The Sacred Purpose Blog

Dear Sacred Purpose Readers,

Today is going to be a good day and here’s why: because today you are here, and that’s enough.

As I sat in the Music Box Theatre in Manhattan, with my best friend and fraternity brother, I began to see myself in a character named Evan. Honestly, I began to see myself in multiple characters that evening. I will admit here and now I cried. I cried a lot. Catharsis is a remarkable feeling, but sorrow is too. I wept for my own thoughts of “not being enough” and for friends whom I watched “disappear” through mental illness and suicide. Witnessing a single performance brought out all those feelings and it was overwhelming.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is one death by suicide every 12.3 minutes. Suicide among males is four times higher than females, and the prevalence of suicidal thoughts, planning and attempts is significantly higher among adults aged 18-29 than among adults 30+. When we discuss mental health, suicide, and suicide prevention, these emotions are tell-tale signs of someone who needs help. Too often these signs are in front of us and we are unable to act. Sometimes out of ignorance and sometimes out of sheer awkwardness, we let little clues pass over us. Let’s back up for a second and catch everyone up to speed.

Dear Evan Hansen is the story of a lonely student who is mistaken to be the best friend of a fellow student who took his own life. Through a series of mishaps and good intentioned white lies, he finds himself befriending the grief-stricken family, truly believing he can help them feel closer to their lost son. His lies soon spin out of control as a video of a speech he makes at an all school memorial assembly goes viral and we learn the extent of his anxiety about connecting in the age of social media.
I will not spoil anything for you, but know, this musical is heartwarming and gut wrenching all in the same breath. So why are we talking about it here? What significance does it have to Sacred Purpose?

Sacred Purpose is at the heart of the smash Broadway Hit Musical Dear Even Hansen, which debuted last December. Bringing in nine Tony Nominations, Dear Evan Hansen has taken the theater world by storm. Much like last year’s Hamilton: An American Musical, it has captured the attention of nearly every demographic imaginable.

How?

Simply put, Dear Evan Hansen connects us. All of us. “Because everyone should matter.” The title character in this musical is anxiety ridden to the point where his interpersonal skills hold him back from making any real connections. Not for a lack of trying, Evan finds himself, like some of us do, caught between living in the real world and living behind our screens. Early in the show, you discover Evan feels like he is on the outside looking in and wondering if anyone would notice if he “just disappeared tomorrow.”

Engaging in conversations around mental health and suicide can be tough. Often, we lend our support by liking, sharing, favoriting, or retweeting posts (similarly to what you might do with this one), only to find out it isn’t enough. Then we create memorial blogs and pages to remember people. We post how loved they are, but unfortunately, those words will never be read or heard by the people who needed it the most.

Evan sings, “I’d rather pretend I’m something better than these broken parts. Pretend I’m something other than this mess that I am.” If you have ever felt this way, you know how easy it is to pretend. You know how to use your coping mechanisms to shield yourself and those you love from the storm in your brain. Thankfully for me, and for Evan, getting help and having someone to talk to pulled us both out of those dark spaces.

But what do you do when you see someone you care for exhibiting these emotions or others like it? Your willingness to talk about mental or emotional issues and suicide with a friend, family member, or co-worker can be the first step in getting someone help and preventing suicide.If you see something, say something. Having an emotionally open dialogue with our brothers, friends, and family about suicide is an important first step in prevention.

 

“Let that lonely feeling wash away. Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be ok. ‘Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand, you can reach out your hand.”

Thank you, Evan Hansen, for doing what you’re doing.

Sincerely,

Me

For more information about Suicide and Suicide Prevention follow the links below
The Silence of Suicide- Sacred Purpose
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education
1 (800) 273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The night of September 28, 2014, I received a phone call as I pulled into my driveway. I expected the voice on the other end to radiate positive energy as I had grown accustomed to over the years. Katelyn Katsafanas is the type of person I aspire to be, day in and day out. When my name comes up on someone’s phone, I want to give off that energy too. Unfortunately, when I answered, the conversation that happened was not what I had expected. Katelyn needed my help. A brother needed my help.

Katelyn was dating my pledge brother and best friend, Parker Jordan.


To say Parker and I were close would be an understatement. We received our bids to join Theta Chi Fraternity at the University of Alabama together and from that point on, we forged a relationship that could rival George Strait and Pat Green’s any day. Everyone knew it—we were Texans and like any person blessed to be born in the greatest state in the Union, we were damn proud of it.

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Over the years, Parker would come to my family home in Mobile for Mardi Gras and I would play golf with him at his home course in Fort Worth. It was obvious; we were put here to entertain each other and to make lasting memories throughout our time at Alabama. More than friends, we were brothers.


The conversation that came from that phone call shocked me more than anything up to that point in my life. She told me she was worried about Parker. More than worried, actually. She was scared he may hurt himself.

Parker and Katelyn were always upbeat, happy, fun, loud, and the life of the party. She was an amazing match for him, and from the outside looking in, things were perfect in their often glowing little world.

We didn’t know about the demons waging war inside of him. The treacherous mine field Parker was living in was something none of us could comprehend. Katelyn knew I needed to be with Parker in that moment and I could feel it in my bones, she was right.

I remember the conversation we had that night. We talked about school. Parker was in a grueling intermediate accounting course and his ability to think clearly was starting to fade. The stress just intensified the feelings of self-doubt already blurring his thoughts. He was worried he wouldn’t make the grades he needed to get into our local Accounting Honor Society. Parker was making A’s and B’s on all his tests, but still he was overwhelmed. I felt like he was better after we talked it through. Sometimes, we just need someone to talk to. I wanted to sleep on his couch that evening but he insisted he was okay. Before I left, we set up a meeting for him with our Dean of Students office and talked about how Katelyn contacted his family.

He promised me, in a tear filled hug, he would not hurt himself. I told him I loved him and headed home.

At this point, an entire support system was beginning to form around Parker. Our Vice President of Health and Safety, Johnston Watkins and a few brothers noticed Parker wasn’t himself and began to check in on him, regularly. This group didn’t even know about the rest of us doing what we could to help Parker. They knew the oaths they took to watch after each other and were living our creed. This was the Fraternity in its most pure form. Brothers looking out for one another and doing everything they could to help. We are our brother’s keeper to the best of our ability.


Parker took his own life, 2 years ago today.


As I write these words, tears still fall. Two years later the pain is still very raw and very real, but I firmly believe on that day, Parker knew he was loved. Mental illness is scary. Modern science still struggles to understand all of its intricacies, just as we do, with those we love suffering from it every day. We will never understand why Parker choose to leave us but the events which followed that horrible day provide comfort for us all.

I have never felt the full breadth of our brotherhood as I did in the days that followed Parker’s death. I was the Chapter President at the time and the outpouring from brothers from around the country was astounding. Hundreds of emails, calls, and texts flooded my phone. If you are reading this today and were one of those people who sent your condolences: Thank You. Your love and support is what this Fraternity truly embodies.

Over the past two years, tens of thousands of dollars for mental health research have been raised in Parker’s name. Right now, a Parker Jordan Memorial Scholarship is being created. Dedicated people who loved Parker have managed to create some good out of this tragedy.theta-chi-2015-suicide-prevention-walk

Nothing will bring Parker back. I desperately wish I had the power to do that. The power I do have is to honor him by living the life we often discussed together.

For the readers still with me here, I hope this inspires you to never take a moment for granted. To be cognizant when considering the health, physical and mental, of those around you. Recognize the signs of depression and suicidal tendencies early and never hesitate to act.

 

Marcus Gibson (Alpha Phi/Alabama 2015)

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Editor’s note: It is important to recognize the signs of depression and suicidal thoughts. Below are a list of warning signs as well as resources for yourself or those you know who might be in danger of hurting themselves. Make sure you understand your role and promote the intervention of professionals. If someone tells you they want to take their life,  offer help and compassion but know there are ways to ensure their safety too. You can report the threat to the police and in most situations, they can physically intervene and take them to a safe place.

According to the Mayo Clinic, suicide warning signs or suicidal thoughts include:

  • Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
  • Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
  • Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there’s no other logical explanation for doing this
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above

 

 

Click here to find Support for yourself or someone you know

1 (800) 273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

As part of our Sacred Purpose commitment to the Mental Health of all our brothers this post comes to us in honor of National Suicide Prevention Week.

For some of us, there are moments we have in our lives that are so painful we wonder how we could ever forget them. The more I talk about it, the more I see it in other people’s lives. Everyone seems to have their painful moments, no matter how trivial. For me, that moment was the day I decided to kill myself.

For so long, I looked for an excuse. Why do I feel this way? Why do I hate myself so much I wanted to not exist? I was a sophomore in college. I had academic scholarships. I was involved. I was in a fraternity with some of the best guys I knew. I had a good family. I even survived cancer. I thought I was going to change the world. Those are the things I was proud of; having depression and anxiety however, were not included.chris-hixon1

When I would look into other people’s eyes, I could see a light in them. When something funny came up or someone they liked walked into a room, their eyes would light up. Looking in a mirror you can sometimes see the light in your own eyes. The light that tells you to keep going; you’re meant for something. One day, the light behind my eyes stop shining as bright. Eventually, I saw it go out.

It was then I stopped sleeping. I stopped eating. I hated me. I thought God hated me. I was utterly hopeless.

The seeming totality of darkness came and I was no longer in control. Every night, I’d find solace in the blade of a knife up and down my arms and legs. Why? To kill the numbness. To allow the physical pain to supersede the emotional pain and give myself a breath of fresh air. I’d watch the blood, as pure as rubies, float down my skin like tears.

I would hide the scars in my eyes and on legs so you couldn’t see them. I’d make up excuses as to why I wasn’t sleeping or eating. “It’s just stress” or “I just don’t have time right now” were my go-to excuses. I lost over 30 pounds in just two months. I’d lie when people asked me if I had plans so I can sit in my bedroom, in the dark, accompanied only by my thoughts, or the occasional text to a suicide hotline.

Once they know you’re serious, they’ll ask you for a plan. I’d gone over it so many times in my head, I had it down to a science. I could overdose or jump off of the tallest building on campus. I ran through each option but the deciding factor was my car. I’d go on these long drives by myself and see how fast my car could go. I wanted a rush before I left. I’d drive my car over 120 miles per hour and crash into the cement overpass.

It would be quick and I would be gone.

Then the night came. The night in November I would die. They would find an eloquent letter written about why and I’d try to give them as many answers as possible and hopefully they would understand it was not their fault. I was the broken one.

That’s when my friends intervened. I had made my intentions known to a few folks before and in my hour of need, they knew. This is the moment. They were done listening; this time they pushed. They pushed me toward the help I needed.

I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital. They take your shoelaces in there. I missed my shoelaces. I missed my friends. I missed writing about all of it. There are no pencils and pens, just crayons. The worst part? There’s no music. So I’d write the lyrics down in different colors.

In the middle of my stay, a nurse brought me a package. It was my Theta Chi jersey. My fingers lined the stitching and the fabric absorbed each tear. Those letters represented over a hundred people who believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself. People who wanted to make me better. They represented an oath I took to live to higher standard, be the best version of myself, and to help all of those around me. I didn’t feel alone anymore. The light in my eyes began to flicker.

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From then on, it was a long road. I’d be lying if I said that place fixed everything. It did unearth some truths I wasn’t ready for, but desperately needed to hear. Being there allowed me to see how serious my disease was, but it didn’t fix me. My depression still follows me, but I manage because I found help. I had the support of close friends to continue treatment. They helped me see that my life is more than just a few good years. It is a gift. I kept living because I began to focus on the flickers of light despite the presence of darkness. As the lights gleamed brighter, eventually, my entire world illuminated. I saw hope. I saw the people who believe in me and much as I believe in them.

I’m 24 now. I’ll still face tough times, but I’m living out my dreams because with help, I made the choice to keep living.

So I challenge you:

When your friend is hurting, go to them.

When someone wants to talk, make time to listen.

When the people you love need you, find them and make sure they know you’re there.

You have no idea what people face but it’s your duty to make them feel like they belong here. Tell the people you love that you love them. Tell them often. You have no idea when they’ll need to hear it. These things won’t cure depression, but it’s easier to face hard times when you know that there are people out there that want you to be here.

Believe in others and tell them; show them. Let your actions and words speak volumes. That is how we beat suicide; how we can keep our friends alive. That is how people like me survive and recover and write the story five years later.

Chris Hixon (Iota Theta/Central Florida 2015)

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Click here for Risk Factors and Warning Signs

Click here to find Support for yourself or someone you know

Death is a harrowing ordeal. Death can bring friends and families closer together or drive them apart. Death can mobilize people into action or leave them in a perpetual haze; unable to act. I have witnessed the maelstrom of emotion evoked by the death of a loved one, but nothing has brought  more heartbreak to me than suicide.

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I once knew a man who had everything you could want; an elite education, a great family, an adoring niece and nephew, countless friends, enough money to live a comfortable life, and a thirst for adventure. He had been well spoken, but not verbose. Approachable, but reserved being more his style. He knew his way around a room and it had been clear when he spoke, his intellect shined through.

A year and a half ago this man took his own life. A year and a half ago a friend, a brother, an uncle, a son, a cousin, and so many other things to so many people decided enough was enough and ended his life.

Still today, I struggle with the idea of him being gone. He will never again light up someone’s face when he enters a room. This feeling still lingers in my brain. He never seemed unhappy to me. Constantly traveling. Constantly learning. A man of many talents with an abundance of wealth (and not just the monetary kind). He was one of the most educated people I had ever met and his laughter had been contagious. His thoughtfulness, patience, and compassion was ever-present but above all else, he seemed so together. Always in the moment when you were with him and you could see in his eyes he genuinely felt love for you as a person.

But underneath it all, deep down, hidden from everyone he knew, a dark and tormented mind became overwhelming. The constant pressure to do and be more was an unbearable burden he could not withstand. So, on a Wednesday evening, after an ordinary day in the life of my friend, he went to sleep with the intention of never waking up again.

You kick yourself around thinking, “what could I have done?” or “why didn’t he talk about it” but unfortunately for us, the ones who are left to pick up the pieces, we will never know. We will never   fully understand why.

I miss him often. We all do. It comes at some of the most random times. Passing a picture on my refrigerator with his face staring back at me, my mind suddenly becomes thrust into the moment I found out. Thankfully, over time, those thoughts quickly move to the times we shared together and not just the tragic end we all experienced. I see his features in pictures of his niece and nephew and think of what they will miss out on, not being able to fully comprehend at the time he wasn’t coming back. No more soccer matches, no more birthday parties, no more impromptu visits because he missed them. They will never really get it and maybe that’s a blessing. I don’t know enough about the cognitive development of children to accurately describe what death does to them emotionally or developmentally, but for me, it hurt. Still, today, it hurts.

Many of us compartmentalize our emotions. Truth be told, it’s a coping mechanism for myself, but for those who are suicidal, it may be how they get through the day. Pushing things down and off to the side sometimes becomes the way they seem so together and happy when they need to be. These struggles are internal and often they will never see the light of day because of how adept their owner has become and concealing them.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is one death by suicide every 12.3 minutes. Suicide among males is four times higher than females, and the prevalence of suicidal thoughts, planning and attempts is significantly higher among adults aged 18-29 than among adults 30+. This information is jarring. Even the act of looking up these statistics makes me fearful for the men in our organization who feel so trapped in their own mind that the only way out is to take their own life.

According to the Mayo Clinic, suicide warning signs or suicidal thoughts include:

  • Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
  • Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
  • Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there’s no other logical explanation for doing this
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above

But what do you do when you see someone you care for exhibiting these or others like it?

Your willingness to talk about mental or emotional issues and suicide with a friend, family member, or co-worker can be the first step in getting them help and preventing suicide. Something to keep in mind is to never minimize or shame a person into changing their mind. Trying to guilt them into not going forward with it will only deepen their guilt and hopelessness. When someone is suicidal, they are often not mentally able to make decisions and desperately need intervention by others. Reassuring them help is available and the feelings they are having are treatable is key.  If someone tells you they want to take their life,  offer help and compassion but know there are ways to ensure their safety too. You can report the threat to the police and in most situations, they can physically intervene and take them to a safe place.

Life can get better.

My take away from this experience is to not allow a moment to pass you by when you think, “I could have said something.” We can all say something and having an emotionally open dialogue with our brothers, friends and family about suicide is an important first step in prevention.

For more information about Suicide and Suicide Prevention follow the links below

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education

1 (800) 273-8255  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

 

 

For KMT.

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