Monday, June 11, 2018

Three Ways to Fight the Stigma of Suicide

Celebrity Suicide June 2108

Last week was a sad week for celebrity suicides. You may not have known much about those who took their own lives, but if your social media timeline was like mine, you were connected with many people whose hearts were touched by the news.

We began the week with the passing of Kate Spade, a fashion designer who built a handbag empire and turned her name into a multi-million dollar brand, then finished the week with the passing of Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and CNN host whose stories about exotic cultures and food entertained audiences worldwide. They both chose to hang themselves—a gruesome end to their stellar careers.

Many people ask themselves, “Why? How could this have happened‽” I’ve seen others sneer. Some even faulted the departed for selfishness because they left behind grieving loved ones. These are the typical responses one finds online. The internet is filled with many insensitive souls who are drunk with their own superiority, but generally, most people are good at heart. Suicide shocks them to their core.

We expect moody teenagers or troubled individuals to struggle with those fatal urges, not successful individuals at the height of their empires. I sometimes suffer from the same misconception that many people have: I equate money and success with happiness. How often have you thought you’d be happier if you just had more money?The problem is that successful people are too busy to make time for physical or mental health checkups, or they fear the public response to their private problem. In a way, their success costs them their lives.

Although I knew of both celebrities, their deaths did not impact me in the same way as others that I know. I never purchased a Kate Spade bag, and since I don’t have cable, I’ve only caught Bourdain’s show here and there at doctors’ offices over the years. What did impact me was these events happened on the same week that I was dealing with my own suicidism. What strange and macabre timing.

Somewhere about 73 days ago, I was lying in bed, trying to quiet my mind from the stresses of life, when it suddenly occurred to me that my problems would be solved if I killed myself. Just as suddenly, I was horrified at the thought. Where in the world did that come from‽ I sat upright as if launched by rockets.

The monsters in my bedroom don’t live under my bed. They leap out from the shadows and wrestle with my mind. I hadn’t experienced anything like that—with such intensity—in years. Suicidal urges are few and far between for me these days. There is a reason for that. I am still here today because I’ve developed a set of coping strategies that I follow immediately. They keep those dark urges in check.

When my thoughts take a deadly turn, I pray for help, and also immediately tell somebody in my support network. Then I schedule a followup with a mental health professional.

Those three coping strategies have turned me away from many darkened corners. If you tend to mock prayer, think of it as a form of mindfulness. If you mock that, too, make sure you tell somebody what you are struggling with. Suicidism thrives in the dark. It feeds on fear, depression, and shame. You must shine light on it or risk it growing. Part of shining light on that darkness is sharing what you’re going through with a professional, yet spilling your guts to a stranger can be embarrassing.

Suicidal urges are often considered shameful and embarrassing. People generally don’t like to admit that they are struggling. This isn’t Tumblr where kids post photos of their slashed arms. Pride, stigma, or fear keep most people quiet. If I’m describing you, then please consider taking action to preserve your life.

However, I can’t pretend that sitting in a chair and telling a stranger that I wanted to kill myself isn’t surreal. First of all, the urge passed months ago. Second of all, I have no idea how this person will respond to what I am sharing. That is the part that can be unnerving. I recommend taking things slow, sharing innocent details about your life and gauging their reaction before pulling back the curtains for the whole sordid show.

I force myself to follow this coping strategy because it is important to hold myself accountable. I cannot let suicidal depression take root and ruin my life again. If telling a stranger is the price I need to pay to keep those urges at bay, then I gladly pay. I’ve been in the dark wishing I was dead. I’ve lived with that as a daily urge. No thank you. I am glad that I crawled out of that darkness and embraced living instead. It’s been twenty-six years since the worst point in my life. That means twenty-six years of upsides—the entire life of my oldest child who I would have robbed by taking myself out of her world.

Opening up about your suicidal urges with people you trust is a frightening step, yet it is so crucial to shrinking the power that suicidal urges have. If the families of the celebrities who recently took their own lives are anything like the other survivors of suicidal loved ones that I know, they are wringing their hands wondering what more they could have done. They blame themselves for not being there when it counted. I can’t say what Spade or Bourdain did or didn’t do in the days leading up to their fateful decision, but if you can learn anything from their deaths, reach out. Don’t hold this darkness inside. Your life is more valuable than you may realize. Stay connected with loved ones. Share your burden. It might save your life.

If you are looking for help with a suicidal loved one, my book has suggestions for you.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Too Proud to Have ADHD?

Are you too proud for ToDo lists? Don't like to admit you have ADHD memory issues? You aren't alone.

Shopping List of Usefullness

I have a family member who has ADHD. They never write anything down. They don’t make reminders. They insist that they have to remember everything on their own, and of course, they seldom do. I’m so glad I don’t have that hangup anymore.

It reminds me of the hard time we had with my daughter in middle school. Her teacher—supposedly trained to teach learning disabled children—insisted my daughter had to remember to complete all her homework assignments on her own. She wouldn’t tell me what the assignments were so I could help my girl get them finished. Her grades were terrible.

You see, my daughter has severe memory impairment, among other issues. I fought every year to get parental homework reminders on her IEP, and that teacher resisted. She didn’t want to be bothered? She was stubborn? She thought my girl’s memory issue was a discipline problem? I may never know. She’s retired now. However, it took us a full psych eval at Primary Children’s years later before we could have that diagnosis added to my daughter’s IEP. Fortunately, her teacher in high school witnessed and understood that my girl had memory issues. What a difference addressing that learning disability made in my daughters education!

I, too, have memory issues. They are of the ADHD kind. I’ll walk into a room and forget why I entered. I’ve developed the ability to reconstruct my fragmented thoughts and get back on track, but sometimes, there are too many distractions to filter out. For example, I can’t remember more than three things on a shopping list. Heck, I’m lucky if I can remember two. I’d enter those delectable warehouses of colorful distractions and suddenly I’d be calling home to ask why I was there. Embarrassing! So I don’t bother trying to remember anymore. I haven’t tried for over ten years. I write everything down.

I used to be too proud for ToDo lists. I HAD to remember on my own!! But after many years of coming home from the store with the wrong items or worse, having to go back for the items that I forgot, I became a convert. I love love LOVE ToDo lists now.

I wish my family member wasn’t too proud to help themselves out. I’d rather take pride in never forgetting anything than to obstinately insist that my flakey brain had to get its act together. I remember plenty of things, but milk, eggs, and that other thing aren’t among them.

Nifty logo of words in a fishbowl

Big plans! I had big plans to blog every Thursday while finishing up my Pokémon gaming book and structuring my next mental health book on fighting depression. I was also going to start sending out articles for publication again. Yes, indeed. BIG PLANS.

Then an interesting thing happened. I was awarded a scholarship to Writers and Illustrators for Young Readers out of the blue. I took a few days to decide if I wanted to accept the offer, and ultimately accepted. But I was in the middle of one of the longest bouts of illness I’ve had since 2013. Adenovirus led to a sinus infection, and Mother Nature’s ambivalence about whether it was Spring or not left me ill for over 45 days. I was bedridden, coughing up lungs ill. It was a nasty virus. You cannot imagine my relief that it is finally over. I wrapped up my research for the Pokémon book, finished the first draft, caught up with everything in life I’d been unable to attend to while sick, and only signed up for WIFYR two weekends ago.

Then I was told on the 10th that I had until the 12th to submit 6000 words of my story. “What story?” I asked myself. I had hoped to have more time!

I’ve been working long hours plotting, plotting, plotting since last week. My story idea was only the slimmest of thoughts — a cottonwood seed upon the wind. My original plan was to begin formulating the story sometime in the summer. Now it’s planted, and watered, and only needs 6000 words of growth. No worries. The hard part’s been done. Haha…

I have to admit that this ADHD thing of not being able to focus if there’s too much going on is a pain in the binding when I have blogging, writing, caring for a disabled child, and Tourette’s to collate and organize. I’m a mess, but it’s been fun. I began my book last night. I will not allow illness or disability to deprive me of this opportunity. Now if only I was that determined to stay away from Twitter.

Coping Strategy: ToDo lists are your friend. I’ve written many blogs about using them. Here, here, and here for starters.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Mormon Musings: A Reverent Moment with the Brownie

I don’t shy away from mentioning my religion here. I’ve even discussed LDS doctrine and how it intersects with mental health, but today I just wanted to capture a moment and share it with you.

Each highlight ends up on my suit. The rest falls all over my car seats.

“Dad, you’ve got silver things in your sweater,” my daughter whispers out loud. Perhaps it only sounds loud because we’re sitting in church waiting for the sacrament to come our way. I turn to my right to see my daughter picking at my new Irish Aran sweater. There’s a look of disgust on her face as she pulls out a silver strand.

“Yes, that’s because it’s made out of sheep hair,” I whisper back.

She recoils, then looks at me suspiciously. She always thinks I’m teasing her.

“It’s called wool, honey”. She relaxes with her mouth shaped in a silent “Oh.” I can see she’s still confused, though.

“But why does it have sparkles in it?”

“That’s because I have a daughter.” I smile at her as I watch her assume I’m teasing again. Then I motion with my eyes to her dress. She follows and shapes her mouth in another “Oh”. Her dress is a sea of sparkles. She leans in to hug me, splashing my sweater with more.

No pitch today. Just enjoy your Sunday.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

ADHD: Playing Cat & Mouse with Catfishers

She was a total stranger. She was cute and posed with a kid in her profile pic. She had an aversion to punctuation. Suddenly, she said, “Hi Douglas”, and I was off.

Art by Zoe Mozert

Today is technically Day 42 of my bout with adenovirus. Some aspects of the cold linger like our obstinate Winter this year, but I’m feeling better. This was fortunate, because today was the last day my daughter, the Brownie, would be wearing a home EEG to capture a seizure. She had gone the entire week seizure free, so I spent the day trying to induce one. I finally resorted to flashing a strobe light in her face. When that didn’t seem to work, she, her Mum, and I had a last, desperate prayer. Her seizure began one minute later. Coincidence? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

During my weeks of sickness, I finished the research phase of my latest Pokémon book. At this point, I am finishing the project out of sheer will. My enthusiasm for the project fled to more sparkly pastures weeks ago. I hope to wrap up the second draft this week before sending it off to an editor. See? I’m not entirely wasting away, but I am still wasting time, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some wasted time is a lot of fun, like when I string catfishers along.

I’m wrapping up my current project, so I’ll post a meatier article for you next week, but what follows is the most stultifying romance I have ever lived through. You can read for yourself that sharing is not her goal. She is trying to get ME to do all the talking. So I obliged, drifting further down the rabbit hole the longer she kept at it.

How do I know she’s a catfisher? When an unknown girl hits on me online and tells me how handsome I am, I can’t take her seriously. Real girls didn’t even do that when I was a god-like, 185lbs, all-muscle twenty-year-old. So I play with them.

I test first to see if she’s perhaps just conversationally challenged, but when her (or his, to be honest) idea of conversation is to exchange pictures, I know she is fake. Then I like to see how weird I can take things before she’ll break out of character. Because they want money out of me, they won’t stop messaging me no matter what I say or post. I let the ADHD in me go wild. By their rules, I’m engaging them, falling in love, and ready to mail them money, but we know better, don’t we?:

MAR 19TH, 9:23PM
Claire H——: Hi Douglas

MAR 24TH, 4:29PM
You accepted Claire’s request.
Douglas: Hi Claire
Claire H——: How you doing today?
Douglas: Just great! And you?
Claire H——: Am doing good thanks
I saw your profile on my friend suggestion list…you handsome and i have to tell you, lovely smiles you got
Douglas: Wow! Thanks! You good smile too
Claire H——: What are you up to
Douglas: Preparing for the zombie apocalypse. Got any plans for Saturday? Mine crashed.
(I should have said, “Mine were eaten,” but you live, you learn.)
Claire H——: Oh not really
Douglas: Yeah me neither
Claire H——: Just at home relaxing
What do you do for fun
Douglas: I am boring. I have forgotten what fun is. Haha
Claire H——: Lols don't be dirty minded…what do you do at your leisure time
Douglas: I plait goat hair. It's very relaxing.
Claire H——: Oh okay
I will like to know more about you
(Claire took my comments in stride. I have to admit it took me a while to stop laughing.)

MAR 24TH, 6:02PM
Claire H——: Hi Doug

MAR 24TH, 8:13PM
Douglas: Hi! Sorry! I've been away shaving my back. How's your night going, love?

(Completely unphased, Claire returns the next day.)
MAR 25TH, 6:11AM
Claire H——: How are you doing

MAR 25TH, 3:49PM
Douglas: You're back! I thought I scared you off.

MAR 25TH, 5:42PM
Claire H——: No
What are you up to Doug
(At this point, I have decided that I am being too subtle. It’s time to pull out the stops.)
Douglas: I am sick. Day 29. It's very exciting. I may be getting better, but the humongous boils on my feet are making it difficult to ballroom dance. At least the facial swelling has reduced. I can see again. Great, huh?
Claire H——: May I have some pictures of you

Are you with me

(Claire is getting nervous that she’s spooked me, but I am scouring the internet for the perfect photo.)
Douglas: This is a pic of me and my pet bear, Killer. I don't believe that last time was his fault. Besides, the guy was really old.
My and my pet bear, Killer, enjoying the 70s countryside.
Claire H——: It seems like a photo shoot
(Now we know that Claire is not a bot.)
Douglas: It is! My bear and I pose at petting zoos professionally. We have had zero casualties this year. Let's not talk about last year.
Claire H——: Okay
Can I have another pic of you
Killer and Me. The blood being lapped up is in no way related to the missing salesman we ran into. This is me with Killer. He is licking blood off my hands, the rascal!
Hey! This is awkward. I don't have any pictures of you!
Do you have any pics of you cosplaying as Laura Ingalls? I love bonnets.
They're hot.
Claire H——: I don't want pic like that
Send me a pic of you without bear
Douglas: You first. It doesn't have to be pioneer cosplay. I think pilgrims are hot, too.
Claire H——: If this is a pic of Claire, I am the Easter Bunny. (Claire sends a picture that is square in format, complete with white borders on the side, as if copied off the web.)
Douglas: You're cute! I like the borders, too. They've got that screencapped-from-Instagram feel that's super popular these days.
Claire H——: Oh thanks

MAR 26TH, 5:27AM
Claire H——: Hi

(I am beginning to suspect that my account is being passed around the catfisher office to different workers. How many times can one person say “Hi”‽ It’s time to wrap this up.)
MAR 26TH, 2:54PM
Douglas: Hi. I think I am feeling something that I haven't felt since Mia Sara kissed me in the second grade. I really feel like we have a connection here. This conversation has been riveting. Can you move out to Nebraska to be with me?
I don't live in Nebraska, but I'd consider it if you were there.

MAR 27TH, 1:53AM
Claire H——: Lols
(At this point, I feel that I won because she broke from the script with her first honest response. It’s time to say “Goodbye”.)

MAR 28TH, 4:40PM Douglas: The game is done. Wave goodbye!
Claire H——: Why are you sending me the bear
Send me a picture of you

(And so I bid Claire adieu. I wish her the best of luck in reeling in the big one with her captivating conversation skills. I could have continued sending bear pics, and she would have kept replying, but I had lost interest. Nevertheless, this was almost as fun as when I convinced the car scammer that my name was Mick Dundee and I would love to pay to have the car shipped from North Carolina, but could they ship it to the Australian outback instead?)

Coping Strategy: Sometimes I use ADHD as a coping strategy for depression. During the nadir of my illness, I was bedridden and miserable. Playing cat & mouse with a scammer was a perfect distraction and a healthy boost of endorphins. Hi.

If you’d like to support me or see how I use creative coping strategies to overcome suicidal depression, buy my book.

Friday, March 23, 2018

A Moment’s Respite from Pressing Thoughts

Finding moments of beauty can help alleviate stress and depression.

Sunset after the rain

Sometimes all I need to feel right is a moment’s peace with a beautiful sunset. Anxieties fade, and my spirit is lifted. That ephemeral moment of beauty has so much power for me. I wonder at the richly saturated colors spreading across the sky as twilight casts shadows over the color of the world below.

Some may claim sunsets are trite, but I do not find them so. I have trained myself to use them as cleansing moments. It is as if I have pressed pause on my day. I focus on something outside of myself. At that instant, the sunset becomes a grand, positive moment in my life in contrast to an otherwise stressful day. Truthfully, I am usually too distracted by the setting splendor to ruminate. Here, ADHD is a perfect coping strategy for depression.

An important aspect of sunsets is that you can’t plan on them. Most are unremarkable. However, when conditions are right, and if I notice the splash of color in the corner of my eye, I quickly find a place for a moment’s respite. I highly recommend you find your own random moments of respite when struggling with depression.

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