Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Article: One Man. Talking About His Life. And Wanting to End It.

This is a great article about how difficult it can be for men to talk about depression and mental illness. Stuart Walker talks about his life, what it was like to live with depression, and how it felt to be suicidal. He also posted interviews about these topics on Take a look for yourself.


Article: Penciling in Hope - Life After Suffering a Suicide Loss

The woman in this article talks about how she is still struggling with the loss of her mother to suicide two years later. Even though it's scary to think it might take 5-7 years to recover from her loss, she has hope that everything will be ok.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Living Piece of History

This has past week has been an emotional roller coaster. My cat Tybo was vomiting blood, lethargic, not eating, not drinking, and hiding in the closet all day. The vet didn't know what was the matter with him. He's 15 or 16 year old cat. It could be any number of things, and I wasn't hopeful that any of them could be cured. I made an appointment to put him down, and spent the next two days saying good-bye to him. He appeared to be getting better, which was confusing. I tend to ignore bad things and wish my problems away, so I kept telling myself that it was just wishful thinking. 

The appointment time came. I cried (and he cried) all the way to the vet. The assistant explained the procedure, I signed the forms, and the vet came in to sedate him. She asked how he was doing, and I answered that I thought he was doing better, but I didn't want to get my hopes up. The vet looked him over and agreed. "He's a completely different cat than when he came in here two days ago! He's doing so much better. I don't feel comfortable putting him down when he seems to be doing well."

OMG!!! I wanted to scream and jump up and down with joy. I was going to take my cat home! YAY!!! But I was also scared because we still didn't know what was wrong with him. Was he going to crash again in a few days? A few weeks? Am I just delaying the inevitable and causing myself more emotional roller coaster rides for the future? I didn't care. I needed the hope.

It's been two days since that appointment, and he seems back to his normal self. He's an indoor cat, but we've given him brief stints of time in the backyard or the garage (poor thing is blind and deaf and declawed, so there's no way he could be an outdoor cat even if we wanted him to be). It's possible he ate something he shouldn't have during one of those times. Whatever happened, it appears to be over for now.

Tybo was my dad's cat. I helped Dad pick him out from the humane society when he was an 8 month old kitten. Dad chose the name Tybo from a Western novel, "tybo" meaning "white man" in Native American and Tybo is a mostly white cat. When Dad had his stroke, Tybo went to live with my mom. When Mom and my step-dad went on a two year mission to the Philippines, I adopted Tybo, and I've had him for the past two and a half years.

I have all of my dad's journals, his ashes, and pictures, but Tybo is different in that he's a living piece of history. When I found out I was pregnant, I was happy to know that something from my dad was still around to interact with the granddaughter he'd never meet. No matter how hard she's crying, one look at him will calm her down instantly. "Kitty!" She lights up, smiles, and reaches out to pet him.

I'm happy that Dad will be there to greet Tybo when it's his time to go, but I'm grateful that it's not that time yet. I like to think that Tybo is making up for some of the time Dad will never have, and we all know that time is precious.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

I Didn't Know What to Say

I didn’t know what to say. One of my former coworkers recently lost her dad to heart failure. I finally have someone my age who knows what it’s like to lose her dad, but when I went to talk to her about it, I froze. The words were there, but I was scared to let them out. I was afraid I would frighten her if I told her about the nightmares, the terror that everyone I knew would kill themselves, the mess I had closing the estate, and the fear of judgment when I told people how my dad died. Even though we both lost the same person in our lives, it felt like two entirely different and unrelatable things. So I just sat and listened (which was probably what she would have preferred anyway).

I went home and thought about all the things she said. She talked about the guilt from not being able to help him, the shock that her dad actually died (we like to think the people we care about are invincible), and the crying every day. All things I remember, but I realized a part of me was jealous. Her grief was more straightforward than mine.

That’s what separates us suicide survivors from ever other mourner. Heart failure, car accidents, and cancer, while all tragic and unfair in their own way, are more natural than someone shooting himself in the head. They’re also easier to understand. People get sick and they die. Sometimes people make mistakes and people die. There’s no shame in any of that. It’s part of the natural consequences of living. My coworker didn’t understand the dueling emotions of being so angry with someone for hurting you that you want to push them away a forget about them, but at the same time missing and loving them so much you can’t bear the thought of never seeing them again. It’s all pain and raw emotions as you struggle to figure out what it all means. There’s no peace in it, no comfort in believing this is all part of some greater plan for us.

Now that I’ve had time to think about this, what would I say to my coworker now? I’d say that her dad was a wonderful man who deserves to be grieved. Don’t run from it, don’t hide from it, and don’t let others tell you how you need to do it. Embrace it as your own way to honor his memory. It’ll be harder than you think, and it will never go away, but it will get easier. Eventually, the good days will out number the bad days, and the crying will stop except for those few occasions when you’re caught off guard by something that reminds you of him.

And I’d continue to listen. No matter how we lose someone, our grief experiences are all the same in that they are unique. Each one deserves to be heard.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Suicide Intervention via Anonymous App

I found this article today, and thought it was interesting. We always talk about the bad side of anonymity on the internet, but here's a vote for the good side. There is an app called Yik Yak where college students can anonymously post their suicidal thoughts, and they are finding support instead of criticism.

Do you think apps like this are a good idea? Are these people potentially opening themselves up to more hurt, or are they courageous for speaking up?

Until the suicide taboo is gone and people feel comfortable talking about these feelings in person, I think this is a great safe way to find someone who will listen and respond. I just hope that the commenters can keep things friendly and that the depressed person who posted their thoughts is able to find the help they need.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Disneyland Dad

I often heard my mom refer to my dad as a “Disneyland Dad.” What she meant was that he didn’t raise or discipline my brother and me after their divorce; he’d just pick us up for visitation, take us out for fun and games, and then drop us back at home. She didn’t mean this as an insult. It came up whenever we got mad at her and threatened to move in with Dad. “You’d still have to do chores at your dad’s house. Living with him is much different from visiting him,” she’d explain.

This past weekend, my sister- and brother-in-law came to visit, and the subject of Disneyland came up. My brother-in-law Bill talked about going to Disney World a week and a half after his dad died of cancer. His dad had always wanted to go to Disney World with the family, and the trip was planned, but he didn’t make it. Bill said it was a good way to honor and mourn him, to have the family all together having a good time.

The summer I was visiting Utah to take care of my dad after the stroke, my grandpa had a TIA (transient ischemic attack a.k.a. a mini-stroke). He made a full recovery fairly quickly. Thank God it was a minor stroke and not as devastating as my dad’s, but I lay in bed that entire day. How much more could my family take? My friend Erica brought me a grilled cheese sandwich from Sconecutter and watched TV with me. A documentary on Disney World came on, and she said, “You deserve something happy after all you’ve been through. Sometime in the next year, we’re going to Disneyland.” Hell yeah! We decided to go next fall during the off-season to avoid the summertime crowds.

Well...five months later my dad committed suicide. I don’t remember how the details of our Disneyland trip formed, but a year later there I was with my new husband, Erica, and her husband. November was the perfect time of year for Disneyland. The weather wasn’t too hot, the lines were non-existent, and it was the first time I’d been there since I was a teenager. It was a blast! It was more fun than I expected it to be. Erica and I promised each other we’d come back here together every five years.

It was also a difficult time for me. It was a month after the first anniversary of my dad’s suicide and my wedding. My husband and I bought our first home the previous summer and we had just decided to try for kids. There was a lot going on. Between the rides and laughter, I’d cry for a few moments. I knew my dad would want me to have fun. I deserved to have fun, damn it! I worked hard for that fun, but I felt guilty having it. I felt like Dad should’ve been there with me. This was a Disneyland Dad I wasn’t prepared for.

That trip was almost five years ago. I’m no longer in touch with Erica, though she has a daughter now and I heard she’s getting divorced. My husband and I now have a daughter and we’re living in the same house. The past two years have been amazing, but the three years following that trip continued to be a nightmare that started with the stroke. If I still talked to Erica, we’d be planning our second Disneyland trip for this fall.

I’m going to go to Disneyland again. Probably not with Erica, but I have earned and deserved to have happiness in my life. It’s the moments of pain and sorrow that make the joy and laughter even more memorable. Disneyland is one of the happiest places on Earth for me, but it will also be one of the saddest because I will always think of my dad when I go there. That’s ok, because it’s just as important to be sad as it is to be happy.


Friday, July 3, 2015

Article: Why does Japan have such a high suicide rate?

This is an interesting article about how suicide is viewed in Japan. It doesn't have the same stigma there as it does here in the west. Some view it as the responsible thing to do when you can no longer provide for yourself or your family. This could be a big reason why the suicide rate is three times higher there than in the United States. Another possible reason is that depression and mental illness are highly taboo in Japan. And if you are brave enough to seek help, the treatment isn't all that good.

This article got me thinking that maybe we have it wrong. Maybe the suicide stigma here in the west is saving lives. It makes it harder for the survivors, but if suicide was an acceptable way to die would the suicide rates in this country go up? And would it be easier on the survivors because then suicide would be seen as natural? I wish the article talked about how the suicide survivors felt. It's one thing to believe that suicide is acceptable, but another thing to experience it. It's a violent way to lose someone which can lead to trauma.

Or is our suicide rate lower in this country because of better mental health treatment? The care in the United States isn't anywhere near where it needs to be, but the stigma of mental illness is slowly disappearing and the insurance companies are being asked to provide better coverage for it. Will this help lower suicide rates?

There's always the question of whether it's possible to have a 0% rate. If someone truly wants to do die, is there any way to stop them? If you've ever suffered from depression, you'll understand that you can feel lonely even when standing in a room full of people who love you and want to help you. You don't see the help, you feel like a burden, you feel like no one would care if you're gone, and you feel hopeless that anything in the world could make you feel better. That's not necessarily about stigma, that's about brain biology. Even if there was no stigma, depressed people don't always have the insight, energy, or desire to get better. 

There are other possible reasons for the high suicide rate in Japan mentioned in the article. It's interesting to me that there are billions of people in the world living and surviving billions of different life events. Maybe there is no perfect culture or perfect way to live. No matter our differences in wealth, family, and friends, we're still all the same in that some of us feel we just can't handle life's hardships.