Fog, like Pea Soup

I drove into work yesterday in some of the worst fog I have ever encountered. It was thick, oppressive, massive, and isolating. It made me think of recent news of a former student tragically completing suicide this past weekend. I know many in their family, I have taught and had multiple connecting points with them and their siblings. I feel privileged to have taught them in some capacity over the years. Driving through the fog, they taught me.
Many will look at a person’s decision to complete suicide as one of the most selfish acts someone can commit. I used to think that. I don’t anymore.
Take fog. Depending on the time of day and the density, it can be all-consuming and frightening–there are also some moments of serene beauty.  As I drove yesterday, I could not see a hands distance from me on all sides. While there may have been, (and were) people traveling the same road beside, in front of, or behind me, I was oblivious. I could not see them, and they could not see me. Normal non-verbal communication that happens with drivers was not seen. Normal signals such as lights, slowing down or speeding up, or a lane change were lost. Eye contact and the bevy of non verbals (yes, even flipping the bird) were gone. In that moment, I was alone. But, I wasn’t. There were others out there, traveling the same stretch of interstate, similar paths and goals, different destinations. I felt alone.
In the case of suicide, this description fits. It’s a dense, all-encompassing fog that breathes heavy, clouds the windows, casts shadows on what we think we see, and impairs our judgment. When the light breaks through, it is blinding in its intensity and after our eyes adjust, we loosen our grip on the steering wheel, turn up the volume on our Spotify playlist, breathe a sigh of relief, set the cruise and motor on.
Being consumed with the painful fog of suicide offers no relief. I say pain here because I believe that is what it is . Wait, I don’t believe it. I know that’s how it feels. I know this pain.
You see, when we encounter moments of intense pain, we will go to any lengths to alleviate that pain. That’s why we have an incredible drug problem out there. People are trying to survive through immense pain. Note that I said, survive, not thrive. When the pain is so crushing that mere survival hurts, a person will do just about anything to find relief. That’s not selfish.
Take a migraine. For those that suffer, it is extreme. I’ve even driven myself into clinics and endured shots to the skull for relief. When it hurts in every fiber of your being, alleviating pain is not necessarily selfish.
Likewise, a person watching a loved one in that much pain will do almost anything to help. We know how helpless we feel when we can’t take the pain away from someone…any parent knows this. Imagine the pain of a child in almost any circumstance, I can guarantee you that most parents feel that pain more intensely than that child and come almost unglued with the want to rid them of it. I have seen my sons’ in moments of pain, their howls of agony rip at my soul. I want to help them and in some instances, I can’t. This is one of them.
In the moment when pain is at its most acute, there is nothing else a person can see or feel. They are not thinking about anyone else, not because they don’t want to, but because they CAN’T. When I am in a migraine cycle, I cannot function for or on behalf of anyone else. I may have the thought that I feel bad for not functioning,but rational thought of taking care of anyone else is gone. This is not to say that I do not love in those moments. I am simply unable to see or feel anything besides the pain and a quest for relief. Relief of pain is not selfish, it is natural and necessary. How we go about that is the slippery slope.
In the moment that a note, email, voicemail, text, or Facebook post is written claiming that we would be so much better off without their existence, there is absolutely no thought to the repercussions of that action. Pain has clouded the mind and fogged judgment so severely that rational thought and action do not exist. All that remains is what the mind and emotions are screaming at that person and all they want is peace.
I am NOT condoning this action. I am trying to grasp hold of it myself and wrestle it to the ground. I want easy answers and they don’t exist. I see others in pain and I want to help relieve it and I can’t. Only the person walking in that pain can and that’s where it’s hard. At the end of the day, I can hurl every strength, show of support, courage and love to a person and I still have no control over their actions. NONE.
That hurts. That’s scary. That’s real. And. it. Sucks.
I know this world. I’ve seen it, mucked around in it, examined its possibilities, attempted to taste its fruit to find it bitter and rancid. My experience is not yours and yours is not mine. But, I have to keep reminding myself that even when I feel isolated and am fumbling in the pea soup, I am not alone. There are others in their cars, on their journeys, similar to mine. I have my own road to take and a destination that belongs only to me, just as they have theirs. They can’t fix me and I can’t fix them. As I remember moments when people wrested bottles from my grip, I recall the deafening scream of silent pain that wanted freedom, that wanted the fog to lift so that I could find relief. Luckily, pain did not win. Tormented plots and twisted thoughts eased and the clouds parted. The fog lifted. I am lucky.
I am lucky because I understand. I am lucky because today I breathe life. Many are not and have not been so lucky and I mourn for them. I mourn their opportunity, I mourn their life. I mourn the level of pain that dictated this as the answer. I mourn because the work continues. But, I also rejoice in a deeper understanding of really dark and twisty places that do not have ready answers. That sounds weird. I rejoice in a constant quest for more understanding and more places of intersection so that I, and many others, do not have to feel so alone.
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