Stigma Fighters: The Day My Father Committed Suicide

THE DAY MY FATHER COMMITTED SUCIDE

My father committed suicide on July 27, 2011. I was the first person to find him. It was a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. When I found him, he was outside, face down, with a .38 revolver in his hand, which I was unaware of him having. He had told me that he had gotten rid of it). He was only 54 when he died.

It all started when my father was placed on disability a few years prior to his death. My dad was a  hard-working blue collar man. He worked as a journeyman meat cutter doing manual labor. Unfortunately, his body took a toll because of this work and it gradually deteriorated. This caused him to have multiple surgeries including: two back surgeries, a neck surgery, two wrist surgeries and a few more minor surgeries over a short period of time.

His last surgery was the final draw.  He was deemed unable to work and placed on disability. For most people this wouldn’t be too bad of a thing. However, in my father’s case, it was the worst thing that could have happened to him. You see, my father battled depression as well as some other very personal issues that contributed to his mental instability. On top of that, he was a self-medicating alcoholic. He was rarely ever mean or angry, but he punished himself mercilessly by never getting help, and internalizing all his pain. This is eventually what led to his demise.

When I found out that my father was disabled, I was living at home waiting to get my own place. However, knowing what I knew about my father, I decided to stay put and try my hardest to help him. Somewhere in the back of my mind I felt like I needed to stay for a while to see if it was possible to help my dad (my friend) get back on his feet. However, as the years went by he refused to get professional help and his mental and physical health deteriorated even further until there was nothing even I could do to help him.

The day of his suicide I wasn’t even aware that it had happened. Both my mom and I were at home during the time but neither of us woke up or heard any sound. We had no inkling of an idea that he was going to do anything like this. He had talked about death and wanting to die during depressive episodes, but gave no indication that he was planning a suicide.

I woke up and went downstairs to get my day started. When I got downstairs my dad was usually on the couch or in his chair, because he was unable to go up and down the stairs to his bedroom on the second floor of the house. However, this time he wasn’t in either place. I quickly started to worry and then hastily started looking for my dad. This just wasn’t like him. I knew something was up.

I went to the laundry room, the downstairs bathroom and then upstairs. But he wasn’t anywhere to be found. I quickly started to panic. I thought the worst, but I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see outside. When I finally decided to check the backyard is when I saw him lying on the ground next to the house, facedown. At this point I didn’t see the carnage, I was only able to see him lying on the ground not moving. I ran to him while yelling his name; he didn’t move.

When I got to him I knelt down and saw the devastation, but was unable to process what happened. It was like I was in such shock that my mind was protecting me from the horror that my eyes just witnessed. Nothing registered in my brain as this being a suicide even though I saw the revolver and blood on the ground next to him. I ran upstairs to get my mother. We ran down the stairs and then outside. Mom was calling to my father and shaking him but he wasn’t responding. I stood there petrified trying to process all of these terrible things going on around me.

Mom screamed at me to call 911. It took a second to register what I needed to do, but I finally ran inside to call for help. While on the phone I didn’t even know what to say because my thoughts were everywhere. Once I hung up the phone I went upstairs and put clothes and shoes on as if I was expecting to go to the hospital and dad was going to be ok. When I joined my mom back outside with my dad she was still yelling at him to wake up and doing chest compressions in hopes of resuscitating him. I knelt down and looked at all of the blood and the gun, but it still didn’t sink in what was really happening until the police and paramedics showed up. I met them in the front yard and had them run with me to the backyard where my father was. When the cop and two paramedics came upon my mother kneeling over the body, the look on the police officer’s face said it all.

He knew what had happened and he knew how bad it was. He told mom and I to go around to the front of the house. We both cried hysterically and embraced each other. All I could get out of my mouth was “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” I still didn’t know what happened. When the police and paramedics were finished removing the body from the backyard, the officer came in to talk to us. He proceeded to explain to us that it was “an apparent suicide with a fatal gunshot wound to the head.”

That very moment, mom and I both burst into tears again after finally catching our breath. It finally had sunken in that this was real and my father had committed suicide. I was devastated and I will never be able to explain how I felt, other than complete sadness fell over me that caused an overwhelming amount of emotion to spew from my body uncontrollably. I was physically shaking from the shock of hearing the officer give the confirmation of suicide. My mind already had all the evidence of it, but somehow I needed that confirmation from the cop that it was real.

The officer got up to leave. That’s when we discovered the suicide note. My father had a white board the size of a legal pad that he would leave notes on for us to read when he was asleep, as he often was when we were up in the morning. This is what he left his suicide note on, because he knew that eventually we would find it. It simply read, “I can’t stand the pain anymore. I love you guys.”

That’s it…that’s all it said. It wasn’t anything profound or thought out. It was just as if it was hastily done. The whole thing didn’t make sense…it still doesn’t.

You

I like that you don’t think I’m weird or crazy. Or think that anything I say doesn’t make sense. And if you don’t get it…you ask.

I like that you make me laugh.

I like that you make me cry…in a good way.

You ask the right questions.

You listen at the right times.

I interrupt you and you don’t care.

You interrupt me and I don’t care.

You get me, and I like that.

You are weird.

I am weird and we can be weird together.

I didn’t ask for you

You popped up

I am grateful that you did

Because

I am happy now

To have found you

and to be

whole.

Stigma Fighters: Dennis Sharpe – A Letter to My High School Self

My Amazing friend Ryan Omega put together a book called “Letters To My High School Self”. He requested that I contribute to it, and my initial reaction was that since I really didn’t attend High School (I had dropped out, had a child, was married, and working two or three jobs at a time during my “High School” years), that perhaps I wasn’t right for the project. He was nothing but supportive and told me that I should simply write a letter to myself at age 17 – at that particular point in my life. So I did. I expected that he wouldn’t like it, and that there would be kind words, and ultimately a dismissal of my letter and involvement from the project. I was wrong. He included it.

The book was released on November 29, 2014 and is wonderful, in my opinion, and can be found here on lulu: http://www.lulu.com/shop/ryan-omega/letters-to-my-high-school-self/paperback/product-21925392.html
Please… check it out.

Here is my letter:

Stop it. Seriously. Just stop it.

Stop distancing yourself form the world. Stop keeping people at arm’s length. Stop blaming yourself for things that aren’t your fault. Stop beating yourself up for things you’ve done that have, due to your ignorance or lack of thought, hurt other people. Stop punishing yourself.

You deserve to be happy.

I mean it. It’s true. I know that you’ll agree with me. But we both know that’s only on the surface. Deep down you know that you sabotage everything in your life that will be good for you, that makes you feel good or worthwhile, or that could make others happier with you. I know this because I know you, and I also know that as much as you think you know you… you’re wrong.

Most of your life has been spent running, and I know that if you don’t stop it now you will still be running ten years from now.

You ran from your home because you saw your dad do it. You’ve turned on almost anyone who saw you as worthwhile, because you didn’t believe you were. You got married at fifteen and had a kid with a woman who didn’t even like, let alone respect you. She used you, like her mother had told her to, to get a baby and to make another guy jealous. You don’t know all the particulars yet, but you will.

Get your kid. Get a lawyer, and get him… save him.

You’re scared of her, and her mother, and the threats they’ve made. I know. You’re scared of the guys they sent to your family’s houses with guns, making threats. You’re going to have to face it head on eventually, and sooner is better than later… even if you don’t see that now.

You’ve let yourself get pushed down and accepted abuse for too long. You need to know that you do matter. I’m not saying that you are the end-all-be-all or anything… I’m simply telling you that you deserve better. You have value, more than what others can take from you or con out of you.

When you were held down, and had your introduction to sexual abuse. That wasn’t your fault. Stop blaming yourself. He was your family, and was trusted with you. It wasn’t the fault of the people who left you with him… stop lashing out. It wasn’t your fault either… stop punishing yourself. Get help, man. Seriously. I know it sounds awful, and difficult, and painful… but like I said before, it’s going to happen eventually. Face it. Do it. Stop living in pain.

You are only seventeen. You have a lot of life ahead of you. Don’t waste year after year burying pain, running from yourself, and destroying anything that makes your life better.

Address the men who abused you. Face the women who used you, and ultimately will damage your son. Stop punishing yourself and let go of it all.

Work toward positive ends. You’ll be back in college eventually… why not do it now? You dropped out halfway through your freshman year of high school, but you had good grades. You are not stupid. Use your brain. You are only hurting you be staying uneducated. You are keeping yourself low, and you do now – DO NOT – deserve it.

Professional help, education, self-examination (not destruction) these are the keys to not letting your life go down a road that you will forever try to undo… to fix… to take back. Do it now.

Stop. I mean it. I can’t be more blunt with you. I’ve given you the specifics you should need to know that I know you. Trust me when I tell you that I seriously know you… where you are now… who you are now… better than you. I know what you haven’t been able to accept. Stop hurting yourself and those around you, and take ownership of your future.

Life is going to keep going. Trust me when I tell you that, as hard as it may look to right now, it will be so much worse if you just let it happen to you. Take control.

Your writing? Your stories? Your ideas? Keep them. Shoot yourself in that direction and don’t give up. Don’t let anyone shake you from it. You’ll eventually understand that these are the things that will make you the happiest. Don’t let go of them… any of them.

You will see success, even if you don’t do what I’m telling you to do, but you could do so much more if you don’t waste so much time. The light at the end of the tunnel can be your so much sooner. Your words will travel around the world. Don’t laugh. I mean it.

There will be joy. I’ve had it. I only wish I’d known that I deserved it… that you deserved it sooner – that I’d known it where you are now. If you do what I’m telling you, it won’t make everything perfect… you will still have ups and downs… but it will make you happier and more fulfilled sooner.

I’ve seen what will happen if you don’t do what I’m telling you hear. I know the pain, the failure, the homeless times and divorce, the times you will lose everything you own, the depression, the muggings, the beating, the times you’ll spend locked up… and more painful things than these… that are waiting for you. You don’t want them.

I’m not saying you won’t come out the other side whole(ish), you will. You will survive. I’m telling you that you can make things so much better, not just for you but for the son you already have, not to mention the other kids you have coming (believe me the other two are awesome as well)… and not least of all, for yourself. Heed my words. Please.

Focus. Forgive. Love. Trust.

Stop being angry. Stop being self-destructive. Stop running. Stop blaming and stop shaming yourself. Please! I’m seriously begging you.

Stop it. Seriously. Just stop it.

-D. S. (03/03/2014 – 1 week before 37th birthday)
—Letter to myself (03/03/1995 – 1 week before my 18th birthday)—

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Born and raised in the middle of the American Midwest, Dennis Sharpe has been a writer as long as he can remember. His mother has told many people about the fantasy and science fiction stories he’d write on scraps of paper, and staple together as his ‘books’, before he’d attended his first day of formal education.

He has spent many late nights at diners and dives, drinking coffee with a tattered notebook to put a voice to his feelings of himself and the world around him, and other worlds that can exist only in fiction. The voices in his head don’t ever stop talking to him, and so sooner or later he has to get out onto a page all that they’ve filled him up with.

Inspired by Neil Gaiman, Kurt Vonnegut, Frank Miller, Chrissie Pappas, Charles Bukowski, Stephen King, Issac Asimov, and countless classic literary influences, Dennis continues with the ability to write what at a glance might seem absurd, but quickly begins to resonate with our own thoughts and emotions. He writes people we know, love we’ve known and lost (and found again), and places we’ve been in our lives and in our heads. Even his fictional characters and worlds carry enough of the grey areas we experience in day-to-day life, to let us find the truth in his words, no matter how fantastic.

These days he can be found still writing, drinking coffee with friends, or spending time with his children (the true joys of his life), in Western Kentucky.

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Witlesslackey

Books: http://www.amazon.com/Dennis-Sharpe/e/B003TC0TYI/

Stigma Fighters: Becca Moore

My name is Becca and I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder four years ago. This is after being misdiagnosed and wrongly treated for 13 years. I am married to my high school sweetheart and we have seven children, one dog and two cats. Even when I was younger, everyone knew there was something a bit off with me. They knew and therefore they avoided me – even my own parents. They used to send me off to my Aunt’s house during the summer and on weekends, all the while they were spending time on vacations and at professional baseball games with my older brother.

My older brother could do no wrong. He was an awesome athlete and my father and mother took pride in that. Although he struggled in school, him being such a good baseball and soccer player made up for that. When I asked if I could play softball, I was told no because it would interfere with my brother’s baseball games.

When I got an A, it was always “why it is not an A+?” and when my Aunt signed me up for piano lessons, my parents were less than thrilled. I excelled in this area, much like I did in school and when I was invited to the state championships I won first place. My parents not once congratulated me. I moved to nationals and when I came in 2nd place, my father’s response was typical, “Why wasn’t it 1st?”

I grew up with parents who were either critical of everything I did or ignored me. I could stand in front of my mother calling her name only for her to never look up once from whatever book she was reading to find out what I needed. When I began losing sleep and hearing voices she told me I was crazy. When my OCD kicked in and my stuffed animals had to be just so in my bed, she made fun of me.

When I was about 12 years old I decided I wanted to join the Air Force. I told my parents about my dream and my father told me that my ass was too big to fit in the cockpit. I was 12 years old, 4ft 11in and weighed 130 pounds. I was overweight and this sparked the anorexia that I’ve struggled with my entire life.

By the time I hit junior high school I weighed 85 pounds, was barely passing my classes and found a crowd that was just like me: outcasts. My parents had split up, my father had found another woman and my mother used me as her pawn to get my father back. I would run away from home because it was so stressful there and each time I came back she’d tell me that if I had stayed away longer my father would have come home. She made me feel guilty for my existence and the more she did this the more I skipped school, avoided her, began smoking, drinking and eventually doing drugs.
I jumped from guy to guy looking for the attention and affection I was missing at home. My mother couldn’t hold down a job due to her own drinking habit and we lost our home to foreclosure.

Moving into my Aunt’s rental home was probably the worst thing she could have done. She left me alone for hours, sometimes full days, while she worked and drank with her boyfriend. I had many parties while she was gone, sneaking boys in through the back door and having them gone before sunrise. I never got busted and my mom never knew. My father cared less about my life, he had a new family to worry about and my brother was off living his life of addiction.

When I was 15 years old I met the man who would become the husband I have today. This made my mom’s life even easier because now instead of being alone while she went on her drinking binges, I spent the weekends with him. We would smoke pot, skip school and I for once found the attention and affection I had been longing for. Not just from him, but from his entire family.

After we had gotten married and had our second child, I was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression. I didn’t want anyone touching my new baby and all I did was cry. I would beg my husband not to go to work because I hated to be alone. My husband convinced me to talk to our family doctor who prescribed me Paxil and sent me on my way. The Paxil did nothing but make me feel agitated and irritable so I went off of it and never made a follow up appointment.

Later I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and again anti-depressants were prescribed. I felt much the same way, I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating and I was cleaning around the clock. I liked how I felt, but what felt so wonderful soon crashed me into another depression and I figured it was better to go off the medication than keep feeling like I was.

When I was pregnant with our seventh child I had my first real breakdown. I was suicidal and couldn’t stand to be in my own skin. The ER referred me to a Psychiatrist who after spending two hours with me and my husband diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder. Due to the fact that I was pregnant he wanted to work with my OBGYN and the specialist I was seeing before he would prescribe medication.

It took about six weeks before the medication he prescribed to kick in, but ultimately it saved mine and my baby’s life.
It took two years before I would become stable. Once I had accepted my diagnosis I made it my mission to help moms who have Bipolar Disorder. I didn’t want moms to ever feel the way I had felt for years. It took 12 years and many doctors and medications for them to get my diagnosis correct. Through my support system, management skills, coping skills and the correct medication I have found a happy medium.

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Rebecca has struggled with mental illness since the early age of seven years old. Although her parents knew something was amiss with her, they didn’t know what they could possibly do to help her. It wasn’t until she was pregnant with her second child that she was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression and later diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder.

When Rebecca was pregnant with her seventh child, she had the worst mental breakdown of her life. After a visit to the Emergency Room she was put in touch with a Psychiatrist who spent two hours speaking with her, her husband Daniel and her therapist. The past 20 years of her life was scrutinized and the final diagnosis was Bipolar Disorder.

Rebecca was shocked and didn’t accept her diagnosis easily. She went home and spent an entire year researching Bipolar Disorder, trying to prove her doctor wrong.

Finally, after a year had past, Rebecca had stopped grieving and began accepting her illness. Once she came out of the fog, she decided it was time she did something to help other moms who were living with the same illness as she had. Rebecca began a blog called Moorestorms Bipolar Parenting that became quite successful through the years. Later that blog has changed into Mothering Through Bipolar.

She has made it her mission to reach out to other moms and offer them encouragement, comfort, support, and always hope. 

Follow her on Twiiter: https://twitter.com/authorRmoore

Stigma Fighters: Jennifer Guinyard

I was about nine I think when it first happened. I was at summer camp in Pennsylvania. I couldn’t breathe. I could feel the air slipping away and I couldn’t get it back into my lungs. I swore in that moment that my heart was going to stop beating. It was over. I would die miles away from my mother. The next time she would see me, I would be in my casket.

But I didn’t die. I didn’t even pass out. Gradually, I was able to calm down. My host mother helped me settle down, catch my breath, and breathe slowly. I didn’t know it then, but this was my first panic attack. I can’t remember what brought it on…the catalyst. All I knew is that it felt terrible and I never wanted to experience it again. It was also the beginning of my obsessive compulsive disorder. Little did I know, but my anxiety was at its height. I didn’t have the insight to recognize that all the abuse, the neglect, the molestation and the violence all lead up to me being in a consistent state of anxiety.

And then the thoughts began. The intrusive thoughts that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Images would flash in my head almost every second of the most terrible things I could imagine and I had no idea how to stop them. I would cry, laugh and tell them to go away but they wouldn’t let up. And then the obsessive counting and having to say things or do things in a certain way just to feel normal…if only for a while.

It gradually got worse during my adolescence to the point where I contemplated suicide. I knew I didn’t want to die. I just wanted the thoughts to stop. I began therapy in high school with a wonderful social worker who helped me work towards stabilizing. Throughout my early twenties, my anxiety wasn’t as bad but it was still present. It wasn’t until I got into an abusive marriage that my anxiety and OCD kicked up again. Once again, I found myself battling with intrusive thoughts and panic attacks. It became clear that stress was a major trigger for me.

After leaving my marriage, I once again committed to therapy and completed my second masters in social worker. It shouldn’t be that difficult to understand why I decided to enter the field of social work considering my experiences. There is an old saying that clearly depicts why someone with mental health issues may gravitate towards working with others that face similar issues. “We work on ourselves in order to help others but we also help others in order to work on ourselves.”

I’m currently working in an outpatient substance abuse clinic in East Harlem and many of the clients I work with have significant mental health issues. For some, their mental health issues are chronic and persistent and impact their daily functioning. I empathize when I hear a client say things like they wish they were normal and they didn’t have to struggle daily. I empathize with their pain and uncertainty because I have experienced it and continue to struggle with my own mental health issues.

This is why I truly believe in Stigma Fighter’s mission. It is tremendously difficult for people to even have the courage to admit that they are struggling with mental health. It’s imperative that we stop dehumanizing and demonizing people who are struggling with things that we don’t understand. Stigma makes people reluctant to get treatment and lack of treatment impacts society as a whole. The solution is not to “lock crazy people up” but to let people who are mentally ill know that they are not alone, that there are services they can utilize, and that it is possible to live a healthy life despite their challenges.

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Jennifer Nelson is a certified rehabilitation counselor and licensed social worker. She currently lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan. She is also a blogger and writes about her experiences as a single mom dating in New York City. http://brooklynsinglemama.blogspot.com

Stigma Fighters: Maggie White

“I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” –Popeye

It’s not politically correct, but I have two terms I use when talking about mental illness: depressives and norms. Yes, I’m sure some find this offensive, but I assure you, that’s not my intent. It developed from trying to help my husband understand why I am who I am. I find it best to keep it simple and streamlined.
Depressives are any one with any type of mental illness or mood disorder. Norms are, well….my husband. He’s gifted with a wealth of rationality, pragmatism, practicality and mental/emotional stability. Norms can have a really, really hard time understanding depressives.

Does that mean they’re better than us? No.
Does that mean they are healthier than us? No.
Does that mean they are happier than us? Definitely not.
But try to explain to a Norm why you feel like being applauded for actually dragging yourself out of bed this morning, and you’ll find that they have no idea, no conceptual framework to even begin to understand what you’re talking about or feeling. I find using simple, small words helps.

My name is Maggie and I have Major Clinical Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, as well as vast personal experience with Seasonal Affective Disorder, Anorexia and Suicidal Ideation. I also love anything Victorian Gothic and macabre. Hmm…maybe the two go hand-in-hand?

On the outside, I’m about as normal as it goes. Here’s how I can blend in with the Norms: Master’s degree, married for 10 years, five children, practicing Catholic, part-time vegetarian/vegan and I love Dr. Oz. That usually gives me enough to talk about with a group of Norms, if I absolutely have to force myself into a dreaded small-talk situation.

On the inside, I’m fighting for my life every single day. Some days are harder than others. I have been in therapy with a psychiatrist for over six years, am currently on Pristiq and Klonopin, try every single promising vitamin combo to give me energy and calm my thoughts (already there’s a contradiction here) constantly pray silently for the death thoughts to stop, force myself to exercise to help boost my mood though I hate every single minute of it, and if I’m not sleeping, I’m wishing I was sleeping….or wishing I would hurry up and get diagnosed with some form of terminal illness already. I’ve pretty much felt this way for as long as I can remember. Small children can seem quite simple and innocent, but some of us have been drowning in self-loathing since the tender age of 3 or 4.

For a long time, I lived in paralyzing fear that the Norms would somehow read my mind and see how crazy I really was. Then, something happened that changed my world forever.

On January 30, 2013, my little brother, having just turned 30, committed suicide. He was a champion to the Norms, beloved by all who met him; tall, dark and handsome, charming, funny, gregarious, intelligent. He was three months away from earning his Ph.D. from Oxford University. But inside, there was a monster slowly ripping him apart. That monster had many names: Severe Depression, Bipolar 1, Anxiety, to name a few. But in the end, his monster was Legion.

Tommy and I were very close. He used to call me his “psychic twin.” We always knew what the other was feeling, could finish each other’s sentences and even oceans apart, would be able to just know when to pick up the phone because the other was hurting. Tommy and I were completely comfortable being our true selves with each other, but it wasn’t enough to save his life.

Now, my own 8-year-old son, who is the spitting image of his uncle, has begun therapy for depression and anxiety, joining the ranks of his mom and uncle and millions of other Depressives. Tommy and Colin are two of the biggest reasons I’m still here. I speak openly now about this mysterious yet grossly misunderstood community of Depressives. I fight to win the battle that took my brother’s life. I fight on for my son so he won’t have to suffer in silence for over 20 years like I did.

“Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” –J.K. Rowling

I’ve learned to not be afraid of names or labels. “Suicidal.” “Depression.” “Schizophrenic.” “Anorexic.” “Bulimic.” “Cutter.” The Norms may cringe when they hear or read these words. Even Depressives may feel squirmy. But these words describe the burdens Depressives live under every day, every minute. It’s not who they are, but what they battle. How can we begin to fight if we can’t name our enemies? How can Norms begin to support us if they can’t understand the war and our battle plan?

I learned best from other Depressives how to embrace who I am and everything about me when I joined Therese Borchard’s online support community “Project Beyond Blue.” I became a member of a Tribe with fellow warriors to guide me, support me, understand me, fight for me and with me. Together, we’re not only helping ourselves, but helping the Norms out there to understand and fight beside us. Erasing the stigma against mental illness will be one of the biggest obstacles we can overcome in not only uniting Depressives and Norms, but in winning the battle against mental illness and saving lives.

I lost my brother but I still fight on, for him, for my son, for you. I am what I am and that’s all that I am, and I am stronger for it.

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Maggie White lives near Chicago, Illinois with her husband and five children. She currently published her first children’s book, “A Christmas Guest” through Mascot Books, and is a contributing writer for MentalParent.com and StigmaErasers.com. You can contact her via e-mail at maggiewhiteachristmasguest@gmail.com or via Twitter at MaggieWhite2015. For more information on Project Beyond Blue, visit www.community.projectbeyondblue.com orhttp://thereseborchardblog.com/2015/01/13/support-the-beyond-blue-foundation-together-there-is-hope/

Stigma Fighters: Doyin Richards

On the surface, 2014 was an amazing year. Here are some of the highlights:

  • I realized my dream of becoming a published author
  • I secured a second book deal with one of the most-respected publishers in the world (MacMillan)
  • I became a contributing writer for HuffPost Parents, AskMen, Parents Magazine, TODAY Parents, HLN, and The Good Men Project
  • I was interviewed 133 times on TV, radio, and print from outlets all over the world (including NPR, USA Today, CNN, Today Show, Katie Couric, Sunrise Australia, etc.)
  • I was able to quit my full-time corporate job
  • large companies offered to sponsor me
  • The Huffington Post recognized me in its year-end article as one of 15 people who are positively changing stereotypes in America
  • Out of the thousands of articles written on The Good Men Project’s website in 2014, an article I wrote was the most widely read of them all.

It looked like I had it all.

I didn’t.

I felt sad, empty, and completely unworthy. I just ignored those feelings and kept pushing forward. I smiled, I laughed, and I talked about how awesome my life was on social media because I believed it would make everything better.

It didn’t.

As I sat alone with my thoughts the other night, I promised myself that I’d experience *true* happiness in 2015. Not “I published a book” happiness, not “somebody wants to interview me” happiness, and not even “my kids give me so much joy” happiness (and they absolutely do). I’m talking about the simply rolling out of bed, smiling, and thinking, “I’m happy” kind of happiness. It’s something that many of you take for granted, but it’s been years since I’ve felt that way consistently.

Here’s the thing: All of us are fucked up. You, me, your spouse, your boss, your parents, your seemingly perfect neighbor with her seemingly perfect kids – ALL of us are fucked up. That’s one universal truth that everyone has in common. However, how we allow said “fuckedupedness” to affect our lives is what separates people from living constructive lives from destructive ones.

I own the fact that I’m fucked up. Do you? If not, the only person you’re fooling is yourself. Vulnerability is the new toughness.

I have to make some changes in my life in order to live my happiest life possible. Some of those changes are small and will only be noticeable to me. Other changes are huge and scare the ever-living shit out of me whenever I think about them.

I set big goals for myself in 2014 and for the most part, I crushed all of them. But what does any of it mean if you’re not truly happy? You can expect a very different Doyin this year. Why? Because I promised myself that I will experience true happiness in 2015 and beyond.

And I will.

- Doyin Richards: Author, activist, public speaker and founder of Daddy Doin’ Work.

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Doyin Richards is an author, activist, public speaker, husband, and daddy dedicated to creating a world of good, involved fathers. His new book titled, Daddy Doin’ Work: Empowering Mothers To Evolve Fatherhood was recently released and you can follow his adventures in daddyhood on his Daddy Doin’ Work blogFacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Stigma Fighters: Dennis Sharpe

I’ll Never Tell

*Trigger Warning* this post contains mature situations that may trigger some people/survivors of assault or abuse.

Shhh

I don’t make a regular habit of addressing issues, but lately the news and social media keep hammering me with things that hit me hard emotionally, and I really have something to say. I’ve never written about these things, so this is all a bit raw.

When I was a kid, set your way back machine for 1989, I was a little bit more than a handful. My Dad left my life when I was five, and my mom worked full time and went to school, and me? Well, I went a little wild – left to my own devices. I was an avid maker of mix-tapes and reader of comic books. I was a 7th grader with a bus pass, and we lived in Tucson at the time, and the city was my playground. It was an over-all miserable time in my life, but I can look back on the bright spots of it fondly. Candy and Baseball cards from the Circle-K and used comics from Bookman’s – where I spent way too many afternoons reading books and magazines that I’d never pay for – it was before the days of the internet, and I read whatever I could, wherever I could.

The meat of this little tale though, has to do with my education. I lived in a low rent apartment complex and attended a school that both served to teach me more than the lessons that generally come wrapped in school books. I had lived in Southern Illinois, and Western Kentucky, before moving to Arizona, and I had dealt with a different sort of public school education before relocating to the South West. I was thoroughly unprepared, sheltered a bit maybe, for the Spanish language barrier. I was also completely unprepared for being hated for the color of my skin.

I was chased from the bus stop at my school, and in my neighborhood, more than a few times by angry children my age or older in groups, sometimes being pelted with rocks, other times being hit with worse things.

10th Birthday

White was not a thing to be. Evidently neither was Asian-American or African-American. I had some Latino friends, but by and large, I found that most of the native Spanish speaking children had their own groups, cliques, and clubs, and the other races – the minorities – were seen as un-people.

I had never had a very racially diverse group of friends before in my life and suddenly my social circle was a melting pot. From African-America and Asian-American to Indian and Native American, we all shared a similar disdain from a majority populace that spoke a language we didn’t and that a majority of wanted to marginalize us at best or, in the worst cases, wanted to harm us for who we were.

I was hated in those situations, for nothing more than being present and being white.

That didn’t last, for me. It was an isolated incident in my life. It was a time and place that is filed away in my mind, that I can look back on and remember, but it isn’t my day to day experience anymore. Why? Because I learned different behaviors, to avoid those situations? Yes. Because I eventually moved away from there? Yes. Because kids grow up? Yes, that too.

But, I feel that living it was a positive experience for me. I had a time in my life when being white wasn’t a positive thing. Other people with other skin colors don’t get to have a limited exposure to this kind of treatment, and then get to “get away from it”. It’s their lives. It’s real. It’s every day. And it’s total bullsh*t.

I’ve seen far too many people talking about “white privilege” as a creation of minority groups. They talk about it like it’s some kind of fiction that people of other skin colors made up to somehow victimize white people. Guess what? That’s bullsh*t, too.

Fast forward a year, and there was another lesson for me. Something I never wanted to learn, but something life was going to teach me. I was a more rebellious and more difficult to deal with child. I was depressed in school, acting out at home, loud and obnoxious to those who cared about me, and lost in a world of books to hide from all others my age that I was too afraid to talk to. I was coming apart at the seams.

My mother, God love her, headed the advice of a pastor and had me sent to a Baptist boarding school. All of the students were going home for Christmas break. The only two left in the dorms were 8th grade me, and a popular, awesome, senior football player who told me of the wonders of the video game system in his room. He told me I should join him and play some games. We were going to be friends. My social stock was going to be on the rise, after break, and I got to play video games, too. Life was really looking up.

Once in his room he suggested, as I was playing, that we sit, and then lay on his bed. Then he said I should take off my shirt and he’d give me a back rub. I thought that was odd, but he was a big popular athlete guy, and I was a pudgy little 8th grader who was always alone with my books. Who was I to argue? Right?

Me 7th Grade

Some crying and screaming and attempts to kick him off later, all the while with him telling me “Just let it happen. You’ll enjoy it.” He finally got sick of my fighting and just punched me again and again until I was spent and simply laid still and took what he wanted to do to me. I was numb. It hurt, and I was crying, but my mind just turned off. I stared at the word Nintendo until that was all I knew in the world – all I could wrap my mind around.

I was black and blue and bloody when it was over and he shoved me out of the room, telling me I needed to get a shower, and that if I told anyone my “ass was grass”. He had nothing to worry about. I wasn’t going to tell anyone. I was too embarrassed, and hated myself too much for letting that happen – for not being strong enough or smart enough to stop it or prevent it. I wasn’t telling anyone. What he gave me in that room that day was a lifetime of anger, and self—loathing, and misery. I did eventually ‘let it happen’. I didn’t ever ‘enjoy it’.

(I’ve never written about this before and it never even occurred to me, until writing this down, that after this I completely stopped playing video games, and to this day still don’t have an interest in playing them.)

Where I live now, where I’m at in my life, as a thirty—something adult and father of three, is a completely different reality. I’m not afraid. I’m not a victim. I don’t have to deal with suspicion of my actions, or my motives, or my very presence, based solely on the fact that my skin in pale. I am a man, so I don’t have deal with the fear that women have to deal with every day, of becoming a victim of male-on-female violence simply for being born a gender that society has allowed (for far too long) to be mistreated. I am heterosexual, so I don’t have to worry about being the victim of a hate crime simply for expressing myself or my love for another person. These are privileges I enjoy, even if I didn’t ask for them, simply by being a straight white man. The thing is, these aren’t privileges. They are basic human rights – to live, and to love, and to exist without fear. That’s common sense, or at least I believe it should be. The hour has grown far too late, for us not to understand this, and not to eradicate the prejudices that promote racism, sexism, homophobia, and a scads of social injustices that people try to shelter, hide, obscure, and yet still promote through their daily life.

I’m not a fan of labels, personally. I never have been. I don’t see any other way to deal with this kind of bigotry though, other than to call it what it is, and by not being afraid to call it out when we see it – to not accept it. Call it what you will – racism, rape culture, gender inequality, homophobia, hate, lack of human compassion. It has to be called out, it has to shamed, and it has to be clearly and plainly shown that it is not acceptable. Not here. Not now. Not ever.

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Born and raised in the middle of the American Midwest, Dennis Sharpe has been a writer as long as he can remember. His mother has told many people about the fantasy and science fiction stories he’d write on scraps of paper, and staple together as his ‘books’, before he’d attended his first day of formal education.

He has spent many late nights at diners and dives, drinking coffee with a tattered notebook to put a voice to his feelings of himself and the world around him, and other worlds that can exist only in fiction. The voices in his head don’t ever stop talking to him, and so sooner or later he has to get out onto a page all that they’ve filled him up with.

Inspired by Neil Gaiman, Kurt Vonnegut, Frank Miller, Chrissie Pappas, Charles Bukowski, Stephen King, Issac Asimov, and countless classic literary influences, Dennis continues with the ability to write what at a glance might seem absurd, but quickly begins to resonate with our own thoughts and emotions. He writes people we know, love we’ve known and lost (and found again), and places we’ve been in our lives and in our heads. Even his fictional characters and worlds carry enough of the grey areas we experience in day-to-day life, to let us find the truth in his words, no matter how fantastic.

These days he can be found still writing, drinking coffee with friends, or spending time with his children (the true joys of his life), in Western Kentucky.

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Witlesslackey

Books: http://www.amazon.com/Dennis-Sharpe/e/B003TC0TYI/

Stigma Fighters: Mary Rowen

A quick glance at my Facebook page will tell you I’m a writer and a suburban mom. You’ll see that I love music, books, movies, and certain TV shows. And my friend list is fairly typical; it includes family members, people I’ve known since kindergarten, people from high school and college, and a bunch of current friends and work associates. Nothing jumps out as odd or suspicious.

But when I look carefully at my Facebook page, I see a large gap. I see eight years and thirty-six people who are not represented. Some of the missing are former coworkers; some are old roommates and neighbors; a couple are guys I dated; others are just people I called friends. All have one thing in common: I never expected to completely lose contact with them. And yet, I did. To put it another way, Every single person who entered my life between the spring of 1986 and spring of 1994 are no longer part of it.

What happened? Quite simply, during those eight years, bulimia ruled my life. I was actually bulimic for fifteen years, but once I got out of college, things spun out of control. I lived in several different apartments and worked at several different jobs, and was often in the company of people I liked a lot. But although I believed I was projecting a fun, social attitude, the folks around me clearly knew something was very wrong.

One of the worst things about bulimia is its intrinsic element of secrecy. Vomiting on purpose is a social taboo, so almost all bulimics strive to keep their disease hidden. In my case, I also had an irrational fear of professional help. For some reason, I believed that seeking help would result in immediate institutionalization, so I was extra careful about secrecy. I also thought I was strong enough to defeat my “throwing up problem” on my own. But it was no small problem. On occasion, I could go twenty-four hours without vomiting, but most days I’d do it multiple times. Some nights, I’d go to bed so weak and shaky that I’d wonder if I’d survive the night. And because food didn’t simply appear in my kitchen, I spent tons of time shopping for—and hiding—it.

Hence, I missed out on a lot. I became a pro at dropping into parties but not staying long. Or I’d meet friends for a drink, but make an excuse about why I couldn’t stick around for for dinner. I had a boyfriend for a number of years, but we only saw each other on weekends, and I learned how to hide my illness from him too. In a nutshell, my relationships seemed normal on the surface, but the bonds beneath them were weak. Thinking back on those days, it’s almost as though I spent eight years walking this planet as an alien, a humanoid creature like David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that I kept those “normal” contact lenses in my eyes, but couldn’t fully disguise what was underneath them.

Thankfully, things got better. I met my future husband, and after confiding in him, I finally got the help I needed. Almost immediately, everything got brighter, and when we married and moved to another town, I was given the opportunity to reboot my life. We had kids and made new friends, and I felt no need to discuss my eating disorder with anyone. After all, it was in my past. I was living in the moment, thinking about the future.

Then I started writing again. I’d done a good deal of writing in high school and college, but when I was sick, I didn’t feel very creative. Good health changed that. As soon as I started putting words on paper though, I got a surprise. I set out to write a novel about a woman obsessed with music, but as her character developed in my mind, I discovered that she was also bulimic.

That frightened me at first, but my writing group encouraged me to continue with the novel, and I’m glad I did. (It’s called Leaving the Beach, and it’s published by Booktrope.) When it was released, I decided it was time to talk publicly about my own bulimic past too. After all, I’d been healthy for almost ten years at that point. So I “came out” as a former bulimic, but always made sure to emphasize the fact that I’m fine now. Perfectly fine.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if I’ve painted too rosy a picture. Have I given the impression that recovery is easy, or that once you’ve gone to therapy, life springs right back to normal? Because I can assure you, it’s not like that at all. Sure, I’m better now, but what about those eight years? What about those thirty-six friends who once meant so much to me? I feel certain that I’ll never go searching for them on Facebook, and you know what? None of them have sent me friend requests either.

So if you’re suffering from an eating disorder, please don’t wait any longer to get help. Trust me: you need it. You may think you’re keeping your sickness secret from the world, but if you’re anything like me, you’re distancing yourself from people you love every day. I may be a healthy, happy woman now, but there’s a gap inside me, an eight-year-long hiss on the tape of my life.

And to you, my friends that I lost, please know that I think of you often and hope you’re well. Typing your names here is painful, but also cathartic.

Robin, Mike, Maura, Katie, Joel, Meg, James, Scott, Ben, Eric, Tracy, Kristin, Deb, Diana, Hirfa, Yasmine, Dan, Mitch, Rachel, Terry, Tom, Sue, April, Mary Kay, Michelle, Kim, Amy, Kathy, Laura, Buddy, Cliff, Dottie, Bill, Doug, Marco, Brenda.

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Mary Rowen loves music and is a Boston area mom to teenagers. All of her novels focus on women of various ages growing up, or at least becoming comfortable with themselves. Her essays have been anthologized and/or published on multiple blogs. Mary grew up in the Massachusetts Merrimack Valley, is a graduate of Providence College, and has worked as a teacher, writer, salesperson, and political canvasser. She firmly believes that all of those jobs provide good preparation for an aspiring writer.

www.maryrowen.com

Learn more about Living by EarLeaving the Beach,

and Double Album on my Amazon author page.

Stigma Fighters: The Note

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