Tag: Mental Health

Teen Suicide

Tuesday, Oct 10th was the 25th anniversary of World Mental Health Day.

I am a person in recovery from addiction and I am still learning better ways every day to embrace the latest version of who I am, post-trauma. I have suffered and survived through postpartum depression three times. Every day I still dance with general anxiety and always look forward to seasonal depression, but still try to be a strong advocate for the marginalized and still-suffering.

But as World Mental Health Day approached this year, I kept quiet here.

I did take time to reflect and to let myself feel the gratitude I have for Grace and for the people who have reached into my life personally throughout my journey.

I felt overwhelmed as I thought about the blessings, the helping hands, the invaluable advice, listening ears, knowledge and the generosity that I have been given over the years as I navigated what ‘wellness’ meant to me, as every part of who I am has been effected by mental-disorders directly, and indirectly.

But this year as World Mental Health Day approached it was our community of just over 96,000 pressing on my mind and heart.

As a whole it sort of feels like we are all left feeling this massive and gaping sensation of helplessness, not really knowing what to do with the weight or the damage from the impact that experiencing crisis often leaves people with.

On September 29, 2017 and again on October 9, 2017 our community lost two high school students to suicide. 

Parents here are feeling uneasy, weary, and afraid.
People are sad.
Students are fearful and confused.
People want to help but no one really knows what the next right thing is.

Of course our counselors in the school district have been rallying and working overtime with staff and students. The online presence feels positive and empathetic and for the most part people are doing their best to keep the forum open. Our local community organizations have reached out and are working to reach out and offer support and resources.

The first life tragically lost on September 29th was a 17 year-old senior.
Students at the high school heard a gunshot around 7:50 a.m and the school immediately went on lock-down. She died shortly after arriving at the hospital that morning as a result of her self-inflicted wound.

On the evening of Monday, October 9th, another student from the same school took his life off-campus. (His information and the details surrounding circumstances are protected and his family has not released any statements)

I know that there are community discussions taking place and the city will soon hold an open session for parents and caregivers.

People are wondering what to look for and how to know.

They are worried that they are missing signs and symptoms, or that maybe they are overlooking them or confusing them with what they think are just ‘typical’ teenage mood swings and angst.

Everyone is terrified that their family could be next.
Imagining what the two families are experiencing is unimaginable, but that is why we are all so scared. It is because we feel a teeny-tiny minuscule slither of what it could feel like.

As a mom of a fifteen year old boy, that is exactly where my mind went as well.
The what-if’s.

Despite my experience, despite my training, despite anything factual I know in my brain.
What if I miss something. What if I am not asking the right questions. Am I asking enough questions? Do I pay close enough attention? Do I need to do more, be more, provide more, know more?

At the end of the day as the initial panic of news like these two tragedies fades for those of us on the outside of the tragedy. We are back at the grind going through life with our teens.

Sometimes it is really hard to clearly see what we should or shouldn’t be doing or looking for or saying.

And you can tell a parent until you are blue in the face that we cannot control everything,
we cannot fix what we don’t know, or we are doing our best.

But even so most of us will still feel hyper-vigilant about our personal parental responsibility. We will feel like we need to do a better job paying attention to the intricacies & subtleties & even the confusion that the teenage mind presents us.

Because as we all know, history shows us that even the parent’s who seem to ‘have it all right’ have still experienced tragedy.

Bad things still happen.

So what can we do?

Instead of recounting to you what we did…(mostly hugs, tears, asking and answering questions and offering  deliberate gestures of reassurance of his value and worth and that he has no reason to ever ever ever feel weird or broken or wrong if he needs extra help with anything and have vowed to keep this conversation going)

I will just share a few websites and remind you that our teens still need us. They are close to adulthood and often they like to act like they don’t need us, but they do. They so need us. Hug them. Ask them things. Watch them. Listen to what they’re not saying.

The Parent Resource Program:

Offers stats and common myths and signs and symptoms for parents

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 

Offers 24-7 support for anyone with concerns, questions, or ideation

HelpGuide.org:
Parent’s guide to teen depression

Teen Mental Health Video:
Education for teens and parents

As a COA, Can I Honor My Parent?


Traditionally I write tributes to all of my surrogate “moms” for Mother’s Day, thanking the countless women who have impacted my life by sharing their stories, wisdom, tips, tricks, secrets, encouragement, and advice, helping me to fill in what has felt like an excessive amount of domestic and relational inadequacies. Or, I write about my gratitude for living as a sober & present mom to my own children.

 This year, Mother’s Day, 2017 is dedicated to my biological mom. 

I have been struggling with how to portray her in my upcoming, soon-to-be self-published book, Trauma Queen. As to be expected with any long-term goal, countless hours have been dedicated to this project so far.
Large portions of my writing time has been me, blankly staring, stuck in a rhythmical pattern of cognitive dissonance, torn between bursting to tell the whole truth and nothing but, and also not wanting to deliberately humiliate someone who is not well.

How can I honor someone who has elicited so much destruction?
How do I portray my truth honestly and honor my passion for truth-telling without crossing over into condescending story-telling?
How can I allow her the dignity that she deserves simply for being a human?
How do I describe her illnesses without contributing to stigma?

I began my search for answers by looking in the Bible. Honor, (as a noun) means to value a person highly. We are asked to honor specific people, and our parent’s are included in that group.
To value her highly I had to learn to respect her as a human being.

So what I have tried to do is embrace a mindset that seeks to honor her.

Not to erase what she has or hasn’t done. Not by ignoring the damaged that she has caused, or the births, baby showers, weddings, and birthday parties she has missed.

I have simply chosen to love. To love is to put someone else’s well-being on my radar screen. To love is to accept her for who she is.

For a long time I had nothing decent to say of her. Not playing a part in perpetuating social stigma wasn’t on my radar, and neither was treating her like a human being.
I habitually called her by her first name, and just so that she was absolutely sure she didn’t deserve my respect, I would laugh along with my brother, as we tried to think of as many synonyms for “crack whore” as we could.

After I got sober I began tackling my long list of amends and tallying up the destruction I had already begun to ignite in my own son’s life.
I started to see just how humany we all are as humans. God we’re all so fucked up; we are all learning as we go, and my mother was no exception.
Slowly, I began to develop empathy for her in what had been the coldest, darkest, empty parts of my heart that I had reserved for so many years before.

Because we are still estranged (in order to maintain my own mental stability, and my physical and emotional safety), the way that I honor my mother might not look or feel or be typical but there are still ways that I am trying to do live it out.

I began to learn to honor her the only way that I know how to honor anything else that I don’t fully understand: 

I starting digging.
I put pieces together.
I probed and sought and dove and asked questions until I felt sure I got close enough to the bottom to be able to propel myself back to the surface to catch my breath and reassess.
I learned and educated myself hoping to better understand the whole situation.

I believe that you can take any one thing that you feel a prejudice for, and you can dissect the whole thing until you understand your own heart that much more. It is my experience that the results will surprise you.

Learning about who she was has helped me to learn to honor her. I can separate my personal experiences with her from who she is as a person. By allowing her to break out of my box, it’s like I have set us both free.

Here’s an outline of what I have learned about her:

  • a young girl who had a mentally ill, undiagnosed biological father, and a step-father who was an abusive alcoholic
  • a rebellious, confused, pre-teen who was diagnosed with bi-polar
  • a brave fifteen-year-old pregnant girl, who considered adoption for so long, that she bonded with the adoptive parents
  • a sixteen-year-old new mother who decided that she couldn’t part with her brand-new, five-pound newborn, who walked to Sonic to work everyday to provide for her
  • an eighteen-year-old woman with two babies, trying to balance motherhood, a new crack-addiction, and mismanaged mental-illness
  • a twenty-three-year-old mom with three young children, the third who would pass away after three months
  • and a twenty-four year old who struggled with addiction, mental-illness and relationships, who became so distraught and grief-stricken and ultimately, emotionally paralyzed.

She lost the rest of the pieces of herself that had been holding her together after the death of her child, my youngest brother.

So as I continue to write, I continue to dust off my perceptions about her, hoping to help others see and feel what mental-illness does to a person. It is all very real, and it is certainly not a moral failing or a personal choice or any reason to degrade. Having a front row seat to an uncontrollable fading mind will provide you with more than enough evidence to draw certain conclusions.

I am doing my best to honor who she is in that way and am hoping to shed a light on some relevant truths about the struggles of having co-occurring disorders. I pray that if the book ever land in her hands, that she not slink down in shame, or feel overwhelmed with regret. And I hope that she knows that she has nothing to be ashamed of.

Yesterday at church I added a photo this photo of us to the slide-show. My mom doesn’t look like other mom’s. I secretly feared that people were going to judge me, or see me differently. I wondered what people would think when my photo slid across the screen.

But my anxieties and emotional investment exaggerated how awkward it would actually be for other people to see this photo. I sat smiling from ear to ear, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing all of the silly & sweet family photos that popped up on the screen.

When ours  appeared, tears immediately welled up in my eyes.
It was huge.

It was a my proclamation.

Including her solidified my desire to honor her.
It was a fist bump, between my mother and I.
It was me saying “I see you, and I am not ashamed.”
She is part of my story and I am not hiding part of me to comfort parts of other people or to serve my own fears.

I just want thank her.

I know that she did the best that she could with the resources and knowledge and ability that she had. And I have learned that is truly all that any of us can do. And for the rest of it, there is Grace.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom.

No Thank-You, Anxiety

 

anxiety

Ten years ago I think if you would have asked me, I would have told you that I believed that I was an outgoing, people-oriented person. Never-mind the fact that it only took three or four various types of Benzo’s carefully carelessly mixed with any amount of cheap alcohol to render my central nervous system inactive just enough, that I felt like I could interact with other humans without bolting or vomiting…but viola.

After the chemicals dissolved into my bloodstream, I was gently catapulted right out of my metaphorical, safe-place. I would be temporarily transformed into a person who I thought I liked, who was also likable. Deep beneath my scar tissue I was obviously a fucking blast. This way, I was friendly and interpersonal, yet zombie-like and unable to decipher real connection from shallow interaction.

For years living this way satisfied my deep longing for connection. I thought I was filling my empty spaces. Isolation became this sad, empty, arena that I mistakenly thought was my happy place.

Sober, not only have I learned to embrace who God made me to be even if that person pushes the barriers of what it means to be imperfect, my empty spaces are filled and I understand true connection.

Among other characteristics, qualities, and quirks, I am a confident, introverted, personality type who is also supremely awkward, and inept in particular social situations. Overall, I am a person who prefers to escape, and in short, I struggle with some co-occurring anxiety stuff. If I can even smell conflict, confrontation,  or any situation that makes me feel like it could be considered ‘high-stress’ I just prefer to disappear.

My life is calm and I am happy to say, drama free. My boundaries with my family ensure that I am not in any immediate danger, I don’t get screamed at or threatened anymore. No fist fights, no yelling matches, nothing. My relationships are safe and typically dysfunctional.

And it’s beautiful.

Over the years (special thanks to counseling and my healthy boundaries), I have learned about why I experience anxiety and what (mostly who) triggers it. My anxieties have lessened and aren’t as widespread, but there are a few areas where it will still try to rule over and suffocate me.

For instance, I have no problem getting up and sharing my story with large groups. Churches, treatment centers, small groups, meetings. Totally fine. I am confident and even excited to have opportunities like that. I can have a one-on-one conversation with a friend, and can manage having the passing, pleasantry type of interactions just fine.

But when I am thrown into any situation involving an unknown, (e.g., ice-breaker ‘activity’ “Let’s go around the room, state your name, or why you’re here or your favorite _______!”) one by one, in front of a large group of people, or am invited to be a part of a discussion panel or a podcast, I instantly freeze up.

The same feeling washes over me if I am introduced to a stranger and then abruptly left alone, standing there expected to carry on the conversation. (e.g., “Oh, hey Jill, this is my friend Brittany. I just think you two have so much in common!”)

No. No and more no.
Please, just stop.

“Maybe, if I sit still enough or quiet enough, they will skip right over me.”

“Which path can I take from here to make a break for the bathroom in the most unsuspecting, casual, way?” (as if anyone really gives a shit if I get up to use the restroom).

“How can I get out of this?”

If I fail to actually morph into an inanimate object, which most of the time I doesn’t happen, I will stay and participate or try to carry on the conversation for exactly the least amount of time that is socially acceptable.

And somehow I don’t actually die.

I will sweat and my mind and heart will race so rapidly that I have to fix my eyes on something to avoid vomiting, but I try to breathe deep and remind myself that although my feelings and the tingling sensations are very real, my anxieties aren’t logical. It isn’t real, and it will be okay. I am not in actual danger and all of my red flags need to chill. But I still feel terrified,out of control, and have to fight through every natural instinct that still lives within me not to run away.

Sometimes when it is my turn to respond out-loud and unplanned in a group setting my answers take what feels like three whole minutes to come out of my mouth before I start talking. I might mix up my words or stumble around trying to come up with an answer, and if there’s food involved you can bet that I will always shake just enough to drop pieces of lettuce on my shirt as I try to look as calm and casual as whoever I am sitting next to.

If I had to try to explain it to someone I would say it’s different for everyone, and anxiety by definition is a normal phenomenon. It is when you have a disorder that it becomes difficult to manage and to navigate, and even harder to help make sense to those who have never experienced it.

For me it is like a tiny, raging, internal battle for control of my attention. On the outside I might just look like a shy or uninterested person with drops of salad dressing on her shirt who can’t carry on in intelligible conversation.

On the inside I am overwhelmed and distracted by all of the red flags that are unnecessarily popping up warning me of ‘unknown’ things happening; warning me of impending danger that is too close. My body is gearing up for take-off as I silently work to turn off the engines against its wishes.

So. I still find myself battling old demons from time to time, but at least my life isn’t actually in imminent danger so that is something to be grateful for.

And listen.
I struggle.
And I probably look stupid, or maybe that is my anxiety talking.
And I know at times I am misunderstood.
And sometimes I want to wear a sign or hand out cards so that people would stop asking me why I am “so quiet.” (Nope, just talking myself into staying, thanks.)

But most importantly I push myself. I want to quit. I want to run and hide, but I don’t.
I go to ladies events,  holiday parties, birthday parties etc. I play board games with our family that force me to stand up in front of all of them and look really, really, ridiculous and vulnerable (Quelf).
And sometimes I hate it.

I have to talk myself out of staying home, or not participating, or making excuses to avoid going EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Not because I enjoy self-torture, but because I know what my track-record looks like when I choose isolation over interaction.

It’s a dangerous game.

I also know that I cannot make any progress if I don’t make some attempt to try.

I might succeed, and by succeed I mean make it through from start to finish without leaving.

And sometimes I skip one event or invite but try to make it to the next thing.

But I go at my own pace. I go.

I deep into God’s truth and I hold onto the reassurance that His strength is sufficient. I use that strength to resist giving my internal fears one nano-second more of me, my life, or my opportunities to build and engage in my relationships, than I have already missed. I have buckled, and I have given in, and I have cowered in fear, I have hidden, and stayed down, too many times throughout my life for far too long, and have missed so much already.

So no thank you, anxiety.

I might not be able to get rid of you completely in every area of my life, but I will continue to fight through you every single time.

So I encourage you, not to do what I do or to think how i think, or to believe how I believe, but only to challenge yourself a little bit.

Challenge your old ways of thinking or and your comfortably uncomfortable ways of reacting.

Whatever a tweak or a change or a step in a progressive, healthy, direction looks like for you, safely within the confines of your life, do that.

Take tiny little baby steps, but push yourself out there a little bit further than you ever have. If you’re anything like me you will get discouraged, you will take one step forward and ten steps backward, you might get salad on your shirt, or trip over the carpet on your way to run to any other room than the one you are in that has people, but even so, decide those things will not be the reasons that you decide to quit trying altogether.

Because inconsistency is not synonymous with failure. 

Be nice to yourself as you are transforming. Life and change and growth is hard enough.

(Note: As a former substance abuser of all kinds, and a person who spent years addicted and dependent on prescription medication, I choose not to medicate myself for my anxiety disorder(s). My mental health is important, but I do what is best for my life as a whole. It is a personal choice that is best for me. However, I am not advocating for the ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’ technique and barreling through without medication, especially if medication can benefit you and improve your quality of life. I am, however, always an advocate for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.) 

 

Reflections From a Visit with Mom:

2015-10-15 15.48.55

I had lunch with my mom on Thursday, October 15, 2015.

We had only really seen each other a handful of times since our last big hoorah in March of 2006-
and on that particular St. Patrick’s day we both ended up in adjacent jail cells.

Fast-forwarding to our next big hoorah, that happened on February 16, 2014,
1 year and 8 months ago.

That was the day of my late grandmother’s visitation, or celebration of life; and we had quite an afternoon.  (It was terrible, but you can read more about that visit HERE)
That day could have played out much like our past encounters, except that last time, things were different. Mostly due to the fact that I was sober. Also because I had one of my children with me, and something about working a Recovery, growing, learning, and forgiving, had really tweaked my soul.
In February of 2014, I experienced one of her episodes – and I reacted a little bit different from I had in the past. Even though I was left a tiny bit traumatized and it really almost triggered a legit panic/anxiety attack, I managed to not react.

I guess it was the first time I had really experienced an episode while I was sober and not utilizing one of my cognitive escapee techniques.
That time I lived the moment, I processed it, and moved on with my life.

So our most recent visit was uneventful. Well – it was definitely not boring or quiet, but it also wasn’t violent or threatening, so, I guess I consider it a major win for us.

Judging from our visiting patterns, it seems that we see each other on average, once every year or so, depending on the severity of drama encountered at last visit.
After each experience, I do try to reflect.

This most recent visit I took away a few new things, and I am okay with what I learned.

I can appreciate that I am not sitting here writing about my anxiety as a result of the visit. This time we both managed to end the day feeling pretty positive.

Here are 2 things that I took away:

* I have to accept what is, for exactly what it is.

She had no recollection of our visit from last year, nor did she understand why we hadn’t seen each other in over a year.

Ah, this.
Yes,  I recognize this.
The memory loss, or loss of time, phenomenon is one that I talked about in support groups for years. For a long time, much of my deep-rooted resentment stemmed from my anger toward her for this very reason. How in the hell does someone treat any someone, more specifically, someone who you spawned, in the way that she has acted toward her children, and manage to not remember any of it?

I had to learn to apply what I know. What I know is that I am only responsible for me.

Change in this situation, or in our relationship, will only happen if I am the one making moves.
It has come down to doing my best to understand even more, and educating myself about her personality, condition, traits, and patterns.

I have had to force myself to accept that her dissociative behavior hurts, but isn’t personal.
It seems like it is targeted directly towards me, but in reality, it isn’t  chosen or intently thought out -it is impulsive and triggered by things that don’t have anything to do with me.

In and in a perfect world, she would hold herself accountable and her brain would understand that she cannot hurt me with her hands, or with her words, but this isn’t a perfect world.

Our visit last year was one that seriously re-damaged my bandaged up wounds, and threw me off my game; however, it was not on her radar, whatsoever. Didn’t happen. No ill-feelings for her to do with or handle, just the confusion over why I disappeared again.

An incident that nailed our relationship coffin tightly closed until I came around to feeling safe around her, didn’t affect her in the slightest.

But utilizing what I know, has really helped my healing process this time. I am not trying to change anything but myself, and how I choose to deal with things as they stand.
I also understand that when I put myself in certain situations, I need to be ready to accept what happens. I know what the possible outcomes are, and I am able to make a conscious decision to cross certain boundaries, or not.

*I am learning to appreciate that she is different, and possesses good qualities that were drowned out during the more chaotic years.

She isn’t afraid to do everything under the sun, that is considered socially unacceptable; and something about it makes me smile.

So what use to mortify me as a child, is now pretty entertaining.
The older that I get, and the more that I learn about myself, the more I see why it isn’t so bad that she goes against the grain.
(Like all the grains).

-She isn’t afraid to wear exactly what she wants, despite season or color. If she likes it, screw it. She’s wearing it. It doesn’t matter if it is a child’s tiara from the thrift store, with a matching wand,coupled with a denim purse, or a very sparkly lanyard, and lots of costume jewelry. She is not afraid to express herself with what the mood suits.

Maybe it isn’t the fact that she is bold in the fashion department that I like, it is the part where she doesn’t even notice people staring, nor would she care if she did.
I need more of that.

-Age is nothing but a number. It really makes no difference to her. She  laughs too loud, she yells in what other adults have deemed ‘quiet places’ (like the bank lobby), she skips through parking lots, and she gets really excited when she see’s shiny things and birds flying.
Yes, it is funny and I give her crap about it when we’re together, but I like the freedom that she feels.

Maybe it isn’t so much that I like that she sometimes deliberately breaks what adults have adopted as ‘typical’ behavior, but again, what I like is that she is herself, no matter where she is or who is watching. I think I can always use that reminder; something that I learned in Recovery. It is always alright to be myself, and I am okay with who I have to offer the world.

-Even in her situation, she thinks of and gives to others. 
She talked and talked about others. Praying for other people, trying to do her part to give what she can to others, and had a bag full of things for my kids.
Granted, she has little to give, and the things for my kids weren’t gender specific or age appropriate, but her heart meant well, and her motives were loving.

It isn’t really that she gave silly things; it was that she isn’t really in an ideal position to give, by my standards, and she gave anyway.
I think that is something that I can learn from.

This visit was perfect considering alternatives.

I want to learn to do things more unconventionally, and radical. One-hundred percent…

Maybe not on her scale, but a smaller, more muted scale
that rests on the same fundamental principle:

We should live life and be exactly who we are, authentically, and unapologetically. 

This isn’t really me praising her for perfection, or erasing all that has been done.
This reflection is really about my learning to take what she does have to give, and trying to pluck out hidden positives that may not stand out.

This is much better for me, and my own mental health, instead of focusing on all of the typical &  traditionally passed down things,  that she simply cannot offer.

Ultimately, I guess I am excited that I am making progress in this area. It is not easy loving someone who isn’t mentally well, who is suffering in many different ways. It has taken me a long time to forgive her for her actions that affected my childhood, and it has taken just as many years of learning about mental illness and the after effects of long-term drug use to understand more of who she is today.

I have a feeling it will take more than one positive visit for me to see more of her and less of the illnesses, but I will take the little bits revealed here and there. I also have a feeling that as the years go by, things will change as all things do. I can only try my best to handle what is, right now.

Thanks for reading, lovelies!

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