Promises, Promises: The Lord’s Got My Back

by Donna M. Brown

Fear’s icy fingers gripped my throat when the nurse’s aide pointed down a long, long corridor at the Huntsman Cancer Center toward my destination. It meant walking reverently through a waiting room where bald-headed little people sat wrapped in blankets and gowns wavering as if at any minute they might fall.

So much suffering, so much pain, so much looming death and heartache. It did not occur to me at the time to think, “So much healing going on here.”

In the Beginning

Just weeks ago I went to my eye doctor to drain an irritating sty on my left eye. It had been there for at least six months. I noticed it growing and decided it was time for this thing to go. He referred me to another doctor to have it surgically removed because “sometimes these things get harder if you wait too long.” His referral may very well have been a life-saving measure.

The ophthalmologist/surgeon poked and prodded just a little. “Yup, you’re in the right place,” he said slapping his knee. We can take care of this right now, or we can have you come back another time.

I said, “Git ‘er done.”

“Wow. This is an impressive cyst. It’s very large,” he said when he began cutting as I lay in terror gripping the handles of the chair with both hands. I could see the scalpel come toward my eye and immediately regretted my decision.

I heard him tell his assistant, “Put this in a sample dish. I’m going to send it to a pathologist.”

My mind, frozen with fear of the needle headed toward my eyelid, I remember registering his statement. “A pathologist? Give me a break. Why would he send that to a pathologist?”

Six stitches later I was out the door and finally free of that obnoxious little white bump that had begun to scrape my actual eyeball. It healed quickly. I returned to have the stitches removed. My daughter rode along with me. It was the first time I had heard him utter the C-word.

“This looks good. It looks really good,” he said. I agreed, he had done a wonderful job of repairing a sizeable slice from my bottom eyelid. Then he said it, “I’ve been waiting to see what the pathologist comes back with about this – whether or not it’s cancerous.”

If there is one thing I know how to do, it’s play it cool. My exterior was saying, “Hmmm. Cancer, you really think that’s a possibility, huh?”

On the inside I was screaming, “What the hell are you talking about? Cancer?”

He nonchalantly commented, “The pathologist has forwarded it on to a specialist. Now, I don’t want you to think that means it’s cancer. We just have to wait and see. Two weeks, at the most.”

Again, with my unruly insides, “Two fucking weeks?” (Let me apologize now. There are simply times when no other word will do.) “You want me to sit around wondering for two fucking weeks if I have CANCER?”

I politely thanked him and left.

I rationalized the fact that he was being overly cautious. Cancer was not even a possibility. Who gets cancer in their eyelid for Christsake? I let it go.

I was somewhere near Blackfoot Idaho when his phone call came. I was on my way to a fun-filled adventure with my daughter in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this … “

“You SUCK,” was my outward response. I spent another five minutes explaining that he didn’t really suck, it was just that …

He texted the words with which I was about to become intimately familiar: “sebaceous/miebomian gland carcinoma.”

I was driving across a reservation and whirled into the nearest casino where I promptly dumped $100 cold hard cash into the Wheel of Fortune – you know, the “WHEEL of FORTUNE” slot machine (as if somehow that would teach him for telling ME I had cancer). I pondered exactly what that meant. My next move was to copy and paste the foreign words into my smart phone’s Google search engine.

Big mistake.

“Sebaceous gland carcinoma (SGC) is a HIGHLY MALIGNANT AND POTENTIALLY LETHAL TUMOR that arises from meibomian glands of the tarsal plate, from glands of Zeis or from sebaceous glands of the caruncle, eye brow or facial skin (1). SGC arises from sebaceous material secreting glands and are known to be occasionally multicentric. These tumors are reported to behave aggressively with the tendency to metastasize early with higher mortality rates especially if there is a delay in the diagnosis … “

“Oh,” I thought, “you mean like when you think you have a damn STY in your eye and ignore it for six months?”

And so it Begins

Within a week I was sitting in the office of Dr. Bhupendra Patel, M.D., chief of oculoplasty at the University of Utah Medical Center and the Moran Eye Center.

“No sweat. We’ll run on over to the St. George Surgical Center and carve this problem away,” I told myself. But, no.

I would need surgery, sooner than later, at the University of Utah Medical Center, the Huntsman Cancer Center AND the Moran Eye Center.

“This is not the time when I call my colleagues and politely ask them to work you in,” he explained to me and my brother, Doug, who had accompanied me to the visit for moral support. “This is the time when I get out my big professor stick and say, ‘Get this done.’”

My head began spinning.

Because the cancer is very rare, Dr. Patel explained, “Anyone within 1,500 miles of here who has this kind of cancer will eventually end up at my doorstep.” Somehow I had ended up in a small Utah office with one of the world’s leaders in oculoplasty surgery. Somehow, it still did not exactly feel like my luck day.

Consultation is Not Comforting

My sweet daughter-in-law Brandi accompanied me to my first consultation at the Huntsman Cancer Center. We laughed and joked and had dinner together the night before; but, the moment we stepped through the doors, “Shit got real.”

The kindness and consideration at this world-class facility conveniently located in my own home state was overwhelming. In the examination room I was instructed to put on a gown. I was feeling pretty solid until a nice nurse’s aide offered, “Would you like a blanket?” I declined and she stepped out.

“Oh. My. God. Brandi, they are treating me like a cancer patient. I am going to die.”

Crying Helps

I arrived home late that night and I had clearly moved straight from the “denial” stage of grief to “anger.” I lashed out at my children, my life and even the laundry piled on my bed. The next few days were a blur of anger, defeat, pure fear and resentment. It was nobody’s fault and that did not help.

Worst Decade Ever

I am 52 years old. I have successfully survived five decades and I can say without reservation that this decade has been the worst. It began with the sudden, unexpected death of my sister in 2007. Not long after, I suffered a bitter divorce ending 22 years of marriage. My ex-husband (a police officer) found my best childhood friend dead in her car on the side of the road. My father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died three weeks later. I’m grateful for that because I am not sure he would have survived the death of my 5-year-old nephew who was hit and killed by a slow-rolling truck as his young mother helplessly lunged for him. Six months later, my younger brother shot himself in the head. My mother lost her mind and dementia set in. I had to sell her home and move her in with me.

For 3.5 years I worked in a highly political and controversial position for my local Chamber of Commerce. I was Utah’s Chamber of Commerce President. I spent the year after my sister’s death and during my divorce arranging for 220 people to travel to China for 10 days on an international business trip. I was tired.

It was during a local chamber luncheon that I first heard God speak to me. The lights were low and I sat at a round, crowded table fighting to keep my head from falling into my salad. The mayor was speaking and suddenly everything went silent and I clearly heard:

“It’s time. You take care of your family and I will take care of you.”

That day, I knew I had received a commandment and a promise. I did not dare ignore either. I gave a 30-day notice with no inkling of how I would survive or help take care of my four growing children.

I had no idea the Lord was preparing me for the deaths and struggles that were to follow.

I moved to my family’s farm home in the middle of the Utah Western Desert and retreated. No money. No energy. No gumption to move forward. I survived and that is all.

Wherefore Didst Thou Doubt?

On the day my niece’s little darling Kole was killed, I was panicked to just get to my family gathering hundreds of miles away. I drove 45 miles to Cedar City, pulled into a turning lane on 200 North and Main when my car’s transmission literally dropped.

I got the car moved to safety and walked to a car lot. I prayed for two blocks. I had to buy a car and I had to have one fast. The nice men at the car lot were sorry – but there was no way in hell anyone would give me a loan. I borrowed a dear friend’s car for a day. The ignition switch broke just after I parked it in front of my home in Enterprise (I had moved there from Beryl when our family property’s well dried up leaving my beautiful vegetable garden to wilt and turn to dust). Another expense and still no way to reach my grieving family.

A young, tender teenage boy and one of my daughter’s closest friends died at the same time we lost or little Kole. Liberty and I went to the local funeral together in my friend’s freshly-repaired car. As we sat and waited for the teenage boy’s funeral to begin, the weight of my world and everyone else’s crashed in on me. I had to get to my family hundreds of miles away in the Utah Basin. I left the church, climbed in to my friend’s car and headed up the canyon on State Route 18. I was frantic, crying, screaming. I was done.

I watched trees swoosh by me through watery eyes when suddenly I began to think of a bible story and calmness overcame me. It was one of my favorites when Christ’s disciples were on the boat in the sea and the angry wind blew crashing waves against their vessel. Christ appeared to them on the water and they were afraid.

Christ shouted to them, “Take courage! It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”

Peter asked the Lord to take him onto the water. The faithful disciple took a step. “But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘Oh ye of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind stopped … “

I heard the words, loud and clear, “Wherefore dost thou doubt?”

I remembered then that the Lord had made a promise to me. I was trying with every ounce of strength I could muster to care for my family – my whole family through a deep, dark period of grief.  I knew what I had to give was meager, but that I was giving all I had. I turned my car around and returned to our young friend’s funeral.

As I climbed the steps to the churchhouse I received a call: “We have decided we can work out financing for your new car.” I reached my family in our horrible time of grieving the loss of yet another tiny soul we adored.

‘Now I Remember, Lord’

The past week has been a roller coaster of emotion. To face one’s own mortality is a grave event and I cannot say I was handling it with grace and finesse.

On Sunday I was wringing my hands and silently praying when I was reminded in no uncertain terms of the promise the Lord made to me the day I left the only world I had ever known and stepped into the deep abyss: “You take care of your family, and I WILL take care of you.”

I felt a loving poke and heard it again, this time a soft whisper, “Wherefore dost thou doubt?”

Tomorrow I will embark on a journey I would have never sought to take. On Thursday they will inject nuclear dye into my face to help them track any wandering cancer cells that might have begun to wiggle their way to a final resting place in some dark chasm of my body. On Friday they will remove lymph nodes from my face, carve off my eyelid and attempt to repair the damage.

Today, I do not doubt. I know without one shred of uncertainty that I have fulfilled my promise to the Lord and he remembers the promise he made to me.

Navigating the Mental Maze of Sexual Abuse

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a work in progress entitled, “Who I am Today: Navigating the Mental Maze of Sexual Abuse,” Chapter 3.

Donna Messerly-Brownby Donna M. Brown

The mental maze suffered by victims of sexual abuse is extremely complex (a gross understatement, I know). If you are a victim of sexual abuse, your maze is unique. You created it. It is ultimately up to you to solve it; however, you don’t have to solve it alone. This journey will be whatever you decide it will be. Some paths will be dark and lead to eminent danger. Others will be bright and will lead you to self-enlightenment and joy. You have probably already explored many paths. You know which paths are which. You may not know how to find positive alternatives to those ugly roads littered with quick sand and mines. Whether you are at the beginning of your maze or trapped somewhere in the middle, if you gather the right tools to help you through you will have a much better chance of escaping.

Matthew 7:13-14

13 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and
broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.

14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Sexual abuse, also referred to as sexual violence, can trigger a complicated series of mental, emotional, psychological and physical reactions. There is also a wide variety of lingering external complications that can result from sexual abuse. Family members, friends, teachers, co-workers, and peers often react to subtle and blatant changes in an individual once the abuse has occurred (whether the violation is a terrifying one-time experience with a complete stranger, or a lifetime of perpetual abuse by a perpetrator the victim knows and maybe even loves). Unfortunately, some of those changes do not occur until a victim fully realizes the impact of his or her abuse. It can literally take decades for an individual to face the trauma. Some people never do.

A Word About Mazes

Why do I call this a mind maze? Many years after my abuse ended, it occurred to me that I was regularly stumbling into mental blocks and walls steadfastly built by my protective brain as a result of my personal experience. Once I accepted that my perceptions really were skewed, and that I often engaged in what I now know to be “wrong thinking,” I found myself retracing my steps to determine how I got lost in such a complicated maze of lies, truths, anger, loss, resentment, faith, hope, survival, and fear. I asked myself the following:

  1. How did I get here from there?
  2. How can I identify and follow the right path to get to where I need to be?
  3. Where do I need to be anyway? Where do I want to be?

wiseGEEK Online offers clear answers to common questions and gives this definition of a maze:

“A maze is a complex structure with a series of interconnecting pathways . . . It is viewed as a puzzle that must be solved, and the solver must work his or her way from the entrance to an exit, or another location. Getting through a maze can be difficult, leading to the use of the word as a slang term for a complex process.”

The practice of building mazes and solving them is centuries old. Mazes have played a role in developing spiritual insight. Some cultures have actually used mazes as a form of torture (go figure, huh?). Sometimes mazes are entertaining for the brain; and, mazes have been used for physical sport and recreation.

Regardless of how or why a maze was created, who do you think has the best chance of solving the mind-boggling puzzle? That’s right, it’s the creator. Whether you realize it or not, you have created your own mind maze. You are the most likely person to solve it because you and you only possess the map to find your way through it and the keys to unlock its secret doors.

If you were taken to a dense forest and dropped against your will into a maze of massive walls, unbreakable blocks, physical threats and mental tricks, you would no-doubt struggle desperately to find your way alone, particularly if you had no tools to help you. In such a situation you could suffer in silence and spend long, dark days searching for a way out. You might even find a comfortable corner within the maze and simply decide to stay where you know you are temporarily safe in the dark and quiet of walls that trap you, but protect you. Are you getting the metaphor here? If you are trapped in such a maze and don’t even know it, you might never look for an exit and be content to live a life of misery and isolation.

Ah, but, what if you were to shout out for help? What if others trapped in the maze followed the sound of your voice and found you? If you were in the company of others who had been scanning the layout of the maze much longer than you had, you very well might gain from their experiences. Everyone’s mind maze is different, but in the case of victims of sexual abuse they are often very similar.

In my new book I am going to share some a-maze-ing secrets that will help you find your way through the dark paths your brain created as a result of sexual abuse. Mazes symbolize the twisted paths of life and fate.

10 Gifts I Can’t Live Without

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Luke 6:38

Donna Messerly-Brown

by Donna Messerly-Brown

There is something very empowering about surviving the unthinkable (over and over), then learning you really can laugh again — and that’s okay.  This year I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the gifts I’ve already received (and it’s not even Christmas yet). You know, they’re the kind you can’t take back (and wouldn’t even if you could). My favorite gifts fit perfectly because those who gave them to me know my size, my style, my potential and are in tune with my needs and desires.  Who says it’s better to give than to receive?  Today I’d like to tell you about 10 of my favorite gifts — gifts that I, frankly, could not live without.

1. The atonement. Every day for the past month I have pondered this gift from Heavenly Father and His beloved son.  I came to understand the power of the atonement (I mean really understand it) about five years ago.  I was struggling with forgiveness, forgiveness for myself and for some individuals who had hurt me.  I found blame for my experience laying right at my own feet.  I knew how important it was for me to forgive others and so I scooped up all of the responsibility and swallowed it down until I was so full of guilt and sorrow that I could not move.  I prayed for help.  It occurred to me suddenly that I no longer had to take the sins of the world upon myself because that was Christ’s job.  Was I presuming to be more powerful than Christ?  Would I really deny the glory of his gift by trying to take over his job?  Christ suffered for the sins of man so I didn’t have too.  I really loved unwrapping that gift.  Trust Jesus.

2. One last year with my father.  Everyone receives the gift of parents.  Some of us would occasionally like to return them for a nicer set (you know who you are).  The gift of my parents really was the gift that kept on giving.  It’s still giving today.  My father was a funny, sensitive caring man with a curiosity that could not be stifled.  He loved nature, animals, adventure and most importantly he love me!  My father made mistakes — who doesn’t?  But in the end he had the foresight to share his thoughts with me and candidly shared the life lessons he had learned.  About one year before my father succumbed to pancreatic cancer I moved to the valley in which he lived.  My home was about seven miles from his and for the first time in my life I got to explore my personal relationship with him.  I remember the first time he called me on the telephone that year.  The moment I heard his voice I was sure there was something wrong.  I was the one who called him.  He never called me.  Yet, that day our relationship had progressed.  He simply wanted to talk.  My youngest daughter spent hours at his house riding horses and teasing with Grandpa.  Oh how grateful I am that the Lord led me to my childhood home to spend quality time with Daddy.  The night before he left us Dad and I talked for a couple of hours about his pending departure.  We laughed and discussed and did our best to accept his fate.  I held his hand until the spirit left his body less than 48 hours later.  He knew I loved him and I knew he loved me.  What an amazing gift.

3. Time well spent with Mom.  About six months ago I helped move my mom from her home in Phoenix, Ariz. to my home in Utah under extremely difficult circumstances.  She had become ill and (I thought) frail.  We could not leave her alone any longer.  Mamma hated leaving her life and did not ask to exchange it for a life with me.  It was the only thing we could do.  Every day we meet in the hall and greet each other with a hug and a kiss.  Occasionally we dream of ripping each others’ throats out.  How lucky I am to have an opportunity to hear her life story, to ask her important questions, to tap her vast knowledge and to return a lifetime of favors by taking care of her for a change.

4. My children. I have four amazing children (all of them are lucky they lived to adulthood).  They are beautiful — that goes without saying.  The lessons I have learned from them are the true gifts I received when each one came into my life.  They are all strong, independent, passionate people who have taught me to be patient with myself and others.  From them I have learned humility.  I have developed survival skills that would make the battle front in a major war seem like a walk in the park.  I have experienced the deepest love imaginable and the deepest pain that helped shape the caverns of my heart.  Two of them have blessed me with perfect little grandchildren and the satisfaction of knowing my children come to know me better with every passing day.

5. My friends. I know, I know, this is getting to be a little like a cliche; but it’s true. Without my lifelong friends I would be missing huge chunks of my personality.  The gift of friendship can last a lifetime.  My friends have given me laughter, perspective, joy and often times a good, swift kick in the proverbial butt when I needed it.  Come to think of it, that might have been the most beneficial of all the perks that come with the gift of friendship.

6. Auntie. I am grateful for all of my aunts and uncles.  I have known from birth there is a place on earth where I belong and it is evident when I am with extended family (some extended family, heh, heh).  One auntie in particular has been my mentor, surrogate mother and friend all of my life.  She has rescued me from sure self-destruction, welcomed me into her home always and has never hesitated to point me to a better road than the road I am on.  She accepts me for who I am and simply shakes her head with a grin when I insist “I know what I’m doing here.”  Our relationship is one of my most treasured prizes.  That gift can never be replaced.

7. Ceramic figurine. On my dresser even as I write is a beautiful little ceramic figurine — a girl with a blue dress and auburn pony tail.  I often put it away for fear the treasure will be taken from me.  I always bring it out again so I can admire it and remember the love that brought her to me.  My paternal grandmother was an artist.  She made the little figurine in her ceramic shop on Adams Ave. in Ogden.  My paternal grandmother and maternal grandmother were friends.  The little figurine was a gift from one to the other.  I am my maternal grandmother’s namesake and am drawn inexplicably to her (even in death).  I loved to visit both grandmothers, but probably would have lived with my maternal grandma given the choice.  I had been visiting Grandma Morgan for days and when it came time for me to leave, I was being rushed into the car and began crying uncontrollably.  Grandma disappeared for a moment and returned carrying the figurine.  She explained its origin to me and then pressed it into my tiny palm.  I remember it as clear as day, “There now, don’t you cry. Take this little girl to keep you company.”  I must have realized its significance even then. How in the world did it survive 45 years and countless moves and come to be standing on my dresser today?  It is a constant gift of my grandmothers’ love for and connection to me.  Even if it were gone, its meaning would live forever (and that is the real gift).

8. Communication.  I am blessed with the gift of communication, a wordsmith if you will.  Each of us has a talent and the responsibility to develop it.  It truly is a gift and mine has brought me endless joy, money, friends and so much more.

9. Chicken quilt.  Throughout her short adult life my sister dragged the pieces of a chicken wall hanging to home after home.  She loved that fabric and knew I had an affinity for chicken decor (yeah, go figure).  Her life was a whirlwind of artistic expression and she threatened every time I saw her to finish that wall hanging one day.  It bore a significance to her I could not understand.   In the end of May 2007 she presented the beautiful little wall hanging to me.  She lived in Northern California and had carried it with her on a visit to Utah.  She created a fabric inset and on it she wrote a precious note of her love for me.  Our relationship was volatile at best, but I’m sure now that was because of the intense love we shared for one another.  One week later, at the age of 46, she died.  She had said to me what she needed to say and that gift is a treasure I will hold forever.  Not long after her sudden and unexpected passing I was sobbing on my bed.  I felt her say, “Go get the chicken quilt and wrap it around you.  You’ll feel me there.”  I walked into the kitchen and pulled it off the wall.  I slept with it for days and she was right (she always was).  Thank you, Krissy,  for the chicken quilt.

10. My desk.  On Dec. 29, 2011 my little brother took his life.  He was a brilliant, albeit troubled, man full of life and energy.  His mind was an amazing machine.  Not long after he died his family gave me the gift of an exquisite antique desk.  All of my life I had wanted a desk, a place of my own to pore over, work and reflect.  It was not the actual possession, but the representative statement about a commitment to explore the mind that I sought.  Even as I write at this desk, I feel my brother and a deep appreciation for the gifts he has given me — far too many to mention here.  Suffice it to say I have made a mental, heartfelt connection between the desk and my brother who also died at the age of 46 — far too soon.  This beautiful desk embodies his brilliance for me.

I could go on forever, you know, detailing the gifts of my life; but, I’ll stop here because now it’s your turn.  Why don’t you take a little time to ponder the perfect gifts you have received and those who bestowed them upon you.  Write them down and you will come to understand the true significance of those gifts in your life.

Out of the Darkness a Healing Experience

Donna Messerly-Brown

Donna M. Brown

On Nov. 20 I joined family and friends at the Out of the Darkness Walk in Hurricane, Utah. We participated in honor of three lost loved ones. Our team of 11 raised almost $1,500! The week prior to the event was painful due to memories and emotions that had been packed away and suddenly let out into the light. Walking on the amazing Highland Trail at Highland Park in Washington, Utah was a great release. We walked three miles among the beautiful red hills and brilliant desert valley surrounding the park in remembrance of those who have lost their lives to depression and mental illness.

I’m so very proud of the Solomon-Messerly-Glover team. I am grateful to those that supported our fundraising efforts. I pray we can get a walk going in Cedar City, Utah next year to create awareness, raise funds to assist with suicide prevention and create a gathering place for people suffering with grief due to suicide.

Self Help for Hecklers

Donna Messerly-Brownby Donna Messerly-Brown

Hey, remember Statler and Waldorf? Think “Muppets.” These two old codgers watched every Muppet Show from high up in the balcony. I call them “the hecklers.”

Statler and Waldorf heckled the entire cast in all but one show (Waldorf’s wife filled in for Statler once because he was purported to be sick). Together they trashed Fozzie Bear and the entire Muppet Family mercilessly. Worse yet, these glorified sock puppets laughed mercilessly at their own jokes.

Yeah. Sometimes it’s like that. Am I right?

Ever feel like Statler and Waldorf follow you around heckling everything you do? I am proud to say I have never actually seen either of these mean old men (outside of the Muppet Show — that would mean I was crazy). But I think of them each time a family member, community member or even a friend says:

“You can’t do that.”

“Why would you do that?”

“You’ll never pull that off.”

“Do you think you’re really up to that?”

“I told you, you should never have done that.”

Sometimes I imagine an entire theater of hecklers surrounding me and pointing out mistakes, booing at my plan of attack, or demanding my time and attention. I woke up this morning at 4:30 a.m.  hearing the hecklers in my head:

“Have you made the car payment? When are you going to make the car payment? You’d better make that car payment. You probably won’t make it.”

“Have you got enough hay? Those horses have got to eat you know.”

“There aren’t enough groceries in the house. You never have enough groceries. There’s nothing good here to eat.”

“You went to town? Why did you go to town? Why aren’t you working? You should get downstairs on that computer and work.”

“Why do you always work? Your family needs a little attention too.”

Today, I listened to them. You know, I really listened to those hecklers and for a little while they actually made me cry. I wanted to scream, “Stop, stop! Just stop that! I’m doing the best I can.” Then I wanted to say, “Look. I give up. I just give up. I can’t carry this whole world anymore.” Then, I listened some more. You know, those hecklers sounded just like me.

Put a Sock in It

Look, the fallout from any critical life situation can be grave. For me, a constant barrage of personal losses (the deaths of my sister, my friend, my father, my nephew, my brother, my mother’s health, my 22-year marriage and a job) were devastating. There is no question my flag has been flying at half mast for quite some time now. It’s not that I’m irresponsible, it’s just that my priorities have changed. I have finally learned what I should cling to and what I simply have to let go — not forever, just for now.

There are plenty of people to heckle us throughout our lives. The last person to belittle, berate, punish and persecute you should be you. So, if you’re beating your own head against a brick wall like those ornery sock puppets, put a sock in it. You have got to be your own best friend.

Negative self talk can be extremely damaging to you and eventually to those around you. The minute you begin a negative statement in your mind, stop and correct it. We sincerely do become our thoughts. If yours are negative, sad, mean and angry there is no question you will outwardly display those emotions eventually toward yourself and others. Purchase an inexpensive dry eraser and write a positive thought every single day about your charming personality, your amazing ability, your strength, your beauty, your creativity, your importance and your power to meet any new challenge. When you begin heckling yourself from the balcony in your brain, sit yourself squarely in front of the mirror and repeat the encouraging thought out loud at least 10 times.

Heckling can become a very bad habit; and, like any habit it can be very hard to break. Positive self affirmation can be extremely therapeutic. Forget the statements that start with “I will …” (I will lose weight, I will exercise today, I will spend more time with my children). Instead use “I am …” (I am beautiful, I am healthy, I am a great mom). In order for this to work, you must reaffirm your positive qualities every single time the hecklers start shouting insults from your head to your heart.

Make a List, Check it Twice

People who suffer from depression — chemical and/or situational — are hard on themselves. If you are suffering from this potentially debilitating illness you might have experienced one or all of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

Make a list of the symptoms you have experienced. If you are suffering signs of depression, call your doctor now. Your doctor can help you come up with a treatment plan that best suits you and meets your needs based on your beliefs. Track your concentration, energy level, emotions, appetite, and physical health every day for at least one week prior to going to the doctor. Make another list — this one will include major life events that could be causing or contributing to your depression. Some events to consider are the following:

  • death of a loved on
  • a new addition to the family
  • divorce
  • a new relationship
  • a major move
  • financial pressure
  • job loss
  • job change
  • major purchases
  • worry over a child or loved one
  • abuse
  • illness
  • disability

Seriously search your soul to determine the events in your life that are adding to daily stress. It’s possible you might not be able to identify what’s bugging you. Look anyway. Write down major events of the last five years and even minor events of the last few months. Try to open a dialogue with yourself. Remember, you know yourself better than anyone else. Refine your list, check it to see if there’s anything you might have missed, and take it to your doctor. Try to discuss your condition openly and honestly. Your physician might recommend psycho therapy, relaxation techniques, activities to help you feel better, a special diet and even medication that will help you get a handle on your life.

Never minimize your own emotions. You are the best person to take care of you.

Everything is Not Broken

Ron Messerly

‘Little O': A Frank Discussion About Suicide

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Donna Messerly-Brownby Donna Messerly-Brown

It is so very hard for me to think of him; I mean to really think of him. The gamut of emotions ranges from disabling grief to fond remembrance to guilt to love to pure anger and back at again.

Ronald Wayne Messerly is my little brother (although I could never convince him of that). On Dec. 29, 2011 — just hours before my mother’s 73rd birthday, he took his life in a hot parking lot next to his Jaguar in Arizona. Sometimes I have to focus on the ugly details so they don’t constantly niggle at the back of my mind begging to be released into the light. He was 46.

Many knew him as an accomplished partner of the law firm of Snell & Wilmer. He was known nationally as a bright, young attorney. The Best Lawyers in America® recognized Ron for his work in construction law (2010-2011) and construction litigation. He was recognized as a Southwest Super Lawyer® for construction litigation in 2011; and, was named one of “Arizona’s Finest Lawyers” in 2011. The Business Journal named him “Best of Arizona Attorneys” in construction law in 2009. In 2005, he earned the distinction of the State Bar of Arizona “Member of the Year.” None of that really matters now. To me he was just “Little O.” (If he were here today he would kill me for telling you that. That’s the problem with bailing out before your siblings: they are left to tell your embarrassing secrets.)

Read more on the subject of suicide.

I don’t know how he got that nickname. I’m afraid to ask my mother for fear it will force her to think of him and cry. Ron was the last child born in our family of four children. Everyone adored him. I was born about 18 months before he came into this world. Little O was born with a serious birth defect called Craniosynostosis. The defect affects the appearance of the head and development of the brain. Approximately one out of every 2,000 babies is born with the condition. Normally there are sutures, or connections, on the head that separate individual skull bones-almost like a puzzle. With craniosynostosis, one or more of the sutures closes prematurely and gives the head an abnormal shape. Left untreated, the condition makes it impossible for the brain to grow and develop properly. He was oh so very tiny when he underwent his first surgery to install metal plates in his head to relieve the pressure and facilitate the growth.

As a pre-teen Ron often complained that he was a “cone head.” He was sure there are so few pictures of him as a baby because his head was misshapen. I know it was because he was the fourth child in a large family and by then my parents were so over taking pictures and just trying to survive.

Ronnie loved to play baseball, tease and run in Wasatch Park near the home in Salt Lake City where we started our growing up years. His best friend was Alex Bury on Reed Avenue in Salt Lake City. He must have been about 7 years old when my mother and father decided to move our family from the busy city to a remote rural community in Southern Utah. He thrived there. Little O loved to hike the hills of Newcastle, build scant forts on the mountainside and hunt with our older brother, Doug. Eventually we moved to the Beryl desert and the transfer gave Ronnie more room to run! Ron’s “cone head” didn’t stop him from being brilliant. (His head didn’t really have a cone shape, but I’ll bet I used that insecurity in a variety of ways to torture him by the ripe old age of 8).

Learn to survive sudden loss.

He was a problem solver from very early on. Ronnie was playing baseball once behind the small country school house where we attended elementary school. He was catcher when a great big softball plowed right into his mouth. It knocked at least two teeth out and the injury was a gory, bloody mess. He was delighted. He was rushed to Cedar City for surgical repairs and must have recovered nicely because he launched his first entrepreneurial adventure the very next day.

So, the kid comes walking into our Beryl kitchen with his still-swollen mouth. He’s jamming his fingers deep into his pockets. With each dip he draws out another coin and throws it on the top of our chest freezer to tinkle and roll into place with the rest of the pile.

Mom: “Where did you get all that money?”

Ronnie: “What? Oh, this?” He points to the pile of coins on the freezer.

Mom: “Yes, that. How much money is in there?”

Ronnie: “Well, there’s about five dollars. I charged kids on the bus 25 cents each to look at the stitches in my mouth.”

We used to joke that he was destined to become a lawyer. He did. Pretty sure he made more than $5 at it.

My brother was the baby of the family and so automatically considered spoiled (because he was). As a teenager he ranted about tennis shoes that made him look like he had “clown feet.” He raged when the ladies of the house wore his personal tube socks and stretched them out with our “fat legs.” I’m smiling now, because I am remembering just how much I loved that spoiled little brat. His clown feet must have helped his sense of humor because he could make anyone laugh. And, in high school he capitalized on his ability to bring people around to his point of view. He joined the Cedar City High School Forensics team and began to forge his impeccable talent for winning most arguments.

Ronnie got to spend time at home as an “only child” after the rest of us had flown from the nest. He and my mother forged a mysterious bond that glued them together for the rest of his short life. She was able to invest something in him that parents can only give their youngest children. He returned the favor as she aged.

Enough Reminiscing, Let’s Talk About Suicide

I could go on for the rest of the day reminiscing about my beautiful little brother. The fact is, the older we grew, the further apart we drew from one another. Although we bickered and argued and retreated with hurt feelings at times as adults, I never, never, never stopped loving him. I just stopped knowing him. I am reminded of his thrilling and bright personality when I interact with the two amazing children he left behind. Ron grew into a successful, compassionate and — okay — controlling man. He was a jerk. He was kind. He was loving. He was driven. He was my brother. That’s all that really matters. Except that, he suffered all of his life from bipolar disorder and severe depression.

Judge Not, Lest Ye be Judged

It is natural for some people to shoot up standard barriers to the reality of suicide. People who make unkind remarks about an individual who has committed suicide do so in order to avoid reality. Go ahead, say it with me: “Suicide.” Repeat it over and over and over again until all of the stereotypical thoughts you have about SUICIDE dwindle. Purge your brain. Forget about it. I’m going to debunk some myths — not as a psychological expert — but as the sister of someone she loved deeper than harsh words will ever reach.

Suicidal people are selfish. People who actually commit suicide aren’t thinking of those they leave behind — in fact, they aren’t thinking at all. By the time a person reaches the point of pulling the proverbial trigger, he or she can only think of ending the pain. Imagine the worst migraine headache you have ever experienced. Multiply it by one hundred. What might you be willing to do to make it stop? Most of us will never know the depth of emotional and physical pain required to drive an individual to actually end his or her life. When people commit suicide they are not capable of making rational decisions. They are not able to consider the potential consequences to every individual in their lives. A suicidal person — even the most brilliant one — has only one purpose: to end the pain.

People who commit suicide have no one to love them. Wrong. Individuals who make the decision to end their lives are not capable of feeling the love that surrounds them. They certainly are not capable of loving themselves. Mental illness is a mean, ugly disease. It inhibits a person’s ability to function normally. Thought processes are skewed, disconnected, broken. Not even the most loving ally can stop a person from killing his or her self. Not even a thousand adoring family members, friends or co-workers can end internal pain once the final decision is made.

People who threaten to commit suicide are just seeking attention. Right. People who threaten suicide are seeking attention. When a person is so desperate for attention, he or she really needs it. Never assume a person who threatens suicide will not follow through. Idol threats mean your loved one is mulling the possibility of dying to escape a painful reality. This is the time to help him or her get help. Call the police. Drive straight to a hospital. Do not leave the person alone. Make it clear that you are going to respond to such a cry for help and do not wait. When a loved one suddenly stops threatening to commit suicide, it can be too late.

I can prevent (or could have prevented) a suicide by …There are many things we can do to help people who are in so much pain they see death as the only remaining option. Ultimately, it is up to every single individual to measure the value of his or her own life. If you have suicidal thoughts, now is the time to think about others. Now is the time to get help. Call the National Suicide Prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call someone you trust to discuss these feelings rationally. Drugs and alcohol are often used by those who try to mask the pain. Unfortunately, the very same vices often give individuals the false courage to act on their obsessions. Don’t let suicide become an obsession. We really can become our thoughts.

  • My brother was not selfish. He shared more thousands of dollars with the people he loved — and some he didn’t even know — than many of us will make in years.
  • No one could have prevented Ronnie from killing himself. It is what he decided to do. He had taken medication. He had spent hours upon hours in therapy. He had even checked himself into a hospital the very night he checked right back out and pulled the trigger.
  • So many people loved our boy that it hurts to think of all those suffering from his loss.
  • I could have been kinder to my brother. I could have worked to be closer to him so I would know what he was feeling. I could not have prevented his suicide.

This week my family and friends are participating in the “Out of the Darkness” walk for suicide prevention in the names of my brother, my son-in-law’s brother, and my grandchildren’s grandfather — all lost in the last three years to suicide. If you would like to aid the prevention effort, please think of contributing to our cause.

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