It was the conversation I DIDN’T have that terrified me…


Today is National Suicide Prevention Day, Week, Month… It’s a harsh topic. Already some of you are cringing because this is not what you want to be reading about. It’s not fun, fluffy, and I guarantee it wont make you laugh.

Well, man up. It needs discussed.

16920_10207943717737263_5034557815060099013_nThere’s a viper that threatens to convince my daughter that suicide is the only choice that makes sense. She goes to the front lines daily to do battle with it. It’s cruel and mean. For her, she has an invisible illness that brings on her suicide battles. Her illness has a name that makes many flee, almost as much as trying to talk about suicide does. She is a courageous young woman who daily chooses to do one more day, while her mental illness rears up and tries to taunt her, hound her, chase her down and exhaust her.

I can’t prevent the attacks, but I can choose to fight along side her and refuse to let her do it on her own. As hard as the battle here is, it’s frankly the easy kind. Why? Because it’s reared it’s venomous head and shown itself. I know it lurks here. I take precautions. I’m on guard. I fight for her when she is too weak to fight herself.

The kind that’s a real killer is the kind that no one sees coming. I like to call them the “pressure cookers”. A silent, deadly battle is being waged, just like with my daughter, but this time there are no signs, no warning; it’s flat out of the blue. They’re terrifying.

It’s important to talk about suicide, if for no other reason, you never know who is thinking they aren’t worthy of one more day, or who believes they can’t fight the battle one more time… because they think they are alone in it.

Then there’s this kind: The kind where it seems someone is getting help, things are bouncing back, when really it lies hidden, waiting; waiting for the chance to strike.

There is one suicide I think about every single day; my dad’s. I think of it each time I look into my daughter’s eyes.

Oh, no, you’re right…He’s still here. My dad din’t commit suicide. I am one of the lucky ones. I know two friends who were not as lucky as I. Their dads did commit suicide. Watching the hell they went through… geez, there are no words. I had none to give them then, none that worked, nor did anything to dull the pain. I even walked away feeling guilty, in some odd way, because I realized I was thanking God that somehow my dad saw through his pain, to a fraction of a moment of clarity, sought a ragged edge to cling to and held on for dear life.

My dad had a plan of how, and when, he even had a couple plans, but he didn’t go through with it. I thank God for preventing it. I can do that. Really though? Dad had to make that hard choice. He had to choose to do one more day. He had to want it, enough to do it for just a little bit longer.

He doesn’t know it yet, but this tattoo on my left wrist? It’s to honor him as well as my daughter. He’s the period, she’s the comma that makes up the semicolon. (I have my reasons. I never get a tattoo that doesn’t hold great meaning.)

He was one of the lucky ones who had people who heard cues and noticed changes in behavior and were MORE stubborn than he was… and insisted on help.

Not everyone is as lucky as we were. Some people show zero signs. It’s true. Then there are subtle ones that if left alone and unchallenged, to them it looks like that green “go ahead” light when right there on that edge, barely hanging on.

Me age 4 with my dad, 1978

Me age 4 with my dad, 1978

My dad has been a minister all of my life. I am 41 years old. I was born into a life where the phone ringing at 2 am meant a crisis and my dad would be moving in pastor mode instantly. 40 some years of some very intensive situations, counseling, funerals, church politics (every bit as nasty as the government kind), and yes, all the joys thrown in too, it all adds up to some really exhausting mental overwork.

My dad is a chronic workaholic. The good kind in that he is always pushing/needing to do more for people. He sees how he can do one extra thing, so he insists to himself that he do that. Truly it’s wonderful… but intensely taxing. At one point he was so mentally tired he simply burned out. He was so tired he could not even decide what to eat for lunch. It broke him. It broke him in a way that scared the hell out of me.

The details are long, complicated, and not important. What is important was one conversation he had trouble having. It was a conversation we frankly DIDNT have. It was what wasn’t said that was so terrifying. He took me to lunch one day on a break from my job. Pizza buffet. He didn’t eat. He picked at his food. Stirred his Pepsi with his straw. Swallowed his words. He clawed his way through that conversation, words fleeing in distress. What little he did spit out was fragmented. His eyes were hollow but watery. Haunted. He started and stopped so many times; I already knew. I knew what he couldn’t say. But he NEEDED to say it.

If I can ever give advice, because truly I know nothing, I give this one thing. Just listen. Shut up and listen. Why? Because more times than not it’s what’s NOT said that you need to hear…

“I thought about just getting in the car, just driving. Not stopping.”  I just looked at him. I had no response. I’m not sure if I was supposed to.

“There’s this one bridge…I’ve thought about driving off of it. ”

“Wonder what that would be like, to drive off a bridge.”

Any hunger I had was long gone. Did he know I didn’t know the right words to say? The ones he needed to hear? I was pregnant with my oldest. My redheaded and freckled, Lindsey. My very first baby. I went from the pure joy and happiness of knowing she was there with us, to the thought of my dad never seeing my first child… It nearly undid me.

That moment was the first time suicide touched my life. It was the first time it became real. It wasn’t a statistic, or a story someone told, it was live, before me, and I didn’t have any answers.

I said something ridiculous. I am sure of it. I spent more time internally praying my heart out over my dad than I did voicing words aloud to him. I just let him talk. I don’t know if he walked away that day “feeling” like he could do one more day or not, but he did. Then he did another. Then another.

Later my dad would tell me that it partially was Lindsey coming into this world that saved him. That knowing that he would miss out on being a grandpa, holding that first baby, my newborn child, to look into those brand new eyes and see an untouched soul…he knew he would keep doing one more day till he could do that. Then he would decide from there how to do the rest of the days.

He is still here. It’s now 17 years later, and he is now helping me do battle for my daughter and saving her from herself. Someday I pray we have a story to tell about what her “one more day” moment was.


This tattoo on my wrist? It also has a shadow effect. It has hidden meaning for me. For every person who battles the thought of doing “one more day” and wondering if it’s worth it, there is someone who needs to stand up and say, “I got your back.”  My middle child, and second daughter, Allison and I both have shadows in our tats. Lindsey’s is singular. We have her back. We’ve got her, no matter when she needs us. I had my dad’s back. He knew it, even if it was hard for him to ask for what he needed to hear. He knew just looking into my eyes that I saw him. I don’t know. Maybe that was enough, that day.

If you are ever even considering suicide, I promise you, there is someone who wont want that… someone will have your back too. Don’t tell me I am wrong. Just trust me on this. Reach out, even if it is to an online group, make a phone call to a hotline, or just find someone who has kind eyes, tell them you know this sounds crazy, but you somehow know you are sposed to talk to them. Please just do that first, before you do something else. Okay?

There’s a suicide prevention/awareness group called “To Write Love on Her Arms.” They are a non profit organization that raises awareness for those who self harm and struggle with addiction and thoughts of suicide. My daughter struggles with self harm and in addition to the semi colons we got, we three got tiny hearts on our arms… because I wanted to write LOVE on my girls arms, so that they always knew that no matter where they went, how far they go, my love is always going to be right here for them, never ending, no matter what. I will always have their back. It will NEVER change. I don’t care what they do… They can always depend on me being that one person they can be sure will aways want them around, one more day.

For more information, please check out these amazing organizations:

To Write Love On Her Arms: https://twloha.com/learn/

Visit their blog over @ https://twloha.com/blog/

The Semicolon Project has gained a huge following. Check them out over @ http://www.projectsemicolon.org

Check out their blog @: http://www.projectsemicolon.org/blog

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Mama DOES know best!


IMG_2234You know that old saying, “Mama knows best”? Never, EVER let anyone tell you that you don’t know something. You are with your child day in and day out, and if you feel something is off, wrong or isn’t going the way that seems natural or normal or right in any way, draw your claws and demand to get answers. “Let’s wait and see how this goes,” is not an answer I take kindly to. I’ll do the try and wait game for a small time, but be prepared to hear from me, a lot, and never go away until you are ready to move forward to the next step. I’m not going away. Oh, and forget to get back to me about tests or setting up appointments? Yeah, that does NOT go well in my book; you just entered my hit-list side of the notebook.

Moms DO know best. They know when their kid is being dramatic or attention seeking and when it crosses the line into seriously real. And, whatever you do, don’t tell a mom (me) to parent something that is your (the doctor’s) medical turf. If I say a medicine is screwing with my kid, I know it because I know my kid. I also will have done a lot of legwork on the home front to document and try to figure out which meds are likely the culprit. The changes in personality or behavior are not because I am slacking in parenting.

Let me direct you to some notable paperwork, dear sirs. It might be one of those drastic side effects they have listed at the bottom of the sheets that say something like, “Some individuals may have more severe effects, including: rapid mood changes, abnormal anxiety, heightened anger and aggression, suicidal thoughts, impulsiveness, restlessness and trouble sleeping.”

In our case? We had all those along with nearly every one of the others listed in the “not so drastic” side effects column. Was the medicine doing the job we began taking it for. Yes, actually it was. Frustratingly so.

It worked nearly perfectly. It was like a dream at first and I was amazed that it did so much good. It was because it WORKED that I beat my head against a wall and tried to decide if it was ME or really the medicine. I tried to decide if I was somehow screwing up with my kid. Do I REALLY want to muck around with meds AGAIN when they are actually doing the job they are being taken for?

Am I willing to trade the quality of life the “cure” offers versus the problem we were treating? Wow. I want to scream NOOOOOO! from the top of my lungs. And truly, it’s NOT worth it. But the battle we have here? It’s not as simple as that makes it sound. It’s hellish. I can’t describe it, and I can’t give words to the number of times we’ve traveled this valley of desperate and dark times.

The battle between body and medicine — specifically here it’s the body’s ability to regulate the chemistry of the brain with medical help — is complicated stuff. It is. Still, the fact remains, growing up a teen, while regulating medicines, can be daunting. Hormones and puberty clash with pills and prescriptions. The theories and ideas all make sense, how meds will increase or decrease this or that, how it will help alleviate one thing so another doesn’t elevate. I’m not anti-meds. But it’s hard as heck to ride this storm out.

Look, we’ve done the “no meds” route for years. Tried so many things I could still cry now from those frustrating days we ALL had. But by the time my child was 12 it was brutally and painfully obvious that we needed to seriously consider more help. Childhood onset of Bipolar Disorder is not something easily regulated. She also is OCD with anxiety disorders and Borderline Personality Disorder. The brain chemicals in this kid’s body just are not lined up. Her ducks don’t walk in a row like they are supposed to. Life is hard for her.

In order for her to stop the increasingly painful confusion of her mind’s fragmented reality, which was growing more the further she entered into puberty, we needed to help her regulate the chemicals a bit. It was just time to try something new. (Side note: I now understand why there are so many different medications out there. No two people are the same. No two are going to be chemically fixed by the same pill.)

Enter into today, where my daughter has been running in and out of the house all day—LOUDLY, breathlessly giggling, obsessing about her hair and clothes, talking to a boy and acting like a complete nut. She’s been wrestling with her sister, harassing her brother and chatting online with her friends. She’s 16. I expect nothing less than this. In fact this is exactly why I am teary. This is what we’ve been working towards; an active, loud, healthy, happy teen.

We’ve been working on her meds for more than four years now and it is a constant rollercoaster. We’ve just come off a 14-week stint where we have been weaning her on and off meds, searching for answers, trying new things, doing “wait and sees” and scratching whole ideas because I simply said “NO way in HELL we are doing that.”

The end result is this: I was RIGHT. I knew my kid.

Yes, she has significant trouble, and she is anxious and worried often. Has she ever been suicidal before, scared the crap out of me, harmed herself, done things that made me fear for her life, her very survival? Ummm, yeah, she has. In ways that lay me flat out, face down on my bed, fully-giving-my-kid-to-God kind of scared.

Want to know why I could go to a doctor and say, “Sorry, YOU are wrong. The meds are NOT right,” and do it with confidence? Because I know what those “down in the mucky pit days” look like. I know what the triggers are. I know what sets those wheels in motion. I know when to begin to watch her and I can hear warning bells going off just by looking in her eyes. I KNOW HER! When my kid starts doing things with no trigger, no warning signs, goes from 0-180 in a flat three seconds? It’s not me. It’s not her. It’s meds. Period.

We have routine. That no-trigger trip-out? It’s not the way we spiral here. We have a cycle, a system, a formula for our madness, if you please. THIS was something I wasn’t willing to let go, or to wait it out, or do a try and see. I demanded to be heard. Frankly, not being this proactive can land a kid in a hospital. Or dare I say it out loud? Yeah, I’ll say it. It’s my reality. It can land them in a grave. Everyone will say, “if only we had known,” and I will sit and beat myself to a pulp because I let myself be silenced, judged or second-guessed.

Medicine mixing for the brain’s chemistry is a hellish battle. I wish it on no one. It takes forever to get the right balance and when you do, especially in puberty, it can change before you know it and it needs to be adjusted again. I’d say it’s not for the faint of heart, but you don’t get to pick your heart. I had to learn how to buck up and become a bull in a china shop. I started out a bunny in a barn.

Today I stood in my kitchen looking out the window. I watched my daughter. She, for all the world, looked like every other 16 year old. She does not wear the battle scars on her face. The scars are there, make no mistake, but today her face radiated. It was brilliantly lit with a smile full of pure white teeth and NO BRACES! She was still celebrating today by not having popcorn hulls stuck in those old things. Laffy Taffy was chasing closely on its heels and she was grinning ear to ear.

The battle is long, the cost is high, but the rewards of the little victories we are winning along the way are truly worth it.  Even though getting to the answer is tiring and time-consuming, we ARE getting to the answers.

There is no greater victory than one won for your child.

 

This post is reposted from my parenting blog over at Will Settle for Chocolate 

Nothing new, except now people are listening.


There is plenty being said and discussed and shared online right now about depression, suicide, and mental illness. They’re the buzz words of the day, the trending topics.

I’m sad. I feel like I am grieving. I’ll admit it… but more than that, my insides suddenly feel like they are being ripped out and it has nothing to do with the funny man, Robin Williams, who died. Wanna know who it does have to do with?  My kid. Yeah. MINE. Who else? Other members of my family, who I will leave nameless. Oh, then there’s me.

A friend posted this online tonight…  I can’t say it better… so here. I’ll let Heather say what she does so well… truth without fancy schmancy – politically correct – NUTHIN. Just sayin it like it is…

Robin Williams/Heather Osbun Smith

Nearly every day of life here behind our front door is spent in some form of survival mode. Many days we openly discuss this suicide word in an alarmingly personal and private way. We do battle with mental illness, that nasty word that sends so many into hiding in shame. The M. I. label is the driving force behind my “ditching the masks.”  I am sick to death of living a hidden life and one that makes my daughter feel shame…that she’s not enough, that she is somehow a broken person, is less-than because her brain chemicals don’t self regulate like so many others do and she must take expensive meds, constantly readjusting them monthly as she goes through the puberty and onslaught of hormones that muck up every good run we’ve ever had at stabilizing those damn things. I’m so sick of the stigma and “weakness” of people taking meds for mental illness or depression I could rage for an hour on it.

Let me tell you something about people with mental illness you may not know… it takes a HELL of a lot of strength, grit, determination, and heart to plug away day-in and day-out, silently, quietly, so that it’s possible to make it “one more day.” The idea that suicide is a weakness, an “easy way out” or that a person somehow failed because they finally said “enough”? It’s ludicrous… and obviously made only by someone untouched by the very devastating reality that so many live with.

Any clue how hard it is to get up and do another day, when no end is in sight? Any clue how much moxy you have to have to battle demons that have no shape in order to beat them into oblivion? Any idea how strong you have to be to just admit you need help?

I cant imagine how hard it must be to decide to leave your loved ones behind and take that step, one that is so personal and private, knowing that the world will talk and never let up on it once you take that step? Knowing full well that no matter what you’ve done in your life, it will forever be overshadowed by that last act. You think what’s currently going on didn’t occur to Robin Williams? My guess is it fueled it. My guess is he’s been battling our judgments his whole life, they were demons inside him, you and I, and our judgmental prattle. He may be remembered fondly and in time we will forget the last act and focus on his living legacy. He only gets that grace because he is who he was… regular folk? Yeah, not so much grace goes their way.

Robin Williams will make us talk. I guess I will take that for what it is, because like it or not, he now has given us a reason to talk about it openly… and it has given me a new talking points that allow me to connect with my daughter.

But has he given it a face? No.

10570290_10204898957100150_5190697673744201881_nTo me? To me THIS face is the one I battle for and with, daily.  These shades hide eyes that show strength. This face is why I will never give in to my own demons.

This girl has taught me more about living in her 15 years than I had in all the previous ones I’ve had. She has taught me about courage, love, pain, forgiveness, grace, moxy, and about wordless things have no shape, size,  nor definition. She’s shown me how to admit my weakness in a way that I never could before. She’s made me turn and face my own issues. She makes me proud. She makes me beam. She makes me want to be a better person.

This girl is why I am willing to be transparent, vulnerable, and real. Why? Because if I’m not willing to model it for her, how can I ask her to be? There is no shame inside the walls of this house. Only grace.

Robin, I pray you have found peace. You will be missed. Your last act was to give the world a way to talk, at least for a while, about a brilliant mind that was deeply affected by things we have only begun to understand. The brain is a vexing thing to learn and understand. Maybe you will help us move on to less stigma and the realization that anyone can be touched by the pain of this.  But as much as I love ya, your face will never be the “face of mental illness.” Sorry. This girl already has it covered.

 

Failure. Simply not an option.


She stood in the kitchen with tears streaming down her face. Her hands were over her mouth and she tried unsuccessfully to stop the sobs before they began. A gut-wrenching cry escaped from her core and she melted down. The harder she tried to stop, the more angry she became with herself that she wasn’t stronger, and so the faster the sobs came. She loathed this part about herself. She hated when she did this. Angry hot tears burned her cheeks as she sucked in a breath that did nothing to cool her parched lungs. She could hardly take a breath in for all the emotions flowing out of her. She was terrified of herself.

She glanced at the dirty dishes on the counter and her eyes lingered on the long knife that lay there. No thoughts consciously went through her mind. Nothing said, “Oh, I think I will solve my problems by sinking that long knife into my chest,” but the reality was that the image was firmly in her mind and her will was being enacted in order to refrain from doing that very thing. She was horrified.

An unseen force was relentlessly telling her to do it, egging her on, but she didn’t want to, not really. She wanted to run, but there was nowhere to go. There was no where to hide from the voice inside her mind. She was angry with herself. She was so stupid and so pathetic. Why couldn’t she just be normal? Why couldn’t she just do what other girls did? Why was this a big deal? When would she be different? Why was she such a failure? She hated herself. She couldn’t hate herself more than she did right then, except when she thought of how her mom would react when she found her like this.

With that she began to sob uncontrollably.

 

This was the scene in my kitchen on Monday night. The fact that I did not have the reaction my daughter was dreading was good. Truthfully? I never know how I am supposed to react to the fact that my daughter battles weekly, even daily, thoughts of suicide. I don’t know the way a mom is “supposed” to feel about the fact that their child has been battling demons that tell them that ending life is a better choice than fighting through whatever there is to face at any given moment. I don’t know the right way to love my child through pain and torment that only can be experienced and understood from living on the inside of their life.

Her realities aren’t ones I can see nor even understand. Her mind does not allow her to see reality as most of the world out there does. It skews it and distorts it, twisting it in sickening ways that makes me ill just to see from the distance I am forced to keep. I am as close to her as I can be, but I can’t get inside her heart and soul and know her pain more than what she shares. I can’t make it better. I can’t make it go away.

How is a mother supposed to react to that? 

Let me tell you how. WRONG.

Most of the time I get it wrong. Don’t be nice to me and say that I am doing great and that I am doing the best I can. I don’t want to hear it. Sometimes the best you can is just frankly not enough.

I often get mad. I get livid mad. I am not mad at my daughter, but I am mad because she lives with bipolar disorder, OCD, and a host of anxiety disorders dictate more about OUR lives than I want to admit. I can’t change this and it makes me madder than hell. It makes me angry that she can’t just enjoy her life. She is so imprisoned by her mind and her mental illness that I am angry. It affects everything she does.

I don’t always say the right things. She needs to hear “it’s OK” one more time, and I am tired of saying it. Not because I don’t feel it’s OK, not because I don’t care, but because I am tired of needing to say it. I am tired of her mind telling her a lie that requires me to do battle with it daily.

I get impatient, irritable, frustrated and fragmented. I am tired, stressed, sad and alone. Most of the daily routine and battle against her mind falls to me. It is wearying. She feels responsible for this and she adds stress upon herself for this, guilt and anger of her own. It’s a vicious cycle. We both understand it and we talk about it.

I apologize a LOT. I flat out tell her I don’t know what the hell I am doing. I tell her I love her, that I do know, but that’s all I know. I tell her I don’t know how to love her through the pain the right way, but I love her. She gets it. She somehow manages to understand me. She somehow knows in her heart I am trying. And I am. I’m just not doing a good enough job. I’m not.

How do you ever get used to having a child who battles a demon inside that says that suicide is a good option? At the age of 10 she gave it her first real try and it scared the hell out of me. She’d been talking about it since she was 7. She’d shown signs of issues and problems and we’d been in and out of counseling since she was 6. We did everything “right” and still we didn’t have a plan that was helping her, so she tried to end the pain. Now at 15 we have been at this more than half her life and somehow I am no pro, nor old hat, at handling it. In fact, I still sometimes wish I could wake up one day and it would all just be over.

There are days I lay facedown on my bed and sob into the feathered duvet, screaming at God that I’m not strong enough to do this anymore. I’m not strong enough to be her mom. What if I screw up? What if one day I get it wrong and she acts upon this demon of hers. No one will see a mom who tried so hard for half her daughter’s life; they will see that I failed on one random day when push came to shove and she couldn’t hold the demon at bay. They will see that no one was there for her. They won’t see years of trial, pain, torments; successes, victories and massive strides made. They will see the failure. They will see the death.

I live in fear of failure. Not because failure is bad in and of itself, but because failure isn’t an OPTION.

Do you see? Failing means I lose my baby. It means she’s dead and there was no better way out she could find. It could be as simple as I had the reaction she was dreading. A look on my face or word from my mouth that confirmed (in her mind) that she wasn’t worth it. That I was tired of HER, not just tired. That it was HER I hate, not the disease. If I get that wrong, even once…

This is real life here… One with no answers. This is what life behind my front door looks like. It’s raw, it’s real and it’s a hidden life that I don’t live alone.

There are many faces that you pass in the store or on the street that hide lives that live in fear of failure. Lives that are touched by mental illness. I am grateful for my network of support. Living without it is not an option.

If you or someone you love needs support, please get it.  Here is a link to some here in Fort Wayne:  http://www.nami.org.

I don’t have answers, but I can be real. Know that, while I will still share my silliness (like a week where a squirrel decided to move in with us because he mistook ours for NUT house versus a nuthouse…https://ditchingthemasks.com/2014/01/20/mistaken-for-a-nut-house/) I will still keep it honest here.  My guess is that is what someone needs.

Laughter is good. Honesty, needed. Prayers, crucial.

 

This blog, to anyone who questions, were written with full permission from my daughter. She and I are beginning a blogging venture where we will be blogging through the reality and pain from her eye and mine. My hope is that we will give hope and a needed look at reality to what is often an invisible battle waged in homes across the country, and worldwide. We are hoping to be “real “and open an honest dialog. Mental illness is not just school shootings and tragedy. It’s daily life on multiple fronts – including some amazing highs and powerful successes mixed in with the lows.