Surviving Suicide: From a Mental Hospital to the Emmys

Suicide awareness is personal, because I have lost family members and friends and almost died myself. The tragedy of attempting to end one’s own life is often accompanied by a mental health issue like depression, as it was in my own case. 

Yet sharing about a mental health struggle can feel shameful and frightening. Despite this, with the catalyst of educating others, I started to share my story quite publicly while working as a reporter and producer at Lima’s WTLW TV 44. It was during the late 1990s, when Ginger Stache, my former supervisor, who is a talented, award-winning journalist, decided to create awareness about suicide by producing a documentary. I agreed to be interviewed for her project.

My story begins during the 1970s, when as a depressed teenager living in a dysfunctional home I attempted suicide. Only a high school junior, my hopeless and unstable environment resulted in the near fatal, intentional drug overdose, which landed me in an Intensive Care Unit hovering between life and death.

I recovered physically, but not emotionally.  Months later, I would spend much of my senior year in Toledo State Mental Hospital. Back then, little had been accomplished in mental health reform, and the hospital was a barbaric place not offering any real hope for recovery.

As the years passed, following a couple more serious suicide attempts, an ongoing battle with addiction, along with intermittent and lengthy hospitalizations, a psychiatrist in charge of my case said I would probably die by suicide or in a mental institution.

Instead of fulfilling this dire prophecy, over three decades ago, I found emotional and spiritual healing on a psychiatric ward the last time I had to be hospitalized. A pastor visited me there and explained, “What happened to you as a child, hurt God more than it hurt you.” 

This supernatural knowledge changed my perception of our Creator. I didn’t realize God cared and understood the pain I felt as a frightened child living in an alcoholic home afraid to sleep at night. Before the pastor’s reassurance of our heavenly Father’s concern, I had never felt loved by God wondering why He didn’t protect me when I needed His help most.

My healing and faith journey began after learning people and circumstances can break our hearts, but that God’s heart is also broken when His children suffer. I gave my life to Jesus on that same psychiatric ward and started living a different lifestyle by reading the Bible, attending church and recovery meetings, exercising, eating right, and waiting on God’s intervention by praying instead of reacting from pain or panic.  

Depression and shame about the stigma of mental illness gave way to the gradual understanding that my testimony offered hope to others still hurting. Eventually, I graduated from college, and later began working in the broadcasting field. That’s why I took part in Ginger Stache’s documentary, “Before You Say Good-bye,” which aired nationwide and in Europe. She was nominated for two regional Emmys for the half-hour film.

When Ginger invited me to attend the 1999 black-tie Emmy Awards banquet to be held in the opulent ballroom of an historic Cleveland hotel, I felt like Cinderella. There was only one problem, being a single mom on my meager journalist’s budget didn’t allow for ball gowns.

When I found a dark green crepe formal at 85 percent off, I could hardly believe my good fortune. It was my size and fit perfectly. I handed over my hard-earned $20.00 bill and triumphantly left the mall with the dress. In the days that followed, I tried to be grateful, despite the fact I didn’t care much for the nondescript gown.

A couple of my female colleagues were also attending the celebration. While they were excitedly describing their formals and accessories, I couldn’t help but envy them. They weren’t wicked stepsisters, simply women who had more disposable income.

Cinderella in Velvet

One day, another producer, Sheri Ketner noticed that I wasn’t thrilled with my dress. While I was expounding the virtues of finding such a bargain, Sheri candidly asked, “But, you don’t like it, do you?”

My countenance must have visibly fallen, as I dejectedly answered, “No.” Then I saw a determined look on my compassionate co-worker’s face. A couple days later, Sheri brought a large cardboard box into the TV station and handed it to me. Inside was a breathtaking burgundy velvet gown with a beaded neckline, and a skirt made of countless yards of translucent tulle over the velvet.

At the bottom of the box were matching velvet heels. Instantly I was saddened, since shoes rarely fit my narrow size 9 feet. However, I was amazed to see that the shoes were marked, “9N.” Sheri, smiled with satisfaction, and told me, the outfit was “borrowed,” and would have to be returned after the Emmys.

Larry & Christina

Ginger Stache didn’t win a regional Emmy that night, nor did I get my prince. But a few years later on the evening of June 8, 2002, Ginger’s documentary about smuggling Bibles into China garnered the coveted prize. At the same time, I was marrying my handsome husband of almost 20 years now, in a candlelight ceremony.

For me, depression is still an occasional battle. And quite truthfully, it’s been a fierce struggle again in light of this more than yearlong pandemic. We have to be honest, because too many people are giving up hope that things can get better. Media reports suggest 40 percent of Americans are struggling with some type of mental health battle like anxiety or depression. Plus, there are increased addiction issues.

That’s why, we must utilize all the tools of recovery available, while acknowledging that mental health issues still carry a societal stigma. We have to continue the mission to destigmatize this illness, and applaud each one of the millions of Americans trying their very best to get through this unprecedented season one day at a time. For those of us who are believers, it’s also our spiritual duty to show compassion and kindness to each other, because we never know who is the one experiencing some relentlessly dark days.

After all, if I would have died as a teenager, I wouldn’t be here to share this Cinderella tale. Before you say, “Good-bye,” please call the 24 hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-TALK, or seek professional counseling. After all, the life you save may be your own.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a National Amy and Ohio APME award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker who has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show and on CBN’s 700 Club. Her inspiring fictional, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is her most recent book. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

Recovery: The Art of Repurposing Lives

My mother had an artistic ability to make everything beautiful. For instance, once with half-a-dozen children loaded in her old car, she spied a treasure in the trash about a block from our home in Lima. Mom gasped with pleasure at the sighting, but I was sure the old bookshelf had seen better days. Not to be denied, she marched up to the front door of that house and asked the elderly female owner if she could have the bookcase.

BookshelfThe dark wood was heavily marred with scratches, and it didn’t look like much of a prize. In those days, Old English furniture polish was the standard cure for distressed furniture, so Mom doused the entire shelf in the dark liquid. Almost magically, it seemed to breathe new life into the discarded antique. When the wood dried, she found a lace dolly that covered the deep gouges on top, and then filled the shelves with books and glassware. Even though I had seen her do it countless times, once more this resourceful woman created something of beauty out of second-hand junk.

Back then, we didn’t use terms like: repurpose, refresh, restore, or reinvent. There was no category of household items or furniture known as Shabby Chic or vintage, or stores filled with repurposed products. If something was used, it was simply that, “used.” It was to be looked down upon, rejected, or devalued.

We can devalue others too, overlooking the fact that the art of repurposing isn’t just about old furniture or broken jewelry. Rather it’s about putting back together the pieces of people’s lives that have been shattered by addiction. After all, it’s easy to look at individuals making poor choices, and to believe they are past societal or even spiritual redemption. Addiction is complicated, whether it is heroin, prescription painkillers, countless other drugs, or even alcohol. Since the battle with heroin began, many folks have forgotten that although alcohol consumption is legal, it can still be a dangerous substance if abused. For example, alcohol remains a contributing factor in divorce, domestic violence, and in 40 percent of violent crimes.

Headlines and nightly TV news stories tell us the harrowing tales of the wrongs committed by individuals plagued by substance abuse. There are murders, robberies, fatal car crashes, and overdoses that paint the picture of people whose lives are out of control. But that’s not the whole picture. Whatever the addiction, we can cast off these struggling human beings and offer them and their loved ones little hope for restoration forgetting that recovery is always possible. Celebrities including: Robert Downey Jr., Eric Clapton, Samuel Jackson, and many others have overcome drug addiction. Even the most lost and hopeless of cases can turn into the greatest advocates for change when provided with a fresh start.

Yet this is not a rose-tinted philosophy requiring little effort. Increased funding will have to be continually allocated to addiction and mental health issues, along with ongoing education to know how to better serve this at-risk population. Long-term affordable treatment centers, recovery programs for those incarcerated, and family support networks will have to be established. More twelve step recovery and faith groups will be essential, but prevention among the young will be key. In this recovery fight, there are those on the frontlines who deserve our gratitude for their dedication. Mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, court system employees, first responders, and medical personnel who are daily confronted with the first step in the plan to save lives. Also, twelve step leaders and courageous recovering addicts who share their powerful testimonies in hopes of preventing others from walking the treacherous path of addiction.

Our nation’s heroin epidemic took most of us by surprise, and we are still reeling from its existence. Yet burying our heads in the proverbial sand won’t make it go away. That’s why we should support those on the frontlines, and equip them with whatever assistance we can provide, while wrapping our arms around the families that have been wrestling with a loved one’s addiction in whatever way possible.

Key NecklaceThankfully, my mother’s lesson about reclaiming the vitality of a cast-off item stayed with me. That’s why not long ago, when I found a large rhinestone and silver-plated key at a church sale, I had to buy it.

I had no idea what to do with the sparkling key, but then I happened upon a necklace that had lost its own pendant. The key fit perfectly on the long silver chain, but it still seemed incomplete. I added a few more gems including: a miniature heart with a mustard seed, and a silver charm from a broken bracelet engraved with the words from Scripture, “If you have faith so small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Writing this column is having faith in the impossible. My mother taught me another lesson. When you don’t know what to do, do something. So I’m writing another recovery column, hopeful that keeping the conversation going is a way to fight back. For now, may we all take “one day at a time,” and work together to find solutions by rejecting apathy, refusing to give up, and reclaiming our communities one life at a time.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy and Ohio AP award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

Let’s Keep Talking about Heroin

heroin spoonWhen an individual becomes an addict, they aren’t who they once were. A formerly honest person will lie, cheat, or steal to get their next fix. As a society we must be aware of how desperate this chain of deception can be, and how we can become ensnared in its web, despite our good intentions. For example, recently I was in a local drugstore when a seemingly frantic male approached me holding his cell phone in his hand. He told me that he had just spoken with his grandmother and was terribly embarrassed to ask, but he needed an additional $10.00 to buy a prescription for a loved one. His request tugged at my heartstrings. The young man dressed in a plaid cowboy shirt could sense my ardent desire to help, but what he couldn’t sense is that my compassion was checked by a painful past experience.

Years ago, this same story had caused me to give another stranger $20 to buy medicine for a non-existent sick child. I was a single mom back then, and that $20 was a large portion of our meager grocery budget. I found out later through a reputable source that my hard-earned money was used to buy drugs. My intentions were right, because the Bible says, “…if anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” Still, I vowed to use greater wisdom. prescription pillsThat’s why I went to the pharmacy counter inquiring if there was a young man unable to pay for a prescription. I wanted to help anonymously, if the need was authentic. The drugstore clerk informed me that no one matching his description or situation had been there.

We have to use great caution continually, since headlines report fatal overdoses in area motel rooms, murders in nearby sleepy villages, and rampant crime everywhere. Most of it is heroin-related. Yet it’s easy to believe that heroin addiction will never affect someone you care about, until it does.

The trouble is that very few of us remain unscathed by this deadly epidemic. According to the most recent statistics reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 5,927 deaths in 2012 compared to 8,260 in 2013. That’s an alarming 39% increase. Over a decade ago, I experienced the loss of a close acquaintance to heroin. Back then, little was known about this cunning culprit. I was confused that its victim, a middle-aged mom who had spent much of her life as a professional woman, had been trapped in heroin’s clutches. Her funeral left many folks searching for answers. It seemed shocking that she had pulled off a double life, but it was not a shock to those close to her. They had lived with the chaos, fear, and unpredictability that loving an addict creates. No one could have forecast this treacherous path strewn with tears and hopelessness. After all, no little girl or boy says, “When I grow up, I want to be a heroin addict.” It must be a parent’s worst nightmare, and it’s definitely an extended family member and friend’s frustrating role. Often, we don’t speak of heroin addiction in our inner circle, lest we shame those already heaped with guilt. We are further silenced by our inability to provide answers.

That’s why I started reading everything I could about the subject. I even found myself studying the local obituaries of those whose deaths seem to be heroin-related. Of course, it can be difficult to tell. A few months ago, I didn’t have to wonder if the young man with an engaging smile died of an overdose. His obituary read, “… [He] was taken away from us far too soon after fighting a battle for his life against heroin addiction.” My heart broke for his family, but it also swelled with pride that they had the courage to confront heroin head on. Not to bury the tragic truth with their loved one, instead to say that he fought valiantly, but lost the battle.

What that family did was of groundbreaking importance. They called the enemy out, and we need to have that same courage. To keep talking about the existence of heroin in our communities, and to be honest that as a relative, neighbor, churchgoer, or friend, our lives have probably already been personally impacted in some way. The first step in finding a solution is to accept that the problem is closer to home than we care to admit.

Christina at The CarolineChristina Ryan Claypool is an Ohio AP and national Amy award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her though her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com. She has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club and on Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life TV programs.

Pain: My One Word for 2015

Pain [noun]: “the physical feeling caused by disease, injury, or something that hurts the body or : mental or emotional suffering : sadness caused by some emotional or mental problem”  Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Winter SceneP-A-I-N!  I definitely did not want this bleak word to start the new year. Here in Ohio, January is bitter cold and the days are gray enough. I tried desperately to push the word out of my mind, assured that I was not hearing our heavenly Father’s still small voice clearly.

My search for my one word for 2015 began in December 2014. I prayed that God would reveal what I needed to contemplate in order to grow spiritually and become more like Him. At first, it was difficult to accept that a good God would want me to concentrate on the word, “Pain.” I wanted nothing to do with dissecting its definition for twelve months. I had to wonder if this was a misguided, self-inflicted masochistic leading like cutting my arm as a teen had been. Or if the all-wise Holy Spirit could possibly desire for me to further investigate this topic.

Seeds of Hope coverYou see, I know a lot about the pain of mental torment. When I committed my life to Christ in my early 30s, I was a patient on a psychiatric ward battling depression and addiction. I was desperate for anything that would relieve the anguish. Then in my more than two decades of recovery, I have tried to empower others in their journey of finding wholeness from past brokenness, addiction, or abuse. In my book, Seeds of Hope for Survivors, I share some of the painful circumstances which I have overcome through God’s grace to enjoy the fulfilling existence that I have today. Speaking and writing about the pathway of spiritual & emotional healing, I have found the true meaning of being a “New Creation” in Christ. By profession, I am a journalist, a lover of words, but this particular word has always had a terrible emotional connotation. Pain is a four-letter word that conjures up agony and suffering, and is something I’ve spent my life running from, or trying to overcome.

That’s why, I prayed earnestly for confirmation concerning this 2015 word of the year suspecting the enemy of my soul was sending “Pain” to haunt me one more time. I tried to convince myself that our benevolent Father wanted me to have a positive expression like “Believe.” After all, my 2014 word was “Hope.” This past year, I have enjoyed researching Scriptures and even purchasing keepsakes that point to the hope we have in our Savior.

To prove that I was hearing wrong, I turned to my favorite resource regarding the word of the year, “One Perfect Word,” by Debbie Macomber. I was certain the New York Times best selling author would advise folks to never select a negative word. To my surprise, when I randomly opened her book and began reading, my eyes landed on the heading, “Choosing Your Word.” The famous author writes:

“Sometimes a word will not let you alone –  like my word brokenness. Who would want to spend a whole year exploring something as depressing as that? I’m an optimist by nature, but I’ve discovered over the years that some of the most profound lessons of life have grown out of pain [there it was again] and struggle….. If the Lord seems to be whispering the word that you’d much rather not even think about I encourage you to embrace it. Prepare for a year of discovery and growth. God will bless your willingness to trust Him for your word.”(Page 72, One Perfect Word by Debbie Macomber)

Even after this serendipitous event of divine intervention, I still wanted to push “pain” away. To explain, I have spent almost a year and a half battling debilitating physical pain caused by injury and arthritis. Pain that exhausted me, that took every bit of creative energy away, and that made me feel like an old woman before my time. I had always promised myself that I would never turn into one of those boring individuals who talk only of their physical ailments. Then suddenly, I found myself offering daily reports about the unrelenting pain in my feet, hands, and knees, while discussing doctor visits and surgery. Formerly an athletic individual, I was relegated to life on crutches and the couch. I was the one used to ministering to others, and now I was humbled to require assistance for daily tasks.

I prayed and cried and begged the God who I had always known as Healer to restore me to the vibrant woman I had once been. All to no avail, as the physical pain continued, and fear of more pain increased my anxiety. The resulting emotional turmoil grew so intense that deep depression became a battle like it had been in my youth. I had never experienced anything like this. My heart was broken by my diminished existence, and also for all the other folks living daily with chronic pain. The kind of unceasing torment, that can ultimately cause you to question God’s love for you. Pentecostal by background, I did not theologically know how to explain pain. Didn’t I have enough faith? Was there sin somewhere in my heart? I knew all these faulty questions were not the problem, thankfully my non-charismatic brothers and sisters would never even ask them, yet I had watched others who were struggling being judged over my years in ministry. Even when I was well, I never wanted to judge someone suffering, knowing there is so much we will never understand with our finite mind.

As I wrestled with physical pain, my personality changed too. Like a butterfly who is forming in a cocoon gradually I began to transform into a more gentle human being. Something, my passionate nature and high energy have always prevented. Of course, I did not know this. The pain made me think that I was simply weak and had failed, since I was unable to recognize the person I had become. It was my precious husband who at first was sorely confused by this metamorphosis, but eventually delighted that I was no longer the driven individual he had married.

Finally and miraculously, I am beginning to feel better physically – more like myself, something I will admit I had almost given up hope of happening. There are a couple permanent limitations like everyone grappling with getting older, but amazingly some good days. Sadly though, so many wonderful people around me continue to suffer. With my health being renewed, the last thing I want to do is to think about pain, but there is no escaping it. “Pain” is my one word for 2015 – the word God wants me to “embrace” as Debbie Macomber suggests, because He obviously has more for me to understand about it.Christina Ryan Claypool - Angel Column photo 2

Perhaps, as I reflect upon its meaning, I will learn not to fear it, trusting that God` has always been with me in the midst of it. Then in some small way, maybe I will be better able to assist others struggling with spiritual, emotional, or chronic physical pain for which there seems to be no remedy. In the end, our Heavenly Father will eradicate all of our pain. Revelation 21:4 NIV says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Until that day, it’s up to us to be wounded healers to those we encounter who are desperate for our Savior’s mercy. So, “Pain,” here I come. In 2015, for the first time in my life, I’m facing you head on.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist, Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor, and inspirational speaker. She has a Masters in Ministry from Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com

Battling Addictions: There is Help!

With headlines pointing to celebrities in and out of rehab clinics and many communities plagued with serious drug issues, we can forget that alcoholism remains a problem of great dimension. It is, “The most abused drug in our society,” said Cynthia Moore.

A lot of clients who are struggling with addictions including alcohol are referred to the Shelby County Counseling Center where Mrs. Moore is the Substance Abuse Clinical Supervisor. “…90 percent of our [addictions] client base are ordered by the court to be here, which means they have had an alcohol or drug related offense.” Getting help is often, “An alternative to jail or prison, if they successfully complete a program,” she said. Mrs. Moore has been in the business of helping folks overcome addictions since 1987. Yet the passion for the cause is still evident in her voice. Working in the field began as a college internship. “…I had some family members who struggled with alcohol addiction. I just thought…I’ll just try it. I never did anything else since. I love it,” she said.

It appears difficult to isolate alcohol abuse solely though, since many of the agency’s clients struggle with cross-addiction. “They may have another primary drug, heroin is huge right now, but always drinking in the interim,” said the addictions expert. “We see cross-addiction…where they are addicted to many substances.”

As for putting a face on the problem, the supervisor believes, “The reality is we are interacting with people who are functioning with addictions everyday. First, we must get to know individuals better, before we see their struggle.” Whether it is an employer or family member, “Sometimes they get angry, they don’t understand that drug addiction or alcoholism is a disease,” she said. “It’s important to separate the person from the disease.” Moore is emphatic in stressing the importance of recognizing that, “This is always a disease. You are going to see mood swings…[also] this disease causes people to break their value systems.”

How do we know when it’s time to seek help for someone we care about? “As the disease progresses, the effect on those major life areas get bigger and bigger and easier to see,” said the supervisor. “What people don’t realize is that chemical dependency treatment is a cumulative process,” she said. “Many things throughout someone’s life have to accumulate before they are ready [to get help]. They might be job problems, health problems, legal problems, medical problems, spiritual problems, [ etc.]” Alcoholism is “cunning, baffling, and powerful,” said Moore, quoting from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. “Part of our treatment program is to introduce them to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-Anon. She asserts that it is, “Very important for an addicted person to find others who have walked that path and succeeded. They cannot fight addiction alone. They need others with them to help them deal with the thing that has become more powerful then themselves.”

As for church support groups like Celebrate Recovery, Cynthia Moore considers these to be, “Very helpful avenues, as well.” Although she admits that the drawback is that many individuals battling with substance abuse can also struggle with a lack of worthiness initially making seeking assistance from a religiously-affiliated source difficult for them. To be an advocate for someone fighting addiction, “We have to be aware of the resources in our community. In every county there is an agency that is dedicated to helping the addicted population,” said Moore. Agencies like Shelby County Counseling Center offer, “…support services to the family, as well the addict,” she said. The Center’s primary “funding stream comes from the Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services. We have a sliding scale based on family size and income,” Moore explained. [Although] “…we never ever refuse anyone service based on ability to pay,” she added.

If you are wondering if you have a problem, or concerned that someone you love might, you “…can call and just talk to counselor,” said Moore. This doesn’t require an appointment, instead phone the center and ask, “Can I just talk to counselor for a moment?” Moore suggested. “Really, what it is about, if this is the time for them to be ready,” said the mental health professional.

Is it your time to get some help? It takes a lot more courage to pick up the phone, than to simply suffer in silence. Call the Board of Mental Health in your area and ask for a referral, visit a church recovery group, or attend an AA, NA, or Al-Anon meeting to learn more. Check your local newspaper’s community calendar for meeting places and times. There is hope for breaking free of addictions, but you have to take the first step. After all, the life you save may be your own.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning journalist and inspirational speaker. This post is excerpted from a column which originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News on February 4, 2013.