Suicide Prevention Day

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. I wanted to say something about this because it’s important, and people need to know that there is no shame in having these thoughts or in seeking help. But on the other hand, it almost seems like a foreign topic to me. It feels like a forgotten language or past life with which I can no longer connect.

For the longest time, suicide was my biggest fear. I was afraid that one day I would not be strong enough to hold back the urges, and I would lose my fight with suicide and chronic depression. Suicide was the single most constant in my life. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to die. It is the subject of many of my earliest memories. And I don’t know why.

But now that I am on an antidepressant that inhibits depression and suicidal thoughts, they come much more rarely and even then, as fleeting moments that last no more than a breeze of wind passing by. Suicide is no longer a constant in my life. Part of that is due to therapy. Another part is due to friends and loved ones. The last part is due to antidepressants and personal choices to take care of myself.

Each part has taken years to build to get me to this point. And I guess the point of all this is that it is possible. It is possible to go from years, even decades, of suicidal thoughts to it being little more than a memory. I don’t know how it happens. For me, it was a million little things that led up to this point. It was friends and family and therapists and counselors and medications that drove me past of the point of insanity to medicine that changed my thoughts in ways I never knew were possible.

As someone that once contemplated suicide on a daily to hourly basis, I just want you to know there is hope. There is hope that it won’t always be this way. It may not feel like it now, but things really can get better. You just have to make it through this. And please know you don’t have to be alone. You don’t have to do this alone. It is never too late to reach out and get the help you need to feel better.

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The Need for Opportunities

Not many people realize I have autism. It is not a topic that comes up very often in everyday conversations. And I have grown so much in my abilities to communicate and cope with my surroundings that I hardly notice it much of the time. Through all this, I have realized how important it is to have opportunities to learn and grow.

Most people take talking for granted. They see friendship and having conversations throughout the day as normal, everyday occurrences. This is not always the case for someone with a disability or for someone who is a loner or an outcast or even just an introvert. I remember being afraid of my voice as a teenager and young adult because I used it so little that I was constantly afraid it would not come out right when I needed it.

I have grown so much over the last several years because of the opportunities I have been given to communicate with others. I have seen the differences in my abilities to communicate because of the practice I get in communicating. I talk to people constantly at my work and at home with friends and family.

This has not always been the case in my life, and I first started noticing the difference when I visited my sister’s family on a regular basis. I noticed that it was easier to communicate and the words came more readily because I would always talk more when I was with my sister. I would read books aloud to her children. I would be engaged in conversation with the family and extended family. I was given the opportunity to use my voice more in those situations, and it created a notable difference in the rest of my week.

Since that time, I have been given an incredible amount of opportunities to improve my social and communication skills. I was asked to teach a class at church. I translated often at work and conducted orientation meetings for new hires. I gained a best friend that pushed the limits of my communication skills and allowed me to explore the social demands of friendship in ways I never had before. I was constantly using my voice and communicating my needs and using my social skills. They say that practice makes perfect. I am not sure if that is true, but practice definitely makes you better. The more I was able to practice my skills, the better they became.

My point with all of this is that growing up, I went to therapy and had scattered opportunities to learn communication and social skills, but it was not enough. I learned the skills necessary to place an order, ask a question, or do other things that were required of me, but it never came easily. It was a constant battle to communicate my needs and not feel lost in a world that I could not seem to understand. Now, communication and life in general has become much easier to handle. I know how to do things that I never thought possible in my earlier years. And things do come relatively easily.

I don’t know if it would have been possible for me to have more positive social experiences while growing up. I was an outcast and bullied and extremely cautious with who I trusted because of those things. But I hope that the world has changed enough that it is more possible for children today to have these experiences. I hope it is more possible for children with autism to learn social skills by practicing with their peers. I know the importance of those opportunities. I have seen how much of a difference they can make. And I hope we all try a little harder to give people the opportunities they need to become better.

Waking Up to Life

I feel like I’ve been asleep for a long time.

I came to Idaho at the beginning of last year to start over. I was escaping grief and heartache and hoping that a new place would allow me to heal. The problem with that was that I didn’t really know how to heal. I probably should have gone through grief counseling or something, but I basically decided to just take a break from life.

I stopped taking classes. I stopped volunteering and helping others and just sort of let the world pass me by. And maybe it was just what I needed and maybe it wasn’t, but over the last few months, I’ve been looking around and wondering what I’m doing with my life.

I am not where I want to be, and I have probably taken a few steps back from where I was. It can be disheartening to look at your life and realize how much you have let pass you by. And the truth is that I am tired of simply being alive without really living. I’m tired of just going through the motions of life. There is so much more to experience in life that I haven’t seen in this dazed state of living.

I want to be better. I want to experience life more- love more, live more, do more. I know it is easy to get stuck in the mundane, but I want to break out of that cycle. If there is anything that helps you do that, please let me know. I need all the help I can get.

Hangry

Last week was an especially difficult week emotionally. I had multiple breakdowns a day and just struggled to control my emotions several times throughout the week. By the end of the week, I realized that this was not simply the result of inconvenient timing of mood swings but was instead directly correlating to my eating habits. The longer it took for me to get food, the more aggressive and anxious I became.

I have always known that I struggle with handling needing food. I can tolerate hunger and can go without eating for a while without issues, but if I do not get food when I am expecting to eat, I lose self control. I lash out and have even injured myself at times. This probably sounds a bit extreme, but I looked up a couple articles about “hanger” and aggression around hunger. The ones I found most relevant explained that low blood sugar can decrease serotonin, which increases stress and affects the ability to regulate your mood.

As someone who already struggles with serotonin levels and mood regulation, this can easily send me over the edge. I remember as a kid, kicking myself off a bed because I was so hungry that I didn’t know what to do with myself. The biggest problem with all this is that it is difficult to provide food for yourself when you get to that point. Trying to cook something when your brain isn’t working leads to more anger and frustration because the process takes too long or is not going as planned.

At this point, I have realized as an adult that I have three options. I can withdraw myself from the situation until my body tires itself out and I no longer have the energy to be aggressive, or I can try to maintain self control just long enough to get something to eat, or I can allow things to get to the point when I explode and am at risk of hurting others or myself. I can’t tell you how many times I have experienced these problems as an adult, much less as a child. Granted, as a child, someone else was mostly responsible for providing food for me, but I had less control about how or when that food came.

I think it is interesting to note the differences between what we expect of children and adults. Often when we become most frustrated with how someone is acting, there is probably a physiological component to their behavior. Maybe they literally cannot just keep calm and carry on. Maybe they cannot communicate their needs. Maybe they cannot provide for themselves in the ways we expect. The difference between children and adults though is that we expect the child to learn to do these things and the adult to know how to do these things. But maybe instead we need to focus more on why things are happening to help prevent the physiological reaction because at that point, it is too late in many ways to avoid unwanted reactions.

An Effect of Antidepressants

I have been taking an antidepressant fairly consistently for a couple years now. There have been times when I stopped taking it because of money or pride or thinking I would be okay without it. I always go back though because I see what my depression does to those I love. I never want to hurt people, but depression is a complicated beast that is hard for me to control without medication.

My antidepressant works wonders. It helps me go from constantly suicidal to occasionally suicidal. It helps me go from desperately needing to be saved from myself to being as close to normal as I can imagine. Medication helps me stay alive.

Unfortunately, medicine has side effects. Sometimes these are in addition to its helpfulness. Sometimes it is because of how it is helping. I have noticed recently that my antidepressant seems to make me less compassionate and sympathetic. In addition to suppressing my harmful urges and destructive thoughts, I sometimes feel nothing when I want to feel something. The medicine does not completely negate my emotions. I still feel sadness and pain and all the other emotions tied to depression, just at a more normal level. There are some emotions though that I enjoyed.

I feel like I loved people more in my depression. I felt for them more. I understood them more. I wanted to be around them more. It can be hard to lose these feelings, to feel heartless, emotionless, unable to connect to others. Depression is a beast, but it made me feel more compassion for others.

I am not sure how to get those feelings back. I know that I cannot stop taking my antidepressant because the consequences of that are worse than not feeling emotions I want to feel. Maybe I just need to learn how to feel differently, love differently, live differently.

Alone

Loneliness is my least favorite thing about life. The thing that I’m most worried about is just being alone without anybody to care for or someone who will care for me.

~Anne Hathaway

I have been having a rough few days. Well, to be entirely honest, it has been a lot longer than that, but the last couple days have been especially hard. There is something about being alone that has always bothered me. I do not do well by myself. Even though I am a very independent person, I crave the companionship of others. I have a hard time concentrating by myself. I work best when I have other people nearby, but we are all doing our own thing.

The point of all this is that being alone is hard for me. I have not been alone physically lately, but I have felt very alone in many ways. I feel alone in my struggles, responsibilities, questions, concerns, doubts… I fear that if I tell anyone how I feel, they will worry or not understand or take it too seriously. Sometimes I just want someone to listen to my concerns because most things cannot be fixed and some things do not need to be fixed, but it is nice to have someone to tell what is on your mind.

I have some pretty wonderful friends, and one in particular that has been there for me tonight. I realize that I did not tell her everything and there are a lot of things I have been keeping bottled up, but I was so grateful to be able to share some of my burden, to feel just a little less alone tonight.

Expectations, Needs, and Problem Behavior

I have been thinking a lot lately about my childhood. One thing I realized is that I didn’t know how to explain my needs so that someone could help with them. It wasn’t until I was on my own at a university that I could finally focus on and address my own needs.

I bought myself clothes that felt soft and made me more comfortable, so that I could handle sitting still more easily. I bought ear plugs that I used in classes when the lecture was too loud. I never had super bright classrooms in college, but I could have easily bought transition lenses and no one would have said anything about me wearing “sunglasses” in class. Now, I often use the night view on my rearview mirror because headlights are too bright for me. I also have tinted windows on my car that help with brightness during the day. I carried snacks with me to eat during class or before or after to help calm me down. I still have a car full of snacks for this.

The thing I realized is that adults expect so much of children and teenagers. If you don’t meet the expectations, you are said to be acting out, when in reality you are simply being yourself. I remember one time in high school when I got in trouble for taking notes about what the teacher was saying because I did not know how to defend myself when she accused me of not paying attention. There are many stories I can tell like that. I did not know how to communicate my thoughts or needs or desires, so I ended up getting in trouble because adults did not understand. But how can you possibly have your needs met when everything is stacked against you?

So I endured elementary school and middle school and high school, until I could finally address some of my needs in college. And this is what we require all our children to do! We require them to fit the norm, with the pretense that it is preparing them for the real world. In reality, the real world is about enjoying life and finding ways to cope with the less enjoyable parts of life. We may not understand what a child needs, but I think it is important to ask ourselves if a “problem behavior” is really a need that is not being met. Don’t just avoid the problems or force children to ignore them, give them ways to cope. Try to find solutions instead of just seeing the child as the problem.

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