Thursday, December 22, 2016

How To Save A Life.

Year-round but especially during the holidays, some people are desperate and in pain. For some, it's so extreme that they contemplate taking their own life. And being a decent, compassionate human being, you want to prevent that from happening. So here's what you need to know about saving a life:

You can't.

Not what you wanted to hear? Too bad. It's the truth. You can't save someone determined to end their own life. You can't shield them from a weapon of choice nor the opportunity to take action.

That's the reality of the situation. But, not being able to save someone is not the same as not being able to do anything to help.

There are things you can do.

Okay, so maybe you can't prevent a determined person from taking their own life. And that sucks. But you CAN intervene in such a way that you reduce the likelihood the person feels completely abandoned and alone. You can be the reason someone decides to stick around.

It starts with making sure the other person knows you are there for them. There's no reason to be coy or subtle here. Try, "Jane, I know you're hurting, and I want you to know that I am right here when you are ready to talk about what is happening."

Now that you have their attention, try listening to the person in pain. Maybe they want to talk about what is happening with them. Maybe they want to talk about anything but. Either way is fine. Just make sure that the other person understands that they have an ally when they are truly in need.

Rally The Troops

Being a rock for another person can take its own toll. It's tough to be on call 24/7, never knowing what news might be on the other end of your ringing phone. And no matter how much you want to help another person, you have your own life and responsibilities to handle. It can quickly feel like you yourself are drowning in worry and anguish.

That's why you rally the troops early on. If you know someone is in trouble, reach out to their friends and establish a network of support. Again, no need to be subtle here. "Hey guys, I've noticed that Robert is really going through a tough time and I'm worried about him. I need some help supporting him right now."

Be Obvious

There's no need to hide what you are doing from the friend in trouble. "Jane, a few of us know that you are dealing with a lot right now and we are here to help. Tom wants to drop round tomorrow and bring you some lunch, if that's alright." The whole point here is to make sure that Jane knows she isn't alone, that other people care about her, and that people will do whatever they can to help make her days a little less painful.

Maintain Boundaries

Remember, your friend still deserves respect and privacy. They also need to know that they are in charge of what happens in their life. So don't talk around them and don't try to out-maneuver them. You are not saving them, you are helping them see for themselves that they matter and that life is worth living.

It's a fine line to walk, I know. On one hand, you want to fix things. On the other hand, you have to leave someone to sort out their own situation. So find a compromise. Give them space but make sure they know they are not alone.

So Now What?

All of this is fine, but what about real life scenarios? What can a person really do to help someone else?

I start with this. It's my Cover Photo on Facebook.

And I mean it. If someone reaches out to me, I reach back. I make sure they know that someone is available to talk... and more importantly... to listen. I try to put them in touch with professionals or organizations that are better able to assist. And I tell them over and over again that we need them here in our lives and that they still have so much to offer this world.

Life is messy. Sometimes, people want to check out. And you can't save them if they are determined to go. What we can do is help them see the good in this world - friendly faces, strong shoulders, and safe embraces.

And hopefully, that will be enough to help someone see the world in a little brighter light.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Blaze of Apathy

It's been nearly a month since I posted a blog, and that seems just about right. The joke is that I'm going out in a blaze of apathy. Not cool. And not funny.

I've shared elsewhere that I'm taking some new medications, and although they are great for my mental health, they have not been as kind in other ways. One, the side effects are increased appetite and weight gain. Two, without my edge, I've been feeling somewhat "blah" and not really motivated to do anything.

It's a bit of a trade-off, actually. It's good that I am not experiencing manic or depressed stages. It's really good. Because those tend to get me into trouble. But I am also having to learn to work a little harder to stay motivated and focused on my physical goals. It's just so easy to be "okay" and let it go at that.

But physically, I'm not okay. I'm behind on my running schedule, I'm out of my workout routine, and I'm way off with my eating habits.

Sure, I'm having some good days.

But two days aren't a very strong pattern, are they?

In fact, the only pattern I see is that this is YET another blog from me talking about how poorly I have been doing and about how much I need to get my act together.

So that's a bit discouraging.

I don't know what it's going to take for me to turn this around long-term. But there has to be something, because I'm not happy where I am right now. But apparently, I'm not unhappy enough to take any real action.

Like I said, a blaze of apathy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Do Something. Anything!

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of asking for help when you need it. But there's the other side of that. There's helping other people when they need it. So let's talk about that.


Helping someone else might involve money, time, or other resources that you have and other people need. It can be as simple as donating to a charitable cause or as complex as offering a service to someone else. It's everything from dropping a friend at the airport to babysitting children to keeping someone company while they sit vigil at a hospital for someone else. It's as easy as giving a buddy a much-needed compliment and as difficult as sharing a hard truth with a close friend.


In the digital age, we can help people next door or half a world away. There's no geographic limitation.


There are two elements to the question of "when?" The first is identifying the need, and that is either because a person asks for help or someone else speaks up on their behalf. The second element is the timing of the actual help, itself. It may be urgent or it may be something scheduled and delayed. Either way, though, when help is time-sensitive, it's important that is recognized and respected.


This is a question that only you can answer. In general, helping someone is best done altruistically, truly done for the benefit of someone else. But it can be done in honor of someone else, for example. And the most common reason I help someone else? Because it lets me take my attention of myself and my own problems and resets my bad attitude.


This is absolutely the best part, the specifics of helping people.

If a friend asks for help, it's easy. Just do what they ask for if at all possible. If they need a ride, or a reference, or a reminder, give it to them. If they ask to talk through a problem, listen to them. If they are struggling with confidence, help prop them up by reminding them of their strengths.

Even if you can't be there in person, you can make a difference for someone. Send them a personal note, or a card, or a little gift. Text them an encouraging message. Call them and give them a reason to smile.

There are a few other things to keep in mind:
  • Be honest. 
  • Be direct. 
  • Be specific. 
  • Be mindful. 
  • It should be about them, not you.

And now for a more controversial opinion: Prayers aren't the answer. At least, they can't be the only answer. Prayer isn't helpful if it isn't accompanied by actual help. And that is an opinion supported by the Bible, itself.

Faith and Works

The Book of James

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

If one of you tells him, “Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,” but does not provide for his physical needs, what good is that? So too, faith by itself, if it is not complemented by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

Helping others is truly one of the grandest things we can do as human beings. We can literally change the path of someone's life with a simple word or action. Who wouldn't want to do that every chance you can?

And I'd like to hear from folks with examples of helping others. Don't be shy or fear that your comments may seem like you are bragging. I'm specifically asking, what have you done and how did it help someone else?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Ask For What You Need.

How do you get what you want and need? Ask for it.

It's that simple... and that complicated. Fortunately, I'm here to help you navigate the process. So let's do this.

Build the Right Circle

It starts with surrounding yourself with friends that you trust. It may only be one good person, but that's enough. Better to have one or a couple of solid people than to have a whole group of people you can't depend on. Maybe it's an old friend. Maybe it's someone you met online and you've developed a real friendship. Maybe it's a co-worker or neighbor and you just clicked. Where the friends come from isn't important. It just matters that you have someone in your life you can turn to when you are in need.

Know What You Want

Recognizing you are in need is one thing, but it also helps to know exactly what you need from someone. Sometimes, you may want a friend to listen while you talk your way through a problem and possible solutions. Other times, you want someone to distract you from whatever is bothering you. or you may just not want to be alone, and all you need from a friend is their company. Any and all of those things are great, but only you know which of them will help you feel better in any given moment.

For me, there are some days when I just need to be around a friend. I would be okay on my own, I know, but I feel like I would be better off spending some time with a trusted buddy. And knowing what I want makes it easier to do something about it.

Speak Up

This part is so important. People aren't mind-readers, and they need to know what you are thinking.

For example, the other evening, I met a friend out for dinner. On the drive over, I brought her up to speed on an issue I've been dealing with for the last couple of months. We hadn't really had a chance to talk in a few weeks, so there was a lot to cover. After, I said, "oh, and you won't believe what happened when I spoke to so-and-so on the phone."

She said, "okay, but this can't be all about you today. I have some big stuff going on and I need to talk with you about it."

I took just a couple minutes to fill her in on what happened in the phone call, and then she had my full attention. And she was right. Her update was a big deal and I understood immediately why she wanted to talk it over with someone. But the big story here is that she didn't sit quietly and resent me for sharing my stories. She didn't brood and feel ignored. She needed help and she asked for it, direct and to the point. And because she spoke up, there was no chance I was going to somehow misunderstand what she needed from me.

Keep Asking

Sometimes, despite your direct request and a friend's best intentions, you won't get what you need from them. It happens. Maybe they just aren't in a place to give you the attention you need. Maybe they don't have the answers. Or maybe they just aren't listening and are clueless that you are in need.

It happens. But that's no reason to stop asking. Check back in with the person and make sure they know what you need. Or ask another friend. Or ask multiple people. "Hey, I'm just feeling down and would like to spend some time catching up with you." Soon enough, you'll get through to someone and they'll get you the support you need.

Acknowledge Others

This part really matters. Accept the help coming your way and make sure your friends feel appreciated. If your buddy comes through for you, drop them a note afterwards and say, "hey, thanks for coming over, I really needed that time with you." Make sure the good people in your life know how you feel about them and how much it means to you to know you can depend on them. Trust me, doing this will help guarantee they are willing to be there the next time you need someone.

Pay It Forward

Pay attention to other people asking for what they want and, whenever possible, help them get it. This is really the best part. As much as you need other people, realize that they need you, two. Be there to listen, to help, and to make a difference.

Look, life can be complicated enough all on its own. If we all would ask for help, appreciate it when it comes, and offer the same to others, we'd be much better off.

This public service announcement is brought to you by me, a man who has received far more help in this life than he could ever possibly return. And I'm thankful for that.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A New Normal. ("Life, Medicated." Part 8)

Two months ago, I wrote for the first time about my decision to take medication for my anxiety and depression. I've always been an open book, but this was an especially personal admission and I wasn't sure how it would be received.

I shouldn't have worried about that at all. People read "Life, Medicated." and the response was immediate. The blog was read and shared more than anything else I've written here and I'm grateful for all the support.

So what's happening now?

I'm doing okay.

And given how dark some of my earlier days were, this is a pretty big statement for me to make. I still have good and bad moods, of course, and that's okay, too. It means I'm human and I'm not overly medicated to the point of emotional numbness.

I'm taking a very small dosage of Abilify, which is a little scary-sounding given that it is a medication used to treat the symptoms of psychotic conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar I disorder (manic depression). No one wants to think of themselves as psychotic, right?

But here's the truth. Before I started taking the medication, I was clearly acting out with symptoms of manic-depression. I was running full steam and all over the place for a time, then withdrawing and isolating and suffering through horrible, painful sadness and loneliness. It was a rollercoaster of too much in either direction, and it was taking its toll on me, on my life, and on my friendships.

I am also taking a sleeping pill called Restoril that affects chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people with sleep problems (insomnia). It is used to treat insomnia symptoms, such as trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Restoril works by slowing down the central nervous system (brain), causing drowsiness which helps patients fall asleep.

Initially, I was concerned about the sleeping pills. But after months and months of barely getting two-three hours of sleep per night, I was desperate. A lack of sleep makes everything worse, and I was feeling ragged and totally out of control. Now, getting to sleep AND staying asleep for seven to eight hours allows me to function throughout the day.

Life isn't all roses for me right now, but it's manageable. When I'm happy, I'm good. I enjoy the moments I'm in and I don't feel like I have to somehow "crank it up a notch" to consider it a good time. Conversely, when I'm down, it doesn't feel like the end of the world every time. It's just a bad mood or an appropriate response to something going on at the time, and I know I'll get through it.

I am struggling with motivation right now. I feel a little burnt out from running too many major events the last couple of months and from over-scheduling myself. So I've cut back on that, I'm doing a little hibernating and recovering, and I'm finding new ways to engage with fewer people in more meaningful ways. For now, it's a coping mechanism and it's working. And as the weeks go by, and I feel more recharged, I expect I will be back to my old self and reconnecting on a more frequent basis with friends. For now, they seem to understand that I'm taking care of myself first.

Now let's talk hard truths.

I understand there is still a stigma that surrounds mental health, depression, anxiety, and medications. I can't change that in any way except by sharing my own story of pain and recovery. So I am doing that without shame or embarrassment.

I wasn't okay.
I was getting worse.
I sought help.
I'm doing okay.

I can't think of a more direct way to say that. I was lucky in that the first medication prescribed by my doctor seems to be working, and that I am able to sleep at night and function during the day. If you aren't experiencing that same healthy balance of rest and activity, and you feel out of control and desperate for some peace, I recommend you get help. Talk to a therapist. Talk to your doctor. Maybe counseling will help, maybe it won't. Maybe meds will help, maybe they won't. But for sure, doing nothing means that things will not get better, and they quite likely may even get worse.

Get help. You're worth it.

I don't pretend that my solution will work for everyone. And I know that the medication is not a magic-pill. For me, and me only, I feel that the meds have softened the edges of my immediate "all or nothing" mood, good or bad. And that gives me that extra moment to think about what is happening and react in a way that is more authentic and true. That's what is helping me.