Suicide is not selfish

Suicide is not selfish

Another one of those weeks where I wrote about something, and then just as I was about to hit “publish” felt I needed to talk about something else…

The news of Kate Spade’s death from suicide this week has everyone talking about suicide. This is a good thing. Although everyone on social media has an opinion and many of those opinions add to the stigma surrounding mental illness.

If you haven’t been there, you don’t really know. Read more

Let Me Reach Out!

Let Me Reach Out!

This is another one of those weeks where I struggled to figure out what I’m going to say here. I have lots of ideas of things that I want to write about, but some weeks none of my ideas seem appropriate. Like many parents, I am shaken by another school shooting. 29 mass shootings so far this year, the 18th at a school. I ran hard yesterday morning. Running relieves stress.

“Not just exercise, but a way to get in touch with and reclaim myself in an often fragmenting world, running also serves as a powerful antidote to clinical depression, a metaphor for the creative process, and, in its most profound moments, a spiritual practice.” – Poet Alison Townsend

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Let’s talk about this – it may save a life

Let’s talk about this – it may save a life

This is National Suicide Prevention Week (September 10-16). We all know what suicide is. We hear about it. It’s something that happens to other people. I remember being touched by a documentary called The Bridge many years ago. I thought about it a lot when I had the incredible opportunity to run over the Golden Gate years later. I could never have imagined then how I would be touched by suicide.

WARNING SIGNS OF SUICIDE

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

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Mental Health and Supporting the President-Elect

Mental Health and Supporting the President-Elect

NOTE: This is addressing Hillary Clinton supporters who are feeling really stressed out right now – maybe even depressed. If you voted for someone else or simply don’t care about the results of the election or think we can just “move on”, please stop reading right here. And if you don’t, please refrain from making some insensitive comment about us being sore losers, or the protests against the president-elect being “the result of giving every child a trophy.” If you choose not to follow this blog any longer, so be it. I’ve completely lost respect for you anyway.

I’ve addressed mental health in this blog numerous times. We need to again. According to data released by the American Psychological Association in October, 52 percent of Americans say the election was a significant source of stress in their lives.  Actor Robert De Niro compared his post-election mood to feeling like he did after 9-11.  The number of articles published about the subject of stress, anxiety and depression surrounding this election – dating as far back as March – are astounding (see additional links for a sampling of those at the bottom of this post).

“But 2016 is something else. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, aspires to implement policies far more extreme than the ordinary candidate’s. He talks of launching a trade war with China, deporting millions of immigrants, and enacting a total ban on Muslim immigration. Either through sky-high prices or constrained religious rights, his plans would dramatically alter the lives of far more Americans—in a far more sweeping way—than the proposals of Clinton, Obama, Romney, or McCain.”

How to Preserve Your Mental Health Despite the 2016 Election  – Robinson Meyer, THE ATLANTIC, May 24, 2016. Read the full article here.

 

I let my daughter stay home from school the day after the election. She said she didn’t want to face the kids who supported (that other candidate). Yes, I allowed her to stay home. I made the most appropriate decision for my child. At the extreme, I didn’t want her to have a fight at school. But mostly, I didn’t want to force a kid already dealing with normal teenage anxiety, and some of the other stressors associated with everything we’ve been through, to take on anymore.

“Even before the votes were counted on Tuesday night, phone calls were pouring into suicide hotlines across the US in record numbers. Americans, including those in the LGBTQ community, were looking for help coping with feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and a sense of betrayal.”

Suicide hotlines receive record number of calls after the election – Rachel Becker, THE VERGE, Nov 11, 2016. Read the full article here.

I left work early that day. Even my boss admitted it was hard to focus. My daughter told me about a protest in New York City and asked if we could go. At first I said it was pointless. But as I typed out my reply to her text…you protest policies that need to change or in support of something that will make for the kind of world you want live in…I realized that’s exactly why we needed to go. We needed to voice our concern and show the president-elect that we would not tolerate what we heard and saw from his campaign. This wasn’t about being a sore-loser. I learned how to handle losing in elections and in sporting events 40 years ago.

“This isn’t about party or losing an election. I had respect for George W Bush even though I disagreed with him, and he never scared me as a person. His actions scared me for our planet at times, but never was I vomiting out of personal fear of him. I can’t think of another politician who has evoked such an immediate, visceral reaction so consistently.

“It’s about kicking women in the guts, electing a man we know is a dangerous, unstable predator. This is a man who has nothing but contempt for human life.”

American Women Are Suffering from Trump Traumatic Stress Disorder – Sarah Jones, POLITICUS, Nov 10, 2016. Read the full article here.

We met up with a group at Columbus Circle at the south-west corner of Central Park. There were signs and chants and music. It felt good to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We then began to march down Broadway. We chanted. Donald Trump has got to go; Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay. We were a parade and the spectators cheered. What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like! The police support was amazing. They stopped traffic, closed streets and saw to it that we were safe. Black Lives Matter. A guy next to me expressed hope that the police would be this supportive when the new administration encouraged the increased use of “stop and frisk.” My Body! My Choice! I walked in solidarity with my daughter. For the first time in all her teenage years she wasn’t embarrassed by me. She chanted louder. Not my president! Restaurant workers came out onto the streets to cheer. We got high fives from cab drivers. Our fellow New Yorkers. And I realized that is why we were there. We needed them to know we had their back. There were plenty of Americans that cared about the rights of others.

“Republicans contribute significantly to the breaking of the system, and then they thunder to the country that the system is broken. They refuse to govern, and then they denounce government. They seem to confuse governing with having their way. And more to the point, how does this vast alienation from Washington excuse this vast contempt for whole groups and races and genders?”

Stay angry. That’s the only way to uphold principles in Trump’s America. – Leon Wieseltier THE WASHINGTON POST, Nov 11, 2017. Read the full article here.

It felt good. I was glad we went. Even when I got home and saw the FaceBook posts – a friend who was inconvenienced by the gridlock in the city; others who simply thought of protesters as sore losers. My daughter said she felt better – and that she realized it was so much healthier to shout for the sake of shouting than shouting at someone! – an important lesson in anger management.

We did something. Doing something – being something – helps. It helps change perspectives. It helps keep you focused on what’s important to you.

“Continue to take actions that are in line with your values,” says Keenan-Miller. She advises those who are feeling helpless to focus on a couple of issues they’re passionate about. “Ask yourself, can you be a better advocate to that community in your daily actions?” Think about how much you’re doing in your everyday life to promote things you care about. “Can you turn up the volume on that?” she says. Clark agrees: “Turn your anger and fear into productive action.”

5 Ways to Recover From the Post-Election Blues – Elizabeth Varnell, VOGUE, Nov 9, 2016. Read the full article here.

As a coach I talk to my clients about their values and how they can live the most fulfilling life possible by honoring those values. Young people voted overwhelming against what they heard from the Republican candidate, and now they’re angry; not because we gave them trophies, but because we taught them that bigotry and hate are wrong. We taught them about inclusiveness, and to not tolerate bullies. And in this election, we let them down. They feel their values have been trampled.

I see it in my coaching clients, they feel stress when their values and ideology are crushed. This is what we are feeling. At first we needed to mourn the loss, but with the transition and cabinet nominations, we continue to feel our values being torn to shreds…even if we don’t personally fear losing our rights.

We need to continue to honor our values. We can no longer sit on the sidelines. We have to make donations, protest, sign petitions, call our representatives, and stand up when we see discrimination. And while we’re doing all that, we also need to practice self-care. We need to run and meditate and see our therapist or work with a coach; get a massage and enjoy a walk in the woods or along the beach.

What we can’t do is stop caring. So, no, I’m not going to accept the new administration. I am not going to “join together” in support of him. Doing so wouldn’t honor my values and would be way more stressful. I am going to stand and fight. And I’m going to continue to be an advocate for mental health and Stigma Free. We have come a long way in so many areas – including mental heath – and we can’t go backwards.

More Articles on the Election and Mental Health:

Stressed Out By This Crazy Election? Here’s What To Do About It – Lindsay Holmes, THE HUFFINGTON POST, March 4, 2016

Fear, Anxiety, and Depression in the Age of Trump – Michelle Goldberg, SLATE, September 23, 2016

Here’s How To Manage Your Overwhelming Election Stress – Lindsay Holmes, THE HUFFINGTON POST, Oct. 13, 2016

Talking to Your Therapist About Election Anxiety – Lesley Aldermanoct, NEW YORK TIMES, Oct. 20, 2016

What Women Are Telling their Therapists About Election Stress – Alexandra Sifferlin TIME, Nov. 1, 2016

Election anxiety is real. Many Americans report “significant stress” due to 2016 – Brian Resnick, VOX Nov 7, 2016

Post-Election Depression: How to Cope – Charlotte Libov, NEWSMAX, Nov 9, 2016

Election got you feeling down? Good news: It isn’t just you – Maimuna Majumder, WIRED, Nov 11, 2016.

img_5362Collection created by pinning on a race bib at close to 250 road races in the last 20+ years.

Riding the waves

Riding the waves

What to do when you’re feeling down, depressed or anxious. And this has nothing to do with why it’s been almost 2 weeks since my last post. Had a busy week. Will write about that in a few days.

A friend posed a question on her FaceBook a couple weeks ago. She asked if anyone else had feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness, etc. and if so, what was their best advice for coping with it? I really admire her for putting that out there. Many, many people (myself included, as you learned in a previous blog post) have these feelings. While some people deal with episodes their whole lives, for many these feelings are temporary, brought on by simple things like stress or hormonal imbalances, or trauma. Even trauma that doesn’t directly affect you can cause mental health issues as we saw after 9/11. I’m no real expert, but I learned a lot from my own experiences and through the Mental Health First Aid Certification class I took back in February. I know that she’s not the only one who might need help. So let’s talk about this. What do you do?

It’s important to know what to do for a loved one dealing with such feelings, so let’s start there. The mnemonic, or memory device, for the Mental Health First Aid Action Plan is ALGEE: Assess for risk of suicide or harm, Listen nonjudgmentally, Give reassurance and information, Encourage appropriate professional help, Encourage self-help and other support strategies. First and foremost, make sure they are not at risk of harming themselves; do not be afraid to simply ask them point blank. You will not be putting thoughts in their head if you ask if they are suicidal and they are not. And do not ignore someone who says they are having suicidal thoughts. This is the one exception to any “confidentiality” agreement established. You need to get them immediate professional help. Once any critical crisis has been ruled out, listening – without judgment – is one of the most important things anyone can do. People need to be heard and their feelings acknowledged. Reassurance includes empathizing, voicing hope, and offering practical help with tasks that may seem overwhelming to the person. Encouraging professional help and self-help (see below) is also very important.

Now, what do you do when you are experiencing these feelings yourself? To begin with, let those you love know how you feel so they can be supportive or at the very least avoid giving you any more bad feelings. In doing that however, know that not everyone in your life is capable of being supportive. That doesn’t make them a bad person. Just find people that know how to handle you, that are not judgmental, don’t try to solve your problem with inappropriate advice, and are good at saying the right thing or know when it’s best not to say anything at all. Spend your time with them and while the episode continues avoid people that make things worse.

If you haven’t experienced anything like it before, analyze what might be causing it. Have you started taking a new medication? Consult with your primary care physician or any doctor whose care you are presently under. Let them know what you’re feeling. Was there some sort of trauma that you experienced or witnessed, even from a far? Don’t be shy about seeking out a therapist or counselor or a coach. Talking through the issue can be powerful. They are paid to listen to their clients, and they ask the right questions to lead to introspection. Unlike talking through feelings with friends, they are not judgmental, don’t offer unsolicited (often inappropriate) advice, and you don’t have to feel guilty about making the conversation all about you. Additional professional support may include government services or non-profit programs that help with vocational and educational goals, and income or housing assistance, depending what your challenges are.

Take good care of yourself. Go to bed early, drink a lot of water, eat well, take some “me time” – again why its important to tell the people you are closest to. Maybe they can take the kids, or take care of other obligations. Exercise! I find that exercise (and it’s also a proven fact) helps elevate mood. Of course I run – but there are times, like when I had my back issues (result of stress) or after my surgery, when I couldn’t, I have found just getting out for a brisk walk was helpful. I also swim. And I hike. Sometimes I need to do something different in order to see things differently.

Journaling is also productive. I keep an e-journal (see Day One in the App Store), which allows me to add pictures, note the time, place, weather, and tag entries to search later. I try to take a picture everyday of something – even a small thing – that makes me smile and include it. Some days I just vent when I journal and that’s good too. I have found getting my thoughts down allows me to look at an issue from a different perspective.

As I feel myself emerging from a down mood, I plan a “me day” – maybe an updated haircut, manicure/pedicure, or massage, and perhaps a new outfit to wear to work to start a new week so I feel like I’m starting fresh. I will also add that a few months after my husband died (and this, as you know, came in a 8 year period where I also saw the loss of both parents, a close aunt and uncle, my dog and 4 jobs), I realized I was in over my head emotionally, so in addition to the therapist I was seeing, I started practicing Transcendental Meditation. This was a real game changer and has allowed me to manage things a lot better. I still get sad, have job stress, and I am the single parent of a teenager, but I feel like I manage the emotions much better. To a certain extend, I learned to ride it out. If you have experienced these feelings before, they pass, right? So it’s a matter of finding the strongest coping mechanisms and the best alliances that make it possible to ride the waves.

IMG_2308Sandy Hook, NJ October 2015