When I Think I Can’t…Yoga

I know that I’ve talked about it here a million times and I’m sure that people in my life are sick of hearing it, but yoga has changed my life in so many ways that it’s hard not to talk about it. Where once anxiety waited around every turn, preying on my weaknesses, telling me that I would never amount to anything and that each little task was a mountain to climb, I now have tools to keep it away and keep myself strong. Where I once saw the words “no,” “I can’t,” “never,” I now start to see “I can” and “I will.” Anxiety still lives down inside of me, sometimes bubbling up to take over, but now it is easier to push it back down and make it behave. Anxiety now lives largely in the background, leaving the rest to be filled with living life. Some of this is because I found a great psychiatrist. Some of it is because I’ve gotten older and more comfortable with myself. But a large part of the credit goes to yoga.

Because so much of my anxiety is centered around my body and health, yoga is an excellent counter to it. If I can control what my body does in so many ways, there is less room to find fault with it. Add a little meditation and breathing to interrupt those ruminations and yoga is the perfect recipe for my particular brand of anxiety.

I still find myself daunted by certain tasks, especially those that might interrupt the calm(ish) little life I’ve got going here. But it has come to a point where my life needs a shake-up. I need to push past the “I can’t” and into the “I will.” So again, I’m turning to yoga

7 years ago I couldn’t do this.

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5 years ago I couldn’t do this.

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1 year ago I couldn’t do this.

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If I can hold warrior II, balance on my arms, and freakin STAND on my HEAD, I can do anything right? At least, that’s what I tell myself when my mind is full of doubts. Yoga reminds me that I am strong, that I can overcome fear, and that I have control. With that on my side, the only thing left to do is to move forward.

As the Walk Approaches

As the day of the Out of the Darkness Walk becomes closer and closer I find myself unexpectedly emotional. First I am blown away by the generosity of those who have given to my campaign. I did not anticipate raising this much–my team has exceeded our goal–and I certainly didn’t anticipate being so touched by every donation, every word of support, every story shared with me of mental illness or the impact of suicide. I am doing the work I set out to do and it has been a long time coming.

I am also finding myself thinking about my dad, and missing him, much more than usual. I suppose this seems like a natural connection, after all I wouldn’t be doing this at all if it weren’t for him. But it has surprised me. After nearly 11 years, the pain of him not being in my life has receded into a dull ache that makes itself known when something reminds me of him from time to time and only flares into a sharp pain on those days that make his absence most obvious. But that spike of pain behind my ribs has been visiting me more often as I ready myself for the walk. Right after signing up a few weeks ago I lay in bed one night, my husband asleep beside me. I was suddenly hit by a massive wave of longing for my dad. I desperately wanted to hear his voice and feel the rough skin on his hands as he held mine. One of the most distinctive things about him was his laugh, which could often devolve into a cough from his lifelong smoking habit. When I think hard I can hear it perfectly in my mind. I can recreate his saying my name, followed by that laugh, as if I had just said or done something hilarious. That night I thought of his laugh and it played in my head as if I could hear it and I dissolved into sobs into my pillow. It seemed so silly to be crying about something that has been the way it is for so long. But I couldn’t stop the sadness and each tear seemed to welcome the next until I was cried out and exhausted and fell into a fitful sleep.

I tell myself that this is why I’m walking, to spare some other daughter, or mother, or son, or best friend this kind of pain. Although the act of actually doing something is filling up some long empty space in me, I also find myself nervous. I’m not sure how I’ll feel to be with all of those other survivors. I’ve never talked in real life with anyone else that has lost someone close to suicide. I’m not sure how I’ll feel about those walking because they themselves have survived a suicide attempt. My feelings on it are so very complicated. I’m nervous that no one else will even talk to me or that this will be a disappointing experience, when it is something I have wanted to do for so long. I am so very, very glad that two of my best friends will be beside me. I could not do it alone.

So I guess the short story is that this is harder than I thought it would be. This is complicated and it’s bringing up feelings I had long buried. It reminds me that mental illness is such a devious beast that is not always easily dealt with. So this is more than a charity walk and more than a fundraiser and more than the realization of some work I feel is necessary. It is a journey for me, touching on feelings I haven’t wanted to feel. It is a part of the process and I am glad I have taken it on.

In Defense of My Cause

In these days of social media it often seems that everyone and their mother…and brother…and best friend is asking for a donation for their cause. I have heard people complain that it’s getting to be too much. Sometimes, I want to agree. But I don’t think we all need to give to every campaign out there. They are (almost) all important. Cancer needs to be researched. ALS needs some type of treatment. Children living in poverty need some type of system to hold them up. People around the world need access to clean water. I am thankful that through Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat and Instagram and whatever else is out there, thousands upon thousands of people can easily see that there is a friend walking/running/doing yoga/stripping/whatever for the cause of their choice and they can just click a link and add to the resources that will help. Yes, it can lead to guilt when you can’t give to them all, but just remember that someone can.

Back to my cause. Yes, I am joining (again) the lists of people who are doing something for some cause. But let me please just defend mine for a moment before you dismiss it as just another. There is something different about raising money for suicide awareness, prevention, and support. Rarely do you hear of a cancer that people are ashamed to admit that they have. No one is afraid to see their name on the list of donors for research into an incurable disease of the body. But when it comes to suicide, this is not the case. I myself couldn’t find it in me to admit, publicly, to the reason for my father’s death until 10 years after the fact. There are still important people in my life (who obviously don’t read my blog) who do not know and I cannot bring myself to tell them.

Because when you tell people that someone you loved with your whole being killed themselves, there is an automatic judgement. Their impression of them changes. I want my father to always be the person he really was. I want him to be the loving husband he was to my mother, the involved and passionate father he was to my sister and I, the chatty and helpful friend he was to almost everyone he came in contact with. More than that, I don’t want every negative aspect of his personality to be scrutinized. Yes he had a tendency to be grumpy, he was overly cautious, he smoked too much, and he had a serious temper that would flare and wane before you realized what was happening. But he was the man he was, he was not his depression and death.

In so many cases, this change in the picture of the person who is gone is understandable. So many times the depression was hidden. The death was a shock. No one, or only those very close to the person, knew what they were going through that led to this terrible end. And if people knew, and understood, and were supportive, could that end have been different? If they felt they could reach out and share and find that others felt the same way, would that have helped?

This is why I am walking. This is why I am raising money. This is why I share my story over and over again. We need to be able to share this. We need to end these false ideas–that depression is laziness, that only cowards commit suicide, that asking for help is weak. We need to offer treatment, understanding, love, help, to people at risk and to people touched by suicide. We need to show that little bit of light to people who are floundering and can’t see a way out. That’s why I’m on the list of people asking you to give. Because this is a cause that doesn’t see the light. That’s why it’s so aptly called the Out of the Darkness Walk.

I am so, so very grateful to those who have given. Every donation has touched my heart in so many ways. Every comment on my posts makes me feel wonderful. It is SO important to me to reach my goal. It has been a hard road to get here and I want my contribution to be meaningful.

My Donation Page

AFSP home page

Walking the Walk

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Both literally and figuratively. I have written several times here about suicide. Both about how it has affected me personally through the death of my father and how it affects our society as a whole. I have written about the need to end the stigma attached, not just to suicide, but also to mental illness and its treatment. But now I will be not just be talking the talk, I am walking the walk–with the support of some wonderful women who I’m lucky to have in my life. On October 26th we will be participating in the Out of the Darkness Walk sponsored by The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

AFSP does some difficult and important work and I have long wanted to be a part of it. But shame or fear have held me back. Please check out their website for information about the programs they run, the research they support, and some sobering statistics about suicide.

Now comes the part where I ask for your donation. While the money goes to fund some things that I think are extremely important–like valuable research into suicide prevention and prevention programs for colleges and high schools and support groups for survivors of suicide–more than money, what I’d like is awareness. Click on the links I’ve included here. Read about suicide and what we can do to prevent the suicide rate from rising. And know that so many people are touched when just one person takes their own life. While it may seem like a personal decision, it is anything but. That one death affects so many and the effects last long after they are gone.

This is a cause that is obviously close to my heart. If I can do a little thing, like walking in Battery Park with 600 other people like me, to stop another family from feeling that pain, how can I do anything else? Please look at our team page and think about a small donation. This has been a long time coming for me, and it is still difficult for me to do, knowing I am being supported would mean so much. And if you live in New York and would like to come join us, just let me know and I can register you with our team.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Out of the Darkness Walks

Our Team Page

My Donation Page

Playing on Fear

After the kids were in bed tonight, I hopped in the shower. As I was shaving my legs I heard the door open.

“Hey Mommy, it’s me, I needa pee,” Brady said as he lifted the toilet seat.

“Hey Baby,” I replied.

“Hey Mommy?” he asked, “Why is there nothing to worry about, but I’m worried?”

My breath caught in my throat and I hesitated, “Oh honey,” I said. “It’s just the end of school and the beginning of summer.”

It’s probably the truth. Most likely, he’s just recognizing in himself that ambient nervousness and excitement that comes with the end of day after day in the classroom and the beginning of beach trips and pool swims and days at the park. But, to me, those words were a blade of ice to the heart. Something that I wish my children could be free from. Anxiety.

I’ve been worried for about as long as I can remember. When I was little I worried about–school, friends, getting sick, hangnails, growing up, my cat running away, the sun going supernova–basically everything. When I went to college my worrying morphed into an obsession about what the future would hold and a major depressive episode which led, thankfully, to treatment. These days, after years of medication and therapy, it’s the level of worry that I care about. It’s always there, it’s just whether or not it’s disrupting my life. Those life-disrupting episodes have gotten fewer and fewer, though their intensity can still be devastating.

I desperately don’t want my children to go through that. Brady is, in many ways, like me as a child. He is focused on his school work and has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He has a hot temper. He gets obsessive about the things he likes. And he worries. Lately, he has been worried about natural disasters and often comes out of bed to ask us if an earthquake/volcano/tornado can come to New York City. I recognized signs of anxiety in him when he was very young and I’ve taught him relaxation techniques to cope when he can’t sleep or gets worked up.

But I have to wonder if I am projecting my fears onto him. Maybe I see the anxious behaviors because I am primed to see them. I try to remind myself of the ways in which he is different from me as a child. He is rarely shy and is amazingly friendly. He doesn’t have a need to please everyone around him. His interests change quickly and his attention span can be short.

So when he told me that he felt worried when there is nothing to worry about, it was a hard thing to hear. While I know it could be nothing, I have been fighting a battle against that very feeling for most of my life. It defines me in a way I would love to undo. All that I can do is offer him my experience to lean on. I can give him the coping techniques it took me years to learn to use. I can honestly tell him that I understand when he tells me that he’s worried about the sun going supernova. I can love him and not let my anxiety define our relationship.

We all have fears about what our children will face in life. Often, they are the very things that we have fought ourselves, the things in us that we wish we could change. It’s difficult to know that, with all of the good things we pass on, we can also bring along the things we wish we could rid ourselves of. But everyone has demons to face in life. We cannot change our DNA and we can’t always change the world around us either. All we can do is help our children to highlight the wonderful and cope with the less-than wonderful. And never underestimate the power of love.

Beginning the Fight – An Update

When I posted this the other day, it was so hard to just begin that I didn’t think much past the writing of it. I expected a few comments and I got them. I did not expect for people in my life to step up and be so supportive. Apparently I am constantly underestimating people. 

When I wrote about not being an active participant in removing the stigma from mental illness, and from suicide in particular, it was really just a jolt to myself reminding me that this is important for me. When I said that I had never signed up for the Out of the Darkness walk, I was just trying to prompt myself to do so; to make myself accountable. I had honestly never even thought of asking anyone to walk with me until I typed out that sentence. So I was pretty floored when three of my friends stepped up and offered to do it, even looking up the next walk in our area. Of course, I’ve already acknowledged that these ladies are beyond awesome, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Then people offered to walk in their areas in my dad’s name. How freaking amazing is that? I guess it is exactly what I set out to do when I wrote the post–to open up the subject and get some talking started. So, wow. Just…wow. Thank you to each person who read and commented and liked and made me feel like I was doing some little piece of what I want to do.

And because I think it’s important, here it is again.

And also AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). They do some really difficult work. You can find out about Out of the Darkness walks all over the country here.

Sad Statistics and Ending the Stigma

While I think that the media frenzy over the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman has reached a rather disgusting level, I have to contribute my own bit here. His death is sad and striking and shocking. I find it incredibly heartbreaking for his children. I know what it’s like to be the child of a person who died a stigmatized death. At least my father’s death wasn’t spread across every newspaper and website, analyzing alleged clandestine meetings with Brooklyn drug dealers and the stamps on glassine bags of heroin. While he didn’t commit suicide outright, he still died by his own hand. His children will have to grow up without their father and live with the knowledge that this terrible addiction took him from them. They will have to question what in his life led to that end and why he couldn’t just hold on for them. Other people will judge the way he died and what kind of person he was because of it. I know how that feels. 

I’m working on a supplement for a new introductory psychology book at the moment and this week I’m writing about psychological disorders. The chapter features a large infographic on suicide in the United States and I was shocked and saddened by what I read.

  • From 2000 to 2010 the suicide rate increased by nearly 20% from 10.4 deaths per 100,000 people to 12.1. (American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide 2013)
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 25-34. 
  • Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 15-24. (Both CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION, NATIONAL CENTER FOR INJURY PREVENTION AND CONTROL, 2010) 
  • In 2009 suicide was the leading cause of death from injury, exceeding homicide and traffic accidents. (Rockett et al., 2012) 

I had an idea of the suicide statistics in this country. Aside from working on psychology texts, I’ve researched it myself. This particular graphic put the stats together in a way that really brought the point home. It should be given out to everyone. How can it be ok that the 2nd leading cause of death overall for people aged 25-34 is suicide? The task of preventing suicide is beyond daunting. Even people who get help often can’t be saved. I’ve always thought that taking the stigma away from mental illness is one of the clearest answers and yet even I haven’t done my part in that fight. It took me ten years to tell one of my best friends how my father died. I still haven’t told many people close to me, though posting it here and consequently on facebook did a big part.

For the most part I’m very open about my use of medication to treat my anxiety and depression and I talk about my psychiatrist appointments. But I cringe when I do, even in front of my close friends and family. I still feel ashamed. I still feel like there is something wrong with me. That I’m somehow less than people who don’t have to go to therapy or take antidepressants. I’ve meant to take part in the Out of the Darkness walk since I found out about it 7 or 8 years ago and yet I have never signed up. I’m terrified to ask anyone to go with me for support. What if someone who didn’t know about my dad found out? I don’t want people to judge him or me. I want everyone to know that he had a sickness and that is why he died. I want to completely believe that myself. 

So here’s a little part of my fight. Right here on this page. Those statistics are real. Many of us fear our loved ones will die in a car accident. We fear assailants in the night. We worry about cancer and infections. We fail to recognize the danger of suicide. We hide the truth about ourselves and our loved ones so that we seem “all right” when maybe the parts that need work are what people really need to see. We tell ourselves that it’s none of our business when maybe asking how someone is doing could make all the difference. It can be difficult, and in fact sometimes impossible, to reach a person in the depths of depression, but it’s worth a try. People who kill themselves are not cowards. They are not lazy. They were sick and in pain and deserved every try at life, just as a cancer patient does. So here’s my start at helping to change the mindset. Won’t you help me by changing a bit?

Legacy

When the soft falling of snowflakes lit by multicolored lights causes tears to prick the corners of my eyes and the smell of a pine tree filling a warm room opens up an ache in my heart, I get so angry with you. Because, somehow, after ten years, though I have learned to enjoy Christmas again, though the happiness of my own children allows me to smile, something still rings hollow. The center has been scooped out and all of my attempts to refill it still leave a hole.

I try each year to remember the joy that this season brought to you and the happiness you gave us in turn. I decorate, though I can never match the transformation you performed in our house. I tell myself to think of the layers of cotton snow that you so carefully placed around our manger on the mantel and the way you searched each year for the perfect new ornament for our tree. I call up the sounds and smells of our Christmas house: each card we received hung around the doorway, garlard wrapped around the bannister on the stairs, the ceramic village taking up the buffet in the dining room–each house and store lit, tiny people skating on the glass pond. Christmas at our house was by far the happiest season of all.

But, although I fill my mind with these joyous memories and feel the love they project even today, it is the other legacy that still invades this happy time each year. The legacy you left of sadness and loss, of shock and pain and anger. When you lose a person you love, you want to spend times like this remembering the good things. In a way, I think I will always feel like you robbed us of that. There are too many what-ifs. Christmas is forever linked now to that awful raw feeling of knowing that you are gone, that you will never show my children the joy you showed me, you will never choose another gift, never give another hug. Every year I think, “if he had just waited for Christmas everything would have been fine.” But of course, now we’ll never know and isn’t that the worst part?

Death is permanent and while I know that a mind sick with depression and anxiety doesn’t see that things can better, they always can. So that, that, is the legacy I try so very hard to hold onto–nothing lasts forever, every bad thing ends even when it seems as if it won’t. Hope is the legacy I hold in my heart and I give to the people around me. While Christmas will never be the same and each year I will feel that numbing sadness, will deal with that memory of what happened, I use it to remind me of the importance of hope, the thing that you lost.

Ten years ago today I lost my father to suicide. It’s something I have shared with some and not with others for various reasons. Today, after ten years, I finally decided that I needed to share. So many people suffer at this time of year and that suffering is sometimes compounded by the joy of others. If you, or someone you know, is one of them please get help. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but it is by far the best. Here are some places to find it. 

Crisis Text Line

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline