A friend once told me to “say it out loud” and for what felt like the first time ever, I did. I had spent years upon years keeping it in. I always reacted to the initial shock, poorly at that, then locked it up to be strong for everyone else, until it happened again and I repeated the cycle. I had terrible coping mechanisms, was unable to move on and had I not finally said it out loud, I still would. It sounds so simple now, but it wasn’t always. I now say it a lot, not to just anyone, to my inner circle and myself, but in a healthy way and understand that it’s perfectly normal. In fact, it opens the door to understanding of myself and to others. So I will say it now, on the most public forum I have ever done so and I will own it.
I am sad.
Three of the most powerful words I ever said out loud. I use to have this mantra that I needed to be the one everyone else could lean on, pretend I knew the right thing to say and that no matter how I felt inside, I had it all together and could easily move onto the next day, but it was a total lie. You see, by the time I as 17, I had put more people in the ground than most adults I knew. Death seemed to be a normal occurrence in my world and being so young I lacked the ability to understand it. I didn’t understand how all these people I was so close too were leaving me. I was damaged, and I still am, but now I have a different kind of strength. Not the strength that tells me I need to hide it and be the go to person, but the strength to speak up about how I feel about it, to openly process my feelings and admit to myself that “I am sad” and truly know that it’s ok to feel that way.
The disaster I call my youth is a whole other story for another time, what prompted this post was a fellow member of my daughters support group for her genetic disease, who reached out to me a while back with their raw, true emotions. They told me about the pain they live in – both physical and mental, the ridicule they received for the way they looked, how it caused them to have anxiety and depression, lack experience in relationships and how every now and then, they feel like it would be easier to just end it all. They went on to tell me that they know how they would do it and have sat there alone at night legitimately pondering it, this was one of those nights they were struggling with that decision. So, there I was again, feeling sad. It scared me for so many reasons. Was I the last chance? Can I handle this pressure? For them, their family, their friends, to carry on their pain without them in a different way and I thought back to the days following Mermaid’s diagnosis when every word this person was saying ran through my head like a freight train. I listened and listened and I listened, all the while, feeling slightly selfish that it had my mind wandering back to own thoughts, but I continued to listen.
I made a decision while on maternity leave with Mermaid that I needed to make a life change. I was burnt out working in Primary Care and truth be told, it’s never where I wanted to be, but I was so mesmerized by the two people interviewing me at my first potential job in the real world that I took the job. The manager was from Canada and his accent made me laugh but he was so educated, and the RN was stunning. She was beyond put together, very proper, soft-spoken, this twinkle in her eye and I knew I could work for them. Well, almost 10 years later there I was, still in Primary Care plugging away. That very nurse had spent the first 5 years of my career teaching me right from wrong, had been a friend a team lead and encouraged me when I talked about movement. Now that I wanted to make a move it needed to be angled back at what I originally wanted, and there it was, truly – like big flashing arrows pointing at the job posting. Mental Health. I applied and shockingly I got it, I thought for sure this was going to be the greatest transition ever.
Well I thought wrong, at least for a while. This is the absolute truth; upon my arrival I was point-blank told by multiple other staff members that they didn’t want me there. They had no idea how I could be a piece of their process and one person honestly said to me that he thought I was delusional about working there. Don’t worry, those people no longer work there for reasons completely unrelated so I am not outting anyone in our present environment. At the time, their world consisted of Psychiatrists, Therapists and a few nurses that didn’t see their patients on a daily basis but were tucked away on the phones handling the back scene crisis situations. The department was changing and growing, adding more nurses who were slowly becoming more involved in the daily routine, Medical Assistants, Case Managers and Social Workers. I was one of the first people to arrive in an expansion continuing to this day and spent the first two weeks sitting in my chair spinning in circles watching the clock because nobody would hardly even speak to me. I knew I had to prove myself but needed help. Help is just what I got, one of the Psychiatrists who was onboard with me being there actually told me that he had helped fight for more staff. and support. He led me through some basics and continued to support my presence on a daily basis. Slowly his patients grew to like me and in time, I had a small space where I fit, but I couldn’t shake the initial distaste for my presence.
As I continued fighting , completely determined to prove everyone wrong, to show my worth, I had a whole other struggle that came to light just after my transfer. Mermaid’s complicated new diagnosis of Epidermolytic Hyperkeratosis with Linear Epidermal Nevus . I will never, ever forget those first few hours after leaving the specialists office who diagnosed her. As things slowly settled into my brain it moved into weeks and months of anxiety. I would close my office door of my new job and just cry. As if it wasn’t hard enough to walk down those halls every time I needed to get a patient and face some of the people who had made me so uncomfortable, I now had to wipe away tears and gather myself enough to not look like a complete mess. I would repeatedly tell myself, I am sad, and that is ok. At that point in time it was so new and the extent of her lesions were unknown. I had all of these anxiety’s; would it take over the whole left side of her body? Would she be embarrassed? Be made fun of? Would others see it as gross? If she got cancer, how would I know? What if I didn’t catch it in time? Will it be painful? Make her sad? Will she become depressed? Will she someday feel the sadness I feel now? I was consumed and scared. Until I figured out how to move on from that dark place where I cried nearly non-stop, at a job where I was already so alone, those anxieties remained. It was awful.
Eventually I found my footing in both World’s, I actually received a few apologies for the things people had said to me and massive compliments about sticking it out, one of them happily admitted that he was wrong for how he felt and the things he said, I thought that was big of him to share but I have never forgotten the one person who accepted me from day one, Dr. Pavan Somusetty. I have never forgotten how he made me feel, had I not had him on my side, I certainly wouldn’t be there now, no intentions of ever leaving, bossing people around, completely confident in my work and considering most of my teammates family. As time went on I also found my way with Mermaid’s diagnosis. Over the years we have openly shared our journey and been blessed that her nevus has not spread to the extent it could have or might still, we maintain it well and despite the controversy around the possibility of childhood kidney cancer, we are just about a year away from wiping that off the worry list all together. For now, we are both happy, healthy individuals, my initial feelings about her diagnosis often get lost in our daily lives, until that night. Our fellow Nevus owner who sought me out as a safe place to share her fears took me back to that place. That place where even though Mermaid is small and healthy now, Icouldn’t help but think again if that be the same story later? Will she one day be reaching out to someone in this very same way? Every case is different, some are simple, some complex, none of us can completely identify with another’s road, but we can agree that the more extensive cases have a very high potential to cause social out-casting, pain, anxiety & depression. That night I was reminded of my original fears and I remember how alone I felt with those fears, so I listened.
Just as I did that night, I will to continue to put this out into the world for everyone; if you are struggling, feeling sad, lost or a potential danger to yourself, reach out. Your identity and personal struggle will remain private. I will do my best to be a good listener, share what I have learned and attempt to find you resources in your area. I am happy to say that those suicidal thoughts and feelings this individual was having have passed, for now, but that may not have been the case if they remained quiet. Holding that strength to say things out loud allowed them to process their thoughts easier, and all I had to do, was listen.
I can’t tell you how many times a week I hear someone on the other end of the phone say “you probably didn’t need to know that, but thanks for listening” or asking me if I have just a few minutes for them to vent, and I always will. Where my sadness surrounding Mermaid’s diagnosis during a difficult transition to a new job never left me suicidal, it certainly left me empty until I found a healthy way to change that. I am not immune to suicide. As I took in all this person’s fears that night and reasons it would be easier to just end it, I flashed back to when I was much younger, to a classmate in the 7th grade that I use to walk home from school with sometimes, who took his life in the family home just a block away from me. I couldnt process the magnitude of that at 12-13 years old, I thought about another friend that took her life a few years ago leaving behind a husband and children and I thought about another one of my very closest friends who was supposed to be at my house for game night but died in a car crash chalked up to being under the influence by authorities, though some people claim it was completely deliberate, and I wondered, was this all they needed? Someone to listen, without judgement? To tell them it was ok? So I continue to listen.
I’m glad I had someone on my side when I made the leap to Mental Health, someone who believed in my value adding to my decision to stay because the department and their cause are a piece of me now. I have learned so much about myself and others as a result of working in this world. I have learned that being sad, is ok, it’s normal. It doesn’t mean I am depressed or suicidal, it simply means, I feel. That talking about the things making us feel that way opposed to hiding them, is refreshing; but more so, that suicide can be prevented.
The person who told me to “say it out loud” left this world less than a year ago, changing my life forever. The person that listened to me all those years, let me be angry when I needed to be, distant when I was incapable of closeness and taught me to say out loud that I was sad, is no longer here. She occasionally struggled herself and where she was outwardly happy, inside she was a bit lost herself, despite her own thoughts she continued to be there for me and I will never forget how she changed the way I feel. Just as I will never forget how that nurse in my initial interview all those years ago at the beginning of my career made me feel, like I wanted to be a part of that world with her, so I made the leap. A few years ago this individual decided she could no longer handle her own struggles, and took her own life. I will never forget that in a time when I was going through something so personal and difficult, while basically being told I didn’t belong, that one Physician made me feel welcome. I knew he was special from day one, his patients know he is special now and I am so proud to say that tomorrow, you can tune in to hear him yourself.
Entercom radio has put together a nationwide broadcast called “I’m listening” that focuses on breaking the stigma attached to talking about mental health. The radio program will be live at 10 a.m. ET on Sept. 10 for a two-hour, commercial-free live broadcast, featuring personal stories and a call-in number during the show so listeners can share how they’ve been impacted by suicide. Metallica, Halsey, Bleachers and Nirvana’s Krist Novoselik will be among some of the people speaking and sharing stories.
The conversation will be led by BJ Shea from KISW-FM in Seattle and will offer guidance and resources from Christine Moutier, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; Dr. Ursula Whiteside, clinical psychologist, CEO of NowMattersNow.org; and my friend, Dr. Pavan Somusetty, Psychiatrist and Assistant Chief of Mental Health for Kaiser Permanente Northwest.
To read more about the broadcast or find your local station airing it; click the link below:
We have all been effected by someone with Mental Health issues, perhaps you have experienced a loss, been around another person you were unsure how to help or heard someone’s story that triggered your own dark places, whatever your connection, it’s time to speak up and let others know you are listening.
Tomorrow morning, at 7am my time, I will be up with a cup of coffee tuned into 94.7 for the broadcast. I invite you all to join me for that cup of coffee from the comfort of your own home and just listen. Take in the stories, the advice and remind yourself to be open, that mental health is real. Together we can bring it to the forefront of healthcare where it is treated with the same social acceptance as the common cold. A better understanding of one another.
Listen for Pavan’s interview and if you have thoughts, pop on here or my Facebook and share them.
To the ones I have lost and mentioned, thank you for being a part of my story today, you are forever in my heart.
Looking forward to our Sunday morning coffee date!
Thanks for walking with us today,