Friday, September 12, 2014

Kicking Suicide in the Teeth

I have to confess something. I don't like most online suicide prevention resources. It's not that they're wrong, but that they're too soft. I'm looking for Burgess Merideth in my corner shouting at me in a gravelly voice, “Keep hittin 'em in the ribs, ya see? Don't let that b— breathe!”, not “Someone need a hug?” like Will Farrel's character in Elf. Suicidal ideation needs to be fought tooth and nail; I need pep talks not greeting cards.

When I was suicidal a few weeks ago I had nobody nearby to turn to. It was very late at night, and I didn't think to call a hotline or wake up a friend. Instead, I texted my daughter in Germany. I just needed somebody to know what I was struggling with. She replied with sympathy, but also asked me what I was going to do about it. I laid out my game plan and she sent me words of encouragement. I had her in my corner, and I was going to win the fight. Even just confessing to her was a positive action that began the turnaround. By the time I woke up the next day, I was no longer in any danger. I had made it to the bell round after round and won.

I'm not sure why I was suicidal then. Sometimes there isn't a good reason. I've got more going wrong today than I did weeks ago, and I'm not experiencing suicidal ideation in the slightest. I'm getting over a nasty cold, I'm very depressed, I'm still struggling with the divorce, I'm lonely, I've got a buck in the bank with bills still unpaid, and I spent the day in forearm crutches because I was so neurologically off that I couldn't walk. I deal with much more than ADHD and depression. I tell you this not for sympathy, but because I need you to realize that I understand what feeling low is like. I understand desperation and hopelessness. I get it. However, I'm still not going to kill myself. Suicidal urges are a trick of the mind, and I'm not falling for it.

So if you are like me and are tired of the greeting card sentimentality of many suicide prevention resources, please understand that it's not just you who doesn't find them helpful. They're simply not targeted to somebody like you or I. We need somebody fighting in our corner for us and cheering us on towards success. I don't have a hug for you. I'm not going to tell you that you can't help feeling this way. So listen closely.

You can do it!

Keep hittin' depression in the ribs!

Kick those suicidal urges in the teeth!!

Get in there and knock 'em dead!


Yeah, I did just say that. I don't mollycoddle when it comes to suicidal tendencies. I'm fighting for my life. Maybe that sounds melodramatic to you, but it's been the technique I've used to beat back suicidal impulses for twenty-seven years. If I was suicidal weeks ago but I'm not today when things are much worse, then suicide just doesn't make any sense, does it?

Unfortunately, logic doesn't work so well on the depressed mind. The overwhelming feelings of despair are hard to think through clearly. So prepare today. Find your reason to live. Write it down. Staple it to your forehead. Do what you have to in order to give yourself a reason to hang in there until the urges pass. Because the urges will pass. There will be another dawn. You will get to the other side of the abyss and be happier for it. That doesn't sound as nice as a greeting card expression, but it is still true. Roll up your sleeves, and get ready for the fight. It's going to be difficult at times, but you can do it. Suicidal tendencies can be overcome.


Reposted from May 2014

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Suicide: No One Cares? It Depends on Who You Listen To

Do you struggle with suicidal ideation and keep it to yourself because so many people let you down? Do you have a hard time opening up to people about these dark feelings because you’re afraid of being rejected? You might be surprised to learn you’re in good company. A lot of suicidal people receive a slap in the face instead of a hand of support, metaphorically speaking. I’ve confided in family members, ecclesiastical leaders, and friends only to be let down time after time. Some people simply can’t handle the conversation. Their mind flees out of their ear in search of sunshine the moment you bring the subject up, leaving you sitting there in the dark, alone and ignored. Perhaps, however, you have bumped into the other type of listener. They tell you to suck it up and stop complaining. That you’re making a big deal out of nothing. That you need to grow up. Wake up! Get your act together! What is wrong with you!? You’re just looking for attention!! Then they ignore you.
Aren’t they just your favorite⸮ I put them on my list of people to call for emotional support right below the state tax commission. They didn’t used to be at the bottom of my list, but Doctor Laura lost her show. Sometimes, though, I’m lucky, and they reach out to me because of my blog.[1]
When I saw on Twitter that there was a lot of fear & suspicion regarding suicide hotlines, I thought I’d call one and see what it was like. That phone call, and a few followups, helped me write “What To Expect When You Call a Suicide Prevention Hotline”. It is currently the most popular article that I’ve written (replacing my 10 Ways to Fight Off Depression article). So imagine my puzzlement when I discovered this gem today:
It had been lurking on my blog for two months[2] and I never noticed it. I’m not sure which was more tragic: that somebody took time to write something so unkind, or that five people agreed with him. I wasn’t hurt, however. On the contrary, I believe in what I’m doing and know that people out there like my writing. Coincidentally, I had discovered one such person in my inbox and had planned on sharing her email this week.
Hi Mr. Cootey,
I’m sure you’re used to these types of emails by now but I really felt the need to reach out and thank you for your writing. A few minutes ago I Googled, “What happens when you call a suicide hotline?”and your article came up. You can obviously guess my state of mind right now since I was contemplating calling a suicide prevention hotline, but it’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before. I was diagnosed with manic depression when I was 13, and even though I am now 26 the shame surrounding it is still very much there. I’ve been managing it over the years with medication and psychotherapy, but I’ve never really considered calling a prevention line until recently. My low’s usually occur after 2am so I’m usually low on resources when I really need them. Your article made me feel a lot safer about using a hotline if I ever really needed to, and I really want to say thank you for that.
I’ve read a few other blog entries on the site and will certainly be reading more in the future. I am a Media and Communications major at the University of █████, and besides your writing resonating with me due to my ability to relate to the content, I have the utmost respect for someone who can use this type of platform responsibly while still being able to entertain. I wish you the best of luck and much success.
Thank you, J. Sherbert
Miss Sherbert,
Thank you so much for writing to me. I never get used to those types of emails. They are dear and precious to me because I know how hard it is for people struggling with these issues to reach out. I’m sure you’ve experienced your unfair share of Peters in your years working towards happiness. It’s a hard fight, and you’ve taken all the right steps. I hope that your experience with the suicide hotline was a positive one. As with anything, your experience depends on the person on the other line. If my experience is any sort of indication, however, you likely reached somebody who was very concerned for you and gave you the support you needed. Thanks for fighting. Thanks for living. If you wish to reach out to me privately and let me know how things went, I’d love to hear from you again.
I can focus on the Peters of this life or I can focus on the Miss Sherbets. It’s my choice. I prefer to believe that my writing is doing some good and reaching people who might not be otherwise getting the support they need. I hope that you can focus on the sources of light in your life, too. We deal with enough darkness without hateful people adding to it.

Reposted from May 2014

  1. When a blogging friend asked me why I didn’t moderate my comments, and why I left comments like Peter’s on my blog, I told her that I liked to let the hateful comments stand. I’ll yank comments that are laced with profanity, or comments that are spam, but spiteful comments stand as a testimony of the mind that made them. I want my readers to see that I deal with that crap, too, and I survive. They can survive, too.  ↩
  2. I’m pretty bad about keeping on top of comments here. Oh, I love getting comments, but I recently discovered that an old Gmail script I created years ago to organize my email was still active and happily archiving (i.e. hiding) every comment alert from my blog. Now I know why I’ve been missing all your excellent replies. It’s going to require a time machine to get through them all.  ↩

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Don't Give Up. Depression Is Worth Fighting!

Or Why Be Suicidal When You Can Careen Down a Hillside on a Block of Ice for Fun?


Gorgeous Clouds. Click to see the full image!

I try to maintain a balance in my writing on mental health issues. I want to be upbeat and show how I've licked the li'l beasties, but if I'm too chipper many people assume that I never really had a problem. How easy it is for them to assume that their depression is the only real DEPRESSION. How exactly they are like those who don't believe there is such a thing as clinical depression because everybody feels sad once in a while. Unfortunately, both parties are wrong. I truly do have clinical depression, and it's a constant condition I manage on a daily basis.

With divorce and a terrible car wreck in my recent past, I haven't been so chipper lately. My bank account needs a trip to the ER to stop the hemorrhaging, my minivan is off the road because my mailman thinks other people will enjoy my mail more than I will, and all the dating sites have rejected my applications because my compatibility scores are so low I only match with mollusks. I don't even think I know how to be funny anymore. Life has beaten me down. What a blessing that I have spent the past two decades learning how to manage depression. I have sorely needed that training this Summer. Since this is National Suicide Prevention Week, I wanted to share how I keep myself far from suicidal ideation.

It's important to first get yourself in the right frame of mind. I have trained myself to be proactive against depression, to recognize it when it settles in, to analyze if the depression is appropriate or not, and then to develop the desire to not be depressed. This last feat is easier typed than accomplished, but we truly can lift the colossal, crushing weight of depression when we engage our willpower to do so. Depression doesn't necessarily go away, but these cognitive behavior techniques can make the 200 lbs. weight feel more like 20 lbs. It's still weight, but you can finally move around.

When my extended family decided to go ice block sledding last month, my girls and I were invited, but I didn't think I would go along. I was ticking pretty badly, and had been for days. It was a forearm crutch day, and sitting on top of a block of ice while pitching headlong down a steep hill while I had poor equilibrium sounded like an opportunity to break some bones. As my girls prepared to leave without me, however, I stopped to assess my feelings and realized that I was more than discouraged. I was sinking into depression. Staying home would be the absolute worst thing I could do.

I informed my family I would attend after all, but that I was ticking and wouldn't be participating in the sledding. Once there I drank orange juice for the potassium, ate some deli meat for the protein, had a Dunkin' Donut or two for the fun of it, and slowly started to improve. I am so glad that I went.

Far off in the southeast of Salt Lake Valley a storm was coming over the Wasatch Front just as the sun was setting. The waning light played with the distant rain clouds and created a palette of colors that would have had Maxfield Parish weeping. I sat there and peacefully snapped photos of the oncoming painting while family members spilled down the hillside while perched on their icy steeds. My mood had lifted. I had followed my own advice to fight off depression. I found something fun to do, and changed my scenery. Then I began to notice that my twelve-year-old wasn't having fun.

My youngest daughter has cerebral palsy and struggles with physical activities. She couldn't remain seated on the block of ice for more than half the hillside. Meanwhile, she was taking spills down the hill that would have made Jack & Jill wince. I put aside my photography and tried to coach her, but she was simply becoming more and more frustrated. Then it occurred to me that I needed to lead by example. Maybe in my clumsy state I could learn something that would help her. And so I rode down the hill like a flolloping walrus on an icy comet.

Actually, the result was much better than that, though the trip back up the hill was quite the challenge. I shared what I learned with my daughter who managed to go a little farther, and I ended up having fun despite myself.

Sometimes depression tricks us into thinking that we can't fight—that it's better to be safe and sit life out. I don't usually believe that way, but every once in a while I do when the depression is pernicious enough and I'm simultaneously ticking. Then I can be overwhelmed. How glad I am that I chose to fight that day instead. This is how I keep suicide at bay. I won't allow depression to settle in, so suicidal ideation doesn't have a chance to germinate in my mind. Besides, life is simply too full of beauty and wonder. If I close my eyes in fatigue, I might miss out on the miracles the world has to show me.


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Monday, September 08, 2014

25 Reasons I Say "No" to Suicide

Suriviving suicide requires having a reason to live. In fact, it requires many reasons. Start your list today.

First Daughter of Four. Top of my list.

I was supposed to start my week with a bang. Here was my big opportunity to blog every day to honor National Suicide Prevention Week. I’d get the blog out in the morning, promote it on social media, and maybe share my story with new readers. Instead, my tic disorder & sickness put me out of commission. I didn’t even climb out of bed until 5:30pm, finally able to move. My soon to be thirteen-year-old had kept tabs on me. She fed me half of her Fluffernutter Sandwich in bed, told me about her exciting Sonic the Hedgehog findings, and gave me hugs & kisses. Eventually, my mind and body drifted slowly into sync, and I was able to get going.

At that point I was supposed to start blogging immediately, but the virus the kids gave me last week still kept me otherwise occupied. Plus there was dinner to make, and laundry to move along. Then my soon to be sixteen-year-old came home with her first prom dress, literally glowing so intensely I feared her body would no longer contain its excitement and go super nova in my living room. She also asked me one of those questions that in her mind are supposed to have simple answers, but which represent enormous fleets of icebergs, all hiding hours of discussion underneath the waves. We had one of those discussions tonight. It was far more important than dirty sinks and unwritten blogs.

We Are Connected to Life around Us

I suppose what I am trying to get at is that my family has always been important to me, and that is as it should be. This has been key in my ability to shake off suicidal urges. Life and people in general play havoc with our ToDo lists, getting in the way of Great Things, but through friends and family we are connected to life around us, most especially with children. Those bright spirits with their glorious, independent minds need to be nourished and cared for during the short time they are with us. Then they are off like shooting stars to blaze their own trails through the firmament. I could focus on the emptiness that future separation brings, or I could focus on the interruptions to Great Things those bright spirits bring on a daily basis, but instead I will focus on how they help me stay alive.

Twenty or so years ago I was at a low point in my life. My attempts to treat ADHD had given me a motor tic disorder, while my efforts to treat clinical depression had made me suicidal. Side-effects from psychmeds had sidetracked my life. Although I had flirted artfully with suicidal ideation since I was fifteen, panicking my parents as only fifteen-year-olds who write death poetry can, never before had I actually wanted to put an end to things. I’ve written before about suicide, but have I written enough about why I chose life over death?

All those years ago I sat there with blade to wrist and thought of reasons—any reason!—why I should not bring an end to my pain. I thought of my wife at the time and how heartbroken she would be. I thought of my first daughter and how I took care of her. Who would watch my girl when my former wife went off to work? Who would clean up the crimson mess I would leave behind? What a terribly selfish thing to do to people I supposedly held dearest.

Before that moment, suicide seemed a kind and logical thing to do for my family. To my thinking at the time, I would no longer disappoint my parents. I would no longer be a burden and embarrassment for my wife at the time. My stuff could be given away to friends and brothers. My daughter would never even remember me. I could be easily erased from everyone’s life, and I would no longer hurt. Yet it was all a lie. Suicide warps the way we think. It bends and twists our logic through funhouse mirrors filled with dark clowns and poorly lit futures. Whereas clinical depression feels as if a weight of sadness crushes downward upon me, suicidal depression is a frantic energy filled with self-loathing and violence towards myself, as if I could claw my own heart from my chest to relieve the pain.

Keep a List Forefront in Your Mind

I have reached those low depths from time to time. However, my list of reasons for staying alive has grown with each year. Despite the failures of my life, I have many joys as well. It is with purpose that I mark each joy to recall later when needed. I know now that suicidality is a lie of depression and not to be heeded. In fact, I manage my depression on a daily basis because of the list. If I were to be gripped with suicidal ideation tomorrow, I would remind myself of…

smiling daughters,
pig piles on Daddy,
the generosity and kindness of friends,
chauffeuring parents,
cheerful conversations with strangers,
the readers of this blog,
good typography,
the comforting escapism of Science Fiction television and Fantasy novels,
pulse pounding and heart moving Japanese anime & manga,
breathtaking sunsets on a warm Summer’s eve,
the ephemeral beauty of nature,
the Second Comforter and a loving Redeemer,
the delightful laugh of a woman,
and the transcending power of music.

Some of the joys of my life are in need of a cornucopia of tomorrows, not just one more day, to be fully realized like…

Japanese roleplaying games that never end,
apotheosis and perfection,
art supplies and the hope of using them,
a blank page awaiting words,
stories untold,
and dreams unfulfilled.

In fact, the more I contemplate it, the more I realize that my life is overfilled with reasons to continue living, and not just to continue living, but to live with bright purpose. These things are in themselves not what save me, but together they define the happy, tiny moments that keep me sane. Moments exactly like…

sudden road trips with faeries
prom dress grins,
conversations with the depth of icebergs,
constant interruptions to Great Things,
and Fluffernutter sandwiches.

Life may not work out the way we want or dreamed, but if we make the effort now to store up a list of joys, we can call on them to shine light into the darkness of depression when we are at our lowest. We can choose to live.


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Saturday, September 06, 2014

Some Promises Are Hard to Keep, but that Doesn't Stop Us from Trying

Made of Cloth © Douglas Cootey 2014


It's not a great day today. The bug the children brought home with their homework & happy tales of school days may have finally left me yesterday, but after spending an afternoon at the Salt Lake Comic Con, the effort took a greater toll than I had prepared to pay. I swallowed copious amounts of Vitamin C, then rubbed my hands with sanitizer every thirty minutes, but there was nothing I could do to keep the ticking at bay. I'm hobbling about today on two forearm crutches when I'm not lying in my bed willing my body to stop moving. Tic disorders are inconvenient things.

The Leprechaun is in the other room bundled in blankets in her bed—something I wish I could do, but I cannot return to sleep. Only the Brownie is bouncing with energy. Too bad we weren't able to send her to church with her mother, but on the upside I have a nurse on hand to bring me protein shakes and be amazed at my photo skills.

I only have a few more years to amaze her this way until she is able to do these sorts of things herself and then suddenly she will wonder why she ever was amazed with me in the first place. Then she'll be a full-fledged teenager, questioning everything I say as she thinks that I'm an embarrassment. This will last until she becomes an adult and then she will question everything she thought as a teenager. Children tend to rediscover parents at that time. I will enjoy these magical years with the Brownie as much as I can before she begins the long, hard Dark Age of Rebellious Enlightenment.

As soon as I stabilize, I will make something of this day. It's a promise I have made to myself—a promise that includes holding our own church service in our living room, making home baked cookies, and editing family videos. There is no time for sadness or exhausted twitching in bed. I cannot while away my day passively watching Netflix, or less passively play an JRPG propped up on the couch. In point of fact, I assumed my body would have started cooperating already. Hasn't it seen my list?

With luck, I will get a good night's sleep tonight. This will be a busy week for me. Aside from freelance work, I plan on blogging daily for National Suicide Prevention Week. I wasn't able to finish my book on overcoming suicide in time for this week, which is an opportunity lost, but I remain determined to see the project through to the end. In the meantime, I won't let this get me down. There are cookies to bake.



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