We are survivors and we will survive.

Today is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.

I have the great honor of sharing my testimony at a candlelight vigil today at 2 PM.

But I wanted to take it step further so that I could reach more people with my testimony…

So here I am, posting my story on my blog- in hopes that someone who is hurting and feels all alone can know that I am standing with them. We are survivors and we will survive.

So here it goes:

Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide, knows that it forever changes your life. It rocks your world in a way that no other death can. It can leave you feeling helpless, hopeless, and completely lost. The emotions can be overwhelming and the “whys” and “what if’s” can consume you. You can become overcome with anger as you question how the person you loved could have left you here. Grief after a suicide is complicated.

It has been 15 years since my father died by suicide. I was 15 years old when he hooked up a hose to the exhaust of his truck and connected the hose to his bedroom window. His truck ran all night as he fell asleep in a bedroom filled with carbon monoxide. I was a young, naive teenager when I became a suicide survivor. Losing a father to suicide quickly began to define who I was. I was filled with turmoil and unanswered questions  and I quickly began turning to the wrong comforts. I dabbled with alcohol and drug use for a few years of my early 20’s while living with the heavy weight of depression. I seemed to have forgotten the man my father was during my childhood and defined him by his suicide. I was quick to call him selfish. A coward. A disappointing father. I was hurt and not coping well. I think this pattern of self-hatred, guilt, and shame is easy to get wrapped up in when you’re a survivor of suicide.

For suicide survivors, after the initial shock of learning of the death, the “whys” begin- terrible, unending “whys” that we play over and over in our head. The first being “why did he do it?” followed by “why did I not see this coming”. They can spiral from there to “What if’s”- “What if I had called him” … “What if I had seen the signs?”

I currently work as a grief counselor and recently worked with a young girl whose father died by suicide. When the topic of “whys” came up she had a particularly brilliant answer. She said “you know, all we have is our best guess, and our best guess might be wrong”. Our best guess might be wrong- yet; we spend such a great deal of time pondering over these questions. If only we could approach it like this 9-year-old girl.

I spent about a year in counseling working through the shame and guilt I had taken on. I had to work through an abundance of negative self-talk including things like “no one will love me- not even my Dad did” and “I’ll never be good enough- my Dad didn’t think I was worth living for”. I worked through the “What if’s”. Like the self-blame I internalized for not calling him the night he killed himself. The night my Dad killed himself I had picked up the phone with the intention of telling him about me ordering my class ring that day. However, when I picked up the phone my boyfriend was there. The phone didn’t ring. Just coincidence. Remember how that could happen with landlines? I forgot to call my Dad back and the next day I found out he was dead.

I never imagined that I would be standing here- telling my story 15 years later. At some points of my life I wasn’t sure that I would even exist 15 years later.

Now, I can stand proudly and share my story of being a suicide survivor. For I no longer feel ashamed that I am the daughter of a man who killed himself. I now have a new understanding of suicidal ideation and mental illness. I have my master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and have worked as a grief counselor for the last few years. I now know that those who die by suicide are not selfish, nor a coward. They are amazing, wonderfully loved people who see no other way. They are sick and hopeless. When I explain suicide to a young child I may tell them that suicide happens because of a brain attack- much like a heart attack. It’s very physical. The brain is very, very sick and can not see any other way to survive.

My father had a brain attack. He was a warm, funny man who was an amazing Dad. His name was Buddy and he was only 35 years young when he died by suicide. I’ve had time to reflect on the amazing father he was since healing through my grief journey. We would sing karaoke together in my brother’s bedroom. We played hide and go seek and shot a bb gun in the woods behind our house. He scratched my back when I was sick and held my hand when I was scared. He was quick-witted and made me laugh until I cried. He was very intelligent and worked as an electrical engineer. He had a wonderful set of parents and a brother and a sister who loved him dearly. He didn’t live a charmed life by any means. He was divorced three times and suffered from chronic pain for most of his adult life. I don’t remember him being depressed. I was shocked by the suicide and still am to this day. There were no signs we could have seen. There was nothing I could have done.

Unless you have lost someone to suicide, you have no idea what survivors are going through. The degree of hurt, abandonment, betrayal, and confusion we are left with is indescribable. For me, going to counseling and talking about my feelings and hurts and disappointments helped me heal.

Another way I have found healing through my grief journey is by turning my pain into a purpose. I use my struggles to help others however I can. I can’t go back in time and save my Daddy but I can do everything in my power to let other people know that it is okay to ask for help. This outreach ranges from me posting bits of my personal journey on social networking sites to presenting at conferences to help other counselors know how to best work with suicide survivors. I find that my personal experiences have fueled my passion for suicide prevention and awareness and will continue forward with my efforts for as long as I’m able. I encourage you to find a way to turn your pain into a purpose. I’ve known people who do this through blogging, through checking in on friends, or just sharing a suicide hotline on their social media sites. You can do this by smiling at strangers or giving a meal to homeless person. The ways you can utilize your struggles is endless. I also encourage you to tell your story. Memorialize the person that is no longer with us today. Tell stories about them. Don’t let the shame, guilt, and unanswered questions stop you from remembering what you loved about the person. I believe we suicide survivors are strong.

If you are listening to me talk today and wondering how it is possible that I am all better after losing my Dad- let me clear things up. I’m not cured. I am better. But I will always grieve. Grief is not an event in time. Grief is like love. It is a life-long, ever-changing experience. It evolves. It expands. It changes in depth. Volume. Intensity. But it never fades. It changes us. My grief will always be a part of me. Because grief is love. Someone I love died and my life will always be different because of it. But my grief looks different now. My grief encourages me to help others. I have decided to allow my grief to encourage me. What will you do with your grief? It’s up to you.

“Bad things happen. How I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have: life itself”

-Walter Anderson

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Embrace the wait.

success

I want it all.

Don’t you?

The Pinterest home.

The career others envy.

The title of Doctor.

A lifelong marriage.

An award-winning novel.

To be known as the woman who can do it all.

But I want it now.

I don’t want to wait.

Success and accomplishment often accompany waiting.

The dreaded wait.

One foot in front of the other. Day in and day out.

You know what they say- easy come, easy go.

And I don’t know about you but I don’t want the easy go- I want real, lasting results.

And lasting results take perseverance.

We must persevere through the tough and mundane days to receive lasting results.

Endless paperwork to secure a dream job.

Late nights of research and coffee and writing papers to earn that degree.

The monotonous work weeks that builds routine in a marriage.

The circling and crossing out of book ideas.

Those are the kind of things we must persevere through to gain the success.

To truly have it all we must endure.

There is no quick fix.

Easy route.

Rainbow trail or gumdrop pass.

There’s just through.

Perseverance can be such an ugly word.

It is accompanied by patience, fortitude, and forbearance.

Gross.

We don’t want the setbacks.

The failures.

The monotony.

We want it now.

But maybe struggle and setbacks don’t have to drain your motivation.

Maybe we just need the right mindset.

Embrace the struggle.

Learn from our setbacks.

Own your story.

Persevere.

Brene Brown puts it beautifully:

“When we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending. And when we don’t own our stories of failure, setbacks, and hurt- they own us.”

When we hear about successful people we often hear about their achievements.

Their wins.

Their accomplishments.

Not about the mistakes they made or the setbacks they encountered.

However, history shows us that people who succeed have lots of failures.

But they have the right mindset.

Failure isn’t a stumbling block.

It’s a stepping stone.

If you want it all- you’ll have the wait.

Embrace the wait.

Good vibrations.

energy

Like energy attracts like energy.

It’s physics.

What are you attracting?

I’ve spent an upwards of thirty years combating compliments, feeding myself doubt, and allowing myself to attract unwanted circumstances.

Like energy attracts like energy.

My negativity.

My depression.

My anger.

That energy I possessed attracted like energy.

I attracted people who pulled me deeper under.

I flunked out of classes even though I had all of the potential in the universe.

I had no future.

My car would break down.

My bills would be past due.

My energy attracted like energy.

And I just spiraled from there.

What are you attracting?

What is your vibrational energy level?

Mine has heightened.

My energy attracts like energy.

I succeed in school.

My mind is clearer.

I attract good, trustworthy friends.

My bills are paid on time. With extra tucked away.

I have a future.

People who are happy have good lives.

The vibration of your thoughts help create your life.

What are you feeding yourself?

How are you fueling your energy?

Are you exercising? Are you doing things you love? Are you keeping your house clean? Are you drinking water? Are you grateful for life?

Or are you angry? Depressed? Talking ugly to yourself?

Take care of yourself.

Put out good energy into the world.

Like energy attracts like energy.

It’s physics.

What are you attracting?

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I spent 23 days in a psych ward and that’s okay.

stigma

I’ve written previously about my life-altering suicide attempt when I was 22 years old and touched briefly on my 23 days spent in inpatient treatment but in efforts to continue to reduce stigma and encourage people to seek the help they need I want to go a bit more into detail about my stay at a psychiatric hospital.

They have a really bad reputation.

No one and I mean NO ONE wants to shout out from the rooftops that they’ve spent 23 days in the psych ward.

But why?

Stigma.

That’s why.

We have no problem sharing our stint in the hospital when we have our gallbladder removed or when we have a heart attack scare because we were sick and we got the help we needed but when it comes to mental health it’s hush hush.

We worry about what people will say.

That she’s crazy.

That he should steer clear of her.

That she didn’t pray hard enough.

That she is clearly not cut out to be a therapist.

Stigma is the worst. 

These barriers to treatment are a huge reason people kill themselves.

There is such great hopelessness and such great worry of living with these new attributes that people choose to end their lives instead of seek treatment.

It is heartbreaking.

When I sliced my wrists on that bathroom floor I didn’t think there was help.

No one ever asked me if I was okay.

No one ever offered treatment as an option to my reckless behavior and clear substance abuse.

I was lucky.

I survived my attempt and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

It wasn’t that bad.

There were people just like me there.

And some nothing like me.

But the people there didn’t matter.

The therapy, the groups, the medication- that’s what mattered.

Don’t focus on hospital food. Or people “crazier” than you. Or big pharma’s hand in treatment. Or the stigma of checking yourself in.

You don’t need to lie and say you went on vacation.

Or took a break from social media.

Or went on a mission trip.

TELL PEOPLE YOU GOT THE HELP YOU NEEDED.

That you stayed in psychiatric treatment for 23 days and it changed your life.

Talking about our struggles, our triumphs, our REAL LIFE experiences can help reduce stigma.

It can help reduce the number of suicides.

It can help people get help.

More often than not people look at me like I have things figured out. Like I have it all. A great marriage, a wonderful son, education, opportunity, support- but I didn’t always have this.

I’ve been broken too.

On my knees in a bathroom with a broken razor in hand.

Watching blood pool around me.

We are the same.

We all struggle and we all have the opportunity to overcome the emptiness, the hopelessness, the heavy depression.

We just need treatment.

Counseling.

Medication.

Support.

Self-Care.

Maybe inpatient treatment.

Are you okay?

Because I wasn’t always okay. And I won’t always be okay.

But now I know how to get the help I need. And I’m not ashamed.

Copy and paste this, share it, it doesn’t matter. I hope everyone that reads this will share that treatment isn’t bad. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy or defective. It means you have the introspection to give your life another chance.

It means you’re strong.

Powerful.

Capable.

Stop the silence to reduce the stigma.

Share your story.

Your struggle.

Be real.

Seeking treatment changed my life and I know it can change yours. Or your friends. Or your brothers. Or you Mom’s.

Is your thinking faulty? Go to war.

Have you ever felt like the Cheshire Cat?

Fading away.

Slipping away.

Until you are no more.

Lately I’ve felt like the disappearing cat from a beloved children’s book. Fading, fading, gone.

Does anyone notice?

Can you still see me?

I feel as if I’m floating.

Barely here.

Barely there.

Stretched so thin that I’m now Gumby.

At what point will I snap?

Am I as indestructible as I hope to be?

Nothing can kill me.

Not even myself.

Pull. Pull. Pull.

You grab one arm.

You grab the other.

My stretchy, indestructible green arms will let you pull and pull but they will not snap.

I will reappear.

My grin wider.

More present.

I am reinventing myself.

Will you like me?

Can you recognize me?

My costume is the same.

Blonde hair.

Spray tanned skin.

Hooped earrings.

But I am not the same.

The strength and indestructibility I feel growing within me is superhuman.

You can’t break me.

He didn’t break me.

Nothing can break me.

Pull and pull with all your might.

This little girl can put up a fight.

Lately I’ve been battling demons.

Calling myself names.

Damaged.

Worthless.

Never. Good. Enough.

But I’ve won the fight. I’ve knocked down the demons. Changed my language.

Vulnerable.

Raw.

Trying.

The. Best. I. Can. Be.

Are you battling demons?

Fading into the background?

Until you’re nothing?

Being stretched every which way?

Me too.

What can you do about it?

Try what I did.

Change your language.

Fight the demons.

Reframe your negative thoughts.

CHALLENGE YOUR THINKING.

Ask yourself- is this true?

How accurate is this thought?

Because I may be damaged but I’m trying.

I am not worthless.

I am hopeful.

I am not always good enough but I am good enough for the people who love me.

Fight the demons.

We are at war.

I am at war with myself. But I’m winning.

I am resurrected and stronger than ever.

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Grief is not an event in time

me and dad

Today marks 14 years since my father died by suicide. It seems like an eternity ago and as if it were yesterday at the same time. This is the tricky thing about grief. It bobs along in the past and guts you in the present. No matter how much time passes by these notions still ring true.

Grief is not an event in time.

Grief is like love.

It is a life-long, ever-changing experience.

It evolves.

It expands.

It changes in depth.

Volume.

Intensity.

But it never fades.

It changes us.

For always.

Forever.

14 years ago when I heard the words fumble from my Mom’s mouth that my Daddy was dead, I was forever tied to this grief.

Anchored to its weight.

Bounded by its presence.

For always.

Forever.

It is both the past and the present.

Moments of gut-wrenching intensity bring me to inconsolable tears even 14 years later.

Today consisted of a few of those moments.

Seeing his photo grace my social media timeline today (even though he didn’t live to see Facebook- or Instagram- or my blog) brought me to tears.

His brown eyes reflecting back at me in the mirror brought me to tears.

Even though I see these eyes every day.

Explaining to an audience full of grievers that my son’s middle name carries on my Dad’s legacy brought me to a drive home with tear-streaked cheeks.

Grief is in the present.

It is the now.

Grief is for always.

Forever.

Grief is the price we pay for love.

These gut-wrenching moments are because I love my Dad.

Because I hurt that he hurt so badly and no one rescued him.

Because I didn’t rescue him.

Because I love him.

No matter the years that pass by my grief will never be in the past.

Not completely.

This grief. This love. Is a part of me.

It’s who I am.

It’s the best of me.

The worst of me.

My brightest light of hope.

My darkest depression.

This grief is me.

This grief is present.

For always.

Forever.

If you are missing someone you love and wondering why your grief is in the present and not the past- don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong.

Because you aren’t.

Grief is not an event in time.

It is the present and the past.

It is a lifelong, ever-changing experience.

Just take it one day at a time.

For always.

Forever.

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I’ll try again.

70E250EC-4692-4B65-9517-0D16F2E4EDA3

I feel as if I never really got better.

The depression will always hang heavy over me.

My limbs have been fighting against it for as long as I remember.

Lifting it up.

Pushing against its weight.

I couldn’t hold it up forever.

It’s as if I painted myself with gold paint.

For so long I was shiny and new.

Reborn.

Strong.

Sparkly from the outside.

But the paint was a thin layer.

That’s peeling at the edges.

Underneath is nasty.

Black.

Decayed.

Fucked up.

Paint doesn’t last forever. Over time it begins to discolor or chip in places and then what was once there is exposed for the world to see.

What I’m wondering is how I fooled everyone with this shiny layer? 

Could they not see my darkness peeking through? 

Did they think I truly changed?

Healed? 

Grew?

I didn’t. 

I’ll always be broken. 

Dingy.

Decayed.

Fucked up.

The moment that monster crawled on top of me.

The moment she turned on that dryer. 

The moment I heard our dogs yelp in agony. 

The moment my Dad fell asleep in a room filled with carbon monoxide.

The moment I cut my wrists on that bathroom floor.

The moment I said I do.

The moment my son was born.

The depression has always been there. Growing. Lingering. Forming. In remission.

I’ve been broken.

Through everything.

The good and the bad.

The paint is peeling.

I don’t know what to do. 

I feel like giving up. 

Throwing in the towel.

Dropping the act.

I feel so ugly.

Decayed.

Fucked up.

Broken.

I don’t want to do this anymore. 

How can I expect someone to paint on another coat? 

It will just peel again.

Or discolor.

I am unfixable.

I came off the manufacturer line fucked up from the beginning.

They should of threw me away. 

Why won’t I give in to the darkness?

Who I really am? 

Why do I keep getting myself repainted only to find the paint peeling in the future?

I am throwing away my used paint brush.

Will you throw me away?

It’s for your own good. 

Just let me go. 

The weight of this darkness, this depression, reminds me of the monsters body. Heavy. Suffocating. Never ending. 

I want to be done. 

But here I am…

Purchasing a new paint brush. And a sander. 

Sand me.

Buffer out my darkness.

Smooth out my flaws.

Then paint me up.

Make me new.

Help me heal.

Take my hand. 

Pull me out of this darkness.

Make me shine.

Or maybe I should paint myself this time.

This darkness is not your burden.

You are not a hired hand.

It is not your job to fix me.

It’s mine.

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You might not like what you see.

More and more, it feels like I’m doing a really bad impersonation of myself.

My facade is cracking.

Splitting open at the seams.

What parts of me might spill out?

My flame is flickering. The wax is pouring over.

Almost dripping on the carpet before it dries out. Forms anew.

Hardens there for everyone to see.

candle

Don’t look at me.

You might not like what you see.

The impersonation is usually flawless.

Cunning.

Creative.

Charismatic.

But the drying wax is ugly.

Messy.

Clumped up.

Destructive.

The facade is usually captivating.

Bringing awe.

Attracting attention.

Providing hope.

But the flameless candle is dark.

Brings fear.

Attracts similar souls.

Provides escape.

My facade is cracking.

You removed the bricks.

What parts of me have spilled out?

What parts of me do you wish you never saw?

Are you dark like me?

Did your darkness find mine?

Help me light my candle.

Sew me up at the seams.

Watch me drop my impersonation.

Meet the real me.

The messy me.

The self sabotaging me.

The dark me.

You might not like what you see.

But this is me.

The real me.

 

 

 

 

 

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You are good enough.

you can

Two steps forward, one step back.

The hesitation pattern of my life.

Second guessing.

Overthinking.

Two steps forward, one step back.

I am my own worst critic.

You will fail.

You will embarrass yourself.

You. Are. Not. Good. Enough.

The thoughts that cloud my mind.

I have never been a good friend to myself.

I can pick myself apart.

Any award or accomplishment I have received has been ripped apart in my mind.

Luck.

Chance.

They felt sorry for you.

The thoughts that cloud my mind.

When I was in fourth grade I was awarded the honor of student of the month. Some girls at school snickered behind my back. In a bathroom stall I heard them gush about how the teachers felt sorry for me.

Words of judgement slipped through their nine year old mouths rather quickly.

“Did you notice her bruises?”

“Her hair is always a mess.”

“Does she only own one pair of shoes?”

Walls built, my heart as guarded as can be. I remember walking out of that stall with my head held high.

The front I show to the world is confident.

Controlled.

Powerful.

Motivated.

Gritty.

But I can pick myself apart.

You will fail.

You will embarrass yourself.

You. Are. Not. Good. Enough.

Two steps forward, one step back.

It could be worse.

It’s slow movement but its movement.

GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD, BRANDY.

Stride.

Move.

Try.

Hesitate no more.

Life is too short, too fragile, and too uncertain to take so many steps backward.

I want the front that I show the world to be my reality.

Confident.

Controlled.

Powerful.

Motivated.

Gritty.

Maybe one day I’ll be her. Until then I’ll admit to the world that I pick myself apart.

Because maybe I’m not alone in this.

Maybe we are all criticizing who we are instead of loving ourselves as we should.

You will succeed.

You will be proud of yourself.

You ARE good enough.

You are not alone. 

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Guarded by a Fortress.

locks

I’ve been told I’m difficult to get to know more times than I can count.

I wish I could give better first impressions.

But the real me is guarded.

Protected.

Locked up tight.

The keys to my castle are hidden in the depths of my mind.

He who shall enter be warned.

It isn’t always pretty.

I put on a good show.

Hair, makeup, nails, clothes, education, employment, dinner, dessert.

But it’s all a show.

Who am I?

He who shall enter be warned.

It isn’t always pretty.

When I was in fifth grade some girls in my class cornered me. They made fun of my beat up gym shoes and my frizzy strands. They bestowed upon me the presidential title for the IBTC. All fellow girls cringe at that committee. No one wants to be President. But what those girls didn’t know is I didn’t care. My walls were higher than their words could go.

Before fifth grade I built my castle walls. In the streetlight lit room of my childhood I built a fortress around myself.

I realized at a young age the importance of protecting myself. From the monsters. From the mean girls. From the frigid air of our unheated home.

Protecting myself meant that no one could hurt me. It gave me power. Control. Safety.

All the things I didn’t have as a girl who grew up in chaos.

Taller and taller the walls went following each night in my pale pink room filled with snow made of baby powder.

All I needed was a key and I swallowed it whole.

Although this fortress protected me over the years, I’m afraid that I’ve blocked out too much.

Too much possibility. Too much hope. Too much Brandy.

I want to let her shine but I fear the mean girls.

I fear the rejection

I don’t fear the monster because I could take him down if I wanted to.

I don’t fear the chaos because I now have power. Control. Safety.

Should I remove a brick?

Will you remove a brick?

Will you know me?

I swallowed the key. Can you find it?

He who shall enter be warned.

It isn’t always pretty.