I’m a day late but Christmas and the new job announcement got in my way..
**Trigger warning: suicide and its terminology is mentioned in this post. Please use your own discretion in reading this post.**
Just about everyone has access to the Internet these days. If you’re reading this post, you have it, unless someone printed it out for you. The Internet is full of information- some of it is utterly useless, some is great. I’m constantly using it for research for this blog, because I admittedly don’t know everything about the topics I write about. That’s partially why my Resources page exists.
I choose topics for certain times for a reason- this is Suicide Prevention Week and I wanted to highlight how the media handles discussing suicide. Over the summer, two very high-profile celebrities, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, completed suicide. Both were well known in their fields. Kate was a very talented fashion designer and Anthony was a chef. It was known that Anthony struggled with substance abuse issues, but Kate was struggling privately. Before her death, she was seeing a mental health provider and taking medication. This does not equal the end of suicidal thoughts and/or ideations, as her death shows.
What does lie beneath?
How does the media handle this?
I read a lot. Some outlets are changing their wording from “committed suicide” to “completed suicide” or other phrases, which is a positive change. This is making suicide look less like a criminal thing (“committed” is usually a term used in criminal circumstances, and suicide is not a crime) and more of a personal term. The media still has a lot of work to do. The community still has a lot of work to do as a whole.
According to an article on Psychology Today there are ways that the media and community can do better in this discussion.
Leaving out the means or method of suicide. Personally, I think this is deeply disrespectful to speak about. I have been told the entire story of Jake’s death, but I’d never go public with it. He was a private person and I couldn’t do that. Plus, his family would be very upset with me. Many suicides, like Jake’s, aren’t a story that people want to talk about. If there was a note, that is helpful to note, but not to include specific information. That is better left for the family. Basically, report the minimum and leave the deeper knowledge of what happened to the family.
Trying to avoid language that inflates the prevalence of suicide. This is one that I am trying to work on myself, I believe I said in a post that this is a heartbreaking epidemic. I may go back and edit it, but in case I don’t (because many of you know my memory is atrocious) please know that has been noted. I’ll work on that in the future. When reading about suicide, some may think that this is an acceptable option to their issues. I don’t want anyone reading this blog to ever think that, because that’s what I am trying to avoid.
Focus on the deceased’s life- not just their death. I am a huge fan of this. This keeps their memory alive. This way, they are not remembered for how they died, but how they lived. This also means to leave out pictures of visibly upset friends or family, or photos of the scene. (Who does that?)
Continue the conversation. Some are afraid to talk about mental health issues and/or suicide because of the fear of stigma. The real change occurs, however, when people do talk. It makes a more comfortable climate in which to discuss these things and the stigma (hopefully) fades. This can help the discussion keep going after the news cycle ends.
Remember that mental health issues and suicide doesn’t discriminate.
Encourage that anyone that is having suicidal thoughts seek help. Also, if anyone you know needs other mental health assistance, please help them however you can. This may mean help with finding a therapist, transportation, etc.
The Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) is available 24/7
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (veterans press 1)
You can also go to a nearby ER or mental health care facility.
It’s a rough world out there, let’s make it a bit easier on each other.
Many parents, myself included, envision parenting as this wonderful adventure in which kids develop at the pace they should, play instruments and/or sports, learn to drive, go to prom and all that great stuff.
But what happens when those things are altered because of a special needs diagnosis?
Some parents find out about their child’s diagnosis before or right after birth, in cases of Spinal Bifida, Cerebral Palsy and Down’s Syndrome. I know parents of kids with these diagnoses, and it has been life changing for these families. All of them have other kids without any special needs.
The adjustment is hard. I cried my way through Lily’s evaluation for First Steps the day before her first birthday, even though I knew something was not going right. I knew she needed more help than what I could give her. That story can be found in Special Needs Round Two . When her diagnosis of global delays was given, I was even more devastated. The blame game began. It took a lot of talking with Lily’s speech therapist, Denise, to realize that it wasn’t my fault that she was developmentally delayed. We are in the process of getting Lily re-evaluated. At ten, she is still showing signs of issues that we thought she had grown out of. Cross your fingers for us- we may need it.
In Julian’s case, it’s been a tougher road. His psychiatric nurse practitioner, Ann, once said that we have adjusted wonderfully as a family to Julian’s needs. I almost hugged her. I explained to her that it has not been easy and it remains a somewhat rugged path. My question is: Why not adjust? Julian is wired differently and that’s okay. If we didn’t adjust, he would feel badly about himself and I couldn’t bear the thought of this. It would also cause so much chaos for him that he doesn’t need or deserve. It would do the same for the rest of us. Why do that?
He needs the ability to feel okay about who he is, quirks and all. We’ve enjoyed watching him grow and finally develop a sense of humor. Every kid needs that, with or without a diagnosis. In a home with medical issues, this is a necessity.
I have made many mistakes in raising Julian (and his siblings). Even after reading up, trying many different things, therapy for both of us, getting Matthew on board and lots of burnt dinners in the process, things remain interesting. Julian is now 12 and puberty is kicking in.
Learning that your child has a medical and/or physical special needs diagnosis is complex. Some parents grieve the life they feel their child “should have had”. This is a rough one for me, as I’ve never done this. I can see this happening with kids with severe medical problems. A high school friend of mine has a child with spinal bifida and she lives a full life. Instead of being devastated and staying in a hole as some might, Shelly and her kids go out and do all kinds of neat things. Ryan is eight, and she is one of the coolest kids ever. She’s a tiny fighter. Some parents, like myself, are devastated and are not sure where to go next. Some fall into the “research pattern” and find all kinds of information to know exactly what to do.
This can be a great thing- I have read up a lot on Julian’s diagnoses and it didn’t hurt to work with kids with similar issues. (It did physically hurt some days, but that’s another story. I learned a lot from that job.) Some parents, sadly, go into denial. This can be damaging to everyone involved, and I highly recommend seeing a therapist, church member, or another trusted person. If it’s your partner, this can get really bad quickly, and I definitely know the pain of where it can go. Please do what you can to change that path. Talking can help. Easing your partner into information, appointments, and other things can help. Just don’t force them, because that can make things worse.
I recommend reading up, asking questions, and getting all the help from the medical community you can. The more information you have, the more empowered you feel to help your child. Julian’s been very lucky- he has had a great team from day one, because I wouldn’t let him have anything less. I’m a proud mama shark.
It’s okay to feel different things- don’t let anyone make you feel different. Julian was diagnosed almost seven years ago, and some days I still feel overwhelmed. As of writing this post, I’m about to battle it out with his school over his IEP because it’s currently not being followed. Some days are better than others. Some days are absolutely great, some are so bad that you want to devour a liter of Cherry Coke, a bag of salt and vinegar chips and call it a day. (Okay, maybe that’s just me. I didn’t do all of that, but I considered it.) If you’re overwhelmed, write it out. Get someone to help you sort out your feelings.
Daily life also changes. Depending on the diagnosis, your child may need assistance with everything, or nothing at all. This can become time-consuming and require an overhaul of your routine as you knew it. Food may need to be altered due to sensory issues- I live in a house with two kids with sensory issues, and I gave up on those battles years ago. Julian won’t eat french fries if he can see the potato skins or if they aren’t super warm. Lily won’t eat anything that resembles soup, any pasta that isn’t spaghetti, mainly because it looks different. Julian actually had a meltdown once over the shape of pasta my father in law used for dinner. These changes can be irritating to make, but they are necessary for the world our kids live in. I’ve learned to look inside Julian’s mind a bit, probably because of my work, and try to see the world as he does. It can get hard, but it’s worth it. Explaining this to others can get even harder, even your partner.
It takes time to adjust- it won’t happen overnight. It takes time to learn how your child’s machines work, or how to get the wheelchair to fit in your van. Give yourself space to make those mistakes. I completely screwed up Julian’s 12th birthday party by inviting too many people, which cause him to shut down at the end, but I’m pretty sure he still likes me. He used to get mad at me when I would hold onto him with a death grip in parking lots and large stores, but he had a bad record of eloping. It was terrifying to have to run after a very fast 5 year old, especially in a parking lot. He was seven before I let him walk more than a foot or two away from me. (I never used a leash because I hate those things.)
If you’ve got a kid who takes things literally, you have to change how you talk to them. For example, I once told Julian to drop the jar of jelly he was holding after he was told not to eat anything. I was making dinner and he didn’t need to eat so soon before.
He dropped the jar.
Major mom fail.
Thankfully, the jar was plastic. That would have been an awful mess otherwise. Matthew and I have had to re-think things before we say them, because Julian thinks differently, and so does Lily, to an extent. We are still trying to figure out her thought patterns. She doesn’t quite think on a 10-year-old level, so we have to tread carefully.
If you have to buy things to keep your house, kid and car safe, do it. You’ll thank yourself later.
It really does take a village. I have friends that have kids with all kinds of physical/ developmental disabilities. A few have kids with autism, and they have been so helpful when I’ve needed them.
Being a parent of a special needs kid will make you a different person. I’ve fought for Julian since day one. Lily’s issues haven’t required so much of a fight, but I would do the same for her. It makes you tougher and less likely to take people’s crap.
Breathe and find something that makes you laugh. Comedy will get you through anything.
Get a binder and organize all of your kid’s paperwork. Julian and Lily have their own binders.
You are not alone, and get help if you need it. Take time for you, because your kids need Mom at her best. If you’re tired, sad and cranky, that’s not your best.
If you have other kids, let them be involved in adjustments. It’s not easy to be the sibling of a special needs kid. My kids have been pretty good about Julian, but it can get hard for us as parents. Cameron and Lily have a post about this in The Siblings’ Turn
Allow your child to live their best life. If they can do it- let them. My friend Laura Leigh’s son, Levi, is seven. He is in a wheelchair due to Cerebral Palsy, and he is an awesome kid. He smiles for days, gives his younger sister Presley wheelchair rides and loves school. I let Julian run cross country in the fifth grade and he loved it. We have a rule that his diagnoses aren’t excuses for not behaving. He does have bad days, but he doesn’t get to say, “I’ve got autism, so I get to act like that”, “I forgot my ADHD meds, that’s why I’m like this today”.
Most of all, love and accept your child the way they are. It might sound weird that I wrote that, but it is saddening that many parents don’t. Acceptance and love matters- it’s everything.
Quotes courtesy of Pinterest
Recommended Reading: The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius
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.
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.
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.