Suicide – my thoughts in the wake of a celebrity’s death

Yesterday I read some jerkwad’s *coughmattwalshcough* opinion on suicide after the media frenzy of Robin William’s death. (I started this post last week, but haven’t had the strength to finish it until today.)

To say I felt he completely missed the nail is putting it lightly. He wasn’t even hammering in the same room as that nail.

I feel like I have something to offer on this subject and I want to share it. Normally I don’t want to share the deepest darkest parts of me, but I have been rolling the whole subject over and over in my mind since the news broke and I just can’t stay quiet. I have been appalled by some of the things I have read concerning suicide and his suicide in particular.

I have been depressed before – clinically and situationally depressed. I have been depressed to the point that I have lost jobs, only left my apartment to get some soda and cigarettes, stopped talking to friends and family, and self medicated – heavily. In those times I have often thought that perhaps the world would be better without me. I have thought that I was no good and nothing good could come from me and I would never ever get better. I have toyed with the idea of killing myself. I still struggle sometimes with depression.

But twice, twice I was truly suicidal. Twice it was only because something interrupted me that I am still alive today. Twice I had a plan and a time and day and I was ready to go through with it. That’s the difference between being depressed and having suicidal thoughts and being truly suicidal. The plan, the preparation, the time and place and day. That is what it means to be really suicidal. One of those times I was hospitalized for about a week. Obviously I am happy I was interrupted and happy I had the chance to get past those times in my life, as hard as it was.

Matt Walsh (I won’t link to his article because I don’t want to increase his traffic, but all you have to do is google “Matt Walsh blogger” and you will find him and his article) states:

“I can’t comprehend it. The complete, total, absolute rejection of life. The final refusal to see the worth in anything, or the beauty, or the reason, or the point, or the hope. The willingness to saddle your family with the pain and misery and anger that will now plague them for the rest of their lives.”
From this one comment I can see he has never been suicidal in his life. He has no idea what it’s like. Being that depressed and that suicidal is not a refusal to find beauty. It’s not a turning of the head away from anything good. It’s a feeling that there will never be anything good again for you. Not that you can’t see what you once did, but that you can no longer enjoy it. Not that there will never be happy times again, but that you can’t find a way to get to that point. You can’t find a bridge to take you from the worst emotional pain you can imagine to a place where you are happy again at least most of the time. And the family part – yes, most of us think of our family. We try to make it easier on them. We hang on as long as we do because of their love. We don’t want to hurt them, but our pain is so great that we can’t hold on any longer, not even for them. Depression lies. Sometimes it tells you your family would be better off without you anyway. It lies and it’s lies are mean.
Mr Walsh also indicates that happiness is a choice. That people who are depressed need to chose to be happy. While there ARE things that help many depressed people (therapy, medication, exercise, eating well, meditation, socializing, being outdoors, getting sunshine) there is no one choice you make to become depressed or *ping* undepressed. It’s not a conscious choice. I dare anyone out there to choose to change their body chemicals. Why isn’t he calling on diabetics to change their blood sugar and for thyroid patients to make their thyroid start functioning more correctly? It’s a chemical imbalance tied together with a whole lot of situational stuff that has kicked you until you are down. And kept kicking you. And most people don’t ask for help until they are truly down
There is another component in this particular case, though. Robin William’s wife issued a statement that he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. A horrible disease that takes away the control of your body. It attacks the nerves. People can live for decades slowly watching their body betray them more and more. When people learned this fact, the whole tone of the suicide changed. Suddenly the angry and mean comments were no longer being said.
I also know something about this side of the issue. My mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. A little more than 3 years later she killed herself. She told us from the start to expect that. She had seen other people decline with this same disease and she wasn’t going to allow herself to get past a certain point. She didn’t want to lose all she was and had been. But she was also depressed. From the moment she realized what was happening (in my opinion) it depressed her. While Alzheimer’s does that to many people – the chemicals in the brain being completely different can cause chemical depression – I feel it was also situational. She couldn’t stand her mind not working the way it used to and she didn’t want us to see her in a different light. She couldn’t take the land slide of changes in her life due to this disease.
She attempted once and then she succeeded a few months later. Everyone in my family has a different opinion on it. Some just feel like she died from Alzheimer’s – that the suicide wasn’t really her choice, that it was the disease that forced her hand so to speak. Some feel like she purposely planned it to happen just as she was really losing herself so that none of us would see her at the worst part of it. I fell like it was an act of love and kindness as well as the act of a diseased mind. She loved us too much to “become a burden” (though none of us saw her that way) and she wanted to spare us from taking care of her in that state. I also don’t believe she would have killed herself if she hadn’t been physically ill.
The interesting thing to me is that while many people see it as tragic, I haven’t met anyone who sees her death as wrong or selfish or hurtful like they do with a younger or physically healthier person who takes their own life. They understand it. They empathize with it.
Why is that empathy removed from so many people’s reactions when the reason is “just depression”? Why can’t people understand that depression is just as painful as other diseases?
I suppose my answer lies in the fact that people who can’t understand suicide have simply never been in the type of pain that severe depression brings.
When I was in high school a teacher of mine asked the class to raise our hands if we had been in physical pain before. Then he asked us to raise our hands if we had been in emotional pain before. Then he asked us which one we would choose if given the choice. Of the three people who had raised their hands for both, all of us said we would choose physical pain. Being 20+ years older now, I have had severe physical pain due to cancer and surgeries. Very severe pain. And I have experienced more emotional\psychological pain since then as well. I would still chose physical pain over psychological any day.
(I won’t even start with how the physical pain and psychological pain feed off each other.)
I suppose I am writing this post is to implore you. To ask you to please try to see suicide for what it is. To stop calling it selfish and hurtful and weak. To ask you to realize that it takes a lot of pain for someone to get to that point in their lives and that you may never realize just how much it takes, but that perhaps you can try to remember that your experience and someone else’s are completely different. I can’t truly know your pain and you can’t truly know mine. But we can BOTH be kind. We can both stop pointing fingers and saying that this or that is wrong for the other person. I think that the post I read made me so upset because instead of finding compassion and hoping to reach readers who need help and give them just a little, this person instead chose to blame and tell others that their pain isn’t real – it doesn’t count. That they can just suck it up, pull on the old bootstraps and fix themselves.
Please, instead, find it in your heart to open your arms and help others who are in pain. Listen for the people who need help. Show them compassion and love. And know that even if, in the end, they choose to leave you, like my mother did, that the compassion and love was not wasted. The kindnesses I showed her were not in vain. She felt them and they helped her at that time. Please know that the good doesn’t take away the bad and the bad doesn’t invalidate the good.*

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” Henri Nouwen

Be the one who chooses to give love and share pain rather than telling other people what they need in these situations or that they are wrong.

*paraphrased based on a quote in Dr. Who

Trauma and Hope – My Messy Beautiful

We collect tragedies and traumas, don’t we?

String them together like shiny, sharp beads on a cord to wear around our necks.

They glint and reflect the sunshine – showing themselves to all who see us.

This one is for the day I woke up long past time to get up for school and knew something was wrong because I had slept in – the day I woke up and found out my grandmother had died. My first real loss. This one is for the chest surgery I had 2,552 days ago – and all the rest of the surgeries and treatments and pain my cancer brought me. This one is for not being what my mother needed when she needed me most; even though she was always, always what I needed. This one is for the day I signed the papers for my son to enter special ed. This one is for one of the days I woke up not able to function in life, killing my pain with addictive substances and pushing out all the good people I knew. There are so many more. Some are bigger and sharper than others, but they are all there, shiny and sharp and making up my life.

I define myself, really, by these “bad events” in my life. I always have. If you ask me who I am, my mind goes to the days that hurt the most – because somewhere in my mind I think they shaped me the most. And they did shape me, both the tragedy and the relief and release and beauty that came from them all.

But, did they shape me the most?

What would happen if, instead of letting those beads define me, I made a necklace of good things that have happened in my life? What would happen if I let those sharp painful beads rest in my dresser drawer, underneath the socks and underwear for a while?

The new necklace would be full of bright colors and soft curves. Also shiny and also seen by all who know me.

This one is for the days I played in the park as a child, unafraid of the world – climbing trees and laying in the soft grass and hiding in a “clubhouse” of evergreen clusters with my friends and brothers. This one is for the horse riding at the cattle camp with my grandpa and uncles and cousins and dad. This one is for graduation with all my family there to see and all of my friends happy and smiling. This one is for the day I realized it wasn’t all horrible – that life is beautiful and kind and lovely as well. This one is for getting to know my brothers as adults and truly enjoying their company. This one is for the day my husband met his son, standing in the airport after a 15 hour plane ride, holding his 3 week old son and smiling. This one is for the first day I heard “Mama” and this one is for the snuggling and hair twirling and little kisses on my face. This one is for the day I signed papers for my son to enter special ed, but also realized that he is wonderful and beautiful no matter what – and that my job is just to help him, not to “fix” him. One for every family member and friend. Again, there are so many more, all different sizes and shapes. Also making up my life.

But that necklace, as beautiful as it is, doesn’t show my whole life either. It doesn’t shape me in the same way, it doesn’t let me learn from my mistakes and the pain and the sorrow. It doesn’t define me either.

So now, day to day, I am learning and trying to live in a way that allows me to have both. To put those beads side by side. The shiny sharp ones and the colorful curvy ones. I am learning to open my heart to it all, as painful as both the beauty and the sorrow can be.

We are not only our tragedy and trauma, and we are not only our hopeful and happy. We are messy and beautiful all at once.

Image

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life

Life is hard. It is. It’s hard. And it’s lovely. Both. One of my favorite bloggers (Glennon Melton at Momastery) says that life is brutiful. Brutal and beautiful at the same time. I agree. But here is the secret: you can’t know one without the other. When I was young I was somewhat obsessed with quotes. Especially the inspirational kind. I would type them up (yes TYPE on a typewriter) and cut them out into little strips of paper and put them on my wall. One of those quotes was “you can’t enjoy the sunshine without the rain.” I have no idea who first said it or if we even know. It seemed to strike a chord with me. I didn’t know that I would one day learn (as perhaps we all do) how true that saying is. You can’t know happiness unless you know sadness. You can’t know peace if you haven’t experienced turmoil. Our understanding of emotion is based on how we interpret our lives. Sometimes things have to be difficult. Sometimes things have to hurt a little. It is only then that we have a comparison for the good things. That’s how life goes.

I have several friends struggling lately. I worry for them. One of the common themes I find in all people who are going through a hard time is the “I just can’t wait until this part is over” thinking. I do it too. Maybe it helps us get through that part of life. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism – it makes us think about how things will be different, better, later on. It gives us a point to focus on and push toward. It’s like running long distance and finally seeing the finish line. I think. I don’t run, but if I did I can totally imagine me seeing that finish line and it giving me a little extra nudge to get there. If that’s how it helps us, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

I have always been a “runner”. Not the racing kind, but the “I can’t get out of here fast enough” kind. It’s like my default way of dealing with stuff. I would run away from problems. Either by moving or by quitting or by using a variety of “chemicals” to help me forget. Sometimes I just used sleep and tv. Sometimes food. In the past few years I have experienced some things I can’t run away from. Things that you have to face head on or be broken by them. I believe those lessons have made me a better person. I want to share some of what I have learned. Maybe one day it will help someone. Maybe one of my struggling friends will find comfort from it.

1. Pain is inevitable.

Pain is part of life and you can not escape it all. No one can. When I was younger, trying to find myself, I took some meditation classes from a Buddhist center where I lived. It was a lovely place filled with lovely people. They gave meditation classes to the public every Sunday night. I enjoyed what I learned there. We had lovely lessons and even lovelier guided group meditations. One of the things that struck me was a set of phrases they used. They told us that if you feel pain while doing your meditation (say your back hurts from sitting too long, or your leg falls asleep, or your foot itches), don’t move, don’t try to wiggle it out. They said that life is full of pain. Trying to run away from it or change it does not help you. Instead they told us that if we experienced pain during our meditation the best thing to do was to accept it, breathe into it, acknowledge it and just be in the moment. That the pain would pass. Pain can be physical, emotional, and mental in the way I am using it here, and trust me, they all hurt. I believe this ties into the “you can’t experience the sunshine without the rain” thought process. If you don’t allow yourself to experience the bad, how will you know the good? I actually used the “breathe into it, acknowledge it” part a lot in years to come when I had painful surgeries, when my son was born, or when my chronic pain tortured me. But let’s analyse this in a real life situation, because let’s be honest, most pain doesn’t come when you are sitting in the Lotus position and breathing deeply with a calm mind. Let me use an example. When my mom was sick it was very painful for me. (for her more, but we are selfish beings) I worried about it. I stressed over it. I felt unable to help, and unable to fix things and unable to even be there the way she needed. Those are very difficult emotions for me. They caused a lot of emotional pain for me. I always fix stuff. But I couldn’t’ fix this. When I would quiet my mind and meditate and breathe into the pain, it helped me calm myself back down and find a more centered spot. It didn’t last long, but it did help me center myself again for a while. When my mom died it had been a really hard 6 months for our family. I can tell you almost all of the moments during a 5-6 day period of time with my family during the time of her death and funeral. I can remember all of the love, all of the pain, all of the breathing, all of the faces, all of the kindnesses. Because there was nothing I could do but sit, breathe, acknowledge the pain. Roll around in it. Wrap myself up in it. When time slows down like this, you know – you know you are in a life changing moment, and I am thankful I was able to accept it in this way. That’s not to say I didn’t have pain anymore. Or I still don’t. But I did my best to treat it like a part of life. A moment to learn from. When my Grandfather died I was not in a good place. I was using alcohol and drugs to calm my mind. I was hiding out from my family – not keeping in contact. I was losing jobs left and right. I was living in a dirty apartment. I was unable to process my feelings about his death at the time. Because I ran. I am happy I was able to learn that lesson later. Not all people meditate (though I recommend it to everyone because it’s awesome), but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the hard parts of life. Attempting to push the lessons you may be needing to learn away, trying to stop things from happening, trying to shelter yourself or others, does not help anyone. It causes more pain because your stress builds up. Your worry intensifies. You do not learn the lessons you are meant to learn. You do not progress.

It is the same way with our children. We want to protect them, stop the bad things from happening, keep them from being hurt. Some of these things are wise and good – like keeping your child from playing in dangerous chemicals, or keeping your baby from putting things in the electrical socket. But some things need to be experienced by our children – it’s how they learn. When my son was a baby I read that the way a baby learns to stand and walk is by falling down. Falling down and standing back up develop muscles babies need to be able to stand longer and one day walk. Falling down also helps them learn how they are oriented in space, cause and effect, how to control their bodies, and many more things. If we keep our toddlers from falling down, we rob them of the chance to learn. If you have read very many of my other blog posts, you know that my son struggles from time to time in different ways. One thing he struggles with is social aspects of life. He is loud, persistent, expectant, demanding. He knows what he wants and he WILL get it. Sometimes other kids don’t like these qualities – they call him bossy or mean or tell him to leave them alone. When this first started happening my instinct was to run to help. I was the mama bear just wanting to keep him from getting his feelings hurt, and to protect other kids too. Because he would throw big fits, I got into the habit of kind of hovering. I would always go with the kids so I could intervene at any moment. I would try to protect him from other kids AND himself. It wasn’t until he stopped the fit throwing most of the time that he started to really learn what other people expected of him socially. I realized that was because I was finally stepping back and letting him learn it on his own. I was finally giving him space to get hurt a little, or mess up a little, or even lose a friend so he could learn how to act in a socially acceptable way. I was protecting him too much. You can explain to a person HOW to ride a bike all you want. Until they actually do it for themselves they can not learn it. Now, sometimes he still needs social cues, and I try to give them if I am there and able to hear what is going on. But I also let him work things out on his own. If he asks what to do, or gets upset, I will give him advice or hints. But I let him fall down sometimes so he can learn. There is a time for everything, including being in pain. There is a time to sit and breathe in the moment and just accept the pain and let it roll around you. Robbing my child of his chance to have those moments didn’t do him any services. Like a toddler who’s parents don’t allow them to stand up on their own some, he would never learn to walk if I didn’t allow him to get hurt some.

2. This moment will never happen again.

This lesson brought to you by the words Cancer, Parenthood, Alzheimer’s, Death, and Love. Actually this lesson was brought to ME by those words. Life is fleeting. It really is. When you are 5 years old, each moment can last all day. When you are 35 you turn around and your son is in Preschool and you don’t know how it happened so fast. You can never get this moment back. And thank goodness for that for some of them, right? Like the ones where you are elbow deep in child poo and can’t reach the wipes that fell on the floor. Or when you son comes up to you with his hands full of something smelly and brown and says “Mom, I think there is poo on the playground.” (thanks to a friend for this example) Or when you are at the store and your son throws a fit because he wants something and you end up having to haul him out of the store kicking and screaming while everyone watches you and (in your mind) judges you as a bad mom. (hm, that’s a lot more potty talk than I am usually prone to. sorry for those mental images) Thank goodness some of THESE moments are fleeting. But some, some you do need to absorb. To slow down and look around you and make a mental photograph. To remember the exact way his smile turns up. To remember the laughter at your silly faces. To remember your husband and son holding each other, trusting each other, loving each other. To remember your mom walking with your son, holding hands, telling him the names of flowers, pointing to beautiful things for him to see. Things you did not see yourself. If you are constantly in a rush, how do you absorb and remember these? If you can’t slow down and stop pushing forward, stop forging the way, how do you remember the lovely lovely moments in life? How do you let them into your heart? When I was at my sickest from cancer – when I was at my mom and dad’s house with my baby – my husband 500 miles away – trying to prepare for another surgery – when I couldn’t lift my son – I sat and looked at him. I watched him. I touched his hand, stroked his toes, kissed his head. I handed him the soft ball he liked to hold, or held a toy up for him to reach for. I tried to absorb all of the moments I could. I had nothing to do but sit. Sit and rest and let my body be strong again. And so I did. I sat and I paid attention to those things in my life I needed to remember. When they wheeled my down to surgery, doped up on Versed, all 4 times, I had one beautiful thought in my head. I remember consciously choosing to drift off into never-land with the image of my son yawning in my head. The first time was spontaneous, but it calmed me so much I made it the routine. From the beginning he did the funniest cute little pucker of his lips at the beginning of his yawn. I loved it with all my heart – that moment of pucker, that second of adorableness – and I clung to that image. I let that image be my life raft, bringing me back to him when the surgery was over. I couldn’t help but think that this is what it must feel like when we die. Flashes of the most precious things in our life. A look, a touch, a kiss on a forehead, a pucker. Slow down. Slow down and see these moments. When you are bent over a pile of paperwork, or trying to get the dishes done so you can help with homework and get the kids in the bath, or counting the minutes until bedtime…. stop. Listen for a second. Look around for a second. Capture a moment instead of pushing them away.

3. No one can live like this all the time.

When I was at my sickest, as I mentioned in #2, I was at my Mom’s house. She watched Grey’s Anatomy every week at that time. I was off my thyroid meds and couldn’t follow 5 minutes of anything, so I just sat and watched with her. One of the episodes had a scene – and this scene is branded onto my mind – involving “enjoying every single moment.” One of the women characters (Izzy maybe) had had a near death experience of some sort, and had been going around all week telling everyone to enjoy every moment, pointing out the beauty in every single thing. Telling people to just be thankful they were alive and stop bickering, thrusting her amazement at the beauty of the world onto everyone else. One of the other women characters (Meredith perhaps) told her to knock it off. She said she was glad that her friend had this experience, and that it helped her see the beauty in every moment, but that most people just can’t live like that all the time. Most people are just trying to get through the moment. ** That hit me as well. It was true. While I was sitting, getting stronger, absorbing every minute I was able to stay awake, my family was bustling around me. Arranging child care help, feeding us, cleaning up after us, helping me with showers, getting up in the night with my baby. I doubt they were able to absorb much of anything, honestly. And I realized that sometimes it isn’t the “season” for absorbing and loving and seeing the beauty. Sometimes it the season for pushing ahead, getting up and going forward a few more steps, pushing yourself to keep going. Like a child learning to ride a bike, if you fall down and just sit there and wallow in the hurt and think about how scary it felt to fall, you will never get on again. If you don’t pick yourself up and try again, you won’t learn to ride. Sometimes it’s the season of getting up and trying again.

4. Life is easier with those you love.

Find strength in those whom you love. In those who love you. Find happiness and peace and a place to be safe in your friends and family (whatever your definition of family is). Give to them as they give to you and everyone’s load will be lighter. I could go on all day about this one. Just know that in every hard moment, and in every good one, the people you love will make it better. And remember not to only call them when life is hard. Definitely call when life is hard, but also when life is normal or happy. Share all the times, not just the bad ones. My husband’s family is better at this than I am. They make time to get together, they drop by each other’s houses for coffee and tea. They see each other all the time. I have been trying to work on this more – getting together with people who make me happy, and children who make my son happy. We all need that in life.

I know that none of this is easy. Again, life isn’t easy. It’s messy and it hurts and it brings you to your knees sometimes. But it’s also beautiful and full of love and beauty as well. Life is brutiful. Live it accordingly.

** You’ll forgive my lack of knowledge about this episode of Grey’s Anatomy, I hope. I never was a devoted follower and I was so sick I didn’t know what was going on around me. In a thyroidless induced walking coma. If any devoted fans know this episode I would love to watch it again. It may or may not have been around the time of the “red mist” episode in which there is a bomb in the hospital – I remember watching that episode in the weeks I was there as well.

World Suicide Prevention Day

Suicide.

That’s a hard word. A harder topic.

I honestly don’t even know where to begin, so I will just jump right in.

Suicide has touched my life several times – starting when I was a teenager.

We had several suicides in our school, and we had several suicides of people in surrounding towns that people from my school knew. They were mostly in my periphery, but they affected me greatly. I feel like they affected me so much because I had those feelings as a teenager too (and even into adult hood). I felt a strange sort of attachment to those people – even if I barely knew them or knew them through someone else.

Looking back I know that nothing I was going through was worth killing myself over. Yes, I had trauma in my life, and I had pain. But nothing I couldn’t have gotten through. Looking back I realize it was mostly a chemical imbalance that created those feelings for me. I could see the pain it left in it’s wake. The disbelief, the utter tragedy, the loss that never heals. I could see family members and friends wondering what they could have done differently, how they could have helped the person.

I realized from that early age that honestly there is little the outside world can do in these situations. I have learned that no matter how much love is given, how much help is given most people who are thinking of suicide will either do it or they won’t, and we can’t change that. I realized that because no matter how much my family loved me, no matter how much I loved them, those feelings couldn’t just disappear. I want people who have lost loved ones to suicide to know this – that they really shouldn’t think about the what if’s. It doesn’t help you and it doesn’t bring back your loved one.

Yes, the thoughts of my family – especially my brothers and my grandparents – gave me a life raft in the sea of despair. And honestly, if I had a different family, one with no support or little love, things might have gone differently. But no one but ME could change my mind or stop those feelings. Do not blame yourself, do not hate yourself, do not carry that burden for the rest of your life. You are not in charge of another person’s feelings, you are not in charge of their actions.

That being said, how do we help people we love in the future?

Since this is suicide prevention day, let’s talk about prevention. (again, realizing you can try and hope and help, but in the end the decision is theirs)

1. Take threats or someone talking about suicide seriously. Even if they have mentioned it before – even if they seem to just want attention from it. Maybe the attention they need is someone believing them.

2. Ask for help. Ask a teacher, a parent, a trusted adult. Tell them what your friend/ relative is saying. Yes, it could make your friend mad. Wouldn’t you rather have them mad at you than have them die? They will hopefully know it’s in their best interest in the end.

3. Talk to the person about why they feel this way. If you are an adult try to get them medical help. Help them make appointments for counselors, help them get to those appointments. When you are in the throws of depression picking up the phone or driving down the street can feel like the hardest thing in the world. It can seem impossible to get out of bed and get dressed. If they seem to be in immediate danger, take immediate action. If you have to call the police, do it. When I was in college I was very seriously contemplating suicide. I called a friend in another state to say I loved them and goodbye. They called the police. They called the police and asked them to get to me. The police came, called an ambulance, took me to the hospital and I spent a week in an inpatient facility. I believe this probably saved my life. DON’T worry about whether or not your loved one will be angry. Worry about saving their life.

4. Help them make a plan. What will they do from here on out to get help? Where will they go for help? When are you available to help them if they need someone to talk to? Do they need a suicide watch (someone watching them for several days until the most intense feelings leave)? Do they need someone there at night or in the day or both? What do they need to feel safe, and to be safe? (some of these questions may need to be answered with a doctor’s help)

5. Don’t judge. Don’t say things like “it can’t be that bad…” or “everything will be better soon” or “so many people out there have worse problems than you and they make it”. Depression is a disease. It is a chemical imbalance. It is a physical problem – IT IS NOT ALL IN SOMEONE’S HEAD. Depression lies. Depression tells you that things will NEVER EVER feel better. Depression tells you that no matter what you do you will feel like this FOREVER. Depression tricks you and tells you that you can never change, that you can never make yourself “whole” again, that no matter what you do you will always always feel this terrible. Depression takes all your hope, all your faith, all your good stuff, and hides it so far inside of you that you can’t even remember it was there. Don’t tell people they just need to snap out of it, or they just need to get up and take a shower and they will feel better. That doesn’t help.

6. Try to get an agreement out of your loved one. Many therapists do this – they ask the patient to promise not to hurt themselves for a week – just until their next appointment. Just a week. Most people with depression can handle a short amount of time like this. Most people can look ahead one week and think “maybe if I give it a week I will feel better, and if not, I have only promised a week.” Not all, but most. If you can get them to promise that it sometimes helps. Sometimes they feel like they need to honor that promise.

For all of those out there who have been lost to suicide: I am sorry. I am sorry for the pain you felt and the sadness that you couldn’t get rid of. I am sorry that your life was not what it should have or could have been. I am sorry you did not get to see the other side – the part where it gets better. The part where you realize that it can be beautiful after all.

For all of those out there who have survived suicide or suicidal feelings: I hear ya. I know, sometimes it comes back. Sometimes it feels like there are more bad days than good, even now. I know sometimes it feels like you just can’t keep going. But you can – because you did it before. I am here to say I am glad you did make it – I am glad we all did.

For all of those who have lost loved ones to suicide: It hurts. I know. My mom recently took her own life. Her mind was not her own after her alzheimer’s diagnosis. She couldn’t live with that awful disease. I know that it hurts to know you couldn’t help. That no matter what you said or what help you got them it didn’t fix the problem. If you read their last thoughts I know it hurts to know that those were the last feelings they had – that even though you and many many others loved them, that wasn’t enough. I know that it hurts to see their distorted ideas and their pain. I know that this hurt never really heals. I know that you carry this pain in your heart – that the bag of bricks sometimes feels heavy enough to break you. I know. And I am sorry any of us have to survive a family member or friend who couldn’t see their way to another tomorrow.

Let’s help one another. Let’s help who we can. And let’s free ourselves from the guilt we carry. All of us. People who have thought of suicide, people who have attempted it and lived, and people who survive a loved one’s suicide. Let’s join together and let go of the guilt and use this pain for good.

Grieving

Aside

I am learning about grieving.

I have had big losses before, but I wasn’t in a place to learn from them. I was too young, or too “not in the moment,” or too “masking my feelings with unhealthy coping skills.”

Today I was able to get some things done. Little things, but things I needed to do. I also got my son and I out of the house for a while. Which we both needed.

It occurred to me as I was sitting in Karate class with my thoughts that part of death is the living people moving forward. Moving on. And it has a lot to teach the living if they let it. Some days moving forward is simply putting one foot in front of the other. Literally moving on.

One day I will be ready to jump back into our real life. One day I will have to. I am thankful that it is our summer break and we didn’t have to come back to ALL of the things we do during the school year. It might have broken me.

For now I am thankful for putting one foot in front of the other. For moving forward little by little. That’s what I could manage today. And that’s ok.

Dear Alzheimer’s Disease:

Dear Alzheimer’s Disease:

My mother was diagnosed with you a little over 3 years ago. We think. She didn’t actually tell us for a while. See, she wanted us to treat her the same and see her as she always had been. I had noticed a few weird occurrences, but chalked it up to stress. She had had what the doctors thought was MS, but perhaps was not at all.

She actually had early onset alzheimer’s and was only 56 when she was diagnosed. Can you imagine? Loosing yourself at such a young age?

My first thought was, selfishly, what will I do without my mom? If I have to face cancer again I can’t do it without my mom. She was there for me through every surgery, every treatment, every big appointment. My first thought was to my safety and well being.

You took her independence. She had a very high functioning job. One that she did very well and loved. One that helped her to thrive and help others who needed it. You took that from her very early into the disease. She simply couldn’t keep up with the meetings, the emails, the needs of all of her employees, students, parents, administrators. She had to take early retirement and at her retirement party she was devastated.

You took her peace of mind. From the day she told us I noticed her researching. She researched constantly, how to slow the mental decline, what doctors to see, what actually helped and what didn’t… She was constantly on her BlackBerry or her laptop, looking up articles, journals, forums, etc. She read books and she told us to read books. She sent us to alzheimer’s facilities to “see how bad they were”. She told us how she didn’t want to end up in a nursing home “with people having to clean her”. As you progressed her anxiety about that grew stronger until it was the thing she thought about the most.

You took time with her family. She became anxious in groups, to the point that she didn’t want us kids to visit. The noise and activity, especially with the grandkids around, was too much. She would have seizures the doctors thought were brought on by stress and end up in the hospital almost every time one of us was to come up for a while. She couldn’t leave the house sometimes and my dad had to go to functions and family dinners, etc alone. Several vacations she wanted to take were cancelled because the simple thought of an airport or hotel or crowds would put her into a panic. She wanted a few last fun times with her family and she couldn’t have them.

You took her memories. She made a video for us all – about 6 months ago – telling us a few stories about herself, talking about us as a family, talking to the grandkids. It was during this video that I saw some real decline. When we were around she could hide it. She could change the subject or maybe we just didn’t bring up “memories” – she could say she didn’t feel well and go lay down. Sure, I noticed when she had trouble remembering her address or birthdate at a doctor’s appointment, but I was only around for those things once in a while and most families know that memory is a funny thing – it can be wiped clean from one area but not another. On this video she said several things wrong – things about our childhood, and perhaps even her time with our dad – that were not quite right. The wrong son was mentioned in a story, the wrong event in a time line…. You know what? She cherished those memories, and you just pulled them out of her head like a string out of a sweater. Like they didn’t even matter.

Most importantly, you took her happiness. The last 2 years of her life she was very unhappy most of the time. She had severe depression that nothing seemed to help. She could not get over the imminent ending she felt pressing down on her. You took every good thing from her and made it bad in her head. In her journal she wrote the last week of her life about not trusting her children and husband. About feeling like we didn’t trust her. She wrote about the sadness she had and the anger she felt. She wrote about the desolation and alone-ness.  You took every ounce of happiness she had and you crushed it.

And I hate you for it. I hate you like I have never hated anything or anyone else in my life. I hate you so much I can’t even put it into words. I want to hurt you and to stomp you and to crush you. But guess what? You even take that. You are not a physical being we can rail against or take to the justice system to be tried for torture. You even take the ability to fight you away.

Finally, you took her life. My beautiful mother; my strong, lovely, vibrant, sassy, wonderful mother; she took her own life a little over two weeks ago. It was her second attempt and this time it worked. I knew she would do it, she had warned us all she would not let you take her down all the way. I just wanted a little more time with her. A couple weeks later my son and I were to come visit her. He missed out on that last visit with his grammie because she couldn’t hold on a couple more weeks. You took my son’s grammie – someone who had helped raise him and had been an anchor in his stormy life. You took her from us.

You are cruel. You are heartless. You don’t deserve to exist. I have no words for the pain you inflict and the hurt you cause. I don’t even know how to start to describe it. So I will end with this:

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” – Martin Luther King, Jr

I hate you, Alzheimer’s disease. But I can not wallow in this hate too long. I can not let it take my happiness and peace of mind like it took my mothers. I will focus on the love I have for my family and my friends. I will remember my mother as she was before she was tortured by you, and I will remind my son of her.

Love is the answer. Always.

I just need to hold on to that thought.

 

I took first aid.

I took first aid. I took several installments, in fact. When I was 12 years old I began going to the “young women’s” group of our church. During the summer we would go to “girl’s camp” for a week. We learned how to make fires, how to cook camp food, how to pitch a tent, how to do basic first aid. I went for 4 years, so I know how to stop bleeding. Plus I watch a lot of crime and doctor type dramas. That makes me somewhat of an expert in it’s self. 

You know how sometimes in your life you feel like an artery of your life has been cut? Like every ounce of energy is being sucked out of you by the stresses in your life? Like your basic life force is actually spurting out of you?

Do you know what the basic first aid for a cut artery is? 

Let me give you a hint: it does not involve a band aid.

This is what I feel like right now. 

As if I am trying to stop the flow of blood from an artery. With a band aid.

Memory

Memory is a CRAZY thing. Really.

According to two doctors named Shonkoff and Phillips in a 2000 National Academy of Sciences journal, the way our memories develop is fascinating.

First, we are born with almost all the neurons we will ever need – over 1 billion of them. “During fetal development, neurons are created and migrate to form the various parts of the brain. As neurons migrate, they also differentiate, so they begin to “specialize” in response to chemical signals. This process of development occurs sequentially from the “bottom up,” that is, from the more primitive sections of the brain to the more sophisticated sections.” So, basically the fetus develops the brain of say, a lizard – all fight or flight – all survival, then progresses up the evolutionary chain until it has the brain of a human. All these cells – finding their way to the right spot – and CHANGING as they go to become what they need to be.

Second, in the first 3 years of life a baby forms over 1,000 TRILLION synapses. They are constantly forming synapses, even while they sleep. Synapses are the electrical path ways that tell us what works and what doesn’t work – that help us remember where the good berries are, which berries killed our cousin, which berries gave us hives, and which berries to never, ever touch. (so to speak) Synapses are our memories.

Over the next 8 years or so (until adolescence) the child “prunes” their synapses – they cut back the ones they don’t need. They let go of the ones that didn’t work, don’t benefit him, don’t help him in some way. He also strengthens the ones that do – like walking, it becomes easier and easier – more coordinated over time because that impulse goes over that synapse a billion times and it “travels” more efficiently each time it does. By the time that baby is an adolescent he/she will have trimmed his brain down to all the synapses they will use for the rest of their life. We keep only about half of what we originally develop. Those synapses can adapt and change, but we don’t make new ones later in life.

One more amazing development? The child has to go through “myelination”. They have to form the myelin sheath. This is a white fatty tissue that insulates the brain tissue in a mature human. It helps the synapses fire properly – allows them to have a clear, clean path to send an electrical impulse across – so it doesn’t end up somewhere in another area of the brain.”Young children process information slowly because their brain cells lack the myelin necessary for fast, clear nerve impulse transmission. Like other neuronal growth processes, myelination begins in the primary motor and sensory areas (the brain stem and cortex) and gradually progresses to the higher-order regions that control thought, memories, and feelings. Also, like other neuronal growth processes, a child’s experiences affect the rate and growth of myelination, which continues into young adulthood.”

THIS is why I have to tell my son 12 times to go get dressed before he hears me, but he can balance and jump much better than I. He is working on the motor and senses – not on the processing part right now. (I assume – and will try to remember this assumption tomorrow when he doesn’t hear me 5 times in a row. I will tell myself “he doesn’t have enough fat in his brain – calm down mama”)

I used to have a semi photographic memory. If I wrote something down or read it I would remember it. I couldn’t picture the page in my head  like you see in the movies “chapter 3, page 25, second paragraph, it says…”. What I COULD do was remember anything I had ever read – the context, the basic thought behind it, the story line, the necessary information. I didn’t need to keep a calendar – if I had an appointment I wrote it down, it was in my head, I could throw away that paper and still I could remember it 6 months out. If I needed to remember an address or phone number I could. I could remember many more childhood memories than most of my friends or siblings. That started changing about 3 years before I got pregnant my son. Which may or may not be when my thyroid problems started. Since I had my thyroid out I have what we like to call “thymentia” – I can’t remember squat. Really. I can’t remember appointments, times I said I’d meet someone, I can’t remember the dates of anything besides family birthdays. I keep a calendar now, and still forget things. I can’t remember names which really frustrates me – I never had that problem. I know I have read a book by the title, but can’t remember what it is about without reading a few pages. I have lost a lot of childhood memories – even more recent ones – and will remember then when reminded, but can’t access them on my own.

Then my mother was diagnosed with early onset alzheimer’s. It has really taught me about memory. You assume, when you hear someone has alzheimer’s, that you will see a steady decline and they will loose all their memories at kind of an equal rate – or – like you see in the movies or books – you think they will forget the most recent things first and their childhood memories last.

I have done some research into the loss of memory, what alzheimer’s really is – medically, I have read books that are written by patients or for patients or from the patient’s view point. This is all very fascinating, but every patient is different.

This is what I have observed:

Memory is like a tapestry. When you are loosing your memory it’s like a thread being pulled out of your brain – one thread at a time gone. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to when or where it will be pulled from next. It just gets pulled out, and then it’s gone. It doesn’t seem to pull all from one area at once – not like, for example, the lives of the granchildren first, the lives of the children next. Or even names of people you have met recently first and names of people you knew long ago last. It seems to be random. Yes, the higher functioning goes first – I suppose it’s just like the brain development in a fetus – but backward. But the memories – the actual memories – I can’t see any order in the chaos. All those precious precious threads – the things that make a person who they are – being pulled out one at a time until one day the tapestry looks almost nothing like it used to – there is only a slight resemblance to the old picture. I assume one day it looks mostly like another picture with lots and lots of holes in it.

It is funny to me. My mom can remember some family joke about some person we know in the community, but she can’t remember something traumatic that happened to my brother in college. She can remember the specifics of my son’s IEP, or the name and characteristics of a disorder my cousin’s child may or may not have; but can’t remember the vacation we took my senior year.

The worst thing is the torture she feels about forgetting. She knows threads are missing. Knows the picture doesn’t look quite right. It really hurts her to realize that. But she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know unless we are talking about something and she realizes this is a thread that is already gone. I keep telling her she is just finally operating on a level that is “normal” – she has always been very high functioning and did more, remembered more than the rest of us. She used to read 3 – 4 novels a week while working full time at a very demanding job and taking care of 4 kids. But the statement that she is finally on “our” level doesn’t seem to comfort her. (I suppose it wouldn’t me either if I wasn’t already on this level. LOL)

She can see the tapestry changing, and can’t stop it. And neither can we.