I’m glad the topic of mental health has become more acceptable to talk about openly. I wrote my annual blog post on the subject since May is mental health awareness month, and I focused on my progress over the past few years, along with little hacks on how I keep myself balanced. I didn’t feel like I was adding anything that new or interesting to the convo, and mental illness truly hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind for some time.
But with the recent high profile suicides, I realize mental health is not a topic that is over and done just because the month of May has passed, or because I personally feel better than I did. When I hear of someone taking his or her own life, I think that person must have been suffering unbearably in their minds and saw no other option to feel better. It breaks my heart to know someone could feel that hopeless.
It also makes me feel scared because there is a part of me that relates. I have felt a desperate darkness before. I used to think I would never feel happy or at ease again, and that my extreme anxiety would rob me of my ability to live a good life. When I think of myself at my worst point, I can’t tell you what separates me from those who could not make it out of their last valley.
It seems like mental health and self care are topics we can talk about comfortably, but the next (fairly obvious but kinda difficult) idea that we need to accept is that suicidal thoughts and ideations are common when you’re suffering mentally and feel hopeless. It’s okay to have these thoughts, and it’s okay to talk to someone about them. What’s not okay is to allow them to fester unchecked.
Suicide is a big, heavy word that makes a lot of people nervous. I think people haven’t quite realized that just because someone has suicidal thoughts, it does not mean that person will commit suicide. Thoughts are thoughts, they come and go. We have a bazillion thoughts daily that we don’t carry into action, and the majority of people who experience suicidal thoughts DO NOT commit suicide. So, if someone has the courage to speak this big word, we should not be so scared to explore it. Also, we must remember the will to survive is very strong, even for those who think about dying.
I felt the need to say this because suicides always have a ripple effect; the sadness is never just contained to the person who takes his or her life. When you have a lot of press coverage on a celebrity suicide, it’s possible to affect someone out there who is vulnerable. I imagine that seeing someone you recognize commit suicide could be so hopeless, or cause that person to believe suicide is the only way to alleviate the deep suffering.
But happiness is possible. Love, kindness, softness, strength, compassion, gratitude, progress and hope – these are beautiful parts of life we can all experience, which are even more beautiful when you have had many dark nights of the soul. I can tell you that firsthand. I want this world to slow down and soften so that the people who suffer in their minds don’t suffer alone, and know that even the worst feelings are temporary.
The book in this picture changed my perception and I come back to it often. Thich Nhat Hanh taught me to stop and treat every malady with the tenderness I would give to my own child. He taught me to sit quietly and anchor to my breath so that I could listen to what was causing me pain. Having that space helped me identify some ways to address those pain points in my life. He also taught me that happiness and sadness, they cannot exist without the other.
My mom told me the translation of my Chinese name is “smiling lady” – I believe my soul is a happy old lady shaped like a dumpling who smiles often. When my soul is unhappy, it’s no reason to become alarmed; I now know that I’ll eventually come back to my natural state. I hope you know that you too have an inner dumpling to take care of, and even if it has felt so terribly for a while, dumpling will feel better with a little help from yourself and from those around you. You are much too precious of a soul to leave the party early.