National Suicide Prevention Week 2019

Today is the final day of National Suicide Prevention Week 2019. I’ve started so many Facebook posts, only to delete them. I’ve read so many beautiful things. Tributes, memories, some people write of hope and life, some of the darkness.

Now, I borrow this space to share from my perspective – a mom who nearly lost her son to suicide, and a daughter who nearly lost her mom to suicide. More than once, on both counts.

I spent many years feeling as though I was fundamentally flawed. I felt as though there must be something inherently broken about me that my love for my mom couldn’t be enough to sustain her. I believed I must be unloveable because loving me was also, not enough to sustain her. I played accomplice to some bad ideas, hoping that she would find the happiness and love she needed to live.

I’d like to wave it all off as being the past, as being over with, and I’d like to tell you I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my love for my mom, or her love for me, were not broken or to blame for this struggle. And most of the time, all of the above would be true. But when I don’t take every thought captive and I don’t tell the very enemy who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy that his lies hold no power, I can quickly fall back to feeling inadequate and as though my love is broken, and that I am, at the very core, unloveable.

Fast forward to October 1st, 2018. My 12-year-old son attempted to take his own life. He nearly ended his life on a comfortably warm afternoon. We’d been outside most of the day, he’d seen his counselor about 2 hours before his attempt, and he was in a positive, helpful mood. In fact, we celebrated some wins with his counselor in regards to behavior, and we were looking forward to sign language class that night.

I left him to finish up an outside job, while I went inside to call my husband, start a quick pan of brownies, and get the littles ready for our evening. My 11-year-old son found his brother, acted bravely and quickly to aid his brother and then came for me. I wish the moments from my young son tearing through the front door, breathless, through the next afternoon were a blur. Far from it. I remember, in vivid detail, every step.

Medically, they offered us no hope of our son living, and his prognosis, should he live, was grim. A doctor, on a brief round, told me it was unlikely my son would return to his original cognitive and physical condition. My husband even pleaded with me to find one of my off-the-beaten-path remedies to reduce brain swelling, regain cognition, and aid his struggling body. I came up empty-handed, telling my husband I didn’t think there was an herb or oil to bring him back from this.

But God.

God intervened, and we watched an absolute miracle. Not only did our son live, but he was fully restored to his physical and cognitive state prior to his suicide attempt.

Which brings me to the whole point of my writing today.

Suicide attempt.

I see the stigma lifting from suicide that results in death. We’ve lost several famous people to suicide, and many people are having conversations – in person, on social media.

Some things are full of hope, love, and willing those feeling suicidal to reach out. Some things are tinged with a little guilt, a little plea that suicide transfers the pain from the suicidal person to the people that love them. I’ve heard people that have felt suicidal say they weren’t capable of reaching out at their lowest point. I’ve heard them say that being encouraged to reach out saved their lives. I’ve heard them say that the idea they are transferring the pain just makes the darkness heavier. I’ve heard them say it was that reminder that kept them holding on.

Suicide, like every other thing we face, is not one size fits all. There isn’t one reminder, one solution, one approach that will save all the lives threatened by suicidal thoughts. I desperately wish there was.

I walked into many different appointments with my son – counselors, psychiatrists, nurses, doctors. I kept hoping someone could tell me how to spot this, and prevent it, and give us a 10, 12, 24, 50, 100 step plan that would line out how to keep us from ever facing this again. I would complete any number of steps to know that he wouldn’t struggle like this again or to know that if he did, he would reach out, or we would recognize, or something would happen to take it all away and help him feel happiness, hope, joy, excitement, and a zest for life.

Despite a safety plan that my son actively created, point people to reach out to, crisis hotlines, and roleplaying how to have crisis conversations and not be an overbearing parent but a listening ear, we found ourselves facing a second attempt.

It was after this second attempt, and his third stay in the hospital, that I walked into a psychiatrist’s office to discuss his outpatient treatment. My questions about what to expect from the medications, the therapy plan, etc. were met with a grim outlook and grave words.

“Do you know the statistics for someone his age with 2 suicide attempts in 4 months?”

My son was reduced to statistics, and I just shook my head.

“No one has gone over those with you?”

He seemed surprised, and while I can’t recall the specific numbers, and I can’t bring myself to look them up, I remember him crossing his arms in front of him, and shrugging as he told me he didn’t have much hope for my son making it another year.

“We’re just waiting, and watching, that’s all we can do.”

He asked me if I wanted to make any med adjustments or had noticed side effects that were unpleasant, and dismissed me.

I didn’t feel like my legs could carry me out of that appointment. Here we were, only 4 months out from his initial suicide attempt, and a month out from his second attempt, and his psychiatrist spoke as though this was hospice care for the mentally ill or struggling.

I am humbled and grateful that we serve a God who is involved, who sees us, who sees our pain, and who answers when we call. It is His strength that has sustained me, and our family, through all of this.

See, there is a lot of stigma around suicide attempt. It is a space that is not spoken of.

Amongst those who have lost someone to suicide, I am lucky because my mom and son still live and share this life with me. I cannot imagine the pain they endure because their loved one died by suicide. I rarely admit this to anyone, but I don’t often feel lucky, either. The fear that I live with about when or if another suicide attempt will occur, and whether or not it will result in death, is heavy to carry. I am hyper-vigilant about every text message, email, phone call, video call, letter. I’ve called my dad and sister and asked them to keep an eye on mom. I find myself checking in with my son’s step-mom – asking if everything seems okay on their end because phone calls seem “off” to me.

Among those who haven’t struggled with the darkness, or who won’t admit they have, it’s awkward and uncomfortable. Or there must be someone to blame – a bully, bad parenting, a bad home life, bad school, subpar performance in athletics, a lost game, a lost friend, death of someone. So if someone will talk with me, the conversation ends quickly when there is nothing to blame – because I must be hiding something or it hasn’t come to me yet.

Those who have struggled will offer condolences, and occasionally their experience with things people shouldn’t say to someone struggling. But in all of the things I’ve been told I shouldn’t say, I don’t have a grasp on what I should say to my mom or my son.

A friend of mine is walking through the mess and heartache of addiction with her daughter. She posted some time ago about someone saying if she loved her daughter enough, she wouldn’t be battling addiction. I love how eloquently she said her love isn’t broken or inadequate. It is fierce and present and available.

If you have a loved one who struggles with suicidal ideation, depression, addiction, or ____________, then I want to tell you this: Your love is not broken. It is not insufficient. It is not inadequate. Keep loving. Don’t build walls. Don’t shut people out or shut down or quit. Fight the good fight, pray hard for the person/people you love, and keep loving them.

Also, crisis hotlines are not only for the person feeling suicidal. You can call for support, encouragement, action steps, for answers, and for someone to talk to. I’ve called twice. Both calls were answered by someone willing to listen to the fear, the guilt, the heartbreak, and they were kind. It didn’t feel like the stigma was there like it is everywhere else I go.

Until next time,
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The Changes We Make

Years ago my mom would come home with these face masks and tell me to wear them for dusty jobs. Hauling hay, cleaning the tack shed, stripping the stall, mowing, and more would come with the admonition that it would be better to wear one.

Flu season would come with the suggestion to wear one in public.

But being cool and not being seen as sick overrode wisdom. In all my teenage glory, I looked at parental concern and care and I scoffed. I was certain that they just wanted to ruin my life and make me look ridiculous to my friends, boys, the world. (Sorry Mom.)

As I got older, the cool thing didn’t play such a role in rejecting the masks, but not wanting to be seen as sick sure did. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time pretending that my lungs work better than they do. Illness is so often seen as weakness.

Illness made me feel like I had to work twice as hard to prove myself. I’ve failed time and again to bring the proper medications and my nebulizer with me when I knew I’d need more than an inhaler. I’ve hidden in bathrooms using too many puffs from a rescue inhaler, trying to get my breathing back to normal (or at least to where no one noticed) and I could continue an event/activity/outing.

I didn’t want to be seen as less.

My husband has been kind to me these years we’ve been building a life. As he learned how reactive my airways are, he has swooped in to handle all the dusty jobs. When I’m talking about my to-do list or particular jobs, he’s known to ask, “But will it be too much for you?”

I’ve bristled at the question and even snapped at him. I refuse to live like life is too much for me. But I’ve had to admit defeat and that some jobs are hard for me.

Life has thrown transitions our way time and time again, and here we are, facing more 20190627_200812.jpgof them. As I settle into my role keeping the home and farm on target and he travels, I knew I’d have to face some dusty jobs. So, while I was at the store, I bought masks. And I put off the first dusty job for a couple of days because I was struggling with wearing the mask.

The chicken coop – a dusty mess of feathers, wood shavings, and poop. Never a good combination, and an especially bad combination for an asthmatic. For the last two years, my husband has faithfully cleaned out the coop. But with his hours home shorter than we like, I don’t want him to be cleaning coops, I want him to be playing peekaboo with toddlers and driving dirt bikes with teenagers.

I conquered the job, in a mask and all. And I realized how much better it is to wear the mask and protect my airways and still get the job done. I didn’t have to bow out, pass it off, or neglect the task. I did it, no rescue inhaler needed, and the mask wasn’t as bad as I expected. In fact, I plan on wearing one when I tackle the next dusty job.

I’m learning that living with illness takes a measure of embracing that I am sick like it or not, which means taking measures to prevent flares. It also means doing the best I can with what I have, learning to rest when I need it, and learning that denial doesn’t make one healthy.

And we don’t get it all right, 100% of the time. As I was writing this, I was snacking on a bag of Skittles my husband left for me. And I realized that’s not the fuel my body needs to be as well as possible. So I put those up and switched it for carrots because I snack while I write. I am a work in progress and I am okay with that.

Struggling with chronic illness? What preventative (like a mask) or other change can you identify that will help you manage your illness? Tell me about it in the comments below.

 

Happy Trails

Happy Trails!

Content Fatigue and Chronic Illness

I first wrote about content fatigue here. Be sure to catch what I had to say about the over-consumption of media there.

Another area in my life where I got bogged down with content fatigue was in regard to chronic illness. I was trying to read every diet plan, exercise plan, healing plan I could get my hands on. One thing would say “eat this raw” then the next would say to never touch it. One would say cook everything in butter, another would say never butter, always oil.

My heart and mind were being pulled multiple directions as I sought answers and healing for my hurting body. I had to really face that I can only try one plan at a time – and that any plan that will bring healing or lasting pain relief to my body will take time. It won’t happen on the first day, the first week, and maybe not even the first month. So I have to really pick one plan and follow it for at least 90 days if not 180 days. This is hard because I want to fix all of the problems NOW.

I don’t want to be sick anymore. I don’t want to hurt anymore. And the one that jams me up is that, while cellular health is crucial, and I’m starting to wrap my brain around eating and exercising in a way that moves fluids around, toxins out, and oxygen to and from, so that my cells are the healthiest possible – one of my conditions is a malformation of my skull. I don’t think I can eat enough of the right stuff for that to change.

I do think some of my pain is from inflammation. I do believe my asthma can be greatly controlled with diet and exercise. But I don’t think Chiari just goes away because of kale smoothies or triple servings of blueberries.

If you’re facing a chronic illness, and you’ve started researching how to support your body, I think you can relate – a lot of people have answers, and they come with a pretty price tag, and this notion of a quick fix. The content alone can be exhausting, and the conflicting messages make it sound like it’s our fault for being sick.

Don’t let that seep into your heart. If you know you need to do something better, take steps to do so. (This is me all the way.) But blaming yourself won’t make you well. And getting completely overwhelmed in the content you can read/watch/hear about chronic illness can be consuming and depressing.

Take one approach at a time, and give it time. Be aware of detox symptoms, go slow, give your body and cells a chance to adapt. Follow sound medical advice and go to a practitioner you can be honest with, open with, and that you trust. Sometimes you’ll know right away if a way of eating isn’t right for you. I feel terrible on High Fat/Low Carb within the first week. But it takes more than a month to see improvement from some of what works for my body.

Stick with it. Consistency matters. If you are eliminating a problem food, you have to really get it out of your system and leave it out of your system. Not slipping is hard. But don’t let one meal/snack turn into 3 weeks of consuming something that adds to your inflammation and pain.

You can make changes that will make you feel better. I think food plays a tremendous role in health. I think finding an exercise you can tolerate is important too! Stretching, walking, swimming, seated weight lifting, elliptical, dance. Moving your body moves fluids and gasses around so your cells aren’t swimming in toxic soup and they get a replenishment of nutrients. Start with a few minutes if you need to. You aren’t going for a marathon here. Just 3-5 minutes of movement. In a week, add 3 more minutes. You might find in 6-8 weeks that you can tolerate 30 minutes of slow, steady, deliberate movements.

None of this is medical advice – this is just from one chronic illness patient to another.

I think there is a spiritual component to all of this that needs a post of its own, so I’ll work on that in the coming days. I couldn’t face the worst days without the hope of Jesus. Sometimes I’m in so much pain I’d rather die than keep hurting like I do. But spending time in the Word (whether listening via the bible app or reading in my bible) helps me cling to Jesus and remember that this world, and this life, are temporary. He will remove all my pain and wipe my tears.

Until next time,
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