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:

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Malik Bendjelloul

Malik Bendjelloulwas a Swedish documentary filmmaker, journalist, and former child actor. He won an Academy Award for the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, which he directed.

Two years later Bendelloul was working on a new film. Despite his continued success, he had a history of depression that was difficult to manage. In May of 2014, Malik Bendjelloul died by suicide. He was  years old.

Malik Bendjelloul 
September 14, 1977 – May 13, 2014

Sunday, May 3, 2020


Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti - better known as Dalida, was a French singer and actress. 
Known for her beauty, in 1954 Dalida won the Miss Egypt beauty contest. She performed and recorded in 11 languages (French, Italian, German, Spanish, English, Egyptian, Levantine Arabic, Japanese, Hebrew, Dutch, and Greek). Twice honored with the “Oscar mondial du succès du disque” (World Oscar of Recording Success), she is the only singer to have won this award more than once.
Her 30-year career ended with her last album in 1986 She has sold 110 million albums and singles worldwide.
Toward the end of her life, Dalida suffered the loss of several close friends to suicide. She herself experienced a major depression that was exacerbated by her grief. In the early hours of May 3, 1987, Dalida lost her own life to suicide.
She left behind a note which read, "La vie m'est insupportable... Pardonnez-moi." ("Life is unbearable for me... Forgive me.")
Dalida was 54 years old when she died.

Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti 
January 17, 1933 – May 3, 1987 

Friday, May 1, 2020

The World Needs To Be Ready

Lorna Breen, MD, Emergency Room Medical Director
New York Presbyterian Allen Hospital

This traumatic episode in history, on a massive scale, will be studied for years to come. We know that after trauma comes the post-traumatic episodes and the world needs to be ready to help those who will need to be mentally supported once the worst is behind us.

― Aysha Taryam

Those of us with an understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who've been following the news (especially that coming out of Italy and New York) are likely less surprised that Lorna Breen,  a successful ER doctor in New York, died by suicide a few days ago. We are no less heartbroken, but less surprised because we could see this brewing. For those serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a perfect combination of the circumstances that lead to PTSD. 

Last month when I first read about what was happening in Italian hospitals, I shuddered. The overcrowding, the lack of beds, supplies, and medical personnel. And the number of people dying from this virus, despite heroic attempts to keep them alive. Doctors were often put in the agonizing position of having to determine who would receive lifesaving measures, and who would not. 

Most doctors go into their field in order to save lives. The Hippocratic Oath, the most basic tenet for medical doctors, states first: do no harm. But here, they were having to decide who they would let (likely) die in order to provide services to someone else. Having to make that type of decision flies in the face of 'do no harm.' This ethical bind alone will shake even the most stoic of medical personnel.

Looking at the causitive factors of PTSD, we can not deny that a pandemic the nature and scale of COVID-19 is going to have a lasting effect on hundreds of thousands of people - if not more. Some have called this pandemic 'the invisible war', Without going into the politics of who said it or why - it seems to be an apt term. Now consider that r
esearch on PTSD has shown that it is caused by certain circumstantial elements. One of the most common is a person's sense of helplessness when experiencing/witnessing a life-threatening or fatal event.

Children get PTSD from traumatic events (especially long term neglect or abuse) because inherently, they are without recourse when it comes to stopping the situation. Those who are physically, sexually, or emotionally abused/assualted are also often victims of PTSD. And for military troops in combat, PTSD runs rampant. In all of the above cases, we can see that a common thread is feeling as though there is a terrifying lack control over a traumatic situation.

Another factor in the likelihood of developing PTSD has to do with a perceived sense of responsibility. Loss that results in survivors guilt has a profound impact on the person suffering. This type of guilt and shame is a significant driving force in the development of PTSD.

For front line personnel in the areas hardest hit by this pandemic, in order to work, their psychological emotions are often in freeze mode. Physiologically they are inundated with a constant stream of stress hormones, specifically adrenaline and cortisol. And while both adrenaline and cortisol serve a purpose, long term exposure can be perilous to physical and mental health. When this happens, the deck for a healthy trauma response is stacked against a person.

If you are thinking that medical personnel should be trained to mentally/emotionally handle this type of trauma and loss, thinking along those lines is both dismissive and dangerously mistaken. Even prior to this pandemic, in the United States doctors die by suicide over twice as often as those in the general population. In the case of the armed forces, military medics represent a significant portion of those who die by suicide. More concerning are studies that have shown that among first responders,  those who indicated being regularly pushed to work past exhaustion and burnout are significantly more likely to die by suicide than their counterparts.

In the communities hardest hit by this virus, the medical personnel who are managing the sickest of those diagnosed with COVID-19 feel helpless when it comes to managing a novel coronavirus with no significantly effective treatment yet available. While many are having to confront the most brutal aspects of this virus, over and over again - they also feel the strain of an expectation that they should be able to comfort and heal patients. Combined, we have the perfect stew for developing a PTSD that leads to suicidality.

How do we help the health care professionals who are in this situation? The first thing to do is to acknowledge that there is very real possibility they are dealing with PTSD and recognize that suicidal ideation can be one of the symptoms of PTSD.

Recognize the increased risk factors, and go from there. Learn the warning signs of suicidal ideation, and learn what to do if you are concerned someone is suicidal.

Treat doctors, nurses, and hospital staff with kindness and caring, always. These are very frustrating times for all of us. Our entire world is dealing with the stress, inconvenience, and pain around this pandemic. If you have feelings of frustration around social distancing, shelter in place mandates, or other pandemic control practices - medical personnel are not the people to take these frustrations out on. Do what you can to support your neighbors and friends who are working in the medical/hospital/emergency services field. Reach out, text, or make a phone call. Ask if you can have a meal delivered to them at home or at work. Communities that are sending lunches and dinners to entire emergency rooms and/or intensive care units, are doing a good job of letting the staff know that they are seen and appreciated. Equally, when people are coming together to make noise to celebrate their medical personnel (virtually at a certain time of day, or in person during shift changes, etc.) there is a profound benefit. When a person feels as if they are seen, appreciated, and cared for, they feel less alone and helpless.

We are confronted with enough loss of life when it comes to COVID-19. Let's not let suicide lend to additional casualties. The world needs to be ready to support the first responders in this invisible war. So, do this today. Tell someone on the front lines that you care, and that you appreciate everything they do. Sometimes one measure of kindness can be the difference between despair and the ability to go on another day.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

František Rajtoral

František Rajtoral was a Czech football player. He last played for Turkish club Gaziantepspor, and was best known for his stint at Viktoria Plzeň. He was a member of the Czech Republic national football team.
He won the Czech Cup with FC Viktoria Plzeň in 2010. Further trophies he won with the club include the Gambrinus Liga twice and the Czech Supercup.
On 29 February 2012, Rajtoral earned his first cap for the senior team of his country in the 1–1 draw with Ireland in a friendly match.
Rajtoral was described as "one of the best attacking right-wingers in the Czech Republic" by journalist Mark Smith.
Rajtoral confided in his family and loved ones that he struggled with depression. On April 23, 2017, František Rajtoral died by suicide. He was thirty one years old when he died.

František Rajtoral 
March 12, 1986 – April 23, 2017

Friday, April 17, 2020

God's Will Be Done

I know I'm no doctor but I know
You can't live in the past
But the only way to go is to go back

- Darlingside, Go Back

Eighteen years ago today, my mother let go of her life, and I let go of my hope that her troubled heart might heal. Sometimes I wonder which has affected me more, the loss of her or the loss of hope. But this is not where I want my own heart to land when I think about my mother. Not in a place that is defined by loss. Because, defying the weight of grief, there is grace here too. What a miracle it is that when you lose hope, hope waits patiently for you to claim it once again. So today, for my mother, I will write what I know of hope.

I once read a definition that suggested that hope was to 'cherish a desire with anticipation'. To me, the sweetest of all those words is cherish. Perhaps when we are faced with loss, we have to let go of the hope that things are different, yet we can still cherish what once was. This much is undeniable, to survive loss, we must move forward. It is a profound thing then, that sometimes to move forward we must first go back. In the case of my mother, what this means is that I must shift my memories from the day she took her life, remembering instead the best of her. Her kindness, the value she placed on compassion, and her belief something greater than ourselves could relieve of us of our pain.

On this anniversary, I am feeling particular empathy toward the struggle my mother endured in her effort to stay alive. It's been a difficult year for me. I have more in common with my mother than just a love for writing and art. I also share with her the tricky neural pathways that lead to despair. Some might call these pathways broken, but I prefer tricky. I believe that one day I might learn the secret to their tricks, and repair them once and for all.

Before my mother died, I held on to the hope that she would recover. That she would reach out for the right kind of support. That the right pill or the right doctor or the right therapist would assuage the thoughts that so often took her away from the people that loved her. I believed my mother was damaged, and I hoped that one day, the right thing would fix her. When she died, all of that hope was dashed. I have lived in this place of dashed hope for many years. This fear that the worst of our pain will kill us in the end. When John died, these fears were only exacerbated. For so long I've vacillated between the fear that losses of any kind can break a heart forever, and the conviction that when relationships are damaged, the damage is permanent and reconciliation is not a thing that we can depend on. Some days, there is little space between those two thoughts
 and the hopelessness that ensues is as desperate as it sounds.

My mother used to tell me that we must ask the universe for the thing that we wanted, whatever it was that thing might be. The universe provides, she said. For all her unhappiness, her trajectory away from depression always involved a purposeful decision to believe in something greater than her despair. It was that trait that kept her alive. To me, because her beliefs were new-agey and The-Secret-ish, it made them easy to to dismiss. The truth is though, the best of the days that we had her, were the days that she'd made the decision to believe in a peace and a joy that we couldn't yet see.

Sharing tricky neural pathways or not, the truth is, my mother taught me more about hope than despair.

There was a time in my life when my concept of hope was a byproduct of circumstance. When things were good, I had hope that they'd stay that way. I have since learned that this standard made my relationship with hope tenuous, at best. When left to circumstances out of my control, any semblance of hopefulness is quickly dismantled.

It has taken me a long time to see that my mother's efforts to stay alive were an act of intention, as was her ability to hope, too. That is what I choose to remember today. That when we despair, making the decision to live another day is an act of hope, in and of itself. And I choose to take those words that I once bristled at - the suggestion that the universe will provide - and turn them into an equally etherial and spiritual prayer. These four words, uttered by so many, speak to letting go of our own ideas of what should be provided to us and on whose time. These four words sit with me and my own spiritual make up more precisely:

God's will be done. 

My mother taught me that if we believe that God's will is being done, we are better able to participate in both the heartbreak and the miracles that make up life.

So this is where I will sit today. Surrounded by hope, and hope's shimmering big sister, faith, too. Instead of remembering my mother's loss, I will go back to the days that she was still here. Those are the days that count. I am gathering her memories around me and I am leaning into when it was that she still had hope. That is how I can honor her. 

I don't believe that it was God's will that my mother die, but I do believe that God can soothe a broken heart, and that God is at the root of any and every reconciliation. On the days when my heart is heavy and when I feel lost, I have to make a choice to believe those things still. Those beliefs are intentional. Today, my hope is intentional too, and I offer it up in memory of my mother.