Checking In: Dear Strong Friend

Once again, we are shook by the blow of suicide.  It is all over the news, flooding our social media news feeds, and now the talk of the town.  But for some of us, the news of another celebrity loss to the hands of suicide pales in comparison to the news of a loved one who left us in the same manner.  Furthermore, I’d go on a limb and say that for some of us, the talk of suicide is actually a thought that has consumed our minds and an ideal that we have wrestled with on a personal level.

Disclosure: I will be sharing some very personal stories with you today.  It is not the intention of this post to debate whether or not suicide is a sin that leads to hell; I will not do it!  According to Chris isn’t the place.  If you would like to join that discussion, visit an ill-placed Facebook status near you.  I would like to protect the sensitivity and seriousness of this matter, and I pray that you can respect that.  Also, I must mention that today’s post may be a bit lengthy.

| The Strong Friend |

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I am, without question, the strong friend.  I in no way mean that arrogantly, it’s just that I have fully embraced that I, like my mother, have the qualities that make me a “safe space.”  Whether it is opening my home for shelter, my arms for embrace, my ears for listening, my mouth for advice, my mind for understanding, or my heart for an extra dose of love, I am the one that people come to in order to draw strength.  I seriously believe it is a gift from God to be able to pour into others and hold them up until they are able to stand on their own.  BUT… I have found in recent years that I am often strong to a fault.  Us strong friends typically don’t have many to any strong friends because we are the strong friends of the bunch.  The transition(s) that I endured over the two years involved me losing some of my closest friends.  The ones who I could run to and be myself without the masks or facades had drifted, pulled, or been strategically snatched away.  When all was said and done, I was left with one major, close friendship and the few things that I couldn’t even share with him.  I have mentioned in previous blogs that during some of the busiest, most trying times of my life, I never stopped doing, being, giving, leading, lending, bending, loving, or showing up for people.  I never took off my mask!  I was the strong friend even at my weakest points.  I was the strong friend when I desperately needed someone else to care about me.  I was the strong friend in the light, and when I got home, I fell apart…nightly.

There were two times in my life where I seriously considered suicide. 

In 2006 at the age of 18, I had an abortion.  I lived in Arlington, VA without any familiar faces besides my high school boyfriend who attended the same college and my roommate, Roxana, who became a sister to me.  The only daughter of two pastors…pregnant.  Shock overtook me so strongly that as I fixated my eyes on the pink plus sign on that First Response pregnancy test, I laughed.  “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said as laughter rose from my belly and tears streamed down my face.  Then panic set in.  I met the eyes of my boyfriend that were filled with the greatest shade of fear.  The next few weeks of conversation, debate, arguments, and tears led to the hardest choice I’ve ever made in my almost 30 years of living.  September 30, 2006 was the day that I terminated my pregnancy, one that only three people in the world knew of, and that night I was going to terminate my life.  Following my life-altering trip to the clinic, my boyfriend, who would later become my husband, dropped me off at my apartment with my prescription pain pills and antibiotics, and he headed to work his shift at Ruby Tuesday.  His exit was cold.  He was silent.  He had been distant all day, and it was if he was disappointed in me for making a decision that we reached together.  I needed his love that night but he too had a broken heart whose fragments were filled with guilt.  For whatever reason, NONE of my roommates were home, and it seemed as if I felt the loneliness in soul.  All that could be heard was the ticking of the clock on the wall and the faint sound of Paula Dean’s voice on my 13 inch television.  Like clockwork, my mother called for her nightly chat where she would ask about my day and confirm that I was safe.  That night, I lied to my mother.  I told her that class, the one I had skipped, went well.  I followed up by saying that I was choosing to spend a quiet evening at home because I had spent the day in city.  I lied.  My mom, being who she was, could see right through me and questioned if I was really okay.  Again, I lied.  We hung up after exchanging love and the promise to speak the next day, but I only meant half of that moment.  If I could help it, that call was our last call.  I immediately returned to my tears of guilt and the thoughts that danced around in my head.  “End it all, Chris.  You can’t even forgive yourself.  Think about your family and God; they’ll never forgive you.”  I considered that I was about 200 miles from home living in a 10th floor apartment that was leased to the Art Institute of Washington.  I could jump from my balcony, die, and no one would even know who I was.  Isolation worked in my favor.  With tears in my eyes, I walked out to that balcony, no note left behind, with the intentions of sealing my fate.  I didn’t account for my praying mother back home.  She must have done as she always did and prayed as soon as she heard the crack in my voice and fault in my story.  Long story short,  I didn’t jump.  That was 2006.

In 2017, I reached my lowest place ever and, once again, suicide was an option.  After hitting rock bottom, losing seemingly everything I had, and taking inventory of all of the hardships I was enduring or had endured, I found myself severely depressed.  Worse than just being depressed was having to be depressed secretly.  And even worse than being depressed secretly was having to continue to act as if I was perfectly fine.  I still needed to be anointed so I could lead the people into worship every week.  I still needed to be professional so that I didn’t slack off at work.  I still needed to be present for my friends and those who relied on me.  And doing all of that wasn’t just for everyone else; it was for me too.  If I maintained the facade, no one would know that I was practically out of here, swallowed by grief and depression.  And truthfully, because very few people actually checked on ME (not my gift, not their need of me, not what I can do for them), no one knew that I was closer to death than my next breath.  Initially, I was afraid to commit suicide.  Just like my 18-year-old self who sat in the bathroom holding a positive pregnancy test in my hand, I thought of the shame the Rouson family would endure.  Because of that, my prayers morphed into “God, if you don’t allow me to wake up, it’s okay.”  Surely that death would be a manageable blow.  Once I realized that it wasn’t in his plan for me to slip away that way, I began considering other means to end the secretly miserable life I was living.  My greatest days led to my worst nights – nights where I would gather prescription pain pills from past tooth aches and back pain, muscle relaxers from a muscle strain at the beginning of the year, and any remaining sleeping pills that I hadn’t trashed once I weaned off.  I considered that I lived at least 25 minutes away from my family members  at the end of an interstate, in an apartment on the top floor, in the corner, all alone.  My neighbors wouldn’t think to knock on my door, and it would be at least until the next day (when I didn’t answer my phone all day)  that someone with my spare key would come to my house.  Isolation worked in my favor.  Those nights I’d call my best friend, Jo’sef, and say things like, “You know I love you right?  Please don’t ever forget it.”  I’d cry until my eyes were swollen.  As a playback, all of the hardships from my 18th year until that very moment would roll through my memory, and I’d cry until my tears distorted any sights of the light at the end of the tunnel.  Even in those low moments, God was working on my behalf.  Many of those nights, I’d cry myself to sleep before I could take one pill, and when I woke in the morning, I simply put on the mask and began the day.  Death would have to wait until I got back home.  This became my normal cycle for months.  NO ONE besides JoJo had a clue that I survived by day and considered dying by night.  I’d go through my day begging God to give me a reason why I should stay here.  The hope of a new season being just around the corner was believable when I first heard it years ago.  I needed something fresh… Then my pastor started saying things like, “You have a right to live.  God said live.”  I definitely didn’t agree…it seemed like all of my hardships led to one thing, DEATH.  Death seemed to be marked on my forehead, and no one even noticed because never did  I cease to be the strong friend.  That was 2017.

If you haven’t figured out how the story ended, I’ll fill you in… It didn’t!  I’m still here, and mentally, I am better.  It didn’t happen overnight though.

I have been very open with you, despite the many times that I pressed the “backspace” key.  I wanted you to hear my heart today, and that required removing the protective barrier around it.  I’ll share with you that each week after sharing, especially after sharing something intimate, all I want to do (after throwing up) is go into a dark, quiet room and cry.  I prefer to be a very private person only sharing what I want you to know, but sometimes God asks me to go beyond that.  And in the case of this story, in order for you too see him, I had to remove me from the equation.  Vulnerability sucks sometimes.

Usually in wake of a suicide or even the news of some mass murder, the conversation about mental health is sparked, and we repeat the mantra, “Check on your strong friends.”  Unfortunately, in my opinion, that has become nothing more than a cliché.  For the next few days, we will be extra careful to acknowledge the people in our lives until the next big thing comes to distract our attention.  Then we will return to our regularly scheduled lives where we are so wrapped up in our own thing that we don’t SEE the people around us.  How unfortunate.

One of the greatest revelations I had as I began climbing from the bottomless pit of depression was that I wasn’t alone.  It was as if little glimpses of other people’s lives would be revealed to me.  I became aware of the many mask wearing “strong friends” who existed around me.  Maybe you were one of them too.  I wouldn’t doubt that you too are the rock for those around you who are falling apart, and seemingly no one sees you.  You hide it so well behind your smile, but your eyes tell your secret.  In moments like these, where the suicide of some one who we thought “had it all” occurs, I am left with the question, “Whose fault was it?”  Do we blame the strong friend for never drawing attention to the crack his/her mask, or do we blame everyone else for not looking closely enough to see it?

We all play a  part in the life [or possible death] of each person around us, but I have learned that other than God, no one can care for my life like me.  You’ll see what I mean; keep reading.

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THE MORAL OF THE STORY

Today I want simply check on my strong friend…you.

Dear Strong Friend,

I am not sure if this is the first time today that anyone has genuinely asked, but how are you?  No really, how are you?  I know that there is always a lot going on and it seems like life can knock the wind out of you.  I’ve lived through that too.  Hell, I am still living through that NOW.  I wanted you to know that I am here in this fight with you, if you’ll allow me to be.

Strong Friend, I want to tell you, from my experience, that it is okay to take care of yourself.  I wanted so badly for someone to notice the crack in my voice, the puffiness of my eyes, or the way that my smile seemed just a little strained.  More importantly, I wanted to find a reason to live!  Though I didn’t initially believe that I had a right or reason to live, I wrote those words on my bathroom mirror and rehearsed them daily until they clicked.  As I gained a little strength, I began to see things a bit more clearly.  If you will allow me, I want to share with you some things that I have learned along the way, for my sanity’s sake:

  • It is okay to not be okay.  Faking fine only causes more damage.
  • It is okay to not be the savior.  You can take your cape off now!  You aren’t required to save the day everyday.  Besides, Calvary’s cross was already occupied and has already brought salvation to all who will receive.
  • It is okay to miss the mark.  I know you want everything to happen perfectly, but life isn’t perfect.  Unrealistic expectations only lead to severe disappointments.
  • It is okay to dismiss the friends who drain you dry and leave you to die.  Without being aware (and sometimes with their knowledge), there are some people who can attach to you and consume all of your virtue….and never replenish it.  It is okay to cut that tie.
  • It is okay to trust someone…at least one person.  You don’t have to walk this journey alone.
  • It is not okay to isolate yourself.  Depression’s best friend is isolation, and together they can torment you.  If you can, get with that trusted friend and get some air from time to time.
  • It is okay to be the weak friend from time to time.  That aforementioned trusted person should allow you to have the safe space that you offer others, and you should take it.
  • It is okay to tell God how you feel.  He knows already, but talking it out really does help.  Also, he wants to help.
  • It is okay to seek counseling.  Whether from a pastor, spiritual advisor, or licensed therapist, nothing is wrong with you for reaching out for objective help.  And that stigma attached to the African-American culture and church that getting therapy means you don’t trust God is not only DUMB, but it hasn’t helped anyone.

Strong Friend, I care about you both today and when the hype wears off.  If you need me, I am here.  I promise.

And if you get desperate and can’t reach me or your other trusted friend, call them…

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

I hope this helps.
-Chris

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