Tag Archives: anxiety

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Steve Austin – What’s it Like to Feel Crazy?

What’s it Like to Feel Crazy?

The other day at work, I couldn’t take any more. I grabbed my water bottle and keys and followed the road near my office complex until it led me to the highway. For 45 minutes, I drove. Where I went didn’t matter. The trees blurred past my car windows just like the thoughts clouding my mind. At this speed, it was impossible to see any one tree or thought, but I could feel them, taunting me as I raced by. I was starving but I drove past one restaurant after another. Nothing sounded good, anyway.

Have you ever had a “crazy day”? One of those days where a thousand tiny things compound and before you know it, you need either a stiff drink or a straight jacket? I think we’ve all been there. Hard days aren’t anything new to me.

At the next intersection, I was hurting so bad. I stopped at the red light and leaned my head against the steering wheel, just for a moment. I wanted to cry. To shout a giant “fuck you” to everyone on the highway at that moment. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. The fast paced, hard to focus, overwhelming, racing and negative thoughts were clouding my mind and smothering me inside my car. I couldn’t catch my breath. The horn of the F-150 in my rearview mirror finally got my attention and I drove North, anxious, stressed, and angry. I had been just barely holding it together for two days.

Coming off one SSRI and starting another one sucks, and that’s what I’m doing now. Both medications are in the same “family”, according to the doctor, but it doesn’t matter. One SSRI may act one way and have a particular side effect, while another med in the same family may do something completely different to the same person. Even the exact same drug can be different in two different people. I hate feeling dependent, but I know that without them, my behavior might not be so even-keel.

There are days I feel like a science experiment, trying each med my doctor prescribes, hoping one of them will make life normal again. Sometimes the med works for a while and stops. Most recently this medication destroyed my libido. At thirty-four, no longer being able to connect with my wife sexually, adds mountains of shame on top of an already steaming pile of guilt. So I travel back to the doctor’s office for another humiliating visit and tell her just exactly what my side effects are.

#ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike

So we’re trying a new med. And we hope for different results. Hope: that’s a funny word. The Bible calls it the anchor of our souls, but all an anchor does it keep you from drowning. It does nothing to prevent the wind and waves from ripping your sails and smacking you around.

I tossed and turned all night, checking the clock at 11:40, 12:12, and every half-hour that followed. To add insult to injury, after drinking coffee for fifteen years, the doctor said it was making my anxiety worse. At my last visit, my blood pressure was higher than it’s ever been in my life. I’ve not had any coffee in a month. Today, in particular, I resent it.

The frustration and uncertainty piled up and came toppling down mid-morning.

I wanted to see my wife. I wanted to call my Momma or my Grandmother. I wanted to call a couple of different friends. But I was ashamed. When I am having a hard day my negative self-talk loves to tell me how crazy I am. That I’m a burden, unworthy of love. Words ran through my head like, “You’ll never see your dreams come true. You can’t even hold yourself together!” Shame and anxiety never fight fair. They attacked where it hurt the worst: belonging and acceptance. I felt helpless and stuck. I bought into the bullshit and ran with it today.

I screamed as I drove out of the parking lot. Partly at God and partly just for the hell of it. It didn’t necessarily make me feel better, but it made me take a deep breath. That was a start. I exhaled and finally realized I had been feeling vulnerable, exposed, and ashamed of my own mental illness for two solid days. I needed to give myself some space to breathe.

In the 45 minutes away from work and responsibility, I did just that, found my breath again. I allowed my emotions to cool a bit. In the Best Buy parking lot, I finally cried. And as hot tears poured down my face, I heard a different voice. The voice of grace, which sounds a lot like truth and patience and self-compassion. It reminded me that feeling crazy and being crazy are not the same thing. I slowed down long enough to recognize that my life wasn’t over, that there would be a purpose for this pain.

I had plenty of hard days before my suicide attempt. But afterward, I wondered if I would ever be a value-added member of any community again. I constantly struggled with my diagnosis, believing I would never feel normal again. I remember looking into my little boy’s innocent and curious blue eyes, pleading with God to save him from his own father. Wrestling with relationships was one of the hardest battles of all, but not nearly as difficult as wrestling with my faith. How can one feel faithful in light of depression and anxiety? The thing to remember is that the hard days after the attempt are no different than the hard days before the attempt. They are hard days. And sometimes they really suck.

Hard days are not different before or after the crisis has ended, but the person who attempted suicide is certainly different. They have tasted death. They’ve traveled to the bottom of the barrel and know what rock bottom feels like. For me, it was the latching of the large metal door, which locked me in the bowels of the hospital. Someone recovering from a suicide attempt knows what the end of the rope looks like. But they are still alive, still holding on, caught between secretly hoping the strands fray so they can die, or wishing their feet could just touch solid ground.

For me, the hard days still come, but I know what to do with them now. I’m able to recognize shame for what it is. I know to let the emotions wash in and recede, like a tide. I know there is an ebb and flow to life, even life that includes triggers and trauma. I have learned to no longer read my emotions as the only truth.

At the end of a hard day, I get back in the same car, but I am stronger for having faced my struggles head-on. I put the car in drive and I head home–to my safe place, my comfort zone, my support system–and I rest. Hard days will come again, but as I drive, I know those good days will come too.

*For more conversations around faith and mental health, check out the CXMH Podcast with Steve Austin and Robert Vore. A great place to start is Episode 2: The Power of Storytelling, with Sarah Fader of Stigma Fighters and Sarah Schuster of The Mighty.

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Steve Austin is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, From Pastor to a Psych Ward, plus Self-Care for the Wounded Soul, and The Writer’s Toolkit.

Steve can be found on his website, Facebook, and Twitter

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TINYLETTER.COM/CRYING Eve Peyser

TINYLETTER.COM/CRYING
Eve Peyser

I began sending out a newsletter every time I cried because I thought it would be funny. A compulsive journaler obsessed with keeping track of my various mental health issues—depression, anxiety, severe suicidal ideation, ADHD—I never had much desire to keep any of my mental health issues a secret. Talking about what I’m going through openly helps me overcome the worst, to release my emotions out so I can be free of their weight, to be not embarrassed about who I am. I wasn’t sure who would want to get the email and what I would even say in them. But having to explain what’s been going on with me over the past six months has helped me better understand why I feel and who I am. Here’s what happened, excerpted:

•••

9/8/16
subject: teared up

life is hard.

•••

9/13/16
subject: crying, unexpectedly

i was walking home, rushing because i have work, feeling anxious about picking the ideal food, a food i could stomach eating, a food i could desire because i’ve had issues with my appetite lately but feel really hungry — whatever besides the point — when a car full of men began catcalling me. it was flamboyant catcalling. loud and silly and performative. i think one of them howled “scooby dooby doo” at one point and there were a lot of “damns,” comments about my body, etc.

i’ve been getting catcalled since i was quite literally 10-years-old — grew up in manhattan — i can handle it, BUT there was a group of sort of hipsterish looking guys walking toward me who witnessed the whole thing. being silently watched amplified the feeling of deep inhumanity that comes along with getting sexually harassed. there’s a real humiliation to getting catcalled — an implicit understanding that, A. this might not be happening if i was dressed differently, and B. it’s a reminder that, as a rule, strangers have no fucking respect for you for reasons that are largely outside of your control. i can usually swallow that. but having one group of men witness another group of men aggressively catcall me felt like shit, and not because i was looking for them to save me, just because having someone witness something, especially someone who is going to construe you as a victim, makes your innate victimhood more real. had women bore witness, at least they would understand.

then there’s this anger that comes up with all this shit stealing away your time and energy — i walked a couple blocks out of my way because i didn’t want to walk in the same direction as the car. i didn’t end up getting food. i fucking spent time tweeting about it. then i started crying. then i wrote this fucking email. it took up a moderate portion of my time because i am who i am, for sure, but i want to be in control of how i spend my time.

anyways, the crying was brief and now it’s over. i’m fine. i should order food and get to work now.

welp, suppose it’s all right summer is ending. i love wearing shorts, but the repercussions of doing so almost seem not worth it.

until next time,
e

•••
9/24/16
subject: cried a little bit in a bar last night

approximately half my sexual experiences from ages 15 to 20 were nonconsensual. i don’t say this to shock anyone. it just comes with the territory of being a woman. you become sexually active; bad things happen. the thing no one tells you about getting sexually assaulted is that you’re not always sure if it happened, if it was your fault, because sometimes, it sure feel like it partially is.

it’s easier not to discuss sexual assault in this way. the reason we talk about it in such black and white terms is because no one believes women when we say we got assaulted. what i mean to say is this:

i’m 18, visiting a friend from high school in chicago, first time there and he’s the only person i know, i’m more or less stuck with him. one night, he takes me to a party at his friend’s apartment, where we’ll sleep because it’s in a supposedly unsafe neighborhood. my friend hasn’t been particularly nice to me throughout my stay and i get tired-drunk at the party and go to sleep early. he comes into the bedroom hours later—we’re sharing a bed, which is no big deal to me—to go to sleep. when he comes in, i realize i’ve fallen asleep with my very tight uncomfortable jeans on and i take them off and proceed to try to fall back asleep. suddenly, i feel him groping my breasts, reaching his hands around my underwear, and i’m frozen in shock. i say nothing. finally i muster the courage to grab my pants and go, but i’m in stuck in this frigidly cold stranger’s apartment in an unfamiliar and i don’t know anyone else there. (this is pre-iphone, like, damn.) i spend the night trying to sleep on the couch, using my coat as a blanket because i can’t find one, shivering. i am so so trapped. the next day, we have breakfast, i say nothing. (was it my fault for taking off my jeans?)

that is, when it comes down to it, what i cried about last night. that trip to chicago certainly is a small bad thing that happened to me; it’s certainly not the worst that’s happened. the crazy thing? i was triggered by seeing the bed intruder meme video.

i cried about it last week too but didn’t send out an email.

•••
9/28/16
subject: cried all last night, crying now, will likely cry tomorrow

i feel cold and extremely alone and also lonely. i really don’t enjoy being alive or my life and i’m very overwhelmed and i can’t stop crying about it. i don’t have much more to say. don’t @ me.

love,
eve

•••
9/29/16
subject: this comes as a surprise to no one, but i cried again last night

i had some important meetings last night. they all went so well! then i got home and cried for hours because i really, really, really, really wanted to kill myself.

i cried for a very very very very long time. probably hours. i cried because i wanted to kill myself and i didn’t know what was stopping me.

i didn’t end up killing myself. look at me, here i am, writing this email, alive.

also, i appreciate everyone’s concern, suicidal ideation is scary and you wanna help, i get it. but i do this newsletter as a way to track my emotions and as an art project. none of us need to fear crying!!! it’s ok to cry!!!! it’s ok to want to kill yourself all the time and it doesn’t mean you’re broken or bad. in fact, you can be functional, like me. (except when you’re not functional, like me, last night.)

so for the love of god, stop suggesting i do XYZ to get better. first of all, i didn’t ask for your opinion lol. but moreover i have a good therapist and a good psychiatrist and good friends and good family and a ton of support. i have people to go to. i just also write this KOOKY-ass newsletter.

ok should go do real work now.

with love,
eve

•••
11/7/16
subject: teared up a tiny bit on friday, but haven’t really been crying

on september 30, the night before my 23rd birthday, i half-assed a suicide attempt. i’m glad i didn’t go through with it. the next day, my birthday, i made the decision to quit drinking, at least for the time being. i also began taking zoloft. those two things combined have improved my life drastically. i feel happier, more awake, refreshed, actually excited to be alive!! it’s truly beautiful. but the combination of the new meds and the no alcohol means i haven’t been able to cry.

so i flourish but my newsletter dies? maybe. who knows what pain stands before me, what will trigger my next bout of uncontrollable weeping. the future is unwritten. but for now, my eyes are dry.

i managed to muster a couple measly tears—a tiny, virtually impotent load—when i was flying from portland, oregon to new york city on friday. they weren’t tears of sadness, but tears of longing. i wish i could’ve cried more, but i’m glad i’m no longer a weeping machine.

until next time,
e

•••
11/10/2016
subject: unsurprisingly, I cried on 11/9

when I woke up the morning of 11/9, I cried a little bit. if it weren’t for Zoloft, I imagine I’d still be crying. I’m so afraid for what will happen to women, people of color, Muslims, and LGBTQ folks in this country. I’m concerned for mentally ill people like me, all the people who are silent and terrified and want to die. I’m scared of what happens if I lose my health insurance, if I can’t afford my medications. It’s a scary fucking time. I’m grateful to have amazing friends and family and mental health professionals in my life.

Stay safe.
Fight the white supremacist heteropatriarchy.
Fuck fascism.

Until next time,
e

•••

12/23/2016
subject: why I cried last night

while I was crying last night I begrudgingly said, “oh great. now I have to write a newsletter.”

since I returned home from a two-week trip to Oregon earlier this week, I’ve been feeling very depressed, overwhelmed with this anger—that I have to be alive, that I have to deal with the utter exhaustion of existence, that I have to take a cocktail of pills to be a functional person in this world.

when will being alive get less exhausting? when will I be able to have real fun, to feel joy without pain? when will the self-hatred rest? when will I become less reliant on other people to feel worthy?

I felt mad and indignant about my mental illness because even though things in my life are going well—friends, family, romance, work are all very good right now—that I still have these feelings. circumstance helps depression, but doesn’t fix anything. I know this and I’ve always known this. but it nevertheless felt so deeply unfair that my psychology propels me toward these death-thoughts, this haunting misery.

I ended up FaceTiming with someone I really like for hours and that made me feel a lot better. having support and love is so important, and I’m lucky to have it.

today I feel less bad than yesterday. that’s the life of a depressive—things are better now than they were and it will forever be a struggle to remember life is worth living. but it is.

until next time,
e

•••
12/28/16
subject: do you ever start imagining all the terrible ways your life could play out…

do you ever start imagining all the terrible ways your life could play out and start to tear up? being alive is scary and hard—having depression means it’ll always be hard. even though things are better now for me than it has been in the past but it doesn’t mean things are easy. so the world keeps turning.

stay strong.

until next time,
e

•••
1/20/17
subject: happy inauguration i cried again

yesterday i found out i won’t have health insurance until march and there’s nothing i can do to get it before then and cried about it. i cried about it again this morning. also donald trump will officially be president in a matter of minutes. i’m fucking terrified. i’m so fucking terrified.

until next time,
e

•••

1/30/17
subject: cried yesterday and today

unsurprising considering what’s going on in the world.

i cried because a lot of the suicidal thoughts i’ve been working so hard to overcome began flooding back this weekend. my boyfriend, who was visiting me went back home, and i had to go off my zoloft for a bit after i lost my health insurance. i was feeling so scared and afraid for the future and all i could think about was wanting to die so so badly. a video about suicidality popped up in my facebook feed and i lost it because i related.

i wept all morning, and then the zoloft my doctor sent from canada finally arrived, which made me feel infinitely better.

i worry for all the other people who will struggle to get their medication if the ACA is further gutted or repealed. i worry for the muslim immigrants and refugees who have been banned from entering our country. i am worried.

until next time,
e

•••
2/7/17
subject: i cried again but i swear it’s not my fault

over the past week, my depression and anxiety surged, slowly engulfing me—hasn’t felt so bad since before i quit drinking. i hate the feeling—severe depression turns you selfish, lazy, and worst of all, it compels you to do nothing but feel bad for yourself.

the narrative goes: why me why do i have to be alive why is being alive so hard for me why am i not dead i wish i was dead if i was dead i wouldn’t worry about all this stuff i wouldn’t be in all this pain.

though i was barely able to leave my apartment this weekend, today i felt determined to do better than yesterday, to leave the house before the sun went down, to get some work and errands done. no crying, i told myself. i didn’t want another day helplessly stuck in the prison of my bed.

my mission to have a better day was, however, wrecked once i realized something can gone awry with my finances. i know i’ll ultimately be OK, but the whole ordeal exacerbated the pain and anxiety i had been trying to move past all day. i broke down and wept and probably (definitely) screamed a little.

even though i was “in a state,” having a lil breakdown ultimately brought me some feeling of catharsis. even though i’ve cried a bunch the past week—and will likely continue to cry in the very near future, if history’s taught me anything—this cry felt more necessary. some cries, you just ruminate in your pain and your self-pity and eventually you stop but only because you tire yourself out. other cries, better cries, begin with that self-pitying feeling, but the act of crying allows you to release it; in this case, you stop crying because you stop feeling so sad. i’d like to think my cry today was one of those better cries, but i’m still too close to the situation to make an evenhanded assessment.

i also talked to my mom and my best friend, who both really helped me feel better. i know i say this all the time, but i really am forever grateful for all the support i have in my life.

until next time,
e

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Eve Peyser is a writer and comedian who lives in New York. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, GQ, Esquire, the Washington Post and Gawker. She is currently the night editor at Gizmodo. Get an email every time she cries: tinyletter.com/crying.

Eve can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: Peter Michael Marino

“Socially Anxious Artist Seeking Anxiety-Causing Opportunities”

In the middle of a recent holiday party, a friend discovered me in the kitchen washing dishes. “Why are you doing that now?” she asked. “I need a break from the people,” I sheepishly replied. “But, it’s your party. There are only six people here. Come on! You’re in show business. It’s a people business!” She had a point.

People in show business do shows that generally involve other people – fellow creatives, the audience, theater staff, etc. So, why does someone like me who has problems with people work in a “people business”?

When I first fell in love with the business of show in the 80s, I didn’t have social anxiety or depression. I was the guy who created theater companies and hosted cast parties. I relished rehearsals, auditions, and meeting others. Then, in 2007, I had my first huge flop – a high-visibility West End musical that I wrote and conceived; that I hoped would put me on the map. The day after it opened, the whole world read the scathing reviews. It closed after a month. And BOOM – my first bout with crippling depression hit. My dream was dead. I had nothing to live for. It was in a coma of depression for over a year.

This depression thing was totally new to me. Yeah, I’d gotten depressed in the past, but this feeling was new. And severe. My body was achy and sore. My brain was cloudy. No motivation. I tried anti-depressants. They worked so well! They made me not care about being depressed…or eating well, or exercising, or applying for jobs, or writing, or leaving the safety of my bed. I stopped taking them. I could barely leave my apartment other than to see my therapist, where I’d burn through a box of Kleenex in 45 minutes. I couldn’t ride in the elevator with a neighbor – that I liked! I’d cross the street if I saw someone I knew approaching. I stopped going to events. I had so much shame about myself and my failure that I just wanted to hide from the world. So, like many artists in pain, I wrote a solo comedy about the experience – and that show became a hit, running for over two years on three continents. Great! No more depression! Until two years later.

I was bored telling my own story, even though I’d unexpectedly affected so many strangers who also suffered from depression. But, I didn’t have another story to tell. Again, the things that brought me joy – writing and performing, were over and I felt like I had no reason to go on.

I fell into another deep depression that lasted for one long, sweaty summer. Luckily, I was house-sitting at two different beach houses. Every morning, I’d dutifully feed the pets and plants and venture to the shore with my notebook and sunscreen, ready to create my next masterpiece…and I’d just stare at the foamy waves, thinking about what a loser I was. I managed to fill a notebook with about a hundred random ideas. I was lost again. But somehow, all those ideas came together and I created another solo comedy featuring an optimistic but deeply flawed show-biz character. This I could relate to. I booked dates at theaters so that I’d be accountable for finishing the show. And I did. Depression gone! The show ran for over a year. Then…BOOM. I was bored with it. And my shrinking finances got the best of me. And several projects I was involved with fell through the cracks…and I had no more ideas and…yeah, I fell into another completely unanticipated, deep depression.

I knew I had to create another show, judging by past experiences. But I was terrified of failing and writing and memorizing and…ugh. “Why can’t I just show up and make a show happen?!” And that was it. I’d do just that. I decided the show would be an improvised solo show based on the challenging and enlightening life-changing experiences of the audience. But that didn’t feel like enough. I emailed my director Michole after writing late one night – “The show has taken a dark turn. I hope you’re OK with it.” And that turn was peppering the show with my own challenging, life-changing experiences. And me “coming out” as someone with social anxiety and depression. I wrote honestly and boldly…everything from why I don’t often attend parties, weddings and funerals to why I leave right after another performers’ show. And why I appeared to ignore people or forget I’d ever met them. I freely wrote about how frightening it can be to live and grow old alone. I admitted the need to be doing something all the time or else I’d spend the day/week/month watching TV shows about aliens. Yes. I’ve done this too many times. Somehow, I created something during another period of deep depression. And it was funny!

I performed the show at various venues. I heard “That’s MY story you’re telling up there,” more times than I can count. And they weren’t just talking about the improvised part. So many audience members also had some kind of social anxiety or suffered from depression and anxiety. People thanked me for being so honest, vulnerable and authentically “me.” The thing that held me back became the thing that empowered me…and the audience.

I hope that I can make a difference in others’ lives because I’m being transparent about who I truly am: a flawed, socially-anxious, self-deprecating, yet hopeful human being. Just like everyone else.

I’m still socially anxious. I totally am. But I’m not alone. Showing up isn’t always easy, but I’ve learned that doing it is often easier than thinking about doing it. And yes, I’m happy to do the dishes at your party. I’m waiting for my invitation.

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Photo Credit: Alicia Levy

Peter Michael Marino is a NYC-based performer, producer, writer, director and teacher. He is the creator/co-producer of SOLOCOM, which has launched over 400 world-premiere comedies at The People’s Improv Theater. His internationally acclaimed solo comedy “Desperately Seeking the Exit” chronicled the unmaking of his West End musical flop “Desperately Seeking Susan” – receiving 5-star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe and Adelaide Fringe, and a London transfer. His 2015 solo chat show spoof “Late with Lance!” played everywhere from NYC to London. Directing credits include: Amy Marcs’ “Nice T*ts”, Mark Demayo’s “20 & Out”, and Mark Giordano’s “Mad Man.” His production company credits include “David Carl’s Celebrity One-Man Hamlet,” David Mills: Shame!, Charles’ “Moby Alpha,” and “Joe’s NYC Bar.” More info at: www.petermmarino.com

Peter can be found on his website, Facebook, and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: Vincent J. Fitzgerald

To Be Both Client and Clinician

By
Vincent J. Fitzgerald

I sit in serene, soft light and contemplate what is safe to share, and what I should withhold. My war against anxiety is fought on many fronts, and I am battle weary from its barrage of multiple manifestations. Across from me a person waits for my offering on the subject, and before I speak I extend an affirming nod to convey understanding of racing thoughts, crippling fears, and sensations of dying. I choose only to nod because in this therapy session I am the therapist, and therapists do not divulge vulnerabilities to our clients. Sometimes we divulge our vulnerabilities to no one at all.

The walls in the safe house I have built for clients must remain sturdy as there would be no sense of safety should I reveal my frailties and self-perceived incompetency. My understanding stems from more than clinical experience. I have spent hundreds of hours in the other chair as my embattled relationship with anxiety predates acquisition of the social work license I was driven to acquire by witnessing my mother’s depression and my father’s anxiety. Each time a new client asks if I have experience with anxiety disorders, I nod and think, more than I would wish on anyone.”

I was asked to write a bit about the genesis of my anxiety, and have narrowed its origins to my birth. I was born into anxiety, and it is my birthright. What have changed as I have aged are degrees of severity and levels of disorder. In 5th grade it presented only as embarrassment. I was too mortified to inform teachers I never learned to tie laces, forcing me to tuck them into the sides of my shoes rather than face a humiliating confession. I also refrained from telling my parents for fear even they would ridicule me. There is not safety in the house of anxiety.

Afraid to fail, I never tried sports in high school, and avoided rejection by ignoring girls, deferring to the confident guys who had the smooth lines of bullshit. So frightened was I of being asked to dance at senior prom, I skipped it, and tried to sound cool by telling people “I don’t do proms,” rather than reveal awkwardness that also forced me to skip yearbook pictures. I have no memories of prom, and am not immortalized on glossy yearbook paper. In college I feared group projects and oral presentations. Weeks in advance I predicted stuttering and spitting words resembling languages created for Star Wars. These were but anxiety appetizers before I was fed a foul main course in adulthood.

Parenthood was my first severe trigger of disordered thought. When my daughter started walking, I followed her around in lockstep to ensure she would not bump her head or swallow small objects laying somewhere outside reality. When she graduated to solid food, I monitored her chewing and implored her to bite small because I believed she would choke. Anxiety doubled when my son was born and I depleted joy at amusement parks because intrusive visions of them being flung from rides haunted me. So crippled was I by imagining sickness, I skipped family outings to spare myself perseverations about their safety. My anxiety was misconstrued as apathy, and laid the groundwork for eventual divorce. All wars have collateral damage.

Social anxiety at my first job in mental health rendered phone calls in front of coworkers impossible. Convinced I sounded inept, I snuck them when my teammates were away. If one reappeared, I hung up and announced wrong number. Anxiety tried convincing me I had no business working in mental health if I was not mentally healthy, but fear of stigma prevented me from seeking treatment.

After my divorce, parenting my children alone was too much to bear. Anxiety returned in the form of globus hystericus, the sensation of an invisible lump in my throat resulting in relentless gag impulses leaving me bedridden until my doctor diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder and relieved my physical symptoms with Xanax. What I once explained away as nerves and shyness mutated to monstrous manifestations with each new stressor in my life.

Within months of getting y generalized anxiety somewhat under control, my bubbling anxiety erupted into a colossal panic attack suffered as my daughter rode shotgun, unaware of my internal explosion. When we arrived at her soccer tournament, I begged her mom to pick her up so I could cower home where I retreated to bed and impugned myself as a failed parent. I recovered by the next day, but was less fortunate when a second attack struck on my way to watch football with friends. The attack en route to a fun activity scarred my brain and kept me housebound for a week.

Attacks snowballed into disorder and it was weeks before I dared venture anywhere besides the nearby school in which I served as a school social worker. Driving to my kids’ home was impossible; I stopped taking them on weekends without explanation, and I isolated myself from family and friends. After my Zoloft kicked in, I ventured to the home of a friend I had not seen in weeks. I was stung by stigma when he compared me to Howard Hughes and asked if I was “done doing the hermit thing.” My disorder was mistaken for choice at a time when I was without choice. I cowered at the notion I was mentally ill, and told him I was just “doing me.”

I continue to weave through my anxiety obstacle course, achieving licensure to be the therapist I desired to be, while following my own therapist’s request to pursue writing. To be a therapist not in treatment would feel hypocritical to me, and in order to normalize my clients’ need for therapy, I share my experiences after a few sessions. I want them to know I am not only leading them into battle against their own mental illness, I fight alongside them in unified brotherhood as well.

IMG_1400Vincent is a practicing psychotherapist and writer with a Masters
Degree in Social Work from Fordham University. He is a lifelong
resident of Jersey City, NJ and remarried father of two awesome
children. He hopes to continue forging universal connections through
personal stories. Vincent owes a his professional desire to his
persevering mother, his drive to his hard working father, and his
accomplishments to his incredible wife, Gemma.

Vincent can be found on his blog, Facebook, and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: Ben Fama Jr.

As a male living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Bipolar Disorder, it often takes us years to figure out what is wrong with us, and sometimes we create a lot of destruction in the wake of even finding out that something is wrong.

It’s hard to remember exactly when my story began, but I can recall being a teenager when I started to feel that something was terribly wrong. I was a hard mess to handle. I was continually getting suspended from school, in trouble with my parents or I was in trouble with the law. I acted out in many ways, sometimes in criminal ways, even to the point of being caught with a gun in parking lot one night when I was 17.

 I remember being extremely depressed, excessively worrying about things and feeling like I was drowning in obsessive thought. No matter what I did, it would send me into what I call a Negative Though Blackhole. I would continuously feel dread and panic, and I remember feeling like I was going crazy. I had a lot of shit going on at that time in my personal life, and I can remember asking myself if I was going crazy.

I remember my body feeling like I was constantly under a threat, and losing sleep each night worrying about things. I even started to feel suicidal because I felt I completely lacked any control of my mind and what I was feeling. It always felt like there was a dark cloud hanging over me, and that pain became too much for me to handle.

Like most teenagers, I got farther into smoking weed and drinking alcohol, as well as dating a lot of women. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was self medicating and doing what I could to escape this deep pain, that I wasn’t allowing myself to understand.

But I can remember waking up many days, with this deep blackness in my heart, and wondering, “How the fuck I am I supposed to continue living my life like this?”

It seems to me that fear and dread turned into anger, and my anger seems to invade and infect my mind more and more. I still had no idea what was wrong with me, and blamed everything else and everyone else.

In my 20’s, I was arrested twice at two different times, both for my anger. I even had to take an anger management class and another time I took a domestic violence class. The good thing about this was, this was the first time that I started to understand why I was acting and being this way. Unfortunately, I also went through two marriages, and even ended up in a mental health hospital after suicidal thoughts. Twice. I was deeply concerned that I felt like I wanted to die and I didn’t even care, and wasn’t even going to tell anyone. I knew that if I didn’t get help, that I would go through with it, and nobody would even know until it was too late.

By the time I found out that I had generalized anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder, I was already pushing near my 30s. That is just too much damn time to be suffering, and making the people around me suffer.

I started to dig deep into finding out why the mind works this way, continued to seek therapy, and I continue to this day to fight these demons. As a male, sometimes it is harder to admit we have a problem, but I knew that if I wanted to have a better life for myself, and now my current wife and kids, I had to do what it takes to step up to the plate to learn this stuff.

This is why my wife and I are very passionate about psychology.

Life is already hard enough as it is, and we need to get rid of this stupid “stigma” label so others can start to live their lives and get the tools they need to reduce the suffering. We as men need to step up to the plate and be real men and take responsibility for ourselves and get the help we need to be can be there for the people who matter the most, even if it’s just ourselves.

Mental health effects million of people, and some of those people are your family and friends. Some of those people in some cases are effected by addiction, are in prison, and worse yet, have ended their lives. Many more suffer quietly. I think it’s time we put a value to talking about this shit, and start giving the tools to people that would help our society more.

The word stigma can kiss my ass. Some of us are fighting our asses off to much to gain some peace in our lives to be worrying about what some people do not understand. But we need to push forward, because in the end, it’s our lives that matter. How will we choose to live them?

BenHeadShot01Ben Fama Jr. is a filmmaker, podcaster and thought leader who likes to break boxes and challenge the status quo.

 

 

 

 

 

Ben Fama Jr. can found on his website, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: Matt Joseph Diaz

Being Good At Living With Mental Illness Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Have It

“How do you just talk to people so easily?” she asked me. “I’d be so anxious.”
“That’s my secret,” I replied, pulling out my best Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers voice. “I’m always anxious.”

I’m often told, especially by people in mental health professions, that I “handle” my mental illness very well. Though I know their hearts are in the right place, it never stops feeling like a backhanded compliment. It feels like being told that I pass for normal very well— or that I’m crazy, but I’m GREAT at it.

The idea of “being good at handling metal illness” leads to a lot of invalidation among those who live with it. Nearly every time I come across someone neuro-typical (not living with mental illness) and they find out that I’m a manic-depressive or that I deal with severe anxiety, I always hear the same thing:

“You have anxiety? No way, you’re such a people person! You get along well with everybody!”

Well, yeah. In my experience, having a full-blown panic attack in the middle of a crowded bar or hitting a major depressive episode during a house party is grounds for being stared at like some sort of freak and socially exiled.

Or, at the very least it’s frowned upon.

I began to “handle” my mental illness well once I realized it wasn’t something to be handled.

For the first few months after my diagnosis with Bipolar II, I found that I was distancing myself from a lot of people. I was terrified that my mental illness would have a negative effect on my personal relationships, so I took a step back from those around me. I stayed away from any sort of dating because I was convinced what I was going through was too much to put onto someone else, and that I was best going it alone until I got a hold of what was “wrong with me.”

I always did have a flair for the dramatic.

One day, a close friend sat me down for a talk about where I’d been. When I finally opened up to him about being afraid of losing everyone because of what was wrong with me, he was quiet for a long time before he finally spoke.

“The ironic thing,” he said to me, “is that it’s not your bipolar disorder that’s fucking you up. It’s being afraid of it.”

He always had a gift for throwing me through a loop in the span of a sentence.

He was right. Living with Bipolar Disorder really wasn’t doing anything that negatively impacted my life, but the anxiety surrounding being “mentally ill” was. The fear that I was unstable, as though I hadn’t been living with this illness for much longer before I was diagnosed, made me afraid to let people in.

Since my diagnosis, I looked at my Bipolar Disorder as something that “happened to me.” I treated my mental illness as something adversarial. I saw it as an event that took place in my life and made it more difficult, not as an experience meant to help me further understand my own mind.

Bipolar Disorder isn’t something that happened to me, it’s an extension of me. It’s a part of me.

Instead of continuing to push everything away in the pursuit of seeming “normal,” I elected to learn about my mental illness. I spent a long time figuring out my triggers, discovering how to recognize when I was experiencing a depressive episode, and learning what self-care looked like for me. I started to treat myself gently and with more patience, even during the really bad episode, and as a result I was able to learn to live with my mental illness and stop living in spite of it.

The more I learned about my own social anxiety, the better I got at interacting with people. For me, interacting with people was a lot like getting into a pool— it’s strangely intimidating and hard to do, so you’ve just gotta jump in. When I see a group of people at a party or an audience I’ve got to speak to, it’s terrifying. So, I learned to not give myself the time to be scared and just talk the plunge head-first.

The extent to which my mental illness is visible to you doesn’t reflect what an overwhelming effect it has on my life. Every person you meet who deals with mental illness understates how exhausting their condition is in order to try and keep up appearances. When you only use what you see to make judgments on the severity of someone’s mental illness, all you’re doing is being dehumanizing and invalidating to the people who are living with them.

One of the hardest aspects of living with mental illness is fighting the societal notion that you’re broken. Mental illness as portrayed in the media make us seem unhinged, like there’s something wrong with us. In reality, we’re not “broken” in the slightest, just wired differently than other people. The first step to living a full and happy life with mental illness is realizing that you don’t have to seem “normal” in order to have value.

You can be strange, you can be different, and regardless of what anyone might say, you’re valid and important as you are.

Screen-Shot-2016-03-09-at-5.16.14-PMMatt Joseph Diaz is a public speaker, writer and social media activist tackling the issues of body image and self love. Matt has been working in social media since the age of 15, and has a long history of creating online content for entertainment and educational purposes. Matts videos have accrued over 120 million views in countries all over the world as well as being featured in People, Cosmopolitan, Buzzfeed, Upworthy and numerous other news websites. He now spend a lot of his time traveling and speaking on self love at conferences, colleges and public events. Matt Joseph Diaz currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Matt can be found on his blog, Facebook, and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: Erika Reva

Part Of Me

“Normal is illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.” –Morticia Addams

My life as a liar began when I was very young. I was an awful child. I made everyone in my life angry, constantly. I did very bad and horrible things every day. I was too clumsy, too awkward, and too terrible. Jesus was disappointed in my behavior, so I had to be punished. My parents hated me, my mothers, mother tortured me. I disappointed everyone because I couldn’t be “normal.” What a terrible child I was. If only I could be better. I had to do better. If I just would listen and not be a ‘fat, stupid, slob” I wouldn’t be punished. If I could just be better and not a liar with an ‘overactive imagination’ I won’t be punished anymore. That’s simple. I’ll read about how to be better! I’ll watch everyone so I know how to be ‘good’ and ‘normal’. If I were like the other kids I wouldn’t have to worry.

I stopped feeling. When being a ‘good’ & ‘happy’ child didn’t work, I gave up. A heavy veil of nothingness took over, comforting and protective. I no longer felt a thing. We began working obsessively studying other children. We grew, we learned and we hid.

I stopped being a happy child. I no longer existed. I was gone and would not be able to find myself until my late 20’s. Sure there are small things I remember. Glimpses of my life; a moment, but that doesn’t feel real. It is like a foggy dream. A moment of happiness that doesn’t exist, just as I stopped existing, so did my memories. That moment of happiness I longed for, but could never feel. Laughter and happiness weren’t safe. Speaking wasn’t safe. Sadness, joy, anger, and fear, none of these were safe. So nothingness is where I resided (lived) in an empty hole; a deep empty hole covered by nothingness, my security blanket.

No joy, no real pain, and no fear. It was comforting in a strange way. Studying the nonverbal languages of expression and the body became our obsession. Later in life they, my parts, even began studying it at a college level. They needed to know what we did not understand. It consumed some of them. They began living my life. They began to live their own individual lives. I had no idea what was happening and to this day I am still missing years of my life.

“Blacking Out” became the norm. I had no idea what was happening to me. Depression and anxiety took over my life. I had moments of wanting to know what was happening. I saw many doctors; none of them could tell me anything. It was the constant, shrug and “I dunno.” I quickly began seeing the signs; upon entering a doctor’s office I (we) could always tell if they would be able to help me. None were able. They ran their tests and everything came back “just fine.” Something was very clearly wrong, but despite our efforts nothing was being done. I gave up. In my mid-twenties I quit. I had no desire to know what was wrong. I couldn’t take it. My parts, however, were quite different. One in particular refused my defeat and continued seeking help. I had no idea. She would “take over” (meaning I was gone & she took control, fully) and continue making doctor appointments.

Eventually, even my mother wanted to help. It was shocking since she was one of the causes of this outcome. This threw us (them) into a tailspin, but she helped B (the very determined part who sought help for me/us/we) get an appointment with the Mayo Clinic. We saw nearly every specialist they had available to us; the 5-7 day stay was extended to nearly two weeks. Our neurologist saw it. He saw them. He ‘tested’ what he thought he saw, and very quickly realized he was correct and we needed help. He saw them. He paid attention. He listened to his patient, something no one else had ever done. Not one doctor listened to me or them, but he had. If not for him, we would not have made it this far. If not for some of them, I would have ended our life.

He gave us a long laundry list of follow up appointments once we were home. The ones they went to were an endocrinologist in Chicago and a mental health clinic in Indiana. He referred us to the doctor at the clinic that quite literally saved our lives. He did not explain all the reasons for his referral. He wanted someone else to see us, she did. She ended our guilt from many things, and she continues helping us today. She helped B find her voice. She has helped Anger be so much more than she was… She showed us we could live. She wasn’t afraid, regardless of what they had said or done in her presence. She listened. No one ever had before and that is truly invaluable.

We continue seeing her to this day. For now, it’s twice a week, but it won’t always be. Living with DID is a struggle, but having an actual support system now, something we never thought we would have, we continue to grow. We found our voice. We found it acceptable to reach out and demand support & respect. We’ve learned to ask and hope. Hope was something that was lost to me and most of us for nearly 28yrs. Hope would creep in briefly and then be locked away. Now, we Hope. We speak to my husband about these things. My best friend now knows about our struggle. She knows about “The We in Me.”

We found our version of normal. We no longer live like a fly, but as the spider. Never dilute yourself to please others. Never silence your own voice because someone says you’re “Crazy” or not good enough. Create your own path and go live. We did.

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We are many. I never knew they existed. Today we are working towards ending the stigma. My years of silence nearly killed me more than once. #EndTheStigma & #IAmNotAshamed by @teamnotashamed is a very dear cause to all of us. Speak. Get help. No more shame!

Erika can be found on Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: Kevin L. Schwartz

Trigger warning – suicide 

I think we can all agree life isn’t worth living. The question is: are you too lazy to do anything about it? Most people are. Usually I am too. One day I wasn’t, so I sliced open my wrists and downed a bottle of Klonopin and waited to fall asleep and not wake up. As one does.

My two friends stopped by and were like, “Oh my god. We were going to take you to see ‘Spider-Man’ and get some pizza — but look at you! Your socks don’t even match! Also, you need to go to the hospital!”

I wasn’t entirely awake, but evidently I was just alert enough to be argumentative. “Or we could go see ‘Spider-Man’ now,” I said, “and then go to the hospital afterward if we need to. Because we certainly won’t be able to go to the hospital and then go see ‘Spider-Man.'”

This barely made sense even to me, but evidently somehow this made sense to them. So we taped up my wrists and went to the Multiplex to see “Spider-Man.”
At the end of the movie, they shook me awake and said, “We’re taking you to the hospital now.”

Sleepy as I was, I was still argumentative. “Or we could go get pizza,” I said. “We can always go to the hospital afterward. But we won’t be able to go to the hospital and then get pizza.” Or I said something to that effect, but probably with more slurred words.

I guess this struck them as a reasonable compromise, so we went to Ian’s and got some pizza. But when I spilled my soda all over my pizza, we all agreed it was time to go to the hospital.

To be continued. Possibly. 

10391894_10156614895195019_1139274331881931215_nKevin L. Schwartz is a musician and writer who lives in Madison, WI for some reason. His jokes have appeared on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘@midnight.’

 

 

 

 

Kevin can be also be found on Twitter

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Stigma Fighters: Nicole Campbell

Land of the (not so stigma) Free

I am livid. I am so frustrated and hurt that I am physically shaking. As someone who almost lost their life to a treatable condition because of negative stereotypes, misinformation, and stigmatizing jokes, I will not laugh when a presidential candidate insults their opponents by implying they are mentally ill or directly insults them by saying they’re “bipolar” or a “lunatic”.

About 1 in 5 people live with a mental illness and that’s not including all the people who never get diagnoses with one because of the stigma that silences them or because they are ignorant about these conditions. We lose thousands of people each year to suicide. I have lost 5 people in my life from suicide. Mostly former classmates, but also one of my uncles. Like me, my classmates very well could have been suffering from mental health symptoms in high school, but because we had zero mental health awareness programs or help resources, they could have suffered without anyone knowing because they feared judgement.

Every time I hear a presidential candidate mock my conditions, I am taken back to high school, an awful time in my life. I suffered from panic attacks almost every day, but I only had them after school because a classmate who had them in school was openly mocked by students and teachers.

Every time I hear mental illness being equated with something negative, I am reminded of the time I sought help after fighting mustering up some sort of courage only for my guidance counselor and school-assigned therapist to tell me that I was “too normal” to have issues, as if my grades and activities reflected every other aspect of my life.

I am reminded of the days before my family accepted my conditions and called me “lazy” when they didn’t realize how exhausting it was to keep up the happy façade at school while trying to survive the hurricane of emotions in my head. No one realized how hard it was to be a perfectionist who worried about everything (thanks Generalized Anxiety Disorder) while simultaneously having no energy or desire to function. No one gets what it’s like to live with mental illness unless you have them.

The people at their podiums who are put on pedestals are out of touch with the reality of our poor mental healthcare system. The stigmatizing views of this country is not a mental illness, but is an illness of another kind. Infecting the minds of the easily influence while poisoning the vulnerable people who are in a dark place mentally.

Why should we have to educate these people about our issues when they should care enough to learn that the suicide and stigma epidemics are stronger than ever? I am a member of an invisible minority, large enough to make an impact in the election, but taboo enough for people to sweep us under the rug like dust bunnies.

I refuse to be silenced by ignorance and hate. I will shout about my experiences, educate people, and stand up for others until my vocal chords are shot. I will write until the joints in my hands lock up. I won’t be defeated. In Greek, my name means “the victorious people” or “victory for the people”, so there’s no way I won’t fight until my people, those of us living with mental illness, are victorious in the battle against stigma because we are people, not the butt of jokes.

IMG_58241Nicole is a public health student and mental health advocate from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She speaks, writes, and tweets about her experiences living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic disorder, and Major Depression. Nicole is also a leader for Team Not Ashamed (@TeamNotAshamed), who are responsible for the #imnotashamed twitter movement to fight mental illness stigma.

 

Nicole can be found on her blog and Twitter.

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Stigma Fighters: Jenny Hill

Hello. I have wrote for Stigma Fighters previously about my Trich once before. You may or may not know what it is depending on if you’ve heard about it or have it yourself or perhaps know someone who has it. A month after I submitted my essay to Stigma Fighters I wrote another essay or whatnot of sorts about what my Trich is like and I’ve been wanting to share it on Stigma Fighters ever since but never actually took the time to do so, until now. Incase you haven’t read my other essay in which I wrote for Stigma Fighters a while back. I have Trichotillomania. Trichotillomania (Trich for short; also known as TTM or hair pulling disorder) is an impulse control disorder characterized by the compulsive urge to pull out one’s hair.

Now that I’ve shared with you that I have Trich. Here’s a story I wrote I call Fighting for the Sunshine that describes what my Trich is like.

When I am pull free it’s like the sun shines brighter than it did before.

When I relapse the clouds cover the sun and the sun gets dimmer until there’s no sunshine at all.

When I relapse I wish for the sun to come back sooner than it did the time before. Sometimes it does, other times it doesn’t. But that’s okay. For the sunshine always came back. True sometimes it took longer than others. But nonetheless, it came back.

You see, when I am pull free again the clouds part and the sun shines bright. And each day I go without pulling, the sun gets brighter and brighter.

When I relapse once again I try to hold on to at least a bit of that sunshine, oh how I want it to stay. Oh how I don’t want the clouds to cover the sun again. I want to fight for the sun. I want to keep fighting for the sunshine.

When the clouds cover the sun and the sky is darker than it was before. I try to remember how bright and beautiful the sun was. I try to remember how much I loved that sunshine. True, sometimes I do fight harder than other times for the sunshine. But I will still always yearn for it.

For each time the sun shines brighter and brighter. I feel like I’m on top of the world and as if I can do anything.

I’m always fighting for the sunshine. But it’s worth fighting for.
imageI live in Oklahoma. I love reading, cats and musicals. I love being a mental health advocate. I also love spreading awareness via my social media accounts about mental health disorders as well as mental health in general.

 

Jenny can be found on Twitter and Instagram.