Stigma Fighters: Try Love Instead

She was weak.

He didn’t try hard enough.

She was lazy.

He didn’t appreciate his life.

She’s not sick. She doesn’t look sick.

He gave up.

She gave up.

He wasn’t thinking about his family.

She was only thinking of herself.

He had a choice, he chose to be depressed.

Smile.

Fake it.

Act happy and then you’ll be happy.

He didn’t make it.

She lost.

He’s a loser.

She’s not worth your time.

Give up.

Don’t judge him.

Stop judging her.

You don’t know her.

You don’t know him.

Try to understand.

They didn’t look sick, but they were/are.

It’s not their fault.

Love her.

Love him.

Take his hand.

Embrace her.

Listen.

Love.

Be there.

Just be there.

Stigma Fighters: Ethan Michael Carter

“My name is Ethan Michael Carter, and I don’t belong on this site.”

At least thats what I feel I should write, before I close down my Mac and get on with the ‘normal,’ things in my day.

But the truth is, I do belong here, and I do have a story to tell.
Maybe the inner child in me doesn’t want to stray down the dark alleys of what is otherwise known as my past? Who knows? All I do know is that I feel both apprehensive and exposed, when faced with the vulnerability that this article will inevitably bathe me in.

I was born in Buckinghamshire, in the UK. I was born into a family that would have been lucky to have been labelled ‘Dysfunctional.’ My family were — for lack of a better word — evil.

With an absent father, I was raised by my mother and her relatives. It was an environment devoid of love, and because I reminded them all of my father — it was always open season for hating me; hate that was expressed both verbally and physically.

While most people’s earliest childhood memories are normally of happier or more innocent times; mine consisted of constantly facing a barrage of hate – one that was always ready to mow me down.

My crime? Simple. It was being born.

All this hate took its toll on me as a child. I began to compartmentalize the injustices, and inadvertently file them away for some unspecified time known as ‘Later.’
I became quiet at school, and I was fair game for bullies. This cycle of being bullied at home and also at school, carried on uninterrupted, until I entered my teenage years.

In my early teens, I started accessing those ‘files’ of hate that I had stored away. I’m not sure what the catalyst for this was? Perhaps I was like a volcano that had been quietly waiting to erupt? Either way, I — almost overnight — went from being a shy and almost timid kid, into becoming an overly aggressive young teen. This aggression became uncontrollable. In school the ex ‘bookworm’ that was me, now decided to throw books at people instead of reading them. I would throw chairs at teachers, and fight as often as I could. The outside world had become my sounding board where I expressed all the mental and physical pain that I was enduring in my home-life.

However, my forms of expression were becoming increasingly unhealthy. I started gravitating toward spending time with older teens, and sought my version of ‘family,’ from the gang that I had now joined. At 13 years old, I was swimming in a sea of activities that included shoplifting, fighting, sex, and — in retrospect — what was clearly the onset of an early addiction to narcotics.

The only responsible adults around me were located at the school I was in, but I was no longer on their radar for concern, as I had by this point – been branded as ‘bad,’ and someone that was ‘undeserving,’ of their time and attention. They were less interested in helping me, and more concerned with how to kick me out of the school for good.

As I continued to spiral into a cyclone of anarchic behavior and rebellious rage, I felt more and more alienated, and increasingly alone.

Ironically, through my shoplifting ‘activities,’ I found my salvation. I stole a magazine one day, while out with my ‘friends.’ I didn’t steal it because I wanted it, I stole it because we were all robbing the Indian guy who owned the convenient store. So, I just grabbed what I could and came out of the store. Later that day, while I was bored, I pulled out the magazine, and noticed it was related to boxing. As I flicked through the pages, I remember reading a featured article about an ex-boxer who was attracting a lot of attention from local security, bouncers and even law enforcement. The article mentioned how this man’s gym had become a hub of excellence for all fighters. So, me being me, I decided to train there so that I could “kick peoples asses better.”

However, it turned out that the man who ran the gym, eventually became my mentor. A mentor for not just fighting, but for life.
He took the time to look past my anger and find root causes.
He took the time to take me to a doctor, where my behavioral difficulties were diagnosed.
Maybe that’s all we really need from anyone, for them to give us their time….

Thanks to my mentors time, I learned how to control my anger, and I even learned to make peace with my hurts. I eventually trained to be an English teacher, and taught in school’s for 5 years, before I eventually migrated into the world of writing; where I now am working on a project for FX.
Not bad, for someone that was labelled ‘bad,’ and ‘underserving,’ of help!

I’ve also suffered terrible hurts since then. I lost my fiancee in a car accident, and I suffered a brain aneurism earlier this year. Both these events sent me into a dark depression that was like a fog; one that both consumed and dampened, my motivation and will.
In-fact, I see depression as a bittersweet pill. Part of depression is alluring and invites us to build a home there; while the other side of depression laces you with self-disgust, and frustrating negativity.
During this time, I was afraid to admit how I felt, or to even seek help. I felt the weight and stigma of being branded as having something ‘wrong’ with me, to be overwhelming enough to keep me from seeking advice. But again — it was my mentor that helped me, but now in my adult years.

After seeking out medical advice, I worked through the depression that was brought on by losing my fiancee and my aneurism, in a similar manner to which I had done many years earlier in my teens.

It wasn’t an easy process, it never is. Perhaps, its not supposed to be.

I guess I see life or mental health, as being a lot like boxing.
Sometimes in the boxing ring called life, we get hit by body blows that leave us reeling in pain, and often times — have us kissing the canvas. But ultimately, despite the efforts of others to help— its up to us, how long we stay down.

I think eveytime we fall, we are given the chance to rebuild ourselves. Emotional wounds cut the deepest and leave lifelong scars. But, if we tend to our wounds correctly, we can heal stronger.

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Ethan Michael Carter is a British-born Screenwriter, Fight Choreographer and Relationship Expert.

He is currently working as a screenwriter for an upcoming television series with FX.

After a short period of homelessness as a child, he trained with his boxing coach and mentor for over twenty years – in the art of manliness and relationships. He then used what he had learnt and spent five years teaching English in schools, before working as a successful Hollywood fight choreographer.

Ethan now takes what he has learned in life, and writes about relationships on his blog, LiveMoreThanYouExist.com 

He also coaches clients from all around the world, teaching them about the true essence of manliness and dating in the modern world. Follow him on Twitter @Carter_inc

Stigma Fighters: Danny P.

I have lived with depression and anxiety for nearly as long as I can remember.  For years I would not fully acknowledge that simple fact.  During my teenage years I turned to drugs and alcohol to help me cope with the pain and shame I felt.  In my twenties and thirties I was on and off antidepressants, I went to therapy, and yet I still didn’t really consider myself as someone who had depression and anxiety until fairly recently.  I never attempted suicide.  I have never been hospitalized.  This line of thinking was a way to separate myself from people who were really messed up.  I would always go off my medication once I started to feel better with the assumption that everything was better now and I didn’t need the medication anymore.  I wanted to be “normal”.  Who doesn’t?

I lead a pretty regular existence in my external life.  The medication and therapy helped me cope better.  I am married and have two sons who are now in their teens.  I also teach elementary school.  However, I continued to battle depression and anxiety.  I did this primarily on my own.  I felt I had to keep my two lives separate.  A few people in my life knew about my struggles, but because of the stigma (mostly my own) I felt like I needed to keep this a secret from the rest of the world.

About three years ago, at the age of 41,  I had one of my worst episodes of depression that once again pushed me back onto medication and into therapy.  It was different this time.  I had always managed to push my way through my episodes before.  I mean I was miserable, but I still managed to function.  I did get through this episode, but I felt more out of control than I had ever felt before.  It scared me.  A LOT!!!  I didn’t feel safe.  I thought I would have to be hospitalized.  I would make it through work somehow (those close to me noticed something wasn’t right) and then just come home and cry.  I would often cry in the car on my way to and from work.  I remember very clearly thinking my family would be better off without me.  I didn’t want to be alive.  I didn’t know if I was going to make it out of this episode, but it did begin to get better.  After a couple of months the medication began to kick in and I began to stabilize.

I started taking it a bit more seriously.  Instead of just letting my general doctor take care of prescribing me medication I went to a psychiatrist.  He questioned me for about an hour about my history and then told me I have episodic major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.  I hadn’t noticed it really before he pointed it out, but over the years my episodes would come more quickly each time after going off of meds and the severity of the episodes began increasing.  I made a choice at that point that my goal was no longer to go off of medication.   I’m still on it more than 3 years later and am not sure I’ll ever go off.  I’m open, but at this point I see no reason to.

As I was coming out of my depression and working on some things in therapy it became clear to me how difficult it was for me emotionally to keep my depression from people.  It takes so much energy to pretend like everything is okay when I’m falling apart inside.  Not only that, but it was like I was living a lie.  Because… I was.  I decided I was finished with that. So I started telling people who were close to me.  My wife already knew, but my parents did not.  Many of my friends didn’t know either.  I also had a conversation with each of my sons about it, who were then 9 and 12.  The conversations were really good and each of them asked me questions and tried to understand.

Through that process an amazing thing happened.  Pretty much everyone I told responded sympathetically.  Some would tell me about their struggles, or those of a family member or close friend. I realized in those instances that my talking about it gave them permission to share their own experiences. I didn’t have to pretend anymore.  Even though not everyone knew, there were multiple people in all parts of my life who knew about it.  I still had the same issues, except now I didn’t feel so alone with them or like I had to work so hard to put up a false front.

Over the last several years I have come out in the open and become an advocate for people with mental illness.  I have participated in two Out of the Darkness Overnight walks sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  This summer I started a blog about my life with depression,  I have also created a private support page on Facebook for people who have been affected by mental illness.  It has become a supportive community and has created a space for people to talk freely about things they can’t discuss in other areas of their lives.  I will take another terrifying step next weekend when I will speak for 10 to 15 minutes at my church about my story and ending the stigma. There are typically about 150 to 200 people at church and some of my friends will be coming also.

I’m both excited and terrified about sharing my story in public.  Despite being a teacher, I do not like public speaking.  But I have made a decision that I am going to share my story and use my experiences to let others know they are not alone in their suffering.  I’m anxious, but I’m also happy for the opportunity to share that message with so many people!  I will continue to talk about it and create opportunities for people to talk openly about mental illness.  I’m proud to be a mental health advocate and am grateful to not be living in the darkness anymore with my mental illness.  unnamed

Bio:  My name is Danny Price.  I live in northern California with my wife and two sons.  I am a husband, father, teacher, youth leader, and now also a mental health advocate. I have a blog at depressioninthelight.blogspot.com where I write about my experiences living with depression and anxiety.

Stigma Fighters: Sarah Griffith Lund

The Pain without a Name
by Sarah Griffith Lund

We didn’t know. We never knew what to call it. We didn’t have a diagnosis then.

If you had a mood disorder or a mental illness before the 21st century, then it was understood and treated within the limitations based on the research, knowledge and resources available at that time.
What is more likely is that the brain disease wasn’t diagnosed or treated at all. It was also common then, as now, for people with mental illness to not seek help or treatment. Fear of being labeled, of losing a job, of getting locked up in the mental hospital or getting experimented on kept people silent about their inner struggles.

I’m hearing this from my readers, people like me who know what it’s like to grow up with mental illness in the home. For a lot of us growing up, for various reasons, the people we loved weren’t getting the mental health care they needed and deserved. And whatever help they were getting wasn’t talked about. Fathers and mothers disappeared for days and weeks at a time, leaving children at home to wonder what would happen next.

Our loved ones were misdiagnosed, over-medicated, dismissed, couldn’t afford help or refused treatment.

This left us as children pretty much in the deep pit of the unknown. We didn’t know why moods shifted so rapidly or why a parent couldn’t work or even get out of bed or drank too much or committed suicide.
We didn’t understand that a parent withholding love or affection was a result of an untreated mental illness, and not, as many of us felt, a reflection of our own self-worth. I tell the story in my book Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family, and Church about how this was so hard for me to understand as a little girl.

My dad lived his whole adult life with untreated bipolar disorder. His typically manic behavior spiraled into delusions and psychosis which frightened me as a child. I wanted to believe his delusions but they confused me. I was raised by the religious teaching to honor your mother and father. I did not know how to honor his bipolar because it scared me. For a long time I could not separate my father from his brain disease.

It wasn’t until I started talking about the impact that mental illness had on my life that I started to heal. Now I know that to keep the trauma of mental illness silent is to give it power over me. Breaking the silence lifts me out of the valley of the shadow of mental illness. As a little girl I was taught that it was not polite or ladylike to talk about such things, about ugly things, about painful things, about the secret things. I was taught to wear a pretty smile on my face all of the time, no matter what I actually felt on the inside.

That was then.

This is now.

Now we know that mood disorders are nothing to be ashamed about, apologize for, or cover-up. Mental illness is not a punishment from God or a sign of personal failure or weakness or a character deficit.

We know that mental illness is a real disease of the brain.

We know that prevention, treatment and recovery are options.

We know there is hope.

And we know we are never going back.

We are never going back to the silence, stigma and shame.

We are never going back to the lobotomies, the ignorance, the demonizing and the dehumanizing of people with a disease.

For a better future for the children of today and tomorrow, we are breaking the silence about mental illness now.

This is a new day.

We are naming it out loud. We are understanding the causes and the treatments. We are getting evaluated. We are getting the help we need.

Too many people are suffering silently from a pain with no name.

We can change this by offering accessible support and advocating for mental health education in the public schools, and funding mental health screenings. Early detection and treatment of mental illness can prevent severe brain diseases and suicide.

It’s up to each one of us to name mental illness and by so doing, to rid it of the immobilizing shame, stigma and silence.

It’s up to each of us to tell our stories.

It’s up to us to mobilize a movement for mental health.

If not you, then who?

If not now, then when?
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Bio:
Sarah Griffith Lund is an ordained minister in The United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ. She’s served congregations in Brooklyn, New York, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and New Smyrna Beach, Florida. She holds degrees from Trinity University, Princeton Theological Seminary, Rutgers University, and McCormick Theological Seminary. Her new book _Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness, Family, and Church_ is a raw, honest look at her father’s battle with untreated bipolar disorder, the helpless sense of déjà vu as her brother struggles with bipolar, and serving as the spiritual advisor to her cousin, a mentally ill man executed for murder. Through the challenges and despair, Sarah shows how churches as be safe havens for people who have brain diseases and for their loved ones. She blogs at www.sarahgriffithlund.com and is on Twitter @revlund and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SarahGriffithLund

The Dark Battlefield

My family has a history of mental illness, pretty much all of it completely un-diagnosed. When I say my family is crazy, I’m not elaborating. Some are more crazy than others, but all of us deal with depression and anxiety to some degree.

I’m writing this post anonymously because it’s a hard one to discuss…the affects that someone elses’ mental illness can have on you.

Mental illness is hard, it’s this battlefield, rutted in darkness. Everybody is shooting, trying to get the enemy but often getting other innocent people in the process because they just can’t see. The darkness is suffocating, blinding, maddening. Everybody wants out of it – those who are fighting the illness, those who are fighting for someone who has the illness, and those who are innocent bystanders.

Someone I care about has a bunch of mental illnesses that are undiagnosed but blatantly there. This person lives in their own twisted perception of reality, and truly views themselves as the victim. This person cannot comprehend that maybe, they aren’t the only victim in the story. This person cannot see that their actions are seriously hurting those they calm to care about. This person won’t get help for their mental illness, they won’t accept the fact that something is even remotely wrong. “It’s just depression,” they say, only it’s not just depression. I deal with depression and anxiety daily, I know what it looks like…what it inflicts on others and while it isn’t always pretty, it’s not this.

This person seeps out toxic poison from every pore. This person’s presence creates more issues for my own mental health, because this person asks and asks and asks and doesn’t realize the extent of what they are asking, of what I am giving. I shake and tremble in their wake. A phone conversation drains me, and a visit destroys me. It takes me forever to bring myself back to a place where I can honestly say I’m alright.

Mental health is a bitch, a cruel tormentor that knows just how to destroy families. It’s not like an illness such as cancer, where you would never even presume to give up on someone suffering from it. You would fight for that person, because they didn’t ask for that cruel disease. Mental health is just as cruel and nobody asks for it, but it’s harder to not give up on someone because it affects your own mental health so much.

Having children myself, I look at them and want to cry. I want to cry because I shudder at the mere thought that maybe one day, I will affect them in the ways that this person affects me. I don’t want to do that to them, not now or ever. I don’t want to make them feel trapped with lips sewn shut.

It’s different when someone is trying to see through the darkness, trying to get help. When the person isn’t getting help and flat out refuses to, they cause destruction to not only themselves but everyone around them. In that darkened battlefield, they’re shooting in every direction and enjoying it. They are not working together with the other voices, not calling out their position so other’s know when to duck.

And no matter what, those that they hurt are to blame. And that’s a hard thing to handle. It’s your fault I’m so sad. It’s your fault that I left you for years. It’s your fault because you sided with this other person, my abandonment is justified and now that I’ve returned, you MUST make it up to me. You must do all that I ask because if you don’t, you’re terrible people and I am and will always be the victim.

You have to know when to slam the door, to take the broken pieces of your own mental health and sanity and cling to them, protecting them from the destruction.

Making that call in itself is almost impossible, because of the guilt. The thoughts that if this was cancer, there would be no question. But it’s not cancer, it’s an attack on the soul and spirit and the will. When you’re handling your own illnesses that attack your soul, spirit and will…having someone else attack you as well is extremely crippling.

Stigma Fighters: Bipolar Babe – Andrea P.

I am passionate and extremely involved in mental health engagement in my community. I launched www.bipolarbabe.com in May of 2009 and created a logo with a talented artist titled ‘Bipolar Babe: Stomping out Stigma.’ Thereafter, I designed and distributed bipolar babe postcards, which read “Creating a World of Understanding, Empathy, and Acceptance for Those that Have a Mental Health Condition.”

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Image courtesy of Bipolar Babe

Thus began my journey into the world of mental health engagement, and the results have been impacting and encouraging. I create conversations free of stigma in my community by having launched an online forum and a blog on the babe website and I networked endlessly to build my Bipolar Babe brand. I did not know what my efforts would produce, but it felt right when I was asked to speak at a non-profit mentorship program about my personal experience.

The presentation was so satisfying that I accepted further requests to speak, but in my heart I knew the people that I wanted to reach the most with my story were the youth. During this time, I also made my basement suite a place for youth with a mental illness to gather in a peer support group, which I called the Teens2Twenties. I engaged youth to help them in any way possible to stay well, form friendships, and most of all, share their own experiences for healing.

Through my active networking efforts, I met many supportive individuals along the way and we formed the Bipolar Disorder Society of British Columbia (BDSBC) in January 2010.  We received charitable status in June 2010, having our application received months later and approved in a mere 29 days.

We also worked tirelessly to create a variety show: Bipolar Babe Fundraiser, and so began our non-profit society with only a few thousand dollars in the bank. Our society has been in existence for over four years now and we have five programs dedicated to the service delivery of peer support and mental health education. We now have a staff of five and I moved quickly from the position of Board President to Executive Director of BDSBC.

The success of our programs and community engagement has been both impactful and effective. I lead the Stigma Stomp Classroom Presentation Program and we present to an average of 2000 students per year, and provide three peer support groups for countless people struggling with mental health challenges. I lead the majority of the program delivery by being a presenter and a group facilitator, but we also have excellent support staff members that make the programs possible.

Over the years we have accomplished many things, and have held numerous awareness events called “Stigma Stomp Day” and “Clara’s Big Ride: Hats off to Clara Hughes Fundraiser and a Daytime Legislature Welcoming Event.” I have been featured personally on local radio shows speaking to the issue of mental health, my personal story, and stigma numerous times. I have also been on several television news casts promoting our organization, and showcasing the work that we do as a society. We have also gained a significant amount of print coverage and all of these successes may be viewed at: http://bipolarbabe.com/news

Lastly, I have personally been extremely engaged in the mental health community by applying my writing abilities. I am a blogger for HealthyPlace.com for my blog called ‘Surviving Mental Health Stigma Blog.’ You may find this blog here.  I also brought my community engagement a bit further by becoming a contributor/author to an anthology published by Brindle and Glass called “Hidden Lives: Coming out on Mental Illness.” I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to engage both with youth and adults in their mental health journeys, and I plan to continue building on both my writing career and community engagement work with BDSBC.

I also brought my community engagement a bit further by becoming a contributor/author to an anthology published by Brindle and Glass called “Hidden Lives: Coming out on Mental Illness.” I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to engage both with youth and adults in their mental health journeys, and I plan to continue building on both my writing career and community engagement work with BDSBC.

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Andrea Paquette is founder and Executive Director of the Bipolar Disorder Society of BC, also known as Bipolar Babe in the community.  She is a mental health speaker, published author, advocate and above all a Stigma Stomper.  She created the Bipolar Babe Project with the introduction of Bipolar Babe in 2009.

Andrea has reached thousands with her message of hope and resilience in middle, secondary and post-secondary schools, workplaces, and throughout various community organizations and events.  Her Bipolar Babe persona has reached great heights locally and internationally as she is the winner of Victoria’s 2013 CFAX Mel Cooper Citizen of the Year Award and the recent Winner for mental health Mentorship Award given by the National Council for Behavioral Health out of Washington, D.C.

As Executive Director for the Bipolar Disorder Society of BC, Andrea worked with a board of directors to grow their modest non-profit from a project to a reputable organization dedicated to mental health awareness and support focusing mainly on youth.  Andrea’s classroom presentations have received outstanding reviews from students and teachers alike.  One young individual stated that he was now less nervous about meeting his biological father who has bipolar disorder after participating in a Bipolar Babe presentation.
Andrea has been interviewed by numerous media personalities notably having been on CBC on three separate occasions and CTV numerous times.  She is grateful for having the opportunity to share her personal message that “No matter what our challenges we can all live extraordinary lives.”

Stigma Fighters: Harry Floyd

In my eyes, it is the anticipation that is the toughest part about anxiety.

We build up the worries and stressors in our minds to the point that they become almost impossible to deal with. Most of anxiety is irrational in that we know these concerns are not as bad as we make them out to be, but that doesn’t prevent the process from happening.

I see anxiety as a cyclical process that we ought to strive to break free from. We may never fully break away from it, as everyone will always have a small degree of nerves. That is a good thing though because we need to be in touch with our feelings, but it is when anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it prevents us from doing the things we enjoy in life that it is a problem. My own experience has been one filled with nausea and more bizarre manifestations such as hair pulling.

As a child, I would be unable to prevent myself from getting sick if I was anxious about a social outing, an event I had to attend, or a presentation I had to give in school. The oddest part about the whole thing though, was that I hid this from most people. As the years went on, I began to find patterns in my anxiety and understand when it would bring me to the point of nausea. I took this information and used it to perfect my running around in secret. That was my immature approach to dealing with it – simply finding a way to make anxiety livable. There was a point in college however when it hit me that I had to find a more positive and longterm approach to it all.

I went to a counselor, started opening up about what I was going through, and began writing about my experiences. It is amazing how much starting a dialogue can change things for the better. Not only did sharing my own struggles help me, but also I believe it has helped others feel comfortable about coming forward themselves. We are all in it together. Anxiety has a tendency to make you forget that. It brings with it a sense of isolation if you let it overwhelm you. The upside though, is that all you need to do is take that first step towards dealing with it for things to change.

Anxiety might not go away for good, but a bit of practice along with trial and error can turn it into something that isn’t scary anymore. I’ve tried medication, meditation, counseling, journaling, exercise, and countless other various behavioral techniques over the years. Most of them work, some for a little while and others for good, but you find what works and try new helpers as they come up. The important thing is that you are taking a positive and active role in your anxiety. Doing so will quickly diminish the power it has over you. When I feel myself slipping back into old habits of hiding my anxiety and wanting to make myself sick, I look to my past. I see that I have overcome just about all of the things I was once anxious about. Looking back, I realize that despite my anxious thoughts and feelings, I in fact have succeeded in all of the areas that I’ve been anxious about.

Look to your successes when things become overwhelming. That is what I do, and if things take a poor turn in the future, I know that I have prepared myself to deal with such an instance. Prepare your mind, open up about your anxiety, and remember that we are all in it together.

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Harry Floyd is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University. He is the author of PANIC: One Man’s Struggle with Anxiety. Beyond searching for a career he is passionate about, he enjoys writing from time to time and loves encouraging greater dialogue on topics we all encounter. Twitter: @floydhe

Stigma Fighters: Aaron S.

I was diagnosed bipolar in August of 2008.
The diagnoses made so much sense out of the life I was living, out of the lows and highs I kept jumping between. It made sense out of the crazy stories from my early 20’s, out of the jobs I quit over and over, out of the manic days I kept chasing and the drinking I did to keep the depression at bay.

I remember the day I was diagnosed. My therapist and I had been talking for a few weeks about the depression I was in the middle of. I was in such a numb fog that I couldn’t remember much prior to this round of depression. She sat across from me in those leather chairs, pulled out the DSM IV, and rattled off the list of symptoms I had. Then she said, “These are all the qualifications for the bipolar II mood disorder.”

At last I knew what the hell was wrong with me.

I got on some medication within the next week or so, and lucky me the first medication I tried worked. It pulled back the darkness of the depression and at the same time kept my mood from swinging into the mania that was equally as dangerous. It just worked, and I felt good for the first time in so, so long.

I eventually had to stop taking my medicine. When I lost insurance with the loss of a job I simply couldn’t afford it. The one thing that was helping me live a normal life I had to stop taking because of money. It sucked. The actual process of my body going off this medication cold turkey was its own little hell. Not something I recommend to anyone, but it’s what I had to do at the time.

So, there I was; bipolar and off my medications. And the depression came back. And when that finally let up, my mania was there to fill in the gap. Then, finally, the day came and my little miracle drug came as a generic version and I could afford it. Only this time, it didn’t work. This sent me into the long game of “Let’s try some medicine and see how you react.” My doctor and I played this game for several months, and then several more. Nothing seemed to just work. It was always needing something else.

Finally, we found a drug combination that worked well enough. I could survive the depression, avoid the mania, and the side effects weren’t too bad. Even then, I had good days and bad days. I had days I couldn’t go to work, days I couldn’t quite shake the something. Depression wasn’t the right word, but it was the only word I had for what I was feeling.

Around this time, after a particularly rough Sunday afternoon, I entered into a partial hospitalization program. It was an intensive three weeks of group therapy and weekly psychiatric visits. This psychiatric stuff was new to me. Up until then, I had just been working with my general practitioner. I came to realize that while he was a good doctor, this was out of his league. Simply put, I hadn’t gotten the care I needed from him. This program proved that.
I was diagnosed as having a bipolar mood disorder and having a generalized anxiety disorder.

My medications were changed and adjusted. After the three weeks, I was released into follow up care with my current therapist and psychiatrist. I went back to work, and have been living with the good and bad days since.

I still can’t go to work some days. This is one of the hardest things about my illness right now. I’m the sole breadwinner for our family. When I can’t work, we feel it. Honestly, it makes me feel like a loser, worthless and unable to live a normal life. I have to remind myself that I am still ill, I still have a sickness, a disease, and that means that I have limitations in my life at times.

These days, it’s the panic that gets me. My bipolar seems to be under control, or at least manageable for now. But the anxiety and panic that erupt out of nowhere: that is what just lays me low these days. It’s made it so I can’t work, so I can’t go places with friends, so that some days I can’t leave the house. This panic is the symptom of my illness that right now I am wrestling hard with.
I guess that’s the point of all this: I wrestle with my illness and I always will.

As much as I want a magic pill to take away my symptoms, it’s not there. I have ways that I am treating my illness, ways I am fighting it and wrestling through it, but it’s a condition I have to live with. Just like someone with diabetes has to live with their condition. The wrestling is hard, but it also means that I am still here, still alive and that my sickness hasn’t killed me yet.

It also means that I can live. I am not any of my diagnoses. I have a life and dreams and desires that I want to chase. I can do that. This is why I am getting treatment for my disorders: so that I can live my life my way despite having bipolar and anxiety disorders. My life is not destined to be abnormal just because of my diagnosis, because of my illness.

This is why I remain in treatment, why I try to live healthy, and why I want to keep fighting. I have a life left to live. I want my sons to see that. That is the legacy I want to leave them with, not my illness. So I will fight this, remain in treatment, and continue to learn to live with this illness. I will continue to live.

aaron

Bio:  Aaron Smith is a husband, father, believer, writer, nerd, coffee chugger. Just a typical question everything, bipolar, poet-punk. Blog: Cultural Savage Twitter @culturalsavage

 

Stigma Fighters: Carrie B.

Especially Love

I sat in my favorite chair.   The sun warmed me as I sipped my morning coffee. Tears began to stream down my cheeks.  Suddenly my breath became more rapid. What was wrong with me I sobbed.

I thought I was am past this…

The years before my mother’s death were filled with incredible stress. Taking her to doctors appointments.  Making sure she was okay by checking in on her and making sure she was caring for herself.  An emergency room visit and several hospitalizations weighed heavily on me.

I had learned to be silent.  I had learned to bury it all.  I had learned to take it all on, to try and spare others from the burden.  I had learned to numb myself on the inside appear strong on the outside.  I had learned to quietly be responsible for things no thirty something should have to do.

The years after my mom’s passing filled with anger.  Innocent moments of being told “You look like your mom.” “You remind me of your mother. “You’re so much like your mom.”  Would quickly fill me with burning anger and words of I am not like my mother!  I am nothing like her!

I had learned to only remember needing me.  I had learned to remember only her confused.  I had learned to only remember the darkness consuming her.  I had learned to only remember her unable to be my mother.  I had learned to be certain I was nothing like her and I never would be.

Today memories of my mother fill me with warmth.  I share with my daughter’s stories of how my mother loved me.  I smile when I remember her and share stories with my sisters about her.  I am warmed by the reminders of her that are in me when I look at my hands, my long face and arms that never seem to find a sweater long enough for them.

I learned to share my story.  I learned to trust others with my story. I learned to ask for help.   I learned to let others support me, to tell me it is ok to feel this way.  I learned to remember my mom’s amazing creative talent.  I learned to cherish the loving mother she was.  I learned to love the parts of her that are me.  I learned to remember her and not her illness.

Mental illness took from me the amazing mother that raised me.  The woman who made me the woman I am today.  It tricked me and stole from me my recognition of how incredible she was.  It gave me, instead, these experiences so I could learn about myself.  It connected to me words, it moved me to find a voice and the pain it gave me allowed me to find an amazingness in myself I never knew I had.  It connected me with a community of incredible woman who prove everyday that mental illness can be lived with and conquered.  It showed me the power we have within ourselves when we reach out, connect with others, stop hiding, stop staying quiet and join forces.  It taught me that when we stop giving the darkness power, stop letting the weaknesses own us, stop giving the illness have power, stop hating the illness and  start loving the people…the mothers, the fathers, the sisters, the brothers… as people anything is possible.  Especially love!

CarrieBaughcumPIC

Bio…
I am Carrie Baughcum. I am the proud momma to two incredible girls, the wife to one unconditionally loving husband, completely indecisive, mismatch sock wearing, word slinging, doodler, who loves to be inspired, is enthusiastic about learning, passionate about being a Special Education teacher and is the daughter of a mother who courageously fought mental illness.
Blog: http://carriebaughcum.com
Twitter: @heckawesome

Stigma Fighters: Liz Ferro

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly”

Proverb

I had overcome a lot of things in my life and was constantly working on myself, but at 25 years old I still had so much work to do, and a long way to go, in terms of healing and learning to love myself. Today, I believe I will always be a work in progress- continuously moving forward to butterfly status. I’m quite happy with this journey of “becoming” because moving forward and resilience is a life-saver for people who fight a variety of mental health issues.  It can also be the driving force to help others do the same. Who says you have to be a full-fledged butterfly - and then, what? – That’s it? I’m not a scientist, but I don’t think that butterflies have a very long life-span.  I like to think of myself as “becoming” a butterfly – fully embracing my lowly caterpillar past, with the occasional trip and stumble over my many feet as I march relentlessly forward to the place I am now, with beautiful, albeit tattered wings.  I love the four stages of a butterfly as a symbolic expression of evolving and self transformation.  Like me, the butterfly is a dichotomy of fragility and strength, and because they represent transcending, they also represent the power we all have to choose the path of our destiny.

Having control of our destiny when we feel out of control most of the time is quite the challenge.  I understand this more than most, since my destiny during the “egg” stage of my life was precariously placed in the hands of four different sets of foster parents, and then my adoptive parents.  I was told later in life that my time in foster care was somewhat traumatic, which explains why (at the time) I was petrified of men, and of being left alone.  It seemed to explain my fear of sudden loud noises and the dark, as well as the continuos crying and nervous rash that permanently resided on my face. It may also be the root of my bed wetting that went on much too long, that I sucked my thumb until college, and that I had “outbursts” that could scare a Marine drill sergeant.

In the caterpillar stage I was sexually abused by my next door neighbor for about a year.  When my mom found out about it after reading what I wrote in an assignment pad that I hid in my room, she went through four stages of her own…but not in a good way.  First: she didn’t believe me.  Second: she was angry at me for writing it down - because in her mind, that meant that it was important to me or that I was proud of it in some way. Third: she said we would keep it a secret and that if my dad found out, he would most certainly kill my neighbor, and it would be my fault that my father was in jail. Fourth: She went on living her life in denial while I coped with anger, self-hate, and a myriad of other issues.

During that stage I was pretty caught up in trying to get others to love me, yet I did not love myself.  On the outside I tried not to let it show, but inside, I felt a horrible smoldering hatred for myself that lurked in the shadowy darkness of my soul, threatening to expose me at any time with a blaze of fire. It’s a tough place to be when you are caught between hating yourself, and mistrusting anyone who shows that they love you, while simultaneously pushing those people away and wishing they would never leave you.

I worked on containing it- so that no one would see it, for if they did, they wouldn’t like me or what they saw in me. But the fire was there, and sometimes it would burn out of my control.  My whole life I was told that I was crazy, and I often agreed.

I often imagined myself as an old lady, alone and destitute.  I actually saw my future self in a bathrobe and slippers, shuffling through Discount Drug Mart on Christmas Eve – the crazy old lady getting her Ripple, and fiddling with the blood pressure machine, because she has no place else to be.  This was a very real fear that I had.  I was pretty sure that it would be a reality for me in my future.

I felt like I was a bad and ugly person who had a good heart – much like the very misunderstood- but still ugly – Frankenstein’s monster.

Just about everyone in my past has said that I was crazy.  I knew I had some pretty manic highs and lows, but it still hurt when a boyfriend I just broke up with came over to my house and told my dad that “a room full of psychiatrists wouldn’t be able to figure out what was going on in Liz’s head.” It hurt when an ex-fiance stole my journal and used my inner-most thoughts against me, and as proof to the world that I was indeed crazy.  He even talked to my therapist about it – and together – they decided that I was bipolar.  I was never treated for bipolar disorder, and in fact, it was a misdiagnosis. During this time, I was in the cocoon stage, and believe me- a lot was going on in there! It’s amazing what you can do with so little if you work really hard at it!

During that time I overcame Bulimia and learned how to control my pre-menstral dysphoric disorder and PTSD through the power of fitness, and in particular, running. Along with a lot of hard work on myself and the desire to be happy, running was my ultimate therapy. It helped me sort through the churning thoughts and worries that plagued me.  I have walked into many workouts feeling really bad, with the weight of the world on my shoulders and self-hate looming overhead, and every excuse not to run. I can honestly say that I have never walked away from a workout with those same dark feelings.   The sweat seems to wash away the heaviness in my heart and on my mind, and replaces it with a joyful and light-hearted feeling of energy that I can’t wait to feel again after it fades away. Maybe this is why people get hooked on her ion?  I will never know because the empowerment that I receive from running and crossing the finish line is the best high in the world to me. It keeps me coming back for more, so I can feel it again and again.  It’s not the end- it’s the transcendence and the journey to the next one, and the control that I have to choose my own destiny.

Today I am 45 years old, and while certainly still prone to bouts of inexplicable sadness, anxiety and even anger – I am “becoming” and empowering others to do the same.  This ceaseless stage is not perfect, but it’s a beautiful place to be.

Pink2

Liz Ferro is the author of “Finish Line Feeling” and the Founder and Executive Director of Girls With Sole. She is also a Keynote/Motivational Speaker.

She has been featured on the NBC TODAY Show and in Family Circle Magazine.

She is the recipient of the 2014 SELF Women Doing Good Award; the 2012 Longines Women Who Make a Difference Award from Town & Country Magazine; the 2011 American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland Hero Award; and the 2011 Classic Woman Award from Traditional Home Magazine.

Recently, Liz launched the “50 States for Sole” campaign, and will be running a marathon in all 50 states to raise awareness and funds for Girls With Sole.