When “One More Day” eludes us

Kym Klass wears a semicolon necklace. The necklace is related to the death by suicide of her sister, Katie.

When "One More Day" eludes us
Credit: Instagram/creative.newfie.gal

In Kym’s book, One More Day, she shares about her personal journey through multiple traumatic events in her life. One of those was Katie’s death by suicide on October 31, 2015.

Kym and I have been online friends for quite a few years, enough years to have outlasted the site where we met, Daily Mile. Fortunately, Kym’s work brought her to Tallahassee a few years ago (I’ve forgotten how many, frankly) and we were able to share a meal and time together. (Even though it’s powerful to connect over the internet, there’s still no substitute for looking someone in the eyes.)

Our family has had our own experience with losing a member to suicide. It’s not a community I want anyone to have to be a part of. But once you are, you are. And the others who share that with you take on special significance.

I hope you’ll choose to buy and read Kym’s book.

These are some points that stood out to me:

Grief manifests itself physically

We are kidding ourselves (or maybe we just aren’t fully informed) if we think we can segregate our emotional pain from our body’s functioning.

Kym talks of being “on the couch for about two weeks, staring mindlessly at the television with tears running down my face most nights” during one rough period.

Some of us deal with trauma by eating too much, by exercising beyond reasonable limits, by holding everything in when we don’t even realize what we’re doing. Our bodies know, and tell us eventually to stop avoiding what’s in our heads.

Forgiveness can seem so elusive

I was listening recently to an episode of The Hamilcast podcast where Javier Muñoz, who played Alexander Hamilton in “Hamilton: An American Musical,” was interviewed. He discussed moments in the show that have been the most significant to him.

There’s a moment when Hamilton and his wife, Eliza, have been grieving two devastating blows to their marriage, one being the death of their son and the other being Alexander’s unfaithfulness. Eliza has to decide whether to take Alexander’s hand (referred to by Muñoz as “the gesture”) as they walk (spoiler alert: she does).

At the 48:30 point in the episode, the following conversation occurs between Muñoz and the host:

JM: The lyric after the gesture is “forgiveness.” As an actor in that moment, I … decide … there is no right way … it is an individual artist’s choice … I go to the place that I have not yet forgiven myself for. So when she grabs my hand, it is legitimate ‘human being forgiving me externally for the thing that I’m choosing personally that I have not forgiven for myself.

Host: In that moment, do you forgive yourself?

JM: “No.”

Host: You never forgive yourself?

JM: Never. I say “thank you” for someone else forgiving me, but the truth is I’ve not yet forgiven myself for that thing, so I can’t say that I forgive myself. That’s the truth … that’s what the audience receives. I’m not saying, “I forgive me.” I’m saying, “This human being has forgiven me. What does that mean? How do I manifest that? How do I show you that that’s happened and let that physically happen?

I have thought so often about Javier Muñoz saying there’s something in his life he can’t forgive himself for. I don’t know him (but I love his laugh!), yet I wish I could relieve him of the burden.

I don’t want to project my work following my brother-in-law Chuck’s death by suicide in 2008 onto Kym’s experience.

But I’ll say that forgiveness is a multi-faceted thing in these situations. Can we forgive the person who is gone? Can we forgive ourselves for all the things we think we missed? Can we forgive the people around us who, not knowing what to say, either say nothing or utter a ridiculous platitude? Can we forgive a world where loss seems so abundant sometimes?

I liked one of Kym’s stories, about an evening when Kym had questioned her 12-year-old daughter’s priorities after Katie’s death, asking Jenna, “Do you really think this is the most important thing in life right now?” Jenna replied, “It is … to me.”

Later that evening, Kym explained that her retort had to do with how much she missed her sister, and that Jenna followed up by, “… forgiving me, and understanding me in a way nobody else did.” Forgiveness is needed (and handed out) by in multiple ways after losing a family member to suicide. I think it’s hardest to forgive ourselves.

It takes a really long time to begin to heal

Toward the end of the book, Kym talks about a moment of reckoning that led her to a therapist as she came face-to-face with a deeply-held anger. She went to a therapist, who helped her realize that she had been “carrying … baggage for more than two decades.”

At that moment, she decided, “I refused to carry on something else for that long just to feel damaged two decades later. Kym “asked the hard questions,” took an extended leave for work, “shed the hard tears,” and “had the hard conversations.”

In conclusion

I’m so proud of my friend, Kym, for writing this book. I know she didn’t do it to get recognition from those of us who already know and appreciate her. She did it both to further her progress on a path of healing and to help people who have also lost family members to suicide (and/or struggled with their own mental health battles).

This is a book for anyone who needs to know they’re not alone.

Order it here. Read Kym’s blog here. Call 1-800-273-8255 if you need immediate help.

To quote Kym,

We are here to help each other, to lean on each other, and to offer encouragement and support each and every day.

When "One More Day" eludes us

I am linking up with Mama’s Losin’ It for the prompt, “Tell us about the last book you read.”

Switching to a new Publix? Horrors!

I Should Have Known

NOTE: If you read this post prior to 10:50 pm on Sunday 12/3, I want to note that I have made significant changes. I may have come to an inaccurate conclusion that the author is also a life coach. I realize in doing so, I sort of shot much of the premise of this post (the parts about the author’s identity). Hence the multiple changes. ~ pk

Do a “Don’t Should on Yourself” search on the Internet and you’ll find plenty of anti-“should-ing” graphics.

Marital Infidelity

Source: qsprn.com on Pinterest

My academic background is in mental health. Therefore, I am an advocate of the fact that there are very few instances in which the word “should” is a fit for a constructive outlook, especially if we are using in retrospect to define how our lives could have gone differently.

After reading a recent Modern Love column in the New York Times, however, I can’t help thinking the author is going to say “I should have known” someday.

A Marriage Ends

The column I can’t get out of my head is An Optimist’s Guide to Divorce. Synopsis: The author fell in love with a married man; the man left his wife for the author; the ex-wife is a saint for “the grace and maturity she has displayed” as she welcomed the new love interest into their family’s life, paved the way for an amicable relationship with the young children, and took the high road.

The Gaping Flaws in This Situation

Here are the challenges I see. I can only call them as I see them.

Author: “He wasn’t a creep or even a cheater.” Time proved her wrong about the cheater part.

Writing “he wasn’t a cheater” after his infidelity led him to leave his wife is disingenuous at best.

In the article, the author discloses that she has Bipolar II disorder.

I just can’t help thinking the new guy’s move on this woman was more about him than her. She talks in the article about her proclivity for getting into unstable relationships. I can’t see how this is that much different. Maybe he wasn’t taking advantage of her exactly and maybe he didn’t have enough awareness about mental health to stop himself. I’m not sure, but my sense is that she is a victim here.

When the ex-wife-to-be (Beka) invited the author to dinner (a precursor to eventually meeting the kids), Beka handled it with aplomb, grace, and courtesy. The guy? “…he drank nonstop.”

So many red flags about this. So many.

The author spends a paragraph discussing how hard the three of them have worked to make this situation palatable for the children (the girls were seven and three at the time of the breakup). She says, “they have never reproached their father or me for the immeasurable disruption we have caused to their lives.”

They aren’t teenagers yet. That’s all I have to say. 

The Beautiful Aspects of this Situation

I do love the fact that all of the adults display so much love and unconditional positive regard for the children. It appears they also all conduct themselves civilly in front of the children, which is also an important building block.

I know so many people who put the children first in the way they relate to their former partners/the parents of their children. What a gift that is to model those priorities.

This is Not a Guide to Divorce

The title of this piece (An Optimist’s Guide to Divorce) is (to me) a misnomer. Who is the optimist?

I suppose the author pictures herself as the optimist. She discusses how meeting the two daughters made her glad she had never had children herself, writing her initial relationship steps with the girls were, “as if I had been saving my maternal love for [names].”

What? I will be the first to admit I have felt maternal love (in spades) for children who weren’t my own. I can see feeling maternal love for the children of someone I fell in love with who weren’t my own biological children.

I suppose the thing is if I felt the author had the capacity for maternal love she would have curtailed this whole thing earlier, realizing the disruption it would cause.

If I Had a Crystal Ball

Obviously, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I have enough life experience to say that there is a possibility getting involved with someone who left his wife for her *might* end up with the author herself acknowledging….

“I should have known.”

Marital Infidelity

This post was inspired by the Mama Kat prompt: “Write a poem, post or story where the last words are ‘I should have known.’”

(Also, I really want to hear the ex-wife’s version of all this.)

Editor’s Note: Right after I pressed “publish,” I found this piece that summarizes comments to the original piece, shares the editor’s insights, and includes a quote from Beka. I still stand behind everything I wrote above, but I think this is an important piece of the entire puzzle.

Beka (according to the follow-up NY Times piece): “I wanted to do what was best for my girls. And, honestly, I didn’t want to be one of those women who was defined by her divorce — and end up bitter in the end. Josh and I have managed to maintain our friendship through it all, and Elizabeth and I developed one as well. Now, my sweet girls have even more people to love them, and they adore Elizabeth. Most of my family and friends have had a hard time accepting it, but I think it was one of the best decisions I could have made.”

Mental Health Days and Leave Policies: What Works?

I saw a link to She took a day off to focus on mental health. Her CEO’s response has gone viral several times last week before I finally clicked on it. I had suspected, before I read the post, that I would love it. I did love it, but it also raised questions and generated dialogue among my Facebook friends beyond “wow that’s great.”

In summary, when Madalyn Parker advised her co-workers that she would be out of the office, she was transparent about the fact that she hoped the time off would help her cope with depression and return to work more focused and mentally healthy.

In a follow-up post, Parker’s boss, Ben Congleton, said this:

I cannot believe that it is still controversial to speak about mental health in the workplace when 1 in 6 americans are medicated for mental health.

Destigmatizing Mental Health

First, I agree with Parker and Congleton that mental health should be treated no differently than a physical ailment such as an infection or broken bone.

This infographic from Deloitte lays it out well:

Workplace Mental Health

My acquaintance Pauline said in a recent post about her mental health diagnoses:

The stigma that came with each diagnosis was reinforced by the fact that pretending everything was okay was the only option.

 

Policies about Leave Time are Inconsistent and Challenging

While Parker’s specific story resonated with me, a tweet about it on Twitter activated a different personal emotional hot spot. Here’s the tweet:

Workplace Mental Health

It didn’t hit a hot spot because of Cohen’s question/opinion, but it hit a hot spot because I worked for years at a place I loved, but a place which didn’t have separate sick leave vs personal leave for years (a split between the two types of leave was adopted eventually).

I suppose my breakdown of the issues related to how leave policies are defined would be something for a different post (or a human resources professional), but here are the immediate emotions/thoughts it unlocked.

When you have an “all the leave hours in one bucket” policy, you may be more likely to go to work sick because you want to save your leave time for either discretionary activities (like vacations) OR for your children’s illnesses, for maternity leave, or for obligations. An all-in-one policy is also somewhat unfair for people with children (who have to take off for their children’s illnesses), for people who may have more severe health issues who have to use that leave time for medical reasons and don’t get to take as much “fun” time off.

I know the above paragraph may not sound like it’s about mental health, but it certainly was for me. Once I spent all my leave time on maternity leave (the organization subsequently acquired short-term disability policies, which helped some), there was very little time left to take care of me. 

More About Leave Time

It is so easy for us to get in a bubble about the topic of leave. One friend, who works in retail, said this:

I would never think of saying such a thing as that to my boss. At a previous job in retail, I learned that the ever-changing shift work was setting off so many triggers with my condition, I requested and received an ADA compensation that I have regularly set hours. The management were forced to meet the requirement but they gossiped about my diagnosis, and used it against me until the day I left. I can’t take that chance again.

This topic brought up so many other rapidly ricocheting thoughts in my brain.

I thought about all the enrollees’ families (mostly moms, but dads too) I talked to in two decades at Healthy Kids who could. not. leave. their. hourly wage jobs (many in retail, as my friend alludes to above) to take a child to the doctor (even if they had transportation), to take care of their own physical health (much less mental) without risking getting fired.

THEN, my mind went to the people I have met in Central America who would, I am pretty sure, just find it laughable, absolutely not an option, and downright hilarious that we worry about “having time off to center ourselves.” The ability to do something, ANYTHING, to earn enough to feed their family for the day, the walking for hours and having to fend off violence and shakedowns just to get, for example, fish to sell, is such a far cry from the experiences many of us here in America have.

My Personal Experiences

I mentioned above the effects of an all-in-one-bucket leave policy, but I also can truly and honestly say I have never taken a mental health day. That is not necessarily a good thing, but I haven’t.

I think one of the reasons I have never taken a mental health day is the fact that I was afraid I would never go back! Something about forcing myself to go to work, to push through, was a better strategy for ME (not for everyone). I wasn’t sure what a mental health day would do. I think I was afraid a day would turn into a week and I would fall farther down into whatever hole drew me to take one day off in the first place.

The Whole Person Matters

Last week, I wrote about the Ignatian-Jesuit concept of Cura Personalis, or “care for the whole person.” None of us are “just employees.” We bring so much more to work with us (and I must mention that approximately 40% of us are contingent workers, so we have even more vague boundaries than ever before).

If supervisors don’t recognize that mental health is integral to our well-being at work, and if we don’t learn to articulate what we need (and if workplace policies and government regulations don’t provide a safe space to do that), something will be lost.

Hopefully what’s lost won’t be our minds……

Workplace Mental Health

Editor’s Note: I shared this post with Ben Congleton (Madalyn’s boss) and here’s what he said (7/28/17) — I am inspired all over again:

Hi Paula,

Thank you for your kind words, and for continuing the conversation. I’ve been encouraged by the power that a simple act of gratitude has had to create more dialog around mental health in the workplace. It was Madalyn’s courage that made all this impact possible. I’ve been inspired by so many positive responses and I know there is more to do. I hope that my actions inspired more leaders to realize the impact they can have in their organizations. 

I see a future where talking about mental health will be as easy and as normal as talking about the flu.

Be human,
Ben