Bev, Harriet and Joyce

My mother, Janet Alice, was tremendously vital to whom I have been and to whom I have become. Three other mothers, Bev, Harrriet and Joyce expanded my concept of motherhood. These women were also role models to me for becoming the best mother I could be:

It is possible.

As a mother, I want to see a world
with less competition
and more cooperation,
Less exploitation
and more mentoring,
Less meager and more real funding,
for services and education benefitting
mothers and children …

Every day of every year.

Bev, Harriet and Joyce were mothers of children with serious mental illness. I met Bev and Harriet first. They were the co-founders of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Dane County, which began in Madison, WI in the late 1970’s. The Madison, WI affiliate birthed the national organization.

Bev was driven to be an advocate for people with mental illness. She wanted essential services and better health care for those most seriously affected by a mental illness. Harriet wanted the same. Bev had a gift for advocating …  fiercely. Harriet’s gift was communication. She was a very fine journalist.

Bev and I got to know and respect each other. She was active physically and mentally throughout her life. Indeed, late in our relationship we discovered her north woods Wisconsin cabin was just a few miles from our families north woods cabin!  I recall the day Bev told me she and I were alike; committed and bold in our NAMI work, be it public or private. (Being alike meant occasionally we were at odds in terms of what we thought was best for people with mental illness.)

Harriet and I became friends through our commitment to leadership and writing. After I had written an article for the NAMI Dane newsletter that was respectful of parents of children with mental illness, she began to trust me. We admired and loved each other. I smiled when I entered her retirement apartment. The bookcases were filled, every inch. She and I were both avid readers. Harriet and her husband had an agreement: neither of them would buy another book until they gave away one of their current books. 

Joyce entered my life in 1993. When told by physicians that she was the cause of her daughter’s mental illness, she rebelled! It was common practice by MD’s and others to blame mothers for their children’s mental illness. Alas, my mother told me my paternal grandmother was thought to be the cause of my fathers recurrent depressions.

How did Joyce rebel? She obtained a PhD in psychology and began a private counseling practice. After gaining experience as a psychologist, she taught families in her home state, Vermont, how to help themselves and help their relatives with mental illness. She conceived and wrote a 12 session Family to Family Education curriculum. Initially Joyce gathered families together in the homes of people like you and me. Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers and sisters talked and listened to each other. For most of the men and women attending the classes, it was the first time they openly discussed mental illness and the challenges they and their well and affected family members faced. It was a blessing and a comfort to express their concerns in an unguarded manner. To problem solve. To grieve … and to rejoice together.  

The Family to Family program expanded. Wisconsin was the thirteenth state to get onboard. Lucky thirteen. Eighteen people gathered in a very small room for a three day training to learn to teach the Family to Family program in Wisconsin. I was one of the eighteen trainees. From those nine sets of teachers, the program expanded to 100 sets of teachers, as of 2013, when I retired. Becoming educated on mental illness was and continues to be life changing for me … and for people throughout the 48 states of the continental United States.

Here’s the rub: Many mothers like Bev, Harriet and Joyce are thrust into the role of advocate, educator, support person, and major caretaker. 

Sometimes for the entirety of their lives.  

Thank you kindly,
Gail Louise

… I was inspired to think carefully and in depth on motherhood’s impact on children’s development by the writing of Anna Malaika Tubbs in her book: The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped A Nation.

All flourishing relationships are a two way street.

Love at 75 is a work of art and craft, of continuously paddling a canoe together. Forward. 

Love is an art and craft both tender and kind and thoughtful,  … very, very thoughtful. Throughout life together those who truly love each other consider the effect of what they do and say on their soul-mate.

Romance lives! My Jim brings me treats and flowers and watches me throughout the day. He tells me I am adorable when I pucker up to share a kiss. Yes, kissing is still a very big deal. 

Our touches are lingering. A continuing communication.  A sharing.  A bond of strength. We are known for holding hands when in each other’s presence. 

Indeed, tears form happily as I realize our children still enjoy holding our hands. Holding hands with each of them from toddlerhood on through early adulthood.  And we thrive in each other’s companionship. One daughter and one son.  Add now our daughter’s husband of 20 plus years, their soon to be 17 year old son and their 13 year old daughter.  Seven of us. 

Seven has been my favorite number since I was a child. 

Why am I writing of our love and marriage on this website? My lived experience with mental illness has tossed challenges in our relationship. 

Sometimes, others have hinted that I have been lucky that my husband stayed married to me. As if we were not worthy of this love and commitment these 53 years! 

But we are braided together, strong, flexible, and happy in each other’s arms.

All healthy lifelong relationships are a two way street. 

My challenges have been public. I have always believed in my heart of hearts that being open about mental illness is essential for reducing stigma. Perhaps my writings have helped others feel hopeful.

And hope is absolutely necessary. Our children, son-in-law, grandchildren and our sons’ close friends all have an enlightened, accurate and knowledgeable appreciation of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other brain disorders.  

Jim and I have grown together since our first date, May 1965. Paddling and correcting our course as needed in a life enhancing way. Sometimes we paddled along the lake shore. Or perhaps we meandered down a river and explored a cove filled with stunning Venus fly trap plants, lily pads and wild irises (True story!) Only a few wrong bends but we worked together to navigate our way onward.

My husband taught me early that like so much of life, there is a learning curve with a canoe and a river. Yes, paddling must be learned. It’s not automatic, and if you think it is, you will flounder … maybe tip out … maybe perish, when life’s rapids occur. 

Each river, lake, stream, and cove is unique and a part of life’s journey. Each offers a growth experience. The weather and the landscape, the water and the sky  — and other people canoeing the same water, maybe or maybe not with respect for canoes and water! — are part of our journey and yours. 

Yes, I am fortunate.  And Jim is fortunate to be my husband … he’s always the first to say so!

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments, love is not love
Which alters when it alterations finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! It is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempest and is never shaken.”

 – From Sonnet CXVI
    William Shakespere, 1564-1616

Thank you kindly!
Gail Louise

Remembering My Father in this Election Year 2016

Picture this, a big table in our farm kitchen covered with red and while checked oil cloth and dozens of clean clear glass jars, standing alert and ready to receive the recently made homemade jam of the month. Perhaps it was my favorite, raspberry jam. Raspberry jam was the perfect complement to my mother’s homemade bread. (It was heavenly in our kitchen when Mom baked bread. The aroma of the baking bread was divine.  She would find a way week after week to fit all 7 loaves of bread/dinner rolls into the oven simultaneously. If we timed it just right, the younger children, would arrive home from school just as the bread finished baking. The big question always was: Which of us would get the crusts?

This past weekend I have been enjoying making fresh applesauce and tasty apple butter. As I write, this it is Thanksgiving week and I hope everyone who will share our holiday feast will enjoy some warm fragrant apple butter with my daughter’s fresh baked dinner rolls. The apple butter is (mostly) made from dark red McIntosh apples which yielded a rich bright pink naturally sweet sauce. The sauce looked good to eat, and it was as delicious as it looked!

I smiled as I remembered these things. For you see, I am thankful that my mother had passed food preserving skills and interest in them to me when I was as young as 9 years old.  I realize that I’ve passed these baking and cooking skills to my daughter and son, who are more gifted with food creation than both my mother and I.

And then I felt sad. Other than my lovely singing voice, what gifts did my father pass on to me?  I thought for awhile and then realized I had let the fact that he had a mental illness blur my sight and my insight. My father gave me something I’m sure to need for today and for these next four years.  He taught me the importance of attending to daily news, especially state and national news, and politics. Dad was attentive to the news, to politics, and to our government. And I was proud of his interest and ability to discuss and debate current affairs.

I’ve never forgotten the image of my Dad reading the daily paper:  The afternoon paper, which was the liberal paper – and in contrast to his in-laws, who always read the morning, conservative, Republican paper. The prime location for reading the daily paper was the kitchen table. He’d sit down in his overalls and cap with a cup of coffee in his rugged hands.  Perhaps the hardworking hands were chapped or sunburned. The paper would be spread out to cover most of the table. We children dare not monkey with the paper until Dad had read the news—you know, the front page and section. We children also did not talk with Dad or fool around in the kitchen when he was reading.

Mom as well read the paper every day. (As a farm wife, she deserved a break every day before we all returned home. It was always reading the paper, sitting at the kitchen table, with a refreshing drink, right when the clock struck three pm.) But Mom read quietly, and kept her views of the news private.

During the 1950’s when times were good for our family, Mother and Dad took me, then 13-years old, and my two teenage brothers on a trip to see our nation’s capital. Two younger sisters both then in grade school were left in the care of a neighboring farm family.  The care and feeding of a dairy herd is a very personal skill, and a task that cannot cease even for a single day.  I don’t know if this expresses how unusual and how risky it was for a farm family to take leave of their farm for a vacation that meant traveling across a considerable area of the United States. We did stop at historic sites too, including Gettysburg.

Why did my father choose Washington, DC? He felt we three older children were at the right age to learn the importance of and to visit our national capitol and the famous monuments, and to hear again the story of our grandparents who had immigrated earlier during the 1900’s from Norway. Both became citizens.  But the biggest push was to meet the congressmen representing Wisconsin.  Fortunately, the elected officials with their busy schedules were available. They were able to spend a brief 5 to 10 minutes each with us. Three future new voters were very impressed with Mom and Dad’s vacation gift and its lessons of people, history …. and responsibility. And we, to the best of my knowledge, have always exercised our responsibility and privilege as citizens of this great land my father took us across.

Even this year.

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…… 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 II

Spring in Wisconsin has brought us needed and gently persistent rainfall. Nourishing rain on fertile ground; good food for our thoughts together.

Ursula’s keynote message, “…Zero Suicide and the Engagement of Those with Lived Experience” was a blend of her experiences working with others, and of new directions advocated in “The Way Forward: Pathways to Hope, Recovery, and Wellness with Insights from the Lived Experience, 2014”.

The Way Forward is the most readable, engaging, no-nonsense document that I have ever read. In fact, it is so good and there is so much to learn from it, that I read deeply through the report twice! It is a unique and creative look at suicide prevention. Prepared by the Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the report’s recommendations are based on and prepared by people who have previously attempted to take their own life, and are now helping others in a crisis situation. Over the next days, I will highlight core values and recommendations from the report as presented in Ursula’s keynote. The first core value is:

Foster hope and help people find meaning and purpose in life

Pervasive hopelessness is a major risk factor for suicidal thinking and behavior. Studies have found that hope and optimism can help guard against suicide. From The Way Forward: “Hope is also linked to self-esteem and self-efficacy, as well as improved problem-solving. The pursuit of meaning can help a person cope with pain and suffering. Similarly, research on reasons for living has demonstrated that meaning and purpose are keys to recovery in many different groups of people who have lived through a suicidal crisis.”

I know this well. In my own suicidal crisis, I was saved by my husband who knew, somehow, that he had to teach me how to hope. (Please see Oh So Real: Pregnancy and Suicidal Depression) I had no hope for me or our unborn child, but I did have hope in our beautiful daughter who was about to turn 5 and start kindergarten in the fall…….when the baby was due. So Jim taught me to focus on specific events or achievements or activities of our daughter. One hope at a time, sometimes very small, got me through those difficult days and hope for her life certainly gave me a reason for living that had meaning and purpose. While the psychic pain of feeling suicidal is or can be overwhelming, meaning and purpose dull the pain…….take pain from the driver’s seat to the back seat.

It is possible to fuel a very small hope.