Break the (sensational) Cycle

In the last few years, I’ve been regularly skimming through the obituaries in the local newspaper. The older I get, the more evident mortality becomes. Last week, I read an obit for a guy I grew up with. They didn’t list the cause of death, but he was just shy of turning 43.

Although not quite ready to reap the glorious benefits from AARP, life begins taking a toll after four-plus decades and people we grew up with begin hopping on the spaceship for another world. Anyone who passes from this world but is not the target demographic for Life Alert commercials or retirement communities in Palm Beach is too fucking young to die.

If my tone comes off as cynical, good fucking guess! As someone who not only has personal experience with several failed suicide attempts, I’ve lost someone close to suicide. It’s a god-damn awful predicament for the one who’s enduring such misery on a daily basis and for friends and family of that person.

Unfortunately, death has no minimum age requirement. It does not seek out a specific ailment, bloodline or predestined plan; it can happen to any of us. Outside of elderly family members and colleagues, I’ve personally known about a dozen people around my age or younger who were not long for this world. They died from a variety of causes.

The circumstances of their unexpected passing always left me in a dizzying chamber of despair, anger, confusion and relief. It didn’t matter if it was an overdose, suicide or disease; death abruptly yanked them out from among the living.

Recently, suicide and mental health have made headlines since two celebrities took their own lives. In no way am I minimizing the agony and self-torture these brilliant people have endured, however, like school shootings in recent years, it’s obvious how this will all play out.

We’ll read the headlines and watch the tabloid cable news about root causes of what could have ultimately pushed the two to make such a final—and permanent—act. Next, media barons and Hollywood PR firms will see ratings and dollar signs as they step all over each other to drum up campaign after campaign regarding mental health and suicide prevention. The former does this because it’s unwilling to report real news while the latter due to lack of original ideas. Within four months, the news cycle will have left the outpost and rolled on down the bumpy, chaotic trail of modern media.

Anyone breathing is susceptible to the underlying factors that lead to committing the Final Act, regardless of social status or financial circumstances. It’s easy to forget this in a world where posting selected and modified status updates of our lives is the new normal. At no other time in humanity have we been able to hide our true feelings and situations from even our closest friends and family members.

Perhaps we don’t want to come off as negative or inferior, so we hide our true emotions while “faking” that all is as shiny and bright like an oasis in the desert. This could mean getting done up for numerous selfies to show how good we look or posting endless pictures of our perfect spouses, children, picket-fence life. All of it is done, I believe, for three reasons:

  • It’s competition with our other social media friends to indicate who’s better off materially and socially
  • A diversion to mask how empty and miserable many of us feel about ourselves inside.
  • Some simply don’t care and are too self-absorbed

Though I come off brash about people’s intentions of posting on social media, I recognize things are not as black and white as they appear. I’m just as guilty when it comes to appearing positive online and masking the negative.

As much as we want to share our lives with our friends, far and wide, there’s still a part of us that yearns for more attention and acceptance; that somehow who we are is not good enough. We now have more conveniences to express that than ever before.

Back to celebrity suicides and all the media attention they’ve garnished. While I feel it’s important to shed light on getting help for mental health problems before one is ready to either go postal or pull a “Thelma and Louise,” there’s one critical point to consider: Most people who are in such a horrific place in their minds that ending it all seems like the only option that makes sense are not pillars of society. A lot of folks with deep-rooted depression, bipolar and the like have been long isolated from former social circles and even family members. They’ve pretty much fallen into obscurity or have made several huge mistakes in life prior to taking their own lives. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people talk about someone they once knew who killed himself: “Wow, I can’t believe (name) did that! I wondered what happened to him…”

Perhaps a suggestion—I include myself—would be to occasionally reach out to an estranged friend/colleague. He or she may seem like they are being rude and avoiding people as much as possible, but the problem could be more severe than you realize. Remember: It’s not all about you. That’s a challenging statement in a social media-dominated world!

Imagine if—only for a day—not worrying about how many Likes you get from your narcissistic updates, consider that others, someone you may have once been close to, could be going through a personal hell right now and is considering ending his or her life.  Maybe if enough of us do this, someone we are either close to or used to be close to and who struggles with mental health issues could give themselves one more chance to work on themselves. Imagine that!

Back to the former classmate to recently passed. Although I don’t know the exact cause of his death, I wish I at least got to know him a little more when we were kids. Not that we were destined to become best friends or anything, but since we grew up together, I regret not knowing more about him.


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