6 Myths About Suicide

Suicide is widely misunderstood, which makes sense because it’s considered a taboo subject in most every culture and just isn’t talked about enough. I get why some people don’t want to talk about it, but suicide rates are increasing in the U.S. I believe they will increase even more now that we’re dealing with a pandemic.

There will be lasting effects of coronavirus, and it’s undoubtedly going to wreak havoc on mental health in this country, not to mention, the rest of the world.

If we could normalize talk of suicide, I truly believe we could save lives, even – and especially – during times of crisis.   

It’s important to note that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., so this isn’t an uncommon problem.

Below you’ll find some of the most common myths relating to suicide.

  1. You shouldn’t bring it up – Don’t be afraid to broach the subject with someone who may have suicidal thoughts. Experts agree that by bringing it up, you’re not making it worse or giving anyone ideas. When you start the conversation, you are allowing someone to vent, and maybe by talking openly with you, your loved one might feel less overwhelmed by their feelings. And as I mentioned earlier, the more we talk about suicide, the more we reduce its stigma.
  2. Someone who’s suicidal truly wants to die – I speak from personal experience when I say this: when I have been suicidal, and there have been many instances, and experiencing suicidal thoughts, I’m doing so because I am overwhelmed with pain and just want it to stop. I don’t necessarily want to die, but when you’re in that much pain, all you can think about is it stopping. It’s understandable to me why people do die by suicide because of that.
  3. Someone who doesn’t have depression won’t die by suicide – While depression does increase the likelihood of dying by suicide, it does not need to be present in a loved one for them to be suicidal. Financial and work stress can contribute to someone feeling suicidal. Drug and alcohol substance and/or abuse also can contribute.
  4. Someone who is suicidal or who has attempted suicide is seeking attention or being dramatic – This is a dangerous assumption. Please treat every threat of suicide as a dire crisis, because it is. Even if you think they’re “being dramatic,” it’s easier to take a friend to the emergency room than a morgue. Anyone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts should be considered as in crisis mode and you should act appropriately. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or use text the Crisis Text line by texting HOME to 741741.
  5. Giving someone a crisis hotline phone number is enough – While I have found the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to be extremely helpful in my times of crisis, sometimes it’s better to talk face-to-face with a friend or take your loved one to the hospital to ensure they are safe. Help your loved one come up with a Safety Plan, a simple guide of who to call and coping skills to use if in crisis. View an example of a safety plan here.
  6. People who die by suicide are selfish or taking the “easy way out” – I hate when I hear this. There’s nothing easy about being mentally ill or having suicidal thoughts. You don’t choose to have them, and all you want is to stop them. That’s not easy or selfish. Be compassionate and realize that if someone is seriously thinking about ending their life, it must be for good reason. Be a friend and leave judgement at the door.  

The best thing you can do as a friend is research ways to help your loved one, refrain from using judgement, sit with them if they are suicidal and take them to the hospital if they are in immediate danger of hurting themselves. DO NOT leave them alone, even if they ask you to leave. Stay with them to keep them safe.

Don’t be afraid to be direct and ask things, such as “Are you suicidal? Do you have a plan? Have you attempted before? Do you have a gun in your house?” and more. It might be uncomfortable, but it’s the best way to help.

Again, I just want to mention that there’s a 24-hour hotline, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that you can call at 1-800-273-8255. And the Crisis Text Line, just text HOME to 741741.

Teen Suicide On The Rise

To say that everyone in the U.S. — around the world, too — has struggled mentally since the pandemic begin is an understatement. The only thing “normal” happening now is that people are feeling anxiety and stress during all the uncertainty in the world.

What’s not normal is the alarming increase of suicides among teens.

Dealing with everything going on is very difficult for adults, but it’s even harder for teens because they’re a much more vulnerable population. Can you imagine yourself as a teen again, trying to navigate through coronavirus, school, hormonal changes and more?

The CDC reports that suicide rates among 10 to 24 year olds have increased 57.4 percent from 2007 to 2018. That’s insane. Between 2007 to 2009 and 2016 to 2018, suicide rates increased significantly in 42 states. Significant increases ranged from 21.7 percent in Maryland to more than doubling in New Hampshire. In 2016 to 2018, suicide rates for persons aged 10 to 24 were highest in Alaska, while some of the lowest rates in the country were among states in the Northwest. Suicide is now the third-leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds.

My best friend, a pharmacist at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, sent me data showing that the hospital has seen 192 kids admitted for attempting suicide in 2020. Compare that to the same time period in 2015 when the hospital saw 88 patients — less than half of the current statistics.

These numbers show that suicide among teens is a pandemic on its own.

In an article on the hospital’s newsroom website,  Dr. Kia Carter, the medical director of psychiatry at Cook Children’s Medical Center, the vast majority of patients treated for self harm are girls, between the ages of 13 and 15. She also said she’s seen patients in her unit as young as 4 years talking about wanting to die.

I thought the quote below was especially insightful, in terms of kids thinking about killing themselves.

“We’ve seen a huge increase with younger kids knowing what death is because of video games,” said Dr. Carter. “We have to assess their cognitive level and find out if they know what death means or do they think it’s like the video game where they die, but get a backup player.”

Dr. Carter also acknowledged that social media plays a role in the mental health of children in teens. For example, they can be bullied online, or feel like they’re not good enough when comparing themselves to others on sites, such as Instagram. She said that a lot of kids are getting ideas on how to kill themselves or harm themselves online.

Dr. Carter went on to say that some teens research how many pills to take in order not to wake up.

Some kids — about 30 percent — were diagnosed as having gender dysphoria, which can spur feelings of depression and hopelessness in children and teens because of the discomfort and stress these kids face. Not to the mention bullying that the kids can face.

According to the Mayo Clinic, most kids with depression have a mental disorder, and because of that, have trouble coping with the stress of being a teen. Things like rejection, failure, breakups and family turmoil are some examples of what they might be dealing with. The Mayo Clinic also states that teens might also be unable to see that they can turn their lives around and that suicide is a permanent response to a temporary problem.

Risk factors for teen suicide include:

  • Having depression or another psychiatric disorder
  • Loss of or conflict with close friends/family members
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Exposure to violence
  • Being the victim of bullying
  • Being adopted
  • Family history of mood disorder or suicidal behavior

Warning signs that a teen might be suicidal include:

  • Talking or writing about suicide
  • Withdrawing from social contact
  • Having mood swings
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Changing normal routine, including eating and sleeping patterns
  • Doing risk or self-destructive things
  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated when experiencing the warning signs above

It’s important to note that some children and teens do not show any warning signs before attempting or dying by suicide. My best friend, the pharmacist, told me a story about one of her neighbors killing himself. He was only 13 years old, and according to the family, was a happy, healthy kid. But one day he took his life for reasons unknown. Sadly, this is not uncommon.

It’s also important to know that a lot of the the times, attempting suicide is an impulsive act, so they might not have considered reaching out for help.

There are also instances of kids reaching out to their parents, but the parents don’t seek help because they feel that antidepressants are dangerous for their kids to take. What’s dangerous is to allow misinformation to cloud their judgement and not rely on experts. Not believing psychiatric drugs are helpful is part of the stigma, too.

A common problem that kids/teens face is that if a 12-year-old, for example, needs psychiatric help, they sometimes slip through the cracks because they’re too old for pediatric psychiatry help but too young for adult psychiatry. Because of this, it’s important to do all the research you can and to find a good doctor who has an understanding of major depression in teens. You must be an advocate for your child, because they don’t know how to navigate such complex problems.

I don’t mean to scare anybody reading this, but it’s a huge (and overwhelmingly sad) problem that we must take care of.

I urge you to talk to your children about having feelings of hopelessness and help them learn coping skills to deal with the everything that goes along with being teen. This is especially important now because of coronavirus. Everything has changed, including their routines and being able to hang out with friends.

If you see that your child is struggling, please seek help. Early intervention is key. Consult their doctor, find a therapist and talk to them about depression. Normalizing depression and other mental illnesses will help your family be more comfortable with talking about big and overwhelming feelings.

Check out my blog on what it feels like to be suicidal here.

If your child is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Life line at 1-800-273-8255. To learn more about suicide in teens, visit this website.

Dak Prescott Speaks Out on Brother’s Suicide, Gets Lashed

Just in case you missed it, Dak Prescott, quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, did an interview with one of his brothers this week about the suicide of their other brother, Jace Prescott.

I read the interview and I was so encouraged that Dak came forward and discussed not only suicide but also his battle with depression. This is not talked about enough, especially among male athletes. The stigma surrounding mental illness is very strong among males because of the misconception that men have to be “tough guys.”

I can’t say enough about Dak’s strength and mental toughness — his can be seen both on and off the field. There is no doubt that the interview, airing soon on In Depth with Graham Bensinger, will save lives and help others to speak out. This is especially poignant because it’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

“Mental health is a huge issue and a real thing in our world right now, especially the world we live in where everything is viral and everyone is part of the media,” Dak said. “[You] can get on social media and be overcome with emotions and thoughts of other people and allow that to fill in their head when things aren’t necessarily true — whether it’s getting likes on Instagram or something being viewed or getting bullied or whatever it may be. All those things create emotions and put things in your head about yourself or your situation in life that aren’t true. I think it’s huge. I think it’s huge to talk. I think it’s huge to get help. And it saves lives.”

And it is huge. So imagine my disgust when I learned that a Fox Sports newscaster had blasted Dak yesterday.

“When it comes to the quarterback of an NFL team, you know this better than I do, it’s the ultimate leadership position in sports,” Skip Bayless said. “You are commanding an entire franchise. … But you’re commanding a lot of young men and some older men. And they’re all looking to you to be their CEO, to be in charge of the football team. Because of all that, I don’t have sympathy for him going public with ‘I got depressed. I suffered depression early in COVID to the point where I couldn’t even go workout.’ Look, he’s the quarterback of America’s Team.”

Sickening.

Skip Bayless should have sympathy. Dak is one of the most popular players in the NFL, who has never lost his focus despite his mother passing away and then his brother earlier this year. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., with more than 48,000 people dying by suicide in 2008 (the most recent numbers). The suicide rate continues to climb and no doubt will shoot up while the effects of COVID are still being felt.

Skip Bayless should be ashamed of himself. Dak hasn’t lost focus because he has felt depression and suffered great losses, he has demonstrated courage, strength and he’s an example to the whole organization. He has stared the stigma of depression in the face and shown vulnerability. Not everybody can do that. But that’s who he is. He should be lauded for it, not condemned.

From what I can see, everybody has rallied behind Dak after Skip Bayless’ comments were reported. Fox Sports even apologized, which you can read below. Good job, Fox. There’s no room for hate and ignorance in this country, not anymore than there already is.

“At FOX Sports, we are proud of Dak Prescott for publicly revealing his struggle with depression and mental health,” the company said in a press release. “No matter the cause of the struggle, FOX Sports believes Dak showed tremendous courage which is evident in both his leadership on the Dallas Cowboys and in his character off the field. We do not agree with Skip Bayless’ opinion on Undisputed this morning. We have addressed the significance of this matter with Skip and how his insensitive comments were received by people internally at FOX Sports and our audience.”

It is my hope that we chip away at the stigma of depression and suicide. We do that by speaking about it. Silence only breeds more shame and nobody can heal in shame.

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please seek help immediately. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member. Contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or use the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741.

You are no alone.

Rep. Todd Hunter Hosts Suicide Prevention Symposium

Rep. Todd Hunter

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, which important for me. As I’ve previously written, I’ve been suicidal many, many times. I’ve been lucky enough to have a great support system and access to helpful resources. I’m alive because of that.

But others aren’t so lucky.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that there are 132 suicides EVERY DAY. It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., with more than 48,000 dying in 2018 (the most recent numbers).

Again, this is a big deal. That’s why I was so pleased to be invited to Rep. Todd Hunter’s Suicide Prevention Symposium today, which was attended by experts in the mental health field, school administrators, as well as a number of students across the Coastal Bend who are passionate in ending suicides and educating the public about suicide’s devastating impact.

Data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics says suicide was the second leading cause of death among young Americans aged 15 to 24. Between 2000 and 2007, the suicide rate among youth aged 10 to 24 was around 6.8 deaths per 100,000 people. Then the rate reached an alarming rate of 10.6 deaths per 100,000 by 2017 — a 56-percent increase in less than two decades.

We have a huge problem on our hands. That’s why I was so heartened to observe this forum. The students involved were so knowledgable about suicide and were eager to learn how to help others who are struggling. When I was younger nobody talked about it and I didn’t know to speak up when I had suicidal or intrusive thoughts. I can’t help but think my mental health journey would be dramatically different, easier, in the past 20 years if early intervention was an option.

I’m so glad that Rep. Todd Hunter has made this a priority. He has started a task force dedicated to prevention awareness and introduced bills that are crucial to data collection, preventive services and strategies in preventing suicide. I’m in awe.

“It’s time to shine a light and make a difference, ” Rep. Hunter said. “We’re not stopping here. This is the beginning.”

The forum also featured a woman who lost her son to suicide. While it was heartbreaking to hear, her story will surely help others understand the gravity of suicide and lasting effects. The mental health experts also listed local resources that I had no idea existed.

It’s so hard being a teenager, especially right now, because COVID has disrupted our lives and left a lot of people isolated and away from their support system. That’s incredibly hard, even for adults. I’m glad this issue is being addressed; I know without a doubt Mr. Hunter’s and his staff’s efforts will save lives.

I’m immensely proud that these bills and education services are coming from the Coastal Bend.

Available Resources Around the Coastal Bend:

Antonio E. Garcia Arts & Education Center (Focused on invention in at-risk youth, connects families with community resources)
361-825-3600

TAMUCC Counseling Clinic
361-825-3988

Todd Hunter’s Office (if you have ideas on suicide prevention, mental illness legislation)
361-695-2048

Follow Stop Texas Suicides Now! on Twitter
@stop_TX_suicides

Nation-wide Resources

Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line
Text HOME to 741741

Please know there is help available. You are never alone.

To learn more about suicide prevention, please go here. Learn how to help and what the risk factors are to suicide.

Stay in the light, friends.

What It’s Like To Be Suicidal

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation, Death by Suicide

Preface: I don’t pretend to know what others go through during a depressive episode or why someone would want to die by suicide. These are solely my opinions, based on my experiences.

This is not an easy topic, nor is it a comfortable one to discuss, but that’s why we need to talk about it. The stigma surrounding depression and suicide leaves people feeling they can’t talk about it, and the silence is deadly. And so heartbreaking.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

I think about Kate Spade‘s and Robin William’s suicides from years ago, and while most everybody was shocked, I really wasn’t surprised. In my opinion, the people who work the hardest, the most passionate and genuine, are the ones who struggle the most. I know it was hard for people to understand and I’m sure very scary that two such successful people could lose a battle to a little-understood enemy, that they could leave their seemingly happy lives and family, but it happens every day. Depression is an invisible illness that can completely devastate you, yet so many stay quiet because society as a whole doesn’t seem to want to understand. (Read about the history behind the stigma of mental illness here.)

It’s obvious that depression is misunderstood. It’s hard for people to understand that someone can make jokes and be depressed. Or that a person can be suicidal yet appear fine, even fully functional. Depression sufferers are good at hiding pain. I hid mine for years because I felt judged and ashamed. I felt like I was weaker than everybody else but that was the stigma talking.

I don’t get it. Is it ignorance or is society so fragile that people can’t handle knowing others are suffering so much? It’s 2020 — shouln’t we be more evolved, more enlightened?

It doesn’t matter why the stigma is there, it needs to end. In 2018 (the latest stats I could find) there were more than 48,000 recorded suicides, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. On average, the annual U.S. suicide rate increased 24-percent between 1999 and 2014, from 10.5 to 13.0 suicides per 100,000, the highest rate recorded in 28 years.

Those numbers are from two years ago and have increased, no doubt. I imagine they will significantly increase this year due to coronavirus and the resulting problems, such as increased number of depressed persons from job loss, trauma, health concerns, etc.

But I digress. I’ve been suicidal more times than I can count. I haven’t talked about it a lot, but I should, especially since it’s Suicide Prevention Awareness month. The only way to normalize depression and suicide is to talk about it and help educate, so here I go.

My mind goes to a time where I was staying at my parents’ house. My parents had taken my two young kids to their lake house. My husband (who was back in Corpus) and I had gotten into a fight, I don’t even remember what it was about, but I remember how alone I felt, so out of control. I had experienced bad postpartum depression a year before and it just lingered and worsened.

That night I was so sad, I could feel it in my bones. I was exhausted and it truly felt like I’d be unhappy forever. That argument sent me over the edge and all I could think about was I’d be better off dead, but I didn’t want to leave my babies. I didn’t want my mom to find me dead.

I ended up driving myself to the ER and was then sent to an acute behavioral hospital for two days.

Tears are streaming down my face as I write this. It’s painful to think about. I love my family more than anything and I don’t ever want to do anything to hurt them. Unfortunately, I’ll probably have more suicidal thoughts, but I don’t want to die. My brain is such a liar. Such a con artist, making me believe I’m not worth being alive. That my family doesn’t want me. It is my heart that saves me, helps me see through the bullshit. And that’s all it is, except it feels so real, and I completely understand how people could succumb to those big feelings and end their lives.

The people who die by suicide — they aren’t selfish, they were just sick and their illness just so happens to take over their brain. I think they just wanted to be free of the pain. Depression makes you hurt all over, and of course, the pain you feel mentally is pure anguish. It’s exhausting living with all that. I get it.

I feel like suicide could happen to anyone under the right circumstances. That’s why we need to eradicate the stigma and support those in need of mental health services.

Lives literally depend on it.

Risk Factors for Suicide Ideation and/or Attempts

  • Family history of suicide or child neglect
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • History of mental disorders, especially clinic depression
  • History of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Isolation, a feeling of being cut off from other people
  • Physical illness
  • Barriers to accessing mental health treatment

Read more about risk factors on the CDC website.

Warning Signs of Suicidal Ideation and Behavior

  • Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves (like researching how to buy a gun)
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or being in unbearable pain
  • Increasing the use of alcohol and drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Extreme mood swings

Read more about warning signs and how you can help here.

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal ideation, please seek immediately. You can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

There are better days ahead. Stay in the light, my friends.

When The Bad Thoughts Win

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation
Please note that this blog was written last week and I am no longer experiencing suicidal ideation.

I was told not to write this blog but I’ve always had trouble being compliant. You see, the past week has been extremely difficult. My depression became unexpectedly worse and I’ve been suicidal. Please know that I have a safety plan and am not a danger to myself or others.

Depression can leave you feeling suicidal, please seek help if that’s the case.

But I feel the need to describe this pain because I know others experience it but few talk about it. It’s too lonely, heavy and dangerous to keep to yourself, no matter how uncomfortable it makes others. Sharing and normalizing these feelings could be life saving, though.

Right now I’m exhausted. I feel completely empty but so full of anxiety, fear and sadness all at once. I just put down the kids and as I walked down the stairs I realized I’m not going to be distracted by them for the next few hours. There’s nothing but pain to feel now. I immediately thought, “What pill can I take to not feel this way?” But the answer is always nothing, no matter what meds you have.

Tomorrow I plan on getting another ECT treatment, the one a couple of weeks ago just didn’t take. I’ll take my meds as prescribed. I’ll go to therapy. I’ll do what I need to do, even though it feels so futile sometimes. I’m holding out for hope and I’m so fortunate to have the support and therapies in place to give me that hope. Some don’t ever find it. There are those who die by suicide, and I would never judge them for that. You can’t judge others for the choices they make when you don’t know the options they had to choose from. You might even think it’s the “easier choice” to let go but you would be wrong. Nothing about mental illness, especially depression, is easy.

This past week hasn’t just been a heaviness on my chest. It’s intrusive thoughts telling myself I’m not good enough. That my family doesn’t need me around to fuck them up. That I should literally kill myself and do everyone a favor. During depressive episodes, these thoughts, sometimes worse, are on repeat in my head. And it is so, so hard to say, “Stop!” You get to the point where you think, “Which voice is right??”

But I do know. I’ve been through enough to know that my lying ass brain is just that — a liar. If you are in that headspace where you don’t have the clarity to see what’s a lie and what’s the truth, seek outside counsel. Ask your friends, (maybe) your family, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. No matter what crisis looms, you will be OK. It may hurt some more and get uncomfortable but that just means growth is coming. You are valuable and loved and needed on this Earth. I turned to my beloved mom’s group to hear this myself, and I’m so glad I did because their words helped me push through.

I can’t promise your pain will ever go away — mine hasn’t yet — but leaving this world before God calls you home will only bring pain to your loved ones. I’d like to hope all depression sufferers can tolerate the pain just long enough to find a support system, resources such as a good psychiatrist, therapist, medications and develop self-care practices. It’s also good to have a safety plan, in case you “come off the rails” and if that does happen, go easy on yourself.

Again, I’m not saying any of this is easy and I definitely don’t have all the answers. I probably won’t ever but maybe we need to ask ourself different questions…?

This shit is hard and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone but it has made me stronger (sometimes annoyingly so). I have to let go of the fact that my brain isn’t “normal,” that I’ll have a life-long struggle with this disease and that sometimes I might feel like dying. That’s OK, because most of the time I want to live, and what a sweet life I lead.

I’ll leave you with something one of my mom friends said to me when I admitted I was suicidal. I hope it helps you as much as it did me.

“You are so loved. So valued. I know your heart hurts. I know your mind lies to you. Trust me when I say you are worthy, loved and freaking amazing. You are needed here.”

And I am. Thank you for everyone helping me out when I was so low.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please direct them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their site here.

Edit: Please read this article about what to do if someone you love is suicidal and in immediate need of help.

Misconceptions About Depression

A few years ago I posted an Instagram photo with me crying and a caption that said, “This is the face of depression. Be kind to others because you don’t know what they’re going through.” That photo upset some of my friends because I hadn’t really discussed my depression before in such an open way. To them I was happy and a goof ball. What most didn’t see was I was moody, miserable and even suicidal at times.

Though I was diagnosed with depression 17 years ago, it was after my babies were born that it really got bad — and scary. I had dealt with postpartum and post-weaning depression but had inadequate psychiatric care.

On the outside I was posting pics of my kids in cute outfits and everything online told a completely different story.

Many people mask their pain for different reasons. I had the idea that depression wasn’t talked about, that having depression makes you weak. That it was a matter of willpower. I didn’t want to be the depressed mom, I wanted to be the mom that does it all, which is a dangerous and unrealistic expectation for anyone. That stigma that I was buying into keeps a lot of people silent about their struggle. It can be especially hard in certain cultures, such as Asian cultures (read more about that here.)

There are definitely common misconceptions about what depression looks like. In my case, I’m not sad every minute of everyday. There are good and bad days, just like anyone else. Sometimes my depression manifests in other ways, such as overeating or binge eating; sleeping too much; having a short fuse; or partaking in other unhealthy behavior.

I was freed of the heavy weight depression holds when I admitted to all my friends and family that I went to a psychiatric hospital in 2019. I even wrote a forum piece about my experience for the local paper. It was not easy, in fact it was a little terrifying knowing that essentially the whole city knew my secret, but like I said, it set me free. I just didn’t care about anyone’s opinion anymore. I know it can be annoying when I plug my blogs or pieces in the paper but I’m hoping they will reach someone who needs to hear what I’m saying — that it’s OK having depression and there is no shame in it. Those who I’ve met who struggle with depression are the strongest people I know. We are fighters. We are survivors.

Ideally, everyone should be able to talk about their mental illness but I understand why people don’t. It’s terrifying being vulnerable, especially when there’s a chance someone will react negatively. But I urge everyone to reach out, even if it’s to one person. You’d be surprised how free it makes you feel, and by telling a friend or family member, you’re lightening your load. Your support system can help you carry that load, and you should take help where you can get it.

If you can’t reach out to someone, please know there are several online resources that can help. To learn more about depression or find resources visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They have a 24-hour helpline.

Other Misconceptions About Depression:

  1. “It’s all in your head.” – Depression is a psychological and biological disease. You have no control over it, so if someone tells you to “buck up” just know that the problem is not with you — it’s with them and their lack of understanding. You don’t have to pretend or fake it, just do you.
  2. Depression = being really sad. – Sure, you get sad when you’re depressed but someone equating it to “just being sad” is trivializing your feelings and your disease.
  3. Depression means you’re weak – I already touched on this but it’s worth repeating — I think people with depression are so strong. Depression can wreak havoc in all areas of your life. Some people deal with suicidal ideation daily and others have to tap into a reserve of strength and energy just to take a shower (me!) or go to work. Often that reserve is depleted.
  4. Depression is not treatable – There are a variety of medications that are safe and effective in treating depression. There might be side effects and it might take a while before finding the right combination, but (most of) patients feel better. There are also therapies you can try, such as talk therapy, TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), ketamine infusion therapy, and my favorite, ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). Please consult your doctor before trying any medication or other treatments.

These myths are damaging, but again, please reach out if you are struggling. It gets better.

If you are suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their site for chat support.

Mental Illness on the Front Lines

A dear friend texted me the other day, and after chatting a bit, I asked how she was doing. She’s an ER nurse in Florida, so I was concerned. Florida, if you don’t already know, is a hotspot for coronavirus and the governor is incompetent, in my opinion. This was her reply: 

It’s bizarre and sad. The first wave was mainly elderly folks from nursing homes mixed with regular people; some very sick, some not. In the beginning we had a tent outside where we tested people with minor symptoms, when it declined they took it down. The numbers we saw in the beginning don’t even compare to now. Every room with a door has a COVID patient. Four units have been converted and they’re full. Our governor was actually at the hospital today talking about how everything is fine. It’s not fine. This new wave is younger, mainly Hispanic; people who are low income and work either illegally or in cramped factories, they live in multi generation homes, so they all get sick. I feel relatively safe though, we have enough PPE. It’s just crazy. The saddest part is nursing home patients; they literally haven’t seen their families for months, even if they don’t have it, if they come from somewhere that has people who are positive, no visitors. I try to find beauty and love in tragedy when I can. 

Her response broke my heart. I’ve read that it’s bad but to have my sweet friend recount the chaos and horror just shook me. Can you imagine what first responders, nurses and doctors feel being bombarded with sick patients who can’t see their family and those who die? A local friend who is a doctor said her friends cry in their cars after working a shift because there are so many codes. 

Unfortunately, there is no where you can go to escape the pandemic, the divisiveness that’s occurring or the uncertainty. Corpus Christi is especially bad and has made national news, for all the wrong reasons. We have more cases than the larger cities (Dallas, Houston, Austin) per capita. Since March, 85 babies have tested positive for COVID-19. 

My Florida friend also told me that she had to start taking antidepressants because of stress and trauma of it all. Thankfully, the meds are helping and I’m so glad she reached out for help, but I couldn’t help but think of Dr. Lorna Breen, the ER doctor in New York who killed herself. She had no history of depression, other mental illness or suicidal ideation, according to her father. I can’t say for sure why she killed herself but I imagine the weight of so many people getting sick and dying was too heavy. Not only were people dying, but at that time, medical providers in New York struggled with a shortage of personal protective equipment. Dr. Breen also contracted the coronavirus before her death. 

The trauma of everything she faced every day could’ve changed her brain. Trauma has a way of doing that – just think about our vets who suffer with PTSD and depression. Trauma can also cause feelings of despair, and right now, who isn’t in despair? A 2013 study done by researchers at the University of Liverpool showed that traumatic life events are the single biggest cause of anxiety and depression, followed by a family history of mental illness and income and education levels.

It’s enough that our front lines workers have to worry about contracting coronavirus, but it can be just as bad developing depression (or other mental illness). Both diseases are ravaging and both can kill. I don’t really know what I can do to help these heroes other than bring awareness to mental health and the consequences of untreated mental illness. It’s overwhelming and I hope lawmakers will keep all of this in mind, because make no mistake, this will be a real problem — one that can’t be ignored. America’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world — so what does it say if we don’t take care of those who take care of us? It’s happened before.

After texting me about the chaos and death that surrounded my friend, she left me with this: “It’s so unfair that what should be an exciting time is tainted by all this but find the joy in it, too.” 

My friend is so strong and has such a good heart. She’s doing God’s work and she is more than worth protecting and taking care of.

G, if you’re reading, I love you and cherish our friendship. I’m so proud of you. Just keep swimming, my love.

If you know somebody struggling with mental illness or suicidal ideation, please direct them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

To learn more about depression, please visit the National Institute of Mental Health.

Beautiful girl, you can do hard things

My 5-year-old daughter is sensitive and she can be anxious – she’s her mother’s daughter, for sure. When she does get anxious I try to calm her down with deep breathing and I started repeating one mantra over and over – you can do hard things. Does it help her? Maybe but it definitely helps me.

It’s so simple but it hits me deep in my core. My depression (and anxiety) just crushes me, the weight of it feels so heavy that I can’t move. But the thing is, I can do hard things.

In the past five years I’ve given birth to two kids who are 23 months apart. I’ve battled postpartum depression. I went to a mental hospital for six weeks. I started ECT therapy and have had more than 20 treatments – that’s 20 times under anesthesia and 20+ seizures. I have been suicidal many times but I’ve clawed my way back to me. I’m proudly scrappy.

I will have depression forever, and I’m sure there will be dark days ahead but I can do hard things. That’s the mindset and philosophy I want to pass down to Isla (and Eli).

I try my best to hide my depressed self from the kids but I know it seeps through at times. I just hope they remember how strong I am and how much I love them. I hope they never really know how sad I can be. I want them to know I have a big heart and big emotions, and that’s ok. That they are cut from the same cloth, that they can tap into their grit and resolve.

It’s easy to give in to depression, to the despair and apathy that accompanies it. What’s not easy is to do it in front of your kids. They’re always there, watching and imitating. While it’s scary to think I could have another depressive episode, I know I can get through it. I can fight. I can overcome.

I can do hard things. And so can you.

One-year Anniversary

A year ago this month I went to the Menninger Clinic for inpatient psychiatric care for six long weeks. The months leading up to my trip to Houston weren’t good ones. I was emotional, suicidal and so damn sad. I had been labeled with treatment resistant depression, thus none of my meds were working. I also had tried TMS and ketamine infusion treatments but it didn’t lighten my load at all.

I was scared. Mostly because I feared I wouldn’t be around to watch my kids grow up. My husband, therapist and psychiatrist all agreed Menninger was the next step. After going over my history, meds and different treatments, I was told I was a prime candidate for ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). It took weeks for me to wean off all my meds – an antidepressant, antipsychotic, benzodiazepines, anti seizure meds and Ambien.

While I was weaning off my meds, I underwent psychiatric testing and went to classes about how to deal with mental illness. I also had to go to the classes on addiction because I wasn’t great at taking the prescribed benzodiazepine the way I was supposed to, to put it mildly. When we weren’t taking classes, we were required to do therapy and meet with psychiatrists. The classes – and the teachers – were all very helpful. My diagnoses are Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Dysthymia and Avoidant Personality Disorder.

I became close with a couple of patients who were in the same boat asI was. I still talk to them; sometimes it seems like they’re the only ones who understand what I went through since they were right there with me.

The facility was nice. It should be for how expensive it was, but hey, it did save my life. What stuck with me is that there were not rods to hang your clothes on, no drawers and no shower curtain rod – nothing a patient could try to hang himself from. At night we could shut our doors but the staff did checks every 15 minutes. The whole night. Every door leading outside was locked so patients couldn’t leave. We couldn’t have our phones but they offered cell phones for patients to use. We also had access to computers where all social media sites were blocked. It was a hard adjustment but it kind of made me feel safe, cocooned really. The girls had one wing, boys another and we all shared one common area with couches and a TV. On the weekends, we did movie nights and ordered food from outside the facility. Although it was scary and heart wrenching to be away from my family, I felt supported by the friends I made and never felt alone, despite my depression and anxiety.

When it was time to start ECT I don’t remember being scared, although it sounds scary to me now. I had three treatments a week for three weeks before starting a maintenance phase. At first, I got awful headaches after each treatment but those eventually subsided. By far, the worst side effect of the ECTs is the memory loss. Usually, it only affects patients around the time of treatment, meaning you might forget things that happened the day of treatment. But lucky me, my memory loss goes back years. I’ve forgotten people’s names, and sometimes, entire people. I still can’t remember how I met the majority of my Facebook friends. My short term memory has taken a hit, too. I can’t figure out how and what my brain is actually going to remember.

But as bad as memory loss sucks, the ECTs saved my life. And for that, I’m grateful. I relish in spending time with my kids and watching them grow. David and I enjoy each other more now, too. My mental illness takes a toll on him and I’m very thankful for his patience, love and support.

I won’t lie – there have been dark days in the past year and it hasn’t always been easy. My brain is not reliable and I have to remember during anxiety attacks or depressive episodes that it lies. It tells me I’m not good enough, that I should want to die, that there’s no way out. I ride out the pain best I can and turn to my support system – my doctor, therapist, best friends, parents and then to more ECT treatments. It’s not a perfect system but here I am.

I somehow learned when I was young that having mental illness made you weak, but after my experience I know that’s not true. It couldn’t be further than the truth but the stigma surrounding depression is certainly real. I could have easily overdosed on my meds or died any other way by suicide, but it was strength that saved me and what keeps me going now. I’ve been battling my brain for a long time – decades even – and I know I have more to go but I’m proud of the work I’ve done.

My brain has betrayed me (many times) but my dear, hardworking heart never will. Thank you to all who have supported me.

If you are suffering from depression and need help, the National Alliance on Mental Illness visit http://www.nami.org

If you are suicidal, please call the Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.