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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Identity

Over the last year, I have found myself feeling like I really know who I am. And also whose I am. It is humbling and empowering to know the God of our universe had me in mind, created me on purpose, and has a plan for me.

I have come to a point where I am comfortable and able to kindly say I like this, I don’t like that, I want this, I need this. Instead of reflecting on time spent with friends feeling like I mirrored their sentiments, I am true to my own thoughts, opinions, and feelings.1561896982909_verse_image.jpg

Last October one of my sons tried to take his own life. While my heart broke and the pain I feel over all of it is deep, I have reflected often on the fact that I didn’t feel overwhelmingly distraught or desolate in the scariest moments of the ordeal, or the days that followed.

I did not feel as desperate as I thought I should. I found myself thinking a few times that I should be more distraught, more something. At one point I remember thinking, I should feel like the walls are crashing in on me right now. And then I wondered exactly who says I should feel that way and what good it would do? And then the clear picture of Jesus beside me, surrounding my son, and I was able to be thankful for so many hard things in my life that taught me that Jesus is the rock on which to build my life. Guilt likes to wiggle in and tell me I’m messing up or missing something by not being properly devastated. But the Word tells us that God will give us peace that surpasses understanding. I have dwelt in that peace more in the last 8 months than ever before in my life.

This peace comes as an answer to prayer – but not always my own prayer. Sometimes I don’t have the words to speak. But I have people standing boldly in the gap, praying for my son and for our family. We talk about community in church a lot, and it’s said that life is better together. Those first days, and the following weeks, really showed me how necessary it is to have people who love Jesus loving on our family in hard times.

I also realized that while I believe we were created for community and God didn’t intend for us to do life alone, He also didn’t intend for us to find our identity anywhere other than through Him. I think oftentimes we get the “we should feel/think/say/do” thoughts from finding our identity in our friend group, social media, parents, spouses, kids, work, you name it. Something other than identity in Jesus will leave our footing on shifting sand, “they said I should”, and being blown about with every shift in the wind.

Now for the hardest line to admit aloud – and I think this is hard to admit aloud because I don’t want it to be taken wrong. I don’t want to be judged. Here it goes…

1561897199618_verse_image.jpgWhile my son is absolutely important to me and I know he is a blessing from God Himself, my children don’t define who I am. Jesus does. My son’s choices are his own. I hurt when he hurts, from a place of empathy. I want his anguish to be relieved and I will do absolutely everything in my power to be sure he is getting the help he needs and that we as a family are also getting the help we need.

This isn’t about abandoning someone I love in the midst of their pain, or even boundaries, or rising above energy that doesn’t serve me. This is about wrapping my arms around him, praying for him, seeking the necessary therapy, and resting in the love and peace of Jesus as I do what is wise and necessary for my boy.

I’m doing my part. Not perfectly. Not without a learning curve and mistakes. I’ve had to ask for forgiveness. I’ve had to give forgiveness. And I’ll have to keep learning, every single moment of every day. And I’m going to keep resting in Jesus. It’s not that I’m confident about what the future holds on earth, but I have hope because of Christ, and for that, I am humbled and deeply grateful.

Until next time,

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If you or a loved one are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts and need help, please reach out the the Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 – they are available 24/7 to help you and have been a help to our family several times.

What She Shouldn’t Have to Know

I’m always trying to make things with the kids. Today, we made homemade pretzels – 20190227_154206.jpginspired by a friend’s post a few days ago. They turned out yummy and we got to have a little science lesson about how the crust on a pretzel turns brown. (We didn’t quite get ours as brown as “normal” but they turned out tasty and browner than bread.)

We were all twisting dough into shapes and having a blast with it, competing to see who could make the most pretzel-y looking pretzel, when my sweet 6-year-old tapped me on the arm.

“Mom, look, look what I made. It’s one of those…” She blanked.

“Like a Chiari ribbon?” I tried to fill in.

“No, for hanging yourself,” Sadness in her expression, she pointed at it.

I was frozen in the thickness in the air, staring at her ribbon-pretzel, and I swallowed hard.

Her sweet big brother chimed in, “Yeah, suicide awareness!” and smiled big at her, so she could smile too.

“If we had the right colors, we could paint it. Purple and teal, right Momma?”

I nodded, “We sure could baby girl.”

She let me know she wasn’t going to cook it that way, because she wanted to make an ‘R’ and she went back to the work before her.

And I begged God to keep my legs beneath me and my tears at bay as I worked with the dough in my hands. You see, we have these conversations so often in our home, about suicide, and suicide awareness. We have to, as we nearly lost one of our kids to suicide. I am typically the one that starts them – which means I pick the time and the setting and I get to pep talk myself into the moment. This one caught me off guard. She shouldn’t have to know about this just yet. Sure, sure, in a few years. But she is 6 years old.

But we do know. We all know and we can’t erase or ignore what we know, what we’ve seen, what we’ve walked through. Thank God we haven’t walked through it alone. Thank God we’ve always had a hand to hold, His faithful peace and presence, and friends to love on us.

I often have to remind myself of the hard things I’ve been through in the past, and how those very hard things have shaped who I am, and how those things become part of my personal statement about who I am becoming. Sometimes the hard things require some undoing and unlearning and new learning to reach for who I am becoming. But sometimes they are just part of the story.

Looking back on hard moments in my life, I see how short-lived most of them were. I also see how faithful God is to use our deepest pain for His greatest glory. It’s not always easy, and it’s not usually the way I would have chosen, but His ways are higher than mine, and I surrender to His purposes and plans.

She shouldn’t have to know. But she does. And since she does, I’m going to teach to her look for God in the hardest moments, and to wait expectantly for the good things He will do in and through a hard situation. Not just her, of course. But each of the precious children God picked for me.

Tomorrow, I’ll pull her into my lap and hold her close. I’ll talk to her about the ribbon she made and what it means to her. I’ll apologize for my quiet response and held back tears. I’ll tell her how those moments can sneak up on a Mommy and we don’t always know what to do with them. And we’ll talk about how much we love each other, and how much Jesus loves us. And we’ll talk about her brother and how much we love him, and how much Jesus loves him. And she’ll put me on the spot with some really hard questions, that she asks a lot, often. Some of them I can answer. Some of them, I cannot answer.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide or just not feeling safe, you can call 1-800-273-8255 and talk to someone who is willing to help you through.

Until Next Time,

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