Tonight, I sat next to you as you drove home in your first vehicle. You asked me questions as we drove. “Do I turn on my blinker here?” “Do I need to start slowing down yet?” “What’s the speed limit here?”
And I heard myself say it…
Follow the signs. I won’t always be here.
After those words came out of my mouth, you responded with, “That’s true.” You slowed down when you saw reduced speed warnings, you slowed down when you came to those yellow curve signs, and you set your cruise at a safe speed until you found one of those handy speed limit signs. While we were talking about driving, the words were bittersweet for so many reasons. It’s just true. I won’t always be here, and I pray you know how to follow the signs of life to help you make good decisions.
As a parent, my entire world centers around you. Teaching you how to drive is also teaching me how to let go…how to trust you in a very scary world. Most importantly, it’s teaching me to trust that I have taught you about Jesus. It’s teaching us both to trust that while I won’t always be here with you, He will be.
My child, I pray you know Him. I pray you learn more and more to trust your life with Him. I pray for your safety and for those signs He gives you thousands of times a day to be so huge, they will be impossible for you to ignore. I pray you learn how to listen to His guidance and follow the signs.
Lately, I’ve been sharing much of our family’s reality. In 2009, my husband was diagnosed with Depression and he has since survived five suicide attempts. This just in…in 2020, our teenage son had his first suicide attempt. I pray it’s his last as he is safe. A mental health hospitalization for our 13-year-old was the last thing we expected, but it’s exactly what we needed.
That mental health hospitalization forced our family to talk. No distractions. Just us.
It’s no secret that no teenager wants a parent to be constantly asking, “How are you feeling? Any thoughts of self-harm? Do you feel safe?” So we came up with a system…one we used with my husband when he grew tired of those annoying, and quite frankly, embarrassing, questions. We laughed and said we would even name our new method for checking mental health…enter “The Koch Number System.” I know. Super creative, right?
But it’s simple. And simple is good, especially for overwhelmed teens who are learning to be open with their feelings. The Koch (pronounced “Koh” and rhymes with “Toe.”) Number System allows teens to share their feelings in as few words as possible. And it allows advocates to take the information and do what we need to help. As advocates for mental health and suicide survivors, we would like to share our method with you.
The Koch Number System
We ask our son, “What’s your number?”
He responds with one of the following… 1 = I feel like myself. I feel good. 2 = I’m sad…a little down. But no thoughts of self-harm. 3 = I’m having bad thoughts. We need to reach out to our support system. 4 = I have a plan to harm myself. It’s time to get me help to keep me safe.
Please do mental health checks with your teen. Please help them to know that talking is good and accepting help is strong. Too many in our world fight silent battles with mental illness. But one in three will struggle with mental health in any one year alone. One in three. You are never alone, and we are all in this together. We fight mental illness and suicide by talking…even if it makes some uncomfortable.
Speak up. Positive change never happened by keeping our society comfortable.
Trauma looks different for everyone. What may seem like a trivial life event to some might be a defining moment for someone else. As adults, we often find ourselves saying things like, “Kids are resilient. They’ll be okay.”
While that may be true, kids turn into adults. And if kids don’t learn coping skills while navigating through traumatic life events, those kids grow into adults who don’t understand the importance of accepting help and managing their mental health. And how do kids learn these skills? They are modeled and discussed by the influential adults in their lives.
There’s a theory out there, Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development to be exact. Erikson maintained that personalities develop through eight stages of development, from infancy to adulthood. Look it up; it’s super interesting. But I’m mostly concerned with stages four and five right now. Stage four is “Industry vs. Inferiority,” typically ages 5-12 when children either are either encouraged to develop skills and to take initiative to reach goals themselves or are restricted by teachers or parents and are made to feel inferior. Then stage five is “Identity vs. Role Confusion,” between 12-18 years. In this crucial stage, adolescents search for a sense of self…they intensely explore personal values, beliefs, and goals. Essentially, they learn how to transfer from childhood to adulthood.
So if we, from parents and teachers to family and friends, don’t teach and model mental health maintenance, coping skills, and healthy boundaries during these important developmental stages, how will these developing children learn to become self-sufficient adults? Yes, kids are resilient. But they need to learn adult coping skills.
As an example, our boys, currently ages 13 and 10, have been through a lot. Beginning in 2009 when our second son was born, my husband started showing signs of severe depression. Over the course of the next six years, Jeremy was mostly emotionally absent as he learned how to live again as opposed to just staying alive. He survived five suicide attempts, one of which involved a near-fatal car accident, two life flights, six surgeries in five days, eight days in the ICU, and one month in the hospital away from our young boys.
As our boys grew older and learned how to be open and honest about our reality, we began explaining the truth of Jeremy’s mental illness. We used words they could understand and not fear. We openly talked and allowed our boys to ask questions. Sometimes, today, I feel our kids understand mental illness better than we do. So much so that our boys helped us write a book to help other families open up conversations about mental illness.
I wish I could say I know exactly what we are doing as parents, but that’s not the truth. Parenting is a series of trial and error, try and try again, and hit your knees and pray over and over again. But I will say this…as Aunt Karen says, “Our kids win.” Our kids are growing up watching the struggle and the triumph with mental health. From counseling and doctor appointments to brain scans and sharing our truth in public talks and on social media, our kids are growing up unafraid to be open and to accept help. I believe they win.
Just the other day, our oldest confirmed to us that he is, in fact, understanding the importance of accepting help. You see, this past summer my husband’s father was killed by mental illness when he completed suicide. Just a few weeks before Randy died, our oldest son and I had to go through his house and remove all guns while Randy accepted help in an inpatient mental health facility. Sadly, there were guns hidden in places we didn’t know about and Randy died a few weeks after leaving treatment. My husband lost his father, our boys lost their grandfather, and I lost my father-in-law…all because Randy didn’t understand that it was okay to not be okay. He was facing an overwhelming new normal and he wanted others to be the reason he was okay; it was too much for him. And our son is struggling with feeling responsible. “Mom. I don’t understand where he got the gun. We went through that room. We went through everything.”
My husband and I knew he was struggling, so we asked if he’d like to go speak with his counselor, someone he trusts and has been speaking to off and on since he was much younger. He did. And as I entered the room for the last ten minutes of our son’s counseling appointment in order to schedule more visits and talk about what to work on at home, he looked at me and said, “Mom, I feel like I need to come every week for a while…instead of every two weeks or every month.” He’s processing his trauma, and because he has watched his dad accept help, our teenager has no problem with it. We scheduled the appointments and are already seeing a world of difference in our boy. Proud momma.
So yes, kids are resilient. But we have to remember that kids grow into adults. If they don’t learn these mental health maintenance skills from an early age, they won’t be able to use them as adults. But if they do see these important issues and skills discussed and modeled, we may just help change a generation’s mind. We may just be able to stop the stigma attached to mental illness. We may just be able to lower the rates of suicide, and that’s something worth fighting for.
If you are anything like me, it can be hard to keep your cool when your child (no matter how old) is physically losing his collective mind. Growing up is hard, but throw in sensory issues or emotional regulation problems, and we don’t only get meltdowns, we get dangerous aggression. As a Special Education professional and mother to a teen with High-Functioning Autism, I have put together some information to help you.
Keep in mind that every kid is different, but I have found these methods helpful in both my professional and personal lives. From holes in the wall and doors ripped off to barstools thrown and siblings attacked, I’ve experienced it all. And I’ve found that these steps help me to keep my cool…which makes all the difference with de-escalation for my child. Try it.
Parents of extreme children have to find our own ways of de-escalating the situation…especially as our children grow. But the steps I have put together below can help any parent of any child during a meltdown. Why? Because these steps are all about supporting the Social Emotional Learning of our children…not reacting and punishing.
Keep him, and others around, safe.
Yes, this may mean you need to hold him. If you aren’t sure of safe holding methods, I recommend checking out Mandt System holds. I hold my child with his back to my chest…arms crossed in front of him (as shown below).
Get to his level.
Sit with him, hold him, lay on the floor with him, rock with him, etc. Stay at his level.
Say phrases like… ~ “I get it.” ~ “I’m here.” ~ “I know.” ~ “Look at me. I’ve got you.” ~ “You’re safe.”
Breathe with him.
Say, “In your nose (breathe in)…out your mouth (breathe out).” Do this over and over while repeating the validating words from the previous step. He will begin to release his tension.
When he has de-escalated and his body has returned back to a more relaxed state, he will be exhausted. Just hold him. Repeat the words you’ve been saying, stroke his hair, kiss his head, etc. Remember that it’s likely he may not remember/process a lot of what just happened yet. If you had him in a hold, this may be when he will voluntarily turn around…depending on the child. My son always turns around and holds me in a hug while we rock, breathe, etc. He’s almost 13.
Wait to talk about what happened until much later…sometimes the next day. After a physical meltdown, brain activity is often equivalent/similar to what a child with Epilepsy’s brain resembles after a seizure. Body and mind are exhausted. Safety and validation are the only concerns right now.
Later is when you address what happened. From what went wrong to what went right and what worked. Talk about breathing techniques, coping strategies, and allow your child to tell you what helped or did not help. Be open to accepting that your child deserves some respect during the process of learning how to manage his own emotions.
~ Feel free to share with anyone and everyone who you feel may benefit from this information. My goal is always supporting others. I truly believe that children learning these emotional regulation skills is a huge aspect of managing mental health later in life. – Bailey Koch ~ Follow our journey on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jeremyandbailey/. Our website is at www.jeremyandbailey.com. On social media @jeremyandbailey.
I saw you in the clouds today. In the quiet of the morning, I felt your presence. And I know it was you.
I thank God every day since you left this place for the truth in knowing that He understands mental illness. God sends us little reminders of you…so we know you are okay. No different than any other death-causing illness, sometimes mental illness wins in this life, but He already won the war. And I get to see you again one day.
I know you are you again. Whole. Pure. Cheerful and bright. Free of the pains in this world. Free of mental illness.
I imagine you…the real you. I see you waving and cheering us on. I see you stunningly dressed in your best flashing a toothy grin. You are there and you are you again…and we are left here.
I’ve learned that God won’t cause pain, but He will use it for His greater purpose. And I just have to pray and know that will be the case. Because this type of pain, a world without you here, a world where suicide feels like the only answer, is just too much to bear without knowing there is a much greater purpose, a giant hope for healing to move from surviving with mental illness to living in mental health.
I want you to know that I understand now. I get that it wasn’t you. I get that mental illness made you believe that you were a burden. I know mental illness lied to you, tricked you, and held you so strongly in its grasp.
I know mental illness murdered you…you didn’t take your own life.
I want this world to understand. I want good to come from this pain. I want the world to learn the importance of separating the person from the mental illness. Give Jesus a high five for me. Can’t wait to see you again.
~ In loving memory of all those we’ve lost to murder by mental illness, please share and help the world understand and fight this monster.
~ Written by Jeremy & Bailey Koch. Jeremy, a five-time suicide attempt survivor, has lived to explain the reality of suicidal ideations and is now over three years free of suicidal thoughts after finding faith, medications, and a mental health support system of family, friends, counselors, pastors, and more. Bailey, his wife and primary support person, stands beside him and helps him accept help and share his story. In June of 2019, at the age of 65, Jeremy’s dad was murdered by mental illness when suicide claimed his life.
~ If you are experiencing any thoughts of ending your life, please reach out and accept help. You are loved, wanted, and so important. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Mental illness is a tricky asshole, we get that. But you know what’s even worse than mental illness? The judgment, blame, and shame that can come from those who don’t understand it.
Mental illness can take a person and turn them into someone practically unrecognizable. It can sneak around behind closed doors, in walls, and hide in the dark. It can be a shape-shifter. It can put on a happy face for the rest of the world while those who truly know the person that mental illness has stolen see nothing but the lies, deceit, and terror lurking everywhere.
Mental illness can blame. It wants to be fixed…now. It doesn’t want to work, wait, or see the truth. Mental illness wants to take everyone else down with it. And you know what? It will if you let it. Mental illness wants those who are healthy to be destroyed. It wants families torn apart and blame placed. It wants others to be destroyed trying desperately to be the reason someone else is okay.
Mental illness doesn’t want to talk. It wants to make up lies and excuses while instilling fear. Mental illness doesn’t want to have a grown-up conversation about itself. It seeks only to divide, separate, and hush. Mental illness wants to win…and sometimes it will in this life.
***~ If you are experiencing any of the feelings described in this post, please reach out and accept help. You are loved, wanted, and so important. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ ***
I know you’re hurting, but I’m here to say I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. In fact, my brain constantly and overwhelmingly convinced me that you are better off without me. I truly believed that I was doing you a favor. Now that I’m gone, I understand how sick I was. I get it. And I’m sorry I hurt you.
I didn’t know any better. Mental illness clouded me. It enveloped me like a thick fog and all I saw was darkness. Everywhere I turned. Darkness.
You see, even though the world will often say that I didn’t consider my friends and family at all, that I was so selfish, you were actually the only thing on my mind. I understand now how mental illness works. And just so you know, God understands it too. He’s here with me…or I’m here with Him. However you want to look at it. It’s cool. I’m good.
I was in so much pain on earth. I just knew. I knew how much of a burden I was to you. I knew your life would be beautiful if only you didn’t have to worry about my problems. Yes, you tried to convince me otherwise. And I love you so much for that. I love how hard you tried. And I know you loved me fiercely on earth; I see that now. I saw it then too, but my mental illness didn’t let me care. Sometimes I wanted to, but here’s the thing…I was really good at hiding the pain. I just didn’t want you to have to worry, and I didn’t understand I was doing more harm by not being honest…by not accepting the help you tried to give. Mental illness just wouldn’t let me; it held me so strongly in its grasp. So you need to know one thing.
This was not your fault.
Truth be told, it wasn’t my fault either. Mental illness won in that life, but it didn’t win in the life I’m in now. It is a disease…not unlike other diseases that cause death. I’m in no pain. It’s beautiful here. I’m okay.
I did take my own life, but please know I wasn’t trying to be selfish. The pain was intense, but not for myself. The pain I felt for you, for the pain I truly believed I was causing you, was unbearable. I love you now. I loved you then. I’m excited to see you soon. I’m here.
All my love,
~ Written by Jeremy & Bailey Koch. Jeremy, a five-time suicide attempt survivor, has lived to explain the reality of suicidal ideations. Bailey, his wife and primary support person, stands beside him and helps him accept help and share his story. This post was written based upon a suicide note Jeremy left for Bailey in 2012. As of today, Jeremy is nearly 3 years free of suicidal thoughts. Healing happens. Hold onto hope.
~ If you are experiencing any of the feelings described in this post, please reach out and accept help. You are loved, wanted, and so important. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
This was me. Here I was, vacationing in Colorado with my beautiful family in July of 2012, a lot thinner than I am now. I was around 50 pounds lighter. And I was miserable.
Now don’t get your panties in a twist, Tiny Tina. I’m not bagging on fitness, exercise, watching what you eat, whatever. I’m just telling my story.
I didn’t try to lose weight at this point in my life. I lost the weight because I was completely unhealthy. I barely ate. I threw up a lot…not because I was trying to, but because my anxiety was so high wondering if I would come home to my husband dead that my body couldn’t process foods. Sure, I posted the pictures and pretended. I loved the comments of, “You look so beautiful!” and “Oh my gosh you look amazing!” The attention from others, the comments…they kept me going. But here’s what you didn’t know…
I’m not naturally a small person. I’m an in-betweenie. I thrived on attention at that point in my life because my real world was crumbling. My husband had recently survived his fourth, and by far the most serious, suicide attempt. We hadn’t opened up to the world about our reality with mental illness yet. In order to feel like my husband wanted me in any way, I had to initiate. His Depression had taken over. My husband was no longer the man I married and emotionally, I was a single mother. We were together and he was physically there, but that’s all. So I poured myself into something different…into myself and attention from others.
Now let’s fast-forward to December 2018…
Over the years, my husband learned to be open. He learned to accept help. We learned how to live a life for others as opposed to ourselves. We began to understand that God hadn’t done this to us, but rather for us.
I’m married to a five-time suicide attempt survivor, a man I have more respect and love for than anyone else in the world. My husband lives for Jesus, takes medication, sees a counselor, has lunch with his pastor near weekly, and is raising two beautiful boys to know their Father, to respect others, to express emotions, and to accept help. I’m married to a man who loves his wife, respects every part of her, desires her, and craves time with her. Our family became a family of fighters.
For a while in life, mental illness took over our lives because we let it. Now, we have learned to live and not just stay alive.
This is our family now…
I can’t say I don’t want to exercise, eat right, and take care of myself. But I can say that, should I choose to try to lose weight, it will be a whole new ball game for me. It will be a completely different journey. It will be because I will have to learn how to take care of myself in healthy ways, rather than thriving on attention.
For now, I’m hefty and happy. And I’m 100% okay with who I am and where I am.
First of all, thank you for what you do. I’m an educator myself and I have many friends and family who are as well. I understand your sacrifice, dedication, and commitment. I’m also a mom. So I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you do.
But I’m also here to beg you to reconsider your methods of evaluation.
Let me give you a little background…
Not long ago, a student left my office. Defeated. He’s 26 years old. I teach at a university and this student has dreams of becoming a teacher one day. Actually, he eventually wants to become a counselor. He wants to help students the way a counselor once helped him. And he’ll be amazing. I taught him. I know him. I believe in him.
You see, in our state, we have a requirement that future teachers must pass certain tests in order to be certified in teaching. This is true of most states. While this student’s scores soared in two areas, there is one area in which his scores are not enough to pass…by two points. He has taken this test so many times. He just can’t do it anymore. He can’t afford it anymore. He’s given up on himself. Again…defeated.
Some students, most students in fact, just don’t do tests well. I’m actually one of them. Fortunately, most of my instructors throughout my schooling were very willing to let me write about my knowledge instead of taking a test over it. Just because a student doesn’t test well doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t know the information. So please, I’m begging you. As an educational society, we have some work to do.
Students should be allowed to showcase their knowledge in different ways. Some students are good at writing…let them write. Some students are incredible artists…let them create. Some students have beautiful musical ability…let them compose. Some students have business minds…let them present. Some students have mathematical or scientific gifts, let them experiment and solve. Some students have research running through their veins…let them investigate. Some students are natural born teachers, just like you…let them teach.
Teach them to use their strengths. Teach them to embrace their talents. Teach them to think beyond a test. Challenge them to achieve their own best…not somebody else’s.
And again, thank you.
A teacher. A parent. A citizen.
Follow Jeremy and Bailey Koch on social media. Jeremy, a five-time suicide attempt survivor, and Bailey, his wife, primary support person and special education professor, have two children with disabilities. Their oldest has High-Functioning Autism and youngest has Epilepsy. The family fights hard to advocate for individuals with disabilities and mental illness.
All of the sudden, life kicks one of your friends or family members right in the rear. It appears that friend will be spending an undisclosed amount of time away from home…likely due to health issues. Perhaps they are healing themselves. Perhaps supporting a loved one (child, spouse, parent, etc.).
No matter what the situation, you know your friend needs to feel supported. But asking for help is not an easy thing to do, especially when feeling helpless yourself. As a friend, you want to help, but you aren’t sure what to do without someone telling you. So how can you help?
As the wife of a man who spent almost a month in a hospital…in a city hours away from our home, I’m here to give you some advice. Jeremy survived a head-on collision on the highway in 2012, and the support we received from family and friends is what kept us going.
Because “thank you” never seems sufficient, passing on the love and support to others is what we try hard to do. So let us help you with some ideas to suit any budget. Some of these ideas cost nothing but time, others cost more. Do what works for you!
Here is a list of the top ten most helpful and memorable “somethings” others did for us while we were fighting for health away from home:
I am especially a fan of prepaid Visa cards because you can use them anywhere. From gas for the vehicle to food and even clothing runs, gift cards are extremely helpful when you’re away from home.
Hospital Cafeteria Gift Cards
This is one I never would have thought of. But a friend of the family contacted the hospital we were in and purchased a gift card to that hospital’s cafeteria. That was hugely helpful. I rarely wanted to leave Jeremy’s side, so having the option of eating with him, or very close to him, was so thoughtful. Then I was able to quickly return to my post…beside him.
A Floor Mat
I know…sounds weird. But those hospital rollaway beds or chairs are horribly uncomfortable for those of us supporting a loved one. I actually purchased a floor mat for myself, but if I find that another person is having to stay in the hospital for as long as we did, I immediately think of this. I was able to roll up my comfy mat and tuck it away in a corner of the hospital room during the day. At night, I simply laid it out on the floor and slept so much better than I had pre-floor mat. And now, we use it as another bed when our boys have sleepovers!
Cliché? Perhaps. But having some life in the hospital room certainly brought some positivity to our days.
Snail Mail Cards and Pictures
Yup…good old fashioned cards and pictures. We loved them. I decorated an entire wall in front of Jeremy with them. The bright colors and inspiring messages, especially those talking about how many prayers were being sent up, were so helpful to our moods. Oh…and never underestimate the power of a child’s drawing.
Gift Basket of Relaxing Items
Ahhh the basket. I still remember digging into that thing like it was Christmas. We had been in the hospital for over a week with no end to our stay in sight. That basket arrived and I found slippers, crossword puzzles, journals, robes, blankets, stress balls, joke books, etc. Oh, it was a happy day. The sky is the limit here…make it personalized!
Entertainment for the Family and Friends
Sometimes, if your friends are in a situation like we were, family and friends will visit for hours or even days at a time. We had small children when Jeremy had his accident…Hudson was five and Asher was two. One gift we received included games, toys, puzzles, colors and coloring books, and playing cards…great items for entertainment not only for us and our kids, but for other visitors as well.
Yes, literally, clean house. When it was coming close to the time when we were expected to come home, a large number of friends and family went to our home and cleaned it from top to bottom. My sister-in-law and a friend deep cleaned the inside of our home while others picked up our landscaping…primarily leaves and cornstalks that had blown in the yard. Coming home to a clean house with no worries but to care for my family was an enormous weight off my shoulders.
Offer to watch the pets, pick up mail, keep the house from smelling like a dungeon, etc. Having someone watching our home for anything odd and just keeping an eye out was a usual stressor I didn’t have to worry about.
Coming home to a freezer stocked full of meals was incredible. Friends made meals and froze them. That way, when we came home, we were still being taken care of and could concentrate on healing. And it’s important to let your friend know that you are making meals. That way they know that food, upon arriving home, will not be a problem. It takes away a lot of stress.
So there you have it. Feel free to share our list and pass on the goodness to others! And never underestimate the power of prayer.