A Rainbow After the Storm- Preventing Suicide in the LGBT Community

I’m going to get right to the point on this one. According to the American Medical Association, the leading cause of death among LGB youth is suicide. The suicide rate among trans youth is even more staggering. This is beyond unacceptable. So what can we do about it? How can we, as society, stop this trend? How have we as society contributed to it? What are we going to do about it?

For far too long, we in the community at large have been preaching negativity, speaking negativity, and assuming negativity when it comes to our views on LGBT issues. For far too long, we have done everything but listen. So this, in my humble opinion, is where we should start. Listening. Just listen to the LGBT community and mental health professionals, as well as scientific researchers.  Don’t speak. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, silence. Just listen. If even for a moment. And what if we do not?

Children are going to die.

I hesitated to write on this topic because I was afraid. I was afraid to be rejected by the conservative members of my inner circle and faith community. Afraid to have my faith questioned. Afraid to offend. Afraid to be wrong. Afraid, afraid, afraid. But lives are at stake, and those lives are worth more than my reputation, my pride, and my insecurities. Those lives are worth more than my fear. Those lives are precious. My fear is not.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the most important factors in preventing suicide in LGBT youth is through 1. Caring and accepting parenting and 2. Schools that create a “safe and supportive” learning environment. Negative attitudes toward LGBT put them at risk for increased violence, bullying, teasing, harassing, assault, rape, and suicide-related behaviors. This is why in the age group of 7-12, adolescents are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as heterosexual peers, according to a nationally representative study.

The CDC has found through research, that LGB teens experience better health outcomes when their parents support their sexual orientation in “positive and affirming ways”. This can help reduce depression, suicide attempts, drug and alcohol use, and sexually transmitted diseases. This is not just opinion. This is scientifically researched fact.

Parents can further help by openly and supportively talking to their teens about sexuality, providing support, staying involved, and being proactive. This proactivity takes place by linking their teens with organizations and online info resources, and through learning more on  how to support LGBT teens. Available resources are those such as the Gay-Straight Alliance and PFLAG.

As a community, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center suggests that communities should link LGBT youth with supportive adults, prevent violence and harassment in schools, and have culturally competent staff members (teachers, mental health workers, guidance counselors, etc.) Cultural competence is achieved through extensive training. Peer-based support groups are suggested, as well as support for advocacy programs for youth and families that include awareness, identity, and disclosure issues. Non-discrimination and non-harassment policies throughout all facets of employment, public organizations, government entities, and of course schools, is of the utmost importance.

As for me, myself, and I, the tragedy in Orlando has represented a turning point in my personal stance in the community and in public. I no longer struggle with conflicting emotions and beliefs. For myself, it is no longer allowed. I do not care if others question my faith, my beliefs, or my character anymore. I am not selfishly concerned about myself anymore. Besides, I know those things are intact. Let them drag me through the mud…. so long as they don’t take my LGBT friends and loved ones with them. No, I don’t care about my reputation among those who disagree with me….

I am more concerned with saving lives……

Be the change that you wish to see in the world. Hold someone’s hand, get them through the storm. Help prevent the environment that leads to the storms in life, that damage and undermine self-esteem and hope. Yes, hold a hand and get someone through to the other side of the storm. At the end, there is a beautiful rainbow. One that will bind your hearts forever, and bless the both of you.

 

 

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The Land of the Misfit Toys

“Why Am I Such A  Misfit?”. The second most famous song in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer series rings true with many people. Especially those with a mental illness. The stigma attached to the conditions can make one feel like a misfit, for certain. The conditions that correspond with the stigma can add to this notion as well.

The world is such an “either/or” world. Either you’re a Democrat, or you’re a Republican. Well, what if I’m both? Either you’re Catholic, or you’re Protestant. But what if I’m both? Either you’re manic,  you’re depressed, or you’re “normal”. Well, what if I am all of the above? Sometimes all at one time?

I wish I had not felt the sting of not fitting in. I’m afraid in my life it has been an over-riding theme. Beautiful are those, however, who do not have an either/or mentality. This is one of the gifts of Bipolar Disorder. You’ve seen, heard, and felt it all. Many who have suffered from a variety of mental illnesses are the least judgmental people you will meet as well. For we know what it is like to live out the whole spectrum of possibilities, and to have little to no control. To cope by using less than ideal measures. Been there, done or thought most everything, several times over. So who are we to judge?

I am not trying to pat myself on the back or anything. Yet, it is an observation that I have made of my own life and friends/peers/clients with mental illnesses that though we may feel we don’t fit in, we help others to feel comfortable with whatever they are going through. It is all about acceptance.  It seems that acceptance is something that we are especially in tune with. Like a distant melody that features highs, lows, dissonance, and harmony. One that the world rejects as too complex and complicated, yet one that we find at once beautifully ornate and familiar.

What makes you different makes you beautiful. Embrace your individuality. That beauty mark on your face is fierce. The little crook in our noses is endearing. That little bit of asymmetry makes us captivating and unpredictable. The beauty tip for the day is emphasize that which makes you unique. Make it a focal point and highlight of your look. You will leave them breathless. Like a beautiful, intriguing misfit, full of mystique and complexity.

 

Hope and Pride

There are times when, for good reason, hope is hard to come by. When you are staring at a mountain, wondering how you are going to move it. When you have felt the sting of criticism and misunderstandings and abuse, and you are believing the worst about yourself and the world around you. When you are gazing at the world outside, and feeling like the whole planet has gone  insane, and you are just trying to make sense of it all. When you realize you have failed, and like the commercial, you have fallen, and you can’t get up. Only there is no signal to the outside world, drawing help to you. There will be no first responders coming to sweep in and rescue you. You are calling out, crying out, but it is just you. Only you.

They say that pride cometh before a fall, and at times, it does. False pride can be dangerous, because it keeps you from getting the help that you need. But there is such a thing as “humble pride”. Pride that says no, I am not better than you. Yet I am thoroughly unique and wonderfully created and marvelously flawed. Pride that keeps you holding your head up high though it seems like the world has turned its back on you. Pride that helps you up from your fall, stands you up on your feet, and carries one foot in front of the other. Wonderful pride. Beautiful pride. Pride in the name of love.

Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Margaret Thatcher, they had pride. Pride that said you may call me a “minority”, but I call myself fearfully and wonderfully made. What signaled this pride to the world? It was in the way they held their head up high, and in the walk. A swagger. A sway. Though the world told them they couldn’t do it, they walked like they owned the place.

So there is my fashion tip for the week. Walk like you own the place. Get in touch with your inner bad-ass. When the world is spitting on you, turning its back on you, and walking all over you, saunter on down the road.

Recently, I had someone mention to me, that they had seen me from behind,  and didn’t know that it was me. Then they said, “but then I recognized “that walk”. I didn’t quite know what they meant.

Then I had a day this week that was perhaps the worst of my life. I felt that I had ruined my world, ruined everyone else’s, and that I would never climb back up. As I was walking into the shopping center near my home, I caught a glimpse of that walk. I thought, “who is this woman with this confident, poised, femininely strong walk?”. Then I realized that it was me. And my soul reminded me of the qualities of confidence, charisma, strength, and grace that I had forgotten that I had. I walked around the mall like I owned the place. Before I knew it, I was believing it. Before I knew it, I felt hope. Before I knew it, life was getting better again.

Keep walking  like you own the place. Like a supermodel, part march and part strut. A little sway of the hips. Right hand tilted up: sway, sway. Get down with your bad self, one foot in front of the other….

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When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness

Having a mental illness is no fun. It is a struggle, one you did not ask for. It is hard. It is difficult. Sometimes excruciating. Yet, there is only one thing worse: watching someone you love suffer from a mental illness.

When the illness applies to yourself, there is a measure of control that you have over it. You know your limits, you generally know what helps, you know what you are thinking, you have the ability to reach out for help, and you know how you are going to navigate it. When it is someone you love that is suffering, you have absolutely no control. You can’t read their mind, you don’t know what they are thinking. You don’t know what makes it better or worse. And much of the time, they don’t know themselves (particularly children), so they can’t tell you.

Yes, watching someone you love suffer, particularly a child, is torture. There is nothing worse. As I watch a child suffer, all I can think is “Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy”. Those words repeat in my mind over and over again, like a mantra. And I wait with eager anticipation for the suffering to relieve. Because when someone you love is suffering, all you have is a prayer. And the notion that if you could trade places to relieve the suffering, you would.But you can’t. So you pray. And you wait, hoping that your worst fears will not transpire.

As an individual with Bipolar Disorder, it has taken a lifetime to come to grips with my illness. But if I may say so myself, I am tough. I have been through financial strain, the possibility of losing my home, strained relationships, betrayal, the suicide of a family member, the death of an infant, and so on. I have come out swinging and felt that nothing would win so long as I had God on my side. I have known the possibility of generational inheritance of the disorder, but never quite believed it. There is a 90 percent chance that mental illness  would not be passed down. Pretty reassuring odds.

And as I sit in my living room, I am about to buckle from the emotional strain. I could swoon. Literally. For my worst fears seem to be coming to fruition.

But this is not the end. God is waiting, waiting for my prayers. God and his family of angels and warriors and saints are prepared and ready for battle. It will be a hard one, but we are not without help. There are organizations like NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) that support families whose loved ones are affected by mental illness. There are doctors and therapists and structured activity to help alleviate the pain. And there are the prayers of friends and family. There is even a saint, Saint Dymphna, who is the patron saint of psychiatric illnesses. So there is help.

As this is an article about beauty, fashion, and mental health, the tip for the day is when you are at your wits end emotionally, baby yourself. Just get that shower. What you wear or don’t wear (make-up), style or don’t style doesn’t matter. Just do the basics. Just take that shower. The beauty of you heart will shine through and carry you. Sometimes just breathing is hard enough.

As my heart breaks, I look to the Son to heal me. In His arms I find refuge. In his heart I find strength. In His love I find renewal. As I turn to him, I repeat….

“Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy”.

The Sound of Silence- Helping Others after Suicide Loss

So many people long to help others in the aftermath of a suicide loss. Yet, so many feel baffled and inadequate in supporting others. You see, we are afraid to say the wrong thing. We are afraid to ruin their day, by the slim chance that they are actually having a decent one.  Here are some suggestions on what you might say or do, as well as some suggestions on what to avoid.

First of all, break the silence. There is nothing worse to the suicide survivor than the “sound of silence”. It is not the things that people say that generally ruin our day. It is what is left unsaid, and the deafening silence left by people who are afraid to speak. Imagine losing one of the most important people in your life, under one of the worst possible circumstances, and everyone walking around as if absolutely nothing has happened, because they are afraid to speak. THAT is maddening. I remember in the days and weeks after my brother Joey died, how many people said absolutely nothing at all. Not a simple condolence. No acknowledgement whatsoever. I wanted to scream. In the words of the Rolling Stones, I saw a red door and I wanted it painted black. That entire song reminds me of those days, watching people walk by and interact with me as if things were still the same (“it’s not easy facing ’em when your whole world is black, no more will me green sea go turn a deeper blue, I could not foresee this thing happening to you”). In fact here is the song, an updated version by Ciara that you can listen to:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfsHU6c_Eks.  Please don’t skip it. It’s an important part of this empathy experience.

Ultimately  the point is, SAY SOMETHING, ANYTHING! It is better to say the wrong thing, than to say nothing at all. At least if you say the wrong thing, you have tried. And that means a lot to us!  And please, I beg of you, if we break up the silence ourselves by bringing up our loved one, don’t immediately change the subject because you are uncomfortable. Please don’t pretend that you didn’t hear what we just said. Yes, this actually happens. Like, all the time. I know it can be uncomfortable, I get it. But imagine how uncomfortable it is for us to live it. Please take the time to listen, to encourage, and please look us in the eye. Changing the subject and/or not making eye contact makes us feel like emotional lepers.

Having established that saying the wrong thing is better than saying nothing at all, here are some things to avoid when talking to a survivor of suicide loss, just so things go smoother and there are no hurt feelings:

  1. Please avoid asking about delicate issues regarding our loved one’s  method of suicide. Just don’t go there, please. It is too painful to rehash.
  2. Please do not make comments about their final destination, unless they are positive ones. Everyone is welcome to their own spiritual beliefs, that is what makes the world go round. But we are already worried about our loved one, beyond what you can ever know. If you have beliefs about suicide victims immediately going to a terrible place, please discuss it with someone other than a suicide survivor, or keep it to yourself. We are not the proper audience for those philosophical discussions.
  3. Please (and this should be a no-brainer but believe it or not it happens), don’t suggest any blame on the part of the survivor. I have people in my world who insisted on blaming anyone and everyone who ever came in contact with my brother, including myself. They are in my prayers, but they are otherwise not in my life any longer.

Guess what- that’s it! Just three things to avoid: prying, preaching, and blaming. And chances are, you would not dream of doing that. So you see, you really have a lot of leeway.

And if all else fails, there is always this…. “I’m so sorry about _____, I have been sooooo concerned about you. Is there anything I can do?”. Chances are, they will start talking, and just need you to listen. Which is the best thing you can do for a survivor. Make eye contact, and listen. If you cry, that’s okay. If you feel uncomfortable, that is okay. If you don’t know what to say, that is okay. Try saying “I don’t know what to say”. That is perfectly fine. All you  need to do is just simply break the silence, and from there listen. That is worth a million bucks.

Finally, if you have a happy or funny memory about our loved one to share, please do so. You will break the silence in the most beautiful way. You not only will not ruin our day, you quite possibly will make our entire year! We long to hear our loved one’s name. We long to hear memories about them. We long, so please help us express those longings that we so desperately need to let out.

Speaking of letting out those emotions and thoughts and feelings, here is a poem that I wrote on my brother’s birthday this year:

I sang a song for you today, the exact words I can’t recall

The tune was sad and off kilter, and the emotion was chilling and raw

As I went to hit the high note, I choked back the tears that would fall

So I decided to wish it with a whisper

Happy birthday, my brother, my all

I looked into your eyes so blue

And saw the smile that I once knew

You pointed to the sky and flew up high

And you said, remember the way….

Cause I’ll see you again, sooner than you know

And remember that I am okay.

Higher and higher and higher you flew

‘Til you were sadly out of sight

But your memory stays with me through the dusk, through the dawn,

Through the morning, through the day, through the night

So I’ll sing and sing and sing your song with all my strength and might

High and strong and soft and long

As the darkness gives way to the light.

In summary, I  wanted to share another song because it contains the name Joey, but it is also fitting because it has to do with letting go of the anger that we sometimes feel after a suicide. The name is aptly called “Joey I’m Not Angry Anymore” by  Concrete Blonde:

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=joey+i%27m+not+angry+anymore+lyrics

And one more, having to do with asking “why” over and over again…

So if you took the time to read this, and especially to listen to the songs: Hey, thank you! You just helped a survivor of suicide loss! 🙂 You rock…..

R.I.P Joey (Rock In Paradise)…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9Dg-g7t2l4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Scary Hairy Psychiatrist and Other Myths- How to Find the Right Doctor, and the Right Shoes!

Psychiatrists. Many of us need or want to see one, but let’s face it, we often find them intimidating. And for good reason- they are brilliant. As a professional and a consumer, I have had the privilege of working with neurologists, surgeons, oncologists, etc. Yet none have impressed me quite as much as the psychiatrist. They blend the art of psychiatry with the art of psychology most fluidly. They are strategists, comedians, and actors. They have the uncanny knack of keeping calm and straight-faced in the most bizarre of circumstances. They are contemplative yet straight-forward, involved yet detached, sophisticated yet humble. Though trained in the “objective” medical world, they  work amidst a sea of subjectivity, calling for unmatched creativity. Some of us fear them because we think they can read our minds (ha!), we are afraid of what they will do with our darkest secrets, we perceive they have so much power. Yet ultimately, they are human, and not so hairy and scary after all.

In order to grasp and achieve recovery, a good doctor/practitioner is essential. But how do we go about finding a good one? A good place to start is to visit a trusted site like that of the American Psychological Association or Psychology Today (website info at the end of this blog). They have excellent practitioner bios and highlight areas of expertise and treatment philosophies. Honestly though, you may just have to contact the customer service number on the back of your insurance card. This is fine, you can still check out their record on your local state medical board site. You may be pleasantly surprised, I have had the same treatment team for 12 years and they were found this way. I thank God for them, for they have influenced me psychologically, medically, and spiritually.

Here are some qualities to look for when you meet your potential candidates:

  1. It’s in the eyes. Eye contact, eye contact, eye contact.
  2. Warmth. They will shake your hand, and smile. They will lean in toward you when you are conversing.
  3. A great sense of humor. If they can’t laugh with you, move on to the next candidate.
  4. The ability to quickly and succinctly sum up a problem, and make practical suggestions.
  5. Firm boundaries that will protect you from exploitation.
  6. A sense of respect for your confidentiality.
  7. An ability to listen well and set you at ease (remember, they have heard and seen it all, there is virtually nothing you can say to shock them, and they will let you know and feel this).
  8. A warm and friendly support staff.
  9. An emergency plan for after hours.
  10. Good resources.

So what does this have to do with shoes? The ultimate quality: the ability to put themselves in your shoes. Empathy. The Golden Rule. They will “get it”.

My Johns Hopkins-trained psychiatrist wears fabulous suits with colorful ties and shiny shoes. A colleague wears neutral GQ-like attire with funky, funny, colorful socks. And my nurse-practitioner, um…. fabulous!!!! Diane Von Furstenberg-style wrap dresses with the most marvelous pumps. They also give compliments freely, which relieves a great deal of anxiety. Says my doctor: “Look at you, your lipstick matches your coat: I am writing in your chart PATIENT IS ABSOLUTELY NORMAL”. LOL

If you are feeling less than confident about your appointment, in preparation, try a swipe of a brightly colored lipstick. It will help with confidence and convey hope. A great pair of funky, bright colored shoes mixed with your neutral outfit, or vice versa, will do wonders for your confidence as well. But most of all, whatever clothes or shoes you wear, walk yourself to that appointment, no matter what.

And if all else fails, there’s always polka dots. Polka dots always make things better.

Now get to that appointment!

xxx ooo~ Carol

The American Psychological Association- http://www.apa.org

Psychology Today- http://www.PsychologyToday.com

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention- afsp.org, 1-800-273-TALK

 

Girlfriend Is Tired- Work/Life Balance Tips for Women

Life, for women especially, is about balance. Like Bipolar Disorder, there is a constant need to find this balance between extremes. It is the theme of so many philosophies, such as the Yin and the Yang, the scales of Justice, and the like. But in today’s times, it has become ever more elusive and difficult to achieve. Why is this, and what can we do about it?

As I write this segment, I am up at 3 in the morning, wondering how I am going to balance being a mother, a wife, a nurse, a part-time University student, a blogger, a beauty consultant, a volunteer, a friend, a patient, a Christian, etc. You get the picture, and I know you got it quick, because we women have soooooooo much on our plates. You don’t have to have Bipolar Disorder to be juggling a million different projects at once, though this can make it even more complicated. I think I can speak for us all when I say, we women are spent…

Let me start with this first practical tip: if you’re feeling overwhelmed, TURN OFF YOUR PHONE/COMPUTER. Though this age of communication is wonderful, being able to reach people anywhere at anytime, it is a mixed bag. Because quite frankly, it can be invasive and over-stimulating. Am I  the only one who is having a hard time keeping track of the work e-mail, personal e-mail, facebook, instagram, twitter, home voicemail, work voicemail, school e-mail, text messages, pager, and on and on and on? Yes I know you can sync things. But do we really want to? How overwhelming!

Another tip: leave a message on your voicemail or purposely disable it and request that all messages be sent via text. Phone calls, though definitely more personal, can be time consuming and emotionally exhausting. Please keep the following in mind: When you get the inevitable, “I left you a message/sent you a text”, as if you are constantly “on-call” and must instantly respond to any and all requests for your time and attention, think about the teacher on Peanuts: “whah whah whah whah whah whah”. Don’t feed into the guilt and such. One of the things I pride myself on, is that when I am with a client, friend, family, etc. they get my undivided attention, sans interruptions. Sometimes you have to “unplug” for yourself and those around you. There was a time where I purposely left my voicemail full FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR  and instead only got text messages, e-mails and facebook PM’s. It was a way to find balance. Give yourself permission to only check these things once or twice a day at “prescribed” times. And can we please stop apologizing for “not getting back sooner”? We are not surgeons on-call (unless, of course, we are actually surgeons on-call, lol).

In order to take care of others, we must take care of ourselves. We cannot be everything to everyone. To simplify life, I have tried making sure that I carve in time every day for four essentials: exercise, meditation/prayer, quality time with family, and one hour of self-care in the morning (bathing/hair/make-up, etc) Everything else (besides work of course) is “if I can get to it”. If I do those four essentials, I have achieved what I have meant to achieve, and everything else is gravy. What is especially important to me: that little hour I take in the morning. Looking my best, helps me feel my best. Personally, I am not the most disciplined person in the world, but I am stringent about this. Yes, I do a full face of make-up EVERY DAY. Why? Because I, and you, are worth it. Pardon me, but Mama’s a bit tired and overwhelmed, but at least I’m going to look like I have it together. Looking like you have it together makes you feel a little more in control when everything around you is chaotic. Lastly, when people (aka hubby or significant other and children) complain about “how long it takes you to get ready”, again, remember the teacher on Peanuts…”whah whah whah whah whah whah”.

From a mental health perspective, if you have Bipolar Disorder, a mood stabilizer is a must in order to achieve mood balance. Taking anti-depressants sans a mood stabilizer is dangerous and risky. It can be tempting to stop them due to weight gain, drowsiness, etc . Trust me, don’t go there. Take your medicine that your psychiatrist prescribes you and don’t look back. Don’t try to experiment with your medicine yourself to “see what happens”. I tried this once… you don’t even want to know what happened! Mania leads to poor choices and bad consequences: debt, detachment from reality, impaired judgement, etc etc etc. It ain’t pretty.

Lastly, get comfortable with the word no. We women don’t like that word. We want to be “good, cooperative, everything for everyone”. Pardon my language, but, BULLCRAP! Great way to lead to burnout. Repeat after  me: NO! Oh, you can be polite about it and gracious, but NO! Remember Dan Carvey on Saturday Night Live? “Not gon’ do it, not gon’ do it, not gon’ do it”. Sometimes it has to be NO!

Here is a “recipe” for a Cleopatra Bubble Bath. It contains ingredients that Her Majesty Cleo was rumored to have used to soften her skin and you can get most of this at your local grocery store or dollar store. It is luxurious. Unplug and take this bubble bath this weekend…. you are worth it!

1 cup of milk

1 cup of Epsom salts

2 tablespoons of honey

A few drops of lavender or your favorite essential oil

A tablespoon of bubble bath

Some new age relaxation or classical music

 

Happy bubbling!