Friday, July 24, 2020

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Spreading these man-made wings, he soared with ease into the sky. The higher he flew, the farther below him sank the joys and sorrows of a life bathed in the light of intellect. Dropping ironies and smiles upon the shabby towns below, he climbed through the open sky, straight for the sun.

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa was a Japanese writer active in the Taishō period in Japan. He is regarded as the 'Father of the Japanese short story' and Japan's premier literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, is named after him.

Akutagawa had a genetic predisposition to depression, as his mother suffered from mental illness. He was taken away from his mother and adopted by an aunt and uncle, when he was still a young child. Still, he began dealing with the symptoms of mental illness when he was in his early twenties.

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa died by suicide on July 24, 1927. He was married and left behind three young children. Akutagawa was 35 years old when he died.

 Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
March 1, 1892 - July 24, 1927

Monday, July 20, 2020

Turned Into Light

Art is a wound turned into light ~ Georges Braque

Creating whimsical and silly art has long been an outlet for me. The more whimsical, the more likely it will provide some much needed lightness.

I've opened an etsy store in order to move some of these silly pieces on. Priced at just $5 each, $1 of that sale will go towards suicide prevention. Every 25 items sold, I will donate $25 to organizations that are doing good work to support this important cause. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Patrick Dewaer

Patrick Dewaere was a French film actor. He was born in Saint-BrieucCôtes-d'Armor. He was the son of French actress Mado Maurin. Dewaere worked frequently with the French actor Gérard Depardieu. He had begun to achieve significant success and fame when, at the age of 35, he died by suicide.

Dewaere provides an example of friends and family members not being aware of their loved one's suicidality. While he was suffering from some personal issues, none seemed to contribute to depression. His family expressed shock and surprise when he died. 

Patrick Dewaere
January 26, 1947 – July 16 1982

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Many Busy Days

Hold me closer, tiny dancer
Count the headlights on the highway
Lay me down in sheets of linen
You had a busy day today

There is a story here. It is the story of a journey. A seven year journey. And a six year journey. And a one year journey. And a seven month journey. This is the story of one journey and many journeys. 

I'll start at the beginning, seven years ago.

In 2013, inspired by the counselors who (I believe) helped to save my son's life, I registered with CCAPP (California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals) to become a drug and alcohol counselor. As with many social service vocations, certification (credentialing) was going to be necessary to work in the field. At the time, this required taking 12 academic classes and working just over 1,800 practicum (internship) hours. And all of this needed to be completed within five years. These requirements were non-negotiable. As soon as I registered, the clock started ticking.

But I didn't take any classes in 2013 or in 2014 either. You see, in late 2013, I'd had a relapse and overdose. So the year of 2014 was dedicated to creating a foundation for not just my son's recovery, but my own recovery, as well.

After my overdose, I moved into a sober living house (SLE) and I lived there for close to two years. In 2015 I spent many late nights sitting at the kitchen table of that house, studying for classes and exams. My roommates (also in new recovery) were very patient with me when, night after night, half that table was taken up by textbooks and note paper.

In May of 2016, I was taking one of my last classes at Cal State University, East Bay. At that class, (the amazing) Jimmy Isch was invited to speak. He was recruiting interns for the agency he worked for - Second Chance Recovery Center in Hayward, California. When he talked about Second Chance, he explained that they worked with underserved communities, including the homeless. Many clients were dual diagnosis, as well (dealing with illnesses such as PTSD in addition to their addictions). And there was one other thing he emphasized when he was recruiting interns. "You need to be able to write," he said. I knew then, this was the internship I wanted.

I started right away, but only worked a few hours each week. My plan was to complete the bulk of the hours I needed by working full time, starting in April of the following year (2017). Everything went as scheduled and I was set to begin my full time hours on April 3rd. But then something happened.

On April 2, 2017, John died.

Everything in my life came to a halt as I tried to recover from his loss. My practicum hours had to wait. Second Chance was incredibly supportive. Everyone was very patient, taking my shifts when needed, and helping me with my work on the days that I did make it to the office. So I continued as I had before, a part time intern. It was all I could manage. Suicide loss stays with you always, but for me, the first year was particularly hard. By the time 2018 rolled around, I was in trouble. I simply wasn't going to complete the hours I needed in order to apply to take the statewide chemical dependency counselor exam (the IC&RC). My five years were up.

So, I filed an application for a one year hardship extension. Armed with medical records from my 2013 overdose and a copy of John's 2017 obituary - my one year extension was approved. I made plans to work more hours. I believed that I could do it. That I could finally complete the bulk of my hours.

But 2019 was another brutal year. Loss after loss, yet again. Family members, dear friends, clients, and many other people I knew. Midway through the year, I was on the verge of a breakdown. Still, in August of 2019, I was finally ready to apply to take the official IC&RC exam. I filled out my application papers, and added documentation. The documentation included my transcripts from Cal State, and signed proof of those 1,800 internship hours. As I was filling out the application, I re-read the requirements in order to ensure that I had everything needed. As I read, I noticed there was a discrepancy between what I was submitting and what was required. I was confused. I still remember that moment. I was at work sitting in the room where staff completed their notes after a counseling shift. No one else was in the room, and I was glad. Because suddenly, I couldn't breathe. I fought off tears.

You see, in the six years that had passed since I first registered to become a counselor - the requirements had changed. For the first time, I realized that I was missing multiple required classes, and I was over 300 hours short of those that were now required in a practicum. I was already deeply overwhelmed by the grief of loss, and desperately fighting to control the beginnings of an eating disorder relapse. I was too ashamed to talk to anyone about the fact that I was likely to lose the six year long goal of becoming a fully credentialed counselor, too.

I was angry and overwhelmed and extra sensitive to absolutely everything. I lashed out at people I loved. One particularly hard night, my son asked me if I would go into the hospital. So, I did. The truth is, I didn't want to live anymore. I just wanted to be done.

I did live through the next several months though, but only because of the unwavering love of my son and my closest friends. More than once, the people who cared about me sat me down and said, 'Please make it through this.' In fact, on Christmas night, my son told me this same thing. "Mom, I need you to live." It was the greatest gift he could give me, I suppose, telling me that he needed me in his life. So I kept trying, even when I didn't want to. I complained to one friend that it was too much to ask of me. She told me something that we often hear in our circles of recovery. "Well, act as if," she said. "Act as if you want to live. That's enough for now."

I have two close friends whom I met in eating disorder treatment many years ago. Each one reached out to me. They buoyed my hopes when it came to the eating disorder part of my treatment this time around. "You can do it" really means something when the words are coming from people who've done it before, themselves.

There is an amazing man in my life. More than once, he was the target of my lashing out. I was mad at him for loving me and I was really mad at food in general. One night, I threw a sandwich across the room and it almost hit him in the head. After it landed with a splat on the floor, he remained patient and said to me: "I hope you're going to clean that up. Because I'm not." Later he reminded me that he loved me even when I threw sandwiches at him. I was worth loving, he told me. Period. He loved me when I fell apart. And he was willing to wait, he said, for the non-sandwich-throwing Chelise to return.

Another friend came to my house one night with two matching pairs of pink onesie pajamas. She told me that we were going to put them on and sit on the couch and watch a stupid movie together. You don't have a choice, she said. It is amazing to me that there are times when I have no idea how to help myself, but sometimes there are others who know exactly what I need.

Equally important, John Macaluso's mother (and we'd lost John only two and a half years earlier) called me every single day for months. She wanted to make sure I knew that when a person deals with mental illness - even if, while suffering, they lash out at people they care about - it doesn't mean that they themselves are less lovable, less forgivable, or less of a valued person. My own mother is not living, but there were many nights that I spent at Jo Macaluso's house, just so I could be near a mother who loved me.

Always, all of these people reminded me that even if did cruel things while sick - those actions did not determine who I was as a whole. One friend reminded me that what you do while having a nervous breakdown does not take away the value you have as a friend.

I was in day treatment when my counselors encouraged me to apply for a second hardship extension. They believed in me, they said. They believed I would be able to complete the additional classes and the additional hours I needed in order to take the IC&RC exam. I was desperately trying to find a will to live and they were telling me I should be applying for something that would happen in the future. I knew enough about suicide prevention to know what they were doing. Any step I took that spoke to the promise of a future, was a good step. And so that is what I did. I applied for a second extension. It can be hard to get the second extension. If you are approved, it's your last chance. You will get no more extensions beyond the two years. That's it. Period. Once again I gathered transcripts and medical records, and once again I submitted a copy of John's obituary. I included a letter from my supervisor at Second Chance that verified that I was a good intern with lots of promise and who was well liked by staff and clients alike. I submitted the application. Two weeks later, I received a letter telling me that the second extension was approved.

October 5th of 2019 marked six years since the day in 2013 that I'd overdosed. And the next day, October 6th, 2019, marked six years from the day that I began my journey of recovery. Meanwhile I was bouncing between inpatient and outpatient day treatment. Just like they had done six years earlier, my treatment team and the people who loved me made sure I lived through the last months of 2019 and the first months of 2020. I sure didn't know how to do it on my own, I leaned into all these people and learned to pick up the pieces of me that shatter when grief is too heavy for me to bear. And I leaned into this too - the one thing that has remained constant from October 6th, 2013, until today:

I stayed sober.

Staying clean and sober when you are in eating disorder treatment can feel so very unfair. My primary addiction had been to anxiety medications, and for the past six years I have had to manage learning to eat again and all the accompanying anxiety inherent in that, without medication.

This time around, it felt too hard. Just getting to day treatment felt impossible on most days. Seven years ago when I went through this process, even my doctors and my treatment team were at a loss as to how to help me. How to keep me in treatment at a time when my PTSD was so activated that I could barely breathe, much less eat. At that time, they suggested a service dog. So, from 2013 - 2015, I'd had a wonderful service dog - Butter - who came with me everywhere. He came with me to the hospital when I was in treatment. He came with me to the meetings that supported my sobriety. He came with me to work and he came with me to school. Butter ushered me into the life that I have today. But Butter was an older dog. In 2015 he passed away. Although I was heartbroken, I knew I was ready to move on without a dog at my side.

She needs a service dog again, is what my doctor said this time around. And so, that is what we did. We trained my tiny dog Peanut to be of service. Most often, the service she provides is to sit quietly for hours at a time. Peanut is a spitfire ball of energy, but she learned her service skill right away. That dog can sit beside my chair or in my lap for up to six hours, without complaint. So again, a dog accompanied me to treatment. Slowly, we noticed that I could eat again. Soon after, I could sit through a day of treatment without crying the entire time. One week though, people were particularly scared for my life. Once again, the people who loved me pleaded with me to go into the hospital. So in I went, yet again. My doctor knew that my efforts at eating would be lost if I was hospitalized without help for my anxiety. So my sweet little service dog came with me. She slept beside me in my hospital bed. Sometimes in the middle of the night she would bark at the nurses as they passed by my bedroom door. One of the nurses put a sign on my door, so that others wouldn't be startled.

"Beware of Service Dog," it said. "She may bark if you enter the room."

Beware of service dog. I thought that was the funniest thing. I just laughed and laughed.

I left the hospital two days before Thanksgiving, but I was in day treatment for a total of seven months. I've never been in treatment for so long. I just couldn't find purchase for a way to forgive myself for struggling so much.

Perhaps the beginning of my true journey toward healing began one February day, while I was at day treatment. I was sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, with my face in my hands. I didn't know what to do with the self hatred that had been so unrelenting. Sarah, a fellow patient, sat down beside me. She knew that I couldn't forgive myself when my mental illness has impacted the people I love. "Maybe you can't do anything to change the way you behaved when your struggles were at their worst - but today you can do the thing that you wish your boyfriend who died could have done for you, and the thing that the people who are in your life are asking of you, now." She looked at me, and then she finished. "Find a way to stay alive."

During those seven months that I was in treatment, I continued to work towards my counseling credential. I had to complete multiple classes. My friends and family cheered me on as I completed one class, and then another, and then another too. I was still in treatment, but I had to work as many hours as I could. Second Chance accommodated me every step of the way. At one point I apologized to one of my supervisors. I couldn't return to taking day shifts, because my treatment was going to last for yet another month. And his response was to tell me that he didn't care how long it took, Second Chance just wanted me back healthy and ok. So I worked as many part time hours as I could. My little Peanut came with me to work, and soon she became more popular than I was. More clients at Second Chance know Peanut's name, than they do mine. By March, I'd completed the last of the hours I needed in order to apply for the IC&RC exam,.

Staff at Second Chance Hayward Recovery Center.
Left to Right, Andrea Caracol, Wendy Love, Chelise Stroud, Jimmy Isch
Dan Castro in the right forefront.

With all of this love and support surrounding me, and because of the extraordinary team at Alta Bates Herrick Hospital, in April of 2020 I was ready to leave day treatment. My feet were shaky but they were there, underneath me, once again. That same month, I submitted my shiny new application to take the statewide IC&RC exam, so that I could finally be fully certified as a drug and alcohol counselor. I held my breath and waited. Within a week, I received notification that all of my requirements had been met, and I received my hard-fought Candidate Admission Letter. Now I could schedule my exam. Except for one thing. There was a worldwide pandemic and all exams had been suspended. So I waited. I worked at Second Chance. I played with my dog. I mended some relationships, and I surrounded myself with lots of love. Maybe not physically, but through the phone, and zoom, and even through the mail. Week after week passed, I waited, still. With the expiration of my second hardship year looming, I began to get worried. I called the credentialing agency. What if I can't take the exam in time? Will I be allowed another extension, even just for a few months, because the exams had been suspended? The answer was no. The state had not, as of yet, made any allowances for that. So, I kept waiting. Finally, in mid May, they opened up exam registration. The first appointment I could get was two months away, on July 10th, 2020.

The next two months were a flurry of studying. I'd taken so many of my academic classes five years earlier. I was worried that I wouldn't remember what I needed to know in order to pass the exam. Did I remember anything about pharmacology? The difference between agonists and antagonists and the partials of both? What about the differences between statewide and federal regulations and assembly bills? 42 CFR Part 2? AB109? It was disconcerting when I realized how little I'd retained of these types of details. I read and I researched and I pre-tested, nonstop for eight weeks in a row. People worked with me as I memorized hundreds of flashcards. My job gave me time off so I could study. On the week before the exam, one person stayed up, twice, until the wee hours of the night, so that he could quiz me on 450 potential exam questions. Likely, he could pass the exam himself, now. Finally, the exam day came. I prepared the people close to me for the inevitability that I was going to fail. I just could not remember enough. Too many flashcards and too many practice exam questions. My brain couldn't take it all in.

The exam was three hours long, and it was harder than I expected. It did cover a great deal that I hadn't studied. There were many questions where I wasn't sure about the answer - I just had to pick the best one I could. When I finished the last question, I still had time left. But I used every minute of the three hours in order to check and re-check my answers. I was still checking answers when 'Time is Up' flashed on the screen and locked me out of the test. I blinked, and then the exam result appeared.

Congratulations! Your scores indicate you have passed the IC&RC exam.

I realized I was holding my breath. I don't know. Maybe it was the only real breath I'd taken in over a year. If you had sat down with me one year ago, I was so enmeshed in all the loss in my life, in many ways I myself had become the walking dead. But that is not who I am today. How beautiful it is, what can happen if you just don't give up.

So yeah. I did a thing. A great big little 'ol thing that was seven years in the making. That same night, one of the women in my online suicide loss survivors group posted a request. In that group, we do whatever we can to share hope. This was her request:

Share something positive that happened today.

So I wrote it down there, first.

I passed my IC&RC exam to become a fully credentialed drug and alcohol counselor here in the state of California. 

That was where I wanted to write it. On that thread, in that group. I know there are a lot of people who are proud of me. That amazing man who is in my life, and John's mom, and the people I work with, and even more friends. And I know that wherever John is, he is proud of me, too.

I also know this: Whether you are a suicide attempt survivor, a suicide loss survivor, or someone who is dealing with thoughts of suicide right now - I have been where you are. Please hold on. You may have a lot of heartbreak ahead of you. But, you will also have many busy days ahead, and there will even be moments of joy, and miracles too. I promise.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Benjamin Hendrickson

Benjamin Hendrickson was an American actor. He studied at the prestigious Juilliard School as part of the institution's first drama division class. He was known for playing Harold "Hal" Munson, Jr., the Chief of Detectives on the daytime soap opera As the World Turns.

Prior to his television appearances, Hendrickson acted in theatre. Hendrickson also acted in feature films. His credits include Dreams Don't Die (1982), Manhunter (1986), Russkies (1987), Regarding Henry (1991), Consenting Adults (1992) and Spanking the Monkey (1994). Hendrickson won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor for playing Hal in 2003.
After suffering many prolonged bouts of depression throughout his adult life, Benjamin Hendrickson died by suicide on July 3, 2006. He was fifty five years old when he died.

Benjamin Hendrickson 
August 26, 1950 – July 3, 2006

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

I Wish I Could Show You

I wish I could show you,
when you are lonely or in darkness,
the astonishing light of your own being.

Four years ago, I posted the quote above on my Facebook Page. The quote was meant for my boyfriend, John, to see. He was struggling at the time, not believing that he brought value to the world. It is such a common woe for those of us who deal with suicidality. We use our mistakes, our faults, the ways we lash out at the people we love - as proof that we are not worthy of life. The premise is heartbreaking and inaccurate. But for those who've been suicidal or who've had an attempt, the misconception is often there. I only hurt people. My leaving will be a relief to many.

In the ways that John hurt over feeling unworthy, I hurt in the ways that I could not get through to him. At times, his mental illness took away his ability to see his own value in the world. In the end, his pain was insurmountable. John died ten months after I'd posted the quote above. He died while I and others tried desperately to impart to him how important he was to us all. And when he died, just as many of us struggled with the question - had the limits of our love failed him?

Those of you who have supported someone dealing with a mental illness know that some days it takes a profound amount of commitment to find the strength to not walk away. I suppose it is only love that gives us the muscle.

With John, on some days I could handle the commitment. On other days I couldn't. On some days I probably helped John. On other days I probably made his pain worse.

In the end though, I have learned that neither my efforts nor my mistakes were responsible for his suicide.

My closeness to him couldn't save him. My boundaries didn't kill him.

I know.

Some people who knew John well told me that they believed he'd lived longer than he would have, because of me.

I don't know if that's true. Part of that sentiment touches my heart, part of it breaks my heart at the same time.

What I do know is this: I will never regret any of the times that I stuck it out with him. There were many times when John's illness dictated his actions and the words that he said to me, and in the same measure - the words he said to himself. Still, I will never regret the times I stayed, nor will I regret the times I left and then returned. John was not the worst of his illness. John was also and always the best of who he was as a human being, too. I knew that. Ultimately, every time I stayed and every time I returned, meant I had more time with John. And when he died, I didn't just miss the parts of him that were 'healthy' - I missed all of him.

I have had many times to stop and think about these things over the past year. Though my mother died 18 years ago, and John died 3 years ago, this past year has also been one of the most difficult of my life. I experienced so much loss, yet again. The people I loved the most were experiencing profound loss too. To say I fell apart would be an understatement. In no small part, I am alive today because of the people in my life who took the time to remind me that I had a light inside of me, and that even if I felt unlovable, I was loved.

There were days that turned into weeks and then months when it seemed like the only conversation I could have was to rattle off my faults and my mistakes as if they were reasons for people to leave me. In many ways, I used those judgments as a way to leave myself.

I'm here because people stood beside me (sometimes they got down in the dirt and sat beside me) and took on the brunt of my hurt and my anger and my pain - just so they could remind me over and over again that I was loved still, that I was loved always, and that even in the midst of my mistakes and all that anger and all my hurt, that I was loved, period.

Some stepped away for short periods and then returned. (We all need to breathe sometimes.) Some had the fortitude to sit beside me every single day.

No matter. If there was one crux that kept me alive, it was this. All of them recognized that it was my illness that was breaking me apart. None of them blamed me. None of them called me crazy. None of them said I was sick. Perhaps most importantly, none of the people who loved me told me I was unforgivable for the ways that I was lashing out - whether I was lashing out at them, or at myself. All of them focused on one thing through it all. And that was to tell me that I was loved.

Suffering from mental illness or not, I do believe we are all accountable for our actions. I had apologies to make when I began to lift my head up again. It was a gift that people let me make them. Perhaps the most poignant response came from a friend who said to me "I don't need you to apologize - I just need you to stick around. Stay in my life and that's apology enough for me."

Maybe I did help keep John alive for a little bit longer.

Maybe all of us that reach down into the mud and yuck that comes alongside loving those who suffer from mental illness - maybe we are all extending the lives of those we love.

My heart is with all of us who've  had to navigate how to let someone know that they deserve to be cared about - especially when that person's illness is telling them the opposite.

My heart is with all of us who've had to step away from those dealing with mental illness. Our own psyche, our own trauma, our own boundaries, are so important too.

And my heart is with all of us who've struggled with mental illness and who feel ashamed about the ways our illnesses have impacted the people we love.

Wherever we are on that spectrum - the truth is, all of us are bringing a light to the world that cannot be replaced.

And this too: everyone finds themselves lonely or in darkness, sometimes. May we never forget - even in the darkness, our light still shines. When we remain in a place that is dictated by love- or at the least return to that place if we've stepped away - even if it means we get just one more day, there is so much hope and beauty possible. It is astonishing. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Look What Happens With a Love Like This

Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, 'You owe me.' 
Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.”
- Hāfiz

This morning, the Lighting Up the Sky blog crossed a threshold. The number of times the blog has been viewed surpassed 100,000.

It's an amazing thing, that what is written here has touched so many people. Not quite three years ago, I started this blog. I wasn't sure where it was going. At first I thought I'd share parts of the journal I'd kept in the months after John died. I did that because of the number of people who were telling me that my writing about suicide was helpful to them. The most powerful feedback then remains the same today. When I hear someone say 'I learned something important about suicide by reading your blog,' it motivates me. But when I hear someone say 'when I read your blog, I felt less alone,' I am humbled by those words. I am humbled by the fact that this blog has impacted people in this important way.

So I stepped back and paid attention to what was being said. People told me they appreciated that someone was talking about suicide. They told me they didn't feel they had a voice. Many survivors of suicide loss felt they didn't have a right to mourn. Nearly every person I spoke to said they were hurt by the ways that people didn't understand suicide. Whether they were a survivor of attempts or a survivor of loss, they reached out to me to talk about the agony that this lack of understanding can cause.

Quickly I realized I could do more with this blog than I originally intended. I recognized that there were an immeasurable amount of people whose lives had been touched by suicide, not just me. Asking those people to share their own experiences with suicide was important. The more lives and voices that this blog could share, the more of a reminder that none of us are alone.

"People don't understand!" is what I was hearing.
"So, tell them," has always been my response. 

I understood too, the importance of being allowed to grieve a suicide loss. To be sad, angry, hurt and sometimes relieved. I knew firsthand that the stigma around suicide complicates grief. Often, we are told we shouldn't be talking about the loss. We are told that we should be mad at the person we lost, that we should forget about them.  Or sometimes the opposite - we are told we can't be mad at those who die by suicide, at all. We can't rage against a person's mental illness and we are not allowed to celebrate the beauty of who the person was, either. It is an excruciating paradox. So, I wanted this blog to give people permission to react to their grief in any way they needed. And I especially wanted to celebrate and encourage the beautiful side of grieving and the beautiful side of healing too.

I am both honored and humbled that so many people have been interested in what we, those whose lives have been touched by suicide, have to say. Our voices matter. As Robin Williams once said, "No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world."

Speaking of quotes, many people have asked me why I named this blog Lighting Up the Sky. The name is derived from a quote by the Persian poet, Hāfiz. 'Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, you owe me. Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.'

When I started the journey of writing this blog, I was struck and saddened by the often held notion that those who die by suicide are selfish. As a survivor of a suicide attempt myself, I knew that many of us truly believe that by leaving, we are doing something good for those we love. I struggle with this to this day. If I hurt someone, I wrestle with wondering if my loss would be an adequate reparation. The pain of this deliberation cannot be put into words. We think we are relieving our loved ones of a burden. We believe that we don't deserve love or to be cared about. In this sense, though misguided, our actions are the opposite of selfish.

I considered the lack of understanding about suicidal ideation, the lack of resources available to those who need them, and the lack of effective treatment. Given all of the prior, I believe that we often look at suicide from a faulty and painful perspective.

But what will happen if we flip that perspective? How much more will be accomplished if we stop blaming the ones we've lost? I believe that often it is not those who are losing their lives to suicide who are failing us. Instead our culture, the stigma, and the silence around suicide, failed them.

What if instead of focusing on their owing us forever unfulfilled promises, we focus instead on the beauty their presence in our lives had once offered? I would think if we did this, while their loss would be no less heartbreaking, it would be a measure less dark.

That's how I want to think about the people I've lost to suicide. Not that they have darkened my life, but instead, I want their memory to light up my sky.

I can't let this milestone of 100,000 go, without saying this:

I started this blog for John Macaluso. I loved him. I love him still. He was needed in this world when he lost his life to suicide. And I know he'd be proud that this blog has had an impact on so many people.

I continued this blog for my mother. She was a writer herself. She was smart and funny. She was needed in this world when she lost her life to suicide. She would be proud of my writing too, I know.

And I write for this blog still, for me. It has been much easier for me to write about being a survivor of suicide loss than it has been for me to write about my own attempts and my own thoughts of suicide. It is important to be able to talk about these things without feeling ashamed. Speaking up is one of the most important ways to fight stigma. My words, like those of all others who've been touched by suicide, are needed in this world. 

I know.

To all of you who have cheered me on, or supported me when I've been hurting, and to those of you who have told me that this site means something to you, thank you.

And thank you especially to all of my fellow suicide attempt survivors and suicide loss survivors. You are the bravest people I know.

And finally, to all those who have lost their life to suicide - know that we are fighting for you. You are not forgotten. The sky lights up for you, today and every day.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

William Inge

William Motter Inge was an American playwright and novelist. In the early 1950s, his Broadway production Picnic earned him a Pulitzer Prize

During the early 1970s, Inge lived in Los Angeles, where he taught playwriting at the University of California, Irvine. His last several plays attracted little notice or critical acclaim, and he fell into a deep depression, convinced he would never be able to write well again.

On June 10th, 1973, William Inge died by suicide. He was 60 years old.

William Inge
May 3, 1913 – June 10, 1973 

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Moving From Talk to Taking Action

Looking at what is going on in the world today, I believe that it is possible to transform our current horror and heartbreak into healing and action. It is my great hope that we are moving toward the right side of history - a history that will acknowledge on all fronts that black lives matter. I also understand that 'my great hope' is not good enough. 

This discussion has a place on this blog because social justice, racial inequity, and resources related to mental health treatment are intrinsically connected. All of these issues must be addressed when it comes to effective suicide prevention. 

So today, I am grateful that Gigi Crowder, L.E., Executive Director of  NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Contra Costa, has allowed Lighting Up The Sky to share her personal statement in regard to these matters.

Gigi Crowder's words: 

At the Moraga, California Black Lives Matter protest where I spoke on Thursday, many young people carried signs that read 'Silence is Equal to Violence!' I loved the energy of this group of young mostly white American youth. They are fearless and will lead the way to affecting change.  I hope many of you will join them. Those who are familiar with my work to improve outcomes for POC (people of color)  have reached out to me, sharing their concerns. They recognize the advocacy I do for my Black community and knew this would be a difficult time for me. It is extremely hard to see so much pain, and I recognize the devastating trauma that will follow. As a transitioning age adult, I know this time is like no other in history and we must maximize the momentum. To have so many people outside of my community finally hear the cries of the African American Community and join in the struggle, is breathtaking and nothing I ever thought I would see in my lifetime. I am cautiously optimistic, recognizing that out of chaos, as a woman of strong faith I can also see opportunity.

I know the remainder of this message will be difficult for some to digest. I learned a long time ago what people think of me is none of my business. Many of my colleagues have asked how they can assist in supporting African Americans in fighting for social justice for Black people. For those that are serious, I have some of my own suggestions. Rather than solely focus on what happened in Minneapolis or Georgia, please first look at what happens daily right in your own local county. Look at the horrific disparities African-Americans experience so often, being criminalized for living with mental illness (which is a medical condition). 

In Contra Costa County, all one needs to do is visit our criminal justice mental health units to witness a glaring example of the consequences of being black and living with mental illness. Many who live with severe mental illness receive their treatment in the most restricted environments without opportunities to recover.

Sadly, we lost a young man, Miles Hall, who lived with mental illness. On June 2, 2019, he died at the hands of Walnut Creek police officers. In my opinion he was murdered. His mom did everything a mom should do to get him assistance. Taun Hall attended our NAMI Family to Family course, she was trying to get him eligible for our Assisted Outpatient Treatment Program, she built a relationship with Walnut Creek police and their Mental Health Evaluation Team officer, yet the system failed her. You can learn more and join our fight for justice by visiting

For any well-meaning individual who desires to make a difference demonstrating that black lives matter, you must move from talk to taking action.

At NAMI Contra Costa, for several years we have received a small amount of  funding to do specific outreach to the Asian/Pacific Islander (API) and to the Latinx Communities. I was so excited and shared with many community members that this upcoming fiscal year we would (for the first time) receive $20,000 from the Mental Healthy Services Act to fund two part time outreach workers for the Black Community. I understand we must look beyond language barriers and also consider cultural barriers if we are to reduce health disparities. Yep, it was only $20,000, the same amount we receive to support the API and Latinx communities. Not a lot of money, but I can make it go a long way toward supporting families. Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago to learn we will not be receiving those minuscule funds. In the midst of this global health crisis - one that has highlighted the disparities in my African American community - it feels heartless that these funds are now not going to be coming. So yes, I am angry. We need these additional funds to hire outreach workers more than ever now! Black parents comprise the bulk of calls that we receive for families who have a loved one involved in the criminal justice system.

If you want to do something to support black families share your discontent about us not getting funding. Write a letter, make a call, do something but don’t remain silent. Question the decision! The need has been  demonstrated. I created and run the East County African American Family Support Group out of my home monthly. It started with 2-4 moms and dads, and has now swelled to over 10 attendees.

I have been in this field for over 35 years and it certainly feels like every time African Americans are ready to move forward someone puts a foot on our necks to impede our progress. Please ask yourself how you can help to dismantle the institutional racism that permeates health care systems throughout the nation. Ask yourself am I a part of the problem or do I have the courage to position myself to offer a viable solution?

Finally, when working with African Americans please 'see them,’ and honor their heritage by allowing them the opportunity to contribute to their wellness journey. Ty are the experts of themselves. Understand, the old mantra, 'I don’t see color,’ is not helpful. You need to see color to understand the additional barriers faced by BIPOC. When working with African Americans, please consider utilizing culturally responsive, community defined, strategies that have been proven to produce better outcomes. Feel free to consult with me if you need assistance with this. 

Finally if you are an ally, don’t give up your privilege, but use it for good. It is time for allies to become accomplice to achieve equitable services for all.

I promise to continue doing my part. Let’s stand together strong and make a difference demonstrating that in Contra Costa County, Black Lives and Black Minds Really do Matter!


Gigi R. Crowder, L.E.
Executive Director 
NAMI Contra Costa 

Miles Hall
February 15, 1996 - June 2, 2019