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The Better Than Better
For folks who might struggle with depression (originally posted on Medium.com).
Today, I celebrate.
I’d achieved much of what I deem meaningful, and made a choice tonight to celebrate life. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished thus far, particularly my understanding of this world and my appreciation of self. So, on this warm summer night, I sat with myself to contemplate, “what next?” while happily digesting fresh Colorado peaches and ice cream.
And startled myself by asking whether I should live another day.
It wasn’t an ‘oh, hmm, what should I do next’, type of asking, but an intense, absolute questioning akin to those I’ve had in my darkest days. Throughout my life, I’ve contemplated and attempted suicide. Mostly in despair, often in shame, and each heaping a sense of failure upon the next.
This night, though, a curious thing happened: I was at peace — as peaceful as I have ever been in my life — and demanded a decision.
I’ve had moments of this peace seep into me; a sense of absolute rightness with the world; a deep understanding and appreciation of people and their life’s journey; a quiet happiness and contentment. In 2012, after a few harrowing moments working in post-conflict and natural disaster zones, I decided to address my work-related secondary PTSD. That led to healing deeper childhood PTSD and all that came with it. In the last three years, and particularly this year, I’ve begun to truly feel the fruits of this self care.
So when the question arose, it caught me by surprise. I wasn’t destitute, raging, numb or juiced with fear. It was the first time I’d ever had the opportunity to examine and actively choose from a place of peace and strength.
It took me a few minutes of consideration; minutes that, if lengthened, often drags one back into mind-numbing contemplation, generally spiraling easily down the deep, dank hole of depression.
This time, I knew that, should I respond with a “no”, I’d pass away quietly, painlessly, successfully. The conviction was absolute, made with a clear head, and — interestingly — joy. After a lifetime of mental health and suicide attempts, there was an allure, especially with such peace and happiness in my heart. Who wouldn’t want to die in peace? In the past, my family, friends, and others I loved came to my mind to stop my attempts at ending my life.
Tonight, there was a distinct nuance in my question. I asked for myself, and only for myself: did I want to continue living. Not for my loved ones, not for the people I would serve in the future or the future I might live, not for God or whatever spirits, creatures and post-life experience or consequences awaited me. But just for me.
In the moment of consideration, my friend’s “Better than Better” story popped into my head.
Two months ago, a friend shared with me her thought process in times of crisis: focusing on the “Better than Better.” It makes this entry a bit long, but I want to share her story with you:
I’m a massive music nerd and one of my most surprising Better than Better experiences happened when I was living in London. My all time favourite artist was performing at the iTunes festival and I was on a mission to see the show. Generally, the only way to get in is to win tickets or be put on the guest list. I thought of everything I could do to get in. I entered the ticket lottery and asked friends if they knew anyone to get me in. I was excited about seeing the show but I wasn’t hung up on the outcome because I knew I would find a way to see the show or something better. On the day of the show, with all my options exhausted, I accepted that I wasn’t going to see the show live but believed that something better would show up.
One of my friend’s contact ended up getting back, but it was too late; the show was half way through, and I was already streaming it live online. I wasn’t disappointed when I was told that I’d be able to get tickets to any show in the future.
I didn’t get exactly what I expected at the time, but I still got to watch the show, albeit live from my laptop at home and with the possibility of never missing a show again. I definitely believed that that experience was showing me the “better”.
Fast forward four months later, the same artist was touring in London and I was super excited! This time, I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t be able to see the show. I knew I could buy tickets if I wanted, but what happened was nothing I planned or expected to happen: this time, I was on the guest list, I had a VIP pass, I had access to the VIP bar, I had viewing side of stage; it was like nothing I had ever experienced! My friend and I were walking around spotting British Music Royalty everywhere! I was giving high fives to Liam Gallagher*, talking to Jarvis Cocker, standing next to Jude Law, watching side of stage with Mark Ronson, skipping down the road with Miles Kane. It was insane! Everywhere I looked, I was surrounded by so many of my favourite musicians. I felt like I had hit the jackpot! This was definitely the Better than Better, and there was no way I could’ve conjured this night up in my wildest dreams.
But imagine if I’d been incredibly disappointed for not getting tickets to the original show and just gave up. I wouldn’t have given the chance for the better than better to occur and that would’ve been an incredible life changing experience missed. Sometimes we are fixated on a certain outcome and are so disappointed when things don’t happen exactly as we imagine. We don’t need to plan everything out with all the details, we just need to trust it’ll happen - or something better.
We open the opportunity to be surprised that something better can occur, and the something better is usually a million times better than what we ever imagine!
(*My friend used to work for the music industry, and me, not being a big music or art fan, I didn’t recognize most of these names, so had to look them up….)
I’ve had three near-death experiences — two of which I remember — that I don’t fear dying. When my decision headed down that path tonight, something in my logic told me I’d die anyway, so why not live a little longer to see what a Better than Better life might be.
But if you’ve ever been here, you know that logic does not move you. What shifted was the feeling of curiosity, of lightness, that emerged when I voiced the question that began with “I wonder”: I wonder what could be better than my imagined better?
In retrospect, my life has been better than better. It’s amazing how I survived the many twists and turns along the way — some actively chosen, others by happenstance. I’ve often been told, especially by psychologists, how fascinating my life is (they never lasted past that statement). For the first time in a long while, I can say I’m living life for me, not out of obligations or fear, not to impress someone, not to sacrifice myself (aka “in service to others”).
I allowed myself to feel wonder. Wonder the better than better. And in the wondering, I chose to live.
For many, it’s incomprehensible why anyone would feel so low during their streak of success, but this experience is not logical nor rational.
I thank my friend for sharing her story in time for me to remember, and then wonder; and in turn, I share mine, knowing many of us experience thoughts of suicide in the “dark night of the soul”, and that those thoughts also arrive involuntarily in times of joy and success. I wish I could share this with my friends who are no longer with us, and so I share it with you now.
I recently lost a mentee (under 25 years old) to suicide, and I dedicate this to her.