mental health

Support My Run for Suicide Prevention

Alive & Running 2017Without a doubt, I’ve never met a group of people more selflessly committed to helping others than my fellow counselors at the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center. They dedicate themselves to giving people in crisis the tools to stay alive simply because they feel called to do so. Joining them in their work has profoundly changed my life, and together we’ve helped over 50,000 callers and chatters already this year.

My enthusiasm for the Suicide Prevention Center should be clear from the fact that, though I’ve been running for years, I’ve never once had the desire to race — until I learned about Didi Hirsch’s Alive & Running 5K Walk/Run for Suicide Prevention. On September 24, I’ll take to the streets and race for the first time with my SPC teammates, families who’ve lost loved ones to suicide, survivors of attempts, and hundreds of others to raise money to support the center.

My modest fundraising goal is $500. My foolhardy running goal is to win my age group. Please sponsor me at any amount. Every dollar you give will help end the public health crisis of suicide.

Bruce’s Brain

Born to Run by Bruce SpringsteenI can’t possibly judge the reaction to Born to Run of a person who doesn’t consider Bruce Springsteen to be their personal, artistic, and political hero. But someone who does will react by doubling down on their devotion, thanks to his memoir’s deep introspection and focus on art, ideas, responsibility, friendships, and family. Anyone looking for a debauched rock n’ roll tell-all needs to find another book and another performer to write it.

Bruce and his work have always managed to find a place in my life to nest into and from which to inspire, motivate, and support me despite how I change over the years. Now, as I’ve found a new passion for mental health and helping others to achieve it, in steps Bruce devoting many pages of his autobiography to intimately recounting his history of mental illness. Mental illness fueled his self-examination that outputted into his lyrics; his obsession with perfection that made his best records THE best records; and his need for acceptance and escape that drove him to three-hour concerts. In short, mental illness made Bruce Bruce. It also nearly unmade him more than once, and he lays out his struggle with his brain not as a triumph over tragedy but merely as an upfront description of facing one of the troubles with being human. Whether he intends to or not, he scrapes away the stigma and opens a door to help for any readers unwilling or unable to do so themselves. My hero.

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Climb Out of the Hell Well, pt. 2 – Start Hoping

Sunrise by Roy Lichtenstein, 1965
Sunrise by Roy Lichtenstein, 1965

In part one of this essay I described the Hell Well as the pit of despondency we dig ourselves into through worry. Since worry and despondency are seemingly undying, or at least perpetually renewable, we need a tool against them that’s just as strong. That tool is hope.

Hope springs eternal. Yeah, whatever, put it on a poster with a baby sloth and hang it in the church basement. Any of us with even the tiniest ember of cynicism still glowing from thousands of hours of listening to Pavement records want to scrape that lavender-scented pap to the toilet and flush twice. Which is why we need to get over ourselves and accept the fact that hope is eternal. The powerful conviction that things can always improve 1Not the frail delusion that things will always improve. will not die unless you let it. No facts can invalidate it; no reality can extinguish it. Hope’s immutability is what makes it such a ferocious weapon against despondency. “Hope is an ax,” wrote Rebecca Solnit, and it is–an indestructible ax. An adamantium skull cleaver hewing bloody stumps from despair.

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1. Not the frail delusion that things will always improve.

Climb Out of the Hell Well, pt. 1 — Stop Worrying

Over Water II by Chuck Olson
Over Water II by Chuck Olson

In the wake of the election, some of my friends are stuck down a Hell Well. They’ve used their worry and fear for America’s future to dig themselves into a dark pit of despair, some of them so deep that the only light they see comes from the demonic flames further down. I recognize it because I spent most of my life down a Hell Well.

Thanks to an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, I passed decades in fear of one horrifying future or another, or the fear of their being no future at all. Only in the last six of my 42 years–a tiny 14% of my life–have I crawled out for any significant period of time. That was only after my life became so unbearable that I hit the emotional and psychological bottom of the Hell Well.

I’d dug myself down with my worry, and I’d stay down there for years because I’d been futilely trying to worry myself out. It doesn’t work. The tools you use to dig can’t be used to climb. I had to forge myself new ones. And while not everyone who’s dug themselves into a Hell Well has an anxiety disorder, we can all use the same tools to climb out.

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Sing Along For Power


I put together this playlist of some of my favorite sing-along songs. Most of them are anthems. Some could be called protest songs. A few of them are just bits of joy. But listening and shouting along to any of them is an act of power.

I experienced it this morning when, clawing my way out of despair, I put on my headphones and walked outside. Something made me search Spotify for A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario?” In minutes I was walking faster, roaring along to “Rowr! Rowr! Like a dungeon dragon.” Then playing it again. “Here we go yo! Here we go yo!” Then before it could end finding “Sabotage,” shouting now, “I can’t stand it!” Then queuing new songs reflexively before I’d be left in silence. Racing, screaming the choruses, I didn’t realize what I was doing to myself until, four tracks in, surprising feelings overcame me: hope, strength, energy, determination, confidence. In another word: power.

So I made a playlist to share that power. Listening to music as a source of empowerment seems like a bromide, but it’s not. It’s an operative technique to change your mental state and thereby move you to constructive action.

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Fear = Fail

Fear = Fail
The only answer to fear is to be braver than the people you fear want you to be.

This is going to be a weird-ass analogy, so hang with me for a minute. In the days after the September 11 attacks, Major League Baseball went on a week-long hiatus. People debated whether the game should resume at all. Buck Showalter, current manager of the Baltimore Orioles and then analyst for ESPN, argued that it shouldn’t. He understood that cancelling the remainder of the season would send the message that the terrorists had brought us to our knees but, he said, “they kind of have.”

I was as scared after 9/11 as anyone, probably more, but hearing Showalter chirp that nonsense was the first time after the attacks that my fear changed into anger. This coward was telling me that because scary men could do mean things to America, we’d better get used to sacrificing our way of life because nothing would ever be the same again. Buck spoke up for al Qaeda and shared their lie that we were on our knees and we should stay down and stay afraid. His noxious wind blew the terror out of me and fanned a fire that, if I remember rightly, shot plasma from my eyes, melted the TV and burned down an entire Applebee’s.

I’ve thought of Buck’s “they kind of have” over and over since the election, because it’s what I’m hearing now from the mouths of my fellow progressives. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are filled with the fear that scary men could do mean things to America, and we’d better get used to sacrificing our way of life because nothing will ever be the same again.

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Pessimists are Boring. Here’s Why.

photo credit: stallio
photo credit: stallio

Believing that things will never improve takes no imagination: “I’ll keep losing money. I’ll keep getting fatter. I’ll never find anyone I love. People will continue to kill each other. The planet will keep getting warmer.” But believing things can improve requires thoughtfulness and creativity to envision reasons why and ways how they could get better. Unimaginative people are boring. Creative people are interesting.

Believing that things will never improve relieves yourself of the burden of trying to make them better. It takes no effort to deteriorate. But believing that things can improve necessitates the effort to make it happen: you have to work harder, overcome unpleasantness, challenge yourself. Lazy people are boring. Industrious people are interesting.

Believing that things will never improve murders ambition. If you presume your career is doomed, your love life is doomed, the world is doomed, then you have no reason to set goals, let alone try to achieve them. You give yourself a permanentexcuse to let your dreams whither. But believing that things can improve means believing that nothing prevent you from reaching your objectives other than yourself. Complacent people are boring. Ambitious people are interesting.

Believing that things will never improve makes you whiny, angry, and generally a turd to be around. Turdish people are boring. Pessimists are boring.