City: Burke, S.D.
What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?
For much of my life, achieving and succeeding was the recipe to soothe my anxiety. I was always just some planning, prepping, practicing, and obsessing away from another win. And surely if I won enough (awards, good grades, positions, grants) then that pit in my stomach would go away. This approach worked for quite a while — until it didn’t.
Even though I’ve struggled with anxiety and its close sibling, depression, for much of my life, I especially suffered during my two pregnancies and postpartum. Then in 2020, the anxiety and depression became severe and accompanied by PTSD when our second child, a daughter named Lenore Antonia Sutton, died because of brain trauma from a knot in her umbilical cord.
I was very physically unwell during both my pregnancies, and after our first son was born, I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune condition. I struggled to eat or sleep and to generally take care of myself. This is a recipe for mental and emotional difficulty for me, and it was extra hard with my second pregnancy when I had an active 4-year-old who needed his mom. For both pregnancies, I headed into the postpartum period exhausted and depleted.
Between my first and second pregnancies, I was able to work on my physical well-being enough to continue my patterned coping mechanisms mostly successfully. I dabbled in talk therapy, but only attended a few sessions and felt like I was managing.
Toward the end of my second pregnancy in July 2020, I had little reason to expect any outcome besides a typical delivery and coming home with a healthy baby. My water broke a few weeks early and I labored for about 36 hours. Our daughter was born on July 8th, but she confusingly wasn’t breathing when she was delivered. The medical team revived her, and she was flown to Sioux Falls. We were hopeful her lungs would develop more, and she would get better.
We spent a week at the NICU, a roller coaster of hope and despair. On July 15th, her dad and I held her and told her stories while she slowly quit breathing. Easily the worst night of our lives.
The brutality of losing a child was debilitating. My anxiety, depression, and PTSD were severe. My feelings of failure and unworthiness were nearly impossible to escape. My regular coping mechanisms were not going work.
What resources have helped you to address this challenge?
We nearly immediately entered talk therapy as a family, as a couple, and individually. My doctor prescribed a bridge medication for me that helped get me through some of the earliest weeks.
I was able to lean on a network of friends and family for whose love and thoughts and prayers I am endlessly grateful. I was especially thankful for the people who had lost children that reached out to us and the group of local mothers who had had similar experiences making space for grieving together.
I also found much purpose in a community project that would honor our Lenny, and I found my way back to myself with re-embodiment practices like weight lifting, walking in nature, and making rest a top priority. In so many ways, gifts and wisdom I dreamed of giving to my daughter have actually been given to me through grieving and healing.
Based on your experience, how can we work to build resilience in ourselves, our loved ones, and in our communities to better face life’s challenges?
Understanding ourselves and processing our emotions is difficult, important work. Understanding our family’s stories and patterns, where we have gaps in our needs being met, and how to regulate our nervous systems will create more resilient families and communities. We owe this work to ourselves, to each other, and to our children.
South Dakotans need access to trusted, affordable resources and services to be able to do this work. Those who are elected to represent us have a duty to solve access issues. We also cannot lose focus on co-occurring factors like poverty, lack of housing, and lack of access to any healthcare in building resiliency.
And all of this depends on us recognizing how much we need each other. We need relationships, family, friendship, and community. We need to take care of ourselves, and we need to take care of each other.
What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?
I had an ‘aha’ moment several years ago when I learned that excessive irritability is a sign of depression. I (like I think many others) thought of depression as sadness. But I immediately noticed those patterns of irritability in myself and some people close to me. I hope that can be an ‘aha’ moment for someone else too.
Listen to the latest episode of Great Minds with Lost&Found, featuring a conversation with Billie Sutton and Kelsea Kenzy Sutton!
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Call or text 988.
The Lost&Found Association came to life in 2010 thanks to a team of soon-to-be college students committed to making a difference in the lives of peers struggling with depression and suicide.
Today, Lost&Found is a growing education and advocacy nonprofit that serves students on 15 college campuses, offering resilience-building programming and connecting students in need with support communities.