Chelle Summer

Life Realities

Michelle Rusk

While the suicide of Kate Spade hit me hard because she had been such a big inspiration in a very challenging point of my life (when I divorced and was redefining my life and where the new journey would take me), what doesn't surprise me is the seemingly befuddleness (if that's not a word, it is now) that I'm reading and hearing from people of the recent high-profile suicides. I could give a list of reasons why this doesn't surprise me (although frustrates me because I'm not seeing true change happen) but there are two major messages I've had on my soap box for several years now and they continue to fall on deaf ears. So here they are again.

It's okay to feel bad.

Life is hard. I'll be the first to admit that I learned a long time ago (even before my sister's death and probably from my dad) that life wouldn't be perfect or easy. I believe this came from his own struggle with finding happiness and peace. I'm sure there moments after drinking when this was said in sarcasm but I believe mostly he was saying, "Suck it up and keep moving forward. You won't be flying high on clouds daily." 

Most people have suicidal thoughts at one time or another. That doesn't mean they have any intention of killing themselves. It means that they used these thoughts as escapism. It means they had a bad day or a bad week or longer. It means a whole bunch of things. And instead of standing there in the darkness with them, allowing them to feel the pain wash over so it can go away (like a storm standing by that needs to drop rain before the sun can come back out), we tell them they have a great life and they have no reason to feel bad.

Let people feel bad. There are days when I say to Greg, "I don't feel so hopeful today." It happens occasionally and I find ways to work through it, but sometimes saying it Greg– or writing it in my journal– is enough to help the feelings dissipate and I can move on. I remember once that my high school journalism teacher had said of my sister Denise and I– she had Denise in English class– "The difference between you two is that when you have a bad day, you bounce back. She doesn't."

While I'm not saying this is a complete answer to more complicated issues around mental health, I wonder if maybe she didn't feel she had a place to express her feelings and I did. I was able to go forward while she stood there stuck in place. It might have been that everyone wanted her to feel good and tried to shower her with messages of love that she couldn't feel while I was in the corner writing all my crazy feelings into a journal and then running through them later that afternoon.

And that's the second point– when I was moving on from the field of suicidology I saw so much work in warning signs and so little on the reasons to live. I still believe we need to spend more time asking people what keeps them here and how can we help them reach inside themselves and find them and use them.

Late yesterday evening I was doing something in the kitchen when I heard the old tv show "The Jeffersons" on the tv in the next room. Quite honestly, I was enjoying seeing the clothes and furnishing of the mid-seventies. And the comfort of the thought of watching the show in another life (in syndication mostly, around dinnertime). I thought of Kate Spade who was not quite ten years older than me and I wondered about those things in her life that had brought her that kind of happiness to think about, the very things that I know she wasn't thinking about that morning two weeks ago when she died.

And then I wondered, where do dreams get lost?