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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. 
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
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 for strategies to build a more manageable and meaningful life.