Im’ Just Saying: Looking out for our friends

I’m sitting here writing my column today laid up in bed. I’ve been here off and on for most of the last 12 days. Some of you know I’ve got a long history of lower-back problems. To be more specific, I have what’s called “sacroilliac dysfunction.” Meaning my sacroilliac (SI) joint “slips” out of alignment. Since my mid-30’s, this used to happen every month or so. Fortunately, for the last 5 or 6 years the frequency has gone down to about 3 or 4 times a year. Sometimes it is a mild issue and can go back into alignment by itself. Sometimes it’s really bad and needs to be forced back into alignment.

A good chiropractor (and I have a great chiropractor here in Cuenca) can realign the SI joint and give almost instant relief. That usually happens for me. But some times, like this episode, the joint becomes unstable (from the trauma it causes when it slips) and it can keep popping out after being realigned. That’s what has been going on with me for almost 2 weeks.

The thing is, I know instantly when it pops out and I know that within 20 minutes or so, I’m going to be suffering. For those of you who have had disc problems in your spine, SI dysfunction can cause similar pain. At times it is bearable and I can function through the day without anyone realizing I am in pain. Other times, like now, I can barely stand up. The pain is relieved only by laying on my back for most of the day.

On those days when I struggle through, it’s invisible to most people. I can be in intense pain, but since it’s not a visible pain or injury (e.g., like a broken arm) no one around me (except Codie) can tell how badly I’m hurting. Which means I can be a moody jerk because of the pain, but no one knows why! Even if I tell people what’s going on, if they’ve never had back problems, it really is hard to understand how this thing that can’t be seen is causing me so much pain.

That’s something for all of us to keep in mind. A lot of people we know here in Cuenca are walking around with invisible pain, either physical of psychological.  They are carrying a burden that can’t be seen or that they don’t want to show. Both of these types of invisible pain can easily lead people to depression.

I’m fortunate that my pain will go away soon, I know that (it rarely goes on longer than 2 weeks). But many others have permanent pain that they deal with every day.

In addition to causing depression, some of these invisible pains can cause people to think that ending it all is the best option they have. Suicide is something we are all familiar with. We all probably know someone who felt they had no other option and killed themselves; without anyone around them even aware that they were considering doing it.

There are many statistics to show how high the rates of suicide are among seniors, especially those living alone who feel they don’t have a support system. Extremely alarming is that white men over the age of 65 are three times more likely to commit suicide than any other group, and two times more likely than any other age group of men.  They are also eight times more likely to kill themselves than women of the same age group!

Another alarming statistic is that three times as many women as men report a history of attempting suicide; but men are four times more likely to actually do it.

Obviously, I am no expert on this issue.  Fortunately there are a lot of people who make the study and prevention of suicide their life’s work. Groups like the Suicide Prevention Resource Group (www.sprc.org)and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention(https://afsp.org) have developed resources for people to be able to identify suicidal thoughts and intentions in people close to them. Below is a list (taken from WebMD) of common things to watch for that may signal a person is having suicidal thoughts.

Becomes withdrawn. The person avoids close friends and family, loses interest in activities and social events, and becomes isolated.

Focuses on death. Some people talk openly about wanting to die. Or they fixate on the topic of death and dying. They may research ways to kill themselves or buy a gun, knife, or pills.

Shows despair. The person may talk openly about unbearable pain, or feeling like they’re a burden on others.

Makes plans. The person may take steps to prepare for death, like updating a will, giving away stuff, and saying goodbye to others. Some may write a suicide note.

Shows swings in mood or sleep. Often, the person may be depressed, anxious, sad, or angry. They also may be very irritable, moody, or aggressive. But they can suddenly turn calm once they’ve decided to go through with the suicide. Then they may sleep a lot more or a lot less than usual.

Drinks or takes drugs. Substance abuse raises the chance of suicide. Using a lot of drugs and alcohol may be an attempt to dull the pain or to harm themselves.

Acts recklessly. The person may take dangerous chances, like driving drunk or having risky sex.

The reason I’m writing about this today is because I want to share with you that some local expats are considering forming a group to help Cuenca expats who may be on their own and are possibly feeling isolated.  They are beginning by putting out a short survey to assess what type of social, medical and/or resource help these expats may need.  This is a great idea and will surely end up helping a lot of our friends here in Cuenca.

If you want to help in this worthy effort, you can take the survey at  (https://mailchi.mp/84757e3fac1f/are-you-an-expat-help-us-with-your-opinion).

You can also help on a more personal level.  Think about your fiends here.  Do any of them show one or more of the signs above?  Have you noticed big changes in them?

Then talk to them about it.  That is what every group recommends.  Your efforts could actually save a life.  Most experts agree that a frank conversation about your concerns won’t make the person act on their feelings.  Just the act of talking with them about it may ease their suicidal thoughts.

And of course, if anyone you know is talking about suicide, encourage them to talk to a mental health professional as soon as possible.  Obviously, if they are threatening to kill themselves, stay with them and call 911.  Or take them to the hospital yourself if you can do it safely.

We are our own special expat society here in Cuenca and we all can help each other.  Let’s start now by making sure we know our friends are all happy with their lives.  And if not, help them get there.

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