Monday, July 31, 2017

Guest Post - A Poem by 11 year old Jennah Guarna - Rain Drops Quietly Drop to the Ground

Making no sound, 
I could spend hours gazing upon them, 
Before they would be lapped up from the sun, 
Too bad those droplets tend to disappear, 
I know it happens every year, 
But when we are as sad as the rain clouds, 
We fill up with tears that act like crowds, 
And so we have rain drops of our own, 
We could be so alone, 
That one cloud was too full to stop 
And that could be when we hear that rain start to drop 
So, They dance to the beat of my empty heart, 
And that is when I tend to fall apart, 
Oh I would sit and watch for the sun, 
I've kept count, and I've seen none, 
Until one day you stepped into my life, 
And that is when the sun came twice, 
And those raindrops stopped quick, 
I'm pretty sure it was magic, 
You made me become the person I am today, 
My skies used to be all grey, 
But you've made them a bright blue, 
And I would never undo, 
Anything we've been through, 
Because I hate the thought of losing you, 
Thank you for never leaving me, 
Even though my feelings were a great big sea, 
You made my heart sing, 
And I could never thank you enough for taking me under your wing. 

 ~Jennah Guarna

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Social Media and Mental Health

I had my first real taste of social media back in the days of Myspace. I never considered it to be anything of value; I just thought it was something to do for fun. However, it was essentially just a waste of time. In about 2006, when I got my first email invitation to join Facebook, I had no idea that it would be both a blessing and a curse.

So, when I first ventured into the Twitter arena, I was completely lost. I didn’t understand 75% of what I was looking at, and hashtags were just tic-tac-toe boards in my experience. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew that you could see tweets from famous people from time to time, and I found that to be rather fascinating, so I stuck with it.

All these years later, social media has become my preferred method of communication. I enjoy checking my various pages and keeping up with what my friends are doing. There are times when I rely on those people to help keep me sane. Have there been negative experiences? Too many to count. If you’re not face to face, humor or sarcasm can be taken as rude behavior; which can launch you into a war of words with your friends looking on like they’re watching a tennis match.

Even with the pitfalls, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a valuable tool that has the potential to catapult you onto the computer screens of hundreds of thousands of people. I won’t lie, when I was new to Twitter and reaching out to others for help with promoting my book, it felt like a clique; and I didn’t belong. I sensed early on that there were mean girls (and guys) that didn’t have any desire to assist you in any way.

However, I was persistent, and I kept posting and eventually started to connect with people. People that today I am proud to call my friends. On the negative side, people are trolling social media searching for a weak spot that they can exploit. I’ve had downright scary interactions with people that made me second guess everything I stood for. But, that’s what the bullies are hoping for, and I refuse to let them win.

The camaraderie felt within the mental health community on Twitter is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We’re a community - you might say we’re a family. We protect our own, and we lift each other up. I’ve seen it first-hand. Sure, there’s a little competition, but we’re all on the same team and ultimately have the same goal. To finally end the stigma of mental illness.

But, there’s something important that you must remember about social media. If you’re ever in a situation where you’re in so much pain, you’re having thoughts of hurting yourself, don’t go on Twitter looking for help. The worst feeling in the world is pouring your heart out and for whatever reason, nobody answers at that moment. You may not garner the attention you had anticipated, not because you aren’t important, but because we’re all working through our own issues. We’re wrapped up in our lives and our causes, and maybe we just didn’t see your post.

That will only leave you feeling more lost and hopeless. Believe me, I’ve been there. Your best bet is to talk to someone you trust face to face, like family, a friend, a therapist. Take it from me, it makes life a lot easier when you don’t rely on social media to the degree that it becomes life or death. Always remember, everyone if fighting their own battle every single day. Perhaps they’re just not stable enough themselves to offer you encouragement or advice. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have to work with.

That being said, don’t be afraid to tweet about your feelings, or a great movie you saw, or something exciting you have planned for the weekend. If you’ve selected the right group of friends, they will be there for you and both Twitter and Facebook will have their own rewards. Just try to keep in mind that you need to disconnect now and then. Don’t have your phone out at dinner, at the movies, in the car on the way to the movies. It’s not only obsessive, but it’s downright annoying.

Connecting with like-minded people has its benefits. I can’t say enough about it. Of course, you’re going to run into people who are nothing like you and some may be quite menacing. That’s what the lovely little feature called BLOCK is for, and thank God for that! Social media has the potential to be a fun and interesting experience if you learn the protocol first and try hard not to take anything personally. If someone has an issue with you, that’s their problem, not yours.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Guest Post - Patrick Roland - How My Bipolar Makes Me Sparkle Even More

Two years ago this past May, I found myself in the most frightening and dire predicament of my entire life: in a foreign city - Las Vegas of all places - I was to be hospitalized on a psychiatric hold (I prefer to say "Britney Speared" because it sounds more interesting-slash-fabulous) against my will.
I can still feel the terror and uncertainty of the moment. I can also still remember how numb and mostly dead from a several day drug and alcohol binge in Sin City I was as the sudden realization of the gravity of the situation overtook me and forced me to contemplate the direction I was going in my life.

Here I was 40-years-old. And standing on a ledge. Literally. I had just narrowly not jumped out of a window of the 26th floor of a prominent casino. My mother - who has dementia and who was in Phoenix totally unaware of where in Vegas I was I should point out - had somehow found me and stopped my dramatic post Mariah Carey concert suicide attempt and I was about to face the real music.

I'd like to say this was the first time I was in a situation like this, but stuff like this was becoming pretty normal for me in the months since my partner suddenly died in January 2014. It was almost a bi-annual occurrence if I'm being honest. Still, I was determined to make it my last. And soon I was given the diagnosis I needed to really make sobriety essential to my life.

In the very hospital that I was forced into at the rock bottom of my decent into drug addiction triggered by very real complicated grief, I was given the diagnosis I needed to set all my demons free.
I was told I was bi-polar.

I think the way it's supposed to go is that when you get diagnosed with a life-altering illness that you're supposed to be sad and go through a period of denial, bargaining, depression and anger - much like the grief process - with it. But that just wasn't the case with this diagnosis. I was overjoyed. I was happy. I was even excited.

You see, I finally had a name for everything about myself I intuitively knew to be true. And that made me feel a sense of relief that I hadn't ever felt in my entire troubled life. It also made me realize perhaps the most important thing of all: I could no longer put drugs and alcohol in my body that were only making me crazier. I had to take care of myself. Now my health and well-being actually depended on it. Suddenly I felt empowered. I decided to own this new truth about myself and make it work for me. And that meant I had to completely change my life. So I did.

In that hospital I decided I was a bi-polar, drug-addict, alcoholic widow. I figured that if I finally and ultimately owned all the bad parts of me, I would no longer be undone and ruined by them. And for the most part, I've found this to be true. I'm not saying I'm perfect or even not bipolar - because that never goes away and it's annoying when people think it's gone just because it has a name - but what I am is sober, happy and for the most part, healthy. That's something that I want to fight for. Because it feels good to know who and what I am and no one can ever take that away from me again. And this is coming from someone who was bullied and abused his entire life so that should prove how powerful this realization really is.

Owning who and what I am is the single greatest thing I have ever done. Because now that I am no longer ruled by fear and shame, I am able to bask in a new reality of self love and positive affirmation. The truth is for many years, I was afraid of you knowing all of these things I am, so I did everything in my power to mask them and hide from them. But I've learned through this whole journey that the very things in life you are the most afraid of are the very things that bring the most growth. And so, in not being afraid of who and what I am, I have been able to grow in to the man of purpose and power that I am today. In facing my fears, I have become the truest version of myself I ever have been. And that's a miracle no one can take from me.

My wish for people reading this is that the same will happen for you. I hope it happens before you are forced to like I was back in that hotel room in Vegas. But however it happens, know that who and what you are is not only beautiful, standing in that truth will help you sparkle brighter than you ever thought possible.

Patrick A. Roland is an award-winning journalist, author and editor with twenty-one years of mainstream media, specialty publication, corporate and public relations experience. He currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona and he celebrates his status as a bi-polar, drug addict, alcoholic widow because he is now sober, happy and healthy. He hopes that by sharing his experiences and strength with others, they will find hope in the way that he did. 

Patrick's website is
You can find his book on Amazon: Unpacked Sparkle by Patrick A. Roland

Monday, July 10, 2017

Guest Post - Terry - Founder of Giving Voice to Mental Illness, Inc.- Ask a Different Question

Life continues to teach me that you only get the answers to the questions you ask.  I‘ve learned that lesson that in familiar ways, like raising teens.  I’ve learned it as a news reporter and interviewer. And I’ve learned it in a deeply-painful way, married to man who kept many secrets.

You can be a breath away from truth, from deeper understanding or a major shift -- but you never think of, or voice That One Question. And you move on making judgements and reaching conclusions based on the information you’ve gathered, blissfully unaware that it is limited. Very. Always.

I was reminded of that lesson recently as read one of those self-administered depression diagnostic tests.   As I glanced over the questions I came across the critical one, the question I was trained to ask when I volunteered at a crisis hotline:  Are you suicidal?   And I immediately answered it in my head the way I always have; No. No, I am not suicidal.  And even when discussing the issue with trained professionals, that 2-letter answer pretty much ends the discussion.   That box is checked.  Liability is limited.  Next question, please.

But if you want a revealing peak behind the mask of someone who hides depression, try asking it another way.  Ask your friend or relative or client or self:  “Do you find yourself thinking of death as a welcome relief?” It’s a very different question which, for me and I suspect many others with depression, has a very different answer.

I first remember thinking I wouldn’t mind dying (painlessly and in my sleep, of course) in high school.  Those are tough years for lots of people, and they certainly were for me. While my friends with (what looked like) more-normal, secure and carefree lives skied and partied and vacationed, I was wearing a full-body brace, working several jobs to pay for school and navigating a volatile home environment, all while pretending everything was well, as was clearly expected of me.

Adult life has brought its own painful challenges, as it tends to do. I’ll spare you the gory details. But due to environmental, biochemical, hormonal and/or hereditary reason(s), my brain can grab hold of the negative emotion I am feeling (betrayal, grief, fear, etc.) and blow on it like an ember until a full fire rages, convincing me that death would be far easier than soldiering through more, seemingly-unending pain. I know it’s not a popular or a comfortable thing to say or even read, but I would bet the ranch that other people who house the uninvited guest-that-is-depression know exactly what I mean. 

Don’t get me wrong, I have experienced extreme joy, deep love and a true sense of purpose in my life, too. My children alone make every breath work taking. It is absolutely not by choice that I have such dark thoughts! You see, in addition to being prone to depression, I am an optimistic, easy-going, loving, funny, independent, resourceful, creative, intelligent woman with a big heart and  easy laugh.  That is how people know me. And it is also a primary reason why I have gotten so little support through The Dark Times.

Now, I feel I must repeat; I do not, nor have I ever planned or even seriously contemplated taking my own life.  But. If a life-switch existed that allowed me to walk over and flip it to “off” with the assurance that the people I love the most in the world would be in no way negatively affected, I’d have done it.   No doubt.

And that is why, if you are trying to diagnose an immediate threat of suicide, by all means ask the questions on the questionnaire.  Be blunt and ask if someone has a plan and the means. I posed those very questions more than a few times to callers on the hotline.  But if your intent is getting inside someone’s head enough to have even a chance of understanding what they’re struggling with, ask a question that could start a conversation vs. one that solely assesses risk.  If they’re willing to share, it could help them lighten an unbearable load, while giving you valuable, hidden information that would help you better diagnose, support and understand a person who desperately needs and wants to feel understood and supported.

Terry is the founder and president of Giving Voice to Mental Illness, Inc. which produces the Giving Voice to Depression podcast. She and her sister Bridget, who both live with depression, are the co-hosts. The podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and their website

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Guest Post - Stephen Smith - CEO of No OCD - The Key to Breaking the Stigma

I have OCD, a chronic mental health condition characterized by terrifying, irrational fears and ritualistic actions done to reduce fear-produced anxiety. I’m not alone: there are about 181,000,000 people on this planet battling OCD, and billions more fighting similar mental illnesses. 

Some are open about their struggles, but many hide them secretly, in fear of others “finding out” that their brain is not functioning properly. In fact, statistically speaking, somebody close to you is suffering from a mental illness, and they most likely have been marginalized by the broken mental health treatment system. Unlike other forms of health care, mental health services are not structured to treat patients successfully.

For instance, when seeking treatment for a mental illness, patients often have to:
1) find a licensed mental health clinician (usually found online or through a trusted referral) 
2) subjectively disclose any problems faced to their clinician; and
3) listen to their clinician’s diagnosis and advice for treatment.

On the other hand, when getting treatment for a “physical condition”, like high blood pressure, the process slightly differs. 
If patients with high blood pressure decide to seek treatment, they will: 
1) find a clinician either online or through a referral; 
2) get their blood pressure taken by a blood pressure monitor; and 
3) listen to their clinician’s diagnosis and treatment advice.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, step 2 exemplifies the stark disparity between the treatment approaches. The key difference is the blood pressure monitor, since it can extract data from the patient without human error, helping clinicians objectively monitor each patient’s condition. 

From that objective data, the clinician can make better decisions and give the patient an opportunity to live a healthy life. You may ask, “well why can’t this be done for mental health?” Great question; it can be, and it’s starting to be, replacing the need for people with mental illness to explain their symptoms
subjectively. With the global increase in people owning smartphones and the emergence of wearable technology, we can now passively monitor exactly how patients are responding to different mental health episodes. 

Then, with the longitudinal data gathered, clinicians can see an outline of their patients’ mental health condition in real time and prescribe treatment accordingly.
Since this technology is already here, it’s just a matter of time until mental health and physical health are viewed similarly, and the stigma surrounding mental illness is broken, given that the treatments will together be similarly objective. 

Symptoms of anxiety that are mainly described subjectively today will be described physiologically in the near future, where people will just point to a graph and say to someone, “see I suffer from OCD”, or “look at how my PTSD is improving since last year”. With more proof, there will be more power, equipping patients to get better treatment and enabling them to “worry less and live more”

The description: This is a guest post by Stephen Smith, Founder and CEO of nOCD. nOCD gives people with OCD effective therapy and real-time data about their treatment, helping users worry less and live more.

Guest Post #14 - Mental Health Awareness Month - Dr. Jason Holland of Lifespark

About the Author: Jason M. Holland, Ph.D., currently serves as the CEO and Editor of Lifespark , an online well-being magazine focuse...