Laura Smith

@laura-smith | contributor
Laura Smith is a married mother of two children, the oldest of whom has a variety of invisible disabilities. She is a speech/language pathologist who now specializes in Childhood Apraxia of Speech after her daughter’s diagnosis, and is the voice behind the website SLPmommyofApraxia. In 2016, she lost one of her closest friends to suicide. She believes dialogue around mental health is crucial to end the stigma.
Laura Smith

The Infinite Possibilities Disability Inclusion in Schools Can Bring

Do you have a child with a disability? If you do, I’m almost positive that at some point in this parenting journey you have felt the pain of wanting them to be happy and included. Do you have a child without a disability? Have you ever been sad when your child felt left out? If you have, I can confidently say to multiply that feeling by infinity and you’ll have a small understanding of how awful it feels when your child with a disability is excluded. Infinity. Infinity. My daughter Ashlynn is now 12 and started middle school. She’s only ever been invited to one peer’s birthday parties. Despite being happy and kind with a smile so bright it could rival the sun, it’s always been a struggle for her to be included. A natural-born socialite, Ashlynn was born with disabilities that have effectively worked as barriers between her and her desire to be social. How much does she long to feel included? I can’t really say for sure but anything I can imagine I’m sure we can multiply by… infinity. Infinity. Infinity. Inclusion is not something new. Disability advocates including special education staff and others have been trying to do this successfully for decades. Though we’ve come farther than when I was in high school, where the kids in special education only had a hallway and never attended general education classes, simply sticking them in general education classes wasn’t including them either. As time went on, we have been learning. Inclusion is not just a place. If it were, kids on the outside would have long been included by now. True inclusion is really a culture. It’s in a culture of people who all viscerally buy into this idea that everyone matters. It’s a culture of many many people beyond disability and diversity advocates who accept we all have way more in common than we do not. So what are the possibilities of an entire culture of people practicing inclusion? I’m no expert, but I think the answer is probably infinity. Infinity. Infinity. That leads me to this new middle school my daughter Ashlynn is at this year. Even just walking through the doors, one gets the sense that this building houses a culture of inclusivity. It’s literally written in signs on the walls and throughout the building. In the girls’ bathroom, positive affirmation notes are hung above the mirrors. I remember washing my hands and wondering if instead of hating my reflection every day as a middle schooler how it might have helped to then read a positive affirmation above it? In hallways, inspirational messages are posted throughout like this one from Eckhart Tolle that reads: “Some changes look negative on the surface, but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” Middle school is full of so many changes. Changes to our bodies, our cognition, and our way of navigating the world. Imagine a child going through that but reading that sign above Ashlynn every day. Could it change how they feel? I don’t really know for sure, but even if it helped one child, it’s worth it. Who knows how many that child would go on to help? Maybe the answer is more like infinity. Infinity. Infinity. Ashlynn has thrived in her sixth-grade year, being included in general education, track, and basketball. Her science teacher modifies her school work on his own. He takes responsibility himself for scaffolding her work instead of relying on the special education teacher. The dean of students who helps with traffic flow in the morning took to Ashlynn “helping” her do traffic duty. Every morning Ashlynn happily smiles and waves on the cars alongside the dean. It would be impossible not to notice how Ashlynn is being included every morning by teachers, parents and students alike. You know what this fosters? Inclusion times infinity. Infinity. Infinity. The year culminated into something called the first annual “Inclusion Spirit Week.” Excuse me? I’ve worked in special education since 2004 and I’ve never ever heard of anything like this. To make it work though, all members of the community had to believe in and practice inclusion, because as I said, inclusion is not a place, it’s a culture. It’s a culture like Spirit Week for school pride! It’s a culture like team spirit. It takes a collective group of people, disabled and non-disabled, advocates and non-advocates who truly believe inclusion matters. To be clear, inclusion week was not just about kids with disabilities. I’m writing about it because my child happens to have one. The week had themes of not letting anyone sit alone, how to be a friend when you see someone sitting alone, and more. The assembly featured games and incorporated all members of the student body participating in games against the teachers. That’s where Ashlynn came in. She was on a basketball team of students working to get more baskets in one minute than the teachers. She was paired with a peer buddy who helped her alongside other general education students working to defeat the teachers. How much did this mean to her? Well to quote Buzz Lightyear, I’m pretty sure it was “to infinity and beyond.” Infinity. Infinity. I don’t say it lightly when I tell you that Ashlynn’s new school has been nothing short of amazing. Reading, writing, and math are important, but so are kindness and mental health. This school offers all of that. What’s the name of such an amazing school,  you might ask? Well, it’s none other than Infinity Middle School. Our gratitude overflows. My husband bawled through the entire assembly. The only way to describe happiness like that is nothing shorter than infinity.

Rhian C
Rhian C @boosebot
contributor

8 Must-Have Items for an Easier Life With Dyspraxia

During the past year of COVID lockdowns, I have been able to develop new skills and also examine where the gaps are in my life. From the age of 8, I have been diagnosed with dyspraxia. Later, I was diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia and C-PTSD. The latter has nothing to do with the rest. Most people with dyspraxia are diagnosed with other disorders as well. Imagine any slapstick comedy, for instance, Laurel and Hardy where someone finds themselves constantly struggling with every single aspect of life. Falling off a chair, walking into doors. All of these are everyday occurrences for me. You’d laugh, right? Well, that has been my experience of dyspraxia. As a side note, laughing has been a very important lesson that I’ve had to learn. Some things I can’t control, but I can control how I react to them. According to the NHS website, “Dyspraxia, also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD), is a common disorder that affects movement and coordination.” As we are individuals, it affects us all differently. Here is some background on how dyspraxia affects me, to give you an idea of why I have suggested these items to make life easier. How does dyspraxia affect me? 1. I have issues with accidentally dropping things — almost as if there is a poltergeist in my body that makes me drop stuff while my brain is still telling me to hold the item. 2. I struggle with the feminine aspects of everyday cleanliness, such as dealing with facial hair or make-up. The amount of scars or wonky eyebrows or looking like someone spilled a jar of turmeric over my face is greater than you’d imagine. 3. I find it hard to estimate depth, height and width. I walk into approximately three doors in a day — often the exact same door. 4. I do not cook. I just find it so stressful; there are too many things to pay attention to. Even if I manage to cook a meal, I feel so ill afterward that I often can’t eat it. 5. Picking up skills is a nightmare. I started to knit two decades ago and I’m only starting to get good at it now. I often end up frustrated because I can’t pick it up like other people. Because I have this issue, people sometimes claim, “you’re not trying hard enough.” 6. Many people with dyspraxia struggle with organization. I’m always anxious, always early to places, overly prepared and constantly worried I’m going to forget things. 7. I hate eating. Sometimes it’s because of the texture of the food — for instance, I can’t eat cold meat without wanting to be sick. However, my main issue is the mechanics of eating. I still choke sometimes because of my issue with chewing. The physicality of using cutlery is something I’ve still not mastered, and therefore I tend not to eat in front of other people if I can help it. I’m only comfortable eating around people like my partner, close friends and family. So, without further ado, here are my go-to eight items for an easier dyspraxic life: 1. Multi cup holder Although I don’t drink hot drinks, this has been very valuable for me. I often find cups and glasses really hard to hold on to even if the cup has a handle. This right here solves that issue in terms of balancing and not knowing where to hold it from. 2. Anti-slip serving trays As I said earlier, I struggle with eating and don’t like to eat in front of people. Most of the time, my partner and I eat food in our room as opposed to our shared dining room. I was afraid of constantly dropping plates filled with food, so I would just not carry them. This caused a strain on our relationship, so I found a way around it. The anti-slip trays are perfect, the handles are long enough and there is little chance of the tray becoming unbalanced. 3. Cutlery with larger handles I struggle with the mechanics of eating — not only knowing what to use to eat specific foods, but physically moving the food to my mouth. I use a spoon about 90% of the time. This stylish cutlery is extremely helpful as it gives me a good solid thing to hold onto. 4. Hair and scalp massager shampoo brush I struggled to wash my hair for years, but not anymore. My hair is thick and I always felt no matter how much I tried to wash the shampoo out, it was never clean. It made me feel dirty, disgusting and lowered my self-esteem. This shampoo brush literally changed my life. You squirt a little bit of shampoo onto it and it makes sure every part of your hair gets shampoo. After rinsing out the shampoo with water, you use the brush to get the rest out of it. It also massages the scalp, which really leaves me feeling relaxed. 5. Tweezers with non-slip grips As a side note, I was very badly neglected as a child and was not taught personal hygiene. Adding that with dyspraxia made me feel disgusting because I felt like I was unable to be a woman. It was a steep learning curve, but these helped! These tweezers feel amazing! A very pleasant texture to the touch and easy to hold. After struggling for years on dealing with facial hair and my eyebrows this was an amazing breakthrough to me. 6. Hydraulic rowing machine Being uncoordinated and overweight, I constantly wanted to lose weight without being embarrassed. I often got funny looks at the gym and felt very embarrassed, which in turn made me not want to exercise. There are very, very few things about the pandemic that has been positive for me, but getting this rower in my room has definitely helped. Now, I love watching TV while rowing, with no one to judge me and gaining confidence in myself. 7. Easy-grip pencils Parents of dyspraxic children, I beg you to buy these for your kids. I found them once I was in university and they felt unbelievable to use after years of finger blisters. As a dyspraxic child, I used to lean on the pencil too hard which made the lead snap. This would lead me to constantly having to sharpen my pencils and look like I was trying to avoid work. The other issue was that I used to get blisters from the pencil rubbing on my fingers. This would be excruciatingly painful — but these encourage you to hold the pencil in the proper way, giving extra support with the third side of the pencil. 8. Fidget cube As a dyspraxic person, I have a lot of tactile and sensory needs. I could sometimes waste a lot of time trying to meet this need — until I found fidget cubes. All different sensations and movements can make for a brilliant present for a dyspraxic person. WARNING: This might be great for a dyspraxic person, but it can also be super annoying for anyone else around. These are the items that make my day more pleasant and enjoyable. We each have different battles to face, but life is meant to be lived, and these simple and inexpensive items deliver a huge return for me every day. I hope these items can help improve your life and make each day a little brighter.

Laura Smith

My Child With a Disability Was Isolated Before COVID-19

In the middle of a historic pandemic with social distancing measures, people are starting to grieve the loss of their previous life. Parents on Facebook take the space to grieve the loss of their child’s friend’s birthday party or prom. They post pictures of the good old days when their child was surrounded by friends and we didn’t have to socially distance. I completely feel their pain and grieve as well, but not because my child lost these things. It’s because my child with a disability never had them to begin with. For my daughter with developmental and learning disabilities and for many other children like her, this is their everyday reality. At the risk of making this sound bitter, I wanted to take the opportunity to bring awareness. When we no longer have to socially distance, I hope you will remember the child with a disability who is always forced to sit on the sidelines, global pandemic or not. A child just like yours in most ways. A child who longs for friends. A child who wants to be included. A child who loves to play. A child who wants social interaction with peers. A child who would love to be invited to the movies, a birthday party, or for a play date but who is stuck at home. A child who feels lonely. The only difference is my child feels this way all the time, not just in the middle of a pandemic. When your child without a disability can once again rejoin their friends, I beg you to remember how awful it felt when they were without them for just a couple of months. I beg you to remember so you can encourage your child to reach out to the child with a disability who is always sidelined, regardless of a pandemic. That feeling they have now is how my child feels all the time. I ask that you teach them acceptance. My child may not understand social norms, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have that internal desire to have a friend. My child may need more patience. My child may need more understanding. But she, like your child, desperately wants to feel like she belongs. If the pandemic can be used for anything good, I pray it’s to educate others how it feels to be cut off from human contact. To have more love, more kindness and more inclusion for all. For more on parenting during quarantine, check out the following stories from our community: Please Wash Your Hands Year-Round — Not ‘Just’ Because of the Coronavirus How We Can Promote Continuity in Special Education Programs During the COVID-19 Pandemic What to Do When Your Child on the Autism Spectrum’s Routine Is Disrupted by the Coronavirus 25 Hilarious (and Sweet) Photos That Show What Parenting During COVID-19 Is Really Like What It’s Like Parenting a Medically Complex Child During the Coronavirus Outbreak Why I’m Inspired by This ‘Hard Email’ a Mom Sent About COVID-19 and School Work

Laura Smith

My Child With a Disability Was Isolated Before COVID-19

In the middle of a historic pandemic with social distancing measures, people are starting to grieve the loss of their previous life. Parents on Facebook take the space to grieve the loss of their child’s friend’s birthday party or prom. They post pictures of the good old days when their child was surrounded by friends and we didn’t have to socially distance. I completely feel their pain and grieve as well, but not because my child lost these things. It’s because my child with a disability never had them to begin with. For my daughter with developmental and learning disabilities and for many other children like her, this is their everyday reality. At the risk of making this sound bitter, I wanted to take the opportunity to bring awareness. When we no longer have to socially distance, I hope you will remember the child with a disability who is always forced to sit on the sidelines, global pandemic or not. A child just like yours in most ways. A child who longs for friends. A child who wants to be included. A child who loves to play. A child who wants social interaction with peers. A child who would love to be invited to the movies, a birthday party, or for a play date but who is stuck at home. A child who feels lonely. The only difference is my child feels this way all the time, not just in the middle of a pandemic. When your child without a disability can once again rejoin their friends, I beg you to remember how awful it felt when they were without them for just a couple of months. I beg you to remember so you can encourage your child to reach out to the child with a disability who is always sidelined, regardless of a pandemic. That feeling they have now is how my child feels all the time. I ask that you teach them acceptance. My child may not understand social norms, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have that internal desire to have a friend. My child may need more patience. My child may need more understanding. But she, like your child, desperately wants to feel like she belongs. If the pandemic can be used for anything good, I pray it’s to educate others how it feels to be cut off from human contact. To have more love, more kindness and more inclusion for all. For more on parenting during quarantine, check out the following stories from our community: Please Wash Your Hands Year-Round — Not ‘Just’ Because of the Coronavirus How We Can Promote Continuity in Special Education Programs During the COVID-19 Pandemic What to Do When Your Child on the Autism Spectrum’s Routine Is Disrupted by the Coronavirus 25 Hilarious (and Sweet) Photos That Show What Parenting During COVID-19 Is Really Like What It’s Like Parenting a Medically Complex Child During the Coronavirus Outbreak Why I’m Inspired by This ‘Hard Email’ a Mom Sent About COVID-19 and School Work

Laura Smith

How the College Admissions Scandal Harms Students With Disabilities

Like many people, I read the breaking college admission scandal with interest. I wasn’t too surprised that wealthy people used their money to get ahead. Is classism really a surprise to anyone at this point? I was surprised that Singer’s company falsely claimed that many students had learning disabilities to get special accommodations such as extended time and individualized settings. I’m not usually one to point out ableism, mostly because a lot of people are just plain ignorant of how their actions and attitudes are ableist. However, it is disgusting that anyone would falsely claim a learning disability as a non-disabled person. My daughter has invisible learning disabilities and these accommodations are in place to help level the playing field. They are not in place to give perfectly non-disabled people a step up. If I hadn’t read it for myself I’m not sure I would believe it. Who is that low? Would these same people feign paralysis and ride around in a wheelchair to get some advantage? Do they have no shame? My daughter works a thousand times harder than the average student just to be able to learn, and she achieves small successes only due to these accommodations. It makes me sick to know a student who has no learning disabilities faked one. It makes me more angry than had I known they just cheated.  It’s more disgusting than pretending you were an athlete when you really weren’t (which many did as well). This is the most blatant form of ableist behavior and shows overt disrespect and obvious discrimination against those who struggle with actual learning disabilities — individuals who already put in extraordinary effort and time just to be on the same playing field as their non-disabled peers. If anything, it strengthens my resolve to keep fighting for disability rights, not only for my daughter but for all those with invisible disabilities. It strengthens my resolve to keep spreading awareness.  To keep advocating. To keep raising my voice for those who can’t, because their voices matter too.

Laura Smith

How the College Admissions Scandal Harms Students With Disabilities

Like many people, I read the breaking college admission scandal with interest. I wasn’t too surprised that wealthy people used their money to get ahead. Is classism really a surprise to anyone at this point? I was surprised that Singer’s company falsely claimed that many students had learning disabilities to get special accommodations such as extended time and individualized settings. I’m not usually one to point out ableism, mostly because a lot of people are just plain ignorant of how their actions and attitudes are ableist. However, it is disgusting that anyone would falsely claim a learning disability as a non-disabled person. My daughter has invisible learning disabilities and these accommodations are in place to help level the playing field. They are not in place to give perfectly non-disabled people a step up. If I hadn’t read it for myself I’m not sure I would believe it. Who is that low? Would these same people feign paralysis and ride around in a wheelchair to get some advantage? Do they have no shame? My daughter works a thousand times harder than the average student just to be able to learn, and she achieves small successes only due to these accommodations. It makes me sick to know a student who has no learning disabilities faked one. It makes me more angry than had I known they just cheated.  It’s more disgusting than pretending you were an athlete when you really weren’t (which many did as well). This is the most blatant form of ableist behavior and shows overt disrespect and obvious discrimination against those who struggle with actual learning disabilities — individuals who already put in extraordinary effort and time just to be on the same playing field as their non-disabled peers. If anything, it strengthens my resolve to keep fighting for disability rights, not only for my daughter but for all those with invisible disabilities. It strengthens my resolve to keep spreading awareness.  To keep advocating. To keep raising my voice for those who can’t, because their voices matter too.

Laura Smith

How the College Admissions Scandal Harms Students With Disabilities

Like many people, I read the breaking college admission scandal with interest. I wasn’t too surprised that wealthy people used their money to get ahead. Is classism really a surprise to anyone at this point? I was surprised that Singer’s company falsely claimed that many students had learning disabilities to get special accommodations such as extended time and individualized settings. I’m not usually one to point out ableism, mostly because a lot of people are just plain ignorant of how their actions and attitudes are ableist. However, it is disgusting that anyone would falsely claim a learning disability as a non-disabled person. My daughter has invisible learning disabilities and these accommodations are in place to help level the playing field. They are not in place to give perfectly non-disabled people a step up. If I hadn’t read it for myself I’m not sure I would believe it. Who is that low? Would these same people feign paralysis and ride around in a wheelchair to get some advantage? Do they have no shame? My daughter works a thousand times harder than the average student just to be able to learn, and she achieves small successes only due to these accommodations. It makes me sick to know a student who has no learning disabilities faked one. It makes me more angry than had I known they just cheated.  It’s more disgusting than pretending you were an athlete when you really weren’t (which many did as well). This is the most blatant form of ableist behavior and shows overt disrespect and obvious discrimination against those who struggle with actual learning disabilities — individuals who already put in extraordinary effort and time just to be on the same playing field as their non-disabled peers. If anything, it strengthens my resolve to keep fighting for disability rights, not only for my daughter but for all those with invisible disabilities. It strengthens my resolve to keep spreading awareness.  To keep advocating. To keep raising my voice for those who can’t, because their voices matter too.

Laura Smith

What I Would Have Said to My Friend Who Died by Suicide

September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. I must admit, I never thought too much about needing a month for prevention before. I realize now this thought process selfishly was because suicide wasn’t something that personally affected me. That was, until January 18, 2016. My good friend of 21 years died by suicide. I hope you noticed I didn’t say “committed suicide.” The Sarah I knew would never have “committed suicide,” left behind her two young sons and a life full of promise and opportunity. Saying she “committed” suicide is like saying you intentionally went into a diabetic shock from lack of insulin. It’s taboo to say your brain, another organ in your body which is susceptible to disease or illness, is sick. That’s what I want to change. I said “died by suicide” because my friend had a mental illness.  No one seems to care if you have a mental illness in this country. They call you names like “crazy” or “addict,” and they never look beyond that. My friend was the “victim” of a suicide. Maybe that explains it better. She was a victim of a mind that turned against her. She was a victim of a system that couldn’t help her. Sarah was absolutely brilliant, even when I had met her at the young age of 14. Standing tall and proud at 6’3”, she was an unmistakable presence. Her outer shell was witty and tough, but her inner shell was vulnerable and insecure. I remember her battling depression when we were teenagers. In our 20s, she managed (under the care of a therapist) to go off medication and was using meditation and yoga to help manage her symptoms. When she had her first child at 26, I remember having a conversation with her about postpartum depression and how we would have a plan if I thought I started to see it. She was thoughtful, agreeable and logical. The birth of her beloved child came and went without incident. Depression never reared it’s ugly head. In fact, the time during her first son’s young years was some of her best. Park outings, fishing trips, splash parks, Sarah did them all with her young son as any mother would have. Our friendship saw a renewed uptick during this time as well. I had my first child a couple years later, and we once again bonded as juggling the life of being mothers along with our life as working, professional women. I think we both forgot about depression. That’s a lie.  I’m sure it was just me who forgot about depression. Either way, it seemed that cloud of darkness had left, and it lulled me into complacency. About five years after her first child, her second child was born. She was giddy and happy about her new baby. I never suspected postpartum depression until it happened. Unfortunately, by then there was no plan as we had with her first child, and she was simultaneously going through a separation from the kids’ dad. She became estranged, and I was unable to reach her. One incident a year before she died landed me at her house with others, convincing her she needed to go to the hospital to “rest.” We knew if we said for mental health reasons, she never would have gone. I was able to be available for a part of this. Yet, I wasn’t next of kin, and, thereby, unable to be her advocate. HIPAA privacy rules are strict and deep. I understand their purpose, but honestly I truly believe they are hurting more people with mental health issues than helping. That’s an entirely different post though. Instead, my smart and savvy friend was able to talk herself right out of the hospital and informed us all she only had a dx (or diagnosis) of “exhaustion” and needed more sleep. My heart sunk. Sarah knew she had depression, but now she wasn’t even admitting that. She was sick, and I was powerless to stop it. One year almost to the month after that hospitalization, my friend was dead. Estranged after that hospital incident, I had only spoken to her through Facebook comments and likes for the last year. Had she reached out, even a little, I would have ran to her side. I really would have. She never called, messaged or even texted me though. I’m mad at myself for becoming complacent. I’m mad I didn’t realize suicide was an end result, even after knowing she had battled depression since she was a young teen. Had she texted, I would have told her one small phrase that is now the name of a non-profit started by a mutual high school friend of ours. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out. She’s on the internet and on Facebook. At any rate, I would have said, “You matter. You matter to me and I know things suck right now, but they will get better. Let me help you. I will help you. You don’t need to live this way.” You matter. You matter. You matter. I love you Sarah. 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 . Image via contributor.

Laura Smith

What I Would Have Said to My Friend Who Died by Suicide

September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. I must admit, I never thought too much about needing a month for prevention before. I realize now this thought process selfishly was because suicide wasn’t something that personally affected me. That was, until January 18, 2016. My good friend of 21 years died by suicide. I hope you noticed I didn’t say “committed suicide.” The Sarah I knew would never have “committed suicide,” left behind her two young sons and a life full of promise and opportunity. Saying she “committed” suicide is like saying you intentionally went into a diabetic shock from lack of insulin. It’s taboo to say your brain, another organ in your body which is susceptible to disease or illness, is sick. That’s what I want to change. I said “died by suicide” because my friend had a mental illness.  No one seems to care if you have a mental illness in this country. They call you names like “crazy” or “addict,” and they never look beyond that. My friend was the “victim” of a suicide. Maybe that explains it better. She was a victim of a mind that turned against her. She was a victim of a system that couldn’t help her. Sarah was absolutely brilliant, even when I had met her at the young age of 14. Standing tall and proud at 6’3”, she was an unmistakable presence. Her outer shell was witty and tough, but her inner shell was vulnerable and insecure. I remember her battling depression when we were teenagers. In our 20s, she managed (under the care of a therapist) to go off medication and was using meditation and yoga to help manage her symptoms. When she had her first child at 26, I remember having a conversation with her about postpartum depression and how we would have a plan if I thought I started to see it. She was thoughtful, agreeable and logical. The birth of her beloved child came and went without incident. Depression never reared it’s ugly head. In fact, the time during her first son’s young years was some of her best. Park outings, fishing trips, splash parks, Sarah did them all with her young son as any mother would have. Our friendship saw a renewed uptick during this time as well. I had my first child a couple years later, and we once again bonded as juggling the life of being mothers along with our life as working, professional women. I think we both forgot about depression. That’s a lie.  I’m sure it was just me who forgot about depression. Either way, it seemed that cloud of darkness had left, and it lulled me into complacency. About five years after her first child, her second child was born. She was giddy and happy about her new baby. I never suspected postpartum depression until it happened. Unfortunately, by then there was no plan as we had with her first child, and she was simultaneously going through a separation from the kids’ dad. She became estranged, and I was unable to reach her. One incident a year before she died landed me at her house with others, convincing her she needed to go to the hospital to “rest.” We knew if we said for mental health reasons, she never would have gone. I was able to be available for a part of this. Yet, I wasn’t next of kin, and, thereby, unable to be her advocate. HIPAA privacy rules are strict and deep. I understand their purpose, but honestly I truly believe they are hurting more people with mental health issues than helping. That’s an entirely different post though. Instead, my smart and savvy friend was able to talk herself right out of the hospital and informed us all she only had a dx (or diagnosis) of “exhaustion” and needed more sleep. My heart sunk. Sarah knew she had depression, but now she wasn’t even admitting that. She was sick, and I was powerless to stop it. One year almost to the month after that hospitalization, my friend was dead. Estranged after that hospital incident, I had only spoken to her through Facebook comments and likes for the last year. Had she reached out, even a little, I would have ran to her side. I really would have. She never called, messaged or even texted me though. I’m mad at myself for becoming complacent. I’m mad I didn’t realize suicide was an end result, even after knowing she had battled depression since she was a young teen. Had she texted, I would have told her one small phrase that is now the name of a non-profit started by a mutual high school friend of ours. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out. She’s on the internet and on Facebook. At any rate, I would have said, “You matter. You matter to me and I know things suck right now, but they will get better. Let me help you. I will help you. You don’t need to live this way.” You matter. You matter. You matter. I love you Sarah. 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 . Image via contributor.

Laura Smith

What I Would Have Said to My Friend Who Died by Suicide

September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. I must admit, I never thought too much about needing a month for prevention before. I realize now this thought process selfishly was because suicide wasn’t something that personally affected me. That was, until January 18, 2016. My good friend of 21 years died by suicide. I hope you noticed I didn’t say “committed suicide.” The Sarah I knew would never have “committed suicide,” left behind her two young sons and a life full of promise and opportunity. Saying she “committed” suicide is like saying you intentionally went into a diabetic shock from lack of insulin. It’s taboo to say your brain, another organ in your body which is susceptible to disease or illness, is sick. That’s what I want to change. I said “died by suicide” because my friend had a mental illness.  No one seems to care if you have a mental illness in this country. They call you names like “crazy” or “addict,” and they never look beyond that. My friend was the “victim” of a suicide. Maybe that explains it better. She was a victim of a mind that turned against her. She was a victim of a system that couldn’t help her. Sarah was absolutely brilliant, even when I had met her at the young age of 14. Standing tall and proud at 6’3”, she was an unmistakable presence. Her outer shell was witty and tough, but her inner shell was vulnerable and insecure. I remember her battling depression when we were teenagers. In our 20s, she managed (under the care of a therapist) to go off medication and was using meditation and yoga to help manage her symptoms. When she had her first child at 26, I remember having a conversation with her about postpartum depression and how we would have a plan if I thought I started to see it. She was thoughtful, agreeable and logical. The birth of her beloved child came and went without incident. Depression never reared it’s ugly head. In fact, the time during her first son’s young years was some of her best. Park outings, fishing trips, splash parks, Sarah did them all with her young son as any mother would have. Our friendship saw a renewed uptick during this time as well. I had my first child a couple years later, and we once again bonded as juggling the life of being mothers along with our life as working, professional women. I think we both forgot about depression. That’s a lie.  I’m sure it was just me who forgot about depression. Either way, it seemed that cloud of darkness had left, and it lulled me into complacency. About five years after her first child, her second child was born. She was giddy and happy about her new baby. I never suspected postpartum depression until it happened. Unfortunately, by then there was no plan as we had with her first child, and she was simultaneously going through a separation from the kids’ dad. She became estranged, and I was unable to reach her. One incident a year before she died landed me at her house with others, convincing her she needed to go to the hospital to “rest.” We knew if we said for mental health reasons, she never would have gone. I was able to be available for a part of this. Yet, I wasn’t next of kin, and, thereby, unable to be her advocate. HIPAA privacy rules are strict and deep. I understand their purpose, but honestly I truly believe they are hurting more people with mental health issues than helping. That’s an entirely different post though. Instead, my smart and savvy friend was able to talk herself right out of the hospital and informed us all she only had a dx (or diagnosis) of “exhaustion” and needed more sleep. My heart sunk. Sarah knew she had depression, but now she wasn’t even admitting that. She was sick, and I was powerless to stop it. One year almost to the month after that hospitalization, my friend was dead. Estranged after that hospital incident, I had only spoken to her through Facebook comments and likes for the last year. Had she reached out, even a little, I would have ran to her side. I really would have. She never called, messaged or even texted me though. I’m mad at myself for becoming complacent. I’m mad I didn’t realize suicide was an end result, even after knowing she had battled depression since she was a young teen. Had she texted, I would have told her one small phrase that is now the name of a non-profit started by a mutual high school friend of ours. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out. She’s on the internet and on Facebook. At any rate, I would have said, “You matter. You matter to me and I know things suck right now, but they will get better. Let me help you. I will help you. You don’t need to live this way.” You matter. You matter. You matter. I love you Sarah. 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 . Image via contributor.