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.