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.  

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sunday Morning

A friend shared a poem with me this morning, Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens.  A poem about religious uncertainty, it is achingly beautiful, and I wept as I read it. 

My grief over my brother has been both incredibly lonely and oddly mystical.  The loneliness comes from the night time being my worst time of the day.  I lay in bed and cry myself to sleep without my husband to hold me and smooth the hair from my face where it sticks to my wet cheeks.  At least when the sun is up, I can call my friend in San Diego  and receive her invaluable counsel.  I remember this feeling when I grieved the hardest with my mother, when I felt like being alone was the absolute scariest position in which to be.  I also remember the cognitive distortion that everyone I love will leave this earth before me, and only I will remain. 

The mystical part of this grief is that it has a life of its own, like the Babadook in the movie.   It stalks my bed at night and the living room, specifically the far right side of our sectional couch.  I only sit there occasionally, in the dark, with a glass of any liquid.  We likely all have our favorite spots on our couches, but this one is my grieving spot.  The window's placement allows me to stare outside and contemplate what it means to feel pain this deeply.  I also have a writing spot, which I am sitting in now.      

I will one day explore the religious uncertainty of the poem from a view point not tinged by my overwhelming grief, and I expect to see something different then.  Perhaps something poignant about the feeling of a Sunday morning to an atheist that does not seek fellowship and liturgy with the majority of the rest of the world.   The way a Sunday morning can feel dreadful, lazy, full of promise, or silent. 

Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul. 

It was that stanza that brought forth the tears.  My mother died in summer, and that date is fast approaching.  My brother died in spring, and I have a little less than a year to prepare for that anniversary.  Winter is a fairly unremarkable time for me, but just the nature of the dreary weather can cause changes in my mood.   Winter is a depressing season all on its own. 

We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night, 

These lines also brought forth emotion.  My rhythms of day and night are scattered right now.  Some days drag on and on and blend together.  Some nights are short, full of distressing dreams I can't interpret, while other nights feel like what I imagine my brother's last hours must have felt like.  I depend on the sun and moon to tell me when to sleep and when to rise, both bring order to the chaos of my grief. 

The poem is cathartic, just as writing this has been.  I will spend some of my evening tonight searching for more catharses in written word or music.