‘Cause it makes me that much stronger’ ~ Christina Aguilera

So, this has been such a BUSY semester and I hate that I’m not blogging! I’m re-vamping all of my online classes along with videoing (is that a word? 😳) full lectures for each chapter in depth. It’s a crap load of work but worth it…the students are giving me some great feedback. Yea! (However I will admit this: I do my hair before that webcam goes on and when I’m recording, I do my best to channel Katie Couric 😃).

Anyhoot, another project that’s keeping me busy is that I’m a team lead in bringing the JED program to our campus! This non-profit works with high schools and colleges in helping them recognize the specific needs of the school and students and then helping them implement mental health resources and such. We need it so bad on our campus…so many students come to me to talk about their depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues and just today, a student talked to me about the time she attempted suicide. Our teens are really suffering right now and I worry about them.

Why are they struggling so much right now? According to The Light Program: “…there are multiple factors involved, including pressure to succeed in academics, financial stress, uncertainty about which major or career path to choose, increased social media use, and less stigma around seeking help.” In terms of the reduced stigma (which is still not where it should be 😐), it may be that students have always had these issues but are now feeling more open about seeking help for them. Hmmmmm.

The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds says that the mental health among college students is a crisis and backs up this claim with reporting this:

  • Almost half of college students had a psychiatric disorder in the past year
  • 73% of students experience some sort of mental health crisis during college
  • Almost 1/3 of college students report having felt so depressed that they had trouble functioning
  • Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and substance use are associated with lower GPA and higher probability of dropping out of college
  • More than 80% of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do in the past year and 45% have felt things were hopeless
  • 20% of female students report sexual assault or threatened sexual assault according to the Center for Disease Control
  • Only 25% of students with a mental health problem seek help

In addition they state that there is a tremendous lack of services in colleges and universities with the ratio of certified counselors to students overall being about 1:1000 – 2000 for small to moderate size schools.

At any rate, research has recognized the 5 biggest mental health challenges that college students face and having the resources in place to help address these is needed so badly. (In fact, studies clearly show that these issues greatly affects student success).

  • Depression: the American College Health Association found that 40% of students experienced at least 1 depressive episode during the 2018 school year and this was pre-pandemic. We know depression is even more of an issue now. In addition, severe depression rates have doubled in college students between 2007-2018.
  • Anxiety: A study from Pennsylvania State University (I know a GREAT blogger from Pennsylvania 😃) published a study in 2016 that found 61% of survey respondents (100,000 of them!) said anxiety was a ‘leading student mental health issue.’ In fact, The American College Health Association’s (ACHA) 2015 Finally, the National College Health Assessment survey, reported that nearly one in six college students (15.8%) had been diagnosed with, or treated for, anxiety. The same survey found that 21.9% of students said that within the last 12 months, anxiety had affected their academic performance, defined as receiving a lower grade on an exam or important project, receiving an incomplete, or dropping a course.
  • Eating Disorders: Sadly, the National Eating Disorders Association reports that 10-20% of female college students and 4-10% of males have an eating disorder which can include anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating. In fact, anorexia is the most deadly psychiatric diagnosis with a mortality rate of 5.86 which means those who suffer from it have almost a 6x greater chance of dying (both suicide and physical issues stemming from the self-imposed starvation) than others in the general population.
  • Addiction: Stats from 2019 show that alcohol plays a leading role in the more than 1,500 annual deaths on college campuses. 35% of students have or do binge drink and 25% abuse other drugs including prescription painkillers, cocaine and ecstasy.
  • Suicide: this is the 2nd leading cause of death among college students and the suicide rate among people 10 to 24 rose 57% from 2007 to 2018 (CDC). Around 11% of college age respondents in a June, 2020 study  said they had seriously considered suicide over the past 30  days with people aged 18 to 24 being significantly more likely to  report this and 25.5% said they had seriously  considered suicide. That’s 1:4 of our young people having considered suicide. Honestly? That scares the shit out of me.

So what’s my point? I believe college’s number 1 job is education and that’s what I do…teach my curriculum as best I can. BUT I also believe that in order to ensure student success in terms of academics, we need to address these mental health issues as well.

You know, when I was struggling so much 4 years ago and had a break-down, I could barely function. Luckily, the worst time was in the summer and my online classes are always completely ready to go when a semester begins. I have all of the work, lectures, etc. posted as well as the modules I use set up to open and close automatically each week. In other words, they pretty much run themselves in terms of the nuts and bolts and I spend my time grading, communicating, discussing, etc. I was able to get by that summer…although I know I wasn’t at my best by any means. And now? Despite the stability I enjoy, I still have issues with having bipolar everyday. No medication is going to ‘erase’ this brain illness: I still have ups and downs (and am in a bit of a depression right now for various reasons 😕), still have to force an effort to be the Professor K I’m expected to be each day, still have heightened emotions that are just part and parcel of bipolar, still ruminate over things and beat myself up easily, and the list goes on (and on and on…charming).

Students and their ability to work and function is the same. Had someone reached out to me in college and recognized what I was refusing to address in the way I needed too, my life could have been very different. Actually, I think that even with no resources offered at that time, just being ‘seen’ for who I was and what I had would have been a relief. A validation. Someone outside of ma or pop who would have said “What you’re dealing with is important to me and I’m concerned” and validating my struggle.”

All of us want to be seen. All of us want to be heard. Not everyone struggling needs intervention…after all, doesn’t everyone struggle at various times in their lives? However, we all need to feel support and know that no matter what, there is a place that we matter. For so many students that I see everyday, that somewhere is here. On my campus. And it’s up to us to make sure we are ready for that task.

Kristi xoxo

“Ignorance is the enemy and it fills your head with lies.” ~ Rodney Crowell

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So, the Grand Poobah (my office buddy 😃) and I were yacking yesterday while he was working on an assignment that he didn’t know was appropriate or not. In the chapter he teaches on depression, he wanted to focus attention on suicide with the students reading various articles and watching a documentary about it before writing a paper. He wondered if this would be too triggering for some and we had a discussion about this.

Here’s the thing about triggers: we all have them. After my nephew died in the Navy, every time I heard anything about the military, my heart would pound and my stomach would get a hollow feeling. Before I was open about being bipolar, I’d get nervous talking about mental illness and the importance of awareness, yet I was living a lie which made me so anxious. After I engaged in self-harm, I would get horribly defensive if anyone mentioned cutting or accused me of doing it until I was able to share what I had done. And yes, after I attempted suicide myself, I was extremely sensitive to the topic.

But being a prof of Psychology and Sociology, I can’t back away from these issues because I talk about them in most of my classes. I’ll admit that the first time I taught about suicide after my attempt, I started crying…right in front of my class. I was so embarrassed because that has only happened a couple of times in my entire 3 decades of teaching, but the incident was still fresh in my mind. When I started crying, I quickly thought of lying to my students and telling them I wasn’t feeling well, etc. but then went back to how hypocritical I had been covering up being bipolar for most of my life. I lecture to my students how you have to live authentically and how there is no shame in having a mental illness or having attempted suicide. With that in mind and after a deep breath, I shared that I had attempted suicide myself and explained where I had been in my life at that time.

As I was talking, I couldn’t believe the reactions of the class…some shed tears and some nodded so genuinely that I knew they had had suicidal ideation themselves. After the lecture was over and resources perused, papers were turned in and this is some of what was written to me (with any identifying info taken out but all words of the students as they were written):

“I think the reason it was so hard for me to watch this film is because I have a history with depression. I will not lie and say I have never had a suicidal thought because I have. I used to be in a dark place with my mind and I am not ashamed of that because of how much I have grown. My chest started to get tight while watching the film because it took me back to that time in my life when I was really unhappy. I paused the film and took a break and it helped me. I thought this documentary was very sad and it shows a part of human life that is not shown that much. Suicide is not talked about as much as it should be. There should be more awareness and conversation.”

“This week was a very hard week for me when going over the material. I personally have battled with thoughts of suicide but never had the courage try anything. I grew up with a bipolar mother and struggled with my own anxiety and depression.”

“This topic is tough for me to discuss. I have lost multiple friends due to suicide. I was also almost a suicide victim myself. I struggled my entire life with depression and anxiety. To fully understand the impact of mental health and suicide, I will lay out my story. This is hard for me to do, but I feel it is essential to speak about it.”

“Lastly , I am a survivor of depression and attempting suicide as well. I chose article one because it really touches my life in the last year. My son was self harming by cutting himself on the legs and arms. The day I was told I stopped at nothing trying to find my son’s help. It went from that to last month I found out my son tried x-pills, 2 years of alcohol misuse, becoming withdrawn, rebellious, and just 2 months ago he attempted fighting my daughter and I , he would go from saying he wanted to kill himself, to nobody loving him, to breaking down crying. Glass shattered everywhere, holes in my wall that I’m still trying to get fixed, me trying to console him and my daughter, finally having to call for assistance and watching my son leave by the ambulance screaming he loves me.”

“I can relate to those who express suicidal thoughts, as its something I myself have struggled with. The best way to describe it, is a voice inside your head telling you that no one cares, and your life doesn’t really matter.”

The saddest thing about these comments is that I only picked out these 5 out of the 20 students I had; however, EVERY one of them wrote about their own personal struggles with suicide (the majority) or having a friend or sibling that has attempted or completed. That boggles my mind.

There is so much pain out there. So much loneliness. So much neediness in terms of connection. How horrible that for my students that this has already touched their lives. And from comments in other classes, I also know this class wasn’t an anomaly at all.

Now we talk about triggers which is something I hadn’t heard of or been cautioned about until a few years ago. Us professors are told to tell students when we’ll be studying a subject matter that could be triggering to them and to offer them alternatives. On the surface, this sounds like a good idea. However, the research begs to differ.

Take a look at findings published in Clinical Psychology Article:

“The consensus, based on 17 studies using a range of media, including literature passages, photographs, and film clips: Trigger warnings do not alleviate emotional distress. They do not significantly reduce negative affect or minimize intrusive thoughts, two hallmarks of PTSD. Notably, these findings hold for individuals with and without a history of trauma.”

Also, Forbes magazine reported this:

“Across all the variations in the studies, trigger warnings had trivial effects. In the words of Mevagh Sanson, senior author of the study, “The results suggest a trigger warning is neither meaningfully helpful nor harmful.” “The format of the presumably upsetting content, whether in text or on video, did not matter. Neither did a personal history of trauma; participants who reported they had experienced actual trauma in their lives responded to the distressing material similarly, regardless of whether it was preceded by a trigger warning or not.”

Finally, the Chronicle of Higher Education says this:

“We are not aware of a single experimental study that has found significant benefits of using trigger warnings. Looking specifically at trauma survivors, including those with a diagnosis of PTSD, the Jones et al. study found that trigger warnings “were not helpful even when they warned about content that closely matched survivors’ traumas.””

What do psychologists think? Let’s take a look-see at an article in Psychological Science:

“Specifically, we found that trigger warnings did not help trauma survivors brace themselves to face potentially upsetting content,” said Payton Jones, a researcher at Harvard University and lead author on the study. “In some cases, they made things worse.” Worryingly, the researchers discovered that trigger warnings seem to increase the extent to which people see trauma as central to their identity, which can worsen the impact of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long run.”

So, this sheds all new light in terms of triggers. Not only do they don’t seem to work, but they can also increase the distress of a student.

Now, what are usually seen as triggers? Suicide, eating disorders, sexual assault, domestic violence, mental illness, sex, murder, death and anything else the professor deems might be triggering to a student.

There’s absolutely no doubt these are very difficult subjects to learn about, but they are very important to understand. Every 11 seconds, another American takes their own life while there’s also 14 people being hurt by their intimate partner. One in 5 Americans live with a mental illness (51+ million people) and someone is raped every 68 seconds.

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Look, these are serious numbers and obviously going to touch all of our lives in one way or another. I once had someone tell me, after a difficult lecture, that ignorance is bliss. Heh? IGNORANCE is bliss? NOT understanding and being oblivious and uninformed is better? For who exactly? You? Us? Me?

If we don’t address these issues…talk about these issues…and learn all we can about them, how in the hell are we going to work at turning these numbers around?

You know, I was really distressed over the sexual abuse I experienced from my psychologist and I’ll be honest: anytime I heard about sexual abuse or rape, I would break out in a sweat and feel like my stomach dropped 10 floors down an elevator. Worse, I started working on a psychology degree and guess what I had to learn all about? I was really nervous when the topic was being presented but the way the professor taught it, I was able to look at it academically and there was truly a comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone. That what I was going through was normal. I learned about sexual abuse and realized that if I always turned my head away from it, I would never be able to use what I’d been through to help others. And that’s what I try to do now.

So here’s the answer to the Grand Poobah who is going to be reading this: keep your assignment on suicide. Students can take breaks when reading articles or watching videos but the information is vital. Suicide (as well as so many other topics I mentioned) is an epidemic and NOT talking about it and teaching about it only keeps it hidden away. I want my students to understand why people want to kill themselves…what signs they can look for…how to talk to someone who is suicidal. I want them to know what early signs of domestic violence are and to understand the pathology of mental illnesses. I want them to be educated in the issues that Americans face every day of their lives.

Unfortunately, I’ve had students come to me days after being raped and I would never ever expect them to complete a unit on sexual assault so soon after the traumatic experience…so there’s obvious exceptions to this. But, ignorance is not bliss and the info we teach isn’t always easy, but it is necessary. Until we face things and help students to understand that their own experiences can be talked about and explored and validated, we are doing them an injustice. We’re simply keeping everyone in the dark.

Kristi xoxo

Romancing the Stone

So, I don’t even know how to start this post except by saying WHAT THE HELL? Now, if that’s not a great first sentence to pull you in, I don’t know what is.

Did you know, my sweet peeps, that it is now ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’ to be mentally ill? OK. I’m going to pause a minute to let you take that in………la dee dah……la dee dah…..(pretend this is Jeopardy music 🎵). Yes my dears, it’s ‘in’ to be mentally ill. In fact, it’s become something that is not only sensationalized, but romanticized in so many ways in our society right now, particularly on social media.

It’s sad to me that to belong, too many younger people are now embracing the idea that they themselves have some type of mental disorder. Depression, anxiety, bipolar (🙄), a personality disorder, etc. These disorders have become ‘tragically beautiful’ or, at the very least, trivialize what mental illness really is. Regardless, mental illnesses are being sensationalized for attention and grasshoppers, that’s not right.

Look on Twitter…there’s this hashtag: #IGetDepressedWhen and here’s a couple of goodies – “I get depressed when my battery low” , or “I get depressed when I know summers almost over”, or “I get depressed when there’s no bacon for lunch.” Hmmmmm. I gotta be honest here. I’ve been struggling with depression as part of being bipolar for the great majority of my 40 years on earth (heh? OK, 50?), and I can honestly say, without reservation, that I’ve never ever been thrown into a depressive episode because I’m having a PBJ for lunch instead of bacon. Never.

Here’s a ‘quote’ I found: “She can paint a pretty picture but the story has a twist. Her paintbrush is a razor and her canvas is a wrist.” (Seriously…are you kidding me?) And another: “I think suicidal people are just angels who want to go home.” One more: “I’m jealous of people with enough self-control to be anorexic.” What the hell??? 😡

Let’s give these folks the reality of mental illness. Suicide is not a Shakespearean tragedy where the person was gracefully lifted from their pain while looking beautiful in their peaceful death. Not by a fucking (sorry, ma) long shot. Suicide is guns or pills or razors or ropes and it’s bloody and ugly and messy and scary and heartbreaking and irreversible. These people are never going to take a breath again…never have a chance of life again…never going to realize that what they went through could have gotten better to where suicide wasn’t the only option they could see. Plus, it’s hell on earth for the one’s that are left. The person didn’t commit suicide and then see how dramatically it played out on social media or how it became the basis for a Netflix show. They killed themselves. They are dead. And no matter what their situation or pain or illness, it’s nothing but a tragedy for both the victim and the survivors. Period.

And self-harm? Those of you that know me are aware that have I cut myself in the past and have 16 scars on my legs, arm, belly and boob. Two of my scars are over 4″ long and will be angry red welts forever. These scars are not beautiful. My body was not a ‘canvas’ I was decorating. The razor in my hand was not a paintbrush. There is nothing glamorous about what I did. I cut myself because I was having a mental breakdown that put me in such a depression that my mind told me it was the only thing I could do to release some of the pain. When I see my scars everyday, I don’t see a victory or a tragic piece of art. And I definitely don’t see them as being sexy as this quote says: “Call me crazy but I think emo girls/guys with self harm scars are sexy because it shows how much they have been through but never actually gave up.” And no, if any man ever looked at them and saw them as being arousing, I would run. Quickly.

And there are people who wish they were anorexic? Really? Well, as luck would have it, I have experience with this gem of a mental illness as well. There has not been a moment in my life from the time I was a freshman in high school (just a few years ago…) that I haven’t thought about how many calories are in a bite of food every time I eat something. Every. Single. Time. I can’t eat something because it tastes good. I can’t eat something out of pleasure. I can’t eat something not ‘necessary’ without feeling a lot of guilt and that I’m ‘bad’ for wanting it. I’ve known countless times what it’s like to be so weak from not eating that you can barely go from one task to another, and I don’t know how many birthday cakes, cookies, and other goodies people have made me over the years that I’ve trashed the moment they leave. You don’t recover from anorexia…you work every single solitary day to keep it in check, knowing that if you veer off a healthy course, you will succomb to the illness again. That is not having self-control, peeps…it’s actually quite the opposite.

You know, not only is this glamourization of mental illness a dangerous thing, it makes me wonder why anyone would want to be associated with something so stigmatizing in the first place. Maybe it’s giving the person attention or empathy or validation they are so desperately looking for. And if this is the only way that can happen in their lives, that’s something that needs to be addressed. Are there that many people not receiving the love and support they need without having to go to such lengths? Are there that many people shouting out: “See me” because they don’t feel ‘seen’ any other way? Are we living in a world where we are so into ourselves that we can’t see others crying for help unless the cry is so dramatic it can’t be missed? How sad this is.

I can’t imagine ‘pretending’ to have a mental illness…I wish to heaven I could experience what it’s like not to be mentally ill. It’s hard for me to understand why you would want to invent, and then share, a ‘mental illness’ because in reality, admitting you have one causes you to lose friends, opportunities, respect, and the list goes on. There are so many people that treat me differently now that I’ve ‘come-out.’ Some people/acquaintances/colleagues just stay away (which is fine…), others use it against me, while many just ignore it and pretend it simply doesn’t exist (“but you look normal”), plus I know it’s affected a couple of men from asking me out. Revealing a mental illness does not bring you the type of attention you think it might…trust me on this.

I talk about being bipolar for one reason, and one reason only, and this was voiced by a friend yesterday: “Well, you’re one of the people I look up too. You were one of the first people I knew to be extremely transparent about your mental health and that’s had an impact on me. It’s so important to destigmatize mental illness.” This is why I share it, my sweet peeps. I don’t share it for attention or sympathy or for ‘likes’. I share because I want people to know that mental illness sucks balls, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that should have to be hid. It’s a reality that too many people live with and we need to come together and make sure it’s treated like any other illness with support and understanding given to all who suffer from it.

Kristi xoxo

“The things we fear the most have already happened to us.” ~ Robin Williams

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Dear Robin,

So I’m writing this to you smack between the day you were born and the day you died since I couldn’t decide which one was more appropriate.  Maybe neither of them are, but I always think about you around this time every year and wanted you to know it.

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Potsie and Fonzie

I remember the first time I saw you; my sis and I loved watching Happy Days together and while she was crazy about bad-boy Fonzie, I was a Potsie girl (I think I’m more of a Fonz gal now and sissy is definitely married to a  Potsie 😳 ).  One night someone new was on the screen, Mork from Ork, and I was suddenly besotted with an alien who had an adorbs face and a twinkle in his eye.  Sayonara, Potsie…I’m going another way.

Anyhoot, I became a fan immediately and loved loved loved following your career throughout my life.  When Mork and Mindy came on, I wanted to be Mindy so bad!  She had this great apartment, LONG shiny hair, and you.  That was the best part.  You made her laugh and love and cry and I thought that’s the kind of man I want.  Someone who can make me feel good no matter what else is going on (plus, I really loved your hairy arms 😉).

When you started showing up on the big screen, I didn’t miss any of your movies.  Seeing you portray Adrian Cronauer who made Vietnam soldiers laugh was amazing and there were so many times I held my breath while you worked to make catatonic patients feel alive again by playing Dr. Sayer.  As a fancy-schmancy professor, I really found myself drawn to Dead Poets Society and I watch it periodically to remind myself of the influence I can have in my sweetie student’s lives.

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Even though so many people loved your performance in Mrs. Doubtfire and think it’s your best, I don’t and here’s why:  I hated the entire premise of that movie.  I watched it once and cried after others had told me how funny it was.  So, I watched it again and cried again, and won’t even consider clicking on it when I’m perusing movies on amazon.  I thought it was tragic how a dad of your caliber who clearly loved his kids and made a fun, comfortable life for them had to resort to being someone else to see them.  It royally pissed me off and I thought it was a horrible premise for a comedy.  I know, I know…I’m a party pooper 💩.  No surprise there.

And even though I didn’t want to watch One Hour Photo since you were playing a sociopath, I finally did and came away with a much different view.  I didn’t see you as villainous at all.  I saw you as a mentally ill, lonely man who desired a family so badly you resorted to anything you could to feel that connection and believe you belonged.

Finally, here’s a confession about your movies:  I still can’t watch Patch Adams.  Still.  Seeing you so vulnerable after your love was murdered is something I can’t bring myself to watch because after what happened to you, it hits too close to home.  See, I think you were murdered too.  It wasn’t a psychopath or a serial killer (I guess that’s pretty much the same, huh 🙄), but a monster named depression and that son-of-a-bitch is relentless.

It’s common knowledge that you suffered from bouts of depression but many professionals believe you actually had bipolar disorder which many creative people have.  Those bouts of high energy and racing thoughts and fast thinking are evident in your stand-up comedy and whenever I have watched your performances, I feel an almost a frenetic vibe.  So much of your ‘acting’ was improvised and I can actually see in your eyes that you aren’t just trying to make people laugh…you are channeling this avalanche of energy into something you have an obsessive need to accomplish:  laughter, acceptance, applause.

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You never came out and said you were bipolar and I understand that because it’s so fucking stigmatized in our society…right up there with schizophreia (sorry, ma.  My ma hates that word and my guilt using it makes me apologize every time 🙄).  See, I have bipolar myself and it took me almost losing my life before I wanted to admit it.  Please don’t think I’m being cocky here, but I see a lot of me in you.  There were so many times growing up that I didn’t know how the hell (ma doesn’t mind that one…it’s in the Bible) to channel all that was in my head.  I’ve tried time and time again to explain to others what it feels like but I can’t.  How do you explain this tornado?  This storm?  This incredibly huge amount of ‘something’ that you have to direct or you feel like you’ll blow up?  It’s such a frantic feeling and when I have it (which is actually now…I’m in a manic state right now and work on my house 12 hours non-stop a day but can’t sleep), I’m almost delirious with the energy.  In so many of your performances, I see this delirium in you as well.  To be honest, it breaks my heart.

But underneath this, the fucking (I’m a rebel 😎) darkness remains.  How did you act so happy and make so many people laugh and feel good about themselves when depression was still dragging you down?  Most people believe that when someone is in a manic phase, their depression is buried.  Bullshit.  The depression is always seething under that intensity…it’s just biding it’s time until it shows itself fully again.  I think that’s why those of us with bipolar are always being asked if we’re OK.  See, our eyes give us away and as much as we think we hide it well, our eyes tell the full story.  As my mentor would have said:  the little bastards.

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That depressive fucker showed itself to you one last time, didn’t it?  And when I read that it had won, I was devastated.  After you committed suicide (I don’t believe in sugar-coating stuff by using euphemisms) you wife said you were killed by the ‘terrorist’ inside your brain.  What a perfect way to put it.  You didn’t commit suicide.  Your depression killed you.

I remember how quickly sentiment about your death turned from grief and sympathy to being judgmental with people saying things like ‘he was so selfish to do this.’  OK…that might be one way to look at it and if I ever experience a suicide in my family, I can only imagine how incredibly angry and lost and confused I’d be.  But I also know this:  when you are in the state where you want your pain to end because it’s finally too overwhelming to bear, you don’t see anything but the dark hole you’ve been bull-dozed into.  Nothing.  Robin, I know you weren’t being selfish because I understand how you were no longer able to fight the depression beast any longer.  I’m so sorry for that.

I love what you say to Matt Damon near the end of Good Will Hunting when he’s trying to come to terms with the abuse in his life: “It’s not your fault.”  What a powerful statement that is.  Four little words but an impact that can’t be measured.  How often I’ve wanted to hear those words myself and when you say them in the movie, I think there are a lot of people who respond to them like Matt does.  And Robin?  Just for the record, it was not your fault.

So thanks for the memories, Robin.  Nope, I didn’t know you personally but you impacted my life a great deal and I’m so grateful for the time we spent together.  You once said that if heaven exists, it would be nice to know there was laughter…to hear God say, “Two Jews walked into a bar…”.  You know what I think?  I think heaven is real and I also believe that because of you, there’s laughter there.

Kristi xoxo

“The Greatest Loss is What Dies Inside Us While We Live.” ~ Norman Cousins

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Death by Asphyxia

So, here we are as a nation having to be isolated from one another and then knowing we are taking a chance at getting COVID when we go out to get what we need.  Today I was at the grocery store and to be honest with you, I was scared by what I was seeing.  There were people there with not only masks on, but with huge bandanas wrapped around their faces so only their eyes showed.  When I would reach for something and my arm wasn’t exactly 6′ away, I’d get a dirty look.  The instant we let go of something, it’s sanitized.  Now, I know the measures need to be taken.  I get that, and I would be devastated if someone in my family contracted this.  But here’s my point:  we are taking so many measures to fight this virus.  This crisis.  And that’s the right thing to do.  I guess I just want to see the same measures taken for a crisis that has no ending in sight.

Now, hear me out.  In 2018 (the most recent data I can find), 48,344 Americans died of suicide, which is about 132 people every day.  Further, 1.4 million people attempt suicide every year (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention).  What scares me the most is this:  between 2007-2017, the suicide rate for teenagers (15-19) went up 76%.  Read that sentence again, grasshoppers.  Seventy-six percent.  For KIDS ages 10-14, the suicide rate tripled during that same time frame.  For both age groups, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death and takes more lives than anything except accidents which include motor vehicle deaths (Centers for Disease Control).  Finally, men over 65 are at the highest risk for suicide, and people 85 and over are the 2nd most likely age group to die (NPR).

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Sawyer Sweeten (Everybody Loves Raymond) Gunshot wound – age 19

Obviously, I could go on and on with other statistics, but I think I made my point:  suicide is a public health crisis in America ALL of the time, and I think attention needs to be paid to this; particularly when it’s taking the lives of so many of our kids and teens, as well as adults.  Do you realize we are twice as likely to die by suicide than homicide, while cancer, heart disease and stroke deaths are lessening?

Think about this:  suicide is preventable.  Yes, I said preventable.  Suicide is not about death, it’s about ending pain in the person’s life.  No one truly wants to die, we have a huge survival instinct.  Think about the Jews in the Holocaust, or the POW’s in Japan during WWII or Vietnam.  When I think how so many willed themselves…forced themselves…to survive in spite of the abhorrent conditions they faced, it astounds me.

I teach about the Donner party in my Sociology classes, and most people joke about this:  “Hey…what are the Donner’s going to have for supper?  Aunt Jane!”  Actually, it was tragic.  These poor people who had lost the great majority of their food and supplies because of the Great Salt Dessert crossing and Paiute Native Americans who attacked them, got stuck in the Sierra Nevada mountains for an entire winter where literally, scores of snow fell which made climbing these impossible.  They tried numerous times though, but failed.  The first person that was eaten was a man who had begged his daughters to do so.  If they lived, he said, so would the rest of their family.  But no one ended up eating their kin, and no one consumed meat unless everything else had been used:  bark, leather, fur, etc.  That’s survival, peeps.  That’s what life means.

Go back to those stats.  For kids and teens to be in such pain they end their precious, young lives is unacceptable to me.  Overall, not only do we have a suicide epidemic (literally) that cuts across all ‘lines’, but we have a mental illness/mental health crisis that is behind these horrific losses.  It’s a 2 fold problem:  a society that’s in so much pain, people of all ages are killing themselves because of problems bigger than they are mentally capable of handling at that point, and a lack of resources.

12-Quotes-From-Anthony-Bourdain-We-Will-Never-Forget
Anthony Bourdain – Death by Hanging        (1956 – 2014)

Look at this:  The National Institutes of Health are the largest funder for biomedical research in the entire world.  In 2016, they spent $68 million on suicide, but 5x more studying SLEEP (what the fuck?), and 10x more on breast cancer which actually killed less people than suicide.  Something has to give.  We are spending more money on killers that take fewer lives.  Isn’t there something very wrong with that?  Doesn’t that show the value we place on mental illness and mental health issues?

And like I said, the kicker is that suicides are preventable, primarily with hotlines where the counselor establishes connection with the caller quickly, shows care and empathy, and let’s them know there are other ways to end the pain they are overwhelmed with in their lives.  Another prevention?  Breaking the stigma of mental illness by making is less ‘risky’ for people to say they are battling depression, or feel like they are outside their bodies looking in, or are experiencing so much anxiety, panic, or mania, they don’t think they can handle it another day.  Men are 4x more likely to commit suicide, and are also less likely to receive help for mental health issues.  Hmmmmm.  Plus, these approaches don’t require social distancing, masks, or staying at home in isolation:  it requires work in terms of funding and education.  In my mind, that’s doable.

I know these things all too well from my own experiences at attempting suicide – when you are in such a fucking dark place where you look around and see only this black hole enveloping you more and more, you have no way of seeing anything else.  That monster has you, and it takes someone outside of yourself to start the journey of climbing up those walls.  It takes someone showing you that you matter.  That you can survive.  Saying: “Things will get better…we all go through stuff.” or “You just got to look on the bright side.” or even “Don’t be so dramatic” are just going to make the person feel guilty for what they are feeling.  But saying “Hey,  I care about you  I want to help you” can.

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Kate Spade – Death by Hanging (1962 – 2018)

Edwin Schneidman was the pioneer in the study of suicide, and stated there 10 commonalities of it:  seeking a solution, cessation of consciousness, intolerable psychological pain, frustrated psychological needs, feelings of helplessness-hoplessness, feeling ambivalent, a feeling of constriction, a want of escape, communication of intent, and the coping skills the person has.  (The Suicidal Mind – Oxford University Press)

Look at some of these closer.  How can we help ease people’s psychological pain?  By maybe recognizing and helping those with it?  By reducing the stigma of expressing this?  What about feelings of helplessness & hopelessness?  By giving people, such as the homeless, lonely, and sick something that gives them meaning?  Something they feel some control over?  Something to feel they are needed?

And communication of intent?  Maybe we can help by addressing it.  Believing it.  Showing empathy for the person.  Helping them while standing beside them all of the way.  That’s what my ma did for me, and it obviously worked.

Lastly, the coping skills the person has.  Mine suck balls, like a lot of others with bipolar.  I haven’t been able to cope with much since I was a gangly little girl.  Normal things hit me hard.  Very hard.  Just having a friend pay attention to someone else would devastate me (and I don’t use the word devastate lightly).  Having my ma or dad express disappointment in me would crush me down to where I felt incapable of being loved.  Having a guy reject my feelings in HS would get me so emotionally distraught, I felt I was a ‘nothing, like an invisible girl no one really saw.  Is it no wonder the first time I attempted suicide was when my first love told me he didn’t want to be with me anymore?  And my second time when too many things piled up on me at once that I totally collapsed under the weight of it all?

We need so much to understand what some people can handle, others can’t.  When my ma would say “Honey, you’ll get over J and move on with someone who loves you back” I know her intentions were very good, she simply hated seeing me in so much pain.  But I couldn’t  ‘just’ do that, no matter how much I tried.  Her coping skills are amazingly strong, while mine are amazingly weak.  When people would say “Kristi, your nephew is in a better place”, I knew that to be true.  But guess what?  Maybe understanding that does comfort some, but it didn’t do shit for me when mourning a boy who had barely grown up.

Look, peeps…we are in the midst of a pandemic.  We all need to stay healthy and safe.  We all need to be diligent about washing our hands, wearing our masks, and staying away from others.  But let me tell you something and I want to make this very clear:  suicide will still be around.  Long after this fucking Covid has either ‘run it’s course’ or we develop a vaccine for it.  However, suicide will still be taking lives, young and old.  Every single day we’ll see another 129 people kill themselves, all preventable deaths.

I don’t know about you, but I want this epidemic to be over too.  Badly.

Kristi xoxo

The National Suicide Hotline is available 24/7 – 1-800-273-8255

Let ’em Say It.

So, my sister and I were yacking yesterday (have you noticed that I’m usually talking with someone?) and we started discussing words that people are very apprehensive to say.  Let’s take a look-see:

  • suicide
  • domestic violence
  • cutting
  • depression
  • abuse
  • rape
  • molestation

And the list could go on.

The reason we got on this subject was that we were talking about the Netflix series “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.”  This little 8 year old boy was brutally murdered by his mother and her boyfriend and suffered horrific abuse all of his life.  The most heart-breaking thing about this poor child was how social services and law enforcement let him down time after time after time, allowing this abuse to continue.  Once, a social worker actually told little Gabriel to quit lying about being hurt by his mom.  Wow.

As my sis (T) and I were talking about this, I told her how incredibly hard this documentary is to watch and how, at that point, I hadn’t finished the last couple of episodes.  So we had this conversation:

“Are you going to finish watching it?”
“Yes, T. But it’s hard to get through…it’s upsetting me so much.”
“Well guess what? What he went through is harder than what you’re watching.”
“I know. You’re right.”
“Kristi, how are we going to stop things like this from happening if we can’t face it or talk about it?”

And she is absolutely right (she loves hearing that from me).  There are so many issues we need to acknowledge, learn to talk about, learn to ask about, but for some reason we turn away from them.  Maybe hoping they’ll go away?

In my classes, I talk about a LOT of ‘icky’ stuff;  after all, I teach Psych and Socio so it’s part of the job.  We talk about everything I listed above, and I know how uncomfortable that makes some of my students.  Many of them have never heard the words being used so freely.  And to be honest with you, some of them are still new to me.

Those of y’all that know me have already heard my mom’s story.  She married her 2nd husband (the fucking asshole…sorry, that’s what I say EVERY TIME I think of him.) when I was in high school and they were married for 28 years.  During those 28 years, he beat her, strangled her, slammed her head against the ceramic tile in the bathtub more times than she can count, and mentally tortured her until she turned to alcohol to dull some of the pain.  It took so much to do so that she developed cirrhosis of the liver and has esophageal varices.  She finally came to me at 5:00 a.m. on Aug. 13th, 2011 (yep, I remember it to the minute) and said this:  “You said you would help me and I can’t take it anymore.  He’s going to kill me if I stay.”  Hubby 3 and I called the police, got a restraining order, got his stuff out, installed an alarm system, etc.  You know, T and I spent 28 years trying our best to help her, but like many of you know, until the person is ready, all you can do is be there the best you can.

adult alone black and white blur
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

To this day, there are still people in our family that won’t use the words domestic violence in regards to what mom went through.  They won’t say that R beat the shit out of her, once to the point where she was throwing up blood in the ER with her back looking like someone water colored it purple (I will never forget that sight as long as I live).   They don’t want to admit that mom had black eyes more times they can remember (but chose to ignore), because talking about DV just isn’t OK.  In fact, some of them are actually friends with this monster on social media (Yes, he is a monster.  His 3rd wife died of a stroke she suffered after R threw her against a wall).  Well…I guess ignoring it makes it go away right?  (By the way, mom has been sober now for over a decade…T and I are so proud of her!).

NO!  Things like abuse, rape, suicide, and molestation thrive in secrecy.  And for years, my sis and I kept the ‘secret’ too.  We didn’t want to face what R was doing to mom and mom wouldn’t admit to anything;  but we knew we finally had too.  We HAD too.  We had to let the secret out so mom would know we were there for her, that we knew what was happening.  Mom talks about it now and is open with her experiences.  It’s no longer just ‘something in C’s marriage’, or ‘R is just crazy’, etc.; it was ABUSE.  Serious abuse that could have killed her, but by the grace of God, didn’t.

Mom’s guilty of sugar-coating things too though.  After my formal diagnosis of bipolar, she would tell her friends about “Kristi’s problem” , “Kristi’s condition.”  Finally, I said this to her (and I wish you could hear my screechy voice to get the full effect), “MA. I have bipolar.  I’m fucking mentally ill.  Get it?” She laughed…and yes, she got it.

Take suicide.  Sometimes people will ask me, “What was it like when you tried to hurt yourself?”  And I say, “You mean when I attempted suicide?”  Say what it is, man!  It’s OK to use the word.  I didn’t try to hurt myself.  I tried to KILL myself.  There’s a difference, isn’t there?

Yep.  I’ve also cut.  A lot.  In fact, if I EVER get a new partner (that’s a slim chance, peeps), I’m going to be most worried about him seeing the scars.  Anyhoot, I’m not going to lie about the scars people see.  “Oh my God…were you in an accident?”  “No.  I cut myself.  I’m bipolar, I was going through a terrible breakdown, and I used a razor blade and cut myself numerous times.  Luckily, I’m doing better now…thanks for asking.”  People look gobsmacked when I say that, but hey, it’s the truth.

How is it a little boy can be fatally abused while scores of people obviously turned their heads?  How can molestation go on for years in a household when there are obvious signs to what’s happening?  Why is it we say “How ya doing?” as we walk by someone who is looking down, instead of saying “Hey, you look really depressed.  Is something going on with you?  Would you like to talk?”

black and white black and white depressed depression
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

One of my students came to me a few months ago, and I knew she was trying to tell me something, but just couldn’t get it out.  Knowing she’d been depressed, I said this:  “Are you thinking about suicide?”  She literally gasped and started crying.  She said: “You said it.  You said suicide.  You SEE me.”  And yes, I did.

I know these words…these issues…these horrible problems are hard to discuss.  Uncomfortable to talk about.  Not ‘polite’ conversation.  And here’s what I say about that (in me and my sister’s words):  “Who fucking cares?!”

If we don’t ask a friend about her bruise, how will she know we are there to help and support her (or him) if it is abuse?  If we don’t look in the eyes of a child who is exhibiting signs of sexual abuse and ask them if anyone is touching them inappropriately, how will they find the strength to share their ‘secret?’  If we don’t use the words rape when a drunk girl is assaulted at a party while passed out, how can we ever punish the offenders and make sure they can’t hurt another girl again for a long time?  If we see a teen (or an old lady of 53) with multiple bandaids in odd areas and never ask if they are cutting themselves, how will they know others are suffering that same compulsion too?

what is this is all real text with yellow background
Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

My God…think about this.  We can’t use these uncomfortable words, so the consequence is to keep our heads buried while people continue to be hurt?  Really?  I’m sure when mom hears the words Domestic Violence, it isn’t as bad as when R had her on the floor with his hands around her neck, squeezing until she couldn’t breathe.  Right?

For fucks sake (I only use that word to make ma cringe and my sis laugh every time they read my blog), we have to address these issues head on.  Not use the vocabulary that tiptoes around the problem, but words that lay it out there bare.  Naked.  For all of us to see.  Because until we do that, grasshoppers, little sweet Gabriel isn’t going to be the only victim to be let down by us all.

Kristi xoxo

 

 

 

 

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