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Stigma Fighters : Matthew Eaton

Is admitting being a victim of child sexual abuse courageous?

There are times I doubt this power as I look at myself in the mirror. I am still remarkably human. The hair fades in color and quantity. The waist still expands as if my stomach had a mind of its own. I still have flaws, including discovering the bottom of a bottle a bit too often.

What makes me different than all the other fleshy funbags out there? Why is it a huge deal for me to admit I was molested twice by the same man? Who cares about my past when there is so much suffering in the world?

These questions have an obvious answer, and it isn’t because I am a bitter old man with thinning hair. No, the stigma of surviving child sexual abuse is real and potent. We teeter on the edge of darkness, daring ourselves to jump into the abyss. We never see ourselves as humans, but as broken toys for demented demon.

Any voice is as strong as the wind obliterating the single cloud on a glorious day.

I was abused twice. Once when I was seven, after my parents divorced. I trusted my family, and I was burned. My grandfather molested children for forty plus years, and I was one of his victims. My mother was another one.

The second time happened when I was thirteen. I was traded to my grandfather for about $1000. It almost destroyed me. However, other factors came into play to accelerate my youthful demise. I lied to my father about my abuse when I was fifteen. It would be the last time I talked to him. I lost the only home I knew on a lie. Everything I learned when I was a child was a lie.

I isolated myself from the world. The treasured burden was mine alone. I wasn’t human. I was a monster. I was a glitch, ready for the scrap heap. I was unlovable, and I had the emotional scars to prove it.

When I was nineteen, I accepted my fate. I stared at the dark abyss and blinked for a moment. Suicide was the best option for a monster like me. It was time to erase the mistake and patch the glitch so the world could be better. I decided the ultimate solution was the best.

I made it out of that dark night with a vision, a promise, and a new way to look at life. It took me 20 more years to claw out of my isolated mindset. I faced the very question I asked at the beginning of this piece.

I sat on a bench three years ago, fired from another job and well aware I needed to change if I ever wanted to find peace. I explored the roots and saw I wasn’t a glitch, but a mirror for the stigma my family carried with it for generations. We cherished it. We allowed it to ostracize us from those who loved us.

We didn’t even love each other. We loved things more. We were obsessed with objects and money. We based our meager existence on the wages earned through tears and sorrow. I pressed into the fearful forest. I found I could hack away at the diseased branches and expose subtle truths about my upbringing.

I am only speaking up about my trauma now, but it is never too late to add a voice. My voice is needed, as is yours. We must stand for what is right and speak out against the stigma we have. No one should feel ashamed of their past. They should never be imprisoned by their fears and silenced by their shame.

You may not even believe you have the power to do something about the stigma. You might go through the same ritual in the mirror as I do. You might hope the steam from your morning shower hides enough of your face that you don’t have to stare at it any more.

You are lost in the isolation. You believe you aren’t worth the effort. You still fall into the trap of losing something important. You fool yourself into thinking you can overcome this on your own.

I am not asking you to go out and seek help if you do not want it. I am not pointing you to a therapist as a magical cure for everything you’ve experienced. You have every right to stand in solitude. You have every right to carry on with what you are doing.

I chose the hard way to walk through life. I carried a stolen burden for two decades. My spiritual back was almost broken by the time I realized I couldn’t carry it any longer. I had to give back what wasn’t mine and move on with a lighter load. I speak about my two molestations and being traded for money because it helps me get rid of guilt that wasn’t mine.

No matter what happened to you, you don’t need to protect it any more. The only thing you will lose is releasing the horrible truth you continue to hide. You might embarrass yourself with admitting it to start with.

The bravery you show by speaking can save a life. There is someone just like you staring in the mirror. They are asking themselves the same question I did when I came to grips with my stigma.

“Is admitting being a victim of child sexual abuse courageous?”

Yes, my friend; yes, it is.

*****

ProfileMatthew Eaton fights the agony of being a forgotten child sexual abuse victim daily. He has read enough to “earn” a “bookshelf degree” in writing, self-improvement, and business thought. In his own time, he explores and struggles with his own personal growth. He is obsessed with dark music, bright thoughts, and delicious beer. Don’t mind his puppy fascination, he doesn’t bite.

Matthew can be found on his blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Nabilah Safa

The world was spinning again. It was as though I could hear everything and nothing all at once. A constant buzzing of sound. A voice that I didn’t recognize was trying to explain something, but what was that voice trying to say? It was important, very important. Why didn’t they understand? Why was she looking at me like that?
Wait.
I’d seen that look on my mother’s face before. That look of fear– or was it sadness?
The voice stopped, and I realize it was my own.
It wasn’t the first time I had lost my mind.

I sat in the psychiatrist’s office. I’d been running late and this was my first visit so I was even more nervous and although I didn’t realize it, I was in a full blown manic phase. My therapist had suggested I see a new psychiatrist because in the eight years I’d been seeing my current psychiatrist I had been swinging from depression to mania to depression. I was anything but stable. This current manic episode was particularly bad.

As she tried to get me to focus and do a psych evaluation, I asked if she minded if I ate a few dried cherries. I pulled them out of my tote bag all the way explaining that they helped me sleep. That was something I hadn’t had in days. Sleep. That place I secretly ached for, my body begging my mind to turn off just for a little while. But no matter what I’d do I couldn’t fall asleep, besides why should I want to? I had so many great ideas I needed to write down. There was no time for sleep. And the hunger, the constant need for food was so bad that I’d be up at two in the morning hungry for a full meal. I was exhibiting all the classic signs of mania, flight of ideas, extreme hunger, irritation, and this time psychosis, or out of touch with reality. She asked me to bring one of my parents with me to my next appointment. Luckily I was coming out of the mania by then and she was able to get a better psych evaluation and diagnosed me with bipolar disorder type 1. I was 24 years old. I had been diagnosed with bipolar type 2 eight years before and put on medications when I was twelve for anxiety and depression.
Living with Bipolar Disorder makes it hard to trust when ideas are actual ideas or simply mania. I almost live in fear sometimes of the moment my mind begins to have ideas. It’s like all of a sudden I’d feel the need to write, and I didn’t trust that it was true creativity and not just mania. Not that mania didn’t produce creativity, it was just a creativity I couldn’t control. It was creativity that usually ended up not making much sense to me or anyone else later.

I guess one of the hardest things to explain is how much I’m afraid of a part of myself. It’s like a part of me is this monster that has to be kept in a corner, that is always looming in the shadows. And when I’m not being scared of that part of me, I’m afraid of the darkness that weighs me down threatening to drown me, tossing me into a hole. And add to all of this, the overwhelming anxiety that creeps up on me when I least expect it and then bursts, ripping me up into a thousand pieces that I have to put back together.
It’s been three years since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1. Living with Bipolar Disorder has been hard. It’s hard to have to rely on my family and friends sometimes to point out when I might be acting a little differently. I can’t stay up all night with my friends and I limit my caffeine intake because sleep and routine are important. Eating and drinking water is very important because it keeps my medicine levels where they should be. The biggest struggle has been trying to keep a job. Relationships have been even more difficult because if the person is not willing to try and be understanding it doesn’t work. Yet, I’m grateful for all the people in my life that make living that much easier. Who encourage my writing and help me realize that I am able to manage living with bipolar disorder and still have a happy, successful, and full life.

*****

fbteaI’m a writer, but teach elementary during the day. I also bake a lot of chocolate chip cookies.

You can reach Nabilah on her blog and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Alana Romain

This Is What Depression Looks Like

Earlier this year, I came off of my antidepressant medication. It was a poorly thought out decision, (I have a pretty difficult history with depression and mental illness), and I did it cold turkey, even though I knew better. Still, I thought I’d be okay.

I wasn’t okay.

The thing about antidepressants is that, if they work well for you, they inevitably make you feel better, like your normal self. It’s a myth that SSRIs make you feel artificially happy (a particularly frustrating one, if you ask me, because it keeps a lot of people who probably need medication from trying it). Finding a medication that works doesn’t mean you suddenly feel OVERJOYED, it just means that you feel like yourself again. Like you can recognize the voice inside your head. Like you can finally remember what it’s like to be a person who has energy to do things and who doesn’t feel like everything in life is useless and dumb and completely futile.

But the downside is that, if you’ve been on medication long enough, feeling like your usual, familiar self, you might start to think that you don’t need it anymore. That you’re okay, that you’re better, that you were only feeling depressed because of that thing that happened that one time but that thing is over now and you’re fine.

You’re not fine.

You weren’t depressed because of that thing that happened. Depression IS the thing that happened.

It took me a long while to go back to see my doctor after I started spiraling out, but when I finally did she said, “don’t worry, we will fix this.” And then she did. She changed my medication and I started taking it and then I started to feel better.

Before that happened though, I got a lot worse. I started thinking things I know I don’t actually think, like, “Maybe I don’t actually like being a stay-at-home-mom” and “having two-year-olds is awful”. Then it became, “why did we think having kids was a good idea?” And then, “why do we bother trying to exist in a terrible world where bad things happen to good people and we work our butts off to afford overpriced homes and stuff we don’t need and then we just get cancer and die?” (Depression thoughts tend to escalate quickly.)

I knew that I was finally getting better though, because I went back on my medication and then suddenly, I didn’t think those things anymore. Or, rather, I did think them, I guess, sometimes (the world is a terrible place in a lot of ways, and bad things do happen to good people and why does cancer have to take so many people’s lives while they’re still young?), but I was able to have other thoughts too, hopeful thoughts, thoughts that normal, healthy people have that allow them to live their lives even despite these sad, awful truths. The dark thoughts could enter my brain and then leave again, instead of holding me hostage and taking up all of the room where hope and brightness and strength might otherwise reside.

I knew that I was getting better because I stopped dreading the moment I heard my kids waking up from their naps because it meant I had to muster the energy to be a mom.

I knew that I was getting better because I could get out of bed in the morning feeling tired and grumpy like usual, instead of feeling like I wanted to hide underneath the covers for the rest of the day.

I knew that I was getting better because I could leave the house and do normal things without feeling anxious about it.

I knew that I was getting better because I could make dinner for my family at the end of the day instead of ordering yet another pizza because I was so exhausted and overwhelmed.

The gripe I have with mental health awareness in North America (I have no idea what it’s like in other countries) is that it’s still discussed in such an abstract way. It’s something other people have, and those people should get help. But who are those people and what does it really mean to be a person living with a mental illness? How do you get help and what does that look like and how do you know when you need it?

Well, this is what it’s like to live with a mental illness. Being medicated and thinking you’re okay and coming off your medication and losing it completely. Identifying with a voice inside your head that is telling you that everything is awful, and that this is how you really think and feel and that anytime you felt happy and normal, you were wrong. That is when you know you need help, and you get it by going to your doctor, or your therapist, or a crisis hotline worker, or your spouse or your friend and saying, “help me.” That is what depression looks like.

And this is what it looks like when you’re getting better.

*****

whatdepressionlookslikeAlana Romain is a freelance writer, mental illness stigma-fighter, and mother of hilarious toddler twins born almost four months before their due date. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and at www.youandmeandeveryoneelse.com.

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Stigma Fighters : Jonathan Harnisch

The Delusional Thinking Process: To the Victor Go the Spoils

 

In the old days of war, the winning army pretty much got to loot the countryside and take what they wanted—wealth, crops, women, whatever. These would be the spoils of victory. In a relatively civilized setting, we tend to use this term symbolically or metaphorically. The winner (the victor, the victorious one, the one who gets the victory) gets whatever benefits go with the actual winning of the title, prize, award, office, or event. These can be formal or informal. That is, they can be a designated part of the prize (a gold medal, a contract with an athletic equipment manufacturer), or they can just tag along with it (celebrity status, free gifts, media attention, a boost in the winner’s love life).

I don’t want to focus on the illness of schizophrenia when I don’t need to, but I do want to note some things I learned as I came out of my latest episode of delusion and minor psychosis, where paranoia was the overarching element.

Early this morning, I am refreshed and out of any episodic states related to my illnesses. I’m now able to access what it was like, yesterday, when I blended back into this more normal life experience. I want to demystify what happened in my mind—in order to learn how to cope even better next time. I want to figure this whole darn craziness out. The more I grow, and grow more comfortable with this illness, primarily schizophrenia, the more I’m looking for answers, solutions, and understanding.

I also did some thinking while the paranoid and delusional beliefs, along with my awareness of them, were still present.

So I think about delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia. Then I’m going to start my day, meditate, have fun, and in a couple of hours attend my psychologist’s appointment, and then maybe edit part of one of my upcoming novels. But I will stay off the computer for the most part, I hope. I hope!

It seems that I might more simply label hallucinations, delusions, and, in short, any psychotic feature as:

  • White/Black
  • Good/Bad
  • Good/Evil
  • Jesus/Devil
  • Christ/Antichrist

I think that I have had experience of several categories—and that one scenario will usually stand out, although many will in fact overlap. This may be:

  • Religion
  • Grandiosity/Celebrities
  • Aliens/Conspiracy/End of the World—Doom

I made some of these notes during my episode, and more as I was coming out of it using my coping tools, of which these days I have many. I’m discovering that my delusions are for the most part rooted in some grain of truth. In a way, they would represent, were they to be mapped out, my entire worldview. The processes and the storyline are likely to have, I believe, a lot more back-story, subtext, metaphors, and symbols (to use terms from writing). As a writer, who knows about the craft, I think my knowledge helps me understand some of this schizophrenia material, and I am finding, although I am perhaps slightly biased, a correlation between writing theory and practice—starting with the idea that I am in general so fascinated with story.

Some kind of historical context (Jung’s theories play a large part):

“To the victor go the spoils.” The spoils of victory are the extra bonuses, perks, and treasure you get for winning.

Killers will kill for money and power.

Think of this the other way around, as our schizophrenic realities will often distort: “To the spoils go the victor.”

Let’s amp that up to a more grandiose context. Perhaps: War and global catastrophe.

People are out to get me (paranoia) for money, power, and status. I often believe that this is true.

Then there’s the storyline. Maybe it’s because I am a writer, although I will often distort the story element in my writing, warping time, place, settings, and characters, as in my films (including On the Bus, Wax, Ten Years, and others) and in some of my novels.

Story, story, story. The schizophrenic storyline—the delusional thinking process—is a healing process. Processes. I believe that this is the root of it all—that the storylines for me (and I would think for most suffering with schizophrenic or psychotic disorders—or thought disorders) are personal, synchronistic, and overlapping, and that symbols, mythology, and connections, even coincidences, take on a very deep and, once more, personal meaning, a very deep and personal context.

I’m again digging a bit deeper into the vulnerabilities of psychosis, now that I am not currently experiencing an episode. Although my heightened awareness or metacognition often lets me know if and, it does not always.

Symbolic stories. Someone’s tattoo of a cross might make me think that he (or she) is God—then I might confess my sins to a complete stranger. However, if I am aware enough, these days I can usually keep this to myself and believe wholeheartedly that yes, indeed, this person with the tattoo is God, no doubt, but I’ll just keep that secret to myself. This goes for any delusion. However, this then leaves me, and us, susceptible to actual theft or simply vulnerability, since if, and when, something of ours, or mine, is taken, stolen, I am somehow really and truly wronged. I often feel trapped with my secret of knowing this but having to pass it off as: “Okay, this isn’t real… if that man—the man with the cross tattoo—is probably not in fact God, then no, my pack of cigarettes was probably not stolen.”

Kind of frightening because if I saw my house burning down, I would likely believe this was real. This particular symptom is a common one for me. However, if it really was burning down, I think that I would probably not do a thing about it, especially while in fear and stress from the event that I am experiencing, real or not. The police would come and I’d be locked up for being schizophrenic, for making a fake 911 call, and I’d be scared—with multiple reasons reasons to be scared.

 

Please take note that some of the above writing has been paraphrased from my second novel, Second Alibi: The Banality of Life (2014).

 

You can also find Jonathan on Facebook and Twitter. Author Jonathan Harnisch has written semi-fictional and semi-autobiographical bestselling novels, Jonathan Harnisch: An Alibiography and Second Alibi: The Banality of Life, which are available on Amazon and through most major booksellers. He is also a noted, and sometimes controversial, author, mental-healthdvocate, fine artist, blogger, podcast host, patent holder, hedge-fund manager, musician, and film and TV writer and producer. Google him for more information.

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10415631_10205228602939689_3838110785929259235_nYou can also find Jonathan on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter, which is his preferred social media site. Author Jonathan Harnisch has written a semi-fictional and semi-autobiographical bestselling novel,Jonathan Harnisch: An Alibiography, which is available on Amazon and through most major booksellers. He is also a noted, and sometimes controversial, mental health advocate, a fine artist, blogger, podcast host, patent holder, hedge fund manager, musician, and film and TV writer and producer. Google him for more information.

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Stigma Fighters : William Thomason

“How do they rise up, rise up, rise up?”

I recently returned to the Terry Pratchet novel Night Watch, the first novel I read in the Discworld series.  There is a song in the book referencing an instance of bravery and sorrow at who won’t be around to sing it later.  That, and it being September, gave me pause to recall Sir Terry’s decision of assisted suicide after being diagnosed with dementia.  He didn’t make it lightly or consenting without a struggle, however.  If he lived long enough that he was losing his mind, he would travel to a country that legalized the act.  The thought of what could be years of pain and emotional trauma to his lived ones was unbearable.  I can’t accept suicide, but I respect his decision, as it was made with a clear mind.  Respect is not the same as comprehension of making such a decision.  I do not consider myself a suicide survivor, although I had passed the planning stage and was ready to end my life.  Sir Terry passed this year, apparently peaceful and naturally.  I never knew him, but the news was heartbreaking.

The preceding was a long way around to saying that death upsets me, no matter how tenuous the connection.  A suicide will particularly rattle me.  Robin William’s death was devastating to me for both of these reasons.  That was only a sampling of what was to come.  A few weeks after Robin’s death was reported, I noticed increasingly alarming posts on Facebook.  I didn’t feel a particular sense of dread, but people I love were obviously in pain.  I asked about it and was informed that we lost one of our brothers.  We weren’t related, but adopted each other as family.  Misfits, Goths, punks, and…me, I suppose.  Odd man out.  That’s how we met, my brother and I.  We were the black sheep at a family gathering.  I was there because of his cousin, and he was there under duress, I think.  Neither of us were comfortable, so the oddballs talked.  It was several years before we routinely hung out together, but it was the right kind of camaraderie in the crew we ran with.  Good people.

Brother had gone through several phases:  grunge, goth, and bike fanatic, among others.  He was difficult for everyone to understand or love, but the majority did and continue to do so.  We think of him often and still occasionally remind one another to be like him rather than normal.  Goddamn, if I could only hear him laugh.

Going further back, another friend also took his life, but slowly.  From one day to the next was hard.  He told me that sometimes it took a fifth of bourbon for him to sleep.  I was told there was more than alcohol in his system when the collision occurred.  I don’t know for certain.  What I do know is there were so many signs he wasn’t well and I caught none of them.  The sad eyes, or the note in his voice when saying he can’t go on like this.  Years later I heard the same note in mine.  Plaintiff words, spoken from the heart, and all but a surrender.  Maybe that was part of why he was such an important person to me:  we understood.  I was told in the back room of the store that he was gone.  That was the most inwardly and emotionally violent breakdown I have ever experienced.

Several weeks ago I had to radio in a reported suicide.  People around here don’t talk about it much, or very loudly, but jumpers happen.  I have a vivid imagination, regrettably.  My position leaves little doubt that I would ever be called on to work such an incident thankfully.

I have heard the reference that suicide is selfish because of the harm one does to their loved ones and the responders who are dispatched.  Typically this is said by someone who has never been so desperate as that.  Being absent of feeling or a connection to others, although the pain and misery never leave.  Feeling so empty and unable to accept hope is possible, leading to need to escape what is a living hell and the ceaseless torment that accompanies it.  Or, more importantly, the desire to stop being a burden to your loved ones.  The fact that you exist is painful to than, certainly, so the best thing is you remove yourself from their lives and they will be better for it.  Shit you not.  That’s a fairly typical thought as I understand.

Suicide is not selfish.  It is pain.  Pain for the intended, but also for those connected to them.  It isn’t a hurt that goes away.  I’ve lied to loved ones by saying the pain of losing a loved one will lessen with time.  I regret saying it, but it seems to help in the short term.  Should I hear that you have left like that, it will affect me as well.  If you are reading this and are in danger, please reach out to people who can help.  A medical professional, a loved one, or even an anonymous contact on the internet, somewhere that you can hear compassionate voices.  Compassion costs nothing and is the best gift a body can give.  If you’re still reading this, even if we never meet, I don’t want you to leave like that.  You’ll be missed.  Love to you.

*****

20150904_173507William is an occasional park ranger, pretend writer, and hack poet. That’s about it, really.

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Stigma Fighters : Peter M. Olsen

A trigger warning to those whose lives have been touched by suicide. This is a very raw, honest account of my suicide attempt in mid-2012. These are thoughts and feelings I had in the moments leading up to my suicide attempt. This in no way, shape, or form represents my current state of mind today. I live a very stable, healthy, productive life and will continue to do so. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide and need immediate, confidential help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.
————————————————————————————

You’re nothing.
You’re a loser.
You’re shit.

I’ve heard these seven words in different incarnations from different people throughout my life.
I’ve heard these seven words so much that I really started to believe it. 
These seven words are burned into my consciousness.
They plague my existence.
They haunt me like malicious apparitions waiting to eviscerate my soul.

You’re nothing.
You’re a loser.
You’re shit.

These words came from the one woman whom I loved.
My wife.
To have and to hold from this day forth.
You may kiss the bride.
I loved you with all my heart and soul.
She said she loved me.

You’re nothing.
You’re a loser.
You’re shit.

Burned into my soul these words.
They haunt me to this very day.
I trusted you! I loved you! I gave you everything!
And you just gave up. You fucking coward.
You said you loved me.
YOU BITCH! You said you loved me.

You’re nothing.
You’re a loser.
You’re shit.

These words have now become a mantra.
These words have become my hope and my dreams and my fear and my fucking reality.
I am now become these words.
I am hate and lies and darkness and death.
I am Jack’s evil darkness and imminent death.

You’re nothing.
You’re a loser.
You’re shit.

Crying, cutting, bleeding. Punching myself. Rocking back and forth, knowing this is the end.
In the middle of a hotel room. In southwest Washington state. All alone.
Too scared and embarrassed to tell my family and very close friends.
Too far fucking gone to ask for help.
They would never believe me. Ashamed. So fucking ashamed.
This is where I’ve come to die.

You’re nothing.
You’re a loser.
You’re shit.

My belt is laying on the bed. It says hello to me.
It wants to help me in my sadness.
It wants to be my friend.

You’re nothing.
You’re a loser.
You’re shit.

I’m hysterical. Uncontrollable. So lost. SO FUCKING LOST.
This is going to be the end. 
“SHE SAID SHE FUCKING LOVED ME!!!!”
I’m rocking back and forth.
I can’t stop crying. I can’t stop crying.
I CAN’T STOP FUCKING CRYING!

You’re nothing.
You’re a loser.
You’re shit.

I slowly walk into the bathroom. Cutting…shallow cuts. Legs are bleeding.
I step into the bathtub and wrap the belt around my neck.
Cinch it tighter. 
Make this hurt.
I throw the other part of the belt around the plastic shower curtain rod.

You’re nothing.
You’re a loser.
You’re shit.

Those words are getting louder.
Unbearable. Really unbearable. Really loud. 
REALLY FUCKING LOUD!!!!

You’re nothing.
You’re a loser.
You’re shit.

I try to jump down on my knees but the shower curtain rod breaks toward me.
My body slams against the tiled wall behind me.
I crumble in a million pieces in the bathtub.
Broken. Bruised. Bloody.

You’re nothing.
You’re a loser.
You’re shit.

Those voices are laughing at me. 
LAUGHING AT ME!!!!
No one will love you now.
Wasted, pathetic life you are the voices said.

You’re nothing.
You’re a loser.
You’re shit.

I can’t stop crying. I can’t stop fucking crying.
Help me! Someone fucking help me!
She said she loved me. 
YOU FUCKING BITCH! 
You said you loved me.

I’m rocking back-and-forth. In a bathtub. In the middle of a hotel room.
With a belt wrapped around my neck. All alone.
Too scared to share with my family or my very close friends.
This is where I’ve come to die. 
I can’t stop crying. I CAN’T STOP FUCKING CRYING!

She said she loved me.

She said she’d love me.

*****

11071577_10153841693388219_7850710532403274177_nHi! I’m Peter. Nice to meet you!

I am a content recruiter for Stigma Fighters, a mental health non-profit organization (501C3 pending) based in Brooklyn, NY dedicated to helping people living with mental illness.

I graduated from Washington State University in 2003 with a BA in Humanities focusing on journalism. I am a loyal Xbox 360 addict (Gamertag…banishedcougar), an unapologetic coffee snob, proud member of the Cougar Nation, a PLUR warrior, and all-around pretty cool guy. Trance, trap, and house music keeps me very, very happy.

I live in the greatest city on Planet Earth.
The Emerald City…Seattle, Washington.

Let’s hang out together throughout social media.

Peter can be found on his blog, Twitter, Soundcloud, Pinterest, Instagram and Periscope

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Stigma Fighters : Shawna Ayoub Ainslie

Anxious All Over

I’m anxious all over. You can’t know me without seeing it. You don’t really need to know me to see it. I am told frequently to calm down. Strangers reassure me that “everything is okay.” And I know they mean well, but it hurts sometimes. I’ve been guilty of this myself—looking at a friend and telling them it’s not as bad as they think without knowing the full story.

That’s the meat right there: not knowing the full story. I write about surviving and work with survivors, and the common theme no matter our topic is that people assume they understand what we are going through when they are only seeing a fraction of what’s in our life at any given moment.

Anxiety often comes from a specific place, although it doesn’t have to. For me, I was born anxious and unsafe. My home life in my younger years was harsh and frightening. While I am one in a million whose parents got help to end the cycle of abuse, I still struggle with the remnants of an abusive legacy. Friends and family now love to tell me that chapter is ended. For years, I agreed. I thought my anxiety was healed and saw myself as free. But that was a lie.

The body remembers. When my eldest child turned three, he began hitting. He did it in the way three-year-olds do. He was overtired, hungry, frustrated. He was given a plate and and the food looked different than he expected. The tantrums did not worry me. Until the day he struck my face and my body remembered every moment I thought it had forgotten.

I have been told it is shameful that I write about how close I come to being an abuser on a near daily basis. This stems from a lack of understanding of three issues. The first is that the body does remember. There is a reason it is said that abused children become abusive adults. Anger was the example set for us. It is what our body and mind turn to first when we are overwhelmed by cartwheeling, tantrumming toddlers. I can’t tell you how surprised I was to have to fight that impulse. I can tell you it was nowhere near as jarring as falling into a flashback, striking my child, starting therapy, digging in deep to that healing, and still having to fight daily to not see my child as my abuser. To never strike my child again.

I work on this constantly: My child is not my abuser. He is not the adult. I am not the child. I am the adult. He is the child. My child is not my abuser. Despite what comes after this, I am succeeding.

The second misunderstanding is this: My child is autistic, not spoiled or violent. He is very high functioning, which means he passes for neurotypical in most situations (a fact that causes significant expectation and judgment in public from the public). Part of Autism for him is that, at nine, he still behaves emotionally as though he’s three. The food on his plate not looking as he expects can send him into an hours long, cartwheeling tailspin. While he is much better at not striking others when he’s upset, he still throws false punches and kicks. Those motions are all my body needs to remember. They are all my mind needs to jump me back in time, huddled in the corner of my top bunk with all my stuffed animals around me and my arms flailing to protect myself from potential strikes. The bigger my child grows, the harder I work to remember he is not my abuser. He is not the adult. It is going exceptionally well, but I still need a lot of help.

And the third misunderstanding is that silence is better than speaking up. This is wrong. Speaking up de-stigmatizes the struggle those of us who are learning how not to be abusers face. It creates a tiny bubble of compassionate acceptance that can hopefully be expanded. It is a flag for others reading “You are not alone!”. We offer this support to children of alcoholics who battle alcoholism. Why do we deny it to children of abusers who battle repeating their parents’ anger/fear addiction?

So I use my voice via the page. I publicly admit how truly awful and difficult it is to deal with this legacy, but also how beautiful it is to end the cycle. If I stop writing and sharing my journey, it would mean I have shut down and packed it all inward. I have spiraled back into the shame that kept me isolated throughout my childhood when I needed the most help. Silence and shame turn me back into a victim. I have dwelled there before. It is a place of permanent can’t-shake-it-off anxiety. Of certain and slow dying. I don’t want to go back. I want to keep surviving.

*****

1525248_10105843688897469_4480984764032127108_nShawna Ayoub Ainslie writes on  issues of race, place and survivorship. She holds an MFA from Indiana University. Her work can be found in The Huffington Post, Medium, [wherever]: an out of place journal, and as part of Amy Gigi Alexander’s Stories of Good series. She is a writing instructor and coach who blogs regularly at The Honeyed Quill.

Shawna can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Pepper Joy Greggs

Anxiety, PTSD and Stigma

I work as a dog trainer for a living and it’s a fact that as such, I run a risk of getting bitten at some point. I have been bitten a few times through the years, I have a protocol that if the dog has his vaccines up to date, I simply soak the wound in dawn dish soap daily for a week after the bite.
With the most recent bite I got, I actually ended up at an urgent care. I suffered three puncture wounds and lots of bruising on my leg. The worst part physically was the tetanus shot.

Mentally though… I ended up in a war zone for a while. Something about this bite triggered a deep anxiety in me. The dog came bursting through a door without any walking gear, she was barking and the moment she saw me she lunged and latched to my leg. Her handler simply had no control over her. The dog had to be tackled to be removed, she continued attempting to lunge at me until I was able to escape from the room and out of her sight. I had not done anything wrong. I was not in an area of the facility I was not supposed to be and the dog was known by the handler to be reactive to strangers. It was a bad situation, mistakes were made, but I was completely innocent in the whole ordeal. However, as it goes when traumatic events happen, certain parties got dramatic. Rumors flew that I was going to sue people. I was accused of cornering people and interrogating them. Lots of ridiculous stories were told. I went from feeling safe and part of a team of people, (though I was the new kid), to feeling like an outsider. It was a downhill slide of mistrust and fear about certain ways to do my job.

I was deeply wounded emotionally. I had been here before and the feeling of familiarity was NOT welcome. There I was, minding my business, working with my animals and suddenly out of no where, I was attacked and then those responsible for the attacker blamed me for it. I felt myself wanting to shut down. It was not fair.
I spent the next several months jumping every time a dog barked while standing near my leg, even when the bark was a friendly one. I found myself untrusting of other handlers with dogs.
I ended up with tension headaches because I was working around dogs who periodically bark through the facility all day. My neck ached from holding my shoulders up out of anxiety about my work environment.
I dreaded going to work…. and I LOVE what I do!
I got proactive and forced myself to work around barking dogs and work through my issues. I spent several weeks recovering my mind and reactivity to barking dogs. I counter conditioned myself by petting a dog I knew was friendly each time I heard barking. I had learned about conditioning, counterconditioning and desensitization from training dogs. I just had to be resourceful without I applied my own skills to myself. I kept my Great Dane with me as much as possible to comfort me. He was good at body blocking barking dogs from me. My student dogs spent time on and off tether working with me and helping me get back my life and love for my work. It’s been a process and I still have setbacks, but I am improving.
I still WINCE when a dog barks near my leg and I sometimes get a knot in my throat about it.
The lump is not about the dog bite, the lump is a result of a stabbing heartache that reminds me, I was attacked and blamed for it. Not just when the dog bit, but every time I was abused as a child. Sometimes the barking triggered a memory of when my father hit me. Other times the barking triggered memories of being attacked and raped in my sleep. I hate that my issues are so intertwined. When the dog attacked and bit me a few months ago, her barking as she lunged became my new trigger. I was immediately conditioned by her barking, that an attack follows. An attack that I can’t stop from happening. An attack that I will have to wait until it’s over before I can escape. With my PTSD it worked like dark magic and my mind was FLOODED with nightmare memories.
The drama surrounding being bitten did not help my issues at all. It fed my anxiety, hence the tension headaches. My stomach was upset daily and I caught myself thinking this was normal.
It is not NORMAL to have headaches, upset stomach daily or dread going to work. Especially when you love your work! I am making peace with the fact my situation will change soon enough and I will still be doing the work I love. I don’t need people in my life who were ready to say things about me without even knowing me first. I have refused to speak about the “Incident” and there are those who believe the rumors they heard about it. Someday they will learn they cannot defend a lie, or the whole thing just won’t matter anymore.

I continue to work with my dogs daily and on myself. I have lived with mental illness long enough to learn that fighting against it is a losing battle. To all my friends who have found yourself in a battle for your life with your mental illness, know this…
We are not mental illness, but it is us. And we aren’t anything less than badass for learning to live with it instead fight it. Our lives are spent fighting against the world it shouldn’t be spent fighting ourselves. When something is YOU, that means YOU are in control even if that looks like out of control. It’s YOU’RE out of control, no one else is. You decide who takes this journey with you, you decide how your life looks with or without the therapy and medications used to manage what is YOURS.

I am the sweaty palms of anxiety, I am the face of PTSD and I am the cold darkness of depression.
I am also a damn good dog trainer. I am a passionate being and one hell of a mother.
I am not limited because of my mental illness, I am enhanced and stronger despite it.

*****

PhotoforStigmaFightersWife, Mother, Dog trainer, Blogger, Sexual Abuse survivor and Stigma Fighter.

Pepper can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Gina L. Ciaccia

To The Journey: My Road to Understanding Mental Illness

Despite many people perceiving bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses as a struggle or hardship, over time, I have come to embrace the life lessons that they can teach. I would briefly like to elucidate and describe these lessons. I have truly been touched by a kind of adversity that generates a great deal of personal growth.

When I was young, I noticed that the behaviour of a family member was very turbulent and erratic. My background is conservative and Christian. Her behaviours brought a great deal of shame upon the older members of our family especially when she divorced young and had a child out of wedlock. She would punch people and scream. The next week she would lay in bed crying. Nobody knew what was wrong until so much damage had been done. Without understanding her condition, I was fearful of her simply because her mood swings were so extreme. I have never enjoyed the unexpected. In time I started to hear that she was bipolar but I was frightened of bipolar people because of what they were capable of when episodic. I actually remember thinking that none of these things could even happen to me because I had control and was able to direct my own destiny. Little did I know…

As a teen, my body started to malfunction and I became chronically ill. I dropped out of high school despite being an honour student because I felt like my world was caving in. My muscles were aching, my blood work was showing autoimmune activity, and for a two month stretch, I could barely keep food down. After my first semester of university, my body and mind just snapped and the stresses of school paired with family issues, church issues and chronic pain put me right over the edge and into psychosis. I can’t remember Dec. 26, 2005 – Jan 6, 2006 at all. All I see are occasional snapshots or bits and pieces in my dreams. My psychotic episodes are a disjointed jumble of images. Sometimes I can decode them, sometimes not.

My family had no idea what was going on. My words were jumping all over the place and they couldn’t quite understand me. It was almost like dysphagia. Eventually they did some research and my Mom found a book on bipolar disorder at the local grocery store of all places. And believe it or not. It was written by a Harvard psychiatry professor. I truly believe God helped my mother through this book and several chance encounters at this crucial time. He hasn’t brought me full healing but I do think that He has given me the ability to manage my symptoms and learn more about the topic of mental heath as a whole. He has also brought an entire community of insightful online friends into my life who work in and are diagnosed with mental illnesses. Reaching out, speaking out and casting my fears of stigma aside were all part of this process. I also thank God for giving me the strength to be myself and the understanding that your true friends will always try their best to understand your circumstances. For the first two years post diagnosis. I grappled with acceptance from others and my actual illness equally.

As time progressed and my illness was less extreme. In time my psychiatrist and nurse recommended me for the local health authority’s peer support worker program. And two years later after several stages of interviews, coursework and a hospital practicum, I graduated with 90%. I was proud of myself as only 20% of the original students graduated. I am friends with my practicum supervisor to this day and it’s a lovely friendship.

As I mentioned, there are some very inspirational people working in mental health, true unsung heroes. I have been doing support group facilitating with the Mood Disorders Association for 5 1/2 years and have worked with people of faith and of all walks of life and ages. At the end of this long and winding (seemingly unending) road, I have learned so much about the human experience in general. How giving someone the smallest glimmer of hope or friendly morsel of advice can turn their life right side up from being upside down. When your words are the right words for someone at a certain time, it’s such an encouragement for me when my seemingly young body is on a road to ruin. I am more compassionate, discerning in social situations and sensitive to the disabled in general – this horrible neurochemical imbalance and chronic pain have turned me into a softy. I got out of the proverbial bubble of self that many in my generation seem to be imprisoned by. I was never the Grinch, but my heart has definitely gone up by a few sizes!

Although I thought I would buckle under the pressure of my medical woes, in the end, all I can express is gratitude to God for this unique journey.

So here’s to the journey of mental illness!

*****

11054814_10155309368510591_8518571297084481362_nMy name is Gina Leanne Ciaccia
I grew up in Delta, British Columbia, Canada
My favourite school subject was geology
I am an only child
My diagnosis is bipolar 1 disorder with very limited depressive episodes.
My hobbies are creating homemade herbal remedies, writing, archeology, political science, rock collecting, reading Christian philosophy and anything to do with astronomy and space exploration. I’ve probably watched Apollo 13 100 times.!
I care a great deal about advocacy for those with learning disabilities, autism and proper social programs for the intellectually disabled.

Gina can be found on Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Smiiffy

Hey, my name’s Josh. I go by the name of Smiiffy.  I’m a twenty year old musician from Birmingham in the UK. I aim to stop the stigma on mental health and in order to do this, I speak about my own mental health issues.

For around 4 years I’ve suffered with severe anxiety and depression.  Performing for me is breaking my own barriers but I enjoy doing it! My music has managed to reach 70,000+ views in under a year. I speak about my own suicide attempts. In February, on my brother’s birthday, in the early hours of the morning I decided I couldn’t take anymore. I tried to take my life by attempting to jump off of a bridge. In doing so, a stranger stopped me and spoke to me essentially saving my life for the better. From this day forth, I opened my eyes to devoting time for other people who suffer.

I’m currently working with Kaleidoscope PG, Papyrus & Respect Yourself. They are three incredible charities dedicated to mental health. Recently I’ve had a lot of media publicity. I use this for benefit of mental health to try and reach people and let others know I understand even the smallest bit of their situation.

My dream is to make it as a big musician so I can give more time and money to charity. If I don’t succeed, I’d still love to do music in schools with children and make children aware of mental health. That way they can have a better understanding of it, and use that knowledge in their future. I’m currently under-going ASIST training. This is a program to learn about those who are suicidal. Although I’ve gone through it and lost friends to suicide, I feel there is still so much more I can learn about suicide awareness.

I love to fight the stigma and win this battle, not just for others but also for myself. I find inspiration in the smallest of things, such as my surroundings. I have found so much appreciation from the public, which makes me want to do more. Together we can make a change.

*****

10473369_10152133975826962_2146567131511836988_n1Smiiffy is a 20 year old rapper who is passionate about putting an end to suicide rates. Smiiffy raps his own personal experiences and puts them into a song in hope he can help others in a positive manor. iTunes top 40 artist Smiiffy devotes everything to others in need and his own supporters who have been incredible. Josh, is currently working with many charities mainly mental health as it affects so many people. Not every disability is visible. Over a staggering 17,000 people have heard of Smiiffy and have given him many opportunities by becoming a supporter.

Smiiffy can be found on his blog, Facebook and Twitter

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