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Talking About Suicide Loss with Janet Schnell

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Even though I had lived with losing my mother to suicide in 1985, it wasn’t until 2015 that I discovered I was part of a community of people called “suicide loss survivors.” Intellectually I knew other people had lost loved ones this way, but it never occurred to me that I would feel a deep connection to them, one born of shared experience.

It wasn’t until I attended an Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that Fall (they are happening now, check out AFSP.org to find one near you) that I met others who had been through what I had but were willing to be open and talk about it, unlike my family had been for 30 years.  The relief I felt was instant, not just meeting people I could talk to but in finally telling my story.

I became deeply involved in the loss survivor world and was able to speak at a conference for long-term survivors this past July.  Pictured are those who attended.  I met numerous fascinating people, shared stories, and was impressed by the numerous and different ways people have dealt with their grief and used their experiences for good.  A friend of mine once said, “we can’t save our loved ones but we can save each other.”  And that’s how it feels.  Talking about it saved me from a path of misery and pain I was on.

One person I met was Janet Schnell. Janet is an LCSW who completed her master’s degree in Social Work in 2010 at the University of Southern Indiana. She is currently in practice with CareATC serving the needs of employees in a commercial furnishings company. Janet specializes in suicide prevention, intervention, and after a suicide occurs; depression; anxiety; and substance abuse. She has experience in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Brief-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (B-CBT), Motivational Interviewing, and Narrative Therapies. Janet is a suicide prevention instructor for Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR), She is a suicide prevention trainer for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). Janet is a founding member of the Retrospective Fatality Analysis – Consultants (RFA-C). The protocol is an investigative and research instrument with the goal to inform suicide prevention by using the stories of those who died by suicide. Janet is a public speaker sharing her experience as a suicide loss survivor and becoming a social worker after her brother’s death. She grew up as the middle child in a closely connected family of 7. Janet has been married for 38 years and has 1 son. Her hobbies include public speaking, gardening, and meeting people.

I Read a Book and Am Inspired

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I didn’t know what to expect when a friend (thank you Rob Barnett!)  gifted me The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer.  I had reached out to him for help in getting The Silent Goldens documentary across the finish line as I am working to raise the final $50,000 to finish it off.  The difficulty with this part of has been made even harder by my issues with asking for anything, but especially for money.

The book is an outgrowth of her TED talk on the subject that has been seen over 10 million times.  Her talk came about from her success in being the first musician to reach $1 million dollars on Kickstarter for an independent album.

I found the book inspiring on so many levels – her authenticity, vulnerability, resilience, fearlessness, persistence and her ability to find the good (or at least the lesson) in any situation.  Her story is about the relationships she spent years building with her fans by staying connected and creating a community online and in person and in how creating this, gifts show up in many forms. She illustrates how it’s easy for those who love you to give, whether it’s a monetary gift or loan, a couch to crash on, or a flower given as a thank you.

Her experiences and writings also show how gifts aren’t just about one person giving and one person taking.  There is a trade involved.  Her fans gave her the money to make an album they could listen to, attend shows where she performs and to allow her to exist and be the person who gives these things.  Sometimes, she points out, just allowing someone to give to you can be a gift in itself, allowing the other person to feel helpful.

I am a big fan of being a helper and find purpose and satisfaction when I know I have been useful, whether it’s a favor, a paid opportunity or even just lending an ear.  As long as what I’ve done fulfills a need, I’m all good.  I am also big fan of the trade.  In my current life has a roving dog sitter, I have had numerous times where I have traded dog care, cleaning or (when I can) money to have a place to rest my head when I’m in-between jobs.  Just last night I traded a ride to the airport for a place to crash for an evening. A win-win, I like to say.

What has been most difficult for me in the asking for help on The Silent Goldens documentary is that the story is personal so in a sense I feel like I’m asking for help for myself.  But while it is my family’s experience, the intent is to share it for the benefit of many.  To help those affected by suicide and teach others about the suicide loss experience so that they, in turn, can be part of the conversation and have an understanding that helps breakdown the stigma and shame surrounding it.

The ability to tell my story is what I have to give to the world and those that have heard it at conferences, my college reunion, and other venues I’ve spoken at have told me it is meaningful.  I’ve tried to spread the word through podcast appearances, written articles and interviews I’ve given.  The help I’ve asked for (and continue to need) are the funds and resources to get my film done, and many people I know, along with some I’ve never met have stepped up, warming my heart each time.  The trade I offer (along with the knowledge that the help is specific and  tangible) are memorial credits in the film and on my website honoring their loved ones lost to suicide.

I have a lot more work to do to achieve my goal and build my community and I hope by putting myself and my “ask” out there more consistently will be the key.  Amanda has proven that people are fundamentally generous when they care about someone or something and, given the success politicians find in fundraising, I know it can be done.  

So I humbly ask, in the spirit of the book and the perspective it gave me, if you are able to give and support suicide awareness in the form of my film, please visit thesilentgoldens.com and make a tax deductible donation and honor those lost to suicide.  And please post and share about the project so others may join the cause. 

And read the book!  It’s fascinating.

Thank you for your consideration!

A Very Good July

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July was a very good month. The long-awaited American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Long Term Survivors of Suicide Loss Summit – postponed twice due to covid – finally happened and was an intense, meaningful experience on many levels.

Topping the list was getting to present my workshop on “Breaking the Family Silence,” where I shared my story, my inspiration for breaking my family’s 30-year silence, and the process I followed to do it. I had been scheduled to speak when the conference was first canceled, so this was a long-anticipated moment for me. I had a nice group who were very engaged and asked some really good questions. I also world-premiered the new promo video for The Silent Goldens documentary featuring the conversations with my family!

This was a full-circle experience of sorts, as this was only the second summit and I attended the first one just as I was beginning to break my own silence and start the process of speaking to my family. I floated the idea of doing the film at the first conference and received a lot of encouragement to do it and validation that it is an important story. I’m happy to report that I found the same interest and excitement for it this time and as it inches closer to being finished, I am more enthusiastic than ever about getting it done and using it as a platform to get people talking.

A big part of the experience was just being with others who have experienced the same trauma and sharing stories. Even though suicide is not a fun topic, loss survivors have an instant bond and I met so many fascinating people, so many of whom are doing work in the suicide community to prevent these tragedies and help those who are touched by them. I was surprised at how much more social I wanted to be than I typically am in wanting to keep the conversations going.

I am so grateful to the AFSP for holding this conference and to all those who attended and made it the incredibly special event that it was.

And to prove life is a rollercoaster in ways big and small, in one evening I won a nice sum of money at a local casino in downtown Cleveland and then proceeded to sprain my ankle walking back.

Presenting The Silent Goldens Promo Video

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Ta-dah!  Introducing the first official promo for The Silent Goldens now living on this website! What a journey it’s been to get here, even without the 30 years of family silence about my mom’s suicide.

Setting a real deadline for myself – to have it ready for my upcoming conference workshop presentation at the American Foundation for Suicide Preventions Long Term Survivor’s Summit July 21-24 – has proven to be a necessary and important part of my creative process.  Pulling the team of co-producer, director, editor, graphic artist and sound mixer made me feel back in the game – doing what I know how to do in producing a project – and making this endeavor truly feel real to have people working alongside me.

Like with any project I’ve spent endless hours on, I can no longer look at it objectively but am proud it’s done and I very much hope you will like it.  It’s but a taste of what’s to come.

The work on the cut of the story is going well and I’ll be premiering new clips at the conference. I have also had new postcards made up to pass around at these events and hopefully that, along with this new promo, will help me raise the final funds needed to complete this film this year!

Please feel free to share, especially with those who may wish to honor someone lost to suicide with a memorial credit.  Just hit the donate button above and all the information about making a tax-deductible donation will appear!  Any help is a big help.

Talking About Suicide Loss With Stan Zimmerman

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Creativity has been a source of surviving and healing for me throughout my life.  My career in television was fun and distracting, allowing me to avoid many of my not-so-fun feelings for most of my adult life. I took up painting when I was recovering from the depression that changed my life’s direction and it did, and still does, give me great pleasure.  And being able to use my creative skills to tell the story of the aftermath of my mom’s suicide has allowed me to process it and heal in ways I never could have imagined.

An extra benefit of the work I’ve been doing in the suicide world is meeting others who have found multitudes of creative ways to tell their stories and work through their own grief.  Recently I was introduced to Stan Zimmerman, a comedy writer who has also written a play, right before I go, based around real suicide notes.  It’s a fascinating and important project which has gotten nationwide attention and been performed by such notables as Ellen Burstyn, Judith Light and Vanessa Williams.

Here is his official bio and the link to this month’s episode of Talking About Suicide Loss With…

Stan’s long career covers multiple mediums (TV, film and theatre).  He’s been nominated for two WGA Awards for Best Comedy Episodic Writing on the classic TV series – “The Golden Girls” and “Roseanne”.  Stan’s also written and produced on “Gilmore Girls”, co-created the Lifetime sitcom, “Rita Rocks” and wrote on both “Brady Bunch” movies. Stan has a BFA-Drama from NYU/Circle-in-the-Square and has directed such LA productions as the LatinX “The Diary of Anne Frank”, “Entertaining Mr. Sloane”, “A Tuna Christmas”, “Gemini”. and his original plays — “Meet & Greet”, “Knife to the Heart” and “Have a Good One”. Stan will be directing Colin Mochrie (“Whose Line…”) in “Hyprov”, a new show combining improv and hypnotism, playing for a limited run at the Daryl Roth Theatre in NYC starting Aug. 12. TRWplays recently published and licensed three of Stan’s work — “Yes, Virginia”, “Silver Foxes” and his suicide notes play, “right before I go.”

Talking About Suicide Loss With Louisa Rocque

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The ripple effect of every suicide reaches far and wide.  A factoid I’ve used in prevention presentations says that for every death over 100 people are affects.  Along with the family, friends, teachers, business partners, hairdressers, neighbors – no one who knows someone who died by suicide is left untouched by it, yet are forgotten in the story of the death.

While my mother’s suicide made me understand how it can affect a family, I’m fascinated by the deep impact it can have on others, specifically their friends and peers.  Louisa Roque lost her friend just before heading off to college, which later in life it led her to become the Area Director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Los Angeles and Central Coast Chapter, for which I volunteer.

She is this month’s guest on Talking About Suicide With, in honor or Mental Health Awareness month.  Even with 3-year-old twins, Louisa’s passion for the subject and her work has been expanding the chapter and it’s reach to great effect, working to save lives daily.

Her background is as a non-profit leadership expert, TEDx speaker, public speaker, and trainer who delivers high-energy presentations that challenge audiences to leverage their focus and pay attention to what matters most in life. 

She is skilled in fundraising, relationship management, curriculum assessment and development, staff development, target marketing, and organizational development. Her work touches audiences from every walk of life, and they love the practical strategies they can apply personally and professionally. 

Louisa earned her MPA from California State University Northridge and is currently the Area Director for Greater Los Angeles & Central Coast for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Her strong background in learning, development, and extensive experience in managing teams and volunteers makes her the perfect fit for any audience. 

When not speaking, or fighting for suicide prevention and mental health advocacy, Louisa can be found hiking or spending time outdoors with her husband and sons.

April Showers Bring More Than May Flowers

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One year ago on April 2, I lost one of the big loves of my life – my car when it was killed by a red-light runner.  It was a 2000 Toyota Rav 4 with over 200k miles that had become part of my identity and my life for over 20 solid years.  It was also that day that I learned a huge lesson in generosity, friendship and fatherly love when my friend “Brigid” (identity covered for modesty) and my father collaborated to gift me with a brand new Nissan Kicks on April 7.  The full story is in the blog I wrote when it happened.

The incident also taught me about letting go, moving on and focusing on what is right in my life.  When I sat in the car to take the test drive it had 3 miles on the odometer, now it has 5139.  I have fallen in love with it but am still slowly getting adjusted to the 20 year jump to the future in car technology.  It has been to the mountains and it has been to the beach.  Need to get it out to the desert for the full trifecta of “Los Angeles is great because you can get mountains, beach and desert!.”

Like the miles, my life has slowly progressed in the year since.  I have a full script for my documentary and am deep into the rough cut of the story with the intent of have a full film by the end of July. My house/petsitting business is fabulous and I have great, steady clients and a group of new ones that are keeping me housed in style while fully giving and receiving love to and from all the animals – cats included.  I have even quashed my reptile phobia enough to share a room with and keep the water dish full for a small, elegant snake.  I fed it today.  A frozen mouse.  That was traumatizing, but I did it.  So I’ve grown up just a bit.

My friendship with Brigid has held strong and she has never held it over my head in any way or made things awkward – speaking about it is joyful for both of us.  I do understand the joy of giving, as that’s my jam, but it’s constantly a newish feeling to be the recipient such a huge gesture as the car.  We plan to take a ride to celebrate on the 7th, the day I actually got the Kicks.

Learning how worried people were about me driving around in my Rav, with it being so old, was very touching and since my father seemed thrilled to have the opportunity to get me in something safe, my appreciation is on the tangible and the emotional level with him.

It’s interesting to look back on the even a year later and think about where the car has taken me and what it has allowed me to do.  When I was considering the offer, Brigid said “it’s for what comes next.”  Once my doc is done I know change will come and I am ever so curious to find out where that wonderful little car and I will go!

Happy Birthday?

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Many of life’s milestones bring up grief for those who have passed on.  After losing my mom at 19, the two that always hit hardest for me are the anniversary of her death, January 15, and her birthday on March 15.  The anniversary brings up memories of how much I miss her as a person and having a mother in my life.  Her birthday, however, makes me think about all that she has missed.

She died at age 47 – before my sister graduated college and became a nurse; before I found a career in television that I liked and was successful in, and before my dad retired and began traveling, something she’d always dreamed of doing.  There is no imagining what “back to normal” would have been like for her, our family, or me had she not killed herself or been able to beat the cancer she’d been fighting.

To me, she has never aged past 47, yet I still see her as the “adult,” even though I now am, and look, older than she got a chance to be. For yet-to-be-discovered psychological reasons,  I don’t keep track and rarely think about the age she’d be had she not died and have to do the math to first figure out when she was born by subtracting her age from date of death to get the year she was born then subtracting that from the current year.  And this year’s answer is 85!

When I figured that out, I said to myself “wow, I can’t picture that,” which immediately made me think, “I bet there’s an app for that.”  My next thought was “I’m not sure I want to see that.”  I decided to confer with my father and sister to see if they would be interested in seeing such a thing.  They were, so I gave it a try.

I’m sorry I did.  Not because it was freaky to see her looking old, but because it looked like someone scribbled lines over her face and added fat to the lower portion of her cheeks.  I did one with my dad’s face too, using a photo from around the time of her death and they appear to have used the same template.  I’m not going to name and shame because it was a quick experiment, but it is an image I will not keep or think about again.

Luckily, working on The Silent Goldens Documentary allows me to constantly go through family photos from when we were all young, healthy, and relatively happy.  Thanks Mom for giving me a good life and grateful for the good times we did have. Happy Birthday!

Looking Ahead in 2022

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When I started developing the idea for The Silent Goldens, I was told it takes an average of 7-10 years to complete an independent documentary. I didn’t believe mine would as I knew the story, had access to all the people and had worked on productions with many more moving parts in months. I am humbled to say I was wrong. I am now about six years from conceiving the idea and a little over five from when I launched my website and began production. Now I am proud to announce I have completed a working script! There is still much work to be done in editing it down, making it look and sound nice etc, but I am committed to the construct and have my co-producer Jamie Smith and director Jon Bendis focused on it as well in our push to finish the doc this Spring.

As an observer of the process to get to this point, I can see the personal, environmental and mostly financial issues that have eaten away at the time with the main one being “alone is not the way to get things done.” A lesson I am determined to keep learning over and over it seems. I have made great strides in many areas, but have realized I really need – and want – a partner-in-crime (or a few) to get me to the finish line, especially being so close to the subject matter and am activating those resources.

It was in 2016, when I floated the idea of breaking my family’s decades-long silence and filming it for a documentary while attending the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s first Long-Term Survivor’s Summit. I got incredibly positive feedback, which gave me the confidence to move forward with the idea. I always thought it would be a fantastically full-circle thing to premiere it at the yet-to-be-scheduled next one. That was announced for 2020 and then cancelled by COVID. Same for 2021. When word came out that it would be a go for 2022, I made that my goal to have a finished cut to premiere sections as part of a workshop I’m presenting to the audience who inspired the project.

The registration information for the Summit just came out, so if you are interested in attending, all the info is here.

In other news, later this month, I’ll be part of a interview and photo profile series on creativity and mental health that is part of the A Light In Dark Places non-profit, which also produces the play series I work with at Stella Adler Acting School in Septembers during Suicide Prevention Month. It involves a session with a professional photographer, so that’s exciting and I will share when it comes out.

I’m feeling in the groove, or groovy if you prefer, and very much look forward to seeing how The Silent Goldens finally turns out!

A Belated New Years + A Lesson in Love

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George and I rang in 2022 together.

At 6:30 am on New Year’s Day, I left my cat sitting job after partying the night away with George  and headed over to my most frequent clients that keep me the busiest with their 2 bullmastiff, little terrier and cat.  

I am deeply in love with each of these animals and have known the two mastiffs since they came into the family as puppies.  We all enjoy our time together very, very much.  I am constantly accused of spoiling them and I confess it’s true.  The joy of being the dog sitter, not the dog owner.  The animals keep me busy but there is typically a routine to the day so I can get a few things done during for myself during nap times and in the evening.  

Mona in front, Mac left, Izzy right

Unfortunately, Izzy tore the ACL in both her legs and the surgery was scheduled for 2 days before I would start sitting during the family’s annual first-week in January getaway.  They totally gave me an out, but I had no issue taking this on for any one of my “babies.”  My experiences with my own dog, Riggs, after surgeries had been him mostly sleeping and slow walks just so he could relieve himself.  I thought it would be easier in a way since Izzy had to be somewhat confined and separated from her playmate and I wouldn’t have to try and keep 3 dogs happy with just my two hands as they simultaneously clamored for attention.  Not so much. Not at all.

The three dogs were not in sync in their needs and wants, and each day with Izzy’s recovery was a new obstacle to be overcome, making my first 5 days of January a complete blur and taking me off-the-grid except for Izzy’s mom and a few others connected with her well-being. One of the issues Izzy and I faced were having to shove pills down her throat and blow into her nose to get her to swallow.  The nose part was new to me.  Once in her, the meds gave her digestive issues starting 3:30 one morning that continued throughout the day, forcing me to go through about 8 rolls of paper towels to keep things tidy.  The next day,  while attempting to go for a walk, she popped a stitch and watery blood started running down her leg.  I got her into a bathroom but before I could close her in the shower she walked around leaving what literally (in the literal sense) looked like a crime scene.

Izzy on way home from emergency vet visit.

I called an emergency-contact relative at 6am to help me bandage the area so the blood would stop and get her in my car (she’s over 100 lbs) and take her to an emergency clinic since the hospital where she’d had surgery didn’t have enough staff due to COVID.  Luckily  for me the cleaning service was due to come that day, but I had Izzy’s mom warn them about the situation.  If I’d walked into a house and seen that scene and the person was missing, I might have called the police.  

The point of my story, other than to explain my absence from wherever people expect to find me for the last week, is that this was a huge lesson in love.  Never having had a child, I don’t have much experience with things seeping out of body parts and I typically look for an “adult” to take care of these things.  I’ve handled gross before, but in more one-off circumstances.  But there I was, the human in charge and it had to be done.  And my love for Izzy allowed me to do it and not even dry heave.  I didn’t get annoyed by it, I just wanted Izzy to be ok.

Mac wants to play.

My anxiety, which would typically be about my own to-do lists, was solely focused on making sure Izzy was comfortable and the other two were happy.  Mac, Izzy’s mastiff brother, is only 1.5 years and they play a lot and play hard so his energy is a little pent up.  He doesn’t usually play with toys on his own, but I bought him a new rope and he loved it!  And that brought me so much joy.  Nothing like seeing a truly happy dog at play!

By January 2,  I had given into the fact that I wasn’t going to implement any resolutions that week and just let myself fully be with the dogs.   Does it matter that some of the things I wanted to, planned to or “needed” to do waited a week?  Not in the bigger picture. Rather than deriving satisfaction from checking a few things off the never-ending “to-do” list, my happiness came from being there for them and knowing how much trust the family put in me to deal with it all.   They returned to 2 healthy, happy dogs, 1 healthy, happy cat and a dog who is recovering well and comfortable.

Me and Gus, the Cat.

Today I start my 2022 having learned a better lesson about letting love rule and going with the flow than I had in store to teach myself.  And if any dog needs me, I’ll know I can and will be there and do anything for it!

Happy New Year to all!  I wish for everyone to find lessons in love this year.