Tag Archives: suicide

I Will Never Stop Wishing

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Four years ago, Ari Johnson, an incredible human being and dear friend, took his own life. On this anniversary of his death, here’s a little known story that I’ve never shared publicly, but think about all the time, particularly on this day.

It’s no secret that I struggle with my mental health. There were certainly incidents throughout my childhood that indicated an issue, but my first semester as a freshman at Penn is when things really started to spiral out of control. I was on my own for the first time, and the anxiety was skyrocketing. I cried all the time and felt completely and utterly alone. My sister Steph was a junior at Penn at the time, but she was spending that first semester abroad in Australia. I certainly had some friends on campus who I had known before college, so I wasn’t actually alone– but my god did I feel that way. Because that’s what depression does.

Ari was a very close friend of Steph’s, and a senior at the time. I had met him dozens of times when I was a high schooler visiting my sister at Penn, and he was the best. Just a super chill, friendly, funny, laid back guy. The first week of my freshman year, his fraternity, TEP, had a party, and he told me to come by and bring all my friends. I gathered the acquaintances I knew and headed over to the “TEP Deck.” It was a crowded mob scene, as first-week-of-college parties tend to be. Ari saw me and told everyone to move the hell out of the way and let his friend Emily, and all her friends, come in. It was absurd but fantastic– and at age 18, yeah, it made me feel super fucking cool.

Ari totally took me under his wing that first semester while Steph was away. He could see that I was kind of struggling, and wanted to be the surrogate older sibling in the absence of my sister. This was certainly not his job, but he made it so. Because that’s just who he was.

I started confiding in Ari more and more as the weeks went on, because he was one of the few people on campus I felt I could relate to. While he never explicitly said it, I sensed a darkness in him. An underlying, inner battle. There’s a certain kinship that exists among people with mental health issues– we can sense it in others, even when they haven’t sensed it yet in themselves. Something about the conversations Ari and I had led me to believe that deep down, he was struggling, too.

But I never asked. I didn’t feel it was my place, and I sensed he probably didn’t want to discuss it.

Words cannot express how much I regret that.

About a month into freshman year, my anxiety and depression began to take the form of bulimia. I was living each day grasping at strings, and bingeing and purging was the only method I had for feeling in-control (the ultimate irony, because nothing says “out of control” more than eating a meal for 5 and then shoving your finger down your throat). By the second month of college, I was making myself throw up 3-4 times a day.

One day I just grew weary. Shortly after a purge, staring at my bloodshot eyes in the mirror, I got so damn tired of carrying this secret. It was at that moment that Ari sent me an instant message (remember those?!) asking me what’s up. I responded, “I think I might be bulimic.”

I told him everything. He responded with immediate, genuine concern, and told me I needed to get help at the student health center. At the very least, he said, I needed to tell my family. That’s when I panicked and tried to backtrack. I didn’t want my family to know. I didn’t want to disappoint or worry anyone. I just wanted to tell Ari so that I could get it off my chest– but really, I was fine. 

I was 100% not fine. But I tried to downplay what was happening. I told Ari it wasn’t that big a deal, I was just having a bad day, this was all under control. I begged him not to tell my sister. By the end of the conversation, I was sure I had convinced him that a little bulimia was not really a genuine health concern, and that I’d be fine.

But Ari was no idiot. And he had too much heart to sit back and do nothing. He did exactly what he should have done– he told my sister. And then, immediately after telling her, he told me that he had told her. And that was the first step in my realizing that this was a real problem, and that I needed help.

Knowing that I now had no choice but to take action, I immediately confided in another friend of mine, and she took me to the student health center. It was the first time in my life that I had ever been evaluated for the state of my mental health. Needless to say, I did not pass. I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. The doctor was amazed I had made it this far without doing something truly drastic, seeing as though I was waking up every day hating myself and feeling so utterly alone. I was put on medication and set up with a doctor for talk therapy. I have been in treatment ever since, and can’t even fathom where I’d be today if I hadn’t taken those beginning steps to acknowledge and understand what was happening to me.

In that sense, I truly feel I owe Ari my life. I wish I could have told him that while he was still alive. I wish I could have told him that in recognizing my pain, taking it seriously, and putting me on the path to getting the help I needed, he did more to save my life than he will ever know.

And I will never stop wishing that I had done the same for him.

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If you know someone struggling, say something. Don’t be afraid to have the conversation. There are no wrong words– if you think someone is suicidal, ask them. Urge them to get help. Remind them that you care.

If you’re looking for a way to help someone today, there are two links to fabulous causes below. The first is for Active Minds, a mental health organization that is extremely dear to my heart, and whose ultimate goal is to change the conversation about mental health, creating a world where no one has to feel alone in his or her struggle.

The second is a link to the Ari Johnson Memorial Scholarship– started by my family, this scholarship will keep  Ari’s memory and impact alive, and will be awarded to a student at Penn who shows dedication to overcoming adversity and disadvantage, including but not limited to the area of mental health challenges and advocacy.  

Active Minds Giving

Ari Johnson Memorial Scholarship

Humanity

I saw true compassion, humanity, and downright awesomeness last night when I confided in someone I don’t know very well that I have Depression, and he responded first by asking me to tell my story, next by listening intently to everything I said, and then by purchasing tickets for himself and his friends to attend the Active Minds Casino Night event I am co-hosting with friends and family for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

Good people are everywhere. I learn that every time I share my story, but it still never ceases to amaze me.

The conversation is truly changing. This is a battle we can win.

Come be a part of the movement!

Get tickets here

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Social Media and the Suicide of Madison Holleran

http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/12833146/instagram-account-university-pennsylvania-runner-showed-only-part-story

Tragic, touching, and so SO important. Madison Holleran’s story reminds me of the importance of keeping it honest on social media. Yes, it’s tempting to post that life is fabulous (and it certainly can be at times) or to filter every photo (not that I’m ever going to stop that entirely), but let’s mix it up with a dose of reality as well.

That’s the true goal of this blog– sure, I like to entertain, but I mostly want to show that life is often hard, wholly imperfect, awkward, uncomfortable, and at times we’re going to feel terrible things and have dark, unsettling thoughts. And that’s ok. We’re all in this together. Humor and written expression is my outlet and defense against the demons, and if one person out there reads about my dips into depression, my irrational anxieties, my occasional struggles to get out of bed, my moments of discomfort in my own skin, and for even one second feels a little less alone or a little brighter about their own struggle, then my work here is done.

I wish Madison had had some more imperfect Instagram feeds to scroll through. Maybe then she would have known she’s not the only one.

Stigma Fighters Come in All Sizes

I was just walking the halls at school and came across this student-written poster outside a 5th grade classroom. They are in the midst of a “Social Issues” unit, and these are some of the topics that 10 year olds came up with during a brainstorming of ideas– issues that kids in 5TH GRADE think we need to be talking about and tackling. 

I am blown away and touched to see that Suicide and Depression made this list. This is such a clear and positive sign that the conversation about mental health is changing for this next generation. 

Kudos to the 5th grade teachers for displaying this and creating an environment for open and honest conversation about ALL issues, no matter the stigma attached. 

  

Changing the Conversation About Mental Health

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Incredible organization, incredible woman. Saving lives every day. I am so grateful to be involved with this cause and to call Alison a friend. Active Minds helped save me, and I am thrilled to see that the organization is getting the recognition and exposure it deserves for the incredible work they do.

Alison started this organization on her own, working out of her childhood bedroom to honor the life of her brother, Brian. Since then, Active Minds has grown and spread throughout the nation, bringing awareness to the mental health cause and providing resources and help for those who suffer.

And now a PSA airing on CBS!!! One more giant step towards #changingtheconversation about mental health. AWESOME STUFF!

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE PSA

When Kids Have a Secret

Kid: “Do they put bars on the windows at school so no one will jump out of them?”
Me: “Well, I think it’s more to prevent accidents, but yes, it would also prevent someone from jumping.”
Kid: “Yeah that’s like some of my mom’s patients [her mom is a psychiatrist]. But I can’t talk about that. I’m not allowed to.”
Me: “I totally understand.”
Kid: “Yeah. Like, I definitely can’t talk about the man who tried to jump out his window.”
Me: “Ok, then don’t.”
Kid: “He didn’t actually do it, though.”
Me: “Well I’m very glad to hear that.”
Kid: “Yeah.” (pause) “Or like the woman who drinks too much. I’m definitely not supposed to talk about her.”
Me: “Got it. Then let’s not talk about it.”
Kid: “Ok. Yeah, I can’t. It’s a secret.”
Me: “Understood.”
(long pause)
Kid: “She drinks wine in the morning.”

The PERFECT Time and Place, In Fact

While most reviews have been positive, I have read an overwhelming amount of critical commentary regarding Graham Moore’s Oscar acceptance speech, most saying that while it’s wonderful that he survived a suicide attempt and is now thriving, the Oscars stage was not the right time or place to talk about it.

Why? Because the whole world was listening?

Kudos to you, Graham Moore. There’s never a wrong time or place to fight stigma, celebrate strength, and instill hope.

I promise to stay weird. For you, for me, and for all the others out there who have seen the dark side.

Watch the speech here, in case you missed it. 

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That Time When Nothing Was Funny

Rewind to seven years ago– something I do often, just to keep myself in check.  I’m sitting at the kitchen counter in my childhood home, 26 years old, in the midst of an acute, debilitating depressive episode, watching my parents have a conversation. It’s about nothing– a simple, benign exchange about their day. But I am entranced.

“Yo,” my brother Jeremy says, tapping my arm. He sees I am lost in what has been a months-long, perpetual state of bewilderment, anxiety, and terror. “You alright?”

“How do they know?” I asked.

“How do they know what?”

“Mom and Dad– having a conversation. How do they know whose turn it is to speak? How do they know who is supposed to talk next, and when, and for how long? How does anyone know this stuff?”

He stares at me long and hard. “Dude,” he whispers, in the most loving, gentle way possible. “You’ve gone batshit.”

It isn’t the most eloquent way to describe what’s happening, but it’s probably the most apt.

When I was depressed, here is what people didn’t get. Yes, I was sad– bone-crushingly, soul-achingly sad– but I wasn’t just sad. The experience was so much more than sadness. I was constantly subsumed by unrelenting confusion, anxiety, and panic. I was in an altered state of being. I was trapped in my body while a stranger took over my thoughts and actions, and did an incredible job of convincing me that I knew nothing about the world, and never had.

The simplest things made no sense. The act of breathing became a perplexing phenomenon that begged the question, “How did I ever do this automatically– how did I know when the time was right to take the air in, then let it out again?” Words on a page became curious squiggles and dots that contained no meaning. Conversations became puzzles I couldn’t quite solve. Sitcoms were aired in a foreign language I had never learned. One of the scariest days of my depression was when I discovered that I could no longer follow an episode of “Friends.” It was just too confusing.

Society, and how to actively participate in it, became a concept that I was no longer able to wrap my head around.  I wondered, constantly, how I had ever done it so easily. How I had interacted, how I had known what to feel and when to feel it.  Forget joy being sucked out of life– everything was sucked out of life. The ability to care, the ability to connect. The ability to believe that it would ever change. Every thought, every action, every second was labored.  Time was meaningless, except in the sense that it dragged on endlessly, torturing me at every turn with its emptiness.

I want to make it clear that I was never what the professionals would deem “suicidal,” in the sense that I never made a plan and never truly considered ending my life as a viable option. But my god did I wish I was dead. I can say, bluntly and without shame, that I wholeheartedly understand why people kill themselves. I have seen the world through a depressed lens, and I can tell you that when I was in that place, the only thing standing between wishing I was dead and making myself dead was the unending, dogged, relentless system of support and understanding that surrounded me.

Support and understanding– you absolutely need both. The support part I never lacked. Not for a second. I have an incredible family who did everything they possibly could to get me well. They listened to my choking sobs, self-defeating rumination and irrational fears, even though I knew it tore them apart to do so. My friends were in touch every day, reminding me of my place in the world, and how much they were relying on me to stay in it. I had the resources. I was fortunate in that my family could afford to get me the best help possible, no matter what the cost, no matter how much time it took. The support was immeasurable and I will never take for granted how lucky I was to have had it, and how blessed I am to continue to have it today.

But support alone, tragically, is sometimes not enough. Because in my case, even the most impassioned support was, at times, no match for the demon I was facing.  What I needed most– what I desperately craved– was understanding. True, genuine, I’ve-been-there-and-you’re-not-alone understanding. Everyone around me sympathized; very few could relate. But I will never forget, and will always appreciate, how unbelievably hard my friends and family tried. They wanted so desperately to understand what I was feeling, to make it go away, to absorb some of it into themselves so that I could feel it less. But through no fault of their own, they couldn’t. And the more I felt as though no one understood, the more isolated and hopeless I became.

By the grace of god, in the midst of my depression, I discovered mental health organization Active Minds. And that’s when things began to change. Active Minds provided for me that community of understanding that my friends and family, try as they might, simply couldn’t. Had I not connected with Active Minds, and through it, gained access to a world that embraced and understood mental illness, I’m not sure how my story would have ended.

Active Minds gave me a place to go when I felt as though I belonged nowhere.  I was vulnerable, terrified, and scared as hell. But I reached out to them and they embraced me. They gave me a purpose. In a time when I was struggling to find meaning in anything, they gave me a reason to believe in myself and believe that I could, and would, get better. That I had value in this world. Because many of them had been there themselves, they absolutely understood what I was going through, and they knew I’d come out of it. And when you’re depressed, believe me– that kind of understanding is everything.

With the support of Active Minds, my incredible family and friends, and good medical care, I came out of that debilitating depressive episode, fragile at first but then stronger than before. Am I cured? No. Depression, for most, is a lifelong battle, and to claim otherwise would be to delegitimize it. But I learned how to fight. I learned (and continue to learn), through therapy, openness, and connection with others who’ve been there, how to take care of myself— how to recognize my own thoughts versus the depression, how to utilize my resources, how to be true to myself and accept who I am, flaws, illness and all.

Four years after that debilitating depressive episode, I was living and thriving in New York City when Ari Johnson, a dear friend of mine, took his own life. On the day I learned of his death, I had had no idea that he was struggling. I still don’t know the extent of it. It haunts me, knowing I could have reached out and provided him with that understanding, had I only known.  It pains me that Active Minds, and its message of hope, compassion, and stigma-fighting, did not have the chance to touch his life, to possibly save him in the way it saved me. So now, I can only hope his death will save the lives of others– that our telling of these stories, of my story, and of Active Minds’ story, will inspire those who suffer to reach out. Otherwise, what was it all for?

Active Minds is, every day, changing the conversation about mental health, and in doing so, changing lives. It is creating a world where we can feel just as comfortable seeking help for mental illness as we would seeking help for a broken limb. A world where there is no shame, no stigma, no reason to feel so desperately alone. No reason to lose hope.

We’re not there yet. But we can get there.

And I promise– things can be funny again.