Nothing Human Is Alien to Me

I’ve been thinking a lot about anger lately. It’s one of the most misunderstood human emotions. We have a tendency to get very judgmental about anger. A search for quotes about it revealed hundreds talking about how bad, unhealthy and useless anger is, and only a few talking about why we need it.

Anger saved my life. That’s not an exaggeration. After Tony died I felt like all I had were emotions. I know that’s not true, literally speaking. I had friends and family and a job and lots of other things, but I had a hard time seeing past my feelings. They were so overwhelming, so big. There were so many of them. I know people sometimes numb their emotions, but that never occurred to me. I don’t think I was capable of having that thought, because how do you numb a hurricane? How do you numb the end of the world? You can’t numb them, I couldn’t, and so I decided (insofar as I could make decisions at that time) to trust my feelings. To believe, in the midst of horrific pain, that I needed to feel the way I was feeling, whatever I was feeling.

A lot of what I felt was anger. Anger is one of the classic stages of grief and for me it was THE stage of grief for the first six months or so after Tony died. That’s not to say I didn’t feel denial or depression, because of course I did. But anger lived inside me, a constant companion, a burning coal in my chest and a raging brush fire that surrounded me. It attacked me from all directions. I was angry at Tony for leaving, for not calling me, for not being able to see that life was worth living. Furious at myself for not being a better wife, a better friend, a more understanding and empathetic person. For not being able to talk my husband into getting the help he needed. I was angry at my body because I thought that my back injury and surgery might have contributed to his unraveling. I raged against sleep because it brought dreams that taunted me with my own anger, and with Tony’s – dreams where he laughed in my face when I begged him not to hurt himself.

It was awful. I hated it. I needed it. Like I said, anger saved my life. I truly believe that if I’d tried to contain it – if I’d tried to suppress it or disperse it the way all the quotes about anger tell me I should – I would have died. I don’t mean physically, although I supposed that’s possible. I mean that it would have consumed me. It would have eaten me alive, trying to hold back that inferno. I had to let it rage and burn. The thing about fires is, no matter how catastrophic they are they burn themselves out. The biggest forest fire ends eventually, and from the charred landscape emerge tender green plants. New life.

That is what anger gave me. Without it, I would not be the person I am today – and as awful as it was to live with that anger for so long, I would not change it. I would not unfeel it if it meant having to relinquish what it taught me. I am glad it burned me. I needed to be burned. I was not a complete person before Tony died. I was afraid of my feelings, and I was afraid of who he was and who I was when I was with him. I was losing bits and pieces of myself every day without noticing. It wasn’t his fault, and it wasn’t really mine either – but it doesn’t need to be anybody’s fault to be true. I couldn’t see then how small I was becoming. You might think that something small would run a greater risk of being consumed in a fire, but the fire burned away my smallness and replaced it with something bigger. It opened me up and set me free.

I know some people who have lost loved ones to suicide have not experienced the kind of anger I did. That’s okay too. Each grieving experience is unique. There is no wrong way to grieve. What I know for myself, though, is that anger was my benefactor. It gave me so much more than it took.

Bitterness is like cancer.  It eats upon the host.  But anger is like fire.  It burns it all clean. ~ Maya Angelou

 

Back in the middle of things

I’ve started and discarded three or four different blog posts in the past few days, unable to put my arms around what it’s been like for me, this past week. I know my experience is not unique, because I’ve talked to other suicide survivors and many of the things I am feeling appear to be universal. Yet, how to describe them?

Robin Williams’ death has put me in a very strange place. I know, logically, that I am here in Washington; it has been nearly 20 months since Tony died; I have come a long way since then. I know these things. They are true. Yet at the same time I am aware that I am here, in my apartment, I have also been there. That night.

I never really understood until I lost Tony what post-traumatic stress was. I had read descriptions, of course, and seen depictions on film. I knew that people described it as being back in the middle of the traumatic event itself. I somehow, though, thought that it was more like a nightmare than a reality. That PTSD was akin to a bad dream.

It’s not. It’s worse. When I heard the news about Robin Williams I was transported, with no chance to kick and scream my way out of it, back to that December evening. I’m not talking about a memory. I mean that it felt like I was there. I could feel – actually feel – the cold concrete steps beneath me. I could hear the glass in our bedroom window breaking. I could smell the air. I could see one police officer in front of me, my friend next to me. I could see the other police officer, the one who’d broken into the apartment, crouching next to me. I could hear those six horrible words that changed everything. I could hear the howl that came out of me, feel my friend’s hand clutching mine.

Over and over this week, I have revisited that day. I wish I could stop. I can sometimes pull myself out of it, a bit, by pressing my hands against my chest and reminding myself that I am not there. I feel like an open wound. Part of me is relieved that people are talking about mental illness and suicide in a way that seems to be… maybe… a little different. Part of me is devastated because there is still so much ignorance and judgment. I’ve been in a few conversations, in blog comments or Facebook status updates, that have just cracked me open. One was with a woman who insisted that suicide is a sin, and that people who die that way will be judged. She seemed pretty happy to judge them herself, all in the name of religion, of course. I wonder whether it’s actually healthy for me to talk to people like that, but then I think, if I don’t, who will? I don’t think I changed her mind, but at the same time when I come across ignorance like that, how can I stay silent?

I was hoping I would feel better this week, or at least MORE better than I do. I am still raw and hurting. I feel like I’ve been scraped all over, flayed open. I ache. Right after Tony died, I was in a fog. Here and now, the fog has dissipated and it can’t protect me. I have only the harsh glare of reality.

No room for ignorance or shame

no more shame

The discussions following Robin Williams’ suicide are both encouraging, in that people are actually talking about mental illness and suicide; and horrifying, in that there is still so much ignorance and misinformation out there.

I am talking about the Fox News anchor who called Robin Williams a coward, on the air.  I expect ignorance from Fox News, so perhaps I shouldn’t have gasped the way I did when I read that.  I did, though, because to me ignorance – especially wilful ignorance – will always be shocking.

I am talking about the many, many comments I have seen on Facebook and in news articles about his death calling him selfish.  It’s not that I don’t understand these sentiments.  I understand them all too well.  I spent the first six months after Tony died in a white-hot rage, and I acknowledge that I called him selfish and a lot of other things during that time.  It’s a natural reaction to suicide.  It feels like something that’s been done TO the survivors.  I get that, I truly do.  Yet that perception, as true as it feels to those left behind, is not helpful.  It only further stigmatizes people who already feel alone.

I might have blogged about this anyway – I probably would have – but then I saw a reference to another blog, and when I went looking for it, the breadth of ignorance did more than make me gasp.  It knocked the wind out of me and made me see red, all at once.

I am not going to link to the blog here, because the blogger in question – his name is Matt Walsh – would like that too much.  If you want to go look him up, feel free.  He’s an ignoramus, so be forewarned.

This is a small taste – and I apologize for the rank flavor, but I can’t rebut him without quoting at least a bit of what he wrote – of what he had to say about Robin Williams, and about suicide in general:

“The final refusal to see the worth in anything, or the beauty, or the reason, or the point, or the hope. The willingness to saddle your family with the pain and misery and anger that will now plague them for the rest of their lives.”

The ignorance and sanctimony are breathtaking, aren’t they?  Tony didn’t REFUSE to see the worth in anything, or the beauty.  He was not ABLE to see them, because his mental illness was so severe.  He did not do what he did to burden me with grief and sadness, he did it to end his own pain.  Although I never met him, I feel confident saying that the same is true of Robin Williams.  I think he fought his mental illnesses for a long time, and they just got to be too much for him.

Walsh goes on to say:

“It’s a tragic choice, truly, but it is a choice, and we have to remember that. Your suicide doesn’t happen to you; it doesn’t attack you like cancer or descend upon you like a tornado. It is a decision made by an individual. A bad decision. Always a bad decision.”

In the sense that ultimately, Tony was the instrument of his own death, I sort of understand what he’s saying here.  And yet, again, he’s wrong.  Suicide may not attack you like cancer, but depression does.  Bipolar disorder does.  Schizophrenia does.  So-called mental illnesses are diseases of the brain, a solid organ in our bodies.  In that sense, they are not different from cancer or diabetes or congestive heart failure.  The sad truth is that sometimes our bodies turn on us.  They are, in the end, vulnerable vessels, and susceptible to all kinds of intrusions and malfunctions.  The brain is no different.

Where mental illness DOES differ from cancer or the other diseases I mentioned is in the way it is perceived, and treated.  When a woman finds a lump in her breast, she is expected to go to the doctor.  If she has insurance, her insurance will cover that treatment, probably with few limitations.  She will certainly not be made to feel that her ailment is different from any other disease.  She will not be stigmatized for seeking treatment.  She will not be met with any suggestion that positive thinking or willpower will cure her.  She will find support everywhere: pink everything, walks for the cure, millions of dollars of research money and a whole month of heightened awareness, every single year.

A person suffering from any form of mental illness has none of those things.  He is lucky if even a portion of his treatment will be covered, and if it is, it may only be covered on an emergent basis.  If routine care – meaning psychiatric treatment or therapy — is covered, it is often covered at a reduced percentage and carries with it a stigma that lingers even in our post-Prozac world.  He may be told, by well-intentioned individuals, that he should just go for a walk every day, or focus on happy thoughts.  He may be told that the way he is feeling is HIS fault, which of course will do very little by way of empowering him to seek treatment.  If it’s his fault, after all, shouldn’t HE be able to fix it?  Alone?  In the end, if he takes his own life, he is more alone than at any other time.  Clearly, he was not able to fix it.

One final rancid tidbit from Mr. Walsh:

“Second, we can debate medication dosages and psychotherapy treatments, but, in the end, joy is the only thing that defeats depression.”

Right.  It’s just that easy. If only Tony could have rustled up some joy out of thin air, if only he could have silenced the voices in his head and the crushing weight of despair and just latched on to some ethereal passing JOY, then he’d still be here.  There are things I will never understand about Tony and why he did what he did, but I’ll tell you this: if he could have done that, he would have.  Period.  And so would Robin Williams.  And so would the one million people every single year who take their own lives.

Suicide is a tragedy, both for the person who takes his own life and for those he leaves behind.  It is preventable, but not with platitudes about joy and mind over matter.  It is preventable, sometimes, with treatment and awareness and medicine.  Not everyone who has cancer dies.  Not everyone who has suicidal thoughts dies, either.  I’ve mentioned this statistic before, but I will say it again because it bears repeating.  More people die of suicide in the United States every year than die in car accidents.  In 2011, the last year for which figures are available, 39,518 people in the United States took their own lives.  The total who died in automobile accidents in that same period is 32,479.  Over 700,000 people are treated in emergency rooms every year for self-inflicted injuries, and that’s in the United States alone.  The estimated number of suicides per year worldwide is over a million.  That number, as horrifying as it is, is probably low because of the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.  Even in the United States, some states – like Texas – don’t report figures on military suicide.

Here is what I ask.  Close your eyes, just for a minute, and try to imagine what would happen if insurers declared that they would no longer cover treatments for injuries received in car accidents.  What would happen if they announced that treatment for breast cancer would be reduced, that there would be caps on the number of chemo treatments that a patient could receive?  This is not a difficult question.  There would be howls of outrage, a genuine uprising as people all over the country cried out with one voice against the injustice of it.  Then ask yourself, where is the outrage over mental illness treatment?  Why are families teetering on the edge of bankruptcy to get a beloved child the treatment she needs?  Why are we telling our most fragile and scared people to just snap out of it?

Matt Walsh is an ass, but I’m actually weirdly grateful for his blog post, just as I was for Martha Beck’s glib comments about suicide last year.  Public ignorance is so much easier to battle.

Today would have been ten years

wedding day

Ten years ago today, Tony and I got up early. We got dressed up and we drove to the San Diego County Recorder’s Office. We were first in line. We asked someone behind us in line to take a picture of us: the picture that accompanies this post. We had come the week before to get our marriage license, and when we went inside we only had to wait a few minutes before we were married by a lovely justice of the peace.

I cried. I said my vows with a heart that was full of love and optimism. While there were things about Tony that worried me, even then, my love was strong enough to overpower any fears I might have had. When I held his hands and looked into his eyes, I saw only love there for me. It was palpable. The justice of the peace could feel it – I know she could, because she positively beamed at us.

Afterwards, we drove to La Jolla Cove and went to a restaurant there for brunch. My sister Laura had pushed me for the name of the restaurant, and it turns out that was because my family wanted to treat us to brunch and champagne since they couldn’t be there with us. We had a beautiful meal, and then went out to the park to take pictures and call our families.

Time is a funny thing. On the one hand, these memories seem like they are part of another lifetime – and they are. They were from a time when Tony’s depression was minor, compared to what it became. A time before his more serious symptoms started to manifest themselves, and a time when I felt like we were really a team. On the other hand, it seems like yesterday. There are moments when I still can’t quite believe that he’s gone, that I will never see him again. As always, these memories are entangled with later, sadder ones.

Still, I’ll always remember how blue the sky was that day.

 

An Attitude I Wouldn’t Have Expected

I’ve written before about the different ways that people talk – or don’t talk – about suicide.  Often it’s treated as something shameful, secretive and not to be discussed in polite company.  Sometimes it’s treated almost as a figure of speech: If this happens one more time, I swear I’ll kill myself! 

This week I encountered a new sort of attitude – new to me, anyway – not once, but twice in the same twenty-four hour period.

The first happened at a lovely restaurant with my friend Liz.  We were talking with two retired teachers sitting next to us at the bar.  When one of them found out where Liz lived, she struck a gossipy tone and asked Liz if she’d heard about the man who “went bonkers and committed sui (sic) in the basement.”  Liz shot me a look, and I found myself doing a quick mental calculation about whether to address my personal history with this total stranger, or to just let it go.  Raising awareness about mental illness is, as anyone reading this blog knows, really important to me.  This, though, hardly seemed the proper venue.  This woman knew that the dinner was a birthday celebration because she’d joined in singing Happy Birthday to me, and lecturing her when she clearly would have felt terrible had she known about Tony seemed inappropriate at best, cruel at worst.  So I didn’t.  I signaled to Liz that I was okay – we’ve been friends for thirty years, so the smallest movement of my eyebrows was enough to let her know that she didn’t have to worry about me.  It didn’t stop there, despite Liz’s numerous and valiant attempts to change the topic.  My inner debate continued, but I stuck to my decision not to make an issue of it.  Liz and I talked about it in the car.  I was fairly stunned by it, truth be told.  What a thing to joke about, gossip about.  On the one hand, she wasn’t afraid to bring it up, and I don’t want people to feel they can’t discuss suicide.  On the other hand, her attitude was odd and flippant and could have been deeply hurtful.  It was a strange experience.

The next day we were poking around in shops in Northampton, and I came across the following book:

bunny suicide book 

This, I have to say, floored me.  The woman at dinner meant no harm.  Her attitude was unusual, certainly, and probably more of a mask to her own discomfort with the topic than anything else.  This book, though, is another story.  This is haha, isn’t suicide funny and wouldn’t it be great to draw cartoons of bunnies killing themselves and won’t people laugh?  And won’t we – the author and publisher – make money out of mocking something that kills one million people annually?  Something that kills more people each year than breast cancer.  Can you imagine, even for a second, any store carrying a book that mocked people with breast cancer?  It’s October, and almost every store we went into carried some kind of pink bracelet, necklace, scarf, hat, whatever, meant to remind people how horrible breast cancer is.  No mockery.  Sympathy, support, dialogue and money.  That’s what breast cancer gets.

I am not minimizing breast cancer.  My grandmother had breast cancer, and we lose way too many wonderful women and men to that disease every year.  But this, to me, is illustrative of a divide I have written about before.  A deep and dark divide that separates our perception and treatments of those things we consider medical problems, and those we have chosen to label as mental problems.  It’s okay to mock those, you see, because those are things that are just in people’s MINDS.  I think maybe it would help if we stopped using the word “mental” because it implies something controllable.  “Mind” is not that helpful a word either, because we can make up our minds, can’t we?  If we can make up our minds, why can’t we control so-called mental illnesses via sheer willpower?  The reason that we can’t, of course, is that they are not in our minds.  They are in our BRAINS.

Part of me wishes I could go back to that restaurant, back to that moment, and find a way to gently yet firmly let that woman, whose name I do not know, that more people are affected by suicide every year than she probably has imagined, and that talking about it the way she did is thoughtless.  I truly didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but at the same time, her attitude is as much of a problem as the air of secrecy and shame that most people adopt when they are discussing suicide.  I made my choice in that moment, though, and I think it was probably the right one.  That wasn’t the place for a lecture.

I will, however, write a letter to the publisher of that book and give them a piece of my mind.  I can at least do that.

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.

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.

Therapy, Psychiatry and Anti-Depressants, Oh My!

Before Tony died, I thought of therapy and anti-depressants the way a lot of people do.  First of all, they were this dark, mysterious thing, much like the forbidden forest in The Wizard of Oz.  They were unknown creatures.  Second, they were not for me.  They had nothing to do with me, and I wanted nothing to do with them.  Admitting that I might need either seemed a weakness to me, although I certainly had no problem thinking that, for example, therapy would probably help Tony.  I was, we all are, part of a society that has marginalized such things.  Oh sure, there are little pockets where everyone has a therapist and talks about it proudly, but for most of us, that’s not the way it works.

Since I started blogging, I have had several indirect communications – people who’ve said these things to my friends or relatives but haven’t actually said them to me, here, on the blog – letting me know that these people think that anti-depressants are a crutch, therapy is a joke, etc.  I also know from direct experience with Tony and from talking to others that there are many people out there who have never been in therapy or tried it once with the wrong therapist, and so they have decided that therapy cannot, under any circumstances, help them.

I want to reiterate, again, that the brain is a part of the human body.  It produces chemicals like cortisol, serotonin, adrenaline and endorphins that help regulate how we feel.  This is no different, NO DIFFERENT, than the way pancreas produces insulin.  When a person’s pancreas fails to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar, that person gets diabetes, a medical condition that is treatable with drugs.  Would any of us walk up to an insulin-dependent diabetic and pontificate about how the insulin that they rely on to save their lives is a crutch?  For that matter, would any of us tell someone with a broken leg that they should throw away their crutch and just get on with it?

For me, therapy has been an eye-opening, life-changing thing.  There are so many ways in which we do ourselves disservice.  I wasn’t able to get out of my own way, and now thanks to therapy I can see that and I am beginning to see the ways I can change it.  It occurs to me that therapy is the study of myself and my own behavior.  Some might dismiss that as navel-gazing, but is it really?  I would argue that it’s not.  Why would we not want to know as much about ourselves and why we behave the way we do as possible?  I can honestly say that my interpersonal relationships are better now than they have ever been. 

The hardest thing for me about being in therapy (besides the occasional painful breakthrough) has been thinking about Tony and how insistent he was that therapy could not help him.  That anti-depressants could not help him.  That I should be able to, but couldn’t, help him.  We have a long way to go in terms of how we view and treat mental illnesses, but there is help out there.  It’s true that we can’t see these illnesses the same way we can see a broken leg, but we can’t see diabetes or congestive heart failure or heart disease either.  Yet for those, we have no problem seeking help.  Therapy could have helped Tony.  Anti-depressants could have helped him.  He could not get out of his own way, couldn’t see the forest for the trees, and couldn’t get past his fears about what other people might think if he said that he needed help.  I wish, every day, that he had sought the help he needed.  He didn’t, and I will never be the same.

What I hope, the reason I am taking these medications and going to therapy every week, and reading books by Brene Brown and Dr. Kristin Neff and Thich Nhat Hanh, is that while I might never be the same, I can become the best possible version of myself.  I hope that I can take the tragedy of losing Tony and turn it into something that will help other people.  I have to be honest – without therapy, I don’t think that would even be a possibility.

PS – I have to tell you that the day I got the idea for this title, I was lying in bed feeling quite pleased with myself.  I decided to check on one of my favorite blogs, Woulda Coulda Shoulda, written by my friend Mir.  I clicked over and the title of HER latest post was Teenagers and Travel and Moths (Oh My) and she assures me that this is because she and I share a Borg mind.  I believe her.  At any rate, you really should go over and read her blog because she’s an amazing writer and an even better person. 

Acts of Kindness for Ten Years

Heart shaped splash

A week from today – June 7th – will be the 10th anniversary of my first date with Tony.  We met online, but June 7th was our first in-person meeting.  Our first dinner together.  Our first kiss.

Some of you who know me know that Tony’s 43rd birthday was less than a month after he died.  On that day, I, my sisters, my mother, my nieces and nephews, and friends and family and acquaintances and strangers on six continents went out into the world and tried to make it a kinder place.  People did all sorts of things.  Here in Seattle, we went to a Laundromat and left bags with a Tide pod and enough change for a load of laundry in each one.  My nieces and younger nephew made cards, and we delivered them to a nursing home.  We donated two screenwriting books that Tony liked to the local library.  We brought cookies and coffee to the firehouse.  We gave out Starbucks cards.  We went into ladies’ dressing rooms and put up signs on the mirrors that said, “You are beautiful.”  We donated cat toys and treats to a local animal shelter.  I made a donation to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and my sister Laura made one to It Gets Better.

In San Diego and Boston and Great Britain and Germany and Ethiopia and Bahrain and Japan and China and so many other places, people celebrated Tony’s life by helping others.  It made what could have been a truly terrible day one that, while sad, was full of too many blessings to count.  It saved me.

Next Friday we’re going to do it again.  I invite anybody who is reading to participate, whether you knew Tony or not, whether you’ve lost someone to suicide or not.  I ask you to do it because kindness is contagious.  Most of the time, Tony felt that the world was not a kind place; that people were not kind and that there was no kindness for him.  He wasn’t right, of course; he was viewing everything through the skewed lens of depression and mental illness, and he couldn’t see the kindness and goodness that was all around him.

Right now, there are millions of people like Tony out there.  People who have depression, people who are thinking about suicide.  They’re not wearing signs on their foreheads, but they are out there.  What can you do to help them see the world as it truly is?  I saw, time and again, Tony’s reaction when he would see, really SEE, an act of kindness.  It lit him up.  He had a hard time holding on to that hope, but he felt it.  To do this, you don’t need to spend a lot of money.  You don’t need to spend any.  It can be as simple as smiling more, holding the door for someone, letting a mom with little kids go in front of you in the checkout line.  You could make time to have lunch with a friend, or buy lunch for someone who can’t afford it.  If you’re inclined to make a donation, here is a list of links:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Alliance of Hope

It Gets Better

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

The idea behind this project is to remember Tony. I probably will not talk about his death with most people. After all, the idea behind this particular project is to brighten people’s days. Awareness is something I’m very concerned with, but that will happen in other ways.

Friday June 7th. Let’s make the world a kinder place.