Out of the Darkness Experience 2020 – Oct. 24th!

To My Team & Everyone Else (I’m all inclusive like that!):

The Central Texas Out of the Darkness Experience (aka the Walk) – “a journey of remembrance, hope, and support that unites our communities and provides an opportunity to acknowledge the ways in which suicide and mental illness have affected our lives and the lives of those we love and care about” is this Saturday, October 24th.

The walk officially runs between the hours of 9 AM to 1 PM.

You choose your location, the distance you want to travel (a good time to check that mailbox or meander over to the 7-11 (Wag-a-bag if you’re in the Round Rock area – you do you, you special ray of walking sunshine)), and your start time. This year you won’t have to search around for a parking spot or fight the crowds downtown. This year you support a cause in your own way – just make it Saturday or lie about it later. Who will know? (Your conscience. That’s who will know.)

Have you wanted to join, but not felt like hassling with the official website?

Well, my friend I have a deal for you! You can now join my team off the books. (Psst, you always could. You knew that, right?) What can I say? I mean, call me magnanimous, benevolent, generous, altruistic, kind, incredibly damn sexy – you could go on and on, I know. No seriously, go on – keep that flattery coming. I mean, I’ve never actually had my own sycophant, so consider this your audition. Genuflect? Why, thank you! Who am I to insist you stand? Just avoid the hassle of officially signing-up to walk for my team. Online forms, am I right? And don’t give a second thought to the fact that I want the biggest team, nor that I will judge you if we’re #2 in number of walkers and your laziness kept me from another framed award. Hey, at least you’re saving yourself from an unsolicited email or 500 by joining that way AND you’re still walking. I’m here for you.

BUT whether you’re an official walker or one of the more covert, off-the books walker, here’s my ask (serious face now):

  • Send me a photo of you walking that day. This will be used in a post-walk collage. I may post it, so if you don’t want your image shared, let me know. I do still want to see your face.
  • I want to do a video where my walkers (you) pass something to another person. This can be related to the walk, your feelings, or Jay. If you’d like to participate, here’s my ask:
    • You receive the item from the right (a heart, a candle, a photo of Jay (contact me if you need a photo) or whatever you want to do.
    • You pass your item to the left
    • You say why you’re walking (or you can be silent, too), but if you choose to speak think of saying something along the lines of why you walk. It could be fairly simple/short: “I walk to raise awareness.” “I walk for Jay.” “I walk to keep Beth from hunting me down and giving me the socially distant stink eye.” Or say whatever you feel – it could be the lyric of a song, a poem (I dig slam poetry), you could sing, play an instrument – go crazy (please, don’t go crazy – that would be wildly inappropriate)
    • Hold each movement for a beat or two: The receiving action, the holding the item for the camera action, and then the passing action.
    • The video should be between 5-10 seconds (unless you’re singing, you sing! Take all the time you need! You’ll likely be the feature, and I will genuinely applaud you – seriously, I would – I’m not opposed to someone more talented and creative doing something bigger – if it comes from the heart, it will be amazing)
    • The video can be filmed on your phone. I will provide upload info – just let me know you have the video ready.
    • Let me know if you will participate in this part.

Are you ready to walk on Saturday?!?

Also, real quick: a huge thanks guys for making this virtual walk so successful – whether you’ve agreed to be a walker, you’ve donated to AFSP, or you’ve sent words of encouragement. It’s all appreciated!

I love you guys! You’re the best! Especially you. You’ve always been my favorite.

Available in 100’s of Colors (or Nine)

As many of you may have noticed after my writing 1000 million posts (you’re quite observant), for the past three years I’ve organized a team to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This year I had some big ideas for fundraising, but thanks to a global pandemic (thanks, Covid!!!) I struggled with creativity.

However, my friends Anna and Jonathan did not!! (They never do. Show offs.)

Please enjoy their fundraising video for AFSP and the Out of the Darkness Walk below. It’s clever and it also features some of my very favorite people and nephews!

It’s not too late to donate. For $3 you get one of these lovely mask lanyards in 100’s (9) colors! Information for making a donation can be found in the description on the YouTube video site. Just scroll down!

Author of Your Own Story

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a lot happening out there as we enter into our 8th month of this pandemic. Whether we’re talking about the election, jobs, relationships, racial issues – there’s a great deal of uncertainty – anxiety as we’re faced with questions like “what happens next?” “Who are we when we re-emerge into this brave new world?”

Watching or reading the news, whether it’s from a major news outlet or a more easily digestible FB filter, it doesn’t look uplifting. Even Some Good News only had eight episodes before it was sold. Did the good news go away? Every day the news shows us a world that’s on fire both literally and figuratively. We’ve cloistered ourselves for months – afraid to move as we watch all of this unfold behind the lace curtains of our protected bubbles (if we’re fortunate enough to have them). We watch our nation struggle. We watch our friends and family struggle. We watch the social unrest and social injustice.

It’s easy to feel like the world has become unmoored.

We’ve changed our lives in ways we could have never imagined. We’ve lost that pep in our step. We approach life more cautiously – with greater trepidation – uncertain of our futures. It’s easy to feel helpless – to feel like you’re drowning and unable to make a change.

And that’s what I want to talk about. Change.

There’s a lot wrong in this world that we can’t fix, but what we absolutely can affect are things within our sphere of influence. I cannot fix complex issues like social unrest, but I absolutely can use my voice, and I can take steps at a local level to bring about change. I can choose to leave an unhealthy relationship, to find a more satisfying job, to ask for help when I struggle; that’s my personal sphere of influence. Your choices are within your own sphere of influence.

I know, change is scary. It represents leaving something comfortable – something familiar to step potentially into the unknown. It represents risk, and let’s face it, we can be pretty risk adverse. When confronted with the possibility, we run through the “what ifs.” It’s the “what ifs” that point to the possibility of face-planting failure that tend to get the most airtime in our thought bubbles. I mean, if we can just pump the breaks and sit in our comfortable world, even if that world is untenable, at least we aren’t risking the failure. Oh yeah, and we’re also not growing.

I think many of us have gotten into a bad habit of imaging the worst case scenario, but something I’ve started working on personally is imagining the best case scenario. What would it look like if I succeeded? What would it look like if I took the chance, put in the work, and then I was happy?

What would your life look like if you stuck your neck out and took that chance?

I sometimes think about the relationship I was in before I left it for Jay, and I did leave it for Jay. It was awful, but familiar. I was with a man who let me know regularly that I was a bad person and also that I was fairly unattractive, but hey, I’d probably make a good mom. Thanks? I knew that was wrong, that it damaged me, but it was easy – familiar. I was afraid that leaving would mean I was alone – that I’d lose my shot at having kids. I was afraid of all of the unknowns. The “what ifs” and a general sense of fear ground away at my resolve.

The chance I took on Jay was petrifying. It didn’t help that many friends and family members decided it would be a keen idea to compound that a bit, and honestly there were purely awful days. But in the end I had 17 amazing years with a person who believed I was great – who told me he loved me every single day. And on Jay’s last day, the one thing he did was make sure I was as protected as he could make me before he left. It was something the Victim Services volunteers kept repeating, “your husband really loved you – look at what he did to protect you.”

I can tell you this, when I decided to take that big risk, it was worth it – it was worth all of the years of laughter and love, and it was worth the sadness and heartache that followed. It was worth leaving a terrible situation with someone who was unkind to be in a loving relationship with someone who adored me – a person who built me up – a person who believed in me.

We need to stop sitting back and accepting where we are in our lives, because we’re too afraid, because we think we can’t affect change – that we’ll fail. We need to stop shouting into the wind hoping our voices will be heard or that someone will come save the day. We need to decide we are worth taking risks for – that we’re deserving. We need to decide it’s time to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and face our fears.

This quote has stuck with me since 8th grade (and I own that it may be a bit corny but it’s something I repeat regularly):

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Frank Herbert

Another quote I love:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson

Are you going to sit back and let the world pass you by, imprisoned by self-doubt with a beer in one hand and a foot in the grave? What is holding you back from shining? From living your best life?

You are not a character in your own novel, you are the author. What is your next scene? Do you make a stand? Do you find your voice? your resolve?

Don’t sit on the sidelines hoping for change. Reach down and find your strength, find your voice, face your fears, and be the change. Identify the steps you need to take, the tools you need, and move forward.

Dare to imagine a world where you succeed – where you’re happy.

You’re worth it.

I’m worth it.

Four Years, Two Months & a Handful of Days

This is one of the rare posts that I’m not sharing on Social Media. I recognize that when I do, it’s with the intent to alert my family and friends that I’ve been writing again and I really need some “Likes” (watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix (it’s well-done) and then blame the platform developers for driving those addictive needs that I find difficult to wean myself away from).

Over the last month my posts have had a dual purpose – to raise awareness and to also raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I think both are important. However, I don’t need that today. If you feel like donating when I’m through, you can find the link.

Let’s Start

On any given day I feel ok. On any given day I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress. I’m surrounded with a solid support base. I’m handling disappointment better (a tremendous hurdle for me). To give you some idea of where I was: In the past if someone backed out of a plan, I’d be an emotional wreck. It could be as simple as, “I can’t make lunch” to “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have invited you on the Paris trip. You don’t mind if I uninvite you now, right? My bad!” Both were met with the same level of disappointment. Not going to Chuy’s for a margarita and super nachos was as heartbreaking as being uninvited from standing in the Louvre fighting for a spot to glimpse The Mona Lisa. Two things that absolutely should not be equal were equal to me, but I moved on – my sense of perspective began to normalize again. Now I can drink a Chuy’s margarita and fuss about being uninvited to Paris. Of course, I probably still can’t go to the Louvre without causing some sort of scene by trying to flip some art or kicking an unsuspecting French person who would be wholly undeserving of said kick, but yay progress. Am I right? (Hey, I said I got my perspective back in terms of “nachos don’t equal the Louvre.” I didn’t say I magically matured or that I was over having the invitation rescinded. Pro tip: Don’t make big offers to recently traumatized people then pull them back. It’s not a good look, and the reaction you get may not showcase them at their best.)

Over these four years, I’ve made other positive steps. I’ve stopped crying regularly. I do still cry, sure, but it’s not with that same frequency or intensity. I miss my person and all that he was. That’s not going away.

In these four years, I’ve gotten a better handle on my anxiety attacks, which I mentioned in a previous post.

All decent steps forward.

Sure, I’m still mad that a condition of us being together was that I had to agree to never having children. I’m mad that I find myself alone having made that sacrifice. I’m mad that I’m old. I’m mad that I was abandoned. I mad that the prospects for someone finding me attractive are non-existent and I’m mad that I will never be touched lovingly again. All of that weighs on me. All of that hurts me to my core. All of that I have to work on.

But still, I’ve made progress. I work through and manage my issues on a daily basis – just like everyone else. And I feel ok most of the time.

On Friday I was on our bi-weekly lunch call – arguably my favorite “meeting” where I get to see all the faces I miss (and all of those faces seem to give me a certain amount of grief – hrmm, I may have questionable taste). During that call, I heard a knock at the door signaling my lunch had finally arrived. YAY! Warm sandwich and a cookie! My go-to for these lunches. I don’t know what it is, but the sub shop must sprinkle their turkey sandwiches with magic. They’re crazy delicious. When I opened the door, I was surprised to see a gentleman standing there while another was leaving. Odd. He then handed me my sandwich while addressing me by my legal name. Weird. No one calls me that, and it seemed odd for the sandwich guy to even have that information. Are you…? (Umm… are you a stalker? Serial killer?) The gentleman then explained he was my postman. (I guess gone are the days of the easily identifiable polyester uniforms. I mean sure, good on them, those didn’t look comfy. No judgment. But on the other hand you kind of end up looking like my sandwich guy.) He handed me a certified letter and my lunch.

I took everything in and set it down. The letter was from my city, which usually means that the city is asking for participants in their annual water testing project. I’m usually up for that, so I opened it expecting to find the timeline and arrival of the collection bottles.

It turned out that the letter was not from their public utilities department, it was from the city’s police department. It stated that the police were in possession of my property – a claim I found both odd and completely incorrect. Unless someone stole something, the police department shouldn’t have any of my property. I wasn’t missing anything. Did someone take something from me? I searched my memory. Could I be so oblivious that I was missing something important enough for the police to reach out about? Maybe? I read further and the letter made no any sense. You see, my brain wasn’t processing the words that described the item they had listed, and that’s because I’m unfamiliar weapons – their brands or their descriptions. It’s not my world. What this letter was telling me was that the police had the weapon Jay used to complete his suicide – four years, two months and a handful of days later. The last thing he held in his hand. The letter demanded I contact them immediately and either pick it up or have it destroyed. The last thing he held in his hand. The thing that he used to take his life. The thing I told them the day of Jay’s death to destroy. The letter said I had 60 days to act – like I’d done something wrong or negligent. I reeled.

I told myself I was ok. It was only a letter describing an object.

I was not ok.

I walked over to my laptop and slammed it shut. The cheerful voices continued to dance through the speakers. I popped it back open, found the “Leave” button for the meeting, and then collapsed on the floor wailing – something I haven’t done in years. All of the pain of Jay’s death pulsing out from my body in large inconsolable waves. I allowed myself to have that moment, and then I called my people – my brother-in-law, my bestfriend, and my step-mom – each pulled me back an inch at a time – each with an immediate action plan on how to address the situation. Finally, my friend Edward offered up, “Hey, at least the cops didn’t show up with a warrant to search your dungeon basement. Does your mom know me as the guy who lives down there whom you keep demanding to cover himself in lotion?” (Silence of the Lambs reference and ongoing inside joke.) I finally laughed again. (Note: I do not have a dungeon basement that Edward lives in. This is Texas. Edward lives in my crawlspace. We don’t have basements. Also, I’M KIDDING. No Edwards were harmed – he’s too funny to hurt.)

Another friend chatted with me the next night, and helped further define my path forward – my next step, which is: I’m going to contact the police department and suggest they work with their volunteer Victim’s Services group to engage them for this type of outreach. It shouldn’t be a form letter. What they did was ham-fisted at best, and this process desperately needs improvement.

All of this said to further put a spotlight on the aftermath of suicide. It is absolutely devastating to the survivors. It ravages those left behind, taking tolls on physical and mental health. And while survivors can and will rise back up again, and again – this snapshot into a single day of my experience points out that even when we feel our strongest, we will experience momentary set-backs – unforeseen things – things that sit closer to our tears.

And it’s why I come back time and time again to express the importance of the mission of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and why I know you can make a difference – why you should make a difference – whether you’re advocating, educating or supporting with a donation. Be a part of that solution. Do it for me. Do it so future families won’t receive a letter four years, two months and a handful of days later and crumble to pieces. Do it so they never have to know that loss – that pain.

Me, I have a mission to make change. That’s my commitment.

Support

The death of Jay by suicide is the most devastating event I have yet to experience. To lose someone so suddenly, so definitively, and so needlessly ripped out a big piece of my heart. I spend a lot of time talking about the aftermath of surviving Jay’s death, about my struggles, about the struggles of other survivors in regard to blame, to shame and the stigma of suicide. I talk about the importance of putting a spotlight on mental health issues, which are critical – about supporting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. What I don’t spend time telling you enough about is the love and support I received (and continue to receive).

The day Jay died, I broke – I broke in ways that I will never get back – I broke in predictable ways – ways that a lot of survivors break. I have anxiety attacks. When those attacks aren’t managed, I can have panic attacks. These can be brought on by a stressful event, or a simple office meeting, or just watching a TV show about something as adorable/stress-free as kittens. I can be calm in one moment, and in the next, my body has just dumped a lot of chemicals and hormones into my system signaling me that we’re now in fight or flight mode. To cope, I’m now a reigning queens of breathing techniques and now have a keen ability to describe objects in painstaking detail. I do this until my brain relents and says, “Yeah ok, we’re cool – false alarm. So, how about those kittens. Huh? They’re pretty cute.”

I was angry at Jay in the immediate aftermath of his death, and like many survivors, I struggled with suicidal ideation. Why didn’t he take me, too? I felt a keen sense abandonment and that hurt me even more. We were supposed to be together. Now, to be perfectly clear, this was the manifestation of my own mental health issues that were a result of his death. I’m glad to be here. I’ll vainly put out there that I know the world is a better place with me in it. Lucky you guys!

So, let’s talk about the many things that helped me survive, and that’s all of the people who immediately surrounded me – my phalanx of friends and family who refused to leave me behind or let me fall. They began showing up at my house within a half hour of the news, and they stayed – they stayed through tears, long silences, through moments where I couldn’t focus well enough to tell them what I needed – from food to how to hold a memorial service. They sat quietly while I screamed irrationally in my kitchen, and again while I sobbed on my front porch, They forgave me when I was a little too impatient – a little too short – a little too blunt or brutal with my responses. They forgave me when I greeted their “How was your vacation?” with a low growl and the harsh toned announcement of, “I wasn’t on vacation – Jay is dead.” They forgave me when I was cruel, and there were moments where I was absolutely cruel.

One of the things I know I’ve lost is that patience – that softer edge. It’s something I work on – something I sometimes have to feign, because I want to be kind. I want to be caring again.

With my loss, I found new and amazing friends (or rather they found me) – people I knew of, but did not know. These people took me under their wing – included me in their events – introduced me to new people who were equally amazing – these incredibly good, kind, witty people with huge hearts and clubs I got to be inducted into.

My one regret, if I have one, is that I didn’t know them before and that there’s this chunk of years where I wasn’t talking to them, hanging out with them, and enjoying even more shared adventures and stories. Their generosity of spirit is awe inspiring and I cannot properly express how much I appreciate them for including me.

The bond with many of my current friends became even stronger.

The simple truth is, I would not be where I am today without the incredible support I received from my family, from my friends, and from my co-workers. I am surrounded by a great deal of love – a ton of patience and a lot of caring – people who want me to thrive – people who go out of their way to make sure that happens every single day. They’re the ones who reach out and ask, “Hey, are you ok?” when I seem a bit off or drop a silly card in the mail or agree to drive across state lines just to hang out in the mountains (and generously offer up a soft (free) landing spot in those same mountains.

When I’ve talked about suicide and how I struggled, and how other suicide survivors struggle, I did not tell you about this other side. I didn’t tell you how fortunate I felt (and still feel) – how loved I felt (and feel). But recognize that it too is part of my healing process – I could experience and recognize that love, but I couldn’t express it, yet.

So this is a thank you to all the people who are in my life – who support me. I see you. I appreciate you, and I love you.

This is also a reminder that not everyone receives the same support that I was fortunate enough to receive. And a lot of it has to do with the very real stigma associated with suicide and with people struggling with mental health issues. You can change that. You can do something to help reshape that narrative.

Today Congress passed a bill establishing 9-8-8 as the Suicide Prevention line; it’s now awaiting the President’s signature. This is a HUGE step in the right direction, and still more needs to be done. We must act now.

You can do that by helping support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention again. AFSP provides those who have lost someone to suicide the opportunity to talk with their volunteers – volunteers who are themselves survivors of suicide loss. AFSP helps survivors find support groups. It’s one of the many important services this non-profit provides, and it’s so crucial to the well-being – to the mental health – of other survivors.

And I get it, I know, you’re getting tired of these posts – tired of these conversations, but it’s important. We have to keep fighting for better access to mental healthcare. We have to keep fighting to reduce the number of suicides by 20% by 2025 (a goal AFSP has set and believes is achievable).

Please consider making a small ($10) donation to my fundraiser for AFSP.

Fundraising promise: If I personally raise $3,000 for my team, I’ll share the story about a blind date surprising me by taking me to his missed AA meeting. Good times!

On a more serious note

If you are you in a crisis: Please call 800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.

Stay well. Stay healthy. I love you all to the moon and back.

I’m Worried About Someone Who May Be Contemplating Suicide

We’re going to have a very frank talk about suicide.

Let’s start with me first.

Over the past week, since I began raising money again for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), I’ve had several people (not one, not two – several) approach me to tell me they’re concerned that someone close to them is contemplating suicide. The conversation usually begins with, “I don’t want to trouble you…” or “I don’t want to trigger you…” So, let’s clear that air.

You will not trouble me, nor will you trigger me when it comes to this conversation.

I am not fragile. I have broad shoulders. What happened to Jay is absolutely tragic, absolutely preventable, and while it breaks my heart, it does not define me – it is a piece of me. Jay would not want his death to define me; he would insist I move forward. So when I post honestly and openly about his death and its effect on me, many of you grow concerned – very concerned. Many of you worry that the wounds I choose to share are indicative of an emotional outburst of sorts. They are not. I am not broken.

I am a fundraiser.

What does that mean? It means that in order to raise funds for this extremely important cause, I must pull back the carpet a bit so you can see the impact that a single suicide has on an individual. I must display my myriad scars because if I don’t, you cannot begin to understand how devastating the loss of one person can be – one who struggled with depression – one whose pain overcame their ability to cope – to hope. If I do not open up, you cannot understand why I’m so passionate about this cause, and why it’s so very important for you to support it – this cause that strives to raise awareness, to help fund education, fund research, provide much-needed services to survivors, and to lift the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health issues. Do not mistake my ability to share these stories with you as a sign that I am sad (sometimes I am – he was my person) or that an imminent meltdown in forthcoming. It is not.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…

You can ALWAYS come to me on this issue. I will not always have the answers, but I will gladly point you to resources and to people who can.

Right now we are all working through the complications associated with this pandemic – lost wages, lost housing, a decrease in the ability to be around/get support from our community (family, friends, co-workers), etc. We’re more isolated, and we’re sitting in a perfect mental health storm. So, it’s ok to be scared, and it’s ok to reach out.

Due to the number of people who have approached me on this issue, I feel it’s important to post some information – especially for those of you who may have not wanted to come forward and talk to me (and that’s ok, too – that’s why I’m making the information easy to access).

What to Do if You are Concerned That Someone is Contemplating Suicide

Remember: Talk Saves Lives

Assume you’re the only person who is going to reach out and don’t be afraid to have the conversation. You will NOT put the idea to self-harm in their heads.

Guidance from the Mayo Clinic:

When someone says he or she is thinking about suicide, or says things that sound as if the person is considering suicide, it can be very upsetting. You may not be sure what to do to help, whether you should take talk of suicide seriously, or if your intervention might make the situation worse. Taking action is always the best choice. Here’s what to do.

Start by asking questions

The first step is to find out whether the person is in danger of acting on suicidal feelings. Be sensitive, but ask direct questions, such as:

  • How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?
  • Do you ever feel like just giving up?
  • Are you thinking about dying?
  • Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  • Are you thinking about suicide?
  • Have you ever thought about suicide before, or tried to harm yourself before?
  • Have you thought about how or when you’d do it?
  • Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?

Asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push someone into doing something self-destructive. In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings.

Look for warning signs

You can’t always tell when a loved one or friend is considering suicide. But here are some common signs:

  • Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
  • Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
  • Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above

For immediate help

If someone has attempted suicide:

  • Don’t leave the person alone.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room yourself.
  • Try to find out if he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or may have taken an overdose.
  • Tell a family member or friend right away what’s going on.

If a friend or loved one talks or behaves in a way that makes you believe he or she might attempt suicide, don’t try to handle the situation alone:

  • Get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible. The person may need to be hospitalized until the suicidal crisis has passed.
  • Encourage the person to call a suicide hotline number. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

Please also consider contributing to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They are expecting a significant shortfall in fundraising this year, and this year, when so many are in pain, it’s critical that they continue to move forward with their mission Any amount helps. If you choose to give, you can give to AFSP directly by going to their website, or you can support them through my team’s fundraising efforts: The Jay Walkers

Remember

If you need to talk about this important issue do not worry that you’re going to “trouble” or “trigger” me. You won’t. I’m always here for you.

You Can Help Stop Suicide

I belong to a fairly exclusive “invitation-only” group on Facebook – one you must be vetted first in order to join. It’s a group no one seeks membership to, but once accepted everyone is so thankful to be a member. This “elite” group is for those who have lost a spouse or partner to suicide and every single day new survivors join our group. I read their introductions: “Please welcome… who lost her husband/his wife/their partner on…” Every single day – sometimes multiple times per day. I read their sadness, their pleas for help, their confusion, their “what if’s” and their “if only’s”. Honestly, some days I just “can’t,” it’s too much, it’s too hard, and then there are days where I’m the one who is lost and seeking their hard-won wisdom, their compassion, their understanding – clarity from the scarred. No one wants to be a member of this group, but we’re grateful it exists. It’s a place where we can safely show our wounds – our sadness – without being repeatedly shut-down with, “you should go see a counselor.” It’s a place we can say freely, “I desperately miss my person,” and be ok with remembering times when our loved one wasn’t reduced to just one single, horrific event.

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week and we need to talk frankly about suicide and how you can help.

The fact is, I wasn’t planning on starting a walk group this year. Right now, there are so many very worthy causes – so many people in pain – so many people in need of assistance. Then I read a post from one of my fellow survivors – a woman who was told by her partner’s family to stop mentioning how he died because it brought the family shame.

I was absolutely appalled, but not particularly surprised by the family’s reaction.

The stigma associated with suicide is very common, and it compounds the complicated grief felt by we survivors. The truth is, we do not get the same support from our community (friends/family) as we would have had our loved one died any other way. Our loved one’s death was an embarrassment – a reason for great shame. Their deaths should be hidden, tucked away, never to be spoken of again – as if the mere acknowledgment of how they died would encourage the visit of the ugly specter of suicide to visit their own house.

And we need to stop that.

We stop that by openly talking about suicide and by talking about mental health issues. We stop telling those suffering and in need of mental health services that they are “weak” when they express the need for counseling, or psychiatric intervention. It is not, nor has it ever been, a weakness or flaw in constitution to need mental health services, much like it isn’t a weakness or flaw if I have the flu. If I break my arm, I need a doctor. No one questions that. By that same token, if I have a chemical imbalance that affects my brain such as suffering from clinical depression, I need to see a mental health specialist. That’s where we fail in our understanding (and compassion) as a society.

That must change.

..and those changes happen when we’re willing to talk openly about suicide and mental health issues.

It changes when we recognize that mental health services are as important as physical health services. It changes when we stop stigmatizing suicide – when we stop stigmatizing mental health issues. It changes when it doesn’t occur to us to ask a person whose spouse/partner/child/parent/friend died by suicide to “please not mention it.”

So, here I am again asking you to walk with me on October 24th to raise awareness. This is a virtual walk between 9AM – 1PM – you choose the location. To join the Jay Walkers click here. If you raise $100 on behalf of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP), I will send you one of our fine Jay Walkers 2020 team t-shirts.

If you can’t walk (and even if you can), please consider making a donation to AFSP at our Jay Walker’s team site here.

Whatever you do, I need you to commit to talking about mental health issues, to supporting those who have been affected by suicide, and to never attempt to silence someone from talking about their loss of a loved one to suicide. (… and a very personal note, I need you to commit to never saying or suggesting the person who died by suicide was “selfish” – no, my friend, they had a mental health crisis and could not see any other escape from their tremendous pain.)

Let’s endeavor to be more compassionate and to make a difference.

I’m leaving you with some of the latest facts/figures from the CDC:

There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.

General*

  • In 2017 (latest available data), there were 47,173 reported suicide deaths in the U.S.
  • Currently, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
  • A person dies by suicide about every 12.8 minutes in the United States.
  • Every day, approximately 129 Americans take their own life.
  • Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.
  • There are 3.54 male suicides for every female suicide, but three times as many females as males attempt suicide.
  • 494,169 people visited a hospital for injuries due to self-harm behavior, suggesting that approximately 12 people harm themselves (not necessarily intending to take their lives) for every reported death by suicide.

Depression

25 million Americans suffer from depression each year.
  • Over 50 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure rises to over 75 percent.
  • Depression affects nearly 5-8 percent of Americans ages 18 and over in a given year.
  • More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.
  • Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. But first, depression has to be recognized.
The best way to prevent suicide is through early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of depression and other mental health conditions.

*Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Let’s make a commitment right now to have open, frank, and honest discussions about mental health issues and about suicide.

I Am an Athlete

Growing up there were many things I believed without question – negative things – things that have shaped me in ways that, to this day, drive those nearest and dearest to me absolutely insane – from my family and friends who have attempted to calmly apply logic, (Beth, you can… you are…) hoping reason would give way to those who have wanted to violently shake sense into me (only to stop short after begrudgingly coming to the conclusion that it might not be the orange jumpsuit opportunity they were looking for).

I’ve spent a lifetime riddled with self-doubt, what I would smugly describe as “self-realization,” and have rarely allowed myself to pause and celebrate my accomplishments. (Although, make no doubt that I have had some glorious “WOOHOO! Go me!” moment. I’m not a complete self-deprecating monster. Come on!)

I would try to unpack all of that, but you’d be here too long, and quite frankly, you’re not paid enough (or at all – turns out I’m cheap) to try and counsel me through it. Plus, I suppose I’m reasonably nice and don’t want to completely torment you today (although, no promises for tomorrow).

But for this post, I’m going to focus on one belief, and that is: “I’m not an athlete.”

My Mom was the athlete. She lettered in basketball, speed ball, tennis, and badminton. I grew up surrounded by her trophies decorating the shelves. My Mom bowled, swam, ice-skated, and played volleyball. A good time for my Mom would be any moment she was outside playing a sport – whether she was dribbling a ball, shooting hoops, spiking balls over a net, or endlessly batting one against the garage door. She not only loved sports, she was great at sports – like the rest of her family. In fact, all of my cousins were good at sports. That’s my family.

I came into the world a little different (like we all do). By 10, I’d had three operations on my eyes to correct issues with my vision – issues that would ultimately impact my depth perception. (Mind you, I can skillfully negotiate the world and very rarely walk into all of the walls.) But as a kid, I was thrust into team sports – family tradition – sports that required that finer hand-eye coordination (that thing I lacked) – softball, volleyball, tennis, and I proved to be simply hopeless. In fact, the one summer I “played” softball was actually spent becoming intimate friends with the dugout bench (you and me to the end, buddy). Our team came in first place that year. I’m told that was largely because the Coach had the foresight to keep me off the field. (She was an asshole.)

“You’re just not athletic.” That’s what I was told. That’s what I believed.

That became part of my identity, and that was ok. I didn’t need to be an athlete.

Fast forward to the day I met my trainer and she asked, “Beth, have you ever done sports in the past?” “Not really. I was told I’m not athletic. I’ll be challenging to work with.” Months later, “Beth, you move fine. There’s nothing wrong. I’ve trained people who don’t have athletic ability, and you don’t have those issues.” Ok.

I’m not an athlete.

I work out six days a week. I’ve worked out 5-6 days a week for 5 years.

I’m not an athlete.

I’ve rowed a half-marathon on a Concept II rower. I never stopped.

I’m not an athlete.

I deadlifted 165 lbs. last week, my personal best. I think I can do 170 lbs. Other people can do more.

I’m not an athlete.

During COVID, I started training with her husband as well. He asked, “Have you ever been an athlete in the past?” I’m not an athlete. “You pick up movements quickly.” Ok.

This self-doubt came to a head last week when I basically and quite rudely announced, “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe your other, stronger clients can’t do a physical task that I can do.” “Beth, I don’t need you to believe me. Can they do that same physical task? Yes. But it will take them multiple sessions to get to where they can do it properly three times in a row. I can hand it to you and say, ‘Do that 30 times’ and you’ll do it. The only way I can slow you down to where you can only do it three times is to increase the weight. The problem isn’t that you aren’t athletic, it’s that you have no self-confidence.”

Oh.

I talked to my trainer about that, and she agreed about my self-confidence. I then asked, “What would I have been good at if I’d discovered I was an athlete when I was younger?” She thought about it, and never said volleyball, tennis or softball (the sports I had been thrown into). Instead, she said: “Track – you probably would have been a good hurdler, distance jumper, sprinter, swimmer (which makes me miss swim lessons all the more), or even a defender in soccer.”

My DNA shows I have fast-twitch fibers, like Dad’s side of the family – muscles built for quick/powerful movements – not for stamina. I suspect Mom’s side was built for endurance. I wish we’d figured that out decades ago – that I was never going to be an athlete like her, but I definitely had athletic ability. Sure, I was never going to catch or hit balls (my eyesight wouldn’t allow it). I wasn’t going to run endlessly back and forth across a court. I was different, but I had innate ability.

I’ve spent too much time letting myself believe that “different” meant “incapable,” and that was never true. I just wasn’t an athlete like one parent.

The truth is: I am an athlete.

I say this on the 5th anniversary of training with Jenn.

I am an athlete.

And it doesn’t matter that I don’t look like one to you or perform exactly the same.

I breathe it in every single morning I wake up.

I am an athlete.

A Humble Brag, Mentoring and Some Things I Learned From the Military

When life hands you lemons, humble brag. At least that’s what I was taught. Hey, blame the Texas State Board of Education. We’re ranked #39 in the nation, y’all! (Just be happy I can write words is what I’m trying to get across here.)

Clearly, in what is about to turn out to be the world’s worst analogy, the lemons are the pandemic. You know the one currently preventing me (fine, I suppose it’s preventing you, too) from having grand adventures and sharing them. Which in turn prevents me from having material to write about. (Aside: Really, does no one want to drive to Colorado in two weeks?!?! I have two weeks off! C’mon! We’ll have a great time. We’ll stay in a lovely Air BnB in the Rockies. You’ll remain mostly unseen and unheard so I can zen out properly in the cool mountain air, and we’ll do it together yet separately! How can you resist? Seriously? No one is on board? Bring a book. You’ll be fine.) So, back to the lemon logic trail where I offer my services as your humble, yet extremely knowledgeable guide – a Willy Wonka of lemonade adventures, if you will (please don’t drink from the stream and mind the Oompa Loompas – they’re rather fussy as it’s kind of hot outside). Basically, I’m saying that I’ve been forced to humble brag. You see that logic, right? The “if p, then q” of it all. Look, I don’t like it any more than you do. Ok, I lied, I’m the one humble bragging (or about to). So, who are we kidding here? I’m about to enjoy the heck out of it. Also, I’m kind of loving this stream-of-conscious rambling I’m doing. I wasn’t sure where I was going and suddenly, I found myself here with you. Hooray!

Story Time

Let’s start with storytime where we reach back into the past – a past where I was much shorter, thinner, arguably quieter, and much more studious.

I started tutoring/mentoring in 4th grade when I was paired with my first student – a 1st grader struggling with math. By 7th grade I had Tabitha, a fellow 7th grader, who struggled with reading comprehension. (By year’s end she had gone up from a 4th-grade level to a 7th-grade reading level. Go team us!!)

I dropped mentoring for a long while until a couple of years ago when I mentored this wonderful young 3rd grader (who grew into a wonderful young 4th grader) as part of a program to help kids who had at least one parent who was incarcerated. She was absolutely delightful, and we spent a good portion of our time together elbow deep in science projects (she had mentioned to me she wanted to be a scientist). I introduced her to the scientific method-lite – “Here’s what we’re going to do – what do you think will happen?” FYI – she was almost always correct when she’d hypothesize about an outcome, and let me just say I shouldn’t have doubted her when she sent up all sorts of warning that my water balloon project was going to fail. It actually failed so badly that a custodian had to get involved (whoops).

Each week we’d almost always had a collection of other kids around us as we worked and made gloriously fun messes. For the record, I’m now an expert on slime – I can make at least three different types (who knew there were so many), and I make the best ghetto volcano out of a paper bag, water, red dye, and a little baking soda (THE go-to kitchen ingredient for almost all at-home science projects – pro tip there).

(Complete aside: I’m suddenly wondering if “ghetto” is not ok to say anymore. Huge apologies if I just blew it.)

In looking back, I’ve always been fairly successful (humble brag) with students, and I credit my soft skills – my lightheartedness, my approachability (John, what are some other adjectives to describe my awesome? Humbleness? Humility?). I can project a certain warmth, and truly I get this from my mom’s family and from my Dad – each one of us has this to some degree, and in truth, I’m not the best of the family, but I hang in there.

Over the past few months, I’ve had an intern assigned to me at work – a young frat guy, former HS president, former all-state goalie named Elijah. A wonderful young man with a big heart, a big smile, and this wonderful staccato laugh – and very much a 20-year-old “dude.” My job, as outlined, was to get him used to working in an office environment. On day one, I explained my role, and every week thereafter we got together to talk about his projects, his challenges, and go over the best parts of his week.

Fast forward to last week, which was an awful week – just terrible in so many ways, and I received a message from John (the Tank Commander – former boss – you’ve heard about him once or twice – see two paragraphs above – oh trust me, he likes being called out – gets all giddy and tingly – yes, in that way) letting me know that Elijah was about to give his final presentation to our CIO and the entire department. I hop on the call and within minutes he’s up – grinning from ear to ear while wearing a suit (awesome – he got props for that from the CIO, too – he looked sharp – and he made his bed, too 🙂 ). I watched with my own matching goofy grin as he talked about his experience over the Summer, and then he flipped to a slide devoted just to me. Elijah smiled his big smile (he’s a charming guy) and basically gushed about how I was the most amazing person at the agency – that I was the person he could count on – that he felt comfortable coming to me for anything whether it was about work or personal issues, and that the highlight of his week was our meetings. I was so proud of our collaboration. You know that moment where you punch yourself in the shoulder and count it as a win. My team lead teased me relentlessly through our IM chats. I think it was jealousy.

The week prior I had told Elijah that I was so lucky to have had him as my intern – my mentee and that I wasn’t sure I would have paired as well with anyone else. Elijah thought about that a second and said, “No, you would have – you make people feel comfortable good – you would have done that for anyone – I’m just lucky to have had you.” Awww.

And my true humble brag, though not quite so humble, is that I am actually good at mentoring. My approach, which is fairly light-hearted, works well and I’m really proud – I’m proud of me, I’m proud of Elijah, and of all the people I’ve worked with over the years. (And thankful for my own mentors, who probably helped in there somewhere, but this isn’t about them, John. Stop trying to get praise. FYI, Elijah also did gush about John, too. John and I air high-fived in chat and then bragged about it later – in case anyone had failed to hear the praise. John is very smart, by the way – Elijah said so, AND Elijah mentioned John’s colorful analogies. Knowing John got a little concerned that Elijah would share, made that moment priceless.)

I’m going to change subjects real quick, but I’ll tie it all back in.

This is a bit of a random thought, but I put it in the title and we all know that backspace doesn’t work in titles.

I work in a field with a lot of ex-military folks, and a thing I’ve had drilled in my head is that my failure is their failure. By that I mean, if someone came to our unit and said, “Beth dropped the ball.” My team lead would get in front of me and say, “This is on me, not her” and then his boss would get in front of him and say, “This is on me, not him or her.” Then they will take all those lumps while you watch because they have failed you as a leader.

There’s absolutely nothing more horrific than seeing someone take a flogging over something you did. If you’re a normal human being, and you’ve seen that happen, and it was preventable, it will make you feel sick knowing they are standing there, barely flinching with each hit, and you caused that. Also, knowing someone will take that beating engenders loyalty. I know with absolute certainty that they will go to the mats for me, and they know I will go to the mats for them (though they would never let me). And the truth is that right now, in my current job, I don’t have a management structure, I have a command structure, and I love my leaders. It’s why I followed them to a new agency.

I also happen to know my team well enough that when they suddenly begin to embody their former ranks – transitioning from boss to “CPT” or “SFC,” I sit very quietly and attentively.

I’ve known this awhile and hadn’t realized I embraced it until this week with Elijah. I had received some feedback from some other employees that we needed to discuss and after considering his response, I found myself saying, “No, this isn’t your fault – this is our fault for not training you – it’s our job, and we let you down,” and in return Elijah said those magic words, “Beth, thank you for always having my back.”

In the broadest strokes, it’s what a mentor does. We teach, we lead by example, and we always have your back; it’s our job.

Random Thoughts in July

One of the essential ingredients when writing posts based solely on personal anecdotes is that you really must have personal anecdotes in order to write. That’s not me – not now. It turns out that spending 1/3 of your year inside your home with very limited human contact means you just aren’t out generating the anecdotal content. Who knew? As I contemplate this post, I flip through my mental Rolodex of story topics, and all I find are: “Shows I’ve Marathoned” “Top Ten Naps”and “Things that Were Assembled/Destroyed” (which is arguably the best of the options, but still not that great). There’s a slightly more fun group of stories that fall under “Things I Can’t Share.” (Who knew that would ever be a thing?) Unfortunately, as you probably guessed, it turns out I can’t share those.

I genuinely feel guilty. While I don’t write a ton, I still feel I’m letting some people down. Ok, maybe it’s just that one guy, but hey, he’s important! Don’t knock “one guy” or his questionable taste! To each his own. Worry about yourself!

I withdrew from Facebook for a couple of months; it was amazing – possibly the best gift I could give myself in this particular moment in history. I could throw a lot of words at you as to “why,” but it really came down to “I needed a break.” I needed a break from my daily “liking, loving, caring, OMG-ing, sad face” chores, which were both mind-numbing and exhausting. I needed a break from everyone being so angry – a break from sitting in my entitled little echo-chamber where none of us are even pretending to entertain anyone else’s points of view. We’re just mad.

I needed a break from feeling that real change isn’t brought about by posting and re-posting and re-posting other people’s words or through catchy memes or viral videos. Real change doesn’t come from framing my profile picture with a “popular in the moment” slogan. That’s “easy.” That’s the path of least resistance. Right now “easy” isn’t enough. We need to do. But it’s really hard to “do” when “doing” puts our lives at risk. It puts our elderly, and medically fragile family member’s lives at risk, and that frustrates me beyond measure – and I just couldn’t walk that path in that echo chamber with my friends and family, beating my head against the same invisible walls over and over again while feeling helpless and a bit inept.

I needed a break from feeling like I was in some “woke-off” with my peers.

So, I quit, and then I wrote a letter to a former president imploring him for guidance, like you do when you’re feeling low, and I’m sure it’s sitting at the bottom of a mountain of other messages, but a girl can dream.

I cried, but the act of writing him was cathartic.

When I came back to Facebook several cheered. I’m liked for my “likes” – not because I was a sorely missed or even needed voice, and that’s ok. My posts offer no wisdom. They’re quite vapid and inane, and that’s ok, too; it’s all I can give to that space.

So, in a nut-shell that’s where I’m at. I’m in the same place I was a month ago, and the month before that, and the month before that.

I miss my friends. I miss my family, but maybe not enough to add another Zoom or WebEx call to my day. I’m so sorry, guys! I yearn for the day I can do something with you, not try to walk you through how to look at the camera. My eyes are up here, people!!! Plus, to be honest those calls really drive home how apart we are, and for now there’s not a lot that can be done.

As for future posts…

I missed an opportunity to post during Mental Health Awareness Month. If there’s ever been a time that people needed to be reminded about available resources, it’s now. With the anniversary of Jay’s death occurring next week, I’ll try to get one up. I’m trying to weave together a few personal observances in relation to that, but so far I haven’t quite worked out what I want to say. Actually, that’s what this post started out as, but after a ton of virtual white out and eraser streaks you got some vague, “I guess Beth doesn’t really care for Facebook” post. Sorry about that. I mean, yes I don’t care for Facebook, but that wasn’t the post I started to write. It’s the post that emerged from my writing cocoon. I was really hoping for a butterfly.

In lieu of a butterfly, I’ll end with a small taste of “Things That Were Assembled/Destroyed.” Huge thanks to these guys for helping me say goodbye to my dilapidated murder shed. Jim’s victory pose at the end is worth the 10 seconds of viewing.