**Trigger Warning: I discuss suicide and mass shootings in this post.
Suicide is now the leading cause of death for children ages 10-14 in Ohio (I'll post the link to the article at the end of this post if you'd like to explore it yourself). Let me repeat myself, SUICIDE is the LEADING cause of DEATH for CHILDREN aged 10-14. This statistic feels like a gut-punch. As a mother and a former educator, it terrifies me.
Last week, we also learned of another school shooting. Some of you may have scrolled past articles about this shooting or flipped the news station reporting about it because you're numb and tired. Some of you may have immediately started yelling about gun control. Some of you may have immediately started yelling about mental health reform. Some of you may have immediately started yelling at the people yelling about gun control and mental health reform. All of those arguments are valid and noble, and it is certainly clear something needs to change. But, if you're like me, you took a step back from the news article or report and furrowed your brow because you know this problem is bigger than yourself, and yet, you also feel this overwhelming urge to take control of what you can. You may have thought about homeschooling your kids. You may have considered researching bullet proof backpacks. It hurts to be human right now.
For those of you like me, those of you who simultaneously feel a paralyzing anxiety and a strong desire to make a change, I have a micro suggestion that may have macro implications if enough people can get on board. I passed a colleague on campus yesterday, and I said, "Howareyou?" (not a typo.) They replied, "Fine. And you?" And I replied, "Living my best life" (my instinctual response). And, we went on our way. The whole conversation was about 8 seconds, but the question is so important. You all know how it goes. You see someone in passing. You politely ask how they are. They tell you they're fine. You tell them you're fine. And, you both continue on with your life. Sometimes we truly are fine. But, sometimes the honest response to that question is, "I'm a little anxious today. But, I've been practicing some self care, so I hope tomorrow is better."
Take a second and imagine how you'd respond if someone answered your question in that way. I'm sure you'd be taken aback. You'd be taken aback not because you would be thinking any less of your colleague or friend but because we're not used to our fellow humans sharing their vulnerability with us. I am very passionate about showing vulnerability (hence, my entire blog about my struggle with mental health). I found as an educator, students were often moved when I shared with them that I battle anxiety. I'd always see a head or two pop up in the back of the class when I'd say things like, "There are some days I'm so anxious that I can barely stand in front of you." I'd ALWAYS (and I mean ALWAYS) have at least one student stop after class or leave me a letter discussing their own battle with anxiety. At the beginning of my career, I thought it was unprofessional for me to practice vulnerability, and the first time I did, my heart was beating out of my chest. But, as I lost former students to suicide and I watched current students battle with their own struggles, I realized there is no other option but to model to them how imperfect we can be.
You hurt. I hurt. We hurt. This isn't going to solve every problem. This isn't going to put a complete end to gun violence or suicide, but when we truly express concern about the well-being of the people around us and we are vulnerable in sharing our own struggles, I believe there will be a depressurization of our collective tension. Next time you pass someone you know, replace your "howareyou" with "how are you?" Look them in the eye. If they tell you they're fine, but you see some pain, ask them again. And next time you're not "fine," I encourage you to share a nugget of your stress with someone who cares about you. Kids are watching us. My daughter and son are watching me. We have to teach them that we aren't meant to carry our loads alone; too many young people think that's the case. And when their load gets too heavy, that's when the unthinkable happens.
Keep fighting the good fight, friends!