Thursday, September 24, 2015

Got drugs? I need them. Give them to me.

As a volunteer member of the Peoria Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, I’ll be at the Peoria Heights Police Department on Saturday collecting your old or unused prescription drugs during National Drug Take Back Day. This event is taking place at police departments and agencies across the nation to help curb the purposeful or accidental use and misuse of prescription drugs, as well as the improper disposal of such drugs into the trash or water systems – both potential health and safety hazards.

Last year the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and 4,076 of its national, tribal, and community law enforcement partners collected 617,150 pounds (309 tons) of unwanted prescription drugs at 5,495 collection sites. Begun in 2010, this brought the program's collection total to 4,823,251 pounds, or 2,411 tons — a clear indication of an ongoing need.

These drugs run the gamut from mild sedatives to potent pain killers that are subject to the taking by anyone with access to them — either on purpose or accidentally. This can be a young person looking to experiment, an aging parent who grabs the wrong pill bottle, or someone who chances that an expired prescription will do them no harm.

Fun Fact:

The Peoria Substance Abuse Prevention (SAP) Coalition's mission is to work to prevent and reduce substance abuse in Peoria County through collaboration, education and awareness for a healthier community.

The misuse of prescription drugs is second only to marijuana use as the nation's most commonly used illicit drug. A U.S. government report shows that more than 70 percent of people who first misuse prescription drugs get them from their friends, relatives or simply take them without asking.

(Start rant.) And here's the deal, parents. Even if you think "my kid would never" or "my kid's friends would never," WAKE UP. They could. They might. They do. So just get your heads out of the sand and get rid of them - just in case. K? (End rant.)

This is a no-questions asked, no judgment passed opportunity for you to dispose of prescription drugs safely, and it takes no time at all. Heck, if you don’t want to get out of your car, text me or wave me over and I’ll come to you (if I’m allowed to do that. I’m not sure. Just throw them out the window at me and I’ll make sure some responsible person comes over and grabs them.)

Here's the details.

National Drug Take Back Day runs from 10 am – 2 pm on Saturday, September 26th. Collection sites in the Peoria area include:

Peoria Heights Police Department (this is where I'll be!)
1311 E. Sciota Ave. in the Heights

Peoria Police Department
600 SW Adams St., Downtown Peoria

Bartonville Police Department
5918 S. Adams St., Bartonville

To find the event in your area, visit the DEA website at and enter your ZIP code.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Suicide: I get it. And you need to, also.

In case you didn’t know, today is World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s also National Suicide Prevention Week, as proclaimed by the American Association of Suicidology, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide.

A few facts before I get into my opinions:

• Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans.
• The highest suicide rate is among people 54–65 years old.
• Suicide is four times higher among men than women.
• The most common method is firearms (51.4%), with hangings/suffocation and poisonings coming  in second and third.
• In 2013, 41,149 suicides were reported. However, nearly 500,000 people visited hospitals for injuries due to self-harm (granted, not all may have been suicide attempts.)

It’s funny how we seem to be able to talk about suicide and suicide prevention more than we can talk about mental illness. Interestingly, the National Alliance on Mental Illness provides research that finds about 90% of individuals who die by suicide have been diagnosed with mental illness. I’ll bet there’s a pretty large portion who have NOT been diagnosed, however, but still suffer from it. That’s another discussion that has to do with the mental illness stigma, insurance coverage, and ease of getting in to see a professional for help.

It’s easy to judge someone who has committed suicide, or someone who has attempted suicide. Even someone who may talk about suicide. It’s kind of like people need to somehow rationalize something they don’t understand.

People do this a lot. And it’s usually only then that they play the “Oh, he committed suicide. He must have had a mental illness” card. Oh, OK, NOW you want to talk about mental illness like you’re the expert. Got it.

Fun Fact: Don't tell a despondent person, "I know how you feel - I was depressed once for a few days." Now if you suffered from depression or another mental illness and feel comfortable sharing, that may be helpful. But if you don't, don't cheapen their feelings by bringing up your bout with sadness.

Honestly? I get suicide. I truly get it. I get that there comes a point where you think that you just can’t go on for one more day. I get that you can get to the point where you can’t deal with one more obstacle or issue. I get that you can’t pretend to be OK at school or work or around your family or friends for one more minute. Because along with suicide comes that inability to TRY anymore – to do that good old “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get on with your day” bullshit anymore. It’s impossible. Hell, sometimes you can’t even get out of bed. Then what happens? You feel like a lazy ass who is feeling sorry for yourself and you can’t call that friend you’ve called already 100 times because you’re sure she’s sick of hearing you whine and cry. So that light at the end of the tunnel that everyone tells you is there becomes dimmer and dimmer.

And then there are those amazing people who are living with horrible tragedies that would put most ordinary people in an early grave like the loss of a child or spouse, a horrible illness or disability or financial ruin. These are the people you admire so very much and assume that they are SO much stronger than you and that you are SO much weaker than them. And watching them overcome more than what you are dealing with makes you feel even worse for not being able to deal with your own seemingly minuscule problems that – to you – are just mountainous.

Fun Fact: Telling a potentially suicidal person that “things could be worse” is NOT a good idea.

For those who think suicide is selfish, I beg to differ. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the person feels as if they are doing others a favor by leaving this world. They feel they are a burden. They feel as if they should be “getting better” but they’re not, so they withdraw even more because they feel powerless to do whatever people may be telling them to do to get themselves out of it. They don’t want to hurt anyone. They just desperately want their own hurt to go away, and they don’t see that happening. They understand that those who love them will mourn them, but also figure that in time, things will go back to normal and they will breathe a little sigh of relief that they don’t have to worry about or take care of that person anymore. This is how the suicidal person sees it.

So many who are left behind want to know why. What was SO bad in this person’s life that caused him to take his own life? I mean, there is nothing that could have possibly been in that person’s life that was insurmountable. In fact, some see suicide as the ultimate overreaction.

I respectfully disagree. Our feelings and reactions are unique, and the ways in which we cope and process our demons are as different as snowflakes in a blizzard. A suicidal person may be fixated on not fitting in with his or her peers – he may think everyone hates him and that he is completely unlikeable. To others, he or she may seem popular. A suicidal person may hate how they look to the point that they cover up every mirror in their home, but to others they may be considered attractive. A suicidal person may feel as if she cannot take one more obstacle and that life keeps dealing her blow after blow. Her peers may see her as strong and independent – able to deal with anything that comes her way.

Suicidal people become obsessed with whatever it is that is wrong with their life and become even more despondent as they see it not going away. They’ve lost the energy to TRY to make it go away. They feel as if they’ve lost the support to help it go away – even if they haven’t even scratched the surface of their support. Because on the outside, suicide is talked about as selfish. An overreaction. Failure to be able to cope. So why would a suicidal person talk to someone who is going to tell them about somebody else who has it worse? Or suggest they take walk? Or get a pedicure?

Fun Fact: Telling someone who is depressed to “cheer up” is like Rose telling Jack to do a few bobs in the water and he’ll feel a lot warmer while they wait for the rescue boat to arrive.

People are well-meaning, and I’m not blaming them. Because a well-adjusted person of “normal” mental health doesn’t think like a suicidal person. It’s almost like the suicidal person is missing that little piece that not only tells him that everything is going to be OK, but allows him to believe it.

Yes, there is counseling. But for many, it’s difficult to make that first call. To know who to call. To find a way to get to that appointment. To wait three weeks to be seen. Then there’s the stigma of medication. The cost of medication. But mostly the stigma.

Then what’s left is the Suicide Hotline – which for many I’m sure has been the ultimate Godsend. For others – the act of picking up that phone and dialing that number is harder than committing the act of suicide itself. What are they going to possibly say to make me feel better? They’re just going to try to change my mind. When I hang up the phone, then where will I be?

I don’t have answers, but the first thing we have to do is end the stigma, get our heads out of our asses and start talking about this stuff. Quit pretending that it’s not ever going to happen to someone you know or someone you love. Start talking about mental illness and let’s give it the ticker tape parade we give to breast cancer prevention or Alzheimer’s, diseases that are much more readily “accepted” in our culture.

With everything going on in each of our lives, I know it’s hard to stop and sit down and make a phone call or arrange to meet a friend who you may suspect is going through it. It’s uncomfortable. You may not know what to say. Here are a couple of ideas:

“You’re right. This sucks.” Someone who is depressed or despondent doesn’t necessarily want cheering up, as counterproductive as that sounds. They want to hear that they are understood, and that their feelings are viable.

“I’m here if you want to talk” (walk, go shopping, get a bit to eat, etc.) Better yet, suggest a date and a time for a get together. Nothing big with a lot of people. Maybe there’s an art exhibit in town you know they’d like or a restaurant that has a special on a certain day. Make a date. For someone who is depressed, having something to look forward to – no matter how small – is crucial. Above all, do not cancel.

“You will not feel this way forever.” This may seem a little “Pollyanna,” but hearing this does give a despondent person hope. Hope that their feelings are temporary, hope that they’ll feel better, and that in a week, or a month, or a year, they’ll look back on this as just a point in time and nothing more.

“It’s not your fault.” Someone with severe depression hates that she feels depressed. She doesn’t know why she can’t bring herself out of this seemingly endless pool of quicksand. She knows that her issues aren’t the worst things anyone has ever experienced, but as I mentioned before, this only makes her feel worse. Telling her that you realize the depth of her sadness is not her fault - even if you don't fully understand it - releases an immense burden.

I know it’s uncomfortable to talk about. But I guarantee the other person is just as uncomfortable but may be more grateful than you can ever, ever image. So do it anyway. You never know what kind of lifeline – or life saver – you could be to that person.

Visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to find out how you can learn, how you can understand, and how you can help.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Day 105 ... The Thrill is Gone

Back in the day, I knew exactly how many days there were of summer vacation (104, according to Phineas and Ferb.) Accordingly, as the weeks in August grew as long as my patience grew short, I knew exactly how many days until school started.

I was the one who scoured the ads to find the best deals on notebooks, folders, binders and pens. It was always an expedition with my two kids to shop for supplies. "How are you going to stay organized this year? How about this binder with the accordion folder built in? Here's one that has a place for your pencils. Oh, don't get black. You won't be able to put your name on it with a Sharpie. Do you want the ball point pens or the roller gel? Regular #2s or mechanical pencils?" I'd even go so far as to shop several stores to ensure that they all had different colored folders for each subject. "Blue, black, red, green, purple... where's yellow? What about orange? I can't get pink... shit." (Apologies to all you "gender neutral" people - my kids don't dig pink. Sorry.)

In the days leading up to the first day of school, I was on a mission to squeeze every last ounce of summer out of its pores. Anything we had even mentioned we had thought about doing during those two and a half months we somehow managed to cram into those last few weeks. Lou's Drive-In? Let's go! Bicycle Safety Town? Missed that one too - let's go! One more day at the pool, one more cookout, one more night of catching fireflies, one more night of staying out late in the neighborhood with friends. The whole "start a bedtime routine a few weeks before school starts" was lost on me. IT'S STILL SUMMER.

That's all changed. Hell, last year I didn't even witness the first day of either of my boys' school. When my youngest started, I was out of state visiting my oldest. When my oldest started, I was back here in Peoria. Right place, wrong time ... story of my life.

This year, I'll see my youngest start 8th grade. But it's not quite the same. In fact, it was just over a week and a half ago that I was perusing my Google calendar and saw, "L - 1st Day 8th Grade" and thought, "SHIT! Really?"

But that was it. I didn't get that anxious feeling that I needed to run home and have him make a list of everything we didn't do this summer so we could pack it in to the next 10 days. I didn't even rush out to buy school supplies. Here's literally how this went down:

"OK. Wal-Mart. The bane of my existence. But I need bread, hamburger, shampoo, dog treats and toilet paper. Oh, look! School supplies! Let's see - probably seven classes, right? OK. Notebooks, right? Black, red, blue, green, purple ... that's five ... oh, hell. Another black, another red, another blue. He'll figure it out. Pens? Cheapest. Pencils? Cheapest. Markers and colored pencils - do they still  need those in 8th? I'll get 'em just in case. Binder? Hmmm... he had one like this last year ... all they have is black ... I'll put a cable tie on it so he knows it's his."

What once took me an excruciating amount of time now took 20 minutes, tops. And that  included trying to remember what kind of calculator he needed. TI200? RXiiC? R2D2? Meh. He won't need it on the first day anyway. And no matter that they were completely out of the obligatory antibacterial wipes we were supposed to send with them. I knew I had an (almost) full container at home.

Normally I would arrive back at the house with much pomp and circumstance. "THE SCHOOL SUPPLIES ARE IN THE HOOOOOOUUUUSSSSSSEEEE!" This time, I just dropped all the bags at the door and yelled at my youngest to come upstairs. "Here's your school supplies," I said. "I'd label everything with your name and subject, but whatever you need to do to be organized." "What about a backpack?" my top-of-the-food-chain kids asked. "Um..... there's gotta be one around here somewhere," I replied.

Yes, gone were the days where we perused stores and catalogs to find just the perfect backpack that would allow enough room for books but be ergonomically back friendly, with enough design to be cool but not childish.

Finally, I found an old GAP backpack that I used as a diaper bag when said 8th grader was a baby. "Here, this'll work, " I said as I tossed it at him. I swear it still smelled faintly of dirty diapers, but after borrowing one of the teacher's antibacterial wipes (OK - the container is HALF full) it was back to just like new.

I also didn't buy him any new clothes, or new shoes. Nor did I clean up his old shoes so he wouldn't look like a homeless person on his first day. I didn't make him pick out a matching outfit, either. However, I DID make him shower and clip his nails. I'm not a horrible mother. 

I'll make sure he goes to bed around 10-ish tonight, but since I go to bed around 10-ish as well, I"ll be none the wiser if he stays up past midnight. His cross to bear. Tomorrow, I'll get the obligatory 1st day of school picture on the front porch - that hasn't changed. Then he'll be off - another summer behind us, another year of school ahead, and a diaper bag that may or may not smell just a little funky.