suicide

In Loving Memory of My Uncle

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of my uncle’s death. We sadly lost him to suicide. I wanted to honor his life and encourage people to reach out to someone, anyone, when your are struggling with suicidal thoughts. Here’s his story:My (Great-)Uncle Rick was the middle of 6 children and one of my Gram’s 5 brothers. He was a lively kid and like most of the men in my family, he joined the military, specifically the Marines. Unfortunately, he was drafted to fight in war (so many of my family members have fought in war that I honestly can’t remember if it was the Korean or Vietnam war) and even though he made it home safely, the scars of his experiences stayed with him. Hidden in the back of his mind.

Rick later met my Aunt Carrie and had 4 kids, 3 girls (1 set of twins) and a boy. The family was so happy and perfect. Eventually, the kids grew up and Rick’s first grandchild (my cousin who is a 4 years younger than me) was born. He was his pride and joy. Rick wrote poetry about how much he loved that boy and how life is so beautiful. My Gram has some of his poems and I was really blown away by how sweet they were.

Unfortunately, we didn’t realize he was suffering. Behind his smiles and hopeful poetry was a man who was tormented by his mind. One evening, he put his grandson, arguably the person who made him the happiest, to bed and then moments later our family was changed forever by his suicide. He was only 48. We lost him in the 90s when PTSD just wasn’t a thing that happened to people nor was it in anyone’s lexicon, but my family and I know that diagnoses explains what he experienced after his time in battle.

It’s strange to lose someone when I was so little (I was 4 1/2) because I feel like I know him through stories and pictures. The only way I can see him is in pictures, his children and grandchildren’s faces, and their caring personalities. Uncle Rick never got to see kids walk down the aisle. He never got to meet 8 of his 9 grandchildren. He missed holidays, baptisms/birthdays/First Holy Communions/Christmases/graduation parties, the time his wife battled cancer, the times his sister and brother almost died from heart disease, and the same brother beating cancer.

He missed out on seeing one of his granddaughters develop her volleyball skills to the point where she got recruited by a college. He missed her sister who has a rare, incurable genetic disorder beat the odds and prove everyone wrong all while constantly wearing a smile. The loss of him is felt at every family event, especially family reunions. My cousin (one of my Uncle Rick’s daughters), wrote this as a tribute:

“Today marks the day that I lost a piece of my heart! It’s so hard to believe it’s been 20 years! My heart still aches in sadness. My silent tears still flow. For what it meant to lose you, no one will ever know. Thinking of you today as I do every day. Dad, you are so loved and greatly missed!!! Forever your Sugar Bear!”

There’s a piece of all of us that’s missing and a sadness behind our eyes at our family celebration, but his story motivates me to keep going. I was able to honor his memory at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Western PA’s Out of the Darkness Walk around my birthday last year. My friends and I, who all live with mental illness, are attempt survivors, and mental health advocates, celebrated the lives who are still here while honoring those we lost. [Note: I attached some pictures from the walk, but not of my uncle for privacy reasons.]

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Two of my friends and me (on the right) at the AFSP Western PA walk

It was a beautiful day (thousands of people were in attendance!) and something I wish my family would band together to spread suicide awareness and honor our Rick. I hope that one day we can all enjoy this event together.

I know what it’s like to feel the temptation of suicide and to understand when depression clouds your judgement to the point where you think it’s the only way to end your suffering. But trust me, it’s not. Suicide leads to years of suffering for those who love you. If your family, friends, teachers, etc. don’t support you, help out there. Calling a local crisis helpline helped me make the decision to get help for my issues. Here are some options for when you feel suicidal (or are struggling in general) that I know can help:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Their crisis chat link: http://chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx

The Trevor Project (LGBT+ friendly) Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386

Link to their crisis chat and texting services: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/get-help-now

Transgender Lifeline (amazing service ran by trained trans/nonbinary folks for the trans/nonbinary community) US:877-565-8860 Canada: 877-330-6366

Sending love and light to you! You’re never alone in your fight<3

Life’s a Dance

I’m all about honesty, so I’m going to be upfront about what’s been going on in my life recently.

I’ve been happily busy with going to school full-time, working with my wonderful partners at Team Not Ashamed, and doing so many exciting things with committees and advisory boards for my county. It’s been incredible to do more for those living with mental health issues in my community, especially Transition Age Youth (people 18-26), but I’m not going to lie, some days I’ve been overwhelmed. I decided to go back to basics and do the one thing that makes me the happiest: dance.

Dancing has always unofficially one of few things  that I have always loved. I used to tell my mom to buy me tap shoes because I had a “tapping in my heart” and I inherited my mom’s impeccable rhythm. I didn’t get formal dance training until my color guard instructor, a fabulous dance teacher, made my squad have a dance boot camp my Freshman year of high school. She helped me find some confidence and brought me out of my comfort zone while I was dealing with my mental health issues.

Once I started performing on football fields, I felt like I star! I was apparently good at dancing and people were shocked when quiet, little ol’ me would show my true self through dance. Whether I was performing pirouettes or hip hop, I felt alive. I was at par with many of the girls who had been dancing their whole lives and it made me feel special.

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I continued my dance journey in college by joining the school’s dance ensemble. I got to perform so many styles, ballet, broadway, jazz, lyrical, and hip hop (my favorite genre). I felt like I found my people. Even when I was feeling suicidal and probably should have left my college sooner than I did, I stayed so I could dance once more. It was largely what kept me going during the lowest point of my life.

Dance is my release. Everyone knows me as the girl who is the first on the dance floor and the last to leave. I get a high like no other when I synchronize my movements to the beats and lyrics. I used to make up dance routines to songs on the radio for fun and since I have been was feeling bogged down, I decided to start getting back into the groove and make up some choreography. I’m convinced there’s a direct correlation between my level of happiness and the amount of dancing I get to do.

My kitchen is my studio. I glide across the linoleum with my headphones in my ear. I feel like I’m on stage again. I try to get 15-30 minutes a dance a day to clear my head. To me, it’s a form of self-care because I show that I love my body by expressing myself through it. I meditate to the melodies. When I dance, I see my strengths and all flaws are blurred because I see my true beauty.

Find your dance. Find your passion. Find what makes you happy.

dance