This blog post is part of the Suicide Prevention Awareness Month blog tour in partnership with Debt Drop. If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.
You can share on social media with #EndTheStigma and #DebtDrop.
This post isn’t going to cite facts about depression or being in debt. If you’re here, chances are you know that both suck.
Instead, it’s an open love letter to anyone who has struggled with debt, suicidal thoughts, depression, or any combination of those. I want you to know that you’re not alone in this.
I’m going to take a slightly different angle on the blog tour, though. I’m exploring thoughts of suicide and how to overcome them more than I will explore the topic of debt.
Why? Because I’ve experienced both, but debt was not the cause of my depression, and my experience with depression taught me that it’s all-consuming. It permeates every aspect of your life. It knows no bounds.
Plus, the other folks who participated in this blog tour already shared some amazing stories of how they overcame depression and debt, so you should check those out.
There are going to be a lot of feels in this post, and it might be messy. I’ve been thinking about what to write, and how to write it, for pretty much the entire month. It’s a subject that hits home and I wanted to do it justice. But sometimes we just need to let the words flow. So here it goes…
Debt and Depression
I remember reading Melanie’s post where she discussed finding out that people were searching “I want to kill myself because of debt” and coming across her blog. It was a somber moment.
Debt can be debilitating in so many ways. It can hold you back from what you want in life, invoke a never-ending sense of regret, and give you the false impression that you have nothing to offer the world.
When you’re underneath a mountain of debt, still have bills to pay, and aren’t earning enough to get anywhere, things can feel hopeless.
But they’re not. In most cases, there is something you can do to forge ahead. You have to want to take those steps, though, and it won’t be easy.
While my student loan debt wasn’t the cause of my depression, I know the feeling of defining yourself by numbers such as your salary, spending, or net worth.
I’ve shared my struggles with budgeting a few times, but I feel like it’s relevant: you are a person. You are not your net worth, salary, debt, or budget.
If you’re in debt, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. If you have not-so-great spending habits, you’re not unworthy of love. If you’re not earning as much as you wanted to at this point in your life, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
It means you’re human. As humans, we make mistakes, because we’re rather irrational (no matter how much we want to think otherwise). That doesn’t mean we deserve to die.
We deserve forgiveness.
The Other Side of Debt and Depression
I realize some of this may sound hollow coming from someone who only had $18k in student loan debt. That seems like nothing compared to those who are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
So I’m going to zoom out and tell you about my experience growing up with parents who were in debt, who were constantly struggling to make ends meet.
Feeling like you might not be able to provide for your family is a horrible stressor for many when in debt. Not only do you have yourself and your partner to worry about, but possibly children as well. And giving them anything less than what you had growing up may seem like the worst parental offense ever.
I don’t love my parents any less because they weren’t able to buy me all the things I wanted. When you grow up, you realize none of that truly matters. What matters is that you provide a safe, loving environment for your kids. I love my parents because they gave me their support and trust.
But it hurt to see them so stressed out over their debt.
There were two extremely difficult times for our family, and both of those times came after my dad was laid off.
Dealing with being unemployed is its own beast – it’s extremely easy to feel worthless, lost, and frustrated. The blow is worsened when it’s the breadwinner that’s laid off, and that’s exactly what happened to us.
Now, it’s not my place to speak for my dad, but it was very clear that he wasn’t in a good place. Tensions ran extremely high in our house for a few years, until my parents nailed down their plan to sell the house and retire somewhere cheaper. That was their light at the end of the tunnel.
We had to rumble in the dark, so to speak, for years before that plan became a reality.
My parents would fight. I resented my dad for giving up on looking for work so easily. I also struggled with feeling like a burden. My mom and I tried to encourage him. What started out as gentle nudging morphed into harmful accusations, which quickly resulted in hurt all around.
I have regrets about a lot of things during that time. But never, ever, EVER would I have wanted my dad to suffer so much he felt like he had no options left. And while life isn’t perfect now, I’m incredibly grateful my parents are happier and that they made it through.
The point I’m trying to make is that although things may seem incredibly bleak, to the point where you feel like no one would care if you were gone, to the point where you think they’d be happier without you, it’s not true. At all. And I’m speaking as someone on the other side of that.
When shit hits the fan, emotions get messy, and resolutions aren’t easy to reach. We’re quick to say hurtful things that we don’t mean without thinking about the consequences. But I am willing to bet that no one would ever wish that their words would inflict so much damage that it becomes irreversible.
I’m also willing to bet that someone, somewhere, cares. I know that can be hard to believe when you’re at the lowest of lows, because we typically don’t think we’re worth caring about when in that state of mind, but it’s true. I care. Yeah, I may be a random nobody on the internet, but that’s the thing: there’s always a connection to be found. You are never alone. Never.
Why Suicide Isn’t the Answer (My Story)
If it wasn’t clear before, I am firmly in the “suicide is not the answer” camp. But it wasn’t always that way.
Throughout much of middle school and high school, I struggled with suicidal thoughts on a daily basis.
I attribute much of it to the bullying I endured during those years. I was carefully picked apart, feature by feature, trait by trait, by a handful of assholes who had nothing better to do. And I had no one to turn to.
One incident sticks out the most in my head: I was on the lunch line with a few friends when kids behind us started making fun of my teeth. At the time, my parents couldn’t afford braces, and my front teeth were, well, prominent.
I felt my face flush instantly. My friends quietly adverted their eyes, and no teachers were paying attention. I endured several more moments of verbal poking and prodding before running off the line and back to my table, tears running down my face.
When my ‘friends’ came back, they expressed some sympathy, but conversation around another topic resumed and that was that.
I could never come up with any reason for the bullying other than I was quiet, which made me an easy target. Which also sucked, because it made me wish for the power of invisibility more and more each time it happened.
I started thinking that my sole purpose on this earth was to be tortured at school. (Dramatic much?) At the time, I had one or two friends I could turn to, but when I tried to confide in them, it was clear they felt uncomfortable.
As a result, I felt completely alone, and things only went downhill from there. It wasn’t long before I would pass a group of laughing kids in the hallway, wondering what I did to elicit such a reaction. (Yep, I was super paranoid.)
Once a proud holder of ‘perfect attendance’ awards, I started missing school because it felt like a prison. I would wake up each day with the thought not this again.
Not only did I hate what my life had become, but I hated myself. I was firmly convinced I wasn’t worthy of love, and that there was no reason for anyone to love me anyway, so what did it matter?
Eventually the pain subsided; it was replaced with emptiness. I had cried enough tears, ran myself ragged with negative thoughts, and my soul had been ravaged. What was I doing with my life? Why did it matter? I don’t mean anything to anyone. Everyone always looks the other way. Their eyes speak of hate and disgust. I’m just a burden.
It was easier to go through the motions and put on a fake face to please others to avoid the inevitable are you okay?
But a life of emptiness has no roads to travel. Being directionless, it becomes pointless. So I found myself planning how it would all end.
Yet, for all the planning I did (and I’m quite the planner), I could never pull the trigger – in any sense of the word.
To spare you the unnecessary details, I eventually reached the precipice. I had to make a decision: end it, or figure out a way down.
I chose the latter, though it wasn’t an easy decision. Considering I had to build the road from scratch, the journey was anything but quick.
That journey taught me that suicide is not the answer. It took me years to reach that conclusion, but thoughts of suicide haven’t entered my mind since. 10 years ago, I never thought I would find peace, but I did.
Everyone’s journey is different, of course. What worked for me might not work for you. But I still believe that we have the power to control our destiny – we can choose to live, to find peace, to love and receive love.
Since that choice is one of the most difficult choices we may ever make, what follows are a list of ways I’ve gotten through the toughest times in my life. I hope one of them helps.
Take Back Control Over Your Life
When we’re depressed or suicidal, we feel stranded at sea. Waves upon waves are crashing down on us, and we simply stay there and take the blows. Thinking about moving is exhausting – it’s easier to be abused.
I’ve been there, and I know some days are harder than others. But if you want to change your life – if you want to see the light – you need to facilitate that change. The important thing to realize is that you can.
No matter how bad things get, you always have a choice. No one can take that away from you, unless you let them.
Essentially, succumbing to depression is relinquishing that control over your life. You let depression run its poisonous course, and it never ends. Until you break the cycle.
It might help to think of depression as an entity – a person. Why are you giving it permission to invade your life in such a way? Aren’t you sick of feeling like you’re in the passenger seat instead of the driver’s seat?
Get pissed off at it, because you have every right to. You want your damn life back – you want to feel again. You want to set a course over that dark sea that’s so strong no demon can pop up and veer you off of it.
It’s possible, but you need to believe it’s possible first. Inspire yourself to take action – even if it’s just one small step. What follows that small step can be a sea of change – that step creates ripples, and those ripples know no bounds.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves (and Create)
I have to tell you right now that you should probably go read Rising Strong by Brené Brown. I love all of her books, but this one is absolutely amazing at speaking to those who feel like the war in their heads is never going to end.
This concept from the book was a huge takeaway for me:
“Burton writes, ‘Because we are compelled to make stories, we are often compelled to take incomplete stories and run with them.” He goes on to say that even with a half story in our minds, “we earn a dopamine ‘reward’ every time it helps us understand something in our world—even if that explanation is incomplete or wrong.'”
Remember how I kept thinking kids in the hallway at school were laughing at me? I made that up. That was the story I kept repeating to myself. They hate me. Something is wrong with me.
No one said differently, so the story wrote itself, and it became cemented as truth in my mind. I let this narrative lead my life and it destroyed it, chapter by chapter, word by word.
When I write it down like that, I wonder how I let it happen. It started with one word that became a sentence that slowly became a soundtrack that played over and over in my head, haunting me, no matter how much I begged it to stop. And eventually, it attached itself to me.
That’s frightening, and what’s worse is this happens all the time. Dr. Brown goes on to explore the idea that we – as humans – have an extremely strong desire to fill gaps in stories. If someone acts differently toward us, we immediately come up with a million possible explanations for their behavior. Most of which are probably bad and way off the mark.
Classic example: you start seeing someone new, things are going really well, then gasp, they stop responding to you.
Oh my god, it must have been something stupid that I said. They hate me now. I ruined everything!!
Again, it looks ridiculous when written down like that, but as I said before, we are not the most rational, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Or money.
Dr. Brown explains how to use this in everyday situations to keep us aware of the fact that we’re capable of writing these stories. Simply say, “The story I’m making up is…” and then express your thoughts. This allows others to feel like they’re not being accused of something, and you maintain self-awareness and control over the narrative.
It’s a simple and elegant solution to maintain control so long as you remember to use it. Our minds are powerful – unfortunately, that’s a double-edged sword that we need to monitor if we tend to gravitate toward negative thoughts more often than positive ones.
Shitty First Drafts
If you’ve ever read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, you’re probably familiar with shitty first drafts. Dr. Brown takes a different angle on it.
In essence, what it means is to write out the story you’re telling yourself in whatever way it comes to you. It’s supposed to be shitty, messy, and emotional – a way to acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, initial reaction, assumptions, etc.
This can help you avoid making snap decisions and can make navigating disagreements slightly easier as well. Walk away from heated moments, write your shitty first draft, and sit on it. It’s likely you’ll uncover the truth behind your story soon enough.
So many of us are living narratives written by others – whether it’s depression, the media, or toxic people in our life.
It takes courage to grab the pen (or keyboard) and begin writing our own stories. But if we don’t, we live a life that wasn’t destined for us. It’s a life doomed to unhappiness because we can only find fulfillment when living true to our values.
Or, as Dr. Brown puts it:
“Do we want to write the story or do we want to hand that power over to someone else? Choosing to write our own story means getting uncomfortable; it’s choosing courage over comfort.”
Learn to Practice Forgiveness
Forgiving others can be difficult, so it comes as no surprise that forgiving ourselves can seem impossible.
Make no mistake – it’s definitely a learning process. It doesn’t come naturally to me, especially as a recovering perfectionist.
“In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die. If you make a choice to forgive, you have to face into the pain. You simply have to hurt.”
Fair warning – I’ll be quoting Dr. Brown frequently for the rest of this article, as she put this stuff into words way better than I could ever hope to.
In my case, when I was struggling with depression and making that choice to take a leap of faith and start healing, part of me actually had to die. A phoenix rising from the flames would be a more accurate metaphor.
I had to work on believing that I was worthy of love; that I wasn’t a horrible burden; that I had things to be grateful for. In order for this to happen, I had to shed the many layers of negativity that had locked around me.
It was a painful process. Negative thoughts would constantly vie for more space in my head, and sometimes they won. Then came the disappointment of feeling like I was fighting a losing battle. Forgiving myself in spite of that and forging on was tough, but years later, the positive thoughts are finally winning out.
How Do You Treat Yourself?
I don’t mean treat yourself like treat yo’self!! I mean: do you treat yourself with the love and respect you would give to a friend?
It might be cliché advice, but it’s a helpful perspective to maintain.
Even in the midst of depression, if I had a friend that was hurting, I would try and help them. I didn’t want anyone to feel as alone as I did. I tried to withhold judgment and simply listen.
Yet, I purposely isolated myself by pushing away those who cared, and I was my worst critic. I don’t think I’ve ever treated anyone as horribly as I did myself.
This is why forgiveness was so difficult – because I was incapable of accepting goodness of any sort. The narrative that had been written was so strong that it filtered everything else out. I was convinced compliments and love were fake and out of pity.
If you’re in that space, then these words may ring hollow, but I’ve come to believe that most people are trying their best in any given moment. Their best may simply be getting out of bed, and that’s all it needs to be.
I try to hold myself to this standard I’ve set for others, even if it’s difficult (I struggle with ‘not being/doing enough’ a lot). It helps with the forgiveness and acceptance process.
I have to recognize that I can’t function like superwoman 24/7. There will be some days when getting the three most important things done is going to be my best, and there will be other days when I’m amazed at how much I managed to accomplish. (Those are rare.)
In this society obsessed with productivity, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we need to be ‘on’ at all times. Some people can do it, others can’t. Be gentle with yourself, know your limits, and above all, don’t feel ashamed by them.
Redefine Your Standards
I’m going to start off with another quote from Dr. Brown:
“I was holding on to an idea of intellectual stature that defined smart as everything I was not and as everything my history would prevent me from ever being. I basically defined smart as ‘the opposite of me and where I’m from.’ Toni Morrison wrote, ‘Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined,’ and I learned that I must redefine what I believe is valuable and make sure I’m included within that definition.”
I have been in this place so many times in my life, and without fail, it has led to feelings of unworthiness.
I’m not smart/pretty/strong/fast/graceful/articulate enough. Look at everyone who’s so much better than me at X/Y/Z. I’ll never be on their level.
That’s not helpful at all. (Negative thoughts often aren’t.)
A simple shift in perspective, or definition, can be a powerful solution. It goes back to having control – we are the authors of our stories and we can choose how and what to believe.
The other side of this is that our perspectives rarely match reality. We are the worst judges of our own character. Whenever I disclose where I think I fall short, my closest friends will tell me I’m being ridiculous.
Forgiveness can take many forms and mean different things for everyone, but I strongly believe that the process of healing has to start with forgiveness. It provides you with a stable foundation on which to write your story. Without forgiveness, your mind and your heart won’t be open to alternative storylines.
On Leaning into the Pain
In Rising Strong, Dr. Brown highlights the importance of being curious about why you’re feeling a certain way and being willing to dive into that unknown, murky sea.
From her studies, she concluded that this is a characteristic of resilient people. Most of us want to stay in the dark because the unknown is scary. Investigating might mean ripping open old wounds and coming to painful realizations. But it’s the only way to heal.
Dr. Brown speaks to the other side of the coin here:
“The opposite of recognizing that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending—to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think…”
I thought this was beautiful. While I may love questioning my feelings now, that certainly wasn’t the case 10 years ago. I cycled between numb and self-pity mode, neither of which were very fulfilling, but they were familiar and comfortable.
On the importance of understanding ourselves, Carl Jung wrote:
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
Essentially, as Dr. Brown puts it, we have to rumble to find our truth.
Again, the road isn’t an easy one, but I can tell you I wouldn’t trade places with the me of 10 years ago who found it comforting to disengage with everything. Being uncomfortable is a requirement of a fulfilling life. The challenge is worth it, but you only discover that when you embark.
Have a Support System in Place
I cannot emphasize this enough. A good support system is critical. If you’re surrounded by people who believe in you and want to be there for you (and those people are out there, professionally or otherwise), it makes things a lot easier.
It’s the difference between going with the current (people guiding you along) or going against it (which results in feelings of hopelessness).
I spoke of the regrets I had with how the unemployment situation unfolded, and one of them was not knowing how to be more understanding. This can be crushing to admit, but sometimes, those closest to you are also too close to the situation to be effective support.
Getting a third-party opinion (and unclouded perspective) can be better. I’ve sought professional help a few times in my life. While it didn’t work out for me, I know many people who have benefitted from having a therapist. (Of course, cost can be a concern, although some insurance plans cover visits. You have nothing to lose by asking an office if they offer any form of payment assistance.)
Be Brave – Ask For Help
Maybe you don’t have a support system, or a very strong one. What then?
We have to ask for help.
One of our greatest downfalls is being too prideful to ask for help. So many people equate asking for help with weakness. (I’ve been guilty of this as well.)
However, contrary to what we think, most roads aren’t meant to be traveled alone. We aren’t meant to struggle against the waves by ourselves.
Let’s look at this in a practical way: a typical “I hate asking for help” scenario is being lost and not wanting to ask for directions. So we circle around and around, becoming increasingly frustrated with our lack of navigational ability.
What if we just sucked it up and asked someone for help? We’d be on the road to our destination in much less time, with less stress and less hassle.
Why do we bring these situations upon ourselves and make our lives worse because of it? It only feeds the “I’m a failure; I’m useless” mentality, when that isn’t true.
I can, with a huge degree of certainty, tell you that I have no sense of direction whatsoever, but that doesn’t make me a bad person or a person unworthy of love.
Yes, this is a somewhat trivial example, but the same concept still applies even when you’re asking someone for their ear, a shoulder to cry on, or advice.
Don’t Think of it as Help, but as Connection
Maybe it would help if we redefined “help.”
Again, looking at this from a practical standpoint – if you knew one of your friends or family members was suffering, would you laugh and turn away? Uh, probably not. So why would they do that to you?
I know this is much easier said than done, believe me. I am incredibly guilty of ignoring the practical side of things and often convince myself that I’m burdening people by reaching out to them. But I’ve rarely been turned away by a friend. Most of us want to help each other.
The added bonus here is that being vulnerable with those whom we can trust will most likely strengthen our relationship and connection with them, making it easier to reach out to them in the future.
There are only a handful of people I feel comfortable spilling my guts to, and I am grateful beyond words that I have them in my life.
It would be negligent to not bring up the other side of this, though. We may have some great friends, but not all of them will have the empathy required to make us feel comfortable bringing our darkest thoughts to light.
So here’s another great quote from Dr. Brown:
“When we stop caring what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. But when we are defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. The solution is getting totally clear on the people whose opinions actually matter.”
Those are the people you can turn to.
One last note is that having someone to talk to can help you overcome any shame you may feel around whatever you’re battling with, whether it’s debt, feeling like a crappy parent/partner/sibling, or eating too much chocolate. (Not guilty. At all.)
In all of her books, Dr. Brown shares that shame cannot survive being spoken because it cannot survive the empathy that (reasonable) people will express.
That’s a beautiful thing. So harness that power. Find just one person you can talk to – even if it’s someone online (there are so many amazing communities out there) – and establish that connection. And remember to return the gift of empathy to others when they need it.
Being caught up in an emotional tornado can feel dizzying and incredibly lonely. But there’s no reason to go on this journey by yourself. In fact, I’d argue it’s almost impossible.
As much as I believe that being independent is a good thing, we need others to turn to otherwise we’ll go crazy with our own thoughts. (At least, that’s what experience tells me.)
Plus, since we’re irrational beings and can’t judge ourselves with much accuracy, having guideposts along the way can give us greater clarity. And that’s something sorely needed when you’re lost and contemplating death.
There’s Always Gratitude
I have sung the praises of practicing gratitude too many times to count, but there’s a good reason for it: it’s what helped me piece together a framework for positivity.
I used to be an incredibly cynical, glass-half-empty (why-does-it-even-matter?), doom and gloom type of person. I was totally fun at parties.
I believe looking to suicide as the answer is consciously taking life itself for granted. Which many of us do on a regular, unconscious basis.
How many times do you wake up, consciously grateful for another day to experience? Chances are you’re usually occupied with other thoughts upon waking. (Like where’s my coffee?!)
But it’s a dangerous point to reach when you’re angry that a horrible accident won’t conspire to end all your pain and suffering. You don’t want to live – instead, you’re defying all the little things that had to align for you to be born into existence in the first place. Gratitude is nowhere on your radar.
Yet, gratitude can bring meaning to our lives in many ways; I know it has for me. While I might not wake up every day bouncing around, belting out happy tunes, I am quietly grateful for all the little things I have. Little things that I never noticed when I was face down on the ground, but could have had I been open to it.
Instead of choosing to see the beauty in things, I chose to see the darkness, and that made life pretty bleak.
The key word is ‘chose.’ I chose to have a negative mindset until I chose to consciously shift it to a positive one.
Gratitude is not a passive practice – you have to be willing to engage with it to reap the benefits. A half-hearted “Yeah, I guess I’m grateful for X because I should be – isn’t everyone?” won’t do you any good.
Gratitude is an active process whereby you intentionally notice the beauty in your life and smile because it’s there, despite all the odds.
It’s my cat coming to cuddle with me, the sun shining through the blinds, a cup of delicious coffee, making a friend laugh, finding a song that was made for me, not encountering traffic on a trip, having a safe flight, and the fleeting sense of happiness that I feel whenever I make a conscious effort to process any of these.
Because it’s all too easy to take for granted. Most of these things occur with some sort of regularity, but we’d never know because we only notice them on a surface level. Gratitude allows you to deeply engage with things that fulfill you.
Now, the thought of being grateful for anything when depressed can seem ridiculous, but getting started is easier than you might think.
The most common advice is to keep a gratitude journal. I used to write weekly roundup posts here where I would detail what I had been grateful for that week. Keeping track of it in some way forces your mind to be on the lookout for opportunities to practice gratitude. At the very least, it makes you reflect, and you might find you have more to be grateful for than you originally thought.
Whether you find one thing or many things to be grateful for over the course of a day is irrelevant, in my opinion. What you’re grateful for is irrelevant, too – it’s going to be different for everyone. Nothing is too small to count.
The point is you’re focusing on pockets of happiness, and as mentioned before, these small pockets can create ripples in the future.
That’s how I’ve experienced it, anyway. After a year and a half of consciously tracking what I was grateful for, I started to notice that I was practicing gratitude in the moment, rather than when I was reflecting upon it.
As a result, I find it much easier to overcome bad days or bad moments. I know something good is around the corner, even if that something is a pretty sunset to appreciate at the end of a long day.
I’ve learned to appreciate the little things, and those little things have given me the strength to hope where I had none before.
Turning to Music
I’m not going to take very long on this section compared to others because I think music speaks for itself.
There is power in music – in lyrics, melodies, voices. You might find a song with lyrics that give you clarity around something you’re struggling with, or a song that makes you feel less alone.
You may find an uplifting track that puts a smile on your face no matter what’s going on. Or a song that you can’t help but groove to.
You might find hope in hauntingly beautiful vocals.
Forget “there’s an app for that” – there’s a song for that.
With music, we are never alone.
When I had no one to turn to in middle school and high school, I turned to music instead. It might have been a roller coaster of a ride as I listened to songs that filled me with hate, despair, hope, rage, sadness, and strength, but sometimes we need to feel through a range of emotions (especially when we’ve been nothing but numb).
Music is a serious form of therapy, at least for me. I have playlists for a wide variety of things, depending on my mood. I usually try and listen to uplifting songs for obvious reasons, but there are times when I just need to cry and I know just the songs that will help me push through.
To that end, I spent hours combing through all the songs I’ve saved to Spotify, and I present you with this playlist. It has all the feels – literally. Some songs will make you happy, some will make you sad, others will make you hopeful, while others might bring you down.
I think it’s a fairly accurate reflection of inner turmoil, though, and I wanted to include something for everyone. There’s trance, pop, alternative rock, punk, country – I don’t relate to songs based on genre, but on how they make me feel.
Empowerment Through Knowledge
If you know me, then you know I love to read. Lately, I’ve been reading non-fiction over fiction, but that’s mostly because I’ve been on a quest for personal growth over the last year.
I’ve had a lot of revelations, and some books influenced me more than others.
The reason I bring up empowerment via knowledge is because books are often an overlooked resource when it comes to, well, anything. Yet the information they contain can be absolutely life-changing.
The best part is that books are free to borrow from libraries, and they don’t cost nearly as much as a therapy session might. (Although learning can only get you so far if you’re not sure how to apply the concepts you’ve learned, so I wouldn’t call it a replacement.)
In short, books are a great place to get started if you want to make a meaningful change in your life. They can help us find inspiration and gain clarity in ways muddling through our own thoughts wouldn’t.
So here’s a list of books I’ve found helpful, as well as some books that are on my “to read” list:
- Rising Strong
- I Thought it Was Just Me
- The Gifts of Imperfection
- Daring Greatly
- Big Magic
- Option B
- Predictably Irrational
- The Alchemist
- The Happiness Project
- When Breath Becomes Air
- Man’s Search for Meaning
- 10% Happier
- The War of Art
- The Obstacle is the Way
- Stumbling on Happiness
- The Happiness of Pursuit
- Tiny Beautiful Things
- Better Than Before
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
- The Happiness Trap
- The Art of Work
(I would also add that if you’re in debt, pick up a few personal finance books to jump start your journey. Financial education is key in making big changes.)
Sometimes, a quote is all you need to spur you into action, so here are some of my favorites from Rising Strong that didn’t fit elsewhere:
“One of the greatest challenges of becoming myself has been acknowledging that I’m not who I thought I was supposed to be or who I always pictured myself being.”
I identified with this so strongly, and I imagine a lot of you do, too. We have this ‘ideal’ version of ourselves floating around in our heads, but it seems elusive. We also find ourselves influenced by others who tell us (or show us) who we should be. And thus, we’re never happy.
We are who we are, yet we overcomplicate the issue constantly by comparing ourselves to others and our ‘ideal’ selves. How are we ever going to win that competition?
This quote was within the book, but from Maya Angelou:
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
I absolutely love this. Similar quotes can be found on happiness – you can’t control what happens to you, but you can decide how to react.
There’s a lot of truth in that simple statement. Again, the choice to get up after a fall or the choice to practice gratitude rather than resentment, can be a difficult one to make. But it’s the more rewarding choice.
I wish I had known this simple concept back in high school when I was giving entirely too much weight to the words that bullies uttered. By doing that, I allowed them to control my emotions and thus, my thoughts.
That’s sickening to me now, but my younger self didn’t know any better.
We can easily relate this quote back to our financial situations, too. We can acknowledge the amount of debt we’re in, or recognize that we’re not earning as much as we want, and choose not to be reduced by it. We can choose to separate ourselves from those numbers and focus on who we are as a person and the role we play in the lives of others.
The following quotes are so amazing I wish there was a way to hug words:
“This may be the most dangerous conspiracy theory of all. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past thirteen years, it’s this: Just because someone isn’t willing or able to love us, it doesn’t mean that we are unlovable.
Just because we didn’t measure up to some standard of achievement doesn’t mean that we don’t possess gifts and talents that only we can bring to the world. Just because someone failed to see the value in what we can create or achieve doesn’t change its worth or ours.”
I can’t HELL YES this enough.
When I was struggling to see the meaning in life, I lacked purpose (let’s be real – being tortured isn’t a purpose; not one you would strive for, anyway). I didn’t think I was good enough for anything or anyone. I felt like I had nothing to offer the world.
Unfortunately, an overwhelming amount of people feel similarly, and it’s not true at all. I firmly believe with every fiber of my being that we all have a gift to give to the world inside of us. We might not know what that gift is, but it’s there, buried under a lot of self-doubt and fear.
I’m not sure what causes this fracture in people, but I know a lot of people who want to produce something, yet let fear hold them back.
In my case, it was a creative writing teacher who couldn’t find anything redeeming about my work. He didn’t offer help or constructive criticism – he just “didn’t like” what anyone in the class wrote. It was a huge blow to our sensitive high school egos.
I’m not sure I ever fully recovered from that, as evidenced by the fact I take forever to write anything and can’t let a sentence go without criticizing it as I’m writing it.
Regardless, why should I let ONE person’s opinion hold me back from doing what I want to do in life? Hell, even if multiple people hold the same opinion, if you feel called to create something so strongly that you can’t think of anything else, then do it.
Don’t let other people rob you of the power to chart your path. Don’t let others rob you of the desire to create that path, either. You are here for a reason – and while that reason may remain a mystery for years (or forever), that’s part of the adventure that is life.
A Note on Happiness
I don’t think I can discuss suicide without discussion what most people perceive as its opposite – happiness.
It’s a loaded topic, one which I’ve been reading about. After all, it seems like most of us are striving for happiness and satisfaction in one way or another. That’s the goal, to have a happy and fulfilled life…right?
Yes and no. What I’ve come to realize is that there’s such a thing as an unhealthy obsession with happiness. The more we chase after it, the more disappointed we become when it slips through our fingers.
While looking for a book to read on the topic, I found The Happiness Trap, which opens with this:
“And as we shall see, a life spent in pursuit of those good feelings is, in the long term, deeply unsatisfying. In fact, the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more we are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.”
Uhh, sound familiar? It did to me.
It’s important to realize that happiness isn’t a way of life. No one is happy 24/7. The beauty (and curse) of being human is that we have the capacity to feel many different emotions. We’re not robots programmed to one setting, yet we feel pressured to be just that.
I liked the definition contained within the book, as it provided a lot of clarity around the issue:
“The other far less common meaning of happiness is ‘living a rich, full, and meaningful life.’ When we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy, clarify what we stand for in life and act accordingly, then our lives become rich and full and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality. This is not some fleeting feeling—it is a profound sense of a life well lived. And although such a life will undoubtedly give us many pleasurable feelings, it will also give us uncomfortable ones, such as sadness, fear, and anger. This is only to be expected. If we live a full life, we will feel the full range of human emotions.”
A full life might seem like a distant dream to those who are currently living empty ones, but even in my worst moments, I realized that a pointless life was not one I wanted to lead.
That was the catalyst for change. I wanted to use the chance I had been given to make some sort of difference, but that difference could only come about if I put in the work.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Where you go is up to you. It all comes back to making the choice to move forward or stay in the past. If you’re reading this, then it’s likely that no one is taking that choice away from you except yourself.
I hate to end on a cliché, but I want to take a look at the big picture. We all get one chance at this living thing. Sometimes it can be a drag. Other times it can be more beautiful than words can describe. More often than not, we’re all just trying to figure out what the hell we’re doing and stumbling along the way.
No one has all the answers, and our journey to find them is dictated by us. We’re going to fall, we’re going to rise, and we’re going to get lost. Repeatedly. Life isn’t meant to be perfect. It’s simply meant to be lived.
Sometimes it helps to remember that pain is (more often than not) temporary, as much as it feels like you’re stuck drowning in it. Challenges can be overcome. Fear can and will subside. Death is final.
Why close the story with such certainty when there are so many other good possibilities waiting out there for you? All it takes is a willingness to see them, and I’m sure you have that strength within you. You just have to choose to use it.
We’re all in this together. So when you’re ready to break through to the surface – when you feel like you can breathe again – know that you won’t be alone when you do.
If you need more help, please use these resources:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Call 1-800-273-8255
- Crisis Text Line
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Project Semicolon