BE BRAVE. LIVE.

“Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive. When somebody dies after a long illness, people are apt to say, with a note of approval, ‘He fought so hard.’ And they are inclined to think, about a suicide, that no fight was involved, that somebody simply gave up. This is quite wrong.” – Sally Brampton

I don’t trumpet the fact that I’ve thought about ending my life on more than one occasion. Society tends to treat thoughts of suicide as a dirty secret, with the act itself being a scandalous betrayal. But when necessary, when someone could benefit from knowing that someone else in this world experienced the same dark thoughts they might be having, I’ve freely given comforting solidarity. It’s different when you’re on this side of it–the side of someone who has held a bottle of pills or razor blade in her hand, the side that had a “last wishes” document drafted at 14 in case she found the courage to actually go through with it, the side that has looked the lonely beast in the glaring, red-eyed face and chosen a different path.

That’s why I found Linda Gray Sexton’s essay “In the Shadow of My Mother’s Suicide” in Salon to be so damn powerful. She eloquently articulates what it’s like to be on that other side of suicide–so close to it, you can feel it breathing on your neck. It’s seemingly inescapable, and the more you struggle against it, the more your resolve waivers and fades. It has nothing to do with selfishness; it has everything to do with this ineffable, growing void that feels like it will consume you from the inside out. As Linda Gray Sexton writes, “My thoughts of suicide did not mean that I didn’t care about these very important people in my life. It was more as if the pain that accompanied my depression had moved onto a new plain, and, in my confusion, it seemed to require a new and different sort of release.”

The-hardest-thing-in-this-world-quoteIf you’ve ever thought of taking your own life or are contemplating it now, I urge you to read “In the Shadow of My Mother’s Suicide.” If you’ve ever had a family member or friend commit suicide, I urge you to read it, as well. And, more importantly, I advocate for compassion and patience–on both fronts. Linda Gray Sexton points out that the road out of the valley of suicidal thoughts is a long one; there were several moments (years, even) when she didn’t think she would make it out alive. The choice to survive the journey is an every day one. For many, thoughts of suicide are like that old acquaintance that shows up when you least expect or want him. You know you shouldn’t indulge him, but the familiarity pulls you in, sometimes before you even realize you’ve been suckered, and then he just won’t take the hint and leave.

I’m not ashamed to admit that at my lowest points I still gravitate back to thoughts of self-harm and self-destruction. I’ve likened it to a compulsion to equalize the pain inside with pain outside–that somehow the act will restore balance (even though, logically, I know it won’t). But in knowing and admitting this about myself, there is a bit of strength. I acknowledge my feelings rather than allowing them to spread like a silent blight beneath the surface. I journal the feelings, sing them out of me, confide them to a (very trusted) friend–and then I put them away.

The heart of the matter is clear in the second-to-last paragraph of Linda Gray Sexton’s essay: the word “hope.” Hold onto it with a white-knuckled grip. When you find yourself at the lowest of lows, the last thing you want to hear is a handful of trite cliches about how it gets better, you have to put up with rain to get rainbows, you take the bad with the good, etc. etc. But, if you’re openly honest and compassionate with yourself, there will be at least one small glimmer of hope–a flicker of light in the dark of seemingly unending night. Find that hopeful thing and focus on it. Even if it seems small like a barely visible star. The important thing is that it’s visible. Never lose sight of it.

SPREADING LIKE DRAGONSFIRE

When I set out on my journey to conquer dragons last year, something happened that I didn’t expect.

the cool kids clubIn The Hobbit, Bilbo is quite content to meander around the Shire as he always has, enjoying the familiar comforts of home. He protests as he is whisked away on an adventure. But the longer Bilbo is in the company of the thirteen courageous dwarves, the more they start to rub off on him. He finds himself instilled with an audacious fortitude he never contemplated possible.

That’s what happens when you keep company with sword-wielding dragonslayers: you’re likely to become one yourself.

As I’ve waved my sword around at my own dragons, the people around me have been inspired to take on their own. Running a 5k, starting up (regular) blogs, joining a gym, going back to school–the adventures abound. It’s thrilling to see the sense of accomplishment these folks are getting from conquering their own dragons. All it took was a little nudge out of the door.

Thus I am making an addendum to my original post: Conquering dragons is contagious. All the more reason to take up the sword, right? Who knows what adventures you’ll inspire with your dragonslaying! And let me tell you, there are few things that cement the bonds of friendship like slaying dragons together.

What have I got in my pocket? A bit of moxie and sass. Careful, though! If you stand close enough, you just might find them in your own pocket.

YEAR OF THE TRIBE

Earlier this year, Forbes published an article about the six people you need in your corner. It reminded me of Kelly Cutrone’s If You Have to Cry, Go Outside, in which she talks about the importance of tribes. Cutrone’s writing takes the six people mentioned in the Forbes article and gives them a name–makes them a personalized unit working in tandem rather than peripheral satellites.

The book is filled with advice about navigating your way through life (along with entertaining anecdotes about Cutrone’s life and a whole lotta swearing). The quote below about tribes is probably my favorite gem from its pages.

Finding your tribe, like following your dreams, isn’t always about what makes sense; it’s about what your soul needs. As much as we’re looking for experiences that turn us on, we’re looking for people who do the same, whether creatively, emotionally, spiritually or intellectually.

Tribes* are comprised of people who help you grow and inspire you to achieve your full potential. They aren’t the folks you call up when you’ve had a bad day because you know they will placate you and tell you what you want to hear. They are the ones who will call you on your bullshit (in a cordial way) and tell you what you need to hear. Tribes are our back-up navigation systems when our internal compasses fail or come into question. They keep us grounded while lifting us up to reach the stars.

But because our paths change–because we change–so should our tribes. As we head into a new year, making resolutions to achieve our dreams and goals, it’s an excellent time to take inventory of your own tribe. Who is helping you grow? Who isn’t? And while Forbes’ “The 6 People You Need in Your Corner” is a good place to start, remember that tribes aren’t one-size-fits-all. Make it your own.

2012 ended up being the “Year of the Tribe” for me. I found my place in a new office, made new friends (or strengthened existing relationships), and really embraced venturing outside of my comfort zone. As I look back over the past 12 months, I feel incredibly fortunate to have the tribe members that I do. The drive, passion, and energy they inspire in me also make me incredibly optimistic for what 2013 holds. When you have a solid, well-rounded tribe, you feel like you could take on the world… even if only a little bit at a time.

“The road to your dreams is sometimes dark, and it’s sometimes magical, but The Wizard of Oz had one thing right: It’s ultimately about the journey and the characters who accompany you in it, not about the destination.” Kelly Cutrone

*”Tribes” and “group of friends” are not the same thing, as they fulfill different roles. You can be friends with people not in your tribe, and tribe members may not be your friends.

CONQUERING DRAGONS

“Always do what you are afraid to do.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Smaug, from Wikipedia

The image of Smaug found in my copy of The Hobbit, borrowed from Wikipedia.

If you know The Hobbit, then this tale will sound familiar. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been led on an adventure–several, actually–where I found myself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. I was plucked from my comfortable seat beside the fire (where I was, of course, enjoying second breakfast) to go on a crusade against dragons. I didn’t go looking for this trouble, mind you; it found me. But, like Bilbo Baggins, I turned out better for it in the end.

Ok, maybe the title of this post is a little misleading. I don’t mean Smaug-type real dragons. I mean the metaphorical kind: things that scare the crap out of me and make me wish I had a magical ring that lets me disappear. But instead of running from these things, I picked up my sword and waved it around at them.

The crusade wasn’t always pretty. I lost my footing a couple of times, thought for sure my hair had been singed off, and even felt downright nauseated a time or two. But damn it, I did it: I became a dragonslayer!

Here’s what I’ve learned about conquering dragons:

What constitutes as a large dragon for me may not be so big for someone else. And that’s ok. The more dragons we conquer, the smaller they may seem in comparison. For someone who has been slaying dragons for a while, mine may seem more like lizards. But that doesn’t diminish them in my eyes nor does it detract from the sweet sense of victory I feel once I’ve conquered one.

Not all dragons breathe fire. I grappled with one last week that displayed a mirror-like substance instead of flames. Now the fire may sound worse, but I assure you, what I saw reflected in the mirror was pretty painful. Let’s just say that Bilbo’s lesson equaled my own.

One size sword does not fit all. In fact, some dragons cannot be conquered by the blade at all. Each dragon is unique and must be handled accordingly. What does that mean? A whole lot of patience and sussing things out. Use what you’ve got, and always trust your gut.

Some dragons really do guard treasure. I’m not saying every dragon you slay will yield copious riches and jewels. What I am saying is that sometimes dragons get in the way of other stuff–important stuff like personal relationships, business relationships, opportunities, how we spend our time, and more. And if you’re anything like me, these things are the treasures in life.

Not all dragons are made for conquering. Sometimes, you have to sheathe your sword and just run the other way. Tackling dragons takes effort and time. If investing these two things doesn’t translate into some sort of benefit–if this dragon is simply a soul-sucking energy vortex–it may be best to put the sword down. Recognizing and distancing yourself from these types of dragons is a feat of its own.

Conquering dragons is addictive. Once you start overcoming these scaly obstacles, you’ll feel so good, so empowered that it will be difficult to stop. But should you find yourself fearfully faced with a formidable foe of a dragon, remember the words of the great dragonologist JRR Tolkien: “It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.”