To all who suffer: Changing our perspective on perspective this Suicide Prevention Awareness Month
In all the trials, challenges and experiences of life, we often don’t know at the beginning if they are necessarily good or bad. We just know they are hard.
In all the trials, challenges and experiences of life, we often don’t know at the beginning if they are necessarily good or bad. We just know they are hard. We know they are discouraging. We know sometimes it hurts inside just to be awake. We know that figuring out what tomorrow might bring is daunting and difficult. Sometimes the storms of life seem to beat so unrelentingly upon us that we may lose hope that clear skies and better days are actually ahead.
Suffering spares no one and unleashes its tempests on our lives in so many ways. Some suffering souls have been beaten up by life, others bullied by the insecure, arrogant or insensitive. Some have lost love or loved ones, while others have been betrayed or abused. Some have the regret of squandered opportunities while others have abdicated life to an addiction. Some live with chronic pain or illness while still others live in loneliness or fear. While only those who have been to the brink and back know the crushing, suffocating, mind-reeling moments that precede a suicide attempt, there are many who live with and understand the overwhelming discouragement, loss of hope and feelings of worthlessness that accompany debilitating anxiety, discouragement and deep depression.
Proper perspective can help reframe the current crisis and create a context for moving forward.
Learning to talk through personal issues, learning to listen to loved ones who suffer with depression or thoughts of self-harm, empowering people with strategies and skills for navigating failure and accomplishment, developing a positive self-image and avoiding viewing life through the lens of comparison all can be helpful to prevent trying times from becoming tragic endings. Proper perspective can help reframe the current crisis and create a context for moving forward.
A helpful lesson on perspective
Growing up I was obsessed with basketball and was certain I would fulfill my dream of playing in college. I practiced more hours than I could count, and as a senior in high school, I felt my dream could actually come true. Then my right shoulder began to fall apart. It got to the point it would dislocate whenever it wanted to. (If you have ever had the experience of waking up in the morning on one side of your bed and finding your shoulder over on the other, you know the pain and challenge it brings.)
After I was examined by the doctor, he said I needed to have surgery and bluntly told me that the chances of me ever playing competitive basketball again would be slim to none. This was not fair! I remember feeling that the thing that was such a big part of my identity had been ripped away. I plunged into deep discouragement. I felt so alone. It seemed no one understood what I was going through.
One night a neighbor, Elder Hugh W. Pinnock, then a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called and asked if I could come over to his house. I had no idea why he would want to talk to me but agreed and drove over. He met me at the door, no smile, no welcome, not even a handshake. He led me back to his den, we sat down and he told me this story:
A long time ago, there was an old man who lived in a very small village. The only possession he had was a strong and beautiful horse. The horse was his only means for providing for himself and his family. One night, a great storm arose with thunder and lightning. The horse was frightened and ran feverishly about the corral. As the storm continued, the gate to the corral was blown open and the horse bolted and ran off into the desert.
The next morning, the people of the village gathered together to take inventory of the damage from the storm. Upon hearing that the old man had lost his horse, the people of the village went to his humble home. All the people went up to the man saying, “This is a sad day. You have lost your only possession and the only means that you had to take care of your family. This is awful and truly terrible.” The old man looked at the people and softly replied, “You don’t know this is bad; you don’t know that this is terrible.”
The days went by, and one night the horse returned and brought with it 50 wild horses it had been running with out in the desert. The people of the village again gathered themselves at the cottage of the old man. The people exclaimed, “This is so wonderful and good. Now you have all of these horses and all this wealth, you will never have another worry. What a great and wonderful thing!” The old man faced the crowd and whispered, “You don’t know that this is a wonderful thing; you do not know that this is good.”
The old man had a son who was one of the great young warriors in the village. He spent hours training to perfect his skills with the sword and the slingshot. One day as he was breaking in one of the new horses, he was thrown from the horse and his leg was crushed. Never again would he be able to use the skills he had worked so hard to acquire. When the people of the village heard the news, they responded again by saying, “This great young warrior is crippled; what an awful, what a terrible thing.” The old man responded, “You do not know this is so terrible; you do not know that this is a bad thing.”
Not long after the tragic incident, the cry of war was heard in the land, and the warlords came to the village and took all the able young men off to battle, and the majority of them were killed.
That was the end of the story. Elder Pinnock challenged me to remember it, stood up and escorted me out of the house. I remember driving home wondering what in the world this was all about and was waiting for Paul Harvey to come on with his famous “The Rest of the Story.” But that was the story.
After I had my surgery, I remember sitting in the hospital room, and as my friends, family and coaches came to visit, they all would say, “Oh Boyd, this is so bad. Here you have spent all these years practicing and training and now it is over. What an awful, terrible thing.” Without even thinking, I would reply, “No, you don’t know this is bad; you don’t know this is a terrible thing!”
Truly, it wasn’t! In fact, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me, because it was during the long hours and days of recovery and physical therapy that I really had a shift in focus. It created the opportunity for me to set some goals and focus on things that were far more important than making baskets or winning championships. It forever changed who I was and what I would strive to become.
Positive perspective is a choice. Sometimes we need to change our perspective about perspective. Maintaining proper perspective is a skill that can be developed, and it is so much more than a simple attitude adjustment. Perspective isn’t about putting on a fake smile or looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. It requires asking for and getting help, personal and professional, human and divine, and always reaching out to other people.
Positive perspective is a choice. Sometimes we need to change our perspective about perspective.
It is important to remember that in the face of daunting, difficult challenges, we just may not know if they are good or bad. But we will certainly know they are tough and can seem overwhelming. Framing our perspective properly can be a first step to moving forward. There might be an opportunity in the midst of that ominous experience.
For those who find themselves at the bottom of a black hole of depression and despair and may be considering an alternative to life or know someone who is in that space — remember that it is against the laws of nature, and nature’s God, that storms last forever. Storms come and then go, and with the right perspective they can be a good thing — a renewing, cleansing and empowering experience. Hard? Yes! Painful? Yes! Frightening? Yes! Find hope in perspective — and regardless of whether we need help, or can provide it, we all should respond to the inspiration and inclination to reach out.
Throughout the month of September, in the midst of all the other challenges facing the nation, Americans are focusing on mental health, anxiety, depression and, above all, suicide prevention. As friends, family and communities we cannot and must not wait until it is too late — we must help everyone gain the perspective, tools and skills that not only prevent suicide but ease depression and reduce anxiety, while empowering individuals to create their own happiness and success.
Editor’s note: Portions of this column were published on Sept. 12, 2018.