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.

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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.