Ask.Listen.Talk.Care.

A friend commented that I’ve been sharing more suicide and mental health related posts on social media this past while. It’s true, and there are a couple of reasons why that is.

Firstly, it’s an issue that is close to home for me on a very personal note. Not just because I’ve lost someone I love to suicide but also because mental health is something that I live and battle with myself.

Secondly, because even with all of the media attention and education that our society now has exposure to surrounding suicide, we still hold strong to some misconceptions that are dangerously inaccurate.

There are a couple that bother me the most though. The first is that a person who talks about being suicidal or having thoughts of wanting to harm or kill themselves won’t actually do it. That it’s the ones who don’t talk about it that you have to worry about. You know what? Some people talk about it and some don’t. Just because someone is open and shares what is going on inside of them doesn’t make them less at risk. Even if they joke about it and make it sound like it’s not serious, you just can’t be sure.

The other one is that a person who is at imminent risk of killing themselves looks or acts a certain way. There is no one way that someone looks when they are at the point of taking their own life. In fact, I’ve been told by a mental health professional that many people who have been suicidal and come to the decision to complete are actually more upbeat and happy in the hours or day immediately preceding an attempt; not the opposite which we tend to think we should see – the quiet, withdrawn and sad looking person who has “given up”. Often times, people with chronic depression or other mental health issues have grown so adept at masking how they feel that they don’t even know how to let themselves be seen as anything other than “fine” and functional. There are numerous videos and pictures circulating lately showing this.

Here’s mine to add:

IMG_5016

This is a picture taken of me on the labour day weekend in 2012; I was with a small group of friends who had gathered to spend the long weekend together at one person’s waterfront house. It was sunny and warm, a lazy, easy going weekend of relaxation was well under way when this picture was snapped. This was taken a few hours before I was supposed to go back into town to run a few errands and then head back to the friends house; continuing the weekend of sunbathing , bbq meals and late nights of laughing and fun.

I had no intention of returning though and had everything in place that I would be found a couple of days later.  I had spent the days prior to this picture finalizing suicide plans and details to end my life. Do I look suicidal and sad and despondent? Not at all…I look exactly how I wanted to be seen as: happy and relaxed and all good. Inside I was as far from that as a person could get.

Don’t let these misconceptions fool you and contribute to more loss. Those of us who struggle to live with mental health issues DO talk openly about it – and we also DON’T. We do sometimes look like we’re falling apart and you can see how deeply it hurts – and oftentimes, we look amazingly together and happy, confident, strong and unshakeable.

There is no universal or standard way to gauge how a person is really feeling.

So….

Ask.

Listen.

Talk.

Care.

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Lucid Dreaming

A glimpse into one of the two lucid dreams that visit me often..

I am standing on a street in what appears to be a seaside fishing village. I look around me and see the narrow streets leading away from the house that I am in front of. Glancing over my shoulder, I see a house that is familiar but I can’t quite place it in my mind. It is different from the other houses that line this street. They are all brightly coloured and similar to each other in shape and size but this house behind me is larger and a more muted colour than the other houses. It feels older somehow.

The ocean is just beyond the row of houses in front of my view and I start to walk across the street towards the sound of the waves crashing. There are no cars, no people, no sounds other than the ocean. I cross the street in a lazy line, taking my time walking down the road as I make my way over to the other sidewalk. I am in no hurry it feels like and I’m not sure where I’m going.

As I reach the other sidewalk and turn left at the corner, the street takes a strong angle downhill and I notice that the village is built around the cliffs above a harsh shoreline. The cloud-filled sky is darkening quickly and the wind chases the birds as they abandon the shore trees in the storm that I can feel is coming. A voice in my head is warning me that I have to hurry and I see, far below me, an entrance to a cave in the rocks where the street ends and the rocky beach begins.

All at once, I know exactly what I have to do. I start to run, already mapping out in my mind how I will collect the people I need to save from the cave first and where we need to go from there. My lungs are starting to burn from the cold air and the sudden burst of running. With the steep angle of the street I am barely in control of my legs, I am going so fast that gravity is taking over and I am careening down the middle of the street towards the beach. I can faintly hear other voices as I run. They are coming from the houses, I’m certain, but I can’t make out what they’re saying. I’m coming back, I whisper to the voices, my breath panting the words.

I see the water on the shore pulling away. The sound of the waves has gone and there is a silence so intense that my ears are ringing. As I reach the edge of the rocks and sand I can’t see the water anymore, it has gone out so far. I turn to my left and see the opening in the rocks. It’s huge, higher than a house, and dark, just enough light for me to see the staircase that I need to climb to reach the house inside that I know is there. I run up the stairs, hearing behind me a rumble starting, far away. I know I have to move as fast as I can. The wooden staircase is old and falling apart. peeling paint where there is still any shows the havoc that the wind and salt from the ocean has wrought on it. Some steps are barely there and my hands are bleeding from the slivers that I get from running my hands along the rails as I run, taking the steps two at a time. The entire staircase creaks and sways as I fly up it. It is bolted by metal hooks into the rocks and they are holding it in place even as the wood rots. I reach the door at the top of the final flight and burst into the room inside. The house is built into the cave walls, hidden inside the rock. A house identical to any on the street above us but sheltered and isolated here. I know exactly what and who is there and my eyes sweep the soft golden light of the lamps as the heat of the fireplace blasts my freezing face as I start yelling.

I reach for the little boy that runs to me and I hold him tight in my arms as I stand up. He is small enough that I carry him easily and I shout for the other boy to follow me as  turn to go back down the stairs. The other boy is older, almost a man, and he follows me without asking or speaking. I hold onto the small boy in my arms as I run down the stairs, glancing over my shoulder to make sure the other is staying close. The door is left ajar behind us and I can see the light it is casting out into the cave as I turn to keep my eyes on the staircase in front of me. The rumble from where the ocean should be, but isn’t still, is louder now and growing with every step it feels like. The stairs are shaking but not just from us running. The ground is starting to heave and small rocks are chipping from the walls of the cave, falling past us and striking the sandy bottom of the cave. Under the noises that threaten, I can hear the soft whispers of the little boy against me. He whispers words that I can’t understand but the tone is soft and soothing and he is almost singing the words. His breath is warm against my chest and neck and his arms around me are strong, stronger than their size implies. I want nothing more than to cry at how beautiful he feels in my against me and I feel such a strong sense that this feeling has been absent for too long. I keep running.

We are out of the cave now and running up the steep hill lined with houses. The rumble is now deafening and I know the water returning will crush us if we don’t make it to higher ground. We have more houses to go to first though. More people to collect. The older boy is running alongside of me. There is a tethered feeling between us even though we don;t touch. we have not spoken but we don’t need to. Every now and then we look at each other and nods are exchanged, and we know. We turn sharply to the left, heading down a street filled with small shacks. The one we are running for is halfway down the block and we are there in seconds it feels like. The boy hits the door hard and it opens just as another young man comes out to join us. He is older than the other but not by much and he is ready. He has a backpack on his shoulders and as he comes out he reaches his arms to me and the small boy at my chest releases his grip on me and he is suddenly in the arms of the other boy. His brother. They are all brothers. The circle of connect between them is so strong that it’s unmistakable. The voice in my heads screams at me to run, to keep going, that there is one more and that we are running out of time. With the oldest boy now carrying his small brother, we run faster. Together. Back out onto the small street and turning onto the main road at the end of the block. My ears are ringing again but now it is from the roaring of the water. It’s here and it’s coming up the hill of the street towards us. We only have to make it across the street though and into one more house and then we can run as hard as we can uphill and we can still make it. We all sprint to the house across from where we are. Spray from the waves crashing up the hill is hitting my face, stinging my eyes and mixing with the tears that are running down my cheeks. I am screaming into the wind, the noise from the water so loud that it is silent. The door of the house opens and the young man stands in the doorway, facing us as we race to gather him to us. He just stands there though and shakes his head and looks past us.

I chance a look behind me and the wave is there. The feeling that rushes over me as the water grabs me and the boys and slams us into the house is crushing. We are a jumble of bodies tossed in the wreckage of the house and the swirling, freezing, suffocating water. I reach for them and my hands and arms find them as blackness takes my vision.

————

I am standing on a street in what appears to be a seaside fishing village. I look around me and see the narrow streets leading away from the house that I am in front of. Glancing over my shoulder, I see a house that is familiar but I can’t quite place it in my mind.

I start to run. I know where I have to go and I know that I am already running out of time. As I run, my mind is already planning how I will gather them all differently this time. Better. Faster. This time, we’ll make it…..

————————

*We never do. The dream / nightmare loops numerous times when I have it and I never wake between “takes”. Each time, the urgency and frantic panic increase as I struggle to find some way to escape and save everyone that I need to. I try different routes and different places to hide from the waves but in the end, the water always consumes us and it goes black. There is always an awareness that I am in control of making the alterations to my choices – the goal to have a different outcome. Yet there never is a different outcome. It ends the same, no matter what choices are made.

Top Ten – Horror Movie Truths

I am not someone that you want next to you when enjoying a horror flick.

As anyone who has ever had the pleasure of my company in such a setting can attest to, it’s not fun.

I startle easily and violently with my go-to response being to lash out. I strike, hit, punch, and grab whoever is nearest with lightening speed reflexes.

It’s actually quite impressive, I think. My companions, they tend to disagree.

Which brings me to where I am lately. Alone, at home, giving exposure therapy a valiant effort. There is a long way to go before I’m going to give myself a passing grade and say that I can enter the realm of accompanied horror movie watching again. However, this foray into gore and murderous mayhem has allowed me to discover some truths for myself:

Ten Truths I Have Discovered Through Horror Movies

  1. Any encounter with a homicidal maniac is always accompanied with either complete silence or stereotypical eerie, chill-inducing music. Always. (ps, this helps know when to cover your eyes when you’re watching, just sayin)
  2. Your odds of being murdered in a horror movie are directly related to your gender. Female equals kill stock. Males will go too but if you’re female, the odds are stacked against you. If you are pretty, you go sooner.
  3. The caveat to #2 is that females also have higher odds of being the last survivor. This may have something to do with point #4.
  4. Your overall attractiveness and bra cup size will dramatically increase the chances of you losing clothing during your struggle to survive the aforementioned homicidal maniac…and your odds of needing to run *bounce bounce bounce*
  5. We have gut instincts for a reason. Developed over thousands of years to help us stay safe. Why almost no one in horror movies chooses to believe the creepy feeling they have when the porchlight goes out and the wind chimes play is beyond my understanding.
  6. The same stupidity and knack for poor decision-making that gets a person in trouble will also help them survive – against all odds, if they are the big name star (who is needed for the sequel).
  7. An adult-sized person can successfully hide behind a sapling.
  8. Forests at night are scary. Always. There are no helpful woodland creatures like in Bambi, just predators hunting you as you run at top speed through the trees – and somehow manage to not run headfirst into any of them.
  9. The concept of safety in numbers only works if you all stay together! Do not, under any circumstances, leave the herd to go get a beer. You will not be “right back”. But your body will be found later (accompanied by eerie music or silence – see point # 1).
  10. I should not watch horror movies alone.

 

 

deafening whispers

we all have voices inside of us that speak to us.

in whispers or in screams.

and those voices came from somewhere.

and they need to go.

 

Sometimes I try to remember when the voices started.

Sometimes I wonder when they’ll go away. Or if they’ll go away at all.

It’s better not to think of that last one though, because there’s one voice that whispers an answer every time that I ask.

An answer that I deeply hope is a lie.

But what if the words it tells me in that whisper are true, after all? The thought of that scares me.

So I try not to wonder about that.

 

I can’t even remember a time when they haven’t been there.

They have made my own voice so small, it’s almost impossible for me to find it..

So quiet and hesitant that it barely even tries to be heard anymore.

When it does, it is swiftly shut down and swept away by the collective voice.

A singular voice now, born of the multitude of voices that took up residence throughout the years.

 

I would hear them, inside of me, in their own voices when they spoke to me.

They were voices that were not mine but I knew them all the same.

They were teachers, friends, aunts, uncles, doctors and strangers even.

The voices of those closest were the easiest to believe and allow in to stay.

My best friends, my lovers, my partners.

My mother.

 

Critiqued and judged, found to be lacking. A disappointment and of little value.

Their voices would scold, judge, shame and humiliate me.

Every doubt that my self mused over would be violently wrenched from my grip and

tossed amongst the voices like a game of hot potato.

The intensity and pain of the doubt growing stronger and more powerful as it went from voice to voice.

The self-doubt changed and shaped into a truth in their grasp before it was given back to me where I would accept it and hold it tightly to me.

It was mine now. True and indisputable. Believed.

 

My voice wouldn’t lie to me.

MY voice.

I wonder sometimes when the voices stopped being “them” and became “me”.

When did they start to speak in my voice, sounding like me and not themselves anymore?

Their whispers and shouts no longer familiar or known, but now in my own voice.

The cadence and nuances of what spoke to me made up of the very fibre of my self.

Sometimes I try to remember when the voices started.

Sometimes I wonder when they’ll go away. Or if they’ll go away at all.

 

Sick Day

“I think I’m coming down with something.”

A phrase that we hear, and might say ourselves, from time to time. You know the feeling; tired, run down, maybe some sneezes and sniffles or a scratchy throat that are the unmistakable hints that you’ve caught something and you’re getting sick.

So what do you do?

If you’re like me, you start loading up on vitamin c and drinking more water. Add in a wonderful brew of garlic, ginger, lemon and honey to help battle the germs. Make sure to rest more and try to take it easy so that my body can fight off the bug that is running rampant inside my normally healthy body. I’m lucky enough to have access to a sauna and that’s always part of my arsenal of wiping out the illness. Take some time off work and get better.  In short, I turn my attention to doing whatever I can to help make myself get better as quickly as I can. It’s what we have been told we should do, need to do, for ourselves and for the most part we do. Even I do, and I’m not great at taking care of myself.

So let’s flip this from physical to mental health.

“I am burned out and done. Just done.”

A phrase – or some variation of that gets said fairly often too. Words that convey the simple fact that things are just too much right now, or that our ability to meet the mental or emotional demands on us are just not up to it. Whether it’s work stress or personal issues, whether it’s the tap out from depression, anxiety, grief, exhaustion or any myriad of mental health issues – chronic or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what we do once we have hit that point.

So what do we do? In a perfect world, you would look at what it is that’s the main issue and address it. What do you need, right that moment, to make things better? Then do that. What do you need, long term, to help yourself? Then do that. You would find support or take yourself away from what is causing you stress. You would get help in the form of counselling or medication or therapies that work for you. You would take a day off, maybe a few if you can and take time to get better.

What actually happens though?

We cough and sneeze and call in or email and say we’re sick and stay home. Everyone tells us how much they hope we get better soon and that we should rest and not push ourselves – just take it easy and get better.

 

or….

 

We don’t think we can get out of bed because of the heavy and dark depression or the anxiety that is crippling today or *insert your own version here* but we do it anyways; we get dressed in between panic attacks and sobs that ruin the makeup we’ve already had to re-do twice and we put on clothes that we feel like we can hide inside of. We pull ourselves together and we became masters at faking being “okay” or “fine, just tired” so that we don’t have to try to explain.

Or we don’t get out of bed. We call in or email and say we have a migraine or stomach flu – anything that can be gone in 24 hours so that there won’t be too many questions tomorrow when we do manage to pull ourselves together and make it to the outside world again. We become masters at lying and hiding what is really wrong.

Why? Because making a call and saying “I’m not okay today. I’m not well and it’s not my body that’s the problem.” is not something that we know how to do. It’s also not something that we know how to hear and respond to either. That’s okay though because the only way things will change is if we start changing them after we admit that there is something that needs changing.

So today I did something I never do. Today I called in “sick” and didn’t lie about why. I said I was taking a mental health day and that I was just simply burned out and needed a day to rest and recharge and get my head screwed on straight. You know what? The reply was “good for you, do what you need to.”. Yes, I was nervous about being that honest but I also know that I need to start walking the talk about getting rid of stigma if I really mean it – and I do. Yes, I do realize that I am incredibly lucky that I can do that and that not all of us can. Not everyone has time off available and not everyone works in an environment that you could say those words and not worry about how it will affect your job security. But if you do, and can, please do it when you need to. It’s the only way that taking care of our mental health will start being seen as just as normal and necessary as taking care of our physical health.

I Want You To Know

What do you value? What goals do you have that you want to achieve and how do they relate to the values that you hold true for yourself and how you want to live your life.

 

A couple of questions among a few today in a course that I’m taking. Questions that opened the door into a journaling task. A task that was to be done quickly, in class, not taking more than a few minutes. Designed to let us jot down our instinctive responses without over-thinking and without trying to analyze. Simply to write down our most basic “what do you want”. An exercise that was to tie into last week’s look at why we fail or succeed in making changes in areas of our lives that we say we want to change. Simple.

 

But first, before what I want, a little background.

I’ve been living with a depression for the last few (okay, many) months and fighting even acknowledging it to myself, never mind to anyone else. I’ve just barely started being open about how deep the shadows are to my partner and letting glimpses of how I’m doing be seen by a couple of others. most definitely not ok is indicative of just how bad it is right now. It’s that depression that fogs over everything right now for me. It’s dark and heavy and exhausting, and I’m so tired of it.

 

Sitting in class today, looking at my paper and holding my pen in hand, trying to even feel what I want so that I can write it down. Tears coming to my eyes again – like they had been off and on for most of the class – as I am overwhelmed by the sadness that I felt. Sadness that the one word that was front and centre felt so far from me. The one word that slowly came into my mind to explain what I want more than anything else just made me want to give up with how unattainable it felt to me.

 

Light.

 

I want to be light again. I am so exhausted from the heaviness of depression and grief that I sometimes forget what it feels like to not be crushed by it. I know that I have times that it’s merely a shadow and that I do peek out from under it but on days like today, those times are hard to remember – even harder to recall how it feels to have that lightness of being.

 

The sadness I feel in writing that hurts because within that is a deeper, more urgent want that wiggles in my mind as I work towards that lightness again. A sadness for what this darkness has made so hard lately. Connections, re-connections of relationships lost and let go of in my depression and grief, reassurance to those who are close to me still (even with all my efforts to push away hard).

 

I so desperately want the people who are in my life to know that it’s not all dark and heavy – and that I DO know that. I am blessed and I have so much in my life that does bring me happiness and laughter and light…and I am trying so hard to be aware of those times just as , if not even more than, the times when the heaviness weighs in.

 

I want and need for the people in my life to see when I’m having a light and easy day and there are smiles and joy to not worry if a cloud rolls in for a few minutes, maybe some tears or sadness will come. But it’ll pass. A single cloud doesn’t ruin a beautiful day. I promise.

 

I want and need for the people in my life to know that when the clouds pile up and darken and stick around, they’ll pass too. It might take longer than a moment, but they will. They always do, some days I have a harder time remembering that but I promise that they will pass too.

 

I want and need for the people in my life to know that it IS getting better and I need for you to remind me of that when I fall apart and share that I don’t know if it is – or ever will be better.

I want you to know how much it means to me that you are there to tell me that when I can’t see it.

 

I want you to know that I hide behind “I’m ok, just tired” or “I’m fine” like you do too…and I see you and it’s ok to hide behind that if you need to; I know sometimes I need to not share how I really am too. It’s ok when it’s too much.

 

I want you to know that sometimes I can be what we all are in some way or other:

Perfectly okay and doing great.

A mess.

Loved and loving.

Falling apart.

Grateful for all the amazing and wonderful things and people in my life.

Overwhelmed and lost in depression

Joyful and light.

Hurt.

Laughing, smiling, sincerely happy and content.

Scared that it won’t ever be different.

Excited for tomorrow..

Wanting to give up.

 

I want to say thank you for being in my life. Whether you are someone who I share a few minutes with once or twice a year…a casual friend… a chosen family or close friend…or my partner, my love… I want you to know that I can be, like we all are, both a work in progress and a masterpiece, all at the same time.