Category Archives: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

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

 

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

 

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Stigma Fighters: Stephanie Paige

I Am Surely Dying…

It truly amazes me how in the matter of just a few days, my body and my brain, can completely double cross me…

A friend of mine recently posted how we are less than 200 days away from Christmas.  This had me thinking about last Christmas and my immediate family that was 4 in count at the time.  I remember waking Christmas morning in our house with two very happy kids, my 8 year old daughter and my 2 1/2 year old foster son.  He was smiling, his dimples poking his cheeks, realizing this is a happy occasion but not knowing why.  There was laughter and much confusion from him as he had no idea what to do with a wrapped present.  My husband sat on the floor by T’s gifts and unwrapped them with the glee a child would normally have.  It was a Christmas morning that was full of smiles, laughs and love.

Just a few days later, this all changed.

I had been having major anxiety off and on since T moved in with us at the end of October.  None of my spells lasted past a week.  This was a warning sign and I refused to listen to it.  I ignored the heavy breathing, the annoyance of every sound within my home… these things that my brain was telling me, “SOS, we need help, NOW!”.  I didn’t want to believe my perfect family, my dream family, was causing me to drown.  I tried to suppress the angry feelings I was getting toward my children in order to keep my dream of mothering 2 kids alive.  I continued to go to work and act as if nothing was bothering me, dreading going home at the end of the day.  I told myself, “This too shall pass.”

But it didn’t.

On the morning of December 30th, I awoke for work not feeling normal.  I was shaking.  My chest felt tight and I was dry heaving.  Once again, I ignored my body’s warning signals and went to work.  I sat in my cubicle hyperventilating.  “Deep breaths Stephanie,” I told myself.  I stared at my breakfast with disgust.  I was so nauseous that the sight of my cheerios churned my stomach.  I became dizzy, pushing myself against the headrest of my office chair to hold me up.  I cried as quietly as I could to not clue my coworkers into what was happening to me.

Then the tightness in my chest produced extreme heart palpitations.  This only fed my anxiety more as I wondered whether or not a heart attack was going to follow.  My hand quivered at my keyboard.  My eyesight blurred with tears I was striving so hard to hold back.  I was scared.  I had never felt this way in my life before.

And then, about 20 minutes later, the moment passed.

I thought I was in the clear when about a half hour later all the symptoms I had just experienced came roaring back.  My body was exhausted from fighting it the first time.  Professionals say there are two types of people with anxiety… the fighters and the flighters.  I am the former.  I fought so hard, I was dumbfounded I didn’t pass out from fatigue.  Just like the first time, after about 20 minutes, I succumbed to exhaustion.

This cycle repeated itself over and over that morning.  My coworkers were still clueless.  Most of them weren’t there due to vacation days they needed to use.  Those that were, I hid the terror in me from them with a fake smile.  It was 1pm at work which was lunch time.  I went down with my coworkers and sat in silence which was uncommon for me.  I forced myself to eat as much of my lunch as possible.  As they chatted away about TV shows, I sat… my heart beating out of my chest, the nausea increasing, my breaths become short and rapid.  Yet, I forced the smile on my face.  I left the lunch table slightly early. Back at my cubicle, almost an hour later, the symptoms weren’t subsiding.  In fact, they were growing in strength.  I thought surely I was going to pass out and die.

I called my husband.  He told me to use my coping skills from therapy.  They weren’t working.  I said I needed help.  I needed to go to the hospital.  He could not take me because he was home with our daughter and foster son.  Next in line was my mother.  I called her cell but could not reach her.  3rd in line was my father.  Success.  He answered the phone and tried to talk me down from this attack.  I informed him this was going on all day off and on.  He said he would come and take me to the ER as I was in no condition to drive myself.  I sat waiting for his text that he was here.  I informed a coworker as to why I was leaving in general terms to inform my boss.  My phone vibrated… my father was here.

By the time I reached his car, he could see I was not myself in any way.  I was a shaking, hyperventilating shell of a person.  On the way to the ER, he asked me more questions that took me minutes to respond due to my lack of breathing.  I was shivering so much, it was as if I was standing out in frigid temperatures for a long period of time which for December was common but I was dressed appropriately.  We reached the parking garage at the ER within 15 minutes.  I felt helpless as my father had to help walk me in because I would fall over.  At the desk I had to give my name, date of birth, etc. to the person at the ER desk.  This I did with labored breath.  My father then helped me sit until we were called into a triage room.  I sat down next to the nurse in the room.  At this point I was just waiting for the heart attack.  My heart was outside my chest visually in my mind.  The pounding drowned out my hearing.  I was still shaking uncontrollably and my breathing remained heavy.

Her questions were not easy to answer.  Unfortunately, being a grown adult, my father could not answer for me.  It took about 15 minutes to answer her five to six questions including if I had been to West Africa lately.  Believe me, Ebola was far from my mind.  Then she got up and hooked me up to the blood pressure machine… 164/95.  Then came my temperature… inaccurate read because of my strenuous breathing.  Then my pulse and O2… again, inaccurate.  Upon completion of these tests I was finally moved to a room in the ER.

The ER doctor came in, asked me several questions, some the same as the nurse in triage.  He took a good look at me.  I could see the look in his eyes.  He knew the suffering I was going through.  The words came out of his mouth, “You are having a major Panic Attack.”  The good news, I wasn’t dying.  The bad news, I felt like I was.  I was given .5mg of Xanax.  Within 15 minutes of taking the Xanax, my body was beginning to calm itself.

At this time, I phoned my husband.  Our foster son’s social worker was over for what should have been a happy occasion.  He brought gifts for the family for the holidays.  After hanging up the phone, I knew what was going to happen.  My husband had to tell the social worker where I was and why.  I knew that my foster son, a boy I loved just as much as my daughter, would probably be removed from our house.  This stirred the anxiety in me but I was drugged and extremely exhausted I couldn’t fight anymore that day.  I just laid in the bed in the ER and breathed what were the first normal breaths of the day…

*****

Most people that know me, know that it was only a few short days later that T left our home.  It was a decision that both my husband and I (with agreement from our and his social worker) made in the best interest for him, our daughter and myself.  It was not an easy decision… as a couple of people expressed to me after he was gone saying I didn’t care about T’s needs, that I was being selfish.  The fact is, I cared so much about him, I knew he needed a mother that was not becoming a poster child for Mental Illness.  I think of him daily.  I smile at the fact that we taught him how to love, how to eat, and how to speak in the 2 months he lived with us.  He is truly an amazing little boy that I will always love and miss.

20160418_134440 Stephanie Paige is a 30-something who has struggled with Depression since age 14 and Anxiety since age 26. She is mother to one beautiful daughter. With the strength of her husband, parents, and her child, she has survived 6 bouts of Severe Depression and has become a huge advocate of Mental Illness. Currently, she has been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder and has survived severe Postpartum Depression & Anxiety.

Stephanie can be found on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: Caroline A. Slee

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

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

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

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

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

Then, I was diagnosed with cancer.

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

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

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

That’s when I knew I was dying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stigma Fighters : Jessica Robinson

Finding Ways to Control and Cope with Anxiety

When I was in high school, my friends and I used to tease my dad mercilessly. Whenever one of my siblings or I wanted to go out, he would ask the same set of questions: “Where are you going? Who’s going to be there? What are you going to do?” Repeatedly.

At first, it was one of those things I knew my parents had to do, but when he would ask the same questions three or four times, it became a source of amusement.

He also had this habit before going on a trip—any trip, even in town—of asking what the itinerary for the day was. It was funny to us that Dad would have to know exactly what was going on each hour of the day. Couldn’t he just go with the flow?

My dad’s quirks were always good for a laugh. He took them all in stride, smirking at our jokes, but he never changed his behavior. He continued to ask the same questions over and over and wanted an itinerary.

Later in life, I finally realized what was going on in my dad’s mind. He wasn’t asking the same questions over and over because he wasn’t listening to the answer. No, there was something else going on.

You see, my dad suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. And he was kind enough to pass those traits down to me. What he was doing by asking these questions and wondering about an itinerary was trying to cope with those feelings. He may not have realized he was doing this (or maybe he did, I don’t know because I’ve never asked), but this process was a way to cope with and control the anxiety.

I know because I do the exact same thing.

Living with anxiety and panic attacks is scary. I never know when the feelings are going to hit. I’m getting better about recognizing my triggers and dealing with the situations, but once anxiety escalates to a full-blown panic attack, there’s nothing I can do but ride it out. And these don’t often hit at opportune times.

In the past few months, I experienced a whole new level of panic attack. I had gone to my friend’s reading at the local library. It was a completely normal, low-key event with people I knew. I had my boys with me, and they decided they wanted to borrow some books. My stomach had been feeling a little wonky, and I thought it was best to go home, but they were adamant. I had to finish filling out their library cards anyway, so they perused their choices.

While they were doing that, I headed to the bathroom. When I came out, I had that all-too-familiar tingling in my stomach. I knew I was right on the edge. I talked to my friend and her husband to try to divert my attention, but it didn’t work. I ushered my kids into the Jeep and headed home.

My normal panic attacks make me feel like I’m going to have a heart attack or get so dizzy I pass out, but this one was different. There was no dizziness, no pounding heart. My intestines hurt so bad I thought they were on fire. I swore that by the time I got home, they would be burnt strings.

When I finally got home, I got sick. After that, I curled into the fetal position in my bed. The pain was so intense, I contemplated going to the hospital. If I could have uncurled myself, I probably would have.

Little by little, the pain subsided, and in about half an hour—maybe a little longer—I was left feeling exhausted and a little shaky. It was at that moment I realized I had had a new kind of panic attack.

There are so many things in this world I can’t control, and it’s frustrating and depressing to know that one of those is my own body. I hate that panic attacks or anxiety make me afraid to leave my house. I hate that I can’t do anything to stop them. To regain some of that control and to cope with the fear, I grasp onto things I can control, and that includes my schedule.

There was a time a few years ago when my panic attacks were more frequent that I would refuse to leave the house. I felt safe there. I wasn’t anxious and rarely had an attack. If I did go out, I had my day planned. The goal was to keep myself from having an attack. My plan was to stay calm.

My boys have recently become really involved with their friends, and they love to hang out at their houses. One of them lives up the street from us, and it’s not a far trip, but because I have anxiety, all the worst-case scenarios of what could happen to them while they are gone run through my mind.

I’ve become my dad. I ask them the same questions he asked me, and I make them check in with me every so often. Part of this is just being a parent and wanting to protect my kids, but the other part is to keep the voices in my head silent, to stop them from making me think something bad has happened.

The panic attacks have become less frequent, but there’s still the possibility I will have one and the anxiety is always just below the surface. I’ve gotten better about being flexible, but I’m still much more comfortable knowing what is going to happen throughout the day—it makes me happy to have an itinerary. It is now my family’s turn to tease me about the questions and the need for a schedule, but like my dad, I’m fine with it. It’s how I control and cope with my mental illness.

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Jessica-Robinson-2-BWJessica Robinson lives Wyoming with her husband, two spirited boys, two adorable corgis, a black lab named Ryder, and a rescue kitty named Alia, who happens to be the sweetest kitty in the world! She cannot say no to dessert, orange soda, or cinnamon. She loves rats and tatts and rock and roll and wants to be an alien queen when she grows up.

Jessica can be found on her blog

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Stigma Fighters : Dave Wise

Recovery by Walking with a Pug and a Friend in the Rain…

About a month back, I went for a walk around the outside of the Missouri Botanical Gardens. It was an overcast morning, and I was feeling somewhat depressed and anxious about my personal life and career life. I called my friend C. He and I, along with his pug dog, Archimedes, decided to go for a walk to clear our heads, get those positive endorphins going, and get out in the fresh summer air.

It was barely sprinkling when we left home. About half way around the outside of the Missouri Botanical Gardens it started pouring down rain. It was miserable. I asked my friend C. if we could turn around and go back home. He said, “We are already halfway or more towards home but moving on a new path, forward.” I looked around for a tree to stand under with the pug, Archimedes, or a doorway to use as a shelter from the rain. There was none. In that moment I had an epiphany…

…For weeks previously, I had been miserable at my job for many reasons, having problems in my personal and family life, and not feeling centered or balanced. As I often did, I reached out to one of my best friends for friendship and support and maybe even some advice or guidance. In that moment when C. said, “We are already halfway or more towards home but moving on a new path, forward,” I had the epiphany or realization that I had been waiting weeks for.

It is simple. We started out on a journey together, two friends and a pug (so really three friends). It began to rain very hard, pouring, and there was no shelter to be found. In that moment we had three choices:

We could turn around and head back the way we came; however, we would still get soaked from the rain and be wet and miserable the whole way home, and it wouldn’t save us any time going back the way we came.
We could stand still, frozen in time, waiting for the rain to stop, but we didn’t know when that might occur. There was no shelter or tree to hide behind from the rain, or life. We would get wet and soaked standing still, frozen, and if we did stand still and try and wait it out, we would get no closer to getting home.
We could continue to walk towards home, on a new path the three of us had never walked together, and be moving forward. Yes, we would get soaked from the rain. Yes, being soaked by the rain in a storm feels miserable. My socks would make those squishy noises, and my glasses wouldn’t be clear, but we would be walking towards our goal, home, together, two friends and a pug dog. Eventually the rain would stop, we would make it home, we would be able to dry off and change into new clothes, and the sun would come out again eventually.
C. and I, along with Archimedes, decided to continue walking in the rain, during the storm, towards home.

Eventually we made it home. We were soaked. It was not a pleasant walk or journey. It felt miserable, but we made it home, together. We all were able to dry off, put on new clothes (we towel dried Archimedes’ pug dog fur), and made it home. The sun came out later that day too. The rain and storm didn’t last forever. We didn’t stay wet or miserable forever.

To me, this story is a great metaphor for life, my life, in particular. I had been on a journey, not alone, but with friends, family, a fiance, and coworkers. It began to rain, pour, and storm in my life, and I felt stuck. My first instinct was to turn around and go back the way I came, thinking I would get home quicker. For me this would mean disengaging from relationships, allowing the darkness and anxiety to envelope all of my thoughts, and giving up. My second instinct was to remain frozen and hope the rain stopped or look for temporary shelter. This option isn’t always bad if there is a temporary shelter available, but in my case there wasn’t a temporary shelter from the rain and storm available to me. I could have continued in my own ineffective communication, ineffective coping skills, and cognitive distortions based on fear and stigma about my mental illness, but I would have remained frozen or stuck in the rain. So I chose the road less traveled, the more difficult path in my opinion, and kept walking the new, unfamiliar, path towards home. I kept my eyes on the goal of getting home to dry off, put on new clothes, and rest in safety and shelter from the rain, but I didn’t have to press on towards that goal alone. I had a friend and pug dog walking with me, side by side, doing life together.

To me this true story and metaphor is a beautiful picture of how life is meant to be lived–together, walking side by side, down new paths, through storms, and towards home. When we get home, we all get to dry off and put on new clothes. We get to celebrate together. People are meant, or maybe even created, to do life together, to need each other, and walk together in the rain. Sometimes we have to guide each other, like we did with Archimedes, or remind each other of the truth like my friend C. did for me.

Lately, I have been asking my mom and my fiance K. to remind me of something beautiful in the world and something true. This helps me have gratitude for my life in its current moment and place in the universe. This helps me remember I’m a human too and my story matters. This also helps me love others well, have grace and patience, and forgive and keep walking through the rain towards home.

I’m a man living with bipolar disorder. It does not define me or my journey. Sometimes it feels like a rain storm. Sometimes I need help from others to remember the beauty of a pug dog walking with me on my journey and the truth, that the sun will come out again eventually. I will get to dry off at home and put on new clothes and rest. It’s ok to rest; there will be time.

Pug dogs, friends, journeys together in the rain and life, this is the beauty and the truth I am reminded of today.

-Dave

#DaveWiseMatters #ItsOkToTalkAboutIt #EndStigma #Recovery #PugDogWalksIntheRainWithFriends #Beauty&Truth

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Dave-Profile-PhotoDavid Wise is 33 years old, creative, extroverted, and enjoys friendship. He is a native of Wisconsin by way of adoption from Guatemala. Currently David resides with his fiancé in St. Louis, Missouri. For fun he likes playing guitar, enjoys reading, bicycling and going to coffee shops. David considers himself on the journey of recovery and believes recovery is a process. David blogs regularly about his mental illness, bipolar disorder I, mental health recovery and finding and losing faith at:

davewisematters.com

#DaveWiseMatters #ItsOkToTalkAboutIt #EndStigma #Recovery

Dave can be found on his website, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Rey Burgess

Living with a Spouse with Borderline Personality Disorder

Late night. Full mind. Emptier bed, but not totally.
She sleeps peacefully, finally. After the repeated questions,
“When is mommy coming home?”
“Soon,” I reply. “In a few days. Don’t worry.”
I worry. I’m always worried. Full mind. Emptier bed.
Hard to decipher the feelings. Anger, disappointment, loneliness.
It melts away. This isn’t about me. I cannot be that self absorbed.
She fights the long fight. A never ending battle within herself. A battle to survive…herself. Many don’t understand what that means. It took me a long time to understand it.
The quickness to anger, the feelings of inadequate importance. The yearning for the touch, yet pulling away at the same time. I knew her story, but did I understand it fully?
I’d blame myself, as many others do in their own experiences. An outsider peering into the soul of one so close, yet so far. Maybe the stupid decisions I had made, but it was deeper than that. It always is. Deeper than just a surface level issue.
Back in the hospital. Our son understood, but did he? Another week or two without mom. Numb feelings and voiceless worry. Calls from those who did not get it. Who thought they could swoop in like Superman with all the answers. I thought I was Superman once. I gave up my cape. I’m not a hero, but I can protect and support.
If it was just as easy as, “getting over it.” Can’t you? Why can’t she?
If you need to ask that, you don’t understand it yet. You don’t understand the disease.
Full mind. Emptier bed. Sometimes thoughtless actions to fill the time until she returns. It’s almost as challenging as her not knowing how or why another incident occurred. The loneliness is hard, but it is harder for her. Another stay with strangers of similar experiences. It isn’t home. Not the place to stay.
Visiting hours suck. Children all but forgotten. Special permission needed. Stable condition. Hope for a change, a different approach. Stern voices and serious faces.
Late night. Full mind. Emptier bed. Our daughter stirs.
“When’s mommy coming home?”
“Soon baby girl. Soon.”
No questions about why or how. Why can’t she just be happy!!
If you ask that, you don’t understand.

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I am a former elementary school teacher living near Atlanta, Georgia with my wife and two children. My wife has battled depression for a large portion of her life. I knew that going in, and I have supported her through her battle of Borderline Personality Disorder. I will continue to support her, and hope that others, in the support role, can learn from my piece.

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Stigma Fighters : Jae Taylor

If my mental illness was my name, then I would have to be introduced: Bipolar Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and Short-term Auditory Memory Dysfunction. A mouthful to be sure, and not a name I’m too chummy with. Then there is one that I rarely tell anyone. It’s the reason I have my dog (an emotional support animal), Lacey. I’m considered passive suicidal.

Most of my life I went undiagnosed, or they were just not given the consideration they should have been. I was chronically depressed. I always found it hard to make friends. I just wanted to die. I made two attempts at it as a teenager, neither successful. Later as an adult, when stress and pain got to be too much, I would get into my car. I thought it was a great plan until someone pointed out that I was disconnecting and not coming back to myself until about two or three hours later down the road. Of course there was also the fact during my “episode” I was driving a thousand pound bullet. That one actually got to me. So instead, I just let it bottle all up inside me.

It wasn’t until February 9, 2010 that people started taking notice that there was something more wrong with me than they wanted to admit. I disappeared that winter night with wind-chills of around -20oF and was not adequately dressed. My therapist, my husband (now ex-husband), 911, and the police were looking for me. Me? I had no idea where I was, where I was going; I had no idea of where I was in the universe. I didn’t honestly care. I’m told it was a psychotic break and was dissociative. The hospital was happy to take me in. Me? I was numb and heard everything from a distance. Nothing was real.

My family tried to understand, but they were clueless as to what to do for me. If I had hawked up a lung they could have something tangible to work with. My husband wanted to just “fix” it. I found myself treated like a child, lectured, treated like I was brain-dead sometimes. Because of my haunted expression of depression or the rapid breathless speaking, a lot of the “friends” I had at the time started to drift away. They couldn’t understand and didn’t want to try. When I finally admitted to myself that I couldn’t do my recovery on my own with just my therapist, psychiatrist, and a two week stay with an adult partial hospitalization program, I made the decision to join a day rehabilitation program for people with mental illness. When I started there, I was so insecure, scared, anxious, alone, and did I mention scared? My husband and I were going through a divorce; some of my friends had outright abandoned me (which even today still tears at me…but what are you going to do?) When asked what I thought recovery would look like, my answer was simply, “I don’t want to be scared anymore.” I was also tired of being alone and not wanting to implode on myself

I’ve had several depressive “crashes. I’ve also had several manic episodes. I’m called a rapid cycler. But, I have actively worked on my recovery. I know when I’m crashing. I know when I’m going manic. I know what to do if they happen. I know it’s working, because I haven’t had to go back to the hospital. I’m tired of the medication. I hate they make me overheat. I almost lost the ability to drive my car, because one med made me and my doctor think I might have Narcolepsy (I don’t). I hate the Insomnia, I hate I will have to take these pills for the rest of my life. I love they keep me alive for myself, my children, and my dog. So I take them religiously.

There are some positives to come out of my story. I use humor a lot. And, I’ve discovered over time that I am a bit of smartass too. I love to share stories and tell jokes even when I’m feeling so bad I want to pack my bags and give up. I have found laughter has had a bigger healing effect than anything else. I also found writing, whether it’s journaling or creative writing, is a wonderful coping skill. I’ve made a couple of friends in the DPR. It’s good to have friends who have similar mental illnesses. I don’t have to prove anything to them. I have friends of the internet that have Bipolar Disorder. It helps to have them to reach out to when you feel you don’t have anyone else around to talk to.
In learning to cope with my mental illness I did discover one thing about me I hadn’t thought myself capable of…despite my need to isolate from time to time, I found a desire to help others like me with their mental illness. To that end, I enrolled in a Peer Support Specialist Training program. Haven’t done the internship yet, but I know I can do this. I mean I got this far didn’t I?

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Me-AvatarMother of 3 Boys (2 with ASDs and 3 with ADHD) and 1 Girl (Fur Covered, nuff said). Sufferer of Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, ADD, PTSD and mild Agoraphobia. Also has sensory issues. Peer Support Specialist in training. Wants world peace, acceptance of who we are, and chocolate. Wants an end to bigotry, ignorance, intolerance, arrogance, greed…oh never mind. where’s the chocolate?

Jae can be found on Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Maya Garcia

I am my own greatest gift to the world!!

Please read those words carefully and take them all in before judging. I say that as much to myself as to anyone else. Because it’s taken me years of therapy, analysis, soul-searching, shaman-style self healing, and connecting to spirituality to finally figure it out- I AM a gift to the world. The best thing I can do for the collective consciousness is to accept my imperfections, fall in love with my strengths, and embrace who I truly am. It all sounds great, but what do I do on those days when my inner critic is kicking my butt?

As a sexual and ritual abuse survivor, I’ve found that moving beyond ‘victim mode’ has been the hardest battle of all, but what I’ve finally figured out is, there IS no right or wrong way to heal. The only ‘right’ way is the one that works for me. I’ve learned (on good days) how to wear my battle scars like medals of courage. It helps that I actually DO have battle scars to look at and play with at will. I’ve earned those battle scars and tiger stripes. I’ve got surgical scars from the invasive gallbladder surgery that saved my life in 2007, and the sliced-open left hand from a broken dish, sewn back together. I’ve got other scars too- I acquired them from a near-fatal accident last year, and the car accident fifteen years ago. My ‘scars and stripes’ are a daily reminder that I am a miracle, in so many ways. A few times now I’ve tangled with death and beaten the odds. Clearly, the universe has had big plans for me since I was born.

But I didn’t always see it this way. I’ve lived with P.T.S.D. and battled depression most of my life. As a teenager I even had a detailed ‘five year plan,’ written out in a journal. I promised myself that if things didn’t get better and if the pain didn’t go away, I would end my own life, and I outlined exactly how I would do it. Such was the level of pain I was in. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted the pain to go away, and I couldn’t see any other way out. I was living in a constant haze, completely disconnected from my feelings, keeping everything not only bottled up but bagged, tagged and sealed, like a laboratory. My outer shell was spic and span, and until high school I was an overachiever, but inside I was a dark cavern, filled with horrific memories, nightmares and the darkness of self-loathing, rage and pain. I frequently cried myself to sleep and abused my body. Not through eating disorders (I tried making myself vomit once or twice, but hated the sensation of ‘purging,’ and food was my primary source of comfort, so I couldn’t go without it.) Cutting didn’t work for me either, because the sight of blood made me nauseous and dizzy. It was too much of a trigger for body memories, though I didn’t know it at the time.

As a painfully shy, socially inept teenager I didn’t have many friends, so access to drugs and alcohol was virtually non-existent, thankfully. So I abused my body, mind and soul in other ways, by putting myself in dangerous situations with dangerous people, by standing in the street, wishing to be run over (luckily I’d panic and move away from oncoming traffic just in time). By torturing myself with sleep deprivation, overeating and telling myself the most awful things. By sitting in the shower for hours on end, or washing my hands until they were red and raw. No matter how long I washed myself I could never feel clean.

I did all of these things because I believed that I was worthless, no good and deserved the abuse. I believed my abuser’s lies, and lived my life in accordance with them. And I desperately wanted to numb myself from the pain that kept creeping up on me, shrouding me in a heavy layer of fog.

I was a living, breathing poster child for pain, crying out for help, and I believed that because no one intervened for years, that nobody cared. I was wrong. My mother saw my journal, and convinced me to start going to therapy. After a few years of cognitive behavioral therapy and a pivotal moment of discovery after watching a television talk show I realized that my problems were not the result of a chemical imbalance. The dissociation and depression were all caused by the same thing: repressed memories of an abusive past.

My abuser told me that I should shut down my feelings, and behave in a purely logical manner, like Spock. He also told me that nobody would ever believe me if I told them about the abuse. He was mentally ill, and when he was in a psychotic state he’d say things to me like, “I’ll kill myself and take you with me one day soon.”

While I believe that most of my depression has been situational rather than inherited, it has been a lifelong battle to build up my self-esteem, heal from the childhood trauma and find a sense of purpose. It took me a long time to realize that the shame does not belong to me, it belongs to my abuser(s). Despite the intense fear and the flashbacks, I remain strong and courageous, battling through the grief, anger and terror. Although my primary abuser was mentally ill, it did not excuse the abusive behavior. I had to forgive myself for abusing myself for so long, and those in my life who didn’t protect me growing up, but I’m still working on forgiving him. I’m honestly not sure if I ever can, but that remains to be seen. Apparently he has been receiving some form of treatment, but I have not seen or spoken to him in years and I have no intention to, and no desire whatsoever to reconnect with him. Some wounds just cut too deeply, and I’ve lost too much at his hands to ever allow him into my life again.

So I know about mental illness first hand. I’ve not only experienced it, I’ve been at the receiving end of an untreated illness. I am a survivor, and a fighter.

I’m speaking out, for those children who are going through the pain of abuse right now, and for those adults who’ve survived, but are living with the hell of P.T.S.D. Know that you are not alone. I hope that my story inspires you, and that you will come to the same realization that I have, with healing and recovery- the abuse was NOT your fault, and it does NOT define you. Stay strong and mighty, and put that shame right back where it belongs- on your abusers. You ARE good enough. Wear your ‘scars and stripes’ with pride!

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imageMaya Garcia is a writer, poet, artist, singer and advocate. She has a design firm, Maya’s Divine Designs, and is the author and illustrator of Before the Fire. She is an active member of the survivors’ community, participating in weekly chats on the subjects of sexual abuse and P.T.S.D. and is an outspoken supporter of the “Red My Lips” campaign and Amnesty International.

Maya can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : The Anxious Fireman

Dear all,
First and foremost my love to you all. My name is Jonny Ward, or the ‘Anxious Fireman’ on Twitter. I am 5’11”, I’m strongly built, a fire-fighter. I enjoy strongman training, travel, adventure, the outdoors and working with my hands. I wear jeans and white t shirts, boots, I sweat!
Oh and I also have a panic disorder!
I started my journey into the world of mental ill health roughly two years ago. I loaded myself with stress, self-doubt, fear and a huge inability to accept I couldn’t cope. This eventually resulted in me having a black out whilst with friends.
Coming round on the floor with a paramedic stood over me, I was different. I could feel it. I was no longer the strong, independent, rough tough boy I was accustomed too. I was still me of course but, mentally, I had weakened.
Weakened? Maybe that’s not the right word. But that’s how I felt at the time.
And so I began to have panic attacks. At work, in lectures, whilst eating meals, whilst exercising. Anytime I wasn’t on my own or feared I would make an idiot out of myself, my parasympathetic nervous system would kick into high gear and perceive a threat that wasn’t there. Thus releasing the fight or flight mechanism and causing me to panic.
It consumed me, leaving the house became a game of whit’s against myself, trying to convince the voices in my head that I was safe and didn’t require to fight or flight! It took me a long time to accept it was psychological; I was desperate for this feeling to be a physical illness, something I could understand, but more importantly something I could accept.
It of course wasn’t, it was very much in my head.
A turning point came when a new GP at my surgery met me, I told him my symptoms and he rolled his chair over to me, tapped me on my head and said –
“Jonny, this is in your head, and you’re very ill”
These two concepts came as a surprise, it was in my head and I was ill? How could that be? How can I be ill if it’s in my head? The head can’t be ill? Plus my head is fine, it’s strong, I’m strong! GRRRRR!!!!
Fast forward two years to today. I have learnt to accept my panic disorder and it’s very much controlled. I am still taking medication; I have used CBT and counselling to help break the negative thought patterns in my mind. Most importantly I have learned to accept myself as a man.
It’s this I want to focus on; I have been tweeting about my mental health for a year or so. What I have noticed more than anything is how willing people are to open up about their personal mental health. Well…when I see people, I mean on the whole, women.
I have only a handful of male followers and even less who are willing to accept or open up about their mental ill health.
So I’m trying to become in some small way, a role model for men. I’m no hero, which I can assure you. I’m just a guy.
But I am in a unique place as I have a job that would place me in the masculine, hardy man category. The quintessential stereotype for men who can cope and are robust.
But yet, I have a panic disorder.
I am a fire-fighter; I have rescued people from burning building, pulled them from vehicle wreckage, and dragged people from freezing cold water.
But yet, I have a panic disorder.
And that’s ok. It doesn’t define me, it’s a part of me but it’s not all I am. For men we define ourselves against our weakest parts. I see it all the time in the gym –
My arms are small so I will work on them; My legs are small so I will hammer them.
It’s ok to have a weakness. It’s normal, natural and ok. In fact I alluded to a big realisation earlier, when I woke up from my black out I said I felt weakened. I was, but its recognising this weakness, learning to manage it and accept it, which eventually has made me mentally stronger than I have ever been.
I thought telling the guys at my station I have a panic disorder would mean they would lose faith in me, loose respect for me and not treat me as equal. In fact by being honest, opening up about my illness, it has gained me more of their respect than I could ever have imagined.
By showing my weakness I allow people in and to become much closer to me. They in turn have shared their own and a new, stronger bond that I ever thought possible has started to emerge. One which I feel privileged to have accessed.
I still have panic attacks, but I know what they are and they don’t scare me anymore. I just let them pass then move on.
So I hope this helps, well, anyone. But I hope some men read this and decide to take a leap of faith to a new level of strength. The strength to accept yourself, warts and all.
My love to you all
The Anxious Fireman

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f36706273I am Jonny Ward
30 years old
Manchester England
I am a fire-fighter of 8 years
I have a panic disorder

Jonny can be found on Twitter

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