No Respecter of Persons

It is five years to the day since Chris Cornell took his own life. It’s always a solemn day for me. A sad day. He was so talented and had such a unique voice. I still mourn his depression and his death. I wrote this post a couple of years ago and wanted to share it again.

Today I write in honor of Chris Cornell—three years to the day after his suicide.

I first heard Soundgarden, Cornell’s band, when I was in high school. Black Hole Sun and Spoonman. Instantly I loved them. And then a couple of years after high school I heard Show Me How to Live and I Am the Highway on the radio. The two singles from the first album of Cornell’s new band, Audioslave. I was hooked! The fact that they could write something as powerful and rockin’ as Show Me How to Live and as powerful, yet soft and beautiful as I Am the Highway was amazing to me. I went out and bought the album on CD as soon as it came out. I listened to it over and over and over again.

Many years later, after Audioslave had disbanded, I heard rumors that they were going to get back together to go on tour. I was so psyched! And then, I’ll never forget the day I heard the news that Chris Cornell was gone. It was early in the morning, I was in the car, pulling up to the gym. The DJ on the radio announced that Chris Cornell had hung himself. I was devastated. My heart ached that such a talented person had been in such a dark place that he had felt the only option was to take his own life. And I finally, really came to understand why people made such a big deal about celebrity suicides—because it shows that mental illness is no respecter of persons. So often, we think people have it made—celebrities, CEO’s, the wealthy, even our neighbors, family or friends. It’s easy to think we know what’s going on by seeing the outside, when really, on the inside, that person is struggling, suffering, dying.

Too often, I think the signs of depression get ignored. Too often, I think depression is minimized because it’s easier that way. It’s easier to ignore or give simple answers. Sometimes it’s because of the stigma still attached to depression. Sometimes it’s because of lack of education. And sometimes it’s because, simply put, depression is hard. It can be hard to understand or to know what to do, as is the case with any mental illness. And it can be hard because it’s different for everyone. And that is totally normal.

But when it comes to helping others, what’s right may be more important than what’s easy. The Mayo clinic has an amazing page about how you can recognize depression in others and ways you can help and encourage them. I can testify that even a simple smile can make a difference. I still remember a couple of girls I went to high school with who made a difference in my life. One of them always said hi to me, always gave me a smile. Another one brought me flowers because she had noticed I was sad the day before. I have a friend who easily could have given up on me because, as I stated, depression is hard. But she didn’t. Even when it scared her, she kept being my friend, and that made a huge difference. My boyfriend is a good example, too. Little things like asking questions and trying to understand what I’m going through helps so much. These things truly do matter.

Chris Cornell made a difference to me. There were so many times I was off at college that I would take off for a long drive in my car when I was feeling sad or frustrated about something, and I would crank that Audioslave CD! It always managed to either help release my frustration or remind me that I wasn’t alone. It still saddens me that I’ll never get to see him in concert. It saddens me that such a talented person struggled for so long with depression—until he couldn’t struggle anymore. But I believe we can do something about the alarming number of people who take their own lives. It starts at an individual level. Learn to know the signs of depression and learn what you may be able to do to help. And remember, a simple “hi” or a smile may be just the thing someone needs.

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What I Wish I’d Said

Today’s post comes from a guest writer. I instantly connected with the writing as soon as I read it and knew I wanted others to read it. I hope it is as insightful, meaningful and full of hope to you as it is to me.

“Isn’t that selfish?” A discussion among friends had somehow turned to the topic of suicide, and this was a rhetorical question from one. It was the type of comment that carried with it a sting only partially ameliorated by the knowledge that suicidal ideation and mental illness are things that simply cannot be truly understood by those without experience. The taboo nature of mental illness tends to keep its victims hiding in the shadows. Fortunately, this was one of the few times I felt brave enough to speak up. At my prodding, he explained his opinion that ending your life ended your own suffering only to cause it in many others.

What I told him was how, in those early days of my undiagnosed illness, I had a figurative scale. On one side, it weighed the burden I was to others. On the other side, it weighed the burden and the sorrow it would bring to others if I died. I told him that as my illness progressed, I perceived myself as being more and more of a burden to those around me, to the point that it seemed my death would be less distressing for my loved ones in the long run. But there were many things I didn’t say and wish I had.

What I wish I’d said was that there is a difference between wishing you were dead and thinking about killing yourself. For me, the pain was so strong and so relentless for so long that death, had it come, would have been welcomed.

What I wish I’d said is that sometimes those of us with mental illness get so used to not seeing the light that it’s painful to continue looking for it. But hope is key. When I had hope, it kept me from reaching the point of true suicidal ideation. Hope is such an integral part of motivation that the lack of it has the power to override the strongest, most basic human drives.

What I wish I’d said is that, for me, it was the hope engendered by my connection to my God that gave me the strength to hold on past all the misperceptions that weighed in on my figurative scale.

What I wish I’d said was that through every prayer that came out in anger and every prayer where my internal chaos was so strong that the only words I could muster were “Please help me,” my God was there, He heard me, and He had a plan for me if I just kept hanging on to the glimmers of light and hope.

Sometimes the strength He gave was from the experience of the almost completely consuming anxiety subsiding after just a few hours, as opposed to days or weeks. Sometimes it was finding the will to get out of bed however briefly. Sometimes it was the temporary yet significant relief from a friend or family member, or from being able to get a few hours of sleep. Sometimes it was the moments that made me think I wasn’t a complete failure for all the fights I caused with each family member. Sometimes it was the feeling of being seen or understood.

What I wish I’d said was that most of the time, these were fleeting and not anywhere close to the degree of help that I was seeking. But they were things that, slowly, minutely, yet still surely, provided what I needed to make it through one more day, one more sleepless night, one more episode.

What I wish I’d said is that the darkness still comes, but I can now see incredible beauty that is imperceptible to anyone who has not experienced a similar brand of darkness.

But what I most wish I’d said was that, for those consumed by the darkness of mental illness, there is help and hope to anyone who seeks it.

For those of you blessed to be without the burden of mental illness, I hope you can join the fight to destigmatize suicidal ideation, and that you can have the courage to be the light for those consumed by the darkness. Perhaps destigmatizing suicidal ideation will lead to more people having the courage to reach out for help when they suffer from it.

By J. Whicker

The Toughest One Yet

This will be my most vulnerable post yet, one I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. And now, I think, the time is right. But first, I want to say that mental illness is very personal. My hope is that in time more and more people will open up about it. The more we talk it about the more we learn and the more all those false stigmas will, hopefully, die. But it can be incredibly difficult to talk about. Stigmas are still there and people can judge. It took me years before I felt comfortable sharing my experiences. And it has taken me months to feel comfortable sharing this new one. But I truly hope it is enlightening, educational and gives hope to others.

One night back in March I made a half-attempt at my life. I say half-attempt because I took some pills—enough that I knew it would probably hurt me, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t enough to actually kill me. I felt worthless and like the world and everyone in it would be better off without me. I wanted to die, but didn’t completely have the courage, if that’s the right word, to make sure I’d taken enough pills to end my life.

My husband wasn’t home and couldn’t get home until the next morning, but being worried about me he let some trusted people know. Those trusted people called the police, who showed up at my door around midnight. I had to go out and talk to them, tell them what I’d done, what pills I’d taken, why I had taken them. Standing out there in the cold, being told I had to go to the hospital, was one of the worst days of my life. My daughters were in bed, unaware of anything going on. I worried about them waking up in the morning for school with no parent home. I felt worthless, utterly incompetent, stupid, ashamed, horrible and like I was a bad, bad person.

I was taken in the back of a police car to a local hospital where I don’t feel I got the help I really needed. Everyone there acted like I was inconveniencing them. Once they were sure the pills I had taken weren’t actually going to kill me they basically pressured me into leaving. They told me I had to find someone who could come pick me up and take me home. I was embarrassed, very, very drowsy from the pills I had taken and was in one of the darkest places I’d ever been—I wasn’t exactly thinking straight. I tried telling them that if I could just wait until morning my husband could probably pick me up, but they wouldn’t let me wait. I called some people, but it was the middle of the night. No one answered. I told the people at the hospital this. “You mentioned something about an ex-husband,” one of them said. “Can you call him?” Sure, my ex and I may have a mostly amicable relationship, but I did not want to call him. However, they continued pressuring me, so I called and miracle of all miracles he actually answered and said he could come pick me up. It was sort of like adding insult to injury. It was absolutely humiliating that I had to be picked up from the hospital and taken home by my ex-husband. I again felt embarrassed, stupid, incompetent and horrible.

The trauma of that night and the things that led me to do what I did stuck with me. It gave me PTSD which manifested through seeing police cars and police officers. The police officers that night were actually really wonderful. They treated me with respect and actually seemed to care about what happened to me. But for whatever reason seeing police cars and police officers is what triggered my PTSD. Living with PTSD was absolutely horrible—one of the most horrible things I’ve ever gone through. Luckily, EMDR helped heal me. I no longer have panic attacks or even get nervous when seeing them. But there has been a lot more to work through. Having an amazing therapist has truly been life-changing. I know I wouldn’t have recovered or progressed the way I have without her.

One reason why I want to share this story is so people understand that suicide ideation, attempted suicide and actual suicide is not some far-off thing that only happens to other people. Being aware of this and educated in it can only help.

 I also want people to understand that suicide doesn’t mean a person is crazy or even unstable. I had to take a few days off work because the pills I took did some horrible things to my stomach, but the next week I was back at work. I continued my duties as a mom, a wife, a neighbor and a member of my church congregation. It was hard, but I did it because that is my life. And I haven’t attempted or even thought about suicide since then. There can be moments of severe depression that leads someone to suicide or attempted suicide. It doesn’t mean they are selfish or horrible or incompetent or unstable. It may just mean they are dealing with the horrors of life. It may mean they need help. It may mean they need a little extra love and understanding.

Even as I write this I debate with myself about whether to share it or not. Are people going to look at me differently? Are they going to treat me differently? Am I going to be someone who is whispered about and shunned? If so, I still want to share. I dream of creating a safe place for others to share their struggles too. Because we all struggle. We are not alone in our struggles—even those who hurt so badly we want to end our lives. I dream of a world where we can all talk openly about tough subjects like mental illness and suicide. If anyone wants to talk about it, I’ll talk about it. If anyone needs a listening ear, I’ll be the listening ear. If I can make even one small crack in the armor of stigmas and stereotypes and the consensus that we shouldn’t talk about these things I know my vulnerability is worth it.

Crisis Response Plan

I started going to therapy again. It has been many years since I’ve gone, but I really like my therapist and think she’ll be able to help me. It feels wonderful having this kind of hope again!

One of the first things she had me do was make a “Crisis Response Plan” card. It’s for times when things get really bad, when I might want to hurt myself or think of taking my own life. It has been awhile since I have thought of that, but I think it’s a good idea to have this just in case.

The purpose of the card is to help me identify warning signs that I’m getting to that bad, low place, what I can do to help myself out of it, who I can go to (who I really, deeply trust) if I need external help and professional help (hospitals, crisis lines and apps, etc.) if it comes to that point.

One reason why I love this idea and am grateful my therapist had me do it is because it’s hard to always remember those things in times of crisis. There are people who have told me I could reach out to them if I get to that point, but when I’m at that point I can barely, if at all, think straight. Remembering this one simple thing–go grab your card–is easier. I also told my husband about it so that if he sees those warning signs he can ask me if I’ve looked at my card.

Another reason I like the card and the idea is because some of the things I can do for myself in a time of crisis are the same as helping me out of a panic attack. I had one at work recently when my PTSD was triggered. Just sitting at my desk, telling myself to power through it wasn’t working. I thought of my card and something on it that I could do even here at work. I went into the bathroom, sat on the floor and played a game on my phone for awhile. Did that fix the trauma or PTSD I have as a result of it? No. That will take more time. But it did help me focus, which got my breathing under control and my heart-rate down enough that I could go back to my desk and keep working.

For anyone who may be at risk for a crisis or who just needs a reminder of warning signs and things they can do to help, I highly recommend having a Crisis Response Plan. It is helpful and hopeful.

Facing the Fear

I’m about to be very vulnerable. And very honest. And it’s terrifying. But I’m tired of mental illness and suicide lurking in the shadows because people are afraid to talk about it or look it in the face. Maybe it will cost me, but I feel like I’ve lost just about everything already, so I don’t have much else to lose anyway.

Last night I cut myself. Like I used to long ago in high school when I first became depressed. I have been feeling completely worthless for awhile now. Feeling like I have no purpose and make no difference in life. All I seem to do is hurt others and screw up. So I cut myself to feel some other kind of pain. I cut myself because I believed I deserved it. And I seriously considered ending my life because I felt like everyone would be better off without me.

Some people will stop reading this now. They’ll pretend like they didn’t see it so things don’t have to be awkward when they see me. They’ll pretend they didn’t see it so they don’t have to talk to me about it. But things don’t have to be awkward, and it’s okay to talk about it. I’m still here. I’m still living my life the best I can. I’m trying to find even the littlest reasons to stick around and have hope, despite depression, despite anger, despite desperation.

This is life for many people. Some keep hurting themselves, some stop. Some choose to end their lives, some choose to keep living. In my opinion none of that determines whether a person is good or bad, sane or crazy, wonderful or evil, despite what stigma may say.

Some people will keep reading this. They may have questions. Ask them. They may be afraid. That’s okay. So am I. But I’d rather face the fear than live in silence.

Making a Difference

I was so happy to see this article, https://www.ksl.com/article/50088066/huntsman-mental-health-institute-at-university-of-utah-dedicated, and learn of this new Mental Health Institute that is opening near where I live. I have continued to feel like mental illness and mental health challenges are getting ignored, and even attacked, since Covid hit last year. The only things so many people seem to care about or show concern over are Covid and politics. I was even attacked and purposefully publicly humiliated by family members for an article I posted on this blog about how the shaming people have been doing has added to an increase in depression and suicide.

It is good to know that there are still people who are actively working to help those of us with mental illness, actively working to make people aware, despite those actively working to silence our voices and harm and condemn us. Keep trying. Keep doing your best. We can make a difference.

Slim Hope, But Still Hope

It’s easy to feel like my efforts to educate people on mental illness isn’t making a difference. Yet I keep trying because I keep hoping—somehow—that it will make a difference.

Just the other day I saw a post from someone I know about how angry she is that not everyone where she lives is wearing a mask or taking Covid seriously. She posted a parody on a song from Beauty and the Beast that used harsh, shaming, judgmental language about people who don’t wear masks. Things like how simple it is, it’s just a piece of fabric and just wear the f***ing mask. It broke my heart—not so much for myself, but for other people who have depression, anxiety and PTSD. For some of us, seeing something like that could be what finally pushes us to the brink of utter despair and even suicide.

Even after all this time, it’s not always that simple. If someone isn’t wearing a mask it doesn’t automatically mean we’re not taking Covid seriously. For those of us with anxiety masks are more than “just a piece of fabric”. Masks are claustrophobia that literally do make it so we can’t breathe and can’t function. For those of us with PTSD masks are the face of someone who assaulted or violated us. We are already struggling, while trying to do our best, without being shamed, condemned and judged.

This is a difficult time for so many people. Can’t we reach out in kindness and love instead of anger and hatred? I started, and continue, this blog in the hopes that it would help someone, in the hopes that it would educate, in the hopes that it will inspire. We can all have different beliefs and different struggles while still helping, educating and inspiring each other in love and positivity. As slim as my hope is, it’s what I’m hanging on to.

Resources for Suicide

I’ve heard people say that suicide is selfish. I, myself, thought the same thing when I was younger. Then I, myself, almost took my own life twice in high school. I also have thought about taking my own life several times since then. Maybe suicide is selfish, but I also have compassion for those who have suicidal thoughts and those who do take their own lives because I know what it’s like to be in such a dark, depressing place that you feel as if you have no other option.

Suicide is another one of those taboo subjects that I do think is finally coming out of darkness more, which is a good thing. It is something that should be able to be talked about without judgement or condemnation. The more we talk about it the more likely it is that people who are considering suicide can get help. I was so happy and impressed to learn about the effort my state is making from this news article. I’m also very happy about this new website, Live On, that provides resources for education, for helping others and support for those considering suicide. Please check it out, and let’s all work together for better suicide prevention. Because there is always hope for something better. There is always the possibility for light in the darkness.

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No Respecter of Persons

Today I write in honor of Chris Cornell—three years to the day after his suicide.

I first heard Soundgarden, Cornell’s band, when I was in high school. Black Hole Sun and Spoonman. Instantly I loved them. And then a couple of years after high school I heard Show Me How to Live and I Am the Highway on the radio. The two singles from the first album of Cornell’s new band, Audioslave. I was hooked! The fact that they could write something as powerful and rockin’ as Show Me How to Live and as powerful, yet soft and beautiful as I Am the Highway was amazing to me. I went out and bought the album on CD as soon as it came out. I listened to it over and over and over again.

Many years later, after Audioslave had disbanded, I heard rumors that they were going to get back together to go on tour. I was so psyched! And then, I’ll never forget the day I heard the news that Chris Cornell was gone. It was early in the morning, I was in the car, pulling up to the gym. The DJ on the radio announced that Chris Cornell had hung himself. I was devastated. My heart ached that such a talented person had been in such a dark place that he had felt the only option was to take his own life. And I finally, really came to understand why people made such a big deal about celebrity suicides—because it shows that mental illness is no respecter of persons. So often, we think people have it made—celebrities, CEO’s, the wealthy, even our neighbors, family or friends. It’s easy to think we know what’s going on by seeing the outside, when really, on the inside, that person is struggling, suffering, dying.

Too often, I think the signs of depression get ignored. Too often, I think depression is minimized because it’s easier that way. It’s easier to ignore or give simple answers. Sometimes it’s because of the stigma still attached to depression. Sometimes it’s because of lack of education. And sometimes it’s because, simply put, depression is hard. It can be hard to understand or to know what to do, as is the case with any mental illness. And it can be hard because it’s different for everyone. And that is totally normal.

But when it comes to helping others, what’s right may be more important than what’s easy. The Mayo clinic has an amazing page about how you can recognize depression in others and ways you can help and encourage them. I can testify that even a simple smile can make a difference. I still remember a couple of girls I went to high school with who made a difference in my life. One of them always said hi to me, always gave me a smile. Another one brought me flowers because she had noticed I was sad the day before. I have a friend who easily could have given up on me because, as I stated, depression is hard. But she didn’t. Even when it scared her, she kept being my friend, and that made a huge difference. My boyfriend is a good example, too. Little things like asking questions and trying to understand what I’m going through helps so much. These things truly do matter.

Chris Cornell made a difference to me. There were so many times I was off at college that I would take off for a long drive in my car when I was feeling sad or frustrated about something, and I would crank that Audioslave CD! It always managed to either help release my frustration or remind me that I wasn’t alone. It still saddens me that I’ll never get to see him in concert. It saddens me that such a talented person struggled for so long with depression—until he couldn’t struggle anymore. But I believe we can do something about the alarming number of people who take their own lives. It starts at an individual level. Learn to know the signs of depression and learn what you may be able to do to help. And remember, a simple “hi” or a smile may be just the thing someone needs.

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Safe

“Stay home. Stay safe.” It’s plastered all over—well, everywhere right now. The thing is, “safe” has a different meaning to everyone. For some, staying home isn’t safe. For some of us with mental illness, for those in abusive relationships, home may be the least safe place of all.

I knew it wouldn’t be safe for me over spring break. My kids were with their dad, which would have left me home, completely alone, for an entire week. I’d already bought a plane ticket to go see my boyfriend months earlier. I thought a lot about whether I should still go see him or not. But I knew—I knew—that staying home would take me to a very dark place, a place I couldn’t afford to go to. For the sake of my mental health (possibly my life) and the sake of the children I have and love, to look after, I got on a plane and flew to another state.

Staying home also wasn’t safe for the family member of a friend. The pressure and darkness of isolation took a toll on her depression until she took her own life, leaving behind a spouse, children and others who loved her. And she’s not the only one. The Scientific American has some of these stories. And US News also shares expert’s concerns about suicide during this time, while also encouraging mental health to be emphasized right alongside news of COVID-19. Sometimes staying home is the most dangerous thing a person can do, and yet we’re being told, we’re being shamed into doing it. Aren’t our lives important too? Aren’t our lives of worth too?

So, to those of you urging others to think of the elderly and those at risk, I kindly urge you to think of those with mental illness, and others, who are not safe at home. Be kind. Be understanding—of everyone.

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