This is the conversation that matters: Kitten makes me think {trigger warning for suicide}

This weekend is one of terrible memories, and beautiful, loving memories, and pain and joy and confusion and grief for my friend. Talking to her today, reminded me again that there is no correct way to grieve, and absolutely no one way to grieve a suicide. The only thing I know for sure, is we need to be and feel freer to talk about suicide. We need to be more open about this thing that robs so many people of their lives and people they love.

We need to stop talking about selfishness, and weakness and giving up. We need to start talking about fear and vulnerability and pain. We will always be afraid of suicide. It is complex and terrifying, and to think about a person being in that place, where it makes sense, where it is the only option, challenges everything we know about life. The thing is, that is even more reason to talk about it, to drag it out of the shoe boxes and closets we hide it in. We need to take our fear about this kind of death and bring it out into the open, where it can be poked and prodded and explored. We can’t let our fears jeopardize the life of  that person, in that place, who needs some kind of contact, or some kind of love or lack of judging, or whatever they need.

A veteran died a few days ago, in a particularly horrific and documented way. He posted pictures of his suicide in progress to Facebook. Obviously this just magnifies the terror and pain that his family feel, but somehow he wanted people to know. He wanted people to understand that he could not do this any more. He needed to share what was happening to him. You can never go back and change how things happened, but I can’t help thinking that maybe, if there had been space and understanding, he could have talked about it before he went into an alley and ended his life. If he was so desperate to make people see what he was doing, it makes me think that perhaps he had wanted to talk about it before, but didn’t know how, or didn’t think anyone would listen or understand, or just didn’t know who to go to. After this happened, his friends and fellow marines started posting messages to each other that they were there if anyone needed to talk. They were offering support to each other, at any time, in any place. Maybe he did not know that that was available to him. Maybe suicide was so shameful to him (as it is for many people) that he didn’t think he could reach out. Maybe his death will mean that one man or woman will be able to find someone to talk to. Maybe even in a climate where suicide is a topic not to be discussed, these veterans will provide the service to each other that the government and the military cannot seem to provide.

My friend wanted to know if I thought she whined about her loss too much, or that people thought she talked about the person she lost to suicide too much, and I thought, how can you call your grief process whining? How can you think you are doing this wrong if you are still going on with your life, and still breathing, and still loving people? Even if you aren’t doing all that well, how can your process of grief be wrong? My friend is being open and honest and refusing to put her sister into a hidden box. She is bringing the love and the tragedy out into the world. She is refusing to buy into the shaming and hiding that surrounds so many people lost to suicide. By her actions, she is breaking up the layers and layers of stigma and deception that cover up so many of the lives lost this way. She is forcing us to have a conversation about suicide, one that is long overdue.

I told her that maybe her openness would create the space for that conversation, and maybe just one person will feel like they can talk about what is really going on in their head. Maybe she can make it safe for just one person to open up to someone. It is cheesey and clichéd, but so damn true, that maybe she can prevent just one person from dying like this, and that would be worth more than any thing I can think of. Maybe life is a gift that she and her sister can give to someone else.

Maybe that can be what the veteran gives to us, and to his brothers and sisters in arms. I hope that his family choose, as part of their grieving, to be open, to share, and to work toward advocating for support for people like this man, who needed so much more than was available. I hope that the marines who posted messages of support to each other keep talking. I hope they are willing to act on their suspicions and ask a person they think is in trouble if they are ok, if there is something they can do, if they can be there to listen. If they can’t do this, then I hope that their grieving helps them, because it is not their responsibility to fix this. I just hope that some people will be as brave as my friend, and will make this something that we can talk about, that this becomes something that people can be open about, and that we lose something of our fear that talking about suicide will make it worse.

This is a hard time for my friend, but what she doesn’t know, is that in dangerous times I have thought about her, and the real implications of what I wanted to do, and that I then chose not to do it. I told someone what was in my head, and I got love and acceptance and support, and some pretty swift action, and that somehow penetrated the layers of crap I was under. I asked and I got help, and I know that is ok, and that it can be the start of living. I want other people to know that too, and that they can ask the person they think is in trouble too. I want people who ask and answer to have the  resources they need, to help, and to be OK themselves. There is no way to stop this every time. We need to understand the reality that this is sometimes a fatal illness. Some people don’t make it, they are worn too thin, but there are moments, and windows and opportunities, and if we shut up with our fear, we will miss them.

Thank you to my friend, and to everyone who is having this conversation.

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Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project, or, yes, I made it to the kitchen today.

bfmh14-copy-e1388959797718“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.” 

There are pretty much 6 people who read this blog. Once you realize how long this post is, that may start to make sense.

When I started it, I just needed a place to write. I really needed a space, but I didn’t really need an audience. I get a little jump when someone comments, or I get an email saying that someone follows this, but this was primarily a little place for me, and I had no fancy paper notebooks to work with, and my handwriting sucks. Really, it does.

I wanted to write this post, as part of the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project, because I think that while it is great that all sort of celebrities are announcing their mental health status, I don’t know that that really helps people on a day to day,  oh god how am I going to get all the way to the kitchen, I’m so tired my teeth hurt, basis. In my experience, the only thing that really does that, is knowing people who have lived through that, made it to the kitchen and lived to tell about it. Today, I made it to the kitchen. You can do this.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar II in 1992, after a not very successful trial of anti-depressants made it fairly obvious that I did not have unipolar depression. I spent 8 weeks in hospital getting used to lithium and also getting used to the fact that there was a name for the thing that caused me to lose my marbles on a fairly regular basis, and that that name was not just “tired” or “energetic”.

I spent my 20 year “crazy” anniversary in the hospital too. I’ve been hospitalized seven times in 20 years, which is pretty freaking low, given how things have gone. I have had good treatment, mediocre treatment, and downright horrible treatment. I had the best possible psychiatrist, but then she retired last year. I have taken at least one of almost every class of medication that has ever been even hinted at for BP, including one that is supposed to be for Parkinson’s Disease (that one, for the time being, is working).

I fought an uphill battle with self-harm. Mostly, I won. There are occasional skirmishes. I don’t beat myself over the head with them anymore.

I have significant kidney damage from medication, and it probably won’t get any better than this. I know where every public washroom in the entire city is located, and if I don’t know, I can find one. It is my superpower.

I wrote cranky blog posts about things I found completely unfair about living with mental illness, days when I really wished I could shuffle off this mortal coil without disturbing anyone, and things that are awesome (like peer support and friends).

In and between all of that, I did the following:

  • Got bachelors degree in physical anthropology and human evolution
  • Got college diploma in Early Childhood Education
  • Got bachelor of Education degree
  • Taught elementary school for 8 years
  • Got master of Educational Technology degree
  • Got married
  • Worked for an educational company designing online courses
  • Gave lectures to mental health professionals about lived experience
  • Got unemployed
  • Made really good friends in the physical world and online
  • Learned cross stitch
  • Knit a whole bunch of socks

(Resume available on request. I really need a job, just in case you were wondering. I’m not really trying to advertise.)

Being bipolar is not all of what I am, but it is a huge part of how I became this person. This has been with me my whole life, and it has shaped every decision I have made, and influenced all of my choices. I learned (slowly, and with great reluctance) how to be self-reflective. I learned compassion. That was supposed to apply to me too, but I have not quite got the hang of that yet. Further updates as events warrant. I learned that not only do I have a voice, but I really want to use it. I learned how to be kind. Again, not so much to myself, but I have to leave some startling growth spurts for my 40’s, right?

I also learned how incredibly cruel ignorance is, and how ignorant people really are. I learned what it is like to be marginalized and humiliated for something that is beyond your control. I learned how privileged I am to be a white, well-educated woman, from the right kind of family, when I interact with the mental health system. I learned how dangerous it is to be part of a minority against whom it is still socially acceptable to discriminate. I learned that stigma is a Human Resources issue, and discrimination is a Legal Department issue. I learned that fighting stigma is probably a good thing, but that fighting discrimination and harassment is more important. I learned that people change their behaviour when they have to, and not because you have a good argument.

Other Things I learned:

  • The whole “baby steps” thing is infuriating, but sometimes it actually works.
  • If you can’t get out of bed, put one foot on the floor. Then, if you drag it back under the covers, at least you can say you accomplished something.
  • Practice forgiveness, not in a religious way, but in a “I can let go of this thing I am beating myself over the head with today” way. It is liberating
  • Accept help. No one is so awful that they don’t deserve help. There is no way you are that undeserving, no one is. Humans are worthy, just because.
  • One of my favourite quotes is from Jenny Lawson (the Bloggess, read it. No, really read this blog, and also read Hyperbole and a Half). She says depression lies, and she is right.

Things I like:

  • online virtual worlds
  • Science fiction
  • DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy)
  • coffee (not the best thing for someone with an anxiety disorder, but there’s decaf, and that doesn’t suck as much as you would think)
  • Twitter
  • Politics
  • My cats

Things I know now:

  • I’m a pretty decent person
  • I can be useful
  • Panic can only last so long
  • I am 100% successful at not dying so far

If you made it this far in the post, I am truly impressed, and a little bit grateful (ok, a lot grateful). This is not something that people can do alone, and having someone read what you write is both scary and empowering. The Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project is incredibly important in that respect, and I hope that you go and read a whole bunch of stuff that people have written, and scare and empower them.