GUEST POST BY CARL EVANS
TRIGGER WARNING: REFERENCE DESCRIPTION OF SUICIDE ATTEMPTS
Hope cannot be bought or sold, but it can be found and it can be given.
How we engage with art changes not as we age but as experiences shape our ‘selves’.
It may be because our lives form facets on our perceptions that intensify our connection to certain images, sounds and most definitely, lyrics.
Songs can tether to our heart beyond the easily understood relationships of memory and scents or physical spaces. They can connect to us for those reasons but also something deeper, and intangible.
An impoverished 60-year-old war veteran and a thirteen year old from an affluent suburb can find equally powerful resonance in the same song for very different reasons.
What occurs in our lives draws our hearts down different paths as individual experiences shape our reactions to images and sounds we understand as art. This is hardly a new insight, we can all recognize that art calls to a place within ourselves as intangible as referencing the soul.
Sam Cooke songs remind me of driving around with my father as he ran errands on a Saturday afternoon. I call that a classical memory connection.
The Smashing Pumpkins song Tonight-Tonight relates to 8th grade sci-fi fanatic me. The opening strings were an introduction to space odysseys in my day and night dreams. Every inch of those four minutes and eleven seconds (on my copy of the album) was dedicated to adventures in my head. I wore out my CD player falling asleep to it night after night, free of any connection to my day-to-day experiences.
Publicly, on the street, in hallways or at home there are clearly marked avenues for resolution to physical pain. However, for internal pain, there is a vaguely marked direction towards a murky territory; social and cultural shrouds hamper visibility.
It seems these hidden issues breed the sense of isolation evident within personal struggles. I find that pain, in regards to dialogue on suicide and mental health is definitely a physical sensation - but not like breaking a leg.
However, someone whose mobility becomes limited could experience sensations of helplessness and those feelings, via a broken leg, are a recognized pain.
We can recognize that these pains have a vast spectrum of causes; their origins woven from the complexity of our society and our individual experiences.
Bullying, harassment, assault, any experience with violence in any proximity, physical impairments, chemical imbalances, genetics, sexual orientation, personal identity with gender, struggles to conform with cultural attitudes, religions, the social status quo, economic instability, our domestic environments; there appears to be no limit to causal factors from whence these invisible pains arise.
So many paths - yet seemingly scarce information assists in navigating the murky territory of addressing these internal conflicts. This is a deeply personal matter and the path to guidance meanders through isolated channels that can breed sensations of loneliness.
There are elements termed connective factors that are considered the most potent inhibitors to suicide. An individual possessing these factors may be considered less susceptible to self-harm. They are recognizable, tangible concepts like a network of friends, a caring family, and supportive environmental entities (schools, community organizations, religious/spiritual associations etc.)
Even then, it should be noted there are some conditions like biological ones that persist in the most ideal environments. Being sad because of isolation and being sad in isolation are distinctly separate experiences.
Having depression, being bi-polar, and experiencing instability or constant sadness can be four separate experiences or intertwined in one individual’s experience.
It’s easy to see how those external connective factors can defend against self-harm and combat unhealthy mental states. Yet it is often the internal pains, or managing them, that creates a sense of isolation.
We all understand this sense of isolation can alienate or distance a person from establishing or maintaining health-giving connections. We must not forget that feelings of isolation are often exasperated by stigmas and silences in our social spheres.
This sense of isolation encumbers those in pain and may explain the resonance felt when art calls to a heart struggling with something within. Art serves as a connection in the isolation. A song can feel like an anchor, something to hold onto in the tumult of an inner struggle.
Feeling scared to admit the pain and ashamed to acknowledge it openly leads to isolation. Something in our personal experience can inflict us with a sense of loneliness in a crowded room. An incomprehensible feeling in our minds can draw us to recoil into a spatial solitude to match our internal isolation. As we recoil, we can hide our tracks by presenting an outward deception, a protective shield that conceals our sadness and hurt.
Self-harm, suicidal ideation, mental health in general, are not a black and white issues. They are encumbered with cultural baggage that plays a governing factor on how we elect to manage our internal experiences. When shared, sadness, like joy, is a part of life. But inner pain and ongoing suffering grows in silence, avoidance and the inability to seek assistance.
When there is no relief sought or visible, the pain can build to a point that can consume our being. It has been said that self-harm and suicide arises when an individual sees no other apparent options to relieve and end their pain.
It’s in the space between the casual factors and the desperation feelings that Hope is a powerful force, a barrier to redirect ourselves. We can understand the value of Hope in all our lives to seek dreams and aspirations.
However, in a mind burdened with pain…
Hearing Tonight-Tonight made you forget for four minutes and fourteen seconds (on my copy of the album); it made you forget nearly six years of vicious bullying. A bombardment so consistent and unrelenting you didn’t complain when your parents grounded you twice for breaking your bedroom door cause they would never guess your neck in a belt broke the hinges both times.
From that one song that in 8th grade (you didn’t get all the lyrics), but every time Billy Corgan’s voice enters, you forget about other people’s verbal assaults and sing every word to yourself and in those strings you find a tiny little space where you don’t feel that bad.
It may not be satisfactorily proven at a scientific level, but in that little space, those tiny pain-free measures, you learned that suffering was not infinite. You could see beyond the dark, blinding, crushing, suffocating, black clouds to a tiny gleaming sliver of Hope.
More than that, there was a power in knowing that you had a way to escape the pain if only for a moment. By just pressing play and maxing the volume there was a hint that there were options YOU had to push yourself above the pain.
That connection can be made among strangers singing together at a show. It can be found alone at night between two ear buds, and that connection may not immediately provide all the answers, a diagnosis or lasting resolution. But I’ve found that it can inspire you to endure, and equip you with a hope that the pain can end without ending yourself.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meet Carl Evans: Director Programs and Operations at Hope For The Day, lived experience peer, MHFA certified instructor, 15 years in social and civic support activities, fiction author.
Connect with Carl and support Hope For The Day on their official website here.