Teens and Suicide Prevention

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says each year, more than 41,000 people die by suicide.

teens in high school

Last week I went to a local high school to talk with students about mental health. I’m a presenter for NAMI’s in-school program, “Ending the Silence.”

My co-presenter and I spoke to two classes, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. When our first presentation ended, we noticed the teens looked almost stunned. During the question and answer period, no one wanted to say a word. It took some gentle nudging for them to ask us anything.

Then we thought about it… These were incoming freshmen, brand new to high school. Classes started two weeks before. They probably weren’t comfortable yet with their teacher, let alone their classmates.

And they’d just sat through an hour of us talking about a subject that isn’t usually spoken about so directly and openly.

It was a lot to take in.

The students heard about anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, ADHD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They learned the warning signs of mental illness, and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend.

We had a straightforward discussion about suicide and the warning signs:

  • Talking, writing, or drawing about death.
  • Talking about having no reason to live, being a burden to others, or not being here tomorrow.
  • Looking for ways to attempt suicide.
  • Feeling hopeless, desperate, or trapped.
  • Giving away possessions.
  • Behaving recklessly.

We let the teens know that these symptoms can be subtle. But if their gut instinct is telling them that something isn’t right, something may not be right. And it’s important to reach out for help.

Take the warning signs seriously, and take immediate action:

  • Tell an adult you trust.
  • Ask the question. Ask if the person needs help, if they are thinking of attempting suicide.
  • Don’t leave the person alone.
  • Call the National Suicide Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
  • Text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
  • Go to an emergency room or call 911.
  • Do not keep warning signs a secret.

Sometimes when I’m presenting “Ending the Silence,” especially when we’re on the topic of suicide, I think the kids seem so young to hear about it. But they must.

The National Institute of Mental Health says that for ages 10-14, suicide is the third leading cause of death. For ages 15-34, suicide is the second leading cause of death.

Mental illness can affect any one of us. At any time. Teens need to know there is help available and they are not alone.

When I speak to the students, I never know if a kid in that classroom, or maybe a family member or friend, is struggling with a mental health condition. I never know who I’m going to reach.

The more educated the younger generation is about mental illness, the greater the chance the stigma will lessen.

We must have this conversation. Let’s keep it going.

#SuicidePrevention #StigmaFree

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Girl… or Boy?

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No, no, no, I’m not pregnant. My niece is! She and her husband are expecting their first child next March.

Last weekend they had a “gender reveal” party, and it was super exciting. I’d seen reveals online, like when balloons are popped and pink or blue confetti flows out, or when a cake is sliced, there’s either pink or blue cake inside. But I’d never personally been to a reveal. I know they’re popular now, especially among millennials.

My parents had absolutely NO idea what their granddaughter was talking about when she sent out the Facebook invite. My 90-year-old dad had a hard time grasping the concept. “What in the world is a gender reveal party? Why do they have a party for that? That’s just for women to go to, right?”

“No, Dad. It’s for all of us. It’ll be fun to share in the excitement with Kady and Dylan.”

I wasn’t sure how the reveal party worked. I thought the parents-to-be found out the sex of their baby, and that they were the ones to orchestrate the revealing. I found out this isn’t the case, or at least, it wasn’t here.

A few weeks ago, Kady had a blood test to determine the gender. The doctor’s office put the result in an envelope, sealed it tightly, and gave it to Kady, who gave it to one of her friends. (No, Kady did NOT peek!) Her friend was the only one entrusted with the secret. She ordered the pink or blue theme for the revealing.

About 30 of us gathered at my sister’s house for the “unveiling.” It was suggested we wear pink or blue, depending on what our vote was. I wore blue jeans and a light pink t-shirt. That way, I had it covered. There was a sea of different shades of blue and pink, with slightly more people sporting blue.

We put stickers on, either “Team Blue” or “Team Pink.” Banners and balloons decorated the kitchen. There were blue and pink frosted cupcakes and pink lemonade and blue tropical punch.

Kady was glowing and Dylan was the proud papa-to-be. They couldn’t wait to find out if they’d be welcoming a girl or boy into their lives.

Finally it was time to head out to the front yard. We all stood on the lawn, anticipating what was about to happen. Dylan said some beautiful words about how it takes a village to raise a child, and he and Kady are blessed to have all of us in their lives.

Then they each held a long white cylinder stick (a smoke powder cannon), and the countdown began. THREE…TWO…ONE!

They twisted the canisters and out exploded…

Huge plumes of bright blue smoke!

Everyone clapped and cheered until the blue cloud disappeared. The look of joy on Kady and Dylan’s faces was beyond priceless. They gave each other a tight hug, as they laughed and shed tears of happiness.

In six months, I’ll get to meet my sweet, great nephew.

And my niece and her husband will hold their precious son for the very first time.

"A grand adventure is about to begin..."  -Winnie the Pooh

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A Birthday to Remember

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A couple of weeks ago, my sister called to finalize details for our dad’s 90th birthday party. We had been trying to come up with something extra special.

My sister (I’ll call her Claire) wanted to run an idea by me. “How about if each of us talk about a special memory of Dad, or tell why he’s important to us… And I’ll videotape it.”

Videotape it? I’m not sure if everyone will be up for that.

Claire said that whoever wanted to participate could, no pressure for those who don’t want to.

So I agreed. And started to think about what I’d say.  Where do I begin?

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The anticipated big day was arriving quickly. My other sister (I’ll call her Tara), who lives out of state, flew in for the festivities. It meant the world to Dad that she came.

All of us gathered last weekend to celebrate the birth and wonderful life of our patriarch. Dad, Grandpa, Great-Grandpa.

We had a barbeque with his favorite meal — hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, and a donut cake. I can’t tell you how many pictures we have of him blowing out candles, perched on a stack of donuts. But this one was momentous. Two candles, one the number 9, one the number 0, stood proudly on top of the donut tower.

There were 16 of us, so we started the video tribute sessions early, before dinner. Dad sat in the living room where it was quiet, as most people were outside eating appetizers and playing games of cornhole.

One by one, we sat on the sofa next to him. No one opted out. Every single one of us spoke.

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My sisters and I went first. Tara talked about how she used to love going out with Dad every year, just the two of them, to find the perfect “Charlie Brown Christmas tree.” Claire reminded Dad of the times they’d lie on the backyard lounge chairs at night and stare at the stars, trying to find constellations.

I told Dad how much I loved my pretty bedroom he decorated for me when I was a little girl. He painted it pink, with flower wallpaper, and a canopy bed. He made me feel like a princess. I talked about how I treasure the times that he and my mom come over to our house for Sunday dinner. And that I love how our conversations usually lead to sheer laughter. Those moments spent together are priceless.

Then my mom sat next to her husband of 60 years. She told him that he’s the best man she could ever have hoped for. What she said, and how they looked at each other, is etched in my mind forever.

I couldn’t resist taking a picture of my sweet parents. I hadn’t planned on taking pictures, as it all was being videotaped. But I wanted to capture as much as I possibly could.

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The moments were tender and beautiful. It’s hard to describe the look on each person’s face, and my dad’s, while reminiscing. It was like Dad was staring into each family member’s eyes, wanting to soak it all in.

Like when one of my nephews talked about the cross necklace my dad gave him years ago. He treasures that cross, like nothing else he’s ever owned.

Or when my sister-in-law broke down crying, because she’s blessed and grateful to be part of our family. My dad held her hand and hugged her.

Or when my newly-pregnant niece teared up, telling him that he’s always made her feel special. She grew up with four older brothers, and reveled in the fact that she was unique, as my parents lovingly referred to her as “our first granddaughter.” My dad touched my niece’s pregnant belly with both hands, and it was more than precious.

Mackenzie, my oldest daughter, said how much she loves to hear Grandpa tell stories about his life. My youngest daughter, Talee, told him how happy she is that she’s carrying on the tradition of working at the place where he and Grandma met and fell in love.

All of the other memories and acknowledgments were equally as beautiful. Some serious, some lighthearted. But the one thing they had in common: it was clear to my dad how much he is admired, respected, and loved.

I think those tributes were as important to all of us, as much as they were to him.

When the party ended, Mom and Dad looked exhausted.

The next day, I saw Dad, and asked him if he’d recovered from the big celebration.

He said, “No.”

“Oh no, really, you haven’t?”

“No,” he said. A big smile spread on his face. “I’m still on cloud nine.”

Perfect.

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7 Ways to Live a More Joyful Life

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Last week I watched a video that really resonated with me. It was on seven simple ways to achieve happiness, based on research from Harvard.

It got me thinking… I am a happy person. But to be more specific, I have joy in my life. Which doesn’t mean I’m happy all the time. I’m content because I have a life filled with joy, even when things aren’t going right.

I used to use the terms joy and happiness interchangeably. But these words have different meanings.

JOY: is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are, and how you are.

HAPPINESS: tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts, and events.

Buying a new pair of shoes or going to a trendy restaurant makes me happy. But it doesn’t give my life meaning.

I’m joyous because I’m content. This doesn’t mean my life is perfect. There are things I’m working on that I want to change or improve. But I strive to create rich, meaningful relationships. I have a loving family; an amazing, supportive husband, and two daughters I adore. I’m close with my parents, sisters, and other family members. I have a great group of friends. I work hard to maintain my well-being, both mentally and physically.

When I watched the video on ways to achieve happiness, it reminded me that even though this list is compiled of things I’m already aware of, I need to remember to  incorporate them into my daily routine:

  • Meditate. Be still. Quiet your mind. Life gets so busy and we live in a chaotic world. It’s refreshing to slow down, even for just a little bit each day. I’ve tried meditating, and let’s say, I’m a work in progress. But even if I meditate and practice deep breathing for 10 minutes, it makes a difference. I feel rejuvenated and calm. I like using an app, like Headspace, to guide me through.

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  • Be kind. Spread joy through random acts of kindness. The smallest and simplest acts of kindness can mean the most. Smile, start a conversation, hold the door open. Kindness is something this world can never get enough of. And it makes the giver feel as good (or even better) than the receiver.
  • Buy experiences rather than things. Spend time with family and friends. Face-to-face interaction. Maybe it’s going out to eat, walking on the beach, doing a puzzle, talking for hours, or munching on popcorn and binge-watching a new show. It’s about creating special moments, talking and laughing together. It’s the time, not the material things.
  • Make your surroundings positive. Surround yourself with beauty. Bring flowers into the house or put a bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen table. The glow of candles make the house feel warm and homey. I often have a candle burning when I cook and on the table every night. A flickering candle makes every meal feel special. Decluttering is a big priority for me. It helps me to feel organized and so much better when things are in their place. Transform a room into your sanctuary, a lovely place to spend time in.

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  • Find something to look forward to. The expectation of something wonderful about to happen, is amazing. I think of hope. Having hope is what helps keep us going. It can be anticipating an upcoming vacation, or something as simple as looking forward to going home after a long day; eating a favorite meal or treat; making time to garden, paint, or write; spending time with friends.
  • Physical activity. This is beneficial, both physically and mentally. After I work out, I feel energized and proud for doing something good for my body. Plus, it helps lower my stress and anxiety levels. Exercise raises those feel-good endorphins, leaving us with a feeling known as a “runner’s high.” Any type of physical movement counts… yoga, running, walking, biking, dancing, splashing in the pool with your kids, gardening, or going on a nature hike.
  • Do what you’re best at. Find something you love and do it as often as possible. This gives us joy and confidence. While it’s important to reach out of our comfort zones to learn and grow, it’s also important to spend time in our comfort zones.

Live mindfully, with the intention of filling it not only with happiness, but also with joy.

I think it’s nice to have both.

Dance

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On My Mind: Demi Lovato

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This morning I went to a local high school to talk to teens about mental health. I’m a speaker for “Ending the Silence,” an in-school presentation created by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Today I spoke to incoming freshmen, who were taking a summer school health class.

When I got home this afternoon, my husband asked if I’d heard the news about Demi Lovato being hospitalized for a drug overdose. I hadn’t. I was shocked and saddened. I thought about how I had just talked about Demi to the kids watching my NAMI presentation.

During the program, I talk about how anyone can be affected by mental illness. It doesn’t matter how old you are, if you’re a boy or girl, where you live, what your ethnicity is, how much money you have, or how successful you are.

Anyone can be affected. But there is hope for a productive life.

I show a slide of celebrities and famous people who live with mental illness. This is one of my favorite parts of the presentation, because the kids know who many of these people are and can relate.

One of the stars the students always know of is singer Demi Lovato, and today’s class was no exception.

I mentioned that Demi lives with bipolar disorder, yet despite her challenges, she’s able to function and have an extremely successful career. Demi has battled addiction, bipolar disorder, and an eating disorder for years.

At this point in my talk, I usually catch myself when I start to tell the students that it’s inspiring because these famous people who live with a mental illness lead successful and happy lives.

The part I catch myself on is the word happy.

Because I truly don’t know how happy they are. I hope they are, but the point is that they live with mental health conditions. They struggle and suffer. Achieving fame and wealth does not mean they’re happy. They’re human.

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A couple of weeks ago, I heard Demi’s new song called “Sober.” Her lyrics are sad, talking about how she has relapsed. When I heard it and saw the video, I was worried for her. My thoughts and prayers go out to Demi and her family. I sincerely hope she finds inner peace and recovers.

Momma, I’m so sorry I’m not sober anymore
And daddy, please forgive me for the drinks spilled on the floor
To the ones who never left me
We’ve been down this road before
I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore
I’m not sober anymore
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Resolutions and Reconnecting

Band Quote - Twitter Post

New Year’s resolutions are often broken or forgotten, right? Not this one. Not for me.

Back in early January, I’d written a post about having a fresh start and making resolutions, which I don’t like to do. They’re too much pressure. Instead, I prefer to strive for goals throughout the year.

BUT… This year I did make one resolution I was determined to follow through with:

Build deeper, more meaningful, richer relationships. Nourish those I have and create new ones, even if it means stepping out of my comfort zone.

Last fall, a friend introduced me to a book, The Gifts of Imperfection, by author and motivational speaker, Brene Brown, Ph.D. She writes about the importance of human connections. It reminded me that this is an area where I could use some improvement.

Brene says, “I define connections as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

Friends

I’ve taken my New Year’s resolution to heart. I’ve been mindful of connecting more with friends and family, and building new friendships.

It takes time and effort to connect. But the benefits are so rich, it makes it all worth it.

A great example of this is my experience this past weekend.

A brief background: I was on the speech team in junior college. I’d never felt such strong camaraderie and connection. We worked on speeches together, traveled together for tournaments, and became each other’s vital source of encouragement and support.

We were united by the same goal: to be the best individual speaker or debater we could be, for our own personal development, and for the success of the team. We lifted each other up, in good times and in bad.

We became close friends during the two or three years we competed. We were inseparable, like we were looped together by an imaginary string.

Who do you spend most of your time with? Are they someone who you want to reflect? Do they push you to be the best version of yourself?  I'm so grateful to be building a team of positive caring and motivated women who are reaching out daily to help others.  We help each other build each other up and celebrate successes together.  Each of us are surrounded by other strong motivated women building a business in our own way!  #girlpower #girlbosses #positivevibes #lawofattraction by @crysp via http://ift.tt/1RAKbXL

Even though we’d vowed to keep in contact, after graduation we went our separate ways. We lost touch. Life happened and time flew by. It had been nearly 35 years since we’d seen each other.

Until last weekend.

It was challenging, as the four of us live in different cities. But we made it happen. We met in a central area at a restaurant for lunch. We’d kept in touch through social media, but… I admit, I was a bit nervous. Would we still feel that connection we’d had so many years ago?

I was thrilled that the answer was a resounding YES.

After huge, tight bear hugs and big smiles, we started to catch up on the past 30-plus years. Marriages, children, divorces, careers. It wasn’t just “surface” talk. We reconnected on a deep, emotional level. We inspired and empowered each other all over again. I could see why I liked them so much when I was 19.

Now we’re grown, with more experience and wisdom. Robert has a son and is an award-winning speech coach, at the college where we all first met. Paige is an accomplished businesswoman, now a stay-at-home mom of twin girls. Alexis has a teenager and preteen twins. She’s also a criminal defense attorney. (not their real names). I’ve been married 29 years, with two daughters in their twenties. I’m a writer and mental health advocate.

We’ve all taken different paths. But that string that held us together so closely at one time has merely stretched, over time and miles. We forged a bond that won’t break.

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At the end of our three-hour lunch, Robert looked around the table and said, “As I’ve been listening to each of you talk, I’ve realized something. We’re all doing what we’re passionate about.” That comment gave me goosebumps. He summed it up perfectly. Maybe that passion is our common link.

And it’s what I’ve always wanted for myself and now, for my daughters. I encourage them to figure out what they love and live their lives filled with passion and purpose.

Make connections. Nourish those relationships. Don’t let the special ones drift away.

We can’t get through this life alone. We aren’t meant to. We’re here to help each other.

At the end of our lunch, we had someone take a picture of us. I showed it to my daughters and they both said, “Mom, you all look so happy!” We were.

And we definitely won’t wait another thirty-something years before we see each other again.

Winnie the Pooh usually hits the nail on the head when it comes to displaying love for your BFF.

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