BY BLOG EDITOR LAUREN MAULDIN
This week Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain became two of the over 30,000 Americans* that will die by suicide this year. In the aftermath of their loss, social media flooded with memorials, messages to “reach out if you ever feel lost” and broken heart emojis in honor of our lost icons.
I’m not above this wash of sympathy either. I wrote my own post after discovering that Anthony Bourdain hung himself on Friday morning. It’s hard to articulate the pain you feel after losing someone you only met through books and tv shows. I have a dog eared copy of Kitchen Confidential on my shelf, seen every episode of No Reservations, and a trip to Vietnam planned for next year that was completely inspired by Bourdain’s love of the country – but even with all that, who am I to feel hurt?
Back when I was a devoted, daily equestrian blogger, I made a friend through the community. Every time I posted my struggles with this sport, whether it was wrangling my unruly body to fit into a pair of breeches, feeling like my money/skills/horse was inadequate or simply being tired by the endless chase, my friend was right there to offer her support and a sympathetic ear. We commiserated over trying to gain confidence in the jumper ring, read each other’s show reports and shared adorable horse pictures. More than 21st century penpals – friends.
And then one morning I logged onto Facebook to see the vague posts that make my heart drop.
I’m sorry the pain was too much.
I hope you’re free now.
I wish I could have helped you my friend.
She was a talented rider. She was smart, accepted into med school and ready to kick ass in a tough career. She was kind. She was beautiful. She was loved.
And she was gone.
Here is the thing that burns me about suicide, even more than crying over my phone after reading about the loss of a friend hundreds of miles away. As a society, we don’t like to actually say what happened. See those messages above? Even the own paragraph I wrote about my friend. We can’t name it.
Killed. Dead. Deceased.
We are taught that suicide is a topic to pat on the head. Flash a helpline number for it (800-273-8255). Offer it our thoughts and prayers.
I am so tired of thoughts and prayers.
On Saturday, September 12th, 2015, I spent all day in bed thinking about killing myself.
My husband died two months earlier, the worst day of my life that I managed to walk away from, but has left deep grooves of pain in me that will last forever. The thing that pushed me over the edge though, was the Saturday morning I had to put his dog down.
Back from the vet with a pink leather collar in my hand, I couldn’t fathom life having a purpose. Even my other two other dogs, creatures I deeply love and get comfort from on a daily basis, were just organic beings I shared space with before they would eventually need me to put them out of their misery… only to feel the incredible pain all over again.
I stared at the ceiling for hours. Thought about how I might try, the people who would take care of my animals after I was gone, the final end to feeling so deeply and working so hard to make it to the end of every day.
For hours I circled with these thoughts until I got up, took the dogs out to pee, and dumped kibble in their bowls for dinner. I woke up the next morning, and repeated the same actions. After that, I just kept going.
Don’t mistake my getting past that suicidal day as heroism. I’m no better than those who end their lives. I don’t know what made me ultimately decide to stick around. Maybe it was the horse I have at the barn, who always makes me feel better. Maybe it was my friend and family support group, far and wide in the background.
Mostly, it’s because my brain doesn’t suffer from disease like so many do. It doesn’t cannibalize my good thoughts, doesn’t whisper to me that my worst fears are true as it shrouds my life in a cloud of darkness. Mostly, it’s because I love this beautiful, terrible, heart-breaking world… even when it makes us suffer.
Why do I write this post for an equestrian blog? What do Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain or even me have to do with any of you?
In the time you’ve likely spent reading this post, someone has died by suicide*. They probably weren’t famous, but their life is just as over. Statistically, it could have even been one of us.
What about the hard working professional, putting on a smile for clients but crunching numbers and answering creditors as they try to figure out how to keep the operation going in this expensive, back and soul breaking sport?
Or the adult amateur rider who’s always a little bit timid in lessons, super hard on herself and maybe less likely to socialize in the barn aisle because just making it out there is a big accomplishment in itself.
Or the crossrail kid who is always super happy and smiling with the horses, but posts black and white, frowning selfies on her instagram with captions like, I hate everything. Why is it all so hard?
Or maybe you, reading this right now.
The equestrian sport trains people to be tough. Keep your emotions out of the ring. “Hospital or back on.” Don’t get me wrong – I love that about us, but when it comes to mental health… we need to be gentle.
We need to be able to say that we’ve had a hard time in the past, or we’re having one now. We need to look out for each other. We need there to be no consequence if or when an icon in our sport says, “I’m struggling.” Because statistically, someone is.
Suicide is a deeply complicated issue. It’s not an easy fix, but I want to open up the dialogue. I want to disarm the stigma by staring it in the face.
I want to see cute pictures of your horse in your Facebook feed, not that you’re now free from pain.
Really when it comes right down to it, I just want you to stay.
* As reported by dosomething.org
About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.
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