Stigma Fighters : G. Donald Cribbs

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) vs. Posttraumatic Growth (PTG): Focusing on Symptoms vs. Resiliency in Survivors of Trauma

I’m no expert. I may be a counselor-in-training, completing my master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at CACREP-accredited Messiah College Graduate School, but I’m not the authority on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Posttraumatic Growth (PTG). Here’s what I do know: I know what it’s like to experience significant trauma. In fact, I was sexually molested at the age of four by a male perpetrator and spent years reeling from the after-effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA).
It’s entirely possible I grew up with PTSD symptoms and remained undiagnosed. Regardless, I’m still here today, and somehow, I’m thriving. I found my way through the trauma, the pain, and the unwanted flashes of memory of my abuse. With little help and the furthest-from-ideal home life situations, I found a way to bounce back, grow, and find resiliency. You can, too.
As a graduate student I’m learning plenty of new things. I never knew there was such a thing as PTG, but there is. We’ve all heard about PTSD, since many of our family members have at least someone in the military, or who have experienced trauma from the events of 9/11, or who have lived through one of several hurricanes, or other weather-related natural disasters.
But here’s the problem with PTSD: it focuses solely on the symptoms of the trauma, the after-effects, and these can start to define the survivor. The goal of a diagnosis is to identify a mental health need, to develop a treatment plan and therapeutic goals, and to work toward those goals. The ultimate goal is to be discharged from treatment because you have attained your goals or have made sufficient progress in healing from your trauma. When an individual is diagnosed with PTSD, it’s like a sentence for permanent victimhood. The diagnosis can define you, it can prevent you from moving on, and it can limit your ability to find a way out. Or at least, it has the potential for these negative outcomes if handled wrong.
I’ve never been diagnosed with PTSD, but I’ve experienced some of the after-effects. These may include: reliving or experiencing the trauma through flashbacks or nightmares. These experiences can be so vivid they include visuals, smells, and the sensation of touch. Those who experience these vivid reliving of past events might experience things that are not actually happening, and then startle awake from being in a hyper-alert or hyper-vigilant state of mind, and realize those events did not actually happen.
Imagine a line with a focal point in the center which stands for the trauma you’ve experienced. If you were to move to the left, let’s say this can be described as a negative outcome. If you were to move toward the right, let’s say that is a positive outcome. Moving left of the trauma brings you to Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms (PTSS). These symptoms have distress as a key component. Moving further along this continuum away from the trauma, brings you to PTSD. But, these negative outcomes do not have to be the only way out from the trauma. Moving to the right, away from the trauma, you come to PTG. Posttraumatic Growth is an amazing paradox. The individual with PTG has both distress, just like PTSS on the opposing side, but as a result of a cognitive change, literally a transformation, after processing the after-effects of the trauma, which leads the individual toward PTG. The components of PTG include: new possibilities, relating to others, personal strength, appreciation for life, and spiritual change. Along the positive side of the continuum, PTG is only the first step leading to Resiliency. Resiliency is where true growth happens, with long-term positive effects, and no longer has distress or reliving the trauma as an outcome.
The point of this article is to inform you, and to let you know that these acronyms exist and what they mean. You have options, and not all of them are negative ones. We live in a negative-focused, glass-half-empty, bad news is good news culture. Rarely do we hear about the possibility of good, growth, resiliency as outcomes to problems, let alone trauma. Now you know. Tell a friend. And when you’re tempted to make a joke of the very real trauma someone has experienced, first walk a mile in their shoes, then see if they’re doing the best they can with the resources they have, and swallow that thought if it doesn’t encourage that person toward a positive outcome.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next one to experience an unexpected trauma in your life, and you’ll be glad to know there are options that don’t involve remaining a victim, or a public punching bag, or a bully’s favorite sport. Will you accept a PTSD or PTSS diagnosis? Or, will you seek out the possibility of PTG or resiliency as an outcome for you?

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DonHeadshotG. Donald Cribbs has written and published poetry and short stories since high school. Donald is a graduate of Messiah College in English and Education, and is currently a graduate student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He and his wife and four boys reside in central Pennsylvania where the author is hard at work on his next book, the sequel to his debut novel, THE PACKING HOUSE (2015), by Booktrope. Having lived and traveled abroad in England, France, Belgium, Germany, China and Thailand (you can guess where he lived and where he visited), the author loves languages and how they connect us all. Coffee and Nutella are a close second.

Donald can be found on his blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Wendy C. Garfinkle

Trigger Warning: Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse

I still remember my first sexual encounter. I was 4 years old. I remember every detail, as if I was a spectator, rather than the child. I don’t remember the physical sensations, but I do remember every word spoken, every scene enacted. Since it’s with me more than 35 years later, with more clarity than any other moment in my life, this must be the definition of trauma.

In reading fellow Booktrope author Rachel Thompson‘s memoirs about surviving her own childhood sexual abuse (CSA) trauma – Broken Pieces and its sequel Broken Places – for the first time a couple of months ago, many of her essays and poems struck a cord within me as a fellow survivor of CSA. My experience was different than Rachel’s, but some of the demographics are the same; my abuser was also someone I knew, though he was a child himself (8 years older than I) and the abuse occurred only once. Probably because my parents, and his, put the fear of God into him. But it didn’t stop him, only kept him away from ME. I know of at least one other girl, a good friend of mine, who he sexually abused, perhaps more than once; we didn’t discuss it much, even when we grew up. My abuse was also in the late 70s, at a time when such occurrences weren’t talked about.

Stronger Than You Think2 cropped graphic

Unlike Rachel, I never strove for perfection (I was always awkward. Still am, a bit, come to think of it.) or became a straight-A student (Geometry was my high school nemesis). I did, however – as I can see from the distance of 25 years – suffer from depression as a teenager, which probably contributed to me becoming an introvert (I still have to give myself pep talks sometimes in order to interact with people in a crowd), who writes sometimes dark and depressing poetry. This was recently confirmed by my therapist, who also confirmed that my sexual “acting out” as a child was a direct result of that one incident, experimenting with both boys and girls, well into my teenage years. I’m not sure why it stopped then. Perhaps because at that point I realized I could get pregnant and knew I wasn’t ready for that.

I never forgot my experience. To this day, I can remember every minutiae, as if holding a magnifying glass on the scene, every word that was spoken down to the image that goes with it. It’s almost as if it was another little girl, another blonde, green-eyed, 4-year-old pixie of a girl experiencing that and me watching and cringing, helpless to do anything to stop it. Then again, watching that same little girl seeking out that same experience with other children.

Later, when I was about 10 years old, I had a crush on this same boy who abused me, with whom I went to church and school (K-12) for years. Until he married and moved away. I saw myself as sick, that I would crush on someone who would victimize a child – only I didn’t think of it in those terms until I reached adulthood. All I knew was that I was ashamed to have tender feelings toward him, and didn’t understand the why of any of it. I’ve always wondered, but never asked: did she, the woman he married, know what he’d done? They’re divorced now, have been for many years. And when out of the blue, my parents received a Christmas card from him and his new wife “Wendy,” that’s the first time I remember having a “trigger” – it really scared me…as nothing had prior to that in a long time… Was he trying to say something? Send a message? Why did he marry a woman with MY name?

Not Innocence cropped graphic

Was this why I became introverted? (How to make friends when you’re carrying around this huge secret.) Why books became my best friends? (Books cannot hurt or betray you.) Why as a teenager I would stare for hours at the ceiling above me? Why for years I couldn’t sleep in the dark or without my stuffed animals? Why I would shut myself inside my bedroom and throw my Birthday Girl figurines – I had all of them at one time; none of them survived – against my bedroom walls until they shattered into tiny pieces? Why the calm descended after each of those girls shattered? (Throwing things and hearing them break against a wall is very soothing. Cleaning up after yourself, not so much.) Were they ceramic substitutes for my own body? I had too much survival instinct, or else too much fear of hell to attempt suicide (though one summer spent with my cousins on our grandparents’ farm in Texas, I carried a thick rope, and when I was alone, would twist it tightly round my neck) – raised in a conservative Christian household, I learned from a very young age that suicide is a sin…and there’s no repenting THAT sin.

Though I’ve never really been secretive about this, I’ve not made it a regular part of my conversations, either. Since becoming friends with so many other writers – collectively known as Stigma Fighters – who, like me, live daily with some form of mental health issue, and who have become such inspirations to me through their bravery and selflessness in sharing their stories and their encouragement, I knew I needed to be brave enough to share some of the darkness within my own soul, in hopes of lending my support – and the occasional hug – to others like us.

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Face-Shot-3Wendy is a writer who holds degrees from three different universities, including MA and MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. Her debut novel, SERPENT ON A CROSS, which was published October 30, 2012, by Northampton House Press as an ebook, was re-released digitally and in print – with new content -by Booktrope, in August 2014.

She’s authored numerous poems, several of which appear here, and is currently working on her second novel, the sequel to SOAC, and a new contemporary thriller series. She has served as a copy editor and panel reader for www.hippocampusmagazine.com, and a reader for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. She works as an Editor and Proofreader on a project/contractual basis for her publisher, Booktrope, and was recently honored to accept the Proofreader position for all books published under Booktrope’s Gravity Imprint. “The focus of Gravity is on stories of trauma and recovery – any kind, both fiction or nonfiction.”

In her day job, Wendy is a crime analyst for a county sheriff’s office. Her hobbies include writing (of course), reading, and international travel (as finances and time off work allow). She lives in South Florida with her teenage son.

Wendy can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Camela Thompson

Like many of you, I love chocolate, have a coffee addiction, and lie through my teeth when people ask me how I’m doing. Who wants to tell people, “I know I look fine, but this arthritis is really bugging me” or “my immune system is attacking my intestines and this leads to depression and an intimate knowledge of all bathrooms within a five mile radius?” It also doesn’t seem right to complain when there are people struggling to survive while I’m in remission.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease. Immune cells cease to recognize certain cells or organ systems as its own, believing them to be a foreign entity that should be attacked. This results in chaos ranging from discomfort to organ failure. It also causes inflammation which can trigger arthritis and several other issues. Doctors are becoming more familiar with autoimmune disorders, which has cut down on the ten year average it took for people to be diagnosed (I was so thankful it took me one). While doctors don’t completely understand why people develop the disease, it’s believed to inflict people with a genetic predisposition and it’s not contagious.

There are positives to having a chronic illness. Don’t get me wrong: If I could choose to pass up some life lessons in exchange for good health, I would choose ignorance and health without hesitating. I don’t get to choose, and I quickly learned that my time would be better spent learning how to best live with the disease rather than wishing for different genetic material. Some of the lessons were harder than others.

True friends are sorted out quickly.

Being young and having a serious illness is an interesting thing. It seems to me that people gain empathy through parallel personal experiences. When my peer group was well under the age of thirty, many of them had not experienced a prolonged illness, personally or with immediate family members. They didn’t know what it was like to be so fatigued they repeat themselves or can’t think. They didn’t know what it was like to literally hurt all over. As a result, they said and did some really insensitive things. Some didn’t tolerate plans being cancelled or understand why I couldn’t participate in certain activities. Those people jumped ship early. The others–the people who had empathy and understood that my need to reschedule was not a reflection of my affection for them–have shown me what true friendship looks like.

Be your own patient advocate.

When I hit my first bad flare up and dropped a lot of weight, the nurse at my general practitioner’s office insisted that I wasn’t eating. I was scolded by a doctor for going online and asking if I could get an ANA and anti-DNA test to rule out autoimmune. She told me it couldn’t possibly be lupus because I didn’t have a malar rash (I’ve had a rheumatologist specializing in systemic lupus inform me that few of his patients develop a malar rash). I took notes documenting my symptoms, kept asking questions, and switched to a doctor who was willing to listen.

People mean well, but they say the darndest things.

I’ve had people tell me they’d rather die than restrict their diet (I’ve had allergies unrelated to lupus since I was a child). One woman told me she wanted whatever I had so she could lose weight. Another told me lupus wasn’t real and I really had something else. I’ve had co-workers follow me into the bathroom after lunch to make sure I wasn’t bulimic. Sometimes I can see their actions are coming from a good place, and other times I’m just stunned by the lack of forethought they put into what comes pouring out of their mouths.

Trying new things is good.

I used to get really frustrated when people would give me advice. Eventually I accepted they mean well and sometimes the advice is solid. I don’t try everything I hear, but some things do help. I’ve found that exercising regularly and avoiding sweets and alcohol help me feel better. I avoid processed foods and work hard to avoid medications. I also realize this doesn’t work for everyone. A patient’s journey is a very personal thing and one treatment does not fit all.

Attitude is everything.

It took me a long time to accept that my illness was a reflection of something my body needed. I’m not saying it’s my fault I’m sick. I’m saying that my body was yelling at me to change my ways. Before my first flare up, I worked all the time. I was stressed out and didn’t even realize it. Stressed out was my baseline state. Lupus forced me to slow down. I’ve also realized that a positive attitude can have an amazing impact. If I feel as though I will get better, I have a much better chance of improving.

Depression and anxiety are married to my disease.

Chronic, long-lasting pain is depressing. Experiencing lupus symptoms creates anxiety because it is hard to know if it’s the beginning of a flare up. Once symptoms are active, it’s difficult to know how long they last. Because my autoimmune impacts my intestines and impacts food absorption, I suspect this also impacts my moods. It’s important to pay attention to my moods because it’s easy to focus only on my health until I’m in the middle of an emotional tailspin.

I may not be able to always see the bright side, and that’s okay. I wrap myself up in a blanket of darkness when the depression hits and wallow for a while. If it lasts, I make a plan with my doctor. When things get easier, I pack every moment I can into a day. Seeing how difficult things can get make the good days brighter.

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author_pictureCamela Thompson lives with her incredibly supportive husband and strange dog in Seattle, the city where cloud cover and shadows rule. How else is a girl supposed to keep her luminescent (perfectly pasty) complexion? The rain also provides the perfect scapegoat for hiding inside with a laptop, her dog, and a hot cup of tea. Excuses for reclusive behavior get considerably more creative during the summer (she may or may not have a mild sun allergy). Blood, Spirit, and Bone is the second novel in The Hunted series. All the Pretty Bones was her debut novel and the first in The Hunted series.

Camela can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Jonathan Harnisch

Living with Mental Illness: Better Doesn’t Mean Cured

 

Sometimes, I feel that I don’t know what’s going on or that I don’t care about anything. I am confused by my feelings, because I’m not able to explain how I feel, except for the emptiness, and I feel that no one is really there for me, even if they are, or that nobody understands me anymore. It feels like I have nothing to look forward to.

I’m a compulsive liar, but I don’t understand why I do it. I create intriguing stories about myself, to the point that I can’t even tell who I really am anymore. I lie to feel better about myself. Maybe, once I realize I’m a spectacular person just the way I am, I will stick with the truth. I also try to respect people, including myself, who maybe don’t deserve it. This does not reflect the other person’s character but reflects mine, and I miss the mark, sometimes, out of frustration, questioning why “it’s always me” who tries to be right. I feel that other people are wrong at times, but at the end of the day, respect is better than lowering myself, even the tiniest bit. I’m better than that.

I just woke up from another nap, and I write down my scattered thoughts about emotional pain, while in a state of complete confusion because of the disorder currently in my life. Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most, though it might—just might—return even if only for a second. I believe I have lost the battle with my own mind, but I still carry on feeling completely alone in the enterprise, which is where I want to be.

I want to be alone. It is the closest thing I can think of to pressing the pause button on life, especially in the relationships I have with other people. I am a bad person to my wife. My biggest fear has always been that eventually she will see me the way I see myself. I can’t stop thinking that I’m saying good-bye to my own sanity. I believe I have lost this war, perhaps a long time ago. My mind has always been a dark place and not somewhere I would want my worst enemy to be, but despite all of these feelings, I still battle depression and man, am I tired.

I want to feel like me again because, for a long time now, I have felt like someone else. The old me disappears as I fall deeper and deeper into oblivion. I need to be alone without any more external drama or chaos. I do not know how to deal with this feeling, except through anger, disdain, or withdrawing completely. When I can, I try to keep up with my art because it has saved me.

For my own good and the good of others around me, I believe I need to be alone but not to be lonely, only to find some enjoyment or interests in my free time, which let me be myself. Otherwise, I serve no purpose and certainly no positive purpose. I don’t think I was ever meant to be or have ever served any purpose, except to communicate through my art, mainly my writing, to share these feelings for those who cannot. I have nothing else to lose. Sometimes, I feel the stress of everything in the world trying to claw into my mind, all at once and constantly, and I need something to help push me through life. Something like writing, or maybe music, or at times, just sleeping and not participating.

I have miserable feelings inside me that I can’t seem to control, though sometimes it feels like I can. Continuously, I fail and I hurt people, causing other’s anguish, wretchedness, hatred, and more. I feel that I cause the same in myself, and so, I stand back. I no longer interact with people due to this bizarre conflict that I do not know how to handle. I continue to fight for my wife and stepchildren and my many pets but not for myself, because in reality, giving up is just not an option. It never has been. So far, though, I have lost this fight. I walk away from day-to-day life because I want peace, but day-to-day life, and my past, keep following me.

I try not to argue with the people in my life, and I still hope for something. I just don’t know what I’m hoping for—maybe peace of mind and no more distress or conflict. If I do pull through the chaos, it will be because I had to be my own hero, once again. It has to be that way because no one else can destroy me, when I destroy myself, or rather the schizophrenia destroys me. Please just save me. Fix me. I have fought this battle more than once, and I have still not won. It creeps up on me and terrifies me to pieces.

That’s enough for now. I am being as honest as I can possibly be. Love me, hate me, hurt me, or kill me; I will still keep going. I’m still here, but entirely confused about how to relate to other, real people. I am a mental health problem, not a person. I am schizophrenia. I am no longer a person, not anymore. I sit back and watch the world go on around me, and I am a failure. The only place where my dreams become impossibilities is in my own mind. I can’t see what is actually possible, even when that something is better than the hand of cards I have been dealt. The war against my own mind exists on a continuous loop and that is why I keep fighting, even if nobody is aware of it. I have been absent from the external world and lost within my broken mind. This is called depression, schizophrenia, or so many other names. I call it war. I will leave it at that for now because I know this will barely make sense to other people, though I could be wrong. I can’t give up, and I won’t give up. Considering I’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, diabetes, anxiety and depression, a rare blood disease, dyslexia, and cancer, I am doing okay. I’m fine, but I’m just not happy, and I’d rather be honest than impressive.

This morning I wrote on a post-it note, Dear Life, you suck! I am feeling a little bit better and stronger now. Still, I am not fine; I am sad, sick, hurt, angry, mad, and disappointed. Still, do you know what? I don’t think people understand how stressful it is to explain what’s going on in your head when you don’t even understand it yourself. I am not sure if I am feeling better or if I’m just used to being sick.

I did go on a spending spree last night, spending a little over $10,000. My inheritance was stolen due to family conflict and inheritance, medical, and other power of attorney rights, but I’ll put on a smile and move on. It will hurt, but I will survive. Sometimes, I don’t feel like living. I don’t want to kill myself; I just want it all to stop or go away. I want to be calm. I want to be happy. I feel tired, the kind of tired that sleep can’t fix. Every so often, I hope I fall asleep and never wake up. I’m scared. I’m scared of people. I’m scared of doctors. I’m scared of disease. I’m scared of life. I’m scared of death, but most of all, I’m scared of me. All I really need is the right medication, with side effects that won’t kill me or make me worse and doctors who listen and care. I need family members who won’t judge me and are willing to help me with my journey, friends who try to understand. I need my bed, comfy pillows, a heating pad, blankets, a good night’s rest, and above all, a fucking cure. Things change, but it doesn’t mean they get better.

 

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10415631_10205228602939689_3838110785929259235_nYou can also find Jonathan on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter, which is his preferred social media site. Author Jonathan Harnisch has written a semi-fictional and semi-autobiographical bestselling novel,Jonathan Harnisch: An Alibiography, which is available on Amazon and through most major booksellers. He is also a noted, and sometimes controversial, mental health advocate, a fine artist, blogger, podcast host, patent holder, hedge fund manager, musician, and film and TV writer and producer. Google him for more information.

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Stigma Fighters : Sam De Silva

I AM A STIGMA FIGHTER

I should make clear from the very start that I am not a soldier. Nor, am I or ever was a trained first responder. Far from it, at the time of the tsunami, I had recently graduated university and had just left my home in London to start a new life abroad working as a Junior High and Elementary School English teacher in Kyoto, Japan.

I was on holiday on Koh Phi Phi island on the west coast of Thailand, when the waves of the 2004 Asian Tsunami hit. From the moment the wave hit till the following morning we were cut off from the outside world.

Through out this time, I volunteered and joined a group of tourists, who stayed on ground level and did what we could to best help. During the 24 hour nightmare, we were involved in the rescue and care of some the most seriously injured on the island.

It was brutal, – I live it every day – there were numerous occasions during the search and rescue, where I believed my life or the lives of others were in imminent danger. We were involved with recovering the dead and triaging the seriously injured. I had or have never experienced anything remotely similar, prior or post being caught in the Asian Tsunami.

As a teacher, I genuinely believe in social responsibility and serving my community, although I’m honestly not the heroic soldier/policeman type. However, when the waves of the Asian tsunami tore through Koh Phi Phi island, I don’t know if it was the shock of the trauma or the guilt of surviving while countless died around me, but I went into auto pilot, I didn’t think about any of it, I just got “stuck in”, it was the British thing to do. I’ve never been more scared in my life, but I had to do it. I didn’t have a scratch on me, honestly there wasn’t even an option not to help. My subconscious isn’t programmed that way.

Despite escaping with my life while thousands of others died on the island. It wasn’t the first wave, or the second wave of the Asian Tsunami, that came closest to killing me.

Nor was it, the years of misery and misdiagnosis, which eventually led to my life completely spiraling out of control and losing everything I loved and worked for.

From the broken bones and broken heart, to the shock of the motorbike crash, the fear of the psychiatric ward admission, to genuinely freaking out on apocalyptic trauma whilst being remanded in police custody.

They were all horrific to go through and the images are still burnt into the back of my retinas. It’s quite difficult to reflect upon how bad things got before the PTSD diagnosis and treatment. Each of the experiences of crisis were psychologically terrifying to endure, for their own reasons, but when things really became unmanageable and I lost all hope, it wasn’t the trauma of living with trauma that always drove me to the edge of the point of no return.

It was the common denominator to each crisis. The social stigma of living as mentally inadequate, which was the silent killer, that always acted in the shadows as an accelerant that compounded the despair, suffering and fueled my self-destruction.

The social stigma of mental health was what came closest to killing me. Or, maybe that should read I almost killed myself because of the stigma surrounding mental health. The stigma distorted my reality, to the point I couldn’t deal with my past and didn’t want my future.

I couldn’t see a way out. Before the diagnosis, I didn’t know how to cope, I didn’t know I was really suffering PTSD. I didn’t know how to describe the symptoms. The symptoms in hindsight would come and go, they weren’t always consistent. It’s not easy opening up about the most horrific thing imaginable in a 5-minute doctor’s appointment when all they want to do is give you a pill and send you on your way.

I felt no one understood. I had been in out of doctors surgeries and A & E wards for years. I’d always been open about the tsunami and the search and rescue, but because I didn’t fit the stigmatised stereotype of a PTSD sufferer, I wasn’t even referred to be tested for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Instead, the focus was shifted to general everyday problems that non-trauma survivors experience.

It was only by being diagnostically tested for PTSD by an NHS psychologist who was actually qualified in recognising the symptoms and was empathetic to the misconceptions and social stigmas surrounding the diagnosis, did I eventually get diagnosed and was eligible to receive the support that I had so desperately needed for years.

I can honestly say that I doubt I’d be alive if I wasn’t diagnosed and received the right support and treatment for PTSD… And, is the reason why I am a Stigma Fighter.

My life has moved forward since the PTSD treatment, it’s not ideal, but it’s manageable. There are still bad days, but I’m trying to focus on the good. The stigma of mental health is still a factor in my life, but I hope I can help others by sharing my story and humanising the silent suffering that so many struggle with.

Like the countless examples throughout history, with every civil rights movement, it took open and compassionate dialogue coupled with a greater understanding and education to break down the walls of prejudice and stigma.

I believe there is definitely change in the air, organisations such as stigmafighters.com are doing a fantastic job highlighting this worthy cause to the public.

I hope in time, we as a society get to a point where admitting you suffer from depression or any mental health related condition has the same stigma attached to it as saying you broke your leg.

So essentially, we can move forward “leaving no man behind”, by compassionately supporting those who need support and understand that despite their scars not being visible, the pain and suffering is just as real, if not more painful than any broken bone.

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DSCN2984Asian Tsunami Survivor, I blog to raise Mental Health awareness for PTSD – Featured in @BBCWorld PTSD Documentary – Social Justice writer for @GoodMenProject

Sam can be found on his blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Dawn

It’s A Shame About Shame.

Shame has a crushing feel to it. I think to those that have felt or continue to feel shame, it’s suddenly having a spot light aimed on you. It’s the turning of your stomach, like a cement truck, endlessly twisting what’s inside. Shame is that instant jerk of my head, so as not to force another person to have to look me in the eyes. It’s the belief that I am damaged goods, and everyone knows it.

Shame is a burden I have carried most of my life. It seems to come with the territory of being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. It wasn’t something I identified as a consequence of the abuse. Growing up, I didn’t know life without it. I felt like I walked around with a neon, flashing light on my forehead that said, “don’t look, I’m gross.”

Shame is still present in my life. It doesn’t consume me but becomes an occasional, reckoning force. Nothing turns that spotlight on as bright, as talking about being a mother suffering with depression and suicidal ideations.

When people talk about suicide, it often lacks an empathetic tone. I don’t fault people for this. It’s not my wish that anyone should feel a pit so deep in their soul, that they crave to feel nothing at all instead.

I’ve been in many conversations where the word “selfish” has been used to describe someone’s decision to attempt and/or succeed at suicide. People say things like, “He has a good life – why can’t he just see that?” Believe me, he can. That’s what makes the coat of shame so thick. In spite of everything he may have – family, money, love – his brain will win every time.

I used to immediately slouch my shoulders and look away from others, when the topic of mental illness or sexual abuse would come up. I would feel as if I was burdening others to know they were talking about me. The secret that I am that tainted person, may upset them, so best to just sink in to the pavement.

Shame makes you feel like it is not your choice whether or not you can openly talk about what was done to you or what was etched in to your DNA. I never felt like I was allowed to let anyone know that I genuinely have felt like suicide was an option. I didn’t know how to not put someone else’s comfort level above my own.

I’ve learned though, that drawing attention to the fact that I can empathetically talk about the subject of depression and abuse, actually heals me. Discussing it, has become one of the most effective tools I own. I can help control the conversation when I use the unfortunate knowledge I have.

It doesn’t come without a strong pull on my chin, to look at the ground, when I actually do join a conversation. I try my best to fight it. Ridding myself of shame has been like strengthening a muscle inside me. Every time I refuse to look at the ground, instead keeping eye contact, as I confidently discuss a first hand knowledge of something our society sees as taboo, that muscle strengthens.

People talk about fighting stigma but go about combatting it in a processed, packaged way. The stigma exists because of the shame. Lets start accepting that to be worrisome or embarrassed over what you can control, is to be ashamed. Feeling shamed, is what happens when something is done to you. One is always without choice. Understanding the difference is critical and can in fact, save lives.

**Originally featured on Crazy Good Parent

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picDawn is a thirty-something wife, momma to two, writer, dreamer, survivor and student of life. Her work has been published on Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and The Indie Chicks. Dawn is a co-editor of the upcoming anthology Trigger Points: Abuse Survivors Experiences of Parenting.

Dawn can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Casey Sheridan

This is hard for me write because I’ve never written about this before, nor have I talked about it to anyone other than my psychologist.
Rachel Thompson has a saying she often posts on her social media streams, “Write what scares you.” Or something to that effect, anyway. Writing about this doesn’t scare me and I don’t care what people are going to think. Well, okay, maybe I am a bit concerned about what others may think.
I’m a survivor.
I survived sexual abuse as a child at the hands of my alcoholic step-father, along with his mental abuse of humiliation, and later on, as an adult, I survived a rape.
But I’m more than just a survivor. I’m also the author of erotica and romantic erotica.
The sexual abuse I survived wasn’t something that happened every day, every week, etc. It happened three or four times at most, starting at the age of five and ending when I was twelve. Anyone who has survived this knows that even one incident of sexual abuse is one too many.
Because my memories are fuzzy, shadows really, ghosts that float around behind my eyes, no hard vivid events or timeline, there are some that feel it’s possible my abuse may not have actually happened.
That’s bullshit.
In my opinion, a bad memory is a bad memory, whether it’s a fuzzy memory or a solid, vivid one. I didn’t dream this shit up (my poem Bad Memories )
What isn’t a fuzzy memory, are the few times I was targeted for humiliation. I was made to stand in a corner in my undershirt and underwear while I was told how ugly I was, how stupid, how worthless. If I cried, I was laughed at, and made fun of.
I think there’s a statistic out there somewhere that relates how survivors of childhood sexual abuse often become victims of rape later in life. I hate to say I’m a statistic, but I guess I am since I was raped in my early adulthood by someone I knew.
I buried my abuse and rape deep down inside. Things like that don’t stay buried though. They come out and want/need to be dealt with. The real me was buried along with them. To keep people from knowing these things, I became what I what I was called every day as a kid—”You’re such a BITCH.” A nasty, hate-filled and bitterly angry bitch. It got to a point where I couldn’t stand myself. I don’t want to be like that anymore. So I started to see a psychologist.
I was lucky to find one that I connected with immediately. It wasn’t easy and it took some time, but I’m glad I went. She helped me with so much.
I saw her for five years. She helped me to understand a lot of things and I still learn new things about myself. I’m not “cured”. You’re never “cured”. But I learned how to deal with some things and how to work toward changing others.
Some may wonder how I can go through sexual abuse and rape, and then write erotica and romantic erotica. Or maybe you’re thinking I have a warped sense of boundaries and write some really gross stuff. I can’t blame you for thinking that. There’s a huge side of the erotica industry that contains material that makes me cringe. What I write never contains those “ick factors”, a term some publishers use for things such as rape, incest, etc. What I write is completely different. And I didn’t start writing erotica until about two or three years after I stopped seeing my doctor.
While many who have survived sexual abuse and/or rape have issues with sex, and understandably so, I don’t have those issues. I never have. Believe it or not, writing erotica and romantic erotica is quite liberating and therapeutic for me.

Some issues I deal/dealt with:

Trust. I don’t know if that will ever change completely, if at all, but I am trying. To that end, I’ve learned to rely on my instincts/intuition as a sort of protection. For me, trust is only for those I connect with on a deep level, for those that I can give my heart and mind to, and that’s a tremendous thing, so my circle of people is small. If you find yourself among that group remember how fragile trust can be.

For most of my life I walked with my head down because after having it drummed into me that I was so ugly, I believed I was. Keeping my head down meant that others wouldn’t notice me. I don’t walk around like that anymore. I walk with my head up and I don’t think I’m ugly. I’m not pretty certainly, but I know I’m not ugly.

Growing up under that cloud of abuse I learned to keep a low profile, to do what I could to keep from being noticed, to fade into the background. Even now, doing things to bring attention to myself, such as promoting myself as an author is difficult, but I’m trying. That’s a good thing.

I learned to keep my mouth shut. People who know me well will not believe I know how to keep my mouth shut, but seriously, I do.
My fight-flight-freeze response is set on freeze. I don’t know how to change that. Unless you hurt someone I care about, then I’ll kick your ass.
I learned to shut down emotionally. I feel things intensely and I don’t know how to deal with what I feel. At times, I’m flooded with so much emotion it’s overwhelming, so I shut down and distance myself. Especially if I think I’m about to be hurt physically or otherwise.

Every day is a struggle, some more than others.
What I’ve gone through is a part of who I am and has shaped who I have become, the type of person I am. I think I turned out to an okay person.

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Sm-CaseSheridan-9-2014Like most authors, Casey Sheridan began writing when she was very young. It was later in life when she read her first piece of erotica and it was on a dare that she wrote her first erotic story.

Casey writes erotica, and romantic erotica, that is sensual and fun with unique storylines.

An introvert by nature and lover of chocolate, Casey is happiest when writing. She enjoys spending time with close friends, listening to music, watching movies, and reading. She loves animals and volunteers to care for some local feral/outdoor kitty pals.

Casey can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Lizzi Rogers

Every Paige Counts

There’s a book coming out soon, which Mandi Castle wrote, and I think you should read. I’m delighted to be here today to recommend it to you.

It’s called ‘Dear Stephanie’ and it’s the story of a woman (Paige) who lives a life in extremely rich and sumptuous circumstances. Like literally – she’s richer than all out, and embodies ‘how the other half live’. She’s augmented, enhanced, painfully fashionable, incredibly smart, and more beautiful than people get to be in Real Life. And she’s absolutely the mistress of her own sexuality and has steamy affairs with impossibly scrumptious men (in rather gorgeous detail (thanks, Mandi)) and actually is living the dream.

Except she’s not.

Because she has severe mental health problems – ones she’s embarrassed and ashamed about, and tries to keep hidden. She doesn’t trust. She can’t bring herself to love. She uses people disdainfully, watching them do her bidding even as she recognises that she’s only building her barriers higher, and that no-one can breach them. Almost everyone is kept at arm’s length, and she lives in constant, suffocating fear:

Fear of them finding out.

Fear that she’ll stop coping.

Fear that she’ll kill herself, and at the same time, a desperate desire for that final release from anguish.

She’s smart enough to have analysed the content of her own character and her own mind to an extent that no therapist has yet been able to keep up with, and as such is a prisoner of her own intellect, for she refuses to let them help her, instead manipulating them and play-acting along with their (to her mind) inept attempts at fixing her.

In spite of her beauty, brains and privilege, she is the definition of a tortured soul, and at first Mandi keeps us outraged with her, even as we marvel at her audacity. She’s an absolute shocker, and the story feels a little like a racy tabloid, but then as time goes by and we learn more about Paige, her thought processes, and the things which have shaped her, we find that there are deep, resonating threads between her world and our own:

We all know people who struggle.

We all know people who hurt.

Some of us know people for whom the world is such a precarious, lonely place, that they’re not sure they can make it to the end of the day still living, because existence is endless agony, and as much as there are those it might hurt, they still believe that their loved ones would be better off without them.

In the end, closer acquaintance with Paige brings us to a point of compassion and empathy, and Mandi is skillful in writing a character whose excesses and outbursts are utterly re-framed by understanding, and it dawns on us that we’ve begun to care for her.

We cheer her on in her struggles.

We ache when she hurts.

And when she yearns to die, and laments life, and makes plans to end it all…we’re left beating our palms fruitlessly against the windows of this tale, wishing we could step in and swat the pills from her hands, and hold her, and somehow make it alright again.

She’s the kind of person whose mask is very firmly in place, but who desperately needs people. We might know this kind of person in Real Life. We might know them without knowing it, because the mask is so embedded, but nonetheless, this type of person needs us.

And that’s key, both in this story (which is utterly compelling and deeply moving) and in real life – it’s easy to take people at face value and assume that their behaviour is just ‘how they are’ and if it’s obnoxious or precocious, to just steer clear and take the easy path – why would we want to try to get close to someone who is evidently so resistant to engaging? Why would we support someone when our every effort seems to slide off them like raindrops on armour? Why would we bother taking the time to listen to them or make efforts to understand their history and properly contextualise their present? Why not just let them go?

Well, we need them, too. But why do we need these unloveables?

We need them because they often recognise brokenness in other people, and respond deeply and genuinely to it. We need them because they often bring intense beauty into the world in efforts to redeem it. We need them because from practice, they find it easier to share their demons with those who are also haunted, and let them know that they’re not alone.

We need them to remind us that beyond the business of survival, the most treacherous place to be embattled is within the confines of your own mind.

And we need them because they matter – whatever they look like – every ‘Paige’ counts.

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Graffiti-Hair-fbLizzi is a Deep Thinker, Truth-Teller and seeker of Good Things. She’s also silly, irreverent and tries to write as beautifully as possible. She sends glitterbombs and gathers people around her – building community wherever she can.

Lizzi is a founder member of Sisterwives and #1000Speak, and hosts the Ten Things of Thankful bloghop each weekend.

Lizzi can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Heidi DiTonno

Facing Life – Heidi DiTonno

I don’t consider myself mentally ill, although my diagnoses would disagree with me. They are stigmas for my way of having to cope with situations that I somehow had to find a way to survive. And they worked for me, here I am!
Burned and severely facially disfigured at 9 months old was the first thing I was faced with surviving. I spent many months at the hospital after that life-changing event, and the opportunity for me to have a healthy mother/daughter bond was severely compromised. I will never know to what extent my mother held herself responsible for “my accident” as it happened while I was in her care. It was a topic of conversation that was rarely, and never fully, discussed in my childhood home. As a female, growing up facially disfigured with an emotionally unavailable mother was no picnic.

My childhood was filled with stares and gasps, ugly and ignorant comments, and name calling that still haunts my memories even now. My first experience with bullying started right at home. My brother, who is 2 years older than me, commonly and joyfully referred to me as “bald-head burnt-face”. He even rallied the entire elementary school bus to cheer me on with this chosen name. My mother’s unfailing response to my complaints about his bullying and frequent physical abuse was “Well what did you do to deserve it?”

At around 11 or 12 years old, I was walking home from a friend’s house in a hurry to make my curfew when I was stopped by an older neighborhood boy and his friend. Their ruse for me to “see their new fort” turned out to be me getting raped by the both of them behind his garage. As they took their turns with me, they let me know how grateful I should be because nobody else would want an ugly girl like me. After they were done I rushed home late for curfew and was met with “You are so irresponsible, you can’t even handle a curfew, you are grounded”. Oh the shame. I never spoke of this to another soul.

My first mental health diagnosis was Depression in my late 20s, clearly not soon enough. I married an alcoholic and it was a difficult time. I was given a low dose of anti-depressant and it worked for me. My husband and I worked through this together and he has been sober for 23 years.

When I was 41 years old I received my second mental heath diagnosis, Anorexia Nervosa. I had been the victim of sexual harassment at the workplace for a year and a half. Even though my perpetrator was found guilty, I paid the price for it. After filing formal charges against him, I was relentlessly bullied and even spit on. My 25 year employment there ended with a false accusation that someone heard me say that I had a weapon in my purse. I was ambushed at my desk and hostily escorted out of the building. Welcome diagnoses 3 and 4…PTSD and Agoraphobia.

My depression, my anorexia, my PTSD, my agoraphobia – these labels do not define me. My resilience to survive and thrive is what defines me.

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T5TFDLHEPRMN0EJT-rsz640x470-cp0x75x640x395Speaker – Advocate – Kindness Guru

Heidi can be found on Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Eve Ventures

On the 8th December 2013, after a huge row which had escalated from the (fairly unremarkable) incident of me switching off the oven with my foot, I left home at 2am with no coat, no money and no hope. Later that night, I was found doubled over on the pavement, choking on my own tears, wondering desperately how I could get the means to kill myself. I had become nothing but a tortured burden who was destroying everything. My family couldn’t stand me, I’d lost friends, I couldn’t do my job, every small task was complicated and exhausting, and I hated myself deeply.

My journey to this moment started five years earlier. Not with a major event or disaster, but with something so commonplace it happens to all of us 50,000-70,000 times per day.

I had a thought.

That’s all. Yet it was so terrifying that I have since termed it, ‘the thought that ruined my life’ because from then on life did change. I started getting more and more thoughts, each one more horrible and frightening than the last, until that night when self-loathing, fear and exhaustion finally overpowered me. The thoughts were taking up all my energy. If I wasn’t having them, I was planning for them and I spent my entire life trying to prevent or neutralise them. But it was hopeless, because wherever I went my thoughts came with me and I was living life on a tightrope, suspended over all their awful possibilities.

You may be reading this wondering ‘what was this thought; why did it have such malevolent power?’ The answer to the first question doesn’t really matter. And the answer to the second is simple: I have OCD. Writing that as an explanation feels inadequate even to me. The colloquial use of the phrase has robbed it of its weight, but what is OCD, really?

In simple terms, an ‘obsession’ is an unwanted thought, fear or urge which causes distress to the person having it. Obsessions are often referred to as intrusions because they’re uninvited, unwanted and unpredictable. A ‘compulsion’ is an act or ritual performed to try and rid oneself of the obsession, or alleviate the anxiety it causes. Hence the term ‘Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.’

OCD can take many forms, but is always characterised by obsessions, compulsions and distress. In no particular order, here are some examples of obsessions and the types of compulsions they might lead to:

“Did I run someone over earlier?” Those who obsess that they have hurt someone whilst driving might spend hours replaying the journey in their minds, retracing the journey to check for signs of an accident or checking the local news.

“Did I lock the door?” Such doubts can lead to checking and rechecking or avoiding leaving the house altogether.

“Am I a paedophile?” This is a common concern among OCD sufferers. Compulsions include avoiding children, reassurance seeking and confessing.

“What if I get ill?” When people obsess about health, compulsions might involve Googling symptoms, seeking reassurance or going to great lengths to avoid contamination.

While these are common obsessions, an obsession can actually be about anything. Years ago, I obsessed that I was a hermaphrodite. Having attended a support group for 3 years, I’ve not only met someone who shared this obsession, but heard all kinds of others from, ‘I fear my father will rape me’ to ‘what if I’ve cheated on my partner and forgotten?’ to ‘I was terrified I’d violently kill my children’. (It’s important to point out that people whose obsessions focus on causing harm to others are the last people to do such a thing; the reason they find these intrusions so distressing is because they’re so completely at odds with their values.) It’s not the content of the obsession that determines whether it’s OCD or not, but the distress and subsequent habits. In fact, nearly everyone has intrusions and OCD sufferers’ do not differ from anyone else’s. What differs is the upset they cause. Similarly, a compulsion isn’t always something obvious; often checking or ritualising takes place purely in the sufferer’s mind. Rumination, neutralising and reassurance seeking are also compulsions.

For me, OCD began when I was five, when I started feeling like I had to ‘balance out’ sensations on the left and right hand side of my body. I didn’t know why I was doing it, just that I felt uncomfortable if I didn’t. Then when I was six, I heard the phrase ‘if you worry about it, it will never happen’. Unfortunately, I took this literally and began to worry as often and as fervently as possible about my family dying because surely if I didn’t, then they would. Next, I started to worry excessively that inanimate objects had feelings and I might have hurt them. As a teenager I was so concerned that I might be the next Virgin Mary that I was probably the only teenager who entertained the idea of losing my virginity to avoid pregnancy.

However, it was when I was 22 that the bully really took over; I became convinced that I was a really, really bad person. That thought I mentioned before (the one which ruined my life) was about stabbing someone I cared about. I was so deeply shocked and distressed by it that all I could think to do was get rid of it. But intrusions don’t work that way because the more you try not to think something, the more you think about it. Soon I was worried about hurting everyone and I didn’t trust myself anywhere. On a train platform? ‘Jump.’ Sending a text? ‘Perhaps I’m sending a nude photograph.’ Walking past a school? ‘Assault that child.’ My great uncle died. ‘Did I do that?’

You’ll be pleased to know, I didn’t do any of those things. But the thoughts were relentless and each one shattered me anew, until I felt I was poisonous and could somehow spread my nastiness. Even after wrapping presents, I was tormented by the idea that when they were opened the recipients would die. What’s more, I became frightened of anything which might morally contaminate me even further. Anything from newspapers, with their stories of iniquity, to door handles, which had been touched by strangers, had the potential to turn me into what I most feared.

It would take forever to list every obsession and compulsion I’ve had, because any unpleasant notion which enters my head has the potential to become an obsession and so many of them have. Since learning more about OCD, I’ve realised that this isn’t because I’m delusional or dangerous, but because for as long as I can remember I wouldn’t leave my thoughts alone. I picked at every worry, doubt, risk and fear like they were scabs until they bled into every part of my life. It was this reaction which was ruining me, not the thoughts themselves.

Through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I learnt to accept the thoughts for what they were and treat them as ‘unwanted party guests’ – allowing them to be there without engaging with them. This involved confronting them, full on, and I couldn’t have done it without the unwavering faith and support of a phenomenal therapist. I’m not OCD free now, but I can do so many things I couldn’t before, OCD no longer dictates my life and I’m not scared all the time.

I wrote this for two kinds of people: those who don’t know much about OCD, and those who know too much. If you fall into the first category, I hope I have shown you that behind OCD’s public persona – that of the ‘quirky’ personality trait – lies a dark and very real illness. As for the people in the second category, already horribly familiar with the condition because you’re on the inside of it: I want you to feel like it’s OK to talk about what frightens you, to know that you can get better, that you’ve nothing to be ashamed of and, crucially, realise that you’re not alone. Thanks for reading.

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IMG-20141225-WA0021Eve is 28 and lives in the UK. She loves travel, cooking, reading, cocktails and writing. She works in education, is a freelance writer, volunteers for an OCD charity and blogs about OCD (and other things) at: www.avonlea-and-amulets.blogspot.co.uk.

Eve can be found on her blog and Twitter.

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