Ask.Listen.Talk.Care.

A friend commented that I’ve been sharing more suicide and mental health related posts on social media this past while. It’s true, and there are a couple of reasons why that is.

Firstly, it’s an issue that is close to home for me on a very personal note. Not just because I’ve lost someone I love to suicide but also because mental health is something that I live and battle with myself.

Secondly, because even with all of the media attention and education that our society now has exposure to surrounding suicide, we still hold strong to some misconceptions that are dangerously inaccurate.

There are a couple that bother me the most though. The first is that a person who talks about being suicidal or having thoughts of wanting to harm or kill themselves won’t actually do it. That it’s the ones who don’t talk about it that you have to worry about. You know what? Some people talk about it and some don’t. Just because someone is open and shares what is going on inside of them doesn’t make them less at risk. Even if they joke about it and make it sound like it’s not serious, you just can’t be sure.

The other one is that a person who is at imminent risk of killing themselves looks or acts a certain way. There is no one way that someone looks when they are at the point of taking their own life. In fact, I’ve been told by a mental health professional that many people who have been suicidal and come to the decision to complete are actually more upbeat and happy in the hours or day immediately preceding an attempt; not the opposite which we tend to think we should see – the quiet, withdrawn and sad looking person who has “given up”. Often times, people with chronic depression or other mental health issues have grown so adept at masking how they feel that they don’t even know how to let themselves be seen as anything other than “fine” and functional. There are numerous videos and pictures circulating lately showing this.

Here’s mine to add:

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This is a picture taken of me on the labour day weekend in 2012; I was with a small group of friends who had gathered to spend the long weekend together at one person’s waterfront house. It was sunny and warm, a lazy, easy going weekend of relaxation was well under way when this picture was snapped. This was taken a few hours before I was supposed to go back into town to run a few errands and then head back to the friends house; continuing the weekend of sunbathing , bbq meals and late nights of laughing and fun.

I had no intention of returning though and had everything in place that I would be found a couple of days later.  I had spent the days prior to this picture finalizing suicide plans and details to end my life. Do I look suicidal and sad and despondent? Not at all…I look exactly how I wanted to be seen as: happy and relaxed and all good. Inside I was as far from that as a person could get.

Don’t let these misconceptions fool you and contribute to more loss. Those of us who struggle to live with mental health issues DO talk openly about it – and we also DON’T. We do sometimes look like we’re falling apart and you can see how deeply it hurts – and oftentimes, we look amazingly together and happy, confident, strong and unshakeable.

There is no universal or standard way to gauge how a person is really feeling.

So….

Ask.

Listen.

Talk.

Care.

Lucid Dreaming

A glimpse into one of the two lucid dreams that visit me often..

I am standing on a street in what appears to be a seaside fishing village. I look around me and see the narrow streets leading away from the house that I am in front of. Glancing over my shoulder, I see a house that is familiar but I can’t quite place it in my mind. It is different from the other houses that line this street. They are all brightly coloured and similar to each other in shape and size but this house behind me is larger and a more muted colour than the other houses. It feels older somehow.

The ocean is just beyond the row of houses in front of my view and I start to walk across the street towards the sound of the waves crashing. There are no cars, no people, no sounds other than the ocean. I cross the street in a lazy line, taking my time walking down the road as I make my way over to the other sidewalk. I am in no hurry it feels like and I’m not sure where I’m going.

As I reach the other sidewalk and turn left at the corner, the street takes a strong angle downhill and I notice that the village is built around the cliffs above a harsh shoreline. The cloud-filled sky is darkening quickly and the wind chases the birds as they abandon the shore trees in the storm that I can feel is coming. A voice in my head is warning me that I have to hurry and I see, far below me, an entrance to a cave in the rocks where the street ends and the rocky beach begins.

All at once, I know exactly what I have to do. I start to run, already mapping out in my mind how I will collect the people I need to save from the cave first and where we need to go from there. My lungs are starting to burn from the cold air and the sudden burst of running. With the steep angle of the street I am barely in control of my legs, I am going so fast that gravity is taking over and I am careening down the middle of the street towards the beach. I can faintly hear other voices as I run. They are coming from the houses, I’m certain, but I can’t make out what they’re saying. I’m coming back, I whisper to the voices, my breath panting the words.

I see the water on the shore pulling away. The sound of the waves has gone and there is a silence so intense that my ears are ringing. As I reach the edge of the rocks and sand I can’t see the water anymore, it has gone out so far. I turn to my left and see the opening in the rocks. It’s huge, higher than a house, and dark, just enough light for me to see the staircase that I need to climb to reach the house inside that I know is there. I run up the stairs, hearing behind me a rumble starting, far away. I know I have to move as fast as I can. The wooden staircase is old and falling apart. peeling paint where there is still any shows the havoc that the wind and salt from the ocean has wrought on it. Some steps are barely there and my hands are bleeding from the slivers that I get from running my hands along the rails as I run, taking the steps two at a time. The entire staircase creaks and sways as I fly up it. It is bolted by metal hooks into the rocks and they are holding it in place even as the wood rots. I reach the door at the top of the final flight and burst into the room inside. The house is built into the cave walls, hidden inside the rock. A house identical to any on the street above us but sheltered and isolated here. I know exactly what and who is there and my eyes sweep the soft golden light of the lamps as the heat of the fireplace blasts my freezing face as I start yelling.

I reach for the little boy that runs to me and I hold him tight in my arms as I stand up. He is small enough that I carry him easily and I shout for the other boy to follow me as  turn to go back down the stairs. The other boy is older, almost a man, and he follows me without asking or speaking. I hold onto the small boy in my arms as I run down the stairs, glancing over my shoulder to make sure the other is staying close. The door is left ajar behind us and I can see the light it is casting out into the cave as I turn to keep my eyes on the staircase in front of me. The rumble from where the ocean should be, but isn’t still, is louder now and growing with every step it feels like. The stairs are shaking but not just from us running. The ground is starting to heave and small rocks are chipping from the walls of the cave, falling past us and striking the sandy bottom of the cave. Under the noises that threaten, I can hear the soft whispers of the little boy against me. He whispers words that I can’t understand but the tone is soft and soothing and he is almost singing the words. His breath is warm against my chest and neck and his arms around me are strong, stronger than their size implies. I want nothing more than to cry at how beautiful he feels in my against me and I feel such a strong sense that this feeling has been absent for too long. I keep running.

We are out of the cave now and running up the steep hill lined with houses. The rumble is now deafening and I know the water returning will crush us if we don’t make it to higher ground. We have more houses to go to first though. More people to collect. The older boy is running alongside of me. There is a tethered feeling between us even though we don;t touch. we have not spoken but we don’t need to. Every now and then we look at each other and nods are exchanged, and we know. We turn sharply to the left, heading down a street filled with small shacks. The one we are running for is halfway down the block and we are there in seconds it feels like. The boy hits the door hard and it opens just as another young man comes out to join us. He is older than the other but not by much and he is ready. He has a backpack on his shoulders and as he comes out he reaches his arms to me and the small boy at my chest releases his grip on me and he is suddenly in the arms of the other boy. His brother. They are all brothers. The circle of connect between them is so strong that it’s unmistakable. The voice in my heads screams at me to run, to keep going, that there is one more and that we are running out of time. With the oldest boy now carrying his small brother, we run faster. Together. Back out onto the small street and turning onto the main road at the end of the block. My ears are ringing again but now it is from the roaring of the water. It’s here and it’s coming up the hill of the street towards us. We only have to make it across the street though and into one more house and then we can run as hard as we can uphill and we can still make it. We all sprint to the house across from where we are. Spray from the waves crashing up the hill is hitting my face, stinging my eyes and mixing with the tears that are running down my cheeks. I am screaming into the wind, the noise from the water so loud that it is silent. The door of the house opens and the young man stands in the doorway, facing us as we race to gather him to us. He just stands there though and shakes his head and looks past us.

I chance a look behind me and the wave is there. The feeling that rushes over me as the water grabs me and the boys and slams us into the house is crushing. We are a jumble of bodies tossed in the wreckage of the house and the swirling, freezing, suffocating water. I reach for them and my hands and arms find them as blackness takes my vision.

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I am standing on a street in what appears to be a seaside fishing village. I look around me and see the narrow streets leading away from the house that I am in front of. Glancing over my shoulder, I see a house that is familiar but I can’t quite place it in my mind.

I start to run. I know where I have to go and I know that I am already running out of time. As I run, my mind is already planning how I will gather them all differently this time. Better. Faster. This time, we’ll make it…..

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*We never do. The dream / nightmare loops numerous times when I have it and I never wake between “takes”. Each time, the urgency and frantic panic increase as I struggle to find some way to escape and save everyone that I need to. I try different routes and different places to hide from the waves but in the end, the water always consumes us and it goes black. There is always an awareness that I am in control of making the alterations to my choices – the goal to have a different outcome. Yet there never is a different outcome. It ends the same, no matter what choices are made.