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Will Ryan Anderson’s Tears Be For Naught?
Posted By Travis Heath On October 2, 2013 @ 11:00 am In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
“Tears are the silent language of grief.” – Voltaire
It is a subject that remains taboo in our culture. Some of my students dare not even say the word out loud. To engage in conversations on the topic can provoke extreme anxiety. However, failure to engage in such conversations should no longer be an option.
Let the word swim around in your consciousness for a minute no matter how uncomfortable it might feel. Resist the urge to let your mind distract itself or perhaps the tendency to avoid. Believe it or not, you have just participated in the first step towards tackling this problem.
According to the most recent data, 105 people commit suicide in the United States every day. Another way of looking at this is that one person kills himself or herself every 13.7 minutes. White males make up nearly a quarter of those suicides, but the data are clear that this a problem that impacts every community no matter the demographics.
Suicide is something that has been occurring for as long as people have existed. In fact, suicide was a common occurrence in Greek and Roman societies and one that was viewed with a much more relaxed attitude. Taking one’s own life after defeat in battle was very common in ancient times. It wasn’t until the Council of Aries in 452 A.D. that Christians ruled suicide to be the work of the devil.
There is no doubt that early Christian influence still shapes the view of suicide in the United States today. Some view it as something that is morally wrong. This is not a view that is always helpful as it can aide in maintaining shame and stigma. This shame and stigma can actually stop people from seeking help as they can feel like bad people for even having such thoughts.
Truth is, most people ponder suicide at some point in their lives. Not all people ponder it in such a way that they actually consider doing it, most don’t. But the fact is it’s a thought that crosses most of our minds at some point.
Philosophically it can be an interesting debate as to whether or not people should have the right to take their own lives. Who am I or anybody else to tell someone that they can’t do as they wish with something as fundamental to their personhood as human life? However, the problem with this line of thinking is that most people who actually attempt suicide with the intent to follow through are at a point where they are somewhat detached from reality. Said differently, if they had received proper intervention and treatment they likely wouldn’t have been in a place where they still wanted to commit suicide sometimes as soon as just a few days later.
The debate gets a bit more complex when you introduce the variable of people with a terminal illness, but it’s fair to say that most would agree this a far different situation than the suicide that claimed the life of 29-year-old Gia Allemand in August.
Those who follow the NBA are likely already aware of Allemand’s story since she was dating New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson. Allemand was a model and reality television participant who had been dating Anderson since 2011, according to reports.
Since her suicide, the reaction has been somewhat predictable with various stories emerging about what might have been happening prior to her death. I will try to avoid the speculation about what caused her to take her own life since I simply don’t know. However, as is the case with many suicides, this particular one left loved ones trying to make meaning out of perhaps one of life’s most difficult events to understand.
If you haven’t yet seen this video of Anderson speaking at the Pelicans’ media day earlier this week, I highly suggest you take two minutes to click the link and do so. The raw emotion is equal parts courageous and devastating to watch.
After suicides I often hear people say things like “She had so much to live for” or “He had everything going for him.” While I understand why people are quick to utter such sentiments, it shows a gross miscalculation of the human struggle. Just because one has what society says one should have – fame, money, love, etc. – doesn’t mean one is content. In fact, often people who obtain these things find out that the promise of happiness that comes along with them is a cruel, false promise.
While preparing to write this piece, I reflected on a budding high school basketball star who I knew from over a decade ago who committed suicide in the spring semester of his senior season. Everyone was stunned when it happened. While I was initially stunned by the finality of the event, I was more stupefied by the reaction. Perhaps it was the fact that I was once a good high school basketball player being pursued by college basketball teams who was also a good student and could understand the hidden pressures that accompanied such a position in life, but it wasn’t that hard for me to see how someone in that position could reach a breaking point. Most everyone else seemed to disagree.
This event most certainly helped create in me a vested interest in helping those who were struggling in their lives. I was already in school as an undergraduate studying psychology at the time, but now it seemed I had more clarity to the still evolving vision of what I might do in the future.
As a psychologist, I now routinely work with people who have attempted suicide or are thinking about it. I have heard many people say things like, “I would have done it, but I didn’t want to disappoint you.” While this is not a good long-term reason for someone to avoid such an act, it is the perfect short-term one. Good therapy can create a short-term accountability that then affords the time and space for the person to create her or his own reasons for reinvesting and creating meaning in life.
I feel privileged to be able to go on this journey with people, but I also understand that there are thousands of people every day who will never experience the benefits of treatment. Perhaps it’s naïve to believe that everyone who needs help will get it. That said, if someone reads this and seeks help themselves or gets help for a loved one, it will at least put a small dent into the troubling statistics mentioned earlier.
As for Anderson’s plight, I wish I could promise him closure. Unfortunately, that’s a term that is overused in our society. I’m not sure he will ever be able to simply close this chapter or turn the page and move on. However, finding peace with what has happened is certainly possible and will likely come with time. I think the distinction between the two is crucial. Closure often implies that the event will no longer impact the person whereas finding peace implies that the event will always be there, but the person can learn to change their relationship with that event over time.
As Anderson made clear on Monday, this struggle is about more than just his personal grief. There was a message just below the surface of what he was saying that serves as a challenge to all of us. What are we going to do in our communities to bring voice to that which no one wants to discuss? Let this article serve as my own small contribution to the cause.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is an extremely valuable resource. To access the website click here.
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