Besides grieving and experiencing the guilt, sadness and anger that accompanies when someone close to us dies by suicide, I was left with an empty space to fill. I could have gone one of two ways. I could have tried to fill that void with things that would only have masked the pain I was in and sunk into a deep depression, or I could fill that empty space with actions that made me feel whole again. And this is how my journey brought me to music.
My voice is not only that of a survivor, but also one of a medical provider, as a nurse practitioner. I utilize my journey to help others and to advocate for them. Mental illness and suicide do not have to be invisible. They are topics that need voices and I am one of those voices.
Within that framework, there is a danger that suicide becomes presented as a ‘selfish’ action, addiction as ‘indulgent’ and depression as ‘dramatic.’ We need more people who suffer with mental illness and addiction to tell their stories, if they are willing and able. We need the real narratives of mental illness and addiction to both challenge stigma and to impact the policy and public health approaches that are implemented.
I can’t really begin to describe how it feels to “go manic” other than it feels like your brain is being taken over and that you have this heightened sense of paranoia. For me, that meant that the government was watching me, studying my every move.
Mental health disorders are difficult. They are journeys with long paths, paths that curve in many directions. The greatest gifts my journey brought me were true loved ones, strength, my voice, and the honor of working beside Veterans (they take me under their wings and treat me like one of their own). So now I give you the opportunity to speak up. Speak loudly and without shame.
The staff on our wing had their work cut out for them, with twenty-four patients to attend to. Community therapy concentrated on setting and achieving goals. Occupational therapy focused on creatively integrating right- and left-brained processes. Twenty-four individual viewpoints on life; twenty-four souls needing to communicate, each in their own unique way. A microcosm of the very world we longed to be a part of, treating one another with respect when someone went off the rails, supporting one another when life’s lessons got too hard to shoulder alone.
“I focus on creating now, instead of destroying myself. My stitching gives me a reason to keep going, to keep fighting. I have to finish so many portraits,” she says of the benefits the stitching process provides for her mental health. “I start something to bring comfort to someone else and it ends up bringing comfort to myself. It’s like a circle. By helping others I’m helping myself.”“I focus on creating now, instead of destroying myself. My stitching gives me a reason to keep going, to keep fighting. I have to finish so many portraits,” she says of the benefits the stitching process provides for her mental health. “I start something to bring comfort to someone else and it ends up bringing comfort to myself. It’s like a circle. By helping others I’m helping myself.”
In giving thought to how I best can express this, I’ve decided to write these future pieces by providing real-life scenarios and events which I have personally experienced with the adults I worked with throughout my 25 year career at Napa State Hospital.
But there is one feeling that’s unnecessary: the loneliness, and in my time supporting my wife, I’ve never felt more lonely. In times of crisis we tend to wall ourselves away from each other because we’re too afraid to talk about what we’re experiencing. In all of my internet searching, it felt like I was the first husband who had to take his wife to the psych ward, because no one out there was talking or writing about it.