Will I Ever Get Over This?

The simple answer is that there is no simple answer, except that you will get through tragic events.

The loss of a loved one is hard to get over, no matter what the circumstances. If the person lost is elderly then it might be just a little bit easier than someone who passed much younger. The loss of a loved one from a tragic event is more challenging as we try to find out why, as we try to rationalise what has occurred. The loss of a young person in a tragic event is more so devastating for those left behind, unbelievably so for their parents.

Perhaps the most devastating of all losses, the loss of a child through suicide, and even more so if it was an only child. Unthinkable, ungraspable, unfathomable.

In my experience as a police officer involved in managing numerous crisis events, the death of a child lost in a tragic event is the most difficult event that could ever happen to a parent. There simply aren't enough descriptive words to convey the pain a parent feels, it is indescribable.

The more emotional a situation, the greater the impact on us. If it is a negative event, the emotion felt remains much longer than if it were a positive event. The impact of a negative event on our long-term memory is likened to a scar, it never heals. And, it would be flippant of anyone to say that time heals all things, it simply won't in such a tragedy.

Just like all scars, scars on our memory remain forever. In the case of a physical scar we can use topical creams or have them surgically, both methods will still leave us with a lesser scar, but a scar nonetheless.

Unfortunately, we cannot do this with our memories.

The alternative to reducing a scar is to learn to look after it, to nurture it, to understand how the scar was made, to remember that we are scarred for a reason, and to remember that scars are nature's way of making the affected area harder to penetrate. To protect you forever.

We have all experienced grief in some form, and we have all read about the myriad of ways to recover from grief. May I suggest that none of us fully recover from grief, we just learn ways in which to live with it.

It is said that we go through five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then acceptance - which for some of us isn't that helpful as the stages aren't clearly defined and they don't have definitive timeframes because for each of us these are different.

Here is a way that you may find helpful in coming to terms with your overwhelming grief;

  1. Self-validate your emotions - You will be incredibly hurt; you may feel an enormous sense of loss, you may believe that you are in a nightmare from which you will soon awake from, you may feel completely overwhelmed and that you can't continue, you may feel surreal at times just like you are inside a movie, you may even feel numb. You will feel so many emotions. Know that what you are going through is how the majority of us are impacted by such a tragedy, it is abnormally normal.

  2. Show your emotions, proudly - fighting off emotions may only make them worse and delay things further. Cry, cry, and cry some more. Shout, scream, stamp, and get angry. Show the world that you are hurting, that this tragedy is not right, that you are not okay with what has happened, and that you are in incredible pain that no one else is feeling like you are.

  3. Guilt is normal too - Feelings of guilt and remorse are normal to feel, but they are like no other. They are not like simple emotions, they are more impactful. Why did this happen, why could I not see and prevent it, what if I had done something different, why, just why. In truth, there is often no clear answer. Guilt is possibly the only feeling that I suggest you dismiss and not feel, because it can be destructive. The tragedy happened, it was not your fault, it just happened.

  4. Don't rush things - Take your time to feel what you are feeling, except for guilt as mentioned. Allow your brain to absorb the tragic event before you even think about starting the rationalisation process. Time is what you need right now, time is very important, time does not matter and has no relevance so use it to your advantage. Don't rush, there's plenty of time, right now anyway.

  5. Get expert help - Initially, you may need to seek medical assistance to get through the pain and suffering. You will feel overwhelmed and sleep, an important part of dealing with tragic events, will be evasive. There is no shame in seeking medical help. In fact, the opposite is true, it is a sign that you want to get through this event to honour the person lost. Then, when you feel up to it, you should seek psychological counselling. Counselling from a qualified person who is skilled in the area of loss from tragedy, not from someone at a call centre or from an online chatroom. Socialisation helps, talking with real people about real events and real emotions.

  6. Keep going - No matter how you feel, no matter what happens, no matter how low you get, just keep going - breath by breath, second by second, minute by minute - keep going. In time, and that differs for us all, you will start to feel other things again. I promise you; you will begin to feel again.

  7. There will be setbacks - During times of remembrance such as anniversaries, birthdays, and regular celebrations you will be reminded of the one that you have lost. Take time to reflect on why this is happening, may I suggest that it is because the person lost meant so much to you.

In these tragic situations, and only if the circumstances are right to do so, it might be helpful to ask yourself if the person lost would want you to continue to feel down and/or guilty about what occurred.

Sure, they don't want you to forget them, and know that you won't, but would they truly want you to feel pain and hurt forever?

We are all much stronger than we believe that we are, you've got this, with a little help and support when needed.

Let's talk!

#personaldevelopment #solution #resilience #wellness

How Could We Ever Have Known?

Watching the family of someone who has taken their own life is never easy. Death is seldom easy at the best of times, let alone when it is a young one in their early teens. Our teens are definitely struggling with anxiety, some with depression, and a few who are having suicidal thoughts; is there a way to identify the cause of having suicidal thoughts and are there truly indicators when they are? The answer to both questions, "It's complicated".

With 20 plus years working with suicide - as a crisis negotiator, an investigator for the Coroner, as a researcher, and now in the field of suicide risk mitigation - the answers still evade us as to the exact cause. However, there is hope for most, if we can just get them to look further into the future than they currently do.

What we do know through science, research, and experience is that suicide is an extreme emotional reaction to an emotional situation, most often to a series of emotional events. Suicide is not a disease, nor a virus, and it is certainly not a 'mental' illness. (Let's get rid of that term 'mental', that has a stigma attached to it, it is 'mind' health).

Taking one's life is definitely not cowardice. More often than not the person is tired. Tired of struggling with what to them seems like a life filled with negative events, their rational brain hasn't fully developed yet so they are unable to rationalise their negative thoughts when a series of 'life' events hit them. They get tired of fighting, so flight takes over from fight.

In every single case that I have ever been involved in, talked with, read about, watched, investigated, or examined - at the time of suicide the person is never themselves. At the point of suicide, the person changes, their thoughts are no longer theirs and there is no longer any control.

It is always something, small or large, in the last 24 to 48 hours that has tipped the scales for them, their head is full of negative thoughts and it overflows with this latest event. They no longer have energy to fight their thoughts so their automaton mind takes over.

Apart from a genetic disposition, there are common traits in people who take their own life;

  1. Extreme empathy - they have an unbelievable ability to read people, to interpret signs of emotion in others that most of us can't see, and they want to help those people. They hurt when others hurt so want to make it right. They are selfless and generous.

  2. A strong sense of social justice - linked to empathy, they want to show support for those less-fortunate or who they believe are unable to defend themselves.

  3. Perfectionism - everything they do or make must be the very best without flaw. If they perceive a flaw, they will destroy their project. They will remember things they have done for the mistakes rather than for the achievement. C's no longer get degrees, it must be A's.

  4. Are multi-talented - they use both sides of their brain to become good at both academic and artistic subjects.

  5. Have trouble differentiating emotions from feelings - emotions come before feelings, they are deep down in the brain (amygdala) and often have a genetic foundation and commonalities with others. Feelings are different for each of us and are based on our experiences.

  6. Great maskers, using humour and happiness to mask their emotional pain and turmoil. They are very much introverted but behave like an extrovert.

Is this information helpful, I do hope so. Can it help predict suicidal behaviour, possibly. However, many people have these traits and aren't impacted by life's negative events.

The biggest factor that influences who we are is what we have done and seen in our lives; our family, our friends, and our schooling. None of these things are the same for any of us, not even identical twins. And therein lies the challenge, we can only make generalisations based on the majority of people.

So, what are the common signs that someone might be struggling;

  1. They get busy - can't sit still for any length of time, have lots of tasks on the go, stay up late to keep their mind occupied, are high achievers because they are always busy.

  2. They isolate themselves - won't go out to socialise, won't talk with others about their negative thoughts, push away those who are close to them. Importantly for me, they won't look at you when you talk with them.

  3. They become tired - only sleeping intermittently, they become lethargic, don't want to exercise, become messy, and don't care about their hygiene.

  4. They self-medicate - there is an increase in drugs and/or alcohol (they will always gulp when drinking alcohol), and increase destructive behaviour; gambling, smoking, and self-harm.

  5. They start to look pale - when things are getting on top of them, the blood flows from the outer extremities towards the major organs to keep the person alive, the body is going into self-preservation mode.

Is this additional information helpful, hopefully. Can it predict suicidal behaviour, probably. However, some people show these signs as part of their normal behaviour. Like most things in life, it is very easy to join the dots after an event. It is very hard to know exactly what event or events to join together to positively predict an outcome.

How would you know if either the traits or the behaviour is leading to suicidal thoughts, ask the person. But, again herein lies another problem, we are very good at hiding things when we are struggling.

The best that we can all do for ourselves has not changed - socialisation, exercise and sleep in that order. If just one of those is missing, our life becomes out of balance. The best thing that we can do for others is to talk and ask, "Are you okay", and never believe what they say in answer so ask them again "Are you truly okay?"

If you are reading this and you are struggling, reach out. 1737 is the organisation in New Zealand that I endorse. There are great organisations in every country who are there to help, use them. Don't listen to your thoughts, listen to those around you, because your thoughts are no longer yours.

Let's talk!

Life Can Be Sh*t.

"Life can be sh*t", words expressed to me recently at a funeral. Indeed, life can be at times, sh*t. In situations where life seems unfair, we all want to help. However, saying things like "Look on the bright side", or "There's always good in bad situations if we look for them", or maybe "Keep moving forward", is unhelpful if said too soon despite being well-meaning.

While these things are true, timing is paramount.

When information comes into our brain, it is firstly tagged with an emotion, sent to the back of the brain for reference to past events, then sent to the front for action to occur. During this process, we can only reference what has taken place, that's our point of reference and it is different for each of us.

Even if we ourselves have been in a situation to that of another who has had similar things happen to them, our point of reference will still be different due to numeorous factors which means we do not know what other people are going through. We can only surmise and generalise.

Furthermore, when a string of negative events happens, the emotion of each event is intensified in the next event and our points of reference are therefore predominantly more negative. We struggle harder to find the positives.

The best thing, in my humble opinion, to say to someone who expresses a comment such as "Life can be sh*t", is to agree. Because it can be, and for some of us, continue to be. You can dress it up however you want to; "We are being tested", "This will make you stronger", "You will get through this", or "Time will heal all". For some yes it will, for others, it may take longer. For the most part, we will get through these tough times, in time.

Grief, in particular, takes time to work through. And, if we have had other negative events happen to us in the past, research shows we may be a little weaker rather than stronger. I do not believe that negative events make us stronger, I believe that they make us wiser. Multiple events impact on us in such a way that we can be slower in our recovery.

So what can you do to support someone who is going through a particularly difficult time with multiple negative events? Be there. Be there to help do the practical things that need doing, be there to shield them from additional pain, be there to listen, and be there as they seek expert guidance from a professional. Simply, be there.

Pushing someone to move forward too quickly is terribly unhelpful if the person is not yet ready. We all must move forward without a doubt, but only when we feel it is the right time for us to do so.

Time is the one thing that allows us to properly grieve, allows us to find answers, allows us to rebuild, allows us to consolidate existing memories, and allows us to make new memories. Time also allows us to seek expert help as there are some things such as multiple events that we cannot recover from by ourselves, no matter how good our positive outlook might be.

And most importantly of all, let's talk!

Start Thinking About What you Are Thinking About.

The more research that I do, the more presentations that I do, and the more that I meet one-on-one with people, the more that I become convinced that the thoughts we have can make a big difference in our lives.

All of us all of us worry to a greater or lesser degree, all of us have an inner critic to a greater or lesser degree, all of us have a younger self (usually half our age) to a greater or lesser degree, all of us have an imposter to a greater or lesser degree, and all of us talk to ourselves to a greater or lesser degree.

Why is that these things are to a greater or lesser degree? Is it nature or is it nurture? The answer is a big YES. We know more than ever that everything to do with who we are is impacted by both nature AND nurture. Studies on identical twins have now been largely dismissed because all of us are influenced not just by our genetics, we are also influenced by what we do, who we meet, where we grew up, what our parents tell us, etc.

However, all of us, regardless of genetics or upbringing, talk to ourselves. And we do it a lot! If you are thinking "No I don't", then you are doing it right now! Talking to ourselves are simply noting more than, thoughts. Furthermore, thoughts are nothing more than mental (mind) cognitions based on our ideas, opinions, and beliefs.

Our thoughts have the ability to influence our emotions, and that's the important key here, our thoughts influence our emotions. Often, we aren't thinking about what we are thinking about. Worse still, we aren't thinking about the implications of those thoughts. Yet, we can become all-consumed by them.

Research shows that the longer we think about something the more real the thought becomes until we actually begin to believe our thoughts, thoughts that we made up in our head which come from our genetics, culture, beliefs, education, physical condition, etc. And, these thoughts impact on our emotions which impact on our wellbeing, one way or the other. Bring into the mix our natural negativity bias and you have a 'mix for mess', all made up in our mind.

There are many ways to control our thoughts. The most common, we are told, is to acknowledge the thought then let it go and move on. For me, this does not work because once I have had the thought I then feel the emotion and emotion which hooks me into that thought for whatever reason; guilt, regret, fear, revenge, disappointment, or failure. If regret is involved, the thought then keeps repeating itself.

I prefer to get rid of the thought altogether; flick a rubber band worn on my wrist, blink my eyes and say the word "STOP" inside my head, shake my head and think of the thought going into a rubbish bin, or refocus on what is around me.

Regardless of what you do to get rid of your negative thought, keep doing it. Let that be your new thought, getting rid of negative thoughts, because thoughts DO matter and DO make a difference, to you.

Whose thoughts are they, yours. Who can help you with those thoughts, you can. Importantly, who can control them, only you can. Start thinking about what you are thinking about.

Let's talk!

Looking For Help, You May Not Have To Look Too Far.

The more I work in the personal resilience space the more that I am convinced that the most sustainable way to help others is to get them to help themselves, with a little guidance if needed. Furthermore, not accepting the first or single solution may not be enough, we should keep looking for more options.

When we have a challenge/problem/issue/behaviour that won't go away or we want to change and is always on our mind, the longer that we delay fixing it the more it plays on our mind. The more it plays on our mind the higher the likelihood our brain will exaggerate the negative, the greater the exaggeration the harder it becomes to find a solution, the harder it is to find a solution, the cycle goes on.

The importance of doing something practical as early as possible cannot be emphasised enough, when we have a problem that is continually playing on our mind it becomes all-consuming. Additionally, the more we focus on the problem the greater the likelihood of tunnel vision which closes our mind.

There are many reasons why it might be best to take personal ownership of our challenges;

  • We have personal involvement in the solution therefore become more determined.

  • We have control of the solution, the journey, and the outcome.

  • It gives us something practical to do thus keeps our mind active and focussed on the positive outcome.

  • We learn about ourselves, what works best for us or what may not work as well, and we can adjust the solution as required.

  • The more occasions that we take practical action, the easier it becomes, the greater the reduction in stress and the easier it is to find solutions.

So, how does it work?

  1. Find a person who you can trust, it need not be a family member nor a close friend as these people may also have a closed mind from knowing you too well.

  2. Write down your problem at the top of the page and then start writing down as many solutions that you can think of, no matter how silly they might seem. There are many resources that you can use to find solutions, the internet is the go-to these days but ensure that you are using a credible source.

  3. Eliminate the ridiculous solutions and then order the remaining solutions from the simplest to the hardest.

  4. Start working on the easiest solution for a minimum of 60 days, it takes at least that time to form a neural pathway and change patterns of behaviour.

  5. Evaluate how the solution went for you at the end of each day to see what positive changes you have made. If you find it helpful, also write down the challenges but only so that you can eliminate these from the following day.

When we want to change something, doing the same thing or doing nothing are not options. After all, nothing changes if nothing changes.

Let's talk!