Stigma Fighters: Erika Reva

Part Of Me

“Normal is illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.” –Morticia Addams

My life as a liar began when I was very young. I was an awful child. I made everyone in my life angry, constantly. I did very bad and horrible things every day. I was too clumsy, too awkward, and too terrible. Jesus was disappointed in my behavior, so I had to be punished. My parents hated me, my mothers, mother tortured me. I disappointed everyone because I couldn’t be “normal.” What a terrible child I was. If only I could be better. I had to do better. If I just would listen and not be a ‘fat, stupid, slob” I wouldn’t be punished. If I could just be better and not a liar with an ‘overactive imagination’ I won’t be punished anymore. That’s simple. I’ll read about how to be better! I’ll watch everyone so I know how to be ‘good’ and ‘normal’. If I were like the other kids I wouldn’t have to worry.

I stopped feeling. When being a ‘good’ & ‘happy’ child didn’t work, I gave up. A heavy veil of nothingness took over, comforting and protective. I no longer felt a thing. We began working obsessively studying other children. We grew, we learned and we hid.

I stopped being a happy child. I no longer existed. I was gone and would not be able to find myself until my late 20’s. Sure there are small things I remember. Glimpses of my life; a moment, but that doesn’t feel real. It is like a foggy dream. A moment of happiness that doesn’t exist, just as I stopped existing, so did my memories. That moment of happiness I longed for, but could never feel. Laughter and happiness weren’t safe. Speaking wasn’t safe. Sadness, joy, anger, and fear, none of these were safe. So nothingness is where I resided (lived) in an empty hole; a deep empty hole covered by nothingness, my security blanket.

No joy, no real pain, and no fear. It was comforting in a strange way. Studying the nonverbal languages of expression and the body became our obsession. Later in life they, my parts, even began studying it at a college level. They needed to know what we did not understand. It consumed some of them. They began living my life. They began to live their own individual lives. I had no idea what was happening and to this day I am still missing years of my life.

“Blacking Out” became the norm. I had no idea what was happening to me. Depression and anxiety took over my life. I had moments of wanting to know what was happening. I saw many doctors; none of them could tell me anything. It was the constant, shrug and “I dunno.” I quickly began seeing the signs; upon entering a doctor’s office I (we) could always tell if they would be able to help me. None were able. They ran their tests and everything came back “just fine.” Something was very clearly wrong, but despite our efforts nothing was being done. I gave up. In my mid-twenties I quit. I had no desire to know what was wrong. I couldn’t take it. My parts, however, were quite different. One in particular refused my defeat and continued seeking help. I had no idea. She would “take over” (meaning I was gone & she took control, fully) and continue making doctor appointments.

Eventually, even my mother wanted to help. It was shocking since she was one of the causes of this outcome. This threw us (them) into a tailspin, but she helped B (the very determined part who sought help for me/us/we) get an appointment with the Mayo Clinic. We saw nearly every specialist they had available to us; the 5-7 day stay was extended to nearly two weeks. Our neurologist saw it. He saw them. He ‘tested’ what he thought he saw, and very quickly realized he was correct and we needed help. He saw them. He paid attention. He listened to his patient, something no one else had ever done. Not one doctor listened to me or them, but he had. If not for him, we would not have made it this far. If not for some of them, I would have ended our life.

He gave us a long laundry list of follow up appointments once we were home. The ones they went to were an endocrinologist in Chicago and a mental health clinic in Indiana. He referred us to the doctor at the clinic that quite literally saved our lives. He did not explain all the reasons for his referral. He wanted someone else to see us, she did. She ended our guilt from many things, and she continues helping us today. She helped B find her voice. She has helped Anger be so much more than she was… She showed us we could live. She wasn’t afraid, regardless of what they had said or done in her presence. She listened. No one ever had before and that is truly invaluable.

We continue seeing her to this day. For now, it’s twice a week, but it won’t always be. Living with DID is a struggle, but having an actual support system now, something we never thought we would have, we continue to grow. We found our voice. We found it acceptable to reach out and demand support & respect. We’ve learned to ask and hope. Hope was something that was lost to me and most of us for nearly 28yrs. Hope would creep in briefly and then be locked away. Now, we Hope. We speak to my husband about these things. My best friend now knows about our struggle. She knows about “The We in Me.”

We found our version of normal. We no longer live like a fly, but as the spider. Never dilute yourself to please others. Never silence your own voice because someone says you’re “Crazy” or not good enough. Create your own path and go live. We did.















We are many. I never knew they existed. Today we are working towards ending the stigma. My years of silence nearly killed me more than once. #EndTheStigma & #IAmNotAshamed by @teamnotashamed is a very dear cause to all of us. Speak. Get help. No more shame!

Erika can be found on Twitter

Stigma Fighters: Megan Kelsay

Trigger Warning- Suicide 

Five years ago on April 24th, 2011 I lost my best friend. I lost her to suicide. I didn’t know about the Depression, Anxiety, and the feelings of being worthless. She was always happy, cheerful, and in a good mood. No one ever expected my best friend to take her own life on that dreary October morning. I never expected to get that phone call that would completely shatter my well being. I never expected having to say goodbye to my best friend who by all means acted as if everything was okay. I never knew about the problems she was having and if I had, I would’ve done something about them. I would’ve gotten her help.

It was in the springtime, if I remember correctly it was April. It was on a Sunday morning when I received a phone call that I never saw coming. I was half asleep when my cell phone starting ringing and I knew it was early because it was dark out. It kept ringing and I finally grabbed it and opened it up and said,” Hello?” The next words I heard shattered my world.

“Megan, she’s gone. Paige committed suicide.”

I fell apart, I got up from my bed sobbing and threw the phone on the floor and crumbled to the floor hysterically crying trying to figure out what just happened. It had to be a dream, it had to be. She had to be alive and I had to see her. She lived very close to me and I hurried out of the house seeing my dad up. I can still hear him yelling and screaming at me to come back. This had to be a dream. All I can remember is Paige’s mother holding me as I cried begging for this not to be true.

But, it wasn’t a dream. It was real life. The following days, I struggled to make it through the days and I didn’t go to school. I couldn’t face people because without my best friend at my side, I felt alone. We grew up together and went through everything together and I couldn’t imagine my life without her and now I had too. Paige believed that if she told anyone how she felt, they wouldn’t believe her, they would think she was a burden, or she was trying to get attention. I wish I could tell her it would’ve been the opposite. I would’ve been by her side and we would go through together like we had everything else.

I never really thought she would take her own life and the more and more I read her diary, she vented her frustrations about everything and I came to learn a different side to her. One that she didn’t show to me. She was afraid, embarrassed, shameful, and tormented. Even though she was no longer here, she could be finally free from the pain she experienced. As I went through the journal, the tears poured down my cheeks s I read the entries and one in particular broke my heart.

I don’t like putting on a facade for people when on the inside I’m screaming ready for the pain to end. I don’t want to be a burden, I don’t want to talk about my issues. I can’t burden my best friend with this.

The last line killed me. She felt that she couldn’t even tell me how she felt. It broke my heart that she felt like this way. My heart was broken because I had lost my best friend and I didn’t even know the pain she was suffering. She put on a mask and played the game until she couldn’t anymore. I felt guilty, shameful, lost, and like I had failed my best friend and her family.

I remember the day her mother called me and told me to come over and go through her stuff. As I entered the room, I felt the immediate lump in my throat seeing the posters on her wall. Some that I helped put up, the trophies from the sports she played and seeing pictures of us together made me choked up. The amount of time I spent in this room is more than I can remember. I sat down on her bed and immediately burst into tears now knowing she would never come back. She was gone. Even at her funeral, I didn’t accept it. But, sitting there in her dark room I knew that my best friend was gone. The realization finally hit me and I would have to pick up the pieces and continue on for her.

I go to her grave every year and lay flowers down and bare my soul to her as if she was still alive. There is no closure for me like many people say closure will happen. Not for me, I still mourn her loss every day and still think of all the times we chatted until we had nothing to talk about which rarely happened. I never knew the pain she experienced and never knew she felt like she would be a burden. If I had known these things, life would be different but that’s not how it ended up. Everyone was stunned because no one, not even her parents knew the pain she felt and they were super close. She hid her pain so well that no one knew and that’s what she wanted.

I miss her every day. I no longer blame myself and I work to educate others on Mental Illness which is something she would be proud of. I’m living my life for her because she was my best friend and always cheered for me. I wish she was her but I have to accept the fact that she won’t come back. I will cherish the memories and when I’m down, I hear the words she would tell me to cheer me back up or look at old journals that we used.

Mental Illness doesn’t have a face and you don’t know if someone has a Mental Illness by physically looking at them. You don’t know their demons, you don’t know the struggles that people face so be kind to everyone you meet. My best friend was cheerful, fun loving, always smiling, and willing to help people out. You would’ve never expected her to be tormented, depressed, numb, and felt as though ending her life was the best option. This is why I educate people. Mental Illness is a serious matter and needs to be taken so especially suicide. You don’t know the struggles people face so be kind to anyone you meet. You might just make their day.

13043570_10100840959423195_6494643748625618523_nMy name is Megan and I am a Mental Health advocate. I advocate for those who fear the stigma and feel ashamed of the way they feel. I am co-leader for Team Not Ashamed and a senior in college. I have anxiety and have suffered depression in the past. I also blog for Student Minds and even have a blog of my own. I’m an open book, love helping people, lifting weights, running, and being with friends and family.

Megan can be found on her blog and Twitter

Stigma Fighters: Paakhi Bhatnagar

Is it true that deluges fill a void
in your heart that many drugs fail to numb?

I have heard wolves crawl into my skin
and wither their way into my insecurity.
I have felt the novel shift of having a skeleton
and collapsing under the weight of it.
My mother dreamt of a night when I would speak in my slumber and,
I would tell her my secrets,
the ones I keep within the chambers of my wolves.
They are guarded, mother,
do not touch them, do not tap that door,
for the wolves will attack. They are not under my control.
But Vitriol is poisonous and he knows where I keep my key.
He hurls his canopy, caging me, succumbing me to sin.
It is not my fault, mother,
I was not under my control. My screams
my fears, I have yet not told you
that they are the reason for my silent nights and
they are the reason that you somnambulate behind me.
Remember that time when I dragged you down the river, mother?
The dirt under your nails chafed my heart and I will not,
I will not close that burn until you understand that
that induced drowning was not my fault.
I was not under my control.
My feet find their own path,
my mouth speaks its own mind, and
my tongue spins its own lies.
Forgive me, mother,
They too, are not under my control.

Paakhi Bhatnagar is a student from India and an avid reader of historical fiction.youth-for-change She is a passionate feminist and blogs about mental health and feminist issues. She has been recognized for her poem “India’s Balaclava” by the Indian Consulate, and her poem was subsequently published in the Postcards of India Anthology. Her story “Strangers” has been published in the Canvas Teen Literary Journal. She also writes for The Gulf News.

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

Stigma Fighters: Kevin L. Schwartz

Trigger warning – suicide 

I think we can all agree life isn’t worth living. The question is: are you too lazy to do anything about it? Most people are. Usually I am too. One day I wasn’t, so I sliced open my wrists and downed a bottle of Klonopin and waited to fall asleep and not wake up. As one does.

My two friends stopped by and were like, “Oh my god. We were going to take you to see ‘Spider-Man’ and get some pizza — but look at you! Your socks don’t even match! Also, you need to go to the hospital!”

I wasn’t entirely awake, but evidently I was just alert enough to be argumentative. “Or we could go see ‘Spider-Man’ now,” I said, “and then go to the hospital afterward if we need to. Because we certainly won’t be able to go to the hospital and then go see ‘Spider-Man.'”

This barely made sense even to me, but evidently somehow this made sense to them. So we taped up my wrists and went to the Multiplex to see “Spider-Man.”
At the end of the movie, they shook me awake and said, “We’re taking you to the hospital now.”

Sleepy as I was, I was still argumentative. “Or we could go get pizza,” I said. “We can always go to the hospital afterward. But we won’t be able to go to the hospital and then get pizza.” Or I said something to that effect, but probably with more slurred words.

I guess this struck them as a reasonable compromise, so we went to Ian’s and got some pizza. But when I spilled my soda all over my pizza, we all agreed it was time to go to the hospital.

To be continued. Possibly. 

10391894_10156614895195019_1139274331881931215_nKevin L. Schwartz is a musician and writer who lives in Madison, WI for some reason. His jokes have appeared on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘@midnight.’





Kevin can be also be found on Twitter

Stigma Fighters: Niraj Chandan

Hi. My name is Niraj Chandan. I have had mental health issues for twelve years. I am on medication. This post might help some people get a better idea about mental health issues so I think it’s worthwhile

I went through through normal teenage experiences like thrill highs and lows. But what happened in my adult life was something I couldn’t have imagined  I had never heard of or read about mental illness.

I was very much interested in exploring the outdoors and how happy I felt. I trekked quite a bit and travelled. It felt great. I started staying in a small village. I mean like staying for long periods like nine months at a time. It was exhilarating. I did housework in a very quiet place. I got groceries and painted my house. All that was cathartic. I was, however, lonely inside and dying for a romantic partner. After three years of rural experience I was not feeling comfortable at all and came back to the city. I met with a psychiatrist immediately. This was in early 2002 when it still not widely talked about. After taking medication I felt a bit better. The loneliness however was overwhelming. I was without any romantic partner for a significantly long while and it was pretty disturbing by now.

It was during this period that I suffered major depression (or clinical depression) where one is unable to carry on even basic duties of everyday life. I was having suicidal. It was at that time that psychiatrist suggested I go through a series of electro convulsive therapies. I read about it and took them. After taking four ects I felt pretty relieved.

It was during that time that I met a girl. She was nice. We met often. I used to explain to her my condition. She was understanding and supportive. We kept meeting for a couple of years. We met my psychiatrist several times. He was very thoughtful and was completely non judgmental.

He did warn her about my mental health issues.
We got married. I was still having issues with my mind and used to meet the psychiatrist almost every month. Most times my wife accompanied me.
It was clear that my mental health issues persisted even after marriage. At that time I couldn’t do much let alone work.

After a couple of years of marriage I started helping a blind man who made handmade candles.
I made a small website and advertised on We got steady orders.  I kept doing more work. This time it was for our family business of used industrial equipment. I again made a website and advertised on I used to get steady inquiry by email from far off places all over India. My father was soon able to sell significant stock of our inventory.

It was at that time that we had our child. Fatherhood made me more deeper intellectually. I was trying to understand my illness and what was important and what was in my mind. All through these years I was on medication and met the psychiatrist almost every month.

My thought patterns were however draining me. I used to get stressed out. I was having trouble taking a bath or going out of home for longer periods. It was at that time that I had to take several ECTs again. The number of ECTs I had taken in total were eighteen.

We had our second child. I was quite unwell. My wife was very encouraging and understanding all the while. I was having trouble managing. Despite being sick, I felt happy when I was taking care of both children. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go out of house for long periods of time.

I am still on medication. I have been able to start physical exercise. I am feeling physically a bit better. I try not to get paranoid or anxious about my thoughts. I try to help my wife with things I can do. I have been able to walk for a longer distances. I do have bad days. I try.

Niraj can be found on Twitter.


Stigma Fighters: Meridith

I majored in psychology, for a year or two at least, in college so I took plenty of psychology classes back in the early 90s. I remember taking one class in particular. It was called “Abnormal Psychology”. I remember learning about bipolar disorder and thinking, wait, other people don’t feel this way? Other, “normal”, people don’t have these “symptoms”? The descriptions of bipolar disorder seemed so normal and ordinary to me that I was surprised I was learning about it in an “abnormal psych” class.

I also remember a time, also when I was in college, a period of deep, deep depression. I did not know enough back then, when I was a kid, to know that this was not normal and that I should seek help. I was in bed for months, in between classes, and I was suicidal. Luckily, I did not act upon my desires to not be alive any more. After a period of about two months, the depression finally lifted and I was back to my regular activities.

Time went by, and then, when I was roughly 34, about ten years ago, we went on a family cruise to the Caribbean. At that time, we had three children (we now have four) and they were still pretty young. When we arrived home after that cruise, I immediately entered what I now recognize as a deep depression. I just stared and stared at our pictures of the kids from the cruise and their sweet faces made me cry and cry. I was obsessed with the thought of them growing up and I wanted so much for that not to happen. I cried and cried for days on end. I remember reaching out to my aunt, who has three grown children, and asking her if she ever experienced such sadness at the thought of her kids growing up. She basically said no, that she has enjoyed all of the phases of life that her kids have gone through growing up. I began to realize that I should seek help for my depression.

Finally, I made an appointment to see a psychiatrist, who immediately put me on an antidepressant. However, at that time I was concerned about bipolar disorder because I had read a lot about it and all the symptoms seemed so ordinary and normal to me. Doesn’t everyone feel this way? I told the doctor I suspected bipolar disorder, and she told me that after a month or so of being on an antidepressant, the bipolar, if indeed I had it, would reveal itself.

Well it did. In a big way. After a couple months, I entered a very scary manic episode. I’m not positive that I was psychotic, but if I wasn’t, I was close. I was very jittery, shaking all over, like I had 20 cups of coffee in me. I felt outside of my body, like I was afraid of what I would do at any moment, as if I had no control over my body. I kept pacing and pacing, going back and forth and peering out the windows, for whatever reason. I called my best friend at the time and told her to come over immediately. She had to call my doctor because I couldn’t do it myself. She took care of my kids, called my mom to come watch them, and took me right to a psychiatric hospital. I was there for one week and while I was there I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder. Two years later, I became very depressed and suicidal and spent another week in the hospital.

The past ten years have been a constant process of learning about mental illnesses, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder in particular. It has also been ten years of “which meds work?” I’ve tried everything! I have finally become relatively stable, for a couple years now, on what seems to be a working combination, for now, at least. I spend a lot of time going through rapid-cycling moods and considerable time being mildly depressed, with lethargy, loss of interest, and body aches. I have some nights when I desperately want to go to sleep and never wake up or just sleep for a week, but those are pretty random and it is more like a fleeting thought and not necessarily a suicidal thought, if that makes sense. I have not had a full-blown manic episode or a deep depression for probably six or seven years now. I consider myself a “high-functioning” person who happens to have bipolar disorder. I deal with it quite well, actually. In fact, sometimes I see it as a blessing. Sometimes a curse, sometimes a blessing. I am highly creative and intelligent and I happen to be a pretty decent mother to four children.

I also feel very strongly about speaking out about mental health issues. I have spent years writing about myself and my experiences and also researching and writing about mental illnesses in order to educate people and just increase talk about mental health in general. I recently started up a new blog with a friend of mine who has a grown son with bipolar disorder and I am very excited about this new project we call “It’s All Cerebral”.

Meridith is a married mother of four children, ages 18, 15, 12, and 4. She is apic teacher and graduated from LSU in 1996. She spends much of her time blogging about mental health issues.





Meridith can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

Stigma Fighters: Shez Duggan

Trigger Warning: Talk of panic and paranoia. 

We’re All Mad Here

I have spent a vast amount of my adult life battling, confronting, denying, engaging and dancing with my nemesis diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia. Most of the time I find myself just stuck. Belligerent thoughts that argue back and forth that are not my own. I can just hear them, continuing in debate like I’ve gatecrashed a kind of business conference. They clank and collide like parts of a machine that has no power down function. I attempt to tune them out and on the rare occasions where I am successful they then resemble a monotonous droning like the sound of quiet background TV minus the habitual comfort.

Having an element of control over the voices enables me to concentrate my efforts on my crippling anxiety that takes many forms. Social anxiety I “conquered” merely by just becoming a recluse. It was the easiest thing to do and eliminated all my fears of the world outside my front door. So a recluse I became apart from midnight runs to the all night store in a hooded top and sunglasses. Nobody knew who I was and I didn’t know who anybody was – just the way I like it. My bedroom became my sanctuary and I made it into my own little world, my own environment – my rules, my space, sparkling clean, no germs and nobody could tamper with my tea or medication. Having such transparent control like this keeps me focused, keeps me running despite it’s damaging connotations.

The panic is tougher to confront. It’s power is quite overwhelming and at any given moment during an attack I feel as if I am facing death constantly or being informed inside my head that I deserve death and it was always coming to get me anyway. The physical torment of these attacks come in the form of terrible shakes and trembling that I cannot control, my heart beats so fast with erratic rhythm and I feel as if it would explode out of my chest. Cold sweats that force me to regularly change my clothes up to several times a day and night – usually pajamas as I hate wearing normal clothes as this represents the world outside to me. I am restless beyond belief and my little enforced routines in my sanctuary cause me to never be able to sit or lay still. I get in and out of bed hundreds of time, over and over to do some little thing – re-light a candle, pit an incense stick on, rearrange books and papers, I start labeling things and panic that my clothes and linen are not folded and rolled properly. It’s sheer panic sometimes and I cannot rest. I am tormented with this and cannot even sit still through a TV show or a movie. My mind will not allow me to rest. To say it’s difficult to overcome such events as my panic attacks is an understatement. Most of the time I feel like I’ve cheated death several times a day and somebody divine is taking pity on me.

My constant companion is paranoia and if I really consider all aspects of this mental illness I would have to say this is the worst one to handle. Paranoia is relentless and unforgiving. It does not stop to take a break and it seeps into every single detail of my life. It will find a way no matter what. Just when I believe I have a grip on the day and might be able to make it through it there it is to greet me. I am forever looking over my shoulder, listening for any words people may say, I write everything I do down in several diaries and journals each day so I can remember events, conversations and details so nobody can catch me out. I am plagued with miserable thoughts of what people think of me, what they say about me and how they feel about me. It’s like a conspiracy and they’re all in it together to “get” me. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before I am mobbed with some kind of intervention for doing something that I have no recollection of but it will be terrifyingly bad. My own thoughts feel like they are being chronically stolen and broadcast elsewhere so I am never sure what I have sad or done. I don’t know if the paranoia preys on my bad memory and the fact that I seem to have little control over my mind. My phone and the mail scares me a lot. Yes, that’s right, I can be frightened of a letter being posted into my mailbox. I never know what it’s going to be and with the phone I become frozen and find it extremely difficult to be myself and talk to people, even close members of my family. The only person I seem to find it easy and safe with is my boyfriend who is beginning to understand more about me and this condition.

Hallucinations are another thing all together. For me the word hallucination just doesn’t seem right when describing what I see. They are not visions to me they are just a very normal part of my life. I have never seen anything clearly, fully or front on ahead of me, they are always out of the corner of my eye or if they do appear front on then they are always moving very quickly or running across my field of vision, blurry and fast. I see people and animals, the people are always the same people, the animals vary. They always let me know when they are coming. After a dry taste in my mouth I then get a warm feeling come over me but it is not comforting in any way. They are not always visual, I receive, I suppose, audio hallucinations too, various music playing and I hear names and conversations and other unidentifiable sounds. Over the years I have learned to accept and ignore my “hallucinations” and I have become adept in recognising what is “real” and what is not. In the past, I have engaged with my visions verbally but it was not a pretty experience and I am much better off ignoring them and carrying on like they are not there. I rarely talk about this side of my Schizophrenia as I am often met with mockery, disbelief and criticism. I cannot stand to be misunderstood and judged in this way through ignorant eyes, ears and opinions. I surrender, once again, to silent reclusiveness as it offers me relief from the pressures of this world and the attitude of some people towards somebody like me with this condition.
Night times are exposed as the most formidable for me. I have painsomnia and hardly sleep. If I do it’s broken and laced with night terrors. 3am will arrive and it knows all my secrets. I shrink away in abject terror. I pray, no I beg for sleep before it arrives. It rarely happens and I am forced to confront those things that tumble out of Pandora’s box. I really must get that lock fixed …


2016-03-14-06.01.52 I am a tortured writer who used to love cheesecake, I’m slightly crazy but I go everywhere carrying a heart of gold. Whilst battling chronic illnesses – Insulin dependent Diabetes, Paranoid Schizophrenia and Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome (CVS) – and physical pain each waking day I endeavour to record all my thoughts, dreams and ramblings in my many scattered notebooks. I write every day as the worst ink survives the best memory. Writing is my passion, my obsession, especially about my mental health, it is something I cannot live without. It makes me deliriously happy and I adore connecting and reaching out to my readers and my circle with love, empathy and a kindred understanding. I am often crushed by isolation and rejection but I combat this through my writing and hope that I can reach others who may be feeling the same way.

I am a young, slender woman of 36 who believes in the whispers of thrills, the kindness of strangers and has been lucky enough to have found the one who will love me like crazy back. Dave is my rock.
I write about real life, particularly my own but also fiction too usually based on my favourite classical themes or relationships, tragedies and the glorious mess that is life. The people I love dearly are my support network with my illnesses. They keep me going and keep me writing …

Shez can be found on Facebook and Twitter.  


Stigma Fighters: Dawn Ogle

Bipolar. Manic depressive. Those were the only words I heard come out of my doctor’s mouth. Unstable. Mental case. Crazy. Insane. Those were the words that ran through my mind. I was sitting across from her at the desk. Those words were thrown in my face as if they meant nothing at all. That’s because she wasn’t talking about herself. Instead she was talking to me.

All of the blood drained from from my face. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t hear. I felt all alone in this world full of people. I didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t think. All I wanted to do was run. Run away from all of this. Run away from those words that were now describing me. I couldn’t move though. I was becoming part of the blue cushioned chair that I sat upon.

My senses returned to me, and I was able to hear, see, and breathe again. Medication. I was told I would need to take medication on a daily basis now. Unfortunately for this disorder, this illness, there are hundreds of medications that could work. That meant I had to go through a trial and error kind of phase taking one pill after another until we found the best fit for me.

I didn’t know what to think. Instead the doctor did the thinking for me. She told me what she recommended. An anti-depressant. A mood stabilizer. I felt like I didn’t have a choice. My moods were all over the place, I was acting erratic, I wasn’t thinking clearly, and at times I wasn’t thinking at all. So medication was something I truly needed to try.

Next thing I knew I was being handed some prescription slips to take to the pharmacy. I thanked the doctor, I think, and walked out of the office in a haze. I made it to my car, lost in my thoughts, and somehow made it to the pharmacy.

I dropped off the slip to the pharmacist. I was asked if I wanted to wait or to come back for the medication. I knew if I left I might not come back, so I sat and waited. They called my name over the intercom and I bought my medicine.

Once I was home I sat on the bed, staring at the bag full of my new daily doses. I think I sat there for over an hour. Just staring. Taking in the fact that it could be the last time I wasn’t medicated.

Finally, I opened the bag and stared at the bottles. They each said take once a day. Nighttime. That’s when I’ll take my pills. Right before bed. That way if one makes me tired I can sleep it off. If they made me wired and full of energy, I would take them in the morning. I had to start somewhere though, and deciding when to take them was the second step.

The first step was to admit that I was bipolar. I stared at myself in the mirror after I put the medication in my bathroom drawer. I looked at my long, thin, strangely hair, my green eyes that gave off a hue of blue as well, my long nose, and my curved mouth. I looked normal on the outside. No one could tell anything different about me, since my illness, my disease, my disorder was on the inside. I could no longer look at myself in the mirror. Tears leaked out of my eyes and dripped onto the bathroom counter.

Being bipolar isn’t like having the flu or cold. No one can see it, because it resides in the brain. So while I was newly diagnosed, no one knew what was going on. I could keep it to myself if I wanted. Or I could tell people and be labeled. Either way it was my choice.
My choice. How nice. Surprising that I could actually make my own decision on this. I felt like I had no choice with anything else. I had to get better, so I had to take medicine. I had to get better, so I had to find triggers. I had to get better, so I had to get out of bed. My life was full of “have to” all the time, but with this, this one thing, I could make the decision on my own.

My life had changed forever. I had to work on things in my life, get them in order. Make my life actually livable. I had to figure out what made me so angry all of the time. I had to go to the other spectrum and figure out what made me depressed all of the time. This was not easy, because it felt like everything made me angry and depressed. For weeks I’d be filled with rage and not know why, and then for weeks I’d be filled with depression, and I wouldn’t know why. How was I supposed to find out what set e off in either direction when it seemed like it was everything that did.

My doctor told me I had to work on it. Peel apart my life. Pick it piece by piece to see what made me tick. I didn’t even know what that meant. Nothing made me tick I thought. I just had feelings. That was all. Aren’t I allowed to have feelings? Apparently not these kinds of feelings. That’s where the medication kicks in. It’s supposed to help me, mellow me, help me see the bad beside the good. That wasn’t enough though. I had to do work as well. I had to figure out the puzzle pieces to my life and put them back together. Somehow anyway.

I didn’t even know where to start. Yes, I did. I knew what I had to do. I looked back up in the mirror. Wiped away the tears. Opened my mouth. Stared straight into my own eyes, and said “My name is Dawn, and I’m Bipolar.”


12645133_10208490397325704_4149619572725214695_nMy name is Dawn. I’m 26 years young. I am happily married with a wonderful seven year old step son and a beautiful six month old baby girl. I am a stay at home mom. I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with an English Degree. I am Bipolar, and I am stable and happy with my life.




Stigma Fighters: Shaylynn Hayes

Red Lipstick

When people talk about anxiety they talk about the huge and strange ways it impacts your life… what they don’t talk about is how it can deteriorate the day to day.
There was once a time when I was too afraid to wear red lipstick. I felt too bold, too visible, and not good enough to show my face. To some it is just a way to express their individuality, but when you’re uncomfortable in your own skin, you may not want to. Lipstick can scream “look at me” or “I am confident.” I wasn’t confident. I didn’t want to be noticed for the individual that I was. My High School experience was mostly spent hiding. When I did go to school it was sweat pants, a sweater, and hair put back in a messy bun. The sides hung at my face. I was hiding behind almost bangs, shivering each and every time I had to face a new opponent.

At home, I would sift through Vogue, Cosmo, and teen magazines. I would watch Gossip Girl, 90210, and One Tree Hill, then I would pine over “The Devil Wears Prada”. These women were beautiful — glamorous, confident, and even… sexy. In my mind I wanted what they had. I dreamt about walking the streets of New York City, heels in toe, heart on my chest. I wore high heels in middle school, but high school? I can’t even remember what I wore. The days were a mass of grey. Depression, anxiety, they had become my symphony. Cutting through my confidence they left me with little more to feel than hopelessness.

Lipstick is a tool for some, for others, it is so much more. Those women wore lipstick to canvas their lips, their words flowing like fine wine. They smiled as they spoke, they looked their audience in the eyes. I could never be that girl. I could never wear red lipstick in public. I tried a few times, but never made it out the door. The insides of my sweaters were painted with forgotten promises to myself. With whispers and insecurities that all mimicked my deepest fear: “you are not good enough, and you never will be.”

But, this isn’t a story of how insecurity can ruin your life. It’s more than that. Because now, half a decade later, I sit writing this piece. I am wearing red lipstick. I am wearing a dress. I am wearing wedged heels. The occasion? None. I am happy. I have my ups and I have my downs, but I am getting by. There is life on the other side of mental illness, even if it’s only for remission periods. There are smiles, and confident moments.
Next month I will be walking down the streets of New York for MisophoniaInternational, where I advocate my disorder. I will be helping people, but I will also be the person I only wished to be as a teenager.

For some it is lipstick… but for me… it is a beacon. It is a symbol. It is my courage, my confidence. It is sexy. It is free.

13015610_10156930136790637_8419070351900119_nShaylynn Hayes is a 22 year old writer, graphic/webdesigner, and student that advocates for the disorder Misophonia. Misophonia has
created trials and tribulations, but it is not all bad. It is due to Misophonia that she ended up switching schools, but it is also the reason she has been able to focus her voice and try to help others that struggle with the disorder. Shaylynn suffers from anxiety and depression, though spends many of her days in remission.

Shaylynn can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter

Stigma Fighters: Valentina Cedillo

Trigger warning- self harm 

When I was in the 7th grade, I cut myself for the first time. I didn’t even really know why I was doing it. I just knew I was hurting and so far, my attempts to get someone to take the way I was feeling, had failed. I told a family member who I trusted, and still trust, that I didn’t think I felt right. I was sad, but more than sad. Depressed didn’t seem right either because even though it was more than sad, it wasn’t big enough to cover all those feelings. I felt angry, I didn’t know why, and it would come from almost out of nowhere. I felt insecure about everything, but I knew and understood my talents and best features. I felt scared, but what is there to even feel afraid of in a place like Locust Fork, Alabama? I felt empty, but I was feeling too much.

At 23 I’m still in no position to self-diagnose, but my 12 year old self still struggled to attach something to my feelings and I told my family member that I thought maybe I was bipolar. My family member laughed and although I know now that this person meant absolutely no harm or disrespect, it crushed me. This family member said, “That’s being a teenager” and went on about how much I had going for me, I was smart, funny, had friends, and a decent home life. People were worse off, and we have family members with bipolar disorder, I had no idea what that really meant. This person was, for the most part right, and definitely right about me not understanding bipolar disorder. This amateur diagnosis came from my extremely limited understanding of the disorder and that was basically just experiencing a lot of highs and lows. I knew I was experiencing a lot of emotions and I knew it was more than just sadness.

I had attempted to put into words as descriptively as my 12 year old tongue could manage the overwhelming feeling of not-quite-rightness and was told it was all inevitable and normal. So, at this point, words had failed me. I needed to do something else. I had become familiar with “cutting.” I had heard that people cut for many different reasons like to feel something, to have control over something, a number of different reasons. I didn’t start cutting for any of those, even though I would later go on to use several of those excuse. For me, it was purely an attention-seeking behavior. If anyone had suggested that at the time, I would’ve flown into a rage over the suggestion. I didn’t want to be associated with that. At the time and for years afterward, I would look down on other attention-seeking behaviors like extremely personal/emotional social media status’, people posting pictures of themselves crying, people making what I saw as heavy but hollow statements or threats. I wasn’t like that; I refused to see myself like that. But I was. I was just like all of them, maybe even more committed to the attention-seeking in some ways. My cutting mostly happened only when I was 12-13. I’m 23 now and most of my scars are still very visible and pronounced.

The thing that would only further baffle people about mine and so many other’s behavior was that when people actually would see and would ask, I would flat out lie about it. I switched between them being cat scratches or briar scratches because we’ve always had tons of cats and my brother and I stayed playing in our overgrown woods behind our house. People usually left it despite it being quite a stretch to think a cat or even the worst briar patch could do that to arms. People who knew were almost always relentlessly hateful about it. Plenty of times this was out of what was meant to be genuine concern for my behavior, but it only made me feel a million times more isolated. Why would no one ask why and look at me with genuine concern? Why did no one stop and consider there must be some deeper issue for my behavior? Eventually, I would find other ways to self-harm that weren’t as out-right obvious as scarring my arms where I knew I’d eventually run out of canvas anyway. But I continued to get better at hiding things. This is the perplexing nature of attention-seeking behaviors.

I wanted and needed the attention desperately, but I would run at the first sign of someone picking up on them. This is the place where most people, including myself in the past, give up on attention-seekers and I can understand the frustration. But please don’t disregard these things and write people off for a behavior that they themselves don’t completely understand. It’s so easy to say “I wish I would have known something was wrong,” “If I had known, I would’ve done something to try to help,” but the truth is, most people who die by suicide, have exhibited warning signs before a suicide attempt. So, can we put our words into action? Can we stop shaming attention-seeking behaviors? Can we stop making light of them and stop saying things like, “it’s just for attention.” My behaviors never led to an attempted suicide, but it led to several thoughts of it, especially during my late high school, early college years. I stopped attempting any constructive help-seeking behaviors at all. I was constantly worried about being labeled as an attention seeker, even though that’s exactly what I was, and there should have been no shame in that. I needed help, I couldn’t do it all on my own, I should have sought professional help long before I did. But the fear of anything I did being labeled attention-seeking held me back. So please, take the time to practice patience with behaviors you don’t yourself understand. It could mean enabling healthy help-seeking behaviors, it could save a life.

Valentina Cedillo is a 23 year old social work student at the University ofIMG_5128 Montevallo. She is passionate about destroying stigmas surrounding mental illness and our ability to openly discuss mental health struggles. She also enjoys laughing until she snort laughs, Bob’s Burgers, and taking pictures with her super chubby cat, Sylvester.



Valentina can be found on Twitter.