Category Archives: Brave People

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Stigma Fighters – I Am Not A Martyr – by J.C. Hannigan

Growing up, I was told a lot that I am brave and strong. I was told that I handle my chronic pain bone disorder, Multiple Osteochondromas with grace. Those I loved were attempting to lift me up, but it actually had the opposite effect.

It suffocated me.

I was afraid that if I showed how truly scared I was over having another surgery, or how sick and tired I was of the pain…my family and friends would think less of me. I bottled it up. I tried not to complain when the pain got to be too much, because I knew my parents were powerless to help me. All they could do was take me to my specialist and schedule another surgery, and I didn’t want more surgeries.

Surgeries meant that I wouldn’t be able to pretend I wasn’t afflicted with a chronic pain bone disorder. The art of denial was strong with me in high school, if I denied my differences, ignored my pain and pretended to be just like everyone else (all while hiding each scar and tumor under layers of baggy clothes), maybe I could fit in. Surgeries made that impossible though, because it meant time away from school, long recoveries, plenty of additional pain and it was a hell of a lot harder for me to hide.

But it wasn’t just about hiding, the worst thing about surgeries, for me, was always the anesthesia. I hated the taste and complete loss of control. I hated the heaviness in my limbs and eyelids. I hated the three second count down, and then waking up what felt like five minutes later but was actually hours later in the recovery room, my mouth as dry as sandpaper, completely disoriented. My heart would pound and I would fight to stay awake because I hated drifting to that place of groggy unconsciousness.

It was a total and complete loss of control.

Even now, panic surges every time I step inside a hospital and smell that scent of disinfectant and medicine that lingers in the hallways, and I’ve had over 25 surgeries to remove the painful bone growths.

It has never gotten easier, but I grit my teeth and push through it because I really don’t have any other choice.

Society puts the chronically ill on a pedestal. They treat us like martyrs, and are quick to compliment us on our strength and bravery whilst also quick to change the subject whenever we admit just how hard it really is. We are martyrs, but they don’t want to hear just how bad things can get for us. Our chronic pain makes them uncomfortable, and they do not know what to say to us.

But we are not martyrs, I am not a martyr. I am a human being living with a chronic pain bone disorder, and I would feel far more comforted by those around me if they took the time to listen to my tales instead of slapping a hero sticker on me and calling it a day.

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J.C. Hannigan lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, their two sons and their dog.
She writes contemporary new adult romance and suspense. Her novels focus on relationships, mental health, social issues, and other life challenges.
J.C can be found on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Stigma Fighters: Shaylynn Hayes

Red Lipstick


When people talk about anxiety they talk about the huge and strange ways it impacts your life… what they don’t talk about is how it can deteriorate the day to day.
There was once a time when I was too afraid to wear red lipstick. I felt too bold, too visible, and not good enough to show my face. To some it is just a way to express their individuality, but when you’re uncomfortable in your own skin, you may not want to. Lipstick can scream “look at me” or “I am confident.” I wasn’t confident. I didn’t want to be noticed for the individual that I was. My High School experience was mostly spent hiding. When I did go to school it was sweat pants, a sweater, and hair put back in a messy bun. The sides hung at my face. I was hiding behind almost bangs, shivering each and every time I had to face a new opponent.

At home, I would sift through Vogue, Cosmo, and teen magazines. I would watch Gossip Girl, 90210, and One Tree Hill, then I would pine over “The Devil Wears Prada”. These women were beautiful — glamorous, confident, and even… sexy. In my mind I wanted what they had. I dreamt about walking the streets of New York City, heels in toe, heart on my chest. I wore high heels in middle school, but high school? I can’t even remember what I wore. The days were a mass of grey. Depression, anxiety, they had become my symphony. Cutting through my confidence they left me with little more to feel than hopelessness.

Lipstick is a tool for some, for others, it is so much more. Those women wore lipstick to canvas their lips, their words flowing like fine wine. They smiled as they spoke, they looked their audience in the eyes. I could never be that girl. I could never wear red lipstick in public. I tried a few times, but never made it out the door. The insides of my sweaters were painted with forgotten promises to myself. With whispers and insecurities that all mimicked my deepest fear: “you are not good enough, and you never will be.”

But, this isn’t a story of how insecurity can ruin your life. It’s more than that. Because now, half a decade later, I sit writing this piece. I am wearing red lipstick. I am wearing a dress. I am wearing wedged heels. The occasion? None. I am happy. I have my ups and I have my downs, but I am getting by. There is life on the other side of mental illness, even if it’s only for remission periods. There are smiles, and confident moments.
Next month I will be walking down the streets of New York for MisophoniaInternational, where I advocate my disorder. I will be helping people, but I will also be the person I only wished to be as a teenager.

For some it is lipstick… but for me… it is a beacon. It is a symbol. It is my courage, my confidence. It is sexy. It is free.

13015610_10156930136790637_8419070351900119_nShaylynn Hayes is a 22 year old writer, graphic/webdesigner, and student that advocates for the disorder Misophonia. Misophonia has
created trials and tribulations, but it is not all bad. It is due to Misophonia that she ended up switching schools, but it is also the reason she has been able to focus her voice and try to help others that struggle with the disorder. Shaylynn suffers from anxiety and depression, though spends many of her days in remission.

Shaylynn can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: Stewart Bint

I’m one of the lucky ones. Mental illness enslaved me when it locked its sturdy chains around my hands and feet in the late 1990s. But I fought back – strongly and fiercely. Not only against the curse of the illness itself, but against the curse of the stigma it uses to plague its victims.

Having now built a successful new life from the ruins of my old one, I can honestly say I owe it all to coping strategies. For several years I have got on with my life and not consciously employed coping strategies, because they have become second nature to me.

A good coping strategy means we can all better manage our day-to-day struggles without constant input from mental health professionals who play a major role at the beginning of our illness.

But it was very different when I was first diagnosed. For around a year I had no idea what was happening to me, and soldiered on, as I suspect a great many of us do. Eventually my mind reached overload point. They say Friday the 13th can be unlucky. But I regard that day in 1997 as the exact opposite. That was the day when it seemed my world completely fell apart, but was actually the day I recognised my illness when I was away on a business trip.

I was suicidal, and rang the Samaritans. Without being dramatic I can safely say that phone call saved my life that night.

There followed the inevitable counseling, but nothing seemed to do the trick. Eventually, my counsellor decided I needed to be admitted to hospital, and so I became a voluntary patient at a private psychiatric clinic. Well, voluntary at first. During my ten weeks there I was sectioned for 28 days, and a nurse was assigned to never be more than six feet from me for around four weeks.

My life was at rock bottom. My family never thought I’d work again…in fact at one point they never thought I’d leave hospital.

Those dark days turned towards dawn and the light began to shine on me. Thanks to the love of my family and the dedication of superb mental health professionals, I learned how to create effective coping strategies and actually changed my whole outlook on life. Before my diagnosis I was an overly ambitious perfectionist, keen to please everyone and get everything absolutely spot on. That, coupled with the fact that three people who were very close to me died within a few months of each other, drove me over the edge.

During my treatment it was found I had suppressed memories from my childhood which became repressed. With everything out in the open I was on the way to recovery. And once I was discharged, my coping strategy became all about casting off the things I no longer needed in my life, including corporate success and the stress that comes with it. I returned to my first love of writing, and now work as a novelist and Public Relations writer, and have my own fortnightly magazine column.

To me, coping strategies are highly personal, and you need one for every situation that can cause difficulty. For example, I realised that if I were to continue seeking perfection in my work and myself, I was destined to fail, and would, in all probability face an even longer spell as a hospital in-patient. So my coping strategy for that was to accept compromise, both from myself and other people.

Whenever a deadline approaches I ask myself what is the worst that can happen if I don’t meet it? Occasionally I need to burn the midnight oil, but in the olden days it was a daily occurrence. Now, time and again I miss deadlines and no-one worries. Least of all me.

I have also learned how to handle the stigma from some quarters facing anyone with mental health issues. Social media is a double-edge sword for this, and, in my opinion, requires its own coping strategy. On the one hand social media is a positive, empowering tool, connecting us with others who can support us through the difficult times. On the other hand, it can be used as a medium of evil and vileness, with people posting less than helpful comments. After initially choosing to defend myself robustly against untrue, negative comments, I realised that was simply inflaming the situation, as my aggressors seemed to relish the anguish they were causing me.

So another coping strategy quickly came about – to simply ignore the attacks. That works for me. I don’t know whether they continue their vile attacks, but in all honesty I don’t care.

And that’s the secret, not only of handling how the stigma is perpetrated by the darker side of social media, but coping with the stigma in the “real” world too. You can’t make everyone see the truth. You can’t make everyone be kind. You can’t turn everyone into a decent human being. So don’t try too hard. Enjoy the successes you have, and enjoy your family, friends and supporters. And ignore those who revel in giving you grief. In other words, ignore the ignorant.

So, while I have numerous coping strategies for individual aspects, which have just become part of my psyche now, I have one overall philosophy: today, I am very much my own person, going barefoot most of the time, which I find is a powerful influence on my mental wellbeing. The physical connection in this way with the planet that supports me gives me inner peace.

Stewart-BintStewart Bint is a novelist, magazine columnist and Public Relations writer. He lives with his wife, Sue, in Leicestershire, in the UK, and has two grown up children.

While writing, his office companion is his charismatic budgie, Alfie, or his neighbour’s cat. But not at the same time.

When not writing he can often be found hiking barefoot on woodland trails.

Stewart can be found on his blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: the untitled

BACK THEN

It all started when I was about 7 years old. My parents fought a lot. My dad often abused my mom by doing terrible things to her. I would often hear her cry and scream and there would be sounds of glass breaking , chairs being thrown, or anything breaking , really. I would usually stay in my room and cry. And hope that they would stop fighting. And the worse part was that I was only 7 years old. I didn’t understand why they were fighting. I didn’t understand why my dad would hit my mom. I really didn’t understand anything. Whenever I asked my mom she would not answer and when I asked my dad he would get mad at me. It really confused me so much.

When I was about 8 years old my parents decided to get me a maid. They left me at home most of the time with the maid. My parents still fought really often and at that time I kind of gotten used to it already. It still made me sad at that time, but I did get used to it. I was used to being alone at such a young age due to my home conditions and I didn’t do so well in school as well. The maid was fine for the first few months until she started to abuse me. She would slap me or do other horrible things to harm me. This went on until she finished her contract, which was for about two years. Everyday was a living hell for me. She hated me, a lot. And I didn’t understand why. And I kept all this to myself. There were times where I wanted to tell my mom about the way she treats me but my maid threatened me that if I told my mother she would fight with my dad again and everything would get worse. So I chose to keep it to myself.

AGE 10 & ABOVE

I didn’t have any connections with my family members except for the ones I lived with. But when I was 10 years old , and my horrible maid went back to the Philippines, my grandfather moved in with us along with my two uncles. Whenever my parents fought my grandfather, that I call ‘Daddy’, would be there for me. He would tell me that things would be okay, that my parents still love each other and that they will eventually stop fighting. Everyday since I was 7, I hope that they would stop fighting, but it never seemed to happen. But daddy made things a lot easier for me. He’s no therapist, but he was there for me and I think that was all I needed.

When I was 10 years old going on 11, I had to sit for the year 6 exam which was the ‘PSR’ examination. I wasn’t the best in studies due to my home condition. It made me slack on studies and I couldn’t focus because all I was thinking about at that time were my parents. But I did surprisingly well in the exam and daddy was so proud of me. I have never seen him that proud before. Even though I was very close to daddy there were days where I fought with him. Not because I hated him but because I hated my own existence. And daddy was sick as well. He had diabetes and it was getting really bad. But he refused to go to the hospital and that made me even madder. I felt like I was a burden to my parents and I guess daddy was just trying to be there for me. I didn’t understand it at that time, so there were days where I wished that daddy could lay off a little bit. And on some days I even wished that he was dead.

And my wish came true. On November 29th 2011, there was a knock on the door. My beloved daddy, the person that inspired me, that was there for me passed away in a terrible car accident. It was a week before my birthday and I guess that was my first encounter with depression. I concluded that I had dysthymia. I started harming myself at that age because my only friend, my only family, left me. I didn’t have much friends. I wasn’t that popular or pretty either. He was actually my only friend. And I lost him.

At age 11, my dad moved out of the house, out of the country to work. And that broke me even more. Because I kept on thinking that this might be another step to my parents getting divorced. I didn’t see him that often anymore after that. I still don’t see him that often. It was just very hard.

The next few years were hard. I kept finding ways to hurt myself. I’ve never told anyone because I didn’t want anyone to worry about me. And I didn’t trust anyone. On some days I wonder if my mom noticed the burns or cuts on my skin. I wonder if she ever saw them but she just didn’t care. I wish she cared.

SENIOR YEAR

I met my first love in senior year. I’ve never opened up about my depression or self harming or anxiety to anyone, but he was the first. I really loved him a lot. And he was able to accept me for who I am, even though I was so fucked up, even though I hated my life so much. He would be there for me when I had anxiety attacks, he gave me the attention I needed to help me keep my mind off of things and to focus on my studies. I actually loved him. But, words are only words. And people do get tired in the end. He left me. He fucking left me because I was too broken for him. The worst part is that I don’t blame him. Helping people with depression and anxiety can be really draining especially if you care about that person. And that was when I realized that I cant tell anyone about what’s going on with me. Nobody is going to fucking fix me because its too fucking tiring. People get tired, they leave. And that’s how it is. I haven’t learnt to accept it, not even now.

Towards the end of senior year, I put my trust in someone else. I told him most of the things because I couldn’t bottle up so much feelings. I couldn’t keep everything to myself. It hurt me a lot. I was tired of constantly having anxiety attacks and constantly hurting myself. He wasn’t the best when it came to calming me down and making me feel better, but at least I had someone to talk to. I had someone that wouldn’t judge me no matter what.

NEW YEAR’S

I spent the new years with the boy that left me. I let him back into my life. I was so stupid to do that. Because yes in the end, he left me. Again. And the worse part is that now I don’t know why he did. There’s no closure, no proper goodbye. There wasn’t anything. And god I missed him so much. I still do. I thought moving on would be easier than this. I never expected to miss him this much. And its so fucking unfair for me.

NOW

The boy that was there for me found new friends and left me here to be sad alone. I feel like I’m drifting away from my high school friends. I’m eventually going to move away in 5 months. And my parents still do have fights. I am trying so hard to be okay with this. I am trying so hard to accept this, I’m trying so hard to accept myself for who I am. I am so fucked up, too fucked up for anyone, really. I hate hurting myself but on some days it just feels right. I am trying my hardest to stay clean, I am trying my hardest to be happy. Its really hard to cope with all this especially when I have nobody to open to about this. I mean, how can I open up to anyone? There’s always this part of me that tells myself that people would think that I’m seeking attention when I tell somebody. When really, I just need somebody to talk to. I hate feeling this way, I hate my life. But I am trying to get better. And eventually, I will get better.

Now I am slowly getting better. I starter surrounding myself with people that care about me and people that love having me around. I don’t harm myself as much as I used to. And on most days I would be genuinely happy. It still is hard for me, but I keep on reminding myself that the world is a great place to be and it’s not worth it if I take my own life just because of what I’m going through. Yes it is hard, but these hardships only make me stronger. I don’t know about other people, but I am slowly trying to accept my life and to be happy in my own skin.

Mental issues are a serious thing. And they shouldn’t be taken lightly. We are all going through something, and some people are going through worst. But it’s still something. I want people to be more aware of this. I want people that are going through this to know that you’re not alone. Because somewhere out there, there are also people (like me) that are going through something. If one person can get better, I believe that we all can.

– with love, the untitled

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Stigma Fighters: Cameron Gearen – DON’T BELIEVE MY SMILE: A COLLAGE

DON’T BELIEVE MY SMILE: A COLLAGE

I.“You’re not depressed,” my depressed friend said to me, laughing. Our hostess swept by with a tray of hors d’oeuvres and another friend, glass in hand, joined our circle. My friend was so sure about my mood, citing reasons like my extroversion, my smile. It wasn’t easy to insist, at that cocktail party, that depression was a part of my life. But as I munched a stuffed mushroom, I thought about how different depression (and other issues) could look on different people, like a dress we both tried on which fit our bodies differently.

 This is what depression looks like

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is what depression looks like.

II.
What if this selfie popped up in your feed?
What do you see when you look at me?
Do you see someone happy? What does happy look like?
I’m smiling. Is it effortless or hard won?
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This is what devastation looks like.

III.
Who you’re looking at:
A woman who has been lucky in some ways.
And a woman who, as a child, was brutally sexually abused by her biological father (now dead) for 11 years. Left for dead more than once. Terrorized until she didn’t remember a thing.
All of that and more is behind my smile.

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This is what abused looks like.

IV.
That girl was an expert at appearing “fine.”
Please don’t take me at face value.

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This is what lonely looks like.

V.
Nobody posts the dark times.
The dark times lurk out of view.
Read between the (laugh) lines.

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This is what survivor looks like.

VI.
I was a mistress of deception and I tricked all the adults and even myself into thinking I was “fine” while I was being abused.
My smile was and is infectious.
But it’s not the whole story.

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This is what PTSD looks like.

VII.

This thin slow falling of the mind.

The cells store a sequence.

Truth floats outside language.

There’s only one of us here.

Don’t call survive another name.

That girl emerged torn.

Some stories defy telling.

 

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This is what a survivor looks like.

Part of this essay is from the poem “Evacuee” in the book SOME PERFECT YEAR by Cameron Gearen. Shearsman Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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Cameron is an author, editor, writer, rocker and mama.

Cameron can also be found on her website and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: Jordan Gray – “My Suicide Attempt Doesn’t Make Me Unlovable”

My Suicide Attempt Doesn’t Make Me Unlovable

When I was fourteen years old, I tried to kill myself.

Whether my brain chemistry, raging hormones, a recent breakup, or chronic low self-esteem were to blame, I can’t say for certain. Often, depression doesn’t seem to need a reason. Like an uninvited house guest, it simply shows up when it wants to.

I swallowed a bottle of extra strength pain killers (that I had been carrying around for a week) and waited for them to take effect.

I had never felt more numb. Tears moved down my face but I didn’t feel sad. I walked around outside in five degree weather wearing a t-shirt but I couldn’t feel the goosebumps that I saw on my arms. I felt nothing. I was the same way before I had taken the pills. My depression ravaged every feeling out of me. I couldn’t access any of it.

Had it not been for an amazing friend who managed to track me down, I wouldn’t be alive today to write these words.

I was admitted to a children’s hospital and was put on suicide watch for a number of days.

It felt like prison-lite. No belts. No shoe laces. No metal cutlery. For some reason, I was the only child on the unit who wasn’t allowed to use metal cutlery, and the other kids looked at me as if I were extra dangerous because of my plastic utensils. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel like a bit of a bad ass for getting special treatment, even in this context.

The worst part was seeing the looks on my parents faces during visiting hours.

Before seeing their faces, I had managed to convince myself that they would be better off without me. Truly, I thought I was doing them a favour when I sat down and started ingesting those pills. In truth, the loss would have affected the course of their entire lives. Every time people asked them how many children they had, a lump would appear in their throats… even decades later.

When they visited me in the hospital their eyes were already red from crying. They looked more exhausted and in pain than I felt, and I felt immediately guilty. “This is the pain that you cause people,” my mind scolded me.

Looking back from today, it’s difficult for me to grasp the thought processes that I remember going through.

One of my absolute greatest fears was that, since I was more prone to anxiety and depression than others, I would forever be difficult to love. I worried that I would be a burden to any partner who I managed to lure into my life. More than that, I felt deeply unlovable.

This is how shame works it’s way into our hearts.

Guilt says we did something bad (i.e. “Your actions caused your parents pain”), whereas shame says that we are inherently bad (as in, “You only bring pain to your parents lives because you are a terrible person”).

It has been fifteen years since I tried to take my own life (my first and only attempt). What I’ve learned since then is that not only are we lovable despite our flaws, darkness, and mental health issues, but we are lovable with those things. Furthermore, we are often the most lovable where we feel we deserve love the least. Our pain and darkness is what deserves love first.

I believe that our relationships (intimate and otherwise) are all brought into our lives for the ultimate purpose of healing.

With the people that we meet and attract, we are shown parts of ourselves that we didn’t know existed. Everyone you know acts as a mirror to you and is an opportunity to help you heal something that you have difficult facing.

Since my suicide attempt, I have had the good fortune of being loved by some of the most incredibly compassionate women that I could have ever dreamt of. And their collective message was the same…

While your darkness doesn’t define you, it ultimately makes you shine that much brighter in the world.

Your struggles have made you who you are as a person. The depth of pain that you experience gives you that much more empathy and compassion for others who are in pain.

Every experience you have ever been through has only served to make you grow, to make you more resilient, and to make you more compassionate to the experiences of others. Everything you have been through, whether it was immediately apparent or not, was a gift.

Regardless of any mental health struggle you have experienced in your lifetime, you are still worthy of love and belonging. Nothing will ever change that or take that truth away from you.

If I can leave you with one message, that you can strap to your metaphorical shield on your darkest days, it would be this:

You are beautiful, complete, and whole. You are worthy. You are lovable. Always.

Sex and relationship coach Jordan Gray helps people remove their emotional blocks and maintain thriving intimate relationships. You can see more of his writing at JordanGrayConsulting.com JordanGray

 

 

 

 

 

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

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Stigma Fighters: Alice Morgan

On April 9th 2008, I was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer – osteosarcoma of the femur. At the tender age of fourteen, I wasn’t too concerned about it. It didn’t even occur to me that I could die from it. Something was telling me that I would be just fine and my mum told me that I even started playing ‘Let it Be’ by The Beatles on the piano. I don’t remember doing it at all! Looking back, I don’t know if that was naivety, shock or hope.

My treatment lasted for nine months with surgery halfway through to remove the affected bone and replace it with a titanium joint. I wouldn’t wish chemotherapy on anyone! It made me sick and gave me mouth ulcers; my weight plummeted and I had very little energy. Despite all this, I still managed to smile and stay upbeat, thanking the nurses and doctors for everything they were doing for me.

As the months went by, my hair started to fall out. It wasn’t that big an issue for me at the time – a girl who didn’t even wear make up! – but when I started to see it on my pillow, everything seemed a bit more real. My hairdresser gave me a pixie cut and eventually, my mum shaved it off with my dad’s electric razor which was hilarious! With a supportive family surrounding us, we managed to laugh even when times were really hard. Although people stared when I went out with a head scarf on, it wasn’t that much of a big deal to me. It was when my treatment had finished that I became more insecure about what I looked like. Having extremely short hair made me feel really unfeminine and I started to put on more weight as my appetite came back in leaps and bounds! I also had scars on my leg, neck and chest but to be completely honest, I’ve never been that bothered about them. Eight years on, I’m still learning to love my body as it is and not how I think it should be. My boyfriend helps as he makes me feel like I’m the prettiest thing he’s ever seen.

Another thing I’ve struggled with a lot since I was diagnosed is anxiety. Being sick nearly every day took its toll on me and when I was hungry, a mouth full of ulcers made eating painful. Every time the hospital food trolley would come around, I would gag at the smell and the more it happened, the more anxious I would become until I was having panic attacks. I was referred to a psychologist who explained how the fight or flight response worked and why the rush of adrenaline was sending me into a panic attack. She really helped me to deal with them but even now, I want to throw up when I see lots of different foods being scraped into one big bag.

Finishing treatment was amazing – I was still alive! – but it was also very, very hard. I was still learning to walk properly and of course, there were the long term effects of chemo to think about. I survived the cancer but the chemo has weakened my heart, I have constant tinnitus and obviously my leg is part metal! Every time I go to the doctors with any type of pain, I pray they’re not going to tell me that the cancer has come back. I’m constantly anxious that myself or one of my loved ones will have cancer especially since my father passed away from throat cancer three years ago. It was so hard to lose him to such a horrible disease.

Confiding in someone usually eases my anxiety as does writing. Getting everything out on the page and articulating exactly how I feel makes dealing with it so much easier. Writing creatively helps too. I was still studying for my GCSE’s while I was in hospital and I had to write a descriptive piece for part of my English course. Stuck in a hospital bed for days was so boring but writing about my local beach allowed me to escape it, just for a few hours. It’s something that still helps me now – whenever I need to escape real life, I just turn to my writing. In fact, I loved it so much that I ended up graduating with a Masters in Creative Writing last year – a huge achievement for someone who only got five GCSE’s!

The worst part of the treatment was being on a children’s ward and seeing young babies and children going through the same thing. It was heart-breaking, especially since I knew how awful they must be feeling. I remember one little boy who had tumours behind his eyes and was blind. One day, he ran up to me with his arms outstretched for me to pick him up but I couldn’t because I was on crutches myself. His mother told me that he’d never done that to anyone before! It was like he knew we were both in the same boat.

I hope that one day I will be able to have children of my own but another thing the chemo might have affected is my fertility. I hope that in my kids’ lifetime, chemotherapy will become a thing of the past so that cancer patients can have treatment that only fights the cancerous cells and not every other fast growing cell in the body. I haven’t had a panic attack in a while and I’m determined not to let my anxiety get in the way of setting up my own business. I do worry about the future but I’ve learned to live in the present and try to take each day as it comes. The scars on my body tell a story that will live with me forever but having cancer has shown me that it’s so important to chase your dreams and appreciate every little moment. I’m doing just that!

me-wawAlice is a 22 year old freelance writer from Wales. She writes a lifestyle blog and has also set up a cancer advice website at www.thosethreewords.co.ukto support others going through treatment. After graduating with a Masters Degree in Creative Writing in 2015, Alice decided to set up her own business doing what she loved and she is currently working on her idea. She enjoys writing, reading, eating chocolate and spending time with the people she loves.

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

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2015-10-17-22.17.59

Stigma Fighters: Catherine Stone

ON REACHING OUT

I don’t know how to start this article so I guess I’ll just get straight to the point.
Somehow we have been taught that being ‘happy’ –or rather, ‘content’— is the norm for everyday life. This has gotten to the point that the question “how are you?” has become more a matter of routine than an actual expression of interest in or concern for the well-being of the person we are addressing; an ice-breaker of sorts to which we are expected to reply with words such as “fine”, “OK” or “good”. There seems to be an underlying belief that others will see us as weak and vulnerable if we tell them that in fact we are not feeling all that well, and oh, God forbid if we tell them we are not fine at all. This belief puts so much pressure on us that most of the time, when asked how we are feeling, we reply in a sort of automated way – that is, we don’t stop to think about it, because – well, because what does it matter anyway, right? Because what’s going to change if we spill out the truth and tell them about the knot in our throat and the tears building up inside our eyes and the marks on our arms, stomach or thighs? Because why should we be ‘selfish’ and worry others? After all, we’re already in pain ourselves, why make more people suffer, right? Right? It makes sense. Of course right. Except it’s *not*. It’s really, really, really not.
Due to the underlying belief I was referring to, whenever we open up to someone, we tend to feel a sense of shame. We think we are being weak. This is why we hardly ever talk about our feelings. But look at it this way: if opening up to others is so hard, if asking for advice, a shoulder to cry on, or any other form of help is so hard, would it not then be a braver, bolder move to reach out and to speak the truth, as opposed to letting it continue to secretly eat away at everything we are? I’m telling you, few things are a greater show of courage and strength than sharing your story – fighting for yourself when all you want to do is give up because no-one could ever understand – or could they?
The key question here is: do you want to end the pain? My guess is, ten times out of ten, you do. You may even have thought of suicide because you simply cannot stand it any longer. You want to end “it”, one way or another. Well, let me tell you, that’s not something you will be able to achieve if you keep up your all-is-well act. You have to speak. I know it’s hard. I know it’s probably one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. But if you are in pain and don’t know how to end it without getting rid of yourself in the process – you are going to need knowledge. You are going to need help.
The first step towards recovery is acceptance. You have already taken that first step – from the bottom of my heart, congratulations! But sadly, that on its own is not going to be enough. It’s time to take the second step and actually communicate with someone else. This can be a parent, a friend, a counsellor, a hotline, people on certain internet forums, a therapist, a doctor… Whatever feels right for you. Those who know me well are aware of the fact that I am always very critical of our day and age, but at least there is no denying that we live in a time where the options are almost endless, largely –though not exclusively— thanks to the Internet. There are so many pages where you can find help: discussion boards, blogs, Twitter accounts… If you research thoroughly I guarantee that you will eventually come across at least several stories of real people who went through situations similar to the one(s) you are experiencing. By reading what these other people have written, you can learn what helped them get better, what helped them deal with their issues, and also what they learned to avoid. Of course what was right for them does not necessarily have to be right for you, but your options will definitely broaden. This very page is an example of one of those sites. Everyone on Stigma Fighters leaves contact information, I definitely do. I am here for you. We are here for you. This does not have to be the end. So please – take the step. Please – reach out.

Catherine Stone

2015-10-17-22.17.59Catherine Stone is a mental health advocate, Psychology student and aspiring author.

Catherine can be found on Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: Jenny Baumann

Stigmatize Me: People Living with Mental Illness
Would you purposefully block someone else’s recovery? Would you put someone down for something they have no control over? People with mental illness face prejudice and discrimination in society everyday due to a lack of education about the issue. Mental health and illness education will help decrease mental illness stigma and discrimination.
In recent years, more awareness has been brought to mental illness and mental health in general through media, awareness weeks, and workshops, but many damaging stigmas still remain. I face stigma because of my mental illnesses, and thousands of others do as well. Maybe you know someone with one, you probably do. Good news, based on years of research, there is evidence that education and interaction with people with mental illness can reduce stigma and discrimination. Providing schools, workspaces, and other places with education about mental health and illness can help reduce discrimination and stigma of people living with mental illness. Illic et. al (2013) found that by reducing the stigma, we can improve the self-esteem of people with mental illness and improve their overall quality of life.
With or without living with a mental illness, the message can easily be understood. People with mental illnesses are stigmatized in different ways; two in particular are covert and overt discrimination. Covert is not always obvious, but over discrimination is. Think of it as thoughts and actions, but can be just as damaging. But, people can simply go online to Google and search ‘mental illness stigma’ and come up with thousands of links explaining the myth in the stigmas. How does this article differ though? I’m inviting you to challenge the stigmas and break through them!
Think about media and mental illness. Change internal attitudes as well as internal attitudes. Violence and mental illness seems to come up time and time again. But where is the research to support that? In reality, mentally ill people aren’t violent or dangerous. Think about TV shows. TV builds viewers on highly stereotyped behaviors of mentally ill people. Do you take those and apply them to real everyday people? Avoiding this issue is a problem, but again, who can blame people with mental illness being scared to share their feelings when all the talk is about mental illness and crimes and other negative portrayals on TV? Mental illness is real. Portrayal is not always accurate.
Do you still not think stigma needs to change, or that it’s ‘correct’? I have been before the naïve person who thought a stigma was true, but I learned the fact and left the myth. Personally, a lot of the time I don’t share my own struggles with mental illness for fear of the stigma. For the people who I do share my struggles with, I find the more they get to know me, the less I worry about them stigmatizing my behavior. The more connections with others with mental illness, the more I have learned. This is a strong point for education to happen, whether it is online, with a friend, or beyond.
So why, after all this time, has mental illness been stigmatized despite all of the damage it produces? Perhaps this is a sign we need to start earlier in educating people. School programs can include basic mental health education. People can advocate for these programs by writing or speaking out. In a workplace, there can be a yearly conference that workers attend. We also still need more research on how it continues and how to prevent it. Education and research take a long time, but many people with mental illness can gain back some confidence and go forward into recovery.
Of course, this is one study, and I am one person, but there are more studies and even more people. An idea to stop stigma might work for a while but then something better may come along. There are endless possibilities to approach this problem. Start a talk at work. Talk to a friend about their views. Do some introspection of yourself. Don’t just sit here and read this article and be done. This is just the start of another personal mission that you can take part in. Educate others and yourself. Don’t impair recovery, empower recovery!

I am Jenny Baumann, a Junior college student at Roosevelt University studying psychology. I have struggled with mental illness as well as stigma associated with it. I am glad to share my story and offer ways to help change the stigma associated with mental illness!

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Stigma Fighter: Sarah Lindsay

Mr. Wrong

Companionship is something we all crave so deeply. Even the tiniest preemie babies will grow stronger if they are held often. Most of us still feel that deep pull to other people on lonely nights, long after childhood. We are desperate not to be alone.

My first serious relationship, like so many other people, was with someone who was all-wrong for me. Not only did we disagree on critical issues like smoking, strip clubs and feminism, more importantly he fundamentally misunderstood my Mental Illness, Bipolar Disorder.

From this relationship, I learned a fear of being dramatic, of faking my illness, of doing things for attention. This fear was not something in me before I met him. I worried so deeply that he was right when he accused me of these things, that I didn’t seek the help I desperately needed. I drugged my sleep and cut my skin, but that only made his words feel more concrete. I dreaded his judgment about my own weakness because I had locked myself away from those who saw his manipulation for what it was.

In a time in my life when I was trying to figure out how to live with my illness, not constantly fight and hide it, this partner was probably the worst man on a planet to choose. He ended it for me by finding someone else, and I thank the Universe that he did.

Three years later I am a new person. I am proud of who I am, including my illness, and I fiercely defend those who I see falling prey to the same mind games as I did. No matter who you are, Mental Illness or not, you are entitled to your emotions. As long as you express them with respect for your partner, with a pure heart that’s looking only to your other half for understanding, no emotion is wrong.

For those of us struggling with Anxiety or Mood issues, I cannot stress how important it is to find someone to share your life with who truly believes that you are not lesser than him because of your illness. You are not less intelligent, you are not weak.

You have, in fact, the ability to grow an amazing sense of empathy for others through your own struggles. Everyone has felt anxiety, sadness or mania in a lesser form than we do every day. And if you can live with the intensity of your own brain and you can thrive with it, you can offer so much to any partner smart enough to treat you as an equal.

I know now that there are people out there, who have experienced similar difficulties in the past and want to share them with you in the future. There are others who are just willing to work their asses off to understand enough to help you through without tearing you down.

Stigma shouldn’t exist, but you can’t change the world all at once. You can, however choose to be with someone who doesn’t push you to question yourself even more than the rest of society already does. There are amazing men and women out there who will support you through thick, thin, rich, poor, Anxiety and Depression.

Don’t you dare settle for anything less.

Sarah Lindsay is in her mid-twenties and has been working as a Mental Health Anti-Stigma advocate for the past two years. She writes a regular column for Healthy Minds Canada and gives speeches and lectures about her experiences with Bipolar Disorder. She lives in Toronto with her boyfriend and their dog. You can connect with her on Twitter (@SarahsMoods) or check out her new website: SarahsMoods.com.

Sarah can be found on her blog and Twitter.

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