This past weekend my sister Dawn sent us a text about a 16-year-old boy from her area that had died from an apparent suicide. How does one receive that news and then compute that? It seems an insurmountable mountain of despair. Of course, we went back and forth texting about how horrible and devastated we were to hear that sort of horrifying news. The only thing I could say was, “I wish I could tell kids that there is so much to live beyond what they see at that moment.” Dawn answered back, “maybe you should.” Yes, maybe I should because if sharing my story helps even one person, then it is worth the self-effacing and raw feeling of putting oneself “out there”.
It was the summer of ’86, not to be confused with Bryan Adams’s rendition of the ‘Summer of 69’ (that year sounded fun!). Though it seems a lifetime ago, no passage of time is enough to forget one event that has haunted me throughout my life. I wouldn’t talk about it for many years, hoping that the event would be omitted from reality if I didn’t verbalize it. Yet it did.
My life then was chaotic at best. We lived with minimal resources such as heat, food, and electricity in fragile supply. It only made sense that I got a job at a local grocery store to “help out.” Soon, it would be that we would charge the groceries to the store, and then when I got paid, it would all go to the never-ending grocery bill. My eldest brother, Daren, had passed the summer prior, and my family had never recovered from it. My mother, already a raging alcoholic, fell further into drinking. My dad became even more of a stranger, preferring to shelter at my grandparents’ farm to not deal with my mom. My older brother Randy was living on his own. So, that left me at home, alone caring for my alcoholic mother and five younger siblings. It felt heavy. It was heavy. Throw in that it was high school, and I was far from the “preppy” crowd. Smatter in all of the conflicts and chaos that go with navigating the last years before “adulthood,” and I was primed for what would come next.
I had already turned to alcohol myself. Why not? Mom did it, and besides, it helped to forget for a few hours. However, along with the alcohol came all of the wrong decisions. In truth, high school was something that I had to do and nothing that I wanted to do. One night, I went to a party and drank far too much. I was already sad; it was a year after Daren died, and everything at home was dire.
Much of what comes next is foggy, but apparently, I had locked myself in my friends’ bathroom and swallowed an entire bottle of 500 count aspirin, yes aspirin. My friend figured it out who called another friend who took me to the local ER. I remember the ER staff giving me something to drink that made me throw up, and then I remember nothing until I woke three days later, in the intensive care unit in Sioux Falls.
Few other moments are etched into my memory and carry such significance as this one. As I opened my eyes, my parents stood on either side of me—mom to my left and dad to my right. As I focused on dad, I could see tears flow down his cheek as he quickly swiped them away with his shirt sleeve. He whispered, “you’re okay; you’re okay now.” His relief was so apparent. And all I could think about was what I had done to him? He had just lost my brother, his eldest son, tragically the summer before, and now he sat over my bed in the ICU, undoubtedly praying for my recovery. At the time, I hated myself for my weakness and my selfishness. I feel the need to say here that this was how I felt and should not disparage anyone or any situation. Read on.
I remember very little about the rest of my recovery. What I learned was that I had taken so much aspirin that the doctors and nurses had to put me into a medically induced coma while they tried to right all that I had done wrong to my body. As a nurse now, I realize the tenuous battle they must have had to push fluids to allow my kidneys to work to remove the aspirin (a salicylate) and acids from my blood. They battled my fevers as my body worked to find balance.
I then remember sitting in the psychiatrists’ office, curled up in a ball on his window sill as I stared outside. He asked questions; I mostly didn’t answer. He soon realized that my suicide attempt was less about truly hating myself but more about hating my circumstances. He also keyed in quickly to my attachment to my dad. He asked me if there was “someone that I loved so much that I could think of them should I ever find myself desperate again”? I nodded and meekly said, “my dad.” So before he allowed my parents in, he asked me if I would promise him two things; one, I would reach out to him (the psychiatrist) no matter the time of day if I ever felt that hopeless again, and two, to think of my dad and go to him for help. I agreed but said it wouldn’t be necessary because I would never hurt my dad like that again. He said, “I believe you.”
The psychiatrist I had that fateful day helped me to see that I was not weak, or selfish. Instead, my home and the circumstances I was thrown into throughout my young life led me down a path that at the tender age of 16 I had little resources to overcome.— Carla
LET’S BE AWARE
A previous co-worker and friend of mine recently experienced the ‘gut-wrenching terror that accompanies the realization that your child is emotionally and mentally in trouble,’ and the panic to find help before something preventable becomes a life-long grief sentence. We had several talks, and it is challenging to listen and only offer up, “don’t give up on him” as a response. She is a self-proclaimed Momma Bear. She and her husband fought hard to find help for their son. It came in a very non-traditional manner by way of Wingate Wilderness Therapy. Have you heard? I had not until she told us about it. They reached out to them, and they were more than willing to help. They decided on a plan that involved my friend and her husband knowing said plan but not their son. When they arrived unannounced to their son, they talked with him calmly about their program and took him for 70 days/nights into the wilderness of Utah. He left a defeated boy lost in a chaotic world and came back a healthy young man equipped to handle what came his way. That is nothing short of a miracle that became possible through the relentless efforts of involved parents.
Wingate Wilderness’ philosophy is simple: human definition as defined by the natural elements around them while relying on their strengths for fortitude.
Wingate Wilderness’ philosophy is simple. They immerse their clients in the beautiful wilderness of Southern Utah. They believe that by exposing children to the environment, they will find a “way of being” deeply personal. They will learn valuable communication and relationship skills and be taught to identify and overcome the maladaptive coping behaviors holding them back. Through the process of being stripped of their routines and patterns, they will learn to rely on themselves and work to achieve the things they want, without force or rewards to move them along. This is the path to increasing confidence and self-esteem and to creating a pattern for long-lasting change.— Wingate Wilderness Therapy
A CONVERSATION YOU NEED TO HAVE
As my boys grew, I would often do a pulse check. I would ask them if they were happy or had problems at school, they would always rely, “yes, no”. In time I got brave enough to ask them if they ever considered harming themselves, which resulted in them looking at me as though I had just spawned a second and third head. Eventually, they became used to this question from me. To this day, I am unsure if they even know about my history of attempted suicide.
It’s a difficult conversation to have, but here are some helpful tips to start that conversation.
In Minnesota, the percent increase of suicide rose by 32% between the years 2007-2018. That is a staggering number and a sobering realization.
It is estimated that nine out of 10 adolescents who attempt suicide have a history of mental illness or substance abuse; these and other warning signs include:
- Noticeable changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Unexplained or unusual behavior
- Withdrawal from family or friends
For more information and helpful tips this is a great article.
Currently, we are experiencing something that, until now, was something we learned from our history books. The 1918 pandemic left 50 million people dead worldwide, with about 675,000 deaths occurring in the United States. Today, the current pandemic has left nearly 5 million people dead, and a staggering 667 thousand people have died in the United States. This is heavy stuff when you mix in all of the recent political drama, racial tension, economic uncertainty, and increased concern over global warming, and that is dizzying even to the hardiest of man.
As a society, we tend to shy away from the topic of suicide, but we should meet it head-on. The myth that talking about suicide causes suicide is exactly that, a myth. Worse, avoiding what’s on your teen’s mind may make them feel alone and uncared for. Instead offer help, listen and don’t ignore the problem. Your teen may be crying out for help.
According to Physicians Computer Company, attributing the use of social media to an individual’s mental health and suicide risk does not account for complex personal circumstances. There is a two-fold process that should happen where personal situations should be considered along with social media pressure to understand a person’s risk for mental illness or suicide. Foe example 2020, we witnessed a year that was packed with humanistic, political, and environmental turmoil wrapped up in a global pandemic with universal isolation. That is a perfect storm for mass-induced stress and pandemic fatigue.
During 2020, emergency department visits among adolescents aged 12–17 years increased by 31% compared with 2019. Talk to your kids.
Beneath The Surface
Beneath the Surface speaks candidly to teens about depression, suicide, and mental health issues. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in young people aged 10 to 24. Every day more than 5000 teens grades 7-12 attempt to take their own lives.
Mental health issues such as depression, eating disorders, PTSD, anxiety, and substance abuse are discussed throughout this book by teens who have attempted suicide and survived., It helps highlight ways kids can recognize danger signs in their own lives, help a friend in trouble, and find nonjudgmental, empathic help.
* Kristi recently passed away after a brief fight with cancer, although you can still access her website, The Grief Girl.*
September is National Suicide Awareness Month
NAMI Ending the Silence: a presentation that helps students and staff learn about the warning signs of mental health issues that could lead to suicide. Choosing which steps to take if you or a loved one need help are shared throughout the session.
The presentations include someone who shares information and facts and a young adult who shares their recovery journey.
The presentation is an interactive question and answer format that allows for greater information on this often-misunderstood topic.
Through dialogue, we can help grow the movement to end stigma.
A Gift of Hope
In her powerful memoir His Bright Light, author Danielle Steel shared the devastating story of the loss of her son to suicide. In A Gift of Hope, she shares how she transformed her pain and anguish into a campaign of service that helped her heal while honoring her son, Nick.
After praying for guidance, Danielle Steel was called to service by her faith. For eleven years, Danielle Steel, along with a small team, went out into the streets to help the homeless of San Francisco. She worked anonymously, distributing food, clothing, bedding, tools, and toiletries. She sought no publicity and remained anonymous until now.
MY FINAL THOUGHTs
I always end on this idea: I would never have met the three most important people in my life had I succeeded that summer night in 1986.
When I think of that, it is sobering.
Sure, life hasn’t always been “easy,” but it has been so worth it. Every obstacle, every hurdle are worth the reward of living. I truly believe that.
If someone you know is struggling with mental health issues and suicide is a possibility, do not turn a blind eye. Take them seriously.
And if YOU are struggling, please reach out for help, and do me a favor; get to that next minute and the next after that.
I promise you that nothing, not even your inner demons, is so insurmountable that you cannot overcome it.