Stand Up To Stigma launched another successful SPOTLIGHT event!
What a year this has been. Tons of exciting initiatives have been underway since the beginning of the year. Each has made a difference in reducing the stigmas of suicide and mental illness. These initiatives have included the CTV News segments, four talks at three universities, a radio broadcast with Widowed.ca, Ignite Waterloo, and a publishing contract! That’s just what’s been happening in my world. Imagine all the other steps that have been taken by others! How exciting.
I have not yet received a call from TEDxWaterloo to speak on their platform. I think they need a little more persuading…
If you haven’t already, please fill out the short TED nomination form. If you have, THANK YOU! Please take another step and share this goal with others. Don’t under estimate how this small step can make a huge difference!
Check out this video, and please share it with others. NOMINATE to dominate stigmas!
Thank you all for your continued, incredible support. I’m focused. I’m determined. I hear that’s how to make things happen 🙂
A very special thank you to Host Sahil Dhingra and On-line Community Builder Monique Smith for taking a significant step towards breaking the silence & stigma of suicide by having me on the show today to raise awareness and reduce stigmas simply by utilizing the Reconnectfully Yours platform to generate more dialogue on this important subject.
YOU CAN HELP BREAK STIGMAS TOO. HOW? Nominate me as a speaker on TEDxWaterloo. It’s easy. If this episode of Reconnectfully Yours was of help to you please help me expand this dialogue with a broader global community by helping me reach my goal to be a speaker on TED.com All you need to do is fill out this short “Nominate a Speaker” form. When it asks for a link to where you’ve seen me, Shawna Percy-MacDonald, speak before feel free to include the following link which will take TED.com back to this episode of Reconnectfully Yours: http://sprc.st/gfgo
If you have any comments or questions about the show today, please share them here. I would love to hear from you.
Thank you to everyone who has shown me such incredible support.
Here’s to another important step taken,
Good Grief Guru
Don’t miss Reconnectfully Yours this Thursday at 11am as host Sahil Dhingra interviews yours truly, Shawna Percy-MacDonald of Good Grief Guru.
What is Reconnectfully Yours? As Sahil best describes it, “The mission of my show is to help people reconnect with what matters, continuously improve themselves, and live their full potential.”
This week’s show, titled “Breaking the silence & stigma of suicide,” will aim to do just that as we address issues many people face (but don’t often talk about,) such as grief, stigmas, mental illness, suicide, and share insights on global statistics and coping mechanisms.
To watch this episode live please click on the following link at 11am on Thursday, November 29th, 2012: Breaking the silence & stigma of suicide
If you want to ask a question please do so by either creating a Spreecast account and participating in the chat room, or through Twitter by tagging: @sahiltdhingra, and using the hashtag: #ReconnectFully
Can’t join us this Thursday? No worries. You can always watch the show after the fact by clicking on this video link: Breaking the silence & stigma of suicide
Special thanks to Sahil Dhingra, an individual I have a deep amount of respect for, for hosting me on his show, which, by the way, is catching like wild fire! Oh, and did I mention it’s Good Grief Guru’s 1 year anniversary? Special thanks to all my readers and supporters.
As Barbara Williams so eloquently describes in her poem Stepping Stones, “Come, take my hand, the road is long. We must travel by stepping stones. No, you’re not alone, I’ll go with you. I know the road well, I’ve been there…
…It’s a hard road to travel but it must be done. It’s the only way to reach the other side.”
Here’s to another Stepping Stone!
Photo by Art & Soul Photography
Stay connected with Sahil Dhingra and Reconnectfully Yours through these links:
Good Grief Guru
It all started yesterday. The sun was setting, and the phone rang. “Would you be free tomorrow night to share your story with a group of teenaged girls?”
Would I? Could I? I had to find a way to make it happen. For me, the height of life was capturing moments like these.
My amazing friends, Mel & Gary, agreed to enjoy my daughter a little longer tonight so I could take part in a deep conversation with an incredible group of girls.
I took 15 minutes to share my story…that was the Cole’s notes version, believe me…they took a moment to digest, and then the questions came. It was the height of my day to hear their thoughts and curiosities. I went with little expectation as to how my story would be received, or whether or not it would be engaging, but I hoped, and I left elated, feeling something profound had just happened; the exploration of stigmas, the sharing of the grittiness of life, and the examination of hope. Real hope.
I wasn’t expecting the reaction I received, but I welcomed it. To listen into a forum like that would have given me joy. To be at the center of a forum like that, engaging it, addressing it, where deep questions were asked, ideas explored, thoughts were challenged and others embraced, and at the most deeply beautiful level, life was shared, was a priceless, irreplaceable gift to me. For me, that was gold.
I left those girls wondering how soon I could visit again, and when I could bring my daughter to meet them. I hoped it would be soon.
With gratitude for this experience, and the opportunity to spend time with those rare gems, I say, “Thank you girls! Thank you for sharing a real piece of life with me.”
Stigmas can hold many people in bondage. Out of fear, when someone dies by suicide, I have witnessed first hand, individuals who hold that information closely to them, praying no one will ask them how the person died, or find out it was by suicide. Why? Fear. There is fear of being judged, fear of being ridiculed, and protection for the individual that was loved, not wanting that person to be made less than they were due to one decision they made during their deepest, darkest moment in life.
When I received the coroner’s report that stated my husband had died by suicide, I was faced with a choice. Now that I knew this information, what would I do with it? Opposition was just around the corner, but I chose to break the silence instead of folding from fear. I chose to be freed from stigmas, instead of bound by them. I chose to rise above, instead of suffocate under. I chose to boot stigmas out the door by breaking the silence, instead of living under the cloud of their smoke.
Today, I have learned, I am not alone. Today, I have learned, that a man named Mr. Millben did the same, and it made a difference.
A very good friend of mine forwarded me an article titled, “Third suicide prompts Brampton school to address the subject head on.” The headline caught my attention. I had to read on.
Mr. Millben was the father of the third student who had taken his own life. The article read, “Mr. Millben’s openness has enabled the school to tackle the issue of teen suicide head on, allowing teachers to lead discussions on the topic in every classroom.”
Relieved, hopeful, and feeling that a small, but incredibly significant victory had been won, I found myself being thankful for Mr. Millben after reading this article, for courageously agreeing to make public that his son had taken his own life.
As the article pointed out, Mr. Millben’s willingness to do so, to seek the greater good, and refuse to live under the fear of a possible ignorant back-lash, “enabled the school” to address the issue of suicide with a larger audience of possible at-risk teens. It was also his transparency that gave teachers permission to raise the topic in their classrooms.
If one thinks stigmas have power, one needs to realize the power of rising above. Mr. Millben’s actions could potentially save lives. By bringing to light what is in darkness, what was in darkness suddenly holds less power. If Mr. Millben’s honesty saved one life, or gave one person the strength to seek help, or caused one person to think before they judged someone who committed suicide or lost someone to a death where an individual took their own life, wasn’t it worth it?
The article continues, “What’s happening now at Sandalwood Heights Secondary School fits into a broader movement to build education about mental health and suicide – the second leading cause of death among youth in Canada – into the curriculum of high schools across the country.
“It’s enabled us to have frank and open conversations, which really gives us an ‘in’ with regard to the stigma and taboo that exists around this topic,” said Jim Van Buskirk, chief social worker for the Peel District School Board. “That’s been a huge advantage.”
This is an important article. This is a turn-point article. This article speaks of a significant action of honesty, and vulnerability, that has impacted a school, and may change an entire national curriculum!
Thank you Mr. Millben, thank you school board who listened, and thank you to all those courageous individuals who are breaking the silence of stigmas by sharing their stories. Here is proof that you are making a difference!
To read the full Globe and Mail article, “Third suicide prompts Brampton school to address the subject head on.” click here.
Today is the day I realized why some people feel suicide is selfish. Today is the day I saw the collateral damage caused to the left-behinds.
Over the past few weeks I have met with a number of individuals who were left in the wake of a suicide by someone they knew. I listened as those individuals shared their intimate stories. Myself included, we could not get through the re-hashing of events without immense emotion. Some recollections were accompanied by trembling bodies, panic attacks, and re-lived grief.
Before that moment, I had never truly understood why some people felt that suicide was selfish. I could have imagined on a distanced level, but that was incomparable to meeting a group of survivors in person.
After listening to them, I understood. I am still not sure whether I agree that suicide is selfish, if the definition of “selfish” is that the person who ended their life absolutely did so with the intention of causing harm to others. I do feel that extreme tunnel vision is often a significant component when it comes to someone who has reached a place where they take their own life. However, I do understand how individuals could arrive at that conclusion, and more than that I acknowledge the pain and suffering of the individuals who are left to piece together their lives following the aftermath of a suicide.
My personal story consisted of someone who not only died by suicide, but someone who had attempted suicide three years prior, and had told me of a previous attempt many years before that. My person struggled with mental illness for most of his life, and I was aware of the toll that took on his capacity, and quality of life. My person was my husband, which meant I lived in the day-to-day turmoil of fear and mental anguish he was in. My five-year marriage was a chapter of my life where I held my breath daily, anticipating the “shoe to drop,” which looked like either waiting for the next mental episode, fearing another suicide attempt, or knowing that a day would likely come when I would learn the worst had happened.
This is where my story differs from any other survivor I’ve met so far. As shocking as the news of my husband’s death was, it wasn’t a complete surprise. I couldn’t have known that he would choose to end his life. Some days were wonderful. But I had also walked arm in arm with him through hell-on-earth when his mind had a mind of its own, and that caused me to live in a realm of awareness that life could change at any moment. I would not say I was fully prepared when my husband died. I don’t know how anyone could be. But, I had been bracing myself for over four years. I drove through my marriage buckled in tightly, knowing accidents happen because, in our story, one already had. Then, my husband died, and life hit me head on. It hurt. It caused damage, but I saw it coming and I was braced. I was buckled in. It was terrible, but it could have been worse.
As I wrote in my short post Sudden Impact, “Suicide is a sudden impact. Like a car accident. A sudden natural disaster. Life is changed in an instant.” (Grey’s Anatomy)
I realized, listening to the stories of the left-behinds, they were hit with a head-on collision they never saw coming. They had no seat belt. They had no warning. There was no foretelling, or foreshadowing of the horror that was to come. Some people were the friend, the sibling, the child. Still others were the person who found the departed’s body, an image they may never be able to undo.
I read an article once that talked about a stranger’s experience when they found the body of a suicide victim, and how that image stayed with her. The actions of someone she didn’t even know had an impact. Now, imagine being the person who had a personal connection with the individual who took their own life. Imagine being the family member, the colleague, or the friend who just went out for coffee with that person and everything seemed fine. Imagine being the intimate partner, or the parent of the child you thought you knew, or the child of the parent you thought would be there to help you through your life struggles, no matter what.
I have seen the collateral damage, and I felt it needed to be acknowledged. For anyone who has considered suicide in the past, or might consider it in the future, you need to hear the stories of the left-behinds, and acknowledge what your actions leave-behind. Lives will be forever altered. Identities will be forever changed by the ripple effect. Some individuals will be medicated to dull the pain, get through the day, or slow down the rate of played-back events. They are not okay. One day, they might be okay. But in the aftermath, in the long process of cleaning up after a hurricane has wreaked havoc on their lives, they are not okay.
For those who have an opportunity to support someone who is in this situation, I beg of you, don’t stigmatize them. Isolation only throttles a tornado on top of a hurricane. What survivors in a storm need is shelter. It may seem like the storm has passed, but for survivors, internally, it may still be raging. You can help by providing safe, non-judgmental places to talk, spaces where they can share their stories. Survivors need freedom to tell others what they want to share, when they are ready to share it. As the supporter, it’s okay not to have the answers. All a supporter needs is a desire to understand, and to understand that this can happen to anyone (that includes you,) so be compassionate, be patient, and be ready to listen.
If you are a survivor, remember that. You are a survivor, and (unfortunately) you are not alone. If you are a supporter, and are providing spaces where an individual can take refuge from the storm, thank you. As a survivor, I thank each and every one of you.
To my fellow left-behinds, as we pick up the pieces of our lives, remember, it may seem like there are a lot of broken pieces on the ground, but, like a stained-glass window, in time, those pieces can be picked up, re-arranged, and made into something beautiful. May your beauty be realized as the landscape of our lives regenerate after the storm.
“Penis. Vagina. STD. Breasts. Groin. Sex.” These are some of the words that I was appalled to see posted on the lunchroom wall of an elementary school. I was not only appalled. I was embarrassed. ‘Is this what our education system has resorted to?’ I thought to myself. ‘Handing out condoms in high school was not enough?’ The school system flaunted blatantly sexual words in front of elementary school readers, and my instinct was to judge, and run.
‘That’s it. I’m homeschooling. The school system has lost its mind.’
I was also embarrassed because my reason for being at the school that night was to participate in a homework support group for African immigrants. I had traveled to two countries in Africa; Ethiopia, and Sudan. When I thought of the modesty of some of the places I had been exposed to, I cringed at the thought of these new-comers to my country reading these words.
It was volunteer orientation night, and one of the first things they asked us about was culture shock. The facilitator asked the volunteers to put ourselves in the immigrated students shoes, and perceive what they might see.
When it was my turn to speak, I pointed to the perverted words on the wall. “I don’t understand what those words are doing on the wall of the lunchroom, in an elementary school. At least put them in a health class, but out here, in the lunchroom, where kindergarten kids are exposed to them? Are you kidding me? That offends me. I can only imagine what a new-comer to Canada must think.”
A girl across the table from me agreed. Then, a guy sitting next to her, opened his mouth and changed everything.
“The reason they put those words on the lunchroom wall is to take away their power. If those words are used when the kids are really young, they will become common. That way, if someone uses one of those words to call another child a name, it is less likely the child will feel shamed because it’s an everyday word. It’s not a big deal. Also, if someone is sexually abused, but they are comfortable with these words that seem common to them, they will be more likely to talk about what happened to them, instead of fearing the shame of these words.”
The next day, I educated my daughter. I told my one-and-a-half-year-old she had a vagina. When she potty trained, I told her she needed to wipe her vagina, and then her bum. A few weeks later, someone said to me, surprised, “Your daughter said she has a vagina.”
“Of course she did,” I responded. “She does. What would you call it?”
A year later, when my daughter came home and told me her friend JJ had a penis, I didn’t turn all red. I didn’t avoid the statement. It was a descriptive word and she was right. “Yes honey. JJ has a penis.”
This week I attended my first suicide bereavement group. I knew there was a stigma about using the word “suicide,” but I didn’t know how fearful most people were to use it. It was like those left behind were the victims. Whether at work, out with friends, or meeting a client, people expressed dread and fear over the question they would inevitably be asked when a colleague, friend, or client found out their loved one had died. “How did they die?” was the dreaded question that often followed.
“Um…well, stammer, stammer. It’s complicated.”
I had already made the choice to be public with my grief journey before I found out how my husband had died. A week after I started GoodGriefGuru.com, I received the coroner’s report. What awaited me was what I call stigma in a large yellow envelope. The first word I saw as I lifted the report out of the envelope, was “suicide.”
One of the initial reactions I received when I learned that my husband had committed suicide, was not to write about it. To be very careful about how I handled this revelation. I thought about that advice, and I felt suffocated. I did some processing, and then I wrote a raw, transparent, and what I believe to be a constructive article on suicide. I wrote because the reaction I received was exactly why I had started GoodGriefGuru.com. The news that my husband had taken his own life made me sad, angry, mad, hurt, all sorts of emotions, but I did not feel responsible. I rejected the feeling of guilt. I refused to be victimized by a choice I didn’t make. A choice I can’t even say my husband made. He picked an option in a desperate, fearful, isolated, hopeless moment while fighting a mental battle.
Once I released my article there came a tremendous response of gratitude, and support. I know that is not always the response others will receive, but to their credit my thoughts were received with gratitude for shedding light on a situation many are unsure of how to process. That experience made me realize the poor reaction society sometimes injects onto stigmas, is perhaps less about intending to cause harm, and more about not knowing what to do with things society doesn’t understand. For example, the same person who told me not to write about suicide, thanked me for writing after it was released. That same article was featured on BlogHer.com and read by over 7,000 people within one week. My impression is, people want to understand, people want to talk about it, but we don’t always know how. Creating safe places, non-judgmental, spaces for learning, exploring, and having the freedom to ask why, to say the words, to tell our stories, are vital for freeing our society from the clutches of shame that is not ours to own. As long as we refuse to use the words, stigmas will hold the power over us.
As someone who was also sexually assaulted, I understand the feeling of shame when words have been hidden in a closet and rarely used, only to be pulled out for use in the worst kind of awkward situation.
Now is the time to dust off our words. Now is the time to pull them into the light, and make them common.
Did you know that “1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime?” Did you know “1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. The remaining 4 will have a friend, family member or colleague who will.” Did you know that according to “Statistics Canada…drug related offenses (are) at a 30 year high in Canada,” or that “25% of all deaths in Canada are due to smoking cigarettes?” Here’s another fact. “In the last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide.“
As riveting as these statistics are, they are not what shocks me most. What astounds me is how silent our culture can be. Silence, isolation, and fear, are the ammunition fired by the devil that are allowing evil to win. It’s time to take control of this war. Words have power, and what’s even more powerful than that is when we use them. When we name things, when we confront our fears, when we refused to be locked away in the dark closet of isolation any longer, thinking we’re the only ones in this battle, even though statistics tell the story of a very different reality, we can find hope, healing, and freedom as we reduce stigmas simply by naming them, and telling our stories.
As my fellow volunteer at the homework group pointed out, using words gives the power to us. I am a woman. I have a vagina. Some of my readers have a penis, and if you ask me how my husband died, get ready, because I will not hesitate to tell you it was suicide.
If this article was helpful to you, please leave me a comment. Thank you for helping me break the silence by joining my journey. I pray you find safe places to share your story, and whether you do, or not, just remember, the power of words belongs to you.