I just watched the movie A Man Called Otto. Tom Hanks is the lead character, and, as always, he was spectacular. Suicide is a theme that comes up several times in the movie, so I want to issue a content warning for anyone this may be too hard to watch. Take care of you. There are other movies that can deliver this message in a way that is healing for you. But this movie gave me a message I needed and opened something up inside me I did not have the words for until I watched it. This is why we need art in all the beautiful, brutal and raw forms it comes in. Art speaks to our human experience and lets us know we are not alone.
I need to say this: I have never thought about harming myself or taking my own life. The reason I am writing this is because I think we should normalize having this kind of conversation. Destigmatize this mental health crisis that needs friendship, not abandonment. I just lost a friend to suicide recently and I wish we had talked about it. She is one of several friends and family members we have lost to suicide. It is a growing pandemic in kids too. But, not everyone who goes through a hard time and expresses pain will feel this. I like how Pantsuit Politics addressed it recently in one of their podcasts. Normalizing this conversation should also include not expecting these feelings too. By including this in the dialogue, it takes it more seriously that this is not something that is a choice or anyone and everyone experiences. Because that is not true either.
With that said, my family just recently experienced a massive trauma— which I am not going to talk about. I have said enough in other avenues about it, and it is time to heal. It is background information for what I am going to write about, though. This experience is just the latest in a serious of systems that have proven itself heartless and not interested in the people who serve it well. Harming the ones who give too much themselves away to a system that does not have the capacity to love them back. Our systems are designed to thrive off of our self-hate. Did you know that? I have been studying systemic abuse during this time of rest, and I see the pattern of this truth now.
I have been living life in a traumatized state for the umpteenth time because of systemic abuse. Once again, it has been hard for me to reorient to life as it is and to live it fully again. Living the painful experience once again on a loop in my brain keeping me traumatized because I keep reliving what happened over and over. It is hard to recover when you keep reliving it. It is also not my fault. This is what trauma does and I cannot control that anymore than people who experience suicide ideation can control their thoughts. But thing is, I always DO want to recover and live fully again, and that is why I talk about my traumas. I want to live, and I want to live with the acknowledgment these horrible things hve happened and have shaped me into who I am, for better and for worse. I need for people around me to acknowledge this part of my life too. When we cannot talk about it, that allows shame to thrive. But also, only within reason. It takes wisdom and care to balance how much to talk and not talk about it for my own well-being, and others. But, I want these abuses to end. At this time, we are not a path to change anything because we are too silent. The system wants the shame that is not even yours to keep you quiet so it does not have to self-reflect on itself and admit its own errors.
This is my year of Lent that is talking about LIFE—not DEATH. I have had enough of death. I am well-acquainted, and I know more death is coming, including my own at some point in time. I want to know more about how to live this resurrection life right now more often. What has been in me all this time choosing life anyway. I think I have an experience that is important to the larger dialogue, because choosing life when systems want you to go away is hard! And you CANNOT do it alone. This I know.
This past week, I somehow just discovered I live close enough to walk to the gymnastics studio I grew up attending. It is Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy. It was Gymnastics Chalet when I was a gymnast on the team. By the time the new studio opened up, I went there to tumble only—my favorite part of gymnastics anyway. When I graduated high school and went to Oklahoma State, I finally left that world behind “for good” and started living a new life that was new and fun. Back then, few knew, and it certainly was not public knowledge, you had to process pain to truly move forward. I did this in survival mode, I know now.
When the documentary Athlete A was released in 2020, a world I thought I had left behind “for good” came roaring back to life and sent me right back to a place and time I never wanted to think about again. And I was in seminary and in a time of Covid at this point too. This was a lot of shit I had to process all at once! I am resilient. I should not have to be, but praise God I am because I have needed to be. Life will send us back to times that need to be healed, I have learned these past few years. Here is what I wrote about my gymnastics story after watching Athlete A and realizing I was a wiser kid than I ever gave myself credit for. It made me realize I became invisible because of the shame gymnastics put me through. I started erasing myself from the story of life because of the trauma of gymnastics. Here is what I wrote then: Lindsay’s Story
So why am I sent back to this studio again in the midst of another trauma? Last one I had to revisit during Covid. Watching A Man Called Otto an answer came to me.
I think the universe keeps wanting me to remember who Lindsay was as a kid when I feel overwhelmed with how hard life has been for me to just get through and feel like I belong without a crushing blow coming around the corner. I was hard on younger Lindsay. I treated her so poorly for quitting at 7, and then again later when I really wanted to do gymnastics but the environment was so toxic I could not thrive anymore. I thought I was weak, untalented, and not cutout for the big leagues. Well, part of that is right: I am not cut out for the big leagues; few are—even the ones in the big leagues. Look what happened to so many gymnasts who made it in the period of time I was training up until now. Currently, Simone Biles had to sit out part of her Olympic experience because of her mental health. A mental health crisis USA Gymnastics caused. Several other gymnasts are speaking up as well and demanding change. Actually, a gymnast at OU, or was at Oklahoma University, is a huge reason this story busted wide open. I was also hard on my mom. A mom who actually listened to her seven-year-old crying every day that she did not want to go to gymnastics because I wanted to be a kid and play outside with my friends. I went from being pushed too hard so I quit, to I was pushing myself so hard and it did not matter because the system wanted me out. There was not a moment in this timeframe I could have won with the system.
Here is my healing Lindsay takeaway: At seven-years-old, I understood balance instinctively. Too much work burned me out and I did not think twice about what I was losing by quitting, only what I was gaining by being free to play. As a kid should! That is healthy. And my mom listened. That is a huge piece in this whole fiasco that probably has made all the difference in my life. In cases where child abuse is REAL, it usually is a parent that makes the difference for their kid who needs liberation. When I was working too hard to prove myself and the system had become too toxic. I knew to cry and quit. The gym had brought in Romanian coaches who were both in the 1984 Olympics with Bart Conner and Mary Lou Retton, and it was a miserable experience. My friends at the gym turned into competitors instead of friends at this point and I hated every second in the gym when it once gave me meaning and life. I knew to walk away before the system forced me to. I did not skip the tears either.
I remember saying this: Why can’t gymnastics just be fun? I was learning and growing, but it was never enough.
I keep asking this same question after every major heartbreak: church, public schools, politics, soccer.
Why is joy being eliminated? Why are we so damn afraid of living? Winning is great, but it is mostly toxic when it replaces the joy of just doing the thing that gives you life.
My purpose is to help people live with sustainable joy.
Which Lindsay looks happier? The one working too hard, or the one who has found deeper meaning in her work and life through play and rest?