Friday, February 25, 2011

Surviving Suicidal Thoughts

         I’ve been hit by a Depression recently, and been hearing from people with Depression, so here is a recap of my survival strategies, made for times when you genuinely do not want to live. This will be a two-part blog.

         In severe Clinical Depression, you lose all will to live. It’s one of the worst things special chemistry can dish out. It’s just a chemical shortage, but that’s not what it feels like.
         The way I’ve always described it to myself is that the motor has died in me. Everyone has a little, crucial motor that wakes up with them each day and makes them want to go on – at least after a cup of coffee or two. In Clinical Depression, the motor STOPS. It is jammed or broken. Who knows why.
         And you don’t care. You are perfectly happy to stay in bed all day every day. People don’t realize till they’ve been there that it takes energy to give a damn. That’s something the people around you, trying frantically to get you ‘back to normal,’ don’t understand.
         With time, and maybe the navigation of some crucial life issues, that motor will kick in again. The job of anti-depressants is to jump start it. The danger is that people won’t live that long.
         In suicidal Depression, you have one job and one only: stay alive until the motor starts. It is gruesome, but possible. I have been suicidal, I forget how many times. Once I spent 2 whole years in bed. I survived it. This is how.

         First and most important: do not buy into how you feel. I know it seems like the world is one big kitty-litter box and you are buried at the bottom. But your brain is lying to you! That is vitally important to understand. When your thoughts say, “It’s not worth living,” you can respond, “What a load of crap!”
In rehab they taught us something I never forgot: Feelings are not facts. Feelings just are. It’s just a broken brain showing you everything through a black filter. It’s not real. It’s a movie-screen disaster. It cannot kill you all by itself! Only you can do that.
         If we have an ‘ordinary’ Depression and things look dark, we are usually best served by keeping busy and keeping in motion. But if we are flat out suicidal, it just may not be possible. The rules are different when all you can think of is how much you want to die.
Your only job right now is to stay alive, and here are a few tips to help you do that:
         1) Get rid of all weapons. I have a gun for self-protection (I know that’s not very PC). When I start thinking I don’t want to live, I give that gun to my therapist and say, ‘’Hold onto this for me for a while”. Pills are weapons. If you start thinking of overdosing on your pills, it’s time to get somebody to dole them out to you one day at a time. You can do this. Doctors are willing. Your friends would rather do this than see you die.
2) Get a crisis number and call it any time you have to. Call your therapist. Ask for extra sessions. Write long letters or journals about how bad you feel. But don’t expect your best friends to be able to listen to it every day. They can’t even understand, though they may be willing to try. There is no normal person on earth who will be able to stand your current point of view for as long or as often as you will need to vent it. Use the professionals. They’re there for exactly this.
         If there are local prayer lines, you might call them too. A lot of people praying might just make the difference. What could it hurt?
         3) Find something passive to keep yourself occupied. TV or books or audio tapes or crosswords – anything will do if it keeps you from sitting around brooding. Cuddling your cat or stuffed animal helps, too. If you just sit and think, you might crumble. If you have to watch reruns at 3 in the morning till you finally drift off into a coma, that is better than dying.
         This is a good time for that music collection I recommended. This is a good time to take up knitting. This is a good time to play Slinky, or Solitaire, or Marbles. This is a good time to surf endlessly on your computer. Go into a mindless zone where you are just slightly too busy to think about much you hurt. This is NOT a good time to take up drugs or alcohol. Your lens on the world is already way too distorted as it is.
                   4) Keep it simple, and take your medicine. I know hygiene and moving about socially don’t interest you very much right now. I’m going to be different than the textbooks and say that’s fine sometimes. If you want to lie dirty in bed all week except when you go get the groceries, OK. Just so you stay alive.
I have a request, though: when you do go for the groceries, take a shower first. It is the kind thing to do, and it will make you feel marginally better. Also, get up for therapy and to pick up your prescriptions, even if you don’t get out of bed for anything else.
NEVER neglect your pills. Especially now.

The above is an excerpt from Deborah Fruchey’s book, Is There Room For Me Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. It is available on, from Kindle Editions, and in Apple’s iBook store. You can visit the author’s web page at

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Coming Up for Air

Sometimes, when you are a mental patient, life becomes very simple. It's all about survival and sanity, period. There is just nothing else you can handle. That is fine, to a point. If you're living on SSI, $600 a month doesn't buy a lot of nights out clubbing.

But there are times when I find I have downsized my life until I am living in a very small terrarium indeed. It gets stifling. It gets depressing and boring. Suddenly I realize I want something more, but I have turned down the last 10 invitations out, and there are no more coming in.

When this happens to you, it's time to expand your interests a little. Start watching the news again, or at least the parts of it that don't depress you. A quick radio summary of headlines can be enough to give you some food for thought. Or check out a local meeting of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, or any other of the many national organizations for us, and find out what the resources and activities are in your area. You might be amazed at what's out there. I was.

Or just take a walk. If you walk to the coffeehouse or the library, you can look at people and maybe even some art too. Or go to some place that gives you sensual pleasure. A fabric warehouse is one good bet (touch the corduroy and the brocade), or a florist or nursery (breathe the air, drink in the colors), or an art gallery or pet store or aquarium. These things can perk up the senses. You don't have to spend a thing. Any local nature spot is a good visit, especially any bodies of water. A walk by a lake shore or stream can have amazing healing properties.

If you're not ready for that, if you prefer to stay home, what about burning some incense or scented candles and listening to music? Maybe drag out some old vinyl you haven't listened to since your teens? Play with your pet, if you have one. Make something with your hands. Paint something. Plant something. Most of all, call someone you know - maybe someone you haven't seen in a while - and just chat, a nice conversation that doesn't mention mental illness even once. Can you do that? If you can't, isn't that something to consider? When was the last time you paid attention to something besides how lousy you feel?

In our suffering, sometimes we box ourselves in. I'm speaking for myself - I just finished doing it once again, although I know better. It is important to let in some outside air once in a while. Maybe you can afford just one show, or attend a free lecture, or join the YMCA - did you know some branches give needs-based scholarships? If you went to a yoga class or a volleyball game once a week, wouldn't life change just a little? Or pretend you have a visiting friend who needs to be shown the town. Take yourself on a tour. We often forget what is interesting about the places we live.

Get involved somehow. If serious school is too demanding, how about merely auditing one appealing class? This is not about performance. It's OK if your participation in an outside interest is sporadic; it's OK if you have to drop out at times to care for yourself. I am not talking about responsibilities. I am talking about interests and hobbies, or just a taste of something new. Have you ever flown a kite?

Myself, I go to poetry readings. No, it's not everybody's cup of tea. But it's an intelligent, conversible crowd, the events are regular, and if I don't show up for a while someone is likely to miss me and ask where I've been. Sometimes that's all I need to pull me back towards life.

Deborah Fruchey is the author of  Is There Room For Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. Available on, on Kindle, as an Apple iBook, or by request at your bookstore . See a film about the book at this  link:   or visit

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Getting Government Help (Part Three)

  Now that funds are so tight, government resources for the mentally ill are getting thin on the ground. Just because you qualify doesn't mean you'll get them. Here's the third installment of my 3-part series on struggling with bureaucracies:

Phrases to use when you hit a wall: “What is your name?” (write it down, in front of them. People act differently when they know they will be held responsible.) ”Is there someone else I can talk to?”  “Can I speak with your supervisor?” (If the supervisor/manager/boss is out, ask , “When can I reach him/her, then?”) Or, try calling another day, and speak to someone else. Not everybody has the same information – or the same chip on their shoulders.
If you are completely stuck? Memorize this one: “If you were in my shoes, where would you look next?” And then get the number. Inside numbers are often much more efficient than the general numbers, especially if they give you a specific person or department. Another reason to always write numbers down.
Always follow the rules. Read the fine print. Do not lie. If you play by their rules, they can’t throw you out.
It took me two years to get Disability. On appeal, they were going to say ‘no’ again because I had earned more money than their maximum in only one month out of the entire previous year. I studied the figures and saw that the month in question was a month with five weeks - and thus had one extra paycheck! I was not earning more per hour or more per month. It was just a longer month.
When I pointed that out to the investigator, I won my case.
Use reason. Use their own rules against them. Use the system’s loopholes. Read the fine print. There are such things as public-assistance lawyers to help you with this. Find one if you need one.
 It can be OK sometimes to leave something immaterial out of your answers. I once had my doctor look over a Disability Review form, and he said I should cross out the information that I took long walks every day. He said in their minds, if I could exercise, I wasn’t very sick. Ludicrous, but true. So I left that sentence out. It didn’t change the basic facts of my condition.
Having a doctor or experienced friend look your stuff over, if you can, is a good idea.
But don’t outright lie. If you get caught, the game is over. You have just made things harder for the next person in line, too.
Being in trouble does NOT excuse you from ethics.
Follow through to the bitter end. If they say ‘no,’ but there is an appeal process, then appeal! Some agencies routinely say ‘no’ just to weed people out. They may give you bogus reasons such as, “You can walk and follow instructions. Therefore you are employable.” (True story. Happened to a friend of mine, completely incapable of supporting himself for the last few decades.) Get a doctor on your side, and go for the second round. If there are community-service lawyers in your area, get one.
Do not call or show up while upset or symptomatic. Reschedule. This one is self-explanatory. The only exception is if you are in the throes of trying to prove how sick you are. In that case, a picture is worth a thousand words. But bring someone to interpret you.
Never give up.
I know this sounds like a lot, but think about it this way: How much is a free income and medical care, for life, worth to you? If someone said, “Look, the deal is, you have to work for us for two years, and it will be a really nutty two years, but after that you’ll never have to work again; we’ll just feed you, give you money”…would you do it? Hmmm?
Don’t be ashamed, and don’t have false pride. The American public, as a majority, over numerous decades, has decided that some people need to be helped, and is willing to pay for some of it. You are entitled to these services, if you can prove your case.
And keep your ears open. There are all kinds of services out there which are never advertised. For instance, if you were wondering how to afford the yoga class I recommended, go the YMCA and ask, and you will find that they offer scholarships for low-income people. Or, for instance, some charities help with deposit fees on apartments if all you have is one month’s rent. Some cities have groups that will actually pay for your pet care, or offer you help cleaning your apartment. The gas and electric company once paid my entire several-hundred-dollar heating bill, the worst bill of the winter, on proof of low income and my promise not to re-apply for a year. (This service was called REACH. I don’t know if it still exists.) There are telephone discounts, public-transportation discounts, and free mammograms for low-income patients, in some areas.
The point is, you have to stop being proud and ASK. Say, “I have a disability and a low income. Are there any special programs to help me out?”
 Trade info like this with friends, and listen to any services they know about – make a note even if you don’t need it now. You may someday. I keep a file called Community Resources full of these snippets and leads. They’ve saved me and my friends over the years.
You can do this. I did. Just keep good records and be very, very patient.
If you can’t do it, find someone who cares enough, show them this section, and ask for help.

The above is an excerpt from the book Is There Room For Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness, copyright 2010 by Deborah Fruchey. Available on, on Kindle, as an Apple iBook, or by request at your bookstore. See the link for a short video about the book, or visit