September 10th – World Suicide Prevention Day

This is for you.  Did you know that suicide is now responsible for more deaths than automobile accidents?  You’re more likely to lose someone to depression than drunk driving, and there are plenty of warning signs for depression.  We’re only starting to come into an age where depression is seen as a disease, and people begin to realize that sufferers aren’t just lazy and making their own bad situations.  To someone outside the situation, the solutions seem so simple.  You don’t have a job? Well keep looking until you find one, even if it’s flippin’ burgers.  You have a job, but you can’t pay your bills?  Get a second job, or look for a better one.  You’re lonely? Make an attempt to be sociable for a change instead of locking yourself up at home.  Can’t stand the things you’ve done? Can’t change the past, so start doing good things; good deeds for other people will make you feel better about yourself. Depression can suck the life out of you.  Telling someone with depression to just get a second job can be like asking someone who has just given everything they had to win a race that they’re only halfway done. Your simple suggestion doesn’t feel like constructive criticism or support.  It feels like rejection.  Another person just trying to fix the side effects with trite suggestions.  And on the other hand, if you try to suggest treatment for depression, the subject comes up about the cost of therapy and drugs, which seem like another great burden on an already tight situation.

It was July 2008 when I got the very last email from my dad.  He had been struggling with his studies and with work ever since his dad died the previous November.  If I had kept in touch with his ex-girlfriend (who he was still living with) we both would have known he was using us to get him through his college courses, and might have realized how severe the situation was.  He wrote me one more email to tell me that he was lonely, because she had time for everyone but him, and that he was almost out of money and couldn’t pay his truck payments.  They’d be repossessing the truck soon and he needed to move out as soon as possible because he wouldn’t be able to haul his horse trailer without a truck, and where could he go with a horse?  At the time, I had no idea he was getting medication again.  I thought he was still taking classes and wondered what had happened to the last job.  I suggested he sell the horse and trailer and use that money to find a place closer to school, and maybe a job within walking distance.  I also recommended he find a church he liked, because church had always been very important to him.  I couldn’t offer him more than a spot on the floor beside my bed, a package of ramen made from a single-cup water heater, and cold showers.  There were other people in the family that were well-off who would have taken him in, but not without making him feel utterly worthless.  It was bad enough when I took some time off from college and still wasn’t married at 22, and if your job doesn’t pay twice minimum wage, just don’t even mention you have one.  I can understand why he wouldn’t want to go to them, but god help anyone who needs ME.

He had sent the email at night, and I didn’t see it until the next morning, but apparently enough time had passed that he thought I was ignoring him and downed a whole bottle of sleeping pills.  He felt so awful from it that he begged his ex to take him to the hospital, and spent most of that time sleeping off what was still in his system, so I didn’t call him.  When he woke up, he signed himself out of the hospital AMA, and because his ex was working a 14-hour shift in preparation for her upcoming family reunion vacation, she had to leave work to take him home and then get right back.  He said he was okay and just wanted to sleep, so she trusted him and left him there alone.

In the middle of the night, my phone rang.  It was the sheriff calling to tell me that my father had passed away.  It was hard to know how I felt.  Not really surprise, because part of me expected that to happen, but on the other hand, I didn’t believe it, because it was not within his character.  I would not have thought this was something he would finish, because my uncle has done the sleeping pills thing many times when he just wanted somebody to fix things.  My dad had always been able to fix his own problems.  I asked the sheriff how it happened.  “He took his life with a firearm.”

The seriousness of intent in using a gun was undeniable.  He’d meant to die the first time, and wasn’t going to wait around in a hospital.  He had something to finish and this time he had to succeed.

I was 25.  My parents had been divorced for 10 years, and it always broke my mother’s heart that I didn’t have a closer relationship with him like she did with her dad.  I’d gotten used to his coming back and leaving again that first year.  I’d gotten used to his periods of depression where he’d move back to town in a trailer and go back to his old job for a few months, then patch things up with his girlfriend and walk out on his job again to go back to her.  That’s just the way things would go for him, so when my mom would ask if we’d talked lately and I’d coldly say I hadn’t heard from him in months, she couldn’t help crying.

The signs were there, y’know, the depression, the clues in the email about loneliness.  I, like so many others, ignored the loneliness and tried to fix the side effects.  Doled out the same suck-it-up advice that I would have expected if I’d written that email.  I might have expected worse, like “Tough break! You knew you couldn’t afford a horse.  Sell it and keep looking for work.  How many applications have you filled out since you lost your last job?  You should have been out there the same day looking for work.  And put on a smile.  Nobody is going to want to hire you if you show up looking depressed.  Maybe you’ll just do without a vehicle for a while.  And you really need to move out of your ex-girlfriend’s house.  She wants to get on with her life, and that’s really hard to do with you still living there.  Of course she’s got time for everyone but you, you’re split up and she’s got her own family to tend.”

Am I starting to sound like every heartless argument you’ve seen on facebook?  Because I didn’t even say those things, and my father killed himself.  Can you imagine what people feel like when someone actually does say those things?  Sure, it’s true, but it’s not helpful.  The person is not going to suddenly see how they’ve been making simple mistakes and start putting their life back together logically.

So the next time someone comes to you, not asking advice for what they should do to fix a messed up situation, but TELLING you they have a messed up situation, consider how recently your local paper reported a drunk driving death.  Evaluate the emotion behind the plea and handle with care.  You might be the last resort.
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USC’s MSW Programs Blog Day.



I’ve got a schedule planned for this blog to give it some structure. Tuesdays will be the scientific/research/medical entries, Wednesday will be the personal subject commentary entries, and Thursday will be a free day for cool dream related stuff I’ve found. I’ll be adding a few more pages to the blog for helpful links and terms used in the blog.

Today is a Wednesday, so it’s a personal subject day. I chose nightmares.

I don’t remember much of my dreams from early childhood, but I do remember the nightmares. They were really simple and symbolic when I was a toddler. Between the ages of 2 and 4, I remember a recurring nightmare that I called “The Eyes.” But they weren’t eyes at all. They were just two spots that sort of floated in the air and followed me around. One was small and black, the other was large and orange. They were positioned like eyes, which I suppose is why I called them that. The dreamscape was usually some sort of newsprint. Black and white buildings, black and white paper cutout people from some era I’d only seen in old photographs. Perhaps the eyes were actually cigarette burns in this paper dreamscape and that’s why they were so scary, but I really felt stalked/haunted by them.

As I got older, the nightmares would have more real fear triggers, like snakes or tornadoes. I was terrified by natural disasters in my teen years. The big movies at the time were all about tornadoes and volcanoes, and a town nearby mine had been devastated by a tornado. I kept imagining how easily one could rip my little house apart and it was a very real concern of mine for years. I also had terrible dreams about monsters and zombies at this time in my life. During the early teen years I was very religious, and I was actually baptized at 14. I was plagued by nightmares several times a week.

During my later teen years, my parents were divorced, and the nightmares weren’t so terrifying anymore. There were some awful subjects, but they didn’t scare me awake anymore. I felt like I could handle them. In one, I actually remember myself dying. That’s something many people believe you can’t witness, but I know several people who have experienced that. I was fleeing from some people who had a Predator with them. I tried to hide in an old abandoned hospital. They found me and asked me “How would you like to die?” I suggested “Old age.” “Not an option!” My next choice was to be injected with something from the hospital, which they did. I saw myself sitting on a table, the needle go into my leg, and as my body fell back, I was suddenly watching from darkness above. There was nothing. No feeling, no light, just nothingness. It wasn’t scary. It was peaceful, like this was the most natural state of existence. I thought “Okay…what now?” Then I woke up.

Other nightmares involved the deaths of people close to me, but I actually woke up crying when I had nightmares of my pets getting injured. Around this time, I wasn’t going to church anymore and my spiritual interests turned more toward witchcraft. This continued into college. Infrequent nightmares and nothing so bad I couldn’t face the problem in my dream.

After leaving a bad relationship, for nearly the entire duration of the next serious relationship, I would have nightmares that my ex was back, but I would violently attack him and often wake up frustrated that all the yelling and hurting I could inflict wouldn’t make him go away. After entering the third serious relationship, the nightmares stopped. Nightmares now only involve separation from my important people from which I will sometimes wake up crying. There are other dreams that I would call “bad dreams” with some absolutely disgusting elements, but very rarely do I have nightmares anymore. At this point, I wouldn’t say I’m devoid of spirituality. I feel a great spiritual connection to the universe, but I experience it as an extension of the sciences.

Upcoming topics for this blog: REM sleep, time-lapse video sleep study, chemicals of sleep, and lucid dreaming.