Friday, September 30, 2016

September ~ Suicide Prevention Awareness Month


Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

As September draws to a close, I think of how much I have learned this month because of the various articles that have been shared on Facebook by the National Association for Mental Health (NAMI).  I am so grateful for this organization for the great job they are doing to educate all of us about the many facets of mental health.  I appreciate the help they give to those whom are ill and to those whom have family members, friends, or loved ones with mental illness.

My own personal passion concerns suicide prevention awareness.  Now that the month of September is over, the month designated as Suicide Prevention Awareness month, I don't want any of us to forget that suicide prevention awareness needs to be in place all twelve months of the year, every day of the week, and every hour of the day.  I have taken the liberty to copy the following paragraph from NAMI website page that specifically addresses the risk of suicide:  

According to the CDC, each year more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide, leaving behind thousands of friends and family members to navigate the tragedy of their loss. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24; these rates are increasing. 

Prior to losing my daughter Julie to suicide, I would never have thought about arming myself with information regarding suicide prevention.
I should have.
Julie had threatened and attempted suicide more than once over the years before she completed suicide in 2010.

I thought I knew what I needed to know about talking to her when I recognized that she was in crisis.
I thought I recognized signs.
I thought I had a plan.
Now, I wonder how I could have been so sadly misinformed.

I find it stunning now that even after her previous attempts, I never sat down with her and went over the risk factors and discussed how some of the behavior I would see in her could indicate that she was highly at risk for attempting suicide again.

I never discussed a plan that could help her, me, or the rest of her family and friends during a time when she might be in crisis.
We didn't have a plan in place.
I don't think we would have had the tools to develop such a plan.

I assumed Julie would always call me, or she would call her sister Amy if she were in crisis.
I assumed we would get her help right away.

I  had never even heard the term "completed suicide" before Julie took her life.
That term alone would have terrified me because that would have meant that any attempt had the potential to be

That would have meant that my worst fear could have actually happened.

I thought I could deal with her attempts and threats.
I thought I would always have a way to reach her.
I never thought she wouldn't give me the opportunity to reach her.
I never believed that my worst fear would actually happen.

A lifetime ago,
a decade plus one year ago,
during September of 2005,
my daughters Amy and Julie ran a marathon.
Julie was the driving force when it came to running.
She plotted out the training schedule.
She had more experience in running a race.
She knew how to pace herself.
She and Amy called this experience, the plan for, the preparation for, and the running of the race,
"Oxygen Depravation and Other Fun Times with My Sister."
That was actually the title of the book they wanted write about the fun times they had as sisters.
As they ran, they wrote chapters in their minds and shared how the chapter would read.
Oh how I wish they would have written down those stories.
Amy and Julie were born just twenty-three months apart.
They were as close as any two sister could ever be from their earliest days.

The story between these two sisters is not mine to tell.
It now belongs to Amy.

I just wish that the story of the sisterhood would never have to include a chapter on suicide.


To say our hearts and lives were shattered when Julie took her life would never fully convey how suicide robbed our family not only of time with our Jules, our lynchpin, our dearly treasured family member, but saying these words could also never convey how suicide robbed us of
our innocence,
our dreams for a future that had Julie in it,
her laughter,
her wit,
her wisdom.
Suicide robbed us from
a legacy that did not include a family history of suicide.


On that day in 2010 when Julie took her life, a dark black line was drawn down the middle of the timeline of my life.


A lifetime ago,
just six short years ago,
 dear friends and family came together to walk in our very first Suicide Prevention Awareness Walk.

Team 808 for Jules was formed in 2010.
Julie's friend Leanna, a dear friend from high school, was the one who organized Team 808 and got us all involved in taking part in this important walk that raises money to go towards suicide prevention.

To this day, I am blessed to know that each year at least one member from this original team will participate in a Suicide Prevention Run/Walk.
This year, my daughter Keicha raised nearly $1000 for the walk held in Salt Lake City.
She does this walk each year in memory of her sister.


Julie had suffered from mental illness since her teens.  She had been diagnosed and treated for both Bi-Polar Disorder and Depression.  Julie hated her diagnosis.  I don't know if she ever fully accepted it.  I think that she thought the word stigma automatically should have been written after the official term for the diagnosis.

She didn't want to be different from others.  She didn't what this diagnosis attached to her.  I'm not sure she ever fully accepted her illness.  I don't know if she ever fully accepted that her illness was just that: an illness.

I would talk to her about diabetes.  I would say, "Do you think that a person has diabetes because of something they did or didn't do?  Do you think it is an illness that can be treated?  Do you think it is something to ignore?  Do you think it is something to be ashamed of?"  We would talk about this analogy of mental illness and an illness like diabetes often.  She always agreed that I was right about diabetes, but I'm still not sure she fully bought into her own illness as not being something she did wrong.  I'm not sure she ever really believed that her illness could be successfully treated and managed.  I think the STIGMA of suffering from her illness haunted her, caused her not to seek treatment when she could have, and caused her to ignore warning signs that she should take care of herself.  Even as I write these words, I hear her saying would a, could a, should a.  She often said that when things went wrong in life.  

She would not go into treatment for her illnesses associated with her mental illness because of the STIGMA she thought would prevent her from earning a living, getting married, having children.

She had never seen the hashtag #stigmafree because she died before we all started using hashtags.  She died before there was so much information freely available on the internet about preventing suicide, or about supporting those with mental illness.

That does not mean that Julie was not informed.  She was very informed about her illness.  She asked me to read Kay Redfield Jamison's book An Unquiet Mind when she was still in college.  She said it would help me understand what she was experiencing.  It did give me understanding to read this book.  I just wish I would have read it each year, or kept it by my bedside as a reference, or talked about it more with her.  We talked about it, but did I really get what she was going through?  Did I really comprehend all that she suffered?


What do you know about what you could do to prevent suicide?  
Have you informed yourself? 
I am including a link to a very important public service announcement here:
Read it.
 Print it out for ready reference.

As I read the list provided in this article, it caused me to think about how I might have been more helpful when Julie talked to me about her depression, her hopelessness, her anxiety, her suicidal thoughts.  We had many talks about these topics, and generally, she either called me or her sister Amy when she was most at risk.  On the night she took her life, she did not call me, nor did she call her sister.  It is not my wish to second guess how any of us could have been proactive in preventing her death when it occurred because quite honestly, we really did not see it coming, and none of us really know what anyone could have done had they been aware of what was going on with her on that fateful evening.

Nevertheless, I read the list, and I think of some proactive things that we might have been able to do.

I have taken the list I reference above and added a few of my thoughts about the list.  

  • Removing the means of taking one's life is the most reasonable approach to take when a loved one is aware of another's struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts or tendencies.  Remove the access to guns.  Please do that.  A person struggling with these thoughts should not have access to guns.  Period.  It is not possible to removed all those items that one could use to end a life, but at least be aware of what means that person might use.  Ask them if they have a plan.  Act accordingly.  
  • Asking if you can help call a therapist rather than asking if you can call a therapist is a good plan.  In my opinion, this helps the loved one think of a different plan or approach they can take rather than you taking the approach for them.  You might not be given this chance, but if you are, I like this approach.
  • Ask those hard questions.  I have had to do this.  It is not easy to do, but the questions must be asked.  "Are you thinking of hurting yourself or taking your life?"  "How will you take your life?  Do you have a plan?  What is it?"  Believe me.  You would rather hear the answers to these questions so you can act accordingly, than to not ask the questions and find that your loved one has taken his or her life.
  • One person speaking at a time with a loved one in distress is best.  It is calming.  There are not contradictory statements being made.  The loved one can focus better.
  • Ask what you can do to help.
  • Stay calm.  The world may be threatening to crumble, you may want to vomit or pass out, your blood pressure may soar, and your heart is probably racing, but try to stay calm or at least appear calm.  Don't argue.  Don't threaten.  Don't pace.  
  • Provide safety and support.
  • Reach out for others to help.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  1-800-273-TALK (8255)
I carry a pocket size National Suicide Prevention Lifeline card in my purse.  It lists the suicide prevention lifeline phone number on it.  It also lists the warning signs of suicide.  I have used these guidelines to speak to those I find are depressed or suicidal.  I turn the listed warning signs into questions, or I have addressed how I have observed these warning signs in behavior.

A larger lifeline card with similar information is next to my desk for ready reference.

I also have an app on my phone called:  Safety Net.  It is a great app.  It has some of the following features:
  1. Step 1 - Warning Signs
  2. Step 2 - Internal Coping Strategies
  3. Step 3 - Social Supports and Social Settings 
  4. Step 4 - Family and Friends for Crisis Help 
  5. Step 5 - Professionals and Agencies
  6. Step 6 - Making the Environment Safe
There is a place on the app to list emergency numbers that one at risk or a loved one for one at risk can find in just an instant.  I also list emergency numbers for agencies where my loved ones live because one never knows when a life threatening situation may present itself.  Our family is at risk for suicide simply because we have had a suicide take place in our family.  I take this risk seriously.

You might wish to ask your loved one if you can have the names and number of those they are seeing for treatment of mental illness.  If they wish for you to have these numbers, you can list them on this app.

Be aware that due to privacy laws, you will not get answers about the treatment you loved one is getting in many instances.  That doesn't mean that you can't give information out that might be helpful to the caregiver.  


My purpose for writing this has to been to increase awareness about preventing suicide.  There is hope.  There is help.  Together, by informing ourselves, and by being observant and proactive, I believe we can can make a difference in lives of those suffering from mental illness or struggling with suicide ideation.

I will always believe Julie did not wish to lose her battle with an illness that had caused her so much pain in her life and had robbed her of so much. She fought valiantly for many years.  She was brave and courageous, but in the end, her illness won.  Now, those of us left must do what we can do to support others with mental illness.  We do this to honor Julie.  

Julie passes her sister Amy at the finish line.

Runners need a plan before they enter a marathon.  They train and rehearse for every unforeseen event that might interfere with their goal.  They create a team for support.  They need cheerleaders along the way.  They need encouragers when the race seems much longer than they had planned and so much more difficult than they expected.

Be that helper.  Be that encourager.  Be that one that cheers another on.  

You can join Team 808 for Jules by informing yourself about what you can do prevent suicide.  Do what you can do to stop the stigma attached to mental illness.  Do what you can do to raise awareness about the treatment of mental illness.  Do it in memory of my beautiful daughter, Julie Ann Christiansen.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

September Visit to Utah

My two older children remain in Utah, as do four of my seven grandchildren.   It seems I never get enough time with the Utah family.  The grandchildren are nearly grown, so time with them now becomes all the more precious.  When the grandchildren were younger, and when I was teaching, most of my visits would occur around the Christmas holidays, or perhaps I would visit for a week during Spring Break.  I also tried to visit the family during summer.  Rarely, have I had an opportunity for an extended visit.  This year is different.  My son and his wife have gone to Europe for a visit with her parents.  They are also making a bit of a vacation out of their time away.  

While they are gone, I am supervising my seventeen-year-old grandson, Bridger.  

I'm also getting to know him better.  That is a real treat!  When he was younger, I think he was always busy with his older brother and sister, or with the other cousins when I was around, so he and I never had much one on one time.  I've come to know some things about Bridger that I didn't know before:

  • He makes his coffee really strong.  I learned that the first morning I was here when I poured myself a cup of coffee from the pot of coffee he had made before school.  He loves to brew his special coffee and add frothed milk before he starts his day.  
  • He usually fries himself two eggs over easy before he heads out to school.  As I watched him cook, I said, "Bridger, you make your eggs just like I do.  Not many people can cook eggs for me because I am so picky.  I will eat eggs the way you fry them."
  • Bridger has great social skills.  He is able to strike up a conversation, and keep it going, with nearly anyone.  I have so enjoyed talking with him.  When he is speaking with someone, he asks questions that show he in genuinely interested in the person he is speaking with, and he remains engaged in the conversation.  He is intelligent, has a great sense of humor, and truly is just a pleasure to be around.
  • He goes to bed early and gets up early.  He is quite self-suffient.
  • He works hard three days a week after school.  This means that he drives great distances on those days because he works because he has a commute to school, then he commutes to work, and while on the job he also commutes. He is the courier of products between the stores in the family owned business.  He loves his job because he gets to drive, gets a tank of gas out of the gig, and he gets paid also.  All of that adds up to a winning deal for him.
  • He has good friends that have pretty much been his lifelong friends.  He likes hanging out with them too.
  • While his older siblings are away from home in college and working, he is also an awesome brother to his two step-brothers.  He called to see if they could take in a movie this week while they are with their dad and while their mom is gone.

In truth, this gig of staying with Bridger has been an easy one so far. It has been great staying in someone else's beautiful and comfortable home.  

While I've been in Utah, I've had plenty of time to spend with my oldest daughter, and I've made plans to meet up with old friends that I don't often get to see.  I've also had time to read, walk, and explore my surroundings, or learn to find my way around areas that once were familiar years ago.

Before Ryan and Sheridan took off on their trip, they showed me the ropes so I could stay here with Bridger.  Then, after lunch with them, I drove them to the airport.  I snapped a quick photo before they left, and then they were off.

I was so excited for them.  They have been working so hard that they barely had time to plan this get away.  Being young and adventuresome is an advantage when one travels.   Once they landed at their destination, they jumped into vacation mode and were ready to explore and enjoy the new sights,  museums, foods, and culture.  

Family Time in Utah

The next evening after Ryan and Sheridan left, I was able to go to a concert with my daughter Keicha at Red Butte, a nature center in Salt Lake City near the University of Utah. 

The performer for the concert was Kacie Musgrave.  The show was fun and upbeat.  The setting was spectacular.  It was so much fun to spend the evening with Keicha.  We have too few of these experiences together where just the two of us can have a fun night out.   I made us a pasta salad, bought some meat and cheese, fruit, and other picnic food for us to eat while we at the concert.  I loved being with my girlie.  We talked, and laughed, and giggled over other times when we have made some pretty funny memories.  

The next night, I was again able to go out with Keicha.  This time, we attended a fund raiser for the Nature Center in Ogden, Utah.  I took no pictures.  I wish I had because everything about the event was perfect:  the setting, the people, the food.  Over the years, I've met a number of people whom are friends of either my son Ryan or my daughter Keicha.  It is nice to connect with their friends again on an evening such as the one we had.  

After the fund raiser, Keicha and her friend Kelly went to the baseball game.  I had planned on going, but I wanted to head the forty miles towards Ryan and Sheridan's home before it got too dark.  It was actually the first time I've ever done any highway driving since my cataract surgeries this spring, so I was a bit anxious about getting the drive over.

On Sunday, Keicha, Bridger, and I had Sunday brunch together.  Keicha was taking her turn at taking a meal to her grandfather on Sunday afternoon, so we all went with her to deliver the meal she had prepared.  It had been a longer time than I wish since I had been to see my former father-in-law.  In fact, I had not been to see him since my former mother-in-law passed away several years ago.  He has always been a very dear and special person to me.  

While we were at Grandpa's house, Keicha made sure Bridger's height was measured and recorded on the wall where family members record growth records.  Grandpa and Bridger caught up on things in each other's lives.  Bridger was quite fascinated to learn Grandpa had gotten his pilot's license in his younger years.  

I think we all have places that have become central to us when we look back on our lives.  Certainly the home of my former in-laws is one of those places for me.  It was in this home where I first got to know my former husband and his family.  Fifty years ago last month, I left this house to walk across the street to the church on the corner to marry my former husband and father of my children.  

This past Sunday, as I walked to the front door of that house, so many memories flooded back.  In 1966, I sat on those front steps with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law on long summer evenings or on Sunday afternoons eating sour apples sprinkled with salt that we had picked from the tree out back while my new husband was away doing his basic training for the Army in Ft. Ord, California.  It was during these summer evenings that I not only got to know my new family, but I bonded deeply to them.

Nearly every Sunday afternoon or evening during the years my family was young when I lived in Utah, we would visit Grandma and Grandpa at their home.  Often we were treated with homemade raspberry ice cream made by Grandpa.  The raspberries came from his garden.   His garden kept his grown family and probably half of the neighborhood in fresh produce throughout the summer for as long as I can remember.  How I loved those fresh tomatoes from his garden.  Often, my lunch consisted of just garden fresh tomatoes from Grandpa.

The backyard was the gathering place for so many summer evening picnics to celebrate a birthday, a baby shower, or Father's Day. I asked Grandpa how his garden was doing, and he said he only had a few tomato plants that had not done well this year, oh, and of course there were the raspberries.  And, there had been some good peaches earlier, he said.

Hoping to find some raspberries, Bridger and I headed to the backyard.  We were in luck.  There were a few delicious ripe raspberries waiting to be picked and eaten.  
Keicha came out to see what we were doing.  As she stood on the stairs of the deck memories of the day she walked down those stairs on her wedding day to be married in this very yard also came flooding back.  

My former father-in-law, now in his early 90's,  is a bit stooped over, and he said he can't hear or see "too good," but his voice was strong as he asked for all of the the children and grandchildren, my husband, and for my mother.  He told about a book he was reading.  He reminisced  a bit about the days he was a pilot for Bridger.  His once youthful, handsome face now seemed as if it had been refined by the years he has lived.  He has always been such a kind and good man to me.  Always.  I kissed him on the cheek when we left and told him I loved him.  He remains "Dad" to me.  It was hard to visit him and know that "Mother" is no longer there with him.  I'm so grateful to have had this short visit with him.

One evening, my granddaughter Regan stopped by with one of her girlfriends to visit.  She is living working and living up in Logan, Utah, with her brother Parker.  He is going to Utah State, and she will attend school up there next semester.  That girl lights up my life.  She looked well and happy.  She is becoming an independent young lady.  

Last night I had dinner with Keicha, Bridger, and Gillian, Keicha's daughter. Gillian, now a senior in high school, is working after school, so it is hard to find time to spend with her.  She is doing so well.  She told me she had just gotten a raise at work.  I'm so proud of her.  It was good to have a quiet, grown-up dinner with these two.  Aren't they beautiful?  I love their dark, thick curly hair, their smiles, and their personalities.  What a blessing grandchildren are.

I marvel at the way my grandchildren have grown-up.  It happened way too fast. 

In the evenings, I have tried to get my 10,000 steps in by walking.  The altitude is lower in Utah than in Colorado, but I have quite a climb to make as I head towards a beautiful walking path near the place I am calling home this week.   Actually, the path is not really a path; it is a boulevard which is situated on a bench created thousands of years ago when the water from the pre-historic Lake Bonneville receded and evaporated.  This great walking area also provides me with the perfect place to gaze west out over the valley where below the city the landscape changes from cityscape to flatlands, marshes, and then mudflats that meet the Great Salt Lake in the distance. Beyond that, I watch the sun set on the horizon behind the mountains in the distant west.

To the north, I see the 9,716-foot mountain called Ben Lomond.  This is northern most peak of the Wasatch Mountain Range.  It is at the foot mountain where I lived for so many years in Ogden, Utah, which is located about forty miles from where I am now staying. 

It always takes me a while to adjust to what I see as the "weirdness" of Utah.  The landscape of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah fascinate me, and I find them beautiful, but I am always struck by how different it is from the landscape along the Front Range of Colorado.  The mountains in the Wasatch Range are not as wooded as the foothills and mountain near my home.  The mountains themselves are not as tall as the mountains near my home.  In fact, when I first moved to Utah over fifty years ago, I was asked if I liked living by "our beautiful mountains" by a neighbor.  I looked at the mountains near our home in Ogden, Utah, and replied in an unintended rude way, "Where I come from in Colorado, we call these foothills."  In my defense, I had just left Leadville, Colorado, where the city at over 10,000 was surrounded by mountain tops all over 14,000 feet in elevation.  I was just trying to wrap my head around how odd the landscape appeared to me at the time.  I find I still do that.  

I wish I had brought my camera with me on this trip, but since I didn’t, I attempt to capture the beauty of these sights with my iPhone camera which I aim through a chain link fence that surrounds the golf course just below the sidewalk where I walk.  

The days are getting a bit shorter as we head towards the official beginning of fall which will occur on September 22.  The weather is also becoming a bit cooler.  All of this signals that summer is nearly over.  

I was in Utah in late May this year.  As I walked the evening path this spring that I am now walking in the fall I note that the early brightly colored spring flowers no longer appear on the hillsides at all.  The daisies have given way to jaunty sunflowers now having their last days of glory.  In someways, I have felt that same way.  The life I have ahead is so much shorter than the life I have behind me.  So much has changed.  The springtime of my youth spent in this valley seems so long ago.  Summer is over.  The days of harvest seem to be here.  I am reaping the benefits of years of work that went before me when I was busy raising children, going to school, and working.  Now I am retired.  The children of my children are now teenagers and young adults.  I am seeing the generation that was before me fade away.  

Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons.  As summer gives way to fall, I want to capture the sunflowers before they see their last days of glory.  As the sun sets on another day, another season, I too want to hang on to each day of beauty illuminated by the evening sun before day gives way to night.