The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘death’

Reaching for the Light

This was posted on Facebook on August 13 by Kat Lambert and in my opinion it needs to be shared. Widely. It especially needs to be seen by those that live with depression and thoughts of suicide. It’s a long post so you might like to grab a cuppa and settle in. And it’s confronting, so be prepared.

If you experience depression and suicidal thoughts yourself, or have someone close to you that does, please pay attention. These are not things to be played with. They are serious and people need support to get through it! If you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one please reach out. Treatment is available! Either contact your mental health professional or if in crisis after hours, please call Lifeline on 13 1114 from anywhere in Australia.

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I was somewhat reluctant to post this. Not because it’s something I am hesitant to share, but because a lot of other people are posting similar posts. Then I remembered the point of my post, being about breaking the stigma so people feel comfortable asking for the help they need to save their lives.

teen story to tell
Obviously the suicide of Robin Williams has taken the world by surprise. How can this hilarious, wonderful human being, who has lit up our faces in lounge rooms and cinemas across the world, and made us laugh so hard that the tears have rolled down our face, have been in such a dark, depressing place that the only way out was for him to take his own life?

depression drowning breathingAnd that’s just it. Depression, actually mental illness in general, affects people from all walks of life. Mental illness does not discriminate. Even those that seem the happiest, those that have the ability to light up the room with their enthusiasm, and those that seem to have it all can be fighting their own battles beyond their exterior facade.

Suicide is alarmingly, one of the highest causes of death in the world. Yet, unlike cancer, heart disease, SIDS, and other common illnesses where we raise awareness and we do everything we bloody well can to help our loved ones and the population in general, suicide is swept under the carpet.

Suicide is the “unknown”. People are scared of what they don’t understand. It’s easier to pretend it never happened, or to note the death of a loved one as “sudden” or “unexpected”. Because, God forbid, if you drop that “S” word into the conversation, guaranteed there’s always someone that has an opinion about it. So, on top of the guilt you already feel for not realising that your loved one was in such a horrible place, the guilt and the “what ifs” that run through your mind CONSTANTLY, you need to pretend like your son, your brother, your mother, your sister, died some other way, because otherwise people will judge you, and they’ll judge that family member, that friend, that you loved so dearly and couldn’t save. They’ll judge them for being weak, they’ll judge them for being selfish… And neither of these statements are true. It takes a fuckload of courage to step off that bridge, to pull that trigger, to swallow those pills, knowing that this will be the last time you take a breath, that you’ll never see your loved ones again, that once this has been done, it can not be undone. Once you’ve pulled that trigger it’s all over. Your decision is final.

Suicide is selfish. Are you fucking kidding me? Suicide is anything BUT selfish. Firstly, unless you’ve been in a place where you have not been able to see a way out, unless you’ve been in a place where nothing looks to ever get better, unless you’ve been in a place where you TRULY believe that your family would be less burdened if you weren’t around, then do NOT make assumptions that suicide is selfish.

How about instead of making ridiculous assumptions, we listen? We REALLY listen. Instead of judging people who constantly think about it, instead of judging those who’ve tried it before and failed, instead of making assumptions that these people are just screaming for attention… JUST LISTEN.

Listen to the people that have been there before, listen to those who have lost loved ones, listenlistening to those who right this moment, need someone to listen. Listen to those who need someone, anyone, to tell them that life will get better. Someone to tell them that they are worth it, and that regardless of what they believe, the world would not be the same without them in it. Someone to hold them and tell them it is okay to NOT be okay.

And this is where the system fails. There are a very small amount of people in your life that you’ll feel comfortable opening up to when you’re in this state of mind. And even then, the information you give them is a lot less intense than those emotions, those thoughts that are running through your head. Then the guilt comes. “I’ve just burdened them with my problems. They have their own issues to deal with and I’ve just dumped all of my garbage on them. Maybe they’ll be better off without me. It’s not fair that I keep burdening them over and over again. At least if I’m gone, they won’t have to deal with the burden again and again. Sure they’ll be upset for a small while, but once the initial grieving to deal with my death is over, they’ll go back to their normal lives, and won’t have to worry about their crazy sister, daughter, friend. And I won’t have to feel this pain any more.”

I wish I could say that I’d never had thoughts like that. I wish I could say that I’d never even contemplated taking my own life. But I can’t. I have had thoughts like that, for many years at a time. And there was a time where it felt like suicide was my only option. I became ridiculously close to losing my life, and on more than one occasion.

Seeking help wasn’t always an option. The ironic thing is that if you present at Emergency tellingsuicide ending pain them that you don’t trust yourself to control your suicidal urges at the moment, they’ll shrug it off and tell you that you’re just looking for attention, and to take these sedatives, go home and sleep it off. That courage that you worked up for the previous three hours has been crushed in a matter of seconds. That last hope of help you managed to reach out for, has been thrown in your face. And right then, you make that decision that if you can’t go to a health professional for help, clearly you can’t get help anywhere. The drugs they give you to take home may assist you in sleeping off this period of inability to give in to the urges to take your own life. But next time, and most times, there is a next time, you think about taking yourself to Emergency, you think about reaching out for help, but then you remember last time. You remember the shame you were made to feel, those feelings of little importance, and judgment. So instead of reaching out your hand for help, you reach out your hand for that bottle of pills, for that gun, for that rope, and you truly believe that this is your only way out of the hell that exists inside your head.

Then, after all this, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll end up in Emergency. You’ll be faced with those same nurses and doctors who made you feel ashamed because of your thoughts and feelings. Those who judged you and continue to judge you, those who turned you away, because your illness wasn’t real, and there were patients who NEEDED this service more than you did. If you thought that they’d understand now and things would change, think again. Now you’re the idiot that tried to kill herself when all the other people in Emergency are fighting for their lives. That patient next to you has been in a car crash, and is not expected to last the night. And here you are, distracting them from attempting to save the life of someone who doesn’t want to die. At that moment, the moment you notice their disgust, the moment you feel the shame that has been forced upon you, you make a decision that next time, you won’t fail and you won’t end up back here.

And that is where the problem lies. In our society, even though the stigma around depression has greatly decreased, suicide is still so much, a taboo subject. Clearly, like any illness, there are varying levels of symptoms, and whilst telling your friends that you’ve been depressed, and haven’t been able to eat and sleep is a fine conversation to have, if you dare mention that “S” word, if you dare mention how bad it is for you and how much suicide crosses your mind in a day, prepare to be judged. If you mention that the reason you can’t sleep at night, is because you can’t stop thinking of ending your life. The reason you can’t eat, is because you feel physically sick from the constant suicidal thoughts running through your mind. If you dare mention these things, you’ll be labelled as an attention seeker who is exaggerating your illness. You’ll be made to feel shame, on top of everything else you’re already feeling. And as such, any attempts to reach out for help, will be no more.

Sure, we can just continue to pretend that suicide doesn’t happen. We can pretend that nobody thinks about it. And that there’s nothing we can do to stop people anyway. But where’s that going to get us? Where will we be in 20, 50, 100 years’ time? At exactly the same place we are now. At the exact same fucking place where it is not okay to reach out for help. At the exact same fucking place where we constantly lose loved ones to something that could have been prevented. At the exact same fucking place.

So why don’t we do something about it? I don’t believe human kind can all be so stupid to believe that the current way is working. Talking about suicide doesn’t make people decide to attempt suicide, any more that talking about cancer gives people cancer. Talking about cancer, allows people to look out for the signs, and limit the severity if they notice them. Talking about suicide will do the exact same. Talking about suicide will bring it out of the shadows. Talking about suicide will mean that the person consumed with suicidal thoughts and feelings won’t feel ashamed about talking about it. That the person in this state, won’t feel ashamed to reach out for the help they so desperately need. Talking about suicide will mean that the stigma will be reduced, and when your mother, your child, your dad, your best friend, get to a point where they don’t think they can go on any longer, they will be able to reach out for help. In that split second, the fact that they can reach out for help without feeling ashamed, will save their life. In that split second, that very fact, will save you from heartache of losing someone you love so much and never understanding why. That split second, will save you from feeling such guilt and wondering if there was something you could have done differently, wondering why you didn’t figure out how bad it was for them, wondering “if only” for the rest of your life.

I’m not going to make out it’s an easy task, let’s face it, this is huge. This is massive. This is going to take a tremendous amount of funding. The Government is going to have to step it up a notch so that people can afford help. The Government would have to ensure that help was available to those in need, as so often, too often, patients are turned away due to a lack of available beds. But isn’t it worth a try?

Keep turning your back on suicide, and sweeping it under the carpet if you like, but what you’re really doing is turning your back on loved ones and judging, dismissing their feelings. I’m not telling you have to change your way of thinking, all I’m saying is, at some stage in your life, you’re likely to have a close friend or family member take their life, or at least attempt it, and in that moment, I want you to remember the decision you made right now, to keep this under the carpet. The decision you’re making, which means that your friend and family member hasn’t been able to source the help they need.

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When someone you love dies

grief no timeline

We are born, we live, we learn, we grow.

And then we die.

Death is a part of life.

Like a lot of people, I am no stranger to grief. Three of my grandparents died when I was a child and as an adult this has been followed by a step grandmother (paternal), my parents, my older brother, a favourite cousin, a grandmother (maternal) and the son of my best friend. Each of those people has meant something different to me and my experience with coping with each death has also been very different.

When somebody dies it is natural for us to feel like there has been a hole left in our lives and hearts. We get used to a person being a huge part of our lives. We depend on them. We feel safe with them. We feel comfortable. We look forward to being with them. We love them and connect with them. We often spend an entire lifetime with them. And one day we turn around and they aren’t there any longer.

So then what?

We need to get used to an entirely different way of living. Of being. Not only do we miss the person and grieve for them, we also need to learn how to live our life without them in it. This can be a huge undertaking, especially if we have lived our entire life with them. Spouse. Son. Daughter. Mother. Father. Grandparent. Aunt. Uncle. Best friend. Whatever that person’s role was in your life, making adjustments to live a different life can be seriously tough.

Common grief responses

One of the key things to note is that every person’s grief experience is different. Your way of grieving is going to be different to the person sitting next to you, even if that person is a close family member. There are however, some commonalities. There has been a lot of research into these common responses, which have resulted in several models being developed to describe how grief “works”.

Grief_Wheel

One model of the stages of grief

There are several “stages” that people usually experience. Shock & numbness occurs immediately following the death. There may be denial. You then go into a protest stage where the shock becomes heightened, you feel angry, you yearn for the person who died and you are preoccupied with thoughts of them. This is followed by disorganisation, where there is a loss of interest in normal daily activities, depression, apathy, lethargy, restlessness, aimlessness, confusion, withdrawal. Sleep disturbances, crying, irritability are also seen. Eventually there is reorganisation, where things start to come together again. You start to look forward to doing some of the activities you used to enjoy. You start to try new things and find meaning in the death. You may experience guilt in here too. Many people feel like they shouldn’t be enjoying themselves because their loved one isn’t here to share in those moments. Then you move into recovery, where a new “normal” comes about. At any one of these stages we could move into deterioration. We may be going along fine, and something will trigger us and we end up “going backward”. We get cranky, we cry, criticize ourselves, feel guilty, experience sleep and appetite disturbances. Physical symptoms may include sweating, breathing difficulties, nausea etc.

GrievingWheellarge

Another model of the grief wheel. Note the similarities.

A couple of important notes to consider.

Firstly, this process is not a linear one. We don’t move from one stage to the next and the next and the next. As already mentioned, we may be triggered at any time and feel like we are back where we started. If we graphed what actually happens to us we would have a curvy line jumping up and down, back and forward all over the place.

Secondly, I am giving a very brief, basic outline here on grief and a general picture of how it looks. Many people experience an intensified, long-term grief process that may be considered out of the ordinary. Symptoms are experienced as very intense and long-lasting. Grief is supposed to ease over several weeks and months. If this does not happen, it could be that this is an experience of complicated grief. There are several risk factors that make some people more prone to complicated grief, including having had a very close relationship to the person who died, the death being unexpected, and an inability to adapt to change (lack of resilience), among other things. For more details on complicated grief, the Mayo Clinic in the USA has some good information. Please note that there are several pages to digest, which can be navigated by clicking the links on the left side of the page. It includes what to look for and how to get some help. Here in Australia I would recommend seeking help from a grief counsellor or psychologist.

Ways to cope

It’s important to understand that unfortunately, the only way to the other side of grief is to go through the process. You can’t go around, under or over it, and you can’t avoid it. Ever. You must go through it.

  • Allow yourself to feel the emotions, whatever they are. Sadness, sorrow, shock, numbness, listlessness. All of these are a normal, understandable reaction to the circumstances and it is ok to feel them. We often push these feelings down because they hurt, but the more we do that the longer the process takes. Those feelings will always come back.grief miss talking
  • Most people find that what they really want is to bring back the person who died. So why not do that? Yes, I know that you can’t bring them back in person, but you can bring their memory alive. A lot of grief counsellors will encourage the person to talk about their loved one. To describe them. Talk about what they love and miss about them. This may bring up a lot of emotion, and that is ok. I understand that a lot of people get nervous around emotions, and that’s fine too. If you can allow yourself to sit with it, even a little bit at a time, it does get a little easier. Eventually.
  • If you feel like the people you are talking to are getting impatient with your never-ending talk about the person who died, try either talking to somebody different or writing things down instead. Write a letter or a story. Or even talk into a voice recorder. You can erase it if you don’t want to keep it, but it may give you an outlet without feeling like you’re being a burden on the people closest to you.
  • Talk to the person who died. This is especially helpful if it was a long, intense or close relationship. Tell them about your day, about how the kids are doing, about how much you miss them.
  • There is no right or wrong way to feel when you are grieving. The stages described in the wheel can come and go in a seemingly random pattern. You might think you are getting through the worst of it and then you’ll be right back in the middle of all those intense feelings. This is normal.
  • Honour the person who died in some way. You could try planting a tree, creating some artwork or craft, a memory box, write a letter to the person, write some poetry or a song. Even go to visit their grave and talk to them. There is no right or wrong with this. Go with your instinct and do something that feels right for you.
  • grief individualI know this one could sound a little harsh, but I am going to say it anyway. Ignore the people who tell you that you “should be over it by now” (or some variation on the theme). Grief is not something that has a timetable. It is different for everyone and is a very individual experience. What works for one person may not work for another.
  • Try not to force yourself to do things you’re not ready for. Sometimes you may feel like you’re never going to be the same again and you’ll feel like staying in bed all day every day. I’m not suggesting that you spend the rest of your life in bed, and sometimes it can help you feel a little better to force yourself to get out of the house. Sometimes though, it is ok to allow yourself some time to be with your memories.
  • Find a support group in your area. Sometimes it helps to know that there are others out there who are going through the same thing you are. You don’t have to do this on your own.
  • If you don’t start feeling more like your old self within a few months, please consider seeking professional support. A grief counsellor or psychologist may be able to help you to sort through some of the feelings you’re having. This can be particularly helpful if you are experiencing complicated grief. It’s hard, and not everyone understands what it is like. A professional can help you to gain some understanding of what is happening for you. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be you sitting there spilling your guts. Sometimes you can do other things. I know someone who had a counsellor help them edit a book of poetry that had been written to help with the grief. Others will do art or craft work, or something completely different. If you have something in mind that you feel would help you, but feel uncertain about it, discuss it with your professional. You may be able to do it in session.

grief myths facts

Helping someone through their grief

If you have a family member or a friend who is grieving, remember that everyone grieves differently. Even if that person is your spouse, brother, sister, daughter or son (or whoever).

  • Honour and respect the grief process for the individual, personal experience it is.
  • Never (EVER) tell a person to “snap out of it”. There is no such thing as getting over the person who has died and moving on with your life. The person who has died will always be a part of treasured memories. They will always be missed. It’s simply the intensity that varies.
  • Grief has no timeline. Some people can reach the stage of acceptance within a few weeks, while others take years. Sometimes feelings of sadness will hit you out of the blue, triggered by simple things such as hearing a song on the radio or smelling a favourite meal cooking on the stove.
  • Grief is a process that upsets everything you have known in your life. Grieving people benefit from sameness, familiarity and routine. It can be comforting to have the same neighbours, the same furniture, and the same house. In some cases, such as with the death of one half of a long-standing elderly couple, the surviving partner may not be able to remain in the familiarity of the home they have been used to (e.g., if they require care). These changes require a lot more adjustment than would otherwise be required. If at all possible, allow some time to make the transition. Allow them to sort through treasured possessions and to gather anything that will help them gain comfort. Clothing, furniture (if possible), photographs and so on. The more familiarity they have around them, the better their transition is likely to be.
  • Sometimes it can seem like this grief lasts forever and you can feel impatient with the person who continues to talk while grief one at a timeyou want to move forward. This is common if you are also grieving the same person. You could try suggesting something different to do, or maybe respectfully suggest that they talk with a professional instead. You need to honour your own needs in dealing with your grief and have every right to do so. If you are uncertain, please consider talking with a professional to get some advice on what you can do to balance your own needs and helping this person with their grief.

I know this post has been quite wordy and very lengthy, but I think to do it justice it has needed to be. One of the biggest things I have found in working with grieving people, is the knowledge that you are not on your own. Grief can sometimes feel like a very isolating experience and knowing that there are others out there who are going through the same thing can help ease that for you. I would encourage you to share your experiences here in the comments. Let’s see if we can create a small community of support right here.

I hope this post has helped in some small way.

 grief hugs

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