The “less than sunny” side

The “less than” sunny side

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.  My experience dictates that the importance of mental health has never been addressed more.  For that, we should all give thanks.  As with most topics that are “no fun,” we have more work to do.  Suicide rates have increased by 35% between 1999 and 2018 in the U.S.  In 2020, the mean weekly number of ER visits for suspected suicide attempts were 26% higher in the summer, and as much as 51% in the winter.  Teen girls are particularly vulnerable.  

In an effort to curb the stigma of mental illness, I’d first like to declare I’m not an expert. But I’ve witnessed a lot of mental health crisises and I’ve done a fair amount of research. 

Much like an autoimmune disease, mental health issues arise when natural systems in our body go awry. The feelings of anxiety and fear are natural reactions that kick off physiological reactions in the body meant to keep us safe from threats. It’s when these systems overreact where we run into trouble. So, it’s complicated, especially considering a judgement of “overreacting” is largely subjective. 

As we assess “mental health” issues that surround us, when we see them play out with friends or family, we often say “this doesn’t make sense.”  To that I’d say, “exactly.” It doesn’t make sense. That’s the very heart of those moments when our minds hiccup, play tricks on us, or downright betray us. 

Volumes of research point toward the idea that our minds lead to many illnesses that ail our physical bodies. It’s a matter of getting to the root cause. Much like a dog that  uncharacteristically bites, most trainers will tell you there were warning signs ignored. Our minds often prove to be the compass to exactly where we need to go. But it’s so damn powerful, it’s easy to ignore the warning signs. 

When we don’t heed the warning calls, admit, address, and tackle them, the troubles will make their way to the surface, one way or another. And when they do, we have little to no control over how they show up. And most of all – we can’t decide when the timing is convenient. 

If you’ve faced these sorts of things, or are currently navigating, my heart goes out to you.  If you’ve never dealt with any of this, I’d suggest you take a moment to express gratitude. My dark side might also say, “brace yourself, it’s coming.” 

In any case, I’d dare you to find a time you regretted leading with compassion. Reach out.  Ask questions.  Listen without judgement.  Try something.  Anything.  Chances are your efforts will be appreciated more than you’ll ever know.  

Suicide is currently the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and rising. This is a problem that money can’t solve.  The only way out is through community, connection, and love.  

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Happy 4th!

Happy 4th!

I love the 4th of July. It’s always been one of my favorite holidays. My childhood home sat just beyond the parade route. It was a day I could count on to be filled with laughter, music, and our favorite foods. Visitors stopped in all day. A full-blown carnival filled the park across the street. And what better nightcap could a young girl ask for than fireworks? 

Just last year was the first I came to realize that the 4th of July was not celebrated by all. I was wrong in believing it was one holiday we could all agree to celebrate. That realization brought great sadness. And great shame. I committed to learning more, and to a greater awareness. 

Today, one year later, I report that I’m still deeply saddened. I also feel confusion and great uncertainty. But – I did go back to celebrating this holiday. Here’s why. 

The USA was born on this day, 245 years ago. That is an undeniable truth. Democracy has been proven over these past 2.5 centuries to be the most powerful government system in the world. Each citizen has an opportunity to participate. Millions of Americans are involved in public service. They protect our country.  They deserve our respect.

Are there problems? Yes. So many. They overwhelm me. Equality for all, both in perception and reality. How do we get there? 

I can confidently say I have no idea. I pray that leaders will emerge who have answers, solutions, policies, and big plans.

I do believe there is one thing we can do.  It may sound trite, or silly. But all we have to do is be nice. I know for me it’s about all I feel capable of doing, and some days even this is pretty hard. 

Catch yourself when you are judging someone. It happens all the time. Let go of the guilt, because we all do it. But try to take a deep breath, acknowledge that your experience is different than theirs. Perhaps spend another minute trying to understand their point of view, and  then  Let. It. Go. 

Strung together in a complex network of peers and experiences, opinions shape our values, but one-offs are simply not enough information. Opinions belong among our loved ones, people who ask for them, and in meaningful conversations. Perhaps you share one if, after some evaluation, you decide it could be helpful. They also belong in the voting booth. 

Let freedom ring.

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