Stigma Fighters : Tom Roberts

“The person who completes suicide, dies once. Those left behind die a thousand deaths, trying to relive those terrible moments and understand … Why?”
– Clark (2001)

I cry every time I speak in public about Jerry’s suicide. Jerry was my little brother. He was 35 and left behind his wife and two little boys. His decomposing body was found in a wooded area in his hometown in North Central Arkansas. He had disappeared two weeks earlier. Even though that was in 1992, I relive the moment I heard the news every time I tell the story and choke with grief just as I did when I tried to say a few words at his funeral.

His widow told me as we stood next to the casket at the funeral home that Jerry was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few years earlier when he was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army. He was discharged immediately without treatment and refused to get psychiatric help out of fear of stigma once a civilian.

My connection with his widow and little boys got lost in the years I was fighting my own bipolar disorder after my diagnosis a year later. I am ashamed I wasn’t there to be a Dad for those little boys. Twenty-three years passed before I reached out to their mother and my now adult nephews through Facebook. I was afraid it would be a bitter reunion, but they told me they loved me and were so happy to hear from me.

Jerry’s widow told me of her own pain over the years dealing with her husband’s suicide. She was grateful, too, I showed up just in time to help the boys as each struggled with drug addiction they used to self-medicate their inheritance of the “family curse” of bipolar disorder.

I found a treatment center for the oldest nephew. He went and got clean and then on to a successful job he loves. He had been in pharmacy school years earlier, but drug abuse ended that dream. My other nephew was recovering from heart disease that nearly killed him at 35. His heath is returning and he is the proud Daddy of my brother’s 5-year-old grandson. Jerry missed so much by not knowing what it is like to be a Grandpa. My older nephew is the proud father of Jerry’s first grandson who is now 16.

I pray that my decision to step back into their lives with my message about recovery from mental illness and fight against stigma will break the chains that nearly destroyed three generations of a family from a small down in Arkansas. I pray there will be no more suicides because there is hope now that one old Uncle found his way.

There is still one unresolved matter in our family. My step-sister killed herself five years after our brother’s death. She, too, ran from stigma rather than get psychiatric help for major depression. Her daughter has not responded to my attempts to reach out to her. I know she is bitter about her Mom’s crazy family and her grief must be overwhelming since her Mom died. My niece was around 11 or 12 when she lost her Mom, I think.

The patriarch of our family ran in shame for at least 30 years from his mental illness until his early death from heart disease when he was only 62. He had bipolar disorder, he learned two years before his death, and was near death when word came about Jerry’s suicide. Dad died three months later, but I don’t think the heart disease killed him. I think he died of a broken heart.

“Suicide creates a monstrous emotional upsurge of shame and guilt. Everyone participates in feeling responsible and even shamed at knowing the suicidal candidate. If these feelings are not healed the vampire of suicidal death can strike again and again.”
–Linda Lee Landon, Life After Suicide

“Everything…affects everything”
― Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why

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Tom-RobertsTom Roberts
Mental Health Advocate

The typical Bipolar patient can sum up his or her life story in four words: lost relationships, lost jobs.
Bipolar Disorder untreated is hell, but you don’t know you are in hell. You just know that you have ups and downs. You are very productive when up and ready to die when down.

A major manic episode in June 1988 destroyed my marriage and ended my faculty position at a small Christian university in Arkansas. I left my wife of 18 years and two young children choosing instead life in Hollywood convinced I could make a living as an actor.
Less than a year later, major depression returned and I took a long, sad bus trip back to Arkansas hoping to pick up the pieces. It was all gone. I supported myself as a hospital janitor and lived in a un-heated cabin in the country. The only bright spot was getting to see my kids once a month.
It would be five years before I learned I had Bipolar Disorder that should have been diagnosed when I was 18 when the first symptoms appeared instead of 43. That, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story.

Eventually, cognitive impairment (memory and spatial-memory cognition) , a common symptom of Bipolar Disorder, made work impossible and permanently disabled me at 60.

Now, more than 20 years after my diagnosis, I speak to groups about this devastating illness. I hope my experience will prevent suicides by those like my brother and sister who are too afraid of stigma to seek help. I am passionate about speaking to college students because suicide is the second leading cause of death among student. My recent speech to students at the University of North Carolina and Duke University was called “The Speech I Wish I Had Heard When I Was An Undergraduate”.

Tom can be found on his blog, Twitter and Facebook

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Stigma Fighters : Gia Sweeney

I have been putting off telling my story because of the stigma that I’m frightened will come along with it. The embarrassment I feel I may cause those close to me. The fear of not getting employment due to a past filled with mental illness. It’s so easy for me to put off what means everything to me. So, in recognition of Suicide Prevention Month I am going to fight the stigma using faith not fear!

My first suicide attempt was in junior year of high school. My high school sweetheart decided it was time to end our relationship and he was moving on to bigger and better. At least this is how I perceived the break up. At the same time of the break up my best friends, whom I had grown up with, decided we were not going to talk… a petty issue possibly, however, the loss of my love and my best girlfriends on top of my lack of happiness since childhood was unbearable to me. I wrote my note, put it under my bed, took my pills and went to sleep. As I woke up that next morning I was unsure of what to do so I told my mom what I had done. This would be the beginning of my growing consciousness in my misery. I had been hospitalized and when I was discharged it was recommended that I see a psychologist. He said something to me that I continue to carry with me today. He said, ” You are not living the life you want”.

As time passed I had at least three other attempts along with diagnoses of cyclotbymia, bipolar, depression, schizoaffective, eating disorder, codependent, addict, alcoholic.
I have had my fair share of hospitalizations, medications, therapy, you name it! The reason I say all this is not to say I’m any different from the next person or I have a grater war story. I say this out of gratitude. I say this because I am fortunate to be alive and be a mother, a daughter, a friend, a woman living with a mental illness, of no longer letting my illness cause me to feel shame, embarrassment, inadequacy. I am sober nine years this October alongside of working on understanding my mental health. I am so excited there is a place to share my experience and know that I am supported and all is going to be ok.
Thank you so much for taking your time to read this and through my struggles and acceptance my hope is to understand and relate to others, being the best Gia I can.
I am fighting the stigma.

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image1Gia is a lover of life, Ayurveda, dance, writing. A mother, daughter, sister, and friend.

Gia can be found on her website

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NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION MONTH: Stigma Fighters Survival Stories

Once upon a time, there was a woman who recognized a need for a centralized place where people affected by mental illnesses could come together and tell their stories. That woman’s name is Sarah Fader, and her international non-profit organization is called Stigma Fighters.

A grand community was built from such an idea that encouraged the power of community which gave real people a voice. A voice that they would not have, had the life of someone with a mental illness taken away their voice when it took their life. Stigma Fighters promotes truth and bravery and love, but it also promotes life. Life lived happily without judgment.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and in true Stigma Fighters fashion, it would be an honor for us to share your stories of how you or a loved one survived suicide. We will of course accept anonymous submissions, but we hope you will show your face and stand proud with us to fight the stigma of mental illness and tell the world that we are here, and we are not going away.

You can submit here before August 31. Change the world with us…

Headshot4byFSP

A Bestselling Author, NPO VP, and Psychology Today Blogger from Burbank, California, Allie Burke writes books she can’t find in the bookstore. Having been recognized as writing a “kickass book that defies the genre it’s in”, Allie writes with a prose that has been labeled poetic and ethereal.

Her life is a beautiful disaster, flowered with the harrowing existence of inherited eccentricity, a murderous family history, a faithful literature addiction, and the intricate darkness of true love. These are the enchanting experiences that inspire Allie’s fairytales.

From some coffee shop in Los Angeles, she is working on her next novel.

Stigma Fighters : Jenny Hill

I have Trichotillomania. Trichotillomania (Trich for short; also known as TTM or hair pulling disorder) is an impulse control disorder characterized by the compulsive urge to pull out one’s hair.

I’ve had Trich ever since I was either 16 or just turned 17, my junior year of high school. I’m not sure why or when exactly it started.

I pulled my eyebrows and eyelashes. Sometimes I’d pull less or more than other times. You may be asking yourself. Doesn’t it hurt? And the answer is no, it doesn’t.

For three years I didn’t know what I had at all. I merely thought it was just a bad habit. It wasn’t until three years after I started pulling that I saw an article online about an actress that said she pulls out her eyelashes and that’s when I first heard of the name Trichotillomania. Oddly enough back then I didn’t think anymore of it. I didn’t look into it.

This past February one day I decided to look more into it, because it was getting worse. So I googled hair pulling and a Wikipedia page about Trichotillomania was one of the first links that popped up. I clicked on it and read it. After that I went on YouTube and typed in Trichotillomania, curious to see if there was any videos about it. There I found several YouTubers who had videos in which they shared their story of Trich. I was so happy that I wasn’t the only person that pulls out their hair.

Trich is actually a very common disorder, yet unheard of because a lot of people feel shameful and embarrassed about it, and that’s how I used to feel as well. It’s said that 2 to 4% of the population has it, which means that 1 to 2 out of every 50 people have it. And that’s a lot!!

In April my Trich became worse than it ever has, I started pulling from my head hair as well. And now I pull from there a lot more than I do from my eyebrows and eyelashes. Infact, I’ve barely touched my eyebrows and eyelashes, because I’m trying to grow them out.

One thing I have learned along my journey with Trich is that it’s a very mysterious and unpredictable disorder. One minute you’ll have a huge urge to pull and then the next you won’t. One minute you’ll be pulling one hair at a time and the next you are pulling three or six at a time, maybe even more. It’s quite often that I try really really hard to not pull and tell myself not to pull. But the tension is so strong that I pull anyways. And when I do pull it releases that tension.

There’s sometimes when I will pull every day, several times a day. Then there’s times where I pull only a few times a day. There’s also times when I’m pull free for a few days and that’s when I’m the happiest and I truly feel on top of the world then. That’s when I know I am capable of being in recovery.

I’ve been spreading awareness for 5 or 6 months now. Slowly but surely. On social media websites such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. I have two videos dedicated to my Trich on YouTube one is before I started pulling my head hair and the other is an update. I hope to not only spread awareness for Trich but also other disorders as well as Mental Health in general.

I sincerely hope everyone who has read this has learned atleast a little bit more about Trich. Also please remember that if you have Trich, you are definitely not alone.

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imageI live in Oklahoma. I love reading, cats and musicals. I also love to spread awareness about Trichotillomania.

Jenny can be found on Facebook

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Stigma Fighters : Jessica Roskosh

No-No’s
Things NOT to say to someone who is Bipolar

There is a list of things that you should NOT say to someone who is Bipolar. There are so many that to name them all would turn this book into a series. There are some that should be no brainers and considering all the people I have met who seem brainless, it is even lost on them. This isn’t even about PC because really, I am not the person to write about PC. I can’t even hold an argument with those who speak in the PC language. Yes, I consider it a language with built in censorship and mandatory bandwagon in tow. I also am not suggesting that those no-no’s based on just the offensiveness of them. Personally, I am rarely if ever offended. I have tried to pretend I’m offended but apparently when you speak without a filter no one buys they have actually offended you.

Before I start my list of things NOT to say I need to let you know that there is also a double standard involved here. I can say the very things I am going to admonish others for but it’s because I’m a part of the club. Yes, club! And many other members of the club frequently violate the no-no’s because they too are a part of the club. Not everyone in the club finds it okay & for us rule breakers we are scolded for the bad example we are setting for the “normal” people. I disagree with that wholeheartedly because I believe normal is nothing more than personal perception. I perceive myself as normal because my bipolar mind normal! It’s the normal I know even if I often call it crazy.

In my book Bipolar Goggles I covered my biggest NO-NO but it bears repeating. Do Not, repeat NOT tweet, post, blog, or say in general conversation that you are having a “bipolar moment.” There is absolutely no bipolar moment disorder. For someone with Bipolar Disorder it is all of the moments. Collections of pieces over a lifetime. Bipolar is an illness not a catch phrase. It’s NOT ok to make it a verb to describe your current mood because in your great wisdom you know it must be what being Bipolar feels like. Our illness is not a trend, it’s not cool, & I personally don’t appreciate you turning it into a fad. This illness will be with me for life.
When you are with your friends talking about someone who you know or think you know if bipolar; there is no reason to use air quotes. Seriously??? What is the purpose of it? My opinion is the quotes signify a disbelief in the legitimacy of the illness. I could be wrong and if you are guilty of the air quotes when talking bipolar, please let me know your reason. I can’t come up with a single one that makes sense.

Never, repeat Never say “snap out of it?” How do we “snap out” of our minds? Bipolar Disorder is a mental illness. Mental is all about the mind. To do that would necessitate the end of life. The “Snap out of it” goes hand in hand with “just deal with it.” We are dealing with it. It and a society of people who see “it” as something we have total control of. If you aren’t familiar with Google then you can ask someone who is bipolar and I am sure they will share the truth with you. Maybe not if you started with the “snap of it.” That may not turn out too good for you. They may have a “bipolar moment.” HaHa..NOT FUNNY!
This concludes today’s lesson. Stay tuned for more no-no’s. All no-no’s within this are my opinion, my words, & just friendly advice. Friendly advice from the bipolar woman who has a built in Mental Illness Defense when I smack you for saying that shit to me!

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41 Year old wife, mother, bipolar, borderline pers disorder, anxiety having fighter!

Jessica can be found on Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : James Carey

In a world without stigma, the last four years of my family’s lives would have been very different.
In late 2011 we had lost our family business which was tough but we quickly began the process of rebuilding our lives, my wife Jm found employment whilst I worked from home. Jm was previously diagnosed with depression and anxiety after suffering the loss of her mother to cancer, shortly followed by the loss of her father. A family member had begun using social media to vilify Jm, it eventually led to him making vile threats to her, and attacking her illness. We later found out that this “man” had also contacted our youngest daughter Mh, posing as our elder daughter using her social media accounts. A year and a half of abuse had taken its toll on them both.
We eventually lost our home in July 2013, moved into rented accommodation and tried to put all this behind us and start afresh. I started a new job, Jm was seeking work, Mg had just started high school, all this happened in two short stressful weeks, it was also a chance that we intended to grab with both hands.
Mh seemed to be focussing on her new school mates, adolescence seemed to be starting. Healthy foods, keeping fit, sports, she seemed to be enjoying her new life, little did we know that it was the onset of anorexia nervosa. The social media bullying started again, the police could not stop it, lies and mistruths tore through our family. The family troubles hit Jm really hard; the way her mental health was attacked was brutal. He was relentless in spreading his vile words.
Nothing could ever have prepared me for the next few months, the whole saga blew up again, Jm’s health deteriorated rapidly due to the abuse, Mg was no longer the bubbly and confident child of before, I too was feeling the stress. Jm eventually voluntarily sectioned, her world had fell apart, our Doctors had not been helpful (basically translated to “get over it“). The mental health team took a dim view of us, as opposed to listening what the problems were; they told us what they thought they were, I was excluded from any input into Jm’s care. The things I witnessed in the hospital were shocking, no real treatment, just sedation whilst staff happily strolled around using social media on their phones. I complained about a couple of issues, this only made matters worse. After two weeks Jm came out of there feeling worse.
Mh wasn’t eating very well, we took her to the doctors a few times, they just dismissed our concerns, the attention seemed to be focussed on Jmr and I, it was wrong, our daughter was not well. We could see Mg’s health declining, to add to the problems, the social media abuse was still happening, the police were clearly tired of me calling them, I was frustrated that they could not put a stop to it all; I seemed to be disagreeing with everyone.
We appeared to have been “found guilty“ of causing all this, my relationship with MH services had declined, I was frustrated with the police, our daughter’s health was being dismissed as a “passing phase”, life was extremely difficult, social services had also been informed. Jm re-visited MH services, she was prescribed even more medication, daily home care monitoring for the medication was promised, that never happened.
The tablets had a terrible effect on Jm, she appeared drunk, again I was regularly calling the doctors and MH services for advice, I was being met with a new response, “call the police”. Social services became involved at this point, they told me to call the police or there was a likelihood that Mg would be taken into care. I was in a world of confusion, Jm was ill, not a criminal, Mg was really unwell, she needed her parents more than ever, she needed medical help. I made that fateful call to the Police after reassurances that it would actually help to get treatment for Jm; I informed the police control of the situation and the effect of the medication. Two male officers attended, “she’s just pissed mate”, despite me showing the medication, Jm was arrested, handcuffed and spent 14 hours in a vomit filled cell. No Doctor was called, her meds refused, bruises to arms and body, and a criminal record for being mentally ill.
Our new found “reputation” followed us wherever we went, the doctors were still dismissive of Mg’s weight loss, we eventually went to A&E, Mg was weak and dehydrated, her heart beat erratic, blood pressure dangerously low and still the focus turned to Jm and I, this pattern repeated far too many times. After over 4 months of trying, Mg was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, she was admitted to hospital but continued to deteriorate. The relationship with the staff was varied, some were truly amazing, others were totally aloof, the consultant had admitted to us that medical staff had no training with eating disorders, the apathy shown by some was appalling, whatever the illness, our child was seriously ill. Eventually Mh stabilized then fought through recovery, gaining release from hospital after 5 weeks. We had regular appointments with the ED team who by now had actually realized their mistaken judgement of us, social services had acknowledged our dedication to our child, the police have attempted to put a stop to the bullying. Jm & Mh both fought hard through recovery, they inspired each other.
Mh relapsed 7 months ago, that same man played his part in her demise; this time around the problems are different, stigma weighs heavily on Mh’s shoulders due to the apathy shown with eating disorders. There is still a long way to go in Mh’s recovery, we will be there for every step, we will do all we can to help her beat this illness and free her young mind from the burden of stigma.

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self-edge-removed-ls-p-silouehette-jpegI am a married father who has lived alongside mental illness all my life. As a child I witnessed (and occasionally suffered) domestic violence. My mother suffered with depression, my father was an alcoholic. I suffered / fought bullying due to my small size from about the age of mine.
I am passionate about mental health, eating disorders, bullying, animal cruelty and all stigma. I currently volunteer as a Samaritans listener amongst other things, I am seriously considering returning to college to study psychology and hypnotherapy.

James can be found on his blog and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : H.M. Jones

I sit clenching my hands, turning my ring around and around my finger, pulling it off, putting it back on. It’s a small habit that I’ve picked up. It’s a nervous tendency people don’t seem to notice. I always look calm and capable on the outside, and people generally don’t see that I’m not. I realize that the nurse practitioner is looking at my hands and I stop fidgeting. “You’re nervous about seeing me.”
I sigh, “I’m nervous about medication, not seeing you.” She asks me why I’m afraid of getting help for a brain disorder and I shrug. “I’ve never ask for help. For most of my life, I figured I could just manage. I knew I wasn’t normal, but I felt capable of pretending. And I’ve been pretty good at it. I can say exactly what people need me to say, and be what people need me to be. It’s not really something I enjoy, but I’ve gotten pretty good with it.”
She jots notes to herself, “But you’re here now. Why?”
I turn my ring round my finger. “It’s not just about me, anymore. My kids need me to be better than what I can do on my own. I am not performing for them. I am me, when I’m with them, and me changes too frequently for our comfort.” She nods knowingly.
And I spill it. In a way I never had before: the shameful story of my ever-shifting moods. A failed suicide, rage outbursts that frightened and even harmed my siblings when I was not old enough to know I was wired different, weeks of heightened irritability, a life of small fist fights and screaming matches, self-harm, addiction, the numbing aching hole of depression, and guilt, heaps of guilt. Because I’ve never actually managed it, and I know that, deep down. I’ve always slipped up because not everything is manageable. Not even to someone who would manage the country, if an angry mob of citizens handed it to her and asked her to do her best. I’ve failed, time and time again, but my loved ones were too nice to say so. They don’t have to. I remember every time, each one a needle in my skin.
The nurse asks if there is a history of mood disorders, panic attacks, bi-polar illness in my family and I can only nod. “Were your family members medicated?” I share with her, then, my fear. Of a grandmother who was always medicated but never seemed to be better, always sad or over-the-top, hurting her family and herself. “I don’t think the meds helped her. Maybe they made it worse.”
The nurse purses her lips, “Those were the beginning stages of medicating mood disorders. Those drugs were very imperfect, just being tested. It was a hard time for people with mood disorders. All treatments are imperfect, but they are much better. And…you’re a different person. It might be the best thing for you. You won’t know unless you try. But I can promise you this: your moods will not get better without help. I know you know that or you would not be here.”
And they never do. Any person with mood disorders has good times. I have those tiny stretches of sanity and they are lovely. I live, blissfully certain that my shifts are over, that I’ve concurred the beast. But I never do. It’s always there, and, armed with a diagnosis, I’m staring one of many solutions in the face and wondering: will I ever feel normal?
Well, we shall see how close I can get. I’m asking for help in a white pill too small to be scary, but it frightens me to death.

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headshotH.M. Jones is the B.R.A.G Medallion author of Monochrome, re-released by Gravity by 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, “The Light Storm of 2015.” She is also a featured poet in several upcoming anthologies, including My Cruel Invention, and No More Shame. 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. 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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Stigma Fighters : Jillian Anderson

I was sitting in my favorite professor’s class (abnormal psychology) ready to learn all about various mental illnesses. My professor spoke loudly when she said, “Now don’t be surprised if you read a chapter and feel as if you have that mental illness the next day. The mind is a powerful thing.” We chuckled and then dove right into our text.
It was absolutely fascinating to me. The mind, the illnesses, the stigma, how people cope… Everything about it was so illuminating for me.
Then, we began to study bipolar disorder I & II. After reading the segment on bipolar II, I began to feel odd about myself. The wheels in my head began to turn slowly, as if they had never been oiled up enough to move before. Well, the oil was there and it was the research I was about to do all on bipolar disorder.
After months of feeling a connection to this particular mental illness, I decided it was time to talk to a professional. I spoke with my doctor and he referred me to a psychiatrist and therapist. From that moment on, my life had changed.
I am a person living with a mental illness. At times I hate it. At times I am indifferent about it. And then there are those times where my mind literally explodes with ideas and amazing things and I feel overwhelmed by it, but kind of love it at the same time.
It’s scary to feel as if you have no control over your thoughts. They either don’t move fast enough for you and are swallowed up with darkness, or they are mellow and what some would like to call “normal” (don’t even get me started on that word!), and sometimes your thoughts are moving so quickly, your mind cannot keep up and they are driving all over and colliding together like bumper cars being driven by a bunch of kindergarteners.
But you deal with it. Because you can either give in to the depression, or the mania, and allow one or the other to swallow you whole… Or you can live your life to the best of your ability. Which is what I am trying to do every single day.
I was recently on a very good upswing. Life was going great, I was at the top of the hill, and nothing could knock me down. I saw my therapist regularly, I took my medications regularly, I was “stable”… Life was just good… Until it wasn’t. I suffered through a miscarriage one week ago, and I just lost it. I fell down that hill faster than Jack and… well, myself! I took my medications for the weekend very irregularly, if at all, I began to self-medicate with alcohol, I distanced myself from my husband and my mother (who were simply trying to understand and have a conversation with me, and make sure I was okay), and I was drowning in depression.
Thank goodness for good friends, family, and a therapist who truly has shown me that she cares because it took a lot of work for them to get me out of that funk. It also took a lot of work from myself.
I could have given up. Easily. I wrote my suicide letter. I had my sleeping pills grasped tightly in my hand, so tight that I cut my hand a little bit even. I was simply done. And unfortunately, that is a concept so many others who do not live with a mental illness/illness/anything that makes you feel this way, find difficult to grasp. And what is the first thing we are basically taught? To judge. Everyone is crazy, everyone is out to do you harm, he or she has a mental illness, they should be locked up.
Some people do need more help than others, but they do not need your judgements, they need your love and respect, just like you would give to any other human being (or so I would hope). They need to know they are not suffering in silence. They… You are not alone. Someone out there loves you. Everyone is loved by someone. Please don’t wait for the worst… Get the help you need. Do it for yourself, because you are a good person, you DO deserve to live a wonderful life!
It took all I had in me to throw that bottle of sleeping pills across the room, but I did it. And then I reached out to someone who cared for me and asked for help. It hurt my pride, but damn. What’s worse? Hurting your pride, or dying and not having pride to hurt?

Thank you for reading.

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11743007_10153000811762196_2774942177715922395_nJillian (Jill) was born and raised in a fairly rural small town in Minnesota. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008 and has been living with the mood swings, the depression, the anxiety, the medications, the struggles, and the successes ever since.
Jill is currently 26 years old and living with her husband, Matt, in her parents house. She is currently attending Rasmussen College for an Associate’s Degree to become a Health Information Technician, in hopes of a work-at-home job for more stability in her life.
Jill enjoys writing in her blog, playing with her family Yorkshire Terriers (Chippy & Bella), being around family and friends, and educating herself on the world around her.

Jillian can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Brian Knowler

In October of 2004, I was the first police officer on the scene of a fatal motor vehicle collision. Within the first few minutes of being at the scene, I quickly discovered that the seriously injured driver was a close friend. He died in my arms as I was performing CPR on him.

I coped the way that many first responders cope with stress and trauma – with alcohol and a strong desire to bury the experience. I didn’t get any after-care at the time, didn’t explore the experience and the feelings it created, didn’t let anyone know what I was going through. Basically, I did everything wrong.

Over the next few years, I buried myself in work, striving for promotions and accolades. I systematically pushed away my family and friends, creating a bubble around myself, living with the fear, the guilt, the anger. I cut myself off from the people who were in the best position to help me. At work I was cool, calm, put together. At home, I lost my temper, raised my voice, and was a less than ideal dad and husband.

I equate it to masks. At work, I had one mask on that hid everything nice and neat. At home, my real face came out, and it was an ugly, hurtful thing.

For a while, I turned to alcohol on a daily basis to cope. It was so much easier than dealing with the blackness, and I finally got into a spiral that ended with a complete crash about 4 years ago. I was done physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.

I finally admitted that I had a problem and began seeing an excellent psychologist who specialized in PTSD treatment for first responders / military. I let the walls fall down between myself and my friends and family, which let me start to make amends and rebuild relationships I had come close to destroying.

I fought the battle for workmen’s compensation and got it. I rebuilt my reputation at work and ‘came out of the closet’ about my PTSD. I became a very vocal advocate at my workplace and began to help guide other officers through their own struggles with trauma and rebuilding.

Now, a few years later, I’m in a very good place. I’ve created Project Healthy Heroes, which has allowed me to start speaking about my experiences and training first responders and civilians about PTSD, resiliency, and getting through trauma with your mind and body intact, and to work with first responders to heal from their PTSD naturally through taking care of their bodies and letting the mind follow. I even made a video about my battle that went quasi-viral on FB!

What I want people to take away from my story is that there IS life after a PTSD diagnosis, if you’re willing to fight for it. You can continue to do the job you love, you can rebuild your ties to family and friends, and you can actually become a greater, better person through tapping into strength you never knew you had.

You can beat the demons.

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IMG_4572Brian Knowler is a 17 year member of the Ontario Provincial Police. During his time in policing, he has served in a wide variety of roles: media relations, school liaison, bike and all-terrain vehicle patrol, emergency management, recruiting, and incident command. He is a trained CISR team member and spent 5 years on the OPP Trauma Support Team before taking a leave in 2012.

Brian is also a fully licenced lawyer and a proud member of several professional law associations.

Recently, Brian took a step back in his policing duties to re-focus on his family and re-creating what PTSD has taken away from him. This has included a move, a change in responsibilities, and an emphasis on advocacy, writing, and reflecting on where his life and career has taken him.

He recently began to professionally speak and train about PTSD, resiliency, and post-traumatic growth. He’s also new to Twitter. :-)

Brian firmly believes that his family and natural healing methods have been the key to his recovery and success and that the journey through trauma can be one of rediscovery and rebuilding. PTSD needs to be dragged into the light, not hidden away in the shadows!

Brian can be found on his website, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Stephanie Escamilla

He needs a father figure! You’re a bad mother! He needs more discipline!
Are a few phrases that became a huge part of my life in 2009. At that time, I was recently divorced and a single mother with two handsome boys. My youngest was 3 years old and my oldest was 10; when our lives were put on the bipolar roller-coaster ride.
It was something totally not expected and I must say it was very hard to swallow. My son was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 10 after he was admitted to a children’s mental health facility. It was his first manic episode accompanied by visual hallucinations and voices telling him to kill my youngest son. It wasn’t easy getting him assessed and admitted. It took almost 3 weeks before someone finally stepped in and helped me get him in to be evaluated. The problem was that he had a psychiatrist that was only interested in helping his ADHD symptoms and decided that his depression would be put on the back burner. After calling numerous times to inform her that he was having homicidal thoughts, I was told that as long as he had no plan or had not injured himself or someone else; she could not do anything about it. The criteria for assessments and admissions are absurd and sadly, a person in psychosis has to injure himself or someone else to get help. It’s unfortunate but, this is why shootings happen. Our mental health system is horrible.
After that; it was up and down from there. The ride continued and it was hard being alone and having your family judge you rather than support you. I had friends but, they understood very little and the conversation of mental health was something that was not common. Any time the conversation started, it quickly changed to something else.
The stigma was horrible and it was worse from my family.
Now things are different. I ended up moving from my hometown to San Antonio, Texas, to be closer to my son’s doctors and near the hospital. I educated myself as much as I could because, no one gives you the book, “What to expect. When you’re not expecting a Mental illness.”(the book doesn’t exist yet. 😉 They just hand you a prescription and an appointment to follow up. They don’t prepare you for what’s to come. We’ve been through so much no one tells you that cutting, verbal abuse, property damage, suicide, manipulation and other difficult things would accompany this life sentence. It took me 3 years to finally accept my son’s illness and even after I felt like I hated him. I couldn’t look at him and definitely couldn’t stand him. It was the worst feeling ever. How could I hate my son? I couldn’t get him to understand how difficult it was to handle or how difficult it was to go through everything and still be called horrible names and be blamed for everything. I couldn’t get him to understand that regardless of everything, I WAS STILL HERE!
It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t hate him. I was standing in front of a group of officers telling them my story; when I finally realized that my feelings of hate weren’t towards him but, towards his illness. I lost sight of who he was and only saw the bipolar disorder every time I looked at him.
My son is now 16 years old and has been doing better. He no longer has the hallucinations. He has managed to come up with his own coping mechanisms when he is starting to feel a cycle start. He is current on all his medications and recently went from seeing his therapist twice a week, to once a week and now going once a month. This is a huge step for us but, we have been able to manage things as they come along.
I would like to let parent’s who are currently in the beginning stages of the roller-coaster ride know.
1. You are definitely not alone
2. Never lose hope
3. Take care of yourself too.
We often forget about ourselves in the midst of all the stress and emotional pain. Take a time out and breathe. I promise you will be okay.

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424251_10151184353943140_407178125_nI am originally from Uvalde, Texas, have resided in San Antonio, Texas since 2010. In 2012, I began my journey with the NAMI organization and became a NAMI of San Antonio board member, NAMI Basics instructor, Crisis Intervention Family Perspective Presenter and a Mental Health Advocate. I am a mother to an adolescent with a mental illness, this fueled the fire in my pursuit to help families in need of help and guidance. In 2013, our story was published on CNN.com and featured on the Dr. Sanjay Gupta M.D. show; to give viewers an idea of what it’s like to live with a loved one struggling with a mental illness and bring light to a worldwide issue that many fear to speak of due to the stigma that follows.

Stephanie can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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