Out of the Darkness Fundraising Walk

I’m having a hard day today, really missing my Tony and wishing we were just out doing our regular Saturday errands.  It’s funny how the little things can hit you.  I had an image this morning of walking into Rite Aid and joking around with Pete, the guy who always worked early on Saturdays.  He was so friendly and always went above and beyond, and it occurred to me today that he has no idea what happened.  He probably suspects something happened, because we were there nearly every week.  It’s just odd to think about.  Odd and sad.

I just registered for the Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention that’s happening in Olympia, WA on September 28th.  If you are interested and able, here is the link to my fundraising page:

http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=463301

Suicide kills 38,000 people a year in the United States alone, and over a million worldwide.  It’s the epidemic that few of us are talking about.  Help spread the word.  Every dollar helps, and if you can’t contribute financially, you CAN contribute by helping to change the conversation. 

Advertisements

Rebecca Ann Sedwick, Twelve Years Old

Rebecca Ann Sedwick

Rebecca died Monday.  She didn’t die of cancer, or get hit by a car.  She was bullied online, told to go kill herself, and she finally did.  She jumped from a building.

Her family and friends are grieving now.  I expect that most, if not all, of the people who bullied her are grieving as well.  They have learned, the hard way, that words have power.  They have learned that actions have consequences.  They have learned that depression is no excuse for unkindness, that people may be fighting battles we can’t see, but that doesn’t mean the battles aren’t real.

Her name is Rebecca Ann Sedwick.  She was twelve years old.

The Flip Side of the Coin

We all know what today is – it’s the 12th anniversary of 9/11, the worst terrorist attack on United States soil.  Since the blue sky of that September morning on 2001, every year on this day I, like so many others, have paused to reflect on the lives lost, and the sacrifices made by the rescue workers.

Today, for me, it was a little different.  Today, I am someone who knows what it’s like to lose someone I love to suicide.  Today, I wondered about the 19 young men who hijacked those planes.  More specifically, I wondered about the people who loved them.  No matter how easy it is to vilify them (and nothing can possibly justify what they did that day) at some point, those young men were babies.  Sweet little babies whose mothers crooned to them and loved them and dreamed of what their lives would be.  At some point, those young men were boys who played with their friends, complained about their homework, sassed their parents.  At some point, those young men looked at a girl, or another boy, and felt a tug of attraction. 

No matter how awful their actions were, I believe that some of their loved ones, some of their mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousins or friends, are in the same hell that I am in.  Asking themselves over and over why they did what they did, if something they said or did – or didn’t say or didn’t do – could have prevented the deaths, and kept those young men alive and whole. 

We are all, in the end, human.  Even those young men who got on those planes and pulled out box cutters and took so many lives.  Even they were human.  They are, and should be, part of the conversation about suicide.  It’s easy, sometimes, to think that they are just OTHER, they are not like us, they don’t value life the same way.  But cannot the same be said of Tony?  He did not value his life the same way I value mine.   I valued his life more than he did.  If that weren’t the case, he’d still be here.  Something inside of him was so lost and broken that it seemed like a better choice to give up his life than to hold on to it, to keep fighting. 

I mourn today.  I think of the way I felt that September day.  This morning felt so similar in some ways.  The sky a crystalline blue.  And yet today, everything is different.  Today I mourned, too, for those who mourn the hijackers.  I hope that somehow they are healing.

If I Only Had a Brain

npsw ribbon

If I Only Had a Brain

In my body.  You know, like if my brain were a part of my body, my PHYSICAL body, and not some nebulous free-floating cloudy thing that exists only in my own… oh, wait.  Silly me.  I DO have a brain, and it is an actual solid organ in my (alas) all too solid body.  When other physical organs in our physical bodies have a problem, those are treated as medical problems.  We can’t see diabetes, or emphysema, or congestive heart failure when we look at a person.

We can’t see depression either.  We can’t see bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, drug addiction, borderline personality disorder, paranoid delusional disorder or alcoholism.  Yet we as a society treat them as if they are blameworthy, rather than recognizing them as what they are: Diseases of the body. 

Allow me to illustrate, with a series of scans showing a healthy brain side-by-side with the brains of some people who have the illnesses listed above, starting with depression:

brain with depression

Is it any wonder people talk about having the blues?  To me, this difference is remarkable, and wait until you see what’s next.

brain with bipolar disorder
 

After having talked to numerous professionals about this, it seems that there’s a fairly high probability that Tony, in addition to having depression, may also have had bipolar disorder, and possibly schizophrenia as well, something that runs in his family:

brain with schizophrenia
 

There are literal holes in the schizophrenic brain, on the left.  And then there are these, for PTSD:

 
brain with ptsd

The brains of people with various addictions:

brain with cocaine abusef

Brain with alcoholism

brain with meth abuse
 

Here’s the side-by-side of a brain with and without OCD:

brain with ocd
 

With and without ADHD:

brain with adhd
 

And finally, a variety of disorders:

brain with various disorders
 

What I find simultaneously fascinating and infuriating is that Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury and carbon monoxide poisoning are all treated as medical problems, meaning there are fewer limitations on coverage, higher levels of coverage, and certainly less stigmatization and shame of the patients. 

So the next time someone makes a comment about illnesses of the brain being anything other than physical, I hope you’ll remember these pictures and think about asking them if they’ve ever seen side-by-side scans.  I hope you’ll ask them what the difference is between a kidney disease, like diabetes, and a brain disease like schizophrenia.  I’ve frequently heard some people opine that a disease is “mental” because we can’t see it.  Well, we can.  I can.  I SEE IT. 

These are real, treatable illnesses.  No person, anywhere, deserves to be shamed, outcast or sidelined because they have a disease.  Period.

This is National Suicide Prevention Week.  The ribbon I used as today’s photograph is merely a symbol of what this week means to me.  What it needs to mean, to all of us.  It’s a starting off point for a conversation.  It’s a means to an end of all the needless waste of suicide.  In the time that it took me to research this blog entry, thousands of people took their own lives.

Tell Me It’s Not an Epidemic

I don’t know if it has hit other people as hard as it’s hit me, but it seems to me like hardly a day goes by without suicide being in the news.  There’s been a rash of celebrity suicides – the young woman from The Bachelor, the actor from Rizzoli and Isles, a young Bollywood star, a pair of radio co-hosts.  Those are the ones that get the attention because the people involved are well-known.  But every day, for every one of those celebrity suicides there are so many of others.

My friend Angela lost her fiancé Jon approximately two months after Tony died.  He took his own life after leaving only a brief note for her.  Today Angela found out that Jon’s cousin took his own life, too, leaving behind his wife and two young daughters.

My heart is broken for them.  How can it ever heal, when every single day thousands of other lost and lonely people make that same irreversible decision?  I am not exaggerating.  The probably-underestimated total is one million suicides a year worldwide.  That’s two thousand seven hundred thirty nine.  Each and every day, 365 days a year.  And the number is growing. 

How on earth is this not something we’re talking about?  Reporting on a celebrity’s death is one thing, but if nobody is bothering to put it in the larger context in which it belongs, we might as well not be talking about it at all. 

There are diseases that lead to suicide.  Things like depression, schizophrenia, paranoia, substance abuse and others.  We marginalize all of these things.  Tomorrow I am going to post some pictures of the human brain to illustrate why these diseases of the brain are physical, and must be treated with the same compassion, the same care, and the same coverage as any other ailment of the human body. 

Update: I just heard from someone in the comments section who said she has considered suicide and that she feels there would be nobody who would miss her. If you feel that way, even for a second, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). They are there 24 hours a day every day. The world cannot bear your loss. Please get help.