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Posts tagged empathy
D E T O X
Photos by Abbey Armstrong Photography  Color edited by me

Photos by Abbey Armstrong Photography

Color edited by me

The other day I was talking with a friend about dealing with toxic people in our lives.

We’ve all experienced negativity in our lives. That’s showbiz. And by showbiz, I mean LIFE. It’s part of the gig! And sometimes, that negativity is more chronic/severe, bumping it to the toxic zone.


You cannot heal in the same environment where you got sick.

Sporadic negativity is to be expected. Navigating life can be tough, man, and there are so many contributing factors to negativity: change/loss/curveballs/hormones. Ideally we’ll get to a place where we live what the Stoics preach: being solidly at peace no matter what happens. That’s a journey and a whole other conversation, so let’s table that for this post’s purpose.

Back to handling toxicity, particularly when it comes to toxic people in our lives. I’m a firm believer in empathizing with unacceptable behavior but not condoning it.

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Let’s unpack the first part of that: empathy. Everyone has bumps and bruises they’ve accumulated from being, you know…HUMAN. And let’s face it, some people get dealt realllly shitty hands. It doesn’t seem fair, right? And comparison is futile. Not everyone’s challenges are equal and they don’t have the same effect on everybody. Again, there are multiple contributing factors (history, current emotional/physical/mental state, etc). What’s tough for me may be easy for you, and vice versa. And what may have been a breeze for you in the past may knock you down now. Life isn’t necessarily linear.


Empathy lies in our ability to be present without opinion.
— Marshall B. Rosenberg

And some people are carrying some heavy burdens we know nothing about, driving them to act in certain ways, like lashing out/getting irritable/becoming erratic, etc. Our exterior (including our behavior) is a reflection of our interior. Our fears/insecurities have a way of hijacking us and driving our behavior. So let’s recognize this in one another and try not to judge/condemn/dismiss/etc. We’re all human and we’re all in this together, doing the best we can. Truly! We don’t get to decide what qualifies as someone else’s best; it’s different for everyone and is affected by what load the person is currently carrying. If that load is heavy from fears and insecurities, it’ll weigh the person down to the point where they’re exhausting all effort and energy to merely stay afloat. We’re not privy to all that adds to the load; therefore, we’re not fit to rule on it. And sometimes, a mental health matter is causing the issue.

Once we’ve empathized, now we can address how to handle the toxicity. It’s entirely possible to empathize with behavior, but not condone it. Understanding where people are coming from and why they do what they do, is not the same as rubber stamping their actions and saying it’s okay. For example, let’s say you have a friend who constantly competes with you. Rather than celebrating your wins, they minimize your accomplishment, or try to one up you. Digging into it, you discover this is because of your friend’s insecurity and need for validation, having been raised to believe one’s worth is conditional. This leads to your friend constantly seeking validation to “earn” their worth, and to prove to themself and others they are worthy of love and acceptance. This also results in a scarcity mindset, believing the more success you have, the less they will have.

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And/or let’s say you have a partner who regularly criticizes you and puts you down. You realize this is because of your partner’s own feelings of inadequacy and shame, and because your partner is mimicking the dynamic they saw with their own parents.


Empathy without boundaries is self destruction.
— Silvy Khoucasian

Okay, so we get it: There are reasons why people act the way we do, and it’s key to invite humanity into the situation and view it with love. BUT this is also where boundaries are crucial. To fully love ourselves AND others, it is vital we set and maintain boundaries. If someone crosses a line, we respond accordingly. This can be hard, I know - but it’s like a muscle: the more you exercise it, the stronger it will be. And boundaries help us eliminate anger/frustration/shame/resentment to make room for more love/joy/compassion. Like Brené Brown says, boundaries are essential for true compassion.

If someone resists and challenges boundaries you set, it’s more evidence the boundaries are necessary.

So stand up for yourself. Accommodating toxicity is a disservice to all involved. It’s unfair to you, because you shouldn’t have to put up with that, and it’s unfair to them because it perpetuates the cycle, shows them it’s okay to treat people like garbage, and prevents them from healing and evolving. It’s unfair to you to not honor the negativity’s impact on you.

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Stop holding onto toxic people just because you have history together. Stop holding onto toxic habits because you find comfort and security in routine.
— Kylie Francis

Addressing it can be complicated, and I think should be on a case-by-case basis. It’s key to consider where people are mentally and emotionally. Sometimes the person acknowledges and stops their toxicity and remains in your life. And sometimes, unfortunately, for your wellbeing, it requires removing them from your life. Sometimes this communicates to them the severity of the situation and the strength of your boundaries and is enough to motivate them to change their ways. And sometimes…it’s a permanent farewell.


Sometimes you must forget how you feel and think of what you deserve.

Maybe it comes down to their role/significance in your life, and/or the degree of toxicity. If it’s an acquaintance, it’s easier to minimize contact and love from afar. If it’s a coworker/close friend/partner/someone more fully integrated into your life, minimizing contact isn’t always a viable option. If the toxicity is serious enough, this may require a significant shift in your life. Prioritize your wellbeing over your connection. Just because someone is blood/best friend/spouse doesn’t mean they deserve to be in your life. YOU design your life and what/who goes in it. Sometimes, the greatest act of love is cutting contact and loving from afar.

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Sometimes you have to realize some people can stay in your heart but not your life.

Or maybe simply a gentle but frank convo is warranted. Ideally they’ll take it well, but if they don’t, you can rest assured you handled it maturely and gracefully, and honored the highest good.

And please - do what feels right to you. People will likely offer advice on what you should do, but you are the boss here. You get to decide. Sure, possibly seek insight from those you trust, but ultimately, it’s up to you.


Sometimes you have to be done. Not mad, not upset, just done.

And guess what? An unfortunate truth is sometimes…we’re the toxic one. We’re the one who needs to change our ways. This is why shadow work and self reflection are so dang important: to prevent our “stuff” from infecting our environment. If you’re not right with yourself, this impacts those around you. Your toxicity pollutes not only your inner being and those around you, but also the collective human psyche of which you are an inseparable part. Eckhart Tolle discusses this is in his powerful book, The Power of Now. So sometimes that hard convo and tough love need to be directed at ourselves. Or sometimes others let us know we’ve violated their boundaries. Not fun to hear, but it’s a chance to heal, to grow, and to lean into love.

So let’s show up for ourselves and others and commit to toxic-free life.

xx,

-w-

Copy of d a r k . 2. L I G H T
Concept and images by me  Model: Byron Hunt

Concept and images by me

Model: Byron Hunt

I don’t live in darkness. Darkness lives in me.

We’ve all faced darkness. Sure, some more than others but we’ve all been there, experiencing it ourselves/encountering it in others.

We’ve also all experienced challenges and struggles; again, to varying degrees.

It doesn’t matter who you are or how much you have in your bank account. It doesn’t matter if your social life is poppin’ or if your abs pop. Darkness is equal opportunity. It affects people of all classes, of all races, of all backgrounds.

Some people have enough inner light to repel it. Yeah, they might feel down and out for a bit, but ultimately, the light triumphs. Glow baby glow.

For some people, the darkness permeates, and sometimes it’s harder to shake.

It doesn’t matter what your experiences are - being a human can be tough stuff! Just as we’re advised not to compare our highlight reels - we also should avoid comparing our “lowlight reels” so to speak. Our behind the scenes. Our challenges and obstacles. Our sucker punches life throws us.

We’re all on different journeys, with different psyches and pasts and mindsets and cumulative experiences. Maybe you’re a single parent eking out a life for yourself and your young. Maybe you’re a cancer patient fighting to keep a smile on your face and a resolve in your heart. Maybe you’re a teenager navigating your way in a world of bullies and heartbreaks. Or maybe you have a fantastic life by all general standards yet still feel empty.

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How beautiful is the relationship between the moon and the dark night sky. So contrasting, yet so incomplete without each other.

It’s all hard!! Try not to compare your “hard” and try not to feel guilty for feeling knocked down by life sometimes.

Just accept! Accept your emotions. The more you deny yourself feeling them, the stronger they become. As they say, what you resist, persists.

Life offers ebbs and flows. Peaks and valleys. No two experiences are the same - even within your own life! It depends on your current mental/emotional state.

Think about it - sometimes an issue that would normally knock you on your face barely fazes you, while other times, merely dropping a pen can elicit instant rage and a “F M L!!!!!!!!!!”

And the comparison can flow the other way too! Try not to diminish/discredit others’ experiences. Just because someone hasn’t confronted the same quantity/quality of challenges as you doesn’t mean their life is easier. Like I said, it depends on their current mental/emotional state, which depends on multiple factors: their upbringing, their relationships, their health, etc. Shoot, even their current spot on the hanger scale! We truly have NO idea what people are working with and feeling. So let’s all hug - or at least high five - one another - and show kindness and empathy.

It fascinates me how we all have inner worlds to which no one else is privy. Every time I pass someone on the street, I want to know their story: challenges they’ve overcome, accomplishments they’ve achieved, etc. WE ALL HAVE STORIES.

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I myself have experienced my own share of darkness. I’m definitely an empath, so when i feel, I friggin’ F E E L. And I take on other people’s energies/emotions. This sensitivity is both a benefit and a drawback. I appreciate it because it allows me to relate to and care for people on a whole other level (you fellow empaths can relate!), but it also gets me down and stresses me out. I feel the injustices of the world so acutely, particularly as they apply to others. Almost always, when I’m bumming/stressing, it’s on another’s behalf.

I’m still working on setting the boundaries for worrying about others, but as far as my personal darkness - my tried and true method for banishing the blues and maintaining a lasting zest for life - no matter my current situation - is facing it. Not denying it, or fleeing it, or resisting it. Leaning into it. Analyzing it. Letting others in. I’m a big advocate for therapy (and if you’ve tried therapy but didn’t connect with your therapist - keep looking! Vibing with your therapist is key).

And finally, be G R A T E F U L. Gratitude is deceptively powerful. So simple, so cliche…yet SO TRANSFORMATIVE. It truly makes all the difference. It may take significant effort initially to adopt an appreciative mindset. It’s a muscle you must strengthen, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.

My trick is whenever I encounter a sucky situation or draining emotion, I think of three things for which I’m thankful. It’s straight MAGIC. It kicks those good vibes into gear and lights you right up.

No, really. Try it.

I also think of three ways the situation could be worse - and THAT also is profoundly effective. Suddenly, you’re feeling pretty dang good about your current status.

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To deny your broken bits is doing yourself a great deal of injustice. It is the broken parts of you that grew you the most.

You’ve heard it before but that’s because it’s da TRUTH: Every challenge/obstacle/hardship you face is a b l e s s i n g. It’s an opportunity to grow and evolve. To get smarter, stronger, and better. To relate to others and inform your future experiences.

Acknowledge, accept, and honor your challenges. Be grateful for them, for they’re specifically what you need to evolve. Customized launch pads to strength, success, and wisdom.

xx,

-w-

*This post is not meant to discredit the use of psychotropics. Take control of your own health and please also consider consulting a psychiatrist/other mental health professional if necessary!











l i s t e n UP
Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
— Winston Churchill

Listening is a superpower.

How many conversations have you had where the other person dominates the conversation and you leave thinking, “I know allll about their latest vacation/hobby/issue, but they know nothing about my life as of late?

Not so fulfilling.

On the flip side, have you ever had someone invest their total time and attention in you, and you walk away feeling heard and respected?

Mega fulfilling.

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Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.
— David Augsburger

To listen well, try pausing before disagreeing, or giving advice, or referencing your own experience. Sure, doing these other actions can be useful, but listening is paramount. Assess the need for the other actions. Listening is the priority, and the others should merely complement and support.

Active listening is encouraged! Some ways to actively listen:

  • Nod

  • Make eye contact

  • Lean forward

  • Supply (genuine!) verbal affirmations like “Sure”/“Thank you”/“I understand”

  • Paraphrase

The first duty of love is to listen.
— Paul Tillich
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Something I struggle with is interrupting - I’m constantly aware of and working on this with myself. My interrupting does come from a good place, however. I interrupt not because I deem what I have to say superior, but because I get so stoked on what the other is saying and it’s my way of “actively listening.” Showing I’m engaged and invested. This can easily be misperceived, though (and can be downright O B N O X I O U S and distracting) so I strive to minimize (and ultimately eliminate) my insertions. I always notice and appreciate when someone pays me the respect of attentively listening sans interruptions - my friends are brilliant at it.

If you want to be listened to, you should put in time listening.

And if you find yourself rattling on because you feel socially awkward and unsure of what to speak about - and talking about yourself is your default because you are your most familiar topic - there’s a win/win solution for that! A simple hack is to provide a bit of information about yourself (eg “I’m so pumped for skiing this year”) and then turning it to the other person(s) (eg “Do you ski or board?”). Prefacing with a fact about yourself makes it easy and effective for multiple reasons:

  • Contributes a familiar topic to work with and solves the problem of where to start

  • Makes you relatable and breaks the ice for the other person to share

  • Allows an opportunity to segue into related topics

  • Lets you off the hook from carrying the conversation, as many people like talking about themselves (for whatever reason - like you, they are most well-versed themselves/they have something to say/etc)

  • It establishes a natural flow

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Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble.
— Frank Tyger

What about those situations where people confide a heartbreak or challenge or stressor they’re facing? Don’t knock yourself out trying to come up with the perfect response/solution. Unless they expressly ask you, “What should I do?” more often than not, people simply crave a listening ear. Receiving their words with empathy and love is far more powerful than the wisest and timeliest response. Simply holding that space for them and allowing them to vent and feel their emotions can make all the difference and be more beneficial than “solving” their problem.

The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention... A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.
— Rachel Naomi Remen

If silence unnerves you, try to learn to be comfortable with it. Don’t rush to finish the other’s faltering sentence, or fill the gaps. This isn’t about you/your comfort - it’s about them. Allowing them the space to express themselves. Or just sit in supportive silence; simply your presence may suffice.

I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.
— Larry King
When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.
— Dalai Lama

I firmly believe we all have something to learn from one another (even if it’s how to have patience!). Running your mouth about what you know is definitely not the way to go about obtaining that knowledge from others. Even (or especially!) when you think you’re an expert on a topic - you’ll likely be surprised what you gain if you’re humble enough to sit back and listen/observe another’s perception regarding it. Maybe you’ll glean a different angle you hadn’t considered. This is where an open mind is K E Y. Try listening to learn, rather than listening to confirm [your current opinion]. At the very least, hearing the other side out will only strengthen your own position.

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Removing your ego from the equation is crucial. Resist the temptation to flex and download all you know. There is ALWAYS more to learn. The minute you deem yourself a know-it-all is the precise minute you need to assess yourself, because that’s a sure sign your ego has hijacked you and stunted your growth. So tell your ego to buzz off and listen even harder.

The sign of intelligence is that you are constantly wondering. Idiots are always dead sure about every damn thing they are doing in their life.
— Jaggi Vasudev
Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.
— Jimi Hendrix

And in those heated moments where you’re battling with another and spinning your wheels in conflicted frustration, the best way to defuse the situation is to take a deep breath, step back, and…L I S T E N. Truly listen. Not only will this likely disarm your “contender,” but this simple action shows you value and respect them enough to consider their view. That right there has far-reaching effects. It shifts your approach from a place of one-sided triumph and win-lose to a place of resolution and win-win. It’s a clear reflection of your respect for them and conveys your willingness to remedy the situation and meet them halfway. It can make ALL the difference.

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Listening is a very deep practice... You have to empty yourself. You have to leave space in order to listen...especially to people we think are our enemies - the ones we believe are making our situation worse.

When you have shown your capacity for listening and understanding, the other person will begin to listen to you, and you have a chance to tell him or her of your pain, and it’s your turn to be heard. This is the practice of peace.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

This is especially important when you’re feeling triggered. How many times have you been blinded by emotions/anger, then realize you misheard/misperceived the other? I know I have. Much can be lost in communication - for a number of reasons. Consider you might’ve misunderstood/assumed/pre-concluded. Hear the other out (this is where gentle paraphrasing is especially helpful!) to ensure you’re catching what they’re throwing.

And sometimes the other person won’t pay you the same respect of listening to you. It is what it is. It’s annoying as hell, sure, but you can only control yourself. Rest assured you did what you could to resolve the matter. When that happens, my tried-and-true remedy involves time and distance (and my Scream Spotify playlist I created to express the fire I feel; Body Combat also helps! ;) ).

Happy listening.

xx,

-w-



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INTO the W I L D
Images by Whitney Richardson Photography'  Models: Liz Smith and Shaely Howell

Images by Whitney Richardson Photography'

Models: Liz Smith and Shaely Howell

They won’t tell you fairytales
of how girls can be dangerous and still win.
They will only tell you stories
where girls are sweet and kind
and reject all sin.
I guess to them
it’s a terrifying thought,
a red riding hood
who knew exactly
what she was doing
when she invited the wild in.
— Nikita Gill
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What a time to be alive. Regardless of where you fall on the feminism spectrum, it’s undeniable that women are having a moment and reclaiming their power.

We’re learning to stop apologizing for our emotions and empathy. Our nurturing and softness. Everything that makes us uniquely feminine but which is deemed “unsuitable” or “unprofessional” in the workplace. We’re challenging the double standards imposed upon us, and asserting our voice.

good women can be wild too
— r.h. sin

We’re also reviving our wild side. Our intensity. Our power and ferocity. Our strength and passion.

It’s not just a revolution for feminine energy. Masculinity is experiencing a significant shift as well.

With nature comes balance. Therefore every man has feminine energy, and every woman has masculine energy. Society is currently undergoing deconstruction and reconstruction of what it means to be a man or woman. Paradigms are changing. Lines are being questioned and redrawn as the framework is being renovated.

Men are humans just as much as women, and all humans experience emotions. It is unfair and destructive to deny men the social latitude for expressing their emotions.

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There is no competition among wild women. They are too damn wild to be caught in a tiny space of envy. Instead, they dance together and allow good to flow abundantly to them.

We’re shattering notions of what is “socially acceptable” for men AND women. It’s beautiful and LONG overdue.

While listening to one of my favorite podcasters, Aubrey Marcus, I came across the following poem, which resonated deeply with me.




A wild woman is not a girlfriend. She is a relationship with nature by Alison Nappi

But can you love me in the deep? In the dark? In the thick of it?

Can you love me when I drink from the wrong bottle and slip through the crack in the floorboard?

Can you love me when I’m bigger than you, when my presence blazes like the sun does, when it hurts to look directly at me?

Can you love me then too?

Can you love me under the starry sky, shaved and smooth, my skin like liquid moonlight?

Can you love me when I am howling and furry, standing on my haunches, my lower lip stained with the blood of my last kill?

When I call down the lightning, when the sidewalks are singed by the soles of my feet, can you still love me then?


What happens when I freeze the land, and cause the dirt to harden over all the pomegranate seeds we’ve planted?

Will you trust that Spring will return?

Will you still believe me when I tell you I will become a raging river, and spill myself upon your dreams and call them to the surface of your life?

Can you trust me, even though you cannot tame me?

Can you love me, even though I am all that you fear and admire?

Will you fear my shifting shape?

Does it frighten you, when my eyes flash like your camera does?

Do you fear they will capture your soul?

Are you afraid to step into me?

The meat-eating plants and flowers armed with poisonous darts are not in my jungle to stop you from coming. Not you.

So do not worry. They belong to me, and I have invited you here.

Stay to the path revealed in the moonlight and arrive safely to the hut of Baba Yaga: the wild old wise one… she will not lead you astray if you are pure of heart.

You cannot be with the wild one if you fear the rumbling of the ground, the roar of a cascading river, the startling clap of thunder in the sky.

If you want to be safe, go back to your tiny room — the night sky is not for you.

If you want to be torn apart, come in. Be broken open and devoured. Be set ablaze in my fire.

I will not leave you as you have come: well dressed, in finely-threaded sweaters that keep out the cold.

I will leave you naked and biting. Leave you clawing at the sheets. Leave you surrounded by owls and hawks and flowers that only bloom when no one is watching.

So, come to me, and be healed in the unbearable lightness and darkness of all that you are.

There is nothing in you that can scare me. Nothing in you I will not use to make you great.

A wild woman is not a girlfriend. She is a relationship with nature. She is the source of all your primal desires, and she is the wild whipping wind that uproots the poisonous corn stalks on your neatly tilled farm.

She will plant pear trees in the wake of your disaster.

She will see to it that you shall rise again.

She is the lover who restores you to your own wild nature.


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Aubrey responds by crafting his own poem:

 A wild man is not a boyfriend, he is a force

Can you love me in the blinding heat of a birthing star, when I shower warmth on distant moons?

Can you love me in the hole of the cosmic Black, where no one can reach me? Not even you?

Can you love me then too?

Can you love me when I drag buffalo skulls through the dirt for days, to the rhythm of an ancient drum?

Will you love me if my beard hides the scars in my heart, from battles I cannot explain?

WIll you love me when I lack courage, when I am defeated, when I won't let you patch my wounds?

WIll you trust me when I smell of sweetgrass and sage, and when I stink of whiskey and sweat?

When I drink from the cup and play in astral light, will you anchor me to Home?

What happens when my words don't work, and I can speak with only my eyes?

Can you love me enough to let me go, without asking me where I'll be?

I am no poodle to lay groomed on a leash at your feet. I am the wolf that fetches the bones of truth.

A wild man is not a boyfriend. He's not built for animal husbandry. He is a force. He is a cause for an effect. He is a mission.

Are you afraid to let me inside you? Not just my flesh, but my soul. The wild man is neither burglar or vandal. I will not take anything from you. I will not trample on sprouting seeds or pick flowers as a trophy. I am the sun on flooded fields and the fire for tangled webs.

Don't be scared, lover, mother, maiden, crone. Take me as I am.

Even if I have the power to destroy worlds, I will not destroy you.

A wild man is a protector. A father. A warrior for all that is good.

When the chaos seeks to obliterate you, sheering your flesh from bone, I will hold all the pieces together in love, until you are ready to reassemble.

When your seas boil, and your winds throw cars at corn fields, I will wait patiently for you to catch my eye, so that both of us can laugh.

When Hell opens up the fiery gates, and sends all the cosmos against you, I plant my heels deep in the ground. I lay my shield low. My sword is sharp then, my love. The steel sings sweetly. With a smile, Hoka Hey! My last breath a farewell kiss. Today is a good day to die.

For ours is the oldest love affair. The greatest story ever told. Cupid and Psyche, Shiva and Shakti, You and I.

Same same but different. Would we have it any other way?

A wild man is not a boyfriend. He is a force.


Regardless of your current thoughts, opinions, and identification with these writings, the main takeaway is to accept yourself (and others!) in A L L of your glory. Embrace both your light and shadows. Celebrate all of your dimensions. Don’t shrink yourself to fit society. Live your truth and shine your light, thereby blazing the trail for others.

(Podcast link: https://www.aubreymarcus.com/blogs/aubrey-marcus/the-wild-woman-and-the-wild-man-with-christine-hassler-amp-176 )

(Suggested reading: The Mask of Masculinity by Lewis Howes)

xx,

-w-

A woman in harmony with her Spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense...and arrives at her destination, prepared to be herself and only herself.
— Maya Angelou
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Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

Suicide. What a heavy topic. Heavy but utterly N E C E S S A R Y to discuss.

This is becoming increasingly so, as we lose more and more beautiful souls to this tragic end.

A note about suicide, depression, and mental health in general: mental health is non-discriminatory and its prey comes from all walks of life. Just because you’re of a certain socioeconomic status, or have a specific number of friends, does not mean one is immune.

And it’s important to recognize and remember the role mental illness plays. It is said how selfish it is to take one’s life, considering the wake of devastation it leaves for the survivors. I can understand how some may feel like this - having someone take their own life is deeply heartbreaking - but think how desperate and hopeless that person must have felt to be driven to such an action?

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I’m sure most - if not all - of us have been touched by suicide at some point in our lives, some of us multiple times, via a relative/friend/acquaintance/idol/etc. Hearing the news of an occurrence has a way of robbing your breath and halting you in your tracks. You immediately contemplate warning signs and contributing factors. You wonder how it could have been prevented and (depending on your relation to the victim) if there’s something you could have done.

That last part can be particularly brutal, depending on your closeness to the victim, literally/figuratively. Often, no matter how close you were, your mind feasts on what ifs. "What if I had reached out more often?” “What if I had been more patient?” “What if I had been more observant?” “What if I had been more generous with my time?” “What if I had been more empathetic/understanding?” And on and on and ON. Down the rabbit hole you go. Gnarly stuff.

I remember one person whose suicide I really took personally was of a guy who had expressed interest in dating me. He was unbelievably sweet and such a great guy, but there was no interest on my part, unfortunately. I did my best to break this as gently as possible, and then limited my contact with him so as not to lead him on. I was unable to emotionally provide what he wanted: a romantic relationship. The feelings just weren’t there for me.

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As is common with tragedy, my memory blocked the details, but I vaguely recall suddenly thinking of him, whether through a dream or just a passing thought. It turns out, at the time he was crossing my mind, he was also taking his life.

I was shattered. I was wrecked with such a profound sense of guilt for not being there for him. Did I truly handle it the best way possible? Did my actions drive his loneliness over the edge, to the point he saw no use in living? Should I have been there more for him? What could I have done to prevent it? How selfish and awful am I?!!

Eventually I realized there are multiple contributing factors. Carrying that entire burden and regarding myself as the sole cause of his suicide was, in reality, self-absorbed. I was not the center of his universe, and I alone did not cause the outcome. Who knows what effect our interactions had on him, but I had to accept I did the best I could under the circumstances.

That sense of guilt and pressure lingered far after that event. Whether it was a friend, a boyfriend, or someone I was trying to help (especially if that someone wanted to leave the friend zone) it was considerably hard for me to draw those boundary lines (specifically if I knew they weren’t in the best headspace). Even if I effectively did set the boundaries, it resulted in countless nightmares and sleepless nights, with me worrying about them and stressing over their wellbeing.

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I’m not sharing this to evoke a pity response. Not even. I tell my story to: 1) demonstrate suicide’s ripple effect; 2) relate to those of you with similar situations; 3) alleviate the burden you may place on yourself; and 4) raise awareness and provoke conversations on this crucial topic.

Some of you may relate to the yearning to help “heal” people. This is a beautiful intention and calling, but boundaries are essential. As I discussed in my 09.15.2018 post on boundaries, they are essential for true compassion (watch for an upcoming post on empathy).

Be kind, for you know not of the battles people face.

All we can do is our best. Our best to be kind to one another, to be considerate of each other, and to be there for one another. We must do our best to watch for red flags, and to regularly check in with loved ones. We all deal with our own daily thoughts/ideas/responsibilities whirling around in our heads, so this is a reminder for us all to step outside of our mental/emotional bubbles and stay keyed in to those around us: friends/relatives/acquaintances…even strangers. Just letting someone know you care is significant. A simple smile to a stranger can have a profound effect. Just acknowledging to people that you S E E them can make all the difference.

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Please, tell me.

I cannot help you fight the enemy

If you do not tell me about the enemy,

The enemy that is trying to kill you.

Do not trust your suicidal thoughts.

They are not rational.

They are a symptom, a sign, a cry from inside.

Something inside you needs healing.

Healing, not killing.
— Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW; Letter from a Therapist to a Suicidal Person

Read full version of Letter from a Therapist to a Suicidal Person at:

http://www.speakingofsuicide.com/2014/05/01/letter/


RESOURCES

24/7 suicide hotline

  • Text GO to 741741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor

  • Call 1-800-273-8255 (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)

    • Also online chat option

Veterans Crisis Line

  • Call 1-800-273-8255 (same number)

    • Also online chat option

  • Text 838255