Suicide, Self-Esteem, and the Power of Positive Thoughts

I have two things on the forefront of my mind that I am compelled to share, so I’m going to go in two directions with this post.  First, this news headline caught my eye this week, and struck a chord with me:  Suicides Prompt State Of Emergency On Navajo Nation.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the suicide rate for Native American youth ages 15 to 24 is nearly four times higher than the national average.

In light of this, it is important to note that

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year old Americans.


The highest suicide rates in the US are among Whites, American Indians and Alaska Natives.

— American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

My heart is heavy with this knowledge. I know what it feels like to be that sad, to feel that isolated; to have lost all of my light. I also know what it is like to be on the opposite end; to see someone else be that sad, feel that isolated; to see someone who has lost all of their light. My heart is broken with this loss — my own and others.

In my reading and writing on the topic of suicide, I’ve focused primarily on the factors that surrounded the suicide that specifically effected me — my father was an older adult and in poor physical health. I do believe that these factors play in important role in someone’s decision to end their own life, in addition to the mental health situations that are associated with suicide.  For example, we have the current Right to Die debate, which specifically addresses suicide among the terminally ill. But what about those that are young, sad and lost?

We, as humans, cannot continue to neglect to nurture one another. 

The words we choose to say to one another, and to ourselves, are so very important. If only we knew the turmoil within the minds of people around us, would we speak to them differently? Would we be inclined to act with kindness always? Would we ensure that each of us felt included and important?

If you, dear reader, read no further, I implore you to read the below quote and I encourage you to remember it, print it, post in on your wall, put it in your phone, and to always remember what a strong impact that your thoughts can create.

Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive, because your words become your behavior.
Keep your behavior positive, because your behavior becomes your habits.
Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Secondly, on a much deeper personal, yet related, note, I had a revelation this week. In fact, this revelation was so powerful that I suspect there are others that might feel this way, and that I, being lost in my own head, would never have known — I suddenly, and so powerfully, realized how important my thoughts and words are to my own self-esteem. In my mind, my negative thoughts are truth, and there is little to counter these truths, to flip the negative into the positive. I have simply not been allowing it. I dashed away my own self-esteem with my thoughts, creating unwarranted insecurities that have very prominently been influencing my journey through life.

I have experienced a growing dependency on reassurances from outside sources — allowing any gain in confidence to be gleaned from random compliments, which I fight to believe are sincere in the first place. I find myself attached to my cell phone, waiting eagerly for replies to messages only so I can be assured that someone finds communicating with me to be an activity of worth. When someone is busy, I find myself translating it as, “I don’t want to spend time with you.” I have been feeling broken and waiting for someone to fix me.

And then I reached a breaking point — I finally (and painfully) admitted to myself that I let my confidence wither away to a non-existent wisp that was quickly evading my loose grip. I have been fighting dependence on external sources of confidence boosting, however, I removed my expectations for others, and did not replace them with any expectations for myself. I don’t want to rely on other people to make me feel good — that’s a crutch; a false security and a false confidence. I want to rely on myself, to build a stable, confident foundation of positive thoughts and feelings. But how?

It is extremely painful and frustrating to realize that I don’t allow myself to think and feel positive things about myself. I never really thought about it, but I noticed that when I say, “I’m hard on myself,” what I really, deeply mean is, “I believe that if I have any positive thoughts about myself, that I am being selfish.”

Why can’t I think positive thoughts about myself? Others do. Why don’t I feel that I am deserving? I am seeing someone who is quite possibly one of the nicest people I have ever met — always calm, patient and fair. I asked him, not expecting an answer, “why are you so sweet to me?” He told me I deserved it. I deserved it? A foreign concept. The old me does not deserve anything; the old me has not “earned” the privilege of  having people be nice to me. The old me believes that anything good in life is handed to you because you worked harder than I will ever be capable of working, and if it wasn’t earned, it was because someone felt pity. This is the most ridiculous belief ever. How is it even possible that I allowed myself to think this way?!

The new me knows that it is okay to feel good about myself. The new me believes that I am a likable person, that people enjoy my company and that the man I am dating continues to do so because he actually likes me. The new me is learning that I am intelligent, attractive, active and fun. My friends are my friends because they like who I am and we have fun together; we are adults and we don’t spend our valuable time with each other out of obligation (yes there are exceptions to the rule, but we’ll not go there today).

The new me knows that this is a difficult mind change, but this is the right mind change. The new me is learning to feel good and positive things about myself, without feeling guilty or selfish. I have been feeling broken and now I know I am the one who can fix me.

Dear readers, go forth and be kind to one another– and to yourself. You deserve it. 

On Self Confidence

Today I am leaving for the wilderness.

I like to say that I’m a backpacker. To be honest, I feel like sort of a fake backpacker. I haven’t hiked the PCT from Mexico to Canada (I do watch films and read about it, however), and the longest trip I’ve been on on was four nights … and night one was at base camp. And I was with a guide. And I had a panic attack on day three when the forest caught on fire (wouldn’t anyone?). I had a terrible pack, heavy gear and no clue what I was doing.

I have friends who spent a month hiking the John Muir Trail. Those people are backpackers. My last trip involved a tram ride, a three mile walk in tennis shoes, a day-pack overfilled with a box of wine, a crash pad and climbing gear. Let’s say it was not your conventional trip — my Sherpa-esque stud of a man-friend not only carried all of the camping gear, but a second crash pad … and wore flip flops. To be fair, it was his idea.

Prior to that, a scheduling change and a foot injury turned a planned three day trip into a day-hike with a car-camping-drunk-cheeseburger-in-the-river-glamp-fest (to be honest, it was quite awesome and totally worth it). The trip before that turned into a one night trek that involved completely wetting out a Gortex shell in an unexpected hail and thunder storm that destroyed my two week old cell phone (I learned expensive lessons this day; lessons that involve Lifeproof phone cases, gloves and pack covers).

In light of this confession, I find it interesting that people comment about my lifestyle as being active. I have never thought of myself as being active — in fact, quite the opposite. I see people with lifestyles that I admire (like all those people I know who hiked the 200+ mile JMT), and by comparison I feel fairly lazy. And I certainly don’t feel athletic. I’ve spent my whole life with the the grace of an awkward baby giraffe; all elbows and knees, clumsy. It’s hard to feel like the beautiful woman society tells me I should be when I’m constantly bruised and battered and banging into stationary objects — and that’s not even trying to be athletic.

When I am home, lounging, I see myself in the mirror and I see someone with bad skin, graying hair, knobby knees and large feet.  I’ve stared into the mirror trying to figure out in what ways men have found me attractive.  I try to make different faces, or find the right angle to stand at that makes me look curvier than a popsicle stick.  I think my feet would look smaller if I wore taller heels; and then I realize that taller heels will turn me into a towering, frightening, giant of a woman; I think of Godzilla, destroying the city. I think of a bull in a china shop. I think of George in the puffy coat. Awkward.

So, today I am leaving for the wilderness.

I’ve been planning this trip since the moment I stopped sulking about my injured foot and started rehabbing the shit out of it. Four and half days of legit back-country lay before me. My gift to myself for spending the last ten years fake backpacking. Because trust me, ten years is a long time to prepare.  I will go forth, and I will be active.

I will not have a panic attack when someone says the forest is on fire (because, well, it actually is). I will not have raw hips from bringing the crappy backpack with the terrible hip belt. My pack will most certainly not weigh 35 pounds.

What is different this time around, you might ask? Aside from the fact that I’m ten years older and ten years more mature, I suppose you could also say that I’m ten years more confident. I even wonder, myself, how I came about this increase in confidence … and I really, really had to sit down and think about it. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. I actually did become active. I run as much as I can. It’s not far, and it’s not fast, but it gets me moving and the more I do it the better I feel. I need to keep taking breaks when my stubborn foot starts to hurt, but I keep at it. I started rock climbing. It’s a mental challenge, as well as a physical one. Yoga, hiking, walking — I try to do something most days. Be persistent, and do what works for you.
  2. I learned to stop putting myself down. I still have negative thoughts, but now I catch myself. And I stopped letting myself think negatively about others. There’s no place in my life for that. Stay positive whether you feel like it or not.
  3. I gave myself more time. I used to always expect instant results … if I tried something and didn’t succeed right away, I’d often give up. Now I look back at where I was a year ago, and I’m amazed. It’s not good to compare, but it’s definitely good to keep an eye on progress. Be patient; take time.
  4. I cancelled cable. I was spending so much money on television that I felt obligated to watch it as much as possible. I never realized what a time-suck it was. I stick to Netflix now — it’s so inexpensive that I don’t feel bad for not watching it at all for a month. Don’t be too passive.
  5. And specific to backpacking … I did my research. I read, shopped, tried, and bought my own gear, packed my own pack; returned things, scrapped things, asked people questions, borrowed gear, tested things, trial-and-error-ed like crazy on lots of tiny little trips. Taking ownership of things is truly confidence building. 
  6. I take advice. Sometimes being humble is the best way to learn and grow. Sometimes falling on my face is the best thing that can happen to me. I’m good with that. I could honestly talk about failing for days on end. And I can honestly say that something good has come out of every failure — hard to see at times, but it’s true. I welcome criticism.
  7. I learned how to take a compliment. You just have to say, “thank you.” It’s easy. I used to think that people only paid me compliments because they were trying to be nice and not hurt my feelings. I couldn’t fathom that anyone actually meant it. If people want to pay me fake compliments, that’s their problem. I don’t require their compliments, but I have come to understand that some people actually are genuinely nice. And that is heartwarming. I appreciate the hell out of those people.

And with that, I am ready to face the wilderness! Ready to get away from the hustle and bustle; to listen to the wind in the pines, to be woken by songbirds, to see the sunset over a mountain, the stars come out one-by-one, and the sunrise birthing each new day. I’m going to savor every moment of this trek.

Me, being confident. Photo by the beautiful and confident Chenee.

Me, being confident. Photo by the beautiful and confident Chenee.