Home > Health, Love, Safety > Yellow ribbons for life

Yellow ribbons for life

Something was wrong with me when I came home from Japan.

The wrongness sat with me for months, unidentified and unidentifiable until I sat waiting to turn at a T-intersection and saw a big rig barrelling down the street toward me.

I imagined taking my foot off the brake, and the subsequent peace of no longer having to struggle.

Thanks to that brief vision, I was finally able to identify what was wrong: depression.

I couldn’t name it–or work to ease it–until I could really see it.

Someone I love has been struggling extra hard recently.

This friend told me today that last weekend they were closer to suicide than ever before.

My heart caught, hearing that. “Please call me,” I entreated. “Please call.”

As I drove away from my friend, I thought about what I’d said.

I thought about my very first webpage, and a program I’d once featured as inspirational. Lights for Life distributed–and continues to distribute–cards with yellow ribbons on them. These cards are an alternative to having to try to explain. They give youth who are considering suicide a way to reach out for help without needing to focus on finding words.

Sometimes, there are no words adequate to express what someone is feeling. Sometimes, they can’t be found. Sometimes, the act of reaching out itself can seem so monumental the thought of adding words on top feels impossible.

Sometimes, words are not the answer.

Today I will send my friend this picture, and say it’s OK to text me this image if words won’t work.

I don’t need words to listen. I don’t need words to hear.

For all the words I pour out endlessly, I know well words’ weaknesses,

and hope that my friends know they can
always, always, send a yellow ribbon,
and that I will understand
and lend heart and hands
without judgment and


Please see yellowribbon.org for more

  1. April 30, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    I love this post. Thank you for your honesty and compassion. Depression is a beast and its shadow really does touch every aspect of those that suffer as well as the people who love them. I needed this today more than I can express. Thank you ๐Ÿ’œ

    • April 30, 2016 at 7:17 pm

      I’ve been thinking a lot about the saying, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” That gets under my skin today in a way it didn’t use to. The saying itself reflects a total lack of understanding how deeply and long most people suffer depression before coming to the conclusion it can’t be suffered anymore. I thought about writing a post about that, but I decided–as I’m trying to more and more these days–to focus on what can be done versus expounding without resolution upon what all frustrates me.

      I thought about this as I drove away. It built up and built up so that I decided I couldn’t wait till some indeterminate point in the future to write it. I ended up pulling over and typing this up in a parking lot a mile or so from home. It felt like the right thing to do, during and after.

      • April 30, 2016 at 7:35 pm

        I think all of us have that still small voice and if we just pay attention we can hear it so clearly it just can’t be denied. You are right about posting it the way you did-in the moment. Some things are best said with less editing and more feeling.๐Ÿ’œ

  2. April 30, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    I volunteer with our Lifeline. And at the moment could do with that yellow ribbon myself.

  3. Paul
    April 30, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    Well said.

  4. April 30, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Finding the words is so hard. Feeling that if you use the wrong ones, then people you need won’t understand, or maybe won’t care, that’s harder. Thanks for reaching out. Thanks for posting this. โค

    • April 30, 2016 at 7:32 pm

      A few years back, I spent a bunch of time reading up on Lights for Life. It’s been implemented in several school districts with profound, positive results. I wish it were easier to implement in day to day life among adults, where there’s prevalent–in the U.S., in any case–the idea that strength is in enduring quietly and persevering alone until you’ve positive-thought yourself to happier times. So isolating. So lonely. It breaks my heart, that.

      After I posted this, I thought the words “loudly broken” about my blog: how I once wanted this to be the place where I came and wrote perfectly reasoned blogs about things I’d already figured out, whereas now I want to be very, very loud about past pains, current imperfections, what I’m trying to figure out, and how much I’m able to accomplish with all of that around me. I want people struggling now to see my struggle and my hope, you know? If all people are allowed to see is the hope, it can seem pretty empty in the midst of dire struggle. And so I want to be loudly broken while also loudly successful, by my measures: to show it’s not shocking to suffer and then thrive. It’s beautiful, and it’s right to relegate suffering to a lesser role, slowly and with patience for oneself.

      There can be life beyond suffering, and I wish … I wish there were a way to say that without words, and to say that being amazing and strong isn’t in never having to tread water, but in managing to keep treading water even with an elephant on your back.

  5. April 30, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    You’re a good friend, Deb.

    Among the many scary things about this subject is that we never know who or when someone will need the ribbon ๐Ÿ˜Ÿ

    • May 1, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      So true. Anthony and I were talking a couple of weeks back and somehow landed on the case/one case House couldn’t solve in the eponymous show: why one of his interns took his own life. I don’t remember much of House by this point, but I remember the sadness of the answer that never came … and would never come.

      Some clues only look like clues when it’s too late to see them in such a light. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

  6. May 1, 2016 at 1:01 am

    Never heard of yellow ribbons before, but it’s an idea I like ๐Ÿ™‚
    I hope your friend uses it when necessary, and finds lots of alternatives to suicide, with or without words…..

    • May 1, 2016 at 2:08 pm

      When I first learned of Lights for Life in the mid-90s, I was still a teen struggling with depression and, often, suicidal thoughts. Just knowing the program existed gave me hope. In fact, revisiting the organization’s About page just now gave me that same rush of hope. Truly, the organization began with a girl giving a teacher a flier handed out after another student’s suicide; it was her way of saying she needed help. That’s one light still shining because there was an another way to say the unspeakable … and, of course, because the recipient teacher understood. Thank goodness.

    • May 1, 2016 at 2:12 pm

      Oh, man! I just revisited the Our Story section explaining why yellow and giving a little more background. Two decades later, it still chokes me up. I couldn’t remember the specifics, but I will always remember the feelings.

  7. May 1, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    So often I have found myself with no vocabulary to express the horrors of my thoughts and feelings. How can you ever explain that thing that it tearing you apart every minute of every day?

    The card idea is a great one and you are a wonderfully caring soul Deborah. Please don’t forget to care for yourself too.

    • May 1, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      Until I sat down to write this, I really didn’t understand how frustrating words can be to me. So often, the specific imperfect words are tuned into over the important message that can’t find the right words. Whenever there’s an expectation someone who’s suffering find exactly the right words for someone else to understand, there’s a risk … and a heartache exacerbated. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      I’m trying hard to care of myself these days. Every day it gets a tiny bit easier, but I expect a lot of practice is ahead before it becomes second nature. I have to admit … life feels better just for taking the steps!

      Please take care of yourself, too. ♥

  8. May 1, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    I, also, have never heard of yellow ribbons before… I think it’s a good idea, yet if someone handed me such a card, I’m not sure I’d respond well enough… When my father in law was dying of cancer, he asked me to hold him, which I did, but someone who’s depressed usually doesn’t know what they need — and I don’t know what they need. Is just holding someone enough???

    • May 1, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      There is a lot of training around the cards, specific to different types of people positioned around youth. I included a link in my post because there is such good information on the site. My post was meant to open people to the fact not all cries for help will be in clearly stated verbal requests. The knowledge is just a starting point.

      Even with training, I don’t think there is a perfect solution. I think, based on my readings on LfL and elsewhere, that someone listening and caring can make a profound difference even without perfectly executed follow on. I think “just the right thing” happens only in movies. We do what we can with what we have and hope it will be enough. Fortunately, there’s often a ballpark versus square inch to work with.

      One thing I read recently said basic, unexpected human kindness had prompted many people to reconsider suicide plans. That’s heartening, when thinking about the future, but also sad when thinking about might-have-beens …

      I think holding someone can be everything.

  9. May 1, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    Knowing there is someone there can be the game changer. Even if they cannot say or do “the right thing that will make it all better”. The simple fact that they care enough to be there, to sit with you, to hold you if you request it, really can make all the difference.

  10. May 1, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    This is a good thing to do……..to let someone know they are not all alone in this, there are insurmountable problems sometimes when there seems no light…….but then, God’s hand is always there………maybe all we need is that someone who can help us connect…….simply by being there……

  11. May 2, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    I hadn’t heard of the yellow ribbons, but I’ve been struggling with this issue with someone close to me. They just got out of the hospital and I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help, but mostly I feel like I have no idea what to do. He tells me it doesn’t matter because he feels supported and like he has someone to talk to. I like that I can be there for him. And now I can pass on the idea of the yellow ribbon.

  12. May 3, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    Depression is often a silent disease, and speaking from that deep hole can feel monumentally hard. These yellow ribbons are a great idea to help people who are struggling reach out.

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