A Global Issue – World Suicide Prevention Day 2019

TW: This post discusses suicide

Typically when I post about suicide/suicide prevention, I focus on the issue in America. That’s mostly because when awareness weeks/months happen, it’s mostly about the topic of suicide as it pertains to America. So when I decided to write about World Suicide Day this year (which I’ve never done before), it was one of the first times that I looked at suicide as a global issue. And yes, it is a global issue. Just see what the World Health Organization has to say about it.

The reason that reading about suicide statistics in the United States was troubling for me in the first place was that it had me thinking that the situation was worse in the United States than it was elsewhere. But as I looked up statistics, facts, and figures from other countries, I learned this is just as big of a problem all around the world. And while strategies for suicide prevention have improved in a big way, suicide rates have not decreased in recent years. In fact, it’s estimated that around the world there is a death by suicide every 40 seconds. Every. 40. Seconds.

Just as it was last year, this year’s theme is ‘Working Together to Prevent Suicide’ and I truly believe this theme says a lot about how we need to approach the issue – everyone, anyone can be involved in suicide prevention. Whether it’s checking in on a co-worker or giving a friend a call when you think they might be struggling, we all have a role to play in lifting up those around us and making sure they’re doing okay. But make no mistake, it is not up to just one person – we all have a role to play, and it can come down to three key actions to take:

  1. Knowing and recognizing signs of someone at risk
  2. Reaching out to someone in need
  3. Finding out what resources are available depending on the situation

There are plenty of resources that can provide the best information with specifics on this, but those are the three key takeaways that I wanted to mention because a ton can flow from those three main points. It looks easy on paper, and it some ways it is. But the topic of suicide is so nuanced and complex that the actual discussions can be anything but easy.

It starts with educating yourself, and that’s why days of awareness like today exist. I included so many links today because even though I’m not an expert myself, I know where to turn for information now, and it’s been extremely helpful.

One more thing I think you should do today. If you’re on Twitter, go check out the #WorldSuicidePreventionDay hashtag and give it a read. It might be hard, it might be upsetting, but it will also make it clear how big of an issue this is.

This is real. This is happening. And we have to fight it.

 

I Have Bad Habits – and They Aren’t Because of My Anxiety

I bite my nails. When I’m nervous, when I’m thinking, when I have nothing else to do, I bite my nails. I know it’s not a good habit, and I know I should stop (and I’ve tried before). But it’s a bad habit, one of many I know I have – just like most people.

Why do bad habits exist? You can take the scientific approach or settle for something more experience-based, but where you end up is that there’s something that sparks these habits. Take me biting my nails, for instance. What caused that? My instinct is to say that my anxiety is at the root of it all. And while that might be true in this case, it also leads to a slippery slope of blaming everything on my anxiety.

In the past, I have been quick to blame my shortcomings on my GAD. I am not good at meeting people, so I blamed that on social anxiety. I watch too much TV because I told myself I was too anxious to sit down and read a book. I would eat food until I was sick because it kept the anxiety at bay. The point is, I developed poor habits and made poor decisions that I would chalk up to just being an anxious person. And whether you think that’s right or wrong to do (personally I’d say wrong!), it’s not a healthy mindset to develop.

I can’t help feeling anxious when meeting someone new. But I can develop strategies to use when I meet those people, and I can turn to my friends for help. I can’t help but feel trapped in my anxious thoughts. But I can use the techniques I’ve learned from years of practice and therapy to get out of that trap.

I can’t help but have bad habits. I’m human. But I can make sure that these habits are as harmless as possible, and that they don’t threaten my ability to be a good person. I can learn not to blame everything on my anxiety, and remind myself that there is a difference between being an anxious person and being a person with an anxiety issue.

Sometimes self-improvement isn’t always about the things we do, but the things we don’t do. And I’m learning not to chalk up every misstep on my anxiety. It’s one small step toward becoming a better version of myself – anxiety and all.

Will Durant

 

Do The Things You Love

I absolutely love live music. I’m not the most musically proficient person (I played the saxophone in middle school and sang in a boy choir until puberty hit), but something I discovered when I reached adulthood was that I love going to live shows. Since a majority of the bands I like are smaller acts, that meant I was hitting small clubs and intimate venues in tons of cities listening to my favorite bands and songwriters.

I’ve had different concert buddies over the years, but there have always been people willing to go see shows with me. One constant concert pal is Kevin, who I’ve seen tons of shows with. We had a particularly crazy stretch where we saw three concerts at three different venues over the course of eleven days. And it ROCKED.

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It’s hard to describe what going to a live show does for me. I think the biggest thing is that, for a few hours, it seems like nothing else matters. It’s just me, the people around me, and the band putting on their show. Everything else takes a back seat. All my problems and worries are set to the side while I immerse myself in the music.

An annoying symptom of depression is that sometimes you don’t enjoy things the way you used to. Over the years, that loss of joy has happened with a lot of things. I have fought to enjoy things I once loved, and don’t enjoy certain activities quite like I used to. So when I do find something I love to do, I hold on to it as tightly as I can.

We all have things we love to do – activities, pastimes, whatever you want to call them. There are things out there that make us feel alive, at peace, content – happy. Oftentimes, after we do those things, we think to ourselves I should do this more.

And you’re right. You should. Not just because life is short and you should make the most of your time (though that is a good reason), but because you deserve it. You deserve to do the things you love because it’s another reminder that you’re a human who loves things – just like everyone else. We all deserve it. So what’s stopping you?

I love to travel, write, and see live music. What are the things YOU love to do? Let me know in the comments!

I’m Not Sorry About My Mental Illness

I apologize a lot. I mean, a LOT. I’ve done it so much that it’s like a reflex now – I say sorry without even thinking why I’m doing it.

And I apologize for everything. If I’m running late, I say sorry. If I misunderstand what someone said to me, I say sorry. If I don’t do as good of a job on something as I think should, I say sorry. I know it’s not what I should be doing, but I do it anyway. I don’t even consider whether or not I am actually sorry – it’s out of my mouth before I have time to think.

The one thing I apologize for constantly, and above all else, is my mental health. I say sorry when I can’t meet up with a friend because I’m depressed. I apologize that I wasn’t more social when I’m out because my anxious mind is doing cartwheels. If I have a panic attack in front of someone, I’m more concerned with whether or not that person is okay instead of trying to calm myself down. It’s not good for me – and I want to stop.

I want to stop because of all the people who have told me not to say sorry. They don’t want me to apologize for my mental illness – they just want me to be okay. And over the years, I missed that. I prioritized things incorrectly, and it stopped me from dealing with my mental illness in a healthy way.

Yes, apologize for the mess-ups. For the mistakes you make. But don’t apologize for who you are. I was ashamed of my mental health for a long time, and it held so much power over me. Now that I’m not ashamed, that power is gone. Yes, it’s still something I deal with, but I’m not afraid to deal with it. I’m not sorry. Hope that’s okay.

ann patchett

Being Decisive While Having Anxiety

By nature, I am an indecisive person. Whether that’s a genetic trait or something I’ve taught myself over the years, it’s true. Painfully true. Whether it’s a massive decision or the tiniest little thing, I overthink just about every single thing in my life. From deciding where to live or what to eat for lunch, each moment of decision comes with a thousand other thoughts. I weigh all possible outcomes, and think about how they will effect me now and in the future.

Being indecisive isn’t fun. It’s even less fun when you have GAD. While I do think my indecisiveness is a personality trait, I know having an anxiety disorder doesn’t help things. So how do I make decisions? There seems to be a simple answer (you know, make them), but it’s taken me years to figure out a way I can – somewhat – be decisive.

The most important decision I make every day is to get out of bed. It might be a reflex for some people, but for me it’s always a choice. I choose to take on the day and its challenges. Some days, it’s easier to leave the bed than others. A symptom of my depression is a severe lack of energy. On days where it’s particularly difficult, I don’t – I can’t – leave my room. This symptom used to be much more prevalent in my life, but it doesn’t hold as much power over me as it used to.

So I make the decision to get out of bed. I make the decision to get dressed. I make the decision to be a person that day. And that changes everything.

Those decisions at the beginning of the day are the most difficult ones for me – but they have the most impact. After that, all my other choices seem easier. What to wear, what to eat, what to get done at work. Those choices pale in comparison to the massive one I’ve already made that day to be me.

Before you get the wrong idea don’t worry, I’m still indecisive. I can’t change overnight! But the decisions I make don’t have as much staying power as they used to. I still agonize over the decision but once it’s made, I move on. Because by being here, by choosing to be a person and interact with the world, I’ve already made the most important decision I can make. Nothing really tops it.

Making decisions while living with an anxiety disorder isn’t easy. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that it is possible. I make the decision every day to get out of bed, put some clothes on, and try to be my best self. And to me, that’s the most important decision I’ll ever make.

 

 

 

A Vacation from My Mind

A few months ago, I went on vacation. Or at least, I thought I did. I wasn’t at work, I didn’t have a set schedule, and I was sleeping in (well, as much as I could). But did I feel on vacation? From what I understand about vacations, it didn’t really line up.

On vacations, you’re not supposed to be stressed out. You’re not supposed to be worried about things, back home or otherwise. Vacation is a break from all of that.

But I was stressed, anxious and yes – depressed. Though I still had an incredible time on my vacation and enjoyed myself immensely, I didn’t have a break from one thing that I had really hoped I could take a break from – my mind.

Imagine being trapped somewhere you don’t like. No, I won’t paint this imaginary place as the worst place on Earth. But let’s say you don’t like it very much and would rather be elsewhere. Now it’s easy enough to get up and leave – in fact, that would be my first piece of advice to you. But what do you do if you can’t?

If you have a mental illness, you’re all too familiar with this imaginary place. It means different things for different people but for me, it’s my head. There are days – plenty of days – where I wish I could take a vacation from the thoughts in my head. The song “Migraine” by Twenty One Pilots is something I think of often when I can’t take that vacation: am I the only one I know, waging my wars behind my face and above my throat (I really like Twenty One Pilots. I’ll have to write about them one day!).

How do I combat it? I choose to stay busy. Whether it’s working on this blog or doing some other type of work, writing keeps me very busy and my mind very active. So I do that a lot (arguably too much, but that’s another story). When I’m not busy is when things can become frustrating and often, quite sad. I mean actual sad, not pathetic sad. I long to one day take a vacation from the negative self-talk, and constant anxiety, but I also know that I am fortunate in that I know how to fight against this – though it took years to learn.

If you’re like me and can’t really take a vacation from the thoughts in your head, don’t worry, you definitely aren’t alone. If you can do that, let me know what it’s like, because I’m curious about the experience!

_We are only as blind as we want to be._.png

Problems Based in Reality

I had a blog post all set and ready to go last week when some things happened. For one, rainwater leaked into my apartment and ruined my computer. Then, that same rainwater pooled up in my ceiling and caused a portion of it to collapse on my bed, ruining my room for the foreseeable future. As I type this I am sitting on a mattress with a gigantic hole in my ceiling with a time TBD for when it will be fixed. This came on the heels of having my car towed and getting a speeding ticket. I know, I know, that’s a lot of shit to be thrown at someone in a week and a half. But I’m okay. Truly, actually, I am fine.

With a well-documented history of mental illness (re: this blog), I feel like it would be understandable for these kinds of problems to freak me out. If I have anxiety about nothing, wouldn’t I feel worse when something bad actually does happen? I thought it might. But it didn’t happen. Instead, something interesting happened: I actually became calmer. I was more accepting of what happened to me and took each necessary step to correct these missteps and fix what was broken. Why did this happen? I have a theory.

As someone who lives in their head constantly, these problems threw me headfirst into reality. I had to deal with real problems that have real consequences, and therefore I had to come up with real solutions to solve them. I emphasize the word ‘real’ because oftentimes, my problems are not reality-based. They are fictitious concoctions that I spend my days thinking about, and while they may have real consequences they are, in another sense, my own machinations.

However, taking up residence in my head allows me to better attack real-world problems. It’s funny, I think nothing of waiting in line for hours at the DMV or having to sleep on my floor for weeks, which might bother the hell out of someone. On the flip side, some people go through life without negative thoughts about themselves and I…do not (you have to smile at that – I personally think it’s pretty funny). But these real problems remind me that I’m human, that I’m a real person that has real things happen to him. And for someone who can spend his days living inside his head, it’s nice to be jolted out of it every once in a while. So I might not be entirely happy with my situation, but I am grateful. It’s nice to be reminded that I’m a person sometimes. We could all use that every now and then.

Muhammad Ali Quote

Feeling vs. Being

In every appointment I have with a mental health professional, there’s one question they ask that comes up every single time: “Do you have feelings of hopelessness?” It happens so often that sometimes I smile when it’s asked (which likely doesn’t reassure the person asking it) because I know that more often than not, the answer is yes.

Feeling hopeless is a very common symptom of depression, and it makes sense why that is. When other symptoms of depression start popping up, I’m not exactly filled with hope that life is wonderful and everything is going to be great. I’m usually filled with quite the opposite. So it can be a natural progression from other symptoms into feelings of hopelessness because sometimes, that’s the only logical direction I can head in.

I’d also like you to keep in mind that personality has an impact on what type of ‘hopelessness’ you’re feeling. I have several friends who are into personality tests and questionnaires, and over the years I’ve learned about some of my tendencies and personality traits. For someone who is guided by emotion and feelings over logic and reason, that feeling of hopelessness is (at least to me) can sometimes hit me a bit harder than it might for someone else. This might not sound like a good thing, but I would argue that it’s not so bad either – it’s just the way I am.

What these feelings of hopelessness have taught me over the years is that there is a difference between feeling hopeless and being hopeless. This ‘feeling’ vs. ‘being’ is something I struggle with daily, but the more I combat it the stronger I become. I haven’t figured out all the intricacies and detail of this revelation yet, but I do know that once I made this realization, it changed how I viewed my depression. I hope that as you’re going through your week you are able to differentiate between what you’re feeling and who you are because they’re not the same thing – and it took years of me feeling hopeless to realize that.

 

 

How Busy Should I Be?

Things are very busy in my life right now. Between my job and an online course I’m taking, I feel like I haven’t had time to myself in quite awhile. I know I should be more annoyed by that fact, but I’m not…and it has a lot to do with my mental illness.

When my mind is occupied, when my life is busy, things are good for me mentally. I go from one task to another focused and in control and, though it is exhausting, it keeps my mind at ease. When I am not as busy, however, is when things can take a turn. My mind wanders, and not in the fun, daydreaming type of thinking that can happen when you don’t have much to focus on. I don’t like going there, but when I am not busy it’s almost a force of habit to have negative thoughts.

So, where does this leave us? Should I stay busy forever? That could be a possibility. Keep my days full with activities and things to do, and then I never have to confront my anxiety and depression again. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But I don’t think it’s possible for me. As an introvert by nature, I need time to recharge after doing things with people, so I can’t feasibly be as active as I would want to be – it’s simply not possible.

I wrote about this a few months ago about having alone time, and why I was afraid of that. I’m less afraid now, but there’s something that’s still stopping me from being alone, something that I’ve been conditioned to think after years of being crippled by depression. When I am alone, I am unable to do things. I don’t go out alone, I don’t go on walks alone, I don’t just hang out alone.

For the longest time, when I was not busy that meant I was depressed, and so I could not do anything by myself. While that can still be the case, it is not the norm for me as it once was. It sounds weird for me to say, but sometimes I don’t have anything to do and I’m not thinking about how much I hate myself. And that is when I truly do not know what to do.

So what do I do now? How do you pass the time when you don’t have anything to do. I want to hear from you!

Keep On Telling Your Story

I’m a huge NBA fan, so of course I was interested when I first heard about DeMar DeRozan’s interview with The Toronto Star. I’ve written in the past about how masculinity plays a role in the mental health conversation, so while reading the interview made me feel for DeMar (as it always does when I read about someone opening up about their struggles), it made me feel some hope that the mental health conversation can make its way into professional sports, an area where it has always been considered pretty taboo.

It’s no secret that when someone shares their thoughts on mental health, especially a celebrity or public figure, I want to let people know so that we can continue the conversation. Sometimes when someone speaks out it can be a drop in the bucket. But then Kevin Love wrote something for The Players Tribune (you can check it out here) about a panic attack he had earlier this season. His experience, though different from DeRozan’s, hit on the same notes, writing, “You learn what it takes to “be a man.” It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own.” These men are opening up about their mental health in a way that hasn’t really happened in the NBA before.

Love saying that he was partially inspired to share his experience because of DeMar DeRozan’s interview spoke volumes about stigmas can fade away once you realize you aren’t alone. Because of these two, another NBA player, Kelly Oubre of the Washington Wizards, opened up about his mental health as well, in part because of what Love and DeRozan had to say. This is important because it shows not only how powerful stigmas can be, but the chain reaction that can occur when someone speaks out about their own experience.

More power to these men, and I truly hope this is the beginning of the mental health conversation in the NBA.