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.

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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Kevin K

What can we do to address and begin to work on fighting and eliminating the stigma? There needs to be some kind of comprehensive, rational and effective discussion on a larger scale that we've seen before. We as people living with mental illnesses must be heard.

My name is Kevin and I have Paranoid Schizophrenia. I was formally diagnosed with it about nine years ago, but have had symptoms longer than that. I live on my own and consider it a blessing, and am truly blessed to have my parents involved in my treatment. They help me cope with things and they, along with my sisters, are my best friends and my support circle. I have many other blessings that I don’t know how to explain without sounding completely delusional but they are all very much appreciated. I may have this mental illness but it’s the positives that keep me going each day.

The label of schizophrenia, in my eyes and in the eyes of many others, is as bad as the disease itself, as it is with other mental illnesses. Just the word alone of a mental illness can and does spark fear in many “normal” people, which is unfair because in most cases, like mine, mentally ill individuals do not pose a threat to anyone. The stigma associated with all mental illnesses, ranging from something like mild depression to something like full-blown schizophrenia, makes it hard on us. It makes us feel like we don’t fit in because people that don’t have a mental illness, in many cases, would rather just ignore us or turn away. We are at times deemed a danger to others and a threat to society, treated as pariahs in the communities in which we live. We are misunderstood.

What can we do to address and begin to work on fighting and eliminating the stigma? There needs to be some kind of comprehensive, rational and effective discussion on a larger scale that we’ve seen before. We as people living with mental illnesses must be heard. I believe that if we think outside the box, we can get people in the medical field to do more for the mentally ill. I think that if a special mental health task force was formed and people in power got together, a lot could be accomplished to help eliminate the stigma that we otherwise couldn’t do by ourselves. I applaud all existing organizations that are fighting the stigma, and if we all worked together and thought outside the box, I think we could get even more accomplished!

I believe that I have a lot to offer to help fight the mental illness stigma rather than just sit on the sidelines. I want to be part of the solution and take part in raising awareness, and I want to help others with mental illness know that they are not alone and that there are many others living with mental illness who are there for them with support and encouragement. I want others afflicted with mental illness to live as normal lives as possible. I want to do my part in eliminating the stigma, no matter how difficult it may be, and help make it a thing of the past. In summary, I feel like the next step in my life should be actively participating in fighting the stigma associated with mental illness with an emphasis on the stigma associated with schizophrenia. I have goals, dreams and aspirations other than this as well, but this is most important to me at this point in my life. I want to work with and brainstorm with other like-minded people and organizations, and share ideas and find solutions that can bring change and bring an end to stigma!

Sincerely,
Kevin K

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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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Laura C

One day, things will be easier. One day, life won’t seem so painful and distressing. Nonetheless, until then, I will take each day as it comes and the challenges brought with them. I will fight my hardest and accept the help I am privileged to have. And, most importantly, I will accept that even though things aren’t okay at this moment – this moment won’t last forever. ‘Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.’

My current, ongoing battle with Anorexia

It’s a constant voice in your head. A never-ending battle with yourself and your mind yelling and yelling you’re not good enough, nor are you thin enough, beautiful enough or clever enough. You are not enough, or at least, this is what it feels like. The Anorexic voice starts off quietly, whispering and slowly creeping her way into your daily life and thoughts ready to drag you to the pits of hell and the depths of despair and unhappiness. Though how can you possibly ignore her, when she’s all you supposedly have? She becomes louder, more manipulative and unfriendly. The torment and rules constantly drilled into your head, until listening no longer becomes a choice. Instead, it becomes a chore. But, right before your eyes, before anybody can stop it, before you get a glimpse of what’s going on (or has been for a long period) she’s got you, you’ve unwillingly become another one of her victims. Not just this, but you’ve also become a shadow of your former self. The self with at least a slight ounce of confidence and ambition. The former you that enjoyed indulging in birthday cakes and dancing for enjoyment, not to burn calories. The former you who was loved and cherished, ever so much, but then became blinded by this ugly monster.

I have had Anorexia for numerous years now and I am yet to say `it gets easier’. Each day is a torment, a battle between life and death and a journey I wouldn’t want anybody to face – yet I am hopeful and with each day that comes, I am closer to regaining my health, happiness and strength. I am closer to fighting the demon that has become all I’ve known for many years. Some days, I wish to remain in bed, isolating myself from the World and the look of my own reflection in the mirror disgusts me to the point of breakdowns and engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms. Other days are easier, more manageable, but not filled with freedom. With each day that comes, I am one of many sufferers faced with agonizing thoughts and harrowing feelings of guilt, alongside complete and utter hopelessness and despair. I have wanted to give up, I am writing this nearing the end of another difficult day, where I am trying my hardest to remain in a positive mindset. I have shed enough tears to facilitate the Pacific Ocean and I’ve not been myself for such a long time; I am still here and I am finding the strength and courage to make it through each day and the tough times I face.

‘Beyond fear lies freedom’. One day, whether that may be in five years or a decade, I am going to be on the right pathway to finding myself, embracing life and saving animals. One day, things will be easier. One day, life won’t seem so painful and distressing. Nonetheless, until then, I will take each day as it comes and the challenges brought with them. I will fight my hardest and accept the help I am privileged to have. And, most importantly, I will accept that even though things aren’t okay at this moment – this moment won’t last forever.
‘Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.’

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Tina C

My daughter is a beautiful, intelligent person both inside and out but her future remains shaky due to the stigma that exists in our society. The stigma affects the healthcare that she isn't getting at the moment that would allow her to hold a full-time job and even better yet, have long-term relationships.

I am writing as a mother of a daughter who has borderline personality disorder. After sixteen years of addiction (many people who are undiagnosed turn to drugs or alcohol), she is in recovery and dealing with a dual diagnosis which is difficult for both the alcoholic and family members who watch helplessly as their loved one struggles through recovery. Many celebrities admit to addiction issues but mental health issues are still kept in the dark. My daughter is a beautiful, intelligent person both inside and out but her future remains shaky due to the stigma that exists in our society. The stigma affects the healthcare that she isn’t getting at the moment that would allow her to hold a full-time job and even better yet, have long-term relationships.

At this moment, I am wringing my hands as her phone has been turned off and I am unable to reach her. This is my story.

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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 I thought I had to remain married to her. But finally in July or August 2014, i googled what the Bible says about abuse and divorce. I found out that it is okay to leave and divorce an abuser. I also found out how to do it safely.

So on August 21, 2014, I left her and moved in with my parents. We divorced January 15, 2015. On May 3, 2015, I moved back to the same town where my ex-wife still lives but to a different address. I did this because my boss had offered my job back as a lobby attendant at a fast food restaurant. This was the job I abruptly resigned from shortly after I had moved in with my parents. So I started working there again May 4, 2015, and an presently still employed there. I’m still doing well and still medicated.

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.

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Justine F

My son was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 18 years old. He is now 38 and has been through many years of hospitalizations and med changes. It has been a very difficult time for both of us, but the one thing that has gotten him through the bad times is music and singing.

My son was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 18 years old. He is now 38 and has been through many years of hospitalizations and med changes. It has been a very difficult time for both of us, but the one thing that has gotten him through the bad times is music and singing. He has been involved with community musical theatre, singing karaoke, and performing each year at a “Musical Showcase” sponsored by a local mental health agency. This past weekend he fulfilled a long time dream by auditioning for The Voice. He didn’t get to the second round of auditions but it was an experience he said that will last a lifetime. He told me he wanted to do it to show everyone that people with his illness can do much more than they think. He wants to be an inspiration to everyone who is struggling that there is hope and to not give up. I’m so proud of him!

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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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Mary M

If you read about Michael in my previous story, Two Knocks, then you know he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at the age of 17. But maybe what I didn’t explain well enough is that Michael is, by far, the most passive and kind person I have ever known. I’ll cut to the chase, about one year ago, in January, 2015, after spending five weeks prior in a local hospital, Michael was released. However, upon release, he was still “not right”.

I want to tell the rest of my son, Michael’s, story because I need the support of this community. If you read about Michael in my previous story, Two Knocks, then you know he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at the age of 17. But maybe what I didn’t explain well enough is that Michael is, by far, the most passive and kind person I have ever known.

I’ll cut to the chase, about one year ago, in January, 2015, after spending five weeks prior in a local hospital, Michael was released. However, upon release, he was still “not right”. He was psychotic and manic the day he stepped out of the hospital. He came home but then left again, in the middle of the night. He left a note for the family, not to worry about him, because he was setting out on his own to find his own truths, as he put it.

We were frantic, looking for him but then, the following morning, we got a call from a local policeman, Office Shepherd, who knew Michael and his diagnosis. The officer and his partner had coincidentally, been called to the area where they found Michael – sitting in the snow, barefooted, praying – because a horse had fallen into the pond across the street from the church where Michael sat. A crane had been called in to rescue the horse and was snarling traffic so the police were summoned.

Recognizing Michael immediately, Officer Shepherd called my oldest son, Nick, to ask what they should do about Michael sitting in the snow, no coat, no shoes. Really? They asked Nick? Anyway, Nick told Officer Shepherd to tell Michael to come home; we’ve been worried about him. So Officer Shepherd relayed Nick’s message to Michael and then left him alone to direct traffic.

About ten or fifteen minutes later, Michael began to hear a voice in his head that told him, “Get home! Get home quickly!” So he got into his car and careened down the hill away from the church and into the mayhem that was taking place in the intersection below; police, standbys, newspaper reporter, cameraman, horse… “Get home, get home quickly!” the voice cried.

Michael swerved and accidentally ran over Officer Shepherd’s foot and then crashed into a guardrail. He got out of his car and began to run home. The two officers chased him down (Shepherd too) and wrestled him to the ground and put him in the back of their police car, about twenty minutes too late, and took him downtown. But not to a hospital, no, they took him to see the judge.

As he stood in the courtroom, barefooted, as Nick stood outside the courtroom, crying and holding up his shoes, Michael was charged with attempted murder of a police officer and was immediately sent to prison.

He remained in prison for nine months before finally being transferred to a state hospital for the mentally ill. He has since been found not guilty by reason of insanity. However, and this is where I need help – I’m desperate – they have no intention of ever letting him out. My passive, kind son is currently being housed with the criminally insane and he may remain there for the rest of his life!

I have reached out to state and local advocacy groups and although they are outraged at what has happened to Michael, they offer no solution. I ask you, the community in support of the mentally ill, what else can be done to release my dying son? And he is dying. State hospitals bread insanity. It’s a pressure cooker and I fear every time the phone rings from the hospital that I will be told that Michael killed himself.

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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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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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Vincent

Thank you for all that you do.

Both of my sons have severe schizophrenia. Thank you for all that you do.

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Angelita D

Mental illness can make it break a family, but the love in one's heart is what keeps others going. Tony knows that we will always be there for him. For he did not chose to have a mental illness, it had chosen him.

My name is Angelita and my oldest son Tony suffers from schizophrenia. He was diagnosed in his early 20’s, he will be 33 soon. Tony is a loving man with a good heart but at times never really comprehends what the illness does to him. We recently got him back on his medication after a year and a half that he decided he did not need to take it.

It was an a emotional roller coaster to say the least but we prevailed because we kept our faith in him as well as our never ending love for him. There were days my daughter and I thought we could not bear another day. We knew that deep down my living son and her brother was still fighting to get better. My daughter recently had a baby and Tony was showing no emotions towards him and this was heartbreaking to see for we knew he has a good heart.

I believe because of the birth of my grandson Hudson, that something made Tony want to get back on his medication. This was a day that I will never forget because I believe that he knew that if he was to have a relationship with his nephew that he needed to back on his medication. I thank God and the love of my family for always being there for Tony as we always will be.

Mental illness can make it break a family, but the love in one’s heart is what keeps others going. Tony knows that we will always be there for him. For he did not chose to have a mental illness, it had chosen him.

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Maryann G

Mental illness comes in all forms and unfortunately is put on a short list. So I understand the stigma and the neglect of all the mentally ill and I am happy to finally have found somewhere that I can tell my story. Thank you to Glenn Close and all the people involved in this cause, I salute you!!

I came out of an abusive marriage after 25 years that left me damaged mentally. I didn’t realize during that whole time that I was suffering from a form of mental disease. I had 2 children and the first, my daughter, who I love dearly, had to see and hear the ravings of her father. No child should have to live through such an experience. The guilt and shame of what I felt was my fault still haunts me to this day.

One day now over 15 plus years ago, my ex called me, out of the blue and told me to come home, collect my belongings and get out! I was in a state of panic. I had to call on my daughter for help. Now my other child, my son, was left with this monster and again I was left with more shame and guilt. I couldn’t think at all. I had been going to a counseling center for domestic abuse, and although I’d made some progress, it just wasn’t enough to really help me. Being forced out of my home put me into a heightened state panic, anxiety and fear.

My sister, who always been there to help me; intervened and took me to our primary care doctor, and told him the story of what I had gone through and now how I needed help. He agreed, sat with and told me he was going to give a script for Xanax, which he said would calm me down and help with the panic attacks and anxiety for the time being. Well after a very long time, I realized I had to take steps to find someone and somewhere to help with my suffering mental state. I was given another prescription by a primary care doctor, who after a time told me that I would have to see a psychiatrist for further examination. Well I went to a place that began my journey into the Medication Factory ! There wasn’t any help there…..just a doctor who had a prescription pad and that was that! Being in such an unfamiliar world, I unfortunately accepted this treatment. I was living alone and had to maintain a job to earn a living and my mental state would keep me home unable to even get out of bed.

The most important thing I missed was a DIAGNOSIS of my condition !!! I was suffering so much and the only thing I had to count on were anti depression meds ! I tried many times to get the help I needed but to no avail. I finally realized that this was all the help I was going to get and it came from a large variety of drugs that I was prescribed ! Till this day I have not been diagnosed or have I been able to find a professional who could really listen and help me.

Mental illness comes in all forms and unfortunately is put on a short list. So I understand the stigma and the neglect of all the mentally ill and I am happy to finally have found somewhere that I can tell my story.

Thank you to Glenn Close and all the people involved in this cause, I salute you !!

I now am retired and live in South Florida near to my sister and her family.

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Monica

Mental health is a topic hard to speak of. But we have to talk about it and only love. Stop the stigma that surrounds it all. And help those who struggle to stand tall.

Wanted to share a poem I wrote this morning after an incredibly difficult night for my child written straight from my heart—we will overcome and we’ll continue to have a conversation with the masses about it—thank you BC2M for this site and an outlet to share on!!!!

-He’s So Brave In My Eyes-
In a world where health and happiness should reside
Sometimes it doesn’t only for the person inside
It’s a silent illness of which no one understands
And we can only put it in Gods sweet hands

To be the one who struggles each day
And I the one who has to watch and pray
For hope and light to surround my son
One day HE will answer and the battle will be won

We got this Jeffrey no doubt about that
Even though some days more difficult in fact
And we think this is too much to conquer
God says yes you can and I’ll make you stronger

I believe with all my might in HIS healing
That’s the only way to be and keep on feeling
So with that said let’s figure this out
I’ll always be here for you have no doubt

Mental health is a topic hard to speak of
But we have to talk about it and only love
Stop the stigma that surrounds it all
And help those who struggle to stand tall

Soooooo—thank you to my family and friends
For the love and comfort you always lend!!!

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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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Brenda R

My message is: whenever you see a lost soul or suspect that a person on the street suffers from mental illness, try to remember that they are someone's sister, daughter or son and they are loved very much.

As a child I went through the heart-wrenching experience of watching my beloved older sister develop schizophrenia. Before that she was always such a strong, beautiful, fun and creative person.   I looked up to her so much: she taught me how to play guitar, how to draw and to write poetry. Watching her lose her grip on reality over several years right in her prime of life was terrifying. She reacted to her illness with several suicide attempts that I’ll also never forget. In time she was diagnosed and treated with every medication known to man over her tragic life. I watched her struggle in and out of psychosis, homelessness and the mental health system. Despite it all, she had a great sense of humor. She had a heart attack 9 months ago and remains on a ventilator today. My message is: whenever you see a lost soul or suspect that a person on the street suffers from mental illness,  try to remember that they are someone’s sister, daughter or son and they are loved very much.

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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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Stacey

Supporting somebody in dealing with mental illness doesn't just mean supporting them in seeking treatment, although this is an important piece. It also means supporting them in being themselves, in adapting to a "new normal" - and helping them see that no matter what is happening in their life, they are still deserving of respect, love, and acceptance.

“Accept and love me as I am, not who I used to be or who I could become.” — Joyce Drush

For the past 3 years I’ve shared Facebook Notes about why the NAMI Walk is so important to me. As my friend’s experiences with mental illness have progressed over the years, so has my understanding of what support and advocacy really means. Three years ago my note was about the long nights on the phone when she was suicidal, trying to deal with the voices telling her to hurt herself…two years ago it was about a long period of psychosis, the result of professionals’ failure to take her (or me) seriously as the voices took over and she started to lose control…last year it was about the importance of human connection, and what maintaining this friendship has meant for me. My post last year was pretty popular – it was shared on several mental health sites, and published in the NAMI magazine. But when I look back at it now, there’s a piece of it that bothers me – my repeated reference to her getting “back to herself” or back to the “old” her.

For me, the past year has been about acceptance. My friend is still extremely depressed, but she knows who I am, and what’s happening around her, and on good days we can have great conversations. But sometimes in the middle of a conversation she’s suddenly responding to the voices, or talking to somebody I know isn’t there, or matter-of-factly telling me about how her watch and earbuds let her teleport. Medical and environmental stressors over the past few months have pushed her to the brink of what she can handle emotionally, and unfortunately are likely to get worse before they get better. Sometimes when things get to be too overwhelming, she stops fighting and lets the voices take over, or shuts down completely. In the past, I would get frustrated by this – in the beginning, I’d feel the need to point out to her that she wasn’t making sense, or try to reason with her. After lots of trial and error I realized that wasn’t the way to go…I learned how to talk to her during those times, but I still felt frustrated and discouraged that she wasn’t “herself.” What I’ve realized over the past year is that she is who she is, and it’s awfully hypocritical for me to try to get her to be more positive about herself when I’m still not really accepting her for who she is. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still hope for her that one day the voices are gone and she can be happy and at peace and fully in our shared reality. But it does mean that she is still a whole person, worthy of love and acceptance, regardless of what she’s experiencing. I’ve learned to be supportive and compassionate in responding to the emotion of what she’s saying, even if the words aren’t logical. And it’s made a difference, for both of us. As I stopped taking things personally and stopped trying to “fix” her, she went from picking fights to telling me how I was the only one who ever really tried to understand her. For me, instead of ending every phone call feeling frustrated and upset, I felt more empathy for her.

Supporting somebody in dealing with mental illness doesn’t just mean supporting them in seeking treatment, although this is an important piece. It also means supporting them in being themselves, in adapting to a “new normal” – and helping them see that no matter what is happening in their life, they are still deserving of respect, love, and acceptance. This may seem like common sense, but stigma is a huge barrier to making it a reality. Society as a whole recoils from the idea of hearing voices, from diagnoses like schizophrenia, from those “crazy psychos” who must be mass murderers in the making. Until people can adopt a more realistic understanding of mental illness, and accept people with mental illness as fellow humans dealing with a medical condition, stigma will remain a barrier. It shouldn’t be this way, and it doesn’t have to be. Statistics say that 1 in 4 adults in the US will deal with a mental illness at some point in their life. As I’ve talked about my friend’s experiences (with her blessing), I’ve seen the “No kidding, me too” phenomenon in full force. People have shared their own stories with me, about themselves, their family, their friends…stories I never would have known without having that conversation. Mental illness is a part of all of our lives in one way or another, and it shouldn’t have to be a secret. Organizations like NAMI and BringChange2Mind work to fight the stigma of mental illness, and to raise awareness of the need for improvements in the mental health system. I walk because I hope to support a future in which people like my friend will have an easier path to walk.

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Mary M

He soon began having to tap on his knees in even numbers, first with his right hand and then with his left. He did this in this fashion, this rhythm, each time, especially when he would play video games. I’m not sure why he felt he needed to do this, and I’m sure he didn’t know why either, it simply was necessary. I know this because seven-year-olds tell you about such things.

Two Knocks, December 13, 2013

He sat quietly in a booth nearest the window watching the people file into the gas station across the street. He had traveled 72 miles, on foot, to end up at Pat’s Pizzeria staring out the window and waiting for further instructions. One knock and you go home, two knocks and you cross the street. He waited for the knocks. One, two. He was sure he had heard two.

Decades earlier, when he was three-years-old, his favorite color was black. His older siblings liked all the colors of the rainbow and would color with them happily. Not him, he hated to color and he would only use the black crayon when I convinced him to try. This was the first time I remember thinking there may be something wrong with him or, at least, something different…but I had no idea what was to come. No one did, including him.

He soon began having to tap on his knees in even numbers, first with his right hand and then with his left. He did this in this fashion, this rhythm, each time, especially when he would play video games. I’m not sure why he felt he needed to do this, and I’m sure he didn’t know why either, it simply was necessary. I know this because seven-year-olds tell you about such things.

By age nine he was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD and had developed a facial tic. In class he would compensate by pretending that there was something very interesting on his right hand side which caused him to jerk so suddenly in that direction. Naturally, he would have to do this several times a day in accordance with the arrival of the unpredictable tic. I’m not sure that his classmates bought it. As a matter of fact, I’m sure they did not, but I assured him that they did. I always tried to calm his fears. I was a good mother.

There were so many doctors and so many failed medicines. Nothing worked because no one knew what was wrong with him. One doctor thought it could be Asperger’s, but every other doctor disagreed. A teacher suspected he may be having mini seizures so he was tested for this too but no, it wasn‘t that.

In third grade it was discovered that he had an above average IQ, 139, but yet he was failing in all areas….math, reading, social skills…all of it. This immediately made him eligible for Special Education classes which continued with him thru high school. He hated this and I hated the annual IEP meetings. Each year his teachers and I would get together and come up with his Individual Education Plan, “the plan”, as it was called. It was a bunch of bullshit. Designed only, it seemed, to check off boxes on a sheet of paper because it never really helped him. But then, nothing helped him, not me, not the doctors and certainly not the public school system.

By age fourteen he discovered pot. He used to sneak up into the crawl space above the garage and get high with his friends before I got home from work. This time was particularly hard on me because I was so sure he would be spared the life of his father. I was wrong. He loved his pot and I couldn’t stop him. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough.

With the drugs arrived the usual cast of under-achievers in his life, Kevin, Ben, Trip and Lacey…bonded by their indifference to the world around them and their love of drugs, rock and rap and skipping school.

Ben and Lacey were a couple when I first met her. She was beautiful, too beautiful for Ben. Why would such a beautiful girl hang out with these rebel boys? To this day I still do not understand why she would sit in his room with the other boys and play video games and read for hours on end. She was….is, so quiet. I still do not know Lacey and I am sure I never will. But what I do know is that she loved him for a time and for this I will always be grateful.

In the days of junior high and high school I took him to see many different psychologists. Too many to name, less one, Chuck, who was his favorite. Chuck introduced him to Buddhism. It was a perfect fit, he being so passive and kind. I used to think he may just make it to Tibet one day. If anyone could, it would be him, I remember thinking this…or hoping this…a lot. But neither Buddhism nor Chuck could help him. He continued to do poorly in school, hang out with his friends and smoke their pot. And then, in his senior year of high school, came the miracle.

I remember the days leading up to it very clearly. We had visited the dentist and discovered his wisdom teeth were impacted and needed to be removed. After the surgery I brought him home to recover. I remember thinking he looked as though someone had hit him in the face with a baseball bat. His jaw was so swollen it was really difficult to look at him. He was seventeen and able to drive on his own so I let him return for his follow up visit the next week by himself. It was then, when he returned home from this visit, that things began to change.

He was suddenly alive. Really alive. He was smiling and happy and excited to share with me his plans for the future. Now, for most families, this may not be considered a miracle but it was to me. Since the days of the black crayons he was depressed and void of any plans for his future. Yet, here he was, home from the dentist’s office and all of a sudden excited and filled with ideas and plans! It was, simply put, a miracle.

He was gushing with excitement to tell me….he wanted to become a nurse! We were both so excited. I know I cried…he was going to be okay! He began staying up late, every night, researching nursing programs and then jumping up early for school each morning. He received “The Most Improved” award from the principal, Mr. P. We all went to the ceremony, I was so filled with pride as I watched him walk up on that stage…..but then, a few weeks later, the other shoe dropped. On a spring day in May I got the call that changed our lives forever.

I had received many calls from his school regarding his behavior over the years but never one quite like this. It was from Mr. P. He never made the calls but today it was him on the phone and he said, “Mary, you need to get down here right away. There is something very wrong with him. We have never seen him like this before. Please come right away.”

When I arrived I was immediately shuffled into the main conference room where he, the school psychologist, several of his teachers, the assistant vice principal and Mr. P. were seated around the table waiting for me. He was dressed in weird clothing that I later learned he had purchased from the local thrift store. He resembled what I’m sure he thought was a college professor. He wore brown corduroy pants, a navy blazer and a button down shirt. A far cry from his typical band t-shirt and faded jeans. All he needed was the pipe. He sat quietly, legs crossed, ready for our meeting. He was in total control.

Mr. P. began the meeting. Apparently, he had shown up to school that day with hundreds of leaflets that he began passing out to his classmates and teachers calling it his Manifesto. He went on to explain to us, “It is a very important piece of work that will resolve many of the problems affecting this nation and the globe.” He was so humble, so proud! “Of course”, he continued, “there are consequences, but ones I am willing to accept. Once the CIA and the FBI discover what I have written they will have me assassinated. By the way, Mom,” he said, as he pointed to the phone on the desk, “They have already begun tapping our phone at home.”

Everyone was silent. They all looked at me to say something, anything, but what could I say? I focused and then, finally, I said, “Honey, maybe we should go to the hospital and talk to the doctors because they are really smart and they would know what to do or say.” He agreed so we went. It was that simple.

When we arrived at the hospital I didn’t know exactly how to describe to the receptionist why we were there. Words like “psychotic” or “manic” were not yet part of my vocabulary yet. Instead, I asked him to explain his theory to her. Thank God, she understood. He was given a gown and asked to wait in a bay in the ER for the attending physician. I kept him occupied and quiet, marveling together at his writings. In reality, the writing was crammed onto the page and written, in some instances, in circles. Literally, the words were written in circles around the page. It was all nonsense but to him it was a work of art, or more specifically, the answer to all mankind’s social economic problems. He was to be famous….

We waited for what seemed to be an eternity when Jim finally arrived. Again, I didn’t know how to explain what was happening so I asked him to explain the details of his Manifesto to Jim. Jim began to reason with him, trying to unscramble the words that he had written. THIS was too much for him. He jumped up from the bed, ran thru the corridor out of the ER and into the main receptionist area. There, with nowhere else to go, he leaped up onto the receptionist’s desk, stripped off his gown and shouted, “Repent! Repent! Jesus died on the cross for your sins!”

What happened next is today a distant memory of things long, long ago. He was taken down from his perch, covered with a blanket and given a shot, some type of sedative. I remember people looking at us, staring at me, as if to ask, ‘Who is this person, this freak?’ I didn’t know either but I would soon find out.

Once he woke, he was admitted to the mental health ward of the hospital. Luckily, since he was only 17, to the juvenile section. This, I remember, was a huge relief. How could my baby be put in with psychotic men and women? Better that it be with other children like him.

When the diagnosis came, it was startling. But, finally, after all these years, I had an answer that made sense. He was schizophrenic. Schizoaffective, to be exact. Simply put, he has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He has it all. It made perfect sense.

Another day I will have the strength to write about the next eight years but not today. In short, soon after his first psychotic break he and Lacey moved to Miami together, were fine for a while and then he relapsed. He doesn’t believe he is ill, he thinks it is us, the ones who love him, that cannot see. He is clairvoyant, can we not see this? Can we not see the signs like he does? Why does no one understand? This is his world which is why, on a cold December night; he walked out of his brother’s home in Downingtown, Pennsylvania to Edgewood, Maryland.

After he was sure there had been two knocks, he paid for his slice of pizza, walked out the door and crossed the street to the gas station.

He is 27 years old and the love of my life, my Michael, can anyone help him?

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eve f

Mental illness is not always visible and unfortunately New York does not have the support and resources available to realistically help older adults on a smaller income. It's been extremely exhausting to navigate and advocate for our mother within a system that ignores and shames mental illness.

Recently our mom Barbara was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. As sited by NAMI, this disorder is seen in 0.3% of the population. Our mom fights every day to manage her symptoms and maintain her mental health and has recently been hospitalized.

This has been an uphill battle emotionally and financially for both our mother and our family. Mental illness is not always visible and unfortunately New York does not have the support and resources available to realistically help older adults on a smaller income. It’s been extremely exhausting to navigate and advocate for our mother within a system that ignores and shames mental illness.

A little about our mom:

Barbara is 63 years old. She was born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens. She has experienced tremendous loss in her life but has maintained a positive attitude throughout.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 40s in the middle of raising her six children, then ages 5 – 16 years old. Barbara worked different jobs to help support her family until a few years ago. She is a survivor, fighter, and always has a smile on her face.

More recently, Barbara is so very proud of her first grandson and her new title as grandma.

Thank you for reading. We are also looking for advice and resources that may be able to help. If you have any information please pass it along. Thank you. Thank you, it means the world to us!

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Lesly S

Who says that people with mental illness are weak? To daily witness the shear force of will it takes for my daughter - a person who has a mental illness - both to survive the hardest times and to work constantly towards thriving against all obstacles, both physiological and emotional, and in the frequent face of seemingly insurmountable odds - is one of the most awe-inspiring, respect-inducing experiences I have had in my life.

Who says that people with mental illness are weak? To daily witness the shear force of will it takes for my daughter – a person who has a mental illness – both to survive the hardest times and to work constantly towards thriving against all obstacles, both physiological and emotional, and in the frequent face of seemingly insurmountable odds – is one of the most awe-inspiring, respect-inducing experiences I have had in my life. There is a necessity for this above average (moral, physical, mental, and emotional) strength. Strength is needed for the constant will to life (yes, toward life – even/especially/along with/ the pull toward suicide-for-just-rest’s-sake – for it’s hard earned, and earned with every day). There is a necessity for the critical/philosophical faculties to be fine-honed, in the constant grappling with the Largest questions of meaning and purpose in facing the day-to-day and oftentimes existential quality of this dis-ease (or whatever term we use).

What is neither necessary nor correct – and hurtful, damaging, counterproductive – is the perception/stigma that people who have mental illness are weak, lazy, etc. In my experience, the opposite is true. While many young adults seem to move through their current life much like a litter of puppies rolling about (and, here, please excuse my gross generalizing), my child – who wishes life could be experienced in that way – must keep careful assessment and modulating of day-to-day life. This includes carefulness re indulging in drink and etc, staying up late (although she does at times do so in order to study, because the need for exquisite attention, in the times when the chemical imbalance is most strongly asserting itself, is necessary to counteract the PHYSIOLOGICAL “brain fog” – rather than “laziness”), care toward diet. She can’t make the same kinds of heedless (yet often necessary at this age, in order to learn and grow) exploratory “mistakes” that others of her age often make with a larger degree of impunity.

She also doesn’t have the luxury of declaiming about life’s difficulties and unfairness; she needs, instead, to cultivate an exquisitely mature (more mature than me, at the wise old age of 60) view of life which is coupled with an almost Buddha-like stance of acceptance. This situation has been a crucible, through which a character has developed//shown itself//: strong and wise and (some of the time; this is a learning curve for her) accepting; empathic towards others way beyond her years; searching for meaning, but not a meaning that comes at all easily – because she refuses to drop her questioning of life’s meaning for easy answers. I am often reminded of the statistics that people with a mental illness who believe in a god have more of a chance; I find myself almost yearning that she might “capitulate” to this belief. I say “capitulate”, because for her, it remains an active question; and I am proud of her, that she chooses to leave it way open, rather than choose this as a security blanket; rather, she is wide open to the possibility of an existential view of life; she will not prematurely shut the door on these elemental questions.

Still, alongside the care she must take, she experiences sometimes exquisite joy and attunement, to life and to others – along with an ongoing love of, and commitment to, learning. This is yet another aspect of her strength: her willingness to see the beauty in life, even in the face of a struggle that can feel fairly constant. This is another choice which she seems to make over and over again: toward life. There is such beauty and courage – a fierce fearlessness within the doubt and fear – in her willingness to continuously face the unknown of all this; this leads me to posit an idea – counter to the “weakness/laziness” stigma – that people who experience mental illness are incredibly, beautifully, surpassingly strong.

This seems to have become a love letter to my daughter. Her existence in this world fills me with joy.

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Joe U

Brandon Marshal on the commercial I watched today on Nickelodeon while holding my little angel in my arms gave me the courage to write this letter. Like many men we do not want to admit our invulnerability or the fact that we are not invincible but it's time that we drop that stereotype regardless of the fact that you are a superstar athlete or a computer technician.

I’m a soon to be 44 year male and have been a stay at home dad for the last 5.5 years. There is already a stigma in our society with men staying home and taking care of their kids… I’ve had no problems dealing with that because it’s been the greatest job of my life. I used to own 2 companies and sold them and we made a family decision that I would be the stay at home dad.

I played full contact sports and martial arts since I was 8 years old and got serious about playing rugby at 13 or 14. I played competitive rugby for 20 years until I had a serious physical injury than ended my career. I also continued to do full contact martial arts and worked security at nightclubs during this time. Prior to my injury I was 6’1″+ and 245 lbs and cardio for days, I thought I was invincible. Since the injury I have had multiple surgeries and finally at 42 I had a spinal fusion that gave me back full use of my legs and eliminated my back and leg pain. I thought to worst was over…..

I never thought my 70+ concussions would ever matter during my playing and fighting days, it made me tough and they were badges of honor being knocked out and staying in the game. About two years ago I noticed minor changes in my mood and overall mental attitude, I didn’t think much of it. I then began getting migraines on a frequent basis. My mood has slowly begun to change over the last 2 years to the point where I recently woke up one morning and couldn’t remember my daughters name for about 3 seconds. That doesn’t seem like a long time to many people but to forget the name of your baby you have spent every moment with since birth is the most terrifying feeling you will ever have in this world.

I frequently forget to do common errands around the house including getting breakfast for my daughter and getting her morning vitamins etc. and often forget to take my pain medication until my symptoms kick in and then it’s too late. I was always known to have a very good memory and remembering anything I have ever read or seen. Specifically in the last year I have noticed and heard people in our “really friendly and loving neighborhood” make comments about my mood and my irrationality and have recently found out that one of my close friends who didn’t have the courage to say anything to me told a friend of ours that he doesn’t want to bring his kids around my house because of my “mood swings” and that I yell at his kids. This was very heartbreaking for me to find out because I’ve known him for 12 years and he was always the person that said if you have something to say to somebody say to their face… I then find out he’d say anything about me behind my back. I don’t feel too badly about what he said since he doesn’t discipline his kids at all. All of the other parents I’ve spoken to a neighborhood disagree with his comment and say that if a kid is not listening or breaks your child’s toys on purpose and talking to them doesn’t work then yelling at them is the next best option. I have never laid a finger on any woman or child in my life and never intend to, I find that thought deplorable.

The point I’m trying to make here is since keeping a journal for the last two years I’ve noticed days where I feel stressed out, don’t get much sleep or have headaches later that day or the following day my memory and mood varies greatly. Prior to two years ago the thought of ending my life had never even entered my mind but there are some days that for no logical or good reason I will be sitting there and have these types of feelings or urges.

I have recently signed up for a clinical study with the NHI regarding CTE and after I read all the criteria and symptoms of CTE I had all of them. If me getting studied helps in anyway some young man or little lady or even existing person find solace or help or a cure I will be very a happy and content person. Brandon Marshall on the commercial I watched today on Nickelodeon while holding my little angel in my arms gave me the courage to write this letter.

Like many men we do not want to admit our invulnerability or the fact that we are not invincible but it’s time that we drop that stereotype regardless of the fact that you are a superstar athlete or a computer technician. Unfortunately for me all the questions I was asked when applying for the CTE study made me fall into the category for me to have CTE and I should be receiving an email within a week to see if I qualify for the trials. I think everybody’s greatest fear is to wake up one day and not know who they are or where they are or who the most important people in their life is. I know that is my greatest fear. For many if not all of the people that feel this way they know there is eventually only one way out.

Since telling my wife last week what and why I have been feeling for the last 2 years I lifted a huge weight off my shoulders, not talking and hiding the truth or your secret doesn’t help you…the ones that really love and care for you will be there for you, for the ones that aren’t….you don’t need them anyway because they aren’t real friends. We are all the same regardless of race, nationality or gender…we all bleed red, we all laugh when happy and all cry when sad.

I hope this letter will help any “tough guys” out there that are keeping this secret or ignoring the symptoms to open your eyes and talk to someone before it’s too late.

Warm regards,

Joe

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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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Casey Maenza

My losses have lead me to make significant changes in my life, and I want to share that inspiration with others. They have taught me to enjoy the simple things, to treat all beings with kindness and compassion, and to make deeper connections with nature and the people I love... To do more of what makes my soul happy!

Hello, my name is Casey! I tragically lost my dad to suicide in December 2011. I then lost my uncle to suicide, and, several years prior, I lost a dear friend to suicide. These events shook me to the core leaving me with a shattered heart, a lost soul, and questioning life and my entire existence. My path was derailed, and I searched tirelessly for my purpose here on Earth. I knew that I needed to turn my pain into purpose and shed some light on the darkness of life. I want to help others find happiness despite the struggle, despair, and tragedy we experience here on Earth. I want to spread the message of love, peace, and beauty in a world that can be equally ugly at times. I want to encourage us all to focus on the good stuff, because there IS so much good stuff, and, when we direct our energy towards it, we can find happiness. We need to focus on moments spent with loved ones, experiences that fulfill our soul, and connections with others. These are the reasons we exist and our purpose in life. There will always be struggle, despair, and tragedy, and, while we cannot ignore adversity, we do not have to let it prevail. It is a part of life, but there is usually a silver lining. Struggle can often lead us to grasp how beautifully fragile life is. It is that beauty that we need to keep in our hearts and souls, and find true joy amongst it all. My losses have lead me to make significant changes in my life, and I want to share that inspiration with others. They have taught me to enjoy the simple things, to treat all beings with kindness and compassion, and to make deeper connections with nature and the people I love… To do more of what makes my soul happy!

I created Happy Soul Apparel, an online t-shirt store, in hopes of spreading the message of hope and happiness, despite struggle. For every t-shirt sold, I donate $3 to non-profit organizations that support mental health initiatives. I have selected BC2M as our charity for July, and I hope that you will consider purchasing a t-shirt to support their cause of starting the conversation and ending the stigma around mental health. Let’s start a #happysoulmovement!

Facebook:  Happy Soul Apparel
Instagram:  @happysoulapparel
Twitter:  @happsoulapparel

Love & Light,
Casey

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Kelly McL

There is one particular topic that, I feel, is a significant source of stigma and subsequent fear for parents: disability classification for special education services. My son's behavior and mood impede his access to education and therefore his primary disability classification is "Emotional Disturbance".

I am writing to advocate for my son and the many other children out there who struggle daily with a mood disorder that affects ALL aspects of their life, including access to education. Our family is very thankful that, rightly, my son qualifies for and receives special education services in a school appropriate to his needs. This involved an enormous amount of research, hard work and hiring an advocate to help us navigate this elusive educational path. The topic of education is a very large can of worms that would create much discussion and debate. There is one particular topic that, I feel, is a significant source of stigma and subsequent fear for parents: disability classification for special education services. My son’s behavior and mood impede his access to education and therefore his primary disability classification is “Emotional Disturbance”. I am an educated adult that should understand this LABEL provides my child with needed services and placement, however, this LABEL sits like a giant bolder in the pit of my stomach. I worry that every educational professional who comes in contact with my son will have developed a preconceived notion of him, and our family, based on this LABEL. I have met many families who do not want to accept special education services when this LABEL was stated as the classification for fear of stigma within their school system. “Emotional Disturbance” is a negative, archaic, educational LABEL that needs to be changed for the inclusion of our children.

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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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Roger M

I have to take several different medications to keep my mind and body "functioning properly" and of course, I have to see all kinds of doctors. I blame myself but, "people" had a lot to do with it. Indifference I think would be at the top of the long (very long) list of ways that (I think) people/society helped to destroy what was once a vibrant young man, full of promise and potential.

After years of neglect and abuse, emotional, mental and physical…and even more years of not dealing with those issues or even talking about them, they finally showed the toll they had taken on me and on my body…an entire life destroyed…wasted because no one seemed to care…no one wanted to listen, in fact it seemed like anytime I started to open up I became a “downer”, a “buzz-kill”…and not wanting to be the “party pooper” I suppressed everything and internalized it all…until now. I now suffer from several psychological, mental and physical disorders…I have to take several different medications to keep my mind and body “functioning properly” and of course, I have to see all kinds of doctors. I blame myself but, “people” had a lot to do with it. Indifference I think would be at the top of the long (very long) list of ways that (I think) people/society helped to destroy what was once a vibrant young man, full of promise and potential.

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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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Tracy K

Thank you for speaking up and showing our children, who today have so much more stress in their lives then before, that they are not outcasts or shamed by this as they did not choose to get depression or anxiety. This is an illness as any other out there and there is hope for them.

I have a 16 year old daughter that has been battling depression since the 7th grade. This was unbeknownst to me until this past November when she wrote a letter to her brother, who has been battling anxiety for several years, that she wanted to end her life. She could not feel comfortable talking to anybody for the fact that she would be known to all she was mentally ill. After a few visits to a family practice doctor, the doctor finally decided to submit her to a mental health facility as she was having suicidal thoughts again. During her treatment, her medical/therapy team and ourselves confirmed that she did not have any stigma with her illness and that she has nothing to be ashamed about. She’s been a little bit more talkative with us, still hides some thoughts, but with the assistance of therapists and psychiatrists, we are hopefully on the right track in locating the correct balancing medication for her. We have now moved into the adult meds as the FDA approved meds for her age are not working. It’s been a very difficult road for all of us, but we are hopeful that we can get this under control for her and get our sweet loving daughter back.

School has been extremely difficult for her, friends are unkind and immature to say the least. She plans on attending community college next year and hopefully full time the following. Her job has been a godsend for her, as she is working with older people who don’t judge her and gets along wonderfully with them as she is the youngest!

In discussing this with friends and co-workers, we all have been touched in one way or another by a friend or family member diagnosed with depression. Patience and understanding is a must, sometimes very difficult, but well worth our efforts.

Thank you for speaking up and showing our children, who today have so much more stress in their lives then before, that they are not outcasts or shamed by this as they did not choose to get depression or anxiety. This is an illness as any other out there and there is hope for them.

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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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Sarah V

Finally, one day I just let go. I let go of all the pain, the worry of people not liking me for me, the anxiety attacks seemed to decrease, and the pain in my heart finally went away.

Seeing this picture now, it represents all the struggle and pain I masked over 6 years without telling anyone. The summer of 2005, I turned 13, but little did I know that all things over the course of the next 3 months would make me turn into an adult. That summer our whole family was shocked over the death of my grandpa. I remembering a few days after his funeral, I came home from school seeing my parents overwhelmed with grief and so much pain. I lived with my grandma (or to me: grandmama) until the summer ended and throughout the school year. I never experienced so much grief in my life until that moment. I asked myself, “What did I do so wrong?” or “How come I have to take care of her”. From that summer of 2005 until 2010 I reached a point in my life where my pain needed to be taken away. Wherever it hurt, I would cut the pain away. I isolated all of my anger, all the tears onto the people I loved. Being 13 and not understanding why your heart aches every time you hear your grandmother cry out loud. After awhile I masked my pain with music and laughter. Just by me telling someone a joke and seeing a person smile made me feel like my life wasn’t a lie. Until I met Jared, I explained my experience and he seemed so sweet, gentle, and loving. I knew right then and there I needed to stop. Although it was hard, I looked into Jared’s warm eyes and knew if he could believe in me I could too. Over the years, I shared my story and every time people would say, “You were so young, I couldn’t ever forgive my parents”, but I did. My parents fought, but they gave me their time and helped me push through it. Especially my mom, she made sure I had the resources I needed, every time a program wouldn’t work she found ways to get me into programs/treatments, she made sure every appointment was paid for, and she held my hand every time I was scared to let go. Finally, one day I just let go. I let go of all the pain, the worry of people not liking me for me, the anxiety attacks seemed to decrease, and the pain in my heart finally went away. Will I ever be completely cured? I’m not sure. I’m not sure if anyone can ever forget the things I’ve seen. I’m not sure if one day, I’ll be depressed or have anxiety attacks again. Although all that pain is gone, my tears have dried up, but I’m sure of this: I’m extremely grateful to my mom for always fighting for me and believing in me, for Jared always holding my hand, for my grandma never giving up.

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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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Kathleen

Heaven forbid shows on TV convey mental illness as something that’s not violent or ludicrous. My brother suffered from schizophrenia for most of his adult life. He was neither violent nor ludicrous.

Heaven forbid shows on TV convey mental illness as something that’s not violent or ludicrous. My brother suffered from schizophrenia for most of his adult life. He was neither violent nor ludicrous.

Michael’s diagnosis was manic depression with schizoaffective disorder, but basically, schizophrenia. He owned his mental illness according to the priest who knew him when he was getting his Master’s degree in neuropsychology at USF fifteen years ago. He was deeply religious in a Catholic way, and was always seeking to understand psychology, his illness and the connection with his religion. He was a gentle man, tormented by voices and delusions that would come to rule his life. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

Still, despite all he went through, he was determined to remain independent and as close to his family as he was able.

When he was young, Michael was a smart, sensitive boy…a pacifist at heart. He didn’t believe in violence or hitting back when he was bullied by his classmates for being different or “too smart” even though he was strong enough to do so. As he grew up, he became more athletic and a great strategist when it came to football and basketball. He was the captain of the chess team so achieving a stalemate when playing against him gives me bragging rights, because that’s the last time that ever happened. My sister said she never played chess so she gives me a lot of credit because she knows how smart he was. Then there was the time that I had to do a science project in grade school. I decided I wanted to build an electric window shade. Let’s just say that I was more of an idea person and he tended more toward the execution of ideas. He was telling me all about “reversing the polarity” which went right over my head. I presented the project.

They knew it wasn’t mine.

Starting in his early twenties, he began to exhibit symptoms. He went off to look for Edgar Cayce, some sort of spiritualist guy who supposedly jumped off a cliff and lived. I could be wrong. Michael’s Catholic faith won out and he decided that Edgar wasn’t for him. He showed up at my grandparents house all the way in New York, disheveled and depressed. When he returned back to the Midwest, he finished college and made it into grad school, which means he must have had a darned good GRE score despite the the roller coaster ride of his illness. He experimented with drugs, unknowingly trying to find a solution for what was starting to happen to him. At one point, he described a sensation of “getting hit by lightning”. Perhaps that was the beginning of the long, torturous road ahead.

It all seemed to come together when he, my father and I were all living together in a small condo together. I had just come home from college, depressed, my father was depressed, and my brother was literally insane. I remember him stretched out on the kitchen floor, every muscle in his body taut, reaching out for…something. Then I found out he had tried to break into Joliet prison. He was sent home by the guards when they saw he came from a “good address”. There was definitely a religious theme to that episode which would blossom into delusions and hallucinations having to do with God and the devil. His roommate came home one day to see Michael standing, facing the wall. He told him he couldn’t move because the devil had nailed his feet to the floor. I can’t imagine anything more terrifying, and yet, this is what he lived with for the rest of his life.

He went on and off his medications over the years. And once he went off his medications it became harder and harder to regulate himself and come back from the brink. His hygiene suffered. He smelled of Florida mold and cigarettes but shrugged it off. He had horrible allergies and asthma but smoked incessantly so that he could organize his mind. Research has indicated that nicotine relieves some cognitive dysfunction, thus the preponderance of smokers among schizophrenics. Nevertheless, it bothered us because he was overweight and had horrible sleep apnea and we knew that it wasn’t good for him, but there wasn’t a lot we could do about it, so we watched him continue to deteriorate.

Despite his loneliness, he refused to go into a group home because he said he didn’t want to live with low functioning schizophrenics. He had lived in one for a while as part of a special hospital program and went to a halfway house or group home. At the time it was a mix of the mentally ill and criminals and drug addicts that don’t necessarily belong together. He didn’t down on them, it just wasn’t the challenge his still agile mind desired and wasn’t designed to give him the help he sorely needed. However, he would give them the shirt off his back if he could. This spurred him on to strive to live independently. He was very involved with the Franciscans, and the Catholic church. He went to confession incessantly and we often wondered what he could possibly have to confess since most of what he was confessing about had everything to do with his delusions and the voices constantly screaming at him, telling him he was going to hell over and over again.

Through it all, my sister, who lives in Florida, cared for him in whatever way she could, becoming at one point, his guardian ad litem and fighting for him on his behalf. One time, a social worker thought he should go home when he was clearly suicidal and my sister fought for him and won. She was a bulldog when it came to him. And thank God, because the rest of us were scattered to the four winds.

Eventually he accepted into the Florida Assertive Care Team program which provided medication, therapy and social work. In fact, he became a peer counselor until his own illness progressed and he was no longer able to help others.

Over the years, we have grieved for him. Grieved for the man he was, the man he could have been, and the man we wanted him to become. We had hoped that the illness would burn out, like John Nash from A Beautiful Mind, but it didn’t. The movie portrays John Nash as willing away the illness, but the truth is, it burned itself out. No one wills away schizophrenia.

The last time I talked to him was on his birthday, November 12, 2014. He was doing well. That’s how we talked about him to each other; not doing well or doing well. We could tell by his somewhat ordered conversation and especially his goofy sense of humor. He sounded…normal. Michael had gotten to the point where he could recognize when he was depressed and suicidal and take himself to a hospital that we’d never heard of on the far north side of Tampa.

On the morning of November 28th, two sheriffs came to my sister’s house in the early hours of the morning and told my sister that my brother had passed away suddenly. They were kind and gentle and clearly trained to deliver this kind information. My sister and her husband were shocked by this awful and unexpected news. I was getting ready to fly to Canada to do two comedy shows when she called to tell me that my brother had passed away suddenly. It’s amazing how one can sublimate one’s feelings in the face of tragedy. Numbness overcame me and, believe it or not, I was really funny for those two evenings. Then numbness set in and we set about trying to plan the next step. We found out that he had died from an enlarged heart and severe arteriosclerosis, an unfortunate effect from the years of living unhealthily, which is also a side effect of schizophrenia. We were shocked to find out that schizophrenics tend to die young. We thought he would live for a long time, and gradually come back to the land of the living again.

My father told me not too long ago that he thought Michael was right with God. I said, if there’s a God, then he’d better be right with Michael for all the hell he put him through. Sadly he’s gone. But not gone from our hearts.

– Kathleen Puls Andrade

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Claire & Michael

Thank you for your courage and commitment to others. The words pale in comparison to the intensity of my gratitude.

I just finished watching your segment on CBS Good Morning. Thank you. I am a single mom of a beautiful little boy named Michael. I adopted Michael at the age of 15 months from Guatemala. Michael is now 11 years old, and over the past several years diagnosed with profound ADHD, separation anxiety,and expressive/speech language disorder. Michael was diagnosed with a mood disorder the past year, in addition to his other mental, emotional , physical and cognitive challenges. Michael and I have been so fortunate and blessed to have had great resources on our side. I have pushed and fought from day one on Michael’s behalf. We have been through it all, criticism, judgements, and bullying. I have been pushed, hit , and bricks thrown at me. I have had to lock myself in the car to protect myself. I have had shoes thrown at me from the back seat of the car while driving on the interstate at 60 mph. I have struggled with not taking his behavior personally. This is only the tip of our iceberg. Michael and I have been in therapy together, and separately since he was 5 years old. Michael is also under the care of a child and adolescent psychiatrist. I believe we are finally on the right medication trial after numerous medication trials and disappointments. Thank you for your courage and commitment to others. The words pale in comparison to the intensity of my gratitude.

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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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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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Karren

I am here nearing forty and I am a mother. A mother of an eighteen month old boy. An innocent little being who relies on me, trusts me, and is fully bonded with me. So, while I tire intensely from my medication cocktail; I push forward, not just for me, but for him as well. While I sometimes think I could alter my medications to gain a little more energy or handle things “better”; I don’t, for myself, and for him as well. I can be a true mother living with my illnesses, but I have to learn from the lessons I have witnessed.

For Him I Take Care of Me

Some days, I just tire of taking medications. I tire to my core.

Other days, I think I can manage my dosages, maybe skip a dose here or there, or just go raw.

Of course, not taking my cocktail of medications has drastic repercussions. And I have witnessed some of these repercussions in myself and in others.

One person whom I witnessed living with an untreated severe mental illness and who left massive repercussions in her wake was my mother. A woman who lived in paranoia, a manufactured reality, obsessive behaviors, narcissism, and mood swings, my childhood with my mother in her untreated state was Hell. She could not mother and she was abusive. Her behavior was erratic and unpredictable. There was no trust, no connection, and a bond was never established.

I remember the confusion when she would report back lies about my behavior to my father (he also was untreated, but that is another story for another time). She was so certain in her reporting of falsehoods that doomed me to punishments. Now, I see it was part of her skewed mental chemistry left to its own devices. Also, she wouldn’t provide for me the basics, such as clothing, so my grandmother would buy me clothes for school or dresses for me to wear to church. I will never know her reasons, but she would either give away the clothing or take them to consignment stores for money. I was not allowed to keep to the clothing. Nothing was permanent- anything could be taken away. Add in her issues with Munchausen by Proxy, and my childhood became a shell. I counted down the years until I was eighteen.

Now, I am here nearing forty and I am a mother. A mother of an eighteen month old boy. An innocent little being who relies on me, trusts me, and is fully bonded with me. So, while I tire intensely from my medication cocktail; I push forward, not just for me, but for him as well. While I sometimes think I could alter my medications to gain a little more energy or handle things “better”; I don’t, for myself, and for him as well. I can be a true mother living with my illnesses, but I have to learn from the lessons I have witnessed.

So, for him I take care of me.

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Penny

We can not change what we are not able to speak openly about.

As the parent of a child who struggles with mental illness I have done every wrong thing in my pursuit to ‘fix’ her, ‘protect’ her and ‘help’ her. I love her. My intentions were good but my execution was all wrong. Much of that was because of lack of knowledge and understanding. We are still a work in progress but we live our lives so much differently now than we did in the beginning. You can not be in treatment or have a loved one in treatment and not be aware of the social and medical community shortcomings associated with mental illness. We can not change what we are not able to speak openly about. My daughter still feels that the word ‘normal’ is never a word that society feels she is worthy of. It is my hope that, if those of us living lives touched by this, live our lives better the perception of ‘normal’ will be forever changed.

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Heidi

I grew up in Portland, Oregon the youngest of four kids. My second oldest brother was always a bit different from other kids. He had an amazing imagination, was a gifted writer of poetry and artist. He also told wonderful made up stories. I used to love to sneak out of the house to go on his paper route with him in the pre-dawn hours.

I grew up in Portland, Oregon the youngest of four kids. My second oldest brother was always a bit different from other kids. He had an amazing imagination, was a gifted writer of poetry and artist. He also told wonderful made up stories. I used to love to sneak out of the house to go on his paper route with him in the pre-dawn hours. He held me spellbound with tales of the people who lived in the houses we passed. Even with all these qualities he had few if any friends and the kids made fun of him for his size and thick glasses. At age twelve I went to our basement and found all of my brothers fish dead laying in rows on top of the tank. That was the beginning, his behavior spiraled from there. Eventually we went to a group family therapy session which resulted in seeing my dad cry and hearing for the first I time the term “scapegoat.” By then Scott couldn’t live with us anymore. He went first to a group home then to a mental hospital where his condition was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia. My broth Scott was 18. I was 13. The neighbor kids when I passed their house would say “there goes one of the crazy Edmonds!” This was the 80’s and nobody knew much about what it was. I sure didn’t. I learned to keep my head down. My brother would look for me at my high school when the mental hospital couldn’t keep him any longer. He didn’t bathe, change his clothes. The kids would say “there’s some guy here tripping on acid!” I found it was amazing how small I could myself pressed inside my locker. The guilt though of hiding from my beloved brother never left me. The look of pity on the school secretary’s face when she would call me to the office to tell me ” your brother was here looking for me” burned into my memory. The system failed my brother and when I was 15 and Scott just 21 he jumped off the Fremont bridge ending his life. He never got the chance to live to be understood. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss him.

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Diann

This 30-year journey gave my life meaning and purpose, and whatever I was able to do for him has been given back to me ten-fold. I feel immeasurable gratitude towards many loyal and wonderful friends, neighbors, professors, and doctors. Their kindness will never be forgotten. No one can go through this alone.

My son became ill at age 18. It is overwhelming to deal with this disease called schizophrenia. There is perpetual conflict every day. Early on, I had so many insecurities, so many failures. It was all consuming. It’s difficult to describe the feelings to anyone except those that go through this desperate straight. But I was young, healthy, and had opportunities to walk this journey beside my son. I observed, researched, and kept a journal of every road we took which offered hope for a cure. I acquired abundant knowledge about sources of help.

This 30-year journey gave my life meaning and purpose, and whatever I was able to do for him has been given back to me ten-fold. I feel immeasurable gratitude towards many loyal and wonderful friends, neighbors, professors, and doctors. Their kindness will never be forgotten. No one can go through this alone.

My son is now doing very well. He still faces challenges as he works to regain his place in this life. I marvel at his strength, work ethic, and progress. He is a kind, good person. I have learned that a life once so terrifying can again become a joy. To anyone who feels that they or their loved one are on the margin, I want to leave you with the hope that this can also happen to you.
It was my children’s suggestion, and with their endorsement, that I wrote this book. www.catchingthethiefbook.com

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Jennifer

I have been waiting for more people to open their eyes and have some compassion.

My shirt would say:
sister (of depression)
ex girlfriend (of severe bipolar disorder)
granddaughter (of schizophrenia)
mother (of severe depression)
daughter (of something very serious but remains undiagnosed)

I lost my only brother, Brandon to suicide at age 23. He was my best friend, and I’m certain that deep down he didn’t mean to hurt us by resorting to ending his life to end his agony. He was brilliant- when he was only 20 he refurbished computers to accommodate the handicapped. My last conversation with him was on my birthday, January 13. He sounded happy, but made one comment that has always haunted me. I had said, “I’ll see you this weekend when you’re back from your business trip.” He replied, “Well, maybe.” I thought he meant he was delayed, never imagined that he’d made up his mind to end his life two days later. He knew already; my birthday wish was actually good-bye. My daughter was born one week later. He must have been in a lot of pain to leave me like that.

I have been waiting for more people to open their eyes and have some compassion. Men have gone running from me because of the mental illnesses surrounding me. I’m waiting for more people to understand that so many on welfare are mentally ill or affected by someone who is, and that many addicts are self medicating an illness because help isn’t there. I’m waiting for truth to be faced- that psychiatric help is grossly underachieving it’s goal, that when you check a 13 year old into a mental hospital they can get thrown in with 40 others of varying serious problems. That there is no counceling for the parent who left a child there, trying to get her help. They say “go home and take a nap” and the doctor fails to call for 4 days (my experience with my daughter).

The next generations depend on us to get the mental healthcare up to date and researched very seriously. My grandmother likely went off of her meds for schizophrenia and deteriorated. She was too paranoid to go to the doctor, and by the time she went she was covered in cancer. She believed the doctors were all aliens in human hosts.

It IS terrifying, exhausting, debilitating, as a caregiver. You miss work, have to apply for welfare, then endure people making jokes about people on food stamps. There are no directions, no advice on how to reach someone so far gone that you had to say goodbye to them to protect yourself from emotional and physical abuse (my father, and child’s father). I hope people won’t lose this focus on mental health while they are dumping buckets of ice water on their heads and buying pink items. We need one for mental illness support to go viral. Thank you for this group, living around mental illness is a lonely place.

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Douglas

I facilitate suicide survivor groups and have learned a great deal from that shared experience. I no longer seek to understand why someone does such an act. My best self tells me it’s more important to comfort the families and be silent. When I am asked to speak, the focus is on the noble battle he had waged in his human heart and suffering brain and lost. Our ability to find true empathy for the “pain” so often described when one suffers from mental illness will go a long way in helping to de-stigmatizing the brain’s illness and allow those that suffer in silence to speak up and seek help.

Suicide: Trying to Ask the Right Questions

It has only been weeks since the very public news regarding the suicide death of Robin Williams. Truth is, suicides account for about twenty-five to thirty-thousand deaths per year in the U.S (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention/AFSP). This figure has been fairly steady for decades. There are spikes in both directions, such as we’ve seen in recent years with the arrival home of our war veterans. Suffice to say not much has really changed over the years, in spite of our knowledge and treatment of mental illness. We still have a long way to go.

So why is the trend of suicide appear unbreakable? I know that when my own brother Garry took his life six years ago, I needed to understand why he made that ultimate decision. Why his brain told him he’d be better off gone, that he was a burden or that by dying he might find relief for his pain. We knew that he had pain because he left his sons’ and his wife a brief but telling note that mentioned relieving his “pain”. Surprisingly most suicides rarely leave notes. I believe it’s about one out of ten suicides that leave a note and often the notes aren’t very helpful in giving clear reasons.

In my brother Garry’s case, he was simply saying goodbye, as if he were going on a cruise for a while. But near the end he warned that this was not a good choice to make, but that it was his choice. Again, he wrote about and touched on his “pain” only briefly, but I have never forgotten that.

What I am getting at is this: We still know very little about mental illness and even less so when it culminates in a suicide. Our attempts to understand the very nature of mental illness falls far short of achieving at least a working knowledge of how we can help the millions that suffer in silence. The obsessive need to have concrete reasons, the need to judge a persons life in order to make sense of his death, only feeds this tabloid curiosity to find one specific answer that lead him to ultimately take his or her life. We look beyond the obvious desperate need to relieve an unfathomable pain.

It’s no wonder that we do so very little to effect any real change in the tide of suicide. My own experience tells me that the reasons for suicide are as varied as the individuals themselves and that our natural need to understand or find specific reasons clouds the real issue surrounding mental illness. We ask the wrong questions. We should ask ourselves: What does this pain look like?

What might be best for lay persons in a healthy community would be to focus our energy on the brain and the assault the illness inflicts. We could open true and healthy dialogue by admitting that the brain is just like any other organ under attack. We live in sensitive and urgent times and very little if anything is left to our imaginations. We are barraged with information about everything and our appetite to summarize a suicide by asking the wrong questions leaves us empty. We can’t learn or empathize if we focus away from the suffering and pain.

Perhaps it comes down to this: We need to step back before we judge, be a little less arrogant of our absolute beliefs. We need to look at the person next to us as if his or her battles are won and lost in the same trenches as ours. That the guy who just cut in front of me in line may be so anxious about being in a crowd of people that he just might implode from fear. His suffering is no more or less valid than my need to get out of that place in a hurry. It just takes a little imagination.

A colleague of mine once said that when working with those suffering from mental illness we should try and take the “long view.” I understand now what he meant all those years ago. It’s about seeing in the patient my own vulnerable self. The long view is about our mutual health. The health of each of us, the urgency for a peaceful world through peaceful communities and harmonious loving families which leads us toward asking better questions.

I facilitate suicide survivor groups and have learned a great deal from that shared experience. I no longer seek to understand why someone does such an act. My best self tells me it’s more important to comfort the families and be silent. When I am asked to speak, the focus is on the noble battle he had waged in his human heart and suffering brain and lost. Our ability to find true empathy for the “pain” so often described when one suffers from mental illness will go a long way in helping to de-stigmatizing the brain’s illness and allow those that suffer in silence to speak up and seek help.

 

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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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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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Mark

I have lived with schizophrenia most of my life. But fortunately for me the meds I take regularly have made my life very productive and fulfilling. I have a job that I have been doing now for over 20 years. I have a house and two cars but most of all I have been married to my wife now for 20 years and have two daughters ages 17 and 15.

Hello, my name is Mark and I am 49 years old. I have lived with schizophrenia most of my life. But fortunately for me the meds I take regularly have made my life very productive and fulfilling. I have a job that I have been doing now for over 20 years. I have a house and two cars but most of all I have been married to my wife now for 20 years and have two daughters ages 17 and 15. My life has not been easy living with this problem but through the help of my doctors,family, and faith in God I have been able to live a fairly normal life.

I want to thank this website for allowing me to share with those who struggle and to let them know that there is hope. My oldest daughter also has schizophrenia and it has been challenge for our whole family to deal with because her illness is worse than mine. She has been able to hold onto hope though because I can relate to her. We have learned that this illness won’t define us for who we are and that our lives will make a difference as we stand firm in our faith and hope that knowing this illness won’t get the best of us. 

Thank you for your support. This website has brought more hope to my daughter and myself.

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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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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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Maria

Lisa eventually felt like she could no longer live with her illness anymore. This made sense in my little 10 year old brain and I am so lucky to have a mom who made sure to put the words like "crazy" or "insane" right out of my head.

When I was 10 my mother’s high school best friend hung herself in the entryway closet of her mother and stepfather’s home. I took piano lessons in this very home every Tuesday. My mom still stayed connected to Lisa throughout the years. This is a small town. Our families attended church together. My mother was a cosmetologist so she was Lisa’s stylist, and Lisa’s mother eventually became my piano teacher. I know that when my mom received the phone call at work she looked like someone kicked her in the stomach. This was something that just doesn’t happen in our church body, people started to “talk”. My mother knew I had to go back to piano lessons and I had heard so many stereotypical rumors that my mom had to sit down and tell me what had really happened. She told me Lisa was the most beautiful woman my mom ever knew, like a princess, she married her prince charming and had two kids. Everything seemed perfect except Lisa kept getting sicker and sicker. Eventually a doctor diagnosed Lisa with Bipolar Disorder. This disease was very hard on her and her marriage. Lisa eventually felt like she could no longer live with her illness anymore. This made sense in my little 10 year old brain and I am so lucky to have a mom who made sure to put the words like “crazy” or “insane” right out of my head. I have since that day tried to see all suffering in humanity as something I should be proactive about and never derogatory or negative. We are all brothers, we are all connected. Your pain is my pain.

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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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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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Valerie

I just saw your commercial about schizophrenia and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. My mother is a paranoid schizophrenic and she has been struggling to find a medication to stabilize her my entire life. Almost more heartbreaking than the actual illness is the way people react to it.

I just saw your commercial about schizophrenia and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. My mother is a paranoid schizophrenic and she has been struggling to find a medication to stabilize her my entire life. Almost more heartbreaking than the actual illness is the way people react to it. My extended family used to encourage me not to disclose my mothers illness because of the way people react not only to my mother but to me as well, we have experienced so much ignorance from people. Just recently I had an older coworker ask me if I was scared my mother was going to kill me in the middle of the night. When you tell someone you have diabetes they are concerned but when you tell someone your schizophrenic they are scared I have been fighting against this negative stigma my whole life and the work that you are doing is greatly appreciated by me and my family. I have always said there needs to be more dialog about mental illness instead of the killers in the movies people need to see schizophrenics as mothers and daughters and uncles and brothers thank you for helping change this stigma.

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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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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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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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Denise

When a mentally ill child is young, his behaviors are labeled as cute, funny, quirky. When he gets older, it's not so cute. It becomes uncomfortable...painful even. That's where we are now, although uncomfortable only begins to describe it. Painful is more accurate, but it's a new kind of pain. This pain hurts in the here and now, but it goes so much deeper than that. This pain destroys the hopes and dreams that a parent has for their child.

My son is mentally ill.

Hard words to say out loud…

I’ve known this in my head for a while.  It took my heart a bit longer to get on board.

When a mentally ill child is young, his behaviors are labeled as cute, funny, quirky.

When he gets older, it’s not so cute.  It becomes uncomfortable, then painful.

This isn’t the life I signed up for.  I’ve heard people say that, and it sounds so shallow, so trite.  But, deep down, don’t I feel the same way?  After all, who in their right mind would sign up for this?

I went from being the person who grew up in the safe little bubble, who wanted a cushy life with one perfect little girl, to the drained and exhausted mom with children who needed everything I had to give, and then some.  Still, I thought I had it under control.  I’m all about control, and I was doing just fine, thank you.

And then came Ian.

I dared say, out loud, that I was completely in love with Ian, even before his adoption was finalized.  Risky stuff, for sure. 

Ian was the one who challenged me at every turn, each challenge becoming more intense.

Ian was the one to whom I could say, “I love you completely” even after he’d just planted his fist in my face.

Ian turned my world upside-down.

I’m a research freak.  It’s how I cope.

Even with all of that knowledge, I held onto that hope, the hope that I could change him…that I could fix him with love.

No one else could do that, but this was different!  This was my child, and my love!

At this point, the disease has won.
Ian is in a psychiatric hospital.

Who says that about their seven-year-old child?

He’s been there for 10 days now, and it just hit me:

My son is mentally ill. 

The tears came.  I pushed them back.  I’m good at that.  I dive into my kids’ lives so that I can shut the door on my own.

This time, though, I couldn’t keep them back.  They marched in and took charge, leaving me a sobbing, blubbering mess.

My son is mentally ill.  Tears and that recurring thought took over and there was nothing I could do about it.

Then fear stepped in. 

First, the stigma: if I were to tell people that my son was in the hospital with cancer, there would be sadness and compassion and sympathy.  If I said that my son was in there with so many layers of mental illness that the numerous doctors he’s seen haven’t even been able to put a name to it yet, the reaction would be very different.

Next, is the fear of the future:
How will I deal with his rages
as he gets bigger and stronger? 

How many times will he go to a mental hospital? 

How will this affect his siblings? 

Will he end up in a group home? 

Will he seriously hurt me when he’s older? 

What does his future look like?

How will we survive this?  

I don’t have those answers, but I’m learning.
I’m learning to take things one minute at a time. 

I’m learning that this isn’t my fault, that his behaviors aren’t the result of my poor parenting skills.

I’m learning that he didn’t bring this on himself and that he deserves as much compassion and love as the child lying in a hospital bed with any physical disease.
My heart is breaking for my little boy, but I look for the good things:
On some level, he loves me,
completely and unconditionally.

On all levels, I love him the same way.

I can separate the sweet boy from the behaviors,
no matter how awful they may be.

I am so blessed to be Ian’s mom.

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Claire

I was 24 years old when my roommate and close friend developed, seemingly out of nowhere, schizophrenia. I'm so thankful for the support network we had around us that helped me make sense of what was happening.

I was 24 years old when my roommate and close friend developed, seemingly out of nowhere, schizophrenia. I’m so thankful for the support network we had around us that helped me make sense of what was happening. I never expected to be confronted with mental illness in such a personal and devastating way. I slept on the floor in her room for the first week, took her to see a counselor, and eventually helped her enter a psychiatric hospital for initial observation and care. Having known her before and after the onset has completely changed the way I view people with mental illness – it can happen to anyone, by no fault of their own. Every time I see the BC2M commercials I feel grateful and relieved that people are working to change the stigma against people like my friend. Thank you.

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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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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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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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Jaqueline

I'm 16 yrs old and a younger sister to someone with Schizophrenia. You cannot believe how happy I was when I found this campaign, and all I want to do is help as much as I possibly can. My brother lived a "normal" life up until he was 17 (I was 6). He was diagnosed with paranoid Schizophrenia and things have never been the same since.

Hi, I’m Jackie. I’m 16 yrs old and a younger sister to someone with Schizophrenia. You cannot believe how happy I was when I found this campaign, and all I want to do is help as much as I possibly can. My brother lived a “normal” life up until he was 17 (I was 6). He was diagnosed with paranoid Schizophrenia and things have never been the same since. I’m not even sure I remember ever living a “normal life”. It has caused so much pain and suffering for my entire family, especially my brother. We still have not found an effective medicine or treatment for him. What is worse is that his symptoms are very severe, making it hard to even go to the grocery store without getting odd looks and stares by people. Making most of our lives lived “under a rock”. Within the last year it has gotten worse and had made me mildly depressed. Until I realized that I can’t let this tragedy get the best of me, I may not be mentally ill but people don’t seem to understand how it affects the family so much also. Judgement from others doesn’t help either. People need to become more educated about this mental illness, this matter needs the right attention, a positive one. I want to make a difference, I want change. Thank you!

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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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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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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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Kevin K

What can we do to address and begin to work on fighting and eliminating the stigma? There needs to be some kind of comprehensive, rational and effective discussion on a larger scale that we've seen before. We as people living with mental illnesses must be heard.

My name is Kevin and I have Paranoid Schizophrenia. I was formally diagnosed with it about nine years ago, but have had symptoms longer than that. I live on my own and consider it a blessing, and am truly blessed to have my parents involved in my treatment. They help me cope with things and they, along with my sisters, are my best friends and my support circle. I have many other blessings that I don’t know how to explain without sounding completely delusional but they are all very much appreciated. I may have this mental illness but it’s the positives that keep me going each day.

The label of schizophrenia, in my eyes and in the eyes of many others, is as bad as the disease itself, as it is with other mental illnesses. Just the word alone of a mental illness can and does spark fear in many “normal” people, which is unfair because in most cases, like mine, mentally ill individuals do not pose a threat to anyone. The stigma associated with all mental illnesses, ranging from something like mild depression to something like full-blown schizophrenia, makes it hard on us. It makes us feel like we don’t fit in because people that don’t have a mental illness, in many cases, would rather just ignore us or turn away. We are at times deemed a danger to others and a threat to society, treated as pariahs in the communities in which we live. We are misunderstood.

What can we do to address and begin to work on fighting and eliminating the stigma? There needs to be some kind of comprehensive, rational and effective discussion on a larger scale that we’ve seen before. We as people living with mental illnesses must be heard. I believe that if we think outside the box, we can get people in the medical field to do more for the mentally ill. I think that if a special mental health task force was formed and people in power got together, a lot could be accomplished to help eliminate the stigma that we otherwise couldn’t do by ourselves. I applaud all existing organizations that are fighting the stigma, and if we all worked together and thought outside the box, I think we could get even more accomplished!

I believe that I have a lot to offer to help fight the mental illness stigma rather than just sit on the sidelines. I want to be part of the solution and take part in raising awareness, and I want to help others with mental illness know that they are not alone and that there are many others living with mental illness who are there for them with support and encouragement. I want others afflicted with mental illness to live as normal lives as possible. I want to do my part in eliminating the stigma, no matter how difficult it may be, and help make it a thing of the past. In summary, I feel like the next step in my life should be actively participating in fighting the stigma associated with mental illness with an emphasis on the stigma associated with schizophrenia. I have goals, dreams and aspirations other than this as well, but this is most important to me at this point in my life. I want to work with and brainstorm with other like-minded people and organizations, and share ideas and find solutions that can bring change and bring an end to stigma!

Sincerely,
Kevin K

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Laura C

One day, things will be easier. One day, life won’t seem so painful and distressing. Nonetheless, until then, I will take each day as it comes and the challenges brought with them. I will fight my hardest and accept the help I am privileged to have. And, most importantly, I will accept that even though things aren’t okay at this moment – this moment won’t last forever. ‘Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.’

My current, ongoing battle with Anorexia

It’s a constant voice in your head. A never-ending battle with yourself and your mind yelling and yelling you’re not good enough, nor are you thin enough, beautiful enough or clever enough. You are not enough, or at least, this is what it feels like. The Anorexic voice starts off quietly, whispering and slowly creeping her way into your daily life and thoughts ready to drag you to the pits of hell and the depths of despair and unhappiness. Though how can you possibly ignore her, when she’s all you supposedly have? She becomes louder, more manipulative and unfriendly. The torment and rules constantly drilled into your head, until listening no longer becomes a choice. Instead, it becomes a chore. But, right before your eyes, before anybody can stop it, before you get a glimpse of what’s going on (or has been for a long period) she’s got you, you’ve unwillingly become another one of her victims. Not just this, but you’ve also become a shadow of your former self. The self with at least a slight ounce of confidence and ambition. The former you that enjoyed indulging in birthday cakes and dancing for enjoyment, not to burn calories. The former you who was loved and cherished, ever so much, but then became blinded by this ugly monster.

I have had Anorexia for numerous years now and I am yet to say `it gets easier’. Each day is a torment, a battle between life and death and a journey I wouldn’t want anybody to face – yet I am hopeful and with each day that comes, I am closer to regaining my health, happiness and strength. I am closer to fighting the demon that has become all I’ve known for many years. Some days, I wish to remain in bed, isolating myself from the World and the look of my own reflection in the mirror disgusts me to the point of breakdowns and engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms. Other days are easier, more manageable, but not filled with freedom. With each day that comes, I am one of many sufferers faced with agonizing thoughts and harrowing feelings of guilt, alongside complete and utter hopelessness and despair. I have wanted to give up, I am writing this nearing the end of another difficult day, where I am trying my hardest to remain in a positive mindset. I have shed enough tears to facilitate the Pacific Ocean and I’ve not been myself for such a long time; I am still here and I am finding the strength and courage to make it through each day and the tough times I face.

‘Beyond fear lies freedom’. One day, whether that may be in five years or a decade, I am going to be on the right pathway to finding myself, embracing life and saving animals. One day, things will be easier. One day, life won’t seem so painful and distressing. Nonetheless, until then, I will take each day as it comes and the challenges brought with them. I will fight my hardest and accept the help I am privileged to have. And, most importantly, I will accept that even though things aren’t okay at this moment – this moment won’t last forever.
‘Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.’

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Peyton

The fight for happiness may not be easy but its definitely worth it. Just remember you're not alone and to hold on.

I was sexually abused by someone I trusted when I was 8. It had changed me a lot. I went from an outgoing, loud little girl to a quiet, shy girl. I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD from the incident. And as I got older, I got more problems because growing up is hard in general. I was super insecure. I was bullied. I would have panic attacks almost all the time. I was super depressed. I was hating life. And, I was silent about it all. No one knew what had happened and it was eating me up on the inside.

I turned to unhealthy coping skills to release all the sadness and pain. It got to the point where I couldn’t handle it anymore.  I wanted to make a change because if I didn’t, life would go on and it would stay the same. So, I decided to stop being silent and speak out about what happened. It wasn’t easy but it would never be easy. I had been staying quiet for 7 years and I couldn’t keep going.  I spoke up and put the pain and sadness to an end. And that was the key to becoming healthy and happy. It was the key to healing.

8 years later, I can say it will be okay in the end. It may not seem like it at the time but in the end, everything will work itself out and it will be alright. The fight for happiness may not be easy but its definitely worth it. Just remember you’re not alone and to hold on.

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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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Dave A

The issue I deal with, well there are many, but the big ugly monster in the room is what for lack of better term I call rage attacks. Mine come in the form of verbal aggression where when nervous, angry, or upset I lash out verbally saying some of the worst things I can to the person or persons around me.

My life has been held hostage by my mental illness and it seems the biggest and most surprising stigma i have faced is from the community of professionals in the mental health and ERs i have visited desperately seeking my freedom from my illness.

I guess what i am dealing with is unusual as most people who see the symptoms of my illness get mad at me and throw me out of offices and clinics for the behaviors i try to warn them about before the first appointment.

See the issue i deal with, well there are many, but the big ugly monster in the room is what for lack of better term i call rage attacks. Mine come in the form of verbal aggression where when nervous, angry, or upset i lash out verbally saying some of the worst things i can to the person or persons around me. I will use personal stuff against the person – for example i’m glad your mom is dying she wont have to deal with a bi&$% like you. Because of the personal nature of the attacks i have had professionals say i am doing them on purpose. I have made promises i am stopping only to be cussing another person not more then five minutes later. I begged god take it from me and yet it is still there and like the ticks of Turrets the more it is noticed and commented on the worse it gets. When the storm passes and i return to normal again i desperately want to go and tell them how sorry i am and how i did not mean to say those things. I want to make it right but once the harsh words have been said people don’t want to hear it and think that the uncontrollable nature is an excuse to get away with saying those things. So i just gave up apologizing because they didn’t want to hear it and most of the time they were still smarting from the words that were said.

The professional community i have approached trying to get help have thrown me out of offices and clinics on every occasion i tried to get help. I have had them threaten on me. This is even when i have tried to warm them of the monster prior to the appointment.

I remember on a couple of occasions trying ERs to get myself in to psych wards as a way to jump start my recovery. I told them of my story and the uncontrollable nature of my outbursts. I had one nurse ask if i was a danger too myself and i said yes because the illness i deal with is going to have me mouth off to the wrong person and i going to end up in intensive care or dead. Well that is not what we mean the nurse replied. What am i going to have to come back in a body bag to prove my point. The second psyche nurse they sent i told her the same story of the uncontrollable nature of my out burst. Well a little while later when it was decided they were not going to admit me she gave me a phone number to a free clinic and i called on my phone and the guy said something where it caused me to go off on him. The nurse i just finished telling about the uncontrollable nature of the verbal aggression jumps out the chair she was in and says you need to learn to control yourself. I roll my eyes and think this is the issue i came here seeking help for and just told you about but what comes out of my mouth is a bunch of insulting curse words were she gets up and gets security to escort me off property for the very issue i came seeking freedom from. This also happened in another ER were i tried to explain the same thing, lost it on a social worker and was escorted by five security guards off property.

I been to several mental health clinics seeking help and freedom. One i went to after my three hour intake and several days later when i call to find out what was going on with my case said there is nothing wrong with me and i began to lose it on the lady and she said you can’t come here if you are going to act like that. To which i said that is the reason i need to come here. Well no one will work with you like that. After about 15 minutes on the phone i hung up knowing they didn’t get it and let them go. Another one where i got triggered big time just ended up kicking me out of the clinic. I was even kicked out of a advocacy group for mental health for this issue. Too be clear, i am non violent but i have people tell me people would not work with me for the same reasons they would not work with a person who uncontrollably beats people up.

All i want is my freedom from this ugly monster that has done nothing but raped me of any kind of decent life and left me feeling like i need to isolate my self to minimize the causalities of my illness and not deal with the anger that comes from people when meeting my monster.

I’ve been beat up, kicked out and told this was my fault. Who would live like this if there was choice? I want to know love but hate seems to have become more familiar as result of my illness and i want freedom.

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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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Aaron

I have realized that many with a mental illness are the strong ones. We are the ones who deal with something very difficult on a daily basis and yet we conquer, overcome, and in the end thrive. I refuse to be devoured because I am the lion seeking to devour the fear and the hardships that I face ahead. We are the king of the jungle because time and again we devour our fear, we devour our sadness, we devour our daily struggles with a ferocity many without an illness can not.

While sitting in the hospital working on feeling better there was one nagging thought going through my head. What will my community think? I already knew my employer would not be happy I am in the hospital for a Anxiety Disorder and Mood Disorder. But what would they small community I live in think?

See I moved from a large city where my condition was well managed and not many judged me. Then my wife of 12 years left me and I moved to a small town in Iowa where my family lives about a year after she left. I got a high position with a prominent company in this small community. This kind of illness is looked upon as weak the stigma is very much alive,

Not only do I have to worry about the financial repercussions of this episode I recently had I have to worry about my place in the community now. In short it kind of feels like Daniel in the lions den. Sitting there waiting to be devoured. Then something occurred to me. My family members are by my side and the people I care for are by my side and that’s really all that matters. I can not sit at this moment and give some inspirational quote or idea, but what I can say it that the people who are supposed to be in our lives are the ones who will always support us and thus those are the ones we need to surround ourselves with. While I deal with the stigma that will happen, I will put my sunglasses on to block out the haters. Learn from this and continue to grow. I not only have faith, I have hope and a ridiculous determination. See, I have realized that many with a mental illness are the strong ones. We are the ones who deal with something very difficult on a daily basis and yet we conquer, overcome, and in the end thrive. I refuse to be devoured because I am the lion seeking to devour the fear and the hardships that I face ahead. We are the king of the jungle because time and again we devour our fear, we devour our sadness, we devour our daily struggles with a ferocity many without an illness can not.

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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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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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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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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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Sara

I share this because I am a professional working with people living with severe mental illness and I still struggle to practice what I preach. I consider myself an advocate but the stigma around mental illness continues to affect my relationships. I encourage everyone to share their stories to find support and especially to remind those who have a loved one with mental illness that they also need to take care of their own mental health. I seriously believe we can end stigma if we step up, share our stories and not be afraid to talk about the taboo subjects.

When I was a sophomore in college many years ago I fell in love for the first time. I met a boy who was calm, compassionate, funny, down to earth – who loved to have a good time. The majority of the memories I have are of us together laughing but I also have memories that aren’t as pleasant. Somewhere in the few months of being together he shared with me that he had depression -he opened up about a history of abuse and told me not to worry, that he just wanted to share that with me and that he would “get over it” as if he had the power to make it go away. He also asked me not to tell anyone – to keep this to myself.

At the time I found his request appropriate. Who wants all of their private information thrown around to the world? As we continued our relationship together there were some ups and downs, some unrelated to his depressions, and others not. He would have bad days and I would do by best to be there for him – to listen, to support – not knowing what else to do. This began to take a toll on me – I was constantly worried and my anxiety would rise if I noticed he missed class or wasn’t with his friends. In the back of my head I always wondered if he thought about suicide, but I was too afraid to ask and worried it would ruin our relationship.

My inability to ask questions and share with anyone how his mental illness affected me eventually ruined our relationship. I wish I had asked him more about how he was feeling instead of ignoring a big part of his life. I wish I chose to seek help for my own anxiety that this situation caused. Eventually he broke up with me because he knew he had to put himself first – he told me he had thought about killing himself and was going to seek help.

At that point I used my voice and told a counselor at our school what was happening. I was heartbroken for a long time ( I think a part of me still is today). But I opened up and shared how I was feeling with the people close to me. Eventually he got a counselor and was put on some meds and our romantic relationship turned into a platonic on. He opened up to his friends about his history with depression and developed a support system greater that me . I knew his life was not my business like it once was and I knew he was getting help so I never asked him seriously how he was doing. I kept my space and we both tried to keep up a friendship.

A few years later I learned that he had attempted suicide and my heart broke again. He was and still is an amazing person and I was so angry thinking he would leave behind all of the people that care so much about him. To this day we are still friends and I still struggle with out relationship. He is my best friend and was my first love and I still have fear in asking him about his mental illness because it is such a taboo subject.

I share this because I am a professional working with people living with severe mental illness and I still struggle to practice what I preach. I consider myself an advocate but the stigma around mental illness continues to affect my relationships. I encourage everyone to share their stories to find support and especially to remind those who have a loved one with mental illness that they also need to take care of their own mental health. I seriously believe we can end stigma if we step up, share our stories and not be afraid to talk about the taboo subjects. This is the first time I’m sharing my story and I thank you for listening.

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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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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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Breina E

I have won my eating disorder but I had to fight like hell. I had no option but to be strong. We had a great relationship until I realized it was fooling me and I was really hurting. To you ED you are the reason my life was so difficult, but you are not the reason I am stronger today. That is because of me. After all you put me through I chose not to let my entire life be consumed by your foolish and tricky ways. I keep choosing recovery every day 7 times a week without you.

 

That which scares us most in life is the unknown – things which we know the least about.

That was me five years ago when I first met ED. Today with much pride I say goodbye to him. We had a very long and tiring relationship. I’m glad I’m here alive to tell you about the eating disorder I won. I’m stronger than him and I won’t ever stop fighting!

Hi, my name is Breina. I am 24 years old and was raised in a Jewish Religious home. I come from very loving and nurturing family. I have 7 sisters and one brother. I struggled with Bulimia and Anorexia for over 6 years. I was lucky enough to spend a few months away at Renfrew’s residential treatment center. I am very thankful for the resources I was given during my battle with ED. I very passionately want to give that back in return.

It is not easy growing up as the “Rabbi’s daughter” always needing to be on my best behavior and setting a good example. All the rules around modesty kosher and holiday definitely impacted my eating disorder. Imagine what its like to have 7 sisters. There was always competition and attentions seeking. As a child, I was an OCD freak – cleaning 24/7. This was all good until my eating disorder developed. You know it did not come about because of who I was, but rather because of how I perceived myself. Today I don’t look back on my life and have shame or guilt and neither do I blame my religion. Now with much pride, I stand even taller than before. I got stripped to the core. I was a pure hurting soul.

As I look back on my life I realize that every time I thought I was being rejected for something good I was actually being redirected to something even better. GD often uses our deepest pain as the launching pad of our greatest calling.

We all have our battles and thankfully I’ve learned mine was with ED (eating disorder).

I have won my eating disorder but I had to fight like hell. I had no option but to be strong. We had a great relationship until I realized it was fooling me and I was really hurting. To you ED you are the reason my life was so difficult, but you are not the reason I am stronger today. That is because of me. After all you put me through I chose not to let my entire life be consumed by your foolish and tricky ways. I keep choosing recovery every day 7 times a week without you.

Life in recovery is far from easy, but each day I have more strength and courage to keep fighting. It’s been a year of intense growth for me. I learned more than my years alive could have taught. To be honest, pain changed me. Pain doesn’t show up for no reason. I learned to listen to them as they are messengers. We must translate pain into action and tears into growth.

We’re all granted free will the ability to choose between selflessness and selfishness, good and evil, to follow GDs instructions or not. GD wants us to only do good. GD decided to take the risk of free choice because the risk is inherent to growth. For a child to learn how to walk he must be allowed to fall.

I will always have some sort of struggle and I know there will be setbacks. The greater the challenge, the more strength it draws out from us. I’m sure as hell determined to create a life full of purpose and meaning in the ways of GD.

To anyone struggling or know of someone please know you are not alone and I advise you to seek professional medical help right away.

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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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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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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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Stacy Ann Warnock

People fighting mental illness suffer in silence, they attempt to try the frequently mentioned "Pollyanna" treatments of suck it up, think good thoughts, don't do it, or think of your other options besides suicide. I had a professional tell me take a vacation, as if my sadness, desperation, suicidal thoughts, trauma flashbacks or symptoms would not join me on said vacation. I'm reminded of the saying where ever you go there you are.

Stigmatization in Mental Illness

By: Stacy Ann Warnock RN, BA

If I had any of the numerous forms of Cancer you would most likely look at me with compassion and empathy. You would possibly offer prayers and often be apologetic for the fight for health of which I was forced to courageously face with support of my loved ones. You may cook meals out of concern or even just offer your company in times of utter loneliness and fear of the unknown.

If I had fallen and broke a bone I would in all probability end up with a cast. This cast the very color of my choice, not only serving the purpose of healing my bone, yet also a much more “glamorous” function offering a small flash of my personality. This simple fiberglass medical device would tell the story of my injury so I would have the ability to simply point directing your attention to this cast when you probed with questions regarding my new injury. I would not have to hide my injury in fear of all the thoughts, and judgements you may have concerning my broken bone. Would you still reserve said judgements if I told you I had schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, bipolar, or post traumatic stress disorder? Please answer this probing question honestly.  I’m totally guessing, however I am pretty convinced, you would not question “why” I threw myself down the stairs?

If my appendix burst and I needed emergency surgery for the removal of this organ failing my body, I am sure you would never invalidate the truth of my illness or question the surgical recommendation to remove this organ poisoning my entire body. Its quite unlikely you would feel the desire to question my doctor’s medical opinion. I doubt I would be questioned as to what I was or was not doing in the days leading up to this episode as to blame its bursting on me. You would not question the truth of my illness nor would you blame me for an illness or injury I was forced to cope with.  There would be little discussion regarding my ability to change the need for surgery.

Mental illness carries baggage more extensive, damaging, harmful and all encompassing to its host than most of us would like to think about or admit. Then it is the fore mentioned discomfort and embarrassment of those around us which makes said topic so unbelievably important because this beast is continuing to ruin and even end lives. The reality is that several people lost their battle with mental illness at their own hands during the short time it took you to read this article. Warriors fighting mental illness, notice no one identified them as patients or victims, feel overwhelming and disturbing loneliness secondary to their struggles being kept secret. Support, encouragement, or affirmations are not seen as necessary interventions when all your battles are ones of secrecy in order to protect your reputation, privacy, struggle, family or even your job.  Loved ones of those with mental illness are unaware that secrets leads directly to a reinforcing cycle of shame and guilt which then results in further social  attempt to reach out for support because they would then have to explain the gory details in the hope of then receiving help, hoping for help minus disgusted looks and judgements.

There is certainly not a visible wound, broken bone, cast or treatment to point to in the interest of an attempt to assist others in a clearer understanding of depression, other mental illnesses or suicidality. These mental illnesses resemble monsters overtaking the mind, body, heart, soul and spirit of its person. Yes, these illnesses steal forced ownership of the persons’ they attempt to control. Healing these horrifically horrible, overpowering and paralyzing illnesses is baffling beyond belief. Why do the innocent have to live with the incessant torture, intense uncontrollable emotions, stalked by warped thoughts regarding death being the only answer, flashbacks of lifetimes of trauma, coping with voices or visions which people are telling them are not real, anxiety, agitation, rumination, unrelenting fears, too much sleep or not enough sleep, under eating and over eating…….

In the previous examples of MEDICAL problems and associated responses from friends, family, and professionals there is little to no blame and specific helpful treatment offered most likely judgement free. Interestingly those medical patients would be less likely to offer apologies for a bursting organ leaking poison into ones body than one dealing with a deep dark depression which lead to suicidal thoughts to end ones pain. Instead of the simplicity of treating appendicitis with surgical interventions any and all treatments for mental illnesses seem like gambling. A spinning of the wheel to determine what may be tried though truthfully my odds of winning on a slot machine are probably 1000% better. Although the psychiatric field has improved many, many good ole trusted treatments ARE entirely trial and error, along with the almost sadistic 2-4 week wait to see if said trial even helps or makes issues worse. With appendicitis treatment is removal of your appendix. Why is there not an organ, a piece of my brain or nerves, heart or personality one can remove surgically with promise of a cure to my despair, hopelessness, sadness?  Why in 2016 is sadness so complicated to treat?  Why is it no one has developed a successful treatment for or even develop basic understanding of the circumstances leading to one considering suicide as a solution? Does anyone understand judgement, stigma, ignorance, miseducation, fear and frustration all detailed here are major obstacles not only for said treatments, but more importantly lead to warriors dealing with these illnesses to attempt to heal themselves. People fighting mental illness suffer in silence, they attempt to try the frequently mentioned “Pollyanna” treatments of suck it up, think good thoughts, don’t do it, or think of your other options besides suicide. I had a professional tell me take a vacation, as if my sadness, desperation, suicidal thoughts, trauma flashbacks or symptoms would not join me on said vacation. I’m reminded of the saying where ever you go there you are. Would any of you offer these said solutions to the 3 fore mentioned medical patients?  Why, why, why is depression or post traumatic stress disorder different in everyone’s mind from cancer, broken bones or appendicitis?  It is basically a similar disease process yet of the mind, spirit and soul.

While you read this article, if it took you 5 minutes and 20 seconds, EIGHT people took there own lives. Eight people died.  These are statistics from an article on CNN. This report estimates one suicide in the world every 40 seconds, or 800,000 a year.  Do you still feel the same about mental illness and associated treatments?

More importantly will you change the way in which you talk to those battling mental illnesses???? That is where the change will begin……..

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Neesa S

My life has new meaning now. No longer am I competitive. Now, I fight stigma. I tell my story. There is so much misunderstanding about schizophrenia, and many people fear and even criminalize those afflicted. I hope one day, I can share my musical gifts with my clients so as to enrich their lives. I cannot do so now, as music is still a painful trigger. But I am optimistic about the future. I have rebuilt my life thus far, and expect to do even more so in the future.

MUSIC, AND MY MENTAL ILLNESS JOURNEY

I began studying violin at age five. Right away, I identified as a “musician” above all. I practiced with my grandfather, who himself was a retired saxophone player. He had stories about how he was drafted in World War II… He never saw combat, but instead played in a big band stationed in Burma. His band entertained the troops at dinner functions.

Music made me happy, but there was grief too. My father had a temper, and his tirades affected me and my mother. As I grew older, feelings bottled up within me… rage, fear, terror. By age ten, I had crying fits, and was even unable to practice the violin. I’d play the instrument, and within a half hour… tears unbounded. Home with my father felt like an inescapable prison. Playing violin in a room by myself only made me more frightened.

I lost interest in the violin by middle school, so I switched to the viola. Its lower register resonated with my inner sense of melancholy. But after I played the viola for a couple of years, I eventually became too depressed to play the viola too. At fourteen, I was hospitalized for being suicidal. Upon discharge, I requested of my mother:

“I don’t want to play music anymore.”

So I stopped. But a year-and-a-half later, inspiration struck again, and I resumed viola with a new teacher. I auditioned for an esteemed youth orchestra in Manhattan, and received first chair in the viola section. This achievement boosted my ego. By senior year, my viola teacher helped me apply for music conservatories for my Bachelors degree. I chose to study at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Things were optimistic at first. My viola instructor there was an esteemed performer, and I sat second chair in the orchestra. Again, my ego was proud.

At this time, my motivation for being a musician was grounded in my love for competition. “Winning” first chairs in orchestras. Yet my practice sessions were still impeded by my depression. I couldn’t practice as much as I needed to, because still the tears flowed.

At the beginning of sophomore year, a viola concerto competition commenced at the conservatory. My professor advised I not enter, and yet the winner was another sophomore! She won against grad students. I did not take this surprise well.

In reaction, a rageful envy developed. I vowed to myself that I would win the following year’s competition, so as to earn my place. Eighteen months later, I entered, but did not win.

Filled with bitterness, I realized I was not “the best” at school. I started believing there was a magical element that “the best” possessed, that I did not. I then joined a meditation group linked to a guru in India. I thought that meditating would give me magical powers, and then I would become “the best.” After six months, I started to see this “magic” manifest in my life.

Or did I?

I experienced voices in my head, telling me how to practice. I thought this was all “spiritual wisdom”. This influence stayed with me for a full year, as I finished my Bachelors degree and started a Masters. But during my new degree program, the voices became confusing and unbearable. During winter break, I was hospitalized and received a new diagnosis: Schizoaffective disorder.

I finished the rest of the year completely dazed, and then returned home to New York, musical aspirations gone. Playing viola tormented me with tears and voices, and it only seemed to get worse as I got older.

For the years following, schizophrenia still haunted me. Repeated breakdowns prevented me from working, so I went on disability. But there has been much positivity too. I now work full-time as a peer specialist at a mental health agency. At my job, I publicly disclose my mental illness, thereby helping others who also suffer from it.

My life has new meaning now. No longer am I competitive. Now, I fight stigma. I tell my story. There is so much misunderstanding about schizophrenia, and many people fear and even criminalize those afflicted.

I hope one day, I can share my musical gifts with my clients so as to enrich their lives. I cannot do so now, as music is still a painful trigger. But I am optimistic about the future. I have rebuilt my life thus far, and expect to do even more so in the future.

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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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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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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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Kristin F

My Super Hero has been a person who has learned of my struggles with mental illness, but has not let that knowledge taint the way that she sees me. This Super Hero has penetrated my deep seeded stigma and through unwavering support, belief, and love and has slowly helped me to begin to tear through the devastating chains that mental illness stigma can unfortunately bring. Because of my Super Hero, I have been able to slowly be more comfortable in sharing my story with trusted people.

April 28th…Super Hero Day…who knew?!

Given the recent almost far-reaching daily amount of random “holidays” that now exist, I almost dismissed this day as yet another preposterous day, but realized I would be remiss in doing so. Why? Because I am one of the lucky yet rare individuals who has the distinct honor of having a real-life super hero in my life.

My Super Hero does not have the typical characteristics that most Super Heroes are endowed with. My Super Hero does not wear a cape. My Super Hero does not fly. My Super Hero does not have the powers of invisibility, super speed, or mind reading. My Super Hero doesn’t even have their own emblem.

Rather, my Super Hero walks around in disguise. My Super Hero is a human being with an angelic heart, a real life person that I can reach out and touch. My Super Hero is a person who has touched my heart and accepted me wholeheartedly. My Super Hero is a person who has seen and believed in me what I can’t see or believe about myself. My Super Hero is the person who has stood by me, supported me and encouraged me to develop my natural talents and abilities into something bigger and better.

Despite the many reasons listed above, which still fall short of accurately depicting the interpersonal qualities that my Super Hero bears, the best thing about my Super Hero is that my Super Hero has been my an unconditional friend in my life who has helped me to begin to rise above the stigma of having mental illness. My Super Hero has been a person who has learned of my struggles with mental illness, but has not let that knowledge taint the way that she sees me. This Super Hero has penetrated my deep seeded stigma and through unwavering support, belief, and love and has slowly helped me to begin to tear through the devastating chains that mental illness stigma can unfortunately bring. Because of my Super Hero, I have been able to slowly be more comfortable in sharing my story with trusted people. Because of my Super Hero I am slowly becoming better at reaching out for help during times of relapse and darkness that can unexpectedly occur when you live with mental illness. Because of my Super Hero I am learning that my mental illness does not define me, and that even the road is often dark, there is also hope.

So you see, not recognizing and celebrating this newly created “Super Hero Day” would really be a great injustice to my Super Hero who has with human qualities made a more significant impact in my life than anyone flying around in a cape ever could.

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Lexus

My mental health issues are only one aspect of my whole life. I have a career. I am a mother. I am a wife. I give back. I love to write. I have lofty goals. There is so much more to me. I wish people noticed my other qualities more often. People with mental health issues can get healthier with the right therapy and medications and lead amazing productive lives.

I am not ready to be completely open so used a different name, I hope this is okay.

7 Things I Wish I Could Tell People Without Mental Health Issues.

1. Treat me like everyone else. You know how you treat a friend when they break their arm. You sign the cast and then you get on with life. That’s how I want to be treated. Let’s get on with life. Let’s go to the movies, joke about boys and tell each other our dreams about the future. I am still here. I still hurt when you make fun of me. I still cry when I don’t get invited to the party. I still feel. Want to help? Treat me like everyone else.

2. Don’t call me the C-word. I’ve been called that a lot. I don’t own any cats on purpose. It is a mark of being an outcast, it marks me as someone that it’s okay to leave out and disclude. We would all be quite boring if our brains were wired the same. But they’re all wired different. Can we love the differences? Or call me the other C word- cool. Be on the lookout for some unique creative talents.

3. It’s none of your business what happened in my past. Okay so I leave even the smallest leftovers in the fridge. My right eye twitches majorly in specific social situations. You can guess about my past, yes it’s an interesting story and no it’s none of your business. This isn’t entertaining gossip, this is my true life. There is a box in my brain where all the painful memories are. I’ve opened it, I’ve talked through it, I understand it and then I closed the box again. Maintaining on a daily level means keeping those memories in a box. Please don’t attempt to open it, if I want to, I will.

4. My mental health issues are only one aspect of my whole life. I have a career. I am a mother. I am a wife. I give back. I love to write. I have lofty goals. There is so much more to me. I wish people noticed my other qualities more often. People with mental health issues can get healthier with the right therapy and medications and lead amazing productive lives.

5. I have standards. I don’t like vegan food. Republicans make me uneasy. While your figuring out if I can work in your life, I am doing the same. Our society devalues people with mental health issues so much that people think that it’s okay to treat someone bad and are caught off guard when that person leaves. I worked my butt off to get here, and I didn’t do that to hang out with people who devalue me. If you are scared of me, I really don’t have time to fix that. It’s 2016, there are a lot of people in this world, if we don’t match each other needs, it’s okay. Hollywood lied to you, I don’t have time to stalk you, the exit door out of my life is wide open, be sure to take your prejudices with you.

6. I can learn. People are surprised when I pick up a new skill. My brain works different but it still works. Like everyone else I have areas where I excel (numbers, creativity) and areas where I have to work twice as hard (listening, not losing my phone). I had a friend who realized I pick up more through reading than listening so they always write important info down. It’s meant the world to me. There is no one beyond repair, we all can improve when placed in the right environment with amazing support.

7. I am not going to kill you, stop treating me like I did. One time I was walking down the sidewalk and this person got really big eyes and crossed the street. I understand people are scared of what they aren’t familiar with but can you stop watching movies and go read a psychology book. I have more reason to fear you. People with mental health issues are more likely to be victims of crimes than commit crimes. One time I got really mad at this guy that I was head-over-heels-bookoo-bookoo-gaga in love with, and I wrote a three page letter pouring all sorts of stuff out. That’s it. That’s the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life. When I am really upset, I write.

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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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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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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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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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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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Hanna-Mae

I’m not fighting my illness anymore, or at least not fighting it’s existence. I’m on the waiting list for DBT and other psychotherapies proven successful in treating and controlling BPD and where I gave up before, I now have have a reason to carry on. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and I am going to find it.

The Borderline Monster

People suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder are frequently portrayed as monstrous, manipulative people prone to violent outbursts and extreme mood swings. Sadly I see so much of myself in this stereotype that it’s hard to defend or deny it, but I am fighting hard to tame this monster in myself, although I am still struggling.

My BPD manifests mostly in anger or crippling depression. Episodes typically last a few hours, normally triggered by something as simple as me breaking a plate. What to some would be a minor annoyance, can turn into a metaphor for my own perceived failings. I broke a plate so I am a clumsy, useless partner, an unfit mother. If I can’t even wash up without breaking something how can I possibly raise a child? Why would my partner want to waste his time with such a useless person? Suddenly I find myself fighting back tears and thoughts of using the broken shards to relieve the anger I feel towards myself spring into my mind. Lately I am able to resist these urges, but they are never fully gone.

To someone with the ability to think rationally I’m sure this sounds ridiculous, but this is my life. Of course some days are better than others, some days I’m sure I could drop a whole stack of plates and laugh it off, another time I could cry, or even become so overcome with rage I find myself slamming my fist onto the cupboard door until the white hot blinding anger subsides. I think this is part of what makes BPD such a difficult illness to understand, as something that is a non event one day can be the trigger for a severe episode another.

The flip side of this is happiness and is intensely strong too. I can get manically over excited about the little things, often getting carried away and impulsive. Love is fast, burning and breathtaking, I fall hard and often messily, often staying in unhealthy and volatile relationships long after problems start. It took me a long time to realise the intense bouts of love I felt didn’t mean we were ‘meant to be together’. My current relationship is my longest and by far the most stable, he is father to my child and almost impervious to my BPD bullshit. He picks me up in my darkest times and he is worthy of the love I feel for him, even if my disorder exaggerates my emotions. Even though we have been pushed to the breaking point many times we have always come through stronger, and the happy times we have together are just as intense as the dark ones. I think if it wasn’t for that I would have given up, so I can only be thankful.

Life isn’t all manic highs and rock bottom lows with violence outbursts scattered in-between though. A lot of the time is spent in a haze of ‘flat’. The persistent non – emotion that plagues the majority of my hours, pierced by momentary ups and downs like a minutes joy at my sons first smile or a fleeting flood of tears at a bad memory that rears it’s ugly head, gone almost as soon as they begin when the ‘flat’ feeling washes over again.

I’ve spent a long time fighting my mental health, burying my head in the sand, using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain or sometimes just to feel something at all. There was a time when I used to think I couldn’t feel happy without relying drugs like MDMA to create that feeling, but I know now that hiding from the emotional dysregulation of BPD just exacerbates the symptoms, and the depression I felt was more likely caused by the reckless lifestyle I was living.

I’m not fighting my illness anymore, or at least not fighting it’s existence. I’m on the waiting list for DBT and other psychotherapies proven successful in treating and controlling BPD and where I gave up before, I now have have a reason to carry on. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and I am going to find it.

I will tame my borderline monster.

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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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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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Nathan C

The manner in which I experience life today would not have been possible just a few years ago. The mental clarity, the emotional development, the spiritual consciousness — all of these were mere fantasy, but thanks to the grace of God, they have now become a part of my reality. Fear and anxiety continue to dissipate as I discover what it means to love and be loved by God. In many ways, my journey thus far has been about learning how to look up — to turn to God in the midst of madness — and I have experienced the profound peace that comes from exalting God above every quandary and complexity.

Exiting the Maze:
A Spiritual Answer to Psychological Chaos

By Nathan Cole

The lights were low, the band was playing, and people all around me were praying. My friends seemed to be experiencing God in powerful ways, but I sat in the pew, lost in confusion. I could not escape the mental torment that had become my reality. As I struggled through the endless twists and turns of delusional thinking, a friend of mine came and sat next to me. I shared my frustration with him: “I feel like I’m lost in a maze…a confusing maze of thoughts…and I cannot find the exit.” He responded in a reassuring voice: “Sometimes, Nathan, the only way out is up.”

*****

From early on, my childhood had been characterized by strong, stable Christian values. However, when I graduated from high school and went off to the University of Michigan, I began to fundamentally question everything about my beliefs. I had an endless stream of doubts, and as my spiritual foundation began to erode, I also found myself grappling increasingly with irrational, paralyzing fear.

As the zeal to “find the answers” was eventually replaced by disillusionment and despair, my thinking patterns and behaviors became increasingly obsessive. Before climbing into bed, I would turn off the light. Then I would turn it back on. Then off again. For some reason, I thought that I had to turn the light off the “right” way, and every time I got it wrong, I had to do it again. Other behaviors were equally strange. At times, I found myself jumping slightly off the ground whenever I had an immoral thought. I also began to cough or tense up my body repetitively as feelings of anxiety increased. Negative mental associations dominated my thinking, making daily tasks nearly impossible.

In my own mind, I was constantly at the mercy of a tormenting labyrinth of contaminants. I went through bottle after bottle of hand soap. Every time I touched something that was “contaminated,” it meant another trip to the bathroom to wash my hands. During a summer internship in DC, my small townhouse bedroom became a chaotic mess as I desperately attempted to avoid “contamination” from various items. The floor was speckled with loose change, pieces of candy, and small bits of paper. I had to sit in the corner and strategize how to get across the room without touching anything that was potentially “harmful.”

In particularly dark moments of fear and psychological torment, I became completely paralyzed. Holed up in my room, I was chained in a mental prison that I could not escape. Perhaps the worst spell of paralysis took place on the first floor of the DC townhouse. Fear was closing in around me like a boa constrictor, and I could not move. I twitched and jerked in small furtive movements, but I could not seem to go anywhere. For perhaps hours, I stayed in one spot between the dining room and the living room, locked in a stronghold. First I was standing, then eventually sitting, and all the while, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, but I could not scream. I wanted to cry out in anguish, but I could not cry. All was quiet on the outside, but my soul was being brutally and mercilessly tortured. I don’t remember how I finally escaped; I probably came near to collapsing from pure mental and physical exhaustion.

After years of psychological anguish, I finally gave up my emotionally-charged rebellion against God. I fell to my knees, surrendered, and said, “God, I just want to know You for who You are.” In His mercy, He began to minister to my spirit through the story of Peter walking on the water to go to Jesus, and this story became a cornerstone of my recovery.

In the story, Peter was stuck in a boat that was about to capsize in a terrible storm. Jesus, however, was walking on the water, and Peter realized that his best option was to attempt what Jesus was doing. He chose to step out on faith, and when he stayed focused on Christ, he soared above all physical limitations and achieved the impossible. This story became a very real part of my everyday experience. The waves of fear and confusion were constantly crashing around me, and I had been trying to cling onto the boat for dear life. But I began to take small steps of faith and slowly pushed the boundaries of what I thought was possible.

As God took me through the healing process, He began to elevate my thinking. The dark, irrational labyrinth that I had been winding through was relentless and unending, and the only way to escape it was to rise above it entirely. My intellect alone could not conquer it; I could not reason my way out of it. I had to transcend my finite rationale and allow God to take me higher in Him. When I ascended to a new plateau of peace in God, the enigmas that I previously contended with were left in the basement of virtual insignificance.

The manner in which I experience life today would not have been possible just a few years ago. The mental clarity, the emotional development, the spiritual consciousness — all of these were mere fantasy, but thanks to the grace of God, they have now become a part of my reality. Fear and anxiety continue to dissipate as I discover what it means to love and be loved by God. In many ways, my journey thus far has been about learning how to look up — to turn to God in the midst of madness — and I have experienced the profound peace that comes from exalting God above every quandary and complexity.

Nathan Cole is the author of Exiting the Maze. The book can be found on Amazon, in both print and Kindle formats. To contact the author, please visit www.ExitingTheMaze.com.

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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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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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Sireen M

But now, when I'm around people, I pretend to be someone else, someone less invisible. My whole persona changes when I'm around a different sets of people. I'm like a Chameleon, changing shapes to blend into the people around me. I don't feel like a real person, just a paper doll twisted into different poses.

All my life I’ve felt different from the other kids. They always seemed so happy and sure of themselves. I was never the kid that people liked talking to because I wasn’t like them. Even on the rare occasion when people seemed nice I always had to question their motives. I’m not sure how to describe what I feel other than I feel disassociated from other people. For a long time I was depressed, that was until high school when I found people who seemed just as obscure as I felt.

But now, when I’m around people, I pretend to be someone else, someone less invisible. My whole persona changes when I’m around different sets of people. I’m like a Chameleon, changing shapes to blend into the people around me. I don’t feel like a real person, just a paper doll twisted into different poses. I get these thoughts, and I know they’re bad, but I can’t help it. I get angry and want to hurt people, and sometimes I can see it so vividly.

I used to self harm, not because I hated myself, but because I hated other people and would take it out on my own body. I know it’s wrong, but it feels like this dark part of me is the only part of myself I know is truly mine; not something I learned or copied from someone else just to fit in. It’s been getting worse, lately I just feel restless and insatiable. I feel wrong, so wrong in fact, that I’ve tried to determine ,myself, what’s wrong with me.

I can’t count how many online tests I’ve taken, trying to determine the flaw in my programming. I’ve never gone to a therapist, only because I know what people would think and say of me, what my parents would think and say of me. I want help, but I can’t get any without my parents knowing. I feel like if they did they’d hate me or try to get me exorcised. I don’t know what to do. I feel hopeless.

I’m happy to see sites like this, maybe, sometime in the future, I won’t have to be so afraid and unwilling to ask for help and treatment.

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Jenny S

This past April, two and a half years after arriving in Minneapolis, with the help of an amazing support team, and the same hard work and perseverance that helped me find success in running and athletics, I was able to declare myself recovered from anorexia. It was certainly a long journey and an uphill battle, as it is for anyone diagnosed with an eating disorder, but it is a battle I won. I can say without a doubt that my life is better than it has ever been. I am grateful to have regained a healthy relationship with running. I run because it’s fun and because each day I have the opportunity to get out and run. It brings a smile to my face.

My collegiate sports career started out in basketball. It was and always will be my first love. However, the transition from high school to college basketball hit me hard. It mimicked the difficulty of the transition from living at home to moving away to college. I soon found myself getting far too comfortable on the bench, and began running as a way to let out the stress of my first semester of college not going the way I had hoped it would. After basketball ended, I decided to ask the track coach if he’d let me join the track team. I soon became the sole female long distance runner on our small team. About a month later, I medaled in our conference’s indoor track championship. It was then I realized I had found where I belonged: in the world of running.

That first season of track, I trained alone a lot, and occasionally with the men. I was so naïve to running and to training at a high level. I didn’t know what an “easy” day was, but the runner’s high and the improvement I continued to see kept me hooked, ready for whatever workouts and training plans my coach brought my way, even if I didn’t understand the “why” behind what I was doing.

Four seasons of track, three seasons of cross country, and eight All-American awards later, I was granted the ability to come back for a fifth year of cross country, since I did not participate my freshman year. I desperately wanted to fulfill my dream of becoming a national champion, and unfortunately, a slight obsession with running and perfectionist tendencies turned in to a full-blown battle with anorexia.

I still saw myself as a bulky basketball player. My perfectionist mindset, combined with my own distorted body image, convinced me that was why I hadn’t been able to reach the top of the podium. Obsessive thoughts came around more often. No days off. Train three times a day. Weigh myself twice a day. Eat less. Eat only certain types of “healthy” foods. Run more. And I just kept getting faster.

I showed up to camp the lightest weight I had ever been. My coach was concerned, but I assured him it was just because we increased my mileage. I went on to have a tremendous senior season, setting PRs like crazy. I was singularly focused on winning it all. But I took third at the national meet, falling short of my ultimate goal.

Again, that perfectionist side took the best of me. Instead of being happy for all I had accomplished, I couldn’t stop beating myself up. I took one day off after my season and then began obsessively training again.

A few weeks later, thanks to my collegiate successes, I signed a professional contract. Even more miles. And faster. Even less food. Surely that would get me to the Olympic Trials, the eating disorder voice told me. I won my first professional race, the Disney World Marathon, two months after my cross country season ended. A month later, I ran the New Orleans Half Marathon. This time, another new PR, and just a few seconds away from the Olympic Trials standard. “Okay! I’m on the right path,” I thought.

One week, and 110 miles of running later, after the fastest race of my life, my body gave out on me. I had a stress fracture in my calcaneus (heel bone). I could not even walk a single step without a shooting pain all the way up my leg. Pool running and cross training—that would keep me in shape and not allow me to put any weight back on, said the eating disorder voice that was rearing its ugly head yet again. A week or two after my injury, however, a teammate of mine finally approached me about my behavior, and that day helped me begin to take my life back. She had been living with me and couldn’t help but notice how little I ate for how much I had been running and training. At that time, it certainly was not what I wanted to hear. But her words—they stuck with me. Suddenly, I began to realize how much I had isolated myself from so many people, how consumed I was by how much I needed to exercise in a day, and how completely obsessed I was with the number staring back at me as I stepped on the scale. I was sick and needed to find help.

Thanks to connections in the area I was living, I soon found a psychotherapist and a nutritionist and was diagnosed with anorexia, an eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body perception. I began the difficult process of taking an in-depth look at the underlying causes of my eating disorder, and then, how to talk back to those distorted thought patterns surrounding food, exercise, body image, relationships, and more, that had become pervasive in my life.

Related: Why Every Body Can Be A Runner

I tried to keep running professionally, but the prolonged period of undernourishment did not allow my body to cooperate, even after I had started eating more. Injuries mounted up, and a year and a half after I had signed my professional contract, it was terminated. I was at a better place mentally and physically than when I arrived, but bone density scans still showed I was on a path to osteoporosis. My body was far from healed. I knew I had plenty more work to do to find a place of peace within myself.

Within two months of leaving my first professional running group, I moved to Minneapolis. Originally I thought I would try to keep running professionally, but more injuries kept popping up. Frustrated and feeling hopeless, in stepped the Emily Program, and sports dietician Rasa Troup to help lead me on the path to recovery. I took time away from running and racing. In that time I finally learned to think of food as fuel, to recognize that runners come in all shapes and sizes and to know I was defined by so much more than the splits on my watch or the number on the scale. I learned much more about balance and moderation in exercise and in life.

This past April, two and a half years after arriving in Minneapolis, with the help of an amazing support team, and the same hard work and perseverance that helped me find success in running and athletics, I was able to declare myself recovered from anorexia. It was certainly a long journey and an uphill battle, as it is for anyone diagnosed with an eating disorder, but it is a battle I won. I can say without a doubt that my life is better than it has ever been. I am grateful to have regained a healthy relationship with running. I run because it’s fun and because each day I have the opportunity to get out and run. It brings a smile to my face. I’m thankful to be in tune with my body, knowing when it’s time for a complete rest day, and being okay with it. I am so appreciative of all that my strong body continues to do for me!

I hope my story can help remind runners to be thankful for the running and physical activity their body allows them to be able to do, and to be proud of the body they live in! Every BODY is different, so why wouldn’t you embrace your uniqueness? I also hope that my story can encourage anyone out there who may be struggling with his or her relationship with food and exercise to seek out help. Recovery from an eating disorder is possible, and with it, a brighter outlook on life!

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. If you think you may have an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise, please visit http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org, take a confidential online eating disorder screening and find more information on seeking help.

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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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little dove cole

And for almost three years now, I've felt so alone in this. I've found nobody else that has had so much trauma because of the more tornadoes. I'd love to find others who are struggling with tornado related ptsd or even just storm related trauma.

I’ve only seen one other story here even remotely similar to mine. In May 2013, I was in both outbreaks of tornadoes in the Oklahoma metro area, both on May 20 and May 31. It was especially bad for me because I was not safe.

I’m not able to drive because of a disability, so I was with my aunt and her children, who also live in Moore. She, for some reason, decided to try and drive out of town before the tornadoes got stronger, and that didn’t work. We ended up getting caught in rotation, and once or twice I did feel the car being moved around like it might leave the road.

Both outbreaks were like that, with us stuck in her little car. I was positive we’d die right there. I remember praying just to be guided through it safely, and then that changed to just, “please lord”, over and over. I can’t tell you to this day how long we were stuck on either date, and I feel like there are things that happened that I can not remember.

Since then its like it just happened last week or even yesterday. I walk around every single day in the same state of shock and loss, devastation and guilt. And for almost three years now, I’ve felt so alone in this. I’ve found nobody else that has had so much trauma because of the Moore tornadoes. I’d love to find others who are struggling with tornado related ptsd or even just storm related trauma. Thank you for allowing me to share.

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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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Susan G

I have a good Doctor which is half the battle. I live one moment at a time. My meds only do so much. I have to control my environment and keep negative people out of my life and haters.

When I was 27 I knew something wasn’t right about me. I went to a doctor, secretly, and was told I had schizoaffective disorder. That means bipolar and schizophrenia. I was on meds for about two months and lost my job when they found out. Stigma at its worst. I totally denied having this. I was just too young. When I turned thirty four it reared its ugly head again. I didn’t know who to tell or what to say.

One day I decided to run down the street in my pajamas – I still don’t know why. I was hospitalized over and over until I got on the right meds. I’ve had eight serious suicide attempts due to stigma mainly and the fact that I didn’t want to live like this anymore.

I gave up on suicide. It just wasn’t my time. I take my meds.  I have a good Doctor which is half the battle. I live one moment at a time. My meds only do so much. I have to control my environment and keep negative people out of my life and haters. My adult son lives with me and he’s seen me do a lot of “in my own world” things. He doesn’t understand it. I don’t expect him to. I wouldn’t understand it either if this hell didn’t happen to me.

I don’t think about suicide anymore. I just brush the stigma off. I have renewed my faith in Jesus and try to do church activities, but sometimes it is hard when you can’t be dependable. I have to give a shout out to my parents who are so understanding and supportive. I believe the Lord sent me four good friends with the same illness. Maybe I will find a husband like me but I am used to being isolated and not getting out much.

Peace to you all and keep your heads up. You’re just as good as anyone else.

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Karli

So I'd like society to tell me what to do here. If nobody talks about what's wrong with me, and what people like me and so many others have to deal with, do you expect all of us not to do anything? Not to say anything? I think we've suffered in silence long enough, and I think it's time we end all the false presumptions about mental illness and start learning, start talking.

When you have to live with something like this, it’s the pits.

I’ve dealt with mental illness for as long as I can remember. A wide variety of labels were slapped on my forehead at such a young age– OCD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia. Of course, only a few of them turned out to actually be my problem here. But growing up with the ever-growing mystery of “what’s wrong with her” and not having a clear-cut answer drove both me and my family crazy.

Don’t get me wrong– I was a pretty cute kid. People loved me. My family loved me. But there would be times when they just didn’t know how to deal with me. They didn’t understand how to discipline my behaviour, because they didn’t understand what could possibly cause me to act this way. My parents and siblings often fought over how to handle me, thinking if they said “knock it off” enough that one of these times it would actually work. Nobody knew what was really going on, especially not me. Not even the five psychiatrists I’d gone through knew.

As I got older, it became even harder to deal with and even more prominent. I was suddenly surrounded by friends, who, being my own age and more “in with the times” as you could say, might understand whatever was wrong with me. But, of course, being impressionable teenagers, that wasn’t the case, and I knew that as soon as I heard the phrase “oh she’s so bipolar” “i failed my test im so depressed” “oh go kill yourself lol” thrown around like they were nothing. Jokes. It was treated like a joke.

The first time I tried to get them to understand, these friends of mine finally explained their view on the topic. They told me that they didn’t think people who self-harmed or were suicidal were in any pain whatsoever, that they were just seeking attention and the whole topic was stupid and something to be made fun of. Essentially, they had no understanding of mental illness whatsoever. So what does a young and impressionable teenager do when faced with a situation like this? Nothing. I hid behind a mask of normalcy and happiness all throughout high school and middle school, acting like nothing was wrong, and it was the absolute worst.

Things didn’t really get much better. I was surrounded by ignorance; nobody knew. They just weren’t educated, and they acted like it was a hushed-up topic. It was never stressed how common a thing it is; it was never stressed that anyone can have it; and most importantly, it was never talked about.

So I’d like society to tell me what to do here. If nobody talks about what’s wrong with me, and what people like me and so many others have to deal with, do you expect all of us not to do anything? Not to say anything? I think we’ve suffered in silence long enough, and I think it’s time we end all the false presumptions about mental illness and start learning, start talking.

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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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Taylor J

Actions I took leading me to the path of recovery were never right, nor wrong, but simply another step forward. I did not have to do it alone. The heaviness that sunk in my chest started to become lighter, allowing me to breathe a little better and speak a little louder. When my illness first developed, I thought strength came from the ability to hide emotions and handle them completely on one’s own. However, when I showed vulnerability, allowing my feelings to pour into words, I seized a strength that many people run away from. The way we view and talk about those who have a mental illness needs to be addressed. There is no “getting over it” or “calming down;” it is an illness of the brain with life altering repercussions. Living with mental illness did not make me a stronger person, but it let me wonder, learn, and fight for a cause needing further recognition.

As children, we are told to eat our vegetables, brush our teeth, bathe, sleep regularly and, if we fall or get injured, to ask for help. But, when we fall or get hurt by feelings such as loneliness or hopelessness, we hesitate asking for the same care as we would for a physical injury.

The illnesses I have been diagnosed with are not curable, and have major potential of relapse. However, they are treatable and can be well-managed. The most exhausting days within my recovery were spent in bed; breathing to stay alive when my mind convinced me to stop. My illness thrived on isolation which challenged my ability to communicate.

Stigma is resulted by basing judgment off little information and acceptance. When stigma is involved, it creates a barrier for people to ask questions or come forward with honest concern due to the fear of discrimination, rejection, and ridicule from others. Unfortunately, stigma of mental illness continues to be active in politics, families, schools, organizations, work, and much more.

While learning about my diagnoses, I noticed I placed significant value and practice toward physical health and hygiene, but less effort and value toward mental wellbeing. It is no surprise that the topic of mental illness has been poorly addressed, since we are not taught to take care of our brain the same way we take care of the rest of our body. Likewise, when television broadcasts mass terrorist attacks stating the root cause as mental illness, it is easy to believe the myth that those who have mental illness are doomed to be dangerous and unpredictable.

With the brain being the most complex yet crucial organ of the body, a diagnosis of mental illness can present debilitating symptoms both mentally and physically. Despite proof of physical evidence, overall health is diminished along with quality of life. We would not let a broken leg fix itself, or hope that heart disease magically heals on its own. If the severity of mental illness is discredited, the value of a person’s wellbeing becomes limited. Signs and symptoms are often ignored or poorly communicated, increasing the risk of suicide and other catastrophic events of those affected by untreated or unknown mental illness.

As a child, I myself trusted the myths surrounding mental illness. I believed those who committed suicide were selfish, that depression meant a person was lazy, and anxiety was an attention-seeking tactic. But as I grew older, I became victim to the world of mental illness. During my most severe symptoms, I often became frustrated with feelings of failure. Tasks that seemed to flow so smoothly for others were my most challenging achievements. Lifting my body out of bed had been a daily struggle that lead me to question my purpose of living. I battled endless thoughts of unworthiness, blame, guilt, and shame starting at the young age of 8.

Growing up, I lived in a wealthy and religious community where my feelings were held in silence. I did not understand why I felt the way I did, which lead me to conclude that I was ungrateful and selfish. Since I appeared healthy, it was hard to vocalize and gain support for something I could not show. As I tried to use my voice to express what felt wrong, it became paralyzed by the overwhelming stigma attached to mental illness. Many of my friends, family, and other individuals would press for answers, looking for an explanation, only to blame my character as being flawed. Instead of my illness, I was frequently viewed as an inconvenience and burden to others. This lead to a dangerous cycle of self-abuse which was used to soothe intense emotions I was unable to speak about.

Over time, my mind became crippled by crushing loneliness. I controlled my tiring thoughts by numbing the feelings I was ashamed of having. Through punishment such as starvation, purging, or puncturing my skin, I found temporary relief that reflected the way I felt inside. In order to repress my emotions, my mind flooded with obsessive thoughts, behaviors, and rituals that devoted my life to a world of numbers.

I was driven by the bathroom floor scale which determined my worth. Calories, weight, inches, clothing sizes, and the number of protruding bones I could count on my body were all methods to escape the misery of my mind. I thought that if I was able to feel pain physically, then it would be valid and real and people would be able to see the suffering I was in. However, I never got to that point and continued to appear healthy, despite my body weakening within. This influenced my behavior to escalate; drowning my head with toxic beliefs.
Unhealthy brain signals convinced me that I deserved punishment; virtually dying from a slow and painful suicide. After years of damage to my body, I began to lose power in my ability to function. At 19 years old, I attempted to take my own life. I did not believe I would ever get better or that the pain would end. I was desperate for a way to disconnect from excruciating torture I put myself through. I was living a life of pure blame and failure that sunk heavy in my chest. Until I was hospitalized, I was unaware of any other option.
I was later diagnosed with major depression, panic disorder, and bulimia nervosa. An absence of understanding and compassion was considerably high from those who were in my life. I was often told by family to try harder, as they were frustrated with my episodes of relapse. I was told I was not doing enough, desperately seeking attention and did not appreciate life which is why I was not getting better. Over and over again, I was told other people have “real” problems, but that did not make my illness go away.

I began to notice the lack of knowledge and education people had about mental illness, including myself. Once I started to learn about the illnesses I was diagnosed with, I quickly discovered that I was not alone in the battle I was fighting. Through various treatments of medication and therapy I learned that my mental illness did not identify me as a person; my symptoms were simply symptoms – not an expression of my character. I also learned that having a support system was vital to recovery, though that was not as easy to find as I thought.

Though I lost support from my family, I was able to find the help and care I deserved. In the most unexpected ways, I gained hope through school, work, and volunteering. From long friendships to new ones, I was provided unconditional love and promise of my worthiness to live. My number one supporter had to be me; vowing to take care of my wellbeing from the inside out. This meant doctor and therapy appointments, meal plans, medications, and the courage to be unapologetically myself.

What I know for certain about life is that it changes constantly.

The success I have built through recovery has been discovered as a journey rather than a destination. At first, I was clueless on how to take care of myself. Lab results and hospitalization confirmed that I was at risk of losing my life. I had to change my behaviors, thoughts, and the way I felt about myself.

Recovery meant letting go of the life I was living to begin the life that was waiting for me. To begin my journey, I first had to believe I was worthy of the trip. I had to persist through all the crummy parts that manipulated my opportunities to succeed. With nutrition I was provided in the course of treatment, my body began to heal years of damage. I started to break free from an abusive long-term relationship with my illness and understand what happiness meant to me.

Actions I took leading me to the path of recovery were never right, nor wrong, but simply another step forward. I did not have to do it alone. The heaviness that sunk in my chest started to become lighter, allowing me to breathe a little better and speak a little louder. When my illness first developed, I thought strength came from the ability to hide emotions and handle them completely on one’s own. However, when I showed vulnerability, allowing my feelings to pour into words, I seized a strength that many people run away from.
The way we view and talk about those who have a mental illness needs to be addressed. There is no “getting over it” or “calming down;” it is an illness of the brain with life altering repercussions. Living with mental illness did not make me a stronger person, but it let me wonder, learn, and fight for a cause needing further recognition.

Not enough credit is given to those fighting, supporting, and conquering mental illness. In a country so advanced with social media and communication, it is sad that mental illness is still kept in the dark. With more awareness, education, curiosity, and acceptance; we have the power to illuminate the message of speaking up over giving up.

I learned that happiness is not located on a magical land or end of a race track; it is a continuing feeling I get with experiences I dare to explore. Without my illness holding me back, I am able to internalize the joy and acceptance I have wondered about since I was a child.

To connect with those around us I believe we must value the human mind with the same care and diligence that we do our physical health. I share my story to fight the stigma against mental illness and let others take comfort in knowing they are not alone. I no longer let debilitating thoughts deplete my power to thrive, but vocalize them to shed light on a grim and dark reality. In turn, I have found that mental illness (such as depression) is a common secret shared by many.

Recovery is possible, proven, and promising. The battle may be difficult, but it is one worth fighting. For so long, I wondered what was wrong with me only to realize there is something wrong with the way we treat others. We all have the ability to change what we least desire with a foundation of self-love. Though I have shared my story thus far, it is nowhere close to over, as I continue to keep myself safe and healthy.

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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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Maryann G

Mental illness comes in all forms and unfortunately is put on a short list. So I understand the stigma and the neglect of all the mentally ill and I am happy to finally have found somewhere that I can tell my story. Thank you to Glenn Close and all the people involved in this cause, I salute you!!

I came out of an abusive marriage after 25 years that left me damaged mentally. I didn’t realize during that whole time that I was suffering from a form of mental disease. I had 2 children and the first, my daughter, who I love dearly, had to see and hear the ravings of her father. No child should have to live through such an experience. The guilt and shame of what I felt was my fault still haunts me to this day.

One day now over 15 plus years ago, my ex called me, out of the blue and told me to come home, collect my belongings and get out! I was in a state of panic. I had to call on my daughter for help. Now my other child, my son, was left with this monster and again I was left with more shame and guilt. I couldn’t think at all. I had been going to a counseling center for domestic abuse, and although I’d made some progress, it just wasn’t enough to really help me. Being forced out of my home put me into a heightened state panic, anxiety and fear.

My sister, who always been there to help me; intervened and took me to our primary care doctor, and told him the story of what I had gone through and now how I needed help. He agreed, sat with and told me he was going to give a script for Xanax, which he said would calm me down and help with the panic attacks and anxiety for the time being. Well after a very long time, I realized I had to take steps to find someone and somewhere to help with my suffering mental state. I was given another prescription by a primary care doctor, who after a time told me that I would have to see a psychiatrist for further examination. Well I went to a place that began my journey into the Medication Factory ! There wasn’t any help there…..just a doctor who had a prescription pad and that was that! Being in such an unfamiliar world, I unfortunately accepted this treatment. I was living alone and had to maintain a job to earn a living and my mental state would keep me home unable to even get out of bed.

The most important thing I missed was a DIAGNOSIS of my condition !!! I was suffering so much and the only thing I had to count on were anti depression meds ! I tried many times to get the help I needed but to no avail. I finally realized that this was all the help I was going to get and it came from a large variety of drugs that I was prescribed ! Till this day I have not been diagnosed or have I been able to find a professional who could really listen and help me.

Mental illness comes in all forms and unfortunately is put on a short list. So I understand the stigma and the neglect of all the mentally ill and I am happy to finally have found somewhere that I can tell my story.

Thank you to Glenn Close and all the people involved in this cause, I salute you !!

I now am retired and live in South Florida near to my sister and her family.

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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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Julia L

My name is Julia, I am 18 years old. I have suffered from social anxiety for quite some time, and I recently wrote a letter to a stranger that will probably never know it was them. This letter is a very accurate representation of how social anxiety impacts my life. Here is my letter to a stranger:

My name is Julia, I am 18 years old. I have suffered from social anxiety for quite some time, and I recently wrote a letter to a stranger that will probably never know it was them. This letter is a very accurate representation of how social anxiety impacts my life. Here is my letter to a stranger:

Dear stranger,

Yes, I heard that you have just said hello. I know that you are noticing the way my hands are shaking and my cheeks are flushing. I haven’t responded yet, and I know it’s been a whole thirty-two seconds, I’ve counted them in my head. Do not be alarmed, I am not sick, I am not contagious. I will not bite, but I will not talk. And if I do talk, god forbid, I am internally critiquing myself in extreme detail. Yes, I know my voice is shaking. I know I am not making eye-contact. No, I am not being rude. Please don’t roll your eyes when I don’t respond to your questions. I would really like to start a conversation, I just can’t.

Today is a hard day for me, I have those days sometimes. I cannot engage in casual conversation with you, stranger, and I cannot ask the man who gave me tuna-salad instead of egg-salad to make a new sandwich. I guarantee you that on a day like this, I had a difficult time climbing out of bed this morning. Today is not the day to ask me how I’m doing, unless you’d like to hear an extensive dialogue about how my brain is moving a million miles an hour and I didn’t study for this class and I’m worried about failing the test now becauseIamtryingsohardIreallyreallyam.

I’ve just started counseling, and I’m trying new ways to control my thoughts and avoid having a panic attack… But some days I just cannot speak. And I am sorry that all I could say back was a weak “hello,” and I am sorry that we didn’t get to talk about how confusing this chapter is. I’m sorry I didn’t ask for your phone number to start a study group. I’msorryyouseemverynicebuttodaymyheadismovingamillionmilesanhourandIjustcannotspeak.

I’m sorry that today was not a good day for you to say hello, but I promise you I’ve thought about that hello about one-thousand times today. I cannot be gracious enough for that hello. But today is not the day that I will answer your questions. Today is not the day that I will ask for your phone number to start a study group. Today is not the day. But thank you. And I hope you will tell me hello again soon.

With anticipation,

Me

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Matthew O

In January 2016 I will be auditioning for the TV show THE VOICE. This is what I believe I was born to do and I'm not going to let any person or any illness stand in my way of following my dreams of becoming a singer.

Hi my name is Matthew Olson and I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when I was 16. I’ve always loved the theater and singing. I have had a hard life got into drug addiction even stealing things to get high which in the long run made my schizophrenia 100 times worse. Now I’ve been clean for quite awhile. I have held a part time job at Walmart for about 3yrs but there is something missing. Singing.

In January 2016 I will be auditioning for the TV show THE VOICE. This is what I believe I was born to do and I’m not going to let any person or any illness stand in my way of following my dreams of becoming a singer. Even if I don’t get through the first audition, the experience will last a lifetime. I would not only make myself and my family proud, I hope I can inspire others that have that voice and mental illness to come out of the shadow we call stigma and follow their dreams as well.

Ty bringchange2mind

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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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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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Monica

Mental health is a topic hard to speak of. But we have to talk about it and only love. Stop the stigma that surrounds it all. And help those who struggle to stand tall.

Wanted to share a poem I wrote this morning after an incredibly difficult night for my child written straight from my heart—we will overcome and we’ll continue to have a conversation with the masses about it—thank you BC2M for this site and an outlet to share on!!!!

-He’s So Brave In My Eyes-
In a world where health and happiness should reside
Sometimes it doesn’t only for the person inside
It’s a silent illness of which no one understands
And we can only put it in Gods sweet hands

To be the one who struggles each day
And I the one who has to watch and pray
For hope and light to surround my son
One day HE will answer and the battle will be won

We got this Jeffrey no doubt about that
Even though some days more difficult in fact
And we think this is too much to conquer
God says yes you can and I’ll make you stronger

I believe with all my might in HIS healing
That’s the only way to be and keep on feeling
So with that said let’s figure this out
I’ll always be here for you have no doubt

Mental health is a topic hard to speak of
But we have to talk about it and only love
Stop the stigma that surrounds it all
And help those who struggle to stand tall

Soooooo—thank you to my family and friends
For the love and comfort you always lend!!!

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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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Brenda R

My message is: whenever you see a lost soul or suspect that a person on the street suffers from mental illness, try to remember that they are someone's sister, daughter or son and they are loved very much.

As a child I went through the heart-wrenching experience of watching my beloved older sister develop schizophrenia. Before that she was always such a strong, beautiful, fun and creative person.   I looked up to her so much: she taught me how to play guitar, how to draw and to write poetry. Watching her lose her grip on reality over several years right in her prime of life was terrifying. She reacted to her illness with several suicide attempts that I’ll also never forget. In time she was diagnosed and treated with every medication known to man over her tragic life. I watched her struggle in and out of psychosis, homelessness and the mental health system. Despite it all, she had a great sense of humor. She had a heart attack 9 months ago and remains on a ventilator today. My message is: whenever you see a lost soul or suspect that a person on the street suffers from mental illness,  try to remember that they are someone’s sister, daughter or son and they are loved very much.

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Mandi

While I was reluctant to receive treatment, I now realize the positive impact it has had on my life. So I encourage you, if you are struggling with mental health problems, reach out. Ask for help. You'll be amazed where your life can go. This is only the beginning of a life long journey for me, but I know one thing... I'm not giving up on my goals and dreams. Neither should you.

I was the girl who had everything all figured out. Who knew where she was going in life and what her goals were. That was, until I had my first episode of psychosis at age 18. I was in the middle of my senior year when everything came crashing down on me. I no longer knew who I was and I had lost my grip on reality. I isolated myself and became depressed, and before I knew it I could no longer do so much as form a sentence. It wasn’t until a family member took me to the local psychiatric hospital that I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type.

The diagnosis scared me beyond belief. What did the future hold for me? Was I going to be able to live a normal life? So many questions raced through my mind. I was hospitalized for a week, and it ended up being the best week of my life. I learned so many things, and the torture and suffering I was experiencing was laid to rest by proper medication.

Since, I have had only mild mood episodes and no schizophrenia symptoms. While I was reluctant to receive treatment, I now realize the positive impact it has had on my life. So I encourage you, if you are struggling with mental health problems, reach out. Ask for help. You’ll be amazed where your life can go. This is only the beginning of a life long journey for me, but I know one thing… I’m not giving up on my goals and dreams. Neither should you.

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Matana Poupko Jacobs, Owner and Founder of GIVIA

That’s why I created GIVIA - to pay it forward. If you feel alone and that you don’t have support, you can’t make the necessary changes. You feel trapped, and it can perpetuate the cycle. Support is important on any journey, but especially when you’re figuring out a mental exceptionality, one that changes your whole identity.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay: How Support Makes a Difference

One night I woke up and thought that I was dying. I couldn’t breathe. The walls were closing in on me. The pressure on my chest was going to break me. Nothing I did helped my situation. In fact, it seemed to intensify everything.

I thought, “This is it.” I thought that I was going crazy. I didn’t know what was going on. I was hesitant and unsure of myself. I didn’t know anyone else who had experienced this. How do you bring this sort of thing up in conversation? More questions arose – “Would I ever be normal again?” “What would people think of me?” “Should I tell someone, and risk their reaction?” I was afraid this would ostracize me from my friends, colleagues, and family. I’d become known as “that one” who had “that thing”.

Eventually, I learned that what I experienced was a panic attack, and I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. At the time, I thought that only medicines with names you could not pronounce would help.

I also learned how people react when they learn you have panic attacks and an anxiety disorder. They either oversimplify it saying, “We all get stressed out,” or dismiss it entirely, “So? Fight it. It’s all in your head.” I was made to feel weak, and as if I were blowing things out of proportion. In ways, I can control it; it’s not that simple and, yet, it is.

I started therapy and began working with healers. It changed my life when I learned that I could work with the trauma using meditation and making other lifestyle changes. I had control. I felt empowered and free. The steps that I took enabled me to stop taking medication. I didn’t need it because I was feeling and experiencing long-lasting positive effects that no drug could give me. I was also able to make these changes because I had the right people around me – friends and family who were positive, understanding, and loving.

Their support brought me back to life in a way that I’ve never experienced before. My support system let me know that I was a part of something greater and that I’m loved and heard – feelings no other experience (especially in the rat race) could give me.

That’s why I created GIVIA – to pay it forward. If you feel alone and that you don’t have support, you can’t make the necessary changes. You feel trapped, and it can perpetuate the cycle. Support is important on any journey, but especially when you’re figuring out a mental exceptionality, one that changes your whole identity.

The right support group will help you accept the fact that it’s okay to be not okay. It’s a very liberating notion that alleviates a lot of pressure, and gifts courage. Movements like Bring Change 2 Mind give that courage and create conversations that we need to have as a society to create a more accepting world.

The unaccepting people that I was afraid of were manifestations of my own fear of uncertainty, of the unknown, and of adjusting to my new identity. With knowledge, a plan in place, and a support system, I am able to send love to those people. My fear was alleviated. I know who I am, and I know that I am more than my challenges.

By making small changes and taking small steps, we can create a greater community and support system so that more and more people know that it’s okay to not be okay. As they live a better life, they can live by example – inspiring and continuing the ripple of change.

Whether it’s small changes to your daily routine or small change you donate to a cause, small change adds up. For this reason, I am thrilled that Bring Change 2 Mind is now one of GIVIA’s selected charities.

Though donating a portion of GIVIA’s fee to a charity of choice may not seem much, I know that we are creating change every time someone processes a credit card.

GIVIA is a non-traditional credit card processor that donates 25% of its net income to wellness charities at no extra cost to its clients.

Together, we will make the world a better place one swipe at a time.

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Christona C

I know my parents don't understand mental illnesses and feel it's only for (in their words) "weak minded people or attention seeking teenagers" but if they only understood how worthless and hopeless you have to feel about yourself before attempting to end your life...maybe they wouldn't have turned their backs on me when all I really needed was a hug. I hope no one ever feels the way my toxic family has made me feel. No one deserves this.

My last suicide attempt, and I say last because there have been several, my parents didn’t even leave their camp site after being notified. When I called them to ask why my dad told me to “grow up, make better choices, and stop being so selfish”. My mom said something that I will never forget…”you got yourself there, now get yourself out.”

I was in the medical hospital for 4 days while my heart was being stabilized. My mom didn’t come to see me until the last day, even though she works in the hospital I was being treated at. The visit wasn’t pleasant to say the least. Once in the psych hospital, I didn’t receive one phone call or visitor. Since I have been discharged, my mom stated (in front of an authority figure) that I am no longer welcome in their home. My mom even started a group messaging thread through Facebook to let only certain members of our family and 4 of her bar buddies know I am not welcome in my parents home, false information, and just plain unnecessary comments that should never have been put out on the internet.

After one family member read the dirty laundry my mom was airing on the internet, they told me how disappointed in my mom’s actions they were. Once my mom found out the family member who showed me the “secret update messages” and that I was in their home still, my mom threatened to call the law and get that person in trouble if they helped me and didn’t get me out of their home. I was asked to leave and haven’t been to another family members house since. I was evicted from my apartment, kids out into foster care and have been begging my local community mental health for any kind of follow up out patient appointment since being discharged over a month ago but still don’t have one.

As a result of being shunned by my family and no support when I need it and am asking for it, I was forced to relocate to another state, leave my children behind (I will come back for them once I am stable), and start over with only friends for support. Only my mom’s bar buddies are participating in her immature posts and general lack of education on her only child’s mental illness to this day. Both of my parents tell me I’ve been doing this behavioral pattern since I was young and to get professional help but yet they are angry with me for it and will not speak to me.

I know my parents don’t understand mental illnesses and feel it’s only for (in their words) “weak minded people or attention seeking teenagers” but if they only understood how worthless and hopeless you have to feel about yourself before attempting to end your life…maybe they wouldn’t have turned their backs on me when all I really needed was a hug. I hope no one ever feels the way my toxic family has made me feel. No one deserves this.

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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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Stacey

Supporting somebody in dealing with mental illness doesn't just mean supporting them in seeking treatment, although this is an important piece. It also means supporting them in being themselves, in adapting to a "new normal" - and helping them see that no matter what is happening in their life, they are still deserving of respect, love, and acceptance.

“Accept and love me as I am, not who I used to be or who I could become.” — Joyce Drush

For the past 3 years I’ve shared Facebook Notes about why the NAMI Walk is so important to me. As my friend’s experiences with mental illness have progressed over the years, so has my understanding of what support and advocacy really means. Three years ago my note was about the long nights on the phone when she was suicidal, trying to deal with the voices telling her to hurt herself…two years ago it was about a long period of psychosis, the result of professionals’ failure to take her (or me) seriously as the voices took over and she started to lose control…last year it was about the importance of human connection, and what maintaining this friendship has meant for me. My post last year was pretty popular – it was shared on several mental health sites, and published in the NAMI magazine. But when I look back at it now, there’s a piece of it that bothers me – my repeated reference to her getting “back to herself” or back to the “old” her.

For me, the past year has been about acceptance. My friend is still extremely depressed, but she knows who I am, and what’s happening around her, and on good days we can have great conversations. But sometimes in the middle of a conversation she’s suddenly responding to the voices, or talking to somebody I know isn’t there, or matter-of-factly telling me about how her watch and earbuds let her teleport. Medical and environmental stressors over the past few months have pushed her to the brink of what she can handle emotionally, and unfortunately are likely to get worse before they get better. Sometimes when things get to be too overwhelming, she stops fighting and lets the voices take over, or shuts down completely. In the past, I would get frustrated by this – in the beginning, I’d feel the need to point out to her that she wasn’t making sense, or try to reason with her. After lots of trial and error I realized that wasn’t the way to go…I learned how to talk to her during those times, but I still felt frustrated and discouraged that she wasn’t “herself.” What I’ve realized over the past year is that she is who she is, and it’s awfully hypocritical for me to try to get her to be more positive about herself when I’m still not really accepting her for who she is. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still hope for her that one day the voices are gone and she can be happy and at peace and fully in our shared reality. But it does mean that she is still a whole person, worthy of love and acceptance, regardless of what she’s experiencing. I’ve learned to be supportive and compassionate in responding to the emotion of what she’s saying, even if the words aren’t logical. And it’s made a difference, for both of us. As I stopped taking things personally and stopped trying to “fix” her, she went from picking fights to telling me how I was the only one who ever really tried to understand her. For me, instead of ending every phone call feeling frustrated and upset, I felt more empathy for her.

Supporting somebody in dealing with mental illness doesn’t just mean supporting them in seeking treatment, although this is an important piece. It also means supporting them in being themselves, in adapting to a “new normal” – and helping them see that no matter what is happening in their life, they are still deserving of respect, love, and acceptance. This may seem like common sense, but stigma is a huge barrier to making it a reality. Society as a whole recoils from the idea of hearing voices, from diagnoses like schizophrenia, from those “crazy psychos” who must be mass murderers in the making. Until people can adopt a more realistic understanding of mental illness, and accept people with mental illness as fellow humans dealing with a medical condition, stigma will remain a barrier. It shouldn’t be this way, and it doesn’t have to be. Statistics say that 1 in 4 adults in the US will deal with a mental illness at some point in their life. As I’ve talked about my friend’s experiences (with her blessing), I’ve seen the “No kidding, me too” phenomenon in full force. People have shared their own stories with me, about themselves, their family, their friends…stories I never would have known without having that conversation. Mental illness is a part of all of our lives in one way or another, and it shouldn’t have to be a secret. Organizations like NAMI and BringChange2Mind work to fight the stigma of mental illness, and to raise awareness of the need for improvements in the mental health system. I walk because I hope to support a future in which people like my friend will have an easier path to walk.

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Mary M

He soon began having to tap on his knees in even numbers, first with his right hand and then with his left. He did this in this fashion, this rhythm, each time, especially when he would play video games. I’m not sure why he felt he needed to do this, and I’m sure he didn’t know why either, it simply was necessary. I know this because seven-year-olds tell you about such things.

Two Knocks, December 13, 2013

He sat quietly in a booth nearest the window watching the people file into the gas station across the street. He had traveled 72 miles, on foot, to end up at Pat’s Pizzeria staring out the window and waiting for further instructions. One knock and you go home, two knocks and you cross the street. He waited for the knocks. One, two. He was sure he had heard two.

Decades earlier, when he was three-years-old, his favorite color was black. His older siblings liked all the colors of the rainbow and would color with them happily. Not him, he hated to color and he would only use the black crayon when I convinced him to try. This was the first time I remember thinking there may be something wrong with him or, at least, something different…but I had no idea what was to come. No one did, including him.

He soon began having to tap on his knees in even numbers, first with his right hand and then with his left. He did this in this fashion, this rhythm, each time, especially when he would play video games. I’m not sure why he felt he needed to do this, and I’m sure he didn’t know why either, it simply was necessary. I know this because seven-year-olds tell you about such things.

By age nine he was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD and had developed a facial tic. In class he would compensate by pretending that there was something very interesting on his right hand side which caused him to jerk so suddenly in that direction. Naturally, he would have to do this several times a day in accordance with the arrival of the unpredictable tic. I’m not sure that his classmates bought it. As a matter of fact, I’m sure they did not, but I assured him that they did. I always tried to calm his fears. I was a good mother.

There were so many doctors and so many failed medicines. Nothing worked because no one knew what was wrong with him. One doctor thought it could be Asperger’s, but every other doctor disagreed. A teacher suspected he may be having mini seizures so he was tested for this too but no, it wasn‘t that.

In third grade it was discovered that he had an above average IQ, 139, but yet he was failing in all areas….math, reading, social skills…all of it. This immediately made him eligible for Special Education classes which continued with him thru high school. He hated this and I hated the annual IEP meetings. Each year his teachers and I would get together and come up with his Individual Education Plan, “the plan”, as it was called. It was a bunch of bullshit. Designed only, it seemed, to check off boxes on a sheet of paper because it never really helped him. But then, nothing helped him, not me, not the doctors and certainly not the public school system.

By age fourteen he discovered pot. He used to sneak up into the crawl space above the garage and get high with his friends before I got home from work. This time was particularly hard on me because I was so sure he would be spared the life of his father. I was wrong. He loved his pot and I couldn’t stop him. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough.

With the drugs arrived the usual cast of under-achievers in his life, Kevin, Ben, Trip and Lacey…bonded by their indifference to the world around them and their love of drugs, rock and rap and skipping school.

Ben and Lacey were a couple when I first met her. She was beautiful, too beautiful for Ben. Why would such a beautiful girl hang out with these rebel boys? To this day I still do not understand why she would sit in his room with the other boys and play video games and read for hours on end. She was….is, so quiet. I still do not know Lacey and I am sure I never will. But what I do know is that she loved him for a time and for this I will always be grateful.

In the days of junior high and high school I took him to see many different psychologists. Too many to name, less one, Chuck, who was his favorite. Chuck introduced him to Buddhism. It was a perfect fit, he being so passive and kind. I used to think he may just make it to Tibet one day. If anyone could, it would be him, I remember thinking this…or hoping this…a lot. But neither Buddhism nor Chuck could help him. He continued to do poorly in school, hang out with his friends and smoke their pot. And then, in his senior year of high school, came the miracle.

I remember the days leading up to it very clearly. We had visited the dentist and discovered his wisdom teeth were impacted and needed to be removed. After the surgery I brought him home to recover. I remember thinking he looked as though someone had hit him in the face with a baseball bat. His jaw was so swollen it was really difficult to look at him. He was seventeen and able to drive on his own so I let him return for his follow up visit the next week by himself. It was then, when he returned home from this visit, that things began to change.

He was suddenly alive. Really alive. He was smiling and happy and excited to share with me his plans for the future. Now, for most families, this may not be considered a miracle but it was to me. Since the days of the black crayons he was depressed and void of any plans for his future. Yet, here he was, home from the dentist’s office and all of a sudden excited and filled with ideas and plans! It was, simply put, a miracle.

He was gushing with excitement to tell me….he wanted to become a nurse! We were both so excited. I know I cried…he was going to be okay! He began staying up late, every night, researching nursing programs and then jumping up early for school each morning. He received “The Most Improved” award from the principal, Mr. P. We all went to the ceremony, I was so filled with pride as I watched him walk up on that stage…..but then, a few weeks later, the other shoe dropped. On a spring day in May I got the call that changed our lives forever.

I had received many calls from his school regarding his behavior over the years but never one quite like this. It was from Mr. P. He never made the calls but today it was him on the phone and he said, “Mary, you need to get down here right away. There is something very wrong with him. We have never seen him like this before. Please come right away.”

When I arrived I was immediately shuffled into the main conference room where he, the school psychologist, several of his teachers, the assistant vice principal and Mr. P. were seated around the table waiting for me. He was dressed in weird clothing that I later learned he had purchased from the local thrift store. He resembled what I’m sure he thought was a college professor. He wore brown corduroy pants, a navy blazer and a button down shirt. A far cry from his typical band t-shirt and faded jeans. All he needed was the pipe. He sat quietly, legs crossed, ready for our meeting. He was in total control.

Mr. P. began the meeting. Apparently, he had shown up to school that day with hundreds of leaflets that he began passing out to his classmates and teachers calling it his Manifesto. He went on to explain to us, “It is a very important piece of work that will resolve many of the problems affecting this nation and the globe.” He was so humble, so proud! “Of course”, he continued, “there are consequences, but ones I am willing to accept. Once the CIA and the FBI discover what I have written they will have me assassinated. By the way, Mom,” he said, as he pointed to the phone on the desk, “They have already begun tapping our phone at home.”

Everyone was silent. They all looked at me to say something, anything, but what could I say? I focused and then, finally, I said, “Honey, maybe we should go to the hospital and talk to the doctors because they are really smart and they would know what to do or say.” He agreed so we went. It was that simple.

When we arrived at the hospital I didn’t know exactly how to describe to the receptionist why we were there. Words like “psychotic” or “manic” were not yet part of my vocabulary yet. Instead, I asked him to explain his theory to her. Thank God, she understood. He was given a gown and asked to wait in a bay in the ER for the attending physician. I kept him occupied and quiet, marveling together at his writings. In reality, the writing was crammed onto the page and written, in some instances, in circles. Literally, the words were written in circles around the page. It was all nonsense but to him it was a work of art, or more specifically, the answer to all mankind’s social economic problems. He was to be famous….

We waited for what seemed to be an eternity when Jim finally arrived. Again, I didn’t know how to explain what was happening so I asked him to explain the details of his Manifesto to Jim. Jim began to reason with him, trying to unscramble the words that he had written. THIS was too much for him. He jumped up from the bed, ran thru the corridor out of the ER and into the main receptionist area. There, with nowhere else to go, he leaped up onto the receptionist’s desk, stripped off his gown and shouted, “Repent! Repent! Jesus died on the cross for your sins!”

What happened next is today a distant memory of things long, long ago. He was taken down from his perch, covered with a blanket and given a shot, some type of sedative. I remember people looking at us, staring at me, as if to ask, ‘Who is this person, this freak?’ I didn’t know either but I would soon find out.

Once he woke, he was admitted to the mental health ward of the hospital. Luckily, since he was only 17, to the juvenile section. This, I remember, was a huge relief. How could my baby be put in with psychotic men and women? Better that it be with other children like him.

When the diagnosis came, it was startling. But, finally, after all these years, I had an answer that made sense. He was schizophrenic. Schizoaffective, to be exact. Simply put, he has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He has it all. It made perfect sense.

Another day I will have the strength to write about the next eight years but not today. In short, soon after his first psychotic break he and Lacey moved to Miami together, were fine for a while and then he relapsed. He doesn’t believe he is ill, he thinks it is us, the ones who love him, that cannot see. He is clairvoyant, can we not see this? Can we not see the signs like he does? Why does no one understand? This is his world which is why, on a cold December night; he walked out of his brother’s home in Downingtown, Pennsylvania to Edgewood, Maryland.

After he was sure there had been two knocks, he paid for his slice of pizza, walked out the door and crossed the street to the gas station.

He is 27 years old and the love of my life, my Michael, can anyone help him?

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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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Wendy U

I would have died if I had not developed 30 personalities to help me cope, and survive. What I used to call the curse of my life I found out is the miracle! That is why I love butterflies so much. The caterpillar called it the end of the world, the butterfly called it the miracle. I was also given people in my life to help me heal and grow into something greater.

My name is Wendy. I am a mother of three amazing children. I am the Grammy to five grandchildren…under the age of five!! I have two little dogs. I was married 25 years and have been divorced for 8 years. I am an artist, a musician, a writer, a singer, a youth camp councilor for 30 years,and I am mentally ill. I have been hospitalized 11 times. The last in 2005.

I have been with the same therapist for 25 years. I have gone from 3 times a week to 2 times a month in therapy. I struggled with self mutilation for over 30 years. I have not cut myself for over 10 years. I have been suicidal more often than not. I have integrated 29 out of 30 personalities. I have survived horrible things. It is a part of my story but not my identity. I have found hope among the ashes.

I speak of my mental illness often because it is my authentic self. I will probably always have the last personality with me. She is Molly age 3. My inner child, just like everyone else only more defined. We tried to integrate Molly and it has not happened. I need her still, and that’s okay. I have a strong spiritual faith. Some have said, ” How can you believe in a God that allows so much pain?” I say because he gave us all the great gift of agency. He gave us the chance to choose good or evil for ourselves. The people who hurt me chose to do so. God stepped in with a miracle.

I would have died if I had not developed 30 personalities to help me cope, and survive. What I used to call the curse of my life I found out is the miracle! That is why I love butterflies so much. The caterpillar called it the end of the world, the butterfly called it the miracle. I was also given people in my life to help me heal and grow into something greater. I relate so much to Robin Williams because I have a great sense of humor. I love to laugh and make others laugh. Many times underneath crying and alone. Reaching out is sooo important. I would joke about the Multiplicity and say how I could drive in the car pool lane. Some days you just have to lighten up.

I never thought I would be blessed so much from my mental illness. Oh, I still have to stay on top of things to not circle the drain, with fear of falling into that dark abyss. I have tools, and people, and this self to grab onto and pull myself up. It is a long journey. It is so worth it. I am so many things to so many people, and I have a mental illness.

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eve f

Mental illness is not always visible and unfortunately New York does not have the support and resources available to realistically help older adults on a smaller income. It's been extremely exhausting to navigate and advocate for our mother within a system that ignores and shames mental illness.

Recently our mom Barbara was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. As sited by NAMI, this disorder is seen in 0.3% of the population. Our mom fights every day to manage her symptoms and maintain her mental health and has recently been hospitalized.

This has been an uphill battle emotionally and financially for both our mother and our family. Mental illness is not always visible and unfortunately New York does not have the support and resources available to realistically help older adults on a smaller income. It’s been extremely exhausting to navigate and advocate for our mother within a system that ignores and shames mental illness.

A little about our mom:

Barbara is 63 years old. She was born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens. She has experienced tremendous loss in her life but has maintained a positive attitude throughout.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 40s in the middle of raising her six children, then ages 5 – 16 years old. Barbara worked different jobs to help support her family until a few years ago. She is a survivor, fighter, and always has a smile on her face.

More recently, Barbara is so very proud of her first grandson and her new title as grandma.

Thank you for reading. We are also looking for advice and resources that may be able to help. If you have any information please pass it along. Thank you. Thank you, it means the world to us!

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Lesly S

Who says that people with mental illness are weak? To daily witness the shear force of will it takes for my daughter - a person who has a mental illness - both to survive the hardest times and to work constantly towards thriving against all obstacles, both physiological and emotional, and in the frequent face of seemingly insurmountable odds - is one of the most awe-inspiring, respect-inducing experiences I have had in my life.

Who says that people with mental illness are weak? To daily witness the shear force of will it takes for my daughter – a person who has a mental illness – both to survive the hardest times and to work constantly towards thriving against all obstacles, both physiological and emotional, and in the frequent face of seemingly insurmountable odds – is one of the most awe-inspiring, respect-inducing experiences I have had in my life. There is a necessity for this above average (moral, physical, mental, and emotional) strength. Strength is needed for the constant will to life (yes, toward life – even/especially/along with/ the pull toward suicide-for-just-rest’s-sake – for it’s hard earned, and earned with every day). There is a necessity for the critical/philosophical faculties to be fine-honed, in the constant grappling with the Largest questions of meaning and purpose in facing the day-to-day and oftentimes existential quality of this dis-ease (or whatever term we use).

What is neither necessary nor correct – and hurtful, damaging, counterproductive – is the perception/stigma that people who have mental illness are weak, lazy, etc. In my experience, the opposite is true. While many young adults seem to move through their current life much like a litter of puppies rolling about (and, here, please excuse my gross generalizing), my child – who wishes life could be experienced in that way – must keep careful assessment and modulating of day-to-day life. This includes carefulness re indulging in drink and etc, staying up late (although she does at times do so in order to study, because the need for exquisite attention, in the times when the chemical imbalance is most strongly asserting itself, is necessary to counteract the PHYSIOLOGICAL “brain fog” – rather than “laziness”), care toward diet. She can’t make the same kinds of heedless (yet often necessary at this age, in order to learn and grow) exploratory “mistakes” that others of her age often make with a larger degree of impunity.

She also doesn’t have the luxury of declaiming about life’s difficulties and unfairness; she needs, instead, to cultivate an exquisitely mature (more mature than me, at the wise old age of 60) view of life which is coupled with an almost Buddha-like stance of acceptance. This situation has been a crucible, through which a character has developed//shown itself//: strong and wise and (some of the time; this is a learning curve for her) accepting; empathic towards others way beyond her years; searching for meaning, but not a meaning that comes at all easily – because she refuses to drop her questioning of life’s meaning for easy answers. I am often reminded of the statistics that people with a mental illness who believe in a god have more of a chance; I find myself almost yearning that she might “capitulate” to this belief. I say “capitulate”, because for her, it remains an active question; and I am proud of her, that she chooses to leave it way open, rather than choose this as a security blanket; rather, she is wide open to the possibility of an existential view of life; she will not prematurely shut the door on these elemental questions.

Still, alongside the care she must take, she experiences sometimes exquisite joy and attunement, to life and to others – along with an ongoing love of, and commitment to, learning. This is yet another aspect of her strength: her willingness to see the beauty in life, even in the face of a struggle that can feel fairly constant. This is another choice which she seems to make over and over again: toward life. There is such beauty and courage – a fierce fearlessness within the doubt and fear – in her willingness to continuously face the unknown of all this; this leads me to posit an idea – counter to the “weakness/laziness” stigma – that people who experience mental illness are incredibly, beautifully, surpassingly strong.

This seems to have become a love letter to my daughter. Her existence in this world fills me with joy.

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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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Angelique

I've always had a difficult time letting the world know about any of my mental illnesses. I have always been my biggest judge so I seldom let anyone else in for fear of being judged by them as well. By sharing my story, picture and name attached, I hope to not only inspire others to open up but in hopes of letting the shame I feel go too. Though I've suffered from many different types of mental illnesses for as far back as I can remember, agoraphobia seems to be the one most misunderstood even by my own family so here's my story in the form of a poem.

I’ve always had a difficult time letting the world know about any of my mental illnesses. I have always been my biggest judge so I seldom let anyone else in for fear of being judged by them as well. By sharing my story, picture and name attached, I hope to not only inspire others to open up but in hopes of letting the shame I feel go too. Though I’ve suffered from many different types of mental illnesses for as far back as I can remember, agoraphobia seems to be the one most misunderstood even by my own family so here’s my story in the form of a poem.

How to leave home (Agoraphobic addition)

Step 1. Take a step towards your door and reach out towards the lock.
Step 2. Take a huge step back and realize you’re no where close to turning that knob
Step 3. Remember what others have said, step one isn’t so bad
you won’t get hurt just by opening a door
Step 4. Pay no attention to the false premonitions now playing out in your head
Don’t listen, don’t listen, don’t listen!! Don’t look! People aren’t watching you
can’t see the panic tearing up your guts, ripping out whatever strength you had left can’t see the ugly parts
they can’t look that deep.
Or Can they look that deep?
Oh god they’re all going to look that deep!
stare into my weakness and judgement will be passed
They must notice my ever present distance from the world
So why do people want to come in so closely, that I can hear their breath.. Its terrifying coming so close
coming to kill me
I can’t breath
Someone is
I know Someone’s going to kidnap me at least
is it still kidnapping after 18?
I’m gonna die
I really can’t breath
Think about it, what if I have to cross street, car, boom, smash crashes into me
Im gonna die
No crossing streets
Bridges are out
What if it collapses
that’s for sure to happen
No streets or bridges
so a car in my future is out of the question
I can’t breath I can’t breath!
If I were to leave
they’ll all see me freaking out like this
They can’t see me freaking out like this
Oh fuck now I’m freaking out
legs trembling, sick feeling in my stomach
Completely drenched in sweat
most definitely not taking a single step not like this
I can’t leave because I’m not even alive
Step 5. Please calm down! Brain stop thinking body stop reacting
Xanax
anxiety take your meds..
Forget there ever was a step one for now
Home
inside
safe,
sound
relax
Step 6. Don’t let your inaction get you down, wash the black tear stains off your face
Change your clothes. Breath. look for a reason any reason to believe today, you will make it happen
Step 7. Explain Why the hell you’re laying in that hole of a bed again, sweat pants, a tee, and sheets drenched in tears
Weeping only muffled out by the blasting of netflix.
What happened to trying steps 1 through 6?
Is there even a point to 8?
And then there’s Step 9. After you stop crying and being angry but before you start to hate yourself for giving in so quickly and continuing this pattern
Pretend tomorrow it will all be different
Pretend Tomorrow 1 step will be a dozen more maybe even 100. Tomorrow you’ll walk to the moon, all the way to the stars,
tomorrow.
And finally Step 10. Right before you fall asleep, remember step 9 is the only reason you even woke up today
That little make believe sprinkles the idea that soon you’ll be free of having to take steps to nowhere
no more circling your home in an effort to leave your home the cycle will end if I just keep pretending that one day
One of these days I won’t need Xanax plus a few drinks to complete step 1. One of these days I’ll finish step 1 and forever erase steps 2 through 10
Step 1. Take a step towards my door and reach out towards the lock, turn knob …. now live

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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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Jose

I plan to overcome this horrific disorder and this foundation is amazing. Just when I thought nothing like this even existed, I saw something on Brandon Marshall on the NFL network at about midnight.

I’m not sure if this will ever get far, but it’s something this website has me optimistic about. I’m 20 and this was possibly my most successful collegiate year in both athletics (I am a college baseball player) and also academically as I’ve pulled off a 3.0 GPA. I attend a school far away – 7 hrs away from all my family members and loved ones. I did nothing but look forward to the time when my work was complete in school and baseball. When the time came and I had successfully achieved my personal goals and my mission for my sophomore year of college, I realized drastic changes. I became very anti social, I lost motivation, had high anxiety, and felt like a robot. Due to this I fell into a depression.  Someone so happy with myself, thousands of friends and someone who truly enjoys life.   I’ve always been motivated and regardless of what has happened I stay motivated.

After doing some research I came to the conclusion that I had a mental illness and disorder called “Depersonalization”.  My very person in question. I knew something was wrong and in fear of the world I choose a person to tell and later on, a parent. I now have worked on going to a therapist and had one sit down and say that what I believed I had is what I actually do have.

I plan to overcome this horrific disorder and this foundation is amazing. Just when I thought nothing like this even existed, I saw something on Brandon Marshall on the NFL network at about midnight. Thank you.

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Candy

I finally figured out that my best bet for freedom was to visit my primary care physician who sent me to my psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder). I was not crazy at all and wanted to tell everyone whom I had always known about my diagnosis to explain why I had acted so odd all my life.

I had always known that I was different, I had no friends because no on wanted to hang around such a sickly odd kid as I was. I was always vomiting, had severe migraines, in fact my whole body ached. I was so distraught that I prayed for death every second of the day (not knowing what was wrong with me). This went on until I was forty years old and had a mental breakdown. I began seeing images of people in my head and was so ill for 3 days that I could not even keep a cracker down. I finally figured out that my best bet for freedom was to visit my primary care physician who sent me to my psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder). I was not crazy at all and wanted to tell everyone whom I had always known about my diagnosis to explain why I had acted so odd all my life.

Well, I kept telling people about my story and finally built a website as therapy. That was back in 2001 and from that website I have been able to support many survivors of childhood abuse and domestic violence who suffered with any type of mental disorders or illnesses but mostly D.I.D.

I still have the opportunity to help others from the pages of my site. At this point I have lost all of my friends and most of my family because of the shame that has been put upon my family. It has taken years for me to accept this but I finally find that loneliness is worth the price that I have paid to speak my voice.

I haven’t stopped telling people about my diagnosis and even my past life because I feel that an opened ear is more helpful than the words that I could speak.

Thank you for this website and the organization that you have created.

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Joe U

Brandon Marshal on the commercial I watched today on Nickelodeon while holding my little angel in my arms gave me the courage to write this letter. Like many men we do not want to admit our invulnerability or the fact that we are not invincible but it's time that we drop that stereotype regardless of the fact that you are a superstar athlete or a computer technician.

I’m a soon to be 44 year male and have been a stay at home dad for the last 5.5 years. There is already a stigma in our society with men staying home and taking care of their kids… I’ve had no problems dealing with that because it’s been the greatest job of my life. I used to own 2 companies and sold them and we made a family decision that I would be the stay at home dad.

I played full contact sports and martial arts since I was 8 years old and got serious about playing rugby at 13 or 14. I played competitive rugby for 20 years until I had a serious physical injury than ended my career. I also continued to do full contact martial arts and worked security at nightclubs during this time. Prior to my injury I was 6’1″+ and 245 lbs and cardio for days, I thought I was invincible. Since the injury I have had multiple surgeries and finally at 42 I had a spinal fusion that gave me back full use of my legs and eliminated my back and leg pain. I thought to worst was over…..

I never thought my 70+ concussions would ever matter during my playing and fighting days, it made me tough and they were badges of honor being knocked out and staying in the game. About two years ago I noticed minor changes in my mood and overall mental attitude, I didn’t think much of it. I then began getting migraines on a frequent basis. My mood has slowly begun to change over the last 2 years to the point where I recently woke up one morning and couldn’t remember my daughters name for about 3 seconds. That doesn’t seem like a long time to many people but to forget the name of your baby you have spent every moment with since birth is the most terrifying feeling you will ever have in this world.

I frequently forget to do common errands around the house including getting breakfast for my daughter and getting her morning vitamins etc. and often forget to take my pain medication until my symptoms kick in and then it’s too late. I was always known to have a very good memory and remembering anything I have ever read or seen. Specifically in the last year I have noticed and heard people in our “really friendly and loving neighborhood” make comments about my mood and my irrationality and have recently found out that one of my close friends who didn’t have the courage to say anything to me told a friend of ours that he doesn’t want to bring his kids around my house because of my “mood swings” and that I yell at his kids. This was very heartbreaking for me to find out because I’ve known him for 12 years and he was always the person that said if you have something to say to somebody say to their face… I then find out he’d say anything about me behind my back. I don’t feel too badly about what he said since he doesn’t discipline his kids at all. All of the other parents I’ve spoken to a neighborhood disagree with his comment and say that if a kid is not listening or breaks your child’s toys on purpose and talking to them doesn’t work then yelling at them is the next best option. I have never laid a finger on any woman or child in my life and never intend to, I find that thought deplorable.

The point I’m trying to make here is since keeping a journal for the last two years I’ve noticed days where I feel stressed out, don’t get much sleep or have headaches later that day or the following day my memory and mood varies greatly. Prior to two years ago the thought of ending my life had never even entered my mind but there are some days that for no logical or good reason I will be sitting there and have these types of feelings or urges.

I have recently signed up for a clinical study with the NHI regarding CTE and after I read all the criteria and symptoms of CTE I had all of them. If me getting studied helps in anyway some young man or little lady or even existing person find solace or help or a cure I will be very a happy and content person. Brandon Marshall on the commercial I watched today on Nickelodeon while holding my little angel in my arms gave me the courage to write this letter.

Like many men we do not want to admit our invulnerability or the fact that we are not invincible but it’s time that we drop that stereotype regardless of the fact that you are a superstar athlete or a computer technician. Unfortunately for me all the questions I was asked when applying for the CTE study made me fall into the category for me to have CTE and I should be receiving an email within a week to see if I qualify for the trials. I think everybody’s greatest fear is to wake up one day and not know who they are or where they are or who the most important people in their life is. I know that is my greatest fear. For many if not all of the people that feel this way they know there is eventually only one way out.

Since telling my wife last week what and why I have been feeling for the last 2 years I lifted a huge weight off my shoulders, not talking and hiding the truth or your secret doesn’t help you…the ones that really love and care for you will be there for you, for the ones that aren’t….you don’t need them anyway because they aren’t real friends. We are all the same regardless of race, nationality or gender…we all bleed red, we all laugh when happy and all cry when sad.

I hope this letter will help any “tough guys” out there that are keeping this secret or ignoring the symptoms to open your eyes and talk to someone before it’s too late.

Warm regards,

Joe

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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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Stephanie

Anxiety is not like catching the cold where you take medicine and it goes away. It is a disorder in the brain. A disorder that takes months even years to recover from. People on the outside who don't have these disorders are not aware of them because they are not visible like scars. I feel that most of us would rather have scars than a debilitating disorder that doesn't let us live normal lives. I feel that everything happens for a reason and that reason is that I was meant to find this wonderful website and tell my story to others who are going through the same thing.

I remember the night like it was just yesterday. I was working a night shift at a retail job where the environment was fast-paced, so you can imagine how overwhelming it must have been experiencing anxiety and all. That day I was already having symptoms of anxiety (e.g. sweaty palms, shortness of breath, irritability, dizziness) I even felt that I was experiencing “depersonalization,” where everything felt surreal, almost like a dream, that would eventually turn into a nightmare for me.

I remember asking one of my supervisors if I could leave early, but it was out of the question since I was the only one on the sales floor. I felt like I wanted to escape because I thought that I was going insane. I could not tell my supervisor what was going on because I didn’t think she would understand. Of course no one knew what was going on inside. Customers would even look at me wondering what was wrong with me, I just couldn’t find a way to tell people what I was going through. I didn’t even know what I was going through myself.

When I got off of work I got into my car wondering what coworkers were thinking about me, then I broke down feeling alone and scared. What I felt in that moment was hopelessness and actual physical pain. I somehow knew that I had been depressed for a while. It’s like all of my emotions were bottled up for so long that I exploded to the point of no return. I couldn’t stop crying. I hardly ever had a history of self-harm, but everything became so overwhelming that I started having thoughts of hurting myself because I hated myself at the time. I felt guilt and shame of being alive because I didn’t feel support from anyone. This was a huge breaking point for me, so I did what I thought was best which was take myself to the nearest ER to have myself evaluated. I was seen by various doctors and one therapist who were giving me words of encouragement to help me get by. I felt calmer when my mom came to see me and all I could see was pain in her face for seeing me in the condition that I was. I thought that by the end of the of the night I would get to go home. Unfortunately, I was taken to another hospital where they specialize with mental patients. I spent nearly three days there.

After going through the evaluations and feeling homesick, I left the hospital feeling hopeful and optimistic but things did not end there. After months of struggling with my anxiety disorder along with other episodes of intrusive thoughts, it has been a long battle for me. Thankfully, the intrusive thoughts have stopped. However, anxiety is not like catching the cold where you take medicine and it goes away. It is a disorder in the brain. A disorder that takes months even years to recover from. People on the outside who don’t have these disorders are not aware of them because they are not visible like scars. I feel that most of us would rather have scars than a debilitating disorder that doesn’t let us live normal lives. I feel that everything happens for a reason and that reason is that I was meant to find this wonderful website and tell my story to others who are going through the same thing.

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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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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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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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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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Arnold B

On the first visit, the kind doctor told me that I was very sick, a borderline schizophrenic. Near the end of my first session, Dr. Hoffer had leaned forward and said, “son, it’s like you’ve been on LSD every day for a long time, we’re going to try to change that and make you better.” I wept and felt a spark of hope for the first time in my life, as if real change was possible. I was no longer facing a future of being numbed daily and locked away in a psych hospital.

Thanks to you all for your bravery and commitment to mental health

ORTHOMOLECULAR THERAPY {Part of the Healing Journey}

In the fall of 1968, I showed up at Dr. Abram Hoffer’s office in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. On the first visit, the kind doctor told me that I was very sick, a borderline schizophrenic. Near the end of my first session, Dr. Hoffer had leaned forward and said, “son, it’s like you’ve been on LSD every day for a long time, we’re going to try to change that and make you better.” I wept and felt a spark of hope for the first time in my life, as if real change was possible. I was no longer facing a future of being numbed daily and locked away in a psych hospital.

After that first appointment, my parents and I drove 150 miles back to our small town of Kelvington armed with massive amounts of niacin, vitamin C & E and orders to stay well away from all sugar as well as other food restrictions. I had energy flushes from niacin that could power a small town.

When I came back for my second appointment at Dr. Hoffer’s office, a young doctor had accompanied him to make observations. After some questioning, it became evident that there had been a positive change. The change had been so dramatic that all the younger doctor could do was shake his head. I can still remember him asking Dr. Hoffer, “was this the same teenager who came in 6 months ago?”

The healing process for me had just begun, and later that year I had achieved my 1st goal – lettering in football. My life was beginning to look up, and that is why I will always be grateful for Dr. Hoffer’s pioneering work. I believe that real healing is multi-leveled and Orthomolecular therapy is its foundation. It gives you the ability to receive proper counseling, such as psychotherapy, and enables you to accept the changes necessary to positively contribute and function in society.

I still take niacin every day and stay pretty close to a paleo diet. I’ve had to overcome serious challenges since seeing Dr. Hoffer; very low self-esteem, some suicidal thoughts and regret over past failures. But having orthomolecular medicine coupled with my faith and a wife and daughter who love me, things continued to get better and better each day.

Fast forwarding to 2015, I now work in the telecommunications field, my wife and I just celebrated our 34th Anniversary, my daughter only recently got married, I achieved a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and I recorded a neo-classical piano album, called ‘Paperwhite.’ Not only am I healthy but I am succeeding in life, I positively contribute and function within society. And while I was at work the other day, I was sitting in the company car contemplating how I would fit new fiber optic cables on a busy street when stopped and smiled. I pictured Dr. Hoffer’s face looking over his desk and saying “you can do it Arnold! You’re going to be well young man, I’m confident of that.”

link to original piano album called ‘Paperwhite’
www.cdbaby.com/arnoldbruveris

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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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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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Casey Maenza

My losses have lead me to make significant changes in my life, and I want to share that inspiration with others. They have taught me to enjoy the simple things, to treat all beings with kindness and compassion, and to make deeper connections with nature and the people I love... To do more of what makes my soul happy!

Hello, my name is Casey! I tragically lost my dad to suicide in December 2011. I then lost my uncle to suicide, and, several years prior, I lost a dear friend to suicide. These events shook me to the core leaving me with a shattered heart, a lost soul, and questioning life and my entire existence. My path was derailed, and I searched tirelessly for my purpose here on Earth. I knew that I needed to turn my pain into purpose and shed some light on the darkness of life. I want to help others find happiness despite the struggle, despair, and tragedy we experience here on Earth. I want to spread the message of love, peace, and beauty in a world that can be equally ugly at times. I want to encourage us all to focus on the good stuff, because there IS so much good stuff, and, when we direct our energy towards it, we can find happiness. We need to focus on moments spent with loved ones, experiences that fulfill our soul, and connections with others. These are the reasons we exist and our purpose in life. There will always be struggle, despair, and tragedy, and, while we cannot ignore adversity, we do not have to let it prevail. It is a part of life, but there is usually a silver lining. Struggle can often lead us to grasp how beautifully fragile life is. It is that beauty that we need to keep in our hearts and souls, and find true joy amongst it all. My losses have lead me to make significant changes in my life, and I want to share that inspiration with others. They have taught me to enjoy the simple things, to treat all beings with kindness and compassion, and to make deeper connections with nature and the people I love… To do more of what makes my soul happy!

I created Happy Soul Apparel, an online t-shirt store, in hopes of spreading the message of hope and happiness, despite struggle. For every t-shirt sold, I donate $3 to non-profit organizations that support mental health initiatives. I have selected BC2M as our charity for July, and I hope that you will consider purchasing a t-shirt to support their cause of starting the conversation and ending the stigma around mental health. Let’s start a #happysoulmovement!

Facebook:  Happy Soul Apparel
Instagram:  @happysoulapparel
Twitter:  @happsoulapparel

Love & Light,
Casey

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Kelly McL

There is one particular topic that, I feel, is a significant source of stigma and subsequent fear for parents: disability classification for special education services. My son's behavior and mood impede his access to education and therefore his primary disability classification is "Emotional Disturbance".

I am writing to advocate for my son and the many other children out there who struggle daily with a mood disorder that affects ALL aspects of their life, including access to education. Our family is very thankful that, rightly, my son qualifies for and receives special education services in a school appropriate to his needs. This involved an enormous amount of research, hard work and hiring an advocate to help us navigate this elusive educational path. The topic of education is a very large can of worms that would create much discussion and debate. There is one particular topic that, I feel, is a significant source of stigma and subsequent fear for parents: disability classification for special education services. My son’s behavior and mood impede his access to education and therefore his primary disability classification is “Emotional Disturbance”. I am an educated adult that should understand this LABEL provides my child with needed services and placement, however, this LABEL sits like a giant bolder in the pit of my stomach. I worry that every educational professional who comes in contact with my son will have developed a preconceived notion of him, and our family, based on this LABEL. I have met many families who do not want to accept special education services when this LABEL was stated as the classification for fear of stigma within their school system. “Emotional Disturbance” is a negative, archaic, educational LABEL that needs to be changed for the inclusion of our children.

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Alex E

I tell them that I have PTSD but they think I'm being dramatic. It's so frustrating to hear the love of your life tell you that you just need to "calm down" "It's fine" "Why are you freaking out" "stop causing a scene". I've tried to explain to them that I can't just make it stop. I wish I could. For me... this is why we need to bring change 2 mind.

Hi! My name is Alex. I am 22 years old. I live in Oklahoma, and I enjoy photography and just hanging out with people I love. On May 20th of 2013, a devastating tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma. I was working at Starbucks at the time when the sirens began blaring. We all knew that day was primed for tornadoes – what none of us could have imagined was how bad it was really going to be. As soon as the sirens went off, we closed down the store and ushered everyone out as quickly as we could.

Unfortunately, my truck did not have functioning windshield wipers so there was no where I could go. Mostly every other employee left right then while three of us baristas stayed behind. We took shelter inside of the women’s bathroom, which was the center of the building. We took a radio into the bathroom with us, which was our only connection to what was going out with the F5 tornado that was rolling towards us. I remember the meteorologist saying, “It’s heading straight for Starbucks on 19th Street in Moore. It will not help to be in an interior room, either get underground or leave, anything else is not going to help you,” and then the power went out, as did our only source to what was happening.

I began praying for the tornado to turn and not hit us. I prayed harder than I ever have before. It seemed like I spent hours inside of the dark bathroom, the only sounds around me were my two co-workers praying out-loud, then I heard the monstrous tornado ripping through buildings. I thought that this was definitely the end for me. I stopped praying for God to make the tornado turn and I began praying that He would make my death painless.

Even though every cellphone tower was completely backed up, I texted everyone I knew and told them how much I loved them. I wrapped my arm around the pipe that connected the sink to the ground and shut my eyes. And then, the roaring wind ceased… And then, it was gone. I had survived. The tornado went directly between my home and my place of employment. It was shaken beyond belief, but grateful even more so.

What I was not prepared for was the drive home. I had to drive directly past all of the damage. The tornado had taken out a hospital that was between my home and job. There were military and police directing traffic. I drove past people and sights that I will never forget. Shortly after, Starbucks hired a counselor to talk to anyone who was having trouble dealing with what happened. I sat down with him and told him how I couldn’t stop shaking, how every time I drove past the destruction I forgot how to breathe, I told him that I couldn’t speak correctly when anyone would bring up the tragedy, and he told me that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

People don’t understand why I can’t think straight when the sirens go off now. They tell me that I grew up in Oklahoma, I should be used to this. I should laugh at it like they do. I want to, but I can’t. I can’t think clearly. Even if I know for a fact that I’m completely safe, if I hear the word tornado – I can’t breath, I can’t think, I can’t stay still. I know it doesn’t seem rational to them, and they don’t understand. I tell them that I have PTSD, but they think I’m being dramatic. It’s so frustrating to hear the love of your life tell you that you just need to, “Calm down”, “It’s fine”, “Why are you freaking out”, “Stop causing a scene”. I’ve tried to explain to them that I can’t just make it stop. I wish I could. For me… this is why we need to bring change 2 mind.

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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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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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Karen K-S

Once you start talking about it and sharing, you see that so many people are suffering along with you, in some capacity. Stop the stigma by starting the conversation. No shame. You are not the only one on this roller coaster.

When you start talking about your experience with mental illness and a loved one, people begin to share their story, too. When people open up, it stops that “I must be the only one” way of thinking. I’ve talked to so many people that have said, “I have a sibling, relative, friend who suffers from depression and mental illness, too.” Once you start talking about it and sharing, you see that so many people are suffering along with you, in some capacity. Stop the stigma by starting the conversation. No shame. You are not the only one on this roller coaster.

#ITalk for Fred
#StartTheConversation
#BC2M

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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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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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Darrow

first you think you're sick then it's all a blur then you think you're dizzy no one can concur

OCD

first you think you’re sick
then it’s all a blur
then you think you’re dizzy
no one can concur

you follow all the same steps
if not you will go back
brush here brush there
no! not again
you went off of the track

you think you got the order wrong
then you must restart
otherwise you will be bothered
and then your brain will dart

writing’s very difficult
stay on the line or not at all
your attention span is critical
don’t rush or speed
just finish it all

disturbing pictures flash through your brain
get out get out. don’t come back again
but stays as if attached to a chain

someone coughs right next to you
you quickly walk away
suddenly you feel the chills and sniffles
and think have I got the flu
you take deep breaths and close your eyes
waiting for it to go away
but she holds it and she cries
for when the day it all disappears.

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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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Rosa

I believe ending Stigma starts with a conversation, so I started a blog to share my story, and what's it's really like to live with something like mental illness, versus what people see in the media. I think it's important for everyone to start talking. Not just family members, but people who live with it as well. Let's put a face to mental illness.

I have been mentally ill since I can remember, but I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 16. Then the battles began. Medicine and their side affects, hospitals, and the stigma. Overhearing people in the street talking to each other, and words like ‘psycho’, ‘schizo’, and ‘crazy’ coming out of their mouths. Being a teenager was hard enough, but being mentally ill as well was a double whammy. I don’t usually tell people at first that I have an illness, because of the stigma. It’s hard to date and have friendships when you have to carry around a secret that shouldn’t be a secret in the first place. I can’t help the fact that I was born with this, and I don’t think it’s right that I am considered in a negative light for it. I am just like everyone else, I have friends, I like music, I go to the movies and the supermarket, I breath the same air. The only difference is, I get a different kind of sick sometimes.

Stigma is a debilitating thing for me because I want a career specializing in childcare. Unless they really understand, or have a family member who has a mental illness, what parent would let someone who has a mental illness near their child? This mentality is thanks to stigma, and it HAS to change. I believe ending Stigma starts with a conversation, so I share my story, and what’s it’s really like to live with something like mental illness, versus what people see in the media.  I think it’s important for everyone to start talking. Not just family members, but people who live with it as well.

Let’s put a face to mental illness.

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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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Tracy K

Thank you for speaking up and showing our children, who today have so much more stress in their lives then before, that they are not outcasts or shamed by this as they did not choose to get depression or anxiety. This is an illness as any other out there and there is hope for them.

I have a 16 year old daughter that has been battling depression since the 7th grade. This was unbeknownst to me until this past November when she wrote a letter to her brother, who has been battling anxiety for several years, that she wanted to end her life. She could not feel comfortable talking to anybody for the fact that she would be known to all she was mentally ill. After a few visits to a family practice doctor, the doctor finally decided to submit her to a mental health facility as she was having suicidal thoughts again. During her treatment, her medical/therapy team and ourselves confirmed that she did not have any stigma with her illness and that she has nothing to be ashamed about. She’s been a little bit more talkative with us, still hides some thoughts, but with the assistance of therapists and psychiatrists, we are hopefully on the right track in locating the correct balancing medication for her. We have now moved into the adult meds as the FDA approved meds for her age are not working. It’s been a very difficult road for all of us, but we are hopeful that we can get this under control for her and get our sweet loving daughter back.

School has been extremely difficult for her, friends are unkind and immature to say the least. She plans on attending community college next year and hopefully full time the following. Her job has been a godsend for her, as she is working with older people who don’t judge her and gets along wonderfully with them as she is the youngest!

In discussing this with friends and co-workers, we all have been touched in one way or another by a friend or family member diagnosed with depression. Patience and understanding is a must, sometimes very difficult, but well worth our efforts.

Thank you for speaking up and showing our children, who today have so much more stress in their lives then before, that they are not outcasts or shamed by this as they did not choose to get depression or anxiety. This is an illness as any other out there and there is hope for them.

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Tori

For anyone who is struggling with mental illness and is afraid to get help, I can promise you it's not scary. I've been through treatment for anxiety and trust me when I tell you, they are there to help you. There's nothing to be afraid of.

For anyone who is struggling with mental illness and is afraid to get help, I can promise you it’s not scary. I’ve been through treatment for anxiety and trust me when I tell you, they are there to help you. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

If you are a man, I want to tell you I’m sorry for all the stereotypes surrounding mental illness for you. It’s tragic that the stigma exists. I see this in my boyfriend, he is a hard worker and he gets stressed, and recently he has been very anxious. He wants to do everything himself, and it’s hard for him to ask for help because he wants to be strong. I really want him to be strong enough to go for help instead of trying to fix it himself.

Trust me and others who will tell you: it’s okay. You don’t need to do it yourself. Mental illness happens, there is nothing wrong with you. You just need a little push to get back to your happy, healthy life.

So take that step. It will be worth it.

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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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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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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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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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A Friend

This is the generation that will end the stigma...get the word out there and continue doing the good work you are doing.

My husband Gregory took his life July 1, 2010 after job loss. I am fairly certain he was suffering from mental illness in silence. He prided himself with being a very strong man and probably considered mental issues as a weakness as I have learned is not unique to my husband.

I have since learned a lot about mental illness and suicide and currently give presentations, interviews, and facilitate a suicide survivor’s support group in the Quad Cities area. I have dedicated my life to ending the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide and know that ending the stigma around getting help for this illness is all important to prevention of suicide.

This is the generation that will end the stigma…get the word out there and continue doing the good work you are doing.

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Krista

I am fully aware of the fact that there are limited resources surrounding living with and overcoming Depersonalisation and Derealisation, heck I am still learning myself. However, I will always do anything in my power to help fellow sufferers, and so I hope that this short blog has been of some help. While I have yet to find coping strategies that work for me, I have acquired a few through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions which I hope will be effective for others.

“I don’t feel like me anymore. I don’t feel real”
“I don’t know who I am anymore”
“My reflection scares me, it doesn’t look like me”
“It feels as if I am living in a cartoon or a movie”
“It is as if I am looking down on myself, detached from my body”
“I no longer recognise my family or my friends. It’s as if I’m with strangers”
“I’m losing my mind. They’re going to cart me away”

Do any of the above apply to you? I can honestly say that regardless of the inability to breathe, the loss of vision, jelly legs and dizziness, depersonalisation and derealisation are by far the most terrifying symptoms of ‘anxiety’ (something that I will dispute later on), particularly when, like me, you have had to endure it constantly over a long a long period of time. Very often, one of my greatest fears will be to lose my mind and be sectioned indefinitely. I can envisage myself being carted away kicking and screaming, drool dripping down my face with an expression resembling that of the girl out of The Exorcist. However, I have often also questioned this same fear and genuinely believe that, to an extent, a part of me wants to be sectioned. I crave that constant support – having the professionals there to give you your medicine and tell you that what you are experiencing is ‘totally normal’, to be around fellow sufferers and consequently not feel quite so isolated. I want to feel understood. I want to feel ….. safe.

Have you ever tried to get a non – sufferer to understand just how depersonalisation makes you feel? Yes they may try, they may tilt their head at the right time and they may remind you that you are ‘not alone’, but that does not help in the slightest. I have had people tell me to ‘ignore it’ and to ‘remind myself that people will pay good money to experience a similar trip’. How do you actually ignore depersonalisation, though? The level of fear the illness carries can never be put in to words. Trying to get a supposed ‘mental – health professional’ to understand the effects of depersonalisation and derealisation is like banging your head against a brick wall. Are they not supposed to be the ones with all the answers? Are they not supposed to have that magic cure to take away all of the angst? I fail to recall the number of times I have been asked by mental health professionals to explain how I am feeling, as I am left begging them to help me, to wave a magic wand and make me feel at one with my body once more. Throughout my 3 1/2 years living with depersonalisation and derealisation I have spoken to six therapists and nine doctors and I can honestly say that not one of these has been able to empathise with how I am feeling, with most choosing to overlook it as being yet another symptom of anxiety. A ‘symptom of anxiety’ makes it sound so ‘inferior’, does it not? Heart palpitations and dizziness are ‘symptoms of anxiety’ that can be dealt with and forgotten about but depersonalisation and derealisation, really? Well I will tell you ‘professionals’ something for nothing – the next time a patient walks in to your office showing any of the symptoms listed above, take them seriously and do not fob them off like you have done me. You will never understand the strength and courage it takes for a person to go on while experiencing this. While the intrusive thoughts, the vomit inducing fear and the isolation as you struggle to gain an understanding of not only who you are but where you are is something that us sufferers will never be able to explain, we would give everything to hear those four simple words “I can help you”. I am welling up myself right now while writing this.

When having spoken to previous therapists about my depersonalisation and derealisation, one of my first questions asked was always whether they held a basic understanding of each disorder and indeed that they had the resources and expertise to treat them successfully. My mind was, of course, put at ease when their initial replies were yes, and that they had even experienced said disorders themselves at some level or another. Bingo. It was as if all my Christmases had come at once. I had finally cracked it. Someone was finally going to listen to me and take me seriously! However, this level of elation was always short lived (shocker) as, upon starting therapy, this was never the case. Now I am in no way a violent person, Jesus, I feel guilty killing a spider and those things terrify me, but I would often envisage myself smacking each of their faces on the table at least once during our sessions. You know that infamous scene shared between Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez in ‘Monster in Law?’ Keep that one in mind. I found myself having to bite down on my lip on numerous occasions as they each tried to fob me off with answers such as ‘It is your panic attacks’, or ‘you must have been in a high state of anxiety’, or ‘your mind is exhausted’. Huh? I have had this for nearly three and a half years and, after all of your mental health training and your apparent expertise, you are trying to tell me that I am living my life in a constant panic attack? I napped for 3 hours this afternoon and had 6 hours sleep last night but you are trying to tell me that I am not getting enough sleep? I am slowly starting to understand why many mental health sufferers are losing faith in the mental health system. The support and understanding is just not there.

With regards to daily life with depersonalisation and derealisation, to you, the observer, I am me. I smile. I laugh. I function. I can hold a conversation, whether that may be for a limited period of time, and I still bear that same old (cheesy) sense of humour. My hair (mostly) looks nice (we are all allowed off days), I wear makeup and I have a pretty impressive clothes and shoe collection for an agoraphobic whom rarely goes anywhere. My mind, however, tells a different story for it is as if I am trapped inside a locked, invisible box; I am unable to break free from the chains keeping me from stepping back into reality, alone, scared and vulnerable. During a heightened episode of depersonalisation I lose all ability to function, to communicate with those around me. I can hear conversations taking place, see their mouths moving, but I am unable to process what is actually being said, nor form a sentence as a means of involvement. My speech becomes slurred, my breathing shallow and my vision distorted as I can feel the chains tightening. I have even, on a few occasions, been left unable to consume solid foods due to my mouth not feeling like my own, as if I am chowing down on cotton wool (one of the most difficult and surreal sensations to explain). My body will become ‘psychologically’ numb, as if I have been transported into another person’s being. I will very often believe that I am not supposed to be this person. That, without my knowing, the infamous ‘Freaky Friday jolt’ has taken place and I am a trapped soul waiting to be returned to the correct body. That is just how scary these disorders can become!

And then the ‘brain fog’ will slowly begin to creep in as a task as simple as making a hot drink becomes an uphill challenge. Now how do I turn the kettle on again? Where did I put the coffee and sugar? Matthew said he wanted a tea and Lee asked for a black coffee with no sugar, but who are Lee and Matthew? It feels as if I have been placed in a room filled with strangers, like I have accidentally walked in to the wrong house. My surroundings appear to resemble a scene from a movie set as I find myself patting the settee, touching the television cabinet or cuddling my dog, Max. I will pace, through fear, believing that maybe if I walk quickly enough I will be able to ‘get away’ from myself, that the chains will automatically start to unravel. Surprisingly enough I will do the same while having a panic attack, as if crossing the road or moving from my living room to my bedroom will become a game of hide and seek and the dreaded anxiety will not be able to find me. I will pull my hair, bite my skin, claw at my face and even scrape away at my arms and legs with the sharp edges of bottle caps and plastic pots in the hope of inflicting a level of pain strong enough to make me feel ‘something’. But that I cannot. I am both mentally and physically numb. On occasions intrusive thoughts have even led me to believe that I am either being filmed for a sequel to the Truman Show or that I am in a Crime watch re – enactment, and that, somehow, I am merely an actress in a scripted documentary and the producer/director will be calling it a wrap at any given moment. Sounds crazy, does it not? I dare you to not laugh.

However, despite all of this, the most emotive factor of depersonalisation is that my brother no longer feels like my brother and, each time I meet up with my ‘friends’ or those I am supposed to ‘know’, feels as if I am meeting and getting to know them again for the very first time. In a sense, I have had to create a new world for myself (maybe this is why I am such a pro on The Sims). I have had to get to know Matthew and those surrounding me again, as this ‘new Krista person’, while constantly reminding myself of the fact that they are indeed who they say they are, even though it very often does not feel that way. I will experience numerous debilitating panic attacks and heightened ‘out of body’ sensations while browsing through old family photos, or speaking to old friends and family. While it takes every ounce of strength and energy I possess to hold down a conversation with said people, and put on my ‘everything is okay’ mask, that familiar OCD voice of self – doubt will be screaming “Get out!! They’re intruders! They don’t really know you. They’re lying to you! It kills me to say this but while my Mum may ‘only’ have been passed for fourteen years and a very close friend for just over two and a half, I no longer recognise them when I look at their pictures. Were they actually ever really here or have I instead dreamed up this whole fantasy world and will instead wake up tomorrow?

Now can you understand why it feels as if I am a part of some low budget American movie? Through sheer frustration and confusion I want to throw my arms up in the air, to scream, to bang my fists. I want take hold of the nearest person and for them to tell me that I am actually still here and am not losing my mind with such conviction that my tainted mind actually believes it. I have never been one for wallowing (unless it comes to an assignment grade that I knew I deserved higher for) but the effects of depersonalisation and derealisation will often have me curled up on my bed or the floor in the fetal position, staring into thin air with tears streaming down my face as I pray for this torture to be over soon. I have often been told to remember ‘happier times’ when I am feeling low and use them as a method of lifting myself up, but how on earth do I do that when it does not feel as if I was a part of said memories. Was I an intruder? Because of everything listed within this article, I now have great difficulty in building relationships and meeting new people, an act which came so easily before depersonalisation had taken control of my fragile mind. I mentally and emotionally cannot handle human interaction. I will now regularly repeat my name and stare at my reflection in the mirror in the hope of it bringing me back into reality, allowing for my mind and body to reconnect so that I can then break free from the chains of the invisible box. Through desperation, I will spare a silent prayer each night before I go to sleep in the hope that, come morning, this will all be taken away. I just want to feel like me again. I just want to feel part of the real world. I want the old Krista back, even though I am no longer sure who she even is anymore.

I am fully aware of the fact that there are limited resources surrounding living with and overcoming Depersonalisation and Derealisation, heck I am still learning myself. However, I will always do anything in my power to help fellow sufferers, and so I hope that this short blog has been of some help. While I have yet to find coping strategies that work for me, I have acquired a few through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions which I hope will be effective for others.

• Sucking on lemon slices – It has been said that the sheer bitterness of the fruit will jolt sufferers back into reality.
• Playing the senses game – A weird one, but fun for passing the time when stuck in traffic. My depersonalisation will always worsen while travelling so this game has come in handy as a form of distraction. To do this you must name 5 things you can see, 5 you can smell, 5 you can touch and 5 you can hear. If you are playing with a partner it can get pretty difficult as you are not allowed to repeat any answers.
• Blasting your face with ice cold water (not ideal for us girls wearing makeup). It has been suggested that a blast of cold water on the cheeks will help ease symptoms of depersonalisation due to there being numerous nerve endings in our faces.
• Reading self – help books. Overcoming Depersonalization and Feelings of Unreality contains a number of valuable resources such as symptom charts and definitions.

Maybe one day we will be lucky enough to have the medical resources to overcome these illnesses. For now, though, we must continue to support one another and educate ourselves.

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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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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