Stigma Fighters: Heydon Hensley

And Depression Is

two hands
strangling until you’re dry
too dry
so dry you wonder
desiccation only happens to corpses

Depression is the fear that you’re immortal in a world of goodnight kisses painfully unlaced with cyanide
staring into the void and letting it seep in until you
are what is left

a walking silence punctuated
by pain never revealed

Only shout silence into the world
and others may hear currents
a sort of love
calling for them to wreck
—against you

Jemez-Cliff-DivingHeydon works as a Survivor Advocate in Moscow, ID, and spends his free time writing – whether it’s for Dungeons and Dragons, his intersectional feminist writing group, a writing course, or just to improve his craft. He lives with his partner, who has a PhD in Chemical Engineering, and his two dogs, who do not.
He was officially diagnosed with depression at 17 and ADHD at 26 but has struggled with both his whole life.

Heydon can be found on his blog and Facebook.

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Stigma Fighters: Al Colvin

Stigma and The Arrest of A 1st Grader

I can’t state it enough that stigma and stereotypes are at the root of so many unfortunate events such suicides. Stigma one of the biggest challenges to decreasing suicide can be eradicated. If we as a society want to bring an end to suicide and eliminate suffering from invisible wounds we must start the conversation at home, then keep the conversations going.

What do we need to talk about? I loved that you asked! We need to talk about what is going on with our children. We need to know what they are thinking, what they are feeling and how they are handling the stresses of life. Every person is going to face stressors as we go through life; it is a part of living. The challenge is how each of us will face those stressors.

It is no secret that our stressors cause us to react in certain ways. There are times when we do or say certain things that we may later regret because of built up anger that can turn into rage. Children are certainly no different. I am extremely bothered by many instances I witness and read about daily as it relates to the troubles of children around the globe.

Recently in Sanford, North Carolina, I have become deeply bothered by an arrested 1st grader that per an article written by, a 1st grader is currently facing juvenile charges for assault and disorderly conduct for allegedly threatening a teacher with a pair of scissors and apparently attempting to deface school computers. Please click the attached link above and read this travesty for yourself!

There are so many reasons I am deeply bothered by this young child’s situation. For starters, I can think of 30 reasons why a school social worker should have been called prior to the police. I am willing to bet my left leg that any educated and sane social worker would have advised, that arresting a 1st grader and introducing him to the criminal justice system at such an early age is setting him up for additional trauma and will be harmful to such a young child. Secondly, this is the most inappropriate way to uncover and address the root cause of his issue, if anyone even cares about this young person.

For instance, a 1st grader, basically has learned his entire life via learned behaviors. How did he come to allegedly assaulting a teacher? What is going on in his home? Is the child faced with trauma at home that would cause temper and anger issues? Did the child witness his father chasing his mother around the home with a knife and now the child is faced with undiagnosed PTSD, which may have been re-traumatized in the classroom causing the child to uncontrollably lash out in a rage, mimicking what he vividly remembers in the trauma he originally faced (perhaps?). Any of these could have been possibilities, but now that this small child is thrown into the criminal justice system, it truly complicates the problem.

Let’s pause for a moment to give the school the benefit of the doubt, maybe social services is working with this family, hopefully this young boy already has a counsel assigned. If so, then calling the Sanford Sheriff department to arrest a 1st grader as opposed to calling a school counselor is even more a terrible idea. I am certain there isn’t a creditable counselor anywhere that would advise arresting a young child.

Calling social services early on in the inappropriate behaviors of the child would have been a better option. The mother herself may be faced with trauma or abuse and may later further abuse the child for embarrassing her in the media, and now a court room. Not to think, yet another child is set up for bullying once he finally gets back to a public school.

I must also add it is unlikely this young person will come back to a warm and fuzzy learning environment at BT Bullock Elementary School, once he is released from the eyesight of the Sanford, NC police department!

Let it be known, this hurts me to my soul for this young man and his mother. Though the article intentionally did not give very much information, there is typically no true effort to get at the root cause of many public school issues, only symptom management, and not such great management at that!

Schools systems around the country have been plagued with bullying for all sorts of reasons; many of these instances have ended unfortunately in suicide of the person being bullied. I pray for the best for this young man and his parents.

In the above situation, some educated adults should be trained to observe and recognize various concerns in all children, whether signs of abuse, symptoms of excessive stress, or characters of PTSD. If you are going to watch a child, watch a child!

In order to reduce suicides, assist someone struggling with depression, emotional distress or persons thinking of killing themselves to escape physical and emotional pain, we as a society has to get at the root cause of many terrible instances.
The main reason for my own frustration with this sad story is the number of child suicides that need to be reduced. No one wants this situation to spiral any further control than it has, though there certainly needs to be different decisions made for those in this public school system.
Additional, I certainly expect parents and guardians to know signs of depression, stressors and worst situations in their kids, but most certainly in any school district. If a child is troubled about something, we as humans need to talk to that child regardless of whose kid it is. We need to know what would cause a child to lash out in an alleged manner. If his parents have been notified several times prior to the most recent episode, maybe a Child Protective Services visit is in order, or a group meeting with a social worker. A mother is not going to show up at any school and admit her son is lashing out in disturbing ways because she or his father is beating their son into the carpet at night!

Let’s pray no one is being abused in this story! However, arresting a 1st grader is certainly putting him on the fast track to a horrible elementary school experience, and a fast track to nowhere unless someone that cares steps in to ensure first, that the child gets someone’s first grade books to continue to learn while he is out of school. Next, I would expect somebody’s pastor, minister, clergy, rabbi or bishop to reach out to this entire family to help them turn this horrible set of decisions by supposedly educated people around, and lastly I hope the superindent of this school district put better practices in place to disarm a 1st grader with scissors, and make better decisions that can help a child that may already be caught up in a traumatic life changing cycle, that has the potential to end the life of this young person.

Stigma prevents people from talking through these types of events. That fear that stigma causes leads many not to disclose, discuss and follow up has lead yet another small child heading down a collision course with disaster, unless someone that actually cares steps up and assists this young human that deserves the help!

VF01Al Colvin is a Suicide Prevention Advocate, Public Speaker, MS Activist, Activist for human rights and humanitarian concerns as well as a Business Development Professional.

Al can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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Stigma Fighters: Rachel Finch

Looking back, troubles followed me for most of my life.. That, or I follow it..

I was sexually abused at 8 on two separate occasions and violently gang raped at 12. These events have played a major role in who I came to be. The out of body experiences had started.

We were like gypsies really.. moving around all the time, never really mixing outside our own little clique. I thought it was normal. I thought a lot of things were normal.

Dad raised us while mum worked 14hr days. How she found the time to be an alcoholic I’ll never know..

I buried everything. By 14 I was a professional liar. I’d perfected my masks, and there were many of them.

At 18 I lost my first baby. I was absolutely devastated and the pain only grew as I lost more.

By 20 I was married and I’d had the baby I’d prayed for. Nothing about that had been simple though. I nearly died after giving birth. I’d been given infected blood and had a Near Death Experience which also shaped who I became.

They sent me back from the light and I was bitter, hurting, confused.. I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression and the following 2 years would introduce me to both hell, and myself.

I couldn’t forget the light. It had released me. I’d left my body and tasted freedom. Tasted truth. Tasted love, of the unconditional kind. And I wanted it back. Instead, I lay in a broken body, with a mind haunting me with memories, utterly defeated.

I’d blocked the abuse, the rape, the pain. And it had all come hurtling back as they dragged my newborn from between my legs. Bam.

I wanted to be everything I knew I could be, for my daughter.. but the past was holding me back. And I willingly let it drag me from the present.

My first husband was drinking a lot. I was crying a lot. Self harm really began and I was a danger to myself. It was during this time I first attempted suicide and our marriage broke down. I begged the light to send me sunshine and they sent me my first born son.

Things were better. I’d buried it all deeper. But a divorce was imminent and seemed to take the last of my strength.

At 24 I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. I couldn’t deny the diagnosis but I was angry. I didn’t want a label, I didn’t want to have people poking in my mind or thinking they could define me so easily. I detested myself.

I married my second husband and it felt like the light had heard my screams. I was no longer alone. No longer worthless, unlovable.

They told me I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression & Anxiety. I no longer cared what they wanted to call it. No name fit the pain.

10 years after my first diagnosis I still hadn’t had therapy. Medication at most. And I’d done plenty hiding.

I lost my daddy next. The only constant I’d had. My best friend. I lost all hope. My strength had gone.

But the light had sent me two more babies. And joy came with each. My children were the reason I didn’t cut my own throat at every opportunity. They made me want to be more of myself, they made me want to Heal.

But man I knew that was gonna be a long road. One I’m still travelling, still without treatment or therapy. “I go it alone” always hums in the back of my mind.. but I’m finally ok with that.

When the darkness claws at me, I hold hope for that light once again.

PicsArt_11-02-04.28.12Rachel started the facebook page Bruised But Not Broken. That is her therapy.

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Stigma Fighters: Kayla Bornman

I got Type one Diabetes on the week of my eleventh birthday. I had a sleepover planned, had a cookie cake ordered, the whole shebang. Then genetics happened (on my grandfather’s side). And my sleep over had to be cancelled while I learned a new set of skills that I’d have to carry with my for the rest of my life: counting carbs, checking my blood sugar, insulin usage and ratios between carbohydrates and how much insulin I use to cover that, etc. Needless to say, I adapted quite well for that age. I knew, even then, that this new discovery sucked, but I’d have to get used to it or spend life bitter. So I did.
Years later, however, more autoimmune diseases followed as a result of my genetic companion. First came hypothyroidism, then the discovery several years later that I had GERD, Chron’s, Celiac Disease, and a couple others that I can’t recall at the moment. I adapted to these as well. What else could I do? My diet went from basically suagr free to pretty much unwillingly vegan.
Out of all this hullabaloo, anxiety and depression creeped up into my psyche and formed a nice little cozy home. I’ve been told by medical professionals time and again that this is basically normal, I mean, after everything that has happened to me, why wouldn’t it be? Numerous upon numerous hospital stays, IV drips up the wazoo, declaring medical banctrupcy as a result (no medical insurance, tried obtaining it, that was a bear in itself and never yielded promising results), finances that are worthy of a broke hobo, and now doubt and a negative self image that am I even good enough to live? My life now consists of taking a hormone to supplement my thyroid, and without it I turn into an angry creature that snaps at the flick of a wrist. I barely eat because my stomach region is VERY picky. And now, I’m barely social. My mind like to play games with my sanity.
I’m dating a very loving man, he’s patient with me, doesn’t judge, is attentive. He puts up with me. And I awlays question my validity in his eyes. Why did he pick me??? Am I good enough? Will he get tired of me? Will I dissapoint him? What do I have to give to the relationship besides disease? These are thoughts that plague me every day.
Although I have low self esteem as I live every day on a precipice of health, I still make time to smile and be thankful for what I have. I am surrounded by love, I just surround my self with my own mental made hurdles. I break them down when I feel they get too intrusive and try and move on. It is either that or I wallow in self pity, and that doesn’t do anybody a lick of good.

PicsArt_1444761728477Kayla took some writing classes in college, but never formally became a writer. But she still enjoys doing it from time to time. It helps let out daily frustrations and doubt. Journaling is her favorite activity

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Stigma Fighters: Eryn Carter

I was 18 when I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression.  It was after Christmas break, my freshman year of college. After a night of partying, I woke up hungover, depressed and at my wit’s end. My parents came out that day to check on me after I called and cried into the phone. They drove the two hours to see me. They took me out to lunch at a popular restaurant in town.

And I had a breakdown right in the middle of the restaurant. I was 18, sobbing in my mother’s lap like a child, admitting that something was wrong. I went home from about a week and endured therapy, appointments and medications to get myself on the healing road.

Little I did I know that the road to healing wasn’t going to be a short one.

I battled it all through college. Few people knew. Just my closest friends and my family. I was ashamed of it. There was such a stigma around mental illness and I didn’t want to be known as one of those people. I hid it. I hid my emotions. I hid when I was upset, angry, depressed, until it would explode. I would find myself screaming at my roommate for no other reason to pick a fight, or I would find myself hyperventilating in my dorm room because I felt like the walls were closing in and I was alone (which obviously wasn’t the case.)

It was debilitating.  I was on and off medications for 5 years. I knew I needed them, and they made me feel better, but I didn’t like the way they made me feel. I felt like a zombie. I was a creative person, and I felt like the medications had shut my creative switch off. But when I was off of them, my mental state gradually declined. Until after I graduated college.

At 22, when I met my now fiancé, I was off of them. For the first time in a long time, I felt stable. I was happy. I was finally figuring out my path. Life was good.

I was open with him about my mental illness from the start. It was the first time in my life that I realized that I needed to be honest about my struggles, and not hide them.  It was hard because I had people in college that I thought would be there for me, suddenly pushing away when they found out about my battles. I’ve since realized it’s because they didn’t care enough about me to want to help.

He understood. He listened. He was there for me. He loved me for me.

A few years after being together, I realized I needed to see a therapist again. And get back on my medication. The depression had healed over time, but the anxiety had only gotten worse.

The medication helped, again. I’ve been on and off it a few times since.

Instead of hiding from it, I opened up. I began to realize that this was part of who I was. I didn’t, and still don’t, let it define me, but it’s a portion of my identity. It’s not like I was walking up to complete strangers and saying “Hi, I’m Eryn and I have anxiety. What’s your name?” That would be pretty weird if I did that, but if someone asked, I didn’t say no. Or if something came up in conversation about mental health, I’d offer up the information about my own battles.

The shame I once felt disappeared over time. I’d like to say it happened overnight, but it didn’t. Having a strong support system really helped. As did my horseback riding. But one thing that really helped?

Writing. A passion I’ve had since I was a small child. The same thing I used to do in college when I was suffering. Instead of writing to turn my mind off, I began writing about what I was feeling, struggling with, and how I wouldn’t let it stop me. I found my voice, and discovered a love for advocating for mental health, and used my writing to stop feeling ashamed of having severe anxiety. I began to tell my story. And others began to tell me theirs.

Having a mental illness shouldn’t define anyone; it’s just a small piece of who someone is.  And it’s just a small piece of me. I’m not defined by my anxiety. Nor am I ashamed. I’m proud to be one of the millions who suffer from it.

Eryn is a twenty-something social media obsessed compulsive dreamer who loves a good book. She was diagnosed with severe anxiety at age 18, and writes often about her own adventures with anxiety. She can usually be seen taking pictures (whether with her iPhone or her Nikon), spending time with her fiance (soon to be husband) and contemplating her next blog post.

Eryn can be found on her website, Facebook, and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: Robert Wertzler

On Listening to Schizophrenia
Robert Wertzler

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

From: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1798

I have written elsewhere on the subject of listening to those afflicted with mental illness, especially to those diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder without the assumption that they do not or cannot make sense. In his own account of his psychosis, treatment, and recovery, John Perceval, an English gentleman who became psychotic in 1830 puts the case more clearly than I can:

“When my brother [Spencer] first appeared at my bedside, “I have hopes how,” said I, “I shall be understood and respected;” for he had written to me that he believed in the reported miracles at Row. When, however, I first told him, “I am desired to say so and so,” “I am desired to do this, or that” — he replied to me, in an ill-judged tone of levity, and as if speaking to a child; ridiculing the idea. My hopes of being comprehended were blighted, and my heart turned from him.”

“Had my brother but said to himself, “there is something strange here; I will try to understand it” — had he but pretended to give credit to what I said, and reasoned with me on the matter revealed to me, acknowledging the possibility, but denying or questioning the divine nature of my inspirations; I should, perhaps, have been soon rescued from my dreadful situation, and saved from ruin; but it was no so.”

From: Perceval’s Narrative: A patient’s account of his psychosis, 1830-1832 Paperback – 1974 by John Perceval (Author), Gregory Bateson (Editor)

That need to be understood, or at least for someone to be willing to listen and to try to understand is universal. Someone in the throes of psychosis, or depression, or anxiety, or flashback of PTSD, or mania is no different. Another thing which Mr. Perceval makes clear in his account in his very detailed telling of his hallucinations and delusions, and how he was dealt with by others, is that he remembered all of it. I think that too often when someone is seen as not making sense, it is assumed they will not remember when they are in some less disturbed frame of mind. He shows us that it ain’t necessarily so.
He has little good to say about the “lunatic doctors” who tried to treat him. From his pen that term seems to carry more than one meaning.

I have found among the various blogs and posts very few writers from the lands of schizophrenia and schizo-affective. From knowing those I worked with who had these labels, I can see how that would be very difficult for many. But, I hope that more of those who can, even with help, even poorly will try. We, who have been fortunate enough not to have experienced such states of mind can only do no more than guess (often badly) what it is if the stories are not told. If a first draft comes out like what is popularly called a “psychotogram,” that’s ok. You can edit and rework it if need be. If it comes as poetry, or with drawings (like a graphic novel, perhaps), or a vlog, that’s great. There are eyes ready to read and ears ready to hear.

And to those who know such folk as family, friends, peers, and care givers, listen. If you don’t understand, still do not dismiss. However strange the story, see the person before the “disease.” They really are there.

Since first posting this I’ve realized that the end of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is also significant in this context:

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned from the bridegroom’s door.

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.

So, he who has heard the Mariner’s tale is also changed. We are not told what he has learned or what he makes of it, but changed he is. We are told only that he is wiser. In the end, this is why such tales as Percival’s need to be told and heard, that both the teller and the hearer may find wisdom and, in the Mariner’s words, “loveth well.”

IMG_20070101_115453Bob is a retired mental health professional, having worked in SMI Case Management, Crisis Services, and Substance Abuse/Addiction Treatment. He retired in 2006 to become the primary care giver for his father who then was then beginning to suffer from dementia until his father died in late 2013. Prior to getting into mental health work he held many different jobs including cab driver, toy maker, welfare case worker, and others. He is an Army veteran of the Vietnam conflict. Looking back on his 70 years he quotes a line from a song,”What a long, strange trip its been.” Looking forward, from another poet, “Where to? What next?”

Robert can be found on Facebook.

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Stigma Fighters: Caylee Shea

I am an #EverydayWarrior.

Every day I wake up and face a battle. Not because I am courageous or brave. No, I face a battle every day because I have to.

My name is Caylee Shea and I have debilitating, chronic illness.

After receiving the Gardasil Vaccine when I was 19 years old, my life changed overnight… literally. I woke up one morning to a nightmare. While I can only recall flashes of that day and the following months, those brief moments are still so vivid in my mind… I awoke to a beautiful, sunny day. My eyes fluttered open and I could feel the sun peering through the window and warming my skin- yet, I could feel something was wrong. I began to sit up, but my body did not move. I tried to call out, but only garbled, alien sounds escaped my lips. I was imprisoned in my own body. My memory from that point is only flashes of random events throughout the following weeks- Me sitting in the bathroom and not being able to understand how to use a toothbrush. Me feeling excruciating pain course throughout my body and an extreme pressure in my skull. Me attempting to communicate but the message never coming out. Me hearing doctors tell my parents that I was making this all up. It seemed the only one of my five senses that would work anymore was my hearing. So I was able to listen to my world crumble around me.

I recall one night, when my symptoms seemed to cease ever so slightly… I am lying in bed and I stare at the dried fruit and chips next to me. I have eaten this snack food for days now! I can’t recall the last the time I had a real meal. The days and weeks just blend into the next when you are stuck in bed for so long. In and out of consciousness, I realize I have counted every tile and studied every inch of this bedroom from my bed. There is only so many times I can watch the shadow of the leaves dance across my wall. That is it! No matter what the consequences I am using this rare moment of my body slightly working and I am getting myself a real meal!

I began to work my crippled body out of the tangled sheets. With one big heave I was on my feet and leaning over my walker. Success! Time to show myself what I can do. I began my bambi-hobble to the kitchen. I thought fondly of nickname my sister gave my new gait- I did look like a newborn deer, teetering and wobbling just stand. The nerve connection to my muscles appeared to be shorting out. As I pressed on toward the kitchen, my muscles jumped, spasm and collapsed. Over and over my muscles did their dance as I fought to stay on top of my walker. I finally reach the kitchen and collapse onto the first chair I reach. I am sweating and panting. I can’t believe this! I recall a girl who was on the Dean’s list, riding mustangs and playing volleyball. Nothing used to wear me out. And here I find myself about to black out from a 15 foot walk. But I refuse to give up now. So after resting for 20 minutes I am ready to push forward… Two hours pass by as I am attempting to put together a meal of rice and fish. I keep collapsing on my chair and taking breaks. The fish looks awful and the rice is burnt, but I am so proud of this meal I made. I balance on my chair looking at my dinner and then back towards my room… I know my body is near full collapse, so I must get to my bed before it does. I have ended up stuck and sleeping on the floor of my bathroom and hallway too many times. Not tonight. I want one normal meal and I want to sleep in my bed after. I want to feel normal for at least one day.

I scoop up my plate and cradle it to my chest. My hands do not provide much help as they are now just claws. I can’t use my walker, as I need my whole arms to do everything they can to just hold this plate. Rice is sticking to my shirt from the plate becomes more mashed against me even more as my body lurches and teeters toward the bedroom. My legs are near useless now! My nerves are hardly sending any message at all. I could really give all of those zombie actors a real lesson right now- I am using the few active muscles left in my body to fling myself forward. One more heave and I am in the bedroom. I have made it to my bed! Oh I am ecstatic and so proud of myself. I begin to set the plate down when my nerves jolt a message throughout my upper body. I spasm uncontrollably and my plate is flung to the floor… I just stare at the massacre of my dinner. I pause and feel bewildered. And without out any warning to my conscious brain- I scream. I SCREAM! My body has had enough and I collapse on the floor, squishing the dinner into the floor and all over my legs. I scream at the food for falling off my plate, I scream at my illness, at somebody not making me food, at my body for not being better. After two hours in the kitchen, endless pain and so much pent-up frustration, I scream and cry until no more tears will come.

I have now been diagnosed with Systemic Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Lyme disease, Sjogren ’s syndrome, etc, etc. The list is endless! I have fought my way through being completely paralyzed, being unable to communicate, amnesia and even peeing myself! The only thing that is longer than my list of diagnoses, is my list of symptoms. I spend more days than not stuck in bed. And I use a walker, wheelchair and seat-cane nearly every single day. I wake up each morning not knowing which symptoms my day will hold. Will I have paralysis in my arms or legs today? Will I have bouts of pain? Will I be so fatigued that my body will shut down? Will I have a bout of cataplexy that will leave me entrapped in my head? Waking up into my nightmare has taken away my freedom, causes me pain and I have lost loved ones and friends.

The strange thing is… I am now happier then I have ever been. I find myself incredibly thankful to my illness for teaching me to appreciate the little things, for showing me that I am strong and I appreciate my illness for making me who I am today.

The truth is- We do have a choice. We can either; lay down and let our illness consume us or we can fight each day and make the best of our lives. Every day I wake up to “I can do this!” Though each day that may mean something different… Somedays, it means I can show the world just how awesome I am and I won’t let this illness stop me from living! And somedays it means I can be strong enough to let myself rest and focus on fighting my illness.

Living with Chronic Illness is not easy. Even more challenging is living with a Hidden Illness, where you are not only fighting for your health but you also face the ignorance of society each day. No matter our struggles, big or small, they are our struggles. And we should not have to feel embarrassed or feel any less of a person for them. Slowly, but surely, I will raise awareness for chronic illness. No matter what, be proud of who you are and don’t be ashamed.


12115911_888127204568399_2169497780628571353_nCaylee Shea faces Chronic Illness on a daily basis due to adverse reactions from the Gardasil Vaccine. She now has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, Systemic Lupus, Sjogrens Syndrome and many other diagnoses. With her company Chronic Insight, she makes the daily trials of Chronic Illness more accessible through entertaining videos and posts to encourage more understanding. Her vision is to reach equality, understanding and kindness for everyone- no matter our differences or obstacles in life.

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

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Stigma Fighters: Kevin Nordstrom

You walk in to the old basement gymnasium. The silence is only relieved by the crawling ticks of cheap lighting and the desperate whine of a fly that followed you in from the cold. Lucky for you the fly leaves you alone and heads for the tiny snack table that’s covered with stale donuts and smells of burnt coffee.

There’s no movement as you reach the dimly lit circle of chairs. You move around to the side and pick a chair, the green one, and settle into the smooth, cool plastic.

“I always used to pick the green one, too…”

My voice startles you as I make my way across the room. I walk directly across from you, pause, and then grab the ugly mustard yellow chair from where it sits and switch it for the only other green chair in the room and take my seat.

I look down for a moment, silent. I take a few ragged, nervous breathes that sound like paper being torn to shreds. Finally, I stand up.

“Don’t worry,” I begin. “There’s no one else coming. I figured if I’m going to be comfortable doing this I’d do it best in a setting that’s familiar. Hence, the overly clichéd group therapy meeting room.”

I go quiet again. But this time it’s only for a moment as my hand makes it way to my face, slowly stroking my beard as I collect my thoughts.

“I don’t even know where to begin… I’m not a writer, by trade. I’m actually an illustrator. I guess in that case, let me start by drawing you a picture….”


I’m fifteen years old. I’m on the floor of my room, curled into a ball, like a hand becoming a fist. The corded phone dangles in front of my face but I can’t see it for the tears that cloud my vision before falling in random patterns down my face.

I’d just found out that the first person I’d ever learned to love, Lydia, had been killed on her walk home by a drunk driver. It was a path I’d forced her to walk that night, refusing to let her stay at my home where my mom would discover she’d been all day. I was selfish and she paid the price.

Alone and lost, I stay on the ground as my world crumbles around me. I feel a chill like I’m stepping into dark, freezing waters that slowly makes its way up my body to my ribs, stopping my breath.

I feel like a grub growing all wrong in a cocoon and I imagine this must be what going mad feels like.

But I’m not mad.

Not yet.

I’m angry.


What happened next, happened quickly. I fell into a bad crowd, feeding the dark seed that had been planted into my soul, allowing it to grow and flourish. I hurt people. It wasn’t fair that so many others got to love and laugh together while I was left to suffer alone. I kept my rage and pain a secret from those closest to me and it fueled me on my quest to punish others through violence and manipulation. Those years seemed weird, revved up like the strip teasing mannequins and quick change furniture from The Time Machine.

This is where my paranoia was born. I gave fake names, lied about where I lived and kept the good-kid mask on when I was home. My illness hadn’t sprouted yet but it had begun to seep into the folds in my brain like oil.

Soon enough, this life caught up to me and the moment I’d always silently prayed for was coming. I was going to die. I was going to see Lydia again.

But there was a problem. I couldn’t remember what she looked like.

I was horrified with myself. Like Sweeney Todd, my rage had become more potent than the love that first kindled it.

And then, by fate or happenstance, I survived my brush with death. But I was left with an overwhelming guilt and pain that wouldn’t subside.

What would Lydia think of all I’ve done? Of what I’ve become?

My mind had become lost in a storm, like Dorothy being swept up in a tornado.

And, sure enough, when I landed, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.


The final layers of my old self were shed and new ones took their place. My lust for vengeance was replaced with an obsession for justice and redemption. My paranoia in full swing, hiding everything from everyone. I was on a mission.

I was convinced I was special and that I wasn’t an emotionally scarred young man, addicted to an endless cycle of self-annihilating violence. After all, stranger things have happened.

And I wasn’t alone, a man who’d once worked for the FBI but was now a private investigator had been watching me and knew my potential. He wanted to help me. It worked out so perfectly it HAD to be fate.

This went on longer than it should have. But no one knew what was going on. I didn’t let anyone in close enough. Until two people, a close friend and a new girlfriend started to dig through the walls I’d set in place so many years ago. Walls that were meant to protect me but ended up becoming my cage.

The truth began to break through my stories like the light from bullet holes on a western wall at sunset. They confronted me but I stood my ground, adamant that they didn’t know what they were talking about. But each excuse that fell from lips dissolved like sugar in coffee. The cops and gangbangers who always followed me were absent, my private investigator ally wasn’t real, the notes I’d receive were missing…

The Wizard of OZ had been exposed and all I was left with was a sad, lonely man behind a stained curtain.


I spent an evening in the local psych ward for evaluation. It was terrifying. I can’t imagine a place like that being conducive to anyone’s mental health. The doctor said I was a Paranoid Schizophrenic. I agreed to take medication and go to therapy, anything to get out of that place.

I kept my word and began to put my life back together. But it was like fixing a broken clay pot in the dark. I did a reasonable enough job to be weaned off the medication and even got married. But marriage turned out to be too much for me to handle. The stress quickly sent back into another episode and I resolved to take medication in secret, worrying that it would make me appear weak in front of my wife, having to rely on meds to keep control.

Looking back, it’s obvious that the relationship was far from healthy and it eventually collapsed under its own weight. Yet again, I was left with a pile of broken pieces that used to be my life.

But this time was different. This time I knew my triggers and my pitfalls. I’d travelled down this broken road alone and in the dark many times and wasn’t about to falter again. I kept good people close to me, I went to therapy, got into shape and even began to volunteer my time. Anything to keep me from losing control again.

All my losses had lead me to this moment where I was able to build a man that I could say was a worthwhile human being. All the voices that used to vie for control had choked off one by one and amidst the storm I was able to find a light and make my way safely to shore.


Realizing I’d gone silent, you look up from the cracked piece of tile you’ve been staring at, wondering if that’s the end of the story, only to realize a small smile plays at my lips.

“That’s not the end of the story,” I say, and you wonder if I’ve somehow read your mind. “While volunteering I met the most wonderful woman I’ve ever known, fell madly in love and got married. About a year later we bought a house. Between buying the house, moving, car problems and a family issue, the stress began to pile up. I could practically smell the illness trying to sneak its way back to the forefront, like a fairy fart under a cellar door.

“My wife, Laura, being the wonderful woman that she is, was patient and understanding. We took some time to ourselves and she made sure I had what I needed to get my balance again.”

I stop talking again and look around the room at all the empty chairs. You follow my eyes and realize where this is going.

“So why,” I begin again, “After all I’ve been through, are we here, alone? Because the life I’ve lead has taught me not to trust people. Time and time again I’ve been betrayed and hurt whenever I’ve opened up about even the tiniest of things. And this…. This is one of my biggest weakness of all. Or so I thought….”

I look down for a moment, ashamed. For the first time, you stand up and make your way over to me and the words rise in your throat, “What happened?”

I look back up, my eyes wet with tears. “My wife spoke five words to me…. ‘You’re gonna be a Daddy….’ I knew that schizophrenia was genetic and I was terrified of my child growing up the way I did or being ashamed or embarrassed of me. I wasn’t about to allow that to happen. It was time I embraced who I was and accept whatever came my way for it. No matter what happens, I’d been through worse. But more than that….”

Suddenly, the dimly lit room brightened and there, in the shadows, were dozens of others listening and smiling.

“I wasn’t alone.”

Those that had been hidden make their way to the seats, some stop and shake your hand or pat you on the back.

“There’s a whole culture of people just like us out there, waiting to be supportive and helpful, reminding us that we’re not alone in our struggles. Ever. I drew something special to tell the world about my illness and while there were some who faltered, ignored or denied, the majority of my friends, family and even people I hardly knew came out with positivity and love. And that is a world I’m happy to live and raise my children in….”

10999007_10205031309915894_956978975586137224_nKevin Nordstrom is a writer and illustrator of children’s books and poems, living happily ever after with his wife, a son on the way, too many cats, and, oh yeah, his schizophrenia. Kevin likes peanut butter



Kevin can be found on his website and Facebook.

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Stigma Fighters: Pamela Gold

Educate or Suffer My Wrath

I hate waking up in the morning.

Every day is a constant struggle but mornings are a defining moment.

When I open my eyes, fate is decided for me.

Which side of the Bipolar spectrum will I be on today?

I never get to choose. It chooses for me.

What bothers me the most about carrying the weight of this mental illness, this label, is how others react to it. It’s the perception of others that makes me want to quit breathing.

I still get out of bed every single day, even when I don’t want to. I take a shower. I make myself presentable to society. I go to work. I shop at the grocery store. I take my son to school. I make dinner every night. I bake. I write creatively. I write to inform. I laugh. I cry. I dream.

I play my part.

For years I was brutally open about being Bipolar because I chose to educate the stupidity. Then one day I decided it was time to move on. I relocated my family to a new State. I traveled across the country to become someone else. I left the past behind. It was erased.

Then I pretended not to be sick anymore. I actually started to believe it myself until I got settled. The newness wore off and old demons came back to visit, as if they ever left.

I sat at my desk at my shiny new office hiding my symptoms of depression, paranoia, anxiety, self-harm, and anger. Always anger. I scratched my skin until it bled to get some release. I was medication free because I wasn’t sick anymore.

Nobody could know.

What did that do for me? It made me become one of them. I was part of the stigma. The stigma I fought hard to banish for years. I succumbed to the bullshit.

The difference with me, though, is that I still spoke up if situations surfaced with a group of people who talked about mental health like they knew how to live through it. Bitches, I’ve become one with my problems and I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand back and listen to the words you’re spewing as if you know. I am the all knowing and you don’t know anything.

I hear you whispering and pointing your finger at the girl across the street. She’s Bipolar and a psycho. Then you pick up your hand and wave to the loon and pretend to be neighborly.

That’s was an eye opener into the future.

I got my ass back to a doctor. That’s not an easy feat. I’ve had about a dozen psychiatrists fail me miserably. This doctor is different. He spent three hours with me at my consultation, taking page upon page of notes. He asked me questions no other doctor ever had. It was like talking to a friend, crying my soul out, sending all of the pent up pain and pressure into the room for someone else to soak in.

By the end of the day I was back on medication.

And here I sit.

I still fear when my eyes open each morning because the day is already planned in advance. I just haven’t lived it yet.

On this day? I’m a badass mother who works her ass off to keep a roof over her head and food on the table. I banish the hell out of stigma through essays I write in the most raw form possible.

I will correct an imperfect stranger in broad daylight if I hear her talking about shit she knows nothing about.

Until you’ve walked a day in my shoes, lived with my intrusive thoughts, fought the urge to leave this world because it would be so much easier, then shut your mouth.

I will continue to educate through the power of words and I am going to be unstoppable in the process.

moiPamela Gold was diagnosed six years ago with Bipolar 2 Disorder when she wasn’t healing from postpartum depression (PPD) after the birth of her third son. PPD awakened the fact that she was probably bipolar most of her life. She has been hospitalized, is medication resistant, and was brave enough to battle through rounds of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Contrary to popular belief…she is not crazy.

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

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Stigma Fighters: Emily

They don’t know…
What it feels like to be inside my head
To run with the thoughts and fears
That whiz through my brain
To worry about what others will think
Because I’m not
Or what people conceive as normal.

They don’t know
How hard I try to appear normal,
To show that everything is ok
Because if it’s not
What will they think?

They don’t realize
The panic that ensues in different situations.
That some days the anxiety gets so bad
That I can hardly
That I get so scared and worked up that I start to
That I can’t always control these emotions that fly
Through my head day in and day out.

Everyone thinks that since everything
Appears ok on the outside;
It must be ok on the
Nobody sees the battle on the inside
Where all I want to do is scream and try
To break free.

Nobody sees that I’m slowly dying from
What I’ve done to myself.
That this behavior is silently killing me.
That I’m trapped behind my fears and anxieties.

Nobody sees the panic that ensues when
I go somewhere new and don’t know what to
Or how to react to the fear of what could hurt me.

Nobody sees the panic that comes
When I screw up or make a mistake;
This silent inward battle that is slowly killing me.

They don’t know how much energy it takes
To appear normal.
How drained I am by the end of the day just from
Trying to keep this act up;
That everything’s ok and I have it together.

They don’t know
How scared I am that if I let them know
What’s really wrong,
They won’t believe me; that they’ll think
I’m looking for attention or worse yet, making it up.

They don’t see
Everything underneath and that when they tell me
To try to stop what I’m doing to myself
Is like telling me to push myself off a cliff.
I could no more stop what I’m doing so much as
I could jump off a cliff.

They don’t realize
That I’m trying to stop,
That I’m trying to be ok and normal
So I don’t embarrass them,
So I don’t have to explain why I can’t do certain things.
So I don’t have family look down on me in

They don’t hear
How fast my brain goes and the millions
Of thoughts that fly through in just an hour.
They don’t hear
The fears that something bad will happen to me
If I don’t wash my hands or if I touch that chair
Or if I touch a doorknob.

They don’t hear all of these thoughts and terrors
That go through my brain.

They don’t realize that I have
This intense fear that I am slowly losing my
That I may in fact be crazy.
That I can’t just turn off my OCD;
That there is no on and off switch for my OCD,
And that I didn’t ask for this.

They don’t see how hard I try,
They just see the parts that I fail at.
They comment on my hands and how they look;
But they don’t know that
I already know how my hands look and how bad
They hurt.
That every night I want to cry because
I know the damage I am doing to them.
And that they hurt so badly I can hardly stand it.

They make fun and don’t realize
How badly it hurts;
That it just reinforces the fact that I am crazy
And that how I do things is crazy.

That there is something mentally and physically wrong with me,
They don’t get that I can’t just stop what’s happening,
That I feel that if I stop doing something then something bad will happen
To me, or to others.
That as hard as I try, in my head something is wrong if I don’t complete my rituals.

They don’t understand
That it’s not just a need to wash my hands, but
To try and protect myself from other bad things that
Could hurt me, or that I could bring home with me.
That I try so hard
To protect myself and others.

They don’t get that
I’m trying my best and it’s still not good enough
And I don’t know what to do anymore.
That I’m reaching my breaking point and can’t even
Explain it to others because I am so scared of what they will
That I’m terrified of being ostracized for being different from them.

They don’t know
What goes on inside my head,
You don’t know my thoughts or what goes on inside my brain;
Before you speak or judge me think first of how you would feel if
Someone were to say something against you
Or call you

IMG_0244Emily was diagnosed with OCD a year and a half ago. She has struggled with OCD, anxiety, and depression all her life, but was not diagnosed until recently. She is beginning to come to terms with her, anxiety, OCD, depression and ADHD. She wants to be able to help fight the stigma against Mental Illness, and is working with talking to her family about how OCD affects her. Emily is a teacher in an urban elementary school, and loves working with her kids. She wants to be able to make her life and the lives of others around her better, and to be able to help remove the stigma of mental illness. Mental Illness is close to Emily’s heart, as it runs strongly in her family affecting those she loves deeply.  Her hope is to be able to close the stigma surrounding Mental Illness first in her family, and eventually with others in her life and the lives of others.

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