I doubt if there is anyone in Taos not horrified by the recent suicide at the Gorge Bridge. While our hearts naturally go out to the family of the victim, I hope they also go out to our brave first responders who had the dreadful chore of recovering the body. Such a traumatic task would cause anyone to suffer PTSD and I hope these heroic men and women get the help they need to process the awful sights they were forced to witness.
Whenever these tragedies occur, the usual outcry (and ensuing blame game) concerns prevention. There should be a net under the bridge, the railings should be higher, more emergency telephones installed. While these have value, they don’t address the main issue. What motivates people to take their own lives in the first place?
Suicide affects all segments of the population, regardless of ethnicity, race or socio-economic class. And since all suffering is relative, no one is less entitled to care and compassion. Whether you live in a trailer or a mansion, the sudden suicide of a loved one will cut you off at the knees and send your life down a dark, unexpected path. I have personal experience with this as a close family member attempted suicide years ago but mercifully failed in the attempt. Had he succeeded, I would have been emotionally crippled for the remainder of my life. Even before I moved to Taos, I read online about the planned Regeneration Festival that took place after a spate of teen suicides here in town. I became involved because of my own teenage experience with adolescent suicidal behavior.
Teens are more susceptible because in their short lives, everything is immediate. They don’t have the benefit of the long view, whereas we adults have experienced enough ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies to know that nothing is permanent. But to a high school kid; being ignored in the lunchroom, a casual insult or a crude joke on social media can cause them to spiral down the rabbit hole of depression, despair or something worse. And often, these emotions have nothing to do with bullying, a prime culprit in teen suicides. When I fell down the rabbit hole in 10th grade and harbored dark suicidal thoughts, they had nothing to do with bullying. I just felt like I was invisible. Parties, dances and events happened without an invitation and although none of this was intended to hurt; to a young mind — especially today with the internet — it was easy to think I was being purposely alienated. My parents had no idea what was going on in their son’s life. As long as I earned good grades, smiled at the right time and behaved properly, all was fine. It was only decades later that I revealed to my surprised mother what was really going on underneath the surface.
What kept me from going over the edge was having one close friend who gave me enough care and affection to remind me I was cherished. I never revealed my inner thoughts to her, but just having a simple human connection was all it took to keep me afloat. A year later, the clouds cleared and I found new meaning in my life with friends, activities and a more hopeful world view.
During the few times I’ve taught high school-aged young people, I always give them the same message. Talk to each other. Look out for each other. Don’t assume that your peers have it made or that the so-called “cool kids” are devoid of their own personal pain. I share a story from my senior year in high school when I approached the most popular girl in my class, one who usually intimidated the rest of us with her good looks and haughty behavior. Collecting my courage, I asked how she was doing. For reasons I will never understand, she admitted how lonely and miserable she felt. That her supposedly elite status was a trap that kept her isolated from the rest of us. From that day onward, we became close platonic friends.
These lessons apply to us adults as well. We need to look out for each other beyond the stereotypes and the appearances. We now live in an age where loneliness is actually being viewed as an epidemic. I was recently appalled to see ads on Instagram suggesting that artificially-created “Humans” were the answer for companionship. They aren’t. We all need personal interaction, now more than ever.
Daniel A. Brown is an artist, teacher and writer living in Arroyo Seco.
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