Bursting the bubble

Missy Votel - 05/11/2017

“Durango is such a bubble,” the re-transplant disdainfully uttered. He had recently returned to live at the foot of the San Juans after what was apparently a very un-bubbly stint in Denver.

Not wanting to argue, I vaguely nodded, shrugged my shoulders and said nothing.

People are entitled to their opinions, and this was one that I heard often. Usually it ran the gamut, from gratitude – as in “I sure am glad to get back to the bubble” – to contempt – as in “nothing ever changes in the bubble.”

This aforementioned comment fell into the latter category: disgust that the inhabitants of this town are somehow isolated from the trials and tribulations of the real world. We all blissfully flit about from craft brewery to bike trail to surf session without a care, only concerned about the next party or big dump.

Sure, some of this may be warranted. But, as a resident of said bubble for the last 20-plus years, I take issue with this criticism. Yes, it’s true, life here can be idyllic at times, particularly with the plethora of trails, rivers and mountains out our back door. The outdoors – even if it’s a quick spin in the Gulch or a park-and-play on the town run – help soothe the soul and are the reason I stay. And of course, there’s the people I’ve met along the way. I like to say I’ve (almost) never met anyone I didn’t like in this town – “bubble” boy included.

This is an incredible place full of incredible people who care about their home; and it is where I have put down roots and decided to raise my family. So naturally, I get a little defensive when we are referred to as some kind of bubble-headed Mayberry hedonists.

But more so than that, I take issue with the bubble comparison because, as we all know, the bubble’s not so perfect. I have friends who grew up here, went to the Fort but somehow can’t afford to live here – let alone afford a bike to enjoy it. Several of them work more than one job; some as many as three or four. Violent crime is not unheard of; homelessness and vagrancy are prevalent; and recently, we’ve even begun to experience something closely resembling rush hour.

Our air is not nearly as clean as one would expect thanks to a not-so mysterious methane “hot spot,” and yes, we occasionally make a big “oops” and turn our beloved river orange with acid run-off.

But perhaps the most compelling contrast is what seems to be going on beneath the surface of this so-called bubble. For the second time in as many years, I sat down last week with my kids to talk about a cohort or classmate who had taken his own life. Then, a few days later, I found myself trying to console a friend who was a

friend of the young woman who took her life a few days earlier.
After experiencing suicide up close a few years ago, there are no words to describe

the abject pain and heartbreak these families go through. Every single day. And there certainly is no chapter in the parent handbook for talking to your kids about such situations.

So, we as parents take a deep breath and fumble to articulate something we can’t even begin to comprehend. We tell our children to be vigilant for signs among their friends and themselves – threats, risky behavior, feelings of hopelessness. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to us, talk to another adult; someone; anyone. Nothing is ever that bad. We love you.

Maybe I was aloof growing up, but I feel suicide was much less committed, let alone talked about in those days. There were occasional whispers, a few references in a Morrissey song – but mostly it was not discussed.

Which is not to say it didn’t happen, but I think it’s fair to say kids of the ’80s and ’90s did not face the pressure of kids today. Back then, if you didn’t like someone, you crank called their house or maybe scrawled something mean on the bathroom stall. If you wanted to talk to somebody, you had to sit tethered to a wall, often waiting for a break in the busy signal. MTV blew our minds, and we watched the same handful of videos over and over again.

Today, it’s a nonstop barrage of you-tubing, snap-booking, insta-chatting and lord knows what else. The anonymity of the web has allowed bullies to reach a new low of cowardice; it’s a lot easier to pick on some- one from behind your keyboard.

As someone who can barely handle the constant intrusion of texting, I can only imagine that little dopamine hit that somehow makes it all worthwhile.

Arguably, this is but one part of the problem – depression, isolation, simple adolescent impulsiveness likely all play a role. But one thing that can’t be denied is that it’s too much. Too many have died in our small bubble, perfect or not. And those who survive – friends, co-workers, neighbors, ourselves – must bear those scars.

Of course, the most terrifying thing about suicide is that, typically, there are no signs. It is a blind mystery, the crushing weight of which we’re left to ponder and second guess the rest of our lives. But we don’t have to do it alone. Maybe that is one part of the bubble reference I am willing to accept: we are all in this together. And if we work together, possibly we can come up with ideas to stop – or at least lessen – the pain.

If you care, have ideas or just want to quietly listen (which is something we all could probably do a lot more of), show up tonight from 5 – 8 p.m. at Miller Middle School for San Juan Basin Health’s Community Suicide-Prevention Summit. Because this is one issue that is going to require thinking outside the bubble.