There is a sudden hush that falls in the room when someone says this “S” word. It’s a topic that’s difficult to bring up. Your heart suddenly adds a few beats to the mix, and all at once it’s difficult to breathe. Those that don’t understand depression, feel helpless— why talk about suicide when there’s nothing I can do about it? That’s a scary word – let’s quickly change the topic… Those that do understand depression, who have been to that lowest of low area of the mind, they want to talk about it – but fear being judged or told to “snap out of it”.
Suicide is probably one of the more difficult topics to discuss – but it needs to be addressed. When you understand the ‘why’ behind such a tragic decision, you as the supportive friend or loved one can be better equipped to help someone from following through; you’re better able to spot the signs in their behavior, and have a better idea of what to say to help them.
When you as the one who falls into that scary headspace, can recognize in yourself the signs and signals that you’re heading in that direction, you can better prepare yourself on actions steps to take to steer clear of that dangerous and vulnerable area of the mind, and help save yourself from being tempted to follow through with the thoughts and feelings that lead to suicide ideation.
September is Suicide Awareness Month and I’d like to share my personal experience with this “S” word, and what I’ve learned, through years of experience living with Bipolar 1 Disorder, and how I’ve helped myself avoid falling into the trap of very dark depression that leads one to be tempted to follow through with their impulsive mind. It’s a painful place to be – to be trapped, backed into a corner, by the dark side of your mind – a mind that isn’t healthy, and wants you to end your life…
No healthy-minded person would ever consider suicide. No one with a healthy brain would ever consider ending their own life.Becky Cooper
Emotions We Can All Relate To
Riding the ‘rollercoaster’ of emotions is something we can all relate to; ups and downs, feeling emotions like despair, sadness, confusion, frustration, anger, happiness and elation. What sets apart those who experience ‘normal’ emotions vs someone who has a mental health condition, like mine, of Bipolar 1 Disorder, is the ‘buffer’ on either end of the spectrum of emotions is non-existent. You could relate it to a car without a seatbelt. When I hit the high end (mania), it’s easy to become impulsive, overly-confident, and really get my hopes up (I shoot right out of the car seat through the window)… or when I crash down into depression, my life is at risk because my thoughts and feelings become incredibly insecure, and overwhelmingly hopeless— there is this tempting hunger to just end my life.
How does someone, who lacks an emotional buffer, find hope and safety without the emotional seat-belt most people, with healthy ‘normal’ brains, have intact?
Most episodes of depression proceed a trigger, it could be hormonal balance, genetics, mental stress; a “significant loss”, or a traumatic event may contribute to mental health conditions (i.e. bipolar disorder) to manifest.
One traumatic experience we’ve all been experiencing as of late is this worldwide pandemic. It has brought to the surface a lot of stress and anxiety for many people. People have lost loved ones and friends to the virus, others have lost a job, and everyone has experienced a loss of ‘normalcy’. We can all agree that this hasn’t been an easy ride to be on, but we’re all trying our best to press forward and recreate a new normal for ourselves personally, and for our households, as a way to cope until the world feels ‘normal’ again…
My depression first manifested in Elementary school. I experienced bullying through most of my younger school years. At this young age I was too young to understand how one can disappear on their own, but I remember often wishing I didn’t have to be alive anymore.
Fast forward into high school, my best-friend committed suicide. This was a devastating blow to my already insecure-heart. I already felt the world was against me, and now someone who I trusted to be close, suddenly vanished and I felt so alone. My rock-bottom after this happened was through the blossoming of my new mental health condition that arrived to the surface. I could check off every known symptom of bipolar 1 disorder:
- Abnormally elevated, depressed, or anxious mood
- Decreased need for sleep, feeling energetic on dramatically less sleep than usual
- Grandiose notions, ideas or plans
- Increased talking or pressured speech
- Too many thoughts racing though the mind
- Markedly increased energy
- Hypersexuality or hyperreligiosity
- Poor judgment that leads to risk-taking behavior
- Inappropriate social behavior
- Irritability or aggression
- Delusional or psychotic thinking
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Thoughts of suicide
After him suddenly dying and me being completely devastated, I was immediately lead into therapy for the first time, through my school and Church. It was suggested to me that I may have bipolar disorder, but at the time, over 18+ years ago, the stigma was so much stronger then it is today, I didn’t want to be known as having that label. Depression & Anxiety was already hard enough of a diagnosis that I felt I had to hide. The trouble is, without proper treatment for your mental health condition, symptoms usually worsen, with 39% of people with bipolar disorder eventually being hospitalized — more than any other condition! People with bipolar disorder are also 15 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, and that’s what happened to me…
I remember sitting in my room as a 17 year old girl, writing letters to each of my family members, explaining why I made the decision I did, and that I was so sorry, but I was tired of it all. I was tired of feeling like a burden to others. I was tired of feeling alone, and everyone in my life I trusted as a friend – leaving me. The overwhelming feelings of sadness was a painful burden to carry, and suffocating, and I didn’t want to feel this way anymore. The papers I was writing on were all dotted with big wet drops of tears and I sealed the letters in envelopes and tucked them under my mattress for them to find later. I filled up the tub with water, plugged in the hair dryer and stepped in the water. Looking down, my body was near skin and bones by that time, after several months of depriving myself of food and straining it with over-the top exercising I had become obsessive about. Nothing was good enough in my life. Nothing made me feel worthy enough to keep on living. I believed wholeheartedly that I was a mistake and broken, unworthy of love, and hopeless beyond repair. I was completely numb, just going through the empty-minded motions like I was on auto-pilot. Just moments and one breath away from dropping the hair-dryer in the water, my mom came and knocked on the door. That split second saved my life, just enough to help my mind turn on to a more positive thought pattern. That was my first real rock-bottom I had, but also an opportunity to start over.
That wasn’t the last time I had found myself in those troubled waters, contemplating, or even actively attempting to end my life. What has stopped me since, from going that far into the deep-end, was when I found proper treatment with medication and therapy only five years ago in 2015 at the age of 31. Proper treatment, and keeping and maintaining that treatment, is what has helped me find safety and strength to weather each storm that surfaces in my life now. That treatment is a combination of talk therapy (I currently work with a certified NLP therapist) and medication/natural herbal supplements (as directed by professional).
In the recent year (2019), my body grew intolerant of the medication I had been taking since 2015, which was working well (Lithium and Lamictal). I had to stop taking it, because there are a rare few people, like me, who sometimes grow intolerant of the medication and your body reacts with an allergic reaction (‘treatment-resistant bipolar disorder‘). So I now use a holistic remedy that has been shown to help alleviate some of the symptoms for my mental health condition. I am saving up to get a brain scan from Dr. Daniel Amen, who does a fantastic job in his field of work – actually looking at the part of the body that’s being treated.
This is an article where he discusses treatment options for bipolar disorder. If you’re like me and medication stops working for you too, don’t give up hope! There are natural remedies that do help alleviate some of the symptoms, assisting you in managing the extreme ups and downs.
The Dangers of Denial
The trouble with an untreated mental health condition, or even receiving the wrong treatment, is that you have no idea what is happening in your mind – why you feel the way you do, why you behave the way you do (i.e. why do I repeatedly get SO angry, and say mean things?, why do I sleep so much, or feel tired all the time? why can’t I stop eating? why don’t I feel… normal?) and mistakenly conclude that what you’re experiencing day to day is normal, you identify culprits for your behavior, maybe it was because that person made you angry, or your job is stressful, or it must be something else… and you’re probably just tired.
When you’re dealing with extreme emotional shifts in your mood, you fall into traps of impulsive decision making, overly confident (taking on too much work, or making too many plans – piling things high on your plate), paranoia or even psychosis. Instead of dousing the flames with water, your possible delusional thinking is feeding the flames with gasoline.
The power is found in getting the right diagnosis, and when you learn about your mental health condition, and understand the behaviors that may occur, you identify patterns, understand what triggers you, and have ready on hand a mental health first aid kit (or confirmed remedies that you know help you keep your head above water). When you recognize that waves will come, ups and downs will occur, even extreme at times, because it’s predictable, it’s within your power now to navigate through the storm. You know now what to look for, and you’re better prepared to take control.
It’s important that when you begin treatment, and start to feel better, that you must remain consistent with the treatment to maintain stability. People with bipolar disorder are notorious for stopping treatment once they begin to feel better, often wondering if they were ever ‘sick’ to begin with…
Dr. Daniel Amen has made strides in the mental health field for basing the foundation of his practice on brain scans (actually looking at the part of the brain that’s being treated!) and proving diagnosis by evidence-based-brain scans. I would recommend that you read this short article he wrote about a 53 year old woman who refused to believe she had a problem, she was behaviorly out of control, but after being scanned at Dr. Amen’s clinic and seeing her brain for the first time, she began treatment and had remarkable results and overall improved quality of life.
What’s different for me now since I began proper treatment, is that I know now it’s not my fault, I don’t have to take my behavior, or how I often feel, personally. It’s helped me discover more love for myself. I more easily forgive my short-comings, I am more patient, and I protect myself when I see warning signs surfacing. It’s very empowering to be more self-aware.
5 Ways To Keep Your Head Above Water
I’d like to share with you 5 proven ways that have helped me keep my head above water and stay clear of those extremely dark thoughts and feelings that have lead me to contemplate suicide in the past.
Depression triggers people differently. My most consistent trigger is when I feel like I’m not being productive or getting anything done. I regularly have to re-route my thinking from basing my worth on what I’m doing or getting done – to intentionally setting myself up for success each day by keeping my day very simple, and realistic. I do this by consistently – no matter what or where I am, completing my morning routine. Because if I can at least complete my – simple – morning routine, I will have accomplished something. This helps me avoid, with great success, that particular known trigger into depression.
This is one of my more challenging areas of life to be consistent with, but it is a well-known issue for most people who struggle with a mental health condition, and when disciplined into a consistent healthy sleep routine – there is always proven benefits to having ‘good sleep hygiene’…
“We know that poor health affects sleep and vice versa. Mental health problems like depression and anxiety often go hand in hand with sleep problems. It’s important to get any health concerns addressed both for helping physical symptoms and for addressing any worries that might keep you awake.”“The Importance of Sleep” – Mental Health Foundation
“Although scientists are still trying to tease apart all the mechanisms, they’ve discovered that sleep disruption — which affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, among other things — wreaks havoc in the brain, impairing thinking and emotional regulation. In this way, insomnia may amplify the effects of psychiatric disorders, and vice versa.”“Sleep and Mental Health” – Harvard Medical School
“Good Sleep Hygiene” is a term used to include tips for better sleep habits, to help alleviate symptoms of a mental health condition, and overall improve your mental health. Tips often mentioned are the following:
- Keep a regular sleep-and-wake schedule…
- Use the bedroom for only sleeping or intimacy…
- Keep your bedroom dark and free of distractions (i.e. tv, computer, or phone)…
- Relaxation techniques: meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing exercises…
3) Healthy Diet
It’s not always easy to keep consistent with a healthy diet, so start small. Instead of ‘all at once’ changing your eating habits, start with one meal at a time. Master breakfast first, and then once that is consistent and easy, move on to changing your lunch, and then dinner, and then your choice of snacks. When you’re in the thick of depression, cooking seems like a huge task… so be easy on yourself, and look for ways you can achieve a win-win (keeping to your new better food choices, while also making it an easy food choice for a difficult day)…
“Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression… Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.”“Nutritional Psychiatry: Your Brain On Food” – Harvard Medical School
“…a new study of 120 children and adolescents, consuming fast food, sugar and soft drinks was associated with a higher prevalence of diagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Pediatrics, Vol. 139, No. 2, 2017). Led by Maria Izquierdo-Pulido, PharmD, PhD, of the University of Barcelona’s department of nutrition, food science and gastronomy, the study also found that children who ate fewer vegetables, fruit, fatty fish and other foods associated with the Mediterranean diet were more likely to have ADHD symptoms…”“The Link Between Food and Mental Health” – American Psychological Association
Other helpful tips for eating for your brain health:
- Dr. Amen’s 7 Brain Superfoods for 2020
- What are the best diets for ADHD?
- Healthy Gut, Healthy Mind: 5 Foods to Improve Mental Health
- Best Diets for Mental Health
- Can Diet Help With Mental Health?
Instead of ‘all at once’ changing your eating habits, start with one meal at a time. Master breakfast first, and then once that is consistent and easy, move on to changing your lunch, and then dinner, and then your choice of snacks.– Becky Cooper
4) Build A Support Network of Friends & Family
Everyone needs someone they can refer to as ‘their person’. Their safe place to go when life gets difficult, scary, or just really hard. Someone they can confide in to keep their secrets, and reveal the ‘ugly side’ knowing they won’t be judged or criticized.
Having support is a valuable thing when one struggles with a mental health condition. It’s terrifying to feel ‘not in your right mind’, so if you have a safe place to turn to, hopefully through friends and family, it’s easier to feel safe, it’s easier to relax, and it’s easier to recover back to ‘normal’ once the depression lifts and anxiety subsides.
“Psychologists and other mental health professionals often talk about the importance of having a strong social support network. When trying to reach our goals or deal with a crisis, experts frequently implore people to lean on their friends and family for support.”“How Social Support Contributes to Psychological Health” – Very Well Mind
5) Professional Treatment: Consistent, regular therapy & medication/supplements…
From personal experience, these people I’m listing below have helped me through various periods of my past and present day:
Nadine Kennington Cooper, Sandy UT, specializes in NLP Therapy: (801) 205-0386
Laura Nielson Denke, Los Angeles CA, specializes in LMHC & LMFT Counseling: (206) 789-1011
Dr. Mark Chamberlain, Salt Lake City UT, specializes in addiction recovery: (801) 564-7566
There are countless other options available, one of which is Amen Clinics. Dr. Daniel Amen has several clinics worldwide. I’m currently taking a Mental Health course that he offers, and hope to be certified in the near future as a Mental Health Coach. He specializes in brain trauma, and focuses his practice on brain scans (physically looking at the part of the body that is in need of treatment, and thus getting a more accurate and proof of diagnosis). Visit his website to learn more about what services his clinic provides that might help you or your loved one: https://www.amenclinics.com/
If you or a loved one is feeling suicidal, or you may feel they, or you, might be a danger to yourself, please call 911 or reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255…