We need a ‘me too’ movement for mental illness and suicide

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Three high-profile people recently lost their lives to suicide. Fashion designer Kate Spade, chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain, and (perhaps well-known by association) Inés Zorreguieta, sister of queen of the Netherlands. Still fresh in my memory is the suicide of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington and actor Robin Williams. These stories are not easy to read for those of us who have come so close to losing our lives in a similar way.

Every life lost to suicide is tragic because every human being is valuable, means something to someone and has so much to offer the world. However, I can fully understand how someone can make the decision to end their life.

If you find yourself in the depths of depression, suicide seems like the greatest consolation. This is why I don’t judge any of these people for what they believed is the best way out because I also once found myself contemplating a very similar end.

I once read something that said: “No one commits suicide because they want to die. Then why do they do it? Because they want to stop the pain.”

Mental illness needs a ‘me too’ movement 

Suicide is an emotive, uncomfortable and controversial subject. A lot has been written about these suicides in the past few days and I have been both encouraged and angered by what I’ve read.

As these deaths received so much publicity it might make it easier for more people to talk about depression and suicide. What is really needed is a ‘me too’ movement for mental illness to raise the profile of conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar and PTSD.

It might raise the profile of mental illness – how awesome would it be if this category of illnesses were considered as serious as diabetes or heart disease? What if these deaths helped to remove the long-standing stigma associated with mental illness?

However, I am also angered by the lack of insight into what caused these people to take their own lives. The absence of compassion is concerning and devastating. Reading some of the Twitter commentary on these celebrity deaths is enough to make one lose complete faith in humanity. The media should also improve how they report on suicide.

We need to talk about suicide

Very few people want to engage with the fact that people kill themselves. How often are victims accused of being selfish, crazy or psycho? Labels hurt people. They are cruel. They cause people not to seek treatment for fear of judgement.

Depression is a legitimate medical condition

“In my mind, there’s nothing our generation should be more ashamed of than people with severe mental illness being punished for a disease they can’t do anything about. ” Fran Quigley

Depression isn’t just a case of “having the blues”. I spotted this beautiful statement by Kelly Risbey (@MntlHlthWarrior) on my Twitter feed some time ago: “If your friend was battling cancer, you’d send flowers, call, email, stop by. Do all these same things for your friend battling #depression.”

Don’t you sometimes wish that mental illness could be diagnosed with a blood test, or be visible on an X-ray? It would eliminate all those “snap out of it” or “it is all in your head” comments. No wonder so many people suffer in silence. Those who live with chronic conditions such as clinical depression, anxiety, PTSD or bipolar should be treated in the same way as someone living with diabetes, high blood pressure or asthma.

Check on your strong friend

This is such a powerful statement – check on those who you least expect to be struggling. The friend who tells you that they’re fine. That person who is always smiling. It could be a sibling who appears to have a picture perfect life. Is all really well?

 

 

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Truths about change – the beauty of being exactly where I need to be

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This week is my fifth month in the Netherlands. What an adventure to live the life I’ve always wanted for myself and my family! Besides all the expected challenges of settling into a new home country, the biggest change for me has been becoming a full-time mom. 

This was – and still is – huge. I’ve never not worked in my life. I spent the majority of my career working as a journalist in a fast-paced and severe environment filled with impossible deadlines, stress and anxiety. At the end of each day I had very little time or energy for my son. I had zero capacity for enthusiasm. It wasn’t sustainable and I knew it. My depression medication dosage doubled. I had more than one emotional, psychological and physical breakdown. 

Suddenly, all that came to a grinding halt. My life took at 360 degree turn. 

Instead of flying out the door at 6am in the morning to start work at 7am, I now make school lunches, prepare breakfast and take my son to school. I have time to make friends with other moms. I have coffee with new friends in the mornings. I arrange playdates for my son after school and I can actually be there. I fetch my son from school at 1pm and on our cycle home we talk about everything he did that day. The two of us can do so much together – walks in the forest, running up and down sand dunes, go to the beach, bake cakes, visit museums and go to the movies. 

During the past five months I’ve often had a song called Turn! Turn! Turn! on my mind. In 1965 it was a hit single by folk rock group, The Byrds, and was written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s.

…To everything, turn, turn, turn.
There is a season, turn, turn, turn.
And a time to every purpose under heaven….  

There is something quite amazing about huge life changes. You find your direction amid the change and temporary uncertainty. I think being a full-time mom is possibly the best thing that has ever happened to me. This is a busy and demanding job but I love this season of my life.

When I think about how my life has changed, I now know this: 

I’m happy. Not in a frivolous way but a deep restfulness.  

My priorities and values are in alignment. I have time and energy for my son. I love showing him how wonderful the world is, I love encouraging him to dream, discover and experiment. 

I have time to look after myself. This is something I’ve neglected in the past. 

I’m brave. I am rebuilding my life the way I want it. 

I’m grateful that my husband values my contribution to our family and makes it possible for me to be at home with our son.

 

If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it. –  John Irving. 

To live deliberately

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                     Forest ride through Bloemendal and Overveen, North Holland.                                   Photo: Wilma den Hartigh

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately. To front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discovered that I had not lived … I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life… ” – Henry David Thoreau

Wow – what a challenge!  To live deliberately. To live deep.

But first, cappuccino

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Coffee – or cappuccino to be accurate – is important in my life. I have developed a habit of taking photos of my coffee wherever I go, and posting these on my Instagram account.

Take a look at these photos of some of my favourite cappuccinos over the past year or so, taken all over South Africa and in the Netherlands.

What I enjoy most about the ritual of ordering a cappuccino is the surprise of what it looks like. However, the contents should not be a lucky packet – strong and warm is a must. 🙂

I love the detail: the shape and colour of the cup, the old-school doilies (these only come with the cup in country places), the biscuits (usually shortcake or ginger and is always a plus point for me – the hand-shaped biscuit is my favourite).  Then there are disposable cups – sometimes corrugated, printed or biodegradable.

I also look at the colour of the coffee, the density of the foam and the patterns. Oh, I love the patterns! Sometimes these are added using a stencil with a dusting of cocoa or cinnamon.

What’s really impressive is if the barista creates a heart by pouring the milk in a certain way or writes words with chocolate syrup. Occasionally a few coffee beans are sprinkled on top.

Taking time out for a coffee is something I do just for me. It is fun, makes me smile and helps me to relax (unless the coffee is cold – then I ask for a new one!)

When was the last time you did something just for you? 

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Imagine what could happen

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Image: Wilma den Hartigh

 

 

A powerful and thought-provoking poem by Chilean poet-diplomat and politician, Pablo Neruda. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature – 1971.

“You start dying slowly

if you do not travel,
if you do not read,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life,
If you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly
When you kill your self-esteem;
When you do not let others help you.

You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking everyday on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine,
If you do not wear different colours
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly
If you avoid to feel passion
And their turbulent emotions;
Those which make your eyes glisten
And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice.”

We have to talk about suicide

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September is Suicide Prevention Month and I’m wondering why this topic isn’t trending on Twitter. It is such an important subject to talk about. But very few people do. Very few people want to engage with the fact that people kill themselves. How often are victims accused of being selfish, crazy or psycho?

This image sums it up perfectly:

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Suicide is a subject close to my heart  because I almost reached that point a few years ago. I blogged about this in a previous post: Celebrating a year of living.

In South Africa, where I live, there is a suicide nearly every hour. This figure could be higher because many incidents aren’t reported. According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa has the eighth highest suicide rate in the world. Suicide is also the third greatest cause of unnatural death in the country.

 

People should talk about suicide. If someone tells you they are suicidal, believe them. They aren’t joking.

 

 

Life lessons from a sad tiger

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This evening I read my son Matthew the most beautiful story. It is about a sad tiger called Augustus and he thinks that he’s lost his smile.

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He sets off to find it and  right at the end he realises this:

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Happiness is everywhere around him. And that’s true! There is beauty in this world and in life even when it is unbearable and overwhelming. We must celebrate simple happiness…the little things.

I read this recently:

Think today is just another day? You woke up. You heart’s beating. You can talk to anyone. You can try anything. Your day has infinite potential. Now that’s something to celebrate. – Lori Deschene

Wow. That’s something to think about.

Thank you, Augustus! ♡