Stigma Fighters: Sarah Griffith Lund

The Pain without a Name
by Sarah Griffith Lund

We didn’t know. We never knew what to call it. We didn’t have a diagnosis then.

If you had a mood disorder or a mental illness before the 21st century, then it was understood and treated within the limitations based on the research, knowledge and resources available at that time.
What is more likely is that the brain disease wasn’t diagnosed or treated at all. It was also common then, as now, for people with mental illness to not seek help or treatment. Fear of being labeled, of losing a job, of getting locked up in the mental hospital or getting experimented on kept people silent about their inner struggles.

I’m hearing this from my readers, people like me who know what it’s like to grow up with mental illness in the home. For a lot of us growing up, for various reasons, the people we loved weren’t getting the mental health care they needed and deserved. And whatever help they were getting wasn’t talked about. Fathers and mothers disappeared for days and weeks at a time, leaving children at home to wonder what would happen next.

Our loved ones were misdiagnosed, over-medicated, dismissed, couldn’t afford help or refused treatment.

This left us as children pretty much in the deep pit of the unknown. We didn’t know why moods shifted so rapidly or why a parent couldn’t work or even get out of bed or drank too much or committed suicide.
We didn’t understand that a parent withholding love or affection was a result of an untreated mental illness, and not, as many of us felt, a reflection of our own self-worth. I tell the story in my book Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family, and Church about how this was so hard for me to understand as a little girl.

My dad lived his whole adult life with untreated bipolar disorder. His typically manic behavior spiraled into delusions and psychosis which frightened me as a child. I wanted to believe his delusions but they confused me. I was raised by the religious teaching to honor your mother and father. I did not know how to honor his bipolar because it scared me. For a long time I could not separate my father from his brain disease.

It wasn’t until I started talking about the impact that mental illness had on my life that I started to heal. Now I know that to keep the trauma of mental illness silent is to give it power over me. Breaking the silence lifts me out of the valley of the shadow of mental illness. As a little girl I was taught that it was not polite or ladylike to talk about such things, about ugly things, about painful things, about the secret things. I was taught to wear a pretty smile on my face all of the time, no matter what I actually felt on the inside.

That was then.

This is now.

Now we know that mood disorders are nothing to be ashamed about, apologize for, or cover-up. Mental illness is not a punishment from God or a sign of personal failure or weakness or a character deficit.

We know that mental illness is a real disease of the brain.

We know that prevention, treatment and recovery are options.

We know there is hope.

And we know we are never going back.

We are never going back to the silence, stigma and shame.

We are never going back to the lobotomies, the ignorance, the demonizing and the dehumanizing of people with a disease.

For a better future for the children of today and tomorrow, we are breaking the silence about mental illness now.

This is a new day.

We are naming it out loud. We are understanding the causes and the treatments. We are getting evaluated. We are getting the help we need.

Too many people are suffering silently from a pain with no name.

We can change this by offering accessible support and advocating for mental health education in the public schools, and funding mental health screenings. Early detection and treatment of mental illness can prevent severe brain diseases and suicide.

It’s up to each one of us to name mental illness and by so doing, to rid it of the immobilizing shame, stigma and silence.

It’s up to each of us to tell our stories.

It’s up to us to mobilize a movement for mental health.

If not you, then who?

If not now, then when?
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Bio:
Sarah Griffith Lund is an ordained minister in The United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ. She’s served congregations in Brooklyn, New York, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and New Smyrna Beach, Florida. She holds degrees from Trinity University, Princeton Theological Seminary, Rutgers University, and McCormick Theological Seminary. Her new book _Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness, Family, and Church_ is a raw, honest look at her father’s battle with untreated bipolar disorder, the helpless sense of déjà vu as her brother struggles with bipolar, and serving as the spiritual advisor to her cousin, a mentally ill man executed for murder. Through the challenges and despair, Sarah shows how churches as be safe havens for people who have brain diseases and for their loved ones. She blogs at www.sarahgriffithlund.com and is on Twitter @revlund and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SarahGriffithLund

The Dark Battlefield

My family has a history of mental illness, pretty much all of it completely un-diagnosed. When I say my family is crazy, I’m not elaborating. Some are more crazy than others, but all of us deal with depression and anxiety to some degree.

I’m writing this post anonymously because it’s a hard one to discuss…the affects that someone elses’ mental illness can have on you.

Mental illness is hard, it’s this battlefield, rutted in darkness. Everybody is shooting, trying to get the enemy but often getting other innocent people in the process because they just can’t see. The darkness is suffocating, blinding, maddening. Everybody wants out of it – those who are fighting the illness, those who are fighting for someone who has the illness, and those who are innocent bystanders.

Someone I care about has a bunch of mental illnesses that are undiagnosed but blatantly there. This person lives in their own twisted perception of reality, and truly views themselves as the victim. This person cannot comprehend that maybe, they aren’t the only victim in the story. This person cannot see that their actions are seriously hurting those they calm to care about. This person won’t get help for their mental illness, they won’t accept the fact that something is even remotely wrong. “It’s just depression,” they say, only it’s not just depression. I deal with depression and anxiety daily, I know what it looks like…what it inflicts on others and while it isn’t always pretty, it’s not this.

This person seeps out toxic poison from every pore. This person’s presence creates more issues for my own mental health, because this person asks and asks and asks and doesn’t realize the extent of what they are asking, of what I am giving. I shake and tremble in their wake. A phone conversation drains me, and a visit destroys me. It takes me forever to bring myself back to a place where I can honestly say I’m alright.

Mental health is a bitch, a cruel tormentor that knows just how to destroy families. It’s not like an illness such as cancer, where you would never even presume to give up on someone suffering from it. You would fight for that person, because they didn’t ask for that cruel disease. Mental health is just as cruel and nobody asks for it, but it’s harder to not give up on someone because it affects your own mental health so much.

Having children myself, I look at them and want to cry. I want to cry because I shudder at the mere thought that maybe one day, I will affect them in the ways that this person affects me. I don’t want to do that to them, not now or ever. I don’t want to make them feel trapped with lips sewn shut.

It’s different when someone is trying to see through the darkness, trying to get help. When the person isn’t getting help and flat out refuses to, they cause destruction to not only themselves but everyone around them. In that darkened battlefield, they’re shooting in every direction and enjoying it. They are not working together with the other voices, not calling out their position so other’s know when to duck.

And no matter what, those that they hurt are to blame. And that’s a hard thing to handle. It’s your fault I’m so sad. It’s your fault that I left you for years. It’s your fault because you sided with this other person, my abandonment is justified and now that I’ve returned, you MUST make it up to me. You must do all that I ask because if you don’t, you’re terrible people and I am and will always be the victim.

You have to know when to slam the door, to take the broken pieces of your own mental health and sanity and cling to them, protecting them from the destruction.

Making that call in itself is almost impossible, because of the guilt. The thoughts that if this was cancer, there would be no question. But it’s not cancer, it’s an attack on the soul and spirit and the will. When you’re handling your own illnesses that attack your soul, spirit and will…having someone else attack you as well is extremely crippling.

Stigma Fighters: Bipolar Babe – Andrea P.

I am passionate and extremely involved in mental health engagement in my community. I launched www.bipolarbabe.com in May of 2009 and created a logo with a talented artist titled ‘Bipolar Babe: Stomping out Stigma.’ Thereafter, I designed and distributed bipolar babe postcards, which read “Creating a World of Understanding, Empathy, and Acceptance for Those that Have a Mental Health Condition.”

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Image courtesy of Bipolar Babe

Thus began my journey into the world of mental health engagement, and the results have been impacting and encouraging. I create conversations free of stigma in my community by having launched an online forum and a blog on the babe website and I networked endlessly to build my Bipolar Babe brand. I did not know what my efforts would produce, but it felt right when I was asked to speak at a non-profit mentorship program about my personal experience.

The presentation was so satisfying that I accepted further requests to speak, but in my heart I knew the people that I wanted to reach the most with my story were the youth. During this time, I also made my basement suite a place for youth with a mental illness to gather in a peer support group, which I called the Teens2Twenties. I engaged youth to help them in any way possible to stay well, form friendships, and most of all, share their own experiences for healing.

Through my active networking efforts, I met many supportive individuals along the way and we formed the Bipolar Disorder Society of British Columbia (BDSBC) in January 2010.  We received charitable status in June 2010, having our application received months later and approved in a mere 29 days.

We also worked tirelessly to create a variety show: Bipolar Babe Fundraiser, and so began our non-profit society with only a few thousand dollars in the bank. Our society has been in existence for over four years now and we have five programs dedicated to the service delivery of peer support and mental health education. We now have a staff of five and I moved quickly from the position of Board President to Executive Director of BDSBC.

The success of our programs and community engagement has been both impactful and effective. I lead the Stigma Stomp Classroom Presentation Program and we present to an average of 2000 students per year, and provide three peer support groups for countless people struggling with mental health challenges. I lead the majority of the program delivery by being a presenter and a group facilitator, but we also have excellent support staff members that make the programs possible.

Over the years we have accomplished many things, and have held numerous awareness events called “Stigma Stomp Day” and “Clara’s Big Ride: Hats off to Clara Hughes Fundraiser and a Daytime Legislature Welcoming Event.” I have been featured personally on local radio shows speaking to the issue of mental health, my personal story, and stigma numerous times. I have also been on several television news casts promoting our organization, and showcasing the work that we do as a society. We have also gained a significant amount of print coverage and all of these successes may be viewed at: http://bipolarbabe.com/news

Lastly, I have personally been extremely engaged in the mental health community by applying my writing abilities. I am a blogger for HealthyPlace.com for my blog called ‘Surviving Mental Health Stigma Blog.’ You may find this blog here.  I also brought my community engagement a bit further by becoming a contributor/author to an anthology published by Brindle and Glass called “Hidden Lives: Coming out on Mental Illness.” I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to engage both with youth and adults in their mental health journeys, and I plan to continue building on both my writing career and community engagement work with BDSBC.

I also brought my community engagement a bit further by becoming a contributor/author to an anthology published by Brindle and Glass called “Hidden Lives: Coming out on Mental Illness.” I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to engage both with youth and adults in their mental health journeys, and I plan to continue building on both my writing career and community engagement work with BDSBC.

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Andrea Paquette is founder and Executive Director of the Bipolar Disorder Society of BC, also known as Bipolar Babe in the community.  She is a mental health speaker, published author, advocate and above all a Stigma Stomper.  She created the Bipolar Babe Project with the introduction of Bipolar Babe in 2009.

Andrea has reached thousands with her message of hope and resilience in middle, secondary and post-secondary schools, workplaces, and throughout various community organizations and events.  Her Bipolar Babe persona has reached great heights locally and internationally as she is the winner of Victoria’s 2013 CFAX Mel Cooper Citizen of the Year Award and the recent Winner for mental health Mentorship Award given by the National Council for Behavioral Health out of Washington, D.C.

As Executive Director for the Bipolar Disorder Society of BC, Andrea worked with a board of directors to grow their modest non-profit from a project to a reputable organization dedicated to mental health awareness and support focusing mainly on youth.  Andrea’s classroom presentations have received outstanding reviews from students and teachers alike.  One young individual stated that he was now less nervous about meeting his biological father who has bipolar disorder after participating in a Bipolar Babe presentation.
Andrea has been interviewed by numerous media personalities notably having been on CBC on three separate occasions and CTV numerous times.  She is grateful for having the opportunity to share her personal message that “No matter what our challenges we can all live extraordinary lives.”

Stigma Fighters: Harry Floyd

In my eyes, it is the anticipation that is the toughest part about anxiety.

We build up the worries and stressors in our minds to the point that they become almost impossible to deal with. Most of anxiety is irrational in that we know these concerns are not as bad as we make them out to be, but that doesn’t prevent the process from happening.

I see anxiety as a cyclical process that we ought to strive to break free from. We may never fully break away from it, as everyone will always have a small degree of nerves. That is a good thing though because we need to be in touch with our feelings, but it is when anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it prevents us from doing the things we enjoy in life that it is a problem. My own experience has been one filled with nausea and more bizarre manifestations such as hair pulling.

As a child, I would be unable to prevent myself from getting sick if I was anxious about a social outing, an event I had to attend, or a presentation I had to give in school. The oddest part about the whole thing though, was that I hid this from most people. As the years went on, I began to find patterns in my anxiety and understand when it would bring me to the point of nausea. I took this information and used it to perfect my running around in secret. That was my immature approach to dealing with it – simply finding a way to make anxiety livable. There was a point in college however when it hit me that I had to find a more positive and longterm approach to it all.

I went to a counselor, started opening up about what I was going through, and began writing about my experiences. It is amazing how much starting a dialogue can change things for the better. Not only did sharing my own struggles help me, but also I believe it has helped others feel comfortable about coming forward themselves. We are all in it together. Anxiety has a tendency to make you forget that. It brings with it a sense of isolation if you let it overwhelm you. The upside though, is that all you need to do is take that first step towards dealing with it for things to change.

Anxiety might not go away for good, but a bit of practice along with trial and error can turn it into something that isn’t scary anymore. I’ve tried medication, meditation, counseling, journaling, exercise, and countless other various behavioral techniques over the years. Most of them work, some for a little while and others for good, but you find what works and try new helpers as they come up. The important thing is that you are taking a positive and active role in your anxiety. Doing so will quickly diminish the power it has over you. When I feel myself slipping back into old habits of hiding my anxiety and wanting to make myself sick, I look to my past. I see that I have overcome just about all of the things I was once anxious about. Looking back, I realize that despite my anxious thoughts and feelings, I in fact have succeeded in all of the areas that I’ve been anxious about.

Look to your successes when things become overwhelming. That is what I do, and if things take a poor turn in the future, I know that I have prepared myself to deal with such an instance. Prepare your mind, open up about your anxiety, and remember that we are all in it together.

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Harry Floyd is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University. He is the author of PANIC: One Man’s Struggle with Anxiety. Beyond searching for a career he is passionate about, he enjoys writing from time to time and loves encouraging greater dialogue on topics we all encounter. Twitter: @floydhe

Stigma Fighters: Aaron S.

I was diagnosed bipolar in August of 2008.
The diagnoses made so much sense out of the life I was living, out of the lows and highs I kept jumping between. It made sense out of the crazy stories from my early 20’s, out of the jobs I quit over and over, out of the manic days I kept chasing and the drinking I did to keep the depression at bay.

I remember the day I was diagnosed. My therapist and I had been talking for a few weeks about the depression I was in the middle of. I was in such a numb fog that I couldn’t remember much prior to this round of depression. She sat across from me in those leather chairs, pulled out the DSM IV, and rattled off the list of symptoms I had. Then she said, “These are all the qualifications for the bipolar II mood disorder.”

At last I knew what the hell was wrong with me.

I got on some medication within the next week or so, and lucky me the first medication I tried worked. It pulled back the darkness of the depression and at the same time kept my mood from swinging into the mania that was equally as dangerous. It just worked, and I felt good for the first time in so, so long.

I eventually had to stop taking my medicine. When I lost insurance with the loss of a job I simply couldn’t afford it. The one thing that was helping me live a normal life I had to stop taking because of money. It sucked. The actual process of my body going off this medication cold turkey was its own little hell. Not something I recommend to anyone, but it’s what I had to do at the time.

So, there I was; bipolar and off my medications. And the depression came back. And when that finally let up, my mania was there to fill in the gap. Then, finally, the day came and my little miracle drug came as a generic version and I could afford it. Only this time, it didn’t work. This sent me into the long game of “Let’s try some medicine and see how you react.” My doctor and I played this game for several months, and then several more. Nothing seemed to just work. It was always needing something else.

Finally, we found a drug combination that worked well enough. I could survive the depression, avoid the mania, and the side effects weren’t too bad. Even then, I had good days and bad days. I had days I couldn’t go to work, days I couldn’t quite shake the something. Depression wasn’t the right word, but it was the only word I had for what I was feeling.

Around this time, after a particularly rough Sunday afternoon, I entered into a partial hospitalization program. It was an intensive three weeks of group therapy and weekly psychiatric visits. This psychiatric stuff was new to me. Up until then, I had just been working with my general practitioner. I came to realize that while he was a good doctor, this was out of his league. Simply put, I hadn’t gotten the care I needed from him. This program proved that.
I was diagnosed as having a bipolar mood disorder and having a generalized anxiety disorder.

My medications were changed and adjusted. After the three weeks, I was released into follow up care with my current therapist and psychiatrist. I went back to work, and have been living with the good and bad days since.

I still can’t go to work some days. This is one of the hardest things about my illness right now. I’m the sole breadwinner for our family. When I can’t work, we feel it. Honestly, it makes me feel like a loser, worthless and unable to live a normal life. I have to remind myself that I am still ill, I still have a sickness, a disease, and that means that I have limitations in my life at times.

These days, it’s the panic that gets me. My bipolar seems to be under control, or at least manageable for now. But the anxiety and panic that erupt out of nowhere: that is what just lays me low these days. It’s made it so I can’t work, so I can’t go places with friends, so that some days I can’t leave the house. This panic is the symptom of my illness that right now I am wrestling hard with.
I guess that’s the point of all this: I wrestle with my illness and I always will.

As much as I want a magic pill to take away my symptoms, it’s not there. I have ways that I am treating my illness, ways I am fighting it and wrestling through it, but it’s a condition I have to live with. Just like someone with diabetes has to live with their condition. The wrestling is hard, but it also means that I am still here, still alive and that my sickness hasn’t killed me yet.

It also means that I can live. I am not any of my diagnoses. I have a life and dreams and desires that I want to chase. I can do that. This is why I am getting treatment for my disorders: so that I can live my life my way despite having bipolar and anxiety disorders. My life is not destined to be abnormal just because of my diagnosis, because of my illness.

This is why I remain in treatment, why I try to live healthy, and why I want to keep fighting. I have a life left to live. I want my sons to see that. That is the legacy I want to leave them with, not my illness. So I will fight this, remain in treatment, and continue to learn to live with this illness. I will continue to live.

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Bio:  Aaron Smith is a husband, father, believer, writer, nerd, coffee chugger. Just a typical question everything, bipolar, poet-punk. Blog: Cultural Savage Twitter @culturalsavage

 

Stigma Fighters: Carrie B.

Especially Love

I sat in my favorite chair.   The sun warmed me as I sipped my morning coffee. Tears began to stream down my cheeks.  Suddenly my breath became more rapid. What was wrong with me I sobbed.

I thought I was am past this…

The years before my mother’s death were filled with incredible stress. Taking her to doctors appointments.  Making sure she was okay by checking in on her and making sure she was caring for herself.  An emergency room visit and several hospitalizations weighed heavily on me.

I had learned to be silent.  I had learned to bury it all.  I had learned to take it all on, to try and spare others from the burden.  I had learned to numb myself on the inside appear strong on the outside.  I had learned to quietly be responsible for things no thirty something should have to do.

The years after my mom’s passing filled with anger.  Innocent moments of being told “You look like your mom.” “You remind me of your mother. “You’re so much like your mom.”  Would quickly fill me with burning anger and words of I am not like my mother!  I am nothing like her!

I had learned to only remember needing me.  I had learned to remember only her confused.  I had learned to only remember the darkness consuming her.  I had learned to only remember her unable to be my mother.  I had learned to be certain I was nothing like her and I never would be.

Today memories of my mother fill me with warmth.  I share with my daughter’s stories of how my mother loved me.  I smile when I remember her and share stories with my sisters about her.  I am warmed by the reminders of her that are in me when I look at my hands, my long face and arms that never seem to find a sweater long enough for them.

I learned to share my story.  I learned to trust others with my story. I learned to ask for help.   I learned to let others support me, to tell me it is ok to feel this way.  I learned to remember my mom’s amazing creative talent.  I learned to cherish the loving mother she was.  I learned to love the parts of her that are me.  I learned to remember her and not her illness.

Mental illness took from me the amazing mother that raised me.  The woman who made me the woman I am today.  It tricked me and stole from me my recognition of how incredible she was.  It gave me, instead, these experiences so I could learn about myself.  It connected to me words, it moved me to find a voice and the pain it gave me allowed me to find an amazingness in myself I never knew I had.  It connected me with a community of incredible woman who prove everyday that mental illness can be lived with and conquered.  It showed me the power we have within ourselves when we reach out, connect with others, stop hiding, stop staying quiet and join forces.  It taught me that when we stop giving the darkness power, stop letting the weaknesses own us, stop giving the illness have power, stop hating the illness and  start loving the people…the mothers, the fathers, the sisters, the brothers… as people anything is possible.  Especially love!

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Bio…
I am Carrie Baughcum. I am the proud momma to two incredible girls, the wife to one unconditionally loving husband, completely indecisive, mismatch sock wearing, word slinging, doodler, who loves to be inspired, is enthusiastic about learning, passionate about being a Special Education teacher and is the daughter of a mother who courageously fought mental illness.
Blog: http://carriebaughcum.com
Twitter: @heckawesome

Stigma Fighters: Liz Ferro

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly”

Proverb

I had overcome a lot of things in my life and was constantly working on myself, but at 25 years old I still had so much work to do, and a long way to go, in terms of healing and learning to love myself. Today, I believe I will always be a work in progress- continuously moving forward to butterfly status. I’m quite happy with this journey of “becoming” because moving forward and resilience is a life-saver for people who fight a variety of mental health issues.  It can also be the driving force to help others do the same. Who says you have to be a full-fledged butterfly - and then, what? – That’s it? I’m not a scientist, but I don’t think that butterflies have a very long life-span.  I like to think of myself as “becoming” a butterfly – fully embracing my lowly caterpillar past, with the occasional trip and stumble over my many feet as I march relentlessly forward to the place I am now, with beautiful, albeit tattered wings.  I love the four stages of a butterfly as a symbolic expression of evolving and self transformation.  Like me, the butterfly is a dichotomy of fragility and strength, and because they represent transcending, they also represent the power we all have to choose the path of our destiny.

Having control of our destiny when we feel out of control most of the time is quite the challenge.  I understand this more than most, since my destiny during the “egg” stage of my life was precariously placed in the hands of four different sets of foster parents, and then my adoptive parents.  I was told later in life that my time in foster care was somewhat traumatic, which explains why (at the time) I was petrified of men, and of being left alone.  It seemed to explain my fear of sudden loud noises and the dark, as well as the continuos crying and nervous rash that permanently resided on my face. It may also be the root of my bed wetting that went on much too long, that I sucked my thumb until college, and that I had “outbursts” that could scare a Marine drill sergeant.

In the caterpillar stage I was sexually abused by my next door neighbor for about a year.  When my mom found out about it after reading what I wrote in an assignment pad that I hid in my room, she went through four stages of her own…but not in a good way.  First: she didn’t believe me.  Second: she was angry at me for writing it down - because in her mind, that meant that it was important to me or that I was proud of it in some way. Third: she said we would keep it a secret and that if my dad found out, he would most certainly kill my neighbor, and it would be my fault that my father was in jail. Fourth: She went on living her life in denial while I coped with anger, self-hate, and a myriad of other issues.

During that stage I was pretty caught up in trying to get others to love me, yet I did not love myself.  On the outside I tried not to let it show, but inside, I felt a horrible smoldering hatred for myself that lurked in the shadowy darkness of my soul, threatening to expose me at any time with a blaze of fire. It’s a tough place to be when you are caught between hating yourself, and mistrusting anyone who shows that they love you, while simultaneously pushing those people away and wishing they would never leave you.

I worked on containing it- so that no one would see it, for if they did, they wouldn’t like me or what they saw in me. But the fire was there, and sometimes it would burn out of my control.  My whole life I was told that I was crazy, and I often agreed.

I often imagined myself as an old lady, alone and destitute.  I actually saw my future self in a bathrobe and slippers, shuffling through Discount Drug Mart on Christmas Eve – the crazy old lady getting her Ripple, and fiddling with the blood pressure machine, because she has no place else to be.  This was a very real fear that I had.  I was pretty sure that it would be a reality for me in my future.

I felt like I was a bad and ugly person who had a good heart – much like the very misunderstood- but still ugly – Frankenstein’s monster.

Just about everyone in my past has said that I was crazy.  I knew I had some pretty manic highs and lows, but it still hurt when a boyfriend I just broke up with came over to my house and told my dad that “a room full of psychiatrists wouldn’t be able to figure out what was going on in Liz’s head.” It hurt when an ex-fiance stole my journal and used my inner-most thoughts against me, and as proof to the world that I was indeed crazy.  He even talked to my therapist about it – and together – they decided that I was bipolar.  I was never treated for bipolar disorder, and in fact, it was a misdiagnosis. During this time, I was in the cocoon stage, and believe me- a lot was going on in there! It’s amazing what you can do with so little if you work really hard at it!

During that time I overcame Bulimia and learned how to control my pre-menstral dysphoric disorder and PTSD through the power of fitness, and in particular, running. Along with a lot of hard work on myself and the desire to be happy, running was my ultimate therapy. It helped me sort through the churning thoughts and worries that plagued me.  I have walked into many workouts feeling really bad, with the weight of the world on my shoulders and self-hate looming overhead, and every excuse not to run. I can honestly say that I have never walked away from a workout with those same dark feelings.   The sweat seems to wash away the heaviness in my heart and on my mind, and replaces it with a joyful and light-hearted feeling of energy that I can’t wait to feel again after it fades away. Maybe this is why people get hooked on her ion?  I will never know because the empowerment that I receive from running and crossing the finish line is the best high in the world to me. It keeps me coming back for more, so I can feel it again and again.  It’s not the end- it’s the transcendence and the journey to the next one, and the control that I have to choose my own destiny.

Today I am 45 years old, and while certainly still prone to bouts of inexplicable sadness, anxiety and even anger – I am “becoming” and empowering others to do the same.  This ceaseless stage is not perfect, but it’s a beautiful place to be.

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Liz Ferro is the author of “Finish Line Feeling” and the Founder and Executive Director of Girls With Sole. She is also a Keynote/Motivational Speaker.

She has been featured on the NBC TODAY Show and in Family Circle Magazine.

She is the recipient of the 2014 SELF Women Doing Good Award; the 2012 Longines Women Who Make a Difference Award from Town & Country Magazine; the 2011 American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland Hero Award; and the 2011 Classic Woman Award from Traditional Home Magazine.

Recently, Liz launched the “50 States for Sole” campaign, and will be running a marathon in all 50 states to raise awareness and funds for Girls With Sole.

Stigma Fighters: Joe The Sicilian

My name is Joe The Sicilian.  I grew up in a Bipolar family.  My family’s Bipolar Disorder seemed normal to me for much of my life.  The only person who doesn’t have Bipolar Disorder in my family is my mom, who finds it extremely hard to understand the disease.  All of my grandparents had it, my aunts and uncles had it, and my dad had it.  Because of this, I thought cycling through feelings of being happy, then angry, then sad, were normal.  It wasn’t until I became older and realized that I wasn’t function well in society that something was wrong with me.  So, now, at 39 years old, I am a mental health advocate and try to let people know they are not alone as a blogger. I do this by trying to help fellow sufferers and their loved ones to understand themselves and this disease.

Our illness doesn’t define us. We are complex people with feelings that need to be seen as more than just mentally ill.  Mental illness is not a choice, our brains function differently, and when we are forced to suffer stigma and shame by an ignorant society, it compounds the problems and intense emotions we have to deal with every day.

Having a crazy family and not fitting into society has taken its toll on me. I have an extreme awareness of peoples’ character, or lack thereof.  My feelings are extremely intense, and because of this sensitivity, I notice peoples moods and feelings immediately. I am extremely empathetic, which immediately triggers some intense emotion for me. I know what it is like to feel alone and misunderstood.  I cannot hold down a job, I have to distance myself from insensitive people, and have lost many friends as well.  Even though I suffer on a daily basis like this, I want to help others who have the same experiences and feelings that think they are alone or have no one to talk to. It is my new crusade. http://joethesicilian.com/ TO BOLDLY EXPLORE MENTAL ILLNESS LIKE NO ONE HAS DONE BEFORE!

In college, I started to realize I had a problem with the insane structure of society and authority. I was a professional musician in a band and did a lot of drugs, so I was able to avoid having to assimilate into society for a long time.  When the party was over, I could not adjust to anything.  I couldn’t hold down a job, or deal with any sort of authority at all. I was truly lost.

That is when I realized something had to change, and that I needed help.  The journey of self discovery and the pain that society inflicts on mentally ill people had just begun.  Years went by, and I bounced from psychiatrist to psychiatrist, therapist to therapist, and hospital to hospital.  I would work for as long as I could at some meaningless job until I couldn’t anymore and the whole process would repeat itself… over and over, and over again.

Not all disabilities are visible.  Our actions from those disabilities are visible however.  So people shunned me and it got really bad for a while.  I became a huge drug addict and turned my back on life and myself for 2 years.  I was broke, had no job, and lost all of my friends. So I moved back in with my mom and had to make a decision.  I had to think about mental illness in a whole new way.  I had to stop fighting who I was, and not let society tell me who I should be.  I not only had to accept myself, but embrace myself too.  Once I did that, it all became clear to me.  It is my job to reach out and help fellow sufferers.  So that is what I do now.

Imagine a jigsaw puzzle factory.  This particular factory produces only 2 puzzles.  One is a blue puzzle, and one is a green puzzle.  All the puzzle pieces represent people.  The box they are in represents the world they live in.  However, I am a green puzzle piece that somehow got placed in the blue puzzle box.  I have curves and notches like the other puzzle pieces, and I have edges and angles like the other puzzle pieces.  When you put the puzzle together however, there is nowhere for me to fit in the puzzle, because I was supposed to be in the other box with the pieces like me.  This is what it is like to be Bipolar and to have mental illness.  When I look in the mirror I see a person.  I walk and talk like a person.  Other people see me as a person.  However, when it comes time to assimilate and be part of the whole picture, I don’t fit in.  I feel there is a whole other world I am meant to fit into, but I will never find it because that green box has been shipped far away.

It is time to stop making mentally ill people feel this way.  The way to do this is to educate people about mental illness so we can eradicate the stigma that in unfairly thrown upon us.  We also have to reach out to each other and let our fellow suffers know they are not alone.

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My name is Joe The Sicilian, I am a writer and occasionally make YouTube videos. I’m originally from East Detroit, Michigan. It’s called Eastpointe now, but I refuse to accept this. I moved to Kalamazoo, MI where I attended undergraduate school at Western Michigan University, obtaining a BA in English with a minor in Philosophy.  Then I decided it was time to be a grown up and worked a bunch of crappy jobs for a while, none of which worked out. I was a true factotum. I started to write about my life and make some YouTube videos. People liked them so much, they suggested I start this blog too.

You might be wondering who I am and what I’m about.  Well, I am a person that suffers from Bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression. So naturally, I’m hilarious. I blog to help people just like me. I want to let people know that they are not alone. I want to give people a voice and let them know that there are people in the world just like them that understand. This blog is also designed to help family and friends of Bipolar people to cope and understand as well.  I will explore the idea that mentally ill people are not just defined by their disease, but also have very complex and positive aspects to their personalities as well.

Stigma Fighters: Elisabeth C.

My Story My childhood was not a childhood. In my family, men had sex with little girls. It was our normal. It was our culture and it was generational. My parents grew up with it. Their parents grew up with it. Most of the victims in our family didn’t even remember it because the trauma caused memory loss. We were a family of traumatized individuals who were doing whatever it took to survive … usually at the expense of the others.

The extreme abuse in our family might seem easily discernible to outsiders. In our case, it wasn’t. We were a typical suburban family. We lived in a four-bedroom house as a middle-class family with a mother, father and two children. We had plenty of social circles. The parents worked. The children attended school and after-school activities. We didn’t move around all the time. We did not request government or social services that may have shined a light on our family dysfunction. Nobody suspected anything.

We just seemed like a “normal” family. My parents, uncles and grandparents started sexually abusing me when I was 2 years old. This was necessary to break me. I was indoctrinated in to a way of life. I was brainwashed. But there was a problem. As I got older, they realized I was a talker. They had not successfully broken me. I was actually telling people. The good news for them … nobody believed me. Or if they did, they didn’t do enough to help me. I was visited by social services a few times.

My father even had to threaten a few people to shut them up. But in the end, my family maintained the secrecy … and control. My talking (and fighting back) led to some additional abuse. My father became physically abusive with me. I was suffocated, physically assaulted, abandoned, strangled, starved and hit many times in the head. I went to the hospital on multiple occasions. I am not sure how my father talked his way through those visits. But he did. My mother handled the emotional abuse. She could manipulate a child better than anyone. Actually, she could manipulate anyone. She could get me to trust her just long enough to tell her what she wanted to know. She ensured that I knew how worthless I was. She told me all the time … in many ways.

My father didn’t stop with the incest. He realized that there was money to be made. And he never passed up an opportunity to make money. So he sold me to his friends. He traded me for his friends’ daughters. He sold me to groups of men who were having bachelor parties. He sold me to gangs. And he sold me to a pimp. I would spend my Saturdays working for a pimp right outside the Quantico marine base. Most of my customers were men in uniform. By the age of 9, I was fully indoctrinated. I had given up. I remember the moment when I realized there was no hope of being saved from this terrible life. In that moment, I made a conscious choice to forget. Not only did I forget my abusive past, but I forgot every abusive event in the coming years. I could forget almost instantaneously. It is a powerful defense mechanism.

It is a common reaction to trauma. My parents divorced and my stepfather became my next abuser. He used financial control to keep me quiet by threatening to leave us homeless if I did not comply with his wishes. In high school, I acted from a dissociated state most of the time. I was bullied all the time because I did not know how to stand up for myself with my peers. But at home, I was no longer interested in keeping the peace. I acted like many teenagers do when they are trying to push limits. I fought back intensely which finally started to have an impact on my stepfather. I think he decided it wasn’t worth it anymore. But when I was with my father, it was a different story. He raised the bar of physical abuse. There were many times I was sure I would die but somehow, I stayed alive.

Although my abuse and trafficking stopped at adulthood, the affects did not. I was severely traumatized, and it manifested as intense anxiety. I was constantly having panic attacks. I suffered from chronic pain and inflammation in most of my joints. My fertility was highly questionable. I had severe problems with vaginal scarring and my ovaries were not going to function. I had been prescribed countless anti-anxiety medications, but generally, the side-effects were too much to handle. So I just dealt with the anxiety. My self-esteem was so low that intimate relationships and friendships were difficult. I was the subject of bullying on a regular basis. I could not trust anyone. I usually dated men with substance-abuse problems. I was married twice for very short periods of time.

In my second marriage, I was able to conceive my beautiful twins with the help of fertility treatments. And the twins changed everything. The triggers and painful flashbacks started almost instantaneously. My children were reminding me of my past. They would cry and I would feel my own suffocation. They would express anger and I would feel threatened. They needed my constant attention and I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t know how to practice self care and I started to fall apart. The twins were three months old when I started my recovery process with a therapist. Of course, I didn’t know why I was there. I didn’t remember anything. But I knew something was very, very wrong.

For the next several years, I employed several intense therapeutic remedies. I saw a therapist individually. I participated in groups. I did several forms of body and energy work. I read countless books. I wrote hundreds of pages. I experienced intense emotions. Now, I am in my sixth year of recovery. I have recovered hundreds of memories. I am no longer a prisoner to my family and have severed all ties with them. I can parent my children without intense triggers on most days. I have a much better understanding of who I am and what I want from life. And I have found my voice again.

So now I speak. I tell my story because there is nobody stopping me anymore. I tell my story so I can heal. I tell my story so other survivors can heal. I tell my story so everyone can understand that child sex trafficking is real. I tell my story so children will be heard … so that someone will believe them. I tell my story so that children can have hope. I tell my story because enough is enough.

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Elisabeth is a survivor of family-controlled child sex trafficking and sex abuse. Her education in social work and her personal experiences as a survivor inform her intimate discussion about the biological, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of trauma recovery, which she discusses on her blog at www.BeatingTrauma.com. She writes about breaking the cycle of abuse through conscious parenting, navigating intimate relationships as a survivor, balancing the memory recovery process with daily life, coping with self-doubt, and overcoming the physical symptoms of a traumatic childhood. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Stigma Fighters: Sabrina J.

I was raised by a depressed mother.  My Mom’s depression dictated much of my life.  When it was not under control, when she was unable to “climb out of a hole,” when she needed someone to talk to, I was there.  Because of this, I learned about depression from a very young age.  My understanding evolved from “Mom is going to the talking doctor” to something much more clinical.  But through it all, I fought to understand the disease and to recognize that my Mom was my Mom.  The depressed version of her had nothing to do with me, but could only be attributed to her brain chemistry, something she had no control over.

Having a depressed mother heightened my awareness towards depression and other mental illnesses.  I was intensely aware of the moods and feelings of my peers and those in my immediate surroundings.  It could almost be described as an overwhelming need to be empathetic.  I understood and I wanted to make sure people knew I understood—that people felt understood.  That compulsivity has grown as I have gotten older.  I am constantly tuning myself in to others and their feelings, which can leave me feeling alone and empty.  But even in that void, I find myself constantly thinking about, advocating for, and worrying about those I know with mental illnesses.  I grew up surrounded by the stigmas that faced my mother and that, by association, faced me.  I would lie to my friends when my Mom was put on a psych hold in the hospital.

Even by the time I got to college, I did not tell anyone I was driving her three times a week to receive electroconvulsive therapy.  Fortunately I got to the point where I could be more honest about my mother’s condition and share how it was fiercely affecting my world and my being.  Her mental illness became a shared one, if only because I was accompanying her on her journey and trying to be the best support system and advocate that I could be.

But my Mother’s depression is not my story.  Her life, her illness, her treatments are just that: hers.  That is not my story to tell.  What is my story is one of chronic pain and how my experiences with stigmas against mental illness have helped me to overcome the stigmas that many people associate with chronic pain.

Chronic pain and depression have a very big thing in common: they are, or at least are perceived to be, invisible illnesses.

The last thing that my pain is is invisible.  I am acutely aware of my pain from the moment I open my eyelids in the morning until the time I am mercifully lulled to sleep by pure exhaustion after my pain-induced insomnia decides to give in and let me rest for a few hours.

I have had a headache for seven years.  Yes.  One headache; the entire time; never stopping; not even for a moment.  The pain used to make me cry and scream and miss out on life.  In many ways, my early days of being in pain were similar to my Mom’s darkest days of depression.  The pain was controlling my world, and I could not let a headache dictate my story.

The first year with my headache was quite dramatic.  Radical measures were being taken, I was on all kinds of heavy-duty medications, and, ultimately a surgical team decided that brain surgery (a craniotomy, to be precise) was the “next necessary step.”  Ever since the failed operation, my life has been a series of “next necessary steps.”  Each new doctor was adamant that they’re prescription, they’re treatment, they’re recommendation was going to end my pain (that is, until it failed and they chose to decide it was psychosomatic rather than considering the possibility that their medical approach was simply ineffective for me).  As a teenage girl, it was incredibly frustrating to be told by much of the medical community that I must be making up my pain (you know, for attention or something…as we ladies do, especially if we’re on our periods).  NEWSFLASH: I am neither that creative nor attention-starved to keep up a lie for this many years.  Why would I choose to undergo countless (painful) treatments???  Why would I make up a condition that has wreaked havoc on my world, encumbering my life plans, altering relationships, and sending me into depressions???

After graduating from college last May with honors and a double-major, I realized how much I had accomplished in spite of my pain.  Despite the stigmas surrounding people with chronic pain and all other “invisible” illnesses, I overcame so much and never gave up.  Although it continues to be challenging when I meet with new doctors and they say “…but you finished college and you did well—you could not have possibility done that while being in the pain that you describe!” I can and I did.  We all do it, every day.

This blog is Stigma Fighters, and not only do we fight against the stigmas of mental illness, pain, and more, but we fight for ourselves.  Each day that we wake up, shower, go to work, are there for our friends and families, nurture our bodies and minds, and take on new challenges we are fighting and we are demonstrating that our “invisible” illnesses are not in control.  Even the days that we say “Hey, I need a mental health day!” or “You know what, today I am in so much pain and just need to let my body rest,” we are still fighting.  Our illnesses are part of who we are and we make the necessary accommodations, but they do not define us.  Our strength, our advocacy, our fighting spirits—those are what define us.

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Sabrina is a recent college graduate (currently seeking employment!) who lives in Southern California.  She plans to move back to the East Coast where she and her future French Bulldog will rule the town and fight against stigmas together