Wednesday, May 6, 2015

It's Not A Stigma, It's A Problem

I have lived every parent's worst nightmare.  I received "The Call", the one that catches us out of the blue, knocks us on our ass, steps on our throats, makes breathing impossible.  Once it lets up on our throat, it kicks us in the ribs, the head, the gut, the nuts, and anywhere else it can inflict pain.

After "The Call" came "The Wait".  Gut wrenching hours spent by a hospital bed praying for a positive outcome, looking for any sign of improvement, momentary respites of false hope that are dashed to bits by reality.  Test results taunt you, faith eludes you, and death haunts you.

After "The Wait" came "The News".  All of it was bad.  You prepare for the worst.  You know you are walking out with the same number you walked in with.  Hope is gone, miracles are gone, hail marys are gone.  All that is left is the body that held the spirit, but the spirit is gone.

After "The News" comes "New Normal", which I talked about in a previous post.  Ultimately, you learn how to live your life over again.  Nothing will ever be the same.

After Peyton's suicide, I tried to understand as much as I could.  I read everything that I could in order to try to get a grip on my new reality.  I began by trying to understand why some one would take a belt and use it to hang himself from a ceiling fan.  This is not what you would expect from a "normal" person, hence the reason that 90% of suicides are committed by people suffering from mental illness.  That wasn't the first time I had come across that term, but it was the first time that I applied it to my son. After all, Peyton suffered from depression and anxiety.  Those are, in fact, mental illnesses, therefore, my son was mentally ill.  It was hard for me to admit to that, because I also suffer from depression (have for years), and so I too am mentally ill.

 Peyton was mentally ill, but not in the way that is stereotyped in the media and on TV.  He wasn't standing on a street corner in his bathrobe screaming about the apocolypse.  He wasn't in a church steeple with a deer rifle picking off random pedestrians, nor had he been fitted for a straight jacket and residing in a padded room.  No, he was a typical 13 year old.  He loved watching Dr. Who, reading, playing video games, texting his friends, and trying to become a You Tube sensation. I don't know if subconsciously I didn't want to admit that either of us was menatlly ill, or I just didn't think that depression would be classified as such.  After all, I took my medication every morning, held a full time job, was married, owned a house and truck.  surely these were not what the mentally ill did.

I have been teaching for 24 years.  My students that were mentally ill abused drugs, lashed out at authority and others, cursed out the teacher, had to stay in the same room all day because they couldn't interact with others without being violent.  Those kids were menatlly ill.  In fact, we would use the politically incorrect term, "Crazy."  My son was not one of "those" kids.  He was a tuly good kid.  He made good grades, was praised and liked by his teachers, and generally seemed to enjoy life, but that all came crashing down on October 8, 2014.

My search for answers began as I tried to pass the hours at Peyton's bedside.  I had brought my Ipad with me, and began to delve into the clinical world.  I tried to get a handle on depression and anxiety
And how they affected people. My education continued when I became involved with my survivors group. We all talked about our loved ones, and how we missed that, but most of all, we began to examine their lives, and how we lost them. For the most part, we never saw it coming, but we all knew there was something wrong. We al talked about how their personalities would change, or we would discover things about their past, but each one of us could not fathom the emotional pain they must have been goi g through to take their life. Each of us was at a low point in our lives, and we were all hurting in a way we had never hurt before, but none of us had ever reached the point of truly going through with suicide.

I want to relate my experiences in this matter. I had been warned by many that the weeks and months following Peyton's suicide would be difficult, and I had to be careful about giving in to urges. The first was alcohol.  In Our house,we generally keep several types of liquor. I have Scotch, whiskey, vodka, tequila and rum in addition to beer and wine. I thought about how easy it would be to drink the pain away, but with only an exception or two, I never really did. I would have a drink on occasion, but never to the point of losing control, and certainly not to the point of blacking out. I also had sleeping pills that been prescribed to me, and often, especially after refilling it, did I think about how easy it would be to down the whole bottle and wash it down with a nice single malt, but that was as close as I got.  I never mixed the two, and most nights would cut the pills in half because I didn't feel that I needed the whole dose.

So the question is, what brings a person to the point that suicide is the solution to a problem?  The first thing I hear people talk about is the pain. Many times this pain goes beyond emotional to the physical. I can undestined that all too well. I suffer from depression, and I know how it can lead from physical discomfort to outright pain, but once again, never, even after Peyton's death, have I reached that point. I have thought about physical pain that I have experienced from root canals to broken bones. Some times the pain has been crippling,  but even then, I wanted relief, but not permanent escape.

 I can't even begin to imagine how severe Peyton's (or anyone else's) emotional pain must have been. From all the conversations I have had, one common theme seems to emerge time and time again, "They wanted the pain to stop."  This is a pain so severe that it over rides rational thought. It makes the person forget all that they have, all those that care for them, and all that they have yet to experience. They can no longer even dull the pain with drugs, alcohol, cutting, or any other escape technique.  It consumes them to the point  that death is the release.

We all want to know "why?", but we may never. I think it begins with our society. Our society makes illnesses such as depression and anxiety a stigma, something to be ashamed of, or the punchline to a joke. With many, it is seen as a weakness, that what you are feeling is bad, and there fore, so are you. What about children and teens that face mental illness? Will they talk to a counselor at school?  If the counselor can fit them in among all the other tasks they are assigned.  Maybe they will go to a parent.  What if that parent doesn't want to admit that there is something wrong with their child and tells them that it is "just a phase" or "you'll get over it."  For those of us brave enough to admit our illness (whether to ourselves or others)  and seek help, we may be hindered by cost because of the lack of insurance coverage.  If we do have insurance, we may have to choose from a small list, and getting an appointment may be next to impossible.  Even once you do get it, will that person be a good fit for you? If not, then you may have to wait even longer.  If we get in and click with the professional, perhaps there will be medication involved.  If so, is it the right one, will the dosage be enough, too much, too little?  With all of this hitting a person in need of help, it is no wonder that many give up hope.

The first thing we have to do as a society is take away the stigma.  Remember that every person suffering from mental illness is just that, a person.  If they had cancer, there would be little doubt as to whether or not that person needs treatment, and just like you wouldn't tell a person with cancer to "get over it" or "learn to deal with it" or even "just think cancer free thoughts and you'll be fine", you don't do that to mental illness.