Monthly Archives: September 2016

World Suicide Prevention Day

dark-soulsI didn’t even know World Suicide Prevention Day was a thing.

But since it is, and since I’ve lost a loved one to suicide, I thought I’d throw in my two cents.

My stepmother killed herself a few years ago.

It was totally out of the blue.

You’ll probably see that phrase a lot, in blog/Facebook posts/Tweets today, and I’m sure everyone means it. I know I do; it was totally out of character, and unexpected.

I spoke to her just a few days before it happened. She and her husband (a man she married in what I believe was a rush to comfort herself after the death of my father, which shook her in a big way) were having problems, I knew, and I knew she was struggling.

She told me she wanted to take the kids the following week, or in the near future. (She often took them–all five of them–and did fun stuff, or simply stayed at my house with them. Her new husband didn’t have the nerves for a brood of kids, and although it hurt her, not having that bond that she had shared with my father, she had carried on their legacy with my kids by herself.)

When she mentioned this, I said–referencing her situation–”You don’t have to do that, I know you’re stressed,” and she looked at me, and leaned forward, and said, with feeling…

“I don’t just do it to help you. I do it to help me. They help me.”

And she meant it.

She was a second mom to her passel of nieces and nephews, as well, and I know she felt just as strongly about time she spent with them; it helped her just as much as it helped them to have an adult that simply loved their presence.

Grandmother and Aunt. Two roles that can relish children, because they can eventually take them back. (Usually. My grandmother ended up raising me…I don’t have the guts to ask her if it was still magical when I was with her full time, as a hormonal teenage girl.) Two roles that allow you to be a confidant, a fun-giver, a memory maker.

My kids have some extraordinary memories with her. Because she loved them, and they could feel it. She was an experience person, and she was totally focused on them when they were with her.

So, when I received the call, just a few days after that conversation, with the news that she had shot herself, I was stunned.

I was beyond stunned.

The details aren’t only mine to share, and some of the others are still painful and raw lo this many years later, so I’ll limit them, but the most significant thing–the thing that I want to use my little space her to broadcast today–is that RIGHT before this happened, she visited a doctor, talked about some symptoms she was having, and was handed antidepressants.

No one in her family or circle of friends, that I’m aware of (up to this present time), knew this.

Again, not going to share too many details, but the evidence pointed–in several ways–to her suicide being a result of the medication.

There are two possibilities about why this ended in her death, and I want to address both of them in my little space here, on this day set aside for heightening awareness about suicide.

Her Doctor Didn’t Adequately Warn/Prepare Her 

Why should you be warned about an antidepressant? Well, technically, you are, if you’re taking one; SSRIs in particular are REQUIRED to carry a warning label because of the increase in suicide risk.

But how many of us read that fine print? And take it seriously enough?

Studies have shown (I’ll link an article further down that will reference some of them) that there is a risk of what is called a paradoxical reaction with certain brain-altering medications, like SSRIs. In children and adolescents, particularly. It more than DOUBLES their suicide rate.

Do doctors need to terrify you? No. But just a simple warning that the first week or so warrants extra monitoring (the first nine days of taking a new antidepressant is when a person is most at-risk for suicidal thoughts or behaviors) could be life saving in some situations.

(Note: After my stepmother’s death, I was briefly on a medication for ADHD that caused me to have a suicidal reaction. If I hadn’t known about the power of drugs to do that–because of what happened to her–I honestly might have killed myself. It’s that powerful. I wasn’t told that by a doctor…I had to find it out myself.)

Mental health advocates often use a phrase that goes something like, “If you had diabetes, or a physical issue, you’d seek intervention for that, wouldn’t you? You need to do the same for mental health issues!”

And that’s a good analogy.

But if you’re going to carry it to its natural conclusion, it would be this; your general practitioner would likely refer you to an endocrinologist if your diabetes–or your child’s–was serious. A good family doctor knows his/her limits, and will get you the supervision and help your problem warrants.

I believe our system is broken if it doesn’t allow for specialized treatment of mental health.

Access to therapy–both psychological and physical, since both have been measured as contributing greatly to the treatment of certain mental health concerns like depression–as well as informed counseling about any medications administered, should be basic. (A psychologist failed to warn me about the medication I took, that caused my reaction.)

There’s another possible explanation, however, that I have to consider, and that I have to acknowledge might have contributed to my stepmom’s death.

Her Doctor Warned Her, But She Didn’t Tell Us

It’s entirely possible that my stepmom’s doctor told her a version of what I outlined above…and she didn’t share it with me, or someone who knew to keep tabs on her.

The thought of a medical professional not preparing someone for the potential power of a drug makes me frustrated, but the idea that someone I love felt that it wasn’t possible to share something like this breaks my heart.

I know that my stepmother believed we’re an overmedicated society. That tells me two things; her pain was overwhelming if she agreed to trying medication, and also, possibly…she was hesitant about being judged.

Again, I can’t know. She’s not here to tell us.

But if there’s even a chance that her concern about someone seeing her taking an antidepressant as something to be judged about led to her death, I want to address it.

There’s no shame in seeking help.

THERE IS NO SHAME IN SEEING HELP.

There’s no shame in taking medication.

THERE IS NO SHAME IN TAKING MEDICATION.

I know that my medically induced suicidal episode wasn’t something anyone could have foreseen; I only got help because I knew what it was and I told someone. If I hadn’t known what it was, I don’t think I would have called someone and said, “Hey, I’m thinking about killing myself, and when I tried to tell myself that it would be bad for my kids, I blew myself off and told myself they’d get over it.”

I can’t explain how it’s different from being so paralyzed by depression that you consider suicide (I’ve had that happen, too), but it is. It goes from being an option to the only thing that makes sense. It’s otherworldly, and it isn’t scary…that’s the scary thing about it.

If you’re depressed and have thoughts of suicide, tell someone. Tell someone, tell someone, tell someone.

If they shrug it off…tell someone else. Someone cares, and someone will help you, even if the first person you tell doesn’t. (You can always call the National Suicide Prevention hotline, at 1-800-273-8255, or text “GO” to 741741).

And if you’re starting a new antidepressant or other medication that carries a warning of suicidal thoughts or actions…tell someone. Tell someone, tell someone, tell someone.

At least make sure you’re monitored for the first ten days.

If suicide is preventable (it isn’t, always), it’s through connection.

Tell someone.

(You can read an informative post about why some antidepressants raise suicide risk here.)

Edited to Add:

A friend reminded me (through sharing her experience) that antidepressants aren’t only used for combating depression. She was prescribed an antidepressant (for insomnia) and experienced suicidal ideation when she stopped it.

And one other thing, while I’m on the subject…

REMOVE THE PHRASE “SUICIDE IS SO SELFISH” FROM YOUR VOCABULARY.

Blaming/stigmatizing victims is not helpful. To the cause or to survivors. The End.

 

 

Wakened Woman Week, Day 7

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Day 7, the final day of my Burning Man alternative, Wakened Woman Week, is going to focus on Creativity.

The art at Burning Man is one of the things that I think is so fascinating about it. I’m not a big concert goer, so I’m not tempted by music festivals, but one centered on art…that’s something that captivates me.

Art plays a huge role in my little family’s life.

I believe art appreciation changed my life (I’m writing a book about it), and I’ve given birth to a brood of artists; my oldest son (who designed the above) is studying graphic design, my oldest daughter is a poet, and all three of my younger children draw, constantly.

It’s kind of a big deal.

I know not everyone has the fine art focused creative gene, but I believe that we all have something creative that moves us.

It’s renewing, it’s necessary, and it makes life better.

I’m still camping (hopefully) when you read this–thank you, Robots, for making it possible to schedule blog posts; maybe you should run the world, after all–and I can promise you that while we’ve been gone, we’ve been drawing, reading, and writing. It’s just what happens.

When those activities get pushed out of my life–especially creative writing–it seems like everything else suffers. I don’t know how to balance that perfectly, but I know I need to try. And I need to make more of an effort, even if the results aren’t what I want them to be.

Take this blog series, for example…I don’t feel like it’s the creative explosion it could have been. But, again…more-than-full-time work, kids, other hassles…it feels like the only things I write anymore are thrown together, rushed, not at all my best work, or even close to what I’m capable of.

But it’s better than nothing.

This is kind of an anti-climactic ending to my big Who-Needs-Burning-Man? week, but it’s a fitting one, I think.

This week has made me think about principles that my life seems to be organized around, and it’s made me conscious of wanting to be purposeful in how I live them out. Not just in one week that I set apart to do that, but every week of my life.

Again, don’t take this as a “F*ck you!” to anyone who GETS to go to Burning Man. I’m happy for you.

But if you don’t get to, and you feel like your life would be better if you could, I’m here to tell you that it’s good the way it is. And you can be happy for those who get to have experiences you don’t, who have more money, and more things…and still appreciate what you have, too.

I feel a little more awake, I think, since I decided to have my little alternative one-woman-fest, and that’s never a bad thing. I also feel like I’m genuinely appreciative, when I focus on being that way, and that was due for some maintenance, if I’m being honest.

So, if it was helpful to you, too, I’m glad.

Keep on celebrating what you believe, and keep on living it out, every day.

Wake up…and be happy.

 

Wakened Woman Week, Day 6

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Welcome to Day 6 of my Wakened Woman Week, my make-myself-feel-better-about-not-being-able-to-afford-Burning-Man project, in which I examine the principles I hold dear, and try to live them out to the fullest. (Without getting to take ecstasy or go around topless. So…it’s not just exactly like Burning Man, I guess. But it’s pretty fulfilling anyway.)

By the time you read this entry–which was typed out and saved, and set to publish at an established time–I will hopefully be setting up camp with my younger kids in a state park about an hour away from our apartment. (Someone’s there, though. Just in case anyone is thinking of ripping me off. Trust me…there are better people to rob.)

Self reliance is a principle promoted by the Burning Man folks, and also by me.

People camp at Burning Man, which always helps to bond you to those you’re roughing it with. (If you’re Susan Sarandon or some other crazy-wealthy individual I don’t know if you’re still, strictly speaking, “roughing it”, but you get my point.) Living primitive is a great way to access primitive bonds, and that’s one reason I think camping is so awesome.

And it does bring that “self reliance” bit home.

True confession; this will be the first year the kids and I have camped alone.

In years past, we’ve camped with friends, and while the other moms and dads usually had small tents they set up, there was usually a big tent for all the kids, and I’ve always just slept there.

And this big tent was usually put up by…someone other than me. (Even though my kids’ dad never camped with us while we were together, there were always other dads there. They generally handled the Tent Set Up. And I was happy to let them.)

I mean, the kids and I have put up our tent, but it’s just never been necessary under pressure. (Meaning, when it’s going to be our shelter. For the duration of the stay.) So, this should be interesting.

But I’m glad it’s happening, because I know it’s high time that I embraced the full experience of being The Only Adult on a Camping Trip.

So, not only Self Reliance…but having three pairs of eyes looking at you for answers. (Just like they do for every other area of life. This will just have a primitive flavor. And a very immediate pressure. Should be interesting.)

Yet more true confessions…I’ve never started the fire when we’ve camped, either. (I know, you’re thinking, “Sh*t, Jill…how can you even call it camping when you’re just looking at the stars and enjoying yourself, and not putting up a tent or doing the hard stuff?!”)

So, I say “When you read this, I’ll be toasting marshmallows and singing songs, or walking on the slackline, or hiking…”, but it could just as easily mean, “When you read this, I’ll be alternating between crying over a heap of nylon that is supposed to be our shelter and howling at the sky, wondering why I thought this was a good idea.”

That’s the great thing about camping! There’s so much possibility!

In all seriousness, I’m thrilled that my kids like camping. That they love getting away, outdoors, and that we can all curl up in a tent and sleep outside, without walls, without screens, without money problems and other troubles staring us in the face. For at least a couple of days.

I love that they can experience gathering wood for a fire, setting up shelter, and doing other difficult things that are actually fun. Things that people have done for millennia.

That primal aspect of camping is grounding. It connects us to the human experience in a way few things can.

Even if you don’t like camping, just getting outdoors can do the same thing, I think. Nature is great rehabilitation. For almost anything. Touching the ground, trees, clear water…watching a fire and the stars, and just talking, or being quiet.

It may not be idyllic, but it is restorative. And it is a great opportunity to embrace self reliance on a grander scale. So, whatever I’m doing when you read this–cursing at a tent, watching birds, or swinging in a hammock–I’ll be practicing self reliance in a new and bigger way. My kids will get to see an example of it that might not be the best, but it’s an example, nonetheless.

And as long as we’re together, and we’re outside, I think it’ll be okay.

In fact…more than okay.

Wakened Woman Week, Day 5

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Welcome to Day 5 of Wakened Woman Week.

We’ve talked over the last five days about the principles that make up my walking one woman festival–Self Acceptance, Building Strength (spiritual as well as physical), Giving, and Hard Work…and now I’d like to talk about…

Goofing Off.

I know it might seem like a no-brainer, but some of us do have to be reminded of the Power of Goofing Off.

Now, Goofing Off is different from Doing Nothing, and a completely different animal than Recreation, in my mind. Doing Nothing is sometimes not a deliberate choice–you can be exhausted and just sit, or become paralyzed from anxiety or overwhelming amounts of activity and responsibility–and Recreation, to me, implies intention. You know it will be productive, and restful, but it’s something that takes a little focus. And it’s built into your life. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a recreational activity to me, something I enjoy that takes a little bit of planning and purpose, that occupies regular space in my life–it’s got a slot set aside for it in my schedule.

But Goofing Off…well, that means something different. It has a connotation of being in the moment. It’s a present-focused activity with a purpose; not being serious.

It might be being open to trying new things, or just determining that you’re going to have fun, and it usually involves other people, although it doesn’t have to.

It’s accepting a spur of the moment invitation to go try disc golf (see above) just because it sounds like a good idea at the moment. Even if it becomes apparent after a few tries that it is not likely your thing.

It’s being willing to look silly.

It could be hanging out an extra half hour, even though you didn’t plan to. Blowing off an important Adult Thing to take your kid on some crazy adventure they suggest.

It’s taken me a while to learn the difference between Doing Nothing, Recreation, and Goofing Off–and I’m just now becoming aware of the fact that I need all of them in my life. I need to plan regular activities that I know balance me. I need to give in and just rest more, and sit and stare at the wall when I get overwhelmed, but I also need to Goof Off on the regular. Actively have an attitude of playfulness that’s rooted in doing something immediate and fun.

One of the most difficult spiritual lessons I’ve learned over the past year has been the one that involves operating in innocence. Without a conclusion. My mind wants to leap ahead, it wants answers, and sometimes….there just aren’t any. Of all the reading I’ve done that encourages mindfulness and being focused on the present, one phrase that I’ve come across has stayed glued to my consciousness…

Living in moment-to-moment openness to pleasant surprise.

(From Hearts in Harmony)

For me, nothing brings that idea to life like the act of Goofing Off.

Do you have an awareness of the different types of activity in your life and how they impact your ability to appreciate the present moment? Do you just go straight from Work to Chores-at-Home to Vegetating, or do you have regular amounts of planned Recreation and an openness to Goofing Off? For me, when my Doing Nothing takes the form of staring at a screen, and I confuse it with Recreation or Goofing Off, it just drains me. My energy, my creativity…Doing Nothing has its place, but it’s not meant to restore you or build energy reserves, the way that other activity can.

But don’t take my word for it (I may be full of sh*t)…examine your routine, and see if it needs some Goofing Off added in.

You may be surprised at what it can do.

 

Wakened Woman Week, Day 4

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“Without labor nothing prospers.” – Sophocles

“Work, work, work…working on my sh*t…” – Iggy Azalea

For Day 4 of my One Woman Festival That Is A Perfectly Suitable Alternative to Burning Man, I’m going to focus on a dearly held principle that is also not an easy one…Hard Work.

When I left my twenty-two year marriage, I was relying on freelancing as a copywriter/journalist to support myself and the three younger kids. I’d spent the last five or so of that marriage doing it part time (in addition to homeschooling the kids), and I simply amped up my business in order to make a full living.

Usually, however, when someone makes a career out of freelance writing, they have a savings cushion, for those lean times when a client is lost, or work dries up for a month or two. (Or six.)

I didn’t. I had zero savings. Zero cushion. We lived month to month, but I never missed paying rent, and we kept the electricity on. (By the skin of our teeth at times, but it was never cut off.)

When I lost my biggest client, though, I didn’t have it in me to skate on such thin ice continually anymore…I got an office job.

At first it was just part time, to fill in the gaps, but eventually it became necessary to just do it full time. I got a promotion, I got a raise, and we gained the stability of a steady check, every two weeks.

I make considerably less per hour than I could as a freelancer, but I still write, for GORGO, and for other various magazines and blogs. I both have to, financially, and I have to, in order to keep that part of me that is best expressed in writing.

But it’s suffered. My writing.

There’s very little creativity left in me now. I wrote some time ago about how an office job doesn’t have to mean that you’ve given up, as a freelance writer, and I meant it. I still do.

But it takes a lot out of me. In many ways.

I’m usually too rushed in the mornings to write, and too tired in the evenings. Freelance gigs are welcome, in that we need the money, but it becomes more and more like a gun in my back instead of a song in my heart, and that sucks. It sucks to have the one thing that you’re really, truly good at taken and turned into just another thing you have to do. To never have enough time to rest enough to let your imagination go, and focus on the things you’d love to write about, the things that make you smile and think, “Sh*t, I’m a f&^%ing genius!” when they’re done.

To not have enough time to do your best on things that people are paying you for, or depending on you to write for them.

Because I haven’t had enough energy in a long time, to be able to do what I’m actually capable of.

But I still do my best.

And mostly, that’s enough.

I’ve also gotten to have another experience; working with a fantastic group of people.

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For the first time, this past year, I’ve had the experience of hiring people.

And…I’ve fired someone.

I’ve learned things, both about myself, and companies. Some good, some bad. I’m very grateful that I get to work where I do, and that this job was available when I needed it, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that the contrast of working for yourself vs. working for a company has made me vehement in certain beliefs that I was only moderate about before. It’s made me understand things that I didn’t get the last time I worked for a company, which was twenty plus years ago.

But let’s get back to the people I work with.

I get to laugh every day. Hard.

I’ve went to work and cried (literally) on co-workers’ shoulders.

The two people in my little team make my job so much easier, by being stellar employees, that it’s ridiculous. Between their hustle and their good senses of humor, what could be a headache is instead a winning situation, all around.

We’re together for the biggest part of most of the days of the week, and in our case, we’re facing each other, and sitting just a few feet away.

It could be really, really challenging, if someone was a turd in that situation.

Blessedly, for me…no one is. (I don’t know if the feeling is mutual. But ignorance is bliss, right? At least if I’m the turd…I don’t know!)

I guess my point is that there are always challenges.

The best world is one where the work that pays your bills is the kind that fills your soul, and you’re able to do it in amounts that leave you time to enjoy the rest of your life…while earning enough to allow for that, as well.

I don’t live in that world, at the moment.

But the people who populate the work world where I am, currently, make it the best one possible.

And for that, I am so, so grateful.