Stigma Fighters : Colby Dahlia

PTSD – My Own Personal Human Bondage
I may not have went to war to have the traumatic effects of PTSD, but I do have the emotional capacity to be a bit broken down by them. My life started out dramatically to two parents who never really gave a shit of whether I lived or died. I was forced off on a relative to raise. I was raised in a god fearing home. I learned early on not to speak unless spoken to. I learned how to conceal all emotions for fear of what was to come if I was either happy or sad. There were times when the belt would come out that I wondered if she would ever quit hitting me. I prayed for escape. I prayed that the people who gave me life would love me enough to come rescue me. My prayers went unanswered for over 15 years. After 15 years of mental and physical abuse, my abuser died a horrible yet fitting death. I was horrified at her passing, not because she was gone, but because I was relieved that she was gone. What kind of person was I to be glad that she was dead?

Over the next 15 years of my life, out of guilt I think, I picked up where she left off. I never harmed myself physically, but mentally I abused myself. I have used the term underachiever, but I believe that is a lie I tell myself. I self sabotage every aspect of my life. I run people off before they have the chance to love me and seriously hurt me. At nearly 37 years old I still huddle in a corner when people act aggressively around me. I wish there was a switch that I could turn off to get through all of the negative that has happened in my life, but I am not foolish enough to believe that. I know it will take work and time. It is something that I need, but more importantly my children need. I need to be the example of a strong and thriving woman for my daughter so she can become one also. Will I ever get past the abuse both mental and physical? I don’t know, but I will not quit until there is no breath left in my body.

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1636699517560I am a single mom with two at home. One of my children are intellectually disabled and right now is my main priority.

Colby can be found at her blog

 

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Stigma Fighters : Bri Clark

Professional Anxiety: Unmedicated, Unapologetic and Successful

Hello, my name is Bri Clark and I suffer from anxiety and depression. Because they are like twins. Only they are like ying and yang twins. Moreover, they are totally female because only women can ride someone like these two bitches do me. Beyond that, I have four beautiful children, I have been an entrepreneur since I was 18 (I’m 32 now.) and I have been married for 15 years. I own a publishing house that caters to romantic fiction, House of Belle Press. (I’m a southern belle.) I’m an award winning author. In 2011, I launched Belle Consulting a social media marketing company that works exclusively with small business, entrepreneurs, authors, and speakers. Think of the little guy who doesn’t have a big marketing budget and that’s who I work with.
And I’ve done all that while on and off medication for depression and anxiety. Currently I am not on anything and that is ok. Recently I have considered getting on something again. That’s ok too. And every month when I’m menstrual I find that I sometimes may need a Propanol. (What woman doesn’t?)
Having these afflictions can make life working from home especially hard. There are times that I want to shut down, read romance novels, or times where I want to just move. I want to do anything but sit at the computer and work. I’d rather paint a wall, rearrange furniture or go shopping. Because I am fidgety. Because I feel smothered, overwhelmed, or unappreciated.And what’s worse these feelings can come at anytime, for any reason, or for no reason at all.

For those “episodes” as I call them I create what I call the coping list. These are the list of things I need to do for my businesses that are absolutely imperative. Then I break them down by day. In my mind I tell myself that this is all I need to do each day. Once I’m done I can shut down or do something else I WANT to do.
This doesn’t mean I don’t love my job. This doesn’t mean that I don’t want to work for my clients. It just means I was having a bad day, or a bad week.
Now at times there are episodes that are launched by bad news. Like that time that my best friend of two years, my mentor, and client fired me via email. She repeatedly tried to contact me but I was so devastated that I couldn’t even respond. Every time I saw her phone number on my phone or saw her name on email or social media I would run to the bathroom with vomiting spells or diarrhea. In order to be able to function I had to block all contact. I was so upset that when I called my husband he left work to come and be with me. This is a very rare occasion. (You’ll just have to take my word for it.) For the past six months I have sequestered myself in my home after once having a very prosperous and rewarding networking career. I don’t want to take the risk of seeing her or having to explain how I once was so active in her organization and then one day I’m gone.

Other people may think that this a very drastic and counterproductive situation but in reality it’s me honoring my emotions. After some time I have been able to think through the situation. And I’ve learned the firing isn’t really the whole trigger. While that definitely hurt me it was the execution. I deserved to be treated better.

At the end of the day my life has changed dramatically.
I now spend a lot more time at home, a new home my husband and I purchased. I have a fantastic home office in a central location that allows me to have consultations easily. I’m more available to serve my friends and family. And my dog pack, did I mention I have four small dogs, are super excited to have me around.

While the trigger wasn’t the best, my life has catapulted into a new and exciting direction. The time I used to spend networking in my community I spend networking online. (This is how I used to do it when I launched my business in 2011.) Some people have come in my life that I am learning to adore, like Sarah Fader. (Hugs and kisses to her) At the end of the day I have to honor myself and acknowledge that I have mental illness. And when I have episodes I need to have grace for myself. By showing myself grace I am more prone to have grace for those around me too.
Don’t you think?

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10931378_10203743758057756_8822276755137517517_nBri Clark is a real example of redemption and renewal. Growing penniless in the South, Bri learned street smarts while caring for her brother in a broken home. She watched her mother work several jobs to care for their small family. Once her brother could fend for himself, Bri moved on to a series of bad choices including leaving school and living on her own. Rebelliousness was a strong understatement to describe those formative years. As a teenager, her wakeup call came from a fight with brass knuckles and a judge that gave her a choice of shaping up or spending time in jail. She took that opportunity and found a way to moved up from the streets. She ended up co-owning an extremely successful construction business. She lived the high life until the real estate crash when she lost everything. She moved west and found herself living with her husband and 4 kids in a 900 square foot apartment. She now fills her time, writing, blogging, owning a publishing house, a marketing company, speaking on social media and sharing her southern culture. Her unique background gives her writing a raw sensibility. She understands what it takes to overcome life’s obstacles. She often tells friends, “I can do poor. I’m good at poor. It’s prosperity that I’m not used to.” Bri and her husband Chris live in Boise. Bri is known as the Belle of Boise for her true southern accent, bold demeanor and hospitable nature.

Bri can be found:

Website   |   Facebook  |  Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Carisa Caddle

First of all, howdy y’all! My name is Carisa. I’m 38 years old. Before we get too deep into the sludge of shit I constantly weigh through daily, I’d like to tell you how and why I chose to submit this essay to Stigma Fighters.

I was asked by a dear friend, whom is also a Bipolar page owner on Facebook, as well as a Stigma Fighter, to participate in an exciting opportunity. She asked if I would consider telling my story for Stigma Fighters about my own personal battle surviving thus far with a few mental illnesses I have been diagnosed with. We had actually “met” through social media, but never in person. When she asked, I just started bawling. It caught both of us off guard I think. Even though the two of live on different continents, she immediately went into support mode. I told her that they were happy tears.

My true talent used to be to write, but it’s been years. So, what do you give a chick that likes to write, raise awareness, and time to dedicate to the cause by researching and writing? Just turn me loose and watch me go! Here is a little piece of my story:

I am a wife, daughter, sister, aunt, step-mom, a Mema, an absolute love struck mama to my four fur babies, and a loyal friend. I love as deeply as I loathe. There simply is no in between in my world. The relationships that I do have, though few, are extremely intense. My relationships have always been this way. Whether that is due to my illness or a simple personality trait, I have no idea. However, if one gives me so much as an inkling that they have an ulterior motive, I will simply walk away without looking back. Some people may see that as cold-hearted. I see that as perfectly normal and also a survival technique.

I was diagnosed 3 years ago as having Bipolar 1, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and Seasonal Affective Disorder. I also have a “Dual Diagnosis,” which translates to Bipolar + Substance Abuse. This is very common with people who live with mental illness. Some, though not all of us, self-medicate. It’s a classic textbook symptom that can sound so minor when you read it, yet living it is anything but minor.

Today I can step back and recognize the culprit of mental illness throughout my families. It is apparent on both sides of my family that members have been living with mental illness. There have been quite a few voluntary and involuntarily commitments to psychiatric facilities in my family, including two of my own. There have been family members that have undergone Electroshock therapy and other treatments. And, unfortunately some just got tired of fighting, and the beast won. I have lost family to suicide. Even knowing all of this, and living all of this, it’s still a battle when you fight it yourself.

I knew fairly early in life that there was something different about me. I would just sob over gruesome images while other kids were unaffected. When I was about twelve years old I wrote my first suicide note. I would write it, lay it on the table for my parents to find, but I always confiscated it before they returned from work. However, that did NOT mean I had an epiphany that life was grand. I was just afraid to go through with it. I wrote hundreds of these letters over the years, but today I’m glad I was too frightened to actually attempt it.

My first psychiatric appointment was when I was seventeen years old. Well, I didn’t have time for that shit. I was entering college and partying was the only thing that I was interested in. Eventually I flunked out of college and became a full time functioning addict instead of the shining student I had aspired to be. After leaving campus I started drug binging. However I felt depended on the drug I chose to use. My truth may hurt me, but if it helps someone else then it’s worth me being honest.

I once again sought help in 2001, but was denied because I didn’t have insurance. I did get it together for a while, but ended up successfully climbing the corporate ladder blinded by drugs. I thought I was justified, that as long as I was working, not stealing, and acting like a functioning member of society, then I was in control. I was oh-so wrong.

I was admitted for my first inpatient treatment in 2002 and my second one was in 2013 after finally getting diagnosed. I’m therapist, Doctor and medication compliant, though I feel the meds kill the very fiber of my soul. But how do you choose over uncontrollable emotions or absolute numbness? I don’t think there is a winning answer here.

I am my own worst enemy. I self-harm using drugs in ways you would never dream of. I would never want to have to do this to someone else. Or even allow them to do to me. This is my story. My survival.

Speaking of stigma, my primary care refused to see me because I refused to come off the psychiatric medicines, so I changed doctors immediately. Yes, stigma is very much alive in the medical field as well.

Today, I’m putting one foot in front of another & trying to live in the moment. I would like to express my gratitude for asking me to be a part of this amazing journey of awareness. I’m truly honored.

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IMG_20150130_144858_050I am a tried and true Southern Belle from rural North Carolina, but do not let that fool you. I always have a little something up my sleeve.

Carisa & her right hand admins can be found at www.BipolarKraze on Facebook. We look forward to hearing from you!

Carisa can be found on Facebook and her website

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Stigma Fighters : Jennifer Bross

In an instant I finally felt life being restored to my body. It felt like volts of electricity coursing through my veins. As the bright lights begin to come into focus, I hear faint voices becoming stronger. Did I make into the other dimension? I feel suffocated by the tube in my throat and taste the sulfur they dumped down my throat. I know I have failed. I would never have guessed that after twenty years of wreckage that stripped me of my freedom and my ability to mentally and financially take care of myself and my daughter, That I would be finally handed the diagnosis of bipolar 1 and schizoaffective disorder

I was 19 years old when I first attempted to take my life. It was that year that I had lost my brother in a plane crash and I as well as the professionals were not aware that this emotional tragedy awakened bipolar that lurked in my DNA. After another suicide attempt one year later, I was sent home with a diagnosis of depression along with a script of an anti-depressant and a shit load of Klonopin. Nobody would listen to me that I still was not feeling right mentally. I did not have support from my family, as they did not believe in mental health; partly because they were in denial. I then turned to alcohol and a dark fascination with death. I was losing sanity and became more unstable by the day.

Reckless and dangerous behavior became the norm for me. I only operated on two emotions at that time, extremely sad or extremely angry. I began drinking with a crowd that invited my behavior. Not one of them would bat an eye if I started raging because that was the only thing I knew to do to erase the intense anger and irritation. That type of behavior made me get tangled up in the legal system and being labeled an alcoholic and a nuisance. Other suicide attempts followed leaving me with the same diagnosis of depression/anxiety.

The summer of 2013 is when I finally lost complete touch of reality. I was hearing voices and completely paranoid that people were out to harm me. I began drinking quite heavily to try and stop the anxiety and numb the fear. It got to the point where I had to abruptly quit my job. One day I drove around for hours polishing off fifths of vodka because that’s where I finally thought was a safe place. It was far from it, I ended up causing two separate accidents because I was running away from dark and scary figments of my imagination. My stay at the hospital was three weeks and in that time I was finally diagnosed with bipolar 1 and schizoaffective disorder.

I was so relieved about my diagnosis and I was no longer in fear even though I was facing a possible sentence of 2 to 5 years in prison for multiple DUIs. I fought hard to achieve stability and spent numerous lonely nights gathering up as much information I could on my illness. I was going to prove people and the legal system that I was just not another drunken nuisance and that there are serious mental issues creating such behavior. I know we should all take responsibility for our actions and to serve our consequences for our behavior but it made me feel more comfortable having an explanation. At my sentencing hearing, I was able to converse with the Judge with regards to my illness and my treatment. He took it under consideration and I am now currently serving a 2 year sentence on house arrest instead of prison with no eligibility for a driver’s license until December of 2016.

I admit that there are some days where I don’t think I’ll make it through this. Most days it feels like my brain is trying to kill me and I am trapped in a cage with limited resources to make it better but I make it. I know that each day I become stronger at managing this illness. I’m not afraid to say I am bipolar because this illness has and will define me. It has made me the warrior I am today.

I am working on a project with regards to the Judicial system stigmatizing repeat offenders for alcohol/drug related crimes. Here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania we have rehabilitative programs for such repeated crimes but they refuse to evaluate any of these offenders for possible mental health issues while just treating the substance abuse issues. Although, they claim that their treatment plan is 90% successful, I am currently gathering the pertinent information to show that the program’s success rate at this time projects a smaller percentage. Statistics show that 1 of every 3 repeat offender have an underlying and undetected mental health issue. If my petition goes according to plan, such individuals would be ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluations in hopes of finding the correct treatment plan. Our Judicial system is one of the biggest offenders of stigma and even if it takes one small change more change will follow.

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sf-picA mother of 15 year old Daughter and a co-fur baby mom to two spunky West Highland Whites. I’m currently weathering my storm and am in hopes to make a few changes that can impact better treatment plans for the mentally ill caught up in the legal system. Also, hoping to work in the mental health field some day.

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Stigma Fighters : SharonAnn O’Reilly

Take My Hand
I have decided to write about some of my own experience regarding depression. I’ve had it from about the age of 11, but not diagnosed officially until well into my 20’s and had children of my own.

I can’t remember a time when depression wasn’t there. People who have never had it can’t really understand it. I guess they can try, and they can be understanding about it but until you actually experience it, I don’t think you can truly understand. It’s not about sitting around all day crying. Though some people do. In fact some people go from being extremely happy to being extremely sad within minutes. Sometimes when you wake up in the morning you’re disappointed to still be alive. Even though you know deep down that life is precious. Sometimes you get anxious about the minutia of every day life, sometimes you couldn’t care less. In my darkest moments I’ve both thought about and tried to end my pain. Luckily my children give me a reason to live. I’m lucky cause I’ve got someone to love me, but it took a lot of time and effort to allow them to love me. I built up walls to protect myself but they also kept the good people out. You feel you’re not worthy of love, and you also don’t love yourself so how can anyone else?
I’ve had people saying the usual stuff. Give yourself a shake, get yourself out of it, cop on, you’re so lucky and so on. When you’re in the throes of a low you’re incapable of seeing the bright side. You feel like a burden to the people around you and that they wouldn’t miss you if you go. That they would be better off if you weren’t around, and that your pain would be gone if you were. So when people say that suicide is a cowardly way out, they couldn’t be more wrong. In your head it’s the most self less thing to do. In your head it’s best for everyone. So many people say they had no idea I felt that way, but that’s the key. The mask you put on to hide your true feelings. And nobody knows it’s a mask until it’s too late. Can you imagine being in so much pain that you just want it to end?

Another myth…having money etc stops you being depressed. It doesn’t.

Depression doesn’t care if you live in a mansion or on the streets. I know people who look on the outside like they have everything a person could want yet they’re still depressed. I also know people who have nothing and are ecstatic.

When I’m down I withdraw from everything and everyone. The walls come back up and I go very quiet. I know the signs now and can deal with it a bit better. I would describe it as being in my own soundproof bubble, watching everyone around me yet not being a part of it. I have people who care enough to break through and take my hand and help me get back on the up again
I really wish for more openness and understanding from society regarding mental health. If a person has a gaping wound or a broken bone they get recognition and sympathy. What about the broken people? What about the invisible scars? What about the wounds you can’t see? Everyone should be educated in the signs and symptoms of depression, especially parents. It can happen at any age. Please don’t be too quick to judge if a person can’t cope. Try to be understanding and hold out a helping hand to them. Let them know they’re not alone. It’s human nature to want to feel loved and needed.

Sometimes you have to shut your eyes in order to see.

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I am a teacher with my own business, three wonderful grown up children, and work in the community sector. I have had depression since around the age of 11, but wasn’t officially diagnosed until my 20s. Even then I was mis diagnosed. I try to help others with depression, by lending an ear, a shoulder, a helping hand.

SharonAnn can be found on Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: EMM, not Emma.

Mental illness

People assume you aren’t sick
unless they see the sickness on your skin
like scars forming a map of all the ways you’re hurting.

My heart is a prison of Have you tried?
Have you tried exercising? Have you tried eating better?
Have you tried not being sad, not being sick?
Have you tried being more like me?
Have you tried shutting up?

Yes, I have tried. Yes, I am still trying,
and yes, I am still sick.

Sometimes monsters are invisible, and
sometimes demons attack you from the inside.
Just because you cannot see the claws and the teeth
does not mean they aren’t ripping through me.
Pain does not need to be seen to be felt.

Telling me there is no problem
won’t solve the problem.

This is not how miracles are born.
This is not how sickness works.”

― Emm Roy, The First Step

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Emm Roy is a 23 year old Canadian illustrator most known for her blog Positive Doodles in which she draws cartoon animals saying positive and inspirational messages.

Stigma Fighters: Julie A. Fast

Dare to Share! My Bipolar Disorder Mood Swing Success Story
By Julie A. Fast

I’ve only been introduced to myself over the past few years. Up until then, it was a daily struggle to keep my constant, chronic, overwhelming and downright vicious bipolar disorder under control. From my diagnosis of ultradian rapid cycling bipolar 2 with psychotic features at age 31 in 1995, through my medication tribulation and triumphs, through 13 bilateral ECT treatments (it’s not shock therapy!) and writing six books about bipolar disorder and depression, my bipolar disorder simply wouldn’t let me know who I was outside of the illness.

I knew I was in there. I saw glimpses of myself in the hours I was able to just sit and do something without my brain telling me what to think, do and say, but they were hard fought accomplishments instead of moments of ease. I had 312 mood swings in 2012 and despite my daily goal of being stable when I went to bed every night, the mood swings were relentless. I was consistently depressed while sleeping and often woke up crying in the middle of the night. I feared for my safety. Then it all changed.

Today, 20 years after my diagnosis and over 30 years since my first hypomanic episode in Europe at age 17, I know who I am. Bipolar disorder is under control.I have to repeat that sentence. My bipolar disorder is under control and has been for two years. I still have mood swings and am more vigilant with my management plan than I have ever been, but it’s child’s play compared to the trauma I experienced for over 20 years. My motto to TREAT BIPOLAR DISORDER FIRST has not changed. But wow, it’s so much easier now that I know what this illness looks like, what works and what doesn’t work and who I can and can’t let into my life. I’m getting to know myself. I had no idea what I was like outside of the illness. It has certainly been fascinating to see how I react to life now that I get to choose my emotions instead of having them dictated to me by an ill brain.

I was suicidal a few weeks ago and amazingly was able to separate myself from the episode and observe what had triggered the suicidal symptoms and how the bipolar disorder was reacting to the situation. I said to myself, ‘What does Julie want to do about this situation?’ and I made a decision from that person and not the scared, suicidal, crying, hopeless person I could see in the chair. I was so sick in that moment I tried to hide my face from the world with a blanket. The episode lasted a few hours and then (after using my management skills), IT WAS GONE. The mood swings that once lasted years now appear and then leave because I know what to do when I get sick. This is the only way to live and I want it for all people with bipolar disorder. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you. Stigma keeps us from sharing our stories.

I remember when I was first diagnosed- the year after my then partner Ivan was diagnosed with bipolar one. (My book Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder is about how we managed Ivan’s and ultimately my bipolar disorder together.) I thought, if all of the people in the WORLD who have bipolar disorder simply stood up at once, we would no longer be ashamed because the world would shake from so many people standing up at the same time! Maybe it will still happen one day. ;) Stigma Fighters shares this dream. We are so much stronger when we share our stories with humor, pain and honesty and then explain that even though it’s a struggle and it takes a lot of work and support, we do eventually get to meet our real selves and experience the world from a place of joy and stability.
We can do it together!
Julie

Bonus! I’d like to share the #1 strategy that eventually tipped me into the stability world- a place I never thought I would even get to visit! This example relates to bipolar disorder, but it works with any mental health disorder.
1. MICRO MANAGE YOUR MOOD SWINGS: Learn the smallest signs of a mood swing, write them down, memorize them, share the information with others and make a promise to yourself that you will micro manage the heck out of bipolar disorder for the rest of your life. This illness is tricky, sneaky, cruel and devastating, but it’s not complicated. Mania, depression, anxiety, ADD symptoms and psychosis all have a pattern and once you learn YOUR pattern from the moment your symptoms start, you can stop the mood swings before they go too far. My bipolar disorder got better year by year because I paid attention to the minutiae of my mood swings and learned the signs that I was getting sick. I then taught every person in my life how to help me notice the signs and speak up when it was obvious I was in the grips of a mood swing and couldn’t see I was sick. This took me out of crisis control and put me in the manager’s seat.

All of my work is based off of this simple concept. Here’s an example. My hypomania tends to be euphoric and it’s very, very seductive when it starts. Before I taught myself to recognize the beginning signs of a mood swing, I never realized I was sick until AFTER the money was spent, the stranger was slept with, the relationship was left or the herpes had been contracted. Now, I can often tell the moment the mania starts because my vision clears and colors become heightened. It’s subtle, but it’s very obvious now that I know what to look for. I also feel a tingling sensation all over my body as though my cells are shimmering. If my mania progresses, I have the thought, ‘I’m not manic. This is the real me!’ as my brain tries to talk me out of taking care of myself. This is ALWAYS a sign that I’m manic as is my urge to tell people to shut up and stop ruining my fun who point out that I’m talking a little fast and I seem a little over excited about my new set of Sharpies and the huge mind map I just made for the renovation of my web pages. Ha!

If you have bipolar disorder or any other mental health disorder where you need to manage your moods, you can make a very simple list of the first symptoms you experience when a mood change begins. To continue with the euphoric mania example, you can write down the physical changes you experience when euphoric mania is starting. Notice your eyes, how you hold your shoulders, the shine of your hair and the gloss of your skin- it’s not a coincidence that people in a euphoric manic episode can basically get anyone interested in them just by walking into the room. As my friend Dr. Jay Carter taught me, euphoric mania switches off the frontal lobes that constantly tell us we are not good enough, handsome enough, smart enough or rich enough and as a consequence, we walk into situations in our full physical glory and conquer the world. These start as subtle signs- the skin that looked gray and old when you were depressed suddenly seems pink, healthy and covered in glitter when you look into the mirror.

Clothes hang differently on your body and there is a spring in your step- literally. It’s so, so easy to miss these physical signs of mania as they feel so good and have such a positive effect at the beginning that you can’t imagine how they could be dangerous. Learning to stop the mania during these beginning symptoms changed my life. It doesn’t always work. I still get caught by this illness and often realize I’m manic after I have a brand new set of metallic Sharpies, but it’s much more rare than it used to be. Sharing my symptoms also gave control to the people who care about me as they can quickly figure out why I’m acting so oddly and tell me that I need to manage the bipolar immediately. They also know I will ALWAYS say, I’m not manic! and will then go into my room and face the painful reality that it’s back again.

Teaching myself to manage this illness took time- getting used to what bipolar disorder does to me and coming to terms with the reality that it’s not going away any time soon helped me get my life back.
I wish the same for you! Julie

julieFast-430.d_8x10_Matte-small-for-FB-2014

Julie A. Fast is a six time bestselling mental health author, speaker and coach who lives with bipolar disorder.  Her books include Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder: A Four Step Plan for You and Your Loved Ones to Manage the Illness and Create Lasting Stability,  Get it Done When You’re Depressed: 50 Strategies for Keeping Your Life on Track and the Kindle eBook Bipolar Happens! She speaks regularly for major mental health organizations, appears on radio and television especially during mental health crises around the world, received the Eli Lilly Reintegration Award for her work in bipolar disorder management, blogs and writes an award winning column for BP Magazine for which she won the Mental Health America excellence in journalism award, is on the expert registry of People Magazine, offers expert mental health advice on the Oprah and Dr. Oz website ShareCare.com and was the original consultant for the Claire Danes character on Homeland. Julie is also a board member for ASHA International (www.MyAHSA.org) and works as a coach for family members and partners of people with mental health disorders. She stresses the importance of medications when needed, with a primary focus on the comprehensive management of the illness and believes stability is a realistic goal for all.  For more information, please visit www.JulieFast.com, www.BipolarHappens.com, her blog www.BipolarHappens.com/bhblog, at Julie A. Fast on Facebook and @JulieBipolar on Twitter.

Stigma Fighters : Shea Wong

Why I do what I do.

It’s a Saturday morning, and I’m sitting on a train from London headed to nearly the top of Scotland. I’m giving a talk to pre-med and psychology students at the University of St Andrews regarding mental health stigma and sex/relationships for their weekend of lectures. I look over my notes for the event – I’ll talk for a bit, take some questions, and two hours later, my part of the symposium will be over, and I’ll take the small village train back to Edinburgh and catch the sleeper train back into London to meet the dawn. Things like this, getting up and talking about mental health, and anti-stigma initiatives, have become second nature to me. The faces change – students this week, journalists a month ago, politicians in a few days – but the subject matter stays the same. We all have minds, and therefore, we all have mental health. But one in four of us, at some point in our lives, will have a mental health issue. So, let’s build a society that helps each other, rather than lives in ignorance and fear of what a mental health issue is.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder over 10 years ago, and at the time, I saw it as a death sentence. It took nearly four years of hard therapy to even wrap my head around the concept of living with this disease, rather than dying from it, and while I’ve managed a stable relationship and great kid in the meantime, I’m always wary of this invisible illness that dances on my synapses. I recognize that right now, I’m considered lucky – my bipolar has been officially declared “in remission”. I know this can change at any moment, and I have to be prepared for what could happen to me and my family if my mental health takes a turn for the worse.

I suppose it’s why I ‘m a media volunteer here in the UK, speaking to journalists on how to talk about mental health in the press, and why the words they use are so important. It’s why I give lectures to pre-med students, insisting that they treat mental health issues with the same parity they’d treat any physical ailment. It’s why I write about mental health issues, from national trends in politics and policy, as well as my own personal experience. I speak now for those who cannot currently speak for themselves. I speak for my son, who will grow up in a world with much more openness regarding mental health issues, but where so much more work with anti-stigma needs to be done. I speak for myself in case the future of my illness isn’t so kind, and I find myself unable to speak out later.

Yet I worry. In all the strides we’ve made as mental health campaigners, the tidal wave of ignorance sometimes seems overwhelming. I speak with lived experience experts who tell me that they’ve been cut off from their families as a result of an illness they didn’t ask for. I watch with rage as medical care is slashed, virtually guaranteeing the most vulnerable like the transient populations within large cities, the elderly, and former military on benefits will feel the cuts deeper than anyone else. I remember the looks I would get at the outpatient mental health ward where I met my psychiatrist once a week through my pregnancy, and again through my early months of motherhood. I always found it odd that the most piteous looks came not from the staff, but from other patients. Their eyes seemed to say “Why bring a child into your world of madness? Why bother?” So often the biggest stigma came from within, and later, from others in the mental health community, and that self-stigma was only strengthened by a society and government that seemed all too willing to brush all of us under the carpet, away from ‘normal’ society’s eyes.

***

It’s now evening, and I’m settling in at the small train station waiting for my evening ride to Edinburgh. The talk went well – they asked a lot of questions, laughed when I hoped they would, and listened when I needed them to. I check the hashtag of the conference on twitter, and a tweet from one of the students in attendance catches my eye. “Your talk…came at an important time for me so I want to thank you for your inspiring and informative words. :)” While the platform is freezing, I’m suddenly warmed, and beaming. This is why I speak out – for that magical moment when my words happen to hit the ears of someone who needs to hear it.
And the best part is, all of us have the capacity for that moment. I’m not a neuroscientist, or a doctor. I’m an academic, but the degree I’m working on is my MBA, not psychology. I only have my life experience to base my writing and lectures on. Yet when I speak out about my experiences, the response is almost uniformly the same: Someone who wanted to speak out, responds. Someone learns that having a mental health issue does not mean they are a bad person. Someone finds the courage to start a discussion about mental health. This is why I do that I do.

Starting a conversation about mental health is scary. Depending on where you live in the world, and your community or family’s beliefs about mental illness, you could put yourself in a difficult situation regarding your home life, your job, your status in your society. But for me, living in silence was scarier, so I chose to speak out, and I don’t regret it. I speak out to reclaim power from this illness, to reclaim my voice over it, and to reclaim what mental health means in society.

Thanks for listening.

*   *   *

shea-wongShea Wong is a writer, mental health campaigner, and graduate student. When she isn’t talking to people about mental health or writing strange little stories inspired by her adopted London, she likes to collect and restore vintage fountain pens, teach her kid how to cook, and is currently sending off paperwork for dual citizenship so she can rock her homeland’s US passport as well as a UK one. She hopes you are having a kick ass day.

Shea can be found on Twitter and her website

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Stigma Fighters: Nicole Markardt

What I’ve Lost Since Losing It
by Nicole Markardt

I lost it.
What ever it is…
That thing that keeps us wrapped and raveled. Before it is lost, we are neat and able to be kept; kept neat and kept contained, so they ( the contained and neat) can be kept comfortable. I was comfortable once.
But then…
Then I unraveled. It got messy. I was unable to fit into any situation without feeling as if I was passing for normal. It was palpable with every social interaction.
A panic disorder is crippling. We long to be wrapped tight again. It felt safe to fit so nicely into the scenery. But now, as it all unravels, it’s lonely.

Now there is space.
There is space to feel it all, and it all hurts so much. This spaciousness leaves room. There is room to feel unsafe, to coil into a ball of fear, but what’s even scarier than anything is that now there will always be room to fall apart.
I’ve crossed over, and once we cross over to a place where something is lost, once we unravel, we can never get the wrapping as tight as it once was. It’s like trying to re-wrap a box with used wrapping paper. It will always look wrinkled and its shiny, flawless appearance is never quite the same.
It took me a long time to understand that the gift inside is still luminous. Sometimes we must lose ourselves to fully experience our own brilliance- we breakdown to break open.

I lost it in my 20’s- somewhere between landing my dream job, and meeting Mr. Right.
It’s funny how just when things came together, I found myself falling apart. It is then, that the reality of my heart and how it’s wired became evident to me. I started to manifest all of the things I wanted for myself. I wanted to feel safe. I wanted to nurture and teach. I wanted to offer guidance to children, and being around them fed the scared little girl inside of me. After a relationship with Mr. Wrong which ended in trauma and violence, I wanted to find Mr. make-it all right. I no longer craved the drama of saving the troubled boys. I wanted someone to just love me- someone I knew could never put his hands around my throat until I passed out.

I met him. Straight out of college, I got the job I’d wanted. I had all of the things I prayed for. It is when wonderful things started showing up in my life, that I found myself in a locked bathroom panting and breathless unable to talk or breathe. These episodes would occur at random and when I least expected it… until they occurred every day. I began to hide from life after driving over the Manhattan Bridge one beautiful afternoon. I lost my peripheral vision, my ability to regulate my breath, and any control that I had over my own thoughts. My mind was my enemy that had invaded my being, and along with my pounding heart, my mind pounded thoughts of doom into my consciousness. Those driving trips became more infrequent, and I began to rely on my really nice boyfriend to drive me everywhere. If he wasn’t available, I made up all kinds of excuses as to why I could show up for life. I was a young 20 something and while all of my friends were out living, I was at home hiding from life because fear and panic were too much to bear.

It was too risky to chance a breakdown and be seen as unsteady, unstable, or as someone who was losing it. I was hiding from others, but mostly I was hiding from myself. I never dealt with the night that the guy I wanted to save, the guy I swore I could change, wrapped his hands around my throat and squeezed so hard I lost consciousness. I never dealt with him believing he took my life and drove the car we were riding off of a bridge. I never dealt with the shattered bones in my back and the month that I spent in the hospital learning to stand up again.

I did what strong people do. I practiced walking every day, I smiled, and told everyone that I was ok. When the doctors suggested that I take time off from commuting into the city to attend school, I defied them. I finished my semester because that is what strong people do.

Everyone cheered me on and told me that I was a warrior. They called me an inspiration so I proudly wore that title and kept on going. I don’t even really remember crying. When the doctors told me that the surgery may not be successful and I may be paralyzed, I asked to see a priest and I gave the nursing staff a thumb up as they wheeled me into surgery. I was what people describe as strong. It made sense not to pick scabs off of old wounds or feel unfelt feelings. When we do that, we awaken sleeping giants.
So I didn’t.

I got everything I ever wanted after that night, and when I imagined that I could finally breathe a sigh of relief, a sense of completion… I lost it.
It took me a decade to redefine what strength really means. A decade of my life was spent seeking safety in other people, places, and in life; a decade of teetering over the edge as I sought healing everywhere.

On the other side of the edge was the wisdom that I am safe without any outside factors.

Strength does not lie in staying wrapped and raveled. Strength is shedding tears, admitting fear, and sitting with pain. It took me a very long time to admit and let go of trying to appear perfect. The freedom that I have found in imperfection has opened up new worlds for me.

I’ve connected with other imperfect people who no longer try to pass for normal either. I share my stories and my heart with the world.

I lost many things since losing it.
I lost the definition of the word normal.
I lost my closed mind.
I lost my desire to fit in.
I lost self-hatred.
I lost fear.

Every now and again, that tricky beast taps me on the shoulder and tries to get reacquainted. I tell him to fuck off because he’s a liar who tried to convince me that I was going to die- that I was going to die having never lived. We broke up a long time ago.

Losing it cleared the way for my experience with strong authentic relationships where I never have to hide. Mostly, losing it helped me find a more honest definition of myself. My rich, tender, wild, and powerful emotions are now integrated and have helped transform my trials into revelations.

unnamed

A public school teacher, writer, reiki practitioner and certified yoga instructor- I guide both children and adults through yoga practice. After breaking my back, doctors couldn’t be certain I would ever walk again. Igniting my desire to heal both the emotional and physical body, I went on to receive my 200 hr. Hot Yoga/ Ashtanga Vinyasa teaching certificate, along with a specialized 100 hr. Yoga Rocks!Kids certification. As I share my journey toward peace through healing practices like yoga and meditation, I am immensely grateful for the second chance I have been given. My articles have appeared in MindBodyGreen, Elephant Journal, Rebelle Society, and Positively Positive. I am the author of Peace, Love & Practice- a column for DoYouYoga.com

Stigma Fighters: Bif Naked

ENDING STIGMA ESSAY

by Bif Naked

I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, to these unceded lands of The Coast Salish Territories, and made my home here in 1991. Vancouver held so much promise, and was rumored to be a great solution for people living in the colder climates of Canada, who may be looking for jobs, looking for education opportunities, or looking for a fresh start. People come to Vancouver in droves, and it holds them by their hearts and never lets go.

The guys in my first band, GorillaGorilla, and I, lived over on Rupert Street at the top of a long hill, down which we could skateboard, without aid of pushing feet, all the way to the bottom, to Broadway Street, where we might catch a bus to go downtown—either to work, or to rehearsal space, or to see a gig—many of which were played by friends in other bands. We could have never done that in Winnipeg (from where we’d just moved) and we were in awe of the differences we were discovering on the West Coast. It was a rich music, skateboard, and art culture, and we were thriving despite our poverty. Life was serendipity. We had simple and earnest intentions, we never gave up on our dreams, and collaboratively worked toward what we hoped would be “success”.

This work ethic, and these dreams, are natural for most people. In fact, the majority of people are working toward a goal and endeavor to transcend poverty and struggle. Most people are trying to have a better life.

That’s how things were for my friend Lorainne.

I met Lorainne on the streets of Vancouver, in 1991. Burrard Street, to be exact. Burrard and Robson.

She was a panhandler, asking passersby for change. She looked like she was about sixty years old, with hair not totally grey but it was just so hard to tell as she was somewhat unkempt. And awkward.

Lorainne never appeared to be drunk, but her swollen face and big, red nose told me much about her personal life. She never had a warm coat, but was in snow boots, and was at the same corner, downtown, every day. She went there at eight a.m. and left at 10 a.m. each morning. It was her routine.

On my way to work, every day, I said “hi” to her and gave her the extra few dollars I carried with me to the bus stop where I jumped on and went to my day job in a printing shop. Sometimes two dollars, sometimes five, but I always made sure I had change jingling in my pocket as I went out the door.

I made just enough money from my cheque to pay rent, pay electric bill, and set aside a few dollars for food and supplies and bus fare. It worked out to about seven dollars a day and when I saw Lorainne I could not pass her by without giving her something. Anything.

Eventually, I started to strike up conversations with her, and she began to let her guard down.

Her speech was unusual and she had an emotionless way about communicating. Lorainne never smiled or frowned, she just spoke in a demonstrative and loud voice, calling me by name if she happened to see me walking toward her.

“BETH! OH HELLO BETH!” she would yell from half-a-block away. I always waved until I approached Lorainne and eventually, we would hug hello.

I began to ask Lorainne questions about herself.

Where did she live? (“SUBSIDIZED HOUSING” she yelled.)

Does she work? (“THIS IS MY JOB. I COME EVERY DAY.”)

Is she married? (“I HAVE A BOYFRIEND HE MAKES ME SPAGHETTI.”)

Everything was always matter-of-fact, and her answers were not always consistent, so I never really knew if the things she told me were true. I just wanted to know how she got there. I wanted to piece together how my friend came to be…I wondered how she became this panhandler lady.

What I eventually pieced together, over the next decade or so, brought me to a place of understanding and acceptance about Lorainne.

Lorainne was living in Ottawa, for most of her life. As an adult, She was working a desk job for the government, and putting her daughter through school. Unmarried but happy, Lorainne loved life, loved her job, and most of all, loved her daughter.

Then everything shifted for her, and life as she knew it blew apart. Lorainne’s daughter was killed, suddenly, and that was the trauma that may have triggered Lorainne’s disorder.

Like many people, grief and response to loss is the most distressing event in life. But for Lorainne, the result of this catastrophic event was real damage to the psyche. The death of her daughter was so traumatic psychologically for Lorainne, that she developed PTSD, depression, and chronic psychosis trying to cope. Eventually, substance abuse—in Lorainne’s case, alcohol—overtook her life, and her active psychosis increased in frequency. She no longer worked, went home, or spoke with friends and family. She became homeless. She often experienced being in a catatonic state. It was as if her brain was changed, and her old life was never again to be.

It is possible that her excessive alcohol intake, plus the psychological damage, may have contributed to the development of her chronic, substance-induced psychotic disorder. This poor quality of life for Lorainne included impaired social cognition, poor functional ability, disorganized thinking and speech, and a frequent state of confusion.

I do not know, and was never able to determine, whether or not Lorainne had any pre-existing psychopathology that may have been a factor. I do not know if she had a history of illness, or poor adjustment before onset. Plus, excessive alcohol abuse can sometimes present itself as illnesses like schizophrenia, and I do not know Lorainne’s medical history.

What I do know is that Lorainne has a tragic story of loss that led her to be where she is now, and who she is now.

I know this is true for every person I see on the street. Each individual has a story. Each individual has a story worth telling, but more importantly, worth listening to.

I am glad Lorainne and I became friends. She never accepted my help, my offers to walk her home, my offers of clothing, groceries, toiletries, even refused anything over a twenty dollar bill. In fact, it would stress her out and she became agitated.
No, Lorainne didn’t ask anything of me, except my daily hugs and my friendly exchange. In return, I received the same from her.

We are very blessed by the friendships in our lives and sometimes, these seemingly small things, actually make all the difference for people.

People like Lorainne.

And people like me.

This essay was originally featured on Stigma Fighters Canada

Bif - Promo 2 color

 

Bif Naked is a celebrated and notorious performer in music, TV, film, and dance, and a tireless advocate and Humanitarian. Orphaned in India, emancipated by punk rock, and empowered by surviving breast cancer, kidney failure, heart surgery, divorce, and surviving as a Woman in The Entertainment Industry for twenty-five years, Bif has transcended any and all obstacles placed in her path to become one of the world’s most unique, recognizable and beloved icons. It is because Bif is such a tremendous performer and musician, that she is able to seamlessly and successfully explore and record other mediums, like writing, painting, choreography, and of course- other genres of music. Inspired by life and experiences, Bif’s writing is at the forefront and has become a tool for her advocacy. “We must continue to raise awareness and keep going.” When not touring, Canada’s Sweetheart works as an activist, is recording a new record, and is editing her juicy memoirs. You can learn more about Bif and her work here She has been featured on The Globe and Mail as well as The Huffington Post. Find her on Facebook , Twitter and follow her on Instagram