By Bethany Hoppe
Christine Mason Miller said, “At any given moment you have the power to say: This is not how the story will end.” A recurring theme for the last two years has been high-profile suicides in conjunction with a dramatic spike in the national average of suicide and suicide attempts. Given the gravity and level of surprise at last week’s two celebrity losses, the media has finally begun to focus its lens beyond the alarming statistics that we’ve known about since 2016, and steer towards a conversation about the root cause of the issue. According to the CDC, the suicide rate has risen 30% since 1999. Half of those are linked to mental illness, and 15% to depression.
The disability community has not gone untouched by suicide as a population, or by one of its own high-profile members with the loss of Verne Troyer. But unlike public reactions to suicide by high-profile newsworthy personalities, public reaction to suicide by people with disabilities, celebrity or not, commonly border on understanding and condoning, rather than grief and prevention. According to a Disaboom study, 52% of American survey respondents would choose death over disability. There is an overlying sense that the choice to end one’s life was simply based on the fact that they were disabled to begin with, and it is accepted as reasonable. This reinforces that living with a disability is not quality of life; people quickly decide they could never deal with having a disability themselves, and the hardships to survive in what seems to be an un-accepting and inaccessible world is too much for anyone based on the evidence. So silently, lost lives become justified simply because a world that is perfectly capable of accommodating everyone, is yet to fully integrate the largest minority in the world.
Only in the last few days, as people grapple with the back-to-back losses of both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, are stars taking to social media in a louder unified voice and speaking directly to those who are hidden from the limelight yet suffering from the same anxieties, disorders, and addictions that plague public figures. There is recognition that though they may not know the collective “us,” they’re aware there are millions of others suffering in total isolation without the benefits of status or privilege.
My concern is with our diverse disabled population, which is notoriously isolated in nearly all facets of social life in nearly all cultures, and has probably the least status and privilege to speak of, particularly among women. According to UNICEF, stigma, ignorance, neglect, superstition, and communication barriers are the main social factors that explain discrimination and isolation of people with disabilities in society.
Which is why, here, in this moment, as with any uptick in social awareness, I believe it is vital for people with disabilities to be in the mix; not justified as an aside because it is acceptable to think that anyone dealing with disability on top of regular life challenges should be seen as an entirely separate issue. Having a disability should not be a permissive write-off. It should not be the first consideration when reasoning out why someone left. And it certainly should not be a justification for someone to exit their life because the environment society has constructed around them seem to only encourage them that direction.
It is time to start talking about living well with disability, something that according to rafts of research, people find to be a contradiction in itself. It is time to start talking about living a positive disability lifestyle by giving ourselves this opportunity to create a style of living without disability being our central point of being. It is time to state by our presence and contributions that we are here, we are of great value, we are souls of purpose, and we are dealing with the same human conditions as everyone else.
Does this mean denying the immense struggle that daily life presents because of limitation? No. But it does mean that through the struggle we are open to learning. When we learn, we get creative, and then we adapt. And that adaptation we make, the simple act of finding a way around the boulders, teaches everyone.
According Deborah Stone, head of the recent CDC report, 54% of the people who have killed themselves didn’t have previously known mental health issues. Instead they were suffering from other issues like relationship problems, substance abuse, financial challenges, or physical health problems – something we the disabled population are already actively working with. People are choosing to end their lives because of their total inability to solve problems and cope with the stress of adapting – skills taught in early life - skills necessary to manage a disability. Some, according to Stone, choose suicide at the anticipation of a known crisis.
This doesn’t mean we plaster smiles on our faces and ride the showboat of inspiration porn --- Definitely not. Being the inspiration for others to quickly accomplish their most basic tasks in a short-lived happier state is a band-aid solution. It is possibly one of the most misleading, damaging affects we can do for ourselves while developing and demonstrating our coping skills because it is so momentary. What it means is choosing to be real and encounter reality - being okay with days that don’t go well knowing they’re not permanent, and celebrating the days that are going well because it means something was learned and we have all advanced.
It means being honest with your process in front of yourself and the people around you, with dignity. If we restrict or hide the reality of the human side of disability as we navigate the world differently, we isolate ourselves more, and then no one will understand that it isn’t inspiration that motivates our lives, but rather living the experience among the herd that does. It is showing people how to live.
I can’t think of any population in the world more qualified at coping and solving problems than people with disabilities. It is my belief that if we choose - we would rightfully join the current conversations the world is finally talking about with equal footing. It is a logical beginning to bringing down the stigmas, discrimination, and ignorance. This is especially crucial when the topics are so vitally important, uncomfortably difficult, and absolutely universal.
Never, under any circumstances, let this physical world point you in the direction of suicide because your soul resides in a disabled body when the body, is not the point. The growth and the learning of the soul, is the point. The presence of your soul enhances the souls of those around you. Whether you feel like this is fully acknowledged or not, it is a truth. Robert Lanza, a scientific author of Biocentrism, believes our consciousness is why we exist. It unifies the thinking and extended worlds into a coherent experience and animates the music that creates our emotions and purposes. Pulling our focus away from the physical struggle, and placing it instead on the seat of our soul so we can remember why we came here in the first place, is an extraordinary start to anchoring the world in love. Which, beyond disability, nationality, orientation, religious creed, or gender…is the whole point.
If you are struggling, seek help. Talk to someone. Know that when it comes to our spirit, these bodies – regardless their condition or capabilities – are a façade. We are our inner selves, and that is what should speak.
Now, look at the world around you. If you see someone struggling, help them. Talk to them. Check on your strong friends. Teach each other the art of coping and problem solving so each life is lived well to its fullest extent.
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Espanol: 1-888-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889; Veterans 1-800-273-8255 Press 1) Or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.
About the Author: Bethany A. Hoppe is the creator of The Rolling Diva Lifestyle, a daily living lifestyle that encompasses food, fashion, spirituality, education, and living well advocacy. Visit her at www.bethany-hoppe.com to connect with her Facebook Page, and YouTube Channel.