Sometime Around 2 A.M.

By Mark E. Smith

I don’t know what time it is? I guess it’s sometime around 2 a.m. It was mere weeks ago that I could simply roll over or sit up and look at the clock. Not anymore.

I awake several times per night like this now, in pain from not being able to roll or shift positions myself. I lay awake until the pain is unbearable, then I wake my wife. Sweetie, can you please roll me over?

Age, disability, illness and surgery has all taken its toll – and much of my physical abilities and health with it.
I suppose I should be devastated, even bitter toward it all. I’ve had to live with cerebral palsy my whole life, now this – how can life be so cruel?

Yet, I don’t feel that way at all. In fact, I feel the opposite – blessed. No, I don’t want any of this, not the debilitating illness or chronic pain or loss of abilities. But, it’s not my call. It’s aging and illness and life at play. Resenting it all wouldn’t change anything other than adding a self-defeating tail spin to my life. Acceptance is liberating.

My wife is right next to me, touching me, side-by-side. We have a king-size bed, and she insists that I somehow end up on her side no matter what. Yet, in reality, I don’t think she’d want it any other way – close, touching, reassuring, especially now, for the both of us.

Life is about change, and questioning it or resenting it over the long run only defeats us. I’m not saying taking time to acknowledge loss or express our feelings toward adverse changes isn’t normal or healthy – absolutely it is. However, there has to be an expiration date for it, or it will consume our lives more adversely than the actual changes.

I’m to the point where my pain is unbearable and I need my wife’s help rolling over. I gently awaken her, and she softly rolls me over, asking in the darkness if I need anything else?

I answer, no. My answer applies to both the immediate and my life in whole. In the silence of the night, I think about my wife and our daughters and the blessed life I have – and I recognize that I’ve never had more.


Don’t be Fooled by a Cereal Box

By Mark E. Smith

Cereal sales have been on the decline. I’m okay with that – especially, Wheaties. I should clarify, I have nothing against the cereal, itself. In fact, I rather like it. However, the Wheaties box has been synonymous with having the spirit of a champion, regardless of the adversity one faces, and it propagates a flawed mindset.

More and more, we seem a just-get-over-it culture. No matter how extreme an adversity we face, many feel that we should just get over it. And, if we can, we’re celebrated for it, our picture on a metaphorical Wheaties box.

Yet, it completely contradicts how most of us move through adversity in healthy ways. Addressing adversity is progressive movement, but it’s not without personal peril. Ideally, we do make progress every day. But, it’s unrealistic to expect us not to have bad days and experience real emotions – negative and painful – in the process. Life can get brutal, and in those moments, it’s natural to feel beat up and defeated. In fact, it’s vital. We can’t begin getting up unless we’re willing to admit that we’ve been knocked down.

During these times, we need a specific type of person with us. It’s neither someone who lays beside us in defeat, nor someone who tells us to just get over it. Rather, we need someone who understands that the path through adversity is progressive, but not linear. We need someone who knows how brutal life can feel, that it should in those moments, but also knows the importance of moving through them.

Put simply, during the toughest times in our lives, we need those around us who understand that facing adversity isn’t summarized on a Wheaties box.

How Talking About Suicide Works

By Mark E. Smith

In some of our lives, it just follows us. Even if we’re not personally struggling with such a harrowing path, some around us are. And, the challenge that has haunted many of us is in figuring who might be and how to address it?

A common myth is that those who speak of committing suicide never follow through with it. However, this isn’t true. Eight out of 10 people who commit suicide talked about it or gave clues. Anyone with the thought in his or her mind is at risk and such communication must be taken seriously. As one with a family history of suicide, as well as having lost others around me to suicide, I’ve experienced and witnessed its impact since the age of four. Every time it’s re-entered my life, including in the days leading to this writing, I’ve learned a bit more about the causes and possible solutions – as well as the heartbreak when nothing can prevent it.

Many don’t understand why anyone would commit suicide? After all, we all have problems or get down, but the thought of killing ourselves never enters our minds. We intrinsically know that tough times pass, and move forward. Why, then, can’t some people move forward, why is suicide an option at best, or the ultimate solution at worst?

It’s really easy – and too often wrongly done in our culture – to label those who commit suicide as depressed, psychotic, or even manipulative. However, suicide is nowhere near that simple. We know that medical issues like organic brain disease, thyroid issues, and reactions to medication can cause suicidal thoughts. To the positive, when these are properly diagnosed, treatments exist, saving lives.

Yet, what about those who don’t have diagnosable medical conditions? What drives them to suicide? Researchers have found that there’s a certain inexplicable mindset where some simply see “suicide as a problem-solver.”

As troubling as that mindset is, it’s fairly easy to understand. When most of us encounter a problem, we instinctively know it as temporary. It’s actually one of our innate survival skills as humans. For some, though, they have a sort of tunnel vision, where problems aren’t viewed as temporary, but as forever torturous, with no end. And, in that mindset, suicide seems the only effective way to stop the pain because they see no other solution.

So, how can we address those who might be at risk of suicide around us? Firstly, we have to be honest enough to know that we can’t always prevent a suicide. If someone is going to kill themselves, it can be inevitable. But, this doesn’t mean most situations are – and awareness is key. Most who are suicidal don’t truly want their lives to end – they just want the pain to end. The understanding, support, and hope that we offer can be their most important lifeline.

If we know someone who’s struggling, possibly having tunnel vision toward suicide as the only solution – and, again, it’s often hard to define – speaking of other solutions can sometimes help break a mindset of suicide as the only option. It’s not about telling someone to simply move on; rather, it’s about being empathetic and, through communication, hopefully helping one break a tunnel vision mindset of suicide as the only solution. And, being observant to changes in mood and behavior are often emblematic of a medical condition, and guiding individuals toward proper medical care saves thousands of lives each year.

In the end, each person’s path toward suicide is a harrowing one. When we’re fortunate, that path can be changed, an invaluable life saved. For others, suicide is their final act – and the rest of us are left with the heartbreak. Forever.

Author’s Note

Dedicated to Maddie and her parents’ courage to speak about Maddie’s life, love, and suicide. May her struggles save others. Maddie’s obituary 

Times of Need


By Mark E. Smith

For most of us, we’re far more comfortable giving than receiving. Yet, giving and receiving must be equally embraced if we are to truly have healthy, reciprocating relationships. Just as we strive to love and support others in their times of need, we must welcome their love and support in our times of need.

Now, I know it can be hard, where pride and ego can make it very emotionally difficult to receive in times of need. If you’ve been the bread-winner in your family, and your in-laws want to pay your mortgage because you’ve been out of work, that may be a difficult gift to receive. If you have a disability and your spouse wants to help with your daily care, that can be a difficult gift to receive. Or, if you’re a single parent and friends wish to watch your children to give you a break, that can be a difficult gift to receive. The examples go on and on, and I’m sure that you can think of examples from your own life where you’ve emotionally struggled with receiving from others on some level. However, here’s the heartfelt truth: when others offer to support us in our times of need, they do so out of love, and if we – again, out of falsities of pride, ego or embarrassment – reject their support, it will almost always be interpreted as some sort of rejection of their love. What’s more, in an intimate relationship, if we are always striving to be there for our partners, but won’t allow them to be there for us, it can be like slamming an emotional door in their face – and the inequity created will destroy the relationship. The fact is, love isn’t just about giving, but receiving.

One aspect of my life is that I can aspirate in my sleep, a very dangerous condition. Fortunately, due to preventative measures, I keep it under control, and when I do awake aspirating, I’m able to roll over and sit up, literally saving my life at times. Unfortunately, because my lungs fill with fluid, I become extraordinarily ill for 10 to 12 hours, with a 102-degree fever, till my lungs clear. As you might imagine, this can be really scary for my partner. Therefore, in wanting to protect her, I wouldn’t wake her up when it happened. In the morning, however, she’d become upset with me, knowing that I aspirated but didn’t wake her up. However, she wasn’t upset out of anger but love. When our partner is sick, we want to be there for him or her, and through my stubbornness, I wasn’t allowing her to be there for me. Not only was I wrong by robbing her of peace of mind – as she wanted to be immediately aware of the situation so she could help – but I also wasn’t fostering a reciprocating relationship. I wanted to give, give, give to her, but indirectly, I wasn’t fully allowing her to give back in among my times of need. That was painful for her to experience, and lousy on my part by thwarting reciprocation in our relationship. As a result, I became much more respectful of her concern for me, letting her know when I aspirated, allowing her to care for me. If we are to truly love someone, we must let him or her truly love us in our times of need, as well.

See, in loving, the one aspect we wish most is peace of mind. We want to know that those we love are healthy, safe and secure. The same goes for those who love us – that is, they want to know we’re healthy, safe and secure. And when we don’t allow others in, it causes them stress, anxiety and heartache. Letting others be there for us, as we wish to be there for them, offers peace of mind to those we love – and that’s one of the most humble yet powerful gifts we can give.

I discussed this overall subject with my sister, and she replied that it takes tremendous humility to allow others to be there for us in our most vulnerable times of need. And, she was right. We must let down our guard and inherently trust that those wishing to be there for us do so out of unconditional love and respect, and we should never interject insecurities into the dynamic. If someone wishes to assist you out of love and respect, allow him or her, as it’s a testament to your character, too.

Ultimately, no one gets through life alone. When we’re fortunate, we have the opportunity to love and support others in their times of need. However, let us not forget that love is reciprocation, and we must allow others to likewise love and support us if we are to have truly healthy relationships. Therefore, sometimes the greatest gift that we can give someone we love is the sincere opportunity for him or her to love and support us in return – especially in our times of need.