We all have a breaking point. I certainly do. For years I have been fascinated by what makes one give up. Surely it is not the specific straw, but rather what we amassed on our lives’ shelf, years prior, which brings about the breakdown. Yet, I feel that most of us pay way too much attention to that final moment, just before it all comes crashing down, rather than to the accumulating weight; the root cause. Before articulating some more, here are a couple of examples from favorite films, that captured that moment. I have added a brief explanation to each, in case of unfamiliarity.
In Battlestar Galactica, the character of Anastasia Dualla (Dee,) looks at some old photos in front of her personal locker, and then, out of the blue, pulls out a handgun and shoots a bullet to her head. Without seeing all the prior episodes, the scene would look awkward, as it seems as if she should be happy; with her husband trying to rekindle their failed marriage. But the truth of the matter is that she had lost all hope; their space quest for planet Earth, had led them to a radioactive wasteland. Her anticipation for long-lasting happiness is gone. She recognizes in that particular instant, that this is as good as it would ever get. Looking at the old photos, she revives moments of joy before choosing to exit her life.
The Father of My Children is a little-known French movie that gripped me unexpectedly on emotional levels hard to describe. At some point in the story, the protagonist, an independent film producer who has a lovely wife and great kids, yet a business on crutches, walks down a quiet street, pauses, pulls out a revolver and kills himself. What made him pull the trigger is not easy to understand. In fact, some people in the audience, at the theater where I watched the movie, didn’t seem to get it. I did. It is a very fragile moment, one where the main character realizes that his life’s dream –his small independent film production company, is doomed. At that point in time, he feels like he cannot take it anymore; not one additional month, hoping against hope for some miracle to occur; not one more week, a day or even an hour. In his mind he reached the end of the line, and not even his perfect family is a good enough reason for him to hang on. It is a moment of blinding darkness; of total despair.
Muhammad Ali is quoted as saying, “There’s nothing wrong with getting knocked down, as long as you get right back up.” It is a fine perspective, and one we are taught to believe. Yet in both incidents described above, the act of suicide can also be perceived as the protagonists trying to gain control over the derailing tracks of their lives. By pulling the trigger, they decide their moment of exit, no one else. At least the last decision they will ever make is theirs and theirs alone. Thus, while we tend to look at suicide as an act of cowardice, this would be a different viewpoint. To clarify: I am not a proponent of suicide as the right solution for life’s greater challenges. I am just investigating, through various angles, what are break points; cause and effect.
Not all “straw moments” are that dramatic; ending up with a bullet to the head or jumping off a bridge. For some it may be going back to a bottle or a needle after swearing it off. For others it may be straying off their marriage or lifting a hand on their child; resigning from their workplace or joining the military. Any way we look at it, these are moments that forever may alter the course of our lives. That is why it is so important to understand how we come to such a juncture. And while we may not be able to do much to divert our path, at least, “know where you came from,” may help identify where we are heading, reducing future recurrence.
Thus this brings me back to the straw. Just imagine a shelf loaded with bricks. Each life event we experience, one that leaves an emotional mark, is another block on that shelf. Over the years the ledge bends a little more, curving down with a large belly. And then, one day, it snaps under what seems to be the slightest of pressures. What I realize is that this process, once set in motion, is not one we may be able to halt. In other words, we, humans, succumb to a modus operandi; a peculiar emotional wiring, that requires us to collect emotional baggage. We carefully gather these traumas and store them for a rainy day; when we feel like crap and reflecting upon our dark past will make us feel even more miserable, thus justifying our foul mood. Sounds even slightly familiar?
If we cannot stop this damaging habit of collecting negative events onto our shelf, what can we do? We can, regularly, clean up storage space so while bricks continue to pile, the ledge is never overloaded. Think Tetris! The more blocks fall, the faster we need to clear rows…
To do this, some of us may use a therapist, while others may play golf or practice Yoga. Some may go on an extended vacation, while others believe that drinking can solve the problem. But none of these is helpful all by itself; even not meditation, if it is done without connecting the practice with the mind’s warehouse. When I feel stressed out, anxious, it may be already too late. It is like taking a pill after the migraine already kicked into high-gear, or trying to apply the brakes when the car is already spinning out of control. My approach, which is still work in progress, is therefore composed of two separate elements: regular maintenance via a host of practices, and better identification of early signs.
For regular maintenance, I have identified ways that work for me to relief stress. Beyond practicing yoga and meditation with awareness, I have started to address anything that affects me negatively, particularly items I have control over. I no longer watch TV; too much bad news and violent drama. I also reduced my time on social networking sites; more obnoxious reports, badmouthing, and status reports I can do without. On the physiological level, I decided to go dairy-free and gluten-free, and exercise daily. I also write more; when I do not write I get frustrated as writing is a passion for me. Some things I have added to my lifestyle, other items I have subtracted. As mentioned, all this is an ongoing effort, a work in progress. We change all the time, and thus my plan needs frequent adjustments.
For identifying early signs, I realized I need to be more in my mind. It seems that over the years, the inner-self is a place that had become foreign to us. But what is the inner-self? It starts with listening to the body: my heartbeat, noting tension as it shows itself in tightening along my face muscles and crunched shoulders. The more I observe, the deeper I can go, the earlier I become aware. It is like seeing a road-sign, warning me of a slippery road ahead; rather than pressing the gas pedal, I may, just may, slow down…
Learned from: an edgy start to my morning