additional value can be added with each iteration). To that end, I’ve decided to do this (blogging strategy) and one other on a monthly basis. The other is a free networking opportunity for people to summarize and link to their blog in the comments of my post.
Diversify within the confines of your brand. In addition to the scheduled posts mentioned above, I plan to VLOG once per week (the rules build upon each other, remember to be predictable) and post a song periodically (I don’t really have a schedule planned for that – this isn’t my full time job and I need to make the plan somewhat flexible to account for that. See rule number six.) Since my theme is essentially self-help, I can use different TYPES of posts to diversify within that brand. I write poetry to draw in the poets, music to draw in musicians, blogs to draw in old school bloggers, and VLOGs to attract people who prefer video to text. Figure out how you can impliment that idea for your brand. (As a self awareness point, I really need to get better about graphics/charts/etc.)
Don’t migrate your previous work over all at once. When I first started TQV, I’d already been writing weekly articles on LinkedIn for some time. I decided that, in order to professionalize my portfolio, I wanted them all to be available on the site before I shared the link. Realistically though, few people have 6 hours to go through all of your work. Many will keep up with you if you post consistently, but only a few are going to really delve deep into everything you’ve written all at once. Instead of vomiting your life’s work onto your site, follow rule number four.
Schedule posts! This one is SO SO hard for me because, when I write something I’m proud of, I want to share it to see what you guys and gals think. But if you’ve already posted, it’s much better to schedule it for the next day or so to make sure you have consistent content. If you want to maximize readers from this strategy, follow rule number five.
Time matters. I’m not talking about the time you invest into your blog, though that clearly matters as well. I’m referring to the time of day. Since your blog posts are most visible during the first few hours after you post them, you need to try and learn when people are most likely to be reading. It’s probably not going to be 3AM, depending what time zone you’re in. For me, it’s ended up being early morning or around lunchtime, but be mindful of where your audience is and when they might want to peruse other peoples’ work.
Be forgiving of yourself. As a recent writing friend of mine always says, “Writing is HARD.” It really is. This rule is honestly more important than any of the previous. You’ve got to cut yourself some slack. Remember that you’re doing this because you (presumably) love writing. Don’t push so much that you stop loving it.
Don’t use ad income until you’re ready! I was using it. Totally, I was using it. I’m thinking, “Hell, the amount of time I invest into this thing, I may as well make what I can…” FALSE. I realized that I was spending more on my domain and advertising than I was making from ads. (BY A LONG SHOT). Why would you spend 50-100 bucks on your blog, and then distract new readers for the opportunity to earn a penny or two? My new strategy is to build the network first, and then implement some ad income and affiliate links.
Don’t overthink your brand. People are so huge on branding that, often, bloggers will start multiple domains because they don’t want to break their brand. Your readers are dynamic, REAL human beings. They know you’re multifaceted. Don’t be scared to explore that with them. Or maybe I just get a pass on this one sense I essentially write about what it is to be human? Not sure.
Help your supporters! This can be as simple as liking or commenting on posts, sharing a blog, or, as I learned just today, displaying your recent commenters on your home page. (Go check those people out, man. They consistently support me and I’m so appreciative.)
Okay, thanks for sticking with me so far. In addition to writing what I’ve learned about blogging, I also want to use this space to ask questions that I need help with. If you CAN answer, kindly do. 🙂
Are hashtags still relevant?
Have any of you hit a “wall” with viewers? I haven’t had much new action since I got into the seventies and I’d really like to break the infamous “100” mark.
How important are graphics and photos?
I’ve slowly connected with a few bloggers that are really kindred spirits (Peter, Nida, Cristian, Em, Nadine) …How do you find blogs that REALLY are concerned with the same mission as you? Is it really just being patient and “collecting them” over a period of months?
If any of you would like to take a look at my site and offer any suggestions, I’d appreciate it and will return the favor (though I’m a total rookie, so I may not have much to suggest).
Lastly, I’m really starting to feel welcomed and accepted in this dysfunctional culture of awesomeness. I’m realizing that I can just be myself and support the healing of others, and that the world really is ready to accept that as a brand. Thanks for reading all this and following along, and I look forward to seeing ya’ll on the other side of the 100 follower mark.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 King James Version (KJV)
The above scripture has always been one of my favorite pieces of literature, and sets well the tone for today’s post. Recently, I was asked by a dear friend, “Damn, man. How do you deal with so much stress?”
As usual, I think the only way to answer the question properly is to “cut the bullshit”. I’m not going to describe everything I’ve been through in my life in this post – I’m writing a full-length book which describes my life and the lessons I’ve learned from it. Instead, let’s use the following as a baseline: You’ve been through something beyond the ordinary, which has invoked the darkest of emotions. You’re so desperate for a break from all the world’s noise that, inwardly, you begin to contemplate whether it’s worth it to carry on. You want to leave the world, but obviously there’s a lot of conflict associated with that decision. You’ve made it past the fear of death and the moral conflict because you’re just too tired to care about that, but there’s still something holding you back from ending your life. Guilt? Honor? A thread of hope that there might be something more to life? Your spouse? Your children? Regardless of what it is – there’s something giving you pause.
How do you manage that level of stress?
Well, first of all, I will state plainly that I lived a very large portion of my life in that state, and ultimately people who are “on the edge” are the truest version of my intended audience as a writer. You can read more about my purpose concerning mental health, here. I spent well over a decade in the conflicted place described above, and if nothing else I did learn to manage it very well. Nobody knew that I was struggling. They all thought I was one of the nicest people they’d ever met, and lighthearted. My burdens were my own (mistake number one, by the way). Anyway, I thought it was high time to compile a list of strategies that might help people who are on the edge in the short-term until I can complete my larger work, which I hope will provide more long-term solutions. So – I hope the below tips will help.
Compartmentalize in a healthy way. We can’t just tuck everything away and not think about it until we explode. That is not healthy compartmentalization. But what you CAN do is to process trauma or pain in doses. You simply hold whatever is hurting you on the edge of your consciousness. You acknowledge that it is there and you acknowledge how you’re feeling, but you don’t let it overwhelm you. This is about focus, mental discipline, and self-control. When you’re in a place that dark you can actually practice this through meditation. Close your eyes, and let whatever feeling makes you panic ALMOST overwhelm you. And then push it back. Continue this process until you know how much you can allow yourself to process before it becomes white noise that you’re desperate to escape. Focus on processing the pain slowly without getting to that point. Don’t suppress, just digest slowly. (In my own mind, I have called this process “funneling.” You can’t just continue to absorb emotion indefinitely. You have to breath it in and breath it out. Let it go and accept it in a balanced way.)
Focus onsolutions. Most people who get to the point of contemplating death are doing so because they are dissatisfied with life. Meaning there’s an actual reason – it’s not just some chemical imbalance. So…Why are you dissatisfied with life? That might not always be an easy question to answer, and SOLVING the problem might be even tougher. But most consequences we perceive that come from solving our dissatisfaction are far less grave than death. If you need to get out of an unhealthy relationship, forgive yourself, or escape a life controlled by debt, there are ways to do all of those things. Come up with a strategy. Ask a friend. Focus on the solution.
READ. I’m dead-ass serious. For nearly a decade I struggled with overwhelming emotions without ever doing this, and one of the greatest breakthroughs I made was that studying can absolutely help process trauma. The fact that people from different cultures even within American use synonyms to describe similar ailments or ideas is a theme in my writing, and whether you refer to them as “demons,” or “mental illnesses,” or “struggles,” or any variation, I think most of us can agree that wanting to die is some sort of illness associated with the mind or spirit. Studying meditation, spirituality, or even reading fiction works (FANTASY!!!) can DEFINITELY help us to elevate and heal our minds and souls.
Live authentically and use your inner voice. For the longest time I was addicted to thinking I was alone in the world. “Nobody understood me.” Well, no shit, Sherlock! When you don’t tell anyone how you’re feeling, you can’t really expect them to know telepathically. Have at least one person in your life that you can tell ANYTHING to. Whether in person or in writing. Be honest with yourself and others and you’ll find the people who you were meant to live life with.
Sleep!!!! Seriously, if you feel like you should die but haven’t slept 8 hours straight for as long as you can remember, start here. Go to bed.
Be careful of projecting and of BAD habits. Real peace comes from within. It’s tempting to hope someone or something will solve all of your problems, and it’s good to find help, but this “on the edge” moment is not a good time for drinking, fighting, smoking, etc. Be careful of how much you “need” other people, but don’t be scared to lean on support networks. Contrarily to detrimental habits, it could be the PERFECT time to start a GOOD habit: working out, mechanics (get a project, like my 96′ Jeep XJ!), or (my personal favorite) writing.
I hope that a couple of those are helpful for anyone who needs them in the short-term. I’ll write more as time allows and I’m trying my best to finish my book for everyone.
I recently shared some of my progress in playing Native American flute, and people really seemed to enjoy it. I thought you guys might also enjoy some of my lyrical writing. I have a lot of original songs on my Youtube Channel – music can be a great healer. Work is keeping me really busy this week, so I thought I’d share some of my historic work. (As a blogging note, using historic work of many kinds seems to be a great way to maintain consistency and reach new followers. It’s hard not to seem rushed sometimes, but most of us are busy and I’ve found my readers to be very understanding and still appreciate the opportunity to be inspired and contemplate new ideas.)
I’m not really a great guitarist by any means, but I do enjoy the instrument very much.
My blog is all about overcoming adversity, and music is a great way to do that.