Stigma Fighters : Mu

When I was 14 I met my best friend at school. We became inseparable and I was closer to her than anyone else. She moved away in her early 20’s and our friendship remained as strong as ever. As we did not live close to each other we would text and call all the time. We used to having a running joke that we would moan about things. It started off with little things but gradually I noticed the moans got more frequent and less jokey. At one point I read over our messages from the previous few days and noticed that she only said negative things. I was concerned and brought it up with her. She was not aware she was being so negative and insisted she was fine.

A few months later I got a distressed phone call saying she could not get out of bed. I was confused and could not understand how she could not do it. She was not able to express herself clearly and I did not know what to do from a distance. A couple of days later she managed to get to the doctor and she was diagnosed with depression.

Since she was diagnosed over three years ago, she has become progressively worse and her situation is now very extreme. She has become suicidal, been sectioned a number of times, has regular dissociative periods and has lost pretty much everything positive in her life. Although she has sought help, she has been consistently let down by all the services she has encountered and her condition continues to deteriorate.

As her best friend, I have been supporting her throughout everything. It has been one of the hardest things I have ever done and had no idea how stressful it would be, yet I know I will never stop loving her and supporting her.

Her depression has thrown major obstacles at our friendship, including her pushing me away, revealing a double life of lies and risky behaviour, losing all aspects of a normal friendship, relentless hopelessness, resentment and anger directed at me, as well as all the stress and worry related to suicidal plans and failed suicide attempts.

At times when faced with these issues I have felt lost and had no idea what I should do or why I am putting up with it when it seems like I try my best but only get shot down. I have wanted to walk away many times when the situation has become unbearable or I can’t face the guilt of not being able to make her better. I have felt reluctant to voice the pressure I have been under as I am not the one with depression and therefore have felt that my feelings are always going to come second. I have also felt guilt over some of the thoughts I have had, I know her emotions and behaviours are due to her illness but it does not stop the hurt and the need to sometimes be selfish in order to protect yourself. Normally when faced with negative and sometimes aggressive situations, you would leave and distance yourself from that person, however with depression it’s the opposite and I have had to learn how to handle this and still be able to stick around and support her.

I have often searched for what to do but get frustrated at the basic information on the internet for how to help a depressed friend. I have found many websites/blogs relating to the person with depression but very little for the people who are supporting them. I feel that if I had read other peoples’ experiences and knew that it was ok to feel some of the things I have felt, then it would show that it’s a natural and normal part of dealing with supporting a friend with depression.

Although it is difficult, I keep plodding on and I refuse to give up on my friend. I have enormous respect for anyone who is supporting someone who has depression or any other mental illness. Although it does not always feel like it, we are making a huge difference so keep doing your best and hopefully one day our loved ones will win their battle against depression.

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DSCN1253Mu has been supporting her best friend with her depression and suicidal thoughts for about 5 years. Mu has found this very challenging and due to this has recently set up a blog to share her experiences with others in a similar position.

Mu can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Davesoapbox

I am no academic. I have no medical training other that how to put a triangle bandage on and do some sort of CPR at a push. However I have known for quite some time that I have a problem. Thirty odd years to give you an idea how long, I’m now 41 so the best I can assume from my rather unreliable memory is that around my early teens the stage was being set. So what stopped me getting help? I understand that until my 20s I probably didn’t know I had a problem although I guess it was there as the symptoms were.

There may be a medical term for it but I am cyclic, I never stick to things for more than nine months to a year; jobs, relationships, hobbies, education never seem to get past a year. In fact the only thing that has lasted longer is my current partner who has put up with me for thirteen years. When I say nothing lasts I mean I will not let anything last, I will go out of my way to make sure the job is lost, the relationship destroyed, education quit. I think you get the idea.

I would give you my illness but until I see the psychiatrist on Thursday I have no idea. It says depression on the sick note but I think the self harming and suicidal planning, etc might change that. I have, however, never seen a psychiatrist so maybe I’m being a bit optimistic about any help I get. Thus far excluding the five days I spent in hospital I have had very little contact with the medical professionals, in fact I have received more help from other sufferers on forums and social media.

Which brings me towards the purpose of this article: Stigma, the kind of word you would expect to be the real name for a wasps stinger but we all know different. You see in my mid twenties I was diagnosed with Photo sensitive Epilepsy, passed out playing an arcade game, woke up in hospital. Before I knew it I had an appointment for an EEG so lots of sticky things on my head, lots of flashy lights and a few weeks later Doctor tells me I have epilepsy and here are some pills.
I had applied to join the Royal Marines the week before, they suddenly didn’t want to know.

In fact for a few years after I dreaded filling in forms “Do you have epilepsy “, didn’t take me long to start lying. I also did not take the diagnosis lying down, for the next few years I spent countless hours off my face on drugs staring at nightclub strobe lights daring it to happen again, it never did. So as my twenties drew onwards I started taking an interest in medical matters, reading books that listed symptoms that in my head I was ticking off like a list. I’m not saying I self diagnosed myself I just kind of confirmed I had a problem. Remembering how my life changed with the epilepsy and how they were treated and knowing that mental illness basically had you packed off to hospital, all one-armed jackets and crayons I kept my mouth shut.

Now trying to hide the fact that you have a mental illness isn’t that easy especially if you have severe mood swings, long periods of depression and then times where you are so on your game everyone loves you. However when you have sussed out the nine month cycle thing you can get quite good, alcohol was always a brilliant excuse. When your are on a high, become party man, buying drinks, paying money that should go on the bills to buy expensive cigars for the boys. I think in those years my parents would either receive a card at christmas (down) or some outlandish gifts (up) but nothing ever lasted, I moved so often I can’t even remember all the places I have lives, friends came and went, nothing was permanent.

Even when it go to the lowest point and I found myself on the phone to the Samaritans for hours, eating pills and washing them down with anything at hand, I still never sought help. Thirty years of my life was destroyed and still counting, but my last trip into darkness I did seek help, I came close to within a few hours of running that blade down my arms but I promised myself I would go and tell the truth. They listened and saved my life, nobody laughed, nobody called me a liar or even a Nutter, they helped. Since that day I vowed I would never lie about how I felt, not shy away from being open about my feelings and most of all not worry what other people thought and do you know what, nobody has said anything negative.

You see it is obvious to me now that I was so afraid of being labelled, being defective, damaged goods I wasted my life. I let the stigma of mental illness become more than the illness itself, I often wonder what would have happened if I had got help years ago? What would my life be like if at twenty-five I had got help? So while most people think of mental health stigma as being others oppressing the sufferer, what they need to know is stigma is just another tool sufferers can use to inflict pain on themselves.

Tomorrow I have a meeting with my boss, I am still within my six month probationary period and if I was him I would get rid of me. Trust me this is bloody hard to write but from a business perspective I am a liability. Is that stigma or good business? Employ a project manager who has a full on breakdown within six months and has been on the sick for over two months and no confirmed date back to work. So being mentally ill changes us and whilst we can raise awareness and teach understanding the stigma will continue because just like racism and sexism we are going up against hundreds of years of stigma reinforcement, just be thankful that undoing that damage seems to be working slightly faster.

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image1Having spent a long time denying I had a problem now I have done a U turn and have decided that if I speak out it may encourage others or even let others know that they are not alone. My motto “Help others,Help yourself”

Dave can be found on his blog and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Amanda Dacquel

Saying Goodbye to Dark Sources

“But love is not a transaction. Love is transcendent—it transcends language and material possessions and can be shown only by our thoughts, actions, and intentions.”
-Joshua Fields Millburn

This past winter, I found myself sitting in my car on the verge of ending it. I could go to the corner Rite Aid, buy a bottle of vodka, take the handful of pills in my bag, and make my own pain go away, forever.

I have had intermittent bouts of depression since I was a teenager, but I always thought depression was some sort of uncontrollable, unexplainable force. I always thought if I could just stop thinking, if I could just get it together, if I could just get away from here, maybe my blues would just…disappear. Of course, they never did.

Last year my depression permeated every bone in my body, and it was getting harder to do even the simplest things. The crying and sadness took over at unexpected times, paralyzing me. Most people turn to family or parents during dark times, but for me that was not an option…

My relationship with my mother was never good. As a teenager her temper and mood swings were so unpredictable that I felt like the roof could explode at any minute. I lived in a constant state of anxiety, because there was no way to prepare.

For so long, I tried to figure out where her anger came from—what topics would set her off—but there was no rhyme or reason to any of it. The only constant was that she was high and low. She could be screaming, flying up the stairs to throw something at my head or hit me one second, and then later would offer to buy me something, while reminding me of how much she loved me. We never spoke about it, and I swept it under the rug each and every time. When my mother was nice, she convinced everyone, myself included.

However, it was her words that left the deepest scars. You’re evil… lazy… rotten… stupid…you’re garbage…you’re ashamed…you don’t know how to talk…no one likes you…you deserve nothing… these were my mother’s declarations of maternal love to me. Growing up, I was convinced people were using me, that friends hated me, or that my boss was about to call me stupid, before I ever walked in the door. I took every subtle gesture as proof that my mother’s cruelties were right all along. I became scared of life.

I tried to distance myself, which only infuriated her more. She would start screaming when I would spend time with friends or talk about moving. She would hurl insults, throw things, and would accuse me of not caring about her or loving her. She demanded constant attention and devotion. When I would recount her viciousness in session, my therapist brought up Borderline Personality Disorder. But at that point, I had lived with it all for so long, I couldn’t see anything changing. I knew she would never get treatment.

My therapist asked, “How have you managed all these years?” Like so many of my answers, I said, “I don’t know.” And I didn’t. I guess the depression, anxiety, and heart palpitations were my body’s way of managing.

For so long, I felt weak, unwanted, and very much alone. Last year, things dipped and I couldn’t see a future for myself, which is when I seriously thought of ending it. Because even while her physical presence was gone from my life, I still talked to her semi-regularly, and I still heard her voice in my head. And why wouldn’t her voice be there? The damage was done a long time ago. I came to the realization that I would never be rid of this darkness and pain unless I made a decision.

I had to finally come to terms with how damaging our relationship really was. I made the choice in therapy to end contact with her, and now, I feel like a weight has been lifted, because I’ve finally felt her presence leave from my life.

The other beneficial methods of combating my depression were time and commitment. The time spent talking to an empathetic therapist and really evaluating what happened, is what truly led to a new way of thinking and living. I had to commit to setting and sticking to boundaries, because making the decision to sever ties with a parent is not easy.

I urge others suffering from depression, to find a compassionate therapist, commit to regular sessions, share, listen, and take very good care of yourself.

I stopped and started writing this piece so many times. Writing down the things that happened is still very painful. For so long, I tried to distract myself. I needed to forget. But I learned those wounds and feelings never go away, they just reappear stronger and more dangerous than before…unless we face them.

Despite my ongoing struggles with depression, I’ve learned to take it one day at a time. I’ve found work I enjoy, and I now notice the incredible difference in only surrounding myself with positive and supportive people. With my therapist, we face the difficult questions and tackle the darkness, together.

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3WR_DCO0Amanda is a lifestyle and mental health writer. She is the creator of the mental health and wellness blog, The Current Collective, http://thecurrentcollective.com

Amanda can be found on her blog, and Twitter.

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Stigma Fighters : Neesa Sunar

My mental health story is such, that I could make several stories out of it. Each chapter… it is as if each is from a separate life. I’ve lived many lives, so to speak, each more terrible than the last. But now, I’m through. I have achieved recovery, and I am finally satisfied with the quality of my life. I proudly can say that I have a doctorate-level education in… I – N – S – A – N – I – T – Y – !!

I have a loving mother. My father was terribly abusive to both of us. Home felt like prison, and I soon learned about paranoia. If we laughed at the wrong time, or if we breathed incorrectly, we became victims. School was cruel as well. My parents did not dress me stylishly, and so I was the butt of many jokes. I looked like a boy. I had hair like Ronald McDonald. I also felt targeted, because I studied the violin. I took to classical music quite fondly, to the point that I, beginning at age six, felt that all non-classical music was absolutely evil, and to be shunned.

I had but one best friend. In seventh grade, she moved to Alabama, gone forever. Also, my father left the home, but the damage to my mind was already done. Without my best friend, life was without meaning. I felt like my DNA spelled “loser.” I wanted to die. And I wanted to stop playing classical music.

My mom fortunately took me out of public school and put me in a private school for eighth grade. Despite the change, I was hospitalized for the first time in ninth grade, and then put on psychiatric meds. I also decided to stop playing (now) the viola. The meds worked well enough though, and by tenth grade, I resumed my music studies. By the time I finished high school, I was slated to attend a prestigious conservatory for a college music degree. I survived high school.

College was pleasant enough, but with each year, I became more and more tired. In the practice room, I was increasingly unable to focus my attention. My mother had suggested to me, for several years, to try meditation in order to quiet my mind. I eventually found a meditation group at my college, which I joined. The group was linked to a guru in India, and so I earnestly applied myself to the practice, meditating daily in the morning and evening. This culminated into a trip to India, where I meditated in the presence of the guru himself. Quite exciting.

I fancied myself “healed” of my illness, and convinced my psychiatrist to titrate me off of my medications.

Big mistake.
Within weeks, I began to have intrusive, obsessive thoughts. All of a spiritual nature. It appeared to me as if I was receiving divine revelations. I felt holy and purified. I felt enlightened. I felt as if I were connected to the wisdom of the universe. But it became more and more unreal. I began walking into stores, smelling the merchandise to see if each item was heterosexual or homosexual. I looked at paintings, amazed at the three-dimensional reality of each image, real enough to step inside and feel the wind of a landscape against my face. And my perspective of music… warped. Practicing viola became a kind of yoga where I would harness my chi. For the first time in years, I loved music. But my teacher said I was getting worse. I was baffled.

Eventually, such happened that I walked into a restaurant, and started crying, fearful. Cops picked me up and drove me to the hospital. A new diagnosis now: schizoaffective disorder. After being discharged, on new medications, I finished out the year of college in a daze, and left for good. I had a bachelors and half a masters.

I returned home to my mother in New York, and spent a full year and a half recovering. This included using the internet to find sexual flings, finding photographers to model for, and also finding pen pals from Germany to write to. I had learned German in high school, and decided to revive it. I also rejected classical music fully, and spent that year and a half listening to Queen, and only Queen.

Eventually, I started teaching violin lessons at a local store, which inspired me to go back to school to become a classroom music teacher. I went back to school to get a New York State K-12 music teacher certification. The first year went well, and during the second year, I took a job at a private school as a music teacher. I desired to be productive and prolific, and in my heart, I wanted to be a high achiever. But then… the illness reared its ugly head. Psychic revelations returned, this time telling me I was the reincarnation of Beethoven. Midway through the year, I was hospitalized again, and then forced to leave my job and school both.

I should say that, by this time, I was in shambles. I had gained 90 lbs. in the last two and a half year, due to medication. And I realized… that I would not be able to work. My mind always collapsed. That was all I ever knew. My colleagues from college had moved on to graduate school and jobs, whereas I was on the floor, in pieces. I gave up. I filed for disability and was awarded such. To pass the time, I wrote songs with a guitar and played at open mics in the city. I made friends with many people, and began to feel like I belonged, at least in some corner of New York.

By this time, my grandmother began to fall ill with dementia. Living in the same house was incredibly stressful and emotionally triggering. Due to chance, I suddenly became a born-again Christian and soon after joined a very conservative church in my area. The church encouraged me to care for my grandmother and minister to her, so that she could become saved. I took it upon myself to care for her full time until her passing. I fully immersed myself in church, attending three times a week. I also attended a bible conference.

I prayed earnestly, when suddenly God told me I was gay. I was confused, and confided in the pastors of the church. They were kind and supportive, and gave me scripture to read in order to fight the temptation. But God, or whatever it was, was overpowering. I left the church and returned to the open mics… and then had another breakdown. Hospital. The whole she-bang. I told my mother I could not return home to my grandmother.

After being discharged, I had a temporary living arrangement where I could escape my grandmother. But after a month, I was forced to leave. I decided to try and be independent, and so I signed myself into a homeless shelter in the south Bronx. After staying for only two weeks, I decided to leave, basically because I had been sitting outside when someone shot the window above where I was sitting. By this time, I had befriended a girl at the shelter, and so when I left the shelter, I took her with me. She encouraged me to go off my medications, and so I did. Cold turkey.

Surprisingly, I didn’t crash right away. I figured then, that I was healed. My mother quickly rented an apartment for me to live in by myself, so that I could be away from my grandmother. I also had a rift with the girl I brought from the shelter, and so she left. For the next few months, I dieted in an attempt to lose weight. After about six months, I lost a good fifty pounds.

I started a kickboxing class at a place where my friend worked. I took to the classes well, and began to develop a crush on one of the instructors. About eight weeks later, I was convinced that I was the reincarnation of Beethoven, and that my instructor was Beethoven’s soul mate, also reincarnated. Soon after, I was forced to go to the hospital again. In the emergency room, I began to experience messages which then gave me commands to retrieve my belongings from the security guard. At this point, I blacked out, after which I then remember myself writhing on the floor, struggling against about ten people, all trying to hold me down. I screamed like a banshee. I was so frightened. My body was moving against my will. My voice was babbling, and yet I wanted it to stop. I was then injected with a sedative and restrained. As they tied me down, I said over and over again: “Thank you. Thank you! I love you… I love you.” I thought that I was the victim of a conspiracy, and that I needed to die. I needed to die, because I was an axis of evil that would destroy the world. So I was very happy to be tied down.

I remained in the hospital for about three and a half weeks. The night after I was discharged, I descended into mental chaos again, this time becoming convinced that I was the Antichrist. I was again hospitalized, this time for over two months. It was frightening. For several weeks, I had not improved enough to leave. The psychiatrists told me that they were applying me for state hospitalization. I advocated for myself and got put on a medication, which worked well, allowing me to leave the hospital.

For the next year, I went to outpatient psychiatric rehab programs, during which I learned about becoming a mental health peer specialist. A school in Manhattan, called “Howie the Harp Peer Advocacy Center,” offered a free-of-charge training program for peer specialists. I applied and was accepted. The following term, I attended the classes, learning about the ins and outs of peer work. I learned that there is action going on, where people want there to be a mental health rights movement. I learned that I don’t need to be ashamed of my illness. I learned that my story is valuable, and that by telling it, I can give others hope, empowering them to feel strong.

After the coursework at Howie the Harp, I completed an internship at an agency in Queens, NY, after which I was hired for a full-time position. I have now been there for over six months, and I am showing no signs of relapse. If anything, I am achieving more now than I ever have before. The prolific career that I always wanted… is now what I have. Regarding my spirituality, I no longer fear it. I no longer fear that I will be attacked by my subconscious.

And now… I work at a place where I am appreciated. I don’t have to hide my mental illness in the closet. And why should I? My strength and my source of wisdom… it came from my pain and suffering due to mental illness. By hiding it, I hide who I am. I hide my humanity. And I don’t want to hide anymore.

Mental illness is cruel. For years, it prevented me from knowing myself. It told me I was gay when I actually am not. It told me that I was evil when I am anything but. It told me that rock music was evil, and that everyone hated me for not liking it. It told me that I was a loser. It told me that I was worthless, ugly, and deserving of nothing but death. Even as a small child, I was in its grasp.

For the first time… EVER… I know now that life is beautiful. I see its beauty every day. Tragically, I never could see it before, even as a small child. Doctors often diagnose depression by determining that a person no longer enjoys what s/he once did. S/he experiences a lack of zest for life as once before. But… what if you never have enjoyed such? What then?

I’m glad I’m better now. I attribute it, first and foremost, to the medications I take. I finally realize that I must take them, and I’m not ashamed anymore. The combination I take now is miraculous. Sadly, it took about thirteen years to get to this point. Additionally, I also utilize techniques from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT.

And… friends! For the first time, I realize how many friends I have. Over the past two years, I have been open with my mental illness to friends on Facebook. And many people have come out of the woodwork, supporting me. Telling me I can do it! These people sincerely care. And I realize that I am not alone. Sure, my experiences are different from others’, but simply having empathetic friends is enough. I don’t have to be understood to feel good. I just need to have friends who care, and who are willing to listen.

Seeing my friends also influences my work as a peer. I have big dreams, to reach high and far. And I know in my heart, that I will do such for the rest of my life.

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Neesa Sunar works as a peer specialist in Queens, NY. She was born and raised there as well, and has a bachelors degree in viola performance. She enjoys singing and songwriting as well. These days, she now fully dedicates herself to blogging, in the effort to create more awareness about mental illness. She truly lives to fight stigma.

Neesa can be found on her Blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Karah

I have Bi polar. I have Borderline Personality Disorder. I have Depression. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic disorder and disorder disorder disorder…..
Bottom line, I am a person who lives with an Invisible Illness. One of many people like me who gives themselves a pat on the back for making it out of bed in the morning, or even, for waking up in the morning. I am 12 days short of my 29th birthday and I have been living with these *ahem* correction THESE illnesses for more than half of my life. MORE THAN HALF!!!!!
I am not the only one who lives like this, but every second of every day I feel like I am the only one. And that thought is so suffocating that I drown in this pain that you can’t even imagine.

When I act differently or say the wrong thing because I am extremely socially awkward you all nay-sayers shut me down like I am scum and like I need to be locked away. Did you see that epsiode of Game of Thrones where Cersi Lannister was walked through the street naked while some overly righteous nun rang a bell and screamed “SHAME… SHAME… SHAME”

That is how I feel because by suffering a mental illness, an invisible illness, my need for care and support from the world is not acknowledged and I get laughed at when I say “please help me, I am struggling, I feel dark inside” and I am told to just try smiling and it will help.
I fight everyday, and I want to continue to fight everyday, because I firmly believe that I have a voice, and that people who are like me need to have a voice.
I am one of the lucky ones. I have support, so much support it is not fair. I have a dog, this tiny ball of 5 pound chihuahua that I love more than I love anything else who keeps me fighting even when all I want to do is to give up. Which I do, a lot. I know, that I am so much more than Bipolar, and I am even more than Borderline Personality Disorder. My anxiety is nothing and one day I am going to realize that every disorder that I am labeled with won’t mean anything. One day, as long as I keep speaking up loudly and proudly about who and what I am, mental illness won’t be so shunned and looked down upon anymore.
Have you heard of the organization To Write Love On Her Arms? It has been a key component to my ability to move forward everyday. It showed me that it is okay to feel what I feel and that I was not alone in those feelings.  Those thoughts that I had. I was NOT alone. And I am STILL NOT alone, and neither are you. Together we WILL be the hopeful and I finally can believe that recovery is possible… for ALL OF US!

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Recently I was diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder. But over the past 16 years of my life I have had multiple diagnosis and told I was many things.
I grew up in Calgary, AB Canada and now reside in Beautiful British Columbia, Canada where I moved 4 years ago for health reasons. I have a delightfully playful and adorable min pin/chihuahua mix named NOVA who literally is my heart and soul.
I am making an attempt at blogging about my Mental Health experience based on a suggestion from my psychiatrist, so wish me luck!

Karah can be found on her blog

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Stigma Fighters : L.B. Blake

I was nineteen when I had my first impulse to cut. Twenty when I actually took a razor blade to my arm. But it began long before then. As a little kid, I used to ball my hands into little fists so my fingernails would dig into my skin whenever I was upset in order to lock the tears and anger inside.

It was just after my sophomore year of college that I had my first impulse to cut. Nothing in particular had triggered it. I was in the middle of a breakdown, feeling overwhelmed and like a failure because I wasn’t perfect, and the depression that I had been battling since middle school had finally reached an unbearable level. Suicide crossed my mind for the first time that night, but I knew that I didn’t really want to die. I just needed the hurt to stop—now. And then I had the urge to take something sharp and cut myself, make myself bleed. It terrified me. Was I really so sick that I wanted to harm myself?

I was.

I didn’t cut that night, only because I was too scared. Scared of myself. Scared of what such an act would say about me. Scared of anyone finding out how messed up I was. But a little less than a year later after a nasty fight with a friend, I found a box cutter in my desk drawer and made three little cuts on the inside of my left arm. It didn’t hurt and they didn’t bleed much. But the pain inside was miraculously gone. For the first time in what felt like forever, my mind was calm and still. I knew I’d cut again.

Over the next three years my depression raged, and I did my best to hide it with smiles and long sleeves. I had bouts where I was suicidal, making plans to slit my wrists in the shower or drive my car into a tree. There were periods where I would cut ten or more times a day. Both arms, both legs, and my torso are covered in scars. Some scars thin and straight, barely noticeable; others deep and angry, screaming: look at me! Since I was an overachiever and stubbornly independent, I was determined to handle my depression alone, without any help from professionals, family, friends, or medication.

Just after college I would try to kill myself. Not a serious attempt. I cut at my wrists a bit, nothing deep. My suicide attempt had nothing to do with wanting to die. In fact, I wanted nothing more than to live. But I needed the hurt to end, and I couldn’t fathom a life in which that was a reality for me. I had gone through periods where I was relatively content and even had moment of happiness and hope, but the depression and self-loathing always came back. Then one night I had a single, rather simple thought: I can’t live like this anymore. I knew I could pull myself out of the depression because I had done it before. But I also knew that it would come back again and again simply because it always did. So if I couldn’t climb out of the depression and end my suffering, I was going to give into it, kill myself, and end it that way.

I wish I could say that it was hope or some shred of self-worth that kept me from cutting deeper and ending my life. But it wasn’t. It was simply fear. The fear of death was stronger than my pain. However, that thought, I can’t live like this anymore, had grown roots in my mind. Since I couldn’t kill myself, then I had no other choice than to climb out of the pit and find a way not to fall back in.

It’s been ten years since that low point in my life, and I’ve come a long way. The depression resurfaces from time to time, but not to the depths it once did. And I’m not going to lie, I still cut from time to time, but there are years between these isolated incidents when I just get too overwhelmed. I wish I could say that I finally found the strength to get help, but the truth is that I’ve never been on an anti-depressant. I’ve never spoken to a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist. (I do, however, have a couple of close friends and a husband who know about my struggles and support me). I am still obstinate and determined to do everything myself, including battle my depression. This is not a path I recommend, not by a long shot, but it is the one I’ve chosen.

For me to overcome my depression, I had to take control of my thoughts. Self-loathing always has been my greatest vice. My waking hours consisted mostly of ripping myself apart for not being this ridiculous ideal I had created in my head, for failing to reach unrealistic expectations, and for simply being human and fallible. I also had a nasty habit of replaying painful events in my head over and over again to punish myself. I called myself ugly names and told myself that I deserved to die. Call it cognitive therapy, call it mediation, but I began monitoring my thoughts, and every time I starting tearing myself down or reliving something painful, I consciously stopped that line of thought. It was exhausting, always being so conscious of the thoughts skipping across my mind. It took great energy, discipline, and time to end that destructive self-talk. But eventually I didn’t have to keep such a vigilant watch over my thoughts because the negativity gradually faded away.

As a side effect of taking control of my own mind, I became more self-aware and began to understand why I was the way I was (there was no abuse, no great trauma; just genetics and dysfunctional family dynamics). I cut toxic people out of my life, those that reinforced the negative opinion of myself and drained me of my energy. I distanced myself from those that I couldn’t cut off. I found other ways than cutting to cope when I felt overwhelmed, depressed, or like a failure—I wrote; I vented to a friend; I found stillness in nature. I learned to ask for help and try not to be Wonder Woman all the time (though admittedly, this is still difficult for me). I also found the confidence and self-esteem to change the external things that didn’t work in my life—a job I detested and a crappy apartment.

The cutting was a symptom of the depression. But it was also so much more. It was a coping method, a way to escape the pain; it stilled the mind so I could function. It was a physical manifestation of the self-hatred; not only was I beating myself up on the inside, I was also beating myself up on the outside. It gave a physical symptom to my mental illness, and in some twisted way gave my illness validity. I could thrust out my arms and say see, it’s not all in my head. And it was me asking for help, even if I hid the cuts.

Just as an alcoholic is always an alcoholic, even if he or she gives up drinking, I will always be a cutter. It doesn’t matter how many years have passed since I last harmed myself. When the darkness comes, I still get that impulse to cut. It’s rare that I give in to that impulse, but it’s there and always will be.

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L.B. Blake is a recovering cutter and author of the novel, Bleeding Souls. She can be found on her Goodreads.

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Stigma Fighters : Jonathan Harnisch

People With Depression Cannot ‘Snap Out Of It’

People with depression cannot “snap out of it.” My moods change frequently, and I am currently depressed. There is nothing more depressing than suffering from depression and still feeling sad. So, what’s the point? Will it pass? No doubt. I forget what it’s like to smile, and I mean for more than a couple hours now; I’m talking about now, not later. I forget what it’s like to be a lovely or loving person, or if I ever was such a person at all – one of love, of goodness, of graciousness. I forget how it feels to truly live, much less how to live life to the fullest. I just exist. Right now, I simply exist, with my pulse and my breath and maybe some tears, if I am even able to let them roll a river down my face and flood the seas and the world with them, to get them out. I try to get myself out of this mood. This life. This episode of depression. Sure, I’ll return to normal. Sure. Still, I have temporarily lost the point of living a life, pretending to smile or laugh, or getting a joke every darn hour when there are people around me who only want to see me happy. Well, I am not happy, and overall I have not been happy for most of my life. If anything, I glamorize the past, and even the present, sometimes. It’ll pass, but that’s not the point. The point is how I feel now. The point is right now.

 

Yes, I know it will pass. I know people love me, but I do not currently know what that should feel like. I just can’t remember. I feel so lost. Gone. Yet I continue, and therefore I “inspire,” I’m often told, but I am still depressed. I am still in this chair, writing out this rubbish because it gets so overbearing I can’t tell you. I’m not alone. I know that, too, but that feels and sounds so contrived and lackluster, uninspiring, to me right now.

 

I pretend to be so damn nice and funny and charming for others, just for “them,” so I don’t lose a Facebook friend or whatnot. Nevertheless, I have zero real-life friends. I’m not sure if I ever have had any. Well, maybe, sort of, but they probably felt sorry for me. Who cares? I don’t know. I am not even my own friend. This has been true for most of my life. I got into a good school, which I didn’t even belong in. I lived my former Hollywood life, which never did anything for me worthwhile. I exaggerate about how cool that time in my life was, way back, back in the day. Now, I can barely move. I can barely see. I’ve been here many times, so don’t worry about me. Just send a hug, as if I’d ever feel any real hug; virtual hugs are probably better because there is no effort involved. No feeling, and I can just barely feel.

 

This is why I write this kind of stuff. “Just keep writing,” says that little voice in my head, “Get it all out, all that you can.” Do it now. Now. Now. Now. Get me out of right now. Remind me of some clever quote or cliché, reminding me how they are just reminders over and over again of how hard it actually is, in this case for anyone, to do, let go, move on, it’ll pass, it’ll pass, and so forth.

 

I pretend to live, pretending to be myself, as if that would ring true. “Oh, that’s just your mental illness speaking,” some say. Well, then I guess I am just one full bag of happiness, and I am over it. Did I snap out of it? Of course. And again, I will get out of this depressed state, just not now, and I will do it only to see it return. I am incapable of getting but one positive thought out, so I am sorry for not pretending right now, even for just a minute. Maybe I still am pretending. I am sick, twisted, and wrong. I don’t belong.

 

Other people have it worse. I suppose I don’t deserve or have the right to be depressed. I need to think about them. Poor them. Hate me. Sometimes I pretend to love the life I live. What’s the point? As Faulkner said, basically, the reason to live is to get ready to stay dead a long time. Okay, thanks, Mr. Faulkner.

 

Seriously, what is the point? Tell me about it, about how we are all just here winging it, trying to get by. I am not “getting by.” I watch the clock and wait, and wait, and wait for tomorrow. Oh, how sad and pitiful. Get rid of this guy, this guy Jonathan. Hell, I can’t even walk two feet without being right here with myself, as myself. There is no escape.

 

I just know hope; it’s that same hope that gets me and brings me back here, for now. Tell me the point and I’ll tell you why I am so damn me, but it doesn’t mean I’m really proud of this. Make me understand you as I try to do the same. People with depression cannot “snap out of it.” Until my next episode, and otherwise until next time…

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You can also find Jonathan on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter, which is his preferred social media site. Author Jonathan Harnisch has written a semi-fictional and semi-autobiographical bestselling novel,Jonathan Harnisch: An Alibiography, which is available on Amazon and through most major booksellers. He is also a noted, and sometimes controversial, mental health advocate, a fine artist, blogger, podcast host, patent holder, hedge fund manager, musician, and film and TV writer and producer. Google him for more information.

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Stigma Fighters : Adam Lennon

Solar Flares in the Northern Pole: My Dysfunctional Relationship With Bipolar Disorder and our Life-Affirming First Date

Taco Night.

I believe this is when it all started. I was in the middle of a grueling semester of the most intense course I had ever taken, graduate level gross anatomy. While my peers were funding every local coffee shop while burning the midnight oil studying for our next exam, I was on YouTube watching clips of Rachel Ray and Paula Deen.

It had to be perfect.

Taco Night was something I had been promoting for a little over a week in my class. The idea was to celebrate yet another exam, now in the history books. Taco night was supposed to be a reward for doing something productive and important, but instead it became an obsession for me, one that overshadowed everything in my life at that moment, including some pointless test for my graduate program. I ended up spending hundreds of dollars on food and drinks, but even more detrimentally, my time was dedicated to my night of celebration, rather than my future at the University.

My classmates would stand in awe after their first bite of one of my tacos. They would look at me with their eyes wide while their hands wiped the corner of their mouth. “Oh my gosh, this is seriously the best taco I have ever had.” They would tell me. I would just smile without saying anything in return. Pretty soon word would spread, and people would be piling up at my door, begging me to make them not just tacos, but any type of cuisine. Because I would become the best chef in Grand Forks, which wasn’t bad for a guy who had never cooked professionally.

Taco night came, and while it was a major success (at least I thought it was), the D I received on my test should have made it a complete disaster…but I couldn’t have cared less. I was evolving, and some letter on a piece of paper couldn’t get in the way of evolution. This mindset wasn’t only out of touch with reality, it proved to be dangerous, devastating, and would ultimately lead to my wife taking my kids to the northwest, while I stayed in the middle of nowhere.

The next few months were very strange. By day I would watch dozens of episodes of Louis CK while talking to my fish, and by night I would wander around Grand Forks with a smile on my face and thousands of ideas spinning through my head like an F5 tornado. The problem was, I was getting caught up in that tornado, and making incredibly poor decisions – decisions which effect me even to this very day.

I never slept, and I didn’t need to. One night I was out wandering the streets by myself while writing my autobiography. I remember laughing out loud as I wrote a particularly witty line. It was at this moment that a friend of mine was driving home from a late night party, and happened to see me. This was at 3 am, so he asked if I needed a ride. Little did I know at the time that he thought I was on meth. But I hadn’t touched any substances that night, although my brain was certainly being altered.

Being manic is sort of like that feeling you get when anticipating something really exciting, like that trip to Disneyland next month. Only with mania, Mickey Mouse never comes, which is great, because you never experience the let down after leaving the park for the last time on the third day. You are in a perpetual state of positive anticipation, and it is utterly intoxicating.

But there was another side to the invincible high that I was experiencing. Some very serious problems arose from my mania. I had burned through more jobs in five months than I had my entire life (six in all). I was going to end world hunger with one hand, and write a Pulitzer Prize winning book with the other, so giving a shit about whether or not a customer wanted to sign up for a rewards card was simply not going to happen. I would literally walk out of jobs with a smile on my face and an idea for something bigger…much bigger.

This was my life now. I was quickly becoming the most important man in North Dakota…no…the world. I had everything I needed there, a roof over my head, wheels to get around town, and a pile of aspirations and dreams that I waded through day and night. But Ironically I had nothing, I just didn’t know it yet.

And then hell peered through my window one day. What I didn’t know then was that it would turn everything dark, and eventually put me in a psychiatric unit.

It started while I was jogging one afternoon in October…

Because my story is lengthy, I have decided to write it in sections (for both of our sakes) :)

Part II of my story, ‘My Dysfunctional Relationship with Bipolar Disorder and our Catastrophic First Date’ will be coming shortly.

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adbrendaMy name is Adam Lennon. I was raised in Utah (yes, I grew up in the Mormon church). I went on a two year mission to Boston when I was 19, and came home at 21, married my wife at 22, and had my first child at 24. This is very common for us Utah folk. I received a degree in Kinesiology , and after trying my hand at finance, decided to apply to graduate school. This is where my story takes place.

My bipolar disorder has taken my life in several directions. But most importantly, it was opened my eyes to the importance of other human beings, which is why my wife and I started a company called SeaTread Studios. One of our projects is a series on YouTube called, A Life and a Story, which is dedicated to telling important stories related to some type of social issue. From Mental illness, to LGBT awareness, we really want to span the social spectrum and capture it on film.

Adam can be found on his  Website, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Dallas McDonald

THE ADVANTAGES OF HAVING ANXIETY

Did you read that right? Did I say advantages to having anxiety? Am I having a wack-attack? That’s right! Advantages to having anxiety. I am determined not to live my life in the negative, and neither should you. Here are some reasons why…
Heightened sense of empathy – As a result of the suffering we endure, we are more easily able to relate to people that are going through difficult times. This makes you a great candidate for being the friend that people come to when they just want someone to listen.

Fewer fatal Accidents – we have a heightened sense of awareness of the environment around us. We are more easily able to avoid situations that could cause us any harm. Your anxious friend will be the one to call 911 or administer first aide.

Strong memories- The fact that we replay almost every human interaction we have ever had over and over in a loop means that we remember things, we remember in detail. This might not be as good for your friends from high-school when you meet their kids.

Good friends – We are selective on who we let in. We screen friends rigorously. If you have an anxious friend you must be good people, because we took our sweet time selecting you. We also make good friends, loyal to a fault and always happy to lend an ear.

Creativity – Comedians, Actors, Musicians and Artists are notorious for having dealt with mental health issues. A great example is Robin Williams, may he rest in peace. Other examples include Brooke Shields, Catherine Zeta Jones and I don’t think there was any doubt Mel Gibson has some issues.

The human race needs us – We are needed for the survival of the human race. Anxiety is essentially a fight or flight reaction, that some believe was developed as a method of survival. This would have made us pretty bad-ass at fighting off Saber-Toother Tigers back in the day, or at the very least, avoiding them.

I have come to accept that my anxiety is as much a part of me as having brown hair, or a smart ass attitude. I refuse to continue to focus on the negative. It isn’t going anywhere so my life has become about how to cope. It has become about gaining knowledge, finding out what works for me, cutting out the things that don’t, and trying my best to remain positive! To quote a very smart fish, “Just keep swimming!”

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11052479_10152810741491032_177616718944062433_n1I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in my early 20s, but started dealing with it much younger than that. I am in my 30s, I work in mental health giving my anxiety a sense of purpose. I recently started writing about my experiences and have been so empowered and humbled by the support I have received from strangers and friends alike.

Dallas can be found on her blog,  Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : H.M. Jones

Two Sides of a Coin

How do you describe what it’s like when a loved one asks you about your bi-polar tendencies? You don’t want to scare them or stress them out. But telling them that you’re as unpredictable as a coin toss is not what they want to hear. Is knowledge power? Will it help them help me? Let’s toss a coin and see…
Heads: Mania
I remember a Crystal Meth commercial from the 90’s that showed a young woman clawing at her skin, hunched in the corner of a blue toned room. I think it was supposed to portray the fact that meth users destroy their bodies with the drug, allow it fall apart through wakeful stress, picking and scratching, chemical poisons rotting their brains and teeth. But when I was a pre-teen (pre-diagnosis), I just thought, I know how that feels. I’ve been caught picking at things incessantly, scratching my arms nervously, doing dishes or writing a book until two in the morning because I cannot sleep. I remember asking my mom: “Is meth a drug?” She said it was. Well, I’ve never done drugs, but I know how that poor girl feels.
Yesterday, I felt the fleas of hypomania bounding across my skin and started to worry. I have to take care of my kids today. I have to teach class and submit blogs to various sites. I have to do edits on my book. I have to be grounded today. And I did all of those things, in a wild frenzy between running in circles around my seated children, making weird faces and dancing like a crazy person. They are amused by the later way in which I channel my mania, playfully. They are annoyed when I channel it creatively, to meet my goals. I’m singular, zoned in, tuned out until I type the last word. Then, bam!
On to my next move, always biting my tongue, sucking in seething frustration at every annoying comment on Facebook, every temper tantrum my kids throw, every probably innocuous comment a neighbor makes…Always at the edge of an eruption that I keep contained by wearing myself thin, always worrying it will be too much one day, that I’ll be an explosion.
By the end of the day, I’m signed to blog for five different sites, have my book edits done, created a book trailer, cleaned the entire house (even scrubbed the toilets), ran three miles, taught a class, made play dough with the kids and took them on a hike, and I’m still not worn out. I’m hungry though, always. I’m supposed to be watching my sugar and caffeine but all I want is cookies and chocolate and coffee.
Tails: Depression
Nothing matters. I’m only good at things that don’t matter: writing, teaching, thinking…None of it matters in a world where people don’t read a full blog post, teachers are being taught how to let computers teach and you don’t have to think past the worlds you create on headache inducing screens.
No, Hannah, that’s not true. People are still thinking, still reading, still creating. People are more compassionate, more understanding than they were even five years ago. Things are changing. You just have to change with them.
Fuck it. I make next to nothing writing and teaching. I don’t even help support the grocery bill. The things I paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to learn are never going to actually give me back that return. I should get a real job so my kids have chance at going somewhere on vacation someday.
That’s not even true. You’re getting there. It takes time to establish yourself. Your kids like hiking, the beach, making play dough with you, gardening, playing board games, going to Goodwill. They don’t care that you’re not taking them abroad. And when your writing finally pays off, they will be old enough to appreciate those trips. You’re doing fine. Just keep going. Go take your vitamins. No, don’t open your laptop. Facebook makes it worse, you know that. It makes you feel like you’re screaming into the void. You can’t do that when you feel like this. Go write something. Put on some music. No, not Elliot Smith. Turn that shit off, Hannah.
Shut up, rational self. I LOVE Elliot. He gets me. You don’t. You suck. “Haven’t laughed this hard in a looooong time. Better stop now before I start crying! Go off to sleep in the sunshiiiiine. I don’t want to see the day when it’s dying!” Yep. He knew. The sunshine is a lie. People are fake. I don’t want to make eggs. I’m going to eat Oreos.
No, don’t do that. You need to eat food that will give you energy and will be good for your brain. Oreos are not the food to do it. When the kids wake up, you should go on a walk. Maybe find a yoga thing online. That will help get your mood up. Do some yoga before the kids wake up? Hannah? It’s sunny. Open the window. Your flowers are blooming and smell…Hannah? Hey, oh, no. No, hey, stop crying. It’s fine. It’ll pass, okay? Hannah?
Nothing will ever be okay. I’m only alive because my kids need me.
No, you’re alive because you normally love life. You’re just..you’re not yourself today. Regular Hannah loves life, remember? Call your therapist. It’s time to go in. Hannah? You’re not sleeping. Nope. Open up your eyes. No going back to sleep. The kids will be awake, and you have things that need to get done, even if you can’t remember why you wanted to do them. You said you would do them, so do them. And call your therapist, okay? Fine, eat the damn Oreos, but call him.
Grunt. Chew, chew. You’re right, they’re awake. I should smile. I’m not calling a therapist, though. I don’t have money for that shit, remember? I’m not good at things that make money…
Call your therapist, Hannah. Money is not as important as your sanity. Possibly stop buying oreos and coffee and you will be able to afford therapy better. And smile, anyway. You should smile. They love you.
I don’t know why, but yeah, they do.
And you love them.
Yes. I do. I’m just so…tired. I guess.

***

When I wake up, I often wonder what side of the coin I’ll fall on. Will it be heads or tails? Sometimes I land on the side of a coin, that thin metal space where my normalcy sits. It might be a trick to get there, but I often manage it. Practice does make perfect, and I’ve been at this for decades. I’m sorry if you didn’t want to know this. But I really am…managing. If you don’t know me like this, it’s because I’m making it work. Because, with help (therapy, exercise and writing), I live life successfully as a full-time mother of preschoolers, college instructor, author and wife. The highs and lows suck and that’s no lie, but my life is worth the fight.

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

H.M. can  be found on her Blog, Facebook and Twitter

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