I am a trained political scientist. I don’t actually do political science per say, but I do try to stay connected with what is happening in the field. Yesterday a prolific academic, Will Moore, killed himself and blogged his note. I read it on a few of my academic colleagues blogs/facebook posts. I didn’t know him personally but his note gripped me. I couldn’t not read it.
He basically said I’m done being on this planet because its painful and he just didn’t fit in. I wanted to cry — a part of me absolutely understood. He was a well-known and successful academic who, from the outside, looked like he had what most of us seemingly want. At least on most days I want what he had: successful career, a family, a reputation in the field, honesty and courage to call out BS when he saw it. This is both how others describe him and how he described himself. I strive for these things and keep coming up short — that is painful too.
What really got me, and what he alluded to a few times in his note, is the desire for connection. His pain seemed to come from constantly feeling disconnected and offending people without knowing why or how. The latter isn’t my problem– I generally know when I am pissing people off. But I former I get. The world can be a very lonely place. If you struggle with anxiety, depression, addiction or social dis-ease….or come to think of it.. if you are LGBTQ, overweight, muslim, black, injured, chronically ill, adopted, androgynous, an immigrant or refugee, and so on, then you probably also feel like an outsider and perhaps struggle to fit in and connect. We are different — at least I feel differently– from some unidentifiable norm of a white, cisgender, Christian, married with children, fit, successful banker/ hot housewife/lawyer with a house and financially secure future. This certainly isn’t my story and, frankly, its not the story of 90% of the people I have ever met. So I am going to go out on a limb and say most of us feel like misfits at least some of the time.
Being a misfit or feeling different or depressed need not be a lifetime sentence of disconnection and pain (albeit it just will be for some). Its all about finding our ‘people’. We live in a culture, especially in the US, where individualism –once our greatest asset — has become our greatest liability. We have to work hard to find community and feel ‘part of’ something greater than ourselves. It seems most of us aren’t taught what it means to be in community. At least I didn’t grow up understanding the concept. My task was to excel in my own right. Nobody told me that specifically, it was just what I came to understand. It wasn’t to be in service to some larger goal, cooperate or collaborate to problem solve, work together to build something or create something, it was to be self-reliant, a successful individual, which was, and is, entirely defined by material well-being. In many other cultures there is a much greater premium placed on being in community with others, taking care of family, and supporting each other. In Africa, there is Ubuntu — a saying that translates to I am because we are. When I first heard it I had no understanding of it- what does it mean and why would anyone want to be so dependent on others? I got this. Its the American way- rugged individualism.
Technology is doing an excellent job of eroding whatever was left of our communities. So most of us feel – at some point or another (or all the time)– painfully disconnected from each other, from community, from family and from ourselves.
Suicide is a painful reminder of the importance of creating community and reaching out with empathy and compassion to our friends, neighbors, and loved ones even when it isn’t easy, fun or convenient. Early on in sobriety I was taught what I needed to do to stay sober – reach out, ask for help, connect with others and be of service to someone else. I was so desperate to feel better I was willing to try anything. So I did it; I’d make a phone call, grab a coffee with someone, or offer a ride to a neighbor — usually to someone I barely knew– but it always helped. I felt good and connected. It was really uncomfortable the first few times I did it. But now, its almost easy, and at every turn, it comes back to me ten-fold. Now I know that helping someone else is helping myself. I have learned how to listen better and try to just give people space to be heard without trying to fix anything. I will often say “do you want me to just listen or do you want feedback?” before I launch into the ‘here is what you need to do’ schpiel. We all need this from time to time: Just let me rant and rave for a minute, I need to put my feelings somewhere so I can let them go. When someone does this for me and simply says, yes I hear you- that effing sucks! It is so validating. Its all I often need to feel supported and move on. This for me is community: sharing, listening, being heard, supporting and helping. Showing up for others. I take no credit for these ideas – my motivation was getting out of pain, despair and desperation so I took suggestions and I learned how to be in, and contribute to, a supportive community because it saved me.
I am not saying this would have changed Will Moore’s path or caused him to make different choices. I am merely saying I am reminded of what I can do to help myself and others feel part of a community where support and love are a phone call away so when the darkness and despair descend I have a support network to remind me – this too shall pass. Usually it does.