Robin Williams, Suicide and the Effect on Others

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the few days I spent in my friend’s basement suite in April 2011. I don’t know why that time keeps coming to mind, but I think about it as I walk up the stairs, as I sit at my desk at work, when I walk the dog. I don’t remember much about the period of time when I hit rock bottom, but I remember exactly what those days felt like.

alarm clock

I remember sitting on the couch until 2 or 3 a.m., writing or watching movies or just sitting in the dark trying to breathe. I (not a night owl) stayed up as late as I could, then took the pill that knocked me out cold for 12 hours straight. I know a lot of people find nighttime really hard when struggling with depression, but for me it was easier than being awake during the day when everyone else was functioning like normal human beings and I couldn’t. I remember seeing people walk around the grocery store one day as if everything was completely normal when it so clearly wasn’t.

I don’t know what has caused those days to be so present in my mind lately. Maybe it’s because life hasn’t been entirely easy lately and I remember when it was so much worse. Or maybe it’s because at that point every moment was devoted to getting out of that horribly dark place and these days the struggle is just an item on the agenda between commuting and putting kids to bed, between brushing my teeth and thinking about what to have for lunch. It’s there, almost all the time, sometimes less, sometimes more, but I don’t have the luxury of focusing solely on what to do about it.

The thing that’s different between that time and now is that then I thought the struggle was temporary. It was an enormous, pothole-laden hill that I had to get up and over, but if I got over it, I thought, I’d be in the clear. Now, I know it doesn’t work that way. At least not for me.

Lately I am reminded, on an almost ridiculously regular basis, that this is my lot in life. I’m fine! I think, and then I wake up one day and observe I’m a little bit less fine than I thought. I find strategies to feel okay, and then realize those strategies are fine when I have the house to myself for a weekend but a lot less realistic when there are three other people and a dog there. I rail against the permanence of this struggle in my life but figure I’m making it through and one day things will probably be easier.

And then a celebrity dies by suicide after battling depression for years and all those things I think I believe seem a little less true.

I saw the news about Robin Williams as soon as I got home from work yesterday, and suddenly it was hard to breathe. I cried a lot last night, and this morning, and I know I’m not the only one. But as much as I loved him as an actor, I’m not really crying for the loss of the man; I’m crying because I know how he must have felt and the simple truth that I could very well end up feeling that way again is staring me straight in the face. And it’s not wearing a red clown nose to soften the blow.

I didn’t go to work today, because I needed to not be sitting at my desk trying not to cry and having to explain that, no, I’m not that sad about Robin Williams, it’s just that it makes my ongoing strategy of just treading water feel a little bit hopeless.

I think I have more to say about this, but there are already so many posts about what this all means and how we should react to it. I don’t know that I can contribute anything useful to that conversation, so while I think about how my story—and all our stories—can best help keep this conversation going, I’ll leave some links to perspectives I especially appreciated:

Be The Light – Finding Walden

When Reaching Out Isn’t Enough – Truthfully

We Lost One of Our Own – Learned Happiness

Put On Your Happy (Yet Sometimes Really Depressed) Face – That Tam I Am

A simple but true graphic: Nest (Because honestly, sometimes this is the only thing we can think of that will help)

And Huffington Post put together a piece called What Facebook Statuses Would Say If We Were Honest About Mental Health. They asked me to contribute, and I did, gladly.

Whole for Whole

A little over a year ago I started taking a new medication. I’d had a blip, and I was pissed off about that, and I really didn’t want to have to start another medication. But I took it, and aside from feeling drunk and having a very weird middle-of-the-night conversation on the first night I took it, I hardly noticed it. Except not long after I realized it had one profound effect: It finally, miraculously allowed me to control my anger.

This was revolutionary for me, in the holy-crap-how-is-it-five-years-later-and-I-am-only-figuring-this-out-NOW sort of way. A pill to control anger? Sign me up!

It does have some side effects, though, one of which being that it masquerades quite nicely as a sleeping pill. Which is fine, except it makes mornings sort of drowsy, and that’s not helpful when you have two small children who are awake at an ungodly hour, and it especially wasn’t helpful as I prepared to go back to work after maternity leave. So after talking to my psychiatrist I went down to half a pill.

For the better part of a year, I dutifully cut that little round, orange pill in half and popped that half every single night. But mornings were still a little rough, so I started taking the pill a little earlier in the evening and planned my activities around the hour and a half I had before it was nearly impossible to keep my eyes open.

And so it went, and things were mostly pretty good.

And then, after a while, they weren’t.

railroad tracks

Since late spring (maybe, in fact, for longer) things haven’t felt quite right. I’ve been blipping too often and struggling with the great why and generally feeling like c’mon, please, for the love of all things holy, there must be a way to manage this. And I was angry about that.

I was angry about a lot of other things too, but I didn’t realize it at the time.

And then one day something happened and I got really mad and my husband pointed out that I was angry all the time and we had a rager of a fight and I decided I needed to do something about it. So I stopped cutting the little round, orange pill in half and started taking the whole thing again.

I think (though I haven’t verified this with my husband) that it has made things okay. I still get mad, but the thing about this medication is that it allows the normal, sane version of me that still exists inside my head to stand off to the side and point out that the anger is irrational and I should probably just let it go already. Sometimes I still get mad, but I have the ability to choose not to react. I have the ability to control my reaction. Control! It’s a wonderful and quite helpful but often elusive thing. I look back now and realize that lack of control has made the road I’ve been on the last few years a pretty rough one.

So no, I didn’t want to start another med, and yes, it does have some side effects, but I got over it and the side effects are quite manageable. So I take medication for anger, because the benefits outweigh my pride and the challenges of drowsiness and put me back in a place where I can (mostly) act like a rational human being towards those around me. And perhaps (dare I say it) even more importantly, it puts me back in a place where I am me. Where I am more whole. And the implications of that are many and far-reaching and something I will share with you in another post sometime soon.

A #GreatList and Giving Back

I have friends who are teachers, and friends of friends who are teachers, and family members who are retired teachers, and I’m so glad there are people out there who can do that sort of thing. I certainly don’t have the patience. Heck, I can barely handle my own two children sometimes, never mind 22 others. But despite (or perhaps because of) this gratitude-at-a-distance, one of the things that has always completely annoyed me is how much of their own money teachers have to spend to get some of the basic supplies they need for their classrooms.

I asked some teacher friends about this and here are some of the examples they gave:

The teachers get a classroom budget based on a per-student amount. Then I get $50 to buy my teacher supplies (pens, tape, post-its, chart paper, whiteboard markers, staples, etc. etc.) For the whole year. Obviously it’s never enough and I always spend hundreds of my own $$ on my own supplies each year. Ditto for students’ supplies. I have already bought some stuff for my students next year, plus replenished some of my own stuff on my own nickel, and it’s only July!

I always spend a ton of money on extras and supplies for things like dance costumes, building supplies for big projects like mousetrap cars or trebuchets. I also buy things for myself like baggies, alligator clips, a paper cutter, special paper, sharpies(!), magnets, etc. those things add up but make a significant difference in my quality of life as a teacher. There’s a lot more… I ended up expensing over $900 in supplies that my admin insisted I do and they found money elsewhere because they knew how much I had been spending.

I spend more on “luxury items” (my term). Most of what I spend is for books for my classroom library.

Books! I mean, c’mon. Books! Yes, some of the items in the above lists are more nice to have than absolutely essential, but I just don’t understand how we think it’s okay that a teacher is given only $50 for supplies like pens, staples, whiteboard markers, etc. How are these things not supplied by the school with care taken to ensure the very basics are available? On average, teachers spend $1,000 of their own money just to make sure their students have the resources they need to learn. 

(You’ll have to forgive me somewhat for being so indignant. It’s been that sort of week.)

In any case, there is a reason for this rant. I had an opportunity to partner with Great Clips, who have teamed up with AdoptAClassroom.org to help deserving teachers AND give families some help with back-to-school needs. (I know, I know, it’s only July. Stick with me here.) 

Great Clips did a classroom makeover for two teachers, fulfilling their wish lists and helping their classroom vision come to life. If you need a pick-me-up, check out the video (though you might want to have some Kleenex handy, because oy).

Before and after classroom makeover

Help teachers

If you want to help more teachers, Great Clips is giving you a chance to do that simply by downloading their check-in app. With every download, Great Clips will contribute to AdoptaClassroom.org (up to $20,000) to support teachers and students. You can get info about the app on their site as well.

We take the boys to Great Clips to get their hair cut, and Rich discovered their app a while ago. It’s totally awesome, especially if you have fidgety kids, because it lets you add your name to the waiting list. It’s not an appointment, so there’s no pressure if someone has a meltdown as you’re trying to get everyone in the car. It just lets you put your name on the list so you don’t have to wait as long (or at all) when you get there. You can also look to see how many people are in front of you and time your departure appropriately.

Help yourself

Support teachers and win your school supplies

And that’s not all! Between now and September 5, 2014, you can upload your school supply list to the #GREATLIST site for a chance to win your supplies. Daily winners will get their back-to-school supplies shipped free to their front door (up to $100 value). The contest is open to individuals 18 and older who are legal residents of the United States (including the District of Columbia) or Canada.

As well, if you enter you’ll get a coupon for $2 off at Great Clips with your confirmation email the first time you submit a school supply list.

Good deeds and good deals for everyone, wouldn’t you say?

 

Thanks to Great Clips for sponsoring this post and giving me another way to do a little bit of good in this world.

What if you’re not better?

I’m responsible for content on Postpartum Progress this week and I’ve shared a post to follow all the celebrations from last week:

What if you’re not better?

 

I just figured there are some moms out there who needed to hear this.

 

winding path through trees

Postpartum Progress: 10 Years of Magic

“Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy. But remember this – you have friends here. You’re not alone.”

- Dumbledore in Harry Potter

postpartumprogress10

This week, a group of Warrior Moms and bloggers is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Postpartum Progress. I’ve written about the site and its founder, Katherine Stone, before, because this site, and by extension Katherine, was an integral part of recovering from my experience with postpartum depression. It wasn’t the first source of help I found, but it was one of the most important.

Looking at things now, as we celebrate this milestone anniversary and all Katherine has done, it’s perfectly clear to me: Katherine Stone is basically Dumbledore.Katherine Stone compared to Dumbledore

This is no simple comparison. She’s not merely magic (though certainly there is an element of the magical about her). Like Dumbledore, Katherine isn’t afraid to say it like it is while at the same time providing much-needed reassurance.

The struggle with PPD (and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders) is a dark time in any new mom’s life. Time and time again I’ve seen Katherine reach out to a new mom and acknowledge her experience, saying Yes, this is a horrible thing. It feels dark, and it will continue to be difficult for a little while yet. But you are not alone.

There’s a reason Katherine refers to struggling moms as Warrior Moms. Fighting PMADs is tough, and it involves choices that are sometimes difficult and definitely not always easy.

It would be easy (relatively speaking) to ignore your distress and try to carry on. I tried that and it didn’t work. It wasn’t the right choice.

It would be easy to choose blind trust that a small, white (or orange or blue) pill will make everything better without doing any of the hard work that must go with it.  That was another choice I made that was the easy, but not the right, path.

It was when I finally realized I wasn’t alone and that I did, in fact, have friends in that dark place that the hard choice to fight became easier.

These are more words of Dumbledore’s that I find inspiring, and that I think link him to Katherine and her work with Postpartum Progress:

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Katherine, thank you for being the source of that light for so many. Congratulations on 10 years.