I remember being a teenager and listening to the rap song from Notorious BIG ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’. The chorus of the song is: “I don't know what they want from me. It's like the more money we come across, the more problems we see.” Yes, this is the point at which it shocks everyone that a spiritual figure (me) doesn’t only listen to ambient spiritual music and Indian flute. In fact, I love rap. I love rap played at full blast on a subwoofer. I blame the fact that I have the same birthday as 2 Pac for this ? Anyway, I remember considering this idea that success; (especially fame in this case) had a downside. But as a teenager, it was abstract for me at that time. It was someone else expressing their struggle with the pressures of success. This week, I caught myself carrying out the multiplicity of errands I had to run (every one of them caused by the complications of fame) with these lyrics running through my head on repeat. This time, I had a whole new personal understanding of those lyrics.
Fame is an insurmountable pressure. There are SO many problems that come with fame that it is no surprise that stars end up committing suicide or visiting rehab centers. Problems like:
This is a very short list of some of the problems that come with fame. And they are so painful it is ineffable. As so many of the people around me in my close circle can tell you personally, it is something you only really get when you are on this side of it.
To be totally authentic, this last three years has been a real struggle for me in terms of the problems that come with fame. The music and movie stars get their relationships and characters shredded. But spiritual figures, much like politicians, are famous for their opinions. This means not only will our relationships and characters be shredded; we will also be targeted and shredded for whether we help or harm people in general. This not only destroyed my personal life, it also led to a rash of periodicals in places like The Guardian and Daily Mail that have created a level of controversy surrounding me that is so intense, many people are afraid to even associate with me at all.
Way back in the day, when I was still seeing individual clients, I saw a woman named Leslie Wangsgaard whenever she felt the need for a visit. I was very close to Leslie. She was not only seeing me for help, she was also simultaneously under the care of a psychiatrist and on medication for anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. I had a trip planned to go into the desert for a solar eclipse. It was my first vacation in 4 years. But in a heart crushing turn, that was the exact time that Leslie went into crisis and ended up killing herself. When I got back into cell phone range, I had a few voicemails. The first few were distress messages from both Leslie and her husband asking for a session with me at my earliest convenience. Then, a desperate message from Leslie’s husband informing me that Leslie had killed herself with her prescription medication. It was the first time I had ever been in a ‘mentor/guide’ position relative to someone that had committed suicide. I had been told by psychologists that I knew before that time, that the day inevitably comes in every therapist’s career that someone you worked with will commit suicide and it makes you doubt the choice to become a therapist. I am not a psychologist. But I found out first hand exactly what they were taking about. For three days, I fell into a career/purpose crisis. Just like everyone else around Leslie, I searched for how I could have done something to prevent it. I felt guilty that I hadn’t been there when she needed me. I was very attached to her as a person and to her husband as well.
Unfortunately at that time, we had taken on a very unstable volunteer named Cameron Clark. When the entire team decided Cameron was a liability because of her divisive and antagonistic, mentally disturbed behavior and needed to be sent home, Cameron turned against me and became one of my principal haters. She went straight to anyone with a following who publicly attacked spiritual teachers looking for help to take me down. She found assistance. Unfortunately, the two weeks she stayed in the community was exactly during the time that Leslie committed suicide. Cameron was in close enough vicinity to me to see me cry about Leslie’s death and express my regret that I had not been there when she went into crisis. And so the first thing she did, going straight for my weak spot, was to create slander flyers that said “Leslie Ann Wangsgaard (birth date and death date)... Goes to Teal for a session and commits suicide… What would you think?” This was where the slander rumor that equated me to a person that causes people to commit suicide began.
One hate article led to two and three, all of which took this same provocative angle. When I addressed these claims, I went public with my opinions on suicide in general. I went public not only as a spiritual mentor, but also having been someone who attempted suicide myself as a teen. Pretty soon, regardless of the fact that I never intended for suicide to be my career focus, I developed a reputation for being a person who is specializing (and apparently in a controversial way) in suicide. Regardless of the fact that it is complete fallacy, people started treating me like an accessory to suicide.
Because suicide is such a juicy headline, this has become a situation that has been the focus of nearly every interview. Earlier this year, a writer for Gizmodo Media Group (which is operated by the Media group that bought out Gawker when it went into bankruptcy losing a law suit for its slander against Hulk Hogan) posed as a neutral journalist looking to cover my story. Instead, this writer wrote an investigative piece and several podcasts that were so biased against me that I had other journalists contacting me to apologize for the lack of professional journalism of their colleague and to request interviews to do more balanced periodicals. He did interviews with several experts, such as doctors involved with The Completion Process, in which out of the hours of positive things they had to say, he would extract the one thing they would say that could cast doubt in people’s minds and include that alone in the podcast. Our team trusted him and gave him all the information and access he asked for. While he pretended to be an ally, it was all spun against me in the end. To put it mildly, if I first heard about me from his podcast, I would think I was a monster. But the most important thing to know about this journalist is that he too chose the juicy angle of posing the idea that I harm people because of my approach to suicide. What has happened in the wake of this article has led to a situation that has shocked every member of our team.
No one wants to talk about controversial things like suicide. It is easier to just wash your hands clean of things and refer people to a suicide hotline. But I have talked about it. I talked about it in response to this chain reaction that started with Cameron Clark’s absurd strategy to take me down with what would really hurt years ago. I talked about it not only for the sake of my own career, but also because people who are suicidal have no advocates and we are approaching suicidal ideation in the wrong way precisely because people do not understand suicidal people and therefore do not understand how to approach them. Getting a degree in psychology or psychiatry from a classroom in a college does not mean that someone can understand the mental and emotional state of someone who is suicidal. As a result, the approaches to suicide prevention that exist in the world today are not adequate. Unfortunately, I had to find this out personally back when I was trying to get help for it and literally kept running into either no help or ‘professionals’ making it worse no matter how much they meant well. Now, I am facing three problems.
The honest truth that no one wants to admit is that no one in the mainstream mental health field knows what to do with suicidal people and it is an epidemic in the world today. It is such a problem that even the government is trying to figure out what to do. If you drug suicidal people, it doesn’t deal with the underlying problem and so many of the people who commit suicide are on prescribed mental health medication already. So the medication itself isn’t the solution.
If someone goes into the hospital when they are suicidal, it costs them an arm and a leg financially (at least in America) so people are looking at an even worse life on the other side of being released than before they went in. It may get someone past a crisis. But no one can turn the underlying issues creating suicidal ideation around in a day or a week stay in a hospital. So inevitably, they return. On top of that, so many of the people who commit suicide never say a thing to anyone about it and simply kill themselves. Those who try to get help for it are not wanting to die. They are wanting help to get out of pain, which they feel totally powerless to do.
On top of that, so few crisis hotline interventionists and psychologists have dealt with being suicidal or tried to commit suicide themselves. As a result, they approach suicidal mentality from the outside looking in. This does not work. For example, there is nothing worse than hearing words of hope from someone when you are suicidal. Telling someone who is suicidal that there is a good reason to live or that suicide is the easy way out or reminding them that it destroys people around them is a death sentence.
I so badly want to change the way that the mental health field approaches suicidal individuals. I so badly want to help people who are in this space that I was in. But I do not want my entire mission brought down because someone who came to me for help decides to commit suicide. I would love for someone to see me as a key factor for why they did not commit suicide. But is it fair to make someone, whether it is a psychologist or psychiatrist or life coach or spiritual leader responsible for whether someone decides to take their own life?
In the 1980s, some of Osho’s disciples established Rancho Rajneesh. It was essentially an intentional community of his, consisting of people who followed his teachings, in Oregon. The local community was really upset by the idea of a religious community, which they saw as a cult, moving into the area. Some tolerated it, others were absolutely up in arms determined to prevent the commune from establishing itself there. Multiple legal battles ensued. Some of his unstable followers decided in response to frustration regarding the opposition they were met with, to carry out a biological attack in 1984, the year I was born. They deliberately contaminated the salad bars at several local restaurants in order to incapacitate the people who would vote against them so their own candidates would win the Wasco County Elections. 751 people were infected. That was meant to be simply a trial run before infecting the entire water system. Because of their association with Osho, Osho was placed under investigation for the crime and faced being charged with the crime. Because there was no evidence to prove he knew about any of it, he was not arrested for the poisoning. Instead, he was arrested for immigration violation. For people, like myself, who are leading a spiritual movement, we live in terror of situations like Osho got himself into. We live in terror of being unable to control what other people in our following do and don’t do, but being made responsible for it.
As a result of this press campaign against me, I live in fear of being unable to control whether someone ultimately decides to take their life, but being made responsible for it. I live in fear that I will be blamed for not being able to prevent it. I live in fear that I will be accused of somehow contributing to someone’s decision to do it, even though my aim is to help someone want to live. I live in fear that a hater of mine, or someone who turns against me, will try to take down my career in this insanely aggressive move to “kill two birds with one stone” (what the last person who threatened us actually threatened to do). I live in fear that someone will kill themselves if I don’t do what they want me to do, which is to take them into my retreat center as an act of charity/implied duty. They want me to be totally responsible for them financially and emotionally, which is something I cannot do. I cannot afford to take in suicidal people as if they were stray cats or orphaned children as much as I wish there were somewhere in the world that could do this. I also know that when I refer them to the hospital or suicide crisis hotline (which I do if someone is actively threatening in a crisis to commit suicide, as opposed to trying to get help with their chronic suicidal thoughts or feelings) it solves nothing long term and usually traumatizes them further. This is an issue that no one really has a good solution for. But I am curious if anyone has any thoughts to share in the comments below this blog.
While all of this terrifies me (and the whole team to be honest), it has also inspired me. The unexpected avalanche of focus on suicidality in general has made me aware of just how much this issue needs to be talked about and needs to cease to become taboo. It is a serious subject. But if it continues to be taboo, and continues to be a subject we all want to avoid in order to stay safe and emotionally clean, the people who so desperately need help with it will never get the help they need. Metaphorically speaking, the blood will be on all of our hands. For this reason, I will continue to speak about it. I will continue to speak about it, hoping that people will see that I am an advocate of a life worth living for those who feel like I once felt... That all life is, is suffering.