Stigma Fighters : Tom Roberts

TURNING A FAMILY CURSE INTO A BLESSING

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

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

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

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

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

Tom can be found on his blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Stephanie Paige

Mommy Is Not Going To Kill Herself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie can be found on her blog, and Facebook 

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Stigma Fighters: John Ambrose

The Darker Side of Synesthesia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was sure of it.

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s alright.

I’m alive.

I get to try, try again.

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

John can be found on Facebook

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Stigma Fighters : Mu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mu can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Davesoapbox

I am no academic. I have no medical training other that how to put a triangle bandage on and do some sort of CPR at a push. However I have known for quite some time that I have a problem. Thirty odd years to give you an idea how long, I’m now 41 so the best I can assume from my rather unreliable memory is that around my early teens the stage was being set. So what stopped me getting help? I understand that until my 20s I probably didn’t know I had a problem although I guess it was there as the symptoms were.

There may be a medical term for it but I am cyclic, I never stick to things for more than nine months to a year; jobs, relationships, hobbies, education never seem to get past a year. In fact the only thing that has lasted longer is my current partner who has put up with me for thirteen years. When I say nothing lasts I mean I will not let anything last, I will go out of my way to make sure the job is lost, the relationship destroyed, education quit. I think you get the idea.

I would give you my illness but until I see the psychiatrist on Thursday I have no idea. It says depression on the sick note but I think the self harming and suicidal planning, etc might change that. I have, however, never seen a psychiatrist so maybe I’m being a bit optimistic about any help I get. Thus far excluding the five days I spent in hospital I have had very little contact with the medical professionals, in fact I have received more help from other sufferers on forums and social media.

Which brings me towards the purpose of this article: Stigma, the kind of word you would expect to be the real name for a wasps stinger but we all know different. You see in my mid twenties I was diagnosed with Photo sensitive Epilepsy, passed out playing an arcade game, woke up in hospital. Before I knew it I had an appointment for an EEG so lots of sticky things on my head, lots of flashy lights and a few weeks later Doctor tells me I have epilepsy and here are some pills.
I had applied to join the Royal Marines the week before, they suddenly didn’t want to know.

In fact for a few years after I dreaded filling in forms “Do you have epilepsy “, didn’t take me long to start lying. I also did not take the diagnosis lying down, for the next few years I spent countless hours off my face on drugs staring at nightclub strobe lights daring it to happen again, it never did. So as my twenties drew onwards I started taking an interest in medical matters, reading books that listed symptoms that in my head I was ticking off like a list. I’m not saying I self diagnosed myself I just kind of confirmed I had a problem. Remembering how my life changed with the epilepsy and how they were treated and knowing that mental illness basically had you packed off to hospital, all one-armed jackets and crayons I kept my mouth shut.

Now trying to hide the fact that you have a mental illness isn’t that easy especially if you have severe mood swings, long periods of depression and then times where you are so on your game everyone loves you. However when you have sussed out the nine month cycle thing you can get quite good, alcohol was always a brilliant excuse. When your are on a high, become party man, buying drinks, paying money that should go on the bills to buy expensive cigars for the boys. I think in those years my parents would either receive a card at christmas (down) or some outlandish gifts (up) but nothing ever lasted, I moved so often I can’t even remember all the places I have lives, friends came and went, nothing was permanent.

Even when it go to the lowest point and I found myself on the phone to the Samaritans for hours, eating pills and washing them down with anything at hand, I still never sought help. Thirty years of my life was destroyed and still counting, but my last trip into darkness I did seek help, I came close to within a few hours of running that blade down my arms but I promised myself I would go and tell the truth. They listened and saved my life, nobody laughed, nobody called me a liar or even a Nutter, they helped. Since that day I vowed I would never lie about how I felt, not shy away from being open about my feelings and most of all not worry what other people thought and do you know what, nobody has said anything negative.

You see it is obvious to me now that I was so afraid of being labelled, being defective, damaged goods I wasted my life. I let the stigma of mental illness become more than the illness itself, I often wonder what would have happened if I had got help years ago? What would my life be like if at twenty-five I had got help? So while most people think of mental health stigma as being others oppressing the sufferer, what they need to know is stigma is just another tool sufferers can use to inflict pain on themselves.

Tomorrow I have a meeting with my boss, I am still within my six month probationary period and if I was him I would get rid of me. Trust me this is bloody hard to write but from a business perspective I am a liability. Is that stigma or good business? Employ a project manager who has a full on breakdown within six months and has been on the sick for over two months and no confirmed date back to work. So being mentally ill changes us and whilst we can raise awareness and teach understanding the stigma will continue because just like racism and sexism we are going up against hundreds of years of stigma reinforcement, just be thankful that undoing that damage seems to be working slightly faster.

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image1Having spent a long time denying I had a problem now I have done a U turn and have decided that if I speak out it may encourage others or even let others know that they are not alone. My motto “Help others,Help yourself”

Dave can be found on his blog and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Amanda Dacquel

Saying Goodbye to Dark Sources

“But love is not a transaction. Love is transcendent—it transcends language and material possessions and can be shown only by our thoughts, actions, and intentions.”
-Joshua Fields Millburn

This past winter, I found myself sitting in my car on the verge of ending it. I could go to the corner Rite Aid, buy a bottle of vodka, take the handful of pills in my bag, and make my own pain go away, forever.

I have had intermittent bouts of depression since I was a teenager, but I always thought depression was some sort of uncontrollable, unexplainable force. I always thought if I could just stop thinking, if I could just get it together, if I could just get away from here, maybe my blues would just…disappear. Of course, they never did.

Last year my depression permeated every bone in my body, and it was getting harder to do even the simplest things. The crying and sadness took over at unexpected times, paralyzing me. Most people turn to family or parents during dark times, but for me that was not an option…

My relationship with my mother was never good. As a teenager her temper and mood swings were so unpredictable that I felt like the roof could explode at any minute. I lived in a constant state of anxiety, because there was no way to prepare.

For so long, I tried to figure out where her anger came from—what topics would set her off—but there was no rhyme or reason to any of it. The only constant was that she was high and low. She could be screaming, flying up the stairs to throw something at my head or hit me one second, and then later would offer to buy me something, while reminding me of how much she loved me. We never spoke about it, and I swept it under the rug each and every time. When my mother was nice, she convinced everyone, myself included.

However, it was her words that left the deepest scars. You’re evil… lazy… rotten… stupid…you’re garbage…you’re ashamed…you don’t know how to talk…no one likes you…you deserve nothing… these were my mother’s declarations of maternal love to me. Growing up, I was convinced people were using me, that friends hated me, or that my boss was about to call me stupid, before I ever walked in the door. I took every subtle gesture as proof that my mother’s cruelties were right all along. I became scared of life.

I tried to distance myself, which only infuriated her more. She would start screaming when I would spend time with friends or talk about moving. She would hurl insults, throw things, and would accuse me of not caring about her or loving her. She demanded constant attention and devotion. When I would recount her viciousness in session, my therapist brought up Borderline Personality Disorder. But at that point, I had lived with it all for so long, I couldn’t see anything changing. I knew she would never get treatment.

My therapist asked, “How have you managed all these years?” Like so many of my answers, I said, “I don’t know.” And I didn’t. I guess the depression, anxiety, and heart palpitations were my body’s way of managing.

For so long, I felt weak, unwanted, and very much alone. Last year, things dipped and I couldn’t see a future for myself, which is when I seriously thought of ending it. Because even while her physical presence was gone from my life, I still talked to her semi-regularly, and I still heard her voice in my head. And why wouldn’t her voice be there? The damage was done a long time ago. I came to the realization that I would never be rid of this darkness and pain unless I made a decision.

I had to finally come to terms with how damaging our relationship really was. I made the choice in therapy to end contact with her, and now, I feel like a weight has been lifted, because I’ve finally felt her presence leave from my life.

The other beneficial methods of combating my depression were time and commitment. The time spent talking to an empathetic therapist and really evaluating what happened, is what truly led to a new way of thinking and living. I had to commit to setting and sticking to boundaries, because making the decision to sever ties with a parent is not easy.

I urge others suffering from depression, to find a compassionate therapist, commit to regular sessions, share, listen, and take very good care of yourself.

I stopped and started writing this piece so many times. Writing down the things that happened is still very painful. For so long, I tried to distract myself. I needed to forget. But I learned those wounds and feelings never go away, they just reappear stronger and more dangerous than before…unless we face them.

Despite my ongoing struggles with depression, I’ve learned to take it one day at a time. I’ve found work I enjoy, and I now notice the incredible difference in only surrounding myself with positive and supportive people. With my therapist, we face the difficult questions and tackle the darkness, together.

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3WR_DCO0Amanda is a lifestyle and mental health writer. She is the creator of the mental health and wellness blog, The Current Collective, http://thecurrentcollective.com

Amanda can be found on her blog, and Twitter.

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Stigma Fighters : Neesa Sunar

My mental health story is such, that I could make several stories out of it. Each chapter… it is as if each is from a separate life. I’ve lived many lives, so to speak, each more terrible than the last. But now, I’m through. I have achieved recovery, and I am finally satisfied with the quality of my life. I proudly can say that I have a doctorate-level education in… I – N – S – A – N – I – T – Y – !!

I have a loving mother. My father was terribly abusive to both of us. Home felt like prison, and I soon learned about paranoia. If we laughed at the wrong time, or if we breathed incorrectly, we became victims. School was cruel as well. My parents did not dress me stylishly, and so I was the butt of many jokes. I looked like a boy. I had hair like Ronald McDonald. I also felt targeted, because I studied the violin. I took to classical music quite fondly, to the point that I, beginning at age six, felt that all non-classical music was absolutely evil, and to be shunned.

I had but one best friend. In seventh grade, she moved to Alabama, gone forever. Also, my father left the home, but the damage to my mind was already done. Without my best friend, life was without meaning. I felt like my DNA spelled “loser.” I wanted to die. And I wanted to stop playing classical music.

My mom fortunately took me out of public school and put me in a private school for eighth grade. Despite the change, I was hospitalized for the first time in ninth grade, and then put on psychiatric meds. I also decided to stop playing (now) the viola. The meds worked well enough though, and by tenth grade, I resumed my music studies. By the time I finished high school, I was slated to attend a prestigious conservatory for a college music degree. I survived high school.

College was pleasant enough, but with each year, I became more and more tired. In the practice room, I was increasingly unable to focus my attention. My mother had suggested to me, for several years, to try meditation in order to quiet my mind. I eventually found a meditation group at my college, which I joined. The group was linked to a guru in India, and so I earnestly applied myself to the practice, meditating daily in the morning and evening. This culminated into a trip to India, where I meditated in the presence of the guru himself. Quite exciting.

I fancied myself “healed” of my illness, and convinced my psychiatrist to titrate me off of my medications.

Big mistake.
Within weeks, I began to have intrusive, obsessive thoughts. All of a spiritual nature. It appeared to me as if I was receiving divine revelations. I felt holy and purified. I felt enlightened. I felt as if I were connected to the wisdom of the universe. But it became more and more unreal. I began walking into stores, smelling the merchandise to see if each item was heterosexual or homosexual. I looked at paintings, amazed at the three-dimensional reality of each image, real enough to step inside and feel the wind of a landscape against my face. And my perspective of music… warped. Practicing viola became a kind of yoga where I would harness my chi. For the first time in years, I loved music. But my teacher said I was getting worse. I was baffled.

Eventually, such happened that I walked into a restaurant, and started crying, fearful. Cops picked me up and drove me to the hospital. A new diagnosis now: schizoaffective disorder. After being discharged, on new medications, I finished out the year of college in a daze, and left for good. I had a bachelors and half a masters.

I returned home to my mother in New York, and spent a full year and a half recovering. This included using the internet to find sexual flings, finding photographers to model for, and also finding pen pals from Germany to write to. I had learned German in high school, and decided to revive it. I also rejected classical music fully, and spent that year and a half listening to Queen, and only Queen.

Eventually, I started teaching violin lessons at a local store, which inspired me to go back to school to become a classroom music teacher. I went back to school to get a New York State K-12 music teacher certification. The first year went well, and during the second year, I took a job at a private school as a music teacher. I desired to be productive and prolific, and in my heart, I wanted to be a high achiever. But then… the illness reared its ugly head. Psychic revelations returned, this time telling me I was the reincarnation of Beethoven. Midway through the year, I was hospitalized again, and then forced to leave my job and school both.

I should say that, by this time, I was in shambles. I had gained 90 lbs. in the last two and a half year, due to medication. And I realized… that I would not be able to work. My mind always collapsed. That was all I ever knew. My colleagues from college had moved on to graduate school and jobs, whereas I was on the floor, in pieces. I gave up. I filed for disability and was awarded such. To pass the time, I wrote songs with a guitar and played at open mics in the city. I made friends with many people, and began to feel like I belonged, at least in some corner of New York.

By this time, my grandmother began to fall ill with dementia. Living in the same house was incredibly stressful and emotionally triggering. Due to chance, I suddenly became a born-again Christian and soon after joined a very conservative church in my area. The church encouraged me to care for my grandmother and minister to her, so that she could become saved. I took it upon myself to care for her full time until her passing. I fully immersed myself in church, attending three times a week. I also attended a bible conference.

I prayed earnestly, when suddenly God told me I was gay. I was confused, and confided in the pastors of the church. They were kind and supportive, and gave me scripture to read in order to fight the temptation. But God, or whatever it was, was overpowering. I left the church and returned to the open mics… and then had another breakdown. Hospital. The whole she-bang. I told my mother I could not return home to my grandmother.

After being discharged, I had a temporary living arrangement where I could escape my grandmother. But after a month, I was forced to leave. I decided to try and be independent, and so I signed myself into a homeless shelter in the south Bronx. After staying for only two weeks, I decided to leave, basically because I had been sitting outside when someone shot the window above where I was sitting. By this time, I had befriended a girl at the shelter, and so when I left the shelter, I took her with me. She encouraged me to go off my medications, and so I did. Cold turkey.

Surprisingly, I didn’t crash right away. I figured then, that I was healed. My mother quickly rented an apartment for me to live in by myself, so that I could be away from my grandmother. I also had a rift with the girl I brought from the shelter, and so she left. For the next few months, I dieted in an attempt to lose weight. After about six months, I lost a good fifty pounds.

I started a kickboxing class at a place where my friend worked. I took to the classes well, and began to develop a crush on one of the instructors. About eight weeks later, I was convinced that I was the reincarnation of Beethoven, and that my instructor was Beethoven’s soul mate, also reincarnated. Soon after, I was forced to go to the hospital again. In the emergency room, I began to experience messages which then gave me commands to retrieve my belongings from the security guard. At this point, I blacked out, after which I then remember myself writhing on the floor, struggling against about ten people, all trying to hold me down. I screamed like a banshee. I was so frightened. My body was moving against my will. My voice was babbling, and yet I wanted it to stop. I was then injected with a sedative and restrained. As they tied me down, I said over and over again: “Thank you. Thank you! I love you… I love you.” I thought that I was the victim of a conspiracy, and that I needed to die. I needed to die, because I was an axis of evil that would destroy the world. So I was very happy to be tied down.

I remained in the hospital for about three and a half weeks. The night after I was discharged, I descended into mental chaos again, this time becoming convinced that I was the Antichrist. I was again hospitalized, this time for over two months. It was frightening. For several weeks, I had not improved enough to leave. The psychiatrists told me that they were applying me for state hospitalization. I advocated for myself and got put on a medication, which worked well, allowing me to leave the hospital.

For the next year, I went to outpatient psychiatric rehab programs, during which I learned about becoming a mental health peer specialist. A school in Manhattan, called “Howie the Harp Peer Advocacy Center,” offered a free-of-charge training program for peer specialists. I applied and was accepted. The following term, I attended the classes, learning about the ins and outs of peer work. I learned that there is action going on, where people want there to be a mental health rights movement. I learned that I don’t need to be ashamed of my illness. I learned that my story is valuable, and that by telling it, I can give others hope, empowering them to feel strong.

After the coursework at Howie the Harp, I completed an internship at an agency in Queens, NY, after which I was hired for a full-time position. I have now been there for over six months, and I am showing no signs of relapse. If anything, I am achieving more now than I ever have before. The prolific career that I always wanted… is now what I have. Regarding my spirituality, I no longer fear it. I no longer fear that I will be attacked by my subconscious.

And now… I work at a place where I am appreciated. I don’t have to hide my mental illness in the closet. And why should I? My strength and my source of wisdom… it came from my pain and suffering due to mental illness. By hiding it, I hide who I am. I hide my humanity. And I don’t want to hide anymore.

Mental illness is cruel. For years, it prevented me from knowing myself. It told me I was gay when I actually am not. It told me that I was evil when I am anything but. It told me that rock music was evil, and that everyone hated me for not liking it. It told me that I was a loser. It told me that I was worthless, ugly, and deserving of nothing but death. Even as a small child, I was in its grasp.

For the first time… EVER… I know now that life is beautiful. I see its beauty every day. Tragically, I never could see it before, even as a small child. Doctors often diagnose depression by determining that a person no longer enjoys what s/he once did. S/he experiences a lack of zest for life as once before. But… what if you never have enjoyed such? What then?

I’m glad I’m better now. I attribute it, first and foremost, to the medications I take. I finally realize that I must take them, and I’m not ashamed anymore. The combination I take now is miraculous. Sadly, it took about thirteen years to get to this point. Additionally, I also utilize techniques from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT.

And… friends! For the first time, I realize how many friends I have. Over the past two years, I have been open with my mental illness to friends on Facebook. And many people have come out of the woodwork, supporting me. Telling me I can do it! These people sincerely care. And I realize that I am not alone. Sure, my experiences are different from others’, but simply having empathetic friends is enough. I don’t have to be understood to feel good. I just need to have friends who care, and who are willing to listen.

Seeing my friends also influences my work as a peer. I have big dreams, to reach high and far. And I know in my heart, that I will do such for the rest of my life.

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Neesa Sunar works as a peer specialist in Queens, NY. She was born and raised there as well, and has a bachelors degree in viola performance. She enjoys singing and songwriting as well. These days, she now fully dedicates herself to blogging, in the effort to create more awareness about mental illness. She truly lives to fight stigma.

Neesa can be found on her Blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Karah

I have Bi polar. I have Borderline Personality Disorder. I have Depression. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic disorder and disorder disorder disorder…..
Bottom line, I am a person who lives with an Invisible Illness. One of many people like me who gives themselves a pat on the back for making it out of bed in the morning, or even, for waking up in the morning. I am 12 days short of my 29th birthday and I have been living with these *ahem* correction THESE illnesses for more than half of my life. MORE THAN HALF!!!!!
I am not the only one who lives like this, but every second of every day I feel like I am the only one. And that thought is so suffocating that I drown in this pain that you can’t even imagine.

When I act differently or say the wrong thing because I am extremely socially awkward you all nay-sayers shut me down like I am scum and like I need to be locked away. Did you see that epsiode of Game of Thrones where Cersi Lannister was walked through the street naked while some overly righteous nun rang a bell and screamed “SHAME… SHAME… SHAME”

That is how I feel because by suffering a mental illness, an invisible illness, my need for care and support from the world is not acknowledged and I get laughed at when I say “please help me, I am struggling, I feel dark inside” and I am told to just try smiling and it will help.
I fight everyday, and I want to continue to fight everyday, because I firmly believe that I have a voice, and that people who are like me need to have a voice.
I am one of the lucky ones. I have support, so much support it is not fair. I have a dog, this tiny ball of 5 pound chihuahua that I love more than I love anything else who keeps me fighting even when all I want to do is to give up. Which I do, a lot. I know, that I am so much more than Bipolar, and I am even more than Borderline Personality Disorder. My anxiety is nothing and one day I am going to realize that every disorder that I am labeled with won’t mean anything. One day, as long as I keep speaking up loudly and proudly about who and what I am, mental illness won’t be so shunned and looked down upon anymore.
Have you heard of the organization To Write Love On Her Arms? It has been a key component to my ability to move forward everyday. It showed me that it is okay to feel what I feel and that I was not alone in those feelings.  Those thoughts that I had. I was NOT alone. And I am STILL NOT alone, and neither are you. Together we WILL be the hopeful and I finally can believe that recovery is possible… for ALL OF US!

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Recently I was diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder. But over the past 16 years of my life I have had multiple diagnosis and told I was many things.
I grew up in Calgary, AB Canada and now reside in Beautiful British Columbia, Canada where I moved 4 years ago for health reasons. I have a delightfully playful and adorable min pin/chihuahua mix named NOVA who literally is my heart and soul.
I am making an attempt at blogging about my Mental Health experience based on a suggestion from my psychiatrist, so wish me luck!

Karah can be found on her blog

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Stigma Fighters : L.B. Blake

I was nineteen when I had my first impulse to cut. Twenty when I actually took a razor blade to my arm. But it began long before then. As a little kid, I used to ball my hands into little fists so my fingernails would dig into my skin whenever I was upset in order to lock the tears and anger inside.

It was just after my sophomore year of college that I had my first impulse to cut. Nothing in particular had triggered it. I was in the middle of a breakdown, feeling overwhelmed and like a failure because I wasn’t perfect, and the depression that I had been battling since middle school had finally reached an unbearable level. Suicide crossed my mind for the first time that night, but I knew that I didn’t really want to die. I just needed the hurt to stop—now. And then I had the urge to take something sharp and cut myself, make myself bleed. It terrified me. Was I really so sick that I wanted to harm myself?

I was.

I didn’t cut that night, only because I was too scared. Scared of myself. Scared of what such an act would say about me. Scared of anyone finding out how messed up I was. But a little less than a year later after a nasty fight with a friend, I found a box cutter in my desk drawer and made three little cuts on the inside of my left arm. It didn’t hurt and they didn’t bleed much. But the pain inside was miraculously gone. For the first time in what felt like forever, my mind was calm and still. I knew I’d cut again.

Over the next three years my depression raged, and I did my best to hide it with smiles and long sleeves. I had bouts where I was suicidal, making plans to slit my wrists in the shower or drive my car into a tree. There were periods where I would cut ten or more times a day. Both arms, both legs, and my torso are covered in scars. Some scars thin and straight, barely noticeable; others deep and angry, screaming: look at me! Since I was an overachiever and stubbornly independent, I was determined to handle my depression alone, without any help from professionals, family, friends, or medication.

Just after college I would try to kill myself. Not a serious attempt. I cut at my wrists a bit, nothing deep. My suicide attempt had nothing to do with wanting to die. In fact, I wanted nothing more than to live. But I needed the hurt to end, and I couldn’t fathom a life in which that was a reality for me. I had gone through periods where I was relatively content and even had moment of happiness and hope, but the depression and self-loathing always came back. Then one night I had a single, rather simple thought: I can’t live like this anymore. I knew I could pull myself out of the depression because I had done it before. But I also knew that it would come back again and again simply because it always did. So if I couldn’t climb out of the depression and end my suffering, I was going to give into it, kill myself, and end it that way.

I wish I could say that it was hope or some shred of self-worth that kept me from cutting deeper and ending my life. But it wasn’t. It was simply fear. The fear of death was stronger than my pain. However, that thought, I can’t live like this anymore, had grown roots in my mind. Since I couldn’t kill myself, then I had no other choice than to climb out of the pit and find a way not to fall back in.

It’s been ten years since that low point in my life, and I’ve come a long way. The depression resurfaces from time to time, but not to the depths it once did. And I’m not going to lie, I still cut from time to time, but there are years between these isolated incidents when I just get too overwhelmed. I wish I could say that I finally found the strength to get help, but the truth is that I’ve never been on an anti-depressant. I’ve never spoken to a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist. (I do, however, have a couple of close friends and a husband who know about my struggles and support me). I am still obstinate and determined to do everything myself, including battle my depression. This is not a path I recommend, not by a long shot, but it is the one I’ve chosen.

For me to overcome my depression, I had to take control of my thoughts. Self-loathing always has been my greatest vice. My waking hours consisted mostly of ripping myself apart for not being this ridiculous ideal I had created in my head, for failing to reach unrealistic expectations, and for simply being human and fallible. I also had a nasty habit of replaying painful events in my head over and over again to punish myself. I called myself ugly names and told myself that I deserved to die. Call it cognitive therapy, call it mediation, but I began monitoring my thoughts, and every time I starting tearing myself down or reliving something painful, I consciously stopped that line of thought. It was exhausting, always being so conscious of the thoughts skipping across my mind. It took great energy, discipline, and time to end that destructive self-talk. But eventually I didn’t have to keep such a vigilant watch over my thoughts because the negativity gradually faded away.

As a side effect of taking control of my own mind, I became more self-aware and began to understand why I was the way I was (there was no abuse, no great trauma; just genetics and dysfunctional family dynamics). I cut toxic people out of my life, those that reinforced the negative opinion of myself and drained me of my energy. I distanced myself from those that I couldn’t cut off. I found other ways than cutting to cope when I felt overwhelmed, depressed, or like a failure—I wrote; I vented to a friend; I found stillness in nature. I learned to ask for help and try not to be Wonder Woman all the time (though admittedly, this is still difficult for me). I also found the confidence and self-esteem to change the external things that didn’t work in my life—a job I detested and a crappy apartment.

The cutting was a symptom of the depression. But it was also so much more. It was a coping method, a way to escape the pain; it stilled the mind so I could function. It was a physical manifestation of the self-hatred; not only was I beating myself up on the inside, I was also beating myself up on the outside. It gave a physical symptom to my mental illness, and in some twisted way gave my illness validity. I could thrust out my arms and say see, it’s not all in my head. And it was me asking for help, even if I hid the cuts.

Just as an alcoholic is always an alcoholic, even if he or she gives up drinking, I will always be a cutter. It doesn’t matter how many years have passed since I last harmed myself. When the darkness comes, I still get that impulse to cut. It’s rare that I give in to that impulse, but it’s there and always will be.

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L.B. Blake is a recovering cutter and author of the novel, Bleeding Souls. She can be found on her Goodreads.

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Stigma Fighters : Jonathan Harnisch

People With Depression Cannot ‘Snap Out Of It’

People with depression cannot “snap out of it.” My moods change frequently, and I am currently depressed. There is nothing more depressing than suffering from depression and still feeling sad. So, what’s the point? Will it pass? No doubt. I forget what it’s like to smile, and I mean for more than a couple hours now; I’m talking about now, not later. I forget what it’s like to be a lovely or loving person, or if I ever was such a person at all – one of love, of goodness, of graciousness. I forget how it feels to truly live, much less how to live life to the fullest. I just exist. Right now, I simply exist, with my pulse and my breath and maybe some tears, if I am even able to let them roll a river down my face and flood the seas and the world with them, to get them out. I try to get myself out of this mood. This life. This episode of depression. Sure, I’ll return to normal. Sure. Still, I have temporarily lost the point of living a life, pretending to smile or laugh, or getting a joke every darn hour when there are people around me who only want to see me happy. Well, I am not happy, and overall I have not been happy for most of my life. If anything, I glamorize the past, and even the present, sometimes. It’ll pass, but that’s not the point. The point is how I feel now. The point is right now.

 

Yes, I know it will pass. I know people love me, but I do not currently know what that should feel like. I just can’t remember. I feel so lost. Gone. Yet I continue, and therefore I “inspire,” I’m often told, but I am still depressed. I am still in this chair, writing out this rubbish because it gets so overbearing I can’t tell you. I’m not alone. I know that, too, but that feels and sounds so contrived and lackluster, uninspiring, to me right now.

 

I pretend to be so damn nice and funny and charming for others, just for “them,” so I don’t lose a Facebook friend or whatnot. Nevertheless, I have zero real-life friends. I’m not sure if I ever have had any. Well, maybe, sort of, but they probably felt sorry for me. Who cares? I don’t know. I am not even my own friend. This has been true for most of my life. I got into a good school, which I didn’t even belong in. I lived my former Hollywood life, which never did anything for me worthwhile. I exaggerate about how cool that time in my life was, way back, back in the day. Now, I can barely move. I can barely see. I’ve been here many times, so don’t worry about me. Just send a hug, as if I’d ever feel any real hug; virtual hugs are probably better because there is no effort involved. No feeling, and I can just barely feel.

 

This is why I write this kind of stuff. “Just keep writing,” says that little voice in my head, “Get it all out, all that you can.” Do it now. Now. Now. Now. Get me out of right now. Remind me of some clever quote or cliché, reminding me how they are just reminders over and over again of how hard it actually is, in this case for anyone, to do, let go, move on, it’ll pass, it’ll pass, and so forth.

 

I pretend to live, pretending to be myself, as if that would ring true. “Oh, that’s just your mental illness speaking,” some say. Well, then I guess I am just one full bag of happiness, and I am over it. Did I snap out of it? Of course. And again, I will get out of this depressed state, just not now, and I will do it only to see it return. I am incapable of getting but one positive thought out, so I am sorry for not pretending right now, even for just a minute. Maybe I still am pretending. I am sick, twisted, and wrong. I don’t belong.

 

Other people have it worse. I suppose I don’t deserve or have the right to be depressed. I need to think about them. Poor them. Hate me. Sometimes I pretend to love the life I live. What’s the point? As Faulkner said, basically, the reason to live is to get ready to stay dead a long time. Okay, thanks, Mr. Faulkner.

 

Seriously, what is the point? Tell me about it, about how we are all just here winging it, trying to get by. I am not “getting by.” I watch the clock and wait, and wait, and wait for tomorrow. Oh, how sad and pitiful. Get rid of this guy, this guy Jonathan. Hell, I can’t even walk two feet without being right here with myself, as myself. There is no escape.

 

I just know hope; it’s that same hope that gets me and brings me back here, for now. Tell me the point and I’ll tell you why I am so damn me, but it doesn’t mean I’m really proud of this. Make me understand you as I try to do the same. People with depression cannot “snap out of it.” Until my next episode, and otherwise until next time…

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You can also find Jonathan on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter, which is his preferred social media site. Author Jonathan Harnisch has written a semi-fictional and semi-autobiographical bestselling novel,Jonathan Harnisch: An Alibiography, which is available on Amazon and through most major booksellers. He is also a noted, and sometimes controversial, mental health advocate, a fine artist, blogger, podcast host, patent holder, hedge fund manager, musician, and film and TV writer and producer. Google him for more information.

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