Giving misguided feedback about “choices” to someone at thesuicideproject.org in 2009

During the summer of 2009 I came across the post below at thesuicideproject.org

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I posted the comment below in response:

Dear Jessica,

I’m sorry that you are going through a rough time. Your supposition about the presence of any “listeners” is off the mark actually. This site is fairly well trafficked. There are a lot of people out here that feel as you do, and there are a lot of people out here who care and want to help. I’m one of the latter.

The reason that I mentioned that there are many others struggling with problems similar to yours is to point out that there are many people who have had the problems you are having who have figured out effective and sustainable ways to deal with them. This is good news, I think, because you can learn how to do this too, if you are open to it.

One highly effective way to deal with depression, according to many clinical studies, is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy called rational emotive behavioral therapy. Here’s a one sentence description of REBT’s basic premise that I just copied from Wikipedia: “One of the fundamental premises of REBT is that humans, in most cases, do not merely get upset by unfortunate adversities, but also through how they construct their views of reality through their language, evaluative beliefs, meanings and philosophies about the world, themselves and others.”

For example, you seem to be primarily depressed by the fact that a girl that you love is not loving you back how you would like her to. Falling in love with someone who doesn’t love you back in the same way is a very common thing, I believe, and feeling sad or upset about it is a natural reaction. I think. However, going to the point of harming yourself physically and contemplating ending your own life as a result seems to be an extreme reaction to me, as I’m sure it does to many others. You write about wanting and needing love from others, and it’s clear that you would like to have a particular kind of love from this girl.

I think it’s important to realize that everyone, including this girl, has the freedom to love who she wants, how she wants. It’s equally important to realize that someone choosing not to love you how you would like them to love you is not about YOU, that’s about her and what SHE wants. Even if she loved you for a while, she has the right to choose to not love you in the same way now or in the future. I imagine that you have created a number of dis-empowering beliefs about yourself and life as a result of the rejection you received from this girl. I’m guessing that you might be thinking that you’re not worthy of someone elses love or maybe that you will not find someone to love you the way that you want to be loved. What’s important to get is that YOU are the one creating those beliefs. YOU are choosing to think that way (assuming that that’s what you’re thinking.)

What you wrote about your sister points to the same kind of problem in thinking I believe: “my sister moved out for a time which also contributed with the cutting. she also made me feel worthless.” Isn’t it more accurate to say that you chose cutting yourself as a way to deal with the pain you felt when your sister moved out? And regarding feeling worthless as a result of things your sister may have said to you – consider looking at it this way – YOU CHOOSE to label yourself as worthless based on what your sister said or did. That is YOUR choice to think and/or feel that you are worthless. My point is that you can choose to think otherwise, and thinking otherwise could lead you to feel differently about yourself and your life.

You wrote a lot about love in your post and I think that the love you may be lacking may be an unconditional love for yourself. Cutting yourself and worse, ending your own life is an unloving thing to do to yourself. I don’t mean to say that you don’t have valid reasons to think what you do which lead you to feel how you feel right now – i.e. the abuse from your mother and issues with your family and friends. What’s important to get here is that just because something is VALID doesn’t mean that it has to be that way or that it is necessarily the TRUTH.

You are in charge of what you think and what you think is going to determine how you feel. Some people have more ‘negative input’ or troubling or challenging circumstances in life to deal with – that’s the way life is. What I’m offering for you to consider is that you are in charge of creating your own self-image and view of the world, regardless of the environment you’re in.

One book that I read during a difficult time in my life is called Feeling Good by David D. Burns. It explains in great detail how to go about altering how you feel by altering how you think about the things that happen in your life.

I hope what I’ve written here offers you some hope that things can go differently for you in the future. I know they can, but it’s up to you to believe that they can. Believing that something else is possible is what makes something else possible.

I’m here to help. Please feel free to contact me at incredulity at gmail dot com. I wish you the best.

Sincerely,
Francesco Bellafante

I stand by my recommendation about cognitive behavioral therapy and Dr. Burns’ book Feeling Good, but I’ve updated my response to Jessica below in light of how I think about “choices” and “free will” now, over seven years later.

I think it’s important to realize that everyone, including this girl, can love whomever she wants to love, however she wants to love them. It’s equally important to realize that someone not loving you how you would like them to love you is not about you, rather that’s about her and what she wants. Even if she loved you for awhile, she might not love you in the same way in the future. I imagine that you have created a number of dis-empowering beliefs about yourself and life as a result of this rejection. I’m guessing that you might be thinking that you’re not worthy of someone else’s love or maybe that you will not find someone to love you the way that you want to be loved.  If you are thinking this way, it’s important to understand that your thoughts are subject to change over time.  Question and challenge your thinking.  If something you’re thinking makes you feel badly, consider that you’re capable of thinking something else.

What you wrote about your sister points to the same kind of problem in thinking I believe: “my sister moved out for a time which also contributed with the cutting. she also made me feel worthless.” Isn’t it more accurate to say that you were compelled to cut yourself as a way to deal with the pain you felt when your sister moved out?  And regarding feeling worthless as a result of things your sister may have said to you – consider looking at it this way – you’re compelled to label yourself as worthless based on what your sister said or did.  You don’t choose your thoughts before they occur to you; no one does.  Thoughts and intentions simply arise in consciousness.  I suggest trying to question or challenge disempowering thoughts like these when they occur to you.  You have the power to continue to think and to think something else… to think something that doesn’t make you feel worthless.  You are not your thoughts.  You’re not even the author of your thoughts.  You are witness to your thoughts, and remember that your thoughts don’t necessarily represent the truth.

You wrote a lot about love in your post and I think that the love you may be lacking may be an unconditional love for yourself. Cutting yourself and worse, ending your own life is an unloving thing to do to yourself. I don’t mean to say that you don’t have valid reasons to think what you do which lead you to feel how you feel right now – i.e. the abuse from your mother and issues with your family and friends. What’s important to get here is that just because something is valid doesn’t mean that it has to be that way or that it is necessarily the truth.  Granted, some people have more “negative input” or troubling and challenging circumstances in life to deal with than other people – that’s the way life is. What I’m offering for you to consider is that you play a crucial role in creating your own self-image and view of the world, regardless of the environment you’re in.

One book that I read during a difficult time in my life is called Feeling Good by David D. Burns. It explains in great detail how to go about altering how you feel by working to alter how you think about the things that happen in your life.

I hope what I’ve written here offers you some hope that things can go differently for you in the future. I know they can, but it’s up to you to believe that they can. Believing that something else is possible is what makes something else possible.

Suicide attempt reason reveal 18 1/2 years later | frank talk about suicide | episode 7 preview

I was named after my paternal grandfather who died in a mysterious explosion at the fireworks factory where he worked two days after Christmas in 1951. My father to be was 13 years old. Within a year, he was earning $15 a week to help support his mother and two younger sisters delivering newspapers and working in a drugstore as a stock boy and soda jerk.

He was bringing home $400 a month, in today’s dollars, to help support his family.

He was 14 years old.

Music:

Father
by Estes Shane Whalen

Open letter to VP Biden from one Auk to another | frank talk about suicide | episode 6

Dear Mr. Vice President:

We’ve been crossing paths since I was 12 years old, but the first time we spoke to one another was just last year.

The first time I saw you in person was in line for a movie at the former Concord Mall theater on 202 near Naamans Road.  It was the spring of ‘83 and Coppola’s The Outsiders had just opened in theaters.  I was 12 years old, my brother Mark and Beau were 14, and Hunter was 13.  Mark and I were in line right behind you, Dr. Biden, Beau and Hunter.  You guys ended up getting the last four tickets for The Outsiders, and even though we were underage, the woman at the box office let us buy tickets for the R rated comedy, Joysticks, which was not nearly as good a film, believe me.

Then during high school at Archmere, at football games with Hunter and tennis matches with Beau, and various other events, I saw you more times than I can recount.

Then in early 2012, when the football team that Hunter and I played on together that lost to Laurel 7-2 in the state championship game was inducted into the Archmere Athletics hall of fame, I saw Beau for the last time when you both showed up at the Patio that night.  I took delight in the fact that with not a single spare seat in the house that night, you took a seat on the stairs, and that was no big deal.  I chatted briefly with Hunter that night, but I’m sad to say that I didn’t say hi to Beau.  But I do recall the last time I saw and spoke with him.  I’m not sure what year it was, but I was driving through Philly when I saw Beau walking alone on the sidewalk, and he saw me see him.  So I pulled over, put my hazards on, jumped out of my truck and ran back to have a quick chat.  I don’t remember what we talked about really, but I do remember being lit up by the chance encounter…  because… well, Beau was Beau.

Anyway, it was last year when I personally met you for the first time when I offered you my condolences at Beau’s wake.

A couple months later I sent an email to Hunter that I want to share part of with you now:

The obvious horrible circumstances aside, I was grateful to have had the chance to spend the few moments that we spent together at Beau’s wake; it meant a lot to me to see you and to personally express my condolences to you and your family.  I also want to let you know how touched I was, blown away really, by your amazing tribute to your brother at the funeral.  The entire ceremony was such a beautiful tribute and celebration of Beau and his life.  I was so grateful to be able to see it, not to mention to know that people that may not have known Beau could see and hear you and everyone else that spoke, so that they could understand what kind of son, father, brother, friend and public servant… what kind of person your brother was.  I also wanted to take a moment to share something else with you.  Beau’s wake was the first time that I ever spoke with your father, and as I was getting close to the front of the receiving line, I debated taking a couple extra moments to thank him for his decades of service to the people of Delaware and this country, but I decided against it in the interest of time.  I wanted to thank him for living such an inspiring life and for dedicating himself to public service and for being a living example of the difference that one person can help make, for others.

So, thank you.

Just this past summer, with the help of Hunter, I got this letter in front of your scheduling assistant.

Dear Mr. Vice President:

Nine years after I graduated from Archmere Academy I nearly died by suicide when I was 27 years old.  Eighteen years after my suicidal crisis I am grateful to be a Philadelphia chapter board member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the leading nonprofit at the center of the fight to reduce the mortality of suicide in this country.  Our mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.

In a couple of weeks hundreds of AFSP volunteers will visit Washington D.C. to meet with lawmakers to advocate for increased federal funding for evidence-based suicide prevention programs.  The AFSP has an ambitious goal and a practical plan to reduce the U.S. suicide rate by 20% by 2025.  I am writing to ask you to please consider meeting with the leadership of the AFSP before you leave office.  Robert Gebbia, our CEO, Dr. Christine Moutier, our Chief Medical Officer, and John Madigan, our Vice President of Public Policy would greatly appreciate the opportunity to brief you on our strategy to save the lives of thousands of Americans.  If your schedule permits, a brief meeting with you on June 14th would undoubtedly energize our growing group of thoughtful, committed citizens dedicated to reducing suicide.

We are convinced that our movement is approaching a tipping point in garnering the political will necessary to halt the rising U.S. suicide rate.  Your help in raising awareness about this preventable cause of death will hasten the arrival of the day when suicide is no longer one of the top ten causes of death in this country.  Thank you for your time and consideration, and thank you for being a living example of the positive difference that one person can make in the lives of others.

Sincerely,
Francesco Bellafante
Archmere Academy Class of 1989

The date we were hoping to arrange the meeting for was June 14th, which turned out to be two days after the worst mass-shooting in our nation’s history.  Timing is everything, but there is still time to make this meeting happen before you leave office, if your schedule permits.

Your work with the #CancerMoonshot is inspiring.  Tragically, but not surprisingly the suicide rate for cancer patients is about double the national average.  Worse yet, a study has found the suicide rate to be 13 times higher for patients during the first three months after their diagnosis.

The leadership of the AFSP and I are grateful for all that you, Dr. Biden and the Obamas have already done for the suicide awareness and prevention cause,  but the days when the father of two of my teammates from high school is the Vice President of the United States are quickly drawing to a close.

I promised myself when you and the President were elected that I would get myself in a position to leverage my personal connection to you for the benefit of this cause before you left office.  So, from one Archmere Auk to another, I’m asking you to please consider meeting with these extraordinary leaders from the national non-profit at the center of this winnable fight to stop suicide.

Sincerely,

Francesco Bellafante
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Board of Directors, Greater Philadelphia Chapter

What’s wrong with Prince Ea’s message about depression, if anything?

I think this is a powerful video that contains a compelling idea that has the potential to help a lot of people who closely identify their sense of self with the contents of their consciousness or their description of their current state of consciousness. The distinction that Prince Ea is trying to help people recognize about themselves and their life experiences is a crucial one to understand if someone is going to join the ranks of people fortunate enough to have even a single self-transcendent moment during their lives.
 
With that said, I tweeted these thoughts to him this morning after re-watching his video about depression.
 
“they always come and go” @PrinceEa It’s presumptuous to claim to know what it is like to be anyone else regardless of YOUr view & YOUr life
Some are more unlucky than others. Some would accurately describe the contents of their consciousness as constantly cloudy, no? @PrinceEa
 
I think what Prince Ea is saying about depression is similar to what Tim Ferriss has published on the subject – How You Label Determines How You Feel –  and I genuinely think their ideas are potentially helpful for many people.  The brain is the most complex and least understood object in the known universe.  Consciousness remains an enduring mystery to humankind.  Clearly some people are dealt significantly less advantageous hands in life than other people both genetically and environmentally.  I aspire to never make definitive claims about what it’s like for someone else to have the hand they have, like I think Prince Ea did in his video when he suggested that depressive moods or feelings, “…always come and go.”   Despite believing that he’s expressed an insightful idea that many or even most people can relate to as the truth, it’s reasonable to suggest that some people’s subjective experience of the content of their consciousness objectively does not match Prince Ea’s description of the transient nature of such experiences or states of consciousness.
Just a few days ago, I had a Twitter exchange with Kendra Kantor, a blogger who had written the following about herself in a piece also published by TheMighty.com:
The fact is I’m a woman with depression and anxiety. No matter how well I manage my symptoms through medication, therapy, meditation or even exercise, I will have these illnesses for my entire life.
After reading her entire piece I tweeted the following:
Thanks for this piece @KendraKantor Given how little we understand about the brain, how do you “know” you’ll be ill for your “entire life”?
She responded as follows:
@iameinstein Thanks for reading! I suppose I don’t KNOW for 100% because science advancements and the brain can change but I know my…
@iameinstein anxiety and depression are chemical in nature, not situational, and so I personally believe it’s something I’ll deal with…
@iameinstein my whole life. That’s not to say I don’t believe (or HOPE) that I’ll have months or years of “normal” but it’s still part of me
And I replied as follows:
Got it @KendraKantor. Brain plasticity and inevitable advances in neuroscience were behind why I asked. Thx for the detailed clarification.
Kendra Kantor conceded that her claim about “knowing” the future is unreasonably definitive considering our current  scientific understanding of how the neuronal biology of homo sapiens functions to produce human consciousness and the stream of thoughts, intentions and feelings that occupy it.  To apply Prince Ea’s point of view as I see it, even though Kendra admits that her claim was overstated, and she has a belief about her future self versus certain knowledge of it, it seems reasonable to suggest that someone who believes that future suffering is inevitable is more likely to continue to experience such suffering compared to someone who believes that transformational change in one’s own state of consciousness is possible.
I do not know precisely why Kendra Kantor suffers as she does, and no one else does either, including her.   And while I assert that she is someone that may benefit from thinking about her suffering in the way that Prince Ea suggests, unlike him (maybe), I will readily concede that Kendra may turn out to be objectively correct about her claim of lifelong suffering regardless of what she believes about the feasibility of not suffering in the future.
 
 

What can corporate leaders do to reduce suicide?

Based on 2014 statistics, 117 Americans die by suicide every single day.  These deaths are preventable.

Suicide costs this country $44 Billion a year in lost productivity and medical costs alone, and the pain and suffering experienced by survivors in the wake of a suicide eludes accurate measurement.

This country loses over 42,000 lives to suicide every year.  Please consider taking any if not all of the following life-saving steps to reduce the number of preventable suicide deaths in the United States:

  • If you don’t currently provide your team members with a  way to reach out anonymously for help from a counselor integrate the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s (AFSP) Interactive Screening Program with your Employee Assistance Program.
  • Utilize the AFSP’s Talk Saves Lives presentation to educate your team members about the warning signs of suicide and why and  how to get help when they see them in themselves or others.
  • Encourage your team members to advocate for increased public funding to reduce suicide.
  • In the unfortunate event that you lose a team member to suicide avail yourself of the AFSP’s survivor support services as needed.
  • Until we garner enough political will to dedicate the public funding necessary to dramatically reduce the suicide rate, please support reputable, well-managed suicide awareness and prevention nonprofits like the AFSP to save lives.

Arresting the rising U.S. suicide rate and saving thousands of lives lost to this preventable cause of death are feasible goals within our collective reach.  Please join the growing number of people personally taking ownership of reducing the number of suicide deaths in this country.

Please join us in the fight to bring about the beginning of the end of suicide.

Please visit AFSP.org for more information.