Hike to Tamassee Knob with our derpy dog, Stella! – 12/14/14

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Tamassee Knob Trail is in Oconee State Park, just a few miles up the road from the house we’re renting. It’s $2 to get in to the park, and there’s some great trails there. We brought Stella on this hike, and she had a great time, as you can tell from her photos. Hiking with her is a joy and it makes me so happy to see how in 8 months she’s transitioned from a mangy and frightened shelter dog to a happy goofy majestic ginger queen. She’s our court jester- always entertaining.

Here’s the description of the trail from SCTrails:

Description: Starting from the parking area you will hike on the Foothills Trail to a sign with a rust colored arrow that clearly shows the direction to Tamassee Knob. This strenuous, well-maintained 2.1-mile, out and back trail provides you with scenery that is well worth the effort. Magnificent views are available in every direction. Mountain laurel and rhododendron engulf the edges of the trail, along with wild strawberries, Solomon’s seal, beggar lice, and a variety of asters. The trees that provide shade along the trail include dogwood, black oak, chestnut, hemlock, black locust, and redbud. Watch your step along the trail, because at times it falls off sharply on both sides. Once you reach the Knob, you will be swept away by the breathtaking sites of the undulating hills of the Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains. At the pinnacle of the trail rests a perfect boulder that can be used for a natural picnic table. You will find this a fulfilling three-hour escape from the noisy world beyond the captivating hills that surround it.

Length: 2.1 miles each way

The first half of the trail is actually very easy. It’s only as you get closer to the knob that the elevation starts to vary and trail conditions (leaf covered =slippery) can get a little dicey. The trail there is narrow with a deep ravine to the side, so you definitely don’t want to lose your footing. Ouch.

The view makes this hike well worth it- I would love to be sitting on the knob at sunrise or sunset, or to see weather fronts moving into the area. It must be gorgeous! There’s a nice flat slab boulder that we rested on, and had a snack. C decided he wanted to build a treehouse there, or that next time we should hike in with blankets, pillows and some rotisserie chickens, and have a feast.

The name “Tamassee” means “Place of the Sunlight of God”, according to an interpretation of the Cherokee word which gave the area its original title. Tamassee was the name given by the Cherokee to originally describe a Cherokee village in the area, which legend tells, was home to a magical and powerful Cherokee prophet. (source: Wikipedia)

This was a really nice hike. Shorter than our usual excursions, but some days we need to hike and time is limited. I’ll definitely want to revisit this one, and hope for some more unique weather and cloud characteristics. I’d love to see rays of sunlight stretching across the Cheohee valley, or the last rays of sunset from the Blue Ridge Escarpment…

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Funky puffy mushrooms!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Gorgeous views from the picnic boulder looking East over the Tamassee/Cheohee valley and Blue RIdge Escarpment.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

C and Stella napping on a boulder.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Still life with dog and leaves.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Stella loves to hike but she loves to lay down even more

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Stella loves hugs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

See the bald eagle? I’m serious, we have bald eagles in SC!

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Foothills Trail Hiking: Fish Hatchery to Burrell’s Ford (A10 to A11) 12/2014

This was last Sunday’s hike- a beautiful day with blue skies and temperate breezes. We hiked a segment of the Foothills Trail that we had done earlier in the year, here. It’s 9.5 miles in and back, according to GPS- I know, the sign says 3.9 miles each way. The sign is wrong. All the signs are wrong, as their distances were calculated before GPS was commonplace. This year is the 40th anniversary of the Foothills Trail, so it was a long time ago that these trail distances were established. Not a big deal, just something to consider, if you do out and back hikes like I do.

This hike seemed easier to me than it did in February, which is good- it means that I’m gaining strength. I’ve also lost twenty five pounds since midsummer- weight I packed on due to having to take steroids, and eating the worst possible diet for someone with adrenal insufficiency: vegan. Eating a vegan diet also pushed me into pre-diabetic territory, which is not good. I now try to eat a primal type of diet: low in carbs, loaded with organic veggies and locally bought meats and eggs.  I feel like my body is finally getting back into some semblance of normalcy, with daily walks and hikes.

My health is really important to me, and I’m always exploring and researching ways to live the healthiest way possible for my genetics. Genetics is one of my many autistic special interests, and exploring my genetic code is the ultimate mystery puzzle. It led me to get into nutritional genomics, and I found out that I have a compound heterozygous MTHFR defect, which is one of the many genetic markers for a host of serious health problems, as well as neuropsychiatric issues such as Autism, ADHD, anxiety and depression. I will be writing about MTHFR more in the future, as the nutritional supplementation I’ve been taking under guidance of my integrative physician has made a major difference in my health. I think it’s a huge piece of the health puzzle for many people, but it’s hard to write about it without running into links/blogs/references that are claiming supplementation as a possible cure for autism. Treating my MTHFR defects has made absolutely zero changes to my autistic experience. Zero. I’m still as autistic as ever, I just happen to feel a lot better physically.

Onward to the photos! It’s amazing how different hikes look at different times of year. I mean, look at this same trail in February under different weather conditions. I still photograph some of the same things, and I’m still obsessed with signage and things that are stuck in the ground, like the shiny new forestry border marker that wasn’t there last winter… This is one of the things I love about South Carolina. I grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania, in coal country. Same mountain range (Appalachian), but 1500 miles northeast. Summers were cooler there, and winters always included a very healthy helping of snow- I wouldn’t be hiking right now if I still lived there. Summers are hot as heck here in the Southeast, and humid. We rarely get snow, which means that we can hike all year round. Winter hiking is some of my favorite hiking. No bugs, not humid, clear mountain views through the barren tree lines. Life in the rural South is very different than my Yankee upbringing… but if you simply smile and say “y’all” it makes everything much smoother. :)


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What it feels like to be Autistic: It’s a loud, loud world

I find that when I say “I’m Autistic”, a large percentage of people don’t really know what that means or how it affects how I exist from day to day. For one, they have a false perception of Autism. Rather than seeing it as the spectrum it is, they don’t realize that. They’re surprised I can talk, or they think I look “normal”, or they say, “but you must have it very mildly”. The truth is, no one can truly understand how Autism impacts my life, other than myself and perhaps other Autistic people with similar experiences. So it’s kind of difficult to share what it feels like. A lot of people still think Autism is a mental illness that I can get “treated” for. That’s not the case, as Autism is neurological. I can’t whisk it away with talk therapy or antidepressants. How I survive in this loud, fast and sharp world is dependent entirely on how I choose to interact with it. I’m going to attempt to do a series on my experiences.

LOUD. FAST. SHARP. These are some words that have come up often for me, in describing how interacting with the world feels. The world on a daily basis feels to me like a noisy pit of snakes and knife blades, rather than the soft, quiet pillow I’d prefer. I exhibit a pronounced physical reaction to sensory stimuli, so keeping those sensory stimuli at an even keel is a very important part of my day. One of the biggest challenges I face on a daily basis is dealing with the potentially debilitating onslaught of sound, and how my body reacts to it.

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Certain noises can result in any of the following: nausea, bright flashes of light in my eyes, sneezing, twitching, headache, intense tinnitus, dizziness, confusion. Nausea is a big one- certain noises affect me so strongly that instant nausea is common. I’ve carried Altoid mints in my bag for years and years to deal with frequent and sudden onset nausea. The sensations in my body caused by noises can range from mild and fleeting discomfort to acute and incapacitating pain.

Repetitive noises result in all of the above bodily reactions but with an added helping of anxiety and quite often, Autistic meltdown. The most difficult repetitive noises I deal with on a day to day basis are the sounds of lawnmowers, leaf blowers, barking dogs, mechanical equipment, the HVAC system that heats/cools the house, vacuum cleaners, blenders, hair driers, and the like. I can’t tell you the last time I dried my hair. I turn the HVAC off in the winter and heat the house with the gas fireplace, which means half the rooms are freezing- rather than hear it go on and off, whirring, clicking and groaning. I absolutely detest mechanical sounds that drone on and on. They make me very upset, touchy, and quite hot-headed on top of physically awful. This is where noise canceling headphones come in handy- if I can catch it in time before the first electric tingling sensations of meltdown begin to manifest. A lot of people like ear plugs, but they hurt my ears, causing me almost as much discomfort and anxiety as the noise itself.

I feel a huge amount of respite from the constant onslaught of aural sensory stimuli when I go hiking. It’s an instant wave of calm for me. Sometimes the forest is eerily still, and I swear that I can hear insects rustling in the leaves, or birds ruffling their feathers. My sense of hearing is very acute, which is both a gift and a curse.

Yesterday, the power went out for a short while. I love it when the power goes out, because the whole house becomes so quiet you could hear a microscopic pin drop. Do you know how much noise electric current makes? Do you know that it makes everything in the house vibrate and hum with an anxious sensation of anticipation? Trust me, it does. You might not feel it, but I do- intensely. I’ve conditioned myself to tolerate it over years and years and years… but it’s always an underlying contributor to my daily anxiety levels, which are quite high no matter what adjustments I make for them.

When I was a little girl growing up in the 70’s, I was enchanted by the show, “I Dream of Jeannie”. In it, “Jeannie” is actually a genie- and she has a bottle she can escape to whenever she wishes. I longed to have one, so that I could get away from the noises, light, temperature fluctuations, movement… I wanted a cocoon. (reminds me of a movie I was entranced by- “Cocoon”. Do you see a theme here?) I was admittedly, rather jealous of Jeannie’s bottle. I mean, look at it- softly lit, closed in, cozy. I dreamt about what my bottle would look like inside, as Jeannie’s was too bright for my tastes. It would be all tones of greens and blues, like where a crystal clear mountain lake meets the tree line. There would be piles of books, and I would wear any clothes I wanted, because Jeannie’s clothes looked terribly uncomfortable and silly. And there would be hot chocolate, with mini marshmallows. I would hear no noise from the outside world as I sat in a blissful state for hours on end, reading all of my favorite books.

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I’ve never been able to have my own genie bottle situation, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t fought for it, even bucking against the loud, fast and sharp world- long before I knew I was Autistic. In college, I fought to have my own dorm room, then for the right to move off campus to my own quiet studio apartment. I tried the roommate thing over and over again- and it always had explosive results. I ended up as a photography major, where I could spend days alone in the darkroom or studio, with the lights mostly off, and music of my choosing drowning out the sounds outside in the hallway. At my first advertising agency job, I begged them to undo the fluorescent lights above my cubicle, and I added a folding screen to partition away the hustle and bustle of the hallway. And the list goes on. I was constantly trying to reduce noise, lights, glare, motion. These things all made it difficult for me to function. They still do. I put a lot of energy into reducing or eliminating them. A great deal of the effort put forth daily as an Autistic person goes simply to managing my environment- something that the non-Autist probably never bats an eyelash at.

I experience daily anxiety just by existing in my environment. When you add other people into it? It can be full of surprises, and while I wish they were good ones, they usually aren’t. I have a very hard time being around other people. In general, I find people just as I find the rest of the world- too sharp, too fast and too loud. I’m so busy trying to figure out what they’re saying and how they’re saying it (intent), while pretending to maintain eye contact and mimic the social interaction styles I’ve seen in movies and television, that by the time to usually short conversation is over, I’m exhausted. Exhausted and with ringing ears, spots dancing across my eyes, and the familiar stabs of anxiety punching into my stomach. Did I say the right things? Did I come across as “normal”? Will they think I am weird? Was I polite? Did I remember to interact using words or phrases I’ve scripted and taught myself to say in conversation? Trust me, it’s tiring. I experience the same thing in online communications.

But I don’t feel any of these stresses or strains with my Son- I’m with him pretty much all of the time, and with both of us being on the spectrum, we have very similar sensory needs and coping mechanisms. We understand when one of us needs “me time” and don’t take offense at one another when either of us snaps at the other, “STOP THAT SOUND”. Lately, dear Son is fascinated with a repetitive screeching banshee noise. He likes the way it feels and sounds in his head, as he smiles in amazement that his body can produce such a noise. I, on the other hand, feel like I’ve been stabbed in the head with a light saber every time he does it. I remind him, he says “oops”, and sometimes goes outside so that he can make the noise as often as he wants, as loud as he wants, without me feeling like I’m in a battle to the death. I’m certain that I also offer up plenty of quirks that drive him batty. Like humming, talking to myself, biting my nails, chewing on my hair, and spinning my rings. Busy hands, busy mind.

I get the feeling sometimes that a lot of NT people think that Autistic reactions to sensory stimuli are false dramatizations done for the purpose of garnering attention. You know, special snowflake syndrome. Because a sound can’t possibly make you feel physical pain, nausea, bright flashing lights or chronic tinnitus, right? Wrong. I experience it every day, and my over-sensitivity to sound is one of the top contributors to the daily challenges I face. Sounds have the ability to incapacitate me. Ask yourself- how would you like to be bombarded with painful or uncomfortable physical sensations every time you walked into- for example, a grocery store? When you check out at the grocery store, you probably don’t even notice the sounds of the people around you, the fluorescent lights overhead, the strong smells of every different aisle, the high pitched squeaks of the cart wheels, the horrid elevator mood music playing in the background, and the unforgivingly loud beeps of the checkout scanners… do you? Maybe you do if you’re Autistic like me. But if you don’t, think about it. Consider how you’d feel if you turned up every sound in your environment over one hundred times greater than it already is. Consider how you’d feel if you could hear a greater range of sound that you do, and all of those sounds were layered on top of each other, competing all at equal volume. It hurts.

My Son asked me the other day, “If you could give up one of your senses, which one would it be?” Without a doubt, I would give up my sense of hearing. It’s a loud, loud world… and I’m just not made to exist alongside it.

Next up: Bright lights, loud lights, different types of lights…

“The Curse of Ellicott Rock” – Chattooga River Trail hiking

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Attempt #4 to arrive at and find the elusive Ellicott Rock… and again, we come up empty. Past attempts to arrive at the rock have involved me falling and injuring my knee, having to cut a hike short due to tornado warnings, and downed trees preventing us from getting through. Like I said… the curse of Ellicott Rock is real.

What IS Ellicott Rock, anyway? It’s a big rock that was carved into in 1811 by Andrew Ellicott, and it marks the point at which South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina meet. Only problem is, I’ve yet to pass a hiker on this trail who has actually seen the rock. And every trail guide I read has some strange murky instructions on where it is, and sometimes they oppose one another. Even a discussion with a US Forest Ranger got me no closer to the rock. “You go through the boulder field, cross the small bridge and then it’s up on the right”… how many miles up on the right? I ended up in a parking lot in North Carolina and didn’t find Ellicott’s rock. o__o

Anyway… it was a gorgeous day. The low winter sun just grazed the mountain ridges outlying the river gorges below, casting cool blue tones onto the Chattooga, with the occasional ray of sun making the crystal clear water glow with life. Hiking in the area is often cool and misty, making it a favorite in the steamy summer season, and an area that feels verdant even in the midst of winter.

The dogs ran up and down the trails and played, and C made “sand angels” on Luna’s Beach.  My absolute favorite hiking takes place in the Sumter National Forest (Pickens Ranger District), and Ellicott Rock Wilderness and the Chattooga River Trail is part of that. Hiking in these areas make the State Parks seem too developed and populated, if that’s possible.

My activity monitor said I had hiked 13.5 miles when I synced it- while that would be nice, I know that it’s not that far… maybe nine miles in and back?

Not sure when I’ll make attempt #5 to find Ellicott’s darned rock… I have so many hikes on my list, and so little time… Enjoy my pictures! I am supposed to be getting a new camera, but then my car decided it needed new brakes and rotors, leaving me suitably broke.

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Why Autistic People are more likely to be bullied …

Sonnolenta:

I think this is an excellent list, no matter what age you are. I will be sharing this list with my 12 year old neurodivergent Son, for he has been experiencing quite severe bullying in school since he was only eight! The problems continued over three different years, two different schools, and four different teachers. Between the bullying and a long list of other reasons, I finally withdrew him from public school and we started homeschooling.

We are now on our second year of homeschooling, and I am happy to report that my Son has never been happier, or more confident. He’s also learning a lot now that his sensory sensitivities are being respected. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone, but it’s amazing for us. My Son has started to develop his baking skills, spending many afternoons working on delicious recipes. He wouldn’t have a chance to do this if he was still in regular school. He also recently began participating in 4-H, and is looking forward to starting some new clubs after the holidays are over.

Originally posted on askpergers:

 

Anyone can become a victim of bullying, but it does seem that a disproportionate number of autistic people experience bullying at some point in their life.  There are a number of reasons for this, and most of them are to do with the psychology of the person doing the bullying.  There is something about autistic people that makes them appear to be `good victims` in the eyes of a potential bully.  Probably the simplest way to illustrate this point is to list a few of the key issues below so that you can get some idea of what I am talking about.

  • Autistic people tend to stand out from the crowd – one of the fundamental principles of autism is that if you have it you are not like everybody else around you.  This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and you don’t even have to be completely…

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Stand-up Paddleboard (SUP) on Lake Jocassee “Little Caribbean” sandy beach (8/14/14)

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On August 14th, we loaded the Mini up with our Tower inflatable SUPs and headed to Lake Jocassee. I’ve shared photos and words about a previous SUP trip to Jocassee before, HERE. I’m never not amazed by the beauty of this lake, and this area in general. We moved here (Oconee county) from Greenville, SC in March of this year. Greenville is a wonderful little city, but both C and I felt overwhelmed by the traffic and overall noise. It was inescapable, so we often ventured out and went hiking. One day, on one of these hiking trips, C said to me, “The lease is up on our house soon, why can’t we move out here? Why do we have to live in Greenville?” It was an excellent question. I hadn’t been considering moving to another area. We had just become accustomed to Greenville as a new area. We began researching it, and making more frequent trips, often just driving around to establish our bearings. Fast forward to March of 2014, when we made the move to Oconee county. Every day we say to one another, “I’m so glad we moved here. I know I say that every day, but I’m so glad we moved here!”. Easy access to beautiful places like Jocassee seals the deal. I’m so glad we moved here.

Lake Jocassee is a manmade lake and reservoir, which is part of Duke Power. It’s one of a series of manmade lakes, dams and a nuclear power station, which provides power to most of upstate South Carolina. Because they are constantly pumping water in and out, the water level can vary a lot, exposing miles of shoreline and geographic formations. C is studying geology this entire year in our homeschool, so these trips are always a good opportunity to learn about the geology of our area. The area has an interesting history, which you can read HERE. Many of the places in this part of South Carolina have Cherokee names- Jocassee, Keowee, Tamassee, Chattooga, Cheohee, Chauga, etc!

The name “Jocassee” is derived from a Cherokee word that means “place of the lost one.” Cherokee legend goes that rival tribes lived in the area, and one day, a young warrior broke his leg while hunting in territory claimed by the rival tribe. A young maiden named Jocassee came to the young warrior’s rescue and nursed him back to health.  The two fell in love, but the warrior was killed in a battle between the tribes. Heartbroken, Jocassee entered the water to end her life. But her body didn’t sink. She walked across the water’s surface to be embraced by, and forever disappear with, the young warrior’s ghost.

On this day, we set out on the water from Devil’s Fork State Park. They have several boat ramps to choose from, but we always use the one farthest away from the main camping area. Because people. The good thing is that even if there are a lot of people and traffic on the boat ramp, when you get out on the water on this massive lake, you can still feel isolated and alone in your communal with nature. The waters of Jocassee are very clear, allowing you to see very deep below. This lake is popular with scuba divers, who dive deep into the depths to view still-standing structures, and even an old graveyard.

Jocassee has many beach-like areas, depending on the lake level. We found this one in these photos not far from the Devil’s Fork boat ramp, when paddling away from the dam (to the left of the ramp). It took us about 90 minutes to paddle here, and C decided it was the perfect place for a swim and a snack. The sand is the result of the erosion of sedimentary rock within the lake, but also the erosion of metamorphic rock from the mountains above, carried in by several rivers and many small streams. This entire area of the Southern Appalachians is high in quartz, as well as sapphires and rubies. Gemstone hunting is a popular activity here.

The waters are clear and a beautiful blue-green color, where the sun glints off the ripples and the large walls of earth and tree roots towering above. Sometimes, it truly feels that you’re sitting in the warm waters of a Caribbean beach, only the water is fresh and not sticky like salt water. Underwater, the white sand sparkles in the sun and forms patterns of ripples towards the shore. This is a day for basking in the sun, for floating, for smiling.

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Forever changed, always grieving. Honoring loss, and my Father on International Suicide #SurvivorDay

Today is November 22, 2014, and it is National Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, a national event sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In honor of this day, I’m going to be blogging and tweeting messages under the #survivorday and #endsuicide tags, in hopes of increasing awareness and lessening mental health stigma. You can help by sharing this post on Twitter, and by searching on Twitter under those tags and sharing the stories of others who have experienced this loss. If you have been affected, share your story.

[This post bears obvious TRIGGER WARNINGS regarding suicide as well as  depression, domestic abuse, profanity, and death of a loved one.]


Life changes forever when you lose someone to suicide. Their life ends, and your life feels like it’s been shredded into pieces. So many emotions tossing and turning on rough seas. Guilt, regret, frustration, confusion… this list goes on as the emotions battle amongst one another for dominance. But things eventually even out. The seas grow calm, and the sun does come back out.

People don’t treat you the same after you lose someone to suicide. The societal stigma of the suicide is transferred on to you, whilst your vulnerability makes it feel like you’re broadcasting your fragility to the world. I don’t want to be treated like I’m broken. I don’t want to be invited to church, or have Bible verses recited to me. I don’t want to be touched, or have my back patted. Don’t treat me like I’m a freak. Don’t analyze my moods and behavior. Just let me grieve. I will want to cry, and I will appear upset or angry at times. I might eat a lot of chocolate, or other things that you don’t think are healthy. I might want to sit on the couch and watch all nine seasons of The X-Files in one weekend. I might not care too much about dressing up presentably, or venturing out into the world. I might sit and look through thousands of photos, grasping for memories to hang on to. What little social graces I have as an Autistic person might bottom out. My ability to work and my performance at work might suffer. And this might go on for years, as there is nothing linear about this recovery and healing process. Nothing at all. But you’ll encounter others who share you’ll loss, and you’ll meet people who treat you with kindness and compassion.

People look on you with suspicion when you’ve lost someone to suicide. You’re now “that family down the street with the Father who killed himself”. Before, you were “that nice family down the street”, or something like that. This stigma is so great that many times, families will try to hide the cause of death of their loved one. I know this, because my Mother did this. I wrote about it in a blog post, here. What’s even more insidious and insulting is when people infer that if you share the suicide of your loved one, then you’re whoring for attention or grasping for sympathy. That happened to me as well, and it’s despicable. I didn’t want attention or sympathy- I just wanted an emotional break from a high stress career, where people were constantly interfacing with me, and not always with nice intentions. I just wanted the right to calmly exist for a while, without being pecked at.

If you’re in an unhealthy relationship, being a survivor of suicide can make that relationship even worse. It can be the pivot point through which a relationship changes course to become even more severe and abusive. My 2007 marriage had been rocky from the start, with one of my abusive husband’s major issues being that I didn’t want to take his last name. Two months before my Father’s death, my husband had actually driven me to the DMV and Social Security offices, and forced me to fill out all of the papers to change my name on various documents, such as my driver’s license, passport and social security card. He saw these things as symbols of his ownership over me. Within a week of my Father’s suicide, he was already screaming and yelling at me, calling me names in front of the children, and even calling me a “cunt”  and a “bitch” in front of his Mother on Christmas day. He claimed that he was just upset because with my Father’s death, I would be even more “trouble” about not wanting to use his name. This sounds like a stupidly minor thing, right? It wasn’t. My Father hadn’t even been dead for five days, and the cycle of abuse was ramping up. This was huge. It showed me just how abusive and controlling the relationship was, and how I needed to get out of it, as soon as possible. From that point on, I endured him. I even plopped down the money to take him on a trip to Italy and pretend that it was a “second honeymoon”. When you’re being abused, you do just about anything to prevent more abuse… until you find yourself in the position to safely exit.  I finally found that time, and I made my exit, relatively unscathed in the grand scheme of things. Next June will be my five year “anniversary” of leaving it all behind and consciously leaning forward into the light.

 

Here’s some statistics about suicide, from Fierce Goodbye: Living in the Shadow of Suicide (source):

Suicide Deaths

  • Suicide takes the lives of about 30,000 each year.
  • On an average day, one person ends their life every 17 minutes.
  • Every 1 hour and 39 minutes an elderly person kills him or herself.
  • Every 2 hours and 12 minutes a teenager/young adult kills him or herself.
  • Overall, it is the11th most common cause of death, more frequent than homicide which ranks 14th.
  • Among young people, it is the 3rd most common cause of death.
  • There are 4.1 male deaths by suicide for each female death.

Suicide Attempts

  • In an average year there are 734,000 annual attempts (estimated, no annual national data available).
  • For every death by suicide, there are 25 attempts.
  • Among youth, there are 100 to 200 attempts for every death – often used as a cry for help among the young.
  • Among the elderly, there are 4 attempts for every death – the elderly are most often the most lethal in carrying out the attempt.
  • There are 3 female attempts for each male attempt – males are more lethal in killing themselves, i.e., using guns. Nearly 60 percent of all suicides are done with a firearm.
  • 5 million living Americans (estimated) have attempted to kill themselves.

Survivors (Family members and friends of a loved one who died by suicide)

  • Each suicide intimately affects at least 6 other people (estimated)
    Based on this estimate, there are approximately 4.5 million American survivors of suicide.

 

People read these type of statistics and feel a slight twinge of sadness, but no real momentous push to understand or change this pattern, as the statistics are just numbers. They lack humanity. Mental Illness is highly stigmatized in this country and treated as a personality flaw. A weakness of character. People feel that they can’t get treatment or assistance in dealing with mental illness because it can severely impact their employment, or the custody of their children. People can lose their jobs. Married persons dealing with depression and receiving treatment for it know that in the future, if divorce rears it’s ugly head, their mental health might be brought into the spotlight, and used as a reason for them to not be a “fit parent”, or even as a basis for the divorce itself. These are just some of the reasons why people suffer in silence and don’t get help.

My Dad isn’t a number or a statistic- he was my Father. He loved chocolate covered pretzels, listening to ZZ Top, and one of his favorite movies was Blade Runner. He was a person, and now he’s gone. He was so much like me that we didn’t always need to use spoken words. Just sitting in silence was fine. Losing him was like losing half of myself, and I’ve had to reconnect with my inner child to get it all back.

My Father suffered in silence and didn’t get help. He was born in 1941 and was of the generation that perceived mental illness as a major weakness of one’s personality. Despite the fact that he had attempted suicide before the age of twenty years old, by driving his car off a bridge, he still felt that way. He never got help for his life-long battle with depression. He didn’t want depression on his health records, because it would take away his ability to do the one thing he really loved- being a private pilot. My Father loved to fly, but he could not fly if he had any mental health issues or antidepressant medications listed on his medical records. He would not pass his “medical”, he would not have license to fly. Two years after my Father’s suicide, the Federal Aviation Administration lifted this restriction. My Father left a stack of photos on his desk, as the only evidence of a “suicide note”. At least half of the photos in that stack were of planes he has flown, or him standing next to those planes. When the 2008 stock market crisis occurred, it hit my Father hard financially. He had to sell his small plane (a 1968 Piper Cherokee) that autumn. Approximately two months after his wings were clipped, he ended his life.

They say that there are five stages of grief. I personally feel that there are many more than that, and that they don’t arrive in the same order, or the same intensity. In the two years after my Father’s death, I feel like my life went off the rails. I completely lost any ability to cope with stress, or confrontation. My anxiety and own symptoms of depression intensified. My insomnia became so bad that my doctor gave up on Ambien and began prescribing me a heavy-duty drowsiness inducer, the psychotropic medication called Seroquel. Yet I never felt rested, and I never remembered a single dream. I felt like my body and mind were falling apart, and on a daily basis, shadows were wrapping themselves around me, as I fought to shake their grip. I lost my direction, and I lost my focus.

Not long after my Father’s death, I realized that despite his struggle to function within our family unit, he was actually very much the balancing element that made it possible for me to engage on the most basic levels with my Mother and Brother. With my Father gone, I soon learned what my Mother and Brother truly thought of me. The relationship grew so toxic and abusive that in March of 2012, four years after my Father’s suicide- I packed up everything I owned and left my Mother and Brother behind. I left no forwarding address, and I didn’t tell them I was leaving. Arriving at the decision to go “no contact” with my family was not an impulsive one, it was very carefully planned and decided. The end result of it is that I don’t have any immediate family, but I do finally have happiness, confidence, and a positive outlook.

Yes, you read that right- happiness, confidence and a positive outlook. I’ve fought hard to get to this point, and I know that I have a long way to go. I’ve moved far away from where I lived before, and had to leave behind toxic relationships- even ones that were blood relationships. I no longer have to drive by the cul-de-sac outside my Mother’s house, where my Father took his life, so I’m no longer plagued by seeing visions of his body, slumped over and covered in a white sheet spattered in his blood. That’s something I can never un-see, but at least I’m not consistently being reminded of it. So I’ve been able to shift my perspective to honoring and celebrating my Father’s life. Because no matter how he died, my Dad was a great person, a loving Father, and a strong role model for me. I just wish I had a chance to tell him that before he left, but the opportunity never presented itself.

Healing is a long and complex process, for there isn’t a single point ahead of me through which I will feel that I have truly healed. It’s not like that. Most days I feel fine, and I think of my Dad every day. Other days, I feel triggered as a swell of painful emotions rushes forth and my voice starts to crack as my eyes well up with tears. Guilt is one of the most difficult emotions that I’ve been dealing with in being a survivor of my Father’s suicide. Things were not on good terms with my family when he died. I continually ask myself, if circumstances had been different, would I have been able to prevent his death? Would I have recognized the signs in his behavior? Would he still be here, if the one person so like him in this world, had been there next to him? I can’t answer any of those questions, because I can’t change the past. I can allow myself to feel torrents of guilt, or I can understand that “why” or “what if” are the two biggest questions that survivors ask themselves. I can’t change what happened, but I can keep his memory alive.

With the alarming statistics regarding suicide, you most likely know someone who is a survivor. You might know someone who is a survivor and not know they ARE a survivor, because they’ve chosen not to divulge this information due to the stigma surrounding it. I’ve chosen to be open about the circumstances surrounding my Father’s death, because I think that people being open and sharing their experiences is one of the only ways that this stigma will shift and hopefully change. Let’s face it, people are not comfortable with the mention of death, and even less comfortable with the mention of suicide. Why is that? Does it have to be that way?

For months after my Father’s death, I hoped that I would dream about him at night, but I never did. I don’t know if that’s because my sleep cycles were so messed up due to insomnia, or because I didn’t remember my dreams, but I eventually did have a dream about him, which for me, represented beautiful closure. In my dream, I was walking through an airport, on my way to get to a connecting flight, and I looked to the right.. and saw my Father, standing in line to get on a flight. He was as he was when he was younger. Maybe 1965 or so… dapper, dressed in a suit, hair slicked back… incredibly handsome. I stopped and watched him, and as his ticket was scanned he turned and looked at me, smiled and gave me the thumbs up. The jetway lit up brightly, and he walked down it…

 

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I leave this post off with a poem, which was written on a scrap of yellow legal paper and given to me by a kind woman named Lori, when I was sixteen, and hospitalized after my first suicide attempt. It was my first night at the hospital, and I was on suicide watch. Lori sat with me all night long, talking to me, trying to help me to get to sleep. She wrote me this poem by Emily Dickinson, and told me that when I understood it, I would know I was getting better. I’ve kept this poem in my memory and in my heart since that night in 1986. I still have that piece of paper, taped to the inside of a little blank book, safe inside the drawer of my nightstand.

A great Hope fell
You heard no noise
The Ruin was within
Oh cunning wreck that told no tale
And let no Witness in

The mind was built for mighty Freight
For dread occasion planned
How often foundering at Sea
Ostensibly, on Land

A not admitting of the wound
Until it grew so wide
That all my Life had entered it
And there were troughs beside

A closing of the simple lid
That opened to the sun
Until the tender Carpenter
Perpetual nail it down —