Notes and Mentions
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Serena: Hey Everyone, I’m Serena.
Tina: And I’m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.
Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you’re here.
Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.
Serena: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.
Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You’ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website, NoNeedToExplainPodcast.com.
Serena: A quick content warning about today’s episode. We will be speaking directly about suicide. We do hope that you will listen as this is an incredibly important topic and one that touches so many of our lives. And that being said, please take good care of yourself while listening.
Tina: So let’s start with a few statistics on suicide. As you mentioned Serena, it’s a topic that touches so many of us. According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, 54% of Americans have been affected by suicide in some way. It is the tenth leading cause of death in the US and the second leading cause of death for individuals ages 10 to 34. Yet, 93% of adults surveyed in the US think suicide can be prevented.
Serena: And that prevention is the piece we really want to focus on today with the help of our guest, Sam Eaton. Sam is an author, speaker, and founder of Recklessly Alive, a suicide prevention organization that is working toward a world with zero deaths by suicide. Sam is also a suicide survivor and it is that lived experience that he brings to all of his work around suicide. Sam, welcome to the podcast!
Sam: Hi! Thanks so much for having me!
Tina: So Sam, let’s start by having you share a little bit of your personal story with our audience.
Sam: Absolutely. So I had a tough, tough childhood. Just lots of challenges. My dad was an alcoholic and through that disease he just caused a lot of pain in my life and in my household. But I really kind of held it together, you know. I was the peacekeeper of the family. But going home I never knew if it was going to be like a laughy, jokey kind of a day or a chair throwing day. And so my world was just pretty tumultuous but I held it together through middle school. I had straight A’s. I was on the basketball team. When I was 12 my dad left and I actually haven’t had a relationship or really seen him since. And even through all that I made it and things were going well. When I got to high school though, things really fell apart. At about 14, I no longer could concentrate or focus in school. My grades all slipped to Cs and Ds. I quit all the sports that I had been playing. I really isolated myself in video games and just kind of hid from the world. I would write on my school papers over and over again, “I hate my life. I hate my life.” And what I didn’t know was what I was experiencing has a real name and it’s called depression. But no one had ever stood up and talked to me about, especially not feeling suicidal or not wanting to be alive. And I battled with this all through high school, all through college, off and on. Not every single day but like everybody else, low moments and good moments until my early twenties, about 23 my life really hit rock bottom.
I had an important relationship that had ended after college. I moved back home to save money and all that trauma of being back at that house started to come back up and I had tons of student loan debt. I was not smart about student loans and my family…we just didn’t understand. I was a new teacher and my job was a mess and I was working 60 hours a week in this job that was so challenging. And to cope with it all I started drinking which of course just made everything worse. And so finally I kind of…I picked a day.
I wrote letters. I planned Christmas day to take my own life and it’s funny because even in that, I thought I was thinking of my family, you know. We always talk about suicide as the most selfish things anyone could ever do. You know I kind of understand parts of that but I was in so much pain and my brain was so warped I truly believed my family would be better off without me. And even in that I was an expert at hiding it. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t talk to anyone. I just pushed them away. I wasn’t fun to be around. I hid. I hid all of this from everyone. And you know I would have been one of those cases where everyone says, oh, you know, we didn’t see this coming. But luckily when Christmas day came I wrestled with this for a very long time. Finally kind of this question broke through and that was, “Have you really given life everything you’ve got?” If you have it’s ok you can give up but I’m not sure that you have. I think there might be a way forward. And so it was not an immediate fix by any means but that was kind of the moment where I said to myself, OK, suicide is off the table, right? I’m not gonna think about…that’s not an option. So we’re gonna look at all the other options and give healing and trying to get that life that I want everything that I’ve got. And it’s been a long journey. It’s ten years later and I still struggle but I’ve had some incredible moments and now I’ve really felt this calling and this push to just share and be more open about all these things I’ve been through.
Serena: Mmm. Yeah. Thank you for sharing all of that. We are incredibly grateful that you are here to do the work that you’re doing. So, yeah. So I’m gonna share that you’ve written a book about your experiences called, Recklessly Alive. I read the book and I zoomed through it in just a couple of days. Even though this is such a challenging topic, I found your book to be very accessible so I don’t want people to be afraid of reading this book. You’re a great story teller, and you’ve managed to also somehow maintain a sense of humor through the telling of your story. So I’m wondering if you can share with our audience what it means to be “Recklessly Alive” and perhaps some of the things you’ve done to embrace this concept?
Sam: So I got this push to write a book actually when I was traveling in Africa. I was traveling with the music ministry in summer in Zimbabwe and I was like, I’m gonna write a book. I got home and I sat down to write the book and I thought it was gonna be this funny story of just, like, things that have happened to me. And instead immediately the story of my suicide attempt came out which I had never talked about. Only two people in the whole world even knew. And in that first introduction, the words Recklessly Alive came out. And I didn’t even really understand what that was or what that meant but it’s kind of a phrase that really has changed my life. Because my natural state of happiness is like, 8pm, in bed, watching Law and Order. Like I am an inside person. I am an introvert. I am not a risk taker. And so this idea that I was going to actually try and live my life the best that I could and chase all these things that I wanted, truly is what helped motivate me because a lot of our suicide prevention is focused on, don’t kill yourself which is so, so important. You know we’ve got lots of resources for that. But the next step is stay for you and chase those things that make you feel alive and want to be alive. And over time, you know, it started as vacations and adventures and I loved that. More and more as I’ve gone on, it’s been ways that I get to help other people. I feel most recklessly alive when I am getting to help others, especially to people who can never repay me. And just really…it’s that question. You know it’s like…multiple times in the book I talk about like, I could do a polar plunge. Which is when, in Minnesota and you cut a hole in the lake in the winter and jump in for no reason.
Tina: We know what that is. Because we have…yes, we do.
Sam: It’s so awful. Why? It’s like so awful. But I remember standing there and being like…I was with some youth that I had been working with and I was like, what would someone who is recklessly alive do? They would jump in. And so it’s just been this question that has guided me towards just having and enjoying my life the best that I can.
Tina: So you are a gift and I hope you hear that loud and clear. What a gift to others to be able to have survived and to be sending this message to others. So you did make the decision to live. But it’s still not easy, right? Tell us about your… I imagine it’s…you still have struggles with your mental health.
Sam: Absolutely. It’s been a long battle. My depression’s been fairly persistent and ongoing which is frustrating. And suicide, at it’s most basic level, is just when your pain is higher than your ability to cope. So especially when you’re a young person, you might not have that toolbox of things to do, people to talk to when you’re struggling. And so over time it has gotten so much better because I have those resources. I know some things, you know, just basic things like caring for my body, the physical part of mental health, getting exercise, eating well, and sleeping well are so important to me. That mental side for me part of that has been therapy and, you know, processing that trauma and working through those hardest things, working on my self-talk, the way that I talk to and view myself has been really important. And boundaries. Learning how to relate to other people, not putting myself in situations where I’m gonna feel gross about who I am. And absolutely it’s been a long battle, even just COVID. Like so many…suddenly all the things that I used, the gym, it’s always all closed. I happened to find…I had to find new tools. But no, I was not a case of instant healing and some people are that.They break through and they’re free but I absolutely am in such a good place right now. And I know that even when I start to slip I have those people and those resources I need.
Tina: So that’s what I want people to hear, right? So mental health, mental illness is not something that is…it goes, ooo, magic, it goes away. IT does not go away. It is about…I loved what you said. The shifting of the tools as your life changes to make sure you have the tools in your box that you need. So thanks Sam, I love that.
Serena: So I would like to read a quote from your book and get your take on it. You write, “...I was not the ideal candidate or spokesperson for talk therapy. I railed against it, hated most of it, and often scoured the internet for scientific data to prove my theory that spending money on a Caribbean vacation could have been equally–if not more–effective. That is why I’m also the right person to tell you it changed my life.” Tell us about how talk therapy changed your life.
Sam: I hate it. It’s so awful. No it’s not. It’s just really challenging. No one prepares you. I had spent so many years stuffing down and hiding all of these really impossible things I had been through and so sometimes I would go to these appointments and I would feel worse because you have spent so much time in burying and covering it that when you start to uncover it and start to process, initially you feel worse. You’re like, why am I paying all of this money to feel worse. And finding the right person. Finding the right fit. I mean, just like everything else there are therapists that are the right fit for you and not. So it really took me meeting with four or five different people before I found someone who I was like, OK, I think this at least is good enough for me. And then I committed to a full year. I just said, OK, I’m gonna give…every single week I’m gonna show up. This is what I’m doing and I’m gonna get the most out of it and then I’m gonna take a break. And that was truly the breakthrough year for me. That was only about four or five years ago. Because we don’t…I mean, the best part about therapy for me is we don’t even really see the things necessarily that are in our way or our roadblocks. Just even in the way I would talk, my therapist might say, OK, let's pause and listen to the way you framed that. And it really, even all these years later, I have parts of his little voice in my head and it’s an ability that I’m able to give those things that I learned away still. I, man, sometimes I wish it hadn’t worked and I had been right because I was so against it. For anyone who is listening, I really hope you give it a chance and give it a full chance because it absolutely made me a more whole and healthier person.
Tina: Yeah so two keys there, right? Finding your person which I think is super important and people don’t necessarily feel empowered to do. Just because you see someone, just because you make that appointment, does not mean that that’s the right person the first time over, right? Second is, commit to it. It does take awhile to open up to someone, no matter how you click with that person. I’m so glad that you said all that. So…
Sam: Absolutely. And I just want to, you know, a lot of people think maybe I need to wait until things get really bad to try therapy and actually the best time to start that relationship isn’t when you’re all the way at the bottom. It’s so helpful to have someone that you can go to before things get really bad and who might know parts of your story. And so if you’re thinking about waiting, oh, I don’t need that much help, I just kind of struggle. Actually that’s the perfect time to give it a chance.
Tina: Mmhm. Thank you for that. Very important messages. So, suicide. Such an important topic. There’s so much to cover. We clearly can’t do that in one episode. We’re aware that you do a variety of trainings around suicide prevention and we want to make sure that you share with our listeners some of the keys to suicide prevention. Let’s think about it in terms of perhaps, the parents out there who may see their kids struggling or even the parents of young children who don’t know how to even talk about this topic. What kind of guidance would you share with parents around suicide and suicide prevention?
Sam: The most important thing to hear is that no study has found that talking about suicide makes it any more likely that someone will attempt. In fact it makes it much more likely that they’ll seek help. So if you are afraid to talk about it because you think you’re going to put that idea there, that is completely false and actually by normalizing the conversation, we’re able to open up that door and people feel much more comfortable sharing how they really feel. You know, parents who are listening who maybe have kids who struggle with this, like I said before, kids are expert at hiding it. I was an expert at hiding. So we don’t always know what our kids are going through even as close to them as we are. I have a great relationship with my mom. So first and foremost, don’t be afraid to talk about it. And how to bring it up is always the trickiest part, right? As a parent, how do you bring up those hard conversations? For suicide, if it ever comes up naturally, you know, unfortunately if something happens in the news or if there’s a Netflix TV show, I challenge you just to embrace it. Hey, have you heard of this show? Do you know anyone who’s felt that way? Have you felt that way? Being willing to kind of have that moment to go there. And finding a way to say to your kids or anyone that you work with, hey, just so you know if you ever get to this place I am here for you. I will listen to you no matter what. And that’s part of my dream, that we get every young person to hear that from five people so that if they ever get there they have five people they can pick from who have already said, you know, it is possible. Your life might get there.
If a kid ever shares, just remain calm. Just listen. I know we always just want to jump in to fix. For me, the best gift you can give me when I’m feeling suicidal is to just listen without judgment. Just, wow, that’s so hard. I’m so sorry you’re going through that. I’m here to support you. Just giving that gift to your kid to keeping that line of communication open. I mean, as you said in the statistics, ages 10 to 34. 10! Those are our babies! I mean, fourth and fifth grade. So you do have to find ways to have this conversation. For younger kids that might be lots of story books about overcoming struggles. You know, finding some story books. Maybe just sharing ideas like your brain can get sick. Just kind of laying some of that social emotional foundation. For middle and high school it needs to be direct. It needs to be brought up specifically and they actually analyzed 75 million texts from the Suicide Prevention Textline and they found that the best way to bring it up was an expression of care. So just one example of that. Sometimes when people go through a breakup they may have thoughts of dying. Have you had any thoughts like that? So expressing that, bringing that up and then just, you know, being brave enough to start that conversation.
Serena: Yeah, thank you for that. And so for anybody who might be looking for more information and resources, do you have specific suggestions for them? Where might they look?
Sam: Absolutely. I have some on my website: recklesslyalive.com. But I always point people to NAMI.org that’s N-A-M-I dot org. The National Alliance for Mental Illness is absolutely one of my favorites. You mentioned AFSP.org before, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is fantastic. Really look to the experts on this and stay informed. You never know when you might need this information for either someone in your family or just someone around. It helps all of us just to be a bit more educated on it.
Tina: And I love what you said just a little bit ago about your advice for parents and part of what I’m hearing in that is normalize mental health. Normalize the fact that sometimes it’s OK to not be be OK and let’s talk about that, right? Because that’s kind of where it starts. For sure.
Tina: So let’s take a minute and talk about a world in where there are zero suicides. What does that world look like or in other words, what do we need to do to get closer to that reality?
Sam: So our suicide rate has been at or near a fifty year high for the past five or six years. Our suicide rate has just continued to climb. And so I absolutely don’t have all the answers. No one does. We’re all trying to figure this out together. But first and foremost as I mentioned, just being brave enough to start the conversation. I speak all over the country. I’ve done over 100 events at high schools and colleges and churches and community centers. And just being willing to bring in speakers and events like this to help, right? It’s just a way we can be a part of starting that conversation. But secondly I really believe, and this has been my piece because I didn’t know what I could possibly do to make a difference but I can share stories, right? And I hope that we can just get stories to everyone out there of people who’ve been through it and have come out the other side. It takes insane amounts of vulnerability to be willing to go there. But truly when I was there, I had never heard of anyone who had battled it and certainly never anyone who had battled it and gone through it. All the ideas around it were, oh you’re crazy and you know, you’re gonna get locked up if you share this. Instead of just, gosh, there are people all around us who have had really really hard times and they’ve gotten through it too. You’re gonna be OK. I hope you never get there but there’s so much help, there’s so much hope. There’s tons of people out there who just want you to have a happy and healthy life.
Serena: Yeah. Yeah. So you mentioned your website and you can do that again, but are there other places where people can learn more about you and your organization and what you have to offer?
Sam: Absolutely. My book is Recklessly Alive: What My Suicide Attempt Taught Me About God and Living Life to the Fullest. That’s available on Amazon. Our website is recklesslyalive.com where we also have information on my speaking and how to book me for a speaking event and I am @recklesslyalive on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook.
Tina: Sam, thank you so much for joining us today, and especially your vulnerability in sharing your story with the world and certainly with us today, for all of the amazing work that you’re doing to move us closer to a world with zero suicides.
Sam: My pleasure. Thank you for all the work you two are doing.
Tina: So podcast friends, we are, as always, grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leaving us a review, subscribe and please share with others. You will find lots more content on our website NoNeedtoExplainPodcast.com. You can connect with all of our socials there as well. You’ll find us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Connect with us. We like to connect with you.
Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.
Tina: Thanks for listening!