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‘Laughter … is my way of coping’

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This week’s post comes from the UK, by Kit Johnson, author of the memoir “Dodging Suicide.” His website lays it out well: “I’d been fired more times than a cannon, and with 15 houses, three wives, umpteen messed-up relationships, 37 cars and Lord knows what other ‘if only I had this’ purchases, I came to the conclusion my life was bizarre! – and that the best thing for me was to step back, stop worrying and laugh at its absurdity.”

I have endured bipolar for some 45-plus years. Of course, as with almost all mental illnesses, it took some time to get the correct diagnosis, and another long time for me to come to terms with it and accept it.

And over that period, I’ve been to many shrinks and tried a whole host of supposed “silver bullet” potions and the like. Nothing worked. My first visit to a psychiatrist went like this:

“Hello, doctor, could you help me out?”

“Sure,” he replied, “which way did you come in?”

OK, that’s a lie, but it gives you an early indication as to what I’m about and how I deal with this absurd condition.

People often ask me where or when my Damascene conversion took place that enabled me to step back from the brink and share my experiences of living with bipolar. That’s easy, and as usual with me, it is shrouded in comic sentiment.

I tried the method of car exhaust pipe and closed garage door. The first dopey decision was the fact the car was a TVR, which is a loud, grumbling V8 beast of a car, and not exactly silent running! So a female neighbour alerted the police just in time, though it was some time before I felt gratitude towards her. I felt cheated. I later made amends, and she became a great friend.

The doctor told me the carbon monoxide levels in my blood were such that I was minutes from death. So, the funny part? Well, like most of us facing death, or seeking/hoping for it like me, I thought about God, and when I came around the first thing I saw …

No, hang on, a moment’s pause here! People have asked about the light – you know, the light that apparently appears at death and supposedly soothes and seduces you to the “other side.” I, too, did wonder about this, and for a brief few moments I was convinced I’d seen it! – since when I came around, the first thing I saw was a guy in a white turban with a big beard about three feet from my face.

Yes, in those few moments of semi-comatose, bleary-eyed recognition, I imagined I had arrived at the Pearly Gates. The light? It turned out to be his penlight shining into my pupils as I returned to consciousness! His name was not God, but Dr Singh!

Days later, when I recounted the tale to my best friend over a few lachrymose beers, we both collapsed into hysterics at the bloody absurdity of it.

And that was the turning point. The day I came to the conclusion that I was not meant to be dead just yet, and that I should perhaps use the talents of humour I seem to have been blessed with and write about what I’d been through to help others.

I am so glad I did, because through my book “Dodging Suicide,” and through social media, I have been able to engage with so many sufferers. And though it sounds cheesy and clichéd, helping others has really helped me manage myself.

How? By showing me that many others suffer far more than I do; and the love and respect I have been shown for what I’ve written about massages my fragile ego; and it gives me joy and satisfaction.

It’s funny just how little it takes to go from mental illness ingénue, desperate for help and advice, to so-called “guru” simply because I have the cojones to talk openly about the condition.

Shows just how far we still have to go when destigmatising mental health.

Laughter and gallows humour is my way of coping. Just bend your mind to what might work for you. Never subordinate your own feelings and views. No one knows you like you. Never forget that. God bless.

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‘In my work as a peer …’

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This week’s post is by Rafeal Newport, a counselor with the recently launched peer-run warmline of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco. It’s available weekdays from noon to 8 p.m. at 855-845-7415 and online for chat. A directory of warmlines and an introduction to what they do can be found here.

Before I talk about my story of being a suicide attempt survivor, I want to talk a little about who I am. I am a proud Bay Area native, a loud and proud queer and a fierce woman of color. I love to read, hike, hang out at the beach, nerd out on foodie activities and laugh — oh, how I love to laugh. I have been an LGBTQI and women’s activist since I was 16 years old and have worked as a doula, non-profit worker and health educator.

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‘The upside of openness’

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Julie Headshot relaxed

This week’s post is by Julie Hersh, the president of the Texas-based Hersh Foundation. Her memoir about her experience is being published this month in Spanish as “Decidi Vivir.” She shares her personal top 10 list of ways to stay well here.

One rarely hears “mental illness” without the word “stigma” in close proximity. We read about tragic stories of lives lost because people failed to seek treatment because of fears they might be ostracized, lose jobs or friends. Although the possibility of rejection does lurk with each naked statement about mental illness, my experience has been that my openness has accumulated a handful of bad encounters and thousands of good ones.

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‘Not ready to let me go’

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This week’s post is by Daryl Brown, who writes from South Africa. Early next year, he will begin his studies to become a psychologist, and he’s a member of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, which runs depression education programs in underprivileged schools across the country. “There is much ignorance about suicide and depression in South Africa, which has caused a perception that one should not talk openly about it,” he says.

Also, some news: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website in the U.S. should be launching a page today for attempt survivors and others who’ve been suicidal. Here’s Daryl:

I did not admit that I suffered from depression until after my suicide attempt. Depression seemed like an excuse other people made for getting attention or not being able to solve their own problems. I did not associate that with what I had. What I had was just a restless, uneasy, niggling sadness that I kept to myself. So last year, when that niggling sadness grew into a gaping black hole that swallowed my joy and enthusiasm and hope for the future, I quietly put my affairs in order and opted out of life. But life was not ready to let me go.

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‘A cop tries to kill himself …’

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In July, this video launched to raise international awareness about suicide and suicidal thinking in law enforcement. It features Det. Jode Sprague of the Denver Police Department talking openly about his own suicidal thinking. We spoke with him soon afterward about “coming out,” what crisis response looks like from his point of view, and more.

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After Robin Williams

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After the death of Robin Williams, a range of people spoke openly last week about, or from, their experiences with suicidal thinking. Here are some of their stories:

Cates Holderness, Michael Blackmon, John Stanton, Julia Pugachevsky and many others at Buzzfeed

Alastair Campbell in The Huffington Post

Dese’Rae Stage at Live Through This

Kay Redfield Jamison in The New York Times

Cheryl Sharp at Mashable

Deborah Serani in Psychology Today

Andrew Solomon in The New Yorker

Jenn Garing on Fox

Christa Scalies for WHYY

Leah Harris on HuffPost Live

Jake Mills in The Guardian

Kat Michels

Hollis Easter

Julie Hersh

Greg Mercer

 

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‘To me, you need lived experience’

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We’re taking a break for August, since it’s holiday season. We leave you with this update from Australia, where Suicide Prevention Australia recently held a Lived Experience Symposium that brought together attempt survivors and loss survivors to create a national manifesto that will be available for public comment later this month. Until then, here’s more about it. And for more about Mic Eales, the artist featured in the video above, there’s this. And here’s his beautiful PhD thesis.

Five years ago, Suicide Prevention Australia published the kind of confidence-builder that the new #WayForward report demands of U.S. mental health organizations: A statement of support for attempt survivors and others who’ve been suicidal. The Australian statement is here.

Organizations in the U.S. and elsewhere, your turn.

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‘The most powerful tool we have’

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This week’s post is by Sarah Gordon, a research fellow in psychological medicine in New Zealand. She also founded the International Association of Service User Academia. This is a speech she delivered at a memorial service for families bereaved by suicide:

Approximately six years ago, a 34-year old woman killed herself. But the paramedics managed to revive her. Waking up from a coma two days later and being assessed as having no long-term mental or physical injury as a result of the suicide attempt, the woman was discharged from the intensive care unit to a psychiatric unit. After two months with this service, the woman asked to be discharged. She felt that this request was quite reasonable: Her immediate acute mental illness symptoms had been addressed.

The psychiatrist refused to entertain any notion of discharge at this time, her reason being that the woman was not in relationship with anyone or anything. You see, she argued, being in relationship with people is absolutely fundamental to living well. So that is what the woman spent the remainder of her time with the unit, a further five months, doing: working on re-learning and practicing being in relationship with herself, her family, her friends and her community.

And what is she doing now? Actively engaging in her roles as a mother and wife, working, dancing, writing, holidaying and shopping  _ something which I particularly enjoy.

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‘I was afraid to be’

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This week’s post is by Ann Taylor. She’s an aspiring advocate for suicide prevention, 51, the mother of two teenage boys, a domestic violence advocate, a photographer and a physical therapist. This is her coming-out:

so, here’s my story.

aug. 2007:  “mom has passed,” my brother says.

aug. 2008: “i’m done,” my husband says.

feb. 2009: “i love you, dad,” i say for the last time.

jan. 2010: “he didn’t make it,” my friend discloses.

a turn of events that happened just so very quickly. some expected, some by surprise.