heartIF in fact one could actually die of a broken heart (figuratively speaking), I don’t think I would have made it past the Summer of 1990 — teenage sweetheart problems at the end of my Junior and beginning of my Senior years in high school. Of course, my heart was much stronger then, younger and without the brittle scars from decades hence. I imagine the survival rate for wounded hearts north of 50 years old are exponentially less when in the throes of a cardiac event, a fancy way of saying, “matters of a broken heart.” I have heard it said that a heart attack feels like an elephant sitting on your chest so heavy such that all you want to do is die. I wouldn’t know what an elephant on your chest feels like. I haven’t had a heart attack… yet…but I do know what it feels like to want to die sometimes. Sadly, my heart has been under attack more often than I’d like to admit — the price some of us pay for giving it away too easily. I’d say that feels more like a bottomless vortex in the pit of your stomach sucking the air and everything about you inward like you might implode into yourself. In a downward spiral, it’s all you can do to keep your head up enough to catch air (thinner with every new labored breath).

And no! This is not a cry for help — just an observation and a precautionary tale from an old man with his share of downs picking up pieces of what once was a vibrant heart runneth over with childlike innocence and love. Neither goodness nor mercy followed in all the days of my life. Perhaps karma plays a role or maybe some of us are just unlucky with whom we choose to have hold our hearts. Sometimes even the gentlest-looking hands turn out to be cold, hard stone cloaked in a thin layer of silk.

For many of us who spent any of our formative years living in Chuuk (at least in the 70’s and 80’s), the idea of going all in for love was instilled early with a draconian sense of all or nothing. That coupled with a skewed sense of what it means to be a man and the importance of respect proved to be a dangerous combination. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone, at least among my peers from Chuuk, who weren’t directly affected by someone killing themselves “for love” (or rather for no love I suppose). At a relatively young age, I saw my share of guys having the noose cut from their throats as final proof of “how much they loved her.” I was nearby also when they found the unrecognizable remains of a young lady who didn’t want to leave any doubt about her love for a boy who didn’t reciprocate her feelings.

Saying we glorified suicide for love could be an understatement; in fact, we sing about it. The lyrics of a favorite song among us reads as follows:

“Neneto nemin kopwe kuna ukukun me aparen tongom ei iei epwene solani manawei on efoch senin Okinawa… kone ameiseikok ne un coffee o pwan emeninmen ne fetan lukun peiasei.” 

[Translation: “Look over here girl, so you can see the level and measure of my love for you which is about to steal my life with a rope from Okinawa…enjoy yourself drinking your coffee, smiling and walking around my grave.”]

We have other songs with similar messages — no doubt grim and misguided, but it is in fact the reality of how many of us were influenced and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice as proof of so-called love. One so-called “love expert” from the internet points out, “Love may be the first thing that a person considers when entering a relationship, but it is also the number one reason why one commits suicide.” She goes on to say, "The number one reason for suicide is love. The number two reason for suicide is no love." (M. Dionisio). I call bologna, but will leave this here as food for thought.

I don’t know what, if any, empirical studies exist about the correlation between suicide and mental illness, but it may be fair to say that at any time a person considers ending her life (for anything), that in and of itself is a form of mental illness, at least a mental breakdown of some sort. For many, the struggle with mental illness — sometimes manifesting as anxiety, depressive or other psychotic disorders often accompanied by suicidal ideation — is and always will be internal. External triggers and such only exasperate symptoms which if dealt with appropriately can be laid to rest (no pun intended).

From a work standpoint, mental health issues can be extremely challenging and some of the most difficult to accommodate both for yourself and for others who may be decompensating. It becomes increasingly difficult when in a position authority you have to balance personal struggles with the needs of others around you or with legal mandates defining your responsibilities to the people you serve and your community at large. 

Presently, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation under the Office of the Governor offers eligible people with disabilities services to assist with their employment goals and with independent living. Of this year’s 181 clients for OVR, 21% are eligible due to a primary disability of, “Other Mental Impairments” and “Psychosocial Impairments” — disability causes include anxiety disorders, depressive and other mood disorders, mental illness (not listed elsewhere) and schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

We are often asked to offer trainings on so-called “disability etiquette” and other “best practices” for working with people who have disabilities and there certainly is a plethora of formalized trainings to that end; however, every person is unique and subsequently the needs are very individualized. Beyond that each person is entitled to their own choices and we, subsequently, are required to support consumer choice — we don’t get to dictate what a person may or may not do.

Of course, personal choice comes with either reward or consequence. Each of us can reap in the rewards of good choices or suffer the consequences of bad ones and, if there is any justice in this world, you and you alone would suffer any consequences of your own choices. Unfortunately, many of us know all too well the lingering consequences for those of us who remain after a person we know takes his own life.

That’s a long, heavy way to arrive at this single point: “Even the strongest hands can lose their grip, the greatest of minds can become cloudy, and the biggest hearts can break. So, be kind, just always be kind” (Unknown). Most of all, please be extra gentle when handling fragile and tattered hearts north of fifty.

For more on vocational rehabilitation services, please contact us at (670) 322-6537/8 or via the internet at www.ovrgov.net/.