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!

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.

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.

We’re Nearly There: The Importance of Community

My grandfather died when I was 16 years old. I have no real memory of him – no endearing stories of “the time when Grandpa and I…” I’ve heard I once sat next to him on a piano bench, and that he was very sweet to me, his only grandchild at the time, while I listened to him play. I imagine toddler me probably helped with my chubby toddler fingers plunking away at the keys beside him while we shared our musical moment, creating a piece no one had heard before, nor will ever hear again. A perfect grandfather/granddaughter sonata as only a grandfather and grandchild can create.

By all accounts, my grandfather was quite an accomplished musician who played upwards of 17 instruments. I’ve only been able to play 5 proficiently. I still hope to add a couple more. While your bucket list may have “Tuscany,” mine has “cello.”

When he died, we weren’t informed. No one knew he had a family. There wasn’t an emergency contact the care facility had on file. In fact, we actually didn’t learn he’d passed until almost ten years after the event when my Mom started tracking him down.

My grandfather was laid to rest in a pauper’s grave in Henderson, Texas, where there is no headstone marking the site – only a number. His name was James, but maybe he went by Jim or Jimmy to his friends and family. I’ll never know because I only met him once.

My grandfather didn’t do anything to our family to deserve this end other than suffering from paranoia and schizophrenia. The reason I didn’t know him is that he spent the majority of his adult life in an institution. We didn’t visit. When I asked about him, asked what he was like, my Mom would say she didn’t want to talk about him. When I asked about his family, these great aunts and uncles I’d never met, his siblings, I was told they really didn’t want to have anything to do with him or us because of his mental illness. This seemed odd and a bit hurtful. We hadn’t done anything wrong that I was aware of other than be descended from their brother. How could someone judge me (or them) based on my grandfather’s illness? They didn’t know me. They had never spoken to me. Maybe they weren’t aware of the fact that my family tree isn’t a stick, and I actually have a lot of DNA from fairly diverse pools – not just his or his family’s. His descendants aren’t actual clones. I’m not his clone. Hey, the science of the time just wasn’t there. But apparently because he suffered from a mental illness, I’m not worthy of knowing. I’m not going to lie to you, I’m pretty delightful. I’m also exceptionally modest.

I’m aware of only one photo of him. I found it while on one of my extra-nosey Nancy Drew adventures looking for clues within my Grandmother’s framed photos. I would pop open the backs and look for hidden photos. And that’s how I found him – this young and serious face peeking back at me. A lost memory freed. I took the photo to my grandmother and tween-girl me demanded, “Who is he?” I expected to hear a story about an old friend. Maybe a cousin, or perhaps a boyfriend from college? “That’s your Grandfather.” I was stunned. I just stared at his photo – this stranger who is part of my story whom I don’t know anything about. My only real and tangible memory of him was discovering this one image. It’s now in my frame, displayed on my shelf – no longer hidden.

My Mom learned from his caseworker at the institution that my grandfather was well thought of – that he was a kind and gentle man, and that they had been saddened by his loss.

Over the years, I asked about his mother, my great-grandmother, and learned she’d also died in an institution. I always believed, and likely made-up, that she was institutionalized in North Carolina – that the family had left her behind when they moved to Texas. When I started digging for details, I discovered that not only was she a native Texan, but she was institutionalized in Austin – in a set of buildings that I had worked in. She died at 48 – in those same buildings – buildings whose halls I’ve walked through – buildings where I sat at a desk on a campus where she’d likely looked out upon from a window or even strolled through, as I have.

I taken aback, because I had no idea. We didn’t talk about her. Her illness was a mark on our family, like my grandfather’s.

I pulled up her father’s death certificate. He also died in an institution. The cause of death was from “exhaustion” after having a manic episode. It was near the three-year anniversary of the death of his daughter, my grandmother’s sister, whose death certificate indicates she had head trauma and then died… in an institution. I wanted to throw up. I had gone down this genealogical path in hopes of learning I was descended from Niall Nóigiallach or, you know, Sacagawea. I’m not picky. However, that’s not what I found. I found sadness, loneliness and abandonment in this branch.

I never knew these stories, their stories, because the stigma surrounding all of them, all of their struggles, was so awful that no one dared to openly talk about them. What would the neighbors think? What would the people at church think? What would our friends think? I have always believed my ancestors’ illnesses were a poor reflection on us – that their being ill said something terrible about me – that we would be judged by their suffering. In fact, I know that by sharing this information today, in our “enlightened” society, that some people will take what little they know about me, about things I’ve done (or will do), and they’ll now frame those actions in this particular context. “Oh, mental illness. Well, it runs deep in that family.” I even know that some people will take what they think they know about Jay and try to work my family’s personal history, something that had nothing to do with him or what happened to him, and they will try to weave it into his narrative.

Mental illness is isolating.

Most of us understand the importance of community. Just look at the word – “common” and “unity.” We thrive thanks to our community. It can give us a sense of belonging, of purpose, of identity. It bonds us together, it protects us and it provides us with support through our happiest and hardest times. Sure, there are also downsides. I’m certain the Hatfields felt a sense of community with Hatfields, and McCoys felt a sense of community with McCoys, and while the younger generations at times sought a new community, the elders weren’t having it. There’s us, and then there’s them. Go to any major sporting event, and you’ll find people, strangers, bonded together as they cheer on their team. Put those sides together at the end of the game, and riots can erupt. However, let one tragedy befall America, and we’ll cast aside political differences to come together, because we’re America. That’s also community. Incidentally, I will punch you out if you say something about Texas and you’re not from here.

There’s a reason being banished or exiled from a community is such a major punishment: the person becomes vulnerable – physically and mentally. They lose their support, they lose protection, and they lose their sense of identity/belonging – things almost all of us need to survive. At the extreme, it’s why prolonged periods of solitary confinement is so taxing on a person’s mental and emotional state. We are meant to be with a group.

We need each other to survive – to thrive.

Many times those suffering from a mental illness will not seek help – in large part, because of the stigma involved. They have a very real and valid fear that if others found out, they would be excluded from the group. Or they’d be treated to a series of denials in the form of, “You just need to buck up! Smile more! You’re not ‘really’ ill, you’re just not trying hard enough to be happy – to be well – to be sane.” So, people end up suffering and not seeking the critical medical care they need, which can lead to a series of cascading events as they attempt to address their issues on their own.

If I broke my arm, and I walked around with it hanging awkwardly at my side, wincing and grimacing with each jarring move I made, not only would family and friends try to intervene, strangers would likely stop me and say, “Honey, you need help – let me call someone.” No one would even think to suggest that if I just tried harder to have a straighter arm, it would all work out.

That’s another way we’re ignoring issues around mental illness, by telling people who suffer they’re not real.

Ignoring mental illness isn’t working.

Stigmatizing people for suffering, and stigmatizing their families, isn’t working. This failure in our society has resulted in 129 people dying each day by suicide in the US alone, and the numbers are increasing. 1 in 5 adults (20%) in America experience a mental illness. Nearly 1 in 25 (10 million) adults in America live with a serious mental illness. One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14, three-quarters by the age of 24. We are failing them.

Since my last post about this issue on September 22nd, approximately 2,838 Americans have died. People who were alive as I wrote my words who are no longer here today. It hasn’t even been a month. Of that total, approximately 440 of those have been our veterans. The men and women who have fought for our freedom – who sacrificed their personal freedom, their families, and their bodies to allow us to enjoy the lives we have today.

Approximately 2,322 Americans who are alive today will be gone by October 31st. That’s too many.

Right now those 2,322 people are struggling. Right now you can make a difference by reaching out to them, while they’re still here – before their pain exceeds their ability to cope – before they’re a statistic, before their family is writing a blog asking for your help.

You can make a difference.

My team is now $230 away from reaching our team goal of $5,000 in support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). I’m now $400 from my personal goal. I am so grateful and in awe of the support we’ve received. I didn’t tell the team, but I honestly didn’t believe we’d make it this far. A huge thanks to everyone whose been able to make a donation.

We got this far, because as a community we have banded together to say:

  • Mental Health issues are important,
  • Finding ways to curb the ever increasing number of suicides through research is important,
  • Advocacy is important,
  • Helping survivors is important, and
  • Jay is important

People have occasionally come to me for advice on how to handle complex grief. I’m truly not an expert. I still grieve. I’m still deeply wounded. But I draw strength from my community – from my family, from my friends – they refuse to let me fall.

It will take a community coming together for one last push to reach our goal. It will take a community coming together to reduce the suicide rate in the US 20% by 2025.

If you’re able, please consider making a small donation to my team: The Jay Walkers for the Out of the Darkness Walk in Austin, which will be held on November 2nd. The money goes directly to AFSP.

We’re so close and we really need your help.

My grandfather lies in a pauper’s grave, because of the misfortune of suffering from a mental illness. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter concertos went unrealized, unheard, un-laughed about. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter moments of pouring over sheets of music, digging through scores, and having someone see music the way I see music were missed. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter hugs never happened. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter political debates weren’t enthusiastically debated.

A lifetime of being seen by his family, surrounded by their love was denied this man.

The only thing my grandfather did wrong was have a chemical imbalance in his brain. For that he was punished. For that he was exiled. For that he lies in an unmarked grave.

I walk to raise awareness about mental health issues. I walk to raise awareness about suicide. I walk because they can’t.

I need your help.

They need your help.

As always, if you see someone in crisis, assume you’re the only person who is reaching out and do so. Have a Real Conversation.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

I Won’t Be Silent

I returned to work a week after Jay died. I braced myself as I headed towards my desk; I needed to be prepared to cope with the cards and flowers that people likely left there. I needed to steel myself for the outpouring of sympathy, knowing it would be hard, but well-intentioned. It’s what we did as a group – we came together to support our teammates during their times of loss or need. Plus, for the most part, people generally like me (except that one woman who clearly has no taste). Why wouldn’t I expect a big show of support?

I wasn’t prepared for what I found as I rounded that corner. I found nothing. Absolutely nothing. No cards. No flowers. No little notes. In fact, people kept swinging by to ask me about my vacation, and I stared back at them dully, unable to speak. Others avoided me (for months). In fact, I asked one months later if they knew Jay had died. They did. They explained they didn’t know what to say, so they decided to say nothing. That friendship is dead to this day.

Let me clarify something real quick: I had an incredible core group of coworkers who rallied around me and supported me completely. They attended Jay’s memorial. They sent cards, texts, and called me on the phone. But when it came to telling the rest of the team, they found themselves in an extremely awkward situation. They worried about how to share my news and they had serious concerns about violating my privacy. Their silence on the subject was well-meaning. How do you tell everyone, “Beth’s husband died by suicide?” They decided it was better to err on the side of caution to avoid causing me additional pain. No one wanted to see me hurt more.

Unfortunately, the side effect was that I did not have the usual support that one would receive after losing a spouse. So, in the absence of a conga line of teary-eyed condolence hugs and cheer-up candy from my coworkers, I began to behave in ghastly ways. I was blunt. I was harsh. I was rude. I was unforgiving and unapologetic. When asked about my vacation, people staggered out of my office backwards while stammering out their apologies. When asked in meetings, “Is everything ok, Beth?” people suddenly wanted to end the meeting early while quickly excusing themselves. I was unpleasant on a good day, and intolerable on a bad day, and there were plenty of bad days.

I finally had to ask a team member to spread the word that Jay had died, because crushing people’s “welcome back from vacation” cheer was wearing me out.

What happened to me was not atypical.

There’s a stigma around suicide and around mental health issues. We, as a society, shy away from talking about it. If it happens in your family, you keep it in the family. I mean, what will the neighbors think? (Well, in my case, my neighbor threw Holy water over the fence into my yard.) What will your friends think? What will your co-workers think? What does it say about you, your lifestyle, your family…? And talking about it, except in hushed whispers, makes us uncomfortable.

Well, if suicide makes you uncomfortable, it should.  Here’s why – it’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and it’s steadily increasing each year. In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide. That same year, in the US, there were over 1.4 million attempts. There are approximately 129 suicides per day, 22 of those are veterans. Globally, over 800,000 die by suicide annually.

We need to talk about it. Hiding it isn’t working. Silence isn’t working.

People who are struggling need help, and we’re telling them to be silent. We’re telling them there’s shame in having a mental health issue – there’s shame in suffering. However, if they had a chronic condition like arthritis or asthma or even cystic fibrosis, we’d encourage them to seek treatment. If they had cancer, we’d make referrals to well-respected oncologists. We’d offer advice. Hell, we’d become WebMD authorities and merrily hop down every homeopathic trail in hopes of getting them relief.

What we wouldn’t do:

We would never ask a person with a chronic condition to suffer silently. We would never tell them they needed to smile more. We would never insinuate they were making a choice to be ill.

And if a co-worker lost a spouse to cancer, the team would rally around them because we understand cancer.  There is no shame in having a spouse die due to cancer.

Like many people who die by suicide, Jay suffered from depression. He’d suffered since he was a teen. Convincing him to see a medical professional was a battle. It took years of talking about medical intervention, and pointing out people he knew who, like him, suffered from depression but were having success with medication. I had to work on removing the stigma of seeking help just to get him to make an appointment. And once his medications started having an effect, he said something that broke my heart, “this is the first time I’ve ever felt happy.” Imagine going your whole life without knowing or remembering what “happy” felt like.

We must keep talking about suicide. We must keep talking about mental health. We must make mental health a priority.

When I first opened-up about Jay and the impact his death has had on me, I received feedback from a couple of people. They shared their personal struggles and said they didn’t fully realize how devastating suicide was to the people left behind; that my stories had made them think. Then last week another friend, also deeply was affected by Jay’s death, shared a similar story.

That’s why we keep talking about it. That’s why we cannot and should not be silenced or marginalized. Talk makes a difference. Talk saves lives.

Last year a co-worker attempted to admonish me by saying, “I don’t think you realize how much you talk about Jay.”

I will never stop.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) will also never stop. Their mission to fund important research into the best ways to prevent suicide, to advocate, educate, and provide support to those who have lost a loved one gives me hope that they will reach their goal to reduce suicide by 20% in 2025.

I believe in their mission.

That’s why on November 2nd I am walking in the Out of the Darkness Walk here in Austin, Texas. I’ve set a goal for our team of $5,000, and a personal goal of $3,000.

I believe it’s a challenging goal, but achievable with your support.

Please help by making a donation today.

We’d also be honored to have you walk with us! Just click the link! OR consider re-posting this blog post, and tell people your story.

But no matter what you decide to do, I ask one huge favor:

Never stop talking about mental health issues. Reach out to anyone you think may be struggling (assume you’re the only person who is reaching out).

Huge thanks to those who have already signed up to walk with me, and to those who have made a donation; it means a lot, it makes a huge difference, and I appreciate each of you!

If you or someone you know is in distress, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

24/7 Crisis Hotline: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
1-800-273-TALK (8255) (Veterans, press 1)

Crisis Text Line
Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7

Veterans Crisis Line
Send a text to 838255

A Huge Favor

Well guys, we’ve reached the point in our relationship where I feel comfortable asking you for a huge favor. I know, I know, you think we aren’t quite there yet in our relationship. You feel that this is a bit soon. I mean we barely know each other, and here I am springing this on you. You haven’t had a chance to brush your hair, tuck in your shirt, or freshen up. Your parents haven’t had a chance to meet me, yet! Trust me, it will be ok. You’ll be fine! We’ll be fine together and your parents will come around and support you.

A Little Background

September 8th – 14th marks National Suicide Prevention Week, and as I mentioned previously, I’m devoting September’s posts to support that cause, and to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) who were recently named as one of the 50 Impactful Charities Serving Humanity, the Environment and Animals in Variety.

On Tuesday, September 10th the Central Texas Chapter of the AFSP are partnering with Phil’s Ice House and Amy’s Ice Cream. These businesses will be hosting an Out of the Darkness Party Time Event. Basically, they’ve agreed to give part of their proceeds from that day to AFSP. In order for AFSP to receive that donation, they need 50 people to go to one of those businesses and let them know they’re there to support AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk. Super easy!

Note: This only applies to the stores located at: 2901 S. Lamar Blvd. in Austin, Texas.

The Ask

This is extremely important to me, and I’m calling in that favor. I need you to not only go, but I also need you to help my team. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Walk, Run, Scooter, Bus, Uber, or Drive to the Amy’s Ice Cream or Phil’s Ice House located at: 2901 S. Lamar Blvd.
  • Place your order and say, “Hi! I’m here in support of AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk.” You can even add, “and I’d like fries with that.”
  • Take a selfie of you at Amy’s or Phil’s
  • Share your selfie on Social Media (FB, Instagram, Twitter, etc.)
  • Tag American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Central Texas
  • Tag Phil’s or Amy’s
  • Tag The “Jay” Walkers

The team who has the most tagged selfies has a shot at having the money credited to their team’s fundraising effort.

That’s it! Super easy, right?

Now if you’d like to do a bit more and join my team to walk with us on Nov. 2nd, you can do so here. We’d love to have you! We’ll also be having a team meeting there that night at 6:30 pm where one of our team members, who recently went through AFSP’s training, will give a presentation on how “Talk Saves Lives”.

I’m serious when I ask (beg): Please do this one thing for me; it’s really important, and it’s a great cause. Help us prevent suicides. Help us remove the stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health issues. You can make a difference by doing something as small as eating a burger with friends, and maybe just maybe you’ll save a spouse, returning home from a trip, from living through the abject horror of discovering their partner has lost their battle with depression.

Now mark your calendar, head over there on Sept. 10th, grab a burger, some ice cream (eat it quickly; it’s super hot outside), join my team, and make a difference.

Thank you!

A Great Day for a Walk

Out of the Darkness Walk 2018 – For Jay

Yesterday, 19 people – friends and family – walked in memory of Jay. Yesterday, our team joined 186 other teams in promoting the mission of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to “save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.  [They] create a culture that’s smart about mental health by engaging in the following core strategies:

  • Funding scientific research
  • Educating the public about mental health and suicide prevention
  • Advocating for public policies in mental health and suicide prevention
  • Supporting survivors of suicide loss and those affected by suicide in our mission”

To learn more about them, please follow the link provided above.

I want to take this moment to thank those who of you who sent their positive energy into the world yesterday in support of us and this cause. I want to thank those who volunteered your time and energy to be out with us on a cold Texas day. (To my friends living in the Northeast, it was cold!!! You don’t know! It was practically an arctic wasteland! Freezing. I’m sure I turned blue. I also”may” have worn four layers. Though, I suppose in all fairness, I did only plan for three, which is a perfectly reasonable amount when the temperature drops below, you know, 50 – heretofore be known as “FACT!”)

I want to thank my team who worked so hard to raise donations for this cause, and who many also contributed. We got 80 donations!! WOW!

When we started, I thought $500 would be a long shot, but I was hopeful. When we went over $3000, I was incredibly blown away and touched by everyone’s generosity.  You guys are helping to raise awareness, to fund research, and to help remove the stigmas that surround seeking help for mental illness. As we know, asking for help is never a weakness; it takes great strength.

That brings me to you guys – our donors. THANK YOU! We couldn’t have done this without your support. Several of you were kind enough to give multiple times, to multiple team members, and it all is going to such a worthy cause.

I am truly humbled by every one of you who participated.

I know over the past two years, several of you outside of my core group of family and friends have worried about me – about where I’m at in this journey, and you’ve wondered how I remained strong (sometimes, not “strong” so much as how I was able to continue to keep my head above water on the bad days, and there have been many), and to you I say look at the picture above. Look at those faces and know those are only a few of the people who have stood by me through all of the hard times. That’s my village – the people I love. They represent the ones who, when I was at my lowest moment – July 9, 2016 – stopped everything, turned their cars around, and walked through my door to create a protective shell.  We wrapped our arms around each other that day, because I wasn’t the only one who lost someone that day – Jay was a youngest son, a baby brother, an uncle, and a friend. We’re the ones left behind, and we’re the ones who stood strong yesterday as a group to honor him, and to remember that Jay was not one event on a horrible day in July; he quick witted, funny, and absolutely beautiful.

I love you guys!

Join Me in Supporting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

On July 9, 2016, while waiting to disembark from my plane, I turned off the “airplane mode” setting on my phone, and a text came through, “I won’t be able to pick you up today.” It was from my husband. I wasn’t alarmed; sometimes the world could be too much. Sometimes he couldn’t handle the cars darting about, the crowds of people; it could make him extremely anxious. It could be paralyzing. To me that text only meant I would have to take a taxi home. It’s just what it was. Then I walked onto the concourse, and my world started turning upside down. A voice over a loudspeaker summoned me to a white courtesy phone. From there I was met by a police officer who told me another officer, from the city where we lived, was en route to talk to me. That officer arrived, and I was informed that Jay had passed away. Impossible. He had just sent me a text. I was taken home to find my house surrounded in crime tape, and people from victim’s services waiting for me on my driveway. My husband, the person I had been with for 17 years, was now gone, and my home was a crime scene.

Not only had I lost my husband, my best-friend, my co-conspirator, and my favorite person; I had lost my identity. I was no longer a wife, a best-friend, the other half of the best part of us. I had lost purpose. The house had fallen silent.

It’s still silent…

There is a stigma associated with mental illness. A belief that if a person just tried harder, manned-up, not been a baby, they’d have been fine. A belief that a person is actively choosing to be miserable.

So, let me set the record straight. Jay didn’t die because he was weak. He didn’t die because he couldn’t “fake it till he made it;” a regimen of “more smiling” wasn’t the cure for his depression. Jay died because he felt hopeless. Jay died because he felt that seeing one more doctor to adjust his medication was pointless, and that it ultimately wouldn’t change how worthless he felt inside. He felt another appointment with an ENT still wouldn’t fix his untreated sleep apnea. He felt like a disappointment. And the depression combined with extreme fatigue made him feel like he was going insane. I cannot begin to imagine how his last day ultimately unfolded, but I do imagine he felt that he’d finally get some relief. I imagine he felt like he’d no longer disappoint everyone in his life. He would no longer disappoint me.

Let me say here what I had told him on many occasions: he was never a disappointment. He was beautiful.

There is a stigma associated with suicide. After a week of being gone, I returned to work braced to read the condolence cards that were doubtlessly waiting for me on my desk. There weren’t any. My desk was exactly the same as it had been before I’d left. No cards, no flowers, no acknowledgment. In fact, some people who knew Jay had died avoided me. We thrive in our communities, and to be denied this thing that is almost a given was traumatizing. No one did it to hurt me; for the most part they love me. It was that no one was quite sure what to do given the circumstances. Those who didn’t know would innocently drop by to cheerfully ask how my vacation went, and I got the unenviable task of explaining, “Jay died.” I finally had to ask people to spread that news, because I couldn’t cope with telling one more person and watching their faces fall.

If Jay had died of anything else, there would have been a card. I would have been embraced by my community. People would know what to say. They would know what to do.

And because of that same stigma, I wouldn’t tell people either, because I knew I’d be judged. I hadn’t kept my house in order. I hadn’t stopped him. What was so broken in our lives that my husband would choose suicide? What had Beth done to drive someone to make that choice? I kept silent to avoid whispers.

That stops now.

Next Saturday, on November 10th, I will walk in the Out of Darkness walk – a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I will walk for my husband. I walk for my best friend. I walk for my favorite person. I will walk for me.

On November 10th, my team will walk for a lost brother, son, uncle, and friend. A few will walk for me – to hold my hand, to peer into my face and see if I’m ok, and they will keep me strong as they continue on this endless vigil – my protective vanguard.

Together we will walk to support the other survivors out there, the people who need strength, who need a reminder that despite the tragedy, they’re still here, and they’re still ok. We walk in the hopes that the funds we raise, the awareness this walk brings may prevent another family from joining us. We walk to help remove the stigma that surrounds depression and suicide.

So I ask you one final time: Won’t you please join us? Whether it’s by spending a couple of hours walking beside us on November 10th to walk around the state’s capitol, or through a gift to this organization? I strongly believe that what this organization is doing for survivors, and for those who struggle is important, and it is vital.

If you’re unable to give at this time, that’s ok. Share  a kind word, a show of support, a story, something about your love for Jay, for me, for this amazingly strong and resilient family; it means the world to us.

I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we love and appreciate each of you.

To make a donation, please click the link below:
Support the Out of Darkness Walk – For Jay

The Unspoken Cutoff Date

Seventeen Days

In seventeen days it will be the second anniversary of Jay’s death. There have been two missed anniversaries, 24 missed monthiversaries, and four missed birthday celebrations (both mine and his). I count each one. And it’s been heavily implied that time is running out. I should stop mourning. I need to pack those emotions up, and stow them away. Surely, enough time has gone by. You can’t still be sad. Time heals all wounds, right? And your hour glass just ran out of sand, chica.

So many careless words spilled at my feet. Words that amount to, “Buck up little camper! It’s time to move on! You’ve had two delightfully self-indulgent, sad years, so let’s turn that frown upside down! Pssst, also we didn’t want to mention it, hun, so of course we are, we’re all impossibly bored now. I mean “boo hoo,” am I right? Whoopsy poo, someone just spoke that thought bubble out loud. AWKWARD! I should really lay off the wine!”

Little spoken reminders litter my days letting me know there’s a cutoff date on expressing my feelings. There’s a cutoff date on my mourning. There’s a cutoff date for sharing my loss.

“You can get away with saying that for now.”

“You don’t realize how much you talk about Jay.”

“Don’t worry about [what you just said], she can handle it now.”

“You’re strong.”

I get it. I do. It’s exhausting. You’re over it. You’ve moved on, but I’m still here. Me. Your friend. Moving through time, yet some how fixed. I’m still sad. Maybe not like I was, but it ripples beneath the surface sometimes bubbling forth at unexpected or inconvenient times. Sometimes erupting. Maybe not all of the days – some of the days – fewer days. And parts of me are permanently damaged – never to be fixed.

A broken teacup – pieced back together – whole in structure, but fractures ribbon through the beloved and familiar pattern. Made whole again, still beautiful – new, similar – not the same.

 

And while my sadness doesn’t define me, I do get sad. My heart aches. The tears spill.

I recently discovered the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, which has a number of great resources, and I truly wish I’d found them sooner. That lead me to the local chapter’s website where I found this beautiful manifesto from one of their members. I need you to read this, and keep me in mind – keep Jay in mind.

My Survivor’s Manifesto

Revised by Farren Smith with credit to Laura McCord

I will not get over this regardless of how much time has passed. There is a wound in my heart that will never heal.

I will speak my loved ones name whenever I wish. They existed – a beautiful person and I will not allow them to be forgotten.

I will cry for my loved one whenever I feel the need – be it in the grocery store, the middle of a restaurant or at home in bed and I will not feel embarrassed.

I believe I lost my loved one to an illness not unlike cancer, diabetes or heart disease. That illness might not have been visible, but it was no less real – or deadly.

I will not allow any stigma to fall on me because of my loved ones choices. Their decision was made from an unimaginable pain and a desperate attempt to end their suffering. No one – not even my loved one is to blame.

I will allow myself to feel no matter what emotion I experience whenever I feel it. Be it guilt, anger, resentment, rage or laughter at a fond memory. I will accept these feelings as a natural part of grieving and express them however I need.

I am entitled to the same respect and kindness, sympathy and dignity shown for the survivors of any other kind of death. No matter the cause I lost someone I loved dearly. My grief is justified and no less important than anyone else’s.

I will allow no one to slander or smear, belittle or demean the name or memory of my loved one. Their death is in no way a reflection of the person they were and I refuse to let one action define them.

Finally, I accept that I will never be the same person I was before this loss and I will not pretend otherwise for anyone’s comfort. In fact, I will demand that others in my life accept these truths and accept me.

And I say all of that as a reminder to everyone that I’m not over it. That there’s no time limit on my feelings. I’m not going to reach July 9th and shrug and say, “well, we had a good run sadness, but Jay isn’t going to be more alive if I cry one more time. AMIRITE?” You’re all right: I am still very strong and I am still funny and cheerful and goofy, and all of those other adjectives. But please don’t shut down my sadness, or ask me to move on, or ask that I not speak the name of my favorite person because you’ve heard it enough, you’ve moved on, or you’re quite simply bored with it. Because if you truly are, that’s fine, even understandable, and you can also move on out of my life. No hard feelings. Best of luck to you. May you never know sadness.

On November 10th I will participate in the Out of the Darkness 5k walk for Jay in Austin, TX. I would love it if you would join me or support my team. There will be a second walk in Dallas – a 16 mile Out of the Darkness next June. That one starts at dusk and ends at dawn. You truly are walking out of the darkness. As you walk across the finish line, the path is illuminated by luminaries, representing those who were lost. The ones who weren’t able to make it out of the darkness.

Let’s raise awareness. Help honor Jay, and do our best to help destigmatize mental health issues. Will you take a walk with me? Because I’m here to tell you that I will continue to honor him, to celebrate both him and his memory, and I will never stop.

And I will not recognize a deadline.