Trigger warning: suicide
You’ve made your way to this blog. Thank you for reading. I want you to know that you’re not alone. I love you, even if I don’t know you yet, and you can talk to me.
When Stephen “tWitch” Boss exploded on the dance scene, appearing on So You Think You Can Dance, I was instantly entranced by his larger-than-life grin, expressive eyes, and incredible dance moves. He had a magnetism inside of him that was made of 100% pure love. He was one of those people you couldn’t help but adore, and to the outside world, it looked like it couldn’t get much better for him. His wife and three beautiful children added to his seemingly perfect life, and they danced right alongside him.
Like tWitch, my life was permanently altered by dance. I may not have met my spouse on a reality dance show or achieved world-wide fame, but dance came to me at a point in my life where I needed the exact focus and direction it provided. At 24 years old, I began belly dancing thanks to my cousin Yemaya, and it had a huge part in making me the person I am today. From the first day I saw tWitch embody the music with his passion and positive spirit, I was inspired.
If you’ve been on social media (kudos to you if you’re on a break, we could all use one), you’re most likely aware of the devasting loss that the dance community felt with the announcement of his suicide last week.
Finding out he had passed away was a shock. Realizing that he had actually taken his own life was something I was completely unprepared for. My head felt tight and my chest ached; I clutched my face in my hands and held my breath, hoping it wasn’t real. Tears stung my eyes. All of my thoughts immediately went to his wife Allison and their kids. I couldn’t imagine what kind of horrific pain they must be in if I, a stranger, felt like this.
Next, I felt complete confusion. Why? Why had he done this? Why had he decided that his loving light wasn’t meant for this world any longer? Where had his light gone? It seems clear that we as the general public won’t be able to make sense of his personal tragedy any time soon, if ever. That is for his family to get through. But something that his death triggered in me was an inherent fear that I was possibly missing the signs in the people I love.
Society paints a picture of depressed people walking around with clouds over their heads and happy people with the sun shining all around them. At the height of my depression almost 20 years ago, that’s exactly what it felt like to me, though I didn’t like showing it. Reading about tWitch’s death reminded me of a conversation I had with a coworker during this time. I had confided in her that I was taking antidepressants, and she looked at me in surprise.
“YOU? You’re depressed? But you’re always so perky and happy!” And I realized that even though I wasn’t purposely trying to hide this part of me, I did make it a habit to appear chipper, never wanting to put my emotional baggage into someone else’s trunk. I didn’t want them to think it was their responsibility to make me smile.
The thing is, it partially IS their responsibility. (I know not everyone is going to agree with this, and that’s totally okay!) Relationships are a huge part of what makes us human. We have good ones, we have bad ones. The hope is that we’ll learn the lessons from the bad ones, and the few that stand beside us consistently will have our backs and help us get through the hard times. We need to check in with our people.
If we don’t tell them, how can they help us?
On the other hand, our responsibility, when we feel down, is to reach out when we’re in pain. It’s one of the hardest things to do, because as much as we value a community, it’s also astonishingly hard to burden them with our troubles.
So, we’re expected to obtain a utopia wherein we easily talk to our friends and family when times get tough, while also having the wherewithal to make sure every single person in our life is happy and content? I’ll be the first one to say that’s nearly impossible. But please, try. Please. People need to know they are loved. Maybe it’s not the person you might expect. Maybe it’s the friend with the picture-perfect Instagram photos. Maybe it’s a stranger on the bus who could use a random smile or compliment. And if you’re the one feeling down, do the hard thing if you possibly can. Reach out to someone, anyone, and tell them you’re not okay. It’s the hardest, bravest thing you might ever do, but it will be a life-altering thing.
Last week I knew I wanted to write something about tWitch, because his existence made mine more joyous. I knew it would roll into a mental health conversation, but I need to end this blog on tWitch. I still have to process my sadness, but I’ll forever be grateful that the world I know had tWitch in it. Without ever having met him, I can say that he made an impact on me as a dancer and as a human being. I hope he is at peace now.
Thanks for writing this. You describe the reaction well. Shock because it was sudden and he was young, then discombobulation because I only associate joy and laughter with him.