In 2018, 1.5 million Americans attempted suicide

U.S. suicide rates have risen in recent years, while rates in other nations continue to fall. Our suicide rate increased 33 percent from 1999 through 2017, and this rate has increased more sharply since 2006. Suicide ranks are now the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 35 to 54, and the second for 10- to 34-year-olds. It remains the 10th leading cause of American deaths overall. Suicides have increased most sharply in rural communities (like mine), where loss of farming and manufacturing jobs has led to economic declines over the past quarter century.

What can we learn about why our suicide rate continues to climb? According to the American Psychological Association (APA) The reasons for why suicide rates rise or fall is challenging, in part because the causes of suicide are complex:

“Suicide risk factors include health factors such as depression, substance use problems, serious mental illness and serious physical health conditions including pain, environmental factors such as access to lethal means and stressful life events including divorce, unemployment, relationship problems or financial crisis and historical factors including previous suicide attempts, a family history of suicide and a history of childhood abuse or trauma.”

“At the individual level, there is never a single cause of suicide. There are always multiple risk factors,” says Christine Moutier, MD, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “That confluence of multiple risk factors makes it a trickier business to explain a population-level rise.”

What can you do about this?

Those who have attempted suicide say,

“All I wanted was for one person to see my pain and say something kind.”

Any intervention can prevent suicide. I remember back in 2004, when I was divorcing (loss of 75% of my income!), I lost my job and then career, and I could find not one more job in any area at age 49. I set up an appointment with our Unitarian minister just to talk and I told her, “I just need one thing to go right!” Because it felt like everything was going to shit.

I learned two important lessons from this breakdown to breakthrough moment in my life. Action is the greatest antidote to despair and suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary predicament. The action I took, although it seemed a bit crazy at the time, was to start my own offline dating service. This led to meeting lots of others who were feeling lost and confused in the middle of their lives. Eventually it led to meeting Mike, my midlife best friend and lover. He then helped me begin a new career as a writer, which led to my blog “Midlife Crisis Queen” and my books.

If you are feeling lost and depressed start anywhere. Make your mess your message and spread the word, all is not lost just because you feel unhappy right now!

And remember, You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!

Learn more about nodules & lung cancer in women!

First the GOOD NEWS: The cancer death rate in the U.S. dropped 2.2% from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop ever recorded, according to the latest report from the American Cancer Society, continuing a longstanding decline that began a quarter-century ago. This decline was fueled in no small part by recent advances which have lowered death rates in lung and skin cancer patients.

This 26-year decline in our overall cancer mortality rate, a 29 percent drop, translates to roughly 2.9 million fewer deaths than there would have been had the rates remained the same. In contrast, less impressive results remain for other major causes of death, such as heart disease, whose mortality rate has slowed; stroke and other cerebrovascular disease, whose rate has stabilized; and accidents, Alzheimer’s disease and suicides, rates which continue to increase.

Unfortunately lung cancer statistics don’t hold up as well among American women. Internationally, screening programs and more effective treatments have helped lower breast cancer death rates. Meanwhile, the number of deaths from lung cancer has already sped past those from breast cancer in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and other higher-income countries. In the U.S. in 2015, more than 70,000 women died from lung cancer and about 41,000 women died from breast cancer.

In the U.S., smoking rates peaked in women after they did in men. That is why the U.S. is one of the countries where lung cancer rates have stabilized or decreased in men but they continue to rise in women. Men are still far more likely to smoke than women, and this will likely hold true in the future. Research is now underway to investigate whether smoking cessation programs are more effective than lung cancer screening in reducing lung cancer deaths in women.

An X-ray showing COPD

Please let me share a few interesting facts I have learned about lung cancer since discovering I have nodules in my own lungs. Nodules can be seen as a precursor to cancer. In my case they were found by getting a simple chest X-ray. Please get your lungs checked today! But when I recently asked my pulmonologist how common nodules are, she informed me that they are far more common than previously expected. How do we know this? So many more people have received X-rays and cat scans of their lungs in the past decade or so.

I also learned that, like me, as many as 20% of people who die from lung cancer in the United States every year have never smoked or used any other form of tobacco. In fact, if lung cancer in non-smokers had its own separate category, it would rank among the top 10 fatal cancers in the United States. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCL) is the most common type of lung cancer, yet it’s difficult to detect early on because early-stage lung cancer often has no symptoms and is not detected with a chest X-ray. Positron emission tomography (PET) and CT scans can be more helpful in diagnosing lung cancer.

Researchers continue to make progress in understanding what can cause lung cancer in people who have never used tobacco. A few other causes of lung cancer include:

  • Radon gas. The leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers is exposure to radon gas, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It accounts for about 21,000 deaths from lung cancer each year.  About 2,900 of these deaths happen among people who never smoked. Radon occurs naturally outdoors in harmless amounts, but sometimes becomes concentrated in homes built on soil with natural uranium deposits. Studies have found that the risk of lung cancer is higher in people who have lived for many years in a radon-contaminated house. Because radon gas can’t be seen or smelled, the only way to know whether it’s a problem in your home is to test for it. A Citizen’s Guide to Radon explains how to test your home for radon easily and inexpensively, as well as what to do if your levels are too high.
  • Secondhand smoke. Each year, about 7,000 adults die of lung cancer as a result of breathing secondhand smoke. Laws that ban smoking in public places have helped to reduce this danger. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action NetworkSM (ACS CAN) – the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society – is working to expand and strengthen these laws to further protect both people who smoke and those who don’t from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
  • Cancer-causing agents at work. Some people are exposed to carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) like arsenic, asbestos and diesel exhaust at their workplace. Work-related exposure to such cancer-causing materials has decreased as the government and industry have taken steps to help protect workers. Still, if you work around these agents, be careful to limit your exposure whenever possible.
  • Air pollution. Researchers have known for a long time that both indoor and outdoor air pollution can contribute to lung cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies outdoor air pollution as a carcinogen. However, it’s believed the risk of lung cancer associated with air pollution is lower in the US than in many other countries because of policies that have helped to lower the levels of exposure.
  • Gene mutations. Researchers are learning more about what causes cells to become cancerous, and how lung cancer cells differ between people who have never smoked and those who smoke. Understanding how gene changes cause lung cancer cells to grow has helped researchers develop targeted therapies, drugs that specifically attack cells with these mutations.

Do not assume that because you never smoked, you cannot have nodules or lung cancer. Get your lungs checked regularly as you age.

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The Boomer View – Choices Made, Opportunities Missed

Spending time with my older brother over the holidays was, as usual, revealing. One day we began discussing the ways we may have wasted time in our early years, time which we could have been better spent training for more appropriate vocations. I have often thought about a number of vocations I might have enjoyed more than my decades as a librarian years.

Thailand 1973, so much potential!

Now, with so many different television stations, I see how the shows I watch reflect the careers that could have been for me. First of all, my favorite sport to watch will always be ice skating. I see it as the perfect mix of dance and athletics. I LOVED skating in my teens years at the Colorado College ice rink in Colorado Springs! My favorite compliment came back then when a young girl skated up and asked me if I was ever in the Ice Capades. I still fantasize about being the best in the world in skating. What an accomplishment that would be. I enjoy ice dancing the most!

When it comes to alternative professions I am split between CSI, garden designer, journalist, nature photographer, and animal behaviorist. Strange combination huh… See why it was so hard to choose? I idealized Jan Goodall in my teens. Even went to meet her in San Francisco once. Journalism seemed natural because so many said I was a good writer and I have always been drawn to investigative efforts. It was only later that I learned about CSI work and garden design as occupations.

The meaning of life is having a SPECTACULAR view!

Mostly when I look back over my long life I appreciate all the great opportunities presented to me. The chance to live in Bangkok after high school opened up the world for me. Free tuition in college meant I could shop around to find the best programs for my interests like Chinese history and learning Chinese. I chose librarianship as a career because I always loved being in libraries and researching just about any topic. I chose International Librarianship because I believed in international cooperation. I got my Masters in Counseling Psychology because why people do what they do has always fascinated me.When the opportunity presented itself in 2005, I became a writer because I felt like that was my true calling, especially writing about psychology and midlife issues.

I feel I have done quite a lot with what I was given. Now I feel comfortable sitting back and enjoying my fantasies about all the occupations that might have been.

Do you think you missed out on any careers you might have loved?

Winter Solstice: A time for gratitude & wonder

Preparing for the winter solstice now, that time of year when the sun graciously agrees to return one more time.

I am filled with wonder that I live in such a splendid natural place, where every sunrise and sunset hold the potential for breath-taking awe. I must constantly remind myself to appreciate this time in my life and stay focused on the present, where all of my loved ones are still here with me.

SUMMER SOLSTICE 2019!

Yes, there will be losses. We must all sometimes stumble and fall. But we are here together now for one more dance around the sun… and that is enough!

Restoring our lost intimacy with nature

As many of you know, I have been struggling to understand and express here how living close to nature changes you. Since moving into big sky country over four years ago, I have changed tremendously, to the point where living with a brain injury does not effect me half as much. Why is this? Because nature is slow and deliberate. Nature is in no hurry to explain or understand itself. Nature is so not like the predominantly human world.

This week I read an amazing interview with writer Barry Lopez in the December issue of “The Sun.” Here he explains myself to me well. As someone who grew up in small to medium-sized cities, I rarely experienced the wonder or intimacy of living close to nature. I experienced instead the loneliness and lack of opportunities for true intimacy in the human-made world. I did not even appreciate my own need to reconnect with the natural world completely until my husband Mike talked me into moving to a wide-open space in the high desert of southern Colorado.

As soon as we moved here I felt different. I felt myself slowing down and appreciating each moment much more completely. Each astounding new view took my breathe away. Slowly I began naturally letting go of my past and my future, feeling less alone than I ever have. Nature is deliberate and can be trusted unlike most experiences in wholly human culture. The beautiful silence outside my door each morning provided me with authentic contact with the harmony in a world outside of human existence. Living in such beauty awakens a sense of gratitude for all there is to experience in the natural world. There so much here that most will never experience directly.

Barry Lopez believes that if you asked anyone walking down a sidewalk in a city, “What is it that you really want?” Many would say intimacy. But “you can’t gain intimacy without vulnerability, and you can’t have vulnerability without trust.” Barry finds this lack of intimacy and vulnerability in human culture to be manifested by our lack of intimacy with the land itself. Cities create a kind of competition and divisiveness that can not be found outside of them in the natural world.

Sometimes I think about the darkest moments in my past, moments of depression and hopelessness. I now realize that if I had known enough to escape from cities at those times, I would have found the kind of meaning and peace I needed to find new hope for meeting my next future.

But then we are all on schedule to learn what we must to discover our best life. Trust in that!

How unreasonable love is!

Yesterday I was struck by exactly how unreasonable love can be. What is this feeling that often goes against all reason and just is?

As far as I’m concerned, the definitions of love are completely inadequate. One definition is: “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Another is “a great interest and pleasure in something.” Or “to feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone).” How inadequate is that?

Reasonable is taking into consideration your own interests first, something most of us do unconsciously and continuously. “What in this for me?” I learned early to notice how so many people I met consider what they can get out of a new friendship before they jump into it. These people are very fair weather friends. I tend to avoid them.

I spent my first few years of college at Colorado College, a very expensive private school in Colorado Springs. There I met a number of very wealthy kids who first wanted to know if your family had a condo in Aspen BEFORE they decided to like you. Who knew there were such people in the world?

That’s when I learned to be much more careful in choosing my friends. Then, for young women, there is always the question whether the men liked you for sex and nothing else. Unfortunately that took me quite a while to figure out. Who knew some men are just pigs?

At age 64, I have known so many friendships, and most have not lasted very long. These experiences left me doubtful whether any of these “friends” ever really cared for me at all. In other words, I don’t expect true love and loyalty in this lifetime. I have experienced too many disappointments in this department.

Then yesterday I had a very frank conversation with Mike on this topic. We have been together for almost fifteen years now and still I doubt. We have been through serious, debilitating illness with Mike in our early years, and the same with me recently. I wondered why he would choose to sacrifice to be with me when he could certainly do better at this point in life. His love and loyalty astounded me. Finally I have found a lover and friend who actually loves me…in sickness and in health.

Love and integrity are so hard to find. If you find them in your personal relationships, return them in full force…

Feeling the losses & the gratitude

This fall I am feeling my losses fully. My recent tumble in my garden surprised and confused me. My balance is so not what it used to be and I must accept this fact gracefully. In fact I am now realizing that I can no longer do more than one thing at once, and that includes breathing! I have always been one to take off in a rush to get things done. This has only gotten worse because I now feel I must do something before I forget what I’m doing! But this simply will not do for me anymore. My damaged brain (one TBI and three concussions) and my inability to breathe deeply now creates a situation where I MUST TAKE THINGS MORE SLOWLY.

I know. I’m not the first person to discover this limitation of injury and aging, but I see now I am taking things too far to my own detriment. I need to move slower and do less even when I’m anxious to do more. I get angry with this situation, but this is my reality now. As always I come back to my own truth:

Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is.

I have always pressured myself partially because I was taught to be more and contribute. I now also see the flaw in that way of thinking. I am merely another human trying to find some truth and meaning in this life of mine. I am not worse or better than the rest, because in the end most of what we do does not matter. That is why I now laugh when I see this:

So I am letting go like so many do as they age, and as strange as it may seem, I sometimes see the benefits of my present circumstances. My head injuries have caused me to slow down, something I needed to do so I can appreciate each moment more. For example, I have loved Stephen Levine’s “Meditation on Letting Go” for decades, ever since I met him back in the 1980s in Boulder. But it is only now that I can fully appreciate its meaning.

So this Thanksgiving I give thanks for the life I have right now and can finally slow down enough to fully appreciate.