I have to admit it: the death of Kate Spade last week scared the bejeezus out of me. Why? I have always loved her designs, I admired her business, she was only a couple of years older than us, and she was an older mom. Yay. She seemed like a great role model and all of her designs were so happy! Last week, every time I turned on the TV or looked at news on the internet there was some helpful, new nugget of information that felt like it was aimed right at me. Not only is death by suicide on the rise, which is scary enough if you have The Crazy, but the fastest growing segment of those who die by suicide is women between 45-65. Yikes. And the season you are most likely to die by suicide (we no longer say “commit suicide”) is spring. Technically it’s still spring, right? While spring was sort of over by mid-March in Texas, the Summer Solstice isn’t for another week and a half. As a middle-aged woman on the tail end of spring, I feel like I have a cosmic target on my back. And yet, despite a few wobbles, I am feeling better than I have in a while.
It seems, inadvertently, I have stumbled onto what it takes to save your life. A great article from Aleteia on this topic laid out the “why” of survival that I have been learning:
These cries call out for our collective resources promoting physical, mental, and social health… Benedict XVI delivered [a response] beautifully in 2011: “It is good that you exist.” …Your life’s worth is not measured by your productivity, social status, career path, bank account, love life, friendships, health, beauty, happiness, wit, or talent… Your worth is measured by the sign of God’s infinite love for you: your being. God didn’t create you; God is creating you, because he desires you, accepts you, and loves you. And even if every last person in the whole crazy world tells you otherwise, your life remains incredibly precious and important, because God has a job for you that only you can do.
I like what the article said about promoting physical, mental, and social health. I think these all feed into one another. Two years ago, I worked on my mental health, last year I began a journey to restore physical health, and this year, I have begun to work on my social health. We have old friends all over the city but know relatively few people in our neighborhood. That had to change. I didn’t want to fall into the pit of isolation again. I was ready to connect closer to home. In addition, my daughter recently expressed her wish that I try to be one of the “cool moms” – ouch. I guess that doesn’t involve holing up in my room with a glass of wine, a crossword puzzle, and the new season of Younger. Following my daughter’s advice, I have been taking the last few months to try and really get to know the women in my neighborhood and have even started a book/wine – perhaps wine/book – club. People are hard for me, but I have finally learned I have to get out there if I want to be healthy, mentally, physical, and spiritually.
Funny that the Aleteia article didn’t mention spiritual health. It could be that spiritual health is meant to be implied but I think it ties into the other three as well. Many people do not feel a connection to anyone or anything, especially not God. How do we resolve the very real experience of pain and isolation so great that it can cause death? We need to truly see God in others. We need to make connections with people to connect with God. Enter: The Friendship Project.
This year, I have been lucky enough to be part of a small group of Catholic women. It violated my new “stay in the neighborhood” rule but it has been a true blessing to me, giving me the connection with other Catholic women that I have never been able to get in a parish. I feel like our small group is a parish without borders. Our small group, led by the charming Ally Martin, has done several studies but the current one is something especially needed in our world today: The Friendship Project by Michele Faehnle & Emily Jaminet. It has been eye-opening. In the introduction alone, we learned that God created us to be with others and that deep friendship should be a priority. While we can’t choose everyone we interact with, I agree that we really need to discern our friendships with care. Look at who you seek out and why.
We were encouraged to make a list of our friends and put them into the categories of utility, pleasure, virtuous, and spiritual friendships. I’ll let you guess where you fit in. We even came up with the idea of the Friendship Tool Box: you need a variety of types of people in your life that you can reach out to, enjoy things with, and, in turn, support in different ways. One person alone is not going to be able to help you with every problem or enjoy everything you do. You should not expect people to give you what they don’t possess. The book contains a number of intriguing exercises that should lead to a deepening of friendships. Somewhat ironically, I don’t think you even need to do it in a group to get the benefits. I am excited – I may even make it through June.
I have learned that if you aren’t feeling connected to people, then you aren’t feeling connected to God. Without connection it is hard to feel that our lives have meaning or worth. I am glad that I can finally step up to this last challenge of spiritual friendship and social connection. Also, there is safety in numbers. It is harder to be a target when you are wrapped in Friendship Camouflage.