TW: This episode discusses suicide. Please listen with care. And if you or someone close to you is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out at https://988lifeline.org/.
It's suicide prevention month and we know that our population of neurodiverse youth and adults are impacted greatly by suicide, by suicidal ideation, and mental health issues because of bullying and other social challenges. It’s a vital topic, and one that’s hard to discuss, but we really have to do it because it’s so important.
In today’s episode, we have our very first guest. We’re so excited to talk to Anne Moss Rogers, a suicide prevention trainer, author, and advocate. Anne Moss tells the story of losing her son to suicide and why she’s become to passionate about suicide prevention and bringing awareness to parents and schools.
We also discuss why parents are afraid to ask their kids about suicidal thoughts, how social challenges can lead to suicidality for neurodiverse kids, and the importance of having a safety plan in place.
Please know that if you have children who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, you’re not alone. Your children aren’t alone. We can’t panic and we can’t shy away from this topic because it can literally be lifesaving to bring all these emotions out in the open.
In this episode, you’ll learn...
[01:44] An introduction to our very first guest on the podcast, Anne Moss Rogers, and how she became so passionate about suicide prevention
[21:31] Why parents are afraid to ask their kids about suicidal ideation
[30:01] How the research shows that social challenges can lead to suicidality for neurodiverse children, and why we need to be able to talk about it
[39:19] The importance of having a safety plan for instances of suicidal thoughts
[45:02] How parents of neurodiverse children who experience suicidal ideation can take care of themselves
[52:34] The Last Word
If you just can't get enough of us, don’t forget to join our newsletter and check out our other projects.
Links mentioned in this episode…
Marvelous Me Recommends:
Suicide and Crisis Hotlines
USA Suicide hotline 988
Crisis text line for US and Canada. Text HELP to 741-741
UK: text 85258 | Ireland: text 50808
USA Veteran’s Services 1-800-273-8255, press 1
USA Veteran’s Text line send HELP to 838-255
USA Crisis line for LGBTQ Youth 1-866-488-7386
USA Crisis text line for LGBTQ Youth 678-678
Canada Crisis Line 1-833-456-4566
United Kingdom Crisis Line 116 123
Australia Crisis Line 13 11 14
USA Warm Lines (peer support not a crisis line to talk to someone whose been there
TrevorSpace Discussion Board for LGBTQ+ support (peer support and not a crisis line)
Anne Moss Rogers is an emotionally naked public speaker, a TEDx storyteller, a certified suicide prevention trainer, an NAMI Virginia board member and the award winning author of Diary of a Broken Mind. Her 20 year old son, Charles, died by suicide on June 5th, 2015. Anne Moss chronicled her family's tragedy in a newspaper article that went viral. Her blog Emotionally Naked has reached millions since then. Her second book, Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk, which thank you so much for that resource, was co-written by Dr. Kimberly O'Brien, and that was published in August of 2021. She's been featured in The New York Times and was on the first non clinician ever invited to speak at the National Institute of Mental Health on the topic of suicide. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumnae, and Anne Moss currently lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and her surviving son.
Transcript for "Ep 12: Suicide Prevention for the Neurodiverse Population with Anne Moss Rogers"
[00:00:05] Gwen If you have an appreciation for honest and sometimes irreverent conversations about parenting and walking alongside humans with neurodiversity, you're in the right place. I'm Gwen.
[00:00:18] Kristen And I'm Kristen. And together we have decades of experience parenting fiercely amazing neurodiverse humans as well as teaching, writing, advocating and consulting. All of this has provided us with an endless supply of stories of inspiring failures and heartbreaking wins.
[00:00:35] Gwen Welcome to You Don't Want a Hug, Right? We promise to come at you each episode as our true selves, sharing the hilarity and delight in the midst of the heart of our journeys. Most importantly, though, we hope to remind you of your immense value as a human being outside of the parenting role that you play.
[00:00:56] Kristen So grab a cozy blanket and a beverage and go hide in the closet nearest you.
[00:01:03] Gwen Well. Hello, friends. Good morning. We are coming atcha.
[00:01:08] Kristen Yeah, we are. I may or may not be in my closet at the moment. Recording from my closet.
[00:01:15] Gwen I'm interested to hear from our listeners if they notice the difference in your sound quality. We pulled by a friend of mine that our sound quality could be improved. So we'll see if you sound more clear than I do.
[00:01:28] Kristen Just make sure you let us know, because my husband will be very willing to create a little studio in the closet for me with some fold down tables, I'm sure.
[00:01:36] Gwen And some soundproofing blocks on the walls. Yes. And then he can come and create that for me in my laundry room.
[00:01:43] Kristen Yeah. Great. So we have a really special episode today. This is exciting. We have our first guest with us, and the reason we have this very wonderful guest with us is that we are talking today about suicide prevention. It's suicide prevention month. And we know that our population of Neurodiverse youth and adults are impacted greatly by suicide, by suicidal ideation and other mental health challenges. So it's a vital topic. We hope you stay with us and listen to the ways that we can support our family members when they're experiencing these mental health challenges. And we know it can be a really hard topic to discuss, but we have to because it's that important.
[00:02:30] Gwen And these will be universally applicable. We just know that they speak extra volume to the Neurodiverse community, but this will be an episode that anyone will benefit from and will learn a tremendous amount of insight and valuable information. So we're grateful that you're here. Stick with us. I think you're going to be really glad that you did, even if this is not on your radar right now.
[00:02:59] Kristen And one of the reasons that we have our guest with us today is because she brings a really positive message of hope. And I think when we talk about and think about and not have a barrier to talking about these mental health issues with our family members, that's what brings the hope. And we can talk about strategies and ways to really look for signs that there may be an issue. We know that in our population, one in four autistic youth experienced suicidal ideation and almost one in ten attempt suicide, and that's from a systematic review and meta analysis from 2022. We know that that happens because there are a lot of adverse childhood experiences for our population. There's a lot of bullying, there's gender identity related stigma, other risk factors, including comorbid conditions like anxiety, OCD, depression that happens in our population. And we also know that protective factors for our loved ones is resilience. And so we need to learn how to build resilience for ourselves and for our family members. So we are really excited to have Anne Moss Rogers here with us today. Anne Moss and yes, we say those names together because she is a proper Southern lady. And so, yes, she is right. And so you'll hear us say Anne Moss and I'm going to let Gwen introduce her.
[00:04:26] Gwen Yeah. So Anne Moss Rogers is an emotionally naked public speaker, which she will tell you more about what that means. A TEDx storyteller, a certified suicide prevention trainer., an NAMI Virginia board member. She can tell us more about that and the award winning author of Diary of a Broken Mind. So the the very difficult part of her story that she will talk about very openly is her 20 year old son, Charles, died by suicide on June 5th, 2015. And Anne Moss chronicled her family's tragedy in a newspaper article that went viral. And her blog, Emotionally Naked reached millions since then. Her second book, Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk, which thank you so much for that resource. What an invaluable tool was co-written by Dr. Kimberly O'Brien, and that was published in August of 2021. She's been featured in The New York Times and was on the first non clinician ever invited to speak at the National Institute of Mental Health on the topic of suicide. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumnae and Anne Moss currently lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and her surviving son. Richard is a filmmaker in L.A., which is very exciting. So please join us in welcoming Anne Moss to the podcast. Thank you so much for being here.
[00:06:02] Anne Moss Thank you so much for having me. And I had no idea I was the first guest you've ever had.
[00:06:10] Kristen This is exciting.
[00:06:12] Anne Moss Yes, ma'am. I'm very honored.
[00:06:15] Gwen We are fairly new podcasts. And this is this is big. This is big for us. So we couldn't be more thrilled that it's you that's joining us.
[00:06:24] Anne Moss Well, thank you. Thank you so much.
[00:06:27] Kristen So amazing. Tell us a little bit about how you came to be so passionate about this issue.
[00:06:33] Anne Moss So around 2010, I was starting to notice that my son was struggling. You know, there were some signs in elementary school that he was kind of a square peg in a round hole. You know, he was a creative genius and all the little quirks that go with that. So we put him in private middle school, which was a really good move for us. Now, all of your listeners know as do I that they know have a lot of special education support services in private school. And my son, while he wasn't on the autism spectrum, he was neurodiverse and then he had ADHD and he had dyscalculia, which is basically shifting of numbers and difficulty with numbers. Brilliant kid, really high IQ, but he definitely had got a lot of quirky and lesser known neurodiversity. And, you know, they made it really clear they didn't have special support services, but because it was a smaller environment, it was really good and positive environment for him. Then he would go to high school and go to a public high school, not our first choice, but he had a sleep disorder. Private schools started at 7:30 a.m. and the closest one was 30 minutes away. So here this kid who couldn't wait till 2 a.m. because he had delayed sleep, they had syndrome. No. And then I would have to get him up really early. And that was just going to exacerbate problems he already had. Now, at this point, he's not specifically diagnosed with depression or anxiety or any of those things. He would be later. But I did know about the ADHD. I did know about the anxiety and I did know about the sleep disorder. And I knew something else was up with him. I just didn't know what. And it was a teacher who told me she suspected that he was suffering from depression, which shocked me. Because Charles was the funniest, most popular kid in school. And that was just weird. I mean, you know that this kid with this revolving door of friends.
[00:08:54] Kristen So how did the teacher identify that in him? Given that he was kind of that happy go lucky kid?
[00:09:02] Anne Moss You know, she said he was falling asleep in class and there were just days where he seemed really withdrawn and not participating as much. So Charles was always Mr. Participation, and then he would have these depressive episodes. And during those times in her class, she would see signs of it and think about how brave it was for her to tell me that. Yeah.
[00:09:33] Gwen What a brilliant educator.
[00:09:35] Kristen Yeah, very brave.
[00:09:36] Anne Moss I love Carrie Brettwell, I'm going to say her name. I love her. And she was Charles's favorite teacher.
[00:09:43] Gwen We love you, too, Carrie.
[00:09:46] Anne Moss She was amazing. And she was really good at working with kids who had differences and who didn't love a teacher like that, You know? I mean, that she was just amazing. He would end up being named on the homecoming court his sophomore year. So this was a kid who was very socially adept and you would think really had everything going for him. But what I didn't know is he struggled with thoughts of suicide and he struggled where he's not good enough. And you couldn't see that from outside because he was a funny guy. So he's on homecoming court and then long after that, that his drug use starts to escalate. Well, I don't know why what he did, he was using drugs and alcohol to numb thoughts of suicide because he had carried of all kinds. When they can't resolve something, they go for that quick check. So then, I mean, I understand why they would I mean, they're teenagers. They don't see into the future. It's all about here and now. Right.
[00:10:57] Kristen Right. And even adults go to the substances when they're struggling.
[00:11:02] Anne Moss They do. And what that does is it robs this of the ability to develop healthy coping strategies. Because once you take that kind of easy route to that one thing like a sunset, you don't develop a toolbox that becomes your go to. So right at the point in your life where you need to be developing those tools of resilience, you're not getting to do that because you're going straight for substance to numb and numbing doesn't make it go away.
[00:11:35] Gwen And specially for a kid like Charles who was hiding and masking it so well, it's hard to develop tools of resiliency if barely anybody knows that you're even struggling.
[00:11:49] Anne Moss Right. I always say, Charles, wore the mask of a clown. He didn't want anyone to know. But here's the interesting thing. I took pictures and I remember years later going through those pictures where I would see one where he was in despair or sad or off in some other world. And then the next snapshot, he was all smiling and his arms around people and he was all engaged. And it was like the secret persona couldn't always hide from the camera. And I was surprised how many of these pictures I had and why I didn't really notice them at the time. I just, you know, I was going for the one on the Christmas card. Right. And I missed this. And I'm not punishing myself for that, but I find it odd that I didn't see it and I actually have an e-book. You can download what you see the before and after picture and get signs of depression. So we started to become really worried because he started to become really reckless, which is a sign of depression, and that's a sign of suicide when they're behaving very recklessly because they don't care if they live or die. What if that happens accidentally? Then nobody knows. No big deal. And drinking and drugging increase. That's another sign. He started getting sick more and going to the doctor more. Those are also symptoms that a child may be struggling with depression is ended up going to the school nurse or the doctor all the time. The school nurse knows those kids. I mean, when I spoke at a school nurse conference. Oh, my gosh. That table packed. Absolutely. They know those kids, they knew what was going on and they really wanted to do something about it.
[00:13:49] Gwen That's such an interesting side note, isn't it? The school nurses as being a really helpful resource and valuable for our students? Thank you so much for highlighting that.
[00:14:01] Kristen They have such consistent contact over years with our kids. Right. And they know all the social dynamics and yeah, that is fascinating.
[00:14:11] Anne Moss The insight your school nurse has is unlike any that you'll ever find. I mean, they know the parents a lot of times because they're the ones that call mom and all every school nurse knew me by first name. I walked in, hello Ms. Rogers. From elementary school on and escalated towards that time. He would really struggle. So we ended up we were my husband and I were seeing a counselor. I didn't know what to do, you know, and I couldn't find a group. And what's weird is that there aren't. Right. She talked about NAMI at the beginning, and that stands for National Alliance of Mental Illness. They have a family group. So if your child is struggling with a mental illness, then we can join one of those family groups. Because everybody asked me, Well, who's a good counselor? What's a good program? That's where you'll find that information in those family groups. And they have the connections because they're actively going through it now and they're online. They're in every state. So if you can't find one in person, that's where you join one on online.
[00:15:32] Gwen Thank you. That's a fabulous resource.
[00:15:34] Anne Moss Yeah, it's a really good one. And unfortunately, I didn't know about it until much later. That's why I'm on the board now, because I want everybody to know about it. There's a huge benefit there. I did end up eventually joining Families Anonymous because of my son's substance use issues that would later turn into an addiction. But at this point, he wasn't addicted. The counselor recommended that we kidnap our son out of bed and take him to a wilderness program. Thank you. My goodness. Really weird about that. I asked for a diagnosis and he said, no, no, no. Charles was not depressed. So, like, one of his teachers thinks he knows. And I'm like, there's got to be some underlying reason for some of the behaviors I'm seeing. And he goes, Well, we don't need to do an evaluation. Case closed.
[00:16:34] Kristen Wow.
[00:16:36] Anne Moss So he is sent to wilderness for that price tag. Back then, I'm sure it's more now $32,000 insurance covered. $800.
[00:16:48] Gwen Oh, yeah. Shocking.
[00:16:50] Anne Moss So that kitchen renovation I had saved up for ten years, you know, making little things and selling them all Craigslist, you know, going all over town while I had my job, gone. But I would spend it on my child all over again. That's where they diagnosed with depression and anxiety and cannabis dependance, because that meant he was using the drug to manage his everyday life. And then from there they would recommend therapy, boarding school, another stab. I couldn't possibly afford it. But guess what? Our home equity line could. And that's what funded that step. So I'm thinking all these steps were taken. You know, we're good. And I didn't think he was going to come back a perfect child. Everything was going to hum along marvelously, because, I mean, he was pretty angry for having been sent away in the first place.
[00:17:54] Kristen About the whole kidnaping situation.
[00:17:56] Gwen Oh, yeah. In the middle of the night. Right, Right. Guardsmen come and they take him in the middle of the night. Yes.
[00:18:04] Anne Moss And one of the guys who was in that team one was a retired policeman. Pretty cool guy. The other guy was an off duty cop. Oh, my God. Yeah. Yeah. With testosterone. Oh, my God. Your mouth all the way down there. And I would find out about that way or go. Oh, my gosh, I'm so sorry. You know, I just didn't know what to do. We did it to save his life. I mean, you don't do that cause you got to give give a beer and a joint, right? I mean. Right, Right. Because really, you think, What am I going to do? I'm gonna go save my child's life.
[00:18:42] Gwen And those programs can have really great outcomes for a lot of families, too.
[00:18:47] Anne Moss Yeah, they can. Now, the therapeutic boarding school is closed down. I think that there are better ones than the one that he attended. We went to an educational consultant, but they were really, really heavily religious and kind of, you know, shove it in your face. We're not going to take no is an answer kind of way with teenagers. It's just not very effective, you know.
[00:19:18] Gwen Or with human beings.
[00:19:21] Anne Moss You know, that kind of punitive. And they had kind of a punitive approach and things were shifting. But we chose the one that was recommended and we chose the one that we could go see him more and do the family work, because if he'd gone to the one recommended the section recommendation in Idaho. Well, we didn't have a lot of money. You could be flying out Idaho and up these stringy little roads for hours on end. I mean, we're both working people and we had to keep working in order to keep paying this bill there. So he would come back in 2014, having spent about 22 months outside our home in some kind of placement. Now, Charles is always really a very loving child. He adored family, he adored me. He adored his dad. So he could only be so angry. And when he would get angry, he would diffuse really quickly. And, you know, I just said, give me a hug. And all anger would melt away because that's the kind of kid he was. What I didn't know was that Charles would go back to using drugs and alcohol as his problem solver instead of using all the problem solving techniques he had learned. Hmm. And he becomes addicted to heroin. And I probably lived in our house ten years, not yours and mine, using heroin. And I didn't know it because I didn't know you could snort it, know? And you would do it at 3 a.m. in his car when the drug dealer would drop it off. I didn't know that you could tack to get your drug dealer to drop off drugs in your front seat.
[00:21:12] Gwen Of your parents house.
[00:21:14] Anne Moss Right. And so do the drugs out there. Guess what? I'm sleeping. And he come back. Yeah. And by the time he woke up, it just looked like, you know, he slept late. And there wasn't a lot I can do about him sleeping late and then he's got sleep disorder. Anyway, we end up getting to a place where he admits that he may be addicted to an opiate. He goes to detox, he goes to rehab, he goes to a recovery house, and the relapse is like right away. And they take him back to detox because that was their process. They said, we're going to let you know every step of the way, but this is our process to take care of our own because we've all been through recovery process or we're all working on it now. So they took him back to detox. He got checked and we're all like, How do you know this is great? But he saw a friend and he walked out. He's over 18. We were ready for recovery. Charles was not. And for two weeks we didn't know where he was. He would call me right before he died. And I know he wanted to tell me. And that's what I want. Everyone on this broadcast today to know is that most people want to tell, teenagers in particular. And they'll leave a lot of hints because they want you to ask. And they think these parents are flashing neon signs, but they're not, because we don't think to ask that. We don't think our child is risk is just not on our front burner. Right. Right. And it's hard for us to fathom that while they're otherwise happy, the world said they're going to school in, you know, all these other like things seem to be okay. So how could somebody hurt that much? I mean, we're not understanding that.
[00:23:18] Kristen Don't you think, Anne Moss, we're afraid to ask because we don't want to plant the idea. Right.
[00:23:24] Anne Moss Right. That's a good point. I'm so glad you said that. We're right now. It wasn't on my radar, so wouldn't have known that. But. First question. I get in every single presentation to parent if I ask won't I plant the idea in their head. Well, and there is fear, even if you know that's not the truth. There are a lot of people sitting here going, I am not asking my child that question. Yeah, well, you will never know if they're thinking of suicide if you do not ask. And a lot of parents fear the answer. And I get that too. What am I going to do? I don't know how to fix that.
[00:24:06] Kristen Yeah. You don't feel like it's something that you can control. I mean, you can't watch your child. 24/7. So no addressing the issue. You have to also face that you might not be able to control that.
[00:24:20] Anne Moss Right. And that you have to do something at some point. And what is that? So at this point, I was a basket case all day Friday. And that night my husband and I went out to dinner and then the police call and they say, we're going to come meet you in the parking lot. So we're in the back of a police car in a parking lot when they deliver the news that our son has died. Now, I'm sure it's an overdose. Absolutely positive. And my husband says, well, how did he die? And the policeman says, it's the suicide and the method left no question. I'm watching my husband have this big emotional explosion. I can't even breathe. I just can't wrap any part of my brain around it. It's like it's not getting through. And I remember feeling like. I could see myself in the corner of the car going, That's not me. I'm going to go get into some other body and some other universe where everything is happy and shiny and of course, can't do that. It was like this extra twist in the knife. I mean, I thought, we loved him. Why did he kill himself? Thinking that somebody who is loved, can't want to die. You know, like the two come together, we think, well, we just need to love them more and they won't die by suicide. And I'm afraid that children who are loved and children who are not loved die by suicide. And it just would be a really long time before I would understand suicide. And so I sold my business and that's why I do what I do full time is because I'm obsessed, it's part of my charm. And I just couldn't I had to know everything about it. I didn't know the people or scientists who were studying it from all angles, and I wanted to know all groups who were at risk. Then I wanted to talk to the people with lived experience. So I have this blog and I would post things and I would use headlines that I knew would rank in Google. They would go look it up and they would find my site. That's exactly what happened.
[00:26:55] Gwen What an interesting strategy. Talk a little bit more about that and what led you to that unique method.
[00:27:04] Anne Moss Well, I looked on my son's death certificate and I looked how he did his instrument of death. And I thought, how did he know to do that? He was no engineer. And then it hit me. He Googled it. And I know what he Googled and I'm going to write a blog post with that title.
[00:27:26] Kristen Wow. That is really powerful.
[00:27:29] Anne Moss I didn't give instructions. I instead put hope and resources and a video. But here is what I find really interesting. The first person to ever put a comment on there was a 40 year old man who struggled with thoughts of suicide and depression and had been in recovery for ten years, but he had been addicted to an opiate. After that, it was kids who were neurodiverse, kids who were struggling socially. So by the time I wrote my second book, The Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide, I wanted to put a section in there for autism and neurodiverse kids. And the researcher I was working with says, We don't have any data on that. And I was just in disbelief because for five years those kids have been reaching out to me. And I'm amazed at, say, over half the people who reach out to me are neurodiverse. Wow. A lot of them are looking for sort of I have a friend, their first friend, and then a lot of cases. This friend is an older person, usually like a grandma type. And they're trying to navigate their way through that relationship and they don't want to mess it up. And so they they're trying to figure out what to say and what to do. And so and a lot of cases I'm kinda coaching them.
[00:29:07] Gwen That was a byproduct that you probably didn't expect?
[00:29:10] Anne Moss No, I didn't. Yeah.
[00:29:13] Gwen Hey, friends, we know how isolating this journey of walking alongside humans with neurodiversity can be. We don't want to do it alone, and we don't want you to do it alone either.
[00:29:23] Kristen So we've created a space we're calling the communal closet. Since we have been known to spend so much time retreating in our own closets. We thought, why not create one big online closet where we can all retreat together?
[00:29:35] Gwen We've packed the space with resources. Conversation opportunities to interact with us and each other and unicorns that poop fidgets.
[00:29:45] Kristen For $10 a month. You can become part of this community and also contribute towards the creation and sustainability of this podcast we all love.
[00:29:53] Gwen Visit youdontwantahug.com and hop right in. We promise you'll be so glad you did.
[00:30:01] Kristen That's really interesting. That speaks to the research that we do have now, that a lot of those social challenges are leading our loved ones to experience this suicidality because they're being bullied or they lack the social skills to have those meaningful relationships they're looking for.
[00:30:19] Anne Moss It's connection and belonging. That is the number one phrase and culture that I concentrate on when I talk to schools. What are ways we can build connection and belonging and acceptance of other kids in their differences, whether it is neurodiverse or they're from a different country or whatever. How can we build that acceptance in our curriculum and how can we raise those voices from the larger. And there were some teachers who had some brilliant ideas on how to do that. One that she did video and one of the children was one through trans, she was trans, and he did a video on that. And once he did it, once he told his story, the rest of the class just kind of came together and understood him better and asked him more questions. And he actually won a local award for his film. Wow.
[00:31:23] Kristen That's really meaningful.
[00:31:25] Gwen The power of storytelling Anne Moss is something that I just gravitate towards in everything that I do. And I think the power that you offer these students, these young people to just share their stories with you could just make all the difference for some of them.
[00:31:45] Anne Moss Right? I mean, I think they feel heard. They feel heard.
[00:31:51] Kristen I just wanted to talk about my son, Jamison, who is autistic and is transgender and his experiences. He is he and I talked before this podcast and he was really interested in me talking about his story. And you're going to hear from him in our last word as well. But the issue of belonging and community was so big for him and he was so uncomfortable in his own body and him feeling like he had to mask and be somebody that he wasn't had a huge role to play in his suicidal ideation and in his self-harm. So he engaged in self-harm for a number of years and we had him in therapy and we had meds and, you know, we're doing everything we could to support. But really the piece for him was this gender dysphoria just feeling like I can't present to the world the way I feel inside and that is causing such pain. And the masking of his autism symptoms was also causing him pain and he needed our acceptance. And even though we didn't understand and struggled with the transgender piece for a period of time, which is really hard for us, for my husband and I, to really understand what he was going through and how does this intersect with autism and anxiety, You know? Well, it turns out it doesn't really matter because it's just is who he is. And he needed our love and acceptance desperately. And when we were able to give him that fully and he was able to transition, he started at 18. He started testosterone. And it made such a huge difference for him to be able to live outwardly the way he felt he needed to be in the world, that we saw a lot of the masking of his autism symptoms slip away and we saw him be more autistic because he felt comfortable enough to do so. And I would say that he really is somebody that I respect and admire so much for his bravery, like he is just a really brave human being. And I am so proud of the person that he is, even when it's hard and uncomfortable. Like he really shows me how to be a better human.
[00:34:16] Anne Moss I can I mean, I feel like my son's death, my growth, that healing process, has made me a better human. But while he was alive, there were times and things went that are I like I'm a better human because of this, as hard as that was. And Kristen, how hard all that is, as a parent. That's a lot of acceptance, a lot of grieving. You're grieving the loss of normal.
[00:34:50] Kristen Right. Right. Especially when you know, with our complex family experience, we were like, really? I thought we had all the things already. Right? So this was just this was another thing that felt insurmountable because I worried that he would struggle in life. But what I've seen is, well, first of all, life is hard.
[00:35:11] Anne Moss It just is right there.
[00:35:13] Kristen But what I've seen is that he has blossomed and he is thriving, as Jamison and I have learned to believe my kids when they tell me things about who they are. And that was something that I didn't know when they were younger. I really felt like I had to help them see who they were. But really they know who they are and we need to listen to them.
[00:35:36] Gwen It's our letting go, right? It's our letting go of our preconceived notions and assumptions.
[00:35:43] Anne Moss So what I like about what you just said is one of my points that I bring up for parents is listen more and lecture less. We don't have all the answers and we do not and should not pretend to because we're just setting ourselves up when we do that. And our kids these days because of all the digital and the social media and all that. They don't feel seen and they don't feel heard. And by allowing them asking questions with curiosity, like if you were to want to help your child with thinking of suicide, you have to ask, Are you thinking of suicide? Mm hmm. And then you do not panic. That's very important. But take that deep breath. And say, tell me more, because you're not going to say much more at that point anyway. So just remember the phrase Tell me more. Let them talk.
[00:36:46] Kristen That's so good. Anne Moss. And I think too, in our family, we developed a language, right? Once we did ask the question and once we heard the answer, we developed language that would help our kids be able to reach us immediately. And so that language for us was I don't feel safe in my body right now. And we could get it by text, by phone, call by a teacher or by a therapist. We knew when we heard that that they needed immediate support.
[00:37:15] Anne Moss Yeah. And that's called code word. So I loved that you all had that code word because it does get tiresome. And like, there is a young lady I work with, I mean, we've been communicating with her two years and she lives with chronic suicidality, which means that she will probably always have a certain level of suicidal ideation or suicidal thoughts in her life. And she has become friends. And I think it's my toenails are blue today. And and, you know, allowing them to kind of help take that code phrase is kind of a way to also give them agency in the process of their mental health because we don't want to do everything for them. But that asking for help. What I also love about that is that you're saying it's okay and this is a courageous step that you're taking and you're treating it that way. So therefore they have that formed in their mind. And then, this isn't a step a coward takes this first step, someone who is courageous takes.
[00:38:32] Gwen And I would imagine it also shows them the partnership involved in that. By sharing those words, you are automatically partnering with the person, hearing them in order to help you. So I would imagine there's a sense of community in that in that process.
[00:38:50] Anne Moss I love the way you said that because you're basically saying you're not alone without using the little phrase, you're not alone. You're making them feel less alone by partnering with them. And think about how much more powerful rather than saying, one, you're not alone. Having them feel not alone. So that's an excellent point. Thank you for highlighting that.
[00:39:19] Kristen I also think Anne Moss that it normalizes those feelings that they're having. Right. So that it doesn't become something that is bigger than them. It takes a little bit of the power away when you can just say those words and mom is not going to freak out. She just knows what it means. And then we're going to walk through this series of of steps that we've discussed ahead of time. Jamison, for a long time, we had a safety plan for when he was having suicidal ideation and he pinned it to his wall by his bed and he knew who to call, what to say. If we weren't available, he knew other resources to reach out to and he knew exactly what was going to happen. So it took a lot of the fear out of asking for help.
[00:40:10] Gwen And maybe even the fear out of the feelings themselves. Right. Those those suicidal feelings, I would imagine that's terrifying.
[00:40:19] Anne Moss So scary. Imagine how frightening that is all by yourself. And the first point you made about allowing them to vent. Think about how much brain real estate it took up in their minds. But once they talk about it, it's like a balloon losing air. You know, all of a sudden there's more room in that brain and it's not ruminating anymore and it's not chewing on all of it. It's allowing you to be out in the open. And then you mentioned the safety plan. Everybody on this podcast can Google safety plan. And I actually have an e-book on how you make one on an index card, and it's sort of a hack and not, you know, you don't want to go to the whole fill in the blank. This one's very effective because you have them right in their own handwriting, if that's possible. It's not possible with all neurodiverse individuals. And you want to start with things that they want to live for. And this can be family, their dog, their YouTube channel. But you also want them to include experiences that bring up pleasant memories. All I put on mine is Vienna. It was 1998. I had dinner in a castle that night and it was so much fun and we were the center of attention. And when I go back to that memory, I mean, we were immediately catapulted to that moment where we were laughing and having so much fun.
[00:41:57] Gwen We could see it in your face as it was. You all can't see seeing her, but you can see her face light up. The second just lit up and Exactly.
[00:42:07] Anne Moss So I just got Vienna 1998. That's all that put that on there. So if you do this ahead of time, then when they are in a stressful situation, they're going to call the people that they've identified, hopefully at least to other trusted adults other than a family member or a parent. Now, I won't say other family member, but and you want one of them to be somebody in school that they're willing to reach out to at school, school nurse, school counselor, a teacher, whatever. The crisis lines, you want that on there as well.
[00:42:48] Gwen Would you mind sharing those with our listeners Anne Moss?
[00:42:51] Anne Moss Oh, sure. Yeah. I've got an example of what one is. And then coping strategies like a lot of males are not willing to do, like the face in a bowl of ice water that's actually works. But they are willing to do like jumping jacks or some kind of vigorous exercise because that will reset the brain. So there's a section on that card for coping strategies. When you are in that moment feeling like you want to end your life, for one thing, it doesn't last forever. Most episodes may be 20 minutes and the peak so when you really want to end your life, maybe there's one or two or three, but those are 60 to 90 seconds within that continuum. Wow.
[00:43:41] Gwen That's really fascinating. Yeah, it is an amazing There's a lot of research done on brain chemistry Anne Moss.
[00:43:48] Anne Moss There is. Now, if you were to talk to Dr. Jonathan Singer, he would show you a bunch of MRI's of different brains and suicidal ideation. And I've just had a few people reach out to describe their suicidal ideation slash show this graph and say, this is what several people have told me it's like it's not 100%. But just to give you an idea that, you know, it has a limited amount of time, it has peaks and valleys, and there are times when I really want to die and they're really ambivalent about that. But at no point in that continuum is anyone ever 100% committed to the idea of dying. You know, there's always doubt. And where there is doubt, there is opportunity for us. Now, we can't 100% control another human being or be there on suicide watch 24/7. We just can't be. So as parents, we got to find support for ourselves too. This is really hard. It's really, really hard.
[00:45:02] Kristen Anne Moss, I was going to ask if we could end today on just a few thoughts around how hard this is on parents, how we can have PTSD from times when our kids have had suicidal ideation and how do we take care of ourselves so that we can be that support because there's some deep trauma around when our kids are experiencing this?
[00:45:26] Anne Moss I think if it's possible, depending on your child, admitting that you feel some level of vulnerability and say, you know what, I imagine your average time you open the door or you call. I want to say, how are you doing? Are you doing okay? And this is not helpful to our relationship. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to get help for myself. I'm going to get some support for myself. But yeah, that may be why I get angry or irritable and you'll feel like it's directed at you when I'm just frustrated and scared. And I don't know what to do with all these emotions. And I want you to know I'm working on it.
[00:46:11] Gwen But that's such a beautiful model to show our kids, a universal model.
[00:46:18] Anne Moss Right.
[00:46:19] Gwen Mama needs a minute. It's not your fault, but I will be in my closet for 10 minutes.
[00:46:23] Anne Moss Exactly.
[00:46:25] Kristen And that we can be vulnerable with our kids. It's okay to be vulnerable and let them know that I remember it was hard for me to tell Jamison that I was grieving the loss of his birth name, and I mean that for a couple of years. It was really, really hard for me and to let him know that I was feeling really sad about that, but that it had nothing to do with who he was. That that was my journey. That was my issue and my challenge. And that was hard for him to hear. But our kids are not stupid. They need to know the truth. They need to know how you're feeling, especially if they're neurodiverse and they're already struggling to know what you're thinking or how you're feeling.
[00:47:05] Gwen Why we can't assume that they're going to know that it's about us and not about them.
[00:47:10] Anne Moss No, see, because they're automatically going to assume it's something they did. And I learned that from all the people who are neurodiverse that reach out to me because they're so sure that what the other person is doing is because of them. And I'm like, honestly, they're not thinking about you that much.
[00:47:33] Kristen Oh, my goodness.
[00:47:34] Anne Moss You know, they start to backfill with the information that they make up in their own brain and that, you know, so stripped it of just the facts. But I really encourage parents to find a group, to find other parents in your circle, to have a good friend, someone that can support and be there for you, because all that you have to deal with is struggling enough, add thoughts of suicide or depression on top of that. Like you said, Kristen, earlier, another thing, really? Hasn't our family had enough?
[00:48:15] Kristen Yeah. It's just another it's another reason why community is so important for this population of parents. And it's why we feel so passionate about doing this podcast because these are really, really deeply difficult things to to think about, talk about, wrestle with. And we need our people. We need our community around us.
[00:48:41] Gwen And topics like these Anne Moss, we're just not naturally armed with the tools for how to navigate it, right? These are learned tools and I'm learning so much just listening to your strategies and how you and Kristen, you know, navigate these specific moments and plans. And I think what's so hard about the parenting neurodiverse humans is they're just not natural behaviors for us to know what to do with for ourselves, not our children. Yet we have to do so much research and so much learning and growth for ourselves in order to best meet them where they are.
[00:49:25] Anne Moss I think it's really important for me to say this right now. And one thing I realized after the death of my son is after about a year of torturing myself, because it was all my fault, once I watched some videos from the nineties, it hurt me. Of course I cried. You know, it was the first time I'd seen them since he died. But I realized my son grew up in a house of love, that it wasn't something I did or said that caused him to suicide. But the important point was that I had been focusing on the 5% of parenting I did imperfectly, and I was ignoring the 95% that I did right. And I was ignoring all the love and good intentions that I had, you know, and tossing those aside and just blaming it all on myself. And we need to get out of that self-loathing cycle because it's just using up too much of your energy.
[00:50:30] Gwen Thank you for that.
[00:50:31] Kristen Anne Moss, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been an amazing conversation, so important, so heartfelt. And we so appreciate your sharing your son Charles story with us and your life and all of these great, great strategies that we as families can use. Can't thank you enough.
[00:50:56] Anne Moss Oh, you're so welcome.
[00:50:57] Gwen Before we sign off Anne Moss, will you please share with us and our listeners the best way that they can follow you and learn more and find more resources on this topic?
[00:51:09] Anne Moss So Mental Health Awareness Education, if you go to that site or if you just look up Anne Moss Rogers and once you land on mental health awareness education, click books. Then you'll see my books. If you want to buy one of those, great. But there's some free ebooks. And if you click the thing that says free e-book library, I mean, I got like 20 and it'll give you resilience strategies. What to do if your child has told you he or she or they are suicidal. You know, How do you act? What do you do? What do you say? And it kind of gives you that very solid guide of ideas, including the code words that Kristen mentioned and the safety plan and I will share these with you all so you have them to put on your show notes.
[00:52:03] Gwen Wonderful. Thank you. All right, friends, thank you for listening today. We trust that you learned a lot. Please remember that you can join the communal closet as a way to continue conversations about topics on this podcast. I think this might be a really important one for our community to dialog about. There's probably a whole lot of feelings out there when it comes to this topic. So thanks for joining us. And we're going to hand it over to Jamison now.
[00:52:34] Reagan We know, our moms are amazing. But they don't know everything. We think that you deserve to hear from the real experts, their kids. We believe in nothing about us without us. So here it is, the last word.
[00:52:51] Kristen Hey, Jamison.
[00:52:53] Jamison Hi, Mom.
[00:52:54] Kristen How's it going?
[00:52:55] Jamison It's going well. I'm still standing, so that's pretty good.
[00:52:59] Kristen That's pretty good. Coming to me live from your college dorm room.
[00:53:04] Jamison Oh, yeah. Oh yeah.
[00:53:05] Kristen Nice. Thanks for being willing to talk with us today. Gwen and I had our first guest Anne Moss Rodgers, and she is an expert and a public speaker and motivational speaker on the topic of suicide and suicide prevention. It was a really great conversation, and I am so grateful that you're willing to talk with our listeners today about our experiences as a family and your experiences with suicidal ideation. And we talked about how common it is in people who are autistic and also the fact that you're transgender adds another layer of complexity. And I'm just thinking about what are some of those things that really helped? That really worked when you were feeling like you were in a really dark place and when you were in a dark place, why do you think you were there? What was the real crux of the challenge for you that made you not want to be here?
[00:54:02] Jamison I think starting with like, you know why I'm in that dark place and such is because the abundance of people making folks on the spectrum the complete butt of the joke like a experience that happened to me that I think, you know, honestly altered a lot of the way that I function and the way that I have my own kind of self ableism issues and such is I saw somebody who happened to be on a different side of the spectrum in the lunch line. I think they ran out of a certain food or something, and so it was very hard for them. And so they were having a meltdown on the floor and such. And instead of treating them like, you know, like an actual human being, people just filmed and laughed and kind of realizing like, wow, autistic people just can't win.
[00:54:50] Kristen Yeah.
[00:54:51] Jamison And imagining myself in a position like that. And unfortunately, I have, not like, you know, as intense, but I have been in a position like that before, makes me just not really want to live, because if that's what I have to deal with my entire life, then you know, what's the point of getting close to people, making friends, trying to graduate? You know, like I never thought I would live past the age of 17. And so and for a while I was really bitter about it because I was like, these gosh darn neurotypical people, you know, like, they're the reason that I'm self-ableist as to myself, I'm just this way. And I was really bitter for a while. And I think like, you know, having that bitter resentment also kind of made me more suicidal and such being like, I have to live in a world where I'm expected to make eye contact because it's professional, but I can never really explain away why I can't do that, why I can't pay attention or why I fidget a lot and such and all of that just kind of conglomerated into this big reason of why are you still alive? Why not just kill yourself?
[00:56:05] Kristen Wow, and you and I have talked about social media was not helpful during this phase.
[00:56:12] Jamison It wasn't. I, you know, like, definitely I'm in a much better place, you know, today, I think I'm like almost a year sober of cutting. But seeing, you know, the algorithm on media such as like Instagram or Tik Tok and such like, you know, algorithms that are made to fit the person. So like, you know, my main main point is me not actively seeking that out, but yet, like trickling through the cracks of people making autistic people the butt of the joke and like, morphing them into this, you know, like kind of blob ish monster from when I, when I, you know, say that I, I think a lot about the book I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, where like the end of the book is just this blob can't speak but everything in their system just wants to scream. Good book, love it. But just seeing all that kind of stuff, it's just trippy and it's like, Wow, I hate social media. And kind of going back to the self-harm, I did it a lot. I unfortunately to this day there are like several reminders on my arms and my thighs, you know, my chest. But that was a lot of dysphoria and, you know, like I got tattoos over them, but you know, they're still there and it sucks.
[00:57:33] Kristen What was the most helpful thing for you in finding a different way to handle the pain that you were feeling inside instead of harming yourself?
[00:57:41] Jamison The first one, I really felt made a difference is when you told me that it was not like a setback if I was cutting. And, you know, like, when I would be, you know, like, in tears, looking down at my arms, I would be like, Mom, I was doing so good. Look at me, you know? How upset I am and such. You know, I remember you said that it's simply not really like me falling back into it or like I'm no longer sober or something and such. Because that's a lot of how, you know, like the media depicts it and such, like, you know, like, oh, here's my experience and such and you know, but you saying like it's just a step back and it doesn't determine where I am in my mental health journey. Like where it's like I'm not at the bottom of this metaphorical staircase where it's like I'm not back at where I was, where I tried to off myself and such. But.
[00:58:38] Kristen And what do you think were good alternatives you learned what were good things that you learned to do when you started feeling really unsafe?
[00:58:46] Jamison Well, you know, for me personally, it's mostly because, you know, obviously I have a really good family and I have a pretty cool mom. I don't know if you know her, but, you know, I would you know, I felt more open about talking about it, you know, without people demonizing that self-harm kind of issue, I felt a little more comfortable coming forward and talking about it and being like, Hey, I really want to hurt myself. Take this away from me. Not being afraid of like being like, Why would you do that? Why would you harm yourself? Or like, you know, questioning yourself or being like, disappointed or something? So that was a big one.
[00:59:22] Kristen And then we came up with some safe words, right, that we would use as a family. No matter where you were, you could text. What would you say?
[00:59:28] Jamison I guess there wasn't really like a code word, but I just said, I'm not feeling safe with my body right now. I can't be alone. I cannot be alone. Like, it was really simple, straightforward. And I felt like I didn't have to explain myself and therefore I didn't have to think about it. That's great.
[00:59:45] Kristen I was talking earlier with and then Gwen about how you had a safety plan that we developed with therapists and you had it like thumbtacked to the wall next to your bed. Why? Why did you do that, you think?
[00:59:58] Jamison I guess the big one was so that I could wake up and the, you know, why do you want to live? What is there to live for and such was a rather big part of it. So I could wake up and I could see it. And I remember in bold letters it was music. And then one of my former friends, you know, I'm not really friends with her anymore. I'm particularly still a little bit salty about what she did in high school, but she was a really big part of my mental health experience, and I really owe her that support despite what she's done to me and stuff. She was there for me a lot. And so, you know, having those, you know, small things, you know, without having this big thing of like, there's so much to live for where it's like, I can't you know, it's like, why, why, why do I have to look at this big picture when this big picture is miserable?
[01:00:48] Kristen Right. So you had you had some specific small things that you could focus on that were meaningful to you.
[01:00:56] Jamison Yeah. And, you know, I eventually over time, kind of, you know, stopped looking at it. But it definitely, definitely did help. And I mean, you know, in my senior year when, you know, like, I think at that point I had taken it down. I had had an attempt. And I just really thought of one specific thing. Like, it wasn't like a person. It wasn't like this concept of like, don't you want to go to college and such, you know, sitting in my car ready to attempt and such. I thought about one piece of music and I had been playing a lot and I don't know why, but kept me alive.
[01:01:41] Kristen That's amazing.
[01:01:43] Jamison I think that people have to stop saying they are like, you know, obviously there are people who will be miserable if you die and such. But, you know, like if it only feels like something that people are only going to care when you do it, when you actually die. And they'll be all like, I wish there were signs. I wish there were signs. And I'm like, Why? Is it in care now and such but a lot of that mentality I wish people would you know drop because, you know, this is just how I feel. It feels like, oh, you're selfish or something and that it's like you shouldn't live for yourself, live for these people.
[01:02:25] Kristen It's not helpful, you're saying?
[01:02:27] Jamison Yeah. You know, like these people, aside from, you know. Well, my family and such are the reason I want to die. Why do I have to live for them? Mm hmm. But, you know, having one specific small thing like it helps, and that one small specific thing was Beau Soir by Debussy, which I played for my All-State Orchestra audition. I played it for my Lemont School of Music audition. I played it so many times that I have the song memorized and. I think about it a lot. Well, you know, like, I warm up to it every day when I'm playing music and such. And it just kind of is a reminder and a reflection of you were close to taking your life. But there is this, that is enough.
[01:03:08] Kristen Jamison, the last thing I was wanting to ask you was just about the idea of belonging and how protective that can be when you feel like you belong to a community, to a friend group, to one person even. But that that feeling of belonging is something that could be protective. Was feeling like you didn't belong a part of a challenge for you and was being transgender part of the challenge for you?
[01:03:33] Jamison Yes, it really was. You know, like starting off with the bigger picture of like, you know, being a autistic individual. I felt like, you know, that was a big one because people kept glamorizing and romanticizing like, you know, this life of neurotypical teenage hood that I knew I was never going to experience. And people made it be like, Oh, that's the reason for living or some stupid stuff like that. And another thing I feel was a lot of the assumptions people made, like even my, you know, my friends at the time and such who, you know, like had these harmful ideations in their head. And I honestly think that it really screwed me up to this day. Like I'm still working through it with my therapist and such, and I think differently because of that. It sucks, but, you know, kind of just a lot of these, you know, ideas in people's head about how, you know, black and white autism has to be, which is ironic because we're supposed to be the ones who think black, white, such. So it's like, what the heck?
[01:04:42] Kristen Tell me a little bit about just feeling trapped in a body that wasn't in an identity that wasn't working for you. And that process was pretty brutal, right? Of trying to feel okay with being male. Transitioning to a male.
[01:04:59] Jamison Yeah that was one of the big reasons. I think another big reason that I ended up trying to take my life a couple of times and not wanting to live because, you know, like I felt like even if I could be comfortable, people would find any way to try to make this connection and tell me I don't understand gender because I'm autistic or try to put me in a box, you know, some homo normative box of, you know, like saying your intersectionality is not because of this. It's, you know, so therefore you don't belong.
[01:05:32] Kristen So I hear you saying that your fear was that you wouldn't be believed because you were autistic, that people wouldn't believe you knew that you were transgender. And I know you and I struggled with that for a while, right? Of me not listening or not really believing you when you're telling me who you are and having my own grief process. And that was hard on you.
[01:05:54] Jamison It was really hard. And, you know, especially, you know, things like the media and such with witch hunt on transgender people, especially with the far right, you know, like with especially today with all these anti-trans laws and such like kind of realizing, you know, all of that and such and all of this misinformation, you know, I cannot tell you like I have been like, you know, online have been told, even showing a shred of pride. I've been told I'm a child groomer and I'm a pedophile and I should kill myself and such and all this kind of stuff. And I'm like, You don't even know me. What are you saying? And just a lot of media, the way that people demonize trans people, you know, like specifically also trans women and such. Trans women have it harder than me. I've had a pretty hard time, but trans women had been through it. Absolutely been through it. And so just kind of having this whole thing, all that influence, you want to start thinking maybe there is something wrong with me morally, or maybe there is some kind of underlying thing that makes me a freak, you know, like stereotypes. And even in the LGBTQ community, like the community itself and such, I don't really like to be in because there have very homo normative views and I've been called homophobic for not being pansexual, which is trippy as heck.
[01:07:23] Kristen Yeah, that is. That's really interesting in that I hear you saying that you have to be really careful with what you consume in terms of news and social media to stay healthy.
[01:07:33] Jamison Yeah, and it's embarrassing, but it took me a long time to really understand that such and like, you know, listening to the fact that, yeah, social media is pretty harmful, you know, like I'm almost 20 and I still, like, have to tell myself, Wow, I got to shut that off before I get really depressed and such.
[01:07:51] Kristen It's good that you know that. Jamison, thanks so much for sharing your your heart and your thoughts and your feelings with us today. Love you so much.
[01:07:59] Jamison Yeah, no worries. I just feel like, you know, one of the biggest things with preventing suicide is trying to get people to not like, just like, see the signs, but understand them and make it seem like they're not seeking attention. Because, like I said, it seems that these days people only care when you actually do it. And my experience, unfortunately, was not like that and such where unfortunately, people you know, one person in specific told me that I didn't have the guts to do it and such. And, you know, so things like that. I hope that people one day can understand and it can save lives because really there is things worth living. It's not like a person that you have to live for, it's for your experience. Smallest things. You live for that. And I think that's enough.
[01:08:51] Gwen Thanks for joining us for this episode. We appreciate you so very much. We'd love it if you'd subscribe to our show and your favorite podcast app and rate us preferably with five stars.
[01:09:03] Kristen We love hearing from our listeners. So visit our website to reach out via email or through our voicemail box. You can sign up for our free newsletter. Better yet, join our communal closet where you can grow in community with us and each other.
[01:09:18] Gwen Get on in there by visiting youdontwantahug.com. See you next time.