Our View: We’re joining the conversation
In support of Steamboat Pilot & Today’s “Out of the Shadows” in-depth reporting project, which launched last week and continues on Wednesdays through July 21, members of the newspaper’s Editorial Board wanted to join the important community conversation by sharing a little of their personal mental health journeys. Their stories are included below.
Marion Kahn: Grief work is a lifelong challenge
The biggest mental health challenge I have faced was the grief I experienced after the death of my youngest daughter, Annie. Her death was unexpected, untimely and unimaginably shocking. The challenge of dealing with profound grief is enormous. I share this story so that others may know that whatever you are suffering, many kinds of help are available.
In death, there is the loss of the person and the loss of the relationship. We lose not just the person but also those precious opportunities to give and receive from that person. We want to be whole for loved ones who remain, but it takes time.
I was surrounded by loving people after Annie’s death. On her first birthday after she died, a friend and I went to a favorite bridge, threw flower petals into the river and talked about how to move on.
Tim Selby, my minister, came to visit often. He listened patiently as I asked questions that don’t have answers. He paired me with a church member who had also experienced tremendous loss. She called me weekly for 18 months. Our talks were immeasurably helpful as I walked through grief’s many landmines.
I worked with a wonderful therapist. She was available, comforting and full of important feedback.
I also worked with a grief counselor. Through her, I participated in a grief group where I learned from others and their experiences.
Friends had me over for meals when I wasn’t fun to be around.
I thought there was an end to the process. Now, I’m not sure.
I’ve “graduated” from my primary grief work. But places, people and things can unexpectedly trigger pain. I wish Annie was still here. However, through others’ help, I am back in the land of the living, full of gratitude for love that has been given to me in so many ways.
At issue: Steamboat Pilot & Today is publishing “Out of the Shadows,” a six-week in-depth reporting project that shines a light on mental health issues in Routt County.
Our View: Members of the Editorial Board share some of their personal mental health stories.
• Logan Molen, publisher
• Lisa Schlichtman, editor
• Marion Kahn, community representative
• Laraine Martin, community representative
Contact the Editorial Board at 970-871-4221 or lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com.
Logan Molen: Being open doesn’t mean being weak
I struggled writing this, which I suppose is apropos, because my experience deals with a decades-long unwillingness to let my guard down and express true grief at personal tragedy. I’m much more open now, but getting comfortable with that facet of mental wellness took way too long.
For example, I knew four classmates who died by suicide in junior high and high school, but they were only acquaintances at large schools, so as an immature teenager, I didn’t give their deaths — or the factors that led to them — much thought. Less than a decade later, a once-close college roommate died in a drunk-driving accident. But because his alcoholism had driven a wedge between us, I simply refused to let his sad death affect me in any deep way. And as a young journalist, I’d seen and heard death up close but somehow convinced myself that seeing bodies at accident or crime scenes was just part of the job in documenting the lives of people I didn’t know.
Looking back, that sounds cold. But I simply was scared to show my feelings publicly, worried someone might perceive that as weakness. Whether explicitly or implicitly, I learned to suppress my emotions.
It wasn’t until my father died in 2010 at age 88 that I truly experienced intense grief. He had lived a long, healthy life until Parkinson’s-like symptoms affected his motor skills, and he suffered a major stroke that forced an extended hospitalization.
He and I never told one another “I love you” until the last years of his life, but, then again, we were males from generations that just didn’t express our appreciation like that. So it began to feel good when I would tell him I loved him as I left his hospital room for the night and to feel him muster as much strength as possible to grip my hand or arm to let me know in his own way that he loved me, too.
I’m glad we learned to be open with our feelings, and when he died after a few weeks in the hospital with my mom at his side, our entire family was at peace. His stroke was sudden, but his death was not, and I treasure the last two weeks we were all able to spend together.
I was numb in the days after his death but also felt extremely guilty that I hadn’t bawled at his passing, at his service or in subsequent conversations with family and friends. It took a few weeks before his absence finally hit me emotionally, and that’s when a really deep cry finally arrived. Then another. And another.
It’s been almost 11 years since his death, and I still get teary when I think of him. He taught me many things, but perhaps, most important may have been that even at an old age he learned to let his guard down and cry deeply when sharing rarely told World War II memories and become comfortable expressing his love to family and friends. Opening yourself up to others cannot only help soothe your own soul but those of others around you.
Laraine Martin: Friends talk about their struggles
The majority of days in Steamboat are of the gorgeous, sunny, bluebird variety — how could anyone spend time allowing themselves to feel sadness? This can be one of the toughest things about living in paradise, that we become obsessed with our perfect mountain adventure lifestyle and feel a deep emotional low when things get messy.
Just recently, I was hugging a close friend as she cried, and she said something along the lines of, “I haven’t really opened up to you like this before, because I didn’t think my friends wanted to hear about my struggles — we’re supposed to be having fun, right?” This hit me like a ton of bricks. I have felt this feeling she speaks of, many times, when I am weathering an emotional firestorm of grief, anxiety, stress, you name it. “My friends don’t want to hear about this. I’ll just skip the mountain bike ride today, because I don’t want to show up sobbing — what a buzzkill.”
I want all my friends to know that they can tell me when they aren’t doing well. I want to know that they are OK with me laying it all bare in front of them, too. This is what we do for each other.
George Eliot said, “What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?” and this has always rung true for me. It makes me proud to serve on the Editorial Board of a newspaper where energy is being dedicated to telling the story of local mental health struggles and destigmatizing these conversations. This willingness to talk about the darkest corners of our minds and hearts is what will bring us all together in a rapidly changing, scary world. We need to be here for each other as a community.
Lisa Schlichtman: To share is to heal
I’m an over-sharer by nature, but there are some issues society doesn’t seem equipped to talk about openly, and mental health is at the top of that list of taboo topics. Whether it’s alcoholism or suicide or severe anxiety disorder, many people feel as if they can’t share their deepest struggles, and that can produce feelings of shame, fear and hopelessness.
It’s OK to let other people know you’re sad or feeling desperately alone or struggling to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning. That type of authenticity makes you vulnerable, but it also opens up lines of communication with others, which become vital lifelines.
For the past eight months, I’ve been learning to live without my husband of 35 years who was killed in a plane crash. The pain I’m experiencing is called traumatic grief, and it comes with the sudden, tragic death of a loved one. It sounds so scientific when I write it out, but nothing could prepare me for “that phone call” or for the deep sadness I feel on an almost daily basis. It’s something that has turned every facet of my life upside down and forced me to accept what I don’t want to accept and try to build a new life without my best friend and anchor.
At times, the pain of it all literally takes my breath away. I have to unclench my jaw, drop my shoulders and focus on taking deep gulps of air to keep the sobs at bay. It’s the physical manifestation of a broken heart, but I now find some peace in knowing the depth of my mourning is tied to the depth of my love for Mike, and for that, I am forever grateful.
Since Mike’s death, I’ve learned our society doesn’t deal with death well, and it makes people uncomfortable. But I am determined to break down those barriers by sharing my story with those who care to listen or read my posts on social media. I refuse to silence my grief or pretend I’ve moved on. In fact, I don’t ever expect to move on. Instead, I’ll move forward as I feel what I’m supposed to feel and process all those thoughts that swirl through my heart and mind. And those who love me, allow me the space I need to express myself and heal.
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