Last year I thought I would generally write about my health crisis more than I did. I’ve since decided only to share pieces when I think they are most helpful.
This week I share a piece of my story related to mental health.
Following emergency abdominal surgery and four days into being an ICU patient, I insisted on getting up. Then I asked to be left alone, although I knew a Boston team was watching me via a webcam as I sat in front of the mirror at the sink, terrified and anxious. Lowering my gown, I surveyed the surgeon’s handiwork. My eyes took in the staples that ran a track down the center of my body, punctured and bruised from IVs and accentuated with surgical prep stains. My eyes formed droplets of tears. They skidded uncertainly off my cheeks and fell like shattered glass on my chest. They wanted to become rivers, but that moment was not the time for rivers. I didn’t recognize the person looking curiously back at me. My entire body was swollen and brutalized; I thought my future would be measured in steps rather than miles. I was not wrong.
Later, I described my experience to someone, adding that the body is a temple for the soul,
But at that moment, mine resembled the set from Indiana Jones! At least my sense of humor and soul remained intact.
Their response was, “you are being dramatic.”
No words express how this response made me feel even more defeated and devastated. I immediately decided not to share my story, specifically that part, with anyone else, until today.
Too often, when one shares how they are feeling or experiencing, it is met with such flat finality as what I experienced.
Was I being dramatic? One asks this of themselves, causing feelings of judgment and abandonment. While this didn’t apply to me at that moment, for someone experiencing suicidal ideation, the consequences can be devastating.
So why did it hit me so hard? Everyone manages trauma differently; sometimes, managing means doing nothing. I think it is the wrong response, but I also believe that everything happens when it’s time, and then pieces arise when they are ready to be addressed and healed. While I didn’t speak of my experience out loud, I didn’t ignore it but allowed it to flow through and around me. I had feelings of resentment, anger, frustration, and sadness. I seemed to have affirmed that trusting anyone or anything was a mistake that should not be repeated.
In my case, I’ve done the personal work and have come to understand that everyone brings their experience to the table when suddenly facing trauma. I think my friend was scared, and by putting the responsibility back on me lessened their fear. The problem, of course, was that it increased mine.
Another lesson I learned –
the mind lies.
We listen more to those lies when emotions make our hearts feel weak.
I’m not a mental health professional by trade, nor an expert on suicide, but a caregiver and caregiver advocate. I’ve crossed paths with those contemplating suicide, and as a bereavement counselor, I’ve heard the stories of those who have experienced the effect of suicide on their family.
In 2020, 12.2 million people reported ideating about suicide. The numbers are rising among teens, particularly girls and young women.
Our country needs to increase its investment in mental health services meaningfully. Mental health should be discussed frequently, normalizing its importance. Mental Health Awareness Month is always the month of May.
What can we say to someone expressing their feelings or suicide ideation? Here are a few suggestions:
I believe you. I’m not judging.
Your thoughts are safe with me. Tell me what you need.
I’m here listening.
I’m sorry for your pain. Is there anything I can do?
You are not crazy. Thank you for your courage. I will hold space for your healing.
Your soul is safe here. You are loved.
How can I help you?
It’s okay to feel what you feel. Your feelings are real. Together we’ll get through this.