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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Why Am I Still Asking Why?

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I READ THIS ARTICLE FROM A LOCAL NEWS STATION and was astounded at the numbers they gave for the percentage of teens who seriously consider attempting suicide. It raises so many questions in my mind. How can it be that many? What is causing this? Why aren’t we talking about it? And why am I still asking why? It’s time. No, it’s way past time for mental illness to be a part of our daily conversations. It’s past time for it to be normal to discuss mental illness. It’s past time for things like mental illness and suicide to only be talked about in hushed whispers. And it is so far past time to be embarrassed if you have mental illness or you have a child with mental illness.

I also question how resources can still be so limited. Why don’t we have mental health Urgent Cares? A place you can go to anytime if you need someone to talk to, if you need help. Someone who can then refer you, if need be, to a specialist who can help you long-term. Isn’t mental health a part of our physical health? The brain is a physical part of our body, isn’t it? And although we aren’t to that point of having help and care as readily available, it is out there. If you or someone you know and love is showing signs of needing help, please get it. Please take it seriously. We all deserve the best care and health we can get.

Seeing the Hand of God in My Life

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Two weeks ago at church I gave a lesson to my Sunday school class about the importance of keeping a journal. One of the things we discussed they could write in a journal are times they have seen the hand of God in their lives. I challenged them to try to notice, in the upcoming week, a time when they could see the hand of God in their daily lives. I told them we would discuss it in class the next week. Unfortunately I was sick last Sunday, so we talked about it at the beginning of class today. A couple of the boys shared experiences they had. They were little things, but enough to have left an impression. I, too, had noticed little things that week. I think most of the time that is how God manifests Himself in our lives, but sometimes—well, sometimes we need something bigger.

Back in November I wrote about my experience almost taking my own life when I was seventeen. I stood looking out over a cliff at Bryce Canyon National Park and almost jumped. Coming home from that beautiful place was hard. Figuring out how to deal with the aftermath of nearly committing suicide was also a challenge.

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A few days after we got home from our trip my older brother, who had recently gotten home from serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in England, and I got on the freeway to head to the nearest Walmart. The light at the end of the off-ramp turned red as we neared it, so my brother slowed then stopped—we were the first car in line. We chatted while waiting for the light to turn green, then once it did, he turned left—into the left-hand lane! I screamed, “What are you doing?!” He noticed his error, quickly swerved over through the other left lane, a turn lane and finally into the right lane, where we should have been in the first place. “I forgot I wasn’t in England anymore,” he said.

As he continued down the road, and my heart stopped feeling like it was about to explode inside my chest, I realized how amazing it was that we hadn’t hit into any other cars. That area of the city, and especially that very intersection, were always busy and full of traffic. I even looked back and could see a ton of cars. The fact that my brother had been able to quickly move over three lanes without even scratching another car was truly miraculous. It was no coincidence. I felt it burning deep within my soul. This was a message from God telling me that I wasn’t supposed to die yet. I look back on that experience now and still know that His hand intervened. It felt as though angels had been looking over and protecting me.

At the time I didn’t know why He had sent me this message. I didn’t know why it was so important for me to live, just that it was. Even now I couldn’t give you a specific answer. I’m no one important. I hold no influence over a great number of people. It’s not like anything I have done, am doing or will do will make any sort of impact or change in the world. But I have been able to live my life and learn, grow, develop . . . become. I gave birth to two beautiful, amazing, perfect little beings. I brought them into this world, and they are my world. I don’t know if any of that is why God wanted me to know—to know—that my time on this earth wasn’t meant to be finished at that time, but I’m grateful He gave me that witness. I’m grateful for the experience, as I am for so many of my experiences in life that give me the opportunity to learn, to grow, to develop . . . to become.

As a side-note, when we got out of the car at Walmart I told my brother to give me the keys because I was going to drive home. Still a bit shaken up from what had happened himself, he willingly dropped the keys into my hand with no hesitation!