The views and determinations expressed below are mine and mine alone. I apologize in advance; this is a heavy topic and cannot acquire its due diligence with a concise presentation. I beg that you read, consider, and take this to heart. If you don’t read often, consider this the one book you’ll read all year. Take some time to yourself, absorb, reflect, and sift through the thoughts this may conjure.
About 3 months ago, I assumed a position at a mental health inpatient clinic. I am sure to be promoted up the chain relatively soon because I have such vision, grit, and intellectual mobility. I really am the modern-day Renaissance Man. However, I will keep my sarcastic narcissism at bay while we approach the more serious topic at hand. I feel a deep burden to voice my thoughts on this matter and I must act, lest I mar the painting of necessity for life as we know it – literally.
In the Adolescent Psychiatric Unit, there are a variety of tasks that my position requires attending to. Put simply, it boils down to 4 things: 1) caring for patients that come from different but extremely difficult circumstances by facilitating a structured routine (e.g., backgrounds of serious abuse and neglect; mental health disorders and psychiatric disabilities both predisposed and otherwise; self-harming urges and suicidal ideation; aggressive urges and tendencies; conduct disorder); 2) adjusting the patient’s situational and emotional lenses, thus handing the reigns of responsibility and control back to them through realization of self-worth; 3) providing coping skills for behavioral triggers and optimizing approaches to solving problems; 4) ensuring uncompromised safety during their stay.
Together, these functions partnered with mechanisms like medication, psychiatric evaluation, and professional counseling point to a single hopeful objective in which the facility reintroduces patients to society with better affect, a more effective outlook on life, and the ability to choose for themselves. At the clinic, we say that these individuals are being admitted on “the worst day of their life”. It certainly puts things into perspective, given that I have some kind of clear vision for my life. I can see through to the next day; and even the one after that. Many – not all – but many of our patients can barely materialize the idea of a tomorrow.
For this reason, the mental health system shows itself to be of tenfold importance in the adolescent life stage, some of the most vulnerable, formative, and impactful years in a lifespan. These temporary patients, these stigmatized individuals, these prematurely labeled human beings… “they” are just like you and I. They, however, have the opportunity to embrace and confront life on a completely different playing field. Many of us, if we dared to admit it, could probably use a couple of days at a treatment facility like this one.
In our lives, we face adversity and discouragement, both misstep and disease, as well as justified sadness and grief. Life can numb muscles and break bones. It can tear apart dignity and leave individuals broken, in a pit of depression, gasping for their last breath. It can even leave one complacent and comfortable, simply afloat and devoid of intention, and this is also a sad chapter in a short story. No one is exempt from the rainfall. But one truth remains, regardless of socioeconomic status, life circumstances, revered and discarded aspirations, harrowing pasts, engrained paradigms, or self-proclaimed absolute worldview.
“Where there is life, there is potential.”
Where there is life, there is potential. The statement is no novel assertion. You may have heard these words uttered by The Walking Dead‘s beloved Morgan Jones, a somewhat out of place character in this fiction world chock-full of zombies and imminent carnage with an emphasis on whatever-it-takes survivalism. “All life is precious,” he claims. What is so admirable and revealing in a statement like this? It is through Morgan that the show exhibits a clear contrast between the survivors who will take any life which poses a threat whereas Morgan’s higher philosophy is one which deems all life precious and not worth taking. He sees beyond the immediate danger to what the aggressor is capable of becoming. He sees in others what he found in himself – the ability to change, to find a different perspective, to realize a higher potential. In turn, we see in him what we wish we saw in ourselves – this higher perspective.
Now, look in the mirror that you may bestow mercy upon your own aggressor.
Some existentialist philosophers like Sartre suggest that freedom is the greatest burden of all. Were we swine, we would have but one clear motive and one clear option, to roll in the wet mud, feasting in our own filth and excrement. At least we would know with certainty where our duties were beholden: uninterrupted instinct and habit. And yet, we were given life without ever being told quite clearly how to live it: there are too many options. But herein lies the greatness of human freedom: choice, and through choice, potential manifests the actual possibility of something more. What you see right now is not all that there is. There’s more. And that should excite you. There is no Option A or Option B. Furthermore, Options A-Z will never suffice the grandeur of your human potential.
In those dark moments when you swear you wish you were dead, do you not realize you actually wish you felt alive because you’ve tasted of a life that’s worth living? And do you not realize that this aching is further proof of the potential that always lies within your wake, right at the next bend in the road? You may look back on your life and wonder what you did with it. But today is today and tomorrow is anew. Tomorrow can be right now if you let it. Your past is not your future.
And so, as long as you are still counting respirations, until you are drop-dead cold and in the dirt… There are endless possibilities. There are innumerable alternative futures. There are choices to be made. As long as the sun still shines on your face, you have the capability to see beyond the physical horizon. To imagine and create. To ponder and think. To appreciate and deliberate. There are people to meet. There are things to see. There are mountains to climb. There are kind things to be said and extraordinary things to be done. There are still tears to be shed and laughs to be had. Don’t throw it all away. Don’t fall into autopilot, land somewhere in the future, and wonder what happened.
Numbing the pain forfeits the potential for growth. Cancel out the pain and you cancel your life. Cancel your life and there is no rewind button. This is indisputable. To wish that you were someone else is as good as suicide. Don’t spit on your grave; throw a quote on it, call it your own, live by it, and justify the etchings in your headstone. When the time comes naturally, you will know that you made the right decision. When the time comes naturally, you will know that those engravings were not premature indentions born of a life lived in disregard.
We have become so callous to death. Media has granted us access to a gargantuan archive of mortality exacted across the world. Death is so common, we can barely begin to process a single death before a dozen others are reported. Of course, death is a part of life. But a life is a life. A life, potential cancelled, gone, taken forever from the earth. We must refuse to take this so lightly. Death is not such a simple occurrence, not one to be lumped together as if one giant mess within the conundrum of it all. I say all of this that you may picture the true value of a single human life, your human life to begin with, and furthermore, the countless others you will come into contact with in the time to come. A human life is not like fluctuating currency, subjugated to a corporeal economy of valuations, inflations, and depressions. We impact each other. We shape each other. We come to know each other and walk in each other’s shoes. Is this not a life worth living… together? Is this not a life worth figuring out… together?
This is not a simple exhortation alone for the truly suicidal. This is a wake up call for anyone who has lost sight of the ability to choose to live – to realize their own capabilities. Why are you so stuck in your ways? Why can’t you just choose to be different? Why don’t you pick up your necessities, grasp that reckless passion, and ceaselessly, relentlessly, unapologetically pursue it? The earth’s entire crust is at your fingertips. Thrust the ice pick into that cliff face one more time. Measure the depth of your passion not by how far you are willing to climb, but by how far you are willing to fall. When you choose life, you will find it.
Forget what you’ve been told about social constructs and limitations. Disregard your unforgivable past and forget the heinous deed done unto you. It’s up to you now, to accept life as it is. If you are unhappy with your life, you owe it to yourself to do something differently. You can’t choose what happens to you, but you can choose what to do with it. Now let’s start making life easier for ourselves… Remember, baby steps.
The brilliant Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, formulated the principle of first and second creations based off the paradigm “Begin with the end in mind.” The idea is that “all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things.” For example, when building a house, the contractor always begins with a blueprint, sketching out every nook and cranny as to avoid a foundational mishap, save for the exact placement of nails. A house is never constructed without a blueprint. It’s the very cornerstone of everything that follows and thus, nothing is left to chance. Inversely, if you live your life based in common habit, instinct, and impulse, you leave physical manifestations (second creations) to chance. You yield control to the external world. What is so revelatory and remarkable about this simple principle? “To the extent to which we understand the principle of two creations and accept the responsibility for both, we act within and enlarge the borders of our Circle of Influence.” If you begin to formulate your actions mentally before they ever manifest physically, you will begin to see the world you constantly dream of coming to fruition. Put simply, think well in advance before you act.
The following is a list of suggestions which I have implemented in my life in order to make my days a little more fulfilling and vibrant. Some of the most successful people in the world do these exact same things. I encourage you to try them out for a week.
I am thankful…
Laying my head on my soft pillow, I refrain from drifting asleep as I recount every little blessing that I am thankful for throughout the day. It allows me to see beyond the negative which can so easily shroud the still blossoming life before me. Besides, if we have nothing to be thankful for, why bother fighting any longer? I’m sure you can find something, and it certainly grows easier after weeks of practice. I expect you’ll find yourself falling asleep before you can list everything off soon enough. Thanksgiving… it’s an art.
I applaud and recalibrate…
Before I go to sleep, I mentally review my day. I applaud and self-affirm where things went right. I constructively critique where things certainly could have gone better. I calibrate and readjust my sight so that I can hit my target spot on next time. During my time in Army ROTC, we called it an AAR (After Action Review). After carrying out a mission or reaching an objective, it was at this time that the squad or platoon would list off sustains and improves.
I mentally create my tomorrow…
Step by step, in meticulous detail, before I meet the dreams and nightmares which surely await, I picture tomorrow’s success. All in my mind’s eye, from the time I wake up to the small span of time it takes to brush my teeth and untie my shoe laces. Not a single appointment is neglected. In this way, it will surely not be neglected on the morrow and I will have optimized my reach in doing so.
Whenever my mind is too full, I empty it. The idea and act of meditation has become popular amongst successful entrepreneurs and business professionals today. Sitting in solace and clearing your mind in the quiet is the best way to begin your day. Welcome everything with a grain of salt and realize that one step at a time is never really too difficult. Greet your slumber in the same way and sleep in peace.
I write a creed…
I write a paragraph or two. I summarize my values and I designate the individual that I am to become. At the end of my life, what is important to me? What are my goals? What do I believe in? How do I want to be remembered? Now memorize it and recite it every chance that you get, altering it over time as you see fit.
I avoid hasty generalizations…
I avoid making hasty generalizations about myself based on a handful of mistakes, as if those missteps constituted my entire life movement. I will not label myself through the lens of a negative past. I will label myself through the sights of a positive future. I am who I am to become. It’s quite shocking, isn’t it? We wake up every day and surprise ourselves, as if imperfections and missteps were some foreign object to a fundamentally human nature.
I memorize The Greatest Salesman in the World…
Regardless of your beliefs, you should put everything down and read this book now. It will change your life. You can purchase it here: The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino
I love unconditionally…
Without love, we are nothing. Nothing.
If it interests you, the poem below is a portrayal of a character that I concocted in spite of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch and The Last Man in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I encourage you to research the background of this story if you are out of the loop on this one, but information here will suffice for author’s intent. A professor at the University of Kentucky kindly aided me in translating the title from English to German so as to meet the near literal meaning. “The Wherever Man” or Der Wo-Immer-Mensch (The Where-Always-man) tells the apathetic story of a man with no vision, heart, or passion in life. The wind moves him to and fro. He goes wherever the wind takes him. He is reactive as situations arise. He does not plan. He has no plans. He does not care. He lives in Nietzsche’s nihilistic world of nothingness. The question remains. Will you fall in line and sway with the wind or find your own firm footing in the face of great adversity?
This is “The Wherever Man”.
Swiping and swinging a single set of arms
Human limb swipe for non-human branch
Fingers curl and miss target, swiping continuously
Air pockets swivel through five fingers and leave no trail
Griping, clawing, swiping
Release with weak intention
Tumbling in evergreen fashion
But no seasons here, but no seasons here
Grasping the branch, limbs swing that shell
Back to back, forward to wherever
Dry branches crackle like the cracking of a frigid ice plane
Bronze-aged branch, snapping, overlapping
Not sequential but cycled
Limb bounces up and down, the wherever man sways around
And it might hold,
And it might not.
*Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989. Print.