Time Passes, Even When We Don’t Want It To

Two months ago today, I was sitting on my college campus between classes writing a blog post. I remember the day clearly: the rain was falling outside and I could hear the sound of it gently hitting the windowpane behind me, and I was content (mainly because I enjoy a rainy day every once in awhile). I was a little over a month away from graduating from the university and life felt great.

It’s amazing how quickly that feeling can go away.

Nineteen days after that blog post, my mom suffered from a seizure. We thought it was just a byproduct of her stage IV melanoma and weekly chemo sessions. Unfortunately, the news wasn’t that simple, and six days after she was admitted to the hospital, she died, peacefully on a sunny wintry morning after celebrating my oldest sister’s birthday, and I was lucky enough to hold her hand and read to her in her last moments. In a matter of days, my life was turned upside down.

The past month has been a rollercoaster of emotions trying to deal with the changes ranging from life without my mom to my transition into the world after college. With all that was going on, I didn’t feel I was at a place to be writing. I didn’t think I had anything to say.

I could barely help myself how could I possibly help someone else right now?” I thought.

But tonight I realized writing is what I have to do. Maybe I don’t have much insight or information to offer, but if I can share the daily struggles of life after the death of a loved one, maybe I could inspire even one person to share their story. Losing someone close to you changes your whole existence. It changes your thoughts about your future, the person you are, and throws a curve ball into something as simple as your daily routine. With all these changes, it’s no wonder people easily fall into a depression after significant loss and change. I find myself fighting that every single day. But that’s what we have to do. We have to fight. Whether it is for ourselves, our friends, or any of our loved ones; it is in these moments that we need to be reaching out for help, or to simply be willing to open up.

Depression comes on quickly. At first it may seem like a lazy day or you can blame it on the gloomy weather. And eventually, you find that days and weeks have passed and the feelings haven’t subsided, but the sooner you reach out to others, the easier it can be to cope with.

Making yourself vulnerable is difficult, believe me, I’ve been trying to think of something, anything to say since my mom died. But eventually, you just have to put it out there, and hopefully, you’ll be surprised at the response and support you’re greeted with.

My plea for you tonight, is to not give up. Not on yourself or your loved ones, help them away from the darkness depression can bring on. It’s amazing the impact a few simple words can make.

Seeing The Light

I’m not sure what the weather is like where you are sitting today — maybe the sun is shining and there’s a light breeze running through the fall leaves or maybe there’s a terrible storm running rampant through your town. Where I’m sitting today, it’s dreary. The rain is drizzling just enough to annoy most people walking outside and the streets are filled with puddles. I know that especially on days like this, I often need a pick-me-up. Today I ran across this entry on the TWLOHA Facebook page and I thought I would share it. I hope this is enough to brighten your day.

My dad has told me my entire life that I have “a heart of gold.” I think, in part, what he meant was I have a heart that truly feels.
But it seems to me the ability to feel joy is balanced out conversely with the ability to feel pain. From a young age, I remember having feelings of elation that would quickly give way to a deep melancholy, with no time frame as to when I would receive solace. But at least I could still feel.
Then, last summer, after a bright day of teaching windsurfing to kids and laughing with my students, I drifted into a dark abyss such as I had never before experienced. At first I felt sorrow, then painful, heart-wrenching anguish… then nothing.
I felt nothing. Sadness was gone, happiness was gone. I felt nothing. It was as if my humanity and everything I understood about myself was stripped from me. I felt subhuman. I was breathing, but life as I knew it was not in me. My soul, my essence, had shut off, leaving me am empty shell, a flickering hologram of who I was. It was terrifying. The only thing I actually felt was fear, and it was convincing me I had never felt anything but emptiness and would never regain the ability to feel, to exist as the John Dornellas the people around me knew. It was crushing me like a gargantuan stone dropped on my shoulders.
In my anguish and sensory amnesia, I made a decision to call a friend who I knew struggled deeply with depression. I had no hope I would ever get out of my current state, but he told me I would again see light and feel happiness. And I believed him. Even though I could not convince myself, I knew he spoke the truth: that I would make it out alright. That small glimmer of faith he instilled put a crack in the huge stone of fear that was crushing me.
The light did eventually begin to shine for me again, and I learned a powerful truth—when we gain solace from our struggles, we have a unique ability to share that solace with others, as my friend did with me. Since then, I have been able to share my experience and try to give hope to those who could find none with a long embrace or a simple, “You’ll be alright. You will see light again.”
I’m amazed by how many people suffer from depression, many far more seriously than I. I have friends who immerse themselves in the composure of music, or write, or run for hours to reverse depression’s power. For me, when I know I’m on the verge, I pray like crazy—then get into the ocean, my “happy place.” Spearfishing and freediving, holding my breath, comforts me. I feel close to my Creator when I am deep under water on a breath of air. A long paddle, a windsurfing session, a surf alone or with a buddy… they help me to get outside of the oncoming fog of depression, often keeping it at bay until it dissipates.
Above all, knowing I am not the only person who struggles with this, but that I have friends and mentors who are trucking along with me gives me hope. So hold strong. People love you and need you. You will see light again.
—John Dornellas, writer for Spearing Magazine, Hawaii Skin Diver Magazine

Disclosure: The How & When

People today are more than willing to disclose personal information about their daily lives. Many people post pictures of their meals on Instagram, share their political beliefs on Facebook, and rant on Twitter, but when it comes to something as personal as a mental illness, how do you know when you should share this information?

I’m not an expert, nor do I claim to be, but I do know about my own personal experiences and the experiences of others I have known and talked to. If I had anything to say about this topic, it’s that there never really is a right time. However, the sooner the better, especially if you haven’t shared this information with anyone thus far.

Mental illnesses have a huge stigma in our society, but that is all the more reason to talk to your friends and family about it. A major reason this is such a taboo topic is due to the fact that it’s simply not talked about often enough and many people aren’t educated about it. Steele and Berman have talked about mental illness and disclosure and one of the things they said really stuck out to me:

“A bold but necessary move, self-disclosure is a first step toward successfully addressing the stigma associated with being mentall ill. Before we can reveal ourselves to others, we have to come out of our own dark closets.”

Although disclosing to others in your personal circle can be very beneficial for support and help down the road, the inital disclosure has to begin with yourself. Being open and honest with yourself helps you understand the type of help you may need and will in turn help when you disclose later on.

The study that was performed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration detailed how disclosing information on a mental illness to others can relieve a great deal of stress for the person who is sharing and can offer hope to others going through the very same thing. However, one important part to remember when disclosing, is to never share something you’re not comfortable with sharing. Just because it might feel better when you’ve shared does not mean you should share because you feel like you have to.

Self-disclosure is not an easy topic, but it can greatly help the person sharing and the friends and family better understand how or when to help, but disclosure is not something that simply happens once. After sharing information on a mental illness or any other personal matter, the questions or feelings that follow may not be immediate. Just as it was a process for the person diagnosed to understand the depth of what was going on, the friends and family surrounding the person may need time to let this information sink in as well.

Patience is an important aspect of the self-disclosure process; not only for the person sharing the details of their mental illness but for the friends and family who will now be a part of this, possibly, lifelong process. There is no clear-cut answer on when or how to reveal such an intimate detail about your life. It all depends on the person, how comfortable and safe they feel about sharing, but in many cases the end result will be worth it.

“It freed me from the burden of having to hide a part of me, and it freed me from the shame that comes from feeling as though you have to hide and keep secret the illness.” (Self- Disclosure and Its Impact on Individuals Who Receive Mental Health Services, Interviewee response)


National Suicide Prevention Week 2012

Out of the Darkness Walk 2011It has been over a year since my boyfriend killed himself.

It has been over a year since I started this blog which has forever changed my life.

It has been over a year since I, myself, was diagnosed with depression.

In the past year I have offered myself, and my stories, to be exposed to the people who have known me my whole life, and also to people whom I barely know. Taking the time to educate myself and others about suicide and depression will be something that will continue to be very important to me and I will strive to do for years to come.

This upcoming Sunday, September 9th, marks the start of National Suicide Prevention Week. To kick off this week, I will be walking in an Out of the Darkness Walk, which supports those who have lost someone to suicide. During this week, I’ll be sharing pieces of my own story as well as working to educate and spread information on how suicide and depression is being dealt with in our world and our media, and what you could do to help.

During this week, I ask that you all take a step outside of your comfort zone. Take an hour out of your day to share your story, or listen to someone else’s. All it takes is a few minutes that could save someone’s life.

Start The Conversation

While on lunch today with my boss, editor-in-chief, and co-worker, I was reminded of how easy it can be to share your story.

In the midst of a dimly-lit Italian restaurant, the four of us began talking about suicide and mental illness. The editor-in-chief of the magazine I am interning at had worked at a suicide hotline in college; as she shared her stories about the difficulties she was faced with at this job, we began talking about the difficulty that many people struggle with and what leads them to their breaking point.

When I was hired for the summer, I shared this blog and some of my writing samples with my boss and he asked what my motivation was for the type of writing I do, afterall, discussing suicide and depression are not “light topics” as he explained. The more I explained my past and my story, the more I could see his face change into what looked like sadness and pity. At the end of the conversation, he apologized for making me explain, but I wasn’t sorry he asked at all.

For me, talking about my story and opening up about suicide and depression has made it easier for me to bring up the topic at any point in my life, even if it is just a staff goodbye lunch.

This topic can be hard to bring up initially, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you get. It’s not something to be ashamed of and more people need to start talking about it. It can be a way to bond, share stories, or even, save a life.

The Aftermath

As often as I think about the people who are affected by depression, mental illness, and suicidal thoughts, I think about the people that are left behind after a suicide or who are trying to help a loved one who may be depressed.

As I have shared before, I was affected immensely after someone I loved very much committed suicide. After reading an article about a father whose son had killed himself, I was struck with the realization of how these acts not only affect the person who is experiencing suicidal thoughts or is depressed, but it affects everyone in that person’s life.

The article told of a professor at a Southern California school who had been suffering a mental breakdown since his son had died. Although this man may have been an extreme case, the article explained his many emails that were sent to himself and his wife describing how he wanted to hurt other people, the pain he feels as a father is very similar to what many of us feel after someone we love has died. Suicide can leave loved ones feeling empty, like they should have, or could have, seen it coming. But these feelings are something that many families experience even if someone they love hasn’t died.

Depression can have similar effects on family members, feeling like maybe they have failed that person or that they should be able to cheer somebody up who is depressed, but it’s not that easy.

Suicide and depression affect so many people, whether it is directly or indirectly, and yet we’re still uncomfortable talking about this subject. The awkward tension that may be felt while trying to talk to someone about these subjects is far less than the pain and emotions that are felt after losing a loved one to suicide.

We all have a story, some are just harder to tell. Opening up and being willing to share your story may prompt someone who is struggling to do the same.

Mental Illness Does Not Discriminate

Last night former Congressman, Patrick Kennedy, opened up to CNN’s Piers Morgan about his own struggle with addiction, bipolar disorder, and depression.

The famous last name has been around for years and I have yet to meet a person who can’t name at least one Kennedy, but just because a name may be famous or a person may be successful does not mean that they can’t struggle with the same illnesses or problems that many of us do. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate due to a name or a status in the society.

Kennedy told Piers Morgan that he is willing to talk openly about his own battle with mental illness in hopes to break the stigma that surrounds this subject. His story goes to prove that opening up to one person may change the life of another, “I spoke openly about it, because I knew that that’s what my constituents wanted, and that’s what they were anxious to hear. And in fact, many of them started talking to me about their own sets of challenges that they felt ashamed about,” Kennedy told Piers Morgan.

Someone as famous as a Kennedy could get a lot of negative press from opening up about such struggles, but it seems that that aspect was never a worry to him; he will share his story and open up about his past if it can help others and work to break this stigma around mental illness.

Talking about mental illnesses or even sharing a personal story could make a world of difference in someone else’s life. It’s time we all start talking about this more openly.

New Campaign Takes a Humorous Approach

Advertising can be a difficult issue when it comes to touchy subjects. The advertiser doesn’t want to encourage a certain behavior but scare tactics don’t always work well either. A new campaign for men ages 25 to 64 takes on the subject of mental health and suicide in a much different way than has ever been done before.

The campaign is based out of Colorado,which has the sixth highest suicide rate in the country, and tries to take a lighthearted approach to this serious subject. The campaign created a website for men to go to where they come face-to-face with Dr. Rich Mahogany. Dr. Mahogany, who reminds me of Will Ferrell’s character in Anchorman, is the man behind the serious information but he is also able to bring humor to the issue through his slightly crude language and manly jokes.

The website is completely interactive with Dr. Mahogany following the “patient” around his office and helping them explore. When the mouse is idle, so is the doctor while he simply sits in his chair staring at you through the computer screen, waiting for the user to make their next move.

The chief exectutive of Cactus, Joseph Conrad, explained to the New York Times the hardships men with mental illness struggle with, “the stigma around mental health for men is even greater than it is for the general population. We thought humor would really crack that stigma and draw men in.”

Cactus, the Colorado Office for Suicide Prevention, and the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, the companies behind the campaign, will launch a video statewide on July 17th and it also plans to promote the website and Dr. Mahogany through drink coasters, restroom posters, and billboards.

Although I was skeptical about the campaign when I first read about it, after looking into the website and watching the videos, it seems like this campaign might actually have a positive effect. Right now, there isn’t much information targetting this specific group, so if humor does the trick, more power to them.


Putting the World on Hold

One year. 365 days. I never knew it was possible for time to stand still but speed by at the same time. I’ll never forget the day that my boyfriend explained to me what déjà vu was. We lived in San Diego at the time and we were headed to the movies. I was telling him that I was having déjà vu and felt as though I’d been there before, he just looked at me and laughed and told me “déjà vu is just one half of your brain catching up with the other.” That was three years ago and to this day I’m not sure if that’s true or not, I just know that right now I wish both sides of my brain were at the same place. It’s as though part of me is stuck in the same place I was a year ago…it’s hard to accept the fact that someone has died, but this time it is even harder for me. When I was in high school two of my friends were killed in car accidents and I thought that was the worst kind of pain and heartbreak I could ever experience. Until I lost Luke. I not only had to mourn the death of my boyfriend but I had to mourn the loss of my best friend, our relationship, and the future we had planned.

I’m a writer by nature and that is the only way I know how to get through good or bad experiences. I write…it’s just what I do. I was reading through the many pages I wrote at this time last year about what I was going through. At one point I was trying to write everything about him that I could remember. I was terrified I was going to forget what his smile looked like or how his voice sounded or the way his touch felt when we were holding hands. It’s a year later and I know those are things I’ll never forget. I did come across this, though, in the many things I wrote after his death.

“I always told you how you were such an inspiration for my writing and you would reply with ‘well, I’m just glad I can be helpful in some sort of way to you’. You’ll never know how much of an inspiration you were to me. The highs, the lows, the in-betweens…everything helped me.”

One year ago today I lost one of the most important people in my life and I struggle every single day. But I share my story and his story in hopes that I can make a difference in just one person’s life. I’ve shared my story, will you?

I Won’t Give Up

Image from Justin Ruhl via http://jasonmraz.com/photos/

Over the span of this past year, I’ve done a lot of reading and researching on depression and suicide. Each time I sit down to read about or listen to someone else’s personal experience, I can’t help but be moved by it.

A few weeks ago I came across a video of Jason Mraz explaining the meaning behind one of his most recent popular songs, “I Won’t Give Up”. Whether you’re a fan of Jason Mraz and his music or not, the explanation behind his song is beautiful. It’s a reminder that even the most successful humans can be touched by doubt, depression, and hardships. As he says in his video “we’re only human”.

Take a few minutes out of your day to listen to someone else’s story. Open up. And remember…you’re not alone.