This morning I rode my bike over to sunset beach with my binoculars to see if one of my friends was out surfing. As I rode along the path, I saw this sign – A few years ago someone painted these inspiring signs and posted them along the path.  “You are beautiful.”  “You are strong.”  Stuff like that.

You add something special to this world, which is a powerful and strong message. It’s a great reminder that each of us is unique and wonderful. As much as we sometimes want to be more like the other people we see – each of us is amazing and each of us adds something special to the world.

Of course, we need to consider ways to evolve to be better. But just as we are today…we are special. We are all threads in the fabric of our families, teams, schools, and the world around us.  The (my) world is better because you (we) are a part of it. There are so many great themes to this message, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts this morning.

Last month I lost a dear friend to mental health issues. Mental health and suicide are brutal illness that continues to take the lives of so many loving, kind, caring, and dear friends and family. I feel broken when I think about my friend no longer being around. He was my original running buddy. In 2005, I moved to Utah and he worked in the same company/building. We started to run together several times per week and eventually ran marathons together. We qualified and ran the Boston Marathon together several times. He loved to run with an American flag bandana wrapped around his head. He epitomized ‘Merica at the core. He came from a small farming town in Idaho and he was a great man and a great example to me. I would have never guessed that he was suffering from crippling mental health issues.

I like to think that if he would have opened up to me about his struggles, maybe I could have done a better job helping him feel my love and support. Maybe I could have helped him. I’m sure I could have better supported him (tearing up a bit just thinking about this). But, I actually doubt my words could have saved him. Mental health issues are every bit as real and deadly as cancer or heart disease. And, I’ve been similarly unable to save my friends from those diseases. Doctors and medications are available to both, but both have the same brutal ability to kill. Still… I wish I could have better hugged, loved, and supported my friend. But, like a snap of my fingers, he’s gone. ☹

When I was young, I was taught that suicide was a sin… sort of like a bad choice. As I’ve grown, my perspective has changed 100%. I now realize that (almost always) suicide is a cure/escape from crushing pain and suffering. I ask myself…how much pain would (my friend) someone be feeling to arrive at the place to believe that such a choice would be better than life? Until we feel that level of pain (I hope we never do), I’m sure we underestimate that crushing, suffering, not ending pain. It’s just wrong to evaluate these choices from our own (less painful) mindset. For them (my friend), it must feel like being deep under the darkness and pressure of water, wanting to breathe, but swimming up toward the light above, but never reaching the light…and the choice becomes their only medicine or cure to the panic, fear, and suffering. I hope I never learn/feel this level of pain and loneliness. But, I’ve decided that what I believed when I was younger is completely wrong. Our friends are trying so hard to heal, recover, and live, but the disease of mental health overcomes them and takes them from us.

At the same time, I’ve struggled to find the best ways to help my own children deal with their mental health issues. About 10 years ago, I lost a brother-in-law to suicide –he was transitioning on/off medications or something like that. But, it scared me so bad, that I didn’t want to go down that path with my kids. Somehow, I thought they would grow out of it. That I could help them get stronger and heal themselves. I didn’t want them to have or feel the stigma and/or the negative side effects of mental health meds. So, I (mostly) ignored the disease they were suffering.

Thankfully, last year the level of suffering from my kids became more visible to me. Trust and communication opened up. And, we finally were connected with some doctors and counselors who could talk through, provide medications and start to help my kids heal and live with their challenges. Looking back, I realize what a huge risk my avoidance caused to my kids. I’m so thankful that the series of events that brought us face to face with how serious this had become (although very scary for everyone) didn’t progress to attempted suicide or death. I feel so lucky and blessed.

For my kids are not healed. But, they now have better tools to help. And getting past the denial and opening honest communication has helped our relationships in many ways. We are in the first steps of a (likely lifelong) journey together to fight the disease of depression and anxiety.

What can we do to help people like my friend, brother-in-law, and kids? We need to stop our individual and community denial of the reality and seriousness of mental health issues. We can’t continue to sweep these fears, concerns, and pains ‘under the rug.’ More research, science, and investment is needed to help create tools and cures to help us and those around us when we/they are sick like this.

I can’t do science and research.

But, I can be a better human.

Yes – of course, I’ll hug more, love more, and give more kindness to my kids and friends. I’ll give more understanding, support, and guide people to medical resources to help fight the illness.

I’ve come up with a great way to figure out who’s suffering and needs our help…
Close your eyes. Then open your eyes. The first person you see…That person is in need of kindness, love, and support. Behind every face and every door is a person who is dealing with some very heavy burdens. Extend a smile, kindness, grace, empathy, and a listening ear…sometimes even a hug to a stranger.
Trust me. They need it. And, you need it.

A kind word or a smile to a stranger along the way could be the only ray of light that person has received in days or weeks. I’m a bit of a shy person – so it’s not always easy for me to say hi and smile. But I’m going to do better. Just like me – that stranger on the bike path ‘adds something special to the world.’

And, if you happen to open your eyes and you see yourself…all of the above still applies.
You add something special to this world — BELIEVE IT! Find and help convince at least one other person each day of the same truth! I may not know you well — but I love you for caring!

If you or someone you know is suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, please seek trained medical professionals and get help. Sadly, there’s a huge shortage. Even getting an appointment may take months and endless patience with the run-around required to get that appointment, but, please persist. As has been the case with my kids, some very mild doses of medicine can make a HUGE difference. National suicide prevention hotline: 800-273-8255

I don’t likely know you – but I love you for caring.