The Curveball: Stepping up to the Plate

DSC_0022A group of people, from all walks of life, linger in a dimly lit hall. The shadowy walls in the hallway are lined with life sized, black framed photographs that are hung in a straight line at eye level. Each photograph is gently lit by a beam of light. The light baths and envelopes each photograph highlighting them as if they are something cherished. The objects in the photographs are larger than life. The room feels cool and comfortable and looks remarkably professional, modern, clean and masculine. The photographic images of singular items like a worn baseball glove, a frayed belt and a well-used wallet evoke a plethora of feelings and create meaning for those who take the time to view them. Meaning is discovered where there was none.

So, who’s art exhibit am I describing? Is it real or is it some image I’ve conjured up? To help me answer that question, I’d like to explain that in addition to being a natural born art enthusiast, I’ve actually taken art appreciation classes in college, and I’ve walked art exhibit hallways. My husband and I actually have had the privilege of visiting The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York as well as other art laden museums. Therefore, I do have an understanding and deep appreciation for art in all its forms. My favorite fine art piece is The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. When I saw The Starry Night painting for the first time my breath was taken away. I had been walking with my husband, looking at the awe-inspiring art that surrounded us, when my eyes saw The Starry Night painting for the first time in person. At that moment I left my husbands side. It is rare for me to leave his side. It was like I was in a trance. I gasped when I saw it, and I excitedly said, as if I were a child seeing Disney World for the first time,  “Starry Night!” as I headed in the direction of the historic painting. My husband quickly caught up to me, and we both stood in the MoMa hallway staring at the painting in amazement.  It was a once in a lifetime experience, one I will never forget. So, the art exhibit I described above is an imagined setting with a twist. I combined my love of art and my experiences with art with a real setting. The real art exhibit that I’m talking about is one that you may not have heard of yet.  It is an art exhibit with photographs that showcase the unique personal belongings of one man. Who’s this man? Keep reading…

Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to Jay Sullivan and his fine art photography exhibit “Glove.” I highly encourage you to visit his website, and while you are there, just like the people lingering in the art exhibit hallway I described above, you are invited to view “Glove.” His fine art photography showcases particular items that he attributes to his father. When I discovered his exhibit I also learned that his father lived with bipolar disorder. (Sullivan, n.d.). The mere fact that he had a loved one who lived with the same mental illness as my loved one was interesting to me. Also, I learned that as Sullivan grew up there was a role reversal. He ended up taking care of his father who had succumbed to his mental illness. Sullivan’s father’s behaviors such as drinking, yelling, sleeping the days away, to name a few, indelibly marked Sullivan’s childhood and the very person he grew up to be. What I find fascinating is that after all Jay Sullivan has been through he connected with me through Stacy’s Flutterings blog. Instead of creating fine art, as a way to cope with my loved one’s illness, I write. How coincidental that we met as we tangle with the illness of our loved one’s.

Once I learned of Jay Sullivan’s story I decided that I wanted to share his story with you. In doing so, and as part of the process, I reached out to him and asked him, What are your hopes in regard to sharing your story? He said, “The question you posed is interesting.   I was clear on why I created the work — to reconnect with my father— but why share it with others? Ultimately it is about encouraging sons and daughters to reconcile with their estranged fathers. Many men are cast adrift by their families because of illness, divorce and other events. I hope that my work will help sons and daughters understand how much their fathers have contributed to their lives and in turn it help them overcome barriers to reconciliation” (J. Sullivan, personal communication, June 2, 2014).

Sullivan’s response resonated with me in a way that I didn’t expect. His response to my question is powerful and one to admire and respect. It’s humbling to say the least. I hadn’t thought about reconciliation barriers between fathers and their children when I viewed his work. It’s difficult at best to comprehend what his childhood must have been like. What humbles me is that Sullivan took an unhealthy relationship, between his father and himself, and literally reframed it in a way that others can learn from it. And he himself has learned from his work. It intrigues me and gives me hope that we can reframe our experiences in such a way that we can actually develop new and refreshed relationships with those we love and/or those who have hurt us and that perhaps we don’t like. His artwork invites you into his world and literally shows you, through photographs, that you can regrow broken relationships. His photography is evidence of that fact. And…in an odd juxtaposition…the mending is beautiful.

In reaction to Jay Sullivan’s fine art photography, I’m going to throw a curveball back to Jay. Here goes…with a brand-new, white baseball with red stitching  on the seams in my right hand I turn my body slightly to the right…I step back with my right foot… my right arm raises up slowly as I prepare to throw the ball…my right shoulder turns slightly to my right side…and with that I quickly throw the ball forward…

Jay Sullivan, thank you for explaining the meaning behind your fine art photography and the reason why you are sharing your story. In addition to reconnecting with your father and encouraging sons and daughters, whom have had a similar experience, to reconcile with their estranged fathers, through your work, I’ve discovered a powerful element to your work that sets it apart from many fine art exhibits, and that is the power of humanizing persons who live with mental illness. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary humanize means, “a: to represent as human: attribute human qualities to…” (Merriam Webster Dictionary, 2014). Your expressions, through your fine art photography and writings, humanize mental illness, and for that, I throw my baseball glove in the air as I celebrate yet another victory, the victory of progress in the ballpark of mental illness. You father was so much more than his illness as you shared.  From the heart, thank you Jay Sullivan. I wish you the most success and look forward to hearing how you are doing as you continue to share “Glove.”

All the very best,

Stacy

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Resources

Humanize. (n.d.). Retrieved June 7, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/humanize 

Sullivan, J. (n.d.). Retrieved June 7, 2014 from http://jsullivanartist.com

A Room With a View: Lost & Found

IMG_1595bw-001Today’s blog post is written in response to the WordPress Writing 101 writing prompt: “…choose a place to which you’d like to be transported if you could — and tell us the backstory. How does this specific location affect you? Is it somewhere you’ve been, luring you with the power of nostalgia, or a place you’re aching to explore for the first time? Today’s twist: organize your post around the description of a setting” (Huberman, 2014).

I’ve had to think quite a bit today about this writing prompt. I’ve wondered where I would want to be transported to, if it were possible. Reality plays with my mind. I know that it isn’t possible to be transported physically back in time or even propelled physically into the future. So, how do I possibly write about it? Writer’s block attempts to sneak up on me. It lurks in the shadows of my mind. For now, I’ve decided to get rid of the writer’s block by illuminating my mind, as if it were a dark sky at night in Glacier National Park in Montana, and flooding it with the light of fresh thoughts, kind of like stars, about those things that are important to me.

When I think about what’s important to me I find that I start to feel energetic. Thoughts pop up in my mind like my family, my husband, my children, my grandchildren, my friends, learning, volunteering and the list goes on! The next thought that I have is that I wonder about how I can reach out to others in an effort to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and to educate others about the facts pertaining to mental illness and to help create empathy where there is none. That’s it! I’ve landed on the location that I’d like to take my reading audience. Are you ready? It won’t be easy. The experience may be similar to riding a roller coaster ride. What I have to share with you may tug at your heart. You may not like it. You may even feel sick to your stomach like when the roller coaster you are riding in flips upside down. If needed, you are welcome to leave and get off of the ride now. However, I sure hope that you stay for the ride, and I hope that you share what you learn here today on Stacy’s Flutterings with everyone you know. Who knows? Maybe they will want to join you and go on the reading adventure too by reading this post! Hang on! Are your seat-belts adjusted? One last call to leave!

I imagine that you are feeling the pressure of being held back in your seat from pure curiosity. Ready or not! Stigma…step aside! Education and empathy… begin!

So where am I, figuratively speaking? I’m sitting on creaky, wooden planks in an old, dusty attic in Willard, New York. As I breathe in the air, thick with particles of dust, I smell a musty smell. My nose and throat tickle as the dust makes its way through my respiratory system. I try not to cough or sneeze knowing that it will only stir up more dust than I can handle yet a hoarse cough escapes from my dry throat. The year is 2014 yet the room I sit in showcases the remains of the past as evidenced by suitcase after suitcase sitting partially organized on shelves along the walls of the room. The suitcases just sit there. It’s kind of odd. It is obvious that they are very old. Some are as small as traditional curbside mailboxes. Others are so big that it had to take two people to get the large suitcases into the attic. The colors of the suitcases range from different shades of brown to different shades of black, and many are made of leather. Some are wooden trunks complete with leather trunk buckles, straps and antique brass hardware. One of the smaller, black leather suitcases, that sits like it was forgotten on the dirty floor, looks like a doctor’s medical bag. How did the suitcases get here?

My curiosity gets the best of me. I decide to stand up. As I rise, from a sitting position, I dust off my hands and rid them of the mix of fine dust as well as sawdust that has stuck to my hands. I walk up to the lone, black leather suitcase and bend down to grasp the brown leather clasp handles. A small, wispy, brown spider runs off as I lift the bag. I quickly straighten up my posture as I lift the bag. I notice that it’s not very heavy. I walk with the suitcase over to a vacant shelf. I then carefully set the suitcase down. As the bottom of the suitcase meets the bottom of the shelf a poof of dust swirls up and around the suitcase, and it engulfs it yet again. I brush any dusty residue off near the leather handles that I can. Again, the dust sticks to my hands as if it’s trying to get my attention. It’s like it’s desperately grasping at me. My eyes now focus intently on the suitcase. Before I open it I take a deep breath. I breathe in slowly…I exhale out slowly…a feeling of fright wells up inside the pit of my stomach. I ponder about opening it. After-all, I don’t know what I’m going to find! I decide that I want to open it because I’m here. There must be a reason I’m here.

The room is quiet. The only noise I hear is the sound of ringing in my ears. As I pull the leather handles apart I see old books, yellowed envelopes that look like they contain letters, a delicate tea cup and saucer, stained photos and other interesting belongings. I realize that the suitcase I just opened belonged to perhaps a woman.

My friends, here’s where the ride escalates as we jolt from imagination to reality. The story of the attic and the suitcases is true. I only conjured up what it may have been like to be there in the attic when the suitcases were discovered by workers after the Willard Psychiatric Center in New York’s Finger Lakes closed in 1995 (Penney & Stastny, 2014). Items inside the suitcase that I described above were discovered inside the stored suitcases in an Attic at the psychiatric center. The asylum first started taking patients in 1869 (Penney & Stastny, 2014). Can you imagine what must be inside those suitcases?  You can learn more by going to The Willard Suitcase Exhibit Online website. What are you feeling right now? I know that I was very sad to learn this.  At the same time I felt relieved for the patients who had checked in their baggage at the center upon admittance. Finally, their suitcases were discovered, and their stories would at long last be told. Each suitcase, that belonged to admitted patients, represents lives lived at the psychiatric center. If you go to the website you will discover that oftentimes many of the patients died at the center. What is so heart wrenching is to learn about 9 of the patients story’s. You can learn about their stories by going to the Willard Suitcase Exhibit Online website webpage titled The People Behind the Suitcases. I find all of the stories not only sad but also incredibly interesting. I was amazed to learn that many of the patients “…were basically discarded by society” (Penney & Stastny, 2014). One patient, Miss Margaret #25682, had immigrated to America in 1921 and was sent to Willard by her doctor who thought she had “emotional problems”(Penney & Stastny, 2014). She took all of her belongings with her. She died at Willard (Penney & Stastny, 2014).  Her suitcases remained after her death for years stored away in the attic where they collected the dust and residue of time.

I hope that I have shook you up a little. Of course, today, our mental health care system is better than it was then by leaps and bounds, but we still have serious problems. For example, it’s not uncommon for a person living with a mental illness to move between living on the streets to receiving care in the hospital, and then the process repeats itself. It seems that this began with the community mental health movement and deinstitutionalization. In reference to the community mental health movement and deinstitutionalization, Nevid, Rathus and Greene (2011) noted that “the community mental health movement and the policy of deinstitutionalization were developed with the hope that mental patients could return to their communities and assume more independent and fulfilling lives” (p. 14). That was back in 1963. Why do we still have mentally ill patients living on the streets? What’s just as concerning is that currently many parents can’t find the help that they need for their children when their children are in need of psychiatric care. So, not only have mentally ill patients been cast to the streets, literally, but we are not even helping our parents who seek help, get the treatment they need for their loved ones.

For clarification purposes, I don’t believe in institutionalization. We’ve been there as a society. It didn’t work. It’s inhumane. Anyone living with a mental illness deserves the same treatment as anyone else. To do different is discriminatory. There has to be a healthy way to meet the needs of all people regardless of physical or mental illness.

I apologize if by now you are upset. Will you turn any feelings of upset you may have into advocacy efforts? Will you help me and others do something about it?  Let’s give a voice to a community that needs us. Miss Margaret #25682 needed us, and we weren’t there. We can do something about it now. We have the knowledge. Join me in advocating for change to our current mental health system. It’s as simple as heading over to the Care For Your Mind Community and sharing your thoughts and ideas and/or you can visit The Alex Project website and ask for Alex Project Crisis Line Texting Cards and share them with those you know. If you want other ideas feel free to peruse Stacy’s Flutterings for other ideas I’ve written about in previous posts or check out the Care For Your Mind blog. There is an “Advocacy Resources” tab at the top of Stacy’s Flutterings that you can click on. There you will find a list of helpful websites that provide detailed information pertaining to mental health advocacy. In honor and remembrance of those now deceased, and in acknowledgment of those in need now…now is the time for change.

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RESOURCES

Huberman, B. (2014, June 3). Re: Writing 101, day two: a room with a view (or just a view) [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-day-two/

Nevid, J.S., Rathus, S. A., & Greene, B. (2011). Abnormal psychology in a changing world. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Penney, D., & Stastny, P. (2014). The Willard suitcases. The lives they left behind: suitcases from a state hospital attic. The Community Consortium, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.suitcaseexhibit.org/index.php?section=about&subsection=suitcases

Willard Suitcase Exhibit Online: http://www.suitcaseexhibit.org/index.php?section=about&subsection=suitcases

WordPress 101: Unlock the Mind Writing Journey

writing-101-june-2014-class-badge-2It’s 10:23 am.  I’ve decided to participate in the WordPress  Writing 101: Building a Blogging Habit project in an effort to increase my blog writing, for mental health purposes and to see where this takes me!  So here goes!

I’m sitting here in my office alone thinking about the big day.  Today marks the day my family and I begin a new journey, the journey of selling our home.  I’m feeling kind of sad today.  This big, old house I sit in has experienced a lot of life over the 11 years my family and I have lived in it.

As I think about life lived in this house I remember many, many good times.  I also remember sad times.  What’s wonderful is that our family has gotten through the good and bad times together and in one piece.  We remain the family that we have always been, but now we are stronger and ready to move in a new direction.

My son, now a young man, lives on his own and has for the past several years.  My youngest daughter, now a young woman, lives on her own, and she has for the past several years as well.  My middle daughter, now also a young woman lives with me and my husband.  The time seems to be nearing when she too will move out on her own with her little one in tow.  Even though I’m excited for all three of my kids to live their lives on their own accord I’m sad too because their absence marks the end to an incredible chapter in my life.

I’m excited about new prospects as we move on.  I don’t feel as if the house is mine anymore.  It now belongs to someone else.  It’s as if I’m taking care of it temporarily until the new owners move in.  I see my future right in front of me yet it seems murky.  It’s not as clear s it used to be.  I used to know where I was going.  After graduating from high school I met the man of my dreams.  We wed.  We started a family.  We got our educations.  We raised a family.  We’ve worked and still work.  We now have two granddaughters.  They are the sunshine of my life.  We now are in the midst of redefining ourselves as a couple.  Who are we now?  Where are we going now?  It seems we are moving away from our adult children.  What has happened?  I thought it was supposed to be the other way around.  I thought that children grew up and left home.  What is this strange place I  mind myself?  I feel lost yet right on track.  It’s an odd feeling.  I’m older now.  Wrinkles now grace my face.  Painful joints now highlights my days.  Pain medications as well as supplements seem to be a permanent part of the picture now.

I have nine minutes left to free write.  My brain seems to take a break.  What is it that I want to write about?  I seem to have a lot of questions swirling around in my mind.  Where am I headed?  I know that deep in my soul I want to be a published writer.  I know that deep in my soul that I want to help others.  I know that deep in my soul that I want to be right next to my husband as we continue to journey forward in this crazy life.  I know that I want my family to be close yet for everyone to experience their own independence.  How do we do that though?  This is going to be a learning process for me.  I know that I can do it.  I have the best teachers: my husband, my kids, my granddaughters, my parents, my extended family, my friends…

For some reason I seem to look at the clock on my computer.  Now I have six minutes left to write.  I’m wondering if I wrote the word “six” correctly.  When do we write a number as a word as opposed to just writing out the numerals?  I’ll have to check my handy dandy grammar and punctuation book.  Speaking of books, I miss taking classes.  I miss learning.  I’m excited for the potential to once again be working in a job where I am making a difference.

In closing, I would like to thank the WordPress Blog Team for coming up with the idea of blogging for the next twenty days theme.  As busy as I will be selling this old house I plan on sitting down and writing a blog post each day for the next twenty days.  I look forward to each new writing prompt from the blog team!  As I end this blog entry for today I imagine myself in a new, sunny, warm place with ocean waves slapping up against the seashore.  I imagine my kids and grand-kids visiting me at our new place on Earth.  I imagine them running along the shore and picking up seashells.  I imagine the grand sandcastles that they will build.  I imagine many more sunshine moments to come, and I’m ready!

 

Mental Health and Communication Barriers: Are We Providing Outdated Crisis Center Services?

photo (14)Imagine, if you will, that you are a teenager and you need immediate help because you are in crisis and the only thing you have to communicate with is your phone. Do you call for help or do you text for help? According to pewinternet.org, “Texting dominates teens’ general communication choices. Overall, 75% of all teens text, and 63% say that they use text to communicate with others every day.” (n.d.). Therefore, it’s highly likely that a teenager in crisis would text for help rather than call for help. However, few crisis centers offer crisis text messaging services. Additionally, our teens may not be aware that such services have become available in recent years. Sadly, teens in desperate need of help go unnoticed because we haven’t stayed up with the times. I know because I’ve learned of one such young man who died by suicide because he texted people who didn’t have the resources to help him in his time of need. Have I caught your attention yet?

Regarding attention, Dan Strauss, Executive Director of The Alex Project, caught my full attention this past Wednesday on the Care For Your Mind blog. In Care For Your Mind’s blog post titled “We Need to Provide Services that Young People Will Use” Dan shared his story about how his 17 year old son Alex died by suicide October 11, 2010. He also shared that his son had sent text messages to his friends and counselor just prior (Care For Your Mind, 2014).

I don’t know about you, but I found myself wondering why Alex didn’t text a crisis center. The Alex Project notes on their website, “Had he known there was a crisis center open 24×7 that would have welcomed a text from him, Alex might still be alive today” (About The Alex Project, n.d.). Based on the tragic and preventable death of Alex it’s resoundingly clear that we are using outdated services. In answer to the question “Are we providing outdated crisis center services?” the answer is yes! Of course we still need crisis phone services, but at this point in time we also need crisis text messaging services as well. It’s beyond time that we catch up with the newest technologies.

In addition to adding text messaging services to our crisis centers around the country, we need to make sure that our teenagers are aware that such services exist. With suicide as the third leading cause of death of young people between the ages of 10 to 24 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2013) it’s imperative that we make sure that our young people know what technological services are available to help them should they find themselves or someone they know in crisis.

Despite the sadness of this blog post and the seriousness of the topic, I learned from reading Dan’s story that there are now a few crisis centers that offer text messaging crisis services specifically for our youth. You can find those crisis centers listed below. Additionally, you can learn more about Dan’s mission by visiting The Alex Project website. He offers Alex Project Crisis Line Texting Cards that you can order and share.

Before signing off, I just want to share with you that I highly respect and admire Dan Strauss and his mission. He gives all of us parents, families, friends and loved ones of a teenager(s) great hope that we will eventually succeed in preventing youth suicide. I’m feeling thankful today that I learned about The Alex Project, and that Dan has so graciously shared the tragic loss of his son in an effort to advocate for meaningful change. From the heart, I’m so sorry Dan for the loss of your beautiful son. Thank you Dan for all you do and stand for. His memory will live on, and many young lives will be saved due to your efforts.

All the very best,

Stacy

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YOUTH CRISIS TEXT MESSAGING RESOURCES

Crisis Text Line

The Reno Crisis Call Center

121Help.me

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About The Alex Project. (n.d.). In The Alex Project. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://www.alexproject.org/about-the-alex-project/

Care For Your Mind. (2014, May 20). Re: We need to provide services that young people will use [web log post]. Retrieved from http://careforyourmind.org

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Suicide prevention: youth suicide. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/youth_suicide.html

Pew Research Center. (n.d.). Highlights of the Pew Internet Projects Research on Teens [Teen Fact sheet]. Retrieved May 22, 2014 from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/teens-fact-sheet/

Paying for Mental Health Services: Have You Heard of the Mental Health Parity Law?

LAW PIC-001Do you find yourself wondering how you will pay for mental health services for a loved one or for yourself should the need arise?  I don’t know about you, but it used to seem to me that such services were available only to those that readily had the money to pay out of pocket.  Regardless, a variety of barriers have existed, and mental health care has been inaccessible to many.  I have good news!  Times have changed.  There is now a law known as the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) discusses the law and its meaning on their website.  According to the SAMHSA article titled “Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity” the “act requires insurance groups that offer coverage for mental health or substance use disorders to provide the same level of benefits that they do for general medical treatment” (2014).  Therefore, access to mental health care has increased due to the act.

Unfortunately, a number of Americans may not be aware of this important act.  The American Psychological Association (APA) notes in their article titled “Resources on the Mental Health Parity Law” that based on a recent APA survey “only four percent of Americans say they are aware of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which requires mental and behavioral health coverage to be equal to or better than coverage for physical health, with no annual limits or higher co-pays or deductibles for treatment of mental health disorders or substance-use” (2014).  This is good news for sure!

To be honest, I’ve heard of the act, but I was not fully aware of the meaning and impact of the act until today.  The APA provides a helpful, animated video about the act here: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/parity-law-resources.aspx.  I encourage you to check it out.  It’s only one minute and 20 seconds long so it won’t take long for you to watch.  Believe me, it’s worth your time.  Also, APA shares additional helpful resources pertaining to the parity law that you can find listed below the video. Furthermore, there is an APA consumer guide titled “What You Need to Know About Mental Health Coverage.”  You can access the guide here: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/parity-guide.aspx.  The guide includes a wealth of information such as but not limited to an explanation of what the law does, health plans that the law affects,  how to know if your health plan provides mental health coverage and much more.  I highly encourage you to check it out.  I’ve already book marked the website and plan on re-reading it again for future reference.

I’m thankful to have learned more today about this extremely important act.  I hope you will find it beneficial too.  Perhaps you can share it with those you know and those that you are aware may need help.  If you wouldn’t mind, I’d be honored if you shared this blog post with others in an effort to continue to raise awareness about this vital law.

Best,

Stacy

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Resources on the Mental Health Parity Law. (2014). Retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/parity-law-resources.aspx

Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity. (2014). Retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://beta.samhsa.gov/health-reform/parity

 

The Prayer Shawl: A Glimpse into the World of Support from Others

DSC_0119In recognition of APA’s Your Mind Your Body Mental Health Blog Day May 14th, 2014, I’ve decided to write about support.  Writing about support has lingered in my mind ever since I rediscovered the prayer shawl that my son had given me after my daughter’s last hospitalization a few years ago.

When everything in our world seemed to crumble, in regard to our daughter’s mental health, it was my son who introduced me to the idea of support from others.  I didn’t realize it at the time.  I was so consumed by my own grief, sadness, sense of loss and the care of my loved one that I didn’t really think about much else.  Our family was in survival mode.  The last item on my list was support from others.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t think it crossed my mind. How could I reach out for support from anyone when I was so busy trying to wrap my brain around the fact that my daughter needed help beyond what I was capable of providing as a mother?

Four years have somehow slipped by since that tumultuous time in our lives. We’ve moved on as individuals and as a family.  The good times and sad times are but mere memories, or snapshots if you will, of life lived.  Memories are tucked away in our preconscious minds, material objects from days gone by are stored as objects to be seen and on display, and some objects have been carefully put away.  For instance, a lighted, crystal salt lamp sits on a shelf as a reminder of the first family trip we took to Branson, Missouri after Kim’s last attempt.  It was purchased in Branson during that trip with purpose.  It sits with a warm, glowy presence on a shelf in our family living room as a testament to our family’s commitment to one another.  It’s rugged landscape represents the difficult times we experience as a family unit.  And it’s singularity as one piece of crystal salt represents how we always seem to come together when one of us is in need.  And then there are those items that are neatly and carefully stowed away like the prayer shawl.

I imagine, at this point, that you may be wondering what a prayer shawl is.  Within the next few paragraphs I’ll try to explain…

It was when I least expected it that I found my prayer shawl laying right where I had placed it years ago.  I was busy looking for a particular item, and I thought it might be in my hope chest.  I briskly walked to my room.  I was on a mission to find whatever it was at the time.  Once I got to the hope chest I leaned down and pressed the button to unlock the cedar chest.  As I pressed the button in and held it I lifted the heavy bench seat top.  As the chest opened I saw the shawl.  It’s vibrant magenta color caught my attention.  There it was…laying there…a carefully crocheted 2 ft. by 5 ft. piece of love.  As I pulled the shawl out of the cedar chest I noticed the carefully hand stitched label on one side of the shawl that identifies the church where it came from.  The shawl itself is bordered by an elegant, scalloped crocheted edge, and it is beautiful.  The lacy stitches and vivid color exude the thoughtful, loving and caring nature of the person who stitched it.  And somehow I was the blessed recipient of it.  But how?

It was during the time when Kim had attempted suicide.  Each of us, in our nuclear family, reacted very differently during her hospitalization as well as after.  The night before Kim was brought out of the coma, Paul had left.  He literally left.  He couldn’t take seeing his sister in a coma so through his tears, outside of Kim’s ICU room separated from her by a mere curtain and beyond earshot, he said his goodbyes to Bill, Katlin and I, and he headed out of the hospital.  He called me later in the evening crying as he drove.  He said, “Mom, I’m so sorry.  I can’t take seeing Kim like that.  I had to leave.  I hope you and Dad understand.”  I told him, “I know.  I love you so much Paul!  You have to take care of yourself.  Just let Dad and I know how it’s going.  Please keep us posted.”  He replied, “I will Mom.”  I said, “I love you Paul.”  His last reply was, “I love you too Mom.  Bye.”

Later, I would learn that he had drove to a neighboring city to see a good friend.  He didn’t come back that night.  Instead, somewhere in a town close by my son sat in a church room surrounded by church goers and his friend praying that Kim would survive.  The healing support that Paul had found in a neighboring town made it’s way to our family and embraced us warmly.  When we reconnected with Paul, after that tearful night that he had decided to leave, he walked up to me and gently wrapped the beautiful, hand crocheted, magenta colored prayer shawl around my shoulders.  He then told me that when I was feeling sad and down that I could use it for comfort.  He told me that people at the church he attended make prayer shawls and that they had given one to Paul to give to me.  He said that the person who had given him the shawl had prayed over the shawl and asked for peace and healing for our particular situation.  What a beautiful gesture it was.  And what a loving son I have.  I felt joy and thankfulness well up within my tired and injured soul.  I felt a bit revived for the days ahead.

Paul’s method of coping brought wellness not only to him but to us as well.  Without knowing it Paul had delivered me more than a gift in the form of a prayer shawl.  He also gave me my first glimpse into the world of support from others beyond our family and friends.  I didn’t understand nor appreciate at the time how important that would be later on in Kim’s recovery.  My son, reeling from the harm his sister did to herself, left the scene at the hospital in an effort to cope and for self preservation, and he came back to us stronger and ready to help Kim.

I realize now, as I contemplate this beautiful gift that Paul gave me, how important support from others really is especially during times like we have had with Kim.  Regardless of anyone’s situation, and regardless of what type of illness, whether physical or mental, support from others can help uplift us and help us carry on despite our greatest challenges.  I know.  My son taught me.

 

Youth Suicide Prevention Conversation: Where Has Everone Gone?

 

Blog Picture Question MarkI’ve blogged lately about the Care For Your Mind Community and how it is a place where all are invited to share their thoughts and ideas in regard to creating a better mental healthcare system. What a worthy cause! I’ve been excited to participate in the conversation, and I feel thankful that the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) and Families for Depression Awareness (FFDA) created this vital community.

However, I’ve noticed something interesting happening within the CFYM Community. As I visit the site daily, to see the conversation unfold and to add my thoughts, I see that there is little conversation actually occurring on the blog. It appears that no one is visiting the community. It’s as if the CFYM Community is a microcosm of our society at large. It’s an interesting observation. I find myself wondering how this could be. I have many questions floating around in my mind. Are there visitors? And if so, could stigma be playing an active role in the sparseness of the comments? I imagine, based on the Facebook likes and tweets that the blog does have a fair amount of traffic if not a lot of traffic. I wonder what is holding us back from joining the conversation?

Another thought, I’m touched, inspired by and deeply thankful to Mental Health Advocate Molly Jenkins who so graciously shared her story about her suicide attempts and the loss of a dear friend to suicide. Her openness highlights the importance that we talk about suicide and how to prevent it. In her audio interview she talks about why she has become an advocate. I wonder if we are perhaps afraid to talk and converse with Molly because maybe we are afraid that we will say the wrong thing. I know that when someone so honestly opens up and shares their life experience with me that I tend to immediately think about what to say to that person. I think it’s a natural tendency. I believe that what’s important is that we do acknowledge anyone who is willing to talk about their personal life with gratitude. Personally, I don’t think we can go wrong with that. Also, If what we have to say comes from a caring and loving place go with it! If we have questions ask them. Advocates, like Molly, are inviting us into the conversation because what we have to say does matter.

I’d be thankful to my readers if you hopped over to the Care For Your Mind Community and shared your thoughts. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be a part of the conversation? You can be! Please join us. I look forward to seeing you there!