Stories From Our Community

Learning about the experiences of others can help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and give those who are suffering the courage to seek help. Remember, you are not alone.

Nancy S

We had a great family. Lots of love and admiration. What happened? People didn't talk about what they were feeling or ask for help. They hid it because they felt they would be shamed. It's a horrible disease and needs to be spoken about more.

My older brother was diagnosed with bipolar late in life when we finally insisted he see a psychiatrist. He was in denial and refused help. My parents did not get him the help he needed at a younger age because of the stigma and their generational denial. They felt he would be okay. They would say he just needed a woman to straighten him out.

He moved to another country and pushed everyone away who tried to help him. He liked the manic side but eventually went into a deep depression and became “paralyzed”. He died of a pulmonary embolism from ( my hypothesis) his reclusive, stagnant lifestyle and lack of feeding himself often and correctly. His own suicide.

My dad suffered a few bouts of depression over my growing years and never sought counseling. His GP put him on a pill and he took that for 15 years with no follow-up, just renewed prescriptions. Since my brother died 5 1/2 years ago at age 57, my dad has not come out of a depression with severe anxiety. He’s now 89 and cannot enjoy a minute of his life. He’s been in 3 psych units since then and tried weekly counseling for 5 years and every medication on the market. He feels he faked his way through life.

His generation didn’t talk about how they felt. Now he looks back on his life as one of negativity, stupidity and remorse. We had a great family. Lots of love and admiration. What happened? People didn’t talk about what they were feeling or ask for help. They hid it because they felt they would be shamed. It’s a horrible disease and needs to be spoken about more.

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Samantha B.

I am finally learning to live life on life's terms, and to appreciate the fact that I am still alive. Recovery is not always easy but it is beautiful. The poem below reads more like spoken word poetry, I am not into the frilly stuff. Every word is true and every word is real. I hope I can connect to a few readers. We are not alone in this journey.

My name is Samantha and I am 25 years old. I started writing poetry around the age of 9 or 10. I have suffered from addiction since the age of 13 and I have struggled with mental illness for even longer than that. I have been clean since August 25, 2016 and this is the first poem I have written in sobriety.

My diagnoses are BPD, PTSD, dysthymia, GAD, anorexia, and body dysmorphia. I am finally learning to live life on life’s terms, and to appreciate the fact that I am still alive. Recovery is not always easy but it is beautiful.

The poem below reads more like spoken word poetry, I am not into the frilly stuff. Every word is true and every word is real. I hope I can connect to a few readers. We are not alone in this journey.

 

I am trapped in a body of darkness surrounded by light. The me that you see isn’t the me that I see. I am a soul eater. A criminal in the court of love. I demand nothing and I want it all. There’s nothing that can stop me. But you can.

I write in riddles and I speak in tongues. I feel alive and I miss feeling dead. The chaos used to consume me until I choked on sad, sick, rotten air. I picked my face better than I could pick the good from the bad. I hated everything about me. I still hate most things about me.

I can’t even sit here and let the words flow. I want to impress the devil. Make him lust for me like I lust for a hole in my vein. An escape from the world that has never been good to me and never been better to me. I feel like I am owed something. Pay me for my misery. Reward me for not giving up. Fall under the spell of ugly seduction.

I judge everything. I want for everything. I need nothing. My man told me he loved me today. Why do I want him to hate me? Love is beautiful and I cried after I said it back. I waited for him to say it for so long. Why do I want him to hate me?

I got caught lying to my parents. They are sad. I am sad. I feel guilty and I also feel entitled. I want to do whatever I want. Can I continue to live in my false world of no consequences? My stomach drops when I think of their faces. The ‘why do you keep hurting us?’ face. The ‘you are a piece of shit’ face. Does it drop because I am sorry, or does it drop because I now found my excuse to suffer?

I haven’t gotten high but I want to get high. I can feel the meth in my throat. In my chest. In my arms. My track marks are fading and I am grieving. That’s a sick way to feel. I am so ashamed of everything. I’m not wearing makeup today and I keep thinking that everyone thinks I’m tweaking because of my face.

I still think the Feds follow me, but here I am wishing there was still meth scattered in my car. I don’t miss the insanity of thinking there was a demon following me around. I still remember his face. I used to ask him questions but he would just smile at me. Sitting outside of my house or floating above me in the hospital. He was so real. He was so scary. I welcomed him though. I thought he was there because I was going to die soon. I thought he would hold my hand and deliver me to hell. I cried all day because he scared me, yet seeing him was comforting since I knew his presence meant I was high. Too high.

Sometimes I still hear the radio when it isn’t on. Sometimes I hear people screaming when there’s no one there. Sometimes I look for the demon, but he doesn’t come around anymore. It’s telling that when I feel afraid, my first thought is to look up to find that mother fucker hanging out on the wall. I look for the evil before I look for the good.

I put myself in painful situations to validate the belief that I can’t do this. That I don’t deserve this. I am surrounded by love and I can’t stand it. How can I love love and at the same time I want to cast it away? There is so much beauty on this planet. The reaction I get from my dog when I come home. The hugs I get from people like me. The warmth I feel in my family home. The calm I feel when my guy looks into my eyes.

I am so important to other people, yet I am so expendable to myself. I would rather end this entry on a poetic note than get the madness out. I can appreciate a warm breeze today. I can look up at the night sky and find joy in counting the stars. Why do I want to destroy it? I’ll save everyone else before I save myself. I argue with myself until the next best thing is to shut myself up.

I am queen of the jokes and I analyze everything too much. I feel like a whale at 105 pounds or 89 pounds. Will I ever feel at peace or will it always be synthetic? Will I ever learn to trust or will I die alone wondering if people really only loved me out of guilt?

I am running out of time and energy to write. My veins are on fire; my brain wants what I do not. This is the most sincere I’ve been in a long time, yet it isn’t edgy enough for me. Creative enough for me. Good enough for me.

I wonder if I’ll ever see that demon again. If I do, I’ll ask him for forgiveness.

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Daniel B

These were the old days of psychiatry where mental illness was the result of distance fathers and overprotective mothers. My parents were told that it would take "long time" meaning months of hospitalizing to make me "well".

I was first hospitalized in 1969 at the age of 15. These were the old days of psychiatry where mental illness was the result of distance fathers and overprotective mothers. My parents were told that it would take “long time” meaning months of hospitalizing to make me “well”.

I was a 15 year old on an adult psych unit. My treatment consisted of restraints and IM injections for any slight disobedience of the nurses. This I later learned was illegal.

Eventually at 18 I was committed to a state hospital where I endured 5 ECT treatments. I found out later the state had given me a 1% chance of ever functioning again in society.

Finally in the 1980’s I was correctly diagnosed as Bipolar and received proper treatment and medications. I earned a BA degree and a teaching credential and taught for 30 years.

I remain well with the help of my physicians and therapist and I have a network for friends. I am also active in my Church.

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Victoria M

Diagnosed with a serious mental illness over thirty years ago put a name to something I'd lived with since I was a young child. Though I'm not partial to labels, it was the validation that I wasn't weak or a quitter or a failure.

Diagnosed with a serious mental illness over thirty years ago put a name to something I’d lived with since I was a young child.

Though I’m not partial to labels, it was the validation that I wasn’t weak or a quitter or a failure. Growing up, I struggled with unimaginable pain, fear and shame in a family that didn’t understand me and where I was traumatized and not protected or felt safe.

My twenties were like gathering broken shards of glass, holding them carefully so I wouldn’t bleed. I never gave up hope that I could recover though and held on tight to counselors and therapists who believed in me and saw my brilliance like sunlight breaking through storm clouds.

I am whole at 55. The pieces of glass are softened now like sea glass washed to shore after years of turmoil, worn by the rough sea.

I have washed to shore, strong yet soft at the same time.

I am a survivor.

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Muyoka Mw

Before I convince the world to embrace people with different brains, I am going to start with my own heart and my own home: my daughter’s first environment. This letter is for my daughter. If the day comes, I am ready now

My Daughter’s Magic
By: Muyoka M
My daughter was three when the fear of mental health and heredity hit me. Every night I prayed that my daughter’s brain would be normal. When my daughter turned five I stopped. My friend Chloe had texted me saying she read an article that caused her to burst into tears. Chloe viewed her quick tears as a fault but I had always viewed them as an endearing quality. They guaranteed I would never cry alone. I reflected deeper on the other unique brains in my life. I thought about my boss Maddy’s immaculate work schedules; impulsively checked lists that make my day run smoother. I thought about visiting one of my customer’s, Chris, who repeats everything twice. I never mess up his orders. I thought about my friend Polly with twenty different projects going on, always something new and interesting. I would never pray for these people to lose their quirks and isms. They just wouldn’t be the same without them.

I remember in high school watching my roommate chat with a guy in the doorway thinking, I would love to be normal just for one week. I remember sitting on a bench my freshman year of college, flush with anxiety, thinking that regardless of where I went I would never figure out how to fully fit in. I remember getting out into the real world and applying for a holiday job at a retailer that needed tons of people and not getting a callback. My fear for my daughter is not how her brain will work, it is how she will be treated for her differences. Will she be loved? accepted? included? The stigma is worse than the diagnosis.

I imagine other moms praying too: a dark-skinned mom praying that her daughter be lighter, a lesbian mom praying for her son to be straight. Is there anything wrong with these precious children or is it the world they inhabit? As the stigma of skin color and homosexuality fade, I don’t see the same happening with different brain structures and chemical brain differences. Recently, the teacher in my dance class for adults emphatically stated at the beginning of class that she embraces everyone, but then proceeded to leave me out when assigning groups. I wonder if she saw me on the way home, if she discovered the chemical makeup of my tears is the same as hers, if she would change her definition of “everyone” to include me.

What happens if my daughter gets teased one day and runs home holding back tears reserved for her mom’s shoulders, but she then recalls her mom praying for her to be normal? Before I convince the world to embrace people with different brains, I am going to start with my own heart and my own home: my daughter’s first environment. This letter is for my daughter. If the day comes, I am ready now:

Hey Baby Girl,
You have a magic brain. When God was painstakingly making you, he added some twists and surprises to make the world more interesting. You would always wear your princess dresses to preschool because you loved them and did not care what the other students thought. I hope that you wear who you are with the same pride. I love you so much, I decided to go first, and be proud of who I am; my magic. Yes, I go to a therapist and take medication, but there is so much more. I define myself as a businesswoman, a leader, and a mom. Should I buy you a large chalkboard for your equations? A canvas for your drawings? A journal for your writings? The same folds that make our brains different also tuck away magic gifts, and I hope you unwrap yours. All the inventors, entrepreneurs and brilliant minds you read about unwrapped theirs.

When you get to high school, the cafeteria will be full of kids who are scared they’re different too. Be on the lookout for magic dust, there are more just like you. When you go on dates, remember that he is as nervous as you are; that you’ll discover his insecurities. What to tell a star, that doesn’t want to stand out? I have always and will always love watching you shine. I pray you receive the best care and supportive friends, but more importantly that you be you and do what you were destined to do. Once you fully love your magic, you won’t need their acceptance, you can dance without it.

I don’t want you to change. You will always be my daughter. You have always been loved.
Sincerely,
Mom

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Nancy S

We had a great family. Lots of love and admiration. What happened? People didn't talk about what they were feeling or ask for help. They hid it because they felt they would be shamed. It's a horrible disease and needs to be spoken about more.

My older brother was diagnosed with bipolar late in life when we finally insisted he see a psychiatrist. He was in denial and refused help. My parents did not get him the help he needed at a younger age because of the stigma and their generational denial. They felt he would be okay. They would say he just needed a woman to straighten him out.

He moved to another country and pushed everyone away who tried to help him. He liked the manic side but eventually went into a deep depression and became “paralyzed”. He died of a pulmonary embolism from ( my hypothesis) his reclusive, stagnant lifestyle and lack of feeding himself often and correctly. His own suicide.

My dad suffered a few bouts of depression over my growing years and never sought counseling. His GP put him on a pill and he took that for 15 years with no follow-up, just renewed prescriptions. Since my brother died 5 1/2 years ago at age 57, my dad has not come out of a depression with severe anxiety. He’s now 89 and cannot enjoy a minute of his life. He’s been in 3 psych units since then and tried weekly counseling for 5 years and every medication on the market. He feels he faked his way through life.

His generation didn’t talk about how they felt. Now he looks back on his life as one of negativity, stupidity and remorse. We had a great family. Lots of love and admiration. What happened? People didn’t talk about what they were feeling or ask for help. They hid it because they felt they would be shamed. It’s a horrible disease and needs to be spoken about more.

Read More

Daniel B

These were the old days of psychiatry where mental illness was the result of distance fathers and overprotective mothers. My parents were told that it would take "long time" meaning months of hospitalizing to make me "well".

I was first hospitalized in 1969 at the age of 15. These were the old days of psychiatry where mental illness was the result of distance fathers and overprotective mothers. My parents were told that it would take “long time” meaning months of hospitalizing to make me “well”.

I was a 15 year old on an adult psych unit. My treatment consisted of restraints and IM injections for any slight disobedience of the nurses. This I later learned was illegal.

Eventually at 18 I was committed to a state hospital where I endured 5 ECT treatments. I found out later the state had given me a 1% chance of ever functioning again in society.

Finally in the 1980’s I was correctly diagnosed as Bipolar and received proper treatment and medications. I earned a BA degree and a teaching credential and taught for 30 years.

I remain well with the help of my physicians and therapist and I have a network for friends. I am also active in my Church.

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Lisa T

I would like one day not to be afraid of who I reveal to that I have two mental illnesses, a potential partner, a new doctor, co-workers, even friends.

My name is Lisa and this is my story. I want to tell as many people as possible. I’m on a mission to fight stigma due to what I’ve experienced from those closest to me. I’m a person with two mental illnesses. Bipolar Disorder I (BPI) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) What I call a TX size helping of mental illness! This is what I’ve been told. “Just snap out of it!” when depressed. “I can’t respect someone with a mental illness.” “Mental illness doesn’t exist.” A doctor, when he learned of my diagnosis of BPD, said, “We were taught in medical school that those people are difficult to deal with.”. He’d known and respected me for 6 (+) years prior to this.

I was diagnosed with BP I almost 13 years ago and BPD 3 years ago. It has taken me that entire time to stop feeling ashamed about having mental illnesses and to realize I should be proud of the fact that I am taking care of myself by seeing my Psychiatrist regularly and by taking my medications as prescribed. I want the world to know that the face of mental illness is every-day people like me. The exception rather than the norm is those who enter public places armed and ready to open fire or a pilot who flies a plane full of passengers into a mountain. I would like one day not to be afraid of who I reveal to that I have two mental illnesses, a potential partner, a new doctor, co-workers, even friends. Lisa,  Houston, TX Age 52

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Alisa B

I encourage everyone who has been victimized to seek help and not carry a burden that seems insurmountable. After all the facts I now know, I can happily say I'm adjusting well to my new life as an advocate for change. I learned I am NOT my illness, I am NOT my past and I am NOT a victim. I am an overcomer and if this story helps another person, which I hope it does, I've succeeded in one mission in life.

Hello, my name is Alisa.

For years, I knew I was different and never knew why. I always had my “head in the clouds” as I was told by family and friends. I never did things the way others did them. I was called “Unorthodox” “Weird” or “Freak” because I was one for a few close friends and not too many other people.

It wasn’t until I was 15 that I first realized something in me was very wrong and couldn’t be addressed.

I almost committed suicide. I had the noose around my neck and was on the chair when my mom called my name. I yelled back I was coming and left the feelings I had alone, never to be touched again. Then two years later, my mother died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm.

I went from having a life of peace to complete upheaval. My father never understood me as he and my mother divorced when I was six and became a “weekend dad” meaning he came a few hours a weekend day and didn’t do much talking. When my mother died, he became a full time father to three teenagers. My brothers are 15 months younger than me. It was six and a half years of terror, abuse and for lack of other words, hell. I couldn’t handle what happened daily which was a lot of verbal and emotional abuse. I was “Stupid” “retarded” and “not worth my skin”. It hurt because a girl’s first love is supposed to be her father. Sadly, mine broke my heart.

In 2004, he passed away from diabetic keto acidosis. It was, for lack of description, fitting compared to how he lived the last years of his life. I felt a mixture of grief and relief. Grief for the dad I loved and relief from the monster who hurt me. For the first time I was free. That’s when the real problems happened.

I became a poor girl with a lot of money and spent it all on useless things I had to throw away when I became evicted in 2006. I also developed a drinking problem which led to my going through nearly 25,000 dollars in six months.

After several false starts and losing everything one more time, I became homeless with a physical health condition called Hydrocephalus; fluid on the brain there since birth. In 2008, I had surgery that saved my life. I had the same surgery again two years ago to revise the device, called a shunt, to drain the fluid. It was in this time I learned that I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because on top of all of this, I was a victim of sexual assault in my own home by my ex boyfriend and his best friend. I never told a soul and now, I encourage everyone who has been victimized to seek help and not carry a burden that seems insurmountable.

After all the facts I now know, I can happily say I’m adjusting well to my new life as an advocate for change. I learned I am NOT my illness, I am NOT my past and I am NOT a victim. I am an overcomer and if this story helps another person, which I hope it does, I’ve succeeded in one mission in life.

P.S. in my picture is my brother, Bart who bravely served his country doing a 19 month tour in Iraq and is now an APNP in Tulsa, OK. He’s one man I’m deeply proud of.

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Emily

I can't miss a single day of medication, or else I spiral into darkness. Is it worth it? Definitely. Life is so beautifully complex, and without the darkness I would not appreciate the sunlight. Sometimes I feel like my emotional dial is turned all the way up. I feel things so much more powerfully, my world is a prismatic collage of sharply vibrant colors, some intensely dark, some pulsating with life and light, and everyday is a new challenge, learning how to navigate through a sea of torrid emotions. I am grateful for my life.

My name is Emily, and I have Bipolar Disorder 1. I am a fighter, and a survivor. I am also an optimist, and a true believer that “hope springs eternal “.

After enduring a year of sexual abuse/assault at age eight at the hands of a neighbor, I began medication and therapy at age 11, but wasn’t diagnosed until age 14. I had my first hospitalization at age 15…my Sweet Sixteen birthday was spent in an adolescent lockdown ward. That same year I began electro convulsive therapy, as a last ditch effort to fight my pervasive depression. The treatments, along with medications, continued into my twenties. I was on medicines that required weekly blood tests due to potential liver toxicity, and medicines that caused me to gain 100 lbs in a year. Finally I was recommended to receive a vagal nerve stimulator implant, which was placed in my chest to help stave off the depression. It has helped.

I’ve had doctors give up on me, and tell me they’re out of ideas. I’ve been bullied and harassed, told to “get over it” and had my illness and experiences trivialized. I will never be able to quit regular therapy or discontinue my medications. Managing my illness is a continual struggle of finding balance between mania and depression. I don’t just struggle with everyday things like eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, balancing work and fun, and relationships… I also have to manage my numerous doctor appointments, therapy appointments, my struggles with daily suicidal thoughts, my extreme fatigue over constantly fighting my own brain.

I can’t miss a single day of medication, or else I spiral into darkness. Is it worth it? Definitely. Life is so beautifully complex, and without the darkness I would not appreciate the sunlight. Sometimes I feel like my emotional dial is turned all the way up. I feel things so much more powerfully, my world is a prismatic collage of sharply vibrant colors, some intensely dark, some pulsating with life and light, and everyday is a new challenge, learning how to navigate through a sea of torrid emotions. I am grateful for my life.

I have a certain quote written down, that came from Bruce Lee. Like it or not, it describes my life. “Do not pray for an easy life. Pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”

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Marybeth S.

As far back as I can remember I struggled with highs and lows. I wish I had gotten treatment much earlier but I didn't want a mental illness. It was a sign of weakness. Of course I could be well if I tried harder. Worked harder. Prayed harder. I like so many others didn't believe it was a sickness.

For ten years I have lived under the shadow of my diagnosis. Bipolar 1 Major Depressive disorder Generalized anxiety disorder.

At 46 years old I began the struggle of medication adjustments, bearing with the many side effects of the medications..and the many limitations having this illness would put on my life.

Now at 56 I am coming out into the light. Finding my way as a person who struggles with a mental illness. A person who foremost takes my medication. A person who gets proper rest, limits stress, eats healthy, and gets some exercise. I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a mother in law, a grandmother an aunt, a friend. And I am Bipolar.

As far back as I can remember I struggled with highs and lows. I wish I had gotten treatment much earlier but I didn’t want a mental illness. It was a sign of weakness. Of course I could be well if I tried harder. Worked harder. Prayed harder.

I like so many others didn’t believe it was a sickness. I like so many others never understood that mental illness was like so many other illnesses it required medication to treat the symptoms. It was not unlike diabetes, thyroid disease, heart disease.

But unlike those illnesses mental illness carried with it shame. Embarrassment. It was not spoken of. You are never asked how you are feeling. It’s the stigma of this illness that makes it hard for people to seek help and stick with their treatment.

I choose to share my story now to help someone, anyone know that you too can come out of the shadows into the light.

Life does exist after your diagnosis.

#StartTheConversation #BC2M #Bipolar

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Daniel P.

My life has improved since I got on a program to help me with this unbelievably difficult disease. Although, I have had troubles with substances and ended up in a rehabilitation facility for a pain program after I ended up addicted to pain killers and Cocaine last year. This year has been extremely difficult and still need help. This disease (both of them) has ruined my opportunities in life, but I'm still here and am not quitting the fight to just survive.

I lived my 10’s,20’s and early 30’s without professional help or a diagnosis. I couldn’t stay with a job or mate long enough to get any insurance or financial footing. I believe if I was able to get the help I needed, my life would’ve turned out much more fulfilling and prosperous.

My childhood was horrible and my parents already had two other kids before me. My older brother and sister. I was left to my own devices as a child with no money or guidance, only other friends with the same situation.

It turns out that I was in my own world with my own rules at a very young age. Then, when things changed and I moved away from my mom and her abusive (new) husband, to Maryland with my father and his new wife, my rules still applied.

Life in high school was great, compared to my childhood, then came the drugs! I apparently am also an addictive personality, so that went out of control quickly. I knew something was out of balance with me and I couldn’t seem to get ANY help at all.

My father was in the Navy years earlier and pushed for me to get in. I got in after being discharged from an earlier four year commitment! I got arrested in O.C. MD. for public intoxication on my 18th birthday ,no less! My recruiter worked me onto an aircraft carrier (Abraham Lincoln CVN-72) as an airman on the flight deck for a two year commitment.

Boot camp was miserable and cold! I went to Great Lakes near Chicago in the winter and froze my ass off for eight weeks of hell and physical torture. Of course it all made sense later why they treat you so crappy. We ended up in the Persian Gulf the summer of 1992. Into a hot hellhole of a place, Sadam lit the oil refineries on fire and turned the sky black as night. When we got there, the sea snakes were all over the place along with an endless line of sharks! Needless to say, the trip there was no picnic,either. We worked 24/7 all week and weekend to launch our jets to drop ordinance on somebody then try to land on this floating airport. I got in trouble a lot and met the Captain under bad circumstances many times. Eventually, I got kicked out for smoking Marijuana and was living in California in an apartment with my H.S. girlfriend. We ended up coming back to Md. and things just kept getting worse and worse. My girlfriend and I split up after my D.U.I. i COULDN’T SEEM TO KEEP FROM SCREWING UP MY LIFE!

I eventually moved to Fl. where I grew up and started Tattooing for a biker (Outlaws) and the drugs got worse. I am an artist, so I figured it would come natural to me. I was struggling to keep a job outside of Tattooing and eventually disappeared to S.F. CA., again! I started my cycle again and had an incredible time in the city at a Hostel I eventually ended up working for at night check in man. Of course more drugs and alcohol to an extreme level. It’s some miracle that I made it this far, considering the amount and variety of drugs in S.F. I ended up back in Md., staying with my sister. I eventually settled down in a drinking city ,the same one I got arrested at 18, with my new girl. We’ve been together since 98′ and she’s been the difference in my life. I finally got on an insurance plan and it paid off. I was having the same problems, of course, and went to an awesome Pysch. who diagnosed me Bi-polar and got me on the proper meds. It took a while to get the correct mix of pills, but we eventually got it right.

My life has improved since I got on a program to help me with this unbelievably difficult disease. Although, I have had troubles with substances and ended up in a rehabilitation facility for a pain program after I ended up addicted to pain killers and Cocaine last year. This year has been extremely difficult and still need help.

This disease (both of them) has ruined my opportunities in life, but I’m still here and am not quitting the fight to just survive.

I wish our society would help more, rather than just lock up people with mental disorders.

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Kenneth B

On the bright side, although I continue to cycle through depression, mania and mixed states, for the last year I have been consistenly happier than I can ever remember and am very optimistic about what the future holds. I have rediscovered my spiritual beliefs, made significant positive improvement in family relations which have been horribly, but not irrevocably damaged. This has been a classic American Tragedy and I hope my experiences educate, and, hopefully, help someone else who is struggling. Even If no one reads this, it has been very helpful to publicly acknowledge my condition and continue to move forward with my life.

Hi! I will be 60 next week. I am currently retired but previously was a Sr. Vice President of several Fortune 500 companies. I am educated and, despite being BiPolar and an alcoholic, was a high functioning, very successful overachiever. I believe that I have been BiPolar since my teenage years. I started drinking heavily when I was also in my teens and continued drinking heavily until 2 1/2 years ago (1,018 days ago to be precise). I was fired from my very prestigious job in 2010 for my alcohol-related behaviors while working. Of course, I began drinking very heavily (approximately 1 liter of vodka each day 5-6 days per week. My relationships were seriously damaged, almost destroyed, and severe financial problems also appeared which continue to this day.

Although I was diagnosed and started treatment for BiPolar Disorder approximately 20 years ago, my heavy drinking seriously impaired the effectiveness of the prescribed medication. So I have really only been effectively treated for the last couple of years. After I quit drinking and really began to seriously treat my condition everything was going fine until June 28, 2015 when I “fell off the “wagon” and drank approximately 6 ounces of vodka (I believe I was in a depression phase at the time). I ended up in the hospital and was transferred to a facility for the treatment of mental illness. I was there for 3 days and managed to convince them I was ready for dismissal so I came home to a very pissed wife and very concerned family and extended family members. I was still in a depression phase and my depression continued to worsen until July 11, 2015.

On July 11, 2015, I shot myself and, but for the grace of God and some very good trauma surgeons, came within millimeters of ending my life. I spent 3 weeks in the hospital and underwent 2 life saving surgeries where my life was hanging in the balance and a third major surgery. This experience was life changing. After dismissal from the hospital, I immediately met with the mental health professional who helps me manage my medication and we made some serious changes to my medication regimen. At that time, I also sought treatment from a very well-respected therapist and treatment continues to this day and will probably continue for some time, maybe for the rest of my life.

The medication changes have, so far, been effective in preventing any suicidal thoughts or feelings of despair, helplessness and negative feelings regarding my self-worth. I began keeping a Daily Log to track my cycling and work on it at least twice each day, usually multiple times each day. In other words,I now know that BiPolar disorder is a life-threatening illness that must be carefully and consistently managed every single day .

On the bright side, although I continue to cycle through depression, mania and mixed states, for the last year I have been consistently happier than I can ever remember and am very optimistic about what the future holds. I have rediscovered my spiritual beliefs, made significant positive improvement in family relations which have been horribly, but not irrevocably damaged.

This has been a classic American Tragedy and I hope my experiences educate, and, hopefully, help someone else who is struggling. Even If no one reads this, it has been very helpful to publicly acknowledge my condition and continue to move forward with my life.

God Bless You all and thank you to the creators of this website and allowing me a chance to publicly acknowledge my experiences. It really does help to share with others who are understaanding and care about others.

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Trace H

Everyday is a struggle. I never know what type of day it will be, but I can control the high highs and low lows. I now do my best to be an advocate for those with mental illness and to end the stigma.

All my life I felt as if something was wrong with me. I was not like anyone else. I thought differently and acted differently. When I was 8 I had my first seizure. I was diagnosed with childhood epilepsy. I eventually grew out of it. However, I was very overweight until I was 14 and lost 70 lbs.

Things seemed as if they were in an upswing, I started running and xcountry skiing. I also seemed to have up and down moods. This made it hard to make friends, but my best friend has always been around for me. He has helped me with my struggles and vise versa. I started taking antidepressants when I was 17 and they just made things worse.

I moved to Nevada where I had some of my happiest times, up until a sad breakup and leaving Nevada for Florida. When I was in Florida I became severely depressed and ended up having a panic attack and totaled my car. I was physically fine, but my parents know something was wrong. I started going to a psychologist regularly and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and began taking the right medications. I started becoming happier.

I became even happier when we moved back to Nevada. I went to my dream school and joined a fraternity. I began drinking too much, but this didn’t really affect me. For the most part things were good, until I lost my grandma, the person I was closest to besides my mom. The next semester I was unmotivated and depressed. Things started to get better when distracting myself with jobs and friends.

Things took the most severe turn when I found out I had to move to Texas because my dad wanted to take care of his dad, whom I’ve had a volatile relationship. I was severely scared of him because I watched him beat my grandma when I was young. When I got there I was constantly angry, in fear, crying, or depressed. Things got so bad that I was going between his house and my aunts.

I ended up doing an outpatient program at a psychiatric facility. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychosis. I started taking a new medication for the bipolar. It took months to get used to it. I’d sleep so much or not at all. When my family finally moved out from my grandfathers house things got better. I take 5 pills a day at different times. I am doing so much better today because of my best friend and my mom.

Every day is a struggle. I never know what type of day it will be, but I can control the high highs and low lows. I now do my best to be an advocate for those with mental illness and to end the stigma.

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Lorraine A

I take as much time out to listen to different people who I know are having a difficult time in their lives - even if I'm not really in the strongest mood to face that challenge.

Hi my name is Lorraine. I have been diagnosed with Bipolar I and PTSD, along with Manic Depression.   I always knew since I was a small child there was something very different from me and my siblings, I wasn’t diagnosed until 2001 by a very good Doctor here in the Valley of Az.

I didn’t know anything about Bipolar I or anything about mental illnesses. I just knew I was hurting inside for along time, and I didn’t know exactly where or what to to to seek help. I had made arrangements to be submitted into a Mental hospital here in the Valley and that’s where it all began. I have been treated by many different Doctors and it’s been a roller coaster even to this day.

I have had many challenges come and go with this in my daily life. I never give up cause I tell myself tomorrow will be a better day – and if it’s not then I know it’s something that I didn’t accomplish that day before that I needed to complete. It’s made me a better person mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I look more on the brighter things in life then looking on the sad hurtful feelings that try to rob me of my intelligence that I have been blessed to have.

I take as much time out to listen to different people who I know are having a difficult time in their lives – even if I’m not really in the strongest mood to face that challenge. I can leave these people smiling and laughing knowing I made their day brighter when I know down deep inside I never knew what was troubling them.  I can feel people’s emotions but all I can say to u all is get the help.  Its Okay and there is nothing wrong with getting yourself to feel much better.

You are not alone. We all have our problems. No one is perfect. Continue to keep up with your appointments even if it can be a hassle at times. I have been doing it for some time now, cause I want to continue to feel better about myself and let others know I’m human just as everyone else is and we are just unique individuals.  Keep strong, move on, we have our weak moments, believe me I do, but I keep moving on. I have blossomed into a new butterfly that I never thought I would ever see to this day.  Sending u all my Love and Strength positive energy flowing your way. Peace to u all, Lorraine

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John Frederick

There's so many parts of my life that I've struggled with - that so many millions of others struggled with - about being an outsider, about feeling crazy, ugly, gay, or not good enough. I'm a bright 30 year old compassionate man with morals, feelings, and dreams, just like any other human being.

The Stigma of Bipolar Disorder

I often feel like an outsider, and I always will feel like one. I’ve always felt that I wasn’t a member of any particular group of people, club, religious group, or class. I’m not particularly fond of labels. I enjoy the freedom of having my own unique perspective on things, in a world where everyone is the same.

There’s so many parts of my life that I’ve struggled with – that so many millions of others struggled with – about being an outsider, about feeling crazy, ugly, gay, or not good enough.

I’m a bright 30 year old compassionate man with morals, feelings, and dreams, just like any other human being.

But, I’m living with Bipolar type 2 disorder, and that means there will be both fear and stigma. Which adds to being an outsider. Bipolar is a real and serious mental illness caused by chemical imbalances in the brain.

Although, the Bipolar has led me to disability, it shouldn’t be anything to feel ashamed, feared, or ridiculed by others. That is why I’m writing this…to help, advocate, and educate. We have to fight these public attitudes and misconceptions which lead to fear, rejection, and stigma!

My mood can change often, anxiety haunts me, and the depression is crippling! My life is not without stress or easy, but Bipolar disorder is a treatable illness. Usually, by a doctor, with medication, and psycho-therapy (counseling). Bipolar is also an invisible illness, so with the right care and medication it can go virtually unnoticed. You are not doomed to live an unhappy life because of any mental illness.

I’ve weathered many emotional storms. One of the oldest and worst emotional storms of all time is fear. Fear and / or Anxiety can be good when you’re walking past an alley at night or when you need to check the locks on your doors before you go to bed, but it’s not good when you have a goal and you’re fearful of obstacles. We often get trapped by our fears, but anyone who has had success has failed before. This is all you have. This is not a dry run. This is your life. If you want to fritter it away with your fears, then you will fritter it away, but you won’t get it back. It’s okay to just be okay sometimes… that is enough. But, don’t allow Stigma to stop you or limit you from doing anything you want to do. Face your fears, reach out to people, go outside your comfort zone. It might feel a bit awkward at first, but try it.

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Allison P

Living with bipolar disorder forces you to live with balance. The key to success lies in three things: compliance, compliance and compliance. Stability will not be achieved if you do not have a positive relationship with a doctor you trust. Every time I get off the elevators at the hospital on the floor where I spent almost one month of my life, I am reminded of how precious my mental health is and of how far I have come. It gives me the motivation to continue down this path of wellness.

My Life in Balance

Fall 2000
It is hard to be a perfect mother, perfect wife and perfect teacher without something giving. I decided that what would give was sleep. My husband recalls waking up before sunrise to get ready for work and finding me on the couch doing prep work or marking. I became increasingly short with my children at home and also with the students at school. I hated myself for that.

Spring 2001
My low mood that winter lifted as spring arrived; however, the mood elevated to an uncomfortable high. I decided that our house needed some renovations. And I made a list and started racking up the bills. My erratic spending was putting a strain on our finances.

Fall 2001
The first weekend of September, my mother, sister and I went to New York City to celebrate my mother’s 60th birthday. Two days after we came home, the world changed forever. 9/11 was the beginning of my spiral out of control. I went for a run the following weekend and had my first panic attack. It was one of the most intensely frightening, upsetting and uncomfortable experiences of my life.

I had to stop on the side of the road and try to calm myself down.

All fall my mood was up and down.

At family gatherings I would say inappropriate things and make people uncomfortable. At work I was manic, spoke very fast and loud in the office and started to become paranoid. I lost my cool in front of my students.

Winter 2001
In January, after experiencing more panic attacks, I finally went to my family physician. I sobbed uncontrollably for a long time, confessed my paranoia and was referred to a psychologist for generalized anxiety disorder.

After an initial consultation with the psychologist, I was said to be suffering from moderate depression. Delving into my past seemed to worsen my condition and I continued to experience panic attacks.

Spring 2002
A student at the school where I was teaching took his own life. The atmosphere at school was very stressful and even though I did not know the student personally, I was deeply affected emotionally. My mental stability was definitely crumbling.

I wasn’t sleeping. Daily household functions became impossible. I forgot to feed the kids dinner, or I would burn it.

My workplace became very stressful as tensions in the office grew. These were real and imagined.

I went to work on April 10, thinking that it would be a normal day. Halfway through a lesson, I looked at the board and the math no longer made any sense to me. I was terrified. There were conversations that I had that day that were puzzling to my coworkers. At home, my own children were frightened of me and my husband had no clue what was happening. I made it through the day somehow and entered a third night without any sleep.

The next day, I went downstairs and plopped myself on the couch. I refused to get ready for work. My husband called my psychologist and our family doctor and was advised to take me to the emergency room. I was in a full-blown psychotic state. Jim had no one to leave the kids with so all four of us set off to the hospital.

It seemed to take forever for the psychiatrist on call to meet with me. I have recurring flashbacks of the doors closing and me waving good-bye to my family. I was placed on a stretcher and two security guards were put in charge of my safety.

My first test in the hospital was a CAT scan to rule out any biological reason (brain tumour) for my psychosis.

I was then brought up to the psychiatric ward that would be my home for the next three weeks. When I arrived my doctor opened her hand to reveal a small pile of pills. She said they would help me sleep. At that I became panicky, revealing my fear that if I went to sleep I may not wake up. She persisted and I had my first good night’s sleep in a week.

My husband arrived in the morning with a large overnight bag he had packed for me. It had several days worth of clothes and my toiletries. It all was very strange to me as I thought that he was coming to take me home.

He accompanied me to another test that involved measuring my brain patterns. Jim sat in on my session with the doctor. He recalls this event with great emotion. It took all of his effort to keep his composure. He honestly feared that he had lost his wife, the mother of his children, his life partner, forever.

Rumour around the psychiatric ward was that a new patient arrived and was “formed”. I met a fellow patient named Paul and he explained to me what this meant. On the desk in my room was a hospital form that stated that I was admitted to the hospital for a mandatory stay of three days because I was in danger of harming myself. This paper left me puzzled.

Over the next few days I refused treatment. I was completely manic. I had no concept that I was a wife, a mother and a teacher. I had lost connection to my life back at home and work. I felt that I was at summer camp. I loved the hospital food. There were endless puzzles to put together and wonderful conversations around the dinner table. While my husband, children and extended family went into crisis mode, I lay sun tanning on the porch of the hospital.

I did not attend any group sessions. I refused my medication.

One afternoon I went outside to join some other patients that were sitting in a smoking circle. One offered some invaluable advice. He said I really should start listening to the doctors and start taking my medication. You know things are bad when the other psychiatric patients are complaining about you! I think they were all getting tired of my manic state.

That evening my doctor came into my room and looked at me sternly. She said if I didn’t start taking the medication I would have to be placed in the ward next door where patients were forced to take their medications. At night I could hear screams from the ward next door. I definitely did not want to be locked up in there. I started to take my meds.

I was tolerated better on the floor once I became compliant. The healing of my brain had begun. I slept a lot after meals, kept more to myself and by the end of the second week I was granted a day pass to see my family.

On May 6, almost four weeks from my admission, I was released from hospital. I have very little memory of this time and of the next few months. I know that I slept a lot at home and felt very drugged. This was necessary for my recovery.

Today
Living with bipolar disorder forces you to live with balance. The key to success lies in three things: compliance, compliance and compliance. Stability will not be achieved if you do not have a positive relationship with a doctor you trust. Every time I get off the elevators at the hospital on the floor where I spent almost one month of my life, I am reminded of how precious my mental health is and of how far I have come. It gives me the motivation to continue down this path of wellness. Once I came to terms with the fact the illness is a lifelong struggle that must be managed with medication, I became more at peace.

I no longer want my old life back. I choose volunteer opportunities at work and in the community that give my life more purpose. At the same time, I have learned to say no to requests so that I do not get overwhelmed. I am at peace with my life, although I know that am not cured.

I am grateful for a stable marriage, loving children, supportive friends and family and a job that I am passionate about. I still work at the same school. I have less frequent flashbacks, and every day that I enter the school doors, I feel a little victorious. Every day I try to live my best life, a life in balance.

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Alirra R

I constantly aim to persuade people into thinking that all is well & I’m bloody good at it I assure you! I constantly shock people when I tell them about my bipolar, in particular the depressive stages. I’m met with “but you always seem so happy” & “you’d never think anything was wrong with you”. These words are accompanied by a surprised look. Hearing the word “wrong with me” sets my mind into over drive wanting to hide my true feelings from the world. I hear this phase so often, & it hurts. I don’t want people to think that something isn’t right with me.

The dark side of sunshine & bipolar

They say “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”. If this is the case you would think that by now I’d be strong enough to face my demons head on. But its moments like today I’m not even strong enough to see tomorrow. I cringe knowing tomorrow will be like today, & the day before that. In fact I can’t remember the last time I looked forward to tomorrow.
It’s so easy for those around you who have not experienced a mental illness to come out with things that they presume will help. Don’t get me wrong it’s a lovely gesture, but for me personally it’s often a hindrance not a help. Of course I don’t show this. I go into an instant mask of happiness & false appreciation to help validate how they feel, not me. Because that’s me, I’ve programed myself into wearing this mask day in and day out during anxiety & depressed moods that I might be having.

When I’m in such a low period of my mood disorder it results in my inability to function in the “real” world. I have no strength to do this yet a smile is still plastered on my face.
I rely on those around me to be the stability I need to make it to the next day. I hate to know that I’m relying on others & I often avoid it for as long as possible. I don’t want those close to me knowing what’s really going on inside my head. I want to save them from the person I have become yet again.

I despise my feeling of weakness.
I despise myself for being unwell again.

I think of the quote “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”. If this is the case why am I yet again not able to fight the black dog off? The thing is its slowly killing me. You can’t see it but I feel it. I feel it so strongly that urges to harm myself become more frequent. I become more tired & I can’t ignore the torment that’s been playing on my mind constantly. Any ability to rationalize within myself at this stage is no longer.

I miss the feeling of a clear mind instead I’m greeted with a thick black fog that stops me seeing the positives. Each day the fog gets lower & lower, the visibility of each day becomes worse & from this my ability to function becomes non-existent. The words of others roll around in my head for days. Worrying about the judgment I face if I don’t achieve what has been told to me. At this stage I panic. I push those close to me away in the fear of judgment & ridicule.

I constantly aim to persuade people into thinking that all is well & I’m bloody good at it I assure you! I constantly shock people when I tell them about my bipolar, in particular the depressive stages. I’m met with “but you always seem so happy” & “you’d never think anything was wrong with you”. These words are accompanied by a surprised look.
Hearing the word “wrong with me” sets my mind into over drive wanting to hide my true feelings from the world. I hear this phase so often, & it hurts. I don’t want people to think that something isn’t right with me. Of course people often word it like that without realizing what they have implanted. Most have no idea the effect that a simple slip up of a word can have on someone suffering a mental illness. I want to conform to society so my head is above water & my uncertainties of myself are hidden.

Associated with the peoples reaction is the stigma that is attached. This stigma is poison. It runs through your veins & you can’t escape it until you are well enough within yourself. Who knows how long that will be? Until that point the overwhelming feeling of fear engulfs every inch of you.
You drown in the words others have spoken.
You drown in your own fears.
You drown by the self-enforced isolation.
You drown in the stigma society has created.
You drown because stability feels so far away.

It takes one hell of an effort to keep your head above water & at times I wonder why I even try to stay afloat. How simple it would be to let myself drown in the sea of emotions. I then think to myself “you are only given in life what you can handle”. This gives me the determination to keep my head above the water for another day. Who knows what tomorrow holds? But at least I made it through today.

 

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Virginia E

I would like to bring awareness and more help to our part of the country. The stigmatization here is ridiculous and has to be stopped if things are going to change. Nobody wants to admit their loved ones need help and that results in dysfunction and suicide for many!!

My daughter committed suicide after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and mixed personality disorder. She was in and out of doctors care for depression and mental issues for about 15 years. She suffered with bulimia, cutting disorder and lastly self medicating before her first attempt at suicide in May 2015.

She was in treatment for about 10 days and came home with a new bunch of psychotic drugs that only seemed to make her worse. She lost her job because she could no longer function effectively! She suffered with depression, multiple panic attacks and extreme anxiety for years that only worsened with age. She lost her struggle on January 27, 2016 because she could no longer deal with life.

The mental health system here in our area is almost nonexistent. We have no psychiatrist and a handful of psychologists that are hard to get in to see. There is very little help available and no one wants to address this issue. I would like to bring awareness and more help to our part of the country. The stigmatization here is ridiculous and has to be stopped if things are going to change. Nobody wants to admit their loved ones need help and that results in dysfunction and suicide for many!!

Please help me change things with the help of this organization. I pray no family has to suffer this grief as we have had to endure. My daughter was a lovely and brilliant girl that needed help but was failed by the system. She would have been 30 years old 9 days after her death. STOP THIS DISGRACE!!!

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Carrie M

Eighteen months ago I rushed to the Emergency Room with stroke-like symptoms.The entire left side of my body was numb and drooping. I was slurring my words. As soon as they looked at my chart and saw the meds I was taking for my bi-polar disorder, they stopped talking to me and talked to my friend instead, as though I wasn’t even there. It was extremely offensive.

For six years I went without health insurance. Not because I didn’t try, and not because I was a healthy 20 something who didn’t need insurance, but because, in fact, I have so many serious health issues no insurance company would touch me.

I never thought I would have access to health care. I’d resigned myself to living with this pain for the rest of my fertile life.

You see, I have ovarian cysts, which cause debilitating pain when they burst. It feels like a small explosion, then contractions like something trying to get rid of itself. Jagged, fiery pain shoots up and down my leg. My leg goes numb. I get nauseated.

I also have a fibroid tumor which explains the constant ache. Add to that endometriosis, which does a number on my digestive system. I vomit so often I rarely leave my apartment.

Enter the Affordable Care Act and I finally have access to health care! The solution is in sight, but not within reach. Doctors agree, a hysterectomy would largely make my issues go away. Except I am only 32 years old, doctors don’t want to terminate my fertility. Never mind that I decided long ago not to have children. They don’t trust me to make that decision.

They don’t trust me because I have bi-polar disorder. I’m self-employed, independent, and self-supporting. I’m articulate, talented, intelligent, but I’m bi-polar, and that may pose the biggest risk to my life.

According to a study by psychiatrists at Oxford University, bi-polar women like me can expect to die nine to 20 years sooner than other women my age. Those odds are worse than smoking. Heavy smoking cuts eight to ten years from a person’s life span.

Mental health patients typically engage in risky behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse. Not me. They attempt suicide at a higher rate. I have thought of suicide, but I’ve never tried to kill myself. Researcher Dr. Seena Fazel points to another issue that resonates with me. “The stigma surrounding mental health may mean people aren’t treated as well for physical health problems when they do see a doctor.” I have experienced how the stigma of my bi-polar diagnosis creates a barrier.

Eighteen months ago I rushed to the Emergency Room with stroke-like symptoms.The entire left side of my body was numb and drooping. I was slurring my words. As soon as they looked at my chart and saw the meds I was taking for my bi-polar disorder, they stopped talking to me and talked to my friend instead, as though I wasn’t even there. It was extremely offensive.

When a scan showed no signs of stroke, the doctors discharged me even thought my friend pleaded with the doctors to do something. We thought the symptoms indicated something seriously wrong, but the doctors waved me away. “There’s nothing we can do.”

(The next day I went to Planned Parenthood. They immediately took me off birth control. Stroke can be a side effect of hormonal birth control. Because I presented with these symptoms, the risk is too great for me to continue on the Pill.)

Now doctors brush me off regarding my decision to not have children. After convincing two doctors to schedule the hysterectomy, my insurance transferred me to a third doctor who refuses. She actually told me a mentally ill woman of my age shouldn’t be making decisions about my fertility. I say it’s not her place to put my fertility before my health when I have already decided not to have children.

The bi-polar disorder drove my decision. I would have to get off my psych meds to get pregnant because every medication could be dangerous to the baby. After the baby was born I’d have a 95-percent chance of postpartum depression. Plus raising a child as a bi-polar parent would be that much more difficult.

For seven months now I have been in a relentless tug-of-war with my insurance company. I’m determined to have the hysterectomy. The alternative is untenable. I’m functioning at 50-percent. I’m not wiling to use narcotics, being bi-polar makes me high risk for addiction. This cannot persist. I would have to drop out of life.

Already in the past four months I’ve had to turn away work. My income has dropped below the poverty level. Unless my situation resolves I may have to give up entirely and apply for disability.

The Oxford researcher, Dr. Fazel, gives me this hope. “With political will and funding, rates of smoking-related deaths have started to decline. We now need a similar effort in mental health.”

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Dana J

I’ve learned it is essential to my ongoing health to ride my mood swings like a roller coaster. I enjoy the up times and work hard to survive the down times.

Words of Encouragement for the Recently Diagnosed

In 2006 at the age of 26 I was first hospitalized for bipolar disorder. From 2006-2008 I endured a bumpy journey of job changes and four hospitalizations while I struggled to become medically compliant. My first two prescription cocktails made me nauseous, numb, and nervous. I fidgeted all of the time and even tried to jump out of my mom’s care at a red light because I just couldn’t sit still and I preferred to walk home. I would start and stop my medications when I felt like it. I felt my doctors weren’t listening to my concerns and the drugs that actually made me feel worse were expensive.

When I finally found the right prescription regimen I was happy to spend the money to feel better. Accepting a bipolar diagnosis was the most important step I made towards wellness. I lost two years of my life to my stubborn denial and refusal to look for a better doctor. I was lucky to find a doctor I enjoyed working with through my last hospitalization. I urge you to trust the medical professionals in your life and work with them using open communication to find the right treatment plan for your optimal mental health.

I still have mood swings every month. They seem to be related to my menstrual cycle and hormone changes. My doctor and I agree they are manageable. My medication keeps me in a safe zone and I’ve learned to accept the limits of my illness. Some nights I won’t sleep and that’s okay. The next day I’ll avoid caffeine and push through then take my prescribed medication to help me sleep that night. When I am more “manic” I capitalize on my energy and complete tasks I have been putting off. When I am more “depressed” I work hard to ignore the suicidal voice in my head and refocus my thoughts on a positive fantasy. Recently I considered what it would be like to have lunch with a favorite celebrity, what questions I would ask and how I would fee after such an encounter.

I’ve learned it is essential to my ongoing health to ride my mood swings like a roller coaster. I enjoy the up times and work hard to survive the down times. This is better for me than the initial numbness I felt from the wrong medications. I needed to feel my emotions. I cry less and laugh more now that I am well medicated. I have held a stable position for the last seven years. My life as a diagnosed bipolar patient is much better than my life as an undiagnosed, dramatically mood fluctuating individual. Looking back I can see the last ten years of my life have been a learning process. I am now hopeful about my future and recently re-enrolled to finish my bachelor degree. I am happy to say I am a better person having survived the struggles of initial diagnosis and disease acceptance. Living with this illness has made me appreciate the good in life in a more profound way.

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Tammy O

I have taken this mental illness and I have not used it as a crutch, just the opposite, I have used it as an inspiration for others. I have become a co-facilitator for my support group and I go out and tell my story to other people in a program called In Your Own Voice, by NAMI. I have been working full time at my current job for 11 years now and I work part time as well. Having a mental illness does not bring me down.

Since I was little I knew I was different, I felt it. I just did not know why. It started when I was in high school and grew more when I got older. I would be up for 24 hours, cleaning, working on papers, trying to accomplish as much as I could. But, then all of a sudden after a few days of being up all the time, SNAP I would be driving home and hoping someone would come and hit me head on so I did not live any more. During my mania’s I have spent thousands of dollars in about a hour and then on the flip side I have attempted suicide once. My depression days, I would not get out of bed, shower, eat, or talk to anyone. I would find myself very irritable at the same time. I often felt like a yo-yo, with the mania and depression.

Moving forward several years later, finally an answer happened..I have Bipolar Disorder.I was diagnosed with this mental illness when I was hospitalized. I then a few years later was hospitalized again, both times as an adult. It all started to make sense now. At least, I had an answer for how I was feeling so “different”. Now, I had to so something about it. I have taken several different types of meds and often feel like a “Pez” dispenser. But, I know I am the one that is in charge of my treatment plan. I make sure I go to my psychiatrist and seek professional counseling. I also attend group meetings, which have become my second family. I can go on and on about my dark days, but I want to give people hope and courage so I will not.

I have taken this mental illness and I have not used it as a crutch, just the opposite, I have used it as an inspiration for others. I have become a co-facilitator for my support group and I go out and tell my story to other people in a program called In Your Own Voice, by NAMI. I have been working full time at my current job for 11 years now and I work part time as well. Having a mental illness does not bring me down. I want people to see I may live with Bipolar Disorder, but I am Tammy, it will never define who I am.

This is a short version of my story, but I appreciate you letting me talk about it. Go reach for your dreams and goals, you can do it.
Let’s stomp out the stigma together!

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Katie C

I can’t change the past and in a way, that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today. I wouldn’t be with a man who truly loves me unconditionally. I wouldn’t be surrounded by family and friends who truly support my journey. Most importantly, I wouldn’t have learned how important it is to communicate about mental health.

So far this year I’ve gotten married, traveled on my first plane, bought a house, started a new job, adopted my second dog and applied to graduate school. Sounds amazing by most standards. A lot of people looked at me and wondered why I wasn’t happier.

You see, with all the good that happened this year, there was a cloud I couldn’t shake — a struggle within me that was so profound and exhausting, eventually I couldn’t hide it anymore. My behavior took a drastic turn.

I spent most of my time on our couch, avoiding human contact as much as possible. I slept as often as I could, whenever I could. Even the most menial tasks took all my energy to complete. On top of it all, any small trigger sent me through the roof. My poor husband was the target of my rage almost 100 percent of the time. After hours or just minutes of blackout rage, I would then cry myself to sleep and wake up like nothing happened.

Then, after days or weeks of this behavior, I would suddenly get bursts of energy. I would clean the house or go shopping for things I didn’t need, but bought anyway. I couldn’t make decisions and my thoughts came a mile a minute. I had the biggest and best plans ever that needed to be done right then and there, but the next day all motivation would disappear and I was back on the couch. I was back in my regular routine.

It was after these “up” episodes my doctor finally suggested I may have bipolar disorder. My heart stopped. It wasn’t so much the diagnosis. As my sister says, “It’s just a label. It describes what you have but it doesn’t define you.” What stopped me in my tracks were the years of mood swings and erratic behavior that came flooding back from my memory.

Ever since I was a teenager people have called me, “hormonal,” “moody,” “Jeckyll and Hyde,” you name it. I’ve lost friends and I’ve screamed horrible things to my loved ones over things that I can’t even remember. Even with my husband, I’ve screamed at the top of my lungs over a misplaced fork only to beg him to spend time with me an hour later. People grew to think that was just who I was. People saw me as those adjectives because that’s how I’ve always acted.

What they didn’t understand was how much it broke my heart to hear those things. What they didn’t understand was how often I would regret the things I had said or done. But I didn’t know how to apologize for something I didn’t have any control over. I couldn’t describe what made me upset. I couldn’t describe what I was feeling. There were no words for what was going on inside me. How do you apologize for poor behavior when you don’t know the answer? How do you apologize for poor behavior when you feel like you don’t have any control over your body?

Bipolar II disorder. Some may be upset, some may be sad — and I was too, at first. But deep down, I was also relieved. I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. All those years of unexplainable behavior made sense. All those moments lost to rage, depression and manic behavior were now explained. I was relieved.

I wish I could point my finger at the mistakes I’ve made in the past, at the hurtful things I’ve said or done, and say, “It was bipolar. It wasn’t my fault!” I wish I could take back the last four years of my relationship with my husband and show him there’s a different me underneath the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

I can’t change the past and in a way, that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today. I wouldn’t be with a man who truly loves me unconditionally. I wouldn’t be surrounded by family and friends who truly support my journey. Most importantly, I wouldn’t have learned how important it is to communicate about mental health.

If you’re struggling, please talk to someone. We are not our diagnosis. We are not mental cases. We are people.

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Joseph S. F.

Commercials and media can feed us an endless stream of information but we do not have to accept it into our lives on a full time basis, especially if it hurts our well-being. I needed to back off, take a breath, and decide what kind of posts I wanted to be around. When I came back to social media I made sure to follow organizations that I believed in. I found people that were talking about mindfulness and peace. I found people that were there just to send out well wishes and words of encouragement. Yes! There really are people like that.

In the last 5 years or so the rate of mental illness in high school and college students has gone up steadily and in some reports rapidly. I do not think that there is any coincidence that this is because of the increased use of smart phones and social media. Bear with me. I am not some old man writing a hate article on technology. I actually love my new phone and I am starting to really love social media. Please hear me out.

Whether you think so or not we are always learning. Yes, even while we watch television, listen to music, or go out with a friend we are constantly learning. We think it is leisure but we are always absorbing information such as our favorite team or athlete’s statistics, who is dating who in “reality,” how to figure out a murder mystery, or the lyrics and dance moves to a favorite song. Everything we sense goes into our subconscious even if we try to reject or ignore it. Once you have heard, seen, or read something the only thing we can really do is set up a wall of other thoughts to keep it out of our mind as much as possible. However we cannot unsee, unhear, or unread anything. If you open this document on Word you will find that unsee and unhear are not even real words. What I am getting at is that if we follow or become friends with accounts that constantly feed us upsetting information such as shock news, tragedies, wars, etcetera; we are setting ourselves up to walk around constantly carrying this heavy and unnecessary information. If you have depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness there is a good chance you are already hard enough on yourself without having to carry the burdens or stresses or others, especially those that you do not even have a physical relationship with. My advice is to start backing away from any account that posts things that do not help you grow as a person. I prefer to stay away from news, politics, and accounts that critique, judge, or rate others because it will add fuel to my own fire. And if you are like me, we have more than enough fuel already. Let’s release it on our own terms without the help of some hothead we do not even know.

For those of us with mental illness, we must set up our accounts to feed us things that keep our mood positive. We must make sure that our social media pages feed us words of encouragement and growth. I can speak from experience. In 2009, during a bipolar 1 and prescription amphetamine manic episode, I let social media send me on a full blown rage. I was so tired of reading everyone’s opinions on everything. I just kept reading articles and posts filled with hate that I accidentally fed right into it by stating how tired I was of everyone else’s garbage. I didn’t realize at the time I just needed to back out and find things that really were important to me. Let’s be honest, if we aren’t here to help or pass on a positive message, there is no point in being on the interweb in the first place. For those that had not seen or heard from me in a while, it probably looked like I was putting out a final manifesto before I was going to 1.) End the world, or 2.) End my life. It was definitely more the latter but it really scared me when I found out that people thought I was mad at them. That was never my intention. I was more disappointed at the conversations that I thought were the wrong conversations that society needed to be having. I was simply reading articles or conversations between others and regurgitating how ridicules the situations seemed to me. The problem with social media is that there is no way to understand a person’s tone or volume. There is no way to tell if someone is being dead serious or overly sarcastic. From this I can recommend that you try to be serious on social media. I am not saying do not joke but say what you mean for the most part. Let’s use the old “#FML” for an example. It can be taken at least 2 totally different ways. In some cases it can be a joke and in other cases it can be extremely self-deprecating. Then there are a whole range of emotions in between that could be how we really meant it. We assume everyone knows us well enough to understand exactly what we meant, but chances are that only a few of our close friends and family did, and everyone else is currently passing over it without a second glance or pretending like they did not read our rant next time they see us in person. So I learned, don’t get mad at everyone else. I will start the conversation that I want to have, and I will find others that are have similar interests.

Now that I look back I know it upset me because no one was talking about mental health. I felt like everyone was just posting selfies with cheeseburgers and beer. It turns out that that everyone was just the “everyone”that I had chosen to connect with. Commercials and media can feed us an endless stream of information but we do not have to accept it into our lives on a full time basis, especially if it hurts our well-being. I needed to back off, take a breath, and decide what kind of posts I wanted to be around. When I came back to social media I made sure to follow organizations that I believed in. I found people that were talking about mindfulness and peace. I found people that were there just to send out well wishes and words of encouragement. Yes! There really are people like that. There are so many accounts with beautiful photography or poetry. Recently there has been a boom of mental illness support groups. The only thing we need to do is step away from all negative and start figuring out what really makes us happy. I hope this article was either your first positive click in a while or one of many positive reads that you have treated yourself to. I wish you peace and positivity as you surf away and towards your next page. Remember, take out the hate and replace it with love.

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Lia's Story

Mental Illness. Two words. Many assumptions. Two words, synonymous with guilt, shame and stigma. Two words, misunderstood. Two words, silenced. That is why I am here today to speak to this silence. I am here to share my story. By adding this story to the collage created by many, I aim to change perceptions and create awareness.

Mental Illness. Two words. Many assumptions. Two words, synonymous with guilt, shame and stigma. Two words, misunderstood. Two words, silenced. That is why I am here today to speak to this silence. I am here to share my story. By adding this story to the collage created by many, I aim to change perceptions and create awareness. I am not trying to shift the tectonic plates of your brain enough to create a mountain, in fact I know I can’t, but I am aiming to create a small earthquake. I hope that this earthquake will bring up awareness, spark new ideas and form positive perceptions of the words mental illness and the disease itself.

There is a story of a man who grew up with little but formed his own future. He graduated from Georgetown University, and was accepted by Stanford Business School. Surprisingly, he turned down the offer for a local start-up by the name of eBay. He married, had 3 daughters, and worked so hard, always striving for new ideas and innovations. This man, and the smartest person I knew, was my father. He had mental illness.

My dad passed away from mental illness 3 and a half years ago. I had no idea that he was suffering until I found out that it took his life. I ask myself why I didn’t know, or even if I wanted to – but when I look at how mental illness is portrayed, I understand. Less than 15 people knew that my dad was suffering from the time he was diagnosed until his death, and I wasn’t one of them. 15 people is way too few, but serves as a definite call to action. We need to be the change for those suffering in silence.

When the news was shared with me, I didn’t know what mental illness was or what it meant – even though explanations were attempted. All I knew was that it had stolen my father, and that it was overpoweringly terrifying. But my perceptions have evolved, and I am no longer scared. My tragedy is an opportunity for me to start the conversation about mental illness, and to be part of ending the stigma around it.

What my dad was going through was the result of a disease. He was not crazy. He did not want this difficult illness much less cause it himself. My father was brilliant, and the most caring parent I could wish for. And yes he had bipolar, OCD and depression – but that did not form his amazing character. I know that what I just said is the truth, but I also know that ignorance can blind people and that is what has always been hardest for me. Some people might think that my dad chose to die, because the way that he died is traditionally thought of as a choice – suicide. But his passing was the result of a sickness. The mixed up chemistry in his brain had a horrible fatal result, just like any other disease would mess with your body.

That is the actuality of the illness. As a society we have to dig up this actuality and learn to honor and believe it. When these truths are mangled, twisted and turned into offensive stigma, the silence and pain continues on. So things need to revolutionize – we need to be able to talk about mental illness like any other disease. The volumes on the voices that that offend, discriminate, and isolate people struggling – should be muted. The voices that are talking about mental illness like a disease and respecting the struggles of the people dealing with it – those voices need to be shouted.

My mom tells me that pink clouds are the mark of someone who has passed smiling down at you, wherever there are pink clouds right now, dad – this speech is for you. I am doing this for you – to give back to all you have given me. I love you and miss you all the time. I promise that things are going to change, that mental illness will not be something to be ashamed of and the conversation will start. We need to bring change to mind, and educate the truth. Also – I am going to edit my earlier analogy – I do want to create a mountain, but with small earthquakes, and you are going to be one of the many. The negative perceptions of the disease will be destroyed by the shaking in your brain, and newer more positive ones rebuilt. The news of these earthquakes will spread around the world, with many more people offering support. I believe that this mountain will form, it will be tall and strong and proud. Many people will climb this mountain, and it will be harder for some than others, but the ends will justify the means. The view from the peak of the mountain will make the whole journey worth it, because there will be those beautiful pink clouds smiling down on this marvelous mountain that has been created. Thank you.

Lia’s Speech at the Third Annual BC2M Gala on November 9, 2015 in NYC

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Skylar

If you’ve been through the same things I have, kudos to you. You strength and perseverance is beyond impressive; to most of the world out there, it’s unimaginable. But what I really want is for all the people out there than are still mired in the thick of it, for those of you who are so tired of fighting that you are ready to give up, to take away from my experience that recovery is possible. Your expectations must be realistic: it will be slow and gradual, there will be highs and lows, setbacks and leaps forward, and there will always be people in your life who just don’t get it, but with the right assistance and support you can lead a wholly satisfying, fulfilling existence. The rest of us who have made it to that point will keep fighting for you, and for ourselves, to make our planet a better and easier place for all of us to succeed in.

I feel as if I never fully understood the effects of stigma until I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That’s not to say I didn’t experience stigma when my diagnosis was major depressive disorder, or that I don’t face stigma when it comes to my anxiety disorders, but the nature of my relationship to my illness changed when my label shifted from something people dismissed, trivialized, and misunderstood to something that — on top of all the rest — people were legitimately afraid of. Yet, the irony is that the recognition of my symptoms for what they were was the only means by which they could be properly addressed. It was the only means by which I could finally get proper treatment, and therefore become less “dangerous.”

To give you some background, I’ve had problems with my mental health from the time I was around twelve or thirteen years old. For a while it was easy to dismiss my moodiness as mere adolescent angst, but eventually it became clear that my general malaise and frequent outbursts of overwhelming sadness were not just normal parts of growing up. I began seeing a therapist, and a psychiatrist shortly thereafter. I often drank to excess to lift my mood and feel less debilitating self-consciousness around other people. I began to occasionally explode in anger at my parents and others, which looking back was a definite early warning signal, but I just thought of it as a consequence of my drunkenness. Getting through schoolwork was a struggle, fraught with anxiety attacks and crying fits, but I managed to keep my grades from suffering. Eventually, by the time I graduated, I thought I had a firm grip on my psychological issues and my abuse of alcohol. No longer mired in self-loathing I felt confident in myself, and comfortable enough with my story that I had no problem sharing it. I was victorious and eager to begin my next chapter.

All of that changed when I arrived at college. It was the first major change I’d had to cope with in my life: I had lived in the same apartment since I was born, and the same school from kindergarten onwards. I quickly realized my newfound self-assuredness was predicated on having found a niche of friends to rely on, and, without them in the same city as me, I felt lost. Then I came down with mononucleosis. I was exhausted at all times, unable to focus on anything, failing classes for the first time ever, totally unable to enjoy anything I had once found fulfillment in, terrified of being judged by all my new classmates, and, because I had no idea I was physically sick, I thought that all of these things were personal failings on my part. When I was eventually tested for the disease two months after I began feeling its symptoms, the damage to my ego had already been done.

I moved back home, and there made a series of impulsive, selfish, inconsiderate, self-destructive, and downright dangerous decisions that caused great harm to both myself and the people I cared about. I am still so deeply ashamed of the way I acted and the choices I made during this time that I can hardly talk about them with anyone. All the way, I was still seeing a talk therapist, and still taking ineffective SSRI after SSRI to no avail. Eventually I stopped going to therapy. I was still taking my pills, but I avoided actually seeing my psychiatrist as much as possible. I still didn’t see my unpredictable mood swings and bouts of rage as symptoms of what was going on with me. I felt like a completely different person, like I had lost who I was. I was worse than I had ever been before, and I had no coping skills to deal with this novel state of misery. I went back to college no more ready for it than I had been before, simply because I felt I couldn’t trust myself with my excess free time any longer. This was what I consider my true breaking point. It like my first attempt all over again, but this time I couldn’t blame flulike bodily symptoms for my lack of motivation and energy. My irritability and instability was out of control. I could go from crushingly despondent to blisteringly furious in an instant, with seemingly no trigger. My professors were kind, and made every effort to aid me through my suffering, but I still just couldn’t get the work in. I took another leave of absence.

The good thing that came of this period, however, was that I finally began to talk to mental health providers about my extreme mood changes. I finally began to realize that my problem wasn’t just that I was melancholy all the time, but that I could rapidly cycle between fury and despair within a single day. I understood the definition of bipolar disorder as very strictly timed, predicable shifts from mania to depression. I thought mania meant euphoria, productivity, invincibility, and nothing else. Finally, a psychiatrist told me differently. They said the definition of bipolar disorder was changing and expanding, and what I was experiencing fit much better into that category than that of mere depression. I was put on mood stabilizers, and, in another first, felt like my medication was actually doing something for me. I started seeing a talk therapist again and later on joined a DBT therapy group, the combination of which allowed me to express my emotions while giving me practical skills with which to manage them. I got a job. I starting coping, and began to hope. Now I’m back in school and I’m immensely proud of my performance.

But there is a catch. It is much harder telling people I have bipolar disorder than it was telling them I had anxiety and depression. It was difficult enough explaining that no, I can’t just “get over” my sadness, that no, I can’t just “relax” about the things I agonize over, that no, I’m not just lazy, or too high strung, etc. without having to explain that my disorder isn’t going to make me hurt anyone. Our society is just now beginning to understand the struggles that all of us with mental illness face, and is still inexcusably harsh on people for symptoms of which they have no control over. But certain illnesses invoke more fear and derision than others, namely those that are most associated with violence in our culture and media: bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and schizophrenia. Because of this, it’s more difficult for me to seek help form others and secure the accommodations that I need than it was before. I’m far enough into my recovery that I feel as if I’m in a catch 22: when my symptoms are preventing me from accomplishing something I want or need to do, I either have to downplay what’s going on and risk people simply not believing me and thinking that I’m merely making excuses, or I can admit the extent of what’s going on and risk worrying or scaring them. I get unsolicited advice from classmates and other near-strangers about how I’m not ambitious enough or working hard enough in complete ignorance of how psychological disorders work, and I don’t know how to correct them without outing myself and therefore opening myself up to even more inappropriate commentary. I’m afraid of telling employers or potential employers that I might need special allowances because, even though those of us in the U.S. are technically protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they may find some other way to get around dealing with me that doesn’t appear outwardly discriminatory. While I am aware there will be always be good days and bad days for me, at this point essentially the stigma against speaking out about mental illness is causing me more harm than the mental illness itself is.

If you’ve made it this far into this rambling essay, thank you for hearing me out. Thank you for taking the time to listen to my story and validate my suffering and my triumph. If you’ve been through the same things I have, kudos to you. You strength and perseverance is beyond impressive; to most of the world out there, it’s unimaginable. But what I really want is for all the people out there than are still mired in the thick of it, for those of you who are so tired of fighting that you are ready to give up, to take away from my experience that recovery is possible. Your expectations must be realistic: it will be slow and gradual, there will be highs and lows, setbacks and leaps forward, and there will always be people in your life who just don’t get it, but with the right assistance and support you can lead a wholly satisfying, fulfilling existence. The rest of us who have made it to that point will keep fighting for you, and for ourselves, to make our planet a better and easier place for all of us to succeed in.

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Jamahdi

I want those suffering out there to keep fighting because like William Ernest Henley says in his infamous poem Invictus, "No matter how strait the gate, no matter how charged the punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul!"

The stigma of mental illness is so pervasive that it paralyzes those who have the ability to speak about it. I have been battling with my Bipolar Disorder for over five years. I was diagnosed at 21 years old but have been nervous to speak about it. This is short testimony is for anyone out there searching for light while consumed by this darkness.

I attended one of the most prestigious law schools while depressed, had back to back manic episodes, and had to take a leave of absence. However, despite this I graduated, and with consistent treatment I am better off now than I have ever been in my entire life.

Just because you have been diagnosed with a mental illness does NOT mean that all of your previous dreams cannot come true. Bipolar disorder is a treatable disease and is very manageable.

I want those suffering out there to keep fighting because like William Ernest Henley says in his infamous poem Invictus, “No matter how strait the gate, no matter how charged the punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul!”

Bipolar Disorder or any other mental disorders does NOT, nor will it ever define those who suffer from it. Please let my triumph over an elite law school serve as evidence that just because a mental disorder shakes your world doesn’t mean it breaks you.

Through treatment, medication, and holistic wellness you can take back control of your life too!!!

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Laura

I am very outspoken about changing the way we as a society look at mental illness and the people it affects. It is my hope that if enough of us come together and speak out, the stigma surrounding mental illness can be banished for good. We are strong and we can do this.

Mental illness has been a constant thread in both my mother’s and father’s families, but something no one ever discussed. My grandfather attempted suicide in the 1950s, and went through an early form of electroshock therapy.

I was always a very “worried” child, who did her best to hide behind a smile and booming laugh. I am a singer, just like my parents and siblings are, but my brain was always telling me that I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t smart enough, and that I’d never amount to anything. I started having panic attacks when I was 15, and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. By 18, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Luckily, my family immediately began to learn all they could about the illness with me, and I also found a wonderful husband who is supportive through it all. I have attempted suicide multiple times, and been hospitalized over 30 times in my life. I am 36 years old now. I have regular ECT treatments, and take daily medications to help keep me “on an even keel”. I have a blog where I talk about my experiences with bipolar disorder and all its trimmings. I am very outspoken about changing the way we as a society look at mental illness and the people it affects. It is my hope that if enough of us come together and speak out, the stigma surrounding mental illness can be banished for good.

We are strong and we can do this.

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Gale B

I have learned and grown with this illness, but I definitely go "one day at a time" which my first doctor told me to do.

Hi. I’m Gale. I had everything going for me at 19- senior in college, singer in a wedding/bar mitzvah band, engaged to be married, etc. Then, boom, I had depressive and manic episodes and finally, after a few hospitalizations in regular hospitals and diagnosed as Bipolar 1, my parents got me into NIMH (National Institutes of Mental Health) in Bethesda, Md. I stayed there a year for their research and to stabilize me on medication.

After that, my life changed dramatically. I really couldn’t go back to school- I couldn’t concentrate with the meds. I couldn’t sing in the band anymore with all the side effects, I gained weight, broke up with my fiancee, (he was abusive and the therapy helped me), and went to a support group and later ran a few of them.. I did later get married and had a child, which was very difficult because I had to go off the medication and suffered with pre and post partum depression. I divorced in 2000.

I think at 54, I’ve learned to cope the best I can, and I know my triggers. I went on SSDI and work part time as a caregiver to the elderly. That works for me. I know I would have been a teacher with a good pension by now, but I have to accept this life. I do have a great boyfriend and great mom, who has always been there for me. I do sing in a chorus which has been enough for me. So, I coped, but tragedy struck 4 years ago when my son drowned in a car accident. My doctor and family were there for me, and I’m sure the meds kept me alive.

It isn’t easy living with this illness- often I feel sorry for myself. My boyfriend gives me support, he’s great. My ex husband never did. You have to find supportive people around you.

I will give support when I can to anyone that asks me. I don’t talk about it to my clients, they have enough to cope with. I try and stay professional, but try to educate people when they bring it up, since I also studied a lot of psychology in school. Basically, I stay to myself these days and just post on facebook, the happy stuff, mainly. I have learned and grown with this illness, but I definitely go “one day at a time” which my first doctor told me to do.

Now, in 2015, I have decided to switch medications to get less side effects. I was on basically the same meds since I was 19. So far, so good. I’m gradually adjusting to this new med. I have better concentration, less tremors and I’m more active. Yessss.

 

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Matthew M

When I was sixteen, I was diagnosed with depression, but never assumed that there would be a progression into my adult years. I thought, then, that it was a teenage phase.

I just turned twenty-seven years old and have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder now for roughly five years. When I was sixteen, I was diagnosed with depression, but never assumed that there would be a progression into my adult years. I thought, then, that it was a teenage phase. When I finally moved out on my own and began my career at twenty-two, there was a steep decline and noticeable differences in my thinking, feeling, and personality. It was unexplainable and with the fortunate ability to seek out help because of my job, I began talk and psychopharm- therapy.

Since I have began this journey, I have been lucky to see the same therapist and form a wonderful bond with her; however, I have not been so lucky with psychiatrists. I have moved along from psychiatrist-to-psychiatrist for one reason or another, and have tried too many different medications to count in such a short time. It really has become so exhausting to go through this and search for someone who can and will help. It has become exhausting to occasionally break down when things build up and become overwhelming. You would think in such a large city there would be so many options for fantastic help. Despite how tiresome it becomes, I am dedicated to continuing my search and keeping my mind as positive as possible.

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A Survivor

Depression is a dark lonely place but with the right person who understands you and helps you things will get better. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or in 3 months, but it will get better soon.

I’m a college student, son, brother, cousin, uncle, friend and can relate to everyone in some way but one thing that makes me different is that I have bipolar depression. Depression in our society is a taboo – not to be talked about, the subject changed when it is brought up – but people don’t realize that it is as serious as someone who has cancer. I should know because on April 22, 2015 I tried to commit suicide. I was going 140 mph on the freeway and totaled my car.  Everyone said I shouldn’t of been alive but I am and I’m glad I survived because there are people out there who feel that every day is going to be the same and never change, but take it from me…a survivor. Depression is a dark lonely place but with the right person who understands you and helps you things will get better.  Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or in 3 months, but it will get better soon. Bipolar depression is a serious mental disorder that is laughed at by people saying, “its only done for attention.” Its not. It makes people take their lives everyday and it’s not acknowledged what so ever. I hope this helps people understand. Please help someone who doesn’t seem like themselves. Always understand why they want to make others happy – because they don’t want others to feel how they feel everyday.

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danielle k

I am a person who happens to have bipolar disorder, anxiety, and OCD. Those do not define me. Oh, but they used to. My mood changes made no one want to be around me. My anxiety and OCD took me to places I never want to go again.

I am a person who happens to have bipolar disorder, anxiety, and OCD. Those do not define me. Oh, but they used to. My mood changes made no one want to be around me. My anxiety and OCD took me to places I never want to go again. I got help after years of self harm and self medicating. I am not saying that I never have days where climbing in a hole sounds better than reality. Everyone has days like that just some more than others. When I finally sought help and had a support system, even if it is just two people, I felt relief. A weight taken off my shoulders. I now have someone to hold my hands when I am picking at my cuticles so I can focus on slowing down my thoughts. I now have someone to help and love me through mania and my depression. My support system and willingness to always make progress but never strive for perfection helps me get through one day at a time.

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Victor

Once I was diagnosed, I was given a lot of answers. It was scary, but things started to make sense. That meant I needed to make changes. My new lifestyle consisted of the following: no drugs that aren't prescribed, no alcohol, no smoking, sleeping at least 6 hours but about 8 hours a night, no sugar, occasional dark or milk chocolate, take prescribed medication daily, take supplements daily, drink apple cider vinegar drink daily, drink green tea daily, eat healthy, meditate daily, think positively, go to a good therapist regularly, surround myself with only positive people, exercise regularly, listening to healing music, faith and prayer, drink plenty of water, patience.

I am 27 years old. It’s been a long road. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 22 years old. Symptoms started at about 16 years old. I’m an artist. I have experimented with some music production mostly for fun. However, since the age of twenty two after graduating college I have been pursuing a film career. I have experience with video editing and have been making connections within the film industry for the past 4 years. I also have acting training and that’s my main love and passion. I just did my first commercial not too long ago. Before this I have been working as an extra. Like I said this has been a long road. Once I was diagnosed, I was given a lot of answers. It was scary, but things started to make sense. That meant I needed to make changes. My new lifestyle consisted of the following: no drugs that aren’t prescribed, no alcohol, no smoking, sleeping at least 6 hours but about 8 hours a night, no sugar, occasional dark or milk chocolate, take prescribed medication daily, take supplements daily, drink apple cider vinegar drink daily, drink green tea daily, eat healthy, meditate daily, think positively, go to a good therapist regularly, surround myself with only positive people, exercise regularly, listening to healing music, faith and prayer, drink plenty of water, patience. Things have gotten better, but the battle is not over. The road to becoming a successful, working artist/actor has felt quite long and difficult thus far, but has been rewarding and I know will pay off.

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Natalie R

I love my son. I do not regret adopting him. I do miss him. We kicked him out on 4/12/15. We had no choice. I could not let a 20 year old, high school graduate treat me with such disrespect any longer. Our hope was that he would realize what his family really means to him. He would realize all the love and support we gave.

When our son came to us on December 23, 1998, he was just a few weeks shy of turning 4. We were to be his foster parents until he was legally free to be adopted. I was his fourth mom that year and my husband was his first dad ever. He came to us with his prescription of Aderal, which we immediately stopped. How could they put a three year old on medication for ADHD? We knew he had some behavior and attachment issues but we knew our love for him would be all he needed. Counseling for Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) was started first. I would rock him on my lap while giving him a bottle and feed him in a high chair. He loved it!

Fast forward to 1st grade, I pulled him out of school to home school. He was very disruptive in class and wasn’t absorbing anything. Around 2nd grade, I had him privately tested and he was diagnosed with ADHD. We reluctantly put him on medication, Focalin. Medication wasn’t helping and his behavior was getting worse. Cursing, throwing things and punching holes in my walls was on a daily basis. Counselors. Guilt. We were told it was because we weren’t handling him correctly. Love and Logic, Boys Town, reward systems, nothing helped.

Finally at around age 11 (I have dates and reports filed here, but it really doesn’t matter when, just what), he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder along with ADHD, RAD, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). We also finally had a counselor and psychiatrist that confirmed what we always knew, it wasn’t our fault! He and a good relationship with his counselor . We had good and bad days, behavior stayed the same but it didn’t get worse. After maybe six months, she told us she wouldn’t see us anymore. “There is nothing I can do for you. Be prepared to have him hospitalized in his future.” What just happened? I was empty, confused, angry and sad. We walked to the car, screamed and cried. How could a so called professional say that to us? What could my son possibly be feeling about this? Our faith in the mental health system hit bottom. We eventually stopped seeing the psychiatrist as well. He was an insensitive prick.

He returned to school in 5th grade. (Two years of 4th grade home schooling. He wouldn’t do the work yet he blames me to this day for failing him!) More counselors, medication changes, and he was eventually hospitalized. Four inpatient within his four years of high school. Graduated on stage with his class. Then, he stopped all medication.

Throughout all this, we loved him. We tried our best to guide him to be a good person and a productive member of society. It wasn’t an easy time. Fighting with him, fighting between me and my husband, kitchen chairs broken, holes in walls, broken doors, stolen money, drinking, drugs, suicide attempts. Unemployed, sleeping all day, video games all night. Disrespect. Name calling: fucking bitch, fucking whore, fucking cunt. I cursed back. Who calls their son a fucking asshole?! A mom that is lost, angry, confused and helpless. We aren’t perfect but we did good with the little resources we had.

I love my son. I do not regret adopting him. I do miss him. We kicked him out on 4/12/15. We had no choice. I could not let a 20 year old, high school graduate treat me with such disrespect any longer. Our hope was that he would realize what his family really means to him. He would realize all the love and support we gave. We were wrong. He hates us and blames us for all that has gone wrong with his life. The car we gave him was “a piece of shit”, he wrecked it. The cell phone I gave him , broke, so he wasn’t going to pay for the contract anymore. The jobs; quit or fired. Sad thing, I think he truly believes it is all our fault.

He was living in a tent for awhile, then a “trailer” in someone’s back yard. I believe he is living with a family now. I spoke with the gentleman on the phone. He says he is going to help my son get on his feet. I hope he succeeds. I won’t lie, I will be pissed if my son ends up doing well there. We raised him! We did all the grunt work but they get all the credit and his gratitude! But those feelings pass quickly. My love for him is too strong. I want my son to have a wonderful, happy life. I want him to have a job, home, wife and babies. I want him to call me and tell me about his work. I want him to call me and tell me about his friends. I want him to call me and tell me he loves me. But every time the phone rings I’m afraid it will be the police. Jail, hospital or death. That’s reality. That’s mental illness.

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Kimberly H

With my husband's assistance, I found a psychologist that worked with me. I had to obtain a referral for psychiatric care. Unfortunately, the doctor I saw was more interested in furthering his studies on a new drug than actual care. All the medications I ended up taking pushed me further towards an edge I was unfamiliar with; mania.

As a teen, I thought something was wrong. I have family members with mental illness and would say I wasn’t like them. I attempted suicide twice, as a teen. I went through life reaching for goals I’d set and stumbling through things that weren’t supposed to be in my path. At 27, I had a breakdown. I hadn’t reached the goals I’d set and felt like a huge disappointment. I didn’t live up to the expectations my parent’s had given me in school. I was supposed to be a corporate accountant. Instead, I had only achieved an associates degree.

With my husband’s assistance, I found a psychologist that worked with me. I had to obtain a referral for psychiatric care. Unfortunately, the doctor I saw was more interested in furthering his studies on a new drug than actual care. All the medications I ended up taking pushed me further towards an edge I was unfamiliar with; mania. I couldn’t control anything. I went from happy, happy, happy to angry to depressed between days and sometimes it felt within hours of beginning one emotion. There are days I don’t remember. Several follow another suicide “attempt”. I use quotations because I never wanted to wake up. I did days later on the psych ward. I don’t remember my stomach being pumped, talking to loved ones or being taken by ambulance to the ER and then to the hospital where I was admitted.

Days later, I met a new psychiatrist and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It took months to find the right medications and years later it is still a struggle. As a military wife, I’ve had eight different psychiatrists and twelve psychologists. My husband deployed several times, with his last deployment his unit was in a brigade with 43 deaths. Many say it wasn’t someone he knew and he wasn’t there when it happened. The thing is, he was at an air base standing on the tarmac day after day saluting the caskets as they were loaded onto a plane taking them home. After this deployment he was never the same. They diagnosed him and he medically retired with 22 years of service.

Everyday and night we each med check each other knowing if we didn’t that the next day or one later could be a day we don’t return from. Although, this can be a difficult life, it is also a very rewarding one knowing I have achieved the most important goal of acceptance. Without that, I wouldn’t be an MBA student preparing to graduate this summer, have a beautiful daughter, blessed with a son-in-law and precious granddaughter and spent half of my life with an amazing and loving husband.

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Benjamin T

There is a stigma that people with mental health challenges just can't cut it in the military, "it's a cop out," so for 14 years I avoided going to a psychologist based on the stigma and my own fear.

When my mother was 22 she was diagnosed with Bipolar type 1 this was in 1981. 16 years later her diagnosis was changed to schizoaffective disorder while I was deployed to the Persian Gulf. My entire life I feared being diagnosed with a mental health challenge. There is a stigma that people with mental health challenges just can’t cut it in the military, “it’s a cop out,” so for 14 years I avoided going to a psychologist based on the stigma and my own fear. 3 years ago at the age of 33 I was diagnosed with Bipolar type 1 and PTSD. Then the following year I was medically retired from the Army because I had an episode of extreme anger and threatened another soldier. Since my retirement in 2013 I have been stable until last November when I started struggling with depression after my grandma died. The depression has been made worse by my wife going to Ohio to visit family without me and my brother passing away in January. I am still struggling but I do have a support group and have been seeing a mental health professional and it is helping. If I can say anything about mental health it’s don’t be afraid to ask for help; everyone needs help sometimes.

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Lauren

I still struggle every single day with my illness but I have learned that there is nothing wrong with it. I embrace it. I am me...and it is the most empowering and incredible feeling in the world. I am not crazy. I am creative and weird and smiley and sometimes a bit more emotional than others, but that is okay. It is all okay.

I was always different. I lied about who I was. I talked to myself like there was someone standing there listening. If I was happy…I got so hyper that I couldn’t control myself. If I was sad…I would lock myself in my room for days. I remember once in college I locked myself in my room for a week and only left my room when no one was there. And if I was mad…I would snap…you would want to stand clear of me. I always had this behavior with a smile…always “happy”. I should have become an actress. I hid everything. I did it all on my own because I was so scared that no one would understand it and that I would be deemed as “crazy”. Then I finally snapped…

About two years ago I began to slowly fall apart. My bucket overflowed… Thinking I was depressed and anxious, I went to my doctor and she put me on an insane cocktail of medication…200mg of Zoloft, 15mg of Busbar, 6mg of Ativan (the lethal dosage) and 40mg of Ritalin a day. I can’t even tell you how I functioned as a human. It is all a bit of a blackout. I was an absolute disaster. In my past, with all the shit I had been through, I was lost. Lauren was gone. I couldn’t even recognize myself in the mirror. It was like I was at my own funeral saying goodbye to the old me…the beautiful, lovable, smiley girl. I would have rather not be here on this earth than have people notice I was different.

Last July I had a nervous breakdown and tried to end my life, the night of July 11th, 2013.  My best friend took me to the hospital. Luckily nothing happened to me. No slowness of heartbeat or breath. The doctors couldn’t believe it.

My mother and uncle came to the hospital and brought me back to NY. I went straight to the doctor from the airport. After tests and extensive therapy, I was diagnosed with Bipolar and Hypo Mania disorder. Finding out later on that all the meds I was previously on actually have an extremely negative effect when a patient is bipolar and not “depressed” (and that amount of meds should not be given to a human anyway…its insane!).

I moved home to get back on my feet. I went to the doctor almost everyday. I started to workout. I began to write, draw and paint again. I had come back to life.

I still struggle every single day with my illness but I have learned that there is nothing wrong with it. I embrace it. I am me…and it is the most empowering and incredible feeling in the world. I am not crazy. I am creative and weird and smiley and sometimes a bit more emotional than others, but that is okay. It is all okay.

I once saw a painting titled “A black rainbow”. Such a simple piece. It is a black arch with gold at the bottom. But its meaning is so powerful and true. It’s life. You have to go through all the darkness to get to the gold…but you can never give up.

I wouldn’t take back anything in the world that I have been through. It makes me…me.

And anyone who thinks that life is all sparkles and cupcakes is kookier than I am.

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Miracle H

But what I have decided is that I am going to get through this. I will survive because I have survived. I will soar on wings like eagles, I will run and not grow weary, and I will walk and not faint, because God has made me new.

I have so many things I could say, that I could write; I don’t really know where to start. This is my story.

I come from what most people call a broken family, broken home. This has been my life. I was abused by my dad, and then by my mom. I never went into the system… partly by the grace of God, and partly because I was too scared what would happen if I told. As I have grown, even with all of the heartache it caused, I still feel like it was the best decision. I have a relationship with my family that I don’t think would be so connected, or together if we had ever been separated. Now, because of my experiences, I have struggled with depression, anxiety, EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It has become a fact of life. For the longest time it felt like it had always been there. Then my therapist and I worked out the timelines. I struggled with anxiety my entire life. I started struggling with depression when I was about 8. The PTSD has always been there. It has roared its ugly head so many times. It is sometimes just shown by nightmares, sometimes just by flashbacks. I say that… JUST flashbacks. Through therapy I have learned how to ground, and to keep myself in the present. I do what I must so that I can stay sane.

There were several times that the depression came up. I was 15 the first time I tried to kill myself. I am so thankful that I had no clue what I was doing. In the next 35 days, 28 were spent in the psych ward. It wasn’t consecutive, but the majority of my time was in the unit. It sucked. The last time I got out I determined to keep myself safe, that I would be OK, and that I would continue to talk to my mom. I did great. For 3 years I held on. Sometimes only barely, but I was making it. I was a “good girl.” Throughout this time I faked a smile so much. Except for my eating, there looked to be nothing wrong from the outside. But inside I was tearing up.

I am currently 5′ 7″, and weigh 155lbs. I am proud of this. Back then I was about 5′ 6″, and weighed about 122. That is about 4lbs above the underweight mark, and had I ever hit 115, I would have been labeled with anorexia nervosa. But again, by the grace of God, I didn’t. I sure tried but I never succeeded. I would eat less than 100 calories some days, and maybe 900 on my max days. When I thought I had eaten too much, I would make myself throw it up. It was an endless cycle of never getting to where I wanted to be, always feeling like a failure, feeling worse about myself, and then making myself eat even less. I got over that with help from family, friends, and God. I was shown a verse: Colossians 2:10 and you are complete in Him who is the head of all principal and power. I was told that God is Perfect, in Him I am perfect, because He made me PERFECT. While we were driving home I started questioning why I worried so much about my outward appearance if God already thought of me as perfect. It was a huge changing point. I still struggle though and it tried to rear its ugly head in December 2014. Through the support of friends and family I made it through.

I said that for 3 years I held on. That’s not exactly true… I started cutting in November of 2012. I was depressed, but not suicidal. I was angry and hurting, but we were all trying to keep it together. None of us felt as though hospitalization was the best option. Things got worse in the fall of my senior year, November of 2013. The weeks leading up to that I was becoming increasingly moody, angry, and severely depressed again. I made it until the day after homecoming. That next night I told my mom I was going to kill myself, and we had to do something about it. We ended up calling the police, and I was at the hospital for nine days. I found a sharp object, and tried to slit my wrists, but I couldn’t go deep enough. I got out. I was very angry, and became verbally, mentally, and sometimes physically abusive. The police were called several times. It was really bad. I was leading up to my nineteenth birthday, and I was looking to get kicked out because of my actions. I ended up in the hospital one more time. It was a different one this time, and we found it more helpful than any of the others combined. I came home actually stable, and determined to never go back. I stopped cutting, started controlling my anger even when I didn’t feel like it. And then: GOD. I have given so much credit to Him, and I will continue to give Him credit. He has done so much in my life, and is continuing to heal and strengthen me even today. I was writing a short sermon for my local Fine Arts Festival, which is through the Assemblies of God churches throughout the nation. The theme this year was Limitless. I was struggling honestly… I was ignoring God, and kept trying to do it alone. One day I decided to let Him in again. He inspired me to write about Limitless Forgiveness. It changed me FOREVER. I forgave my dad for all the crap. I forgave my mom for anything I hadn’t already let go. I became less angry almost instantly. I stopped screaming and cussing, I was never over the top again. I even far about 3 months was not overly depressed, or anxious, and most of the PTSD symptoms were under control. I was floating on air.

I could leave it at that… I could tell you that’s my story… I could tell you that I haven’t struggled since… but that wouldn’t be true. There are ups and downs, TRUST ME. My dad called in June 2014. That night was the worst PTSD night I have ever experienced. I got that under control, and then I started college that fall. I started cutting, I became suicidal to the point of researching my plan to make sure it would work. I started having panic attacks, and the flashbacks came back. I was hospitalized in November and then again in April and May. We are looking at a possible new diagnosis of Bi-polar. I am about to start an inpatient 90 day treatment for mental health. It is a struggle constantly right now.

But what I have decided is that I am going to get through this. I will survive because I have survived. I will soar on wings like eagles, I will run and not grow weary, and I will walk and not faint, because God has made me new. He is in control, and I give it all up to him. I will not let my past determine what I do today. I know that in some ways, my past does define me. My mistakes don’t, but the mistakes of others do. The way those mistakes and choices effected my life up until now, that has made me who I am today. BUT, the choices I make right now will determine who I become. Now, I will stand tall, and I will move on.

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Sahar K

There are still some days that I wake up and things are dark, but I see the faces of my little siblings and I remember why I am alive. Things are changing and looking brighter for me. I still have problems taking my medications, but I know with time I will accept who I am and what I have gone through.

I am 19 years old and I have bipolar disorder. Its been a long road, let me tell you that. It all started when I went off to college. After going to a small, all girl school to a huge university, I felt lost. My long term boyfriend and I broke up, and that’s what really triggered everything. I started partying constantly, drinking, drugs, basically any way I could get out of my head. One night of drinking lead me to the emergency room, but that wasn’t even a big enough wake up call for me.

But the worst part of this illness, is that with every high comes a deep deep low. After I was manic, I fell into a deep depression. I started cutting myself. There was one night that I cut myself too much and I fainted from the sight of how much blood was gushing out. I woke up on the ground of the dorm bathroom, alone and totally drained emotionally. I hid behind my mask of smiles and laughs, but inside I was suffering. That summer of 2014, I went into an Intensive Outpatient Program, just to come out self medicating again. I smoked pot just to get through the day. When I went back to school, I once again had a manic episode which lead me into the darkest hole of my life.

I remember waking up crying simply because I was alive and I had to face the day ahead of me. I hated myself. I hated who I had become and I was disgusted just by the sight of myself. I was ready to end my life. I had a plan and it was going to happen. I replayed how I would do it over and over in my head, but when I fell short, I hated myself even more.

For whatever reason, I had a slither of logic come through my mind and decided that I needed to come home. I left my university, went back into the Outpatient program and really focused on my recovery.

There are still some days that I wake up and things are dark, but I see the faces of my little siblings and I remember why I am alive. Things are changing and looking brighter for me. I still have problems taking my medications, but I know with time I will accept who I am and what I have gone through.
I will get better, everything always does.

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A Friend

I don’t take the small things for granted like others do. Sunshine, fresh air, the ability to walk and talk—all that gratitude makes a difference. I hope you too find hope in your struggle and a sense of purpose. We are not our illnesses but through trials we can grow from them and become the people we are supposed to be.

It took me ten years to walk into a doctor’s office knowing I had a problem. I was twelve when I had my first episode of mental illness and though my grades slipped and I withdrew from sports and friends, my family seemed not to notice. I learned to bear it on my own, not knowing what it was, and self-medicating with alcohol along the way.

At 22, I had a name. It was called bipolar disorder. To me, this was a death sentence. I thought that, because I would have it for the rest of my life, that I was doomed to a life of pain and misery. But I was wrong. Yes, I have battled bipolar disorder ever since, even as we tried medication after medication and therapy after therapy. Yes, I lost jobs and had broken relationships and struggled to make ends meet. But I benefited as well.

I know today that through my struggle with bipolar disorder that I’ve become a better person. I’m more compassionate, more empathetic, more willing to help others. Through disability, I have grown to become the person I was meant to become—an advocate for those in need of help.

I do service work in this arena now, facilitating bipolar support groups, writing guides for the local National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter, and organizing a suicide prevention walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This willingness to make a difference didn’t come accidentally. It was by design. Through the pain that I went through, I wanted to help others going through that same pain.

I still struggle with bipolar disorder, and anxiety, and sometimes post-traumatic stress disorder. My alcoholism is in remission. On May 2, 2015, I celebrated five years of sobriety. These illnesses make things tough and it always seems to be a grind. I’m in crisis every so often and have had three hospitalizations in the past four years.

But while I don’t have much money or my own place, I know today that I am blessed. I don’t take the small things for granted like others do. Sunshine, fresh air, the ability to walk and talk—all that gratitude makes a difference. I hope you too find hope in your struggle and a sense of purpose. We are not our illnesses but through trials we can grow from them and become the people we are supposed to be.

Get help, reach out, and take care of yourself. End the stigma.

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Abigail E

I begged my parents to send me to a psychiatrist. After several months of pleading, my parents sent me to one, and she officially diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. I wasn't afraid of my diagnosis. Instead I found it exciting that I had the possibility of living a "normal life." I went on mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics, and the sin that I repented of for years vanished. The medication liberated me from the guilt and shame that I harbored for far too long.

Bipolar Disorder and the Church

Two things were always in my life: church and bipolar disorder. My parents led various ministries in a Southern Baptist church and required me to attend church every Sunday. Most of the time, I didn’t mind going to church because the congregation supported me; however, they were unaware of what happened behind closed doors. If my church leaders were advocates of the mental health care system, I would have suffered less.

Although bipolar disorder always afflicted me, I received the official diagnose at nineteen, only a year ago. My family credited my mood swings to part of my “melancholic personality” and joked “happy Abby or crabby Abby? Which one are we going to get today?” To this day, the name “Abby” makes me cringe because it is a reminder of my former emotional instability.

When I was nine, it seemed like I went to hell; I began going psychotic, having visual and auditory hallucinations on a regular basis, but I kept it a secret from everyone including my own family. I couldn’t bear to live with myself anymore. The hallucinations convinced me to attempt suicide at the age of eleven because dying seemed better than living. A so-called demon sat on the edge of my bed and encouraged my suicide. The demon said that I should strangle myself, but I felt a hand grasp my arm. Then a voice told me, “no.” I called it my angel, my savior, who rescued me from self-destruction. I saw the seemingly supernatural experience, which I now know was a hallucination, as God’s sign that He loved me; I dropped to my knees and made a profession of faith. Even though I was psychotic at the time of my conversion, I don’t regret my decision. God was there with me through my darkest times. I thought that God’s love would simply heal my broken mind, but it didn’t. I continued to see demons and didn’t understand why.

The severity of my bipolar disorder worsened, and I realized that I needed someone’s help. After telling my parents that I saw demons, I turned to a pastor. As a scared little fourteen year-old, I seemed too young to have such frightening experiences. The pastor told me that I should pray to ask for forgiveness and repent from my depression, outbursts of anger, anxiety, and irrational impulses (all symptoms of bipolar disorder). As for my hallucinations, I should rebuke the demons by saying something like, “I command you to leave in Jesus’ name!” I did this procedure for several years and lived in such guilt and shame because of it. I thought that I was the lowliest of sinners because no matter how hard I tried, my repenting and rebuking did not take care of my issues. The hallucinations continued to plague my mind, and I started to think I was crazy.

Later, I met other Christians like me. I finally had people who I could relate to! Church leaders told these girls to implement the same coping tactics that I had, and similarly their tactics did not eliminate their problems. Instead it created a sense of self-reproach.

Because of my shame, church became a trigger; the very thought of church generated my hallucinations. I would get a splitting headache every Saturday and Sunday and knew hallucinations would follow. I liken my headaches before hallucinations to an elderly person whose bones ache before a storm. While other people my age looked forward to weekends, I dreaded them. My hallucinatory experiences go to be so out-of-hand that my parents had to drive me to church because I could no longer drive safely by myself.

If I would see hallucinations during church, I would excuse myself and retreat to the bathroom. I would lean against the wall of a stall and rock back and forth. Psychosis had taken its toll on me. I would put on more makeup and dress nicer to hide my weariness, but I could not hide the unrest that would haunt me. I started losing my memory, and my eyes would dart back and forth looking for an imaginary predator. Some people at church would notice my disorientation and place a hand on my arm saying, “I’m praying for you.” This would anger me because I had prayed for years that the same God would take away my problems, but He had never answered me.

I investigated the source of my sin and discovered bipolar disorder in my research making me realize that I fit the prototype. Then I begged my parents to send me to a psychiatrist. After several months of pleading, my parents sent me to one, and she officially diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. I wasn’t afraid of my diagnosis. Instead I found it exciting that I had the possibility of living a “normal life.” I went on mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics, and the sin that I repented of for years vanished. The medication liberated me from the guilt and shame that I harbored for far too long.

My experience of having bipolar in the church reminds me of a Bible story. The disciples asked Jesus about a man, who had been blind all of his life. Whose sin was responsible for the man’s blindness, his own or his parents’? Neither. Jesus said, “This came about so that God’s works might be displayed in him” (Jn. 9:3 HCSB). The man’s blindness strengthened his character.

I don’t blame church leaders for my suffering, but they should bear the responsibility for being informed about mental health conditions. The Christians, who I know experiencing hallucinations, are still relying upon church leaders’ care and haven’t sought medical help. Well-being isn’t based solely upon the spiritual aspect but rather the mind, body, and soul. Churches and the mental health care system don’t have to be at odds. If they just begin working together, more people can find freedom and strength like I have found.

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Kristina C

After extensive outpatient treatment, I successfully finished college at the age of 20, to begin work in the mental health field. Now pursuing my graduate degree in counseling psychology, I hope to help the many others like me who have walked this road.

I remember being probably 4-5 years old at the pediatrician. I was there for another reason, but my mom asked the doctor in the hallway about some behaviors I was having. The doctor said that I was “just weird.” Looking back, those were the early warning signs of mental illness. I began treatment at 10 years old, when I began disclosing to my parents thoughts and plans of suicide, for obsessive compulsive disorder and major depressive disorder. Medication helped diminish intrusive thoughts, and therapy helped cull my obsessive behaviors. I wish I could say that’s where my journey ended, but it didn’t. A few years later, it was evident I did not experience just a single episode of depression, but what actually was happening was Bipolar Disorder. A tricky diagnosis to make, but at 15 years old I began a course of mood stabilizers. I was too young to know it at the time, but “feeling better” was not a good reason to stop taking my medication, but I stopped seeing my therapist and taking my medication anyway. As I entered college, sex, drugs, and alcohol became my life. At the same time, I became so obsessed with looking good that I spiraled into anorexia nervosa which nearly ended my life. After extensive outpatient treatment, I successfully finished college at the age of 20, to begin work in the mental health field. Now pursuing my graduate degree in counseling psychology, I hope to help the many others like me who have walked this road. I still struggle daily. I still see my doctor and psychiatrist regularly. I still take my medication. I still have to talk about my disorder with a therapist. I still have some hefty mood swings from time to time, and in those times I think I can’t get through it. But I’m still here. Still living and breathing. I’m here changing lives in my school and workplace. I am not my mental illness. I am Kristina. I am a fighter. I fight to be me everyday and not let my disorder win. And I will fight to end stigma with all my strength.

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David W

As I write this I'm just coming out of a depression that lasted all year. I usually get depressed after a manic episode. And I had a manic episode last summer. My worst one yet. I could write novel upon novel about my experiences with this illness but the major thing I see is the countless lives this stuff takes.

My name is David and I suffer from a severe mood disorder and I have had psychiatric breaks that have significantly altered my life. When I was young I was very popular and extremely competitive. My father use to tell me that he thought he was raising an idealist because of my countless hours of practicing golf and basketball in the house. In high school, I was very social and showed a lot of talent in acting and golf. I went onto performing in Godspell as the role of Jesus and it was very well received. I continued with acting, golf and dating in college but in 1998 at the collegiate national championships for speech and debate as the returning national champion I had a psychotic break from reality: My First Episode.

It was a nightmare in the flesh while I was wide awake. My coaches and coaches from other colleges had no idea what to do. They thought I was just stoned and having a bad trip and just hoped I would come down. But I never did come down. With days left in the competition they kept watch over me in my hotel room as my psychosis started to really take shape. On the plane ride home to Orange County I kept trying to jump out, as I was now completely out of my mind. When we landed, I was in a full blown manic episode. My Father came onto the plane and escorted me to a mental hospital.

That was about 17 years ago. That weekend changed the course of my life forever. Ever since I have been battling daily with mood disorders and brain dysfunctions. I have found myself homeless, living in cars, caught up in the wrong crowds, on drugs, off drugs, in patient hospitalizations, out patient hospitalizations. And then there has been some good times. I won the Desert Amateur Golf Championship in 2003. In 2006 I joined the army and completed Basic Training and was a excellent soldier. I’ve been a good boyfriend a handful of times. I showed promise at work at companies such as Macy’s and Sport Chalet. And the one major thing I have accomplished is survival.

Let’s face it, the reality is that this illness devastated me. It has ruined about 10 serious relationships with girlfriends, stripped me of my military career, caused me to fail out of college, it disqualified me from areas of talent such as acting and golf and has destroyed my finances and my personal life: leaving me broke and alone. Fortunately I have found that I am blessed with the ability to rent a room from a landlord and pay my rent, live with others and not cause problems, all the while handling my severe mental illness.

I’ve had a series of manic episodes and severe bouts of depression. As I write this I’m just coming out of a depression that lasted all year. I usually get depressed after a manic episode. And I had a manic episode last summer. My worst one yet. I could write novel upon novel about my experiences with this illness but the major thing I see is the countless lives this stuff takes. I’ve have been to way too many funerals of friends that I’ve found who share a similar disorder. It has never left my mind the feeling of being at funeral of a person who is just like me. I fear it so much. I would be lying if I said that I haven’t pondered it. How the suicide element of the disorder is the major elephant in the room. How life gets harder and harder and manic depression and bi polar statistically gets clinically worse. I can concur, my mania gets more and more dangerous and my depression gets more and more painful. At 36, I see and understand that it wasn’t my friends fault, that it wasn’t a failure on their part. In dealing with my own mental illness I can understand they didn’t give up, this disease is deadly and the stigma of it just makes it more and more isolating. So I don’t shame my friends that succumbed to the pressure of their illness: I cherish them and keep them in my memory, because I don’t want to die : I want to live.

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Tony K

But recently, after a very challenging series of events that showed me how much stigma our society still has towards mental illness, I finally decided to take the plunge and come completely out of the closet with my condition. I started talking about my Bipolar Disorder on social media, with people in my church and even sometimes with strangers. Through conversations, discussions, and meetings I wanted to do my part to fight to eradicate stigma. I have been astonished by how much support I’ve gotten. My worst fears of being socially excluded and isolated were instead replaced with others coming to my support in sympathy, compassion, and empathy.

Coming Out of the Closet, Finally Accepting Myself Completely

It hasn’t been easy living with Bipolar Disorder. Not only do I have to treat my intense moods that are the hallmark of the condition, but ever since I was diagnosed at 16, I was always taught directly, or indirectly, to be ashamed of who I am because of it. From the very beginning, close acquaintances, and society at large, have told me to hide that part of myself…to reject that piece of myself that’s “unacceptable” and “intolerable”.

I remember desperately wanting to write about my Manic Depression for my college entrance essay, only to be told by a teacher that I shouldn’t because colleges might reject me because of it. I remember my father telling me to hide my medication, in case a stranger or distant relative thinks I’m “crazy” because of them. And of course there are all the jokes that people make about people with mental illness and taking medication, as well as movies, TV shows and news reports of “dangerous lunatics” who are mentally ill and go around hurting people.

So throughout most of my life, I lived a double life. My outer world that I allowed the public to see, and my inner world that I desperately wanted to hide, that only I and my most closest acquaintances knew about, always afraid that my two worlds would collide and ruin my chances of having a “normal” life.

It’s a hard to live a life where I only accept one piece of myself while rejecting the other, loving one part while hating the other. I suppose that’s why I’ve gone off my medication so many times, desperately hoping each time that the psychiatrists had made a mistake and that I was actually “normal”. After all, who in their right mind wants to be labeled “crazy” and be the constant butt of everyone’s jokes and derision? But no such luck. Each and every time I went off my medication, I’d eventually end up in the hospital.

But recently, after a very challenging series of events that showed me how much stigma our society still has towards mental illness, I finally decided to take the plunge and come completely out of the closet with my condition. I started talking about my Bipolar Disorder on social media, with people in my church and even sometimes with strangers. Through conversations, discussions, and meetings I wanted to do my part to fight to eradicate stigma.

I have been astonished by how much support I’ve gotten. My worst fears of being socially excluded and isolated were instead replaced with others coming to my support in sympathy, compassion, and empathy. People from my church started telling me about their own experiences with mental illness and with that of their relatives. People on Facebook started to “friend” me and respond positively to my comments, and even strangers gave me their approval and support for fighting for the cause of ending stigma of mental illness. I was simply amazed by the level of acceptance I felt not only from others, but also from myself. For me, it’s my firm belief that I was born to have my mental illness as many people were born with the genetics that caused their own mental illnesses. And it’s also my firm belief that no one should ever have to feel ashamed simply for being the way they were born. I can finally be my whole self now without feeling shame.

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Lena

Yes the stigma. From the uninformed, your family and your husband. Then I go to work. Very few have any idea of the weight of that same stigma when you're an active duty Police Officer trying to hide. I am a proud Los Angeles Police Officer who happens to have this disorder. And so I move on as life was before and will be.

The stigma that one has prior to the diagnosis haunts you during your struggle to find through the maze. Many years run past as you silently wonder that maybe you’re too sensitive or just an overly passionate personality that struggles a little more than most. Then the dips deepen and the highs teeter and you know. You realize that something is just not right. You see this doctor and that trying to find “The Answer”. You find yourself repeating your story like a criminal seeking exoneration when all you are looking for is that response. That look on someone’s face. Sympathy? Understanding? Who knows? You don’t know. You just want one of them to say…”You have…” Then it happens. One of them. Not one that you can remember at the time, but the one that has an answer. When you hear it the immense flow of the feelings of fighting duality are a flame inside of your head. You hear a title but the words that flood afterwards are numb and muffled. Bi-Polar disorder.

Months pass. Therapy after therapy has been explored. You feel like the test pilot for every medication made. They hurt, they confuse, they make you sleep too much….zombie walking is your description. Then, when your head has filled with instruction, definitions, and endless research they add some more. Oh, AND.. Borderline Personality Disorder with a bought of Agoraphobia and heavy onset of Panic Disorder. Spinning. Now comes the scary stuff. Now you find yourself taking months off of work for a series of Electric Convulsion Therapy sessions. Yup. You’re that bad off. The fear that has entered your life going into that little closet where they do their stuff. They are so fast. Your in. Just enough room for the Therapist, a nurse, the anesthesiologist and you, lying in that bed. They are fast. Thank God they are fast. I cry. Each time I cry before I fall asleep and wake in another part of the hospital and a lovely nurse smiles and hands me an aspirin for the headache.

All this and the stigma. Yes the stigma. From the uninformed, your family and your husband. Then I go to work.

Very few have any idea of the weight of that same stigma when you’re an active duty Police Officer trying to hide.

I am a proud Los Angeles Police Officer who happens to have this disorder. And so I move on as life was before and will be.

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Chris

Contrary to what most people think I would not change a thing about myself, including being bipolar. Yes, the depressions can be relentless and sometimes feel dehumanizing, but before my disorder was affecting me I had a much smaller perspective, and by going through the ups and downs my eyes have been opened to so much.

My name is C.J., I’m 19 and I have bipolar 1 disorder. Contrary to what most people think I would not change a thing about myself, including being bipolar. Yes, the depressions can be relentless and sometimes feel dehumanizing, but before my disorder was affecting me I had a much smaller perspective, and by going through the ups and downs my eyes have been opened to so much. I was lucky to get a medication that worked well for me early but I still struggle, and have never forgotten the vacation days in Florida when I would think about jumping off the balcony and even look over the edge for awhile…in fucking Florida.

But I’m not writing this for sympathy, I’m writing this for change and also a personal idea I’ve been thinking about to help everyone with a mental illness.

First of all, I’m going to modify a common saying in which I don’t like, and that is: your illness doesn’t define you. Instead I would change it to: your illness defines a lot about you (how you think, feel, and respond), but it doesn’t take away all of your humanity unless you give it the missing piece it needs to consume you. I believe that no matter how little you are able to feel, there are still some left, but if even that doesn’t exist there are memories of feeling. Hold on for those memories, remind yourself whenever you see a natural smile that all is not lost…that’s how I survived.

Also, when I get really depressed, I avoid all those people around me because most of the people I’m around don’t make any sense to me. Most are happy, and talkative. Two of the things I hate most while depressed are happy people and talking to happy people (I’m sure many of you know what I mean). Its partially because we want to be happy ourselves and are so far from it we don’t know how to have a happy conversation, so we hide.

But then I came up with this great idea, why don’t we all hide together, come together. One thing I know for sure is being around people that have never had a personal experience with depression or a mental illness can be very unhelpful with regards to the illness itself. They tend to go for the heart when really the head is the thing experiencing trauma. Of course in those times you appreciate the support but its not enough.

I also tend to shy away from even those who are closest to me. The one refuge I found (besides proper medication) is to have some type of social interaction with someone. That person is someone just like you, someone who feels alone even when surrounded. So by talking about their depression or about depressing things actually lifted my spirits, and I’m sure talking with someone who can empathize will be great for you too. By finding a genuine bond with someone and helping each other to find the positive in the problem.

Using this structure I want to create more than a website. I want to create a rehab type place where you can come and go as you please without any requirements of any kind. Therapy outside of the psychiatrists office and into a hangout spot with listeners, ‘understanders’, and friends. That sounds much better than going to see a guy who nods and tells you its only temporary and you will get over it eventually.

So ya if anyone thinks this is a good/bad idea please leave a comment. Everyone’s input matters, even those who may not think it does ☺

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Elizabeth R

Terminology concerns me. My own therapist wrote in a text to me when I was very upset that "The pain you feel is just pain...it can't hurt you…" But in reality pain does literally hurt you.

I am now 51 years old and I am finally beginning to take charge of my recovery process from severe bipolar disorder. I have been struggling with this illness since I was 18 or maybe even younger. I was hospitalized when I was 23 and frequently strapped to the bed and shot in the rear with heavy medications.

I had been in a stupor for the last ten years from heavy medications and I was, as a friend of mine put it a “doormat.” I didn’t know how to advocate for myself or say no to anything and this got me into a lot of trouble.

I have been thinking a lot lately about my own recovery process from mental illness and addictions and also about working with others who suffer from these maladies which I would really like to do one day.

I am very sensitive to language and stigma in regards to mental and emotional disorders and I am finally learning to be more assertive about this.

Most people wouldn’t tell someone with cancer that they have to “Work on themselves.” They say they need to get treatment and they need to take care of themselves and be cared for, even though all of this often involves a lot of work as well. But this term is applied to me and my peers who suffer from mental disorders all the time.

Terminology concerns me. My own therapist wrote in a text to me when I was very upset that “The pain you feel is just pain…it can’t hurt you…”

But in reality pain does literally hurt you. I have seen people die from suicides and over-doses. I have seen the walking wounded who suffer from these illnesses and I am one of them.

People with cancer get sympathy… and people who suffer from addictions and emotional and mental disorders often get tough love and discipline which I admit can be helpful sometimes but can also be damaging to one’s self esteem.

I am finally finding my voice and am starting to learn how to use it. My goal from this point on is to advocate for myself and my fellow sufferers.

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TJ

Whenever I thought about my disease and how I would have this the rest of my life I just felt hopeless. But now I view it as my strength because it didn't kill me, I learned from it, I thought about some really cool stuff, and I just realized how unique I am compared to everyone else because not a lot of people experienced what I did and I just hope that my story and my strength can help other people.

My name is TJ and I am Bipolar 1 or 2 – whichever has manic episodes. I found this out when I was 19 at the very end of my freshman year I was taking finals and then going to head back home to St. Louis for summer break. A lot of weird things went on during that week. One of the first nights of finals I got food poisoning and had to go to the hospital at 3 in the morning and stayed there till like 11, missed my final that morning and had to make that up so I was feeling a lot of stress with getting sick and school and being down because I was fitting in socially down at the school I was at. So the next night or the night after I got back from the hospital I will never forget this. I was watching a show on discovery channel it was “Stephen Hawkings Into the Universe”, and I’m a big fan of that stuff like space and God, so when I was watching this show I asked my self, “Why can’t God just be the original Scientist?” And then it was like a flood of thoughts about God and life in ways that I had never thought like or about before.

This was the start of my first manic episode. So all these thoughts I was having I was writing down, just writing anything I thought. And I still believe that I was thinking about some pretty cool stuff but I was just acting way out of control I was weirding people out, writing crazy things on Facebook and just clearly not acting normal. So when I was heading home for the summer I took an exit to get gas because I was really low on fuel but there was no gas so I just kept driving and my phone died on the way so I couldn’t tell my parents where I was at. Long story short it took me 8 hours to get home which is usually a 5 hour drive so my parents were freaking out when I got home and then I terrified them just saying and doing weird things. The next day they took me to the hospital and I was there for a week.

That was in 2010. So after that I worked in the summer and ended up at a community college in St. Louis for the semester and got things back to normal. The next semester I was going to transfer to Mizzou. When I started at Mizzou I joined a fraternity that some of my high school friends had joined. I was having a really good time but I wasn’t on any medication at the time because a previous doctor had taken me off of it. So about halfway through the semester I started to lose control. I was having problems with my roommate and my mind started to think about those old thoughts. So one night I was watching one of Kevin Hart’s stand ups and in one of his jokes he says something like ‘go or leave or something’ and I thought he was talking to me and I grabbed my keys and jumped in my car and just started driving. This was at like 11 o’clock on a school night. This was the start of my second episode. I ended up driving through the night and ended up in Marshall Missouri. I wandered around the town left my truck behind and ended up getting picked up and taken to the hospital. I was there for about a week.

Once I got out of Marshall I tried to go back to Mizzou. When I got back my mind was still not right, so one night I went over to the fraternity house and I drank way to much and I blacked out. I don’t remember a thing I did that night but whatever I did scared a lot of people and I got taken back to my apartment and threatened my roommate and clearly scared him too. That night haunts me to this day and I wish I could apologize to everyone who witnessed me that night. When I finally became conscious again and sobered up I was in the back of a van and I went to jail for awhile. They transferred me to the hospital by the school where I was at for about a week.

I got out finally straightened up and got control of my mind. I ended up going back to Mizzou, no fraternity this time lol, and I finished school and graduated last June 2014. I’m working full time now live on my own with a buddy and have an established group of friends again and I’m back on track, very happy and very blessed to be where I am at today.

After the last episode, and I was back home from Mizzou, I only had my family. I had no friends, no girls to talk to and I was completely all alone. I was so depressed and so down because I always thought, “There’s no one like me. No one knows what I went through. No one’s gunna want to hang out with me. No girl’s gunna want to date me”. Whenever I thought about my disease and how I would have this the rest of my life I just felt hopeless. But now I view it as my strength because it didn’t kill me, I learned from it, I thought about some really cool stuff, and I just realized how unique I am compared to everyone else because not a lot of people experienced what I did. I just hope that my story and my strength can help other people. God Bless.

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Valerie C

Sometimes I’m told that my story is a sad one. Sometimes I’m told that it’s a miracle I was able to make it through the things I’ve been through. But I don’t give my credit to miracles. I did it myself, with a proper support system.

I began developing bipolar disorder at 16. It started with noticeable depression. I cried a lot. Almost every day before school. Almost every day at school. Some people asked me what was wrong, some people told me I was being ridiculous and needed to stop, some people began to ignore me altogether. My first suicide attempt was during this time.

My first year of university, I began to struggle with mania. I was impulsive, sometimes to the point of endangering myself. I became obsessed with the idea of religion, with delusions of a god speaking with me through “signs.” Some friends became concerned about my abnormal behavior. Some, again, began to ignore me. My mania and depression were so out of control that I lost my scholarship and was carried back home like a broken bird.

I saw the university doctors multiple times, and although the word “bipolar” was tossed around, they never officially diagnosed me because it just wasn’t something they wanted to deal with.

I fought for help but with parents raised in strict religious households, they were uneducated. My mother didn’t and still doesn’t believe in the grim reality of mental illness. Since I was stuck at home, I resorted to harming myself as a self-treatment. This caused major tension between my mother and I, resulting in myself being kicked out and forced to deal with my episodes without any support.

I tried to put myself out in the dating realm because I was lonely and desperate for comfort, but I quickly discovered that most guys don’t want to be with someone struggling with a mental disorder. I was never let down easy, either. I was called “crazy” and “emo” and “too intense” and “dull.” I was stood up over and over. I was more lonely trying to ask for comfort than I was cutting alone in my room.

Years went by before I diagnosed officially at the age of 21. Accepting the diagnosis was a difficult adjustment, but it’s been much easier to control with the proper support system. It’s been five hard years since I was officially diagnosed. The road has been long and will continue to be long ahead of me. Each relapse episode is different and more challenging than the last. I’ll always deal with the hopelessness, the irritability, and the delusions to some level. That’s out of my control. But with therapists and psychiatrists who care, I can control how I choose to deal with the inner turmoil.

Sometimes I’m told that my story is a sad one. Sometimes I’m told that it’s a miracle I was able to make it through the things I’ve been through. But I don’t give my credit to miracles. I did it myself, with a proper support system. My bipolar disorder tried to break me. My experiences tried to break me. The people who refused to associated with me because of it tried to break me. But I fought, and I’ll continue fighting, because all they’ve done is strengthen me.

To quote DJ Molles, “She’s strong…Did you mistake her for something else?” #StrongerThanStigma

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#Scooting4Scooter

Mental illness is just that - an illness. It's no different than heart disease or cancer; people are fighting every day, and these diseases do not discriminate. If you had met my dad, you would never have guessed he was sick. That's one of the scariest and saddest parts of mental illness - so many people struggle silently.

My dad was the best at nicknames; everyone in our family had one. Mik and I are Boo Boo and The Mikker. He had quite a few himself throughout his life, too. He was known as Scotty, Scamp, and Stallion (to name a few!), but the one that really stuck was Scooter.

He wouldn’t let Mik call him “Mr. Scampini” when they met, and once his first grandson was born, “Grandpa” didn’t really suit him, so Scooter it was. His affinity for nicknames was just one of the MANY things that made my dad the wonderful, unique guy he was. He was handsome, charming, smart, goofy, loving, business-savvy, and quite the golfer.

He also lived most of his life with depression and bipolar disorder, but I didn’t really know about it until I was in my late twenties.  He didn’t let it define him. Unfortunately, though, like many individuals with mental illness, he was also ashamed to discuss it with his parents, closest friends, and even with us, his own family.

He lost his battle with depression and mental illness in October 2013, and I still can’t believe he’s gone. I also can’t imagine the isolation he felt hiding this massive struggle for his entire life.

Mental illness is just that – an illness. It’s no different than heart disease or cancer; people are fighting every day, and these diseases do not discriminate. If you had met my dad, you would never have guessed he was sick. That’s one of the scariest and saddest parts of mental illness – so many people struggle silently.

So, we’re going to take some time and money out of our trip to dedicate our #Scooting4Scooter. Every dollar we spend on scooting (which we hope to do in every country!), we’ll match and donate to BringChange2Mind. It might not be much, but it’s something.  And more importantly, we hope to shed some light and chip away at the wall of stigma surrounding mental illness.

We invite you to join us on each scooter ride through our photographs and videos, with a soundtrack provided by Scooter’s favorite tunes. Perhaps you’ll feel inclined to match our donations. (*If you do decide to match us, mention #Scooting4Scooter in your comments, please.)

Or, better yet, help break down the wall and foster a community of support:  Share your story with BringChange2Mind.

Originally published on Becca and Mik’s Blog, Major Departure.

http://www.majordeparture.com/scooting4scooter/

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Christina S.

I only wish I had had more support at a younger age so that I would not have felt that my family saw me as someone to be stigmatized. Too many years of my life were wasted because I felt the low self-esteem that comes not only from my disease but is a product of being looked down upon by others.

I was seventeen when I suffered my first ‘episode.’ Toward the end of my senior year in high school, I became withdrawn and depressed. The previous year, I was wired, involved in everything,…so, looking back that shows a cycle.) My parents did not want to believe anything was wrong with me, so when the psychiatrist they took me too said she thought nothing seemed wrong, they wanted to just leave it at that. But when I didn’t get better, I was prescribed whatever drugs they had back in the 70s (MAO inhibitors) and I suffered severe reactions to them.  So, I was taken off of them and never ended up going back to a doctor.

I went off to college and the excitement of my first year I guess pushed me out of depression. During my sophomore year of college, however, during the winter months, I suddenly wasn’t getting any sleep — suffering from seasonal affective disorder. This was the first time in my life during which I hardly slept AT ALL for weeks despite (according to my parents) having trouble getting to sleep since childhood. I tried to make it through the semester anyway.  I didn’t want to go home since when I tried telling my parents something was really wrong, they couldn’t accept it. My Dad got angry and said something about how I often just wrapped a cocoon between myself and others.

One night when I told my Mom I couldn’t sleep, she said, “Have a glass of wine.” (I wasn’t even old enough to buy alcohol in the state where I was in college at the time!) I ended up going home early but my professors allowed me to do the work at home so I could get credit for my course. Not only did I get credit — but I still ended up with a B- average that semester despite an episode. (This was a grade lower than normal). This shows the positive side of bipolar — a brilliant mind. I also have a very creative mind. One thing that’s certain– as all of you out their with bipolar disorder know, too — my mind never stops.

I wasn’t diagnosed as having bipolar disorder until twenty-two years after my first major depressive episode! Prior to that, I was diagnosed with just depression. It took ten more years for me to have the correct mix of medications.

Today, I have been stable for years and my husband is very supportive. I only wish I had had more support at a younger age so that I would not have felt that my family saw me as someone to be stigmatized. Too many years of my life were wasted because I felt the low self-esteem that comes not only from my disease but is a product of being looked down upon by others.

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Mary

A few years ago I began my path finding that outlet in an art’s based therapy program, and I will be forever grateful for this. Finding therapy through the arts made sense to me. In college I studied many of history’s greatest artists, most of them had one thing in common and that commonality was they suffered from some kind of mental illness. History has shown us there is a clear connection between the artistic temperament and mental illness.

My name is Mary Hawkins and I am an abstract artist in Greenville, South Carolina. I melt crayons and oil pastels to create colorful abstract representations of my life. It is through my work that I am able to live my life in screaming color. I choose to use the phrase, live in screaming color, because I have Bipolar Disorder.

On June 16, 2003 my life changed forever.

My father was in a horrible automobile accident involving a tractor trailer whose driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. The accident almost ended his life and would leave him with a Traumatic Brain Injury. This traumatic experience, in addition to having a family history of mental illness, is what many psychiatrists and psychologists have determined what triggered the onset of my Bipolar.

I want to share my story with other people in hopes of stopping stigma against mental illness. I am an intelligent, educated, kind, compassionate, loving, respectful and diplomatic human being with an ear ready to listen and a hand willing to help. Here is my story:

I struggled for a long time to find a healthy outlet that would quiet my mind of the highs and lows I felt so often due to my mental illness. I had been in and out of therapy, and was put on many types of medications. Things would be okay for awhile, but would not stay this way for long. I took myself off medications time and time again, and with each of these times breaking the hearts of the ones that loved me.

A few years ago I began my path finding that outlet in an art’s based therapy program, and I will be forever grateful for this. Finding therapy through the arts made sense to me. In college I studied many of history’s greatest artists, most of them had one thing in common and that commonality was they suffered from some kind of mental illness. History has shown us there is a clear connection between the artistic temperament and mental illness.

It was February of 2014 when I created my first melted crayon piece entitled, “Live in Screaming Color.” I found an old canvas, a zip lock bag of broken crayons and without any plan or purpose began to melt the broken crayons onto the canvas. It was in this moment that I felt an inner peace that I had never felt before. My mind was quiet and I was able to allow my hands to do the work. I felt free of everything. I saw this as my “Aha Moment,” my moment of clarity. I realized that broken crayons still color and saw this as a metaphor for my life. Having Bipolar Disorder does not make me broken, but in society’s eyes it does.

The arts have always been a large part of my life and a very special bond I share with my grandmothers. They taught me at an early age to really look for and appreciate the beauty that can be found in art, music, nature and life in general. For this reason, I find inspiration for my work through other artists, music, photography and experiences that I have with loved ones. I am also inspired by the amazing scenery that is the Upstate of South Carolina. I am heavily influenced by artists of the 60’s Pop Art Movement (I guess you could say I’ve been channeling my inner Jasper Johns), Impressionism and Street Art.

Currently my work can be viewed through the month of January at the Café @ Williams Hardware in Travelers Rest, South Carolina.

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Chris

I tell people about my hospitalizations, times when I was extremely depressed, and extremely manic, so they can see that even though the media portrays people who have mental illnesses as drains on society who are homicidal psychos, we can be and ARE functioning members of society.

I’ve been actually diagnosed bipolar for almost 7 years, yet I can look back at my entire life and know that my family and I should have realized it long before then. Since being diagnosed, I haven’t been bashful about telling anyone and everyone who will listen about my “disorder”. I don’t see it as a disorder, I just see it as part of who I am. I’ve seen my fare share of people who flinched and backed away when I told them I am bipolar, but this is why I do it. I tell people about my hospitalizations, times when I was extremely depressed, and extremely manic, so they can see that even though the media portrays people who have mental illnesses as drains on society who are homicidal psychos, we can be and ARE functioning members of society. I make sure to let them know that through years of therapy and indescribable amounts of self control the person that they are talking to is not on any medication and that I control my bipolar, not the other way around. I make sure they understand that though society sees me as “crazy”, I work 7 days a week to take care of my family and make sure my children have enough food to eat, toys to play with and clothes to keep them warm.

I know myself better than most people will ever know themselves. I can tell when I’m cycling. I can bring myself down from mania and back up from depression, but I also know when I am beyond my own control and will call the police to restrain me or take myself to the hospital if needed. While in the hospital I like to help people understand that they don’t have to let their disorder control them, they can be the one in control. If anyone is reading this who is bipolar, and you want to know my secret, it’s simple: you have to want to control yourself. That is the kicker. A lot of the people I have spoken to in the hospital don’t want to control themselves they just want to be “normal”, well, sadly, this isn’t possible for us at this point in time. After you decide you want to control yourself, you have to understand something else: the only thing you can control is yourself. Nothing else. When you can accept that, you will be well on your way to controlling yourself. Keep in mind, I’m not saying that you need to drop your mess now and try to control yourself. You can’t expect to succeed by do that, but in time, it took me more than 5 years, you might just get there.

For those of you who aren’t bipolar and are reading this. We use bipolar to describe a person, and most think that this is all that needs to be said about some who is bipolar. Well, I’m here to tell you, my name is Chris, I have brown hair, hazel eyes, I’m about 6′, and weigh about 175. I have a beautiful wife, I have a 2 1/2 year old, a 1 1/2 year old and a 6 week old. I work two jobs, and about 65 hours a week, I have a great sense of humor, I like movies, I love music, am sweet, humble, a gentleman, I hold the door for anyone and I am extremely out going. Talking to people is my favorite hobby, but I also like football, basketball, and hockey, working on cars and working on computers. I love watching he science channel, watching shows about space and reading about anything science related. Somehow, “bipolar” doesn’t do a good job of describing me. Am I bipolar? Yes, I am, but that is just a minuscule part of who I really am, who I really am is a person, just like you.

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Celia

Last night I watched an old "SNL" skit, of Anne Hathaway's parody of Clare Dane's character (with bipolar) in tv's "Homeland". It was obviously a crude ridiculing of the outward symptoms, but I refused to stop watching as I didn't want to appear as "hypersensitive PC police." I realized the skit was from 2012, and was relieved at how archaic and almost out-of-place (yes, even for media) the blatant mockery felt.

Last night I watched an old “SNL” skit, of Anne Hathaway’s parody of Clare Dane’s character (with bipolar) in tv’s “Homeland”. It was obviously a crude ridiculing of the outward symptoms, but I refused to stop watching as I didn’t want to appear as “hypersensitive PC police.” I realized the skit was from 2012, and was relieved at how archaic and almost out-of-place (yes, even for media) the blatant mockery felt. However, I felt relieved that if this skit aired today, it would seem more inappropriate and there would be more outcry against it. I mean, I remember just a year before the skit aired, I was in a hospital bed for an acute bipolar 1 episode, with access to my laptop, only to receive taunting, bullying, & death wishes via social media regarding my illness via social media. It sucked, but I remember at that moment a few years back, defeatedly thinking that said behavior probably only seemed like harmless internet trolling and fair child’s play to onlookers.

I had “friends” who mysteriously “disappeared” upon learning of my admission, yet I continued to see them openly making fun of bipolar disorder on my facebook feed. I had “frenemies” go to the lengths of tagging me (& my family members) in Amy Winehouse videos with “#looneybin” & seeing people chime in laughing with ignorant encouragement & mob mentality. People taunted me with rumors they fabricated about how I was actually in rehab for drug abuse, just to make their own lives more amusing. Strangers went out of their way to message/email hateful death wishes to me, telling me to “kill myself” and that I “should die”, which is a strange thing to say to someone who is clinically at risk of that in the first place.

My intent here is not mere grievance, but to show the progressive trajectory of my personal experience with stigma – how it’s gone from worst, to bad, to now hopeful. With time, I think we can become more masterful sculptors of our own experiences, and of each others’ experiences. And unfortunately for those who wished wrong upon me, I know that I will prosper & live to see our larger society & media culture follow suit.

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K.D.

Those of us who suffer from this will never give up, and never stop hoping for a day when it can be defeated for good.

I’ve been living with mental illness since I was a young girl, and although I’ve been in therapy since I was thirteen, it has taken years to correctly diagnose me with Bipolar and Schizoaffective Disorder. I’ve struggled a long time in this fight, but refuse to give up. I have a wonderful, supportive husband, and two beautiful children that keep me going. I’ve also been through the stigma that surrounds what I have, including people who had said that it’s all in my head or tried to tell me that I need to have self worth. In truth, they have only made me feel worse about myself then. I’ve been in the hospital twice, and battled self injury as well. It’s been a long, hard struggle, but I have sworn to myself that I will make it, so I keep up with taking care of my family and have taken up writing novels as a coping method.

For now, I have been sharing articles and wonderful places like BC2M to let people and know understand how mental illness is just that, an illness. No one should judge someone who’s struggling with it or to overcome it. In fact, they should support them just as much as they’d support someone with any other illness. Those of us who suffer from this will never give up, and never stop hoping for a day when it can be defeated for good.

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Laura

We have to quit being afraid to talk about it. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. People have it. It's a fact of life. Shame on anyone who shames someone else for having a mental illness. We all need to support one another in times of trouble, and be good friends to those who need us.

I was lucky. I was diagnosed at the age of 20 with Bipolar Disorder, Type II. I say I’m lucky because many people go years without a diagnosis and are miserable without knowing why. When I’m miserable, I know why, and have known why for 9 years. I was diagnosed my second time in the hospital for being suicidal. I have been in the hospital 5 times for being suicidal, and once for an actual attempt. It has taken me years, but I finally accept my actions and my illness.

I try not to be shy about this whole “having a mental illness thing.” I always try to be open about it because I believe in having conversations about mental health. It reduces stigma, and I always seem to learn who else is struggling, just like me. Being open about it has been a blessing, honestly! I’m “out” at work and with all of my friends and family. I figure if you can’t accept me for who I am, we have no business being friends anyway. Being open about it, though, has shown me how accepting people can actually be.

About actually having it though, I just have this thing I have to deal with every day. It does not mean I am “crazy.” I am still a productive member of society. I have a good job with health insurance that I love. I pay my taxes, and have a great relationship with my boyfriend. I like going to concerts and I read constantly. My life is not too shabby. There is just this extra thing I have to deal with, but it does not encompass me.

I have the second type of Bipolar, so I get hypomanic instead of manic, which means the episode of mania is much less severe. I also get severely depressed. I am on medication, which I take consistently and faithfully, and have been very stable for about 2 years (yay! Go me!). I am thankful for all of the support I get from family, friends, etc. I think that is why I am able to live life pretty well. I wish there were supports in place for everyone like me. Many people who have mental illness are shunned by their families or society. That has to change. We are people too and need love and support just like everyone else.

1 in 4 adults experience mental illness in every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That means you probably know at least a few people who are struggling at any given time. And people are afraid to talk about it! There is so much stigma surrounding mental illness, which has got to stop. We have to quit being afraid to talk about it. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. People have it. It’s a fact of life. Shame on anyone who shames someone else for having a mental illness. We all need to support one another in times of trouble, and be good friends to those who need us.

My goal in life is to educate and talk to people about mental health. I have several ideas of how to go about that, but suffice it to say I’m working on a book right now and other side projects. I also hope to have a blog soon to start a dialogue about mental illness. It’s time to talk about it.

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James

I have researched my illness and have become a self proclaimed advocate for mental illness (bipolar predominantly) in my local area and on Facebook amongst my friends.

I just saw a commercial on television and I will admit, I thought it was for a new scary movie. In a sense it was, but boy was I surprised ….. it was for a scary movie but not just a movie based on reality (which “fluffs over” all the really bad parts) but reality itself. I understand the stigma. I have bipolar disorder and whenever I am having a mood episode people pawn it off as me being a “drama queen”. Can I tell you how pissed off and frustrated I get when that happens? I know so very well how hard it is to survive in today’s overly judgmental society.

I have a Facebook account where, when I find one that I agree with, I will endorse with all my being, I post things about bipolar (specifically, but there are always other illnesses in the article too) disorder so that I may educate my friends and family. There are groups on Facebook for people with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. I have joined them knowing that they may not always be the best place to go just because of the chance of the group being breeched or hacked – I, personally, don’t care – I am proud of who I am and my condescending distrusting attitude is what defines me NOT my bipolar disorder. I have researched my illness and have become a self proclaimed advocate for mental illness (bipolar predominantly) in my local area and on Facebook amongst my friends.

I was admitted to the hospital for my first time in 1999 right about this date – I spent Thanksgiving in the hospital before I was discharged. It is tough to have a mental illness and I do any and everything I can to dispel the myths and stigmatism that is thrown around. I live in a place where the local hospital is affiliated with a medical school and has a medical school on the campus of the hospital. My psychaitrist was doing a presentation (which he now does every May during mental health awareness month) and I join him. I prepare my own presentation from a very personal viewpoint. My psychaitrist hesitates every year because he wants me to be even-keeled when I do my presentation but my argument for being there is if I am experiencing either a manic or depressive mood episode its even better because I rapid cycle, and during the worst episodes I can do a complete cycle within an hour to an hour and a half.

To end my long windedness, long and short of it is, I understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the sneers and dirty looks.

I have read the disclaimer that not all posts will get published. I am ok with that. I don’t need to have all that I said out there – I just wanted to let others know that I understand the stigma and I live with it on a daily basis. I also wanted to let others know that I am doing all that I can (when I can – sometimes my mood episodes are unrelenting and I lose any kind of control to them). If there was more that I could and can do I hope that someone will reach out to me and let me know.

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Maggie

I could go on for days talking about Yancey, the stigma of mental illness and my hopes for change in society. But what I want to leave you with is this… One of my biggest fears is that Yancey didn’t know we loved him. So, take the time to love today. You never know what your friend, neighbor, significant other or family member is going through inside. Tell them you love them, give them a hug, talk with them, listen to them. You never know what hope and joy you can bring to someone’s life with a little love.

I wanted to share my personal experience with suicide.

My older brother, Yancey, took his own life the night of Dec. 22, 2013 at 28 years old. Yancey was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and suffered from horrific bouts of depression, anxiety and OCD for more than a decade. Even with years of therapy, medication, and even hospitalization, the pain of Yancey’s mental illness was too unbearable to keep living. Upon reading this, you may assume that Yancey lived a sad, lonely life. That is quite the opposite.

Growing up, Yancey was the shining star of our family. Yancey succeeded in school and athletics with ease, often earning scholastic recognition and winning MVP baseball, swimming and football awards. Yancey was bright, funny, had a huge smile and made friends effortlessly. The best part of Yancey was that he loved all of it – friends, sports, school. He was such a happy kid.

Yancey was my best friend. He would cook for me, play with me, help me in school and sports, find ways to make me laugh, and he would even let me sleep in his room when I was scared at night. My family moved around a lot growing up, so when it was hard to make new friends, I always had Yancey.

When Yancey was in high school, he started taking Accutane, a drug to treat severe acne. That’s when everything started changing for Yancey. Accutane has been reported for causing severe depression and suicide attempts in users. I’m not saying that Yancey’s mental illness was caused by Accutane. Yancey was prone to probably becoming bipolar eventually, as there have been other members of our family with bipolar disorder. However, I do think Accutane brought his mental illness the surface sooner and more viciously than if it would have occurred naturally, if at all.

Yancey’s depression seemed like it hit out of no where. I can’t even imagine what the pain was like for Yancey to go from a happy, busy teenager to so dark and sad. It was very devastating for our family, his coaches, teachers and friends, as well. Suddenly, one of the best players on the varsity football team didn’t show up to practice. The straight A student stopped turning in his homework. He would hide out in his room for hours, reluctant to be with friends and angry at family members. None of us understood, and we all thought he was just acting out as some teenagers do. He started becoming more violent when he would get angry – throwing things, cursing, pacing. My parents had never seen this side of him and had no idea how to react other than discipline him.

Yancey’s radical behavior led to him getting kicked out of his boarding school. He went to a public school for a few weeks before our family moved to Huntsville, Texas. We all thought it could be a great new start for Yancey, but he only spent a couple of months in school before it became too much for him. Yancey physically could not get out of his bed in the morning to go to school. Yancey just didn’t care anymore, and this clearly wasn’t the same person we all knew.

The next few years were so emotional and dramatic for our family, filled with doctor appointments, arrests, hospitalizations, prescriptions, fights, but mostly confusion and sadness. Looking back, I’m sure that time was so traumatic for Yancey. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a doctor tell me there is something wrong with me and that I’ll have to live with it for the rest of my life. I’m sure all the different medications he took didn’t help either. There’s no way someone can feel stable while testing several different brain medications. Yancey hated the way some of the medications made him feel and would often try to quit the pills cold turkey, which in turn made him even more unstable.

I am embarrassed to admit this, but I was often scared to have friends over to our house, because I didn’t want them to know I had a brother who had a mental disorder. I was still relatively new to Huntsville High School, and I was worried that people would judge my family for Yancey’s problems and think that it was our fault for the way that Yancey acted. I didn’t want anyone to know the pain we were going through, and I didn’t want to appear different or strange. I longed for the relationships of other siblings in high school together, supporting each other on the sidelines at games, sharing friends and riding to school together.

Every so often, there would be signs of hope. The real Yancey I grew up with would come back to life, and I could see it in his pretty, blue, happy eyes. We would crack jokes and listen to music together. But then, out of no where, something would set him off and his eyes would turn black and empty. He looked so different when he had his manic swings. Scary. It hurt so bad having the sweet, loving person I knew go on uncontrollable manic rampages. The manic episodes were not pleasant, and he would threaten and get mad at me for the smallest things, like leaving to go to work, talking on the phone with my friends or not wanting to stay awake at night to talk to him. If you have ever seen the movie “Silver Linings Playbook,” you know that you just can’t calm a bipolar person down when they’re having a manic episode. Nothing can derail them from what they’re hyper focused on. If you try to tell them to calm down, it can turn into an even worse episode. Yancey would have huge angry blowups that were incredibly disruptive and scary for me and our family.

Yancey brought so much turmoil to our household that he was asked to leave. For the next few years, I saw Yancey sporadically. I was in college and would see him sometimes when I came home for the holidays. There was a time where he rarely wanted to spend the holidays with us, because he was frustrated with our family for not always understanding him. I get it. We wanted to understand, we really did. We just didn’t want to feel pain and be hurt by his actions anymore. While I rarely saw him in person, I imagined I saw him dozens of times while I was at UT-Austin, walking down the street, on the bus, as one of the transient kids on Guadalupe Street. My love and fear for him was haunting me.

While I was in college, Yancey had a little girl, Zoey. She was a force for change in Yancey’s life. There had been many ups and downs over the years, but this is when we started seeing more ups than we did downs. Yancey loved Zoey to death and wanted to be a good dad for her. When Zoey’s mom, Kimberly, would go to work, Yancey would look after her. Yancey started getting out of the house more, going to Zoey’s soccer games and picking her up from school. He also started coming around our family more, hanging out at barbecues, participating in holidays and even coming to church with us sometimes. It wasn’t always perfect, but we could see that Yancey had a desire to get better for his daughter. Zoey gave Yancey a whole new purpose in life.

While we were seeing more up swings, the down swings were the heaviest of down swings. They would usually consist of an angry manic episode, and Yancey would go for months without speaking to our family. This was always particularly difficult on my mom, because she worried about him so much and wanted him to know we loved him. By this time, we all had grown to understand (as best we could) and respect Yancey’s mental illness. We loved him and wanted him to be a part of our family. Before that last down swing where he ultimately ended up killing himself, we truly thought Yancey was on the right track to managing his mental illness. I hate that after all these years, we still could not fully understand the severity of what he was going through.

During his last few years, Yancey was tormented feeling sad for himself, because he felt like he had failed miserably after once having so much potential. The worst part for Yancey was coming to terms with the fact that he had a mental illness. He hated the idea of being labeled as bipolar or depressed. He just wanted to be normal. He felt like people looked at him like a freak, but also as someone who should be able to just “fix” his illness on his own, as if mental illness was not a “real” illness. It’s not like having cancer where a terrible disease just happens to you, right? WRONG! Mental illness is exactly like having cancer. No one wants to have cancer and no one wants to be mentally ill. And no one can just FIX it with the snap of their fingers.

The stigma of mental illness in our society was so hurtful to Yancey. He didn’t want to look at his mental illness as something that he would have to manage his whole life. He wanted to fix it and be well like everyone else. I think the realization that it would never be fixed was one of the many reasons Yancey decided to end his life. He didn’t want to accept a life of medications and therapy to maintain a happy, functioning life. I also think he started to worry about his daughter coming to the realization that her dad was not “normal.” He knew that having Zoey see him during his manic and depressive episodes would not be healthy for her. Yancey felt hopeless. And I can’t help but blame myself for not providing him hope. My family and Kimberly feel the same as well. I’ll always wonder what we could have done better so that this would not have happened?

It’s been less than one year since his death, so the pain is still very raw. I believe that God shows grace for the mentally ill, and Yancey is in a better place. He was suffering so much for so many years, and now he can peacefully be in heaven with his two grandmothers who loved him and were crazy about him.

I hope that Yancey’s story will encourage others to learn and talk about mental illness. One of the common misconceptions is that the mentally ill are bad people or “crazy.” Yancey was not a bad person. He did not drink, do drugs or hurt anyone other than himself. Once the stigma of mental illness is eliminated, I think we’ll see less mentally ill people feeling hopeless and killing themselves. I want people to know that mentally ill people can manage their bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia etc. just like other people manage their cholesterol, autism, alcoholism and other problems with medication and therapy. Just because they have an unwanted problem does not make them bad people that we should ignore within our society.

One of the greatest things about talking about mental illness is that you realize you’re not alone. Since my brother’s suicide, I’ve had more people tell me about their friend/family member who has mental illness and/or committed suicide than I ever have in my life. It’s been comforting knowing that I have a community of people who have dealt with similar struggles as my family.

I could go on for days talking about Yancey, the stigma of mental illness and my hopes for change in society. But what I want to leave you with is this… One of my biggest fears is that Yancey didn’t know we loved him. So, take the time to love today. You never know what your friend, neighbor, significant other or family member is going through inside. Tell them you love them, give them a hug, talk with them, listen to them. You never know what hope and joy you can bring to someone’s life with a little love.

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Tami

In my current professional role I mentor aspiring leaders and pride myself on being authentic. However, as the years progress I feel more hypocritical as I have hidden my "secret", not very authentic if you ask me. It is time to "bring change 2 mind" in the hopes I can provide inspiration to those suffering so they too may be able to ROCK bipolar one day. So here goes.... My name is Tami and I ROCK bipolar!!!

I will admit, I am one of those people who often referred to myself as being “crazy” followed by a laugh…that is until the fact I realized I was contributing to the stigma I so desperately wanted to end. So, I started to say I was “technically” bipolar. Technically? What the hell does that mean? For some reason being “technically” bipolar was easier to say as if somehow adding a qualifier made it less true or cast a doubt on the accuracy of my words. I have always lived in fear of my “secret” coming out; at first because I was afraid I might lose custody of my children; then out of fear it would damage my career as an educator. The truth was keeping this “secret”was damaging me… in the depths of my soul. Trapped in a cage of stigma while internally knowing I was meant to be an advocate for all those living with mental illness, including many of my friends and family.
Then one day, it sat across from one of my doctoral students who shared with me he is battling depression. What courage, bravery and vulnerability he exhibited in that moment. I paused as I tried to gather my thoughts and words. It was a long pause followed by a sincere admission ….”I understand, I ROCK bipolar!” Whew! I did it! I did not qualify my response with “technically” and it felt amazing, like a ton of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders…and yes, I ROCK bipolar. So often we hear we “suffer” from bipolar and trust me, some days it feels like that but overall I ROCK it! I started college at 16, earned my doctorate by 35, raised 4 children and have a successful marriage and career. I have earned professional accolades and am a published author. My illness is both a blessing and a curse. Some of my best work has been done while in a manic episode, followed by bouts of depression that test my ability to be a fighter, keep me grounded, and forever reminds me to always have empathy for others.
In my current professional role I mentor aspiring leaders and pride myself on being authentic. However, as the years progress I feel more hypocritical as I have hidden my “secret”, not very authentic if you ask me. It is time to “bring change 2 mind” in the hopes I can provide inspiration to those suffering so they too may be able to ROCK bipolar one day. So here goes…. My name is Tami and I ROCK bipolar!!!

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Jennifer D.

My name is Jennifer. I am intelligent, talented, attractive, generous compassionate and funny....and I am bi-polar. I had always hoped those good qualities would outweigh the actions, reactions and outrageous behavior that my disorder caused but could never seem to manage to accomplish it.

My name is Jennifer. I am intelligent, talented, attractive, generous compassionate and funny….and I am bi-polar. I had always hoped those good qualities would outweigh the actions, reactions and outrageous behavior that my disorder caused but could never seem to manage to accomplish it. All my life I have lived with the shame of my actions and words and the strange way my brain seemed to work..and I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t make my relationships last and why friends and family were always turning their backs on me when I always thought I had my heart in the right place. I have only had a support system of 2 people in my whole life that cared enough to help me figure out why I was the way I was and be tolerant with me through deep depressions, manic outbursts, immature behavior and thoughts of suicide. That would be my mother and my brother. I am unmedicated because I have no insurance so coping with this disorder for the last 30 years has been so difficult that I have had thoughts of giving up numerous times. I have spent my entire life apologizing after family functions, dinners with friends, inappropriate behavior around strangers etc…all I have ever felt is shame.

The lowest point in my life was probably when a family member decided they had had enough of this “behavior” over the years and wrote a 4 page letter to the remaining members of my family shaming me for everything they didn’t approve of over the last 30 years and calling me out for things I do not even recall doing. People do not realize that when you suffer from bi-polar disorder that things like that can send you into a very dark place because of the shame you already feel from trying to “fix yourself” and it can lead you into drugs, alcohol, outrageous behavior and more times than not, suicide. Immediately your mind goes to “well if everyone thinks I am such a horrible person then they would all be better off if they never had to deal with me anymore.” It made it worse after the letter was sent and no one came to my aide or supported me. Being judged for something you have no control over seems to be a losing battle.

I have a grown son and the relationship with him is rocky at best but not only do I want to get a grip on my disorder for myself, I want to for him. I want to be the mother he deserves. You have to just keep telling yourself there is hope. When I logged onto this site I felt it for the first time in my life. Immediately I found a support group that is 7 miles from me when I logged on. I cannot thank you enough for making this available and raising awareness to help good people like me battle the stigma of bi-polar disorder. And I hope friends and family that will read this one day will stop judging me and start supporting me instead. This is my “coming out.” My name is Jennifer, and I am bi-polar, and no longer ashamed to say so.

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Allison

I will always remember my 14th birthday. Not for the reason most teenagers do, but because it was the first time my dad told me, “I love you.” It was written in my birthday card. Growing up I always knew my father was different from other dads. He did not hug me, say “goodbye” when I left for school, or ask about my day.

Finding Personal Recovery from Mental Illness

I will always remember my 14th birthday. Not for the reason most teenagers do, but because it was the first time my dad told me, “I love you.” It was written in my birthday card. Growing up I always knew my father was different from other dads. He did not hug me, say “goodbye” when I left for school, or ask about my day. Not much has changed since then. As my 20th birthday recently came and passed, I never even received a mere “Happy Birthday” text message from him. The only difference between those two birthdays is I have learned to accept that my dad is different. In 2000, my father was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a severe mental breakdown and suicide attempt. Bipolar disorder is a condition where people fluctuate between periods of high energy or impulsiveness and bouts of irritable moods and depression. These mood swings are often very extreme and quick. The news of my father’s illness came as no shock my family and I. Shortly after the diagnosis, his aggressive manic episodes were decreased by the high volume of medication prescribed to him, including antipsychotics and lithium. My once impulsive and easily outraged father was now in a coma-like state, sleeping around 16 hours a day. The nonstop talking machine I once knew could not even hold a conversation without dozing off. His unstable state of mind and chronic mental illness is what soon led to my parent’s divorce.

After my father’s diagnosis, I decided to become involved in the mental health community. Over the past six years I have volunteered at mental health facilities in the metropolitan area. I have enjoyed every minute spent in the club house settings interacting and talking with patients, playing cards, and even doing arts and crafts. I learned that just a few minutes could make a patient’s entire day as well as my own. The time I have spent over the years has undeniably opened my eyes to the difference I can and want to make in the mental health world and has only pushed me to become more involved.

I am currently the Minneapolis Vail Place Social Event Assistant and Ambassador, giving me the opportunity to provide support and hope for those dealing with mental illness. Vail Place holds a personal significance as it is named after my grandfather, Dr. David Vail; a Harvard Medical School trained psychiatrist. He was also the Medical Director of Minnesota’s Department of Public Welfare for 11 years. During his term, Minnesota was recognized as a leader in humanizing its psychiatric facilities; changing them from custodial institutions to treatment programs designed to meet specific needs of their residents. My grandfather wanted to make a difference and he did so with a vision. Dr. Vail believed in providing community-based, mental health services for people with long-term serious illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression, in order to empower them and help them achieve self-sufficiency. After his early passing, my grandfather’s vision became a reality when the first ‘Vail Place’ facility opened in downtown Hopkins in 1981 and second facility opening in South Minneapolis in 1988. The goal of Vail Place is to help make recovery a reality for people living with severe mental illness, meet the growing need for community services resulting from de-institutionalization, reduce hospitalizations, promote recovery, and reintegrate members back into the community. These incredible aspects and many more make me so honored to be a part of the Vail Place team.

I volunteer every Monday evening and have cultivated so many lasting relationships because of it. I have given a handful of presentations to schools, Universities, and Lions Clubs in order to educate and deliver hope for the countless people diagnosed with a mental illness. Besides my presentations, I help organize and volunteer at the Annual Vail Place Garage Sale Fundraiser, last year raising roughly $2000 for social events and program items. Through these activities, I continually strive to involve others in volunteer opportunities at either one of the Vail Place locations or their local mental health facility. Not only have I raised hundreds of dollars for Vail Place through my presentations and fundraisers, but most importantly I have seen firsthand through my work that one person can make a difference. I will continue to get others involved with volunteer opportunities at either one of the Vail Place locations or their local mental health facility. My volunteer work has helped me both cope with the reality that my father has a chronic mental illness and morph that seemingly negative aspect of my life into a positive teaching mechanism that I now use to relate to the immeasurable number of people, like myself, whose loved ones suffer from a mental illness.

One in four people suffer from a diagnosable mental illness involving a degree of incapacity that interferes with employment, attendance at school, or daily life. Severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are serious medical conditions that disrupt a person’s feelings, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning. Mental illness stigmas create a sense of shame, fear, or hopelessness that prevents people from seeking treatment. Those dealing with a mental illness are afraid of the stigmatization of being called “crazy,” labeled as violent, or seen as intellectually disabled. In Minnesota alone, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among young adults age 15 to 24 years old. Suicide is almost always the result of untreated or under-treated mental illness. Undoubtedly, mental illnesses are severe problems as they result in substantially diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life; one of the many reasons why I am so passionate about addressing this issue.

As Miss West Metro 2013, a part of the Miss America Scholarship Organization, I continue to share my personal story of how mental illness has affected my life, educate others about mental disorders, associated stigmas, and how to provide support to those who are suffering, in hopes of one day creating a universal acceptance and understanding of mental health. I constantly strive to be that one person to make a difference in the lives of others and inspire others to do the same.

 

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Catherine

I don't hide the fact I have bipolar. Many people I come in contact with are shocked that I have it. "But you seem normal. But you're successful in your career. But you don't live on the street". All of those statements are ridiculous. This is why we have to break the stigma.

I am 39 years old, married, mother of 3 boys, and have Bipolar II and Anxiety Disorder. I have a Bachelors Degree in Nursing and have been in practice for 17 years. I was midiagnosed with Major Depression at age 17, when I tried for the first time to commit suicide to get away from an abusive boyfriend, my horrible self esteem, and the wacked out thoughts in my head. This would be #1 of 3 attempts. So how was I midiagnosed?  First of all, finding a decent psychiatrist was next to impossible. And no one caught my hypomanic episodes because I don’t have euphoria with them. I am irritable, agitated, and prone to anger outbursts, much like some people’s depressive episodes. And no one noticed the extreme anxiety I have felt my whole life, until it got worse in the postpartum period after the birth of my first child, at age 33. Finally, FINALLY at age 36, I found the world’s greatest psychiatrist and got the correct diagnosis. I require med changes every three months still. I think many of us with this disorder do. I don’t hide the fact I have bipolar. Many people I come in contact with are shocked that I have it. “But you seem normal. But you’re successful in your career. But you don’t live on the street”. All of those statements are ridiculous. This is why we have to break the stigma.

Mental illness does not preclude us from intelligence. It does not mean we can’t be successful in our lives. But we need resources to do so. More funding for public mental health clinics. Medicines that are less expensive or more medication assistance programs. More mental health insurance benefits. Help for our veterans. Help for the homeless mentally ill population. More inpatient psychiatric beds. Mental illness needs to be brought up from the bottom of the funding barrel. If we had more resources, there would be less utilization of ER beds, less admissions for overdoses and substance abuse effects, less violent crime, less homelessness. It would be less expensive and better for society if mental illness mattered more. We deserve it because we are your fellow mothers, fathers, children, doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers, actors, HUMANS MATTER!

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Peter

Soon after I was diagnosed as manic depressive. I was put on zoloft, but soon faked my way into getting by without medication. I began faking my whole life, all my moods and ideas, etc. During my teen years, I excelled at school, yet hated myself and constantly wanted to die. I felt ugly, awful and wrong. I felt wrong.

Chaos.That is what being bipolar and having a mental illness can bring. I was no different. Even from the very start of life, I would stay awake for days on end and cry, my parents had no idea why or how to stop their baby from crying. As I grew into my childhood, my moods were all over the place. I would run around my kindergarten class kissing every girl over and over again. I once was suspended in second grade for two weeks because I threw a tantrum after loosing a kickball game and ran away from school. On the other side, I was a bright and determined student. Everything was a competition and when I did poorly, I hated myself. My mother died when I was ten years old, she finally succumbed to untreated mental illness and she reached a breaking point and then she was gone. 

Soon after I was diagnosed as manic depressive. I was put on zoloft, but soon faked my way into getting by without medication. I began faking my whole life, all my moods and ideas, etc. During my teen years, I excelled at school, yet hated myself and constantly wanted to die. I felt ugly, awful and wrong. I felt wrong.

I just kept faking it and faking it until I couldn’t anymore. I took everything to excess and used everything I could to stabilize myself; including alcohol, relationships, money, etc. It became a game of hide the real me and put on a face of confidence. In the middle of graduate school, I broke and finally had enough. I went to a counselor on my campus and was diagnosed bipolar. From there, in the last three years, I have seen over 17 psychiatrists, 40 counselors, taken over 30 different medications, and went to suicidal lows and extreme manic highs. Life became miserable. And then it all changed.  Or actually I changed. I stopped fighting. I stopped trying to beat my illness. I gave in to knowing I am mental ill, but didn’t give up on myself. 

These days I have a masters degree, I am stable on medications, I see a therapist as often as I need, I have a strong support system in place, I have a great job and my friends and family support me. I am a strong advocate for mental health and I volunteer often. I was a broken soul. I had no direction and no hope. Now, I am being made whole. It all started with me giving in and taking ownership of who I am and the illness that I have. My life is a blessing these days yours can be too!

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Jay

I'm 52 years old now and I first started to suspect that I may have had a depression or bipolar depression condition in my early twenties. Periodically I would exhibit some kind of odd behavior such as deliberately cutting my arm, smashing a glass picture frame with my fist, or other dangerous and scary actions.

I’m 52 years old now and I first started to suspect that I may have had a depression or bipolar depression condition in my early twenties. Periodically I would exhibit some kind of odd behavior such as deliberately cutting my arm, smashing a glass picture frame with my fist, or other dangerous and scary actions. Fortunately I never directed this manic rage towards anyone else. It was easy to live in denial and avoid confronting my situation, and I did so for decades, all the while quitting jobs in anger, spending money I didn’t have, and occasionally losing friends. Being a creative person and having creative interests I was afraid that taking medication would dull my creativity. For years that was my position even though I could never complete creative projects. Finally in 2011 I had the worst depression episode I ever experienced. I was totally incapacitated and was very near suicide so I finally agreed to try medication. I gradually began to “feel like myself” and 3 months after starting on Lamictal I started to paint, but with a focus and energy I never had before. My work got better and better. I started showing paintings in galleries and selling work. For decades I thought medication would dull my creativity when in fact the exact opposite occurred. I finally accepted that my condition was something I couldn’t avoid and would have to deal with all my life. I still go through difficult phases, but for the most part my mood swings are minor and manageable. In addition to my fears of losing my creative edge I was also well aware of the social stigma of mental illness and was afraid of confiding in anyone about my condition. Now I’m starting to feel comfortable speaking out about it and hoping that sharing my experiences can in a small way help the movement to end the cultural ignorance and stigma about mental illness, and I find myself eager to try to help younger people who are going through what I did and feeling alone and hopeless.

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Christina

I can recall several times where I thought, “Okay, I am done being Bipolar”. There are obviously many things wrong with that statement, so I am going to discuss one of those wrong aspects. The part about “being Bipolar” irks me. I am not Bipolar. I have Bipolar Disorder.

I can recall several times where I thought, “Okay, I am done being Bipolar”. There are obviously many things wrong with that statement, so I am going to discuss one of those wrong aspects. The part about “being Bipolar” irks me. I am not Bipolar. I have Bipolar Disorder. There is a huge difference between those two statements. I do not want the diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder to define me. I am not the disorder. The disorder is simply one of the puzzle pieces that completes the complex puzzle of who I am. For quite sometime I had let the disorder define me. It made me feel very self-conscious and I felt completely inferior. I worried that people could see right through me and see nothing but the BP II. Although, no one knows except for my family and a few friends.

Bipolar II Disorder has definitely effected every single aspect of my life. For many many years I had no idea that I was suffering from BP II. I simply thought that I was crazy. I used to fall asleep crying because I did not know what was going on with me. I considered myself to be a terrible person because I had hurt my family and so many other people. I felt like I had no control over my life. The months leading up to my diagnosis were tumultuous. Over Christmas break during my sophomore year I was in the psych ward in a local hospital. I had hit my lowest of lows. I literally lost my mind. I became suicidal and I truly thought that my life was over. During my stay in the psych ward I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. We did not know I had BP II at the time. My stay in the hospital completely changed my life. I left being a new version of myself—a healthy version. A few days after I got out of the hospital I started my Spring semester of sophomore year. I technically was not supposed to start back to school that semester, but I was determined. I declined going to Intensive Outpatient Treatment. I ended up making straight A’s that semester, and I made it into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. I am so proud of myself. I was finally diagnosed with BP II six months ago.

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Douglas

While I can look back now and see I’ve been bipolar mixed since my early teens, it wasn’t until I was 35 that I was diagnosed after a failed suicide attempt. Why so long for a diagnosis? It was the stigma of mental illness that kept my family from sharing the family history of bipolar disorder through many generations, including all of my cousins.

While I can look back now and see I’ve been bipolar mixed since my early teens, it wasn’t until I was 35 that I was diagnosed after a failed suicide attempt. Why so long for a diagnosis? It was the stigma of mental illness that kept my family from sharing the family history of bipolar disorder through many generations, including all of my cousins. What I saw as normal was actually far from it.  I was married with children, and successful living the American dream. The only problem was the constant state of depression with punctuated mania. I’m a classic bipolar with the whole list of traits and behaviors. Yet I managed to hide behind laughter, humor, often moving from friendship to friendship to hide who I really was and what I was feeling.      

For years after my diagnosis I bounced from one therapist and doctor to the next looking for a cure. I finally found a therapist who treated my behavior and my sprirituality, something that was missing in my life. I also found a doctor who would work with me to find the right medication for me, as we’re all different. I work closely with my treatment team to openly and honestly share what’s happening to ensure we’re able to work together to provide and adjust my treatment to manage my disease. Now at age 47 I live openly with my mental illness among my friends and family to help end the stigma.

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Kara

When I was in second grade, my dad was suddenly hospitalized though he hadn't appeared sick to me in the days before. A few days later I would learn that my dad was sick, but with a kind of illness you can't see, and it was called bipolar. I was fortunate to grow up in a family where we could openly talk about mental illness.

When I was in second grade, my dad was suddenly hospitalized though he hadn’t appeared sick to me in the days before.  A few days later I would learn that my dad was sick, but with a kind of illness you can’t see, and it was called bipolar.

I was fortunate to grow up in a family where we could openly talk about mental illness.

I was then diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, and it was very apparent in my life.  With the support of family and friends, I graduated high school and then college despite the obstacles that come with ADHD.

When I was 21 my friends, family, and I noticed some strange behavioral changes in my day to day and I began to feel mentally, not myself.

I decided it was time to revisit a psychiatrist. After a few visits, I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 disorder.

The next year was very rough as I tried different medications then finally found one that worked!  Things became more smooth after that though I still face some unique challenges.

I am 25 now and I find that the most difficult part of having bipolar disorder is being closeted, afraid to be myself and tell people my story because of the existing stigma.  I came upon this site when I was trying to find what we can do to change it!

I’m so glad I’ve found a new place for support!

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Rachel

I was diagnosed with bipolar type two at the age of 17. After nearly four days of no sleep, a shopping spree of spending a thousand dollars in less than two hours and multiple epiphanies and hallucinations to name a few of my symptoms, my parents took me to a hospital where I was placed in a psychiatric ward and I stayed for five weeks.

I was diagnosed with bipolar type two at the age of 17. I was approaching the end of my final year at high school and the pressure of exams was slowly getting to me so I decided to take part in some recreational drug use to calm my nerves. After nearly four days of no sleep, a shopping spree of spending a thousand dollars in less than two hours and multiple epiphanies and hallucinations to name a few of my symptoms, my parents took me to a hospital where I was placed in a psychiatric ward and I stayed for five weeks. During that time I missed out on my senior year formal, a pre-planned holiday with my friends and my 18th birthday. Those five weeks were the most traumatizing yet life changing time of my life. I wasn’t told why I was there, I was confused and to make matters worse I was placed in the adult ward because there was no room in the youth ward and I was about to turn 18. After I was discharged I experienced my low for about a month if not more but with medication I improved.

About three years later I was living out of home and interstate and was off the medication with Doctor approval for about a year or more when I had my second manic episode. This time it was due to stress as I had gotten myself in dangerous situations with the wrong people. At the time I thought I was helping them I just ended up vulnerable to people who were going down bad paths in life and I know it isn’t an exaggeration when I say I was putting my own life at risk (evident to me before the episode, not a figment of my imagination). Given I was alone and didn’t have family to acknowledge the changes in me I was lucky to get help when family circumstances brought us back together and my cousin insisted I get help. This episode wasn’t as severe as the last but I still experienced the low after. I was put back on lithium at a lower dose than what I would like but I tolerate it. I know one day I will be able to function without the meds. I’m not silly about it and will do so with Doctors discretion but I know that they are an aid in me managing this illness and are not a crutch I need in order to “get through” life.

I am 24 now and it has been a little over 4 years since that last episode and I am doing really well. I’m in a loving relationship with a man who plans to marry me and loves me for me and although he accepts and understands my bipolar it is such a non-issue for him it’s like I don’t even have it. My family is very supportive as always which is a big help and I am at university studying to be a teacher. I am still on the medication but I am in the process with my Doctor of possible reduction very soon. Bipolar does not have to be a disorder that rules your life. You get to decide how to deal with it and ignoring it won’t make it go away. Living with bipolar has made me a stronger person, I’m more empathetic to others’ circumstances and life hurdles and I am proud that despite it I am creating the life I’ve always wanted to lead.

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Anonymous

Protecting your child is always a mother's first instinct. Mothers will do anything to keep their child from abusive situations and shelter them from evils of the world. However, what if the demons your child faces live in their "brain" and the abuse is coming from their own hands? What does a mother do then?

Protecting your child is always a mother’s first instinct. Mothers will do anything to keep their child from abusive situations and shelter them from evils of the world. However, what if the demons your child faces live in their “brain” and the abuse is coming from their own hands? What does a mother do then? This is what I face every day with my 8 year old and have been facing since around the time he turned four. Violent outbursts, emotional roller coasters, and even attempted self harm.

My son was always such a happy baby/toddler, always the teachers favorite, and very out going and loving. However a little after his 4th birthday, a switch was clicked and he slowly became short tempered, defiant, and irrational. Of course this is most behavior issues faced with young children, so I treated it as such, and tried to redirect his behavior with rewards and loss of privileges. It only got worse. By the time he started kindergarten, he was out of control and I was out of ideas. Then one day he finally began talking about his “brain” and how no matter how hard he tried he couldnt make it listen. It made him angry when he didnt want to be, sad when he had nothing to be sad about, and wouldn’t let him calm down and listen to his teachers.  We sought help. Finally, right before his 7th birthday we found a psychologist that was able to earn his trust and break thru when the previous three had not. Six mos later his diagnosis was heartbreaking and surprising to say the least. Bipolar 1.

Floods of emotions rolled thru me, but it was apparent medications were now necessary and I began searching for a psychatrist. Two more months went by and I couldnt find one that accepted pediatric patients with medicaid and most did not accept pedis period. Then the day came he decided he wanted to stop feeling and the only way would be to die. Fortunately I was able to prevent this attempt and was given the number to Clarity. He was admitted and has made huge strides over the past two years. He has been in and out of their hospital during the past couple of years and sees his psychatrist out patient also. Our biggest fight currently has been the lack of resources and help he receives at our current school district. Until I had a child with mental illness I never knew the struggles faced with getting help needed to overcome disorders like his.

As a mother you want to protect, you want to shelter. But as a mother of a child suffering with mental illness, you can only stand by them, fight for them, and love them. You can’t bandage and kiss it away. Many times I can’t even hold and comfort him as he cannot be touched during many episodes. All I can do is continue to fight for his rights, ensure he is recieving the best treatments available, and reassure him that its not his fault and I love him and support him fully.

As a mother with a child who has been affected by mental illness at such a young age in a society that still fights about medicating children I have one job. To stand by my child and to continue to kick the wall that stands between him and his recovery until every brick crumbles. That wall has not fallen yet, but some of the brick has started to break. I will not stop till that wall is dust, but I and everyone else who suffers from mental health can’t do it alone. Our communities, government, and the country as a whole have to come together and ensire the wall is never rebuilt.

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Joe

I gradually slipped into depression subtle enough that nobody around me noticed. By 2010, after I had been taking sick days about every 3-4 weeks, my wife noticed and asked if I was depressed. I denied it. In October 2010 I heard an officer in our unit recount his story of planning his own suicide, only to be saved by another officer. This prompted me to seek care again.

My illness was first diagnosed as depression in 1998, but didn’t get chronic until 1999. I tried a combination of antidepressants from my family doctor, several weeks of therapy, and self help (using the book “Feeling Good”), but didn’t stick with treatment for long. Soon my wife noticed my symptoms swung to mania. I was in denial until one pivotal night when an argument with my wife, with my young sons present, escalated to the point of my wife threatening separation. That was enough to break through the walls my mania had erected, and I sought treatment again.

Early in 2002 I was diagnosed with bipolar type 2. My specialist put me on herbals, which helped a little while. Then I went on a four month deployment as a Coast Guard contractor. The separation from my family and lack of treatment triggered another manic cycle. I went to the VA and was prescribed Tegretol. It helped, but my decision to take a job December 2003 with the Air Force contributed most to my improved mood. After moving I made a grave mistake by not renewing my prescription. Things were good until 2008, when multiple changes at work and a missed promotion the previous year occurred.

I gradually slipped into depression subtle enough that nobody around me noticed. By 2010, after I had been taking sick days about every 3-4 weeks, my wife noticed and asked if I was depressed. I denied it. In October 2010 I heard an officer in our unit recount his story of planning his own suicide, only to be saved by another officer.  This prompted me to seek care again.

The St Louis VA staff prescribed meds for depression, despite my bipolar history. After a wonderful Christmas, I swung into a strong manic phase in January. The next three months were so bad that my wife and I threatened separation at least five times. A VA psychiatrist diagnosed me as having bipolar type 1, and sent me to the psychiatric ward, which was a nightmare. My wife came to get me after four hours, we explored private care options, and discovered St. Anthony’s Medical Center.

I self-referred at SAMC March 6 2011. At last I got the right combination of medicine and therapy! After 3 weeks with SAMC, and another 8 months with a psychologist, I was back to “well”, and have been there ever since!

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Anita

I was twenty six years old with the world at my finger tips. I had made it through obstacles and difficult times most of my life. However nothing had prepared me for the road I was going to travel on for the next two years. I was in the middle of 5th Avenue in Manhattan when I froze and had a debilitating panic attack.

I was twenty six years old with the world at my finger tips. I had made it through obstacles and difficult times most of my life. However nothing had prepared me for the road I was going to travel on for the next two years. I was in the middle of 5th Avenue in Manhattan when I froze and had a debilitating panic attack. I was hit with tragedy and disappointment consistently for six months before my life as I knew it was shattered into a million little pieces. I was escorted into the emergency room. I couldn’t stop crying, the doom I felt was like a boulder on top of me. After going through my history with my doctor I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was relieved to finally have an answer for my manic behavior for the past year always following with a debilitating depression. I thought I would take my medicine and be fine. I learned I had a long journey of medicine trials and disappointments. I felt ashamed because many people thought I should just snap out of it.

After going though what felt like a merry-go-round of the same doubtful emotions, I decided to have ECT to correct my rapid cycling. I was so scared but put on a brave face for my family. They were in agony watching their once vibrant daughter and sister become drained of herself, hollow inside. After the ECT my life slowly came back together and one by one each shattered piece began to fit again. The past two years were the darkest times of my life, they shadowed every dream and aspiration I had. With medicine and the correct treatment my dreams and aspirations are no longer shadowed by doubt. They are within arms reach and I will push my self to reach them and beyond.

Having a mental illness is difficult but not impossible. It has made me stronger, given me a multifaceted view of the world, and made me realize that I had already climbed the mountain any other obstacle is merely a hill. I want to help other people with mental illness. I have bipolar and always will. However I had mixed cyle/rapid cycling bipolar. Medication was not sticking I was fighting with everything I had. ECT was a savior for me but I am the one who had the bravery to do so. We are more in control than we give ourselves credit for. Inform yourself, take care of yourself and most important never ever give up on yourself. God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers. Best of luck to everyone of you. You are not alone never lose hope it will get better.

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Kate

Here's the thing about being bi-polar: It's complicated. It's part of who I am, but it's not all that I am. It's a scary disease. But I have come to appreciate it. I don't appreciate the depressions or even the major manic episode separately, but I appreciate that the sum of these experiences, the entire disease, has made me who I am today.

I spent my 23rd birthday in the psychiatric ward at Beaumont hospital.

I don’t remember much from my almost two-week stay in the hospital. I remember words like, bi-polar, lithium, haldol and out-patient care.

I remember the shame of having to move back in with my mom after being discharged. I remember getting the letter from the public relations firm where I worked telling me I was being let go for exceeding my sick days.

The doctors warned me that the depression after the mania would be the worst I’d ever experienced.

It was worse, and it was debilitating. It took everything to put one foot in front of the other. I remember my foggy brain training to memorize the menu from a fancy restaurant in Royal Oak where I took a waitressing job to get back on my feet.

I had my first depression when I was in eighth grade. We chalked up it to normal teenage angst. I had one more major episode the spring of my senior year of high school.

I finally got medicated for depression in my freshman year of college. I had no desire or ability even to get out of bed. I dropped a class, and barely made it to the others. I forced myself to talk to all of my professors though I felt ashamed and alone even with a supportive family and great friends.

Even after medication I went on to have more significant depressive episodes, but each time, thankfully, the fog lifted and I persevered until the major manic episode. The right medication and the right diagnosis changed my life.

Here’s the thing about being bi-polar: It’s complicated. It’s part of who I am, but it’s not all that I am. It’s a scary disease. But I have come to appreciate it. I don’t appreciate the depressions or even the major manic episode separately, but I appreciate that the sum of these experiences, the entire disease, has made me who I am today.

I am now 34. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a friend. I am proud of who I am. I am proud that I got my masters degree and had a successful career touching students’ lives. I am not afraid of this illness or what people might think of me because I have it. I am happy and excited about my life. I take 600 milligrams of lithium every night before I go to bed. I try to go to bed every night before midnight. I try to exercise at least three times a week. As my psychiatrist and former social workers would say, I am compliant.

Bi-polar. Compliant. Happy. And not ashamed anymore.

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Ada

I am 15 years old and my mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 5, my brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was 10, and I have recently been diagnosed with OCD and GAD. I need to stress just how important a community is for someone with a mental illness.

I am 15 years old and my mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 5, my brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was 10, and I have recently been diagnosed with OCD and GAD. I need to stress just how important a community is for someone with a mental illness. My mother has no friends because of the way her bipolar disorder affects her communication skills probably triggers something in peoples’ heads that, “whoa, this person isn’t normal.” This type of treatment is fairly the same for my brother, whom is struggling to return to post-secondary education and also has lost connection to old friends. I hate this judgment, this awful stigma, that has caused mothers of my friends to isolate my own mother and gossip about her in private. This angers me and brings me to tears as her daughter. I don’t see my mom as a psycho-maniac. I see her as MY MOM, who loves me, is a kind person, and would never do harm. The same goes for my brother. The problem is, when people know you have a mental disorder, that is all they define you as. “You are bipolar, so you must be irresponsible and change your personality all the time.”  “You are schizophrenic, so you will never have a firm grasp on reality.”  “You have OCD, so you must be a freaky perfectionist.” I do not see these labels as definitions of individuals. I see them as struggles that some people have to battle in order to live a healthy life as their TRUE self. And I hate this other whiny, ignorant thing: that if you have a mental disorder, you are not good at anything you do and you are worthless. My mother is bipolar, so she “must” be a bad mother. My brother is schizophrenic, so he will “never” go back to school. And this ignorance brings so much additional hatred, misunderstanding, and stigma, because once you are labeled a bad mother or someone who cannot get a job, who must be on a disability pension, then society begins to see you as a leech. People with mental disorders are not leeches. They are not using their disorders as an “excuse.”  What they need is proper help, understanding, and compassion, so that they can achieve a healthier mental status and then make their stand as a member of society.

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Craig

Bipolar is a heart-wrenching challenge that almost seems unfair and cruel to have to live with. The operative word in that phrase is indeed "live". The brain is a complicated machine that will turn against a person with bipolar like an engine suddenly thrust in reverse after traveling at steady pace. What we "live" with is a challenge at times that seems just about insurmountable, but we must however live.

Bipolar is a heart-wrenching challenge that almost seems unfair and cruel to have to live with. The operative word in that phrase is indeed “live”. The brain is a complicated machine that will turn against a person with bipolar like an engine suddenly thrust in reverse after traveling at steady pace. What we “live” with is a challenge at times that seems just about insurmountable, but we must however live. There are times when I, clearly as a person with bipolar disorder, must make certain proclamations to myself, that I will indeed see through the pain and wake again to face another day. There are times when although the speed of my brain’s activity rests on the shoulders of genius, there are feelings of angst and pain that will stab like shards of glass at my soul. How in the world do we combat or reason with this impenetrable fortress that is our brain turning its back on us? I’ve searched under every rock, read all the literature there is, asked people, doctors, nurses, even clergy for a reason or an escape plan for and from the horror of my own feelings. What I’ve come up with may interest you. If you break it down to a set of rules to live by, it could yield some sort of structure and vision. These affirmations may provide some solace from the pain, and at the very least keep you closer to reason, when reasoning feels like a luxury.

I’ve created (but not recreated) a mission statement and set of core values to live by. Something that I have found helps me in times when all that is going well, turns on me and tests the resolve inside my soul. Follow if you want, but try at least for a moment. After all we do need all the tools necessary in our arsenal to combat what makes us combat ourselves.

I give you my bipolar mission statement.

     -I will live today.

     -I will live tomorrow.

     -Regardless of the amount of cliche, I will cling to the phrase, “this too, shall pass”.

    -When the anxiety and fear become so monstrous that my body and existence shakes, I will remember with every tremor, that life beats inside me and will remain that way.

    -With each moment of despair, I will remember that life has availed to me visions of joy and promise for myself. Promises kept by the higher power that has created me to be so unique. 

    -When the confusion scatters my senses so into what seems like separate corners of the universe, I will plant my feet on Mother Earth, take a deep breath and let myself be imperfect, and accept myself for being the only me the world has been given.

    -I will take my medication as directed, after all I didn’t go to school for 12 years like those instructing me to take them.

    -When the weight of depression feels like the world’s difficulties are a heavy rock that won’t budge, I will become atlas with the strength to lift an entire world, I have it in me.

    -When frustration and an exasperating Twitch seems to define my personality, I will realize it’s just life reminding me that I’m here on this planet to live and breathe, not on another world or locked in my mind so distant I can never return

    -I will realize that my life is precious, that if the world wants to call me crazy, then color me crazy, with primary colors our minds have not yet stretched far enough to fathom or see

    -And lastly, if my pain becomes so unbearable and the confusion of my condition takes me to a place that should not fall into the likes of the human experience, I shall with everything I have left, cry out for help. I shall scream fire! It will sound like a shout heard round the world, but it will be heard. I will before becoming a victim or a statistic, seek help from the nearest hospital. I realize at this point I need help from others trained to help me. I will tell them the truth , that I am a danger to myself. I will and promise myself when the time is needed, to get help. I will relieve myself of any shame or stigma.

   -I will endure.
 
   -I will heal.
 
   -I will wear a wholesome, well deserved smile on my face.
 
   -I will love, be loved and love myself.
  
   -It is this I believe and this I hold true. Nothing, not even the mind that plays its tricks on me, shall keep me from seeing a brighter future for myself , the ones I love, or the world around me.
 
This is my mission.
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Dilia

I share this today because looking through my archives, I have realized that my work always represented that duality and that dissociative state in which I lived for about 8 years. For the first time in a long time, I wake up each day and I’m thankful to be alive and feel blessed that at the darkest of times, I had my family and friends undying support.

I am 28 years old and at 19 I was diagnosed with OCD & Bipolar Disorder, I want to share my personal experience with mental illness as a way to break some of the stigma that surrounds the issue.

I share this today because looking through my archives, I have realized that my work always represented that duality and that dissociative state in which I lived for about 8 years. For the first time in a long time, I wake up each day and I’m thankful to be alive and feel blessed that at the darkest of times, I had my family and friends undying support.

I was diagnosed OCD and Bipolar when I was 19, but the signs where there long before that… I suffered from intrusive thoughts from as early as I can remember, I’d be doing the most mundane thing and like a flash I would see or feel something happening that wasn’t real…. Imagine going through that as a child, not understanding why your mind conjures up this gruesome scenarios that pop up at even the most random of times, those thoughts and their effect created a level of anxiety in me, that I starred pulling out my hair obsessively, I’d bite my nails all down to flesh (still struggle with that) and as I got older, the images started to become worse, the most mundane task became hard to do, I’d be cutting a tomato and suddenly in a flash I’d see myself cutting my own finger, I’d feel the pain and in a split second it would all go back to normal…after years of reading and trying to educate myself about what OCD really is, I have learned to cope better with those intrusive thoughts and have even found a way to make it work for my advantage in my creative productivity.

The bipolar disorder aspects are a bit harder to talk about, I’ve spent 8 years (19-27) trapped in a constant emotional roller-coaster inside my own self, I became so good at hiding my emotions and pain, that now after I’m on the other side of the spectrum and I tell my friends how I felt, I can see their shocked expressions, because even THEY didn’t know it was that bad. But it all started before 19….. I started having suicidal thoughts and begging the universe to strike me and end my pain since I was 13. I felt this constant black hole in the middle of my chest, waking up was hard, I just wanted to fade away and disappear. I was 15 the first time I asked my Mother for help, I felt hopeless and was staring down the cliff in a metaphorical sense. I went to her frantic and begging to be taken to a psychiatrist but it didn’t happen then…. I think at that time she thought it was just teenage angst, she realized something bigger was happening when I was 19 and stole from her. I had stolen money as a way to try and run away, disappear and kill myself…. I thought that if no one knew what happened, it would be easier for them to keep hoping that I was somewhere out there…. still alive.

My mother found out about the money, she slapped me and screamed at me, during my altered mind state I felt that her reaction justified my intended actions even further, I actually thought I’d be doing everyone else a favor by disappearing. My mother left that morning for her work, I was convinced that I was doing the right thing… and suddenly she called me and even though she was angry, she told me the words that saved my life… ‘I’m angry at you right know, but I LOVE YOU’.

My mother confessed not that long ago that when she left that day she realized that a lot of my actions were a cry for help, she said something inside her told her that she needed to call and say she loved me, she realized that I was thinking about committing suicide.

Now to end on a positive note… throughout this whole ordeal, one thing has been a constant light and positive influence… Art. Thanks to finding photography and being able to live and breathe art, I am here today to write this. The only thing that never seemed to falter even when I felt I could barely breath, was my ability to keep on working and creating, It became a sort of coping mechanism, for when I worked the constant black hole in my chest would seem to disappear and now I can honestly say that at least for now it’s gone for good.

I have a mental illness, but I am not mentally ill. I know that sentence is an oxymoron, but it’s the way I feel about myself and my reality, I will forever have to be on the lookout for the signs of that which is lurking inside my messed up brain chemistry, I will fight my hardest to educate myself and others about what mental illnesses are about and to break the stigma that 25% of the world lives and struggles with every day.

     

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Heide

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type 1 last fall after years of struggling in silence. It wasn’t until January that I finally accepted my diagnosis while getting treatment in a two week program at a Swedish Medical Center.

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Type 1 last fall after years of struggling in silence. It wasn’t until January that I finally accepted my diagnosis while getting treatment in a two week program at a Swedish Medical Center. The day after my 22nd birthday was the day I checked into the hospital and it was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever gone through. At that point, I still hadn’t accepted that there was anything “wrong” with me. Growing up I always knew I was different and just thought that I was a horrible, weak person. The first day at the hospital was the hardest for me and I spent most of the day crying my eyes out. I was locked on a floor with a bunch of strangers with varying degrees of sanity and people were asking me questions I’d never been asked before. Surprisingly I was very honest and let all of my dark secrets pour out of me for the first time in my life. I think the biggest reason I was so open was because of the other patients. Hearing them talk about their own thoughts, issues, and mistakes made me feel less alone and I knew they wouldn’t judge me for anything I said. The people I met during my time there were some of the most amazing, intelligent, and compassionate individuals I have ever interacted with. It was the hardest and most emotionally draining two weeks of my life, but it’s the best birthday present I’ve ever been given.

After I was released from the hospital, I started drawing for the first time and it’s now become something I do every single day. My anxiety levels have plummeted because I now have a way to drain all of the both negative and positive thoughts/images that infect my mind on a daily basis. I decided to share my art with everyone for a couple of reasons. It gives my family and friends a little peek into what’s going on inside my head and helps them understand what I’m feeling in a visual/colorful way. More importantly, I’m sharing my art as a way to help others who share similar thoughts or struggles to feel less alone. It makes me so happy when people living with bipolar, as well as those who aren’t, tell me they can relate to my drawings.

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Joshua

I have been living with chronic depression and anxiety disorder for the past 5 years. I remember before I ever dealt with this myself, I did not understand others dealing with these same things. I tended to stereotype people as just crazy, or not strong. I firmly believed that they were not strong enough to deal with problems in everyday life and that they just needed to suck it up and get over it.

I have been living with chronic depression and anxiety disorder for the past 5 years. I remember before I ever dealt with this myself, I did not understand others dealing with these same things. I tended to stereotype people as just crazy, or not strong. I firmly believed that they were not strong enough to deal with problems in everyday life and that they just needed to suck it up and get over it. Little did I know that this was much easier said than done. I never realized the impact these things have on people until I found myself walking in their shoes. I didn’t wanna get out of bed, I would have panic attacks at random moments when there seemed to be no trigger at all. I would just wanna run away and crawl in a dark hole. Then I moved into the phase that I like to call despair. I was completely convinced that no one loved or cared about me. I felt that I had spent my entire life trying to please others and take care of others but had left nothing for myself. I began to think that everyone owed me something, I couldn’t keep healthy relationships because the demands that I put on friends and family were so unrealistic. No one could live up to what I needed them to be, I was looking for all my happiness in other people, never realizing that I could make my own happiness and get control of my life.

My biggest problem was the fact that I refused to seek help. I had so many stereotypes and heard what others had to say about people on medications with mental illness. I also came from a religious background and felt that I just didn’t have enough faith to move past this. Finally a friend convinced me to go see my doctor and get some counseling. I was diagnosed with major depression and anxiety with some bipolar tendencies. Also ADD. Through medication and counseling I have been able to live my life while dealing  with these things. It wasn’t instant, it takes trial and error with the medications, don’t get discouraged if the first thing doesn’t work. Just keep trying and you will find something that works and you will feel so much better. One thing I will say from experience is that medications without therapy or counseling will not be near as effective. I made the mistake of doing counseling until I felt better and then I quit, which was a bad mistake. It’s during the times I was feeling good that we were really able to work on things. I wasn’t getting any better for a  while because I was only going to counseling for damage control when I was in a really bad state. I would tell anyone dealing with this to go to counseling or therapy consistently for at least 6 months. It will help you more than you realize. I hope this helps someone know that  you can and will make it. You are not alone, we’re all in this together.
    

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Anonymous

Being Bipolar is like the Wisconsin weather: wait five minutes and your mood might change 40 degrees. Problem is, I’m no meteorologist, I don’t do Accuweather and I couldn’t find my way around a barometric pressure gauge if I even knew what one was. Wholly unpredictable.

Being Bipolar is like the Wisconsin weather: wait five minutes and your mood might change 40 degrees.  Problem is, I’m no meteorologist, I don’t do Accuweather and I couldn’t find my way around a barometric pressure gauge if I even knew what one was. Wholly unpredictable.

Some people will tell you that you can control a mood disorder – I know my father thought so. But as many times as he came in my room, threw open the shades and told me get over it, I couldn’t. The “Suck it up buttercup” theory didn’t play and only served to make me feel more crazy. I’ve come to realize that when possible, I CAN push myself into doing something I know I should (exercise and vacuuming come to mind) and I do feel better –(technically I feel better after exercise but only feel less hairy after vacuuming).  So yes, I do work to feel stronger – and I exercise that muscle every day.

It seems my job living with Bipolar Disorder is to keep my head up, my hands at 10 and 2, and to tap my feet on the ground, making sure I know I’m still here. I’m also required to remember that what goes up does come down and preparing for that is in order. The trip from here to there often brings memories of the times I swore that down meant I would never be up again.  Ninety seconds in that space will make you want to upgrade to a much more glamorous mental illness. The hardest part of the job is the unknowing – the sheer unpredictability of the fast fall into night when bleak consumes and any promise of light disappears. And in the darkness there is the isolation of having to hide because the stigma is so powerful. It’s all about the game face.

I – we – are not ignorant, unaware, unsophisticated, ugly, or alone. Like the LGBT movement coming into its own, the more of us that can stand up and say – “This is who I am, and who I’ve always been” – the more the stigma loses its grip. Sadly, for many who live with mental illness, the stakes are still high. They are for me. My own fear and a still hostile society serve to delay the courage I hope to one day possess to say who I am. I told a friend recently that it was 10 times easier to come out as a lesbian, then to say, “I have a mental illness.”

For today, I write. Anonymously. I’m not ready to put my name to it but it is cathartic and helps me sort out the millions of pieces. I used to think they were all broken but I no longer do. I am not bipolar disorder – I live with it and so far, I’m still standing.

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Tracy

I struggle with my mental health diagnosis alone mostly, because the stigma of having a mental health disorder in the African-American community is great. When you are out of work due to a set back from a mental disorder, no one helps. Not from the church, or from work, or neighbors, because it is not an accepted disorder, like cancer, or heart disease.

I am an RN for 19 years. And an African-American female, who was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2008.

I struggle with my mental health diagnosis alone mostly, because the stigma of having a mental health disorder in the African-American community is great. When you are out of work due to a set back from a mental disorder, no one helps. Not from the church, or from work, or neighbors, because it is not an accepted disorder, like cancer, or heart disease. Often, you are ostracized, teased and ridiculed to your face, or behind your back.

I struggle alone, and have many family members who struggle with mental illness as well, but are in denial. They choose to self medicate with alcohol and OTC and illegal street drugs. I do not fit in with the family, and get very little help from them, because I choose to go to counseling with professional and licensed therapist and doctors, as well as take prescribed medications.

This is one if the greatest challenges in life, and if I had it my way, I would have cancer, so that I could get empathy, support, and real help.Thank you for allowing me to share.

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Wendy

I have Bipolar Disorder NOS. I don't go shouting it from the roof tops but I don't try to hide it either. I am very upfront about my disorder. I am a psychiatric nurse. I had worked at the same hospital for 6 years and all my coworkers knew. They never treated me any different

I have Bipolar Disorder NOS. I don’t go shouting it from the roof tops but I don’t try to hide it either. I am very upfront about my disorder. I am a psychiatric nurse. I had worked at the same hospital for 6 years and all my coworkers knew. They never treated me any different. So when I went for an interview at another hospital I thought nothing of it. I was interviewing for my dream job at a child and adolescent psychiatric hospital. The chief nursing officer asked me if I was able to see past the diagnosis and see these kids as kids. I told her yes, that I had Bipolar Disorder and understood that people are not their diagnosis. I ended up with the job. I was talking with a fellow nurse one day about my struggles with Bipolar Disorder. The same chief nursing officer pulled me aside later and asked me not to talk to others about it. When I asked “why?”…. I was told that people may look at me different if they knew and she was trying to protect me.

What!?!? I was working in a psychiatric hospital where we were told to look past the diagnosis and see the kids but I was supposed to hide my diagnosis. I told her thanks for “trying to protect me” but that if I had to hide my diagnosis from my fellow co-workers at a psychiatric hospital because they might treat me differently then they needed to take a hard look at the people they hire to work with the kids. We want to teach our patients that they shouldn’t be ashamed of their illness but I have to be cautious so that I am not looked at differently. Talk about being hypercritical and perpetuating  stigma!  I thought for sure I was about to be disciplined for speaking to her that way.  She apologized and told me thanks for my honesty. I still work there. Most of my co-workers know and treat me no differently then they did before. I won’t ever hide my diagnosis to make other people treat me the same and my hope is that one day no one will feel that they have to.

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Anonymous

Bipolar disorder is both the bane of my existence and one of the greatest gifts that I have ever received. It has; nearly killed me, devastated me financially, and to some extent, ostracized me from society. Yet it has taught me compassion, forgiveness, patience and appreciation for all that is good, kind and forgiving in our world......

Bipolar disorder is both the bane of my existence and one of the greatest gifts that I have ever received. It has; nearly killed me, devastated me financially, and to some extent, ostracized me from society. Yet it has taught me compassion, forgiveness, patience and appreciation for all that is good, kind and forgiving in our world, and has also been the catalyst for a strength that I never could have otherwise known in myself.

Professionally speaking, I have been fired by employers after disclosing my illness, and threatened by directors of HR when asking for “time” to take my medication to deal with the anxiety that goes with the bipolar. I have; lived with the constant fear of the next upset that will throw my world into a turmoil once again, fought the perpetual stigma and stereotypes that go with both bipolar disorder and mental illness in general, and grieved over the hurt and devastation that it has caused interpersonal relationships and loved ones, who have stood by helplessly praying for the answers as to how they can help me with my struggles.

Through this illness, I have seen the best of humanity and some of the strongest displays of inhumanity, and have found that one “act of God”, can combat and void many, many acts of the “godless”.  It has proven to me that just as with addiction or sexuality, that although the subject can be difficult enough to cope with, it is the mentality of society, the actions and beliefs of others, and our ability to find faith, that truly determine the difficulty of coping and the overall outcome of the condition itself.

I have stood by and jealously watched all the philanthropy for conditions like cancer, and wondered where the run, golf tournament, walk, gala, pink or red ribbon, or any of multiple other fundraisers and symbols were for MY illness. But, I have been given direction and a sense of hope by my passion to educate anyone who will listen, as to what bipolar disorder and mental illness are about.

People don’t realize that it is your brain that allows you to cope with other illnesses; but with mental illness, that very coping mechanism is the part that is ill. I am the lucky one: I am a mental illness survivor, as my brain learned to cope in spite of not only itself, but also in spite of so many of those around me. I only wish that they would stop calling it “mental illness”, as that term implies choice to me. Instead, I believe I simply have an illness of the brain, and that those that choose not to, or are incapable of understanding this, are the ones who are truly “mentally” ill.

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Diane

It isn’t easy to tell the world that my husband and I have such serious mental illnesses, especially in our community where we are respected business owners. People see us as successful people living “normal” lives, so I hope that by coming out of the shadows, we shatter the stigma.

I am grateful that my bipolar disorder has been stable for over twenty years after ten years on the bipolar roller coaster. After many brushes with death, hospitalizations and ping pong treatment of my dual disorders, I was able to take my bipolar illness seriously once I got sober. Mixing my medication plan with the doctor’s plan did not work well in treating my illness, in fact, it prolonged my ability to recover.

After I got stable, a crazy thing happened. I fell in love with a man who had an undetectable mental problem. Several years after we were married he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. His illness has been quite a challenge over the years, but his doctors are now amazed.

My personal recovery from mental illness and various addictions gave me a unique sensitively to my husband’s illness, which helped him tremendously. We are diligent about caring for ourselves and each other. Together we gained insight into what very few people understand and have been able to live full and successful lives.

We marvel at our lives, so I wrote about our amazing journey. It took me seven years to write our love story, In Sickness and in Mental Health but it is worth it when I see how our story is opening people’s eyes. It gives a transparent look at mental illness from both sides – living with and loving someone with mental illness. I am thrilled that minds are being changed.

It isn’t easy to tell the world that my husband and I have such serious mental illnesses, especially in our community where we are respected business owners. People see us as successful people living “normal” lives, so I hope that by coming out of the shadows, we shatter the stigma. I am excited to share our experience and our genuine hope for recovery.

When my husband and I began to open up to our friends, we received acceptance and compassion which did wonders for our mental health. It actually accelerated our recovery.
Like Bring Change 2 Mind, I hope to change society’s perception of mentally ill people so that we are not all feared or ostracized. When those of us with mental illness are better understood, we will receive greater compassion. That will bring change 2 mind.

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Jess

I was studying marketing and attending college at Appalachian State University which was considerably far away from my family in Florida when my life truly began to spin out of control. And what was supposed to be just a long weekend away from school to clear my head soon turned into weeks, then months, and eventually it transformed into a never-ending nightmare.

I was studying marketing and attending college at Appalachian State University which was considerably far away from my family in Florida when my life truly began to spin out of control. And what was supposed to be just a long weekend away from school to clear my head soon turned into weeks, then months, and eventually it transformed into a never-ending nightmare. I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 a few months into my hiatus. My new illness forced me to abruptly leave school, my job, my fiancé, my dog, and my house, basically my entire life in North Carolina, and unknowingly never to return to it. In 2007 I had made my most serious suicide attempt and was in a coma for nearly a month. After I awoke from the coma I was determined to survive and learn from my illness in an attempt to help others similar to myself, even if it was just one person. I decided I wanted to be a nurse. I was extremely sick. A doctor of mine even said to me that I was the most severe case he had ever treated. So when I went around stating that I wanted to be a nurse it seemed more like a grandiose idea. My parents encouraged me but their encouragement was mostly in hopes that attending a college course here and there would give me something to focus on other than my illness. After running out of medication options I decided to undergo ECT in 2009. I had a total of 9 treatments and have been in remission ever since. And now after 5 years I have achieved my goal. I am a nurse, a psychiatric RN. I am sharing my story to show that wellness and stability are possible. Medication is such a small percentage of obtaining wellness. Wellness requires vigilance and lots and lots of coping skills. But it is achievable. Getting to know yourself and your illness is the first step and is the only way I have been able to accomplish my goals and to continue to maintain my mental health.

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Charlotte

I have Bi-Polar Type 2 Disorder and PTSD. I am a 21-year-old young woman that works, is a student working towards a degree in the medical field, has two awesome dogs, maintains friendships and healthy familial relationships, and maintains a serious relationship with a wonderful and big-hearted man. I am wise beyond my years because from a young age I have experienced what fighting for your life is like, and I have learned what "getting out of your own way" means.

About Me:     

My name is Charlotte, and I have Bi-Polar Type 2 Disorder and PTSD. I am a 21-year-old young woman that works, is a student working towards a degree in the medical field, has two awesome dogs, maintains friendships and healthy familial relationships, and maintains a serious relationship with a wonderful and big-hearted man. I am wise beyond my years because from a young age I have experienced what fighting for your life is like, and I have learned what “getting out of your own way” means.

Mental Health Background:

At 15-years-old I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety like many do before the brain is fully developed (between the ages of 21-26). I was diagnosed  with Bi-Polar Disorder and PTSD at 19-years-old after a suicide attempt. I’ve gotten help from doctors and therapists of all sorts. I’ve been a patient in behavioral hospitals with the worst of the worst cases, but always the biggest hearts. I’ve been a patient in some of the top treatment facilities available in the United States and even the world. I have my”cocktail” of medications that most days will keep me getting out of bed, not quitting my job, school career, and every relationship I have worked hard to keep healthy and loving. I am a child of two v successful college graduates with no mental illness. I am a sibling of two very successful college graduates with no mental illness. To say I am the “black sheep” in my family is an understatement. I am blessed to have a family that does not understand, but they support and encourage my efforts to win this battle anyway.

What I have learned:      

Although some treatments and religions may say that you can be healed, this is not so. (Some spirituality never hurt anyone though.) That is the very sad and, at times, very overwhelming truth though. I am going to live with this the rest of my life. Am I terrified? Absolutely. Am I going to give up? Absolutely NOT! Not many understand my disease and that is okay. I ask that others do not judge me for what I cannot change though. Do not be afraid to accept a friendship with me because of this. In fact, I have a heart that will try harder than many to understand and support you in your own struggle. That is just it, isn’t it? We all struggle with something. Here is some insight on how mental illness does not necessarily allow me to cope like some of my friends and family: I cannot drink my struggle away– I will seize because of multiple medications I take. I cannot get high to numb-out the voices and paranoia– I will hallucinate and lose control of all emotion which could lead to tragedy. (Also, more pills do not sound appealing.) I cannot starve myself– I will throw up the medication that makes me feel nauseous without a decent meal. I cannot throw up– I will not absorb the expensive medication I need to show up to work and get a degree that will allow me to get a good paying job with insurance to cover my expensive medical road ahead. I cannot eat my problems away– I am already gaining a sufficient amount of weight from the Lithium that keeps my anger in check. I cannot be promiscuous– I am emotionally confused as is. What CAN I do? Read, write, paint, do yoga, jog, work in a positive place, meditate, walk my dogs, cuddle with my understanding and strong man, go swimming, see my therapist every week, see my psychiatrist every month, reach out to others, smile, and most of all WAKE UP KNOWING THAT I AM NOT MY DISEASE! No, I am NOT Bi-Polar… I HAVE Bi-Polar, and I am a human-being currently winning a tough battle at a young age.

My Life Today:  

I am my own hero, and that in itself gets me through the tough times. Inner strength is ingrained in my human spirit. I was made to survive. (Ps. We all were!)

For those with mental illness: I don’t know you, but I love you. Don’t give up. If you can get through today you will be that much more thankful for tomorrow. See past your diagnosis, do not identify yourself by it.

For those who are friends/live with someone with mental illness: Keep giving them a chance. We are very loyal and supportive of you at the end of the day. Also, we tend to be creative along with having a great sense of humor.  🙂

Everyone: Lust your life! Keep that heart beating. Remember to not only breathe… LIVE!

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Rebecca

The thing that helped me the most, though, deal with everything was relying on my faith. It got really confused when I was manic, and when I was depressed I just wanted to go to heaven. But now that I’m better I realize that God loves me and has a purpose for me and that just because I have bipolar doesn’t mean I’m a mistake.

I’m a poet.  Well, I am many things, but a poet is one of them.  Below is an excerpt of a poem I wrote a few years before I officially was diagnosed with bipolar:

have you ever lost yourself, in yourself?
as if your soul was imploding and yet exploding?
where the world seemed strange, and you couldn’t remember where you are, or that you are.
are you?
I lose myself sometimes. when I sit at night in this strange state of
not exactly sure what.  something.

My brother was diagnosed with bipolar over 10 years before I was. He was in 7th grade. I was diagnosed last year, during what was to be my senior year of college. I had a full blown manic episode with psychotic features. Even after treatment I was manic for a while. I wrote this poem about mania:

Sometimes I feel like it’s where I’m supposed to be.
Where I’m not sure what is past, what is present, and what is future.
Where the music comes alive and the trees start to whisper,
Where I swim in imaginary waters and speak an unknown language
And I become her.  Or she becomes me: this powerful princess to whom the whole universe belongs.
I love so much I’m bursting.  I’m loving the grass, the sky, the birds, the guy in the bright green shirt mowing his lawn.  I just want to give myself to them, to all of them, to the whole world. 

Mania was an incredible experience to a large extent. But in mania there’s a lot of negatives too…paranoia, confusion, racing thoughts, inability to focus, recklessness. I was so blessed to have a support system that helped me to get the treatment that I needed. They were also there for me when the depression set in and when I realized that I had been delusional and I really did have bipolar. That’s a hard thing to wrestle with. The thing that helped me the most, though, deal with everything was relying on my faith. It got really confused when I was manic, and when I was depressed I just wanted to go to heaven. But now that I’m better I realize that God loves me and has a purpose for me and that just because I have bipolar doesn’t mean I’m a mistake. I want to use my experiences to help other people with mental illnesses.

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Cameron

I was afraid to tell my parents that I was bouncing off the walls for months at a time and then never wanted to get out of bed for the next couple days that is where the exhaustion came from: trying to hide it all. For a couple of years there was a lull in my extreme swings, it wasn’t until I got to college that they reared their ugly head again leaving me almost completely incapacitated.

I grew up in a small tight knit community. No one talked about mental illness, and it for sure was never brought up even in the required High School health class.       

My symptoms went much farther back then that and I can remember the highs and lows very vividly, and how exhausting they were on both ends of the spectrum. You see I am Bipolar I and there is a physical toll that this disorder can really take on a life if it goes untreated like mine did for so long. It wasn’t until I was in High School that my mood swings got so bad that one teacher my sophomore year told me that I had to go see one of the guidance counselors. She was kind and caring but not what I needed, I needed more in-depth care then she could provide.      

I was afraid to tell my parents that I was bouncing off the walls for months at a time and then never wanted to get out of bed for the next couple days that is where the exhaustion came from: trying to hide it all. For a couple of years there was a lull in my extreme swings, it wasn’t until I got to college that they reared their ugly head again leaving me almost completely incapacitated. When I was manic I didn’t care about class when I was depressed and just wanted to stay in bed. Grades plummeted and I lost just about every friend I had. It wasn’t until one of my friends, who was a hall director, actually made an appointment and went with me did I start significant therapy. The therapy was great but I was in a place where I needed even more help to more quickly even out my moods. I started seeing the most kind and caring psychiatrist but again it was trial and error, which left me discouraged. I have through it all had many fights with my insurance companies to get my care covered. I know that when I am having a hard day I just remind myself of where I have been and that I now have a greater understanding of what I need to do for myself and what I can let other people know that I need.

 

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Kate

I am not bi-polar. I am a strong-willed, energized woman with many gifts, talents and a handful of foibles who manages a diagnosis of bi-polar I. My illness comes with the added effects of rapid cycling and both visual and audio hallucinations. But the good news: I am not my diagnosis. This paradigm shift came when I consciously decided not to be a victim of mental illness..

I am not bi-polar. I am a strong-willed, energized woman with many gifts, talents and a handful of foibles who manages a diagnosis of bi-polar I. My illness comes with the added effects of rapid cycling and both visual and audio hallucinations. But the good news: I am not my diagnosis. This paradigm shift came when I consciously decided not to be a victim of mental illness.

This shift took time and an enormous amount of support and guidance. A team of experts made my recovery possible. From my core friends and family who have always supported me – in good times and often hard to understand, difficult times –  to my psychiatrist, social worker and a bevy of researchers at Mass General’s Center for Women with Mental Illness, my support has been unbelievable.

This is the reason why stigma, I now understand, often ruins the path to mental wellness. Without unwavering, forgiving, and understanding support, being yourself and not your diagnoses is trying, if not impossible.

My trip began soon after my breakthrough episode in 1997. I was 25 years old and living in Brooklyn, NY. After college, I scored a pretty good job serving as a book publicist. I was making a salary at the time that seemed like a fortune. In New York City, though, it was a pittance. And keeping up with the pack was paramount. Couple this with my budding symptoms – overspending on clothes and going out, engaging in reckless behavior, drug use, and getting little sleep – and the “perfect storm” was about to hit.

Something was obviously very wrong as I was seeing and hearing things; not sleeping and high on my insanity – but no one knew what was wrong. I was the most oblivious. My roommate contacted my family, who put me on a plane to Providence, RI that same day. Being sick and home – with no interference from the buzz of the city – made my symptoms that much more apparent and more real.

Piercings were hip in the 90’s and I had a belly button ring. I remember fiercely and with vigor removing the ring as I was convinced the bauble had the power to impregnate me with the child of Satan. I can also remember sitting on my parent’s back steps – and seeing through my skin. I saw a small spider making its way up an artery in my leg, and thinking it was headed for my heart. And thinking that soon I would be dead.

My recovery was long and tortuous. Now I’m compliant with my treatment. I see my therapist every couple of weeks. I have my mental “is this bi-polar Kate or is this just Kate” check-list and I make a good go of it every day. When I started Lithium, I shook like a leaf for a year. I even wore ballet flats with my wedding dress so I wouldn’t shake too hard and fall off the more appropriate choice of heels. Prior to taking the Lithium, I was on Depakote and gained 30 pounds practically overnight. And I didn’t care. I’d rather stay on course and regularly monitor my medication with blood work and visits with my doctor than risk going back to that yes – racy and often creatively fun time, but potentially cataclysmic place. There are just too many ugly memories.

So how did I do it?

Family and friends saw through the illness and found me. They loved and supported me through my major episode as well as seemingly less traumatic outbreaks that were faster to overcome. When I first came home, for example, I was under constant supervision, which meant a team of family and friends were on board to “babysit”. At something close to baseline, I established a short list of friends who would always answer the phone if I called; assured me it would be o-kay and listened. I chose my support system carefully and was overwhelmed when friends were eager to help.  Seeking support can be scary and often daunting, but a little companionship distracted me from the self-loathing and trauma from my episodes.  Further down the road, my Mother would be responsible for approving my therapist with a letter grade (A, A-, B . . . D+). This technique helped us gauge how my report compared to those who saw me most. Now my husband regularly attends sessions with me. He has yet to see me sick, so his more objective report has been the cornerstone to my maintenance plan.

Life isn’t perfect. Or easy. I’ve lost friends and jobs – and my ego has taken a beating. Recovering is a bear and it’s easy to feel victimized. I’ve fought with God. I’ve asked “Why me”? To deny the pain is foolish. Accepting good support from people who care is essential.  And asking for help might save your life.

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Raina

I was diagnosed about 6 years ago. For the longest time, my doctor simply put episodic mood disorder... it was not until switching doctors and going through the worst depression of my life that I was finally given the diagnosis of bipolar. I still have times where I feel weak and unprepared to deal with my illness.

I was diagnosed about 6 years ago. For the longest time, my doctor simply put episodic mood disorder… it was not until switching doctors and going through the worst depression of my life that I was finally given the diagnosis of bipolar. I still have times where I feel weak and unprepared to deal with my illness. Then, I think back to some of the darkest moments…. where I didn’t care if I lived or died (I wasn’t suicidal just indifferent)… and then I remember the awesome support and love my family gave me. My husband has never been the most supportive when it came to my treatment but he surprised me. He  gave me the strength to pull through when I could not see any other way except to give up. I have been blessed to have the family that I have. I am not the only”special” one in the family either. We take each day as it comes and we are always just a phone call away from one another. I remind myself daily to stay strong and remember that I am not alone.

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Lisa

Make your community a place of awareness not ignorance. Together we can help others cope and educate society to the betterment of patients, caregivers and those undiagnosed and struggling. Erase the stigma and bring treatment to the 21st century.

Upon diagnosis of BiPolar I felt like I was given a death sentence or cancer. Through trials and tribulations and going off and on medication, I have finally reached equilibrium. Do not fear this illness. For those afflicted are people with tenacity, perseverance and the will to conquer!  My doctor explained that brilliant minds are afflicted and told me “dummies don’t get the disease.” The roller coaster of emotions is difficult but palatable. Medication is the key. Swallowing a pill is nothing more than taking care of yourself. Rich and rewarding days are ahead. Each episode is knowledge that it has passed and future episodes diminished as you find the medication which works. Do not believe in the sensational news stories that lead to mass hysteria. These are isolated incidents with people who are NOT UNDER PROPER TREATMENT. The stigma remains but modern medicine has a solution that can lead you to the end of your nightmare. I offer you hope and promise that mental illness is NOT a life sentence. Make your community a place of awareness not ignorance. Together we can help others cope and educate society to the betterment of patients, caregivers and those undiagnosed and struggling. Erase the stigma and bring treatment in to the 21st century. We do not warehouse our ill, we give them the tools to become a productive and positive part of society!

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Amy

I am bipolar. My life is different. It has always been different to some extent. When I was a teenager, I thought that all young girls my age stayed up until 1 AM playing basketball. I used to think it was out of dedication, out of the pure love for the game. Truly, it was because I couldn’t fall asleep

I am a teacher. There is nothing in this world that I would rather do. I love what I do, but it’s not easy. Every morning I step into the classroom I have the opportunity to better myself; to become something I never imagined I wanted to be. I’m constantly learning. I’m a student of the game. It’s humbling. I’m far from perfect. Some days I’m more the student than I am the teacher. I’d like to think that I’m good at what I do, but I’m still a rookie at this game. I hope it always stays that way.

I am also a wife, something new to me. Just eight months on my 33rd birthday next week. I never dreamed how much work marriage entails, but I’m learning. I’m a student of the game. I love my husband more than anything in the world. I can’t wait to come home to him at night and share everything that happened during the course of my day. I love what I’m doing, what I’m becoming. It’s nice to have someone depend on me the way that he does. It’s a different kind of life, one I never shared or experienced. This is who I am now. This is who I wasn’t just a short time ago.

I am also a mother. I have a seven year old son that refers to me as “Amy,” but if you ask him who his mom is he says me. He too is new in my life. If the truth be known, I fell in love with him first. I’m very new at this game. But I’m a student of the game. It’s not easy, but if feels real, and every day I get better at what I do; God has given me that opportunity.

I am also a basketball coach. Basketball has consumed nearly 16 years of my life, almost half of the time I’ve been on this earth. It’s been a blessing, more than most people could ever imagine. I’m good at what I do, but I’m still a student of the game. I still feel twelve when I walk into a gym. I still feel that rush of anxiety; still smell that sweet essence of childhood. Basketball blessed my life, but it was more than just a game. I love basketball. I’ve never met anyone who loves it more than I do, who sees and feels it the way I do. It was always the love that was different. That was the gift I was given. It wasn’t the way I could handle a ball, not the countless hours I would spend on the court, not the 1,000 points I scored in high school, or the eventual college scholarship I would earn that would place me at a Division I NCAA school. It was always the love.

I am bipolar. My life is different. It has always been different to some extent. When I was a teenager, I thought that all young girls my age stayed up until 1 AM playing basketball. I used to think it was out of dedication, out of the pure love for the game. Truly, it was because I couldn’t fall asleep. I’d play until my hands were raw, or until my parents bellowed one more time for me to come in. I thought I was just different – Different like most teenagers. At 16 I was diagnosed with A.D.D. and severe depression. That was my first psychiatrist, but far from my last. So for years I was treated as such and told, “You’ll probably grow out of the A.D.D.”

I went to college, took myself off any and all medications, after all, I was to grow out of it. I functioned (if that’s what you call it) for a short while. Then the late nights started again, or the days of not wanting to get out of bed. My thoughts were rapid, my speech even more rapid. I’d start to class, and then end up somewhere else. I couldn’t focus. Midway through my freshman year at Walsh I was given the opportunity to transfer to a bigger school (The University of Akron) to play basketball – To pursue a childhood dream. It wasn’t about the scholarship, not entirely, I wanted to know how good I could be. After all, I was a student of the game.

I was good for a few weeks at a time, but never consistent. My moods fluctuated. My grades dropped. They attributed it to the “newness” of it all. I just needed to work harder. When I read, nothing stuck. I couldn’t focus. At times I slept very little, or slept too much. I’d find myself late at night in the middle of the campus playing ball. Sometimes drunk people would come by and play H-O-R-S-E with me.

At the end of my junior year I was asked to take a NCAA mandatory drug test. Something I had done before. At that time I had been put back on medication for what was believed to be A.D.D. I was on a high dose of dexedrine, an amphetamine. When I took that drug test that morning I didn’t eat, I peed in a cup. It seemed to be an ordinary morning. A few days later my Coach called and said that my test had come back positive, which was no shock to me, I was on a high dose of amphetamines at the time. But what would happen after that would change the course of my life forever.

I was required to see our team physician who happened to be a retired pediatrician. Within a short time he told me he didn’t believe I was A.D.D. and that he was recommending I see a neurologist. He also told me that the Dexedrine which I was being treated with at the time had to go, that I couldn’t compete at the D-1 level on amphetamines. I quit taking the meds. A week later I saw the neurologist. The tests were inconclusive. From there I was sent to see yet another shrink. I was a mess.

I tried training that summer, after all, I was a D-1 athlete and I had to prepare for the upcoming season. I WAS IN LOVE WITH BASKETBALL. It was the only thing I knew up until that point in my life. If I was sad, I played ball. If I was angry, I played ball. If I had been hurt by someone, I played ball. When life didn’t make sense, I played ball. For that reason, I played basketball a lot. It was my saving grace. Little did I know then that basketball, by the grace of God, saved my life. If I hadn’t had ball growing up as a confused teenagers I probably would have gotten into drugs to self medicate, or worse, the suicides that I did attempt would have become more frequent. Maybe I would have succeeded.

“You are bipolar, manic depressive…” the Dr. told my mother and me. She inhaled, I exhaled. IT had a name. “It affects 1% of the population…” (I was never very lucky) “It’s genetic; families don’t like to talk about that sort of thing.” Moody is the word I most frequently heard. For my family it gave a mere name to something they had lived with all of their lives. You can’t take a blood test to decide if you are bipolar. And it’s not something you want to be labeled with necessarily. This was the first Dr. to tell me I was bipolar, but it wasn’t my last.

I went back to college after that long summer. I was out of shape, overweight (playing weight), and my life was out-of-control. I was taking lithium like aspirin as a friend constantly reminded me, “Its’ not like a headache, it’s just not going to go away.” She’s right. I’ll be bipolar all of my life.

I started playing basketball that year, but after a few practices, I stormed out. I was a wreck; emotionally, physically, spiritually. I felt broken, like shards of glass had ripped open my soul. Nothing made sense, not even basketball. So when my Coach called me into her office a few days later and asked me to quit, I agreed. She said what I couldn’t possibly say.

I remained at school for awhile, but in March late that year, just one day before my 22nd birthday I was admitted into the psych unit at Cuyahoga Falls General. For the first time in my life I truly wanted to die. Other attempts had been cries for help. That night, I really didn’t want to wake up. I wanted it to just all go away. I wanted it to stop. All the nightmares in my head, I wanted them to go away. I remained there for twenty days. I met some incredible people. The actual healing would take a long time. The accepting of the disorder would take longer; years. It was a first step

I’m going to be 33 next week. I celebrate another birthday, too. I’ve come along way since that night in March. I am still bipolar. Good days can be hard sometimes. Hard days can be even harder. My life is different from most, but not always. I recognize when I’m manic, or try to decipher a sad day from a bipolar day. I try to cut the cycles off before they begin. Sometimes I win, sometimes I don’t. My family is wonderful. God is even better. It is a gift, the way I see the world, the way I feel things. How easily I am inspired by the laughter of children, or the rain from a spring storm. Being bipolar, at times, has its perks.

I’m medicated. I will do this every day of my life except for when there comes the time my husband and I want to have a baby. I see my psychiatrist often, a counselor when needed. I do blood tests, I watch and monitor what I do as closely as I can, and when I’m not I have good friends who ask, “Are you manic today?” What are good friends for?

I am a teacher. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a coach. And I am bipolar. But most of all, I am a student of this game we call life.

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Kathlene

I am the mother of seven children, three diagnosed with bi-polar, two recognize the disorder in themselves and have learned to control it with proper eating, sleep and staying away from drugs and alcohol. One of the three that has been diagnosed refuses help of any kind.

I am the mother of seven children, three diagnosed with bi-polar, two recognize the disorder in themselves and have learned to control it with proper eating, sleep and staying away from drugs and alcohol. One of the three that has been diagnosed refuses help of any kind. After a lifetime of pain she continues to deny her need for medication, therapy, proper diet and rest and all the necessary things to bring her back to health. We are all suffering the pain of standing by and waiting for her to be involuntarily hospitalized once again. She has been hospitalized no less than five times in the last fifteen years.  Our pain is shared by many, many families and medical research and adequate medical insurance are the only hope we have. Facilities ability to treat people who are unwilling to accept their condition is minimal. As a nation, a wealthy nation, we must offer more hope to the mentally ill. When a person is incapable of recognizing their needs there must be a path for intervention on their behalf.

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Gytha

The news of my diagnosis was a devastating blow. How will I live with this? What will people think? How can I learn to be a functioning member of society? As news of my diagnosis spread, the whispers and the stares began.

Allow me to introduce you to a scenario we see in society today; a man walks into a restaurant, his appearance in disheveled and at disarray but he is otherwise clean. He is muttering to himself, and appears to be having a conversation; with himself. The man sits at a table next to a woman and her young son. The boy looks at the man and begins to talk to him like all small children do, but his mother hastily interrupts him with a sharp tongue and panic reverberating through her voice. “Billy!” She whispers, “Do not talk to that man!” “Why?”  Billy inquires, his innocent curiosity shining through his eyes. “Because there is something wrong with him,” she whispers accusingly, and with all due haste grabs her things, and young Billy, and moves them all to a different table far away from the man. This is the issue I would like to discuss in my essay; the cruel stigma attached to mental health.

We have all seen it before, the man at the bus stop talking to himself, the woman at work who keeps to herself, with a bleak, hollow lifeless look to her eyes, the young child who cries every day at home and has dreams to end his life. What as a society do we do when we see these things? We turn our heads, and walk away, giving a wide berth to the individual in need. Mental health issues are numerous and plenty; everything included from Clinical depression, to Bipolar Disorder, to full blown Schizophrenia. All of these conditions, along with many others, are diseases; a sickness that cannot be helped, and cannot be controlled without the proper medication and therapy. When we see a cancer patient limping across the street, do we simply turn our heads and pretend not to notice? When a diabetic falls down in need of an insulin shot, do we just leave him on the street to die? No. We call an ambulance to get them straight to the hospital, we help the cancer patient across the street. Then why is it that the Schizophrenic at the bus stop is ignored and avoided? He has a disease, no different from Cancer or diabetes, yet we turn our heads as if not to notice. Does he not deserve the same compassion and empathy we give to others with diseases? He needs help, yet we as a society do not give it to him.

Mental health has been a taboo topic, and has a seriously sordid past. As early as fifty years ago, patients with disorders were given lobotomies, or even worse regular electric shock treatments. Little was known about the brain at this time and patients with problems were isolated and tortured with electric shock. The horrors of such atrocities committed to an already unstable mind are too much to bear thought to at present date. The generations of the past are very rigid and unaccepting of mental health, and have adopted the mentality of “just get over it”. This is why it is up to us, the generation of now to evolve to a higher level than our fathers and begin the change that is desperately needed today on this issue. The percentage of the American population suffering from mental health disorders is a staggering number, a number that cannot be continually ignored any longer, a number that grows every day as more is learned about the human brain, and more people are being diagnosed, who were never diagnosed before.  It is something that is very important to me as an individual and to my family, as I am a victim of this; at age eighteen, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The news of my diagnosis was a devastating blow. How will I live with this? What will people think? How can I learn to be a functioning member of society? As news of my diagnosis spread, the whispers and the stares began. In my sorority, while we held chapter meetings, as I walked by, the girls would point and whisper, casting worrying glances my way. I could hear them say “stay away from her, she’s crazy, God only knows what she’ll do to you.” I was ostracized and outcast by the very people who swore to be my sisters and stand by me. I had friends tell me they couldn’t associate with me anymore. I could silence a room just by walking in, and split a crowd like the red sea just by walking through. I was utterly humiliated and turned aside. Through this whole ordeal I’ve learned that my sickness, like any sickness, can be treated. I have medications that I have to take every day for the rest of my life, like a diabetic with insulin, and I go to regular therapy sessions once a week. I learned I can do this, and I can survive, and I was able to overcome my disease without the help of others. Others however are not as fortunate as I, and desperately need our help to get better, their cries for help can be seen in the way their eyes appear lifeless, or the way the young child cries, or the muttered conversations the schizophrenic has to himself. These are all obvious cries for help, yet they are ignored and unheard, callously abandoned by the society that has a duty to help them. I was strong enough to overcome my disease, and I was lucky to have devoted and understanding parents supporting me every step of the way. Not everyone is so lucky. That is why the time to act is here, and now. The need for change has been long overdue. Now is the time for our generation to answer the call, and help those in need.

This issue is very close to heart, and very important to my generation. It is long past time something be done to change this, and it is very important that today’s society finally disposes of the cruel stigma attached to mental health. Those who suffer are people, just like you and me, and they deserve what every human being deserves; to be treated as equals.

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Sarah

I was always different. I knew I was destined for something great as I struggled to keep from drowning in my every day. I was an addict, I was a thief and a liar. I took ownership of all the ugly I did and decided it was who I was. And then I was diagnosed.
I was always different. I knew I was destined for something great as I struggled to keep from drowning in my every day. I was an addict, I was a thief and a liar. I took ownership of all the ugly I did and decided it was who I was. And then I was diagnosed. Not just like that, I had to reach a place of indescribable pain and isolation and have someone come help pull me out just long enough to go to the doctor. When I heard “Bi-Polar,” I thought my world would end. I wished I were dead harder than I ever had before. All I knew about it was what you saw in movies and read in books and I was NOT a crazy person; I wanted to know what was wrong with me but I was really in the market for something much more manageable and much less socially stigmatized. But in that moment of sheer panic I made my choice to get better. I thought, “You finally know what it is that has been helping to hold you back, you are so lucky, let’s fix this.” 
 
With the support of an extremely loving and communicative family I dove right into treatment. I entered an outpatient program on scholarship, I began to attend weekly therapy sessions (again), I attended weekly DBSA (Depression Bi-Polar Support Alliance) meetings, I read many books, I journaled, and it was so hard. Harder than anything I had ever even imagined doing. And it felt like it was taking SO LONG for me to see any real changes. But then the changes would sneak up on me and I’d wake up one morning and the thing I was working on the day before was suddenly that much easier, that much clearer, that much more manageable. And so it went. It has now been over two and a half years since I was diagnosed. I am a bright and shiny person that people love to be around. I have gotten clean, sober, quit smoking, and even ditched caffeine (ok, well I had to drop that one because of my medication.) I live a happy and productive life and am back  school to learn more about starting my own business. I have a wonderful life, and I love myself.
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Nicole

I am learning to live with my mothers depression right now and help her through it. My mother is a truly amazing woman. I've only gotten stronger through this experience. I have also learned to watch what I say.

As a fifth grader I learned my mother was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. It was a very hard year for me because she was manic and none of us knew what was going on. I am not really going to go into what happened during that time but explain my point of view on mental illness.      

I remember feeling so sorry for myself because of all the things I heard about this disease. Truly, for an 11 year old to be visiting a mental hospital was surreal. I couldn’t wrap my mind around where I was. Yet, I was numb to it every visit. I was scared, some of these people were at their worst with their diseases. Men would be screaming. But the only thing a 5th grader thinks of when thinking of a mental hospital is through the way I learned things: media. Katy Perry’s song ‘hot and cold’ was popular that year. I remember hearing the line saying ‘bipolar’ in it giving a negative connotation. Then all the kids would talk about the disease because of that song. It became a new insult. Kids would say: “stop being so bipolar” to everyone at school. I thought it was something absolutely horrible because of how they talked. I wanted to say to them so bad: “watch what you say, my mother has that and you obviously know nothing about the disease”. Nobody went around saying “stop being so cancer”. It made it seem like my mom controlled everything when she was going through the manic part of this disease. I believed it was her fault. After my mom was healed through electroshock therapy she forgot a lot of my childhood and everything that happened in that time of 5th grade. I later found out when I was a little older why my mother had developed this disease. She had been raped at age 7 by a teenage delinquent. That’s when I realized many people with mental illness have something traumatic in their past to cause it. I am learning to live with my mothers depression right now and help her through it. My mother is a truly amazing woman. I’ve only gotten stronger through this experience. I have also learned to watch what I say.

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B.R.

I am a 35 year old woman living with the double-whammy of Bipolar disorder AND Borderline PD. One might think hearing this diagnosis that they should keep a healthy distance from me. But actually...people want to be around me a lot. And yet I am so isolated.

I am a 35 year old woman living with the double-whammy of Bipolar disorder AND Borderline PD. One might think hearing this diagnosis that they should keep a healthy distance from me. But actually…people want to be around me a lot. And yet I am so isolated. The problem is…I don’t want to be around others all that much–not because I’m so unpredictably volatile as we are lead to believe people with BDP are thanks to media’s portrayals. It’s because intimate relationships are agonizingly painful to me and so I tend to push people away before they can get to close…or… as I see it-before they can reject me. My thinking is very distorted, which is the nature of both of these disorders.

Borderline traits keep my mood unstable throughout the day – Bipolar keeps my mood unstable for larger chunks of time. I hardly let anyone other than my amazingly supportive boyfriend into my world of ups and downs because stigma makes it hard for me to feel safe enough to share my truth with others. My boyfriend is safe mostly because he is a therapist…oh and by the way, so am I. I am an awesome therapist too. I think my ability to empathize in a way no one else can (not that I share this part of me with them) makes me a great therapist…not to mention I am highly trained. 

I’m so thrilled that this organization has been established because I am a huge proponent of eradicating stigma around mental illness. I would love to live my truth out in the open and normalize mental illness for others so no one ever has to feel alone in their experience. Mental illness is most certainly nothing to be ashamed of…it’s not different from any medical disease. It’s about time the general public sees it that way.

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Jill

I have decided to come out, so to speak, about my illness. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder a few years ago, though I have been living with it since high school. For a long time I lived in denial about my diagnosis and I kept it a secret from pretty much everyone.

I have decided to come out, so to speak, about my illness. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder a few years ago, though I have been living with it since high school. For a long time I lived in denial about my diagnosis and I kept it a secret from pretty much everyone. I’m really tired of being alone in this and have made the decision to talk about it for my own good. I have been in the hospital a few times for being suicidal and was in an outpatient program last year for seven months. I have the most wonderful family and friends but they can’t really identify with me when I’m struggling with mania or the crippling depression that comes with this disease. The knowledge, support and people I met there have literally been lifesavers. Being Bipolar doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It’s like having diabetes and needing medication to treat it. I am on many medications and will be for the rest of my life. My doctor and I are still trying to find the right balance and combination of medications for me but we’re on the right track.

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Tia

I'm sharing this because I believe in a way, for me, it could be a blessing in disguise to change my life around, however odd that sounds. But having bipolar has encouraged me to return to church, quit drinking, eat healthier, exercise daily, be grateful for my family and friends and it has truly helped me to be thankful for each day. Spiritually, I've never felt better.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life not the victim.”

February 25th 2013, I laid next to my son’s bed and prayed God would please help me. I then awoke, handcuffed, in the ER and remained hospitalized for over 6 weeks. There I was diagnosed Bipolar 1.

What lead up to the hospitalization was a series of events, I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Undiagnosed depression and self-medicating with prescription pain pills over the months had left me feeling drained and worn out. About 6 months prior I had had a serious wakeboarding accident that shattered my leg. It had required immediate surgeries and hospitalization. Similar to my manic episode that left me hospitalized unexpectedly.        

I didn’t think twice about sharing about my broken leg. Showing off my wound had brought support and strength during a difficult recovery. With my recent diagnosis, there were no wounds or scars though. With mental illness you’re left with only your imagination, assumptions and whatever you may have overheard. I’m humbly sharing this in hopes of reducing the stigma and silence that surrounds mental illness. Speaking out doesn’t have to be scary, it can actually be very empowering, if we choose it to be.   

One of my college professors once told us, “we all have a terminal illness” for some reason that always stuck with me. We are all in this together in some way or another. If we speak out, then together we can learn about this non curable, yet very treatable disease. With proper management and most importantly forever taking our medications, we are free to live full and productive lives, just as God intends. By managing my illness, I can continue to live a beautiful life as wife, mom, friend, small business owner and college graduate. Sure, I’ll still make mistakes, may even cry in public and continue to be completely horrible at Zumba. My Type A personality accentuated with a dose of a go getter attitude isn’t going anywhere though. My personality does not make me Bipolar. Mental illness can’t be diagnosed by appearance alone. When is the last time you told someone with cancer, you knew it was coming? Mental illness is a chemical imbalance of the brain that’s tested through blood work.

I’m NOT sharing my story as a victim expecting cookies to arrive at my front door (although, with this medication, I would eat them all.That’s another story). I understand that each one of us is dealt with difficult hardships. That’s life. I am sharing this to raise awareness and education. To know that with proper management we can get through this. I’m sharing this because I believe in a way, for me, it could be a blessing in disguise to change my life around, however odd that sounds. But having bipolar has encouraged me to return to church, quit drinking, eat healthier, exercise daily, be grateful for my family and friends and it has truly helped me to be thankful for each day. Spiritually, I’ve never felt better. This experience has brought me closer to God with prayer and with complete faith he’d get me through my darkest moments when I felt alone. With faith and hope we can get through this together.

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Anonymous

I’ve started to heal and I’m good. But, I never forget that I have a mental illness. Every day, 3 times a day, I take pills. They help. Still, I get so frustrated! I am reminded of my illness every time I take those pills, every time I lose track of what I am saying o.r what someone else is saying or when I just can’t find the word I want to say in EVERY conversation that I have.

This is going to be hard.

Twenty-five to fifty percent of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once in their life.  They are more successful the second time around.

A year ago, I swallowed many handfuls of pills with a bottle of alcohol.  I didn’t end up where I thought I would.  I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. When I finally became aware of my surroundings, I had a tube down my throat, a ventilator breathing for me and my hands in restraints. No longer comatose.

Was I glad to be alive? I can’t really answer that.  At that time, no. That wasn’t the intent. I was angry. They made appointments for me before discharging me. In the few days afterward, I met with my psychiatrist, my therapist and my PCP. My psychiatrist’s nurse had a big smile on her face saying that she was so glad to see me.  I didn’t feel glad. My psychiatrist was majorly pissed off and my therapist met with her colleagues to see if she had done anything wrong.  Only my PCP expressed more than a medical concern. Later, I realized they were all concerned and very glad that my suicide attempt was not successful.  “Successful.” Kind of an oxy-moron.

Am I glad that I am now alive? I guess. I never had an epiphany that it was so stupid to act on those deep dark thoughts and that I am glad that I didn’t traumatize my kids and my family.  I have not yet acknowledged that it was a permanent solution to a very bad but temporary episode or that it was all about my illness – all those things they tell you when you feel hopeless about life and talk about dying. I realize now that they really don’t know what it feels like to get to that place or how to get out of it. In that week, in that moment, none of that mattered. Now, that’s my job. I am trying to fix my life so I don’t get there again. It is working so far.

I was traumatized. It took months before I could say the “S” word. I still don’t remember almost anything that happened for a 2 month period. That pisses off a lot of people at work and at home. If they only knew why, they may be more supportive. They don’t want to know. There is such a taboo about mental illness and, you know, the “S” word that no one will ever talk about it. If a co-worker has a car crash, has major diabetes-related problems, a major drug side-effect or other “real medical problems” and ends up in the hospital on a ventilator, an agency-wide email is sent out to garner support and understanding. I ended up on a ventilator in the hospital, comatose and 4 co-workers know. I’m not sure that I would want more people to know, but I would have liked to have the support so that if I did want to talk to someone I could.

I’ve started to heal and I’m good. But, I never forget that I have a mental illness. Every day, 3 times a day, I take pills. They help. Still, I get so frustrated! I am reminded of my illness every time I take those pills, every time I lose track of what I am saying or what someone else is saying or when I just can’t find the word I want to say in EVERY conversation that I have. Yes, I do have coping skills to get around these problems and they work. Then there are the times when I actually have a breakthrough episode and have more significant symptoms. When my mind spins out of control, it is VERY hard to deal with the feeling that I am losing control of my mind and that I may never regain it. At times like these, the almost instantaneous help from my great doctors and extra drugs help and the symptoms pass and life goes on. Work support would be nice too.

I work. I am successful. I have friends. I have a lot of great days! I feel good about my life AND I struggle with a mental illness.

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Roger

I have had a colorful, interesting, unbelievable, thrilling, miserable, and agonizing life. A life filled with very high highs and one with very low lows. My life changed for the better from taking my medication consistently and educating myself by getting my Master's degree in psychology.

I have had a colorful, interesting, unbelievable, thrilling, miserable, and agonizing life. A life filled with very high highs and one with very low lows. My life changed for the better from taking my medication consistently and educating myself by getting my Master’s degree in psychology. But, something was killing me inside, daily. I was in so much turmoil mentally due to the shame that I have felt and lived with since I was diagnosed at 21 years old. I am now 39. Glenn Close’s speech with her sister, Jessie, at that awards show changed my life. I am no longer tortured by shame. I accept myself completely and now believe in educating other people about my disorder, which happens to be rapid cycle bipolar disorder.  My life is also amazingly better because my parents heard the speech and then went on the BC2M website. They have finally accepted me…..thank you Glenn and Jessie Close for your wonderful and brave work. It has improved and changed my life so very much. Thank God and thank you Glenn and Jessie! If your reading this: stay on your meds it makes a difference!

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Ginger

I am a 'Bi-Polar' Survivor. "Hmmm.." You might be thinking. Would you tell a person that has been in remission from Cancer, that Cancer is who they are? Of course not. Somehow Society has decided that if you thinking is out of control, it is so much different than if your body is out of control.

I am a ‘Bi-Polar’ Survivor. “Hmmm..” You might be thinking. Would you tell a person that has been in remission from Cancer, that Cancer is who they are? Of course not. Somehow Society has decided that if your thinking is out of control, it is so much different than if your body is out of control. Having a ‘disease’ mentally, physically or even spiritually is all connected. Those ‘parts’ make us who we are. When ‘parts’ are stressed, there is a ‘disease.’ “How do I know?”, you may ask. Because I am no longer a Bi-polar survivor, I AM now living with ALL the fullness that LIFE has to offer.     

“How can that be? Isn’t it a ‘disease’ that can only be controlled by medication for the rest of your life?” My response, “No.” The psychiatrist that diagnosed me said I would never be able to be off medication. That was over 15 years ago. It was a difficult battle to ‘prove’ my sanity, to become well, and to find the ‘key’ to unlock the ‘madness’, but I was determined. No label was going to define me. Just like having had Cancer or being a Catholic doesn’t define who you are. “What did you do differently that made a difference for you? ” you ask. To put it simply, I was determined to find my own answers. I learned how my body functioned physically, I learned how my thinking affected my physical body and spiritual self, and the correlation between being physically active, having positive thoughts and having a strong belief that I was more than the ‘disease.’      

My story is a story of HOPE! Yes, there is a place for medication. Is it necessary for a lifetime? Not for me. With support from the community, family and friends, we CAN change the stigma. We can become WHOLE together!

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Daniela

It's been 6 years without a major episode and I am officially in remission. I have a full happy life and I just want to post this so that others who are suffering with mental illness know that it is treatable and that full recovery is possible. I am living proof of that.

My name is Daniela, I am 32 years old. I’ve been battling bipolar disorder since I was 13 years old (the age I remember something clicked in my brain and everything changed). Been on meds since I was 15 years old; when I was 19 the disease presented itself full blown. I ended up in the psychiatric hospital countless times, had 2 rounds of ECT treatments and practically lost 7 years of my life either in hospitals or locked up in my room.  Gradually, and with the unconditional help and support of my family and friends I began recapturing my life. Finally at 30 I graduated from college, and now I am finishing my Masters degree. I got married a few months ago to a wonderful man who knows mental illness because of his mother, so he understands me and has never ever judged me in any way. Drs. told my parents I would never be able to live alone and be productive. It’s been 6 years without a major episode and I am officially in remission. I have a full happy life and I just want to post this so that others who are suffering with mental illness know that it is treatable and that full recovery is possible. I am living proof of that.

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Dawn

In 2011 I buried my mom after a long illness. After the burial I walked into the bedroom without knocking only to find my beautiful daughter in the middle of undressing.The next few minutes changed my life forever.

I took care of my mom the best I could while she was bed ridden with cancer and back injuries. I am grateful for that time. It brought me a closeness with her that I had never had. I could never get close to my mom as a child. I always believed there was something wrong. Mood swings, anger, and addiction to prescription drugs made me keep my distance. I saw my friends with their moms, and how happy they seemed. I suppose I grew up just thinking it must be me. Today I am a mother myself. I have two great sons and a daughter. My daughter is artistic and intelligent. She graduated from college with a bachelors in biology and a minor in art. The first in our family to graduate college. Our mother daughter relationship however seemed strained, she would get argumentative, overly excitable, high highs and low lows. She also was absolutely horrible with finances. In 2011 I buried my mom after a long illness. After the burial I walked into the bedroom without  knocking only to find my beautiful daughter in the middle of undressing.The next few minutes changed my life forever.  

As my daughter rushed to get dressed, I grabbed her arms. Arms that had been cut over and over. Scars from her wrists to her elbows. Fast forward to 2013. My daughter had moved back home after the funeral. She has had hospital stays and many therapy sessions. My daughter has been diagnosed with Bipolar one. She is on medication and fighting this disease. She is going back to school for nursing. She is working hard to have a “normal” life. I am so proud of her. Sadly it all brings me back to my mom. A whole lifetime went by with out any understanding of her issues. In my heart I believe she suffered from a similar disease as my daughter. Did the stigma of mental illness prevent her from seeking the help she so needed….That we all so needed?

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Joseph

I was diagnosed Bipolar in August 2005 during a hospital stay after my second suicide attempt. I was 39 and had, apparently, been dealing with Bipolar disorder since I was 13. I believe it is the primary reason for the failure of two marriages, estrangement of most friends, frequent job changes and moving all over the country.

I was diagnosed Bipolar in August 2005 during a hospital stay after my second suicide attempt. I was 39 and had, apparently, been dealing with Bipolar disorder since I was 13. I believe it is the primary reason for the failure of two marriages, estrangement of most friends, frequent job changes and moving all over the country.

When most people hear about Bipolar disorder a lot of things come to mind but they only focus on the sensationalized events promoted by the media. What they don’t see is the darkness, anguish, self loathing and pain that torments all of us, even when medicated.

I would encourage everyone that does not have to deal with mental illness to take a step back and look at the effect it has on the individuals with it. Compassion and acceptance are the buzz words of the day. If you can’t look upon these people with compassion, accept the fact that they are in no way responsible for it and recognize it’s debilitating affects … then you are doing nothing more than perpetuating the evil.

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Lynlee

My name is Lynlee living in New Zealand, I’m 46 years old, a single mother and grandmother with Bi Polar. I am Maori and belong to a population when surveyed showed that just over half of Māori had experienced a mental disorder during their lifetime. After the birth of my first child 26 years ago I suffered what I thought was post natal depression, later I was hospitalized for attempting self-harm, by taking pills to end my life.

My name is Lynlee living in New Zealand, I’m 46 years old, a single mother and grandmother with Bi Polar. I am Maori and belong to a population when surveyed showed that just over half of Māori had experienced a mental disorder during their lifetime. After the birth of my first child 26 years ago I suffered what I thought was post natal depression, later I was hospitalized for attempting self-harm, by taking pills to end my life. I was admitted to Porirua Hospital, well known institution for mental health. I took my meds, accepted my Bi Polar label and dared not to speak again about my condition outside my family who had watched me in crisis.

In 2007 I went public about my Bi Polar, and ran for our local district Health Board promoting the fight against stigma of mental illness. About 1200 people voted for me, I was ecstatic the message was getting out in my community. People came up to me in the street and thanked me for raising awareness. I ran again in 2010 and doubled my tally, achieving about 2300 votes. I didn’t make it on the board then either. Now I’m preparing for the 2013 election and promote “bringing change to mind 1 person at a time”. I am heartened in the knowledge I need only touch one person with our message to bring change to mind. I own a telemarketing business, employ 20 plus people, and vigorously exercise equal employment opportunity for job seekers with disabilities. I know the difficulty of getting a job after a mental health crisis and understand the advantages of a diverse work place. I soldier on quietly doing my little bit in my corner of the universe realising a small difference is a start for better things to come.

Glenn Close and her families’ story reinforced to me the ability to help change. Taking the Pledge on your website galvanized my determination to reach out and share the message….. share your story!

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Kari

One year ago this month, my (19 year old) son came home from college for the summer. He was very agitated, preoccupied, like jumping out of his skin. I had noticed the month before he came home that he was saying he hadn't slept for days. I thought it was just finals, college life. I told him relax. jog, read a book for enjoyment. Nothing worked.

One year ago this month, my (19 year old) son came home from college for the summer. He was very agitated, preoccupied, like jumping out of his skin. I had noticed the month before he came home that he was saying he hadn’t slept for days. I thought it was just finals, college life. I told him relax. jog, read a book for enjoyment. Nothing worked. Right before finals he called me at 3 am saying he could not relax. He just wanted to talk. We talked about an hour. But again, I thought, Finals, life changes, etc..It was NOT. Within days of coming home, I could see he had lost a significant amount of weight. He was not eating, he was not sleeping. and twice shopping with me, he had to go to the car because he said he felt his heart was going to explode. I realized he was having panic attacks. Finally that night, he told us something was wrong. He had been researching and he thought he had Bipolar disorder. He admitted to using marijuana to calm down and to eat, of course we were not happy with that until he told us that if he hadn’t used it, there were nights he would have jumped out of his apartment window. He said it was his last resource.

We got him connected to one of the best psychologists in the valley. He has come SUCH a long way in this year. There have been times he thought he could be with out his meds but he has been wrong. It takes a while to get him back in order. He knows that they have saved him. He also has learned in this last year that many other students had conditions that required medication too and they formed their own support group amongst each other. He no longer feels alone, he knows we will go to the ends of the earth for him and he knows he has to be responsible and stay faithful to his routine of taking his meds. We are very open at home talking about any and all issues that come up and staying positive. We have cried, laughed, wanted to run away and hide, felt like the world would was going to end, but we stay together and work through it. We are good. HE is good. Who knows how tomorrow or next week will be, but we know it is treatable, manageable and he will be fine and will live a productive life. Our son knows with out a doubt that we are beside him no matter what.

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Bri

I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder 7th grade. I really didn't understand what was happening, I used to be such a happy person, suddenly I was trapped inside my mind. Of course not knowing what to do, I went to my friends for help, not realizing middle schoolers have no concept about mental illness. I ended up pushing them all away, what I was going through was too hard for them to understand. It was like I was a different person to them.

I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder 7th grade. I really didn’t understand what was happening, I used to be such a happy person, suddenly I was trapped inside my mind. Of course not knowing what to do, I went to my friends for help, not realizing middle schoolers have no concept about mental illness. I ended up pushing them all away, what I was going through was too hard for them to understand. It was like I was a different person to them.      

I started cutting, using anything sharp I could find. I also planned out a suicide and would have gone through with it, but then, God I didn’t know how to get the child’s lock off the pill bottle! I was hospitalized September of my 8th grade year. I almost then felt guilty because some people there had been raped or abused by there parents. I had a good loving family and a “good life” so what was wrong with me? Why was I doing all of this?      

I isolated myself from everyone, spent alot of time in my head, which wasn’t good. Even when I received correct medication I still wasn’t quite right. Not until I went to highschool and met my friends with other mental illness did I become determined to be there and be the friend I didn’t have in my time of need. Now, still in high school, I hear the jokes about mental illness go around all the time. They don’t realize it’s such a real thing, to them it’s just a punch line. I feel like I have to hide the fact that I’m bipolar, not wanting to be just another joke. Kids now are so uneducated about mental illness, making kids like me hide it like it’s something to be ashamed of. We need to end the stigma of mental illness.

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Anonymous

There are so many people that can help you up out of that hole. You just need to find someone with a ladder, not a shovel. Ladder people are friends, family, doctors, and therapists. Shovel people are angry, closed-minded, and judgmental. Let them dig their own holes, you don’t need help with yours.

Bipolar Confessions in Hiding
I have been writing this in my head for many months and until today none of these thoughts have managed to hit paper yet.  But I feel this message is imperative.  I wanted to finally write it down because I think it might be able to help other people.  I am going to remain anonymous so that I can tell the entire truth of how I feel, incriminating facts and all.  I have Bipolar II disorder and have been this way since around 18 or 19 years old.  I have always known that something was wrong with me, but the root cause eluded me.  I started seeing therapists off and on when I was about 20 years old.  I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders and put on anti-depressants, but that diagnosis never felt right.  The medication made me feel like a zombie-shell of myself and I couldn’t take more than a few months of being on it.  My biggest symptoms were varying levels of anger and anxiety; sometimes it felt like those were the only 2 emotions I ever experienced or would ever experience. 

I went from one “episode” to another.  My episodes would include: a ton of built up stress and emotion, a small trigger (that may not even have anything to do with why I’m stressed), rapid fire thoughts and the feeling like my body was on speed or something, a very quickly evolving argument (peaking in a violent explosion), a downward spiral of negativity and self-loathing, and always ending in hiding away somewhere wrapped completely in shame and depression.  These episodes last from 3 or 4 hours to days.  When things were bad I would have an episode multiple times a week.  When things were good I would only have them once every other week (maybe longer even).  They were so scary and intense.  When they happen I feel so out of control- not in the fact that I’m not controlling what I’m saying/doing.  But out of control in the sense that I feel like I HAVE to say and do these things or else I will never get relief from them.  When I feel things speed up in my head, it’s like being on a roller coaster going through a black tunnel.  I have to keep moving forward and acting out these impulses because the thoughts push me forward faster and faster. And I know if I can just keep going and ride it out that eventually I’ll make it out the other side. 

When I wasn’t having an episode, I was pretty much wasting away. I would go to work and school and other things (though just getting out my front door was a major effort). I would lie on the couch and barely move. I always complained of not feeling good. I never wanted to do anything because my thoughts were so… heavy. Literally, I felt like my thoughts weighed me down. All I could think about was death and stress and self-loathing thoughts. They were there when I left the house too, but I covered them with a fake smile and pretended like everything was okay. It was hard for me to have friends because they thought I was a downer or they always wondered why I’d cancel plans or not ever call or want to hang out. I was kind-of unpredictable in a friend relationship- one week I’d be an amazing friend who was always there and did whatever the other person needed. Then the next week, I’d be in hiding, or just a complete buzz-kill with complaining and negativity. I just didn’t want anyone to see me like this. I hid a lot. I still do. I don’t want to bother people. I don’t want to “make a fuss.” I am afraid of what people think of me. So I keep things inside and live in my head. I think that’s my anxiety disorder coming out. I worry constantly about what other people think of me. It’s exhausting and a total waste of time and energy, but it’s instinctual now and hard to even recognize when I’m doing it anymore. I apologize way too much and people think I’m completely insecure (which may not be far from the truth, but I’m not as insecure as I sound at times).

I began volunteering constantly to try and feel better about myself. It would work at first, but I I’m a constant project starter, meaning I love to come up with ideas and start big projects and then something inexplicable happens halfway through and I never see them to fruition. This was my life from age 19-26, up and down, up and down. There were stable periods, I’m sure. But they are not as vivid in my mind as the times that were not stable. The times I punched holes in walls, cut myself, laid in bed for over a week, etc are the memories that flood back when I think about the past. But I hid it so well, that only 2 or possibly 3 people very close to me even saw what was going on. I was lucky to have a flexible schedule; and I used the “I’m sick” excuse a lot. I credit a lot of my stability to my self-medicating with cannabis. Doing that was sometimes the only thing that got me through the day. People would be shocked to find that out about me. I live in a small town where that is not acceptable behavior and I know this. But back before I knew what was wrong with me, self-medicating was the only way I could stop the obsessive thoughts for a few hours. It was a relief to not live in my chaotic brain for a little bit. But I was killing myself. My Grandma died of lung cancer and I was quickly following in her footsteps. 

Like I said before I knew something was wrong with me, I thought it was my fault. I thought I was just a bad person. I thought I had an anger problem and that I was just too weak to control it. I assumed that I was just too lazy to work on myself and that I had developed into a monster. That’s why I began going to therapists, I couldn’t live with myself. This is where my advice comes in; I strongly encourage you to always take care of yourself first. If you are not happy, please do something about it. If you are scared or lonely or anything, go talk to someone. I found that no matter what therapist I went to (even if I didn’t like them) it still always helped and made me feel better to talk about things. I never felt judged or criticized. If I did, I would’ve just gone to someone else. 

Money was a major factor, I went to so many different therapists because I’d get the bill from one and realize we couldn’t afford it, so I’d stop going. Then things would get bad again and months later I’d find myself searching for a therapist again. There are options out there that you can utilize. I found a hospital that has interns that I can see for free. Actually I have had 100 percent more success in talking with my intern therapist than I did with all the other therapists I saw put together.  Do research.  Find local resources and services that are designed to help you.

It took me about 10 years to finally be diagnosed by a hospital psychiatrist with Bipolar Disorder. It was actually a relief to hear, to be honest. All my issues weren’t just in my head. It wasn’t just me being an awful, uncontrollable human being. There was a reason. There was a reason I couldn’t sleep at night. There was a reason that I couldn’t control my emotions at times. There was a reason that I couldn’t function properly without self medicating with drugs. I remember thinking that maybe I can finally get rid of all the negative stuff and just be me again. That’s all I have ever wanted to be, just me. 

And now I am in hiding. I have immersed myself in research; I’m getting my life together and putting pieces in their place. But I still feel like I have to hide. I have only told 2 people in my family that I have Bipolar II disorder. Mainly because I know the rest wouldn’t believe me. They don’t see it (because I keep it from them). I started telling friends, a couple coworkers, and a few people who I knew had experience dealing with mental illness. I told the people who I knew loved me and wouldn’t stop loving me because of this. Altogether maybe 10 people know I have this. Sometimes I would tell people just because it was bursting out of me. I want to scream it from the rooftops.  “I have Bipolar Disorder and it doesn’t change one single thing about who I am!”  I am still the same person I always was, the label doesn’t affect who I am as a person. I have always been this way, now it just has a name. But I feel like other people, uninformed people, will look at me differently. I hate feeling like this. For example, 3 of the people I told didn’t believe me, and I could tell. They asked questions and I tried to explain to them what Bipolar meant and looked like for me. When I’d explain a feeling they’d respond, “Yea, but that’s normal. Everyone feels that way sometimes.”  What’s funny is that all 3 said that same thing to me.  It made me feel like I was over-exaggerating.  Saying that to me makes me feel like it really is all in my head.  I know they only mean the best, but it hurt to hear because it was like they didn’t trust what I was telling them. 

I feel like people think that if I’m not completely incapable of functioning, then there isn’t a problem. If a person’s feelings are not validated and if that person does not feel they are being heard or understood, it is an overwhelmingly lonely and desperate feeling. It is a hopeless feeling that demoralizes a person’s sense of self-worth. If you (or someone you know) are feeling like you are alone, un-heard, or misunderstood and you have that hopeless feeling in the center of your chest, please tell someone who can help you to get up out of that hole. It is a hole, and if you stay in it too long it’ll only get deeper and deeper. There are so many people that can help you up out of that hole. You just need to find someone with a ladder, not a shovel.  Ladder people are friends, family, doctors, and therapists. Shovel people are angry, closed-minded, and judgmental. Let them dig their own holes, you don’t need help with yours. 

I hope that this letter reached at least one person out there. I want you to know that you are not alone in how you feel. Talk to someone, even if it’s strangers on the internet. I am hoping that one day I will be brave and confident enough to come out of hiding and announce to the world that I have Bipolar Disorder and I am proud of who I am. I’m getting there.  This letter has taken me one step further. Now it’s time to go out and write your letter.

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David

I'm a 35 year old man with Bi-polar. I knew I was different as a young child. I felt out of place playing into what would make me "normal". Inside was a living hell, my emotions my anger, my way of looking at life crippled me. I was told I was just different. I lived this way at times out of control.

I’m a 35 year old man with Bi-polar. I knew I was diffrent as a young child. I felt out of place playing into what would make me “normal”. Inside was a living hell, my emotions my anger, my way of looking at life crippled me. I was told I was just diffrent. I lived this way at times out of control. I was blessed with a wife and three girls, but last year I cracked. Total mania and depression cycling that I could not control. I made an attempt to end it all. I spent money that we did not have. I was a monster to my wife and kids. I finally ended up in a hospital for three months. I now I’m gaining contol and mending my marriage. I know it will be a long road back, but I’m lucky to get to start over, and still have my family. I’m holding a job, and dealing with live interactions better. I’m finding out who I really am. Not who I thought I was. I’m a father, a husband, a son, a brother, and yes by the way I have bi-polar, but that does not define me.      

Keep on Keepin’ on!

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Nancy S

We had a great family. Lots of love and admiration. What happened? People didn't talk about what they were feeling or ask for help. They hid it because they felt they would be shamed. It's a horrible disease and needs to be spoken about more.

My older brother was diagnosed with bipolar late in life when we finally insisted he see a psychiatrist. He was in denial and refused help. My parents did not get him the help he needed at a younger age because of the stigma and their generational denial. They felt he would be okay. They would say he just needed a woman to straighten him out.

He moved to another country and pushed everyone away who tried to help him. He liked the manic side but eventually went into a deep depression and became “paralyzed”. He died of a pulmonary embolism from ( my hypothesis) his reclusive, stagnant lifestyle and lack of feeding himself often and correctly. His own suicide.

My dad suffered a few bouts of depression over my growing years and never sought counseling. His GP put him on a pill and he took that for 15 years with no follow-up, just renewed prescriptions. Since my brother died 5 1/2 years ago at age 57, my dad has not come out of a depression with severe anxiety. He’s now 89 and cannot enjoy a minute of his life. He’s been in 3 psych units since then and tried weekly counseling for 5 years and every medication on the market. He feels he faked his way through life.

His generation didn’t talk about how they felt. Now he looks back on his life as one of negativity, stupidity and remorse. We had a great family. Lots of love and admiration. What happened? People didn’t talk about what they were feeling or ask for help. They hid it because they felt they would be shamed. It’s a horrible disease and needs to be spoken about more.

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Kalyn J-T

Get help Speak up on your illness Find support

I have been dealing with depression ever since I was 16. I have been teased by friends and classmates. I have been pushed to be something I am not. I have been told that I would not be loved or be in positive relationships . But having depression is still a struggle. I went undiagnosed. The depression kicked in after my grandmother died and after finding out that I was adopted. It got worse when I had to hold the family together after my grandmother died.

I came out as a lesbian at 20 and it wasn’t a happy come out with my mother . My mother and myself were arguing a lot . I was losing many friendships due to people and their actions . It had gotten to be unbearable . Around 21 , I tried to take my life . I went to the hospital and finally was diagnosed with major depression. I finally got the help needed and continued help for a year. I thought I felt better so I stopped getting it. I stop my medicine and everything. I went one year without my medicine and help. Unfortunately it did not go well ….. everything was harder to deal with .

I am 24 and still dealing with it. I am now doing counseling again. I say all this to say :
Stop being strong and cover up your mental illness to others
Stop holding on to toxic relationships
Get help
Speak up on your illness
Find support
Get help

But most of all
Keep Fighting

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Anna C

I am independent and free. If you could take anything from this story let it be this, be proactive about what you want and how you feel when it comes to a mental illness. Depression is real and although others may mock you or say its not don't let that bring you down even more. Find the strength within to fight.

Last year I became the mother of my second child Emily. I had my first daughter 16 months prior to Emily’s coming in to the world. There were issues in my marriage such as domestic violence. Because of those issues my two daughters were removed by DCFS , Emily was only a month old. I suffered a great period of grief in addition to the depression I had from delivering my daughters. The isolation one feels from being a new mother with no family around to help and on top of that the domestic violence did not help that feeling of depression. However I enjoyed being a new mother who loves her two girls more than anything.

When they were taken I felt like the earth had been pulled out from under me. I tried to commit suicide knowing exactly what I wanted, which was to die. I was hospitalized and treated for that depression by a psychiatrist who said he would help me with those suicidal tendencies. He prescribed a series of medications each for a different affliction. Some for sleep, others for my mood, and some were psychotropic medications. The combination – little did I know – were for a bipolar patient.

Never in my life had I been diagnosed with such a condition or had any of the symptoms patients with that mental disorder present. It wasn’t until I started these medications that the next 4 suicide attempts were without me being completely aware of what I was doing. Each attempt lead me to another hospitalization. Each time he would add new medications that would only add to my confusion which eventually turned into paranoia, insomnia, lack of appetite. Not to mention many physical side effects such as involuntary muscle movements and light sensitivity. I became aggressive. The police were called to my home many times during this time because of my aggression.

These medications made it impossible for me to care for myself. I became dependent on the man that I wanted to leave due to the abuse. I needed help dressing, feeding, and even moving most days. I had extreme highs and lows. The miracle happened when my ex-husband canceled our insurance plan and was not able to pay for my medications anymore or the psychiatric care. I went cold turkey off 5 different medications. It was excruciating to do so at first and everything was a haze. But after 2 months my thoughts were clear and the aggression was gone. I still had the grief from loosing my kids , nothing but time would ever cure that. But I was strong enough to push forward.

And I did, I took charge and fought my DCFS case, self initiated the services required of me, resumed my career, got a car. Now a year later I am getting primary custody of my girls. During the horrible year that was 2015 my family blamed me for the loss of those girls, my marriage crumbling, and my mental illness. I had no support system that was reliable. But the real strength with a clear mind was me all along, fueled by the memory and hope of my girls.

My mother who studied medicine in her country and has many best friends who are psychiatrists could not or would not understand me and the depression and grief I had in my heart. That it is a disease that takes over your whole being. She would say ” stop faking it” or “you brought this on yourself”. I never understood why my family was so cruel to me during my time of need. And even now as a mother I can’t understand them.

I fought it all anyway and came out better than what I was. It also helped that I underwent certain assessments to disprove that doctors initial diagnosis of Bipolar type 2 disorder. I had neuropsychological testing and 2 other opinions from psychiatrist. It has been a year since I went off the medications and I have never felt better. I do not have the mood swings, the aggression, the light sensitivity, the lack of appetite, or the overall body weakness. Most importantly I do not feel suicidal. Those medications could have killed me and the inexperience that doctor had proved to be fatal. I now have permanent neurological damage to one of my hands due to these medications, which I am working on correcting to be functional again. However despite that I am doing better than ever, I am independent and free. If you could take anything from this story let it be this, be proactive about what you want and how you feel when it comes to a mental illness. Depression is real and although others may mock you or say its not don’t let that bring you down even more. Find the strength within to fight.

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Miki D

Most of us, or possibly all of us with depression are not looking to hear any advice, the million reasons why we shouldn't be depressed, or opinion about how to snap out of it. What I want when I'm depressed is to sit next to me, put your arms around me and say "I'm sorry, this sucks. But you are not alone."

How depression feels… in my own words.

 

When depression gets a hold of me, i have no choice but to surrender. Depression wins and I lose. Instantly. Depression places me in this pit and cover me with this thick, black fog. It doesn’t tell me when it’ll be back to remove the black fog to get me out of here.

 

I can’t see the sunlight.

I can’t feel loved.

I shiver.

I forget what joy feels like.

1 min starts to feel like 1 hour.

I can’t taste food.

I feel like I’m chewing on rubber bands when I do eat.

I feel like a burden to this world.

I sit on the couch and just stare out of the window and cry.

I feel isolated.

I feel hopeless that I must continue living like this.

I feel like I’m alone.

And I turn my brain on the survival mode.

 

I start repeating the things my parents told me when I was diagnosed with depression.

 

“Quit the negative thoughts.”

“Just snap out of it.”

“Stop being such a pessimist.”

“You are depressed because you are ungrateful.”

“How can you possibly depressed?”

“We sent you to private school since you were 4 and picked you up in a Mercedez Benz.”

 

I cry.

I cry more.

I cry until I can’t cry any more.

The two people who caused most of my trauma says it’s my fault that I am depressed.

All I wanted was “are you okay?”

 

Getting out of bed is a struggle.

Taking a shower is a struggle.

Trying not to stop and cry out loud while brushing my teeth is a struggle.

Whole day is a struggle.

Trying not to cry is a struggle.

Battling the feeling of emptiness is a struggle.

Believing this shall pass is a struggle.

Going up the 4 steps in my front porch is a struggle.

Breathing is a struggle.

Keeping my eyes open is a struggle.

 

My head hurts.

My teeth hurt.

My body aches.

My ears hurt.

Everything hurts.

 

The thing about depression is that it’s not just mental. It physically hurts.

 

People assume that they know depression. The thing is, nobody understands it unless they have gone through it. You have to be in my shoes in order to feel how hopeless and empty I feel.

 

I ask you not to assume that you know what it is to battle depression unless you go through it. If you know someone who is clinically depressed, please say this “I am sorry you feel so down. I personally have never gone through it so I don’t know what it is like to battle depression. Can you please tell me what’s in your thoughts? What can i do for you right now?”

 

Most of us, or possibly all of us with depression are not looking to hear any advice, the million reasons why we shouldn’t be depressed, or opinion about how to snap out of it. What I want when I’m depressed is to sit next to me, put your arms around me and say “I’m sorry, this sucks. But you are not alone.”

 

Loneliness and isolation are my biggest fear when I’m depressed. I fear that no one notices me if I disappear. I assume no friends want to see me when I’m depressed. So I stay in this pit with black fog over me and hide.

 

I keep hiding. By myself. Alone. But after a couple of suicide attempts a few years back, I learned to let a close group of people know when depression gets a hold of me.

 

So I did this time and Michael and Leslie are my support. Thank you for making me feel like someone cares. And at the end, us humans simply cannot live alone. We are all in this together.

 

Today, I’m grateful to know I’m not alone.

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Emily

I can't miss a single day of medication, or else I spiral into darkness. Is it worth it? Definitely. Life is so beautifully complex, and without the darkness I would not appreciate the sunlight. Sometimes I feel like my emotional dial is turned all the way up. I feel things so much more powerfully, my world is a prismatic collage of sharply vibrant colors, some intensely dark, some pulsating with life and light, and everyday is a new challenge, learning how to navigate through a sea of torrid emotions. I am grateful for my life.

My name is Emily, and I have Bipolar Disorder 1. I am a fighter, and a survivor. I am also an optimist, and a true believer that “hope springs eternal “.

After enduring a year of sexual abuse/assault at age eight at the hands of a neighbor, I began medication and therapy at age 11, but wasn’t diagnosed until age 14. I had my first hospitalization at age 15…my Sweet Sixteen birthday was spent in an adolescent lockdown ward. That same year I began electro convulsive therapy, as a last ditch effort to fight my pervasive depression. The treatments, along with medications, continued into my twenties. I was on medicines that required weekly blood tests due to potential liver toxicity, and medicines that caused me to gain 100 lbs in a year. Finally I was recommended to receive a vagal nerve stimulator implant, which was placed in my chest to help stave off the depression. It has helped.

I’ve had doctors give up on me, and tell me they’re out of ideas. I’ve been bullied and harassed, told to “get over it” and had my illness and experiences trivialized. I will never be able to quit regular therapy or discontinue my medications. Managing my illness is a continual struggle of finding balance between mania and depression. I don’t just struggle with everyday things like eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, balancing work and fun, and relationships… I also have to manage my numerous doctor appointments, therapy appointments, my struggles with daily suicidal thoughts, my extreme fatigue over constantly fighting my own brain.

I can’t miss a single day of medication, or else I spiral into darkness. Is it worth it? Definitely. Life is so beautifully complex, and without the darkness I would not appreciate the sunlight. Sometimes I feel like my emotional dial is turned all the way up. I feel things so much more powerfully, my world is a prismatic collage of sharply vibrant colors, some intensely dark, some pulsating with life and light, and everyday is a new challenge, learning how to navigate through a sea of torrid emotions. I am grateful for my life.

I have a certain quote written down, that came from Bruce Lee. Like it or not, it describes my life. “Do not pray for an easy life. Pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”

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Tori Z.

It is normal to be sad, we are human. A little sadness is what keeps us balanced. The thing is I was sad most of the time. I was sad starting at such a young age. You’re not supposed to feel that way from your earliest memories. I stopped speaking up about it because I was constantly told it was the way I was supposed to feel.

Since I was young I can’t remember a time where I didn’t feel self-conscious about my body. Even when I was in first grade, six years old, I would change my outfits because I would tell myself I looked too fat in them. I was never happy with the way I looked. Being a minority, growing up I thought I wasn’t beautiful because the pretty girls were always depicted as this blonde hair, blue eyed girls. The way I saw myself only got worse once I got into middle school. With so much changing in my body, I couldn’t stand that I was gaining weight and changing in ways I wasn’t educated on.

When I would speak up about the way I was feeling, the sad thoughts, the self-conscious feeling, the isolated feeling, I always got the same response, ‘That’s normal.’. It’s not their fault, though. That’s what we’re taught. It’s normal to feel that way. It’s normal because we don’t talk about it. We need to talk about it. Educate parents to look for the signs.

I have a diary entry from when I was eight. I wrote in my Lisa Frank diary, that I just wanted to die. I wrote in vivid detail for an eight-year-old, how I just wanted to die. At eight you’re not supposed to want to die or be self-conscious about the way you look. Is it still normal?

It is normal to be sad, we are human. A little sadness is what keeps us balanced. The thing is I was sad most of the time. I was sad starting at such a young age. You’re not supposed to feel that way from your earliest memories. I stopped speaking up about it because I was constantly told it was the way I was supposed to feel. I was raised with people making fun of me for crying at movies, but why is it bad to have empathy?

I was scared to show who I was so I bottled up how I was feeling and isolated myself. I wanted to be in control in all of this pain that I couldn’t control. I started to self-harm at twelve years old. I was the one making me hurt, so I could finally be in control. I began feeling more and more isolated from my peers. I didn’t want people to know. I would hide it. All I wanted was to die. I never wanted to be at school. All of the tendencies just got worse over the years.

I thought everyone felt the way I did until my freshman year of high school. I was fourteen and one of my classmates said, ‘I don’t get why people are depressed, just be happy.’. That’s when it really hit me that most people are just uneducated on the subject. At this point, I started to educate myself on what was going on in my head.

Soon after I opened up to my parents about how I was feeling. I still didn’t feel like any of my emotions were validated. Up until I explicitly asked for help from a professional, I didn’t receive any. It’s not their fault, though, they were never taught about this disease. They were raised on the idea that someone with a mental disorder is supposed to be in a straitjacket locked up somewhere.

Once I finally started receiving the professional help I started to see a turnaround. I finally had someone to tell me I’m not crazy. Have someone explain to me that I’m not to blame for being depressed, having anxiety, or self-harming. It all has to do with chemicals in our brains. I finally started to get better. Now it was a long process. I still self-harmed up until over a year later, but it’s been over three years since I last did. Up until the summer, I turned seventeen I really didn’t feel okay.

That summer I sailed the BVI’s and saw life in a different light. Likewise, I had so much time to reflect by myself. I would spend hours by myself thinking about how I want to be able to do this year from now. I thought about how I wanted to bring my future family here and show them what I saw. I knew I couldn’t do that if I didn’t make the choice to be okay.

Now I am beyond happy with where my life is. If you would have asked me three years ago where I see myself in four years I would have answered, ‘dead.’. I never expected to be as happy as I am now. I am the optimist I envied. I used to have a hard time getting out of bed to go to school, but now I love going out and making new friends. Granted there are still hard times, but that’s life. There are hard times, but not hard times like before.

It’s possible to get better, you just have to surround yourself with people that understand you. Every time I speak out now I only receive an outpouring of love. I’ve had some people tell me they went through the same thing but never told anyone. They were too afraid to speak up. It was so difficult for me to speak up, but once I did, things only got better.

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Cassidy C

I wasn't diagnosed with having panic attacks/anxiety until the age of 13. Since then, I've been on and off different medications and therapy for this. But in my opinion, nothing helps more than the medication & counseling. One without the other doesn't cut it for me unfortunately that's how bad it is for me. I can't even experience 'good stress' as in going away on a vacation, going to a friend's wedding, waiting to see one of my favorite bands.

Hi there, I think that sharing your story is VERY important!!!! Unfortunately, I’m a bit camera shy so I’m going to type my story…

I have been dealing with anxiety issues all my life I believe… The first real panic attack I remember is when a bully told me my mom was dead and wouldn’t be there to meet me at the bus stop like she did EVERYDAY! It was horrible! But I wasn’t diagnosed with having panic attacks/anxiety until the age of 13. Since then, I’ve been on and off different medications and therapy for this. But in my opinion, nothing helps more than the medication & counseling. One without the other doesn’t cut it for me unfortunately that’s how bad it is for me. I can’t even experience ‘good stress’ as in going away on a vacation, going to a friend’s wedding, waiting to see one of my favorite bands. Because come on now!!! Who can live without your tunes!?! Lol!

Sometimes I see the light at the end of the tunnel and my anxiety disorder isn’t too bad and I start to taper off of the meds, to be blindsided by crippling attacks AGAIN!!

I went through a 2 year period where a doctor was prescribing adderall 30mg 3 times a say for me while I was going to college. And up until I started this medication, I could keep my anxiety in check for the most part, it wasn’t ruining my life, let’s say. But after I was taken off of the adderall is when I spun out of control with the anxiety and attacks. I believe that being speeded up like that, did something to my brain! I really wish this doctor knew enough to not prescribe this to someone that had preconditions like panic attacks/anxiety. Truth be told though, I believe he was ‘A script dr.’ I’m sure you have heard of them… Go to them, pay them cash, and you will get whatever you want. Basically a legal drug pusher!

I also deal with depression. I’ve been on ssooo many medications for depression that I lost count over the years. Either they make me feel worse than I already feel, I get zombified (meaning ‘Oh, the house is burning down? So what? We have insurance. Our stuff is replaceable.’ No ups, no downs. And I just can’t deal with that AT ALL! What I found was a medication used to treat nerve pain called, Gabapentin. See, what this medication does is creates more gaba (a natural occurring chemical in your brain) and releases more into your brain. I call them my happy pills! Lol. But seriously, if you are like me and have a hard time taking antidepressants/mood stablizers/whatever they like to label them, I suggest asking doc for these.

I’m also a recovering addict. I’m clean 7 years with thanks to the suboxone program. I wasn’t a street drug user, I have legitimate health issues that sometimes disable me from leading a productive life. So here I am diagnosed with a neurovascular non cancerous inoperable tumor and two herniated discs in my back and fibromyalgia all at the age of 13. Little did I know that the doctor’s were getting me hooked on these meds!!! It just seemed that 1 wasn’t doing it anymore, then 2 or 3 wasn’t cutting it… I went to school with people that became addicted to heroin, but that wasn’t me!!! I’m under a doctor’s care, so how can I be labeled a junkie? Is what I kept telling myself anyways… I finally caught wise to the whole thing around age 16/17 when I had helped a friend go through a detox. It’s the same, weather you are under a doctor’s care or you are buying it from the street. I do believe pills are harder to quit than heroin, because they are soooo much stronger!

I guess that’s about it for me and my story, thank you so much for taking the time to read it and if you have ANY questions or something you would like to know more about, please feel free to respond. Much love to you all suffering with mental and physical health issues!

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Jasmine V

I only disclosed my diagnosis to maybe 2 or 3 people and even then I didn’t explain the extent of the situation. I was constantly trying to prove that I was just a normal happy girl, even though I was dying inside. Last year, I decided to stop fighting it. I disclosed my diagnosis to all of my family and friends and was both humbled and surprised by the amount of support that I received. This was the best decision I could have ever made. Now that I am able to be open and honest about my diagnosis, I feel like I can live my true self. I can show the world the real me.

As I sit here and look back on that day, the day my life changed, I can’t help but feel emotional. Let me start at the beginning..

My entire life I have always felt off, for lack of a better word, I can remember being a child and wanting nothing more than to feel loved. There was one person in my life that made me feel like my existence mattered, my grandmother. My mom couldn’t bother to be my mom and my sister, well, she had to deal with battling against my mom, so that left my grandmother to focus on me and me only. Living with her were the best years of my life which is why when she was no longer the person raising me, I felt like my world had shattered. I can’t really tell if I felt “depressed” before my grandmother left or after. On one hand, I always wanted my mom to want to be my mom. On the other hand, my grandmother did fill a big part of that void. Don’t get me wrong, My mom wasn’t all bad, we did share some fond memories – Michael Myers movie marathons, candy bars on friday’s, days at the beach. Distant memories.

When I began High School, the emptiness I felt became more apparent. I was so alone. I had no one to talk to and spent many days battling whether or not I wanted to continue living life this way. I never spoke a word about these feelings to anyone. Oftentimes, I would lay in my bath with my face completely submerged in the water contemplating if this would be my way to go. I recall trying to hold my body down until that quick second when I would change my mind. Still, I said nothing. I would skip school to drink because drinking was the only time the pain would go away. I just wanted to escape. No amount of drinking, contemplating suicide, or self harming would change a thing.

Fast forward to the year I was diagnosed..I was 18. I was a single mom, fresh out of an abusive relationship (both physical and emotional) and I really didn’t know where I was headed. At this point, I would contemplate suicide on a regular basis and suffered from panic attacks, sometimes multiple times a day. I went to a doctor’s appointment and informed him that I was having difficulty sleeping, this is when I was referred to a psychiatrist.

The day of my appointment with the psychiatrist..I had not intended to tell her anything other than the fact that I was having difficulty sleeping. I sat in the chair and my heart was beating so hard, I swore that she could hear it. I was nauseous and drained and I haven’t even spoken a word to her yet. “Tell me what’s wrong” – That was all she said. 4 words. That was all it took for me to completely fall apart and say everything that has been on my mind ever since I can remember. She asked if I had contemplated suicide and if so how many times, I was hesitant to answer but then decided that I couldn’t hold it in much longer. I told her that I thought about suicide more than once a day and suffered from constant panic attacks. I explained that just the mere thought of being around people was exhausting and would cause me symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and panic attacks. I couldn’t see people and I didn’t want to live my life, double whammy. At this point, she diagnosed me with major depressive disorder along with some generalized and social anxiety. I was devastated. I was embarrassed, I didn’t want anyone to find out about this diagnosis. What was I supposed to do now? Am I crazy? Whats wrong with me? “Mental Illness” – that term really freaked me out.

I was given the option of taking medications, which I tried for a little while, but in the end decided against it for two reasons.

I didn’t want anyone to find out that I had a mental illness and thought that they would see the medications
I didn’t feel comfortable with how the medications made my body feel

This was 7 years ago. For the last 7 years, I have lived in hiding. I only disclosed my diagnosis to maybe 2 or 3 people and even then I didn’t explain the extent of the situation. I was constantly trying to prove that I was just a normal happy girl, even though I was dying inside. Last year, I decided to stop fighting it. I disclosed my diagnosis to all of my family and friends and was both humbled and surprised by the amount of support that I received. This was the best decision I could have ever made. Now that I am able to be open and honest about my diagnosis, I feel like I can live my true self. I can show the world the real me.

So, you’ve been diagnosed, Now what? – Live your life. Don’t hide who you are and just know that while it is a daily battle, it is a battle that you do not have to fight alone. Confide in your friends and family, seek out support groups, and follow this blog for some tips I use to keep me going.

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Craig F

I have come to know more people who suffer in these shadowed places, friends and family who ache with the pressing waves of anxiety and depression and what comes to feel like shame in the suffering. And I ache to help relieve them. May this place and the people here help you find peace and a joy that can wrap around you when you begin to feel overwhelmed. We stand with you.

It was during my early teen years that I first realized the darkness, the shadows that would often come and block out the light. These were already painful years for me, but this darkness was heavy, it was suffocating, it made me feel so lost in the moment with little or no hope for any moment after. When I turned 20, I began writing a fictional journal of my feelings, expressed through poetry and prose, which was eventually compiled in a book, “An Owl on the Moon: A Journal From the Edge of Darkness.” On those pages I poured out my deeper places that no one knew about, because I was ashamed to express my “weakness” and pain openly, wanting people only to ever think of me as happy.

Though I manage the impact of them better now, the shadows still exist, still seem to lie in wait for seasons of winter, or long endless nights. I have come to know more people who suffer in these shadowed places, friends and family who ache with the pressing waves of anxiety and depression and what comes to feel like shame in the suffering. And I ache to help relieve them. May this place and the people here help you find peace and a joy that can wrap around you when you begin to feel overwhelmed. We stand with you.

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Tiffany B

After high school I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and depression. Everyday life can be very difficult, fear rules my life.

As a young child I was diagnosed with PTSD. After high school I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and depression. Everyday life can be very difficult, fear rules my life.

I dropped out of college due to my disorders. I have yet to learn to drive due to my disorders.

Parties, although I love to attend, terrify me.  And phone calls are the worse. I even fear the labels and judgement people place on me due to what I haven’t done or have yet to do; thinking that I am weak or a loser. I dread the fact that I may feel this way for the rest of my life.

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Sianna S

I worried so much about being liked by others, that I forgot to love myself, and make myself happy.

I do know, I struggle with anxiety and depression. I have tried, three times to take my life, to kill myself. I do self harm, but I’m struggling to stay clean.

I’ve been bullied about my weight since I ever started school. But, I started self harm in 6th grade. Constant bullying, and all the fights at home, it destroyed me. 8th grade, my grandma found out I self harmed. She told me she understood, and wanted me to get help.

Sadly, it cannot happen. My mother, she thinks it’s a huge trend. That it’s for attention. I can’t get her to understand. It’s hard when your mother doesn’t understand. But, I know I’m not the only one. Recovery can happen. It will happen. My mother may not support me, but I have my friends, my grandmother, my brother, and my amazing boyfriend.

Just keep being yourself. I worried so much about being liked by others, that I forgot to love myself, and make myself happy. Be happy with who you are, and don’t change for anyone, because everyone is beautiful the way they are. I’m gonna get through this, and at least I know, and I hope everyone else does –  they’re not alone. For everyone. Someone cares about you, even if it’s only me.

We can do this.

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Kaylee

The next day I was at school and for some reason I just lost it. I found myself in the guidance counselors office bawling my eyes out. I told her everything. Before this, no one knew about my depression. I never told because I didn't think I had a reason to be depressed. I had food in my stomach, clothes on my back and a roof over my head.

I’ve always had lingering symptoms of depression and anxiety growing up. My parents fought constantly. My home was a warzone. I was scared to go home from school everyday. I grew up believing that’s what love was. So I hit middle school and of course that’s when you start getting interested in relationships and boys and stuff. I was scared to love. I didn’t know how to love. I didn’t know how to have a healthy relationship. So I treated people pretty bad. Even my friends.

For some odd reason I did have plenty of friends. I was also great at sports and was a straight A student. What more could you ask for right? In 6th grade there was this boy that was a year older than me. I don’t know what I did to make him mad. He would bully me and get his friends to help. They would call me sir and they decided to call me “Kyle” instead of my actual name Kaylee. I pretended it didn’t bother me, but it really damaged my self esteem. This is when I started struggling more with my anxiety.

After 8th grade, I moved to a Christian High School. I loved it. The kids were nicer and so were the staff. This was such a good change for me, but this is when depression hit me like a hurricane. I mentioned it was a Christian school I moved to. Well, I wasn’t very religious. I believed in God, but no one would have ever guess I was a Christian because I sure did not act like it. It was hard to relate to people at this new school. Everyone seemed so happy. They were so involved with God and Church and I wasn’t. I thought that made me a bad person. Also, I was no longer a top athlete or a top student. I started seeing myself as even more worthless than before.

My sophomore year, my grandma got very sick. She had open heart surgery 5 days before my 16th birthday. She was expected to  make a full recovery. She was in and out of the hospital for about 2 months and during those 2 months of watching my best friend suffer, I started cutting. It started off as something I could control, but then it took over and controlled me. I would cut 3-4 times a week maybe more. I was just so numb and I just needed to feel something. I felt guilty that my grandma had to suffer. She was a great person who didn’t deserve that pain. I thought I did. So I punished myself by cutting.

Things slowly got worse. July 15th, 2015, I get a call at 3 in the morning. My grandpa was trying to contact my parents. My grandmas heart rate had slowed down. She was going to be leaving soon. My parents rushed to the hospital. I called my dad to come and get me because I couldn’t go to sleep knowing I would wake up and my grandma wouldn’t. I walked into her hospital room and I grabbed her hand. I watched my best friend take her last breath. That night, part of me died with her. I completely shut down. I didn’t grieve. I built a wall and moved on. I made it through the funeral, but couldn’t even go to the burial. Inside, I was a mess. But I pretended nothing happened and just kept going.

The cutting got worse and eventually I wanted to kill myself. There were nights where I was going to do it. One night was especially bad and I was talking to a friend with the pills in one hand and the phone in the other. Somehow she talked me out of it. That’s when I hit rock bottom. The next day I was at school and for some reason I just lost it. I found myself in the guidance counselors office bawling my eyes out. I told her everything. Before this, no one knew about my depression. I never told because I didn’t think I had a reason to be depressed. I had food in my stomach, clothes on my back and a roof over my head. I thought that since I was a Christian now, I couldn’t be sad. I thought I was over reacting. All those nights I cried and cut. All those panic attacks at social events. I thought it was my fault. I thought I wasn’t trying hard enough to be happy or to be a good Christian.

The guidance counselor helped me tell my parents and I got set up with a counselor. I’ve been seeing a counselor and taking antidepressants for about 9 months now. I’m not where I want to be, but recovery is a day by day process and I’m moving forward.

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Kyle H

4 months ago, my school guidance counselor died. And we were super close. We talked all the time.

Five years ago, my dad left me. I didn’t take to it that well. In fact, he wasn’t my actual dad. I learned shortly before he left from a letter from my biological dad’s ex-wife. So it made it harder. The feeling that my real dad and my ‘dad’ didn’t want me.

I drank, did drugs, and self-harmed. I even attempted suicide. I eventually lost my best friend / girlfriend, moved and started over. More recently, 4 months ago, my school guidance counselor died. And we were super close. We talked all the time. And then my girlfriend broke up with me right before we spread her ashes.

Then shortly after that, my mom and little brother moved away and I had to move in with my friend. From the moment I knew everything was happening, to when they left, was in total two days. Then I tore up my ankle, which means I can’t play football my senior season. The season that is critical to getting a scholarship.

I am on medication for more recent events. I’ve harmed myself. And I’ve had thoughts of suicide again. In going through all this, I’ve been left with serious issues. I have abandonment issues, trust issues, anxiety, depression, stress, I can’t sleep, I don’t want to eat. I am mentally unstable. And I am trying to pull through this. And I hope to share this story to show people that they are not alone in their situations. And someone is always there.

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Anna W

I have just begun to find my voice, to find ME, and I have no intention of letting depression, anxiety, body image issues or anything else stop that. I really don't have a great way to end this so I'll just say . . . I care. Know that there is someone out there that cares and just try to remember that.

I remember very clearly in the third grade, in a new school, finding it very hard to eat in the crowded lunchroom. I’d never had this problem in my old school. My stomach ached and I felt nauseous, my throat was tight and the food on my tray was suddenly so unappealing. I went to the nurse. The first of many trips throughout the next, long, few years. I wouldn’t want to go out, not even with my family. I could barely eat in restaurants. School was hell even if I was fine on the outside. I became very good at hiding how I felt inside. I was petrified of gym class. Of lunch. Eventually, I couldn’t even focus in class and I felt like nothing mattered, like how I felt didn’t matter, but I had to keep going. I didn’t want to disappoint my family, didn’t want to cause problems at school. I knew the location of every bathroom in school and during which times they were least likely to have people in them. I became more familiar with those four walled stalls than any of my classmates. Not that I would tell them about any of this. I was the listener, the one who had a sarcastic sense if humor you could tell your troubles to.

I had no idea what I was going through was anxiety and depression,that I wasn’t supposed to HATE myself so much. I didn’t know that doing simple things like brushing my teeth and showering weren’t supposed to be so hard. I started counseling with no hope. It was like pulling teeth at first because when did I ever talk about my feelings like they actually mattered? My counselor (and my mom) greatly championed for me to get homeschooling and I will be forever grateful for that, I never would have graduated otherwise.

After, I slipped into depression worse than ever. I started self-harming worse than when I was in high school and will always have the scars. But I also came to know more about my mental illness. I learned that I mattered, even if I didn’t feel like it. I learned that my past, and even my family, had contributed to what I’m facing now and that this will be a life long struggle for me but suicide isn’t the answer and that asking for help when you need it, asking for what YOU need, isn’t being a burden. It’s what you deserve as a human being. Even if that means going to the hospital for your own safety, like I did. I am a patchwork of burn scars, tattoos, self-esteem issues and passion. I have just begun to find my voice, to find ME, and I have no intention of letting depression, anxiety, body image issues or anything else stop that.

I really don’t have a great way to end this so I’ll just say . . . I care. Know that there is someone out there that cares and just try to remember that.

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Mary

We shouldn't have to pretend to be someone else just to feel accepted! I am dedicating my life to removing the stigma associated with mental illness. I am grateful to Bring Change 2 Mind for starting the discussion. The masquerade is over! My illness is a part of me, much like the color of my hair or eyes. But it does not define me.

“Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting”. When I saw these words on a plaque in my therapist’s office, I knew it summed up everything I had been feeling for years.

I have struggled with major depressive disorder since childhood. I learned at an early age to hide my depression in order to be accepted by everyone else. I would never let others see me cry, and so I would go into periods of isolation when I felt a major depressive episode coming on. This often prevented me from getting close to others, because I was terrified of my secret being discovered.

Essentially, the stigma of my illness controlled my life. So much so that I have lost valuable friendships and nearly destroyed my marriage. BUT… Now I am through with the stigma.

We shouldn’t have to pretend to be someone else just to feel accepted! I am dedicating my life to removing the stigma associated with mental illness. I am grateful to Bring Change 2 Mind for starting the discussion. The masquerade is over! My illness is a part of me, much like the color of my hair or eyes. But it does not define me.

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Katie H

Generalized anxiety started to rule my life around age 13, as did the symptoms of anorexia: restriction, over exercising, calorie counting, and obsessive weighing. By age 14, I was on a cold, dark path toward death.

I was first diagnosed with depression at age 13, but my world was dark long before my first diagnosis. I was never suicidal, but everything was almost painfully numb. My life felt empty. Two years later, I was diagnosed with social and generalized anxiety and anorexia. My eating disorder took its root in my thoughts as early as age six, with body dysmorphia and a perception of food that led me to glamorize extreme weight loss. I’m not sure when these anorexic thoughts were triggered, but I think it had a lot to do with my extreme sensitivity to societal messages, low self esteem that stemmed from bullying, and a mother who struggled with disordered eating.

Around this time, social anxiety ran rampantly in my brain and left me so terrified of the world around me. Generalized anxiety started to rule my life around age 13, as did the symptoms of anorexia: restriction, over exercising, calorie counting, and obsessive weighing. By age 14, I was on a cold, dark path toward death.

At age 15, I was admitted against my will to inpatient treatment for anorexia for five months. I have been out of the hospital for about a year, and am still struggling quite a bit but have come further than I ever imagined. I am fighting PTSD in addition to anxiety, depression, and anorexia. I have battled self harm off and on, as well as suicidality. The eating disorder thoughts are terrible, but they don’t dictate my life most days.

I am living proof that there is hope.

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Amanda W

I have a serious problem and I will keep telling my story to every one. No one deserves to suffer like I do. I know that I don't deserve to feel this way. My hope with making this public is for someone to realize it's okay to have mental illness. You are not seeking attention you have a medical issue.

Hello fellow humans my name is Amanda and I have depression, anxiety and panic attacks. I first started experiencing depression when I was 14. I was raped on my high school campus and no matter what I did I was still forced to see him and interact with my rapist. He harassed me through out high school and it made me feel absolutely worthless. So I started cutting. To this day I still cut. I don’t do it with suicidal intentions. I just can’t afford medical care to properly treat my illness.

After high school I started working and going to work really helped my depression. I made friends who did not attend my high school who understood and supported me but in return working nonstop has given me anxiety. I was a server at a restaurant for about a year and I met some of the most amazing people. I even met a guy who understood and helped me deal with my past and move from it. But I was fired from this job and the guy left me. I couldn’t understand why I was fired so I took it out on the amazing people.

Since then I have struggled. Work helps my depression but fuels my anxiety and panic attacks. Some days it also triggers my self harm episodes. Whether it is cutting or hitting myself I have no control over the problem. I have tried to seek help but living in a small close minded town. I often get told I am just looking for attention.

I have a serious problem and I will keep telling my story to every one. No one deserves to suffer like I do. I know that I don’t deserve to feel this way. My hope with making this public is for someone to realize it’s okay to have mental illness. You are not seeking attention you have a medical issue. And that maybe you can stand up and help yourself in ways I have not.

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Angelina

Please if you suffer from mental illness or just some symptoms, go and as for help! I know it's hard, probably one of the hardest things you have to do: but it's worth the panic attack when you're on your way to the doctor, it's worth all the tears you cry just thinking about you appointment, it's worth not being able to eat because you're anxious about the appointment.

I’ve had symptoms like insomnia, carelessness and being in my own world since I was a kid. Back then no one did anything because they didn’t know what to do and it was left on its own for a few years. I always struggled with being extremely aggressive, what made it really hard to find friends. When I was 14 I started self-harming and excessive drinking, but I was good at school so no one really took that seriously. At 17 one of my sisters forced my mum to get me help, because I had cut way too deep. One year later I have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and Major Depression. Even diagnosed it was really hard for me to ask for help or to even talk about it. I was ashamed of my illnesses.

But I’m glad that after two years and a visit in a psychiatric hospital I can say that I’m better. I asked for help, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m not healed and I’ll never be, no one will, but I know now how my illnesses work and what I can do to prevent a relapse!

Please if you suffer from mental illness or just some symptoms, go and as for help! I know it’s hard, probably one of the hardest things you have to do: but it’s worth the panic attack when you’re on your way to the doctor, it’s worth all the tears you cry just thinking about you appointment, it’s worth not being able to eat because you’re anxious about the appointment.

But you have to go and you’ll get help and it will get better.

I’m 20 now and I can deal with my mental illnesses, and that made my life a lot better and easier.

It gets better, I promise.

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Anna K

For mental health week at my school, there was an anonymous drop box where students could write their stories with mental illnesses. I submitted my story, thinking it would be a good outlet to let out my emotions. My story was read in front of the entire school in an assembly, and I told one girl who I thought was my friend that it was my story. She proceeded to tell the entire grade, and of course, the entire grade proceeded to bully me more.

When I was in grade 3, my mom couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to be around anybody, and didn’t have many friends. She took me to the doctor, and then to a mental illness hospital, where I was diagnosed with social anxiety. I didn’t really understand what it meant, I thought I was just a bit shy, because that’s what my teacher would tell me. That same year, my teacher noticed I wouldn’t pay attention in class. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get through the lesson without getting distracted by something. I went back to the mental illness hospital, and was diagnosed with ADHD.

Since mental illnesses were something completely new to me, I didn’t understand why I was scared of people or why I couldn’t pay attention and listen to anything. Fast forward a few months, my best friend was switching schools, so I did too. We were at different schools, and he was my only friend, so I was terrified of a new school. First day of 4th grade, I cried the entire day. Nobody wanted to be near me, and nobody tried to talk to me. I isolated myself from everyone else, I was the weird kid. The asshole kids thought it would be funny to make fun of me, and I was emotionally bullied that entire year.

In 5th grade, there were two new people who didn’t get along with the other kids too. I made friends with them, and stuff wasn’t too bad. That’s when the physical bullying started. The mean kids would pile on top of me, and hold me down. They would call me names, throw things like chairs and basketballs at me, they hated me. I started to believe what they were saying was true, and that I really did deserve death.

I figured out what I had was depression after hearing the story of Amanda Todd in grade 6. So I was a 12 year old girl with social anxiety, ADHD, and depression. I finally left the school after grade 6, I thought I was finally free. I decided to go to an all girls private school, what could go wrong? In October of grade 7, one of my friends from my last school was diagnosed with lung cancer. He went through waves of severe depression, and when he was told he had gone terminal, he jumped off his balcony on the 20th floor. I was stricken with the worst depression and anxiety I had ever had, and I didn’t think I could go on. I also have a balcony, on the second floor. I stood on the edge, millimetres away from my wanted death. I thought about my other friend from my last school, and how hard it would be to lose your two best friends. I fell back onto the balcony, and went inside as if nothing had happened.

During grade 7, the emotional bullying started up again. There was one girl in particular who made up countless rumours about me, like that I only self-harmed for the attention and that I was born a boy and was transgender, and that’s why I was so ugly. It was around this time that I got more into music, bands like twenty øne piløts and Panic! At The Disco. By the time I was in grade 8, I was starting to make a recovery from my friends suicide. The bullying continued, I tried to ignore it. Much like what happened in my last school, I started believing what they were saying about me. In May of grade 8, my other friend from my old school took his life too. It was like getting hit by a bus, standing up, then getting hit by ten more immediately. My depression and anxiety multiplied, I wanted to die more than ever. I jumped off my balcony, but survived with merely a broken arm.

For mental health week at my school, there was an anonymous drop box where students could write their stories with mental illnesses. I submitted my story, thinking it would be a good outlet to let out my emotions. My story was read in front of the entire school in an assembly, and I told one girl who I thought was my friend that it was my story. She proceeded to tell the entire grade, and of course, the entire grade proceeded to bully me more. They would ask to sign my cast, then write “kill yourself for real this time” and “attention seeking whore”.

The only things that kept me going were music and my best friend. I changed schools after grade 8, and just recently graduated grade 9 at my new school. My new school is much more welcoming, I haven’t been bullied at all yet. In the 15 years of my life, I’ve dealt with multiple forms of anxiety, adhd, depression, 2 suicides, and endless bullying. Music and my best friends are what have kept and still keep me going.

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Katie O

A small thing that helped me was when a friend of mine asked me what panic attacks felt like. It felt amazing to tell her what they felt like to me and it took so much weight off my chest. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

I have anxiety, I have not been diagnosed by a psychiatrist, but mental illness runs in my family and my family and I are very well educated on mental illness. My sister has depression and many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins struggle with mental illnesses.

There is a reason I am not diagnosed… I am scared. I physically don’t feel as though I can talk to a psychiatrist. It scares me… everything got even worse when I switched schools this year. I had very consistent panic attacks.

In addition to this, there was a small time when I exercised more than I should have and ate less than I was supposed too. At the same time as all of this I started to really question my sexuality, something I have come to grips with now. I feel, at the current time, that I am doing slightly better.

A small thing that helped me was when a friend of mine asked me what panic attacks felt like. It felt amazing to tell her what they felt like to me and it took so much weight off my chest. Thanks for taking the time to read this. If I can (albeit slowly) be helped so can you

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Jay R

I began to study about happiness and now I am studying for my PhD in happiness -- psychology really, but with a focus on positive psychology and happiness. Now I want to teach others what I have learned and teach them to find happiness in their lives.

When I was six years old my grandmother came from Ohio and lived with my family in California for almost a year. The next time I saw my grandmother was several years later and the first thing she said to me was, “What happened? You used to be such a happy child!”

Somewhere along the line I had lost my happiness. Most of my adult life I have suffered from depression, sometimes trying to commit suicide. But then I made a determination to be happy no matter what. I knew that I wouldn’t always be happy and that at times I would still be sad or depressed, but I made the determination to get through these tough times and return to happiness once again.

I began to study about happiness and now I am studying for my PhD in happiness — psychology really, but with a focus on positive psychology and happiness.

Now I want to teach others what I have learned and teach them to find happiness in their lives.

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Kimberley D

Will I fully come to the surface? Will my true self give into this dark beast inside of me? I will not allow it. For everyday I have shown how I can overcome even a small battle against it, I WILL overcome this. And so can you. Speak up, call out till you are blue in the face if you have to, show how you aren’t a sufferer but a SURVIVOR. If you can even do the smallest thing like getting out of bed and do one thing that your brain tells you that you can’t. Know, that you are fighting it, you have conquered that part and you WILL come out of the darkness.

I have suffered from and still continue this ongoing battle against depression and anxiety.

I first started suffering from it in University, in my last year life was changing rapidly and I started not wanting to leave my bedroom. Life stood still. People carried on as normal and I looked on, amazed at how they can carry on with their day to day lives while I felt stuck, unable to move from the spot I was in. I didn’t want to do any work and being my third and final year, it was very important to graduate, ready for the next stage of my life.

It got so bad that a few times I would end up crying for no reason and contemplate suicide. Once, that happened around my boyfriends house and I had a plan all ready to end my life, I remember sitting there crying hysterically planning to pack my stuff, get on a bus and go down to the river and drown myself. My boyfriend then suggested that I should seek help from my university and so, I got in touch with the university’s mental health support. They provided me with counselling through the university which helped me tremendously. I went to my GP and got anti-depressant pills which I took off and on, just because I felt that I was already better when I took them. I thought I was cured…but thats the thing; depression can be an ongoing process and an off and on process, its not something that can just be overseen or discarded into the back of the mind and never heard from again. It impacts your life in many ways. I managed to finish my degree and just scraped through.

I currently am still suffering from depression and take the anti-depressant pills but it has helped me live a life I once thought I didn’t deserve. I go out with friends, family, co-workers. I do activities, I challenge myself every-single-day to do something different, go out of my comfort zone, ask questions that my brain believes is stupid and not worth it to ask, I talk to strangers in and outside of work, just to make sure that I can beat this depression, this black hole I am in. My confidence is gaining, I feel like I am slowly coming into myself. That the person who I once was? who is dying inside me, is now slowly being pulled out to the surface.

Will I fully come to the surface? Will my true self give into this dark beast inside of me? I will not allow it. For everyday I have shown how I can overcome even a small battle against it, I WILL overcome this. And so can you. Speak up, call out till you are blue in the face if you have to, show how you aren’t a sufferer but a SURVIVOR. If you can even do the smallest thing like getting out of bed and do one thing that your brain tells you that you can’t. Know, that you are fighting it, you have conquered that part and you WILL come out of the darkness.

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David S

I cannot lose hope. I've discovered this word brings meaning to life.

I have always been afraid of being sick. Since I was a kid, I would have really bad anxiety surrounding people vomiting, or myself. But I used to think it was normal and that someday I would get rid of it. I think I have been sick only twice in my whole life. But in 2012, after thinking more about this fear, I developed my first Panic attack. It was terrifying, and still is. I couldn’t eat without feeling anxious, going to school was hard and I would constantly think about this body reaction. So, in 2013, I discovered I had EMETOPHOBIA. I have always been really ashamed of my fears, but last year I decided to talk to my family and to my friends about it. College is really hard, and this year I was diagnosed with clinical depression. It was horrible as well.

I have better days, but the hard ones beat me and let me down in despair and hopelessness. I have been on antidepressants, which really helped me with the sleep and the eating. I feel better about depression, but I haven’t overcome this phobia. Right now I am having an anxiety attack. I cannot lose hope. I’ve discovered this word brings meaning to life.

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Kasmine R

As a writer, this has probably been the toughest story for me to write. Although, I wish I could erase the memories, I know that my story will help other people understand mental illness, and, most importantly, I will help people realize that their not alone. My story begins with the darkness; the darkness that overcomes your world, clouds your mind, and develops into hopelessness.

As a writer, this has probably been the toughest story for me to write. Although, I wish I could erase the memories, I know that my story will help other people understand mental illness, and, most importantly, I will help people realize that their not alone. My story begins with the darkness; the darkness that overcomes your world, clouds your mind, and develops into hopelessness. On May 17th, 2016, I attempted suicide for the second time in my life. I wanted to end all of the pain and I wanted to drown in my depression. I had no faith in seeking help or praying that their was a light at the end of the tunnel. I called my parents right before I proceeded to cut my wrist. I was laying on the kitchen floor, my eyes closed, and silently crying while my parents begged me to not give up on life. “Please, Kasmine, don’t do this,” My daddy cried. “Please, live for me.”

That’s the only reason I’m here to write my story. My neighbors found me, took me to the hospital, and the next morning I was admitted to Peachford Mental Hospital in Atlanta, GA. I stayed in the hospital for three days and at first I refused to believe that I belonged there. I thought that I was stronger than the other patients and I desperately begged to leave, and continue my chaotic life. I was a writer, a blogger, and playwright. I had rehearsals to direct, a cast to manage, and show to put on at the end of June. However, once I accepted the fact that I had to put my mental health on the forefront, I knew that nothing else mattered until I received the help that I needed; the help that I deserved. I met the most amazing friends while in the hospital. For so long, I had battled with depression and my phobias and I felt so alone, but at Peachford Hospital I was able to find women who could relate to me. We were like a group of super heroes with secret powers that the rest of the world couldn’t handle. Sometimes we couldn’t even handle our own “powers”. After I was released from the hospital, my parents picked me up and they, along with my oldest sister, helped me pack all of my belongings from my one bedroom apartment. I had to break my lease and move from Atlanta back to Alabama with my parents to seek much needed therapy, and that’s where I am right now.

That’s pretty much how I ended up sitting on my old bed, in my old bedroom while typing this story to share with you guys. I begin cognitive behavior therapy to confront my two phobias of dogs and cats on Friday. Although I don’t know what the future has in store for me, I no longer allow PTSD, depression, and anxiety to dictate my life. Right before I attempted suicide, I had barricaded myself in my apartment. I was afraid to leave because of my fear of cats and I felt so alone. Only a few people understand how confined and empty you feel when you’re living with a phobia. No one realizes how many times I would sit in my car for two hours hiding from my neighbor’s cats. Once I finally was capable of getting out of my car, I never made it to my apartment door without peeing on myself. That’s only scratching the surface of my phobia, but I am determined to overcome it.

No one said that life is always roses and cupcakes with extra sprinkles. Life isn’t always easy but I’m devoted to ending the stigma of mental illness. I no longer suffer from it but I fight it everyday and I will continue to fight it because I am not a victim, but a survivor. I will conquer this even if it’s only because I need to for someone else. I just want others to know that you’re not alone and we can survive together. Please don’t allow the darkness to drag you down and drain the hope and faith for better days. You have a purpose to live so, please, don’t give up on yourself.

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Rachel B

I'm often told because I'm smiling, because I laugh and enjoy life that there can't possibly be something wrong with me.

I’m often told because I’m smiling, because I laugh and enjoy life that there can’t possibly be something wrong with me. The truth is, every day something will give me some sort of anxiety. Sometimes it’s taking a simple jog, other times it’s something as easy as ordering coffee. For me personally, that anxiety often leads to severe depressive episodes. It’s as if my mind is against me. So I do the fake it until I make it and hope that it works that day.

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Roger R

In my household growing up, I have come to realize that there were more things not discussed than were ever talked about. Most of these topics left out of conversations would be the basics of our lives. Items like how I REALLY felt about something, problems from a parent's childhood that were left unspoken, the ability to sit down and talk about something that was a TABOO item.

How do you view your life and the life of those around you? This includes family, friends, neighbors and the people you pass on the street every day. Is your life better or worse than others are? Perhaps you don’t really care about others and the status of their lives and that’s fine. But whether you realize it or not people do “size” each other up. If we look close we can see more things that make us more alike than different. We all started as infants with a parent or guardian to teach us what we needed to know as we grew. That is what makes up the similarity of humans, but the way our teaching occurred will probably be where the differences start.

From infancy we are taught what is “good” and “bad” but as we develop and grow, we sometimes learn that our teachings may not always be accurate. Our parents taught us what THEY believed to be correct. If you don’t personally like spinach, it will be tough to teach someone that spinach is a good thing. But learning about the factors of life is much more complicated than spinach. This brings out the radical in us, when we realize something that has been labeled bad for so many years may not in fact be so bad. We live today as we were taught to, that is life. The baby boomer generation to me (I’m in that group too) has so many obstacles that are needed to overcome. This is NOT saying anything negative about our parents; they were doing what they knew as they knew it. Our parents’ generation was so much different (not bad) than todays. Simpler is probably not the correct adjective as it was not simple, but things were thought of in a different fashion. The one that I would like to focus on is the role of communication between people as it was then and now. I will only speak of my own perception of my family, but I think there will be a lot of people that will see striking similarities between my upbringing and theirs. Maybe we will learn something about ourselves that we didn’t know before and if it was something troublesome, then that much better for us.

In my household growing up, I have come to realize that there were more things not discussed than were ever talked about. Most of these topics left out of conversations would be the basics of our lives. Items like how I REALLY felt about something, problems from a parent’s childhood that were left unspoken, the ability to sit down and talk about something that was a TABOO item.

That did not have to always mean sex, but more so about personal topics like feelings, love and to be simply able to openly discuss ANYTHING freely to each other. As many conversations I shared with my parents, I cannot recall a single one that was in depth enough to ever change anything. Very superficial I would say, but that was the way it was and life went on.

Another factor that I realized had a very negative effect on me as I grew up was the fact that I was completely sheltered by my mother. She was extremely over protective of me and that cost me dearly as I grew. At age 20-30-40 and up I simply was not my mother’s “little baby” and that was never accepted totally. Her shadow covered me well into adulthood and caused me to mentally stunt my growth. Despite what is being said, I do not want to paint a picture that my parents were anything but loving and caring. I loved them dearly, but personal factors within their lives that were rarely discussed openly, affected them as well as me.

My life was being controlled by Depression and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and that condition went undiagnosed until around 40 years old. Early childhood memories are vague, of course, but I do remember some symptoms appearing before my teens. It is so strange to realize that I know firsthand what these diseases can do to alter a life, but it’s true. Where this ever came from is again another mystery, although the probable suggestion is it came either through heredity or by means of upbringing. It’s irrelevant where this condition came from, although the idea of heredity does frighten me. The reason that it went so long without treatment is the one fact that will always make me angry, both with parents and me. The defense, for both parties, is that there was nothing ever discussed about these conditions and nobody recognized or knew it was present. No one’s fault for not recognizing something we knew anything about. I’m not sure if fortunate is the right word to use here, but my meltdown did occur (fortunately) and it was realized that I was in desperate need of professional help.

Recovery and the healing process had begun, this will be ongoing. Since that time it seems that I have been able to step back and actually view my life from early on to present with such a different perspective. The events that occurred on the negative side are now viewed as lessons for the future and I’ve learned more about myself then I thought possible.

This also taught me to look back at my parents and growing years, viewing this with a better understanding of why and how different things factored in. You really never do stop learning about life and to a certain degree I’ve only started.

The complete story behind the factors in my parent’s lives will probably never be known. I refer to factors as issues that probably affected the lives of my mom and dad in a negative way. I do know that my father was a heavy drinker, perhaps an alcoholic. He drank, smoked and never took care of himself in a way that most of us will today. In retrospect I think he lived in a rut. Same routine every day, no change. I never recall any father and son talks, but I now know we both had a lot to discuss. Perhaps he did not know how to talk to his son because his father never talked to him. Again the teaching and learning factor comes in. He lived his life with total disregard of his health, but I wonder if he was happy in doing so. If he was, then is that to say he was wrong? I think so, but that is my own opinion and we’re back to the correct teaching of Good and Bad.

My mother was a nervous wreck and my dad gave that term to her. She worried about everything and as was mentioned earlier became very over protective of me. If you can remember that dork in your classroom that came to school with boots on when it was raining, well that was me. I wish I could have said “no” to my mom on occasion. Respectfully of course and with all my love intact, but a simple no might have worked. I want again to reiterate that I don’t endorse “talking back” or any form of disrespect toward anyone. But even at an early age, I think it’s ok to voice your opinion in a way that promotes conversation. The child should not always, if at all, win but putting two separate opinions together and reaching a conclusion is healthy and compared to what I did as a child which was say nothing, is a better alternative. Yes, parents are in charge and if you want your son to wear a sweater on an eighty-degree day, he had better do so. But if he doesn’t want to, talk about it to reach a good conclusion. Sometimes I feel that my mom controlled all that I did in some way. Again, that is how it was but the over protection caused me to grow very slowly mentally.

Once I explored the world on my own it became a very scary place and lacked the experience to do things for myself. But mom was still watching, even though I was going further and further from her sight. Don’t think she ever accepted that and tried to continue to hold but it was getting more difficult.

So why do I claim problems in my parents’ lives? Maybe there were no problems in their own minds, but I still think they lived their lives with things that never were resolved and had they been about to bring some closure, might have had an impact on the things they did and way they felt. At this point we will most likely never know the answer to questions relating to our parents, but this certainly can serve as a valuable lesson to their children. If you are fortunate enough to have a living parent there would be no reason to think they would change anything at this point. Don’t try to, unless it’s something that relates to health or overall wellbeing. Their lives are being lived as they see fit for themselves. Could there be a change? That would certainly depend on their own beliefs and desires. Love them for what they are and do what is needed to fulfill their lives. And don’t ever forget to be thankful for all they gave for you, even though the life they live may not be ideal to you. Whether or not you think of it, there are life experiences that made them the way they are today and how they were before. They were brought up to know good and bad from their parents, just as you taught from them. Have we made adjustments to their teachings? Probably and that is good as you have changed something to bring it up to date in today’s world. One difference now is that we seem to want to talk more openly to each other with the hope of learning and growing from our personal experiences. Sharing, teaching, learning, and practicing is the pattern we follow with adjustments being constantly done throughout the generations, as we continue the cycle over and over again.

There are many forms of communication that people use to express themselves to others. To get ideas or points across I have found writing it down (like here) and talking to others in similar situations to be helpful. This is not the main reason for my presentations existing, but it’s a very human form of communication that brings across thoughts and opinions. It also covers various chapters in life that are both eventful and meaningful. There are frequent references to Depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as well as Dysfunction within the family. In reality this is what I lived through every day. At the time, my feelings were developing and it’s a fair statement that my emotions were being stretched out of bounds and even though some things within my parent’s actions may have been disagreeable to me, I would have not questioned them.

You didn’t question them because they KNEW what was right and wrong. End of story, at least that’s what I thought, never realizing how would I would be effected as I grew older. My hope is to seek out the many similarities that people have regarding each other’s lives and to share those moments with others. Maybe we can all learn something along the way, too. That can have a very positive effect on an individual’s own life and act as the learning tool we sometimes need.

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Candy

Being brave enough to acknowledge that there's a line between feeling my feelings and allowing my feelings to overwhelm me, I was able to take back control of my life. There's no shame in acknowledging your feelings.

Almost two years ago I packed up my bags and a U-Haul truck and drove, by myself, from New York City to Los Angeles, CA to pursue my dreams. I left all of my close friends and family behind on the East Coast, which made the transition a little harder and I definitely felt isolated, lonely, and home sick.

In a city full of people and potential, I would feel lost and alone. Depression, to greater or lesser degrees, runs in my family, just like it does in many families. I spotted the signs of being on a slippery slope of allowing myself to feel the natural feelings of missing my family and friends and accepting change in my life, to allowing sadness, fatigue, and loneliness to consume me.

I took control and started to meditate, keep a journal, exercise daily, talked daily to family and friends, and was mindful to eat healthy foods that gave me energy. Being brave enough to acknowledge that there’s a line between feeling my feelings and allowing my feelings to overwhelm me, I was able to take back control of my life. There’s no shame in acknowledging your feelings.

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TJ

We should share our stories and let our voices be heard. We need to show people that mental illness is not just black & white; that there is an entire plethora of emotions that people deal with. We need to show people that mental illness is NOT a sign of weakness or invalidity. Most importantly, we need for people to understand that this illness isn't born out of ignorance or a crave for attention-- but that it's very, very real.

#WhatsYourStory #MindOurFuture #MentalHealth
Join @bringchange2mind, myself and countless others as we continue to share our stories, and start the conversation to end the stigma.

Yes, it’s true. Everyone knows me as the happy, fun and (hysterically) funny person that I am… but I face an illness, as so many others do, on the daily. Two years ago I was diagnosed with anxiety-depression. My symptoms ranged from nervousness, irritability, lack of sleep and a sadness so great that I often wonder how I even overcame it. I distanced myself from family & friends and constantly struggled to get out of the house to function in society. It took a pretty low moment in my life to finally be able to seek help by talking to a medical professional. I was prescribed medication, and slowly but surely recovered.

Today, I can proudly say I’m stronger than ever. However, this doesn’t mean that the illness has simply disappeared forever. What I went through, happened. And who I was, existed. Mental Health is a very important topic that shouldn’t be talked about lightly.

We should share our stories and let our voices be heard. We need to show people that mental illness is not just black & white; that there is an entire plethora of emotions that people deal with. We need to show people that mental illness is NOT a sign of weakness or invalidity. Most importantly, we need for people to understand that this illness isn’t born out of ignorance or a crave for attention– but that it’s very, very real.

Comment below with questions, I won’t be afraid to answer. Let’s show people that there should be a conversation had, and remind those with mental illness that they are not fighting the great fight alone.
Share your story at @bringchange2mind or comment below.
#WhatsYourStory #MindOurFuture #MentalHealth

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Nicole R

Everything in life takes work. Degrees, relationships, careers etc. I look at mental health in the same manner. For some people it takes work to feel happy, content. There are good professionals out there. They can help. And for anyone who is feeling alone- You Are Not. To all of those who struggle, I have faith in you. Keep going.

I’m a fairly private person. I know there’s a lot about me and my life that would shock people. But I also believe that there’s a chance that sharing could reach a person, touch a person. So, for that reason alone, I choose to share. I’m 38. Ive worked in the mental health field…I also struggle with clinical depression and anxiety.

My life has been challenging, since childhood. I come from a troubled family. (I don’t know why I allow admitting that to cause me so much shame). This caused me to experience depression since as young as 9.

In the past decade alone I lost my father to brain cancer, a close friend in a plane crash, and had two car accidents that left with me with a broken nose, torn labrum, fractured sacrum, herniations, nerve damage and a defeated spirit. I live in chronic pain. I’ve been active my entire life. It has always been an outlet for me. My accidents robbed me of my strongest coping skill. I slipped into the deepest depression, isolating myself from the world. Not showering. Not eating. Crying all night, sleeping all day.

One afternoon in January of 2012 I overdosed on my pain medication in attempt to end my life. The days following were a blur, but I was hospitalized, kept for a few days and returned back into the world in which I had lost faith in.

Baby steps.

It’s taken me years to get back to where I was physically and I continue to journey down the road to get to where I would like to be emotionally.

Baby steps.

The stigma behind mental health is disappointing . One should not feel embarrassed to admit to depression or otherwise just as one shouldn’t feel embarrassed to admit to having cancer. It’s an illness! Its a shame that people easily throw around judgments, opinions, etc. Perhaps it stems from fear and ignorance. After all, how well do you really know a person? Even those you think you know may be carrying a burden so heavy, privately, like I did.

Everything in life takes work. Degrees, relationships, careers etc. I look at mental health in the same manner. For some people it takes work to feel happy, content. There are good professionals out there. They can help. And for anyone who is feeling alone- You Are Not. To all of those who struggle, I have faith in you. Keep going.

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Carmen D

Did you know it's possible to be depressed and grateful at the same time?

Depression is your fault OR IS IT?

Hey do you know that you have control over how you feel good and bad? Oh did you know there is someone way worse than you? Well how about things could be worse? Why are you being ungrateful? What is there to be sad about? You are always sad and look outside the sky is blue someone lost their life today? Someone is blind and someone is deaf and you’re acting like this? Suicide is so selfish how dare you leave people asking and wondering forever you coward!

Hey do you know that you don’t have control over if you feel good or bad even to a certain extent? Did you know someone is better off than you? How do you justify that? Things could be better but how would that help saying a person is worse off than you? Did you know it’s possible to be depressed and grateful at the same time? Did you know that suicide isn’t selfish but it’s selfish not to listen to the cry for help? Did you know all your words hurt? Do you know they make us blind to our reality? It makes us deaf to hope? What if I told you it wasn’t a pity party but you blaming and throwing a pity party?

So depression IsN’t your fault! Did you know it could be inherited? Did you know there could be a chemical imbalance? Did you know people who have physical infirmities get a pass but people with mental illness don’t get a pass? What if I told you right now at any minute you could have clinical depression? How would you feel if someone said these things to you after a major event.

Depression is a prisoner in itself and you shouldn’t be blamed for it. Seek help. There are people out there so don’t feel alone. Know that your feelings and concerns are valid. Know that there is hope even if it seems cliche and most of all never feel inferior because of your illness. Because in the end you’re stronger anyway.

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Dalena

Mental health is just as important as our physical health. Our attitudes in regards to mental health needs to be of compassion, support and openness. Let’s not look down and let’s not silence those who are affected by mental illness.

Two years ago I went through a period of time where I lived with mental illness. I had lost my car, and depression took over my life. I ended up on a walk that was to result on the Lion’s Gate Bridge where I would end my life. By some miracle, I fought the thoughts and sought support. I became better, and the illness started to have less of a grip on me.

As of last week, I started my first counseling session and will continue until I speak kinder to myself and believe in my worth; until I learn how to better cope with the fears and anxiety that overcomes me during trying times.

Mental health is just as important as our physical health. Our attitudes in regards to mental health needs to be of compassion, support and openness. Let’s not look down and let’s not silence those who are affected by mental illness.

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Scott

I'm not going to lie, i'm not cured, it's just not possible. But one thing I can promise is that it will ALWAYS get better. No matter what you're going through, it's going to pass. Everything happens for a reason, so no matter what it is, something good will come out of it eventually.

I’m not good at this but i’m gonna try. Since the age of about 11 i’ve had problems with depression. I would pick up a knife and just wish I could end it. I got help that year, and it went away for a little while for the most part. Then at around the time of Sophomore year of high school it came back. I had just transferred to a new school that was absolute shit. I hated everything, the classes and the students mainly. I needed help so we went looking again. After a few therapists that I didn’t like I finally found one. I saw him for about a year until I was also sent to a psychiatrist.

I’ve been put on just about everything that’s been approved for my age, and either they wouldn’t work or they would cause weight gain which would make my situation 10 times worse. Then I was officially diagnosed, Major Depressive Disorder, a few months ago. I needed a diagnosis because i kept wondering “what the hell is wrong with me?” I thought it was something else, even though deep down i knew it was depression.

My mother was diagnosed a few years ago and i’m a lot like her, so I guess it was self explanatory. There’s always been so much anger, insecurity, all the other bad stuff. I’m not going to lie, i’m not cured, it’s just not possible. But one thing I can promise is that it will ALWAYS get better. No matter what you’re going through, it’s going to pass. Everything happens for a reason, so no matter what it is, something good will come out of it eventually.

I’m currently in senior year of high school and I can see the (figurative) finish line. Even though these last few weeks are going by as slowly as humanly possible, I know the struggle of high school will end soon. This is getting long, so i’m going to end this soon. But even though things aren’t perfect right now, i don’t regret anything, because everything that has happened to me has led me here. And though it’s not perfect, for the moment, i’m alright. And that’s all I can ask for.

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Daniel W

I think if I had found this website sooner, I could have saved my family this despair. And now, 6 months later, I'm glad I found a website that can help people who are going through what I did. And for all the people out there in the BC2M community, I say : THANK YOU. You guys are doing a magnificent job!

When I was a child, if I had heard that someone had depression, I would think that this person was idle.  All this, because we live in such a conservative society that has a ridiculous social stigma.

This year I was diagnosed with depression after I tried to kill myself. I’ve spent months living with horrible thoughts, and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t take them out of my head and I appealed to suicide. I took three boxes of sleeping pills. After taking them all, I blacked out.  I just remember being at home after two days in the hospital.

I think if I had found this website sooner, I could have saved my family this despair. And now, 6 months later, I’m glad I found a website that can help people who are going through what I did.  And for all the people out there in the BC2M community, I say : THANK YOU. You guys are doing a magnificent job!

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Julia A

Those days were long, exacting, their edges sharp. I would not wish that pain on my worst enemy. I would shield even the most unholy person from it. There was nothing easy about it. There was no miracle remedy, in pill form or otherwise. Make no mistake, I fought my way back to the light, crawling on hands and knees, bruised, bleeding. The light came in small, barely tangible fragments. The darkness still did its best to extinguish it. Then, eventually, it was gone.

Those Days
By Julia K. Agresto

I look in the mirror. My face is foreign, my eyes sullen. My skin is not my own. I am living with a stranger, and the stranger is me.

You’ll feel better tomorrow, I tell myself. You’ll be fine. Tomorrow becomes today, and I still feel the same. I am not better. I am not fine.

I don’t know who I am anymore. I have found myself in the grips of anxiety and depression, the result of a recent string of events – most notably, losing my job – and quite possibly also the culmination of a long series of losses and letdowns, whether of my own volition or not.

I never expected to be single, living alone and unemployed in my mid 20’s, collapsing under the weight of everything that has gone wrong, every personal failure, real or imagined. I see photos on social media of friends and others who appear to be having the time of their lives. Meanwhile, I can barely get out of bed or cook myself a meal, and most of them don’t even seem to notice or care.

Some mornings I wake up, if I’ve even slept, and half expect to jump out of bed with the vigor of my old self. Good as new, miraculously cured, as if the darkness of night carried away all the hurt and the morning light replaced it with healing.

Some nights I close my eyes and think how it would feel to be someone else, even for an hour. To feel whole again. To be able to piece myself together like a jigsaw puzzle until I was complete, a nice coherent picture to hang on the wall. I know this is irrational. I am broken, at least for now. There will be no neat, logical rearranging of my pieces. There is no amount of glue that can hold me together.

I go through the motions as best I can. Even the simple ones feel impossible. I barely eat or sleep. I lose weight, and lose interest in anything and everything I once cared about. I wonder how and when I became so wrecked. How did this happen? The answer never comes. It just happened. That’s the most I can manage. It’s not enough, but it has to be. At least for now.

Many nights I sit frozen, alone in the dark, terrified. The darkness is my keeper now and if I move, if I make myself known, if I try to become too big, it will see me. It will smell my fear and my feigned courage and knock me down again. So I stay small.

Then one day, somehow, the fog begins to lift. I can’t pinpoint exactly how or when it happens, but I slowly start to feel pieces of myself come back to me. I start enjoying things again, even if only slightly. A sunny day, a cup of tea, a warm breeze. I feel less indifferent. These are small victories. It is not instant, but rather a gradual return to my past state of being. It feels uncomfortable, like trying to squeeze into too-small clothing. As if I’ve shed a skin and now am trying to get back inside of it. And then it feels familiar, like returning home after a tiresome journey.

Those days were long, exacting, their edges sharp. I would not wish that pain on my worst enemy. I would shield even the most unholy person from it. There was nothing easy about it. There was no miracle remedy, in pill form or otherwise. Make no mistake, I fought my way back to the light, crawling on hands and knees, bruised, bleeding. The light came in small, barely tangible fragments. The darkness still did its best to extinguish it. Then, eventually, it was gone.

Depression and anxiety are incredibly isolating. It’s a vicious cycle because you want nothing more than to keep yourself hidden, and yet you so desperately need the support and encouragement of others if there is to be any hope of coming out on the other side. I learned this the hard way. I also learned how many other people have experienced what I went through, or something similar. But there is so much shame, so much fear of sharing this deeply personal and painful part of ourselves, that oftentimes it gets banished to that dark corner where we send all of the things we don’t want to see or feel or look at ever again. An eternal time-out. It’s easier that way.

The problem is, for better or worse, like it or not, this experience is part of me. Does it define who I am? No. But it is a small piece of my big story, and to omit it would be to tell an incomplete tale. It has its place and that’s where I keep it. I don’t let it run the show. But acknowledging that it happened gives it some meaning, talking about it helps others who are struggling, and recognizing how I got through it and came out stronger makes me feel like it wasn’t all a fruitless ordeal.

What I want for anyone reading this to realize is this one simple truth: you are not alone. There are people who care and want to help. I realize that all sounds like some nonsense recycled cliché, but it’s not. You aren’t the only person who has ever been where you are, nor are you the last person who will stand in the place that you’re in. To be human is to suffer. To conquer suffering makes us more resilient. You just have to get through the darkness. I’m proof that it can be done.

Those days were hell. These days are light. I couldn’t get here without first being there.

Somehow I found myself again. Somehow I found more than was there before. Somehow I gleaned a lesson from all the pain, even if it was buried deep and had to be sought out and excavated and dusted off. We can never stop fighting, no matter how futile it seems, no matter how many battles we lose along the way. We never know when we will win the war.

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Meg F

The reason I felt this urge today to share my story is that the stigma we all talk about and fight against happened to me in a very real and intimate way just yesterday, by my very own family, the people who love me most. My husband and 14 year old daughter.

Hi. My name is Meg. 47 year old wife and mother. I am a person living with depression from as far back as I can remember. It is a mild, yet chronic, coming and going dependent on sunlight and seasonal changes, and triggered by just about anything. Been on the same med for quite a while now and thinking it may be time to seek therapy again. I sleep way more than the average person needs to because it feels peaceful and safe. The dark days, unfortunately, are greater than the days that I feel pure joy and contentment.

I have never felt that I did not want to live, but there are some periods of time that it is hard to function, with even the simplest of daily tasks being excruciating to participate in and accomplish. Then comes the guilt. It is just this constant grind of angst, and the process of pushing it away and keeping it at bay. And then on the good days I try to truly acknowledge it and live in the moment.

The reason I felt this urge today to share my story is that the stigma we all talk about and fight against happened to me in a very real and intimate way just yesterday, by my very own family, the people who love me most. My husband and 14 year old daughter. I am very open about my depression and my life is very much like an open book to people who care to listen. It is a way to educate, plus it is healing and therapeutic for me personally to allow myself to be vulnerable and open about my struggles. So we talk openly about my depression as a family, but there is no real acknowledgement there, no real action of their part to know fully what it is like. They are afraid of it, as if it is contagious and they might catch it, and it is just too uncomfortable for them to talk about. They could ask me anything and I would share. I’ve talked quite a bit, in fact, with my 3 teenage children, so that they know what they could be up against in case the genetics of my family line of mental illness disrupt their lives. So last night they openly mocked me for having “multiple personalities like Sybil”, joked and laughed in front of me about it, and expected that I, too, would not be offended and should join in on the fun. My husband make a crack about me not being normal, and I finally had to say something along the lines of “wow, you certainly wouldn’t make fun of a person living with cancer, but it’s ok to when it is a condition affecting someone’s brain and moods.”

It hurt deeply, but I didn’t let on. I just sucked it in and pushed it away and got over it. But it was very real for me in that moment and just crushed me that they could be so cruel. So I’ll end with a poem I scribbled today, which I sometimes do, out of no where, when I can’t sleep:

She saw the world all around her, but wasn’t in it.

The edge of the cocoon, that thickness of numbness,
existed between her and what normal life looked like.

Beyond her reach.
Where happy people did life.
What was it to feel that?
Only fleeting moments to know.

Yet life happened, or whatever this is called.
Not a wasted life, to be sure.
Blessings and gratitude fill up many a day.
But also guilt.
For the ineptness.

Trapped, she is banging on the window.
Don’t you see her?
Can’t you hear her?
She’s screaming.
No sound.
And she is so tired.
Tired of her.

She sits motionless.
Feeling foolish, but not lonely.
A slug, yet not sad.
Just lifeless. Hollow.
With fake smiles so the kids won’t see and have their lives be less than what they deserve.
Hold it together, please.
Oh joy, to be you.

Thank you for allowing this space to write. It can be very healing!

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Ruth K

I have a passion to erase the stigma of mental illness and bring attention to the importance of accurate diagnosis and family intervention. As a writer, it gives me the opportunity to tell the story of my siblings and myself. Only I am left and for this reason I have hope that somehow in some way, others will be encouraged by our story. That will make the pain of grieving these losses a bit more easier to bear. I must speak out for them. Their voices have been silenced.

I was diagnosed with chronic post traumatic stress disorder after being treated for bipolar disorder for over ten years. In and out of treatment every year for the ten years that I was in an emotionally and mentally abusive relationship with my first husband. I’m fortunate after having had some less than stellar doctors to have found a neuropsychiatrist that offerred me hope and the opportunity to be a part of my treatment. In addition I see a LCSW for therapy on a regular basis.

I had a brother and sister who passed away that both suffered with depression and anxiety. My sister died in August, 2015 having taken her life after several previous attempts. My brother passed away in a horrific auto accident. I am the remaining sibling of the three of us. Because of this, I have a passion to erase the stigma of mental illness and bring attention to the importance of accurate diagnosis and family intervention.

As a writer, it gives me the opportunity to tell the story of my siblings and myself. Only I am left and for this reason I have hope that somehow in some way, others will be encouraged by our story. That will make the pain of grieving these losses a bit more easier to bear. I must speak out for them. Their voices have been silenced.

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Sara B

When I was living through the darkest, scariest part of this ordeal, I knew I was no different than Philip Seymour Hoffman. Addicts are addicts. Withdrawal symptoms are painful, no matter the drug. I don’t know why people don’t believe us when we say we do not choose to be mentally ill, we do not choose to become addicted to anything. It was hurtful to read the comments I read on Facebook following Hoffman’s death. Following Whitney Houston’s death. Following Amy Winehouse’s death. Hurtful because I get it. I completely get it, and telling me that the completely horrible feeling of not wanting to feel at all anymore is something I choose to feel, couldn’t be further from the truth.

We do not choose mental illness and we do not choose addiction.

If you think otherwise, then get on your knees right now and thank God, because you have never experienced the true horror that is addiction. You have never suffered through mental illness. You are one of those people who happened to be born with a “normal” brain. Many times I’ve been jealous of you, but I’m not anymore. These are the cards I was dealt. I often think that God just took the stack of cards and flicked them out onto the population, and is then sitting back, watching crazy situation after crazy situation unfold. God has one hell of a sense of humor.

I quit drinking two and a half years ago. I didn’t choose to become an alcoholic. An addict is born an addict. We are born with a genetic predisposition, something in our brains that doesn’t signify when enough is enough. It’s never enough. Never. It took for me to become a completely different person, and one that I didn’t like at all anymore, for me to realize I had to quit drinking. Something else happened; this power came over me, and helped me make the decision. God was part of the decision.

I’ve never been someone of blind faith. I’m always questioning the existence of God. The intellectual part of me overpowers the intuitive part of me, and because I don’t have concrete proof of God, I don’t believe. At least, that’s how it’s been up until this point. What happened to me this week changed all that.

When I quit drinking, I felt as if God for the first time in my life was really present. I felt it. This decision to quit was bigger than I was. It was fate, combined with my decision to quit. That’s something else I’ve always had a hard time with. Is it fate or is it free will? Well, my therapist thinks it’s both. Now I believe that, too. It is incredibly hard for me to not think in black and white terms. It’s all or nothing. Go big or go home. My brain is wired differently than a “normal” person’s. I am bipolar. I am an addict. This is where much of the population seems to step in and voice their opinions about addiction being a choice. About anxiety being for “pussies,” as one of my Facebook friends stated quite confidently this week. Man up, pussy.

Anxiety is real. It is very real. It is biological, not a choice. I know this with every fiber of my being. Depression is real. So horribly, horrifically, terribly real. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to die. And I’m an intelligent person with a lot going for me – everything going for me. Please tell me why I’d choose to feel suicidal. The answer is, I don’t. And for people to minimize depression, to scoff at it, to trivialize the very real thoughts I’ve had about wanting to kill myself because nothing is good – I don’t care how everything appears to people on the outside – depression is biological. I love my children more than anything. I love Andy. I love my parents. Yet, when I’m depressed, that doesn’t matter. All that matters is the here and now, and it is horrible. There is no future in depression. The only thing I can ask you to do is to take my word for it. Trust me, Philip Seymour Hoffman did not choose to die. He did not choose his mental state. He did not choose to be an addict. I am no different than he is. Addicts crave a high. Once the high is achieved, the brain is automatically chasing the next level of high. It’s like an elevator that’s rising to the top, but stops on every floor. And suddenly is going by itself; no one is pushing the buttons. One beer used to get me tipsy. That wasn’t enough anymore. I needed that next level of high. Two beers was a little better, but nothing like the euphoria of three beers. Of four. Of five. It’s never enough. Never.

I found God again this week. I was telling my therapist yesterday, that all this time, the past few months, I’ve been wondering, where the fuck is God? The answer is, God’s always been here. It’s, where the fuck was I? I know this because I felt God’s arm around me this week in a way that I’ve never experienced. True, I had a life-changing experience when I quit drinking. I found God. As my therapist said, though, as human beings we grow, and then we regress. It’s normal. We take a few steps forward, then take a few steps back. It’s life. Well, I had regressed and didn’t seem to be going forward again. I was frustrated and lost. I lost God. In the back of my mind, I knew this. It just took a dramatic experience for it to really sink in for me.

While I gave up alcohol, I still smoked, and I took Ativan for anxiety. It calmed my nerves. It was something I could still do to achieve pleasure. Except I discovered the electronic cigarette. You see, in the past when I thought I was addicted to smoking, I was wrong. I really didn’t smoke much at all. With this new invention, however, I could do it anywhere. All day.

My electronic cigarette had become a permanent fixture. I had a routine. Wake up, reach for the electronic cigarette. Drink coffee and vape on the e cig. Write an article and vape on the e cig. Drive somewhere and vape on the e cig. In the beginning, I was going through maybe a cartridge a day. That turned into two. Which turned into two packs. Then, this week, I blew through the equivalent of a few cartons of cigarettes. I don’t know about regular cigarettes, but my e cigs contain 16 mg of nicotine. And I never understand nicotine withdrawal until this week. Because I’d never really been addicted to it until now.

I’ve been in a cloud the past several months. I was feeling better mentally, so I stopped taking my mood stabilizers. This happens often with bipolar people. Even thinking about it now sounds stupid, but when you’re high, you don’t remember what it’s like to be low. When you’re low, you think you’ll never be happy again. Take my word for it. So since I was feeling better (and I’ve done this numerous times), I thought I didn’t need that medication anymore. The thing is, I was feeling better because I was taking the pills. In order to continue to feel good, I had to keep taking my medication. When you’re manic, that makes no sense. At all. You often feel great, so you think you’re fine. You’re not.

I noticed my highs and lows were cycling much more rapidly than they usually did. It didn’t occur to me that the absence of a mood stabilizer was responsible for this. After all, I was fine. I went off the meds because I was fine. Sometimes, it takes getting down to the lowest low to think otherwise.

I’d been in a fog. No inspiration to write. Nothing. I thought maybe by ingesting as much caffeine and nicotine as possible, I’d push myself into a nice manic mood and feel inspired to write. I did become manic, but it was not a good manic. Think of the best you’ve ever felt. Multiply it by one hundred. That’s mania. Except lately, my mania wasn’t euphoric this time. It was agitation and restlessness. Extreme uncomfortability. Thoughts darting in and out of my light at lightning speed, and nothing I could do to turn them off or shut them out. Picture how in movies or TV shows when they speed the cameras up so fast that you see traffic moving at lightning fast speed, flashes of colors and lights. That’s a manic brain. Burning, burning, burning, and nothing can stop it.

My therapist said it was a perfect storm for me to have the major panic attack I ended up having Thursday morning. I slept Monday night. I did not sleep Tuesday night. Or Wednesday night. I’d been awake for days. I’d also unknowingly been sucking down nicotine around the clock. I say unknowingly because it really was. It was like breathing at that point. I didn’t even notice it. I was constantly switching from whichever cig I was vaping on to the one that was charging, because I was using it to the point that it needed charged every few minutes. I was manically sucking on this thing. With every breath I took. For about two days straight. I had also been taking Ativan every day, three a day. But then three didn’t cut it. I was up to five a day. (Most people are prescribed one a day.)

Ativan is classified as a benzodiazepine. Benzos are extremely addictive, incredibly hard to come off of, and easy to build up a tolerance for, which is what I’d done. In the back of my mind, I’ve known since I quit drinking that I probably shouldn’t take them. But what did I have left? I needed something to take the edge off. But my addictive brain could no longer be satiated with the edge being taken off. I needed more and more and more pills to achieve the desired effect. Well, I ran out. Before my prescription could be refilled. This happened right around the same time I took my final puff of the electronic cigarette. I was out of cartridges. I wanted more. I didn’t have any more. It was the middle of the night, and I’d been awake for days. This was when I started having withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms that are the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced. Symptoms that scared the living shit out of me. I was shaking all over. I couldn’t stop. No part of my body was still. And it couldn’t stay still. I couldn’t lie down. I’d lie down and my legs thrashed around involuntarily. My arms were flailing. I paced around the house. And paced. And paced. And paced.

Then, the really scary shit started happening. My lips were making the puckering motion made when inhaling the cigarette – involuntarily. They would pucker up, the twitch back to normal. Pucker, retract. Pucker, retract. Pucker retract. I was scared as hell. I woke up Andy, having involuntary muscle spasms, telling him I didn’t feel right. I couldn’t stop.
This went on for hours.

Andy told me to try lying down. This was the pattern for the next 24 hours – lie down, get up, lie down, get up, lie down, get up. Right away. When I was walking, I felt uncomfortable. When I was lying down, I felt uncomfortable. I was horrifically, painfully uncomfortable for hours. My heart was beating out of my chest. My skin was crawling so badly. I wanted to jump out of my skin. I couldn’t breathe. I just started breathing like you do when you’re in labor, and with every passing millisecond, I had to tell myself that I would live through this – through this pain that was worse than childbirth – worse than anything I’ve experienced in my life.

That’s when I felt God’s arm around me. I could just feel it. I told myself that I could live through this, I would live through this, I had to.

My jaw and neck were still involuntarily tensing up, my mouth was still moving on its own. Still, I tried to breathe and tell myself that with each passing second, it would get better. I would live through this. See, the thing is, during the past few months, I haven’t cared if I lived. I wasn’t really doing anything to attempt to actively kill myself, but I also wasn’t doing anything to help myself. If I died, I died.

It was in the midst of this withdrawal Hell that I decided I want to live.

And I don’t mean just live; I want to take an active role in my well-being. I’d been stuck at this plateau for so long. As my therapist said yesterday, It is only through pain that we grow. No one grows when they’re comfortable. It is only through pain that we grow. He said he knows that without a doubt in his mind. I believe him.

While I was experiencing these symptoms, I wished more than anything that it could just be over. I’d have given anything. Now, though, I see that it was essential. I’d been passively sitting here, letting whatever be, be, when deep down I’ve known something is missing. I’ve known I had more potential than what I was showing, but I was too scared to let go.
Thursday morning came, and there was a two-hour delay at school. At this point, I had been awake since Tuesday morning, and things were really starting to accelerate. I felt like I was going to die. I was sure of it. There was nothing I could do; I couldn’t fall asleep, my body was still involuntarily twitching. Yet if I went through this much longer, I would die. I couldn’t drive Adele to school. I couldn’t function.

I called the doctor’s office, thinking at the time that my Ativan was due to get refilled that day. I asked the nurse about it on the phone, who said, “That’s not supposed to be refilled until the 15th.” I told her I’d thought it was the 13th, and she told me again it wasn’t until the 15th, because it was a 28-day prescription, not 30, as I’d thought. “You’re not supposed to get it refilled until the 15th,” is all she kept saying. Then, “Have you been taking more than you’re supposed to?” I told her, “Sometimes…to help me sleep.” Then she told me she knew the doctor wouldn’t refill it until the 15th, and I wanted to scream at her, “Do you know what I’m going through, you stupid bitch?! I need something!” And I thought I did – I thought, if I just take a few Ativan, it’ll take the edge off; maybe I’ll feel better. Instead, “I asked, “Well, is there anything I could have for anxiety? I was having trouble with my speech, along with all the other withdrawal symptoms. I was kind of slurring, and sentences were longer and more drawn out than normal. She just said no, and I felt like some sort of drug seeker, of a junkie begging for a fix.

Suddenly I was up outside of my body looking down at myself. I was having a panic attack. I called Andy, saying, “I feel like I’m going to die,” and I started crying, saying I’d called the doctor, that I desperately needed something, and the nurse made me feel like a criminal. “I can’t do this,” is all I kept saying.

At the same time, I had to somehow find the strength to get my kids through the day. I love my kids more than life itself, but this made me appreciate them even more. I heard Adele whisper to Eleanor, “Something’s wrong. Mommy’s upset.” Eleanor came over to me as I was crying and asked, “’Cause you lost your job?” For the first time in days, I started laughing. The girl’s obviously noticed a pattern with my inability to keep a job and my ability to cry about it. I was still on the phone with Andy, and he told me, “See? Just do stuff like that. Sit with Eleanor and laugh.” I called about ten people before someone answered. It was Lisa, Eleanor’s preschool teacher. I told her, “Ummm…I wondered if there’s any way you could drive Adele to school? I’m having a panic attack and I can’t function,” as my voice cracked and I started sobbing again. “I’m gonna start crying,” I told her, and she said it’s okay, that she would be here to pick up Adele.

When she got here, I told her not to look at my house, which was in complete disarray. I was wearing my stained bathrobe, crying, still enduring waves of impending death. She came in the house and the sun was shining directly on her through the kitchen window. She was an angel, here to save me.

Not long after she left, I called the woman who helps with my support group, who also used to be a psychiatric nurse, and told her all my symptoms. She calmly helped me understand that I wouldn’t die, that I could get through this. I called my therapist, who told me to take a walk outside, to do whatever I could to expend energy so I’d finally crash. My feet were raw at this point from pacing around the hardwood floors and walking up and down the stairs of our house, nonstop, for days. My whole body ached as if I just ran a marathon – my joints were swollen, everything throbbed. Still, I was willing to do whatever these people suggested to feel better.

My mom came over and confiscated my electronic cigarette, which I gladly handed over. We had some good times. I remember looking at it in the middle of the night, thinking it was the devil. And it is. For me it is.

I was starting to get better. While my mouth was no longer involuntarily puckering, it was still involuntarily tightening up. Part of me wanted to lie down now but I was still anxious. I threw snow boots on over my sweatpants, threw a coat on, and took a walk.

As I walked down the street, suddenly everything seemed perfectly peaceful. I was still in pain. But I all of a sudden knew that it would all be okay. I was feeling so much better than I’d felt hours ago. I could do this. I heard the birds in the trees, which for the first time in months sounded beautiful. Lately the sound had agitated me and only made me want to shoot them.

The snow was pristine and sparkling. I could see my breath, so I knew I was alive. I walked to the IGA and bought lots of candy. My oral fixation was out of control. It’s exactly like newborn babies, when they crave the nipple. It’s painful. It’s uncomfortable. You need it. I understand. I understand why they scream their fucking heads off. I needed something in my mouth. As I walked home, I sucked on one of the Dum-Dums I’d bought, and it was the best thing I’ve tasted in my life.

I came home and ran water to take a bath, something else I was told to do to try and relax and come down from this panic attack. I poured some lavender bath fizz in the tub and played some Kings of Convenience, music I listen to when I want to zone out. My head-to-toe aching body felt so good getting into that water. It was like experiencing a hot bath for the very first time. It was indescribably amazing.

I’ve always hated my body. My looks in general. I compare myself to supermodels and live in a constant state of negativity. When I got out of that bathtub, though, and looked in the mirror, for the first time maybe ever, I thought, you know what? My body is just fine. In fact, it’s pretty fucking spectacular.

It was like my entire outlook on life changed from going through this experience. On Friday I went to the psychiatrist and explained everything, and I’m back on mood stabilizers. I will stay on them this time. I went to my therapist after that, and covered pretty much every issue going through my head. He asked me how I’ll make sure I’ll keep taking them this time. I will never forget the pain I was in, and I never want to go through that again. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I will re-read this if I ever think I should go off my meds again.
All of my cognitive distortions were making sense now. I could change my thinking, my therapist said. I’ve never believed I could change my thinking. I now believe it’s possible. I now see myself as a creation of God, and who am I to criticize one of God’s creations? I need to try to be the best version of myself and stop comparing myself to everyone. I need to focus on what’s good about me. And there’s a lot. I feel like a bad mom a lot. I don’t want my kids to see me this way. I want to shelter them from this. I feel guilty for possibly passing my DNA on to them. I don’t want them to be like me. “But what about the good things you’ve possibly passed on to them?” my therapist asked. “What are some good things about you?” I never think of it like that. As for sheltering them from this, this is life. They will learn that there are bad days. And when they’re old enough to understand, I will sit them down and explain Mommy’s disease.

I will never forget how horrible I felt during this withdrawal. I’ve never in my life felt more like I wanted out. I wanted to not feel this pain anymore. But I made it through. I know for sure now I can’t handle nicotine. I can’t handle Ativan. I can’t do moderation. I am an addict. I was born this way.

The misconception so many people have is that it’s the choice to do drugs. The genetic predisposition is there. Lots of people try cigarettes and stop. An addict can’t. Our brains are wired differently. Cancer patients get nothing but sympathy. The mentally ill are still largely seen as weak, and addicts are seen as people who choose to fuck up their lives. Why would someone with the talent and luxuries of Philip Seymour Hoffman choose to fuck up everything he had? Choose to leave his children?

When I was living through the darkest, scariest part of this ordeal, I knew I was no different than Philip Seymour Hoffman. Addicts are addicts. Withdrawal symptoms are painful, no matter the drug. I don’t know why people don’t believe us when we say we do not choose to be mentally ill, we do not choose to become addicted to anything. It was hurtful to read the comments I read on Facebook following Hoffman’s death. Following Whitney Houston’s death. Following Amy Winehouse’s death. Hurtful because I get it. I completely get it, and telling me that the completely horrible feeling of not wanting to feel at all anymore is something I choose to feel, couldn’t be further from the truth. I would have traded places with any one of you during that time. Believe me. We do not choose this.

Why would any talented celebrities want to throw away their lives? They have it all. Addiction is an equal opportunity disease. It doesn’t care how much money you have, how well you can sing, how many Oscars you’ve won. We do not choose this.

I’ve gained empathy from this experience. I’ve been kind of questioning lately whether I should be going back to school at all; what if I’m not meant to be a chemical dependency counselor? I have a renewed sense of wanting to help people. I want people to understand that having a mental illness is no different than having cancer. To state otherwise slices through me like a knife, hurts me at the core of my being. If only you could experience this. Then you’d get it. You’d understand, and you’d realize how ignorant and hurtful you’ve been to those of us who suffer with abnormal brains. Trust me.

We do not choose mental illness and we do not choose addiction.

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Risa S

So, this is me being authentic. It’s been a rough road but I am finally beginning to allow myself to heal, to really heal. Instead of manipulating situations where the end result is me feeling intense psychological pain, it is time to let go of the pain and allow myself some peace. That is my goal at this point in my treatment and while this will be a difficult goal to accomplish, this is what is left: It is time for me to accept that I deserve peace and all of the blessings I have in my life. How much more authentic can I get?

The Authenticity of Self

If it’s easy, then it’s not real.

Authenticity is a powerful attribute. For the first time, I was not only honest with myself, I was honest with friends. When asked how I was feeling, instead of being dishonest and sugarcoating a hopeful response, as I have done my entire life, I was truthful. I was able to open myself to a degree that felt comfortable and real. I explained how I was feeling better but still not yet at the place I want to be. Not only was this important for me but this is important for all of my relationships. Most significantly, though, I want to model this for my daughter so she will know what being authentic really means.

One of the most startling realizations that I have had recently in therapy was that I have been waiting for a false self to emerge. Last year as I was feeling better from that episode of depression, I experienced joy, true joy and bliss. This occurred with my husband, our daughter, family and friends. I had never before felt such feelings of happiness. I believed I would continue to feel this level of happiness but as I became ill again, I lost it. I still felt moments of happiness in my relationships but not at the same level. Since I became ill again, I have been patiently waiting for that joy and elation to return, however it hasn’t. It was only during a recent therapy session when I learned it won’t. My therapist explained that those euphoric feelings were real but only because I had never felt them before. Those feelings were not realistic though in the long-term and as the tears fell down my cheeks, she also explained how I actually had been experiencing those “moments” in the past months, which she pointed out with numerous examples of things I had brought up during past sessions. I am still absorbing this information and in some ways, mourning the loss. I know that what I have gained is so much more, but the memories of feeling the joy and pleasure at such a high level are still so fresh in my mind. This is how I can be authentic: own my feelings and accept them while moving forward.

While I know who I am, as a wife and a mother, I am still learning who I am to myself. This is a difficult process and requires more than my weekly therapy session, more than the pills that help promote my stability and more than the ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) that I receive. For the person who believed she was receiving exactly the kinds of treatment needed, I was informed that I actually could benefit from an additional mode of therapy. While it took some months to accept this and understand how I would benefit from it, I have finally agreed with my therapist that DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) would greatly benefit me as I move forward in my recovery. I will be starting group therapy, which will be another new experience and will work on myself in a way that I never have before.

So, this is me being authentic. It’s been a rough road but I am finally beginning to allow myself to heal, to really heal. Instead of manipulating situations where the end result is me feeling intense psychological pain, it is time to let go of the pain and allow myself some peace. That is my goal at this point in my treatment and while this will be a difficult goal to accomplish, this is what is left: It is time for me to accept that I deserve peace and all of the blessings I have in my life. How much more authentic can I get?

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Jon D

I commend Brandon Marshall, Wayne Brady, and others for helping SOOOO MUCH with the stigma of mental illness.

My story is as horrible as they come.

I have led a “successful” life, doing well in school, sports, etc. I am 44 yrs old. I was Top Ten in my college class, was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, and have had a great professional career.

I have struggled with depression/anxiety/OCD my whole life. I first got treated at age 29, after having to take a leave from work and becoming suicidal. I spent my 30’s in “remission”. Something happened at the age of 40 and my existing meds stopped working….I went into a horrible tailspin that resulted in being hospitalized for over a year (with a few times out). They could not find the right drug and I attempted suicide several times, the most major attempt by driving my vehicle head on to a delivery truck at 60 mph each. Somehow I survived and finally got on a drug that worked, but it still is a daily struggle.

I commend Brandon Marshall, Wayne Brady, and others for helping SOOOO MUCH with the stigma of mental illness.

I am trying to find ways to help. I am considering writing a book someday.

Thank you for doing all you can to help others. The sign that says “People with Cancer don’t have to Explain” hits home so much. It’s a brain disease. People need to realize it.

Thanks so much,

Jon

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Craig

A little over a year ago I was diagnosed with OCD, depression, and anxiety. Throughout my life I knew something was different about me. I would do things in my head (count or read things a certain amount of times) without anyone knowing. I was confused and not sure if this was a "normal" thing.

A little over a year ago I was diagnosed with OCD, depression, and anxiety. Throughout my life I knew something was different about me. I would do things in my head (count or read things a certain amount of times) without anyone knowing. I was confused and not sure if this was a “normal” thing.

About 3 years ago I moved on my own to a new state for a change and hoping my depression would get better. It didn’t and only got worse. I ended up getting a job teaching kids with autism. Later in the beginning of my 3rd year of teaching I started getting horrible thoughts of hurting others and myself. I was scared and depressed all the time. I went to my best friend and co-worker for help to explain my thoughts and the fear of possibly hurting my students. She ended up telling the police and I was later fired (over my thoughts).

I lost everything. My job, friends, and worse – I lost the chance to help others. I also got help through counseling and medication.

As a long distance runner I decided that I could persevere and take this as a opportunity to motivate myself and help others. Last September I ended up running and winning my 1st ultra marathon. I ran for 12 hours straight completing 62.5 miles in honor of people with mental illness. After the race I won $500 and donated it to help the people in my community with mental health issues. In the future I will continue to live my life to help others who suffer from mental illness.

Hopefully my story can help others show that know matter what you are going through you can overcome it and help others in the process.

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Kameron S

No one in my family has had a mental illness so it's hard being around them when I'm not feeling right and I cry all the time they just don't understand. But keep pushing and your days will get easier.

I was 17 when my house was raided by the cops. My brother had been selling drugs and the consequences followed. Unfortunately, I was the one to open the door. It was a single sheriff in uniform saying that someone had called 911 from my house. It was 6AM so I was the only one awake about to get ready for school. I told him I’ll go wake up my mom and he can talk to her. He asked if he can stand in the door way so I said yes.

As I’m on my way to get my mom I turn around and the sheriff is yelling with his gun pointed to my brothers room and 10 police guys with their guns out came running straight towards me. I was in instant shock my body couldn’t move and tears were streaming down my face. After they searched my house and did what they needed to I went on with my day like normal.

A few months later I started feeling weird, I wasn’t thinking like myself and I didn’t feel like myself. I felt like I was in a dream and I had anxiety when my mom would leave me. Two weeks later I went to a psychologist and they diagnosed me with PTSD, depression and anxiety. I have been in the darkest places. I have never dealt with a mental illness before this so this was a huge eye opener. I cried everyday for 3 months. I thought about suicide everyday for 3 months. I went to therapy 3 times a week for almost a year.

I’m now 19 and it has gotten a little better. I still have days where I get anxiety out of no where and I still deal with depression. Sometimes I feel the effects of the PTSD also. No one in my family has had a mental illness so it’s hard being around them when I’m not feeling right and I cry all the time they just don’t understand. But keep pushing and your days will get easier.

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Lia's Story

Mental Illness. Two words. Many assumptions. Two words, synonymous with guilt, shame and stigma. Two words, misunderstood. Two words, silenced. That is why I am here today to speak to this silence. I am here to share my story. By adding this story to the collage created by many, I aim to change perceptions and create awareness.

Mental Illness. Two words. Many assumptions. Two words, synonymous with guilt, shame and stigma. Two words, misunderstood. Two words, silenced. That is why I am here today to speak to this silence. I am here to share my story. By adding this story to the collage created by many, I aim to change perceptions and create awareness. I am not trying to shift the tectonic plates of your brain enough to create a mountain, in fact I know I can’t, but I am aiming to create a small earthquake. I hope that this earthquake will bring up awareness, spark new ideas and form positive perceptions of the words mental illness and the disease itself.

There is a story of a man who grew up with little but formed his own future. He graduated from Georgetown University, and was accepted by Stanford Business School. Surprisingly, he turned down the offer for a local start-up by the name of eBay. He married, had 3 daughters, and worked so hard, always striving for new ideas and innovations. This man, and the smartest person I knew, was my father. He had mental illness.

My dad passed away from mental illness 3 and a half years ago. I had no idea that he was suffering until I found out that it took his life. I ask myself why I didn’t know, or even if I wanted to – but when I look at how mental illness is portrayed, I understand. Less than 15 people knew that my dad was suffering from the time he was diagnosed until his death, and I wasn’t one of them. 15 people is way too few, but serves as a definite call to action. We need to be the change for those suffering in silence.

When the news was shared with me, I didn’t know what mental illness was or what it meant – even though explanations were attempted. All I knew was that it had stolen my father, and that it was overpoweringly terrifying. But my perceptions have evolved, and I am no longer scared. My tragedy is an opportunity for me to start the conversation about mental illness, and to be part of ending the stigma around it.

What my dad was going through was the result of a disease. He was not crazy. He did not want this difficult illness much less cause it himself. My father was brilliant, and the most caring parent I could wish for. And yes he had bipolar, OCD and depression – but that did not form his amazing character. I know that what I just said is the truth, but I also know that ignorance can blind people and that is what has always been hardest for me. Some people might think that my dad chose to die, because the way that he died is traditionally thought of as a choice – suicide. But his passing was the result of a sickness. The mixed up chemistry in his brain had a horrible fatal result, just like any other disease would mess with your body.

That is the actuality of the illness. As a society we have to dig up this actuality and learn to honor and believe it. When these truths are mangled, twisted and turned into offensive stigma, the silence and pain continues on. So things need to revolutionize – we need to be able to talk about mental illness like any other disease. The volumes on the voices that that offend, discriminate, and isolate people struggling – should be muted. The voices that are talking about mental illness like a disease and respecting the struggles of the people dealing with it – those voices need to be shouted.

My mom tells me that pink clouds are the mark of someone who has passed smiling down at you, wherever there are pink clouds right now, dad – this speech is for you. I am doing this for you – to give back to all you have given me. I love you and miss you all the time. I promise that things are going to change, that mental illness will not be something to be ashamed of and the conversation will start. We need to bring change to mind, and educate the truth. Also – I am going to edit my earlier analogy – I do want to create a mountain, but with small earthquakes, and you are going to be one of the many. The negative perceptions of the disease will be destroyed by the shaking in your brain, and newer more positive ones rebuilt. The news of these earthquakes will spread around the world, with many more people offering support. I believe that this mountain will form, it will be tall and strong and proud. Many people will climb this mountain, and it will be harder for some than others, but the ends will justify the means. The view from the peak of the mountain will make the whole journey worth it, because there will be those beautiful pink clouds smiling down on this marvelous mountain that has been created. Thank you.

Lia’s Speech at the Third Annual BC2M Gala on November 9, 2015 in NYC

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Tim E

On behalf of those who want to hide this year, this is my phone call from the cage. It’s a call to action. To those of good cheer, come out into the rain and check on us. We don’t really want to be alone. We don’t necessarily want to be dragged to a big party either. We just need someone to ask how we’re doing. To spend a little time with us. We don’t want to be “fixed” right now, so please don’t try. We just want someone to listen. Or maybe we just want someone to sit with. Nothing fancy. Nothing loud. Just someone to be with for a while during this crazy time of year.

It’s That Time of Year…
…when some of us want to run and hide.

Ah, the holidays. A time to spend with family, exchange gifts, attend festive parties, decorate the house with joy… and totally freak out! I have to be honest. I just barely made it through Thanksgiving and I’m dreading Christmas. Over the past fifteen years I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety and agoraphobia. Once the life of the party, I’ve found myself avoiding any type of party at all, especially holiday gatherings. This past Thursday, Thanksgiving was hosted at our house with Monica’s family. Where was I? When the bulk of the crowd arrived I had one of the worst panic attacks in years and I ended up hiding out in our dog kennel. (I know you’re picturing me in a doghouse, but it’s a 6-foot-high fenced in area with a pitched tarp over it.) So I stood there, sheltered from the drizzling rain, like a scared little doggy. I called Monica on my cell phone from my cage. I told her I didn’t think I could “do this.” I was content to just stand out there until it was over. In a few minutes my son, Daniel, came outside.

“Whatcha doin’, Dad?”
“Um… just checking to make sure the dogs have their own Thanksgiving set up for them.”
“The dogs are inside, Dad.”
“Oh, yeah. I guess we better go in.”

So, reluctantly, I slipped in the side door. However, I know my house well. And I know how to hide from a house full of people. So I did. I eventually had to make conversation with a couple of people. I tried not to make eye contact. I’m ashamed of how I acted. I don’t understand these feelings. It makes me not want to try at all for the rest of the Season.

I can think back to more dismal days during the holidays and recount stories that make this one seem tame. Years of holidays and birthdays lost because I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house. One time I spent alone in a car, in an empty school parking lot, wondering if I could even go on living, let alone force myself to drive to a family Christmas party.

The notion that suicide rates go up over the holidays has been debunked, however no one denies that those who suffer from depression and related illnesses struggle more during Christmastime. Even people with physical illnesses can notice an uptick in symptoms. I had three dystonia attacks before and after Thanksgiving this year. I had been dystonia-free since August. There is probably a correlation.

The point of writing this isn’t to draw attention to myself. I’ll be fine. There have been worse years than this and I thank God that I’m in such a better place than I used to be. I’ll go to the endless annual progressive dinner with my family. I’ll entertain Monica’s co-workers at the annual company party. I’ll get by as best I can. I’ll even hide if I need to.

However, there are so many people out there who are in a much darker place, just like I was a few years ago. Frozen. Scared. Ashamed. Lonely. For some, the holidays will remind them of the people who aren’t with them any longer. I can’t even fathom that. For some, the holidays will remind them of things that they’ve lost. Relationships. Health. Purpose. Dignity. It’s easy to say, “Be of good cheer.” For some, it’s just not possible right now.

For some, they will retreat to a cage.

On behalf of those who want to hide this year, this is my phone call from the cage. It’s a call to action. To those of good cheer, come out into the rain and check on us. We don’t really want to be alone. We don’t necessarily want to be dragged to a big party either. We just need someone to ask how we’re doing. To spend a little time with us. We don’t want to be “fixed” right now, so please don’t try. We just want someone to listen. Or maybe we just want someone to sit with. Nothing fancy. Nothing loud. Just someone to be with for a while during this crazy time of year.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll come inside. Just keep in mind that we’ll probably want to hide in the crowd… and that’s okay.

Tim Eason
November 30, 2015

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Ryan D.

Never did I imagine this would happen to me. I will fight to get the real me back. I will be strong and again be happy in my own mind.

For the past 10+ years I have suffered from ADHD, Depression, and Anxiety. All were well managed until a series of Concussions in early 2015. Little did I know how my life would flip. In and out of doctors offices, frequent panic attacks, double vision, severe mood swings, constant headaches, ringing in my ears, among other things. I nearly lost my job, my family, and my sanity. Although I am still looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, it is getting closer. Never did I imagine this would happen to me. I will fight to get the real me back. I will be strong and again be happy in my own mind.

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Skylar

If you’ve been through the same things I have, kudos to you. You strength and perseverance is beyond impressive; to most of the world out there, it’s unimaginable. But what I really want is for all the people out there than are still mired in the thick of it, for those of you who are so tired of fighting that you are ready to give up, to take away from my experience that recovery is possible. Your expectations must be realistic: it will be slow and gradual, there will be highs and lows, setbacks and leaps forward, and there will always be people in your life who just don’t get it, but with the right assistance and support you can lead a wholly satisfying, fulfilling existence. The rest of us who have made it to that point will keep fighting for you, and for ourselves, to make our planet a better and easier place for all of us to succeed in.

I feel as if I never fully understood the effects of stigma until I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That’s not to say I didn’t experience stigma when my diagnosis was major depressive disorder, or that I don’t face stigma when it comes to my anxiety disorders, but the nature of my relationship to my illness changed when my label shifted from something people dismissed, trivialized, and misunderstood to something that — on top of all the rest — people were legitimately afraid of. Yet, the irony is that the recognition of my symptoms for what they were was the only means by which they could be properly addressed. It was the only means by which I could finally get proper treatment, and therefore become less “dangerous.”

To give you some background, I’ve had problems with my mental health from the time I was around twelve or thirteen years old. For a while it was easy to dismiss my moodiness as mere adolescent angst, but eventually it became clear that my general malaise and frequent outbursts of overwhelming sadness were not just normal parts of growing up. I began seeing a therapist, and a psychiatrist shortly thereafter. I often drank to excess to lift my mood and feel less debilitating self-consciousness around other people. I began to occasionally explode in anger at my parents and others, which looking back was a definite early warning signal, but I just thought of it as a consequence of my drunkenness. Getting through schoolwork was a struggle, fraught with anxiety attacks and crying fits, but I managed to keep my grades from suffering. Eventually, by the time I graduated, I thought I had a firm grip on my psychological issues and my abuse of alcohol. No longer mired in self-loathing I felt confident in myself, and comfortable enough with my story that I had no problem sharing it. I was victorious and eager to begin my next chapter.

All of that changed when I arrived at college. It was the first major change I’d had to cope with in my life: I had lived in the same apartment since I was born, and the same school from kindergarten onwards. I quickly realized my newfound self-assuredness was predicated on having found a niche of friends to rely on, and, without them in the same city as me, I felt lost. Then I came down with mononucleosis. I was exhausted at all times, unable to focus on anything, failing classes for the first time ever, totally unable to enjoy anything I had once found fulfillment in, terrified of being judged by all my new classmates, and, because I had no idea I was physically sick, I thought that all of these things were personal failings on my part. When I was eventually tested for the disease two months after I began feeling its symptoms, the damage to my ego had already been done.

I moved back home, and there made a series of impulsive, selfish, inconsiderate, self-destructive, and downright dangerous decisions that caused great harm to both myself and the people I cared about. I am still so deeply ashamed of the way I acted and the choices I made during this time that I can hardly talk about them with anyone. All the way, I was still seeing a talk therapist, and still taking ineffective SSRI after SSRI to no avail. Eventually I stopped going to therapy. I was still taking my pills, but I avoided actually seeing my psychiatrist as much as possible. I still didn’t see my unpredictable mood swings and bouts of rage as symptoms of what was going on with me. I felt like a completely different person, like I had lost who I was. I was worse than I had ever been before, and I had no coping skills to deal with this novel state of misery. I went back to college no more ready for it than I had been before, simply because I felt I couldn’t trust myself with my excess free time any longer. This was what I consider my true breaking point. It like my first attempt all over again, but this time I couldn’t blame flulike bodily symptoms for my lack of motivation and energy. My irritability and instability was out of control. I could go from crushingly despondent to blisteringly furious in an instant, with seemingly no trigger. My professors were kind, and made every effort to aid me through my suffering, but I still just couldn’t get the work in. I took another leave of absence.

The good thing that came of this period, however, was that I finally began to talk to mental health providers about my extreme mood changes. I finally began to realize that my problem wasn’t just that I was melancholy all the time, but that I could rapidly cycle between fury and despair within a single day. I understood the definition of bipolar disorder as very strictly timed, predicable shifts from mania to depression. I thought mania meant euphoria, productivity, invincibility, and nothing else. Finally, a psychiatrist told me differently. They said the definition of bipolar disorder was changing and expanding, and what I was experiencing fit much better into that category than that of mere depression. I was put on mood stabilizers, and, in another first, felt like my medication was actually doing something for me. I started seeing a talk therapist again and later on joined a DBT therapy group, the combination of which allowed me to express my emotions while giving me practical skills with which to manage them. I got a job. I starting coping, and began to hope. Now I’m back in school and I’m immensely proud of my performance.

But there is a catch. It is much harder telling people I have bipolar disorder than it was telling them I had anxiety and depression. It was difficult enough explaining that no, I can’t just “get over” my sadness, that no, I can’t just “relax” about the things I agonize over, that no, I’m not just lazy, or too high strung, etc. without having to explain that my disorder isn’t going to make me hurt anyone. Our society is just now beginning to understand the struggles that all of us with mental illness face, and is still inexcusably harsh on people for symptoms of which they have no control over. But certain illnesses invoke more fear and derision than others, namely those that are most associated with violence in our culture and media: bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and schizophrenia. Because of this, it’s more difficult for me to seek help form others and secure the accommodations that I need than it was before. I’m far enough into my recovery that I feel as if I’m in a catch 22: when my symptoms are preventing me from accomplishing something I want or need to do, I either have to downplay what’s going on and risk people simply not believing me and thinking that I’m merely making excuses, or I can admit the extent of what’s going on and risk worrying or scaring them. I get unsolicited advice from classmates and other near-strangers about how I’m not ambitious enough or working hard enough in complete ignorance of how psychological disorders work, and I don’t know how to correct them without outing myself and therefore opening myself up to even more inappropriate commentary. I’m afraid of telling employers or potential employers that I might need special allowances because, even though those of us in the U.S. are technically protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they may find some other way to get around dealing with me that doesn’t appear outwardly discriminatory. While I am aware there will be always be good days and bad days for me, at this point essentially the stigma against speaking out about mental illness is causing me more harm than the mental illness itself is.

If you’ve made it this far into this rambling essay, thank you for hearing me out. Thank you for taking the time to listen to my story and validate my suffering and my triumph. If you’ve been through the same things I have, kudos to you. You strength and perseverance is beyond impressive; to most of the world out there, it’s unimaginable. But what I really want is for all the people out there than are still mired in the thick of it, for those of you who are so tired of fighting that you are ready to give up, to take away from my experience that recovery is possible. Your expectations must be realistic: it will be slow and gradual, there will be highs and lows, setbacks and leaps forward, and there will always be people in your life who just don’t get it, but with the right assistance and support you can lead a wholly satisfying, fulfilling existence. The rest of us who have made it to that point will keep fighting for you, and for ourselves, to make our planet a better and easier place for all of us to succeed in.

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Janet H-C

As a woman who has been dealing with debilitating depression for nearly 20 years, I have come to understand the ebbing and flowing of this illness. From depression to hope and back again. Over and over it goes—surviving ultimate despair and rediscovering joy.

As a woman who has been dealing with debilitating depression for nearly 20 years, I have come to understand the ebbing and flowing of this illness. From depression to hope and back again. Over and over it goes—surviving ultimate despair and rediscovering joy. Wanting so desperately to end my life—and trying to make it happen several times—while discovering an abundance of happiness as a mom to an incredible daughter, as a wife to an amazing and supportive husband, and as a successful career woman when I’m well enough to pursue the writing and marketing I love. The pieces of my puzzle are of many colors, shapes and sizes, representing a vast variety of experiences and relationships. A couple of my psychiatrists have labeled my illness “treatment-resistant” while others have tried every medical treatment known. I’ve found the multi-faceted approach to my health the best—meds combined with weekly therapy and monthly maintenance ElectroConvulsiveTherapy (ECT) and, when motivated, accents of exercise, good nutrition and alcohol abstinence. Once I read the article, “What I Wish People Knew about Depression” on psychcentral.com, my intense feelings of being alone started to dissipate and the shimmers of hope I cherish began to relight my world. For the first time someone described exactly what it felt like to be depressed. Someone understood me! I feel the same sense of kinship and belonging reading these stories on the Bring Change 2 Mind web site. Let’s keep the discussion alive!

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Asheley

I’m an easy-going person, have a positive upbeat can-do attitude about life, and I possess the profound ability to herd cats and juggle monkeys at the same time (aka my family and their disparate schedules). But about a month ago I lost myself somewhere. For a whole week I was an emotional mess, lethargic, and convinced I was the worst human being in the world. One night I couldn’t hold myself together any longer.

I’m crying again. Why am I crying? I’m not in crisis, my family’s not in crisis. Why am I so overwhelmed? This is not normal. I need help.

These are the thoughts that are running through my head this morning as I dial one number after another trying to find a psychiatrist in my area accepting new patients. This is part of the homework my gynecologist gave me yesterday after I described a list of symptoms I was experiencing, which she and I both suspect are resulting from a change in my normal hormone cycles. Most concerning of all: my normal PMS symptoms have switched from irritable and bloaty (symptoms easily soothed by chocolate anything and a jar of dill pickles) to severe depression and suicidal thoughts. Not exactly something you can treat with a bottle of Midol and a heating pad.

I’m an easy-going person, have a positive upbeat can-do attitude about life, and I possess the profound ability to herd cats and juggle monkeys at the same time (aka my family and their disparate schedules). But about a month ago I lost myself somewhere. For a whole week I was an emotional mess, lethargic, and convinced I was the worst human being in the world. One night I couldn’t hold myself together any longer. I texted pastors I knew and asked them to pray for me during their prayer meetings that night, took two powerful sedatives and put myself to bed. I had entered a special type of hell and had lost the will to be a living conscious being.

If you’re curious what the special hell is like, the one they reserve for people who talk in theaters, this is it: It’s the inability to find a reason to live. To lack joy when you are snuggling your children, to stare at the world from a window and wonder if you could evaporate like the mist in the woods on a sunny morning, to find the concept of nothingness more soothing than sitting with a friend for a cup of tea. You live by halves and wonder why your existence is so critical that you are still roaming around this earth while so many others are not. Why they and not me?

The next week the sun came out and my world righted itself. I regained my energy, my happiness, and my drive to accomplish as much as I can in whatever time I am given. I chalked the awful experience up to another round of the Seasonal Affective Disorder I periodically experience during our rainy seasons.

You’re a licensed counselor. You know what depression is. You know you struggle with this AND you know what you’re supposed to do. Come on! I give myself a good mental lashing for not doing better with my self-care. I know better. I really do. I promise myself I’ll be more attentive to my emotional shifts and purposely set reminders on my phone to get more sunlight. I also send up a thank you to God that I didn’t do something truly harmful to myself. Because when I’m normal, I really am grateful for my life and I marvel at how blessed I am to have so much.

Then just a few days ago the special hell started all over again. I found myself reaching for the narcotics I had leftover from a previous injury. I didn’t want to be conscious anymore, I just wanted to sleep. And I cried all the time. In the shower, at the table after breakfast, in my room while dressing, in the bathroom, at my desk, and in my car at the grocery store. I used sunglasses to hide my red, swollen eyes from curious glances. I felt weak and stupid for crying so much.

I’m not a crier. Unless I’m watching a sad movie, then I just keep the tissue box handy. But crying is not a normal part of my personality. I get mad, annoyed, frustrated, call up my best friends and vent. Shtuff happens! I take fifteen-minutes to pitch my hissy fit with the world or with God, and then I shift gears and move forward. But crying because I can’t find a psychiatrist who will take my insurance or accept new patients? Nope. That is NOT me.

But it is and I can already feel the tears forming as yet another receptionist informs me that I’m out of luck. I’ll have to try another place. Wanting to cry again just makes everything worse because it reinforces the understanding that something is wrong with me. I start to wonder if I’m like Humpty Dumpty, so broken I’ll never be put back together again.

Then my husband calls me. He’s got an office on the line and I’m being added into the call. A few minutes later I have an appointment scheduled eleven days out. It seems like forever, but I know I can wait eleven days. I’m so relieved when we hang up the phone that I start crying again. But this time it’s happy tears. I smile a little as I brew myself some tea and call my best friend. I’m going to be okay. I’m getting help.

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Richard B

I never take for granted the fact that I am able to do what I want. Like my favorite rapper Drake says, “You can still do what you want to do, you gotta trust that sh*t.” Even though anxiety kicks my ass on a daily basis, I still go to work. I still write. I volunteer. I love. I smile. I laugh. And sometimes I cry. I fight for my happiness. Every day is a battle and I will never give up.

I have been fighting depression, anxiety, and self-harm off and on for the past 13 years. I moved to Los Angeles to follow my dreams of becoming a published writer four years ago. I am now 28 years old and I am still living in Los Angeles. I was happy to be living my dream when I moved here but unfortunately for me, my happiness was only temporary.

Like most people who struggle with mental health, I fell into substance abuse issues. I turned to drugs and alcohol to the numb the pain I was feeling. I would also cut my wrists when things got really bad. I seemed so happy and alive on the outside but that was far from the truth. The darkness I was feeling on the inside consumed me. I was a tortured soul living in disguise.

I slowly felt myself losing touch with reality. My physical and mental health deteriorated to the point where I was underweight, experiencing hallucinations, emotional distress, and dealing with insomnia. Moving back home to live with my parents allowed me to sleep better at night but my anxiety got so bad that I would get panic attacks.

I spent the following year getting my life and mental health in order. I saw a doctor and a therapist. I went on medication to help with my anxiety, I got a job at Chipotle, and with the support of my family, friends, and my faith, I was able to stay sober. I accepted Jesus Christ as my lord and savior sometime in August after recommendations from my mom and her friend Maria. I repented for my sins and I felt a shift inside of me. I felt like a changed man. I was a changed man.

I am proud to say I officially reached one year of sobriety on September 23rd. It’s also been one year and five months since I last hurt myself. When the side effects from my medication were too much, my doctor told me I could stop taking them. He told me, “You should be proud of yourself. Not a lot of people can be in the position that you’re in. You should give yourself a pat on the back.”

I never take for granted the fact that I am able to do what I want. Like my favorite rapper Drake says, “You can still do what you want to do, you gotta trust that sh*t.” Even though anxiety kicks my ass on a daily basis, I still go to work. I still write. I volunteer. I love. I smile. I laugh. And sometimes I cry. I fight for my happiness. Every day is a battle and I will never give up.

Although God and Jesus Christ have been the sole reason I am sober and clean, I also attribute me being sober to my nephew Adrian. A lot of things from my past bum me out. None more so than when he would ask me to hang out and I would say, “Not right now. We’ll hang out in a little bit. I’m going to sleep.” He would be disappointed and say, “Aw man. Come on. Why do you sleep so much? You sleep too much.”

It breaks my heart knowing I would have rather gotten high than play with my own nephew but I am proud to say I am no longer that person. I apologized to my nephew before he went back to Florida where he lives with his mother. I’m not proud of my past but I had to hit rock bottom to see I was blinded by addiction.

I’d be lying if I said the past five months I have been living in Los Angeles have been a second chance at living my dream because Lord knows He has given me more than two chances. This is like my millionth chance at living my dream and I am more determined than ever to not let it go to waste. The last two months before I had one year of sobriety were the hardest. I struggled with temptation and going through a break up made things even harder.

I ended up moving on with the support of my best friend and co-workers but that doesn’t mean I don’t crave love and affection from another female. I struggle with my faith and at times I feel like God isn’t enough. I have everything I want (health, sobriety, money saved, love from my family, and I’m living in Los Angeles) yet at times it doesn’t feel enough. I reached a low point a couple of weeks ago when I was three days away from being sober.

I was upset over things not working out with a female co-worker and I fell into the vicious cycle of wanting more. I talked to my best friend and he asked me, “Richard, what do you want?” I replied, “I want my own place. I want a car. I want a book deal. I want a better job. I want it to be November so I can visit my family. I wish you lived here.” He then told me something that blew me away. “Richard, you’re asking for the same things you asked for when you were living in Massachusetts.” I didn’t realize it when I was saying those things but he was right. It showed me that everything is mental and it’s all inside of my head.

He told me, “It’s okay to want materialistic things because we are human. But what you need to do is seek something that’s ever-lasting because when you have those things, you won’t be happy anymore. That happiness will only be temporary.” I then told him, “I want peace and patience. I want the peace that God promises all of us. All those things I asked for I know I will get. I just have to be patient.” I felt a bit calm after talking to him but I had one thing on my mind and that was to hurt myself.

I laid in bed for 30 minutes but I couldn’t fall asleep. I went into my kitchen and I grabbed a knife. I placed it in front of me as I sat in my kitchen listening to music and doing everything in my power to not hurt myself. I then did what my best friend recommended I do in my moments of darkness, weakness, and vulnerability. I prayed. God, please don’t let me hurt myself tonight. Let me see you in this moment. Show Yourself. I pray that You protect me. A few minutes passed by and I was ready to put the knife away but a part of me still wanted to hurt myself. I couldn’t put the knife away.

I put the blade on my left wrist. As much as I wanted to hurt myself (and trust me, I did), I couldn’t do it. When I had the knife on my left wrist I kept thinking about my family, my mom, my nieces and nephew, God, Jesus Christ, and myself. I told myself that I want to keep moving forward. I don’t want to go backwards. I then put the knife away. I realized God answered my prayer. Jesus Christ protected me. God revealed Himself to me in that moment. I’m not proud of myself for letting things get to that point but I’m even prouder that I didn’t hurt myself. God never fails me.

Doctors, counselors, friends, and family members always say, “Things will get better.” I would say, “That’s easy for you to say.” But you know what? They were right. Things do get better.

I may have fallen but I have also risen. I am here to share my story of hope, recovery, and the pursuit of happiness. I used to cry every night before going to bed. I used to pray for the peace and happiness I currently have. I know things won’t always be easy but I have faith in God. I will continue to rest on Him. Please don’t give up. Things really do get better.

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Danielle K

No I don’t think I will never be cured of depression, but I do not let the darkness of depression consume me, I know what my triggers are and I know how to deal with them. I know when I need to ask for help before it’s too late. I will never forget the pain I put my family through, but it was that pain that saved my life. It was them never getting up on me, that made me fight harder. Getting to the place I am now, was a long and extremely difficult journey, but it’s my journey and I can say that I made it through it. And that is something I very proud of!!

You’re being such a bitch!!! It was that simple phrase that anyone with sisters would say to each other. But to me, it was that statement that broke me down. It was that moment that I fell apart, and admitted to my mom and sister that I needed help. I remember it like it was yesterday, but it feels like a lifetime ago. But it’s only been 20 months since that moment, the moment that changed who I was.

Before I tell you all about my journey, let me give you some history. My father committed suicide 8 years ago. He was suffering from the disease MS. Was he depressed? In my eyes, NO not at all, but that’s one of the many answers my family will never have. When you lose a loved one to suicide it is a different kind of grieving. All rules go out the window. There is no book on how to grieve and how to cope with losing someone that way. I had a million different emotions in my grieving process.

On that day all I felt was shock, it wasn’t till the next day that I finally had a real emotion. ANGER!!! I remember sitting on the couch with my mom and sisters, and screaming how mad I was. I didn’t understand why my dad, decided that he no longer wanted to be our dad. I didn’t think of it in a way that he was sick and suffering, I took it was a personal attack. He left us with all this pain and I didn’t know how to handle it. So I handled it the way, I thought you should. I didn’t cry because I missed my dad, I cried because I had so much hate and anger in me. My family didn’t feel the way I did, and to me they were dealing with it wrong. Those not being angry with him just made me angrier. I let the anger and hate I had for him consume me. I let it take over every memory I ever had of him.

I have come to learn that anger is just depression turn inwards. I do not blame my dad for my depression. I know that I have a mental illness and it’s called depression. I suffered with my depression for a while before I admitted to anyone and to myself that I was depressed. Whenever someone would ask me how I was, I would say, “I’M FINE, I’M JUST TIRED” or “I’M OKAY, JUST LONG DAY AT WORK”. But in reality every day that I lied to myself, I let the darkness get worse. I let it consume who I was.

I think that it hit me that I needed help was when I felt nothing, I felt numb. The only way I can explain it is I wasn’t happy but I wasn’t sad either. I felt like I was living because I had to, not because I wanted too. December 31st 2013, is the day I finally admitted the secret that I was holding in for so long, I was DEPRESSED! Thinking about it now I can’t even tell you why my sister called me bitch, but I’m thankful she did. It’s that comment when I broke down and cried. When I got asked what was wrong, I just cried harder. I remember telling my mom that “I can’t do this anymore”, she explained to me that it wasn’t my fault that I was depressed. And that it was okay. She asked my sister to run upstairs for something, I waited till I thought she couldn’t hear me and I finally said out loud “Mom, I don’t want to live anymore, I want to kill myself.” The look on her face is something that I will never forget, and I hope to never see again.

My sister never made a comment on what I said, she never questioned me or made me feel horrible for putting us through this again. My mom hugged me tighter and told me we were going to get me help. Within seconds she was on the phone making doctor’s appointments for me. Since it was New Year’s Eve we all went over my oldest sister’s house. It was that night that my mom and I told the other two sisters what was going on. My family never made me like I was alone in this horrible battle. I remember lying in bed one night just crying, that you would have thought my world just collapsed, my sister just lay with me and let me cry. She didn’t let go of me until there were no more tears left.

Within the next few days, I was never left alone. It was something that made them feel better and made me know I was safe. I got put on medication and went to see a therapist. Because I was never left alone for months, I became reliant on my family always staying with me. I would get a panic attack if I was left home for more than a half hour. It wasn’t a simple thing to just have someone with me at all times; I need my mom or my sister that was there when everything happened. They were my safety zone. I was put on medication and went to therapy. They are not miracle solutions. I was not cured the next day, or the next month. I had good days and bad days, there were days that I would laugh and feel like myself again. And then there days where I would just lay in bed and cry and sleep.

It took me going to an intense outpatient place for me to really understand things about my mental illness and to understand that I am not the only one going through this, that there is sun at the end of this long journey. But most of all I understood why my dad did, what he did and I no longer hated him. When I cry for him now, it’s because I miss my dad, my dad that I was lucky enough to have for 20 years. I went to the outpatient place for 3 months; it was during that process that I started to feel like myself again. It has been 6 months since I’ve done with my intense therapy.

Am I cured of this disease? No, I don’t think I will never be cured of depression, but I do not let the darkness of depression consume me, I know what my triggers are and I know how to deal with them. I know when I need to ask for help before it’s too late. I will never forget the pain I put my family through, but it was that pain that saved my life. It was them never giving up on me, that made me fight harder. Getting to the place I am now, was a long and extremely difficult journey, but it’s my journey and I can say that I made it through it. And that is something I very proud of!!

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Jane

Highly educated, high powered, highly paid corporate attorney. Wife, mother, daughter, friend, PTO rep, -- yes, the classic American success story. But behind it all was a deep pain that no one could see. I was literally in pain every day.

Highly educated, high powered, highly paid corporate attorney. Wife, mother, daughter, friend, PTO rep, — yes, the classic American success story. But behind it all was a deep pain that no one could see. I was literally in pain every day. Emotional pain (for over 40 years my parents emotionally abused me and convinced me I wasn’t “good enough” that I’d never amount to anything and no one would ever love me. They told me I was fat, ugly, obnoxious, a pain in the ass and that I better change if I was ever going to fit into our family or society”. Psychological abuse (bullying because I was overweight, had glasses, etc and also from my family). Physical abuse (“back then” it was seen as ok to hit your child with a belt if they didn’t do exactly what you wanted or if your father had such anger management issues that he took his anger out on his children and your mother was a classic narcissist that only “approved” of you if you were a shining light in the world and a perfect reflection of her).

One day enough was enough. Why be here? Why stay? If all of that is true, what’s the point. So I finally let the depression monster out (or it came raging out on it’s own, I honestly don’t remember a lot from that time) and I became actively suicidal.

But with therapy, medication, breaking free from the people who were continuing to drag me down the rabbit hole, I found love. True, honest, unconditional love with a wonderful man and we then were blessed with a wonderful son. He is now 13. Every day I fight for him. I take my meds. I see my therapist and my psychopharmachologist and I stay away from unhealthy, unsafe relationships especially with my former family. I’m not all the way “back” yet, and maybe I never will be. But I’m here, I’m healthy, I’m happy, I love and I am loved. I went to hell and came out the other side. So many other people can’t say that because our country doesn’t put a priority on mental health care.

We have to do more. We have to get involved. We have to CARE for those who have no one else to care about them and make sure they know they matter.

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A Survivor

Depression is a dark lonely place but with the right person who understands you and helps you things will get better. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or in 3 months, but it will get better soon.

I’m a college student, son, brother, cousin, uncle, friend and can relate to everyone in some way but one thing that makes me different is that I have bipolar depression. Depression in our society is a taboo – not to be talked about, the subject changed when it is brought up – but people don’t realize that it is as serious as someone who has cancer. I should know because on April 22, 2015 I tried to commit suicide. I was going 140 mph on the freeway and totaled my car.  Everyone said I shouldn’t of been alive but I am and I’m glad I survived because there are people out there who feel that every day is going to be the same and never change, but take it from me…a survivor. Depression is a dark lonely place but with the right person who understands you and helps you things will get better.  Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or in 3 months, but it will get better soon. Bipolar depression is a serious mental disorder that is laughed at by people saying, “its only done for attention.” Its not. It makes people take their lives everyday and it’s not acknowledged what so ever. I hope this helps people understand. Please help someone who doesn’t seem like themselves. Always understand why they want to make others happy – because they don’t want others to feel how they feel everyday.

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Michele R

The truth is, I have mental illness. Depression. Anxiety. Both led to a suicide attempt when I was thirty-six. In remission. Out of remission. I don’t care how the insurance companies or the DSM V defines it. All I know is that mental illness does not define me. It is a part of my mind, body and soul. It is both a stain and badge, but I prefer to think of it as my compass for living authentically.

Witness

As early as the age of three years, my only life witness was a demon who held me down as it mocked quietly in my ear, “You’re nothing. You’re nobody. You don’t count.”

I count. I know this now. And I am my only witness. At age forty-four, something shifted in me. It was my unbound scream, after the same nightmare in which I knew something bad was close. It paralyzed me with my mouth open, without sound. I broke free that night. I still don’t know why then, only that I was ready. I could not fake my life for anyone anymore.

Who am I, this witness? I am fiercely loyal, protective, creative, sensitive, perceptive, an animal lover, and I have a wonderful sense of color. At times, I am easily distracted and discouraged. I am unforgivingly hard on myself. I do not trust many, as I believe this is earned. I am not proud of this, but life is a work in progress. I denied my rage for years. Now I own it. I see what happens when I become what I thought others wanted to see; what I thought would make me count.

The truth is, I have mental illness. Depression. Anxiety. Both led to a suicide attempt when I was thirty-six. In remission. Out of remission. I don’t care how the insurance companies or the DSM V defines it. All I know is that mental illness does not define me. It is a part of my mind, body and soul. It is both a stain and badge, but I prefer to think of it as my compass for living authentically.

My extreme anxiety lasted through childhood into young adulthood, only I couldn’t identify it. I marvel at how I functioned with so much anxiety. I grew up believing I was the burden. I learned much later in life that the mental illness was the burden.

A shroud masked this truth. I couldn’t see it for what it was while I was in the middle of it. I can blame it on childhood abuse, genetic disposition, or culture’s regard of mental illness at that time. All I know is that the message I received was that I was not normal. If I wanted acceptance, I better get my act together and be normal. Do as normal people do. Stay silent. Don’t make anyone else uncomfortable with the slightest glimpse of my pain.

My creed did nothing but practically murder me. Eleven years ago, the intense anxiety with which I functioned quite well during childhood returned. Only this time, I simply did not have the energy to cope. I remember at that time, I was tired, alone and isolated. My anger and despair crushed me. Faith and hope were absent as the bottom fell out.

I wrote a long note instructing my father on what to do about the animals I was leaving behind. That in itself made me feel like a failure. I dared not mention how I felt deeply saddened, abandoned and worthless. I didn’t really want to die. I just wanted it all to stop.

The medication overdose would do this. I didn’t remember much after drinking the bottle of seltzer water that washed them down.

The day after my thirty-sixth birthday, I woke up in ICU. I remember the clock hands pointed to just after eleven o’ clock. Was I alive? I felt no sadness and no joy. Just relief. A gentle voice whispered, “Begin again.”

Things were not instantly better. The long crawl back was like declaring bankruptcy on my life as I restructured my soul’s debt. I felt betrayed for a long time. I never caused my illness. I never asked for my robbed childhood or blighted young adulthood. No one would clean up the collapsed skeleton of my former life except me. It took a while. Years, really. The road was bumpy and filled with pits, potholes and a few sinkholes. I left them there to remember. –So I won’t drive over them again. I left them there for others to see the real me. To pave over them would not repair the damage, but simply mask the pain.

Just last year, I was aware of gratitude for the first time. And joy.

You know, if I were to meet myself in a time warp, I would take us on a drive on our newly paved road. I’d show her the sights, and I would want to tell her our story, even if it made time collapse. I would want her to know that she can find gratitude and joy. I would say to her, “Miss Roberts, you count. You always did. And I should know. I’m your witness.”

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Maddi H

I finally got to a point in my life where I was sick and tired of basically being sick and tired. I tried my hardest to use my coping skills. I started meditation, yoga. It helps so much to slow down my thoughts and ground me. I'm learning how to love myself again and that's the hardest thing I think a person can do. It takes strength EVERY day to get through the day but just taking it hour by hour is sometimes how you need to get through it. I now am surrounded by supportive people, and I am recovering.

About 2 years ago I started noticing changes in how I felt. I wasn’t as excited over things that in the past I would be excited for. I woke up in the morning just to go back to sleep, life literally seemed like a black and white world. I had nothing to add color to my days. I started crying at night because that’s when I got the most sad, because everything was still and quiet and everyone was asleep and I felt most alone then. One day my mom heard me crying in the back seat of the car, she asked me what was wrong. “Do you ever feel like you aren’t suppose to be here?” I said to her, as I was crying. She then cried and said she would like to take me in to see a psychiatrist. Days passed and I went into the office, told the doctor all my symptoms and she prescribed me an antidepressant.

Weeks went by and I had my first suicide attempt, not bad but had to be in the hospital for a day. Then I got sent to a psych ward. I was there for a week and they caught on to my eating disorder as I had been losing weight fast and barely eating. I got medically unstable from that and had to be transferred to an Eating disorder unit. I was there for a couple of weeks and got released – but I was nowhere near wanting to recover.  A couple of weeks later I tried to kill myself again, and was life flighted to an ICU 2 hours away. I was there for awhile until I got better then was sent to a psych ward again. Again, they couldn’t handle my eating disorder so I was sent to that eating disorder unit again.

I was again released a couple weeks later and sent back to the Psych hospital for suicidal tendencies, sent home, sent back to the psych hospital, sent home, tried to kill myself, went into the ICU again, went to psych ward, went home. I had lost a lot of weight by then and we knew something had to be done about my eating disorder. I was then sent to a residential place for depression that had just a little bit of knowledge on eating disorders. I was there for a week and then kicked out and sent straight to a medical hospital because they could not handle the eating disorder.

Everything was still so black and white for me and no medication would help, this was something I had to defeat on my own. In the hospital I was on an eating disorder floor and had a feeding tube put it. I then was sent to a different residential for my eating disorder, had the feeding tube thru out that and was sent back to the hospital because they were unable to keep me safe. I learned so much through all that.

I finally got to a point in my life where I was sick and tired of basically being sick and tired. I tried my hardest to use my coping skills. I started meditation, yoga. It helps so much to slow down my thoughts and ground me. I’m learning how to love myself again and that’s the hardest thing I think a person can do. It takes strength EVERY day to get through the day but just taking it hour by hour is sometimes how you need to get through it. I now am surrounded by supportive people, and I am recovering. I never once thought I would get better but I am slowly getting there.

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Miriam N

When I was 13 I started to have depression. I've never understood how it started. My first year with this mental disorder I was alone, I cried every day in school, in the house, in the bath. My family had never been worried for me. Then I lost my friends. In addition, when I started high school teenagers didn't want be my friends because I'm Asian.

My name is Miriam, I’m from Spain and I’m 17 years old. When I was 13 I started to have depression. I’ve never understood how it started. My first year with this mental disorder I was alone, I cried every day in school, in the house, in the bath.  My family had never been worried for me. Then I lost my friends. In addition, when I started high school teenagers didn’t want be my friends because I’m Asian. The time was passing and I was not improving but I was deteriorating increasingly. Nobody wanted to know about me. When I was 16 my sister confessed to me that she had depression since 13 but she never told me. At this moment my heart was broken because she’s like my mom. Since then I always wonder why she has never been worried for me.

This year I met a boy on Twitter who has depression too. I felt loved for the first time, but when I was to meet him face to face … he didn’t exist, he just was a lie. Thanks to the event I thought that what happened was meant to be this way.  I didn’t have answers just questions. Then I thought I needed to visit a psychologist. I was very dark, I could only think of suicide (and I tried), heard sad music, come up to such a point of seeing series of suicides and murders, etc. I wasted time with the psychologist but they couldn’t understand me and didn’t help me like I wanted. Nowadays I continue with this, doctors have diagnosed me with eating disorders, OCD, and obviously depression. Everything in my world has changed, I really feel alone and I’m trying to control my mental disorder but sometimes I can’t..

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Xandy M.

I want to say, yes, I was scared to admit there was something wrong with my mental health. I was scared to say ‘no I am not okay’ instead of ‘I’m fine’. I was scared of looks and about what other people would say. In the end I know, the stigma attached to mental illness has held me back a lot. But now, I want to share my story so maybe someone in a similar situation can say ‘yes, she got out of that; and I can too’. You’re stronger than you might think in that kind of situation. And I wish someone had told me that when I was down at rock bottom.

I hit rock bottom and I picked myself back up. That’s how I mostly start my story when I start to tell it. Of course, my story is a little bit longer than that. Growing up, most people would have described me as quite the happy child. I had a few friends, had some good and bad experiences, and never really had a lot of problems in school when it came to grades. Or so I thought. Thinking back, I now see a lot of holes that needed to be filled, however, those holes always stayed empty. I remember all too vividly how my parents told me they were getting divorced when I was five years old.

My mother sat at the kitchen table, crying, while my father stood about six feet away from her. I remember being told about what was going to happen and me asking myself if it was my fault and where I was going to go. Over time, I got used to the situation. Fast forward a few years and everything seemed to be going well, except for my grades in school. I was fourteen years old — in eighth grade — when I started questioning my sexuality. I remember getting bullied in my school over a rumor that said I liked girls, even though I wasn’t sure. I blocked it off and didn’t want to hear about it. Of course I denied it. My grades were bad enough that I had to repeat the eighth grade. By then, I had already been in therapy my mother arranged for me when I was thirteen. Nobody I knew had a therapist. To me, I was the only one in my environment who apparently ‘needed’ this. Now I know that even back then, I had depressive tendencies.

My mother sent me to a boarding school my second year in eighth grade. I was 15 by then. Even now I still don’t know if she did it because she couldn’t handle having me in the house anymore, because even then, I mostly wanted to be by myself. But even there, two hundred miles away from home, the cycle started again. Once again rumors came up that I heavily denied. However, this time around, I tried focusing on my grades — successfully in the end. I was sixteen and in ninth grade when I finally was ready to come out of the closet. I told myself ‘yes, I’m gay, and I don’t need anyone in my life who can’t accept me for who I really am’. And that’s how I went through the tenth and final grade until I graduated.

All this time, I had never really acknowledged that I indeed had depressive tendencies this whole time. However they first really came noticeably to the surface, noticeable, when my first real relationship ended after almost three years. I was nineteen at the time and I moved alone to a city I had only been to for a few days every now and then. I started working at a lawyer’s office, however, I didn’t take it seriously enough. I kept calling in sick and I remember wanting to hide in the deepest darkest corner there was. And after a while, that was exactly what I did. I got fired, I couldn’t afford the room I was living in anymore; I had to move back home to my mother.

Add a building up anxiety disorder to a depressive episode; and to that add pressure from everywhere in your environment and you get a mix that you do not manage to get out of on your own anymore. I got pressured into working at a hotel, something that has never been something I wanted to do. I lasted two months, then once again I crawled into the familiarity that was my deep, dark hole. I rarely left my room, not to mention the house, my sleep schedule was a mess and over the whole time until the beginning of this year, every day had been the same. I got up, maybe took a shower, I ate something, and I continued staying in the comfort zone that was my room. Over the span of the past few years, I had taken care of myself less and less, which slowly also had its affect on my weight. While I had never been someone who was completely skinny, over the time where I was down that far, I gained about 20kg (45lbs). I began fearing encounters with people I had met through the years of my life, which made me go out even less.

When I was at the lowest spot of my depression, the desire to move became less and less. A few friends of mine tried to contact me, and yet, I blocked them off. At some point, they would ask me if I would join them for anything and I told them I was busy. And in my mind, I knew it was a lie, since all I did was lie in bed all day and basically do nothing. Some people might think that depression means being sad all the time. For me, it was almost like a complete lack of emotion. I got told I didn’t care about anyone or anything, and yes, that was the truth. And while I wanted to feel bad for it, I couldn’t. I got vaguely suicidal, yet never enough that I would actually go through with it. However, I remember also not being completely opposed to the idea of suddenly stopping to exist. I remember some people not taking me seriously because yes, at some points I did laugh. I could watch the most adorable video of kittens on YouTube and I laughed and my mood lightened up. But as soon as I exited the video, I was out of that state again. I had no desire to change anything. I just didn’t care enough.

It was in June 2014 that my mother had me committed to a psychiatric hospital. However, back then I thought she was crazy. The whole time, I blamed her for giving me one of the worst experiences in my life thus far, even though now I know she only wanted to help me. After a week, I got out, and I packed my things and left the country. For two and a half months, I lived with a friend in England, for some reason thinking I was going to be able to build a life there from scratch. Just like that. And yet soon I realized, that there was indeed something wrong with me. After all these years pretending I was okay, I had started to believe it myself, and finally, it hit me like a ton of bricks that, yes, I was suffering from depression.

I flew back home to Germany, knowing I needed and wanted to change something. I started taking antidepressants and about half a year later, I spent five weeks in a clinic to get treatment for my depression. I noticed how the state of my mental health was improving. However, when I got back out, I lost balance once again. Not as bad as I had before, but quite similar.

Finally now, in July 2015, I can say that yes I hit rock bottom last year, but I managed to pull myself out of it. I started eating healthier and I started drinking a lot of water instead of juice or soda like I used to. I have started exercising, I go out to swim or to take long walks with my dog. And I am finally losing some of the weight I gained over those years. I am ready to take on life again, and I know there will be challenges ahead of me. But now I know I can do it. I pulled myself out of a very dark place in my life and I know that I can accomplish so much more.

In closing I want to say, yes, I was scared to admit there was something wrong with my mental health. I was scared to say ‘no I am not okay’ instead of ‘I’m fine’. I was scared of looks and about what other people would say. In the end I know, the stigma attached to mental illness has held me back a lot. But now, I want to share my story so maybe someone in a similar situation can say ‘yes, she got out of that; and I can too’. You’re stronger than you might think in that kind of situation. And I wish someone had told me that when I was down at rock bottom.

Twitter:  @xandy_93

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Joseph B

“What if.” My entire life revolved around “what if.” What if I can’t do this? What if someone laughs at me? What if someone sees me? What if, what if, what if? Two tiny words, by themselves are not particularly potent, but when put together, have the power to bring pause, to cause fear, and to change the very life and essence of a person.

Social Anxiety, PTSD, Depression, and Hope

I have severe social anxiety. I have PTSD. I have chronic depression. I also have hope!

Growing up was difficult for me. My father left when I was five, I was quite obviously gay, my stepfather was abusive, I was bullied daily at school, and sexually molested several times by three different men. By the time I became an adult, I no longer saw people, I only saw threats. Everyone used to comment on how observant I was and how impressed they were, when actually, it was just hyper sensitivity to my environment. I was constantly on guard for threats and possible uncomfortable situations. I always sat with my back against a wall. I look around and make sure I’m aware of all the exits and all the corners and hidden areas in a building, just in case. All of this was absolutely exhausting. And then when I went to bed, I would have nightmares. Being chased, hiding, being dragged along the ground or just that feeling of overwhelming sadness or evil during a dream for no reason.

After about 30 years of this, I finally decided that I would see a psychologist. It was a tough decision because I was afraid of anyone new and also because of the stigma associated with seeing a mental health professional. I mean, how could I ever live a normal life if I have a mental illness, as if ignoring it meant it didn’t exist. “What would people say,“ I wondered. “What if someone found out,” I asked myself.

“What if.” My entire life revolved around “what if.” What if I can’t do this? What if someone laughs at me? What if someone sees me? What if, what if, what if? Two tiny words, by themselves are not particularly potent, but when put together, have the power to bring pause, to cause fear, and to change the very life and essence of a person. To make a child who hoped to one day make a difference in the world; leave the world just a little bit brighter than when he came into it, stop and cringe at just the tiny little task of opening the front door and going to school. As an adult, fearful of calling the credit card company to tell them that the payment would be a little late. It was just easier to incur the late fee than to call them. What if the person on the phone judges me as a delinquent? What if the person on the phone doesn’t like me and decides to just cancel my card? What if, what if, what if?

I did finally go to the psychologist. I always felt just a little bit better when I left, however, she just wasn’t the right person for me. She questioned me when I said I was gay. And when, after a few weeks, told her that I had thought about it and that I am gay, simply said, “Ok.” So I stopped going. It was expensive anyway, I didn’t have a lot of money and what if I needed it for some sort of emergency, as if I had ever saved anything for emergencies. What if she was actually a homophobe and my going to her was a bad idea. What if, what if, what if!

After a few more years, I went to another psychologist. This time I went because I had an addiction. An addiction to food. The first time we met, I sat across from her and told her a little bit about me. She said that the Native Americans long ago thought of homosexuals as special people who were able to project both male and female and that they celebrated this. Finally, I had found someone whom I could tell my stories without fear, or at least not as much fear. Little did I know that 10 years later and what I can only imagine the limitless patience a person can muster, I have hope. I’ve changed my vocabulary by the smallest amount. One letter, completely insignificant by itself. I replaced the “f” with an “s”. Such a small change. Such an enormous consequence. What if has become What is. What if no longer rules my life, what is helps me to stay present. What is happening is change. What is my life going forward is hope. “What is” is the only thing that matters. What if makes us fearful. What is gives us hope.

What is your story going to be? Mine is Hope!

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Lauren

I still struggle every single day with my illness but I have learned that there is nothing wrong with it. I embrace it. I am me...and it is the most empowering and incredible feeling in the world. I am not crazy. I am creative and weird and smiley and sometimes a bit more emotional than others, but that is okay. It is all okay.

I was always different. I lied about who I was. I talked to myself like there was someone standing there listening. If I was happy…I got so hyper that I couldn’t control myself. If I was sad…I would lock myself in my room for days. I remember once in college I locked myself in my room for a week and only left my room when no one was there. And if I was mad…I would snap…you would want to stand clear of me. I always had this behavior with a smile…always “happy”. I should have become an actress. I hid everything. I did it all on my own because I was so scared that no one would understand it and that I would be deemed as “crazy”. Then I finally snapped…

About two years ago I began to slowly fall apart. My bucket overflowed… Thinking I was depressed and anxious, I went to my doctor and she put me on an insane cocktail of medication…200mg of Zoloft, 15mg of Busbar, 6mg of Ativan (the lethal dosage) and 40mg of Ritalin a day. I can’t even tell you how I functioned as a human. It is all a bit of a blackout. I was an absolute disaster. In my past, with all the shit I had been through, I was lost. Lauren was gone. I couldn’t even recognize myself in the mirror. It was like I was at my own funeral saying goodbye to the old me…the beautiful, lovable, smiley girl. I would have rather not be here on this earth than have people notice I was different.

Last July I had a nervous breakdown and tried to end my life, the night of July 11th, 2013.  My best friend took me to the hospital. Luckily nothing happened to me. No slowness of heartbeat or breath. The doctors couldn’t believe it.

My mother and uncle came to the hospital and brought me back to NY. I went straight to the doctor from the airport. After tests and extensive therapy, I was diagnosed with Bipolar and Hypo Mania disorder. Finding out later on that all the meds I was previously on actually have an extremely negative effect when a patient is bipolar and not “depressed” (and that amount of meds should not be given to a human anyway…its insane!).

I moved home to get back on my feet. I went to the doctor almost everyday. I started to workout. I began to write, draw and paint again. I had come back to life.

I still struggle every single day with my illness but I have learned that there is nothing wrong with it. I embrace it. I am me…and it is the most empowering and incredible feeling in the world. I am not crazy. I am creative and weird and smiley and sometimes a bit more emotional than others, but that is okay. It is all okay.

I once saw a painting titled “A black rainbow”. Such a simple piece. It is a black arch with gold at the bottom. But its meaning is so powerful and true. It’s life. You have to go through all the darkness to get to the gold…but you can never give up.

I wouldn’t take back anything in the world that I have been through. It makes me…me.

And anyone who thinks that life is all sparkles and cupcakes is kookier than I am.

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Shaina S

But there has been no judgement or stigma from anyone who knows about my conditions. Everyone in my life has been so supportive and no one has changed their views about me, and I want to share this story because IT DOES GET BETTER.

I’ve struggled with anxiety for over a year but I always dealt with it myself. I didn’t want to be labeled as “crazy” or define the issue. After my 16th birthday, everything spiraled out of control and the issues exploded. I had multiple panic attacks a day and was diagnosed with panic disorder and depression. Getting out of bed was struggle enough, going to high school?

My brain told me it was going to end in catastrophe. I went to maybe one class a day and spent the rest of the day in the psychologist’s office. I had a pretty bad streak of self-injury as well; it doesn’t help.

But the stigma surrounding these issues needs to be ended. I haven’t told many people except those closest to me because when people hear things like “panic disorder” or “depression”, they either think about how screwed up you are or how you want attention. But there has been no judgement or stigma from anyone who knows about my conditions. Everyone in my life has been so supportive and no one has changed their views about me, and I want to share this story because IT DOES GET BETTER. I didn’t think it would, but I’ve been on medication for about 2 months and in therapy twice a week and I have seen so much improvement.

I’m not going to lie to you, some days are still bad days. Some days I still hate myself for something I cannot control, and that is okay (even though it is undeserved). Mental illness is a reality, but not something to ever be ashamed of. I’ve learned that now.

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John B

Removing the stigma has been a tremendous blessing. If you are suffering, I tell you this straightforward. The stigma is as bad or worse. But you, in a place where you feel powerless, have the greatest power. To ask for help. To share your story. To be part of your own recovery, and to be part of others'. Removing the stigma allows us to be strongest when we are weakest, to help when we need help, and to show the way when we feel lost.

Thank you for your wonderful work. My name is John and I suffer from Depressive Episodes. They come, then they go. I am also the Senior and Founding Partner in a mediation firm, so at any given time there can be literally 100 people relying on or interacting with me. Because of that, I was forced to be very open about my condition. What I discovered was amazing.

My openness, which I thought was going to cost me business, family, friends, – instead, brought me closer to each. My transparency was not only the major part of my healing and is not only the major part of my management, but it is also one of the touchstones about how I relate to people.

The disease has humbled me, which made me more compassionate. The disease has had financial impact, which has made me appreciate resources. The disease has forced me to come out from behind the rock I portrayed, and as a result people know the real me, and then show me the real them, and my relationships on all fronts have been enriched and have become something I couldn’t have made them were I not suffering.

Removing the stigma has been a tremendous blessing. If you are suffering, I tell you this straightforward. The stigma is as bad or worse. But you, in a place where you feel powerless, have the greatest power. To ask for help. To share your story. To be part of your own recovery, and to be part of others’. Removing the stigma allows us to be strongest when we are weakest, to help when we need help, and to show the way when we feel lost.

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Loving Daughter

I remember looking over to the passenger seat to see my father with his hands holding his head up as he sobbed uncontrollably. He was supposed to be teaching me to drive, but instead his depression was winning without contest.

I think back to over a decade ago – to a time when I was in high school and learning to drive. I remember looking over to the passenger seat to see my father with his hands holding his head up as he sobbed uncontrollably. He was supposed to be teaching me to drive, but instead his depression was winning without contest. This was not what he wanted to do. He is an amazing dad, a former physician, and a loving human being. He wanted to be there for me, just as the day he taught me to ride a bike. This was the illness – this wasn’t my father.

I think back to such memories with great pain and sadness. I hear stories from mom about how others abandoned my father as a friend and a colleague following his diagnosis. That is stigma. This stigma gave me anger for so long, as I knew my father deserved to be understood and loved. Today, I have come to a place far away from anger and to a place of acceptance. I’ve come to understand the lessons that his illness has brought me and chosen to share those moments with others. I hope one day that this ugly stigma won’t hurt families loving those with mental illness… And I want to be a part of that change.

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Janine L

Today I am in my senior year of college. I still suffer with anxiety and depression. I have many more strides to make. But I feel more confident that I can make those strides. I am a Social Work major. I chose my major because I thought of my own story.

I have suffered from anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. As a child I didn’t understand what was happening to me and neither did any of the adults in my life. They thought I was just a very emotional kid. I had a very hard time making friends in elementary school because I was so afraid to leave home. I was suicidal for most of high school. It wasn’t until my first year of college when my anxiety increased so much so that I could not function in my daily life. I stopped eating. I had severe insomnia that kept me from sleeping more than a half hour each night for six months. I cried all the time. I stopped hanging out with my friends and started spending much more time alone for fear that I would irritate anyone I was with. During that time was when I saw my first therapist. I learned some coping mechanisms that began to work for me. It was also the first time I talked with any of my family members about my mental illness. The biggest step I made was talking to my mom with whom I’ve never had a good relationship. Soon after talking with her I learned that those closest to you will be your biggest support systems. Even if you don’t think they will be.

Today I am in my senior year of college. I still suffer with anxiety and depression. I have many more strides to make. But I feel more confident that I can make those strides. I am a Social Work major. I chose my major because I thought of my own story. No one in my life spoke up about my behavior as a child. Whether they weren’t informed or they just didn’t want to talk about it, that conversation never happened. Every day of my life I wonder what would have changed if I had been informed about mental illnesses as a child. How would those first seventeen years of my life been different? Through my career and my daily life I hope to spark that conversation in parents. I want the next generation to talk about mental illness so that more children aren’t afraid of or embarrassed by their mental illness growing up. Just reading this website made me cry because it seems like I’m not the only one who wants that too. Thank you all so much.

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Paula G

I just wanted you to know that your efforts to educate and increase awareness about mental illness are helping my children understand me, and everyone else with mental illness. That means so much to me. You are impacting families and helping them learn to love and support one another, while they become more compassionate people. I thank you deeply for that. It means so much.

It is Mother’s Day and my daughters just told me how much they have learned from my illness and thanked me for being the mother I was to them. This is 8 years after my husband divorced me when they were 14 and 16 due to my first real mania after 25 years of being misdiagnosed with only depression. Neither I nor my husband had any idea of what behavior could be caused by mania.

I kept my depressions hidden and was the active suburban mom. My hypomania showed in increased enthusiasm, projects, lack of sleep, but never severe misbehavior. My husband’s response to keep me from living at home with my children and try to convince them that I was not capable of being their mother had a bewildering effect upon them, and caused me pain you cannot imagine. It took many years for our relationships to be restored.

I am now well into my recovery and they know how hard it has been and that I was treated unfairly. But one of the things my daughter mentioned was that now she and her sister know the symptoms and she quoted from the ad from the campaign you have running to increase awareness of mental illness among men. She said, “Even people like …(some star athlete I can’t remember) can get this and 1 out of 4 people have it. They are concerned that their older sister has it, whereas my ex-husband will not even acknowledge that possibility.

Through the long hard road to recovery, they have learned that I am not dangerous, bizarre, scary, or incapable of being their mother as they were told. In fact, up until the time I became seriously ill, I did a good job in spite of battling my illness and being in an un-supportive marriage. Motherhood is not easy and is especially difficult when you have any kind of illness.

I just wanted you to know that your efforts to educate and increase awareness about mental illness are helping my children understand me, and everyone else with mental illness. That means so much to me. You are impacting families and helping them learn to love and support one another, while they become more compassionate people. I thank you deeply for that. It means so much.

After 8 years of pain and struggle, I have been affirmed by my children as they expressed their love for me, and I start a full-time job tomorrow that is just right for me. Not what I was educated for, or the salary I made in the past, but good, honest work that is not too stressful, so I can continue to maintain wellness. I will never be wealthy or have material luxuries, but I have wonderful daughters all graduating from college and making it on their own.

Thank you again for helping them see that their family situation was not so out of the ordinary, or anything to be ashamed of. What you are doing is so very important in ending the shame and stigma that come with mental illness and for the family members that are painfully affected by it, often times in silent isolation. My goal is to promote advocacy and ministry to families with mental health needs within the church and create church outreach to the community. I am very glad to have BC2M as a reference in this endeavor.

No family should have to hide in shame in order to feel accepted in a community that should be demonstrating the compassion of God. My vision is that one day, people with mental illness will be eager to come to church because they know it is a safe haven of understanding, love and practical help in time of need, instead of being afraid of being misjudged, met with suspicion and mistrust, or just totally ignored out of ignorance. Or worse, being blamed for their own illness, which creates unimaginable suffering for all, and may very well prove to be fatal. Thank you again for being a voice for those that may be too ill to speak and a blessing to children with mentally ill parents.

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Chris

Contrary to what most people think I would not change a thing about myself, including being bipolar. Yes, the depressions can be relentless and sometimes feel dehumanizing, but before my disorder was affecting me I had a much smaller perspective, and by going through the ups and downs my eyes have been opened to so much.

My name is C.J., I’m 19 and I have bipolar 1 disorder. Contrary to what most people think I would not change a thing about myself, including being bipolar. Yes, the depressions can be relentless and sometimes feel dehumanizing, but before my disorder was affecting me I had a much smaller perspective, and by going through the ups and downs my eyes have been opened to so much. I was lucky to get a medication that worked well for me early but I still struggle, and have never forgotten the vacation days in Florida when I would think about jumping off the balcony and even look over the edge for awhile…in fucking Florida.

But I’m not writing this for sympathy, I’m writing this for change and also a personal idea I’ve been thinking about to help everyone with a mental illness.

First of all, I’m going to modify a common saying in which I don’t like, and that is: your illness doesn’t define you. Instead I would change it to: your illness defines a lot about you (how you think, feel, and respond), but it doesn’t take away all of your humanity unless you give it the missing piece it needs to consume you. I believe that no matter how little you are able to feel, there are still some left, but if even that doesn’t exist there are memories of feeling. Hold on for those memories, remind yourself whenever you see a natural smile that all is not lost…that’s how I survived.

Also, when I get really depressed, I avoid all those people around me because most of the people I’m around don’t make any sense to me. Most are happy, and talkative. Two of the things I hate most while depressed are happy people and talking to happy people (I’m sure many of you know what I mean). Its partially because we want to be happy ourselves and are so far from it we don’t know how to have a happy conversation, so we hide.

But then I came up with this great idea, why don’t we all hide together, come together. One thing I know for sure is being around people that have never had a personal experience with depression or a mental illness can be very unhelpful with regards to the illness itself. They tend to go for the heart when really the head is the thing experiencing trauma. Of course in those times you appreciate the support but its not enough.

I also tend to shy away from even those who are closest to me. The one refuge I found (besides proper medication) is to have some type of social interaction with someone. That person is someone just like you, someone who feels alone even when surrounded. So by talking about their depression or about depressing things actually lifted my spirits, and I’m sure talking with someone who can empathize will be great for you too. By finding a genuine bond with someone and helping each other to find the positive in the problem.

Using this structure I want to create more than a website. I want to create a rehab type place where you can come and go as you please without any requirements of any kind. Therapy outside of the psychiatrists office and into a hangout spot with listeners, ‘understanders’, and friends. That sounds much better than going to see a guy who nods and tells you its only temporary and you will get over it eventually.

So ya if anyone thinks this is a good/bad idea please leave a comment. Everyone’s input matters, even those who may not think it does ☺

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Lukas

I may not get to be a rich and famous musician like I had dreamed, but I won't give up on being a good person and the best father I can be. My heart is with every single sufferer of Agoraphobia and Panic Disorder.

I grew up absolutely certain that I would be a successful professional musician. I knew this was what I was meant to do. At least if I couldn’t attain this rockstar status, I never had doubts about my future or at all expected that panic and Agoraphobia would turn everything upside down. I am 28, and have suffered from Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia and Depression since I was 22. I had panic attacks now and again starting at age 20, and it seems that one day I was immersed into a frightening world of senseless panic and derealization. My body felt numb, weightless, my head experiencing odd new pains, my breath seemed nowhere to be found. And this was the new me. I found a great amount of relief from all my symptoms with medication, however the only medication that seems to effect me positively is frowned upon by doctors. I have experimented with different psychologists and find therapy to be a world in which you must seek out someone who can understand your problem and experiences with empathy, and that can be difficult. Depression has set in for me multiple times, especially when realizing that my panic can and will deter me from achieving my dreams. I know the difficulty of attempting to play music to large crowds in large venues or wide open spaces, the impossibility of touring and flying in airplanes. Although I have been able to play smaller venues with the aid of my medication, I know that the road I was on has come to an end. I am coming to terms with that and am trying to regain my happiness and start living a somewhat normal life. I now have a son, less than a year old, whom I love more than anything, more than I knew was possible. For him I try to push on and find ways to cope with fear. My beautiful boy deserves an amazing life and I will do everything I can to make sure my disorder doesn’t interfere with his life. I have faith in therapy and am looking forward to seeing results. I may not get to be a rich and famous musician like I had dreamed, but I won’t give up on being a good person and the best father I can be. My heart is with every single sufferer of Agoraphobia and Panic Disorder.

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Windows 7 Product Key | Windows 7 Product Key Free For You Kallie C

I was in denial of what was happening. I was only 24 years old and my life was in complete chaos. This was not how my life was supposed to turn out. I found that after 3 years of fighting the truth, I was EXHAUSTED.

MY STORY
“Why be mediocre, when you can be extraordinary?” This is a statement that will both encourage me and haunt me throughout the rest of my life. This was the statement said to me on my first day as a division 1 volleyball player by my coach. This statement can be said to thousands and to them it is just another quote of inspiration. This is not the case with me. This statement was a challenge that I had to conquer. I was OBSESSED.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with living by this statement. If anything, it is a great statement to live your life by! You will never make excuses and ultimately you will find success. To any outsider I did have success during my collegiate career; Virginia Freshman and Player of the Year, Conference Player of the year, multiple All- Tournament teams, Tournament MVP’s, conference Player of the Year, #3 in the nation in triple doubles, Honorable Mention All- American and 2000-2009 Conference All- Decade Honoree. These honors were nice, but they were not enough. I did not celebrate these achievements. Each honor added more of a burden to do better the next time around. I would not allow myself to be satisfied with anything. I believed that if I was satisfied, then I would become relaxed in my training and never be great. I saw this way of life as that of someone training to be extraordinary. I was in CONTROL.

Here are the facts of my senior year Fall 2009 season; I entered preseason on a high dose of anti- depressants which caused me to be restless, I kept my roommates in the dark on my mental health, I removed myself from the relationships I had formed on the team and decided that my Coach’s words were more important than the Word of God. Without going into too much detail, for it is a long story, I ended up leaving school after the semester was over. I finished my schooling online. God showed me that He could strip me of everything that I believed to be important with an injury less than 3mm long. I had failed my team, my coach and my family. I had become just another statistic of athletes whom had a career ending injury. I was washed up and forgotten by my community. I was a FAILURE.

I was angry. I didn’t care anymore. I loved God, but I let the world decide what was best for me. I immersed myself with the wrong people and allowed myself to do things that I knew were wrong. Drinking, partying and bitterness replaced prayer, devotion and peace. But I didn’t care; I was mediocre now, so nothing mattered. I was LOST.

As fast as my life had changed in college, it changed just as fast again. I moved back home and re- entered the life that had been recently foreign to me. I realized that I had been a prodigal child and yet, nobody knew it. I only saw mediocrity when I looked in the mirror and so, it became an obsession to be perfect. I relied on my abusive friendship with compulsive rituals to help solve this quest for perfection. These habits caused me to spiral back into anxiety and depression. I substituted my faith for works. The mirror that originally reflected only mediocrity now reflected shame. I had knowingly sinned against my Creator. I had disappointed God. I had failed my God. I was a DISAPPOINTMENT.

I believed that I had to humble myself to God through self-hate and self- harm. I believed that I had to earn God’s trust and love. I believed that I had to hold onto my shame, for if I let go of it, it would be like accepting that my sinful actions were acceptable. I was CONFUSED.

I don’t know why God would want someone so confused and damaged, but He did. In His perfect timing, God introduced just the right people into my life. When these people met me I could not accept love, so they pursued me. I could not read scripture nor pray out loud, so they taught me confidence. I would try and run, but they showed me persistence. I would deny their words, but they showed me patience. I refused peace, so they would hold me until I was calm. I could not face my shame, so they denounced its authority for me. I could not see the truth, so they immersed me in it. They showed me that I was a High Priestess, Fearfully and Wonderfully made, a Champion for Christ and Forgiven. The only problem was I didn’t want to fully accept it. I was STUBBORN.

I grew up listening to gut wrenching testimonies from people who said they didn’t realize how bad it was until they hit rock bottom. I was no different. Even though I had an army fighting my battles, I still allowed my stubbornness to ultimately propel me into a mental health hospital. I was in denial of what was happening. I was only 24 years old and my life was in complete chaos. This was not how my life was supposed to turn out. I found that after 3 years of fighting the truth, I was EXHAUSTED.

I will never forget the night before I was released from the hospital. Earlier that morning my parents decided that they wanted me to move with them to Texas. They believed that it would be good for me to be around family and to have time to heal. I was torn on the decision, but agreed to move. That night I was sitting in the common area reading a devotional book. A woman, who had attempted suicide the day before, approached me and asked me what I was reading. Instead of becoming anxious, shameful or scared, I decided to read aloud to her. As it turns out others heard me reading. When I looked up from the book, 4 other patients had joined our circle. After 5 minutes, our little book club had grown to about 8 people. We shared testimonies. We talked about God. We talked about His grace. We talked about His sacrifice. It was starting to get late and our group was starting to disperse. I had planned on trying to remove myself from the group without anybody seeing me, but before I knew it, I asked the group if I could pray for them instead. This was the defining moment in my life. Days before this moment, I would have gone into an incapacitating anxiety attack, full of shaking, jerking, stuttering and the overwhelming need to run away at even the mention of me having to pray out loud in front of people. The difference at this moment was that the Holy Spirit calmed me and whispered, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” And He was with me. I was FREE.

I wish I could say that after that moment I was perfect and that I never dealt with the temptations of my intrusive rituals; however that is not the case. It took many more months and many more challenging moments to completely expel my prior way of thinking. It is only by God’s amazing grace that today, I am CHANGED.

So, “Why be mediocre, when you can be extraordinary?” I still live by this mantra; however I do not see myself as mediocre. If I was mediocre, I would still be obsessed with perfection. If I was mediocre, I would still believe that I am in control of everything in my life. If I was mediocre, I would still see myself as a failure. If I was mediocre, I would still be lost in my destructive thoughts. If I was mediocre, then I would still be a disappointing mess. If I was mediocre, I would still be confused about the difference between truth and lies. If I was mediocre, I would still be stubbornly defending my abusive lifestyle. If I truly was mediocre, I would be exhausted with the fight and I would be dead. A mediocre person gives up, but I am not mediocre. I am alive and extraordinary because HE is the ultimate I AM!

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Dana M

Who thinks like this? I was a pharmaceutical rep in the psychiatry division. I know how the meds works and what chemical changes are happening in my brain. I have literally tried to will my neurotransmitters to behave.

On September 25, 2012 I tried to end my life with a bunch of pills and a bottle of Jack Daniels. Most people don’t know that. Most people don’t know that I have been struggling with mental illness since my late 20’s. People don’t know this because I made my family promise not to tell anyone how damaged and weak I thought I was. It has only been recently that my extended family was told the horror that has been my life off and on for the last 8 years.

I was ashamed and embarrassed that I couldn’t control my own thoughts. A person should be able to do at least that, right? What did I have to be so sad about? I had a blessed life. Went to a good college, had a great job, great friends, I was healthy, I traveled, and I had started graduate school.

When you finally admit that this is not normal and that you cannot control the depression, you try everything to get your brain and your life back to how it was when you were on top of the world. All the doctors, medications, treatments, therapy, yoga, meditation, acupressure didn’t work. Do you know how expensive it is to be crazy? I lost my job, my boyfriend, friends, my mind and my 24 inch waist.

The darkness is not quiet. Sometimes it speaks loudly to me. The darkness pierces through my logical, rational and reasonable mind. It shouts, “You will never find a husband nor ever be a good mother. You tricked everyone at school into thinking you were smart and talked your way into that 6 figure job. Soon they will all find out the truth. You are a burden and draining all the goodness and love out of the people who care about you. You are not fun anymore because you are so sad. You are not helping anyone nor contributing anything good. You are just a load of stress and drama for anyone who knows you.” The darkness clings to me like wet clothes. I yell back, “But I love things! I love game night and I love food and my friends and family. I don’t want to leave.” The darkness roars back. “You should just end it.” I cannot breathe because the darkness is squeezing my body and taking up all the good air. I try to bark back, “Shut up…” but it comes out feebly because of all the tears. The darkness is not just hopelessness and desperation. It is overwhelming despair and all consuming misery screaming its penetrating lies.

Knowing that those thoughts aren’t healthy or normal, and not being able to control the rapid and persistent onslaught of negativity and anguish in my own mind. Who thinks like this? I was a pharmaceutical rep in the psychiatry division. I know how the meds works and what chemical changes are happening in my brain. I have literally tried to will my neurotransmitters to behave.

By God’s grace, I am still alive. It’s been almost 2 years since that devastating and yet redeeming day. I have found not only eternal salvation in God, but an earthly salvation in Him daily.

I am feeling better than I have in years. I have a great doctor who has finally found a combination of medications that help keep the depression at bay. My family is amazing; infinitely loving and incredibly supportive. (If you know them- give them a hug, because they have been through a lot too.) I have friends whose love for me convinces me there is a God. Where else could such love come from?

I am not an eloquent writer nor do I have a unique story. I write this in part, selfishly. I don’t want to have to explain why I am not working or why I had to drop out of grad school. But I also write this to try to explain how depression feels and how it destroys. And to give hope that it isn’t always a death sentence.

Things people said that helped me:

“Can I come over and vacuum your house?”
“Can I go pick up some groceries for you?”
“God loves you.”
“I love you.”

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Jessica

I now see my depression and anxiety as a gift. I can feel everything more deeply and understand others so much more than I could have without it. Just know that you are NOT alone and that you will make it through this. The more we talk about what we are going through the faster we can get rid of the stigma of mental health disorders. Love and Light.

I grew up in a home with a father who was always working and not emotionally available and a narcissistic, bi-polar mother. My older and only sister was the golden child of the family and could do no wrong so of course I wanted to be just like her. I was always a very sensitive and emotional child. I can remember sitting next to someone and feeling their pain. I was also a very artistic child. I was always putting on plays and singing. I appeared to be a very happy child on the outside. Inside I was anxious and depressed. When I was eleven I remember having my first bout with major depression. My parents had fought and fought for as long as I can remember but this time, after leaving with my mother for a few weeks and finally returning home, I couldn’t bring myself to feel happy. This happened a lot but I didn’t tell anyone about it instead I wrote and sang along to music that told my story, well at least the way I was feeling at the time.

At the age of fourteen I was raped by my boyfriend in the basement of my parents home. This threw me into a very deep depression and for the first time I started having panic attacks. Music and God were truly the only reason I made it through the days. I eventually began cutting, but on my thighs and other places that could only be seen by me. There were any number of suicide scenarios that played out in my mind nightly. I even attempted two of those but couldn’t get very far. As you can imagine my mother and I didn’t have the greatest relationship and her mental illness certainly affected mine because she was not, and still isn’t, dealing with it. By the time I had reached my senior year in high school I had missed a TON of days, but luckily I had taken enough dance and art credits at a local state college to graduate. In fact I didn’t attend the most of the last half of my senior year because I couldn’t get out of bed. I blamed most of it on migraines, which I did have, but the real reason I couldn’t get out of bed was because I really couldn’t get out of bed! When I finally broke down and told my mother about the rape, she somehow made it all about her of course, I started down the long road of medications. One made me drool and completely unable to hold a pen once it took effect and another made me completely manic. Over the years I’ve felt completely alone in my struggle to become me.

Feelings weren’t something to talk about, they were something to stuff away or if you did talk it was screaming. I’ve had many failed relationships and one failed marriage and I know that a lot of that was from me not being open about having depression and anxiety. Thankfully I have a husband who also understands depression. We talk. We are open. We don’t judge how the other is feeling. Having your feelings validated by your significant other, even just your family or friends, makes all the difference. Just because you don’t understand doesn’t mean that feeling they are having is invalid. I live in LA now and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. We’re all freaks in our own ways and in LA you can let that fly. I find now that being open and being completely myself that others who get it gravitate toward me. I have to give much love to the To Write Love On Her Arm project for giving me hope, but also giving me the power to use my voice for others who are going through what I went through. I now see my depression and anxiety as a gift. I can feel everything more deeply and understand others so much more than I could have without it. Just know that you are NOT alone and that you will make it through this. The more we talk about what we are going through the faster we can get rid of the stigma of mental health disorders. Love and Light.

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#Scooting4Scooter

Mental illness is just that - an illness. It's no different than heart disease or cancer; people are fighting every day, and these diseases do not discriminate. If you had met my dad, you would never have guessed he was sick. That's one of the scariest and saddest parts of mental illness - so many people struggle silently.

My dad was the best at nicknames; everyone in our family had one. Mik and I are Boo Boo and The Mikker. He had quite a few himself throughout his life, too. He was known as Scotty, Scamp, and Stallion (to name a few!), but the one that really stuck was Scooter.

He wouldn’t let Mik call him “Mr. Scampini” when they met, and once his first grandson was born, “Grandpa” didn’t really suit him, so Scooter it was. His affinity for nicknames was just one of the MANY things that made my dad the wonderful, unique guy he was. He was handsome, charming, smart, goofy, loving, business-savvy, and quite the golfer.

He also lived most of his life with depression and bipolar disorder, but I didn’t really know about it until I was in my late twenties.  He didn’t let it define him. Unfortunately, though, like many individuals with mental illness, he was also ashamed to discuss it with his parents, closest friends, and even with us, his own family.

He lost his battle with depression and mental illness in October 2013, and I still can’t believe he’s gone. I also can’t imagine the isolation he felt hiding this massive struggle for his entire life.

Mental illness is just that – an illness. It’s no different than heart disease or cancer; people are fighting every day, and these diseases do not discriminate. If you had met my dad, you would never have guessed he was sick. That’s one of the scariest and saddest parts of mental illness – so many people struggle silently.

So, we’re going to take some time and money out of our trip to dedicate our #Scooting4Scooter. Every dollar we spend on scooting (which we hope to do in every country!), we’ll match and donate to BringChange2Mind. It might not be much, but it’s something.  And more importantly, we hope to shed some light and chip away at the wall of stigma surrounding mental illness.

We invite you to join us on each scooter ride through our photographs and videos, with a soundtrack provided by Scooter’s favorite tunes. Perhaps you’ll feel inclined to match our donations. (*If you do decide to match us, mention #Scooting4Scooter in your comments, please.)

Or, better yet, help break down the wall and foster a community of support:  Share your story with BringChange2Mind.

Originally published on Becca and Mik’s Blog, Major Departure.

http://www.majordeparture.com/scooting4scooter/

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Liz B.

I am a survivor because my mom made me get help. I’m a survivor because of a wonderful therapist and an anti-depressant that worked like a bloody miracle for me. I am alive because a few friends stood by me when I was not much fun to be around, and when isolation and sleep were my only escape from this exhausting life. How lucky I am.

I remember my 30th birthday well. I was given a surprise party by my two best friends; they coordinated an amazing fete without having met, while living on different coasts. It was really wonderful, but my real gift that year was passing a grave milestone I had set for myself. I had somehow convinced myself that if I lived to be 30, I would have crossed a threshold that ensured I would not become schizophrenic like my brother.

I made it. I had dodged a bullet, or so I thought. What I didn’t know then was that a numbing and severe depression would overtake me decades later. I come by this naturally. Disorders of the brain, including, but not limited to depression, alcoholism and other addictions, exist on both sides of our family tree. My family is not unusual in that regard. One in three of us will suffer from mental illness at some point in our lives.

I was plunged into an abyss from which I could not get out on my own. The New Englander in me figured I could pull myself up by my bootstraps; I wasted a year of my life thinking like that. The reality was that I barely had the energy to feed myself and dropped 13 pounds before I even had a name for my indifference to life, everyday social interactions, or the fall leaves that I had always looked forward to each year.

Most of you would never guess this about me and that’s exactly why I am telling you now. My silence has been at odds with my desire to erase the terrible stigma that is all too real and pervades our common vernacular, the workplace, places of worship, and our private conversations.

There is something safer about sharing it now. The Affordable Care Act means I can not be excluded by an insurer for my pre-existing condition, nor can I be dropped because of it. This is a Godsend not just for me, but for the millions of Americans who suffer from some form of mental illness. My brother lost his insurance just 20 days after his first psychotic break; he was deemed uninsurable—too expensive. Unworthy.

I am a survivor because my mom made me get help. I’m a survivor because of a wonderful therapist and an anti-depressant that worked like a bloody miracle for me. I am alive because a few friends stood by me when I was not much fun to be around, and when isolation and sleep were my only escape from this exhausting life. How lucky I am.

At the end of the month, I will be 57, twice as old as my brother was when he took his own life. I want to honor my good health and my life with a birthday wish that was also his: to give to mental health research so that we can improve treatment options and one day find a cure.

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Victoria

My story starts at a young age! I was just 9 years old when I told my parents I needed help because I just couldn't handle being so sad anymore. So my parents made me an appointment with a psychiatrist and a therapist. The psychiatrist diagnosed me with depression, anxiety & social phobia. I actually still have the piece of paper to this day that he wrote my diagnosis on.

My story starts at a young age! I was just 9 years old when I told my parents I needed help because I just couldn’t handle being so sad anymore. So my parents made me an appointment with a psychiatrist and a therapist. The psychiatrist diagnosed me with depression, anxiety and social phobia. I actually still have the piece of paper to this day that he wrote my diagnosis on. Even though I got on depression medicine it still didn’t help with my social phobia. Due to my social phobia I missed school… A LOT. I stayed home more than I went & due to that I started failing and my friends abandoned me.

When I was 13 I got in trouble for truancy and I was given an ultimatum to either go inpatient and get help for my depression and social phobia or go to juvenile hall so I chose to go inpatient. So there I was at the front doors of a big mental health hospital and I was scared to death. I was sitting in the waiting room waiting to be evaluated to be put inpatient. Finally they called me back there into a small dark room with a round table and four chairs. There sat me, my mom, my dad and the evaluator. She asked me all kinds of questions like: Have you ever been physically abused? No. Have you ever been sexually abused? No. Have you ever thought about ending your life? I sadly had to answer yes. I looked over at my mom who had tears rolling down her face and I felt so bad. After about 3 hours they finally said they were keeping me.

I had to say goodbye to my Mom and Dad which was so scary for me! I went to the back where they showed me my room & gave me a hospital bracelet. They stripped searched me and then told me it was shower time. They assigned me a “shower box” with baby shampoo, conditioner, a little bar of soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste. I got into the shower and couldn’t figure out how to turn on the shower so I had a panic attack and sat in the floor crying. That first night was very hard, but after that I was so glad that I went! My depression was a lot better after I got on a different medicine. I stayed for 6 days and got out the day before Thanksgiving.

Even though my depression was better my social phobia was still bad and I still didn’t go to school. I was told about a school at the hospital where I  decided to go. It was called day treatment and I met a lot of people like me and a lot of people worse than me. Going to day treatment was one of the best decisions I ever made! I ended up leaving there to go back to school and I did for a little bit, but I decided to drop out because my social phobia was still so bad. Eventually I stopped seeing a psychiatrist because I really thought I was getting better. In July 31st 2011 my Dad passed away.  He was my best friend and my whole world crashed. Every morning when I woke up it felt like a bad dream and I would just cry my eyes out. I eventually went back to the psychiatrist and got back on depression medicine.

I decided I wanted to get my GED and graduate for my Dad so I went back to day treatment because they started a new GED class and I was the first one to get my GED out of the class. It felt so good to be able to say I’d done it – that I got my diploma! I eventually sorta stopped taking my medication. By sorta I mean that I took it a few times a week and that was it. Then I lost my insurance and I couldn’t afford my depression medicine so I let my PCP change it to a $4 script from Walmart and I was doing okay and eventually I got my insurance back, but stupidly I didn’t go back to the psychiatrist and I got to where I was crying myself to sleep every night, but I was hiding it. When I couldn’t hide it anymore I called to get back in to see a psychiatrist and they either didn’t take my insurance or there was a long waiting list. I cried constantly and I didn’t wanna live anymore. If it wasn’t for my Momma I would be dead.  I eventually had to go inpatient to get on some new medicine. It was once again one of the best decisions I ever made. Not only did I get better, but I met a lot of amazing people in the 7 days I was there! I’m always gonna battle my mental illness, but I’ve learned that I can’t go without medicine and to never stop going to my psychiatrist! We need to end the stigma on mental health! People shouldn’t be afraid to tell someone they’re suffering from a mental illness! I believe that if we all share our story we could really help end the stigma! If my story helps just one person then it was completely worth writing! No one should be ashamed or try to hide their mental illness! #EndTheStigma

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Emily D.

It took unimaginable strength and support to overcome my mental illnesses: severe depression, anxiety, and ADD. Today, I live a happy, healthy, and sober life and I can't thank my family and friends enough for getting me the help I needed when I was suffering from a true medical disorder: mental illness.

Moving to a new school district in the 7th grade, I felt awkward and out of place. I felt as if everyone hated me and I was incapable of being loved. Eventually I began self harming: burning, cutting, anything that caused pain; this went on for about two years. Multiple suicide attempts later, my parents finally became aware of my condition. I was suffering in silence, too embarrassed to reveal my hardships to my family. Few close friends kept me strong through such tough times, and once my parents sent me to therapy I began acting out more than I ever had. Tricking and lying constantly to my therapist who was only trying to help me, I began spiraling even further out of control. Drugs, sex, and alcohol began my source of life; eventually it was all too much and I overdosed one final time. Luckily, a friend realized what I was doing and notified my mom. My parents carried me to the hospital and they were able to keep me alive. I spent 7 days in a psychiatric hospital. After a short amount of time my medication began to take effect and things got better. It wasn’t overnight, nor was it easy. It took unimaginable strength and support to overcome my mental illnesses: severe depression, anxiety, and ADD. Today, I live a happy, healthy, and sober life and I can’t thank my family and friends enough for getting me the help I needed when I was suffering from a true medical disorder: mental illness.

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Thomas S.

Never give up never! My story is here today to stop people from holding on to pain so long to themselves and to tell someone before you can't! Don't wait and make the same mistakes I did for 2 years!!! Just say help.

I used to have a perfect life. I had all the friends in the world and everyone loved me. I started getting a lot of concussions around 9th grade. No big deal right? Well, I never got treated for them and they all happened together and a short period of time. I just thought all my problems would go away. They didn’t, and I didn’t know what was going on with me so I tried to run away from my problems. I was depressed all of a sudden. Extremely. I thought it was just because my parents were getting a divorce, but I didn’t know. I started smoking pot, going down the wrong path, hanging out with the wrong people. Acting different and in turn I was never the same man again. Long story short, I got my life together but my depression still weighed on me everyday. From waking up and staring at the ceiling for an hour, not wanting to wake up and go deal with the world. I felt like I didn’t belong. I’m not the same anymore, I tried to take my life one night. I regret that every second of every hour of everyday. I LOVE MY LIFE and this mental illness pushed me to my limit. Once I had gotten help from a doctor and on anti depressants my life started to change. For the better but slowly, it’s still a struggle and you have to keep fighting! Never give up, never! My story is here today to stop people from holding on to pain so long to themselves and to tell someone before you can’t! Don’t wait and make the same mistakes I did for 2 years!!! Just say help.

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Sam

My wife said I would go six months without talking. I didn't understand it myself. After struggling through college, and one major breakdown, I thought I was better? I continued to worsen into a darkness I did not understand. I began to research anything I could find, educating myself and trying to educate others.

Hi, my name is Sam, and I have had Major Depressive Disorder and anxiety since I was 17. I am now 50, and wished there would have been someone to share with many years ago. My travels with depression started at 17 when my mother passed away, my father had passed 8 years earlier. I began to what the therapist called “self-medicate” in my late teens. Alcohol and drugs were my release. I worked and drank for 6 years when I finally decided my child was more important. It didn’t take the darkness away, but it did give me something to take my mind off my depression. My wife said I would go six months without talking. I didn’t understand it myself. After struggling through college, and one major breakdown, I thought I was better. I continued to worsen into a darkness I did not understand. I began to research anything I could find, educating myself and trying to educate others. They said the typical things-just get over it and why are you depressed. Not being shy about my depression and anxiety, I found many people that were just as afraid as I used to be. With my openness, I have helped a few get help and not to be afraid. I am a school teacher, and my colleagues that don’t understand, don’t take me seriously, but that is alright. I am open with my students, hoping I can help some that are or will be dealing with mental illness. They are more supporting than the adults. I am still struggling, looking for the newest treatments, but I will survive! The most important thing, TAKE CHARGE OF YOURSELF. I would have gotten nowhere unless I had pressured the doctors to help me. Research! That is how I found BC2M. Thank you for letting me tell just part of the story.

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Chris

All I can say is to anyone out there is know you are not alone. Seek help and don't feel ashamed if you do.

I have battled with depression for the better part of 10 years now even though I am only 23 years old. Some days are fine I can wake up and have a regular day of school and work. Other days I wake up and I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders and I don’t know what to do. I have harmed myself, wrote suicide notes and pushed people out of my life so I couldn’t hurt them either. I have learned that you are not alone which I am finally starting to understand. I told no one for the longest time trying to figure out what was going on in my head because I couldn’t explain it to anyone if they asked and I know I was so different. Now after doing my own research I know no one is alone. Even if you don’t have someone in your immediate life know that there is someone out there that knows what you are going through and can help. I will struggle with this everyday and have my good days. All I can say is to anyone out there is know you are not alone. Seek help and don’t feel ashamed if you do.

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Joan

Humans seem hard wired to wonder about causes of death and even to ask point blank or to fish for answers. I realized I could neither lie nor bear the face to face reactions if I spoke the truth. My family had hidden it's mental illness issues from everyone pretty darn well....

Both parents committed suicide, Daddy in the garage via carbon monoxide and Mom by her request to not be force fed. She died of starvation 21 days later. He was 74 and she was 81, living fully independent lives in their own home. Daddy was still working part-time delivering prescriptions and his sunny disposition to disabled people… But both had struggled for years with mental illness. He had taken anti-depressants for many years. She was supportive of him but did never acknowledged she was also in deep water.

I am writing to let you know how my 4 other siblings and I dealt with their obituaries. Tell the truth about their deaths? Mention nothing and leave everyone not in the know to speculate? Leave future generations of the family living with stories passed down that were just wrong? Try to keep it a secret as if we were ashamed?? Humans seem hard wired to wonder about causes of death and even to ask point blank or to fish for answers. I realized I could neither lie nor bear the face to face reactions if I spoke the truth. My family had hidden it’s mental illness issues from everyone pretty darn well….

We voted and it was 4 for truth and one no. We went with truth and the no voter cut off contact with us for several years. (Everyone was hurting and grief makes you say/do the wacky.) We mentioned his long-term psychiatrist by name, thanking him for helping Daddy be with us for this long. We thanked Daddy for dealing with the side effects of medication so he could function as the sunny-dispositioned, pun-loving kind man he really was. He was so active in the community it would shock/surprise most people to learn he had chronic depression, taking meds, etc.

The local paper, with our support, did a story and editorial about Daddy in addition to our paid obituary. It started on the front page with his photo and title of article something like “Local Icon” passes away. The editorial was about inadequate funding of mental health services in our county. We had notes from strangers on the online memorial thing thanking us for honesty, revealing their own stories of loved ones who had committed suicide but it was kept secret. Losing a loved one is a heavy enough blow to one’s heart. Must we add the burden of carrying secrecy/shame about its cause as well??

Four years later, despite having been on anti-depressants since 2 years before their deaths, a loving husband, great career, and comfortable living circumstances, I had spiraled down so far mentally that I sought admission for in-patient mental health treatment. I stabilized within a week and happened to be discharged on my 50th birthday. Again I faced the issue of telling people the truth or not. I elected truth when appropriate. There is such a thing as TMI. 🙂

Is there still a stigma? Yes, but I have personally witnessed it fading over the past 40 years. I am doing my small part to have people view seeking mental health treatment like getting an eye exam. Wearing glasses can help you see better. Appropriate mental health treatment helps you think more clearly and that, too, can make all the difference in your world and those who love you.

I did not know of this site until reading the People magazine article today. It is New Year’s Day 2015. I decided to take time to do this in gratitude for my loving parents and and family, starting this year by speaking truth once again.

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Andrea

My passion, the one that keeps my sane is writing. I love creating something where there once was nothing. I derive great pleasure out of choosing exactly the right word, crafting a sentence, then a paragraph and finally a finished essay. Writing primarily about mental health and recovery, about my own experiences with my illness, I find that translating my thoughts to the page helps me process what I’ve been through.

I typically identify myself in three ways. Not in any particular order, I am a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), a writer and a person with a severe and persistent mental illness.

When I was around thirty (I’ll be 54 in two months), over the course of three years, I was diagnosed with anorexia, major depressive disorder (the qualifier of psychotic features was added later) and borderline personality disorder (BPD). Those were the days when people didn’t know as much about BPD as we do now; the diagnosis carried many negative connotations and a great deal of stigma. I’ve had over twenty inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations, numerous admissions to day programs and partial hospitalization programs and I lived for three-and-a-half years in a 24/7 supervised residence. I’ve been in therapy for thirty years; the first four were an exercise in futility, the next fifteen were spent in dialectal behavior therapy which was effective in grounding me in the here and now, and putting a halt to the bulk of my self-destructive behaviors. The remaining years have been spent in Transference Focused Psychotherapy (a more psychodynamic treatment for BPD) and it has been extraordinarily helpful.

I’ve been working as an LCSW since 2000. I’ve had to take a bunch of short leaves-of-absence from the two jobs where I was employed for a number of hospitalizations. At my first job, where I worked for almost six years, I returned from a hospitalization and management had curtailed my clinical responsibilities. Humiliated I resigned. I was depressed and it was three years before I could return to even a part-time job. I’ve been working at the outpatient mental health clinic where I am currently employed for six-and-a-half years. My responsibilities include primarily administrative responsibilities and not so much clinical. I prefer the detail-oriented and almost obsessive-like qualities that are needed for this more global approach to my work. It satisfies my thirst for clinical knowledge while feeding my need to be almost, but not quite perfect. Imperfectly perfect. Like the anorexic I once was.

My passion, the one that keeps me sane, is writing. I love creating something where there once was nothing. I derive great pleasure out of choosing exactly the right word, crafting a sentence, then a paragraph and finally a finished essay. Writing primarily about mental health and recovery, about my own experiences with my illness, I find that translating my thoughts to the page helps me process what I’ve been through. Often, I’ll bring a piece of writing into my therapy session and we’ll both be surprised by the insights that emerge. I’ve published my work primarily in literary journals and anthologies. I post a blog almost every weekend on the website of a national magazine and I enjoy reading and responding to the comments.

I’ve come a long way, but I have a ways to go. I’ll continue in therapy and at my job, and with my writing. I’m working on a book, a memoir of how my illness affected me and the insights I’ve gained along the way. I’m proud of what I have accomplished and I also have regrets. A sweet sadness is tinged because there are some deeds that can’t be undone.

It’s been a long haul. And now I can finally say that I like myself.

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Jolene

So here I sit anonymously sharing my daughter’s story. Why? Because I am old enough to face those who judge me, but my daughter is still young and I need to protect her. She is in the middle of her fight. Yet I need to write. I need to get this all off of my chest. I want others out there who are silently struggling to know they are not alone. We may be quiet, but we can all work together. We are all fighters.

Hello reflection, it has been forever. For a long time you had changed. The disheveled hair was gone, dark circles had disappeared, and the sad and hollow eyes had become bright. A smile had replaced the downward turn of your mouth. There was hope and strength in place of hopelessness and loss. I had thought you were gone, but yet again here I am in front of you. Those eyes have returned. The smile no longer exists. You are lost.

However, this time it is not me I see. Although the reflection is clear and I know the face well, it is not I. You have taken it upon yourself, my old dark friend, to haunt my daughter. Why are you doing this? She is only 12, almost 13. When you visited me old friend it was after a terrible event and I was a bit older. Now here you are again and you were not invited. I understand you like to torment those who are struggling with great pain. In my daughter’s case it is bullying and overwhelming hormones, the curse of being young in this day and age. We have tried everything to prevent your visit though because I knew my genes were present in my child’s body. What do they say about genetics? I think once Michael J. Fox said that all it takes is a pull of the trigger and the gene will turn on. Whether that trigger be environmental, physical, or a stressful event all that it takes is one shot. We knew the bullying at our daughter’s school made her sad. We tried to stop it and help her through. We asked her school to listen and help. We talked to her daily about it. We were too late though. Old dark friend you had already entered her spirit. You had snuck into our house and crossed the barriers we had placed up. We did not invite you here. You took without asking and are no different than you were years ago with me.

Depression is haunting and painful. It is a silent killer. Why you did not come to me this time I do not know? If I could place my hands on my daughter and suck every ounce of you out I would. I know the pain you bring and have survived you. There is no fear in my soul anymore because I know I am stronger than you. Damn you. There is little in life that I hate, but I hate you. Right now I am so angry with you for invading my child’s body. For haunting my child’s mind. How dare you enter without permission!! Get out of her and enter me. I know you well and I can rid of you quickly because I no longer fear you.

Now I must sit and listen to my daughter say words I once spoke. I have to see in her the reflection of a younger me. I did not want this for her. In fact I feel great guilt. Perhaps it is my messed up genes that caused you to come to her. Perhaps if I had not taken an anti-depressant when I was pregnant with her 12 years ago, then maybe you would not be here. My last suicide attempt was when she was 2. Did that mess her up? Does she remember it? For eight years now I have not taken a medication or gone to a therapist. One day it was like the gene turned off and I could breath again. You are always with me, but I now control you and no longer fear you. I credit my daughter daily for saving my life. Yes, I had an amazing support system. A mother, father, and sister that stood by me every day. A husband who never left my side, even in the darkest moments. Yet, it is my daughter that I give the most credit. In her I saw pure joy and true love. Those big eyes would look up at me and in them was no judgment, but there was so much faith. She needed me and she loved me. She saved me. So what you do not see, my old friend depression is that I will now do the same for her. I am a warrior. I have fought you and won. You may place thoughts in her head or send irrational thoughts, but you will not win. When she tries to push me away I will hold on tight. When she tells me she hates me, I will tell her I love her. When she struggles, I will hold her up. She has my blood coursing through her veins and she is a warrior too. You will not win this battle, my old dark friend.

So here I sit anonymously writing this entry because I know there are people out there who still judge. There are people who think that those with depression should just “suck it up” or should remain quiet about what is going on with them. This causes those with depression or any mental health issue to feel dirty and crazy. They are not though. In fact they are no different than a person struggling with hypertension or diabetes. A gene was triggered or a hormone is imbalanced. It is that simple, yet many do not see it that way. Mental health is still the silent killer. One no one is willing to talk about in a society that is full of happy selfies and perfect lives. Yet, that is what kills us is the inability to talk or feel. What if someone posted a selfie with a sad face? How many likes would that get? What if someone posted that they had depression? How many likes would that get? I can tell you from experience that it would get very few and it would also get many people walking away + plenty of gossip. Although when I was younger and had severe depression + PTSD there was no social media, but when I would share secretly my diagnosis people often left my side. People fear what they do not understand. Many do not understand mental health issues, even though it is not much different from any other disease. For depression I often tell people to think of a day when they felt sad and then to think of how it would feel not to be able to turn that off, for that sadness to literally be out of your control. That is depression. It is a jumbled mess in your brain. Irrational thoughts float everywhere. You truly feel like people would be better without you and that you are a burden because you cannot be happy, even though you try. Trust me when I was in my darkest times I would try to be happy and fail, then my dark friend would speak louder and I would feel worse. Two of my own suicide attempts were not truly to die. I thought taking a bunch of my anti-depressants would make me happy. My brain was full of thoughts and many were not rational. I could not switch it off. One reason I speak openly about my past now is because I survived and to help others, yet I still have people tell me to “be silent because it could hurt your reputation”. When did being honest hurt your reputation? How backwards is that? I want to hear people’s stories because it helps me understand who they are. I know the world is not full of perfect selfies and lives. We all have struggles. Some cultures embrace those struggles and embrace emotions, but we do not.

So here I sit anonymously sharing my daughter’s story. Why? Because I am old enough to face those who judge me, but my daughter is still young and I need to protect her. She is in the middle of her fight. Yet I need to write. I need to get this all off of my chest. I want others out there who are silently struggling to know they are not alone. We may be quiet, but we can all work together. We are all fighters. I also write because I want those whose child is bullied or those who have children who are bullies to open their eyes. If you child is bullied seek help and fight for them. If your child is a bully do not take it as an insult, instead help them to change. Do not allow your child to put other children in the position my daughter is in. Words and actions can deeply hurt a young mind. We as the older generation can set the example and create the change. So lets talk and let’s put it all out there. Lets fight for our children and create a better world. One free from judgment and labels. Instead lets take personal responsibility and be the voice that is needed. We are the change. Finally, to my dear dark friend……..you are dismissed. You are no longer welcome in my house. Today and every day I am my daughter’s voice and I will teach her to roar loudly. As change comes the trigger that sets you off will begin to disappear. I believe in this world and I believe in each individual. Change is coming.

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Jason

I am grateful to organizations like BC2M that advocate for an end to the stigma of mental illness. I am a person, just like you, and I deserve to have the best possible life that I can achieve. Part of doing so is being open about my illness and its effects on my life.

 

 

I live with and manage Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety Disorder. I went for years untreated, either because I didn’t have insurance/couldn’t afford treatment, or because I was too scared and ashamed to seek help. Seeking treatment for my illness has been the best decision I’ve ever made.

I have been in treatment for a couple of years now, and I work daily to maintain good health. It’s a struggle, but of course, it’s worth it. I have good days and not so good days, like everyone living with mental illness. I am an advocate for myself and others living with mental illness. I believe there should be no shame or stigma surrounding mental health conditions. We must learn to erase the stigma, and talk frankly and openly about our lives and our experiences.

I am grateful to organizations like BC2M that advocate for an end to the stigma of mental illness. I am a person, just like you, and I deserve to have the best possible life that I can achieve. Part of doing so is being open about my illness and its effects on my life.

 

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Melissa

I want to shine a light on the stigma surrounding mental health issues and suicide. I look in the eyes of my wonderful children and I do not want them to feel the stigma surrounding mental health issues. I do not want them to feel as if they cannot reach out for help if they need it. I do not want anyone to feel ashamed, weak, or embarrassed about reaching out for help.

Let me start by telling you a little bit about who I am today. I have been married to my best friend and the love of my life for almost 10 years. My husband is a captain in the US Army. We are currently living in North Carolina 2 hours from the beach. We live in a nice house in a good community so our children can go to one of the best schools in the area. We have two children that are perfect in every way. My daughter is eight and is at the top of her class in school. My son is a typical three year old and keeps us on our toes all the time. We have had the opportunity to live all over the country and see many different places. We have made many good friends all over the country. I have had the opportunity to support our community and country in many different ways.

I finished my LPN program in 2004 and was awarded best clinician out of my graduating class. In May of 2014, I finished my Associate’s degree in General Studies with a 3.9 GPA. I am currently receiving a scholarship from the University of AZ and projected to finish my Bachelor’s degree in Human Services next fall. I have gotten to do things that some people could only dream of doing. I have shaken hands with advisors to the president and rubbed shoulders with three star generals. It may look as if I have a good life and I would agree that yes I do have a good life. However, at one point in my life I would have never imagined any of what I have today. Let me tell you my story.

I was raised in a lower middle class family by my grandparents. On the outside, it looked like I had everything that I ever needed. I had a roof over my head, food in my stomach, clothes on my back, and normally a smile on my face. I was a good student, mostly A’s and B’s, never giving my teachers any trouble. My grandparents were always told during PTA meetings that the teacher wished that they had a classroom full of students just like me. I was involved in church and other community activities. I found out that I had a passion for Karate and became pretty good at it. My picture was in the local newspaper after winning trophies at statewide competitions and achieving my black belt at only 12 years old. To many people on the outside I looked like I had a great life. No one and not even I knew what was starting to happen inside my brain.

In my teen years, I started to experience low self-esteem and felt as if I did not fit in. I always needed to please everyone else. Be the good student, the good grandchild, and always help when needed. Looking back at it now, I realize that I was probably starting to deal with depression in my early teenage years. I can recall one point in middle school when my friends were talking about how they saw their lives after high school and what they wanted to do in the future. I really was not able to picture my life too far in the future. All I could really imagine was a hopeless dark road ahead.

The stigma surrounding depression and mental illness led me to keep my feelings to myself for many years and until I found the strength to trust in an adult friend and let her know how I had been feeling. She recommended that I go talk to a professional. At that time, we only had one local mental health clinic and the stigma surrounding this clinic was that everyone that went there was crazy. I did not want to be seen as crazy. After entering High school, my grades started dropping a little, my life seemed to be even more hopeless, and I needed to take the advice of my friend and see a professional.

Even though I would not need permission to see a therapist, I was told because I was underage it would be a good idea to let my legal guardians know, which were my grandparents. It took me a few days but I finally got up enough courage to talk to my grandmother and tell her that I wanted to see a therapist. The first thing that came out of her mouth was “Why would you want to talk to a therapist you have a good life.” This made me feel even worse and made me second-guess myself. Why am I feeling like this, I do have a good life? I was dealt some bad cards early on in my childhood, but I did currently have a good life, I should not be feeling this way. I never truly told my grandparents how I had been feeling. Just like everywhere else, I wore a mask. I wore a mask at home. I wore a mask at school. I wore a mask everywhere I went. My grandmother did allow me to go see a therapist; however, it was kept secret.

In Feb 1997 at the age of 16, I was diagnosis with depression and PTSD that had resulted from an early childhood trauma. I was started on Prozac soon after that. I wish this were the end of my story but it is not. I started to wear a mask even in therapy sessions and I did not realize how life threatening that would be in the year to come. The stigma sounding mental health issues that I was so used to hearing about kept me from confiding in, and trusting the people that could truly help me. I was afraid of being thought of as crazy or mental.

I was seeing the same therapist on a regular basis, dealing with issues as they surfaced but not really allowing her to know how depressed and hopeless I was. I also hid the fact that the medication at times really was not working. Every session I would go see my therapist, she would ask me how I was doing today and my response was always the same, “I am FINE”. I was not fine; I was going through life on autopilot, trying to make it through to the next day. I would have good days and bad days. I felt as if I had no control over my life. I felt I had no control over my emotions. I would wake up every day never knowing what that day would bring.

I was still maintaining passing grades in high school, involved in Beta Club, had some good friends. Most people did not have a clue that I was wearing a mask. There were a few teachers and family members that saw through the mask at certain times but I always assured everyone that I was doing just FINE. So days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months and before I knew it, a year had passed. I found myself in my senior year of high school. My senior year of high school finally arrived and it should had been one of the greatest years of my life. I would soon be going on to college and trying to find myself in the world. However, for me it was not one of the greatest years of my life.

To everyone else I looked like I was doing great. However my depression was getting worse in spite of being in therapy and on medication, but I kept that to myself. I felt even more out of control of my life and my feelings. At this point, I became anorexic, not because I wanted to be skinny but because I could control something, I could control what I put in my body. I could control what I ate and how much I ate. In the short term controlling what I put in my body made me feel more in control of my life but in the long run it made everything even worse.

Feb 1998 the month that I would turn 18, this should had been a very happy time in my life; however, my life was spiraling even more out of control. I would soon be an adult; I would soon be out of high school. I soon would be looked at to become successful in life. However, because of my depression, I was scared and I saw myself having no future. It had been particularly snowy that week in Feb, two weeks before my 18th birthday. School had been cancelled for a couple of days and cancelled again Feb 9. After being stuck in the house for a couple of days where I had been alone with my thoughts, I found myself needing to get out and do something.

Normally when I was feeling down, I would find something to do and try to be around my friends. This day I could not find anyone to hang out with so I started to drive around by myself. The more I drove around the more the depression started to take hold. I started feeling hopeless for my impending future. I was struggling in high school, how would I make it in college? What if someone at college found out about my depression? I had been able to wear a mask in my small town, could I get away with it in college?

No one seemed to understand how I was feeling, heck I really did not understand my own feelings. I felt as if I was a disappointment to everyone. I was supposed to be the one in my family that made a life for herself. Driving around in my car, I hit rock bottom. The depression had taken complete control. I had thoughts about suicide in the past, cutting at my wrist but never able to go through with it. I reached over and took out a bottle of Tylenol that I had in my glove compartment. Once I swallowed the pills that were in the bottle there was no turning back. I would end my pain and would no longer be a disappointment or burden to anyone else.

Sitting in my car around 45 minutes or so after emptying the bottle of Tylenol, nothing seemed to be happening. At this point feeling even more depressed, I could not even kill myself correctly. I remember thinking to myself the next time I will have to figure out a better way. Little did I know the Tylenol was starting to damage my body. I went to a friend’s house acting as if nothing had ever happened. I started slowly feeling tried and nauseated and soon my friend became aware that something was going on. I finally broke down and told her what I had done.

My friend called my grandmother and she rushed me to the hospital. The 30-minute drive to get me to the hospital was probably one of the longest drives I have ever had. My grandmother continued asking me why I would do something like this. All I could reply was that she would not understand. As soon as I got to the hospital, blood was drawn and it was soon revealed that I had indeed taken an overdose of Tylenol and my blood levels were life threatening. At this point it was a wait and see game. Would my liver filter out the Tylenol or would my liver fail and kill me? I remained in ICU for three days after my suicide attempt, but I survived.

My story does not end here either. Because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues and suicide, my suicide attempt was swept under the rug. I went back to school the day after being released from the hospital. I told my teachers and friends that I had had problems with low blood sugar and had to stay at the hospital for a couple of days. My family started to watch me like a hawk but never discussed what had happened. I continued to avoid telling my therapist how I was truly feeling out fear of being put back in a hospital. The stigma kept me suffering in silence for a very long time.

I finished high school and went on to college but flunked out after a year, and it would take many years before I would go back to college and get my LPN and later my Associate’s degree. I found a wonderful man and I married him. He is a wonderful husband and stands by my side no matter what. I became a mother of two wonderful children and they bring light into the darkest of days. However, from time to time my depression does start to come back. I have learned over the years how to take care of myself. Depression is a treatable disease. If I feel like I need to go see a therapist, I will. If I think, I need to go back on antidepressants, I will. I will no longer let depression control my life because I can control my depression.

You are probably asking why I am sharing my story. I am sharing my story because I do not want anyone to suffer in silence as I once did. No one should feel as if their only way out is by suicide. I want to shine a light on the stigma surrounding mental health issues and suicide. I look in the eyes of my wonderful children and I do not want them to feel the stigma surrounding mental health issues. I do not want them to feel as if they cannot reach out for help if they need it. I do not want anyone to feel ashamed, weak, or embarrassed about reaching out for help.

There are people out there that are willing to help. If you feel like you need to talk to someone and the person, you choose to talk to is unwilling or does not know how to help, tell someone else. I wish I would have broken the silence about my depression years ago and told my family, friends, and even my therapist how I truly felt. I do not blame my family or friends for not helping me out more. I truly do believe that they loved and cared about me but had no idea how to help me. How could they help when I really did not reach out and allow them to? That is why education about mental health issues and suicide prevention is so important. Educate yourself so maybe you can be there for someone if he or she needs your help. If you ever need help just keep reaching out because the help is out there. Finally yet importantly, I do not want anyone after hearing this feeling sorry for me. I do not feel sorry for myself. I have overcome and received more in life then I could ever imagined. I do hope you feel inspired to reach out to someone in need or feel encouraged to seek help for yourself.

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Sahar

Imagine, there is help out there but people are refraining from getting it because they’re scared of the stigma they will face. I for one won’t have it. My dream is to end the stigma. I know if we all come together we can do it.

Life is scary but it’s even scarier when you suffer with mental illness. Imagine being stuck in a viscous cycle that has no mercy! It is painful and crippling. Every day is filled with darkness and thoughts that can drive the sanest person insane. It feels like someone has just pushed you into a deep dark abyss and just keeps falling into the blackness of hell.

My name is Sahar, I am 18, I live in Belize(located in Central America). I will try to make this story brief and not too boring! I suffer with generalized anxiety disorder, severe depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It’s drastically changed my life. I had to withdraw from school when I was 16 because the mental illness took over my body. I was terribly depressed and always anxious. I could not get out of bed. I literally could not get out, I tried and I felt stuck. I had no hope, no desires, nothing to live for. I was as empty as a hollow tree. I felt like there was a big gaping hole in me and nothing could fill the void.

Now for me, I like to consider myself too lucky and overly blessed. I have an extremely supportive family. At that time I refused to see any specialists or take any medicine. I thought it was just all a pile of horse shit. Of course it wasn’t and my family thankfully knew I just wasn’t thinking straight and able to want to get help, so they forced me. Literally dragged me out of bed to get to psychiatrist appointments, had to persuade me to do therapy every day, and constantly assure me that my medications had no dangerous side effects just so I would consider taking it. Eventually I gave up and decided it was time. It was time to change. By then my mom had given me a job at her school working with little kids. They inspired me to fix myself because I finally had something to live for. I started taking things more seriously. Each day conquering a new fear whether it was getting out of bed or not washing my hands every five seconds. I finally took the road to recovery.

I am currently still on this road, but I have accomplished so much. I get up and go to work, I am home schooled, I socialize more, and I no longer fear everything. These may seem petty but for me they are some of the biggest accomplishments in my young life. I have many triggers but sometimes it just happens and I can’t pin point why. Sometimes I have flashbacks. There are times where I have felt suicidal and once came extremely close to ending it all. Its all apart of the chaos of mental illness and this is what people don’t understand mental illness is not something you can just shake off its something that sticks on you it craves attention; it’s merciless, and viscous.

That is my story. I am sharing my story because I want to end the stigma towards mental illness and encourage people to come out and get help. The longer you hold your emotions in, the harder it gets and that can lead to the inevitable suicide. Everyday someone takes there life because it’s too much for them to handle and there to scared to get help. We have to end this. We can’t let people do this. We need to help them by accepting that everyone has problems and some people deal with it differently. Imagine, there is help out there but people are refraining from getting it because they’re scared of the stigma they will face. I for one won’t have it. My dream is to end the stigma. I know if we all come together we can do it. If there is anyone out there reading this and feels like they are on the brink of insanity please don’t give up, go and get help. Don’t feel bad for your problems. There is nothing wrong with it. I realize not everyone has accepting family member or friends and I desperately wish I could reach out to all and help but just know you are accepted and appreciated. Thank you for taking time to read this. I hope I was able to somehow inspire and motivate people to seek help and keep going. Thank you to all those who share their stories you inspire not just me but others!

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Isaac

It wasn't until my freshman year of college that I finally opened up to my parents about what had happened. I told them about my depression, the anxiety, the attempts to take my own life, and the bullying and abuse that I had taken from the other kids in my school. My parents had had no idea about everything that had been going on. After this I was able to be treated by a doctor, was given medication and have recovered from most of the effects of my disability.

For most of my life I have suffered alone. When I was in 7th grade, I started having severe bouts of anxiety and sadness that I couldn’t get rid of. I started to realize that what I was going through was depression, so I went to the doctor to see if there was anything I could do. I didn’t tell my parents about what I was going through because I never wanted to worry them, so when the doctor diagnosed me with severe chronic depression and anxiety I had to turn down the medication he prescribed or I would have had to tell my parents.

Instead, I attempted to turn to my friends. I told them about the things I was going through, the terrible depression, the anxiety, the horrid thoughts I had about how easy it would be to just end my life. I thought if I opened up to these people that I would at least have some support. They accused me of trying to get attention and lying. They stopped hanging out with me, stopped talking to me, and eventually wouldn’t even look at me when we walked past each other at school. I felt completely and utterly alone, more so than I have ever felt in my entire life.

I ended up spending most of my time alone and reading, either in the library or in a corner somewhere in the school. I barely spoke to anyone except for my teacher. To make matters worse some teachers praised me in front of the classes for having grades above everyone else’s. Because of this I became the focus for abuse from other students. While my parents thought I had joined wrestling and football, I had actually been sent to the hospital multiple times for the beatings I had received from other students telling me to “stop making everyone else look bad.” I was beaten up on a regular basis and tortured emotionally an psychologically in between. I was called gay and other words that I won’t say.

I attempted suicide twice during that time. The first time I was able to stop myself, but the second time I was lucky enough to be stopped by someone walking by my house who saw me in the window. He happened to be one of the local District Attorneys who would later become my mentor and one of my closest friends.

It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I finally opened up to my parents about what had happened. I told them about my depression, the anxiety, the attempts to take my own life, and the bullying and abuse that I had taken from the other kids in my school. My parents had had no idea about everything that had been going on. After this I was able to be treated by a doctor, was given medication and have recovered from most of the effects of my disability.

I now work for a university in Colorado working with incoming freshmen and helping them to adjust to a new portion of their lives. I am able to work with many students who suffer from similar or worse things than myself. It is these people, my mentor and now my students, who push me forward each day. They are the motivators in my life to make a difference and remove the stigma. They are the people that help me get up in the morning and the reason I now live up to the meaning of my name – laughter.

Depression and anxiety can have terrible effects on people, especially when you are going through them alone or don’t know what is going on. By reaching out and making a difference, by fighting against the stigma that society has put against people suffering from mental disability, more people can be saved from its effects.

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Meighan

I almost gave up. I almost decided that my depression and anxiety were going to keep me from getting an education, and I told myself that I wouldn't know enough to pass the classes anyway. Something- I don't know what- made me ask to be readmitted. When they let me back in, even though my illness didn't magically go away, I told myself I couldn't waste the opportunity. I didn't only start passing classes, I became a tutor in the campus drop-in English lab, and an instructional aide in two classes.

I was always a little shy. When I got to 7th grade, I was sent from my mother, to my father, to my grandmother, then back to my mother. I felt abandoned (by all but my father, who’d wanted me to stay but was in a bad financial situation) and like I wasn’t good enough for anyone to want me near them. My sister and I were split up. She was always the talkative one who made friends and protected me, even though we didn’t get along very well. Without her, I felt out of place and awkward, and going to my third Middle school in a year, I felt crushing anxiety. I also started feeling empty and having trouble finding anything that made me happy, besides eating and watching TV. I gained about 50 pounds in a very short period of time. That wasn’t the worse thing, though.

I couldn’t handle school. I’d always been a good student, but suddenly I found myself so crippled with discomfort about my looks, the way I talked, and the way I acted, that I couldn’t concentrate on school work or talk to others. I was always sad, and cried a lot. About a week into school, I stopped going. I pretended to go to school in the morning, carrying a book bag and everything, then sneaking back when my parents had gone to work. At night, I’d to the fake homework I’d invented for myself. I wasn’t proud of myself, and I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. I confessed to my mom about a month in to ditching school, and she reacted, as most people would, by being shocked and incredibly angry. I was scared of her reaction, and although I tried to explain how I was feeling when she was more in a mood to listen to me, she told me I was just having a rough time to adjusting to a new place and a new school, and I’d be fine.

I went back to school and was placed in remedial classes because that’s were the troubled kids went, but that was even worse. Although my classmates were nice, I still felt anxiety being around other people. Plus, I already knew the material and being bored made the day seem like it was 12 hours long.

I dropped out again, and this time refused to go back for years. I learned on my own, but I put no value on what I learned because wasn’t in school, where I was supposed to be. Many days I slept all day and watched TV all night. I had one friend, someone who I’d known as a kid, and without her I wouldn’t have made it. She got me out of the house once or twice a month during the school year, and almost everyday during the summer, which was when I felt the best. But I didn’t manage to go back to school. I did Independent study for a year, and tried high-school when I was given a social promotion to the 9th grade. I hung on for a few months, this time a target for bullying on top of everything else. I gradually went less and less until I’d dropped out again.

I became suicidal, especially when my friend moved away. I began cutting, and I started to realize that what I was going through was not normal. I wanted to see a psychiatrist, but my mother was resistant to the idea and said I didn’t need one. My sister was diagnosed bipolar at age 13, and basically grew up in group homes for teens with mental illness. My mom wanted at least one normal child, and I tried to pretend I was okay because I wanted to be that for her. I knew that she’d also received mental health treatment when she was younger, and had felt attacked. I think she didn’t want that to happen to me.

But when I was 17, I cut myself very visibly and was sent to the hospital on a 51/50. (Involuntary hold.) There, I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and a possible mood disorder. I didn’t believe I’d get better, though, and only took the medicine I was prescribed for a few weeks.

I felt awful, stupid, ugly, and useless. I kept cutting and kept being sent to the hospital. Eventually I realized that I wasn’t going to get better if I didn’t try, so I began seeing a psychiatrist. I started to have hope for the first time in years. I wanted to go back to school.

I passed the GED at 18, but rather than being happy I felt ashamed. My mother lied to the rest of the family that I’d graduated High school, because she was embarrassed. I was hurt, but I felt that I deserved it. I called myself a loser, crazy, stupid. I realize now my mother was just afraid for my future, and didn’t know if I’d be treated badly in the workforce with a GED instead of a diploma. If she’d known the things I was saying to myself, she would have cried.

Eventually, though, I turned 18 and got a job, and surprised myself by being able to do it. I made some friends, I took the bus places by myself, I said Hi to people when they passed me on the street. I started feeling more human, and I wondered if I could do school. Eventually, I went to community college, where I dropped so many classes I was kicked out. I didn’t finish even one class in 3 years.

I almost gave up. I almost decided that my depression and anxiety were going to keep me from getting an education, and I told myself that I wouldn’t know enough to pass the classes anyway. Something- I don’t know what- made me ask to be readmitted. When they let me back in, even though my illness didn’t magically go away, I told myself I couldn’t waste the opportunity. I didn’t only start passing classes, I became a tutor in the campus drop-in English lab, and an instructional aide in two classes. I saw a student struggling one day and went up to help him, not realizing he was actually in a class that was visiting the lab. I didn’t say anything amazing- just told him to listen to himself read out loud and put commas and periods where he paused. He corrected his own paper, had a huge smile on his face, and I felt amazing. What I didn’t know was that his teacher had watched the whole thing. She offered me a job in the disability office being an Instructional Aide for students with learning disabilities. It was a job that usually was only open to people with a bachelor’s degree, and although I thought I was interviewing for it, when I went to the interview I discovered she was trying to convince me to take the job!

My boss was what made me succeed. I told her about my depression and anxiety, and she reacted by telling me if I needed to come in and do paperwork instead of work with students, or if I needed to do work at home, or if I needed any accommodation at all, we could figure it out. I felt respected and like my illness was- finally- just an illness, rather than what controlled my life. I barely missed any days, and when my father passed my work and school were what kept me from breaking down. It was surreal to love and feel at home school- a place that I had been scared of since I was 13.

I didn’t suddenly become better, though. I still had anxiety. I still had problems with depression. I still cut, occasionally. But I knew I could move toward being better, knew that I wasn’t useless, and had found a reason to commit to controlling my illness with therapy and medication. Gradually, people weren’t as scary anymore, and I made friends.

In 2006, I received an AA in social science with High Honors. In 2008, I received my Bachelor’s degree. It wasn’t easy. I did one semester independent study from the hospital. But getting that diploma was a triumph, and when I received it was the first time I truly knew that I was not my illness.

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Wes K

Now, I consider myself in a "reconstruction period" in my life. I'm building back my life by trying to make it better.

Hi my name is Wes. I have Schizoaffective Disorder and Depression. I probably had mental illness all my life but wasn’t diagnosed until I was 18. I had a nervous breakdown and had to drop out of college. I have a great support system of doctors and family that has helped me throughout my life. I’m one of the lucky ones. My parents advocated for me so that I could talk to the Nevada legislature and tell them that with my illness, I could not take a full load of classes, and I needed my scholarship to make an exception so I could take 1 to 2 classes a semester instead of the required 4 classes. The legislature agreed and I was able to go part time to college with my scholarship paying a portion. I believe that this action might have helped countless of other students with disabilities get access to their scholarships.

Starting over with my life, I changed majors from Architecture to Special Education, and just kept chipping away at the degree, slowly but surely. I had a few hospitalizations in between, but I survived. Ten years after my first breakdown, I finally graduated from college. It was the happiest day of my life. My parents were so proud and I had a bunch of family members come and join us for a nice pizza dinner after the ceremony.

After college, life was not so easy. I didn’t get hired as a teacher, so I tried my hand at selling cars. That put me in a tailspin that eventually led me into a deep depression and the following year, I was hospitalized for two months in two different hospitals.

Now, I consider myself in a “reconstruction period” in my life. I’m building back my life by trying to make it better. I joined a small group from church and go to Overeaters Anonymous meetings. I am also learning to be an emissions technician. I’m picking up the pieces slowly but surely.

Thanks for reading my story. I wish you nothing but the best in your recovery as well!

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Monica

No one could fly for me, carry me with their wings, or help me seek solace in their safe branches; recovery does not work that way. You have to want to get better and realize that it doesn’t always mean feeling better. I had to personally commit to my own health and self-esteem, which meant breaking the negative habits I’d developed over that past decade. I needed to be vulnerable, to admit there was a problem, to seek treatment. This would mean opening up to a psychologist, psychiatrist, nutritionist and scariest of all, my own family and friends.

“A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch but on its own wings.” – Unknown

I’ve read this quote numerous times over the past few years, each time hoping to gain more than just comfort; I wanted to find out the bird’s secret. How did the bird know to trust its own wings? Instinct, right? Well, if so, where was my instinct? How come I didn’t know I was going to be okay?

I wondered about this long and hard. I went through a phase where I wanted this tattooed on my wrist in order to remind myself that I had wings I could trust, not unlike the tattoo I have on rib cage that reminds me I always have the key; the way out to life’s struggles.

I love my key tattoo, because I have used my own “key” before to unlock shackles that held me back and made me feel trapped. However, I felt that if I got the tattoo of the bird, I would feel a bit hypocritical. See, I did not trust my wings. In fact, I never moved from my safe little branch – I sat there, hanging on for dear life, not looking down, and praying that the sucker never broke.

In fact, I took such desperate measures to avoid having to leave my safe, warm, little branch. With the weight of the problems and darkness I carried around with me, this was no easy task. That branch wanted to break, tired and ready to buckle from holding up not only me, but my heavy problems as well.

Knowing I could not bear to fly on my own, I devised a plan. I would hide is the shadows of the biggest leaves I could find, hoping they would never fall away and expose me. I depended on them to keep me safe and warm and happy so I did not need to learn how to do it on my own. When the leaves did fall and I was still there, shaking with fear, I blocked out the outside world.

This plan worked well, until sometime in the middle of July, when I sat in my psychologist’s office and sobbed about all the pain and suffering I went through in my poor little life (on my poor little branch). She looked at me sternly and said, “You don’t want to get better, you want to feel better.”

What? Why would I be sitting in this office pouring out my whole heart and soul if I didn’t want to get better? Also, didn’t “getting better” mean feeling better? Wasn’t that the point?

However, almost instantaneously, my branch snapped – faster than I could have ever imagined. She was calling my bluff—pointing out the fact that I stayed on my safe little branch all balled up with self-pity and lack of courage and called it a life. It became all at once transparent that I could no longer stay there, I needed to move forward. If I ever wanted to live a healthy life, it would have to mean leaving that branch.

For those of you that have read my past blogs, you may have picked up on the depression and anxiety that plagued me for the past few years. I’m pretty much an open book and while I’m always terrified to share how I feel, it’s strangely one of the things I know how to do best.

Looking back now, I read those posts and roll my eyes a bit at my whiny-ness, my own self-proclaimed victimization. I was a victim of the world. I was a victim of my past. I was a victim of the uncomfortable feelings that I was sure no one else had ever dealt with.

This is not to say the thoughts and feelings weren’t very, very real—because they were (and some days still are!). At least they seemed that way for me. I was lonely and felt rejected and had very low self-esteem; three factors that lead me down a road of complete self-destruction.

For a while, I thought I could fix the hole within me by latching on to others or latching on to destructive behaviors. In many ways, these fixes were my branch – they kept me safe. For this very reason I stayed in an unhealthy relationship knowing I was not happy until it eventually completely destroyed me. If I had someone by my side, it would mean that I was normal – the emptiness inside of me could be ignored and I would eventually feel whole.

This was not the case—in fact, it was the exact opposite.

So, when my psychologist said this to me it struck a nerve. It seems so simple, but yet, it was hard to grasp. Judging by my unhealthy behaviors, she was right. I didn’t eat because I wanted to feel better about myself. I became obsessed with guys who treated me badly because I wanted to feel loved. I stayed on the branch because I wanted to feel safe.

However, none of these behaviors actually helped me get better and none of them kept me safe. In fact, not eating led me down a path that pointed right to my grave. Being with guys that were not good for me lead me to lower self esteem. My attachment problems lead me to feel emotionally and physically unhealthy.

As with all major changes, getting better felt a whole lot like getting worse. All of these feelings of self-hatred that I tried to cover up with unhealthy behaviors came back in full force. Taking care of myself—eating right, exercising, therapy—were very difficult at first. The food was the hardest part. I abruptly moved back in with my parents and things were ugly for the first month. They were watching me fall, but no one could convince me that all I needed to do was trust my wings and fly.

No one could fly for me, carry me with their wings, or help me seek solace in their safe branches; recovery does not work that way. You have to want to get better and realize that it doesn’t always mean feeling better. I had to personally commit to my own health and self-esteem, which meant breaking the negative habits I’d developed over that past decade. I needed to be vulnerable, to admit there was a problem, to seek treatment. This would mean opening up to a psychologist, psychiatrist, nutritionist and scariest of all, my own family and friends.

In a recent Ted Talk, Glennon Doyle Melton mentions, “It’s braver to be Clark Kent than it is to be Superman.” If that isn’t the truth, I don’t know what is.

To climb down from this mountain of self-pride and stubbornness and admit that I had a real life problem that was neither glamorous nor easily solvable – well, that was scary. For so long I had fists held high and a shield up to ‘protect’ myself from a world that was ‘out to get me;’ never once taking a minute to realize that I was out to get myself. The real problem came from inside of me and nothing – no guy, no substance, and no low and dangerous number on a scale – was going to get me out of this dark place except me.

For the first time in a long time, I took steps forward. At first I felt completely directionless; I felt blindfolded with my hands tied behind my back. Every time I would start to feel good, the sadness would come back and I’d feel discouraged. The phrase “one step forward and two steps back” became more relevant than ever.

With the help of people who cared about me – truly cared ­­­­– those tiny steps became easier. I wrote down and fought negative thoughts. I worked with my nutritionist and became accountable for my own health by eating like a normal person would. I accepted that the low number on the scale was no true indication of the person inside of me. I challenged all the ‘rules’ I had created about good and bad foods and started to actually enjoy eating again.

The funny thing about disordered eating is that it’s probably the worst solution to any problem in the world. Aside from the obvious fact that your body needs nutrients to survive, sporadic eating habits affect your mood in HUGE ways. This makes perfect sense to me now. However, that is because I am in recovery. I can see clearly; my eyes are no longer broken. I understand now that without food, I will become depressed. When I become depressed, I will stop wanting food. This basic principle was so unbelievable hard to grasp and yet so very enlightening once I did.

I can now proudly say I’m on the road to recovery in so many ways. The pain that I carried on and on about is no longer there. It’s hard to even imagine what that pain is like because I did it; the branch snapped and I trusted myself to fly. I no longer have the urge to engage in destructive behaviors – I know I deserve better than all that. I realize now that no one can save me from myself even if that’s the only thing they want to do.

This is not to say that I’m naïve. I understand my shortcomings and my ability to relapse. However, I now have a better understanding of what triggers can lead me down that dangerous, destructive path and I work hard to avoid them. Life will lead me to many highs and lows but for the first time in a while I feel ready. I feel strong and I feel capable and healthy and blessed, even though not every moment of my life is perfect.

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Kelly

My mother has long-time struggled with mental unrest. Her life has been stricken with anxiety attacks, bouts of depression, social anxiety, etc. Since she was young, being at home in her own bed was more enjoyable than being surrounded by family and friends. However, she pushed through. She forged through life with her illness and never asked for help, until this week.

Last year, as I was looking for internships, I decided I wanted to work for a company that had some personal significance in my life. I had two passions: mental health and eating Chipotle. Since I didn’t want to ruin my love for delicious burritos, I decided to pursue a career in helping to change the landscape of current mental health services. This is when I met the wonderful staff at Mental Health America of Greater Indianapolis, started my internship, and never left.

As a Director at MHA Indy I know that the mental health system in Indiana is… crazy. There are more cracks and flaws in the system than there are strengths. We push for change in the community through education and awareness, we provide resources to those in need of immediate intervention, and we offer guardianship for those who have no one to care for them. I am very much immersed in the mental health field and I hear story after story of the failures of our system. However, these failures didn’t hit home until I saw the devastating look on my mother’s face as she asked me, “so I’m crazy enough to feel horrible, but not crazy enough to get help?”

Let’s back up a little. My mother has long-time struggled with mental unrest. Her life has been stricken with anxiety attacks, bouts of depression, social anxiety, etc. Since she was young, being at home in her own bed was more enjoyable than being surrounded by family and friends. However, she pushed through. She forged through life with her illness and never asked for help, until this week.

Many of us have been there, myself included, in that moment when life seems to keep going but we find ourselves stuck in a deep dark hole with no way out, metaphorically of course. We feel like we can’t participate in daily life, we cannot keep up with the world around us, and we just can’t jump high enough to escape. You wish for that climaxing moment like in a movie where the music is supposed to swell and someone swoops in to save you, pulling you into the brightness of day and you know everything will be alright.

When my mom called me on Monday morning to tell me she was ready to seek treatment for the first time in her life, after a long and hard fought battle, I was thrilled. I was nervous for her, I was excited for her, and I was all but scared. I had confidence that this was the moment the music would swell and there would finally be a light emerging. That is, before we sat at the crisis intervention unit for 5 hours only to be handed a list of referrals to other clinics that could help my mother, charged over $100, and sent home.

When we reached the sidewalk, my heart was racing. I was full of guilt for putting my mom through the painful questions with the therapist and letting her sit alone in a cold, criminal looking room only to be told that there was nothing that could be done for her. I was full of rage for the lack of concern for the fact that I told the therapist “it has taken years for her to ask for help, and I’m certain if you don’t help her today, she will never ask again.” I regretted not taking her somewhere better or nicer. I was heartbroken that this was not the turning point in my mom’s life, but another bad day to add to her already growing collection.

It wasn’t until my mom looked at me and innocently asked, “what just happened?” That I considered the way it must feel to be told, in her words, “you’re crazy, but not crazy enough to get help.” Unfortunately, this struggle was not over. I pushed my anger aside and told her as positively as possible that I was sorry this experience was so negative, but that we will find her the help she needs. That list of resources would guide us to someone who could help.

The night turned into day and the doors continued to slam in our faces. Waiting lists of weeks to months, restrictions on where patients could live, unanswered phone calls… the barriers were endless. And here I sat as the Director of Education for Mental Health America, helpless. I’ve struggled with the question of how do you get someone help when they don’t want it? How do you erase the stigma so people are comfortable reaching out? How do you get the information out to the community about resources that are available? But the one thing I wasn’t asking was – what do you do when someone wants help, but can’t find it?

While our uplifting movie moment hasn’t arrived, I haven’t given up hope. I know now, more than ever, that I chose the right path in life. I was passionate about my job before this week and angry toward the system, but now it’s personal. I would never give up fighting to help my family, and I won’t give up on yours either. Stand with me, tell your story, raise your voice… it’s time for change.

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Laura

Let me start by saying thank you for this website. I have been trying to bring awareness to the stigma attached to mental illness and suicide but it falls on deaf ears. It' s an uphill battle but I will not back down. We may not be able to wipe out stigma in our lifetime, but by talking about it and sharing our stories, we are on the road to change for future generations. Somethings gotta give, right?

Let me start by saying thank you for this website. I have been trying to bring awareness to the stigma attached to mental illness and suicide but it falls on deaf ears. It’ s an uphill battle but I will not back down. We may not be able to wipe out stigma in our lifetime, but by talking about it and sharing our stories, we are on the road to change for future generations. Somethings gotta give, right?

Your website gave me the inspiration to share my story. I thank you for that, as it was a very liberating experience. I feel a weight has been lifted off of my chest. Thank you so much!

Here goes……

When I was diagnosed with stg 3 bc, I was an overnight success. People adored me like a rockstar, treated me like a ninja warrior, I received cards, flowers, gifts etc like I was the queen of the world. It was a bit over-whelming to be honest, I’m not good with praise of any kind let alone being praised for having a death sentence hanging over my head lol. It was over stimulating and I felt kind of uncomfortable with all of the attention. HOWEVER, because of the support I was given – I skated through surgery, treatment and endless complications with ease. I had love and support of friends family – ah hell – even Tom Dick and Harry!!!!!! With that kind of support army on your side – you can almost beat cancer, right? Well so far so good – I’m going on 6+ yrs without any sign of it returning. Here comes the good part. Because of the endless complications -numerous surgeries followed. I was either in the hospital or in bed most of the next few years. I became depressed. It seemed like it was never ending. The pain meds were helping with the pain and the depression – until they stopped helping! Now to be totally honest, I did not get depression from cancer surgery complications. I already had depression, anxiety and panic attacks on and off my whole life. You know how it goes – triggers can pull you back in – and this period of endless surgeries, pain meds, hospitals and beds was certainly a trigger!!! Now comes the good part. Once people caught on that I was “losing it” as some called it – that army of support that I had surrounding me helping me beat cancer – was now abandoning me because I had that dreaded stigmatized “mental” illness! Who would’ve thunk it right? I can honestly say that I needed them LESS when I had doctors, chemo, radiation and the like helping me beat the cancer. I needed them MORE when there was nobody to help me – and that was when my depression came back. I think this is how we ALL feel having sickness in our brains that cause depression, anxiety, panic, etc – we get the support when we need it the least and when we need it the most we feel alone in the fight. That’s where the danger of suicidal thoughts come in. Stigma is dangerous. When is the world going to realize this? How can you be a hero one day because you were diagnosed with cancer, and the next a loser because you were diagnosed with mental illness????????? This is one of the most difficult fights in my life having depression anxiety and panic, and all that comes with it – – and my army left me a prisoner of this war alone. WOW, Ive thought about this too much since I experienced it, but until I wrote it down I didn’t realize how very much I was affected by it. It’s no wonder I was suicidal, huh? Doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure it out, right? We all have these kind of issues. We are all in this together. We need each other to support one another. Everyone struggling with mental illness is my hero. It’s one of thee hardest battles one can go through in life. Not being able to control how you feel from day to day sucks. I would not wish it on my worst enemy let alone the happy shiny people who are bouncing around doing happy dances every day LOL LOL. I am in awe of those who can truly be happy without effort. I wish I knew how that felt. But I do know this – IT’S NOT ME – it’s my brain being sick – that causes these feelings. We are not at fault. We are not causing ourselves to feel this way. We have no control over it. We are also ninja warriors of the universe – just like cancer patients or anyone fighting any disease. We have to fight to hold our heads up high.

HUGS LOVE AND SUPPORT !

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Lenn

Looking back, I believe that I had been living with depression for years before being diagnosed and properly treated. At 14 I was not well informed on this subject, and when I decided to do my own research I did not want to believe my symptoms were associated with a mental illness, so I ignored it for many, many years. My depression became part of my identity.

Looking back, I believe that I had been living with depression for years before being diagnosed and properly treated. At 14 I was not well informed on this subject, and when I decided to do my own research I did not want to believe my symptoms were associated with a mental illness, so I ignored it for many, many years.  My depression became part of my identity.

I was popular in high school and college and had many enjoyable memories. However, the good times were often followed by many dark, scary times. My friends and family assumed that constantly being tired, sad and moody was part of my personality – part of who I was. In reality, I had never felt less like myself.

After graduating college I ended an emotionally, and sometimes physically abusive relationship. Although it was over, the hurt still lingered and the memories weighed heavy on my mind. This was around the time I began a non-paid internship (it was difficult finding a job during this time) where I was expected to sometimes work 16-18 hours a day. I felt that life would always be like this, that I would always be taken advantage of in both my career and relationships. I needed to end the pain.

I attempted suicide unsuccessfully. Afterwards, I was sent to a hospital that gave me the opportunity to escape my pain in another way – through therapy, medication and the support of those who love me. It took a long while, but now I have never felt more like myself. I am not ashamed of what I have gone through and the fact that I am living with depression – in fact, I am proud of how far I have come and who I am.   Looking forward, I see myself continuing to be the happy, strong, smart girl who was hiding in the dark for far too long.

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Jay

I'm 52 years old now and I first started to suspect that I may have had a depression or bipolar depression condition in my early twenties. Periodically I would exhibit some kind of odd behavior such as deliberately cutting my arm, smashing a glass picture frame with my fist, or other dangerous and scary actions.

I’m 52 years old now and I first started to suspect that I may have had a depression or bipolar depression condition in my early twenties. Periodically I would exhibit some kind of odd behavior such as deliberately cutting my arm, smashing a glass picture frame with my fist, or other dangerous and scary actions. Fortunately I never directed this manic rage towards anyone else. It was easy to live in denial and avoid confronting my situation, and I did so for decades, all the while quitting jobs in anger, spending money I didn’t have, and occasionally losing friends. Being a creative person and having creative interests I was afraid that taking medication would dull my creativity. For years that was my position even though I could never complete creative projects. Finally in 2011 I had the worst depression episode I ever experienced. I was totally incapacitated and was very near suicide so I finally agreed to try medication. I gradually began to “feel like myself” and 3 months after starting on Lamictal I started to paint, but with a focus and energy I never had before. My work got better and better. I started showing paintings in galleries and selling work. For decades I thought medication would dull my creativity when in fact the exact opposite occurred. I finally accepted that my condition was something I couldn’t avoid and would have to deal with all my life. I still go through difficult phases, but for the most part my mood swings are minor and manageable. In addition to my fears of losing my creative edge I was also well aware of the social stigma of mental illness and was afraid of confiding in anyone about my condition. Now I’m starting to feel comfortable speaking out about it and hoping that sharing my experiences can in a small way help the movement to end the cultural ignorance and stigma about mental illness, and I find myself eager to try to help younger people who are going through what I did and feeling alone and hopeless.

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Robert

I have lived and struggled with Depression and Anxiety my entire life. Medication has made a tremendous impact on my life but I still struggle with anxiety almost on a daily basis. The most important part is family support.

I have lived and struggled with Depression and Anxiety my entire life. Medication has made a tremendous impact on my life but I still struggle with anxiety almost on a daily basis. The most important part is family support. I have a loving understanding wife and 2 children who understand what dad goes through. My support group is tremendous and I am not afraid to say I struggle with Depression and if you do struggle with Depression you should not be afraid or embarrassed to say what you have!

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Megan

After 2 months of living in Santa Barbara I had learned something about myself that would affect me for the rest of my life: I was clinically depressed. A few incidents combined (fights with best friends, ending a relationship with someone I had feelings for, learning that I was failing my first college class, and the threat of getting not just myself, but my roommates evicted) led to what I call “the rabbit hole.”

I was 17 years old when I moved to Santa Barbara. I knew a handful of people there and had no idea what I was going to do once I got there. But it was the first place in two years that I didn’t feel scared. At 15, I witnessed a drive-by shooting outside my high school that left three students physically injured, and myself and many others mentally scarred. I spent a lot of time working up the courage to walk through a parking lot after that day and even more time learning that it was OK to be scared, but not to let the fear take over my life. Santa Barbara was the first place I didn’t look over shoulder every five minutes to make sure I wasn’t in danger. It was the first place I was able to walk alone without crying. It was where I learned to let go.

After 2 months of living in Santa Barbara I had learned something about myself that would affect me for the rest of my life: I was clinically depressed. A few incidents combined (fights with best friends, ending a relationship with someone I had feelings for, learning that I was failing my first college class, and the threat of getting not just myself, but my roommates evicted) led to what I call “the rabbit hole.” I use this term for the times when I get so deep into my depression that it feels like I have fallen into a hole thousands of feet below me and there is no possible way of getting out. After missing three days of classes because I couldn’t get out of bed without crying and a weekend recuperating at my mom’s house in Los Angeles, I managed to pull myself together. However, after a year I found myself back in the same place. More occurrences in my life had led me back into the rabbit hole, but this time, with the encouragement of my friends and family, I sought out help.

The Santa Barbara City College offered free counseling sessions to students. After finding the right psychologist and many sessions with her, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. While I’d expected as much for years, it was terrifying and liberating to know it was true. While I continued to struggle with my depression and the issues that it caused – anxiety when meeting new people, insecurities around the beautiful girls I felt I needed to compete with for the attention of boys, and the sense of abandonment by my friends back at home – I knew that I was getting better. My three years in Santa Barbara were a true test to my own strength. There were many times I wanted to just give up and go home, but I knew that in the end, it wouldn’t make me feel better. I continued to have issues with roommates, friends, boys, and my own self-esteem, but I had managed to learn the skills to help me move forward.

Just after graduating from SBCC I went to get a tattoo to remind me that despite all the struggles I went through why living in SB, I had made it out on top. I graduated with honors and was accepted into an excellent private school across the country, I had new friends who are still in my life to this day, and I was a better person because I took care of myself, no matter how hard it was. To this day I still have problems dealing with my depression, but every time I look down at my arm, I remember how it was a constant struggle to make it through the day, but that Santa Barbara had become a safe space for me to work on becoming the person I wanted to be – a person without fears.

The shooting at UCSB this past weekend has hit so close to home because of this. I have avoided certain social networks and TV for the past 24 hours because of the nightmares the shooting brought back. I am heartbroken that the safe space I look back on fondly has been battered by the hatred of one individual. But I know the strength of the community in IV, and I know that one day, this wound will scab over and leave a scar. I know that they will never forget, but that it will not tear it apart.

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Diane

DID is one of those disorders even some mental health professionals don’t believe exist. It’s taken me years to come to accept who I am and how I came to be. Gradually, I am sharing that with others. But the stigma attached to any sort of mental illness – depression, DID, schizophrenia – makes the effort to get better that much more difficult because you feel like you have to do everything in secret.

My name is Diane. I am the host to a system of beautiful, but hurting insiders who I have, in various ways, known about since I was very little. We were diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder in 1998, when the body was 37. I have a dual diagnosis – these days Major Depressive Disorder is far more incapacitating than the DID.

For a long time, I never told anyone about the “people in my head.” In my early years, I didn’t understand the voices, and was afraid everybody would think there was something was wrong with me. I was already supposed to be perfect, and that would ruin my chances at that. As I grew older, and recognized that other things were not quite right – I lost huge chunks of time, couldn’t remember simple things I was supposed to have done or people I had talked to – I got scared. Finally, when a therapist treating me for depression met one of my insiders, everything came together.  I was both relieved and in a panic.

Many, many people at least know about depression.  DID is one of those disorders even some mental health professionals don’t believe exist.  It’s taken me years to come to accept who I am and how I came to be.  Gradually, I am sharing that with others.  But the stigma attached to any sort of mental illness – depression, DID, schizophrenia – makes the effort to get better that much more difficult because you feel like you have to do everything in secret. When you can’t just be with who you are, wherever you are, you feel somehow like you’re not living with your whole being.

We decided not to integrate, except as it naturally occurs. We are close to being ready to tell our story – or rather, telling the story of what it’s like to live with DID and depression – and have written a book for others, so they may share in the sadnesses, but also in the hope and joy of being many.  We’ve also taken our experiences with severe depression and are writing a book for people who are dealing with similar feelings.  It’s been a long, painful journey.  The only way we’ve been able to survive is to try to turn our hopelessness around and reach out to others.

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Deena

I spent months with suicidal depression, standing with other moms at my son’s playground as the kids played together after school, listening to the ease with which they could talk about what was on their mind as I remained silent about my struggles.

I spent months with suicidal depression, standing with other moms at my son’s playground as the kids played together after school, listening to the ease with which they could talk about what was on their mind as I remained silent about my struggles. They could talk about a weird mole they had to get checked out, but I couldn’t mention that my meds were failing me. So I said nothing to them. And then after reaching out to other people in my life, with what little energy I had, I found the right treatment and I did get better.

Once I was better, I began sharing how much of a struggle not dying was for me. I blogged about it and even began sharing my struggles on Facebook. And you know who reached out to me? Those moms. They read my blog and learned what had been going on during all those times we stood there while our kids played and they said “I wish I would have known.” I wish I would have thought it was okay to tell them.

I missed out on the humanity and understanding these kind women had to offer because I was afraid they would judge, or not get it, or maybe just walk away. But I know now, they wouldn’t have. Sure, there is a chance one of them would have said something rude or condescending. The world has some condescending people who will say incredibly thoughtless things to a depressed/suicidal person. Judgmental, diminishing things. But this is the thing, the more we talk, the less these instances will happen, because condescending, thoughtless individuals can dismiss one or two people telling them things, but if all of us with mental illness stand up and say “This is real. Take the time to understand this disease. Offer help,” most of these close minded people will understand and change. Sure, some will remain close minded. Those ones?  Ignore them. How does the epidemic of suicide end? When we all start sharing (in whatever way is comfortable for us) that having depression is fact, not feeling. That an optimistic attitude, while a wonderful trait, isn’t a replacement for meds or therapy,(to people who don’t believe that, I provide this silly example: ”My blood sugar was low last night and then I filled myself with good thoughts and remembered all I am grateful for, and now I no longer have diabetes!”) We do our part to end suicide, the way we do our part to end any epidemic, by being proactive, educating ourselves and others, and not being afraid to speak up. By knowing even if we are not personally suffering, as a society, we all are.

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Jamie

Today I have decided it is time for me to be honest, to stop living a lie, stop hiding, stop being afraid, stop battling my own self in two different worlds. I have decided it is time for me to accept myself, to grow and continue learning as a person, to love myself completely. In order to do this I have decided that it is time for me to come out... Do I still have your attention?

Today I have decided it is time for me to be honest, to stop living a lie, stop hiding, stop being afraid, stop battling my own self in two different worlds. I have decided it is time for me to accept myself, to grow and continue learning as a person, to love myself completely. In order to do this I have decided that it is time for me to come out…

Do I still have your attention?      

Excellent, please keep reading…

I have made the decision to come out about my struggle with a mental disorder known as depression. I have been living with depression since 2005 and I am blessed and very thankful that in 2014 I am here to share this now. I am sick of being afraid to admit that I have a mental disorder. However, I am no longer afraid of the stigma or judgments surrounding mental health disorders. I am no longer afraid that no one will believe me, or what people might think of me if I tell them I suffer from depression. I am done living in fear. I didn’t ask for this. Depression isolates you from everything and everyone you ever loved, a big part of that isolation comes from fear, fear of rejection, of not being understood, fear of people thinking you are crazy. I have always loved the quote. “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.” My voice shakes every time I speak about depression. Why? Because, with depression you build walls to survive, you seal off your emotional self, and become frozen, going through the motions of life, but never living, and when someone gets close to you and trys to penetrate that wall, fear is the only thing you feel, because if you aren’t careful everything you have built to survive will come crashing down, and every thought, feeling, emotion you have held frozen inside just to make it through one day, one hour, will hit you like a thundering tsunami.      

Everyday I learn something new about myself and about depression, I continue to struggle with opening up to people and asking for help. Depression traps you, like you are slowly drowning but can see everyone else around you still breathing.

For years I thought I could “fix” myself and make myself not “be depressed”. I was to afraid to tell anyone what was happening to me. When you are in a battle with yourself neither side ever wins, there is only loss. Support and understanding is what is needed, however, the cycle of depression makes it almost impossible to ask for the very things we need. I am not looking for attention, all I want is for someone else out there to know they are not alone, I want someone out there to not give up, I want someone to speak up even if their voice shakes. Someone believed me, someone cared enough to listen, which saved my life.

I am still here, and I am standing up against the stigma.

Save a life, speak up.

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Ashleigh

My personal story is this: When I was in elementary school I got called oreo, mulatto, mutt, coon, the list goes on because I am a mixed person. It was hard not to be hurt when people called me these names because I was the only one that was different in my school, everyone else was white. I got called these names each and every week and it really broke me down. Anyway fast forward to middle school I was still getting called these names but I was also getting called fat, ugly, thunder thighs, big girl, chubby monkey, you name it.

My personal story is this: When I was in elementary school I got called oreo, mulatto, mutt, coon, the list goes on because I am a mixed person. It was hard not to be hurt when people called me these names because I was the only one that was different in my school, everyone else was white. I got called these names each and every week and it really broke me down. Anyway fast forward to middle school I was still getting called these names but I was also getting called fat, ugly, thunder thighs, big girl, chubby monkey, you name it. Granted yes I am a little overweight but in middle school when people where calling me these names I stressed over what I ate and what went in and out of my body. In about seventh grade I saw this documentary “Thin” directed by Lauren Greenfield and I tried to do everything in my power to become someone with an eating disorder because I felt just like the girls in the documentary. I am so glad that my plan of becoming someone with an eating disorder didn’t work out. I am extremely proud of the people that overcame the battle of having an eating disorder and I pray for the people that are still fighting their eating disorder in the world today.

In high school I still was getting called mulatto and ugly and fat and all the rest but somehow I learned to deal with it and I started to tune them out. In my sophomore year I experienced my first friend dying and that was a weird feeling and right around the same time I started to drink. I only drank when the thought of the death or feelings to do with it were bad, no other time. I didn’t drink on the weekends with friends; even in college I still don’t drink on the weekend with friends. In my junior year I experienced one of my best friends dying and that feeling was unreal. I fell into a deep depression; I wanted to be the next one to die, so I started cutting myself. I cut whenever the thoughts of wanting to die happened. I knew I shouldn’t die because she would want me to still be living so I needed to feel pain and lots of it. I needed to hurt myself to make the thoughts stop. I covered up all of my cuts so no one would be able to find out. I didn’t want to go to counseling nor have my parents know about them so once I was done cutting I did everything I knew to cover them up so they would just go away but as anyone knows they don’t just go away. One day, fortunately, my best friend noticed the cuts and she asked me question after question and I answered them as long as she promised not to tell anyone including parents, teachers, counselors, or anyone. The only thing she wanted was for me to promise in return that I would stop and she gave me a rubber band to pull on when I wanted to cut. This worked for me here and there until one day it just worked completely. It took me about three and a half months to completely stop harming myself. To this day she still hasn’t told anyone.

Fast forward to college my freshman year I joined my school’s swim team. Being on the swim team I met someone and we started dating. We dated for a couple of months then one day, and this is hard to say, he wanted to have sex with me and I didn’t want to. He, unfortunately, raped me and that relationship ended right then and there. I get flashbacks of what happened but I’ve learned to move past it and just live my life. In my sophomore year I got involved around campus. I joined the clubs that I could and had fun but in the spring semester I somehow fell back into a depression and started self-harming again. I started cutting, but this time I didn’t do anything to cover my scars. I still have scars you can see today. This depression lasted about a month and a half with the only way getting through it was telling my best friend and watching Active Minds videos, actually, because I got to hear what the speakers bureau’s stories were. They made me see that life does get better and to just live your life day by day, like you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. From the depression I learned that being an ex-cutter is always going to be an everlasting battle in my mind. Some days I will be fine and others I will not be. It just becomes a battle that I’ll never be able to stop; a battle between who I was and who I want to be. This is my story and I’m proud of who I am. I am an aspiring mental health counselor who wants to live for a long time.

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LaCinda

At 15 I was even told that at 5'3 if I didn't weigh 100 lbs or less, I wasn't small enough. This led to an eating disorder, contributed to depression, and added to anxiety that I had since I was little. For many years I have hurt myself with words, thoughts, and allowed others to do the same to me.

I am 26 years old and live in a small town in Georgia. Life circumstances have proven to be somewhat of a bully. For many reasons, high school and middle school did not prove to be a positive memory. Family and personal issues became the routine for my life. At a young age, I learned what it was like to have very poor or no self-esteem. I hated myself even as a child. I was told by certain people who were supposed to love and support me that I was fat, wouldn’t find anyone, and had to stand on scales every day. At 15 I was even told that at 5’3 if I didn’t weigh 100 lbs or less, I wasn’t small enough. This led to an eating disorder, contributed to depression, and added to anxiety that I had since I was little. For many years I have hurt myself with words, thoughts, and allowed others to do the same to me. I have had a very difficult time feeling as though I am good at anything,  that I am acceptable on the inside and out, and that my best is good enough. However, I have chosen to fight, to not let this exhausting, frustrating, disheartening obstacle win. The singer Mandisa says it best to me…

“You’re an overcomer
Stay in the fight ‘til the final round
You’re not going under
‘Cause God is holding you right now
You might be down for a moment
Feeling like it’s hopeless
That’s when He reminds You
That you’re an overcomer.”

For me, my faith has kept me going. I have some physical attributes that contribute to things also, but in the end…I am keeping faith. I am in graduate school working to become a counselor. I eventually want to be able to speak and share my story. I know what mental illness can do to someone…what it does to you when medicine just won’t help, what crying yourself to sleep most nights really means, and the impact of what being lonely and afraid feels like. I hope to give back to people who are struggling in unseen ways, the ones who put on a mask every day, the ones who try to please everyone else and others words and actions impacting them even years later. 

I want to be able to let others know that they are not weak, even when you are told it so many times, that you are worthy of feeling love, and that you can do this. You are not alone, even when you feel as if you are in a well and it’s so deep you barely see the tiny light above you, but help never comes. While I still struggle and have to try and manage it carefully, it has made me who I am and more empathetic to others. Hospital stays, racing thoughts, low self-esteem, crying nights… all have played a role in my life, but it does not define me. I am here to say you can do this!!!

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Stephanie

I deal with depression and anxiety on a daily basis, some days being more bearable than others. It can literally hit me from one day to the next. And what's truly amazing is how quick it comes on. It's almost like changing the filter lens on a camera. Sharp and clear become slightly blurred and hazy.

I deal with depression and anxiety on a daily basis, some days being more bearable than others. It can literally hit me from one day to the next. And what’s truly amazing is how quick it comes on. It’s almost like changing the filter lens on a camera. Sharp and clear become slightly blurred and hazy. Nothing is focused right; my head hurts from straining to get some type of focus back. My muscles become harder to move; slow is the new fast. A new sense of reality sets in and depression becomes so familiar, that it feels just as good as a warm embrace from the people whom I care and understand me the most. Depression becomes home and happiness is a visitor. It’s astounding how comfortable it becomes, almost like a bad habit (and you know what they say about bad habits right?)

And while it all appears so comfy, the scary part is that you can’t get out. Imagine being shoulder deep in quick sand that you didn’t know you stepped in it until just that point. You know you need to get out to stay alive but you don’t know how, because it’s slowly sinking you into oblivion. It seems as though no matter what you do, you’re still sinking. You panic not knowing what to do. The only way you can be saved is if someone reaches out their hand for you to grab or if you stand still and think logically. Then when you’re finally out you swear you will never think like that again, continue on the path of life, being careful and avoiding any signs of danger until….you step into quicksand again.

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Holly

Mental illness is real. It affects everyone. It’s not something to whisper about. Be compassionate. Extend a helping hand. Stop stigmatizing. Be a human being.

I spent the past few years wondering what was ‘wrong’ with me. Trying to understand why I couldn’t will myself back to health.

Was I feeling badly for myself?  No.
Was I ungrateful? No.
Was my attitude too negative? No.
Was I thankful for everything that I had?  Yes.
Was I a good friend, daughter, and sister?  Yes.
Could I get out of bed?  No.
Was there a way to stop crying?  No.
Could I see an end to the pain?  No.
Did I want to live?  No.

I eventually recognized that I was dealing with an illness after a very long internal battle.  I spent the majority of 2011 and 2012 away from my friends and family.

I checked myself into a hospital.

I worked on my depression.

I had support — a loving family, partner, and friends.

I missed all family holidays in 2012.

I started to venture back home in 2013 because I had made progress with my depressive illness.

I spent more time with my family. And, after warning signs I began to worry about my younger brother.

I tried to understand. I tried to help. We all tried to help. We didn’t succeed. He took his own life three weeks ago.

Mental illness is real. 
It affects everyone.
It’s not something to whisper about. 
Be compassionate.
Extend a helping hand.
Stop stigmatizing. 
Be a human being.

We are all human.
We are all family.

Be kind.

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Bethany

After seeing the courage of Glenn Close, it is my belief that once you've been touched by a mental illness of any kind- you have the obligation to share your story. My father's life story is more than just words.

My name is Bethany. I am a child of suicide. My father, who committed the act of suicide, may have survived if only the stigma of mental illness wasn’t as great as it was back in the late 1990’s. Though it is the 21st century now, I still to this day have a hard time sharing my father’s struggle with depression as well as my own. After seeing the courage of Glenn Close, it is my belief that once you’ve been touched by a mental illness of any kind- you have the obligation to share your story. My father’s life story is more than just words. He’s gone and it lives with me forever.

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Joshua

I have been living with chronic depression and anxiety disorder for the past 5 years. I remember before I ever dealt with this myself, I did not understand others dealing with these same things. I tended to stereotype people as just crazy, or not strong. I firmly believed that they were not strong enough to deal with problems in everyday life and that they just needed to suck it up and get over it.

I have been living with chronic depression and anxiety disorder for the past 5 years. I remember before I ever dealt with this myself, I did not understand others dealing with these same things. I tended to stereotype people as just crazy, or not strong. I firmly believed that they were not strong enough to deal with problems in everyday life and that they just needed to suck it up and get over it. Little did I know that this was much easier said than done. I never realized the impact these things have on people until I found myself walking in their shoes. I didn’t wanna get out of bed, I would have panic attacks at random moments when there seemed to be no trigger at all. I would just wanna run away and crawl in a dark hole. Then I moved into the phase that I like to call despair. I was completely convinced that no one loved or cared about me. I felt that I had spent my entire life trying to please others and take care of others but had left nothing for myself. I began to think that everyone owed me something, I couldn’t keep healthy relationships because the demands that I put on friends and family were so unrealistic. No one could live up to what I needed them to be, I was looking for all my happiness in other people, never realizing that I could make my own happiness and get control of my life.

My biggest problem was the fact that I refused to seek help. I had so many stereotypes and heard what others had to say about people on medications with mental illness. I also came from a religious background and felt that I just didn’t have enough faith to move past this. Finally a friend convinced me to go see my doctor and get some counseling. I was diagnosed with major depression and anxiety with some bipolar tendencies. Also ADD. Through medication and counseling I have been able to live my life while dealing  with these things. It wasn’t instant, it takes trial and error with the medications, don’t get discouraged if the first thing doesn’t work. Just keep trying and you will find something that works and you will feel so much better. One thing I will say from experience is that medications without therapy or counseling will not be near as effective. I made the mistake of doing counseling until I felt better and then I quit, which was a bad mistake. It’s during the times I was feeling good that we were really able to work on things. I wasn’t getting any better for a  while because I was only going to counseling for damage control when I was in a really bad state. I would tell anyone dealing with this to go to counseling or therapy consistently for at least 6 months. It will help you more than you realize. I hope this helps someone know that  you can and will make it. You are not alone, we’re all in this together.
    

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Alia

Imagine you have a best friend who you trust completely. You know this person has your back in every situation and you ask for their advice in every situation imaginable. Over time, things begin to change. They seem a bit less friendly every day until finally, by the end, they're more or less yelling at you that you're a horrible person and you're screwing everything up.

Imagine you have a best friend who you trust completely. You know this person has your back in every situation and you ask for their advice in every situation imaginable. Over time, things begin to change. They seem a bit less friendly every day until finally, by the end, they’re more or less yelling at you that you’re a horrible person and you’re screwing everything up. Even if you realize they’re being unreasonable, it still hurts.

Now imagine that there is no way to shut this person out of your life. They are with you 24/7. A constant stream of negativity surges around you. That is depression: my mind appears to have betrayed me. I hate it and I cannot control it. I can learn coping techniques and receive treatment, but there is no eliminating it permanently.

We often know when we are being unreasonable and we feel guilty, but we cannot help it. A piece of each of our minds has fractured off and become so corrupt that it is nearly unrecognizable. Containing and quieting this corrupted piece often takes up so much energy that we cannot do much else. Showering, buying groceries, and doing laundry can become chores that take a full day simply because we have no energy left.

We know that people may find it frustrating to cope with a person who can only accomplish one task a day, but we guarantee it is much worse to be the person who can only accomplish one task a day. Frustration combines with guilt, anger, and sadness to create a mood indescribable. In this mood, anything that goes wrong is a disaster. Something insignificant like spilling a cup of water becomes a huge ordeal; instead of thinking “oops,” we will think, “I can’t even do one simple thing right.” It is easy to forget that these excessively negative thoughts are lies.

We cope as best we can, but there is only so much we can do. Sometimes, all we can do is survive.

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Grace

Bring Change2Mind came to our families attention 6 years too late for my husband, but has been a strength for my daughter. My husband was diagnosed with depression in the early 1980’s. During our 27 year marriage it progressively became worse as doctors kept trying new things and medications stopped being affective for him. The stigma that came with a man, husband, provider, and father of having depression was great.

Bring Change2Mind came to our families attention 6 years too late for my husband, but has been a strength for my daughter.

My husband was diagnosed with depression in the early 1980’s. During our 27 year marriage it progressively became worse as doctors kept trying new things and medications stopped being affective for him. The stigma that came with a man, husband, provider, and father of having depression was great. He wouldn’t tell anyone because it made him feel less of a man. Our marriage was hard but I stuck with it. In 2008, he couldn’t deal with the fact that he wasn’t getting better, that he couldn’t keep up with any work, and that our daughter was now diagnosed with depression, to him, it was his fault.

Due to an untrained doctor in the field of depression, things were not handled properly and after dealing with depression for 25 years he took his life. I had saved him before, but this time I couldn’t. Helping our family survive after a member makes a decision like that is hard, especially when another family member also suffers from depression.

As a family, we are now doing great. We are there for each other and work hard to help my daughter see her value. She tells her son that her brain is broken. She is just like everyone else but with a broken brain that needs medication. I wish my late husband could have realized that and been a part of this movement to bring change to the minds of others.

Mental illnesses affect the family, the community, the work place and the world. The way to overcome the stigmas is to learn to understand the diseases. I am glad someone is finally speaking up to change the minds of the unlearned and teach them that those who suffer are good valuable members of society.

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Jordan

I began my journey through depression at the age of 12. There was no traumatic event that brought it on- it was simply genetics. Depression has traveled through my mother’s side of the family for many generations, the only difference with me being that I was the first to ask for help.

I began my journey through depression at the age of 12. There was no traumatic event that brought it on- it was simply genetics. Depression has traveled through my mother’s side of the family for many generations, the only difference with me being that I was the first to ask for help. When I was 15, I was diagnosed with major depression, Cyclothymia and Borderline Personality Disorder. That was the only day I ever cried in psychiatry. Not because I was depressed, but because I was relieved. I could finally begin the healing process. Now before anyone jumps on me about how America is over-medicated, know that I tried the natural route first. An all organic diet, exercise, vitamin supplements, etc. It didn’t work. Whether some choose to scoff at it or not, some people actually do need the help of pharmaceuticals because their brain chemistry is simply unbalanced. I had to try a number of medications before I found the right ones that worked for me but when I did, I knew that not giving up was the best decision I ever made. I’m writing today because when I was suffering with depression, hearing the words of doctors and therapists isn’t what I wanted. I wanted to hear a success story. I wanted somebody who had gone through the same thing as me to let me know that one day all the pain would make sense and that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.            

I am now 20 years old and I’m happy to tell you that everything I wanted to hear then is true. It took a little while but all the pain makes sense now. In some ways, I believe that depression was just as much a blessing to me as it was a curse. The entire process is not something I would wish on anyone, but I definitely wouldn’t erase it if I had the chance. It made me stronger, more compassionate, and it forced me to fully appreciate everything that is good in my life. I’m here to tell current sufferers that I overcame depression and that they can too. There is an end to the darkness and it’s beauty is blinding. The best decision I ever made was at the tender age of 15, and that was to keep going.

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Courtney

I knew something was wrong when I was in 4th grade. The only way I knew how to describe how I felt was "I don't feel good". Through high school I found out that I had an anxiety disorder, suffered from depression, and it took over my life. But I was determined to take my life back.

I knew something was wrong when I was in 4th grade. The only way I knew how to describe how I felt was “I don’t feel good”. Through high school I found out that I had an anxiety disorder, suffered from depression, and it took over my life. But I was determined to take my life back. The anxiety and depression took its toll on my eating habits, and I quickly became 90lbs at age 17 at 5’3. I told myself I would challenge myself and would prove anxiety and the stigma around it wrong. I moved 800 miles away to go to a great college, quickly became involved in the dance team, and although I still suffered greatly, I was determined to show others that life was possible. No one knew that behind my smile, and behind the TV appearances and Championship games I was involved in, was a scared and anxious person who dealt with anxiety and depression every minute of every day. I graduated, became a 4-year letterman athlete, and now work in the healthcare industry in a great city. I am living proof that young adults can fight anxiety and depression, and that there is hope. I still suffer, but consider myself a survivor and have decided to dedicate my life to helping others and bringing change to minds that negatively view mental illness. There is no normal, and there is no right or wrong. I am proud of who I am, and want to help others who were or are in my position. I thought I was alone, and I never want anyone to have to feel that way. We are survivors.

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Danielle

"Just call up a friend and go do something." "Go out, have fun for a change." "Speak up." If only it were that easy. I have dealt with social anxiety and depression for almost eight years. At first, I thought I was just shy. It wasn't until I got older how much I realized just how uncomfortable I was around other people.

“Just call up a friend and go do something.” “Go out, have fun for a change.” “Speak up.” If only it were that easy. I have dealt with social anxiety and depression for almost eight years. At first, I thought I was just shy. It wasn’t until I got older how much I realized just how uncomfortable I was around other people. Social anxiety is hard to explain. I know I shouldn’t feel this way. I should be able to go to the store and not feel like every eye is on me, judging me, criticizing me. I should be able to make a phone call without redialing the number several times, for fear that I entered it wrong, and then shaking until the person answers, then fumbling over my words because I’m so overwhelmed. I should be able to drive in my car and not feel like everyone is watching me. I should be able to walk my dog through my neighborhood without feeling like all my neighbors at that exact moment in time are watching me and judging me. I know I should not feel this uncomfortable around people I know. But I cannot help but feel this way. I dread being called on by professors, and, in the unfortunate case when I do get called on, my heart pounds and my hands shake and I get so frazzled I can barely speak. I cannot convince myself that it is ok for me to be out in public and go to class and go to the store and drive!

I firmly believe that unless you have this mental illness, you won’t fully understand what it is like. What it’s like to not feel comfortable in your own skin. Or just plain feel good enough, for anything. My depression is an unfortunate side effect of my anxiety. Some days are worse than others. There are days when I just don’t even want to be touched. would rather sit alone in my room and read or crochet than have human interaction. I feel guilty about a lot of things that come from my anxiety and depression. Not wanting to hug my own mother kills me inside. I tell her I’m sorry and she says it’s ok, that she understands but I tell her, “No! It’s not ok. I should want to hug you.” To which she replies, “You will.” I have been seeing a counselor and I do think it is helping, along with medication I recently started. I don’t know if I will ever be a carefree person that thrives on life and being social. I don’t know that I want to be that way. I just want to feel comfortable enough in my own skin and worry free enough to do simple social things. Even though there are times when I feel like the only person in the world with this illness, I know I’m not alone. Whether it is my family, my counselor, or other socially anxious and depressed people, I don’t have to do this alone.

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Robin

I’ve learned that for most of us, our perception is our reality. I’ve also learned that broken is relative to the person. My brokenness isn’t your brokenness. We are all broken in a way…some of us are cracked, some of us are shattered, and some of us are just plain broken. We are all broken, and could use a little duck tape.

“I’m sorry”, my mom says as she wiped tears from her eyes, “your Dad is sick and we just can’t go this time”. My brothers 6th birthday was a promised trip to Disneyland. We were beyond excited, what kid doesn’t love Disneyland?  We never did make it back to Disneyland.      

My name is Robin, at age 21 I was misdiagnosed with uni-polar depression. I was given 900mg of Lithium, and sent to a physiatrist who ended my first-ever session by telling me I should become a professional physiatrist because the evaluation I gave of myself was “astonishing”.      

The tremors came next, along with acne that reminded me of my high school days. That was enough for me to throw in the towel four weeks later. Who needs medication? I wasn’t completely broken anyways. A little cracked, but surely not broken. I knew what broken looked like. Broken was watching my Dad draw on walls with my little brothers crayons, talking about Jesus and Revelations, and blowing his home to Timbuktu with a homemade bomb (literally) because “they” were coming. That  was someone who was broken. I wasn’t broken. I thought I knew what broken looked like…I was wrong.      

Broken is lying in bed for 24 hours once or twice a month because you’re too depressed to move. Broken is waking up at 4:00 in the morning to bake Apple Pies for no good reason, but to bake them. Broken is fooling everyone around you into thinking you are ok. Broken is trying to jump out of a moving car because you’re angry. I’m scaring you right now; I get that, but please believe me when I say it scares me too. Broken is having an affair on your husband, six months after you get married, and when you are asked why you did it the only answer you can come up with is “because I felt bad for the other guy”. That, my friends, is broken—just a different flavor.     

I’ve learned that for most of us, our perception is our reality. I’ve also learned that broken is relative to the person. My brokenness isn’t your brokenness. We are all broken in a way…some of us are cracked, some of us are shattered, and some of us are just plain broken. We are all broken, and could use a little duck tape.

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Sophie

From the outside someone would see me as “having it all,” a great job, supportive family, amazing friends. On the inside I’ve been suffering from depression and anxiety since I was 14, dealing with my emotions by cutting. Shame and embarrassment have been following me around for the past ten years.

Hi, my name is Sophie

From the outside someone would see me as “having it all,” a great job, supportive family, amazing friends. On the inside I’ve been suffering from depression and anxiety since I was 14, dealing with my emotions by cutting. Shame and embarrassment have been following me around for the past ten years.

Growing up I dealt with a lot of peer pressure and always felt like an outcast. I never understood how to form friendships that were healthy and felt beaten down and cast aside by many. Cutting was a way to take my emotional pain and turn it physical, a pain that I could handle. When my cutting was discovered during my freshman year of high school my parents tried to be supportive and understand my depression but instead I just found ways to hide it and after a few years everyone thought I was OK.

Almost a year ago I entered a relationship with James, a guy that I was really excited about. It had been ten years since I started cutting and I had entered a phase of denial, thinking there was nothing wrong with me, even though I was continuing to cut in extreme emotional situations. So I entered this new relationship full force but my emotions got the best of me and my entire world was flipped upside down. I became emotionally vulnerable one night and told James about my cutting. Immediately I was rejected.

I was heartbroken, not just by him, but by myself. As people started to ask what happened between us I shared with them that I had told him about my cutting. My family and friends were shocked, they had no idea that the cutting was still going on at the age of 23.

Coming from a family where therapy has never been a part of our lives it was hard for me to tell myself that I needed help. I found my therapist, Melissa, nine months ago and my life has been forever changed. I started realizing that my denial was affecting my ability to build a healthy relationship with myself. Now, once a week I go and talk about my struggles. I’ve learned how to understand rejection, heartbreak and I am in the process of building a great relationship with myself.

There are two parts of my journey that I’ll always remember; the first is how important it is to be open and to share my experience with others. By telling my story I’ve come across many people in my life who have similar stories but have never had the courage to talk about it. The second is the understanding and acceptance that I will always have depression and anxiety. I’ll always have those moments in my life where I struggle but now I am fully aware and capable of managing it in healthy and productive ways.

I don’t regret my past; I know that I’m going to come out on the other side a better person for everything that I’ve gone through. My only wish is that the Sophie today had been there for 14 year old Sophie to let her know that things were going to be OK

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Barbara

‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.’ John Lennon wrote those words in his song Beautiful Boy. I sang that song to my son, Terry, when he was little and we danced to it at his wedding in 2004.

‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.’ John Lennon wrote those words in his song Beautiful Boy. I sang that song to my son, Terry, when he was little and we danced to it at his wedding in 2004.

We planned to meet Terry and his wife in Ireland in September, 2010. Then August 21, 2010 at about 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time life happened and my son, my beautiful boy, ended his life. In doing this he shattered our plans, my heart, my sense of security and my life changed forever. It was and still is unfathomable and I have struggled to come to terms with his irrevocable act.

The day after Terry died a friend told me about her suicide attempt. She had been very depressed and entered what she called a ‘suicidal coma.’ A place where the pain so consumed her, she believed the only way to stop the pain was to die. Fortunately she survived and realized she did not want to die, she wanted the pain to stop. She said I would have to come terms with the fact that I will never understand why, that she still does not understand why she did it. She said a ‘suicidal coma’ is an irrational state of mind that you can’t understand from a rational one. This conversation was very important and profound for me. It was my first step in beginning to come to terms with the loss of my son.

We learned that Terry had been profoundly depressed for some time.  He concealed it well and we had no idea, although in retrospect there were signals. His wife and closest friends knew and tried to get him to get help but he refused. Eventually in his own ‘suicidal coma’ he ended his life.

Terry left a note. One part was to a friend, a social worker. To her he wrote, ‘you could not help me because I would not let you, I am so sorry.’ I believe the stigma of mental illness kept him from accepting help. I believe he felt unworthy, hopeless and ashamed and that breaks my heart. 

The first months after Terry died are a blur of shock, disbelief, numbness and anguish. As the fog dissipated, reality began to dawn and the real grieving began. I have learned that overwhelming grief is exhausting, miserable, crushing, unnerving, discombobulating, and extremely hard work. It takes a long time. It will never be okay, I will never ‘get over it’, but I will be okay. Earl Grollman wrote, ‘grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love.’

Since Terry died I have spoken to so many people who have told me of their depression and suicidal thoughts.  Most had rarely told anyone else because of the stigma, the fear of being shunned. I was so moved by their stories that I have become a Suicide Awareness Advocate. I am telling Terry’s story, my story to help eliminate that stigma. I want to raise awareness about mental illness, that it can happen to anyone, and that it can be fatal and the fatality is by suicide. 

If you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide please speak to them. I yearn to speak about Terry. He was a wonderful young man. I need to feel he is not forgotten. And I don’t want to just speak about how he died but how he lived. If you know someone who seems to be struggling with anxiety or depression, take time to listen to them. If someone you know mentions suicide, talk to them about it.Talking about suicide does not cause someone to become suicidal or increase the risk. Showing genuine concern by asking about suicide directly can be part of an immediate intervention.

My hope is that by talking about Terry’s life and his death, maybe other lives can be saved.

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Wendy

I have suffered from depression and anxiety all my life. I have memories of unspecific worry and fear from as early as 5 years old. I didn't know what it was then or even how to describe it. I felt completely alone, misunderstood and ostracized.

I have suffered from depression and anxiety all my life. I have memories of unspecific worry and fear from as early as 5 years old. I didn’t know what it was then or even how to describe it. I felt completely alone, misunderstood and ostracized. As an adult, I know what to call it and can talk about it more readily, but still feel misunderstood and apart from so much of the world. I cried when I found your website and immediately shared it on my and several family member’s FB pages. I cried again when my brother called the next day and demanded I take it off his page and mine and swear to never post anything like it again. He has such a stigma about people with mental illness he can’t even bear to have an organization hoping to change that stigma mentioned on his page. *sigh*

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Julia

I am proud to say that I am living with depression and this is because there is hope for me …and you or your loved ones. Treatment is helping me and this is not the end.

My name is Julia. I’m 20 years old and I suffer from Depression, Anxiety and PTSD. I  have been through the darkest places you could ever imagine. I always knew that there was something wrong with me from about the age of 12. I‘d hear commercial‘s for Depression and I think “That is what I feel too. I‘m not alone!”. I never felt normal. I was bullied in school. I was physically and mentally abused growing up. I wanted to run away. I wanted to die. I hated myself and was never good enough. I thought my life had no purpose. I turned into someone I didn’t want to be, jealous, insecure, controlling and angry. I had a failed relationship and was called a “psycho”. This demonstrates the ignorance the name caller had about my depression.

It’s just as serious as cancer. It is not laziness, it is an illness. Nobody seems to understand how you feel, why you feel that way and it makes you feel weird, damaged and alone. I never asked to be this way. When you are like me you feel that you’ve lost control over your emotions. You cry easily and nothing is fun anymore. You want to be alone and your self-esteem is gone. You feel like nobody will love you. It is a dark and horrendous state of mind that has both biological and environmental components. It’s hard when you have a disorder, and instead of people caring, they judge you and even worse blame you for something you cannot control.

I am proud to say that I am living with depression and this is because there is hope for me …and you or your loved ones. Treatment is helping me and this is not the end. I am a Psychology major and my life’s goal is to help others like me who have dealt with the stigma of mental illness, whether it be someone who doesn’t want to be your friend because you are different, bullying, name calling, abuse, getting dumped or neglected because nobody knows how to handle or understand the deep pain mental illness causes. Stay strong. Think of all the good it would do if everyone had knowledge about mental illness instead of ignorance and started to see us as the human beings we are. I hope my story can inspire at least one person to reach out……

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Catherine

I am a mother of three, a grand-mother, an inventor, an author, an artist, and bipolar. I was not diagnosed until the age of 48 after having left a path of destruction and suffered the loss of much of what I believed to be true about myself.

I am a mother of three, a grand-mother, an inventor, an author, an artist, and bipolar. I was not diagnosed until the age of 48 after having left a path of destruction and suffered the loss of much of what I believed to be true about myself. Depression is an unrelenting adversary.  Joy comes in glimpses.  Gratitude for those who have been there, profound.

I write to thank you for stepping into the light and bringing the rest of us with you. 

Blessings, Catherine

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Katharine

I am a writer, an artist and a nurse, and have struggled with my mind for most of my life. Sometimes psychotic, sometimes suicidal, often depressed, days have passed into decades of trying to find a way through to peace.

I am a writer, an artist and a nurse, and have struggled with my mind for most of my life. Sometimes psychotic, sometimes suicidal, often depressed, days have passed into decades of trying to find a way through to peace.

Diagnosis? Over many years I was variously diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder, which was renamed Dissociative Identity Disorder, Manic Depressive Disorder, Psychotic Depression, and Depression. Now? Depression is a base note, and, if I am not careful, can cascade into Psychotic Depression.

Being careful, taking care of myself, means: sleep well, eat well, manage stress, paint, live in the country with many animals, write books. I am still alive, employed and productive. Increasingly, I am healthy, on every level. Therapy helped, medications helped, even self-medicating sometimes helped. Family and especially friends provided critical support time and time again. Writing and painting have offered the surest keys to my truth.

Writing this little bit of truth, and submitting it to a public forum, is scary. My sister encouraged me to ignore my feelings of shame and open this door, and here I am.  Here we are. Thank you to this foundation, for providing a way for us to go forward together.

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Gabriella

After school, I took a deep breath and walked up the stairs to my room. I never used to cry, but now I cry all of the time once I am alone. I could never fall asleep, and once I did, I would never wake up. I worked at a horse ranch, and sometime I laid down and looked at the pocketknife on my bedside table. I dared myself to take it and cut myself. I dared myself to end my life.

It’s been hard for my life to come together. Although I was severely shy as a little kid, and still sometimes suffer from the fear of people (anthropophobia and agoraphobia), I mostly learned to force myself out of my shell. I found my niche in a group of friends in my high school and at my church, but all of the girls in my class strived to be the most outgoing and the most popular, so I did too.

I was never really an emotional person, and I never shared my feelings with anybody. I had become a talkative, funny girl, at least with close friends, and I didn’t think anyone would believe what I was going through. I planned what I would say, but I just could never force the topic to become serious enough for me to share my real thoughts.

After school, I took a deep breath and walked up the stairs to my room. I never used to cry, but now I cry all of the time once I am alone. I could never fall asleep, and once I did, I would never wake up. I worked at a horse ranch, and sometime I laid down and looked at the pocketknife on my bedside table. I dared myself to take it and cut myself. I dared myself to end my life.

I prayed and cried out to God, which made me feel a little better, but nothing lasted for a long time. I looked at Psalm 43:5 – “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God.” I asked myself why I was so depressed, but I couldn’t think of any specific reasons. I thought I was just going through a sad time in my life, and it would go away if I was just patient for a little more time.

A while ago I had an emotional breakdown. After five months of specifically struggling with depression, and many more of general sadness, loneliness and anxiety, I forced myself to tell my mother what was going on. I found out that my family has had a history of the chemical imbalance in the brain that contributes to depression, and it wasn’t just something strange going on in my head. I felt assured even in my sadness. Now I know I’m not crazy. I’m just sick.

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Nancy S

We had a great family. Lots of love and admiration. What happened? People didn't talk about what they were feeling or ask for help. They hid it because they felt they would be shamed. It's a horrible disease and needs to be spoken about more.

My older brother was diagnosed with bipolar late in life when we finally insisted he see a psychiatrist. He was in denial and refused help. My parents did not get him the help he needed at a younger age because of the stigma and their generational denial. They felt he would be okay. They would say he just needed a woman to straighten him out.

He moved to another country and pushed everyone away who tried to help him. He liked the manic side but eventually went into a deep depression and became “paralyzed”. He died of a pulmonary embolism from ( my hypothesis) his reclusive, stagnant lifestyle and lack of feeding himself often and correctly. His own suicide.

My dad suffered a few bouts of depression over my growing years and never sought counseling. His GP put him on a pill and he took that for 15 years with no follow-up, just renewed prescriptions. Since my brother died 5 1/2 years ago at age 57, my dad has not come out of a depression with severe anxiety. He’s now 89 and cannot enjoy a minute of his life. He’s been in 3 psych units since then and tried weekly counseling for 5 years and every medication on the market. He feels he faked his way through life.

His generation didn’t talk about how they felt. Now he looks back on his life as one of negativity, stupidity and remorse. We had a great family. Lots of love and admiration. What happened? People didn’t talk about what they were feeling or ask for help. They hid it because they felt they would be shamed. It’s a horrible disease and needs to be spoken about more.

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Muyoka Mw

Before I convince the world to embrace people with different brains, I am going to start with my own heart and my own home: my daughter’s first environment. This letter is for my daughter. If the day comes, I am ready now

My Daughter’s Magic
By: Muyoka M
My daughter was three when the fear of mental health and heredity hit me. Every night I prayed that my daughter’s brain would be normal. When my daughter turned five I stopped. My friend Chloe had texted me saying she read an article that caused her to burst into tears. Chloe viewed her quick tears as a fault but I had always viewed them as an endearing quality. They guaranteed I would never cry alone. I reflected deeper on the other unique brains in my life. I thought about my boss Maddy’s immaculate work schedules; impulsively checked lists that make my day run smoother. I thought about visiting one of my customer’s, Chris, who repeats everything twice. I never mess up his orders. I thought about my friend Polly with twenty different projects going on, always something new and interesting. I would never pray for these people to lose their quirks and isms. They just wouldn’t be the same without them.

I remember in high school watching my roommate chat with a guy in the doorway thinking, I would love to be normal just for one week. I remember sitting on a bench my freshman year of college, flush with anxiety, thinking that regardless of where I went I would never figure out how to fully fit in. I remember getting out into the real world and applying for a holiday job at a retailer that needed tons of people and not getting a callback. My fear for my daughter is not how her brain will work, it is how she will be treated for her differences. Will she be loved? accepted? included? The stigma is worse than the diagnosis.

I imagine other moms praying too: a dark-skinned mom praying that her daughter be lighter, a lesbian mom praying for her son to be straight. Is there anything wrong with these precious children or is it the world they inhabit? As the stigma of skin color and homosexuality fade, I don’t see the same happening with different brain structures and chemical brain differences. Recently, the teacher in my dance class for adults emphatically stated at the beginning of class that she embraces everyone, but then proceeded to leave me out when assigning groups. I wonder if she saw me on the way home, if she discovered the chemical makeup of my tears is the same as hers, if she would change her definition of “everyone” to include me.

What happens if my daughter gets teased one day and runs home holding back tears reserved for her mom’s shoulders, but she then recalls her mom praying for her to be normal? Before I convince the world to embrace people with different brains, I am going to start with my own heart and my own home: my daughter’s first environment. This letter is for my daughter. If the day comes, I am ready now:

Hey Baby Girl,
You have a magic brain. When God was painstakingly making you, he added some twists and surprises to make the world more interesting. You would always wear your princess dresses to preschool because you loved them and did not care what the other students thought. I hope that you wear who you are with the same pride. I love you so much, I decided to go first, and be proud of who I am; my magic. Yes, I go to a therapist and take medication, but there is so much more. I define myself as a businesswoman, a leader, and a mom. Should I buy you a large chalkboard for your equations? A canvas for your drawings? A journal for your writings? The same folds that make our brains different also tuck away magic gifts, and I hope you unwrap yours. All the inventors, entrepreneurs and brilliant minds you read about unwrapped theirs.

When you get to high school, the cafeteria will be full of kids who are scared they’re different too. Be on the lookout for magic dust, there are more just like you. When you go on dates, remember that he is as nervous as you are; that you’ll discover his insecurities. What to tell a star, that doesn’t want to stand out? I have always and will always love watching you shine. I pray you receive the best care and supportive friends, but more importantly that you be you and do what you were destined to do. Once you fully love your magic, you won’t need their acceptance, you can dance without it.

I don’t want you to change. You will always be my daughter. You have always been loved.
Sincerely,
Mom

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David M

I was taught to be a good provider, work hard, and things will work themselves out. I struggled with my emotions as a youth, and teenager, and wasn’t quite sure which emotions were appropriate, and which were not. I realize now, that all emotions are to be valued and given equal weight, when they arise, something I think I always knew, but didn’t acknowledge until I was in my 50’s. I was forced to acknowledge in 2012.

A Strong Man
I was born in 1960, an interesting decade to come into the world. I was a little too young to fully grasp what was happening in the U.S. at that time, but I can’t help but feel that, the 60’s shaped how I looked at life. It was a time when older values from post WWII America started to clash with a new awakening in our culture. I was raised to be a strong man, don’t show your emotions, and deal with problems by yourself. If you can’t solve it, don’t ask for help, internalize your feelings, and for god’s sake don’t let anyone see you cry!!

I was taught to be a good provider, work hard, and things will work themselves out. I struggled with my emotions as a youth, and teenager, and wasn’t quite sure which emotions were appropriate, and which were not. I realize now, that all emotions are to be valued and given equal weight, when they arise, something I think I always knew, but didn’t acknowledge until I was in my 50’s. I was forced to acknowledge in 2012.

I was working in a good job, providing for my daughter, and doing all I could to give her a full life, despite the fact that I had been divorced from her mom, when she was 5. Did I forget to mention that divorce was something that happened to weak men, and was a sign of failure? Or so I was led to believe. I had somehow managed to convince myself that this job was going to provide me with the security and longevity that it would take to see me into my golden years. I would not have to worry about taking care of my daughter. I was taught to be loyal and work long and hard, and you will be rewarded, I was convinced this would be my last job, and if I somehow lost it, that I would not find another job. I was in a younger man’s field of work, and it would be difficult if not impossible to find work. I know, sounds crazy doesn’t it, as I write this and read it, I think that! But at the time, and how I was raised, I truly believed it.

A perfect emotional storm had been set up, all by me, and because I am a man, I did not show or share my feelings with anyone. I’m sure you can see what is coming….after 7 years of service with this company, I was fired, not for breaking a company policy or something I did, but because the division I was running was not making enough profit. I was devastated, I had never been fired from a job in my life, and now to be fired for something that I could not understand, and well it just feed into the anxiety that was already building inside of me. I immediately when into an “it’s cool, I’ll find a job soon” mode. I started to look for jobs, and in the next couple of weeks I had interviews set up. I thought, no problem, I’ll ace the interviews and then be able to pick a job, not realizing that I had not fully dealt with how I felt about being fired. I put so much pressure on myself that I did not fully prepare for the interviews, and the longer each one went, I found that finding the closing words I needed to seal the deal escaping me. I was starting to panic on the inside, but doing my best to keep this from my daughter and friends, my worst fears were coming true, and then it happened.

One night I woke up in the middle of the night, wide awake. I thought oh well I’ll just get something to drink and I’ll fall back asleep, but I didn’t. I never fell asleep that night and for the next couple of nights, this scenario played out again. I went to urgent care, to seek some help, and was given a prescription for a generic form of Ambien, I took it that night and fell asleep and stayed asleep. I was so relieved the next morning that I can’t put into words to describe the feeling. I regrouped and made plans to take on the world, but funny thing about the human brain, sometimes it doesn’t go with the plan. The sleep that I so coveted left me after one night and I was back playing the game, “would I stay asleep or would I wake and not be able to sleep?” I took another pill the first night, upping the dose, no luck, eventually I reached a state of complete fear of the night approaching, knowing that now I would not fall asleep at all.

This process played out night after night, for at least a week, each night producing more fear and panic and anxiety the next day. This built up in my mind as a wall builds up so high, that you think, “There is no way that I can climb something that high”. I couldn’t think straight, I was so tired during the day, yet so fearful of taking a nap, because that for sure would keep me from sleeping at night. As the night would approach, the anxiety would build, so no matter how tired I was, there was no way I was going to sleep. I was the mouse on the wheel, going nowhere, and getting nowhere. I could not take it anymore, One morning after repeating this nightmare, in a fit of panic, I took the remaining sleeping pills I had, I think about 10-15, and luckily called someone and said “I can’t take this anymore..” and downed the pills.

I remember waking up in the emergency room, and immediately thought, “What did I do?” I was this close to losing my daughter forever, let alone my own life. I was very upset with myself, and when the psych. people came to talk with me, I professed I did it out of “desperation for not sleeping”.  Can you believe that as it turns out, the professionals they sent to interview me, I knew one of the ladies, and at one time we were very close! I managed to convince them that I wasn’t really suicidal, but I just panicked, they let me go home as long as someone was with me, and my ex-wife said I could stay with her. Now mind you, I was already having trouble sleeping, now I was going to try and sleep on someone else’s couch?, and if that wasn’t enough, I now no longer had any medication to at least try and help me sleep. I think you can see where this is going…yes, disaster city.

After another night of tossing and turning, and I’m not talking just trying to get comfortable, I’m talking violent turning, you see when your brain is telling you “you’re not sleeping”, you actually are, just not a restful sleep. I would find this out later, after talking with a crisis manager, late one night. He asked me if I was hallucinating and talking to imaginary people. I told him no, and he told me then you are sleeping, because if you go without sleep for more than 72 hours, you will be hallucinating. Sorry for getting ahead of myself, so I digress, I was physically tossing and turning violently, because my body was fighting my brain, if you have been there, then you know. For those of you that have not, and I pray you have not!! It’s like boxing someone who isn’t there, throwing your best punches, yet never connecting, and it leaves you physically exhausted the next day. The next morning, my ex acted like “O.K. you got that out of your system, now snap out of it”.  I don’t blame her, because when you have never had to deal with a mental disorder, you are completely unprepared to do so.  Hell I didn’t know what to do, all I knew was there was something terribly wrong with me, and I was completely unable to deal with reality. I apologized to my daughter, and told her I could not take her to her softball tournament, and she could use my car, but I needed to go back to the Hospital, because I thought that was my best bet to get help. I was no good to anyone right now, and I figured if I was somewhere I thought I could get help, it would keep her and my ex from having to worry about me being safe, so back I went.

I know what you’re thinking….”that is a rational thought, so you couldn’t have been that wrong in the head” Even in the midst of a complete breakdown, sometimes you make the clearest decisions, when it concerns how you’re affecting the people around you. I didn’t care about me, I just knew I could not have people I care about being concerned for my safety. I have always thought that way, even though I was fooling myself, because I had just scared the hell out of them, and of course they were going to worry no matter where I was. Only through perseverance on my part, and with the help of some counseling, and here is the key to recovery…COMPLETE HONESTY with yourself and counselor and doctor, can you dig yourself out of that darkest of places, and heal. IT IS POSSIBLE!! I am living proof. I have a successful career and a stronger relationship with my daughter, I promised her I will never scare her like that again. This does not mean everything is puppy dogs and rainbows, I still have to work on it, but learn from what I am saying, and recognize the warning signs in you, and seek help. My motto is “Asking for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness”,
David

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Abimael R

The illness I have does not define me, I define it. I was always afraid to go out and do the things I loved, but one thing I was not afraid of was work. I worked 25yrs with the illness and I worked as a Truck Driver. I took my meds everyday and went to work. I got Married and had 3 Boys along the way.

I’m a 54 yr old male who started using drugs at the age of 11 yrs old. I always wondered what came first, the hallucinations or the illness.  I came to find out later in life that my family had a history of mental illness.  This is when I came to realize that it was not my fault.  I had started having problems but having to hear voices at a young age was not normal. I thought everybody had been going through the same thing. Now I know they had not. I had something different that I had to deal with – maybe forever or maybe for just a bit.

If I take meds what will it do to me or what won’t it do to me. It caused me a lot of headaches. It got in the way of my school, my family, my friends. It was one of the hardest things to deal with since I didn’t want anyone to know about my condition. I wasn’t going to let the people and friends know I had this because it would probably end my relationship with all. I told myself “They will judge me crazy not want me around” “I’ll be left alone and no one would want to be next to me”.

So I tried hiding it but it came out anyway. Pretty loud to! I had to go to the hospital. There I started my treatment on meds. Back in the day they didn’t have the meds they have now. They had to give me “Haldol” I went from 5mg to 10 ,to 15mgs to 20mgs to 30mgs to 40mgs to 50mgs to 75mgs to100mgs.  They had to keep upping the dose because I had waited so long and hidden it so long cause I was afraid of what people might say. Besides I had been locked up in the hospital and that wasn’t an option anymore,

I kept paying attention to all the people that had no idea what I was going through. They weren’t Drs. I wanted to be what they called ‘Normal’. If they called me that today I know that ‘normal’ is a setting on a washing machine. All in all, I spent a good 29 yrs looking for that setting. It never came and still isn’t there but its ok cause today I’m not hiding.  I’m not telling everyone but I’m not letting the illness control my life.

The illness I have does not define me, I define it. I was always afraid to go out and do the things I loved, but one thing I was not afraid of was work. I worked 25yrs with the illness and I worked as a Truck Driver. I took my meds everyday and went to work. I got Married and had 3 Boys along the way. Family was very important for me, they helped me a lot. Meds help me even though I didn’t like them. It was take them or become a patient of the hospital. I went to a few day programs that were very helpful in learning what I had. That my illness was not something I was going through alone.  I wasn’t the only person going through this.  It made me feel like there’s a chance that this might pass with meds or time, or maybe end.

Today, I still take meds and live a happy life. I’m retired now so I’m finding new ways to deal with my illness cause it never went away or got cured with meds. But I did find I can live with it and live a happy life.  My name is Abi. Thx be to God!

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Anna C

I am independent and free. If you could take anything from this story let it be this, be proactive about what you want and how you feel when it comes to a mental illness. Depression is real and although others may mock you or say its not don't let that bring you down even more. Find the strength within to fight.

Last year I became the mother of my second child Emily. I had my first daughter 16 months prior to Emily’s coming in to the world. There were issues in my marriage such as domestic violence. Because of those issues my two daughters were removed by DCFS , Emily was only a month old. I suffered a great period of grief in addition to the depression I had from delivering my daughters. The isolation one feels from being a new mother with no family around to help and on top of that the domestic violence did not help that feeling of depression. However I enjoyed being a new mother who loves her two girls more than anything.

When they were taken I felt like the earth had been pulled out from under me. I tried to commit suicide knowing exactly what I wanted, which was to die. I was hospitalized and treated for that depression by a psychiatrist who said he would help me with those suicidal tendencies. He prescribed a series of medications each for a different affliction. Some for sleep, others for my mood, and some were psychotropic medications. The combination – little did I know – were for a bipolar patient.

Never in my life had I been diagnosed with such a condition or had any of the symptoms patients with that mental disorder present. It wasn’t until I started these medications that the next 4 suicide attempts were without me being completely aware of what I was doing. Each attempt lead me to another hospitalization. Each time he would add new medications that would only add to my confusion which eventually turned into paranoia, insomnia, lack of appetite. Not to mention many physical side effects such as involuntary muscle movements and light sensitivity. I became aggressive. The police were called to my home many times during this time because of my aggression.

These medications made it impossible for me to care for myself. I became dependent on the man that I wanted to leave due to the abuse. I needed help dressing, feeding, and even moving most days. I had extreme highs and lows. The miracle happened when my ex-husband canceled our insurance plan and was not able to pay for my medications anymore or the psychiatric care. I went cold turkey off 5 different medications. It was excruciating to do so at first and everything was a haze. But after 2 months my thoughts were clear and the aggression was gone. I still had the grief from loosing my kids , nothing but time would ever cure that. But I was strong enough to push forward.

And I did, I took charge and fought my DCFS case, self initiated the services required of me, resumed my career, got a car. Now a year later I am getting primary custody of my girls. During the horrible year that was 2015 my family blamed me for the loss of those girls, my marriage crumbling, and my mental illness. I had no support system that was reliable. But the real strength with a clear mind was me all along, fueled by the memory and hope of my girls.

My mother who studied medicine in her country and has many best friends who are psychiatrists could not or would not understand me and the depression and grief I had in my heart. That it is a disease that takes over your whole being. She would say ” stop faking it” or “you brought this on yourself”. I never understood why my family was so cruel to me during my time of need. And even now as a mother I can’t understand them.

I fought it all anyway and came out better than what I was. It also helped that I underwent certain assessments to disprove that doctors initial diagnosis of Bipolar type 2 disorder. I had neuropsychological testing and 2 other opinions from psychiatrist. It has been a year since I went off the medications and I have never felt better. I do not have the mood swings, the aggression, the light sensitivity, the lack of appetite, or the overall body weakness. Most importantly I do not feel suicidal. Those medications could have killed me and the inexperience that doctor had proved to be fatal. I now have permanent neurological damage to one of my hands due to these medications, which I am working on correcting to be functional again. However despite that I am doing better than ever, I am independent and free. If you could take anything from this story let it be this, be proactive about what you want and how you feel when it comes to a mental illness. Depression is real and although others may mock you or say its not don’t let that bring you down even more. Find the strength within to fight.

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Jessica W.

There is hope. and when you think everyone would be better off without you around or wouldn't miss you if you weren't alive anymore, think again, someone wants you someone needs you and someone out there lives for you. to me those people were my parents. People would tell me not to be selfish and commit suicide but as i thought about it i wasn't being selfish i was doing what i thought i needed to do for me and me only for once in my life. i put me first for once. luckily i got the help i needed. ever day is a struggle by i will get through it and so will you.

I never knew what depression or anxiety was until late high school(I am now 30). My first depressive episode was when I broke up with my high school boyfriend after a year together. Sounds pathetic i know but i was young. I was obviously sad for a long time, but from that time on things were just never right again. I became very self conscious and worried constantly what people thought of me. I thought I was never good enough, for friends, boys or my family. I lived the next few years pretty normal, I dated other guys and graduated high school.

I went to a community college my first year and that’s when I met my first “real” love. He was 2 years younger than me. Anyways I decided to transfer to a University after my first year of college. I was so excited to move into the dorms with my friend and start what i thought was “real” college. So I moved into the dorms and I was nervous of course. Well a few days after moving into the dorms I was sitting on my bed, literally looking at my boyfriend sitting at my desk chair, I blinked my eyes and my world changed. My thoughts started racing, I couldn’t get it all to stop. I felt like my head was going to explode. For the next few days I worried non stop about everything and most of all being alone physically and emotionally.

I went home to visit my parents and was sitting there and all of the sudden i couldn’t breathe, my heart was racing, I was hot and couldn’t calm down. My mom not thinking it was anything like anxiety called my dr thinking it was something with my respiratory system. Well the doctor said everything was fine with an EKG and everything and that she thought it was anxiety and depression. I was put on an anti depressant that day and have been on them ever since. so 12 years now.

The next few days were absolutely miserable. I was scared to death to be left alone, i couldn’t go to my classes, i didn’t want to leave my house and i couldn’t even sit in a room alone. Someone always had to be there or i would have horrible anxiety. It came down to me moving back home with my parents and just commuting to school. I noticed after that episode i started checking things more than just a double checking it would be 3 or more times. I would check my emergency brake in my car thinking i forgot to pull it up, i would check my hair straightener thinking i didn’t turn it off and would burn the house down. If i was counting something, after i was done counting, my head would still continue to count until i fixated on something else. I’d lay awake at night thinking of anything and everything, my mind just didn’t know how to shut off.

My main thoughts were that i didn’t really love my boyfriend i was with and it made me feel horrible. I’d sit around and think for hours and hours, do i love him or don’t i? if i really loved him i wouldn’t be thinking this and so on. This went on for a very long time. I eventually got attention from another guy and cheated on my boyfriend. The guilt was so bad i told my boyfriend everything and he forgave me. The only problem was it happened a few more times after that with more than 1 person. Each time my boyfriend forgave me. It was never that i didn’t love him or wanted to be with someone else, i just had been with him so long that attention from another guy was exciting. Its still no excuse. My boyfriend had to go to Japan for work for a week and i wouldn’t get to talk to him very much. I had cheated on him the night before and told him the next morning. And he said he didn’t know if he could be with me, he would think about it while he was away. That made me lose my mind. I was constantly anxious thinking he was going to come back and just not want to be with me anymore.

Everything i had known for the past 4 years would be gone over something that i could have stopped, it was all my fault i thought. I emailed him while he was away bothering him about staying with me and he was giving me vague answers so i freaked out even more and told him i couldn’t live anymore without him. He instantly found a way to call me because he was worried. A few times after that i had threatened my life to get him to stay with me. Finally in July of 2009 for some reason i told him i thought we needed time apart to figure out what both of us wanted. At this time i lived with him and his parents until i would move into my apartment in the next few months. The morning after i told him this, my anxiety got the best of me and i told him i regretted what i said and i wanted to be with him and to my surprise he finally said no i think this is what we need. I guess i was expecting him to take me back like had all the other times before that.

Anxiety hit full strength. I thought i was going to explode. I ended up writing him a letter on my computer, and told him via text that i couldn’t live anymore i just couldn’t handle it.  I then proceeded to take my bottle of xanax dump it in my hand and get in my car and try to drive to my parents other house 800 miles away. I stopped answering my phone and started swallowing a few pills every few minutes(in the end it was 26 pills i had swallowed) i stopped remembering bits of things as i drove. I ended up getting about 250 miles away before the police for that state pulled me over with guns in the air. My parents had called the police in our state to find me and they contacted the next state overs police. So i got out of my car, the police asked me what was going on and i told them. The officer asked me do you want to go to the hospital and i said yes.

I don’t remember the ride there but i remember being in the ER and having to drink charcoal to counteract the xanax i had swallowed before it killed me. They asked me if i would voluntarily commit myself for a few days or would they have to make me stay which would mean i would be there longer. so i volunteered. I decided pretty quickly that i didn’t want to stay after all because they told me originally 24 hours and then someone said 72 minimum so i freaked i tried to leave and the security guard tried to stop me and i was like um no i’m leaving get the hell out of my way. I ended up staying for 5 days. my parents visited everyday and i spoke to one of my friends on the phone and my aunts. no one else knew what was going on. Well it was time to go home and home meant going to my boyfriends and getting my stuff and moving out. I tried to get him to give me another chance but he said no this is whats best. The anxiety was so bad for the next few months i was scared to be alone again. I missed a lot of work. I drank a lot and did promiscuous things that i am not proud of. All to mask the pain i was going through.

Today i don’t think it was all the breakup that was causing the anxiety. I think it was also the fear of never finding someone else and never being good enough. Well I eventually got the anxiety under control after a few years. And years went on until just recently the end of last month. I woke up the day after my 30th birthday party with horrible anxiety that i hadn’t felt in over 5 or more years. Something was wrong i just knew it in my gut. Well i found out that day that my husband had cheated on me the night before. All i wanted to do was lay in my bed. I couldn’t get the anxiety to go away. It was much worse the time before i had found out. After i found out later that afternoon the anxiety felt different. I was scared of what to do, should i leave him should i give him another chance. Would he fight to keep me or would he walk away. Thoughts just raced on and on like before. I ended up having to go back on an anxiety medicine to take when i had attacks. And now i am back to worrying constantly and thinking the worst of everything. My world was turned upside down all over again.

Now a little more than 2 weeks later, i am here surviving living day by day constantly worried about what he is doing and who he is talking to. I want to question him constantly but i know i have to take control and just live my life and take on whatever is thrown my way. Some moments are better than others. And i don’t know if the anxiety will ever go away again, but i know i wont let it debilitate me again. I have a daughter i have to live for and take care of. I had a few years in between those 2 events where i had hope that there was a chance of living life free of anxiety or at least the severe attacks now i am not so sure again. I hope i make it out of this alive. But i know i am not alone and i have people to support me and push me to get better. There is hope. and when you think everyone would be better off without you around or wouldn’t miss you if you weren’t alive anymore, think again, someone wants you, someone needs you and someone out there lives for you. To me those people were my parents. People would tell me not to be selfish and commit suicide but as i thought about it i wasn’t being selfish i was doing what i thought i needed to do for me and me only for once in my life. I put me first for once. Luckily i got the help i needed. Every day is a struggle but i will get through it and so will you.

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Sarah S

Even though I live with depression and anxiety I am not dangerous, unstable, or needy. I am able to give love and support to others, to be a wife and mother, and to live free from the self-destructive behaviors that once consumed my life.

As a girl with scars, stigma is an experience from which I have no respite. Every day I wake up to a world that knows that at some point I sliced into my arm—over and over. I notice people noticing and it is hard to look them in the eye. I have my reasons for assuming that they will judge me. When I was a teenager I lost a job, was asked to leave multiple schools, and was told by my friend’s mother, “do not call here anymore” — all for no other reason than I kept hurting myself.

So now even though I have 11 years of sobriety from eating disorders and self-harm I am still afraid. Afraid that I won’t get a job. Afraid that people still don’t want to be associated with a girl with scars. Afraid that people will judge the outside as broken. And afraid of admitting to the anxiety I still feel.

But the truth is that the depression and anxiety I live with are neuro-chemical disorders. I didn’t choose this anymore than a person living with any other medical condition chose that condition. Even though I live with depression and anxiety I am not dangerous, unstable, or needy. I am able to give love and support to others, to be a wife and mother, and to live free from the self-destructive behaviors that once consumed my life.

The truth is that 1 in 4 adults will have a diagnosable mental illness in the course of this year, BUT 2/3 of those people will not seek help because they are afraid of stigma destroying their lives.

I am standing up to stigma. I refuse to allow it to shape the way I relate to the world anymore.

I am going to shamelessly ask for all the help I need.

I am going to relentlessly keep telling the truth about mental illness.

And I am going to fearlessly share hope every time I get the chance.

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Suzanne L

This is the way I muddled through the beginning of my diagnosis. Asking for help and being willing to receive that help, humbly and with gratitude. I became vigilant about my own health, my triggers, my treatments and my medications. I learned to be my own advocate even when I felt like I was sinking in quicksand or clawing at my own flesh, desperate to get out of my body. You do these things because you are stronger than you think you are. You allow yourself to rest, retreat and then put your britches back on and saddle-up again.

I want to talk about mental illness – but really, I also want to tell you a few things. Many of these things you may already know. Still, I think some of them are worth repeating. To begin with, mental illness is born, manifests and is treated in a myriad of ways; but often, it isn’t treated as other medical conditions are. No one would be ridiculous enough to suggest to a cancer patient that she should take a walk and get more sunshine. Instead, doctors would isolate the type of cancer and introduce a targeted treatment. You’d never tell a diabetic that meditating might be a better alternative than giving in to “big pharma.” That’s because, when it comes to actual illnesses, “big pharma” produces lifesaving medicine.

If you look closely at that line of thinking, you can begin to see the threads that bind misunderstanding to blame. Frequently, we treat mental illness as a kind of bad decision making which can be cured by trying harder and making different, better choices. Mental illness isn’t weakness or bad decision making; it is a misfiring of neurons, an imbalance of chemicals, a physical response to trauma. It is any of those things, or all of them. For a very long time I didn’t understand this so I looked outside myself for ways to sooth my hurts; those hurts I caused myself, but also those hurts I caused others. After years of self-medicating in every way imaginable- holistic medicine, eastern philosophy, chanting and gonging and ecstatic dancing (but honestly, also a recreational drugs, booze, sex and self-destructive behavior) – I finally had to admit to myself that the coping skills I had developed to survive were no longer serving me. The only way to affect real change wasn’t going to happen without help. For me, that came as a combination of both pharmaceuticals and psychotherapy.

Now, maybe you’re one of the lucky few who finds just the right medicine, or cocktail of medicines, on the first try. Maybe you find a good diagnostician and a clever therapist right away. Maybe, but I’m here to testify, it almost never happens on the first go’round. Finding the right psychiatric medical team is like a series of bad blind dates. He’s too quiet, she’s too clinical, they’re both too something, or not something enough. Chemistry is hard to force. You click or you don’t. It’s a crap shoot.

Finding the right medication can also be a real shitshow. One pill makes you larger, one pill makes you small – dry mouth, tremors, fatigue, emotional numbness, loss of sex drive, loss of hair, weight gain, weight loss, diarrhea, constipation – the possibilities are limitless and none of them are sexy. Still, if you can hang in there, you’ll find the right doctor; one who will listen to your concerns and treat your whole self, not just the part that exists above the neck. You’ll find the right medications, although that sometimes takes a bit of trial and error. Finally, you’ll find the right kind of therapy. This, my darlings, is how you begin to build your support system.

Once I had a diagnosis and a treatment plan, there was an adjustment period that I wasn’t fully prepared for. Now that my illness had a name, it belonged to me. For a while, I let it define my actions, my feelings, my movements and my silences. Eventually, I learned to co-habitate with it. I learned its patterns. I watched for its sneaky little tracks in the dust on my side table. I babied it and put it to bed. I enjoyed my life when it slept. With the help of the support system I was building, when it woke, I learned to cope. In some funny kind of way, I felt safer after my diagnosis than I did before I knew – because, really, it was there all along, hiding behind my sorrow, feeding my fear and anxiety, fueling my racing thoughts, pushing me in and out of love and solitude and hunger and famine. The only thing that changed was that I knew. Now I knew its name.

Everyone knows about medication. Television and print ads are everywhere. To some degree, they have even begun to normalize treatment. Swallowing a pill was the easy part. The work that came after I swallowed the pill(s) was where the healing really began. You have to willingly lay down the things you thought you knew about yourself, the things you thought defined you, the tools you carved from bone and hair to survive in the wild. You have to let go of those things so that your hands are free to hold new things. To pick up and put down things that may or may not fit. To hold and examine new tools, shiny still-in-the-package tools. Your sick coping skills will not serve you any longer.

This is the way I muddled through the beginning of my diagnosis. Asking for help and being willing to receive that help, humbly and with gratitude. I became vigilant about my own health, my triggers, my treatments and my medications. I learned to be my own advocate even when I felt like I was sinking in quicksand or clawing at my own flesh, desperate to get out of my body. You do these things because you are stronger than you think you are. You allow yourself to rest, retreat and then put your britches back on and saddle-up again. All this work moved me toward a new kind of wellness. The kind of wellness that coexists with un-wellness. I embraced the kind of healing that comes from understanding that there is treatment, but no cure, for the thing that lives inside my brain. I allowed myself to be well, so that I would be safe when I was unwell.

Lastly, I want to talk about the part that I experienced, and which I rarely hear discussed: the aftershock to your family and friends. No matter how loved or supported you are, there will always be people in your life who have experienced you at your worst. Everything after that will be seen and interpreted through that skewed lens. Your successes will be attributed to your new therapy and medication. It may feel like your personal growth goes unnoticed. Your failures will simply be a repeat of your bad choices. For some, you will become a singular condition. She’s mentally ill, she’s sick… we don’t expect much from her anymore. This is just the way it is. Some folks don’t get it. Some folks may never get it. But hang in there kids, you got this. Many people in your life will learn. You will be a living, breathing lesson about mental illness, coping, healing and determination. You will be a lesson in forgiveness. The people who love you will gain understanding, and forgive what happened during the low points in your illness. There will be days, though I hope not many, when it will be enough if you are the only person able to forgive YOU. In fact, it will be exactly enough.

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Trace H

Everyday is a struggle. I never know what type of day it will be, but I can control the high highs and low lows. I now do my best to be an advocate for those with mental illness and to end the stigma.

All my life I felt as if something was wrong with me. I was not like anyone else. I thought differently and acted differently. When I was 8 I had my first seizure. I was diagnosed with childhood epilepsy. I eventually grew out of it. However, I was very overweight until I was 14 and lost 70 lbs.

Things seemed as if they were in an upswing, I started running and xcountry skiing. I also seemed to have up and down moods. This made it hard to make friends, but my best friend has always been around for me. He has helped me with my struggles and vise versa. I started taking antidepressants when I was 17 and they just made things worse.

I moved to Nevada where I had some of my happiest times, up until a sad breakup and leaving Nevada for Florida. When I was in Florida I became severely depressed and ended up having a panic attack and totaled my car. I was physically fine, but my parents know something was wrong. I started going to a psychologist regularly and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and began taking the right medications. I started becoming happier.

I became even happier when we moved back to Nevada. I went to my dream school and joined a fraternity. I began drinking too much, but this didn’t really affect me. For the most part things were good, until I lost my grandma, the person I was closest to besides my mom. The next semester I was unmotivated and depressed. Things started to get better when distracting myself with jobs and friends.

Things took the most severe turn when I found out I had to move to Texas because my dad wanted to take care of his dad, whom I’ve had a volatile relationship. I was severely scared of him because I watched him beat my grandma when I was young. When I got there I was constantly angry, in fear, crying, or depressed. Things got so bad that I was going between his house and my aunts.

I ended up doing an outpatient program at a psychiatric facility. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychosis. I started taking a new medication for the bipolar. It took months to get used to it. I’d sleep so much or not at all. When my family finally moved out from my grandfathers house things got better. I take 5 pills a day at different times. I am doing so much better today because of my best friend and my mom.

Every day is a struggle. I never know what type of day it will be, but I can control the high highs and low lows. I now do my best to be an advocate for those with mental illness and to end the stigma.

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Joe W

At some point I realized my heart was racing, I was breaking out in a cold sweat and my chest was tightening and and beginning to hurt. It was only a month later I realized I was having a panic attack. During my 25 years serving churches I had often faced hostility of all kinds, even death threats and now I was experiencing the toll all that had taken on me.

Greeting people after the 11:00 worship service was a 25 year old routine for me as pastor of a United Methodist Church. But what happened that Sunday morning changed my whole life and my families’ life. As he was leaving one man was particularly angry at me. He said ugly words which I do not know remember, out of shock I suppose. I do remember his response when I asked him what was wrong. He just said, “Read my email!”.

At some point I realized my heart was racing, I was breaking out in a cold sweat and my chest was tightening and and beginning to hurt. It was only a month later I realized I was having a panic attack.

During my 25 years serving churches I had often faced hostility of all kinds, even death threats and now I was experiencing the toll all that had taken on me.

Now I am on disability and though I dearly love and still feel called to be a pastor, I know I can never do it again. It is not weakness nor is it denying my God given call. It is recognition of the fact that, like Jesus, I had come to the place where I was no longer able to carry the cross that I was still willing to carry.

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Shauna T

I am speaking out today for all the children who should never have to watch their moms fall apart and feel like they don't matter... As a child of a woman who wasn't strong enough to deal with things on her own, but didn't have anyone to lean on. I am speaking out today, as a child of someone who SHOULD have had support. I am speaking out today because my mom lost her life to depression! She missed my graduation, she missed my wedding, and she will never see the smiles on her grandbabies face.

My name is Shauna and I grew up with a Mom who struggled with mental illness. When my kids ask about her I tell them that she was an amazing mom who was always at every one of my swim meets and school events and was the mom all of my friends went to for advice. What I don’t always share is that from a very young age I remember watching as the woman I loved go from smiles and hugs to crying and sobbing for no reason. I didn’t know what was wrong as I watched her crumble before me… I was young and didn’t know how to help her and to this day I wonder how her life would have been if she had help.

You see, years later my sister and I have realized that my mom had a mental illness. Whether she had depression or was bi-polar, we don’t know because no one ever cared to test her. Instead of listening to her, doctors told her time and again that she was hormonal and would get better on her own. She was alone. Her friends only knew the happy-go-lucky woman and not the woman who would turn to tears on a dime. They knew the smiling woman who was in charge of the swim team, not the one who sat alone in her room night, after night.

I am speaking out today for all the children who should never have to watch their moms fall apart and feel like they don’t matter… As a child of a woman who wasn’t strong enough to deal with things on her own, but didn’t have anyone to lean on. I am speaking out today, as a child of someone who SHOULD have had support. I am speaking out today because my mom lost her life to depression! She missed my graduation, she missed my wedding, and she will never see the smiles on her grandbabies face.

I am speaking out today so that we talk about all aspects of mental illness! We need to support those who have it and those who live with them and make sure they know that they are never alone in their fight for a healthy life. No more stigmas; let’s change things NOW!

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Steven Z

I'm proud of BringChange2Mind for helping to end the stigma of PTSD, which has lingered in my family long after my grandfather's death in 1967, when I was a 7 year old boy. This is the first time I, or any of my family as far as I know, have ever shared this story outside of our family inner circle. It has hovered over us in many, many ways and still exists. End the stigma!

A personal Memorial Day communication – Today I want to remember a man who died in battle, dying for our country. I don’t know his name but he was my grandfather’s “trench buddy” in World War I. On orders to advance, my grandfather and his buddy stood up out of the trenches in an attempt to move forward toward the German soldiers they were to attack. As soon as they stood, my grandfather’s “trench buddy” had his head blown off by enemy fire. My grandfather told this story once to my grandmother. It was whispered about among my family members after that but was not to be discussed in front of my grandfather.

There was a theory in my family that my grandfather came home from the war and drank every day for the rest of his life because of this incident. There was another theory that he drank because of those he may have killed (my grandmother told me that he never talked about those he may have killed). I’m sure that he came home with what is now known as PTSD. They called it “shell shocked” back then and it was stigmatized to the point where we never mentioned it, and my grandfather never admitted it.

World War I was called “the war to end all wars”, which was clearly a misnomer. On this Memorial Day, I honor my grandfather’s “trench buddy”, on behalf of my grandfather. My grandfather was against all wars and he would question our country’s current commitment to peace. On behalf of my grandfather, I wish all of our men and women overseas in the military a safe return home and I wish for a re-dedication of our country to peace.

I’m proud of BringChange2Mind for helping to end the stigma of PTSD, which has lingered in my family long after my grandfather’s death in 1967, when I was a 7 year old boy. This is the first time I, or any of my family as far as I know, have ever shared this story outside of our family inner circle. It has hovered over us in many, many ways and still exists. End the stigma!

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Taylor P

I have always viewed myself as a strong person. I was the one that people came to when they sought advice, when they needed a shoulder to cry on, and when they cried for help. I took pride in my "role," it was something that was in my nature (and something that I am pursuing in post-secondary). But, what happens when the person who does the consoling needs help? That was a question I became faced with very quickly.

I do not view my story to be the most shocking or the most troublesome thing anybody has ever faced, but, if by some chance my story can be related to by a reader and can touch somebody in some way, then this story has found purpose.

To begin, I have always viewed myself as a strong person. I was the one that people came to when they sought advice, when they needed a shoulder to cry on, and when they cried for help. I took pride in my “role,” it was something that was in my nature (and something that I am pursuing in post-secondary). But, what happens when the person who does the consoling needs help? That was a question I became faced with very quickly. It is easy enough to tell yourself “get over it” or “it’s just a phase,” however, when that phase shows little to no sign of stopping, what then?

I became so enveloped in the problems of others that I forgot one of the most crucial rules– self-care. I guess one can say my mental state started on a decline when myself and my girlfriend of two years parted ways. I contacted friends to talk, but eventually they became sick of the same old story and began brushing away my attempts at seeking help. I found myself confining myself more and more to my dorm room with no company, but the surrounding walls. That is, until one day I met a girl over a social media app. For privacy reasons, I’ll call this girl S. S and I had a lot in common. We chatted for hours about the geeky things that I am into. Her taste in music was similar and most of all… she felt the way I was feeling. She knew what it was like to be alone, so in some ways we empathized with one another. For weeks we chatted, talking about life, talking about our problems, going on walks and watching movies. It seemed like the start of something new, something great. Then, S was not so well anymore. She began having really bad days, and immediately I went back to my old role. I did what I could to help her, sacrificing hours of sleep, just to fall asleep in class the next morning at 9 a.m. S’s mental state, however, seemed to do nothing but diminish in my opinion. Time after time, night after night, I would spend hours talking her out of manic states. During this time, somewhere, I lost what grip I had on my own mental state. The nights that she did not come over I lay wide awake staring at the ceiling, so angry that sleep eluded me. My mood heavily deteriorated, I went from happy go lucky to bland and emotionless. Then one day, after my workout, I was returning to my dorm room, I walked past my floors common room, which was full of people, not uncommon. Though, something was off, the mood was somber, so I just continued to push into my room. As I showered I heard a heavy knock on my door. This was very strange to me because it was not typical for me to have visitors. I opened the door to a pale faced Resident Assistant whom I knew quite well. He delivered the news, “S had passed last night.”

As cliché as it may sound, my whole world felt like it had collapsed around me. I had to brace against the doorframe to keep from falling over. I was caught somewhere between laughing and throwing up. I remember repeating “No” over and over as if he had told me some cruel joke. Like a one-two punch thrown by life I was brought to my knees.

One of my favourite quotes is actually from the movie Rocky Balboa (2006); “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.” Oh, how right that is. But, Rocky also goes on to say; “But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.” I have taken that to heart. My low hit very hard. I was “sleepwalking through life” as some people might say. Some of my greatest interests faded to nothing, I distanced myself from my friends and I stayed away from social events I otherwise would have gladly attended. But, I always remembered that it was about how hard I could get hit and keep moving forward, I played that verse a thousand times in my head as a reminder that S would not have wanted me to continue down the path that I was headed.

Now, here I am. Writing this post as a hopeful voice for you. I hope you, the reader, can find some message out of my words. Whatever fight you are in right now, know that there are people out there who will help you, you are not alone no matter how much you may feel like you are. No, it will not be easy, it will be a daily struggle (believe me, I continue to fight my battle), but you will succeed. Fight hard my friend, if you ever need a listening ear, remember, it’s in my nature.

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Linda J

I started working in the mental health field and obtained my Masters in Social Work and became very friendly with one of the psychiatrists. When he left and opened his private practice, I took my daughter to him. He officially diagnosed her with Schizoaffective Bipolar Type. I felt like someone punched me in the stomach. I worked with patients with this disorder, how could my daughter have this??

I just read Jessie’s book on her extraordinary journey and found it both sad and encouraging. Although, she had a very strong advantage over many of us who do not have such a strong support system consisting of family and financial support. I being one of the many.

My daughter is 29 years old and has been diagnosed with Schizoaffective DO/Bipolar Type. She began cutting herself when she was 14 but I attributed this to the anxiety of my divorcing her father. I took her to several psychiatrists in our area who diagnosed her at that time with anxiety, depression and ADD. Over the next several years she would hold down a job, leave the job, get another one and so forth. During this time she also began hearing voices and having visual hallucinations. Of course, I was wracked with guilt about the divorce, about my knowing that mental illness was on my side of the family, and finding out that my ex mother-in-law had a psychotic disorder (never diagnosed).

My poor daughter inherited this illness from both sides of her family. My family consisting of my parents and brother have never been supportive. I started working in the mental health field and obtained my Masters in Social Work and became very friendly with one of the psychiatrists. When he left and opened his private practice, I took my daughter to him. He officially diagnosed her with Schizoaffective Bipolar Type. I felt like someone punched me in the stomach. I worked with patients with this disorder, how could my daughter have this??

This diagnosis led to many medication trials, side effects, reoccurring symptoms etc. This past May, my daughters symptoms became worse and she had to be hospitalized for the first time. It was a surreal experience for all of us. She lost her job and recently applied for SSD. She is now stable. As for me, I also lost my job due to many medical issues including anxiety, depression, PTSD (from mothers verbal and emotional abuse) and OCD. I am still grieving the fact that my daughter will never have a normal relationship, probably never have children, be financially secure or cured. We both take one day at a time and I just pray there will come a day where I can see my daughter living independently and happy with her life. We are not there yet.

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Paula

The work that you do is so important. Please don't ever stop! ♡♡

Today is March 25, 2016. My brother Alex would have been 54 years of age today. He suffered from mental illness. Other health challenges ended his life.. I think the treatment he received from the stigma of that illness was as cruel as the illness itself.  My parents made the conscious decision to make sure he always had a home.  They believed that many of the homeless people on our streets didn’t have that option. So, in his memory, my friends and I will take to the streets of Chicago this Easter weekend and deliver hot meals to these beautiful souls that the world forgot to love. The work that you do is so important. Please don’t ever stop! ♡♡

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Patti P

I have a job as a Peer Specialist now and I am helping people like me to recover from Mental Illness. It is nice to feel validated by your peers when you tell them what you've learned in your experiences.

Hi! I’m Patti,
I was diagnosed with Mental Illness 23 years ago. I had Mental Illness since I was 12, but never saw a doctor till then. I was very depressed and isolated a lot. I had very bad anxiety problems. And many stressors. My first breakdown was very difficult and I’ve had more since then. I’ve been hospitalized 5 times in my life. I did not work for 15 years.

I have a job as a Peer Specialist now and I am helping people like me to recover from Mental Illness. It is nice to feel validated by your peers when you tell them what you’ve learned in your experiences. One thing I always talk about to my peers is about negativity. Negativity is our worst enemy. It’s nice to turn that frown upside down and make yourself feel better. Letting go of your thoughts is a good thing, but letting in the healing is better. Sometimes we get caught up in our negativity.

We need to say “Stop” and change our thoughts to positive things about our lives and loved ones and the things we can do. We need to look around us and see our beautiful world through our own eyes. When we are negative our eyes see nothing but the bad. But, When you feel good…create!!!!!

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Virginia E

I would like to bring awareness and more help to our part of the country. The stigmatization here is ridiculous and has to be stopped if things are going to change. Nobody wants to admit their loved ones need help and that results in dysfunction and suicide for many!!

My daughter committed suicide after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and mixed personality disorder. She was in and out of doctors care for depression and mental issues for about 15 years. She suffered with bulimia, cutting disorder and lastly self medicating before her first attempt at suicide in May 2015.

She was in treatment for about 10 days and came home with a new bunch of psychotic drugs that only seemed to make her worse. She lost her job because she could no longer function effectively! She suffered with depression, multiple panic attacks and extreme anxiety for years that only worsened with age. She lost her struggle on January 27, 2016 because she could no longer deal with life.

The mental health system here in our area is almost nonexistent. We have no psychiatrist and a handful of psychologists that are hard to get in to see. There is very little help available and no one wants to address this issue. I would like to bring awareness and more help to our part of the country. The stigmatization here is ridiculous and has to be stopped if things are going to change. Nobody wants to admit their loved ones need help and that results in dysfunction and suicide for many!!

Please help me change things with the help of this organization. I pray no family has to suffer this grief as we have had to endure. My daughter was a lovely and brilliant girl that needed help but was failed by the system. She would have been 30 years old 9 days after her death. STOP THIS DISGRACE!!!

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Eric W

The purpose for writing this is two fold. One is to offer hope to those struggling with mental illness. Recovery is possible and there are better days ahead. The other is to offer hope to survivors of domestic abuse. It is okay to leave and to get help whether male or female, mentally ill or mentally healthy. I have had counseling after I left her and it has helped. There is also no shame in getting treatment for mental illness.

Hello. My name is Eric. I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 1989 at the age of 15. It’s basically a mixture of schizophrenia and bipolar. It has been a long journey thus far, so to make this as brief as possible, I’ll just write about what has been happening since 2010.

In June or July 2010, I intentionally stopped my meds for the third time since being diagnosed. I had been married to a verbally and physically abusive wife for almost 6 years at the time, and we were still married. I believe it was October 2010 that I realized that I was not doing well, so I attempted to restart my meds. But I often could not remember to take them because I was so sick. My then wife said that she would remind me to medicate, but she often forgot also.

It seemed the more I regressed, the more severe the abuse became. I wanted and needed inpatient care, but she would not allow it because she wanted me to stay home to take care of her (she had had knee surgery and also some imagined and/or faked physical ailments). But on a December day in 2010, we went to the local community mental health center so that she could file a complaint about one of the staff members breaching her confidentiality. During this meeting, I told the “complaint lady” that I was not doing very well and that I had stopped my meds. This led to me staying there and being admitted to their crisis stabilization unit and my then wife going back to the house.

That evening, I told a staff member on the unit of my then wife’s abusing me and that “I want out”. So the plan was for me to become stable, and then not to be discharged back to the house, but either to an apartment to live by myself or to a group home. About a week passed. I was getting better, but still kind of sick. Maybe that is why I changed my mind. So on my tenth day there, I was discharged back to the house.

Our marriage was going quite well in 2011. It was the best year of our marriage. But it did not take very long for the abuse to resume, and it only escalated as time went by. I was back on my meds as prescribed, but obviously under a lot of stress. For a long time