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8 Tips for Getting Through Thanksgiving After Suicide Loss

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The holiday season can be a difficult time for those who have been affected by suicide. For me, the holidays are a reminder of my own dad’s suicide. I will never forget the phone conversation I had with my dad the night before Thanksgiving in 2011. He wasn’t himself; something just wasn’t right. While a month would pass before his life ended, I often consider that night to be the turning point for him. For a survivor of suicide loss, the holidays can be a reminder of “the last time.” While I have a number of joyful memories, there is also that memory of my dad’s last Thanksgiving. I never expected it to be his last. In an effort to assist others who may be struggling with the upcoming holiday, I have put together a “survival list.” I hope that one or two of these tips will allow you to experience happiness this Thursday.

1. Tell your friends and family what you need.

I have found this one is often the most difficult for survivors of suicide loss. I think we sometimes expect people to do more than they may be capable of. Unfortunately, the topic of suicide can make people uncomfortable. People don’t often know what to do or say, which can leave the survivor feeling isolated, or even worse, judged. I feel we need to teach our loved ones how to act. How do we do this? By telling them what we need.

“I need to talk about _______ today.”

“I need to cry, and I don’t want you to try to make me feel better. Just listen.”

“I need to take some time for myself.”

I can’t emphasize this enough. Tell people what you need. Trust me, it can make it easier for them and you can get what you need.

2. Be selfish!

Yes, seriously! We often try to do everything and be everything for those around us. When do we make time for ourselves? We need to take care of ourselves, first and foremost. Do what you need to do for yourself today. If you want to skip the holiday, skip the holiday. If you want to go visit your loved ones’ grave, go visit. Do what you need to do. Just remember survival tip #1, and communicate why you need to do what you are doing.

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3. Start a new tradition, or tweak the old ones.

Holidays can be difficult for a number of reasons, but I’ve found traditions can send us spiraling down to the depths of a black hole. Traditions can remind us our loved ones are no longer with us. Often we may not want to continue with the tradition, because ______ should be here. Traditions are for us and our families. There is no rule that says you need to continue one. If past traditions make you sad, stop doing them, or change them. Just because your loved one isn’t here in physical form doesn’t mean they can’t be a part of it. Or start a new tradition. It is never too late to start something new.

4. Incorporate your loved one into the day.

It seems to me that as a society, we have created this notion that relationships end when a person’s life ends, but I believe this couldn’t be further from the truth. Relationships don’t end; they just change. I have a friend who lost her father to suicide a few years back. She continues to incorporate her father into this day by setting a place for him at the table. Since gravy was his favorite Thanksgiving “accessory,” they put a gravy bowl in front of his plate. While he isn’t there in physical form, he is there in spirit. Her friends and family spend time talking about her father and the wonderful times they spent together. Were her friends and family comfortable with this? Not initially, but she followed survival tip #1 and told them this is what she needed. Now, it has become a new tradition.

5. Find something to be thankful for.

Truly, I believe there is always something to be thankful for. Maybe you are thankful the sun is shining, or you woke up actually feeling refreshed. Maybe you are thankful that guests cancelled, or that someone offered to bring a dish. I’ve found that finding something, no matter how small, to be thankful for can instantly change our mindset and our mood.

6. Start the day off right.

This can be different for everyone, but for me it’s all about music. If I want to change my mindset, I listen to music while I shower or get ready. There are certain songs that just put me in a good mood. Pray. Give yourself a pep talk. Talk to the person you lost. Do whatever you need to do to start the day off right. I’ve found that many times we can wake up thinking, “This is going to be an awful day” — and then guess what, it is. Not necessarily because of anything in particular, but because we went into the day with that mindset. Do anything and everything you can do to go into the day with a positive mindset. I promise it can help, and can definitely make survival tip #5 easier.

7. Don’t try to numb yourself.

Yes, a glass of wine might help ease your nerves. But five, well that will probably make you feel even worse tomorrow. We may often want to do whatever we can to numb ourselves on days like Thanksgiving. While it might get us through the day, I’ve found it can make the next day, and even multiple days after even more difficult. Do yourself a favor and allow yourself to be present. It may not be easy, but it can be worth it tomorrow.

8. Don’t let others control your day.

We often give way too much power to those around us. Someone may say something incredibly rude or inconsiderate. It may not be meant as a personal attack on you, or the person you lost. Oftentimes, it can just be ignorance. I have wasted a tremendous amount of energy trying to change people. I’ve found it is a battle that cannot be won. Save your energy for those who truly matter. Your great aunt is who she is; let it go. Don’t let anyone’s comments control your day. I am not telling you to allow others to say what they please; I am just telling you to pick your battles. Some people just aren’t worth your breath. Accept that, and focus your time and energy on the ones who mean the most. And hey, maybe even be thankful for those few.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

Follow this journey on Our Side of Suicide.

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Why You Should Stay

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I don’t know what you’re going through, but I’ll tell you this: you should stay.

No, I will not tell you to stay for the people you will leave behind. Here’s the thing: you shouldn’t let the world go on without you in it. Not for other people. Stay for yourself.

You’re probably in the phase of your life when you can’t help thinking everything is just pointless. I feel the same way. The truth is, I might just be writing this all down as a way to convince myself there’s still something to live for. But I’m letting you in my internal monologue, and hopefully I can also convince you.

Ending it all here will be unfair to the people who care for you, but it will be mostly unfair to you. And you’ll probably say you don’t love yourself enough to take the time considering that, but hear me out: you deserve so much more than what you’ve had. It sounds cliche and insincere, but I mean it when I say you deserve to be really happy. You deserve to feel complete. It’s not always wrong to be selfish, and now I am asking you to be just that. Do it for yourself, not for someone else. Live. Give yourself a chance, and fight for what you deserve. Stay a little while longer, and discover what it feels like to do things you’re truly passionate for, to find the kind of love that everyone dreams of. You can do it. You can find it. And if it seems like you can’t, you can work to create your own happiness.

Life will not get any easier, and none of us will ever be perfect. But I hope you try to love yourself enough to find the will to stay. Because we can never really be sure if things do get better. But you can.

Previously published on Thought Catalog here.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by MarinaZg

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The First Thanksgiving and Holiday Season After a Suicide

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In preparation for Thanksgiving and the holidays, I wanted to give folks some wisdom and insight into taking care of themselves during what can be a difficult time. I wanted to share a bit as it pertains to grief and the holidays.

Below is an excerpt from the book “The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide.”

One of the most difficult aspects of the first year is what is often referred to as the Year of Firsts. The Year of Firsts is all of the first times we experience an event, holiday, or tradition without our loved one. This includes birthdays, holidays, vacations, events, seasons, or any other life event we are now navigating without them. Survivors often talk about the difficulty of the first Thanksgiving or Christmas after the suicide and how to handle the typical traditions and expectations from others. Oftentimes, we have traditions we have always participated in, whether it be decorating in a certain manner, cutting down our own Christmas tree, or hosting a celebration. Maybe these were our loved one’s ideas originally, or maybe they simply loved participating in them. Whatever the case may be, it can sometimes produce dread as the season approaches.

This is a good time to evaluate if you want to continue with the traditions. You might need to look at them this year and ask yourself, “Do I really want to continue with these?” You might think, “We have to do it because my loved one adored participating in it” or “We always do that tradition. We can’t skip it this year.” This might be a good time, though, to look at those traditions and honestly assess if you have the desire, energy, and ability to continue with them. If you decide you do not, then it is important to give yourself permission to skip them.

This might also be a great time to create new traditions. These do not have to be permanent, they may only be temporary for the first year or two. I remember always celebrating Christmas Eve with my mom’s side of the family, but after she died, my dad, brother, and I decided it would be too painful to attend the celebration. We decided to go out to a nice dinner and then a movie together instead. We did this for only the first two years, but it was what we needed during such a difficult time that would have otherwise been a constant reminder of my mom’s absence. It did not make the season pain free; instead, it simply gave us an opportunity to choose how we wanted to spend those difficult days and lessen the pain just a bit.

The Year of Firsts might also involve how to navigate annual vacations or trips that have always been a family favorite. It is okay to continue with this trip if it is something you feel would be enjoyable and will find pleasure in. If, however, it is something you are dreading, it is okay to cancel the trip or perhaps change the destination. The important thing to remember during the Year of Firsts is that it is okay to say no to celebrations and change or cancel plans entirely. You need to do what you are comfortable with and what you can manage emotionally and physically. We don’t want to just endure events for the sake of keeping with tradition. We want to take care of ourselves the best way possible.

Often, society tells us we should be done mourning by the first anniversary of our loved one’s death. Sometimes we believe this ourselves. The truth is it is not realistic to expect our grieving to be complete and wrapped up nicely simply because we turned the twelfth page on the calendar. We do a disservice to ourselves when we believe everything will be easier once we make it through the first year and then later beat ourselves up when we recognize life is still hard. It is important to note the anniversary is merely one day; it is not the culmination of grief. There is no absolute timeline when we can expect to be “over” this incredible loss. To expect the first year anniversary to be the magic day when mourning and pain disappears is unfair to ourselves.

Unfortunately, many survivors share their second year was actually harder than the first. I mention this not to be discouraging but to give you insight instead. I remember walking around in a constant state of shock the entire first year and then slowly recognizing the finality of her death. It was then, in the second year, that life became less about “firsts” and more about the new reality of life without my mom. Also, I think people expect us to have moved on by the completion of the first year and, thus, they stop asking us how we are doing, stop seeing how they can help, and stop thinking about our pain. It felt a bit lonelier beginning that second year. This is not to scare you but rather to normalize it so you do not have false expectations but a more realistic understanding instead. This is normal to experience.

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The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by phongphan5922

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When Routine Tasks Are More Difficult After Losing My Partner to Suicide

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As I lay on the floor with sobs wracking my body, I hear myself uttering the words, “Why is this so hard?” I was trying to do something my partner Steve and I had done together in the past and, of course, he would always make this mundane chore fun for me. It was something many people might take for granted and may complain about (myself included), but it’s also something I can struggle with due to a movement disorder.

I was trying to change the sheets on the bed. After about 15 minutes of frustration and tears, I was finally able to figure out how to put the contour sheet on the mattress. It was something as simple as that which brought me to tears.

It is the unseen symptoms of my neurological issues that sometimes cause me the most distress and frustration. After Steve took his own life in 2015, I was left with many responsibilities to do alone. Not having Steve to make me laugh while doing them has made it so much harder for me to get through some routine tasks. These tend to be very simplistic in nature, things we learned as children while developing our cognitive and fine motor skills, such as tying shoelaces, wrapping food in Saran Wrap or trying to put an item in a knapsack or box. Ironically, some of my physical therapy exercises make use of childhood development tools like peg boards and necklace beading.

Sometimes I am so puzzled as to what is physically happening to me. I never know which body I am going to wake up in. One of the things I find so hard to comprehend is my loss of strength in doing certain activities, like lifting the mattress corner to make the bed, or turning a door knob. Yet I am doing the same weight workouts in the gym (without reducing the weights) I have done before my movement disorder symptoms started manifesting themselves. The medical professionals tell me it has to do with different neural pathways… Go figure.

However, I have hope. I will continue to fight my neurological issues with my diet, alternative medicine, meditation, yoga and physical therapy. I truly believe my body is temporarily out of balance due to the extreme trauma of losing Steve and the stress-filled years before and after his death. As Steve would always say, “The beauty is in the balance.”

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I will continue to strive to find that balance once again.

Image via Contributor.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Lessons From a Suicide Attempt Survivor Who Got a Second Chance

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In 1998, I was a 27-year-old, Magna Cum Laude graduate of the University of Notre Dame who had recently become the youngest Principal consultant in American Management Systems’ Manhattan office.

Shortly after receiving a seven percent off-cycle salary increase due to exemplary job performance, I was found unconscious inside of a running rental car in a parking lot of a warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey.

After losing consciousness in the rental car and prior to waking up in the hospital, I had what is commonly referred to as a near-death experience, and if I had not survived, the cause of my death would have been listed as suicide. As accurate as that description would have been, I’m compelled to share about how my lack of experience with the thoughts and feelings I had leading up to my suicide attempt, and my fears about what other people would think about me if I had revealed the struggle I was embroiled in, dissuaded me from getting the help I so desperately needed. As a suicide attempt survivor fortunate enough to have a second chance at life, I hope others struggling as I did will benefit from the lessons I’ve learned over the last 18 years.

In late 1997, while on a challenging work assignment in Toronto, I began to experience insomnia for the first time in my life. My mental health deteriorated quickly over the next few months as my five closest friends all coincidentally moved away from New York City, and I began to ruminate over what I was doing with my life. Up until when I began to have suicidal ideations, I would have described myself as confident with respect to my intellectual abilities, but the personal crisis I became involved in, stemming from difficulties encountered on the project in Toronto, shattered my self-confidence and stripped away my self-esteem. In their place was an overwhelming sense of self-doubt followed eventually by self-loathing. Hope and excitement for the future were replaced by fear and apprehension. Night after night of getting between zero to three hours of sleep at most, the relentless barrage of dark, automatic thoughts bombarding my consciousness ate away at my sanity. Over the course of only a few months, I was lost in a seemingly inescapable, abysmal black hole of simultaneously self-defeating and self-fulfilling thoughts.

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I wasn’t familiar with the diagnostic criteria of major depressive disorder at the time, but I learned after the fact I was a textbook case. I had persistent feelings of emptiness, hopelessness and worthlessness. I lost interest in activities I normally enjoyed, and my appetite all but vanished. It was challenging to concentrate and to make decisions, even simple, inconsequential ones. Not surprisingly given how little I was sleeping, I was perpetually tired and lacked energy. Recurrent thoughts about dying, the first was imagining that my Friday afternoon flight home from Toronto to New York City would crash, eventually evolved into persistent thoughts about intentionally ending my own life. The long, sleepless or nearly sleepless nights took the greatest toll on me. I was unable to quiet my sleep deprived, addled mind from producing a non-stop stream of negative, hyper-critical thoughts, as overpowering feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment consumed me. I was ashamed I needed help to deal with how I was feeling. I felt guilty I was having suicidal thoughts considering my life of relative privilege and my knowledge of the depth and breadth of suffering experienced by countless others in the world. I was embarrassed I had ever considered myself intelligent and capable of attaining any goal I set my sights on achieving. I was ashamed I was considering suicide out of a fear that I would become completely incapable of doing my job. I felt guilty I hadn’t achieved more in life considering my talents as well as the advantages and opportunities afforded me. I was embarrassed to be in a position where I obviously needed help and was mortally afraid to admit that fact to anyone. I viewed my deteriorating mental health as a character flaw, because I believed other people would see it the same way, and I believed asking for help to deal with what was going on in my head was a sign of a personal weakness.

Thoughts and beliefs like these lie at the heart of the stigma surrounding mental illness, and explain why many people struggling like I was back then never seek help.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2014 an estimated 15.7 million, or 6.7 percent of all U.S. adults, had at least one major depressive episode in the preceding year, making it the leading cause of disability in this country for those ages 15 to 44. Sadly, it’s estimated that only about half of Americans who have depression ever receive treatment for the disorder. Over 90 percent of Americans lost to suicide each year have depression or some other behavioral health condition. In 2014 alone, 42,773 Americans, or about 117 a day, died by suicide according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. The tragic reality behind these statistics is that a great majority of people have depression could be helped by one or a number of different treatments that help people return to living full, productive lives.

Immediately after my suicide attempt, I began taking an antidepressant medication and seeing a psychologist twice a week. Within about three months, I was well again. I lived with my parents during that time period, and my mother had bought me a small stack of paperback books to read while I convalesced. While most of the books were novels, she had also bought me a copy of David Burns’ best selling book “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.” It was the last book I read out of the stack, and although I was still too depressed when I read it the first time to appreciate the significance of the ideas it contains, over a decade and a half later, it’s clear that what this book taught me about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) comprises some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned during my 18-plus year journey as a consumer of mental healthcare services.

In the book, Burns summarizes what he refers to as, “the powerful principle at the heart of cognitive therapy,” by writing “your feelings result from the messages you give yourself. In fact, your thoughts often have much more to do with how you feel than what is actually happening in your life.” A few years later, my psychologist introduced me to a related idea called mindfulness — the practice of being aware of the present moment and your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way. Both CBT and the practice of mindfulness helped me to be more reflective about my thoughts and feelings as I was experiencing them, helping me to consciously respond to them in a more discerning and intentional way instead of impulsively reacting to them. I have never taken an antidepressant medication since the time immediately following my suicide attempt, nor have I ever had a recurrence of a depressive episode as severe as the one that I had in 1998. By no means do I believe that I am “depression-proof”; no one knows what tribulations may befall them in the future, but it’s clear to me that years of reflective introspection and personal growth have equipped me with valuable insights, habits and tools that help to safeguard me against the self-defeating thought patterns that led up to my depression and suicide attempt over 18 years ago.

I have developed other habits over the years that have also helped me to remain well in a sustainable way. I transformed my diet to consist mostly of plant based foods full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and I became an avid distance runner. I worked to cultivate a habit of unconditional self-acceptance as well the practice of consciously acknowledging things in my life that I am grateful for on a daily basis. Recognizing the dangers inherent in becoming isolated, I committed myself to remaining connected and communicative with my family and close friends. Maybe most importantly, I have promised myself and those I love that I will never hesitate to ask for help from them or a professional caregiver if I need it.

Unlike when my silence about my suicidal crisis over 18 years ago almost led to my demise, now I view the act of asking for help as a sign of courage and strength. This belief led me to join the Speakers Bureau of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention where I deliver talks at area high schools and colleges about the warning signs of suicide with the aims of reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness and lowering the suicide rate. I see making myself vulnerable to the potentially negative judgments of others by publicly sharing about my past as a powerful way to offer hope to people who are suffering, and to encourage them to seek help.

Follow this journey on Frank Talk About Mental Health.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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What I Realized the Day I Forgot My Daughter's 12th Birthday

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Sitting in my basement in 2007, I was numbing my brain surfing the internet. I was trying to fight the thoughts I had in my head. I had been in great emotional pain for a while, and I could not find any relief from this mental, emotional and spiritual breakdown.

I didn’t want to live. I was angry.

I was angry I couldn’t kill myself because I had three children, and I know what it’s like to be left behind by suicide. My mom took her last of many overdoses and died six days before Christmas in 1997. I could not fathom burdening my children with the guilt and pain that they didn’t do enough, like I had felt for years about my mom.

My daughter walked downstairs in the basement, where I sat staring at the computer screen. My back was turned to her. She said hi, and I said hi back. There was silence. She then reminded me — that day was her 12th birthday.

I was so completely absorbed in my own pain, I momentarily forgot. I will never forget that day.

In that moment, I realized I was already living like I was dead.

I don’t know where I gathered the strength to get through the guilt of that day, but it’s something that weighed heavy on me for a long time. At the same time, it was the day I said, “No, this is not how my story will end.”

I have struggled with anxiety and periodic depressive episodes my entire life. There are days I still struggle, but I don’t want to die. I love my life today, and I almost missed a lot of things.

Since that day, I have graduated with two more college diplomas, gotten remarried and watched my daughter give birth to her daughter two years ago. I would have missed all those moments if I died by suicide. I have fought my way out of the pit of despair many times and continue to deal with mental illness in a positive and healthy way. It’s scary and exhausting at times, but I will not give up trying.

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Life for someone with a mental illness can be debilitating, but it can also be amazing. I have become a mental health blogger and advocate. I share my stories of hope and inspiration to try and help others.

Some of us make it. Some of us don’t. Mental illness is cunning and baffling that way. Why one person can find the light for life again, while others can’t, is something I will never be able to understand.

I miss my mom, but I understand why she let go. The truth is, I started grieving her long before she died. I watched her struggle and try to hold on for years. She did try as much as she could. She tried medications, hospitalizations and electric shock therapy. All were short-term solutions that never seem to alleviate her illness long term.

She is one of the strongest women I have ever known. She struggled in silence and went through every day with little relief. She didn’t have the resources we have today.

The internet has been a huge source of support and comfort for me. I know people around the world I have not met personally, who belong to the same online support groups I do. We give each other encouragement. I run my own Facebook page offering support and hope for others.

Connection to others on my darkest days has been a gift. My mother never had that. It breaks my heart to know she struggled alone, but I forgive her for leaving when she felt so alone in this world.

She will always be one of the reasons I do this, why I talk openly about mental illness, my pain and joy through this life. I write about the times I feel defeated and the times I get super excited about life.

She never got a chance to tell her story. I want a chance to tell mine.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. 

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