Suicide Prevention Awareness Month 2018

TW: This post discusses suicide.

This is the second consecutive year that I’ve written a post about Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Last year, I couldn’t write this post until the end of the month because September 10th, World Suicide Prevention Day, hit me so hard that it took me a while to recover. I’m writing this post this year a little bit stronger and a little bit more confident.

As it did last year and the years before, suicide remains prevalent in our country. Suicide rates have risen more than 30 percent since 1999 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is still top-ten in cause of death in the United States, the second-leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth-leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54 according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Those statistics might be hard for you to read – they were hard for me to write. It’s a little unbelievable, when you think about it. It makes you think that suicide is something unavoidable, inevitable. But it’s not inevitable. It’s preventable. Though it’s not always easy to prevent, it is preventable. And we must do what we can to fight it.

For the rest of the month, I’ll be posting about different topics related to suicide prevention. If you’re able, I hope you can read them. Because this problem won’t go away if we ignore it. We need to #ShineTheLight, #BeThe1To and do everything in our power to fight against suicide. It won’t be easy – it might seem impossible – but in the end, it will be worth it.

You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

 

 

What To Remember When Choosing a Therapist – If You’ve Had One Before

Last week, I wrote about things you should think about when you’re choosing a therapist for the first time. This week, I thought I’d build on that by talking about choosing a therapist if you’ve been to one before. 

Odds are, your first therapist will not be your only one. Sure, you might strike gold with the first one – you might even find ‘the one.’ But often, life and circumstances change, and we’re forced to see multiple therapists during our mental health journeys. Here are some things to remember when you’re picking a therapist when you’ve had one before.

Know your diagnosis. One time I went to see a medical professional who diagnosed me, after one brief assessment, with borderline personality disorder. They did this after ten minutes of speaking with me, and they were aware I had first been diagnosed with a mental illness three years prior. Still, that one ‘diagnosis’ was hard for me to shake, and it took many visits to other mental health professionals – who all told me that was a rash diagnosis – before I could believe them. If you’ve been diagnosed with something from a professional you trust, bring that with you to your new therapist. It’s helpful for all involved.

Do some research. Sometimes when you’re first looking for a therapist, you don’t get to be picky. You pick the person who’s closest, or the first person you find that takes your insurance. If you’re able, really dig into these new potential therapists as much as you can. Psychology Today has a ‘Find a Therapist’ section on their website and I’ve spent a lot of time on there when looking for someone new. You can see people’s specialties, the issues they deal with and their client focus. It’s been a great help to me and I’d totally recommend it!

You know more than you think you do. I remember the first time I went to therapy. I didn’t know what to expect and to be honest, I didn’t get much out of my first session. But when I went to see a new therapist for the first time, I felt much more assured. I knew myself, and my mental health, much more than I had in the past. That knowledge has helped me going forward, and your knowledge will help you, too. That leads me to my third point…

Confidence helps. While I didn’t have confidence in myself, I did have confidence in my knowledge of my mental health. This is something I remembered when I was going to see a new therapist a few years ago. Since I knew more about my mental illnesses, I was able to take comfort in the fact that at least I knew what I was up against. Having that confidence – even in the fact that I didn’t have confidence – helped me as I got to know my new therapist.

Think about your goals. Why did you decide to see a new therapist? I had to see new therapists because I was in college, so I was constantly switching between therapists at school and therapists at home. It got hard to keep track of what I was trying to achieve in therapy and made me sometimes feel like the visits were pointless. Yes, it’s okay if you don’t know why you’re there – getting help is a good step to take. But if you have time, take a minute and see what you’re trying to achieve. It can help in the long run.

I know there are plenty of other tips but these are some of my favorites. Have any to add? Leave a comment below.

“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” – Chinese Proverb.png

What To Remember When Choosing a Therapist

Picking a therapist isn’t easy. Whether it’s price, compatibility or nerves, sometimes it takes longer to find the right person to listen to our thoughts and feelings. It’s especially difficult if you’ve never been through therapy before. When I first started therapy there were plenty of things I didn’t think about that would have helped. Here are some important things to keep in mind if you’ve never been to therapy before.

Pick someone you like. This is an extremely important, and often underrated, point when selecting a therapist. Not only are you going to have to be with this person for a significant amount of time, but you’re going to have to share a lot of yourself with this person. If you don’t mesh with them at first that’s one thing, but don’t routinely go see someone who you actively dislike. It doesn’t do you – or that person – any good.

It’s okay to feel uncomfortable…at first. Look, therapy is weird. I won’t pretend it isn’t. The concept of paying someone to listen to you talk about your life is, as far as humans go, one of the weirdest things we do. But it can also be one of the most rewarding, worldview-changing things we can do. You might feel a little strange about it at first but trust me, that goes away. And if the worst thing about therapy is that you’re not willing to be as vulnerable as you could be, maybe you could bring that up…in therapy.

Insurance, Insurance, Insurance. Whether you like it or not, this can be (and often is) a dealbreaker when deciding what therapist to see. You should not only rely on my experience, but there are many therapists I’ve crossed off my list because they didn’t take my (or often any) insurance. Know what your insurance allows you to do and act accordingly. And yes, some might say that the perfect therapist is worth it and that you should pay out of pocket to see them. I don’t agree with that because I believe that these people are here to serve YOU – not the other way around. Therapists can be wonderful, but they are still people. And no one is perfect, no matter how much they cost.

It’s a process. I cannot repeat this one enough because of how true it rings. Therapy really is one of those things that takes – unfortunately – takes time. You won’t see some insane change in yourself after your first session, though I suppose that is possible. It’s more likely that you’ll see a change in yourself, or in your life, over time. As Sixers fans say, #TrustTheProcess and continue to put in the work. You can’t get better if you don’t put in the work!

Everyone is different. This is something that took me a bit longer to learn, but it’s vital to personal success in therapy. Just because someone is doing amazing after a few weeks or months in therapy, that doesn’t mean the same thing will happen to you – and vice versa! Just because you feel better after a short time in therapy, that doesn’t mean that someone else’s experience should be the same. Understand that your experience is unique to you – once you do you’ll begin to approach this time in a much better way.

There are tons of other tips I have for people who are just starting therapy, but in my opinion, those are some of the most important ones. Have any tips for someone starting therapy? Let me know in the comments!

What lies behinds us, and what lies before us are by tiny matters compared to what lies within us

Five Things I Learned in El Salvador

There are tons of things I want to accomplish with this blog, but one of the big ones is to share my life, my experience, with you guys. If I should subject you to some of the lows of living with mental illness, I owe it to you to share the highs, too!

Two weeks ago I touched down in El Salvador to visit family and see where my brother-in-law is from. What I love about traveling is that everywhere I go, I find unique things that turn it into a one-of-kind experience. Whether it was cutting down banana trees, flying down a hill while standing in the back of a pickup truck, or using my high school Spanish to tell my new family how nice it is to meet them, El Salvador gave me a ton of memorable experiences I will carry with me for a long time. The experience also taught me a few things as well.

1. You can’t have it all. Whenever something wouldn’t go according to plan, this is what I would tell my sister, and it became our mantra during the trip. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to achieve all you can or do your best in everything you do. Absolutely do those things. But when something goes wrong, it’s not the worst thing in the world. If things went as they’re supposed to, life would be very boring.

2. Be where you are. This is one of my favorite things about being in a new country. You’re transported to what sometimes seems like another planet with new customs, cultures and languages, and it all seems so new and interesting. ‘Living in the moment’ sounds like the biggest cliche in the world until you experience it. Once you have, it seems like you’ve been doing things wrong all your life. Don’t be afraid to absorb things as they’re happening to you. Sometimes those make the best experiences.

3. Happy places exist. You probably heard it as a kid when you’d get angry: “Find your happy place.” I used to think a happy place was made up, that it couldn’t exist in real life. But I remember the first time I looked down on a town from the mountains above and realized I’d found my happy place. There are so many mental snapshots I remember from El Salvador that will bring me joy for years to come. Realizing that happy places are not only real but attainable is one of the best things traveling has taught me.

4. Just go with it. Before I touched down in San Salvador, my sister warned me that the culture there would be very different than the U.S. Even though I was prepared for it, I learned that ‘going with the flow’ was a necessary part of life there. For example, since my brother-in-law grew up in a rural part of the country, it took a little longer to get from one place to another. As I learned one thing after another about this new place, I realized that ‘going with the flow’ didn’t simply mean being easygoing or adaptable. It meant adjusting to a new culture by involving yourself in that new culture, which allowed you to see what it’d be like to live in that place.

5. We’re all human AF. This is one truth I’m always reminded of when I go to a new place, especially where the culture is so different from my own. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by another language or country for sure. But when you meet the People and see the Places, you see that they aren’t all that different from your own experience. I reveled in that shared humanity, and it brought me closer to this beautiful place – and my beautiful new family – than I had been before.

It took me 20 years to discover that I loved traveling more than anything else in the world. It is my hope that you find those things worth doing in your own life. Once you find them, DO THEM! I promise – your life will never be the same.

 

 

That Little Bit of Doubt

Last time we talked, I was telling you about reality-based problems. My ceiling caving in. My computer breaking. My car being towed…you get the picture. But we’re moving on from that and focusing on something new because while all that did happen, other incredible things happened to me in the past week that I would love to share!

Last week, I took a trip out of the country to El Salvador. It was the first time I’d gone abroad in more than two years, so needless to say I was extremely excited – but I was also nervous because I hadn’t traveled like that in so long. Would I still enjoy myself as much as I had when I traveled in the past? Would I want to embrace the new culture and lifestyle that was sure to be in this place?

Though I felt confident that I would adjust, I have to be honest with you – I was scared. But the moment the plane landed and I looked out the window, all that fear went away. I became immediately excited to tackle a culture that was brand-new to me, with so much to see and explore. And I did. I packed more into five days than most people do in a month, going from one place to another with a clear head and a smile on my face. The people I met, the food I ate, the places I went to…all of these experiences will be ingrained in my mind (and my camera roll!) for a very long time.

But why am I telling you this? Because even though I was incredibly excited to go to this new place, I still had some doubt, some fear in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t enjoy the experience as much as I used to. I was afraid that too much of me had changed since I last traveled. Though I am extremely grateful that I could NOT have been more wrong, I recognized that, no matter how happy I was, that fear and doubt still existed.

Wherever this post finds you, I’m sure you’re nervous about an upcoming decision you need to make. Maybe you have doubts about a decision you just made. I’m not here to validate or invalidate those choices – I just want you to know that you aren’t alone in those feelings of doubt. Everyone has them! Whether they’re big or little, important or insignificant, that kernel of doubt is a very real and human aspect of everyone one of us. But you do have control over how you handle it, how you face this doubt. And if you learn how to handle it, that can make all the difference in the world.

P.S. I’m hoping to share my trip to El Salvador on the blog next week. It was a one-of-a-kind experience, and I am very excited to share what I saw and learned!

Shakespeare Quote

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

Happy or Healthy?

Happiness is an interesting word to me. Some days it’s all I’m looking for; other days I don’t even worry about it. I have a complicated relationship with happiness and ‘being happy’, and for a good reason. I feel like it can be a buzzword in the mental health community that is overused and misunderstood. So instead, I’m more concerned with being healthy rather than being happy.

I know I’ve done this before, but I feel like Google search results speak a lot so here is some more fun info again. When you Google ‘how to be happy’ you get more than 4 billion results. When you search ‘how to be healthy’? One billion. Sounds like a lot, but it’s only a quarter of what ‘how to be happy’ has. Why do you think that is? I think it’s because people have a tendency to place a priority of being happy over being healthy. And yes, I’m one of them. But hopefully not for long.

When you think about being healthy, what’s the first thing you think of? Probably your physical health. I don’t blame you. Physical health is supremely important and your wellbeing depends on it. But it’s not the only type of health you should take care of – not by a long shot. Dr. Bill Wettler came up with the Seven Dimensions of Wellness in 1976 and they include:

  • Social Wellness
  • Emotional Wellness
  • Spiritual Wellness
  • Environmental Wellness
  • Occupational Wellness
  • Intellectual Wellness
  • Physical Wellness

Yes I know, I’m going to want to push mental health, which in this case is encapsulated in Emotional and Social Wellness. But each type of wellness is important in leading a productive life – and can certainly lead to a happy life. Instead of worrying about if we’re happy, why don’t we worry about being healthy? And I’m not just talking about exercising a few times a week or meditating more. We need to attack each part of our health as if it’s important as going for a run – because oftentimes it is. My friend Pat wrote a great guest post a few months back about flexing your ‘mental muscle’ and it is indeed a muscle. A muscle that we must work at and strengthen, same as any physical muscle we have.

So yes, I would advocate for practicing being healthy over being happy. Because more often than not, if you are living in a healthy manner, in every facet of the word, happiness is sure to follow. And if it isn’t, that’s okay. I haven’t stopped trying, and I hope you won’t either.

Why I Care What People Think

If you Google the question ‘should I care what others think?’ You’ll be flooded with tons of different articles. Some consider the question, but most of the results are listicles about not caring what other people think. For some, it’s a life hack. For others, it’s a motivational technique. Lord knows the Huffington Post has done a piece or two on it.

Honestly, it’s a nice message designed to help people feel more positively about themselves. But what if you aren’t so kind to yourself? What do you do then?

I used to tell myself that it didn’t matter what people thought of me, only what I thought of myself. If someone didn’t like me? Oh well, their loss. If someone made fun of the way I looked or acted? It didn’t matter, because what they thought about me didn’t matter as much as what I thought about myself. And this philosophy carried me through most of my childhood even though I was ignoring one crucial element of my mindset – I didn’t think I was all that great.

It wasn’t a big deal at first but as my mental health worsened and my opinion of myself sunk lower every day, I contemplated why I never cared what people thought. What was my reason? I talked to some of my friends about what they thought of me as a person and – since they were my friends they might have been biased – I was told that all in all, I’m a pretty decent person. But that didn’t matter to me.

I realize this approach of not caring what people think is to combat people’s negative opinions more than their positive ones, but I don’t think that distinction is made often enough. No, you shouldn’t care what others think of you if they think negative things. But if someone thinks you’re great? That you’re a special person, and you’re perfect the way you are? Embrace that. Don’t forget those things that people say about you that are good. Because on those days when you aren’t feeling so great about yourself, when you’re struggling with self-doubt and self-worth, maybe you won’t have to only rely on what you think of yourself to get you through that difficult time.

This is very much me talking the talk when I should be walking the walk (and I’m sure my friends and family tend to agree with that), but I think that even if this isn’t always achievable, it’s still something we can strive for. So yes, you shouldn’t always care what people think. But there are people out there who think the world of you; it can’t hurt to give them a listen.

Guest Post: The Role of Community in Breaking the Stigma

This week’s post comes from Martha McLaughlin, a writer for Heroes in Recovery.

When a nation faces a public health emergency, it’s usually addressed with increased funding, prevention efforts and accessible treatment, often involving both the public and private sector.

But what happens when the disease is so stigmatized that people are afraid to get help? Breaking the stigma needs to be part of the strategy for addressing the crisis.

The United States is facing an addiction epidemic, with opioid drugs, including heroin and prescription painkillers, currently being the most problematic. The overdose death rate is at an all-time high and still climbing. Deaths attributed to opioids were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999, and from July 2016 to September 2017, opioid-related emergency room visits increased by 30 percent.

Only a small percentage of people who need treatment for addiction receive it. One analysis of the data concluded that for every person receiving treatment in a specialty facility, 18 more who needed it went without. There are multiple reasons for the disparity, including the fact that the stigma associated with addiction may lead to a reluctance to seek help, especially among certain populations. Women report stigma as a barrier to treatment more often than men do, and married parents report it most frequently.

Heroes_1

Potential patients have a reason for their concern. A study of public attitudes found that survey respondents were much more likely to have negative opinions about people suffering from drug addiction than from mental illness. Study authors noted that people were more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing.

Because stigma is based on cultural messages, breaking it also requires cultural and community effort. Among the messages that need to be communicated are these:

  • Addiction is a brain disease. Drugs change both the structure and function of the brain, and, although anyone can be affected, some people are at higher risk because of genetic and other biological differences. Human behavior is involved, but that’s also often true of heart disease, diabetes and many other chronic conditions.
  • People from all walks of life can be affected. No one’s age, income level, gender, race, education or degree of professional success provides immunity.
  • Whether or not they realize it, everyone knows people who are or have been affected. Nearly 10 percent of people in the United States have experienced a drug use disorder.
  • People can and do recover. Addiction is treatable, and people go on to live healthy and productive lives.

Communities and organizations are taking on the challenge of reducing stigma in various ways.

Sussex County Community College in New Jersey, for instance, held a program open to the public called

Breaking the Stigma of Addiction” where people in long-term recovery were invited to speak. Other organizations, like Faces and Voices of Recovery, also seek to humanize the issue by giving people a place to share their stories.

Heroes in Recovery is an organization with the goal of breaking the stigma through the power of storytelling. They host a website where people can share their journeys and they sponsor races, which are 6K rather than the traditional 5K distance. That additional kilometer reflects the extra distance that people in recovery go to achieve their goals. They also host virtual races, allowing anyone to run or walk on their own time and wherever they wish. And the organization recognizes stigma-breaking leaders with its Heroes Award.

Media messages, including those on social media, are powerful, as is the choice of language. The

Office of National Drug Control Policy provides suggestions for de-stigmatizing communication. They recommend, for example, avoiding the term “drug habit” and using the term “substance use disorder” instead. When referring to people affected, “a person with a substance use disorder” is preferred to terms like “addict” and “drug abuser,” which negatively intertwine the illness with the person’s identity. Change starts with awareness, and when we pay attention to the messages we send, stigma can be reduced and lives can be saved.

Heroes in Recovery has a simple mission: to eliminate the social stigma that keeps individuals with addiction and mental health issues from seeking help, to share stories of recovery for the purpose of encouragement and inspiration, and to create an engaged sober community that empowers people to get involved, give back, and live healthy, active lives.

Are We Still Talking About Mental Health?

People are super concerned for a week and then forget about mental health entirely until it happens again.

That’s what a frustrated friend told me when we were discussing the recent passings of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. And he’s right. The media cycle can be vicious, and it chews up and spits out stories every 24 hours like clockwork. This was no different. After stories that included blaming the culture and reports that both Bourdain and Spade had dealt with depression for years, while people still spoke out about their experiences, the mental health discussion died down considerably by comparison. And it shouldn’t.

Mental health is not something to pick up and put down on a whim. It may be that way for some people – and that’s fine. But I would be doing a disservice to everyone with a mental illness if I didn’t say that that’s not the case for millions of people. Keeping track of my mental health is something that I must do daily in order to live a happy and healthy life. This means that there are no days off. That the conversation is always relevant, even on days when you feel good – and especially on days when you don’t.

It’s been two weeks since the unfortunate passings of Bourdain and Spade. But is the mental health conversation still going on? Are we still checking in on our friends and family to see how they’re doing? Are we still taking care of ourselves? We can’t wait until we lose someone else to start thinking about our mental health. That won’t work in a country where the suicide rates have risen to the point where half of the states in the U.S. have seen suicide rates rise more than 30 percent over the past two decades. You think this is going away? It’s not. Continue the conversation. Check in on people. It might not be easy but it will be worth it.