My Awareness Nebula for Alzhiemer's, Dementia, and Suicide Prevention

by Kenneth Rayman on May 22, 2018
I’m sure every custom tattoo has a story to tell. With my Seattle skyline, it was the first place that my heart called me to; My Catherine the Great Decree and Royal Seal signified a shift in my mindset and mental being; my music notes on fire symbolize a burning passion; I wanted my final tattoo to be another unique reflection of me.

I had an idea for the shop owner who specialized in celestial tattoos but she is in such demand she is booked a year or two out. I put a consult request in, hoping it’d be a theme that she’d focus on for her year’s projects, but left it at that. I supported her shop and the artists every chance I got and mutually connected with her on Facebook, having yet to do so. Then I got the idea to ask her and the shop for interest in helping out with a “related to my tattoo” idea. I asked if they’d be interested in donating artwork to an auction to benefit seniors to which they agreed and each donated a piece; their artwork would help us raise over $2000 for seniors during the holidays last year.

My idea related to seniors, my industry, and myself in many ways. I wanted to combine two awareness ribbons for two causes that have come to mean a lot for me. The first is personal, the second is professional; both signify a personal loss of self, one sudden, the other prolonged but no easier on the person effected, the family involved, or the extended circle, that of suicide and Alzheimer’s/Dementia. A nebula would match Michelle’s specialty and my idea with, oddly, life and death literally. The colors of the M2-9 nebula matched those of the awareness ribbons with the purple outer cloud of the supernova’s epicenter for Alzheimer’s/Dementia and the turquoise/purple expanding outer gases of Suicide Prevention and resemble a ribbon, itself.

Suicide is something that effects me deeply with one death in my extended family, a few friends, within the family of friends, and a lifelong personal battle with anxiety and depression. Suicidal ideations were common in my teenage years because I was terrified of my anxiety, the issues of teenage development, and a sheltered upbringing. Thankfully, I never acted on or desired to do anything to hurt myself but the mental stress was unreal. Anytime I hear about suicide it causes reflection and empathy for the individual who committed the act, wondering what I or someone could have done to make that person know that they meant something in life and to this world. My empathy to the person affords me to grieve in a special way but never to judge. Judgement of others hurts because, to me, it does nothing but prolong the suffering of those left and does not quantify the suffering and the issues of the person who committed the act, thereby I find it in poor personal taste.

The suicides of Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Robin Williams, because of suicide’s usual out of the blue nature, hit hard. With Chester, I felt a piece of my childhood and own coping through him was torn away. I found it prophetic that he saved me and countless others yet he was in too much pain himself. I still have moments where I choke up at his last live performance of “One More Light” where fans hold on to him and cradle him in their arms as well as his wife’s video from 36 hours before his death. “One More Light” gives me a connection to him and his bandmates through the loss of the wonderful soul that was Chester; the Bean Boozled game in his wife’s video gives me the empathetic pain that Chester must have been in in those final moments before he took his own life, because of those moments like 36 hours prior seeming so fleeting.

Robin’s death was filled with shock at the inability to comprehend how someone who didn’t have to try to make people laugh could be so depressed himself; though I knew of his past battles with depression and addiction because his openness about his issues on stage. I consoled myself by watching “What Dreams May Come” in which Robin plays a man in the afterlife fighting to save his wife from the eternal torment of replaying her own suicide. As I watched I wondered how a man who made such a beautiful movie about the question of existence and the narrative of suicide and love could do such an act himself. Then the news came that ties into my second cause.

Robin’s wife revealed that he was dealing with increasing memory loss and paranoia that was resembling, more and more, dementia; an autopsy would confirm that he had Lewy Body Dementia, which causes severe mood swings and intense delusions. Knowing he had dementia, having worked with those suffering from the condition, made it a personal and professional mourning.

Though Robin was only 63, seniors actually are the leading age group to commit suicide; teenagers attempt it more but seniors actually complete the act the most. When it was discovered that Robin indeed had Lewy Body Dementia, Robin’s wife seemed, to me, to describe Robin’s daily activity as “traumatic grief” at losing his abilities and what made him Robin, saying that though Parkinson’s had been confirmed, dementia was not but Robin seemed to know that there was more going on. Traumatic grief interferes with activities of daily living to a degree that day to day functioning is fraught with feelings of doom, hopelessness, and the loss of an key piece of themselves. Susan Schneider Williams said that Robin felt like he was losing his mind and by choosing suicide he was taking back a degree of his control over his life that he had begun to lose. Susan has now become a passionate supporter and advocate for neurological research and written an incredible account of her and Robin’s last few years and the struggle of Robin’s day to day, “The terrorist inside my husband’s brain.”.

The resources at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Alzheimer’s Organization provide 24 hour assistance and support to any issues that you are facing. Support groups are also available or can be recommended by both organizations. Mental health of yourself and, with Alzheimer’s, as a caregiver, is first and foremost as burn out and stress is high in both situations. Please reach out to the organization that best fits your needs.

Some personally recommended resources for those dealing with suicide and/or depression, either through your own struggle or dealing with a loss, to help you find your strength and purpose again are Front Row Foundation, Brendon Burchard, Tony Robbins, and Impact Theory.

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