Sunday, September 14, 2014

Say the Word

There are days we remember and days we’ll never forget.  February 12, 2002 was one of those days for me.  It’s the day we discovered my step-brother took his life.  Losing a loved one to suicide is one of those defining moments in life. One that leaves you changed forever.  

We all experienced this recently in a more distant way with Robin William’s suicide, although those close to him certainly were impacted more directly. Well known, well loved, well respected for his comedic talent and acting ability...Robin Williams is one who will be remembered forever.  His death left a hole in the fabric of the entertainment world.  His suicide left all of us wondering, “Why?”  

After a suicide loss, many survivors of suicide are plagued by one question, “Why?” We try to make sense of something that seems so contrary to our human instinct for survival.  I was tormented by this question for months and carried out the psychological autopsy that is common in the aftermath - trying to piece together the precipitating events and make sense of the senseless.  This is the problem - us survivors try to apply logic and rationale in understanding the minds of those who were not in a logical and rational state at the time of their death.  It doesn’t work.  Eventually, I had to come to grips with the reality that I knew all I was possibly going to know and still did not have all of the answers.  I also came to understand that it is not just the precipitating event that is the causal factor in a suicide, but it is a multi-causal phenomonon and in 90% of the cases involves a mental health condition that possibly could have been treatable.  

After the shock of Jason’s death wore off, I went through denial. My mind didn’t want to accept reality. Every time I saw a green Honda accord, I’d look to see if he was behind the wheel.  I created a scenario in my mind to protect myself from my pain, imagining he was in a witness protection program and he was alive somewhere.  I didn’t really believe this, but I’d fantasize about it at times.

The grief would strike me at the most inconvenient moments….in the grocery store upon seeing his favorite food, in a restroom when I saw a hole in the wall that reminded me of the bullet hole he left behind in his condo, or when a certain song would come on the radio.  I couldn’t always predict when my grief would be triggered, and this left me on an emotional roller coaster ride.  

I struggled with anger and guilt and did a number on myself.  I wasn’t angry with him.  I was angry with myself. As a counselor, I felt like if someone should have seen the signs it should have been me.  I even questioned if I wanted to continue in the field of counseling and wondered if I was even competent to be practicing.  I had to learn to be gentle with myself, forgive myself and recognize that hindsight is 20:20 and if I knew this was going to happen I’d have done something about it.  The reality was I had not spent a lot of time around my step-brother in those recent months prior to his death.  Life had it’s grip on me and I was consumed with my own life and raising children.  I eventually learned not to “should” on myself, but it took time.  I realized this grieving thing truly was a process and it had to run it’s course.  

Early in the process I had an “aha” moment.  I truly believe it was God’s hand on my shoulder, grabbing my attention and telling me to use this experience for good.  It was in that moment that I realized I needed to find purpose in Jason’s death. I needed to give it meaning.  I came to the conclusion that I was meant to help with suicide prevention efforts in some way.

One of the most healing aspects of my journey was participating in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walk in Washington, D.C.  I raised $5,000 in a month’s time and hit the streets walking.  Every step I took training for the walk was for Jason.  Every dollar that poured in was for him as well.  Each step and every dollar brought tears, but in my crying, healing was happening - little by little, step by step. The walk was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.  It started shortly after dinner, then into the darkness we walked for 26 miles.  I was prepared to powerwalk as I usually do, but in the opening speech we were told it wasn’t a race to get ahead, as in our race to get ahead, others are left behind.  We were encouraged to have conversations along the way, share our stories of grief, help people up who have fallen, be with one another’s tears.  This message hit home. I walked.  I talked.  I listened.  I cried.  I helped others along the way.  I was honored and overcome with emotion as those lining the street with photos of their loved ones thanked me for walking.  Then out of the darkness I eventually arrived at the finish line.  I did it.  I did it for Jason and for others like him.  I did it for those who are left behind after losing someone to suicide.  I did it for myself.  

I went on to help start a support group for survivors of suicide called H.U.G.S. (Healing and Understanding of Grief from Suicide) and co-facilitated that group for a number of years.  I became involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and helped start National Survivors of Suicide Day here in Charlotte.  I attended workshops and learned all I could about suicide.  I eventually was willing to work with suicidal teens and help them in their walk out of the darkness through my counseling practice.  Hearing parent share with their teens about how they'd feel if they acted on their suicidal thoughts brought the most moving and powerful moments into my counseling office, which I was privy to witness.

Breaking the silence surrounding suicide became my mission after Jason died.  So, with it being National Suicide Prevention Week, I decided it was time to use my voice again and share my story.  One thing I learned in all of this was that when I would share about my experience, I made it okay for others to do the same. In doing this, I learned just how many people are touched by suicide in some way - either they have been in that dark place themselves at some point, or they know of someone who died by suicide.  People just don’t talk about it.  We have to make it okay to talk about.  When we do, then perhaps those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts will talk about it too and reach out for the help they need.  Say the word and save lives.  Suicide.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Finding Intention When Life Interrupts

My intention is to get back to writing.  So, here I am again three years later.  What took me away?


Life interrupted...

I remarried, moved, went through a custody battle, battled to have my daughters learning disabilities identified and their learning needs met.  I struggled to adjust to a whole new life, adapt to country living and a new neighborhood.  I fought to successfully blend our Brady bunch family - my two girls and my husband's two boys.   I cleaned out my Mom's home of about 20 years, helped her move and settle into a retirement center.  I devoted Sunday afternoon's to taking her to visit my step-father in the nursing home and adapted to being her wheels.  I spent more time than I cared to commuting in my car, taking my girls to all of their various appointments and activities (tutoring, the orthodontist, doctors, softball, Brownies, youth group, etc.), their separate schools - 45 minutes apart, and back and forth between their Dad's home and mine.  All of this and work too! Yet, I fit in another triathalon - coming in 2nd in my age category....all of the running around obviously kept me in shape.  I also did a mud run - WonderWoman style...I lept over fire, hurtled obstacles...not all that different from my daily life, really.  I did manage to get away.....Aruba for our honeymoon, Disney World for Spring Break, Hatteras for the Lyon family reunion, Thousand Island Park with my side of the family, and a remote cabin near Boone with my husband that had no internet connection nor wifi. Ahhhh....finally I turned it all off.

Yet, no sooner did I get back to reality...than I was back in the rat race.....running on the treadmill of life.  I realized something had to change when I'd get in bed and feel like I was still on the treadmill. I had difficulty getting a deep breath, I pulled a calf muscle, tore a hamstring, started getting headaches from dehydration, was snapping more at my family, and finding myself in tears more often.

Ironically, at a counselor's meeting we had a wise woman counselor remind us about the importance of self-care.  She had us partition a circle according to the energy and time we give to work, home/family and self care.  In looking at the tiny sliver of self on my pie, I realized I need more pie! I sought out an old friend, Mike Whitehead, who runs a business called The Center for Intentional Leadership.  He reminded me to slow down, be still and listen to myself.  So, I disconnected from all social media and began to discover small slivers of time in my day to sit and "be."  I focused on being more present with myself - paying attention to my own thoughts and feelings and on being more present with those around me.  After five days of this, I woke up one morning and said to myself, "I'm back."

Mike's business intrigued me.  The Center for Intentional Leadership.  I thought about that word "intention."  Intention..."a determination to act in a certain way; what one intends to do or bring about." My first intention was to go on a women's retreat with Mike for three days  Getting three days off from work right before Spring Break was something I expected would be frowned upon.  Yet, my boss said, "I think you should go."  I held my breath when I told my husband how much it cost, waiting for him to gasp and close the door on my intent.  He gasped alright, but after sleeping on it, he said to me the next morning, "I think you should go." I was already learning that when we put our intent out there, the universe responds to make it happen.

Taking time away for myself for three whole days was nothing I had ever done before, not since being married and having kids anyway.  And, it was the best thing I've ever done for myself!  It was a wake-up call.  I woke-up and came to learn about the beliefs, the lies I tell myself that hold me back from living the life I intend.  I sailed to places where I was anchored and learned to "let it go."  I reclaimed parts of myself that were there all along, but were hidden from view.  I connected with amazing women who helped me see that I'm not all that different from them, that there is a common bond we share as women in our struggles and challenges no matter what we do for work - whether we manage people or a company or our homes and families - we are all leaders as we go about leading our own lives. There was hesitation as I embarked on this journey with other women, who I assumed were in positions of leadership.  I remember telling a few of them at dinner one night - "I'm not a leader."  I admitted to being intimidated to go on the retreat, because I thought I'd be a fish out of water in a sea of corporate-world, high-powered women.  Yet, an empowering dream one night had me awaken with the realization that it was all a lie.   I am a leader.  I'm a leader of my life.   I am THE leader of my life.  Once I was able to claim this, I developed a plan to live my life with intention.  I've already started implementing my plan and it is empowering and invigorating to live the life I intend.  Life interrupts sometimes.  It is what it is, but we can get off the treadmill and catch our breath, slow down and learn to take each step in the direction we so choose.

Mike told a story of someone asking Michelangelo how he got his vision to make David out of the stone he had to work with.  Michelangelo answered that all he had to do was chip away, that David was there all along.  The process Mike took us through was quite the same.  I discovered things about myself that were there all along.  The busyness of life had just gotten in the way...interrupted what I already knew, who I already was.  I had to slow down, be still, listen, let go....and it was all mine again.  I take it all and move forward with intention to live the life I want to live and not succumb to being a human doing machine, but rather to "be" all that God intends me to be instead.

And so, here I am again....writing.  It is as I intend. 

Thanks Jane, Dave and Mike!