One of my favorite parts about speaking at schools around the country is talking with students afterwards. I get lots of hugs, inspiration and encouragement from them, and it gives them an opportunity to share their stories with me after I’ve shared mine.
A few weeks ago, a girl approached me after a presentation and asked a question that took my breath away. She said “How do you stay so positive when such tragedy hits you?” Then she added, “I just don’t want to be here anymore.”
Unfortunately, I get asked that question more frequently than I should from students. As many as 20 percent of teens will experience depression before they become adults, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24 (car crashes are first).
“Things Are Gonna Get Better”
When my twin sister, Marin, was killed in a car crash the day after our 18th birthday, so many things in my world came to an end. In one moment, my identity went from being a “we” to just being Me. Marin and I did everything together – we laughed together, we cried together, we were applying for our first jobs together the day she was killed. On that day, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t a “we” anymore. It was just me. And Me didn’t feel like enough.
I knew that getting through the pain of losing my other half was going to take a lot of courage, focus and belief, and it still does, nearly twenty years later. I needed courage to be an “I” instead of a “we,” I needed to focus on the positive in life, and I needed to firmly believe that things were going to get better.
Every day, I found something to be grateful for. It didn’t have to be big or world changing. Some days it was the laughter I shared again with friends or an obstacle I’d overcome, but on other days it was something as simple as Pop Tarts. Even if a toaster pastry was the only thing in a whole day to make me smile, at least something did. I hung on to those reminders, even the small ones, and was grateful for them.
I also focused on reminding myself that things were going to get better – and they did. You never really get over the pain of losing someone you love, but with time and hard work, you do learn to accept it and you do find a way to live with it.
They say laughter is the best medicine, and it certainly was – and is – for me. There’s not a single downside to it, and there’s many benefits to a good belly laugh. Each day, I find something to laugh at, and I make it my goal to make someone else laugh too. It increases your bloodflow, reduces stress, relaxes your muscles, releases good chemicals into your brain and makes everything in the world better, even if just for a second.
So my advice to the girl who asked me how to stay positive when tragedy knocks at the door is this:
Every day, find something to be grateful for, and every day, find something to make you laugh.
Some days it will be harder to find these things than others, but I promise they are there – even if it’s just Pop Tarts.