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My Daughter Saved My Life – Jessie Gill

My daughter saved my life when I was 15.

The thread was cobalt blue, and after I finished, I admired my work. At only thirteen, my embroidery was sloppy, but pride still swirled in my gut. The pride stemmed from accomplishment and mastery. Not a mastery of sewing skills, but as I stitched the letters into the bottom of my foot, I had full control over my pain. Self-mutilation is seen frequently in adolescents suffering from PTSD.

I endured undiagnosed PTSD for most of my life. It’s a condition my brain first picked up after a severe burn when I was only two years old. It’s not the burn that caused PTSD, but it was the care of the burn in the weeks that followed. Twice daily, my wound had to be scoured until it bled. The excruciating pain made the experience traumatic. My two-year-old mind only saw torture. Three decades later, the physical scars are barely noticeable, but the experience left an indelible mark on my brain that affected my life dramatically.

In the early 1980’s, doctors didn’t believe the effects of trauma lingered in children so young. PTSD was an adult condition, not diagnosed in kids. In fact, doctors assured my parents I wouldn’t remember anything. And that’s true, I remember almost nothing. But what medicine didn’t realize then, is that trauma actually alters the brain. The physiological effects of PTSD remained whether I remembered the incident or not.

Growing up in a suburban home, my devoted parents assumed I was just a clingy, quiet, and odd little kid who was sick often, dreaded school, and was a bit of a loner. When I entered adolescence, my brain went haywire. That’s expected in teenage development. Teenagers have a comparatively high amount of excitability neurotransmitters in their brains. Most teens already have poor impulse control, anxiety, and mood swings – layering PTSD on top of adolescent angst can be dangerous. When adolescence hit, a tsunami of teenage rebellion washed over my life. Intrusive thoughts and poor impulse control became debilitating.

I discovered alcohol at thirteen and loved it. Drinking drowned out my internal anxiety – alcohol could muffle the constant thoughts that wouldn’t slow on their own. Fortunately, I didn’t have access to much alcohol. That probably saved me from alcoholism, but still, I searched for other ways to alter my mind. Friends told me to try cold medicine to get high. In the 1990’s, I could pick up a pocket full of pills at the pharmacy without ID. When I was intoxicated, I became a different person. I felt vibrant and alive – my haunting unease dissipated. I ached to experiment with anything that could make me feel alive.
It doesn’t matter how perfect one’s life might seem, everyone is at risk for PTSD and it can happen at any moment. One of the worst parts is that no one realizes they suffer from this condition until well after the trauma has passed – millions remain undiagnosed. As a teenager, I desperately needed treatment, but I didn’t realize it. I’d felt like this for my entire life, so I didn’t believe there was anything wrong with me. I’m just brave, I thought. I couldn’t comprehend the differences between bravery and impulse control.

Despite being a middle-class, white child of privilege in a family full of love, my life wound dangerously close to a perilous path. Until I was fifteen. Then, something happened that completely altered the course of my life.

I got pregnant and I was brow-drenchingly afraid. The panic quickly moved past real experience and transformed into numbness. For me, disassociation feels a lot like waking up while sleepwalking. Waking up in the middle of a sleep-walk is disorienting – for a moment I can’t tell if I’m dreaming or if it’s real. Feelings of disassociation are similar, but disassociation is protective. Disassociating makes intolerable fear and pain livable. It allows humanity to survive in overwhelmingly stressful conditions.
Being pregnant at fifteen was overwhelming. How could I take care of a baby? My domestic skills were limited to embroidering my feet. I spent days sitting on the back patio, completely numb and frozen. The numbness hovered for my entire pregnancy, but not for a moment was I abandoned or alone. My worried parents stayed by my side. When I decided to keep my baby, my parents imagined I’d returned to my rebellious teen life and that they’d need to raise my baby as their own. They were willing and prepared to do so, but thankfully pregnancy transformed me.
As a kid, I always struggled with envisioning the future. It’s a common observation in PTSD. My mind is so busy scanning the environment and planning for immediate catastrophe that it overlooks more distant possibilities, but something happened when I was pregnant. I began to dream of a future – my daughter’s future and it looked beautiful.

Having a baby didn’t heal my PTSD, it was a very long journey to diagnosis and treatment. But the love and devotion I developed for that tiny human grounded me in the real world. It pulled me out of a life of numbness and allowed me to dream. Dreaming allowed me to plan.
My mom often says that my daughter saved my life and she’s probably right. I can only wonder where I would have ended up if I hadn’t encountered the intense motivation to change. But, it wasn’t just my daughter. It was my parents especially. They gave me the strength to move forward whenever I was frozen. They caught me whenever I fell. And they boosted me whenever I couldn’t carry myself any longer. Most importantly, my mom and dad taught me to love my children unconditionally. For their love, I am blessed and grateful.

It’s twenty years into the future now, and I can say with certainty – our lives are beautiful. My twenty-year-old daughter is successful, kind, and exceptionally intelligent. She is my constant inspiration. I’m glad to say that from age fifteen on, cold medicine was for colds and sewing was for baby blankets.

IMG_1660Jessie Gill, RN is a cannabis nurse and writer with a background in holistic health and hospice. After suffering a spinal injury, she reluctantly became a medical marijuana patient then quickly transitioned into an advocate. Her site, MarijuanaMommy.com combines science with personal insight to educate and combat the stigma against marijuana users. She’s been featured on Viceland and bylines include GoodHousekeeping, Cosmopolitan, MSN, and more.

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

Smile

Dear Depression – Joseph Penola

Dear Depression,

I need you to know that you are not me.

Your incessant insults may make me briefly believe that I am all of the terrible things you tell me, but I now know that I am none of them.

I am worthy of love.

I am strong.

I am handsome.

I am enough.

The weak, unlovable, ugly monster you portray me as in the funhouse mirror of my mind is a lie. No matter how many times you tell it to me, it will never be true.

You are going to keep talking, and I wish I could refuse to listen, but we share a body, so that’s no an option.

Despite being housed in the same shell, we are different.

Your voice is not mine.

I am not you.

Sincerely,
Joseph

~

Weakling,

How dare you question me!

You don’t deserve the voice you think you have.

Stop pretending you are separate from me.

We are one and the same.

This voice you think you have is an illusion.

You are the liar.

To believe you are anything other than what I tell you will only delude you and lead to false hope.

How could you believe you are anything other than the waste of life you are?

Everyone hates you.

Those whispers you hear and those glances you see are them mocking you.

Listen to me if you want to stay safe.

Listen to me if you want to escape the pain.

This husk you briefly allow yourself to proud of is a prison, and the only way out is blood.

Your throat demands to be emptied of it.

Bleed and be free.

Your Master

~

Dear Depression,

I am tempted to rage in response, but I am a peaceful warrior and my confidence is strong enough without needing to yell as you do.

I know that screaming will only fuel your fire and burn our mind.

Yes, our mind.
Not yours.
Not mine.
Ours.

I refuse to believe you are me, but I also refuse to believe don’t exist.

I’ve tried pretending I don’t hear you.

I tried drowning you out with drugs and alcohol, only to watch you breathe bourbon and swim.

When I resist, you persist, so now I choose to swim with you.

I have the power of choice.

I get to choose, not you.

You will always be hungry, but I am the one who chooses whether or not I want to feed you.

You have been thriving on a diet of despair and anger, and you will starve without them.

I now have a hunger for hope, so I will ingest inspiration and love, and let all of the lies I used to lap up rot.

You can rant and rave all you want, but I don’t have to listen to you.

I can choose whether or not I want to.

I can choose love instead of hate.

I can choose gratitude instead of resentment.

I can choose to thank you for making me so self-aware.

So I choose to see you as a blessing, instead of a curse. And I choose to be proud of my scars instead of embarrassed by them.

You want me to believe that they are cracks that make me broken, but I am in no need of fixing.

Those cracks are an invitation.

They allow others to see the light in me that you have tried so desperately to suffocate in darkness.

You’ve always told that I’m a mistake, but I now know that I’m a gift.

Thank you for showing me that.

Love,
Joseph

Smile Joseph Penola is the founder and executive director of The You Rock Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to spreading awareness about mental health by using interviews with popular musicians as catalysts for conversation. Joseph is a suicide attempt survivor who created You Rock as a result of his personal battle with depression. Despite being surrounded by supportive family and friends, Joseph could not confide in anyone. He felt like music was able to speak for him, and it eventually allowed him to find his own voice, talk about his illness, and get the treatment he needed. You Rock’s video interviews with bands like Slipknot and Korn have given music fans the same kind of inspiration that was instrumental to Joseph’s healing. Joseph has previously organized a mental health support group at music schools, volunteered as a counselor for Crisis Text Line. He currently speaks at public schools, conferences, and other events.

Joseph can be found on his website, Facebook and Twitter.

RobertVore

Robert Vore

The Lasting Impact of Growing Up With ADHD

By Robert Vore

These days, it seems like ADHD is a punchline more than something people really believe in. But as much as I love a good ‘SQUIRREL!’ joke (hint: I don’t), I have to admit that I’m just coming to terms with how much growing up with ADHD impacted me throughout my life.
See, I’m smart enough. I don’t mean that in a bragging way, just that I’m a great test-taking and am usually pretty good at figuring things out. What I’ve never been good at, however, is focusing. Once I get going on something I’m usually ok, but the initial focus-and-get-this-thing-started is something I simply cannot seem to get the hang of. Nowadays, that manifests itself in things like the rarity with which I post on this website. I tend to think of an idea to write about, and then can never seem to actually sit down and hammer it out. But growing up, it resulted in a near-consistent stream of zeros on homework assignments. And projects. And major papers.

But the worst part of this wasn’t the obvious effect it had on my grades over the years (they weren’t good.) The worst part was feeling so frustrated that I was failing at things for no good reason. Because I knew it wasn’t that I didn’t know how or didn’t understand the work to be done. I just could. not. for the life of me, figure out how to remember all my work and actually focus long enough to do it.
I don’t have a lot of very specific memories from my childhood, but I do have this one: I could drive you right now to the exact parking space outside of a Starbucks where I had a breakdown, crying to my mom because I was so frustrated. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I told her. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Years later, after scraping my way out of high school and part of the way through college, I would see a psychiatrist. We would talk for over an hour about my frustrations, how bad I was at remembering things, how I literally couldn’t do work if there was music playing that had words in it, how I felt like a failure because I’d always assumed I was too lazy, too much of a procrastinator, just ‘not good at school.’ He would prescribe me some medicine, and I would (for the first time), admit to the thought that maybe I needed some help in this area.

This is a fantastic story of present-day me: I take medicine and I can focus on things I think are important. I’m in a Masters program, and I’m good at school. But that’s not the main point of this post. The point I sat down to write about is this:

I still carry a lot of that with me. I still remember how frustrated I felt, how much I hated the moments when I would realize I hadn’t remembered to do something or hadn’t been able to focus on it the night before. I remember the dread that set in, every single time, when I took another zero.
I remember feeling like a failure. I remember thinking I was a waste, I was too lazy to accomplish anything. I remember countless talks from well-meaning teachers about how I was ‘wasting my potential’, that I just wasn’t trying hard enough or ‘applying myself.’
I remember hating myself for that. Having no idea how to change it, how to fix myself, how to be this better version of myself that I (and everyone else) wanted me to be.

And I’m willing to admit that I don’t think a lot of that has healed yet. I’m 26 now, and if you asked me to make a list of the things I hate most, ‘feeling like a failure’ would make the top ten. I still feel the need to prove that I’m capable, that I’m responsible, that I can do this.
Because you can survive getting horrible grades. I made it through the classes (some of them just barely), I moved through the grade levels, I have the diplomas. Getting a ‘D’ in 5th grade math or failing a semester of AP World doesn’t have much of an effect on my day-to-day now. But the lessons I learned, the things I internalized about myself all those years: those take longer to move past.

 

RobertVore Robert has worked for various ministries & non-profits in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and England. His writing has been featured on websites such as The Mighty, Thought Catalog, and Patheos. He co-hosts a podcast on Christianity & mental health called CXMH, as well as being a certified QPR Suicide Prevention Instructor for groups of any size. He is currently working towards his Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
He can be found online at Robert-Vore.com or on social media at @RobertVore. He can be found in real life in Atlanta with his wife and dog.

Robert can be found on his website and on Twitter

Letting go of Pain: My Mental Health Journey – Rowana Abbensetts

Looking back, it’s hard to identify the exact moment when I realized that my thoughts and feelings weren’t normal. Didn’t everyone feel paralyzed with anxiety for no apparent reason or feel the vacant despair of depression for weeks at a time?

Like all good journeys, my mental health journey started off with a bang. My teenage mind was on overload. I lashed out at my family and had a crying fit on the R train platform. My voice quivered as I asked my English teacher for an extension on my project although I could not quite articulate why. I couldn’t cope anymore. With college just around the corner, I felt the earth shifting beneath me. Self-worth seemed to be slipping through my fingers. One sleepless night, I drank tea and let the meaningless jabber of late night T.V. wash over me.  My mother found me curled up on the couch, my eyes wide despite my mental weariness. She sat down next to me and we talked about what I could do to heal.

Together, we sat in the psychiatrist’s office waiting for my turn. For the first time, I truly understood stigma. I looked to my left, looked to my right, observed the faces of my fellow patients who were also suffering from poor mental health in some form. They did not look like monsters, but I held onto the belief that I wasn’t like them, I was different.

First of all, I knew that Black people don’t do therapy. We don’t do psychiatrist or pills or “crazy.” We swallow it down. My family is from the Caribbean. They are immigrants in this country. They know that life is hard, and that pain is not remarkable, but something to be expected and buried deep. So what right did I have to be so weak when generations before me had no choice but to endure?

Maybe that’s why I rejected my diagnosis of depression and chose only to claim anxiety, a condition as undeniable as my bitten fingers. For a few years after my diagnosis, I babied my anxiety. I had come to know it so intimately that I thought of anxiety as a part of me, an asset even. Wasn’t it anxiety that demanded I type up pages and pages of history notes late into the night?  Was it not anxiety that made me an hour early for every appointment and whose looming threat of worthlessness and failure made me fight for perfection?

It wasn’t until college that I understood the full extent of my depression. In Gambier, Ohio, miles away from my family and stuck on a predominately white campus with enough black people to count on my fingers, I was more lost than ever. I was tired of writing long, distraught e-mails to my counselor between appointments. I was experiencing gendered and racially charged bullying on campus and living a shell of a life. I would take the back roads to my classes and try to get anything portable from the dining hall to bring back to my single room to eat alone. One night, I stumbled back to my dorm room drunk and gulped down as many chalky sleeping pills as I could, hoping to never wake up again. I finally decided that I could not hold onto the pain anymore.

My room felt like the only safe space on campus, so I made it into my sanctuary. I put together a meditation nook, and for the first time, I earnestly tried to choose my thoughts and feelings. I began to listen to myself, sick of being controlled by a negative inner monologue that constantly questioned my worth. I began to journal seriously, starting each entry with “Dear self” and eventually filling up at least five notebooks. I knew that if I didn’t do something with the overwhelming pain that had taken over my sense of self, depression would cost me more than my degree, it would cost me my life.

Although those days were some of my darkest, I’ll always remember that time for the light that I forced myself to see. For the first time, I was fighting for myself, not for good grades or to impress my teachers or parents. I realized that I had to be my own champion. I started actively seeking healing in books, therapy, spirituality, exercise, anything that could keep my neck above the tide of depression. I learned that my fight against mental illness was a daily fight and a daily choice. I choose positivity. I choose self-love. I choose to value myself every single day.

Spoken Black Girl represents a new chapter in my mental health journey. All of that journal writing paid off. Now I write about mental illness so that others can heal along with me. I write for every Black girl who was told that Black people “don’t do therapy”, and wonders how much pain one mind can bear. I’m here to let her know that she is not alone.

Abbensetts, Rowana Photo Credit Khidhar RichRowana Abbensetts is a writer from Brooklyn, New york and the founder of Spokenblackgirl.com, an online space dedicated to mental wellness and inspiration for Black women.

 

Shawn Henfling

Fucking Feelings.

I’ve spent most of my life suppressing my emotions. I don’t know when it started or why, but it became as much a part of who I am as my shiny bald head, hairy back and biting sarcasm. For as long as I can remember, I’ve kept the world at bay.

I built walls. Massive walls of brick and stone that separated me from my emotions and from the rest of the world. I shunned most human connection. I took introversion to the extreme, and even managed to develop an unhealthy dose of social anxiety as icing on my screwed up cake.

The funny thing about walls though, is that something always gets through. For me, it was always anger, frustration and fear. As much as I tried to not to feel, to keep everything hidden from even myself, negative emotions kept coming through.

I kept the fear hidden. It was a shameful secret, the antithesis to the image I needed people to see. I couldn’t allow anyone to see how afraid I was of failure and of being seen as a failure. The fear drove me away from risk and pushed me into a safe but unfulfilling lifestyle. For some, fear of failure pushes them to try harder, to master skills they once thought impossible. I gave my fear the wheel and let it drive. Safety. Security. Low risk, low reward.

Anger and frustration on the other hand, they were like mustangs running wild on the beaches at Assateague. Once they got out, any semblance of control was lost. In some warped way, that anger was the only emotion I felt OK manifesting. It became a trait people remembered about me, and in a truly misguided way, I was proud of it.

This is the part where I tell you about the terrible childhood I had. My abusive parents, dire poverty and prison like home-life. But none of that would be true. My folks were fantastic, I had plenty of freedom, a healthy dose of responsibility and a few close friends. By most accounts, my childhood was idyllic.

I don’t know where the need to suppress the best parts of me came from. I’m not sure why I felt like rage was an acceptable manifestation of emotion. Blame antiquated notions of masculinity if you want. Blame TV. It doesn’t really matter does it?

Don’t get me wrong. I knew I was walking a fine line. I punched walls. I shattered a knuckle punching a TV once, and spent a good deal of my time fixing things I’d broken in fits of rage. Ask me someday about the two shower stalls I bought in the same day for the same bathroom. It’s a hoot.

Discussing my temper though isn’t why we’re here is it? Emotional suppression worked for me for a long time. I kept people out. The few I let in rarely stayed long. I’d let them in a little too far or too long, get scared, and push them out. Nobody could know the real me. They couldn’t see me for the insecure emotionally unstable child I knew myself to be. So I blocked. I parried. And sometimes I ran.

Common sense should have told me I had problems long before I sat on the couch and stuck a pistol in my mouth. Healthy people just don’t go through life avoiding happiness. You’d think a smart guy like myself would realize that right? You’d think. But I didn’t, at least not on a conscious level. I’m alive by happenstance. A friend reaching out at just the right moment kept me from pulling the trigger. The second time, I don’t know what stopped me. Fate. Chance. I just don’t know.

Over time, I became sadistically hard on myself. Happiness would be allowed when I reached some arbitrary level of “good”. I couldn’t be happy because I wasn’t good enough yet. If I just became a better father, maybe then. I needed to be a better husband. If I just made more money. If I finished home repairs and remodels with the skill of a seasoned contractor, maybe then. A better writer. A better friend. A better human being. Some of those things I got better at. Most of them I didn’t.

The more I punished myself for my mistakes, real or perceived, the more I pushed away the people who mattered. The less connection I had to others, the further I sank into depression. The further I sank, the less connection I had. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

Eventually, I alienated friends. I pushed my wife away. I kept my kids at arms length. And still I battled the demon of my depression and self flagellation. It became an endless cycle. I stopped believing I was a good man. I was something else. I wasn’t intentionally evil, but I saw the hurt I was causing people and I punished myself for it.

I came to believe the lies in my head. I saw truth in the impish whispers. “You’re worthless. Better off dead. Unlovable. Unworthy of trust, loyalty, kindness. You can never redeem yourself. You are a usurper, a leech. A blight on humanity. You can never do enough good to overcome the hurt you’ve caused.” I believed every word of it. Sometimes I still do.

Punishing myself left me hollow and sometimes numb. Except the pain and the fear. They were the only things that got through. Eventually, even anger was an emotion I couldn’t allow. I lost control of life and I existed for no good reason other than I wasn’t yet dead. Don’t’ get me wrong, I wished for death every night when I went to sleep and woke up disappointed every morning, another wish not granted.

A marriage can’t survive that kind of punishment. I retreated so far that I forgot who I was. Any idea of the man I was or could be was gone. In its place was a shell with my face but none of what made me “ME”. I wasn’t much more than a corporeal ghost.

I’ve been seeing a therapist. I think she may be a 9th level wizard or maybe a Jinn. I’m really good at hiding myself, at blocking and parrying as people push and pry. But she persists. And she wins. She draws clarity from the muck mire of my mind.

At first it was exhausting and I was utterly useless when I left the office. My body had energy, but my mind was spent. And something odd happened. I realized how wrong I had been. I saw the changes I needed to make. She didn’t tell me what to do, but I saw it. I saw the futility of what I had become. We are meant for more than becoming automatons and walking corpses.

We are meant to FEEL dammit! Feelings are powerful though, and when you’ve shut down the well for so long, opening the tap too quickly can lead to disaster. I’d never learned a healthy way of working through my emotions because I rarely let myself have them. Imagine a ten year old trying to handle a pressurized fire hose. You get the picture.

When emotions get out of control, we tend to act and think irrationally. Its like being on a roller coaster with no safety restraints. One moment, you feel like maybe it’s going to be OK, that you’ve got a good handle on things. The next you’re grabbing on with everything you have hoping not to be thrown from the ride.

That’s a tough place to be, especially when you’re still trying to forgive yourself for being yourself. In order to learn how to feel, you have to feel. There is no flight simulator with which to practice before getting into the cockpit. Sometimes people will get hurt. Sometimes you’ll get hurt. Sometimes, no good will come of it, and still, somehow, you have to forgive yourself to move forward.

Sometimes panic took me. I hurt people I love, and doing so for the right reasons didn’t make it any easier to stomach. Forgiveness is proving difficult. I still don’t have a good way of managing these newish emotions. The fear still nips at my heels during the day, making me wonder if I can keep it together long enough to get home and cry into my pillow. Yet, I persist.

Where do I go from here? I don’t know. But I know I’m going to be different. I’m going to somehow learn to forgive myself. Along the way, I’ll figure out how to allow my emotions to exist without squelching them and banishing them to the dank recesses of my mind. Beyond that? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out.

Fucking feelings man. Turns out you need them, ALL of them.

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Shawn Henfling is an aspiring photographer and writer and step-father. He has made public his continuing battles with Depression and Anxiety in an effort to let others know they are NOT alone. Shawn currently sits on the Centre County Mental Health /Developmental Disability/Early Intervention advisory board.  One of his proudest moments was participating in the #NotWeakJustHuman PSA (https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/shawn-henfling-is-notweakjusthuman-lbkr/)  A salesman by day and writer/photographer by night, he stays busy to maintain a distance between him and the demons in his head. See Shawn’s photography and blog at his personal website.

 

Stigma Fighters: Sarah M.C.

More than anything, I want to help other people around me. Ever since I was young, I’ve always helped others before helping myself. I was under the impression from a young age that if you gave yourself self-love or self-care that you were selfish. This is unfortunately the conditioning that we receive at a very early stage in our lives, especially for young girls were we are primed for motherhood at four years old when we get our first doll. We’re taught to care for everyone else around us, no matter what the expense. As I helped my friends through their own parental struggles, I suppressed mine, and kept mine hidden from others. Only when my friends would come over to our home would they really see the tragic Shakespearean drama unfolding. From the outside, our house looked normal. We seemed like a normal family. We lived in a beautiful suburb in a small town close to the sandy shores Lake Michigan. I went to a public school that was rated more as a private school because of the high academic standards. I played some volleyball, and softball in school, but was drawn more towards the arts, creative writing, ironically drama. I had kids comment to me that our family was “rich”, and that they were actually jealous that they didn’t live in our house. They didn’t see, however, the hell that was unfolding inside of our Beaver Cleaver home.

The truth was that while I was busy helping the other kids in school with their own problems, I had to learn to live with my mother’s alcoholism. It started when I was about thirteen years old. That’s when I found out that I was an aunt. Everyone in our family knew that my brother had a child out of wedlock, but my parents thought it was best not to tell me until they thought that I could “handle” it. To this day I’m not sure why they thought that. My sweet little niece was nine months old before I finally got to meet her. I was so upset with my parents for lying to me. I knew months before they told me because of the not so subtle hints dropped around the house. It was also about this time that I noticed that my mom started to drink a lot more than usual. My parents always loved a good party and lived a pretty affluent lifestyle, but after my niece was born, everything shifted in our home. No longer did I look forward to going home after school. I would spend much of my time locked upstairs blaring my music, dancing, or writing poetry or short stories as a form of escapism from the hell that was below me in the living room. I lashed out with teenage rebellion and started to drink and smoke too, although that only turned into an enabling her behavior. My mom bought me my first pack of cigarettes at age sixteen, and let me drink as long as I was at home with her. I also learned very quickly, that you don’t talk about your problems with others because the first thing that people have a propensity to do, is to judge you. The only worse thing than being judged was to be pitied.

When I moved out for good at twenty-years old, I thought that things would be different. It was so much worse. The drunken phone calls at work, the weekends of her destroying herself, the cornucopias amounts of cigarettes and beer consumed to fill whatever void in her soul that needed to be healed. Yet, I never stopped loving her. I knew that whatever inner demons she had, she was working on it in the only way that she knew how to. I never blamed her for her shortcomings. Where she lacked in some areas, she excelled in others. Like every child of an alcoholic, I desperately sought my mother’s approval, and let her own self-destruction also consume me. I felt utterly responsible for her, and felt guilty if I didn’t pick up that phone call at work. Sometimes, I would just let her sob and speak incoherently while I typed up daily memos. Other times, I would softly yell at her, so my co-workers couldn’t listen, of what a mess she is. She never remembered our conversations the next day, so there were some nights were I said some pretty awful things to her.

I wanted so badly not be anything like my mother, but instead, I turned into the thing that I feared the most. I started going to parties to purposely get drunk. I was hoping that she would see how pathetic it was and learn something from my behavior. Instead, she tossed it up for her daughter just being a “party girl”. There’s actually three years of my life that are a complete blur. I would go to work in the morning, get off by eleven o’clock p.m., go get drunk with some friends, then go back to work the next day. I can’t tell you how many times that I was stupid enough to drive home drunk. I am so lucky that I never killed anyone or myself in those years. I was reckless, and had a wild abandonment, and I didn’t care. I just wanted her to see me. The truth was that she was so self-absorbed in her own narcissism that she never noticed what I did. As long as the appearance was there that we were a “normal” family, she didn’t really care too much about anyone else unless it was convenient for her. Neither of my parents paid that much attention to me.  My mom was consumed with grief from her own past, and my dad worked eighty hours a week, leaving me a lot of times to my own devises. I slid by with C’s and D’s in school, and they rarely ever went to my parent teacher conferences unless I was about to fail a class, and only a handful of times attended school functions. I didn’t like myself starting at a young age.  After being bullied for years, I thought for a brief moment to commit suicide at thirteen years old.  Luckily it was only for a minute.  For my own form of therapy I began to photograph, write poetry and short stories, and paint. The truth was, I had a lot of potential, but no one believed in me. I didn’t realize that I could’ve believed in myself, because no one ever taught me that before.


It’s no wonder then, that I developed General Anxiety Disorder and Depression when I was a child. My mother (having the stigma belief that if you had a mental illness that you were crazy) never thought once of how her drinking behavior would affect me in the long run into my adulthood. Never once stopped to think that maybe she had a mental illness.  After seeing one of my paintings, she threatened to take me to a psychologist in a not-so-nice tone.  As if I should be ashamed to seek help.

Almost two years ago I finally broke down to see a doctor because my anxiety was so bad that I had now developed IBS/ SIBO from the years of anxiety in my digestive system. My intestinal lining had started to eat away, causing leaky gut. One day I noticed fungal lesions breaking out all over my body. Then the panic attacks started coming more frequently and with more fever. I was desperate to get to the bottom of what was happening to me. I went to my naturopath with a list of symptoms, and for some reason that day I added anxiety and depression. After careful review of my chart she said, “You have General Anxiety Disorder”. She gave me some herbal supplements, and sent me to see another doctor who also diagnosed me with anxiety and depression.  For the first time I was in my life I recommended that I see a therapist.  I was terrified. But I took the leap of faith and had my first therapy appointment where she mentioned she suspected that I might have bipolar disorder. Immediately, I thought of my mother, and how my sister and I would comment about our mother’s own mental wellbeing. For years we speculated that she was bipolar. If I had it, chances were good that she did too.

The cruel irony of all of this is I had to move 5,000 miles away from my mother to start to heal our relationship. She continued to drink until three years ago; four months after my Dad passed away. She quit cold turkey. Overnight. When I told her that I was seeing a therapist, she told me that she went to a psychologist once when she too turned forty. She told me that when she left she was so upset with herself because the therapist made her feel inferior. She screamed at herself in the car as she was sobbing to pull herself together. That she was “stronger than that” then added, “That’s when I picked up my first case of beer”. I will never forget that conversation. I realized that she also didn’t have any self-love for herself, so how could she show love for others? If only she had stuck with therapy, and gone on medication, she might have not needed to feel a need to pick up that case of beer that day.  That would have made me eight years old.  I guess she and my dad hid it well from me until I was thirteen.

Today, speaking with my mother, you would never have thought she was an alcoholic for thirty years. As that scared child though, who never knew what to expect when she came home from school, I still am mad at her. A part of me might always be mad at her. I may not ever have the love that I so desperately craved as a child, but I have the love of my mother as an adult.  I have for the most part come to understand the reasons why she drank, but never fully forgiving her.

I so wish that I had started therapy while I was in high school. Today, I sit here and wonder how much different my life would have been had I sought help. I lived in that hell alone, as a thirteen-year-old girl. I wonder if I would have had the courage to go off to college. If maybe, I would be a social worker, or psychologist like I so wanted to be growing up. I wonder if I would have reacted stronger and not have taken it personally when she would go on a tyrant and call me “stupid”. I try not to live my life in “what-if’s” and have little regret, but now as an adult I can see that maybe I could have been a little happier if the stigma of mental illness didn’t exist and we both got the help that we needed. I would have gotten the proper care, and would have saved myself mentally and physically. Now, as an adult, I realize that I have the opportunity to encourage, and support others going through similar situations. I want to break down that social stigma by whatever means that I have. That starts here. Being open, honest, raw and real about whom I am and my own story of how mental illness has affected me.


FB_IMG_1456624638355Sarah M.C. is an Adult Child of an Alcoholic/ Bipolar II Disorder/
General Anxiety Disorder. She has struggled with anxiety and
depression most of her life, but wasn’t diagnosed until near her
fortieth birthday. She is the Founder/ President of DBSA Aloha
Honolulu, a non-profit organization dedicated to raise awareness on
depression and bipolar disorder.  She is also a blogger featured in
Your Tango and Psych Central, along with being a tea leaf/ tarot
reader, photographer and hobby artist.  She and her husband of
eighteen years currently reside in Honolulu, Hawaii. When they aren’t
globe-trotting or working on their businesses, she can be found
sipping on some tea snuggled with her cat.

Sarah can be found on Twitter

 

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Jesse S. Smith

A Mental Health Autobiography

I’m never certain how much of my own experiences are unique to me, and how much of my experiences are universal, shared by everyone: a part of the human condition. Sometimes I think that our feelings are all more or less the same. Sometimes I think it’s just me. Sometimes I tell myself not to be such an egomaniac, because after all I’m not that different from anyone else. But then sometimes I open my mouth, and people give me this look that suggests perhaps my experiences are not entirely universal after all.
When I was very young, no more than six years old, my father told me a sort of a fable. I think he had heard it from his own father; but for all I know, it was something that actually happened to him when he was a child. The story went like this: A young boy is standing on a high place, on top of a piece of furniture or something. The boy’s father says, “Go ahead and jump off, I’ll catch you.” The boy says, “It’s too high, Daddy, I’m scared.” The father says, “It’s all right, I’m right here.” So the boy jumps, and the father steps aside, allowing the boy to plummet to the ground, where he lands with an agonizing face-plant. And while the boy is lying on the ground, crying in miserable pain and betrayal, his father leans over him and says, “Remember this, son. Never trust anyone.”
We live in a society that continuously repeats the obvious lie, that anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps if only they work hard enough.
My first job was at McDonald’s. One of my co-workers was a Mexican immigrant. This man worked full time at a chicken farm, and he had a 35-hour-a-week second job flipping burgers on the line with me. I will never meet anybody who worked harder than that man, and I promise you, he never managed to pull himself up by his bootstraps.
The “bootstraps” lie is just an excuse for intolerance. And part of the intolerance fostered by the “bootstraps” lie, is the intolerance for people who have had bad things happen to them. Uncaring society says, “Get over it.” Uncaring society says, “That’s your problem, not mine.” Uncaring society uses the “bootstraps” lie as an excuse, to make up a reason why the bad thing was, in fact, the victim’s own fault in the first place. When a person finds themselves in an impossible situation, uncaring society blames that person for being unable to magically transcend the impossible.
I no longer think the people who say these things even believe themselves. They know they’re lying, and they just don’t care. The point is to use their power to harm others for their own gain. I’m speaking now of politics, but the principle applies broadly to our society as a whole.
On the outside, I came from a good middle-class family, and had every middle-class advantage. But I had a dark place in my head that I just couldn’t get past. My father told me (in writing!) that it was the way I was born; but I think it’s more likely, it was related to the things my father said and did over the years. When I was in eighth grade, I was suicidally depressed. After that, I saw a counselor for a while. That was a complete waste of time and money. All I learned from those sessions, was how to lie to a counselor. Later, I saw a second counselor. After months of visits, I finally opened up to him with the dark truth about my family life. He didn’t believe me. He thought I was making it all up as a sympathy ploy. The one person whose actual job it was to make a real difference in my life, blew it off as a fantasy, and essentially told me to get over myself. I will never respect counselors again.
A few years later, I went to an excellent college; but I partied too much and refused to take anything seriously. I graduated with a decent degree but no job prospects, and found myself still working the same kind of pointless minimum wage jobs I’d been working in high school. Then my father died, suddenly and unexpectedly, and his death threw the family into turmoil. Shortly afterwards, I lost my paltry life savings on an auto accident (my insurance company said it wasn’t covered, because I was on a bicycle when I collided with the car). This is just an example of how bad experiences tend to snowball and build on each other.
My struggles with depression led to a series of bad choices. I pushed away my long-term girlfriend, the one I should have married. I probably would have managed to get myself fired from a decent job, but I avoided that when an unexpected opportunity came up, and with less than three weeks’ notice, I left the country to go teach in Egypt for a year, along with my younger sister and several of our friends from college. It was an amazing opportunity, but it was also very stressful. I was unprepared for the experience. For one thing, my sister was the constant recipient of really awful sexual harassment from all the men around us, and I was powerless to do anything about it. For another thing, it was very difficult for me to adapt to the local culture and the work environment. One day my impatience got the better of me, and rather than wait for the bus, I decided to walk home to my apartment after work. I got lost, and wandered miles out of my way. After dark, I found myself in a lonely and deserted place, where some local hoodlums attacked me and beat me over the head. I still have the scars. I managed to get away, but I sprained my ankle on a rock as I ran away in the dark. The hoodlums chased me all the way back to a populated district, where the local residents called the police. The police let the hoodlums go, and detained me all night instead, peppering me with questions and refusing to believe my answers. This is the world we live in. It is a world that lets the hoodlums go, and blames the victim, seeking against reason for any explanation why the incident must have been the victim’s fault.
I returned from Egypt just in time for 9-11. Despite some of my experiences there, I had grown fond of my Muslim host country, and I took the terrorist attacks and their hateful aftermath personally.
I think it’s safe to say that, between my childhood, the car accident, the attack from the hoodlums, and of course 9-11 itself, I was suffering from some degree of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was often angry and impatient. I often began the day with rum in my coffee, or sometimes just rum straight out of the bottle.
Meanwhile, I lived in a barn. It was a nice barn, in a remote location. For years I had dreamed of an opportunity like this, to devote myself to solitary pursuits, writing and playing music. I accomplished a lot during that time, but I turned out to feel incredibly lonely as well, and ended up driving ridiculous distances to meet with girlfriends. Also, there was no work to be had in that remote location; and even living in a barn, I needed some income. So I would drive two hours to work in Portland, where I often slept in my car, or crashed on my friend’s couch, rather than drive back. Technically, a person who either sleeps in their car on on their friend’s couch, for weeks at a time, is considered homeless. I was homeless. This is a story of how a promising boy from what looked like a good middle-class family turned into an angry homeless alcoholic.
Society regards a story like this as an “excuse.” Society tells us that we should just “get over” whatever bad things have happened to us. Society regards our difficulties in “getting over” those bad experiences as a kind of moral failing.
Fuck society.
Well, after this, I watched all my hopes and dreams crumble. I put all my energy into starting a rock band: but it was nearly impossible to land paying gigs; the band never attracted a following; and eventually it all fell apart. I had always wanted to be a writer, and had majored in English for that purpose: but I was unable to figure out how to get published; and I lost money on my multiple attempts at self-publication.
Despite myself, I got married; and due to economic considerations, I ended up being the primary childcare provider for our children. That arrangement was meant to be temporary; but then the recession came; and it turns out it’s difficult for a stay-at-home parent to reenter the workforce at even the best of times, and it’s essentially impossible during or in the immediate aftermath of an economic downturn.
But life goes on, and I did my best to put on a brave face and power through.
I have never repeated my father’s story to my own children. It ends here.
A few years ago, I spoke with my physician, and he prescribed me medication. The medication is not a complete fix; but since going on it, I have had fewer mood swings; and when my mood takes a downturn, it doesn’t go as deep, or last as long. I drink less, and I rarely touch hard liquor any more.
I still struggle, as people who have seen my somewhat random Twitter posts may be aware. Some days are better than others; and this must be true for most people. But since I got on medication, my world has brightened, my outlook has generally improved, and I have learned to have hope for the future. I have even returned to believing it’s possible I will someday soon become not just a self-published author, but an actual published author. That’s a kind of optimism I haven’t felt for a long time. I just hope it holds.
So, to all of you out there, feeling stress, and anxiety, and mood swings, and depression: you are not alone. The world sucks! There is medication that can help to a certain extent, and if you need it, I recommend taking it. No prescription will ever fix your life completely, and sometimes we just have to put on a brave face and power through. But if anyone ever tells you to “get over it” or to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” you hereby have my permission to punch them in the face.
Thank you.

mangled-selfie-crop-2Jesse S. Smith is a self-published author living in Oregon. Smith is a former musician and world traveler turned husband and Dad.

 

 

 

 

 

Find him on Twitter.

IMG_1261

I’ll Always Love You, But I Don’t Forgive You – Ryan Ritchie

I believe that, at birth, the bond between us and our parents is the strongest that it’ll ever be.

It’s one of the only raw and unadulterated moments in our lifetime. Where uncertainty doesn’t exist: there are no filters switched on that day. Words aren’t needed – our eyes tell it all.

A gentle smile forms on your mother’s face which creates a valley in which her tears of joy flow into. Your father adores every breath that you take, allowing him the ability to pace his heart with yours.

Realizing that we are their children. We are a product of their pain, their love, and their bond. It’s at this point, this… insanely powerful moment that we are reminded of how precious life truly is.

Sometimes… I wish that I could experience that day one more time. To share a moment of oneness with my family: to feel utterly consumed by their love. My parent’s love – the way it’s supposed to be.

As a parent, your purpose in life changes the moment your child is born: no matter if it’s your first, your third or your ninth – you are supposed to love, protect and cherish your child. After all, we are, ultimately, pieces of them.

If you’re brave enough to bring a person into this world, this, fucked-up, bizarre world – it’s your job to provide shelter from all that is bad whilst we learn to grow-up. Whilst we find our feet with our first steps and begin to understand that this revolving piece of rock is now our home.

Unfortunately, along the way, this can be forgotten.

The one item on my ‘parent’s checklist’ which is supposed to be permanently completed was simply overlooked. At first, not purposely, but as time moved on, I realized that their priorities changed.

They had forgotten to love the piece of them which needed it the most: me.

They replaced goodnight stories with arguments. They started to forget that I was there in the morning. They didn’t stop to notice that my eyes were slightly darker than usual, that my smile was less frequent.

Their focus was no longer on me but, instead, on their ever-growing hate for each other.

And, I’d try… I’d try really fucking hard to show them that I still loved them. That I still wanted to care. I wanted to show them that I could still make them smile – even when they made me feel so worthless.

I’m not saying for one second that my parents didn’t love me or that they mistreated me. What I’m saying is that they stopped treating themselves with respect, they stopped loving each other: which meant they found it harder to find time to love me.

At night, I could hear them. Every night.

The screams of anger and of regret substituted a kiss on the forehead followed by a gentle ‘sweet dreams’. Eventually, the screaming would stop and, when it did, I’d stay awake and cry because I was alone.

No night-light to fill the crack in my door any longer to make me feel safe. No sound of soft footsteps to check if I was asleep. I felt lost.

The fighting would happen so much that I started to numb the mental torture with physical pain. I started to learn that razors would cut deep enough that it would take all of my energy to control the blood, so that I didn’t focus on my parent’s ability to isolate me anymore.

Now that I look back I have one burning question in my heart: How could you not realize that I was not okay? That I was suffocating in consistent tidal waves formed out of your indifference?

The boy, the child, the person you brought into this world was now exposed to the harm you swore to protect me from.

I deserved more of a chance. You should have given me… more of a chance.

For nearly a decade, you prevented every opportunity that I had of being normal. My outlook on life was poisoned by your inability to act like fucking parents.

You were so focused on killing each other that you failed to realize that it was slowly destroying the boy that you created.

And, even though you forced me to become a different person, I still, have a place in my heart for you. Because that’s what children do: they irrationally love their parents.

Despite your mistakes and blatant disregard for anybody who managed to get sucked into your hurricane – I still love you.

I blame you both for the life I have today. I blame you both for making me the strong person that I am, I blame you both for nearly a decade of anxiety, I blame you both for teaching me how not to love someone, I blame you both for showing me how not to be a parent and I blame you both for teaching me so much about life.

If you ever read this Mum and Dad – just know that I understand. I know that it was never your intention for me to turn out how I did. But, I hope, deep down, that you’re proud of me: of who I’ve become.

I’ll always love you… but I’ll never forgive you.

IMG_1261 Ryan is a mental health advocate and writer who has been kicking anxiety’s ass since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @NoMoreGremlins

Alpha Males Don’t Talk About Feelings, Right?

For a bizarre fucking reason growing up, I was taught to bottle my feelings so that I could reserve my place in ‘real-man’ heaven.

I always believed that crying was an expression of inner weakness which I needed to contain so I could keep up the appearance of this red-meat eating, lumberjack who was impervious to pain: both physically and mentally.

Pride was the driving force behind my attempt to create this seemingly herculean-like man on the outside whilst protecting the frailty and fragility which I knew existed on the inside.

I was trying hard to substantiate my position of alpha male.

What a load of shit that was.

As a teenage boy, school was a confusing time. You fall in love for the first time, you hate your parents for something new every week and everything is a popularity contest. In addition to this: kids are dicks. I don’t care what you’ve heard, teenagers are savages who have zero regard for the well-being of others.

In this environment, you have two options: become a victim or avoid it entirely and act as if none of it exists. Well, I did the latter. I hated waking up on a school day knowing that I’d have to suffer through another 7 hours of cliché personalities and so, I refused to participate.

But, as time passed, it wasn’t just waking up that bothered me anymore. It was walking to school, being in class, taking lunch and walking home that bothered me.

I didn’t have the energy to continue to mould this sculpture of strength and courage out of the little I had left to offer.

I hid away from the world so that people wouldn’t notice my weaknesses breaking through the surface. Isolation was where I repaired the seams and where I sewed together my brave face for the next morning.

This process continued for 3 years. I was gradually scratching out the canvas which once showed a normal, happy young-man and, instead, painted this dark cloud which consumed everything in its path.

This dark cloud was around all of the time and I couldn’t figure out why.

I always thought to myself: ‘Is this normal?‘ or ‘I suppose most teenagers go through this’.

This constant state of denial and ‘mental dysmorphia’, caused me to experience my first panic attack.

Not being in control of my body’s actions cemented my decision to finally speak to somebody about this. It was at this time that I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder with a side-dish of Social Anxiety just to really spice shit up.

I was enrolled in CBT sessions which I persisted with for 6 months and made little progression.

Why? Because I was still so damn stubborn that I refused to truly open up.

What did that do for me? Jack-shit.

All the years of hiding my emotions and pretending to be okay, ironically, were the main ingredients in this diet of destruction.

I refused to let this be it for me. I knew I was in a bad condition but, I was the one who put myself there: I’ll be the one who drags myself out of it again.

I completely reversed my thinking. I spoke when I could about my feelings to people that I trusted, I wasn’t ashamed to admit that I was having a bad day: I constantly pushed my boundaries for 18-months, every single day without fail.

Did I have bad days? Of course. That’s completely fucking normal. But, and this is super important, the bad days I had, NEVER changed into bad weeks or months. I fought the supple grip of anxiety with every ounce of my fibre.

That is what truly makes a strong person.

View it this way: if you shake a bottle filled with coke and leave the lid on, you can feel how tight the plastic is as it tries desperately to deal with all of the pressure. Now, what happens when you take the lid off?

All fucking hell breaks loose but, at least you relieved that pressure.

Now imagine what would happen if you did the exact same thing but with the bottle half-full. Sure, there will still be pressure but it’s manageable once you twist the cap. You can stop it from overspilling by releasing the pressure little-by-little.

Treat your mind in the same way. If you keep your thoughts, emotions and fears locked in the dark, one day, when you do decide to talk about them (or forced to), you will splurt out years worth of pain: which will be completely unbearable.

You need to realise that your ego needs to take a fucking seat for one minute. Speaking about your problems does not make you weak: it makes you incredibly strong. Hiding from the bullshit is easy: everybody can do that.

It’s the real bad-assess who embrace the sacrifices which need to be made. The real Rambo-type motherfuckers are the people who understand that things need to change.

I’m here to remind you that anxiety (and any mental illness for that matter) couldn’t care less how much of a man you think you are: it will still break you down. Pulling pieces from your health, confidence, and ability to function day-by-day like an eternal game of human Jenga.

The stigma around men speaking up about their mental health needs to be abolished. I, for one, will shout at the top of my lungs about my accomplishments and my flaws. I’m not ashamed of either.

As long as you are being true to yourself – fuck what everybody else thinks. If you don’t commit, you won’t change shit.

IMG_1261Ryan is a mental health advocate and writer who has been kicking anxiety’s ass since 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ryan Ritchie can be found on his Twitter

 

An “Investigation” into a Means of Ending Stigma By Jim Russell

As advocates for mental health and help seeking, we often discover
that a great chasm separating us from help is gouged open by fear and
shame. Treatments have become more effective, and more people in our
community voice their support, yet it seems that too many people who
need help slip through the cracks and spiral, alone, in to
destructive, and sometimes fatal patterns. To those of us who are
outspoken, supportive, and ready to shout for our place, it can be
disheartening to see those we care about suffer. We write blogs, we
speak publicly, we show our art and write poetry, we create and join
groups, and we pour our hearts out in every media outlet available.
Yet, still, so many people fear taking the step to seek help.

While is seems counterintuitive, we may be experiencing what has been
a phenomena in law enforcement, my world, for years. It is called
“siloing” and speaks to the idea of like-minded people forming a
supportive, but exclusive social group, because persons in that group
have a unique experiential connection. Similarly, we who experience
mental illness feel more safe around one another, can confidently back
each other up, and have an understanding and empathy that is truly a
separate world view. We can see this in our Twitter and Facebook
accounts. I for one, have a large percentage of my friends and
associates identifying as persons who either suffer from mental
illness, have experienced it in their family, or who are clinicians in
the field.  I really like it that way, but I have also come to
understand that the people that we need to reach, and who are mostly
likely to perpetuate stigma, are not in our group, but are outside our
silo.

My personal advocacy has focused on reducing stigma by highlighting
the fact that persons with mental illness, such as myself, can, with
treatment and support, often live fulfilling and successful lives. I
use my position as Deputy Chief of Police at FSU while also being
diagnosed with chronic depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and
panic disorder, as a personal example. It has been a good tool to turn
stereotypes about mental illness on their heads, and the means I have
used to deliver it is a program called Sworn to Silence, which I wrote
in 2012.  Sworn to Silence has provided an excellent delivery, but one
of its shortcomings is its first-responder centered focus. It
explains, clarifies, and debunks a lot of myths about mental illness,
but it does not recruit allies outside of the mental health world.
With that in mind, late in 2016, I knew that I needed to develop
another program, and this program would be focused on developing
natural allies.

So, I set out to create a presentation that would encourage outreach
into a group of people who are not deeply entrenched or invested in
the mental health world. At its core, the program would have as its
mission, “To invest in a new vision to eliminate stigma, promote
help-seeking, and save lives.”  This would be accomplished by
providing an easy to remember and utilize action-template that sets a
path toward mental health ambassadorship. I created an acronym for the
program: I.N.V.E.S.T.I.G.A.T.E., for Invest in a New Vision, Eliminate
Stigma, Tell and Inform, Guide Attitudes, and Take up Empathy. Of
course, the name is also a nod to my cop roots – I can’t help it!

Each piece of the framework seeks to empower and create guidelines for
an advocate/ambassador to systematically promote a vision of mental
illness as not something to be feared, but something to be understood.
Moreover, it strengthens facts and removes fallacies that often cause
afflicted people to withdraw. For instance, take a single section of
the training, Tell and Inform.  Here, this is further expanded to
impart to advocates that they must invest in their own knowledge and
education concerning mental illness, and it also discusses
environmental scanning. Environmental scanning, being a fancy way to
say that one should actively seek and take in current events and
research from a broad spectrum of media. Finally, with a well-informed
and objective advocate, this investment in education is demonstrated
through the ability to constructively engage in discussion up to and
including sharing one’s own story as a foundation, if comfortable
doing so.

Importantly, the program does not seek to develop or create a new
concept about what stigma is, or unveil some new wealth of knowledge.
Rather, it pulls known ideas and facts about stigma, mental health,
and advocacy and packages them into a compact and useful toolbox that
can be applied across a variety of social situations.  The information
was reviewed for accuracy of content due to the gracious efforts of
the chief clinical psychologist at the FSU Counseling Center, which
provided me the confidence to push forward. For those who take part in
the program they can think about it as a multi-tool for mental health
advocacy. How you use the tool and how often is up to you.

Stigma-fighting is not so much a science as it is an art that is
fortified through knowledge and good facts. As advocates and
activists, it is our job to paint the picture of mental illness as it
really is, an illness, and not a statement as to the value and worth
of the person who suffers with it. Unfortunately, we share our canvas
with untold numbers of people who paint with ignorance. It is our
charge to ensure that our artwork, our fight, is more rich, more
engaging, and more absorbing than all of the noise that’s splattered
about.

The people that we are, and who we fight for are beautiful, and our
work must help open the eyes of others who should see them.

I hope this program will help do that.

image1Jim Russell is the Deputy Chief of Police at the Florida State University Police Department where he has served for over 24 years.  He became involved in mental health awareness and suicide prevention

as he dealt simultaneously with increasing incidents of suicide on campus as well as his own diagnosis of major depressive disorder in 2010. Deputy Chief Russell is dedicated to advocating for the elimination of stigma concerning mental health issues, prevention

of suicide and self-harm, encouraging senior management in first responder agencies to become better educated, and encouraging first responders to practice help-seeking without fear.  He often conducts his advocacy on a bicycle as an ultra-marathon cyclist

demonstrating that “persons with mental illness can and do achieve great things and deserve respect and dignity”, and has completed multiple extreme distance cycling events to promote this concept.  The core of his advocacy centers on his belief that, “If

I truly love the people I work with, then I will stand up for them on this issue”.

Visit FSUPD at https://police.fsu.edu.  Follow FSUPD @keepfsusafe and my personal Twitter @jimridesforlife.