Here we go again

Suicide.  That word alone can just hit me like a rock from a slingshot.  Sometimes it is a famous person, someone far removed.  I have that initial sting, but it wasn’t a big rock and it came from so far away it didn’t get going very fast. Other times though, it comes flying in from closer range, knocks me upside the head and rattles me to the bone.  It could be a friend, a friend’s child, a friend’s parent.  That makes it such a painful impact that really leaves a mark.  It is red and hot and hurts for quite a while.  All those memories come flooding back. My heart just breaks knowing that people I care for are going through that deep and agonizing pain of loss that comes with suicide.

May you rest in peace Stanley Bonavita and may your family be comforted by those around them and know you loved them on this earth as long as you could.

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Will it be different this time?

Wow, what a week for mental health awareness.  It breaks my heart that these two amazing people had to take their lives to get people talking seriously about mental health again.  Again, we will talk about it and share posts and articles and blogs. People will commit to asking friends if they are really doing ok.  People will come out and admit they’ve been suffering a long time.  Many will say this is the time, we won’t let it fade into the background noise of life.  We will equate mental illness with cancer and heart disease, give it a front row seat in the big causes of suffering and death.  It won’t be like when Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, Sawyer Sweeten and so many others have shockingly gone before.

I certainly would like to believe it will be different this time.  It’s so very hauntingly similar to the deaths from gun violence.  Everyone gets up in arms, sends their thoughts and prayers, shares articles, statistics and all that.  The momentum builds and then it fades.  However, this time it really was different with gun violence.  Those Parkland Students and millions of others worldwide really did make a difference.  There have been many productive discussions, laws changed and new ones passed, policy changes among retailers and governments.  It crushes me to know how many lives have been lost since Columbine or Virginia Tech.  What was it about those senseless tragedies and the dozens that followed that did not move us enough to make more lasting change?  Alas, I do feel the tide is turning and people are waking up to common sense gun reform.

So let’s take that example, let’s not wait until dozens of other incidents of high profile suicides or hundreds of others across the country occur before we really make the true commitment to radically changing the way we look at mental illness.

I am so very fortunate that I have rarely if ever been ridiculed or shamed for talking about my depression and anxiety.  I had several people check in with me this week,. They asked if I was doing ok. They wanted me to know they were sending me extra love and care as they know every time this happens and is in the news, those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide have to relive the events of our own losses.  It is not a club I wish to have any more members in.

I have so much incredible support and love in my life.  Still, with all that, I still don’t ask for help often and many times I just respond with “fine” when someone asks how I’m doing even if it’s not totally true.  I have some close friends who know me well enough to hear when “fine” doesn’t really mean “fine” and they will follow up with “really, are you sure?” I’m always glad when they do. Luckily today that answer is actually true, I am fine, better than fine.  I feel really great.  I’m working my ass off to stay healthy and happy.

So let’s do better. Let’s make sure these two famous people, who were really just humans after all, someone’s children, someone’s mother and father, let’s make sure they haven’t left us in vain.  Make this the time the tide will turn, when we won’t let the issues of mental illness fade into the background noise of life.

2 years ago

Today marks 2 years since my Dad took his own life with a firearm.  I’m not really sure how much detail I want to go into about the circumstances of the day.  It’s hard to  know what details really matter most in the long run and there are portions of the details that will become other posts.

My mom found him, our neighbors who considered him like a father came over to help her.  I was here in TN, going about my Saturday morning with my boys when my husband got the call in the middle of our older son’s soccer game.  He held it together until he could tell me in private later when our boys were at a friend’s house.  He looked so strange, so uncomfortable that it almost seemed fake, as he asked me to sit down because he had to tell me something.  It was the oddest moment because I thought he was about to play a joke on me saying he was going to “put his foot down” about the mess in our house.  That phrase had become a bit of an inside joke for us. So when he did actually tell me my father was dead I was especially stunned having expected a chance to laugh and joke about our chaotic household condition.  Being a 74 year old man with a history of heart disease I assumed he had a heart attack.  Nope, wasn’t that at all.

I would like to say it was totally a shock to hear my father had taken his life, and it was, but not in the way that many experience this news of a suicide of someone they love.  My Dad had a history of depression and suicide attempts when I was a teen (more on that I expect in another post).  So while I was reeling from the reality of the situation, it’s not something that I never, ever thought could happen.  Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s not.

The problem with losing a loved one to suicide is that the loss is so much more complicated.  We understand when people die of natural causes, accidents, old age, even tragic events like mass shootings.  I’ve experienced all those too and I can tell you it’s very different.  Of course your heart breaks and you miss them like crazy, you shake your hands at God (if that’s your thing) and you may be very distraught for a very long time.  But the emotions are pretty consistent, sadness, grief, disbelief.  There is nothing quite like being so mad and so sad at the same time when you lose someone to suicide (I lost my dear cousin 5 years ago to suicide as well.)  Then there is guilt, replaying everything in your mind, more anger, more sadness, round and round it goes.  The hardest part of that week was the memorial service where so many of Dad’s friends looked so stricken with grief.  They always knew him as a “good guy, who made everyone feel like a friend.”  Many of them didn’t know about his illness or previous history with suicide attempts so they were positively floored.  They didn’t know about his tremors from years of hard physical work, his loss of memory due to previous heart attacks and exposure to chemicals for years in his business.  They didn’t know that when he wasn’t out “making jokes and making friends with everyone he met” he was angry and bitter about so many things.  Old men don’t talk about these things, they keep it all to themselves and then they die by their own hand and leave their friends reeling with shock and grief.  This needs to change.

I’ve gone back and forth so many times between anger, sadness, understanding, puzzlement and so many more emotions.  At this particular time I am mostly sad and occasionally still mad.  The mad is mostly in relation to the lack of him in the life of my boys.  I was building squirt gun flame throwers with them with coat hangers and cotton balls last week.  This was totally a job that should have been done by Grandpa.  He would have gone to the hardware store and they’d have had some contraption that could light up the whole neighborhood sky.  So that’s where I get mad, that he’s not here to do those things with them, and that the knowledge of the missing piece sullies a moment where it should just be pure fun with my kids.  I’m sad of course because I don’t have a Dad anymore, that he’s just not here anymore, that one more of my already small immediate family is gone from this earth.

There is the age old question of whether suicide is a choice. This question weighs heavily on my mind fairly often. It is hard for me to decide what I think or hope. You see, as someone who lives with depression and anxiety myself, I want to think he had a choice, I want to think I have a choice.  I want to know that mental illness can not just swoop in and take me away without my conscious decision. My counselor and I strongly believe I am conscious enough of my own state of mind to never let me get to that point.  But as his daughter, his only little girl, I want to think he didn’t have a choice, that he would never truly decide to leave us with this anguish and heart break.  When it came time to explain his death to my older son, I talked about heart attacks, when your heart isn’t healthy, you have intense pain and it stops working.  I read somewhere about suicide being compared to a “brain attack,” that his brain wasn’t healthy that his mind and body hurt so much that it told his body it was time to stop working.  This explanation seems to work for those of us who hope he didn’t choose to leave us.  It doesn’t work so well for those of us who want to be sure we never leave the ones we love in this way.dad and I

If I broke my legs…

oh my..if I broke my legs I would be in trouble.  But you know what? If I posted that on Facebook I bet I would have a meal at my house within hours. I’ve got those kind of friends.  I would have someone dropping off some snacks, offering to take my kids for a couple of hours.  Folks wondering if I needed anything from the store, etc…  I could easily feel comfortable asking a family member to find out if they could stay while Rick is going to be a way for a week or two over the summer.  I could ask the boys to do more stuff for themselves, and they could easily see why.  That would make sense right?  Clearly I would need help navigating the minutiae of daily life with 2 busy boys and a dog with 2 broken legs.

Now what if I posted that my legs weren’t broken, but my mood was.  That I couldn’t always do the things that needed to be done.  That some mornings I stayed in bed a long time, burrowing back down into the covers multiple times.  What if I said I was pretending to be “okay” a lot of the time?  But not really all of the time.  See that’s the thing, I never really know when I’ll feel great, not so great, or “can’t quite get going” bad.  That’s why this is my least favorite part of depression.  The not knowing, the invisibility of it.  Friends or family will always say, “I wish you had told me”, but I don’t always know in time to ask for help.  Once it sets in, it’s really hard to ask for help, heck it’s hard to cook dinner.  It could last a few days, a week or just a few hours. If I asked someone to come help, I could just as easily feel fine that afternoon and then I’d feel silly.  If I’m sitting on the couch with broken legs then it makes sense to everyone to have someone come do my dishes and help the boys with the laundry.  If I’m sitting on the couch feeling depressed I would feel like an idiot with someone in my house helping me.  Yes, even me, champion of mental health awareness, stigma remover extraordinaire, it is just so. damn. tough.  Of course I know I have friends and family who would absolutely still be willing to help out, I’m lucky like that.  I don’t have people telling me to just “shake it off”, “cheer up”, “look on the bright side.”  But holy shit, is it hard to figure out how and when to ask for help.

See that’s one of the big devilish sides of depression, it sucks your motivation and enthusiasm out of you like like a super charged expensive vacuum.  Let’s look at motivation and enthusiasm like a colony of ants.  They will be cruising along on the ground, headed to the kitchen for those grains of sugar all the other ants said were there.  The day before they really scored when a little boy spilled root beer on the floor, life was good!  The next thing the ants know they hear this sound and vibration, and whoosh, they are up, away, swirling, not where they expected to be, no tasty sugar grains in sight and no way to warn the other ants.

Unfortunately there are many people with mental conditions that don’t have the kind of support that I do, imagine how hard it is for them to ask for help.  We need to do more to dispel the stigma and misunderstanding that surround  mental illness.

Please join me as I attempt to sort things out for myself on those hard days.  Please share this blog and contact me if you want to share some of your story as well.  It can be done with or without your name attached.  The goal is to improve understanding, so baby steps are just fine.

 

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!  There is so much in my head.  I want to help myself and others.  I’m thinking this blog will be a good way to do that.  If you are someone who lives with mental illness or if someone you love is, I’d be happy to hear from you.  I want to have lots of guest posts on this blog to share different view points.  Let’s make this a safe place for growth and conversation.  A place to share knowledge and struggles.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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