Let’s Talk About Depression and Suicide

****WARNING: If you have been or are suicidal or have lost someone to suicide, this post could be potentially triggering.
If you are in crisis or know someone who is, there are people who care. Please get help. At the end of this post is a list of suicide/crisis hotlines and a link to a list of ones worldwide.****

Recently I read an article about a new study that shows depression is not a mood that we “choose;” rather, it says that depression is a form of brain damage. Aside from the touting of positivity and mindfulness to counteract or keep at bay severe or chronic depression (which is bullshit–yes, positivity and mindfulness are great and yes, they do matter, but they are coping skills, not treatments or preventives), the rest of the article is something everyone who thinks depression and suicide are choices should read–New Research Says Depression Isn’t a Choice- It’s a Form of Brain Damage.

With the recent death by suicide of Linkin Park frontman, Chester Bennington, this conversation is even more important.

My tribute to Chester Bennington. May he have found peace at last.

Bennington openly struggled with depression and a past history of substance abuse. One of his close friends, Chris Cornell, died by suicide recently. Statically, Bennington was at higher risk of dying by suicide because of these factors.

So are many of us, for many reasons. As everyone’s reasons may be different I’m focusing on its obvious link to depression and mental illness, but chronic pain and illness are also frequent contributing factors.

But too often, this is not a conversation we’re having. And it’s one we should be having, not only when we lose a beloved and admired public figure.

And too often, the first reaction of many is to blame the person who suicides as “taking the easy way out” or “just giving up.” Anger at the person is also common for “making the choice to leave,” particularly by those left behind. The feeling that the person didn’t do enough to reach out is expressed frequently.

While these are normal reactions and I’m not going to tell you not to have them, I would like to say that for those of us at risk, these reactions are not constructive. They do not make us more likely to reach out when we are able, for fear of being judged for having such thoughts at all.

What follows are my thoughts and feelings on the matter, as someone who has lost someone to suicide and as a suicide attempt survivor, as well as the mother of one. Yours may be different.

First, let’s get this out of the way:
Suicide is most often caused/contributed to by depression and/or another mental illness. (Substance abuse can be another possible contributing factor, as can chronic pain and illness, as well other various reasons, but what I’m addressing is its relation to mental health.)

Depression causes physical change in the brain, folks. While depression can be situational, it does have aspects of physical illness such as chemical imbalances in the brain that control how we feel and the way we think.

Suicide is NOT a “selfish choice.” Because it is not a choice.
It’s not “giving up.” It has zero to do with those we love and who love us.

It isn’t even necessarily about wanting to die.
It’s being in such emotional and mental pain that we want it to end…and when a person is in that state, we are NOT thinking rationally or clearly because we CAN’T, not because we don’t want to.

Every time there is media coverage of someone who dies by suicide, the main reactions from many are often disbelief that the person didn’t have at least one person they felt they could reach out to; that they didn’t try hard enough to stay alive if they didn’t reach out; that they didn’t care enough to think about the pain they would cause their loved ones; that they should have ______ (insert solution here)…that there is always another option.

I’m going to say this one more time for those people in the back:
SUICIDE IS NOT A CHOICE.

If you have never struggled with severe depression and felt the utter hopelessness and isolation it brings, if you’ve never believed the terrible things depression makes you think about yourself, if you’ve never felt that opening up about your suicidal thoughts or plans would cause more pain to your loved ones than your absence would…SIT DOWN AND SILENCE YOUR JUDGEMENT, BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO CLUE WHAT A SEVERELY DEPRESSED AND SUICIDAL PERSON IS DEALING WITH.

I realize the previous statement may be upsetting to people who have lost a loved one to suicide, particularly if they ascribe to the notion suicide is a choice. And while I apologize for that, I cannot NOT say it.

The truth is that anyone who hasn’t been that person and who doesn’t personally know what it is like to struggle with depression and suicidality does not know how it can trap your mind.
And you do not know how it is possible to not only believe that the only solution is suicide, but that it will actually be the best and logical option for everyone, and that sometimes we can get through that dark place and sometimes it is literally impossible for us to reach out.

•Not because there aren’t people who care–but because when we’re in that place, WE CAN’T SEE THEM. Or if we do see them, they’re out of reach.
Yes, I’m absolutely serious.

•Not because there aren’t people who care–but because when we’re in that place, we don’t want those we love to witness our pain.
We do realize that seeing someone you love suffer is often more painful than suffering yourself. We want to spare you that.

•Not because there aren’t people who care–but because when we’re in that place, we don’t believe we are worth saving and that us continuing to live will continue to cause you pain and drag you down with us.

And most importantly:
•Not because there aren’t people who care–but because when we’re in that place, we can’t see anything but the overwhelming pain we’re in and the need to end that pain.
It’s not about being selfishly focused on our pain to the point you don’t matter to us. You do. You do so much. But just as a person can be in the grip of such physical pain that it’s all they can focus on, it’s truly possible to be in that much mental/emotional pain.

No, those beliefs and thoughts do not make sense, and if we pull through it we realize this. Yet when we are in that place, they are what we believe and feel and we literally cannot think ourselves out of it.

And unfortunately, coming through that dark place and back to our rational selves does not save us from that darkness reaching out and grabbing us again. And again. And again.
We can learn to recognize certain things that set off a downward spiral and strategies to help us cope with them; in fact, we have plenty of spirals you will never see or know about, simply because we came through them.
Not all spirals will be set off by something recognizable, though.
Not all spirals are the same.
And not all spirals can see us conquering them.

Hundreds of days that could have been that one last day.
And you know what? We’re pretty damn badass for surviving those hundreds of days…those ones you don’t see us “not giving up” through.

But it only takes one day of our illness getting the upper hand to bring us to a day you can’t avoid seeing–the day we can’t fight it enough.
The day you see as us failing…being selfish…giving up.

Unfortunately, all it takes is that one day to make our previously won battles not count to everyone who sees us as not trying hard enough…as giving up.

And if you are a “mentally healthy” person, you will never truly understand or grasp that.
You may come close, you may have had thoughts of giving up yourself, but likely you realized pretty quickly how senseless it would be and what you might miss out on in life, or how much it might hurt others.
And you can be thankful that you don’t totally grasp it, because we wouldn’t wish it on you and it’s something no one should have to feel.

What you don’t realize is that you are basing your opinion of our capability to get through it and think rationally by YOUR MENTALLY HEALTHY YARDSTICK, not by the reality of our illness and its effect on our ability to reason.

You wouldn’t condemn a person who dies from a physical illness or disease they didn’t choose to have…yet you would for the illness that kills us.

We didn’t choose to have it, either.

– Selena

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,[22] a 24/7 hotline for callers in the United States:
1-800-273-TALK
(1-800-273-8255)
1-800-SUICIDE
(1-800-784-2433)

TTY/TDD services at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline- United States:
1-800-799-4TTY
(1-800-799-4889)

US Veterans Crisis Hotline:
(800-273-8255) press 1

The Trevor Project (American hotline aimed principally at LGBT teenagers), United States:
(866-488-7386)

American anonymous youth violence reporting hotline:
1-866-SPEAK-UP
(1-866-773-2587)

Crisis Text Line, United States:
741-741
A free, 24/7 SMS Hotline providing emotional support for those in crisis.

Lifeline, Australia:
13 11 14
Offers 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services by phone.

List of crisis hotlines around the world:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines

Chester Bennington of Linkin Park has died by suicide

#DownTheRabbitHole #chesterbennington #restinpeace #suicide

Chester Bennington of Linkin Park has died by suicide at age 41.

I’ve been down with the Migremlins all day, and just woke up to this news. Ļinkin Park is one of my favorite bands, and their music has brought me through so many rough times. It resonates deeply with me, both in emotions I’ve dealt with in the past and currently. It grabs my soul and makes me feel less alone, and speaks to my heart.

As a suicide attempt survivor and suicide prevention advocate, it wrenches my heart every time I hear such news of another loss to suicide.

It also raises the increased need for awareness and the need to eradicate the stigma attached to suicide.

Attached to this post are some statistics and information about suicide and suicide prevention, along with resources for more information and lifeline/crisis text numbers.

Mr. Bennington…I wish you had had an angel to roam the shadowed places in your mind. 😥

Be safe, friends. Please. – Selena

http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/index.html
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
http://reportingonsuicide.org/recommendations/

“Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have lasting harmful effects on individuals, families, and communities. While its causes are complex and determined by multiple factors, the goal of suicide prevention is simple: Reduce factors that increase risk (i.e. risk factors) and increase factors that promote resilience (i.e. protective factors). Ideally, prevention addresses all levels of influence: individual, relationship, community, and societal. Effective prevention strategies are needed to promote awareness of suicide and encourage a commitment to social change.” (From http://www.cdc.gov)

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The Masks We Wear

“I’m good…not great, but I’m okay.”

Are you really?

Well, no. I wasn’t.

But I didn’t want to worry anyone…didn’t want to bring them down with me.

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Because that’s what we do, don’t we?

I wrote an article about it for The Mighty last September…about The Pretender Mask. The smile that hides the pain. The “I’m fine!” on days we definitely are not fine. The tough I’ve-got-this front when we’re falling apart inside.

About how I wasn’t wearing that mask any more to hide my illness.

So why do I still find that I’m wearing it at times?

Probably because at the time, I was thinking in terms of my “physical” illness. I’ve stuck to that one–I see no reason to hide it. But as much as I believe that many mental illnesses are often physical illnesses with a biological cause, and that they are every bit as important as physical illness…it seems I have trouble owning up during rough patches with depression and anxiety.

In other words, I keep finding myself behind the mask again…and again…and again.

IMG_20170715_140422_289

Skimming the surface during some of my hardest moments…not wanting to worry people…not wanting to talk about it.

Not because I’m ashamed or embarrassed to be struggling, but because it’s harder to SEE them in action. Because…well, they hide. And they hide so well that I don’t always realize I’m in the Rabbit Hole until I start climbing out.

Depression and anxiety are champion Hide-and-Seek players.

I can feel my physical illness; there’s no way not to.

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Physical pain day in and day out demands notice. Sometimes it demands so much notice that other things get ignored or go unseen. Sometimes those things just blend into the world of chronic illness so well because it seems completely normal to feel them when your illness gets the upper hand. Who wouldn’t be stressed and depressed?

I’m not saying this to make excuses. I’m saying it because depression is sneaky…and it lies. And sometimes it even hides itself from us by camouflaging itself as background noise until it starts making its own demands to be felt.

So I’m no longer saying I never wear my Pretender Mask. It feels like hypocrisy to say so when I realize I’m taking it off too often.

But I am saying that I’ll keep trying. I am saying that I’ll continue being transparent, even if it’s transparency after the fact.

Because my struggle is the struggle of so many of us…and if my struggle helps someone else feel less alone in theirs, it’s worth baring my not-so-pretty pieces of me.

– Selena

Owning My Story 

My blog is my story…this page is my story…every piece of art I make, every poem I write…my story.

My story is written in every breath I take, in the scars I bear, in the people I love.

My story is worn in the lines on my face, the smile on my lips, the tears in my eyes.

This is my story…and I tell it so you can know that you are not alone.
– Selena

Grief and Perseverance

The 12th of every month is hard for me…and this is why.

Grief.

One five-letter word carries a punch to the heart like nothing else.

Grief means loss. Grief means pain and suffering. Grief means mourning.

Grief means someone or something you love is gone. Grief means a gaping hole in your heart.

Grief means that things will never be the same again.

I see posts about the “stages of grief” and the “grief process” — and I hate it.

It makes it sound so sterile, so clinical, so neatly organized.

I hear people wondering when someone will “get over” or “get past” their mourning and “move on with their life” — and I hate it.

It makes it sound so easy.

It makes it sound as if having something or someone ripped out of your life isn’t profoundly life-altering, as if you aren’t living and breathing every day with something that has wounded your soul, as if you’re defective when someone feels your “official mourning period” should be over.

As if the space in your heart that has someone’s name on it should be boarded up, or worse, cleaned up and ready for occupation, all the cobwebs of pain swept away.

As if it didn’t matter.

As if that space could be filled up and smoothed over by time like patching a hole in the wall.

My niece, Sydney, died in a car accident 15 and a half months ago on her 18th birthday.

One moment, we were posting birthday wishes on her Facebook page, the next she was gone.

My sister’s first child. The first to be imagined when taking pregnant belly pictures. The cousin who was a few months older than my son, who grew up with my children, who was smart and goofy and stubborn and believed things would always get better if you persevered and hung on. The older sister to two other beautiful girls and the one who usually had a kind word for anyone struggling.

I’ve learned things about grief I never thought I would and that I never wanted to, and I’ve watched my sister suffer immeasurably.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and some scars like to reopen.

It’s watching your sister in pain you can’t take away.

Ever.

Grief isn’t something that we “get past” or “get over” so much as we learn to live in spite of.

It’s learning to breathe and walk all over again. And again. And again.

It comes and goes like waves. The holes in our hearts are like the sand on the beach. It erodes and it fills with the tide, but it’s never actually exactly the same again.

And like the tide, it doesn’t really stop.

And the truth is, you don’t want it to. Because grief is the price we pay for deep love. Mourning means we had something worth missing.

And that’s OK.

Because the alternative is never having had that beauty in your life.

Some days — even years from now — the pain will stun you, but some days you can smile at a memory without it being through tears. Some days the pain of them not being here will be a physical ache, others you’ll feel as if they’re smiling and standing right by you and others you’ll feel numb.

Some days you will be OK, and some days you will not.

And some days you will be all of those at once.

And that’s OK, too.

See, the thing that the “stages of grief” forgets to tell you is that it’s a continuous cycle rather than a procession from Door 1 to Door 2 to Door 3 and so on. And not everyone will visit those stages in order, and some will skip a door or two. There’s no time limit on grief because there’s no limit on love, and there’s no right or wrong way to mourn. Those feelings you think you should be over aren’t right or wrong — they just are, they’re valid. And letting yourself feel them is a part of healing.

Sydney believed there would be better days. This is my tribute to her. I believe sharing this will help some of us persevere until we find them.

Persevere

Persevere
Though the road be
Paved with heartaches
And disappointments,
Lost chances,
Faded dreams —
For each new day
Brings new chances,
Brighter days,
Another dream,
And new choices.
Persevere
And LIVE life
For all it’s worth
In joy and in sorrow,
For the next day
May be yours.

In memory of Sydney 3/12/1997-3/12/2015.

(Originally published on The Mighty, June 16, 2016.)

Migremlins, Anxiety, Depression…oh, My, July!

This has been a really rough month so far. The migremlins are thorough beasts of late, depression has been a sticky tar pit, and anxiety…anxiety has been the worst. 

EVERYTHING is a battle…even setting up a psych appointment, which I know I need to do. I’m out of anxiety meds, and you would think that would spur me on, right?

Well, actually, I’m embarrassed I let it go so long…the avoiding the phone call to set up an appointment thing. It’s become a demon, that phone call.  So what did I do? Kept putting it off…and off…feeling more stupid over it…putting it off some more…

How can a simple phone call be so scary? I used to make phone calls for a living! How can I literally start getting frightened by the thought of a phone call? But it seems I can, and that I can perpetuate it and blow it out of proportion even more. I know it’s ridiculous. 

So why haven’t I done it? 

Deep breath. Tomorrow. I’ll feel better tomorrow…I can do it then.

And that’s why. Because tomorrow never comes. So I’m not going to say tomorrow. I’m going to say that I’ve set a reminder, and I will do it then, because I need to. I know I need to, and I’m not going to keep defeating myself. 

Because I’m a warrior, and if I doubted that, there’s this nifty Anxiety Warriors shield my Spawn made to remind me:

Because “I am stronger than myself.”

Because I will not give up and I will not give in. Anxiety does not have the final say.

I do. 

And I’m glad my Spawn reminded me of that. 

– Selena