Tag Archives: Suicide

The Death of Manhood

The Suicide by Edouard Manet

“The Suicide” by Edouard Manet (Image/Public domain)

I made fun of my gay friend in high school for the same reason I was afraid to tell my father about this blog.

It’s also the same reason I was a shitty husband, and the same reason millions of men—even ones who are pretty good guys—are shitty husbands.

Somewhere down deep, in places we don’t like to talk about, most men are afraid of losing their identity as men. They’re afraid of being rejected by their male peers. They’re afraid of not being respected or sexually desired by women. They’re afraid of disappointing their fathers, their coaches, their male mentors.

Men are so afraid of these things that we don’t seek help when we need it in matters big and small, for fear of projecting a lack of “manliness.” We sometimes won’t even admit there’s a problem.

I can handle it. I’m a man.

Men won’t admit that they are bad husbands and fathers, even with all the evidence in the world staring them in the face. Sad, angry, emotionally bent or broken wives. Jacked-up kids with daddy issues. Feelings of shame, dealt with in silence and pretend-stoicism. We grow our shame piles but hide them behind masks. Behind alcohol, and behind sex, and behind work, and behind escapist video games, and behind a whole bunch of pretending to be happy while feeling something else.

Our behavior drives our wives and girlfriends away. The ones we secretly want to rescue us. All we need them to do is tell us how great we are and want to enthusiastically take our pants off all the time. But they won’t. Because they don’t feel that way and because they’re twisted-up too. They’re just more honest about it.

So we feel even more shame.

You did this to me, bitch, thinks the broken, damaged man who feels like he gave up his old life for her.

I was happy. I felt good. People liked me. I had friends. My life was amazing.

And I gave up virtually all of it and promised you forever, and all you do is treat me like a failure every day. As if I’m a constant disappointment to you. As if you’re so perfect and amazing, and I’m the loser piece-of-shit. And now you want to pin our shitty marriage on ME?! Go to hell.

But he knows she’s a little bit right. The proof is in the shame. There’s no shame when we gave all we could.

The shame is proof we’re a little bit guilty.

I went to a small high school in a small Ohio town. We played football and called things “gay” when we meant “stupid,” and called each other “fags” as a slang bro-out locker room putdown.

So when one of the kids in our small class exhibited occasional voice-inflections and hand movements most of us guys made fun of him behind his back, because he was obviously gay, which is obviously the worst-possible thing to be because it meant you weren’t a real man like us!

By the time senior year rolled around, he had suffered silently and mostly alone for the lack of acceptance he felt from many of us. He was one of the student leaders on a retreat half of my class attended that year, and admitted during a prepared talk in front of everyone that he’d considered killing himself several times.

This guy who had NEVER—near as I could tell—mistreated me or anyone else, was so uncomfortable at school, that he thought being dead might be better than being around for what are often referred to as the best years of our lives.

You might say I almost killed a kid in my class. An awesome and kind one.

And it wasn’t because I disliked him. I was never mean to him in any obvious or direct way. It was because I wanted to be acknowledged by my friends as a “man” while we cracked private jokes more than I wanted to treat a good person with respect and dignity.

But at least I had my Man Card.

The potency of this male-identity thing is the primary reason wives can’t get their husbands to read relationship books, or my blog posts, or visit a therapist. This male-identity thing from which I also suffer. It makes me part of the problem.

In that vein, your broken marriage or divorce is kind of my fault, too.

Men Won’t Seek Help to Avoid the Appearance of Weakness

I imagine I love my country as much as any generally satisfied citizen living in a developed nation. I think the United States is an excellent place to live, and the day I believe there to be an obviously better choice is the day I’ll want to move elsewhere.

But many Americans suffer from something I’ll call America Is #1 You Foreign Losers!!! Syndrome. While I’m a proud American and will gladly defend my homeland verbally and otherwise when called for, I don’t think you can look around with intellectual honesty and say that all things American are somehow demonstrably better than things we observe elsewhere.

In fact, it’s nonsense. In 2016, we have data available to anyone with internet access which proves that other countries are better at [insert public policy of choice here]. Some places have more successful schools. More effective transportation. More thriving economies. And, it pains me to say, but maybe even people who, as a whole, are infinitely more pleasant to be around than, as a whole, a random same-sized sampling of people in the U.S.

My favorite recent example of America Is #1 You Foreign Losers!!! Syndrome is learning that U.S. students are just whatever at math performance, but lead the world in being confident about their math skills. In other words, American students think they’re awesome at math, but they’re actually a little bit shitty.

Sound familiar?

Men are confident in their abilities as husbands and fathers, or at the very least, demonstrate confidence by actually getting married, and actually fathering children. And it’s because they’re a lot like American math students. They’re not actually good, but they think they are, or at least are damn sure going to tell you they are. Like a man.

It starts to get ugly when wives who have detected the danger, try to get their husbands to give more to her and their marriage or family.

Oh, so now I’m not good enough for you, Miss Perfect? I gave up my fun life for this?

Men Are 300% More Likely Than Women to Kill Themselves

I kept this blog a secret from my parents and most people I know until about a month ago.

I kept it a secret from my mom because I didn’t want her to read my profanity or read her son write about sex, pornography and masturbation.

I kept it a secret from my dad because I didn’t want him to read about me crying about my divorce, or my newly discovered convictions about empathy, or the fact that I spend so much of my time writing about relationships. You know, “girl stuff.” You know, so he didn’t think his son was a candy-ass pussy.

For the record, both of my parents (they don’t live together) have been amazingly supportive and I’m a little bit embarrassed how afraid of telling them I was. Since I’m thirty-freaking-seven and stuff. But I still haven’t told anyone else. Maybe I’m afraid.

The fear is real. And it’s the same fear many men you know carry around behind their veils of stoic machismo.

Even though women are more likely than men to report suicidal thoughts and tendencies, men are statistically THREE TIMES MORE LIKELY TO KILL THEMSELVES.

This phenomenon, the Gender Paradox, is observed in every race, culture, religious affiliation and country in the world.

Why?

Because men don’t want to lose their Man Card. It’s something we joke about with friends, but when we REALLY feel like we lose it because our wives leave us, or hair loss, or erectile dysfunction, or a job loss, or we just slowly lose that Successful Man feeling we remember from our youth?

We’re afraid to seek help. Because that’s tantamount to admitting weakness or that we’re not man enough.

So, when shit really hits the fan? That noose or gun trigger after a bender starts looking like a viable escape plan for broken men.

The really scary part is how most of these feelings are self-inflicted. It’s no different than how most men and women accidentally destroy their relationships through a series of incorrect assumptions about how their partner thinks and feels due to an absence of effective communication habits and skills.

Men are worried about what other people think of them. But it’s not actually rooted in fact. It’s rooted in assumption. We GUESS what other people think about us, and then react emotionally to whatever we guess that is. And because we tend to be afraid of negative things more than feel pleasure or excitement over positive things, we usually make things worse in our own minds.

A person may have not thought about you AT ALL. But you are afraid because they were in the area when you did or said something which embarrassed you that they now think you’re a huge loser, and that will somehow matter five minutes from now.

From “Why Men Kill Themselves in Such High Numbers” in Pacific Standard:

“Even in the developed world, where gender equality is not as bad as in developing countries, most men still see themselves as being responsible for providing and protecting their family. Of course, some women are social perfectionists too. But men’s social perfectionism is much more harmful.

‘A man who can’t provide for the family is somehow not a man anymore,’ said Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University. ‘A woman is a woman no matter what, but manhood can be lost.’”

Men need help in the mental and emotional health space as much as anyone needs help with anything.

But we refuse, because we don’t believe we need it, or simply won’t admit it.

Why, men?

To appear strong?

To be fake-strong?

Not unlike the weak-boundary daters who care more about the people they meet liking them than they do about whether a healthy and successful relationship is actually possible, men often choose the appearance of strength or the appearance of success over ACTUALLY pursuing strength and success.

It’s really hard to win, or even competently play, games in which we don’t know the rules.

In our own minds and bodies, men don’t know the rules.

So we accidentally destroy our marriages.

And we accidentally ruin relationships with friends and family.

If it makes us feel shame, or feels like something in which we can’t succeed, we turn around and walk the other way, but we make sure it looks like something manlier than fear.

We never just say: “For the same reason I don’t know how to design rocket engines and navigation computers for space shuttles, I also don’t know all there is to know about how to feel great about my life and have successful relationships with my wife and kids and friends and self.

We choose the bottle or a gun or a pill or a mask, instead of what we should do.

Learn the rules of the game so we can have fun and play competently.

Then, just like back in the day: Practice makes perfect.

Then?

We win.

More On Why Men Won’t Seek Help

From PsychCentral: Real Men Don’t Get Help

From Everyday Health: Why Depression is Underreported in Men

From HealthDay News: Many Men With Mental Health Issues Don’t Seek Help

…..

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We Do What We Know

suicide king

He shot himself.

Right in front of his wife because he learned she was sleeping with someone else. Just a few months ago, she gave birth to his third son.

And now he’s gone.

It feels so unfair to love someone when they don’t love you back. You want so badly to settle the score. To balance the scales. To make the pain go away.

A dramatic act of violence in front of his wife who’d rejected him seemed the most-effective way to even things out.

Taking his own life seemed the most-effective way to make the pain go away.

Pulling the trigger seemed the most-effective methodology.

He was a man who grew up surrounded by crime and poverty. Death and violence are interwoven into most stories that begin there.

Despite overcoming enormous odds and achieving financial success and settling into family life, death and violence are what he knew.

He died yesterday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound intended to eliminate his pain, and as an unforgettable goodbye note to his wife.

We do what we know.

The Suicide Kings

People sometimes call the King of Hearts in a deck of playing cards “The Suicide Kings.” Because they appear to be stabbing themselves in the head with their swords.

There’s no blood. It’s not a violent image. So maybe the artist meant to show a brave king wielding a sword behind his head, preparing to strike an enemy.

Or maybe it’s designed to evoke images of a sad, lonely man considering taking his own life, but unwilling to do so.

Maybe the heart has something to do with it.

All we really have in life are the people we love and care about, and the people who love and care about us. That’s why it’s so hard for many people to move far away from home.

Our roots are important to us. They provide sure footing during uncertain times.

And when we’re away—disconnected—and facing life’s inevitable hardships, we can feel lost at sea without that anchor of comfort and familiarity. We can feel isolated, lonely and lost when we don’t have, or are far away from, home.

Because home is what we know.

I don’t think we ever lose the natural instinct to run into our parents’ arms when we’re hurt and want someone else to make it better for us. It becomes more of a metaphor as an adult. But our human instinct to crave comfort and reassurance remains.

The hard times—particularly the first ones we experience as people—feel REALLY hard.

I often use the word “dying” to describe it. It feels like how I imagine dying to feel. Maybe worse. There’s a difference between the pain we feel in a physical sense—like a flesh wound or bone break—and the pain we feel when something happens to us internally.

To our hearts.

To our minds.

To our souls.

When we break on the inside. They don’t make painkillers for broken hearts. For poisoned minds. For torn souls.

Your entire body is tense, aching, and you feel like a prisoner inside it because there’s nowhere to run and hide.

And when it happens for the first time, it’s the most-frightening thing that’s ever happened to us because we didn’t know our bodies were capable of feeling like that.

What if I never feel like me again?

Is this how it’s going to be for the rest of my life?

I didn’t know it was possible to hurt this much.

Only in that moment can a person understand why another human being could take their own life.

You can’t know until you know.

Misery Loves Company

I didn’t know how common this reaction to a life hardship was until I was feeling it myself. When you go through difficult times, other people sometimes are more willing to open up about their hard times. Sometimes, those talks can help both people heal a little more.

I’ve talked to SO MANY people going through challenging times over the past couple years. Divorce and broken families are the most common. But sometimes people died. Sometimes people’s children were suffering in extreme and unimaginable ways.

The theme is often the same, and it’s the EXACT same thing I said after my wife left and I eventually learned about her new relationship:

“I don’t want to die. But I kind of don’t care if I do. Because at least then I won’t feel like this anymore.”

My friend texted me about yesterday’s suicide. She was shocked and devastated to lose someone she talked to and worked with every day. She was asking so many questions.

“I keep thinking… ‘What if Matt had done that?’,” she said, drawing parallels between how her now-departed friend was feeling relative to how I was feeling 18 months ago.

I remember driving by the hospital where my wife met the other guy. Sometimes, I had to drive by on my way to the office. Tears fell more often than I care to admit. My insides twisted. And I couldn’t escape.

And I’d think: Would it really be so bad if I just went head-on into that massive concrete Interstate pillar? Do I really care whether I wake up tomorrow?

It’s the closest to suicidal I’d ever been and ever hope to be. It’s scary to understand that. I spent my entire life not understanding how someone could ever want to kill themselves, and I’m confident in reporting that it’s infinitely better when you’re too innocent, happy and ignorant to understand it.

The truth is, I didn’t want to die. But I felt like I’d exceeded my pain threshold. And all I wanted to do was make it go away. I couldn’t function in any area of life, making the entire exercise seem somewhat moot.

Just. Shut. It. Off.

The Sun Will Rise

“Why does one person shoot himself and the other start a blog?,” she said.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I know why. It’s what they know. He grew up in the slums. He knows violence. Guns. A lot of gun death.

“You know words.

“We do what we know.”

Why did that man kill himself when I wouldn’t?

Is it because I don’t know gun violence? Maybe. But I don’t think so. I don’t know.

But I do know some things.

I know life is precious.

I know good conquers evil.

I know happy is better than sad.

I know happy is good.

I know perspective matters.

I know there are billions of people who would gladly trade lives with me right this second if they could because they believe I have it so good.

I know we have purpose and it’s our job to seek it.

I know I love. Deeply. My son. Life. You.

I know every day I wake up could be the best day of my life, and sooner or later, that day is going to come, and I choose to look forward to it.

I know I have a choice: Despair. Or, hope.

And I choose courage. I choose love. I choose hope.

That’s why I’m still breathing.

That’s why I started writing.

And that’s why I’ll keep trying to do both for as long as I possibly can.

We do what we know.

So, know it: The sun will rise tomorrow. Everything’s going to be okay.

Without the low, there ain’t a high.

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The Pursuit of Happiness, Vol. 3

Image courtesy of EW.

Image courtesy of EW.

“Happiness comes in small doses, folks. It’s a cigarette or a chocolate chip cookie or a five-second orgasm. That’s it, okay? You cum, you eat the cookie, you smoke the butt, you go to sleep, you get up in the morning and go to fucking work, okay?” — Denis Leary, No Cure for Cancer

Is Denis right? Is that really all there is?

At 35, there aren’t many people who have been household names my entire life.

Actor and comedian Robin Williams, dead of an apparent suicide at 63, is one of those people.

When someone dies, you rarely hear: “That guy was an asshole! Good riddance!”

People tend to focus on the good and honor the departed. So, it’s no surprise there is an outpouring of praise being heaped upon Williams.

None of us know what went on inside Williams’ mind and heart. But in more than three decades of knowing who he is, the worst thing I’ve ever heard about him is that some people didn’t care for his brand of humor.

By all accounts, he was a kind, decent, hilarious and generous man on and off stage, and on and off camera.

Which begs the question:

If Robin Williams, worth an estimated $130 million (according to Business Insider), beloved by millions worldwide, who reached the pinnacle of a career as a Hollywood actor and comedian, wasn’t happy, what chance do you and I have?

If a man with seemingly everything would rather be dead, what are we living for?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way:

Robin Williams reportedly suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. But I’m not going to let people get away with writing off his suicide as some anomaly. Just another case of mental illness that happens in this faraway place to people who aren’t like me!

Depression is a word.

Just like bipolar.

Words we use to describe conditions we observe in people. Conditions, I suspect happen to all of us in varying degrees at varying points in our lives.

People are afraid to talk about it.

I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s because some of us equate “mental illness” to “crazy.”

I’m not crazy!, we all think.

I used to be sure I wasn’t. And now I’m not. Now I know I can never really be sure of anything. I felt a lot better about my life the day I let go of trying to be certain about everything.

It’s okay to not know.

Try it. “I. Don’t. Know.” And you don’t have to. Now take a deep breath and go do something that makes you laugh.

I grew up in this “normal” little life, in this normal little house, in this normal little town. I grew up convinced I was about as typical as a person can be.

Maybe we all feel that way because we don’t know any better when we’re young and our brains don’t work very well because we don’t have enough data.

Life was simple.

And I remember thinking that when I grew up, I’d get married and have a couple of kids, and live in a normal little house in a normal little town just like that one.

And I’d be happy.

My wants got a little more ambitious as I aged. I began to crave certain material things and career achievements, but the end product of my happy-life fantasy still looked mostly the same.

A simple life in the suburbs with a wife and children and a job I could be proud of.

Eventually, I achieved that life.

And it wasn’t enough.

Everything broke. I lost my family. And then I got a taste of what depression really feels like.

For the first time, I discovered what it feels like to not recognize your own reflection. To forget what it feels like to be happy. To forget what it feels like to be you.

It changes everything.

Because that’s when you finally learn to prioritize. That’s when you finally figure out what matters versus what doesn’t.

I once needed the house, the car, the wife, the kids, the money, the job, the friends, the love, the life. To succeed. To be happy.

And now I don’t. I no longer believe there’s some magical Life Ladder that you climb and when you reach high enough you pump your fist and say: “Yay!!! Now I’m happy!!!”

There’s no finish line. No mountaintop. No end credits upon completion.

If life’s a video game, there’s no beating the game.

It’s just repeated attempts to set a new high score.

And I think it’s important to come to terms with that reality, or else we set ourselves up for enormous disappointment—high expectations that cripple us when life fails to satisfy.

Great Failed Expectations

I thought my life was going to be awesome because it pretty much was most of the time. Things got a little better all the time, every year, for the first 30 years of my life.

It set the expectation that things would continue to progress that way. So, when all the shitty things started to happen, I fell hard.

Your brain has trouble processing.

It poisons your insides. Fucks with your soul.

Maybe all of the really happy people started out with hard lives and thought their futures would be shitty, and then eventually climbed their way out and realized how beautiful life can really be.

I don’t know. It’s okay to not know.

I think this is what happens to all of these people—people most of us look at and think: Wow! They have amazing lives! I bet they’re so happy!

Rich and famous people. People who are beloved and worshipped. People just like Robin Williams.

What could they be missing?

I can only make an educated guess.

They’re missing some or all of the same things that elude any of us who feel dissatisfied with our lives.

Peace.

Contentment.

Balance.

Love.

Hope.

We all want good health. And fun. And money. And friendship. And love. And sex. And to feel good. And safe.

But what makes us happy?

Is that not the most-important question? Aside from taking care of those who love and need you (partners and children, etc.), do we have a more-critical job than identifying that which makes us truly happy?

Than immersing ourselves in that fountain? Over and over and over again?

Everyone suffers from varying degrees of brokenness.

Can love heal the broken?

Everyone has demons. Guilt. Regrets.

Can hope, faith, forgiveness bring us peace?

We all just want to feel like most of us did when we were kids. Laugh! Run! Play!

Is happiness really just an orgasm and a cookie?

Is all we get that short burst of joy we feel while laughing at the punch line of a Robin Williams joke?

Is that all there is?

Is that happiness?

Yeah, I don’t think so either.

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It’s Okay to Hurt

hurtheart1Sarah was just a child when she lost her big sister.

A gorgeous 17-year-old. Stricken with cancer. Died in her bedroom in her father’s arms.

I’ll never forget it because it was my first funeral.

Second grade. Sarah was 8. I would turn 8 a couple weeks later.

Sarah watched her parents lose their first born. And she watched her four younger siblings struggle to make sense of it all.

Thrust involuntarily into the eldest-sibling role, she was forged in pain. In loss. From some of her earliest memories.

Now, Sarah’s a mom. She gave birth to two children. And after learning she would never bear children again, she and her husband adopted a child in 2010. Not two weeks old.

Baby M.

He was a beloved member of their family before he even got there. A brother to an adoring big sister and big brother. And the pride of two parents who felt immeasurable joy being able to love and raise another child.

But Baby M’s birth mother lied when going through the adoption process. Hiding the identity of the birth father.

The birth father discovered he had a son and eventually filed for custody of Baby M.

The court had to choose between a biological parent whom the child had never met, and a loving family who had raised Baby M for more than two years—his entire life.

The judge awarded custody to the birth father in a case that set legal precedent in their state of residence.

Sarah watched her two children lose their brother.

She watched her husband crumble under the weight of it all.

And she watched her baby get taken away, and handed to someone else.

Her marriage disintegrated.

And she’s now separated, too. Just trying to figure it all out. Just trying to keep her children in one piece.

She recently attended Baby M’s fourth birthday party. She maintains an as-pleasant-as-possible relationship with the birth father.

She watched her son—who doesn’t remember her as his mom—open presents. Play. And do all of the things she must imagine him doing in her quiet moments of reflection.

And then, at the end of the evening, she had to crouch down in front of him. Say goodbye. And hope that she’ll get to see him again next year.

I don’t have many friends that I’ve known longer than Sarah. I certainly don’t have any I respect and admire more.

As such, we have a close relationship, where we talk about all of the messy stuff.

All the stuff that really hurts. 

The Hurt

The first thing to go is your breathing.

What you do reflexively about 15 times every minute of your life becomes work.

The chest and stomach respond accordingly. Tightening. Unforgiving. A reminder of our weakness.

Our muscles tense. Our heads ache. Our eyes water.

Our hearts break.

Not in pieces like we watched in cartoons back when life was simple.

They simply stop functioning properly.

They break down.

Then we break down.

When it hurts too much.

Then We Reach Out

Because that’s what people do. We connect.

To not feel alone. To not be alone.

Sometimes we scream. Sometimes we hug. Sometimes we cry.

Almost always, we talk.

We write.

The most tried-and-true forms of therapy since the dawn of the mental health profession.

Sarah and I reach out to one another when it hurts.

And that’s when it always hits me.

I’m crying about losing my son 50 percent of the time.

But she has LOST her son. Someone took him away. Forever.

I’m crying about divorce, isolation, loneliness.

But she has had it so much worse. And now divorce may be on the table for her, too.

I’m crying about financial concerns as I continue my adjustment to my one-income life.

But the legal fight for their son wiped them out completely.

Sarah would NEVER try to one-up your story. That’s not who she is. But she can always do you one better.

Sometimes I realize the absurdity of my whining relative to all she has been through.

And that’s when she stops me. Because she really dislikes that.

“It makes me sad when my friends minimize their troubles or pain because they think mine are greater,” she said. “There is no need for that. I don’t hold the monopoly on pain.”

And while she’s being noble and selfless, she’s also, just, right.

Your Pains Are Yours

I’ve never lived in a place without running water before.

So it was hard for me last week when my pipes were frozen and I had to go a couple days without indoor plumbing at home.

It is frustrating when you’re without electricity for a long time.

It is challenging to not have internet access in 2014.

When that’s all you know.

You just broke up with your girlfriend? Your dog needs surgery? You have expensive car repairs?

Your pains and fears are real. And it’s okay to hurt. And the people that love you will invite you to talk about those things and not trivialize them.

You mustn’t either.

Sarah’s so tough, I could go on a weekend Vegas bender courtesy of her credit card and it would only be the 27th shittiest thing that’s happened to her in the past few months.

Kurt Cobain. Junior Seau. Ernest Hemingway. Countless others.

Beloved celebrities. Adored by the masses. Had all the financial resources in the world.

How is it even remotely possible for their lives to suck?

Yet, they sucked. So much so that these people took their own lives because being dead sounded better than feeling hurt all the time.

Everybody hurts. In their own ways.

And people shouldn’t be ashamed of that. People shouldn’t have to apologize for the pain they feel.

I broke after my divorce.

Broke.

Now what am I supposed to do with my life?

Who will want to date me?

How will I trust again?

I miss my son.

This house is so quiet.

The empty bed, so cold.

Who do I want to be?

Am I strong enough?

When will this go away?

There’s no fast-forward button.

The shit hits. You have to eat a bunch of it. And then you make your next move.

The clock ticks.

The Earth spins.

The calendar flips.

Then one day you wake up and the bed isn’t so cold anymore. The right person will show up.

The house isn’t so quiet. Because you’re comfortable in your own skin. Because you’re living again.

You find purpose in other things.

You give all the love you can to your child during those precious moments together.

And then you cry less.

Or maybe not at all.

You find your smile again.

Laugh.

Discover beauty.

Find joy in the little things once more.

The scars form.

And you emerge from the fire a little stronger than before. A little braver than before.

Like my friend Sarah.

Maybe even like me.

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