Category Archives: Anxiety

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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.

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.

 

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.

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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. 
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Michael Deady

The voice, the confusion, the hurt.
There’s days you get ready for the week ahead and you spring up out of bed and just cannot wait to get on with your day. Then there’s days where someone is telling you how shit your life really is. There’s someone telling you that your fucked, you made a bad choice, everything is going horrible and you struggle from the off, you cry and you look at yourself and wonder.
You have people telling you that you’re a legend or that you’ll be ok, you do so much, we are here for you, yes that’s grand I appreciate every single thing you do for me, but can you fight these demons for me by any chance? I only keep myself occupied by doing things to see can I get this voice in my head off for a few hours but it keeps coming back to affect every bit of my life.
Not many people understand my decision or believe me for that matter. Things get inside your head, its negative, it’s hard, but it’s equally as hard to get rid of, I just need to learn how to manage it.
Here’s how to explain it in my way, Imagine winning the 100m sprint in the Olympics and having the best time of your life, you’re a beast an utter beast and then the next day this figure comes along and kills you inside saying you are lying, you cheated and leaves you crying for days because your achievement is taken away. You try to progress but you keep taking hits.
Thinking I can get rid of the past by changing my appearance thinking this might work but it doesn’t, it’s not who I am, and it doesn’t help things.
That’s what it’s like for me, now, one day I’m on top of the world and the next I’m being told by this voice and you are terrible. It’s confusing as hell it’s effecting my life, left right and centre and only for the people who believe in me and try to get inside my head and overlap my thoughts I’m still here battling on.
Trying to fill that gap in my life, having nobody personal to turn too when alone because I’m like this, sometimes is hard, telling your friends about your personal life is a tough one but this is where I am at, I don’t like bothering people, I don’t but if people weren’t there I don’t know where I would be.
Imagine trying to explain to a girl about all this? You can’t even imagine how tough it is to be honest with someone I like. Nine times out of ten it is driving them away and that’s proving more and more difficult for me to be honest and open. Yes my life is full of bloody problems, but it’s for the right reasons There’s a stigma still behind people with mental health, its seen as a burden or a problem, it’s always going to be there, it’s how you manage it that makes you how can I say this “normal”.
Imagine being afraid to do the sport you love? Imagine not wanting to turn up at the local athletics track or gym because you feel you are being watched. This is what it is like sometimes.
This voice, this manner in which my life is lived is how I have lived most my life, it’s not the person I am by no means, some saw it others haven’t. I’m lucky I have good friends. It’s how I always saw life. I understand people running off from my life, it’s understandable, why would you want some fool looking worried about who’s going to be where or what’s going on? I’m not relaxed most of the time, I get into ruts of being in my bedroom doing nothing at all because of negative thoughts.
Imagine waking up in the middle of the night because you think something or someone is hitting you or because someone is inside your head, every morning trying to get rid of the voice, imagine having flash backs to the negative things in your past because of this. It’s horrible. I put pillows over my head singing trying to make it stop, banging my head against a wall, anything to make this noise stop, I’ll admit it’s bloody dreadful. I sometimes feel like I’m being watched, to be honest I think I am, and this is how I feel all my life, trying to remove myself from the circle of pain but I still feel this way.
At the start it had impacted so much, it was driving negative thoughts into my head and made me a completely different person, I put on weight, I was unmotivated as a result, I had no interest in anything, which saw my decline in athletics and my lifestyle in general. I kept trying to get myself back but I kept having those days and I turned too staying in bed, away from people. Ill keep trying until I see myself training properly even with setbacks, I think I know how to deal with them now, hopefully I’ll be that athlete again someday and ill wake up thinking I’m ready.
Going out on the street where you know people pacing around the place trying to avoid any contact with certain people you know, then other days you stroll around and not a care. It’s unimaginable what is next. Going into a shop, seeing someone you know that heard about your problems and you walk out of the shop before they notice you, you don’t want to be sussed out because let’s face it, some people are so nosey. Being honest, It’s my main goal to get away from it all eventually.
Sometimes people try and understand or make judgements of they know what’s going on with me, but I guess this is the best way I can describe it, nobody knows, only me. In writing, for me, it is much more understanding, speaking about how it is to be me is tough, I’ll speak about anything bar that, talking is tough, but sometimes my emotions pour out as some of my close friends and others have seen.
I must be thankful for anybody involved or associated with the sport of athletics. I’ll be bluntly honest here, without you I’m a goner.
I try different things like writing, driving or training to control myself. Nine times out of ten this works for me, but not always.
I look at myself and keep worrying about sport and other important things in my life, where I am going to live next, work, my car, I ended up on my own, it is scary, how well I used to be in comparing to how I am now, heavier, more negative, less relaxed, I’m battling on because without it, I know its failure, I won’t always be like this if I just keep trying and keep telling myself, I will, instead of, I can.
Hello? are you there? I hope not.

12063760_10153242791326818_105141351955383857_nMichael Deady
23
Irish Athlete and Care Assistant

Michael Deady can be found on Facebook and Twitter

heron-island-washington-elopement-ryan-flynn-photography-shauna-michael-00019

Shauna Dinsart

Lips are moving. Mouths: opening and closing. Food being broken into digestible pieces.

Smack. Smack. Smack.

The noise gets louder. It can’t just be in my head. Someone is turning up the volume—someone is out to get me.

My steady heartbeat begins pounding; harder and faster as the noise becomes louder and louder. Sweat drips down my face and soaks my shirt. My breathing feels blocked. Are my lungs giving out? I try to fight it. It will be over soon.

This is the breaking point.

I have persisted beyond the abuse—the neglect. Somehow I have moved through those times without cracking, and now a subtle and repetitive noise is breaking me.

The straw that broke the camel’s back? Or the child with depleting anxiety, unable to persist any further?

Composed on the outside, I stand up and walk to my room. My bowl of cereal remains on the table untouched; soggy.

When I push open the door to my bedroom I collapse to the ground again. This is the only place I can lose myself. No one will ever know. The door is shut and the world left outside.

My skin breaks open easily, but there have become too many marks. I pull on my hair—entire handfuls, grasping with all of my might. My muscles are flexed as I force the pain.

Tears fall onto the floor below me.

I can still hear the sound. Smack. Smack Smack.

It’s not possible, I think. The sound is stuck in my ears, rattling inside my head. It won’t go away.

My head drops forward and I release my hair—it’s not working this time.

As hard as I can, I whip my head backwards. Smack: against the wall.

I see stars, but the sound remains.

I’m still there. I can’t escape myself.

My first debilitating panic attack happened when I was twelve years old.

Anxiety came to me disguised in self-hatred, so I fought it with self-destruction.

Anxiety came to me disguised in body dysmorphia, so I fought it with an eating disorder.

Anxiety came to me wearing many masks, so I fought it with many weapons.

The only problem was that the anxiety was inside of me and the weapons I was using were against me.

I fought myself most of my life, trying desperately to separate myself from the twelve-year-old girl stunted by her inner turmoil. There had to be a way to get rid of the pain. There had to be a way to drown out the memories.

There were entire years I wished that a bus would take me out—quick and painless.

At twenty-eight years old, I have found myself to be relatively stable: relative to the girl nestled inside abusive relationships; relative to the girl seeking revenge on herself; relative to the girl who woke up every morning crying, simply because she woke up another day.

I’ve been in and out of psychiatric care for almost half of my life now. I have been professionally diagnosed with Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Major Depression. Personally, from my studies of Psychology and experience living with myself for my entire life, I think all of these diagnoses blend together and the symptoms manifest similarly with each. I also believe that each diagnoses fuels the others—they feed off of each other like a pool of unwelcome parasites.

My mental health is not great today. I’m not sure it ever will be. I still cry more days than I don’t. I still suffer from insomnia, which is managed in part by medication. I still look down at my stomach and wish I could shave off a couple of inches. I still have nightmares almost every night, and flashbacks of the abuse. I still have panic attacks, regularly; but I’ve stopped harming myself entirely, and I’ll take that for now.

heron-island-washington-elopement-ryan-flynn-photography-shauna-michael-00019Shauna Dinsart is a twenty-something Corporate Manager turned Freelance Artist, currently living in Paris, France. She is a proud feminist and lover of all animals. When she isn’t writing or working on other creative projects, you can find her nose buried in a good novel or out enjoying an eclectic restaurant with her husband.

Shauna Dinsart can be found on Twitter.

Jason

I can recall the very moment everything changed. I remember it clearly as if a wire in my brain became unplugged. I was at a friend’s house and I sat down on the edge of the fireplace to settle in for another movie. Except this time was different. Though my body physically stopped moving when I sat down, my soul plummeted straight to hell. I knew physically where I was at, but inside I kept falling. I started sweating, I couldn’t breathe, I began to panic. I had never felt this before, but I knew deep in my heart something was terribly wrong. Fear gripped me and I suddenly realized that the movie had stopped and my friends were staring at me.

“What’s wrong,” asked one.
“It feels like somebody just died.” I replied
He asked,  “Who? Who died?”
“Everybody! They’re all gone!”

Nobody had died. Nobody was in danger.

This was the first of many panic attacks.

It was 2002, panic (or anxiety) disorder wasn’t on the radar of many health professionals. I was 17. I was an athlete. I worked out everyday. I was competitive. I played in a punk band. I was straight-edge (no drugs or alcohol). I was top ten in my class academically. I was a smart and athletic kid.

But from that moment on. Life was different.

Everything would be fine one moment and the next moment that wire would unplug and my soul would drop out from under me. I became frantic like Peter Pan chasing after his shadow until my body physically gave way. The triggers were wild and inconsistent; a smell, a familiar object in a unfamiliar place, a memory, or a hallucination. None of them were associated with a reason. I’ve been lead out of stores unable to walk on my own because my vision became too blurred. I’ve been so afraid that I’ve blacked out. I’ve laid on couches paralyzed stiff for hours, so tensed up that I couldn’t form words with my tongue.

Each attack was terrifying and random. I had scholarships for soccer, I was accepted to several universities, and I had to turn them down because I was afraid to be more than 30 minutes away from my parents or girlfriend (now wife). I was drowning.

Concerned, my mom sent me to get help, but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong!

My family Dr said “you’re young, in the best shape you’ll ever be in, go have lots of sex. It’s perfectly healthy and will take the edge off.” He also gave me a plastic baggie of Xanax with the instruction: “If you start having another episode, crush one of these and put it under your tongue.” If that wasn’t the worst advice I will ever receive in life I don’t know what is.

My first therapist wasn’t much better. She seemed determined to convince me I was gay as if my panic were associated with living a secret life. She prescribed a “ocean noises” CD and recommended sleeping naked, and while she didn’t agree with my family doctor on the sex “because that could hurt others,” she instead recommended porn and masturbation. Thanks for the addiction!

The church was as equally bad as the doctors. The youth minister said, “have faith, pray more, the bible says not to worry,” thanks man, I hadn’t thought of that while gasping for air! I had five swear words to my name, never tried drugs or alcohol, and had only kissed one girl, but yet the pastoral consensus was a lack of faith or obedience.

The panic attacks grew worse. I wanted to die. I wasn’t asking for a miracle, I just wanted to know what was going on inside my head! Why!? One day, while driving I had had enough. I spotted a deep ditch. I closed my eyes and floored it. That’s when I heard a voice say “wait.” Two of the wheels were already off the road when I opened my eyes and I reasoned with the voice “one week!”

The following Sunday at church, the minister preached from Philippians, “To live is Christ, but to die is gain.” It was a terrible sermon full of theological error, but that verse stuck with me. All I wanted to do was die at that point, death would have been better, but that verse said “to live.” I had the verse tattooed on my left wrist. Being right handed, I knew if I were to slit my wrist I would have read those words first.

Weeks later my mom found me a psychiatrist. I had blood work done and my serotonin levels came back low. I was officially diagnosed with anxiety disorder. My mom also did some family research and discovered that other family members had the same struggles. I was so relieved to have someone acknowledge my illness! I wasn’t crazy!

I was placed on medication and it took a while to find the right one. I gained 60 lbs in a matter of months. I started having brutal nightmares. I became robotic and emotionless. Oh, and the prescribed masturbation, yeah, not happening. It took 18 months to find the right one, Effexor and Zoloft where strikes, but Paxil was a home-run. A year later and free of attacks, my therapist and psychiatrist tapered off the dosage and I havn’t been on medication since. And yes, it was totally worth the side effects!

To celebrate the absence of panic attacks I had “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” from Psalm 139 tattooed on my right wrist. Every time I read those words I’m reminded that God created me and loves me the way I am. I see God as the loving mother fearful for her wonderful child’s safety willing to stop at nothing to find a solution and restore wellness.

To this day, at the age of 32, with the tremendous amount of stress that comes with raising a family, I have yet to have another panic attack like those at the height of my illness. There is hope, and I hope you are encouraged to hear me say that these memories, though painful, are distant ones. And the medicine, though trial-ridden, does work.

jason_headshotJason is a husband and father of three boys. By trade a design engineer, by passion a preacher speaking at many parachurch organizations in and around Flint MI. He is also co-host of Not Your Pastor’s Podcast in effort vocalize opinions and speak honestly toward issues pastors can’t.

Jason can be found on his website and Twitter.