We’ll See You Tomorrow

World Suicide Prevention Day.

Four years ago, September 10 took on a whole new meaning. Every year I stop and reflect on my life, the lives of those I love, and I think about how grateful I am to still be here. And I light a candle for those who are no longer here.

I think about Luke and the life we missed out on. I think about the stories I’ve heard through the creation of this blog over the past four years. I run down the list of names I’ve heard and say a prayer for all of those who’s stories I haven’t heard.

Last year I added another name to that list: Shawn. This was my current boyfriend’s uncle – he was 19 when he took his life. Two weeks ago, I took the time to sit down with his mom and we talked about the stigma that surrounds the topic of suicide. Decades have passed since his death and, although some progress has been made, it’s not enough.

The topic of suicide scares people. Rightfully so. But just because it scares you doesn’t mean you should avoid it. People often think that, if they don’t talk about it, they can pretend that it’s not happening. Or, if it’s not talked about, ideas aren’t given to the individuals who might attempt or complete suicide. But that’s not the case. Suicides are happening. All around us. 800,000 people die each year due to suicide. This isn’t an issue that can be swept under the rug any longer.

So my challenge for you today is this: Take action. Talk about what today means. Share with someone that today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Share my blog, add a TWLOHA link on your social media sites, or share resources for someone to reach out to if they are depressed or suicidal.

Don’t let this day, or any day for that matter, pass you by without trying to make a difference.

#WorldSuicidePreventionDay

#WorldSuicidePreventionDay

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Let’s Talk.

As summer nears an end and many students and teachers are gearing up for another school year, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of depression.

With the rise of social media incorporated into everyone’s daily lives (mine included) it can be easy to display a confident, happy façade. Instead of pretending that the world is full of butterflies and rainbows, let’s focus on having real conversations that matter.

I read stories about depression and suicide on a weekly basis, each one hitting close to home and reminding me of a time and place in my own life when these thoughts and feelings were all too familiar. Today I read a New York Times article shedding light on depression and suicide among students. It pains me to see that, since 2007, suicide rates among 15-24 year-olds have increased. I forget sometimes that, as willing as I am to talk about these subjects, they are still very much taboo, especially to our youth.

That’s why I love reading about non-profits like Active Minds or TWLOHA becoming more and more active on campuses across the U.S. I love reading articles like this one, a major newspaper, willing to tackle topics that are so important to talk about. We’re all aware that these topics make so many people uncomfortable and can be hard to open up about, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the conversation.

This article focused heavily on the use of social media and the effect it has on youth. Sure, a smiling selfie might look great, but do you really know what’s going on in that person’s mind? Instead of constantly posting on Facebook or Snapchatting, have a conversation with the person sitting next to you. Open up about your bad days with your roommate or close friends. I’m guilty of closing off others in light of having a difficult conversation, but maybe this is something we need to challenge ourselves with.

Talk about the things that hurt.

Share the things that upset you.

Ask for help when you need it.

And take the posts you see on social media with a grain of salt. Maybe we’re all just trying to put on a Face to make it seem like we’re not living in some dark, tortured world. Maybe our lives aren’t as happy and perfect as we make them appear on Instagram. And if that’s the case … it’s okay.

If you see someone shutting down, please speak up. If you don’t have a story of your own to share, then share Kathryn DeWitt’s story or share mine, but we need to keep talking about suicide and depression. We need to let the youth of this world know that there is a life possible outside of depression and suicide does not have to be the answer.

1460 Days

When someone you love becomes someone you loved, it becomes really difficult to try to wrap your head around.

They were here. You were in their arms. You held their hand. You laughed. You had adventures. You loved. You were loved.

All past tense.

Trying to understand that you will never get the opportunity to do these things with this person again is nearly impossible.

Instead, you fill your days trying to remember the exact lines of their smile. Or the way their hand felt wrapped around yours. You try to remember the details of every single conversation the two of you ever had. But slowly these begin to slip away.

35, 040 hours. 1,460 days. Four years. I could have sworn it’s been decades since he was here. Since we were together. And yet, I can still remember how he walked and I can hear his laugh if I focus. What I can’t remember is who I was before all of this happened. I can barely remember the person I was at 21 when we were together.

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Four years ago, at 11 in the morning, I received the worst phone call of my life. I can recall so much from that moment. The sun was shining, the pavement was hot under my knees when I fell to the ground, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky when I looked up questioning what it was that I just heard.

I was in love. I was head over heels in love. I was nearing the end of my college years and I was ready to start my life. My mom had just been diagnosed with cancer, which put a huge speedbump in my life, but she was going to beat it and life was going to continue to get better and better.

And then I got that phone call that shattered my whole world. The person I loved was gone. He chose to end his life. He chose to leave this world. And I was left behind to figure it all out.

I’ve never been angry. I’ve never questioned why this happened. I know why my boyfriend chose to end his life. And I could never be upset with him for that. I can, and am, sad that he felt that was his only choice. I feel guilty that, even with all my efforts and the conversations we had, I wasn’t able to save him. I don’t think that feeling will ever go away.

I just miss him. I miss the nights we spent cooking supper. I miss binge watching season after season of Dexter in my college apartment. I miss driving up to small mountain towns in California. I miss carving pumpkins at Halloween and drives to his dad’s house on summer nights. I miss talking about our dreams and how people suck sometimes. I miss his advice and his honesty.

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My heart breaks for people who are in similar situations. For those who feel so alone in this world and feel like there’s nowhere to turn.

I could talk about Luke for hours. I could tell you his views on religion and society. I could tell you about his love for Star Wars, That 70s Show, and how he was an amazing artist. But I only tell his story, and some of mine, in hopes that maybe sharing it could help someone else down the line. Maybe it can save some heartbreak, and maybe – hopefully – four years down the road, it will save someone from sitting down at their computer writing about the person they miss on the four year anniversary of their death. Maybe it can save someone. And maybe it can’t. But this is my way of keeping him alive in my memory. This is the way I can remember, and celebrate, the person that I loved.

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We matter as much as the oxygen we breathe.

World Suicide Prevention Day.

Many people have no idea this day exists, while others, can’t get it off their mind. I fall into the latter category. My heart is so heavy today.

Three years ago I knew very little about this day, if I was even aware at all that it existed. I knew about depression and suicide, I’ve had my very own struggles with both, but I never stopped to think about a day or a week dedicated to this subject.

What I also didn’t realize was how much of a stigma is tied to mental illness. Sure, I wasn’t willing to open up about my own past or share my own story, but I never stopped to think that others were feeling the same. I thought that I had made the subject taboo in my own life, but I’ve come to understand in the past couple of years that it wasn’t just me, it’s the society that we live in that makes this subject so unmentionable.

Depression. Suicide. Anxiety. PTSD. Why can’t we talk about these?

I’ve heard these called the “invisible disease” because at first glance, you have no idea that the other person is enduring a daily battle inside. But the same can be said for cancer, right? When my mom was first diagnosed with melanoma, you couldn’t tell by looking at her. We talk about cancer, why can’t we talk about mental health? We have telethons and months designated to bring awareness to cancer and other diseases that are widely known and shared, so why isn’t a day like today shared just as openly? Because it makes people uncomfortable? That’s not an answer I’m okay with.

Battling with a mental illness doesn’t make you less of a person. As I was reading through stories of survivors and those who have lost their battle I came across a post that read, “we matter as much as the oxygen we breathe.”

I don’t know if reading that has much power for you as it did for me, but it was enough to make me stop and really take in that statement.

We matter.

You are here for a reason. And so is the person sitting next to you. We’re alive and that’s something we should be proud of. Unfortunately, many people battling with mental illness aren’t able to see that. I was once one of those people. I was convinced that my scars told my story, but the truth I’ve come to realize is, that I have the opportunity to change that story. I had to come to terms with the fact that I will never be able to change my past. There are things I would have done differently, or not at all, but I can’t go back. What I can do, though, is change my future.

Maybe no one needed to hear my story. Or maybe just one person did. It’s worth it, though, because if I could have an impact on that one person, then my job is done.

I’ve loved someone who lost their battle. And that is a weight that I carry around with my every day. The what ifs, the what-could-have-beens, those are questions that, if I give them the power, will easily crush me. But I know there is a purpose to this life and to his. Maybe his story isn’t mine to share, but I’m willing to share mine.

 

Tonight, at 8pm, light a candle next to a window for all the people who couldn’t fight any longer and for those who continue to battle their illness every single day.

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Cory Monteith’s Death

I woke up with a heavy heart on Sunday morning. As I was going to silence the alarm on my phone I read an update from USA Today that “Glee” star, Cory Monteith, had died the previous day in his Vancouver hotel.

I’m not all that interested in celebrity news, I watch the occasional Entertainment Tonight episode, a few reality shows, and browse the headlines of gossip magazines while in line at the grocery store, but many times when I hear news like this I’m not that affected. This time was different.

I remember hearing back in March that the actor had voluntarily admitted himself into rehab. Given the history of people I care about, I was interested in this news. My own boyfriend had been through a bit of the same thing, so I thought it was a great step for Monteith to take and was even better that his girlfriend, co-star Lea Michele, was standing by his side as well.

So when I heard the news that he died, my mind immediately went to his girlfriend. Granted, I didn’t know the cause behind his death, but being as he had admitted to being a previous addict and his rehab history, I had my speculations.

The news of his death hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t know these actors, nor what may go on behind the scenes in their own lives, but I do know what it’s like to love someone who is struggling and I know the heartache that follows losing someone you love so much.

It’s times like these that I wish we could talk openly about mental health, addiction, depression, and substance abuse in our society today. We tend to look down on people involved in any of these, we criticize them for the mistakes they make, comment on their trip(s) to rehab, and then just sit back and hear the news of their death. This isn’t something that we as a society should just accept.

Whether it’s a celebrity, co-worker, or your best friend, we need to open our eyes to the struggles that people we see every day are enduring. We can’t wait until it’s too late to speak up or ask someone if they’re okay.

“Is it worth it?”

Is it worth it? Those four words can have so much power behind them.

Is it worth it to travel across country, just because you want to? Is it worth it to go to college? To fall in love? To get a divorce? There are endless possibilities as to what could be worth it.

Last week, I met a woman who quickly turned into a friend and it was as though I’d known her for months instead of days. This woman was going through a major tribulation in her personal life and was at a loss as to what she was supposed to do now. This woman also happened to struggle with her diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia.

I was with this woman for six and a half days straight and we talked about everything we could think of. She told me about her husband and three girls, we talked about college, work, love, and the inevitable heartbreak that we’ve both had to endure in our lives. Of course, that brought up the death of my boyfriend and my mom and the highs and lows I’ve experienced because of the events life has thrown my way.

On the last day together, an hour before I was supposed to leave, this woman called me into her room. She sat down and with tears in her eyes she looked at me and asked those four words.

“Is it worth it?”

I didn’t know how to respond to that question. And even though I knew what she was talking about, I clarified.

“Life?” I responded. And after a few seconds passed, I added, “It really is.”

There have been many times in my life that I have asked myself that exact question. Is life worth the disappointment the heartbreak, the grieving? Is it worth giving up all of the highs for some of the lows?
I don’t think so.

Everyone is going to respond to this question differently, and honestly, I wasn’t sure how I would respond to it until I had no other choice but to reply.

There’s going to be many trials and difficulties in life, but trading all of the good for some of the bad isn’t worth it, either.

After the question was asked, I sat there talking to this woman about being on the other side of suicide and being on the other side of not having a mom. I explained the difficulties I have every day dealing with both of these.

Not every day is going to be perfect, and you’re going to have days that are much more trying than others. But you’re also going to have days that you stand in the sunshine and are so thankful to be alive. Life isn’t going to be easy, but I think that it is worth it.

Depression and Suicide Know No Age Limit

I was reading the TWLOHA blog the other day and came across a story that made me stop in the middle of my day to take a second to think of all the people out there who are, or have, been suffering.
The blog post was written by one of the interns about the depression and suicide attempt that his grandma had gone through. I’m not sure about you, but many times when I think of depression or suicide, I am guilty of thinking mainly of younger people struggling with these issues; rarely do I think that someone my parent’s age, or even older than that, would struggle with such hardships. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? The people in that generation have lived much longer, and faced more struggles in their life than any of us may ever have to endure.
This post broadened my horizons a lot and left me wanting to go hug my grandparents and be willing to listen to their stories – both good and bad.
I hope this post finds you well and has as much impact on your day as it had on mine.

There is Still Good in the World

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been looking at articles, blogs, and other publications that have been making light of many serious topics ranging from the War in Afghanistan to suicide. This got me thinking, is there really much good left in the world?

After a few days of my cynism, I came across an organization called Sevenly. This is an organization based out of southern California that chooses a different non-profit organization to support each week and donates a portion of their t-shirt sales to the selected organization. After following the organization for a week and a half, I was pleasantly surprised to see TWOLHA as their organization of the week. Sevenly was supporting them in order to help raise money for awareness of teens battling depression and suicide. A smile spread across my face as I ordered my t-shirt and appeared again a week later when I received my package and on it, which read “woah, you just changed a life.” My skepticism seemed to wash away with the discovery of this new organization. That is, until I read another article.

The following article was written by The Onion, which is an online satire publication. Of course you have to take what you read with a grain of salt, and normally I find many of their articles witty and entertaining. This one, however, wasn’t appealing to me, which was a brief picture mocking Seasonal Affective Disorder (or Seasonal Winter Depression, as the article calls it). This is already a type of depression that is often joked about and poked fun at because many people don’t believe it is a true type of depression; many people fall into a funk in the winter, is often a popular rebuttal. It was after reading this article that I remembered something positive I had read about a few weeks earlier.

Lady Gaga, who was kicking off her 2013 Born This Way Ball, was offering the chance for attendees of the concert to receive free counseling pre-show in her Born Brave Bus. The pop star, along with counselors, were giving teens a chance to talk about depression, bullying, or any other topics that they may not feel comfortable talking about at home. This took me back to a post I wrote last year as Lady Gaga honored the life of Jayme Rodemeyer, one of her loving Monsters.

I realized my cynicism had been misplaced. If I allowed myself to fall into the negative trap that so easily encompassed me the past few weeks, then I was just as bad as the people writing them. Organizations like Sevenly and TWOLHA coupled with celebrities going out of their way, like Lady Gaga and Demi Lovato, reminded me that there is in fact still good in this world.

The struggle between the negative and positive, good and bad that I had been struggling with lately is nothing compared to what it is like to battle suicidal thoughts or depression every single day. Have you ever been conflicted between two very major decisions in your life? One of them you know is the obvious answer, and yet, you just can’t bring yourself to come to the conclusion right away? That is a brief glimpse into what it is like to struggle with suicide or depression. Just as we all have decisions we have to make — choosing good or bad, positive or negative — for a person with a mental illness, every day is a difficult decision. That person has to decide what is going to take over, the light or the dark. With strength from within and help from others, it is something that can be overcome. Maybe this is done through a positive message from a non-profit, a hug from a friend, or maybe just through the compassion of a stranger, the negativity, the darkness, is something we can all overcome together if we just try.

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)