My Crisis: The Struggle of Working in Crisis Intervention While in Crisis | Sarah Alvarez

Feb 2016 picture

Photo by Volkan Olmez via Unsplash.com

I lost my dad when I was just 16 years old. He was the first person that I had ever lost in my life. I didn’t know how to handle a situation like that. My world was crushed and I was grieving. How could I understand grief at such a young age?

Fast forward 7 years, I continued to experience anger and denial. I thought that I was okay and this was God’s will. I thought that I needed to accept that my dad passing away was my fault. I did not deal with those emotions throughout those 7 years. Grieving is a painful process and I knew that I did not want myself or anyone else to feel this way. From then on, I vowed to help others dealing with grief and heartbreak, just like I have suffered.

In 2014, I was a fresh college graduate with a degree in psychology. I was excited for the opportunity to put my skills to use and I got my first job in mental health. I became a Crisis Intervention Specialist in Pittsburgh and I was so pumped to have this job in my field! I was responsible for taking crisis phone calls from individuals who expressed suicidal intentions. I would  assess them over the phone and sometimes need to go out and meet with them to do a further evaluation. However, I came to find out that working in crisis does not work so well when I was in crisis myself.

Every day I could feel myself slowly breaking down. My job was hard. Every day I would be on the other side of the phone trying to give hope to others when in reality, I was the one losing hope. I became aware of these negative feelings that were floating around in my head and the more that I was helping others, the louder these thoughts became. My breaking point was when my boyfriend and recently new fiancé of six years ended our relationship. This sudden heartbreak opened up the old wounds from losing my dad. The feelings I had never dealt with from the loss of my dad were coming back, stronger than ever. I was in a tailspin. Depression set in. I didn’t eat or sleep. I lost hope. My seemingly perfect life was destroyed. I became numb. I was an empty shell. The only thing I knew how to do was cry.

I had no hope, no feelings, and I was supposed to give hope to the hopeless. I was supposed to convince them that life was worth living when I didn’t even want to take another breath. The numbness consumed me. I did things out of habit, like eating and sleeping, only because I knew that I had to. The only time I felt anything was when I cut. Day after day I would go to work, put on a brave face, and act like I was okay. In reality, I prayed to God to take my life because the pain of my heartbreak was destroying me. I was not only hurting on the inside, but I was physically causing myself pain. Every day was my own personal struggle.

A teenage girl called me at work one day. She was in tears and she told me that she had been cutting and there was nothing for her to keep her alive. As I talked with her through her crisis, I realized that this girl could have been me. When I hung up the phone, I should have been relieved that I had helped someone but instead it was just pulling me in the darkness further. I got up from my desk and went to the bathroom. I stood there, sobbing and eventually sitting on the ground, hunched over because I could feel my heart aching. It hurt to cry, to breathe, to exist. As I was sitting there crying, I began to cut.

After a few moments of this torture and the aching sobs, I looked at my wrists and saw the damage that I had caused. I was disgusted, how could I have done this to myself? How could I rightfully talk to someone through their crisis, but I couldn’t take my own advice? It was my job to help others, but it hit me, I cannot help others until I got help for myself. That was the moment that I knew that I needed to do something.

I was tired; mentally, physically, and emotionally. When I got back to my apartment that night, I called my mom. When my mom answered the phone, I couldn’t speak. I just began to cry. All I could tell her was that I wanted to come home. Just like that, I left my job and my apartment in Pittsburgh, and I moved back to Harrisburg with my mom.

During this time, my family was my biggest support. Eventually, I was able to tell my mom about that pain that I had been going through and about my self-harm. I was able to let others take care of me after being broken for so long. I started therapy and found an amazing therapist. I was finally able to start healing. I was able to see that life is worth living. I was able to see that I am worth it.

As I’m writing this, it has been almost a year since I last cut. It took 7+ years to bring me to my breaking point and to the healing process. I would be lying if I said there used to be days where I wanted to cut, but let me tell you, those days slowly diminished. In those moments where I contemplated cutting, I would remind myself of my worth and how much that I have accomplished. I kept telling myself that I can and will overcome those negative thoughts. I haven’t had thoughts of cutting in months and I am so thrilled to be able to say that!

I know that this was a long story, but I just want to encourage all of you that you can get help and that life is worth living. Although it may seem dark now, you can make it through. It is okay to ask for help. You aren’t going through this alone. You have people who love you and will support you through your journey.

If you are struggling with self-harm, there is hope and you are not alone.  Please reach our for help and call S.A.F.E. (Self Abuse Finally Ends) at 1-800-DONT-CUT (366-8288).

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Slow Walk to Mental Health | Laura Cook

Journey

Photo by Chris Lawton via Unsplash.com

Sometimes life moves by and sad things happen quickly; you get in an accident and everything changes at once or your grandparent passes and you don’t get to say goodbye.

There are some things in life, however, that happen so slowly, sometimes you have to wonder how things changed without you having noticed. My depression was like that: a slow moving snake, slowly working itself into every aspect of my life.

At first, my dating relationship was the only thing that suffered as I became disinterested and unhappy. Then my schoolwork focus and interest decreased rapidly. I was always the most upbeat and silly person, but my inner “happy voice” was getting quieter and quieter.

My parents thought maybe it was just stress, but I knew it was something I had never felt before, a sadness that was deeper and more heavy. I finally had to tell my mom, “I don’t know what’s wrong but I’m always sad. I think I need to see a counselor.”

And so began my journey into the magical world of mental health.

I spent weeks talking with a counselor about what was going on, possible causes, and ways to help myself cope. Since that initial few months of therapy, I have gone back in times when I need some insight into what is going on in my life, or when I feel overwhelmed by emotion.

It’s now been over 10 years since my initial entrance, and I am becoming more self-aware (and a whole lot less anxious about therapy) every visit. I’ve learned that there are certain times of year that are more difficult and I need to be more aware of (anyone else struggling with seasonal affective disorder?), but there are also times that will just make me sad because they are simply sad (the anniversary of when my grandmother passed 4 years ago).

The best tool that I learned to use during my 10+ years in mental health is practicing the self-awareness I mentioned above. When you can learn to be on the lookout for how your body and mind are reacting to situations, you can learn to prepare for where things may go, or how to cope with and redirect said emotions and thoughts. Other tools include being open with one or two close friends (I’m really struggling right now and could use encouragement and/or prayer), and having a checklist of coping skills to use (I will go outside and walk for 5 minutes when I feel unwanted). A friend recently shared this list that I think is top-notch.

And these skills of self-awareness and coping tools won’t necessarily come naturally or feel like a “Disney-kind-of-perfect.” It may take easing into them one at a time, but practicing healthy responses to sadness while learning to be on the lookout for warning signs, are steps to having a healthier mind and body. So keep your chin up and keep moving forward with the help of friends and family.

You are awesome (and don’t forget it)!

-Laura Cook

It’s the Hap-Happiest Season of All | Alexa Moody

xmas

Photo by Chelsea Francis via Unsplash.com

It’s the Hap-Happiest Season of All

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ” ― Norman Vincent Peale

Oh, if only the above quote were true.

Now granted, it may be true for many of us. There is something special about the holiday season that brings good cheer, merry wishes, good tidings, etc. But for those of us who are sick for the holidays, it feels as though that magic wand didn’t touch us.

There have been a few times that I’ve been sick on Christmas day. Usually I wake up with that ache in my head and that tickle in my throat – the one that tells me a cold or the flu is coming. And I panic – down a few gallons of tea, take over the counter cold medicines, and take every home remedy I can find online. But inevitably that ache and that tickle turned me into mush for Christmas, and the reality was that waking up early on Christmas morning and opening presents and enjoying Christmas food was simply something that I could not enjoy, no matter how bright and merry the season is supposed to be.

This is how it feels when Christmas comes for those with a mental illness. The Hap-Happiest Season of All? Not this time.

It can be hard to enjoy Christmas when you are sick. I’ve often described illnesses such as depression and anxiety as being a “black veil” that covers your eyes. All that you perceive is twisted and distorted in this veil. And even the red and green glitter of Christmas becomes scathed and dirty. For many people the holidays offer frustrations over commercialism, a return to familial physical, emotional, or verbal abuse, a lingering feeling of isolation, or the reminder that buying nice gifts is impossible when you’re living paycheck to paycheck.

So how can someone struggling with an illness find joy in Christmas? Or, if you have a loved one who is sick, what can you do to help make their days merry and bright?

For those who are ill:

  1. Take it easy. You are sick. While getting out of the house and interacting with others is encouraged, don’t push your limit by RSVPing to every office holiday party. Prioritize your social engagements and keep a balanced record of tending to your emotional state but also fighting the urge to isolate yourself.
  2. Don’t fetishize the holidays. We tend to look at the holidays as this magical everything-is-wonderful season, and that just isn’t true. Don’t let the mysticality of commercials, songs, or “stories of Christmases long long ago” make you believe that you are somehow doing this Christmas thing wrong.
  3. Surround yourself with good people. Yes, there is some obligation to see your family at Christmas. However, that obligation is canceled when abuse is involved. If your Christmas would be better spent with friends or coworkers, then by all means surround yourself with those people. Blood is thicker than water is not a valid reason to subject yourself to emotional turmoil for the sake of holiday cheer.
  4. Avoid Alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, can intervene with medications, can make your feelings worse, and could even start an incident with your loved ones. Just keep it safe and drink the non-alcoholic eggnog this year.
  5. Laugh. Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you can’t find funny things. Laughter really is the best medicine. When you feel like holiday cheer is something you simply can’t find, look up funny cat videos or browse a humor website. Find humor wherever you can, and have a good laugh-out-loud session.

For those with a loved one who is ill:

  1. Plan Ahead. If you know a friend or family member has been struggling, be sensitive to the struggles that they have. Do you know certain circumstances they are struggling with? A holiday engagement may not be the best in front of the sister who is in the middle of a divorce.
  2. Ask Outright. Call up your loved one and be honest with them. Ask what you can do – or not do – to help them enjoy the holidays as best they can. Your loved one will be thankful that you’re thinking of them and they will know they can talk to you if anything is triggering them.
  3. Have a Do Not Talk About list. There are some questions that are triggering or embarrassing for others to answer. In the same way you should not ask a woman about her weight or her age, you also should not bring up topics such as progress in therapy and/or medication changes unless your loved one specifically gives you permission to discuss or they bring it up themselves. This is another great thing to call your loved one and ask about ahead of time so you know what topics are off-limits.
  4. Don’t be Perfect. It’s easy to get caught up in the perfect decorations, the perfect meal, the perfect gifts. When this happens, our family members often don’t play their perfect part, and we can become frustrated with them. Your loved one is sick and is in no position to play any parts this holiday. Ditch the perfectionism now and save yourself – and your loved one – a lot of stress and disappointment.
  5. Don’t be Negative. A complaining spirit is contagious. Sometimes we try to “meet people where they are” in their depression by bringing up complaints. While being in a continuous state of bliss is also unrealistic and unhelpful, bringing up the shortcomings of the season will only illuminate them. Be realistic, but always look at the cup half full. Your loved one just may see things from your point of view.

Here at Please Live, we pray that all of you will have a very Merry Christmas, and we look forward to new and exciting endeavors coming up for the New Year.

Happy Holidays,

Alexa Moody

 

 

Mental Illness in Film: Comforting or Triggering? | Olivia Falk

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A Beautiful Mind, 2001

When you’re struggling with a mental illness, it can seem impossible to find comfort. Things like music, film, sports, and other things we used to enjoy can become uninteresting or even anxiety-provoking. In my experience, I found the most comfort in movies that I could relate to in my emotional turmoil. Seeing portrayals of mental illness, especially accurate ones, comforted me because I not only felt less alone, but felt less ashamed. If world-renowned actors and directors are committed to telling the story of those with mental illness, then having one must not be so unusual or shameful.

However, it can be difficult to find films that accurately portray mental illness due to stigma, stereotypes, and scenes that can trigger a negative emotional reaction rather than a comforting one. Movies such as “Girl Interrupted”, “The Virgin Suicides” and one my favorite independent films, “Short Term 12”, are incisive, but also contain graphic scenes of self-harm. So how does a film walk the fine line between being authentic and being triggering?

In my search, I’ve found several films that depict mental illness in a way that’s comforting, but not too real for viewers who are hurting. These include “Mr. Nobody”, “Prozac Nation”, and a documentary called “Depression: Out of the Shadows.” Though Prozac Nation has one triggering scene containing self-harm, the rest of the film keeps a comfortable distance.

Documentaries such as “Depression: Out of the Shadows”, “Men Get Depression”, and “This Emotional Life” are especially helpful because they are committed to accurately depicting depression rather than molding the most entertaining or shocking story. I would highly recommend these more objective portrayals of illness for those who are having trouble watching films that are more dramatically and graphically depicting their struggles.

Many other depictions of mental illness in film can be quite frustrating. Sufferers of mental disorders are often depicted as cold, awkward, or violent. Hollywood will also often muddle different disorders together. To them, it doesn’t seem to matter whether someone has OCD, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia or any other disorders. These films add to stigma and confusion surrounding mental health, which can lead suffers to feel more isolated and fearful than before. Instead, the movies that are most striking, especially for someone who is close to or has mental illness, are ones that avoid these stereotypes and instead choose to portray every side of illness.

One film that does a beautiful job of doing this is A Beautiful Mind, wherein Dr. Louis Sass (who suffers from schizophrenia) is portrayed as a bit socially awkward and cold, but still highly functional in society to the point where he wins a Nobel Prize. This kind of portrayal of success alongside mental illness is important to sufferers in recognizing they can still be successful, normalizing mental illness to the general public and giving hope and comfort to family, friends, and caregivers of the mentally ill.

In an interesting Vice article by Jules Suzdaltsev, in which he interviews Psychologist Dr. Danny Wedding about Hollywood’s depiction of mental illness, Wedding was discussing egregious portrayals of the mentally ill such as ‘Friday the 13th’ and “The Shining,” when he noted, “at the same time, there are many major films that do a surprisingly good job, and it’s becoming increasingly common for directors and producers to hire psychologists and psychiatrists as consultants” (Suzdaltsev).

In my opinion, this is a fantastic development, because the best way to accurately depict mental illness is to talk to those who spend their lives working in mental health, or those who have been ill themselves. Of course, many Hollywood productions are not yet committed to accuracy in depicting mental illnesses, but those who are will hopefully be releasing more comforting movies that are light on triggers and can continue to comfort those of us in the rough.

Source: “We Spoke to a Psychologist About Hollywood’s Depictions of Mental Illness” by Jules Suzdaltzev: http://www.vice.com/read/hollywood-sucks-at-portraying-mental-illness

Storytelling will Save the World… Yes, Even Yours | Joshua Rivedal

joshRivedal181Captain’s log, Stardate January 2011. Where unfortunately many have gone before. I’m twenty-six years old and thinking about dying… actually I’m not being entirely truthful. I’m dangling halfway out the fourth floor window of my bedroom in New York City.

I don’t really want to die. I just want the emotional pain to stop… and I don’t know how to do that. Hell, two guys in my life—my father and grandfather—each didn’t know how to make their own terrible personal pain stop and now both were, well, dead.

My grandfather, Haakon—a Norwegian guy who served in the Royal Air Force (35th Squadron as a tail gunner) in World War II—killed himself in 1966 because of the overwhelming post traumatic stress he suffered because of the war.

My father, Douglas—an American guy who was chronically unhappy and an abusive man—killed himself in 2009, the catalyst being a divorce with my mother along with some long-term depression and other mental health issues.

How did I get to such a dismal place in my life so quickly, just a month shy of my twenty-seventh birthday? Coming out of secondary school and high on optimism, I thought by the time I reached my mid-twenties I’d have it all together. After a couple of years singing on Broadway, I would have scored a few bit parts on Law & Order, and transitioned seamlessly to being cast with Will Smith in the summer’s biggest blockbuster. After which, my getaway home in the Hamptons would be featured in Better Homes & Gardens, and my face would grace the cover of National Enquirer as Bigfoot’s not-so-secret lover. Not to mention, I’d have my perfect wife and perfect family by my side to share in my success.

But instead, “perfect” was unattainable (it always is). I only managed to perform in some of small professional theatre gigs and on one embarrassing reality television show; and over the course of the previous eighteen months my father killed himself, my mother betrayed me and sued me for my father’s inheritance, and my girlfriend of six years broke up with me.

This storm of calamity and crisis had ravaged my life… and I wasn’t talking about it to anyone. My silence led to crisis and poor decisions—to the extent that I was hanging out of a fourth story window.

Both Haakon and Douglas suffered their pain in silence because of the stigma surrounding talking about mental illness and getting help. I too felt that same stigma—like I’d be seen as “crazy” or “less of a man” if I talked about what I was going through. But I didn’t want to die and so I had to take a chance.

I started talking. I pulled myself back inside and first called my mom. She helped me through that initial crisis and we became friends again. She never called me “crazy.” I then started reaching out to the positive friends I had in my life. They hugged me and helped me with open arms. They never told me I was “less than a man.” Soon I got more help by seeing a professional counselor, and by writing down what I was going through in a journal.

But this idea of keeping silent continued to bother me. I did some research while in my recovery and found out that each year, suicide kills over one million people worldwide… and that many of those one million never speak up about their emotional pain because of stigma.

Dagnabbit (I totally just said that). I had to figure out a way to reach people like that. So, like any other actor, writer, or comedian living in New York City whose life dealt them a crappy hand, I created a one-man show… and it toured theatres and universities in the United States, Canada, England, and Australia—and people were getting help.

But I had to keep talking because this isn’t just a Rivedal problem or United States problem… it’s a world problem.

I had to get other people to tell their stories, so I started The i’Mpossible Project. Why? Because storytelling is one of our oldest traditions—yes, even older than the hokey pokey. Stories can make us laugh or cry… or both at the same time. They can teach, inspire and even ignite an entire movement.

The stories of The i’Mpossible Project are about overcoming obstacles, reengaging with life, and creating new possibilities—a son’s homicide, a transgender man finding love, and even coming back from the brink of suicide (you can read a couple of the stories HERE)… because it’s okay to be struggling, it’s okay to need help; people have your back… there’s hope.

It’s been four years since my crisis and life is definitely looking up. The acting and writing thing is going well, I have a great girlfriend; but most important I’m able to give and receive help and love, and with hard work I’m able to stay mentally well—all because I took a risk and told my story.

No matter what society says, it’s COOL (as in “okay”) to talk about your feelings. Don’t ever forget that you are important, and your story needs to be heard so we, the human race, can learn how to live and love better.

* * *

Josh Rivedal (founder, executive director of The i’Mpossible Project) is an author, actor, playwright, and international public speaker on suicide prevention, mental health, and diversity. He curated the 50-story inspirational anthology The i’Mpossible Project: Reengaging With Life Creating a New You. He wrote and developed the one-man play, Kicking My Blue Genes in The Butt (KMBB), which has toured extensively throughout the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. He writes for the Huffington Post. His memoir The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah, based on KMBB and published by Skookum Hill in 2013, is on The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s recommended reading list.

Sharing versus Secrets | Samantha Moore

Photo by Eutah Mizushima via Unsplash.com

Photo by Eutah Mizushima via Unsplash.com

The words we use carry a lot of weight. People use words such as crazy, psycho, and insane – phrases that they do not think twice about. I see it every day.

One woman I know is very open about her anxiety and the difficulties with her mental illness. She has been on anxiety medication for over 5 years. After many years of working towards independence from her medicine, she was very enthused to finally come to a place where her doctors agreed that medicine was no longer necessary. This is a huge victory for her! However, the comments I heard regarding this victory were appalling.

“I knew she was looney!”
“I can’t believe they let her get off of [her medicine]!”
“Now we are going to see the real crazy!”

Even worse were the people who said nothing but had the face of pure disgust.

This horrified me beyond belief. These are people I work with every day and have grown to love. Why would they be so nasty and mean about something someone has no control over? Do they truly not understand? Do they care to understand?

Then I asked myself, what they would think or say if they knew about me?

My truth: I have Bipolar 1 (BP 1), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Living with these diagnoses is a daily struggle, one that sometimes feels like it’s too much. They are difficult enough to manage on their own, yet alone with the judgement and condemnation of others. Would my co-workers look at me differently if they knew? Would they turn the other way and keep their distance? Would I care if they did?

This is a common battle for anyone who struggles with mental illness – the battle between hiding your illness or being open about it, the battle between keeping it a secret or sharing. Both sides of the coin have their pros and cons. My entire life I’ve been advised to keep my illnesses to myself, keeping them my dirty little secret. But why should I?

Here is my other truth: I really don’t care what people think of me. I love what my illness brings to me, as bizarre as that may sound. I can see and feel things that others can’t. I can experience a depth of life that many people will only graze. My mind is always in a state of wonder. The creativity that I have explodes with colors and design. Many call it a curse, and some days it is, but I have found a place of managing my illnesses that doesn’t banish them or deny their existence, but rather I cooperatively live with my symptoms, using them as tools to enhance life rather than to burden it. Those of us with BP 1 and 2 are a special kind of breed. We have powers no one could ever understand or comprehend.

Unfortunately stigma is a massive problem. Stigma and a lack of education is what causes people to throw around those phrases – crazy, psycho, insane. Stigma tells us that mental illness is rare, when actually 1 in 4 Americans live with mental illness. Stigma tells us that mental illness is forever, when in reality most illnesses have a treatment rate similar to physical illnesses. Stigma tells us that anyone struggling mentally or emotionally are violent, when this simply is not true. Stigma tells us the more we talk about this, the more likely we will become mentally ill ourselves – and this, of course, is just plan ridiculous.

We are not all killers. We are not animals that belong in a cage. We are not all scary. I wonder – now that you’ve read this blog, how has your opinion on me changed? Will you still talk to me, or do you now feel the need to walk on eggshells around me?

It is also important to note the opposite side of the coin that I’ve chosen, the side to keep it a secret. Reader, I chose to be open about my illnesses, but just because I made that choice does not mean you have to as well. If you are struggling with a mental health diagnosis and you are not comfortable broadcasting that to the world, then don’t. As I said earlier, there are definitely pros and cons to sharing your story versus keeping it a secret, and you know what is best for you.

My desire instead is that those of you who do not have an illness – those of you who continue to use the words crazy, psycho, insane – please understand what your words are doing. If this woman I know had just come back from the doctor proclaiming that she is in remission and no longer needs chemotherapy, our office would have had a celebration. There would’ve been balloons and cake. My desire is to see a world where we can celebrate together the remission of anxiety, depression, or other illnesses with the same enthusiasm that we would for physical illnesses.

For my friend. Good luck to you.

No Time for Goodbye: Sudden versus Expected Deaths | Ashley Kochenour

grief

Photo by Unsplash.com

Though universally experienced, death is perhaps one of the most foreign of human experiences. Not because it is a stranger to us, but because of how strange it is. Forever is not a time period we can comprehend, but somehow we never imagine a future without those close to us. This is why death is strange, it is a reality that everyone will experience, but it is one that very few consider or anticipate. It doesn’t seem to be real until it happens. The stark reality is that people die all the time and it can be devastating for those close to them. Whether it is a parent, grandparent, sibling, or friend the pain cuts deep and can seem to leave a hollow spot where that person once resided. Even if there is warning, dealing with this kind of loss is very difficult, but it becomes even more difficult if there is not time to prepare.

I know how shattering an unexpected loss can be. I lost my father very suddenly when I was young. One day he was living and happy, and the next he was gone. It was a crippling shock, and for a long time I thought it would have been easier if I had known in advance, if his cause of death were cancer or something that I could have had time to prepare for. I thought I had it worse than people whose loved ones died of illnesses, and I even believed that they did not have the right to grieve as deeply as I did. However, I have come to learn this is not the case. One of my close friends, Nate, has also experienced some losses and has seen how different circumstances can have very different effects on the same family.

Nate lost two loved ones in high school, his grandfather and his cousin. Nate and his family went to see their cousin’s wedding in July of 2010. It was a beautiful wedding on a beach in Florida with a lot of laughter and joy. While still on their honeymoon the cousin’s new bride awoke to find him lying dead next to her. In comparing the loss of Nate’s cousin to his grandfather, Nate told me, “When my granddad died there was time to grapple with the idea of him not being around anymore, with [my cousin], it was just instantaneous. There was no time to ease the mind around the concept of this person’s death, it came all at once.”

When you expect a loved one’s death it is like taking a severe beating in a boxing match, it’s very painful but it’s also something you’re prepared for. For those closest to Nate’s cousin, especially his spouse, parents, and sister, it was more like a bullet in the heart. It takes much longer to put oneself together after a death that you did not have time to prepare for.

The loss of Nate’s grandfather was a very different matter. His granddad was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of melanoma cancer and was given just a few months to live, but he endured for two years before succumbing.

During this time, even distant relatives had time to come and visit before he passed away. There was time to prepare and accept the probability of his death. Nate told me, “Everyone was grief stricken when he passed away, but this was something everyone knew was coming and we had some time to prepare for it. So while we still get emotional when we talk about him, it is because we have fond memories of a man who is sorely missed rather than pain from an open wound”.

Though this sort of pain is very different, it is equally deep. The biggest difference between the two is that, if you take the opportunity, you can get an early start on the grieving process. You can begin grieving a loss before it is gone, but you still grieve just as deeply.

It goes without saying that in the majority of cases, a loss by suicide is considered a sudden loss. Many people do not recognize the warning signs until a loss has already happened. Allow me to comfort you for a moment in reminding you that death strikes all of us deeply and profoundly regardless of the method of death, and even though the loss of a loved one may feel so alien to you, I assure you that death and grief is something that every person in this world experiences. You are not alone in your incomprehensible grief.

Allow me to also validate that a loss to suicide is very different from any other form of death. A popular suicide prevention slogan reads, “Suicide is 100% preventable”, and “Suicide is the most preventable form of death.” While these words may be true on paper, the reality is that we cannot hold ourselves responsible for the actions of others, only the actions of ourselves. With a loss to suicide usually comes feelings of guilt and shame, which are then compounded by stigma.

Here’s the reality: Death is a terrible thing, regardless of how it comes. Suicide is a unique death and has a higher complexity of emotional waves than a car accident or cancer diagnosis.

However, despite the method of death – whether sudden or expected – the ways to grieve are very similar. Everyone grieves differently, but the types of coping mechanisms for grief do not change based on how fast someone passed.

Here are a few myths and facts about grief provided by the Center for Grief and Healing:

MYTH: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.

Fact: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.

MYTH: It’s important to be “be strong” in the face of loss.

Fact: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.

MYTH: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.

Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.

MYTH: Grief should last about a year.

Fact: There is no right or wrong time frame for grieving. How long it takes can differ from person to person.

For more information about grief and healing, along with support group information and ways to cope, visit some of these excellent websites:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Survivor Outreach

Survivors of Suicide Loss

American Association of Suicidology Suicide Loss Survivors

Grief.com

Reader, if you are grieving the loss of a loved one – regardless of the method of death – allow us at Please Live to extend our deepest condolences. We hope that this blog post has helped in some way to validate your feelings and give you more information on how to cope.

And as always, feel free to contact us at support@pleaselive.org at any time if there is anything we can do to help you in your grief.