I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to doing a show about being overwhelmed or in over your head. It seems like a space I’ve lived in all my life.
When I think of all the times I’ve been overwhelmed certain images always come up. I remember one night in the winter of 1998 when I pushed and pulled an old recliner up a flight of stairs because my son and I had nothing to sit on in our one-bedroom apartment. I don’t think I’ve felt more overwhelmed as a parent than when I had no one to call to help me drag that giant chair across a snowy parking lot and up the outside stairs.
I remember the day of my dad’s funeral in 2002 when I walked to the front of the church to give a speech that I knew my family would either thank me for or hate me for. Laughter was never a priority for my dad’s side of the family. Whenever I spent a weekend with dad and his wife, it took me a day and half to get them to laugh. I had ten minutes to make them laugh at the funeral. If they didn’t like anything I said it was going to be a long time before they let me forget it. I’ve played biker bars, strip clubs, nursing homes, and yacht clubs but I’ve never felt so in over my head as I did in that little church in Mt. Vernon, Washington.
In the fall of 2018, I got a Facebook message from a woman I didn’t know. Her name was Tatiana and she lived in Bolivia. I read her email and knew immediately why she’d written me. Four years earlier I’d agreed to be interviewed about my suicide attempt two years before that. The interviewer was an attempt survivor herself and was going around the country talking to people about their own attempt experiences. She was the first person I ever told the whole story to outside of therapy. Reading the stories on her website made me feel less alone so I figured if those stories could help me get through another day maybe my story could do the same for someone else.
But I never thought I’d have to talk to anyone who’d read my story. It never occurred to me that someone might reach out over the internet and ask me what to do if someone they loved was thinking of ending their life. But that’s what happened. Tatiana had seen my story, searched for me on Facebook, and written to ask what she should do for her boyfriend who had already made one attempt on his life.
As soon as I finished reading her email I wanted to close the laptop and pretend I hadn’t seen it. What could I possibly say to a woman I didn’t know a thousand miles away that would save her boyfriend? All I wanted to do when I shared my story was to let people know that survival is possible and that you don’t have to decide that you’ll never hurt yourself. All you have to do decide that you won’t hurt yourself today. But now I had Tatiana reaching out to me across two continents and two languages asking me what she should do. I was terrified that I’d say the wrong thing and get a message two weeks later that her boyfriend was gone.
In spite of my fears, I wrote her back. Half of showing up is just showing up. And most of what anyone needs is just to know that someone cares. So I wrote her back and said I was happy to share what worked for me. I told her what I wished people had said to me and what I wished they hadn’t. I sent her the number of a crisis line I found in La Paz. I told her to make sure she got help for herself too because none of us can do this alone.
I don’t know what happened to Tatiana and her boyfriend. I didn’t look her up when I was writing this because I need to believe they are both ok. That’s one of the things I’ve learned in my own recovery. I can listen and love but I can’t save. Sometimes I think that all by itself keeps me from drowning.
I hope some of you bring your own story of being overwhelmed or in over your head. What happened and how did you pull yourself out of it? Did someone lend a hand? Did an opportunity show up in the nick of time? What did you learn and how were you changed?
Remember to keep it clean, and practice out loud on friends and family as often as you can. All stories must be under 8 minutes so time yourself when you practice. Stories can be as short as you want but not over 8 minutes. Remember, if your story goes long someone else who practiced for weeks might not get a chance to tell.
Here are the rules and guidelines if you haven’t read them in a while: https://freshgroundstories.com/2013/01/22/storytelling-rules-and-guidelines/
If you’d like help with your story, our next free monthly workshop is March 1. It’s run by two of our regular tellers who volunteer their time. You can RSVP here: https://www.meetup.com/Fresh-Ground-Stories-Storytelling-Workshop/
If you can’t make the workshop, this is the best book I’ve ever read on how to tell a personal story. I always go back to it when I’m stuck on one of my own stories.
I hope to see you all at 7 pm on March 19 at the Olive Way Starbucks 🙂