You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it does. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the
landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.

Whomever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination,
Calls you to the wild geese, harsh and exciting
Over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver

You Do Not Have To Be Good

Some people can live without nature and wild geese; some people cannot. I cannot. It has always been that way for me. I had a lot of time to spend by myself when I was young, despite having two brothers and three sisters! For the two brothers were 4 and 5 years older than me, while the two sisters were 4 and 5 younger. A final sister arrived 15 years younger than I.

Being alone was generally an advantage.

I learned to be an excellent observer of nature, the farm animals, the trees, flowers, grasses, sky as well as an excellent observer of human nature. I had time alone with each of my parents. Good times. That was an advantage as well. Mom and Dad mentored me. My Mother taught me sewing, cooking, baking, preserving, housekeeping, child care, how to speak and sing in public with poise and how to be a public servant. (She was a census taker and worked at the voting poll. Those days for her were vacation from a family of eight!) My Father taught me milking, haying, combining oats, detasseling corn, how to listen to football on the radio when working outdoors, how to drive a tractor and a truck, and a great deal about the good and bad of politics. He took time from his businesses (dairy farming and a hybrid seed business) to take me to two local fairs, and the State Fair, with blue ribbon Holstein yearling cows. One has to learn how to show or exhibit animals, it’s a technique and mannerism to learn. Dad too, always supported voting. Both parents read the newspaper every day.

They had patience with me. The other children, especially those close in age to one another, may not have experienced as much patient guidance from their parents, especially my Dad.

I learned to think independently. I thought a great deal.

Being born with no siblings close in age to me was a handicap in one major way: When there came a crisis in our family I had no one with which to discuss what I observed. I had to work things out in my mind, but usually I was left with little understanding and by myself.

I never discussed my thinking or worries with anyone. My dear neighbor friend, whom I’m still in touch with daily, did not hear of our family’s dilemma – of my father’s major depressive disorder (MDD) – from me. Nor did my siblings, grandparents, school friends or guidance counselors at school … if there were guidance counselors back then. Nor did friends of my parents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, or the Pastors of our church.

I was left confused, greatly saddened, and sometimes very lonely. Very, very lonely.
I played in the sandstone by our barn.
I played under the sumac bushes of our neighbors field.
I played in the huge front lawn and swung on the swing in the back side lawn.
I laid awake at night.

Nature was and is a solace.

For any of you reading, listening and hearing, and especially those who find themselves in circumstances similar to mine growing up, playing out the concerns over and over in my mind, I hope you find solace and peace in the poem which began this posting: WILD GEESE by poet Mary Oliver.

You do not have to be good. I thought if I was good, as a child and as an adult, my hurt and episodes with MDD would be fixed or at least lessened.

You do NOT have to be good.

Thank you kindly,
Gail Louise

Honor the Earth and Each Other – Notes on Earth Day, April 2021

From out of the earth
I sing for the animals;
I sing for them.

– Red Streaked Around the Face, Hunkpapa Sioux

Because my husband Jim and I limited our travel during 2020, I was delighted to discover acceptable flowering and foliage plants from local hardware stores. We selected two hanging baskets for our porch, identical baskets of flowering calibrachoa. Then, I could not resist two more plants: a type of sedum plus a sun loving coleus.

The calibrachoa, sedum and coleus all needed work. But each plant had promise. So I did what I had seen my father do so often. I pruned the plants … prudently and thoroughly.

Calibrachoa was just the ticket! Their flowers remind me of miniature petunias. They glowed in shades of coral, pink and red. Nature had sprinkled dabs of yellow deep inside each petal.

They thrived, and Jim affectionately named me “ The plant doctor! “

I thrived too. 

Nature can have a healing touch.

I prefer flowers, like other visual arts, to have an appeal from a distance and close-up. The bright colors of the calibrachoa beckoned to people walking by our home: Hey! Look at me! They were so intriguing I looked more closely than I intended. I peered into their depths and was rewarded by their subtle beauty.

Jim has a green thumb too. His thumb is green from raising vegetables. Wherever we lived previously, we had a vegetable garden. Sometimes a huge vegetable garden … with a rambling red raspberry patch as well! The blue jay will always remain the raspberry cane pruning bird to me. Whenever I pruned the canes, she scolded me insistently, every spring. Was I invading her space? Were her babies near?

Early each morning, you will find us sitting in our four season sunroom, observing the dawn of the new day. We follow the sun’s progress as she arcs across the eastern horizon. It is a sweet joy to attend to the unfolding season from the comfort of our sofa. The sun sweeps like a rainbow each day … everyday … throughout the year.

At twilight we walk the neighborhood, waving to folks while we witness the daylight slowly dipping westward. Each day, the sun “sets “ to brighten other continents, other countries, and other people.

Jim scans the sky nightly. Never does a day end without my husband walking outside, binocular in hand, to view the unfolding heavens.

Paul Goble describes our interaction with and responsibility for our Earth in his beautiful book “I Sing for the Animals.” As I reread his words, I am reminded what Earth and nature can bring to us, if we give her an opportunity:

“Plants and trees, birds and animals, all things like us to talk to them. They want to speak to us too, but it is not easy for them. We have to find a way to understand what they are saying to us.“

“We need not feel lonely in the fields and woods. Birds and animals, and the butterflies, speak to us. Often we are not really looking or listening. It is the same at night: the stars speak to us. We have to learn to look, and to listen. We are never alone.“

“Man’s world changes, and we hardly feel at home in the places where we grew up. The natural world is constant: the sun comes up and goes down, and the seasons follow one another and return again like a great circle. In our own changing world, it is these things which give us strength and stability.“

Let us preserve the great circle.

Thank you kindly,
Gail Louise

On Forgiveness, part two

A lot has happened since I last posted. Joyous holidays, the battle with a depressive episode—- still lingering and touched mightily by recent family affairs, progress with workouts under direction of my personal trainer, and the severe illness and death January 31st of my beloved younger sister, Ellie. She was the first in our family of six brothers and sisters to pass. I miss her greatly.

I have been studying forgiveness and the power of forgiveness in one’s life for some time now. Indeed, I have an essay On Forgiveness on this website already devoted to the topic.   In that essay, I wrote that “forgiveness does not mean forgetting. And yet it is more than tolerating. I was startled to read that forgiveness is beyond letting go of negatives, such as anger; it is also the inclusion of positive gift-like qualities such as compassion, generosity, and even love.”

This posting is part two of my growth in understanding of this most powerful act of human reconciliation.

*   *    *    *    *    *    *

I’ve now made a little dent into the literature of forgiveness, and have learned two major facts: One, there is research to show that physical and mental health benefits come from forgiving and Two, that forgiving, learning forgiveness, is hard work. I’ll write about those benefits in this posting. The hard work of forgiveness will be addressed in future posts.

“NOT Forgiving — nursing a grudge—is so caustic”, reports Fred Luskin, PhD, a health psychologist at Stanford University and author of Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness. “It raises your blood pressure, depletes immune function, makes you more depressed and causes enormous physical stress to the whole body.”  In this book, citing research and teaching by vivid example, Mr. Luskin shows that people who are forgiving tend to have not only less stress but also better relationships, fewer general health problems and lower incidences of the most serious illnesses like depression, heart disease, stroke and cancer.

So how does one forgive? Is it a process one can learn, something each of us might do, or a work for the saints among us only?

Forgiveness can be hard work. Robert Enright, PhD, the author of Eight Keys to Forgiveness, says: “….in its essence forgiveness is not something we do to just help ourselves. It is not something about you or done for you. It is something you extend toward another person, because you recognize, over time, that it is the best response to the situation.”  And then, Professor Enright continues:  “Working on forgiveness can help us increase our self-esteem and give us a sense of inner strength and safety. It can reverse the lies that we often tell ourselves when someone has hurt us deeply—lies like, I am defeated or I’m not worthy. Forgiveness can heal us and allow us to move on in life with meaning and purpose. Forgiveness matters and we will be its primary beneficiary.”

I’ll end this post with a brief outline of forgiveness’ process.

First, accept that something happened in opposition to your wishes and you can’t change it. What can you do to suffer less?  Then, look at your involvement with this person—simplify it.

Second, try to move past the hurt and go on. Perhaps the steps suggested below will help you progress.

  • Acknowledge that you have been hurt. Talk to a few close friends to explore your feelings and obtain a sense of perspective.
  • Make a commitment to forgiveness.
  • Start with small things. Start by trying to forgive modest slights by people who have done you harm in life.
  • Recognize your “grievance stories” and gradually deemphasize and replace them by thinking of your own positive goals.
  • Focus on facts rather than emotions. Attempt to understand what led the person to the hurtful behavior. Bless you.
  • Try not to take things personally. Many offenses were not deliberately targeted to hurt you personally, but were byproducts of other people’s own selfish goals.
  • Forgive those you love. The most important people to forgive are those close to us.

( Find these steps in Terrie Heinrich Rizzo’s posting The Healing Power of Forgiveness, 2006 )

Personal Medicine. A concept formulated by Pat Deegan

As I was preparing my presentation (titled “Living Successfully with Depression and Suicidal Thoughts”) to be given at NAMI Wisconsin’s Family Programs Summit this November, I ran into the term “personal medicine,” meaning an activity that a person does to obtain wellness, rather than something a person takes. The term was introduced by Patricia Deegan, PhD, in early 2003 as a result of qualitative research she did through the University of Kansas – School of Social Welfare [The Importance of Personal Medicine: A Qualitative Study].  Upon interviewing individuals who were taking psychiatric medication, Deegan found that “When describing their use of psychiatric pharmaceuticals or ‘pill medicine’, research participants also described a variety of personal wellness strategies and activities that I have called ‘personal medicine’. Personal medicines were non-pharmaceutical activities and strategies that served to decrease symptoms and increase personal wellness.”

Pat Deegan writes: “Personal medicine is what we do to be well. It’s the things that put a smile on our face and that make life meaningful.” She continues “Many of us have learned that finding the right balance between Personal Medicine and psychiatric medicine is the road to recovery.” [Common Ground Toolkit and Recovery Library]

She cited three examples of personal medicine that work for her: playing with her dog, taking care of her daughter, and reading scripture. I jotted down six examples to begin with: parenting and grand-parenting, cooking and baking, singing, texting and emailing Rebecca and Benjamin, sending notecards to people, and writing. Oh -and reading is a ready seventh activity; it’s the way I start every morning! Listening to music, often at the end of the day, is an easy eighth.

Reading Pat Deegan’s research closely, I see she identified personal medicines as falling into two broad categories: those activities that give life meaning and purpose, and self-care strategies. Both types increase feelings of wellness and help keep psychiatric symptoms and/or undesirable outcomes such as hospitalization at bay.

Necessary personal medicine is sometimes serious work. There was a year in my life when I was moderately depressed. I felt I had to bake five days a week: I had to bake every day I was home alone, at the time between jobs, every day that my husband Jim was away at his work. I baked for three hours every day, minimum. Why? I needed to structure my time, to accomplish something and to knead and stir down pain and numbing thoughts. It was always a batch of chocolate chip cookies one day and bread the next day. This period occurred after the children were grown, so what we didn’t or couldn’t eat ourselves, which was a lot, we gave away.

I learned this lesson [Partners in Recovery – PIR, June 2010] from Ms Deegan:  “It is so easy to get lost in thinking that we are not good enough or that we are irrevocably flawed because we have a diagnosis of mental illness. But healing does not come from outside us; healing comes from within.”

Now I realize that at that time in my life I was using baking as a self-care strategy, without being alert to my decision to do so. Baking simply kept me on my feet, kept me “productive,” and stopped the grinding negative thoughts. The joy and creativity I normally found in cooking and baking was absent. No lofty thoughts occurred while the warm dough was molded under my hands. No images of Grandma or my Mother – my bread-baking teachers – formed in my brain that I can remember. No smell of yeast permeated my mind. I simply did the tasks and came out with good home-baked items.

Good home-baked items. And I did not deteriorate in my mental status. I improved with time, never needing hospitalization or respite care. There is something good and healthy in people with a diagnosis of mental illness. Medicine doesn’t only come from a doctor or a mental health provider team. “Discovering personal medicine is powerful medicine and connects us to the resilient, healing parts of ourselves.” [PIR]

Today, much of the time I spend cooking and baking takes the form of personal medicine that makes my (recovered) life sing with purpose and meaning. I love the seasonal foods and the celebrations that each represent. In our family, every spring, there is homemade cream of asparagus soup with a twist of lemon on the side. Summer brings ruby red strawberry shortcake with berries from the field and real whip cream, plus new leaf lettuce for many simple tasty salads. Then late summer taught me to appreciate warm peach cobbler. Fall is chili and beef stew and the first cinnamon apple pie. The December holidays are hot chocolate from scratch, my delectable Mustard Apricot Glazed Ham, baked sweet potatoes, and pecan pie. All this is done with flow and calm that brings a great deal of satisfaction and attention to detail. My mind and senses are stimulated and utilized in a very positive and reinforcing way. And my family eats well too!

May each of you find the personal medicine that connects you to the resilient healing part of yourself.

Part V – Why does all this recovery happen?

One doesn’t recover from a mental illness in the same way one recovers from a broken arm. Yet recovery and healing is possible, and life can be enriched. We refer to that healing as a personal recovery.

Reading more of Professor Mike Slade’s work on personal recovery I found that my journey rediscovered something essential for the recovery to succeed: a sense of personal agency. This is the belief and assurance that one has the power to positively impact one’s own life; the power to act in one’s best interest. He writes that developing a sense of agency can be a difficult process precisely because mental illness often takes away that assurance and belief. He urges professionals, staff and family to show support which recognizes the importance of renewing the individual’s sense of self agency.

Finding and supporting that sense of agency – the ability to act in your own best interest – in yourself and for those you love is a crucial part of personal recovery.

I developed a great deal of authority over my life when I successfully quit smoking, a task I once thought was impossible for me. You see, when I quit I’d found I could make a difference in my health care, a truly enormous difference; perhaps a life-saving one. And I learned people would support me in this difficult but worthwhile goal!

Now I hopefully approached a new goal, to learn tools and techniques to help counter the persistent negative thoughts common to major depression. The experience of power over my life I’d had when I successfully quit smoking taught me to seek new tools which I could use to achieve new goals: It was time to learn Cognitive Behavior Therapy, and I had no problem learning and practicing its techniques. I continue to be an agent in my own life: Here in my 67th year I set out to find a Personal Trainer so the physical work-outs I desired would be effective and fun. I found one through a good friend; hired her, and have lost weight and body fat while building muscle, etc. I think more clearly and can concentrate more fully since I have been on a regular exercise schedule.

The symptoms of depression and bipolar II persist but weaken; the sense of authority over my own life increases; I’m healing.

Part IV – The Tasks of Personal Recovery

Touching my own experience, I saw in it each of the four recovery tasks listed in the previous post.

Recovery task 1: “The first task of recovery is developing a positive identity outside of being a person with a mental illness.” The person identifies elements that are vitally important to him or her, which will differ in significance from what another person identifies. “…only the individual can decide what constitutes a personally valued identity for them. “

I was lucky. In the midst of serious depression, I was married, a mother, and pregnant with our second child. . I did not lose those identities completely, but they were shaky. The years passed and I started my recovery journey: about 10 years later, the roles of wife and partner, mother to a child and mother to a teenager crystallized and doubt had been replaced often with enjoyment and wonder.

Recovery task 2: “The second recovery task involves developing a personally satisfactory meaning to frame the experience which professionals would understand as mental illness. This involves making sense of the experience, putting it in a box, and framing it as part of the person, but not as the whole person.”

The frame in which I understand my mental illness experience keeps evolving as the mental illness does not cease. But as the illness fades and my recovery grows, the frame gets more refined with the passing years.

I realize that again, I was lucky. I was married to Jim and he knew mental illness to be a no-fault biopsychosocial medical illness. So did I: I had inherited the tendency to depression, but was able to frame this as bad luck, not personal or family fault. Also, I lived near Madison, WI which had good services and I could afford good medical care. Again, I was fortunate.

I also had training in a health care field. I was a registered dietitian, (and still am) and proud that I was on the academic staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 16 years (as a clinical instructor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences). So I was comfortable in various in and out-patient settings. I also knew appropriate levels of anatomy and physiology – and even biochemistry-lite. So I could follow the medical model of mental illness.

So I framed my experience of mental illness as an illness and as time went by, I was more and more able to put the illness in a box and frame it as only part of me but Not ME.

Recovery task 3: “Self-managing the mental illness.” Mental illness becomes ONE of life’s challenges. As people develop personal responsibility, self- management skills develop. This doesn’t mean managing the mental illness completely on one’s own but rather, knowing when to seek help and support.

I was desperate to “get better”. I cooperated in every way I could, even in the long decade of my body failing to respond to any of many anti-depressants. I never skipped a medication or an appointment. I ate well and got enough exercise at that time of my life.

As I began to recover in the 1990’s I took an even more active role in managing my illness. I learned cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and carried out the exercises on paper, as assigned and in session with a psychology doctoral student. It helped me greatly, the CBT, so that I keep it up today as needed. Nothing has been as effective as CBT for minimizing negative thinking.

Now I’ve taken further steps to guard my health. In January of 2014 I hired a personal trainer(!), adding hour-long work-outs six days every week, three of them with my trainer.

Recovery task 4: “Developing valued social roles.” The key word here is valued. Valued by the individual with mental illness and by the greater social circle/setting/society. The person undergoing recovery, in this last task, must find a niche for himself or herself in their community. It could be a position/role modified from previous times or a new experience altogether . The role may or may not have anything to do with mental illness.

A huge change in my life occurred when I began to volunteer in a big way in the mental health organization NAMI, at the local and state level. You can read about my development in the About Me section of this website.

With this change I gained a tremendous amount of confidence and poise. I also had conviction in the value of what I was doing (teaching and, later, directing the Family to Family Education Program for NAMI WI). I felt education to be a liberating factor in living with mental illness in myself and in the family. I was fortunate in that the work fit me like a glove; teaching small groups of college age adults in the application of didactic material to the clinical setting gave me experience for teaching small groups of adults. My history as an adult child of someone with a mental illness and my own history of depression and after 2002, bipolar II illness, helped me understand families and persons with mental illness and all the dilemmas and controversies that entails.

So I definitely found a position in the community where I was valued and I felt valued.  I carried out my responsibilities with confidence and skill and compassion. I blossomed. I had developed something essential for self-management: a sense of personal agency .… I was the author of my own work.

Part III – The Journey and Tasks of Recovery

Dear readers: To talk together about recovery for those struggling with mental illness we need a definition of recovery that does justice to the magnitude of the journey. Here is one such definition –

“…..a deeply personal, unique process of changing one’s attitudes, values, feelings, goals, skills, and / or roles. It is a way of living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life even within the limitations caused by illness. Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness.”

Recovery from Mental Illness: The Guiding Vision of the Mental Health Service System in the 1990s. William A. Anthony, Ph.D Psychosocial Rehabilitation Journal, 1993, 16(4), 11–23.

I encourage you to read the entire article from which the definition above was taken. What the article has to say about recovery was ground-breaking when first published in 1993. It is a fine resource as well today.

If the definition above is the vision, we need guide to follow it: 100 Ways to support recovery. A guide for mental health professionals, Second Edition, 2012.

The guide’s author is Mike Slade – Professor Mike Slade – Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Health Services Research at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College, London. I found plenty of material in the report helpful to anyone wanting to learn about recovery and eager to help a family member or friend.

Professor Slade clarifies that recovery is a word with two meanings. Clinical recovery “is an idea that has emerged from the expertise of mental health professionals, and involves getting rid of symptoms, restoring social functioning, and in other ways ‘getting back to normal’”. “[Personal recovery] … is an idea that has emerged from the expertise of people with the lived experience of mental illness and means something different to clinical recovery.”

Most mental health services, Mike Slade acknowledges, are currently organized around meeting the goal of clinical recovery. Yet most mental health policy around the world increasingly emphasizes support for personal recovery. His guide aims to support the transition to ongoing personal recovery, framing the process by identifying common tasks undertaken by persons in recovery:

Recovery task 1: “The first task of recovery is developing a positive identity outside of being a person with a mental illness.”
Recovery task 2: “The second recovery task involves developing a personally satisfactory meaning to frame the experience which professionals would understand as mental illness.”
Recovery task 3: “Self-managing the mental illness.” Mental illness becomes ONE of life’s challenges.
Recovery task 4: “Developing valued social roles.” Roles valued by the individual with mental illness and by the greater social circle/setting/society.

I was able to see each of those four tasks in the flow of my own recovery ……………….

Part II – Hard; oftentimes Lonely Work

Here is a favorite explanation of mine about recovery:

“Recovery is a process, a way of life, an attitude, and a way of approaching the day’s challenges. It is not a perfectly linear process. At times our course is erratic and we falter, slide back, regroup and start again……The need is to meet the challenge of the disability and to re-establish a new and valued sense of integrity and purpose within and beyond the limits of the disability; the aspiration is to live, work, love in a community in which one makes a significant contribution.” –Pat Deegan, PhD, quoted in Recovery Now “What is Recovery “

I first read Pat back in 1993 and I cried because she understood the ill person’s experience as it is, burdened by symptoms and then the relief, when well again.  No one has ever expressed this empathy since with more insight and delicacy for me:

Courage and fear was my main diet as I began my recovery journey . Always fear. Fear when I went to my first psycho-education meeting sponsored by UW Hospitals in early 1990’s. I didn’t know how I would be received, who the other people would be in the class —would I be able to talk to them and what would I say?  Courage too, but it always took second place. It is definitely easier to stay home than expose oneself to the risks of rejection and dreadful anxiety that accompanied me whenever I went forward.

Fear when I quit smoking.  Afraid the anxiety of not having cigarettes would cause me to lose my temper around people I loved and lose control of myself.

Fear when I tried out for University of Wisconsin –Madison Choral Union. It was something I wanted so badly to do: To sing within a large group of men and women forming an impressive choir. I had wanted to be part of this since I’d been a college student.  And now in my 40’s I had my voice back (A polyp was removed from my vocal cord and I’d quit smoking)!  Deeply anxious, I simply couldn’t allow myself to speak spontaneously to the Choral Director and I couldn’t think of what to say……..so I went to the audition reading my information and questions from an index card.  Nice; I was selected to be part of the alto section!

For the mentally ill, struggling with symptoms that strike to the heart of whom they think they are or could be, Recovery is hard, lonely, lonely work. And so important. I’ve been reading anew a number of documents and articles on recovery and have found some helpful resources to pass on to you.

Part I – On Recovery

Another season has come to pass in south central Wisconsin. Summer is here; indeed today is July 4th. I feel blessed as I reflect upon the year that has passed. I have good health and I am very thankful.  Oh I work at it, daily, maintaining good mental and physical health. But we know that striving for good health and working towards it, even faithfully, doesn’t promise we will be healthy.

I’m especially thinking of mental health recovery. I am in recovery and have found, to my deep satisfaction, that healing has come to me.  Recovery is complex to talk about. What does it mean, as applied to people with mental illness and psychiatric disorders and why is their recovery is SO important?

Here is a working definition of recovery:  A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.

Further, it is something worked towards and experienced by the person with the mental illness.  Mental health professionals and family cannot “do” recovery to the person. The essential contribution of professionals and family is to support the person in their journey of recovery.  As the recovery journey is individual so the best way to support it will vary person by person.

In reality the support that is needed goes beyond individual providers, friends and family. It extends to accessible community services also.

Note that there is nothing mentioned here about a medical recovery or cure for mental illness. But it is real, and this recovery is a new sense of self and of purpose. As health and wellness is regained, people once again take pride in themselves and ….get a life! But gaining recovery is hard work!

Stay with me; I will be returning to the topic of Recovery within Mental Illness often during the next posts.

Communities in Action to Prevent Suicide, part IV

Dr. Whiteside, concluding her keynote address to the Communities in Action to Prevent Suicide conference, April 2015, asked us to visit the websites below for a look at what suicide attempt survivors have to say for themselves.  Their words offer important insights.

www.livethroughthis.org is a wonderful and compelling collection of portraits each linked to a suicide attempt survivor story, as told by those survivors. LiveThroughThis shows through these remarkable stories that everyone is susceptible to depression and suicidal thoughts. It does this simply by showing portraits and stories of attempt survivors — profoundly sharing that they are people no different than you or I.

As the website’s author Dese’Rae L. Stage writes, “…these feelings could affect your mom, your partner, or your brother, and the fear of talking about it can be a killer.”

The second website attemptsurvivors.com  is a now-completed project of the American Association of Suicidology. This site also features attempt survivors who have spoken up and told their stories. This website’s editor taught me a valuable lesson also. She wrote that people continually ask survivors about suicidal thoughts and actions, saying “Why would you want to do that to yourself?” As she noted, this question represents a shocking and a fundamental misunderstanding. You see, as when inquiring about any potentially fatal health issue the question needs only be, “Why is this happening to people we love?”

Do you see the stark difference between these two questions? The first, intentionally or not, is accusatory and focuses on blaming the suicidal person. The second question reflects concern for the person and asks why it is that this has happened to this individual, without seeing the act as a personal fault — and in truth, suicide is usually the result of a mental illness process.

Thank you for reading and for hearing and listening to them.