Stigma Fighters : Meghan Shultz

Okay, so lets cut to the chase here….I have a mental illness. I take four medications a day. Eleven pills, three times a day, everyday. That’s what it takes to get me through the day. I also see my Therapist every Monday morning and my Psychiatrist 1-2 times per month. You can see how having a mental illness can be pretty time consuming huh? But that’s not even the half of it. I have Bipolar Disorder, this is what life is like for me.

Depression is exhausting. Physically and mentally exhausting. There is no energy or will to do anything. I’ve spent entire days just laying on my sofa doing nothing. Playing Netflix on the TV but not actually paying any attention, it’s just back ground noise, I don’t even look at it. Eating is really hard, I either don’t eat because I don’t have the energy or I eat everything I have because I think it will fill some kind of void. Showering is an effort, dressing is an effort, talking is an effort. Hell, I don’t even have the energy to cry. That’s right, I’m too exhausted to cry. Depression is paralyzing.

Mixed Episodes: Agitation. Anger. Irritability. Anxiety. Depression. Mania, angry kind of mania. Impulsivity. Self harm. Suicidal thoughts and plans. Uncontrollable crying.
The last time that I had a mixed episode I ended up in hospital. I was crying uncontrollably at work and at home just out of nowhere. I ended up leaving a voicemail for my Psychiatrist in the middle of the night because I quite literally could not stop crying. I was exhausted, just from crying. I was always agitated and restless. I had so much anger sometimes that I felt like I was going to snap. Even when I could feel the mania coming through, it wasn’t a nice mania. I felt like I was going to implode. I was self harming because I saw no other way of dealing with it at the time. I was having a lot of suicidal thoughts. Suicidal thoughts, that’s what got me put into hospital in the end. I was there about 11 days. They killed my mixed episode. I thanked them.

MANIA! OH, HOW I LOVE YOU MANIA! My mania’s are a little different every time but there are the few constants. Racing thoughts, my speech…it’s so hard to talk when you have about a gazillion things racing through your mind. I become very restless, it’s really hard to sit still or stand in one place. I left work early once because I needed to be moving around more. There wasn’t enough movement there. I walked home and then went running for I don’t even know how long. I buy a lot of things when I’m manic. I start a lot of hobbies too which gives me more things to buy. I’ve started and stopped more hobbies than I can even remember….German, French, Sign Language, Violin, I buy books that I never read. I bought a tablet, a new camera, clothes, lots of clothes. And then I decide that I have too many things and I donate half of my possessions. I get tattoos, piercings, I’ve colored my hair with home hair dye so much that they won’t stick to my hair anymore. I buy stationary. Lots and lots of stationary. I really love stationary. Just SO MANY THINGS. My head is so full, I don’t want to sleep, ever. But then…..it gets too much. Sometimes anger starts to set in, sometimes psychosis. Or both. Mania isn’t wonderful forever. It becomes over whelming and even more uncontrollable. Sometimes I don’t even realize that it’s happening. Thankfully my Psychiatrist does.

Without medication, I don’t have stable periods between these episodes anymore. And to be honest, all of those mood states kind of suck. So that’s why I take all of my medications and I keep all of my appointments. Because even though there’s not a cure, it can at least be managed. And there is help. You don’t need to go it alone and you never need to feel ashamed. None of us should ever be ashamed of having a mental illness. We are strong, we are fighters and we can do this. We can live side by side with our illnesses and still live a good life, no matter how dark it seems sometimes.

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2015-06-07-14.39.34My name is Meghan and I’m 26 years old. I have been struggling with mental illness since I was a child. When I was 15 I was hospitalized and given my first diagnosis, Psychotic Depression. After that I received a diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder and MDD before finally being diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder last year. I also have Borderline Personality Disorder and Anxiety Disorder.
Australian born but I have been living here in Arizona, USA with my husband for about the last four years now. And you know, I chose good because he puts up with all of my shenanigans.

Meghan can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Kristie Nardini

I don’t like needles. I don’t like the idea of a permanent commitment. And I certainly don’t like doing things that make me nervous. So why would I choose to get a tattoo?

There has been a lot of news lately regarding the Semicolon Tattoo Project. People have shared that their tattoo is a commitment to themselves, a daily reminder that their story isn’t over. They have survived their own battles, and I commend those who are brave enough to inspire others to celebrate those victories.

At first, I thought it was a great idea. Spread the awareness around depression and suicide because getting people to talk about their experiences reduces the stigma attached to them. Share your story and have a tattoo that commemorates how far you have come. I really thought the whole idea was quite impressive.

However, I wasn’t sure it was for me. I have never publicly talked about my experience with depression before to people other than a close few. I said I was open about it, yet I never really discussed it. I didn’t think it was anyone’s business or that anyone would want to hear a sob story. I did not feel comfortable telling everyone what I’ve been through.

I had decided one day to post an inspiring message as my Facebook status. I touched briefly on the fact that depression played a part in my life the past few years. I was shocked by the amount of love and support people had to give back to me. I was overwhelmed with the generosity and kindness of people that took the time to say nice things to me. I felt like I had opened a new door, allowing people into my life in a way I had never let them before.

When my cousin saw my posts about the tattoo and asked me if I would get one with her, I knew I had to jump at the offer. I finally understood why so many people got this semicolon tattooed to their body. I began to comprehend why people shared their stories. It was liberating to not have the weight of secrets hold you back. It was fulfilling to be able to share your story and have other people resonate with what you were saying.

So yes, I still don’t like needles. And yes, the idea of a permanent commitment still scares me. But I also have gained so much more than what my fears have held me back from. I have a small print on my wrist that tells me I have let go. I have let go of feeling unworthy, and I have let go of letting depression run my life. This tattoo is so important to me because it is a symbol of my story that continues each and every day.

My story could have ended a long time ago. I could have been another tragic statistic of a teen gone too soon. But it didn’t. I am here, and my story comes with me. I used to carry around the weight of my burdens. Now I carry a semicolon because my story isn’t over.

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After years of carrying the burden of my own struggles, I am at the point where I am happy with who I am and who I have chosen to be. We all have life events that make us question our worth, and I include myself when I say that we need to give ourselves more credit. Life is too short to spend the time beating yourself up.

If you told me a few years ago that I would be where I am today, I would not have believed you. As someone who let my struggles take over my life, I never would have dreamed there would be a day when I could smile and actually mean it. And these days? There is so much to smile about.

This message is for anyone who is trying to find the courage to keep going, or just needs a pick me up. Know that this world is not the same without you in it. The pain you are going through, whether it is in the halls of a school, the loss of a family member, or just the day to day confusion of life, is only temporary. It does get better. There is so much worth fighting for. Someone will always be fighting a battle, so remember to be kind.

Cheers to you, your bright future, and the sunshine on your horizon. I am so excited for this next chapter of my life, and I am glad that I have the support of beautiful people like you. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share these thoughts.

Kristie can be found on her blog and twitter

Stigma Fighters : Jackie T Kartchner

The Monster in My Head

I have bipolar disorder. My moods shift from high energy and euphoria to low energy and deep feelings of despair. I began having symptoms when I was thirteen. I have had a problematic life, with its ups and downs, but God blessed me with good people and experiences.

High school was challenging, especially my sophomore year, when I dealt with my first feelings of depression. I had a few close friends, for which I am grateful, but I was often unhappy. I often felt like a wicked person.

The disease really flared when I was in college at BYU. The first semester of college went well. I was excited to be on the campus of Brigham Young University. It was a high for me, my first mania.

In that mindset I became convinced that I was supposed to marry a certain young man. We dated for a couple of months, and I was living in a dream world. Then one night after spring break, he broke up with me. He could sense my desire to get married, and it had scared him away. My world had fallen apart. My first major depression hit, and I couldn’t shake it for months.

I went home, A psychiatrist diagnosed me with paranoid-schizophrenia. It was a common diagnosis back then. With electro-convulsive shock therapy, I eventually overcame the depression.

About a year later, mania swept into my life. It was the worst I’ve ever experienced. I had a decreased need for sleep, and I talked too fast and too much. I did things too fast. I remember taking a French class, in which the professor was concerned about how rapidly I went through a test. She tried to get me to slow down, but I just couldn’t. I was on a roll and felt I couldn’t do anything wrong.

Naturally, all the mania came crashing down into depression during the following summer. I decided to take a Gregg shorthand, but my depressed mind just couldn’t hold onto anything long enough to memorize it. I stopped going to class. Instead, I would go buy pizza at a nearby restaurant. I would consume the whole thing in one sitting. The weight I lost from being manic began to creep back on. I felt my life was just a big failure.

My doctor then decided I was bipolar and put me on lithium to stabilize my moods. It caused nausea and vomiting, so I quit the medication. The doctor said there was nothing else he could do for me. This was in the fall of 1974, and I lived without medications for the next twelve years.

In the spring of 1975, I met my husband at a square dance. We got along great and started dating. I again started cycling into mania. At first it was great. I thought of clever ways to spend more time with him. It was so much fun. We kept dating and two months later got engaged, but the engagement was often stormy. My moods were erratic, but Wayne stuck it out and married me.
The next five years or so were rough, but symptoms of bipolar became more severe after the birth of my fourth child. I experienced mania, depression, and anxiety. My husband, not having any idea of what was going on, thought I just had a bad attitude. He blamed my inability to sleep on the simple fact that I worried too much about getting to sleep. He basically kept telling me to buck up–a common attitude among people who have never experienced it.
It was a dark time. I had difficulty making decisions that summer. I recall my encounter with the children’s sock sale at a local department store. A large table covered with pairs of socks of all sorts of colors and designs was overwhelming sight.

However, I improved and did well. After the birth of our sixth and last child, I experienced severe postpartum depression, a condition that worsened with the birth of each of my children. My OB doctor referred me to a new psychiatrist. He was great, and I have been seeing him as a patient ever since
He diagnosed me with bipolar disorder and prescribed some medications. I couldn’t believe the difference in my quality of life. I actually felt happy. It took about 20 years to get the right combination to get me stable, though. Now I am, and I enjoy the peace.

Wayne came into the marriage knowing I had depression problems, but didn’t know what kind of ride he was in for. He had never known its difficulties until I came along. I am so grateful for his mental and emotional stability that has passed on to most of my children. For the most part, I enjoyed being a mom.
Sometimes I experienced really sad days where I had no joy nor energy. On one of those days, I answered the door and found some friends there who had come to clean my house. I had really let things go, and it felt good to know they cared.
My whole family was appreciative of friends who were there for me. The family was greatly affected by my illness, but my children are doing well for the most part. Half of them, though, do suffer from anxiety and depression.
Fortunately, a lot of good things happened in the family due to my illness. The children were strengthened as they saw me work through my illness. They learned that they too could handle hard things. They also learned compassion as they showed me so much of it.

I would never want to live my life over. It has been tough. I wish I could be cured and not have to rely on medications for the rest of my life. The drugs are great but do have their side effects, such as weight gain and restless leg syndrome. However, I am grateful they are available to me.

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20150713_100031-2I was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho on September 22, 1952 to Jack and JoAnn Taylor. I went to Bonneville High School in Ogden. After graduation I attended Brigham Young University in Provo, UT for 3 semester, Later, I attended Stephens Henagar Business College and Weber State College, both in Ogden, UT. Because of my mental health issues, I didn’t get a bachelor’s degree.
I married Wayne Kartchner in 1975. We have now been married for nearly 40 years. We have six children and 18 grandchildren, with one on the way. My husband and I live in Farmington, UT. In 1999, I started going back to school at Weber State University. After eight years, I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2007. I studied French, technical writing, and health promotion. Presently, I am a substitute teacher for my local school district. I sub in French and English classes, but my love is special education.

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Stigma Fighters : The Anxious Fireman

Dear all,
First and foremost my love to you all. My name is Jonny Ward, or the ‘Anxious Fireman’ on Twitter. I am 5’11”, I’m strongly built, a fire-fighter. I enjoy strongman training, travel, adventure, the outdoors and working with my hands. I wear jeans and white t shirts, boots, I sweat!
Oh and I also have a panic disorder!
I started my journey into the world of mental ill health roughly two years ago. I loaded myself with stress, self-doubt, fear and a huge inability to accept I couldn’t cope. This eventually resulted in me having a black out whilst with friends.
Coming round on the floor with a paramedic stood over me, I was different. I could feel it. I was no longer the strong, independent, rough tough boy I was accustomed too. I was still me of course but, mentally, I had weakened.
Weakened? Maybe that’s not the right word. But that’s how I felt at the time.
And so I began to have panic attacks. At work, in lectures, whilst eating meals, whilst exercising. Anytime I wasn’t on my own or feared I would make an idiot out of myself, my parasympathetic nervous system would kick into high gear and perceive a threat that wasn’t there. Thus releasing the fight or flight mechanism and causing me to panic.
It consumed me, leaving the house became a game of whit’s against myself, trying to convince the voices in my head that I was safe and didn’t require to fight or flight! It took me a long time to accept it was psychological; I was desperate for this feeling to be a physical illness, something I could understand, but more importantly something I could accept.
It of course wasn’t, it was very much in my head.
A turning point came when a new GP at my surgery met me, I told him my symptoms and he rolled his chair over to me, tapped me on my head and said –
“Jonny, this is in your head, and you’re very ill”
These two concepts came as a surprise, it was in my head and I was ill? How could that be? How can I be ill if it’s in my head? The head can’t be ill? Plus my head is fine, it’s strong, I’m strong! GRRRRR!!!!
Fast forward two years to today. I have learnt to accept my panic disorder and it’s very much controlled. I am still taking medication; I have used CBT and counselling to help break the negative thought patterns in my mind. Most importantly I have learned to accept myself as a man.
It’s this I want to focus on; I have been tweeting about my mental health for a year or so. What I have noticed more than anything is how willing people are to open up about their personal mental health. Well…when I see people, I mean on the whole, women.
I have only a handful of male followers and even less who are willing to accept or open up about their mental ill health.
So I’m trying to become in some small way, a role model for men. I’m no hero, which I can assure you. I’m just a guy.
But I am in a unique place as I have a job that would place me in the masculine, hardy man category. The quintessential stereotype for men who can cope and are robust.
But yet, I have a panic disorder.
I am a fire-fighter; I have rescued people from burning building, pulled them from vehicle wreckage, and dragged people from freezing cold water.
But yet, I have a panic disorder.
And that’s ok. It doesn’t define me, it’s a part of me but it’s not all I am. For men we define ourselves against our weakest parts. I see it all the time in the gym –
My arms are small so I will work on them; My legs are small so I will hammer them.
It’s ok to have a weakness. It’s normal, natural and ok. In fact I alluded to a big realisation earlier, when I woke up from my black out I said I felt weakened. I was, but its recognising this weakness, learning to manage it and accept it, which eventually has made me mentally stronger than I have ever been.
I thought telling the guys at my station I have a panic disorder would mean they would lose faith in me, loose respect for me and not treat me as equal. In fact by being honest, opening up about my illness, it has gained me more of their respect than I could ever have imagined.
By showing my weakness I allow people in and to become much closer to me. They in turn have shared their own and a new, stronger bond that I ever thought possible has started to emerge. One which I feel privileged to have accessed.
I still have panic attacks, but I know what they are and they don’t scare me anymore. I just let them pass then move on.
So I hope this helps, well, anyone. But I hope some men read this and decide to take a leap of faith to a new level of strength. The strength to accept yourself, warts and all.
My love to you all
The Anxious Fireman

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f36706273I am Jonny Ward
30 years old
Manchester England
I am a fire-fighter of 8 years
I have a panic disorder

Jonny can be found on Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Stephanie Paige

Should I Have Become A Mother?

My greatest gift in this world is my daughter. She exudes so much love, and yes quite a bit of whininess, but she is a wise and kind being. And I probably never should have had her. I look back on my life and see the pain, the craziness, the hurt that my brain has caused myself and my family that I wonder if I should have ever become a parent in the first place. When recanting my life’s tale, my worst episodes of Depression and Anxiety surround my children… first with my daughter, and then with my former foster son. It is a formidable sign that my body is telling me all these years later:

“Knock, knock, it is your brain calling… ” I listen now, but where would I be if I listened at my third reoccurrence of Depression in college as a twenty year old? Would I even be married? Would my husband have left me then if I said a big NO to having children? I know, it is all a game of “What ifs?”. It isn’t as if I could turn back time.
There are many people in this world to whom parenting seems almost easy when I look at them. They never fell victim to Postpartum Depression, anxiety… They never wished they could leave their spouse and child. They never thought about how horrible they were. Sure there were tears during diaper changes, moments they wanted to scream, but these women went on to have more children. For me, each child had one cause and effect outcome on me: Cause, Anxiety. Effect, Major Depression. Not a normal outcome by any means but one that I sit and think about often.
I should have never become a parent…

How can I say this when I have this beautiful little girl in my life? How she understands her mother’s illnesses and can still love me, how could I say I should not have had her?

If I had known what would happen to me after her birth or after having my former foster son in the house, back then, would I still have desired so much to become pregnant?
My daughter is a gift I should not have been given. This is why I call her my greatest most precious gift. She’s my most delicate gift. And, she’s amazingly perfect to me. Even with some of her minor difficulties, her Generalized Anxiety Disorder, her whininess, her emotions, she is perfect. After watching her mother almost wither away, she didn’t get angry with me over losing her “little brother”. Instead, she was overly worried about losing me. She doesn’t want to lose her Mommy. I am sure what she witnessed from me was extremely scary for her and with her Anxiety diagnosis, I am sure she is more worried than she should ever be. It is not her responsibility to take care of me and I have expressed that to her.

My greatest gift, and to think here I am pondering if my life should have been without her? Please note my past tense in verbiage. Am I a bad mother for saying that?

Put yourself in my shoes for a moment so maybe you can understand. Now bend down and pretend you are tying the laces of my hiking boots. This is just an analogy. Let’s travel back in time, almost nine years ago. You have just given birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl. Life seems euphoric. You cuddle your baby in your arms giving her kisses at every opportunity. You think to yourself, “This is why I carried you for 8 1/2 months, this is why I became a mother… to give and receive unconditional love.” Now picture you are home with this infant and within the first week of her birth you become worried… overly worried. Is she eating enough? Is she sleeping too much? This quickly intensifies to a point at which you are not eating or sleeping. You are just existing as a shell of your former self and this shell is growing hatred toward this babe you so desired and toward yourself. Think about wanting to run away because living seems unbearable. Now envision yourself saying these words, “Yes, I would like to admit myself into the short term psych ward” one month after your baby was born. Imagine the guilt you have for missing 12 days of her short life at the time.
Would you even think about mothering another child?

I did. It wasn’t until many, many years later that I even considered adopting or getting pregnant realistically. Adoption was always a thought swirling around in my head since Sophia was three and my husband was extremely against me giving birth again because he couldn’t relive the Postpartum Mental Illnesses I had. So now, here I am, feeling the strongest I ever felt emotionally, mentally and physically. I am off medication, once again, for the last four years. Nothing can break me. I am invincible. Imagine getting that phone call after going through adoption classes and extreme amounts of paperwork, where someone tells you your family has been chosen. Think about a wide grin with happy tears escaping your eyes. You are living euphoria again. You are finally going to mother another child. You are going to provide them with a loving home. The happiness just boils inside of you. Imagine meeting this little boy you have been chosen for and looking into his eyes realizing he looks more like you than your biological child. Imagine instantly falling in love with him, yearning for the weekends when you, your husband and your daughter would go pick him up and get to play with him. Weeks pass and you start to get anxious about him moving in, about becoming a family unit of four, what you’ve always dreamt about.
Now, think of everything that comes with being a new full-time employee, wife, mother to a young daughter and now adding mother to a toddler with challenges into the mix. Your perfect vision is slowly cracking as you grow with extreme anxiety and worry as this little boy will not eat or drink. Then you get the phone call from the daycare telling you they are kicking him out claiming he is too much work because he doesn’t eat or nap like the other kids. Growing tired and weary, you decide only you can solve this situation and find another daycare where they will “try” him out. The worry continues… will they kick him out too? At this point you have daily conversations at work with Birth to Three, and imagine during one of these days that you receive a phone call from your daughter’s school nurse at the same time concerning a couple of recent anxiety outbursts at school. You now can’t think because your mind is being pulled in so many directions and you have no idea where to start and like the Alpha you are, you still haven’t asked for help. Think about when this once sheltered toddler is being sent home because he is sick. It has been so long, you have forgotten what it is like to have a sick toddler. You are now not sleeping because you wake at the sound of him coughing which is often. Since you are not sleeping, you are become angry and more anxious and now you are too nauseas to eat. Within a few days of worrying who would stay home with him because you had no days since you are new to your job, you start to experience heavy breathing, heart palpitations, dizziness, an explosion of tears… your first real panic attack. Your dream of a family of four is now ruined as you fall victim to Anxiety and a Major Depressive Episode once again leading you into the arms of the hospital’s short term psych ward. Imagine the shame you have for yourself telling yourself it is all your fault you don’t have your son anymore, you don’t have your dream anymore.

Would you think about mothering another child?

This time at the age of thirty-five and entering remission yet again for a 6th time for Depression my answer is a resounding… NO. All that I told you to imagine, I lived. Reliving it has some painful consequences. One of those consequences is my recurring thought of, “Should I ever have been a mother in the first place?”

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Stephanie-PaigeStephanie Paige is a 35 year old mother to 1 who has stuggled with Depression, Anxiety and borderline OCD since age 14. With the strength of her husband, parents, and her daughter, she has survived 6 bouts of Major Depression and has become a huge advocate of Mental Illness.

Stephanie can be found on her blog, and Facebook 

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Stigma Fighters : Christian Fennell

In Death I Dream of You Yet

See me dying, withered and decaying between crisp white sheets. I wait for the prick of the needle. It comes and the warm reprieve takes me again.

I run. Dark and empty city streets. I stop, my heart pounding and resounding in my head. Thin pools of water gathered upon the road begin to ripple. I look behind me, an immeasurable distance back to the birthplace of darkness itself.

I turn back and a two-headed dog with massive jaws that foam and drip sinks both sets of jaws deep into my face. We fall to the cobblestone surface of the road. My faceless head lulls forward. The dog takes it. The heads fight to enter my red dark hole and they hollow me out. They rip and consume the skin from my bones and they eat the bones so all that remains of me is a scull dripping in blood from a scalp that is nothing more than a few splotches of dark hair.

And then I see you sitting at the end of our bed, wrapped in your heavy white bathrobe, your skin fresh and pink from a warm tub. And even with the stain of this life worn so heavy upon your face, you are beautiful. Your light blue eyes, long black hair, and lips that crave red lipstick still all shine, despite the small fog that settles at the front of your brain, goes away, comes back and settles again.

I wake in the dark, the room silent and thick with the smell of my pending death.

I open my eyes—where? I remember and close them again.

Together on the porch stairs we leaned back with the sun warming on our faces and we watched our four young children walk down our long shaded driveway. They walk and talk and play and stop to see the horses come to the white post and rail fence to see them off. The horses’ tails flicking at flies, the school bus honking and waiting.

We smoked and we talked and time passed in our words like a faint breeze across our world—a world that was ours for the making.

You wore faded and ripped jeans and a white tank top and we lay back flat against the warm porch boards and made love in the sunlight.

That night, you drank a bottle of red wine. You took another one with you, and you drove away. You drove down a dark country road. You drove onto an irrigated field of beans, and you ran a jagged piece of green glass across your wrist. They said you wouldn’t make it. That’s what they said. But you did. You stayed.

The children are here now, standing before me, so beautiful, still and quiet; their sad, young eyes filled with such fear and uncertainty.

The needle comes and I go again.

You wake from a late morning nap and walk to the chair by the small side window and sit looking out at a cool autumn day without sun. You watch for a while, crisp red-brown leaves whirling and tumbling down the vacant road. You look at me, and I can see it, the very same as if it were an object you held in your hands before me. Your wellness has surrendered, betraying you again—there, our hopes held tight beneath warm sheets in the night—gone, and fallen away again, and this pain, harbored in a darkness so utterly whole you know it must come from somewhere beyond even yourself. And it won’t be put off. Not by doctors, not by meds., by me, by you, not by the letting of your own blood. It will come.

You draw a warm tub and drink a glass of red wine. You lean your head back and cry, long and silent again. You put on your heavy white bathrobe and walk to our room and sit at the end of our bed.
I dream that I wake and see you there and you are beautiful.

We talk and we laugh, twenty years warmed by the sun breaking through the open window, and we stay like this—for a very long time. Somewhere in the house the kids yell and scream. One of us should go. “Please,” I hear myself saying. “Stay.” The tears that come now are mine.

I wake and think back to that day not long after we moved to this little house in town. I was not yet sick. I went down into the basement. I can’t remember why. I came back up, and you were gone. And it was not like at the farm; there were too many places for you to go—too many side streets, dead-end streets, parks and strip malls.

They found you alone in the night parked behind an empty building. Gone. Empty bottles filled with what? Squeezed tight at your feet.

I wake, unaware I’ve been sleeping. I’m confused and unable to distinguish myself from the darkness. I feel a warm touch upon my face. A whisper: “In the guardianship of perfect silence, all shall be known.”

Your eyes come—so blue and clear and there’s a breeze. Your long hair sways. Your red lips before me—our feet are entwined, twisting and twirling in soft white sand on a vast empty beach I have never seen before. And we dance. A dance of time. All our moments spent.

*   *   *

dad-sunglassesChristian Fennell, having recently completed his first novel, URRAM HILL, a William Faulkner – William Wisdom 2014 unpublished novel award semi-finalist, is currently working on his next novel, THE MONKEY KING. His short stories have appeared in a number of literary magazines and collected works, including: Tincture, Spark: A Creative Anthology, Carnival Magazine and Liquid Imagination, among others. His short story, “Under the Midnight Sun”, was an Eric Hoffer Award, Best New Writing, 2015, finalist. In addition to writing fiction, Christian is the Fiction Editor at the Prague Revue.

He resides in rural Ontario.

Christian can be found on his blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Tom Roberts

TURNING A FAMILY CURSE INTO A BLESSING

My name is Tom and I was diagnosed on Good Friday 1993 with bipolar disorder. The diagnosis came too late to save my marriage and my career as a professor of broadcasting at a small Christian college in Arkansas. It could have saved my brother’s life, too, but he committed suicide a year earlier. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder while serving in the Army, but discharged without ever receiving treatment. He was too afraid of stigma to seek psychiatric treatment once discharged. Our step-sister took her life five years later after several attempted suicides in the midst of major depression and drug abuse. The first symptoms of manic-depression began in my first year of college. Major depression was written off by family and friends as something I could control if I only prayed more.
Mania expressed itself in hyper-sexuality with women other than my wife, grandiosity in performing on radio and television as a broadcast journalist and on stage and later screen as an actor. A major depression in 1988 forced me to commit myself to a psychiatric hospital where I was given the worst antidepressant that can be given to a manic-depressive. It sent me to the moon and I chose to leave my family and faculty position to move to Hollywood where I was convinced I could make a living as an actor. Depression returned once the meds ran out and I was on a bus back to Arkansas six months later to try to rescue my marriage and teaching position, but it was all gone.
I supported myself as a janitor and lived in an unheated cabin in the country. It was five years before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a physician friend told me I was “acting kind of crazy and scaring people”. He strongly suggested I see a psychiatrist who gave me the diagnosis after I talked non-stop for an hour. My journey began. It continues in recovery today by speaking to others about my experience, strength and hope and to end stigma because it discourages people like my brother and sister from getting help.

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Tom-RobertsTom Roberts is a speaker and writer about mental illness and stigma. He speaks from the perspective of the brother of two suicide victims and as one who has struggled with bipolar disorder.

Tom is a former broadcast journalist working at local network affiliates and as a freelance reporter for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and The Voice of America. Tom taught broadcast journalism eight years at John Brown University and Technical Communication at UC-Berkeley Extension for five years.

Tom is a professional actor and voice-over artist. His credits include “The Sara Winchester Story” for the Nippon Television Network, Tokyo. He is represented by IDIOM Worldwide, Los Angeles.

Tom lives in Huntington Beach, CA. and enjoys time with his grandchildren.

Tom can be found on his blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Stephanie Paige

Mommy Is Not Going To Kill Herself

Recently my young daughter, Sophia, has forced me to listen to a popular local radio station. Normally, I enjoy what I call classic rock (or 80s rock which makes me feel old now that it’s called ‘classic’). I gave in to her request being that her recital songs play on this station and I wanting to be a cool mom decided to learn today’s music. Honestly, with what comes next it wouldn’t of mattered what radio station was on.

On our day off, Presidents Day, my 8 year old daughter and I had a day of fun. This day included the most fun activity of all… visiting my psychiatrist. Note sarcasm. Because of this I had to go to CVS to pick up my monthly medications. Sophia was with me. While we waited for them to be filled, Sophia was perusing the magazines… Then she asked…
“What’s going on with Bobbi Kristina (Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown’s daughter)?”

Tough one. How do I explain this, mental illness, anxiety, depression and ultimately suicide to an 8 year old who suffers from anxiety herself and tends to turn everything into a catastrophe?! I thought about this for a minute.

I received some slack about talking to Sophia about this but being that she can read, suffers herself and has just witnessed her mother’s sixth breakdown with a Major Depressive episode and Anxiety, I felt I had to tell her something.

I told Sophia that Bobbi Kristina suffers from Depression like Mommy does. I then explained that some people who suffer from Depression feel that the only way to escape their pain and sadness is by taking their own life. I quickly followed that with…

“Don’t worry, Mommy is not going to kill herself. I’ve never ever had those thoughts. I’ve only had thoughts of running away. I NEVER had thoughts of killing myself.”

I still find it unfathomable that I had to explain suicide to my child. I had no idea what would follow as Sophia’s Anxiety Attacks can be triggered by almost anything and forces her to freak out at a moments notice.
Then she asked about herself. I told her for Mommy, Anxiety is a major cause of my Depression but I’m an adult. I told her I know what to look for in her and right now Anxiety is her only issue.

Luckily, my explanation was enough for her and no anxiety attack followed.
Well, Sophia is a big thinker. She constantly thinks about everything. In the car the following morning listening to her radio station, the DJ started to list off some news items starting with Bobbi Kristina and how she was still on life support but getting worse and her organs were beginning to fail. Sophia perked up and once again asked about her.

I explained that Bobbi Kristina must have been really depressed and tried to take her own life but she didn’t succeed. She then asked if she was okay. I told her that although she is still alive, she did a lot of damage to her body and most likely she will die soon.

Sophia then asked, “Mommy, are you going to do that?”

“No sweetie. Mommy is not going to kill herself.”

She then told me how she was going to talk with her therapist about this at the next appointment and added that maybe she shouldn’t listen to this radio station.

All this has left me in awe of her. At 8, she’s picked up news by reading magazine covers and by little snippets on the radio. I can’t hide everything from her. Most of me wanted to brush off the topic and lie to her telling her Bobbi would be okay but I just couldn’t. This little girl has seen me shaking, crying, dry heaving, delusional. She’s seen me at my worst and is old enough to remember and know Mommy is sick. This little girl suffers herself with Anxiety which makes her nauseous and delusional. I had to tell her something.

Mental Illness is real. It affects all ages. It plays with your mind. It plays with your body. Unfortunately, it can occur in children. Unfortunately, children can witness their parents. My child both suffers and has witnessed her mother’s suffering. I chose to explain it to her in a way an 8 year old would understand. I chose to break the stigma.

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Stephanie-PaigeStephanie Paige is a 35 year old mother to 1 who has stuggled with Depression, Anxiety and borderline OCD since age 14. With the strength of her husband, parents, and her daughter, she has survived 6 bouts of Major Depression and has become a huge advocate of Mental Illness.

Stephanie can be found on her blog, and Facebook 

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Stigma Fighters: John Ambrose

The Darker Side of Synesthesia

I consider myself a synesthete. Sight, sound, and touch are a single, unified sense for me. Input from one triggers immediate, involuntary input from the other two, brings immediate emotional and physiological changes.

A window creaks: a flash of blue; parts of my body feel like they’re ballooning away; my usual tinnitus gets louder; my heart races; adrenaline pumps; my breathing becomes rapid and shallow. My reptilian brain takes over. In this moment, I’m in actual, physical danger.

A window creaks, and it’s fight or flight.

Along with this, the existence of a 94 percentile point gap between separate IQ scores brings me to consider myself as having a form of high-functioning autism: depending on what I’m having to process, I function either with absolute fluidity of thought, or from within the clinical Borderline range.

Though I wouldn’t be aware of either of these things until my late twenties, as far as I know, each of these have been with me since birth. But for a child, what you are is simply “what is”. For a child, there’s no reason to assume that it’s different for anyone else.

The first time I thought about suicide, I was five.

All I knew was that I wanted everything to go blank. I was overloaded constantly. I now understand these moments as the products of both my synesthesia and my wide oscillations in brain functioning, but at the time they were simply sudden, enveloping states of terror. My tantrums sometimes involved the throwing of objects or the brandishing of kitchen knives.

By the time I was socially aware enough to understand the concept of “suicide”, rare was the day where I didn’t find myself thinking of dozens of ways in which I could make this happen. By the time I was twelve, all manner of situations were being imagined by my young self. When my senses were being overloaded, when my mind was dropping to its base, these fantasies would pour into my head.

I began to spend energy in performing. I tempered my tantrums, worked to keep them from erupting. I learned to send the energy elsewhere: I’d spend everything I had in keeping myself absolutely still, in keeping myself quiet and unassuming.

I moved into puberty. The sensations of being overloaded greatly increased. I began to get more and more specific with my death fantasies. I found myself fighting sudden urges to hit people or lash out verbally; these scared me very much, especially when the averted targets were friends or loved ones. The energy needed to keep this all hidden increased exponentially.

By the end of my senior year of high school, I’d had enough. I was done.

A few months before graduating, I downed four times the lethal dose of an OTC medication. Then I went to bed.

Somehow, I woke up, vomiting. Hundreds of partially digested pills lay in the mess on my bedroom carpet. I stood. I tried to stand. My legs shook and gave out. I fell into the warm puddle at my feet. I slept there. I went to school the next day.

Years later, in college, I — for the first time — found actual delight in academic pursuits. I could finally work at my own pace, could finally harness the natural structure of my brain. When I was clear of mind, I worked. When I wasn’t, I didn’t. There was no plan in this. It naturally came to be. I’d have days and days of barely sleeping, of tearing through syllabi. I’d have days and days of nothing but sleeping in, of smoking pot and watching The X-Files.

I made dean’s list a few times in this way.

But even then, I continued to exist in a constant state of tension and fear and anxiety, of needing to spend, spend, spend energy in keeping up the practiced outward appearance of the most relaxed human one could ever hope to meet. This is how I survived as a social animal. It’s all I knew how to do.

Not one of my college friends ever saw me “break”, ever saw me truly lose my reins. By this time, I’d had almost two decades of practice, and I was very good at it. Once in a while, close friends would catch a glimpse of the currents running under the surface. I’d make simple excuses. I was “tired” a lot.

I graduated. I moved back home. I found sporadic seasonal and temp work.

But the hidden me was creeping up through the cracks again. To my horror, I found that my late-twenties self had much less energy to give toward my practiced, laid-back sheen. I almost “broke” at several workplaces, having sensory overloads and mental oscillations bring me to the verge of physically assaulting co-workers and clients alike. No matter how much I enjoyed a job, this tipping point would come. The temporary ones would usually run their course as I’d get to this place. In others, I simply walked away.

I began to think about those pills. It would happen again.

I was sure of it.

But this time was different. I’d had enough of quitting jobs I enjoyed. I’d had enough of keeping those I loved at a distance.

I entered into a local hospital’s outpatient psychiatric program.

For three years, I went to work on myself. I learned about my brain. I learned about the tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive senses, about how to reduce my overloads by putting myself on “sensory diets”. I taught myself a non-verbal performance vocabulary, one to help me keep my mind active and fluid when I could feel it starting to go Borderline.

Slowly, the ever-present flood of fear and anxiety began to fade.

Now, two years out of the program, I feel as if I’m in a second childhood, relearning the basic skills of life with all this new knowledge at hand.

But it’s alright.

I’m alive.

I get to try, try again.

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John_AmbroseJohn Ambrose has a B.A. in Creative Writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. He’s spent 17 seasons on staff with both high school marching bands and Drum Corps International ensembles, teaching spatial awareness and body technique for the moving musician. He lives in Maine.

John can be found on Facebook

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Stigma Fighters : Mu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mu can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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