Suicide Prevention: Get Educated

Recently, someone I love tried to commit suicide. Suddenly, I was reminded of both our connectedness and our profound separateness. Someone close to us called the act stupid and I had to dig deep to find the words, to explain that attempting suicide comes from a place of pain and desperation, not weakness and stupidity.

Yesterday, roughly 117 people committed suicide. For every person who completed suicide, approximately 25 people attempted. Approximately four of them were under the age of 20, thirty-seven were between the ages of 20 and 44, twenty-two between the ages of 45 and 64, and forty-two were over the age of 65. 14.7 percent were White, 10.9 percent were American Indian, and 6.3 percent were Hispanic, and 5.5 percent were Black.

There isn’t a demographic of society that isn’t vulnerable to suicide. Chances are someone you know has been touched by suicide or attempted suicide. There is value in being educated and informed about suicide. Are you prepared to handle this kind of crisis? Here are some tips on what to do if you are worried about a loved one:

  1. Show you care and are available to help.
    • Ask questions: How are you doing? Is anything bothering you?
    • Listen actively and empathically, express concern and caring.
  2. Ask specific questions about thoughts of suicide.
    • It can be difficult and awkward, but only one in five people seeks help for suicidal thoughts. If you don’t ask the question, you’ll never know the answer. Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  3. Encourage them to seek mental health services. Tell them seeking help takes courage, but it will also help them feel better. Help them find a counselor and/or psychiatrist in their area. Low-cost options are available in most areas.

If you think a loved one is seriously considering suicide:

  1. Take the person and the risk seriously.
  2. Tell them to call or call for them the National Suicide Prevention Lifelife at 1-800-273-8255.
  3. Help them remove any means of suicide from their home (i.e. pills, weapons, etc.)
  4. Do not leave the person alone under any circumstances. Escort them to an ER, counseling service, or psychiatrist. Under immediate threat, do not hesitate to call 911.

Remember that caring for a person who is suicidal or who has attempted suicide takes a toll on you. Make sure you are paying attention to your own self-care throughout the process. Make an appointment with your own counselor, talk to friends and loved ones, and make time for yourself even as you help care for the person at risk.

All of the statistics and information for this blog post were taken from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website. Please visit the website for more information on suicide prevention, how to help a loved one, what to do if you are feeling suicidal, or if you have experienced a recent lost or attempted suicide of a loved one.

Please remember, you are not alone.

The Power of Shame

Shame is a pit in the ground. When you’re young, if your shames are small, then the pit starts out shallow. If your shames are large, then the pit starts out deep and dark. But no matter how it starts, over the course of our lives, all of the shame we experience makes the pit bigger, deeper, and darker.

For years, I admitted to myself only the shallow shames, the ones that kept me up at night, but not the ones that kept me silent. I compartmentalized my shame, convinced myself that there was no shame in my past that I needed to face. And then one day, an issue in my marriage brought me face to face with a shame experience from my past that I had never faced before.

I started exploring shame in counseling and I started reading Brene Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame. Brown writes, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”

Once I started talking about the experiences that made me feel shame, my feelings of shame increased exponentially. I explained it to my husband like this, I had begun by shining light onto one experience in my pit of shame, but inevitably this light uncovered other shame experiences and now I have to face them all.

At first glance, this feels like a terrible thing. I am more symptomatic, in more pain, then I was before this whole thing started. I am experiencing increased anxiety, loss of time, and out of body feelings. But I have to believe that in the end working through these shame experiences will result in becoming a healthier and more emotionally integrated person.

Brown’s brook is a crash course in shame management and developing resilience. She writes, “We cannot grow when we are in shame, and we can’t use shame to change ourselves or others.” We must process and resolve our shame in order to grow into the better versions of ourselves we all want to be.

We can help each other do that by listening compassionately and empathically to each other’s stories without letting our own fear and shame get in the way. Brown explains, “If empathy is the skill or ability to tap into our own experiences in order to connect with an experience someone is relating to us, compassion is the willingness to be open to this process.”

I encourage you to stretch your empathy muscles toward yourself and your loved ones today. The world needs more of it.

Just Breathe

Last week, I spent six days in Alamosa, CO at Adams State University. The week was first two intensives that I have to complete in order to graduate from the Counselor Education Program with my Master’s in Counseling. The week was called an “intensive” and with very good reason.

Our day started with breakfast at 7am and most days didn’t end until 6pm. I spent two and a half hours every morning in group therapy and three and a half hours every afternoon in class practicing counseling skills as both the counselor and the client. After this class I spent one to two hours in meetings with the faculty and staff going over other aspects of the program. Every day was exhausting. We spent a lot of time talking about self care, which was paramount during this week.

In addition to simply having quite a lot to do each day, we were all worried about being graded, judged, and accepted into the program, while trying to show up in authentic ways in the counseling environment. We were stressed and emotional on an almost constant basis.

At home I occasionally remember to focus on my breathing in order to manage stress and anxiety. But while in Alamosa, it became not just helpful, but necessary to remember to consciously breathe. Sitting in my therapy group trying to manage my tears as I tell a story, taking my turn as a counselor in practical class and getting triggered by my ‘clients’ story, trying to stay present and attentive during our after-class meetings.

I never would have made it calmly through the week if I hadn’t spent a significant portion of the week just breathing. This was great practice for every day life and had been incredibly helpful for reintegrating into my regular life. Every time I start to feel anxious or stressed, angry or frustrated, I’m remembering to go back to my breath.

Breathe in, Breathe out, Hold it. Breathe in, Breathe out, Hold it. The holding it is key, because it helps our body move from the fight or flight response (sympathetic nervous system) to the rest and digest response (parasympathetic nervous system).

Emotion isn’t just cognitive, it’s physical too. So remember to breathe. Just breathe!

Fighting Grief and Depression

One of the worst things about mental illness is that when things go wrong in your life – typical, regular, normal things – it’s difficult to figure out if you’re feeling shitty because of the thingor because of your mental illness.

Take my situation for example:

  1. I have been diagnosed with rapid cycling depressive bipolar disorder II. Translation: I’m depressed and angry and irritable, a lot.
  2. I also have varying degrees of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, depending on the day. Translation: Sometimes I can’t go outside, or do things for myself because I’m scared of invisible ninjas.
  3. I’m also married, have a job, extended family, in-laws, a pet, a house, bills, taxes, other health issues, etc. Translation: I’m a person.
  4. Specifically, I have a husband in the Air Force who moves us around a bit. In the last year I’ve moved away from all of my family and friends. In the last month, I had my gallbladder removed. My husband and I would like a family, but for right now can’t have it. And for the last three weeks, I’ve been experiencing increasing levels of unexplained pain on the left side of my abdomen, which has required one visit to the ER, a CT, x-rays, an ultrasound, two rounds of blood work, six different prescriptions, and a bajillion doctors. And still, no one knows what’s wrong with me. Translation: I’m a person with a number of issues.

I went to a new psychiatrist last week. (Because on top of all of the above issues, it turns out that Tucson has a serious lack of behavioral health care providers and it has taken me this long to find a psychiatrist.)

I was sitting there telling her about all of the issues I’ve been dealing with in the last year and in particular in the last month. She pointed out that I have been going through quite a lot at the moment. (Hello, Captain Obvious.) She pointed out that in all likelihood, my depression is more situational than biological. Or at the very least, the situational stress is making my biological stress much worse.

You know what sucks about that? If you have had this experience, then you know the answer.

Medications won’t fix it. I can take something to help me sleep. I can take something to calm my anxiety. But there is nothing I can take to lift the grief, sadness, and frustration of these normal, every day challenges with which life is presenting me. I just have to go through it, one day at a time.

Which really, isn’t all that different from living with mental illness.

5 Tips for Fighting Grief and Depression
  1. Give yourself a massive break. If it can’t be medicated, meditated, or exercised away, then you absolutely have to stay in bed, sit on the couch, cry, eat chocolate, watch TV, write about it, and read books until you start to feel the will to go outside again.
  2. Your pain, grief, frustration, sadness, and depression will eventually lift. You will not feel this way forever. If you need a daily reminder of that fact, write it on your bathroom mirror or the back of your hand, so you won’t forget.
  3. Talk to people who have been where you are, or at least, some version of it. If you’re experiencing infertility, don’t call up your friend who got pregnant while on birth control, twice. If you don’t know anyone who is going through what you’re going through, look online for chat rooms or support groups in your area. There are chat rooms and support groups for everything.
  4. Make a list of the things that you have enjoyed doing in the past and set a goal to try one of them as often as you can. Whether that’s once a day, once a week, or even once a month. You won’t know when you’re feeling better unless you try to do the things that you used to love doing.
  5. Give yourself a massive break. Yes, I said this one already, but it seriously bears repeating. I have been feeling guilty for my ongoing pain. It feels like one thing after another, and I know that my husband is feeling caretaker fatigue over the last month of ER visits, my hospital stay, doctor’s appointments, prescription pick ups, and coming home to a lump instead of a wife. But none of this is my fault and what you’re going through isn’t yours either. Let yourself off the hook.

Judged by Mental Illness

Three or four times in my life, my mental illness has resulted in other people questioning my trustworthiness with children.

I have always loved kids. I have spent most of my life working with kids in some fashion or another. When I was a teenager, I volunteered in the nursery at my church. When I went to college, I worked at a daycare and then became a nanny. I worked as a nanny for most of the next ten years. During that time I also worked at a training center for students with learning disabilities.

I am good with kids. Mostly, they think I’m fun and parents have always loved me. I have never and would never do anything to hurt a child. Having a mental illness does not pre-dispose me towards hurting anyone but myself.

In fact, studies show that a person with mental illness is no more likely to commit a violent crime than a person without mental illness.

Of course, there are mental illness’s where this is not the case. Some mental illnesses make people anti-social, violent, or even homicidal. But these cases are rare. For the most part, people with mental illness are only a danger to themselves and only very rarely put other people in danger as a result. In fact, studies show that a person with mental illness is no more likely to commit a violent crime than a person without mental illness.

So what gives? Why is it that even people who know me pretty well or very well think I’m a danger to their children?

Crimes committed by people with mental illness are over-publicized. The stories about a person with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder hurting someone get stuck in people’s heads. The media circus creates a myth that people with mental illness are dangerous.

One in Five

Did you know that One in Five American adults experienced a mental health issue in 2014? Count your friends and family and divide by five. Statistically, that is how many people you know that have had a mental health challenge. Did you know? Probably not. Because the majority of people with mental health problems live productive, active, “normal” lives. They don’t talk about their mental health and very few, if any, people in their life know about it.

If that is all true (and it is), how can it be that people with mental illnesses aren’t trustworthy? People with mental illness cook your food, clean your house, take care of your babies, deliver your mail, cut your hair, teach your children, fly your planes, and serve you in all manner of things.

My name is Terryn Rutford and I am bipolar. I have been a danger to myself, but I have NEVER been a danger to others. And it is beyond hurtful to have had my family and friends question that.

If you know someone who struggles with their mental health, I urge you to get informed. Head on over to MentalHealth.gov or the National Alliance for Mental Illness for more information about mental illness and mental health.

 

Surviving Suicide and Finding a Diagnosis

This post originally appeared on ConquerWorry.org.

Sadness, depression, anger, feeling out of place, knowing something was wrong with me; these are among my first memories.

I saw my first therapist at the age of seven, shortly after my parents split up for the first time. I was experiencing shortness of breath and coughing fits so extreme I would vomit. The inhaler didn’t help me breathe and the doctors wanted to put me on tranquilizers. Eventually, I recovered from the physical ailments, but the emotional ailments stuck with me.

It wasn’t until my teenage years that I started seeing a therapist regularly. I hated her. She didn’t listen to me. She asked me questions she thought would give her the information she needed. There was no silence inside those sessions, no room for me to find my words. I used to write letters to my therapist that I never gave her. They were full of words I couldn’t bring myself to say.

No one knew I had tried to kill myself.

When I was fifteen, I started hurting myself and attempted suicide for the first time. My therapist suggested to my parents that I see a psychiatrist. But the psychiatrist only asked me questions in front of my mother. When she left the room, he asked me if there was anything I wanted to say, but I still couldn’t find the words to tell the truth. No one knew I had tried to kill myself. It was a dirty secret that I was terrified to admit. I thought my parents would be angry.

At sixteen, my diagnosis was depression. At seventeen, it was depression and anxiety. At eighteen, I went off to college and attempted suicide for the second time. The university psychiatrist got me into regular counseling. I was diagnosed with major depression and given my first anti-depressant, which had no effect.

I thought I was just a lazy, weak, and useless person.

At nineteen, I moved across the country for a geographic cure and finally found a counselor that listened to me, but still didn’t get the right diagnosis. I was given anti-depressant after anti-depressant, each of which gave me new side effects, but no symptom relief. A part of me thought that the anti-depressant’s not working meant that there wasn’t actually anything wrong with me, that I was just a lazy, weak, and useless person.

After graduating from college at the age of 23, I finally found a psychiatrist who put the pieces together. He asked detailed questions and got a thorough history. He drew a physical timeline of my moods that made the bipolar pattern emerge. He was the first doctor to give me a useful diagnosis that made sense. Rapid Cycling Depressive Bipolar Disorder II.

Sixty-nine percent of people with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed, and one-third of these don’t get the correct diagnosis for more than ten years. Anti-depressants can be incredibly dangerous to people suffering from bipolar disorder, exacerbating symptoms and generally making people feel worse or having no effect at all.

Picture

Photo by kropekk_pl via Pixabay

But because we don’t talk about mental illness, it is impossible for people to know if they are getting correct diagnoses or medications. From my first diagnosis, to the correct diagnosis it was almost ten years. And once I received that diagnosis, it took another five years to find a medication that actually made a difference. Three hospital stays, two more suicide attempts, and fifteen years of avoidable suffering.

The moment I was properly diagnosed changed my life.

The moment I was properly diagnosed changed my life. It was the moment that I realized I wasn’t a lost cause. There was a reason anti-depressants didn’t work for me. I wasn’t just a lazy, useless person. There was an illness that explained my suicide attempts, self-harming behavior, depression, and anxiety.

Getting the proper diagnosis made a world of difference. I am not a failure. I have a chronic illness that can be treated.

Steps to take if you need help:

  1. Make an appointment with a counselor.
  2. If you can’t get in to see a counselor or psychiatrist right away, make an appointment with a primary care doctor.
  3. While you are waiting for your appointment(s) research your symptoms. Knowledge is power. And while I don’t suggest that you self-diagnose, or self-medicate, educating yourself about what you’re experiencing can help you decide if what your doctor or therapist tells you makes sense.
  4. If you don’t feel heard by your provider, go see someone else and keep going to new people until you feel comfortable. If you don’t like your therapist or psychiatrist, they won’t be able to help you.
  5. If you can’t afford to see a doctor, most places have low-cost options. There are therapists and psychiatrists who offer sliding-scale fees and there are state-sponsored programs for low-income people.
  6. If medications don’t help or if they make you feel worse, tell your doctor. Make sure they’re addressing all of your symptoms and don’t give up on medications, because new ones are being created all the time. Even treatment-resistant mental illness can be treated.
  7. If you feel overwhelmed, ask a friend or family member for help. Reach out and don’t stop looking until you get the help you need.
Mental illness does not have to be a death sentence. You are not a failure. You are a strong, resilient person and if you have a mental illness, you have a chronic illness that can be treated.

10 Things only People with Bipolar 2 Understand

  1. What people think: You have intense manic episodes where you spend lots (and lots) of money on random crap. What’s true: A manic episode means you might smile a few times and have energy to the dishes, take a shower, clean the house, run errands, make dinner, and participate in one of your hobbies. In other words, “mania” makes you normal.
  2. You do not understand how people with Bipolar 1 can suffer from a sense of superiority. You go to sleep every day congratulating yourself on only being antisocial rather than a complete shithead.
  3. You never know if mania will make you happier or just give energy to your sadness, anger, fear, frustration with life. Sometimes, mania makes you a complete shithead.
  4. You have to explain your diagnosis to your current psychiatrist and you’ve been on more medications than he or she has heard of because it took forever for someone to finally settle on a diagnosis.
  5. You have medications for every part of your day: Put you to sleep, wake you up, give you energy, calm you down.
  6. Lithium does not help you.
  7. You blame all the problems in your life on your mental illness. If you weren’t bipolar, you’d actually do things. Right?
  8. After a while, you can see the bipolar depression coming. It’s like a whirling blackhole toilet of doom that slowly pulls you in until all you can see is shit.
  9. Antidepressants made you feel worse and mood stabilizers don’t make you feel any different, except for the side effects. The side effects suck.
  10. Bipolar 1 doesn’t sound so bad. At least you’d get to feel good more of the time.

To learn more about Bipolar 2 Disorder and mental health in general, visit the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

If you think you might have Bipolar 2 Disorder, visit this site and bring the information to your psychiatrist.