Climbing Mountains: World Suicide Prevention Day
Before reading further…
Friends…If you are struggling today, please visit Wellness Together Canada: Mental Health and Substance Use Support where you can access immediate text support. If you have a medical or mental health emergency, or if at any time you are concerned that you are a danger to yourself or to others call 911 or go to the nearest open clinic or emergency room. Please.
On this day, 11 years ago, I climbed to the peak of Mount Katahdin, originally named by the Penobscot Peoples, which translated from Abenaki is The Greatest Mountain.
And was it ever. Multiple times that day I was certain I wouldn’t be able to reach the top. You see, for the month leading up to the climb, I had told myself I was going to exercise more, lose a few pounds, eat healthier and smoke less. I’m sure I had 17 excuses to why, but none of those things came to be. While we hiked and climbed that day, starting at 5:30 AM, my friend and I were passed by older folks with walking sticks and children who seemed filled to the brim with energy, all while I huffed, puffed and my body groaned along the paths and rock.
By 7 AM I was sweat covered and would have happily spent the day lounging by Bear Lake, the first plateau. Yet away we went, and by no means the highest peak in North America (it’s the 78th I think), those next 5,268 feet – each one tested and tried me. My shoes seemed tighter as I climbed, my body revolting as I used muscles I didn’t know existed. Yet, I did it. I made it to the top.
It wasn’t the first time I had accomplished something I didn’t think was possible, and in hindsight, it wasn’t the most important achievement of my life. Yet it mattered. Much like the other mountains I have had to overcome my diagnosed mental illnesses. Depression, anxiety, addiction: a trifecta of a mental mess for more of my life, than not, they have attacked my head, (what I thought), heart (how I felt), and spirit (how I connected) and more than once ending up dictating how I walked in this world and the paths I choose. None of which were attractive – and in fact, often ugly.
While twice I have come very close to ending my life by suicide, and not to negate the seriousness of those painful and scary situations, (for myself and my loved ones), I spent a large portion of my life assuming that is how I would eventually die – and that, is where hurt lived for so long. Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and I’m grateful that around the world today, people are learning more, talking more and sharing stories of healing and hope, along with remembering those who have been lost to suicide.
I’ve thought lots about Katahdin over the almost seven months since the world, and my world, has changed so dramatically due to COVID 19. This virus has tested and tried me. My work, which has been such a large part of my life (and probably for lots of people, my identity) for decades, my family and people who keep me balanced, in check and grounded while providing- the connections that so often strengthen me and keep me walking a good path; the nature of each of these has changed dramatically. And not being one to adapt to change as well as I would like to think I do, quite honestly, it’s been a long seven months. For all of us. I’m not unique in this story. And that makes me grateful. I know that I’m not alone. Though my mental health has been tested, I am grateful that I have been able to use the tools I have developed over the last 12 years since first coming into recovery and doing the work to address my mental illnesses, that I know, this too shall pass and while I cannot control the overall outcome, I do decide if I am going to react or respond to the increased stress and pressure.
That’s how I put each foot in front of another 11 years ago today at the base of that mountain. I wasn’t alone. My friend James, he mattered. He cheered me on, had my back and never once shamed me when I thought I had gone as far I could go. He just said, I think you can. so, I climbed it. I was able to do it. The same applies today; for me and you. If you’re struggling with the stressors, challenges and changes as a result of COVID, remember you are not alone. You don’t have to tackle it on your own. If your mental health is suffering as a result of COVID-19 and the changes and challenges – please remember that: you are not alone. Talk to someone. Reach out. Ask for help. You my friends are worth it.
Just one step at a time, with one foot after another. Take breaks when you need them. Drink water, (which as I typed I realized I need to do). Connect to something bigger than yourself – wether its culture, language, ceremony, faith, a group of people you trust, or the land. Keep your head up so you can see the top: getting closer and closer. In the times when the clouds block your view, hope might help, but faith will remind you, it’s coming back. Know that the peak is still there, even when you can’t see it.
This shared experience of a worldwide pandemic is a mountain we all need to climb. For some, like those fit folks who zoomed by me, it might seem like they aren’t affected at all. I’d say they still are. They just keep walking and keeping their eye on the bigger picture. That’s what I’m doing these days too; while acknowledging that on the days / weeks where that peak is out of my view, I know the clouds will part.
And I’ll make it through. So, my friends will you.
Together we can keep connecting, building and supporting our community and having conversations that matter. And sooner than later, we’ll celebrate at the top of the mountain; knowing that the climb back down, though still tricky and we will need to keep being safe, is so much easier.
Stay focused friends. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Help others when you can. Be kind to yourself and others; especially clerks, servers and delivery drivers. Share love. Forgive. Accept others might have a different interpretation or understanding. Care for others while not carrying their hurts or struggles.
And keep climbing. I have successfully climbed Mount Mental Health and Mount Katahdin. The view I know, is be totally worth it. You deserve to see it too.
If my words aren’t enough – listen to what Thor has to say to you below.