Jennifer's Story: Let's Be Authentic Together
Today’s guest post comes from the lovely Jennifer. She’s a wonderful mental health advocate, runner, and all around awesome human being. The two of us connected early this year for something called Team Priority Health, but it wasn’t until this October that our two semicolon tattoos kind of brought us together. I couldn’t be more thrilled to know Jennifer and to have her be a part of this community. She has an incredible story and some words of wisdom to share. I hope you enjoy reading her story as much as I did!
I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety all of my life. I was put on medication at age 18 and have pretty much been on an antidepressant therapy (sometimes coupled with an anti-anxiety med as well) since then.I have had full on panic attacks; they are SCARY, and embarrassing. Fast forward 17 years, 2 marriages and 3 beautiful children later and I now feel fairly stable (depending on your definition of stable). At times, it can even slip my mind that my medical chart wears these diagnoses very prominently.
Last fall, my then 12-year-old son with ADHD, Tourette’s and Asperger’s was beginning to express suicidal ideas. He ended up being hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital for nearly a week in what was one of the most difficult times of my life as a parent. It ended up being a hidden blessing though to finally have a psychiatrist figure out what medications he actually needed. Trust me, I FOUGHT the whole “medicating” idea to the CORE before trying every available alternative from no artificial dyes, no preservatives to essential oil blends, sound therapy, supplements and neurofeedback before finally conceding to the much undesired pharmaceutical terrain. Matthew has fortunately maintained a positive outlook since balancing his medications, so long as he takes them consistently and on schedule (which is a completely different conundrum to be explored).
Enter September 17th, 2016 when I received the phone call that my 15-year-old sister took her own life. This was a complete.shock. Paige was involved in sports, youth groups, mission trips, loved children to the core, had an abundance of friends and always, always, always wore a smile on her face with a beautiful laugh married to it. Before last year, I could merely sympathize with suicide and mental health struggles. Now it had hit too close to home. Now, I had to empathize with it. Now, suicide is an unfortunate part of my everyday life. I see my mom; completely broken to the core. Like to complete shambles and pieces. Pieces that I don’t know can ever be mended fully again, even with her tremendous faith and reliance on God. The empty seat at our family gatherings, the empty seat on our family vacations. It hurts and it is so incredibly hard. We could have kept the suicide silent and not spoken of it. We could have chosen to let it be the elephant in the room, but we did not. Instead, we chose to not let Paige’s death be in vain. If we could somehow influence other people…EVEN ONE to not enter into the downward spiral and tunnel vision of suicide, it makes sharing and being vulnerable 150% worth it. From the grief books that I have read, it also proves to be completely counterproductive and counterintuitive to the healing process to keep it silent.
Through this, I hope to somehow encourage us all to get off the high horse trend of painting our own idealistic and utopian perfection on social media and just become authentic with each other. When we are vulnerable and open our hearts, not only is it INCREDIBLY therapeutic for us, but also to others. Hearing of a respected friend who also struggles with depression and anxiety makes me feel less alone. Sharing our stories provides others with a hope or an answer that they maybe have struggled with for years.
An amazing thing happened when my Matthew was first diagnosed with Tourrette’s in 4th grade. The students didn’t seem to understand that his movement and motor tics were a direct result of a diagnosis that he could not control. The social worker and classroom teacher at the elementary took an entire hour and educated the ENTIRE 4th grade class about Tourette’s syndrome. They showed a video with testimony of other students who also struggle with Tourette’s This not only helped Matthew feel more understood but also opened a dialogue between him, his friends and classmates. It all of a sudden was not taboo to talk about. The students truly wanted to learn about, understand and actually empathize with his diagnosis. The students opened up about unique differences they each had and how it was completely okay to be unique and different.
I started running on a consistent basis about a year ago. When you have heart disease and premature deaths running rampant in your bloodline and your cholesterol is high at such a young age, you realize that you need to do something. That is when I started running. I don’t LOVE running, but I do it because it is a challenge both mentally AND physically. Every day, every step, I conquer not only health, but that little voice inside that tells you to quit and give up. That same little voice that tells me I will never measure up, I’m weak and I can’t accomplish my goals. I believe God placed running in my life last year to directly prepare me for my sister’s suicide. A coping mechanism handed to me by God himself, if you will. I was nearing the end of my half marathon training when she passed. My grief could have overtaken me for it had no bounds. I could have sat on the couch and let my emotions run in mad wild circles in my head, but I KNEW I needed to get up. I created T-shirts with the slogan #irun4paige in hopes that if I wore the shirt, I could somehow miraculously pull my rump off the couch and run. These completely selfish motives ended up selling nearly 30 shirts and raising over $300 for the youth group Paige was a part of before she passed!! Perhaps this could motivate more people than just myself?!?!-what a concept! I STILL run and actively encourage people to open up about their mental health issues because suicide loss is something that no one ever wants to be a part of. Mental health is not something we should be ashamed of. Rather we should RISE up, share and be authentic examples of how we can be our best selves.