Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month 2018

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I wasn’t sure I wanted to write this blog, but the more I stewed on it, the more I was certain I needed to. I didn’t want to cause drama, or make people worry, and I certainly didn’t want to admit it to myself. But here goes.

In the course of law school, you are told on the first day that a majority of your year will end up as alcoholics or with depression, and maybe a few of you will even die from these. A bunch of cocky 1Ls will think “I’m a smart person, I’m sure that couldn’t be about me.” Some may even laugh about already belonging to those groups and being “ahead of that curve”.

In the course of life, each person may be called to face their own traumas-maybe even secondhand. And there is no weakness in not feeling like you’ve got a grip on it. It’s human to reach your depth and feel like you’re drowning. I think of a quote that a professor once told me on Suicide Prevention Day: “I won’t tell you that it gets better. But you don’t have to face it alone.”

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I lost a friend in June, the third friend I’ve lost to depression. I say “I” because these are only my thoughts-but truthfully, more than just “I” experience this loss. She was a friend from law school, and we were so alike that it just felt more personal. I want to talk about the four things I learned since then, and why they’re important.

  1. Shallow Self-Care Won’t Heal the Painful Wounds

When I first started the summer, I spent a lot of time doing things that I wanted to do-art, writing, tai chi, “spa days” and the like. I wanted a full emotional reset from my academic year and I picked my favorites from a list of suggestions. When I lost my friend, I wondered why those things didn’t help. Everything I wrote was empty, art felt more sad than healing and even my beloved face masks did nothing to fix the way I felt lost.

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As it would turn out, the only way to deal with those big emotional issues is the hard way. The late-night-crying-for-no-reason way. The grapple-with-big-questions-that-don’t-have-answers way. The look-in-the-mirror-and-just-feel way. As it would turn out, not one of my coping mechanisms tools was helpful in processing the loss of my friend. I had to reach the end of my shallow fixes to really understand that I needed to work on myself. That’s not to say that all those self-care things aren’t worth it. When I get stressed, I still engage in those beauty-creating moments. But when the hurt is deep, your self-care needs to be that much deeper.

2. Suicide Fear for People Who Understand (The “Will I Be Next” Debate)

If you have ever been suicidal, you may very well have experienced this. I wouldn’t say that it’s Survivor’s Guilt, but more like Survivor’s Anxiety. At some point in the coping process, you start to wonder what makes you so different from the person you lost to depression (suicide). And if you can’t find those differences, the all encompassing question then becomes “Am I next?” Now, at the surface, it sounds very self-absorbed. But it’s much deeper than that.

My friend had many of the same characteristics I did. Emotional trauma, a history of assault, a heart as big as the ocean with enough emotions to cause hurricanes, law stress, being in a state that wasn’t welcoming to our identities, and more. She was brave, and she fought hard. She had battles not many people knew, and I’m sure some that even I didn’t know. But when the news came, I wasn’t mad at her, I didn’t judge her for it. I sat and cried and wondered about what had led her to that point. And seeing the similarities, I began to wonder that all important question.

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Because if I were in her shoes, as I have been from time to time, I don’t know that I would have made a different choice. And knowing that, what was it that would be my “moment”? Would it be a large, life impacting event? A bunch of small things that I couldn’t control that became too much for me? One poor choice? I became so engulfed in this paranoia that I would be next, that the spirit of death was coming for me, that I think I extended the grieving process far longer than I otherwise might have. I isolated myself, because I didn’t trust myself. I wasn’t suicidal, I was afraid that I would become so.

3. Taking Care of Yourself is Selfish-and It Has to Be

At a certain point, the tie that binds people who have suicidal history and those who we’ve lost from it becomes lost on people who have never contemplated or lost someone before. A good friend graciously agreed to go to the funeral with me, and at the end, I found out this was the first time they’d ever been to a funeral for someone who died from depression. I remembered what it was like for me that very first time and I wept for them. I wanted to make sure they were okay, but I was so entrenched in my own grief that I couldn’t step out and make that effort.

I remember I panicked for the first week after she died and sent every “strong person” I knew a message, asking if they were okay. They didn’t know why I did it, I just tried to carry on a conversation with them to make sure they knew I cared. Every person who had ever admitted they were depressed, anxious, or otherwise emotional got a text or message. I was scared. I was scared that suicide had become an infectious disease that would take away all of my friends (or me) if I didn’t actively try to stop it myself. And I grew so weary that I collapsed into myself.

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A couple friends asked if I was okay. I lied to them, because I didn’t want them to worry that I would, indeed, be next. I spent a lot of time avoiding calls, messages and social media in general because I couldn’t take any more bad news. And that was when I realized that my self-care needed to really focus in on self. I allowed that isolation. I took a chance on letting myself work through the grieving process. I stopped communicating with everyone for two months. (With the caveat that I still texted my parents to let them know I was doing okay.) And I broke down. I cried, I existed, and at times, I didn’t sleep for days at a time. I checked off the stages of grief when it was time-not when I thought it was time. And that meant that life kept on going while I was stuck.

When I finally began to reemerge, I was more honest. I told friends that I spent time grieving, about all the emotions I’d felt. And even though I knew I’d been selfish, I knew that it was because I had to be. I had to spend that time focused on only me because I wouldn’t have survived it else-wise.

4. You Can’t Do it Alone

This may seem like it flies in the face of the last point. It was at the end of the two-months recovery time that I began to seek out friends. I chose to go (the very first day) to see counseling services to prepare myself for reintegration into life as I had come to know it. I started going on friend dates. I put myself out there, because I knew that I needed to. The truth is, without my husband covering for me, I wouldn’t have been able to heal this summer. Without counseling services, I’d be a wreck right now. Without those good friends, I would be alone. And those are just small snippets of the network I have amassed.

I chose to get off of social media, and I told everyone that I was stopping this blog for a while. And all of those things are true. I need to learn how to be my own person, not someone who compares their successes and failures against the polished social media posts that make everyone seem perfect.

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But it’s September, and that means it is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. And although those we have lost will not read these words, this blog is for the people who are left behind. The people who are still fighting in the trenches. The people who are still wondering if they will be next.

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I know that it’s hard. And I know it’s scary. I’m not going to lie to you. Life sucks. And then it gets better and then it sucks again. But you don’t have to face it alone.

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Healthcare in My Country: A Monologue in Three Parts

Image result for stock photo doctorPart One: Physical Health

What is wrong with my foot? Is my toe purple? Why does it hurt so bad? Hmm. Quick Google search annnnd ingrown toenail. Great. Home remedy ingrown toenail. Okay, I need to soak it, put cotton under it, and if it doesn’t get better in a week…Hah! You think the answer is to go to the doctor, but that’s not an option here, bucko. We’re gonna just hope and pray it gets better in a week or I’m gonna die from a bitchy toenail. Awesome. I wonder how bad mine is. Should I look at the pictures? No. Remember how bad you freaked out the last time you looked at pictures? You couldn’t stop picking at your sunburn for a week. Okay. HOLY MOTHER OF CRAP WHY DOES THIS HURT SO BAD? Google: Home remedy ingrown toenail quick. Hmmm I don’t think it’s infected. Apparently that would be icing on this crap cake. Wait. No. Shit. Maybe it’s cause I’m picking at it. Ugh. If I put alcohol on it, I’m going to scream. But there’s no other way. Fuck.

I should have gone to the eye doctor like a year and a half ago. I know you’re supposed to go like once a year, but I don’t have two hundred dollars to drop on an exam and frames. But it’s probably not that bad. I mean, I think I need to stop staring at screens so much. I have these little flashes of light in my periphery. I think I’ll do a quick Google search. Okay, so I have eye cancer, I’m going blind or I’m overexerting my eyes. And I need to go get them checked out. Yea, okay. I’m just gonna shake my money tree and hope enough dollars are ripe for an eye exam. That’s cute. It’s probably not that bad. I’ll just read books or something. Try to stay off the screens. Annnnnd now it’s in my other eye. Well, I should probably learn how to read braille. I’m going to hate being blind. Maybe I could just find out what’s wrong and then I can say no to getting new glasses. That’s still like a hundred dollars. Or I could try Walmart. That’s what I did last time. I don’t have the time right now. Maybe if I work a couple extra hours I can afford it. But I also need an interview outfit for school. I can go to Goodwill and hope they have something in my size. Sigh. I’ll just try to hold out until I have more money.

My teeth hurt so bad. This is more frustrating than a migraine. What even is going on in there? I brush, I take care of my teeth. Sort of. I should probably floss more. Okay. I don’t see any black spots. So no big cavities. That’s a relief. Nothing seems super red. No inflammation. So why is it…oh no. Please don’t be wisdom teeth. Crap crap crap. I was supposed to have those out but they never came in. Is this karma for loving Dr. Pepper? Is that it? I’ve heard about people who keep theirs because they have a big enough gap in the back. Maybe I’ll be lucky. Of course, if they grow in crooked, I’m still screwed. How much is tooth surgery? HOLY BALLS I can’t afford that. I’ll run down to the store and pick up some Orajel. If I can’t get the pain to go away, I’ll figure out what to do then. But until that point, I’ll just keep brushing and I’ll floss. You hear that, little teeth. If you behave, and don’t make me go to the dentist, I will floss and buy some mouthwash and we’ll have a grand old time. Do I even have a dentist? My dental insurance is nonexistent so probably not. I mean, I’m sure there are clinics who do sliding scale. Or maybe I can go to the university and they’ll have students who do it for discounts. They do that at hair schools. Ugh this pain is too much. Maybe I can pull it out myself, like I did with baby teeth. That may have to happen if I can’t find someone to do it for reduced prices. I didn’t want to max out my credit card, but I can’t afford it any other way. I sure hope nothing else bad happens or I’m screwed.

Image result for stock photo mental healthPart Two: Mental Health

Oh no. I think I’m depressed. Should I see someone? No. If I do that, I can’t afford groceries. Or car maintenance. And the sensor’s been on for a while. Am I really that depressed? I am pretty suicidal. Is that a good enough reason to go? Would I act on it? Probably not. I mean, I never have before. I should probably just stay away from anything I could use then. Guess I won’t shave this week. Or take any Excedrin for my stress migraine. Ugh. This is why I’m suicidal, isn’t it? Maybe I *should* see someone. But who would even take me with no insurance? And what are they going to tell me? I need to be on medicine? Sure thing doc, just tell me where I can get free Prozac and I’m all ears. What’s that? I need insurance? Yea, I know. But I can’t afford to eat and go to school and work and pay rent and utilities AND pay for the right to live healthily. Life’s not fair, doc. And it doesn’t get better just cause I need to go talk to somebody.

Do you think normal people see bugs coming out of their ramen? I mean, that has to be stress right? I can just ignore stress. I do that all the time. Jeezus. This mushroom looks like a slug. I can’t eat this. Guess I’ll just starve again today. First it was roaches and then it was spiders and now it’s slugs in my cheap ramen. Where does this stop? Do you think if I died, I’d wake up in a bug universe? God, I wish I could talk to someone. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel like such a freak. But that’s just not in the budget right now. Or, ever, honestly. Would life be better if I got some cheap insurance through school? Would I use it? Probably not. I mean, I hate finding a new therapist. I always feel so judged. They never want to listen to me. They just want to push meds and tell me that I’m overreacting because I’m on my period. I can do that myself, standing in front of the mirror, listing off all the things I’m a failure at while I cry like a baby.

I should probably stay away from social media and my phone in general. It’s only going to make things worse. I’ll start comparing my life to everyone else’s and then I’ll be even more depressed. But I just want to stop feeling alone. Maybe a little won’t hurt. Nope. Everyone seems so put together. I’m such a fraud and a failure. They’re probably friends with me out of pity. They wouldn’t have to pity me if I was gone.

Oh no. I really am depressed. Maybe I should go see someone. I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna call the clinic that’s been in my search history for like a month. I heard they do sliding scale. That could be good. I know it’s probably not going to be anything more than just student workers and an overseer, but it has to be better than nothing. Right? Sigh. I shouldn’t waste resources just because I can’t get my shit together. I’ll call if I can’t make this go away in a few days. Until then, just isolate and stay away from all sharp things and all medicines. Great.

Image result for stock photo obgynPart Three: Reproductive Health

I read an article once about women who pursue graduate degrees experience stress in weird ways. One of them was that their cycle becomes less regular and may stop showing up altogether. Maybe that’s what’s happening to me. I’d go get it checked, but an OB/GYN is a specialist and I’m not prepared to pay that out of pocket. I could go to Planned Parenthood, but the nearest one is one whole state over. I’d have to take a whole two days off of work and school to go. Plus the cost of a hotel to stay the night. Unless I got up super early and then just stayed awake. But even so, that’s a lot of wear and tear on the car. If I broke down, I couldn’t make it back. Plus, I’m sure it’s totally fine. Who needs cramps every month anyway?

Of course, if it’s something serious like cervical cancer or something, I am completely screwed. Am I in pain? No. And I’ve saved a ton on not needing to worry about white pants and I don’t even need to buy supplies. Which has been a great grocery bill saver. When was the last time I had one? Like a year ago? Yea, that sounds right. So, even if I had been pregnant, I would’ve found out by now. Awesome.

Oof. It hurts now. Where’s the Advil? Shoot. I’m out. Way to go, me. Should’ve been prepared. I guess I’ll just grab some cold water and the heating pad. Good old heating pad. I hope this pain goes away soon. It’s like my ovaries are being ripped off. What even is that? I’m gonna say nothing serious. If I just stay hydrated, nothing can hurt me. I haven’t been drinking enough water. Shame on me. I know better. I wonder what it must be like to just be able to go to the doctor when something comes up. Do those people even recognize how privileged they are? Oh I’ll put it on one setting higher. Maybe the heat will melt my soul.

I hate that I could be dying of any number of things and I will have to suffer through all of them because I can’t afford insurance. And back when I was on my parent’s insurance, I was given the death sentence of “Pre-Existing Health Condition” so it’s pretty realistic that I may never have insurance again. Awesome. I don’t make enough to save for emergencies, and even when I do, I’m required to pay for car insurance and car repairs and I doubt I could ever save more than a couple hundred dollars. Not even enough for antibiotics or screenings or stuff like that. Poverty is my disease and it’s terminal. Guess I’ll just rely on these home remedies until I’m backed into a corner.

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I would like to thank you for reading. Before I explain, I would like to say that I am okay. I am not suicidal, I am not in need of immediate treatment for anything and I have had plenty of water and caffeine today.

I come from a place of privilege. I am a pretty melanin-lacking individual. I married hetero and I’m a cis-presenting individual. (Read: White, married woman). And those are the pertinent aspects of this background. From this platform, I belong to a group of people who collectively seem to have forgotten about the rest of the world (Read: minorities). And that means I need to use my platform to speak out.

These experiences above are true. I kept them honest for the purpose of illuminating. I’m a graduate student. And that means I am part of the faceless poor. The people you don’t think of when you think “food bank” or “government assistance”. But I belong to a subset of poverty that is directly linked to healthcare. I don’t have insurance-I aged out of my parent’s and if something goes wrong, I-like millions of Americans-are left to chance. This is a harsh reality for much of the American public. I’m hoping by using my white privilege, maybe someone will understand that this is a real issue that needs a quick, successful solution.

This does not even begin to address the issues facing trans individuals, pregnant people, people with physical chronic illnesses, people of color, addiction or a plethora of other issues. I encourage you to consider these and others, as they make up additional pieces of the story I have presented.

And a quick shout-out to these stock photos. 10/10.

Te Cuidas..En Dos (o Mas) Idiomas

I read an article once about a man coping with his wife’s mental breakdowns and how she would switch languages whenever she became depressed. I remember thinking “Wow! I can relate!” and not really understanding that there were people who suffered in only one language. I mean, obviously it’s entirely acceptable and completely normal to use the language you are comfortable with and fluent in to express yourself.

For me, bilinguialism is a tip off that I’m about to become depressed.

Think of it like listening to the radio. When you’re happy, you listen to songs about fun and happy times. When you’re sad, like when you’re getting over a break up, you listen to sad songs, songs you can cry to and scream at. But my “playlists” turn to a whole different language.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to use multiple languages in a general setting. It helps me professionally, it gives me access to other cultures and some really excellent foods. But when my heart is breaking, when the deep clouds of depression are hovering, my own language fails to live up to my needs. English leaves something to be desired.

I notice the change very abruptly. Instead of involving myself casually in another language, I will switch entirely from English into the other one. My music will become entirely Latinx, for example. Or I will only read in Cyrillic. Sometimes it will be a little more gradual and I’ll switch my recipes to all Kenyan, then start writing myself notes in Swahili. And then I will refuse to speak in English, I’ll write my grocery list in something else and I will immerse myself in this entire other state of being. It is then that I realize I need to double-down for some self-care time and take care of myself. When I start pulling out of my depression, I can go back to enjoying those same activities, but without the despair that anti-mania brings. Those extra cultures give me a safe place to go so I can start to heal.

In the realm of mental health and self-care, it’s really common to hear about things to look out for: an increase in impulsive behavior for mania, apathy for depression, paranoia for psychotic episodes and more. Physical symptoms take a really forward presence in your overall health, the life threatening symptoms next and then the ongoing symptoms. Signs you’re about to enter into a “danger zone” come in lists, self-help articles and off-handed comments. But it’s much harder when no one talks about potential tip offs that aren’t as common-but still just as serious.

When I was learning other languages, I was told that they would be keys to a door. I didn’t ask what that door would look like because I thought it was “to other cultures”. It turns out, it was a door to self-expression and the way I know I need to prepare myself for the pending breakdown.

Whatever your tip offs, you shouldn’t doubt yourself. And you should always invest in your own self-care. You know yourself best.

Micromanaging-Coping Mechanisms from Hell

The worst thing about residing in my mind is having a million things to say, but no way to put it into words. I’ve been typing and retyping this blog, hoping to get something down of merit-something I wouldn’t just comb over and ultimately delete. Each day I open WP and decide to work on something, but as you can see, nothing has come out (save the update). It’s not that I’ve wanted to be away, it’s because I can’t.

micromanaging

When I get stressed, I micromanage. Turns out, it’s a coping mechanism from some trauma that I hadn’t dealt with. But it’s bloomed into much more than that. It hurts my relationships, it hurts my self-image and it hinders my ability to be a human being. So of course, I want to blog about it. I don’t want to talk about it, because it feels like a weakness, but I think that’s exactly why I have to-because somewhere out there, someone else is also suffering through it and I understand.

So. Micromanaging. Literally- control every part, however small, of (an enterprise or activity). (Thanks, Google.) You see, when I get into a situation which pushes me a little (or a lot) outside my comfort zone, I immediately flip the switch and micromanage. It could be something like keeping Google Maps pulled up on my phone-even when I know exactly where I’m going, just in case there’s a detour I didn’t know about. Or it could be making a meal plan for an entire month so that I feel useful. And then scrapping it because I could do better and doing it again. And again. It involves me circling my car to make sure everything is off and locked when I park. It involves me making a nightly sweep of my apartment to ensure that everything is off and locked before I go to bed (I even press the buttons on the microwave).

Let me run down a scenario day, so that we can discuss.

Get up, take the dog out (if Ben doesn’t beat me to it). Grab one poop bag from the box, open it, put it in my hoodie pocket. Then grab the leash and clip it to our dog. Look out the peephole and unlock the door while I’m looking. Go outside, look for murderers and ruffians. Look both ways before crossing traffic areas. Go back inside-holding my breath up the stairs in case someone tries to chloroform me on my way back in. Lock the door behind me.
Grab coffee-if I’m microwaving it, put 1 cup on for 1 minute, making sure the microwave reaches 1 second left before I pull the door and remove my cup. Make sure coffee/creamer combo reaches the top of cup.
Leaving for the day-check bag twice, key in hand and leave. Lock the door and test the knob. Walk across the landing, check the knob again. Make it to the car, making sure my ankles can’t be sliced by someone under my car.
Get to destination-do car check. Get to bus stop, look at car to make sure that everything is kosher. The key has to be in my hand until I reach the bus stop-to make sure I didn’t leave it in my car.
Text Ben everything I have to do that day. Then update him every time I complete or add or modify an item.
Get in car to leave-pull up Google maps, plug in home address. Set up music, drive home. Reach home, park and do car check with key in hand. Go to apartment.
If dog needs taken out-repeat morning ritual. If not, run down list of everything that happened at destination, everything that needs to happen and everything that will be optional (even though I already texted that list and all the modifications).
Make dinner (which was pre-planned, and prepped ahead of time). While dinner cooks, make sure to check planner for anything missed.
Eat dinner, update planner, move things into next day if necessary. Plan other things-like novel, blog topic, crafts, etc.
Watch TV or play iPad games. Listen to music. Cross date off on dry eraser board calendar (that I made with color coded events at the beginning of the month).

I think that gives you a basic idea. There’s a lot more planning and checking involved, but this is the basic skeleton. And it happens each and every day. If I take an outing last minute, I plan it before I leave. If I’m walking to a class, I probably have Google Maps open-even if I’ve been there before. If things get changed before I can prepare for it, chances are I will flake on it-bailing completely.

I made a bullet journal for the year, and it’s awesome, but I’ve already filled it with ideas for better bullet journals to make. I do a budget nearly every other day. I write and then rewrite emails and letters-even if they’re to myself.

Like I said, this began as a coping mechanism for something that happened a couple years ago. It wasn’t this bad at first, but became a progressive part of me that now runs my life. I’m not saying it doesn’t have perks-I’m super prepared for law school because I’m always taking notes and doing things to help me in the future. And thanks to my bullet journal, I’ve been adequately hydrated every day this week, as well as working out much more regularly.

Micromanaging is a blessing and a curse. It puts extra stress on my life and my relationships-and that I can’t deny is a real problem. But it gives me the guise of being in control at times when I feel like anything but. Any major change or anything that feels too big for me to handle can be broken down into manageable chunks that I have control over. And having control over situations means that it’s not an impossible task, it’s just something that I need to put more work into.

In the end though, I know this has to be dealt with. I just want you to know that if you’re working through this too-I understand. And if you want to talk about it, at least you know I understand.

You can do this. You’re not broken-you’re exactly the person you need to be at this moment.

Scheduling a Breakdown

(I submitted this to The Mighty a couple days ago, but I know they’re busy, so I thought I’d share it here. I’ll snag the link if/when it goes live. Until then, you can find my articles here.)

It seems like the minute I have a hundred things to do, my brain decides it’s the perfect time for a breakdown. Even though I have no time for it, it’s not convenient and I really don’t want to think about all the things my depression brain focuses on, I find myself doing all of those things instead of my full calendar. So I’ve put together a list of things that help me put a pin in my symptoms momentarily so I can finish up a few things.

1. Set aside time for yourself.
Trust me, as someone who understands all about
procrastinating, this can seem like both an obvious thing and an impossible
thing to do. But I’m talking about a five minute break here or there. Drink
your cup of coffee, slowly. Smell the steam, watch your creamer swirl in the
cup. Live the experience fully. Go get the mail. Do you hear any crickets? The
sound of ice crunching beneath your feet? This little break reminds you to catch
a little perspective and maybe distract you long enough to work through it.

2. Let yourself be upset.
Telling yourself that you’re not that upset only makes you worse. If you
absolutely can’t be upset-do math. It can be simple, like 1+1, 2+2 and so on.
As it turns out, your brain doesn’t like feeling emotions and doing math at the
same time, so you can usually stall your tears for a moment. But if you have
the ability, just be upset. Again, it can be a little five minute moment in
which you feel like the world is crashing around you and all hope is gone. I
ugly cry, take a tissue and blow my nose then get up and grab some water. I’m
not saying I’m done being upset, but if I let myself be upset in little bits,
then it doesn’t come out in a marathon. It’s your right to be upset. Even if
you don’t think there’s a reason. The way you’re feeling is completely valid.

3. Find something you wanna smile about.
I hate the advice “just turn that frown upside
down”. Sometimes that’s the absolute last thing I want to do-and even then it
just makes me angrier, or cry harder. But what I’m talking about is finding
something that you know you enjoy and experience it. If you think penguin’s
laughing is cute-find a video (I think it’s fantastic). If you know you smile
when you make chicken parmesan, make it. Like bubble baths? Take one. Because
finding something to enjoy usually results in some kind of self-care and let’s
be honest-is that ever a bad thing?

4. Take a deep breath.
This isn’t a novel idea, but it’s important.
Your whole body needs oxygen to function. Your brain is absolutely no
different. Think about how hard your brain is working, trying to manage
everything, fix problems (especially the ones you’re worrying about “for
nothing”). You need air. Plus, if you take a moment and focus on your
breathing, sometimes you’ll find that you already knew the answer to the
problems, you were just so focused on everything all at once that you didn’t
notice.
While you’re breathing, try this little
exercise. Take one breath in and list five things you see. Breathe out. Take
another breath and list four things you hear. Breathe out. Take one more breath
and list three things you smell. Breathe out. One more breath and list two
things you can feel. Breathe out. Take another breath and list one thing you
can taste. Breathe out. Take another breath and carry on about your day.

5. Get a validation outfit.
This is one of my favorite things, and it
happened completely on accident. I got a sweatshirt a couple sizes too big and
washed it and decided that I would only wear it when I felt like a terrible
person. I told myself that while I was wearing it, I wasn’t allowed to degrade
myself. The shirt itself has a graphic about always loving yourself, so I
thought I’d wear it when I needed a reminder that I’m not a monster, and that I
matter. It hangs in my closet until I feel depressed, or feel worthless and
then I put it on and read the words. And when the thoughts popped into my head
like “I’m an idiot.” Or “I’m unlovable.” I look at the words on my shirt and
force myself to take ten seconds to say something nice about myself. “I am
fierce. I am valid. I am irreplaceable.” The nice thing about validation
outfits? They can be anything: a business suit, a pair of shoes, earrings, a
bracelet, a pair of socks. The important thing is to remember to love yourself.
Soon enough, it’ll be your favorite piece of clothing.

Life is hectic and hard sometimes. But the important
thing to remember is that you can do it-even when you’re convinced you can’t.

Stigmas in Suicide Terminology

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This article may contain trigger warnings: suicide is going to be discussed-mostly the terminology behind it though. Still, better safe than sorry.

I was having a discussion with a professor a while ago and it came up that I wrote for The Mighty. She asked what it was that I wrote about and without hesitation I said “Suicide”. It wasn’t until much later that I reflected on the conversation and realized that perhaps it seemed like I was sending a message that I didn’t mean to be sending.

I think that depression has a really bizarre way of making you rehash your interactions. My fears were that I was going to have to deal with a well-meaning email asking if I was mentally in a bad place, or worse-a phone call from the counselors on campus asking me to come in at my earliest convenience. I have the fear that if enough people find out I have a mental illness that it will come back to bite me in the ass and prevent me from living my life. Which is ridiculous for exactly two reasons.

  1. A LOT of people know that about me-because I don’t view it as something I need to keep quiet about. I’m going to talk about it because I’m not ashamed of who I am.
  2. Not a damn thing is going to prevent me from living the life I want to lead. And that’s a promise to both ya’ll and myself. If I want it, I will achieve it. The end.

So I made a “cover-my-butt” email and sent it to her. Which was probably the lamest thing I could have done. But it ended up working out in my favor because I got to talk about something that I feel strongly about-stigmas surrounding suicide survivors.

I have issue with the terminology used to talk about suicide. Not because I believe that we shouldn’t talk about it (because we should) but because of the words we use that imply things we don’t mean. Ultimately, it comes down to two questions.

  1. What is it that clearly communicates suicide (or living after) without bringing with it the negative connotations?
  2. What do we call people who live after, instead of dying?

So I was thinking about it, about all that I knew and had at my disposal and about what to use instead. Here are some phrases and my thoughts. (If there’s a *, it’s because I’m going to discuss that phrase later on.)

Commit Suicide: This harkens back to when suicide was a crime-and attemptees* who lived were tried as criminals. (From Google (and Wikipedia): “Before the Suicide Act 1961, it was a crime to commit suicide, and anyone who attempted and failed could be prosecuted and imprisoned, while the families of those who succeeded could also potentially be prosecuted. In part, that criminalization reflected religious and moral objections to suicide as self-murder.”) This implies that people who die on their own terms* are criminals, and those with suicidal ideation are nothing more than premeditating murderers. That’s not right.

Successful Suicide: I have problems with this phrase because “success” will always carry the connotation of (From Google: “accomplishing an aim or purpose”) and it seems like when people use that phrase, they wanted the person to die. I can’t get behind that.

Unsuccessful Suicide: This is the bigger problem I have with “successful suicide”. If an attempt is made and the person lives, under “successful suicide”, that person would be labeled “unsuccessful”. The problem I have with that is that a person who attempted suicide and lived would have reached a point in their lives where they felt there were no other options and the first thing they will hear is “You couldn’t even kill yourself.” You are telling someone who probably felt like they failed at life in every possible way that they also failed at death? That’s a TERRIBLE idea.

Died from Depression: I brought this one up as an alternative, but the truth of the matter is this one is very conditional. I was reading just recently about a police officer who chose his death because he’d become corrupt and didn’t want to go to jail. In this case, it wasn’t depression, and therefore it isn’t applicable to use this phrase. However, in a case like say, Robin Williams (may his soul rest), “died from depression” is completely applicable.

Died From a Complication of Depression: Like the point above, this is conditional. I framed this one by saying the following: If someone had cancer and the coroner put on the cause of death “pulmonary embolism”, we wouldn’t say “They died of a pulmonary embolism.” We’d say “They died of cancer.” The embolism was a complication caused by cancer. The problem with “Complication of Depression”? It takes a while to explain and is extremely conditional.

Selfish Suicide (also: Coward’s Death): I take offense to this one-and many others do as well. If there comes a time when suicide is being seriously contemplated because of depression, it is the furthest thing from selfish. The person will usually feel that taking themselves out of the lives of their loved ones will make those loved ones’ lives less painful, less complicated. Or perhaps it’s a matter of not wanting to continue hurting (either physically or mentally, or maybe both). Neither of those things are selfish or cowardly (and in fact the Google definition of Brave is: “ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage”). (A case could be made for incidents like the cop story I mentioned, but that’s a different post for a different day.)

Ultimate Act of Self-Care: First, let’s break this down. Ultimate (From Google: being or happening at the end of a process; final). Self-Care (From Google and Wikipedia: In health care, self-care is any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated.) Now, if you adhere to this very textbook-esque definition, I don’t have a problem with it. The only thing is, not everyone adheres to the same textbook if you catch my drift. “Ultimate” can be seen as synonymous to “highest” or “best”. “Self-Care” has been construed to mean anything from eating well and exercising to splurging on unnecessary items from the store or eating whole pies by yourself. It is this connotation that would imply selfish behavior. However, if we take this to mean “Last deliberate, self-initiated act of addressing an unmet need” then yes, this is good.

Die on their own terms: This is one of the ones I’ve been leaning on. I see it as factual, kind and flexible. The problem with it? It seems to get a lot of “Huh?” faces when I say it-to which I have to reply with the stoic “Suicide”-which defeats the purpose a little. Now, not only does this phrase fall on the ears a little gentler than suicide, it has the open endedness that accounts for mental health, “the police story”, physical disability choices and more without carrying any specific connotation or implication. And should someone live? Then this phrase starts to fall apart a little.

Suicide attempt: (From Google: make an effort to achieve or complete). I know this is really what’s been used in the past, but just as with “success” this seems a little insensitive. Now, I don’t know if there’s anything better for this act. My problem with it comes from the fact that if you attempt something you’ll either “fail” or “succeed” and we’ve already gone over that issue.

Planned/Spontaneous Suicide: These are relatively new introductions to the vocab choices.The only issue I have with these goes back to the “committed” issue. Planned sounds a lot like “premeditated” and that is definitely a word association with crime. The problem I have with spontaneous is that for the person, it’s almost never spontaneous. The thoughts are there-whether the “spectators” see it or not. Spontaneous just sounds like a cop-out for people who weren’t paying attention to the signs, or who weren’t around.

Suicide fatality/Non-fatal suicide: I tried this set, and with mixed success. I think it works better than “Successful/Unsuccessful” but it’s so mechanical. This is what I expect medical professionals, counselors and other “professionals” to use. Having been in the medical field for a short time, I understand that this phrasing would come in handy for clear and precise communication-which is why I was using it. But it seems disconnected, cold and jargon-y.

Attemptee: The person who lives is often faced with more issues than they had pre-incident. And I mean that in the kindest way possible. With that in mind, as I discussed above, I’m not sure “attempt” is the right verb choice. Depression can warp the meaning of words quicker than anything else, so for the sake of the person, perhaps this isn’t something to use.

Victim: This goes back to “crime” ideology. And for that reason I can’t get behind it.

Survivor: This is the one I use for the simple fact that the definition means exactly what I want it to. (From Google: a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died). Other people may have died from the same method-and that person lived. It carries with it the same respect as it does with other things you survive: cancer, sexual assault, natural disasters, etc. And it denotes that the living is still in progress.

 

 

So, readers, what do you think? Anything I missed? Anything you agree or disagree with? What do you use to talk about suicide?

 

Survivor’s Guilt

I wanted to share a poem I made in honor of Ulla, of all the friends and friends-of-friends we have lost to depression. I know it’s late. I know. But World Suicide Prevention Day has been on my heart all day. (Following image from Google.)

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Survivor’s Guilt 

In the stillness of morning
I seek you out
A touch, a smile
But there’s nothing but silence.
Flip on the lights
Awaken from this nightmare
A yawn, a tear
And then I remember.

I didn’t ask for you to leave
But I never told you to stay
And I didn’t ask if you needed me
Until they buried you.

In the bustle of the afternoon
I search for you
A laugh, a wish
But I wait for the emptiness
Pause at our spot
Bent but unbroken
A sigh, a glance
A confession in waiting

I never stopped to think
You never thought to ask
I didn’t know you were hurting
Until they asked for final words.

I expected to see you
In everything I did
You were there, but not
And I couldn’t stand it
I thought of you today
And realized our inside jokes
Couldn’t matter anymore.
Goodbye, my dear.

Until we meet again.

(c) Michelle BB 2016