Stigma Fighters: Our Rach Blogs

My story begins when I was around 8 years old, I’d been ill with nausea and vomiting. I’d never knowingly been sick before. I remember feeling frightened. I remember feeling a total lack of control over my body.
Over the following weeks and months I can remember becoming obsessed with making sure I wasn’t sick again. The ‘incident’ was at the very forefront of my mind on a daily basis, so much so I restricted my diet. Big time.
I began to only eat foods I deemed as ‘safe’. By this I mean foods I had convinced myself wouldn’t be able to make me sick.
Of course, my Mum grew concerned and took me to the Doctors. The Doctor soon realised this was something more than a childhood fad and referred me to a child psychologist.
By now I was very thin, the psychologist, and I can remember him saying this, told my parents that I would have to begin eating properly, otherwise I would have to be admitted to hospital. I was really quite underweight.
Although my memory of this time is slightly hazy I know I began to get better. Slowly. I was diagnosed with OCD and although my diet was still somewhat restricted, it was nothing like it had been; prior to seeing a psychologist.
Things continued to be ‘normal’ throughout the rest of my childhood and into my early teens, I’d always been a worrier and certainly a hypochondriac, but nothing as dramatic as when I was younger.
Aged 17 I had what I refer to as a relapse. I was anxious often accompanied by a low mood and again my diet was restricted. I’d tried to take anti-depressants but had a very bad reaction. In December 2003 I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for young people as a day patient.
I hated every second of it, I can even remember by best friend coming to rescue me from there once! After the first couple of days I told my Mum I wasn’t returning. That was it.
I remember my Mum talking to the hospital and them trying to encourage her to get me to return. I promised I would return after Christmas 2003 and I did. But only for one day when I realised I simply couldn’t step foot in there again. It wasn’t for me.
Gradually, I got better throughout 2004. I often wonder if the fact that I lost my Grandad (whom I was very close to) at the age of 16 the loss had an impact on my mental health.
I’d also gone through a stressful relationship at the time and was unable to secure a steady job.
As things began to improve throughout the year with me landing my first proper full time job and ending the relationship; my mental health improved. My phobia of being sick was still there but not as prevalent or life controlling.
Fast forward a few years, and although I still had elements of OCD; checking behaviours, avoidance etc. I felt I was able to manage my condition to the best of my ability.

Aged 26 I fell pregnant with my son, throughout my pregnancy aside from some slightly anxious moments mentally I was fine. For medical reasons I elected for a C-Section and because a lot of preparation went into organising the deliver, I think this served as a distraction from any concerns I had for my mental health.
Things soon changed once I’d given birth however. My son arrived 1 week ahead of the scheduled operation. The delivery was traumatic which instantly had an effect on my mental health. Never in my life have I felt as anxious as I felt for the first few weeks I became a mother.
I visited the GP a week or 2 post-partum and explained some of my thoughts and feelings. This alarmed him slightly and so he called for a member of the Mental Health Crisis team to visit me at home. At the time I didn’t really understand the significance of the crisis team visiting me, however, a couple of years on I now understand.
I was told I was suffering from extreme anxiety, which would get better in time and CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) would be the best form of treatment for me.
Looking back, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for CBT. When I would visit my therapist I was so anxious and consumed with intrusive thoughts I would spend our sessions asking him for reassurance. I wasn’t using his time or resources effectively, I now know I was feeding into my anxiety. I was giving weight to my OCD.
As the first year of being a Mum progressed, I would find myself experiencing highs and lows, some days I would feel fine, other days were a real struggle.
I began a part time job when my son was 10 months old, I was also in the midst of planning his first Birthday party which would be followed quite closely by Christmas.
I could tell I was heading for a burn out, however, I was determined to get through December as best I could.
And then the New Year came and I’d had enough. I simply couldn’t get out of bed. As sad as it sounds, I’d given up caring, I was so exhausted with the thoughts that would encircle my mind on a daily basis.
It was at this point I knew I needed serious help.
I remembered I had a prescription for anti-depressant/anxiety drugs, I was given a couple of months previous by my GP. Because I’d had a bad experience with SSRI’s when I was a teenager, I was too scared to take them but now I had nothing to lose. Things couldn’t get any worse.
With all this in mind, I took a week off of work, my Mum and my partner helped me out with the care of my son and I took the time I needed to take to allow myself to get better. I let the side effects come and go (which they did and they weren’t as bad as I’d anticipated) and I gradually began to feel my worries lift. That all-consuming feeling of anxiety was beginning to wane. It felt incredible. I’d always been under the illusion I would be the one person who would be unable to be treated. I wouldn’t respond to it.
This was far from the case.

I was lucky enough to have a fantastic GP at this time, someone who fully understood what I was going through and made it her business to ensure I received the correct support.
A few weeks into taking the medication I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. This diagnosis made perfect sense. I felt relieved that the way I was feeling finally had a name. I knew I had OCD but I’d always been certain there was more to it than that. I now had it confirmed.
From February 2015 I began to see the most wonderful therapist. When I say she changed my life, I mean it. It’s no exaggeration. She taught me techniques that have become invaluable with managing my anxiety, my intrusive thoughts and the sometimes exhausting elements of OCD. I will be forever grateful.
Of course, the medication has helped hugely, I’m so glad I took the plunge and decided to begin my course of tablets. However, the lessons I have learnt from my therapist have stood me in great stead for the future.
I no longer dread situations like I previously would have.
’m not saying I’m cured, but in comparison to how I was a little over a year or 2 ago, the progress I’ve made is unprecedented.
These days I feel like a different person. I love my life and I love how far I’ve come.
As a result of my experience with mental illness and the importance of discussing mental health, I consider myself to be a huge advocate of raising awareness.
Talking about our mental health is paramount in ensuring any potential stigmas are broken down. Suffering from a mental illness does not make you a weak person, it doesn’t define you.
To anyone who is concerned with how they feel I would implore you to seek help. Talk to a friend or loved one, see your Doctor. I am living proof of the fact that there is help out there.
You can and you will get better.

i-LbbxeGA mother of one from the UK, I enjoy nothing more than putting finger to keypad and writing. I hope my experiences with mental illness can help and encourage others to seek help.

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Stigma Fighters: Alice Morgan

On April 9th 2008, I was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer – osteosarcoma of the femur. At the tender age of fourteen, I wasn’t too concerned about it. It didn’t even occur to me that I could die from it. Something was telling me that I would be just fine and my mum told me that I even started playing ‘Let it Be’ by The Beatles on the piano. I don’t remember doing it at all! Looking back, I don’t know if that was naivety, shock or hope.

My treatment lasted for nine months with surgery halfway through to remove the affected bone and replace it with a titanium joint. I wouldn’t wish chemotherapy on anyone! It made me sick and gave me mouth ulcers; my weight plummeted and I had very little energy. Despite all this, I still managed to smile and stay upbeat, thanking the nurses and doctors for everything they were doing for me.

As the months went by, my hair started to fall out. It wasn’t that big an issue for me at the time – a girl who didn’t even wear make up! – but when I started to see it on my pillow, everything seemed a bit more real. My hairdresser gave me a pixie cut and eventually, my mum shaved it off with my dad’s electric razor which was hilarious! With a supportive family surrounding us, we managed to laugh even when times were really hard. Although people stared when I went out with a head scarf on, it wasn’t that much of a big deal to me. It was when my treatment had finished that I became more insecure about what I looked like. Having extremely short hair made me feel really unfeminine and I started to put on more weight as my appetite came back in leaps and bounds! I also had scars on my leg, neck and chest but to be completely honest, I’ve never been that bothered about them. Eight years on, I’m still learning to love my body as it is and not how I think it should be. My boyfriend helps as he makes me feel like I’m the prettiest thing he’s ever seen.

Another thing I’ve struggled with a lot since I was diagnosed is anxiety. Being sick nearly every day took its toll on me and when I was hungry, a mouth full of ulcers made eating painful. Every time the hospital food trolley would come around, I would gag at the smell and the more it happened, the more anxious I would become until I was having panic attacks. I was referred to a psychologist who explained how the fight or flight response worked and why the rush of adrenaline was sending me into a panic attack. She really helped me to deal with them but even now, I want to throw up when I see lots of different foods being scraped into one big bag.

Finishing treatment was amazing – I was still alive! – but it was also very, very hard. I was still learning to walk properly and of course, there were the long term effects of chemo to think about. I survived the cancer but the chemo has weakened my heart, I have constant tinnitus and obviously my leg is part metal! Every time I go to the doctors with any type of pain, I pray they’re not going to tell me that the cancer has come back. I’m constantly anxious that myself or one of my loved ones will have cancer especially since my father passed away from throat cancer three years ago. It was so hard to lose him to such a horrible disease.

Confiding in someone usually eases my anxiety as does writing. Getting everything out on the page and articulating exactly how I feel makes dealing with it so much easier. Writing creatively helps too. I was still studying for my GCSE’s while I was in hospital and I had to write a descriptive piece for part of my English course. Stuck in a hospital bed for days was so boring but writing about my local beach allowed me to escape it, just for a few hours. It’s something that still helps me now – whenever I need to escape real life, I just turn to my writing. In fact, I loved it so much that I ended up graduating with a Masters in Creative Writing last year – a huge achievement for someone who only got five GCSE’s!

The worst part of the treatment was being on a children’s ward and seeing young babies and children going through the same thing. It was heart-breaking, especially since I knew how awful they must be feeling. I remember one little boy who had tumours behind his eyes and was blind. One day, he ran up to me with his arms outstretched for me to pick him up but I couldn’t because I was on crutches myself. His mother told me that he’d never done that to anyone before! It was like he knew we were both in the same boat.

I hope that one day I will be able to have children of my own but another thing the chemo might have affected is my fertility. I hope that in my kids’ lifetime, chemotherapy will become a thing of the past so that cancer patients can have treatment that only fights the cancerous cells and not every other fast growing cell in the body. I haven’t had a panic attack in a while and I’m determined not to let my anxiety get in the way of setting up my own business. I do worry about the future but I’ve learned to live in the present and try to take each day as it comes. The scars on my body tell a story that will live with me forever but having cancer has shown me that it’s so important to chase your dreams and appreciate every little moment. I’m doing just that!

me-wawAlice is a 22 year old freelance writer from Wales. She writes a lifestyle blog and has also set up a cancer advice website at www.thosethreewords.co.ukto support others going through treatment. After graduating with a Masters Degree in Creative Writing in 2015, Alice decided to set up her own business doing what she loved and she is currently working on her idea. She enjoys writing, reading, eating chocolate and spending time with the people she loves.

Alice can be found on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Stigma Fighters: Renae Williams

The pigeon man fills his hands, with morsels caked in time

He pilfers through the garbage can, so birds will flock to dine

Talons cling to threadbare skin, impervious to tears

Grownups judge while children grin, as droppings drench his hair

Treasured by this vagrant, is bond of bird and man

I stroll on by and catch his eye, crumbs ready in my hand

Filled with shock, as pigeons flock to safety in the trees

Will morsels mend, the loss off friends? My palm extends with “please”

He claps his hands, birds understand and return to greet their master

Clawed with tickles, as white poo trickles, our faces fill with laughter

share-1I am a Pediatric Occupational therapist from Australia who moved to New York to work as an Aupair for a family with a child with Autism. Motivated by a need to understand Autism from the perspective of a parent, I took a pay cut for an invaluable personal journey.
Understanding human behavior and then providing an art form for personal growth has been my recent love. I write poetry, blogs and societal critiques aimed at raising awareness for injustice. Thinking is the first step to changing.

Renae can be found on her blog, Twitter, and facebook

Stigma Fighters: Jordan Abbruzzese

The Call of the Void

“You know when you have so much stuff to do, but thinking about it makes you stressed out, and then that stress keeps you from doing anything? Well you have anxiety, you know what I’m talking about right?” My coworker asked me while leaning against the beige wall of my cubicle. Possibilities were swimming in her eyes, while I was thinking about how to get through the rest of my day without feeling sad.

“Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.” I smiled back.

This same coworker spent time teaching English in Latin America and Malaysia. At 18, she ran away to Canada for a weekend. Somewhat recently, she dated a boy from Australia. A boy that she still video chats. A couple of weeks ago she convinced me to play pool in the middle of a semi-crowded bar; that was the equivalent of my Malaysia.

It’s not that I can’t be spontaneous. I like to do things, I have done cool things–and have a small yearning for adventure that is sometimes poked and shifted. But I live inside of my head and the worlds there. I see my imagination and my fears, while she has seen the actual world.

I laugh when I think of how she looks at me and my interests. We have little in common. She sees me as someone that sits around in cosplay licking Star Wars VHS tapes that I hold in one hand and playing a tabletop game with the other. I like this visual; at least it’s interesting.

Talking to her allows me to reflect; what have I done? More importantly – what am I going to do? It is easy to entertain the idea of traveling; or “at least trying something once”. When I was a freshman in college I convinced myself that by my senior year I was going to intern in Disney World living out my childhood dream. I graduated 6 months ago, and haven’t been to Disney World in five years. I ask myself if I regret not trying, and I am not sure if I do. By staying at my school I was able to go to Ireland and have a memorable senior year with friends that I love. It could be a fair trade. I was too afraid on missing out on what my current life had to offer to try a new life in a different place. Plus, I could never live alone. Some days, I barely survive living with others.

I have always thought that I don’t want to be on my death bed asking, “What if?” (although honestly, I contemplate three different ways daily that I could end up in this situation sooner than expected, and I really have a few things that I would like to do if this were to happen, well, now). I have sent out a few pieces to be published since I graduated college, and they were rejected, which is expected. I want to be published by May of next year (one year out of school), so I need to keep trying. I also have a website in the works that I haven’t officially launched or paid for. I have small goals in place. These are the stepping stones to my new dreams.

“You know when you have so much stuff to do, but thinking about it makes you stressed out, and then that stress keeps you from doing anything? Well you have anxiety, you know what I’m talking about right?”

I think about it every day.

In the spring, I went hiking with my boyfriend. We tried to go to a different park every weekend, and successfully did this for a little over a month before the rain started or we became too tired to think of new places to go. While in Hocking Hills, we paused at a cliff. We were alone on the trail with the type of silence that you can hear if you listen closely. I was feeling an ocean in my stomach while looking at the ground below.

“What happens if I jump?” I asked him. “You couldn’t stop me. Part of me even wants to, though I know that sounds completely crazy.”

He laughed, knowing that I wouldn’t do it. “I was thinking the same thing,” he said. “It’s called “The Call of the Void”. I read about it recently on Reddit.”

He went on to explain that it is an unexplained psychological phenomena that almost everyone experiences. When we are driving, we could briefly think “What if I ran my car into oncoming traffic?” or while holding a knife “I could hurt myself or someone else right now if I really wanted to.” These thoughts are fleeting, and as long as you don’t dwell on them or contemplate seriously acting them out, then they are not a problem. The weird impulses are merely a fun little part of the weirdness that is being a human.

They are different than intrusive thoughts, convincing and paralyzing speculations that seem to be true. The worries and warnings that seem like they are coming from God himself, and can keep you from leaving the house to go to the grocery store when you are out of food, or from visiting the bank to deposit a check that you need. On a “good day” I can mostly tell the difference between these two types of thoughts.

I often think about the conversation I had with my boyfriend; about how it felt to look into the open air. I wonder if I could’ve flown if I really jumped. Maybe people really can fly and I could’ve been the first one. My boyfriend would have been scared at first, but then would have seen me soaring upward, and smiled, thinking – wow, she looks really happy. Eventually the other hikers would have seen me and been glad for me too. I could have looped through the trees, and took off to see elsewhere, creating ripples in the ocean with my fingertips and then zooming back toward the sun because unlike Icarius, I wouldn’t have had melted wings. I would have flown around the world, and yelled below to my coworker’s ex-boyfriend, telling him that she asks me questions in my cubicle and makes me play pool in bars. I could have if I tried.

But here I am, on the ground, thinking of the opportunity that this void has given me to theorize metaphorically. What if I send things off to be published? What if I just finish my stupid website so that people can see the work that I love to do? What if I plan a trip somewhere, or run off to Canada too? I can’t let the amount of exciting things that I want to accomplish keep me from moving forward. I need to try flying, We all need to take a deep breath, and try flying.

So we can start now. We can form plans, set goals, or at least talk about dreams. We can speak of fake dreams, ones that will never come true, but realizing them will be just enough. We can get through the day without being sad, because for each chance that we lose out on, we have an infinite selection of more.

Basically, The Void is calling.
And you might as well jump.

Jordan Abbruzzese recently graduated from Otterbein University with a B.A. in Creative Writing. She is an aspiring blogger that currently works as a Content & Communications Coordinator for a nonprofit organization. Jordan spends most of her time watching Science Fiction, eating crunchy peanutbutter, and trying to keep the bamboo on her desk alive.

Jordan can be found on her blog and Twitter. 

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Stigma Fighters: Sane Jane

Riding passenger with my mother traveling back to my lux two-bedroom apartment, I suddenly burst into tears. She sat confused, and bewildered. I later learned symptoms of mental illness usually strike in the early 20’s of many young adults. I can attest to this fact, they hit hard. Unable to truly express my feelings the words ” I need help”, uttered repeatedly from my trembling mouth. My mother my mommy, my caregiver for 20 years sat silent without a word.
You must understand as an African American emotional issues are strictly dealt with stern talks, with the dismissal of mental illness. We are taught to fight despite all. So I did just that. Unbuckling my seatbelt I remembered this rule while drying my tears leaving her with the lie I’d lived with for a decade, ” I’m sorry, I lost it there huh?” smiling back. “I’m okay, I promise.” I erased the memory as I indulged in a joint of marijuana sat on my large couch, and eased my troubled mind. I promised to never speak out again.
As August approached I traveled down to conquer my junior year of college. Now, a heavy pot smoker overcome with emotions so opposite of the next I was alone elated in mania, and fearful in depression. Covered in debt and eviction notices I found myself as a college dropout involved in a lifestyle I cringe to reflect upon. One thing stayed true, survival. Bills paid with new clothes hanging in an exclusive hotel suite, and money to spend meant everything. Dabbing in serious drug use I found myself in an AutoZone parking lot. Although faint, the memory of my father placing my limp body in his car will forever stain my mind; yet mark the beginning of my recovery.

The double doors of WellStar Psych Ward welcomed me with screaming patients prickling needles, staff gossip. Shuffling through the dim hall a male guard awaited me for a strip down. A gown was tossed my way, as I stood naked trembling to cover what was mine. I spoke not a word as they pierced me with needles leaving my arms bruised and blue. A male nurse with an aura of joy grabbed my hand with such assurance I will never forget his simple words. “You’re special the hard part is over, you are going to be more than fine.” I never saw him again, but my smile and hope began to grow. Moments later an emergency stretcher and ambulance led me to yet another hospital, Ridgeview Institute.

Welcomed by a beautiful woman, I silenced her words and felt her sincerity kind heart comfort me. Tossing back my tiny white paper cup with a shot of water sleep fell upon me like never before. My eyes opened to a chalkboard in the distance. I read my name then shifted my eyes above to read “Suicide Watch”. The stiff chair was only an option as there was a room before me. Politely refusing a kickback seat blanket, and books I scanned the silent disturbed, and recovering patients behind the glass room for all to see. Dull crayons coffee, and nicotine filled my day. Yet as time passed still with no diagnosis, I chattered amongst fellow smokers and claimed anxiety put me in this place. Laughter flooded the one area of freedom, and pleasure. Titled as a spy, I tossed my bummed Marlboro walked inside, and sat alone. I was the only African American woman there my age. My peers were young but Caucasian. This situation seemed to be of the norm or accepted for them atleast. As time passed I remained calm. I was friendly, yet quite and observant. Ensuring to follow protocol, I found my way home only three days later. Returning to no car friends, or life, I was left with “Paige, you are Bipolar.” Life as I knew was now spent with various doctors three to four time a week, as pills flooded my kitchen countertop night by night.

The fear of the unknown and forbidden had happened. My parents although scared and concerned, I resented them their ignorance, and denial. A two-time suicide survivor since the age of 12 was gone unnoticed, and unheard. 10 years later they stand by me strong educated, loving, and supportive.

I look around and my peers deserve a voice. Their fear should be shaken shame uplifted, and silence broken. My dear families please hear the cries bursting through drug overdose alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, and climbing suicides rates. Listen to the pain shown only by accident. Disregard our historical ignorance; embrace the strength instilled in us to save you. Speak within yourself embrace your voice, and speak out. Please help me save my peers.

XoXo,

Sane Jane

kiDbGDdZRlKCBWpHGCCPzd_RY0Sa44VT8zsm4wQjlZM I am 25 years old native of Atlanta, Ga. I wish to obtain a master’s degree in Psychology in the near future. Gaining a bachelor’s degree in Communications with a focus in Public Relations I truly enjoy providing the public with truthful, yet useful knowledge of unspoken issues. It is a delight to witness the growing movement of mental health awareness amongst many activists within my own community, and those afar. I would be untrue to myself and my own experiences to ignore the issue of miscommunication amongst minorities, especially the African American community. Through my learning experiences life, and schooling I see the need for a voice to be heard. I come from an amazing family with a beautiful brother sister-in-law and nephew, but this is my biography. This is my passion and what I stand for. I am outspoken and transparent about my illness to everyone because this is my greater purpose that I refuse to pass me by. It has been a difficult journey yet powerful. Giving me my purpose of life and guidance toward my future, again I say this is my biography. Paige Gaines, also known as Sane Jane. A 25-year-old African American woman ready to fight the stigma in society and that of my peers to help those in desperate need, just as I only four years back.

SaneJane can be found on her Twitter and blog. 

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Stigma Fighters: Misadventures in Therapy

Misadventures in Therapy

“Psychologists are just people who weren’t smart enough to be psychics.” – Gina Linetti, Brooklyn Nine-Nine

The above quote sums up my esteem for professionals in the mental health field. I don’t hold high regard for purported psychics, which makes my feelings toward therapists all the more damning. Achieving mental health and therapy often go hand-in-hand, but the latter does not guarantee the former and if I sound bitter, I have reason to.

I have suffered with an anxiety disorder in one form or another probably my entire life. I’ve dealt with depression since puberty; neither were diagnosed until much later. At the age of 15 I had my first of many panic attacks. At the time, no one could seem to discern what they were, including the psychologist my parents sent me to consult. The first session included the entire family – parents and sister – presumably to observe our family dynamic. I remember very little from that first meeting except that I actively made an effort to not listen lest I burst out in tears, and my sister having the psychologist in stitches while she intimated that I was doing this for attention. My next appointment with the therapist was one-on-one and she seemed keen on getting me to admit to some kind of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse (where none had occurred) to explain my sullenness and weird symptoms. Once a week, I had to take a bus afraid that “It” (what I later learned were panic attacks) could strike at any moment in order to answer inane questions from someone who had no clue what they were dealing with. Her suggestion was to spend more quality time with my father. Other than enjoying brunch and getting some sweet shoes out of the deal (my dad is an avid shopper), I had no idea how this would solve my predicament. But my parents’ insurance only covered 12 sessions, so on my final visit I was declared “cured” and sent on my merry way.

It took another year and a half before I was diagnosed with panic attacks by my GP. For the next ten years I trusted no one but my family doctor with my mental health. I reasoned, he diagnosed me after hearing my list of symptoms while emergency room doctors and psychologists remained baffled. One doctor had my mother give me the highest possible dose of Gravol every four hours as some sort of treatment for the stomach butterflies I could never adequately describe (I slept for two weeks only to be woken up to be given another dose of Gravol). Another doctor thought my ears were too clean (probably why I felt so light-headed) and may have an ear infection, so he had me blow into some kind of balloon through my nostrils to clear them up. To this day I’m shocked leaches were never prescribed! Once diagnosed, I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders and was given 0.25mg of Xanax to be taken as needed. I took as little as possible as I feared becoming addicted. After one year, I stopped taking them altogether. I preferred to suffer with extreme anxiety and panic while I somehow made my way through college and university…barely. As I couldn’t skip work like I could school, I was given Paxil, which worked like magic (for about eight years) until it didn’t. I was then put on Effexor and when that didn’t work, I decided to take advantage of my company’s offer of twelve sessions with a psychologist. At least this time the therapist didn’t have to bother with a diagnosis, I had one handy. Talk therapy seemed to be her schtick with one minor hiccup, I don’t talk. I can talk, but you need to ask me a question first. I won’t babble just to hear the sound of my own voice, and I certainly won’t tell you my deepest, darkest secrets without at least some prompting (a little alcohol helps too). She used neither of these methods and so we spent most of our sessions together just staring at each other. She eventually told me that I didn’t seem to have any urgent need for her and to come back if necessary. Basically, I was kicked out of therapy because I was not a typical client and she didn’t know how to deal with me. Perhaps she could have used a different technique? Maybe refer me to a different psychologist? Nope. Two psychologists and both were useless; I was starting to have my doubts about the mental-health profession.

I continued bumbling my way through life grappling with what I now know to be dysthymia and agoraphobia with little two-week breakdowns along the way until the “Illness.” This was very much a physical illness that lasted a year and no one could diagnose it, including my GP. My workplace’s insurance company would not cover any sick leave, so I quit. After a few months of inability to put myself together, I sought outside help… from another psychologist. She had me fill out tests so I could be properly diagnosed (social anxiety, agoraphobia with panic disorder, major depression, dysthymia, suicidal ideation and schizoid). Finally! A professional who seemed to know what they were doing. She was a cognitive-behavioral psychologist, which I specifically sought out, since this research suggested that this mode of psychotherapy would be my best shot at recovery. She gave me homework to do which made sense. However, it would seem you can do therapy homework wrong, as she pointed out time and time again. After my initial visits, I became more and more depressed and she became less and less helpful. The insurance money had run its course and I had my first major depressive episode. I stopped taking my Cymbalta cold-turkey and refused to speak to anyone. My only consolation was the thought of death and the means by which I could achieve it with the least possible amount of pain. I was escorted to the emergency to see a psychiatrist. After less than five minutes with me, he offered a prescription for another anti-depressant. I was enraged that after a few preliminary questions he was ready to prescribe my problems away. This is when my respect for the profession died. I was entered into “the system” and would be contacted in the next three months as opposed to six (since mine was an urgent case) by another psychiatrist. At around the three month mark I was indeed contacted and returned to the psych ward of the hospital. I met with a psychiatrist and a psychiatric nurse, was given a bunch of forms and tests to fill out, signed-up for outpatient group therapy based on the principles of CBT, and given a prescription for Celexa. Group therapy was held four days a week, two hours a day, for a month. It consisted of discussing how we were feeling, changes in medication, a weigh-in, walks, trying various types of mindfulness techniques, and art therapy. Once my time with the group was over, I waited another three or so months to be reassigned to a psychiatrist who specialized in agoraphobia. Was I finally going to get the help I so desperately needed? No. He described methods with which I was intimately familiar (while not in continuous therapy, I was always reading about research and going through workbooks regarding anxiety, agoraphobia, and depression). He refused me any anti-anxiety medication and started me on a course of intense exposure therapy. The end result: I could no longer be alone in my own home. I returned to my GP, to Paxil, and to benzodiazepines. Eventually, I could cope with life again.

Every time I have sought help from the community trained to give it, my condition either worsened or at best, I was left no better than when I arrived. It’s no wonder I mistrust mental health professionals. In spite of this, and after some more investigating, I have decided to try again. I have interviewed a few psychologists and have been in therapy for the past month. I don’t want to jinx it, but I think she’s the one. She’s open-minded, knowledgeable, and easy to talk to. When I spoke to her, at long last, I felt heard. I think a lot of people enter the field of psychology with good intentions that eventually get lost in ridged philosophies at the expense of those seeking treatment. All the other therapists I had consulted had lost their ability to empathize with their patients. I understand why, but I will not excuse it. I deserve to be heard, I deserve to be validated, and I deserve to get healthy. We all do.

Mental Mews can be found on Instagram. 

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Stigma Fighters: Alix Writes

FRIENDS?
__________________________________________
Dear friend,

Today is a terrible day, I wish it was just bad. Funny, how we miss things once we lose them… I will take bad days over terrible days any day.

I am back to pretend life… pretend you are not dying inside with every breath you take… pretend that you are not thinking about taking your life every second… pretend that you are not lonely… pretend that people care about you… pretend that you are happy. Just pretend pretend and pretend. This pretending is so integrated in me that I don’t know how to be real me anymore. I get this all awkward and anxious when I try to be real me in front of people.

Throughout whole my life one thing has been constant, it’s so common that now I am certain and not just certain,100% certain that I am the one at fault. People has always left me, they walk into my life, they stay and I think that maybe this time they won’t leave but expectations are just that expectations because everybody who has ever came in my life has ended up leaving. Nam has also drifted apart now, like everyone else, I don’t know when it happened or what was the reason, she ended up leaving too. Maybe I was just too sad for her taste.

Isn’t it weird? You make a new friend, you dream of things, you think about them whenever you are doing something.. like what would your friend say.. will he/she enjoy this… you wonder how they would react… Everything is connected to everything and suddenly they are the most important people in your life and you think you have found a best friend. But then that best friend walks out of your life when it’s at the most crucial lowest point of your life and that adds to everything that’s already making you down and you feel worthless like you are not important in anybody’s life, like what’s the use of even continuing this life when you can’t even make a true friend.

I am finding myself hoping that classes should go on for 24 hours… In classes I can pretend but when it’s time to come back to my room at the end of the day when I take that left turn, it all comes crashing on me and it’s been three days since I am here and all three days it has happened. I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts anymore. I am scared, so very scared.

It’s like day by day I am realizing how deep I am sinking… I am having a lot of epiphany-s too. You know I used to call myself a coward because I used to get very methodical and scared when I cut, today I found out that I am not scared to cut but actually scared to not being able to stop myself, because honestly I am numb, I don’t really feel pain and the fear of being found out is too much and it’s holding me back, I don’t know, this scares me.

Want to know a morbid thing? Today around 8, I planned out how I will execute it – the ending of all this pain… I know I am going to write letters to all the people I feel are important in my life and now that I have figured out I am actually not afraid of cutting… I will just use that method. It’s so eerily creepy that I am kinda proud of my planning skills. I even made a list of people, I am going to send letters to, on my phone.. So that when it’s time I don’t forget them. This is the least I can do for them, those who has been an important part of my life and even if they have drifted apart… At one point of my life they made me feel loved and made me not feel alone, I owe this much to them.

I used to love being alone as kid, maybe because that’s all I have ever known, but now, with all these thought, I don’t ever want to be alone anymore. My friends are drifting apart. My dad has drifted apart and I know that, before he used to get all worried when I forgot to ring him up but now days go by and no call… I guess he have other priorities now. It’s al right though, who would want a messed up kid like me. I miss him you know, but you have to just forget somethings-somebodys sometimes. I guess having a normal family will always be a pipe dream.

I have started spending time with nit though but I am just waiting for her to leave too… I know I am certain she will get fed up with me and leave too. And I told her so, I have my reasons… The more she is close to me the more she will end up hurting when I die, so, it’s the only way I can stop from hurting her.

I feel alone, so very alone, I wish I was telling all this to a real friend instead of typing it on a blog.

I just feel worthless, I know I am not worth it.

Love always,

Alix

Alix can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

Stigma Fighters: #HumanLikeUs – Tim-Can Werning

Most men and women will grow up to love their pity servitude and will never dream of doing something good for others. Therefore they will never experience what I have experienced in the last half year. I like to refer to my life before I worked in psychiatry as “naïve-ism.” My existence as I once knew it has been shattered.

One of the problems I encounter on a daily basis is that I cannot stand the way my peers view mental illness. When I speak to them about psychiatry they initially seem interested, but upon further reflection, most of them were full of prejudice and stereotypes. They had no idea what it meant to be a patient or an employee in a psychiatric unit of a hospital. Most people know very little about what it’s like to live in a psychiatric hospital. If you have never experienced this yourself, you wouldn’t know.

My heart began to beat faster as I walked down the corridor. I felt them staring me, but I tried to look forward and not pay them any attention. It appears as if the corridor got longer and longer. For every step I took, it seemed the path added two more steps. When I finally arrived at the office in that living district, I knocked at the door. A muffled voice responded to me, but I couldn’t understand it properly. I stood there waiting. This was the first time I allowed myself to peek around the floor.

I took in my surroundings – I was in a psychiatric hospital about to start my first shift. There I stood in that white corridor waiting for further instructions but the office door stayed closed.

“Hello,” said a voice right behind me. As I spun around, there stood a man, about 60 years old. His hand reached out to me. As I shook it, he asked me who I was. “Tim-Can,” I answered and told him I was going to be working here soon. He introduced himself and said he wanted to show me around a little. He said he had been living in the psychiatric unit for 6 years now. He was sent there for his alcohol addiction. He was a terrific person, had seen much in his life, and had lived a stable life before he developed his addiction. That was the first lesson I learned from a patient; alcohol can be your worst enemy. It is sneaking as it reaches out to you and grasps at your life. When you are in its clutches, you can hardly escape.

This man made himself a home in the psychiatric unit where he currently lives. He resides with his girlfriend and they are very happy together. Having the support of a community helps him to keep addiction at bay. His life is not all sunshine and roses, but these two people can share one umbrella and survive their individual storms together.

Where I work, people live with different diagnoses. Addiction is just one of many diagnoses we treat in psychiatry. The most common illness that we see in the unit are paranoid schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder and organic personality disorder.

These diagnoses do not prevent these people from being able to love and laugh. They are able to experience joy just like any other human being can. True, they have an illness that has to be treated. But, as human beings, we’re all damaged, somehow – mental illness or not.
The first week I worked in psychiatry was exhausting. By the time I arrived home, as evening approached, I felt as sore as a rock must feel after the waterfall has pounded on it all day long. The people I worked with were trying to make my life as easy as possible. They were doing the best that they could in the moment. However, some of these individuals were difficult to handle. Many of the people, living in psychiatry, feel helpless. They suffer from depression, which can feel debilitating. Depression is a funny thing. A human being can survive almost anything, as long as he sees the end in sight. But depression is insidious; it compounds daily so that it’s impossible to ever see the light at the end of the tunnel. The depressive fog is like a cage without a key. People who are experiencing depression need a great deal of support to make it through this fog.

Some of the people I worked with in psychiatry needed support when they wanted to go outside. The level of anxiety they experienced was so high that they couldn’t go out by themselves. Others weren’t able to go shopping alone. They needed help with daily activities. It was my job to help these human beings accomplish these daily tasks.

I often asked myself, how this can happen to these people? Did they deserve these illnesses? I learned a lot in the months I’ve worked in this facility. These people are so incredibly kind and loving. I enjoy being there and talking to them. Some of the people are able to create such awesome things. We have people who studied Law, Special Ed. and Art. Many have families and some of the patients have children. That’s when you remember, these are not just patients; these are real human beings. We work with individuals, just like you and me. These people have fallen to a cruel fate. But that doesn’t make them less human. We should stop stigmatizing these people so badly. It’s imperative to stop thinking they are sitting there drooling and mad hitting their heads against the wall. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The most important lesson I have learned after working in a psychiatric unit is that we are all human. No matter what we experience, what our diagnosis is, we are human beings and we deserve to be treated as such. That’s why I started the hashtag #HumanLikeUs. I want to bring awareness to the community of people who live in in patient mental health facilities. They are human beings. If you have been in an inpatient facility, worked in one, or you support this concept, please use #HumanLikeUs to support this idea.

My name is Tim-Can Werning, I am 19 years old. I live in Germany in a cutetim-can  town called Hanover. I enjoy biking in the morning and reading books in the evening. I started working in psychiatry half a year ago and try to make the lives of these people beautiful. every day. As I fight stigma I try to weaken prejudice and explain to people how psychiatry and mental illness really works and not how it’s portrayed in movies.

Tim-Can has his own little blog where he talks about happiness and self-esteem and also can be found on Facebook

Stigma Fighters: Caroline A. Slee

The Monster in the Bed
When anxiety rears its ugly head.

I was always a nervous kid. When my classmates were jumping off the top of the monkey bars, I was worried about broken bones. I was cautious and timid. Really, I was scared.

If anyone had asked me what I was scared of, I wouldn’t have been able to answer. Nothing? Everything?

But, I was a kid and had no idea about anxiety.

By the time my 20s rolled around, I figured I just had terribly realistic nightmares: I would wake up scared to death, unable to breathe. It always took me what felt like hours to orient myself. My waking hours were, in many ways, easier to deal with: I could compartmentalize and understand that I felt painfully awkward and nervous, yet not connect with the feeling at all.

Then, I was diagnosed with cancer.

My doctor immediately prescribed anti-anxiety medication to me. “You need this to get you through the time it takes to schedule surgery.”

I tried it – but, wow, I couldn’t stand how dopey I felt! I no longer had the energy to manage myself with exercise and endorphins, I went racing back to therapy, but a lot was going on all at one time. The waiting was so bad, I actually felt no fear or nerves: I was in a daily argument with my insurance company to try to speed along the process. Couldn’t they understand that time was of the essence?!

It wasn’t until my second round of chemotherapy that my serious anxiety decided to pay me a friendly visit. Chemotherapy triggers menopause in many women, and I was no exception. I knew that. Intellectually, I knew that. This one night, I had my first hot flash. I woke up from my weird, highly uncomfortable sleep to discover that I was boiling to death in my bed. The heat was like nothing I’d ever experienced, and I couldn’t make sense of it. I didn’t know what was happening to me, and then I had an anxiety attack.

That’s when I knew I was dying.

Of course, I wasn’t. It took my better half doing something like Lamaze breathing and yelling in my face: “It’s a hot flash! You’re okay!” for me to even start to understand that I wasn’t drowning or having a heart attack.

I had to find a way to manage, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of piling more medications in on top of a chemotherapy regimen.

Instead, I sought advice from a friend and a doctor about meditation. The doctor pushed for conscious breathing, and the friend helped me with some tricks to still my busy mind. I noted as many triggers as I could. I learned to stop, anywhere and anytime I needed to, and simply breathe. I’d shut out the noise and the triggers, and breathe.

Anxiety doesn’t disappear once cancer is in remission. It doesn’t miraculously get “cured” one day. It stays, and we learn to manage.

Or, we don’t, and the anxiety rules us. I choose not to return to my life when it was ruled by anxiety. I choose the quirky pauses that make strangers stop and wonder what the heck I’m doing. I choose my health. I choose me.

1294342_717225405014028_8531402926396567535_oCaroline A. Slee is a mother, wife and author living in California. She is a cancer survivor with nearly 5 years under her belt. She’s a runner, swimmer, and hiking partner to a nervous dog.
Her non-fiction book “The Cancer-Free Gourmet” is available on Amazon, along with her fiction series.
Caroline manages her anxiety today with meditation, running, and a bizarre sense of humor, when possible.

Caroline can be found on her website, Facebook, and Twitter. 

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Stigma Fighters: Jess D.

I was taken advantage of -over and over again- at points in my life that I needed to be supported and protected. Started with age three until eight, I’m raped and molested. Funny thing, PTSD. It does a great job at hiding the screams of the innocent child, stuffed inside the adult. I grew up, but screaming child frozen in that moment. Occasionally, it surfaces from hidden depths. Brings forth fierce shock waves throughout my body. Pain. Numbness. Noises, sounds, smells, from another time and place.

Blurred vision, overwhelming sensations, then I’m gone.

Back again, people blankly stared at me..

Are they unsure of what I will say or what they should say?

Do they guard themselves for fear of me?

What did I say or do?

I can’t remember…

Before anyone can speak, I grab my things and dash. Running away from questions maybe asked. Questions I’ve no answer for.

Sound scary? It was as a child. After a while, I realized I did nothing out of the ordinary, even though I didn’t remember what exactly I did. No one ever said anything. No police, never in a hospital. I just kept playing with my toys, escaping time some how. I didn’t have to deal with the day, the day was gone. I tried not to think about it.

Until something did happen. I ran from my house late at night escaping violence from older brothers. Hiding in an alley close by thinking, “Big trouble for them, I won’t be there when mom and dad get home!” Before I knew it I was miles away from home, at a familiar place to me at that age, Washington Park. I walked back home. Police there. Hysterical, I couldn’t remember much. Not wanting it known I walked so far and couldn’t remember why, said I was at a park closer.

Into teen years I found things I did not remember writing. Then had flashbacks of things I don’t recall doing. I began searching for explanations of the most extreme. Seeking magic, spirituality, philosophy, physiology…Something must explain why it felt as missing half my life. Why at times flashbacks of memories? Why other times no memories at all?

Soon it’s not memories I could brush off as fantasy, dreaming. Now people before me talking about things, becomes more real. Smiling and nodding along, as they reminisce of a hilarious account I was supposedly a part of.

Why this? I tried to think back. I realized it had been happening a while. I realized when I tried to think about certain things, I also get a headache. I could not explain it. Fear and pain caused me wandering, feeling numb, as horrors flash before my mind. I cannot turn them off.

I remember standing there….
Then I remember the water…
I remember the bridge….
Eyes close, I’m floating…

Floating?

Or falling?

My eyes open, the world is sideways. I blink, it shifts. Now felt the sensation of hitting the ground. There was this overwhelming influx of emotions with memories slowly incapacitating me. I fainted. I thought I jumped.

I heard someone…

“GET UP!”

No one is there. I didn’t “hear it.” I thought it. Well it’s in my mind, not my thought. How, you say? I really don’t know. I got up. My boyfriend eventually found walking. Home in my room I found notes written in several different styles than my own. My journal, not my words. It was a message to me from someone else…names I did not know.

In my mind she calls: “Hello, Doll…”

I ignored it. I saw my reflection. Time and space distorted. Nothing real. The reflection became a person before me. She smiles. I see we are not in my room now. We are…somewhere else? She opens her mouth to speak.

Someone calls my name. This time, I really HEARD it. I blink. I am back in my room. Mom’s looking for me.

Like extreme daydreaming, but was out of my control. Something triggers a switch. I lost control. Sometimes, felt as if suddenly thrown to the back of my mind, as I only see through the likes of a tiny keyhole in a dark room. I hear myself talk but no control.

I blink. I’m back in control. I’m with family. I apparently said something, making people uncomfortable again. They shake their heads. I look down in shame confused.

This all my youth. Confused with one moment knowing things, but can’t remember the next. No one understands. Most days I wished for somewhere to hide, never felt safe. Wanting someone to care for me. I knew parents can’t forever. Landed me in a few hopeless relationships with men abusive. I just wanted a family, chose easiest first place to go. That’s how ended up where I did. Followed the easiest way once something had pointed me in some direction…Usually I don’t remember how I ended up in that direction. Yet there I am, walking that path, so must keep walking. Couldn’t leave bad situations.

Most people can’t understand what it’s like to have emotions incapacitated. Without emotions to guide you, and when you feel disconnected from control of your body, like dream paralysis, you can only move toward where directed. Unable to evaluate the situation because you’re emotionless.

This is how PTSD goes unnoticed and undiagnosed for years. Because the people just live like robots, ashamed, wondering why they can’t focus on where they are going. Everyone thinks it’s something you can control. You need focus, or pills to make you focus, or need more sleep, or new diet. Everyone’s a doctor.

When you cannot put into words what you are experiencing, and when you in all your life never knew feeling any other way…..You not only can’t know how to ask for help, but also don’t know that you SHOULD. Unknown brain injury. Hidden with shame. People fear me without cause. Worst that happens is I wander, I faint, suffering amnesia. People never believe you…

20151104_135432-2My name is Jess, I’m a 33 year old divorced college student wishing to be an interpreter for the Deaf. Many people didn’t think I’d make it this far. I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and multiple types of Dissociative Disorders. Most issues not diagnosed until mid 20’s after admitted myself into a psychiatric hospital. A victim of childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, narcissist abuse, and losing legal rights to my child by manipulation. I am a survivor of it all. I am just beginning my journey sharing my story. Speaking out about my own suffering to inform the world of a darkness often hidden. When we stay silent, we let this continue. The more people who are aware, the more the world will know how to deal with it. I wish to stop the stigma on the survivors of abuse and trauma. To let trauma heal in a world more empathetic to sufferers. To put the focus of fear and shame where it belongs: the abusers, not the abused.

Jess can also be found on her blog and Twitter

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