When I heard the news about Robin William's apparent suicide, I quickly slipped into a deep sadness. I didn't know him personally, but I felt connected to him. We shared the same birthday (July 21), lived in the same area, and I've loved all of his work. Also, I know how much suicide hurts. Not in the obvious way for Robin, but for all his friends and family left behind.
Suicide has been woven into the fabric of my life since 1990, when my 23-year-old sister drove to an empty parking lot in the middle of the night and shot herself in the head. She had no history of depression and seemed like a perfectly normal young woman. If you've ever lost someone to suicide, you go through a series of "what ifs": What if she slept on the decision one more night? What if someone was there to save her? What if I had called her that day? While I couldn't change my sister's outcome in real life, I could make those "what if's" a reality in a fictional story ("Note to Self: Love") about a woman who goes from near self-destruction to self-love. I could also use humor, which is an extremely effective way to cope with life. It's as big an emotional release as crying and given a choice, I'd rather laugh.
I don't know anyone who hasn't been affected by suicide in his or her life. The CDC reports that every 13.3 minutes, someone commits suicide in the U.S. Who among us hasn't felt like giving up on life at one point or another? Life tests us constantly. It's a roller coaster of ups and downs and the only control we have is how we choose to react to it all. Do we ride the roller coaster with joy and laughter - even the scary parts? Or do we try to jump off when trouble approaches -- in mid-air before the roller coaster comes to a complete stop?
There are people who have clinical depression and need medication and counseling and rehab to get through life, but many suicide victims are just "ordinary" people who find themselves in extraordinarily challenging situations. For them, I believe the key to staying sane and happy is to be one with that roller coaster. I know that sounds very Zen, but it works. The trick is to stay as balanced and neutral as possible, no matter what is happening. That prevents extreme behavior like killing yourself. Yes, sometimes you have to grip the bar tightly so you don't fall off, but you continue to hold on because you know that after that big dip, there's going to be a calm straightaway where you'll be able to pause and catch your breath.
Imagine your life represented by a line curving up and down. The lowest curves are where the unpleasant situations happen, from the trivial (stepping in dog poop on your way to work) to the tragic (losing a loved one). These challenges can lead to anger, sadness and in the extreme case, self-destruction or suicide. On the other hand, the highest curves are when times are good. These too run the gamut from a fun birthday dinner to winning the lottery. While the high curve looks like a great place to be, it only provides you with short-term happiness. If you get too attached emotionally, you can also spiral into another extreme reaction -- self-inflation. You might be flying high, but eventually the bubble will burst. In both extreme responses (self-destruction and self-inflation), you're living a fear-based life. Fear of what might happen. Fear of what has happened. Fear of the good stuff ending. In order to stay sane, neutrality is the key. To achieve that, you have to go from a fear- based reality to a love-based reality. And first and foremost is self- love.
I don't mean self-love in a self-serving, conceited way like thinking you're better or more deserving than anyone else, but in a way that recognizes who you really are - a loving spirit having an earthly experience and nothing that happens outside of you can possibly change that. Who you are is not what you're going through. Self-love is akin to that announcement on the plane to put your oxygen mask on before your child's. At first it seems selfish, but it's not, is it? If you conk out before your kid, you'll both be gone. We all understand that if we don't take care of ourselves first, whether that is love or an oxygen mask, we can't take care of or love another.
No matter what you're going through in life, whether that's a difficult day or a difficult year, when you love yourself completely, you find your center, and when you find your center, you realize you are not alone but connected to all there is in the universe. And all there is -- is love. When you know this, you will never give up on life.
So, if you haven't yet wanted self-love, I hope that you start wanting it, and if you are already wanting it, I hope that you allow yourself to have it -- fully, unconditionally and daily. Once you do that, life is always worth living and anything is possible!