Tuesday, August 19, 2014

And Into the Light

The United Nations observes World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th every year. And September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in the U.S. which is ironic as it is the month George attempted.
30 days before attempt
This year, George and I are going to walk (and roll as my stamina is low) as a part of the Chicago Out of the Darkness Walk in Grant Park on September 20th. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) who puts on these walks describes the purpose for the walks:
"Suicide claims more than 38,000 lives each year in the United States alone, with someone dying by suicide every 13.7 minutes. A suicide attempt is made every minute of every day, resulting in nearly one million attempts made annually.  When you walk in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Out of the Darkness Walks, you join efforts with thousands of people nationwide to raise money for AFSP's vital research and education programs to prevent suicide and save lives. The walks raise awareness about depression and suicide, and provide comfort and assistance to those who have lost someone to suicide." 
25 days before attempt
We invite you to walk with us as a part of our team, to be a "virtual walker," to donate to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, (AFSP) and or support us with your encouragement! Our team name is: "Wahle Warriors." Click HERE to connect to our page.  You can click the "Join Our Team" to walk in person with us or walk virtually. You can click on "Roster" where you can donate in support of our walk and roll for the AFSP. Please feel free to share our effort to support and create awareness for suicide prevention on social media/email!
23 days before attempt

George and I are walking and rolling in this walk because we feel very strongly about suicide prevention. As seen in the last week with the loss of Robbin Williams to depression, frequently questions are asked when someone attempts or completes suicide. "What could have been done to prevent this?"

12 days before attempt
What George and I learned from his attempt is that every single person should consider putting together a safety plan even if you aren't suicidal. We all have rough bumps along the road and those of us who have illness or are caregivers have even more reason to invest some time in some quick suicide prevention. George never would have thought he would have attempted to take his life and he still feels stunned that it occurred.  He also did not have any overt warning signs of being suicidal which happens more often than one might think.
11 days before attempt
Since his attempt, both George and I both have safety plans we wrote up for ourselves. We placed them in accessible locations in our house so if we are feeling hopeless we can access them quickly and easily. We used the safety plan template on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's website. Click HERE to check it out. It is basically a sheet meant for yourself where you write down what your possible warning signs of crisis might be; list things you can do on your own to cope; list people or activities that are distracting and healing; list people you can ask for help and their phone numbers; list professionals you can contact and things that make your environment safe. If you are in crisis, feeling suicidal or just need someone to talk with, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. We have this number in our home and cell phones. You should too.

10 days before attempt
As we are walking to promote suicide prevention, George and I have talked a lot about how prevention measures could have helped him. In his particular case, George has an excellent "mask" that prevented himself and others from being aware of his severe depression.  He pushed through life  and without realizing it, stuffed his emotions away. My parents were with us on vacation as soon as four days before his attempt and they were completely shocked as he did not appear to be depressed at all and seemed quite happy.

Hindsight is 20/20. Before his attempt, George had been seeing a therapist individually and also with me to help us navigate life with chronic illness. George also attended my psychiatrist appointments with me and his depression was hidden so well that when I informed my psychiatrist of George's attempt, he was completely blown away. Calm, go with the flow, even keel George almost died from undiagnosed depression to suicide.
8 days before attempt

George's attempt is exactly why suicide prevention needs to be something that everyone addresses at some point. Yes, I am talking to you!!! George knew about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) as he had been with me when I called it because I was concerned about a friend. We had discussed suicide and Migraine in depth as I wrote a series on it. I even wrote a post, which he had read, called "What are You Doing For Prevention?"  It can apply whether you have Migraine disease or not.

3 days before attempt
George probably knew more than the average person about suicide prevention. However, thinking about it when it relates to other people does not necessarily mean that any one of us internalizes it, especially if/when we feel that suicide would never be an option for us. In his wildest dreams, George never thought he would attempt suicide.

Please, take five minutes and empower yourself with knowledge. Check out Suicide Risk Factors & Suicide Protective Factors by clicking HERE so that you could recognize them in yourself, a loved one or friend.

Talking to a trained professional can often help us navigate life's rough patches. Psychology Today has an easy search by city for therapists HERE. HelpPRO has an advanced therapist search HERE that assists in finding a therapist based on items such as location, what they specialize in (i.e. suicidal thoughts, abuse, eating disorder, relationship issues ect.) and their expertise in treating certain groups (ie. adopted, caregiver, biracial, chronically ill, depression).

day of attempt
(at my dr appointment that morning)
I am walking in the Out of Darkness Walk for the man in that photograph on the right: the one who is feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty seeing a way out of his circumstances. I am walking for those he represents who need prevention and coping strategies. There IS hope. There IS help. There ARE people who care. There ARE ways to walk out of the darkness.  By a miracle, that man survived. With professional help and God's guidance, George has become a man who has committed himself to facing the depression head on, to getting treatment from a therapist who understands him, to getting prophylactic treatment for the depression, for meditating daily, for keeping up with prevention strategies, for bravely facing a life that overwhelms him, and for seeing the beautiful along with the hidden grime. George is in a better place than he has been in his whole life not because of the attempt, but despite it. HIS efforts with God's strength have brought him to a place where he is working on walking out of darkness and is walking into the light. I am thankful to have the opportunity and honor of walking with him.
We are Walking Out of Darkness and Into The Light.
Corolla, NC May 2014
*Every part of this post was approved by George from the photos to the captions to the content. He was an active participant in putting it together.  I would only ever share his story with his permission and with his guidance.

**Nothing in this blog is intended to be taken as medical advice. Please consult your medical health professional.

Take 5 Minutes 4 Suicide Prevention:
Excellent Suicide Prevention Resource: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Preventing Suicide Page

Friday, August 15, 2014

Do You Struggle With Two Brain Syndrome?

Yes, I have two brains and I imagine so do most people with chronic illness. I call it Two Brain Syndrome. One brain knows the truth of the current severity of my chronic illnesses, understands my limitations and respects what I need to do to take care of myself. My other brain is left over from my other body, the one before chronic illness. See, this brain thinks she can still do the things she used to be able to do with ease over nine years ago.

Brain One says:
You are running back and forth to the toilet because little dudes inside your bowels have sounded the alarm to evacuate! Your abdomen feels like a heavyweight boxer's personal punching bag. And did I mention, he has spikes on his gloves? Your mid-section has bloated to an unnatural size. Sorry, you are not pregnant, it was just the alien from the movie, Space Balls, waiting to jump out of your abdomen and he left an acidic goo that is burning your lower digestive tract. How do you like that screw driver drilling into your right temple and the icepick driving itself into your eye? Oh and that clamp around your head sure looks tight. Your stomach contents are threatening to escape. George has gotten louder, brighter, smellier and more annoying. Man, your legs are shaking from so little sustenance and so much running to the toilet.  How much longer until you can take your next medication? Don't forget that the sooner you treat, the better!
Brain Two says:
Yo! You are so bored. Let's do something. You want to be productive. You want to get to this doctor's appointment. You want to have some fun. Let's drive down to visit your parents or call to reconnect with a long lost friend. Let's do this!  You are more than strong enough. You can handle anything. Let's push through! Your body will be just fine. That to-do list of nine items is completely reasonable for today. Let's go! 
Somehow I have to figure out which brain to listen to: the rational brain who knows that I am too sick to push through or the idealistic brain who thinks I can do whatever I want to. Or perhaps I should mediate a compromise between the two. But it is not that easy. Though I usually have a good gut feel about my capabilities, Brain Two often convinces me I can do so much more. The down side of thinking I can do more than I actually can is being disappointed when I hit the wall and feeling regretful the next several days as my body recovers. Sometimes, pushing through limitations is worth it, but often it creates more problems. How do those of us with Two Brain Syndrome decide how far we can push?

This past weekend, George and I pre-bought premium plus seats at iPic Theaters for the movie, The 100 Foot Journey. We had assumed my symptoms would have improved by the day the movie came around, but we assumed wrong. I was determined to get out of the house as IBS and Chronic Migraines have made life challenging these last several weeks. I was feeling so weak, but I knew all I had to do was get there and know where the closest bathroom was. George and I debated up until the minute he helped me into our SUV as to whether going was the smartest idea, but we decided to at least try. George wheeled me in. I climbed in the chair which electronically reclined to my desired position.

A pillow and a blanket was provided. Our server brought me water and brought George a delicious meal. iPic premium plus seating is made for a chronically ill gal who wants to go on a date with her man once in a blue moon. And even though I was curled in a ball with a cramping burning abdomen and an intensifying Migraine, I was glad to be on a date in a theater with George turning his head and smiling at me every so often. He later told me he enjoyed watching me enjoy the movie.

During the movie he did not know how much sicker I was feeling compared to when we first arrived and I am glad for that because even though I was really feeling rotten, George was happy.  I was happy too -- even when feeling so sick. Moments like those are a gift. And iPic premium plus seating was a perfect venue for what I was able to do--even though it was a touch expensive!

This past Tuesday, I was still feeling weak. My IBS was calmer but rumbling and my head was hurting. I had canceled my prior two physical therapy sessions and I felt like I shouldn't cancel another one. So, I ignored my gut and we went. I felt like trying to go was better than not going at all, but that leads to a familiar story.

Halfway there, my symptoms got worse, but if I took my "as needed" IBS medication which needs to be taken at the first sign of symptoms (the equivalent for triptans in Migraine treatment), I would become sleepy from the side effects and how would I be able to participate? By the time my physical therapist came to get me in the waiting area, I had already made the decision to take the IBS medication and was holding my abdomen. Brain One was saying, "This was a mistake." Brain Two was saying, "You are already here, why not try until the side effects start?" That familiar inner disagreement has led to poor outcomes in the past such as passing out, but sometimes pushing through has been successful. Conflict mediations between the two brains are something that occur daily.

As my physical therapist works with many patients with sensitized nervous systems like myself, she was very kind in telling me that she did not want me to try to push myself. Her reminder was that if I push my system when it is vulnerable, I can trigger a worse reaction and become sicker. Thus, my physical therapist sent me home with gentle guidance to not push myself again. She communicated that she understood that if I cancel any future appointment, even several in a row, it would be because I had determined it was not the best for me. No cancellation fees. No guilt trips.

George had left work early to drive me to the appointment which was an hour round trip. But, the moment we got back to the car, George said, "I am proud of you, Kelly." It was sweet that he felt proud that I made the best decision for my body even though he had been inconvenienced and my physical therapist had lost an appointment.

The mediation of my two conflicting brains will continue. It is a fine line that takes a lot of thought and discernment of when to push myself and when not to push myself. Sometimes I obsess too much about a missed appointment or I feel excessive guilt that George has gone out of his way unnecessarily. I often deny myself the reality that Brain One sees or realize that I need to extend myself compassion. (In an upcoming post on IBS, I will share a video George took of me so that I could look back later and realize how sick I was.)

Do you have what I refer to as Two Brain Syndrome? How do you decide when to push yourself and when to hold back?

[Disclaimer: "Two Brain Syndrome" is not an actual syndrome. It is something that I made up to describe my experiences. I am not a medical health professional and nothing I write should be taken as medical advice.]

Today's Happy Thought: Around six months ago, George bought me a huge red stuffed frog to make me smile. By the smell, I knew he had bought it at the supermarket and it was not a pleasant smell. But as time has gone on and the smell has been treated, myself and the dogs have found this frog to be comfy.  I have no qualms saying that I like stuffed animals. They make me smile, make great pillows and neck rests.  Hello, my name is Kelly, I am 34 years old and sleep in bed with my husband, three dogs and several stuffed animals. And I'm not ashamed! Be yourself and allow yourself to add crazy things to your "Surviving Chronic Illness/ Migriane/ Constant Headache/ IBS/ Fibromyalgia/ Anxiety/ Depression/PTSD Toolbox."  Otherwise you might miss out on the chance to cuddle with an uber-soft large red stuffed frog!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ever Wonder About My Chronic Illnesses? In Depth Posts To Come

Quite a bit of time has passed since I have shared an in depth discussion of my chronic illnesses. Interspersed among my regular posts, I will be sharing special posts on each chronic illness that affects me: explaining what the illness is (i.e. what caused it); sharing my history with the illness; describing how the illness affects me currently; discussing how the illness does or does not relate to others I have; discuss what treatments I have tried; share a general description of my current treatment regimen.

My hope is that these posts will remind others who have these conditions that they are not alone. I also hope to bring some clarity to those of you who feel a bit hazy about my health issues.

I have come to the realization that many people feel they do not necessarily know much about my illnesses, but are reluctant to ask about them because they feel like they should know -- especially if they have known me for a while. Additionally, when I get the question, "Haven't they found out what is wrong with you yet?" or when I hear comments about my personal health experiences that simply are not true, I realize I am overdue in sharing information about my health with my friends and family.

Since I withdrew from contact with people about 20 months ago, most everyone was left in the dark about how I was doing health-wise. I rarely communicated with anyone, including my parents. It was a survival mechanism. Time has passed and I am not in survival mode as much as I used to be, but I find it is taking more courage to be vulnerable than it did before George's attempt.

With God's guidance, I look forward to sharing the health issues that have taken up residence in my body. (I hope someday they will all be evicted!!)

If you have questions when reading about my health conditions, please ask! You can submit them in the moderated comment section or you can email me privately. These posts are for you.

While we are discussing questions about my health, if you interact with George, I highly recommend you ask George about how he is doing as a caregiver before asking him about how I am doing. As my caregiver and husband, my health issues are challenging for him physically and emotionally and he really does need to be asked even if he does not say much in response. Caregivers often get overlooked, and often need more support because they are shouldering the burden of caregiving. If you do ask George about my health issues, be prepared for a general answer as he says he is often unsure of what to share.

Today's Happy Thought: Casper, our senior Cavalier, who we rescued eight months ago, returned to the veterinarian who saw him three times in the first two weeks after we adopted him. Casper had multiple health conditions from abuse & neglect of being a puppy mill breed dog. She was extremely impressed with how changed he was physically and socially. Casper has become a D-O-G. If you have ever known a dog that has had the D-O-G taken from/beaten out of them because of neglect or abuse, you know how thrilling it is to see them move away from their trauma and into the life of a D-O-G.