It Doesn’t Matter How You Get in the Pool . . . Just As Long As You Get In

First, I need to say I am not a mental health therapist, nor am I a psychologist or a psychiatrist. I can only share information through my experiences, the experiences of others, and information I’ve received in training through work. Maybe these little tidbits of information will help someone or at least get someone thinking and start a conversation.

Through our employment we often get opportunities to attend trainings. Most training revolves around interviewing, domestic violence or FASD or other topics related to our employment. As with most public services though, the topic of suicide, and working with people who are having a suicidal crisis has become much more prevalent.

Last year, I was able to attend the Third Annual First Responder Suicide Awareness Conference in Calgary, AB. It was a difficult honour to be able to attend this conference just over a year from Anthony’s passing. People from around the province attend to receive important, practical and useful information about mental health, the affects of working as a first responder( paramedics, fire fighters, police officers, correctional staff, child and protective services, etc) and how to reach out to get help and how to help others.

This year, two of our colleagues attended the fourth annual conference and gave us a debriefing about the main points of the information provided. I can’t speak to who used the analogy as I was not there myself, but our colleagues described one woman’s account of asking someone if they are suicidal and how to respond.

The main point she spoke of was “that it doesn’t matter how you get into the pool, you just need to get in”. Some people do a cannon ball into the cold water to get the uncomfortable over. They get cold, fast quick. Others, progressively and slowly walk down the ladder, waiting to adjust to the water the further in they go. Either way, each person finds their own way into the pool. All that matters is they have gotten in.

This is the same with having the conversation about and asking someone if they are thinking about suicide. Some people take a step by step approach while others take a quick leap and just ask the question ” Are you thinking of suicide?” It doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you do it. It’s going to be an uncomfortable situation and it’s not going to be easy but asking the question could save a life. You’re just going to have to get there, and it doesn’t matter how. All that matters is that you ask.

I would say I’m a ladder person. I’ve had this conversation with my clients, a friend, and of course with my husband. Each time I’ve had the conversation, I’ve used easier questions to gauge the crisis, before I’ve asked about suicidal thoughts, if they have a plan, if they have the means and if they have a time. I’ve asked easier to answer question step by step until I finally got to, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

I find this analogy refreshing, and easy to use because everyone has their own ways of doing things, whether it’s getting into a pool or getting on a bicycle or asking if someone is thinking about hurting themselves. Some take their time, some jump right into the task. Situations like these aren’t easy either way, and there is no wrong way of doing it, AS LONG AS YOU DO IT.

One other point that was discussed by my colleague that was hammered home by the presenters was its ok to pass the person off to another trusted person if you are to close to them to help. When Anthony came home from work one day with his head in his hands saying he couldn’t stop thinking of killing himself I was devastated, hurt, confused and angry that he could even think of taking his life. Then I felt nothing but guilt forever after. I didn’t know then I was to close to him to handle the situation without emotion. We managed that time, but not without some serious tears. I helped him look up the number for a Counsellor, and we got him a doctors appointment. He didn’t have a plan at that time. So referring out worked in the moment. Looking back I would have been better off to call a trusted friend, or family for support. I ended up calling in sick that afternoon and all I could do was cry. This was at the beginning of his illness.

There were several times after that required assessment to see if he was at risk of killing himself. Each time I handled it much better and each time, I got in the pool.

So just remember, it doesn’t matter how you get in the pool, just as long as you get in. You may need support, you may need to take your time, or you may need to cannon ball in; just get in!


Christmas and New Years Survived.. again..only with New forms of Grief

It was a wonderful Christmas spent with family and friends. Aside from my daughter having caught the flu Christmas Eve it was pretty perfect.

We spent the holidays in the mountains in my childhood home surrounded by the trees, deer and elk scratching below the white snow blanketing the grass beneath. The air was crisp and fresh. The atmosphere quiet. So serenely still.

Nostalgia took over as I walked my dog around my small childhood town where me and my childhood friends played; sharing time between each of our homes, biking through the town without a fear or care in the world. As teenagers we played sports and partied in the forest. The familiar brought a smile to my face.

We celebrated the holidays with family and friends. People who know the kids and I and allowed us to rest and surround us with love. My mom and dad decorate the house each year and the decorations reminded me of the thrill of Santa coming, and the sound of family eating turkey. It was a pretty perfect Christmas.

Except it wasn’t; it was and it wasn’t simultaneously.

I had brought our stockings to hang over the fire place. It’s classic and beautiful. On Christmas Eve I sat in my dad’s rocking chair admiring those three stockings anticipating the kids opening their gifts enthusiastically.

Then it hits. It hits hard, fast, and without warning.

There is a stocking missing. There is a laugh missing. There is a person missing. My person. The person who would be as excited about the kids opening presents as I am. The only person who would share this with me.

This person is dead. He’s gone. My Peter, our Peter is gone.

I had to get up and leave. Grief has this way of coming in and making you breathless at the most inappropriate times. I sat in my brother’s childhood room and cried. I miss him. I miss sharing these moments with him. The kids kiss him in these moments and everything sucks and it’s unfair.

I remember finding his bin last year; the bin full of his belongings I was collecting to give back to him during our separation. I grieved last year but in a much different way.

New Years this year came with a different form of grief as well. A memory of our first New Years together haunted me all day. as I worked some overtime to get caught up at work. My getting ready after work to meet him back at work because he worked until midnight. I remember the outfit I wore. I remember taking the time to do my hair just right and fixing my make up. The black silk tank top matched perfectly with my purple dress pants and black earrings. We had been together for five months and everything still felt so new and exciting. I remember walking through the back doors just as the countdown to New Years started. He was standing at the slot cage, his big green eyes met mine just as everyone yelled Happy New Year. Except we didn’t yell. Our eyes stayed connected and we just smiled. The timing was perfect, the moment was perfect, I thought he was perfect.

This New Years this memory and that moment interrupted my thoughts all day. I wanted so desperately to go back to that place where I seen him and knew he was the one. The place and time where everything stood still; there was just us. The entire day was spent fighting the urge to tear my skin off because I was so desperate to get away from the pain, the grief and the want to go back to the perfect moments where he was alive, we were happy, and we were healthy.

I spent the evening being silently angry at him, getting drunk with two of his friends. I needed to numb the feelings that night. I needed to just not feel how I’d been feeling since Christmas Eve.

The point I guess I’m trying to make is the grief of last year wasn’t worse. In fact, I felt this year was worse. I don’t know if it’s because I gave up coping as well as I was, or if I was numb still, or if it’s just different from last year. Either way, year two is proving to be a challenge I wasn’t expecting.

I’m remembering more of the good, more of the man I married and less of the man bipolar turned him into. I’m remembering just how very much I loved him and how very much he made me laugh. These memories are a blessing and a curse because they make the pain worse.

The anger makes it easier to push forward. The memories make me desperate to go back.

I have no idea which way I’m going again even though I know I have no choice.

I have I mentioned how much I hate bipolar disorder right?

It is what it is.

I’m still here. I’m ok. I’m sorry it’s been so long… again.

I had to take some more time to do some more grieving, processing, living.

September 11th, 2017 our family, or should I say my husband’s family, and myself, took another hit. My husband’s cousin, who was a rock and support for me after his death, decided she could no longer cope with her own pain. In the early morning of September 11th, 2017, she succumbed to her own illness and died by suicide.

My heart hurts for her sister, nieces and nephew, for her brother, brother in law and for her parents. For all of us who, had hoped Anthony’s death by suicide would be our last hit. She was only 33. She was kind and empathetic. She had become my friend.

She was going to counselling, working with her doctor, didn’t drink or use drugs. She was doing everything she could to take care of herself. Everything completely opposite of my husband… and yet…. well, here we are.

And so I’m left wondering, again why?

And I’m also left wondering if Suicide can be prevented at all?

And I’m left feeling helpless, jaded and saddened. This journey is getting a little too long.

I’m not giving up; I made a promise and it appears I’ll have to make another. I’m just trying to accept something I can’t understand and this is difficult to do.

I can’t lie either, her passing brought up a lot of grief from my husband’s death. The same funeral home. The same faces. I haven’t seen his dad since that day, and seeing him brought back so much.

That man has lived through the untimely death of his wife, his mother, his twin sister, the suicide of his son and the grief is affecting his physical health. I hugged him, we cried together, and we haven’t spoken since.

While sitting in the Catholic Church where her service was, I wished he was there for me to put my head on. I wondered if he greeted her on the other side, and if they celebrated his birthday together two short weeks after she left this earth. Knowing they were together brought me some peace.

I appreciated the stories she told me about my husband’s goofy disposition growing up. She helped me feel close to him again, and I got to know her as well.

So now what? I keep asking myself this every morning. Now what?

I have no answer, I just get up, breath and walk out the door like I do everyday hoping one day I’ll feel more than this dysthymia that seems to have once again settled in my chest.

Today, I have no words of advice. Today I have no answers. Death sucks, Suicide sucks.

It just is what it is.

Dig Deep and Sing

I was just barely 21, a single mom, and full of dreams when Anthony and I first met. I needed something to pass my time alone before we met, so in the evenings when my boy was asleep, I’d make myself a drink, write and play guitar. I’d sing my own songs, and those musings of others while I sipped on Bacardi and Coke. 

Trust me, I’m not that good at it, but I love the sound of the strings and the flow of words. I took pride in  my calloused fingers and steel tinted skin. My little hobby brought me to life in my loneliest moments. 

Anthony taking a picture while I played

I sang for Peter the first time about four months into our relationship. I never felt so vulnerable and exposed. I remember the look on his face, and the twinkle in his eyes. He used to love listening to me pluck away pointlessly; I never did improve much in playing, but he was my biggest fan. He encouraged me to continue playing and I even performed at small coffee houses on folk or open mike nights. He was there to support me. 

Then over the years as we travelled more and had our daughter, I slowly quit playing. Barcardi and music gave way to Netflix, and breast feeding. My guitar became my son’s favourite past time, and man, he had a talent for playing that I, to this day, could only dream of acquiring; so I gave the guitar to him. 

When we separated, and the love of my life left to live in his vehicle, I was desperate for something to bring me to life again. Something to break up my obsessive worry about how ill he was and how to get him help. I needed something for me, that I could do at home and that wouldn’t cost a lot of extra money. Something to break up the tears. 

I bought a guitar and a mutual friend of ours hooked me up with an instructor who, conveniently would come to the house to give me lessons for cheap. I played, and practiced and loved the sound  of the twang coming from the strings beneath my fingers. I began to sing again, and for brief moments, I wasn’t consumed by mental illness, grief, thoughts about how to get the psychiatrists to listen, over my ending marriage, his possibly dying by suicide, carelessness or murder, and the anger I was feeling about being left. I was no longer being eaten by the shame I felt when my co-workers and old acquaintances started asking about what was wrong with my husband(I was never ashamed of him, I was ashamed at the time because I felt I hadn’t done enough and was responsible for his well-being). 

For a brief time each evening I began to feel free. 

For a brief time each evening I could express my feelings and not care about being judged. This was for me. 

I continued to play through our moving, between calls to the hospital, between the police and fire department calls to me, between hurtful conversations, with family in and out and running the kids around to their programs. At night alone, the kids asleep, when the pain was the worst I’d play and sing and be free and feel hope. 

Then I got the call. May 16, 2016 at 5:02pm. 

Anthony on a bus tour we took in 2013. He had just finished Electric Shock Therapy(ECT)

The music stopped that day. 

I hadn’t even realized I quit playing again. The black leather guitar case became a shadowed decoration in my room; sitting in the corner by the door collecting dust. Nights playing and writing were replaced by tears and grief. 

Last Saturday evening, I sat alone in my room restless and wrestling with my guilt. I sat at the end of my bed head in my hands just missing him. In my blurred peripheral, I caught the black shadow in the corner, and lifted my head. 

The skin of the case was cracking and now blanketed with a layer of dust. I wiped the case down with a damp cloth, carried the case to my bed, took out the wooden instrument and held it for a while. 

I swear I could hear him “sing Ker, play for me”. I could almost see him as clear as I did that first time I played for him.

I loved his eyes and lips. He had dimples on the sides of his mouth when he smiled. His green eyes were bright and filled with life when he was happy. Damn I loved that man. 

I dug deep. I felt the pain, hurt and guilt well in my chest and I sang for the first time in 11 months. I pictured him there with me, peering up from his book, his eyes welling with happiness. And underneath the release of all that pain, hurt and guilt, there was a well of love, peace and life. 

I dug deep, and I felt a little more alive that day. Maybe he was trying to show me this. That each day if I dig deep and “sing”(metaphorically)I can peel back the layers of the grief I feel from his being gone I can see in some way he’s still with me, helping me to remember we were once happy, and in love. Our relationship in someway still exists, it’s just evolving into something different. . .

Tell me about your digging deep? What does that mean and look like for you? Together we can dig deep and ‘sing’ and move through this difficult time. 

Loneliness in Widowhood 

There’s something missing. 

It always feels like something is missing. He’s just gone. Nowhere to be found. No coffee cups left on the counter or towels left on the floor, new music being shared and unfinished projects left in the yard. Just quiet. Nothing. 

Even though the last year of his life, during our separation, the reminders of his existence came in the way of calls from the police, fire department, and mutual friends inquiring what was wrong with him; in the chaos they were still reminders of hope and possibility…. now there is nothing. 

It’s lonely. Something always feels amiss, or lost or gone. 

I wake up and do it alone. I go to bed alone. No one to vent to at the end of the day. No after work discussions, and coffee. No drawings of the work he completed that day. I miss him. I miss that something. 

I miss it so desperately because I had it once. 

There is an unspoken loneliness in widowhood. Unspoken because there truly are no words to describe it. Like a huge black space that follows you around and nothing can fill it. Your not sure even what to fill it with and your too exhausted most days to even bother figuring it out. 

You can be out with friends in a room full of people and the loneliness feels like it’s drowning you. You feel better being alone because atleast then you can try to understand it, express it by crying or screaming it out(I’m surprised my pillow hasn’t fallen apart from the beatings it’s taken).That ache in your chest. You can distract and engage in hobbies and sports but after your mind is done focusing on your task at hand, it returns to dwelling on that huge hole in your life that seems to follow you around like a dark cloud – what once was your person, partner and best friend. 

It’s not like a being single kind of lonely. I don’t want to date though sometimes that feels like the answer. It’s misinterpreted, but there are days I feel like going home with someone would be better than going home without him. If that makes sense? A temporary filler for the ache. But I would still just miss him. I’m lonely for him. He can fill that hole and no one else can because he can’t be replaced. 

And what’s worse, is that not only does it feel like he’s been misplaced, I feel completely misplaced. My home now, doesn’t feel like my home even though he never set foot inside. But that was the place I took the calls from emergency services, and made desperate pleas to his psychiatrist and police, and his family, and the nurses… to anyone who would listen. Codependency at its finest. 

I feel misplaced when with friends. We is now I and the language of before he got ill and when he was ill leaves a fowl taste in my mouth. The Anthony before Bipolar Disorder…I find myself seeing my friends with their spouses, and children and I’m so happy for them, but I’m also sad for me. Invites out with couple friends are rare and far between and when the invite is extende do find myself wondering if it is genuine or out of pity? 

I feel misplaced as a parent. Am I screwing them up? Am I enough? Is this trauma going to destroy them? Are they grieving enough or grieving too much? Do they have what they need? Is he proud of us and the decisions we’ve been making? What would he want me to do differently? 

I feel misplaced at work. I’m expected to work at full capacity; after all it has been 10 months. And as understanding as my coworkers have been, I feel like my career was part of my passed life even though I’m still there. I feel like I need a change but I don’t know what that is. 

I feel misplaced because this life doesn’t feel like mine. I didn’t choose this. Because I feel like I have two lives now. One where he was a part of my world and daily life both while well and while ill, and the other this… though right now it feels like I continue to be stuck in the place between my old life and new one. The day he died my next life started, a life without him, yet, here I am wondering what this life is and where I fit in.. 

It’s lonely. A kind of lonely I never knew existed and I’m constantly uncomfortable here. Who am I and where do I belong now? 

I’ll keep moving and working through this loneliness. One day I hope I won’t feel so misplaced. One day maybe I will feel somewhat whole again. I know there will always be a small crack in my heart that will never heal completely, but I’m sure one day I will live in my new life and the loneliness won’t feel so drowning. 

I miss that morning coffee

I have a mental picture of Anthony in my head. It was Feb 1st, 2015, almost two years ago exactly. He was wearing his dark green t shirt and blue checkered pj pants. We were separated at the time, but I was hopeful he would return home to us. 

He came for the week to stay with us, get the house ready to sell, and go out with the kids and I for dinner on my birthday. 

We were struggling with saying goodbye to our home, for me, it symbolized the end of what once was a beautiful marriage. The home we built, renovated and created together with our children. We scraped wall paper, painted, built a fence, started landscaping the yard, and made it our own. Yes, there were many arguments, a lot of sweat and tears, but there were successes, wonderful memories and it was the sanctuary we created together, with love.

The decision to sell was not easy, but I felt we had no choice. Separated or not, it was too much work for us, and too much stress on him. The illness rendered him unable to work at the time leaving the much needed renovations to the kitchen and bathroom somewhat unattainable. 

Though he was still taking his lithium, he had quit taking his anti-depressants cold turkey(unbeknownst to me) and he was still not himself. His use of an illy prescribed medical marijuana card rendered the lithium useless. He was in and out of lucidity but at the time he was at the house he hadn’t smoked it in over a week. We were getting along better than we had in months though he wasn’t the same, I still loved him, and I had hoped he wouldn’t go back to smoking. I hoped we would resume our lives together and work together towards recovery. 

The day we spoke with the realtor, the reality of dissolution of our marriage dawned on me. He would be leaving at the end of the week and I would once again be left with the upkeep of the home, taking care of the children, paying all the bills and now making sure the house was ready for showings. All of this on top of having to say goodbye to my husband again, knowing our relationship would not likely survive much longer. Despite my being able to hide my pain in front of Anthony the days before while he was down visiting, I couldn’t keep it in any longer. I cried in front of the realtor. I broke. 

The next morning was my 33rd birthday. We had planned dinner with the children that evening and I would be meeting with friends later on. When I woke that morning, I found him standing over my bed, holding a fresh cup of coffee as he had so many mornings before; before bipolar, before the arguing, before all of the stress and chaos, before ECT and family separations. I loved those moments in the morning that were brief, but they were just for us. They were our quick escape before the kids woke and the hustle and bustle of the day began.

“There he is” I thought, “there is my husband”. 

” I couldn’t afford to get you a gift this year. I hope this will do”. His green eyes matched the color of his dark green shirt. He had a smile on his face that warmed my heart and I felt a wave of hope wash over my body. Maybe, we can survive this. Maybe, bipolar won’t destroy us. Maybe he’ll decide to stay. I remember just staring at him, taking in the moment, the feeling of hope, the aroma of the the coffee and his cologne, his green eyes fixed on me and dimples denting the sides of his smile. At the time I knew I had to mentally record this moment because in a quick second the disorder could take over again. 

“This is the best gift you could have ever gotten me, Thank you”. The coffee was sweet with creamer, just as I liked it. He stood for a moment longer, and I watched him turn to leave the room and walk away to let me get up and ready for the day. I wanted to freeze that moment. I don’t know if he knew how much that cup of coffee meant to me, or how much all the previous coffees meant. They were one of my most treasured moments of the day.

Next week is my 35th birthday. The second birthday I will spend away from him, and the first one where he is no longer here in body. My 34th birthday was spent mostly alone, worrying about him and feeling helpless as to how to get him help. I met up with a small but close group of friends that evening for drinks and tried to make the best of it. The kids and I had gone for dinner. I just had to keep moving forward. 

Just like I have to keep moving forward now. 

I really really miss those mornings and that coffee. As painful as it is to have to do those coffees alone, especially on my birthday, I am however, forever grateful for the nearly 12 wonderful years that I got to share those coffees with him. 

Mixed Epsiodes, Mixed Feelings and Mixed Up Christmas’s

I hate this years Christmas.

I hate that he is dead. I hate that he died by suicide and bipolar got the best of him. I hate it. It makes me want to scream. And I have. Many times. Especially at this time of year.

The holidays were always interesting for us. Some were wonderful, others were messy, and some were downright difficult. I’m having a hard time trying to remember the good holidays; the one’s we were together, the one’s which weren’t tainted by a bipolar episode. It’s making this Christmas particularly difficult.

I’m trying to enjoy Christmas and participate in the holiday “spirit” as best I can. Maybe I’d be more pleasant with several shots of baileys in my morning coffee or a glass of straight up Appleton’s on ice. Atleast then I’d be better at faking it and cleaning the floors, making dinners and keeping up the appearance would be much more fun. For me… not so much for everyone else I guess.

To be honest… I hated last years Christmas, and the Christmas before that and the one before that. He had manic episodes in the winter. The stresses of finances, the grief of missing his mom, the excitement of Christmas  Parties and shopping. Throw in some alcohol and it was a wonderful season of bipolar mania mixed with some combination episodes that often left us saying WTF?

I will admit though, mania also made for a family spoiled at Christmas time!

But the down side was he usually left when manic. He always ran. It was hurtful, and brutal and each time hurtful words would be thrown. I understood too late it was the illness that made him want a whole new life. A different scenery, a more exciting world.

Early on, he’d leave for hours, then a weekend, then a few months. When he’d come out of it, he’d come home and we’d somehow make things work. Until one day all of the hurt became too much for all of us.

Mixed episodes were by far the most painful for me to watch him go through. I didn’t know this was what was going on at the time. It was like he had the energy of ten black horses bolting across an open field, but the pain of the worst depression weighed him down. He couldn’t sleep, and one minute he’d bawl, the next he’d be laughing and the next he’d be raging. I wasn’t sure whether to hold him, laugh with him or run from him. It was confusing to say the least and because of this many times I failed at being the supportive wife I promised him I would be.

BUT there were times I was the wife he needed, his companion, his best friend and cheerleader, often his voice of reason. And this Christmas, I’m choosing to remember THAT.

I’m going to honour him by remembering the good we did together and the happiness we created together.

I’m going to remember how we shared the best hugs, and laughs. How we loved the shit out of our children and each other. How we cried with each other when we were were both at our lowest and lifted each other up when we were both at our best. How we stood together at his mother’s funeral and my grandmother’s memorial. Our long conversations on the porch sharing a coffee and making plans. How he loved every part of me, even the parts that drove him nuts. I loved all of  him too.

I’m going to remember those  moments instead. I’m going to let go of these mixed up feelings, and the fact that he is dead, and I’m going to allow the good memories to replace the mixed episodes and arguments, the dark Christmas’s and cruel words said by family.

I’m letting that all go so maybe this years Christmas won’t hurt so bad.

Maybe bit by bit, I will enjoy Christmas this year by honouring the good in our marriage and remembering all we did right. Instead of giving Bipolar the spotlight, I’m giving it to us. To him. Maybe the void of him being gone, can be replaced by joy because he lived, gratitude because he chose to share his life with me and we lived as husband and wife with our children and we loved as a family; Peace in knowing his mind is now at rest, and his soul free. Maybe, just maybe, this years Christmas won’t suck after all.