culture / mental health / self help / self love

Teaching Him to Feel His Pain

“The deepest pain I ever felt was denying my own feelings to make everyone else comfortable.” - Nicole Lyons

I am doing research on suicide in the arts for suicide prevention week and was startled by the high risk faced by creative professionals. The rate is four times higher than the average population. One possible cause is the recurring rejection of a personal product, or yourself in the case of performers. Stress adds to it, too. Low-paid workers are at significantly higher risk of suicide as well and despite the belief that all actors are rolling in the dough, most of us are struggling to stay afloat.

I am so grateful to have learned to talk about my own feelings. After attempting suicide for the first time when I was eleven, I didn’t talk about it again for nearly ten years. I felt so utterly alone during those years. There was no one I could tell my dirty secret to. Twice more I seriously considered it. Once I actually got the pills in my mouth, swallowed a few and spit the rest out. I felt even more like a coward and a failure for not having the guts to go through with it.

Glennon Doyle talks about sharing worries with her son in Carry On Warrior. Before bed they share their worries to let them go. I realized that I have done this for years. I have rarely ever journaled or written in daylight. I am most drawn to writing at the time I’d rather go to bed but feel the need to get some of my demons out of me. And you know what? I haven’t been suicidal since I began writing.

Bedtime seems to be the time that the scary thoughts hit for Aidan, too. More often than not, if he is sharing a sad or scary thought with me it is while we are snuggling in bed at night. Tuesday, he was very concerned about his first day of school. I told him that before I go to bed I like to write my feelings down so I don’t have to go to sleep with them. That way I can close my eyes and “count my blessings” (one of Aidan’s most requested bedtime songs). I asked if he would like to try writing his feelings down since he doesn’t like to talk about them. He was immediately onboard. I told him we could shop for a journal for him but remembered I had a stack of empty notebooks and never used journals that he could choose from. He loved this idea and chose a little wire bound “A Christmas Story” notebook with white, ruled pages.

He sat down and started sounding out his feelings. He wrote two words, his feelings. Which I’ll keep in confidence I asked if he wanted to write why he felt that way and he proceeded to try to sound out his reasoning. I was so proud of him for having the courage to put his feelings on the paper. I am also truly grateful, after reading these statistics, that we are raising him in an environment where he can share his feelings and isn’t expected to hold onto them forever.

My husband is rarely active on Facebook, but the other day he was compelled to share a cartoon about toxic masculinity. XN has been devoured by toxic masculinity and because it is the only thing that he knows, he tries to transfer this onto Aidan. This has caused a lot of heartache already. I am comforted to know that Aidan has other male role models who will show him that it is not only ok, but encouraged to show emotion and to admit when he’s sad, scared, nervous, or whatever emotions are perceived to be weak and unmanly.

I know that I can’t protect my boy from horrible life events, many of which I am sure I will cause, and I can’t prevent him from falling into the black hole of depression. What I can do is give him the tools to build a strong sense of who he is and how to cope. I can teach him that asking for help is okay and that sharing our most intimate struggles with someone else is one of our greatest gifts.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255.

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