Monday, December 5, 2016

The gift of life

The Gift of Life

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be alive.   Since my suicide attempt, I have experienced so many different emotions.  I was happy to be alive, I’ve been depressed, felt guilt for attempting, and guilt for surviving.

During the last seven years, I have been proactive in suicide prevention, and the last three years I have been open and honest about my attempt and my lived experience. My experience  has also brought out so many different emotions from fear of being judged to such great relief that it was no longer a secret. I am working on being open about my lived experience whenever I am given the opportunity. This isn’t easy for an introvert, but I hope that sharing my story may help save someone’s life.

Last Monday I started a new chapter in my life; I became a grandfather. This experience is so amazing, and I can’t even begin to explain the feeling. I have a joy that is intense.

While holding my granddaughter  yesterday, I was overwhelmed with happiness and this very thought came over me: I didn’t die from my attempt,  I chose to live. Even though it was tough, I not only saved my life, but I also saved the life of my children and my grandchild.

This has further increased my motivation to work in suicide prevention. Each life we can save helps save an additional life. We get to save a life we don’t even know about yet. This very thought makes me happy. Please join me and help continue to share the gift of life.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Never give up

To give up or not give up- that is the question. 

I sometimes feel like giving up; to some this may be surprising.     I wish I could say that my depression was completely gone, and that it never surfaces again, but that would be a lie.    There are more days than I would like to admit when it takes every bit of energy to just get out of bed and try. Clinically that is called doing the opposite action.   

Fighting the urge to give up it is something I have struggled with as long as I can remember.  There have been times when I have given up or set things on pause. There have also been times I did just the opposite and I pushed through, sometimes even over compensating for the thoughts of wanting to give up. When I would do this,  others would give positive feedback stating that I am an over-achiever and although in some ways  that may be true,  a lot of times it was more a way of surviving.

The flip side of this I am always encouraging others not to give up.   I don’t lie and promise a bed of roses, but I do believe that if they want to make changes and they are willing to do the work, I am all in to help them.  I won’t give up on them regardless of how many barriers they face or if things go wrong.  Even if they give up, I won’t give up. 

This past week I had a phone call where a mom was trying to get her adult son into our co-occurring program. She said she knew he has to come in and do the work.   She said she has been told he was a “lost cause and she should give up”,  but she didn’t want to give up on him.    As a tear rolled down my cheek,   I told her she should never give up on her son and that we would never give up on him because myself, and my team, do not believe in lost causes. I explained that none of us can guarantee the outcome but we can never give up.

I am so disappointed in my field  that other professionals encouraged this mother to give up on her child.   As professionals, we owe it to all we work with to have an attitude that never gives up and not only have that attitude, we need to go further and let those we work with know that we won’t give up on them.   We can’t make their decisions for them, but we do control the way we view the people we work with.

As I processed this call with a colleague and friend, it reminded me, how much I rely on those who don’t give up me.  

To give up or not give up is the question; the answer is never give up.   Not on yourself, not on me, not on those we work with and not on anyone.   Sometimes our support  is the only strength that they may have.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

“Manly Men” Can and Should Communicate

Image result for manly man

I am a 6’ 7” 240 pound man whom was raised by a Marine and an avid outdoorsman, knows how to build houses, loves shooting guns, hunting, and fishing, and hits the gym.  There has always been a stereotype that  men don’t have the best communication skills and sometimes this is true.

I have worked as a nurse for many years and have experienced saving lives and watching lives end. Communicating with families about their loss and helping them through their tough times seems to come natural to me. Despite years of communicating and helping others with whatever they need, professional or personal, I always thought that the only person I was able to talk to was myself.

When my baby girl was born, I promised her that I would always have an open heart and an open ear, something that I never felt I received from my own father. I have made the same promise to all four of my children;  they know they can talk or ask me anything at any time. There would never be any judgment, any abandonment, and I want to always have open communication for them to be able to talk to me about anything.

I am currently happier than I have ever been and more open to communication thanks to my beautiful wife (for those of you who know her, she’s a talker!) I can say I am better now at communicating. Through better communication and opening up, I came to realize a lot about my past.

The FIRST thing I realized is I’ve always wanted to talk. I’ve always wanted someone to listen. I’ve always wanted to get it off my chest.

The first experience that I have with feeling like this is when I was in Cali and dropped my daughter off before I had to fly back to Missouri. At this time Heather and I have only known each other for a short amount of time, but as I drove away breaking down emotionally, I picked up the phone and called her. Till this day I don’t know why I did, but it felt right. She didn’t say anything to me but just let me talk, cry, blabber about random stuff, and drive around my old town for what seemed like forever.

The SECOND thing I realized is that even if I wasn’t communicating to others doesn’t mean I didn’t try or want too. As a “manly man” maybe my way of communicating was different. We don’t like to share our feelings with friends and really do our best to hide our feelings. But there are always hints, there is always a tell that we can’t hide. The reason we can’t hide it is because we want someone to see it and we want to talk or get help.

The THIRD thing that I have come to realize is there is that one person for every man (or person) that we can and SHOULD communicate our feelings to. It doesn’t have to be your wife, your brother, your mother or father that you go and speak to or open up to. However, there IS someone and that person is the one that we show our tell to but we need to go farther and COMMUNICATE with that person. It may be hard to say the words “I’m feeling depressed” or “I’ve been feeling down lately” but we definitely show it in other ways.

The one thing I want others to see is that no one emotionless. Look at your “man’s man” and tell him that you love him and you are here for him. Watch for his tell and be open to conversations that might not make any sense or seem like they are going anywhere. Going from a tell to actually having a conversation about the way we feel is scary, uncomfortable, and vulnerable. There have been so many conversations that get cut off or brushed off because they might not make sense, but we are sometimes just beginning to try to get it out, try to open up, and try to communicate.

We all like to say “if I knew then what I know now, I would of…….” But today is the now and now is the time to make a change. I have gone through my ups and downs, shut down to all others around me, and looked for other means to bury my problems but that never did anything good for anyone else. I am a very confident “manly man” and I am not afraid tell any of my friends and family I love them no matter the time or place,  show affection to those who need it, talk to anyone who will listen, listen to anyone who wants to talk, or cry and breakdown to my wife if I am overwhelmed. No one is too big or strong to be loved or love someone. No one is too big or strong to communicate.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Suicide Prevention - 3 simple things anyone can do

Suicide Prevention day… no wait Suicide Prevention every day

Today I have had a little time to see all the information about suicide prevention that is flooding social media for World Suicide Prevention Day. It is great as I seen some information about suicide prevention month as well as suicide prevention week.  It warms my heart to see so much information going out, and then I began to ponder how great it would be to not only have a day, a week, and a month dedicated to suicide prevention, but I think it is time we declaring a Suicide Prevention Year.
Imagine all that we could accomplish if we had society that focused on suicide prevention every day for one year.  I can’t take credit for the idea; I got the idea from a blog I read earlier “Suicide prevention must be year round”

I know that suicide prevention is something I do every day. I know when I struggled at my darkest moments, I felt all alone.  But I was never really alone, in my darkest depression, I felt like no one else could ever feel this way or have mental health problems. In 1993, I don’t remember anyone talking about suicide prevention, and admitting to having mental health problems; it just didn’t happen.

Three simple things we can do to help make suicide prevention an everyday thing

1.  Be aware – look around, do you see people hurting, do you notice behaviors of others that are 
     different than usual.  Is there someone who appears to be in distress, overwhelmed or sad?
2.  Education – get training in mental health and suicide prevention. Then educate others, encourage 
     them to get trained.   When you hear someone saying things that make it sound like mental illness 
     or suicidal thoughts make someone less than a person --- educate them.
3.  Act – because awareness and education mean nothing if we don’t do anything about it.   The truly 
    amazing thing is anyone can help and it is the simple things that make a difference such as; “I’m 
    concerned about you, are you ok”, “I can see your hurting, what can I do”, “are you having 
    thoughts of suicide”.   If someone is suicidal and you aren’t able to help, or you get unsure of what 
    to say, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number yourself, while you are with 
    them and start the conversation.   In case it isn’t already programmed in your phone please do that 
    now 1-800-273-8255.   Acting can also be about getting involved in great organizations like The    

Awareness + education + action = saved lives

Maybe you are someone who has never been affected by suicide, you can still help.   If you want to get a better understanding of what someone may be feeling who has had thoughts of suicide in the past, but also to understand the hope that can come, I encourage you to go to  Craig Miller’s website and review two of his videos:  what if and This is How it Feels

My Pledge for suicide prevention every day

I will make every day about suicide prevention by being aware of the people I am around whether it is one of my clients, my friends, my family, and strangers.  I will be aware. 

I will continue to educate myself about suicide prevention and interventions.   I will continue to work to educate others who need the knowledge.  I will work to educate those that are struggling, that life can get better.

I will take action, when I see someone who may need help.  I will continue to be involved with the AFSP, I will continue to participate in SPSM where I constantly learn new and cutting edge information about suicide prevention.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Want to Help People? Put on your Football Pads, Y'all!

Helping people hurts at times. It hurts because the same thing that makes us great at helping others-empathy-also makes us more vulnerable at being hurt. I believe in people. I believe in the good in everyone and sometimes that results in my being hurt. This is where we can learn a thing or two from Drew Brees*.

Drew Brees? Really Heather? Yes really. Not only Drew Brees but football players in general. You see, Drew wears football pads to protect him from being hurt when/if he gets sacked (zip it Saints haters).  Not only does he wear football pads, but he also wears a helmet. Each part of his protective equipment has a particular purpose and protects certain parts of his body. We need to wear our own type of football pads to aid ourselves in not being hurt.  

My friend (and bad ass) Ursula wrote a blog this week about being a MF Monster. In it, she stated that one should “find your clan”. Yes. Who protects Drew from getting sacked and hurt? His offensive line. Our clan can serve as our offensive line. Our clan can protect us from when life tries to knock the hell out of us.  

Another bad ass friend of mine, Josh, recently wrote a blog that spoke to me as well. He writes about the importance of ignoring the naysayers that try to “zap you dry and steal your sunshine”. This is another part of our protective pads. Ignore the critics that want to see you fail. Focus on yourself and your fans. I can assure you that you have fans.

 We need to be aware that we need football pads instead of full-on body armor. We sometimes need that protection to keep us from being hurt but we don’t need to be completely hard.  After being rejected or hurt, it would be easy to give up and stop attempting to help anyone ever again. But, I won’t. You won’t. Wearing our football pads helps to protect us while also giving us the protection to continue reaching out and helping others.  It gives us the protection to get knocked down, get up, and play another quarter.


*I used Drew Brees because I am a HUGE Saints fan. Anytime I can combine my love of the Saints and  mental health advocacy, I will.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How to Properly Wear a Cape

Some days, I feel as if I am balancing my life pretty well: saving lives, changing the world, achieving goals by day, earning a graduate degree by evening, and making Pinterest worthy meals and decorations*  for my husband and kiddos at night. I have even been called Super Woman**.  This was definitely not the case this week.  A client relapsed after a year of sobriety and was struggling.  I learned that my new school schedule would be at the exact same time as my sons’ practices so not only was I going to miss the practices, but I would also have to rely on others to help transport them to and from the practices. Not to mention the vast amount of work that this semester of grad school would entail.  I felt like yanking my cape off and tossing it in the corner.

I began to wonder how many other people felt similar. Those capes that we once wore proudly begin to become tattered, worn, and dirty. The same piece of fabric that once lifted us up and made us feel invincible and proud now weighs a ton and is threatening to drag us down.

Then, I asked for help. I contacted my support system, my framily, my cohort, and husband.  I cried, vented, and asked for suggestions. They listened, validated my feelings, and offered to help. Slowly, I felt as if the weight of my cape was decreasing and it didn’t seem nearly as heavy as it was before I spoke with them. It felt as if each member of my support system was helping to hold the cape up, mend it, and help me clean it off.

You see, we all wear different capes because we all do amazing things every day. We are all everyday superheroes, if you will. However, we all need a support system to help hold our capes up from time to time. The people in the support system then become everyday superheroes. The point is that none of us can be Super Woman or Superman all the time nor can we do it alone.

*-Ok, not total Pinterest worthy meals and decorations. That may be a slight exaggeration.

**-Although I appreciate the compliment, I’m not even close to Super Woman. She saves the world in tights and a skin tight body suit. You win lady. I’ll just keep my cape.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Two things you can do to help save a life

What if I told you there are two things you can do to help save someone’s life. Would you do it?
There are two things that all of us are capable of doing that can help save someone’s life.   This may come more natural to some of you, but for some of us, we may have to work on it.

The First One is Listening

Notice that I didn’t say hearing; there is a big difference in listening and hearing.   I love the way Mental Health First Aid teaches about listening.  It talks about listening without judgement.   This means listening just to hear what the other person has to say and to learn why they are hurting.    One of my favorite people, Grateful Berthia spoke at our recent conference and he stated “Listening saved my life”.  He was talking about Highway Patrol Sergeant Kevin Briggs. Even before Grateful  Berthia knew who it was listening to him, he knew he was being listened to. That is one example of how important and powerful listening can be.   Grateful Berthia shares in his TedxTalk all about the Impact of listening

Grateful Berthia presenting at #SEMOSP16

The Second One is Share Your Story
With at least one out of five people struggling with some type of mental health concern in any given year, there are a lot of people with lived experience in the world. When sharing their story in an appropriate way, people with lived experience can be very beneficial to helping others who may be having the same or similar struggles.   PLEASE NOTE:  you should only share your story when you are comfortable and only share what you are comfortable with sharing.   
It took me almost twenty years before I was ready to share my story.  I can tell you that it has been rewarding and therapeutic for me, but it has also been scary at times.  

Some tips:
1.     Make sure you want to share your story
2.  Know why you want to share your story
3.  First share your story with one or a few people you trust and feel comfortable around.   I remember the first person I told my whole story to was Heather Williams. She listened and I did not feel judged so I shared with a few other co-workers. As my confidence grew, I began to share it openly, when I feel it is appropriate or beneficial to help someone else.  
4.  Be prepared for the emotions you may feel after sharing your lived experience

My friend Josh Rivedal is an international speaker who helps share the value of telling your story.  When presenting,  he helps explain how sharing a story can be very helpful, beneficial, and inspring.   Josh believes in this so strongly he decided to have a book series called the iMpossible Project . So far there is one book in the series in which 50 different people share their story; the stories show just how powerful and resilient humans can be.  

Josh Rivedal performing part of his story #SEMOSP16

Imagine a world where people can feel safe to share their story and know that they will be listened to (non-judgmentally).  This is the world I am working towards in my own life.   I think we have so much we can learn from each other, if we only listened.  I think we all can benefit from being listened to as well.