The Entirely Preventable Death of Stephen "tWitch" Boss
Suicide often takes even someone's loved ones by surprise because they had no idea they were struggling. Here's how you can help your strong, happy loved ones stay with you.
Every time a new celebrity takes their own life, we all react with shock - and then just go right on living our lives. After all, what can we do? Suicide is a very individual act and therefore, it gives us the sense that it is unavoidable and unpreventable. For most of history, religion has treated suicide as a “sin” - as if the person who takes their own life should somehow be punished for the grief of the loved ones they leave behind. A belief that many religious denominations still cling to. After all, it’s far easier to blame a person who is already gone than look in the mirror.
We tell family members and loved ones that there was nothing they could do because how could anyone know? Most often, the people that need to “tap out” are often the ones that seem the happiest and most well-adjusted. How are we supposed to know someone is in that much pain when they look so happy? And in one sense, this is true. It’s hard to know specifically and individually who is going to finally reach rock bottom on which specific day and completely lose the will to live. After all, just one day earlier, tWitch left this joyful video on TikTok.
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How are we to know that someone capable of spreading that much joy and love and light was living in that much agony? We should know because the darker the times we are in, the harder it is for the light-bringers to spread their light and we are living in very dark times indeed. Just take a look at social media or the news headlines. There are so many mass shootings now the national news can’t even report them all. Unless one happens in your local area, you’re unlikely to even hear about it. Social media has become just one giant hate fest, divided neatly in two, with the right and the left both screaming that the other side is the problem.
I spent five years working for a television production company. When I started, it was a fairly small company that largely produced content for Animal Planet, Oxygen and HGTV, which was not yet the powerhouse it is today. At that time, there were plenty of people working there with multi-colored hair and a few with missing teeth. Then it went corporate. Almost overnight, I watched the top earners take over and people with colored hair and gapped teeth get replaced by people wearing business suits.
We started having giant corporate meetings where bigwigs from HGTV and Scripps Network came out to give talks with charts and graphs showing how their corporate partnership with Home Depot was really taking off. And that’s when I put it all together. We think that the ad is the 30-second spot in the middle of the show, but it turns out the show is the commercial and the commercial just tells you where you can get everything you see in the show. Television really exists for one reason and one reason only: to make you miserable so you will buy something.
That’s why they pack the shows with perfect models wearing the latest outfits and hair styles - even if they are supposed to be NYC police detectives. “Medical dramas” are really just 40-minute commercials for the medical industrial complex. When I started to get a glimpse of the giant machine, I knew I couldn’t be a part of it anymore. I still have many friends that work in the industry and I bear them no ill will, but I could not be part of it any longer. I saw what it did to people.
The “entertainment industry” just chews people up and spits them out. You have worth and value as long as you are producing even greater worth and value for someone else. In a world that is obsessed with image, people are doing absolutely grotesque things to themselves in the name of “beauty” and even worse - relevance. It’s not even exclusive just to women any longer. Men today are almost as likely to struggle with eating disorders and body image issues as women. There is a reason most relatively healthy people in Hollywood live on small urban farms, or get out of LA entirely. They have discovered that connection to earth and to nature keeps them grounded, which is literally critical to their very survival.
Performers are creatives and creatives are almost always empaths, or people that feel the pain of the world. It’s what makes us great artists, writers, musicians, dancers and actors. Most people go through life with blinders on. It’s how they exist and survive. Creatives are people that choose to live their lives without blinders. We choose to see truth so we can communicate that truth to those that choose to wear blinders, but it comes at a cost.
People that choose to wear blinders are more than willing to be entertained, but they don’t want their blinders lifted. Many people choose to entertain because it opens the door to also slip in a painful truth now and then. If a person is entertaining enough, people may be willing to receive that truth as long as it isn’t too painful. Telling too much truth can come at a high cost, however, so many performers choose to simply stick to entertainment and keep truth to themselves. That too comes at a high personal cost, however, because you cannot unsee what you have chosen to see.
There is an extreme cost to absorbing the pain of the world. Some people, like Maya Angelou or Chris Rock, found ways of allowing that pain to move through them. Others did not. People like tWitch and Robin Williams learned to make their way through life making other people happy, but never got the help they needed to understand that they too were worthy of being happy.
Many entertainers learned to do so as a response to trauma.
They often grew up in violent or unhappy households and learned they could make everything better by simply making the people around them laugh or dance or smile. They spent years honing their skills until there was no face they could not bring a smile to. They are literally the ultimate people pleasers. They feel the best when they are making other people happy.
The only way to spread that much joy, however, is to absorb some of other people’s pain. The more misery there is in the world, the more misery and pain you end up absorbing. It can be like a toxin that kills your own soul if you are not careful. Too many entertainers only ever learned how to make others happy, never themselves. In many cases, they don’t believe they are actually worthy of happiness. Which is just one more delightful gift of abuse.
I know all of this because I lived it.
I grew up being bounced around from foster home to foster home. I spent most of my childhood believing if I could just be “perfect” someone would want me. I tried desperately but it never seemed to work. When I was 13, I was sent to live in Colorado with my biological mom and her abusive husband. He burned my neck with a curling iron and pushed me out of a window, which caused me to break my arm in the process. I spent 10 years as a missionary in a Christian theater company working 70+ hours a week for $20-$60 a week, which had a tremendous impact on my own sense of value and worth. By 2006, I myself was highly suicidal.
During that time, I read a quote on a website that forever changed the way I view suicide. The quote was “suicide is what happens when the pain of living becomes greater than the fear of the unknown.” That struck me because I knew it to be true. Perhaps the one thing that is most true of everyone that thinks about, attempts or succeeds in taking their own life is that they are people in pain and that is something we need to pay more attention to and start talking about.
It is wrong to think that there’s nothing we can do. The darker things are around us, the more we need to pay attention to the light-bringers. They are only human after all. We need to stop believing in their strength and believe in their frailty. We need to do what they can’t, which is to ensure they are getting the self care they need. If ever there was a time they need to be bullied and bossed around, it’s in service of ensuring they are at least giving themselves the care they need, because they will be unlikely to be able to accept it from others.
In many cases, however, that means we have to literally teach them how to do that. Sometimes, we have to go even farther back and teach them that they are worthy of being cared for. We need to tell them over and over and over until they internalize that message even deeper than the one that says their only worth and value comes from pleasing others. Instead of asking your strong or happy friends “how are you?”, we need to start asking “how are you caring for yourself?” and keep right on doing it every day until we get a satisfactory answer.
Self-care is not getting a manicure or taking a bubble bath. Self-care is making your emotional and spiritual life a priority. Self-care is meditating or praying or reading emotionally and spiritually fulfilling literature for 20-30 minutes a day every day. Self care is going for long walks in nature or a long bike ride or spending a full day hiking or fishing. Self-care is journaling or going to therapy. Self care is work. Self-care can certainly be a spa day but self-care needs to happen every single day.
Self-care is a discipline. It means making sure you are carving out enough time every day to get a good night’s rest. It means carefully monitoring how much media you are consuming every day and what kind. While spending time on social media isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the question is whether you are watching cute cat videos or things that uplift the soul or a steady stream of hatred and violence. The same way your physical health is dependent on the food that you eat, your spiritual and emotional health with be hugely affected by the media you consume.
And speaking of food…
There is no doubt that there is an incredibly strong link between mental health and food. A book that literally saved my life was The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. There was a time when my own mental and emotional health issues were so severe that I was quickly reaching the point where I know that some type of legal intervention was almost assuredly on the horizon, if I didn’t take my own life first. If that intervention had come, it would have been very unlikely to actually prolong my life but more likely result in a speedy departure. I was desperate to not get caught in the pharmaceutical spiral, where one pill simply leads to another and another until you’re on 12 different types of medication.
It turns out, however, that serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters that your brain cannot just literally make out of thin air. It actually needs nutritional building blocks called amino acids to make them. Amino acids are found in proteins, which capitalistic food suppliers have convinced us we don’t need nearly as much of as we actually do. In addition, there are as many as 26 amino acids that we know of and we are constantly discovering more. Not all proteins contain the same amino acids.
Meat is a perfect protein containing a full amino acid profile, which we have all but eliminated from our diet. In spite of how much family drama there is on Thanksgiving, most of us look forward to it because it is one of the few times a year we actually get a full-serving of unprocessed meat. From that, we get a good solid dose of tryptophan, which our body uses to make serotonin, which is why you still usually get that fat, dumb and happy feeling at the end of the meal, no matter how much your family fought all the way through it.
Emotional and mental health issues were also not the only thing I struggled with. I have been obese my whole life and had numerous related health issues, including diabetes. Turns out, however, that most of the issues that I had spent my whole life being told were the result of obesity were not. Although it would actually take me several more years to lose weight, my mental, physical, spiritual and emotional well being changed drastically almost from the moment I started eating for health rather than weight loss.
It also turns out that chronic dieting my whole life had left me severely nutritionally depleted. In a strange twist of irony, obesity is actually a form of starvation. It’s why obese people are always hungry. It’s not because they aren’t getting enough calories, but are getting too many calories from food devoid of nutrition. When you get hungry, what your body actually needs is nutrients, not calories. When you eat a lot of nutrient poor food, your body literally thinks there is a famine and starts storing up for it.
Over time as I began to eat for health rather than weight loss, my energy levels increased in addition to my mental health. Eventually there came a point where I just simply couldn’t sit around on my couch anymore. Once I got up and started getting active (literally just walking) I started shedding weight like water. I am so very grateful that I found this book when I did because it allowed me to actually get a handle on my mental health without ever taking pharmaceuticals.
This book was just the starting point, however. Achieving good mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health was a very long journey that involved making significant investments in much higher quality food, taking supplements, getting outdoors, learning better life and money management skills and disciplines and hours and hours and hours of journaling. It involved taking multiple personality inventories to figure out who I was and what made me tick. It involved the painful process of letting go of some life-long toxic relationships and many hours curled up in the fetal position ugly crying.
For me, getting healthy was a long, painful 15-year journey that often felt like it was one step forward, three steps back but I wouldn’t change a single moment of it for where I am today. We need to start recognizing and realizing that there really aren’t actually people that are stronger or happier than others, there are simply people who are better at hiding their pain. No one would have ever known (or maybe even believed) what I was going through because I never stopped appearing to be strong.
Sadly, I gained a fair amount of weight back during the pandemic, largely due to stress, but this time it did not tank my physical or emotional health. I lost it once and I know how, so instead of plunging me into a deep depression like weight gain always has in the past, I know how to have grace with myself now and can just accept it as a minor setback. I know enough to get myself emotionally and mentally stable again before trying to tackle any weight loss. I know that beating myself up isn’t going to help.
Instead of asking your strong or chronically happy/ upbeat people how they are, ask them very blatant and pointed questions about exactly how they are engaging in and managing their own self care. Bully them, harass them, do whatever you need to do until you get satisfactory answers to how they are taking care of themselves, which includes getting enough rest, eating properly and doing some type of mental/ spiritual healthcare practices every single day.
Every. Single. Day.
Managing your mental, spiritual and emotional health is a lot like overcoming an addiction. It’s a one-step-at-a-time, one-day-at-a-time process that involves a long series of small disciplines that cumulatively have the effect of keeping you out of a deep, dark hole. Staying out of the hole in the first place is far, far easier than trying to climb your way out of it. Once you do, it’s a daily struggle to stay that way, but it is both achievable and easier over time. You may not realize it, they may not realize it, but your chronically strong/ happy people have more in common with addicts than they realize. If you love them, don’t just ask them how they are, make absolutely sure they are doing the hard but fulfilling work of staying healthy.
As we head into the New Year, consider making a different resolution this year. Not to just get in better physical shape, but to get in better spiritual, emotional, physical and mental shape. Human beings are so much more than just a body and every part of you needs the same level of care. Start the process of learning about you. What makes you happy, what brings you peace, what foods help you maintain the highest level of mental and emotional health?
Stop relying on one-size-fits all diets geared towards losing weight and start figuring out how to eat for good mental health instead. Your friends and loved ones will thank you, which will also create better relationships that will give you additional strength to make it through the hard times. It’s all interconnected, but it all starts with you.