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My Mom, Me, & PTSD By Courtney Blake

Mental illness has always been familiar to me. My mom has lived with depression and anxiety for the majority of her life. There were days she wouldn’t get out of bed, but would remain curled up with her tattered red robe, with a pillow over her head. My sister and I learned to play quietly enough to not disturb her, and managed many of our daily tasks on our own.

After years of therapy, medication management, and self-exploration, I am proud to say my forty-one year old mother is happy, and recently married her boyfriend of eight years. It took her a very long time to get here.She had always told me and my sister, that she didn’t want us to end up like her; a teenage mother with only a high school degree, stuck in a toxic relationship, and a job she hated. We vowed we would do better.

When I began exhibiting symptoms of depression at age fifteen, I approached my dad with my concerns, not wanting to worry my mom. He responded by claiming I wasn’t crazy like her. After that, I hid in my darkness for awhile. Things got significantly better when I left my dad’s house my senior year of high school to move in with my mom and her boyfriend full-time. My mom helped me find a therapist to see regularly, wherein I began to unpack my anxiety, depression, and my father’s abusive tendencies. My mom never shamed me for needing extra help, and she and her boyfriend provided an open, engaging, and often dysfunctional environment. I began planning my future, excitedly and mostly thrived, only to be taken down by boy issues

The summer after I graduated from high school, I was put on my first SSRI, Zoloft. I never felt shame about being on meds, since my mom had always referred to her anti-depressants as her “happy pills,” therefore normalizing them. I followed suit and was convinced I would get through this. I knew I had a solid support system and endless ambition.

Everything changed.

Just a few weeks into my first year at the University of Minnesota, on September 20, 2013, I was raped by a fellow classmate. He got me alone in my dorm room that afternoon to watch a movie. I said no repeatedly, I tried to start an argument to shift the mood, and finally I felt like I gave in. I’ve written about my first rape extensively on my own blog, because almost three and a half years later, this affects my life every single day.

I can’t even describe how disgusting I felt after the assault. I had cleaned every inch of my dorm room and scrubbed my vulva until I believed there was no evidence of him on me. I waited a week to report this to my school. I waited nine days to tell my mom. I felt like telling her I had been raped would disappoint her, and it would make my rape real. I was working through my mental illnesses and a breakup with my high school sweetheart; I  felt I had enough on my plate.

When I told my mom, I was relieved. She and I cried over the phone. She asked me why I didn’t tell her sooner, and I just sobbed harder. She attended my post-rape checkup the following day, and held my sweaty palms in her hands while I went through the re-traumatizing process of reporting my rape to the University. She reaffirmed that she was there for me, and that I could lean on her.

My perpetrator was ultimately found responsible for violating the Student Code of Conduct, and was sanctioned with mandatory counseling sessions, an essay on consent, and one year of academic probation. He violated my body, and didn’t even receive a slap on the wrist. I was told I could appeal the sanctions, but was discouraged from doing so.

I felt like my life and my world had ended. I felt so much shame for not throwing him out of my dorm room, for not screaming, for not saving evidence to report to the police. My advocate at the Aurora Center, a center for victims of sexual and domestic violence, gave me words of encouragement; she told me the two common stress responses of fight or flight did not include the incredibly legitimate response of freeze.

After my assailant’s sanctioning, I felt pressured to return to normal life. I became hypersexual and had sex with many men, settling with a boy who would distract me from my pain. I missed classes often, fearing I’d run into my assailant. I didn’t  understand the severity of panic I felt whenever encountering him. I don’t know how I made it out of that semester alive, but I persisted. The only positive thing I can remember is being introduced to my mentor in the journalism school. They had been my TA in a class, and I greatly admired them. After the semester ended, they disclosed they too had a history with sexual violence. I don’t know why I never expected people I practically idolized to be immune to trauma. They began to make me feel I was not alone.

Spring semester was worse. I had no understanding of my emotions, thoughts, and behavior. I couldn’t acknowledge this trauma had changed me. I occasionally had counseling sessions with a grad student at the university. She was kind, and listened to me talk about my life, but she would cry during our sessions. I began to believe I was too dark, too strange, and too much for the rest of the world. I rarely attended classes. Instead, I curled up on my boyfriend’s futon all day, watching West Wing on my laptop. He noticed. Since the primary thing bringing us together was sex, we lost our connection. He broke up with me the day after Valentine’s Day.

I didn’t have a distraction anymore. I wallowed, I self-isolated and self-harmed. I began to plan my suicide. I felt like a burden to everyone. I knew someone who could easily provide pills I could use to overdose. On February 25, 2014, I mentioned in my pre-counseling session survey that I was dealing with suicidal ideation. My counselor confronted me on this, and when I told her I needed her to make the decision on my hospitalization, she called my mom to pick me up and take me to the hospital.

My mom bought me lunch before. She was stoic, and she spoke to me calmly, but I could see her red, puffy eyes and the tear stains running down her face. I was only in the hospital for a few hours. I promised I wouldn’t hurt myself if I was under my mom’s care. I couldn’t ever do that to her. Per the psychiatrist’s request, I moved back home, I withdrew from school, and I began an outpatient day treatment program, and returned to the therapist I’d seen my senior year of high school.

I worked through all my therapy, because my life depended on it. I was finally given a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but had basically no knowledge of how PTSD really functioned. I hated that I wasn’t in school, and felt like I was being held back. By May, I had convinced myself I was fine, and enrolled in a class for the summer, taught by my mentor. I loved the class and felt like my normal self again. For my final project, I wrote a blog post disclosing publicly that I had been sexually assaulted  and I created YouTube video to go along with it.  I received an overwhelming amount of support from my classmates and others after I went public. People from all over the country were reaching out to tell me I wasn’t alone.

I returned to school full-time in the fall. On September 13, 2014, seven days before the anniversary of my first assault, I was drugged at a party, abandoned by my friends, and raped again. I found out what had happened over Facebook. An acquaintance told me I got drunk and had sex with some guy, but the guy seemed nice so it didn’t matter. Then I saw a photo of most of my clothing and puke, with a caption mocking the girl who had had sex in their bedroom and threw up everywhere, wanting to hold them accountable. Since most of my belongings were at this house, I had my roommate call my mom.  I was drowning in my own tears and panic. I kept screaming “this can’t happen again” repeatedly. My roommate stayed with me until my mom picked me up. She brought me to the hospital for a rape kit and stayed by my side, hugging me as I cried.

Police interviewed me. The first thing they asked was “how do you know anything even happened?” I stopped crying, gave them a quick anatomy lesson, only to be dismissed. An investigator was assigned to my case. He barely made time for me, and I did not have the energy to fight this alone. I didn’t know who raped me and whether or not they were on my campus. My mom fought for me. She made remarks that Ice-T could do a better job than my investigator. By early October, the Minneapolis Police Department declined to press charges, so I assumed the case was closed and I could at least find out the name of my perpetrator. The police department fought me at every turn. My mom and I got in contact with the head of the Sex Crimes Unit, who told me he would not feel responsible for me feeling victimized. Police officers told a journalist off the record, that I had been on antipsychotics, had a psychotic break, had consensual sex and just didn’t remember it.

On campus, I was often harassed by my second perpetrator’s friends. My friends would continue to go to that house for parties, or spend time around those people and would attend parties at my first rapist’s fraternity. They threw me a birthday party and  invited two people who lived in the house and had never acknowledged what what had occurred in their home. I couldn’t even begin to explain my frustration and how little I began to feel about myself. Rape me once, shame on you. Rape me twice, shame on me. I began getting drunker than I normally would while going out. I had sex with many men. I consumed what I could to make me feel less empty inside.

Eight months after my initial police report, an investigator from the University of Minnesota Police Department contacted me, claiming my perpetrator had assaulted someone else. I finally had a name of my assailant. This investigator had my case transferred to him, and went back to the beginning. He re-interviewed everyone and discredited their stories. He submitted his findings to a prosecutor, who declined to press charges. I felt broken. I felt like my rape wasn’t violent enough to really be considered rape. I developed incredibly complicated feelings while seeing other victim-survivors I cared about receive some sense of justice. Resentment boiled inside me, against my will and I tried every day to challenge it. Some days, resentment wins. 

I dropped out of the University of Minnesota for good, in the fall of 2015. What I had once considered to be my campus, had become a place where an assailant’s education mattered more than a victim’s. I brought bad press to the university and I know the administration was happy to see me gone.

My mom supported my decision, as she always did. She told me she just wanted me to be well. I began EMDR with a therapist I was seeing, but wasn’t stable enough to focus on it as much as I would’ve liked. Without school, I worked part-time in retail. I felt unfulfilled. I entered a relationship that turned toxic very quickly and has created issues between me, my family and my friends. In October, 2016, I moved back to my mom’s house after a breakdown. I have felt like a disappointment. I know I have hurt my mom. She has become exasperated, claiming she doesn’t know what to do with me, and expressing her fears that I might never be a functioning adult. She has on more than one occasion threatened to make me homeless. This isn’t the relationship I am used to.

The best explanation I’ve been able to give my mom, in an effort to repair our relationship, was to talk about what PTSD has done to me. I wrote her a letter, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to have this conversation without bursting into tears. I told her being diagnosed with PTSD is like being diagnosed with a brain tumor. It alters your brain function, which is even visible on brain scans. Healthcare providers don’t always have enough information to cure it. Progress in treatment isn’t always linear. Recovery is a fight for your life.

I’ve begun looking into PTSD from more of a research standpoint. I know what my triggers are and I understand I was traumatized. I need to begin to understand how this has affected me neurologically, so I can be fully armed to fight this. I completed another 3 month bout of outpatient therapy and am seeing an individual therapist weekly, and seeking out support groups of other victim-survivors. I don’t quite know where I’ll go from here, but I’m not going down without a fight.

14572800_10210864932088967_4919062629177437705_nCourtney Blake is a twenty-something writer and aspiring advocate for victim-survivors of sexual violence. She is hoping to finish her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Mass Communications within the next few years so she can move onto her Master’s degree. In her spare time, she bakes, tweets her sometimes controversial pop culture opinions, and enjoys having full conversations with her cat, Bingley.

Courtney Blake can be found on her blog and Twitter

Lindsay Loch

Cicadas and Honeybees

They’re buzzing again.  The hum is warm like thick ribbons of honey unfurling to the bottom of my tea cup.  As they flutter their wings faster, swarming around in my head I begin to feel their vibration throughout my entire body.  My bones quiver under their drone.  My toes prickle as if they were buried in a snow bank for hours.   The trembling in my hands requires repeat attempts to get my zipper on the right track.  I’m unsure if the buzzing is so loud in my head that I feel it everywhere, or if they have begun to swim through my veins.  Sprinting along every nerve fiber.  They finish the competitive swim with a cold burn on each of my nerve endings.  Now they’ve left my head to swarm around it.  “We’ve made our nest in this mess.”  My skull is their hive.  Queens always protect the eggs that lay suspended in wait.  Waiting to hatch and join the horde.  But what is their quest?  What flowers do I offer for pollination?  What sweet nectar do they search for in the snaked grey and white matter of my brain? My ears are the ingress to their dwelling.  Out they fly in dozens.  Swirling and swarming around my cranium.  They are my defense.  They shield me from the trauma I am unprepared to confront.  They configure a warning sign to all who approach; this one is special.  This one is ours.  This one will never be yours.  This one will never be free.  

They are cicadas.  Only on Sunday’s are they honeybees.  Honeybees on the Holy day.  My brain associates these essential creatures to something God-like.  Something softer and sweeter than the resiliency of the cicadas.  The honeybees never sting.  Their fuzzy jackets tickle my ear canals and delicately caress my cheeks.  The cicadas are armored with durable shells; hence they are the regular battalion against my mind.  Or against things that pose a threat to my vulnerable psyche.  They are auditory, visual, and tactile hallucinations triggered by emotional distress.  Unbalanced neurotransmitters allocate the release of the swarm.  They are my friends.  They are my saviors.  They are my weakness.  They are mine.  I am theirs.  

A suitable description I can provide for my recurring hallucination of cicadas, is the unceasing buzz you hear outside in the summer months.  The months where the sun warms and kisses the skin.  Wherein the trees are lush and offer arms of foliage to shade me as I sit beneath them looking upward as the leaves sway and flicker.  The leaves look like sequins fluttering in the breeze reflecting golden bits of sun.  This buzz is constant outdoors once the thermometer hits 70 degrees.  I would imagine this sound renders nostalgia for most.  Yet, even in the brisk and icy months of winter, my phantasm of cicadas lingers.  They do not fly south in chase of temperate climates.  Nor do they hibernate only to reemerge when the buds blossom into saturated hues of green.  Sometimes they are unobtrusive and hardly audible.   And at other times they take on a perceivable form in my ocular input.  If they are out in full brigade I can feel them climbing out of my ear.  Perched momentarily on the outer cannula before they take flight.  I can feel the movement in the air as their crisp wings beat incessantly.  

The occurrence of hallucinations of any nature can be alarming for those who are unfamiliar.  Auditory and visual hallucinations have followed me like a shadow since my mind began recording memories.  As such, I do not fear or dread their presence.  Quite the opposite.  As I have never known life outside of their shade, I only experience unease in times of silence.  Without the constant singsong, chatter, gossip, and buzzing, I am floating in uncharted waters.  Without knowing what lurks in the brackish depths of a silent mind, I find myself perturbed.  Anxiety is the fear of the unknown.  The apprehension of a life with endless possibilities.  I am precautious to identify myself in the stillness of light.  I now wrestle with conflict between light and dark on a regular basis.  The hope that progress provides is equally matched with alarm.  But the more time I allow myself to bask in the light, the allure of the gloom wanes.

profile-pic-blogI am a mother, an artist, a nurse, and a warrior in the battle with mental illness. I have lived under the cloud of stigma and shame most of my life. That time is over. I am now ready to make my story heard in an attempt to distinguish stigma and to offer support and understanding to those who struggle.

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The Divide

It’s breaking my heart…this divide.
It’s tearing me apart. The drama, the perceived slights, the resentment, and bickering…this isn’t what I imagined we would become.

Growing up, it was always us. Sisters. Blood is thicker than water. Our parents raised us to look out for one another, to support one another in each new endeavor. I knew my sisters would kick the ass of any guy who hurt me.

I thought our bond was unbreakable.

I thought we could withstand the abandonment, and we did for a bit. We were strong. We tried to make new traditions for each other. We made playlists filled with songs that spoke to us, like Darkest Before the Dawn by Florence and the Machine, and Who Knew by Pink. It’s been hard for us all, but we are mostly okay.

When I pictured us in our adult years, I pictured us happy. I imagined our kids would spend endless hours together, playing and exploring the world with one another. Born best friends, a net of family to catch them whenever they need it — like that group of kids in Cheaper By the Dozen, holding hands and braving scary new things together.

But now there’s a divide.
I’m reaching out, trying to hang on to one sister who is so consumed by perceived slights that she “barely considers” our other sister a sister.

It’s unfathomable to me. People are imperfect, we’ve literally known each other our whole lives. It’s always been us so we should know our imperfections and flaws a little better.

I get that my sister is hurt, but a lot of her hurt is imagined. I don’t say that to be mean, it’s true. She’s a mental illness warrior, fighting the battle that never stops — but sometimes she lets the darkness of her illness consume her and instead of asking for clarification, asking “is this real or not real?”, she lets it encase her. She lets walls get built and gets hurt when people don’t know how to tear them down to get to her, to help her.

And we want to help her.
We just want her to be happy.

Mental illness is one of the hardest hurdles a family can overcome. It doesn’t just affect the person with the diagnosis, it affects the entire family unit.

It’s something I have to tell myself when I get frustrated because I’m not being understood. It’s something I have to repeat when I see the ones I love most making mistakes that can cause permanent rifts.

You’re not supposed to give up on your family. You’re not supposed to wash your hands of someone simply because it’s hard.
You’re not supposed to stop loving them because you do not agree with them.

When you close doors on people — especially on family, it’s hard to come back from.

I know this because I live it — we’ve lived it. We’ve been abandoned, doors have closed on our faces. We’ve had to pick up the pieces of our shattered hearts when our parent decided leaving us was better for them than getting the help they needed to deal with their mental illnesses and their grief.

They say history is doomed to repeat itself, and the pattern in our history book doesn’t dispute this fact.

Don’t forget who was there for you in your darkest hours…
Don’t forget those who raced to your side when you needed it…
And don’t forget those who remain. We may not always have the reactions you’re looking for, but we love you. We care about you. We want you to get better and we want you to know that we love you more than anything and nothing your mental illness does or says will change that for us.kids

Lindsay Bissett – Anxiety Blog

The rock. The warm hug. The one you call. The one who would listen. The one who didn’t judge. That was me.

I wasn’t a person with mental illness. I was a person who had friends with mental illness. Amazing, one of a kind, incredible, motivating, strong friends that I loved and admired very much. I was a good friend and I was one of the lucky ones.

Until one day I wasn’t the lucky one anymore.

Several years ago, a series of unfortunate events occurred in my life which triggered the beginning of my journey with anxiety. This series of unfortunate events was nothing like the books by Lemony Snicket and were seriously lacking Neil Patrick Harris. I had handled tough times before, I was the person that could get through anything. I was the strong one, right? My story is about what happens when a strong person feels like they can’t be strong anymore but are called upon to be stronger than they’ve ever been. In my eyes, people who battle mental illness are like mystical phoenix birds. To rise, brighter and stronger, we must sometimes fight through crumbling ashes and times of darkness.

So, big ugly anxiety marches into my life and it has shitty timing. Not to worry, I had experience with mental illness, some of my best friends battled anxiety and depression, I read endless articles and supported them through their times of darkness, surely, I would be able to recognize this in myself and get help, right? Nope. I was in complete denial. Those same friends and my incredible spouse continually reached out to me and all I did was deny deny deny.

Now, I don’t want to talk any more about the stages of grief, (denial being one of them) although it’s a fascinating thing to look at if you’re interested, or about how long it took me to come to terms with having anxiety; I want to talk about what helped me. You can read a million articles about what anxiety feels like but I’m going to guess that if you’re reading this you already know what being in the dark feels like. What lit my fire and brought me back to life was talking about it. One day, finally, I caved. I told one friend. This was a big risk for me, I felt like I was exposing myself, my weakness, ugly anxiety was telling me constantly that no one cared, everyone would just think I was a whiner, people would turn their backs on me and I’d be more alone than ever. Luckily for me, my friend was an absolute hero. I really should have known she would be, why else had a chosen her as a friend? She embraced me both literally and figuratively. Then, I began to rise. I had proven to myself that not only was I not alone but anxiety was a liar.

Talking about anxiety was the best medicine for me. Once I admitted I was struggling, my spouse took on the task of learning everything he could about what I was experiencing; I slowly told more people and they helped share strategies on how I could build myself back up.

Today I still battle but I feel like I’ve have a whole tool kit of ways to stay burning. On days when I crumble into ash I am now able to hang on to a shred of hope -fire- that reassures me I can make it to the next day. In 2017 my friendships are strong; my marriage is something I am grateful for everyday and I eagerly await welcoming my first child in July. My message to anyone in the dark is that you are still you, you are not alone, anxiety is a liar and your fire lies in your hope and your story.

Twitter HeadshotLindsay is a formerly non-anxious person who learned to be anxious. She enjoys trying new foods, wines and places with her husband and two dogs. As well as advocating for mental health awareness, Lindsay is passionate about inclusion and poverty reduction. In her spare time Lindsay sits on the Board of Baobab Inclusive Empowerment Society in Surrey, BC Canada. 

Lindsay can be found on Twitter

 

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Nadya Hope

I am staring at the scissors in my hands and I am shaking. I am twelve and I don’t know that I can simply take the screen out of the window. I assume that I have to cut it away. I assume that even ending my pain will be difficult. I assume that I cannot do anything today without struggle. However, I am simply allotted more time to think through this moment.

I am shaking and crying, and I recognize that this is the moment when adults would advise me to call a suicide hotline or speak to a parent. I can’t do either. I don’t want to do either. I don’t want anyone to convince me otherwise. So I sit on the floor below my window sill and I hold the scissors in front of me like I am passing them to someone else; because, I don’t really want to die, I just don’t want to live, either.

In that moment, I didn’t know that I would decide to continue. In that moment, I didn’t know that I would decide to keep living and breathing and laughing and talking and making connections and breaking them and crying over them and wanting to die again later. I didn’t know that life would go on but at an alarming speed until I was bored. I didn’t know that the mornings I woke up feeling energized would be the mornings that everyone would suck the energy right out of me. I didn’t know that eating breakfast in the morning would hurt because suddenly, I wasn’t in control anymore, my hunger was.

I didn’t know that I would one day love someone enough to give birth to their baby nine months later, and I didn’t know that it would all go so poorly. I didn’t know that I would fight my own demons the way I fight with friends, I don’t. I didn’t know that I would be stopping on the side of a highway just to take a deep breath, or try to, at least; because, suddenly, I thought of a thought that I knew would make me upset, but I thought it anyways.

I didn’t know that I would be so terrified of love, but more terrified of being alone, so I’d chase it enough to be able to reject everyone else’s advances. I didn’t know that friends would feel so isolating. I didn’t know that family would feel so cold. I didn’t know that the damn suicide hotline lady would have such an attitude. I didn’t know that people could be so unsympathetic.

Back then I didn’t know that mirrors would be a bigger enemy to me than the skeletons in my closet, which is to say they were the same thing. I didn’t know that instead of lifting weights and eating healthy, I would simply stare in the mirror on an empty stomach, watching the fat fall away with the help of diet pills that had no business being in my system.

I didn’t know that instead of tattoos, I’d be getting scars on my arms like sleeves. I didn’t know that makeup would be so expensive. Better yet, I didn’t know that covering the stories on my arms would be so difficult. I didn’t know that people would be so curious to know about the reasons behind your mascara stains. I didn’t know that “I’m tired” would be a valid excuse for almost anything when you didn’t want to talk.

Back then, I didn’t know that I would get more excited about sneaking sleeping pills into a theater than food. I didn’t know that to sleep, I would need to blackout, but that experience is the first time I was ever taken advantage of. And they say that everyone makes it through somehow, but somehow, I’m still trying to end it all again like I’m twelve.

I didn’t know back then that I would put the scissors down only to lift the knife to stab my own back with it daily. I didn’t know that I would wake up only long enough to yell profanities in the mirror. I didn’t know that I would be okay as long as people reminded me why I shouldn’t be.

I didn’t know that

But right now, right here, today, I know that my scars are a story and my body is not a trash bin that fills up and looks better when it’s empty.  I know that mind is not the enemy and my heart is perfectly okay. I know that I will be okay.

Today, I put the scissors down. I lowered my voice and stepped away from the mirrors.

Today, I gave myself another chance. Today, I hope you will too.

14700920_1172435542850388_4181663310734351706_oNadya was adopted from Russia when she was eight and has struggled with depression and anxiety ever since. She has developed a passion for writing about these topics in her blog, “Where Is Hope” in the hopes of reaching someone else who may be struggling with the same things. Today, she is an aspiring author and poet, aiming every day to perfect her coffee brewing skills.

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

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Chris Coombs

For everyone with depression, the experience is different. But you wouldn’t know it from our societal image of the black dog. A million and one cookie-cutter ‘signs and symptoms’ pieces online, will blithely tell you the things to look for. Sleeping too much or not enough, isolating, lack of personal care and loss of interest, are always near the top of these lists and what one comes to realise the longer one lives with depression, is that these lists are almost always for the benefit of people without depression. What we might call the ‘worried well’.

Because the thing that I notice when I know I’m truly in a hole, (as a depressive with over ten years’ experience), is almost never mentioned.

It’s the silence.

In this silence, it is peaceful, but nothing enters from the outside world. If you’re lucky you lose the concept of the negative thoughts at this point too – the positives have long since departed. But more than likely, they’ve just become old companions, they don’t sting as much – but they’re still cruel bedfellows although their chatter is so well known to you at this point you don’t have to pay attention. They are mantras and negative affirmations. You can look without seeing, you can have food without taste, and interacting with people is done as if from behind a glass wall. You see them, but they see only the mask you want them to see at this point. And it’s a role you’ve gotten used to playing. And of course, it is silent theatre.

I have on occasion spoken publicly, and in media about depression and my own suicide attempt. I am always asked variations of two questions. First “How are you these days?”, as if the trajectory for someone with depression was purely linear, and depression not an insidious mass of thoughts, life experience, perceptions, body chemistry and who knows what else. The second one though, is more interesting. I’m always asked a variation of “What’s it like when you’re down there?”. And this is where the silence comes in. I suspect that most interviewers I’ve dealt with are expecting me to portray a seething, tangled knot of grief, loss, misery, suffering, pain and regret – maybe with a tincture of psychosis or delusion thrown in for the sake of a stereotype. I always wonder if it is therefore a disappointment, when I tell them how bland the experience of depression at it’s worst is for me.

The silence of depression is truly extraordinary. In the days leading up to my first suicide attempt, it occurred to me that I should at least try and write a note to explain how things had come to this point. After an hour of abortive first lines – I gave up. Because I had nothing to say. It wasn’t that I felt too upset to write how I felt, it was that I felt nothing at all. The internal torture of depression comes earlier when you’re on the way down to your own dark finality. When you’re there at the end – there is nothing to do. In the cookie-cutter pieces, the symptom listed as something akin to ‘loss of interest’ is often seen (I think) to be like this silence. It is not. I cannot stress to you the sheer paucity of the English language to sum up that feeling of grey numbness. It’s not to lack interest, it is to lack that quintessentially human spark of personality and originality that every one of us has by virtue of being a unique individual.

And that’s how I can tell when I’m in real trouble. Andrew Solomon put it well when he said, “the opposite of depression, is not sadness, but vitality”.

I find this such a vital concept to try and explain, and yet I know that I will have failed miserably. That is OK, it’s that paucity of language that is the hindrance – I think that’s why so many people with mental illness, speak in simile and metaphor. My own personal metaphor? I direct you to a piece of music by Thomas Newman from the movie ‘Road to Perdition’ called ‘Ghosts’. And even that only gets a tenth of the way.

So often we see ‘headclutcher’ publicity photos to signify mental health problems – I always think they should just as often have someone stare blankly into the lens. That silence is something that needs to be appreciated more when we talk about what depression is.

10649652_915185021830378_171709918246398032_nMy name is Chris, I’m 28, I live in Worcestershire in the UK and I live with depression.

When not writing I can be found training to become a counsellor, delivering mental health training, speaking publicly when called upon about suicide and depression, attending humanist gatherings, exploring and debating political and disability issues, watching cricket, drinking cider and ales, singing a cappella harmonies from across the world (with particular interest in the traditions of the Republic of Georgia), procrastinating, and cuddling my cats.

Though not all at the same time.

Chris can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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Steve Austin – What’s it Like to Feel Crazy?

What’s it Like to Feel Crazy?

The other day at work, I couldn’t take any more. I grabbed my water bottle and keys and followed the road near my office complex until it led me to the highway. For 45 minutes, I drove. Where I went didn’t matter. The trees blurred past my car windows just like the thoughts clouding my mind. At this speed, it was impossible to see any one tree or thought, but I could feel them, taunting me as I raced by. I was starving but I drove past one restaurant after another. Nothing sounded good, anyway.

Have you ever had a “crazy day”? One of those days where a thousand tiny things compound and before you know it, you need either a stiff drink or a straight jacket? I think we’ve all been there. Hard days aren’t anything new to me.

At the next intersection, I was hurting so bad. I stopped at the red light and leaned my head against the steering wheel, just for a moment. I wanted to cry. To shout a giant “fuck you” to everyone on the highway at that moment. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. The fast paced, hard to focus, overwhelming, racing and negative thoughts were clouding my mind and smothering me inside my car. I couldn’t catch my breath. The horn of the F-150 in my rearview mirror finally got my attention and I drove North, anxious, stressed, and angry. I had been just barely holding it together for two days.

Coming off one SSRI and starting another one sucks, and that’s what I’m doing now. Both medications are in the same “family”, according to the doctor, but it doesn’t matter. One SSRI may act one way and have a particular side effect, while another med in the same family may do something completely different to the same person. Even the exact same drug can be different in two different people. I hate feeling dependent, but I know that without them, my behavior might not be so even-keel.

There are days I feel like a science experiment, trying each med my doctor prescribes, hoping one of them will make life normal again. Sometimes the med works for a while and stops. Most recently this medication destroyed my libido. At thirty-four, no longer being able to connect with my wife sexually, adds mountains of shame on top of an already steaming pile of guilt. So I travel back to the doctor’s office for another humiliating visit and tell her just exactly what my side effects are.

#ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike

So we’re trying a new med. And we hope for different results. Hope: that’s a funny word. The Bible calls it the anchor of our souls, but all an anchor does it keep you from drowning. It does nothing to prevent the wind and waves from ripping your sails and smacking you around.

I tossed and turned all night, checking the clock at 11:40, 12:12, and every half-hour that followed. To add insult to injury, after drinking coffee for fifteen years, the doctor said it was making my anxiety worse. At my last visit, my blood pressure was higher than it’s ever been in my life. I’ve not had any coffee in a month. Today, in particular, I resent it.

The frustration and uncertainty piled up and came toppling down mid-morning.

I wanted to see my wife. I wanted to call my Momma or my Grandmother. I wanted to call a couple of different friends. But I was ashamed. When I am having a hard day my negative self-talk loves to tell me how crazy I am. That I’m a burden, unworthy of love. Words ran through my head like, “You’ll never see your dreams come true. You can’t even hold yourself together!” Shame and anxiety never fight fair. They attacked where it hurt the worst: belonging and acceptance. I felt helpless and stuck. I bought into the bullshit and ran with it today.

I screamed as I drove out of the parking lot. Partly at God and partly just for the hell of it. It didn’t necessarily make me feel better, but it made me take a deep breath. That was a start. I exhaled and finally realized I had been feeling vulnerable, exposed, and ashamed of my own mental illness for two solid days. I needed to give myself some space to breathe.

In the 45 minutes away from work and responsibility, I did just that, found my breath again. I allowed my emotions to cool a bit. In the Best Buy parking lot, I finally cried. And as hot tears poured down my face, I heard a different voice. The voice of grace, which sounds a lot like truth and patience and self-compassion. It reminded me that feeling crazy and being crazy are not the same thing. I slowed down long enough to recognize that my life wasn’t over, that there would be a purpose for this pain.

I had plenty of hard days before my suicide attempt. But afterward, I wondered if I would ever be a value-added member of any community again. I constantly struggled with my diagnosis, believing I would never feel normal again. I remember looking into my little boy’s innocent and curious blue eyes, pleading with God to save him from his own father. Wrestling with relationships was one of the hardest battles of all, but not nearly as difficult as wrestling with my faith. How can one feel faithful in light of depression and anxiety? The thing to remember is that the hard days after the attempt are no different than the hard days before the attempt. They are hard days. And sometimes they really suck.

Hard days are not different before or after the crisis has ended, but the person who attempted suicide is certainly different. They have tasted death. They’ve traveled to the bottom of the barrel and know what rock bottom feels like. For me, it was the latching of the large metal door, which locked me in the bowels of the hospital. Someone recovering from a suicide attempt knows what the end of the rope looks like. But they are still alive, still holding on, caught between secretly hoping the strands fray so they can die, or wishing their feet could just touch solid ground.

For me, the hard days still come, but I know what to do with them now. I’m able to recognize shame for what it is. I know to let the emotions wash in and recede, like a tide. I know there is an ebb and flow to life, even life that includes triggers and trauma. I have learned to no longer read my emotions as the only truth.

At the end of a hard day, I get back in the same car, but I am stronger for having faced my struggles head-on. I put the car in drive and I head home–to my safe place, my comfort zone, my support system–and I rest. Hard days will come again, but as I drive, I know those good days will come too.

*For more conversations around faith and mental health, check out the CXMH Podcast with Steve Austin and Robert Vore. A great place to start is Episode 2: The Power of Storytelling, with Sarah Fader of Stigma Fighters and Sarah Schuster of The Mighty.

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Steve Austin is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, From Pastor to a Psych Ward, plus Self-Care for the Wounded Soul, and The Writer’s Toolkit.

Steve can be found on his website, Facebook, and Twitter

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Karen Kaiser

Wrestling for Control of My Mental Health

Mental illness is a unique issue in that everybody has an opinion about what it is, how to treat it, the use/efficacy of medication, etc. Often, the person suffering doesn’t have a voice. In the past, I worked as a caretaker and nursing assistant for patients with physical illnesses; particularly cancer, diabetes, and kidney failure. I’ve also assisted people with neuropsychiatric diagnoses. There’s a distinct difference in the way we treat physical illnesses versus mental health issues. I believe this is due to the stigma attached to mental illness and a general lack of knowledge concerning the subject.

I’ve been dealing with mental health issues for so long that it’s hard to remember a time when I was healthy. I have bipolar disorder (bipolar 1), anxiety, ADHD and PTSD. At times I feel like a walking billboard for the DSM handbook. I was formally diagnosed in 2006, however I’ve been struggling since I was a teenager. I knew something was wrong in high school when I experienced repeated bouts of depression, mood issues and severe hypersensitivity. But at that time I had no name for what I was going through. I just thought I was different and somehow deficient. I was active in sports, had a close knit circle of friends and a supportive, loving home environment. Yet none of that shielded me from developing mental illness. That’s been the hardest for me to accept. Occasionally, I still feel as though all of this is my fault in some way.

Looking back on my college years, I see now that I was very troubled. I had extremely destructive coping mechanisms and no awareness of how my mental state affected my daily existence. I hit rock bottom during my last year of school. By that time, my lifestyle was wild and out of control. I didn’t care whether I lived or died at one point; I just wanted the pain to stop, and to find relief from the emptiness. I remember curling up on my bed in the dark one night and feeling the most alone I’ve ever felt. I knew things had to change or I wouldn’t make it. Soon after that I was introduced to Islam and eventually converted. I thought this was what I had been looking for and an answer to my problems. I was correct and mistaken at the same time. I did have a deep connection with Islam and knew I wanted to live according to this religious tradition, yet I was naïve in thinking I didn’t need to seek medical help for my psychiatric issues.

By 2006, I had a family of my own and was teaching at a private religious school in my area. I was studying in an intensive Quran memorization program and taught classes of my own, both during the week and on weekends. I thought everything was going great. But increasingly I noticed periods where I couldn’t function and I had trouble maintaining a sense of stability. I found a psychiatrist in my community with whom I discussed my concerns. He diagnosed me easily, as the symptoms were pretty textbook. I was ashamed but at the same time happy to have an answer about my mental health.

The initial response to my diagnosis was a superficial acceptance, that indeed something was wrong and I needed professional help. But quickly the tone shifted from one of understanding to blame and judgement. As my episodes became increasingly severe, people around me decided they knew what was happening with me better than my psychiatrist. They felt that mental illness had no place in a religious setting and that I needed to tap into my faith in order to heal. I was advised not to rely on Western medicine and that I simply needed to ‘toughen up’ and face my responsibilities as an adult. I listened to this advice despite my misgivings, and my illness got much worse, not better. After repeated episodes, meltdowns and unusual behavioral changes, I began to feel ostracized because of my instability. I finally decided to go to the hospital for treatment, as I recognized that I couldn’t handle this alone anymore.

This was the best decision I could have made and one that saved me. In the hospital I met so many people who knew exactly what was going on and how to help me. It took a long time and a lot of hard work, but I finally began to understand mental illness and how to proactively deal with my issues. After I completed a partial hospitalization program, I remember approaching the director of nursing for the psychiatric unit. In tears, I thanked him for his program, for giving me back my life and restoring my dignity. I told him that because of PHP, I had learned invaluable tools with which to handle my symptoms. And for the first time, I didn’t feel like mental illness was a curse that would ruin my life.

To this day, I still receive feedback on how to handle my diagnoses. Mostly from laypeople, well-meaning though they may be. But I’ve learned that the best way to address this situation is to listen to my body, and to my clinical team.

Tips for staying in the driver’s seat with your illness:
1. Always seek professional help and listen to the experts.
2. Know that it’s your right to deal with your health challenges in whatever way suits you best, not other people.
3. Never apologize for how you feel or accept being treated as ‘less than’ for having a mental illness.
4. Remember what they say about opinions 😉 and realize that when it comes to mental health, everyone truly does have something to say, helpful or not.
5. Find your tribe! I can’t say this enough. Find those who can relate to you and help you move forward despite any difficulties.
6. Trust yourself. Trust your intuition. This can be a struggle when your illness affects your thought process and overall mentality, yet it’s vital to your well-being.
7. Ignore the naysayers. At the end of the day, you are the only one facing your particular issue(s) and the effects on your life. Leave those who only want to tear you down for those who will lift you up and inspire you.
8. Advocate. Advocate. Advocate. For yourself and those in the mental health community. Your voice counts and your experience matters. Help yourself and others by speaking up and helping to combat stigma.
9. Be vocal and specific about your needs. People can’t help you if you don’t tell them exactly what will work for your situation. *You may need to be repetitive until they get it 🙂
10. Give yourself a break. Don’t beat yourself up when things aren’t going well; remember that ups and downs are a normal part of life, and it’s even more true with mental illness.

By focusing directly on how mental illness manifests in my life and by following my doctors’ lead, I’ve been able to not only function but actually thrive in spite of whatever obstacles I face. I wish the same for anyone with similar life tests.

IMG_0307I am an African American Muslim in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, learning to come to grips with mental illness and the role it plays in my life. I am an advocate for mental health issues in general, and more specifically for Muslims dealing with Mental Illness. My goal is to bring awareness to this subject and to do my part in erasing the the stigma surrounding this disease. I have 3 beautiful children who are my inspiration and my world.

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

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TINYLETTER.COM/CRYING Eve Peyser

TINYLETTER.COM/CRYING
Eve Peyser

I began sending out a newsletter every time I cried because I thought it would be funny. A compulsive journaler obsessed with keeping track of my various mental health issues—depression, anxiety, severe suicidal ideation, ADHD—I never had much desire to keep any of my mental health issues a secret. Talking about what I’m going through openly helps me overcome the worst, to release my emotions out so I can be free of their weight, to be not embarrassed about who I am. I wasn’t sure who would want to get the email and what I would even say in them. But having to explain what’s been going on with me over the past six months has helped me better understand why I feel and who I am. Here’s what happened, excerpted:

•••

9/8/16
subject: teared up

life is hard.

•••

9/13/16
subject: crying, unexpectedly

i was walking home, rushing because i have work, feeling anxious about picking the ideal food, a food i could stomach eating, a food i could desire because i’ve had issues with my appetite lately but feel really hungry — whatever besides the point — when a car full of men began catcalling me. it was flamboyant catcalling. loud and silly and performative. i think one of them howled “scooby dooby doo” at one point and there were a lot of “damns,” comments about my body, etc.

i’ve been getting catcalled since i was quite literally 10-years-old — grew up in manhattan — i can handle it, BUT there was a group of sort of hipsterish looking guys walking toward me who witnessed the whole thing. being silently watched amplified the feeling of deep inhumanity that comes along with getting sexually harassed. there’s a real humiliation to getting catcalled — an implicit understanding that, A. this might not be happening if i was dressed differently, and B. it’s a reminder that, as a rule, strangers have no fucking respect for you for reasons that are largely outside of your control. i can usually swallow that. but having one group of men witness another group of men aggressively catcall me felt like shit, and not because i was looking for them to save me, just because having someone witness something, especially someone who is going to construe you as a victim, makes your innate victimhood more real. had women bore witness, at least they would understand.

then there’s this anger that comes up with all this shit stealing away your time and energy — i walked a couple blocks out of my way because i didn’t want to walk in the same direction as the car. i didn’t end up getting food. i fucking spent time tweeting about it. then i started crying. then i wrote this fucking email. it took up a moderate portion of my time because i am who i am, for sure, but i want to be in control of how i spend my time.

anyways, the crying was brief and now it’s over. i’m fine. i should order food and get to work now.

welp, suppose it’s all right summer is ending. i love wearing shorts, but the repercussions of doing so almost seem not worth it.

until next time,
e

•••
9/24/16
subject: cried a little bit in a bar last night

approximately half my sexual experiences from ages 15 to 20 were nonconsensual. i don’t say this to shock anyone. it just comes with the territory of being a woman. you become sexually active; bad things happen. the thing no one tells you about getting sexually assaulted is that you’re not always sure if it happened, if it was your fault, because sometimes, it sure feel like it partially is.

it’s easier not to discuss sexual assault in this way. the reason we talk about it in such black and white terms is because no one believes women when we say we got assaulted. what i mean to say is this:

i’m 18, visiting a friend from high school in chicago, first time there and he’s the only person i know, i’m more or less stuck with him. one night, he takes me to a party at his friend’s apartment, where we’ll sleep because it’s in a supposedly unsafe neighborhood. my friend hasn’t been particularly nice to me throughout my stay and i get tired-drunk at the party and go to sleep early. he comes into the bedroom hours later—we’re sharing a bed, which is no big deal to me—to go to sleep. when he comes in, i realize i’ve fallen asleep with my very tight uncomfortable jeans on and i take them off and proceed to try to fall back asleep. suddenly, i feel him groping my breasts, reaching his hands around my underwear, and i’m frozen in shock. i say nothing. finally i muster the courage to grab my pants and go, but i’m in stuck in this frigidly cold stranger’s apartment in an unfamiliar and i don’t know anyone else there. (this is pre-iphone, like, damn.) i spend the night trying to sleep on the couch, using my coat as a blanket because i can’t find one, shivering. i am so so trapped. the next day, we have breakfast, i say nothing. (was it my fault for taking off my jeans?)

that is, when it comes down to it, what i cried about last night. that trip to chicago certainly is a small bad thing that happened to me; it’s certainly not the worst that’s happened. the crazy thing? i was triggered by seeing the bed intruder meme video.

i cried about it last week too but didn’t send out an email.

•••
9/28/16
subject: cried all last night, crying now, will likely cry tomorrow

i feel cold and extremely alone and also lonely. i really don’t enjoy being alive or my life and i’m very overwhelmed and i can’t stop crying about it. i don’t have much more to say. don’t @ me.

love,
eve

•••
9/29/16
subject: this comes as a surprise to no one, but i cried again last night

i had some important meetings last night. they all went so well! then i got home and cried for hours because i really, really, really, really wanted to kill myself.

i cried for a very very very very long time. probably hours. i cried because i wanted to kill myself and i didn’t know what was stopping me.

i didn’t end up killing myself. look at me, here i am, writing this email, alive.

also, i appreciate everyone’s concern, suicidal ideation is scary and you wanna help, i get it. but i do this newsletter as a way to track my emotions and as an art project. none of us need to fear crying!!! it’s ok to cry!!!! it’s ok to want to kill yourself all the time and it doesn’t mean you’re broken or bad. in fact, you can be functional, like me. (except when you’re not functional, like me, last night.)

so for the love of god, stop suggesting i do XYZ to get better. first of all, i didn’t ask for your opinion lol. but moreover i have a good therapist and a good psychiatrist and good friends and good family and a ton of support. i have people to go to. i just also write this KOOKY-ass newsletter.

ok should go do real work now.

with love,
eve

•••
11/7/16
subject: teared up a tiny bit on friday, but haven’t really been crying

on september 30, the night before my 23rd birthday, i half-assed a suicide attempt. i’m glad i didn’t go through with it. the next day, my birthday, i made the decision to quit drinking, at least for the time being. i also began taking zoloft. those two things combined have improved my life drastically. i feel happier, more awake, refreshed, actually excited to be alive!! it’s truly beautiful. but the combination of the new meds and the no alcohol means i haven’t been able to cry.

so i flourish but my newsletter dies? maybe. who knows what pain stands before me, what will trigger my next bout of uncontrollable weeping. the future is unwritten. but for now, my eyes are dry.

i managed to muster a couple measly tears—a tiny, virtually impotent load—when i was flying from portland, oregon to new york city on friday. they weren’t tears of sadness, but tears of longing. i wish i could’ve cried more, but i’m glad i’m no longer a weeping machine.

until next time,
e

•••
11/10/2016
subject: unsurprisingly, I cried on 11/9

when I woke up the morning of 11/9, I cried a little bit. if it weren’t for Zoloft, I imagine I’d still be crying. I’m so afraid for what will happen to women, people of color, Muslims, and LGBTQ folks in this country. I’m concerned for mentally ill people like me, all the people who are silent and terrified and want to die. I’m scared of what happens if I lose my health insurance, if I can’t afford my medications. It’s a scary fucking time. I’m grateful to have amazing friends and family and mental health professionals in my life.

Stay safe.
Fight the white supremacist heteropatriarchy.
Fuck fascism.

Until next time,
e

•••

12/23/2016
subject: why I cried last night

while I was crying last night I begrudgingly said, “oh great. now I have to write a newsletter.”

since I returned home from a two-week trip to Oregon earlier this week, I’ve been feeling very depressed, overwhelmed with this anger—that I have to be alive, that I have to deal with the utter exhaustion of existence, that I have to take a cocktail of pills to be a functional person in this world.

when will being alive get less exhausting? when will I be able to have real fun, to feel joy without pain? when will the self-hatred rest? when will I become less reliant on other people to feel worthy?

I felt mad and indignant about my mental illness because even though things in my life are going well—friends, family, romance, work are all very good right now—that I still have these feelings. circumstance helps depression, but doesn’t fix anything. I know this and I’ve always known this. but it nevertheless felt so deeply unfair that my psychology propels me toward these death-thoughts, this haunting misery.

I ended up FaceTiming with someone I really like for hours and that made me feel a lot better. having support and love is so important, and I’m lucky to have it.

today I feel less bad than yesterday. that’s the life of a depressive—things are better now than they were and it will forever be a struggle to remember life is worth living. but it is.

until next time,
e

•••
12/28/16
subject: do you ever start imagining all the terrible ways your life could play out…

do you ever start imagining all the terrible ways your life could play out and start to tear up? being alive is scary and hard—having depression means it’ll always be hard. even though things are better now for me than it has been in the past but it doesn’t mean things are easy. so the world keeps turning.

stay strong.

until next time,
e

•••
1/20/17
subject: happy inauguration i cried again

yesterday i found out i won’t have health insurance until march and there’s nothing i can do to get it before then and cried about it. i cried about it again this morning. also donald trump will officially be president in a matter of minutes. i’m fucking terrified. i’m so fucking terrified.

until next time,
e

•••

1/30/17
subject: cried yesterday and today

unsurprising considering what’s going on in the world.

i cried because a lot of the suicidal thoughts i’ve been working so hard to overcome began flooding back this weekend. my boyfriend, who was visiting me went back home, and i had to go off my zoloft for a bit after i lost my health insurance. i was feeling so scared and afraid for the future and all i could think about was wanting to die so so badly. a video about suicidality popped up in my facebook feed and i lost it because i related.

i wept all morning, and then the zoloft my doctor sent from canada finally arrived, which made me feel infinitely better.

i worry for all the other people who will struggle to get their medication if the ACA is further gutted or repealed. i worry for the muslim immigrants and refugees who have been banned from entering our country. i am worried.

until next time,
e

•••
2/7/17
subject: i cried again but i swear it’s not my fault

over the past week, my depression and anxiety surged, slowly engulfing me—hasn’t felt so bad since before i quit drinking. i hate the feeling—severe depression turns you selfish, lazy, and worst of all, it compels you to do nothing but feel bad for yourself.

the narrative goes: why me why do i have to be alive why is being alive so hard for me why am i not dead i wish i was dead if i was dead i wouldn’t worry about all this stuff i wouldn’t be in all this pain.

though i was barely able to leave my apartment this weekend, today i felt determined to do better than yesterday, to leave the house before the sun went down, to get some work and errands done. no crying, i told myself. i didn’t want another day helplessly stuck in the prison of my bed.

my mission to have a better day was, however, wrecked once i realized something can gone awry with my finances. i know i’ll ultimately be OK, but the whole ordeal exacerbated the pain and anxiety i had been trying to move past all day. i broke down and wept and probably (definitely) screamed a little.

even though i was “in a state,” having a lil breakdown ultimately brought me some feeling of catharsis. even though i’ve cried a bunch the past week—and will likely continue to cry in the very near future, if history’s taught me anything—this cry felt more necessary. some cries, you just ruminate in your pain and your self-pity and eventually you stop but only because you tire yourself out. other cries, better cries, begin with that self-pitying feeling, but the act of crying allows you to release it; in this case, you stop crying because you stop feeling so sad. i’d like to think my cry today was one of those better cries, but i’m still too close to the situation to make an evenhanded assessment.

i also talked to my mom and my best friend, who both really helped me feel better. i know i say this all the time, but i really am forever grateful for all the support i have in my life.

until next time,
e

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Eve Peyser is a writer and comedian who lives in New York. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, GQ, Esquire, the Washington Post and Gawker. She is currently the night editor at Gizmodo. Get an email every time she cries: tinyletter.com/crying.

Eve can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter

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Joseph Caputo

Spectrum. It’s a lovely, loaded word. I like it. Disorder? Thats where you’re wrong, kiddo.

I have Asperger’s Syndrome. What I’ve just told you tells you nothing. If you meet one person with Autism, you’ve met only one kind of Autism. The potentialities of the human mind are infinite. Our neurons separate us from the pack, like fingerprints or retinas do. Everyone with Autism is different. They have similar underlying stressors, but respond in a myriad of ways, all unique to their environment and personality.

I was diagnosed at 11 or 12, after years of ADHD, ADD, and ODD diagnoses and treatments.  All throughout that time, I resented being told I was different. Now that I’m older, I see what all were trying to do, but I’ve also seen what they’ve done. Seeing that my whole state of being could be rewritten with a single pill, to tragic degrees, devastated me. I worked very hard, often against my inner nature, to become whoever I needed to be to be free of the drugs. That creates a great sickness spiritually, and it came with other psychological effects.  One of the few effects still with me is a hypersensitivity to labels.  Labels stop thought, corrall it like rocks in a river. Enough labels-rapids.

When people hear the words autism, they fear the unknown. They seem to always believe that just beyond the curtain lie either stupidity or cruelty. For many, Asperger’s means a spectrum range from Forrest Gump to Adam Lanza (Spits internally) which is a delusional and dangerous ignorance.

My Autism’s specificity, as you can tell by this article’s tone thus far, is more emotional than social. The irony of my autism is that I have a natural skill in the social sciences, and society’s maladaptive behavior wounds me deeply, right in the soul. I feel so deeply that i can grow numb from overstimulation.

Though articulate, I’m addicted to life’s breathtaking, indescribably, ‘Yuugen’ moments. The insight I’ve gained from this worldview often puts me at odds with social norms and behaviors, not because i can’t tell the difference or don’t know any better, which in my youth was so often the case (and on occasion still is), but because I see things from a whole other psychological vantage point. Your light wavelength might be blue; I’m green. Your geography may be mountain; I am valley. Same reality, same phenomena of consciousness within existence, yet vastly different viewpoints.

The diversity and synchronicity of differing vantage points of perception are pivotal to social communication, understanding of existence, and personal wellbeing in ANY civilization, ESPECIALLY a democratic one. All of the sociopolitical ails we see in our nation today have a root in our inability to talk with each other.

Before my protest on November 26th, 2015, where i symbolically crossed a sacrosanct threshold to represent the American People taking back their rightful sovereign authority… I knew human nature. The public would get lost on the messenger, not the message. I would be received as a dissociative nutzo rather than a civilly disobedient citizen. Labels, mate. Labels change the mind’s perception, and devalues all words before they’re even spoken. It makes the labeled one’s points of view illegitimate. They place one in a box, with no way to connect, to anyone who perceives them as beyond the wall of understanding or appreciation. I knew all this going in to my protest, because I knew people’s stigma.

So why did I do it? A whole legion of saints had to exist in my life to show me i was better than who i thought i was. Stigma internalizes. Those angelic folk showed me i was more, and that i was worth fighting for. AND…SO…ARE…YOU.

The common individual is isolated, alone. The universe seems hostile, and God seems distant. Their illusion of selfhood is their torture chamber. Half alive, they press on, fighting as best they can to carry meaning in life and bring it to others. I call the average person a hero in the highest fashion.

Insanity is not a medical term, but a legal one, which exists to stress one’s grounded understanding. In short, the concept of insanity is not rooted in health, but in connection to the here and now, in comprehension of the events around us and of each other. In our cultural and psychological whirlpool that forged the word’s etymology, insanity gauges loneliness. We live in a very insane society.

Skeptical? Good! Continue to think, it’s important! I’ll quote humanistic psychoanalyst Erich Fromm from his 1955 book ‘The Sane Society’ to back me up, “Mental health cannot be defined in terms of the ‘adjustment’ of the individual to his society, but, on the other hand, that it must be defined in terms of the society to the needs of man, of its role in furthering or hindering the development of mental health. Whether or not the individual is healthy, is primarily not an individual matter, but depends on the structure of his society.” (Fromm, Sane Society) According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAOMI), one in five adults experience mental illness in a given year, and one in five youths have experienced a severe mental illness in their lives to that point. Mental Illness has BEEN normal for a long time. Accepting it and overcoming it as a society has not been.

How do I fight Stigma?

I remember we are all equally responsible for un-wellness. The problem is deeply, intimately personal, and yet, no less systemic.

The phenomena of being is microcosmic and macrocosmic, intrinsic and extrinsic, exoteric and esoteric, it is a divine experience which we all must share and process. The one thing transcending the maddening duality is our human connection. If you’re suffering, you’re not alone. If you’re well, spread the wellness and share the load. The world is as bright and as glorious as can be when we live each day together. Spectrum: what a lovely, loaded word!

walkonJoseph Caputo graduated from the University of Bridgeport with two Bachelor’s degrees: one in Criminology and one in Martial Arts Studies. He is an avid reader of East Asian thought and philosophy, poetry, positive psychology, and differing political works. Hailing from Stamford CT, Joe is a volunteer for Curtain Call Inc., the Disabled American Veterans, and the Marine Corps. League, as well as an activist, actor, and writer, mostly known for his screenplays and poetry. His “Autism” has become his sharpest edge in “the knife-fight of living life.” When engaging in the illusion of “free time” he can normally be found learning something new or making the same mistakes.

Joseph can be found on Twitter.