Guest opinion: You have to be brave, sometimes, to live
Nine years ago my friend J.T. Fielder changed my life. He climbed to the top of a 13,000-foot peak in the middle of a March blizzard, in the middle of the mountains, in the middle of his own personal crisis. At the top, instead of skiing his cherished powder back down, he took his life by slitting his wrists.
J.T.’s friends, including myself, were absolutely shocked. We formally vowed to each other that we would never commit suicide and that we would make a conscious effort to take action before anything in our lives led us to that place.
In the midst of this mourning for J.T., I realized I had problems of my own. I was 26 years old and my problems felt like little itches that I had been pushing down inside myself over the years. J.T., atop the mountain where he lay, was making them rise in me like rain steaming off the pavement. The journey that he ended was the beginning of my own journey toward my mental wellness.
My journey began with a decision to have someone come into my life. Days after my boyfriend Chris intuitively led search and rescue to J.T’s body — in the middle of the night, in the middle of that blizzard — he sat on my couch in his own fragile, grieving body. I looked at him and saw such strength — not because of any physical bravery — but I knew as we sat and talked that he was brave because of how he had always been as a communicator: He had an apt ability to articulate his feelings and open up others to their own.
In our early days of dating, eight years prior to J.T.’s death, he gave me a small statue of a girl hugging herself titled “Love Yourself.” Perhaps I would be brave enough, while journeying with Chris in marriage, to become the kind of communicator I wanted to be, to uncover the “itches” getting in the way of truly loving myself.
The next step in my journey required a phone call I figured would be easy to make to our insurance, a large nonprofit health plan. My voice cracked as I asked for an appointment with a mental health counselor.
The counselor seemed nice enough, and I began to tell him about my problems — my experiences, questions, trauma and so many words that had never been shared — discovering and unraveling my feelings throughout. We were still on the surface of these things when, at our third meeting, he turned on his tape recorder and proceeded to tell me what I was and what was wrong with me. My greatest fear was realized, it seemed something was very wrong with me, he said I was depressed.
The next session was short — it was as if he had done his duty for the insurers as he pulled me aside: “Look, this isn’t what you need here. You have the money and resources, right?” I nodded “yes” and he handed me a business card. “I’m about to be done with my schooling (he was a resident). This is one of my professors. Call him. You need to talk and that’s not what’s going to happen here.”
A bit confused, I made the second phone call, which was no easier, however it remains the single best phone call I have ever made in my life.
I began sessions with the new psychologist, and it so happened I was newly pregnant. And through the nine months that my baby girl grew, I got to know the body, the mind and the womb of the being that surrounded her. I opened passageways; I investigated hurt and anger; I practiced verbalizing my emotions and how to be the kind of communicator I so desired. I was digging around down behind my eyes and down my throat and into my stomach and back up into my heart — for tears. I discovered a new lens of ADD, a very helpful prism through which to better understand myself.
When my daughter Ella came into the world, I was primed for change. As we each moved forward through our own personal milestones, Ella was like a blank canvas, a mirror reflecting back onto myself.
Through baby cries, never-ending diapers and sleep deprivation, emotions inevitably swirled. For indeed, on any given day it seemed that the most important things were feelings and how we dealt with them. And, who was our North Star in this emotional ocean? Her father, and my husband, guiding us bravely, as we jumped in, held on, and row- row- rowed our boat.
Freedom is having the ability to change — the choice to change. Too often this freedom eludes us — because of money or time, we say — but these, in reality, are always our easiest scapegoats. Change is always around the corner if you just have the patience for it and are willing to do the work for it.
At the heart of freedom and change is family. And family’s No. 1 goal is to find the road to a place of endless, generational and unconditional love for one another — and moreover for ourselves — and changing any leftover patterns from past generations that may compromise that love.
That’s the journey I am on — that we are on. Will we get there? I have hope that I will, and that you will, too.
In the past year, as my parents in their 60s underwent hip replacements and back surgeries, I told them they were very brave. You have to be brave to grow old, to go through surgery, to face death more closely each year. But you also have to be brave, sometimes, to live — and to make the necessary changes to go about in that living.
This Sept. 26, I ring the bell on the bridge in gratitude for J.T. — for him, for me, for you — for us.
Sarah Klingelheber resides in Carbondale and is co-founder of the Front Range Powder Factory, a non-profit that produces and sells an annual backcountry ski calendar to raise money for Colorado mental health initiatives geared toward young adults. Help them raise $10,000 this year by ordering your calendar today: http://www.powderfactory.org. Every dollar raised in the Roaring Fork Valley will go directly to the Aspen Hope Center.
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