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I must admit, I've always found this nodeshell to be the most succinct description of my death experience ever. This is because one of the most vital components of self-acceptance is a sense of humor. You have to be able to laugh at yourself, at your beliefs, and about everything you've done and experienced. This doesn't diminsh your beliefs or who you are. It enhances them. Once you stop laughing at yourself, and at your own absurdity, you tumble down into the land of arrogance and self-important righteousness.

My life sucked before my suicide, and it is hard to really say otherwise from a subjective point of view. Outsiders may engage in bumbling attempts to paint your pain and suffering as misguided. "Look at all the good things you had going for you!" There are always those people whose answer to everything is, "You don't have it so bad." Those are people you are better off not having in your life. They aren't helpful. When life sucks, it is a subjective experience that cannot be measured against the perception held by others. "Why did Denise kill herself? She had a really good job." I overheard that once in a restaurant. It was an audible sigh that came out of me as I rolled my eyes.

Your pain is personal and it is entirely subjective. I have a chronic illness that leaves me feeling like I was recently in a motor vehicle accident. Doctors do not have an instrument or machine that can measure your pain. You provide that information based on subjective determinations. I had to discard the pain scale when dealing with my doctors. I replaced it with what I call my MVA Pain Scale, where I report on how recently I was in a car accident and how severe. Instead of giving a number, I report, "Head on collision with a bus yesterday morning." I have multiple kinds of pain, so the severity of the accident measures one kind of pain and how recently the accident occurred is my level of aching pain. I fantasize about the day my report will say, "I ran over a speed bump too fast about a month ago." That day is unlikely to ever arrive.

Pain is entirely subjective when we measure its physical effect on us. The same can be said of emotional pain and suffering. I remember working with a guy who was a home aquarium enthusiast. One day he was broken up at work because one of his fish tanks malfunctioned and several of his fish died. He ended up going home that afternoon, this man in his fifties, not because of how distraught he was over his fish dying but because people he worked with were laughing at him because he was emotionally gutted over this. "Your fish died? Really?" It was treated like a big joke and that just drove his emotional pain level through the roof.

You cannot qualify someone else's pain, but people do it all the time. "She doesn't know how good she's got it." "People have it worse than you." "That's a stupid thing to be upset about." "Get over it." The list goes on by those who pontificate from a distance about things they don't understand or want to understand. "Snap out of it" is a common response to people struggling with depression. Trite phrases rule the roost when it comes to people's responses to pain and suffering they feel is unwarranted or misguided.

We need to validate each other. The number one cause of suicide is pain and suffering that can no longer be managed or contained. There is a snowball effect when you are in the grip of depression or when an escape from suffering can no longer be visualized. The only real way to respond to someone's pain is with validation of the person suffering, not to dismiss or trivialize their suffering, and certainly not to measure it against someone else's situation.

We all require some sort of support system to navigate the difficult currents of this life. One does not thrive alone on an island, just as no one gets rich in a vaccuum. We need each other and we need to give each other validation. You don't validate their actions, and here you may be critical but fair. I spent a year helping recovering addicts detox and take responsibility for their actions. While validating the person, I could be critical of their decision making processes. "Do you really think storming into your ex-wife's house drunk and demanding shared custody while smashing up her living room was a good idea?" I always posed the question and let them answer it. I was there to help them through the program, to get clean, and to find reasons to stay that way. I wasn't there to be critical of the often inane things they had done in the course of feeding their addiction. You have to understand where the line is between validation of a person and validation of their words and actions. They are two different things.

Life sucks for many people, whether you agree with their reasons for feeling that way or not. You may not think that fish dying is a valid reason for being distraught, but you are pontificating from afar about things you do not understand. When you get stuck in a spiralling depression for five years, the way I did from 1989-1994, people start to move away from you or avoid talking about anything related to your pain and suffering. They don't want to deal with it, they are exhausted from dealing with you, and you begin to feel isolated. With that isolation comes a single voice in response to your cries, and that person is your harshest critic. That person is you, and when you are depressed, angry, or upset, you aren't going to validate yourself. You are going to validate the reasons you feel this way and in doing so you empower them to consume you.

This is one of many reasons why the difference between validating a person and validating their words or actions is so important.

Be part of a support system for the people around you. Reach out to friends and people you've known and let them know you care about them, not in a Hallmark greeting card sort of way, but with meaningful communication. You can let someone know you care about them just by reminding them of an amusing moment you shared or an experience you had together. We drift away from people over time. We get busy and there are new people coming and going in our lives. We can't be everywhere at once, but we can remind people we are still there. Be available, in the ways that you can, if someone you know is dealing with some shit. Just say hello. Ask if there is anything you can do, but only ask once, do not argue against the rebuttals. Just let them know you're there and don't apply any pressure. Open the door. Don't try to pull them through it. They won't go and then you will be rated as part of the problem, not as an available resource. You can open the door. You can show them where it is. You can help them find reasons to go through the door, but they have to decide to walk through it.

Life sucks. Don't die alone. The people are what matters. The only thing that matters in this place is what we give freely of ourselves to others without expecting return on investment. People are not an investment. People are trying to get from birth to death in one piece. It helps to walk through the forest with others. The bears are mighty hungry. Life sucks because it is supposed to.

Life is beautiful. Don't travel alone. Find your companions and change them when necessary. Choose those that validate you as a person and reject those that don't from your inner circle. And reject those who won't question you when you make questionable decisions. Life is beautiful when you can open your eyes.

Life is hard. The rule book is shit. You need to plot your own course, but like the classic adventure movies, you'll need to find people who can help you find your way. Heading into a dark forest? Find some weird old dude in a cabin who knows all about "dem woods." Not sure if it is safe to cross that bridge? Ask the people who have crossed it before. Let everyone in your party play a role that highlights their strengths and abilities, and pay attention to the NPCs. Life is hard because otherwise what's the point? A role playing game where you just roll the dice and move unobstructed from one place to another without anything challenging happening is a really sucky game. We're characters in the most immersive role playing game ever created, probably by a demented child in another dimension with too much time on his hands.

Bad things happen to good people to better prepare us to understand others. You can't understand poverty if you've always had money and everything you need. You can't understand depression unless you've experienced it yourself.

My life is not a smooth glide across a glassy pond. I'm only interested in the choppy water, the rapids, and the waterfalls. Over time, I've learned to embrace the lessons, so much so that when I was diagnosed with Lupus in 2014, my first response was, "Oh, I guess this is my next lesson. Okay, how do I navigate this one? What can this teach me?" Now I understand people with chronic illness, chronic pain, and chronic fatigue. I know what it is like to live in constant physical pain. It sucks, but I am grateful for the lesson. That lesson led to me gaining a greater understanding of opiate addicts whose addiction began because of chronic pain. "Do you have any idea what it is like to live in pain all the time?"

That trite nonsense about "looking on the bright side" can make you puke up your lunch instantaneously. And yet, it is what I very casually do with my life these days. I've been knocked down and I have gotten back up so many times, it just seems like the normal flow of things now, but I channel each experience into becoming more empathetic and understanding of the experiences of others. I'm quite convinced that this life is just a chapter in a book that is part of a series with endless volumes. We are the protagonists of our own life stories, gathering our parties, collecting our tools, and going out on adventures. The thing is, this life is probably the equivalent of dicking around in the tavern at the beginning of the adventure.

And the band plays on.

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