Thoughts on Five To Stay Alive and Suicide Prevention – Part 7

Here is my seventh, and final essay, about my experiences with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, as well as tools, resources, and inspirations. I hope they help, and that you know you are not alone. Suicide is preVENTable, so let’s vent together. Talk it out!

Suicide is Preventable

My Experience: Since today is the last day of my seven part series/goal, I would like to talk about the future. Specifically, about my daughter’s future. Most of my close friends know that I never planned on having children. I love my parents, but there were some seriously damaging mistakes that they made when raising me. I felt I didn’t have the right role models to know how to be a good parent, and I was afraid of screwing up something that was so monumentally important. I was afraid of having children that would be damaged like me. However, a family was important to my husband, so I took a leap of faith. Thank God I did. All the fears I had about dealing with and “solving” my issues have been healed by my daughter. She has been the push I needed to really do the work. I look at her and know that I need to be a positive example. I want her to know that she is beautiful no matter what, so I need to show her that I accept (or even celebrate) my body for all of the positives it holds. I want her to not be afraid of making mistakes, so I need to show her the importance of trying. And trying again. Of accepting failure, and continuing to work. I want her to know that her flaws are not the whole of her. I want her to not hold onto the negative, mistaking it for a life raft. I want her to know forgiveness, for herself and others. So I need to learn how to forgive myself and others, and show her the way.

While I was pregnant, I made the mistake of watching a show called, “Obsessed.” It was a documentary series on A&E that first aired in 2009. The show depicted the real-life struggle and treatment of people with anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and general anxiety disorder. The episode I watched featured a man, Matt, who was not able to leave his house other than a very small perimeter, and a few places he was familiar with. He worked from home. During one of the interviews, he talked about why he suffered from this anxiety disorder. He mentioned that he remembered his mom being very anxious when he was growing up, and that she would pick at her fingers. I had a total meltdown after that, sobbing to my therapist that I was going to damage my baby. It was one of the most severe moments of panic in my life.

Thankfully, I’ve come to a number of realizations since then. As I mentioned above, my daughter has been the impetus for change that I needed. I’m learning positive tools in order to be a positive role model for her. However, no matter what I do, I know that there is a chance, genetically, that my daughter will have the same issues/struggles that I do. There isn’t anything I can do to change that. What I can do is give her the tools she needs to live and be happy. My parents did the best they could with the tools they had available, and I will do the same. I’m just lucky enough to have better tools.

As we as a society stop seeing depression/anxiety/suicide as something to hide away, and as we face this taboo subject, it will be easier for those who live with these disorders to discuss them openly. My hope is that by talking honestly on this subject, I can help, in some way, break down the barriers to transparency regarding mental health, so that my daughter will never have to hide who she is, but will instead be as proud of herself as I am.

My Tools: You know how there are some people who seem to view the world through rose colored glasses? I need a pair of those. I see life through the glasses of a very snarky critic. The kind that usually sit on the end of a nose, with a disdainful look behind them. I don’t take compliments very well. When someone tells me that I’m smart, nice, awesome, etc., my initial thought is, “haha… I’ve fooled them!” One of the only times I don’t think this way is when someone tells me I’m funny, because there’s just no denying that. What I’m trying to do now is very similar to my “fake it till you make it” tool. I’m working on actually hearing what someone has to say about me, and believing it. I feel self-conscious about my body, especially when I’m being intimate with my husband. I’m working on believing him when he tells me how sexy I am. I need to remember that the way I see myself is often through the lies my darkness tells me. The lies it tells to keep me imprisoned and isolated. I need to trust those that love and care for me more than I trust myself in those moments. That’s part of how I’ll learn to love and care for myself.

How To Give Support: Help Yourself Help Others helps to connect you to a mental health assessment for yourself or someone you love. As a matter of fact, the Thursday of the first full week in October is National Depression Screening Day. The Alta Bates Summit Medical Centers states on their assessment home page: “Mental health is a key part of your overall health. Brief screenings are the quickest way to determine if you or someone you care about should connect with a mental health professional – they are a checkup from your neck up. This program is completely anonymous and confidential, and immediately following the brief questionnaire you will see your results, recommendations and key resources.” This assessment may be the start to a whole new way of life.

Resources: I recommend utilizing social media, if that is something you are comfortable with and enjoy. Facebook has many online support groups you can join, which might be preferable for someone who has anxiety in large groups or in meeting new people. There are also many organizations, such as AFSP (mentioned below), with Facebook and Twitter accounts, where they share information and inspirations.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention works to help others understand suicide, to prevent suicide, to cope with suicide loss, to support research, and to provide advocacy and public policy. The work they do is amazing. To help raise awareness and funds, the foundation hosts Out of the Darkness Walks throughout the US. There are campus walks to engage high school and college youth, a premier overnight walk (a 16-18 mile walk from dusk till dawn, hosted by rotating cities) and multiple 3-5 mile community walks. I participated in a community walk a few years ago, in honor of my high school friend, and I hope to participate in an overnight walk in the future.

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#ThisIsTheFace

Share It Forward: I’ve talked a lot this week about how depression and anxiety go hand in hand. This article, by Kristi Pahr, talks about fighting against them. Additionally, Nick Seluk of The Awkward Yeti, created this comic that depicts the same thing. Both finish with this focus: We can fight it.

Thoughts on Five To Stay Alive and Suicide Prevention – Part 6

Here is my sixth essay, of seven, about my experiences with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, as well as tools, resources, and inspirations. I hope they help, and that you know you are not alone. Suicide is preVENTable, so let’s vent together. Talk it out!

My Experience: Today, I decided to talk about the roots of my depression. In my lifetime, I’ve had 3 personal therapists. I’ve also had a lot of trauma (therapist’s words). By the time I was 12, I had dealt directly with a myriad of abuse (emotional, mental, physical, and sexual) from the people in my life that were supposed to protect me. The majority of my time in therapy, especially as an adult, has been spent trying to learn tools to positively deal with the stressors and triggers in my life, building my self-esteem, and trying to figure out where exactly my life derailed. Which of the traumas in my life led to, or helped develop, the assortment of insecurities and emotional issues that plagued me presently? At times, it felt like an epsidode of CSI, when the analysts are using red strings to determine the directions of blood splatter. It could be as exhausting as the issues themselves. However, when I decided to go on medication, I came to the conclusion/realization that this is just who/how I am. This is how I was made. My family’s history with depression and suicide made this clear. As did the fact that I really could never pinpoint an exact event as a source of my depression or anxiety. I just know that they have been there for as long as I can remember. My dark passengers in this ride of my life. I also believe that because of my family’s history with depression, I never learned positive tools for dealing with, or managing, these emotions. I believe my depression and anxiety have always been there, but my experiences in life exacerbated their severity. My traumas reinforced my negative feelings about myself, and drove me deeper into anxiety by making me feel unsafe and unprotected.

Because I thought that my depression and anxiety was a result of my traumas, I really thought I was a unique freak. That my very personal experiences led to a very personal version of depression and anxiety. It’s been a relief to find that I am not that unique. To be able to accept that this is a part of who I am allowed me to delve further into learning more about depression and anxiety. As I mentioned in a previous post, this led me to finding information about others that suffered from the same types of depression and anxiety as I do. The worry fantasies, the picking at my cuticles. A nameless monster in the dark is terrifying. For me, putting a name and face to the demons that tormented me allowed me to find better ways to cage them, and to learn how to not let them hurt me. I’m not done. It’s a long process. But I feel more hopeful today than every day before in my life.

My Tools: Today’s tool has a very technical name: Fake It Till I Make It. Try googling that! I reached a point in my life where I realized my shyness and social anxiety wasn’t going to get me very far in life. It would most likely hamper me instead. I began to take steps to get over the shyness. I started to fake it till I made it. I would just pretend I wasn’t shy, put myself out there, and wait until it became second nature. I started small: talking to checkers at the grocery store as I was buying food. I know… sounds ridiculous. For me though, it was hard! Eventually, it got easier, then better, then natural. Most people are honestly surprised when I tell them I’m painfully shy. I’m not shy when I’m with my friends, of course. I can handle small groups, as long as I know the majority of those present. But put me in a large group of strangers, and I’m tense with anxiety and trying to find an exit strategy. At the same time, I have an innate need to be polite and make others feel comfortable, so if someone approaches me, I can start to open up. It’s the approaching someone else that I wither from. As you can tell, my tool has only gotten me so far. At least it’s better than when I was younger, and, of course, I’m still a work in progress.

I try the same approach with my depression. On days when I would rather stay in bed, I get up anyway. I may not feel like doing anything, but I fake it till I make it, and sometimes I get into the routine of my day and those feelings slip away.

How To Give Support: One of the best things you can do to help a person living with depression and struggling with suicidal thoughts is to understand. That, and give them a stick.
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Resources: I’ve posted many links to this site because I think the work they do is amazing. If you are struggling, whether you are considering suicide or not, or if you know someone that is, please don’t hesitate to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Sometimes all you need is to #talkitout.

Suicide is Preventable

Share It Forward: I mentioned in a previous post that writing and talking about suicide and depression is very cathartic. This young man, Patrick Roche does so in a way that is moving, breathtaking and cleansing, for me. I hope it stirs you as well: Couples Therapy

Thoughts on Five To Stay Alive and Suicide Prevention – Part 5

Here is my fifth essay, of seven, about my experiences with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, as well as tools, resources, and inspirations. I hope they help, and that you know you are not alone. Suicide is preVENTable, so let’s vent together. Talk it out!

Suicide is Preventable

My Experience: Today is the day I’ve been most nervous about. Like jumping into a cold lake, sometimes you just have to take the plunge. I’m nervous about judgement, but I made a promise to myself to be brutally honest with these posts, in hopes of reaching others that may have the same experiences and let them know they are not alone.

So here goes: Today’s post is about the embarrassing/humiliating (to me) side of my depression. The side I try to hide from everyone. When my depression is at its worst, I struggle with everyday tasks, to the point of often not doing some of them at all. Getting out of bed. Taking a shower. Brushing my teeth. Brushing my hair. General self-care. Going to work. Going outside. Going anywhere. Talking to anyone. Doing anything. Cooking. Eating. Washing clothes. Everyday tasks are overwhelming. I have no desire to deal with them. I just can’t muster the energy to even try.

This is not my everyday depression, mind you. This is the darker side of my depression. These are the times when I’ve had bad moments turn into bad days, which sometimes turned into bad weeks. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen to me as often or to the extent that it used. These days, my daughter needs me and motivates me to push past it, and I’ve become better at utilizing the tools I have available to help me.

However, there have been times that I’ve had a thigh-high pile of unwashed laundry just sitting in the middle of my room. I would simply grab whatever was least wrinkled and unstained to wear, checking to make sure that it hadn’t begun to noticeably smell. Day after day. I needed to ask for help with taking care of it because I just couldn’t do it myself. The shame of what I had done, or wasn’t doing, would have me frozen. My outside world became a reflection of how I was feeling on the inside. Disorganized, dirty, trapped under a never ending pile I couldn’t begin to crawl out from under. In those moments, I stopped caring about myself and anything around me.

While this is not my every day depression, there are pieces of it that are. I have a hard time with self-care; taking care of myself has always come last. I feel good about myself when I’m taking care of others, but it often comes at the expense of myself. On one occasion, when I went off of my anxiety medication, it took some time for them to kick back in, once I started again. That left me struggling for a while. During that time, I went through the motions of what I HAD to do, and everything else was neglected. I have a hard time admitting this, because it’s deeply embarrassing for me, and I have to steel myself a bit to say it, but this included brushing my hair. My hair is very long, and I would just twist it up into my usual bun. Eventually, my hair started to become a big knot. I was mortified that I would allow that to happen to myself, so I just avoided dealing with it. I didn’t want to face what I was feeling. When I finally did, it took a long time to work out all of the knots and tangles (how’s that for a metaphor).

What’s worse, I lost about half of the volume of my hair. Every time I brushed my hair afterwards, I would feel shame and guilt. These are just some of the examples of how my depression impacts my life. As I said before, I don’t have these types of moments/incidents often… only when I stop being vigilant about the honesty of my feelings (and avoid them instead) and reaching for help. I instinctually feel deep shame, sharing and baring myself here in this way. But I’ve spent a lifetime being ashamed of myself, and if anyone here is going to judge me or think less of me, the world isn’t going to end. My world isn’t going to end. I have plenty of people around me who understand and still love me. Also, there are others out there who not only understand but recognize this type of behavior, or at least the shame, in themselves. I’m willing to embarrass myself time and time again, if that’s what it takes to help someone else know they are not alone. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

I need to be ok with being me… flaws and all. Mistakes and all. As long as I know that I am working to do better, be better, everyday, that’s what I need to be comfortable with. I judge myself because I worry how others will judge me. That needs to stop, and that is why I said I hoped these posts would help me as well. This is my way of starting to break from that pattern. This is me. All of me. I need to stop apologizing to myself and others (whether out loud or not) for that. I’ve had people tell me they are surprised that I struggle with depression. I can be a very good actress, but I don’t want to pretend to be something I’m not anymore. I’d rather spend my time and energy on allowing the person I am/want to be come out from behind the curtain.

My Tools: A support system gets me through the really hard stuff. That support system includes my husband, my brother, my therapist, and some close friends. It also includes my doctor. A support system can be made up of anyone you feel comfortable reaching out to. A pastor. A hotline. An anonymous chat room. What ever helps you to come out of your darkness can only be a good thing. Suicide is preVENTable. #talkitout.

I also recommend self-care. As I mentioned above, I’m terrible at this. I’ve been trying to rework what I think of as self-care, so that I can better incorporate it regularly into my life. If you struggle with knowing how to care for yourself, even in small ways, check out this self-care guide below, from The Trevor Project. The organization is specifically geared towards LGBTQ youth, but I think that most of their ideas would benefit anyone.

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How To Give Support: If you want to help someone struggling with a mental illness and/or suicidal thoughts, but are unsure how, at the very least avoid these 15 Things You Shouldn’t Say To Someone Struggling With Depression. These phrases can isolate the sufferer further, and possibly lead them to not reach out when they need to.

Resources: AAS, American Association of Suicidology, runs suicide support centers all over the United States.

Share It Forward: I’ve spent a long time hiding my depression from others. The death of my high school friend helped me be more open in the relative safety of Facebook. The death of Robin Williams compelled me to take it a step further and really show myself. After Robin Williams’ death a new movement was created, #thisistheface, to end the stigma of depression. As Glennon Doyle of Momastery said, “People who need help sometimes look a lot like people who don’t need help.”

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#ThisIsTheFace