Stigma Fighters: Maggie White

“I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” –Popeye

It’s not politically correct, but I have two terms I use when talking about mental illness: depressives and norms. Yes, I’m sure some find this offensive, but I assure you, that’s not my intent. It developed from trying to help my husband understand why I am who I am. I find it best to keep it simple and streamlined.
Depressives are any one with any type of mental illness or mood disorder. Norms are, well….my husband. He’s gifted with a wealth of rationality, pragmatism, practicality and mental/emotional stability. Norms can have a really, really hard time understanding depressives.

Does that mean they’re better than us? No.
Does that mean they are healthier than us? No.
Does that mean they are happier than us? Definitely not.
But try to explain to a Norm why you feel like being applauded for actually dragging yourself out of bed this morning, and you’ll find that they have no idea, no conceptual framework to even begin to understand what you’re talking about or feeling. I find using simple, small words helps.

My name is Maggie and I have Major Clinical Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, as well as vast personal experience with Seasonal Affective Disorder, Anorexia and Suicidal Ideation. I also love anything Victorian Gothic and macabre. Hmm…maybe the two go hand-in-hand?

On the outside, I’m about as normal as it goes. Here’s how I can blend in with the Norms: Master’s degree, married for 10 years, five children, practicing Catholic, part-time vegetarian/vegan and I love Dr. Oz. That usually gives me enough to talk about with a group of Norms, if I absolutely have to force myself into a dreaded small-talk situation.

On the inside, I’m fighting for my life every single day. Some days are harder than others. I have been in therapy with a psychiatrist for over six years, am currently on Pristiq and Klonopin, try every single promising vitamin combo to give me energy and calm my thoughts (already there’s a contradiction here) constantly pray silently for the death thoughts to stop, force myself to exercise to help boost my mood though I hate every single minute of it, and if I’m not sleeping, I’m wishing I was sleeping….or wishing I would hurry up and get diagnosed with some form of terminal illness already. I’ve pretty much felt this way for as long as I can remember. Small children can seem quite simple and innocent, but some of us have been drowning in self-loathing since the tender age of 3 or 4.

For a long time, I lived in paralyzing fear that the Norms would somehow read my mind and see how crazy I really was. Then, something happened that changed my world forever.

On January 30, 2013, my little brother, having just turned 30, committed suicide. He was a champion to the Norms, beloved by all who met him; tall, dark and handsome, charming, funny, gregarious, intelligent. He was three months away from earning his Ph.D. from Oxford University. But inside, there was a monster slowly ripping him apart. That monster had many names: Severe Depression, Bipolar 1, Anxiety, to name a few. But in the end, his monster was Legion.

Tommy and I were very close. He used to call me his “psychic twin.” We always knew what the other was feeling, could finish each other’s sentences and even oceans apart, would be able to just know when to pick up the phone because the other was hurting. Tommy and I were completely comfortable being our true selves with each other, but it wasn’t enough to save his life.

Now, my own 8-year-old son, who is the spitting image of his uncle, has begun therapy for depression and anxiety, joining the ranks of his mom and uncle and millions of other Depressives. Tommy and Colin are two of the biggest reasons I’m still here. I speak openly now about this mysterious yet grossly misunderstood community of Depressives. I fight to win the battle that took my brother’s life. I fight on for my son so he won’t have to suffer in silence for over 20 years like I did.

“Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” –J.K. Rowling

I’ve learned to not be afraid of names or labels. “Suicidal.” “Depression.” “Schizophrenic.” “Anorexic.” “Bulimic.” “Cutter.” The Norms may cringe when they hear or read these words. Even Depressives may feel squirmy. But these words describe the burdens Depressives live under every day, every minute. It’s not who they are, but what they battle. How can we begin to fight if we can’t name our enemies? How can Norms begin to support us if they can’t understand the war and our battle plan?

I learned best from other Depressives how to embrace who I am and everything about me when I joined Therese Borchard’s online support community “Project Beyond Blue.” I became a member of a Tribe with fellow warriors to guide me, support me, understand me, fight for me and with me. Together, we’re not only helping ourselves, but helping the Norms out there to understand and fight beside us. Erasing the stigma against mental illness will be one of the biggest obstacles we can overcome in not only uniting Depressives and Norms, but in winning the battle against mental illness and saving lives.

I lost my brother but I still fight on, for him, for my son, for you. I am what I am and that’s all that I am, and I am stronger for it.

IMG_0595

 

Maggie White lives near Chicago, Illinois with her husband and five children. She currently published her first children’s book, “A Christmas Guest” through Mascot Books, and is a contributing writer for MentalParent.com and StigmaErasers.com. You can contact her via e-mail at maggiewhiteachristmasguest@gmail.com or via Twitter at MaggieWhite2015. For more information on Project Beyond Blue, visit www.community.projectbeyondblue.com orhttp://thereseborchardblog.com/2015/01/13/support-the-beyond-blue-foundation-together-there-is-hope/

Stigma Fighters: Doyin Richards

On the surface, 2014 was an amazing year. Here are some of the highlights:

  • I realized my dream of becoming a published author
  • I secured a second book deal with one of the most-respected publishers in the world (MacMillan)
  • I became a contributing writer for HuffPost Parents, AskMen, Parents Magazine, TODAY Parents, HLN, and The Good Men Project
  • I was interviewed 133 times on TV, radio, and print from outlets all over the world (including NPR, USA Today, CNN, Today Show, Katie Couric, Sunrise Australia, etc.)
  • I was able to quit my full-time corporate job
  • large companies offered to sponsor me
  • The Huffington Post recognized me in its year-end article as one of 15 people who are positively changing stereotypes in America
  • Out of the thousands of articles written on The Good Men Project’s website in 2014, an article I wrote was the most widely read of them all.

It looked like I had it all.

I didn’t.

I felt sad, empty, and completely unworthy. I just ignored those feelings and kept pushing forward. I smiled, I laughed, and I talked about how awesome my life was on social media because I believed it would make everything better.

It didn’t.

As I sat alone with my thoughts the other night, I promised myself that I’d experience *true* happiness in 2015. Not “I published a book” happiness, not “somebody wants to interview me” happiness, and not even “my kids give me so much joy” happiness (and they absolutely do). I’m talking about the simply rolling out of bed, smiling, and thinking, “I’m happy” kind of happiness. It’s something that many of you take for granted, but it’s been years since I’ve felt that way consistently.

Here’s the thing: All of us are fucked up. You, me, your spouse, your boss, your parents, your seemingly perfect neighbor with her seemingly perfect kids – ALL of us are fucked up. That’s one universal truth that everyone has in common. However, how we allow said “fuckedupedness” to affect our lives is what separates people from living constructive lives from destructive ones.

I own the fact that I’m fucked up. Do you? If not, the only person you’re fooling is yourself. Vulnerability is the new toughness.

I have to make some changes in my life in order to live my happiest life possible. Some of those changes are small and will only be noticeable to me. Other changes are huge and scare the ever-living shit out of me whenever I think about them.

I set big goals for myself in 2014 and for the most part, I crushed all of them. But what does any of it mean if you’re not truly happy? You can expect a very different Doyin this year. Why? Because I promised myself that I will experience true happiness in 2015 and beyond.

And I will.

- Doyin Richards: Author, activist, public speaker and founder of Daddy Doin’ Work.

Doyin_PurpleShirt_XLNew

Doyin Richards is an author, activist, public speaker, husband, and daddy dedicated to creating a world of good, involved fathers. His new book titled, Daddy Doin’ Work: Empowering Mothers To Evolve Fatherhood was recently released and you can follow his adventures in daddyhood on his Daddy Doin’ Work blogFacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Stigma Fighters: Dennis Sharpe

I’ll Never Tell

*Trigger Warning* this post contains mature situations that may trigger some people/survivors of assault or abuse.

Shhh

I don’t make a regular habit of addressing issues, but lately the news and social media keep hammering me with things that hit me hard emotionally, and I really have something to say. I’ve never written about these things, so this is all a bit raw.

When I was a kid, set your way back machine for 1989, I was a little bit more than a handful. My Dad left my life when I was five, and my mom worked full time and went to school, and me? Well, I went a little wild – left to my own devices. I was an avid maker of mix-tapes and reader of comic books. I was a 7th grader with a bus pass, and we lived in Tucson at the time, and the city was my playground. It was an over-all miserable time in my life, but I can look back on the bright spots of it fondly. Candy and Baseball cards from the Circle-K and used comics from Bookman’s – where I spent way too many afternoons reading books and magazines that I’d never pay for – it was before the days of the internet, and I read whatever I could, wherever I could.

The meat of this little tale though, has to do with my education. I lived in a low rent apartment complex and attended a school that both served to teach me more than the lessons that generally come wrapped in school books. I had lived in Southern Illinois, and Western Kentucky, before moving to Arizona, and I had dealt with a different sort of public school education before relocating to the South West. I was thoroughly unprepared, sheltered a bit maybe, for the Spanish language barrier. I was also completely unprepared for being hated for the color of my skin.

I was chased from the bus stop at my school, and in my neighborhood, more than a few times by angry children my age or older in groups, sometimes being pelted with rocks, other times being hit with worse things.

10th Birthday

White was not a thing to be. Evidently neither was Asian-American or African-American. I had some Latino friends, but by and large, I found that most of the native Spanish speaking children had their own groups, cliques, and clubs, and the other races – the minorities – were seen as un-people.

I had never had a very racially diverse group of friends before in my life and suddenly my social circle was a melting pot. From African-America and Asian-American to Indian and Native American, we all shared a similar disdain from a majority populace that spoke a language we didn’t and that a majority of wanted to marginalize us at best or, in the worst cases, wanted to harm us for who we were.

I was hated in those situations, for nothing more than being present and being white.

That didn’t last, for me. It was an isolated incident in my life. It was a time and place that is filed away in my mind, that I can look back on and remember, but it isn’t my day to day experience anymore. Why? Because I learned different behaviors, to avoid those situations? Yes. Because I eventually moved away from there? Yes. Because kids grow up? Yes, that too.

But, I feel that living it was a positive experience for me. I had a time in my life when being white wasn’t a positive thing. Other people with other skin colors don’t get to have a limited exposure to this kind of treatment, and then get to “get away from it”. It’s their lives. It’s real. It’s every day. And it’s total bullsh*t.

I’ve seen far too many people talking about “white privilege” as a creation of minority groups. They talk about it like it’s some kind of fiction that people of other skin colors made up to somehow victimize white people. Guess what? That’s bullsh*t, too.

Fast forward a year, and there was another lesson for me. Something I never wanted to learn, but something life was going to teach me. I was a more rebellious and more difficult to deal with child. I was depressed in school, acting out at home, loud and obnoxious to those who cared about me, and lost in a world of books to hide from all others my age that I was too afraid to talk to. I was coming apart at the seams.

My mother, God love her, headed the advice of a pastor and had me sent to a Baptist boarding school. All of the students were going home for Christmas break. The only two left in the dorms were 8th grade me, and a popular, awesome, senior football player who told me of the wonders of the video game system in his room. He told me I should join him and play some games. We were going to be friends. My social stock was going to be on the rise, after break, and I got to play video games, too. Life was really looking up.

Once in his room he suggested, as I was playing, that we sit, and then lay on his bed. Then he said I should take off my shirt and he’d give me a back rub. I thought that was odd, but he was a big popular athlete guy, and I was a pudgy little 8th grader who was always alone with my books. Who was I to argue? Right?

Me 7th Grade

Some crying and screaming and attempts to kick him off later, all the while with him telling me “Just let it happen. You’ll enjoy it.” He finally got sick of my fighting and just punched me again and again until I was spent and simply laid still and took what he wanted to do to me. I was numb. It hurt, and I was crying, but my mind just turned off. I stared at the word Nintendo until that was all I knew in the world – all I could wrap my mind around.

I was black and blue and bloody when it was over and he shoved me out of the room, telling me I needed to get a shower, and that if I told anyone my “ass was grass”. He had nothing to worry about. I wasn’t going to tell anyone. I was too embarrassed, and hated myself too much for letting that happen – for not being strong enough or smart enough to stop it or prevent it. I wasn’t telling anyone. What he gave me in that room that day was a lifetime of anger, and self—loathing, and misery. I did eventually ‘let it happen’. I didn’t ever ‘enjoy it’.

(I’ve never written about this before and it never even occurred to me, until writing this down, that after this I completely stopped playing video games, and to this day still don’t have an interest in playing them.)

Where I live now, where I’m at in my life, as a thirty—something adult and father of three, is a completely different reality. I’m not afraid. I’m not a victim. I don’t have to deal with suspicion of my actions, or my motives, or my very presence, based solely on the fact that my skin in pale. I am a man, so I don’t have deal with the fear that women have to deal with every day, of becoming a victim of male-on-female violence simply for being born a gender that society has allowed (for far too long) to be mistreated. I am heterosexual, so I don’t have to worry about being the victim of a hate crime simply for expressing myself or my love for another person. These are privileges I enjoy, even if I didn’t ask for them, simply by being a straight white man. The thing is, these aren’t privileges. They are basic human rights – to live, and to love, and to exist without fear. That’s common sense, or at least I believe it should be. The hour has grown far too late, for us not to understand this, and not to eradicate the prejudices that promote racism, sexism, homophobia, and a scads of social injustices that people try to shelter, hide, obscure, and yet still promote through their daily life.

I’m not a fan of labels, personally. I never have been. I don’t see any other way to deal with this kind of bigotry though, other than to call it what it is, and by not being afraid to call it out when we see it – to not accept it. Call it what you will – racism, rape culture, gender inequality, homophobia, hate, lack of human compassion. It has to be called out, it has to shamed, and it has to be clearly and plainly shown that it is not acceptable. Not here. Not now. Not ever.

that guy

Born and raised in the middle of the American Midwest, Dennis Sharpe has been a writer as long as he can remember. His mother has told many people about the fantasy and science fiction stories he’d write on scraps of paper, and staple together as his ‘books’, before he’d attended his first day of formal education.

He has spent many late nights at diners and dives, drinking coffee with a tattered notebook to put a voice to his feelings of himself and the world around him, and other worlds that can exist only in fiction. The voices in his head don’t ever stop talking to him, and so sooner or later he has to get out onto a page all that they’ve filled him up with.

Inspired by Neil Gaiman, Kurt Vonnegut, Frank Miller, Chrissie Pappas, Charles Bukowski, Stephen King, Issac Asimov, and countless classic literary influences, Dennis continues with the ability to write what at a glance might seem absurd, but quickly begins to resonate with our own thoughts and emotions. He writes people we know, love we’ve known and lost (and found again), and places we’ve been in our lives and in our heads. Even his fictional characters and worlds carry enough of the grey areas we experience in day-to-day life, to let us find the truth in his words, no matter how fantastic.

These days he can be found still writing, drinking coffee with friends, or spending time with his children (the true joys of his life), in Western Kentucky.

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Witlesslackey

Books: http://www.amazon.com/Dennis-Sharpe/e/B003TC0TYI/

Stigma Fighters: Mary Rowen

A quick glance at my Facebook page will tell you I’m a writer and a suburban mom. You’ll see that I love music, books, movies, and certain TV shows. And my friend list is fairly typical; it includes family members, people I’ve known since kindergarten, people from high school and college, and a bunch of current friends and work associates. Nothing jumps out as odd or suspicious.

But when I look carefully at my Facebook page, I see a large gap. I see eight years and thirty-six people who are not represented. Some of the missing are former coworkers; some are old roommates and neighbors; a couple are guys I dated; others are just people I called friends. All have one thing in common: I never expected to completely lose contact with them. And yet, I did. To put it another way, Every single person who entered my life between the spring of 1986 and spring of 1994 are no longer part of it.

What happened? Quite simply, during those eight years, bulimia ruled my life. I was actually bulimic for fifteen years, but once I got out of college, things spun out of control. I lived in several different apartments and worked at several different jobs, and was often in the company of people I liked a lot. But although I believed I was projecting a fun, social attitude, the folks around me clearly knew something was very wrong.

One of the worst things about bulimia is its intrinsic element of secrecy. Vomiting on purpose is a social taboo, so almost all bulimics strive to keep their disease hidden. In my case, I also had an irrational fear of professional help. For some reason, I believed that seeking help would result in immediate institutionalization, so I was extra careful about secrecy. I also thought I was strong enough to defeat my “throwing up problem” on my own. But it was no small problem. On occasion, I could go twenty-four hours without vomiting, but most days I’d do it multiple times. Some nights, I’d go to bed so weak and shaky that I’d wonder if I’d survive the night. And because food didn’t simply appear in my kitchen, I spent tons of time shopping for—and hiding—it.

Hence, I missed out on a lot. I became a pro at dropping into parties but not staying long. Or I’d meet friends for a drink, but make an excuse about why I couldn’t stick around for for dinner. I had a boyfriend for a number of years, but we only saw each other on weekends, and I learned how to hide my illness from him too. In a nutshell, my relationships seemed normal on the surface, but the bonds beneath them were weak. Thinking back on those days, it’s almost as though I spent eight years walking this planet as an alien, a humanoid creature like David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that I kept those “normal” contact lenses in my eyes, but couldn’t fully disguise what was underneath them.

Thankfully, things got better. I met my future husband, and after confiding in him, I finally got the help I needed. Almost immediately, everything got brighter, and when we married and moved to another town, I was given the opportunity to reboot my life. We had kids and made new friends, and I felt no need to discuss my eating disorder with anyone. After all, it was in my past. I was living in the moment, thinking about the future.

Then I started writing again. I’d done a good deal of writing in high school and college, but when I was sick, I didn’t feel very creative. Good health changed that. As soon as I started putting words on paper though, I got a surprise. I set out to write a novel about a woman obsessed with music, but as her character developed in my mind, I discovered that she was also bulimic.

That frightened me at first, but my writing group encouraged me to continue with the novel, and I’m glad I did. (It’s called Leaving the Beach, and it’s published by Booktrope.) When it was released, I decided it was time to talk publicly about my own bulimic past too. After all, I’d been healthy for almost ten years at that point. So I “came out” as a former bulimic, but always made sure to emphasize the fact that I’m fine now. Perfectly fine.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if I’ve painted too rosy a picture. Have I given the impression that recovery is easy, or that once you’ve gone to therapy, life springs right back to normal? Because I can assure you, it’s not like that at all. Sure, I’m better now, but what about those eight years? What about those thirty-six friends who once meant so much to me? I feel certain that I’ll never go searching for them on Facebook, and you know what? None of them have sent me friend requests either.

So if you’re suffering from an eating disorder, please don’t wait any longer to get help. Trust me: you need it. You may think you’re keeping your sickness secret from the world, but if you’re anything like me, you’re distancing yourself from people you love every day. I may be a healthy, happy woman now, but there’s a gap inside me, an eight-year-long hiss on the tape of my life.

And to you, my friends that I lost, please know that I think of you often and hope you’re well. Typing your names here is painful, but also cathartic.

Robin, Mike, Maura, Katie, Joel, Meg, James, Scott, Ben, Eric, Tracy, Kristin, Deb, Diana, Hirfa, Yasmine, Dan, Mitch, Rachel, Terry, Tom, Sue, April, Mary Kay, Michelle, Kim, Amy, Kathy, Laura, Buddy, Cliff, Dottie, Bill, Doug, Marco, Brenda.

alternative_headshot

Mary Rowen loves music and is a Boston area mom to teenagers. All of her novels focus on women of various ages growing up, or at least becoming comfortable with themselves. Her essays have been anthologized and/or published on multiple blogs. Mary grew up in the Massachusetts Merrimack Valley, is a graduate of Providence College, and has worked as a teacher, writer, salesperson, and political canvasser. She firmly believes that all of those jobs provide good preparation for an aspiring writer.

www.maryrowen.com

Learn more about Living by EarLeaving the Beach,

and Double Album on my Amazon author page.

Stigma Fighters: The Note

IMG_6551

Stigma Fighters: Cecilia Åkerström Sjöberg

I don’t know where my story will end as I start writing, and I’m worried it’ll be too long, but the first time I can remember threatening suicide, I was ten or eleven years old. I don’t remember why, but I was on the second floor landing of our house, screaming to my mum that ‘perhaps I should just run myself through with a knife’ since apparently no one loved me, while she was laying on the downstairs sofa, crying.

I grew into a morose teen-ager, depressed, a bit of an outcast who didn’t fit in anywhere. I was never able to establish the kind of connection with my peers I thought people my age should have. In recent years I’ve discovered, and also been told by others, that it wasn’t so much others shutting me out as it was me distancing myself from them. And my mood was mostly dark, but aren’t all teen-agers hormone controlled depressives? I sat in my room, lights off, only a lit candle in front of me on the desk, listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘I am a Rock’, wishing I were dead and wondering why no one loved me. The way teenagers do.

I got through those years, and I thought I was on track! I thought myself normal. I hated conflicts – but who doesn’t? Conflicts lead to break-ups and never talking to the other person again, so who would want conflicts? I never got angry – it’s a waste of energy and not conducive to anything good. I got sad… or angry at myself. I felt misunderstood…and I always wondered why it seemed as if I never felt as deeply as others seemed to… but life went on, I fell in love, got married and for a while the depressive moods faded away. I thought it was in the past; A teenage quirk. Then a decision: I wasn’t happy in my marriage. Separation, divorce and – in the middle of celebrating my newfound self – the terrible blow that I couldn’t stay in the country my marriage had brought me to, a country I’d adopted as a home. A little over a year later, back in my native Sweden I found myself. For two weeks,  I averaged two hours of sleep per night, at my desk crying and not knowing how to stop.

Initially the diagnosis was depression related to being over-worked and I was put on anti-depressants. I never questioned the diagnosis, or being put on medication, but simply assumed the meds would sort me out. That I’d get better and things would get ‘normal’. Almost fifteen years later, I feel I want to give that poor naïve version of myself a big hug… it gets better, it does, but I no longer know what normal is, and I doubt I’ll ever live in ‘normal-land’ again. You see, ten years after that initial diagnosis, ten years of being on a medication that in retrospect didn’t work, and after several failed attempts at carrying on a normal life, being failed by the health system, not being heard and all the while fighting the tiny voice in the back of my mind who whispers that it would be so much easier if I wasn’t here, I was finally diagnosed bipolar II.

I’m still here, but I feel I have to question whether I’m really happy or in the beginning of a hypomanic episode. At times writing ten poems per day, taking 400 photos in a week or deciding to finally tear down that horrid wallpaper after hating it for almost ten years could be because I’m creative and have just found some energy reserves, couldn’t it? I constantly find myself questioning my every mood and my every thought. Nothing is just normal anymore. Nothing just ‘is’. I always feel the need to be on guard against myself, just in case. Always question the good days. Especially the good days. But, again, I’m still here.

To spice things up, a diagnosis of Personality Disorder (not otherwise specified) has recently been added to the mix… not otherwise specified!? I can’t speak for other diagnoses than the ones I have, but that one seems particularly hard to live with! I don’t even know which – one or more – disorder I should associate myself and my way of reacting/thinking with! Now I don’t only have to fight my moods because of the bipolar, but I have to recognise that the way I react to any given situation may be because of my PD… Can you blame me for not trusting myself, my feelings or my reactions very much? For snorting derisively at all the ‘think yourself well’ posts? For being, and I’ll gladly admit it, a tiny bit envious when I hear of people, often with far worse diagnoses than mine that somehow manage to juggle family, friends and even careers?

It’s not all bad. I know myself much better these days, through ageing and long-term therapy, and I’m starting to learn the signs and triggers of an oncoming hypomanic or depressive episode. I also seem to be on the right medication for now. I’ve figured out that my brain is hardwired a bit different to the norm and I might not react the way others do, even when it feels completely normal to me. Over the years I’ve managed to alienate many friends but some are still here. I never got the opportunity to start a family or managed to – so far – maintain a functional relationship (apart from my marriage), as I’ve focused my energy on trying to find answers to my many and very messed up questions. But I am still here. And there is still, somehow, a future out there…

I am still here! Some days I am almost even feel thankful that I am.

IMG_1083

Cecilia Akerstrom Sjoberg is a Swedish woman who’s just celebrated the 18th anniversary of her 25th birthday. For the past fifteen years she’s been battling what was initially a diagnose of recurring depression but has now been upgraded to bipolar II (bipolar light, as she calls it) and Personality Disorder (no other specification). She is slowly trying to find her way back to the work place after several years of sick-leave and unemployment, and is undergoing long-term therapy. Cecilia lives with her four-legged soul-mate Lizzie (a Chinese Crested Powderpuff) not far from where the capital Stockholm, Sweden becomes proper Sweden. For some of her poetry or photos, please visit www.ccchampagne.wordpress.com or follow her on Tumblr at www.tumblr.com/blog/ccchampagne.

Stigma Fighters: Cynthia Forget

Cynthia’s Story

Where does it really begin? That’s the million-dollar question. I’m pretty sure the doctors and therapists consider the beginning as the date of diagnosis – which was September 2005. But then some doctors reflect back to my teen years (when I had a rather manic episode) as the origin of the illness. But then again, still, there was that depression of 1997 after my baby died inside me (what they call a missed abortion). And then, finally, there is the beginning that really changed my life. That began in the Spring of 2004, a year and a half before diagnosis – a year and half before meds.

The two years between 04 and 06 were blissful and exciting – for me anyway – but certainly not for those around me. I was manic for two years. True to the textbook. My children were young: 5 and 10, so they went to bed early, 7:30-ish. Once I had them in bed and tucked I proceeded to get ready to go out. Fix my hair, freshen my make-up, maybe change my clothes. I bid my husband good-bye and went off to meet one of my two best friends at the time (that’s a story in itself). I remember a wild trip to New York City where I proceeded to buy $600 in books, struggled to get them into my suitcase, and underwent a personal body inspection by security trying to get back into Canada. There was so much erratic behaviour and so many spending sprees.

My one friend, I’ll call her Susan, and I were writing a book together. It was a non-fiction textbook and was later published and is still used in colleges across Canada. Most nights I would meet Susan – we worked hard on the book. However, as my mania grew so too did my ability to predictably work on it. Sometimes the mania caused me to be incredibly creative and driven, but other times my mind raced from one thought to another so quickly I could not focus. Then the down days started. I was rapid-cycling, actually ultra-rapid-cycling (cycling from day to day). On the down days there was nothing I could do to work on the book. Some days I didn’t even get dressed or leave the house.

I started to miss days at work. It was a fabulous job, and I loved it. It was the perfect job for someone who was manic. It was full of responsibility and authority and I ate it up. The work itself was fast-paced and high volume. And I had all the energy I needed to keep up. I was completely on my game and the office ran like a charm. Then, again, came the down days. I couldn’t focus at work. All I could think about was doom and gloom. I was exhausted. I closed the door to my office and avoided contact with everyone. I barely managed to complete the key tasks of my job. I couldn’t think clearly and it was a challenge to make decisions. Concentrating was impossible. And I just felt so sad. The worst came when I actually started crying at my desk. My assistant, obviously aware of my state of mind, went and got my supervisor. Lucky for me, my supervisor was a caring and compassionate woman, eager to help however she could. She talked me out of my tears and sent me home. That was not the last time that happened. The cycling from mania to depression continued. Somehow I managed to do the bare bones of my job.

On my “good” days, as I would call them, but really they were just pure mania, I was on top of the world and could do no wrong. I was always busy and full of energy. Because of the mania my mind would race and often be confused. My judgment was definitely impaired. My evenings with Susan began to get shorter as my ability to function decreased. After brief sessions with Susan, I would skip out and meet up with another friend, I’ll call Lori. Lori and I would hang out at the local coffee shop – sitting in our car, drinking tea, listening to music and smoking up. We talked and laughed for hours. Sometimes we would take the car out for joy rides. I would drive fast and recklessly – but it was fun to both of us because of the state we were in. Lori was a lot of fun and she fed into my mania. She encouraged me to come out at night and drive around. I was an easy target. As time progressed, I spent less and less time working with Susan and more and more time hanging out with Lori.

Susan became concerned with me and had started doing some research on the computer about me. She was typing in words like “mood,” “up,” “down,” etc. And what she often saw was something called “Manic Depression,” today referred to as Bipolar Disorder. The next time I saw Susan she brought this up to me. I read the material she had researched and had to agree that it sounded like me. To cut to the chase, Susan and I were seated in my doctor’s office where I was referred to a psychiatrist. My first psychiatrist. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve had. This was in September of 2005 and the psychiatrist diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder, started me on a medication regime, and wrote me off work.

It became time to write the edits for the book – I couldn’t handle that. I was either too high or too low. There was no in between. I was ill. Susan did the edits without me and the book eventually proceeded to publication. I continued to party with Lori. The meds took the edge off but didn’t really fix anything. I ended up back at work – on again, off again. And the med changes and adjustments were frequent. I could hardly keep up with them. I was preoccupied with sexuality. I flirted with everyone – especially those that flirted back. My looks changed. My clothes changed. I changed.

Let’s say I was inappropriate at work. My behaviour was off the wall, and eventually came back to bite me. I escaped with emotional bruises and ended up on long-term disability. That was a gift because I was headed toward losing my job. And that would have had a huge financial impact on my family. I remain on disability today.

Then an awful thing happened – what ended up being a huge trigger. Susan emailed me that I hadn’t pulled my weight with the book – but worst of all, that she couldn’t be my friend any more. Susan and I had been friends for 17 years. We were best friends. The kind of friends who sat beside each other on a bed and independently worked away, yet were together. We walked into each other’s houses without knocking, and we spoke several times a day on the phone. Susan was a huge part of my life. She left. I crashed. Huge. My lifestyle changed drastically. I went to bed and stayed there for two years. It was the deepest depression I’ve ever had.

By now, my children were 8 and 13 – a little more self-sufficient. My husband had to pick up the pieces of managing the house and caring for the kids. They would bring me food to my bed. The kids would sit and read with me. The bathroom is an ensuite so I didn’t have to leave my room for that. I only had to leave to go to the kitchen, and that wasn’t very often. Somewhere along the way I lost Lori too. I don’t remember what happened there, (memory is a huge issue) other than she couldn’t handle my illness. I was also devastated about that. I lost most of my friends. It was a sad time. I slept about 18 hours a day. When I was awake, all I did was listen to music. It seemed to numb the pain.

After one psychiatrist closed her practice, and we were travelling three hours to another, my husband finally found me a new psychiatrist – actually the head of psychiatry at our local hospital. Quite the coup. He was a life-saver. He convinced me to stop self-medicating. He started me on a new med cocktail and saw me weekly. Not only did he prescribe medication to me but he counseled me as well. He was a real gem. He tweaked the meds up and down, adding new ones from time to time, until eventually – about five years later – we had fallen upon a cocktail that actually worked.

I was dressing, bathing, eating, and getting out of my room. Then I actually started leaving the house. Over the next year my confidence grew, I lost weight and started writing again. I created a blog where I write about bipolar disorder (www.cynthiaforget.weebly.com). I have written my first fiction novella and hope to have it published. My psychiatrist has moved away, but he left me in the hands of another, one who seems equally thorough and qualified. I know how fortunate I am for that. I also know how lucky I am to have such a supportive family. It’s been a lot of hard work, I’m left with some cognitive impairments, anxiety, and I still have some pretty dark days, but I think I’ve made it through to the other side. I’m starting to see a better life ahead. A better life with Bipolar Disorder.

cynthiaforgetCynthia Forget was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2005. Since then she has been through a myriad of experiences and treatments and ten years later has finally fallen into a stable state – as stable as one can be with Bipolar Disorder. In March of 2014, she began a blog entitled Real Life with Bipolar Disorder. The purpose of her blog is to bring awareness to Bipolar Disorder and support to those who suffer from it. She has written over 25 blogs on a variety of topics relating to Bipolar Disorder. Through Facebook, Twitter, and her on-line blog, she is a strong advocate for those with Bipolar Disorder.

Stigma Fighters: Hussien Freeman

Hussein’s Story

Hussein was born November 5, 1996. His parents were happy to have him. They had tried for years to get pregnant and his older brother was born just over 12 months prior to Hussein. His parents separated when he was three and he lived with his biological mother and grandmother until he was six. At the time his mother had him his siblings, they were homeless so his father took him and his siblings back to Michigan with him with the understanding that once his mother was situated with a job and home they would go back to her. This never happened.

As the years went on two boys told stories about what had happened. The beatings they would get from their grandmother and then their mother when she got home. The grandmother was forcing Hussein to eat peanut butter when he was allergic so he would vomit. These stories weren’t told to his dad and stepmom until years later. Eventually stepmom became “real mom” and biological mother did not come visit or send cards or even call. It wasn’t until years later all the stories were put together to realize what a nightmare the children had lived through.

Late December 2013: Hussein is out shoveling and we call him in to talk to him. “Real mom” saw he has marks around his neck. He admits he tried to hang himself with a belt. Mom gets super upset and calls suicide line, who then sends her to the Emergency Room where she is with Hussein for about five to six hours until they find a room for him at the mental hospital. Mom and dad prefer he doesn’t get on any medications because they are afraid of the side effects; the hospital states either put him on them or come get him. His parents do what they believe is right and follow the advice of the doctor. After about 10 days, Hussein is released to his parents. They get him into counseling and schedule appointments to ensure he keeps up with his medicine.

In April, Hussein gets in trouble at school. The counselors call him in and talk to him. They leave the room for whatever reason and come back to the door being blocked. They get in and find that Hussein has taken shoe lace out and has been trying to hang himself. They call the ambulance and his parents. Mom comes and meets him at the ER. This time it isn’t as long of a wait for him to be transferred over to the mental hospital. Hussein stays there for about a week to two weeks. He is sent home and continues his medications and counseling.

Sometime between April and May stays, mom discovers matches that have been lit in the garage. She confronts Hussein, who states he likes fire because it helps calm him. Mom lets the counselor know this and mom and dad hide all matches and grill lighters so Hussein doesn’t have access to setting fires.

Middle of May- mom gets a Facebook message from one of Hussein’s friends stating he had emailed a bunch of people that he was going to commit suicide. Mom rushes to find where he is. Hussein had taken what he thought was a bottle of Advil (it was actually peas because mom had made it into a rattle for his baby brother). Mom confronts Hussein (for the first time in the 11 years she has had custody of him) that she is terrified of him. The glare he gives is terrifying. Mom sends Hussein into his room and locks door between because she is home alone with him and his little brothers and fears for safety.

Mom picks up phone to call 911, but a knock on the door which happens to be the police. One of his friends he had emailed had called the police. This time Hussein is sent across the state to a mental hospital. While in this hospital Hussein somehow manages to hoard around 17 pills and takes them all at one time and starts his seizure disorder. Hussein spends around a month at that mental hospital and they transfer him back to the mental hospital he had been at the first two times. They wanted him on this side of the state because the county wanted to assess him because of insurance. At this point the hospital changes his medicines to two different ones instead of just one. He is also on an anti-seizure medicine prescribed by the emergency room close to the mental hospital across the state. The county comes and assesses him and determines he should be okay to leave. Mom and dad do not feel like this is safe because he is now on stronger medicine. The county allows him to stay at a rehab place for 2 days and then says he must go home. The mental hospital works out that he can stay at a home for “homeless” teens for two weeks. While there he had yet another seizure. After the two weeks is up he must go home because the state and county says there is no other place for him to go.

Hussein is home and goes to see a counselor every two weeks and psychiatrist every three months. Things seem to be going fine. Hussein is in his senior year in high school. He has been accepted into Western Michigan Aviation school—since moving in with his parents he has always stated he wanted to be a fighter pilot. He has a job. He appears to be happy. He tells mom he doesn’t like his counselor because she isn’t helping him. He states she tells him he needs to figure things out on his own and liked his previous counselor better. Mom jumps on this and is working on setting up an appointment for approximately December 12th or the following week.

December 10, 2014. Mom and dad come home from grocery shopping. Pull into the garage and get out. There is music playing—very strange. Dad looks around and starts yelling ‘no no no no. ‘ Mom is like, what is going on, and starts looking around. Mom screams no, drops what is in her hands. Dad is getting whatever he can find to climb up and cut down his son. Mom immediately calls 911. They come. Hussein was still warm but they tried for two hours to revive him. They couldn’t.

Dad gets all the arrangements made. They have his services. Mom decides to log into his Facebook to see if he had talked to anyone. Mom finds a message to a girl from December 3rd. Hussein had told her he couldn’t handle anything anymore. His counselor told him if he wanted to die nothing she could do. He couldn’t handle the nightmares. His girlfriend had broken up with him. But he still acted happy. Mom had talked to him at three, because he called her to ask a question. Mom says she loves him…he loves her…and the call is ended.

Parents drop his younger sister off and head out to go grocery shopping. Nothing unusual had happened that day. For the past week, despite the breakup he was all smiles. He was happy. Mom and dad think—YES, things are going great. What mom and dad were never told is that once they “decide” they will be happy and at peace. Hussein was this way. Mom and dad were right when they said they weren’t capable of taking care of him. He needed to be monitored by professionals. Professionals did not want to listen.

I share Hussein’s story because we need change. The mental health system is messed up. I’m now on a mission to change.

IMG_199210632395789

 

10885538_638995179556312_6038602241318012283_n

Hussein’s foundation page is: https://www.facebook.com/HusseinSFreemanFoundation

Hussein’s petition to change laws in Michigan is: https://www.change.org/p/rick-snyder-fix-the-mental-health-system-in-michigan

Hussein’s gofundme account to get the foundation moving is: http://www.gofundme.com/foundationhusseinf

Stigma Fighters: C Streetlights

The Pendulum

Even now I can hear the grandfather clock’s pendulum swinging. It is more difficult for me to pull up the other sounds that once made up a more detailed and rich soundtrack but this loss is what my therapist would call a gain. For a significant part of my life I would have been able to build my grandfather’s house in my mind with distinct detail – the sounds, the smells, everything – without even realizing it. It frightened me and I never told anyone.

Late at night when my father would come home from work, I would listen to my parents fight in Spanish and feel terrified. Helpless. I didn’t know anything they were saying but I could feel the anger resonating through my home. The negativity vibrated through the hallways and even at twelve years old I imagined the screaming to be like monsters, creeping down the shadows, feeding off the darkness, until they would get to my bedroom. I would hide under the covers to block out the sound and somehow I would step through my own looking glass.

I would hear the clock first. It would calm my fears. Then I would hear my grandpa in the backyard whistling, the radio playing show tunes or talk radio. The church hymns from my grandmother’s room would be buzz in and out. Their home always smelled like Murphy’s Oil furniture polish in lemon with an unmistakable pinch of old people smell mixed in. It might have been dust or it could have been 30 years of leftover dinners, but something makes up that universal old people smell. There was the smell of comfortable furniture with hard to reach dust and out of style lampshades. The lampshades reminded me of corseted women with impossibly thin waists and flouncy skirts, and they were all over my grandparent’s home. The seagulls appeared over the couch, the shelves with framed photographs, the coffee table with piles of magazines… and the clock’s pendulum always kept the time.

When I left for the university my anxiety only escalated. However, I didn’t know words like “anxiety” or “escalation”. All I ever learned about mental health I learned from soap operas, so that meant a person either had multiple personalities, unknowingly had an evil twin and everyone thought he or she had multiple personalities, or was faking mental illness in order to steal a twin’s love interest. I was not in any of these categories so I just thought I was having a hard time. After I was raped, though, I became an entirely different person. Sadly, nobody around me noticed.

The anxiety worsened and my ability to hide it became more sophisticated. If I checked out in my mind to this safe place I created – even if I didn’t understand it myself or remember doing it – I made up an excuse. I allowed myself to control what I could control and limit my exposure to what I couldn’t. I understand all this now but at the time I thought I was losing my mind.

By the time I entered my 30s and was sexually assaulted by student, my tenuous grip on reality broke. My social anxiety became so extreme that I gradually began to wake up earlier and earlier to dress myself for work just so I could mentally prepare myself for facing people. Soon I was waking up as early as 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning when I didn’t have to be in the classroom until 9:30. I would take two hours just to curl my hair. I would sit down in my rocking chair after work and stare out my window and then not be able to account for my time once three hours had passed.

After I retired from teaching, and after a ten-day suicide watch, I experienced a severe panic attack in a parking lot. I swore I wouldn’t leave the house again, and I didn’t for several weeks except to take my son to school. I needed more help than the typical antidepressant.

Labels are hard to accept when you live in a culture that has told you to reject them since childhood. But I have found them to be liberating. It is not an issue of what is wrong with me. It is coming to understand that this is who I am. Yes, I am agoraphobic. Yes, I have an anxiety disorder. Yes, I have depression. Yes, I have been suicidal. And yes, I also have a disassociation disorder – I have to work damn hard to not escape from reality. All of this is work that I gladly accept because my mental health matters, just as my physical health matters.

If I could honestly project one message as a mental health advocate – rather than a mental illness sufferer – it would be this one: I’m not responsible for filling a person’s negative empty space with my positive energy. I have finally reached a certain level of comfort in who I am to accept that some people will just be either ill-informed about mental health issues or just plain make shitty comments because they’re ignorant. I am happy to move a conversation into a positive direction of educating and informing, but I refuse to wrangle with someone over if my depression is in my head. I’m not in the business of converting shit into renewable energy.

This doesn’t mean that I am “cured” or I am “over it”. Medication is constantly adjusted and I still have stretches when I fight myself to leave my home or to even get out of my car. Mental illness is something I live with daily and it is my most steady companion. All I can do is just breathe each morning and tell myself I made it through another day each night. Breathe in, breathe out. Renewing my energy from the inside out, from the outside in.

And somewhere, still, the pendulum swings, now in my heart instead of my mind.

Of all the fools I’ve met, I admire Don Quixote most of all. If only because it is from him I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter that the dragon turned out to be only a windmill. What matters is that the dragon was fought at all.

Fighting windmills and dragons since I could tell the difference between the two and could give a damn. I am soul. I am fire. I am red. I am me.

CL (42 of 46)

Have tea with me:

www.streetlightsimagination.com

https://twitter.com/CStreetlights

https://www.facebook.com/streetlightsimagination

Stigma Fighters: Matt Dotseth

I have ADD or at least that’s what the doctors said at age six when it became apparent that I was having trouble paying attention in first grade. I was a pretty lively kid growing up. I had the full spectrum of human emotion at a young age. I had my sweet and calm side, but I had that bouncing-off-the-walls energy at times that some people could not handle. So my parents, at the advice of my teacher, took me to a neurologist in the mid 1980’s to see what was ‘wrong’ with me.Now, I don’t know if ADD is a real thing or not. When I was young, I had bad pet allergies, and my parents had indoor/outdoor dogs. I also had asthma. So I was constantly tired, because at night my nose would run, and I would have asthma attacks and wake up breathless. This is still a nightly occurrence for me. It’s reasonable to think that growing up this way can make your personality develop in such a way that you need to get things done quickly, or not at all. Or perhaps sleep deprivation can cause an inability to focus. Perhaps being deprived of sleep puts your thought process into a different state…  who knows? But in 1987, I went to the doctor, who told my parents I had ADD and put me on Ritalin and prescribed behavior therapy.

Ever since that fateful day in 1987  when I took the tests and my parents came home heartbroken, the acronym ADD has become a part of everyday life. At that age, I couldn’t tell my parents not to tell anyone I had the ‘disease’ as they called it back then. My mom wanted a ‘support system’. So of course, my mom told my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and eventually my cousins knew. The whole family treated me differently because of that label. My little brother was eventually smacked with the ADHD label too. Oh, and eventually mom got it in her head that my classmates and teachers ought to know as well, because, well… they’d perhaps be ‘more tolerant’ of my behavior if they were aware that ‘there was something wrong with me’. Awesome plan…

Elementary school was absolute hell for me because of this. All the immature elementary kids from 1st grade until 6th knew me as ‘spaz’, ‘crazy Matt’, ‘psycho kid’, ‘hyper boy’, and more (really the list is quite extensive). The humiliation was daily, especially when the digital watch alarm would go off, and someone would snark “Time to take your chill pill! Hahaha!” and of course the rest of the class would laugh me out of the door. The teacher would do nothing about it. I went through elementary school depressed, friendless, and alone.

Finally I got a reprieve when I was accepted to an art school in Paradise Hills, San Diego. It was marvelous. At about 9th grade, I had decided I’d had enough of the Ritalin pills. I wanted to see what life was like without them. Being at an art school meant that the majority of people there were quirky and a bit off. I’d fit right in! And I did. I ended up as one of the most popular boys in school. I was full of jokes, was into music, martial arts, sculpture, painting, drawing, video editing… I was all over the place, and it felt perfect. And half the people there probably had ADD anyway… at this high school, it was a non-issue.

I went through college as a straight A student, without the aid of Ritalin. I graduated with a degree in Computer Network Technology and have now enjoyed a 15 year career in this field. It’s funny, when you get into the adult world some of your quirks can become assets. I’m an extremely fast problem solver. I’ve often been accused of being lazy at some jobs because I solved problems in five minutes that take some technicians weeks to figure out. But then I remind them of how fast I problem solve, and that situation resolves itself. I still struggle to listen to boring or irrelevant conversations, but it’s my job to multitask (and I can fake it). In the professional world, and in the world of I.T., I am a guru, and I am respected.

The lasting damage within my family is done though, and there are many people in life I’ve stopped talking to. The stigma lives on, despite my professional success, getting married, and being stable in life. I honestly don’t understand it. I think it must be jealousy at times. I was recently ambushed by two close family members who sought to have me ‘change my behavior’ for their comfort. Apparently I am a ‘know-it-all’, ‘showoff’, ‘braggart’, and I don’t listen very well. This angered me beyond belief – who are these people, without a great career, a loving wife, a nice home, and great friends – who are these people to tell me who I’m supposed to be? Did they now know me for my entire life? How dare they spring that on me at this juncture? It feels like, with ADD, people are constantly trying to tame you down, lower you to their level, or tell you that you’re someone you’re not. And if you don’t alter your behavior for them, you’re the jerk.I learned the hard lesson that you simply can’t please everyone, and sometimes the people you can’t please are your family members. But you know what? It’s my life, not theirs. I’d like to see them accomplish what I have with or without ADD or ADHD. So I won’t even bother. Life, short as it is, is about happiness and quality of existence. If you let people diminish that quality by telling you to be someone you’re not, you’re allowing yourself to fall down a pit of self-loathing and doubt that some people don’t make it out of. It was a hard thing to do, but I had to let them go. I simply refuse to be the object of ridicule, where there isn’t much to ridicule.

The stigma of even being diagnosed with ADD, or any mental illness is immense and life altering. People look at you differently, assume things about you, and convince themselves you should be feared. It’s an incredibly negative side effect of blanket medical diagnosis. And what is ADD really? It’s an amped-up personality type, nothing more, nothing less. The achievements you gain while going through life despite that stigma are what will eventually destroy it. It’s who I am. And I’m proud of it. It’s my superpower. And it’s the superpower of many self-made millionaire and billionaires.

20150120_084617
Matt Dotseth is a computer network engineer in San Diego, CA. His interest include video gaming, computer system engineering, scientific articles, and more. He is an avid blogger running one of the web’s best blogs about volcano news. His other blogs include political stories, personal stories, and strange news. Currently he is CIO for a veterinary imaging clinic in San Diego.