What to Make of Brittany Maynard and Robin Williams?

I know, I know.  This article is so three days ago.  As a nation, we’ve elected  a bunch of Republicans and voted on controversial laws involving women’s rights and recreational pot since Brittany Maynard died on Saturday. But I just can’t stop thinking about her, and the public’s reactions to her death compared with the reactions to Robin Williams’ suicide this summer.

Brittany Maynard’s very public decision and ultimate action to end her life before the cancer did was ground breaking because she was so public about it.  She’s not the first and she won’t be the last.  A lot of people have ended their lives before an illness does, they just don’t tell the world first.  Robin Williams’ shocking end was sadly not new to us.  We have said untimely good-byes to a number of beloved celebrities.  Both of these people decided to end their lives.  One, apparently, because he was clinically depressed and couldn’t find his way back.  The other, because she knew the torture that was coming and chose not to endure it.

Brittany has been characterized as both brave and cowardly, depending on the viewpoint.  A Vatican representative recently condemned her suicide calling it “absurd.” He is quoted as saying, “Suicide is not a good thing. It is a bad thing because it is saying no to life and to everything it means with respect to our mission in the world and toward those around us.”

Conversely, Robin was even further iconicized for his work following his death.  Reactions were filled with grief and remorse.  There was outrage at the news of the various medicines he was on and the likelihood that they contributed to his death.  We grieved for the greatness that was lost.  The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published a brief article following the death of Robin Williams honoring him and calling him an “unforgettable clown with a heart of gold.”

So, both of them were ill.  Both of them chose to die.  One faced certain and painful death in her near future.  One, had he been able to escape from the dark world of depression, faced many more years with friends, family and opportunities to pursue his “mission in the world.”  Why are the reactions to their choices so different?

Incidentally, I use the public statements from the Catholic Church because they illustrate the bifurcated sentiments of many, not to criticize.  This is not an easy one to figure out.  At least not for me.

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What Does The Voice in Your Head Sound Like?

As a kid, I wondered whether other people saw the same color that I did.  I mean, how would you know?  Maybe when they see red it’s really blue.  (So, yeah, I was a weird kid.)

Lately I’ve been wondering what other people’s mind-voices sound like.  Maybe no one else has a voice in their head and I should be in a psych ward, but I suspect that we all have someone on the inside talking to us on a regular basis.  My voice generally sounds like me, and she won’t shut up most of the time.  Often she is trying to remember what I forgot on my grocery list or reminding me that I’m almost out of gas.  I don’t engage in a conversation with her — mostly she is just a soliloquy running on auto play.

She is loudest and hardest to ignore when voicing my insecurities, snarkiness, cynicism and defeatism.  When I just don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, she tells me I’m pathetic.  Nice, huh?  You would hope that your inner voice would be encouraging and helpful.  Not mine.

So when she is at her worst, I eventually dig deep in my reserves and give her a swift mental smack and tell her to knock it off. She goes quiet for a while, which, frankly is a bit of a relief.  And then I’ll hear her whispering in the background, “It’s beautiful outside.  Why don’t you take those puppies for a walk”?  And as I look around at the blue skies and mountainsides she says, “Ahhh.  Ok.  Good call.”  And then she starts rambling about whether we’re going to have anyone over for Thanksgiving this year.

What does your inner voice sound like?

Are You a Misplanted Tree?

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Trees are dying in my neighborhood.  It seems like every day, a crew is out there cutting up yet another big dead tree.  I live in essentially a high mountain desert, just west of Vail, and my neighborhood faces south, so it tends to bake in the sun.  The native vegetation is sparse, consisting primarily of sagebrush.  Thirty years ago, when the development of this neighborhood began, people planted trees and grass.  I suppose because that’s what you do when you build a house — plant trees to make it look nice.  Aspen, cottonwood and spruce trees.  When we bought our home several years ago, we liked how pretty the neighborhood was, with mature landscaping, flowers and shade in the summer.  We’re originally from Michigan and we like trees.

Alas, the trees have been assaulted by drought, disease and pests and they are dying.  Some are just old — they only live so long — but most are sickly.  Basically, the trees don’t belong here.  Never did.  It’s too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter, too dry from time to time and the soils aren’t right, allowing bugs and fungus to get in and kill them.

So, this morning, as I listened to the chain saws of yet another crew cut down another huge tree on the golf course behind my house, I thought that these trees are like a lot of people I know, including me.  For whatever reason, whether a bad relationship, the wrong career choice, changing economic circumstances or trying to be something because that’s what is expected, people can end up in the wrong place.  And for a while, they may be ok.  Their reserves sustain them, they grow and establish roots as best they can and they may even appear to thrive.  Eventually, though, they get worn down and depleted, cracks in their exterior expose them to the elements, and they get sick.

When this happened to me a few years ago, I was completely caught off guard.  I’m fairly smart, have a decent “emotional” quotient and work hard,  I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do.  People often told me how strong I was., whatever that means.  But I was in the wrong place, at least the wrong place for me, in my job.  And with every day that went by, I became less.  Less strong.  Less patient.  Less energetic.  Less me.  Eventually, I confided in a friend and colleague that I feared I was broken.  And then, when some really difficult situations came at me, I wasn’t able to deal with them from a place of strength.

A counselor then told me something I wish I had known sooner.  When in a place that fits you, you will gain strength, thrive and grow.  But, if the core of who you are does not align at least generally with your environment, you will be in a state of constant friction.  Even if you don’t feel that friction outright, it is there and it will wear you down.  Think Chinese water torture of the soul.  Something needs to be altered, and generally our fundamental selves don’t change.  So you need a transplant.  And if that’s not feasible, at least recognizing that you are in a situation that is depleting can help you find the resources to shore up and replenish.

As hectic and busy as life may get, invest some real effort in your introspection and in the assessment of your environment.  And check back in from time to time.  Things change.  Your good environment of five years ago may not be so good for you anymore.