I Advocate for a World Without Suicide

10 Sep

I-Advocate-For

Photo from the Fairfax AFSP National Capital Area Chapter’s Community Walk this past Sunday, September 8th.
 
 

I never believed suicidal thoughts were truly a real thing until I experienced them myself. To me, it was unbelievable for someone to want to take their own life. It seemed so horrid, so severe, so final.

What gives a person the right to take their life in their own hands, anyway? God says how much time we get, not us.

Plus, how could a life feel so worthless that someone would think dying was the solution? I just couldn’t comprehend it.

Until it happened to me.

Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of twenty-seven changed my perspective on the topic of suicide. I slipped into a deep depression and would spend my nights curled up on the couch, tears streaming down my face until I was so exhausted from the hurt that I’d fall asleep. I had lost my will to keep going because I didn’t think there was hope. I was so scared to reach out for help that I hid my painful feelings from everyone.

Everyone except my husband and my parents, thankfully.

They kept fighting for me to get the treatment I needed in order to get well, even when I could no longer fight for myself. I don’t know if I’d be here today without their incredible love and unwavering support back then.

Looking back on that time in my life, it’s apparent that I feared the stigma surrounding mental illness and because of it, I hid my depression and suicidal thoughts from my friends.

I was terrified of what they would say if they knew the thoughts running through my head. I was convinced they’d turn away from me, too afraid of my mental illness to help me out of my darkness. It was stigma that kept me from opening up to my friends about my depression.

I am one of the lucky ones that made it out of the darkness. I survived depression and made the decision to become an advocate for those who are still suffering. Because in my heart I believe everyone is capable of overcoming mental illness and that no one should feel ashamed about living with mental illness.

By educating the medical community and society in general to better recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses, we can and will save lives.

If a friend seems to be struggling, ask them if they’re okay. Take time to really listen and offer support. Don’t accept “I’m fine.” for an answer if you know they aren’t. Share the National Suicide Prevention Website and Hotline with them: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It’s staffed 24/7 with trained professionals who offer free and confidential emotional support to those in crisis.

Social media can be another avenue for support if someone is in crisis. There are groups and organizations that lead chats on Twitter to help people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. By searching the hashtags #suicideprevention, #suicidechat and #AFSP, streams of conversations  on how to get help become available and you’re able to join right in the conversation. In 2011, Facebook unveiled a tool for friends and loved ones to be able to report a suicide threat posted online which has been credited for saving lives.

Please don’t be afraid to speak up. Start the conversation. Join the conversation. Keep the conversations flowing.

The only way we’re going to end the stigma that surrounds mental illness is by promoting open dialogue so that people are not afraid to open up and ask for help.

Suicide is preventable. Let’s pull together and join the movement to bring suicide prevention into the light.

Because every life matters. Don’t ever give up hope.

Help is available if you need it. If you are in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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I was invited by the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work to join in their Suicide Awareness Blog Campaign. Please visit their website for information on how you can also participate.
 

Playground confessions

5 Sep

4036587818_808fece881_bBrandon Christopher Warren via Compfight cc

I don’t know what it is about me that makes me want to tell people my life story when I first meet them. Sometimes I wonder why I’m so open, why I wear my emotions on my sleeve, why I have such a strong sense of trust in people I may have just met.

Why do I think my life is so important that everyone I meet needs to know about it?

Take yesterday afternoon for example. Vivian woke up from her nap a complete disaster, so upset that I dared come in her room to get her before she had fully woken up. After fifteen minutes of a terrible-two’s-almost-three tantrum, I was finally able to calm her down and convince both kids to let me push them in the double stroller to the playground.

Let’s talk about who got the better deal here for a moment. They got to enjoy a tasty snack of a cherry-vanilla cereal bar and a generous handful of sweet red grapes, along with a beverage of chilled water fresh from the fridge in their water bottles filled to the brim by yours truly, while I had the luxury of pushing them for thirty minutes in 85-degree, muggy heat to the playground.

I was happy to do it though. I’ve made a commitment to myself to be more active in September (and beyond, but I’m taking it one month at a time). My new therapist says I need to schedule self-care into my day or else I will end up neglecting myself and I know this is true. I’ve felt it lately. I can definitely tell a difference in my mood, my parenting, and my overall enjoyment in life when I take time to do things for myself each day.

So pushing the kids to the playground and back home is my way of having some time for myself (great exercise and fresh air) while also allowing them to burn off some energy.

The bonus was meeting a really cool mom and her two kids who were the only other people there when we arrived.

I didn’t expect to strike up a conversation with her. When we got there she was talking on her phone. But as our kids began to interact she wrapped up her call and a few minutes later I found myself asking her the customary playground ice-breaker among moms:

“How old are your kids?”

Her son, a year older than mine, jumped right into my son’s imaginary fire-fighter rescue scene, while we pushed our daughters (also close in age) on the baby swings as we chatted. I asked her if her son had started Kindergarten this week and she admitted he was actually repeating it since he had some issues focusing last year. I told her how my husband and I had decided to hold Owen back a year since he was so close to the cut-off for enrollment. “He just needs another year to mature a little bit more,” I said and she nodded sympathetically.

Then she revealed that she and her husband suspect that their son may have ADHD and they had consulted a child psychiatrist this summer and he had recommended trying meds, but she wants to see how he does this year. Maybe it’s a maturity thing. But she also mentioned his lack of awareness of personal space which he demonstrated a few minutes earlier when he playfully tugged at Owen’s arm to get him to follow him over to the slides.

Owen didn’t seem bothered by it, although the mom said sometimes her son can be aggressive with other kids. It was at that moment I had to bite my tongue.

Just listen, I told myself. And so I did. And I’m glad I made that choice.

But at the same time I felt a connection to this wonderful stranger I had just met and I wanted to tell her that there is nothing wrong with mental illness, and if he does have ADHD it does not define him and there are treatments that can and will help. I wanted to tell her that it’s going to be okay and that she will get through this.

I can’t help it. The advocate in me always wants to speak up.

But I didn’t this time because I sensed from the way she was telling me all this about her son that she got it. She’s on my side. And in that moment it was such a joy to simply watch our kids play pretend together on the playground.

Her husband called and I noticed it was already five-thirty and I still had a half-hour walk home. We had been talking for forty-five minutes like good friends and I hated to have to say goodbye.

My kids reluctantly made their way down the slides one last time before walking over to hop into the stroller. As I walked over to buckle Vivi, my new friend’s son ran up beside me and took my hand. Looking up at me he asked in the sweetest voice, “But why does he have to go?”

It melted my heart.

His mom and I looked at each other and smiled. We both said how it was getting close to dinner time but maybe they’d see each other at the playground again sometime.

A part of me wishes I would have asked for her email address and maybe we could have set up another playdate. But for some reason I didn’t and now I’ll just hope we’ll run into that lovely family again in the future at one of our local playgrounds.

Because I’d love the chance to tell her my story. I’d love the chance to tell her why I’m passionate about mental health advocacy and most of all because I’d love to just watch our kids have fun pretending to be fire-fighters again.

On Hiring A New Therapist

2 Sep

8668157615_a9d970b4f6_b ΞSSΞ®®Ξ via Compfight cc

Change has always been a hard thing for me. When one season comes to an end, and another sweeps in to take its place, I usually need a good few weeks to adjust and settle in. Take this weekend, for example. I loved celebrating the end of August with our anniversary date night and the two days spent soaking up the end of summer at the pool with friends. But until we ease into our new school routine I’ll be fidgety and uncomfortable with the newness of it all.

Speaking of change, I had to break up with my therapist of five years because she stopped accepting my insurance and there was no way I’d be able to pay the regular office visit amount out of pocket. I’m sad about not seeing her again, and feel terrible about not having the chance to say goodbye at our last visit. But I guess that’s just the way life goes sometimes.

Tomorrow I’ll meet a new therapist who I’ll share details of my life with. It feels like the first day of school when everything is new and I’m excited and nervous at the same time for all the learning I know I’ll do while I’m there. I’m sure I won’t be able to cover my entire mental health history in our first visit. But in the event we do continue on after tomorrow, I have a few expectations for our sessions.

I hope she helps me figure my complicated self out.

I hope she challenges me to see things from a different perspective.

I hope she teaches me how to be more forgiving of myself.

I hope she realizes that just because for the past three years I’ve been a “high-functioning” bipolar 1 patient, doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with my symptoms on a regular basis.

I hope that we’ll hit it off and have a long-lasting patient-therapist relationship.

I know this is a tall order and I have high expectations for how this will work out. The truth is, we may not have chemistry and I may have to try several therapists before I find one who meets my needs. I’m prepared to do that if I need to. I’m prepared to work through change.

I believe I didn’t invest enough effort with my last therapist. I didn’t go to the appointments with something in mind to work on. It was more like going to monthly appointments where I sat and blabbed about myself and what I had been doing since I had last seen her. It didn’t do me much good. I didn’t grow the way I believe therapy should help a person grow.

This time I want things to be different. I’m ready to work this time.

The sun is setting on one season and will rise with the next. Bring it on. I’m ready.

My love anchor

30 Aug

I woke up before anyone else in the house did on my wedding day. It was six o’clock and my nerves had driven me to the bathroom. Back in bed, I pretended to go back to sleep, but my mind kept running through the events of the day ahead of me. I wanted our kiss to be perfect.

We got married at twenty-four. Some may say that’s young, but I knew I wanted to be with him forever after we had only been dating for three months. I’ve always said I’d be ready to take the next step, build my life, when I knew we were right for each other. My anchor. He’s always been my anchor. This is what I’ve learned after fifteen years together, ten of those as husband and wife.

I didn’t know back then how many obstacles we’d be faced with in the years ahead. Neither of us saw mental illness in my future. How could anyone predict that? And even if we could, it’s not like it would have changed our minds about wanting to be together.

It’s not easy being married to me. I have tumultuous moods, get frustrated easily, am the most stubborn person I know,  and I’m sure sometimes he just wants to shush me because I’m exhausting. But he doesn’t. Because he knows that’s just who I am. And he loves me for me. I like to think I’m all the excitement he’ll ever need.

He is my support, encouraging me with his love. He is my balance, guiding me back to the middle when I sway off course. He is my steady, gently pulling me up when I fall back. I am more in love with him today than I was the day I married him.

Happy Anniversary, Honey. You’re my anchor through life’s storms. And I love being tied to you.

xoxoxoxoxo

10thAnniversary

Starting Over

21 Aug

Starting-OverThe show will go on in DC this coming May, 2014. I’m simply taking some time to figure out where to go from here, as my partnership unfortunately did not work out due to our vastly different work styles.

I have an incredible team surrounding me here in Virginia and I know that with all the hard work and passion that is going into this project, it most certainly will be a success. I may have failed at a partnership, but I will not fail at executing my vision for this show.

I envision this show to become a community of people coming together to embrace mental illness so as not to let it define them, but to propel a movement forward. A movement built on the belief that those of us living with mental illnesses are real people who simply need help. By coming together as a supportive society which fights for mental health services and programs, we will

change and save lives.

Please follow along here, and/or via Instagram and Twitter for updates as they become available. For now, if you’re local to the DC metro area, or you’re interested in coming in from out of town to see the show, mark your calendar for the weekend of May 17 & 18, 2014.

Thank you for all your support and I hope to see you at the show!

Five Minute Friday {15}: Small

16 Aug

Five-Minute-Friday-15-Small

I can’t help but think about how one decision always leads to the next. Some things, which may seem small and insignificant at the time, have the ability to change the trajectory of our entire lives. Choosing a major at the age of 18, going on that blind date that your friends set you up on, deciding there will never be a perfect time to have another baby and so you just go for it even though the house and cars are too small and you don’t know how you’ll ever afford college for them all.

Sometimes you have to stop over-analyzing and just pick a direction, hoping for the best.

I’m glad that I’m able to uncover and pay attention to that soft whisper of my conscious in the back of my mind. A tiny part of me believes it’s Him helping to guide me make the right choices. Yet, I’m constantly doubting myself. I’m constantly doubting my faith.

But He hasn’t let me down.

I’m still trying to comprehend my reason for being here, but I believe the decisions in my life that have made me who I am. All the left turns when they should have been right, and the right turns when I could have gone straight, the year and a half when I would take two steps forward only to fall back and not be able to get up for weeks. These small moments of my life have brought me here.

And I’m loving this place.
Five Minute Friday

Juggling Change

14 Aug

I’m experiencing one of those seasons of my life where everything seems to be going right. I told a friend last night that it all seems a little too good to be true lately and that I’m just waiting for a ball {or a few, but hopefully not all} to drop. I can’t help it, it’s the pessimist in me.

The kids and I are squeezing the last drops out of summer with evenings at the pool, Tuesdays at the farm, and playdates with friends before school starts up again next month. We had a blast at the beach last weekend, the kids brought home sand in every.single.thing, but it was so worth the smiles on their faces I caught on camera while they dug, made pizzas and strawberry pies and rolled in it for hours.

Juggling-Change

I started my part-time job yesterday, and so far, so good. I am confident it is going to work out. But it’ll likely be November before we really know if it’ll be the right fit for the long-term. I hope so.

We have one last trip before we can settle in for the real end of summer and the start of fall. One of my husband’s cousins is getting married, so we’ll be heading out to Wisconsin for the festivities and I’m so excited to get to spend time with the family. Saying prayers to the travel gods for safe, tantrum-free travel with our little people.

These years of our kids being little, this season of our life is right now. I’m trying to teach myself every day to stay present and enjoy this time because I know when I look back I’ll feel it flew by too fast. It already seems like the past five years have buzzed by.

I used to dread change, would feel the anxiety and fearful anticipation crawl under my skin, but I can sense my attitude shifting. I’m beginning to love the transformations of the seasons of my life. I never realized when I was in the throes of a career which I loved and which loved me back, that within a few years I’d want to have a family and things would have to change.

My illness emerged before I’d have a chance to come face-to-face with the issue of opt-in or opt-out. I had to opt-out for a very different reason and I’ll never know how life would have played out in the career arena for me, had I not been dealt the mental illness card.

The thing is, I’m okay with not having a traditional career. I’m content with being able to use all of my skills to their greatest capabilities because I’m dividing my time efficiently and effectively. I’m a wife, a mom, working part-time, writing part-time, and I’m also producing a show over these next nine months. Sure, there are plenty of times when I feel like I’m spread too thin. But ask any mom if she ever feels she has the perfect amount of time for everything and everyone in her life and of course she’s going to say No. No way, Jose.

This life which my husband and I have built is not perfect. But its perfectly ours. And each time a new change arises, I’m the first to lean in for extra hugs because they help. He’s always there, with a smile, to wrap his arms around me and say a simple, “It’s okay.”

He’s right. If a ball drops, it’ll be okay. I’ll just pick it back up and start juggling again.

Juggling-Change2

Five Minute Friday {14}: Lonely

9 Aug

Five-Minute-Friday-14-Lonely

I was lonely back then, back seven and a half years ago when I had just been told I was facing mental illness. Two stints in a psych ward and it was apparent to the doctors but I was still in denial. I was so lonely.

I longed for someone to talk to who knew what I was feeling. Someone other than a psychiatrist or a therapist or a group leader in an outpatient program. They only studied these symptoms in a textbook. How could they really know what I was going through? They didn’t, in my mind.

Writing would become my call for help. My attempt to erase the loneliness by telling my story to see if there were others out there feeling my same feelings.

There were. There are. And it’s a relief to no longer feel lonely in this life with mental illness.

Today, nearly two years to the day from when I started this blog, I feel so far from lonely. Instead, I feel the compassionate hugs this community of readers, fellow bloggers, friends and family have wrapped around me.

Five Minute Friday

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