TW: Suicide. Everyone warned me about depression setting in after I set out into van life. Being alone and being lonely. All that change has consequences. Humans are not built for complicated change. But I never expected this change.
A few weeks ago, just before Christmas, someone in my family committed suicide. I’m not ready to talk about it in depth, but it did make me think. Mourn. Add in a dozen hours of driving and unfortunately, neither was optional. There were no distractions. Just me, the road, and my thoughts.
After someone commits suicide, it’s natural for the people left behind to have a lot of questions. I think that’s what makes suicide so hard: the questions. When someone has cancer or a terminal illness, we know why. Maybe not why it’s happening to them, but we can imagine and “time” the end with their physical decline. We can plan. Ask questions that discuss timelines and what we’ll do once they’re gone. Ask the questions to ourselves about how we will heal and live on without them.
Not so much when you get a call from a police officer letting you know someone was already gone. The moment when you realize there’s no note. Often, and as is the case for us right now, there aren’t a lot of instructions at all – just more questions as we aimlessly wander towards a life that feels normal again.
As I drove, I kept finding myself wandering back to them and their mental state in that moment. If they felt like no one cared. If they just needed someone to call. Wondering if they felt alone.
Admittedly, this wondering took me to a scary place. It was the place where I realized how close I have come to this ending. How serious it was. How it felt.
It felt so scary to remember how low I have gone. Wondering if anyone would care. Wondering if it even mattered if I was here or not. My last depressive episode cumulated in me sitting in a closet sobbing. Threatening. I survived but I know I’m lucky to have had people available to me who cared deeply and helped me. I know how it could have ended.
As you should when you feel those deep dark emotions, I asked for help from my therapist and business coach. In both sessions, I found myself talking about this deep, dark fear of being alone and the difference between it and being lonely. As I have been living through the rest of the last 2 weeks after all this happened, people kept asking me out of the blue this same question in their own way. Questioning their own sanity, their mortality, and asking the universe by way of me if they are alone.
For me, the difference is that being alone means you literally don’t have a second set of hands. You need some hands to patch a van tire (true story), and there aren’t any. It’s literal. Being lonely, on the other hand, means a lack of connection. It means you don’t feel connected to the people in your life.
All my life, I thought I was scared of being lonely but the truth is, even if I am technically alone for this entire van life and I don’t have that second set of hands? I have a lot of connection in my life. More than I can begin to understand. Connections that are in every day – friends that literally check my location to make sure I’m ok and text to check on my mental health. People who show up after a year and check in to say they’re still thinking about our last conversation. An old coworker turned friend who sent special skincare for my testosterone acne outbreaks. Someone who I met in college who texts me everyday to say something nice about me since I started this van adventure, only asking in return that I pay that connection forward. The list goes on and on and on.
Your list does, too. If you exist, you are not without connection. Proof: you’re reading this letter. That means we are connected in some way, or you’re connected with the person who sent it to you. Either way, your destiny brought you here to read this story and remind you that you are not alone even if you look around and see no physical person. You are never without connection.
I don’t have some big punchline of advice but this: get help. When you feel the darkness, and you know what I mean, ask for help. If you feel alone, ask for help. If you feel anything that feels so big it makes you question your value in this world, get help.
Katrina Kibben is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Three Ears Media. For most of Katrina’s career, she has been a marketer living in a recruiter’s world – listening to both sides of the talent equation to understand the real issues and find solutions for engaging and hiring better people. Today, she uses her technical marketing know-how and way with words to help both established and emerging brands develop and deliver content that fuels smart recruitment marketing that makes the right people apply.
Katrina has written for Monster.com, HR.com, RecruitingDaily and many other digital publications. She is a recognized leader in recruiting and employer branding who speaks regularly at conferences around the world.