Kelsey Hoeper,  Elyssa's Mission Volunteer

Kelsey Hoeper,
Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer

Kelsey Hoeper is an Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer. Kelsey shares her struggles with anorexia and exercise bulimia. Her moving story provides hope and inspiration to those undergoing similar struggles.

When I was first diagnosed with anorexia and exercise bulimia at the age of 19, my depression was at its worst. My days were centered and planned around when I would exercise, how long I would exercise for, and what I would consume—and not consume. My eating disorder had completely taken over my life. I could not go a single hour without obsessively thinking about my weight. If I had to miss a workout, I remember shaking with anxiety; my mind hijacked with thoughts about how I would make up for this lost time. A lost workout. An extra spoonful of dinner my mother made me eat in front of her. I wasn’t able to recognize it at the peak of my diagnosis, but looking back, I had completely forgotten what it was like to enjoy a day. Enjoy the calm, the quiet, the beautiful. I was rattled; I tormented myself on a daily basis. I was dying in front of my family and I could see the pain in their eyes. I wanted it all to be over and I considered taking my own life many times. But at the same time, as sickening as it sounds, I felt compelled to finish what I had started.

The start of it went almost undetected. After losing 15 pounds, many people positively commented on my new physique. My primary physician said I looked great. Then it was 20 pounds. 30 pounds. 40 pounds. You can see the pattern. I was venturing down a destructive path. In a matter of a few weeks I was caught up in a cycle; I was an observer of my own deteriorating body; finding no power within myself to stop. There were many times when I didn’t even want that kind of power. I imagined myself as an entirely different being. I was no longer Kelsey. I was Phantom Kelsey. I was floating. Floating in a trance and a starve-driven high to continue. I was chipping away at myself—a kind of suicide I have yet to create a word for. But the pressure I put on myself to continue with my strict workout and eating regimen may have been the exact reason why I never took a moment or a series of moments to end it all. Here’s why: during the darkest times I convinced myself I had to continue what I started. And the end goal? I still don’t know. Maybe that I would make myself so small, then one day—poof—Phantom Kelsey would become someone new. I didn’t know who I was trying to become.

One afternoon, about 4 months after I started following my strict eating and workout plan, my mother took me to a meeting with a therapist who specialized in treating men and women with eating disorders. I felt I had been basically dragged there, and the therapist could see my apprehension and frustration. She looked at my face, formed a tiny smile while tilting her head to the side and said, “You look exhausted.” The answer, clearly a “yes,” never made it out of my mouth. Yes, I was so tired.  And I cried. I cried harder than I ever had in my life. My sorrow blew out all the remaining candles. I was all smoke; there was no fire left in me. After I cried for a few minutes, my therapist took my hand in hers and told me I would die if I didn’t make a change and start the recovery process. She handed me a granola bar and asked me how I was feeling. Terrified. Angry. Disgusted. She said to me, “Now change that way of thinking and tell yourself this instead: this piece of food will give you the energy to do a cartwheel in the park, or run into the arms of an old friend you haven’t seen in years. Wouldn’t you much rather feel that?”

The chipping away at my own self, the deadly regime I adhered to so religiously, started to fade and lessen over time. Instead of dying by my own hand, I was fueling up. I was relighting the candles that once burned themselves down to a stub. I no longer felt like an observer; a phantom clinging on and tapping away—annoying and scheming. I started to feel present again. I started to feel whole again. The empty spaces in my body started to fill up again.

Five years later and I consider myself to have been one of the lucky ones. There are cases upon cases of men and women struggling with eating disorders who go untreated. Lack of accessible and affordable treatment and fear of talking about their disorders are the strongest reasons why people don’t seek treatment. It’s tragic, because as months and years go by, the cycle only becomes that much harder to escape. I was lucky in that my family encouraged—no, forced—me to get help in the beginning stages of my disease. I thank them every day for standing up to me. I thank them for saving my life. With that strong support from family, friends and teammates, I felt earthbound once again. I could hear the calm.

I also recognize that I was lucky in the kind of support I received. I know there are many men and women out there who aren’t so fortunate. I knew a young woman close to my age who struggled with anorexia for years. She never went to social gatherings. She grew anxious at the thought of going to a restaurant with other people. People would see her at the gym and stare. Only stare. When she would go to the front desk to scan her ID card, I could almost hear the sales associates whispering in their heads, wanting to tell her to go home and rest. To go home and eat. When she wasn’t at the gym, she was either at home or at a weekly group therapy session. She was too sick to hold down a job. I recall her telling me how useless the group therapy sessions were. She admitted she skipped meetings all the time. Her mother never asked, and from what I remember, her parents were distant and they rarely followed up with her. They say attention is the first and final display of love. And this beautiful girl didn’t receive the fierce attention that she wanted and needed. It makes my chest cave in with sadness when I think about her now.

One day, I read something that changed my way of thinking. It was from an advice column. Keep in mind these are not my own words: “Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away, eat it away, or starve it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. Therapists and friends and other people can help you along the way, but the healing—the genuine healing—is entirely and absolutely up to you.”

Support is all around you. Even in strangers. Friendly voices who make it their mission to connect and reach out to others. I cannot stress the importance of being around people who know exactly what you are going through. Your feelings of anxiety, depression and a longing for escape are felt by so many people around you. I can feel you. This connection is vital. But perhaps even more important is the way you can create a self-made plan to heal. It is entirely possible. Nothing about healing is impossible.

 

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Kelsey Hoeper,  Elyssa's Mission Volunteer

Kelsey Hoeper,
Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer

Kelsey Hoeper is an Elyssa’s Mission Volunteer. Kelsey shares her journey of discovering how reflecting on the “thousands of things” around her helps her to feel more connected and grounded.

The morning was dreary. And I was alone. I wrapped myself in a large scarf to cover the parts of my face that I thought could disclose anything; hiding myself inside a large sweater. Unfeeling and numb? Yes. But I also felt everything.

My college roommates all had plans that Saturday. Camille was with her sorority sisters at a charity event. Mickey was at a movie with her boyfriend. And Emmi was partying with her friends from her study group. I loved them all, but I needed to be away.

I boarded a train to the next town over with only a vague idea of where I was going. I would get a coffee. No cream and no sugar. Maybe go shopping. Neither thing happened. Instead I wandered. After what only seemed like a few steps, I sat on a bench for a long time watching the express trains fly past me. And I wondered what it would feel like to leave this world at the hands of a metal train. Quick contact. And it would be over. The thought terrified me, and it comforted me. Then, the comfort terrified me more. My body did not leave that bench until I decided to stand on the edge. There was no one else on the platform. I saw a train in the distance. The horn echoed quietly and shuttered through the buildings around me. The eye of the headlights spotted me. I did not move, stepping back only when an older woman appeared nearby and eyed me curiously. I thanked this woman in my head. I thanked her a thousand times.

This was not the first time. Two weeks before I poured a handful of pills into my open mouth. Let them soften inside my cheeks before I spit everything out. Some time later, I poured Advil onto the face of my desk. I gazed over them, felt them; but I left them there. Emmi came into the room and fell silent. She asked me about the pills. And I thanked her, silently, a thousand times over.

How many times I thanked someone and something: countless. Mom, dad, best friend, coach. I thanked the bed I slept in; it held me in my discomfort. I thanked the trees outside my window. They whistled at me in the springtime to come outside and breathe the air. These were the moments of clarity, and they arrived like that train I wanted to put directly in my way—right in front of me and through me. See, they arrived by distance—but then speeding up to meet me. I realized that time alone couldn’t offer what I so greatly desired. Time helped, of course. It always does. But I was looking for someone to reach through to me. An easy visual, yes. But I pushed people away. I was skeptical. I felt like I couldn’t escape the gnawing, yet oddly quiet being that used to guide me. There were days when I asked myself, “Who am I? I used to be an adventurous, carefree child. I played pretend. I painted. I had two parents who love me. There were people in my life that cared—and still care for me. How? When?” Nothing has changed, I told myself. Nothing has changed. And yet, everything was different. A thousand changes. Beautiful changes. Small changes and big changes. How gorgeous. How amazing.

When you are feeling alone, count the thousands of things around you. They will hold you and they will ground you. When you are punctured with sadness, count the thousands of reasons why you are the most important person you know. And align yourself with the stars.

A parent of a middle school student who completed the SOS Signs of Suicide® Prevention Program shares how this program helped her entire family. She speaks about how she might never have known about her daughter’s previous suicide attempt had it not been for the SOS program and how this prompted her to talk about this difficult subject with all of her children. The SOS Signs of Suicide® Prevention Program continues to save lives by opening the lines of communication between parents and students about this critical topic.  

The Teenage Years…A time of uncertainty, confusion, mixed emotions and wacky hormones! As a teenager, I thought I “knew it all” and needed no guidance. This mentality led to many bad decisions and consequences. At age 12 I attempted to take my life, but not with the intent to die. My intent was to gain attention from my mother. At age 14, I again attempted and this time nearly succeeded in taking my life. It seemed like everyone else was doing it, so I didn’t think anything of it except that it was an escape. At 14, my intent was to leave this life. As an adult, having survived this attack on myself, I vowed never to reveal that part of my life to my children.

My children… I have seven, 5 girls (18,13,11, 7 & 5) and 2 boys (16 & 10). They are my world! When my eldest son was in middle school, he yelled at me and said he wanted to “just kill himself!” He was in tears. In an instant, I was taken back to the emotions I faced as a teen. How could I allow my child to feel this way, and why didn’t I see it beforehand? I hurdled across the room, pinned him down, and yelled back at him that he was not allowed to say that! This past year, my ten-year-old son was lying on my bed with a pillow over his face. He looked like he was sleeping, so I creeped in and was going to creep out. As I began to walk out, he took the pillow off his face. I looked at him and he had tears rolling down his face and ever so subtly whimpered, “I want to kill myself, I don’t want to be here anymore.” Only a few years later, I faced this again! Why was my youngest son feeling this way, and what could I do? I raised my voice and told him not to say that because had anyone else threatened to take any of my children’s lives, I would’ve gone crazy and taken them down. In both instances, I hugged both of my boys tight and cried. I tried talking with them to see why they felt this way but couldn’t get an answer. This sparked the expedited need for counseling. So now all of my children go to counseling through Pillars. Even with counseling, depression still laid dormant in another one of my babies; however, it finally reared its devious head in the emotions of my daughter.

My daughter is a timid, thirteen-year-old 8th grader in the midst of discovering who she is. She lives with her mother, father, siblings, dog and cat. She has a few close friends and many who are “arm’s length friends.” She loves One Direction, hanging out with her friends, social media and being with her eighteen-year-old sister. When she brought home a permission slip to attend an SOS seminar, I sought her decision, in hopes that she wouldn’t want to go… and she didn’t. I was happy – happy because I felt that if she were to go, it would put ideas in her head about suicide. After all, I was still in the counseling process from her younger brothers’ threat of suicide. I was just fine with her not wanting to go. Her school called her father and gained his permission to allow her to go. They explained to him what the program was, and that it would be beneficial for her. He agreed and granted permission. (I was working and unaware of the phone call).

After working my overnight shift, I received a phone call from one of the district social workers. She told me that my daughter was with her, and explained everything to me. My daughter had attended the Elyssa’s Mission, SOS seminar and was given a questionnaire. In this questionnaire, she revealed that she had attempted suicide within this past year. At this point, I felt like a complete failure. How can I, as a mother, have three children that don’t want to live? What am I doing wrong? Is it genetic? How am I so blind to not see this coming? Do my other children feel this way? Do they really want to go or is it for attention? These were the thoughts, and then some, that were running through my head as I drove to the school to meet with my daughter and her counselor. Once I got there, I tried to act like I didn’t know what was going on. I wasn’t sure if she knew I knew. The social worker informed me that she was aware that I knew. I then very calmly asked her what happened. My daughter told me that she attempted to take her life by asphyxiation. At this point I broke down. I told her the same thing I told my sons: had anyone else threatened my kids’ lives, they would be down on the ground. I decided to reveal to her, for the purpose of her understanding that she is not the only one, that I had attempted suicide as a teen too. I asked her if she could imagine me not here, and how her siblings would feel if she weren’t here anymore. We cried and cried and hugged and cried. At that point, all I could think of was, had she not gone to the seminar, I would have never found out. My daughter is very private and wouldn’t just tell me like her brothers did.

I am taking classes at the College of DuPage and decided to do a speech on the SOS program. In doing so, I learned so much about the program and about Elyssa’s story. After reading and watching different sources, I stopped feeling guilty and decided that I needed to talk with ALL of my children regarding suicide. From my eighteen-year-old down to my five-year-old, we gathered in our small living room and talked. I began by asking, “How many of you have been so upset that you wanted to hurt yourself?” I was shocked, when every one of them raised their hands! The conversation lasted a while and I used information that I had researched as a means to respond during in our discussion. Specifically, I made sure they knew ACT: Acknowledge, Care and Tell. I let them know that they could talk to each other, teachers and even me or papi (dad).

SOS created, in a bittersweet way, a means of communication for my family. My daughter was able to make known what she had gone through. I was made aware and we were able to come together, as a family, to have an open and real talk about a very sensitive subject. This very same subject I had previously never wanted to discuss with my children in fear that it would put the idea in their head. Boy was I wrong!  With a sincere heart of gratitude, I thank you for bringing this program to my daughter’s school.

Caroyb J. Lewis, LCSW,  Certified School Social Work at Aptakisic Junior High School.

Carolyn J. Lewis, LCSW, Certified School Social Worker at Aptakisic Junior High School.

Carolyn J. Lewis, LCSW, is a Certified School Social Worker at Aptakisic Junior High School. Carolyn shares a wonderful and life-saving story of how an Aptakisic student applied the ACT (Acknowledge, Care, Tell) message on behalf of a student in another state.

I wanted to share a proud, somewhat extraordinary moment with you.  On Tuesday, a teacher brought a student to me whom I’d never met (or even seen).  The student had received an alert from some kind of video chat group she is part of from a friend.  Despite the fact that she had her phone on and was looking at it in class, she saw alarming pictures and captions of a friend sobbing and saying she wants to die because her boyfriend broke up with her.  There were many similar pictures and statements and rather than worrying that she would get in trouble for using her phone in school, she immediately told her teacher.  The teacher told her what we would do and brought her to me.  The girl showed me everything and told me that this friend is someone she has never met in person and that she lives in Pennsylvania.

She allowed me to coach her into what to say to her friend via chat to try to comfort her and elicit more information about where she lives and goes to school.  She was able to find out the nickname of the school and the girl’s last name but that was it.  Last night, she started a chat privately with some of the other members of the group and they all shared their concerns.  She told the group (minus the girl they were concerned about) that she had told me and that we needed to know where she goes to school so I could call the counselor there.  Another member privately chatted with the girl of concern and was able to get the name of the school and share it with my student.

This morning, my student emailed me a screenshot of some of the statement and I contacted the guidance counselor at the girl’s school.  She was able to confirm that the girl is a student there and that they would follow up.  I emailed the screen shot to her.

Later in the day today, I received an email back from the counselor letting me know that they brought the mom into school to tell her everything and they sent them for a crisis evaluation.  They were all so appreciative of us, and so proud of our student, for stepping up.

I followed up with my student several times today to thank her, because really, she is the one who made the difference. She just messaged me that the girl called her tonight to ask if we called her school.  My student was bold and brave, telling her yes, and that she cares about her and was so concerned for her and didn’t want anything to happen to her.

I made sure to let her know that she used ACT perfectly and went above and beyond to keep a friend safe.

I’m kind of on a pride high :). This stuff works!!!

Lizzy Croghan regularly blogs for Elyssa’s Mission sharing her insightful and sincere perspectives.

Lizzy Croghan regularly blogs for Elyssa’s Mission sharing her insightful and sincere perspectives.

I wanted to talk about ECT because I think it’s something researchers need to examine more for patients with severe depression as a means to prevent suicides. I wanted to increase awareness about ECT to educate followers of Elyssa’s Mission as well as those whom may benefit themselves from this treatment.

ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) is a treatment for patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or manic depression. In ECT, electrodes are placed on each side of the head and electricity is sent through to change one’s brain circuits. (Hauser 2015).  It isn’t a one-time procedure; patients require several sessions. ECT has a negative portrayal in Hollywood because in films, it is only used for “crazy” people and frequently administered against someone’s will.  According to scientists, however, that portrayal could not be farther from the truth, especially for patients whom have experienced positive benefits from ECT. ECT even has the ability to change people’s lives.  One woman named Risa Sugarman, for example, had severe clinical depression and was further suicidal until ECT gave her mental stability. She was admitted to a Psych ER due to depression. There, she received ECT treatment three times a week and says it brought her back to feeling normal. She elaborates in the article, “I am feeling the longer-term effects of the ECT and have an even greater perspective of how horrible my depression really was–tricky and unforgiving.” (Sugarman 2014).

Before undergoing ECT one needs to be aware of the risks that come with the procedure. Patients can experience increased heart rate and this can be youarenotalonegraphic (1)extremely dangerous for those with heart disorders. Additionally, patients can experience memory loss, concentration issues, and confusion (Hauser 2015). One should consult with a doctor before undergoing ECT as there are other treatments for suicidal depression such as medication and therapy.

Overall, ECT needs to be examined more instead of swept under the rug because of the negative connotations associated with it. People avoid ECT because they don’t want to be viewed as “crazy” or fear having a seizure (Hurley 2015). If the treatments work, however, there should be no shame for
someone to get the help they need.

(1) Hauser, John. 2013. Risks of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) http://psychcentral.com/lib/risks-of-electroconvulsive-therapy-ect/ Accessed Nov 30 2015

(2) Sugarman, Risa. 2014 “Electroconvulsive Therapy Saved My Life & Helped Me Be Myself Again”http://www.kveller.com/electroconvulsive-therapy-saved-my-life- helped-me-be-myself-again/ Accessed Nov 30, 2014.

(3) Hurley, Dan. “The Return of Electroshock Therapy” 2015 http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/12/the-return-of-electroshock-therapy/413179/ Accessed November 30, 2015.

Megan Linane, a parent at Gurrie Middle School and registered nurse offers additional recommendations to parents on connecting with your child, prevention and recognizing when your child may be struggling with warning signs for depression and suicide

A TALC for Children (Parental plan of care for connectedness promotion)

A= Attention. Pay attention to the emotional cues, body language, and words children choose to describe their feelings.

T= Think the unthinkable. The “It’s just a phase” may not be realistic.

A= Ask a professional, is this behavior normal?

L= Love unconditionally and tell them so often.

C= Communicate actively and physically. (Sometimes just quietly sitting beside them on the couch for some time can initiate conversation. Silence often provides time to put thoughts or feelings into words.)

  1. Educate- Parents can teach their children the importance of knowing your emotions, how to manage them, and ways to express them constructively. This enables one to handle stress, control impulses, and motivate oneself to persevere in overcoming obstacles to goal achievement.
  2. Assess Needs- Parents can usually tell when something is bothering their child, use a therapeutic communication technique here. (Broad openings; I can sense that something is bothering you? Is there something you’d like to talk about?)
  3. Identify goals- Nurture the development of self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.
  4. Eliminate barriers
    • Electronics. Make sure you are having uninterrupted face to face time with your child. This means you too parents! (Remember the basics: family meal time, routine two minute bedtime chats have a way of turning into twenty, how was your day?)
    • Refuse the parental misconception of “Not My Child,” mental illness does not discriminate.
  5. Provide Role Models- Children often mirror image the emotions of a parent.  Continue to identify your own emotional strengths, weaknesses, and coping skills. (Admit when you lose your emotional control in front of them, nobody’s perfect!)  There is strong evidence suggesting parents need to examine their own parental socialization of emotion (PSE), which has been identified as an important and potentially modifiable component of risk for childhood depression. Parental socialization of emotion has been shown to shape the development of children’s understanding, experience, expression, and regulation of emotion.
  6. Follow up- Every day yields an opportunity for follow up. Meaningful conversations should never be ended, rather paused for the time being and continued and throughout a life time.
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