How To Save A Life

Someone close to me said that they’d never forgive me if I “chose to be that selfish” and take my own life.

 

As if to say it is weak to not be able to continue to take hit after hit and blow after blow…

 

Implying that it is even weaker to feel like you can’t take it anymore, to throw your hands up and declare yourself finished with it all.

 

Because I love this person it took every ounce of compassion in my possession not to say “f**k you too then…”

 

Actually…

 

I’m lying.

 

That’s exactly what I did say, and I’m 100% sure I shut down the conversation after that.

 

Let me tell you another story...

 

Before I learned healthy ways to deal with pain I used to cut my wrists.

 

Not with the intention of killing myself but to give a tangible physical experience to overwhelming emotional pain.

 

I used to hide it pretty well until one day I couldn’t, and for whatever reason I was caught bare armed with seven fresh red slashes on the inside of my right forearm.

 

“Why did you do that?” I was asked.

 

I remained silent, staring at the floor (my default position during interrogations).

 

“Did you even think about me when you did that? Did you think about how that makes me look?”

 

I looked up then…

 

Because

 

THAT

 

That reaction is one of the reasons why people struggling like this don’t say anything.

 

We…

 

are sometimes left with the feeling that our struggle or issues are somehow offensive

 

TO YOU.

 

Like…

 

The very existence of this crisis is a threat or insult to the role you believe you play in our lives.

 

“Did you think about how that makes me look?”

 

Sure.

 

For about as long as you thought about how much pain I must have been feeling to decide that cutting myself was a better alternative.

 

Another story…

 

I once tried to talk to my parents over a decade ago about my feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and despair.

 

Only to be met with…

 

“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

 

to which I responded…

 

“are you sure about that?” in such a muted, flat, and lifeless voice that I thought the connection was dropped as the phone went dead silent before they hesitantly asked if I was okay, their voices trembling already fearing the answer to that question.

 

I hung up the phone.

 

That “god doesn’t give you more than you can handle” response implied that I was mistaken about my feelings. That I had somehow misinterpreted the pain and the purpose of it. It implied that the issue was not the pain itself but my lack of understanding or faith. 

 

So all I really took away from that exchange was…

 

“Congratulations Tianna, you’re still lacking”

 

After every high profile suicide we are subjected to the predictable suicide hotline viral tweets, reminders that we’re not alone, the facebook posts shared by distant friends, encouraging and sometimes begging you to reach out, making assurances that you’ll be met with an open ear.

 

But are you really listening?

 

HOW are you listening?

 

Another story…

 

A few weeks ago (you may remember) I talked about wanting to quit. Most people said, “no don’t quit, you’re not done, the sport needs you.” And people offered up dozens of variations and reiterations of those sentiments.

 

I had ONE friend who, after listening to my melancholy soliloquy said, “so quit.”

 

I was stunned into silence…

 

She continued, “I’m hearing you give me legitimate reasons for not wanting to do this anymore. I mean what you’re dealing with isn’t fair and it IS horrible…”

 

She continued on and so it was my turn to listen. While listening to her I realized she had not only granted me permission to quit she…

 

acknowledged the reality of my circumstances…

 

validated my feelings…

 

gave me permission and the (safe) space to respond and react the way I needed to in that moment.

 

Her two words, “so quit”

 

and the conversation that followed helped move me away from feeling that my very real “pain” was actually getting lost to and overshadowed by the need of others to understand my response to it

 

her reaction ushered me into a space where I could see and feel all of it freely without the cloudiness of other peoples’ bafflement, judgement, and ulterior motives.

 

She didn’t indict me as guilty or weak for having my feelings, didn’t make me defend my reaction as if I were on trial, didn’t bombard me with inspirational quotes, scriptures, or pep talks.

 

She simply heard me out.

 

Which turns out 

 

was exactly what I needed.

 

because as soon as she said “so quit” I knew I didn’t want to.

 

A final story…

 

I’ve been beyond scared this year so far.

 

Yes, I did the hard part and left the marriage…blah blah blah.

 

But the truly stressful part…

 

Now that my income is a laughable slice of what it used to be…

 

Is wondering how long I’ll be able to afford paying my divorce attorney as she deals with objection after objection and hearing after hearing that progresses me nowhere closer to the inevitable…

 

I’m afraid that running out of money, in what is essentially my mission to stand up for myself, would be to suffer an indignity so great, and so final I’d never recover from it. 

 

Not to mention I have an entirely different team of attorneys working for me on an entirely different yet equally important task…

 

I find this reality to be so stressful that on competition days I sometimes catch myself saying to myself, “you need to be better. If you’re not better you don’t get paid, you don’t get paid you can’t afford your life. If you can’t afford your life you’re no better off than you were before, because you couldn’t afford that life either only difference was that then homelessness, poverty, repossession wasn’t really something you’d have dealt with as a result. So yea Tee. You don’t do better that’s what you can look forward to. Good luck today. Go get em Tiger.”

 

Which naturally sends my cortisol levels through the roof and as a result I can’t function at a high level because I’ve essentially shut myself down.

 

Paralyzed by the gravity I’ve attributed to my performances.

 

I ran 16.65 in a 150 electronically timed two weeks before my opener in Guadeloupe. And somehow managed to run 11.62 that day in the 100m.

 

Debilitated.

 

I was just slightly better that following weekend in Jamaica but barely. My nerves were so bad, my anxiety so high that I took an entire week off from track and field. 

 

Only to return to training with the same compulsion.

 

“I can’t watch you do this to yourself, why are you doing this?”

 

I remained silent, staring at the floor (my default position during interrogations, I’ve mentioned that before).

 

After a while, I finally admitted that I was just scared to death that I wouldn’t be able to afford to have a new free life, because I still have so many unknown costs to secure that for myself.

 

I eventually admitted to being so worried about the inevitable reductions I’ll face at the end of the season for not being ranked top 5 in the world, for not getting into enough quality meets, for not having enough high quality performances…

 

cha ching.

 

cha ching.

 

cha ching.

 

I’m adding dollars up in my head wondering what the next pay cut will look like.

 

“Go get your contract”

 

I did.

 

“Calculate your worst case scenario reductions”

 

I did.

 

I now had a dollar amount.

 

“Ok, at most this is what you stand to lose at the end of the season.”

 

I looked at this number. I traced the figure with my fingers. I held the paper to the light, I turned the paper over and looked at it backwards and upside down.

 

And guess what happened.

 

I became less terrified.

 

When you say you’re listening, are you listening with your “you can get through this” speech at the ready?

 

If so…

 

that’s not really listening.

 

Are you listening with a “here’s all the things you should be grateful for so focus on these” list cued up?

 

If so…

 

that’s not really listening.

 

Are you ready to fire off some personal anecdote about how you overcame a (not really) similar situation?

 

Not listening.

 

Got seemingly applicable bible verses cued up to share?

 

Not listening.

 

Any therapist will tell you, that listening…already knowing…already prepared to respond is not really listening at all.

 

And what we need is someone to listen.

 

One person who will say, “so quit…”

 

One person who will say, “yea, you are going to lose some more money, this is how much…”

 

Because most of the time all we need is ONE person to say, “You know what? That IS f**ked up” to make us feel less alone and fill us with hope.

 

THAT you’re listening isn’t nearly as important as HOW you’re listening.

 

I hope you’re listening.