I want to tell you a story but don’t know where to start and know it will likely fall short of what the experience meant to me. This is not a story about me, but I am in it.

I need to start by saying I survived a suicide attempt in December 2010. Yes, I have talked about this before, but it is at the root of this story and something that shapes my life.

There are intersections in our lives, moments and events that make us who we are. Experiences that filter the rest of the world from that moment forward. Surviving the attempt on my own life is second now only to my birth and the births of my children.

The second character in this story is Amy Bleuel. I never met Amy.  She founded Project Semicolon, a suicide and mental health awareness movement that has spread, organically, worldwide since 2013. To me, this movement made it OK to talk about mental illness and suicide. Many thousands of people who believe in the project get a semicolon tattoo. amy-bleuel-of-project-semicolon.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x724_0

“[a] semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.” Your story isn’t over.

I have one on my right wrist. It is the only tattoo I have that is visible. I see it many times a day and it makes me think every time. Keep going, your story is not over. It has sparked questions and conversations, which is the intent. We need to talk about mental illness and the fact it is OK to be depressed. Remove the stigma.  Let in the light.

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Amy struggled most of her life with crippling depression and I believe multiple suicide attempts. On March 23rd 2017, the darkness won and Amy took her own life. This is an enormous loss to her family, friends and the world. She started a movement that has and will save countless lives. I have seen some comments deriding Amy because, as an advocate, how dare she commit suicide. These people do not understand depression and the inherent evil that lies within it. A friend of mine summed it up very well.


“When I hear a story like Amy’s death, it makes me wonder. What do we say about someone who had cancer, became a powerful advocate for cancer treatment and research, but died of the disease anyway? Whatever it is, it sure isn’t what many people say about someone who was suicidal, became a powerful advocate for suicide treatment and research, but died by suicide anyway.” – Cindy Sandstrom

Amy’s funeral was on April 1st, 2017 in Green Bay. WI. Living near Madison, it was easy for me to make the trip. I wanted to share with her family what Amy and her movement meant to me. What I believed it meant to so many others. I fully expected I would be one of many people there with similar stories.  I was nervous about going and second guessed my choice often. I was worried I might be seen as an unwelcome intruder, an outsider trying to be somewhere I did not belong. I thought I would probably just tell them and head home again to avoid any intrusion.  This feeling vanished the moment I met Amy’s mother and we held hands.

When I first arrived at the funeral home, I signed the guestbook, walked into the room where Amy was in an open casket. This threw me. I would have loved to have talked with Amy but the first time I met her it was too late. I found a chair near the back of the room, sat down and thought about why I was there. I tried to figure out which people were which and who I wanted to talk with. After about 30 minutes I stood up and moved to the front to talk to Amy’s mom.

She was sitting on a couch in front of the coffin. I crouched down in front of her and introduced myself. She grabbed my hand and held it tightly. I covered her hand with my other hand. I thanked her for raising an amazing daughter and sharing her with the world. I showed her my tattoo and told her what it meant to me, what Amy meant to me. I talked about my friends with similar tattoos. She then introduced me to Amy’s brother Josh sitting next to her. I shared the story of my attempt and recovery. We chatted for about 10 minutes.

Then she asked me to speak during the ceremony. I was floored. Overwhelmed. It was all I could do to keep my emotions in check.

I went out to the car to call Brett and tell her what happened. I needed help staying centered. She is my rock. I went back in and sat in the back again as I thought about what I might say. I thought about everyone affected by Amy and imagined all of their love channeling through me and into the room. As I was sitting there by myself, some people came back to talk to me. They all mentioned that Amy’s mom told them who I was and sent them back to keep me company. One of them was Amy’s mother-in-law. This show of kindness towards me, welcoming a stranger in the midst of such heartache, has floored me. It has me struggling to comprehend the difference between how the world should work and the way it actually works. I had many deep, meaningful conversations about life and our places in it. About Amy and how she changed the world. I learned so much about Amy and her struggles. What we know in the public arena is such a small portion of who she was. Conversations so open and honest.  

The service started and when it got to the portion when people could speak, her brother Josh went first. It was hard and full of love. It contained anger, hope, confusion, longing and above all, grief.

When Josh was finished, I waited a couple of minutes and when no one else stood up, I figured it was my turn. I walked to the front and stood behind the lectern. I introduced myself and showed everyone the tattoo I wear with pride. Then I shared my story. Explained what Amy and Project Semicolon mean to me and to so many around the world. Expressed my love and condolences to all of her friends and family. I tried not to babble. A couple of people clapped. I was stunned. I felt I was carrying the world and saying what everyone with the tattoo wanted to say. Like the all the love in the world for Amy was pouring through me and out to her family.

After the service, many people approached me and thanked me for sharing. I didn’t know how to respond. So many hugs.  So many tears.  Then I said goodbye to her mom and brothers, to her husband and his parents.

Sometimes the darkness wins and a light goes out.

I changed.

How? I am still struggling to explain it, but I feel different. Like the colors have all shifted just enough for me to notice but not describe. Like there was a small rock in my shoe that I finally found and put on the beach. Like there is so much more I could be doing to change the world.

I am feeling so much more deeply that everyone is a pebble making ripples that grow outward.  Some pebbles are bigger, and the ripples become waves. We can choose to make positive or negative ripples every moment, every encounter, every word we speak. The world will only get better when we stop the negative.

RIP Amy.  Your story is not over.

It starts with me

I used to be angry all the time. Ask my ex. But it was all self inflicted and completely within my control, I just couldn’t see it at the time. I blamed everyone else, blamed the world. But it was me.

I used to argue politics and religion. I was pretty darn good at righteous indignation. Up there with the best of them. I would wring my hands and blame the government or society or the current target of my anger. But it was me.

With all of the hate and anger in the world, I have changed my ways. I have pulled my efforts back to me and my immediate sphere of influence. The problems in the world can not be fixed from the top down. You can’t legislate compassion and love. What you can do is learn compassion every day and be the example. That is what I strive to do. To eliminate my ego.

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How do we stop bigotry? Violence? Michael Jackson had it right and I am starting with the man in the mirror.

It starts with me. Be compassion. Be love. Be the change.

Sportsing

Last year I finally gave up on watching any professional sports. I might watch the occasional Wisconsin Badgers football game, but done with the NFL.

A non-profit organization that promotes violence. Does not hold it’s players to any sort of standard. And leeches tax money from every community it is located in under the guise of bringing in money for the community via tourism.

Professional sports, all of them exist for two reasons. To make a profit and to create divides within a population. It differs little from the gladiator games of old, just fewer deaths during the games.

The last straw was when they let the dog killer/fighter Michael Vick back in the sport. Proving that the only thing that matters to the NFL and it’s sponsors is the all mighty dollar. Right and wrong have nothing to do with it. The fact that people holds these athletes up as heroes does’t matter.

Profit is king, all else is noise.

476 & 365

It is hard to believe it that this coming Sunday, August 30th will be 1 year since mom died. It will also be 476 days since dad died.

There are few days when I don’t think of them. But they are rare. There are moments of panic when I think, “Crap, I haven’t talked to mom in a long time. I should call her” Then it hits me. It is getting easier, but very slowly. There was/is a numbness about both my parents being gone. That is starting to fade and at times it is harder now then when they first passed.

Sure, I make jokes about my parents being dead all the time. That is how I deal with bad things. I’m still not Batman. WTF!?

I have the most remarkable friends and family that have helped me through this past 476 days. Thank you!!

Love you all.

Doug

How I fell madly in Love with a complete stranger or Amanda Palmer and The Art of Asking

Let me give you a little background first.

Before I bought the audio book for the Art of Asking, I knew very little about Amanda Palmer (AFP). I knew she was a musician and did some performance art. I had seen some of the things AFP did with people drawing and writing on her. I had also heard of the trouble she and her publisher were having with Amazon. I knew she had some tie to Neil Gaiman and that my step-son got her autograph on her kindle cover.

I saw the news that her war with Amazon was over and decided to support that cause and bought the audio book on 11/20/14 as a birthday present to myself.

The morning of 11/24 I was on the road for work (sales) and started listening to AFP read me her story. I might have been an hour into it when I knew I loved her.

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I laughed and cried within the first 15 minutes. There is such an honesty about her and that coupled with her reading it…   I called my fiancee and told her about AFP and the book, about how I felt changed in the first few hours of listening to the book. I cried while talking about the book.

I can’t explain who AFP is, but she is different from most of us. Sees the world with different eyes.  Below are two of my favorite quotes from the book.

“Asking for help with shame says:
You have the power over me.
Asking with condescension says:
I have the power over you.
But asking for help with gratitude says:
We have the power to help each other.”

“You can’t ask authentically and gracefully without truly being able to accept “No” for an answer. Because if you’re not truly willing to accept “No” for an answer, you’re not really asking, you’re demanding — you’re begging. At least, that’s how I’ve come to understand asking.”

As I listened to the rest of the book and felt myself changing, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and love. Not just for AFP, but everyone and everything.

I sent this tweet on 11/26/14

 

I get home from my trip and order two copies of the book from Amazon. One for my daughter and one for my step son. A few days later, AFP mention Mass Mosaic and a book store called Porter Square books. I get an idea. I buy 2 signed copies of The Art of Asking and 10 more regular copies. 14 books spread to the world.

The farthest book went to Sweden. Tomorrow I will mail the last of the 14 books. They were all gifts. Most went to complete strangers.

I am so grateful to have been able to do this. So full of love.

Asking for help is like giving a gift.

If you need help ask.

Doug

My dad

I got the phone call I did not want, but was expecting. My father passed away.

He was diagnosed with acute leukemia last November. He tried chemotherapy but it had little effect. He had many blood transfusions (thank you donors). More recently he developed congestive heart failure, pneumonia and a subdural hematoma from falling out of bed.

It was time and he was ready. We all were, but it is still really fucking hard.

My dad was 84 at the time of his passing on Sunday May 11th. My mom is 82 and they celebrated their 63 wedding anniversary in March. I am the youngest of 4. I have a brother and two sisters. They were all amazing during this whole process. My sisters both took time off work to take dad to chemotherapy and other doctors appointments. My oldest sister handled dad’s meds, grocery shopping for mom and dad. They have shown me what family is. True heroes. My brother flew his family in from California and was there holding dad’s hand when he took his last breath. My dad was preceded by one of his sisters and is survived by another sister and a brother.

Most of my dad’s life was spent making custom cabinets and woodworking at a small business he shared with a partner. I remember going to work with him many times when I was younger. Helping sweep the shop, installing cabinets and being an extra pair of hands when he needed them. I will always love the smell of fresh cut wood.

Dad was a story teller and had a wonderful sense of humor. It was this that led to my first realization that I was like my dad. When I was in my early teens, this thought terrified me. Now I understand how lucky I am. The day before he passed away he pulled a joke on the four of us by pretending to be dead for a few moments. We all laughed and cried.

About a week ago, we were visiting my dad and he was telling us some stories from his Air Force days. He mostly did wood working while in the service. He was stationed in Chicago and has a picture of the Enola Gay when it was there. Some of this stories I had never heard before. It made me so happy to hear them, it also broke my heart that these stories would be gone. I wondered what other stories we had not heard.

Dad would give you the shirt off of his back and then anything else you might need. Like my sister said today, he was a simple man that had an extraordinary life. He was deeply loved by all that knew him.

I was very fortunate to have some time off between jobs and get to spend extra time with my dad during this time. Before I left him at the hospice for the last time, I told him he was an amazing father and thanked him for everything. The last words I said to him were “I Love You”

I am lucky to have had him as a father and luckier still to be like him.

Doug

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Mom & Dad

Today is my dad’s 84th birthday. On the 16th, my mom turned 82.

I can almost remember the first time I realized I was my dad, or close enough to make a teenager sweat. At a young age I already had his mannerisms, speech patterns and sense of humor. His ability to tell the same story over and over again without noticing.

The first few times I knew I was becoming my father, I was very unhappy. What teenage boy wants to grow up and be his dad?

As I got older, I understood how much I wanted to be like my dad. Now, as I understand how finite my father’s life is, how happy I am that I am like him. I got the best parts of him.

A few months ago, my dad was diagnosed with acute leukemia, ten days earlier my mother under went surgery to remove a non-aggressive lymphoma. She has since recovered. He has had three rounds of chemotherapy. The chemo he is on has a 40% success rate. It is starting to look like he is in the 60%.

When you are young, you never think of your parents dying. As you get older, you start to realize it will happen some day. Some day has become very real.  For me, I now understand, that as the youngest of four, I might be the last to go. My eldest sister is 15 years older them I am. The last few months have been very sobering. This is starting to feel like the balance for being the spoiled youngest to be the one that might have to see the rest pass before you.

What do I say to the man who has given me so very much? How do I even start to say goodbye while he is still here? I know I can never express it properly, I can never show enough gratitude.

I gave my dad a Superman themed birthday card last Saturday. I wrote in it that he has always been my hero.

Happy Birthday Dad.

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Plan B

For me, December 12th will now be known as Plan B Day. Let me tell you why.

Here was Plan A: The night of December 11th, 2010 the kids and I watched Despicable Me (the not yet ex wife was out for the evening) I put the kids to bed, drank about a liter of Maker’s Mark, took about 100 extra strength Tylenol and all of my anti-depressants. I put on my favorite pajamas, took my pillow and iPod to my room in the basement. Put the iPod on shuffle and then lay down on the floor to go to sleep.

People talk about suicide as a rash spur of the moment decision, it was not it my case. I had my plan in place for about 3 weeks. I was calm and rational about it. But along with Plan A, i also had to consider what happens if I wake up. Hence, Plan B was developed.

Plan B contained a few major bullet points.

Promise that I would never make this attempt again and those close to me know I do not use that word lightly. I have not made many promises in my life as I will only promise things I know I can do. I made this promise to many family and friends. I have not thought about it since.

Figure out who I was. I spent the last decade or so hiding on the couch, withdrawn from the world watching TV and movies. I barely made myself available for my ex and kids. I knew this needed to change, that I needed to know who I was before I could go any where.

Figure out what Love means to me. For much of our marriage, my ex told me I did not love her. I needed to understand what she meant and if she was right.

From the moment I woke up at 3:30 am and stumbled upstairs to bed, I was on Plan B. When my ex got home I made it downstairs and told her what I did and the road to Plan B started in earnest. I got to the hospital around 2pm on Sunday the 12th and was discharged on Friday the 17th around noon. Lots of time to think and think in the hospital and it was very helpful.

So from this point forward December 12th will be a day of reflection for me. Am I still me? Am I on my right path? Am I happy? What do I want or need to change to make all of those answers yes?

What about you? How can you answer those questions? Way deep down in the parts of yourself you don’t show to others and often not even yourself, how do you really feel?

Make a change and get started, please don’t sit on the couch. Read the rest of my blog, it covers a lot of what I did to make changes.

There is help out there.

As always, ask questions. I am here to help.

Doug

 

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A Modest Proposal.

I would like to tell you a little story about how strange and magical the world is. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

26 or so years ago, I rubbed a girl’s feet at a party. She doesn’t remember this happening. It was that small, the start of this whole thing. It was my flapping of the butterflies wings. Flash forward to June of  2011. I was searching online for the girl who’s feet I rubbed at my friend’s party. Let’s call her Tanya Uniquelastname. What are the odds of two people having that last name? Who I found was the sister of the girl with the feet. Let’s call her Jasminda. We became fast friends, Jasminda and I. I did not think you could “click” with someone on Facebook, but you can. We became instant friends. Now she is family by choice.

While enjoying Facebook, I started to notice posts on Jasminda’s wall by someone named Red. She seemed funny, clever & intelligent. She liked my posts! You know what they say about that… Jasminda told Red she would like me. She told Red to “friend” me, she did. August 14, 2011 We also hit it off right away. Lots of private messaging and chatting.

Red asked me to dinner a mere 4 days after we “friended” on Facebook. We met there at 7, they kicked us out, at closing, at 11. We were all casual at first. All cool and reserved. Whatever….  But as time passed my thoughts kept returning to her. Who was this woman? How can she like me when I am being me?

Our iPods were eerily similar. We could often not tell who’s was playing. We liked live music, theater, dancing, steak, whiskey, beer…. It was really a birds of a feather thing as opposed to an opposites attract vibe. There was a peace, a tranquility with her. I found a stillness within myself I had never known. A great comfort in the fact I did not need her. There was no need, no hunger that was absolutely needing to be satisfied. There was a pull to be close, to share, to explore, to experience and most of all, the understanding it was mutual.

Fast forward to my birthday 2011. Red came home early from out of town because she missed me and did not want to miss my birthday. What a crazy and amazing evening. I was a wreck. That was when we became steadies? What do you call it? Exclusive? Sounds like a record company. Registered Companions?

What followed (and continues) was music, love, food, beer, dancing, love, so much laughter and joy.

Here we are, 2 years from when we “friended” We both talked about never getting married, but as time passed we both talked about what ifs and you knows. We have also talked about the meaning of marriage and the place it has in society. Just last night she gave me an anti proposal. We have proposed to each other multiple times, we have always said yes. I am just looking to make it more official.

So, right here, right now, I am asking, will you marry me Red?

And like every question I ask; no is a perfectly acceptable answer.

This is more a declaration of my intent to hold your hand whenever possible; to make you smile more than is reasonable and love you truly, madly deeply.

And if you say yes, when, is so very unimportant.

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Love

I recently was looking for something to blog about. I asked my friends for topics. One stuck out as something I would like to talk about. Why do I love my girlfriend? Simple question on the surface, but it can cover a lot of ground.

What is love?

I used to have a different opinion of what love is. I thought it was subjugation, giving up myself to make someone else happy. Putting someone else’s needs before my own. Sacrifice and surrender. I thought it was all the fairy tale stuff we have been taught. The happy endings in the movies. I tried to live this way in my marriage, but it did not work, it wasn’t real. I thought if I kept acting the part, eventually it would be real. Wrong.

Here is what I have learned. I had to accept myself, as I am, before I could even think about loving someone else. I had to develop a sense of self worth and value. I had to find it in myself, so someone else could see it. This took some work. I had been beaten down, from outside and inside for a long time. I had to let go of this, learn to be myself again. When I got to this point, let me tell you, the world opened up. I opened up. There was a peace to being genuine I did not expect. An ease, to not looking outside for validation. Granted, it took some encouragement from the outside to get me there, but it is self sustaining.

So here I was, getting my self confidence back, feeling pretty good. Now I had to overcome some of societies bad lessons. I had always thought that I could only tell one woman I loved her at a time, because if I said I loved her, I must want to marry her. Like most men, (IMHO) love is equal to sex. This is so far from my reality now. I have learned that the more I love, the move I share it with others, the more I have to give.

The first time I said I love you to a woman, that was not my soon to be ex wife, was amazing. It changed me a little. Here was a woman, who was a dear friend, and now my adopted sister, and I told her I loved her. It did not matter how she felt or if she said it back. It was just important for her to know what she meant to me. The importance I placed on our relationship. It had nothing to do with any sort of male/female relationship. It was so liberating, like I had loosed some shackles. Then there were more, male and female, that I said I love you too. The relationships were all different, but all important. This seemed to go against everything I was taught, everything the world showed to me as an example. I was bursting with love and at peace with myself.

So, why do I love my girlfriend? I could list the usual things: pretty, funny, intelligent, similar interests. Those are all very true. But the main reason is, she feels like home. There is a peace when I am with her. There is no effort to be what I think she wants me to be. I can be 100% myself and not worry about what she might think. There is also no need. I hear so many people talk about needing to be with their partner. There is plenty of want, of desire to be with her, but no need.

I love her because she is exactly who she is and I am me when I am with her.

Doug

P.S. Ask questions.

 

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