I did not expect to be still be alive on my 57th birthday. At least that is how I felt back in 2019. So the fact that today is my 57th birthday is a rather monumental milestone for me. I’d like to share more why.
There was once a person named Stephen “tWitch” Boss. He was described as a person who would light up the room he entered. He seemed always there to help and support others. According to his wife he would often say he wanted to be everyone’s Superman. He was the most likable person in the world personified.
He was also highly accomplished and successful. He appeared in several seasons of the show “So You Think You Can Dance”. By 2014 he was part of the Ellen show and by the middle of 2020 he became the show’s executive producer. By the beginning of 2022 he had started his own reality television show.
Then in late 2022 without warning Stephen committed suicide. Everyone was shocked. There was no sign of any distress even on the very day he died. Stephen had given no hint of any distress. It’s now been nearly a year since his death and little has been done to make more sense out this. The basic question unanswered is how can happy people who uplift others suddenly commit suicide?
Those close to Stephen describe how they will miss the way he would always brighten up their lives. They decide to remember him as “pure love and light” and then they move on. I have a problem with moving on like this because it seems to encourage us to ignore the parts of us that are having a terrible time especially when we seem to show a happy outer appearance. I hardly know Stephen Boss but I can’t ignore the suicidal pain behind this pretty picture of “pure love and light”. I can’t ignore this because it has some threads similar to my life. I say this because there have been several occasion in my life I COULD HAVE DIED from suicide and most people would have have been caught without warning if I did die.
Stephen Boss was a person in tremendous emotional and mental pain and nobody cared, not even his closest loved ones. The reason nobody cared was because nobody ever knew about his pain. After nearly one year after his death still nobody knows about Stephen’s pain. We can only make guesses. The reason why nobody knows about Stephen’s pain was because he was so good at hiding this behind a bright smile. And he did this because he felt that he could not share more of where his life was so bad he found no option but to kill himself. Stephen felt that it was NOT OK to share the fact that he was NOT FEELING OK.
Much of our society still holds a stigma against anyone who is not feeling OK mentally and emotionally. I say this because everything I have read about Stephen seems to only elevate him to the status of a role model person we should all aspire to be. If you aspire to be like Stephen Boss then you must accept the truth that along with his “pure love and light” he wanted to kill himself. Do you still aspire to be like Stephen Boss?
With that question you may say to me: “How could you think like that!? What we meant is you should aspire to be like Stephen Boss in all the good ways but not in any of the bad ways like committing suicide”
But if you react this way you are saying we choose to to remember only the happy side and we choose to ignore the painful side. Aspiring to be like only Stephen’s best characteristics while ignoring his dark side means to aspire to be even better than Stephen Boss. That is a setup for making it unacceptable for people to to share when they are NOT OK. That is a setup for recreating future situations where seemingly happy people commit suicide unexpectedly.
I want to state DO NOT ASSUME that because a person seems happy that it means they could not be suffering a lot on the inside. I bring all of this up because I wanted to highlight some of how I was NOT OK during the many years of my life. During those times I was not OK, I still managed to project the image of a happy, funny, kind and loving person to a lot of people in my day-to-day life. For a large part of my life I was a bit like Stephen Boss. I could show up hundreds of consecutive days of my life and be wonderful, funny, and smiley to people even though during for those same hundreds of consecutive days of smiling I felt like throwing up and I wished I was dead.
It’s one thing to think about suicide on occasions but it’s quite different when you think about it consistently over a long period of time. I believe we all may have at one point in our lives felt so bad we thought about suicide. But I don’t think all of us have thought about suicide for hundreds of consecutive days without stop. If suicidal ideation goes on without stop like that it’s so exhausting, and things get ever more painful. When that happens it takes a toll and ever so slowly you start doing increasingly risky or unhealthy things until you step too far beyond the point of no return. Sometimes when you step beyond the point of return you die.
Many people have committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate bridge. But a rare few survived the jump and lived to share of their regret. Every person who has survived jumping off the Golden Gate bridge has described how the moment they let go of the railing and started falling they wished they could have turned around and grabbed hold of that railing again. But they had fallen too far and it was too late. They could only regret their action as they fell to their likely death.
Please understand suicide is not as simple as a desire to die. It is rather a messy desperate call for help to live. A suicidal person is someone in incessant pain finding little to no options for relief except to act with increasingly reckless and risky behavior. This increasingly reckless and risky behavior is their way to scream louder for help in the only way they know how given how they currently feel. In many cases the reckless and risky behavior does NOT result in permanent injury and when that happens it may go unnoticed. But in some cases it results in serious permanent injury or death.
I used to state that I thought about suicide but never attempted it. I now know that is not true. The truth is that in at least 3 incidents in my life I was feeling so bad I did something very reckless and risky that could have resulted in death. On my 57th birthday I want to come clean for my own sake.
I was a survivor of 3 different overdoses in my life. On one occasion I lied paralyzed for hours on the bed fully awake but simply unable to talk or move my body. I was trapped in the coffin of my body which was randomly twitching on it’s own. On a second occasion I remember trying to step out of bed and my heart felt like it was about to rupture so I could only fall back on the bed and wait and hope. On a third occasion I remember fighting so hard to keep breathing. I thought that possibly this could be worthy of calling 911 but I chose to pull it together as best I could because I couldn’t bear the embarrassment of being hauled away in an ambulance for attempted suicide. In other words I felt that it was better to I die like Stephen Boss with people saying “I don’t understand he seemed so OK” rather than having to reveal I was a mess. Fortunately, despite not going to the emergency room I survived. If I had died like Stephen Boss I might have an epitaph saying
“Here lies Wilson … He was a really good and nice person. He will be loved and missed.”
I’m sharing this to say NO. NO NO NO! F’*&#NG NO!! IT IS NOT BETTER TO KEEP YOUR RESPECT at the cost of your life! IT IS BETTER to keep your life even if it means you will LOSE YOUR COOL, LOOK STUPID, LOOK LIKE A FOOL and LOOK EMBARRASSING and even if you LOOK LIKE A COMPLETE MESSUP. Because your life is so important and precious. It is so important and precious not because of anything you have or will accomplish, BUT BECAUSE you were born, because you exist. It is YOUR EXISTENCE ONLY and nothing more that makes you innately important and precious.
Back in 2019 I had already been thinking about suicide for a long time. In 2019 I was also armed with the knowledge of how to commit suicide gained from the 3 prior suicide attempts. At the same time I had also been figuring out when I could retire from a work life that stressed me to this point of being suicidal. While part of me focused on how much I needed to save to retire part of me also knew my ability to retire is also dependent on life expectancy. Being suicidal shortens your life expectancy and lowers the amount you need to save for retirement. In 2019 I determined that if I was not feeling suicidal and well then the age of 57 would be the earliest possible time I could retire. But in 2019 I was not well and feeling so suicidal so the age of 57 seemed impossibly far away.
That was 2019 when things were so bad. Fast forward to today. It’s 2023. Things are so much better now. I’m really quite happy because I’m more at ease with my life even if there are still lots of messy things and emotions that still happen in my life.
I have to pause …. Oh My God I made it to 57! Part of me won’t fully celebrate until I get past 57 and reach 58. I’d like to be able to declare that nothing about the age of 57 is an endpoint in my life. So the “monkey won’t be fully off my back” until I turn 58. But for now let me celebrate today!
I’ve come to appreciate the gift of depression and the great pain behind all my suicidal thoughts and actions. The gift I inherited consisted of some of the following practices in my life:
- Take time to slow down and savor the simple things in your life that you enjoy. It could be the simple relief of drinking cool water after being so thirsty, or eating food after being hungry, taking a refreshing shower after getting all sweaty or crawling into bed after being tired. Don’t simply gulp it or jump into it but rather slow down and savor every bit of taste and sensation of these things like it’s the last time you’ll ever get to in your life. Like it’s the last day of your life. Because in reality you don’t know if it will be your last day. Doing this helps you develop gratitude for life at a subconscious and cellular level.
- Take time each day to find things you are grateful to yourself for. Doing this helps you savor life and builds self-love. Do this practice like your life depends upon it.
- If you are feeling really bad find someone to share it with. You may not feel safe to share your darkest feelings with people closest to you. That’s OK. At least share it with a professional. If you don’t have access to a professional call someone on a crisis line. When you do this you support gratitude to self. You make it OK to NOT FEEL OK. You establish the truth that your feelings matter.
- Take time to play like a child. Be silly more. Get a cuddly live pet or get a cuddly furry stuffed animal that you can hug. Dance more. Doing this supports being less afraid of looking stupid or foolish.
- When you feel better challenge yourself to try something that is emotionally risky. These are not things that are a risk to your physical safety but more of a risk of you feeling stupid, foolish or like a mess-up. Because when these feelings happen they are simply labels based upon judgements and judgements are just made up opinions. So in the end labels of stupid, foolish and mess-up are untruths for actions which are actually signs of the genius, brilliant, iconic and epic. When you can do this more often you increase your vitality and resilience in life. You take yourself to the opposite of depression. Know that the opposite of depression is not happiness it is vitality.
- But when you do take emotional risks choose smaller risks over larger ones. And when things don’t go as you’d like be kind and gentle with yourself because you are doing the best that you can. Take time to praise yourself for being courageous to have taken the emotional risk.
Today on my 57th birthday I’m grateful I have achieved the miracle of still being alive. Because the truth is everyday we wake up alive is a miracle. We never know for sure if we will live to see the next day. I don’t know if I’ll make it to 58 so I will continue to focus on the present and try to savor each day like my life depends upon it. And if I should make it to 58 I want to continue these practices even if I should make it past 100.