This blog post is part of the 3rd Annual Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month blog tour. If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.
Call it First World problems; the minor inconveniences of life: the traffic light turned red at the last moment, you’re surprised by a repair, you discover you have to work past the age of 30. We live in such opportune times it’s easy to forget real difficulties exist. Some right in our own communities.
September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month and Melanie Lockert of Dear Debt is asking personal finance bloggers once again to take up the keyboard to prevent unnecessary tragedy. I participated in the first two Suicide Prevention Blog Tours but intended to sit this one out when I got the email. I had no idea what I wanted to write. I said what I needed to say and had no more to add to the heap of literature on suicide prevention. Then I walked to the mailbox.
A Difficult Weekend
The Suicide Prevention Blog Tour is designed to bring attention debt, depression and suicide. Some bloggers keep it simple, pushing the simple message of hope and encouragement. I prefer a longer emotional story to illustrate my point.
The statistics are damning. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people in their early 20s and the overall rate of suicide increased 28% from 1999 to 20161. Mental health is a serious factor in suicide, but not always a factor. Complicating matters is that most suicide attempts are not the result of one issue only.
Financial problems (the focus of the Suicide Prevention Blog Tour) are the fifth leading cause of all suicides1. Relationship problems are the leading cause. And that is where First World problems and a short walk to my mailbox collided.
Melanie’s email had already started sliding down the list of unanswered emails when I took that fateful walk to the roadside. Just in time for the Labor Day weekend, the current issue of National Geographic had arrived.
The cover of the magazine was disturbing, an ominous sign. This is the kind of reading I bury and get back to much later if ever. I normally read National Geographic from beginning to end religiously. This time I put the magazine next to my reading chair with the cover facing down. It was too hard to look at.
But like a Stephen King novel, it kept calling out to me. Slowly I paged through the magazine and gathered information on the disturbing cover. The story was about Katie Stubblefield and the face transplant she received.
I dared to start my routine read of the issue with the letter From the Editor and was in tears before I finished the letter I was so moved. I was vested in the story and the tragedy that brought this young woman into a nightmare I doubted I could ever personally survive.
20 Seconds that Changed a Life Forever
Katie was born to a loving family and grew to be a beautiful and intelligent woman. She was plagued with a perfectionist personality. When her perfect world started to crumble a final piece to the puzzle would put her face before the world.
Katie struggled to be the best at everything. One day she discovered messages on her boyfriend’s phone to another woman. He immediately broke up with her when she confronted him.
Katie went home and locked herself in the bathroom with her father’s rifle and cried. With no history of mental illness, depression or indication of suicidal tendencies, she put the barrel of the rifle under her chin and pulled the trigger.
But Katie did not die.
Her brother found her in a pool of blood, her face blown off from the blast. She was rushed to the hospital and stabilized. When the local medical community could do no more she was sent to the Cleveland Clinic.
I encourage you to read the September 2018 issue of National Geographic. Katie’s story is powerful and moving. Katie does get a face transplant from a woman who died of an overdose. The story cuts a wide wound in here (pointing to my chest). The words that stuck with me the most in the article were uttered by Katie’s mother, Alesia, “It was one moment. One moment, 20 seconds, changed our lives.”
Duty of the FI/RE2 Community
You would think a community of people well on their way toward financial independence would not have money problems so severe they would contemplate suicide. Unfortunately, many people who come to this community have had a traumatic life experience that forced them to reevaluate. These people are at risk of tripping over the cliff. Bloggers, podcasters and YouTubers of the community must always be cognizant of the people they serve lest they discover one day a promising life was ended because we took FI for granted.
Everyone is carrying a burden! Money can provide comfort and options in life, but it doesn’t change the strain of a serious medical situation. Divorce rips a family apart and the kids suffer most. Money will not salve that wound.
And mental health is a serious medical issue that money does not magically fix. Yes, wealth allows for most, if not all, medical options. Still, the depression can strike anyone at any time. Instead of shaking our heads and wondering why when we hear a person with financial independence and enjoying and early retirement puts a gun to their head, we should remember money didn’t make them sick; a medical condition did.
Maybe you’re lucky and don’t have depression. As a member of this community you are morally bound to help others who do suffer. Your wealth is not an invitation to unrestrained hedonism. When we see a fallen soul we are duty-bound to help. Like the military, we don’t leave one of our own on the battlefield.
Nobody saw it coming when Katie Stubblefield snapped. There were signs in afterthought, but nothing anybody could have recognized. And that can happen. A singular event can trigger a massive negative response. It is hard to understand what can make us feel helpless and unwilling to continue on.
Fortunately, most people tell us they are walking into the dark. We must keep our eyes and ears open for the warning signs. Significant loss is a leading reason people tumble into the darkness. Depression can rear its ugly head for the first time after the loss of a loved one. Being shunned by people you love and respect can wreck devastation on the psyche.
I’ve been around this crowd long enough to know a few struggle with a heavy burden. Even our kind-hearted and fearless leader, Melanie, has struggled. She put debt behind her and discovered how deep the despair many feel with insurmountable financial problems. Melanie also suffered the loss of a loved one after a relatively long relationship. He decided to go his own way. I can’t imagine her pain. Still, I listen from a distance (mostly her online comments) for hints of trouble. Those closest to her should be even more vigilant.
As a community we are very fortunate. Even if we are deep in debt and taking our first steps toward freedom we are incredibly blessed! No matter how difficult the road ahead may seem, we know we don’t walk alone. There are numerous souls who have gone before willing to help, willing to lend a hand, to pull you up, to help you stand tall and straight.
Luck has Nothing to do with It
Katie did not get lucky. If she were lucky she would never have put the gun to her head. She will get a new lease on life. It will be anything but easy. The medical challenges ahead will never cease. After four years she finally has a face. The surgeries and pain and struggle will be relentless and unending. Building FI is similar in many ways. We work hard, save, invest and care deeply.
People suffer for many reasons. Usually we can keep the demons under control. But everyone has a breaking point. Push hard enough far enough and the darkness wins. You can’t step back from the darkness alone. It is like a black hole with infinite power to draw you in. If you ever reach that point, pray someone with the courage and the heart grabs you from behind and pulls you to safety. No matter how much money you have or don’t have will make no difference.
The gun in Katie’s hands didn’t ask about her financial situation. The one bout of depression she had took control and changed her life forever. It is nothing short of a miracle she didn’t die that fateful day. Her family never left her side as she fought and still fights for life. The doctors worked miracles and have never stopped working to give Katie the life she deserves.
The only way any of us are safe from the darkness is if we all are committed to helping anyone at the brink. It is the only thing that makes us human; the true meaning of wealth; what it means to truly be financially independent.
Please, if you are suffering depression or suicidal thoughts, call either a local crisis hot line or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7, is confidential and free.
You are not in this alone.
1 National Geographic Magazine, September 2018, Page 89
2 Financial Independence/Early Retirement
Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741
Open Path Collective — affordable therapy. You can also check your local college to see if their graduate program in counseling offers discounted sessions.
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