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No Breath Holding

With the apparent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain this week, I keep thinking about a sign that I recently saw on Onslow Beach in North Carolina. This sign is clearly for the sake of the people swimming and the lifeguards in the area. I think, though, this sign has implications beyond the beach, beyond the ocean, beyond vacation and into every day "just keep swimming" with which many people struggle.

There have been three times in my life when I thought it would be better "not to be". Even in my brain that doesn't quite function as it ought, angels and endorphins worked overtime and I survived. Lots of people don't. It's not that they didn't have angels and endorphins, it is that the lies of the pain made it hard to hear the truth.

When your brain is unwell, when you are mentally ill, your misfiring synapses lie to you. They tell you that the world would be better off, that oblivion is easier, that while people may be sad- you are saving them from having to deal with you- pathetic wretch that you are. The misfiring synapses of your unwell brain do not care about your family and friends, the extended community who loves you, the hope and a future that is God's plan for you, the real contributions that you will intentionally and unintentionally make for the fullness of your days. They just lie. Mostly, because they are symptoms of illness, they don't know any better. But those cruel jerks can be loud. So damn loud.

Which brings me to the sign.


If you think that your body, brain, or spirit are lying to you, don't hold your breath. Don't keep faking it. Don't pretend you aren't drowning. Don't pretend it doesn't hurt. Don't just keep swimming. Tell someone, anyone, over and over and over, that you ache. 

And, yes, I know that feels impossible. 

I know there are people counting on you to keep it together, to be the life of the party, to put on the good face, to be the one "with it all together", but the truth is that there are MANY PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOU FOR WHO YOU ARE AND NOT YOUR ABILITIES, TALENTS, RESOURCES, OR PERSONALITY. They love you for you and, even if it takes a hot minute to regroup when you are honest, the people who love you will tear the world apart to find the wholeness that is the Divine will for you (because it is so for all people). 

Don't hold your breath. Breathe... breathe your truth of pain and grief and fear. And... And... And... None of those is bigger or truer than your worth, your value, your significance, and the love that exists for and in you. 

You matter. YOU matter. You MATTER. 

Don't hold your breath. Use it. 


The sign also applies to you when you are worried about someone you love. Maybe that person has seemed down for so long and now things are just looking up (this is often the riskiest time because the person has the energy to follow through with a long-held plan). Maybe your fun friend or your strong friend has seemed a little "off" or more unavailable lately. 

Don't hold your breath. 

Use it. Make the call. Drop by. Set up a lunch date, walk, coffee, coloring contest, whatever. Pay attention to old patterns. If your friend tries to resort to joking or deflects, look in their eyes, be honest, and say, "I care about you. You matter me. I want to be here for you. I want to help you." 

Don't hold your breath. 

Think about the resources in your community. Is 911 (or your local emergency #) is the best resource for a person who is suicidal? What are the community mental health resources? What would you do if your friend said they had a plan? 

Even if you don't know what to say, sitting quietly and affirming the worth of another by presence says more than many words. 

Don't hold your breath. 

Talk honestly about struggles in your friend groups and in your church. Don't accept a rosy picture all the time or demand to be "comfortable" when people are sharing their pain, grief, or fear. Allow stories of those who have been left behind after someone dies from suicide to be told. Be truthful about mental health, its importance, and how to take care of one's self mentally. 

Don't hold your breath. 

Embrace the sanctified imagination to think of Mary with post-partum depression, David after Absalom's death, Job's reactions to his terrible friends, Saul's confusion, Naomi's bitterness, and Onesimus's fear. 

Be willing to consider medications that might help silence your lying synapses by getting them to function properly- the same way you might take medicine for diabetes, chronic indigestion, asthma, or cancer. 

Be frank about your concern for someone's well-being. It is okay to say, "It is because I love you that I am asking this. Are you thinking about suicide?" 

Don't hold your breath. 

Beloved, we are in this life together. I want to live it with you. Some days, I can't swim, but I have learned to trust that the current will keep me moving. I lift my feet to try to keep from getting snagged on the bottom, I look ahead- hoping to avoid rocks, and I just float. Eventually, I'll swim again. 

But you, dear one, you matter to me. I cannot promise that life won't hurt, that there aren't terrible things that will happen, that sometimes the monsters seem to have a season. 

I can, however, promise this: You matter. You are loved. You are necessary. You are God's Beloved. 

Anything that says any different is lying to you, even if it is coming from inside your head saying that I don't really know you. Misfiring synapses are part of the forces that defy God and they lie. 

You can say no to them through honesty, through seeking help, and by leaning into being loved. 

And by this- 


Julia, thank you for writing and publishing this. it is powerful.
Unknown said…
I absolutely cherish this.
JudithanneS said…
Julia, I've posted "No Breath Holding" on my facebook. Again, you are a wonderful person and I deeply appreciate the times we get to work together!You inspire me.
Bob Hancock said…
Thank you so much for writing this!
Unknown said…
Julia, very vivid and powerful message for those struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide and for the people who care about them. Blessings as you continue to write with openness and honesty and powerful imagery, thank you.
Anonymous said…
Thanks. It helps.

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