I am angry

I am angry.

There I said it.

Did you know there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance? These are supposed to build the framework of how we grieve and learn to live with the one we lost. I thought I was doing good. The only one I didn’t hit was anger and I figured after 21 months I was free and clear of that one.

Why after 21 months did I think that this thing manifesting inside of me, this ball of fury, pure rage, would come out now? Well, it has, and I can’t seem to make it go away. It seems the more I try to squish it back down, the angrier I become. And the tears. Holy crap, I cannot stop crying.

I am angry at myself.
In educating others on mental health and suicide prevention I have also educated myself. And with all this knowledge, I now realize even more so that I was not enough for Nikolai. I was a failure of a parent and I want to literally throat punch my own self for not seeing things differently, for not being the mom he needed me to be, for not questioning more, loving more, talking more. I kind of loathe myself a little bit right now.

I am angry at the world.
Why aren’t more people out there fighting for those struggling with mental health and suicide ideation? Why is this not at the forefront of everyone’s minds? Why is it that every time I post something about another youth suicide, I must fight someone on my page who clearly, in my mind, does not have the best interest of children in theirs? I try to always make my FB page a place where anyone can post and I will not bully, shame, or ridicule you, even if we think and believe completely opposite things. I pride myself on that because I think it is super important that we all be able to civilly talk to each other and respect other opinions. But I am telling you right now, if I post something about youth mental health and suicide and you think differently, I will fight you on it, every single time. And I probably will not use my nice words.

I am angry at our leaders.
Advocacy is my number one priority right now. I cannot even tell you the number of legislators I have reached out to, both on the state and federal level, asking them to support much needed mental health legislation. I have called and asked for meetings, written letters, sent emails and I feel like it’s falling on deaf ears. Partly because (and I know this deep down) they are swamped busy and probably receive a million emails a day; however, I perceive that as not caring. Maybe this is true and maybe it isn’t. Maybe youth mental health isn’t their top priority, like I think it should be. I feel like I am in a losing battle – a war I just cannot win.

I am angry at my friends.
Grief is the most ridiculously lonely thing you will ever go through, ever. It tears your heart in a million pieces and creates such a black hole of despair. And on my worst days I want you to sit in my space with me. I do not want to look at cute puppy pictures and hear about your kids’ awesome goal save in soccer. I don’t care. Is that fair to you? Nope. It’s not. Yet I can’t apologize for it because it’s how I feel.

Anger. This is my truth right now. It is all the pent-up pain in my heart. And I find myself not knowing what to do with it or where to go with it. Suppressing it clearly isn’t an option but how do I stop myself from spewing forth ugliness? Because this rage I am filled with, it is oozing out my pores at this point and I am spitting venom to even the most well-intentioned people in my life.

I have been told this is normal. Just like there is no timeframe for grief, apparently there is no timeframe for the five stages of grief either. I am late to the party on anger.

I read a quote recently that said, “Grief looks a lot like anger on the outside. Sometimes it seems simply like unmerited rage, but it’s really the frustration the heart feels when it finds itself in trauma that it can’t make any sense of.” – John Pavlovitz

I can’t make sense of it. My brain and my heart feel like they are always working against each other. Grief is hard and it doesn’t play fair.

What I have realized though is that trying to squish the anger down isn’t working, which means it’s time to put my big girl pants on and sit in it. It’s time to lean into it, own it, feel it, work through it and not apologize for it. God grant me peace.

I Am Great

In third grade Nikolai had the best teacher. Don’t get me wrong, he had amazing teachers his whole school career; however, one teacher always stood out to me and this was his third-grade teacher, Mrs. Breen.

This was the one year of elementary school that I remember as being his most joyous. While he still had to get the work done, Mrs. Breen wasn’t the teacher that scolded him, made him feel bad for not doing his work, or held him back from recess (which he so desperately needed to burn off his energy). She softly redirected him, used wit and sarcasm with him, and tried to always make tasks a game. I know he was a handful and we talked frequently about challenges. However, his third-grade year was the year he smiled most. This was the year he thrived in school the most.

One particular class project they worked on was called “I Am Great.” The kids colored or painted those words in the middle of the page and then each child’s page was passed around to the other kids in the class to write something positive about that child.

Last week I was sifting through Nikolai’s box of treasures, as I like to call it. Each one of my boys has a box filled with all the things I want to save forever and ever – their first baby shoes, baptism gowns, homemade blankets, report cards, pictures they colored, Mother’s Day cards handmade with love and on the rare occasion, a meaningful assignment from one of their classes. It was through this sifting through his box looking for something else entirely, that I came across this “I Am Great” assignment.

I started reading all of the comments and I laughed and cried. Comments about how nice he was, what a good friend he was, how good he was at athletics, reading and coloring. Yet it was Mrs. Breen’s note that jolted me: “You are a super athlete with an amazing passion for life.”

“An amazing passion for life.”

This was Nikolai summed up in one sentence. The BEST sentence. And as a parent who struggled with this child constantly, I wish I had focused more on that one sentence. As a parent, I focused so much on what he didn’t do or did wrong and forgot to look at him as a person, as a friend, someone who was kind and joyful and who had a zest for life that few others had.

Chalk this up with the other millions of mistakes I made with my kids. Raising kids without an instruction manual is just hard.

Yet it got me thinking… why don’t we all have an “I Am Great” assignment posted somewhere where we can see it all the time? What if instead of looking at all of our flaws, we took time to realize all the great things about ourselves and each other? What if we looked at kids like Nikolai and instead of seeing a kid who can’t focus on a single thing and is crazy impulsive, we saw a child who had “an amazing passion for life”? It’s all perspective and perhaps it’s time to change that view for one that shows the light in someone, not the darkness.

Nikolai ended that school year with a “worm-off” with Mrs. Breen. If you have never heard of the worm, just google “Worm Dance Move” and you can watch hundreds of YouTube videos of it. This final moment of third grade was talked about his whole life as one of his greatest shining achievements, as he is convinced he beat her! After Nikolai died, Mrs. Breen messaged me the video of the “worm-off” that another parent had captured. I will forever keep this video and watch it when I need to be reminded that life is full of joy if only we choose to look for it.

Why must I be strong?

People frequently say to me “you are so strong”, “you are the strongest person I know”, “how can you be so strong?”.

Strong.

Being strong is the only choice I have. It’s either that or curl up into a ball and suck my thumb in a corner for the rest of my life, which honestly, some days, doesn’t sound like a terrible idea.

I made a promise to myself the day Nikolai died that I would always at least get out of bed every single day. What I did after that was up in the air, but I had to at least get out of bed. As humans it is in our nature to fight this constant battle of wanting to just let ourselves drown while also wanting to stay afloat. But I had two other children to worry about, a husband to love, a funeral to plan. There was no choice but to keep moving forward, no time to really feel, especially when other people are depending on you. Once the distraction of funeral planning has ended and your house empties of people and the cards and texts are fewer and fewer, this is when being strong really comes into play. This is when you have to dig deep and try to put things back together. This is when you make decisions that impact how you are going to heal.

I decided to run head on into the belly of the beast. I decided to be resilient and strong, brave and courageous, a fighter. I made the decision to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves; those who struggle with mental health, those who live moment to moment never knowing if they want to live another second. To do that, I had to be strong. It was like going into battle some days with a full armor suit and shield, preparing to take on whoever and whatever to get things done.


Yet along that path, I forgot to tell myself that it’s okay to not be strong every single day. Fighting internal demons while trying to slay dragons and save the world – well sometimes those just don’t mesh. Some days that is a battle all on its own, with no clear winner.

To survive any form of trauma in our lives we have choices – choices on how we want to come out the other side and how we are going to get there. I guess I chose strong. For me, this was the only choice I had. It’s not part of my DNA to sit out the hard stuff. Yet every time someone tells me how strong I am, I cringe. I hate that word, yet live by that word. It’s so confusing.

I think more times than not, people choose strong over thumb sucking in a corner. I think, as humans, we are resilient and standing in the middle of a fire waiting to burn just isn’t an option. That fire forges something new in us and wakes us up to new possibilities. It doesn’t mean that the flames don’t sometimes still ignite and hurt, it means that we can withstand the heat long enough to get to water.

What I have found is that even though I am able to get through the days, not all of those days are strong days and that being strong is relative. Find YOUR strong and be that. All we need to do is get out of bed and the rest of the day will sort itself out.

Fear of Loss

Honestly, I have a lot of fears…

  • Fear of flying and dying in a fiery crash
  • Swimming in the ocean and being eaten by a shark
  • Riding on one of those things in the Everglades, tipping over and being swallowed by an alligator
  • Snakes
  • Bridges
  • Spiders
  • Sewer grates on sidewalks
  • Heights and falling
  • Zombie apocalypse anyone?

I’m not super adventurous. I’m cautious. I’m a worrier. And then my greatest fear became my reality.

When people ask what is your worst fear, I have always said the loss of a child. It was always the one thing I thought I could never endure. Well, here I am, 19 months later, and a child loss survivor. Some days it still feels impossible that this thing I fear most in life actually happened. And even though I survived, loss of yet another child or my spouse is something I am positive I cannot endure again. It will quite literally break my heart completely.

If I could wrap them up in bubble wrap, never let them out of my sight, keep hold as tight as I can, then nothing can happen to them. I can keep them forever. But life doesn’t work that way. Life isn’t meant to be lived in fear, it’s meant to be joyous and fun, filled with adventures and travels. Yet, this fear of loss at times steals my breath and fills me with anxiety. This fear keeps me attached to what is comfortable, not necessarily what I need to keep me moving forward. I know this, I just don’t know how to change it.

Most of the fears I listed are fairly irrational or at least not super likely to happen. Honestly, I would have added loss of a child to that list as well because who really believes their child will die before them? That’s not how life is supposed to go. It’s the elderly who die, not our youth. That isn’t fair. That isn’t just. Yet it happens, and it happens more often than we think or want to think.

And my child didn’t just die. He CHOSE to take his own life. I mean in the great randomness of the world, this definitely shouldn’t have happened to me. Things like this don’t happen to people like our family. We are just an average, middle class family, working, going to school and doing life things.

I ask myself, what are the odds of it happening twice, and this is where it all goes haywire, because I still can’t believe it happened once. The thought of another loss in my immediate household walls – it’s unthinkable, it’s unimaginable. So, I continue to hold my breath every time my family gets into a car, fly’s on a plane, or does anything that requires leaving the safety of our home without me in tow. During the summer Reilly’s friends would all want to walk to each other’s houses or meet up at Taco Bell. I had to reach out to those moms and let them in on my demons. I had to arrange car rides with parents instead because all I could picture was Reilly being hit by a car on the corner of Williams Lake and Cooley Lake Road.

I feel like this worry, this fear, is the life of any mom, but mine came true. My greatest fear actually happened. My boys are my life. My husband is my life. My new granddaughter is my life. My future daughter-in-law is my life. Please God keep them safe. My heart can’t take it.

Surviving After Someone’s Suicide

This information is provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I have simply copied and pasted here one of their documents available to the public. If you are a suicide survivor, I urge you to read through this.

You Are Not Alone If you have lost someone to suicide, the first thing you should know is that you are not alone. Each year over 30,000 people in the United States die by suicide, and it is the second-leading cause of death for college-aged students. The devastated family and friends they leave behind are known as “survivors.” There are millions of survivors who, like you, are trying to cope with this heartbreaking loss. Survivors often experience a wide range of grief reactions, including some or all of the following:

  • Shock is a common immediate reaction. You may feel numb or disoriented, and may have trouble concentrating.
  • Symptoms of temporary depression, including disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, intense sadness, and lack of energy.
  • Anger towards the deceased, others, or yourself.
  • Guilt, including thinking, “If only I had….”

These feelings usually diminish over time, as you develop your ability to cope and begin to heal.

Why Did This Happen? Many survivors struggle to understand the reasons for the suicide, asking themselves over and over again: “Why?” Many replay the individual’s last days, searching for clues, particularly if they didn’t see any signs that suicide was imminent.

Because suicide is often poorly understood, some survivors feel unfairly victimized by stigma. They may feel the suicide is somehow shameful, or that they, their family, or their friends are somehow to blame them for this tragedy.

Try to bear in mind that suicide is almost always complicated, resulting from a combination of painful suffering, desperate hopelessness and other complicated factors.

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One learns to live with the loss, the tragedy, the waste, and the gaping hole in the fabric of one’s life. There is no closure, nor would I want one. I want to remember her all my life, vividly: her laughter, the smell of her perfume, her moments of joy, her humility, and her integrity.

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Coping With Suicide Loss

  • Some survivors struggle with what to tell other people. Although you should make whatever decision feels right to you, most survivors have found it best to simply acknowledge that the individual died by suicide.
  • You may find that it helps to reach out to family and friends. Because some people may not know what to say, you may need to take the initiative to talk about the suicide, share your feelings, and ask for their help.
  • Even though it may seem difficult, maintaining contact with other people is especially important during the stress-filled months after a suicide.
  • Keep in mind that each person grieves in his or her own way. Some people visit the cemetery; others find it too painful to go at all.  However, some form of grieving is a basic human need for the healing process.
  • Each person also grieves at his or her own pace; there is no set rhythm or timeline for healing.
  • Anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays may be especially difficult, so you might want to think about whether to continue old traditions or create some new ones. You may also experience unexpected waves of sadness; these are a normal part of the grieving process.
  • Some survivors find comfort in community, religious, or spiritual activities, including talking to a trusted member of the clergy or a counselor.
  • Be kind to yourself. When you feel ready, begin to go on with your life. Eventually starting to enjoy life again is not a betrayal of the individual, but rather a sign that you’ve begun to heal.

For more information about survivors of suicide you can contact The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This organization reaches out to survivors with two goals in mind: to offer the support that is so vital, particularly to the newly bereaved, and the opportunities for survivors looking to get involved in prevention and advocacy. Their website is: http://www.afsp.org/

Give each other grace

My heart is tired.

There are so many people in my life who are hurting, grieving, struggling. The world is upside down and cruel and confusing. My head spins all day long and now it’s entering my sleep time.

I’m doing my best to check in with all those people in my life who need to be heard, who need kind words, who need a little extra love right now. However, I realized today that I need to check in with myself too and that means I may have to check out on helping others for a bit and focus on me. I’ve been focusing so much on the hearts of others that I forgot that mine is just as achy and needs a little extra care too.

Yet how do I do that? I can’t just walk away from others. How do I find balance? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? And I for real don’t have an answer.

Somehow I need to acknowledge my loss and my feelings. While other people have moved on, and I am stronger now than I was, I still miss Nikolai as much today as I did the day he died. The dreams don’t ever quit. The remembering is always there. I need others to also acknowledge my loss, even if they don’t understand where I’m at with it right now. Unlike physical pain, it’s very difficult for people to relate to emotional pain, and especially to talk about it. It’s hard.

I also don’t want my loss to be a central focus of my life, but it is a huge part of my life and I can’t ignore it. And especially in seasons like Christmas, my feelings are bouncing all over the place – like a pinball machine. I can’t help it. Someone is missing from my season. I don’t care whether this is your first holiday without someone you love or the 20th, it still hurts.

While I try to help others, I feel myself sinking in the muck. I’m biting back tears constantly, forgetting things, snapping at people and acting sometimes in a way that I often regret. I ask you to grant me some mercy. Overlook it. My emotional tank is so empty right now and many days I feel like I’m going to shatter like a glass ball falling off the Christmas tree.

I try not to talk to people about my feelings because I feel like either they don’t want to hear it, they have their own grief they are drowning in, or they don’t know how to handle it and it just becomes awkward for everyone. The few times I thought about starting a conversation, I held back because I just don’t want to bring a room down, you know what I mean? After all, it’s the most joyous season of the year, right?

All of this leads me to the same question… how do I balance reaching out and loving others while simultaneously taking care of me? I still don’t have any answers except that maybe we just extend each other some grace right now and know that we are all in a tough spot. Maybe we lavish love on each other through prayer and forgive someone when they don’t reach out when we think they should.

Hebrews 4:16 – Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Grief and the holidays

Here we are… it’s the Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s holiday season. Again.

Last week I tried so hard to write a blog piece about all the things I am grateful for, a thankful post of sorts. As you can see, I didn’t do it. Let me rephrase that: I couldn’t do that. And not because I don’t have a million things to be thankful and grateful for, it just felt forced. This is our second holiday season without Beans. Throw in some COVID-19 lockdown and limited time with extended family and BOOM, you have a storm of emotions that I simply didn’t have control over.

Grief on a normal day is hard; however, grief during the holiday season is something else entirely. It’s wanting desperately to hang on to the memories and keep everything the exact same, while realizing that it won’t ever be the same. It’s experiencing crushing sadness in the midst of pure joy.

I don’t know if this will help you or not; however, here are a few things that I tell myself, not just through this holiday season, but throughout the year:

Let yourself feel. Last night my family watched “Elf” and if any of you know me, you know this is my absolute favorite movie of all time – like, I could watch it in July it’s that good. This movie brings me absolute pure joy. Last night, while my heart is bursting with joy, I started to cry during the end where they all have to “sing loudly for all to hear” to make the sleigh fly. I don’t know why, it just hit me in the feels. This is the feeling I’m talking about where I literally seem to float between joy and sudden sadness. And that’s OKAY! You have to allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions. The sounds, sights and smells of the holiday season may trigger feelings of sadness, loss, emptiness and anxiety. I read in an article a while back that “time doesn’t heal the pain associated with a loss; it’s what you do with that time that matters. Grief is the process by which you heal.” Rather than try to ignore the grief, we should embrace it.

Set boundaries for yourself. Last year we had plans to meet friends for drinks one evening. The whole day leading up to that singular event was excruciating. I knew I couldn’t do it. My heart hurt too much and I really just wanted to stay home and cry a little, snuggle with my husband and just feel. I tried to bury those feelings all day but in the middle of getting a car wash on our way to meet them, I looked at my husband and he just knew. He texted our friends and cancelled on the spot. This was a lesson for me to make sure that I’m setting boundaries for myself. You are not obligated to do anything, go anywhere or see anyone if you aren’t feeling it.

Honor your memories. Memories are the very thing that keep you solidly connected to those you have lost. It is so critical to continue to talk about your loved ones and cherish all the amazing memories you shared with them. It helps keep them alive so to speak. Christmas was always Nikolai’s favorite holiday and I love that even at 14 he would get up at 3 a.m. to see what Santa brought him and then go back to bed and lay awake anxiously for everyone else to get up. I love to picture his face on Christmas morning. I have a million memories of Nikolai at the holidays and my family will share them, talk about him, remember him and honor all of those memories.

Create new traditions. This one is tough for me as I’m not a lover of change. I thrive on tradition. However, over the course of time, new traditions just start to naturally emerge and someday I will be okay with that.

Ask for help. Last December I was in the absolute darkest of places, a black hole of sorts that I literally could not pull myself out of. I have a dear friend who literally said to me one day, “either you make an appointment with a therapist, or I’m making it for you.” We need these people in our lives. No one ever likes to ask for help. And this is one of the biggest hurdles we as humans must jump over if we are going to make change in this world. We need to admit that we can’t do everything ourselves. It’s okay to ask for help. People, by nature, want to help – it’s who we are. It doesn’t have to be a therapist, it could be a friend or family member. The point here is to reach out. Make the call. Ask for help.

This holiday season is no different than my every day, in that I will always choose joy while recognizing that I won’t always experience joy. I have much to be grateful and thankful for; however, I can also sit in the space of sadness once in a while and grieve my losses. We all feel broken sometimes. Just hold on, joy will always eventually shine through.

Deliver us from evil

Last month someone reached out to me sort of randomly and asked me if I would be interested in joining a Bible Study group. I’m just going to admit right here and now that I have never, and I mean never, read the Bible. I don’t know much about it and I certainly don’t know how to navigate through it. And, when I say Bible Study group, I use that term loosely because it ended up just being me and her, not much of a group. I was nervous. And honestly, every single Thursday night I am nervous and wondering if this is really for me. Every Thursday I think this is the week I’m going to just tell her I don’t want to do it anymore. However, I find that the hour I spend every Thursday reviewing my homework reading from the previous week, asking questions and learning from this person, has probably been one of my better decisions, and I keep going. I’ve always believed in God, but this Bible Study has taken me down a path of really figuring out what exactly that means.

We have been reading the book of Matthew and last night’s review covered the Lord’s Prayer. I’m sure many of you know it. The line that sticks out is “Deliver us from evil.” In my Bible I have these awesome study guide notes at the bottom of each page that helps explain what I’m reading in basic terms. In the study notes it said something to the effect of “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” I don’t have it right in front of me, so I’m paraphrasing a bit here so bear with me.

I had highlighted this in pink and wanted to talk more about that because I hear this phrase all the time. All. The. Time.

When someone says to you “God will never give you more than you can handle”, how does that make you feel? To me, it strikes a tone of fairness that I like. There’s something about that phrase that makes me pleased that God has assessed what I can handle and only gives me the things I can move through. Upon talking about it last night I had a WOW moment. What if God gives you more than what he thinks you can handle to turn you back to Him? Sit on that for a minute.

Not giving us more than we can handle points the sufferer inward instead of Godward. I did a google search on this verse for more information and I read this, “The saying ‘God will never give you more than you can handle’ tells me I have what it takes. It tells me I can bear whatever comes my way. It tells me God permits trials according to my ability to endure. Think about what this conventional wisdom does: it points people inward.”

It goes on to say, “Yet the Bible points us Godward. When our strength is failing under crushing burdens, the answer is not within. The power comes from Him to those who wait on Him.” Read the prayer line again: “Deliver us from evil.”  

We will never live a life that is not filled with trials of all different shapes and sizes. Suffering will happen because we live in a broken world with broken people. Let’s be honest with ourselves – we don’t really have what it takes. God will give us more than we can handle – but not more than He can.

So, I go back to that phrase, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” We say this to people all the time when their world is falling apart – the death of a loved one, loss of a job or home, divorce. We say it as a form of comfort. We have essentially promised something that the Bible never does.

I know this is a bit of a Bible thumping blog post and it may turn many of you off and that is OKAY. However, I needed to share it with you. I’ve mentioned plenty of times before that instead of running away from God when Nikolai died, I ran toward him, full force. I hit a wall of such grief that I knew I could not handle it on my own and the only way I was going to make it through was to share my grief with the one I knew would help me through it, God.

In a sense, all this learning this week has brought me full circle to what I already knew in my heart, I guess. Maybe God let Nikolai’s death happen to bring me back to Him. He didn’t cause it, but he didn’t stop it either. And while that may make people angry to think about it that way, it makes sense to me. I desperately wish Nikolai was still here and I miss him every single day. I also know God always has his hand on my shoulder walking me through that grief.

I have only met Nikolai in my dreams twice since his death; however, others have also experienced conversations with him, and the one commonality is that he is okay. While he misses us, he needed to leave, and he is happy now.

I know this post isn’t for everyone, but it’s what I needed to write about at this moment. Maybe it will help you, maybe it won’t. Maybe it will turn you away from this blog, maybe it will draw you nearer. I don’t know – I’m just letting my heart speak today.  

Don’t read the comments

I am exhausted.
I always tell myself not to scroll through comments, it’s a rabbit hole of which I have no business going down, especially when the article involves me and my family. However, I still did it. I waited several days before I did and now I’m exhausted, my head hurts and my heart is weary.

When you scroll through the comments you realize how much mental health is really misunderstood. It’s a slap in the face that no matter how much I talk about it, no matter what I do on my dragonfly page, no matter the law that I’m trying to get passed… no matter all of this – mental illness continues to get a bad rap because people can’t help but judge something they don’t understand. I know this doesn’t rest solely on my shoulders, yet it’s very, very personal to me.

When people think of teen suicide they automatically jump to the conclusion that it was about bullying, so many of the comments are “we need to get kids to stop bullying”, “teachers need to be taught how to stop bullying”, “the kids who bully have the mental problems”. I hate to say it but bullying is only one of a gazillion reasons why someone may choose to take their own life. And it really isn’t the bullying itself, it’s the way that bullying makes the youth feel, mixing that into a head already full of self-doubt and pain. And just for the record, did you read any of the other comments besides your own on the article post? I ask because if you wonder where kids get bullying behavior from, take a good long hard look in the mirror.

The second biggest scapegoat is social media. Don’t get me wrong, social media can definitely exasperate mental illness; however, to blame it for mental illness is ridiculous. Mental illness, by definition, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. It’s depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors to name just a few. It’s no different than a physical illness. I think of it as a pain in your brain. Many of the things our teens see on social media compound negative feelings, and frankly are very mentally draining, for everyone, not just teens.

“Way to plant the seed. Every day they will look at the number – it’s like telling them there is a reason to do it.” I don’t even know where you are going with this. First of all, if you call any authority on mental health (AFSP, NAMI, Mental Health America, Oakland County Suicide Prevention, Common Ground) they are all going to tell you that it has been proven that talking about suicide with someone who is suicidal does not make them want to kill themselves. In fact, in most cases it does the opposite because talking about suicide is helpful in knowing they are heard. Putting a number out there for them to call in crisis is not telling them to kill themselves – it’s showing them that there is hope.

“Do you really think this will solve anything?” I don’t know random guy, do you have another idea? This comment and a few more with similar content threw me for a loop. If you don’t think this will work or you see a need in a different area, what is stopping you from being the change you want to see? What I really want to ask is “how is your view in the cheap seats?” This law definitely isn’t the end all be all answer to solving mental health; however, it’s at least a step in the right direction and it sure as heck can’t hurt. I put my neck out there to try to do something I think will make a difference in the life of just one person. You are welcome to join in on mental health and suicide advocacy – I don’t own the rights to it.

“There is doing something, and then there is doing something that is effective.” Again, random person, at least I’m doing something because we’ve already tried the doing nothing thing and that doesn’t work.

My favorite I think… “Based on the way mom and dad look to be smirking in the picture I am guessing they never taught their son that life isn’t always fair.” Here is what I have to say to that – I feel sorry for you because you are obviously miserable. You obviously have your own trauma that you are working through and I hope that someday you have the courage to talk through those feelings and repair your heart.

As I read through the comments I initially felt angry (I’m not saying I’ve totally let go of that feeling, but work with me). However, it really comes down to you don’t know what you don’t know. People are uneducated when it comes to mental health. We have stigmatized it so much that when people hear mental health they think crazy town U.S.A. They don’t understand the actual pain that accompanies it, the emotions, the dark voices in their heads that tell them they aren’t good enough. It is also times like this though, that I remind myself that I am not an authority on most things in life and neither are these people. Instead of throwing darts out there at the people and the things they think are the problem, or hypothesizing, maybe they should just recognize that this isn’t their area of expertise and just not comment. Or play the “if I don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” card.

I have also come to realize that I cannot change the hearts of every person out there. Some people are just mean, spiteful, hateful human beings and it makes them feel good to say nasty things from a keyboard to hurt other people. All I can do is pray for those people.

I have vowed to not look at the comments anymore because in true transparency, they make me angry. They also make my heart hurt for a million different reasons. What I would love to see is people rallying together to celebrate all the good things that are being done in the area of mental health and suicide because each step we take is closer to where we need to be. Stop fighting and name calling and pointing the finger at others because I’ve never seen one instance where that mode of operation has actually worked to solve anything.

What does your story look like?

I was listening to a podcast recently and the guest speaker, Lori Gottlieb, said this, “Part of getting to know yourself is to unknow yourself. To let go of those limiting stories that you’ve been telling yourself about yourself so you can live your life and not the story you’ve been telling yourself about your life.”

I feel this quote in my soul. This process of getting to unknow myself began the day Nikolai died. When your child takes his own life, you can’t help but to evaluate your own story. What kind of parent was I? Was I the kind of person I really want to be? Could I have acted or done something different? What if I had just done this or just been this kind of parent/person, maybe things would have turned out differently. This is guilt talk telling me that I wasn’t good enough.

Over the course of several months after Nikolai’s death I felt more and more broken. Broken to my very core and guilt ravished my brain. And then I just started to get mad.

When I began the work with onadragonflyswings community, it quite literally stemmed from a guilt complex I just couldn’t let go of – that feeling of I was not enough for Nikolai and so I owe it to him to do this thing, to put myself out there and become very uncomfortable. Insert therapist here and I began the hard work of letting go of this self-loathing that was devouring me. At the same time, I started to really research, read and listen to everything I could get my hands on about mental health and suicide. I participated and spoke at several suicide prevention trainings. This is when I discovered that it wasn’t that I wasn’t enough, it was that I didn’t know enough. And, that my friends, is the shift in my story.

Stories are the way we make sense of our lives. The guilt I felt then is something I will continue to feel, possibly for the rest of my life; however, the heaviness of it is so much less now. This isn’t the story I want for my life and I’m sure that it isn’t the story that Nikolai would want for my life either.

Before Nikolai died, I set the first meeting for a book club called Girl Stop Apologizing (The GSA Club). This book club was made up of myself and six other women who all shared a passion for Rachel Hollis and her new book “Girl Stop Apologizing.” That first meeting was delayed for a couple of months until I felt the timing was right to get back to living. I wrote these six women into the first chapter of my healing and my transformation. And there isn’t a chapter in my story since that doesn’t include them and the power they have wielded to help me change who I am and realize who I want to be. They have shown me that I can choose to play the hero or the victim in my story. I will choose hero every day.

I am a changed person and I don’t mean that subtlety – I mean like a whole 365-degree change. I question everything. I try to view every person and situation with compassion and kindness. I thrive on my faith and my God. I have tightened my circle, yet at the same time completely opened it up. There is movement in my soul, and I love this person I am evolving into. This is my real story. This is the story I want to tell.

You choose your narrative. Make sure it’s the story you want to live.