The Honest Answer

Tonight when I went through the check-out line at the grocery store, the clerk asked me something that I normally wouldn’t give a second thought to. All she said was, “Hi, how are you?” I paused- for a split second, I considered telling her exactly how I was. I wondered what would happen if I told her exactly where my head had been this afternoon, and how she would respond if I told her that it was taking everything I had to wait until I got home to let go of the tears that welled behind falsely strong eyes.  Instead, I went back into auto-pilot and said, “fine thanks, how are you?”

How many times a day does someone ask you how you’re doing, and you completely deflect the meaning of the phrase by simply saying, “good, how are you?” Do we ever actually want to know, “how are you?” Or are we simply going through the motions that mirror genuine care for someone else’s state of mind? We have stopped actually wanting the real answer to that seemingly simple question. Out of the hundreds of times a day a checker in a grocery store asks a customer how they are, how many times do you think a customer says, “well, I can’t shake this feeling of a dark cloud over me and everything I do, but I guess I’ll be okay”? Probably zero. And, if that actually came to pass, what would the checker say?

We have become de-sensitized to one another’s emotions over time.  We live our lives with so much space between us, that when something genuine coexists between two people, it leaves us jarred. We close ourselves off to these moments of intensity, in an attempt to protect ourselves from truly feeling something.

Today, I learned of a young life lost- someone who carried with them the burden of the world, yet let no one know the depths of his own despair until it was too late.  I am not presumptuous to assume and say that had someone asked how he was, things would have been different for him. But maybe if there wasn’t such a stigma surrounding the topic of how we are all truly doing, the conversation might have been easier.

You guys, the buck stops here. It is, whether you like it or not, a conversation that needs to start happening. While I myself have never been suicidal or majorly depressed, I can still understand the concern about not being accepted or understood for what I feel or think.  It’s time that we all stop worrying about what it is going to sound like when we are honest with ourselves, and everyone around us.

Recently, I went on a trip to the east coast to visit my extended family- some of whom I hadn’t seen in 10 years.  On one of the first nights in town, my cousin and I made quite a bit of headway on a bottle of red wine (or 2).  After a few glasses, we started to discuss family history- some ancient, and some more recent.  As conversation became more and more candid, we discovered that we have both experienced nearly losing a family member due to a mental illness.  We both had seen someone go beyond what seems like the point of no return, and understand what it feels like to lose any control of the situation around us. We had both been heartbroken by the despair which someone we loved had been dealt with alone, and came to the conclusion that enough was enough. It’s time to stop dancing around the topic. It’s time to stop avoiding the conversation that needs to happen- When someone needs help, it should not be something they feel ashamed of, or alone in.

Just barely over two years ago, on the morning of my 22nd birthday, I awoke to a text that changed everything for me. Someone I loved had given up his years-long fight with his own demons, and taken his own life.  This was someone who had guided me, inspired me, and been there for me when I felt like my world was crumbling…. All along, it was he who had been slowly shutting down. There are so many questions I still to this day ask myself about what went wrong- all of the how’s, all of the why’s, etc.  I felt everything you could expect- confusion, guilt, anger, sadness, and most of all, hopelessness.

What I didn’t see then, that I can clearly see now, is that it is not hopeless.

It’s not going to be easy.  None of us want to actually address what is happening.  When someone tells you that they have considered at least 4 different ways to kill themselves throughout the years you have known them, you don’t want to take it in- you can’t.  It’s not something you’re equipped to handle.  But ultimately, is that because we can’t handle it emotionally, or we were never taught to? When did we decide that it was easier or less messy to simply shut each other out?

This may never become of anything, really.  It’s very possible that I myself may write this, then return to life as usual, ignoring what I don’t want to see and accept.  But I want to challenge anyone and everyone who reads this- even myself.  Ask the tough questions.  Ask for the honest answer. Keep yourself, and your heart, open to the possibility that this could be the moment when it all turns around for someone.

Like I said, it is not going to be easy. But if we do it together, I think that it is entirely doable.

Let’s start the conversation.

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