Saturday, June 12, 2010

Destiny. June 12, 2010.

“Don’t forget your history nor your destiny.” – Bob Marley

* * *

Do you believe in destiny? Do you believe the book on your future is already written and that you are just passively living out the chapters?

If things are just “meant to be,” does that mean we don’t have any choices? Or any control over how things turn out?

Key to Christianity and several other religions is the concept of free will. If you think about it, free will flies in the face of destiny. Free will means that at every moment, we can decide between A and B. As long as we can decide, there can be no destiny, because destiny means that our future is set in stone.

But maybe destiny means something else. Maybe our destinies are much more broad. Maybe our destiny is to be happy and fulfilled, no matter how that takes place. Perhaps whatever road we choose will somehow lead us to that destiny. That means that the only road we can choose that would NOT lead us to our destiny would be suicide, because suicide brings all destiny to a screeching halt. Suicide cannot be anyone’s destiny, because no one is born for the sole purpose of destroying himself.

What is your destiny?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Lemons & life. June 11, 2010.

“If life doesn't give you sugar and water your lemonade going to suck!!!” – Facebook group

* * *

It’s true that everyone has good times and bad times, but we’d have to be blind not to notice that trials and tribulations aren’t handed out evenly. Some people seem to have nothing but pain in their lives, while other people seem to have more than their share of pleasure.

One person may be born into an abusive family and then move from one abusive partner to another throughout their adulthood. Through no fault of their own (especially in this economy), people are losing their jobs, savings, health care and homes. Sometimes entire families are hit with major health problems and no way to pay for them. Lots of people do everything right and still their worlds come crashing down around them. Not surprisingly, they get depressed. Some of them get suicidal.

Then there’s the others – the ones who seem to turn everything they touch into gold. If they need a job, one becomes available in days. They earn enough for luxuries that they take for granted. They enjoy good health and have beautiful children that never get sick. Unless they have a chemical imbalance that causes depression, they’re happy most of the time and see the world as rosy.

Some people believe it’s all a matter of attitude – if you think negatively, negative things happen, and if you think positively, positive things occur. I don’t believe it’s that simple. I’ve seen too many optimistic people get sick or go broke. And no one can ever convince me that an 8-year-old leukemia victim (or incest victim) brought that misfortune upon herself. By the same token, I don’t believe happiness or depression is simply a matter of perception. You can have a good or bad attitude, true, but sadness and happiness ARE affected by our outer environment, no matter how much you may wish otherwise.

So how can you be happy? Well, at this time in your life, it may not be possible. You may be reeling from a recent sexual assault, your spouse may be cheating, you may have lost your job and be unable to pay the bills. You may have legitimate things to mourn and real problems to solve. So “happiness” isn’t in the cards right now. But survival is. Living is. Choosing to hang on for what you hope will be a better future is. Because today may suck, but there is a tomorrow.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The wall. June 10, 2010.

“People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.” – Joseph Fort Newton

* * *

Do you have a wall around you? If you’ve been depressed, anxious or suicidal, my guess is that you probably do, or else you would have been able to take solace from others. Some of us have walls because of childhood abuse; others, like me, feel all emotions so acutely that we put up walls to protect ourselves from losing control of them.

I grew up without brothers and sisters, in a home where I was discouraged from showing anger. I never learned the give-and-take of relationships; I never acquired the understanding of how to “fight and make up.” It’s hard for me to understand the difference between someone being angry at me and someone hating me. So if I’m faced with criticism or anger, up goes my wall. And the more emotionally invested I am in the relationship, the higher the wall.

My wall has often been mistaken for indifference. The opposite is true. Inside my wall I keep intense feelings of pain, fear, anger, and sorrow – emotions so strong I’m afraid of them. The wall becomes a dam, keeping a tidal wave back. Part of my recovery will have to include allowing cracks in that wall to allow things to flow both in and out. Eventually, I hope to have a gate.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Death's not cool. June 9, 2010.

“I'd rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” – Kurt Cobain

* * *

Kurt Cobain, one of the supreme geniuses of the music world, suffered from bipolar disorder. Whether he took “meds” I’m not sure, but he DID take drugs. Drugs are problematic enough for someone who is mentally healthy; for someone who is mentally ill, they can mean a death sentence.

I won’t get into the debate about whether Cobain killed himself or was murdered; I happen to believe he did commit suicide, like so many famous, creative people. What makes all their deaths more tragic is they seem to romanticize suicide. These people had everything to live for, and they were brilliant; if suicide was good enough for them, then why not you – especially if you relate to their creative works?

When Cobain spoke these words, he couldn’t have known how prophetic they would be. Cobain was loved – almost worshipped – by the entire music world, and he seemed to live a perfect life, with a beautiful wife, a little girl and loads of money. He was attractive and brilliant. But inside he was broken – something his fans didn’t know until it was too late.

In the end, he was just as dead as a nameless homeless person who dies of the cold on the streets of New York. Imagine how many people’s lives Cobain could have continued to enrich had he lived. His life seemed more romantic than it was, and there is nothing romantic about his death.

Tick tock. June 8, 2010.

"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once." - Albert Einstein

* * *

Physicists say that scientifically, there is no such thing as “time.” But it’s a human experience. And even though the clock is very specific about how much time has passed, our experience of time is very relative. Time moves quickly (usually when we don’t want it to) or slowly (again, usually when we don’t want it to).

Time can be our friend and our enemy. The interesting thing is that those of us who are depressed or anxious usually don’t live time as it happens. We either live in the past (remembering traumas that happened to us, or on the other hand, longing for a time in the past when we were happy and carefree), or we live in the future (worrying about some future event, or daydreaming about something good that may happen in the future). People who are truly happy talk about “living in the ‘now’” and are at peace with that.

I find it extraordinarly difficult to live in the “now.” But I know if I could master it, I’d be less depressed, less anxious. Living in the “now” is called “mindfulness.” So far I’m just at the book-reading stage; mindfulness still seems impossible to me. Have you mastered it? If so, can you help us to do the same?

Friends & de-friends. June 7, 2010.

"Why do you spend such energy seeking to please those whom you would never
wish to be like?" - St. John Chrysostom

* * *

There has always been friendship, and there has always been broken friendship. With the Internet we have a whole new way to have friends – and lose them. On Facebook, ending a friendship is as easy as blocking someone and de-friending them. It takes 10seconds and bang! Your friend is gone.

So often we react to this with mourning. It’s true that our friends here are not “in real life,” but they are real people, and we develop real feelings for them. If we feel depressed and lonely already, losing Facebook friends is as traumatic as losing them “IRL.”

But it might be good to reflect on the characteristics of the person who de-friended you. Are they judgmental? Do they gossip about you behind your back? Do they react uncaringly to your depression and pain? If so, then it’s possible you haven’t lost as much as you think. Would you want that kind of friend IRL? Would you BE that kind of friend?

God's best. June 6, 2010.

“We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” - CS Lewis

* * *

Today is the day I go to church every week. But I talk to God every day. Well, I don’t really talk; I ask. Why did this happen? How did my life turn out this way? Where were you? I seem to demand a lot of answers from the One who made me. But I haven’t heard any answers yet.

I’ve asked for so many people to pray for me, God must have a notebook full of prayers with my name in it. I know I am supposed to pray, “Thy will be done.” But I like CS Lewis’ quote, because I’m afraid to find out what God’s will for me really is. It all boils down to trust, and trust is something I don’t have much of right now – not in myself, not in God.

So I’ll go to church again today, and I’ll ask again today, if God will stay with me anyway. Because I’ve been told that even on days when I don’t believe in God, he still believes in me.

The Blue Marble. June 5, 2010.

“It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that.” –“Casablanca”

* * *

This famous photo, called “The Blue Marble,” was taken on Dec. 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft from 28,000 miles out in space. It’s become so familiar that we forget that before that, we really didn’t know what our world looked like from another vantage point. As my mother would say, this photo “puts things in perspective.”

When we’re depressed or anxious, we’re bound to see our problems as massive and insurmountable. A messy house means we are a horrible mother. A sharp word from a spouse means an impending divorce. A bit of criticism from the boss means we’re about to get fired. And so our bodies and minds react as if the worst is about to happen – or has happened already.

Many of us ARE dealing with truly significant problems in our lives – abuse, death of a loved one, a lost job, financial devastation. And these things are not trivial. The trick is to separate the trivial from the significant. The next time you face a problem, think of “The Blue Marble.” Can you see your problem from there? If you can, seek help. If you can’t, let it drift off into space.

Illness, or a different drum? June 4, 2010.

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." - Henry David Thoreau

* * *

There's a wide, international movement underway called “Mad Pride.” In it, psychiatric patients are shunning the titles put on them (sometimes offensive titles, like “crazy” and “cuckoo.” But sometimes medical titles, like “bipolar” and “schizophrenic”). Some of them are simply trying to fight the stigma attached to mental illness. Others are denying there IS such a thing as mental illness, seeing their behavior and emotions as simply a different kind of “normal,” ditching meds and treatment altogether. They believe we aren’t ill at all, but simply different.

I can’t agree more that the stigma MUST go. And I definitely agree many physicians are too quick to label and medicate. But I see the more extreme side of the “Mad Pride” movement as just providing me with another stigma to fight. I don’t want my “normal” to be as sick as I was, and I don’t want to feel ashamed to say so.

I have an illness; it’s called bipolar disorder. I take medication, and my life is much better on it than without it. My family depends on me to support them financially, and without treatment, I could not do that. If I have to have a title (and diabetic and epileptic are titles), and if I have to take medication to function and be healthy (and insulin and chemotherapy are medications), then let it be.

Moody. June 3, 2010.

“On a bad day, I have mood swings – but on a good day, I have the whole mood playground.” – Charles Rosenblum

* * *

Bipolar disorder is characterized by its mood swings, but I think mood swings are part of EVERY mental health challenge, from alcohol abuse to schizophrenia. Everyone in the world has moods (except for maybe Mr. Spock). But for those of us who are overly sensitive, moods can be so much more extreme than for the average person. When we’re happy, we’re really really happy – and when we’re sad, it’s a short distance to go before feeling like we want to be dead.

The thing most suicidal people say is, “I don’t want to feel anymore.” It seems that the moods we feel are too overwhelming to deal with. And even “mood-stabilizing” medication only helps so much. So we’re left to deal with crushing lows that we can feel throughout our whole bodies, whether the situation is major or trivial. Most of the time I wish I had feelings like an average person.

But today, I’m wishing the average person had feelings like me – just for a day – so they could understand what it feels like. How far that would go in eliminating the stigma!

Hard to die. June 2, 2010.

“Razors pain you; Rivers are damp; Acids stain you and drugs cause crap; Guns aren’t lawful; Nooses give; Gas smells awful; You might as well live.” – Dorothy Parker

* * *

I first heard that little poem decades ago, but would have never imagined it would hold special meaning for me someday. When I made my attempt, I was 100% sure that it was foolproof. I did not expect to leave that motel room alive. But my attempt was what they call “incomplete,” and I was left with the consequences: permanent scars; the possibility of lifelong liver damage; a whopping hospital bill; and for my family, feelings of pain and betrayal.

For a long time afterward – until the medications began to work – I continued to be obsessed with my demise. But I had no idea how to achieve it. My “foolproof” methods had failed, and left me in worse physical and financial shape than before. Did I want to be paralyzed and in a wheelchair forever if jumping off a building didn’t work? Did I want to have brain damage if I survived a drowning? And how could I get a gun with my mental health record?

Statistics show that for every completed suicide, there are 20 attempts. And no wonder. It’s damned hard to kill yourself, and you are most likely going to fail – only to face repercussions afterward. Maybe there is a good reason it's hard to die.

Dorothy Parker was on to something, wasn’t she?

Sleep. June 1, 2010.

“The bed is a bundle of paradoxes: we go to it with reluctance, yet we quit it with regret; we make up our minds every night to leave it early, but we make up our bodies
every morning to keep it late.” - Charles Caleb Colton

* * *

Almost everyone with any sort of a mood disorder has problems with sleep. We either sleep too much, or too little. We are exhausted when we need to be perky, and wide awake when we need to be falling into slumber. Medication is only so helpful, or only for a limited amount of time. We envy those who can be busy and wakeful all day, and collapse into bed at night for sweet sleep, then wake up the next morning ready to tackle a new day.

The doctors tell us to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time each day, and to try to get 8 hours of sleep. We laugh at that because our bodies have a different idea! Sleep is a basic need for humans, like food and air. So why do our bodies and minds make sleep and wakefulness (at the right times) so hard to achieve? Why can’t we be like those we perceive as “normal?” I wish I knew.

But we have to play the hand we’ve been given, like so many hands we’ve been given that we’d rather not have!

Memorial Day. May 31, 2010.

“Each man is a hero and an oracle to somebody.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

* * *

Today in the US we celebrate Memorial Day. First we honor our Veterans, those who have died in war, but we also honor anyone we love who has died. So we don’t have to be particularly patriotic to celebrate Memorial Day. It’s devolved into a day of cookouts and gatherings, and most people don’t go to the cemetery and place flowers anymore. But that’s probably OK because we can celebrate the lives of those who have passed on anytime.

Many of us who have attempted suicide believe, or believed at the time, that no one loves us, that no one would miss us after we were gone. Or, on the other hand, some of us attempted in order to punish people we love who have treated us poorly. Either way, we were misguided. No matter how rejected we feel, it is highly unlikely that there is no one who would miss us. And punishing those who have hurt us by dying is an act of anger that will only be met with anger we won’t be around to see.

Whether we’re in the US or not, let’s take Memorial Day as a day to reflect on what it means to live someone who has died – and realize the object of that love could have been us. No matter what our current state of affairs, it’s good we are alive to celebrate this day.

Spreading enlightenment. May 30, 2010.

“May I attain Enlightenment in order to benefit all living beings." – Tibetan prayer

We have Tibetan prayer flags hanging in our back yard. According to Wiki: “Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to 'gods,' a common misconception; rather, the Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all pervading space. Therefore, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all.”

I think that’s a nice thing to imagine – that our own good will will spread beyond ourselves to others. After all, what’s good for others is good for us as well. It’s really no different from “Do unto others as you would have done to you.” Imagine, just for a moment, if we all lived with that as our guiding principle – how different our world would be.

Hope. Hope. Hope. May 29, 2010.

“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” – Oscar Wilde

* * *

I’m operating on hope today. Hope that a friend of mine, who may be in danger, will be all right. Hope that I’ll be able to finish all the tasks I’ve lined up for myself without being overwhelmed and angry with myself. Hope, as I do every day, that the thoughts I’m thinking, the medication I’m taking and the prayers I’m praying will continue to help me recover.

And along with those hopes is the hope that if something goes wrong, I won’t fall into a pit of despair, because I’ve been there and I don’t want to go back. So many times things haven’t worked out as planned, and often, my life WAS better as a result. But sometimes, tragedy has indeed struck, and I’m just not prepared for it today. Maybe tomorrow.

Beauty. May 28, 2010.

“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” - Ashley Smith

* * *

One of the first things to go when we get depressed is our awareness of the beauty around us. Have you ever noticed that when you are in a happy mood, you are suddenly likely to notice the colorful flowerpot in the neighbor’s window, or the billowing clouds in the bright blue sky? They were there when you were depressed, too. You just didn’t notice them!

If only we could be more successful at noticing these things every single day, regardless of our emotional outlook. If we paid more attention to beautiful colors, harmonic sounds and small kind acts of others, our dark moods might not be so dark. What do you see that’s beautiful today?

One year ago today. May 27, 2010.

"Do you remember the things you were worrying about a year ago? How did they work out? Didn’t you waste a lot of fruitless energy on account of most of them? Didn’t most of them turn out all right after all?” – Dale Carnegie

* * *

How does one commemorate the one-year anniversary of a suicide attempt?

We have all sorts of ways to celebrate HAPPY occurrences – birthday parties, wedding anniversary celebrations. But horrific events we... See More’d rather forget burst into our consciousness when “that time of year” rolls around again, too.

A year ago today, I was extraordinarily ill. I had been in a bipolar “mixed state,” without access to medication, for more than two months. I had lost weight, couldn't sleep, ignored my son and couldn't communicate with my husband. I was sure I was going to be fired. I was not functional. And everything – the weather, my summer clothes, the TV season – is reminding me of that time. It literally feels like it happened yesterday.

I’m scared today, because it’s “a thin place” – a place where the past and the present, where multiple possible realities, collide. In so many ways, my life is so much better than it was a year ago. Other problems haven’t yet been solved. But today, I am alive. Today, I am in the process of getting well. Today, I have a tomorrow.

Mind-reading. May 26, 2010.

“People can only do what they know to do, not what you think they should know, not even what they think they say they know, they can only do what they know to do.” – Maya Angelou

* * *

Are you a mind-reader? Probably not – but you may expect other people to be. As I became sicker and sicker, I became more and more needy and dependent on things outside of me to take my suffering away. The problem was, nothing outside of me was happening the way I needed it to – and no one was saying the things I needed to hear.

I’m not even sure I know exactly what I needed to hear anyway. But if I had, I don’t know if I would have been willing or able to share those needs with my loved ones. I just expected them to know, somehow. I kept waiting for someone, somewhere to say the magic words that would cure my depression and anxiety.

Maybe that’s why some people send out “warning signs” – stray comments, giving away possessions. They’re waiting to hear those magic words. And what are those magic words? I don’t know. Do you?

Anger. May 25, 2010.

“When angry, count to ten before you speak; if very angry a hundred.” - Thomas Jefferson

* * *
Some people thrive on conflict. They like to get people to take sides against each other. They are prone to anger and blame. For me, on the other hand, conflict is something that makes me sick to my stomach. It’s hard for me to get the concept that someone can be angry at me and not hate me. So I tend to walk on eggshells because I can’t tolerate someone being mad at me, and I lack the skills to argue back.

As a result, there are needs I have that won’t be fulfilled because I’m afraid to bring them up to a friend, a family member, or a co-worker. I know that’s not healthy. There is a continuum between aggression, assertion and just giving up. Suicide is the ultimate expression of giving up.

Lord, give me a thicker skin and a stronger ability to absorb and handle conflict. It’s one of the things my life depends on.

Worry. May 24, 2010.

“Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling though the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” – Arthur Somers Roche

* * *

Worry and anxiety are my greatest enemies. There are things in my life that I worry about constantly, and I can’t seem to train my brain to stop the worry, no matter how hard I try. I worry about things I have control of, as well as things I don’t. I worry about now, and I worry about the future. It’s a core part of my personality which earned me the nickname “worrywart” from my mom when I was a little kid. So it’s nothing new.

But it was worry that led me to the place of ultimate hopelessness, and the ultimate act of control to quell the worry. Which is why I see it as an enemy of my very soul. I’m aware it’s an enemy and I’ve been working to eradicate it for years – therapy, books, meds. Still the worry captures my thoughts and kidnaps them. What ransom can we pay to set our worries free?

Forgiveness. May 23, 2010.

“We pray for our enemies who oppose us and seek to do us harm because it is our duty to do so...Since prayer is a means for disarming hostility, it must include a spirit of forgiveness from a sincere heart and clear conscience.” - Matthew the Poor

* * *
Many of us have been wronged terribly in our lives. We may be survivors of childhood abuse. We may have been raped or trusted someone only to be betrayed. We may be full of anger - justifiable anger. But that may be feeding our depression and anxiety.

Some people in our lives might not "deserve" to be forgiven. But forgiveness is not just for the forgiven, but the forgiver. When we forgive someone who has wronged us, even though the person might not know, we feel a lead weight lift off our shoulders, and the toxic poison of hatred leaves our bodies.

Who can you forgive today?

Bad choices. May 22, 2010.

"Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment." – Will Rogers

* * *

A lot of people say suicide is a choice. It is, but not like a choice you make about which shoes to wear with a dress. At the time it seems more like a choice about whether or not to gnaw off your leg if it's caught in a trap. It’s scary, it’s painful, you don’t know what will happen next but you feel like it’s the only thing you can do. At the top of my suicide note, I wrote, “THIS IS NOT A CHOICE.”

But it’s true I made the choice to buy the razor blades and the pills. It was a choice to rent out a room at the motel. In fact, the attempt was the end result of a dozen little choices I made that week. So what does that say about my judgment at the time? After all, I knew to get dressed. I knew how to operate the car to get there. So I wasn’t “out of my mind.” I resist saying this with all my soul, but yes, I made a choice. A very bad one.

And when people send me messages, or I see posts online, about wanting to commit suicide, I say there is a choice. Because, although it doesn’t seem that way, and as hard as it is to bear, there IS a choice. Exercise better judgment and save your life. You can.

Criticism sucks. May 21, 2010.

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

* * *

Yesterday, during a meeting, I got criticized – unfairly, I thought. My heart sunk and stayed sunk the whole rest of the day. But yesterday I also received several comments and messages from people who think I’m doing a great job at work. Interestingly, these kudos lifted my heart only for a moment – then I remembered the comment I didn’t like, and my heart sank again.

I bet most of the people in this group are hyper-sensitive to criticism, be it right or wrong. And I bet most of us are quick to dismiss compliments from people. We seem to want to believe the worst about ourselves and dismiss the best. Why?

Perhaps we should carry a small notebook and jot down the compliments we receive and compare them to the criticisms. And the compliments can be as simple as a smile from someone (just as we would count a frown as a criticism.) Let’s see if we’re really as bad as we tell ourselves we are. My guess? We’re not.

Flowers when you're dead. May 20, 2010.

“Boy, when you're dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody.” - Holden Caulfield, “The Catcher in the Rye”

* * *

Anyone who has read “The Catcher in the Rye" knows that Holden Caulfield, angry and suicidal, winds up in a mental institution narrating the story of his life to a psychiatrist.

I think there are three kinds of reasons for suicides – depression, fear, and anger. The letters they leave behind are extremely different. Someone who is depressed does not want to hurt their loved ones, begs forgiveness and sincerely believes their loved ones will be better off without them. But someone who is angry fantasizes about the guilt and pain their death will cause.

In the days before their attempt, the angry person will imagine feeling vindicated at last at their funeral, while their family and friends weep. There is one problem with this scenario that they don’t consider. THEY WON’T BE AROUND to see the reactions of those they want to punish. They won’t get to enjoy their revenge – because they’ll be dead.

They’ll never get to hear those words they want to hear – “Oh, we’re so sorry we treated you so badly.” Which leads to the question – what’s the point of doing it?

Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.

Mean to yourself. May 19, 2010.

"If someone in your life talked to you the way you talk to yourself, you would have left them long ago." - Carla Gordon

* * *

When I make a mistake – in my checkbook, or by taking a wrong turn while driving, or say something to someone I probably shouldn’t have said, I sometimes explode with anger at myself: I shout, “I’m so stupid.” If I’m extremely angry, then it’s “I’m so fucking stupid.” I’ll smack my head. I’ve never cut myself, but I understand the temptation.

If my husband screamed at me that I was “fucking stupid” and hit me in the head or cut me, I’d probably file for divorce. I wouldn’t take that treatment from a husband, a boss, or a “friend.” In fact in real life I’ve never been called stupid, because I’m not. So how is it OK for me to say that to myself?

Because somewhere along the line I got the idea that I had to be perfect, and if I wasn’t I was irrevocably flawed. If you expect to be perfect, it’s a recipe for disaster – because not one of us is. A mistake is something we do, not something we are.

For today let’s remember that we are probably our own worst critics. I bet it’s true of every person in this group that they want to be perfect and fail, and punish ourselves more severely than anyone else would. Instead, let’s just do our best – and leave the rest to the Universe to sort out.

Toxic people. May 18, 2010.

“You have the right to quit Toxic People. (They're contagious.)” - Dr. SunWolf

* * *
Is there someone in your life that makes you feel automatically sick when they're around? Maybe they attack and criticize you outright, or maybe they simply complain, grumble and whine about everything and anything, raining on every parade.

Toxic people can be parents, bosses, co-workers, neighbors, friends – even your spouse. If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, toxic people can exacerbate your symptoms. They can add to feelings of worthlessness and despair. They certainly don’t help if you are feeling suicidal.

Luckily, there are things you can do. Some toxic people, you can walk away from and choose not to associate with anymore. A friend, a neighbor, even a relative, can be told in a polite way that you can’t deal with them anymore, for the sake of your own mental health.

It’s harder if the person is your boss, parents, husband, or wife. Then you may need to practice emotional disengagement. There are books and therapies to help with boundary-setting.

Your mental health is your number-one priority. Without it, you are no good to yourself or anyone else. Do you want to allow toxic people to jeopardize it?

Perfection. May 17, 2010.

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” – Some Horrible Person

* * *

I had a temper tantrum yesterday, with no one home to hear it.

It’s springtime and time for me to take out my summer weather clothes. But I couldn’t find them anywhere. Our house has never been sparkling. But since I got really sick with my depression last year, I’ve barely had the energy to do any organizing at all. There are boxes and bags and junk everywhere. And I sat and cried, because I imagined how my mom would be so disappointed to see how messy and disorganized my house is.

Of course I was really crying about a dozen things at once. Life still feels overwhelming to me; simple things are now hard. And the disorganization is just a symptom of all that.

But it’s just a symptom, not a cause. And my mom doesn’t have to live here. So a year after my attempt, I’m still in the process of getting well, still dealing with medication and side effects, still plodding with difficulty through every day. I’m scared, but I’m alive, and ultimately that’s what’s important.

By the way, do YOU know where my summer clothes are?

Sad Mary. May 15, 2010.

I was asked by someone anonymous to share this with the SAS group. It's a picture of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus - and you can see from her face that she is feeling sad or depressed. A reminder to those who are Christian, and anyone else who might be touched, that even those close to God have their dark times.

Isolation. May 15, 2010.

“Isolation is a dream killer.” – Barbara Sher

* * *
I think one thing that is probably true of all suicides and attempts is that they happen in isolation. Mine was in a motel room. Others might be in a bedroom or bathroom when no one else is around. Even someone who jumps off a building in a busy city is alone on the rooftop.

When we are deeply depressed, we tend to seek isolation. We don't want to be around people. But that is the very time when we should try to be around others as much as we can (as long as those people are supportive and not toxic). Being around people can keep us safe from harming ourselves.

Sometimes we feel too exhausted to be around others, but if we are feeling vulnerable to self-harm, we need to seek out company. The world is full of potential friends.

Laughter. May 14, 2010.

“Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

* * *

It’s hard to fake laughter. Actors say it’s easier to cry on cue than to laugh convincingly. I used to laugh all the time – I even got told at work not to laugh so much. Then when my depression became so severe I wanted to die, I quit laughing (I quit crying, too). I didn’t laugh – or cry – for about six months. I tried watching my favorite comedies, and just felt sad because I could remember a time when they made me laugh.

People around me tried to cheer me up, but to no avail. After I survived my attempt, I would pretend to laugh so that my family would think I was recovering. Months later, one day, I saw something funny on TV and I laughed. At around the same time, my beloved cat died, and I cried. I knew I was on the journey back to life. I’m still on it. Are you?

Pain & healing. May 13, 2010.

“A lot of people say they want to get out of pain, and I'm sure that's true, but they aren't willing to make healing a high priority. They aren't willing to look inside to see the source of their pain in order to deal with it.” – Lindsay Wagner

* * *
The disease of depression is probably the only disease that tricks the sick person into staying sick. People with broken bones get casts; people with cancer take chemo; people with diabetes take insulin.

But often, people with depression to the very opposite of what they should do to get well. Maybe they drink too much or abuse drugs; maybe they ... See Morerefuse to talk to a therapist; maybe they quit taking needed medication; maybe they self-injure. And they almost always withdraw so that loved ones can’t help them.

As suicide attempt survivors, we must be VERY proactive in getting well. Our mental health must be our number one priority.

Friends. May 12, 2010.

"A friend is one who walks in when others walk out." - Walter Winchell

* * *

I’ve heard it said that we are lucky to have even just a single true friend in the world. Many people have dozens of people they call friends, but not a single one they can really confide in.

When some people become suicidal, they tell anyone and everyone who will listen – while others keep their dark feelings a secret and everyone around them is shocked to receive the terrible news.

When the tables are turned and we are a friend of someone who is suicidal, we may not know what to say. We feel powerless to help. But a true friend truly listens, and that is by far the best thing we can do. The best way to have a true friend is to be one.

Disappointment. May 11, 2010.

“Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.” - Eliza Tabor

* * *

Today I am disappointed. I’ve been disappointed in a lot of things for a while. Things aren’t working out the way I’d hoped or expected, despite my best intentions. I feel sad and somewhat angry at The Universe. After all, haven’t I tried?

But in order for things to always go my way, I’d have to be the CENTER of the Universe – and I’m definitely not that. I’m just one person trying to make it through a life in which some things will go right but many things will go wrong.

To keep my mental health on an even keel, I have to remember that whatever happens, even if I don’t like it, I have a choice about how I’ll respond. My life depends on the choice I make.

Chains. May 10, 2010.

"They are not free who drag their chains after them.” – French proverb

* * *
Are you in chains? My bipolar, my medications, and the worries of my life feel like heavy chains weighing me down. Last year, the chains got so heavy and binding I decided I didn't want to live anymore. I look around at other people and I imagine they don’t have chains, and I feel envious.

But perhaps they too have chains, different ones from me; after all, all of our chains are invisible. Perhaps someone else has chains because of a terrible thing they did, or a problem at home, or an illness I can’t see. I guess we all have chains; the difference is in how we carry them, and whether we are able to break them.

Help my unbelief. May 9, 2010.

"Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" - Mark 9:24

* * *

Not much I can say to embellish this one - it sums up my spiritual journey...

Peace inside. May 8, 2010.

"Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” – The Buddha

* * *

I don’t know about you but I’m one of those people who gets upset whenever anyone around me is upset. Whether they are mad at me - or someone else - it gets me going. It’s hard for me to keep negative behavior “in my outer environment.” I let it inside me, upsetting my own serenity.

As I got closer to my attempt, I found my relationships with my loved ones more and more strained because I was under so much stress, and it became a vicious circle. The more stressed out I was, the more upset people got, the more upset I got and the more stressed out I became.

I’m really trying to maintain a sense of inner calm, because I have no control over how other people behave. It’s hard to do, but it’s the best way for me to stay healthy.

Animals are friends. May 7, 2010.

“Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.” - George Eliot

* * *

Those of us who have tried to take our lives felt totally isolated, like no one in the world understood us, or guilty and worthless because of judgments passed (whether for real or in our heads) by people we loved. Even people who loved us dearly often said the wrong things: “Snap out of it,” “Other people have it worse than you,” “You’re being selfish.” They may have been weary of our depression and need for help.

There is one loved one who won’t do any of these things – a pet. It doesn’t matter whether your pet is a dog, cat, or guinea pig. Your pet will never condemn you for your feelings. Your pet will never grow tired of listening. Your pet will never be disappointed in you. Your pet will always be happy to see you. And if you are gone, your pet will miss you.

You hung on 'till now. May 6, 2010.

"When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long in the first place.” – Unknown

* * *

We are the sum of our experiences in life – the good and the bad, those things we learned from and those we had to keep re-learning. When we cut our lives short by suicide, it's really a waste. Whether you believe that each of us has a destiny to fulfill or that everything is random, every thing that happened to you was of supreme importance in your life.

Death by suicide renders all of that moot. It makes everything meaningless because it leads to nothing. Today I will try to keep in mind that I have lived until now for a reason, and that everything I’ve done (including my suicide attempt) is impacting my present and will impact my future.

Hope. May 5, 2010.

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” - Albert Einstein

* * *

If there is one thing that all people who attempt suicide have in common, it is that they have lost all hope. They no longer believe that things can be better tomorrow. They fear that the pain of today will increase, and the only way to stop that pain is to die.

Some people will attempt again and again, especially if their circumstances don’t change. Others are thankful their attempt didn’t work, and are happy to be alive. Again, hope – or lack thereof – is the key.

That is why those of us who have survived must look for hope in every corner. We must be diligent in seeking out positive possibilities and optimal outcomes. We must be on the lookout for negative thinking and pessimism. It’s a matter of life and death for us.

F.E.A.R. May 4, 2010.

“FEAR is an acronym in the English language for ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’” – Neale Donald Walsch

* * *

I'm someone who experiences a great deal of fear. My overriding emotion when I chose to take my life was fear – fear of the future, fear that things wouldn’t work out. I prayed a lot but I didn’t believe God was hearing me, so I had no faith. And without faith, all I had was fear.

In the year since, some of the things I feared have happened, while most have not. I don’t know what the future will bring. I’m working hard on my faith, because it will only be with faith and hope for the future that I can let go of my fear. Will you join me....?

Control. May 3, 2010.

“Control is never achieved when sought after directly. It is the surprising outcome of letting go.” -Arthur Ray

* * *

This one is particularly difficult for me. I want to be in control of everything that happens in my life. To not be in control scares me to death. Suicide is one way to exert control in uncontrollable circumstances. For today, let me accept that I don't know the future and that I can only control certain things. Let me remember the Serenity Prayer.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Help someone. May 2, 2010.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." - Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

* * *

One of the reasons we may feel suicidal is that we believe no one needs us. But there are needy people everywhere and all of us have the capacity to help in some way. I care about poor kids, so I volunteer for an organization that helps them. It gives me satisfaction that my existence is helping people. What do you care about? Kids? Animals? The environment? Get involved in a cause. It really does make things better.

Mental Health Month. May 1, 2010.

Mental Health America continues its tradition to celebrate "May is Mental Health Month" which began in 1949. This year, our theme "Live Your Life Well" challenges us to promote whole health and wellness in homes, communities, schools, and inform those who don't believe it's attainable.

* * *

How ironic is it that May is Mental Health Awareness Month - and it was in May, one year ago, that I attempted to take my life. A degree in psychology, and 7 years running a support group for people with depression, did not prevent me from attempting suicide. Mental illness is a hideous thing. So is hopelessness. This month, let's all work together and be there for each other so that we are all around to see a brighter tomorrow.

Broken hearts. April 30, 2010.

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.” -Edna St. Vincent Millay

* * *

Whether we are single and don't want to be ... broken up with someone ... or married and having problems with our spouse ... we feel the pain in the same place: our heart. So many suicides are the result of a "broken heart."

Why do we allow the actions of others to decide how we will behave? Why do we measure our self-worth based on how someone else treats us? How can we learn to love ourselves so that if we have such a loss, our hearts can be wounded, but not "broken?"

Time. April 29, 2010.

“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice. But for those who love, time is eternity.” – Henry Van Dyke

* * *

I’m one of those for whom time goes too swiftly, because I have a lot of fears. And the more pessimistic I am, the faster time seems to fly toward the very thing I’m afraid of. But since I became a survivor over the past year, time has come and gone with a number of those fears being unrealized.

I still have a lot of work to do, but today I can focus my thoughts on those people in my life I’m thankful for, and relish the moments I have with them that I could have lost.

Children. April 28, 2010.

"Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” - Saint-ExupĂ©ry, “The Little Prince”

* * *

When you are feeling down, are you ever mesmerized by children and how happy and carefree they seem? Even children in miserable conditions manage to laugh and play. They seem to have a way to compartmentalize things – they may have worries, but they are able to cast their worries aside and enjoy life anyway.

At some point, many of us lose that ability. We become consumed in our concerns and can think of nothing else. But sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to give it a rest. Just for today, can I be more like a child?

Solitude. April 27, 2010.

“What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.” – Ellen Burstyn

* * *

Over the years I made some stupid decisions to be with the wrong people to avoid being by myself. Now that I’m older I can appreciate my own company. What are some positive, healthy things you can do when no one else is around?

Priority. April 26, 2010.

"Your mental health is your first priority." -Dr. Abraham Low

* * *
This morning I got a call from the bank that I had made a mistake on my account. I had to pay a fine AND I was late to work. So I went into that "default" place I always go - I'm stupid, I'm worthless, I HATE myself. I had forgotten about my pledge to always put my mental health FIRST before anything else.

If I am anxious and depressed, then I can't cope with daily life. The more healthy I am emotionally, the smoother everything else goes. What I have to do is forgive myself, learn from my mistake, and do better next time. What can YOU do for your mental health today?

Guardian angel. April 24, 2010.

"The guardian angels of life fly so high as to be beyond our sight, but they are always looking down upon us." - Jean Paul Richter

* * *

Do you think you have a guardian angel? Do you think there is a spiritual reason why you survived and are still alive? Do you think there is a guardian angel watching over you now?

Change how you see. April 24, 2010.

"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." - Dr. Wayne Dyer

* * *

There is a kind of therapy for depression and anxiety called CBT - Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It's all about learning not to make negative assumptions about things all the time, and it's based on the belief that if we change our thoughts we can change our moods ... I'm trying to get the hang of it. Has anyone else tried it? Does it work for you?