Sunday, June 18, 2017

Guest Post - Psych Central Blogger, Hetti Ross - Name That Stigma



Bill Clinton once said 'Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.'  It is incredibly sad to witness stigma directed at a person who is mentally unwell and it is equally  sad to see it happen online. What's perhaps even more difficult is when there is stigma in families, so people suffering are left feeling isolated and unsupported. I count myself lucky in many ways, I didn't suffer like many do with my family but the insidious nature of stigma still raised its head.

When I received a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder in my twenties, my father, a remote man, became visibly upset and told me he understood as there had been 'a woman with bipolar on casualty, spinning around on a plastic swivel chair and doing laps of the corridor.' (Casualty is a long-running drama centered around a fictitious A&E department in England). I suppose I could have been upset by this flippancy but I already knew my parents wouldn't understand. Although on a practical level they may have helped when I became unwell: driven me punctually to doctors appointments, reminded me to pay bills, helped me keep on top of housework, taken me to the supermarket and this practical help cannot be undervalued, what I often wanted more is emotional understanding and support.

During one particular dark period, whilst at a shopping center, I bumped into a friend of my mothers between the racks of M&S. My depression was such at the time that I feel didn't particularity communicative so made my excuses and snuck into an overly hot, overly crowded cafe. My mother upon hearing of this encounter, said “oh good heavens, they will wonder what's wrong with you now – I think I will tell them you have 'a touch of anxiety.' She seemed rather pleased with this inventive excuse – cue a self-satisfied swish of the hand - whereas I simply inquired about the truth, but truth is relative and anxiety is still a mental health issue, just not one that will make others feel uncomfortable. I must add at this point I don't know what a touch of anxiety is, it sounds like a throwback to 'it's just his nerves' or maybe its a god awful rash.

A few years after being diagnosed, I had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Once I began to feel less bone achingly depressed, I took the kindly offer of occupational health classes, downstairs in a small claustrophobic room. I made Christmas cards – though it definitely wasn't Christmas. I did Tai Chi sitting on a chair – bit confusing. I went for a brisk walk around the hospital grounds. I went for a jog around same grounds in the cold pouring rain. I made an Easter card, though it definitely wasn't Easter. And I made a pink bauble.

After a while, I began staying behind after sessions to help tidy up – the only other option would be to go back up onto the ward – a sort of hopeless green walled, worn carpet, monotonous place or to sit in my room staring up at the bleak barred window or waiting for a fly by visit from my mum. One day, as I stuffed paper and pencils back onto shelves, the lady who ran these sessions, who I thought very nice, asked what I wanted to do with my life. I had just turned twenty three, so a reasonable question, except I didn't know of course, so I told her this and added, as an afterthought, that I might go into the care profession.

'You have to be careful you know, you won't really be trusted.'
I didn't know what she meant. I wondered what sort of untrustworthy person I was supposed to be. I said 'what do you mean?'
'After Beverly Allitt, the nurse, the mentally ill aren't trusted.' (Beverly Allitt killed four babies in her care in 1991, attempted to murder three more and cause grievous bodily harm to six. She is serving a life sentence and it is believed suffers from Munchausens by proxy).

I would like to tell you I had a quick fire response or that I stepped upon my soapbox to defend the mentally ill or that I eloquently tried to educate – although one normally concludes those working in psychiatry, in whatever capacity, will be educated, open, non-biased and not fond of perpetuating stigma. Unfortunately, I did none of the above. I simply skulked away, upset, humiliated, horribly disappointed with tears in my eyes.

It feels perverse to be diagnosed with an illness, any mental illness in fact, and then, whilst struggling/crawling through it, to find one of the most notable and persuasive side-effects is society no longer accepts you. It sounds absurd to put it like this but for many, this level of disregard, is a daily occurrence. We have come so far as a society in accepting a myriad of things -  but still can not find our way to destigmatize mental illness. Are we really, beneath all the progress, no farther forward than asylums – a penitentiary for the less appetizing parts of being human – a reminder as T S Eliot said that 'humankind cannot bear very much reality.

I spoke about my experiences (past and recent) with friends a few days ago, those also with mental illness, and I found myself saddened because my experiences are far from unique. People have suffered unbearable pain, and yet had to trawl through hellish stigma – at the very times they needed the most love,  kindness and understanding.

With all this in mind, I have begun a hashtag - #NameThatStigma to help raise awareness of the added suffering we have to contend with whether dealing with depression or Schizophrenia. It's a way to show each person they are not alone, we are here and to show those who don't suffer, who may never suffer that there is nothing more absurd than being treated like a pariah because one is  ill.

So, please, join me by sharing your experiences of stigma on Twitter using #NameThatStigma – it's time to put stigma where it belongs -  in a box called societies shame.



Bio: Hetti is a writer living in Scotland. She is a freelance writer by day, a fiction writer of night, and a very tired person in between.

She is founder of We Are The Beautifully Weird Facebook community -  supporting people struggling with mental illness and/or providing an inclusive space for anyone who has ever felt they don’t quite fit in.

Hetti is also adopted and explores this over at Psych Central at her blog, Adoption: Rewriting Our Narratives and runs #AdopteeChat on Twitter – every Wednesday, 8-9 BST. 

She is currently finishing her second novel whilst trying to publish her first.

It's a great honour for me to appear on Rebecca's website today. I want to express my gratitude for the fantastic opportunity and thank her for all of her support. She really is wonderful.



Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Anxiety



If I look back at all the times my anxiety has taken over my life, it’s hard to fathom. It started back when I was a kid. I often didn’t want to go to school and developed a stomach ache. It went undiagnosed for years. At age 19, I finally sought treatment, and now at age 44, I’ve struggled for years. I’ve missed important events, lost jobs, and friends because of my anxiety. I take medications that ought to be helping. Perhaps they are, I don’t know anymore. It’s entirely possible I would be worse off without them.

I remember back in my early 20’s, I was just getting used to driving on the highway. I avoided it for as long as I could. I had landmarks that I looked for every trip I took. If I didn’t see those landmarks, I immediately had an anxiety attack. Having an episode like that while driving is no picnic.

I get anxious about appointments weeks before they’re scheduled. By the time the date arrives, I’ve worked myself into such a frenzy that I can’t stop sobbing. Thankfully, I have a supportive husband that can help me work through what I’m feeling. Although, even his support doesn’t make the anxiety go away.

So, you want to know what anxiety feels like to me? You know that feeling when someone sneaks up behind you and startles you? For a brief moment, your heart races and your blood suddenly feels hot as it courses through your veins. Add onto that, you begin sobbing, and you’re unable to breathe because you can’t control the racing thoughts or what you’re feeling. Imagine feeling that for 30 minutes to an hour at a time.

Quite simply, anxiety is completely exhausting. When you finally crawl out of the fire, you’re feeling too weak to do much of anything. Most of the time, my coping mechanism is avoidance. I stay away from situations that could cause me anxiety.


So, you can imagine how frustrating it is to have an attack out of the blue. There may be a cause, there may not be, it’s hard to say. I really never know what to expect. Ironically, thinking of writing this article caused me anxiety. My hands are shaking even now as I type. It doesn’t take much to set me off, and that feels just like a living hell. 

To the Girl Who Gave Me the ECG, Being Sad Doesn’t Mean You’re Bipolar



For the last couple of months, I’ve been facing some additional health concerns. Not necessarily mental health related, although the stress from them has certainly impacted me in a negative way. My family has a history of high blood pressure and heart disease. Both my parents have/had high blood pressure, my mom had congestive heart failure, and my sister was just diagnosed with it as well.

So, when I started to realize that they were taking my blood pressure multiple times every time I went to the doctor, and it was always at least a little high, I started to pay attention. Suddenly, I was waking up every single day with a headache, and my right foot, ankle, and calf were often very swollen. So, my dad bought me a blood pressure monitor, and I started watching it closely. It was never normal. Literally high every time I took it. The day I went to the doctor, it was 182/99. When I Googled that, they said that was call an ambulance level.

So, I went to the doctor and he just happened to have a couple of young girls there performing ECG’s and EKG’s that day. I got lucky, I suppose. They were nice enough girls, but sometimes when you’re in your 40’s, you forget you aren’t in your 20’s anymore, and that you really have nothing in common with the younger generation, so I did a lot of nodding and smiling. My husband was with me, and went to go get some blood work done, then came back to the room.

They were using the same goop they use when they give you an ultrasound, which I’ve experienced only to look at whether I have an ovarian cyst, not because I’ve had a baby. These young girls chatted away about their appointments, and how I smelled good. I had to roll over on my left side at one point, and I had fallen on it in the shower earlier that week, so it was a struggle.

I watched the screen thinking about all the times I had watched Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant, and laughed about how it looked like a baby. I’m on the heavier side, and I was incredibly self-conscious lying there topless with essentially a large piece of paper draped over myself, as the tech chatted away and poked me with the glowing death stick of pain as I came to know it. I made some kind of comment about how hot it was in the room and being overweight you’re always kind of hot. Nobody knew what to say, so I went on a bit about how I had lost some weight, but being bipolar, I got really depressed and stopped taking care of myself.

The girl poking me painfully actually said outloud, “Oh my God, girl! I KNOW what you mean! I swear I am bipolar. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Seriously, I had this other job, and every night I would get home from work and be so sad, and my boyfriend was like…you aren’t DOING anything with your life, that’s why.”

I was floored. I went through a million things in my head. The room was dark, but I tried to look over her at my husband, knowing he would be in the corner of the room ready to tear her a new one. I could’ve said a million things. I could’ve told her she was lucky she could work, as I couldn’t. I could have said, you’re in the medical field and you’re comparing your day to day sadness about having a crappy job with bipolar disorder. I could have said so much, and yet I said nothing.

I had many reasons for not saying a word. The first was that based on their previous conversations, it would go in one ear and out the other. However, the main reason was I was just so damn shocked that a young woman trained in the medical field could possibly know so damn little. All she did was further the stigma of mental illness and she was totally oblivious. Usually I’m pretty good with thinking on my feet, but I wasn’t on my feet. I was lying on a table half naked and decided that now would be a good time to practice the theory of “picking your battles”.


Once I got home, I started thinking about starting a petition that all high school and college students be required to take at least a mental health awareness course. I did start that petition, and it’s making the rounds online but not getting the attention I feel it deserves, so I’ll include the link here. Perhaps, if we can get to them early enough, they’ll know not to say ignorant things to people that truly do have health conditions that aren’t humorous.



I hope you’ll consider signing it, and not just for someone like me. For the little girl with Autism or the man with Schizophrenia that can’t fight for themselves. I wish I had been able to speak up and tell that young girl how wrong she was, but I guess I haven’t come to that point in my journey yet. There will be a day when I finally know exactly what to say, and I’ll be sure it gets said. You can count on that. 

The Pressures of Mental Health Advocacy


Often when it comes to the world of mental health advocacy, you find that you stumble into it head-first, having no idea how you got there. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just unexpected, and it takes a while to get your footing. Suddenly, you realize you didn’t leave yourself a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way back out, just in case it all becomes too much for you.  As much of an honor as it is to help fight against the stigma of mental illness and to be the voice of the voiceless, it can be exhausting and time-consuming.

Sometimes your personal feelings fall by the wayside because you’re so focused on the care of others. I know at least in my situation, I’m terrified that one day I may have a serious setback again that requires hospitalization. What does that say to all of the people that have read my book or followed me on Twitter as I declare, you can do this! You are a warrior!

Do I look like a hypocrite telling them to keep fighting as I’m curled up in the fetal position having not showered in 3 days? The whole concept makes me feel like a giant failure. There have been times when I have had to step back or not get involved in certain situations, not because I didn’t care but because I needed to protect myself. I’ve seen some backlash from those experiences, but I can’t let that get to me. As I’ve often stated, I’m not a professional with a degree, and I’m certainly not getting paid to offer my advice, so unfortunately, there will be times when I am not 100% dialed in.

Which leads me to my next point. How do you cope with being an advocate when a loved one dies? In this case, it was my father, and I am devastated. It’s only been about five days. There are times when being online helps me keep my mind occupied, so I’m not perpetually in grief mode. At the same time, it can be incredibly difficult because you can’t participate to the fullest, so you feel as if whatever headway you made is lost. You sit back and watch as others are offered opportunities, or people are looking for writers for a story, etc. and you just have to allow yourself to say no. No matter how disappointed you feel.

Don’t get me wrong; this is not a competition. We’re all on the same team, but there are times when you’re struggling, and you just have to sit this one out, and my brain has a real problem with that.

Last night, I sat down in front of the computer to try to get a few things done. Before long, I realized I had been sitting there staring at it for about 5 minutes, with no idea what I was doing. I couldn’t remember a single thing I needed or wanted to do, and I just completely lost it. I had a horrible panic attack that originated in my arms; similar to that pins and needles feeling when a body part falls asleep on you. I had to drag myself away and hope that my brain would be functioning better today. To a certain degree, it is, but I still feel a nagging sense of panic.

I have things to accomplish today, such as this blog. I’ve had the first two paragraphs written for three weeks. I like to think that both my mom and my dad would want me to keep pushing forward to get to my goal. I wish my mom could see me now. The person I’ve become. I know my dad was proud, he told me so. I think she would be too.

So, as I take this little mental health break, I need to try to understand that it’s OK to step away for a while. Even though we were right in the middle of a whole bunch of projects, I’ll never learn how to process grief if I don’t take some time to do it.
You may see me stumble and even fall for a little while, and somehow I’m going to have to be OK with that. I hope you can be as well.

A little while before my father got so sick, I started a hashtag on Twitter #KeepTalkingMH  I think it’s appropriate for not only the month of May, (being Mental Health Awareness Month) but for mental health in general. While I step back and focus on me for a little while, don’t think I’m not terrified that it will get swept under the rug and never heard of again.  If I think long enough, I can find a vast array of topics to cause me yet another panic attack. So, it begs the question: Is being an advocate giving me additional pressures or am I burdening myself with additional pressures because I’m an advocate?

I personally think it’s both. So, I’m off to attempt to enjoy a day of nice weather and try not to struggle too much with my grief. It’s going to be a long road, but I’ve been on it before.


The Origin of #KeepTalkingMH



A few weeks ago, while I was on Twitter, I noticed that a lot of people have hashtags that they’re trying to promote related to mental health. For anyone that isn’t aware, a # plus a phrase is used on Twitter and other social media sort of as a search term.

For example, if you wanted to look up your favorite band, you can go on Twitter and do a search for #bandname and you will see all of the posts that others have made about the band. I hope that makes more sense; I know I had a heck of a time when I first started out.

After being online for a while and seeing the work people were putting into their hashtags, I noticed that it seemed like everyone was trying to promote their hashtag about mental health or mental illness. It made me wonder if there was a way to bring it all together into one hashtag, therefore making the mental health community even stronger. So, I started thinking about ideas, and I came up with #KeepTalkingMH. There’s a website called www.twubs.com where you can make sure there isn’t anyone else using your desired hashtag. If nobody else is using it, then you register it. I recommend paying the $9 fee to have exclusive rights.

My hashtag started to become popular. I picked a certain day to try and get it trending, and although we didn’t get there, we did have some exciting things happen. Celebrities like cast members from Mike & Molly, Kevin Smith, former WWE superstars and announcers, they all tweeted for us that day.

Since then, the popularity has grown. It’s easily found on Twitter, and it allows people to have a voice and talk about how they’re feeling. So, here I am today asking that you jump on the bandwagon and tweet #KeepTalkingMH today and every day!
Remember, it must be an original tweet, you can’t just retweet someone else’s.

To all mental health advocates out there, please consider using #KeepTalkingMH instead of creating a new hashtag. If we had just one hashtag that covered the entire spectrum, and everyone started using it, we could make a change in the way people view mental health.


You’ve been challenged! Keep using #KeepTalkingMH always and often and let’s see if we can get our message out there! 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Guest Post - The Founder of TreasureLives Suicide Prevention & Mental Health Awareness Gets Personal by Melody Nolan, M.S.


(You can copy and paste all of the links into your browser to view them.)
           
I can still hear my four-year-old brother singing “Love is something if you give it away…you end up having more!” bit.ly/VIDEO_John_MemorialI can also still hear the phone nearly 15 years later. I was in the depths of depression, so I didn’t answer…but the damned thing kept ringing. “Melody? I’ve got some bad news. John…is dead.” I don’t recall exactly what was said after that. I just remember that John had committed suicide. Given that I was struggling with suicidal ideation myself, there couldn’t have been a worse time to receive this news: If suicide was okay for John, it somehow made it a more acceptable choice for me.

I made it to the high school auditorium to find it filled with exponentially more people than I even know: this was for what was called a “Celebration of Life.” I am of the opinion that this term should be reserved for occasions when people are living. I believe replacing “Memorial Service” with “Celebration of Life” candy-coats the reality of death, and that when it comes to understanding the impact of suicide and therefore preventing suicides, this is detrimental. I celebrate the memory of John because that is all I have. 

The most common theme among people contemplating suicide is the feeling of being a burden. My question is, what if you really are? I live with chronic physical and mental health conditions. It is exhausting for me, and it is exhausting for those who know me. Just ask them…those who are left, anyway. I must give credit to those who were honest: “Truthfully, it’s too hard for me to watch you become sicker and sicker;” “You just don’t fit in with my life’s pace.”
 Really? I didn’t know friendship was contingent upon health.

Then, there were those who loved and supported me until they simply couldn’t take it anymore. They believed that love cures all. They had the best possible intentions and did everything they could to help me – ultimately to the detriment of the relationships. As time went on and my illnesses prevailed, they became exhausted and in one way or another, they disappeared.

The answer? Actually, there are three: honesty, balance, and boundaries. Don’t tell me it’s okay to call you 24/7 if it isn’t. Don’t encourage me to talk about what’s bothering me if the topics are disturbing to you. Don’t give so much of yourself to me that you have nothing left for anyone else because eventually, you won’t even have anything left for yourself. I can be needy, but I am not greedy. I am also na├»ve and I believe that if you tell me something is okay with you, that it is. Please do not lie to yourself and to me and then blame me for believing you.

 You may fear that setting boundaries with me will kill me, but the truth is quite the opposite: setting boundaries will keep our relationship healthy. You will not become overwhelmed and leave, I will not be a burden, and I will not feel like the only way to relieve myself of my pain and you of the responsibility you feel for me is for me to die. You don’t need to be afraid to say “No” to me. I will respect you for it.

 My second mom did everything she could think of for John when he was caught in the whirlwind of mental illness. She brought him into her home, adjusted her schedule to suit his needs, engaged in projects with him, and did volunteer work with him. She loved him unconditionally, just as she did all of us. She also did everything humanly possible to help ME for 30 years. I can’t think of a single thing that she didn’t try. I love her for it, and I will be grateful to her for all eternity. I am also saddened because I know our relationship took a toll on her and by extension the rest of the family. I believe that we did the best we could with what we knew, understood and believed at the time. However, I wish with all my heart that we had recognized the damage the lack of boundaries was doing to us both sooner than we did so that we would have had time to develop and enjoy a healthy, balanced relationship.

John ultimately chose to take his life; I choose to live mine. Initially, I was angry with John. Furious. Then, I felt abandoned. How do I feel today, four years later? I feel robbed of the opportunity to be in each other’s lives. John was an amazing musician, a generous person, and had one of the kindest spirits about him that I have ever encountered. I miss him immensely. He has left a void that can never be filled. The fact is that when you choose to take your life, you leave a hole in mine. That is not the legacy I want to leave, and I am determined to do all I can to choose to live and to help others do the same.

 I witness compassion for and forgiveness of John while I continue to perceive resentment or at least fear of my needs…and I feel jealous. Jealous of John. People love John. People avoid me. John had the guts to do what I have wanted to do for decades. While people continue to “celebrate John’s life,” I continue to feel that I am a burden. I am still alive. I am still trying.  Doesn’t that count for anything?

 I often feel as though I would receive grace and forgiveness for suicide as opposed to blame, judgment, and criticism for the way I have lived. The truth is, there has not been a single day as far back as I can remember that I have not considered suicide at least once – even if just for a fleeting moment. This is a difficult existence. My reasons are that I am not productive enough; that no one would notice if I was no longer here; that people would be relieved if I died because they wouldn’t have to worry about me or interact with me; and feeling and having been told that I am or was a burden. Regardless of the fact that all of these messages have varying degrees of truth to them, they are very powerful triggers which for me can make the difference between being able to act responsibly versus needing hospitalization, and for some people, they can make the difference between survival and suicide.  My point? Words create powerful messages embedded in my psyche. So does silence.  

My practical response to John’s suicide was to open an eBay store, Lazarus Treasures, to honor his memory. Sellers donated a percentage of their profits to The Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program. Wanting to do more, I incorporated TreasureLives. TreasureLives’ mission is to educate the public about suicide prevention and mental health. We have a YouTube channel which broadcasts memorials of lives lost to suicide as well as testimonies of lives saved. We recently created a group on Facebook for Survivors of Suicide Attempts at bit.ly/TLs_FB_SSA. Our goals for the future include the writing and distribution of a mental wellness curriculum that extends from kindergarten through college and mental health advocacy for veterans, seniors, and those with disabilities. If you visit our homepage at bit.ly/TreasureLives, you will access statistical information about suicide, an extensive resource page, a blog, an online store, and links to our social media networks. You will also find “A Dozen Ways to Donate” and see how you can be part of our Wall of Heroic Volunteers. To view the Wall, please visit bit.ly/TLs_Heroes.

I made a few attempts to take my life when I was younger: It is debatable as to whether I wanted death or attention, but does it matter? If we all paid just a little attention to each other, those of us with significant special needs would not be a burden to any one person. This is what we mean at TreasureLives when we say “It doesn’t take much to be a hero.” Being my hero doesn’t mean that you do everything for me all the time:  It means that you find space for me somewhere in your life, honor that space, and express to me that you cherish that space. It means that you do the best you can to take care of yourself because we cannot have a healthy relationship if you resent me. It means that you will give me the opportunity to respect boundaries rather than assume I will violate them. Most importantly, it means that in some shape or form you will celebrate my life now, with me, and not wait until after I am gone.  

I am more than my illnesses. I am a musician and a writer. I am educated, creative and talented. I am a born advocate. I am a dedicated friend (I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I am more loyal than a dog.) Don’t assume that just because I have physical and mental illnesses that a relationship with me must be all about me. I don’t want that. Give me the opportunity to love and support you. I’m a great listener and when wanted I can give valuable feedback (sometimes even when not wanted…I’m working on that.) Being in a relationship with me doesn’t mean that you are supposed to meet all of my needs or fix me. YOU CAN’T! It means that you educate yourself about my conditions so that you understand that sometimes simply brushing my teeth is an accomplishment to be applauded; It means that you acknowledge my struggles, appreciate my efforts, and partake of what I have to offer – just as I do you and yours. Yes, I have many needs. One of them is to give. I invite you to get to know me beyond my symptoms and my sicknesses. Who am I? I am Melody Nolan, and I am the founder of TreasureLives. 

*For more about my perspective on this subject, please watch “Suicide Skit,” penned by me, Melody Nolan at bit.ly/VIDEO_SS 


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Agoraphobia vs. Social Anxiety



Agoraphobia is a condition that I suffer from, but I don’t speak about it very often. I think because it’s difficult to explain. At times, it can be nearly impossible to separate Agoraphobia from Social Anxiety. I wanted to look into it and determine whether I was confusing the two conditions and whether it was possible to suffer from both.

Agoraphobia is defined as a fear of leaving your home. Many people with Agoraphobia are house-bound, even room-bound. Truth be told, there are days when I don’t  leave our bedroom. Agoraphobia refers to the fear of being in situations or places from which escape would be difficult in the event of a panic attack. We often fear crowds, cars, and even elevators. For me, it has become such a nuisance that I even fear just going to the mailbox in front of our house. If I spend too much time in an elevator, I begin to panic. I start feeling like I can’t breathe.

Both Agoraphobia and Social Anxiety are often referred to as a fear of public places, people with Social Anxiety most often fear places where public scrutiny can occur. The more articles I read, the more it all began to make sense. One article even mentioned that Agoraphobics could feel better with a trusted companion when they’re in public. I find this true for me but only with my husband. It’s not often that you suffer from both conditions, but when it does happen, it’s in women.

I can’t even count how many events or appointments I have missed due to one or both of these conditions. Add to that issues with your weight and self-esteem, and it’s a nightmare. I am constantly dissecting every single flaw that I have, and because I am so critical, I expect that everyone else will be too. All I see when I look in the mirror is an overweight mess. In the last few months, I’ve even avoided having anyone come to our house because of how terrible I think I look. It’s a horrible feeling to be terrified in your own home.

It’s been more than a year since I drove myself anywhere. I was recently gifted a vehicle, and I still haven’t driven it. We let it sit for three weeks, and when we went to start it, the battery was dead. I saw that as just another sign. My husband takes it on little trips to the store now so that we don’t have that problem again, but what can I do about my dead battery? I’ve isolated myself for so long, rarely leaving the house. I don’t know how to fix this. Sitting here right now, I can’t remember the last time I went anywhere. I keep telling myself that the more I avoid any attempt at getting out, the harder it will be to do it once I have something important that I must do.

I’ve been struggling for months, just barely holding myself together. I hide behind sarcasm because I don’t want anyone to see the real truth. I feel a sense of responsibility to the people that have seen my posts on social media or read my book. I’ve told everyone for so long that they can lead a full and happy life despite mental illness, that I’ve forgotten to practice what I preach. At this point, I’m merely existing, not living.

I need to make a change, and I need to do it quickly. I turned 44 last month. It’s time to put my big girl pants on and get back in the game. If it means some kind of therapy, perhaps I just have to accept that. As much as I hate the idea, maybe it would be the best thing for me. I’m stuck, that’s for sure, and the old me didn’t leave any bread crumbs leading back to who I once was.

So, here I am having to contend with not just your run of the mill depression and anxiety, but agoraphobia and social anxiety coupled with a deep seeded hatred of my appearance and very low self-esteem. It almost feels too heavy to ever come out from underneath. My brain tells me that it’s just too much, I can’t do it. My heart tells me that in 20 years I’m going to look back and wish I had done more while I could. I can’t live with that kind of regret; I already carry so much as it is.

I feel like I’m finally at the point where I can make a declaration. I am finally going to start living my life again. I’ll keep working with my doctor to find a depression medication that works, but in the meantime, I’ll be working on myself. Maybe I’ll do online therapy, just until I’m ready to get back in the saddle. Every day, my mantra will be “just do a little more today than you did yesterday.”

If you’re struggling with similar issues, reach out to me! Maybe we can help push each other to make positive changes. It just takes a moment in time to change your life. You just have to be prepared to accept whatever those changes may bring. I think I’m ready. Are you?








Monday, April 3, 2017

Guest Post from Writer and Mental Health Advocate, Ryan Ritchie (Explicit Language)



Falling in love is scary. I think we can all agree that, no matter how old we are, giving our heart to somebody can be frightening. We’re unsure if it’ll work out or if your love and trust will be betrayed by the very person you’re freely giving it to but, despite this minefield of ‘what ifs’, we pursue what our heart thinks is right.
When people say ‘you’re crazy – it’ll never work out’ or ‘you’ll only get hurt’: do we listen? Of course, not. Why? Because any glimmer of hope is enough for us to cling onto with dear life and commit to. We want to make it work – even with the odds against us – we understand that love could be forever.
We understand that love… True love, is rare and, to couple this with anxiety, it can:
MAKE YOU PAY ATTENTION TO EVERY SINGLE, LITTLE DETAIL.
Overthinking is our thing. We worry, we stress, we over exert ourselves to please somebody else: to put somebody else’s happiness before our own. We spend so much time pre-empting what may happen: instead of enjoying or reacting to what’s happening right now.
A slight change in the number of kisses you receive in a text could trigger a string of ‘is everything okay?’ replies. We believe that one less ‘x’ at the end of a message could suggest that something is changing but, the reality is, the kisses you don’t receive over the phone, are compensated for when you’re together.
We spend our time analysing changes in facial expressions and tone of voice that we often forget to enjoy the moments of pure, raw emotion. We overlook the greater picture and instead focus on the pieces needed to create the perfect masterpiece: even if those pieces aren’t missing in the first place.
Being in love is hard but, being in love when you have anxiety, is so much harder.
WE FORGET THAT OTHER PEOPLE HAVE BAD DAYS, TOO.
I’m guilty for this and I wish I could change it. I believe that because I’m dealing with my own mental battles daily that I’m the only person that matters: like I expect people to grant me a ‘free pass’ for being a dick because I’m having a bad day.
But, when you’re in a relationship, this just doesn’t fly. You simply cannot trample over somebody else’s feelings and believe they will continue to accept this forever.
Everybody has a limit and, one day, you’ll push too hard and ruin something incredible.
The brutally ironic part is: I already overthink everything so I kind of know I’m breaking the very heart I crave and adore but, I can’t do anything about it. Sometimes I feel like I’m holding my head underwater – my lungs are burning; my body takes over and tries to save me but my beautifully destructive mind would prefer to see me drown than to let my body do its fucking job.
The heart simply cannot defeat the brain if you continue to feed it’s (your) self-obsession. You must understand that, as a partner or as a best friend, you need to learn to let go of the very thing which will eventually kill you.
FUCK THIS, I GIVE UP.
Considering how powerful and persuasive my mind is, on its own terms, it is seemingly very fragile and non-responsive when I really need that extra push to get through a difficult time in my relationship.
‘Oh, you had a bad argument about pretty much nothing? Here, let me just go to sleep whilst you deal with that.’ Says my brain, always. Fucking… always.
It sucks and it hurts, not just me, but the person who I would give my life to… No, scratch that: it hurts the person who I want to give my life to. I just don’t know how.
I’d much rather walk away from a relationship than to see myself suffer any longer than I already do. Having an argument is like feeding time in a lion den when you have anxiety. Even if the person opposite you is screaming out ‘I don’t want to lose you, I want you to stay’ – your mind hears ‘Get out, leave whilst you can, if I can hurt you now – don’t give me the chance to do it again’.
It’s an exhausting game of tug-of-war between my heart and mind. I’m scared that both will become weak and they won’t work again.
BEING UNCERTAIN MAKES ME ANGRY.
You’ll know (or maybe you don’t) but people who suffer with anxiety have this feeling of eternal impending doom looming over their heads 90% of the time. It’s like constantly walking on a tight-rope from a skyscraper, with no harness on a very windy day.
So, if you feel as if somebody is falling out of love with you, even if they aren’t, you fall into this state of ‘I need constant reassurance that everything is going to be fine…’ and, if this isn’t given to you in a way which you see suitable, your fear of the future can manifest itself into quite the unpredictable temper.
I feel angry because I can’t feel what they feel, I can’t see the good which they see… I’m more scared of them not loving me anymore than I am of anything else.
I’m like that spider your parents try to tell you about ‘He’s more scared of you, than you are of it’. When I’m in love with somebody, that’s how I feel. I’m terrified of them breaking my heart and leaving me in the unstable, incapable mess in which they found me and, because of that, my body’s defense mechanism is to use anger as a substitute for seeing truth.
I can’t be weak and I’m foolish enough to think that, anger, makes me seem stronger.
That’s what my mind thinks and, unfortunately, I’m strapped in to this ride forever. There’s no getting off, there’s no ‘please slow down’: it’s a swell of different emotions that I’m involuntarily throwing myself into to see if I’ll drown or whether I’ll come back up for air.
Because, well, I want to be in love with somebody and, despite the countless reasons why somebody could not love me, I want to feel like I can be loved, too.
I don’t want to feel lost in my own thoughts – I want to share them with somebody and for them to just understand. That’s all I want. I don’t need pity or to be made to feel different: all I want to feel is loved and understood. I suppose that’s paramount in any normal relationship.
It’s just, if you fall in love with me, you don’t get ‘normal’ and that’s what scares me. I hope weird is enough for you… Because, with you, the feeling of love is all I need to get better.
The road to recovery takes time and I have plenty of it. I hope that you can take the time to get to know me and realize that, my illness does not define how I truly feel.
I’ll be honest with you and I’ll love you more than anybody else dares to… if you give me the chance.
@NoMoreGremlins

Ryan Ritchie

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Guest Post from Fellow Advocate and Survivor - Jenna White

My name is Jenna White and I am 23 years old. I have been a drug addict, a human punching bag for ex boyfriends and family, criminal, homeless, a step mother, a student and a suicidal mess.

My story starts in Timmins Ontario, a small northeastern Ontario town that claims to have "The heart of gold". At age 13 I began feeling systems of bipolar disorder and started to self mutilate and smoke weed. My family life was a very negative atmosphere and did not help with getting me healthy. They often insulted and undermined me and it made my depression depend to extreme levels.

I began to do hard chemicals to stay happy. Speed, Coke, Ecstasy, Ritalin, and Valium. I was also dating a very abusive guy in high school and my need to escape life rose. At age 15 was the first time a boyfriend laid a beating to me. I tried to lay charges but in the small town where a family name is respected the charges were dropped.

This is where my criminal life started. I did almost $5000 worth of damage to my ex's car and was charged with mischief under 5000. Funny enough my parents didn't scold me for breaking the law. Throughout the years until I was 18 I was charged with theft under 5000 and assault.

I moved out of my parents house at 16 and stayed in school, 2 hockey teams and a part time job. I was still smoking weed but I quit the hard stuff. I wanted to show the non believers that I could make it on my own. And I did.

Just before the ending of high school I was back on hard drugs. It would last 5 long years of speed addiction and be the most chaotic time of my life. I was hosting a 24/7 party at my house. Drugs, drinking and many, many roommates. It was a mess and I still to this day can't believe I lived in that for years and survived. The amount of speed I took I am surprised I am not a vegetable.

On my 19th birthday I was walking home from from work after night shift and I was on a long bender. I collapsed in the road and woke up in the hospital. I had collapsed from the drugs and exhaustion. But that night I popped some pills and went to a bar to celebrate with friends.  It was around this point in my life I started to feel the affects of the years of drugs and lack of sleep. I knew I would end up a junkie probably on the streets and I would not live like that so I moved to Toronto with a new boyfriend and his child.

I began college and my new life as a step mother to a 3 year old. I changed from a junkie to mother in a matter of months. It was harder on me than I care to admit but the challenge was welcomed. I tried my very best but my bipolar came on me like a thunder storm and began to self mutilate, drink and smoke my Ativan. I was falling into the same darkness as before and I landed in the mental hospital for the first time. I was in there for 2 weeks and that is the beginning of the string of medications that lasted until today. 

The relationship was falling apart and he began very emotionally abusive, it drove me deeper into depression, self mutilation and self medicating. I landed inside the hospital on a forum 1 (suicide watch). Soon after my release would mark the second time I fell victim to physical abuse from a lovers hands. I had almost lost my left eye sight from the swelling and a fractured left cheekbone.

22 years old, a badly bruised face and homeless in Toronto. I had no family in Toronto so I couch hopped for a good month until my college and family members put me up in Residence. I cannot tell you how it felt to walk around campus with half of my face bruised. It was the most embarrassing, shaming, terrifying and uplifting time of my life. I lost friends after it happened but it showed me who had a good heart. I was scared that he would come after me after I called the cops but people were there to calm me. I had lost myself again but I was on the mend.

After residence I had to move back with my parents and got a full time job. I traveled back and forth to Toronto for school and did placement in Stratford Ontario. I was working hard towards the end of my diploma and I was in a good place. All except one thing, the negative atmosphere of my family home was building. A year after the incident my dad and I almost had a physical altercation and he kicked me out. I was homeless again and in a new town. I went to a homeless shelter and saved up money until I finished placement and could move away.

My story stops here (for now), in Belleville Ontario. I am on my last course to finish college and I am working a full time job. I own a dog and looking forward to make something special of my life. 

Keep up with Jenna at www.brandnewbipolar.com

Don't miss Jenna Saturday, February 18, 2017 on our podcast, Voices for Change 2.0 at 11:00 am EST. 


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Beware of Self Care?

I’ve been going over and over again in my head, trying to figure out why I feel so damn guilty every time I attempt to practice self-care. I advise others to do it, but when it comes to me, I’m almost entirely overwhelmed by the idea. So overwhelmed in fact, that the only thing I can do is lie down and take a rest.

As much as I love and adore my mom and the person that she was, she used to get very pissed off at all of us in the house. If she was going around dusting or vacuuming, she would just pitch a fit about how it must be so nice to lie around all day. Meaning, me, my dad, and my brothers. If we were in our rooms watching TV, we were just a waste of space.

The last few months have been incredibly rough for me, but the winter months usually are. After a leak in our house left us living in a hotel for a month, we then had to come home and put everything back together. Both the bathroom and the dining room had to be remodeled, the bathroom being much worse than the dining room.

We had no dining room for Thanksgiving. We ordered carry out turkey meals and ate them sitting on our bed. I know it sounds weird, but it wasn’t that bad. No family drama, just us hanging out, watching movies and relaxing. The only downside was that neither of us saw our families. We were concerned we would be spending Christmas in the hotel as well, but luckily we got out just in time. It was December 23rd when we returned, and we were barely able to throw some tissue paper into gift bags for Christmas gifts.

I left the hotel room once the entire time we were there. I was too afraid the staff would come in and let one of our cats out, nevermind the agoraphobia and social anxiety. I went to the laundry room. My heart was racing the entire time, and I dissolved into tears when I got back to the room.

Now that I’m home, I’m virtually chained to my bed. January is always rough with the anniversary of my mother’s death. I expect to struggle then, but all of the other days? There are some days where I don’t even go to the lower level of my house. That’s embarrassing for me to admit, but it’s true. If I can’t even make it down the stairs, how the hell am I going to make it out in public?

For the last few months, the ups and downs have been never-ending. One day, I may get good news about something, then the next day I’ll get bad news about ten other things.

And trusting people? Let’s just say, that concept has been thrown out the window. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to trust anyone again. Two people in our lives that we needed to be able to rely on turned their backs on us. Then, instead of accepting their part in the argument, just blamed it all on me being a heartless bitch that “sucks people dry until I can’t get anything else from them, and then I throw them away.” That is the farthest thing from what I am. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the epic betrayal I feel.

I wake up every single day with a headache. If I have night terrors or a very active dream, the headache will wake me up it hurts so bad. Instead of screaming in terror over my dream, I’m screaming because it feels as if someone just hit me in the head with a sledgehammer. My mom had high blood pressure, and so does my dad. My mom also had a stroke around my age and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. My sister was just diagnosed with congestive heart failure. I’m starting to see a pattern. My dad was kind enough to buy me a blood pressure monitor, and I’ve been using it every day. It’s nearly always high, but we’re working on it.

I’m taking nine different medications now for depression and anxiety and seven different supplements to make me feel better. You would think I would feel well enough to leave my bed. All I can think about it getting that one thing done that I need to complete, then taking a nap.

How do you stop feeling guilty about taking care of yourself?
At what point does self-care become an excuse? I read the articles and the posts about taking care of yourself, but at this point, it feels like a crutch. I don’t know how to stop, and I start sobbing at the thought of it. Am I just lazy?

I know I’m depressed and in 2 weeks when I see my doctor, I’m going to see about switching medications, but until then what do I do? Is this just a lack of motivation or a major depressive episode? Do I even care? I don’t know what to do next or how to feel. I’m just lost in an abyss of darkness.

At this point, I don’t know which way is up. I’ve lost all faith in myself and in my instincts.  I don’t feel like I can trust anyone and the panic attacks are killing me. I always try to end on a positive note, but I don’t know how to do that today because I don’t have any of the answers.

Everything I’ve tried to make myself feel like a productive member of society has failed. All of my hopes and dreams have been decimated, and I feel so lost. I know there are others out there that feel this way. I guess that’s what is keeping me going despite myself. I’ve spent so much time telling people that I’m a survivor and that they can’t give up. It’s looking like I’m going to have to start telling myself that. I can’t just give up and make it look like it’s OK.


I’m just going to keep trying little by little to make it through. Keeping my fingers crossed the whole time that nothing else in our lives falls apart because I can’t handle that right now. I’m just going to keep one foot in front of the other and try to shrug off the feelings of guilt on the days when all I am capable of is just simply breathing.