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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.

Blogging For Suicide Prevention BadgeBlogging For Suicide Prevention Badge

 

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.
 

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

That First Cup {Just Write}

7 Aug

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Mornings like this are rare. My alarm began softly buzzing at 7am as it normally does, but the kids hadn’t begun to stir yet. Muted light was apparent from behind the blinds in our room as I started to stretch before finally swinging my legs over the bed to drag myself out of it.

Tip-toeing down the stairs, I watched their images flash on the monitor. Still heavy with sleep, neither seemed to notice that I had risen. Good, I thought. Maybe I could have a cup of coffee in peace this morning.

In the kitchen, I put the monitor down on the center island counter so I could wash out the glass carafe of our Mr. Coffee and make a fresh pot. I would have preferred a cafe latte from the Verismo, but we’re out of pods. I heard the shower turn on upstairs as I dumped out the leftover coffee filter from yesterday into the trash and started sudsing up the sponge with dish soap to scrub out the pot.

My mind wanders as I prep the coffee. Tomorrow we’ll be waking up at the beach. I’m anticipating broken sleep as everyone adjusts to borrowed beds and shared rooms for the kids. Despite the forecast of more than fifty percent chance of rain each day we’re there, I’m still looking forward to it. The shore is the shore, rain or sunshine, we’ll still have fun spending time with our friends making memories.

The coffee pot starts to buzz to life, black liquid dripping into the clear carafe, sputtering and collecting in a puddle at the bottom. I open my email while sitting at the island and simultaneously watching the coffee brew. Light spills into the kitchen from the window over the double sink, but no sun is visible today. Just gauzy clouds covering the sky which makes for a drab start to the day.

I’m only able to enjoy ten minutes of writing and three sips of my coffee before my little miss is calling for her mama. I can see her brother begin to shake off sleep as I stand up to go retrieve my baby girl from her crib. That was all the quiet time I’d get for today.

We All Got Bruises

5 Aug

You know what I love about blogging? I love getting a chance to read a glimpse of a stranger’s life. I love when someone opens their heart and pours everything out, showing you that they are just as human as you are. The incredible thing about living your life out loud, for the world to read, is that people connect with you. You get to know them. You connect with them. Pretty soon you’re no longer strangers, you’re friends. And if you’re lucky, you get to meet them one day.

You might just become friends for life.

We all have bruises, they’re what make us interesting. How boring would life be if it was all roses and sunshine every day? It’s comforting to know that we’re not alone in our struggles. Whether it be mental illness, alcoholism, financial troubles, parenting issues, divorce, the death of a child, or countless other curve balls life throws at us. We all have obstacles to overcome in our lives.

Music is healing for me and of all the things it’s done for me, the most important lesson it has taught me is easily, “What will be, will be” and I need to put my trust in fate.

If a song speaks to me, I play it on repeat for weeks. I lose myself in the lyrics and belt the tune out while driving to the farm or the grocery story. I used to be drawn to pop hits produced by music giants whose record labels end up writing the songs for them, pumping beats into the background of the synthesized dance tracks. These days I’m much more into singer/songwriters who tell a life story through their music. The kind of songs which make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, giving you goosebumps as you listen to the words.

You feel yourself nodding, “Me too,” as your soul soaks in the sweet melody. A good song gives me a new perspective on my troubles.

I’ve got Train’s newest album, California 37, on a loop lately.

These bruises make for better conversation
Loses the vibe that separates
It’s good to let you in again
You’re not alone in how you’ve been
Everybody loses, we all got bruises
We all got bruises

I’ve been a little overwhelmed by life lately. Wanting to pursue my dreams, but realizing that writing doesn’t exactly pay the bills {at least, not yet}.

A lump formed in my throat the other day when looking at finances. It was obvious that I need to pick up a part-time job. We live in one of the most expensive areas in the US, and the reality is that it’s really hard to cut it on one income. So I had a rough couple of days last week when Ben was traveling for work, filled with fear and self-pity and hugging my best friend while tears poured from my eyes, the kids looking up at me wondering what was wrong with mommy.

Once I calmed down and started to look at things with a clearer head, I quickly realized that things aren’t nearly as dire as I had thought. I was talking with my brother over the weekend about what was bringing me down and he told me to call one of our oldest friends who was looking for help with his business. It’s the type of work I’ll be able to do around the kids’ schedules, allowing me time to continue with my writing projects, exactly what I need right now.

Part of the reason I was so upset last week was because I was afraid that I’d have to give up writing to go back to work, and my heart was breaking at the thought of having to stop pursuing my passion. Sure, I’d still try to write in the evenings, but I know how hard it is to juggle everything and at the end of the day you’re just exhausted. I’m hopeful that this situation will provide the best of both worlds: the income we need with time to still pursue my dreams.

In the meantime, it’s songs like this that remind me to embrace the ups and downs of life for what they are.

Que sera. {What will be, will be.}
 
We-All-Got-Bruises
 

In-Between is Right Where I Want To Be

30 Jul

Have you ever thought about how you spend your in-between time?

I wrote about it recently, but since picking up a unique read, I felt the need to write on the topic again. 

A writer who I truly admire, for his way with words as much as his generous drive to teach amateur writers how to hone their craft, is releasing a new book this week called The In-Between: embracing the tension between now and the next big thing. Part memoir, part self-help, Jeff Goins takes the reader on a journey through his life’s most important in-betweens. Jeff describes how he has learned to slow down and appreciate the time spent waiting for the next major event, because sometimes those minutes, hours, days, weeks, and even years can be the most fulfilling aspects of our lives.

I agree completely.

{an excerpt}

“We all want to live meaningful lives full of experiences we can be proud of. We all want a great story to tell our grandchildren. But many of us fail to recognize that the best moments are the ones happening right now.

Maybe the “good stuff” isn’t ahead of or behind us. Maybe it’s somewhere in between. Right in the midst of this moment, here and now. Maybe Annie Dillard is right. Maybe what we call “mundane,” what feels boring and ordinary, is really how we spend our lives. And we have an opportunity to make of it what we will – to resent its lack of adventure or rejoice in its beauty. Perhaps, the abundant life we’ve been seeking has little to do with big events and comes in a subtler form: embracing the pauses in between major beats.”

 

I daydream about this concept of “in-between” often. Maybe because I’ve spent most of my life anticipating each subsequent milestone. My parents often joked I was “10 going on 25” because it was as if I could hardly wait to grow up so I could start working to accomplish my dreams. Looking back on my childhood I can totally agree with this playful teasing, since I struggle to recall basic, everyday memories others can drum up so easily. I was too caught up in what was way up ahead that I missed out on the fun happening right in front of me.

The only thing that is certain is the moment we are in right now. {Tweet that.}

I like to believe that I’ve enjoyed the in-betweens in my life thus far, but truth be told there are plenty I could have appreciated more than I did. Jeff’s book is teaching me to value every day of my life as much as the last because the next day is never a guarantee. Time passes so quickly that if we don’t pay attention, it can slip right through our fingertips. I want to live each day full of gratitude for today and for all those dreams I have yet to accomplish.

If you haven’t picked up Jeff’s book yet, go buy it now. I have a feeling you won’t be able to put it down and it will leave a lasting impression, as it did for me.

In-betweenIsRightWhereIWantToBe

#OK2Talk: Join the Mental Health Movement

24 Jul

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Experiencing a psychotic break can be an isolating and debilitating event. If I talk about it, will everyone think I’m “crazy”? Will I lose my friends? Will I lose my job? Will I ever get better?

When mania grabbed a hold of my brain at the age of twenty-six, I thought my life was over. I had been hospitalized for three days and had to be tranquilized in order to force sleep, my mind brought back to reality only through the use of antipsychotics. The details were not pretty. I practically suffocated from the weight of keeping my pain bottled up inside. It seemed like no one in my immediate circle of family and friends understood what I had just gone through. My close friends tried, but the truth was everyone was so scared to talk about it.

I wanted desperately to find someone, anyone other than my psychiatrist and therapist, who knew what I was feeling. Wasn’t there anyone out there, a peer, who was like me?

My emotions pummeled my personality to the ground with their negativity. Thoughts raced through my head and nothing I did could make them stop.

Fear of the future. Guilt over what I had put my husband and family through. Sadness for the career that I had to leave behind. Disbelief in the words the doctors kept repeating. Anger that this was happening to me. Why me? Why?

I remember visiting bookstores with my parents where we’d search the Psychology section for titles that might help us understand what was happening to me. On one trip, my dad bought three thick paperbacks with promises on the cover which gave us hope. We went home and flipped through the pages, eager to find the answers to our questions.

We did find some, but they were clinical in nature. I was searching for different answers. I wanted to read personal stories of recovery and inspiration. I wanted to know that others had walked in my same shoes, had lost touch with reality, came crashing down to the darkest place they’ve ever felt, and made it out okay.

I wanted to know I’d be okay too.

Back then, in 2007, there weren’t many people blogging openly about bipolar disorder. There were women bloggers who were starting to open up about their experiences with postpartum depression, but blogging wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is today. Social media was in its infancy, at least for regular Internet users like myself, so the ease in sharing information wasn’t quite there yet. You had to do the digging yourself, and my efforts at finding stories of hope and inspiration from other mental health consumers weren’t successful.

Back then.

The times, how they’re changing.

Today there are more and more people opening up each day about their journey to recovery from mental illnesses. There are blogs and vlogs, online support groups, Tedx talks, Facebook groups, and community performances which are educating the public on what it’s like to live with a mental illness. I’m proud to have opened up on my blog, sharing my true identity because I can now celebrate being a part of this change.

I can feel the change as its happening. I feel it in every email I get from a friend thanking me for writing about my story because they’ve been through something similar. I feel it in every message I receive on Facebook or Twitter from someone I’ve never met who has read my words and felt inspired to share their own.

This is how a movement starts.

It starts with one person who is brave enough to share,
who inspires others to share,
which in turn inspires the world to change.

 

On Tuesday I attended the launch event on Capitol Hill of #OK2TALK, a national media campaign produced by the National Association of Broadcasters in an effort to spread mental health awareness and teach young adults that sharing our stories of hope and healing can help others who are struggling. The campaign includes PSAs in both English and Spanish featuring teens and young adults talking openly about their experiences with mental illness. At the end of the ads, there is a call to action directing you to create the conversation about mental health online via social media.

NAB President and former Senator Gordon H. Smith described the campaign as “bringing the issue of mental health into the sunshine,” and I couldn’t agree more. I applaud the NAB for its commitment to increasing the awareness and understanding of mental health and I encourage you to contribute to the conversation via the blog, www.ok2talk.org.

Help is available and treatment is effective, and by encouraging society to be supportive of those struggling we will save lives.

 
#OK2Talk-Join-the-Mental-Health-Movement
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