** This post addresses the topic of suicide. It may be hard to read and may trigger some difficult feelings, particularly if someone you know has died by suicide, or if you have experienced thoughts of suicide yourself.**
Suicide is so hard to write about. There are so many strong opinions and beliefs. We see it all over the media in news stories, movies, articles, social media, and television. People of all ages have been exposed to it. I hear of people who have died by suicide at least once a month. Yes, I said died by. Suicide is the cause of death. Since my opinions are starting to leak out, here goes. It is time to just dive in, not be afraid, and tell you what I think.
Some of the often used, harmful ways to describe this cause of death are: committed suicide, took their own life, and killed or even “offed” themselves. Sometimes, family members, friends, and community members describe the act of suicide as selfish. Some even go as far as to say it was for attention. This hurts my heart so deeply. The reason I am intentional about calling it “died by suicide” is because I believe it is a disease, or at least part of one. Many medical experts believe this as well.
Suicidal ideation exists in the minds of many. People have reported to have had at least a a fleeting thought of it at one point in their life. Sometimes we are not careful with our words and say things such as, “I just wanted to die!” when speaking about embarrassment, nervousness, or being put in an uncomfortable situation. Our words are impactful and create meaning for those around us. This is not to say I have never said these things. Actually, I say all kinds of ridiculous, inappropriate things more than I would like to admit. So this is not a lecture about what to say, it is just an opportunity to stop and have a mindful moment to consider your own thoughts.
If I sat here and tried to provide links and resources and books and movie recommendations, this would go on forever. There is so much out there to explore; there is information about prevention, grief, and awareness. The reason I am writing about this today is to simply provide a small part of my thoughts and beliefs about the issue. Why today? For some reason, the discussion has come up a few times in the last week.
This week, a co-worker told me one of her daughter’s 8th grade classmates died by suicide. My co-worker was upset and at a loss about what she could do to help her child get through this traumatic event. I know many families and schools approach this topic differently. In that moment, I had a big opinion and did not hesitate to tell her what I thought. I told her how important it is to have conversations about suicide. We should not wait until it happens to talk about it! I gave her an example of a conversation she might have with her teen. I told her conversation families have about suicide are proactive. This means putting aside the fear that if you talk about it, it will plant the seed and suggest that suicide is a possible solution. Talking about it does not make it happen.
When approaching these conversations, it is extremely important to support and encourage family members without judgement. Let your kids know they will not be punished, shut down, criticized, or dismissed when they are brave enough to talk about it. Make a plan. This plan should be personal to suit the needs of individuals. Maybe someone would feel more comfortable expressing themselves artistically by writing, painting, singing, composing music. Maybe they want to be held. Perhaps they want to cry, or scream, or yell. As long as communication is part of a plan with mutual understanding that there will not be judgement and an understanding of what the potential outcomes may be. Make an agreement that if they are upfront and some way indicate that they need to “activate” the plan, you will ask them 3 simple questions. 1) Are you considering suicide? 2) Do you have a plan? 3)Do you have the means to carry out this plan? As weird as it is, maybe practice the conversation so you are able to ask when it matters most, and so they are familiar with what it is like hear the questions.
From a disease perspective, people of all ages should never be shamed for wanting to have conversations about any disease. It is terrible for me to feel stigmatized when talking abut mental health, and then embraced when talking about cancer. It doesn’t make sense! It is so painful and confusing. My support system has always let me talk about my depression. They have learned to listen to me and know I will be honest as long as I don’t feel judged. They know if I tell them my thoughts feel dangerous, dark, and ugly, they will do what I have told them to do. They will ask if I feel safe. They will ask it as much as is needed. They will not act like they are “put out” even if they are busy. They will come to me or make sure someone is with me. They will even set me straight and let me know we are in this together. It’s kind of a “no man left behind” thing.
Not everyone is me. Not everyone can be neck deep in darkness and tell someone to either start digging or pull as hard as they can to get me out. Not everyone has spent years having plan on top of plan for when the darkness sets in. This can happen in the blink of an eye. I am not stronger or more capable than others. I have just felt the intensity of this disease before and, up until this point, have been able to tell it to SHUT THE HELL UP BEFORE I GO GET MY ARMY! This is the most important army you can join for your people. Get on board, go to the bootcamp of communication and support, and promise that when you are called, you will show up and fight.
When I thought about this topic and what it is like to experience the racing thoughts and scary feelings of when the voice comes, this video came to mind. Perhaps is will give a visual and audio idea of what it may feel like for some people.
Be Well…Or ask others to help you move in that direction
Since I graduated from my Masters program in 2012, I have had the worst time with getting a job. In school, I had an amazing two year assistantship where I discovered what it was like to be a part of an office. I formed relationships, was able to recognize strengths in others, and I was given the opportunity to create and improve programs and was trusted to do a good job. I got to spend a lot of time interacting with students in different capacities. My job had a ton of variety. I loved this office because we really did the whole, “work hard, play hard” thing. I laughed so hard most days. I got to be silly and serious all in the same day.
I moved from Fort Collins back to Denver right after school. Denver is my home and is where I feel the most comfortable. Denver is also a VERY DIFFICULT place to get a job in my field. Between May 2012 and August 2013, I did not have a solid full time job. I spent days job searching and networking. Honestly, looking for a job was my full time job.
I worked part time in higher education as part of a team developing a program to support first year students. I loved the job, but it was only part time and short term. I took another job as a peer mentor working alongside individuals who were struggling with mental health difficulties. I thought the job was going to be a great place to use my skills as a counselor and as a person with a mental health diagnosis. That job turned out to be miserable for so many reasons. I created a great program for clients to grow confidence at a local recreation center pool. I had the support from the recreation center, my clients were excited, and I couldn’t wait for it to be a success. Unfortunately, when it came down to it, all of my work was a waste. My employer didn’t follow through, and after a lot of hard work and energy, my program fell through the cracks. I lost confidence in creating a program and saw it fail because of a lack of support. That job did not last long.
The first full time job I was hired for was following a year of making it to final interviews for 12 different jobs at the institution. I was finally hired after “lucky number 13.” Most people I have told were shocked that I kept going back for more. Whether it was determination, stubbornness, belief in the organization, or faith in myself, I finally got a job. After I started the job, I knew I hadn’t gotten any of the other positions because this job hadn’t been created and it had my name all over it. I had a “hybrid” position where I was involved in creating and implementing three different programs. I spent my days interacting with so many people in the campus community and in my own office. I felt like I had endless amounts of creative freedom because I was building my own job. My position had not existed before and it was up to me to shape it. I loved the culture of my office because we supported each other, liked each other, and knew how to have a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I decided to leave this job after I went through my treatment for cancer.
In January 2017, after a long, similar job search, I returned to work and did not have success with the first two jobs. Knowing I had to find some way to support myself, I finally landed my current job. I have only been there since July, but I already know that I am in love with it! I am able to work on multiple projects, spend a lot of time interacting with clients, and I have such a supportive office team. I am valued and my fun, silly ways are accepted and appreciated. I have one coworker who always starts the day by saying, ‘welcome home”.
My successful jobs have always had a few things in common; I was given creative freedom, my ideas were valued, coworkers were supportive, hard working, and humorous, and I could be myself without apologizing. I have also enjoyed the variety in my work. I have been able to work on program development and spend a lot of time with clients in a number of settings. In hindsight, I see what has worked in the past and is working now, and I know what I must have from a work environment. It is so important to me that I have been able to solidify the common threads in my most successful work environments. I would recommend anyone take the time and explore this for themselves.
This video is a TedTalk given by one of my favorite supervisors. He helped me to develop my professional identity and was an excellent role model. Please take the time to see what he has to say about the key to a successful workplace. He has taken the time to consider what he values in a career and has created an amazing business sharing that with others. This is Paul Osincup. I am honored to have spent a few years working with him.