If This is You

This Is Me

I started this blog in August 2017 and is now a year old. It became an idea after losing one of the most important people in my life. I thought it was important that I share my story of grief, loss and coming back to life after losing Jake. I wanted others to know they aren’t alone in this loss, in this life.

The mission behind this blog has been to educate others about mental health, suicide awareness, and prevention. This is so that hopefully someone out there thinks again before attempting to take their own life. Jake did not, and having to live without him has been one of the hardest things I have ever lived through. I’ve often said two years was not and never will be enough.

My other hope is to help others so that another family does not have to go through the extreme anguish Jake’s family has been through- twice. They are a family of faith (mostly), and I’m pretty sure that’s what has helped them move forward.

No family should lose a child to suicide and somehow, this family has moved forward after losing two. Josh and Sara have been two of my biggest cheerleaders.

I cannot begin to explain the sheer devastation, sadness, and anger that I felt after his death. Some days are still hard. I still cry. I still have a hard time with the “why”. There was no note. There was no goodbye. I had to say goodbye to my blue-eyed Superman at his casket.

People have said that suicide is a selfish, cowardly act. I have never been able to believe this. I have lost others to suicide besides Jake, including an uncle, and my own father attempted when I was a kid (I was the one that found him).

I have no attempts myself. It is far from cowardly and selfish. Most that attempt or complete suicide are looking for a way to somehow end the pain they are in physically, emotionally, or even both.

While working in the mental health field, I’ve heard some incredibly sad stories about attempts and/or losing loved ones to suicide. It is a heartbreaking epidemic. I also don’t believe that people always show signs. I used to- but in light of a few deaths by suicide, I no longer do.

Some show signs and some are out of nowhere. Jake’s was a very sudden suicide, and while many of us left behind have our own thoughts on why, we will never know what exactly happened in the last few moments before Jake made the worst decision of his life.

Three years have passed since Jake’s death. I finished therapy, put myself (and my marriage) back together and am pretty much living my best life since before he died. I hope every day that he would be happy with the life I have. I hope he would be proud of me.

When he died, I made two promises: to live the life that he made me strong enough to live and to finish the work he started. I have done both. The first is a lifetime promise because I will spend the rest of my life being the strong person he helped me become. The second was completed the day I finished therapy.

If This Is You (Suicide Loss Survivors)

  • My heart is so sad for you. This kind of loss is crushing. It will take time for you to heal, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It took a year for me to even begin living again. Take all the time you need to heal. If you need counseling, get it. If you need other changes, make them. Just don’t do anything you will regret. (I quit the job that I was working when Jake died, but that was a matter of my immediate mental health.) Take care of yourself.
  • Find support. Those that are closest to you can be a great support, but sometimes support comes from the weirdest places. I met Sara at Jake’s visitation and we have become best friends. We’ve walked each other through a lot. There are support groups for suicide loss survivors. See the resources at the end of this post or my resources page.
  • Find a healthy outlet. This can be a very good thing. My therapist suggested coloring, journaling and meditating. These helped my severe anxiety and depression. There are many ways to let out the emotions you are feeling- art, sports, music, etc. Talking can also be a great outlet if you have someone you can trust.
  • Take the grieving process one day at a time. Sometimes it’s one hour at a time. I spent whole days in bed for months after Jake’s death. I also drank heavily. (Thankfully, I am now 20 months sober.) Some days will be great, some days will be horrible. There will be memories that shatter your heart for a long time, but they will pop up again and make you smile. Songs, scents, and other things will do the same. I cried my way through most of Taylor Swift’s music for months, but now I smile and sing along.
  • If you want to get involved in something to make a difference, try the Out of the Darkness Community Walks. I’ve walked in Louisville since 2011 (off and on) and in 2015, threw a team together in Jake’s memory. I let Josh take over in 2016- he and his wife have done a great job with it. They changed it to Team Jake and Jared (for the brother they lost in 2002) and have raised a lot of money. There are other ways to get involved-this is just one.
  • There will be a day in which you can tell your story and not cry. This does not mean you don’t care, it means you are healing. This shows progress.
  • Healing does not mean forgetting. This can be a struggle.
  • Know that you are changed forever. This didn’t really sink in for me until Jake’s death, but losing someone you care deeply about suicide will change how you see the world and others around you forever. I’ve become a lot more selective on who I let in my life and I had no problems cutting people out, including people I’d worked with and cared about for years.
  • It’s okay to get counseling. Grief can get bigger than you think- I was in therapy within a month of Jake’s death. My therapist wasn’t a grief counselor but there are many. Grief can and will consume you.

I feel that those we lose remain with us in their own ways. Jake is with me all the time- cheering me on and making sure I don’t forget what he taught me.

At the AFSP Community walk in Louisville on 11/3/18. #ForMySuperman

World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10, 2018. (This is also my wedding anniversary. The irony.) If that is a rough day for you, as it will be for many, please know you are not alone.

Resources:

AFSP

NAMI

The Dangers of Ignoring Mental Illness

Mental illness can lead to difficult situations if left untreated, but yet millions do so. Why?

Reasons To Not Find Help

  1. Shame. This leads many to hide symptoms. In many minority communities, mental health issues aren’t discussed very often, if at all. Those who do have issues are made to feel that something is “wrong” with them. You can read about this in Men and Mental Health and Breaking Down while Black.
  2. Poverty. Many don’t have money and/or health insurance to cover the costs of therapy and/or medication. This can be another major stumbling block. I was very lucky in that I had insurance to cover two years of therapy for a very low co-pay. Julian is on state health insurance. It’s hard to get help when you can’t afford it.
  3. Embarrassment. This is still a big reason that people avoid treatment. I’ve been very open about my struggles with mental health, drinking, and loss. Many people, however, want to hide that they have a drinking problem or anxiety. It makes them “look weak”.
  4. Side effects from medications and/or not feeling comfortable with a provider. Side effects from psychiatric medications are less than fun. Some are so bad that people simply stop taking them. It’s recommended that they don’t without speaking to the prescribing doctor, but this is not always done. It also helps if you feel like you can open up to your mental health provider. If you can’t, it makes you less likely to want to go back. It’s okay to want to switch. There’s someone out there for you.

The Dangers Below the Surface

When you leave your mental health unchecked, things can go very bad. The things on this list are possibilities:

  1. Worsening mental health status. As time goes by, your mind can go into some dark places if left unchecked. It may become harder to treat the issues. Longer and more intensive treatment may be needed.
  2. Unexplained physical symptoms. Sometimes our bodies begin to show wear after a certain amount of time of not being cared for. Our muscles stay tense, sleep becomes restless or harder to come by, eating may become irregular.
  3. Job and home instability. During a severe mental health episode, it may become difficult or even impossible to go to work. This can lead to losing a job and/or home.
  4. Incarceration. During episodes, there may be behaviors that lead to arrests, like indecent exposure, assaults, etc. These would not occur otherwise but in an altered state, people may not think clearly. There are millions sitting in jails and prisons with mental illnesses, many with severe mental illness (SMI).
  5. Victimization. Sadly, some with mental illness are more likely to become victims of violence than others due to past incidents and/or altered levels of functioning.
  6. Suicide. Many suicides are attributed to untreated mental illness. It’s not a failure or a lack of coping skills. Sometimes you get stuck in a moment you literally cannot see yourself getting out of. That’s when tragedy strikes.

Mental health treatment is well worth the time and money. You are worth the time and money.

Have you had problems with accessing mental health services?

For more information on accessing online therapy, please see Better Help

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

Information courtesy of Psychology Today

Broken Wings Part 5: What I Wish My Spouse Knew

What I Wish My Spouse Knew About Our Child With Special Needs

This series was inspired by a Facebook post I read six weeks ago. A member posted this question “Does having a special needs child affect your marriage?” Post after post, people shared examples of how their marriage was tested. Some made it, others did not. I always wanted to create a platform where people could talk and share their experiences, the good and the bad. I cannot thank my collaborator Wrae Meredith Sanders enough for her open and honest contributions. Whatever your decision is, I hope you know you’re not alone and you will make it.

This is the last part of this series. Please feel free to like, comment, and share.

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There are many things that I can look back on now and wish that I could change. I’m unable to change the damage that was done to our marriage- both of us did things that we regret but we have been able to move forward together.

If I’d known that we would disagree so much and loudly, I would have shut the door a little more. I would have stopped and asked for a break–this would have helped more than we realized at the time. I would have asked why we had to be right all the time instead of coming up with a compromise.

Julian Needed Us to Come Together, Not Fall Apart

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If I’d known then that I’d spend many nights crying myself to sleep for so many reasons, I would hit the rewind button. I would figure out each separate reason instead of letting it all become a big ball of depression.

I thought I was doing the right thing–fighting you for Julian’s needs. This turned out to be two evaluations, a diagnosis of ADHD (combined), traits of Asperger’s (later amended to High Functioning Autism) and medications. He also needed group therapy.

Moms are supposed to do what it takes for their kids, right? The only thing is, I did it alone. I didn’t listen to you. You didn’t want any of these things to happen because you were in denial. If I had known what to say and not be confrontational, I would have done it. But I didn’t. That’s where I went wrong.

I tried explaining, even in a way you could understand but that didn’t do it. In your family, disabilities aren’t real unless you see it. Julian has the kind you can’t see. You couldn’t see it, so it didn’t exist. This even applied when Julian almost broke my nose and I had to get X-Rays.

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I sought out ways to deal with the loneliness. When your husband is in denial and emotionally bashes you daily, you have to find a way to cope. I drank. That was not productive at all.

I went out a lot with people who turned out to not be good for me, you even tried to tell me, but I didn’t trust you enough to care. I worked out in the gym obsessively and lost 60 lbs. Even my doctor was concerned. I barely ate for days on end. This didn’t help my decision making.

What I Know Now

We worked hard to put this family back together. I still have problems opening up to you this day. I finished therapy two months ago. You were there from day one to the last and cheered me on the whole time.

During that time, Julian has grown, and he has done well. He finished group therapy and dealt well with a change in providers. He is going into the seventh grade after a few bumps adjusting to middle school.

You’ve become so supportive of Julian and I. When he has a bad day, I know I can tell you about it. You’re happy when he does well. Raising kids isn’t easy and we have three. Having a kid with special needs makes things a bit more interesting and sometimes difficult. I’m glad that both of us decided to make this work.

Thanks. I know Julian wouldn’t say it but I’m sure he likes his mom and dad being together.

Love always…

Wrae

What I Wish My Husband Knew About Being A Special Needs Mom

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Dear Husband,

Never at the age of forty did I dream I would marry, then become pregnant a few months later. It took us both by surprise yet we agreed to go on this wild journey called parenting. I had a little more experience with raising a child as my daughter was fourteen when we tied the knot.

I was fat, tired, and cranky–everything a pregnant woman is and probably will be as long as little humans continue to beautifully invade our personal space. There were precautions because of my age and health, but I was sure I would go full term.

But I didn’t. He came nearly three months early. After a long stay at the hospitals, oxygen tanks, and therapy, our baby boy could live a normal life.

There’s Something About Keith

We both noticed how energetic he was, how once he started talking he couldn’t stop, and how sleep evaded him. No worries though, I sleep trained him. Plus, kids are naturally talkative and hyper, right?

But he never slowed down. After being kicked out of two daycares, we had him evaluated. I already knew, but I wanted to hear the doctor say it. He had ADHD.

Now here’s where the story starts to fall apart

I ran straight towards the ADHD armed with books, natural medicine because our pediatrician refused to help him, and age-appropriate behavioral techniques. You ran in the other direction, straight to the door of denial.

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Days grew into weeks, months, and even years. Six years isn’t much time to some, but when a person feels like they’re carrying the load alone, it can seem like a millennium.

The feeling is familiar because I went through the same thing raising my daughter alone. I felt overwhelmed all the time. I feel that way now.

As the primary caregiver, I stay on top of his meds, homeschool him, and take him to the doctor’s appointments.

I know you can argue that since I don’t have a nine to five, I should be doing this anyway. I remember carrying the same load as a full-time working mom too.

And when you did participate…

Yes, you went to the doctor with us sometimes. You ‘yessed’ your way through the appointments, but the heavy part of the load rests on my shoulders.

When he’s having a bad day, I try to redirect. You punish him by sending him to bed.

If he talks back, I remind him that his behavior is inappropriate, you yell at him and say things he will repeat later when he’s frustrated.

Even when you excuse yourself from spending time with him, he loves you anyway.

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If I thought you would really listen to what I have to say, I’d tell you that you are creating an insecure man who will be afraid to share his feelings, think he isn’t good enough and may do inappropriate things to get attention.

But I’m not brave enough. What I am is strong. I’m strong enough to walk away and do it on my own.

I don’t want to, but his well being comes first. The only reason I haven’t walked away now is that much like a little girl, I have hope.

You’re not a bad person. That’s why I haven’t left yet.

Until then, I pray we can fix these broken wings.

Love,

Bonnie

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Thank you so much for reading this series! We appreciate your support during this month. If you missed any of the previous parts, you can catch up here:

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

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