Monday, August 31, 2015

Signs: Anxiety

It's here! Anxiety can be such a bewildering force. Learn some tips and tricks on how I was able to recognize and overcome mine. #UnleashtheSigns



Friday, August 28, 2015

From My Mom: Full Circle--Part 3

(Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of this post written by my mom. ~Luke)

The criminal defense attorney we hired for Luke was very good . . . and VERY expensive. With the mounting medical bills and therapy payments, we couldn't afford him for the next phase of court hearings. He said that since we had a verbal agreement with the Chief Deputy District Attorney, Luke should be fine with any Public Defender (PD) assigned to his case.

The day of the first hearing arrived, where all the details from the meeting with the D.A. would be approved by the judge and put in writing. We met Luke's assigned PD for the first time (yes, it's a ridiculous system!). He seemed competent enough, and we filled him in on the agreement. To our dismay, however, he said that nothing verbal from the D.A. would be admissible. And, oh, by the way, Jeanne Roy had been reassigned, and she wouldn't be there. We were starting from square one.

"Besides, no one meets with the D.A. in the juvenile division. So I have no idea how that transpired," he said indignantly.

In the hearing, the new prosecutor explained to the judge that Luke should be charged with a felony as an adult and receive time in juvenile hall as his punishment. The probation department representative, who interviewed Luke, my husband, and me for two hours, recommended the same fate. We knew that having a felony conviction on his permanent record could impact his future employment prospects, education, volunteer opportunities, insurance, and other areas of his life.

Deflated and highly concerned, we continued the hearing for two weeks--and had no idea how to proceed. It seemed that the only option was to contact Jeanne Roy, which was a less-than-desirable solution to me.

So . . . I sent her an email. Even though Jeanne was now the Chief Deputy District Attorney in another division, she assured me she would attend the next hearing and implement her agreement with our prior attorney.

When the date arrived, we waited in the hallway of the courthouse for Luke's case to be called (juvenile proceedings are confidential). We sat and shifted as others entered and exited, and the volume of people thinned. We began to realize that the hearing was being delayed because the D.A. and judge were waiting for Jeanne. Concern and anxiety took hold. This was our last hope for mercy in Luke's criminal case, which would determine his entire future.

Suddenly, we heard the echo of heels clicking in strong brisk strides through the corridor preceding Jeanne's appearance. "I'm sorry I'm late," she said as she sailed passed us and burst through the courtroom doors.

After she met with the judge privately, she stood in court and delivered an eloquent soliloquy, explaining why Luke was more of a benefit to society outside of jail than in it. She also pointed out the restorative justice aspect as Lenny Ross, the victim, sat on our side of the courtroom during the hearing to support Luke. The judge agreed to all the stipulations she laid out. Luke received Delayed Entry Judgement (where his case will disappear completely) and was placed on two years of probation with a long list of requirements he must complete in that time--including paying Lenny a gigantic restitution. (As you know, he completed the terms of his probation and was released one year early.)

Jeanne was the person most intent on prosecuting Luke to the full extent of the law, and now she was defending him. She saw the good in what he was doing and wasn't interested in rubber stamping him as a criminal offender for the rest of his life. I have a feeling she uses her experience and good judgment with all of the cases she prosecutes, so the outcome is best for everyone involved: victim, society, and the offender. That makes her an effective D.A., who is more interested in justice than revenge.

And now for the part where we have come full circle (thank you for your patience!).

Recently, Jeanne informed me that "the Riverside District Attorney's Office would like to recognize Luke as a Community Hero for his amazing journey and contribution to our community." He will receive an award on December 11 at the PRIDE (Program Rewarding Incentive of District Attorney Employees) banquet. Three years and eight days after his suicide attempt and criminal act.

I had to take a moment to let it sink in. The office that wanted my son prosecuted and sent to jail with a felony conviction on his permanent record is now presenting him with an award for being a hero. We've seen so many miraculous and inexplicable events throughout our journey. Many are unbelievable and mind boggling. But this caught me completely off guard. I couldn't shake the irony.

And I'm so grateful to Jeanne for everything she's done to help Luke in his mission to save teens and their families--not only from depression and suicide, but from criminal behavior as a result of mental illness. I'm even thankful for that initial hard-nose meeting that had us shaking in our boots. She still follows Luke's progress and is one of his biggest supporters. And one of the nicest people we have ever met.

I hope she knows how much she means to Luke and our family. And how her way of being the D.A. is a treasure, not just to us, but to the entire community.

Jeanne and Luke at the courthouse


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

From My Mom: Full Circle--Part 2

(For Part 1 of this post written by my mom, click here. ~Luke)

We finally entered Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeanne Roy's office. We were directed where to sit, and before we were comfortable in our chairs, she attacked Luke--slamming his very thick file onto the table with a bang. I don't remember her exact words because we were caught by surprise, but it was something along the lines of how his actions were really stupid, and he was basically the scum of the earth (OK, so she didn't say "scum of the earth", but that was definitely the feeling conveyed.)

My first reaction was to defend Luke, but my husband threw me a sharp look, and I remembered our attorney's admonishment. It hurt badly when I bit my tongue, but it worked. She said he deserved to be charged as an adult with a felony on his permanent record and that he needed to spend time in juvenile hall to protect society and ensure he never repeats the behavior. My heart dropped to my stomach--those were the words we had dreaded.

As she continued to rail against Luke, he maintained eye contact with her and waited to speak until she asked him: "So what punishment do you think you deserve?"

Luke said he deserved the maximum punishment because he almost killed another person and himself. But he explained that his depression presented an extenuating circumstance, he was in treatment and recovery, he felt extremely remorseful, and he could never see himself repeating that horrible act.

His statement brought tears to my eyes, and I quickly looked over to the D.A. in the hope that she understood that this criminal act should not follow him for the rest of his life, and he should be charged as a minor and receive probation, not jail time. She didn't budge.

Luke told her that he wanted to make a positive difference by spreading the word about teen depression. He intended to reach out to others like himself so they won't make the same mistakes. She paused for a moment, then surprised us by asking him what he liked to do in his spare time.

"Read," was his reply.

Jeanne Roy visibly softened. "Read?"

"Yes, I really enjoy sci-fi, and I've read many books over and over again because I can't seem to find enough."

"Do you know that the majority of offenders I see in this office have never read an entire book?" she asked.

This just blew Luke away, and he couldn't believe it was true.

Before the meeting was over, she asked Luke if he would ever consider addressing at-risk offenders, to which he jumped at the chance.

Jeanne dismissed us so she could speak privately with Luke's attorney. We retreated back to the cold marble foyer to wait.

When the attorney returned, we stepped outside. He delivered the good news--they had struck a verbal agreement that the D.A. would seek deferred entry judgment. In other words, Luke would be charged as a minor, so his record will be sealed and completely expunged as if it never existed once he completed the requirements set forth by the judge. He would also serve probation with no jail time, complete community service hours, and pay Lenny restitution for his losses (which were extreme, to say the least). In addition, no report would be sent to the DMV to stop him from obtaining his driver license.

All we had to do was attend a couple of court hearings as a formality, and this would soon be over. We were relieved and grateful, even celebratory. We thought nothing could thwart this agreement and put Luke's future back in jeopardy, but we would soon see how wrong we were...

Friday, August 21, 2015

From My Mom: Full Circle--Part 1

(My mom is a published writer. She used to say that word pictures were always forming in her head. But since my suicide attempt, she's written only one article. She told me that she just hasn't been inspired to write since that day, and the words don't appear anymore. Well, a few weeks ago, I asked her if she would be a regular contributor to my blog--because we are asked all the time about my parents' perspective, and my mom is frequently requested to speak at my talks, which she so far has declined. She said she would write when she had something to say. This is her first post on my blog. ~Luke)

December 3, 2015, marks three years since my son Luke attempted suicide by crashing into an oncoming vehicle. That was the worst day of my life. My husband's life. My other children's lives. And I'm sure the lives of others who knew about it. Luke thought it was the worst day of his life, too--because he survived.

To add to the trauma of discovering our son had been suffering with Major Depressive Disorder for four years, and as his parents, we couldn't alleviate his pain because we didn't know, we had to deal with the legal issues that arose from his suicide attempt. We were distraught not only for our son but for his victim, Lenny Ross, and Lenny's family, too. Although at the time, we didn't know his name or the extent of his injuries (except that he was hospitalized). Because of his actions, Luke was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon before he even left the hospital, physically unharmed.

As we anxiously waited to see Luke in the Emergency Room (it would be hours before the Sheriff deputies completed their interrogations and allowed us to enter), my husband became aware of an elderly gentleman who was also anxiously waiting to hear the prognosis for his son. It was Lenny's father. He and my husband exchanged a few civil words (and phone numbers!). In the days following, my husband called Lenny's dad to inquire about his recovery, but later on, the man was not interested in communicating with the father of the suicidal boy who almost killed his son. Can't blame him there.

Many of you know Luke's story and the journey he's undertaken (or, has undertaken him) since that fateful day. I won't regurgitate those still-painful details. However, I do want to draw a miraculous picture of redemption and restorative justice that still makes me shake my head in amazement.

The initial Chief Deputy District Attorney assigned to Luke's case was Jeanne Roy, who worked in the juvenile division of the Riverside District Attorney's office. At that time, we hired a top criminal defense attorney. He contacted Jeanne immediately to arrange a meeting between all of us.

By the date of the meeting, Luke was on the road to recovery and decided that he wanted to spend his life warning other teens and their parents about the danger of undiagnosed depression. He was eager to show the D.A. that he was incredibly remorseful for his actions, and he never intended to repeat them. He had written Lenny a heartfelt letter of apology out of a sincere desire to show his regret, and upon the advice of his attorney, he was participating in community service and doing his best to show that he was not the type of offender to slip back into trouble once released from the court system.

This is the actual foyer where we waited for our first meeting with Jeanne Roy.
The marble benches we sat on are out of view across from the security desk.
We arrived at the D.A. office building early and waited in an echoey foyer lined with marble--even the benches we sat on were cold and hard. Jeanne Roy eventually emerged from an elevator, took one look at our group of four, and motioned Luke's attorney to a whispered conversation beyond the security officer's desk. A few seconds later, he returned, told us the D.A. wasn't expecting to meet with the offender, and instructed us not to speak unless spoken to. We followed her into the elevator, where we endured a completely silent ride (not even a polite "hello" was exchanged) for what seemed like hours.

We finally exited the elevator and made our best attempt to keep pace with the petite woman who walked with rapid determination to her office. My very friendly husband had just enough time to lean over to me and say, "Well, this is awkward." But little did he know how much more awkward it was about to become . . .

Friday, August 14, 2015

From Another: Cerebral Palsy and Depression

My mother was twenty-eight weeks pregnant when she had me and my sister. I weighed two pounds, nine ounces and was in the hospital for over two months. The doctors told my grandma that, like my twin sister who was stillborn, I most likely would not survive and neither would my mom. Grandma had always been a very strong southern Christian, and it was at that time that they needed God the most.

When I was eleven months old, I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a neurological condition marked by impaired muscle coordination and/or other disabilities. This was due to a stroke before birth. Imagine having to put a thought behind every movement you make. Cerebral palsy effects everyone differently. No one case is the same. I am only physically affected, not mentally. There is currently no known cure for Cerebral Palsy. Along with Cerebral Palsy, I also have epilepsy.

My biological dad was and has never really been there. He doesn’t care. Although, as a baby I was lucky enough to have my grandpa and uncle as male father figures to me. Every night for seven years I prayed to God for a dad. I’d been a Christian since I was five. I know that might sound bizarre to some people but my grandma, who is like a second mother to me, took me to church every Sunday. I could’ve told you the titles of every book in the Bible. When I accepted God I knew exactly what I was doing. I was doing what He told me to do.

Fortunately, when I was nine years old, Mom got married to my dad—the only dad I’ve ever known, I might not say this enough but I am really grateful for him. Not only did I finally have a dad, but I have a brother to. All of my prayers had been answered.

Due to being different from everyone else, I was an easy target and definitely no stranger to bullying. However fifth grade year, it was taken to the extreme, and I even received threats. After a few months, it eventually became too much. My original plan was to run away from home, but my friend stopped me. A couple of months after that, I told someone that I was going to end it. This then came back to my mom.

In the midst of all this, God had answered my prayers again—I got a little sister. I love her so much. With middle school came anorexia. This was a result of being bullied the previous year. I hated myself. I never ate. I started losing weight. A lot of weight. Whether it was 93 or 82, the number on the scale was never good enough. After a few regular check-ups, they quickly realized what I was doing. The doctor told me that if I lost any more weight, she would admit me to the hospital. In the months that followed, mom made sure I ate. It seems easy, but it wasn’t. For someone with anorexia, the sight of food makes you sick, and eating only makes the feeling worse. It was because of my best friend—the one who’d saved me a countless number of times before, that I started eating again. That’s when I started going to therapy.

Eighth grade year, my biological dad decided to show up again. I’ll admit that as happy as I was, I was also petrified. Without going into specifics let’s just say I saw some things that no eight- year-old should ever see. Despite how cautious I was, I let him back in my life. He said all the right things, of course. Those few weeks were the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. Though it was short lived, a month and a half, he was gone again. I realized this on my fourteenth birthday when he didn’t call, his number was disconnected. The same thing he did after I turned nine. This is when I began to change. I became depressed—slightly. For about eight weeks or so. Nothing major. I guess you could say I became a different person though. One year later—my doctor put me on medication, but at that time, I wasn’t depressed anymore.

Freshman year was the year I really became depressed. The stupid pills didn’t work because at that time, I was not depressed. Taking medications isn’t the end-all-be-all. If it helps, by all means, take it. However, I don’t agree with medicating someone and then just immediately expecting that they’ll get better. My first semester of high school, I was so happy. Everything seemed to be perfect. I was in a good place, and even wanted my dad (mom’s husband) to officially adopt me. And of course, my biological dad had to appear again. At the best time to—Christmas Eve night.

He sent me a friend request on Facebook. This might sound like nothing, it’s no big deal. It was to me. This was the starting point of my depression. I was so hurt, confused and angry about so many things. At that time, we had just learned some things about him that weren’t good at all. A few nights before Christmas Eve, I had decided I was going to fix the problem—me. I didn’t want to do any of this anymore. Nothing happened that night, someone stopped me.

I was wrong when I thought it couldn't get worse from there, about a month later the person I believed to be my best friend in the whole world straight up told me that I was a burden, an obligation a responsibility, and worthless. I hated myself because of it. I began thinking that everyone would be better off if I was gone. I started planning my death.

Mid-September is when I reached my breaking point. I didn’t want to kill myself—only wanted to forget about my problems. That night, I picked up the blade for the first time. Afterwards, I hated myself even more and told myself that I would never do it again. Two nights later, I picked up the blade again. About three and a half weeks later, I overdosed on pills. Tried to kill myself. I failed. I felt like I had failed myself. The one thing that mattered. I screwed it up. I won’t lie, sometimes I still feel like I failed myself. What matters is that I pick myself up and go on. I go on for my twin sister. The other half of me. Everyone has their reason to go on. Find yours. I told my mom, the morning after. She immediately took me to the hospital. I know it completely broke her. And I’m sorry for that. After I was there for a day and medically cleared, the doctors sent me to a mental facility about an hour away.

The facility I was sent to the first time wasn’t helpful at all. Honestly, it was a waste of time. --Four months later, I wasn’t really suicidal anymore. I mean, sure I had my days but it wasn’t all the time. Though, I was still cutting. Mom noticed this and sent me to a different facility. At first I was extremely angry. I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I did, though. I am so thankful that my mother sent me there. We had groups every day. We had several therapy activities throughout the day that really helped, and I was able to talk to someone whenever I needed to. I wasn’t judged for feeling a certain way. Everyone was there for either drugs, self-harm, or both, so they could relate to what I was going through. Being there made me realize that I was not alone. Sometimes I wish I could go back, just for a day because being in the environment is helpful, because it is still a struggle, but one I can prevail While I at the facility I started doing The Butterfly Project. Knowing that just one person cares about you makes a big difference, and that is the reason I haven’t self-harmed.

--Anonymous

If you would like to inspire and move people with your story, fill out the contact form to the right or email me at ucantberased at gmail.com.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Midwest Catholic Family Conference = Epic!

Final rounds of practicing for the
Midwest Catholic Family Conference.


Saying an early-morning goodbye.

Enjoying the leg room in the front seat 
of our flight and loving my new Converse.

Kansas! Where did all the mountains go
and what are all those circles?
Ready and waiting!
My first talk--middle schoolers. What a fun crowd!
Then off to the high school talk. I can't tell you how great these teens were.
And I loved answering questions on the speaker panel.

But don't worry, I still made time for friends
(aka, Tim Staples).
And more friends (loving my new 
orange hoodie from Got Mary?).

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
Our layover in Vegas was....interesting.
HOME!!!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Let It Begin...

...Let it begin. Let. It. BEGIN!!! (Sorry, my little sister has watched Bolt way too many times).

Anyway, I'll be on my way to lovely Wichita, KS, on Friday for the start of the Midwest Catholic Family Conference! If my poor mom survives the plane ride (let's just say she's not too fond of flying), we'll be headed straight to the Century II Convention Center to set up. If you plan to attend, drop by my table. I'd love to chat with you!

The convention hall where I'm giving my Sunday parent talk!

I'll do my best to update my social media while I'm there. I might have to enlist my mom to help again. She'd have a ton of fun updating you.

Until tomorrow...