What I’ve been doing in the Suicide Prevention space…

I’ve learned more about my pace and how to gauge my ability to enter the Suicide Prevention Nonprofit space. 

I didn’t touch it – no research, no questions, no nothing until June, 2013.  That was 10 months after Drey had died.  And I had to take it slow.  I learned that I needed to take it slow the hard way.  I guess that’s the best lesson.  I hesitate in sharing what I’ve learned and what I’ve engaged in because the majority of people that read this won’t care – at least not much.  But then again… I started this blog for me.  As a big part of my healing.  So if I’m ready and wanting to summarize what’s taken place to date then I guess I oughta.

I’ve connected with people at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  I’ve met them, learned more about how the organization functions and coordinated a team walk last October.  We had 40 people attend and raise over $3,500.  For the record… I would’ve been even happier if we had 100 people and had only raised $1,000.  The love I feel by having others come out and remember Drey means the world to me.   Erase the stigma… TALK about him and about suicide and depression.  Don’t sweep it under the rug.

I’ve joined the field advocacy team for AFSP, too.  What’s that mean?  It means a handful of staff of AFSP keep me and other volunteers updated on what legislation – local and federal – is being considered, passed, etc that relates to suicide prevention/mental health. They also provide suggested language for writing local and federal officials. And of course I add my own $.02. I don’t know if it’s making a difference or not. I hope so.

I spoke at the Delaware/Morrow County Suicide Prevention walk and at their Annual Meeting. I got to share about Drey. I love talking about him. I showed everyone at the Annual Meeting one of his senior pictures, too. I’m sure that wasn’t necessarily part of the agenda but who cares. He’s not a suicide statistic. He’s my baby, my boy. Drey. I’m grateful for the people I met through doing that – one gentleman in particular has been really helpful in understanding the “players” in this space and helping me to navigate it.

I met with one of our State Representatives and shared my story and Drey’s story with her. My main purpose for my meeting with her is not one I’ve shared with many people… in large part because I haven’t actioned the outcome and I’m a bit ashamed? Embarrassed? Not sure what word to use. Drey had been taking acne medication at the time of his death. And one of the side effects of the medication was suicidal thoughts/ideation. He was only issued one month’s worth at a time and would have to go in for blood work before he’d get another 30-day supply. So I’m comfortable the doctor was cautious. And I have no way of knowing if this contributed to his suicide. I do believe it’s a safe bet it sure as hell didn’t help matters though. So… I met with this State Rep to ask about getting a law passed around how doctors communicate what depression and suicidal behavior and thoughts might look like before and during administering the meds. The first time Drey was on this medication he was a minor so I was there with him. The doc asked, “are you feeling depressed” and some basic questions. That wasn’t enough in my opinion. How about asking, “Does depression or anxiety run in your family? If so, this could be an indicator of increased susceptibility to suicidal thoughts on this medication.” And how about talking about what happens if alcohol or other drugs are in the mix along with the meds? We could’ve been more informed. So… the State Rep shared a piece of legislation she thought would be a good fit to add my request as an addendum. She gave me the bill (all 50+ pages of it) and the name of the Rep that was trying to get it passed. The bill still sits on my night stand – next to Drey’s ashes and one of my fave pictures of us. Pacing myself… it’s important. I just haven’t been ready to engage that doctor or that issue. Not yet.

What I’ve really pursued more than anything else is “Postvention.” Postvention is helping those who have lost someone to suicide. I’ve learned they (we!) are one of the larger “at risk” groups for suicide. I’ve learned that both statistically and from my personal experience. I am now part of the Franklin County Suicide Prevention Coalition. And in that role I am working on a strategic plan around Postvention. What services do we currently have? Are we communicating what our resources are as effectively as possible? What programs/resources do we want to implement? One program we’d like to implement is a LOSS (Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors) team. This is a first responder team of 2-3 people that go to the scene of a suicide. One of the three people that goes is an actual survivor of a suicide. The single purpose for being there is to point the new survivors to resources that they can reach out to WHEN THEY ARE READY. After being trained and learning more about the LOSS teams (they are in other states and a few are here in Ohio – but not in Columbus) I’ve come to understand when a survivor can meet someone who just lost a loved one and can make even a few second connection and let them know they, too, lost a son to suicide (in my case) that the doors often open to follow up conversations and eventual healing. What an important role to play. God has blessed me to lead these efforts which includes meeting with law enforcement officials, the Coroner, mental health agencies and so on. Our goal is to launch in the Fall of 2014. Will I be able to be part of a first responder LOSS team? I don’t know. One step at a time. For now I plan, organize, champion, and communicate.

A big piece of my healing has been engaging in this Suicide Prevention space. Will that be the case a year from now? I don’t know. I don’t need to know. I’m just learning to be grateful for the strength God’s given me for today.

Getting my “marketing” groove on

I began doing some occasional work for a woman who started her own Marketing Consulting company.    I’m putting a marketing plan together for one of her clients – a Pilates studio owner.   I like Marketing – kind of.  There’s way more to it than that.  What I like is understanding what people are trying to solve for and what makes them tick.  Why did this business woman decide to buy a Pilates Studio (and not give up her day job)?  What’s she most excited about?  How would she define success a year from now, 3 years from now?  What kind of environment does she want to create for her employees and her clients?   Why should her clients choose her Studio over another?   Share your vision with me and from there I can help create a “marketing” plan – if that’s what you want to call it – to help you get there.  

Same goes for my Marketing Consulting company owner…  why does she have this company?  What does she love?  How is she setting herself up to focus on the parts of running this business that she loves while delegating or minimizing the stuff she doesn’t love, doesn’t know or doesn’t care to learn?  We started to talk about some of these things… but now I’ve slipped into helping her with something specific – the marketing plan for the Pilates chick – rather than helping her be strategic with the company as a whole.   Hmmm.  Not sure how I feel about that.

There’s a boy working at the company who’s got graphic design and online technical skills.  We worked together more today than in past weeks.  I asked him when he graduated high school.  2012.  Hmmm.  Same age as Drey.  Yes, he plays soccer, too.  I caught myself staring at him – the back of his head and neck.   I know – I sound like some weird stalker lady.   He didn’t look like Drey from the front.  Their faces are different.   But he did from the back.   My mind would drift off while he was talking to me.  What would Drey be doing if he were alive?    Would Drey be as confident as this young man in a work environment like this?  No one there knows I have a son.  Had a son?  Have a son in heaven.  They don’t know anything about my personal life.   Learning how my grief coexists with the rest of my life is an interesting journey.   Listening to people, what’s important to them, what frustrates them.  My lens is completely changed.  I’m more curious.  I’m more humble.   I’m much more in tune with discovering what’s at the root than I ever have been.  As I get out and do more I’m slowly finding what fits the “new me” and what doesn’t.   God is definitely teaching me patience through this.

Next Tuesday I have another speaking engagement… the topic is suicide.   And on Wednesday I’m meeting with State Representative Anielski for breakfast… again the topic is suicide.   I’ve met so many people in the suicide community.   I’ve learned the environment is just as dysfunctional as any other… meaning there are a handful of non-profit organizations and it isn’t always clear where one organization ends and the other begins.   I would like to work with every one of the organizations and help them learn to work together to divide and conquer.   The synergy that could come by combining the resources excites the shit out of me.  Everyone in the same room, learning to work together.  Then ongoing communication – sharing of learns.  We should all come together with this goal in mind:  Ohio will provide the best in class suicide prevention, awareness, education and postvention services.  How will we measure this?  ZERO suicides in 2014.   How’s that for a goal?  AND AND AND what we do has to be scalable… and easily replicated.   

Direct my paths, Lord.  I’ll continue to put one foot in front of the other but please, direct my paths. 

SOS groups

Robbie and I attended our second Survivor of Suicide (SOS) group Sunday evening. Our first one was at a different location. There are 3 that meet around Central Columbus – each one meets just once a month. It’s still surreal for us. As we got ready, locked up the house and headed towards the car we paused and looked at each other knowingly. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “welcome to our new fuckin life.”

I liked this second group we went to – I didn’t like the first one. The facilitator’s of the first group didn’t introduce themselves or share why they were leading an SOS group. Who does that? I want to know what you’re doing here… are you here just because it’s your job? Because you’ve read in some book about suicide grief? If so, I ain’t interested in listening to you. I normally would’ve asked how they had been impacted by suicide but I was especially pissy that evening so it was best I kept my mouth shut. I’m getting irritated just thinking about the leaders lack of eye contact as people were sharing their stories. Yuck.

The group we attended just a few days ago that I liked was run much differently. The leaders introduced themselves, they provided beverages, snackage, and free reading materials. We all shared who we lost, when we lost them, and if we were able how we lost them (no thank you). Then we talked a bit about “the first year” since there were 3 of us (me & Robbie + one other person) who were just at the 1-year mark. Everyone else there was 3+ years ahead of us in this grief journey. The leaders had each lost a son to suicide. It was nice to know why they were there.

When the group was over one woman asked me how I had survived a whole year without coming to an SOS support group. I got to share – once again – about what a wonderful church family I have. That’s such a foreign concept to the people I’ve met at these groups. Sometimes I just want to gather them all up in my arms and tell ’em how much Christ loves them and that there are normal people out there who love the Lord and want to do life with them!

As a survivor there’s a bond that’s present when I meet other people who have suffered a loss to suicide. Our pain is all unique but there are commonalities. One of the women had lost her boyfriend to suicide and she shared that just a few weeks ago her best friend died, too, but not from suicide. She said dealing with her best friend’s death has been so different. “So this is what it’s like to grieve more normally,” she said. “I don’t have to feel shame, responsibility or guilt in addition to all the sadness, pain and loneliness.” I was glad she shared that.

As we walked to our car Robbie & I agreed we’d go back to that group next month.

How is grieving a suicide different from grieving a non-suicide death blog 2

I blogged on June 1 two ways grieving a suicide is different from grieving a non-suicide death. There is a third way it’s different – and I’ve been suffering from it since day 1 but was not able to name it until now. PTSD – Post traumatic stress disorder. I thought the only people that experienced this were actual victims of a crime and people who were present when someone died or went through trauma. So anytime I had a panic attack I… well… I said things to myself that in hindsight I can see weren’t helpful. “Come on, Denise, this isn’t rational. You’re fine. It was months ago. You should be able to drive your car faster than 70 mph now without freaking out” and so on. I remember my Mom sent me a video on FB of pranks where people were sleeping and startled into waking up. I freaked out watching this (it’s okay Mom – who knew??). It wasn’t rational to me and so my self talk was judgmental. But still – almost a year later – loud, sudden, unexpected moments send me into a freaked out mindset. If I drive too fast my breathing gets fast and shallow – that’s my warning sign that I’m about to melt down. I’ve had outbursts of anger that were disproportionate to the circumstances at hand. God who am I?

I read a little about PTSD… 3 buckets of symptoms exist:
Reliving the event.
Increased Arousal.

I experience all three of these to varying degrees but most frequently I experience the 3rd one. Increased Arousal: These include excessive emotions; problems relating to others, including feeling or showing affection; difficulty falling or staying asleep; irritability; outbursts of anger; difficulty concentrating; and being “jumpy” or easily startled. The person may also suffer physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, nausea, and diarrhea.

All I can say is God bless my family and friends as they hang in there with me. I wish I could just “be better.” I truly do. It’s probably hard to know how to love me through this. I get so frustrated with myself. And then I get frustrated with Drey. And then I feel an overwhelming amount of love and loss for him. Sometimes I just have to sit in it. Sometimes I just have to let the pain swallow me. This is such a lonely grief.

Grieving a suicide

A friend recently asked me how grieving a suicide was different from grieving a non-suicide death.  It’s a great question… and I am grateful for my dear friends who are willing to openly talk & ask questions about Drey and my grief.  I am just 10 months into this pain but so far I’ve experienced two areas of difference.  One you’d expect – one maybe you wouldn’t. 

Drey’s suicide has left me asking “why?”  I believe the “why” question is a normal part of grieving regardless of how someone died.  The difference with suicide is that not only do you ask “why” of God but you ask “why” of the person you lost.  And with that “why” come the “what if’s, if only’s, I wish I would have’s” and the “I should have’s.”  He chose this.  He chose to end his life.  But I’m his Mom?!  How did I miss that?  How could he have been thinking about this and I was so unaware?  Maybe we shouldn’t have moved.  His Dad and I never should’ve divorced?  I should’ve been harder on him about his drinking?  But he was 19 – an adult.  I didn’t want to push him away by harping on him??  Maybe I should’ve made him stay involved in the church instead of letting him make his own choice regarding spiritual engagement once he started high school?  Why didn’t I drive over to his Dad’s that morning?  My gut told me something wasn’t right – why didn’t I go over there??  Why did I just go about my day like normal?  I don’t have answers to these questions.  I won’t on this side of heaven.  So part of finding my “new normal” means learning to live without answers.  I am a work in progress.

The second thing that’s unique about grieving a suicide death is the overwhelming presence of shame.   For the first several months I felt shame’s presence.   It was as if it were a demon latched onto my back.  I felt the weight of it.   I felt it hissing in my ear – often asking me the questions I listed above but also following up with a horribly devasting lie of an answer.    I remember one time being at the grocery store and had gone down one aisle to grab something while my husband went down another.  During those brief few minutes a person casually looked at me but in my mind they held my gaze just a little too long and I immediately believed they knew my son had taken his own life.  And they knew it was because I was a bad parent.  I quickly tried to talk myself through that they don’t know me, I wasn’t a bad parent, stay focused, what did you come down this aisle looking for, it’s okay, stay calm… But within a matter of seconds I was reeling in a frenzy of panicked shame.  I quickly found my husband and didn’t leave his side the rest of the grocery store visit.

Shame.  What a damaging emotion, a painful state of mind.  Learning to talk back to it is an ongoing process for me.  I have found that keeping some bible verses top of mind is very helpful.   I was recently at the grocery store by myself.  About half way through my shopping I started to experience the panic of shame again.   I repeated out loud Philippians 4:13 over and over.  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  I know people were looking at me but I didn’t care.  As I was saying it I put an emphasis on a different word each time.  “I can DO all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.”   Thankfully I was able to complete that grocery store trip successfully.  What is it about going to the grocery store?  It’s such a mom thing I suppose.  Just always leaves me feeling vulnerable.

Here’s an awesome TED talk about the topic of vulnerability.

Here’s an awesome TED talk about the topic of shame.

I hope you find these as helpful as I have.  I will learn to be vulnerable again… to share openly and honestly.   Because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!