Suicide is Painless

Suicide is painless. That’s what they say, right?

In America alone, someone dies by suicide every thirteen minutes.

Let that sink in for a second.

Every thirteen minutes, someone in America takes his own life.

We lost another celebrity this week. The world stood stunned at the news of Chris Cornell’s passing. Suicide. Again.

Today we are talking about suicide. Because of Chris Cornell. And we’ve been talking about suicide for the last month because of the popular Netflix show based on the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. It’s a conversation we need to keep having.

Mothers are clutching their pearls saying they don’t want their children to watch this show. They don’t want them getting any ideas. Schools are pulling the book from the library. It spreads the wrong kind of message. It glorifies suicide.

Let’s get something straight here. Talking about suicide in no way glorifies it, and watching a television show where a young girl violently slits her wrists in the bathtub after being raped, after watching her best friend get raped does not glorify suicide. Exposing the way a mother reacts when she finds her daughter lying dead in the bathtub from self-inflicted wrist wounds does not glorify suicide.

Most people don’t commit suicide as a reaction to something. The girl in the show didn’t commit suicide because one bad thing happened to her. She was suicidal. She did not react to a bad event and decide to kill herself. She was already going to kill herself, and her life experiences only increased the volume of the voices in her head telling her to do it.

Suicide is not a reaction. Suicide is an illness. A mental illness, and it’s more than a grasp for attention or a selfish act as I’ve recently read.

Suicide is not painless. It’s not an escape, a way out. If you crawl into the mind of a person who suffers with suicidal thoughts, you might be enlightened as to what you’ll learn. In his world where suicidal ideation controls his mind, he is in constant tug of war with himself and the inner voices. In his head, suicide is the most selfless act that he can commit because that’s what they tell him over and over and over again

He will no longer plague the world. Everyone will be better off without him, and the voices in his head keep shouting it. Until he can no longer tune them out, until his world is an echo of screams saying, “Do it. Do it. Do it. The world will be better without you in it.”

So he ties a rope around his neck and hangs himself.

And we gasp at our loss and mourn an icon, a singer, a comedian, a writer, and this list goes on. We watch the news and hear about more teenagers taking their own lives, but in most cases, it’s not because of a television show or a book or a song.  We want to blame the book. We want to blame the song. We want to blame something. But the truth is, the only thing to blame is an illness, an illness that takes more lives than cancer.

The country is talking about suicide today, and we need to continue to talk until everyone who doesn’t suffer from mental illness understands that the world of someone with suicidal ideation is different than yours.  The mind of a person who’s plagued with suicidal thoughts, cannot compare to the mind of someone who isn’t. We need to educate ourselves to better understand this population of people so that we can support them the way they need our support.

We need to watch the television shows. We need to read the books. We need to talk to our friends who are open enough to expose their struggles, and we need to break the stigma of mental illness. 

We must keep talking about it. About suicide and depression. About all mental illness. We need to quit throwing around the word crazy like a hot potato. We must stop ignoring the signs. We must advocate for better access to mental health care professionals for people who suffer from this very deadly illness.

Someone dies by suicide in America every thirteen minutes. While you are reading these words, a person sits in her bathroom with a razor against her wrist and quiets the voices in her head, the ones who keep screaming at her, for good.

depression meme

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The Darkest Night

You see, I wanted you long before I had you. On nights when I couldn’t sleep, I would lie awake in my bed and dream about holding your hand, how it would fit into mine, the softness of your skin. I saw your face in my mind looking back at me, the two of us walking in a field toward the sunset. You were mine. I was yours and nothing else existed. But us.

I planned for you. I thought of every possible scenario for us to explore, every adventure to conquer. I saw us riding bikes and hiking and swimming and laughing. I knew that you would fill the hole in my soul that was waiting for you, for only you.

And then it happened. I met you for the first time. My doctor announced, “It’s a boy!” I reached out my hands, and she placed you in my arms. And there it was, that giant empty space in my soul filled with seven pounds ten ounces of perfection. You cried. I cried, and thus began our journey of mother and son.

The first few hours were filled with oohs and awes and squeals and cries of all of the family coming to meet you. Everyone was excited but not surprised when they found out you were a boy. Constant traffic from friends and family distracted me from a sinking feeling deep inside myself. I held you and nursed you and kissed the soft fuzz on the top of your head, and I tried. I tried so hard to push the feelings away, to quiet the voices in my head, to ignore their screams.

That first night was exhausting. After a sleepless night before (labor and all), my body and my mind needed rest, but you had other plans. You wanted held and cuddled and nursed and mom, and you got it.

The sun was up before I realized it had set, and you were officially one day old. You slept most of the day, through more visitors and doctors and nurses, but I didn’t sleep. When I wasn’t entertaining friends and family, I was trying to control the hurricane building within me.

It started as pressure in my chest, that kind of pressure you feel when you’re about to write a really big check or when you’re about to give a speech to a large group of people. Your heart beats erratic, faster, and faster until you feel like it’s pounding so hard it might bounce right out of your chest. I recognized it, that sinking anxiety you feel before something bad happens.

I took deep breaths. I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep, but when my eyes were shut, the images came. Nothing worked.

I told your dad to go home that night, that I would sleep better without him there. He agreed, and then he was gone, and it was dark, and I was alone in my room.

The nurses convinced me earlier in the evening that it would be best for you to spend some time in the nursery. Looking back, I wonder if they could see it in my eyes, if they were trained to know that I was on the verge of breaking, or if they simply thought I looked tired. Either way, you left to the nursery. Dad left to go home, and I sat there in my hospital bed alone in the dark trying to block out the constant stream of images flashing in my head.

I hear you crying in the other room. I sit on the edge of my bed and bury my face in a pillow. I don’t want to hear you cry. I don’t want to hear you do anything. I want to run and leave you in your crib.

I stand over you in your baby bath. Your shiny chubby legs kick and splash the water. I sing “rubber ducky, you’re the one,” to you while I lift your body out and place you face down in the water.

You’re crawling around in the bar area of our home. Lucy barks to go outside. I open the sliding glass door. You start to crawl out, and I slam the door on your head and walk away.

I’m holding you in my arms, cradling you against my chest. I wear a bathrobe, and you are wrapped in the blanket my best friend gave me before you were born. You coo and smile up at me, and I smile back at you wrapping my free hand around the stainless steel butcher knife that I hold. I bring the knife up and….

I immediately hit the call button to the nurse’s station.

“Can I help you,” she said over the speaker.

“I need my baby. I need my baby now.”

“Okay ma’am. Do you need to nurse?”

“No. I need my baby right now.”

“Yes ma’am. We’ll page the nursery.”

I got out of my bed and walked around the room. I prayed over and over. “Please don’t let me hurt my baby. Please don’t let me hurt my baby.” I said to the empty space, “I love him. I love him more than anything. Please don’t let me hurt my baby.”

I shook my head back and forth convincing myself that I was wrong, that I wasn’t seeing what I knew I was seeing. My hands tensed at my side as I paced the cold tile floor barefoot. I could feel the crazed look in my eye without even seeing myself. Finally, a knock on my door.

“Come in,” I barked.

And there you were in your clear bassinet. Swaddled in a white blanket with a pastel striped beanie on your head, your mouth the perfect shape of a heart. The nurse looked at me concerned.

“Are you okay, ma’am?” she asked. I noticed she still had her hand on the bassinet where you lay.

“I’m fine,” I lied. “I just need my baby.”

“I can stay if you like?” she said in a question.

I shook my head and eyed her protective stance over my baby. My baby.

“No. I’d like to be alone with him.”

We stood there, she and I, neither willing to break the staring game.

I reached in and picked you up and pulled you into my chest. I glanced distrustful at the nurse. She nodded toward the bed.

“Why don’t you pull down your gown and put him under it. Let’s take off his shirt and let him be in his diaper. Sometimes it’s good for both mom and baby to have skin to skin contact.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat and carried you toward the bed. I laid you down and unwrapped you from your swaddle and pulled the little  white t-shirt over your head. You reached your tiny hand up and wrapped it around my finger. I let you hold my finger as I used my free hand to unsnap my gown and pull you to my chest. You curled into me and started rooting at my collar bone, still holding my finger.

The nurse backed out of the room. When she reached the door, she whispered, “Honey, I am just outside if you need anything.”

Tears spilled down my cheeks. I buckled into a tsunami of emotions, love mixed with fear, mixed with joy, mixed with terror. I pulled the blanket up and tucked it behind my shoulder and held you there for the rest of the night, only breaking to nurse you when you were hungry or to change your diaper.

Each time we got back to our spot, I reached my finger out to let you wrap your hand around it, and we held on to one other, quietly promising each other not to let go, until we made it past that dark and terrifying night.

Yesterday we celebrated the day you were born. Every day you grow into an even more amazing person. You have a passion for life and a wonderful sense of humor, and the way you smile with your whole head is contagious. I love you more every single day.

Today, for the first time I can admit that ten years ago, in a quiet room in Dallas, Texas, I saw myself in clear HD vision doing horrible things to you. I recognized that night what those images were. I convinced myself that they were in fact a symptom of postpartum depression and that they would pass. I knew enough to know that my rational brain wasn’t functioning right and that the hormones and exhaustion coupled with my current fragile mental health were all working against me, fighting a war with my erratically firing neurotransmitters in my head.

While you slept on my bare chest, I reimagined every bad vision I had, and I mentally replaced the original actions with nurturing actions. I convinced myself that I was seeing those things to prepare me. That if you were crawling in the bar area of our house, I would need to be extra careful to not let the dog out while you were near the door, that all knives were to be kept out of your reach (and mine temporarily) and that I would never give you a bath if I was exhausted or stressed. I reminded myself over and over how much I wanted you and all of the plans I had for us.

I can’t tell you why I was able to rationalize everything I saw or that it was even the right thing to do, but, for me, it helped. I never admitted it to a doctor for fear they would take you away. I confided only in my sister-in-law that I was afraid to be alone with you but never shared the details of what I went through that night. Only a few people even know today what happened that night. I was ashamed to tell anyone. Who thinks those things about her own baby? A baby she wanted so badly?

It took me a while to trust myself with you. To know that I wouldn’t hurt you. To believe that I could be what you deserved me to be as a mom. Even today, I struggle to feel capable of being what you need, but I do it, and I treasure it, and I thank you for holding onto my finger and promising that together, we could conquer the night.

Thank you for giving me the most important role of my life and for continually reminding me that it’s good to be your mom.

mom-and-kell

 

 

Pages of Paige

“Write the best story that you can, and write it as straight as you can.” Ernest Hemingway

I kind of like Ernest Hemingway, so I take his advice as often as possible. That’s what I tried to do when I created Paige and the rest of her story in Dear Stephanie. I tried to write it as straight as I could. And I think I did.

If you’re in the mood for a read that will take you on a shockwave ride of emotions, get your copy today. It’s live, and I’m very proud, but don’t take my word for it.

Here’s what people are saying about my newly released debut novel:

LizziDear Stephanie is a tale of a woman’s battle against mental illness and her own efforts to self-sabotage her entire existence. In spite of her privileges and mind-games, Paige’s story is one of connection and relationship and self. It’s a tale of maybe true love and definitely true love, and loss, and hope, and wonder, and deep, indescribable pain.

It made me laugh.

It made me cry.

It made me angry.

BethDear Stephanie breaks molds.

The realities of the main character – Paige Preston- and her struggles with mental illness and drug abuse are not prettied up, and no bush is beat around. You start out not really liking her, until you do, mostly because she starts to resemble you, with vulnerabilities and fragility. She is human. She is broken.

Castle handles this subject matter with realism and care, never glorifying or exaggerating, which I find admirable. I was genuinely swept away in the story. I laughed out loud, I teared up, I worried, and I felt. You really can’t ask for more than that.

HelenaI was moved to both laughter and tears by this book, which I read all at one sitting, never tiring of the wonderful prose — Castle’s character, Paige Preston, was a delightful narrator, speaking to her audience in a voice that was real and believable.
I’d recommend it to anyone who likes character driven stories and appreciates good writing.

DanaFrom the first chapter, I was hit by the hot mess that is Paige. I often decide immediately whether I like a character, but Paige reveals herself over the course of the novel, and my investment in her grew as I read. She is real, flawed, and heartbreakingly human, and her story stayed with me for days after finishing the book. Even now, over a week after I read it, I am still thinking about it. For me, that is the sign of a good book. It seeps into your pores and settles in.

Chrissy: In my head, I was Stephanie. Paige was writing to me.

She’s confident. Demanding. Beautiful. Flawless. But NOT without flaw. Because no one is. Depression is real, and this character exudes everything and nothing all at once. 

So much happens in so few pages, that I can’t even begin to spoil this for you. I didn’t devour this novel, so much as I was consumed by this novel. I couldn’t put it down (even at work, I kept sneaking a page here and there – sorry boss!).

ReneePaige Preston is ALL THAT – just ask her.

She is every man’s wet dream.

She is also completely hollow and bitterly cold inside, or so it seems.

But sometimes you have to give people a chance to show you who they are.

LisaCastle creates a character who is so substantive, so engaging, that you can’t help but be drawn to her, despite her many flaws and violent demons. You will find yourself breathless several times throughout the tale, right up to the very last unbelievable word.

AndraDear Stephanie is a departure from my usual reading routine, an example of trying something new to shake up a reading rut. At first, I disliked Paige Preston so much I wanted to stop reading. I’m weary of books constructed around unlikeable, unreliable narrators. But Paige wove her spell. She is a well-crafted, deep and disturbed character, manipulative enough to charm even me. 🙂 You won’t be sorry you gave Paige a try.

Dear Stephanie Final eBook cover Laura

Paige Preston wants to end her life. After an unsuccessful attempt, she lands herself in mandatory therapy with a sexy psychiatrist. When he and an even more alluring friend begin to help her break down the walls she’s spent a lifetime building, Paige begins to see something bigger than herself. Is it enough to pull her out of her dark world and help her finally feel like a human? Or will letting someone in be the final step toward her demise?

Dear Stephanie is a sinfully addictive walk through a world of beauty, affluence, and incidental love that effortlessly moves the reader between laughter, tears, heartache, and hope with the turn of every “Paige.”

So, what are you waiting for? Read the book (click here for kindle or paper back), and then let’s have a book club discussion. I can’t wait to hear what you think. Oh, and if you want to win a signed paperback, comment here. If you want a double chance, share something on Social Media with the hashtag #DearStephanie. Thanks for playing!

Thank you to all of the people who have read my book and left reviews. I am forever in your debt, and I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I am for all of you.

The Cycle

It starts again. The cycle. The never ending punch in the gut, jolt to the heart, baffling cycle.

The first stage:

Denial

“Have you talked to mom?” The question I hate to hear when one of my four brothers calls.

“Yes.” I close my eyes before I ask, “Why?”

“She just seems,” sigh, “Out of it.”

“No. I haven’t noticed.” I lie.

Then I end the call and pretend it never happened. I go about my day. I play with my children. We do homework. I cook dinner for my family, a mediocre, limp mess that we call a meal. I sit in my chair at the kitchen table, fork some food into my mouth, chew, and swallow, all the while trying to push her illness away from my reality. I smile at my son as he tells me something really important about one of his Lego Star Wars characters and nod my head feigning undying interest. I wipe my daughter’s mouth and ask her to use her fork and listen to her hum a song she learned at preschool. We all sit and eat, and I pretend it’s not happening. Again.

It’s not happening again.

It’s not happening again.

And so on until she reaches the next stage … everyone’s favorite.

I’m back!!!

My phone rings. I look at the name. “Mom” lights up. I want so badly to hit the red Decline button, but I can’t. I cannot ignore her call. I long to hear her voice, to feel her, to hold on to just a little bit of her normal, so I answer.

“Hi, mom,” I say and hold my breath.

“You’re coming to see me Spring Break, right?”  She says, rapidly, faster than her usual Southern drawl.

“Um.  I haven’t thought about…”

“I’m cleaning out my closet,” she interrupts, “Do you want that brown suit that I bought with you at Dillard’s? You could use it for work.” Flight of ideas. Keep up. It’s not always easy.

“No, mom. I don’t work anymore.” I haven’t worked in 7 years.

“Oh.” She pauses, trying to make sense of that in her head but only briefly.Onto the next thought. “I’m so alive right now. I’ve never been better. Did I tell you? I’m back. I’m back, and I’m better than I ever was. I have so much energy. I stayed up until 6:00 this morning, organizing my closet. Organizing my cabinets. Organizing the laundry room.”

I picture my childhood home always tidy and neat, immaculate actually, and then I picture her organizing, her new way of organizing.  Her clothes drape over her bed and litter the floor next to her closet. The plates I ate so many meals from stack on top of each other on the kitchen counter next to the silverware and her cast iron skillet, the one that she used to make me fried okra and French fries anytime I requested. Her prized teapot collection no longer collects dust in her antique display cabinet.  Pieces of it scatter all over the house, unmatched. She uncharacteristically went on a catalog shopping spree and spent almost a thousand dollars on junk. My parents’ formal living room couples as an advertisement for the As Seen on TV store. I imagine my dad rubbing his lips together, kneading the soft wrinkled skin on his forehead back and forth with his fingers, trying to ignore the mess … the clutter … the illness.

“I’m glad you’re feeling well.” I lie. She’s not well. We all know it, but she feels great. Some synapse in her brain rapidly fires over and over and sends her on a temporary high. A high that she feeds on, that she enjoys, that makes her look “crazy” to the outside world, but just fragile, porcelain plunging to tile about to shatter in a million pieces, to me. She will break. Soon. So I brace myself. And I hold onto her happy, to her synthetic high with all of my force from behind my phone.

“I love you, mom.” I say, swallowing the huge lump in my throat.

“I love you, too.”

“I know.”

I know.

I know.

And I do, which is why I can handle the next stage:

Anger

Her name lights up on my phone for the eighth time today. I sigh. I can’t do it. I can’t pick up and hear what I know she is going to say. I can’t, but I do. Every time. Because I can’t ignore my mom.

“Hi, mom.”

“I don’t know what your problem is.” She spits at me.

“I don’t have a problem.” I say, grinding my teeth.

“You and your dad are assholes. Do you think I’m a child?” Says the preacher’s wife who rarely uses profanity. Sick Mom has no filter. Sick Mom uses words Well Mom would never, ever say.

She heard a conversation that took place between my dad and me, one where we were trying to decide what to do with her. She’s abused my dad to the point where he can’t stand it anymore. She hates him, hates the way he smells, the way he looks, the way he breathes, the way he walks, the way he sleeps, and she tells him this. Every minute of every day. I fear for him. I know that she would never hurt him, the well she, but the sick she hates him, and the sick she often references things like butcher knives and frying pans, so I speak to my father every morning when I first wake up to make sure that he’s still alive.

That’s what sickness does to a family. It makes it doubt the legs on which it stands. It makes it doubt the heart that makes it beat. It makes us doubt our mom. And it’s terrible.

“No, mom. I don’t think you’re a child.” Even though we sort of treat her like one. My dad unplugged the stove to keep her from catching their house on fire. He disconnected her car battery so that she can’t drive away when he isn’t watching. We whisper behind her back and tiptoe around her, not wanting to strike her ever ready match. We make plans for her without her approval. But we don’t think she is a child.

“Mom.  Please stop being mad at me.”

“You know what?”

“What mom?”

“Your husband should leave you. He should take your kids and leave and never look back. Those kids deserve better than you. And so does your husband. You don’t appreciate him at all.”

“I know, mom.”  Because agreeing makes the conversation shorter, and I’ve heard this at least four times today. She’s also told me that I’m a whore and a piece of shit and the worst mother on the planet.

She’s angry with me because last time this happened, I made the decision to put her in the hospital, the one she calls “the loony bin,” the one she refuses to go back to, the one that did nothing but make her worse. I hate myself for making that decision, but we didn’t have a lot of choices. My brothers weren’t brave enough to do it, and she became too much for my elderly father to control, and frankly, I didn’t want her to kill him in his sleep, but that I don’t tell anyone.

She also does not understand why I cannot visit her, why I won’t allow my children to see her this way. She can’t understand. They need to remember the well Nana. The Nana who always kept candy in her pocket and secretly handed them a piece each time I turned my back, the Nana who sang “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” off key but with joy and giggled every time the song ended, the Nana who would sit and hold them on her lap, rocking in her chair, reading them books, content to have the chatter of children all around her, who played hide and go seek, who threw the baseball in the back yard. The Nana whose laugh was contagious and the best sound on earth.

“I’m sorry that you’re mad at me, mom.”

“Sure you are.  You don’t care about me.”  And with that, she abruptly ends the call.  I put down my phone. And I cry. Because my mom is sick, and nobody can answer the question:  “Why?”

She’ll call me at least twenty more times this day, and I’ll answer every time. And I’ll listen to her assault of words because she’s my mom, and I know she doesn’t mean it.

I know she doesn’t mean it.

I know she doesn’t mean it.

And I brace myself for the next stage. The worst stage of all.

The lights are on but nobody’s home

“Mom” hasn’t flashed on my phone screen in days. Yesterday, on her birthday, I called her, and we spoke.  A simple, “happy birthday, mom,” conversation. I said, “I love you,” and she said, “I love you, too,” and we ended the call. That was yesterday.

Today is my birthday. On normal birthdays, my mom calls me and recounts my birth. She tells me for at least the 35th time that she went into labor with me at her birthday dinner, two days late. They rushed to the hospital where she continued to labor with me over night.   “Everyone from the church was there, and all I wanted was to be left alone,” I hear her voice in my imagination, her normal well voice, tell me, “My room was full of people,” and she goes on to tell me who was there.  She labored all night and then finally, with no aid of medication, she delivered me at 9:35 the next morning. The doctor announced, “It’s a girl,” and the room fell silent. A girl after four boys. “If you would have been another boy, I think I would have told them to put you back in,” her normal well voice tells me with a chuckle, normally.  Normally, on my birthday, my mom and I talk about her going into labor on her birthday with me, “the best birthday gift she ever got.” Normally, but not this year. And not last year. Because my mother forgot my birthday. Again. It’s not her fault. It’s because of the illness. It’s because of the sickness in her brain that we cannot explain.

But it doesn’t hurt any less. Because it’s our thing. Our birthdays … our birthdays are … special.  I’m the best birthday gift she ever got. Remember, mom?

Remember?

Remember?

But she doesn’t. Her brain has checked out. And she doesn’t remember.  She doesn’t even know if she brushed her teeth this morning. She stands at the sink and pours herself a glass of water, forgetting to turn off the faucet as water pours over the side of her glass and splashes her hand …and she doesn’t know it.

I’ll check my phone a thousand times today, and her name won’t appear.  She forgot. It’s okay, I tell myself.

It’s okay.

It’s okay.

She’ll get better. She’ll come back. She always does.

Until then, I’ll ferociously go through my card box and try to find one from my mom. A card with her voice, where I can hear her, the real her, the well her. And I’ll read every card she’s ever given me. And then I’ll find a little gem in the box, a note that she put in a pile of mail she sent me when I first moved to Dallas thirteen years ago. And there she is. Just like that.  Two simple sentences.

“Here’s your mail, sweetie.  Sure do miss you so much. Love, Mom”

I miss you, too, Mom.

So much.

hands -The Cycle