The suicide of two of my cousins influenced my decision to become a psychotherapist. Looking back, there were no signs that an Ivy League-educated cousin and his wife would put an end to their lives. Between excelling in courses and hanging out with friends, they were the lives of the party. I remember the day of their deaths like it was yesterday. The news was shocking. Not a single clue signaled trouble. All our conversations were filled with funny stories about burning eggs and trying to get through the last year of college. They didn’t sound hopeless, depressed, or otherwise trying to give up their possessions.
It was surreal. We were trying to figure out how or why this could have happened. Between the grief and the shock of it, the weeks that followed vacillated between “Can’t believe this is happening” and “What are the logistics that need to be handled?” It made no sense that not a single friend saw any signs. Not a single family member knew their intimate thoughts. Everyone seemed to believe they were perfect students. They never talked about harming themselves or others. Yet, they committed suicide. As the weeks went by, there were more questions than answers. Although multiple versions of why this happened were discussed, we will never know their why.
Perfection Isn’t Needed
As someone who works with the mental health community, it is my hope to illuminate a real crisis that can impact anyone from any walk of life. I want to create a discussion that strips us down out of the perfect version of who we think we need to be so that we can start considering who our true self is.
Many of us grow up in cultures that condition us to think that our flaws are to be hidden. We learn that being vulnerable is weak and being different is weird. When we believe our uniqueness is a mistake, we want our imperfections to be gone at all costs, even though they are the very substance that reveals who we are meant to be. Instead, we create acceptable roles to live by society’s standards—say and do things to get approval—ignore our suffering and focus on achievable goals. We pretend to be someone we are not. We start to think in terms of me and mine, rather than the collective us.
Over the years, we lose connection with our soul and become attached to our roles in the service of the ego. As I step back, it is clear my cousins had at least two roles: one they showed the world and another that was hidden from view. They were trying to live up to the version of themselves that was out of reach. When they experienced a crisis (as we all encounter in life), everything came apart.
Worrying About Others
We see it all around us—people who have high-powered careers and material success, yet they are unhappy. They seem to have everything they want, yet something is missing. Designer Kate Spade committed suicide. Supposedly, she was afraid of damaging her professional reputation and image, and the stigma of her mental health conditions prevented her from getting help and revealing her imperfections. Celebrity chef, author, and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain, on the other hand, struggled with addiction. His suicide was reportedly an impulsive act. Media stated that in his last moments, no one guessed that he was going to kill himself. People who knew him describe him as cultured and affable; but on the inside, he was impulsive.
When we are in service to the roles in our lives, we can say that shedding ego roles are not easy; it is harder for some than others. But the philosophy remains the same. As hard as it is, we need to work on creating a society where individuals are empowered to define their own idea of success. Prominent celebrities’ suicides illuminate the need to question and reinterpret what it means to be successful for each and every one of us. Each individual’s version of success is different.
Maybe my family members would have survived if they believed they could be accepted for who they were rather than who they thought they must be. Perhaps they would have survived if they knew that they were more than their roles. It’s possible they would have survived if they knew every role is transient. We need to allow people to be who they are so they can define their individual success.
Over the years, I have realized reaching our goals rarely translates to reaching our potential. Whatever your struggle may be, look at how your roles keep you from expressing your true self. Notice if you are burying your flaws and trying to be perfect. When you look within, it becomes clear that identifying with our roles keeps us in a state of anxiety. By creating a gap between who you are and the roles that you might be identifying with are the first step in fleshing out a new perspective.
It is also helpful to question your thoughts to create a shift. No matter who you are, it is likely that you do not remember the exact words from the first part of this article right now. It is a memory now—and not in your awareness until it’s brought up. Notice how your thoughts and emotions have shifted multiple times since you started reading. You may have new knowledge or different insights that allow you to rethink roles and suicide. Your experience is different from the next person; how we shred roles is also unique. There is no right way.
Reaching for Help
Whatever you are experiencing, it is part of your soul having a human experience. It is part of the human condition. Millions of people go through depression, emotional crises, and other mental health problems. Everyone hurts. If you (or someone you know) are going through depression or a crisis, you are never alone. There are resources available to you, including neveralone.love. Never Alone supports mental and emotional health and wellness in all its forms, to say “you are never alone.” Their resources offer insights into mental health education, meditation, and lifelong learning.
Although it is natural to think you’re trapped when there’s a crisis, it doesn’t mean you are. Practices such as Ayurveda or meditation can be helpful, but they may not be the solution. With the rise of yoga, energy work, and other spiritual practices, there’s a risk of thinking that we can use these practices to address deeper emotional wounds. These practices are aids, but not a substitute for that hard work. Depending solely on those practices would be denying the truth and distracting ourselves from the dark stuff that keeps the light from getting in; over time, this takes us away from the present moment.
There is no substitute for medical and therapeutic care. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speaking with a professional mental health counselor becomes necessary if there are persistent thoughts about suicide and hopelessness. Seeking urgent care is available to anyone who is experiencing imminent ideas of harming themselves or others. Likewise, if you are a family or friend who has lost a loved one due to suicide, seek support, talk about it, and get the help you need. There is no shame—you are never alone.
No one is immune to tragedy. By talking about suicide, my hope is to lessen shame and stigma and to shred ego roles that keep us from becoming open-hearted and accepting who we are. We need a culture and society that empowers us to redefine what it means to be part of humanity without sacrificing our individuality.
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