Stigma Fighters – Derek S.

I have a mental illness.
It’s hardly the nicest thing about me, but it’s certainly one of the biggest. Whether I like it or not, it’s my daily companion. We go everywhere together, taking part in the same activities, joining in the same conversations. Hell, we sound like the best of friends. Except your best friend doesn’t spend all of their time trying to kill you.
I think the anxiety started first. I say ‘I think’ because, at this point, I’m relying solely on the memory of a long lost 10 year old. The sheer awkwardness of ‘being’; feeling out of place, or out of sync with things, no matter the situation. The feeling only expanded and grew as time went on, taking on such wonderful qualities as an inner monologue designed specifically to tell me just how bad I was at everything, and an excessive heart rate (with added excessive sweatiness–sexy, I know) at even the thought of having to go outside. I simply learned to live with it over the years, and found different ways of avoiding the world as best I could. From walking back roads to avoid the crowds, to (many years later) drowning out the noise with alcohol and drugs, I became pretty adept at deflecting all things Life.
The depression came quietly, like an enemy sneaking in under the wire. The ever-present anxiety created enough persistent noise and doubt, I barely noticed the arrival of this void that seemed to slowly pull me in. Like a black hole had silently taken up residence at the centre of my heart, pulling in every emotion it found, growing larger all the while. It left behind it a daily routine of little to no energy, diminishing desire, and a general hopelessness that, eventually, would pervade every waking second of my life. Combined with the not-very-good-at-all ideas I had in “taking care” of the anxiety, this was a picture perfect downward spiral in the making.
The two go hand in hand for most, depression and anxiety. Once they’ve been together long enough, it becomes difficult to tell them apart. The medical community commonly combines them, although I do know a few who suffer one but not the other. Starting so early in my life, I’ve had difficulty remembering a time without them. They’ve been as much a part of me as my own limbs. I lived with them, undiagnosed, for over 20 years. This is an incredibly, brutally long time to live with something like this alone. That I’m still here genuinely shocks me at times. It affected everything; my social development, my education, my whole world. Everything suffered, and fell by the wayside. But after one too many breakdowns, and the realization that I really wasn’t going to be able to take it much longer, I reached out for help.
This is the first step. It’s a relatively simple sounding one, but it’s also the most important. And it can be difficult. Because you’re not just talking about it, you’re admitting that you need help. Not just to yourself, but out loud to the world, or at least to the person you’ve chosen to speak to. But, again, it’s important, and things DO get better after this, so do it. Trust me. Talk to your doctor, to your family or friends, talk to somebody. Just get it out.
I had the benefit of some very understanding people around me when I finally chose to speak. Not all people have this, and after going through what I did, I realize how much of a difference this can make. So if someone you know says something to you, chooses YOU to be their first contact, just listen. Listen to them, let them know they’re not alone and that you’ll help them. That’s it. That’s the whole beginning, and it can mean the difference between them starting down a new road or sinking back into the dark. You can make arrangements to visit their Doctor, or seek out a Psychologist or Counsellor afterwards, but just show them they’re not alone. If things are dire at this point, take them to the hospital. Yes, this is just as much an emergency as anything else, as a life hangs in the balance.
Most of the stigma surrounding this kind of thing, from what I’ve seen, stems from a lack of understanding, easily remedied by a bit of research and information. We have the internet now, so don’t be shy about looking into things on your own. Whether trying to better understand someone else’s situation, or your own, if you think you might need help with something. Finding blogs, like this one, is a good start as well. When you want information on something, go to the experts. The ones who live it every day.
And try not to judge anyone who suffers things like this. There’s an immediate change that happens with our perception when someone utters the words ‘mental illness’, and it’s commonly an unfavourable one. Having a disorder does not, in the majority of cases, equate to hearing voices, or having a predisposition to violence. There are people with this, mind you, and they need our help as well, it may just be harder to reach them. For most of us though, you’d never know there was anything wrong. We have faces we put on for the world when things are just too much, and we push through. We take things one day at a time, because that’s all anyone really has. We don’t want your pity, just your understanding. There will be days where it beats us. Keeps us locked up at home, unable to get out of bed, or even sends us to the hospital. It happens. Don’t freak out, just be there. The value of a shoulder or a hand cannot be understated. And it’s one of the simplest, most human things one can do.
Bio Photo
Derek S.
A 34 year old lover of literature, tea and technology, currently working in the Market Research industry.
Over-thinker of all life’s simplest things, and insanely jealous of his cats life.My blog was started as a form of self therapy, detailing my journey towards a happier life.Blog: http://www.lettersfrompangea.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DerekActual

Women Are Powerful Beyond Expectation

The other day my friend Alex was over helping me hang a 20 X 30 picture frame of my kids on the brick wall of my apartment. As I watched her at work, I said to her “You’re like my surrogate man.” I said this because I am a newly single mom.  I began to laugh a little to myself and then I thought: no. That’s not true. And I said it aloud.

“Wait, a second. That’s not true. Women can be just as handy as men are. Look at you working your magic on that picture frame. ”

Alex laughed to herself and said: “I was gonna say, when she’s old enough,” and she pointed to Samara, my daughter, “I’ll teach her how to use a power drill.”

We both laughed. “I would love that. And I bet she’ll be really good at it.”

Though society would have you believe otherwise, single mothers don’t need a man.  My friend Kristen (also a single mom)  told me a story about a proud independent moment she had. She bought a new futon and needed to remove her old one. With no help, she dragged the old futon out of her house, down a flight of stairs, out onto the street, around the corner and into the dumpster. The best part of the story was her neighbor came out, saw what was going on and remarked “Do you need me to get my husband?” Kristen turned around confidently, flexed her muscle and said “Nope, I did it myself.”

This story exemplifies how powerful women can be. We do not need the help of  man to complete life tasks.

Yet, the pervasive societal view is that a man is essential to a make a household complete. A friend of mine (another single mother) was at her son’s school PTA meeting. A parent randomly approached her and asked “where’s your husband?” I don’t know how she refrained from punching this person in the face, but she did. This stranger’s distorted viewpoint is (unfortunately) the prevalent view of our society. The truth is “where her husband is” is none of this person’s business.

Women need to believe (confidently) that we can do what it takes to be independent regardless of what society says about us. There is a floating misconception out there among women that if there is no man, then many tasks remain incomplete. I want to debunk this idea. Women can do whatever we set our minds to. We are powerful beyond expectation.

Sorry I Was An Insensitive Asshole

Dear many people in my life right now,

Sorry I was an insensitive asshole to you. I have been going through a major life transition/life upheaval. This is not an excuse for me being a dick. I was mean to you. The collective “you.” You may have felt singled out, or like I was picking on you personally. I didn’t mean to do it. It wasnt even about you. I was a monkey flinging my poop at everyone. I don’t want to be that monkey. And you certainly don’t deserve the collective shit that I threw at you.

The truth is, I need to deal with my own emotional stuff. It’s not the collective “you’s” responsibility to fix me or help me with my life. I got this. I am a strong ass woman.

I recognize that all of you have tried to be there for me during this time to the best of your ability. And some of you I have been mean to even though you’ve been supportive to me.

So, in short, I am sorry for my asshole behavior. You’re awesome. The collective you is awesome and supportive and amazing and you’ve been there for me even thought I was mean and erratic.

I’m working on it. I promise.

I will be more mindful of your feelings. I’m not the only one who has feelings. I recognize this. Other people have feelings too. And I need to be mindful of them. So I love you and your feelings matter to me.

Peace out.

-A former asshole monkey

Stigma Fighters – Jess D.

Chronic Pain and Depression
I was born with a chronic pain bone disorder called Multiple Hereditary Exostoses (MHE). I always struggle to explain this disorder in just a few short sentences. It seems so hard to condense everything I feel on a day to day basis, everything that I’ve been through because of this disorder, into just a few sentences. Basically, I have a genetic mutation that causes my body to produce “extra bones”, only they aren’t actually “extra” bones. They’re more like bone growths. People who have MHE call them bone tumours, growths, or spurs. I have these bone growths all over my body from the collarbone down. I have had 14 surgeries to remove the bone growths that were causing problems. When they get too big, they can cut off nerves and tendons and cause muscle damage.
Okay, so I have this bone disorder, and it alone makes my life a little tougher than average because I can’t walk very well or stand very long, and I’m not very strong. I’m also in a lot of pain each day.
I don’t know if you know this, but being in constant pain is depressing. Picture a heavy weight constantly pushing you down, and no matter how hard you struggle against it, it successfully keeps you down.
When I was a kid, I was pretty damn happy. Sure, I got sad when I couldn’t do the same things my sisters’ could, or when I had to go in for yet another surgery, but I was pretty happy regardless. As I aged, though…my anxiety and depression grew with me. I started covering up my awkwardly shaped legs and arms with layers of clothes. I started drawing into myself, keeping my pain and my disorder a secret from my peers. I didn’t want to be known as “that girl with the weird bone thing”, although I was. Being in crowds had always made me nervous, but it started to make me downright anxious.
In 2009, when I was 19 years old, I became a mom for the first time. I loved my new role, but my anxiety and depression rose even higher. It grew every single here from then to now. Now that I am a mom of two gorgeous boys and married, my depression and anxiety are incredibly high. I “have it all”…beautiful children, a roof over our heads, and a husband who loves me…but I still struggle daily with my chronic pain, depression and anxiety. In November of 2012, I actually went to my family doctor. I could no longer handle “living this way”, and I wanted a solution. It’s now April of 2014, and I haven’t yet been able to get an appointment with a psychologist. I have tried two different kinds of medication, but I’ll confess…medication doesn’t seem to be for me. It makes me even more tired than I already am, and I become unable to function because I am just so tired. With the exhaustion that chronic pain brings, you really don’t want to add any extras in.
I have a theory. My depression and anxiety are so high because they grow every time my pain does, and my pain seems to grow every year. Pregnancies seemed to fast track my MHE issues, and my pain got worse each time too. Heavier. Now that I’m a mom, I can’t take “rest days” or cater to my body as I used to. I now am up as soon as my kids are up, doing things to get us ready for our day, trying to keep house and make it to bedtime without collapsing. Most days, I struggle terribly with this. My patience takes a hit and all I want to do is cry because I have no patience and the chronic pain hurts. They don’t call it chronic pain for no reason, it’s always there. Some days, it’s more bearable, but most often…I make it to the end of the day by sheer determination.
I also deal with monstrous feelings of guilt, both of our sons’ inherited my MHE. Just knowing what I went through is enough to twist my guts in anxiety for them. I am able to relax myself by keeping proactive with them with their specialist appointment.
So, how do I deal with my chronic pain, depression, and anxiety? I force myself to push forward. When I don’t want to get out of bed, I force myself. When I don’t want to do certain things because I’m feeling so terrible, I do them. When a situation makes me anxious, I force myself to do it. I take every day just a day at a time, and I try to be as kind to myself as I can be. I talk to those who understand how heavy mental illness can be.
I remember that I am not alone, and neither are you.
MENOW
Jess is a married mother of two in her mid-twenties. Jess is addicted to coffee, Instagram selfies, Cadbury Mini Eggs, and Ketchup chips (only not together, because that would be gross). She has been blogging for nearly 10 years, and won a Bloggie award some time ago. She is currently in the process of getting her first novel published. You can find Jess pretty much everywhere, these days.

Send Sarah Fader to BlogHer 14

What’s up pumpkins?

I’m raising money to attend BlogHer 14. This year has been a great year for me. I managed to get on The Huffington Post and I had a post or two go viral. The infamous 3-Year-Olds are Assholes  and then there was Stop Calling Assertive Women Bitches . Needless to say it’s been a great year.

There have been some life challenges, however. I am now a single mom. I’m raising money to attend BlogHer because this is my year to shine. I want to be able to celebrate my success as a Blogger with the rest of the social media community.

So please take a moment to click here and donate or share my Indiegogo Fundraising campaign to attend BlogHer 14. With your help I can make it to BlogHer! 

send sarah fader to blogher

Stigma Fighters – Mental Illness Series

In February 2014 I wrote an article for The Huffington Post about living with panic disorder and depression.  I wrote it because I wanted to show the world that there are people living with mental illness who are not just homeless or institutionalized. There are those of us who are living within the confines of society.

There are teachers, doctors, lawyers, psychologists, actors, writers all living with mental illness. These are the stories that need to be told; the people who seem to be “regular” or “normal” people but are actually hiding a big secret. They are living with an invisible illness. They are struggling to function like the rest of society.

I’m using my forum to raise awareness for people (like me) who are seemingly “normal” but actually fighting hard to survive.

This series is called Stigma Fighters. If you are living with mental illness and you want to share your story. Please email me the story completely edited 1000 words maximum to sarah@oldschoolnewschoolmom.com

Include the story in plain text in the body of the email. No need to attach a Word document or any silliness like that. Write a bio for yourself including your website and attach a headshot.

I look forward to fighting the stigma of mental illness one story at a time. Who’s with me? Check out the video below:

Stigma Fighters

You can share it here: http://youtu.be/75A0PnzJQ_4

Photo on 4-17-14 at 3.14 PM #2

Stigma Fighters – Jennifer W.

I’m 31 years-old and I’ve lived with depression and anxiety since I was about eight. Growing up, I was an only child. I was bullied relentlessly in school, dropped out of high school and got my GED to start college early. I cut and burned myself often as a teen, abusing myself just to feel something less painful than what was going on inside my own head. Luckily, I traded self-harm for tattoos years ago, which has been a far more positive, productive form of release. 

I love animals, travel, reading, and writing. I have a 10-year-old son whom I cherish above all else. I have dived with sharks, I have given birth without an epidural, and I would do either one again. 

Mental illness. It’s a term we hear in the media cycle daily, but a stigma still hangs around it, not unlike those commercials for antidepressants where a little black rain cloud of despair follows one poor, tragic soul wherever he may go while everyone around him basks in sunlight and general merriment.

I can tell you from personal experience, for people who live with mental illness, that stigma is real. 

I try not to take it personally. I welcome with open arms the attempts of those who, whether they share an actual understanding of mental illness or not, at least try to say the right things and lend support where support is needed.

As with anything else in life, the way people respond to you having a mental illness will likely be a mixed bag. Think of a new haircut: if you have honest friends, some of them will say they love it, others will say they liked your hair better before and still other won’t have noticed your hair because, well, it isn’t on their own head. (We all have those friends!) At the end of the day, your hair really isn’t keeping any of them up at night.

With mental illness, there’s a difference. We do tend to keep our loved ones up at night, and in many cases, such concern is warranted. The stigma surrounding mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia come mostly from a lack of understanding, not a lack of empathy.

My disease isn’t visible unless you know what you’re looking for, and really, who you’re looking at. A person living with mental illness has likely developed various healthy and unhealthy ways of coping. If they’re too good at ‘coping’ or they isolate themselves, they could almost keep their illness nothing more then a horrible, hidden secret. Nothing – let me repeat, nothing – is worse for the depressed or anxious mind than to be isolated and inactive.

Personally, I have to fight – no, I have to battle – the urge to practice avoidance when things are not going well. When I need support more than ever, even having a conversation can seem like more effort than I’m capable of. Leaving the house? Sometimes you can’t even leave your bed. 

If you care about someone who struggles with mental illness, call them. Even if you know they screen their calls and don’t always return calls, call them anyway. Text them if possible, you will likely get a quicker response. Your simple text could even turn their whole mood around, at least for a little while.

If a loved one had a broken hand, you’d help them. You would cut their meat if they needed you to, you would help them dress, you would show them kindness. You would do this even if it were a pain in the ass, because you could clearly see with your own eyes they were incapable of doing it for themselves at that particular moment. 

With mental illness, as millions of us know, that kind of understanding and assistance can be rare. Maybe it’s similar to childbirth, cancer, or jumping out of an airplane; if you haven’t been there, you really can’t fully grasp it. You can imagine and empathize, but your muscle memory doesn’t have that particular, life-altering experience mapped into it. 

So, what can you do? Talk to people who share your muscle memory. There are numerous forms of support for those suffering mental illnesses, but there are also places family members and loved ones can turn when they feel they don’t understand the situation enough to help improve it, which is often their goal. 

Family members need support, too. But just as it is often up to us as patients to seek our own care, friends and family members must realize that if they really want to help their loved one, the onus is on them to seek the information or support they need to better understand. (The National Alliance on Mental Illness can help. Get valuable resources at their website. https://www.nami.org/ )

Mental illness is not just a cartoon black cloud that follows you around. It’s not just missing out on walking the dog because you can’t get off your couch in a darkened room, until you pop the ad’s magic pill, and suddenly a beam of sunlight appears through your window and you follow it outside into the bright, shining day and your bright, shining future. (Can you imagine a commercial for a cancer treatment that showed a stick figure patient with a sad face carrying around a floating cancer cell on a string like a balloon? Then taking the magic pill, popping the balloon with a pin and just “getting on with life?” It’s really a bit simplistic and insulting.)

With any disease, with any treatment, there’s always more to it than the quick fix. The most important thing people without mental illness can try to understand is that for us, this is forever. This is who we are and we’re doing the best that we can. We are not cartoon characters chased by clouds and we do not spend our lives on the couch (though we might spend days at a time there, just as you might do if you had the flu or were recuperating from chemo). We are parents, siblings, friends, children. We are human beings with our own sets of troubles and crosses to bear, no more, no less. That is something everyone should be able to relate to.

(If you feel you or a loved one is in immediate crisis, seek medical attention or utilize the Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK. It bears stating the obvious: call 911 if you are seriously concerned for your safety or the safety of others. For more information on how to help a person in crisis, click here.) 

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Jennifer Waite is a mother, freelance writer and photographer. She currently covers entertainment news for Examiner.com, and has written thousands of articles on current events, health, travel and parenting for various outlets since 2009. Her content has received more than five million views collectively. For inquiries, email: jennifer_waite@comcast.net

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The Semicolon Project: Survivors of Depression and Self-Harm

There was a time in my life when I didn’t want to live anymore. I was incredibly hopeless. I was afraid to wake up in the morning because when I opened my eyes I knew that I would have to face the day. If you haven’t struggled with depression, it’s hard to understand these feelings. But they are incredibly awful and real. They are debilitating.

In addition to having suicidal thoughts, I’ve also had (in the past) thoughts about cutting myself. I would have those thoughts when I felt hopeless and like my life was not going to get better. It was a manifestation of internalized pain. I would imagine cutting myself so that the pain would go away.

I never acted upon thoughts of self-harm. But I have friends who were self-mutilators. The thoughts alone were upsetting to me at the time. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to harm oneself.

Today I found out about a brave movement called The Semicolon Project. Participants in this project are drawing tattoos of semicolons on their wrists to raise awareness about depression and self-harm.

I am here to tell you that I have lived with depression my entire life.

Photo on 4-16-14 at 9.43 AM

You are not alone. If you are scared to wake up in the morning, I have been there. If you’re afraid of the thoughts in your head, I was too once. You can make it through this. I did. I survived. You can too. You’re a good person, even if your brain tells you otherwise. Do not stop fighting. You are strong. I am with you. I am you.

So much love.

Gray

I want to believe that people are black and white. It would be so much easier that way.  With the exception of murderers and real criminals, people are not all “bad” or “good.” The nature of being human means that we have good days and bad ones. We are inherently changeable.

I’m thinking of a particular person in my life right now. It would be convenient to label this person as “bad.” But I’m not going to do that to them. Yes, this person hurt me deeply. But they’re not a bad person. In fact, they have many good qualities. I don’t know how to reconcile the bad with the good. And when I start to combine the two feelings I’m confused and I start to cry.

I’ve been crying a lot lately, as my life is in transition. Someone close to me said  “you’re in a transitional period in your life.” This person is right in a sense. My life is changing in a major way. However, I wouldn’t refer to it as a transition. A transition is more like the time between high school classes. This time in my life feels like an upheaval. Everything I once knew is not going to be the same.

I have to be mindful of what I say. I have to pay attention to what I write on here. I resent all that. I want to be able to freely express myself. Writing is a major form of therapy for me. I don’t want to be censored from saying what I need to say in order to maintain emotional balance.

People are not black or white. They are gray. They are complex. They are multi-dimensional. You may “know” a person for your entire life and not really “know” who they are fully ever.

There is no good and no bad. People are people.

I can’t reconcile how I feel about this significant person in my life. This person will be in my life forever. I both love and resent them. I don’t know where to go from here with those feelings.

I want to forgive them. I want to merge the two feelings. I know that this person must feel similarly about me. They probably have tremendous resentment towards me. But underneath it all, maybe there is still love there. It’s hard to tell because on the surface we do not understand each other. We are sitting at opposite ends of a room looking at each other with suspicious eyes.

It is my hope that one day we will be able to sit down and understand each other the way we once did a long time ago.

When that day occurs…I will be sure that I’m wearing a gray dress.

We’re All Crazy

I cannot count the times in my life that someone has called me crazy.  There have been incidences where the individual was joking “you’re crazy.” But there are other incidences where I’ve been called crazy when the person in question was  attempting to insult me.

The funny part about this is that we’re all a little “crazy.” Often when one human being calls another human being “crazy” it’s because they don’t like how that person is acting. They don’t agree with what they’re saying.

So by that rationale, everyone is crazy. It’s all relative. You might appear “crazy” to another person because you disagree with them, and the person on the receiving end of your rant looks crazy to you.

Also, the world is a crazy place. So much of what we experience on a day to day basis makes little to no sense.

We’ve established these things so far:

  1. Everyone is slightly “crazy” in their own way.
  2.  The world is crazy.
  3.  Crazy is a relative word and entirely subjective.

These things should make you feel better about yourself when someone calls you crazy. Because it’s not just you, you know, they’re also crazy.

The mailman is probably crazy. I mean, he spends all day with a giant bag of mail. That would make anyone a little cuckoo. There’s a reason why they call it “going postal.” The MTA conductor of the 2 train is probably insane. He spends all day driving the train and not interacting with real people. Crazy! New York City taxi drivers on the night shift are undoubtedly crazy. They are transporting intoxicated people to their destinations all night long. That breeds insanity.

The list goes on and on.

The next time someone calls you crazy, be thankful that you’re not the only crazy  one.