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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.

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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.
 
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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.

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