Monthly Archives: April 2016

My Plea for Suicide Prevention

Plea for Suicide Prevention

I am making a plea for suicide prevention.

Last week, someone I knew form high school killed herself. This is not someone I had been particularly close to or had even seen in the last 2 decades except for occasional Facebook posts. Still, I knew this person, and she was a friend of a friend.

According to a recent New York Times article titled U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High, “From 1999 to 2014, suicide rates in the United States rose among most age groups. Men and women from 45 to 64 had a sharp increase.”

This is my age bracket. This was the age bracket of the woman who killed herself.

So I am making a plea for suicide prevention.

If you know someone who is suicidal, please don’t tell that the person that his or her life is not so bad or that things will get better. These platitudes do not register to a brain that is engulfed by darkness.

Instead, ask the question, “How can I help you?” And mean to help. Make yourself available. Call this person. Go see this person. Encourage this person get out of the house and do something. You can be a resource for that person, a part of a safety plan.

Yet, while you can be resource, what you cannot be is a savior. The ability to survive, to make it through an incapacitating depressive episode, is something that only the individual who is suffering can do. Simply put, there is no external factor you can throw at the situation (even your best intentions) that is going to save someone else. That has to come from within. It is the individual alone who is ultimately responsible for weathering their personal storm.

If you are suicidal, know that many people, including myself, have these feelings and do get through it. Also know that you do not have to experience this profound and debilitating sadness alone. Reach out. Speak up. Talk to someone. Call a friend or a psychotherapist or a suicide crisis line. Call 1-800-273-TALK or text 741741. Allow someone who is trained to help do just that.

Find some coping strategies. You may not be able to consciously change your thinking but you can unconsciously change it through your actions. A number of practices — being in nature, practicing gratitude, building social relationships, meditation — have been shown by science  to enhance subjective wellbeing. In other words, they actually can change how your thinking to a more positive mindset. So try to do one or more of these things every single day.

After the crisis ends, start building a mental health toolbox. Incorporate some positive rituals in your life that will enhance your emotional resilience. With this toolbox, if another crisis arises, you have strategies to help yourself already in place. You have tools to use and resources to draw on.

This is my plea for suicide prevention. Please don’t give up. Please hold on another day. Recovery from these dark feelings is possible. And I want you to recover.

 

Resources:

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Suicide Prevention Dialog

 

 

Saying a Difficult but Necessary Goodbye

Last week, I said a difficult but necessary goodbye. I left therapy and said goodbye to my therapist, who I have been seeing for over 2 years as I’ve struggled with a really debilitating, really long, and drawn out depressive episode.

I’ve written a lot about my struggle with depression and how much therapy and (prescribed) drugs I’ve taken in an attempt to curtail it. I’ve had many therapists, who were trained as psychologists, psychiatrists, or licensed social workers, both men and women. I’ve tried whatever method the therapist specialized in, including EMDR, hypnosis, meditation, and, of course cognitive behavioral therapy. I’ve taken a variety of anti-depressants, and, yes, I’ve been a guest at two different residential treatment centers. No one can say I haven’t tried to kick this habit.

The therapist-patient relationship is sensitive. Obviously, it’s important that you have good rapport with the person with whom you share every intimate detail of your screwed up head, the person who looks objectively at you while snot runs down your nose and you sob hysterically on a chair sitting across from her. But, at the same time, the therapist is not your friend. She is not the person who holds your hand and tells you everything is going to be okay. She is not fiercely protective of your tender ego. Actually, I’ve found that many times, the ego needs a reality check. It needs to be taken down a notch.

When I began therapy in Munich a few years ago, I was slipping into an abyss, one with which I was painfully familiar. Yet, I knew that I did not want to fall into it again. Still, I was in such crisis that I had to see my therapist every week. Over the course of the 28 months I’ve been seeing her, through our interactions, through her counseling, through my own growth and progress (and truth be told – enormously hard work and effort), I’ve been able to pare down my visits from weekly to biweekly to monthly to every six weeks or so. And, honestly, the past few visits have felt more like I was having a conversation with an old friend rather than submitting myself to an in depth analysis of my problems and neuroses.

It’s not that I no longer have problems and neuroses. (Oh, please.) It’s that I’ve learned how to deal with them a bit more skillfully. And that’s in large part due to Dr. Groß. Unlike any therapist before her, Dr. Groß gave me homework to do, articles and books to read, websites to go to, and exposure to different styles of therapies to research on my own. She did that, and she called me on my bullshit, the bullshit I’d built up over the last 30 years as a defense mechanism.

Last week, I said a difficult but necessary goodbye. I left therapy and said goodbye to my therapist of the last 28 months.

Last week, I went to see Dr. Groß, and, before I left, I asked, “Should I make another appointment? Should I come back again?” But we agreed that I don’t need to come back. I don’t need that level of support any more. I am doing, miraculously, well.

So I said my difficult but necessary goodbye, and I thanked Dr. Groß. I stood in front of her crying, but thankfully without snot running down my nose, and told her the enormous influence she had on shaping my recovery.

It was a difficult goodbye, because I have come to really like Dr. Groß. I trust her wisdom and value our relationship. But it was a necessary goodbye, because I am not who I was 28 months ago when I first saw her. I am not an emotionally incapacitated mess anymore. I am not filled with self-loathing, slipping into the stranglehold of depression.

I said my difficult but necessary goodbye, because now I am strong and vibrant and inspired to live to my full potential. What a gift. Thank you, Dr. Groß, for helping me recognize that gift.

I Don’t Have Time

I don’t have time!

This idea that we don’t have enough time in the day or that we need to magically make more time in order to live our lives the way we want is a concept I find humorous at best and depressing at worst.

“I don’t have time to exercise

or cook meals from scratch

or visit that friend I haven’t seen in forever

or take a vacation

or pursue that passion I’ve always wanted to pursue.

I don’t have time!”

We all have 24 hours in the day, no more and no less. Use those hours wisely. Do what it is that you want to do. Don't complain that "I don't have time."

 

Well, why not? I mean think about it. Exercise is not a luxury. It’s necessary to maintain your physical health. Nurturing yourself through “me” time or by building social relationships or pursuing passions is not a luxury either. It’s necessary to maintain your mental health. Yet, we tell ourselves, in our words and actions, that we don’t have time for those things and lots of other things that we mean to do or want to do – read more, eat better, spend more time with our families, sleep 8 hours every night.

I’m not saying you should quit work so that you can spend your day learning how to play the ukulele or taking 3 hour naps or going for 10 mile runs (to be followed by 3 hour naps undoubtedly). I’m saying that we all have 24 hours in the day, no more, no less. And I’m wondering if you aren’t doing the things you want to do in those 24 hours, then why not and what are you doing instead?

The person who manages to get in her workout every day or pursue her passion 3 times a week does not have a time machine that adds on hours to her life. And, most likely, she hasn’t lucked into some job that requires her to work only a handful of hours each day (I haven’t read The Four Hour Work Week, but I am dubious that it’s possible unless you have some independent wealth or a sugar mama to support you).

What that person has is a clear sense of her priorities, and she knows what she can sacrifice in order to achieve her priorities. Because some things will get sacrificed. You can’t do it all, but you can choose what you want to do after you’ve done what’s required of you (like that pesky paid job).

If you want to do something, do it, but don’t complain that you don’t have time to do it. These next 24 hours are all yours, so do the things that are important to you. And if those things don’t fit into a 24 hour schedule, then think bigger. Think, ‘This is my week or this is my month or even this is my year. How am I going to live it? What am I going to do in that time frame?’

This is your day and your week and your month and your year, all of which makes your life. This is your life, so live the way you want to live.

How to Respond to Things I Don’t Like

Last week I wrote about how in the era of what seems to be a total loss of civil discourse and an alarming rise of xenophobia in the world, I will practice love. While this is a great idea in principle, the practicalities of actually doing it are a bit murky. I mean, how do I respond to things I don’t like? When faced with stuff that totally pisses me off, what am I supposed to do?

A small snippet of the many things I don't like.

A small snippet of the many things I don’t like.

Part of me feels like I shouldn’t bother spending my limited emotional and intellectual resources on people and situations that don’t support my truth (awareness, compassion, connection, forgiveness, personal growth). But, at the same time, if I don’t speak up and act on my values, am I supporting my own truth?

I think we can all agree that you don’t have to love every person or every situation. War sucks. People who abuse women or children or animals suck. Hate-filled rhetoric sucks. These are things that I don’t like. In fact, I find these things abhorrent. But, if I am faced with that kind of shit, which I believe to be not just wrong but immoral, I have to do something. I can’t just pretend it’s not happening and look away. No, I have to respond to things I don’t like.

So, here’s my plan for how to practice love and respond to the things I don’t like.

I allow myself to feel what I’m feeling.  You all know I am a big (and new) convert to the “don’t repress and don’t ignore” school of thought on how to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Just because I get my zen on now does not mean I feel only bliss. I still get angry. I still get indignant. The difference is that I allow myself to feel those emotions but try not to act on them in the moment I’m having the emotion. Like everything (the weather, being “in love,” Downton Abbey), feelings change. They wax then wane. So, I allow myself to feel what I’m feeling. “Okay, anger, here you are, a knot in my stomach, a pain in my head.” Repeat until feeling has lost its momentum, which will happen eventually.

I remember our common humanity. Am I perfect? Hell to the no. I’m so far from it that it’s not even funny. Have I ever lied? Have I ever stolen something? Have I ever said or done things that hurt someone? Uh, YES. I’ve done all that and surely some cardinal sins, too. (Truth be told, I enjoy being a sloth.) So when I see or hear or read about someone else screwing up, someone else who is also not perfect, I remember that person is a human being just like me. That person is speaking and acting out of his or her life experience and conditioning. (And if that person is a day over 30, I also think that person lacks awareness; but that doesn’t make him or her any less human. He or she probably still wants the same things in life as me – to be happy and loved.)

I accept the situation. I go through the first 4 stages of grief dealing with the shit (denial, anger, bargaining, depression) and then I get to acceptance. The key is to know what acceptance means. It doesn’t mean giving in, as in, “Okay, I will lie down and take this.” Hell, no! It means acknowledgment, as in “Okay, this is my reality, so now what do I do about it?” I accept that this shit is real – bad stuff is happening. And I know that I must manifest my values, because that’s how I choose to live. The response depends on the situation. It may be turning away from a person or situation. It may be speaking up. It may be doing something that I’m afraid to do. Whatever the response, it comes from honoring my truth, and it comes from a space of equanimity.

This is not easy. It takes effort and practice. But, if I want to be part of a better world, it’s going to take work. I’m ready, ready and able, to respond to things I don’t like.

 

 

 

 

 

I Will Practice Love

“They’re not coming to this country if I’m president,” said Donald Trump about Muslims.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of problems…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re bringing rapists,” said Donald Trump about Mexicans.

Signing (North Carolina) House Bill 2, which basically states that no local law can provide protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, “was the right thing to do” because “there are some laws that need to be uniform across the state, especially when it comes to protecting our citizens,” said NC House Representative Jon Hardister (R).

When I hear statements like these, I try not to get angry or post disrespectful comments on Facebook about the people who say them. Instead, I try to focus on the question that the Black Eyed Peas sang about. Where is the love?

But if you only have love for your own race, then you only leave space to discriminate. And to discriminate only generates hate. Whatever happened to the values of humanity? Whatever happened to the fairness and equality? Instead of spreading love, we’re spreading animosity.

And when I think about love, I think about St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, which speaks largely on this topic. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth when he was trying to unite a group of very factious Christians. He wrote an epistle to this congregation, because the church had lost its moral compass. Sound familiar?

Paul wrote,

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Paul’s message and his reason for sending it seems just as appropriate now as it did in the 1st century. There is conflict in our midst. We have lost sight of our basic humanity, and we need to recalibrate our moral compass.

Black, white, gay, straight, man, woman, child, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Syrian/Iraqi/Afghani refugee, rich, poor, Republican, Democrat, non-English speaking American, illegal alien, every human being. Every human being deserves to be treated with kindness and patience, with honor and protection.

To practice love is my personal responsibility, because I try to live by my values, and my values include awareness and compassion and connection. They don’t include hate and injustice and discord. Frankly, I don’t know of anyone who has those values. Do you?

To practice love is also my civic duty, because I care about the general welfare of all people – not just those who look and think like me or live in my state or country. So, I must adopt an attitude and act in ways that contribute to the welfare of every human being.

I will practice love.

 

Love and Humanity

Weekly Musings

Weekly Musings is my summary of the week’s highs, lows, and in betweens. There’s always some of each.

 

Spring Break 2016

I went on vacation for 2 weeks, and it was fabulous.

After a week in Colorado, where I traveled for work and ended up getting sick with allergies (or a cold or the flu, or I don’t know what), I returned to Germany and, almost immediately, the whole family flew off and spent 13 days gallivanting about the UK. The length of the trip was due in large part to the enormous savings we initially made by staying with our generous friends in London and York for a total of 8 nights. (Thank you, Darcy and Emma’s family!) Of course we made up for those savings later by staying in an 11th century castle (now hotel) and a 17th century prison (now hotel). Let’s just say that the upgrade from peeing in a bucket to peeing in a flushing toilet brings the price of a room up dramatically.

The good news is that the hubs and I only got into 1 fight on this trip, which is quite possibly a new record. It happened half way through the trip when I was starving, and, instead of feeding me, we went on one of those double decker tour buses. For an hour. In the wind. And the cold. Did I mention I was starving before we left?

When we got back to the hotel, my husband worked on trying to find a great fish and chips place, which led to us wandering for blocks between our hotel and one pub then the next (NOTE: the pubs in the UK, while seemingly restaurants, do not allow children after certain hours, like 6pm!). I got hangry. Super hangry. And then before my full fledged breakdown on the streets of Dublin happened, we ended up at an “American” diner with a menu that could have been straight from a TGI Friday’s. We ate burgers and fries and didn’t speak to each other during the entire meal.

But, it’s all good. We made up the next day once my husband came to the realization that one cannot rationalize with a hangry wife. Just gotta stuff some food in her face right then and there.

My parents took me to see castles and cathedrals for Spring Break, but all I really wanted to do was cartwheels in the park!

My parents took me to see castles and cathedrals for Spring Break, but all I really wanted to do was cartwheels in the park!

 

What I’m Into Right Now

I’m reading 2 books – No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh and Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. I’m also participating in the Deepak/Oprah 21 Day Meditation Experience on Shedding the Weight – Mind, Body, and Spirit. The overall message is the same, and it has to do with suffering, which doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been diagnosed with cancer or somebody died. It can mean you’re mad at your spouse or you’re upset about screwing up something at work or you’re just feeling restless and off.

Both authors (and the meditation series) are clear about 1 thing. All peace comes from within; it isn’t dependent upon external factors. Therefore, every person can transform his or her own suffering. Obviously, it takes work, but here’s how you can start. First, acknowledge the suffering, as opposed to ignoring or resisting it. Second, recognize that suffering does happen. No one is immune or leads a charmed life where it doesn’t happen; it’s something that we all experience. It’s part of being human. Finally, when you are suffering, practice self-compassion. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Treat yourself kindly.

In addition to those 3 steps, here are two mantras I really like that you can repeat to yourself to help you. The first is for inspiration/intention at the beginning of the day and the other is for whenever you need some self-love.

Waking up this morning, I smile.

I have twenty-four hours to live.

May I live them deeply.

May I learn to look at the beings around me with the eyes of compassion.

Thich Nhat Hanh

This is a moment of suffering.

Suffering is part of life.

May I be kind to myself in this moment.

May I give myself the compassion I need.

Kristin Neff

 

Those are my weekly musings, and what about you?

What did you tell yourself this week to inspire you, motivate you, or help you on your path?What words of wisdom has someone else (through reading, a podcast, a talk) shared with you?What are you grateful for in your life?