Sometimes, it is the juxtaposition of the acutely mundane and profoundly sad that makes “it” all the more painful. The folding of the laundry, inserting the key into the ignition or even eating seems so ridiculous when it is stacked against immense sadness and grief.
It is going from one absolute extreme to another at the speed of light that takes the wind out of you, mentally and physically. Frankly, I don’t know to get rid of this. I only know what it feels like, that dream-like state of this-can’t-be-happening and the-car-needs-gas.
When I look back at my life and my depression, I realize that I had lived in that state for about two years before I fell into my last – and worst – major depression. It was the 16-months of illness between my parents’ deaths and the aftermath that did me in. It was living in that confusing juxtaposition every single day that took me down.
I know that juxtaposition will be a part of my life any time I am confronted with profound delayed grief or a sudden traumatic loss. I know – from countless hours of therapy and self-help books – that acceptance is the key to my mental health in these times.
I pray for acceptance because I know that if I can accept a situation, I can handle it. I can even be helpful to others. I also know that acceptance can be fleeting. This morning I may think I have accepted a situation but this afternoon I may find myself fighting it. That’s okay as long as I recognize it and pray and meditate on acceptance: “God, please help me to accept this, please, please, please, please, please.”
Then I say 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.”
It’s that …
I find people generally have three reactions when I tell them I am a recovered alcoholic with Bipolar II. They either tell me that they or a loved one has struggled with a mental illness, begin talking about the weather or look at me like I just told them I have a stripper pole in my bedroom – which I don’t.
I can pretty much tell how they feel about mental illness by their reaction. When someone responds with their own experience, I listen. It’s such a comfort to have someone else willing to share their own experience. As for the weather response, I chime in with my own thoughts about the weather.
The last thing I want to do is make someone uncomfortable discussing mental illness. I figure I’ve planted a little seed in their mind that it’s okay to talk about mental illness. It’s their responsibility to let it grow – or die.
The stripper-pole response? Well, that’s a little trickier. I take into consideration the context in which the topic arose during our conversation and the person’s attitude before I made my revelation.
If they were being a smart-ass about someone else’s mental illness or treatment, I throw it right back at them. I’ve always been what my father called a weisenheimer, (think Curly in the Three Stooges.)
Covering Suicide and Mental Illness is a three-day seminar for journalists sponsored by The Poynter Institute, The McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute and the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Here are my thoughts on issues covered during today’s session. #suicidereporting
Today we learned some really wonderful techniques on how to cover suicide. Unfortunately, they aren’t very practical.
For example, it was suggested that we not use the word “suicide” in a headline. Really? Not only does it become impossibly difficult to write a headline about a suicide and not use the word “suicide,” in these days of SEO-driven journalism, you must put the word “suicide” in the headline or your editor will.
Headlines are no longer about the sexiest verb we can find. Headlines are about SEO and using words that Google Trend tells us will attract readers. Suicide is one of those words.
We were also given suggestions on how to speak with family members at the scene. First of all, if you go to a suicide scene and there are any family members present, the cops aren’t going to let you speak with them until they have ruled the death a suicide and not a homicide. This means you won’t have a prayer of getting an interview with a family member until the cops have finished their interviews.
I’ve been doing this for 30+ years and the chances of family members wanting to speak with you after what they have been through – the suicide itself and then an interview with the cops – are slim to none. With homicides, you can often get a family member to talk and even give you a photo of the victim. But suicide – no way.
I am on a plane, flying to Washington, DC. For the next three days I will be immersed in suicide – specifically, how the media covers suicide and mental health.
The seminar is being sponsored by The Poynter Institute, the McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute and the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. As a journalist, this is a topic that is especially dear to me: I know people who have killed themselves, I’ve attempted twice and in the newsroom, suicide is a touchy editorial issue.
I sit near the police scanner. Every day there are numerous suicide calls. They are automated. A Siri-esque woman with a choppy monotone announces the call: “Rescue 2, attempted suicide, 1234 Main Street.”
We only write about suicides if the suicide is a public spectacle – someone jumping off an overpass and closing the interstate, causing a massive traffic jam – or if there is a suicide cluster – a group of teens kill themselves by allowing a train to run over them or the victim was famous, such as Robin Williams.
There are countless suicides and attempted suicides that you never hear about. Are they news? Should they be news? We write about teenagers who kill themselves in drunken driving accidents but we don’t write about a teenager who kills herself.
Why? Are we contributing to the stigma that plagues mental illness by not doing so? I believe, unwittingly we are. Allegedly we do this to protect grieving loved ones. More often you hear, “it just isn’t news.”
But is it?
As a journalist, this is a unique opportunity for me. With deadlines constantly over our head, we rarely get a chance to sit down, think, breathe and exchange ideas about how the media covers suicide and mental health. These decisions are usually made with haste and are forgotten by the next news cycle.
I will be tweeting and blogging for the next few days and would love to get your take on this issue. Our hashtag is #suicidereporting
Last week I celebrated 16 years of sobriety. Let me say that again because I can’t believe it: Last week I celebrated 16 years of sobriety.
The first 8 years of my sobriety were filled with mayhem: divorce, single-working motherhood, death of my parents, death of my dog and a deep-dark depression that led to a diagnosis that – along with my higher power – has kept me sober.
For me, the obsession to drink was gone by the time I put down the bottle. I was blessed. I have watched many, many alcoholics and addicts struggle with that agonizing obsession in early sobriety. Their desperation and self-loathing is visceral. My heart breaks for them.
I gave little thought to picking up a drink until I fell down into my black hole. My depression – and my seeming inability to fix myself – was so exasperating that I thought about picking up a drink. Nothing else seemed to work. Why not turn to the go-to remedy I used for decades: a bottle of chardonnay, a Corona with lime or a half-dozen glasses of Long Island iced tea?
Why not self-medicate my depression with alcohol? I asked myself that question and then got my ass to a meeting.
The answer to that question is simple: Alcohol is a depressant. The very thing I had been using for years to make me feel better had made me feel worse. I was blind to that fact until the brain chemistry was explained to me.
I can’t recall the details but simply put, alcohol would briefly alter the chemistry in my brain and make me feel better. But when the euphoria wore off, the hormones and receptors in my brain would not function as they should and I would plunge even deeper into my depression.
I had one of those cloud-parting epiphanies and my life made sense to me. I had been self-medicating with drugs alcohol since I was a teenager and I progressively got sicker and sicker. I accepted my diagnosis for depression and decided to get on with treating …
I don’t wear a watch. I have watches, very nice watches, in fact. I don’t even know where they are – probably in a drawer somewhere.
I don’t wear a watch because I have a thing with time. I learned early on in my recovery from alcoholism and depression that “time” was a problem for me. A very big problem.
I didn’t realize my “time” problem until a friend in recovery asked me one day, “What time is it?” I looked at my watch and told him the time. Then he asked again, “what time is it?” And I looked at my watch again and told him the time.
“No,” he said. “What TIME is it?”
I looked at him like he was crazy and said, “I don’t know. You tell me, what time is it?”
“Now,” he said. I had a D’oh Homer Simpson moment and then understood what he was trying to tell me. I was not in the present. “That’s why I don’t wear a watch,” he said.
I went to visit my daughter this weekend. She lives about 2-1/5 hours away. Half way there I realized I had forgotten my medications.
I take three medications, two antidepressants and mood-stabilizer. I have been taking them for 7 years. Every day. Morning. Night. I don’t mess around and skip a day here or there. I take them without fail.
I did the math in my head. I took my last dose at 7 am Friday. I was not planning on getting home until at least 7 pm on Sunday. That would be 60 hours without my medications. Once I forgot to order a three-month supply of one of my antidepressants and ran out for about three days so I knew what it felt like to skip a few days without one of the medications.
I had never gone as long as 60 hours without all three. I knew I would feel some kind of withdrawal. I just didn’t know what to expect.
About 8 years ago, during my last major depression, I was told that depression was anger turned inward and that if I did not get rid of my anger, I would not get better.
This baffled me because at the time I felt nothing but hopelessness. I had emotionally flatlined. I didn’t feel angry. I felt exhausted. However, the people who told me this – my psych nurse and therapist – knew what they were talking about. They had spent decades treating people with depression. If they said I would not get well until I got rid of my anger, then I would get rid of my anger.
My therapist gave me a whiffle bat and wanted me to beat a pillow. Really? A whiffle bat? A pillow? I figured that if the amount of anger in me was enough to reduce me to a listless, despondent lump of flesh, a whiffle bat was not going to do the trick.
I put on my steel-toed work boots, found a metal baseball bat in the shed and drove to a junkyard. I asked the guys if I could have a few minutes alone with one of their vehicles. They raised their eyebrows and took me to a green truck. They left me alone.
Every now and then I get a glimpse of what my mental illnesses look like.
It’s been a long time. I have taken my medications without fail for years. I exercise, eat healthy foods, get as much sleep as I can, visit my psych-nurse practitioner every three months and I get on my knees every night and thank God for my sobriety. In other word, I do what I am told – an unnatural act for me.
As a reporter for a daily newspaper, I am accustomed to stress. For nearly 30 years I have lived with a deadline hanging over my head. I took six weeks off to have a baby, 8 weeks for my last major depression but other than the one- or two-week vacations, I have had a deadline over my head.
Recently, I accepted an assignment which today I realize I should not have done. I agreed to leave my home and my dog, suspend my exercise routine and healthy eating habits and forego nights of 8-hours of sleep to cover the Florida legislature’s last two-weeks in session.
I did this once before, nearly 30 years ago when reporters were only expected to write a story for the newspaper. Now, we must also Tweet, blog and make videos. Despite my degree in political science, after 30+ years in journalism, I’m kinda disallusioned with politics.
I was stunned.
My mother had rarely spoken about her childhood. She grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin. They did not have hot water and she and her three sisters and two brothers took baths one-by-one in a tub in water that had been warmed on a stove. You wanted to be the first in line to get the cleanest, warmest water, she used to tell me. They didn’t have much money. They worked hard. They churned their own butter.
I could not recall her ever speaking about her father – my grandfather, who died when I was very young. About all I knew was that he drank a lot. So I asked. She rattled off stories – none of them happy or funny. He took all six kids to school in the morning and then started drinking. She had seen him drunk, sitting on a curb. She was so embarrassed that if she needed to go past his watering hole she would take a different route to avoid seeing him.
He took the money she had saved to buy herself a car. When she announced she was going to college – the only one of the four girls in the family who did – he kicked her out. Women didn’t need a college education, she recalled him saying. She went on to get a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree.