Category Archives: PTSD

My Mom, Me, & PTSD By Courtney Blake

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

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

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

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

Everything changed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtney Blake can be found on her blog and Twitter

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Karen Kaiser

Wrestling for Control of My Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Krista Pylkki

I didn’t know anyone.  Maybe that’s why it happened.  I had family history of it.  Maybe that’s what happened.  During October of my freshman year of college, symptoms of mental illness began.  It was scary and foreign to me.  I didn’t know what it was or what to do and suffered in silence for the next five months.

 Negative thoughts were yelling in my brain telling me things like “No one likes you.”  Soon after, I started getting horrible images of wanting to die.  I pictured sitting in my bathroom with a gun in my hand.  It was all in my head.  It was an intrusive thought that would not go away.  In the spring specific thoughts of suicide entered my mind.  I didn’t want to live anymore.

 My priest at college advised me to go to the counseling office on campus to get help for the first time.  The staff led me to the Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at Student Health Services.  The appointment with her was on my 19th birthday. 

 At the appointment, the nurse asked question after question for 22 minutes then gave me my first mental illness diagnosis.  I had major depression.  It was 2:22 P.M.  She put me on antidepressants.  I called my parents because I had a serious mental illness and was on serious medication after suffering in silence for five months.  My parents knew nothing of this until then.  I had been faking it while home on winter and spring breaks.  The phone call last 45 minutes. 

 For the rest of the semester, my parents visited me each weekend, driving 2 ½ hours each way.  My symptoms were so severe that my counselor gave me two options:  Either go home to finish semester classes or have a parent stay near me at college.  I chose to go home.  

 There were ensuing stomachaches and dizziness from medication but the depression decreased.  My memory and concentration were affected.  I was taking a literature class that semester and was reading a book that I knew well from high school.  Comprehension was so bad that my mom had to read the book out loud to me paragraph-by-paragraph and even that was difficult.  Remembering the names of the two main characters of the novel completely escaped me.

 I found a therapist near home and started Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT) with her twice a week.  She was very helpful during that summer away from school.  I recovered from major depression and returned to school in the fall. 

The fall semester went really well with great grades.  When spring semester started, however, images once more filled my head.  The main image was of me killing someone I knew.  That freaked me out.  I knew it wasn’t normal and I needed additional help.  That’s when I admitted myself to the hospital for the first time. 

I spent five days in the psych ward where the staff adjusted my medication and handed me some sheets about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  Before then, I didn’t know much about it.  The little I knew about it were of people who washed their hands a lot.  That wasn’t me.  It turns out that I was living with OCD undiagnosed since the previous summer. 

During the second summer, a psychologist who specialized in OCD and Exposure therapy moved back to where I lived.  He was the perfect match for me and I continue to see him.  I trusted him 100% and started tackling my obsessions.  This kind of therapy was very difficult but helpful at the same time.  Results were seen quickly.

My junior year was going well until April of 2015 when I remembered something traumatic had happened to me earlier at age 16.  I was sexually abused by an older man of 24 years who knew me.  I had blocked the event out of my head until that moment.  Since I didn’t know what to do, I contacted my psychologist.

A couple weeks later, I heard voices telling me to kill someone I knew – a different person from before.  I was acting strangely and didn’t know what to do, so I emailed my psychologist that same night.

The next morning was a pleasant Friday in Northern Minnesota and my roommates and I were planning to do mini-golfing later in the evening to relieve stress before upcoming finals.  However, after my afternoon class I received a call at my apartment.  It was from my psychologist.  I knew he was calling me about my email the previous night.  We talked and he said to go to the hospital.  I was the only one in the apartment at that time so I went to my Resident Advisor (RA)’s room.  She wasn’t there as well, so her roommate notified her.

That same afternoon, I admitted myself to the hospital for the second time.  This time I was there for ten days trying other medication.  I left knowing that I had psychosis.  That summer, I was in an intensive outpatient program for three months. 

During the second summer and the fall, I had hallucinations and delusions.  One September morning I had thoughts that God had sent me to save the world.  I thought it was real.  My mom advised me to call my psychologist.  So, I did.  Later in the day, I admitted myself to the hospital a third time and was put on new medication that really helped. 

A month after I got out I saw a new psychiatrist who diagnosed me with Bipolar.  A few months later, I added Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to my list of mental illnesses. 

Since my experience with mental illness, I have been outspoken about mental illness on social media.  Last year, I created a website for mental health advocacy.  Now it’s an online business with hopes of becoming a non-profit after college graduation.  It’s named “From Darkness into Light Resources,” and I’m its founder and CEO.

19400_10206073961400984_4533801174664367651_nKrista Pylkki is the Founder and CEO of From Darkness Into Light Resources, which is currently a mental health online business, with hopes to become a non-profit one day. She is also an online college student studying Theology and minors in Marketing and Organizational Behavior. Check out her website at  www.darknessintolightresources.com. You can follow her business online on Facebook and on Twitter: @mhsupport1.

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Stigma Fighters: Morgan Shamy

Emptiness.

Loneliness.

Feeling hideous.

Like you’re worthless. That there’s no point in existing anymore. The demons scream inside your head, telling you you’re not good enough. That you’ll never be good enough. That no one loves you. That no one wants to be around you. Why would anyone? You’re not skinny enough. Pretty enough. Talented enough.

You want someone to care. But don’t want anyone around. Don’t even want to be looked at. Your family loves everyone more than you. All your loved ones are all more talented and impressive and receive oodles of attention. You have a tortured past, but don’t know how to face it. Don’t know how to get past it. You know in the back part of your mind that there are a few who love you, that you are their world to them, but that is only a muted thought compared to the screaming voices in your head.

Life doesn’t make sense. Everything that has led you up to a certain point in your life is all a jumbled mess that you thought had meaning. You thought there was purpose. But there wasn’t. There isn’t. You believed in fate, that all the hardship was just part of your story… that soon it would end and everything would be all right. But you keep waiting.

And waiting.

And it gets worse.

No one cares. No. One. Cares. You’re alone. Alone to cry. Alone to stare into space. Alone to let the voices scream louder in your head.

“But you’re beautiful,” everyone says. “You’re the most talented person I know,” everyone says. But the words bounce off of you. They don’t reach you. You’re numb now. Nothing reaches you. You’re a machine, going through the motions, barely able to get through the day. You wake up, wanting it to already be nighttime, so you can go back to sleep—because sleep is the only respite. Sometimes.

You stop eating, because what’s the point? You don’t even feel hunger. And when you do, at least you’re feeling SOMETHING. Soon you’re 90 pounds and have no idea, because you don’t care to step on the scale. Caring would be doing something. Caring would mean having a goal. You’re past goals, because goals don’t work. You’ve already tried having goals and tried succeeding at something and failed… and it broke you.

Meanwhile family starts to become alerted. They start giving you WORDS. Words that you nod your head to—agree to—but don’t really agree to. Because no one cared for so long, why would they care now? You don’t believe them. They still don’t show love. Their lives are more important.

You are meant to be alone. Meant to suffer in silence… maybe that’s you’re purpose?

You think you have friends. They make you smile every once in a while. But success sweeps them up. And they slip away. Again another reminder how unimportant you are. The world takes them away from you. The comfort they once brought is gone. But it was never real comfort, you realize. They were never real friends. They just wanted stuff from you. You were never important to them. Because you’re not important to anybody.

You contemplate not wanting to exist anymore. But you know that it stops there. You don’t want to hurt yourself. But you wonder… you Google ways to end it. It would be so much easier to not exist. Every day hurts too much. Soon you don’t even know how to cry. Because the numbness is so strong, emotion is impossible. It’s easier to not feel. So you embrace it. Let it wrap you up and carry you through each day. It’s the only way you know how to exist.

Then…

A very long and difficult then…

You have someone in your life who *makes* you go see someone. To get help. Medication. Makes you talk to a professional. It’s clear you have depression. PTSD. Anxiety. It makes sense, you think, after seeing your child die and seeing your baby boy go through cancer. Why didn’t anyone see it sooner? Why didn’t *you* see it sooner? Could you really have a mental illness? You suppose so… looking down at your 90-pound body, that’s barely alive.

But you’re still numb. You don’t care to change. Don’t know how to change. Don’t even know if you want to change. Because changing involves feeling. And feeling hurts too much.

Time continues.

Seeds are planted.

More words are exchanged. But this time, words don’t seem so empty anymore. Maybe they have meaning.

You realize that your whole life has been a lie. In a good way. An idea plants itself deep inside of you that starts to take root. The lie is that you’ve been basing your whole self worth off of accomplishments. Of how you look. Of how GOOD or talented you are at THINGS.

That. Isn’t. Self. Worth.

Things are only petals on a flower. Your talents, your accomplishments are only petals that spread from your self worth, but they will wilt over time. Your self worth is your core. Your belief of who you are. Who you KNOW you are. What you do and how good you do something doesn’t define you. How many friends or likes or beautiful pictures or places you travel or marathons you run or awards you win or adventures you have don’t define you.

There’s a spark… deep within you that whispers to you who you are. You KNOW who you are. That there’s something unique about you. That you ARE different. That you ARE special. That you DO have purpose. And that you exist for a reason.

Your core—or self worth—grows stronger. These petals—these accomplishments—don’t matter anymore. You realize that anything you accomplish will never bring you true happiness. They wilt over time.

And the things you craved… the things that you thought you needed/wanted, like attention from family, or friends or worldly success don’t matter. Not if it hurts you. A petal can be good for your self-esteem… but it’s important to know the difference between self WORTH and self ESTEEM.

The light returns. Bit by bit.

Clarity comes.

There’s still hurt. You still feel ugly sometimes and untalented and sometimes like a failure, but it doesn’t break you. You still don’t have the friends you so desperately wanted attention from—they are still gone—but it doesn’t make you retreat to a numb place.

You eat again, because you WANT to live—even though it’s still hard to feel emotion. The demons keep trying to scream in your ear, but thoughts of your loved ones’ faces come to mind and fight back, softening the sound. Because you’ve allowed yourself to open up and feel again… to love again… to not only take root in your self worth, but let it blossom, grow, and thrive.

You know who you are.

You know what you have to do. You know the kind of life you want to live. You KNOW what is right and what is wrong. And you CHOOSE to do right.

You feel inspired again. You believe in yourself again. And you hope again. You allow yourself to work and set goals and smile… and you know that if you “fail,” it’s not really failing at all. Because petals will always fall off, but your core will stay strong.

You know you have a battle ahead of you. That each day you might be overwhelmed with demons, but that you’ll also have days where the demons will tire, and you’ll have quiet in your head.

Remember those days. Hold onto the good, so you can have ammunition on the bad days. Hold onto the people that make you smile. That care. Onto the family that shows that they love you each day. Onto the people or thoughts that remind you how special you are.

Let go of the people or thoughts that lead you down dark paths—that make you want to be numb or forget.

We all face so much. And this life can be so difficult. But it’s truly remarkable how one can build themselves up from rock bottom. By just knowing and believing in who we are.

Whoever reads this—even if it’s just me—I wanted to share these thoughts with a small part of the universe. Because miracles exist. And YOU… yes YOU, are important. Are special. Have worth. Have meaning. And have so much to share that only you can share. Please believe that.

DepressionPicMorgan is an ex-ballerina turned YA writer, represented by Red Fox Literary Agency. She has been immersed in the arts since the young age of 4, where she trained in ballet under the tutelage of Julie Orlob, which provided her to further her training with New York City Ballet’s principal dancers, Maria Calegari and Bart Cook. Morgan performed with a professional ballet company for over a decade and has danced on prestigious stages like soloing at Carnegie Hall in New York City, where she performed various title roles. She has taught thousands of girls in her fifteen years of teaching, where some of her students have received full-ride scholarships to schools like School of American Ballet, the Harid Conservatory, Kirov Academy of Ballet, and Pacific Northwest Ballet, to name a few.

Morgan discovered writing when her three-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer. It was through that experience which instilled the need to share art and magic with children through words on the page. Her first piece of writing won an online HarperCollins story contest, where her work rocketed above 30,000 other projects in under 2 weeks. Along with writing, Morgan is also an accomplished concert pianist. She was the first girl in Utah to receive the 75 pt. Gold Cup in the Utah Federation of Music in piano solo/concerto competition. Morgan currently lives with her X-Games gold medalist husband and four young children in the cold mountains of Alaska.

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

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Stigma Fighters: Patrick J. Derilus 2

i can kinda understand why i didn’t used to express how i was feeling. because i was traumatized by my
own “father.” days extending to months, to years have i heard my father shout at me, harshly asserting that i am to blame for his mishaps, his key gone missing, so he grabbed me by the neck, demanding where it was, and just the cars he used to go to work. he went through several cars. most of them were second-hand cars and usually had issues going on from the inside of them and outside like a front or rear, left or right tire flattened and i was to blame; or the radiator possibly overheating; a tail light that’s suddenly stopped lighting up, or registration went missing not being in the glove compartment of the car, a small dent in the bumper or the trunk, all the cars he “owned”; but were really under my mother’s care, he would assume it was me who was responsible for these things; and it was excruciatingly painful to register that it was my fault; considering i had never been around for this; what would i do messing with his stuff? why would i do that, i had no business there; no desire to hurt my dad; but he did me; he did it to me for while, suffocated me once, hastily confronted me and threatened to harm me, gaslighted me in an attempt for his demented attempt to victimize me, for three plus years, and he has done it and expressed fake apologies so thin i wanted to kill him; but even so, i repressed these feelings of malice; i didn’t permit myself to be angry; because i was afraid of what he might do to me; the perilously crippling images of him creeping up from behind me and killing me for what i had never done; pronouncing his rage wagging his domineering finger at me to further punish me with accusations, which were delusional, and incapable of being rationalized no matter how many times my mother foolishly urged me to speak to him to understand his train of thought; it remained the same and i once again repress my anger and irate dissatisfaction of believing anyone could come to a peaceful disclosure with this evil man, and i again prohibited the power of my humaneness; by allowing things to be, and i rarely mentioned a word of my hidden tears, my covert and sometimes overt outbursts of rage, my faint willingness to scream all of this pain away; to adjust to the absolute satisfying release of suicide, so then, i would not have to endure this pain anymore; the idea of my suicide in itself was the latter satisfying than coercing my will or others making me think any sort of familial connection between my father, or just this family could ever exist; that i have no sense of family, and i do not believe “family is everything” because if there is no relationship that exists, no bond that has been developed and has grown, then my “everything” is nothing; if its people who devalue and repudiate the validity of my circumstances; they shame me, for this happening; these disjointed, nightmarish, idealistic experiences of this happening; my happenings and they could never hope to understand because there is so much delusional faith i, or anyone else could assign to family being “everything” being that part of that “family”, that “blood” has caused you pain and misery; and has repudiated you for feelings; but how could they show, how could i ‘show them’, my feelings, if i was afraid to? i was taught to fear my father; and from that aspect; from his violently confronting me for a large portion of my life, from hearing the vexing, cyclical squabbles between my
father and my mother, i learned helplessness, i learned hopelessness, i became this illness of post traumatic stress; and for the illness to be devalued, and imposed onto me that these things do not exist, do not compel me to talk to “family”, or most of anyone about these instances; and it has been this way since my years post-middle school, and the feelings exist now, and i understand a lot more than i once did, but i have my unflinching cynical, qualms about “seeing” anyone, or any longer taking medicine to halt my ongoing thoughts that are hastily repetitive; so much that i feel like someone else is is living this life; that these repetitive thoughts and experiences are from someone else outside of me, and i often look at myself sometimes, derealizing that i am not here, as if i already killed myself and had been reborn living this life again as a morose corpse.

1722924_10208624726714350_6698628194610897384_nMy name’s Patrick. I’m a writer. I’ve been writing poetry since my junior year of high school. I’m currently attending SUNY New Paltz University majoring in English to earn a BFA in English with Creative Writing. I want to search for a career in being a Creative Writing professor.

Stigma Fighters: A Day in the Life of a Guy who Dissociates

Involuntarily staring at ‘nothing’ is a coping mechanism used by millions with PTSD. It is a sign of Dissociative Disorder.

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Dissociation is a daily part of my life. I do it countless times a day both knowingly and unknowingly. I say that because while I realize that I do dissociate quite often, I don’t always realize just how much I do it and in what circumstances it occurs.

Here’s how a typical day recently went for me.

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Got up, got my shower and I can remember zoning out just standing there for about a good 10 minutes. Thinking of nothing in particular, just standing there spacing out into nowhere. This of course got me running a bit late getting out of the house to leave for work. I’m not a morning person at all. I’m very slow and methodical until I get my brain in gear. You’ll never catch me up at 5:30am pulling a Rocky Balboa and drinking raw eggs before an epic workout while it’ still dark outside.

I went downstairs about 7:15 and turned on the TV like usual to listen to the news while I made my lunch for work and fed the fish. I began making my sandwich, and then tried to decide which chips to put in a bag. I stood there for 5 more minutes staring into the cabinet, not even thinking about chips, just staring.

I snapped back to reality and realized I better get it in gear so halfheartedly listened to the news and weather, fed the fish, double checked the lights and thermostat and walked out the door. Of course, being OCD, I had to make sure the TV was off, even after I turned it off. Then I had check the thermostat twice, and check that I locked the door, twice. This whole OCD thing, that’s a whole other post I should consider writing about.

Anyways, I get in the car, it’s about 7:35 a.m. and I’m letting it warm up for a minute.  I’m sitting there checking my phone in the car, reading my Twitter timeline and just zone out to nowhere again for a few minutes. Was I thinking about anything in particular? Nope just sitting there staring at my phone and not even realizing the screen had turned off.

Again, snapped back to reality and fortunately made it to work in time, but not before I zone out yet again while driving. I swear I don’t know how I do that so often and not end up getting into a wreck!  Often times I can’t recall the last few minutes of a drive when come back out of a dissociative state.

I get to work and start setting up my work laptop for the day, and go for coffee. While I’m waiting for the machine to fill my mug with the nectar from the gods, I actually catch myself gazing at a company logo on the wall for a minute.

Back to my desk and start answering emails, checking on how the night shift went, what’s going to possibly need my attention today besides my usual projects. That in itself is quite an anxiety boost, thinking about what could happen throughout the work day.

As the morning goes on I catch myself staring at my email for a few minutes, with a blank star. Not actually typing anything, just looking at the monitors. Then the phone rings and back to reality I come. I start a conversation and my mind begins to wander after a few minutes. I have to concentrate to stay on task and stay focused or I’ll completely lose track of what the other person is saying to me.

Lunch time and I’m in the break room reading my Kindle, halfheartedly also listening to the various conversations of others. So essentially I’m not getting anywhere in my book because my mind is trying to do too many things at once. I suck at multi-tasking; I mean I really do. I’m just not good at it. So if I don’t focus on the task at hand, whether it’s business or pleasure, I’m screwed.  I think I actually got through one page in the chapter I was reading.

Then a problem arose that needed my attention and it ended up being a 4 1/2-hour long conference call, which included 8 other people trying to fix the problem. So for the entire afternoon I was on the phone, and guess what happened multiple times? Yep, random zoning out, staring into space, looking at my screen, or the ceiling, or whatever as my mind wandered into nothingness. I know I did this at least a half dozen times.

Work is over now, and I go to pick up my son and then meet my daughter for dinner. Sitting there in the restaurant looking at the menu, I caught myself just looking at the same page for about a minute and not really doing anything but just, looking.

Therapy time, thankfully I don’t usually Dissociate there. We are so actively involved in discussions that I can usually stay on task.

I get home and my son was playing his video games. I say “Hi” to the cats, my fish, and my turtle, Flash and sit down on the couch. Within a minute I was blankly staring at the fish tank and literally thinking of nothing.

That brings me to wrapping up this post, as I decided once I snapped back to reality from looking at the aquarium, that I wanted to write about how Dissociation affects my life on a daily basis.

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Dissociating was a blessing in the sense that my mind saved me during the abuse when I was a kid, but it’s also a royal pain when you have to work so hard to concentrate and stay on task.

This post was originally published on the author’s website and is republished here with his permission.

About the author, Matthew E. Pappas:
A survivor of childhood sexual abuse and narcissistic abuse, my blog is the story of my life living with Dissociation, Anxiety, and PTSD.
Twitter: @SurvivingMyPast
Facebook.com/SurvivingMyPast
www.SurvivingMyPast.net

This post is part of a joint series by The Good Men Project and Stigma Fighters in sharing stories of real men living with mental illness.  To submit your story, see below.

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Stigma Fighters is an organization that is dedicated to raising awareness for the millions of people who are seemingly “regular” or “normal” but who are actually hiding the big secret: that they are living with mental illness and fighting hard to survive.

The more people who share their stories, the more light is shone on these invisible illnesses, and the more the stigma of living with mental illness is reduced.

For Stigma Fighters’ Founder Sarah Fader’s recent profile in The Washington Postthat discusses how more and more people are “coming out” with their mental illness, see here.

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The Good Men Project is the only international conversation about the changing roles of men in the 21stcentury.

Mental health and the reducing the social stigma of talking about mental health is and has been a crucial area of focus for The Good Men Project.

As Dr. Andrew Solomon stated during his interview with us, people writing about their own experiences mitigates each of our aloneness in a profound way: “One of the primary struggles in all the worlds I have written about is the sense each of us has that his or her experience is isolating. A society in which that isolation is curtailed is really a better society.”

We are partnering together on this Call For Submissions, because our missions overlap and because we want to extend this conversation further.

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If you are a man living with mental illness, and want to share your story, we would love to help.

To submit to the Good Men Project, please submit here.

To submit to Stigma Fighters, please submit here.

Submissions will run in both publications.  When you submit, please make sure to let us know you submitting as part of this Joint Call for Submissions with Stigma Fighters and Good Men Project.

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Any Questions?

Feel free to contact us:

mkasdan@gmail.com  (Good Men Project)

sarahfader@gmail.com (Stigma Fighters)

allieburkebooks@gmail.com (Stigma Fighters)

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Stigma Fighters: Rose Lockinger

I struggled with an all or nothing mentality for a long time starting in my teens. I was either obsessed with something or had no interest in it whatsoever. I was was either happy or sad. I had no middle ground. The line that separated these ideas was thin leaving little room for the gray areas of life; it was either black or white, on or off. I lived for many years stuck in this hell of black and white thinking, I was alienated and alone. I learned later that this is a common in many who struggle with addiction, depression and PTSD. I learned that there was a strong link between my addiction and PTSD that was a core component of my I turned to food, drugs and alcohol to cope with life. I also learned that I could change this way of thinking.

Looking back I believe the polarization of my thinking was the result of trauma it reflected where I had stopped growing emotionally. It was so much easier to think in black or white, it was either right or wrong. Thinking this way did not require me to evaluate the situation and put myself in others shoes. It made for a very rigid life with little or no fluidity. I was a very closed minded person terrified of new ideas or experiences, but in a sense it also was a way of protecting myself of keeping myself safe. I had created a bubble that was my own personal hell but safe from the world, or at least that was what I thought.

This approach left no room for debate, and anytime that something did not fit in my with my beliefs, they were relegated to the “that’s wrong pile” and discarded. This was necessary in order for me to continue to actively drink and drug, and operate with my eating disorder. My diseases had to shield themselves from outside influences that may have interfered with their continuation and so I developed a black and white worldview which made it easier for me to justify my actions.

This black and white thinking continued until I hit bottom and attempted to get sober. The act of hitting bottom shook my constructed beliefs to their very core and for the first time in my life I was faced with the fact that I may not know everything. I had what some may call a moment of clarity and in that moment I realized that my best thinking and best efforts had gotten me to a point where I was hopeless addicted to drugs and alcohol and had essentially ruined my life. This was the beginning of the decline of my black and white thinking and the beginning of the rise of open-mindedness.

Open-mindedness is one of the essentials of recovery and the reason for this is that many of us relied solely on our own thinking and beliefs for far too long. We couldn’t see past our own thoughts and what’s worse is that many of us didn’t even realize that our thoughts and beliefs were extremely flawed, created only to propagate the continuation of a disease that wanted us dead. In order to overcome this we had to leave behind our old black and white way of viewing things and move towards a more open-minded worldview.

This was not easy for me at first and in fact everything in me rebelled against it. I wanted to believe in something to have hope again and the 12 steps offered that. Luckily drugs and alcohol are a great motivator for change and even though my mind rebelled against doing things differently, I knew that it was necessary. I knew that if I continued to keep my mind closed to new ideas I would continue to get the same results that I always had, and I didn’t want that to happen.

Breaking out of my black and white way of thinking began with doing little things like listening to my sponsor. Before getting sober I was open to people’s advice but I never had the motivation to follow through with it. That was the key to reaching a breaking point I finally realized that I had to change there were no more excuses. I started to do things like call my sponsor everyday, even though at the time I didn’t know why I had to do this, although I did find that there was a definite sense of relief after talking to her. I started to realize that when I talked about what was going on in my life with someone else even if they had no feedback saying it aloud changes my perspective. Part of the problem of with depression, addiction, PTSD is that you are a prisoner in your mind. You are so afraid to reach out and let others know what is going on. You’re terrified that if you do they will think you are crazy. I began to realize that opening up to my sponsor and therapist started to give me insight that although my thoughts were not always grounded in reality they were not crazy per se. I began to take her other suggestions as well, like reading the book and working the Steps.

My life slowly began to change for the better and I finally began to see that other people might know what they were talking about. It was a great feeling because I no longer felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders, that I was not all alone in this process. Learning to trust other people, and their thoughts and ideas, revolutionized my own way of thinking and I actually became more comfortable living in the gray then in the black and white.

I think one of the main points of contention, and place where many addicts and alcoholics see the world in a very black and white manner, is in relation to God. For many us before getting sober we could only see a God of religion and because of this our views were you either believed the fable of a religious God who seems to have caused more damage to the world than good, or you didn’t believe in God at all. Once I got sober I realized that this was a very narrow way of looking at things. I was introduced to the idea of a personal God, one with whom I could have my own relationship with and this did away with years of black and white bias against God. This became the cornerstone for my new way of life and in the process a lot of the biases that I held against religion melted away as I realized that all religions essentially taught the same thing and that there was room enough in the world for all of them.

I can still sometimes have a black or white view on certain situations or ideas, but my time in recovery has taught me the valuable lesson that I may sometimes be wrong. This has allowed me to be open to new ideas and experiences that have led to some of the most tremendous personal growth that I have ever experienced in my life. Life can still be tremendously confusing and there are so many factors to take into account that it can still be difficult at times to come to definitive conclusions. In the past when I had a simple black and white, yes or no, view of the world this would drive me mad. Now with an understanding that most truths lay in the gray and there are certain things that I will never know, I am okay with knowing that I do not know, and understanding that I do not understand.

12479436_1085419574803126_1934317633_nRose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.

Rose can be found her website, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram.

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Stigma Fighters: Linda H.

I’m 50 years old, and I have PTSD that is probably complicated by traumatic brain injury. To look at me you wouldn’t know, but I have an EEG scan of my brain to prove it. Until recently, I didn’t know what it was like to not feel anxiety, depression, paranoia, shame and a nagging belief I am bad. I don’t have fond childhood memories. Instead, I remember my mother’s rage, my father’s disappointment, and an overwhelming sense of emptiness. I remember the pain of the belt across my backside, the stinging slap across my face and the air rushing from my lungs from a stunning punch in my back. I remember being kicked headfirst down a flight of stairs, because I failed to take my shoes downstairs. I remember my mother’s self-satisfied smirk as I looked up at her from the bottom of the stairs. I remember my blood running cold in that moment when I truly realized she wished I didn’t exist. I remember I could never do anything right. I remember being sick and in incredible pain and being told I was making it up. I remember my father lamenting that he didn’t have a son. He didn’t seem to notice I was standing right there and could hear him. I remember my father spending long hours at work to avoid my mother. I remember my stomach knotting up when I heard him arrive home from work knowing my mother’s rage would turn from me to him. I remember the horrible fights between my parents that lasted all night long. I remember the blood when my mother punched my father in the face. I screamed and got between them desperately trying to make it stop. I remember as a small child spending long hours with my imaginary friend who saved me over and over, because no real person would. I remember the day my father moved out and didn’t take me with him. I remember everyone around us thinking we had such a loving, happy family and knowing no one would believe me if I told them the truth. Mostly I remember just feeling completely alone even when people were around. It took years before I could talk about my mother without my body shaking. My family thinks I should just be able to get over it, or that I would have been this way despite the abuse. What they don’t understand is that they can’t face what happened to me, because it would mean facing how fucked up they are, too. It’s easier to just point a finger and shake their head.

In most ways, I’m just like you. I don’t look any different, and I spend my day out in the world doing the same stuff everyone else does. I go to work, I mow the lawn, and I brush and floss my teeth. I laugh at funny things and cry at sad ones. I get angry at bad drivers. I long for the weekends. I have hobbies and favorite movies. The differences between me and someone who doesn’t have PTSD are not tangible. I don’t carry physical scars on the outside. I’m so good at “faking it” to get through the day, most people have no idea my scars are on the inside. Basically, my amygdala is broken and my hippocampus doesn’t function very well either. At the very least, they don’t cooperate. To put it simply, my brain doesn’t distinguish between past trauma and the present and seemingly minor things trigger feelings of anxiety and panic. As a result, my adrenal glands work 24/7 leaving me exhausted. I feel like a gazelle who keeps thinking the rustling of grass is a lion when it’s really just a mouse. I feel all the same emotions, but mine run deeper, and sometimes…okay a lot of the time…I struggle to control them. On good days, I’m happier than most people, and on bad days I’m sadder. Most mornings I wake with a crushing sadness and anxiety that make getting up not unlike scaling a sheer cliff, and I wonder why I am here. So, I remember how much I love my sons and partner, and somehow I get up. Sometimes I don’t know if the emotions I’m feeling fit the situation. I struggle with overstimulation especially at work and need a lot of down time at night and on weekends. I’m an introvert. I find casual conversation very difficult. I startle easily. I have trouble with word recall and remembering names. Focusing is difficult. At times, my thoughts are so scattered, it feels as though a troop of drunken monkeys is running amuck in my head. Despite what the happy, smiling people in drug advertisements say I’ve discovered that for me the drugs rarely work well, often make symptoms worse, and the side effects are intolerable. After trying so many I’ve lost count, I simply go without. Neurofeedback and EMDR have been better friends.

What I’ve learned is to hold on tight to all that is good in my life and to let go of all the rest. I’ve eliminated from my life those who are incapable of accepting me for who I am or what happened to me. I’m a mom of two wonderful sons who bring me endless joy and pride. I have an amazing partner who has embraced who I am and learned about me so she can understand me. She loves me even though I sometimes freak out, cry and fall apart. I have friends who accept. I’m learning to like who I am and stand up for myself. I’ve learned it’s okay to express my feelings and that no one will hurt me for it. I’m learning to let go of the shame that I hurt people, especially my children, when my mental illness got in the way of doing the right thing or caused me to mentally check out. Most days are good, and even on the bad ones I can usually find something to laugh or smile about…especially if it means laughing at me. I’ve learned that the illusion I had of myself – a weak, lazy, bad person – is just that: an illusion. I’m tough as nails. Most importantly, as an adult, my head is full of wonderful memories.

I don’t want anyone’s pity. But, I do want people to know the truth, because silence about abuse and mental illness breeds more abuse and mental illness.

DSC00670-001I live in Maryland with my partner. I have two sons and two step daughters. I love photography even though my camera is smarter than me and most of my pictures are lousy. My partner says I have the humor of 12 year old boy, and the kids agree.

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Stigma Fighters: Marisa Hughes, LCSW

EMDR: For People With PTSD

So often one of the first questions I am asked when people learn that I am therapist specializing in trauma work is “What is trauma and how do you really know you have PTSD?” So let me first start by explaining these terms, as they are too often misunderstood, with assumptions made which sometimes include minimization of someone’s experience.

Trauma is any experience that impacts your life negatively. It can occur in response to an incident that happened once or is on-going. Many people assume that the only thing that causes PTSD or trauma is going to war. While combat is definitely a known cause of trauma, experiences such as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, moving, divorce, illness, grief and loss for example can cause trauma too. It can occur after experiencing an accident. Any event that threatened your life or the lives of those around you, or made you feel unsafe in any way. People tend to minimize their experiences or judging themselves for having uncomfortable feelings and comparing themselves to others. So if it is real to you and negatively affecting your life then, let me be the first to validate your experience.

Trauma often builds on itself, therefore you may find that an event that you deem as “small or minor” may have shaken you up more than you feel it “should” have. This can occur due to the more recent events mirroring past experiences or triggering old memories/feelings as our current feelings are often the result of prior information we have lived through or learned. So often, clients come to me for therapy about a recent trauma like a car accident for example that made them feel helpless. As we explore further and build on our work together, it is often clear that there was underlying trauma that had not been resolved, which also caused that same feeling of powerless. This hints to why the more recent event may have been so distressing and hard to move forward from.

This idea of feeling helpless is very often a root of trauma that originated back into childhood. For example, if someone almost drowned when they were younger they may have since moved forward from their experience, but if they are in another situation later in life that makes them feel helpless or powerless again it may compound on the previous trauma making the more recent experience even more uncomfortable. Often this is not as obvious to my clients as it may sound, which is why exploration of past life experiences is such an important part of therapy.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by experiencing or witnessing something traumatic. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. People who experience PTSD may also avoid thoughts, feelings and external reminders of the event. PTSD can lead to negative belief systems like blaming yourself or others and causing you to isolate. Others may experience increased arousal such as reckless or destructive behavior, difficulty sleeping, and hypervigilance. PTSD has now been included as part of the trauma or stress related disorder category in the DSM-5, compared to its previously being grouped in the anxiety disorder category, validating how linked to trauma PTSD is.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a psychotherapy approach that has undergone extensive research and been proven effective for the treatment of trauma. EMDR therapy has helped millions of people of all ages find relief from many types of psychological stressors and symptoms.

EMDR is based on the idea of working through trauma by processing it actively with bilateral stimulation of the brain. This means that we activate both the right and left hemispheres of your brain, to recreate the pathways of how trauma is stored in memory. Bilateral stimulation is achieved through visual cues such as following my finger at a set rate and amount of swipes, tapping your hands to your knees with the right hand and then the left for a specified amount of taps, listening to sound waves, stepping your feet to the ground, watching a light bar, ect.

The use of bilateral stimulation is based on the idea that when our brain stores trauma, it is not stored correctly due to the event being so difficult to our bodies both physically or mentally. However, it is possible to re-route this storage by talking about it in therapy, activating the event/memories in your mind and re-storing them correctly. One of the parts of EMDR that my clients love the most is that it can be done with or without me knowing details of their trauma, so they are free to only share what feels comfortable. This is done by having my client focus on the event and monitoring their level of discomfort.

EMDR is a process that is more than eye movement/brain stimulation alone, though this is often what it is primarily known for. This is a crucial part of course but EMDR therapy is also firmly built on the foundation of resource building. This is used to help clients create healthy coping skills that they will be able to call on as needed and practicing healthy limit setting by sticking with a therapeutic pace that is catered directly towards their needs.

Some great tools for resourcing include creating a “safe or calm place” and having a mental “container” to store uncomfortable feelings/memories related to the trauma. Often my clients are more comfortable with the idea of the word “calm” because “safe” can be a triggering word for them due to their past experiences of feeling unsafe. It involves creating in your imagination a place that you can go to in your mind any time that you are feeling overstimulated, triggered, or uncomfortable. It is helpful to utilize the five senses, as this helps your mind really connect to this space. The goal is to picture somewhere that makes you happy or gives you a feeling of calm, a place that you can re-visit as often as you need to in your mind.

An example of this that my clients tend to choose often is the beach, as we live in South Florida. Let me describe this thought process a bit further with the beach example. Notice how it feels to be present in this place. Do you feel wind on your face, heat from the sun warming your body? Maybe you feel sand beneath your toes? Does the air smell salty? Maybe you can taste the salty air? What do you see? Notice the colors around you. Appreciate the rich colors of the ocean, sand, and sky. Maybe you hear birds or the calming sound of waves crashing into the sand? Really focus your attention on these senses and allow yourself to feel as inside this space as possible. Give yourself permission to feel calm, relaxed, and peaceful, if even for a short time. This will be something that you would practice often so that “going to this place” becomes a habit any time you are feeling triggered by symptoms of PTSD.

The container is another great resource which I briefly mentioned above. It is helpful for my clients to choose their own container, one that fits for them. The only rules for this imaginary container are that it is big enough to hold everything and that it can be closed or locked. This allows you to place triggers, painful feelings, etc. in the container when you are not working on them in therapy, so that they no longer have as much control over your life. During therapy and EMDR we will pull the events and feelings out of the container to work with them. A key part of EMDR work is always making time to put the trauma back into the container before the end of session or when it feels overwhelming. The more this tool is practiced, the easier it becomes to utilize instinctively. This way if an event triggers your memories, you can take a moment and mentally put those feelings in the container for a more appropriate time to deal with them. Doing so both validates the experience and feelings and also helps my clients to feel more in control.

While EMDR is not for everyone as a one size fits all approach is unrealistic, I have found it to be very helpful in my practice and have seen much success with this method of trauma treatment. If you or someone you know has experienced trauma and feel that it is impeding on your life, I strongly suggest that you seek out a therapist who is trained in EMDR to help you work through your feelings and minimize your symptoms. Feel free to check out my website at marisahughescounseling.com for more information about all things healing, trauma, and mental health.

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Marisa Hughes is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Trauma Specialist. She
is trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and has found this therapeutic modality to be very successful in helping her clients alleviate symptoms of trauma. She is passionate about helping people heal and develop into their most authentic selves.

Marisa can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter

oSm02Z_c

Stigma Fighters: M.C. Malette

The faces of mental illness put forward by the world never match mine. They’re nearly always white rather than brown, as I am; they’re generally wild eyed or in the context of violence or out of control. That’s not how the people in my life describe me, and even those closest to me often miss or mistake the signs. My bouts of depression and anxiety arrive as surliness, a brooding quiet that creates distance—which is appropriate since distance is the primary effect of my illness.

In remember myself from an early age cut off from others. I see a boy in a hospital bed inside a plastic-walled oxygen tent during a bout with asthma. Sound muffled. Doctors, nurses, parents visible as they came and went. But touchable only through the zippers and plastic of the tent as I lay propped up in bed. I could read their concerned and sympathetic smiles, but they couldn’t feel my visceral fear as I struggled to breathe and survive in a body beyond my control.

Growing up, my clumsy efforts at closeness resulted in pain: reaching for a soldier father now here then gone, now sober then drunk, and when he was at home arguing with and sometimes striking my mother. Reaching for a mother trapped in her marriage, in her dark, foreign skin, estranged from and judged by her Latin American Catholicism. Reaching for siblings caught like me in the no man’s land between the warring parties who’d created us, siblings who survived by punishing one another’s vulnerabilities; and the brown boy me yearning for someone to “tell me I’m okay” was endlessly vulnerable.

Only after I escaped to college did the fog of inaction descend. Huddled in my apartment listening to music or reading aimlessly, skipping classes for days and weeks at a time. Outwardly I seemed normal, made friends, dated, partied, and performed well enough academically. And I wrote and wrote and wrote, which was all, I think, that saved my life.

One Sunday the student newspaper called (I was a journalism major and on staff) asking me to turn in a story that I had thought wouldn’t be due for several more days. I got in my car intending to drive to campus; instead I headed east. Away from my apartment, across the city, out of town. I reached a two-lane highway, saw a sign reading “Tonganoxie 18,” and drove. I imagined reaching Tonganoxie and going further. I would drive east as far as I could. To New York. Sell the car, live on the streets if I had to. All I wanted was space, distance from everyone and every place I knew. Eventually uncertainty ended my bid for escape. I made a U-turn and drove back to town, to college, to the newspaper office. I dragged myself through the reporting and writing for the story, my life and the emptiness inside me heavy as a leaden cloak.

And intimacy eluded me. I entered into relationships, initially perfect and then suddenly, inexplicably, all emotion inside me freezing. Disappearing. Empty. I could never name to the other person what had happened within me; I didn’t understand it myself. And I couldn’t talk past the fog swirling in my own head.

Over the years, I wished sometimes for an end to the confusion, an end to life. For long periods of time I’ve felt healthy enough to function, to love and work and marry and raise children. But I’ve also done damage to my loved ones while in the grip of that fog. I’ve spent time on medications that saved me; I’ve spent time in therapy that improved my understanding.

But I choose not to think of my mental illness as a “battle.” The chemical balances and imbalances that swirl in my brain, whatever their cause, are part of me. What compassion I have toward others—especially those in pain or deprivation—I owe largely to my brain chemistry. My respect for sadness and grief come from it. My appreciation for the necessary duality of life, my resistance to simplistic ideas of “good” or “bad,” these I also owe to mental illness. They are the seat of my politics, my spirituality, and my definition of myself as a writer.

Still, I don’t call my mental illness a “gift.” I am no Zen master, only a person who’s caused pain and love, happiness and grief, and who’s received the same. If my illness has taught me anything, it’s that life is uncertain and defies easy definition. So do I; so does my mental health.

My depression and anxiety are the circumstances of my existence, like my height, my near-sightedness, and my brown skin. They offer disadvantages and perspectives that others lack, depending on the situation. So I don’t fight the fog and I don’t love the fog. It’s there. Inside and outside of me, passing through me, emanating from me. When I remember to take care of myself, to be kind to myself, we get along.

My real enemies are society’s and my own limited attitudes: stigma. And baseless assumptions. And ignorance. And fear and oppression flowing from ignorance. They’re my greatest burdens as a mentally ill person because they block my dealing with my illness successfully. They limit and/or misdirect society’s support for people like me. They cut us off from one another and from wider participation in the life.

I think about the day I drove towards Tonganoxie, and about how the day might have gone if I had been able to say, “I’m having some real problems with depression. I need some help with this story.” I wonder about the difference if I had been able to name and talk about it rather than feel weak, broken, and ashamed.
In a way, I’m still on the road to Tonganoxie, never quite arriving. But I’ve gotten more okay with that in my 50 plus years, gotten more okay with being in the fog. With being there, still.

oSm02Z_cM.C. Malette is currently a stay-at-home father and freelance writer living in the upper Midwest. He worked for nearly 20 years as college writing instructor and administrator. He’s also worked as a journalist and copyeditor. A former Army brat, he was born in Germany and lived throughout the United States.

M.C. can be found on his blog and Twitter.