The holiday season can be the best of times and the worst of times. We form memories and we’re jolted by memories. It’s extra important to be generous with our mental health during this season. [526 more words]
Welcome to Khesed’s first published episode of the Shrinkcast!
We are thrilled to offer this new resource to the community.
Disclaimer from Khesed Wellness:
The following blog post contains a real depiction of one woman's suicide attempt and recovery. This essay may cause some people to feel uncomfortable or triggered. We encourage you to remain mindful of your feelings and reactions and practice self care if you choose to continue reading. The narrative is filled with wisdom that the writer gained from her real life experiences as she recovered from her suicide attempt and sought help. As a team, we at Khesed are dedicated to breaking down the walls of stigma and are grateful to this writer for joining us in this important work by sharing her story. Whether you battle with thoughts of suicide or your experience of mental health is quite different from the experience reflected in this story, we encourage you to take heart in knowing that there is support available for those that are suffering. We are here to talk and listen, whatever your story might be. Contact Us.
From Hell to Happiness. One girl's Guide to Surviving Suicide.
By Elizabeth Heckmann
The struggle to treat mental illness can be a lifelong battle and it requires a fully committed team of friends, family, and doctors. When a childhood friend, who works for Khesed Wellness, approached me about writing a blog post for Suicide Prevention month, I was honored. I have become familiar with Khesed and their purpose and practices and have found their mission to be truly altruistic. Khesed, which means reciprocated kindness, provides mental health support in an easily accessible and affordable way.
Mental health can be swept under the rug as taboo; as a symbol of weakness; as fake. Or played off as a joke. It is this kind of behavior that emboldens the depression and anxiety. This only stokes the flames of the voices inside your head. But with gentle care, truth, empathy, and kindness, you can begin chiseling through the walls of mental illness until finally, the light of day begins seeping through the cracks, driving out the madness. Khesed Wellness provides patients with the guidance to strive for peace of mind and the chisel to work your way there.
I was broken. I was unstable, teetering on the fault line as it widened with my anxiety, devastation, and total loss of control. I had been tricked by what I thought was a new true love; a physical love, emotional love, intellectual love, pure love. Broken by an old love who couldn’t put down the hooch, I decided to drive to Wyoming to follow this new passionate love. But I was spurned mid heartbeat. I thought he loved me enough to choose me instead of the other girl. I chose him; he turned his back on me, shredding my heart as he disappeared from my life. And then I was triggered. My finger had been waiting restlessly on the trigger for months just waiting for an excuse and this boy was it. The fall into the suicidal cavern of my mind was quick; no effort to cling to the here and now. I switched, flipped, fell, broke, and disappeared in a matter of minutes.
Through the tsunami of tears streaking my face and my shrieks of despair, I managed to pull over to the side of the road. Logic was silenced and that evil presence eternally weighing on my back took over every bit of my being. Right before I began frantically prying lids off of my three psychiatric med bottles as well as a bottle of Aleve and pouring the pills down my throat, I opened the glove compartment and grabbed a brown paper napkin and a pen. “I’m f---ing over it!” I scrawled on the napkin I left on the seat.
Then, I opened the door and popped the trunk. Consciousness was quickly dissolving but I managed to stumble to the trunk and open a quart of motor oil. I gulped the thick, black, foul oil down and then chased it with huge swallows of bright blue antifreeze. As I was disappearing into the poisons, I made one last ditch effort at eternally ending the humiliation and forsakenness that had been triggered from deep down, by attempting to slit my left wrist with the saw in my Swiss Army Knife. Slicing deeper and deeper into my flesh and muscle, my blood dripped onto my jeans.
My head loosely rolled down so that my chin rested against my chest, my mouth falling open, vomit trailing down the corners of my mouth. Someone had opened the door and reached into my car, wrapping their arms around my torso and legs. As the arms started to pull me out of the driver’s seat, my feet limply followed.
Through the growing haze of death, I saw small blades of green grass mixed in with gravel on the pavement of the side of the interstate. I noticed the tips of my cowgirl boots were covered in vomit. The arms lifted me with power. They were attached to a police officer. My head rolled back on my limp neck as the sheriff carried my dead weight as if I were a fresh corpse.
It was the sheriff of Converse County, Sheriff Clint Becker, who found me and pulled me out of the car as I was dying. Sheriff Becker only found me because I had answered my best friend, Nicole’s phone call and after her hearing me losing the fight for life as my speech became increasingly slurred, she got in her car and charged northward to Wyoming. In between calling me every 5 minutes, Nicole called 911 until an operator was able to dispatch a cop to look for me. They tracked my cell phone and found me.
I was then handed off to EMS and rushed to Wyoming Medical Center where I was stabilized in the ER and then admitted to the PCU. If it hadn’t been for Nicole’s perseverance and persistence in finding me and Clint’s quick response, I would have died on that wretched stretch of road.
When I finally regained consciousness, I found myself in a hospital bed with IVs placed in both of my forearms and a peripherally inserted central catheter in my neck used for dialysis. I was put on dialysis for one week. My urine was streaked with a rainbow residue leftover from the oil, which made me laugh. Despite my tormented state only days before, I was alive and happy.
After I was medically cleared, I was then admitted to Centennial Peaks psych hospital for one week. I enraged a fellow patient because after she did her laundry in the same washer that I had just used to wash the motor oil infused vomit out of my favorite Colorado State University hoodie, her clothes were tainted by the lingering film of motor oil.
While at CP, I participated in Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on four sets of behavior skills: emotional regulation, mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance. The DBT helped me to withstand the emotional trauma long enough until I went home and continued therapy with my psychologist and psychiatrist.
A key component to surviving the hell of mental illness is having a guide. As I have grown with my diagnosis, I have come to find a sense of self in the archetype of the Greek goddess Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld. Taken captive by Hades, the god of the Underworld, as his unwilling bride, she fought her new life. Upon Persephone’s rescue by her mother Demeter, the goddess of the earth, Hades offered Persephone a pomegranate and before she left with her mother, Persephone ate six seeds, which sentenced her to spend six weeks out of every year in the Underworld, serving as the queen. Every year, Demeter mourns the loss of her daughter and mythology tells us that this is where winter comes from. Eventually, Persephone learns to love her role as Queen of the Underworld and becomes a guide for those lost in the darkness.
I see myself as a modern-day Persephone. I have been to the darkest corners of hell; I have spent time in the blackness, enough time to know exactly how to help those also suffering from a mental illness, also trapped in the depths of the Underworld. Everyone fighting their way through the Underworld for their sanity, for the strength to last just one more day, for the ability to find their beauty and worth needs a guide; that’s where people such as the trained, compassionate, and empathetic team of practitioners at Khesed prove to be vital in helping the mentally ill to manage their illness and live the best life they can. This in turn greatly benefits the community.
September is National Suicide Prevention month, but for some, fighting suicide is a battle they will face for years. That’s why suicide prevention deserves more serious and respectful attention by the masses. As someone who has faced what could be the moment of no return and who has clawed my way back from that place, I can say it would never have been possible without professional therapy and it brings me such relief to know that Khesed Wellness serves as a safe place for healing and exploration.
Having worked with many patients struggling with their own mental illness, throughout my seven years a Certified Nurse Aid, I have seen people at their lowest, but with the surge of kindness and attention they received from friends, family, beef burritos from Taco Bell supplied by doting mothers, and a team of healthcare givers, patients found reasons to smile. It was like the peace and beauty of a frosted forest after a wicked blizzard. The storm is unfathomably unforgiving, but as light and love manifest, the storm weans.
The more we understand mental illness, the more effectively we can fight it. Reciprocated kindness can be taught and even applied to the self. Being kind to oneself is the first step in the battle for mental health. It can be a long, arduous fight, but with this enveloping kindness there is light, love, trust, strength, camaraderie, and healing. A lyric from the Third Eye Blind song Jumper always sparks inspiration for me: “I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend/you could cut ties with all the lies that you’ve been living in…” Let go of the lies people tell you, let go of the lies you tell yourself and fight for yourself. Use your resources, use Khesed, use your heart. You’re worth the fight. Believe me.
Tyler, my youngest nephew, and me.
Context first and then we will talk principle.
First, I intentionally chose one of the most guttural-and-difficult-to-pronounce-in-English words for the name of this organization for a reason. The word is that important. In fact, it was that important to the Ancient Hebrews where this word originated.
Khesed means loving kindness. To better capture the translation, it can mean reciprocating kindness. Khesed isn’t just a good feeling of loving kindness, it’s a lifestyle. Kindness is a generous quality, and when we get it, we want more. We also seem to want to produce more.
Growing up in Southern California I spent my childhood along shorelines. I love laying on my stomach just where the water last licks the sand and rushes back into the deep. If you lay still enough, long enough, with your belly on the sand and your chin laying on your hands, you start to see a whole world unfold. It’s amazing how that happens when we slow down.
Then, if you let your eyes dance a bit in-and-out of focus, like we do in those rare moments of rest, you start to see glimmers. The sand suddenly has layers of color and texture. Then, you see the gold flecks dancing among the rest of the bland-colored bits of sand.
Reciprocating kindness is like the specks of gold in the sand of our lives.
My love for watching the ocean quickly grew toward my love for watching people, and soon, talking with people as they wade through their depths. The therapy room felt as sacred as the layers of sand beneath my bare feet, watching the water dancing back-and-forth with the deep blue.
Kindness is what allows the gold of therapy to shine. The kindness of safe space to process. Space where the only motivation for the therapist is the client’s well-being. Space to be fully human.
At it’s best, the therapy room is one of the kindest places on Earth. I don’t mean kindness that always feels good. I mean kindness that calls forth the client’s well-being; holding space for the twists and turns of the process.
Which is why it felt like such a whiplash every time I stepped out of the therapy room, and entered the chaotic nature of the mental health industry. It took about a week after grad school, immersing myself in this profession, to realize:
Most people can’t afford counseling.
Most people don’t get help for weeks because clinicians are overloaded and underpaid.
Most people don’t have sufficient insurance coverage for treatment.
Most people don’t know where to access help.
Most people can’t find a counselor that stays in the industry for long.
Most people aren’t able to find much help at all.
That feels drab doesn’t it? It frustrating, ridiculous, even unkind.
Kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate,” according to Google. The mental health industry doesn’t feel very friendly, generous, or considerate. Which makes me sad, because I think this industry is filled with generous therapists ready to help.
So I began asking myself, “How does kindness start?”
It starts with believing in generosity. There is an abundance of kindness waiting to pour from us and sprout across our world. Abundance is an oasis that feels like a mirage to most people.
Imagine that time you needed help and someone said call this person they can help. And then you called that person and they said, “I can see you tomorrow.” And you found a way to make it work with your schedule, maybe reached between your seats to find cash for payment, if it was involved, because you were that thirsty for help.
Then you met that person and there was something about their presence that drew you in. Help didn’t turn out to be what you thought, you didn’t feel fixed, but you felt drawn in. They were present with you, believed in you beyond your performance, they saw you. They drew you in and they made you want to spread what you got in that space. You felt as if you found treasure.
The ocean, the therapy room, this kind of story and many more like it, led me to dream:
What if everyone has an abundance of kindness waiting to be tapped, wanting to help those who feel tapped out?
What if a mental health and wellness center’s mission was to provide affordable and accessible care, because the lack of affordable and accessible care feels most unkind when in the depths of life?
What if mental health and wellness practitioners were given a place to thrive in an environment that felt kind in-and-out of the therapy room?
What if businesses, temples, churches, and organizations (who have plenty of unused space) had a way to use space as a mental health and wellness center, making a tangible social impact in their community?
Basically, I kept layering kindness until it was a sustainable business model.
As I considered the different parts of a business model—how to keep the lights on, how to create a healthy work culture, how to engage our clientele, how to be a life-giving addition to a burnout industry—all of it, I knew it needed to be kind from beginning to end.
It’s amazing how an abstract word from an ancient tribe can transcend into a Colorado nonprofit believing that reciprocating kindness can transform mental health and wellness in our nation. And I believe we will.
A couple of weeks ago our team took a one day retreat. I talked with our counselors about creating an ethos of kindness in our organization. I think most assume their workplace will be kind but few experience it. Choosing a business model of kindness is actually terrifying and the hardest kind of work. Why?
It requires our whole selves to show up and believe in kindness, everyday.
In a world that leans on frameworks, forecasts, and fears, we choose kindness. In the unknown, we choose kindness. In the hurt, we choose to respond in a way that creates more authentic kindness.
In an industry that doesn’t feel kind, we believe kindness will change its’ trajectory. Above all, kindness is what brings us together when we feel divided in our relationships, in our world, and even within ourselves.
Everything Khesed does has the goal of manifesting more kindness in our world. It gives light to fractures. Or as my dear friend Kristin, who also happens to be on our board, quoted to me this week from the great Leonard Cohen:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Kindness reminds us of light in our darkness.
Khesed Wellness exists because we believe in a lifestyle of spreading kindness. It’s the only way I know how to see light in such a dark world. I believe people are always drawn to light, even when they’re running from it.
Khesed exists because we believe that experiencing kindness can transform how we see the world, and even ourselves, especially as we ebb-and-flow with life.
Heather Nelson, MA, LPC, NCC