On June 1, 2012, my life changed forever. I was coming home from work when I got a call from my cousin that I needed to check on my brother...that there were rumors that he committed suicide. I didn’t believe it because I had just spoken to him briefly the day before and he seemed like his happy, playful self. I called his phone repeatedly with no response. A while later, I received another phone call confirming what I wasn’t willing to accept. He was gone. I was devastated. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t talk to anyone about what was really going on. Or maybe he tried and the signs were ignored.
I realized the happiness that he often displayed was just him masking his true feelings. The risk factors were there all along but I never thought it would happen in my family. Some of the risk factors of suicide include but aren’t limited to: the loss of a loved one, stressful life situations, depression or other mental illnesses and past suicide attempts. Once I began to accept the reality of what was, I realized that after losing his mother at a young age, he was never able to truly cope with the pain. He hid behind his amazing smile, athletic ability, charming way with words, humor and “popular” status so we didn’t notice. It worked.
Suicide rates have been rising and is the 10th leading cause of death in the country. Some signs are noticeable while others are easily unnoticed. Here are some noticeable signs to look for in your loved ones and friends.
*Talking about dying or wanting to die
*Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no way out of problems
*Mentioning strong feelings of guilt and shame
*Talking about not having a reason to live or that others would be better off without them
*Social withdrawal and isolation
*Giving away personal items and wrapping up loose ends
*Saying goodbye to friends and family
If you see any of these signs including changes in sleeping patterns, withdrawn behavior, unusual changes in behavior, access to lethal weapons or physical pain….TAKE IT SERIOUS!!! If you suspect your loved one is suicidal, seek help immediately. You could save their life. The suicide hotline is always available by calling 1-800-273-8255. For immediate help, call an emergency dispatcher and do not leave them alone. Also, another helpful tip is to calmly without judgement have a conversation with your loved one to help process their feelings and offer help.
There are so many things I wish I could have done differently and that is something I have to live with forever. Maybe if I had talked to him more often I would have noticed the unhappiness within him. I used to beat myself up over it feeling like he called me to see if I cared and I dropped the ball but maybe that was just his way of saying bye. There are so many unanswered questions but I have learned to be okay with that. Through all of his sadness, I learned that happiness is a choice. That whatever I am unhappy with, I have the choice to change. It took me a while to really understand what that means and how to actually achieve the happiness we all are seeking to find.
Everyday, I am learning and growing even more and refuse to be anything but happy. Because of his death, I am committed to choosing happiness even when it’s hard. I’ve also learned that while the anniversary of his passing will always be a sad memory, it doesn’t have to be a day filled with sadness. I could use my pain to find my greatest joy and for that I am beyond grateful. So, for the past couple of years, I have turned both my brother’s anniversary and birthday into a full on celebration of life! This year on June 1, the girls and I visited Ladew Gardens, a beautiful topiary garden in Harford County, Maryland.
We started with a lovely picnic followed by a self-guided tour of the 22 acres of breathtaking topiaries, a nature walk with a scavenger hunt for the girls and a butterfly garden that will be in full effect beginning in July!! We talked, laughed, and screamed a bit because of the million and one cicadas(Lol) and had the BEST time. They even found some fairy goodies in the rose garden….how sweet!! We found oy in all the things including the sun beating down on my face and causing me to sweat...gross...but it was all worth it. For the first time in a long time I was truly happy on this day!! I was filled with so much gratitude and joy that I found myself fighting back happy tears. Who would have thought….happy tears on one of the saddest days of my life!!
Happiness doesn’t have to be something we spend our lives hoping for but never obtaining. Happiness is finding joy in all of the little things every single day! It won’t always be easy but it’s definitely worth it! Throughout all of this, I’ve learned that WE have the power to create a life for us that we’ve only dreamed about and it all starts with a mindset shift. Here are a few things you can begin incorporating into your life to make happiness a daily habit:
*Smile- So simple but powerful. Smiling releases endorphins and naturally makes us happier.
*Be grateful-Start each day by thinking of at least ONE thing you are grateful for. This helps us to become more aware of all of the positive things all around us!
*Breathe deeply- This right here!!! Practicing deep breathing helps us relieve stress and feel calmer.
* Acknowledge the unhappy moments-Not my favorite thing but unhappy moments happen and that’s just a part of life. Experience your feelings while they are happening and then focus on why you felt this way and what you need to feel better about this moment.
And the list goes on but you get the picture! Happiness doesn’t happen overnight and neither does dealing with grief. It all starts with incorporating little bits of happiness each day that become habits in your daily life!
What will you do to incorporate more happiness into your life?!