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

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

I want to take a moment to thank Southern California's Neuro Wellness Spa - a provider of innovative mental health care services, for including me in their curated list of The Top 100 Mental Health Blogs of 2020. They listed me at # 21, which is a particular honor, as there are so many excellent mental health blogs out there.  Of the blogs they chose, they say this:

"There are thousands of mental health bloggers out there, but these top 100 mental health blogs and are particularly powerful sources of insight, wisdom and support. The following bloggers have been carefully awarded spots on this list for their exemplary work and high ranking among the world’s long list of anxiety blogs, bipolar disorder blogs, depression blogs, eating disorder blogs, OCD blogs, PTSD blogs and more.  
This ultimate list is curated with the top bloggers who have successfully used their stories to dismantle stigma, change lives, and rewrite the mental health narrative. The following blogs feature content on a variety of mental health topics which include everything from depression blogs to OCD blogs to PTSD blogs and other mental health blogs. 
If you are looking for motivation, information or simply a supportive online community, the following mental health blogs are an excellent place to start. With content from the best anxiety bloggers, depression bloggers, OCD bloggers, PTSD bloggers and Schizophrenia bloggers, this ultimate list of the top 100 mental health blogs is sure to help inspire wellness in 2020 and beyond."
Neuro Wellness Spa also says this about the importance of blogging:

I so appreciate being acknowledged among those of us who work hard to provide information and support through the venue of blogging. I wish that every behavioral health organization would make these types of lists and resources readily available to the general public.

Note: The designation of Lighting Up the Sky as one of the Top 100 Mental Health Blogs was not inclusive of any cash award or prize. This designation was not applied for, and there was no discussion of remuneration in exchange for mentioning Neural Wellness Spa on this website. I am neither a patient or otherwise connected to the Neural Wellness Spa.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Her Father's Flag

Amon Gift, a US Army veteran, was twenty 23 years old 
when he died by suicide, in January of 2017. 

The photo abiove is of his daughter at his funeral.

I first published this photo as a Beauty of Grief feature in November of 2017. I try to share it again at lease once a year. Memorial Day seems a fitting day to share it again. Its heartbreaking message stands. We are losing too many veterans and active military members to suicide. And, as always - there are too many loss survivors left behind.

If you want to learn more about suicide and the military, I have written about it extensively here on this blog, including sharing statistics, research, and as always - the voices of those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

The reasons for the epidemic of military related suicide are varied and complex. However, the importance of showing our support to individuals is critical. While the overall rate of suicide related military deaths has decreased from 22 per day to 20 per day, suicide is still a leading cause of death for those who are veterans of the US military. And, of significant concern - records kept in 2018 suggest that the suicide rate of active duty members has reached the highest number during the entirety of record keeping. 

Today is Memorial Day. Reach out to someone who is serving or has served in the military. Let them know that they are loved and that you care.

Remember that supporting military related suicide prevention efforts should be happening every single day, as well.

If you are a veteran or actively serving member of the armed forces and you are feeling hopeless or suicidal - please reach out. You can start by calling the Veterans Crisis Line. Your service to the country is appreciated. Your life matters. You are needed in this world.

(Thank you to Kelsey Leann Tobin for permission to use the beautiful photo of her daughter, above.)

Thursday, May 21, 2020

You Are Needed

Truths your heart has always wanted you to know. 

1. You belong: enter the race, join the club, sign up for the class, take the job, try out for the team, own your place.

2. You cannot be your best friend if you are your own worst enemy: quit discounting, disregarding, disrespecting yourself.

3. You should never measure yourself by any number: Count less what is countable. Because what is countless, counts more. Memories, laughter, adventures, goosebumps, moments of breathlessness.

4. You need never apologize for your song, your dance, your path, your wings, your heart, your life: sing, dance, wander, unfurl, love, live.

5. You are needed: someone wakes up, smiles, has a friend, is loved, because of you. 

6. You deserve to be happy, to chase your dreams, to know love, to live your life: you need simply grant yourself permission.

7. You are beautiful: the discussion ends there.

8. You are more than good enough: right now, just as you are.

9. You, above all else, deserve your own grace, kindness, light and love: be good to you.

10. You possess a superpower: a heart, that even when broken, still beats. A promise that you will be okay.
~Tony Garcia, author

This morning, a woman in one of my survivors of suicide loss groups shared the message above with fellow members. She shared this message with us because she understands the devastation and hopelessness that suicide loss survivors feel.

I see the message above as being equally as important for those of us who struggle with our own thoughts of suicide. If only we could be gentle with ourselves, and always know that we are needed in this world.

Garcia's words are powerful. I hope they may touch someone's heart today, the way they did my own.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Ian Curtis

Ian Kevin Curtis was an English singer-songwriter and musician. He is best known as the lead singer and lyricist of the post-punk band Joy Division. Joy Division released their debut album, Unknown Pleasures, in 1979 and recorded their follow-up, Closer, in 1980. 

Despite Curtis's major professional success at an early age, he suffered from depression, as well as epilepsy. On May 18, 1980, the night before Joy Division's first North American tour and shortly before the release of their second album, Ian Curtis lost his life to suicide. He was twenty three years old.

Ian Kevin Curtis 
July 15, 1956 – May 18, 1980

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Passing the Peace.

Today I read a prayer by Nadia Bolz-Weber. The prayer comforted my heart. My heart has been hurting because of the isolation required of a world hit by a pandemic. In particular I hurt for those who are struggling with suicidality right now. Wherever a person may fall on the scale of mental illness, isolation is often both a symptom and a trigger. An April 2020 Physicians Weekly article simplified the dangers of isolation and it's impact on a person's reasoning in terms of  suicidal thoughts.

'With no outside stimuli to contradict the negative thoughts, [people dealing with mental illness] can start to believe the thoughts are real.'

But how do we assuage isolation when we are being encouraged to shelter at home and/or socially distance? One suggestion is to focus on spirituality. There is strong evidence that a sense of spiritual connection can combat suicidal ideation. A 2018 American Medical Association article noted that when parents incorporated spirituality into their lives, even their children had a lower risk of suicide. Notably, the lower risk was demonstrated regardless of which religion.

'It isn’t about how much time you spend at church, or which particular religion you are, it’s having an inner belief that gives you some kind of strength that manifests in your behavior.' 

The good news about spiritual beliefs is that they are with you, no matter where you are. You need not socially distance from the feeling of connection to a God, an energy, or even to the mysteries of the universe.

This blog tends to not focus on religion. The topic can be controversial. My only interest in controversy is to combat the stigma and misunderstandings about suicide itself. I'd rather leave other controversies elsewhere. I also want distance myself from religions whose dogma is inclusive of a hard line about suicide being a 'sin'. The majority of suicides are caused by damage to neural pathways in the brain. Whether that damage is caused by chemical imbalances, physical trauma, or mental/emotional trauma, is of no importance. I believe that in the vast majority of cases, we should no more deem the act of suicide as unforgivable, than we would suggest that having an ailment such as epilepsy or cancer is unforgivable.

Having said that, what I can tell you is that my own connection to a God of my understanding has carried me through many a dark night. When I have been in the worst of my despair, my spirituality has allowed me to believe that healing is possible. It is for this reason and the reasons above, that I encourage you to consider seeking a stronger spiritual connection right now. We are in a time when a connection with things unseen is powerful, important, and comforting.

I started this blog post by noting that I'd read a prayer that provided me with respite from some of the sadness I feel about others who, like me, have struggled with suicidality. I am thankful that the ordained Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber shared this prayer with the world today. It works for me and I hope that it might touch the heart of others who read it as well. 

I do not know when we can gather together again in worship, Lord. So, for now I just ask that: 

When I sing along in my kitchen to each song on Stevie Wonder’s Songs in The Key of Life Album, that it be counted as praise. (Happy 70th Birthday, SW!)

And that when I read the news and my heart tightens in my chest, may it be counted as a Kyrie. 

And that when my eyes brighten in a smile behind my mask as I thank the cashier may it be counted as passing the peace.

And that when I water my plants and wash my dishes and take a shower may it be counted as remembering my baptism.

And that when the tears come and my shoulders shake and my breathing falters, may it be counted as prayer.

And that when I stumble upon a Tabitha Brown video and hear her grace and love of you may it be counted as a hearing a homily.

And that as I sit at that table in my apartment, and eat one more homemade meal, slowly, joyfully, with nothing else demanding my time or attention, may it be counted as communion.

p.s. - you can find more fabulous writing and prayers from Nadia Bolz-Weber by clicking on her photo below: