Stigma Fighters : Chloe Keegan

When I was a teen, like a lot of teens, I found the world to be very heavy on my 15 year old shoulders. My parents had separated, I thought I was “in love” with a guy nearly 8 years older than me who happened to be dating a relative of mine which resulted in lack of sleeping and eating (yay for lovesickness), and I had to keep up the appearance of being a great academic student with high grades and no complaints.

I wouldn’t say I was depressed but mentally, I wasn’t stable for a while. I turned to cutting to ease the problems and focus my mind on something else. I didn’t cut to seriously injure myself, but just used anything sharp that left a mark on the upper part of my thighs or arms as a reminder that I was feeling very low and alone. This went on longer than it should have when my mam saw the marks on my arms underneath my pyjamas.

And you know what happened? She didn’t hug me. She didn’t ask me what was wrong. She looked at me in fear. My mother was afraid of me. She hid all the knives, all razors and other sharp objects as if I was a ticking time bomb. Because of that reaction, I felt even more alone and less understood which led to me secretly doing this act on myself.

In school I would bump off people and feel the pain, or try and sit down making my thigh would hurt. It was the worst thing I could have done to myself. And it continued for at least a year until I met a guy who would actually talk to me and make me realise what I was doing wasn’t helping.

I feel now at the age of 23 and years of putting cutting behind me, that if my mother had used that opportunity to talk to me about what was wrong, maybe things wouldn’t have gone on so long. I probably wouldn’t have felt so different and so confused. She could have shed some light on things, on how our home life was going to be completely different, but she could have reassured me and told me it was okay.

Any mental illness, or unstable mental moments can always be helped. But I’m a full believer in not staying silent. I know it sounds easier said than done, but you’d surprise yourself if you give yourself that chance of help. Any person you open up to, you are giving yourself a chance to change, but also a chance to feel happier again. The first step for me was talking and I’ll be honest, it was the hardest step of all, but the most worthwhile of the entire journey.

The key was realising there’s nothing wrong with me and there’s nothing wrong with others who suffer too. Never look to people in fear just because they are dealing with something you don’t understand. Use the opportunity to reach out, pull them up and let them know you’re there for them, always.

Help is always at hand if you reach out and grab it. So is happiness. Go for it! You all deserve it and so much more.

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Idownload‘m a new found blogger who believes sharing my own ordinary experiences with usually quirky outcomes will show others how to tackle similar situations. These experiences come in the form of love and dating advice, opinionated views on controversial topics and posts proving everyone deserves to live a happy life regardless of what others say/believe.

“Learn from your own mistakes, or better yet, mine!” – Ordinarily Quirky

Ordinarily Quirky can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Hastywords

SLOW MOTION by Hastywords

Anxiety
Infects her thoughts
Holding her hostage
Screening and erasing
Her cries for help
Fear
Riddles her with angst
Constantly chastising
Rendering her helpless
To its mindless chatter
Irrationality
Hijacks her emotions
Running high speed
Full throttled attack
Beating her senseless
Depression
Sends in its battalion
Of whispering ants
Surrender this day
Throw it all away
Paranoia
Drops crazy into place
Absorbed by her mind
And she finds her space
As darkness descends
Dementia
Drapes its fog over her
And the voices stop
And the world slows
And the devil hits mute
Delusion
Descends in a misty veil
Angels dressed to the nines
Blurry and out of focus
Standing just beyond
Hallucination
Smiles…
No, its upside down
Frowns
Its 8mm conspiracy
Hope
Appears; a commercial break
A smooth talking salesman
Speaking like a breeze
His voice vanishing time
Faith
Opens her mouth to speak
As the salesman’s eyes
Find her like a dream
Asking to speak her mind
Despair
Reaches out with a Shhhhh
As he kisses her lips
Stealing all her cares
Before they can escape
Anguish
Fades from the light
With a forked tongue
As black and white rise
From the colors of her life
Despondency
Carried her for awhile
Halfway into the nevermore
Away from the light
And away from all the dark
Consciousness
Echoes from its tomb
Buried alive it fights
Inside her head
How is it I’m not dead?

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befunky_10005117_1432464820332486_1670976424_nHastywords is an anxiety driven over-analyzer. With a mind full of rainbows and devils, she began giving her thoughts a way out of her head by starting her own blog. Writing poetry helps her gain perspective and purge her soul by putting her tears and laughter into words!

Hastywords can be found on their blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Matthew Perkins

Etymology and Shoes.

Sabotage: deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct (something), especially for political or military advantage.

The word sabotage derives from the French for wooden shoe. Its original derivative is from the word sabotor, which means to work carelessly. In the 15th century Dutch workers were so afraid that machines would replace humans in the textile mills that they would throw their wooden shoes into the looms. We eventually used to it to describe a methodology, a deliberate way to break things for our own advantage. I was a perpetual saboteur of self and relationships, the Jason Bourne of human interaction.

In every conversation, interaction, look that you may give me a “Top 5 List” of the worst possible scenarios comes into my head. They’re completely irrational but serve as a safeguard against possible attacks. If I could think of the worst thing you could throw my way then I can always hit it and won’t be caught off-guard. I think it comes from a lifetime of playing and watching baseball. Always be expecting the curve ball in an 0-2 count, and it’s always an 0-2 count.

Let me give you a shining example of this disturbing scenario:

Two days ago I was out at a birthday party for my niece, cute kid. On the way home my ex-wife in her attempt to understand me a bit says “hey, I read an article on mental illness and creative people.” Seems innocent enough, right? I ask that she share with me so I can read. She says, “no I’ll share it with you when you get home and we can talk about it. There are some disturbing things in there about suicide rates.” Makes sense to most people, no sense upsetting someone if you don’t have to.

Now for how someone like me reads that:

Ex Wife: Hey myself and some other people were discussing how much of a burden your mental illness is. One of them shared this article about how mental illness suicide rates are high among creative people. This reassured me that at some point I won’t have to deal with you any more. I’m going to wait until you get home to read it because you have the kids in the car and I don’t want them dead, just you. (There are 4 other scenarios, but this one is the one that I’m using)

Perfectly fucking logical adaptation, no?

So what’s a boy to do? Well he could stand there completely vulnerable to another human being, any human being, and wait for the verbal stabbing to occur. Or, he could pull out his gun and shoot anyone standing too close. I was so good at the latter. Like Jason Bourne, I had the innate ability to see all the exits, pick out the killers in the crowd, and have an escape route planned the moment I entered a room. Out of fear of what others were thinking, planning, feeling about me I would throw my shoe into their loom and wait for it to break. Then I could say to them “ha, see, I knew you would break.” I could be validated by their decision to walk away and believe it was their fault for hurting me.

The problem lies in the 19th century adaptation of this word sabotor. I got careless. I didn’t pick out the people who were so easily broken. Those weak enough to simply prove me right on the first, second, thirty-fifth, or ten thousandth try. This carelessness lead to one of my greatest self discoveries of all time. This isn’t necessary. The reality is, that there are simply these people who give no fucks who I think I am, they see me. Those unfortunate bastards are also tasked with loving me unconditionally as well. They’re not impervious to hurting. I mean something to them so of course they hurt deeply when I attempt a shoe-throwing-full-frontal assault on their psyche. The problem is they care so deep that they say seven words that completely fuck with my head.

I love you. I’m not going anywhere.

There I stood, with my gun to their head on the ship, (See Bourne Identity) but I couldn’t pull the trigger. I dropped the gun. I dropped the shoe. I dropped to my knees and said to humanity as a whole, “enough.” At first it was an, I lose, you all win, scenario in my mind. But I had more to lose when I had the shoe in my hand than they did. In my desire to inflict pain so that I didn’t have to feel any I ended up inflicting far more to myself. In the years of wandering through life looking for weakness and vulnerabilities in others that I could attack, I had lost friends, lovers, important people in my life that only wanted to do one thing: love me.

It was after an AA meeting that I had this epiphany. I was driving home in the quiet after sharing this little tidbit of information with the group. But the banality of this existence, the loneliness and emptiness that I once filled with a liquid lover had to end. The finality of this decision was met with, as expected, a few open arms. No one attacked immediately, no stabbings to my newly armorless body.

Now like many other aspects of my brain, I have to “Beautiful Mind” it. I know it’s there. I know the sentiments and Top 5’s are lurking, popping up, and generally attempting to steal the joy from me. But for the first time in perhaps my life I can see them for what they are, figments of my imagination. It’s a choice however, I can chose to listen now or not. That’s real power. The old way felt powerful at the time. I thought I was in charge of how the relationship went, but I was wrong. I was stripping myself of all the power over true emotion and that made me powerless to my own mind.

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eyes-upMatthew is a 33 year old father of three. He’s dances daily bipolar disorder and its impacts on 10 years of alcoholism that he’s recently kicked. When he’s not writing in his blog about the daily joys and struggles of both he’s painting, photographing, writing music.

Matthew can be found on his blog and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Trish

When I was asked if I wanted to write for Stigma Fighters, I couldn’t imagine what it was that I would say to the world about my experience. I have been through so many different experiences both personally and with other people. I fight a battle everyday because of one of these experiences.

6 months ago I was diagnosed with borderline post traumatic stress disorder. With the diagnosis comes anxiety and some depression. People often ask me if I’ve been to war, because they are the only ones who can suffer from PTSD right? Wrong. 3 years ago I was in a relationship that I thought was “the one”. The one I was going to spend my life with. Unbeknown to me, he suffered from a mental illness called borderline personality disorder. I was never told about his illness nor did I ever notice anything was wrong.

About a month into us moving in together things started to change. His moods were uncontrollable and there was lots of anger directed at me. It was then I found out not only was he suffering from a mental illness, he had also decided to completely stop all medication without direction from his doctor. I was absolutely helpless. There was nothing I could physically do to get him help without his consent.

Day in and day out I was met with verbal abuse that little by little broke me down to a shell of who I was. As I broke I also watched every phase of him break until he hit rock bottom. I stared at a person I once knew and barely recognized him. He was skin and bones. He often hit himself and then cried himself to sleep at night. I urged him to speak with his doctor. He had gotten so far off track that he made himself believe he was okay, and he would get better by himself.

After 3 solid months of this I began to fear for my own life. I started having anxiety and panic attacks every night before he got home from work because I didn’t know what kind of mood he would be in. After talking with a professional the only option I had was to leave. There was nothing I could do to help him until he decided to get help.

I moved out and felt free. Free from the verbal abuse. Free from the threat of being harmed. Free until I realized I was not okay. A year after I left the pain started all over again. I couldn’t sleep at night. I was gaining weight. My stomach was always upset. I kept hearing his voice telling me that I was worthless and I would never escape him. I had to do something to make it go away.

Today I am working through my past by speaking to a therapist. I have a supportive boyfriend who helps me stay on track and reminds me that I am doing what I need to do. I am starting to feel more like myself and less like a prisoner of my own thoughts. I write a lifestyle blog and I like to focus on wellness. People often to forget to include mental health in their wellness plans.

It is my dream to help get mental health more awareness. So many people struggle and have no options for help. The costs are high and the waiting periods can be long. I hope in the future this will not be a topic people shy away from, but something we can embrace and help get people feeling better.

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Trish is a lifestyle blogger taking life one day at at time. It is her dream to bring awareness to mental health and often blogs about the importance of mental wellness as part of any wellness plan. You can find her on Twitter and on her Blog

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Stigma Fighters : Kimmie

I avoid talking to strangers! I am never comfortable in unfamiliar company, and wary of half the world it seems!
There is one stranger who just won’t let me be, one who I am especially afraid of!
She tells me that I am capable of terrible things. I pray to GOD I’m not!
She hints that I have hurt people in the past! I have no memory of doing so.
She imagines that I will hurt someone in the future. I find this inconceivable.
She suggests that I am capable of hurting my children, I would rather die!
She says that someone will hurt me or mine or that sudden illness will take me away from my family.
I live in constant, overwhelming, disabling fear!
I am unable to be alone at home or outdoors, through fear that harm will befall me, or worse.. that I may harm myself or a loved one!

This particular stranger has shadowed me most of my life, yet she remains to this day a stranger to me….

SHE SUGGESTS THAT I AM CAPABLE OF HURTING MY CHILDREN. I WOULD RATHER DIE!

The stranger has suggested to me, on more than one occasion, that whilst I’m brushing my daughter’s hair I will become a monster mum! You know, one of THOSE MOTHERS!
A mother who lost in the depths of mental illness, perhaps a product of an abusive or disruptive childhood herself, screams and shouts, and in moments of blind rage lashes out; hurting her child mentally and physically – instilling fear and distrust into childhood years, and causing irreversible damage. A mother who takes her desperation and inability to cope out on her child. A mother I have first hand experience of!

The stranger I speak of is extremely well informed, after a life time of shadowing me she has acquired a great deal of knowledge into my inner fears and vulnerabilities’. She has long since mastered the art of intrusion, she is a gifted impersonator, a powerful oppressor, a terrifying intimidating presence; hard to ignore, and exhausting to challenge! She is a creative script writer, inspired and empowered by my reactions to her demented story lines.

The virtual realities she creates for my eyes only, appall and frighten me! Locked deep inside my own skin, frozen in front of a built in screen, I am forced to watch as the graphic day mare unfolds! My mind violated by the context of each scene, afraid and oppressed in the strangers company, I pray urgently to GOD that I be released from her grasp,

I see the brush slam down onto the back of my beloved child’s head. I hear her desperate screams as the brush comes crashing down again and again! I see myself standing over her, a stranger masking my face, the mask vaguely familiar and yet at the same time completely unrecognizable! I see my child confused, hysterical and consumed with fear beneath me. I repel with every fiber of my being against the illusory images; my heart breaks!

An inner coldness crawls slowly down each side of my face, a strange trickling sensation, making its way down my neck, through my shoulders and into my arms; a prickly numbness dulls sensation in my lips and fingers, until struggling to maintain a normal breathing pattern, I experience a heavy, unnerving pain across my chest, into my shoulder and down into my left arm.

Preoccupied by my inner turmoil and carrying out secret compulsions I continue to brush my precious girl’s hair, by my trembling hand her favourite hairbrush glides slowly through her long, wavy mane with careful, gentle strokes. I lovingly tease the knots from this wonderful crowning glory, then after nervously guiding a comb through the hair on the back of her head to form a parting, my tingling fingers twist and turn through shiny strands to form two perfect, pretty braids….

I am consumed with emotion, filled with a powerful feeling of fierce protectiveness. I experience feelings of overwhelming hate and anger directed at the monster that dares to suggest that I would allow any child, let alone one of my own endure such anguish! I will punish the monster later when I get her on her own!

Through all of this, through the reality and the virtual I have described, I count! Urgently I count! Mentally drained, tears frozen solid in my throat, no longer able to suppress facial and body tics, still gently tending my beautiful child, and somehow responding periodically through the haze to her eager chattering; I count!
Four, eight, twelve, sixteen, on and on, the more horrifying the images, the more complex my count!! Until finally, hoping that outwardly I appear relatively normal, I am able to close my mind to the horror.

Until the next time!

PRAYER
Lord help me to trust; that intrusive thoughts (no matter how appalling) are a symptom of OCD and not a reflection of who I am, Amen.

POSITIVE THOUGHT
My kids are happy, I must be doing something right! I will always be ‘mum’, which makes every day worth fighting for!

Thank you for allowing me to share

GOD bless you and all those you love

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PicMonkey-Sample-Every-days-worth-the-fightI have complex mental health issues, including OCD and Agoraphobia.
I’m mum to 5 specials.. my youngest has special needs.
I love Christmas and BettyBoop.
I blog about, mental illness, and #luv2Tweet

Kimmie can be found  on her blog, Facebook & Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Erica Johnstone

You are not your eating disorder
Hi, I’m Erica. I’m 27. I am a wife, a daughter, a dog owner, a psychology research assistant, an athlete, and a friend. I am in recovery from anorexia nervosa, and I am here to take you beneath the surface of an eating disorder.

I can’t remember the last time I ate freely without thinking, calculating, debating, but it was probably in 5th grade. I would not say I was care-free; I was never that kind of kid, but I was less burdened than I would be for the years to come. I loved to play dress up and dolls with my best friend. I eagerly awaited my birthday party sleepovers and planned them for months. I was also shy and sensitive. I was eager for acceptance and at the same time I took the blame on myself. I felt undeserving. It wasn’t that I wasn’t loved. My parents have always been extremely loving and deeply devoted to me, but internally I never felt excellent. I felt just ok, average, but I was not good enough. I strove for perfection. I excelled in school but still beat myself up for those 1 point deductions. I desperately wanted to make everyone else happy even though I had no control over this. Little did I know, these traits made me a prime target for anorexia.

I was never overweight as a kid, but I was not skinny. I started noticing my body more in middle school. I was a gymnast, and I wanted the perfect lean body. Anorexia crept in slyly as it always does. No one intends to develop it; it is not a choice; it is an illness. I remember the thoughts of “just a little bit thinner, just a little bit” running through my head. It was like a suggestion, a soft nudging not meant to cripple my life, but that is just what it did. At age 12 the disease blossomed. I started cutting back on food, or restricting, and ramping up my exercise. At this point the disorder went hand in hand with my obsessive compulsive disorder. I had to complete a certain number of jumps in the bathroom at lunch, and if the last one wasn’t perfect enough, I had to do more. It began to consume my world. My life became school and restricting food and exercise.
Anorexia made me into a different person. I lied to my parents about what I ate and what exercise I did. I couldn’t bear throwing food away but eating all the food in my lunchbox was not an option, so I gave it away to homeless people. I even put little notes on it saying it was not contaminated, leaving it on benches outside the public library in downtown Santa Cruz. By freshman year, my weight had dropped significantly, and people began to notice. But the disorder made me believe that there was no problem at all. My coach was concerned. My parents were beyond concerned, and they desperately tried to find help through psychiatrists, with disappointing results. They didn’t know what to do. That year my parents and I participated in a research study at Stanford University on family based therapy for Anorexia. We went to Stanford every week or two and met with a doctor as a family. As with many mental illnesses, family dynamics play a key role. My parents are perfectionists. They are very driven and hard-working, so it is not surprising that I too share these characteristics. Family therapy treatment helped significantly in terms of gaining weight, but it did not address the underlying thoughts.

The thoughts do not just go away. I continued to obsess over exercise and food. As a result of undereating, I had developed osteoporosis, which means my bones lost mass and weakened. And I didn’t mature physically; I never got my period. High school was a blur of starvation and exercise and pushing myself to the limit academically. I maintained all As and took AP classes and was accepted into all the colleges I applied to, but I was miserable. I did not have boyfriends or go to parties or hang out with friends. I was preoccupied with calories and exercise and body image and self-disgust. I was sick. When I did go away to college, I broke down mentally and physically. I was incredibly homesick and fell deeper into anorexia. I began to see a therapist and moved back home, where I began seeing the therapist I still work with today. It is therapy that saved me.

Therapy is absolutely critical because anorexia is about thoughts. It is not about external appearance although that’s what people think. It is about internal suffering – the feelings of low self-esteem, of unworthiness, of self-loathing. Restricting food is a way to cope with pain and life stressors. It is a false way to feel slightly better in the short term. Akin to hearing voices, with anorexia, you hear an internal voice. ED, short for eating disorder, lived inside my head. ED patrols your thoughts and actions and judges you scathingly. ED tells you that you are never thin enough. It truly distorts your vision of yourself. You actually see yourself as fat when you are emaciated. Your brain is chemically altered through starvation. ED tells you that you have fat here and there and most importantly that you have failed. You have failed to restrict enough. You have failed in self-restraint. You are indulgent, you are lazy, you are unworthy and unlovable.

Self-criticism dominates your mind, and it is not just about food and body image. Every assignment, every workout, every performance, every conversation and word you utter is scrutinized internally. You find flaws in everything you do. You are degraded, and yet you are led to believe that the only relief is to further cut back on food, lose weight, punish yourself, deprive yourself more. You are trapped, living under an inner tyrant demanding that you obey and achieve elusive perfection. This was my experience during college. But through therapy, I started to see that this was not me. This was ED. ED stole my life away from me. He stole friends, love and fun. It is a lonely place to be with ED as your closest companion. And that was my biggest motivation to recover- longing for a social life, joy, and freedom. The first key to recovery was this understanding that ED, the eating disorder, was separate from my true identity. Then the feelings of self-hate and unworthiness must be challenged because when they are not present, there is no need for the coping mechanism of restricting. I have been in therapy for 8 years and participated in a full-time treatment program in San Francisco for a couple months 4 years ago. These have been invaluable in my recovery.

I would like to say I have won, I have vanquished anorexia, but I cannot say that. It has not disappeared; it is not erased from my life. Anorexia does not ever go away completely. I still think about what I am eating and ate already and will eat every day. I still have a hard time limiting my workouts. I still feel not good enough and undeserving at times, but I am healthy and strong. I am not constantly preoccupied. I have achieved a level of happiness in life that I never thought possible. I completed a master’s degree and had fun at the same time, I have made incredible friends and I fell in love and married a man that surpassed all my dreams. He is my lifeline and my joy. He has shown me that I am lovable and valuable. He has been such a significant asset to my recovery because he has helped to me learn to love myself.

So to all of you, I urge to be an ally to someone suffering from an eating disorder. Offer compassion and understanding and a space to share those deep, painful feelings. Encourage those suffering to get help- to see a therapist and to talk. Show them that they are valuable and lovable and deserving. Tell them “you are more than good enough.”

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profile-photoHello, my name is Erica Johnstone. I live in Folsom, CA with my wonderful husband and our little dog Oso. I work at the UC Davis Imaging Research Center in Sacramento, CA, where I interview and assess patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Our center conducts research on the neural bases of psychosis. I am also an avid swimmer and runner and enjoying cooking, kayaking, camping, watching movies and boating with my husband.

Erica can be found on her website and Facebook

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Stigma Fighters : Troy Williams

Crazy, mental, out of it, slacker, sensitive, I’ve been called all of them either to my face or behind my back. I’m not allowed to have emotions. If I’m having a down day I’m getting depressed again; if I’m anxious about finances, he’s having a panic attack. Even on my good days people talk and worry about whether this is the day I’ll have to go back in the hospital or whether my medications have stopped working. Believe it or not mentally ill people have the full range of appropriate emotions that everybody possesses. There are times when my communication with other people is not the best. Social anxiety prevents me from interacting well with others. It’s not because I don’t like you, it’s because I’m trying to not have a anxiety attack. Being forced to go on disability because my illness had gotten worse, I was a government mooch. Never mind that I had worked for over twenty years and paid into the social security system. The fact that I have gotten ECT or more commonly called “shock therapy” means that I must be really nuts. . Children, middle aged, old, nobody is immune. We’re not scary. Most of us are not axe murders or sex fiends. We’re normal people who have the unfortunate luck to have a brain disease. The brain, like any body part, can be broken. Stigmatizing mental illness is unfortunately one of the last ailments that society deems ok to remain uneducated about and to treat with ignorance. We who suffer from these diseases just want some understanding and compassion. As an individual you can educate yourself on what these disorders are and how you can best support someone who has one. If you know someone who suffers from a psychiatric disorder, the most important thing you can do is be there for them no matter what kind of day they’re having. Staying away due to being afraid you’ll say the wrong thing will only further isolate them. Don’t fear, become an advocate. Enlighten yourself. Go to the internet for reliable resources and educate yourself. The only way to fight the ignorance of being stigmatized is through getting good information to these people. Spread the word “You can’t catch crazy”

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2013-01-03-16.09.49I’m a 51 year old male who lives daily with Bipolar Disorder II, Adult ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and PTSD. My history is one of being physically, emotionally, verbally and sexually abused from the time I was a toddler. Being a passionate advocate for mental health and against child abuse, I am a blogger, writer and social media activist. Fighting the stigma associated with mental illness is my life’s purpose.

Troy can be found on his website, Facebook and Twitter.

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Stigma Fighters : H.M. Jones

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (most likely Type II, with rare instances of mania) not long after Silver Linings Playbook was released in theaters. In fact, it was in large part due to this theatrical representation of mental illness that I decided to get serious about seeing a psychotherapist.

I had, before then, had a dangerous breakdown, in which I flew off the handle at my husband. The event that set me off is unimportant because I was a shook up bottle of pop ready to explode, so it could have been anything that led to me screaming at the top of my lungs, shaking uncontrollably, scratching at the door handle of the car that my husband locked, so I wouldn’t jump out of our moving vehicle.  As it was, my husband had to stop at a stop sign (it’s only legal), and I jumped out of the car, scared to be around him and my crying children in the backseat, but unable to calm myself down. He was astonished and scared, and I couldn’t speak to him logically about what I was feeling. Because it wasn’t logical.

And it wasn’t the first time in my life that I had acted in a rash and dangerous manner, bursting out of my normal calm disposition and becoming a raging storm. My aunt, who helped my mom raise me when I was young, put it perfectly when she called me her “Thundercloud” and said, “When you storm, you really storm and when you shine, oh, man do you shine.” What she didn’t say, and what I have begun to think is that my middle ground, that calm, positive, playful in-between person, has, as I’ve aged, gotten overshadowed by the other extremes: the heavy rain and the too bright shine.

Which takes me back to my viewing of Silver Linings Playbook. When I was diagnosed, I explained to my doctor that I did not want to start on medication, yet, wanting to change my diet and start extensive exercise. He agreed and said it was worth a try, but medication was not something to be ashamed of if I decided that my symptoms were not manageable. But that movie made me truly think about my decision to try natural treatments of my condition. Rather, it made me see my condition as an outsider, and what I saw was uncomfortable. Bradley Cooper’s character flips a manic switch and becomes violent twice during the film. Some psychologists say that that is a rare occurrence for bipolar people, whose mania does not manifest violently very often. But his character was me. I get not just irritable but enraged during my severe manic episodes. I thought to myself, Is that how the people I love see me? And that made me sad, but at least it made me aware. That is how my severe mania looks, and it’s terrifying from the inside out.

Michael Blumenfield, M.D., when reviewing the implications of the movie suggested, “The film wasn’t necessarily saying, ‘This is exactly what bipolar is like.’ I think the movie showed the complexities of disorders and also showed how traumatic events can affect people” (webmd.com). And I agree completely. The film made me see myself, not a reflection, but a connection. And it made me understand and admit that I am mentally ill, which let’s face it, is a terrible thing to have to admit to yourself.

Yet, I’m still not on medication. For the most part, I experience the state of bugs-under-the-skin heightened energy known as hypomania. Other times, I fall into that deep empty darkness of depression where I am less of a danger to others, but more of a danger to myself.

So, why, other very smart and capable bipolar peoples ask, are you not on meds? Fear of change. A selfish fear of normality. I’m not sure what neutral is, for me. Will I still be as productive, as poetic, as feeling as I am now if I go on meds? Maybe not…And I love those perks of my consistent hypomania, though consistent hypomanic episodes means that I’m probably getting closer to mania, which I have experienced and fear almost as much as normality. My best writing has come from the dark and euphoric and irritable places inside me. The eerie, unpleasant and void Monochrome, my fictional world, came from my depression. And, as a writer, my worlds and my self-dependent camaraderie with words is what makes or breaks me. More than that, when I write, I feel a sense of contentment that can only be described as “normal.” I feel healed, for a moment.

I sometimes wonder about my favorite singer/songwriter, Elliot Smith, and if he longed for neutral or if he, too, lived for the state in which his words created a resounding clang of empathy worldwide. Or whether those words healed him, temporarily. As Mark Dombeck, writing about vulnerable music, beautifully describes:

Listening to Elliott sing, it strikes me how self-contained and withdrawn he could be. I get the feeling he was excessively modest (due to a self-depreciating streak) and devalued his songwriting, playing and singing abilities. I sincerely doubt that he managed to appreciate, in his short life, what a priceless service he was providing to others in voicing feelings that other people simply could not otherwise describe. I doubt he had any real comprehension of how inspiring he was. When you’re depressed like Elliott clearly was, nothing feels satisfying and all you want to do is stop feeling.

Elliot Smith, Silver Linings Playbook and even, sometimes, Pink ( who may not be bipoloar, but whose music speaks to those with bipolar disorders) inspire and calm many who suffer from mental illness, as surely as Sylvia Plath’s poetry soothes me, not because it is light and happiness but because it understands me. When I write, I want to do so out of empathy, and I’m scared that I won’t be able to function as an artist if I am functioning neutrally.

But I have two children who sometimes wonder when they spill juice on the rug whether they will get the helpful, patient mommy or the one who is clearly irate and scary, but is trying to suppress it as she leads them to their room, away from her crazy. I am married to a very patient man who probably fell in love with a more normal version of me, a woman he is not certain to come home to when he walks through the door. And their anxiety is valid. My life story would make an entertaining, funny, and sometimes sad memoir. But the lives of my family are not kindle for my stories; they are my responsibility. I don’t know what I will do with my increasingly annoying symptoms, but I do know that exercise, eating right and low caffeine are helping, not stopping, them, even if they are alleviating the severity of them. My mental illness is me, maybe as much as that other person who my family must really like. I don’t know what I’ll do tomorrow, except search for answers and write, but I know that today is my children’s day off from school, mommy’s day off from teaching and it would be nice to simply have a neutral day.

*   *   *

meH.M. Jones is the B.R.A.G Medallion author of Monochrome, just picked up by Gravity, an imprint of Booktrope. She is also responsible for the Attempting to Define poetry quartet and has contributed a short story to Master’s of Time: A Sci-Fi  and Fantasy Time Travel Anthology, due to be released July 2015. A bestseller only in her mind, Jones pays the electric bill by teaching English and research courses at Northwest Indian College. Jones is also the moderator for Elite Indie Reads, a review website for Indie and Self published books. Besides buying enough second-hand books to fill a library, Jones loves to spend time helping her preschoolers grow into thinking, feeling citizens of this world, run, weave, pull with the Port Gamble S’Klallam Canoe Family and attempt to deserve her handsome husband, who is helping pay the other bills until his wife becomes the next big thing.
H.M. can be found on her Website and on Twitter
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Stigma Fighters : Deborah Wiseman

My head is a
Room
And each thought a person
Who walks from one side to the
Other – performs his task
And then walks out

But sometimes,
There is a thought who flits
Near the top
In no particular order

And he says
Not quite loudly enough
That it should cause alarm

“I think today’s the day I’ll
Jump”

Most days he just flies back out
He performed his task
But his words
They echo,
And stay
And drip down
From the ceiling

Some damp water rot
Unsightly

It curls the paper

But the thoughts just go on,
And continue
Like nothing ever happened
Because that’s right
Nothing ever happened.

But if he comes in
And says his piece
And one of those thoughts happen to
Hear
And look up

He’ll become bigger
Heavier
Solid
He’ll sink
And he’ll stay

And he’ll say
Just a little louder than before

(You gave him substance, why?)

“I really mean it
Today’s the day I am going to
Jump”

And he won’t really walk out
Because he isn’t really done

He’s heavy,
And he makes the air heavy

No one can breathe
And then
Someone else will sit down
And say

“I’m tired
What’s the point?”

And then the heavy one’s task is done
And he’ll leave

While the thoughts still move
Just a little more slowly
Because nothing seemed to matter
As much as it did
Just a moment before

And in an hour,
He’ll come back.
And he won’t say anything
But everyone will try
To stare

And watch him
From their respective corners
And their tasks will get that much less
Attention

He’s great for
Productivity

And he’ll open his
Mouth

And they’ll stop and
Wait

But he won’t say Anything
He’ll just walk back out

And then a frenetic
Energy might take place
The thoughts will rush
To finish all
They can before

Before he comes back
But he’ll be back
Too soon

And he’ll say

“I think I’m going to jump
Today”

And this time
It becomes a

Chant- mantra

A storm of whispers and murmurs
Which grows and swells
To shouts and screams

Until every thought is chaos
Heavy and stifling

And no one can breathe
And all you want to do is
Jump

*   *   *

Deborah Wiseman is a 25 year old who cannot write a bio to save her life and can be found on Facebook

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Stigma Fighters : Amy White

When the silence is deafening

I recently read a statistic that said one in four people in the US experience some type of mental health challenge. This got me thinking, who are the other three? Having experienced a mental health crisis with my son just a couple years ago, I can tell you that from my personal experience the other three are family members and caregivers.

Caregivers are many times unsung heroes by choice. As caregivers we give and we do everything we can in good times and bad to take care of those who we love, without the expectation of recognition or even at times appreciation. What happens though when a caregiver is doing all of this and feels that they have to remain silent because of stigma, shame and blame? Can you even imagine? Caregivers need a good support network and, at the very least time to recharge and practice self-care to keep themselves well enough to continue along their path. Though there is often guilt associated with taking care of themselves when their loved one is in crisis, without the ability to share what they are going through, many caregivers find themselves alone, burned out and unwell.

Whether a parent or loved one, caregivers show up everyday to take care of those who need us. But you know what? Many of the caregivers out there are performing at superhero levels day in and day out. Most are under significant stress and few have solid support teams assembled to help take on some of the work. Why? Because in the midst of health crisis, it’s one foot in front of the other, one task, or one phone call at a time. For caregivers like myself who found themselves in the midst of crisis with little warning, the balance of finding our footing and supporting our loved one is more than enough to focus on, reaching out for help or support for ourselves during this time can feel daunting and way out of our reach.

Let’s think for a moment about what the situation is like for many caregivers who are supporting children, siblings, or even their own parents through a mental health crisis. The stigma, blame and shame for many can run deep and wide. These caregivers are not only performing superhero feats day in and day out but they are doing so while in many cases pretending that life is normal; acting as if things are smooth and quiet in their lives, as I did for a period of time when my son first went into crisis. Many of these caregivers go to work, they perform their roles with as much gusto and dedication as always but all the while in private, in the quiet dark corners of the office or even from their cars at lunch or break time, they are dealing with the reality of a mental health crisis.

Over the past several years, since my son went through his crisis and stabilization, I have noticed over and over the lack of open discussion by parents and caregivers around mental health situations. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good networks out there but in the grand scheme of things they are few and far between. For me personally, I have had many discussions and coaching sessions with parents and caregivers who didn’t have anyone to talk with or who couldn’t find anyone who truly understood the situation that they were going through. I found this myself, and have written about my own experiences a number of times on my blog.

“What made it more challenging was that when I went searching for support, there was little to be found. I really found this disheartening, especially because as I sat in Emergency rooms, waiting rooms and program assessments, I saw so many parents, many who seemed to be in the same emotional state as me, and I couldn’t understand why there weren’t more support options available. I kept feeling that personally it would help so much if I could talk with other parents who were going through similar experiences. Yet no one was talking. I reached out through my personal support circles and a few times felt that I was close to finding someone who understood what I was going through, to talk with. Each time a possible contact was identified, the answer that came back was “no”. One response that truly drove home my understanding of the secrecy surrounding mental illness came from an acupuncturist who was trying to help connect me with another client, “I asked my client, who is having a similar experience to yours, if she would want to meet for coffee to talk, but she said no, she doesn’t talk about her situation openly, in fact even her close friends do not know”

It still surprises me when I think back to the early days of my son’s crisis, and I recall the time I spent trying to find other parents who were willing to share their story with me, so that I could better understand what was happening; so that I could feel like there was a bit of a light or silver lining or something. Time and time again, I fell short, hearing that people were unwilling to share, because in their own daily lives, they had not shared with the people closest to them. How many parents and caregivers are out there, staying silent because they are afraid of the stigma, the blame that could come along with sharing their situation? There is deep shame for many. There is the feeling that they have done something terribly wrong and are the cause their situation. So they stay silent.

And the silence can be deafening.

*   *   *

Amy-WhiteAmy White is an International Best Selling Author, Coach and Mental Health Advocate. She is a storyteller, a lover of words and a champion for mental health and wellness. A self-proclaimed square peg in a round world, Amy is learning to love all of the bits and pieces of her life and works to help others love theirs and find their way back to Paradise.

Amy can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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