Stigma Fighters : Anonymous


There’s a subject that’s been mulling around in my head for some time now. It’s not an easy one to write about by any means. It’s a touchy subject, a private subject, and it’s important.

My marriage.

I haven’t written it because I never know how to get the words out. Call it respect, call it privacy, call it whatever the hell you want to call it; the words get stuck in my head and won’t come out no matter how hard I try to rattle them out.

Loving someone with a mental illness when you have a mental illness is all kinds of hard. Their mood and actions effect your mood, and vice versa. It is a struggle of momentum volumes, and sometimes…it damn right feels impossible to carry on with them, but the thought of not being with them is even worse. It’s almost…suffocating.

How do you help someone who won’t see or admit that they need help? How do you help them when they turn the tables on you every time you try to talk to them? You have a mental illness too, you need help too. You don’t handle stressful situations well either. It’s the pot calling the kettle black, over and over again seven ways through yesterday.

On the other hand…you have someone who gets it. They fucking get it without you trying to break it down for them. Explaining your thoughts and emotions is easier because they just get fucking get it. Unless they’re having a rough go, then…well, you’re both left stewing about how hard it is until someone decides to do something about it to rectify the situation.

Each and every relationship comes with struggles and bad days…days when your communication is shit and your attitude is worse. Days when you’re left wondering why in the fuck you’re struggling so hard…do other people struggle this hard? It doesn’t seem like it, because it never does…but they do. Everyone struggles and relationships are fucking hard. Relationships when you introduce mental illness and a bunch of other health problems are even harder to balance out.

Sometimes, there’s just so much goddamn stress that I don’t know what to do. I feel alone because we’re at odds with one another, or he’s telling me not to stress about it because “he’ll handle it”, but he doesn’t because he doesn’t know how to handle it and his mental illnesses make handling emotions incredibly difficult…especially my emotions.

Literature and society as a whole has me so confused. Like, every great relationship has struggles but not like ours. Things don’t feel so fucking heavy when they’re not going good. Those people can rationally talk it out.

We fight. We rip into each others hearts and souls and claw with sharp nails to draw blood. We’ve been trained to fight dirty, or maybe it’s the depression, the anxiety, or the rage disorder…or maybe it’s the fact that we’re also fucking Geminis.

I keep trying to look at this situation with unbiased eyes. I try to see where he’s coming from, and I won’t lie…it’s fucking hard and I struggle with that. I know what I know, I feel what I feel. I can empathize what he feels, but it doesn’t take away my reaction to it.

I am doing all that I can to try and fix things…to try and elevate stress. I feel broken…twisted and ugly. A voice in my head tells me things shouldn’t be this hard…life shouldn’t be this hard. We should struggle to the degree that we’ve been struggling. They say money can’t buy happiness, but it buys security and that’s close.

This post makes everything seem so dark and horrible, and that’s really not it. The amount of love I have for this man is unexplainable. The passion I feel for him keeps me pushing through all this fucking sludge that life throws our way.

But it’s hard, and some days are harder than ever and sometimes my heart is bruised and sometimes I just want things to be easy and calm.

But neither one of us is easy or calm, and that’s what makes it so hard. We are both reactive and damaged.

We are both living — and loving — with mental illness.

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Stigma Fighters : Nicole Sparkman

Growing up in a small town that sits in a small county (7000 souls total…or I assume souls-some of the people are iffy) I kept quiet for a long time about my struggle with depression. I didn’t want to be judged or stigmatized because I have something no one can see. Now, at 37, I have decided I don’t really care if someone judges me based on my disease. After Robin Williams so tragically passed on and I saw the comments people made on social media about it I realized how clueless the general public is to mental illness. In an age of instant access to knowledge this is inexcusable. I’ve taken it on myself to post on my Facebook more about my struggles (though it terrifies my poor parents…sorry!) and to start a blog to speak out about the stigma of mental illness. My dream at the moment is to do this on a much grander scale in the future…God made me to advocate. It’s what I do.
Some of my favorite things I hear from people when they find out I have depression are listed below…I know that others have heard the same things spoken to them.

“But you’re always so happy…”
No, I let you think that I’m always happy. After years of dealing with depression you learn to hide it very well. When I was in high school I can remember calling a friend and telling her that I wanted to kill myself; I just didn’t want to live anymore. Through my tears I could hear that she was having a party and she must have told them what I said because one of the people there yelled, “then do it already!” After numerous incidents of insensitive advice, (just get over it! Quit being a drama queen!), you no longer trust that someone will understand your secrets. You don’t open up to people anymore for fear that they will either lock you up, not believe you, or that they will ridicule you.
Am I am a happy person? I like to think so. I love life, I love seeing the world and having its beauty shatter me. I love my kids, my family, and my friends. I enjoy doing so many things in life…until the demons come out to play and start whispering in my ear that I’m not good enough, I’ll never be good enough, that life is not all it’s cracked up to be, and that I’m not worth anything. The pain that the demons cause make you hurt so bad from the inside out and it’s hard to focus on anything. Your house becomes a bigger mess, you start avoiding everyone, your performance slips at work because the only thing in your head is to focus on the next day, the next step, the next breath. You aren’t sure you’re going to be able to make it through that next breath because your chest is so tight but you do it. It’s exhausting. It’s debilitating. It consumes you. If you try to talk to someone about it they want to know the whys of it. Why do you feel this way? Why are you so sad? Hell if I know. If I knew I would make it stop.
“You’re so funny and full of life though…”
Yep. I’m a funny person. I make myself giggle a lot. Just because I’m funny does not mean that I don’t have some very serious moments that go on in my head. I am full of life because I feel everything deeply. If I find something amusing it’s extremely amusing. If I dislike something or someone it is with the hate I reserve for the fiery pits of hell, the mall, and rush hour traffic. Since I feel all the good stuff so deeply I guess it makes sense that I feel all the bad stuff acutely as well.
“You’re such a strong person…”
I used to laugh at this and say no I’m not strong. I take that back. Damn right I’m strong. I fight battles no one sees or hears. There are times that I am raging in my head so hard that my hands are in fists and it’s taking everything in me not to unleash all that I’m feeling on something or someone. Depression takes many shapes. Sometimes it’s complete and total apathy and to a person who is used to feeling everything this is horrible. It’s a void. A pit that you are trying to scramble out of and you can’t get a hold of anything to pull you up. Another form is the absolutism of rage: anger so sharp that you feel brittle with it and as if you are going to splinter into glass and cut everyone around you. I am a strong person…because I have had to be.
“Can’t you take a pill…”
Oh, how I wish I could! I’ve tried over ten different antidepressants. I either end up with horrible side effects, apathy, or anger so bad it scares me. I can’t take medications for this. I get by because of the Almighty, my family, and friends. Maybe someday they’ll create a pill that will fix my brain but as of now they have not.
“You’re crazy…”
Yea, and you’re boring. Boring and judgmental are the two greatest sins in my book.

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20150304_210336Nicole Sparkman lives in a small town in Missouri where she raises her 3 children and dog while working a full time job and attending online classes. She will graduate in 2016 with a degree in Human Services. Nicole has fought against depression since she was a preteen and though at times she grows weary of the battle, the fighter still remains.

Nicole can be found on her Blog, and Facebook

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Stigma Fighters: A Conversation on Self Harm – With Courtney & Marisa

Recently, the hashtag #cut4zayn went rampant on Twitter. There were graphic images of teens actively involved in self harm. The imagery was alarming and triggering to many of us mental health activists. Marisa, the content manager for Stigma Fighters Canada and writer at Mad Girl’s Lament  reached out to me with an idea. As someone who struggled with self harm for years, she wanted to have an open discussion about the nature of the behavior and how the #cut4zayn hashtag impacted her. Immediately I thought of Courtney, the content manager for Stigma Fighters Teen  and write at Courtney’s Voice. Courtney is a 17-year-old mental health activist, and a survivor of sexual abuse. She lives with PTSD and has spoken openly about self harm.

Courtney and Marisa got together and had a candid discussion about self harm and how the #cut4zayn hashtag impacted both of them on a personal level. Watch their talk here:

Stigma Fighters : Theresa Larsen

Living with Mental Illness is like Playing Tennis with a Flat Ball
By: Theresa Larsen, author of “Cutting the Soul”

Imagine going onto a tennis court on a sunny day to play a game of tennis. You grab your racquet, stretch your arms, and pick up a ball. As you throw the ball in the air to serve, the thrill of competitive excitement fills a space inside of you. The ball falls to just the right height, you swing through, hitting it over the net, and into the service box. You pause momentarily sensing that something is not quite right. The ball felt heavy and did not sail as far as you expected. You put this thought out of your mind and focus on the return. Your opponent is able to return your serve with ease. As you strike the ball it falls flat of the net, rolling slowly toward you. You pick it up and look at it carefully. It looks like any other tennis ball, it feels like any other tennis ball, but it doesn’t perform like any other tennis ball. You look around at other courts and see players hitting without difficulty. Everyone around you is playing tennis with a ball that bounces high, is light in weight, and soars when hit. Everyone except you. Your tennis ball feels weighted down, heavy, and uncooperative. You have to hit harder, move faster, and think quicker than everyone else or you get left behind. Your resolve to do this dissipates with each swing of the racquet.

Imagine playing tennis day after day with a flat ball. This is what it is like to live with mental illness. You quickly become exhausted. Your muscles ache with the added effort. You want to do what everyone else is doing, but you can’t because your brain does not let you. Often, the more effort you exert the further behind you get, until you want to give up altogether.

I watched my son spiral out of control down a path I could not navigate. He was depressed, angry, and ashamed. The only coping skill he found for himself was cutting. It was a dangerous and destructive coping skill. I watched, helpless and afraid that one day I would enter his room to find that he had completed suicide. I was unable to lift him out of his chasm of depression and despair. As a parent there is an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness when you are incapable of helping your child.

No parents look at their child and imagine what could go wrong in their life. Instead, we see hope and opportunity for their future. We don’t ever imagine that our child will be tormented by his or her own mind. No parents are prepared to learn that their child may have something seriously wrong with him or her that could change their inner core, their ability to love, their ability to empathize with others. These were things I faced with my son. He had changed-was changing-into someone I didn’t know. I wanted to help him, but I had no idea how. I knew keeping him alive, even if it meant he hated me, was my only option. I was willing to do whatever it took.

“Whatever it took…” turned out to be a realization that I did not have the training to give my son all of the positive skills he needed to survive. This left me questioning what I had done wrong. I knew the only way he would make it in this world is if he had 24 hour supervision, something I was unable to give him. The decision to send him to a full-time psychiatric facility caused me physical pain. Why couldn’t I give my son what he needed? How could I send him away?

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a list of statements for people that care for loved ones with a mental illness. One of the statements on the list that resonated with me was “If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t care for another.” I recognized that I could not care for my son all of the time. I had to allow others to help him seek out independence and positive coping skills and guide him on a road to healing.

My heart broke when my son went away. I was overwhelmed with guilt and embarrassment, but I knew life could not continue in the direction it had been moving. It took a great deal of time for me to forgive myself for not being the mother I believed I was supposed to be.

Many months went by before my son was able to make any progress. With the help of trained counselors and physicians he navigated his way toward a healthier life. The shift was a slow process spanning several years and encompassing many “bumps” along the way, but it did happen. I watched as my son progressed from a depressed, self-loathing, and suicidal youth to a confident, caring young man. My son’s life opened up in front of him to a place where he could swing his metaphoric racquet and the tennis ball was not always flat.

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Terri88881Florida native Theresa Larsen graduated from Florida State University with a degree in elementary education and a minor in psychology. She taught school in England and Wales while living in the United Kingdom for twelve years. Her writing credits include a Welsh children’s book with English translation, an educational article published in the Cardiff Advisory Service for Education, and her memoir “Cutting the Soul: A journey into the mental illness of a teenager through the eyes of his mother.” She has a daughter and a son and resides in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband and German shepherd.

Theresa can be found on her Website, Facebook and Twitter 

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Stigma Fighters: Scott Schneider

I developed harming obsessions when I was 10 years old. The year was 1984 and virtually nothing was publicly known or discussed about the phenomena that today we know to be obsessive compulsive disorder. I was a grubby farm kid walking barefoot through pastures dotted with piles of cow manure and playing with the new batches of spring kittens in the hay barn. It would bother me a little bit during the day, but I could shake it off. It was just an annoyance, something that just happened. At night is when it started effecting me more, as I would feverishly toss and turn while the fears would loom larger in my brain. A lot changed in the late 1980s regarding OCD. Largely regarded as untreatable and notInline image 1affecting a sizable enough portion of the population to pay it any real attention in the first half of that decade, a significant set of transformations occurred by the end of it. The first of these was the development of the International Obsessive Compulsive Foundation in November 1986. Originally named The Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, this world renowned organization started as simple nonprofit launched by Dr Wayne Goodman. Goodman, a junior psychiatrist at Yale who developed an OCD research program during his residency there; got together with several people he’d met at the Connecticut Mental Health Center in New Haven, Connecticut. They first thought of forming a support group and then realized the demand for research and advancement, of awareness, and declared it a non-profit. The group sent a letter to the ABC’s 20/20, asking the news show do a segment on it. As a result, in May 1987, 20/20 aired the first national television news report on obsessive compulsive disorder. The newly-christened foundation was flooded with inquiries and research requests, which set up ample clinical sites all over the US to study the disorder. The next development was the release of Prozac by the FDA in December 1987.Anafranil up to this point had been the only drug shown to be effective against OCD.Fluoxetine would soon take over, as the effectiveness of the psychiatric wonder drug established it as the go-to medication for treating the disorder. A little over a year later, the third and biggest of these Zeitgeists, was the release of a book by Dr Judith LRapoport called The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Washing. Dr Rapoport had been the Chief of Child Psychiatry at the National Institutes of Mental Health since the late 1970s; and had, had ample time to study people with obsessive compulsive disorder. She had participated in clinically conducted trials regarding Anafranil’s effectiveness for OCDand collaborated with other colleagues regarding its treatment. Published in 1989, The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Washing was a compendium of stories, narrated by DrRapoport herself, that told of the real experiences of these patients. Her book sold over one million copies world-wide, in 22 different languages, and made the major media talk show rounds. OCD had come out of the shadows.

Taking the Wayback machine to May 1987, I wish I had been paying attention to that 20/20 segment, but I was a kid, hobknobbing in the late spring sun, dealing with the social angst of being an early teen, and bicycling to school with my friends. I wish I’d been alerted to the emergence of Prozac and the release of Dr Rapoport’s book but Oprah and Donahue were never really my thing. We didn’t have cable so Larry King Live wouldn’t appear on the console television. If I’d read about or watched any snippet of television-related news regarding any of these big-three developments, the lightbulbwould have gone off. On the outside I looked like a perfectly normal kid. All the while, a monster was raging inside my brain. It’s hard to believe that over 25 years have passed Dr Rapoport released her book. The IOCDF has existed for nearly 30 years and harming obsessions have become one of the better known types of OCD; along with religious, pedophile, sexual orientation, responsibility. Unlike it was in 1984, it is regarded as treatable in 70% of the cases. I overcame my harming obsessions with a combination of Prozac, psychoeducational counseling, and mindfulness.

It took 20 years of my life to realize that I would not carry out the violent images that constantly intruded into my consciousness and that they were not expression of my character, temperament, or inner desires. OCD is a disorder that is on its foundationegodystonic, that is, it intrudes and bombards the sufferer’s awareness with thoughts that generally go against everything they believe as a person. Imagine having schizophrenia but realizing the voices inside your head aren’t real all while they are taking place. In a sense this is what it is like – walking the line between understanding is real – and the contradiction in your mind’s eye. It’s a surreal, almost dream-like state of feeling like you are being pulled down into The Rabbit’s Hole while you fight tooth and nail to grab whatever dirt you can trap under your fingers to stop yourself. And there you hang. I still have obsessions, weak and fleeting, their power reduced from the previous chokehold they had over me. The other day when I was a bit tired from staying up too late – I kept having this recurring obsession of someone pounding a nail into both of my big toes. I don’t know where it came from or why it happened to develop in that particular manner. Normally my obsessions would involve me pounding a nail into someone else’s big toe – a horror that I would compulsively review again and again in my head to make sure I would never do something so unspeakably wretched. But there it was – a feeling – not any pain – but just a blunted feeling and sound – a sensation of someone taking hammer and the nail splitting – and the blood coming out. It just happened in cycles. Ten years ago I would have been filled with panic, guilt, and shame due to the manifestation of something so nightmarish. I was acutely aware of it the other day. I observed it and let it pass. It is gone now.

Psychiatrists and OCD specialists realize and understand the nature of violent obsessions. They know they exist and how they can be successfully treated. Unfortunately the rest of the mainstream media hasn’t caught up. The common portrayal of the person with OCD continues to be the Juddith Rapoport version – the washing, checking, and contamination. This is not entirely Dr Rapoport’s fault. She began the revolution by presenting what had been researched and known about OCD up to that time – that it was primarily a washing, checking, contamination disorder. This is a side of OCD that continues to plaque many sufferers up to this day. However, the media seized on this presentation and so in spite of the large number of case studies regarding people being treated for “Pure-obsessional” OCD, books that have been written about it by other psychiatrists, and even the slew of online news articles that have described it – the 20/20s and Dr Phils of the world are still largely bringing forth cases of contamination OCD.  Memes passed around the Internet make jokes about people with OCD having problems with minor symmetry and organization issues. This is not helping human culture grasp a full understanding of what OCD really is and what the experience of this disorder really is like. This is not to take away from the urgency of those cases and their need for treatment. What it is instead is an indictment of how much is still lacking in the presentation of what OCD truly is, the scope and breadth of its types, sub-types, and symptoms. It continues to be trivially misunderstood as a disorder in which someone spends hours cleaning their bathroom or feels compelled to arrange their clothes in a rainbow of colors in their closet. Until this changes, the stigma and shame that surround disclosing the horror of violent obsessions, the fear that someone with pedophile OCD will be accused of being a child molester, or the paranoia that someone with homosexual OCD will be made to feel they are anti-gay, will openly prevent those people from seeking out the help and resources they need to overcome these obsessions. The Monks and the Laura Dunham’s of television have started the positive conversation but now it needs to be finished by exposing the other side of obsessive compulsive disorder and removing the stigma that surrounds it.

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Scott Schneider
 Scott Schneider is an aspiring writer and blogger from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. A 30-year sufferer of OCD, he is now in recovery and runs a Facebook OCD support group as well as a Facebook OCD informational page. When not blogging mental illness advocacy features for Out of the Darkness, he enjoys cooking, playing with his 3 cats, football, baseball, and a fascination with the weather.
Scott can be found on his Blog, Facebook and Twitter
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Stigma Fighters: From The Stigma Fighters Executive Boardroom

Yesterday was a particularly intense day for Stigma Fighters and mental activists throughout the world. #Cut4Zayn trended on Twitter after Zayn Malik left the band One Direction. Teens posts graphic images of self harm in response to Malik’s absence from the band.

The images were explicit and painful. Stigma Fighters responded to the global event immediately by speaking up about self harm and sending positivity to our world.

Yet, the conversation was not over.

Stigma Fighters : Blue Light Blue

My dad was slowly changing before my eyes. He turned inward, he became quieter, more detached. he stopped asking me questions and stopped listening when I told him about my day. Instead of playing with me on the weekends he would take naps. He stopped smiling and the light went out of his eyes. I was 13 years old and didn’t know what was happening to him. He and my mom were always talking behind closed doors or taking walks without us in the evenings. At the time I thought it was weird, and now I know I was scared.

I asked my mom about it and she told me that my dad didn’t feel good because of some stress at work. He was a lawyer in Washington D.C. and had a lot of pressure to perform. Ok, I thought, makes sense. But as the weeks and months went by and he seemed to drift farther and farther away, I felt on a gut level that something more was going on. I asked my mom again and got the same answer. I didn’t buy it anymore.

So one Saturday, I walked right up to him, looked him straight in the eye and said, “dad, what’s wrong?” He looked startled and was at a loss for words. After a long pause he said, “I don’t feel good.” I asked him, “When are you going to feel better?” I will never forget how his beautiful blue eyes filled with tears. I had never seen my dad cry and it scared me. Something serious must be wrong. I waited for a minute but he didn’t say anything else. I ran to my room and slammed the door, waiting for him to come in and talk about it. But he never did. Silence.

Four days later he was dead. He hung himself in our basement and while the rest of my family was still sleeping, I walked in and found him. Shortly after his suicide my mom told my sister and I that he had “depression” and was taking “antidepressants” — things I had never heard of. Why hadn’t I known this before? What did depression mean? Did the medicine make him die? Why hadn’t we all talked about this? So much silence about such an important subject.

Now at age 32 I have major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I wish I could say that the silence about mental illness ended with my father but it didn’t. For most of my adult life I have hidden it away, even from close friends and most definitely from coworkers. I wanted to keep my depression in a little box that I stored deep inside of myself where nobody could see it. Too many times I have said “oh, I’m fine” or “I’m just tired” when asked if something was wrong. Things my dad probably said. The silence continued.

What was I so afraid of? What was my dad so afraid of? What are we all so afraid of? The stigma of mental illness? Would saying it out loud make it too real? Would other people dislike us or feel uncomfortable or think we were crazy? Would we be unfit for work, or for love, or for life if we had depression, or bipolar or anxiety?

These fears make the anguish of mental illness so much more intense, or in my dad’s case, unbearable. At a time when we deserve the support of other people, we hide away our sickness because we are afraid of rejection. At a time when we deserve to lighten our load, we pile it on even heavier by adding the weight of guilt and shame.

It is time to talk. It is time to share. It’s time to end the silence. Why? Because nothing is wrong with you as a person. Because you deserve support and treatment for your medical condition. But most of all, because your well-being and your health are more important than anyone’s reaction. A lifetime of openness and self-acceptance are worth infinitely more than a few moments of potential discomfort. Say it out loud because keeping it in makes it worse. Say it out loud for my dad who couldn’t. Say it out loud for me. Say it out loud for you.

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walking3Blue Light Blue can be found on her Website and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Stephanie Yuhas

“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”
― Peggy O’Mara

We all have those nagging voices in the back of our heads.
“The sink splashed me at work and I look like I peed myself! Now I’ll never get a promotion.”
“Get in shape! Preferably one that isn’t round and covered in Cheeto dust!”
“What if I fall and I can’t get up? My cat will eat my face before anyone notices that I missed Karen’s baby shower. Crap, I didn’t get a gift for Karen’s baby shower. I’m a horrible friend that’s going to die single and alone, covered in cat drool. Is 24 too young to get a MedicAlert bracelet? I wonder if they come in pink.”
Well, maybe those aren’t your exact thoughts, but you get the gist. While it’s perfectly natural to have a nagging voice in your head, some of us struggle when that voice stands in the way of our happiness.
It all started when I was a youngster, within a household of undiagnosed disorders. As a child of impoverished immigrants, we didn’t have health insurance to go to therapists, counselors, and psychologists. And honestly had no idea anything was wrong. My normal everyday life was watching my grandmother, Nagymama, stacking and unstacking cans of cat food repeatedly. I only thought this was strange because we never had a cat. I was not allowed to go outside and play with other children and trapped with these people inside a 425-square foot home, without even a door on the bathroom for fear of excess showering or dangerous shaving.
I would listen to Nagymama mutter about life while she surrounded each window with pot lids to make sure no burglars could get inside, to steal all of our un-lidded pots, presumably. Nagymama even strapped me into bed each night, to make sure I didn’t catch a cold, fall out of bed, or associate bedtime with relaxation in any way. During all this, my mother, Anyu, would say terrible things to herself out loud in the mirror while picking at her face, and washing her hands until they bled. Neither of them could leave the house without checking to make sure that the stove was off and the doors were locked. 10, 20, 30 times.
When Nagymama and Anyu weren’t turning on themselves or robbers, as an only child, I was the subject of criticism, inspection, and overprotection. My family meant no harm; they did it all in an effort to protect me. They had no idea that their real-life voices are what turned into the nagging voice in the back of my head.

As a result of this extreme-hover-parenting, I was so severely sheltered that I didn’t fit in with most of the kids at school. I was a target for bullying, anywhere from childish name calling to getting burned with cigarettes on the bus. I collected all of the harsh words and negativity and put it into a sticky ball to add to the growing monster that nagged me. In college, every critique from my teachers, every negative YouTube comment, and the words of my abusive ex-boyfriend became the constant drone that hummed in my head, day and night.
It didn’t matter that I was a straight-A student. No matter how many awards I won, achievements I accomplished, or compliments I received, the voice told me I wasn’t good enough.
The Voice: “You can’t have a professional haircut! Who do you think you are, the Queen of France? That’ll be three Hail Mary’s for asking. Yes, I know, you’re not even Catholic.”
I started to anticipate rejection, even when it wasn’t there, converting every criticism in my lifelong collection into an over-analyzed, false reality.
The Voice: “Sally didn’t invite me to her birthday party. Was it because she didn’t like my brownies? Maybe she liked them too much and is jealous of my brownie-making prowess? Let me over-analyze everything I’ve said to her in the last ten years”
It dawned on me one day that no one in my entire life was ever as mean to me as I was to myself. So I told the voice to go f*ck itself. Really, I did. I imagined the voice in all its grotesque glory, and I imagined myself murdering it. And I wrote it all down here.
I cannot even begin to describe how much this simple visualization has improved the overall quality of my life. Is a visualization exercise a replacement for therapy, prescriptions, support from professionals? Probably not. But at least it doesn’t require a co-pay.
There is still a nagging voice inside of my head, but now, he kind of sounds like Cookie Monster. Now that I imagine my inner monologue as a silly blue puppet with googly eyes, it is not possible for him to control me. Instead of abusing myself, I can laugh at all of the things that pop into my head and go about my otherwise productive life. I’ve transcribed some of Cookie Monster’s conversations with me on Laugh at my pain or feel free to give it a try, in case there is a Cookie Monster (or other fictional character) living inside your head, too.

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Stephanie-Yuhas-Photo-by-Rachel-TrocheAward-winning Stephanie Yuhas is a writer, producer, and professional goofball, with a BFA in animation from The University of the Arts. Her book, American Goulash, a memoir about growing up as a nerdy girl in an old-world Transylvanian family, is published by BookTrope and available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBook, Kindle, and Nook. She runs Cinevore Studios, a production company that specializes in smart comedy.

Stephanie also the founder of Project Twenty1, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that runs the 21-Day Filmmaking Competition and Philadelphia Film & Animation Festival.

Stephanie can be found on her Websites (American Goulash Blog)  (C is for Crazy Blog)  (About Me)  (Film Work)  (non-profit work)), Facebook, and Twitter

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Dear John Green @johngreen


Dear John,

I would like to tell you about the time that I bought The Fault in Our Stars at Target.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


I don’t buy books here.

Well, not really.

Usually I buy a bunch of shit I don’t need here. I always need books. But I am bored, with a cart full of shit that I don’t need and can’t afford, and I don’t really want to go home to my husband playing video games again, and there is a bright blue book over there with a cloud on it and I like the color blue and I like clouds.

I read the inside flap.

My eyes twitch inside my head and this little noise I’ve never heard before comes out of my face and I open the book.

“Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.”

That is me.

As it sometimes does for a reader (but not very often), the world reappears when I look up from the pages.

She is me.

Hazel Grace is me, except she wants to live, and I want to die.

Leaving behind the cart of shit I don’t need and can’t afford, I buy the book.


John, my name is Allie Burke. I want you to know that your book saved my life.

That day in Target was in the first year of my schizophrenia diagnosis. I had been institutionalized more than once, and my medication was making me miserable, and the universe was making me miserable, and I wanted to take my own life every single day.

And then The Fault in Our Stars was there, and it made me feel like an asshole. Your book made me feel like an asshole because here were two of the most amazing human beings I had ever come across in my fictional life—which is usually better than real life, as I’m sure you know—who desperately wanted to live but they couldn’t, and I could but wouldn’t.

It taught me that some infinities are bigger than other infinities, John.

I don’t know how many times I have read your book, but I can tell you that six months later, I was on the couch reading it yet again, and I threw it across the room when The Thing Happens and I started to cry, and my husband asked me why I was reading that fucking book again, and I told him I wanted a divorce.

I divorced him and then I wrote the best book I’ve ever written and will probably ever write.

John, I had never heard of you before that day in Target when I didn’t buy the cart of crap I didn’t need and couldn’t afford, but after I read The Fault in Our Stars, my Career in Reading All Things John Green began, and I want you to know that I am very experienced in this field. I was once sitting on the floor of a Barnes & Noble reading the bonus material in the anniversary edition of Looking for Alaska, which is where I read about your anxiety, and there was a reference to The Royal Tenenbaums, and I sent a photo of the text to my boyfriend since we had just watched this film, and his return text said that The Fault in Our Stars was unreadable and the film was a bore right before he broke up with me. Via text message. So I took the selfie with Looking for Alaska on the floor of a Barnes & Noble that now serves as my profile photo on Twitter.

John Michael Green, I think you are an amazing person for the unparalleled literature you write, and for Nerdfighteria, and for all the beautiful things you did for Esther Earl. You have done amazing things despite your anxiety, and our CEO, Sarah, does amazing things despite her anxiety, and I would be really honored if you would consider writing about mental illness for Stigma Fighters. It’s people like you that inspire us in this life.

Thank you for existing.

VP of Operations


Allison Burke is the Bestselling Author of seven literary publications including the acclaimed Paper Souls, the first entry into ‘sick-lit’ of its kind. Her writing has been called defiant and brutally honest, earning her the title The Queen of the Surreal by critics all over the world.

A Paranoid Schizophrenia survivor, Allie leads the Stigma Fighters Board of Directors, project manages Booktrope‘s GRAVITY imprint, and is the creator of Organic Coffee, Haphazardly. In her spare time she eats gluten-free pizza with her cat.

Stigma Fighters : Emily J.

We all know how people talk when there’s news of a suicide; “He was so successful and funny. He must not have known how many people loved him.” Sometimes you’ll hear the less sympathetic words like “cowardly” or oversimplified sayings like the popular “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

Here’s the thing- I’m successful. I do work that I love for a competitive salary. I have great friends and family. I’m funny, smart, and pretty enough. I’m loved. Being loved kept me going for months because people depended on me.

Depression might be a temporary problem, but I’ve had depression for roughly 20 years. Depression is a voice in my head that lies to me, and the voice is suicidal.

I see people who love me and the voice says “I bet they’re tired of having to help you feel better. Kill yourself.”

I see my success and the voice says, “Why isn’t this enough for you? Nothing will make you happy. Kill yourself.”

Someone likes me and the voice says, “They don’t know screwed up you are. Go ahead and kill yourself.”

I fantasized about suicide a lot but I was too afraid to try it at first. People talk about suicide like it’s cowardly, but cowardice kept me from killing myself. Death is scary. Still, in the back of my head I kept hearing “kill yourself” so I’d plot and I’d plan. Violent images of how I could die would flash through my head all day long and I’d fall asleep to nightmares of more violence. The struggle to stay alive was so real and intense that I developed PTSD. Every time I had a suicidal thought I could feel myself getting closer to acting. It was terrifying. I was never safe- every room was a potential crime scene and everything I owned was a potential weapon.

I tried to talk to my friends. Some friends would get so worried that I felt guilty for causing them stress. Other friends would treat me like I was crazy and distance themselves.

The first time I attempted suicide, I took every pill I could find in the medicine cabinet. It was impulsive- killing myself was all I thought about and I just wanted the thinking to stop. Two hours later, I did some internet research on the pills I took- I probably wasn’t going to die, but I might have painful life-long side effects. I called an ambulance. It turns out that recovering from a failed suicide attempt is WAY worse than being suicidal. For one, I couldn’t attempt suicide again because my family had already been through so much. I felt trapped. The worst, though, was the reaction from friends and coworkers. I would overhear bits of conversations where people would say things like, “She just did it for attention. I hear it wasn’t even a lethal dose.” And you know what? Maybe I did need attention. I was desperate. If this was a “cry for help” then I was crying because I was afraid and felt like my life was in danger. Wanting attention and wanting to die are NOT mutually exclusive and I don’t know why people decided that it must have been one or the other.

I still felt suicidal after that, but not all of the time. I assumed that I’d just always be suicidal and I tried to remember how sad my family was when I acted on those thoughts. I tried to ignore the lying voice that said, “You are broken. Kill yourself.” I made it 6 years before I couldn’t ignore things anymore.

Last summer I wrote a suicide note and got in my car and drove away. I was headed to the mountains to die and I was armed with 3 different plans that were well-researched. I wasn’t going to fail again. I was going to try and try until something worked. I was 30 minutes away from the state line when I turned on my phone to get directions and saw the messages of worried friends. I was swamped with texts, voicemails, emails, facebook updates, and every time I silenced one notification I’d get another. I checked the message from my best friend Katie. She said that she needed me to tell her there wasn’t anything she could have done to stop me. I called her back and told her that I didn’t want to die, but that I felt like I’d tried everything else. She told me to move to Washington DC and live with her because I hadn’t tried getting away and having a fresh start. I agreed, and my friends came to get me.

“I’m the girl that cries suicide. I’m the crazy girl” I said when they showed up.

“So? People already thought you were crazy,” one friend replied. He was right. People already misunderstood my mental illness. Realizing this was helpful- If I was already the “crazy” girl, then I could tell people about the negative dialogue in my head. If I could tell people what I was thinking, maybe they could help me think about things differently. So this crazy suicidal girl started talking. I accepted that not everyone would understand, but I talked when I needed to talk. I’ve found that there are lots of people who are willing to listen and don’t think I’m “crazy” or talking just for the attention. It hasn’t been easy, but it is working. I am not suicidal for the first time in my adult life. It’s scary to me that there are people out there who feel the way that I’ve felt and might not be able to talk because of the stigma that kept me quiet for so long. So I’m not quiet. Maybe if we all keep talking, they will feel safe enough to join the conversation.

*   *   *

emneddieEmily works and lives in Atlanta with her dog, cat, and a supportive network of friends and family. She still has depression and works diligently to manage it with the help of therapy, medication, and classes that help her learn coping skills and effective communication. She tries to talk openly and honestly about her mental illness and history of suicidal thoughts so that others might feel comfortable sharing their experiences as well.

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