Dads Helping Dads

It starts with an experience, or experiences. It starts with life events. It starts with finding a common thread between you and another individual. Then it progresses into a thought. Then an idea begins to form. This is essentially how things have worked for me with what will be a new endeavor for me. I wouldn’t be at this point had it not been the experiences I had with my divorce, the custody battles as someone with a mental illness. I wouldn’t be at this point if it wasn’t for the hardships of feeling inadequate as a father. Feeling like you don’t belong at the table with the other dads at someone’s birthday party or at a sporting event. The feeling like you are not qualified to be a dad because you are not even good enough to take care of yourself on some days because of your mental illness. It’s these thoughts that had me team with a twitter friend, fellow divorced dad with a mental illness @mjnanna. Together we agreed to start a peer based group like #sicknotweak for divorced dads suffering from a mental illness.

Michael and I exchanged a few messages before it was realized that we were so much more alike than we ever imagined. From there our wheels began to turn and I approached Michael about the idea of starting this group. He had been thinking the same thing, and boom we were off and running. We know that if it took us that long to realize we had this in common how many other men are out there just like us living in silence just like we did and falling into the same traps that we did. And we know it’s hard enough to get a man to admit he has a mental illness let alone join a group of men to discuss the issues he is struggling with both personally and mentally. But we believe there is a real need for this type of discussion. And we believe it’s not just for the benefit of the father but also their child.

Here are some of the goals that have been formulated:

1. This is going to be a peer to peer group. Come and be fed and feed. We will rely on participants experience as much as they may rely on others.

2. This is a judgment free community. No one will be criticized for feeling a certain way or for taking an action that we may not have recommended.

3. This is about our mental illness and our children, not our ex’s. We want to focus on how we can help each other be better fathers despite our diagnosis. Learn from those who are further down the path about things they wish they had done differently.

4. ZERO tolerance when it comes to bashing women. This is self explanatory. We will not tolerate anyone using profanity, degrading women, or using the platform to call their ex every name in the book. ZERO tolerance.

5. We won’t cure you, or solve your problems but we can share with each other how we navigated certain situations when it comes to trying to be a parent with a mental illness.

6. The last goal and this is a long way off type of dream is to eventually partner with a legal firm or firms that can be used to help fathers with a mental illness. As of right now no one seems to know of any firms that have a soft spot for those with a mental illness. We must give it our best shot to change that.

This isn’t going to happen overnight. This isn’t going to happen in the next month. There are a lot of moving parts that will need to be worked on before we can officially launch our website and hashtag. Also kind of important to come up with a name, so if you have any ideas doing be afraid to tweet them to me @tonyk10933. Also if you are reading this and are a father with a mental illness please let me know so I can be sure to add you to our group list. And if you aren’t in this boat but know of anyone please pass the word along.

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As a father with a mental illness I can speak to the difficulty of not being able to afford legal representation. I can speak to the feeling of having your mental illness used against you when it comes to custody and legal rights agreements. I know what its like to feel like to not want your child to see you the way you are because you don’t feel you are good enough. I know the crazy games your mind will play in telling you its best to stay away from your child. I know the pain of seeing your child cry when you have to return them. The cry because they want to stay longer. The look of disappointment when they know they won’t see you for an entire week. The emotional roller coaster you end up on once you’ve dropped them off. You were so happy to see them yet deep down inside you were fighting your depression. They leave and you are emotionally drained for the next few days. You don’t feel like getting out of bed.

Remember the voice of your depression is going to tell you that you are not good enough to be a father, but the only voice that matters is the one that calls you dad. We are always harder on ourselves than anyone else ever is. As a father that used to be able to provide anything my son wanted I know how it feels to think my son won’t love me as much because I can’t give him the same things I used to. What I’ve learned is all those things I gave him in the past isn’t what he really wanted anyway. All he wanted then is all I can afford to give now and that’s my love and attention. That’s all our children want. I’m extremely happy to be able to call myself a dad again. I don’t care where we go or what we are doing. All I care about is my son is happy, he is loved, and he is being taken care of.

If you are a father struggling with the things I’ve mentioned please do not hesitate to reach out to me @tonyk10933. If you know a father struggling please have them reach out to me. It’s not just one person we are trying to help it’s both you and your child that we ultimately want to help. We will be here for you!

REMEMBER… YOU MATTER!!

This is ME!

One thing I’ve never wanted to do was write a blog while I was in a depressive state of mind. But then again one thing I’ve always said is I want anything I write to be authentic. I want it to be raw. I never want to sugarcoat my emotions or downplay the pain or suffering. So why have I been afraid of sharing how I currently feel and instead always focusing on how I felt in the past. It is easy to say I’ve leaned on past experiences in hopes that you will use them as a beacon to light your path through your own mental health struggles.

Today was an odd day. I had a great time with my son. It was only 2 hours but I don’t complain, it was 2 hours I dreamed about and hungered for just months ago. We had fun. We didn’t get to do much but the important thing was us communicating with each other. We are getting to know each other again and I can’t be more happy about it. He actually made me feel good when we started discussing the weekends. I will have him Saturday and Sunday from 12-4 this weekend and in a few weeks he will start spending Friday night till Sunday evening with me. When I explained this to me he said he had hoped he could start spending the entire weekend already. I can’t explain how happy that made me feel.

Later today I had my first appointment with my new psychiatrist. Finally after 4 months of seeing the therapist an appointment opened up and I was able to finally be seen. It was a good session. Obviously more of an introduction than anything else. She has put me back on lithium to help me with the suicidal thoughts. To this day I believe I’ll be dead by the time I’m 55 and it will be from suicide. I’m not suicidal. I haven’t thought about doing anything in quite some time. But the fact that its in my mind on a daily basis is the reason for the lithium. I’ve taken it in the past but never took enough to reach a therapeutic level so this time I’m going to be going to a full 900mg a day to see how that works. All other meds have been kept the same which is a relief. I was afraid it was going to be a wipe the slate clean and start a whole new regimen situation.

On the drive home this evening I felt my emotions start to drop a bit. The other night I googled for any kind of dental fee assistance that might be out there. There is but it’s a long process and quite a few hoops to jump through. I can honestly tell you that due to never being taken to a dentist as a child I don’t know what its like to smile with my mouth open. And if there is a picture with me smiling with my mouth open I’m horrified to look at it.  Can you imagine living your entire life being afraid to open your mouth? There always seemed to be a life event that would come up that would cause me not to be able to afford to do what I wanted to do with my teeth. I always put other peoples needs and wants before my own.  I’m at the point now where I use DenTek which is a product designed to be a temporary filling for cavities. I’ve been using it for the back of one of my front teeth for 4 months now. It dissolves after a few days and a new filling goes in. I don’t have dental insurance and lack the funds to get things fixed to be able to once in my life….smile.

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I started thinking about how my rainy day fund was completely gone. I at one point had the money to get my 6 top front teeth replaced but didn’t because I knew something would come along. First it was my car needing replaced, then it was dropping $2000 for a new custody agreement and another $1350 to file for bankruptcy. I’ve always lived having a plan for emergencies. That is now gone and my skin is crawling. I absolutely hate it. I’m now paying for choosing the instant gratification over long term security. I’m now paying for spending money because I didn’t plan on being here.

These are all things people take for granted. But when your stuck in a well up to your neck in your own shit it weighs on you more than people can understand. Today should have been a good day and it was, but then like flipping a switch it has gone to shit. I want to be here to inspire people to open up and share their feelings. Not to sit here and dwell on the damn mistakes I’ve made. But people don’t realize how magnified your mistakes are to you when your fighting depression. You start down this road and you begin to question everything. Your relationships, your future, how you are going to survive. Everything.

I wish one of the pills the doctor described me today would cure everything. It can’t give me self-confidence, it can’t give me family, it can’t fix my teeth, it can’t replenish my safety net, it can’t wipe out my debt, and it certainly can’t give me love and acceptance. Those meds are for one thing. Stabilizing.

Being stabilized is great, but it doesn’t take away any of the thoughts I just shared. I hate feeling like this. I hate feeling like this is the best its going to get. I hate knowing how vulnerable I am should something else happen. I hate knowing there is nothing I can do about it. I hate knowing there is nothing I can do about anything I’ve mentioned.
If your reading this and you’ve recently been diagnosed with a mental illness I would want you to take away one thing. Regardless of your diagnosis and regardless of your medication life is going to continue to move around you. You must be diligent in building a support system that you can turn to for help. When you get to the point I was at, it seemed like moving a mountain to make a call to the gas company just to work out a payment plan so your gas wasn’t turned off. Or as in my case going out in public and potentially have people see my teeth. You are already torn down and now every little insecurity is magnified 100x over.

I’m not perfect, I’m not even good. I am who I am. This is who I am. I’m now a 43 year old guy that lives in his sisters spare bedroom. I suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD. I am not working. I’m bankrupt and unable to live on my own. My family is my sister and my son. I’ve got less than one handful of friends. I have trust issues. I have zero self-confidence. My future life isn’t a pretty picture. I didn’t ask for this but these were the cards I’ve been dealt. If your reading this you’ve been dealt your own cards. Learn from my mistakes. Ask me questions about where I went wrong. The short answer to where I went wrong is this… I went wrong at every turn when I started in this mental health fog. I didn’t have anyone reaching out a hand who was experienced in suicide and severe depression.

I’m not a licensed professional but I have what the book smart doctors don’t have. I have true experience of living it, fighting it, struggling with it, admitting I have it, and accepting it as part of who I am. The hardest thing you’ll have to do is accept that your diagnosis is now part of you. Its not a death sentence. You do not have to be a statistic or a definition. None of us are exactly alike. Most days I can’t light my own path in front of me but I’d be there in a second to shine some light to help you get even a few steps closer. It’s easier for me to build someone else up than it is to build myself up. Never, ever be afraid to reach out to me on twitter @tonyk10933. You have nothing to lose by reaching out. I’m a judgment free person and there isn’t much you could tell me that I haven’t either already heard or experienced myself.

I’m sorry this entry wasn’t at its usual tone. But ya know what, shit happens.

REMEMBER…. YOU MATTER!!

Your Happy Ending

Everyone has a story. Everyone has enough life experiences to fill a book. Some would be happy, some would be sad, some would be horrific and some would almost seem like fiction. For those who struggle with a mental illness every day of our life could be its own book. We may run through a wide spectrum of emotions in one day or we may seem an extreme onset of just one of those emotions. I’ve often thought about writing a book and sharing my story. I wouldn’t know where to begin but I already have a title. From the pills to the noose, my suicidal journey. The more I thought about it the more I didn’t like the idea of writing a book about my story.

My story is no different than anyone else who struggles with a mental illness. It is not exactly the same but the struggles we share are very much alike. I equate self help books for those with a mental illness to diet books. Yes we realize we need help and its great that what is in that book has helped at least one person but when you try it yourself and it doesn’t work you end up more frustrated and less willing to try anything else. It’s much like the coping skills they provide you when you are hospitalized or even by a therapist. These are simply ideas, they are not guaranteed to work for you.

When you are in the fog you want anything, anything to work for you. Even if it offers temporary relief. For me it was retail therapy. I needed that instant satisfaction and would sacrifice long term security to get it. When I was working part time at Walmart my brother in law would ask me if I ever left work without buying something. The answer was no. Everyday I was there I made a purchase. I would buy things and never consume them. Like when the new flavor of lays chips comes out I had to buy all 4 but I would never open 2 of them. It was a rush for me to know that I had something that a lot of people were going to be looking for and wanting to buy. And the idea of buying something everyday was the one part of the day where I felt like an average joe. I was doing something that normal people did, it was my moment of normalcy in an otherwise chaotic day.

I can recall when I first separated from my ex and how I would look for anything to tell me that we were going to work out our differences and save our marriage. I can recall the number of bottles of jagermeister I drank during one week. I was so out of my mind I began making deals with God. I would say things like God if my marriage is going to be saved send me a message. Any message. An hour later I would get a text message from someone that was totally unrelated and for me that was my sign that things would work out. The next day another deal with God, that day nothing came. I became more distraught and would drink more. This would go on for days. One thing I learned is that no matter what the outcome of the deal was that neither of us was a winner.

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We all want a fix. We want there to be a medication to come along. We wish that we could a brace on and be able to take it off and show people we are doing better. The bottom line is that none of these things exist. Antidepressants don’t make you happy. They are stabilizers. Antidepressants don’t cure life circumstances. Antidepressants don’t take care of the past due bills. Antidepressants don’t fix broken relationships. I’m not knocking antidepressants or any other medications. I’m not knocking therapy or alternative methods. The message I’m trying to pass along is that it takes more than a handful of pills or a few hours of therapy to help you along. Even when you get to the point of feeling better than you were before you fell into your funk that doesn’t mean you give up on your medication. Learn from my mistake. Not taking your medication once you have been diagnosed with a mental illness is the equivalent of a high wire act not using a safety net. You are gambling with your life without even knowing it. I wanted to be happy, not be made to feel happy. I took that macho approach and it didn’t end well. I do not ever see a day where I will not take a medication just as some will never see a day where they will not take a high blood pressure pill, or use an inhaler.

I wanted to write a book. I wanted to inspire people. I wanted to help people. I wanted to share my experiences so that others can learn from my mistakes or perhaps learn how to help a loved one with a mental illness. Every book I supposed to have a happy ending right? My doctor asked me during my last hospital stay, what will your happy ending be. I didn’t have an answer to that question but I do now. A happy ending doesn’t have to be me retired with a house on the beach. Or having millions of dollars thanks to a best-selling book. My happy ending is going to be achievable. My happy ending is going to be realistic. My happy ending isn’t the fact that I’m cured of my mental illness. My happy ending is the fact that I have the desire to live and share my experiences with others. My happy ending is the fact that I’m alive to write and share. My happy ending is the fact that I can be here to encourage and support others. My happy ending is the fact that I’ll be here to see my son grow up. It’s the small things that once seemed so unrealistic that one day can be part of your happy ending. Never stop fighting for that story book ending.

REMEMBER… YOU MATTER!!

Neglect Effect

When examining a childhood we look at sexual abuse or molestation as devastating actions that have long term effects. We link how the child may have grew to adult with altered behavioral patterns because of the abuse. You know the commonly recognized theory that those who are abused as children will likely carry out the same actions on others as adults. Last week I discussed how I was molested as a child and how it impacted my life from teen through my adult years. Today I would like to discuss another issue that is equally deplorable and can have the same lasting effects on a child as abuse.

I’m going to come right out and say it. I was neglected as a child. You may stop and think to yourself how can that be when he discussed how his stepfather was his coach and how much time they spent together playing catch or at the bar. Neglect takes on many forms other than just failing to spend time with your child. Today I’m going to discuss the 3 areas of neglect I endured when I was a child.

Child neglect
Child neglect is a form of child maltreatment, a deficit in meeting a child’s basic needs including the failure to provide basic physical, health care, supervision, nutrition, emotional, education and/or safe housing needs. Society generally believes there are necessary behaviors a caregiver must provide a child in order for the child to develop physically, socially, and emotionally.

The first area I want to discuss is emotional. Growing up I was separated from my father at the age of 6. It took me 30 years before I saw my biological father again. At a young age I was told stories of how my father cut the break lines on my stepfathers car in an attempt to hurt him. My mom would hide the cards for my birthday and holidays that were sent by my dad so that it would appear that he didn’t care. My mom was the basic reason for my emotional neglect. I am 12 years younger than my sister meaning that when I was born my mom was already past the point of wanting to change diapers and raise another kid. It was evident by the fact that I spent most of my time as a child with my sister. My real father threw my sister out of the house after hearing me call her mom. My older sister and brother were from my moms first marriage. Once my mom divorced my dad and we lived with my stepdad I still never saw any kind of emotional support. In fact my mom went out of her ways at times to make my life a little tougher. Example being that she wanted me to hyphenate my last name to include my real fathers name and my stepdads last name because my father wouldn’t sign away his rights. Imagine being in grade school trying to write your first name, middle name and then 2 last names. Lets just say it led to some teasing. Once I reached high school it became apparent that my mom was more interested in having her own needs met than being concerned about what I needed. She went on to divorce my stepdad and dated and each time I was on the back burner. She was a person that feared being alone. She needed to have someone in her life. She took it to such an extreme that at the age of 16 she moved an hour away to live with a man and left me to live in the house we had been living in. She would drop off money every week so that I could have food but other than that she was non-existent. To make matters worse she eventually let my older brother and his girlfriend move into the house with me. She knew my brother had major drug problems but didn’t do a thing about it. She was ok with me being exposed to drug use at the age of 16. I don’t know how I managed to stay away from drugs, cigarettes and alcohol through high school. During all of this there was never a true loving relationship between my mother and I. Her idea of expressing love was buying me things to keep me quiet. We didn’t do a lot of things together. I was at the age when I needed a relationship with a parent but she was more interested in finding her next relationship. This went on to drive us apart for a few years. We didn’t speak. We didn’t see each other. We had nothing to do with one another. Eventually she came around and wanted to have the relationship that I needed 10 years ago. By that point I had burned by her enough that I said no. I wasn’t interested in trying to build a relationship with her only to be cast aside again when she met the next guy to be in her life. Despite our issues and her lack of love and attention I made sure I was there for my mom when her life was ending. I changed her diapers, I helped get her things she needed. For as much as she pushed me aside I didn’t want her to die thinking she wasn’t loved. To this day I struggle showing emotional support. I’m trying to change. I’m trying to be there to not just buy for my son but also to be there to listen to my son. He’s the only thing that matters in my life and I’m determined not to have history repeat itself.

Another area of neglect I’d like to touch on is education. I can’t remember a time in my life where my mom sat down with me to do my homework. I can’t remember a time in my life when my mom took an interest in what subjects I was studying. I cant remember a time in my life when my mom asked me how I did on my test. I can’t remember a time in my life where my mom changed her behavior after seeing I wasn’t performing well in school. She never took steps to be there to help me improve in school. My school work and attention to school work was a direct reflection of her interest in me and my school work. I developed poor study habits, failed classes, and graduated by the skin of my teeth. Parents think that school work is just school work. But its not. Its teaching your child the importance of an education as well as the importance of being a hard worker. If you allow your child to skate by on their school work now chances are they are going to look to skate by their entire life. I did manage to get into college, fortunately for me I went to bible college and they were more interested in the recommendations of your pastor and other members of the church than your actual GPA. I crapped out of college. I think I was just happy to be away from home. I didn’t have any work ethic, dropped classes, skipped classes and only attended ones my friends were attending because I knew I could have a study group with them. I was suspended academically at one point and eventually gave up on college. Fortunately what I lacked in book smarts I made up for in survival skills. When you are forced to live on your own you figure out how to survive. I found jobs. I found jobs that I didn’t want but I worked hard and eventually began to move up. I started out as the overnight clerk at a convenience store and within a year I was a store manager running a 24 hour a day location. I can remember making $12.50 an hour thinking I was big stuff at the age of 21. I accepted the fact that if I was going to make something of myself I had to work harder than anyone else because I didn’t have that college degree to help me get ahead. I often wonder what might have been of my life had I actually applied myself or guided to good study habits.

The last area of neglect I’d like to discuss is health care. At a very young age I can remember needing oral surgery to remove several of my baby teeth but beyond that going to the doctors wasn’t a priority. My real dad made me drink my milk and wouldn’t allow me to leave the table till I ate my vegetables. Until a few years ago I refused to eat brussels sprouts because of flash back of me choking on one at the dinner table because I had to eat all my veggies! Once my father was out of the picture I couldn’t tell you when if ever I was forced to drink milk or taken to the dentist or even forced to brush my teeth. I developed poor eating habits. I was as thin as a rail in high school. 6’4 and skinny make you stand out in a world you want to disappear in. The hardest thing I had to endure though was my teeth. The front right lateral incisor had grown in pointing toward the back of my throat. I had cavities in most of my teeth. Perhaps the most egregious and shameful display of neglect was knowing my mom saw my front teeth but did nothing about it. Imagine being a senior in high school. Imagine having a hole in each of your front teeth covering roughly 1/3rd of the tooth. Imagine the embarrassment that went along with this. Imagine every morning before going to school grabbing a piece of bread and tearing out chunks and rolling them into a ball and using that bread to cover the cavities as best you could. I was called nasty teeth among other things. These are the most important years of your life in developing social skills and self-esteem. To this day I don’t know why my mom refused to take me to the dentist other than fear of being turned in for neglect. Not until a month before I graduated from high school did someone step up and help. A family in the church I attended paid to get my cavities filled. I still went to college with a tooth facing the wrong direction but at least I was able to talk without covering my mouth. To this day its hard for me to smile in pictures. To this day I struggle with self-esteem and self-confidence. I struggled with this so badly that I can’t approach women in bars. Might not seem like a big deal but when you have been divorced for 4 years and haven’t dated since it is a big deal. My son just turned 9 and he has braces. His teeth will be taken care of. He will be pumped full of self-esteem and self-confidence.

I know when you are battling with depression and other mental illnesses its hard to muster up the energy to provide your child the vital things they need as they grow. When you leave this world your legacy isn’t going to be defined by the material things you leave behind. Your legacy will be determined by the decisions and actions of your children as they continue to grow once you are gone. Never take for granted that your child knows you love them or that they know that you want the best for them. Habits form one day at a time and I implore you to get into the habit of building up your children. Never ever put them in a position to be ridiculed because you’ve put your needs first. If we as parents set out to have our children be a little better than us, and their children be a little better than them just imagine the world in a few generations. There is no place or excuse for neglect and abuse in this world. Putting an end to it starts with us.

REMEMBER…  YOU MATTER!!!

Time to Reconcile

At different points in our lives we’ve all been put in a position that required us to reconcile change. Whether it was a loss of a loved one, loss of a pet, perhaps parents divorced, or end of a relationship. There are many things that have happened in our lives that make us what we are today. Abused as a kid, bullied in school, being in a broken home. All of these an other events at some point or another cause us to act or react when put in situations that remind us of those situations.

At a young age I was molested by my stepfather. For years I refused to acknowledge it happened or that it had an adverse effect on me as I grew into an adult. I never understood why I viewed sex the way that I did. Never understood why I was afraid of intimacy. Never understood why I would turn and run if I walked in on my ex-wife giving my son a bath. All of these situations were a direct result of an action performed by one person multiple times, years earlier. The problem was that I never reconciled the situation.

My stepfather was my hero. He was the first male role model that I really had. He treated me as his own. He coached my baseball team. He would get out in the yard and play catcher and let me practice my pitching. I can still hear him telling me to hit the scar. The scar was in the middle of his chest and was from an open heart surgery which in the 80’s was a huge deal. He took me to all my basketball games. Any where he was I was. Even if that meant me going to the local bar every day at 330. My stepfather was a major alcoholic and every day after work he would go to the local bar. I’d walk to the bar and sit on a stool next to him. He’d get a 50 cent draft and I’d take the 2 quarters in change and pocket it until I had enough to play the pinball machine which believe it or not was an illegal gambling machine. I was the best pinball player in that bar before I was out of grade school.
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There were occasions that I’d have sleep overs at the house and my stepfather would actually take me and my friends to the bar. It got to the point that after one thanksgiving break one of my friends asked if I went to the bar for Thanksgiving. I said no but sadly we were at the bar Thanksgiving evening. Even though the bar was within walking distance my dad drove home because he went to the bar right after leaving work. I got used to riding home with a guy that shouldn’t have been driving.

My stepfather set an example for me. He helped show me why I don’t want to be a regular at a bar. To this day I don’t crave alcohol or a desire to be at a bar every day. Unfortunately that wasn’t the only issue my stepfather had. Between the ages of 8 and 10 my stepfather would molest me. Often this occurred right in front of my mom. I would say something to her about it but she would say its horseplay. While wrestling he would put his hands down the front or back of my shorts. I knew it was wrong and can remember immediately stopping and pulling away when he did it. It wasn’t just down my shorts, his hands would go down my underwear as well. I had no idea how these events would effect me in the future. I never reconciled it.

Not until my last suicide attempt did I finally disclose to both my doctor and my sister just what happened. Until then I refused to say a bad word about my stepfather. He was still my hero. But that all changed when I began to talk about it. When I began to explore how his actions factored into my life. Just how differently I acted and reacted in certain situations.

My ex wife thought I was lazy. Never understood why I refused to give my son a bath. Why I’d turn and run if I saw my son in the bathtub even under bubbles. Not until I accepted and reconciled what had happened did I understand why I reacted the way I did. I wasn’t afraid of molesting my son, never have been never will be. I’ve never had a desire to. What I feared was not knowing how my stepfather got to the point of wanting to do it to me. Was he molested as a child? In the back of my mind I was safe guarding myself even though there was no evidence that I would ever get even an urge to do anything to my son. At the time I didn’t draw the connection to my fear to me being molested as a kid.

Sex and intimacy are two other things that I’ve struggled with as an adult. Sex was just sex. Plain and simple. There didn’t need to be anything intimate about it. People have sex throughout their lives. I viewed sex as almost something that was normal for people to do with one another even if married. I had a hard time after my divorce understanding why I was afraid of getting close, of getting intimate. I didn’t reconcile how being molested changes your view on being intimate and open sexually with someone as an adult.

You may struggle with things that you haven’t accepted as true or reconciled in your life. You may have yet to reconcile your diagnosis if you suffer from a mental illness. Avoiding that reconciliation is dangerous. It’s not going to go away. Failing to face it will not change your symptoms. It’s difficult to hear that you are diagnosed with depression or dipolar or perhaps PTSD. But you must come to terms with it. I used to avoid medication and take a macho approach of I don’t want to be made to feel happy I want to BE happy. I used that lame excuse for years. Then I finally decided to start taking medication and then the lack of reconciling the truth came around again. I stopped taking my medication. It was my choice. Had I taken the time to understand how the anti-depressant isn’t a happy pill but rather a preventative medicine perhaps my dramatic fall 4 years ago wouldn’t have been as bad.

Your mental illness diagnosis is not a life sentence. You are not a diagnosis. You are not a definition. You are not a statistic. You are YOU. The most important thing you can do is reconcile the fact that you have been diagnosed. That more than anything else is going to be the biggest step you will take in your recovery. Remember how my stepfather was an example for me with his drinking problem? Allow me to be an example of what happens when you fail to reconcile your diagnosis and treatment. 5 suicide attempts in 6 months, 6 in a 18 month period. I was dead, but fortunately I was brought back to life. Please use ME as an example of why you need to move the needle forward in your recovery process.

REMEMBER… YOU MATTER!!!

Acceptance

As many of you know this week I saw my son Connor for the first time in 824 days. It was truly an amazing day. My emotions ran from one end of the spectrum to the other. I was so excited to see him. I was elated when he ran over to me and gave me a big hug. I was overwhelmed when he put his head on my shoulder as we watched the Incredibles 2. Honestly I don’t think the day could have gone much better. But for all the good that came from it there were some moments that dragged me to the bottom. To see him tear up when he first saw me. Or to see him get real emotional when it was time to say goodbye. I felt like the worse person on earth knowing I’m the reason he’s so emotional. If I had been able to keep my life together he wouldn’t have had to experience all that pain that I had put him through. Or perhaps the wondering if that meeting was once again going to be the last time for a long period of time.

I learned a lot about life on Tuesday believe it or not. Not by anything I did or said but rather by the example my own 9 year old son set. My son showed me forgiveness, he showed me compassion, he showed me unconditional love all at a time, when he could have easily turned his back to me. He had every right to say he never wanted to see me again. He had been hurt enough and didn’t want to experience that pain and process again. He had heard enough about me to be scared enough to say that he didn’t want a father like me. But he didn’t…. As they always say… From the mouth of babes. Or in this case from the action of babes.
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In society today we are quick with labels. I don’t think there is anyone that has crossed our President that hasn’t been labeled one childish name or another. Or the new trend of shaming people that do things that the rest of society deems unnecessary on twitter with nicknames. We are a society that finds joy when someone falls from their high horse. We’ve even used terms like fags, queers, criminals, junky, alcoholic, cheater, nut job, whacko, psycho, crazy and many many more terms to demean people that we want to make ourselves feel that we are better than.

We fight everyday to end the stigma surrounding mental health yet we ourselves including myself find no fault in labeling others by their worse trait. How can I expect anyone to stop labeling me because of my mental illness when I don’t show that same compassion to others that suffer from other things or did something one time in their life that they have to live with forever. Who am I to judge you? Who are you to judge me? We’ve all got pasts and for some those pasts make the future seem impossible. I have always said I’m afraid of what might be because of what has been. I don’t want my future to continue to be like my past. There is only so much I can control. One thing I know I can control is the compassion, and acceptance I show to those who are not like me but none the less bleed the same, hurt the same, and want the same quality of life that I do.

For those of you that might not suffer from a mental illness could you imagine wearing a label on your shirt everyday that listed your worse trait? Or lists the worse thing you’ve ever done? Society is such that there is always a group of people that need to be on the bottom of the pile. The worse of the worse. The group that everyone else stands on so they can feel taller and feel as though they are better than someone. I cannot continue to live my life with the goal of being better than someone. My goal and our goal should always be the best me I can be. If that means finding ways to utilize your mental illness to help others then do it. If that means forgetting about things others may have done to you in the past then do it. Its not easy to forget and sometimes forgetting is harder than forgiving regardless of what others may say. But one thing I know to be true is that dwelling on it is not going to make you a better you.

Part of the reason I am where I am is because I was always trying to keep up with the Jones’s. I was trying to keep up and I failed to realize just how much of my life I was missing. I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. I wasn’t trying to be the best me. I wasn’t trying to be the best husband I could be. I wasn’t trying to be the best father I could be. I was trying to be everything but me. Don’t try to be something you are not. How can you expect others to accept you for who you are if you are not willing to accept you for who you are?

My son and I spent 4 hours together on Monday and he taught me lessons without even having to speak. What a world this would be if we could all step back and watch and listen to how forgiving, loving, and compassionate our children can be and apply it to our own life. If we want to be accepted we must first learn how to accept.

REMEMBER…YOU MATTER!!

That day it snowed!

Remember that day it snowed? You know; the one that had you stranded in the airport. The one that caused the power to go out. The one that no one could get out of their houses for a couple days because the snow was so deep? The one that turned a 2 hour drive into an 8 hour crawl? Everyone that lives anywhere that snow accumulates has a snow day story. I’ve got my share but there is one in particular that forever changed the course of my life.

March 21, 2018 it snowed significantly in Pittsburgh. Not a big deal right? I mean it was the end of March and to get a heavy snow was out of the norm but it ended up being a big deal for me. I had just returned from a getaway trip to Disney. I spent that time reminiscing about the days I had spent their with my ex wife and kids. It was an opportunity to say goodbye to the last place I felt I was happy. I spent each evening writing memos to my son telling him what I had done that day and the things I saw or did that reminded me of him and our times there. My plan was to hang myself a week after I returned home from this trip.

I already had everything planned out. The date and location and how I was going to do it. I had put a couple boxes together of things I wanted to be passed along to my son when the time was right. I had written my obituary, I had planned my funeral, I left detailed instructions concerning my life insurance, and wrote letters to family and friends. All were packed together neatly in one large envelope. I planned this well enough that I wouldn’t be found until it was to late. There wouldn’t be any signs that anyone would pick up on. No texts sent. On March 22, 2018 I had planned to die.

Why March 22nd? Its simple for me. March 23rd marked the 2 year anniversary from the last time I had seen my son. I didn’t want to say as a father that I hadn’t seen my son in 2 years so I figured I’d end it before I reached the 2 year mark. May seem silly to some but for me it was humiliating and demoralizing to say I hadn’t seen my son in 2 years and with no real plan in the works to see him I didn’t see a purpose to continue living the same crap day after day.

I can remember the weekend I returned from vacation. My sister and brother in law had some family friends over for dinner. I gave them the souvenirs I purchased for them and we shared a meal and some drinks. In the back of my mind I kept thinking that no one in this room knows that this is the last time we will all sit together at this dinner table. The 4 of them will but I won’t be here next week at this time is what I thought.
The plan was in place, I had the items I needed, and had squirreled away some medications that I knew would render me unconscious. That week I started to tidy things up a bit but not so much so that it would cause suspicion. In my mind I was gone. It wasn’t a oh wow is me type of minute. I had calmly calculated this decision for quite some time. Then March 21st came along.

March 21st came and we received a substantial snow fall in the area. I can remember going outside and shoveling the sidewalk. The snow came right up of the concrete because the ground was warm, but it was a heavy snow. I thought to myself how great it would be to have a heart attack shoveling so that I didn’t have to end my life myself. So with that in mind I pushed myself more than I would have, but unfortunately for me at the time instead of a heart attack I ended up with a sore back and a swollen knee.

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The morning of March 22nd arrived. It was death day. Everything was still a go. I watched as the snow trucks plowed and salted the streets and noticed how white the trees and yards were. Then my mind began to turn. My plan could be foiled because of this snow. My location was in a spot where I had planned to park my car in one spot and then walk to this location. This would have worked fine… if there wasn’t snow on the ground. Everything illuminates at night when there is snow on the ground and I was afraid I’d be seen carrying a gym bag at night down a residential road. My second concern was being seen getting to my final spot. In order to get there I had to climb a hill. Not a small one but a pretty steady incline. Fear of being seen climbing that hill side crept in along with the idea of not being able to make it up the hill. I picked this location because it was a location I had been in once before. It was a location that I laid in for 12 hours in December. A location where I hoped I would end up freezing to death. I knew it was far enough off the road that dogs hadn’t been able to pick up my scent and there was plenty of brush around to hide me from plain sight once at the top of the hill. My perfect spot ended up being foiled. Foiled because of all things a heavy snow in Pittsburgh in late March. That was a sign to me. It was time to change my life.

On April 10th, 2018 I made a declaration. On that day on my twitter account @tonyk10933 I declared that I wanted to live. I had enough of thinking about what it was going to be like when I finally decided enough was enough and go through with my plan to end my plan. I needed to close that chapter. I needed to be here for my son even if I wasn’t seeing him. Two weeks later I did something I had never done before. I walked myself into a clinic and asked for help. I knew in order to move on I would need help and this was the on place I had received help from in the past that actually worked for me. It’s only been a few months and yes I still have thoughts of suicide. I have good days and I’ve got really bad days just like anyone else. The big difference right now in my life is that I’ve chosen to live regardless of the circumstances.

On Tuesday July 3rd, 2018 I will see my 9 year old son for the first time in 824 days. I had chosen not to be part of his life because my own life wasn’t something any child should be a part of. I had issues that I needed to work through, the desire to live being the biggest. I’m not proud of staying out of his life. Not proud of the pain I may have caused him but I’m going to see him again and I can do so knowing that I will not do anything to cause us to be split up again. You can call it what you want but I owe it all to a day I’ll never forget. I’ll always remember that day it snowed.

REMEMBER….YOU MATTER!!!

Circle of Trust

During my days with JELD-WEN we were required different levels of training. For instance once I was hired I went through an extensive 12 week training program called Millwork University. I didn’t know a thing about windows or doors other than how to open and close them. After Millwork University and you had been performing well in the field you were given the opportunity to attend Millwork Masters. This was a group of individuals that the company had seen potential in and wanted to mix additional millwork training with management training. It was a condensed course but it’s where I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life and one that I applied not only through my management career but also in my personal life.

We watched a motivational speaker named Marcus Buckingham. As with every motivational speaker he was doing everything he could to grab your attention and make his point. I’m not one for motivational speakers but for once this was something that really struck home with me. He initially grabbed me with this question. When you were a child and you came home with a report card with 4 A’s and 1 C which grade did your parents focus on? 95% of you will say the C. And that’s where the problem begins. Everyone wants their child to excel in every subject. They want them to achieve the best education they can so when that C comes home there is an immediate focus on that particular subject. Now think about your own grades and the classes you didn’t get the best grades in despite your best efforts. Was it because you suddenly couldn’t understand things despite the other grades? Not likely. More than likely it was a subject that never sparked an interest with you. It was a labor just to achieve the C. But what do most parents do? Everyday after school you come home and you spend more time on that subject until you improve that grade. Why?? Your child most likely hates the subject and spending all that additional time on something they don’t enjoy doing is taking valuable time away from other subjects that they have shown they can excel at. Why as a society are we so focused on having well rounded people? You have to know something about everything rather than focusing your time and passion to the things you love the most.

I took this same principle and applied it to my management style. First off let me say I never liked the term manager. I preferred the term “coach”. At a certain point in your life you shouldn’t need managed. You may need coaching in one area or another but not managed. As I mentioned earlier the company always had a feel for who the next man up would be when it came time for a promotion. Everyone knew who they were and within their own group everyone knew. But I handled those types of scenarios different than most would. I knew the strengths and weaknesses of every person that reported to me and those that reported to them. So when projects were handed down from above I went to the person that I knew excelled in that particular area. If the guy that is seen as the next promoted and yet he struggles with Microsoft excel why give him a project that is based solely around excel? Chances are it’s not going to be done till the last minute and you will likely find some errors. Why not give it to the guy who is the excel wizard? Just because he isn’t the next in line for promotion doesn’t mean he’s not valuable to your team. Think of it this way. Everyone knows that Kevin Durant led the Warriors to the NBA championship. But there were others around him that all played their role to help the team succeed. On a football field is their 11 QB’s starting on offense? In baseball are their 9 pitchers on the field at once? No. Everyone plays a role and that’s how you achieve success as a group.
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Now you are probably wondering how in the world does this apply to my mental health? It’s simple I believe you need a team of people you can rely on that all bring different strengths and weaknesses. A friend who is the one that will be their to listen, one that will be the one you can just call and talk about anything with, the one you can just go out and have a drink with, the one that always knows when its time to check in with you. I believe it’s important to have a group of friends helping you along your journey. It might be a tall task because some of us have a problem trusting one person let alone a group. But let me just make something clear, if you’ve been dealing with a mental health issue for some time then its no secret to anyone so why continue to hide it? You may have pushed friends aside because you never thought you were worth it or didn’t want to be a burden. These are the things we tell ourselves to avoid having the tough conversations. We don’t want to be rejected by those we count on. I’m not telling you to go and do this all at once. I’m just saying that I believe you have to have balance in your circle of trust. Having 5 listeners isn’t going to help when you just want to talk to someone and have a normal conversation about anything other than your mental health. You deserve to be surrounded by the best so don’t sell yourself short on your circle of trust.

When my journey began I found myself shutting everyone out of my life.  I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing or where I was doing it.  My super sleuth sister managed to keep finding me.  But those who didn’t live near me I closed off.  Most of my strongest bonds were with people I worked with at JELD-WEN.  But we all lived in different cities and once things reached a certain point I was off limits for people to talk to me.  I was like a pariah.  I lost my wife and kids and that family that came with it.  I was out of my mind at the time and nothing anyone was going to do was going to make things any better for me.  This is why I started a pattern of attempts to end my life.  When you take away everything a man works for it’s as though he never even existed.  But I eventually learned the importance of having that sounding board and others that can help you through various stages of your fight.

And I believe it’s important for those with a mental illness to focus on their own strengths and use it. Just because you have a mental illness does not mean that you can’t have a positive impact on your community or others struggling. If you have knowledge on mental illness share it. If you are versed in talking about mental illness then speak up. If you find yourself getting help from helping others then reach out and help someone. We with a mental illness that have the tools to do those things have a duty and obligation to do them. We must be the voice to the voiceless, we must be the strength for those who are weak and we must be the lighthouse for those who cannot see through the darkness. We carry with us all those who lost their battle and those who suffer in silence on a daily basis. This is a rallying cry. It’s time for those who can do to do.

REMEMBER…. YOU MATTER!

Walk With Me Daddy

Father’s Day is Sunday and I wish all of you Fathers out there a Happy Father’s Day. May 5th, 2009 was the day I joined the fraternity of fatherhood. A day I’ll never forget. My ex wife had to have a c-section so there was no midnight rush to the hospital or 24 hour labor. I remember taking 4-6 Benadryl pills to keep me from passing out or getting sick in the delivery room. I remember sitting and holding my wife’s had with one hand and her vomit bag in the other. Remember being so nervous. I just wanted my son to be healthy just like any other father hopes for. Then the time arrived and my son was announced to have been born. I’ll never forget how they showed us the baby and then how quiet it was. It seemed like forever before we heard a sound of out him. Finally you hear the cry and it’s like immediately instilled in your brain that the sound you hear is specific to your son. That when you hear that cry you know it’s him. Because it was a c-section he was handed to me first. I looked down and was in love. That was my baby boy. That was my son. That was going to be my best buddy. That was going to be my partner in crime. I knew it was going to be a boy all along but once I saw him it was like meeting your best friend forever for the first time.

My son was more than I could have ever asked for. I traveled a lot for work but he relished every moment we had together. We had our own 13 step secret handshake. He would only ride rides at Disney with me. We had a tradition the first day at Disney we would go pick out hats to wear. Whatever hat he picked out I had to get the same one. At the age of 4 we signed him up for soccer. Our first practice we discovered out of the 12 teams his team was the one that didn’t have a coach. Me having never played soccer unless it was on an xbox or playstation didn’t know anything about coaching but I did it. The best part of it was that the kids were ages 4-6 and the parents didn’t know a thing about soccer or they would have been coaching. So if I ever made a mistake no one even knew. It was amazing being on the field with my son who was a kid that tried his hardest. He was tall for his age with me being 6’4. His athletic ability hadn’t caught up to his size yet. But it never stopped him from trying. The hardest time I had was separating coach from dad. I’ll never forget the excitement on his face when he scored his first goal and how I jumped on the field when he scored but quickly had to compose myself cause I was still the coach of the other kids as well.

I remember the first Father’s Day gift I got from him. Of course he had help from his mom but it was a poem called walk with me daddy with his foot prints pressed onto the paper. I still have that in a frame. Everything in that poem is what I wanted to do with and for him. Unfortunately as much as I like to talk about the good things I must admit I wasn’t the greatest father I could have been. I learned a lot through my divorce where I fell short as a father. I didn’t spend as much time with my son as I should have. I worked to much. As a kid I never saw or felt physical affection so it wasn’t something I learned and never knew how to show my son. My way of showing love was by paying the bills and taking care of every need and want that he had. I wasn’t very patient. I worked at a high level and always expected people to pick up things I showed them after the first or second time. Years ago I can recall thinking to myself how in the world do I expect a 4 year old to watch me kick a soccer ball twice and instantly be good at it. But patience and showing affection was a gift from my divorce. I knew he needed those things from me just as much as from his mom. I was proud how I grew in those areas.

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Over the last 4 years I’ve been apart of my sons life for just 10 months. Due to my sudden crash from my depression and other mental illnesses he and I were separated. I loved those 10 months but when he wasn’t with me during that 10 months I’d be in bed. If it wasn’t my week or weekend I’d be holed up in my bedroom with windows covered in black so no light could get in. I had attempted suicide 5 times and one more was about to come. During the 10 months we were together I was living on my severance package from my previous employer. It was about to run out and I had no luck finding a job. That Christmas he spent with me. I spent at least $1500 that year on gifts for him because I was already planning my exit. I wanted him to have a Christmas to remember. But shortly after Christmas once my severance had ended and savings dried up I was scrambling for money. I would miss a weekend or a midweek visit because I was broke. I’m ashamed to admit it but I actually returned some of the gifts he never took out of the box just to be able to have food to eat. Imagine that feeling as a father; returning the gifts you bought your child for Christmas just to be able to eat.

Finally it was the midweek visit before Easter. I had sold my golf clubs, all my dress shirts for pennies on the dollar just to put a Easter basket together and take him for some dinner. It’s a surreal feeling to drive to get your son knowing the 2 hours you have will be the last time you will ever see him. We went to Chuck E Cheese and played some games. I remember when we left helping him up into the jeep and he was so proud of this book he had that we went through it page by page. It was a book on how different animals have been used in wars over the years. We finished looking at the book and I gave him a big hug and a kiss and closed the door. We drove to meet his mom and before he got out he gave me another hug and said I love you dad.

I pulled away quickly with tears rolling down my eyes knowing that in a few days his life would never be the same and its going to be my fault. The day after Easter I cleaned up my house, finished boxing up my things. I left drinks and snacks on the kitchen table along with an apology letter to the first responders. I hated that they had to come get me when they could be used to help someone who wanted to live. I stood at my counter and downed 9 shots of tequila, took what I had left of my trazadone and retreated to my basement. I had my noose set up and secured to a support beam. I got on my knees and slipped the noose over my head. I was to chicken to just do a dead drop so I went with the slow hang instead. I remember my fight to live as I gasped for air and tried to stand up as I was dying but I never made it to my feet. But I survived. I’m here for a reason. We are all here for a reason.

After getting out of the hospital I was summoned to court and given a 90 day PFA to stay away from my son. I was only allowed to send him a birthday card. No Father’s day card for me, no birthday card for me. I was cut off. After the 90 days I had to agree to sign away my joint legal custody. I was given visitation of 4 hours every other Saturday and Sunday and 2 hours every Wednesday. But the problem was that I was in no condition to see him. Shortly after getting out of the hospital my Jeep was taken by the bank. I was relying on my sister to take me to therapy appointments and she bought my groceries every week. And my hot water was turned off. I went 6 months taking cold showers. Only meals I could cook were in the microwave or the grill. I couldn’t subject my son to that type of situation and I wasn’t right in my own mind. I was still pissed that I survived. I knew to see my son again that I had to be able to guarantee that I would never do anything that would cause me and my son to be split up again. And that wasn’t an easy overnight process. This will be the 3rd straight Father’s Day without my son, but there won’t be a 4th. I’m going to see my son one day. I just believe it.

I want to say something to my son Connor. I love you bud. Always have and always will. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about you or miss you. I don’t want you to think for one second that I’m mad or hurt that you are scared to see me. Guess what, I’d be scared too. I was fortunate to have more than one son. I had 3 sons. I had a son who was funny. I had a son who was smart. And I had a son who was kind and loving. Fortunately for me Connor they were rolled into you. You are the most amazing boy that a father could ask for. I’m sorry we’ve been apart so long but just know that I’m here and I will be here. You are the reason I’m still here. I love you and miss you so much son.

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Finally to all of you Fathers out there that struggle with a Mental Illness. Don’t let your mental illness become your child’s crutch in the future. It is our responsibility to show our children that even though we are diagnosed with an illness that we don’t want and never asked for that we can still succeed in life and love. It is our responsibility to make sure that was defined us does not have to define them. Just because we have an illness doesn’t mean we have lost the ability to love our children. And never let yourself believe that you are less of a father because of your illness. I don’t want my son 20 years from now talking about his failures as a father or husband because he never learned things from me because of my illness. You are not just their father, you are their superhero, you are their everything. They need you as much as you need them. Don’t allow yourself to be a statistic or a definition of a diagnosis. You are a father and that’s the only title and statistic that matters. Happy Father’s Day everyone!

Remember…. YOU MATTER!!!

Hospital High

Have you ever been hospitalized for any kind of ailment? Maybe had surgery or were extremely ill. Remember the daily monotony of filling out meal menus, flipping hospital TV channels, being waken up at different times for a medication. The awkward seating accommodations for visitors in the room. Remember the daily visits from your doctor and hoping he will say you can go home today only to be disappointed when he would say not yet. Some of us have been there more than others. Then you finally get that rush of excitement when you are ready to be discharged. Seconds seem like minutes, minutes like hours as you wait for paperwork to be done, prescriptions sent to your pharmacy and for you to be unhooked from all the machines they had you attached to. Yay lets go home and celebrate!!

When you are on a psychiatric unit life is much different. Yes you get to pick your meals but the meals you get on those floors are often bland and do not consist of any type of caffeine. No coffee, no soda, no chocolate. Each day you’d get 2 snacks like you are little kids. One in the morning that consisted of crackers and warm ginger ale and one at night that consisted of a bun, a piece of turkey or ham and a piece of cheese to go along with a small bag of chips or pretzels. This was the hospital stripping you down to your bodies baseline.  They wanted no interference with those substances with any medications they are now giving you.

Your room is a hard floor surface with a single size bed. The mattress is thin enough to be folded in half. One pillow, one sheet and one blanket. I’m 6’4 and had to lay in the fetal position to fit on the bed. And to the dismay of many you always had a roommate. You shared the bathroom and shower with this person. You had to deal with their snoring or their obnoxious, suffocating gas. I don’t understand how hospitals expect you to get better when they stick you in the worse possible sleep settings.

Daily life on the floor varied. Every morning you were awaken at roughly 5am for blood pressure and temperature. Sometimes they came and took blood if needed. If you ever want to see something funny and scary watch a phlebotomist come on a psych unit to take blood. Sometimes I wondered if they didn’t send the new people up to practice on us. I had one take blood from a vein in my elbow. 7am was everyone out of bed for breakfast. After breakfast you had about an hour before your first group of the day. After that you had a little time before lunch. During down time people would sit in the group lounge and watch tv or color or do a puzzle which usually had missing pieces. Those hours of down time were boring to say the least. You didn’t want to be in your room because staff would do a bed check every 20-30 min. The more you were in your bed the more negatively it effected your release. Typically in the morning the doctor would arrive and do his rounds. He would spend at most 10 min per person. He would ask about medication effects and mood and sleep. And before he left you’d try to pin him down on when you were going home but it was always a vague answer.

After lunch we would have more down time and then a group session and then dinner. The group sessions whether in the morning, or afternoon were always in a way more of an entertainment than a learning experience. Here you have 15-20 people all with varying diagnosis as well as varying levels of being able to understand the content of the session. So typically the sessions were dumbed down and taught by college age kids who read right out of a book. During the session you’d have some open discussion and a lot of back and forth between people that can’t hear or understand the topic. Let’s say it was a sideshow.

Every evening either NA or AA would come to the floor from 7-8. This was something I went to but I’ve never been an alcoholic or drug addict but went because they locked the TV room and I didn’t want to sit in my room for an hour. It was really powerful to hear some of the messages shared by the guest speakers as well as those who were on the unit for those very reasons. Before the end of the night we gathered for our snack and then reported on our goals for the day and rated your mood. These 2 aspects were always a sham to me. You’d have people who were just admitted saying their mood was a 10. By my 2nd or 3rd stay I realized saying you’re a 10 isn’t going to get you sent home tomorrow. And then you’d have people like me who knew it was a sham and set a goal in the morning of ending world hunger. This was your daily routine for as long as the doctor deemed you needed to be there or until the insurance company decided they weren’t going to pay for another night.

The variance between treatment of those on a psychiatric floor and an inpatient floor is staggering and appalling. The schedules vary from hospital to hospital, the staff size varies, the quality of the group sessions vary and some don’t even have group sessions. Some people may never experience this if they have only spent time in one hospital but I had the honor of spending time on 4 different psych units and likely logged a total of six weeks of time over a period of 5 months. I can walk on a floor and within minutes tell what kind of unit it is. What its strengths and weaknesses are and whether they are going to go beyond serving as a triage to get you stabilized or go further and help educate you on the important topics concerning mental health and what resources are available to you. It is really unfortunate that here in the US that there isn’t a system in place that all hospitals must implement on their psychiatric units. The gaps in service in the hospital lead to bigger issues once the person leaves the hospital.

After you’ve been on a unit for a period of time or from the amount of time you’ve spent over multiple stays you begin to catch on to certain things. For instance I was in for my 4th stay and there was a woman that joined half way through my stay. She informed us all that she downed a bottle of vodka with a bottle of ambien. She also said this wasn’t her first time at the hospital. She stayed all of 72 hours and was discharged. I was angry, befuddled. How in the world was she discharged so quickly? The answer was simple. The doctor had seen enough to know when someone is serious about ending their life and when someone was having a need for attention. He felt he could determine who he could help and who he could not. You also begin to understand which staff member gives a good group and who doesn’t. Patients would be so hard up for caffeine or candy that we would play games with staff members for one small piece of chocolate or a half a cup of coffee.

When the doctor finally reaches the point that he gives you a day that you can anticipate going home your mood immediately changes. You can see light at the end of the tunnel. Your counting the meals you have left before you go home. Your counting how many more nights do I have to sleep with this lethal gas before I can get to my own bed. Thinking about how that first bottle of cold pepsi is going to taste on the way home. Craving a hot shower in your own shower, shaving with a real razor without anyone watching. You are amped up and ready to go! I relate the feeling to being a kid and either being away at a church camp or a summer camp and how rejuvenated you felt when you were about to come home.

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You are discharged, the nurse accompanies you through all the locked doors, down the secured elevator and out to the lobby where family is waiting with that ice cold pepsi, a hug and you are ready to go. Only one problem. LIFE DID NOT STOP. While you were in the hospital nothing stopped or disappeared. The bills you had piling up are still there with more added. The troubles in your relationship are still there. They weren’t solved just because you attempted suicide. If your employer knows about the situation its not going to be fun to go back to work. You are starting to process the reality that you are still stuck with the same pile of crap that you had before you attempted suicide. And in most cases its worse because you don’t know how to talk to family about it, you don’t know how to talk to friends and you sure as hell don’t know how to talk to your employer about it.

There is not a MAGIC PILL to resolve your life circumstances that are effecting your mental health. And that high you had coming out of the hospital will disappear quickly. YOU must be diligent in asking for help with the issues that drove you to that suicide attempt in the first place. Yes doctors are prescribing medicines to help with your mood but its not going to pay that outstanding house payment or over due car payment. He’s not calling your mortgage company and paying your bills or fixing your relationships. YOU must ask for and seek help immediately for those life circumstances or like me you will find yourself drowning again and realize you can’t keep treading water and attempt again.

Psychiatric units are not a fun place to be. Nor are they the solution to your mental health and personal life problems. Please listen when I say they are only there to stabilize you and then pass you along to a therapist and or psychiatrist. Please do not think that attempting will get you a 10 day vacation from life problems because all it does is delay the inevitable which is having to face those problems once you are released.

Many communities have clinics or resources that you can reach out to once you are discharged. You can and must reach out to these resources to see if there is any additional help that you may qualify for to help with your life circumstances. Neither the therapist or psychiatrist are going to have those answers nor are they going to be able to solve your problems. And I fully understand the difficulty of asking for help like I discussed in my last blog. You may not feel strong enough to reach out to these resources. Trust me I was there and I didn’t. But what I also failed to do was ask my family to help me get help. I ended up losing my home, my car, my job, practically everything I owned. My head was so far in the fog that I didn’t care to ask for help because I didn’t see myself living to need those things. If you are a friend or a loved one of someone who has attempted please offer to help in any way. When you go from having a nice home with 2 cars, a great job, and annual trips to Disney to living in your sisters spare bedroom living off of disability it doesn’t flash signs of a bright tomorrow. But I’m still here and so are you! Don’t give up!

Remember…. YOU MATTER!