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Resilience – Overcoming Suicidal Ideations

By CMH Blog

If you’re here reading this, it’s likely something in the title caught your attention. Maybe it is a word you connect with, or have some curiosity about, or maybe it is hope for connection. Whatever reason brought you here, welcome. I’m here to tell you a little story: my story about resilience and overcoming suicidal ideation.

My first suicide attempt was when I was 7 years old. Since then, I’ve attempted suicide a handful of times with my last attempt in 2015, just after my 22nd birthday. For 15 years, I have lived with the guilt of suicidal ideation.

It began very simply. I couldn’t understand why I felt the urge to no longer exist, but even at 7 years old, I knew these thoughts were unusual. I was raised, partly, in a Catholic household, and I was taught that dying by suicide was a one-way ticket to hell, even before I actually knew what suicide was. This belief system I was raised to uphold added to the stigma surrounding suicidal ideation. Now, I understand that suicidal ideation is a common feeling for those with anxiety, depression, or many other mental illnesses.

Over the years, I learned that there are different types of suicidal ideation. One is “active ideation” in which you’re not only thinking about suicide, but you have a plan and intentions to carry out the thought. The other is “passive ideation,” which means you wish you didn’t exist anymore, or that you could die so you don’t have live in the agony any longer; however, you don’t have plans to act on these thoughts. I spent a few periods of my life in the “active ideation” stage where I had a plan to take my life and was ready to set my plan into action. I also spent many, many more years after that in “passive ideation.”

For me, the real kicker was not overcoming the “active ideation;” I knew deep down that I didn’t want to die because I always held hope for a better future — one worth living. For me, the hard part has been overcoming the “passive ideation” of suicide, even to this day.

It sneaks up on you: when you’ve had a bad day and you’re feeling exhausted; when the universe seems to keep kicking you down; when nothing seems to be going right, no matter how hard you work. The passive ideation sneaks in and offers itself as an outlet; even when you don’t feel suicidal, it’s there. Sometimes it doesn’t even look like suicidal ideation. Sometimes it looks like smoking a pack of cigarettes in a day because maybe you’ll get sick from the chemicals. Sometimes it looks like sleeping all day because the thought of getting out of bed breaks your heart. Sometimes it’s just thinking to yourself “I wish I could die.” Suicidal passive ideation creeps into your mind, intrusive and unbearable. BUT! There are many ways to move past the suicidal ideations and create a life worth living! For me, it was growing my resilience muscle.

Resilience – re·sil·ience, noun – The capacity to recover quickly from difficult situations.

For the last five years, I’ve worked on growing my resilience muscle. Yes, I think of resiliency as a muscle, and like all other muscles, if you put in the work to grow it and make it stronger, you’ll likely be able to do things and overcome obstacles you never imagined possible.

How to grow your resilience muscle:

  1. Practice thought awareness.
    Resilient people work on managing the negative thoughts and focus on consistently practicing positive thinking.
  2. Learn from mistakes or perceived failures.
    Resilient people tend to see mistakes or failures as lessons learned or as opportunities to try something in a new way.
  3. Maintain perspective.
    Resilient people understand that while an event or crisis may be overwhelming in the moment, allowing time to reframe perspective can be beneficial.
  4. Develop strong relationships.
    Resilient people know that no one person can do it all, and we all need a strong support system.
  5. Ask for help when you need it!
    Resilient people know that asking for help is the single best step you can take when trying to overcome suicidal ideation. If you don’t know who to ask, call The Center Support Line at 970.252.6220. It’s free and available to you anytime you need to talk.

Recovery and resilience will always be my chosen path to my best life. I truly have a life worth living, but it wasn’t easy getting to this point. Growing up in poverty, I had a difficult time rallying support and finding resources to feel better. Apart from maybe three people, my mental illness and struggle was kept a secret because I was ashamed and embarrassed to have these feelings and thoughts. Of course, I showed many, many signs of mental anguish and suffering, yet I went about this journey all on my own without much support.

After my last attempt at 22 years old, I met with a primary care doctor and decided to try medications for my mental illness. I was able to find stability, and with my lived experience, I found a job as Peer Specialist at The Center for Mental Health. For the first time in my life, I was connected with a therapist and finally discussed my experience with suicidal ideation. It was monumental for me. It allowed me to really push forward in life and blast through the walls that I had built. I truly valued my time working as a Peer Specialist, and I learned something from every single one of my clients. Through my personal and professional experience, and with the inspiration of my clients, I wrote a poem that I would like to share with you today.

“What I Wish My Clients Knew – An Ode to Resilience”

First things first,
most everyone working in the mental health field is here
because we have a history,
just like you.

It’s ok to cry.
I do it too, often.
Crying can help release anger, frustration, sadness, grief, and loneliness.
You may feel relief after crying.
It’s ok to cry, and it’s ok to cry in front of me.
I will never judge you for it.
Men – even you are allowed to cry.
I will never think less of you for it,
and I will never judge you for feeling emotions.

It’s ok to back slide.
It’s ok to fall down.
BUT, you have to get back up, dust yourself off and try again!
The only true failure is giving up!

It’s ok to be vulnerable & it’s ok to hate vulnerability.
I understand how hard it is to offer yourself up to change.
The fact that you’re currently sitting in my office
is a good sign that you’re practicing change and vulnerability.
Give yourself a pat on the back for making it this far.
Men – it’s ok to be vulnerable around other men.

It’s ok to be scared or unsure.
Not just of life, but of the people who are helping you.
It’s ok to be unsure of your past, of your present, and of your future.
It’s ok to be scared; in fact, it’s completely normal.
Don’t let fear stop you from making a difference in your life.

It’s ok to celebrate the small successes in your life
(after all, that’s exactly what resilient people do!)
Pat yourself on the back for waking up.
Be proud of the fact that you made it to your therapy session.
Give yourself a round of applause for not letting an anxious cycle take over your day.

Celebrate the small achievements you’ve made.
That’s a sign that all your effort is paying off!
It’s ok to ask for help!
This goes for everyone, everywhere.
If you need help, give yourself permission to ask for it.
That doesn’t mean you’re weak or fragile,
it means you’re human
(welcome to the club, there’s about 7 billion of us.)

What I wish my clients knew:
I have been there.
Exactly where you are… Scared, lost, hopeless.
Unsure of what steps to take,
how to move forward,
how to release the anger and pain.
I found my way of doing it,
and I want to help you find yours.

Together we can create a path to freedom –
freedom from the hurt, the depression, the anxiety, the pain, the darkness.
A better life is waiting for you, and it’s possible.
I have been there, and now I’m here…
and I want you here with me.

Written by Leticia Garcia, Administrative Assistant at The Center for Mental Health

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or is experiencing suicidal ideation, please reach out to The Center for Mental Health. We are available 24/7/365 at our Crisis Walk-In Center at 300 N. Cascade Ave. in Montrose and by calling our crisis and support line at 970.252.6220.

Sunflower

Coping with Suicidal Thoughts

By CMH Blog

Richelle E. Goodrich kind of sums it up nicely for me in her words from Smile Anyway: Quotes, Verse, and Grumblings for Every Day of the Year: “I have a funny side. I have a soft and sympathetic side. I have a serious side, and a seriously romantic side. I have lots of sides; it’s the main course I haven’t quite figured out.”

I’m not sure I really want to figure out the main course either. I like side dishes. They’re usually the fun ones, full of carbs or nice and sweet; they’re your casseroles, your chips and salsa or queso, basically everything leading up to the main dish. Don’t get me wrong – I can truly enjoy a “steamin’ greasy plate of enchiladas with lots of cheese and onions” as Robert Earl Keen sings about. But when that plate is clean, it symbolizes the end of something. And I don’t particularly care for endings of any kind.

That’s where the irony comes in for me because the paring of this disdain for endings and the life-long managing of my own suicidal thoughts has created both conflict at certain times, and sustenance at others.

As you might imagine, the conflict is how my mind always seems to find a way for me to have thoughts pondering my own demise. Terribly intrusive. Terribly inconvenient. What makes them worse is trying to fight them; this just ends up creating a deeper, more lasting interruption when I do fight. Instead, along the way, I’ve learned to just comment to myself something that merely acknowledges the thought without giving it any more power. I say to myself, “That’s interesting,” and if it persists, I may even say to myself, “Wow, you’re kind of being pushy with that one.” More often than not, this enables me to stay focused on whatever I’m doing in that moment.  Even so, this coping skill doesn’t mean the process doesn’t come with a cost. It takes a lot of energy to play this game. When I meet someone with a dark side similar to mine, like my friend Rana, it’s easy to understand just how burdensome suicidal thoughts can be not just personally, but for others. When I learn of a suicide, I’m both saddened, and I understand the relief they were seeking. I understand it because I too wish that these thoughts would end.

But these thoughts don’t end, and that’s where the sustenance comes in. Did I mention that I hate endings? It saddens me when I come to the end of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and must wish my friends Frodo, Sam, and Gandalf goodbye. Yet it’s unavoidable. Buddha wrote, “If you accept that death is part of life, then when it actually does come, you may face it more easily.” Part of my process of sustaining is deciding that I will take my loathing of endings and commit to accepting that while death is in fact part of my life, it won’t be a part that I set in motion. It won’t come about by my hand. It will, however, be something I think about, and I can accept that.

I once felt much more isolated in these thoughts and beliefs than I do now. I am thankful for people like Rana, for scientists researching suicide, for great therapists, for the lessening of stigma in general, and yes, even for medication. It’s comforting knowing, and a source of strength, that I’m not alone in this with an incredible support system around me that includes friends, family, and most especially my wife and son. If any of this resonates with you at all, know that you don’t have to be alone in this either.

The Center for Mental Health is here to help. If you are in crisis or just need to talk to someone, call our 24/7 crisis and support line at 970.252.6220. If you think you might benefit from services, please call 970.252.3200 to learn more or make an appointment.

Read Rana Shaner’s blog post on Creating a Life Worth Living.

Ed Hagins, M.Ed., LPC
Deputy Director of Operations & Special Projects
Loving mother supporting tired teenage daughter (photo)

Dealing with Back-To-School Stress in 2020

By CMH Blog

Dealing with the stress of back-to-school in 2020

The end of summer has always been a time of transition for families across our country. Parents and youth alike are registering for classes, buying new supplies, and wondering who their teacher will be. This summer and fall we have an added layer of concern that is plaguing us all: what is this school year going to look like?

As schools open across our nation, we have been seeing that things are going to look different in every town and city. In some instances, decisions to do home school or online school have been made for families by their districts. In other instances, there are decisions to still to be made: should we as parents send our kids to in-person school or not? And even after families have labored over these decisions and made what they hope to be “the right decision,” there is always a possibility that things can change without their input in these uncertain times, what are we to do?

As a parent and Licensed Professional Counselor, I have had a lot of time to reflect on a variety of things that affect me, my family, and my work. At first, the pandemic and its added uncertainties and responsibilities weighed heavy on me. As the summer has progressed, I have learned to see the pandemic as an opportunity to grow as a person, mother, friend, wife, and more. BUT it has not been easy.

In times of great stress, our mind plays tricks on us. Instead of operating in what we call the Wizard brain, the calm, cool, collected part of our brain, we tend to operate out of our Lizard brain, the more impulsive and reactive part. Not only is this happening in us, it is also manifesting in our children.

I have worked with youth in a variety of capacities throughout my 20 years in Colorado. I have been a director of a youth program and juvenile justice program, a substitute teacher, a volunteer coach, and more. What I absolutely love about working with youth is that they tend to be more “in the moment” than adults. The younger the child, the more present and in the moment, they seem to be, effortlessly. What an amazing natural talent! I have also come to realize that youth possess a resiliency that is admirable. I have watched many children bounce back from extremely difficult situations and, with an added solid support system, I have watched them achieve incredible feats.

As we charge forward into an uncertain new school year, I would like to offer some strategies to help you and your children with the stress and ambiguity.

  1. Increase self-awareness by taking note which brain you are operating from. If you find you are in your “Lizard Brain,” take a moment to breathe and calm yourself down before reacting. Also take note of which brain those around you seem to be operating from. If they are acting out of impulse and from a place of stress, your recognition of that can help calm the situation down. Practice creating more patience and grace for yourself and others.
  2. When speaking with your children about the present, past or future, REFLECT and REPEAT. Questions can hinder a conversation and make children second guess themselves. Instead practice reflecting or repeating back what they are saying. For example, if a child says, “I’m sad,” instead of asking why, repeat and reflect back to them with this statement “You ARE sad.” This will keep the conversation going and let your child know you understand and are listening. Most likely they will continue to explain what is going on with them, and no questions will be needed.
  3. Analyze your options in a potentially irritable or challenging situation. It is exhausting to fight reality. Radical acceptance is accepting life just as it is. Gracefully accept and acknowledge the feelings and emotions you have about certain situations.
  4. Focus on what our youth are learning from our current situation, not what they are missing out on.
  5. Anxiety and depression tend to increase when we focus on the past or fret about the future. Be here now, practice living in the present moment, and revel in it. In his book, The Power of Now: A Guide to Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle says, “I have lived with several Zen masters… all of them cats.”
  6. Seek support when necessary for you or your family. Investigate individual and group counseling options and various support groups.

Ultimately, my goal is to help youth become independent, compassionate, and graceful critical thinkers. With these skills, they can accept and overcome the challenges that come their way, both with support and on their own. I believe our youth possess an innate wisdom that sometimes we adults forget about. This school year, let’s take pleasure in the little things, our successes, and the innovative ways we can move forward!

The Center for Mental Health is here to help. Call us at 970.252.3200 to learn about our services or make an appointment. Visit our website at centermh.org to learn about the services we offer for children, families, and adults.

* * * * * * * * * *Sources

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Parent-Child Interaction Therapy With At-Risk Families.
https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/f_interactbulletin.pdf

Empowering Education: Mindfulness-Social & Emotional Learning. (2016). Lizard-Wizard Brain.
https://empoweringeducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/08-EE_Lizard-Wizard-Brain_Pt1_k-2.pdf

Hall, K. Ph.D. (2012/7). Radical Acceptance: Sometimes Problems Can’t Be Solved. Psychology Today.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201207/radical-acceptance

Tolle, E. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. 2004.
https://amazon.com/Power-Now-Guide-Spiritual-Enlightenment/dp/1577314808

Helene “H” Discoe, LPC, CAC I
The Center for Mental Health, Ridgway

I Created a Life Worth Living

By CMH Blog

My history

As a several time suicide attempt survivor with my first attempt at the age of four, along with being challenged with mental health symptoms beginning at an early age, I often lacked a desire to thrive. I want to share with anyone who may be contemplating suicide, THERE IS HOPE! Recovery is possible. One can create a life worth living. Recovery is complex, a lifelong process, a journey. It does not happen overnight. It is hard work, and it is so worth it. Recovery is investing in your greatest asset: yourself.

My beliefs about myself

I once bought into the stigmatizing societal attitudes and the messages I received from my abusers, hurtful messages that I was indoctrinated with or that they needed me to believe about myself. I could not understand what made me different. Why was I seen as inherently defective, as if this defect was a personal reflection on my character? I could not understand why I deserved to be dehumanized for something I had no choice or control over, for merely existing by way of the “ovarian lottery.” Why was I blamed for provoking the abuse? Why was the perpetrator often protected? It hurt to receive messages that I was nothing more than a disposable piece of trash that is easily replaceable. The truth is, no one deserves to be treated that way.

My experience of suicide was enduring what felt like unbearable emotional pain that I did not have the skills or internal resources to cope with. I felt overwhelmed, unable to process any more. No options for solutions seemed available; I was hopeless and helpless. Personally, I only made attempts during times I was being abused by a perpetrator or system. When you’re feeling rejected, abandoned, or seen as inherently bad, life does not seem to hold much value. When you’re overtaken by a binocular view, when you’re in that deep dark place of acute suicidality, you often feel like a burden to the world, that you do not matter, and it is difficult to recognize the pain you will cause for those left behind, or feel that you will be missed. Without hope it is difficult to continue on. There was a time the only hope I could find was the hope that someday I could have hope.

Many fear change. For me, nothing scared me more than my life remaining the same. I was tenacious with my recovery. I reached a place in my life where I had little faith in humanity from all of the cruelties I had suffered. I experienced empowerment the moment I was able to ask myself, “what are you going to do about it?” I created my life mantra, “Spread good and be ornery too.” I could take action to make this a better world to live in and remember to laugh too.

How therapy helped change these beliefs

My therapist worked with me to start challenging all of the beliefs that I became aware I had or that I had internalized as my own. In this process I happened across this quote in an article:

“The simple fact you exist has a ripple effect beyond imagine. You may never know those whose life you have touched or the repercussions, yet they are there all the same.”

This quote spoke to me and led to a dramatic shift in my thinking; I realized I did matter in this world, because I existed.

Something as simple as a smile, which we all have the capacity to do, can change a person’s day. It does not have to be a grand gesture. We may never know, but our smile could even save a person’s life. Maybe you’ve offered the words of comfort needed to ease a person’s suffering and by the ripple effect those words of wisdom are passed along to someone else who needs them. We all make a difference in this world and will never know all the lives we have touched. I came to another realization that “we are all equally human with strengths and challenges, I am no different than anyone else.” The shame disappeared. This began the process of allowing me to love myself. Many of those indoctrinated beliefs were lies, and they were no longer my truth.

The importance of kindness

Many therapists share a common story, where a client discloses contemplating suicide and then deciding to abandon their plan. This has been true for me too. A universal theme tends to emerge. It is a simple act of human kindness or compassion demonstrated by another individual that changed one’s mind. Maybe it was someone giving their time, connecting with the person in need, seeing the person first, letting them know they matter in the world, showing care and concern, offering support, giving them a voice, or any number of other small acts. It is seeing people, letting them know they have value, worth, and that they matter in this world.

Kevin Hines wrote a book to share his story about surviving his suicide attempt of jumping off of the Golden Gate bridge, which few survive. He spoke of the experience where he arrived by bus, walking along the pedestrian walkway in tears. He thought to himself, if a person were to come up to him to ask, “Are you okay? Is something wrong? Can I help you?” he could share his story, and that would keep him safe. No one did, and he jumped. Hines is now an international advocate for suicide prevention.

The recovery process

For me, therapy and medication management alone were not enough. I remained in the revolving door of the crisis cycle. Through The Center for Mental Health, I received a combination of services, in addition to therapy and medication management, and my recovery took off. I was referred to a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) group, which was huge. I was able to acquire tools to be able to cope with the distress, gain life skills, and dive deeper into my therapeutic work. Group therapy is a very successful intervention, which I love. Group work is valuable. I remained in DBT for several years because I wanted to obtain mastery of the skills. The goal of DBT is to create a life worth living.

I had a history of abuse and traumatic experiences that were left unresolved and unprocessed. I was referred to a TREMs group, trauma processing, where I was able to work through much of my past trauma. I was then recommended for Peer Specialist training, where I signed on with The Center for Mental Health as a peer volunteer. I began participating in some peer led groups. Doors began to open for me, where I was invited to participate in various efforts, representing the lived experience, e.g. Zero Suicide Task Force.

A life worth living

I embrace my lived experience. I have acquired an expertise that cannot be taught through formal education. Expertise can only be acquired through the lived experience. I make meaning and purpose through my experiences by sharing my story to advocate, educate, and be a voice for the behavioral health population and cause; I am an agent of change. I get involved in our community and on a state level too. I am making this a better world to live in by “spreading good.”

I no longer require services, beyond medication management. When I am challenged, I have the tools to rely on that assist me to work through those challenging times. Now, it is quite a rare occasion for a suicidal thought to arise, and on the rare occasion one does, it no longer holds the power it once held. In a blink of an eye the thought disappears. THERE IS HOPE! There are solutions. Recovery is possible. You can create a life worth living.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call The Center for Mental Health 24/7 Crisis Line at 970.252.6220 or text TALK to 38255 to talk to someone.

Better yet, reach out to 970.252.3200 to learn how to access behavioral health therapy and other services to get on the road to recovery today.

More information on The Center for Mental Health’s Crisis Services can be found on our crisis services page.

Rana D. Shaner, B.A., A.A.S.
2019 Behavioral Health Champion for The Center for Mental Health
Depressed mom looking at baby

Coping with Postpartum Mood Disorders

By CMH Blog

As many moms (and dads) know, the birth of a child is one of the most joyous events in the life of a family. There is so much excitement about this new arrival, we’re not always ready for all of the emotions that come with it. Surrounded by enthusiastic and well-meaning friends and family, new parents can experience an often-overlooked mental health concern, Postpartum Depression (PPD) or Postpartum Mood Disorders (PPMD).

These conditions are more widespread than you might think. Statistically, 1 in 7 women encounter major symptoms of depression and anxiety and 1 in 10 men become depressed in the first year after having a new baby. Parents of every age, income level, and culture can get Postpartum Mood Disorders, and symptoms can appear any time within the first year after childbirth.

Possible warning signs of PPMD may include increased tension or irritability, feelings of panic, difficulty enjoying oneself, feeling sad, feeling as if things are “out of control,” or difficulty bonding with your baby. If you or someone you know is having such difficulties, there is support and effective, well-researched options available. Postpartum Mood Disorders are not uncommon, and no one is to blame.

Parents can be isolated from family and friends; one parent can be working long hours, leaving the other at home with the newborn and without traditional support. Some parents are caring for two or more children under the age of four. Some parents feel obligated to keep the house as clean as it used to be, neglecting to take care of themselves. Other new parents spend much of their time in debilitating worry about their baby, concerned that something may happen to their baby, or they will make a grave error in caring for their newborn. It can be easy to feel as though things are spiraling out of control or that we are “not good enough.” These concerns, often a usual part of becoming a parent, can be magnified during a pandemic.

There are a number of things we can do to address PPMD, from taking care of ourselves to seeking the support of other new parents or reaching out for professional help. Taking care of ourselves allows us to provide the best care for our families. Make sure you get exercise, eat a healthy diet, and stay connected with family and friends.

Having a new baby is an exciting experience, but it can be overwhelming. If you need more support, consider talking to a counselor, learning more about PPMD, or getting support from others. Ask for help when you need it. Support groups for new parents are available online and in person. You can seek professional help from us at The Center for Mental Health by visiting www.centermh.org or call 970-252-3200.


Resources

The Center for Mental Health (se habla español): A community behavioral health center serving individuals and families in Gunnison, Delta, Montrose, San Miguel, Ouray, and Hinsdale Counties.

Centro comunitario de salud al servicio de las personas y familias en los condados de Gunnison, Delta, Montrose, San Miguel, Ouray y Hinsdale.
www.centermh.org

Western Slope Postpartum Peer Support Group
Meets 2nd and 4th Saturdays, 9:30 to 10:30 AM
Bloomin Babies Birth Center, 2241 N 7th St, Grand Junction, CO 81501
970.549.1711  | Free childcare

Postpartum Support International
Learn more at www.postpartum.net or 1-800-944-4773

Contributed by Rebecca A. Lister, MS, LPC, integrated therapist at The Center for Mental Health

Socially Connected While Physically Distanced During COVID-19

By CMH Blog

Part of the code of the west is the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors. It’s often understood within the code that we should look out for our own, be courageous, and help others in need, and residents across the 6 counties we serve have been doing just that by practicing proper precautions to stem the spread of COVID-19. We’re washing our hands regularly, wearing masks, and practicing physical distancing when out and about.  

With these precautions in place and even as they loosen in some places, it can be tough to maintain our social connections with others, which can leave us feeling vulnerable, alone, and depressed. Social connections are as important as health precautions, leaving us with the question of how to practice physical distancing while also maintaining vital social connections. Luckily, we have many options for staying connected during this time. Here are some we’ve picked up along the way.  

In your home:

  • Reconnect with your family. Do things you haven’t had the time to do before. 
  • Teach kids life skills like baking, laundry, ordering food, cleaning the bathroom, or mowing the lawn. 
  • Play games together—there are so many options, from board games, to puzzles, to video games, and lawn games. 
  • Plant a garden. Maybe start vegetables that you can use in cooking dinner together.  

In your neighborhood:

  • Driveways, yards, cul-de-sacs, and sidewalks make great places to picnic with neighbors while still staying six feet apart. 
  • Kids can stay connected too by creating sidewalk chalk art, blowing bubbles, having water fights, and painting colorful rocks to place around the neighborhood.  
  • Have neighbors create chalk art on their driveways and host a “gallery walk” where people stroll by to check out the artistic creations. 
  • Kids can use washable markers to draw or play games with friends on either side of windows or storm doors. 
  • Host a neighborhood scavenger hunt, looking for items that are visible from the sidewalk. 

Online: 

Attend a class or event virtually. Gyms, museums, zoos, and other places are offering services, classes, attractions, tours and more virtually. And many of these events are free.  

Stay connected with friends and family. 

  • Have virtual check-ins or virtual happy hours. Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts are all good options for talking with friends and family and seeing their faces. 
  • Start the day with friends and coffee or host an end-of-the-day get together. 
  • Join a virtual watch party of a movie or show. 
  • Host a digital dinner party and include a virtual cooking lesson of the main dish. 
  • Read grandkids a bedtime story over video chat. 
  • Play your favorite board game with friends online. Try Tabletop Simulator—a program that allows people to play virtually any game. Popular games available include backgammon, chess, and mahjong, along with Settlers of Catan. Or try Twitch, a streaming platform that allows people a place to get together online and chat while playing games or watching others do so. Discorda free voice and text chat app, is primarily focused on audio, so you can talk with your friends while playing your game together. 
  • Take up the lost art of letter-writing—there’s something truly special about receiving a personal, handwritten letter in the mail, instead of the regular mailers and advertisements.  

Physical distancing shouldn’t mean total isolation. Following health guidelines for maintaining safe distancing becomes much easier with all of the options we have for staying connected. And being a good neighbor, friend, and family member means helping others in need. Despite all of our ways of connecting, this can be a difficult time. If you, or someone you know, seems to be struggling with mental health, please reach out to them and offer help.  

If you are feeling lonely or worried, we offer 24/7 phone support via The Center Support Line at 970-252-6220. If you would like to learn more about treatment options, reach out to The Center for Mental Health at 970.252.3200.  

We offer access to a free online screening tool here. 

We also offer free access to an online mental health support tool called myStrength. Learn more here. 

 

Written by Ed Hagins, Deputy Director of Operations & Special Projects, The Center for Mental Health

Young man with glass of whiskey at home (photo)

Drinking Habits During COVID-19

By CMH Blog

A slippery slope: using alcohol to cope with loneliness or isolation during COVID-19

In many ways, COVID has brought us closer: we’re laughing over interruptions from our pets and children while on Zoom, we’re sharing resources, and many of us are joining virtual happy hours to connect with our friends and loved ones. But what happens when the phone battery dies, the internet connection is unstable, or we feel like it’s just not the same as being with someone in person?

Suddenly, loneliness and isolation return, and we look for relief elsewhere. Maybe it feels like time to have another beer and stream a new show; suddenly, hours have passed and we’ve drunk a six-pack. Or we’ve opened a bottle of wine to have a glass with dinner, and we decide we might as well finish the bottle. Our current situation has led many of us to turn to alcohol as a way to cope, leading us into what’s called “gray area drinking.”

Gray Area Drinking
Gray area drinking isn’t the same as excessive drinking, which includes both heavy drinking and binge drinking. The CDC defines heavy drinking as 8 or more drinks a week for women, and 15 or more drinks for a man. Binge drinking is defined as having 4 or more drinks in a 2-3 hour period for women, and as having 5 or more drinks for men.

In her TedTalk on gray area drinking, Ms. Park, the founder of Healthy Discoveries, describes her own experience with gray area drinking: she’d quit drinking for a while and then wonder why she was being so restrictive. She’d start drinking again, thinking she could have a single glass of wine, and find herself finishing the whole bottle in an evening. She’d drink wine most evenings, which put her into the excessive drinking category defined by the CDC. She was engaged in gray area drinking—the space between occasional drinking and rock bottom drinking. Gray area drinkers function capably, don’t usually have major consequences to their drinking, like a DUI or losing a job, but their drinking is problematic.

Right now, we can feel disconnected, worried, isolated, and scared, and in our desire to cope with our feelings, we sometimes turn to alcohol. How can we determine if we might be in that gray area? Ms. Park outlines the following five signs:

  1. You silently worry about, and regret, your drinking.
  2. You drink between two extremes: you’re not at rock bottom, but you aren’t an occasional drinker either.
  3. You can stop drinking and you have stopped drinking for periods of time—even weeks or months—but it’s hard to stay stopped.
  4. Your drinking often doesn’t look problematic to those around you.
  5. You ricochet between telling yourself to stop drinking, and deciding that you’re overthinking and you just need to “live a little.”

How to Make a Change
Gray area drinking can be a slippery slope, and stressful times, like a pandemic, can make the slope even slipperier. What else can we do to fend off isolation instead of reaching for a drink? Ms. Park suggests the following:

  1. Ask yourself what you really want.
    Alcohol often feels like an escape from frustration, anxiety, and stress. Instead of drinking, we can ask ourselves what is driving our desire to drink and what we really need. What do we feel is lacking? More quiet time? More connection? Do we want more fun, purpose, or intimacy? We need to recognize that alcohol won’t give us any of those things. As we give ourselves more of what we’re really craving, the perceived need for alcohol will diminish.
  2. Add a few new things to your life
    Once you’ve made the decision to take a break from alcohol, look at what you can add in. Maybe it’s time to foster spiritual growth or new relationships. Start a new exercise routine, finally cook that meal you’ve always wanted to try, or take time to develop your emotional and spiritual well-being.

Using substances to cope is not unusual, and this pandemic is making it more common, but there are things you can do to cope. If you think you need more help, you are not alone, and there is a lot of help and support available to you.

Useful Resources
If you are feeling lonely or worried, we offer 24/7 phone support via The Center Support Line at 970.252.6220.

If you would like to learn more about treatment options, reach out to The Center for Mental Health at 970.252.3200.

Take a free, online assessment at centermh.org/help.

We also offer free access to an online mental health support tool called myStrength at centermh.org/mystrength.

Sources
Jolene Park, TedTalk: Gray Area Drinking: ted.com/talks/jolene_park_gray_area_drinking
CDC definitions of excessive drinking: cdc.gov/alcohol/pdfs/excessive_alcohol_use.pdf
Telephone support line

Coping with Grief During COVID-19

By CMH Blog

During this time of uncertainty amid the pandemic, we are in grief—we’re grieving all sorts of losses, big and small: the loss of expectations, the loss of normalcy, the loss of vacations, graduations, physical connections, even grocery shopping as we used to know it. Many people I know are also grieving the loss of a loved one, whether through the pandemic or through some other means. I recently lost my mother-in-law to ovarian cancer, and in some strange way, we were lucky enough to lose her before the pandemic set in. We were able to visit with her in the hospital, to be together as a family during her illness and death, and to participate in many of the traditional and comforting rituals such as holding a funeral with several hundred mourners and a lovely celebration of life afterwards where our family gathered to meet
with extended family and friends.

Yet even though we were able to begin the grieving process this way, the pandemic has magnified it and made it that much more difficult, especially considering all the many little things that we are grieving now as well. I have cycled through the stages of grief outlined by Swiss-American psychiatrist Kübler-Ross whose 1969 book
On Death and Dying argued that grief could be divided into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Her theory of grief is the most widely known, though there are others. Not everyone goes through all the stages of grief, nor do they necessarily process them in the order listed by Kübler-Ross. Members of my family experienced her death differently, but it was clear that we were, and still are, experiencing the stages of grief outlined by Kübler-Ross. And the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has made the grieving process that much more difficult.

For those of us who have lost loved ones during this time, or are experiencing grief in many parts of our lives, often unexpectedly, how do we deal with that grief in a healthy way when many of our traditional, comforting routines and rituals have been upset by this pandemic?

Though the magnitude of the events we’re grieving may differ greatly, from the loss of a milestone like graduation to the loss of a loved one, there are things we can do to help us process the grief in a healthy way.

Families of students who were poised to graduate and move on to a new and exciting stage in their lives have found other ways to celebrate than through the traditional parties and ceremonies. Sharing photos and memories virtually, through social media, has become an endearing and charming way to support graduating students. And it may help to bring us together—there’s nothing like chuckling over graduation pictures that are twenty to thirty years old to support students graduating now. Sharing those embarrassing and funny memories creates new connections and webs of support.

The family of a friend who lost her father-in-law maintained the rite of passage of a burial for him—it looked different, of course, given the restrictions and concerns of the pandemic. They held a Zoom burial; family members were able to say prayers and to bear witness to the ceremony as they said goodbye to her father-in-law. They were able to feel supported and loved, and to show the love and grief over the loss of a loved one, by seeing their family members on the phone with them.

Whatever kind of grief you’re experiencing right now, know that many others are grieving with you. Some of the following might be helpful to deal with our grief during this uncertain time:

  1. Spend time texting and talking on the phone with others. We all crave connection, and though it isn’t quite the same as seeing someone in person, it is still a valuable way to connect.
  2. Share funny childhood photos—this helps to enable the sharing and processing of memories, whether in the celebration of a graduation and new start, or in the commemoration of a loved one who has passed away.
  3. Share memories, stories, hopes, goals, and plans. Envision what these goals and plans will look like in action when the time comes.
  4. If you are mourning the loss of a loved one, know that there will be a time that you will be able to come together with friends and family to celebrate the life of your loved one. Take the time to plan for this and imagine what it will look like.
  5. Be sure to take time for yourself. If you live with others, it can be difficult to find time alone. Try to carve out time to take a walk, watch a movie that you enjoy, read a book you’ve wanted to but haven’t had the time to.
  6. Eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, and get physical activity. Get outside—the fresh air will be good for you.
  7. Take time for yourself to do those things that make you happy and allow you to push forward in your life.

It can be hard to deal with the loss of something or someone in the best of times. Unusual circumstances like a pandemic can magnify that loss and difficulty with coping. If you find that you are really struggling to cope, seek professional help. Let us help you find a support group, reach out to The Center Support Line, or look into therapy
services with us.

The Center Support Line: 970.252.6220

A free, 24-hour talk line is open to our community during difficult times. If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or just need someone to talk to, call — we can help. Call 970.252.3200 to learn more or to make an appointment.

Written by Kate Hurley, The Center for Mental Health

Grief Resources

The Center for Mental Health maintains a free, 24-7 support line for those experiencing grief, or anyone feeling anxious or in need of a listening ear: 970-252-6220 or centermh.org/supportline.

The center also hosts live Facebook chats for coping with COVID. For new and current clients, the center has secure, tele-therapy sessions available. Call 970-252-3200 to learn more about same-day access services or visit centermh.org.

The center’s walk-in crisis center remains open for those experiencing a behavioral health crisis; location is 300 N. Cascade Avenue, Montrose.

People in crisis can also call 970-252-6220 or 844-493-8255.

Angry man working at home

Why am I so angry?

By CMH Blog

Coping with anger during COVID-19

I was already frustrated as I looked around to see the dishes left on the kitchen, the papers scattered everywhere, and my children attached to electronic devices. When my thirteen-year-old son asked me to get him yet another sandwich and glass of milk while he played on his computer, I lost it. I exploded, yelling that he could get off his butt and get his own darn sandwich. He stared at me in shock, and it took me a minute to calm down before I could apologize. Yelling had felt good, like letting off steam that had been building to an unbearable pressure point. Clearly, I was angry. But why was I that angry at something that seems so typical?

Anger is often considered a “secondary emotion”— meaning we feel some other emotion first. We use anger to protect ourselves or to mask other vulnerable feelings. Of course, anger is a natural, instinctive response to real, immediate threats, like being mugged. But when it’s not, it can be part of the five stages of grief (see Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross On Death and Dying): denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For me, my anger comes from denial—at first, I was hopeful that school wouldn’t be canceled for my kids; then I thought it wouldn’t last that long. But as the time has expanded by weeks, and then for the rest of the school year, I can no longer deny that this is my new normal. And I guess that made me mad.

Other people are surely experiencing the same thing—maybe we’re angry because we’re separated from loved ones, or we’re worried about the coronavirus; maybe we’re worried about our jobs, or about the uncertainty of these times. It’s about all of that for me, but even as I enjoy the unexpected time with my children, I mourn for the way things used to be. And yet, I know that anger isn’t the answer; that for me, it’s a reaction to a secondary underlying emotion—fear, grief, denial—and that if I blow up on my children, I’ll not only damage my relationships with them, I’ll teach them that it’s acceptable to take your anger out on someone else instead of learning to manage it productively. As I’ve learned, unresolved anger leads to all sorts of problems, from heart disease and a weakened immune system, to high blood pressure and insomnia.

It’s hard to stop yourself before you blow up on someone—it takes self-awareness and discipline. Examining your feelings, taking five minutes before responding, or waiting overnight to respond if possible are all appropriate ways to handle your anger. Managing emotions is key to health and happiness; knowing what you can control, and what you cannot, is also critical. And knowing that you can express your emotions—call a friend, a mentor, or reach out for professional help when you need to. We now offer The Center Support Line, a 24/7 phone line at 970-252-6220, for those times when you just need to talk through what’s going on and get some tools for coping.

For me, I’ve discovered that if I am able to carve out alone time for myself, I am much better able to manage my anger. I take the early morning time to exercise, to do the things that I can’t during the day. Now, when my children ask me to get them some food for the hundredth time a day, I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and say, “there’s plenty of food in the kitchen; I’m sure you can get something that you’ll enjoy. And won’t it feel good to be independent?!”

If you are interested in learning about our services or more information, call us at 970-252-3200 or visit www.centermh.org.

Written by Kimberly Behounek and Kate Hurley, The Center for Mental Health

Managing Anxiety with COVID-19

By CMH Blog

These days, it seems impossible to go anywhere, listen to anything, or watch any shows without hearing about the COVID-19 outbreak.

Though I wasn’t particularly concerned about this virus at first, I have become increasingly anxious as wide-spread closures occur. Going to the grocery store has become an anxiety-producing event because of the empty shelves and the general air of panic. My rising anxiety has become intense enough that I have had to develop strategies for managing it. So as a parent, a community member, and a concerned citizen, I have found the following to be helpful:

  1. As much or as little as you need to, limit the time you spend taking in information about COVID-19 via the media or through contact with other people as you are able. Take note when the information becomes too much for you and stop for the day. (For me, this means that I can spend no more than fifteen minutes checking the latest updates from the county, the school district, or the Center for Disease Control before I have to get off social media because I can feel my anxiety levels rising.)
  2. Try to maintain a routine, preferably one as close to your normal routine as possible. Stay hydrated, eat at least two small meals with protein daily, exercise, and rest.
  3. Follow the suggested guidelines—it stresses me out to see neighborhood kids congregating together when we’ve been told to practice social distancing. Even though it’s hard to keep the kids from playing with their friends, it may be even more stressful for others to see that people aren’t following the rules. We want to work together to help everyone out.
  4. Be kind and considerate to others—it’s amazing what a little kindness does to ease everyone’s fears and anxiety. Really consider whether you need all that toilet paper. Maybe try using less instead of buying more.
  5. Spend your day engaged in activities that bring you joy. This could be horseback riding, doing yoga, cooking, or going for a walk while maintaining the social distancing guidelines. Don’t forget to smile and say hello to those you see.
  6. If you’re working from home, take breaks to check in with friends and family, play a game, watch fun videos, or meditate.
  7. Control your thoughts – focus on the positive. This could be a daily gratitude or mindfulness practice. Be aware your focus may be shorter than on “regular” days; that is to be expected.
  8. Call, Facetime, Skype, text or otherwise connect with people you care about.
  9. Laugh and be silly. Laughter creates endorphins for the body that help you feel good.
  10. Rely on your belief system. Remind yourself of what you believe. Focus on that because this too shall pass.

If each of us can manage our anxiety a little more, we may help others to manage theirs. I know how much it helps me to connect with people who are calm and steady during a situation like this. I hope that by managing my own anxiety, I can be that steadying presence for others.

If you find that you need someone to talk to, or are having trouble managing your own stress or anxiety, call new The Center Support Line at 970.252.6220 or call 970.252.3200 to ask about setting up an appointment via phone or video.

Written by Kimberly Behounek, Regional Director of Gunnison and Hinsdale Counties, The Center for Mental Health