I am not alone…

blog-gratitude-i-am-not-alone

As I have published in recent blogs, I am entering another phase of my life and trying to find a new balance in more ways than one.  What prompted me to write today is to express gratitude, something I need to do more often.

My heart was filled with thanks today, so much so, it brought tears to my eyes.  This was precipitated by my experiences  that occurred over the past week or so.  The common theme with these occurrences is that they are all random acts of kindness by some people who I consider to be very close friends.  It is these good deeds that make me realize how lucky I am to have these people in my life.  Having them to lean on gives me great comfort in facing some of the obstacles I encounter, obstacles, that in the past, I would have relied on Steve  to be there for me.

Last week, my friend Mike and his wife Ramona, attended a Project9line benefit dinner with me. I knew it was going to be an emotional night for me and Mike and Ramona stood by my side and supported me through my tears.  Mike is also a constant figure at my house after every snow storm, shoveling my driveway.  I was not alone at the dinner, nor am I ever alone after a snow storm.

My cousin Terry and her husband Allan who live more than an hour away from me drove over 150 miles one day to get me some vegan ice cream and bring me some homemade soup.  Since I am on a strict plant based diet, I have lost a lot of weight.  As such, Terry wants to make sure I put on a few pounds to reach a healthier weight.  I am not alone.

This week, my friend Judy went with me to my future home to help me choose paint , carpet and tile colors.  I have been in such a daze lately, I was pretty much useless in making my choices.  However, Judy is so good at asking questions and taking notes, I knew I didn’t have to worry about remembering what I decided, plus I was lucky to have her expert opinion on color selections.   I was not alone.

Yesterday, my rabbit chewed through my computer power cord, rendering the PC useless when the battery wore down.  Since I am so dependent on my computer and I knew it would take days for me to get a new power adapter, I reached out to my friend Bob, a former co-worker of mine from IBM.  He offered to strip and tape the chewed cable to make it functional again.  Once again, I was not alone.

I am so grateful for having these people in my life.  They may consider their help to be no big deal.  However,  what they all have done for me is HUGE.  As I have said many times before, I will always be lonely without Steve, but I will never be alone.

www.SlippedAway.org

 

Balance

blog-balance

“The Beauty is in the Balance”.

These were words Steve so firmly believed in and he tried his best to find balance throughout his life.  Steve taught so many others to find their own balance, both in their sport and in their lives.   We now know, not unlike as it is in the “shoemaker’s children” proverb,  Steve struggled greatly  in his final years before he died by suicide, trying to find his own equilibrium.

On a daily basis, I too still grapple with finding my footing in life, both from a physical as well as an emotional perspective.   For many years, as a dancer, I took my good physical balance for granted, never realizing that someday it would be taken away from me by a progressive, incurable disease.  Although I am thankful for what I still have, I will always miss what I had worked on for so many years, which is now another loss I grieve.

From an emotional and mental balance perspective, even though I have recently made some decisions to try and help me bring back stability to my life, every day is still a struggle for me.  However,  I am encouraged when people tell me they think I am strong or I inspire them.   Little do they know, I am so afraid I will never find a new “normal” and that the rest of my life will be filled with instability and unevenness.

Steve was a wise man and he taught me so much.  I can almost hear him whispering in my ear, telling me to keep searching  for that beauty in the balance, and by doing so, everything will turn out to be okay.

www.SlippedAway.org

The Next Chapter….

pl3

The time has come for me to start a new chapter in my life.

I am just plodding through every day now, always waking up in a life that is so routine to me.  What is obviously missing is Steve, my best friend and soul mate of over 33 years, who died by suicide on 3/15/2015.  For those 33 years, I was blessed to share my  life with the most amazing man and I was immersed in Steve’s life,  loving everything it had to offer.  He showed me so many wonderful things and we had a loving, fun filled life for so many years.   Of course, things were not always perfect, however, as I reflect, I realize that we had an incredible foundation of love and respect for one another that was apparent to anyone who knew us.

Now, I must carve my own path alone.  For the past 22 months, I have been trying to find purpose and make sense of the sad circumstances of Steve’s death.  I am now finally coming to accept that Steve is never again going to walk through the  front door of our house and we will never grow old together and share the same pillow. Of course, this tears my heart apart every time I think about it.  I know the pain of his loss will be with me for the rest of my life.  But, staying in the same house with so many memories of our life together, is not allowing me to grow as a person, rather, it feels like I am just waiting to die so I can see Steve again in the afterlife.  It is time for me to move on and chart my own course here on earth.  Steve’s world and the world we shared together  is no longer my world.

Being a creature of habit, I was never a big fan of change.  However, change is inevitable, whether we like it or not.   Rather than wait for change to force itself upon me, I plan to make a change in my life on my own terms while I still have my mental faculties and I am physically able to do so.   My health is slowly failing, whether caused by grief or just getting old, I don’t know.  So that I do not become a burden to my friends, it is important that I plan for my future.  As such, I am researching some alternate living options.  Taking care of a house on my own is becoming too much for me to handle.  Although Steve and I together used to joke that we had no business owning a house since neither of us were handy, together, we would always figure out how to solve problems.  Now it is just me.

The  sad chapter of the last few years of my life has ended  and I as I begin my next chapter, I look forward to change, probably for the first time in my life.

This post is also featured on www.OurSideofSuicide.com, a blog offering hope,comfort and support to those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

WTF?

st-the-hulk-in-mallorca-from-randy

Just when you think you are making headway in your life, something will always manage to come along and smack you in the face.

Recently, someone (a non verified purchaser) posted an anonymous  “review” on amazon.com for Slipped Away.   Then the same exact words were posted by a name I never heard of as a comment to a 5 star review.     It was not a review, but rather a personal attack on me.  The words that were used bear the signature and tone of someone who has tried to malign me in social media in the past about Slipped Away, so I have a good idea as to who may have done this “review”.  What was said was so cruel and heartless, it makes me pity the person who wrote it as he/she is still filled with so much hatred and misery, that it will eventually destroy them.   How a human being can be so insensitive and vicious to another human being, especially the life partner and soul mate  of someone who took their own life  is beyond me.  I can only conclude they too must suffer from mental illness.  Unlike Steve, who turned his mental anguish against himself, this person seems to externalize their mental pain by attacking others and attempting to defame others  with baseless lies.

If you have read Slipped Away,  my blog, Facebook page or website, you will see that Steve and I had a loving relationship that endured for over 33 years, in spite of his illness.  The intent of the book is to carry on Steve’s legacy, inspire conversation about mental health and since all of the proceeds are donated to a veterans nonprofit, it helps to provide outlets for veterans suffering from PTSD and depression. Why this person would write something in such a way that they think it will deter book sales serves no purpose.  So many people have reached out to me and thanked me as my writings have helped them in different ways, whether it is finally feeling empowered to talk about the suicide of their loved one or letting people feel like they are not alone with what they are experiencing when dealing with mental illness and suicide.

This person implied that they knew Steve, but, anyone who TRULY knew and understood Steve, would NEVER do what this person has done as Steve would be devastated by the hateful  comments and accusations uttered by this misguided soul.

www.SlippedAway.org

Chipping away at the mental illness and suicide stigma

My journey to raising awareness for mental health issues and suicide began when I published the memoir (Slipped Away) of my soulmate and best friend, Steve Tarpinian.  Steve took his own life on March 15, 2015 and I published Slipped Away in October of that year.

Since then, I have started a blog, created a website and Facebook page and penned several essays about Steve, including articles in Newsday, Lava Magazine and trihistory.com; all done to inspire conversation about mental health.  Only until we as a society can freely talk about suicide and mental illness without shame or embarrassment, will we be able to make greater strides in helping those who are afflicted.   Many of you who are old enough may remember that there was a time no one would talk about cancer or HIV/AIDS.  Since so much has been done to raise awareness for those diseases, there are now more treatment options and people that suffer need not feel shamed or embarrassed if they have one of these illnesses.

Removing the stigma associated with suicide was talked about over 70 years ago.  Norman Farberow is acknowledged to be one of the founding fathers of suicide prevention. In the 1940’s, while pursuing his doctoral studies, Farberow started to recognize an urgent need to look more deeply into the causes of suicide, and to think about better ways to prevent it.   In 2017, many still refuse to talk about suicide as a cause of death and shy away from conversations about mental illness.   Since many celebrities such as Carrie Fischer, Lady GaGa and Sarah Silverman have gone public with their struggles, we are starting to gain momentum, but much work still needs to be done and it is a slow, arduous process.

Today was a turning point for me in the telling of Steve’ story.  I was humbled to be interviewed by Bob Salter of WFAN (a CBS radio station) to talk about Slipped Away and  mental health issues.  Patrick Donohue of Project9line.org (beneficiary of Slipped Away proceeds)  joined me, and he was representing our veterans, a population that  has even higher suicide rates than civilians.  This interview gave me the opportunity to tell Steve’s story to an even larger audience.

It is no coincidence (Steve was a firm believer in this saying) that I was interviewed by Bob.  Last year, Robert Cohen, who was the last finisher at the 2010 Mighty Hamptons Triathlon (produced by Steve’s event company)  reached out to me when he had heard Steve had passed away.  He never forgot how good Steve made him feel  after he crossed that finish line in 2010.  Steve would always try to personally  cheer in the final finishers at his events  and also gathered event staff and remaining spectators to do so as well.  Robert offered to do a review of Slipped Away in his column.  Robert had also been interviewed by Bob Salter on other subjects and he was the one who suggested I contact Bob.  The rest is history and now having been  on Bob’s show, I believe it gave me a great platform to spread such a desperately needed message.

I don’t know where my next stop will be on my awareness raising path , however, I am on a mission and like a former client of mine would always say, I am like “gum in the hair” .  And so, my journey to inspire conversations about mental health issues will continue….

www.SlippedAway.org

Suicide Survivors, the ties that bind us

newesday-afsp-walk-2016-photo

Suicide survivors belong to an exclusive club with a costly membership fee. As the lyrics from the Eagles song Hotel California say; “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”, the same can be said about the house of grief where suicide survivors live.

Since my soul mate of 33 years, Steve, took his own life in March, 2015,  I have observed there are some common ties that bind suicide survivors.   Yes, some of these ties are shared by anyone who grieves the loss of a loved one and I am by no means trivializing their pain.  We all grieve differently and in different ways for  different relationships.  However, in the case of suicide survivors, I believe our grief is intensified due to the stigmas associated  with suicide and society’s inability to comprehend how someone can take their own life.

In connecting with other suicide survivors,  these are the common themes I have seen that  many of us share:

  1. We have so many unanswered questions.

Why did he (she) give up hope?, What could I have done differently to prevent this tragedy? , Why didn’t I see the signs?,  How could he(she) do this if he (she) loved me?  These questions will never have answers and they will always haunt us.

  1. We want our loved one to be remembered as the good person they were, not as someone who completed suicide.

In the case of suicide, more often than not, the loved one’s cause of death is how they are remembered.  In the case of death by other circumstances, people are likely to be remembered for their accomplishments and/or who they were as a person.

  1. We will always remember the sadness in our loved one’s eyes, the fear on their face and our feelings of helplessness leading up to the suicide.

Yes, we knew something was not right, but we never in a million years would have thought our loved one would die by their own hand.

  1. The cause of death of our loved one is something many (including family and friends) do not want to talk about.

When there is disagreement within the family  as to whether or not to be public with the cause of death, the family can be torn apart.  This is so sad since we need each other now more than ever to join hands and console each other on our journey of grief. When fellow suicide survivors turn against us, it further adds to everyone’s pain.  This is so ironic because we all loved the one lost to suicide just as he (she) loved all of us.

  1. Someone must take the blame for the death of our loved one.

It is human nature, when trying to make sense of a tragedy, to place blame on someone or something.  More often than not, it is unfairly placed on someone who was closest to the lost loved one.  As people take “sides”, family and friends are torn apart, further compounding the grief and pitting suicide survivor against suicide survivor.

  1. We have a tendency to isolate ourselves.

This is mainly self imposed, however, many long time friends and acquaintances seem to avoid us.  No one knows what to say.  We are so weary of heartless comments like: “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”.  We are so worn out by grief, we are too weary and drained to educate, especially since most people are not open to being educated about suicide and are steadfast in their opinions.

  1. At some point prior to their death, our loved one articulated we would be better off without them.

This is so sad as it is the farthest thing from the truth.  He (she) had no idea how those left behind would suffer after they were gone.

  1. The intensity of the pain of loss will always be with us.

Whether it is 10 weeks, 10 months or 10 years since our loved one’s suicide, the passage of time does not lessen the pain we feel.  The waves of grief will still come, sometimes like ripples on the ocean or they could be like crushing tsunamis.  I believe time will only lessen the frequency and duration of these waves, not reduce the depth of the pain.

  1.   We feel guilty for being angry at our loved one lost to suicide.

Our tears of sadness sometimes turn to tears of rage because our loved one “gave up” and chose suicide, leaving us to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives.  Yet, upon further reflection, we know in our hearts they were suffering intense mental anguish. To quote Sally Brampton, “…they were defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive.”  Then, our tears of anger transform back into tears of sadness.

10.  We take comfort in knowing we are not alone in our feelings.

This, in my mind, stands out as the most prevalent feeling shared by others like myself.  We are already grieving a tragic loss and compounding that grief are some or all of the other experiences I have notated above.

I am thankful for all the suicide survivors who have reached out to me and made me feel that I was not alone.  They have all inspired me to continue writing about suicide awareness and the collateral damage that results from it.

www.SlippedAway.org

Why I must continue my path to raise suicide and mental health awareness.

1989-st-in-st-croix

Since Steve took his own life in 2015 and I have chosen a path to put a spotlight on mental illness and suicide, there have been many times where I was ready to give up.  This path, by no means, has been an easy one for me.  I still breakdown in sobs as I write or talk to people about Steve.  I ask myself, Why do I want to keep talking about subjects that make people feel  uncomfortable and make me cry? 

I continually have to remind myself that I want something good to come out of the tragic circumstances surrounding Steve’s life.  By freely speaking about the cause of his death and the events leading up to it, I truly believe that the more mental illness and suicide are spoken about, those that suffer mental anguish will be more apt to seek treatment and talk about what they are feeling without shame or embarrassment.

While on  my journey, I have found that there are so many that suffer silently and wear the mask of “Everything is great with me” just as Steve had done.  Even more shocking is the number of suicides that are occurring.  I am a member of a closed Facebook group dedicated to suicide survivors.   There are almost 11,000 members and every day there is usually at least one new survivor posting the tragic story of their loved one lost to suicide.

In addition,  based on feedback from my Facebook page, the memoir, online articles I have written or my blog,   people have shared with me their own experiences with depression; either they themselves struggle with it, or they have family members who are struggling. Others have also spoken to me about suicides of their loved ones.  A woman that I did not know, who lost her husband to suicide, shared with me that she read my 9/11/2016 article in Newsday about not being silent about  Steve’s suicide and that it gave her the strength for the first time to talk about the cause of her husband’s death.  She shared that this article allowed her to lift a huge burden she had been carrying.

The following quotes summarize how some of my writings related to Steve’s story have helped others:

” Your book made a huge difference in my life, I mean a huge difference and I decided to seek treatment and make sure I do not slip away from my family and my friends.”

“I read your friend’s story when it was posted a while ago. This is such an important issue to talk about. My daughter has battled serious depression since she was a teen. I believe making depression an illness that is not stigmatized will help many more people find the help that is needed to deal with this debilitating condition. It honors your friend’s life to do so.”

 “What an awesome thing you are doing. I also have tried taking my life so this really touches me deeply. Thank you.”

“I am one of many former triathletes who were shocked when we heard of Steve’s passing, one of those who knew him, as you described in your piece, as ‘healthy and strong, a great athlete and visionary entrepreneur’. The Mighty Montauk triathlon was a traditional race for me and my friends for the 2000’s. We were there every year. We just couldn’t wrap our heads around how this could happen to someone we admired, who did the things we did and which we thought were helpful additions to our own mental stability. And no one explained it to us. Until now. So again thanks so very much.”

“Seeing and hearing from people like you who are surviving, helping, reaching out to others, and letting those people like me know they are not alone help give me hope that I will be ok, and that hopefully I can touch or inspire someone the way you have.”

Whether educating people about my personal experience with suicide, making people feel they are not alone in what they are experiencing, or giving pause to someone who may be considering suicide,  these are the reasons I will continue on my path.

I have always said, I will have accomplished my goal of helping others by telling Steve’s story if I could help just one person.  Based on the comments I have received, it seems as though there may be more than one person who has been touched by Steve’s story.  This gives me some measure of peace since I believe that Steve continues to help others (something he did so well in life) even though he is no longer with us.

www.SlippedAway.org