Saturday, September 16, 2017

Out of the Darkness

This morning was the Out of the Darkness walk for the awareness and prevention of suicide.  I had actually forgotten about it until about 2:00 am this morning.  I was sleeping well but awoke with a start and remembered the walk.  I thought there was no way I would make it; the emotion of it was too great, and I went back to sleep.  At 7:00, Trent and I woke up, and I still waffled about going.  As I sipped coffee, I remembered my friends and family who donated money on the premise that I would walk.  I was positive none of them would fault me for staying home and crying, but I couldn't rest with that thought, and I felt certain I should go.

As I drove to the coliseum, the tears flowed and I experienced an unusual (for me) sense of social anxiety at the thought of walking into a crowd of people by myself.  I was wearing the t-shirt with the above picture and Chad's name with the years of his birth and death.  I felt exposed and raw, as though I was carrying a great ball of pain and holding it out for all the world to see.  I regretted my decision to go alone, and I wished for a hand to hold. 

I was forcibly calm as I walked into the crowds of people, registered, got my t-shirt prize from the money raised, and walked among the tents with brochures about suicide in the elderly, the military, and in the LGBTQ community.   I collected as much information as my purse would hold.  Suicide prevention is now a professional interest for me.

As the ceremonies began, different metaphors and stories brought me back to tears:  the pebble in a pond, the minimum of 100 people affected by each suicide, the memory of a service member who presented her life as perfect, even as she was suicidal.   A young woman in a rainbow shirt held a sign that said "It is okay not to be okay" on one side and "You are not alone" on the other side.  I wanted to hug her and tell her she was wise beyond her years.  Everywhere, people had pictures of lost loved ones, smiling in their frozen moment of time, just as Chad smiles above.  Yet, there was a joyful quality to the crowd, which confused me.


 As the walk began, I was delighted to see we were walking on the beach sidewalk.  At that same beach, I had once spent a day with my siblings.  I was 11 or 12 and Chad was 16 or 17.  I wondered if we had touched the spot I was looking at, if I had begged Chad to wait for me as he went further into the gulf.  Were we both blistering in the sun?  Had we helped our younger siblings make a sand castle?  Had we collected seashells with hermit crabs?  The tears flowed again.


 As I walked, I heard conversations around me.  Many were not about suicide, pain, or lost loved ones.  I felt a bit angry but then noticed their t-shirts gave death dates from years ago.  I was reminded that my loss is still fresh, and that in time, I will be able to walk and think of Chad but not feel so adrift and swallowed by pain.  I will be able to have a conversation about something else.


The turn around point for the walk was near this lighthouse.  Perhaps the metaphor is too heavy-handed, but there was beauty in that.  If we are taking people out of the darkness, we need a lighthouse to guide them back.  The sky was beautiful and the light breeze helped dry my tears.  Each of us can be a lighthouse for our loved ones.

After the walk, I talked with a new friend and couldn't control my tears.  We hugged and she validated that my loss is still so new.  Although I have always thought suicide awareness was a worthy cause, it had never been one of my causes.  Now it is.  I sometimes wonder how many causes I can hold dear, but the heart is elastic.

Another new friend asked if I would be interested in starting a support group on the eastern side of the coast.  I immediately balked at the idea as excuses flooded forth:  I've just started a new job; the kids have all their extracurricular activities; I need a babysitter; on and on.  Then I thought:  A principle in the social work code of ethics is service. When I got home, I read it:

Social workers’ primary goal is to help people in need and to address social problems.
Social workers elevate service to others above self-interest. Social workers draw on their knowledge, values, and skills to help people in need and to address social problems. Social workers are encouraged to volunteer some portion of their professional skills with no expectation of significant financial return (pro bono service).


As a professor once said, "This is where the rubber meets the road."

Next year, I will not walk alone.  I hope to have my siblings, my children, my husband, my father, my aunts and uncles, Chad's children, and many friends.

Monday, August 28, 2017

October 2013 and now

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog post about song lyrics that meant something to me.  I quoted The Fray's "How to Safe a Life", particularly the lyric:

Where did I go wrong?
I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness 


I spoke about all the friends I have lost over time, often because when a person gets too close, I tend to pull away.  Back in 2013, I was already somewhat stable but still struggling to keep friends.  After that, some new friendships were formed but also faded away.  Or rather, I pulled away or I self-sabotaged or the friendship simply ended for a reason that had nothing to do with me.  Either way, the losses hurt over and over again, and I reinforced the negative behaviors of pulling away as people pull close.  I told myself to stop needing people, and I idolized Estelle from Great Expectations, ignoring the happy ending of the story and only caring about her superb, controlled, and supreme coldness.

Then I started grad school and there were new friends, and as I learned what I learned, I let two people in further than before.  They nurtured me, and I tried my best to nurture them.  However, since Chad's death, the problem has returned.  Even with those two very special friends from school, I feel myself pulling away even as I need their friendship so badly.  It has happened with others as well; they get too close; I need too much; I become frightened of more pain, and I close the door.  I lose people in the bitterness.

My social worker told me today that it is similar to having a phobia of emotions instead of spiders and snakes.  She hit the nail on the head:  I am afraid of emotions because emotions can become too overwhelming, and it is easier to have no emotions than uncontrollable ones.  

I have been repeating to myself "This is what his suicide left behind" because I'm reminding myself that pain after a loss is normal, trying to avoid the pain is also normal, and engaging in negative coping mechanisms is normal, albeit not healthy.     

In a way, I'm back to the 16 year old girl who lost her mom and had no coping skills, didn't know how to ask for help, didn't know how to talk about any of it, and acted impulsively as a result.  Fortunately, I have therapy, education, and honesty this time.  

Ending these posts is always hard for me; I want to end on a positive note so everyone is left with a sense of closure, but honestly, there is no positive way to end this.  It is what it is.                

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Thematic Seasons

I have a theory that our lives pass in seasons, and those seasons typically have themes.  Before my current season of loss, graduate school was a season of improvement.  I improved my mind, my discipline, my writing, and my skills as an empathetic and reflective listener.  There were other, less prevalent themes of friendship, love, and advocacy, but the umbrella was always improvement.  Other seasons of my life have overflowed with themes such as love, motherhood, lust, and dysfunction.  There were seasons that seemed to have no theme, although I now question if the theme was not simply stagnation.

This theory melds well with something my social worker and I explored during a therapy session not long ago.  I was weeping for the loss of a season that was filled contentment, with smaller threads of love, happiness, and stability.  I asked why;  WHY does life, when we are so happy, rain down horror and sadness on our heads?  WHY are we punished for being so happy?  Specifically, what did I do to deserve such punishment?  My social worker challenged me to think of life as sadness and horror and of happiness as the reward.  Instead of being punished, I was being rewarded.  The happiness was fleeting because rewards are fleeting, while sadness tends to be prevalent because it is the matter of which life is made.

At the time, that answer gave me little solace.  I rebelled against the ideas that life is composed of sadness, that happiness is fleeting, and that we are rewarded with happiness.  I thought, shouldn't happiness be the default?  However, maybe my social worker is correct.  Seasons of happiness are our rewards, but seasons of loss and sadness are more frequent, or at the very least, feel more frequent.

I am currently in a season of loss and sadness, but it is not only Chad that I have lost.  During this season, there have been losses of friends, identities, mental stability, dreams, seasons that were better, and healthier ways of coping.   I am grieving so many things at one time, I am unable to tease apart the knot of yarn. 

Today, I told my social worker that I do not know how much longer I can survive this season.  I am so raw, and the pain is so overwhelming.  Every loss, no matter the size, now compounds the loss of Chad and magnifies the pain.  Next Thursday, I will experience another loss, and I will have to wall in the pain and find a way to numb it while I work through it.  I do not see an end to this season or the forthcoming reward, but that is the way the theory works:  the season we are in is the only season we can see.  We may be able to remember past seasons, but we are unable to predict future ones. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

What Suicide Left Behind and Friends

I had another episode today.  There were variables that led to it, but I will leave those be as there is nothing good that comes from telling it. 

What suicide left behind is grief confused by cognitive distortions, which is a $5,000 term for wrong beliefs.  Of course, I learned a great deal about cognitive distortions in grad school.  I know how to recognize them and challenge them, but knowing both of those things also means I know how to talk myself right back into thinking those faulty beliefs.  A person without my education, when their cognitive distortions are challenged, may say, "Oh wow, I've never thought about that!"  For me, I have thought of it, and I've also thought of 10 more reasons the challenge could be challenged. 

So today, this happened:

I felt guilty.  I read my brother's poetry years ago and saw the suicidal themes, but when I saw him, he was smiling and telling jokes so I let the language in the poems go.  I was once asked by a family member, "Aren't you in school for this?" and that is what repeated itself today: Wasn't I in school for this?  How on earth did I miss the signs? (Rereading his poetry is like a huge neon sign.) And I am paranoid other people are thinking it as well:  How does someone with mental health training and education miss the suicide waiting to happen in her own family?  And how does that bode for the future practitioner in me? 

As I regurgitated these and other cognitive distortions to the amazing Megan, she text back the following:


It is unwarranted guilt and a major distortion. Also, the lack of guilt from others compared to you possibly stems from the fact that you are your family's confidant, you know each of your siblings on a very deep level, and feeling like you missed it makes you feel like you failed them. Also, you nailed it on the head with those last texts. You feel inadequate as a mental health provider that you couldn't prevent this from happening. Holly, they are not going to blame you, but you have to find a way to accept what happened, because chances are, with the population you want to work with you will lose a patient to suicide, even though you did EVERYTHING you could, EVERYTHING right, you may still lose someone. You have to remind yourself 1) you are human you may not catch everything, especially if someone didn't want you to see that. 2) recognize the steps you did take, and given the
history there wasn't a risk, he was going to bed. 3) it's okay to hurt, it's okay to feel a little guilty, but it CANNOT consume you--grieve yes, but don't let guilt get in your head, that doubt, that voice saying you could have done something--fact is, Chad had that same voice I am sure, he did have a choice in this, and he made his decision and it has destroyed you, but my question to you is do you want that guilt to have that much power over you?
 
I don't know exactly why I'm sharing this.  I have been keeping a private journal for much of this mess that I will likely not share with anyone, but there is something in this, perhaps Megan's words, that need to be published for all to see.  Because even if you, my reader, aren't grieving a suicide, you are probably grieving something.  You are experiencing cognitive distortions about yourself and your family members.  Just know that there is hope, and if you can find "your Megan" in a friendship, or a therapist that is half as good as Megan, reach out and be honest, even if it is the hardest thing you to today.   

Monday, July 24, 2017

Death Anniversaries

July 25th marks 22 years since my mother passed away and almost 4 months since my brother died.

I have not been quiet regarding my struggles with grief complicated by mental illness, but I am attempting to be more proactive and less reactive, which my writing has been.  To prepare for this death anniversary, I spent time meditating on pleasant imagery.  As an atheist, I struggle with afterlife imagery.  I do not believe my mother or my brother can see me or are proud of me.  I do not believe they are together in some place such as heaven, but oddly, I found myself imagining that very scenario a few days ago.  Perhaps family and friends who are believers will attempt to tell me that my imagination is actually trying to convince me of a cosmic truth, but I ask for mercy.  My atheism is a result of many years of research, contemplation, and severe emotional distress.  This is not an open door for evangelizing, and in complete honesty, such efforts would cause me pain, which would result in anger and mistrust.

A few nights ago, I did 20 minutes of yoga then I laid in the corpse pose and slowed my breathing.  I cried a bit and attempted to imagine a beach, but the beach turned into road.  The road was long and my brother and my mother were walking towards each other from opposite ends.  They both wept as they embraced. I let go of the image because it was too much, but I sought out poetry. For me, words have a way of comforting and producing other, perhaps easier, images.  A friend who knows thousands of poems, both popular and obscure, assisted my search.  I was clear about what I was searching for but will not share that here.  Here are two favorites.  There was a third, but it could be considered offensive, and I do not wish to offend. 

Wanting Sumptuous Heavens  
by Robert Bly  
 
No one grumbles among the oyster clans,
And lobsters play their bone guitars all summer.
Only we, with our opposable thumbs, want
Heaven to be, and God to come, again.
There is no end to our grumbling; we want
Comfortable earth and sumptuous Heaven.
But the heron standing on one leg in the bog
Drinks his dark rum all day, and is content.


“Hope” is the thing with feathers

By Emily Dickinson
 

"Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Today at the Mall

Today, I remembered why being the mother of a child with Down syndrome, apraxia, and Sensory Processing Disorder (currently not recognized by the DSM-V) can be really, really hard.

Every year, I have to buy my children school uniforms, and every year, I swear that I will get a babysitter for my son.  However, I convince myself that he needs exposure to people and places in order to gain some tolerance, so I pack him up, and we go with the best intentions.

Immediately upon arriving at the mall, I had a bad feeling.  The parking lot was too full and there was water on the concrete.  He wanted to splash and run, and I had to hold his hand tightly.  He squirmed and fussed.  Once in the food court, he chose pizza with relative ease but wanted to hold the floppy plate and drink, which was not a good idea considering the amount of people walking around us. As I spotted an open table, he followed but kept increasing the distance between us, and people hurried in that gap.  He finally settled at the table and began eating.  A couple a few tables down stared at him as he ate in his typical messy way.  When their eyes met mine, they did not smile or frown, just looked away. As he ate, he yelled, which is typical for him when he is happy, which is typical when he has food.  People everywhere stared. I asked him to be quieter, but my heart truly didn't care.  I like that he gets excited about his food; it would just be nice if people didn't act as though he is from another planet.

After eating, we went into a store and began shopping.  The music was loud and the lights were bright.  He worked to calm down, and I was proud of him.  He laid on the floor a few times and more people stared.  My heart raced, and I just wanted my other children to pick out their sizes, try on the items, and finish.  I became snippy with them.  I became snippy with my youngest.  "Get off the floor."  "Don't rub your face on the clothes."  "Don't unfold that!"  "Come here."  "Stand here."  Don't, don't, don't! After awhile, constant correction made him feel like a failure, and the lights and noise took a toll.  More people stared, and my heart raced faster.

Typically, he loves escalators, and it was my fault for assuming he would this time.  I got on right before him, but he hesitated.  As the distance grew, he called for me and took a big step.  He had one foot on one step and the other foot on another.  He began to lose his balance, and as I turned to step down, the heavy bags on my arms threw my balance off.  I began to fall as well.  A woman behind my son caught him, and I gained my balance enough to step down to him.  He was laughing, but I felt sick.  I thanked the woman and unleashed my fury on the other two kids.  "Why am I holding these bags and your arms are empty?  Why am I expected to do everything?  Hold these bags right now!"

The rest of the shopping trip witnessed a miserable scowl on my face, unhappy children, and a rush to just buy whatever fit and was affordable.  I kept muttering "never again", but what am I supposed to do?  Never take him places?  Never force him out of the safe spot of our living room with his favorite movies, where he can yell, dance, and roll around on the floor with complete happiness?

So many disability posts remind people not to stare.  I just read one a few minutes ago, but who am I kidding?  People will always stare.  Some people will even roll their eyes and sigh.  I'm just tired of it.   I know typically developing children also have fits, disobey, and embarrass their parents; it is just so much harder when your child gets stared at for things beyond his control.  For simply existing as a person with a diagnosis. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Weary of the Girl

The girl was always me.  Putting her in a bell jar, looking at her from the outside, was safer, but I'm weary.  I'm tired of pretending, then ranting about stigmas on mental illness and suicide.

A friend texted today and asked for an opinion.  I struggled to give my opinion, then I was honest.  "I'm sorry but I can't help you with your decision.  I am so depressed, it is hard for me to make the decision to get out of bed each day."  She did what good social workers do, she made sure I wasn't suicidal, and she gave great suggestions.  "Don't isolate yourself."  I know all of this as it is exactly what I will tell a client one day.  I will also understand that sometimes the depression is too deep and sinking lower means rock bottom.  If you don't do what my brother did, you bounce up from the bottom.  I will not do what my brother did.  I will not cause that kind of pain in others because if there is a hell, I will be there from guilt.  I'm already there now, from pain.

So then my husband, helpless 8000 miles away, told me I should be honest to his parents so that they could help.  The theme of not isolating myself was repeated.  Yet it is what I do.  I isolate, and I pretend that the girl who is seriously mentally ill isn't me.

Another friend calls, and it is fun for a minute to rant about rape culture and injustice.  We hang up and I crumple to the floor.  This friend would have been here in a minute if I had told her I was drowning, but I could not and it is easier to isolate.  I come to this blog where I can spill all this pain, weeping, then when someone calls I say "No, really I'm ok.  I'm not in bed."

I tell my 16 year old to come home quickly.  Children shouldn't ask "What is wrong?" to be told, "I'm really depressed.  I need you to bathe and feed Trent for me."  Trent asks "What's wrong mama?"  I have never told him his uncle is dead.  But frequently, he names family members and Uncle Chad is one of them.  He will stop naming him in time.  I don't know if I crave or dread that moment. 

I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder at 18.  I have been suicidal.  I experienced Postpartum Psychosis after my first child was born and actually had visual hallucinations and delusions.  My diagnosis changed to Bi-Polar II a few years ago, and new medication made all the difference.  Then Chad did what he did, and I cannot grieve normally.  A mood disorder makes grieving normally impossible.  

So I look for any way to feel better, some ways healthy and some not.  Changes in meds and an added prescription that gives me mixed episodes, which means I am hypo-manic but depressed at the same time.  So I can write and I can clean and I can shower, but I cannot stop crying, and the cognitive distortions continue.  My doctor doesn't necessarily mind the mixed episodes, but when the stimulant wears off, I am in full depression.  No writing, no getting out of bed, no showering, very little eating.  This is one view of mental illness.

There is no working like this.  I cannot help a client when I can't help myself.  I graduated and wanted to do great things for other people, I was full of fire just a few months ago.  I wanted a career in mental health.  It makes me laugh because it would be like the inmates running the prison.  Until I am stable for at least year, I need to stick to jobs outside of mental health.   

I wonder what cognitive distortions my brother and I shared.  That we aren't anyone's priority?  That we are bothersome to other people?  That everything someone says to us is actually negative and judgmental?  That we will never be better?  That we will never be happy again?  That a certain amount of happiness is allotted to each of us, and we used up our allotment at some other point in our life?  That love is finite and can only take so much?  That we are shitty parents continually fucking up our kids?  That there is no transcendence at the other side of this pain?  That hell is actually this life, right now?  That loneliness is the only true state of being?  This is one view of mental illness:  where every thought feels true, even when some logical part of your brain tells you isn't.    He lost all hope, likely because of these thoughts.  They swirl so fast and so frequently, they become overwhelming.  He was overwhelmed and I can picture the last moments.  I just wish he hadn't isolated.  That he had gone to the hospital.  That he had wrote a fucking blog and published it so that the darkness was vomited in public, like coughing up a disease.  There is power in telling this to people and being honest. 

I have therapy at 6:30 tonight.  By then, the stimulant will be wearing off so I will have to force myself to drive there, but she will see the truer depression.  She will have to gauge my safety, and that aggravates the piss out of me for some reason.  I cannot fully explain how much suicide feels like a personal insult at this point.  I know the clinical, scientific truth of it, but it feels like a really low insult.      

August 11th, my husband comes home for three weeks.  The end of that three weeks frightens me the most, when he gets on a plane and the loneliness immediately seeps into my bones.  I am already frightened for something almost two months away. 

This is one view of mental illness, and I'm not putting the girl in the bell jar anymore, where the air and dust are removed.