A Light Lost–Mental Health Advocacy

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Trigger warning—topics of suicide and self-harm.

The world lost Stephen Boss last week to suicide.  Many knew him as tWitch and from what I can see, he was immensely loved.  I didn’t know the man personally, I didn’t follow his work, but I knew who he was from Ellen.  Everything I read about this man fascinated me.  There was not one negative thing about him.  Complimenting his ethic, his person, his belief, the way he carried himself, this man did amazing things simply by sharing his gift, his essence.  I could feel the pain of those who knew him.  It’s not unusual for that type of outpouring or the commentary that no one knew what was really going on, or they never would have guessed.

It’s situations like this that bring to light that there is still significant stigma around mental health.  The fact that people struggle with mental health is not a secret—we all know about it.  How we deal with it and treat it is still a work in progress.  I understand that we are dealing with things that are relatively unknown (yes, mountains of data exist, but we don’t have a full physiological reason for these behaviors, especially because different physiological things cause the same response).  I also understand that sharing those vulnerable parts of us is more than uncomfortable because, as animals, if we indicate something is “wrong” or different about us, we are at risk.  I understand that as a society, we still push this idea that we need to handle it all on our own.  I understand we are doing what we’ve always been trained to do because we don’t know any different.  It all makes logical sense how we got where we did.  Any one of those factors explains it, to be honest.  But I understand that now is the time to push for change. Most importantly, I understand what it feels like to be on the other side, to feel like you have nothing to contribute, that he world would genuinely be better without you.

I’ve shared my story of self-harm.  For me that included cutting for over a decade, two sincere suicide attempts, one with cutting, another with a bottle of acetaminophen at 15 years old.  Now I look at it and ask how someone so young could feel that much self-hatred and have such little self-worth. It’s why my work focuses largely on self-care, self-help, and self-value.  As we get older, we do funny things with our value and tying our identity to external factors in some way.  We learn that pattern as kids, but as adults, we forget there was ever another option in deciding worth.  That’s legitimately why I wrote the piece about my evaluation the other day.  I digress.  We internalize those external factors and think that defines who we are.  Throw in a physiological issue like a potential hormone imbalance, a decrease in chemical flow, or an issue with receptors, and we are talking an actual cesspool of self-hatred.

I share that to squash this idea that suicide is selfish.  People see it as selfish from the outside because they look at how people are impacted—a natural response, I guess.  What they aren’t seeing is what that person was going through INSIDE.  If you’ve never had thoughts about what the world would be like without out, then this is your invitation to either LEARN about it and really do a deep dive, or kindly shut the fuck up about it.  Carry your judgement elsewhere.  If you haven’t felt those things, if your brain doesn’t operate the same chemically, then you DON’T KNOW.  It would be like explaining to Neil Armstrong what it’s like on the moon.  We can’t—we’ve never been there.  You can’t judge something on surface level. And maybe that is the first place we need to start: learning to reserve judgement.     

I hate the thought of losing such a powerful light in the world.  By all accounts, tWitch was an amazing human being, loved by his family, friends, and fans alike.  They spoke so highly of his ability to share and view the world with kindness.  I think of Robin Williams and him talking about how it’s usually the people who are in the most pain who make you laugh because they don’t want others to feel that way.  I share my story again to ignite the flame in others and to show that there is a way to get through and to remember value and worth.  The more we share, the more we normalize the conversation.  That’s how you make changes.  Having the conversation, no matter how difficult is how you change it.  Until then, take the time to reach out to those you love, offer to volunteer with those who need it, just lend an ear.  Don’t take for granted that all is well.  Check on people.  Let’s start changing the conversation and the behaviors that lead to feeling this way.  And if YOU need help, speak up, reach out, tell people clearly.  It gets better.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online. Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741;  You can also text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. 

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