Stigma Fighters: Kate Dolan

*Trigger warning -self harm

If you had told me I would be where I am today fifteen, ten, or five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was not always the light-hearted, employed, and (for the most part) stable writer that sits before you behind her mac screen. Quite the opposite – not so long ago I had a drinking problem, the sexual habits of a frat boy, and a mental illness that was taking over my life. Unsupervised and overmedicated, my life slowly started slipping away from me. When I see pictures of myself at my worst (around 19 years old), I see a scared, sad, sick little girl who wanted nothing more than to feel “normal”.

My fight began when I was 13 year old, the first time I cut myself. Having been chronically teased for being “oversensitive” my entire life, it all came to a breaking point after one 8th grade soccer game. I couldn’t take the way the other girls treated me any longer, and for the first time in my young life, I wasn’t filled with sadness; I was filled with rage. With no one and nothing to take my anger and hurt out on, I turned my aggression towards myself…with a kitchen knife. My mom caught me and brought me to my first (of many) therapists.

From then on it was nothing but therapists, psychiatrists, and medications. For 10 years I suffered through medication after medication, dealing with the frustration and side effects of the wrong doses or the wrong combinations, all the while pretending to be a normal, happy teenager.

In college, I was put on academic probation (twice) because there were times I could not pull myself out bed. I missed a final because I felt so drained, empty, and unworthy of breathing that I could not pull it together to get to school. I also had a VERY unhealthy relationship with alcohol, food, and sex. I used all three as coping mechanisms to numb the pain and despair I felt. I had no goals, no dreams or aspirations, and I felt like I had no future.

Two weeks into my junior year I hit rock bottom. Mania, depression, and anxiety had consumed my life and scared my friends away from me. My parents pulled my out of school and the next year of my life consisted of only doctors appointments and trips to the hospital to have my Lithium levels checked. Throw in a hospitalization and a suicide attempt and you’re looking at one hell of a college experience. I think the most painful part was seeing the look of fear in my friend’s eyes. People who came to me with their problems, who cried in my arms, and who slept on my chest when they needed human contact were now terrified of me. I promised them, my parents, and most importantly myself that I would get better.

I re-enrolled in college and at the beginning of my senior year I made the bold choice to go off medication and started seeing a social worker I could actually talk to. We used workbooks about CBT and DBT that helped tremendously; skills I still use today. I started running, going to the gym, and cooking healthy meals. I even made Dean’s List my last two semesters, which is something I am still incredibly proud of.

I wish I could tell you that I got a job right of college that blossomed into my current profession. But then life would be fair and as I’m sure you’re all quite well aware, it isn’t. I graduated in December and struggled to find a job since I had no idea what I wanted to do or what I would be good at, which wore on my self esteem. I fell right back into my old slump of sleeping all day, having beer for breakfast, and feeling like I was dying inside. I knew I had to do something, anything to get my out of the slump, so I found a temp job with regular 9-5 hours grading state exams. Having to get up every day and be somewhere gave me the kick I needed to get back on track. I went back to the gym and applied to jobs daily. Eventually (8 months later) I got a position that would what be my first “real job”. From there things started to pick up; I found a wonderful group of friends, lived in my very own one bedroom apartment, and eventually started dating the man of my dreams. Although my life had vastly improved and I was happy, I decided I was finally ready to take on something I had dreamed of doing; moving to New York City.

Although it wasn’t smooth sailing for the first year and a half, now I have a full-time job and I live in Astoria with my boyfriend who is my rock. Everything was going just fine…until two months ago.

Nothing traumatic happened – I didn’t lose my job, no one died, and I didn’t get diagnosed with a terminal illness, but something I had long feared happened; my mental illness came back. Now I know it had never really gone away, but I thought I figured out how to beat it without medication. I thought exercising, eating well, sleeping, meditating would keep it at bay forever. Unfortunately I was mistaken. The past few weeks have been an incredibly struggle for me. There are days I can’t pull myself out of bed and my boyfriend types my emails to my boss requesting a sick day. I don’t want to see anyone, not even my beloved friends who live walking distance from me, because I can barely muster the energy to sit up straight, let alone have a conversation.

My greatest fear, my nightmare, has returned…but I will not let history repeat itself. I know the signs and the symptoms and I’m ready to fight this time. I’ve started seeing a therapist again and I’m seeing a psychiatrist for the first times in five years in two days. I know he’ll put me back on meds, and this time I’m ok with it. I have lost everything to my mental illness and I will not let it take away everything I’ve built again. Even though I always don’t believe myself, I continually remind myself (as do my boyfriend and mom) that I will make it through this. Because I have to, there is no other option.

When I start to lose faith I look at my left wrist – I have the word “Breathe” tattooed on it, right above the five white lines that tried to take my life.

If you’re suffering with mental illness just remember this – it will get better. Find your inner strength, keep trying to make yourself better, and remember to breathe.

Keep fighting the good fight.

2016-05-05_13-02-28Kate is a free-spirited writer who lives and writes in NYC. She loves whiskey, playing with her maine coon/tabby mix Sasha, and hoola hooping. Kate has Bipolar Disorder Type II and is not ashamed (anymore).

 

 

Kate can be found on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter

Stigma Fighters: Victoria Quigg

I am a 25 year old psychology student in my third year at university. I have a paid job at MSWA as a staff coordinator. I am also a volunteer drug and alcohol counselor and I do volunteer work with 14-20 year old girls on a range of topics in group therapy. I just recently qualified for the world championships in cycling and I have a great group of friends and support. I succeed in most aspects of my life.

What many don’t know however, is I also have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and an Eating Disorder.

I will begin my story with setting the scene.

I was born in England and moved to Australia at 7 with my Mum, Dad, and Brother. After moving to Australia I became heavily involved in sport and spent most of my time either at school or the beach. I had amazing grades and was the poster child for success. I always came home to a house with food on the table and in my mind that was enough for a happy childhood.

I moved onto High School and began to hate myself but never knew why. I began experimenting with drugs and alcohol and spent a lot of time with older men, I began self-harming and restricting my diet to punish myself. I met a boy and ‘fell in love’ and I said to him “I don’t know where I’m going with my life, so I’m going to join the army.” He replied “You will never make it in the army.”

That, it seems, was enough for me to decide I would sign up at the ripe age of 17. Within three months I was flying to basic training. I followed orders like a good soldier and managed to mostly stay out of trouble.

After basic training I went to Melbourne for my employment training. There I met my husband, the love of my life, and he gave me the courage to seek out a psychologist as he could see the pain I was in. I had stopped drugs however I drank like a fish and would often find myself waking up in strange places with a hangover.

I saw a psychologist for the first time in my life. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) after a fifteen-minute session with a psychiatrist. This shaped my experience with mental illness for the next 8 years and I bounced from one psychologist to the next, none of which seemed to help.

Things with my husband were horrible. I would drink too much and treat him like dirt but never fully know why. I loved this man with all my heart but I would sometimes wake up not knowing what I had done the night before only to find out I had been unfaithful to him, none of which I would be able to fully remember.

How I experienced time and memories is like the experience of holding water in your hand. No matter how hard you try to hold it, it always finds a crack to drip out.

A few years after I sought help my husband and I left the army and moved to Perth. I decided to pursue my dream to be a psychologist. One day at university a guest lecturer came to one of our classes. I could tell he was the perfect fit for me and I made an appointment with him for a few weeks time.

I told him I have BPD but after the things I have learnt at University I didn’t know whether I believed it anymore. I began searching for answers and I read a book called “A Life in Pieces” which is an extreme case of DID. I attended my fourth appointment and said “I think I have different parts.” He asked more about it and I explained that there is a part of me that acts childish and one that gets angry and one that is promiscuous but I don’t identify with any of them.

We spoke about DID and he accepted me fully which I am forever grateful for. I was curious to understand this further so I went away and did a LOT of reading. What followed was a flourish of moments of clarity thinking “Oh god this is me.” But then other crippling moments of “Don’t be ridiculous, everything you read is like Sybil and you are nothing like that.”

I continued with my psychologist and one year later I am still only about 75% sure I have DID with moments where I still believe I am being ridiculous. I am not Sybil. I do not have drastic personality changes. I have however learnt through others that DID is subtle. It is less about how we present and more about how we feel.

As I type this today I cannot connect to the feelings other personalities have. I do not have crippling depression or anger, I can only feel numb, because I am a functional personality. I am mentally stable, I am not depressed, I do not self harm, I eat properly, and I excel in most things I do. If you however ask me who I am at 6pm tonight when my abuse typically happened in the past, I will be scared, small, feeling worthless and impossibly depressed. I would be confused because I feel little but I am in a big body. I would apologise profusely and only wish I had love but not know how to receive it because I have a tangled mess of previous experiences with it. Nobody sees that part of me though. It only happens when I am alone. And that, is the nature of DID. Not Sybil.

People with mental illness may appear fine. People with depression can feel happiness, just as those with DID can seem like one personality. That does not mean we do not have it. That doesn’t mean we do not struggle. It simply means we are survivors.

I am a 25 year old Psychology student in my third year at university. I have a job as a staff coordinator at MSWA and I am also a volunteer drug and alcohol counsellor. I work with 14-20 year old girls on a range of topics in group therapy including self esteem, relationships, and CBT work. I just recently qualified for the world championships in cycling and I have a great group of friends and support. I succeed in most I do.

I also however have Dissociative Identity Disorder and an Eating Disorder. This doesn’t shape my life, it drives my life. I recover and fight every day and some are better than others but I am always moving forward.

Victoria can be found on instagram

Stigma Fighters: Allison McDonald

Have you ever completely lost control? I am not talking about a bad frat party in college, I am talking about when your body and mind don’t match up. This can happen in so many ways injuries, illness, today for me it was a massive anxiety attack. I’d suffered from postpartum anxiety after the birth of both my children but hadn’t had a violent anxiety attack ever.

I can only describe it as a violent attack because I completely blacked out laying on a hotel room floor sweating the way I have only ever sweated after crossing the finish line of a marathon. It was terrifying. As I sit in a plane heading home feeling rested and sane I am doing what writers do, I am deconstructing my terror. Putting it in my own words. Some people have anxiety attacks for no reason – that would haunt me, while violent this attack came with good reason. There was a huge problem and I couldn’t do anything to fix it. I was locked out and told my google account for my business ( and everything else in my life) was gone. It has been removed.

It was 5am after 5 days of a business trip that included early mornings and very very late nights. My body was done. When the panic that everything I built was gone, that I had no way to contact clients, my foundation for tracking everything was gone. I started blacking out- my body didn’t give me a chance to look at this rationally, it was done and making sure I was too. Being completely out of control for those few seconds was so foreign and what I imagine hell would be like for me if I believed in hell.

I laid there on the hotel carpet and told myself I would count to 100 and if my vision wasn’t back or if the panic got worse I was calling 911. I am sure if I hadn’t been alone in my hotel room anyone who saw me would have already grabbed a phone. I got up at 64. Sat down and tried to figure out what to do. An hour later – filled with labored breathing and shaking hands the right support person was found. She called from Ireland – acting as much a technical support as a therapist. I could access my email although hackers had changed settings and I had more work to fix it, but I had my account back. This may seem dramatic having an anxiety attack over email but that’s the point, it is – the anxiety attack was my body telling me “Enough”. You are a mom, wife, grad student, teacher, author, blogger, business owner, and marathoner. What the fuck dude – that is WAY too much and I’ve had it. If you don’t stop I will.

I’m exhausted.

I love everything I do – I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. I love my life. I am happy. But my body is telling me “Enough”.

I have no clue what I am going to scale back – but I never want to be laying on a hotel room floor like that ever again.

Enough.

♦◊♦

Allison

Allison McDonald is the founder of No Time For Flash Cards a popular early education site that can be best described as preschool on a blog. In addition to creating content for NTFFC, Allison writes all about literacy for Scholastic Parents, is a preschool teacher, graduate student, presenter, and author. Her book Raising A Rock-Star Reader was published by Scholastic and released in the fall of 2015. Allison lives in a yellow farmhouse on Bainbridge Island, Washington with two hilarious but kind of sassy kids and one well behaved husband. For fun she reads predictable young adult novels and runs (usually in the rain).

Allison can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Stigma Fighters: Anaiyah Lovely

Looking back on my behavior over the past forty years, I can pinpoint certain events that I realize now, were not of normal behavior. Being ultra-sensitive to television shows (crying over an American Express commercial), finding myself completely destroyed and depressed when it came to rejection, feelings of complete desperation of trying to hold onto hope, and huge amounts of energy coming up with creative projects.

I have Cyclothymia Disorder, and this is my story…

I think the first time I should have noticed the (or at least my parents should have noticed it) red flag was back in fourth grade. I remember being at a birthday party, and sitting in a corner by myself, which I often did when it came to when slumber parties were involved, not really talking to anyone. I felt anxious, and out of place. While I tried really hard to have friends over the years, I would often find myself the odd-girl out. As with any slumber party, there was always drama that followed it. I don’t remember what actually happened, but all of the sudden I was in the middle of a huge cry fest with about ten other eight year-old girls. Surprise. My anxiety was high, and I didn’t know what to make of what was happening around me. When the mom of the birthday girl walked into the room to find out what was wrong with these crazy ten girls crying in the middle of the night, I totally froze up and started balling uncontrollably. My friend’s mom looked at me and said, “Anaiyah, what is wrong with you?” Again freezing up and not knowing what to say, I came up with a lie, “Goose is dead!” Ummmm.yes! That’s right, it was 1986, and we were eleven years old because I remember using Top Gun as an excuse to rationalize my irrational behavior at that party. If I remember correctly, we didn’t even watch Top Gun that night. It was just an excuse that I pulled out of my ass, because…Goose. There was nothing sadder in 1986 then having to grieve over Gooses’ death scene.

After several hundred Goose moments over the years, I finally started seeing a therapist at forty years old. I could no longer hide it; I was suffering, and needed clear perspective. Luckily, I found a fantastic therapist almost immediately. Originally, she was treating me for anxiety disorder. I refused to take medication, and tried holistically to heal myself. I was getting worse though, and not better. Finally, one day on my way to see my therapist, I felt extremely agitated, nervous, jumpy, and extremely hyper, I couldn’t slow down my thoughts, or how fast I spoke. When I first walked in her office she could tell something was different about me. I asked her why I was feeling so out of control. That’s the moment when I got my diagnosis, “Cyclothymia”. It was pretty easy to diagnosis after seeing me that day, and a few weeks later my psychiatrist also confirmed my diagnosis. But what is Cyclothymia? I’ve used that word a few times, and I still don’t have any clear explanation what that is. Let me start by saying that it is a very rare mood-disorder (not because I’m special, but because most people are misdiagnosed with Bi-Polar II or Borderline Personality Disorder), and is part of the Bi-Polar family. What really makes it different than Bi-Polar II is that the extremes fluctuating between highs and lows aren’t as turbulant as full as Bi-Polar. At the same time, it really sucks because with Bi-Polar your moods fluctuate every few weeks, or months; while Cyclothymia mood swings can last a few hours to four/five days. It’s like we are constantly fighting to find balance in the midst of a storm. But at least the waves are five to six footers, instead of twenty to forty footers.

And that’s the bitch with Cyclothymia Disorder. One minute you’re fine, the next you’re crying at a slumber party using Goose as an excuse to rationalize your strange behavior.

When I first got my diagnosis I can’t say that I was in denial, or that I was relieved. I guess you could say that I was somewhere in-between. Instead of focusing on my own issues, I went into hypomania mode and started a photography project called Brave Face Forward. Brave Face Forward is a photography project where I take people’s photographs, their diagnosis, and their story on why they want to help advocate for mental health, and post it on social media. This was to give myself a distraction, giving me the opportunity to help others with their diagnosis but masking mine. I’m really good at avoiding my problems. About two weeks into my diagnosis, I finally had the realization that I had a mental illness. I called my girlfriend, crying of course, and telling her how crazy I felt. She said to me some of the most poignant words you could ever hear, “Anaiyah,” she started, “You jumped right into this project, along with all of your other projects without really giving yourself the time to process your diagnosis. You really might consider taking a step back, and start self-caring for yourself”. As I sat at the mall on a bench, crying my eyes out, once she said those magic words to me, I knew that I was going to be okay. I had support around me from my friends, who knew me well enough to tell me what I needed to hear. That was that other people could take care of themselves for now, but Anaiyah needed love and needed to be cared for at that time.

Over the next couple of months, that’s exactly what I did. I stopped my photography project to start focusing in on myself. I started reading self-help books, and started meditating more. I finally started seeing a psychiatrist, and was put on medication. I continued with my weekly therapy appointments, and gave myself permission to take a day off for mental health when I needed it. It wasn’t too much longer before I decided to go back to work. I started part time, just three days a week, and slowly built myself up to be a full time employee. I started running again, this time for my photography project. I started a self-doubt swear jar. Every time I caught myself saying something negative about myself, I had to put a dollar in. Eventually, that will turn into a self-love jar where I can start taking money out. I did little things that made me feel like I was normal, even though I knew that I wasn’t.

One of the bitches about Cyclothymia is that our brains run so fast, and process so quickly that it’s hard for it to slow down. Which means that I’m not even sure that this essay makes any sense. Does it? I hope so. I guess I’m just trying to sort out for you what Cyclothymia is, and how not to use a sad movie as an excuse to why you’re crying. Yeah, that one is pathetic. I hope that my rambling makes sense to the large masses that are tuned in. Medication helps for sure for treatment. The biggest complaint that I have about my medication is that I can’t drink while I’m on it. Okay, that’s sort of a lie, I can drink while I’m on it, but only one glass of wine as opposed to several. Too bad that I can’t binge drink and puke outside the bar anymore. Oh yes, that happened several times throughout my span of a professional binge drinker. Turns out that I was self medicating myself all of those years, to mask my anxiety, and to slow down my thoughts (or speed them up and have me go at 150% as opposed to 100%). Everyone loves a funny drunk, so my friends would love to take me out karaoke, or dancing, or just to have over to their house. As long as there was booze and cigarettes, I was down for a night of a crazy party.

Actually, thinking about that now makes me wonder how insane I must have acted all of those nights in college going to parties, and drinking a pony keg of Honey Brown with four other guys over the course of a weekend. I could drink almost anyone under the table, and sadly I prided myself on it. Which is totally wrong of me considering that my parents were also binge drinkers. We really were an enabling family. If I ever wanted beer or cigarettes, I just had to ask my parents. I did the same for them as I got older and to the legal age to purchase those items.

The point is this: never let someone with a Bi-Polar disorder write an essay that is convoluted. And never ever use a movie to hide your anxiety disorder.

DragonfaeAnaiyah Lovely is the founder of the photography project Brave Face Forward. She is an author, blogger, photographer, life coach, and mental health advocate. When she’s not busy writing, or photographing, you can find her teaching tarot and tea leaf reading classes.

Anaiyah Lovely can be found on her blog, photography site, and Twitter.

Stigma Fighters: Jenny Parks

I thought I’d take a moment to share why I started my blog, The Depressed Yogi. To begin with, I am a person who lives with chronic mental illness, committed to find my authentic self and balance. For as long as I can remember I have lived with depression, suicidal thoughts/urges, self-hate, anxiety and without a sense of self. I was an empty walking shell filled with deep sadness and grief, as if I experienced a loss that I couldn’t remember. I made poor to disastrous personal choices that made my illness much worse. Finally a friend suggested I try therapy and this was the beginning of my path to healing. That was about 20 years ago.

 

depressed yogi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy of Jenny Parks – © 2016 Jenny Parks.

The awareness that I was not my illness came within the last seven years. Looking back I see so clearly how all events have transpired to guide me towards understanding this awareness, and I give myself mad props for not giving up and being open to the opportunities to grow/learn/heal when they presented themselves. My most recent flare-up of the illness brought me to a form of therapy that helped me to a new level of self-awareness. With this therapy, many other helpful sources and an inspiring support system, I’ve begun to realize some important truths. The most important of these is: I am not one aspect of myself or another. I am one whole being, with many oppositional parts.

I am a practitioner of yoga as a physical and mental practice (and also a 2oo-hr certified yoga instructor). Most people’s perception of yoga practitioners is that they are relaxed, balanced people, living a state of constant bliss. Truthfully, I thought that too. I couldn’t understand how I could possibly be depressed or have panic attacks when I had yoga as my guide and support. Why the hell was I not blissed out and “zen”? Around this time I began Dialectic Behavioral Therapy and this was the key to accepting the dichotomy within myself. I began to realize that I can suffer from depression and at the same time practice yoga to help me with it. That I can be upset and still practice yoga in the same moment. I have accepted this duality. Even still, I have cried through yoga, been more depressed after a class, and completely forgotten to connect with my breath throughout the dark moments. This does not mean that I have failed or not a yogi. No, it is in those moments I am living a yogic life.

The Depressed Yogi blog is my way of addressing that duality within all of us. We are all in a constant state of one emotion or another, especially those of us who struggle with mental illness. Padma (the girl) and Bodhi (the bunny) represent the sometimes oppositional forces of emotion and the authentic self. With this blog, my hope is it will help people realize their struggles are ok and shared by many. And the thoughts I share will bring them comfort and strength.

© 2016 Jenny Parks. Please do not use without permission or credit.

bwI’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety almost my entire life. Recently I started The Depressed Yogi: An Illustrated Blog About Living with Depression Through Mindfulness. My goal is to write books for children that help them understand and accept their emotions.

 

Jenny can be found on her blog The Depressed Yogi, Facebook, and Twitter. 

Stigma Fighters: Rebecca Lombardo -The Challenges of Being a Bipolar Author

The Challenges of Being a Bipolar Author

I’ve spent many, many years dealing with bipolar disorder. However, I’ve only spent a year as a bipolar author. All authors face challenges. Struggling to be published, meeting deadlines, promoting. I am now of the opinion that those of us dealing with bipolar disorder have a different battle to fight. On the heels of receiving my very first rude and threatening email about my book, I am facing an even greater challenge. I have to fight to even continue to put myself out there for this type of scrutiny. I’m constantly trying to tell myself that if I were to give up, the bullies would win. I can’t do that.

Take a book signing for example. I had one last year and going into it, I was terrified. I’ve never been good at public speaking to begin with. When you factor in my anxiety issues, I wasn’t sure I would even get through it. Thankfully, my husband was next to me the entire time. I think I pulled it off, but I’m not sure how I would have done had there been more people in attendance.

We all face issues with confidence. I’m not so naïve that I don’t understand that. I feel like authors or writers that are not dealing with mental illness may have a leg up in some areas. In my situation, I am at a stage where I am rarely leaving my house or even my bedroom. I don’t think someone like James Patterson has to contend with such obstacles.

In my book, I documented my enormous issues with body image and self-esteem. I’ve always been negative about my appearance. Over the years dealing with my depression, I’ve gained more weight than I ever would have imagined. Dealing with bipolar disorder, weight gain, and the possibility of appearing in photos or on television is incredibly daunting. I did one television interview early on, and I can’t even look at the video at this point. It sends me into a deep depression for days. Even now that I’m on the right path with my health, and I’m down 27 pounds, I still beat myself up for appearing in front of the camera the way I look.

For those of us that happen to feel things much deeper than most people, negative reviews are like a sharp knife to your heart. It’s been an arduous task trying to convince myself that just because not everyone likes it, doesn’t mean I’m a failure…or as one person called me, a selfish narcissist. I never in my wildest dreams thought that putting my story out there in an effort to raise awareness about suicide would be met with such comments. I’m simply trying to help people!

Granted, I’m no Mother Teresa, but I didn’t join this fight to make myself look good. Quite the contrary. I wanted to use this platform to tell a cautionary tale, so to speak. To let others know that I made many mistakes along the way, but I am certainly much stronger for learning from those mistakes. Most of all, people need to understand that having a bad day doesn’t mean you have a bad life.

So, I’ll take comfort in the fact that there are those that support me. The mental health community is amazing. I love feeling a sense of camaraderie. As if we’re all here, fighting the same battle and hopefully making a difference. I’ve met some of the most amazing people in the last year. As much as I struggle with social anxiety and agoraphobia, it’s such a comfort to know that despite those issues, I may still be able to affect change in the world around me.

Of course, there are days when it’s extremely difficult to keep focused on the positive. It’s hard to keep focus at all. That is one of the main reasons I’ve been rather terrified to sign on to any particular website to write a monthly column. When I’m depressed, all concentration goes out the window. It feels as if there’s a movie playing inside my brain on fast forward and I have no idea where the remote is. When writer’s block sets in, I can’t slow my brain down to come up with a sentence, let alone an entire article. I’m constantly afraid of letting people down or even letting myself down. The idea of being a failure still rests comfortably on my shoulder. Ever present and always reminding me of the mistakes I’ve made. I often make an effort to reach out and help others with whatever they’re working on. At times, it helps to put my situation into perspective. The next thing I know, I’m writing again.

I never know when an idea will hit me. Last night, it was around 1:30 in the morning. It’s both a curse and a blessing. While I’m grateful for the opportunity to put pen to paper, I’m sometimes a slave to my expanded consciousness.

I realize that I have traditionally been way too hard on myself. I need to give myself credit once in a while. If I see someone on TV that is an extremely talented artist, musician, or even a writer, that little voice inside my head is very vocal. I’m forever thinking, “I wish I was that good at anything!” I’ve beat myself up for so many years, I’m not sure I would know how to be kind.
I lack confidence on so many levels. Poor self-esteem is a symptom of depression, but when will I learn to cut myself some slack? I wrote a book and I got it published, and it’s helping people! I have an extremely successful blog and I feel as if I’ve earned the respect of many others in the mental health community, at least on social media! So, when do I stop and give myself a little pat on the back? I carry burdens that many people wouldn’t be able to shoulder for very long. I fight a battle inside my head (and my heart) from the minute I get up in the morning.

Perhaps now is the time to remember that despite the challenges of being an author and having bipolar disorder, it can be managed. I just have to be willing to use a little common sense. I’ve gotten this far. I think I’ve probably thrown in the towel once a week for nearly a year, and I’m still going. I didn’t die when it was all I could think about 3 years ago. I’m a fighter. I may not always be able to keep that in mind for myself, but I hope I can impart that wisdom onto others that are lacking in the confidence department. Sometimes it’s OK to just exist. If you’re facing a challenge due to your mental illness, let it be your moment to shine! No matter how scary it is, you have to face it head on. If you can’t be realistic about your situation on Tuesday, give yourself some time. Maybe on Friday you can knock it out of the park.

I’m 43 years old and I’ve been happily married for nearly 15 years. I live inmeagain Michigan with my husband and our 5 cats. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 19. I’ve struggled with many forms of mental illness for more than 23 years. In 2013, I attempted suicide but I survived. I’m on a quest to help raise awareness about mental illness. I love to read, write, listen to music, and watch movies/sports.

 

 

Rebecca can be found on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Stigma Fighters: Matt Joseph Diaz

Being Good At Living With Mental Illness Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Have It

“How do you just talk to people so easily?” she asked me. “I’d be so anxious.”
“That’s my secret,” I replied, pulling out my best Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers voice. “I’m always anxious.”

I’m often told, especially by people in mental health professions, that I “handle” my mental illness very well. Though I know their hearts are in the right place, it never stops feeling like a backhanded compliment. It feels like being told that I pass for normal very well— or that I’m crazy, but I’m GREAT at it.

The idea of “being good at handling metal illness” leads to a lot of invalidation among those who live with it. Nearly every time I come across someone neuro-typical (not living with mental illness) and they find out that I’m a manic-depressive or that I deal with severe anxiety, I always hear the same thing:

“You have anxiety? No way, you’re such a people person! You get along well with everybody!”

Well, yeah. In my experience, having a full-blown panic attack in the middle of a crowded bar or hitting a major depressive episode during a house party is grounds for being stared at like some sort of freak and socially exiled.

Or, at the very least it’s frowned upon.

I began to “handle” my mental illness well once I realized it wasn’t something to be handled.

For the first few months after my diagnosis with Bipolar II, I found that I was distancing myself from a lot of people. I was terrified that my mental illness would have a negative effect on my personal relationships, so I took a step back from those around me. I stayed away from any sort of dating because I was convinced what I was going through was too much to put onto someone else, and that I was best going it alone until I got a hold of what was “wrong with me.”

I always did have a flair for the dramatic.

One day, a close friend sat me down for a talk about where I’d been. When I finally opened up to him about being afraid of losing everyone because of what was wrong with me, he was quiet for a long time before he finally spoke.

“The ironic thing,” he said to me, “is that it’s not your bipolar disorder that’s fucking you up. It’s being afraid of it.”

He always had a gift for throwing me through a loop in the span of a sentence.

He was right. Living with Bipolar Disorder really wasn’t doing anything that negatively impacted my life, but the anxiety surrounding being “mentally ill” was. The fear that I was unstable, as though I hadn’t been living with this illness for much longer before I was diagnosed, made me afraid to let people in.

Since my diagnosis, I looked at my Bipolar Disorder as something that “happened to me.” I treated my mental illness as something adversarial. I saw it as an event that took place in my life and made it more difficult, not as an experience meant to help me further understand my own mind.

Bipolar Disorder isn’t something that happened to me, it’s an extension of me. It’s a part of me.

Instead of continuing to push everything away in the pursuit of seeming “normal,” I elected to learn about my mental illness. I spent a long time figuring out my triggers, discovering how to recognize when I was experiencing a depressive episode, and learning what self-care looked like for me. I started to treat myself gently and with more patience, even during the really bad episode, and as a result I was able to learn to live with my mental illness and stop living in spite of it.

The more I learned about my own social anxiety, the better I got at interacting with people. For me, interacting with people was a lot like getting into a pool— it’s strangely intimidating and hard to do, so you’ve just gotta jump in. When I see a group of people at a party or an audience I’ve got to speak to, it’s terrifying. So, I learned to not give myself the time to be scared and just talk the plunge head-first.

The extent to which my mental illness is visible to you doesn’t reflect what an overwhelming effect it has on my life. Every person you meet who deals with mental illness understates how exhausting their condition is in order to try and keep up appearances. When you only use what you see to make judgments on the severity of someone’s mental illness, all you’re doing is being dehumanizing and invalidating to the people who are living with them.

One of the hardest aspects of living with mental illness is fighting the societal notion that you’re broken. Mental illness as portrayed in the media make us seem unhinged, like there’s something wrong with us. In reality, we’re not “broken” in the slightest, just wired differently than other people. The first step to living a full and happy life with mental illness is realizing that you don’t have to seem “normal” in order to have value.

You can be strange, you can be different, and regardless of what anyone might say, you’re valid and important as you are.

Screen-Shot-2016-03-09-at-5.16.14-PMMatt Joseph Diaz is a public speaker, writer and social media activist tackling the issues of body image and self love. Matt has been working in social media since the age of 15, and has a long history of creating online content for entertainment and educational purposes. Matts videos have accrued over 120 million views in countries all over the world as well as being featured in People, Cosmopolitan, Buzzfeed, Upworthy and numerous other news websites. He now spend a lot of his time traveling and speaking on self love at conferences, colleges and public events. Matt Joseph Diaz currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Matt can be found on his blog, Facebook, and Twitter

Alix Writes

Defeated

Dear friend,
I know I shouldn’t have come home, I am always at height of depression when at home. I don’t like that my dad remarried even when I was the one to give him the go ahead. I just never thought that he will go ahead and marry. I don’t go along with the second wife…. All she does and did for four years now is to point out my flaws to me and tell me how crappy a person I am by pointing the flaws out to my dad….

You know… what is the sad thing? People forget I exist until I remind them that yeah I am still alive… Nobody cares to find out if I am doing okay, no one will message me unless I message them myself. Nobody cares enough to know about my day. Pathetic, right? And the most pathetic thing is me whining about it. *sigh*

I feel defeated… defeated is the right word for it… Defeated, like you know you have lost and nothing you will do will make it right. In my case I know I will never be happy… I will never find the comfort of significant other or even a true friend.

I have a lot of work to do but I can’t find it in my heart to do it.
Its been around 10 days since I cut and I know for a fact that I am going to do it again as soon as I go back to University. Just have to wait for 7 days. It is something that I have to do, I can’t explain it and you might not understand why I am doing this and it’s okay, I don’t expect you to understand. One can’t understand until they have done it themselves.

I don’t have anything more to share with you today, I fell sadly numb and will probably cry myself to sleep. I just want it all to be over, this life to be over now. Or to find a way to make it all stop, to turn these feelings off.
I don’t even feel like reading “its kind of a funny story” anymore, now that I know the author committed suicide. Its not inspiring anymore.
Yes, defeated is the right word.

Love always,
Alix

 

Alix can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

 

Stigma Fighters: Rose Lockinger

My Struggle With Bulimia And Addiction

For many people, addiction isn’t their only struggle. It’s estimated that nearly half of all persons afflicted with addiction also suffer from a co-occurring disorder. This may be depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD or an eating disorder.

Body dysmorphia and eating disorders can begin at any time, and for me it started at about 13. My self-esteem and self-image was distorted, and I suffered from intense anxiety, fear and depression. I started trying to control my food intake in order to fix myself, both inside and outside. Limiting my food intake to lose weight didn’t work, however. I couldn’t control my impulse to eat, which only made me feel worse

At some point, I decided to try purging. Once I realized I could eat without worrying, my eating disorder really took control of me. I went from throwing up multiple times a day in my first year. Just like an addiction to substances, my eating disorder progressed. I lived with this for many years.

Having an eating disorder truly rules your existence. It prohibited me from having an active social life, it interfered with my schooling and my relationship with my family. I couldn’t live normally.

Things came to a head when I accidentally swallowed a toothbrush while trying to vomit. I had to go to the hospital to have it removed. The very next day, I was throwing up again. This was a real moment of clarity for me. I knew I needed help. I couldn’t stop.

I spent some time in the hospital. Despite the severity of my illness, I couldn’t get insurance coverage for more than 5 weeks of treatment. Even then I knew that I wasn’t well enough to leave the hospital, but there was nothing I could do about it.

I left treatment and had nearly a year free from my eating disorder, however my problems weren’t over. I began drinking and using with my friends. It quickly escalated, just as my eating disorder had. Now I was using and experiencing consequences as a result of that. Once again, I sought help for my eating disorder, which had returned. I wasn’t admitting to myself that I had a substance abuse problem, though.

After another short stint in treatment, I was back on my own again. This time, I ended up with consequences that finally led me to admit I had a problem with alcohol. I began attending a 12 step program. This helped me stop using drugs and alcohol but I was still in bondage. I still actively engaged in my eating disorder.. With this problem still unaddressed, it was only a matter of time before I began using again. It always seemed to me that I would never be free no matter what I would be a slave to addiction in one form or another.

When you aren’t able to get help for your co-occurring disorders together, one is always going to come back, with the other is soon to follow. This is one reason why it is so difficult for those fighting two disorders to successfully recover. A few weeks of treatment aimed at only one of the problems simply doesn’t work. Realistically speaking even addressing both disorders in an inpatient short term treatment facility leaves the person with little or no chance at success.

I met someone, fell in love and became a parent. Things went well for a while, but the problems were still there. I went to a doctor for my ADHD as I was going back to school and needed something to help me focus. I left with a prescription for Adderall. This changed things, because now I was using legal, prescription drugs. I realized that there were medications that could help me with the problems I was having. My inability to focus, my anxiety, my chronic pain. There’s a pill for everything, and I wasn’t doing anything wrong, right?

Finally, I hit a bottom. There was no way I could keep going the way I was going. I wanted to die, and had I not finally gotten the help I needed, I would have.
What Finally Changed
Once again, I completed a short, thirty day program to help address, eating disorder my addiction and PTSD. However, I knew from past experience that 30 days wasn’t going to cut it. I needed more help. I begged them to send me somewhere so I could continue to recover. I’m so glad I was able to advocate for myself — it isn’t easy — and ensure that I continued to get the treatment I needed. They found a facility in Florida that would take me and by the grace of God I was able to stay for 5 months.

This SAVED my life!!! Finally I was able to make headway and get the help I had needed for so many years. Today I am still active in individual therapy and slowly but surely I am continuing my work on personal growth. I have made huge strides in my life in the last 19 months I went from being broken and empty to living a full and happy life. Now I am not saying that life is perfect it isn’t my recovery has been full of challenges and successes. The beauty has been in fully experiencing each and every moment, as they saying goes “there is a time and a season for everything”

It was important that I address both my addiction and my eating disorder. It was also important that I address other issues that were impacting my life, such as anxiety and PTSD. Too often, treatment simply isn’t long enough or comprehensive enough to fully delve into the underlying issues that drive the addiction.

Healing from an eating disorder is a process. I have to be vigilant. Recovering from addiction is also a lifelong process. I feel incredibly grateful that I was able to get help and to make the changes necessary to life a full, healthy life. So many people don’t get that opportunity. I am able to be a mother to my child, and I am able to achieve other goals I set for myself.  I am so grateful to be alive.

IMG_1430-1Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.

Rose can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter

Stigma Fighters: Dann Alexander

Cuts to Mental Health Services – Risky Business

With more mental health awareness comes more education. In an ideal world this should translate into more accessibility to more services. Canada prides itself on being a country with supposed universal access to healthcare. We are lucky here to have it. No argument there. Canadians do pay for those and other services through remittance of some of the highest taxes among all of the G7 nations. Again, there is no intended argument here. We want our tax dollars going to essential services like health.

There is a storm cloud hovering over many places such as my hometown of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. The mental health unit closed at the local hospital last summer. It was a relatively small eight bed unit that served the county reasonably well. Staffing shortages were blamed. Nearly one year later and the mental health unit is still closed. Stories have made their way through of patients being assessed through the hospital’s emergency room department with very mixed results.

Loved ones who have had people admitted for treatment have seen their family members be shipped off to hospitals that are up to a five hour drive away. This kind of burden seems like risky business. Maybe they are getting treatment that they need, but what about having family support right there in person when they need it? Sure, technology can and has brought people closer together. Surely family members would rather visit their loved ones in person instead of having a bedside session of Skype.

There are other areas of Canada where cuts to mental health services have affected hospitals and the populations they are to serve. Small town and big city health care facilities feel the pressure. It’s happening in America and Britain as well. Chicago Illinois is still reeling from the 2012 closure of half of the clinics it once boasted. To think of the lives put at risk by these closures. You have to wonder where do people turn for help?

Indeed. Where do people turn for help when service cuts are put in place? Health is risky business. No system is perfect. Most would agree that a system does need to have resources in place to help those who need it.

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Dann Alexander is a Freelance Writer based in Nova Scotia Canada. He is the Author of “Planned UnParenthood – Creating a Life Without Procreating” Available almost anywhere online where books are sold.

 

 

 

Dann can be found on his website, and Twitter