Keeping Your Memory Alive

As I drove home from work last night I tried to remember where I was 6 years ago. Thanks to apps like TimeHop & Facebook’s On This Day, I have a slight memory of where I was and what I was doing. I couldn’t tell you much about my mindset on July 6, 2011 but I can tell you this:

I was recently 21, working a summer job at a radio station, which included working a summer event series called Nitefall on the River with this guy named Adam who, on this particular night, walked with me up to the steps of the state capitol and we talked about life, dreams & goals. From there, my mind is a little blank.

It didn’t need to soak up all of the events of the day or the week, the emotions I was feeling or anything else because I had no idea that, in hours, my entire life would be turned upside down.

Six years ago I was broken. My world had stopped spinning and I couldn’t focus on anything in front of me. I wrote last year about how I could still feel everything from that day six years ago; that’s still true today. And, thanks to technology, the messages I sent out six years ago still have the ability to transport me to my broken, 21 year old self who wasn’t sure she could make it through the day.

I reluctantly looked at my apps this morning and saw messages like this:

timeHop

Technology can be a beautiful and terrible thing.

I wasn’t sure if I should write this year. As many of you know, I recently got engaged. And, as the rest of you know, much of this blog is about the life lessons or heartbreak I’ve endured since my boyfriend killed himself six years ago. For many people, those are conflicting. Shouldn’t I have moved on by now? Should I no longer feel heartache for someone I truly loved? I’m sure you all have your opinions. Luckily, I have mine too.

Shortly after Luke died, I got a tattoo of his initials on my foot and, though his mom knew how much I loved him, she warned me that someday I’d move on and it might be tough to explain that to the new man in my life. But I didn’t care, and I don’t care, and I’m lucky enough to be in a relationship where my past is respected and understood.

These blog posts are therapeutic to me and are the best way I can keep Luke’s memory alive. Though years have passed and I’ve opened myself up to loving and being loved, it doesn’t mean that I can’t mourn a love I lost; a best friend who left this Earth long before I ever wanted him to.

I wrote earlier that six years ago I was broken. The year following that, I was just as broken, if not more. I’m not standing before you six years later telling you that I have it all together because I don’t. If we’re being honest, I had a breakdown on Monday night and another one last night. I’m not perfect, I hurt and mourn for people who are long gone and a big portion of me thinks that parts of me will always be broken but it’s that brokenness that reminds me of how much, and who, I’ve had to love in this life.

Luke

 

My Reasons Why

I’m very much like Clay when it comes to this series and Hannah’s tapes. For me, this wasn’t a show to binge. I had to take it in small pieces, sometimes shutting it off only minutes into an episode.

It took me two weeks to get through, but tonight, I finished 13 Reasons Why. I didn’t watch it for entertainment and I can’t say I enjoyed it but I needed to know how the show was going to handle mental health and suicide.

I will begin with this: Be warned, the show can definitely be a trigger.

Whether you’ve directly struggled with issues related to mental health and/or suicidal thoughts or you’ve been lucky enough that you haven’t, this show will have your mind racing. And maybe that’s what it’s supposed to do.

I’ve talked with many people who’ve watched the show. And I’ve saved dozens of articles that appear to paint this show in a negative light…but I haven’t read them yet. I intend to, but first, I wanted to watch the series and wrap my own mind around it.

As a person who has been through many of the same experiences as Hannah Baker, this show was tough to watch. And I think that is definitely one of the points this show was trying to make. Suicide is incredibly painful to watch. Depression is hard to sit back and watch without being able to do anything. Rape and sexual assault is unbearable to watch. But that’s the point, right? In Beyond the Reasons after the show they described why they chose to show the suicide and the rape. Both had my stomach in knots and I had to turn away during both. Then, upon realizing what I was doing, I forced myself to turn back to the screen and watch because it’s turning away from those experiences , blocking them out, that’s part of the problem.

Do I agree with everything the show depicted? No. Do I think it was necessary to show the act of suicide? No. Do I think it’s okay that Hannah chose to tell these people they’re the reason she died? No. But since this show came out, I’ve heard more people openly talk about suicide than I ever have in my life.

And that should be the point.

This show isn’t perfect. But neither are we. I’m not saying my opinion is the only opinion and I’m definitely not saying it’s right but this is my take on the series.

It’s opening up conversations.

There’s a high school near where I live that preventatively sent out a note regarding the show. Take that in for a moment. A school chose to speak out about suicide and make the topic top of mind for their students and parents before an act even occurred. If that’s the only good thing that comes out of this show, then I think it’s a win. But it’s not the only occurrence. Whether good or bad, people across the country are openly talking about this show, rape & suicide.

Don’t shy away from the ugliness.

13 Reasons Why covered so many taboo topics. Many of the kids in the show didn’t feel comfortable talking about these topics – rape, suicide, slut shaming – and that really bothered me. I found myself turning episodes off during the middle of them because I was so frustrated that they wouldn’t just talk about what was happening. I quickly realized I wasn’t frustrated with the show but with people in general. This happens every day. I know what it’s like to say the word “suicide” and immediately have people blush or even physically cringe, but we have to force ourselves to open up and talk about the difficult things in life because we never know when the person on the other end of the conversation may need that opportunity to open up.

Don’t stop trying. Don’t stop reaching out.

When I finished the series I was left with a lot of questions. Why the guns? Why the second suicide attempt? Why did they show certain things? Why didn’t they have suicide messages and hotline numbers attached to every episode? Why didn’t they choose to create a character who reached out and got help? I think, to some point, I still have some of these questions but I understood a lot more when I watched the after show, Beyond the Reasons.

In the after show, the actor who played Clay mentioned why he understood that some kids don’t reach out, “What do I say? What are they going to say? They’re not going to understand.” That eased some of the anger this show left me with. Whether it’s a teenager or another adult in your life, I can’t stress how important it is to make the people in your life aware of the fact that you’re there, day or night, to talk. Or just to listen. Sometimes as humans, we don’t have the words to describe what we’re feeling or maybe we’re scared the other person won’t understand it. But you know what? That’s okay. The other person doesn’t have to understand what you’re going through or why you made a certain decision. They just need to be there.

But, even so, you can try your hardest to be aware and make yourself available to those around you and you could still miss it. I write that sentence from experience. I’ve been made aware of it, looked for it and still missed it. Sometimes you can stare a suicidal person in the face and have no idea what’s going on in their mind.

That’s why it’s important to reach out. It’s not a one and done kind of conversation. Please, I beg of you, continuously reach out to those in your life.

You matter to me.

Make yourself available to the people in your life on a regular basis and continue reiterating that fact to them. Tell people you love them every chance you can.

Have the difficult conversations.

Don’t miss an opportunity to reach out, to ask questions. Don’t miss the opportunity to recognize when someone is in crisis.

“How am I supposed to live with that?”

“Any way you can.”

– 13 Reasons Why

Watch the show, don’t watch the show. It doesn’t matter to me. But do me a favor? Talk about suicide. And depression. Have conversations about mental health. Take an uncomfortable topic and help take the stigma out of it. Don’t minimize other people’s situations. Make yourself available. Look for signs, but know that you may not always see them.

Tell people they matter to you because, believe me, you’ll wish you could when they’re gone.

13 reasons why

 

Five Years

Five years. 1,825 nights. Days, months, and years that I stumbled through this world wondering what I was doing without you.

Have you ever lost something you loved? Maybe it was your comfort blanket when you were little, an important essay in college or maybe, you’re like me, and you’ve lost someone you’ve loved.

I typically hate using the word “lost” for someone dying, but for a long time, that’s how I felt about Luke. I felt like I had this amazing person and I was just wandering through this life trying to find him again. It took me three years to realize that wasn’t going to happen. And when that realization set it, in hurt like hell. If I’m being honest, it still does.

After my mom died, I would wake up each day and repeat this thought to myself before I even let myself sit upright, “Your mom is dead. She will never come back.” And for a long time after Luke died, I had to remind myself that he was gone as well. The realization of it setting in later in the day was enough to cripple me.

I don’t have to remind myself of either of these things anymore. I’m aware these two important people are no longer in my life but it never fails that on important days -anniversaries, birthdays, holidays – my mind will wander back to the days that I lost these two.

I was on my way to work today as my mind began to drift and I could feel the heat of the asphalt under my knees and it was like I was back in that parking lot five years ago as I heard the words from Cheryl that Luke was dead. I can remember my world spinning and feeling sick to my stomach. I remember grabbing the rail in the parking lot as I called my mom to tell her the news knowing that, without something to steady me, I would fall back to my knees again. I can remember the numbness that continued for weeks, months, and years after Luke died. After the numbness subsided, the pain set in, and I can still feel that today. But for the life of me, I cannot remember the last words I said to him.

Did I tell him I loved him? Did I remind him how much he meant to me? I want to believe I did, knowing that it wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

Technology reminded me that 5 years and 1 day ago I posted the lyrics to Sunrays and Saturdays on my Facebook page. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had aimed that message at Luke, back then, that’s what I did. And it’s a very fitting song.

“Open the window/ Let the sunset in/If only for the last time/Let me see you smile again.”

I’m all too guilty of saying the wrong things at the wrong times, or just saying hurtful things in general, it’s something that I’m working on. But, if you’re reading this, please heed this advice and always tell the people you care most about that you love them. You never know when, or if, you’ll get another chance to do so.

BL

 

Give Me a Stick

My sister shared this with me today from Post Secret’s Facebook page and it really resonated with me, so I felt compelled to share.

PS

For those of you passing out sticks, thank you. For those of you asking for them, your fight is worth it.

 

We Must Tell The Truth

DepressionHow many times a day do you tell a lie? And yes, we’re counting the little white lies. Once? Twice? Maybe you’re a better person than I am and you don’t tell a single lie in a day. But I’m going to bet that, more often than not, we all tell at least one.

What if I told you that someone took a moment in their life, probably one of the biggest moments in their life to date, and told the truth when it would have been So. Much. Easier. to tell a lie.

A friend of mine passed along an article to me today and I can’t stop thinking about.

A woman wrote her sister’s obituary. Let me stop right there and say that’s a much more difficult task than you might think. I went to journalism school & was taught to stick to the cold, hard facts when it came to obituaries. Know what we didn’t cover in school? How to handle a suicide. I can tell you it was hard enough writing my mom’s obituary and she died from cancer, something that is much more well-received than a suicide is. Not only did this woman write her sister’s obituary but she came out and told her sister’s story the way it played out IRL.

Aletha Meyer Pinnow, 31, of Duluth, formerly of Oswego and Chicago, Ill., died from depression and suicide on Feb. 20, 2016.

Eleni chose a time when her and her family were hurting. She could have chosen to discuss this matter at a later date or speak out about suicide and depression when their hearts weren’t so raw. But she didn’t. Instead, she started a conversation & asked others to join in too.

And that is something that I have so much respect for. I urge you to read this article.

Depression lies, but we can tell the truth.

 

New Chapter

Life is unpredictable.

I wish I could count the number of times I’ve reminded myself of this over the years, but I stopped counting when I was 16.

Life is complicated.

I learned long ago to not put too much stake into any one person because, at any moment, they could be removed from your life. I tried keeping a safe distance from most of the people in my life for fear that they would leave my life (read: die).

Love doesn’t care.

I kept people at an arm’s length most of the time. And then I fell in love. My walls broke down. I started planning a future.

I broke my own rules.

And I ended up crushed. I planned a future with a person who left me behind. Now don’t think I’m blaming him, because I’m not. I understand why he made the decisions he did. I’m okay now. But for a very long time, I wasn’t.

I swore off love and men and relationships. I promised I’d never marry and the only men left in my life were close friends and my dad. No one else was allowed in my life.

And then, again, I was reminded that life is unpredictable.

This post has been a long time coming. I’ve tried writing it before but failed until I read this article that my sister sent me and it really hit home.

My story is not her story. Luke and my story was never set in motion; we never really had the time. And I won’t refer to two of the greatest loves of my life as “before” and “after” because that doesn’t work for my story. But her article really resonated with me.

I’m in love and it’s okay. It’s actually more than okay.

After Luke died I read Eat, Pray, Love and it was perfect for that point in my life. One quote that really stood out to me was Elizabeth Gilbert’s explanation of soulmates.

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.
A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.”

Luke was my soulmate for my younger self. He taught me to stick up for myself, be proud of my accomplishments, and speak up when I don’t agree with something. Those were the lessons I needed at that point in my life. I grew so much in the years we were together. But his story ended and mine needed to continue.

I have a new soulmate for this chapter of my life. He’s patient, sarcastic, witty, and cares unconditionally for people. He allows me to grieve when I need to – over friends I’ve lost, my mom, or even Luke – he’s sat with me on the floor of our apartment when I had a much-needed crying session. He’s great.

And he’s totally unexpected.

He came into my life the summer that Luke left and my mom was diagnosed. It was the perfect storm of a summer in my life. I was newly 21 and didn’t really know how to handle anything that life was throwing my way. But over that summer a friendship grew. We talked about traveling and dreams and what goals we wanted to accomplish in life. Over the years the friendship remained strong even when he was on the other side of the country. And then, to come full circle, on a summer night everything about our friendship changed. We crossed a barrier that couldn’t be uncrossed and my head was reeling.

I didn’t know what this meant.

I had some very torturous nights going back in forth in my head about my future self and my past self. I didn’t know what to do. And I didn’t want to leave Luke behind.

But as Michelle wrote, you don’t leave a love behind, “Once you love someone they stay with you forever as a piece of your soul.” Luke was, and always will be, a part of my soul. But Adam is a part of my future.

Adam and I have had many conversations about Luke and I’ve come to find that Adam has some fairly strong feelings about my past. He should. When Luke died I fell apart and, for someone who now loves me to have seen that, I’m sure it brings up some heated emotions. But Adam respects the role that Luke played in my life and, if these unexpected life events hadn’t played out the way they did, maybe there would never have been an “us.”

Years ago I sat with sweaty palms across the room from Luke’s mom to tell her about this new man in my life. I was so nervous. And she was so gracious. She was happy for me and I was a little taken aback. My mind went back to a conversation we had before I got my tattoo for Luke. During the period of my life when I had sworn off men and was sure I’d never love again. She warned me not to get it because I was young and I would fall in love again someday and maybe that person would be upset by my tattoo, but I explained to her that any man that was worthy of being in my life would understand the importance of Luke in my life and would understand the tattoo.

And he does.

I am moving forward in my life with fewer glances back as the days, months, and years pass. I’m more focused on my future now than I ever have been. I take time to reflect on the past every now and then and the people who have left my life cross my mind often but when that happens it’s in a positive way and I’m not pining to go back in time.

Life is unexpected. But so is love. My story is nothing like I thought it would be but I’m happy with where I’m at and how things have turned out. I fully believe that, without these life experiences, I wouldn’t be able to love as deeply as I can now.

And I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

Winter

 

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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Speak Up.

I’m at a loss for words tonight. I received a phone call notifying me that someone from the community I grew up in committed suicide this weekend during his first semester at college. I didn’t know him personally, but my heart is heavy for his friends and family. It’s in these moments that we need to remember that suicide & mental health need to be talked about.

So hug your loved ones a little tighter tonight and be willing to open up and
listen to those around you. The more awareness there is the more we can work toward helping those in need.

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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