Hello September


via Daily Prompt: Critical

“Mama, I’m so sad for her.”  My sensitive daughter, as awkward socially as I was at her age, has a big heart.  She has had friends battling big demons, problems that I hope my children and your children will never have to deal with, and comes to me with questions on how to help them.  She wants to know why her friends who are so sad, can’t see that she wants to help them, to be a shoulder to cry on, and a listening ear, and can’t understand why that is not enough to fix their problems.  These friends thankfully have loving parents who are getting them the help they need. My children have been lucky enough to grow up with plenty, a mother and father who love them and each other fiercely, a family bonded across miles by real affection and goofy humor with both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and innumerable cousins, friends who are steady and enough of a tribe to create a blanket of security. But even having all of the above doesn’t make you immune to trouble.  Having to confront the turmoil of the teenage years so early definitely feels like summer is over.

September

It’s September, which for most people bring to mind crisp, cool evenings and pumpkin-flavored everything (to my husband’s chagrin).  Fall is my favorite time of year and the smell of school supplies makes my nerd-heart want to dance.  But September also stands for something very real and very critical.

September 1 kicks off National Suicide Prevention Month.  I remember the first (and unfortunately, not the last) time suicide touched my life. I was 13, the same age as my daughter now, and a boy from my school whom I did not know had taken his life over the weekend.  I saw girls crying in the hallways.  Many of them talked about the last time they had seen him, their last words with him, or memories they had shared.    The question overwhelmingly asked is the same question my daughter asks me now. Why?

SuicidePreventionMonth

For those who have never felt this way, it can seem incomprehensible.  Many of my veterans struggle with this, as well as many first-responders, but we can’t forget that even kids can feel this way, and don’t have the maturity to think through the very real consequences to actions that can be heart-breaking.

I tried to explain to my daughter what I think it is like when you are so depressed and full of despair that you think life cannot get better.  I told her that even though her friends know that she cares deeply for them, it is like being at the bottom of a hole so deep and so dark, that even though you know the way out is up there, it feels so far away that you cannot even see the light, or if you do, you’re not sure if it’s just your eyes playing tricks on you.  And you feel so tired that trying to get to that light is hard, and curling up in yourself feels so much easier.

She said hopefully, “I could climb down in the hole and pull her out. I’m pretty strong, even though everyone calls me skinny.”

Man, I love this kid so much.  So I hugged her, even though at 13, she’s not always into hugs no matter how much I tell her everyone needs a minimum number of hugs a day to stay healthy. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-hug-a-day-keeps-the-doctor-away/

And I told her that being a kid, it would be too hard to climb down in that hole, because it’s her friend’s pit, and even adults sometimes can’t climb down there, but that she could keep trying to extend a hand to her friend by being the best friend to her she can be and telling her that she cares about her so she knows which direction is out, but that no matter how far down she reaches into that deep, dark hole, her friend has to climb up far enough to grab on, because no one else can climb those walls but the person who is at the bottom of the hole.  And hopefully with help, they can do that, but it takes work and time, and never giving up. And being with someone who is trying to do that can make you feel helpless.

We aren’t helpless though.  What we can do is to recognize that those we love may be at the bottom of that pit of despair even if it doesn’t seem like it to everyone else.  We can shine a light to show the way out, share words of encouragement and provide nourishment for the soul with kind words for the hard journey, but no one can travel that road for them, though we can walk with them.  It is a hard thing to say to a child of 13, and a harder one for an adult who sees others suffering to know, but the hardest task is figuring out who is in need and trying to help them before it is too late.

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My attempt to capture the eclipse

I’m sharing this because you can never know what lies in the heart of another.  Please be kind to one another. Be that light for someone. We never know what demons others are battling, with bright smiles and shining eyes, Facebook posts filled with kids starting school and Labor Day plans.  It starts with awareness.  And a good heart, whether you are a confused 13-year-old with skinny arms or a mom who wishes she were better at these kinds of talks.

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Hello darkness, my old friend


Steve Inskeep woke me up way too early this morning.  No, I haven’t thrown over my husband for someone new.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, he sounds way too chipper to have been up for hours as the host of Morning Edition on NPR. With Daylight Savings Time this weekend, theoretically, we all got 1 more hour of sleep last night, but in reality, I spent 1 more hour awake, and started yawning as soon as darkness fell.  Now it really feels like autumn has arrived, and winter is coming ;-).

Hello darkness, my old friend

Hello darkness, my old friend.

The news is filled at this time of year with the same stories from last year about whether or not we should continue with Daylight Savings Time. As we are among those who have eschewed cable TV for streaming services and the local evening news is filled with hype-filled emptiness, I like to get my news as I get ready for the work day and on my drive in to the hospital. This morning, the words “in Detroit” made my head snap towards the radio.  Having trained in Detroit, and grown up driving “Downtown” to the RenCen and Hart Plaza, I miss my old city. I never knew it in its glory day.  The Detroit I knew was already worn around the edges.  The grand architecture which makes it an attraction for photographers, film makers, and crazy tiger owners, is crumbling and the infrastructure which has been neglected for so long is struggling to take care of the residents of my former city.

A live tiger got loose in the old Packard plant during a photo shoot. (Photo: Andy Didorosi)

A live tiger got loose in the old Packard plant during a photo shoot. (Photo: Andy Didorosi)

What I heard today though wasn’t yet another mock-sad exploitation of the dark days of Detroit.  Instead it celebrated the success of a program implemented to bring suicide levels to 0%.  No, that is not a typo.  The goal of the program was actually to prevent suicides and thus bring the suicide rate down to 0.  Now anyone who’s every been at a meeting, no matter where it is, whether for work or the PTO or your local library guild, can imagine the silence that most likely followed that proposal. The thinking among a lot of health care workers and psychologists is that it is impossible to prevent every suicide.  This is a growing problem among veterans all over the country, and one that has been highlighted in the media as an example of how the VA is failing our wounded warriors.  As one of those left behind to question why, any reduction in the suicide rate is a miracle.

This is the first I’ve heard of any success stories, and this is truly a success, and has been for many years.  After embracing the idea, which must have taken a complete paradigm shift, the Henry Ford Health System, the same one that took care of my family for years, was able to achieve their goal for at least 2 years.  In 2009, the suicide rate among the high-risk mental health population was zero. Even now, it is 80% lower than before the start of the program.  And this was during the heart of the recession, when there were plenty of factors to make anyone depressed, plenty of reasons that someone might look into the heart of darkness, and decide the pain and shadows are too much to bear any longer.

Today on All Souls' Day, residents of New Orleans must show iID to be allowed to come to the historic St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 to pay their respects to those who have died, following a new directive by the Archdiocese of New Orleans, prior to my visit there.

Today on All Souls’ Day residents of New Orleans (another city that has seen it’s share of darkness) must show ID to be allowed to come to the historic St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 to pay their respects to those who have died, following a new directive by the Archdiocese of New Orleans (prior to my visit there).

How did this happen?  Henry Ford Health system is not situated in a rich community filled with deep pocket books.  When I trained there, most patients were on Medicaid or some type of assistance. Though the people I worked with were all hard-working, dedicated professionals, they are no different from health care providers here, or anywhere I believe. The answer, I think, lies in turning upside down the presumption that nothing can be done, and aiming for complete eradication of the problem of suicide.  And though a complete analysis of this phenomenon hasn’t occurred yet, all signs point to the possibility that the extensive work put into achieving these results has actually saved this medical system money.  While we have politicians spouting sound bites about how broken our health care system is, in Detroit, a symbol of decay and decline, some big dreamers actually are making a difference in patients’ lives, and managing not to make the bottom line worse.

Why isn’t this story all over the news at night instead of Donald Trump’s unnatural hair do?  I think it is because we have a tendency to focus on the negative and the darkness. In optical illusions, we have to train our eyes to see beyond the negative spaces.  To see what is right there in front of us waiting to be revealed, we need to let go of our preconceived notions, and be open to a new perspective.

What do you see first? The beautiful curves of the chalice, or two faces about to kiss?

What do you see first? The beautiful curves of the chalice, or two faces about to kiss?

What can we do on this Feast of All Souls, to turn away from our old familiar friend darkness and negativity? For me, I’ll start with welcoming the light of morning, instead of mourning the darkness that comes too soon.  I’m thankful today for all those in Detroit working hard to make the impossible possible, for news that manages to highlight positive stories, and for the blessing of warm covers on chilly mornings.