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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Goodbye to a #worldchanger


This blog is different - it is about the loss of Audrey Burger, the Director of Clinical Operations of Community Counseling Center, who recently passed away, way too early.  Losing her is impacting my lived experience right now, as I work to grieve in healthy fashion. This blog references my colleagues Nic and Heather, and my daughter McKenzie.





Audrey

Today, one week ago, you left this world. How do I say goodbye to someone who changed my world and the world of so many others?  You were my boss, my friend and my mentor. You taught me so many important lessons. The amount of loss I am feeling is hard to put into words, but I am going to do my best.

I know that our paths crossed for a reason, even though I was resistant. The day I found out I was going to be working for you and I impulsively quit my job. I didn’t want to work for Audrey Burger. I remember that you did not react with anger. Instead, you asked if I would be willing to meet and share my concerns. During that discussion I realized several things. The reasons I didn’t want to work for you were based on the comments of less than stellar employees. I learned quickly that you had a passion to serve our community and to work towards making things better for the consumers we served. You would not accept anything less than the best for our consumers. So, I stayed. You were a leader. You became, hands down, my favorite boss.

You encouraged me to pursue my passions with suicide prevention. When I asked about having a suicide prevention and awareness conference in Cape, you were completely on board. This is when our true connection started. You shared the loss of your brother to suicide and the hurt you felt. Before I decided to make my lived experience of a suicide attempt known publicly, I sent you a copy of what I planned to say. I was nervous, afraid that you would see me as less of a person or not able to do my job because I struggled with depression and had once attempted suicide. You simply stated, "I am so glad you are here. We've got to do more." You saw my experience as a strength.

When I started to build our co-occurring program, you provided encouragement and support on an ongoing basis - it was a slow start. Today, October 15, is the four-year anniversary of the program. We are helping so many people.

I was lucky to get to work with you on many other projects and talk about future projects. Audrey, I will continue as will the many others you have touched. We will pull together, support each other and complete the goals you had: to provide better care to our communities, raise awareness and promote suicide prevention.

You were invested in helping me grow, not just as a professional, but as a member of the human race. You worked with me to find balance. You helped me understand the business side of what we do so that we can continue to help those who need it. You taught me it was great to have passion and to go for it. You provided support and encouragement when I doubted myself. I have reviewed many emails and texts you sent me and there was such a re-occurring message of support and respect towards me. You also promoted a balance of being with my family and having fun.

My 13-year-old McKenzie asked me what I liked best about working with you. I was able to narrow it down to two things:  1. You made tough work fun, we could laugh and joke, but still be working on serious things and, 2. You made me believe we really could change the world. I always wanted to, but often didn’t think it was really possible.

I never doubted you had my back. I also never doubted if I was wrong that you would let me know. But you would do it in a way that I still could grow as a professional.

One of the last emails I received from you clearly stated that you would look out for Heather and me, even if it was from Heaven above. That email was only five days before you passed, it is almost like you knew I needed to know.

On Monday, Nic shared an email that you sent him, that I was going through some tough times with my daughter and you were concerned. You asked him to look out for me while you were gone.
Those two emails help provide peace for me. It gives me peace knowing how you felt about me and knowing that you knew how I felt about you. I am so glad that we had open communication. I am so glad the last text I ever sent you was a meme declaring you the queen. I hope it made you smile.

Last July we were having dinner the night before our conference. We had a table full of passionate people eating together, joking around, and talking about things we wanted to do. Heather said something about "our table of world changers." That name stuck. Over the fifteen months we have included the #worldchanges on many social media posts, and you included it on the back of our conference t-shirts.




In addition to how you directly impacted me, you impacted my family. My dad repeatedly told me that I needed to keep working for you, that you truly cared, and that you seem to enjoy your work. You connected with my mom, providing her support as she was working on an Out of the Darkness Walk in Farmington. You donated $100 to help her reach her goal, despite having your own walk. I know my mom will miss you as well.

You also had a relationship with McKenzie and you have inspired her. You helped her get her song to music and recorded. This gift has increased her confidence and further increased her desire to be and advocate.

That’s just it Audrey, you inspired so many people. I hope when I leave this world, that I can leave at least half the impact that you have. So many of us are hurting because of your loss, but despite that hurt, we want to do more because of you.

Yesterday after the funeral, I went out to your house. I got to hear more Audrey stories, but I also got to visit with some of our work family. After leaving your house, I knew without a shadow of a doubt, your work will continue. You have developed an army of people who not only want to change the world, but thanks to you, believe we can.

I’m wondering as I close this letter, do I even really have to say goodbye. I know you will be looking out for me from above. I have it in writing. I also see so much of you in the people I get to work with every day. You are a part of so many people. I will let you know that I will miss you, your smile and your sense of humor.

Till we meet again – Rick (or as you liked to call me Ricky)



Monday, June 26, 2017

Why Are You Here?


“Who did you lose to suicide? Oh, nobody. Well are you an attempt survivor? No? Hmm. Well why are you here?”

                This was asked to me by one of my fellow suicide prevention advocates when I first began to get involved. I honestly didn’t know how to respond. My first instinct was to apologize.  I am not sure why I felt the need to apologize. Then I got a little frustrated because I felt as if my passion and desire to help and educate others to prevent suicide was being questioned. Luckily,  I can still answer no to those questions. THAT is why I am here.

                I have not always been passionate about suicide prevention. It was not until my dear friend Rick opened up to me and shared that he was an attempt survivor that I became passionate about  suicide prevention. Until that point, I was like most other people in the mental health field; I knew that suicide was something that happened yet I still had blinders on to the impact that suicide has on our society as a whole. Rick’s story inspired me and changed the way that I viewed suicide forever. I immediately learned that ANYONE can experience suicidal thoughts and that ANYONE can attempt. This was a massive eye opener for me and I wanted to do more.  THAT is why I am here.

                That conversation changed the course of my life. I have since become a Mental Health First Aid Instructor, am on the board of the Eastern Missouri Chapter of the AFSP, created #SEMOSecrets, a campaign on my college campus to get students talking about their own mental health secrets,  and have attended and volunteered at numerous Out of the Darkness Walks. I have very open and honest conversations with my children, friends, and family about mental health and suicide. Yet, I still don’t feel as if I “fit” into the suicide prevention community. THAT is why I am here.

I have struggled a lot over the last few months with how and where I fit into the community if I have not lost someone to suicide and if I am not an attempt survivor.  I do not know the pain that losing someone to suicide brings nor do I know what  it feels like to live in so much emotional pain that I see death as a welcomed alternative. But, I could. I am not immune and my friends and family are not immune. Although I have not felt pain associated with suicide, I have felt emotional pain. I have learned how to use my pain to connect with others. I have been able to use this, coupled with the education I have learned about suicide prevention, to help others share about their thoughts of suicide. The truth is that I NEVER want to feel the pain of a suicide loss and that drives me. THAT is why I am here.

I may not have experienced the pain of losing someone to suicide but I have experienced the pain of having a friend tell me that they were thinking of ending their life. I have experienced the pain of hearing a friend tell me about their son/daughter/spouse die by suicide and what they wished they would have known. I may not have experienced the pain of their situations, but I do experience the pain of those conversations and that pain is what drives me to educate, advocate, and yell a little louder. THAT is why I am here.

My hope is that everyone is educated in suicide prevention. My hope is that teachers, mailmen, grocery store clerks, neighbors, friends, carpenters, bankers, EVERYONE is educated in suicide prevention. Our goal is to prevent suicide. How better to prevent suicide than to talk about it, become passionate about it, educate others about it before someone dies by suicide? THAT is why I am here.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Dad do you have a few minutes

Do you have a few minutes to talk? – my son said when I picked up the phone. Three months later thinking about the conversation brings me to tears. 
Hello
Son:  Do you have a few minutes to talk (crying)
Of course, what’s wrong
Son: (short pause) Dad, I am calling you, um because I promised you if I ever felt this way I would let you know
Suicidal?
Son:  Yes…            I didn’t want to let you down
Son, can you please wait for me to come home so I can talk to you in person
Son: No, I am just calling because I promised you I would, I don’t want to let you down

I had so much fear, I wanted to say “Son please don’t do this to me.” I wanted to call the police to my house – to get him safe. I was thinking, “Is this the last time I will ever get to talk to my amazing son, who I love? How do I help him, how do I not screw this up? Will I ever get to hug him again? Please God help me.”  I felt a rush of insecurity. All these thoughts played in my head.
Then I started to think differently, “I have more training than most people in this area, and I have my own lived experience from a suicide attempt. What would I want and need?”

Son I am so sorry you are hurting, I can tell how upset you are, I wish I could take that pain away from you.
Son:  I know you do Dad.
First thank you so much for calling me, I love you so much.
Son:  I love you too.
Can you tell me about what you are feeling?
Son: (shares some things that brought him to where he felt like suicide was his only option) Dad I am so sorry.
Son, you have nothing to be sorry for. Again, I wish I could take this pain away from you, but we both know I can’t.  I can’t promise you any type of quick solution, but I can promise you, I will be with you while you go through with this.
Son:  I know Dad, but I just can’t do it anymore.
Have you decided how you would kill yourself
Son:  Yes. (tells me the means and that he was going through with it as soon as we got off the phone)
Can you do me a favor?
Son:  What?
Can you please wait until I get home and we can talk face to face and that I can give you a hug?  I am not saying you have to promise to never kill yourself, but can you please wait 90 minutes for me to come home and give you a hug?
Son:  I can do that
Thank you son, I love you.
I sent a text his sister who lived close by and let her know briefly what was going on and asked to her to go to the house and talk to her brother about anything until I could get there.
Son:  Did you tell Shayna to come over here?
Yes, I didn’t want you to feel alone.
Son:  Okay
Will you wait for me to come home?
Son:  Yes

We talked a few minutes, I told him I would call when I got on the road, but I needed to let my work know I was leaving and I would call back in few minutes. I called about five minutes later and he answered, I told him I was on the way. We talked for about 10 minutes, he was also talking to his sister. I asked him if he would please call me if things changed and he didn’t think he could wait till I got home. He agreed, I texted his sister and she was also going to call me if for any reason he tried to leave.

I arrived home.  I gave my son the longest and probably hardest hug of my life.

We spent some time talking about his suicidal thoughts and plans, we talked about future goals/plans. My son, daughter and I went for a late lunch and we talked about past and future vacations and family activities then that night we had dinner with some friends.
The next day my son said, “When my Dad got home we had a hug out and the reason I didn't kill myself was because I could truly see that my family including sister loved me.  Kinda brought me back to reality I guess.”

It has been almost three months since that call. Is there still a risk of suicide? The answer is yes. But having the open communication and respect for each other, I am very hopeful that that risk will continue to decrease. I know that he knows I will always be there to talk to.

Lessons Learned
·         I am grateful I talked to my kids about suicide and other mental health topics, including my own suicide attempt
·         I am glad I have had training in what to do and how to do it.  Otherwise I would have panicked and may have said things that made the situation worse
·         That being a suicide prevention advocate does not exempt me or my family from mental health crisis
·         Truly just being there with someone is the best thing you can do, letting them know you are there with them and not being judgmental
·         Not rushing to extremes is important
·         That I don’t know what the future holds for sure, but I believe that my son and I having this experience has brought us even closer together. When he says he will call me if he ever has a plan to kill himself, I trust he will call me. And I hope he knows when I say I will be there with him through the pain, that I really will.
·         There really was not a clinical skill needed (I wasn’t being a therapist), the intervention I did was listen, not panic, and be there

I encourage everyone to get training such as Mental Health First Aid and/or ASIST.

If you are having suicidal thoughts please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
You can also visit NowMattersNow.org for strategies to build a more manageable and meaningful life.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Day My World Changed Forever






As I was trying to decide what to blog about this weekend, I had many things I thought about writing, but deep down I knew what I needed to share.

March 21, 1993 was the day that changed my life forever.  I can remember that day like it was yesterday.   That was the day my youngest brother and only sibling,  Mathias died in a car accident at age 17.   I was 19 years old. At the time I was living in North Carolina.   My brother was my best friend growing up and the grief of that loss put me in a downward spiral that resulted in my attempting suicide less than four months later.

I had struggled with depression most of my life, many times wishing I wasn’t alive, but it wasn’t until the days following my brothers death, that I actually wanted to die and eventually resulted in my suicide attempt.

This will be the 24th anniversary of his death and it has been a very long and tough journey.  "Mathias each year I mourn your death, I mourn my loss of your friendship, being your brother and I mourn that I won’t ever be an uncle to your children."   Each year I cry; sometimes externally, sometimes internally, sometimes both.  I usually try to keep myself very busy on this anniversary and this year will be no different.

In the 24 years since my brother died, I have felt  lost so many times.   I remember someone asking me many years ago to look for the good in his loss.   My response was pretty much "Fuck You".  

But as I sit and reflect the weekend before this painful anniversary, I can say I have learned a lot in this time. I’m not going to say it’s a silver lining, but I have grown as a person.   I am able to use the pain I have felt to allow me to better connect with the people I work with who are experiencing emotional pain.   Without my being suicidal and attempting suicide, I would have never gotten involved in suicide prevention and I would have never felt this passion, this drive to make a difference.

Clinically I have learned what risk factors  and warning signs are and which ones I had. I also learned what drivers I had as well shadow factors.   I know now when my sleep gets really bad I'm at risk, and need to make changes.     This knowledge allows me to help me look for these things, as well as other things, in others.

I have learned I will always hurt, I will always have this void, and that is okay. Your life was worth me feeling a void, but  I know that void doesn’t have to define me.   I can use this to help others who also feel a void.  I also no longer have to say what if, I can say, what can I do.


So to my brother, "I always will love you.  I will always miss you.  Your death has forever altered me.   I will choose to continue to move forward and you will always be a part of this with me."

(Note:  the picture was taken in January 1992 when I was at home after completing boot camp)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Is Today the Day?


Is today the day that I am able to eat a meal and enjoy it or will I have extreme feelings of guilt and thoughts of failure for eating what others consider a reasonable amount of food?

Is today the day that I can look at my body with pride for what all it has experienced and overcome or see it as a myriad of little parts that need to be fixed?

Is today the day that I will be able to adequately verbalize my experience with an eating disorder or will I be met with confused looks and misunderstanding?

Is today the day that I will be able to be vulnerable in sharing my thoughts that are ever present in regards to my eating disorder and be met with compassion and an attempt at understanding or will I  be dismissed and told to love my body?

Is today the day that I will be able to go through the day with little to no thought about food, body image, or my eating disorder or will those thoughts and feelings come crashing back with a vengeance?

Is today the day that I will be able to receive a compliment and believe the compliment or will I assume that the person is being patronizing?

 

This is what my recovery from an eating disorder looks and feels like to me. There are days, weeks, and hell even months that go by when I think that I have recovered. Then, when I least expect it, the thoughts, feelings, and even sometimes the behaviors come back with a vengeance. I have had to reframe what recovery means to me. Recovery used to mean to me that I would be 100% healed, cured, fixed, etc. However, that is, quite frankly, bull shit. My recovery is not that neat and pretty. My recovery is inconsistent, messy, frustrating, confusing, ever changing, and powerful. I choose to look at my recovery as powerful because I  have learned that although I don’t know what each day will bring, I also know that I am strong enough to overcome it. My recovery is powerful because I can use my recovery to empathize with others who are recovering as well. My recovery is powerful because at one time, I did not see or experience the strength that my recovery has shown me that I possess. So, even though my recovery is messy and frustrating, it’s mine. Is today the day I will struggle or is today the day I will triumph? The truth is today may be the day that I experience both.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The five things I hate the most about my depression

What I Hate Most About My Depression:

I am depressed – that is how I felt all weekend, with no reason.  I somewhat isolated myself, I was irritable and distant at times.  Despite the unseasonable warm weather on Saturday, I felt like I was in a dark and gloomy place and I felt very little happiness.   Friends and family noticed, and I knew they where there for me, but for the most part it was just a rough weekend.   After my son asked me if I was upset with him last night, it really made me think about my depression.  I wasn’t upset with him at all; I was just withdrawn and had put some walls up.   I went to bed saying to myself I hate depression.   I started to think about what I hate the most about it.

First I want to say that I am happy that my depression has decreased over the years, with the help of better coping skills as well as  developing and actually using my support group … at least most of the time.  I am also thankful that rarely do my depressive days lead to suicidal thoughts anymore.

I understand that with depression, there comes sadness. However,  I can never wrap my brain around the why, and why the feelings of hopeless and doom occur at random times it seems.   Here are the 5 things I hate the most about my depression and the 5 things I do to manage:

1.  I hate that I feel sad, when there is absolutely no logical reason to feel sad.   I have a great family,     
     great job, and good friends.   I have a beautiful granddaughter who fills my heart with so much    
     happiness, but despite this  I just feel sad.   Not that I want something bad to happen in my life to give      me a reason, I just want it to make sense.
2.  I wish I wouldn’t pull away from those who care about me the most, especially when I need them the 
     most; However,  all I want to do is put a wall up.  It makes no sense, but that’s what I do.
3.  I hate that when I am depressed I come across as irritable and hateful. I am not, I am just hurting, yet      I can’t even explain why, because I don’t know why.  
4.  I hate that I can’t explain to others or myself that there is no rhyme or reason as to why I feel        
     depressed a lot of the time.
5.  I hate that my depression impacts others negatively.

The good news is that I do know that it passes, usually pretty quickly, and that I have great support system whom understands and respects me and  my depression.    I have also learned so much about myself and about other people as I have learned to live with my depression.  
Five good things I have done for myself:

1.  Truly invest some time into positive coping skills because  they matter
2.  Develop a support system; family, friends and mentors with lived experience
3.  Keep visual reminders around of things that remind me of happiness and hope
4.  I learn to reach out and talk. Sometimes I choose not to talk about the depression but rather about 
     something, anything else. This helps me not isolate further even though this is difficult because my 
     natural instinct is to shut down and isolate from everyone.
5. Try to relax, I know it will pass, and I will survive.  

Monday, January 2, 2017

Balance: Lessons Learned from 2016


Image result for balance photo

 

Y’all, I have been struggling. I have been struggling at trying to maintain some balance in my life lately. Between work, school, relationships with my children, my husband, my family, and friends,  teaching, and the other day to day stressors, I have felt as if I were just treading water and not getting anywhere. No. Scratch that. I feel like I have been water boarded….and I’m the one dumping on the water.

I thought I was maintaining balance well; I am doing well in school, my work has been good, my relationships with friends and family are great. However, I have had a sense of….doom? Pressure? Feeling overwhelmed? Anxiety? I consistently have felt as if I’m missing something or falling behind in some area, whether or not this was a fact. I have experienced these feelings for a couple months now and they finally resulted in my getting pneumonia and being physically and mentally exhausted.

Having pneumonia forced me to rest. Oddly enough, I was stressed because I was forced to rest.  All I could think about was how far behind I was going to be at work and in school. (Although the forced rest resulted in a renewed love of cheesy Lifetime movies. ) As a counselor and a Master’s student, we learn a lot about burnout. I am not a fan of the term “burnout”. To me, burnout  conjures visuals of burnt wood. That isn’t me. I’m not burnt, crispy, and weakened by the pressures of my job. Yes, at times my job is emotionally draining because I get to listen to people on some of their worst days. However, that is also one of the parts of my job that humbles me and inspires me.

After the mandatory rest and the Thanksgiving holiday, it clicked as to why I was feeling so….heavy. I was out of balance. I love the work I get to do on a daily basis with my clients. I love going to class and being surrounded by people who are bound and determined to make a difference. I love teaching Mental Health First Aid and helping someone realize that they can help save a life. I love advocating for mental health and suicide prevention. I love spending days not doing a damn thing but curling up on the couch watching movies with my husband, kiddos, and pups. How could I love each part of what my life consists of and still feel overwhelmed? I realized that even though I loved each ball I was juggling, I could drop everything I was juggling if I held onto one ball too long.

On Christmas break, I went down home to Louisiana. Not only did I go home, but I did something that I have never done before-I left work at work. I left work at work for an ENTIRE week. Weird, the world didn’t stop spinning. I talked with my Mama on the backporch with a cup of coffee. I visited with my Mom. I watched my kiddos interact with my parents. I laughed and talked with my siblings. I slowed down, experienced, and enjoyed each day home.

I would have liked to end this blog by stating that I found the magic key to balance but I didn’t. The antibiotic, PowerAde, and Lifetime movie trifecta didn’t result in any profound algorithms to suddenly create perfect balance in my life. However, the realization that I need (and probably so do you) need more balance in my life is pretty damn big. I also learned that SLOWING DOWN can have a major impact on keeping a more balanced life. So, going into 2017, I can’t promise that I won’t juggle too much or get overwhelmed at times. However, I can strive to slow down, focus on the small things, and know that it’s perfectly ok to not have the perfect answer to creating perfect balance in my life.