UNSILENCING THE SILENCER
It was a normal school day. Nothing out of the ordinary stood out. En route to our respective classes we conversed about important things like fashion, house parties, and of course, boys!. We laughed, joked and even planned to speak later on the telephone. Or so it appeared.
Although the youngest, throughout high school the three of us we were inseparable. To many we were like night and day; complete opposites, distinctively unique, yet alike in many ways. There was an unspoken bond of mutual respect which remained intact even during heated expressions of indifference. Tanya had an insatiable appetite for life and a contagious smile which was all-consuming whenever you encountered her presence. Unlike Cozet and I, who were both a little rough around the edges, she was our balance, a trajectory changer if you will. Popular but approachable. A quiet storm not easily erupted but volcanic when it came to matters of the heart! A champion of trust and a bulwark of the hidden secrets and truths of our lives, a "ride or die" type of friend. Like most high school girls, we shared everything or at least I thought!
In wake of the suicidal deaths of two iconic figures, fashion designer Kate Spade and roving CNN journalist and host of the award-winning series "Parts Unknown" Anthony Bourdain, I was overcome with a resurgence of emotions in reflecting upon the loss of Tanya to suicide! We were teenagers in hot pursuit of discovering ourselves while preparing for our future. Then "it - SUICIDE" reared its ugly head without "warning" snuffing out one of the most influential voices in my life! Too often we over marginalize the lengthening of its cord and the strengthening of its stake in the lives of those encounter its by-products on a daily basis. Make no mistake, mental illness is real and must be handled within the confines of the natural and spiritual realm.
Shortly after gathering my sisters from outside to complete their chores prior to our Mother's arrival home, I remember the telephone ringing and sensing an unexplainable easiness from within. The voice on the other end of the telephone was gripping as the pealing of their words became inaudible within my hearing. "What? Tanya is dead. They found her dead in her home with a gunshot wound to the head!"
As the world mourns the death of two celebrities, might we look beyond their net worth and be touched with the humanity of their inescapable inability to handle or cope with their reality. Not out of guilt, but rather out of necessity! I'll say it again, "the spirit of suicide has run rampant within our communities, churches, families, and workplace for years, however, its notoriety has always been short-lived." Scripture reveals several high-profile conduits like the first king of Israel, whose name was Saul who committed suicide when his life choices caught up with him, so he took his life by falling on his sword (1 Samuel 31:1-5). One of the original disciples of Jesus Christ whose name was Judas Iscariot out of greed betrayed the Son of Man with a kiss for 30 pieces of silver. Unable to recover from the despicable actions he committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree (Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:18).
The deafened ear needs to realize that suicide is no respecter of one's socio-economic background, marital or financial status, gender, education or spiritual maturity. It is, however, COLORLESS! Dr. John Draper, the executive director of National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in a recent interview with CNN said ". . . when anyone dies, the focus should not be on the cause of death so much as what they meant to the living and what they meant to people around them. The story of their life is so much more important than the story of their death." The Samaritans, a British charity that provides suicide assistance and counseling, has its own guidelines for covering the matter of suicide. Their guidelines show that "Details of suicide methods have been shown to prompt vulnerable individuals to imitate suicidal behavior," according to the group's guidelines, which note that such reporting runs the "risk of imitational behavior due to 'over-identification."
We were teenagers making our mark while attempting to find our niche amidst our inadequacies when the reality of suicide made its presence known. Regrettably, within our culture and especially within the African American community, we've been taught to be silent about the silent killer known as mental illness. If we're brutally honest with ourselves, we've either encountered or know of someone who's committed suicide. As a proud people, we're taught to "protect" the family business - it's "nobody's business what goes on in our house." So, how's that working for you? As much time as we spent together how did we miss the warning signs? Was identifying with her "truth" so debilitating that I was unwilling to confront the familiarity of having experienced suicidal tendencies?
Maybe you or a friend have had suicidal thoughts, but because of its "taboo like" presence you've chosen to dismiss it in hopes of never having to encounter its reality. Too often we get caught up in the sensationalism of what's trending, but at the end of the day, that's someone's loved one whose life has ceased to exist. At the time of Tanya's death, social media was non-existent, therefore we were unable to move beyond the parameters of mourning and become proactive. There were no counselors onsite to help us process the trauma of suicide. And besides, we associated mental illness with people who were locked away in mental institutions. All we had was each other and the community at large coupled with lots of unanswered questions.
Just as a journalist has a responsibility to avoid under marginalizing a public suicide, we too must become proactive in our perceptibility towards understanding the gamut of mental illness issues within our culture and spheres of influence. From a journalistic perspective, I like the thought-provoking and practical guidelines shared on Twitter by Kelly McBride, Vice President of Poynter. She tweets "when reporting on suicide include resources for people who need help. Avoid oversimplifying on the cause. Don’t get hung up in the details of the means of death, the less graphic and specific, the better. Don’t lionize the person. Don’t sensationalize the outpouring of grief."
Although we're hundreds of miles apart and no longer mirror the innocence of our youthfulness, the indelible mark of Tanya's life has forever bonded us. For many of us, depression is real and so is the stigma we've attached to it as being weak-minded. It's an incontrovertible truth, we're all purposing to live godly lives through the incorporating of spirit-lead goals, amidst navigating the uniqueness of our pseudo flawlessness in a culture that sometimes devalues our presence. From one Sistah (ethnically) to another Sister (Body of Christ), your life matters and the sustainability of your life doesn't lie within the perceptibility of others, but your unconditional acceptability in Christ Jesus!
In Isaiah 61:7 NLT which says "Instead of shame and dishonor, you will enjoy a double share of honor. You will possess a double portion of prosperity in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours. Now take a deep breath and reach out towards the double portion and allow others to glean from the greatness which lies within you by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
Now declare and decree over your life that "I will not die; instead, I will live to tell what the LORD had done!"