E X P O S U R E EXPOSING THE MYTHS & REALITIES O F L I V I N G W I T H A M E N TA L I L L N E S S
Thank you to everyone who wanted to be a part of this project. Without you, this project could not have happened. Thank you for opening up to me and sharing your story with the world. Thank you to my parents and family for always supporting me, my sister for always being there to listen, my friends for reminding me to breathe and laugh, and Sean for being my best friend. I couldnâ€™t have done any of this without you.
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INTRODUCTION RESOURCES J E A N E L L ............................................................................ 1 8 PA I G E ................................................................................. 2 4 A M A N DA C . ...................................................................... 3 0 C O U R T N E Y ...................................................................... 4 0 N A N C Y ............................................................................... 4 6 R AC H E L ............................................................................. 4 8 M I K E ................................................................................... 5 8 I S A B E L L A ........................................................................ 6 4 A N N A .................................................................................. 7 0 K AC I .................................................................................... 7 6 K A L I ................................................................................... 8 6 A M Y ..................................................................................... 9 2 DA N I E L .............................................................................. 9 8 M I A ................................................................................... 1 0 0 A M A N DA M . ................................................................... 1 0 8 E L I Z A B E T H ................................................................... 1 1 8 A S H L E Y ........................................................................... 1 2 6 DA N I E L L E ...................................................................... 1 3 2 C R I T E R I A & I N F O R M AT I O N
INTRODUCTION As mental illness continues to grow as a societal issue, we have to explore a more creative method of how to address and present the problem. The goal of this project is to increase public understanding of mental illness while at the same time allowing people to therapeutically share their stories.
“Who gives a shit? Why should anyone care about your project?” These are the two questions that we were all asked to consider when choosing our thesis project topic. Right away, I knew I wanted my project to be important and have the potential to make a difference. When I first started thinking about my project, I knew I wanted it to be different from the mental health projects I’ve seen in the past. I didn’t want to take stereotypical and stigmatizing black and white photos of sad girls crying. I didn’t want to take those same images and pair them with harmful romanticized poetry about mental illness. I didn’t want to take photos and manipulate them with software to give an “artistic” image of what depression feels like. I wanted my project to be different. I wanted it to be raw and real and for people to get a chance to set the record straight. I knew I wanted to take photos of all of the project participants and sit down with each of them to have a real conversation about what it means to live with a mental illness. I promoted my project on all of my social media
accounts and encouraged my friends to do the same: “Currently seeking individuals, male and female of all races and ages, to participate in a project about mental illness. Please contact me if you are living with a mental illness and you’re willing to share your story and have your photo taken and published.” Almost immediately, I received responses. When I asked people why they wanted to be a part of this project, the most prevalent responses were, “I want people to understand what it’s like. I want to help anyone else going through this. There needs to be awareness and education. People need to know.” The studio portraits are clean, minimal, and full of genuine emotion; none of the participants are staged or posed. With each person’s portraits placed next to their interview, I wanted the viewer to see that even though someone may have a mental illness, they are still human. I also took a series of ring light photos, used to force our society to confront its misconceptions that people with mental illnesses are monsters. You have to look into their
eyes and meet the people who have been judged, ridiculed, and shunned because of who they are. With this project, I had three goals. I wanted people to spread awareness through sharing their stories while having a therapeutic outlet. I wanted to help those who are living with a mental illness to realize that they are not alone, there is hope, and they have a supportive community. I also wanted to help people who aren’t living with a mental illness learn how to help cultivate a culture of understanding, education, and empathy. “Who gives a shit?” All of us; all of us should give a shit. Mental illness can touch all of us in different and devastating ways. “Why should anyone care about your project?” People are being vulnerable and open for the sake of understanding and education. The people in this project are more than a statistic and they’re more than society’s cookie-cutter idea of what it means to be mentally ill. We all have to do better and change the conversation about mental health. •
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide Suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24 Nearly 10 million Americans live with a serious mental illness
of African Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40% of Caucasians
of adults did not receive the mental health treatment that they needed in 2015
of mental illnesses present themselves by age 24
of students age 14 and older with a mental illness drop out of high school
of youth in the state and local juvenile justice systems have a mental illness
of those who have died by suicide lived with an underlying mental illness
NATIONAL ALLIANCE ON MENTAL ILLNESS 2015 REPORT NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF MENTAL ILLNESS (NAMI) AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION
RES OU RC E S If you or someone you know is need of help, please call these numbers and visit these websites for assistance. There is no shame in seeking help and only you can take the first steps to getting better.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline | 1-800-273-8255 National Alliance on Mental Illness | 1-800-950-6264 Parkview Behavioral Health | 1-800-284-8439 The Bowen Center | 1-800-342-5653
www.psychiatry.org | www.nimh.nih.gov | www.nami.org | www.apa.org
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JEANELL “Talking about your depression with people who are also living with it helps you build that support system, and talking about your depression with people who don’t know what it’s like helps build understanding. I hope people can get a sense of how to act, how to react, and how to help others.”
There was never an exact moment when I realized that something wasn’t right. I think it was just a realization that I was different. Right before I went to high school is when I really noticed that I reacted to things differently than my friends, I was a lot more emotional than they were. To be honest, we weren’t the best group of friends. We fought a lot and there was always a lot of drama and it was always me that took it the hardest. I remember one day my freshman year of high school, I absolutely did not want to go to school so I did something stupid and I burnt my hand with a straightener to get out of going. I told my mom that I needed help because that’s not something that someone in their right mind would do. I remember after I was diagnosed, I told my friends that I was clinically depressed and they said, “Oh, yeah, well everyone’s depressed.” They didn’t understand that I had been medically diagnosed and I had clinical depression. Some of them started saying that maybe they were clinically depressed too and they just didn’t get it. I wasn’t trying to be cooler than them by being depressed–they didn’t understand that it wasn’t a joke. Everybody has hard
times, I get that, I do. But when it goes so far as to be diagnosed and clinically depressed, it’s a whole new story. I had to go through so many levels of acceptance and I’ve had to learn how to live with it and how to fight every single day. My best friend Gail has been the only one who has ever really understood everything. She went through so much– the day her mom called me and told me that she was in the hospital because she cut herself so badly, I was so scared. I know that I’ve scared her a few times too. Gail and I had classes together and I tried to be as secretive as possible when I was wrapping my wrists, but she knew the signs because she did it too. I didn’t really have anybody to talk to, but then Gail reached out to me and we realized that we could help each other and she’s been there for me ever since. Gail and I went to a walk back in October for suicide prevention and to see the amount of people that were there was just mind blowing because, you know, this is our reality. All of those people had been affected by suicide in some way. Knowing that the endgame 19
for untreated depression is suicide scares me. My mom likes to joke that she passed down her depression to my brother and me and I think that’s true. I wish I could’ve been there for my mom when she was going through her issues–she’s told me stories about her depression and how she almost gave up after my little brother was born. It’s scary to hear your mom say that and I wish I could go back in time and be there for her because she didn’t have that support that she needed. She got through a horrible relationship with my brother’s father and she married my step-dad who is wonderful, so I think she’s happier now. I think that it’s a part of your genetic code and people who live with a mental illness just aren’t wired the right way. I used to drink every day of the week and I was always drunk. I think it scared my mom because she saw the path I was going down and she didn’t know how to help me or what to do. One night I left home after a fight with my mom and went to my friend’s house where I ended up getting super drunk. I woke up and didn’t know what I was doing and where I was headed and I
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I was in a pretty bad relationship but I didn’t realize it. I was broken down and it was so hard to get out of bed and at first, my boyfriend at the time tried helping, but he just never really understood. He would say, “I’ve been through this and I’ve had my bad times and I got through it. You can get through yours.” That was so frustrating because I felt like I was dating a narcissist. It was always about his thoughts, his feelings, and his emotions and anything that he wanted was so far above anything that I wanted. That bad relationship plus the stress of being away from home and not having any money just all piled up. Finally one night I told him that we weren’t working out and we would both be happier if we weren’t together and he told me, “It doesn’t matter how many relationships you’re in after me, your problems will always follow you.” He told me that I would never be able to have kids and I would be a horrible mom because he didn’t think I could get through life and manage my depression on my own. He made me think that maybe I couldn’t handle everything by myself, so I stayed. After winter break, my family told me that I was so much better than he made me think I was so on Christmas Eve, I finally broke up with him. I felt so relieved after he left and I was lucky to be surrounded by my family and I finally felt better. It’s given me a chance to work on myself and focus on myself and so far so good.
remember telling my mom that I didn’t think I could do this anymore. She didn’t just brush it off because she knew what it was like; she’s always said that she brought me into this world so she’s the only one that can take me out. She knows about all the stupid stuff I’ve done and she still loves me. A lot of people like to say “I’m so depressed,” and that bothers me. There’s a difference between feeling sad for a few days and being depressed. I tell my friends that depression is one of those things that is constantly sitting in the back of your mind. It’s just waiting for you to become vulnerable so it can come out and completely devour you. It will take your energy, your motivation, your willingness to live, and even your willingness to move. It will take away everything. People don’t realize that, and it’s something that I wish people could understand. People say, “Be happy! Try to be positive!” and yeah, trying to have a positive mindset helps, but it doesn’t cure anything. It’s a good thing to try to tell yourself, “Today is going to be a good day and I’m not going to let anything bring me down,” but it’s hard. Sometimes the depression can be triggered when you see something or someone and you’re reminded of something bad that happened five years ago and it sucks. People don’t truly understand it and that’s why I’m happy to be a part of this project. I want to help people understand. Depression is something that you live with and there’s no cure for it. You can try to manage it with medicine and therapy, but there’s not a cure.
Once you let it control you, it’s debilitating and it paralyzes you.
Everyone deals with depression in their own way and it’s so good to talk about it sometimes and to just get it all out there. It’s crazy because you can look at somebody and it looks like they’re having the time of their life and having the best time ever, and you would never know what’s really going on. So many people hide behind their smile because they’re just trying to get through the day. There’s always a look in somebody’s eye. There’s always that little bit of darkness. It’s important for people to understand that depression affects everyone in different ways. Depression doesn’t look the same on everyone. There are right and wrong ways to treat and cope with depression and I think talking about those options in an open and honest way is important.
Depression can lead to other mental illnesses and I know I’ve gone through some anxiety and I’ve developed some anger issues. It’s so hard sometimes because you can’t make people understand if they don’t want to. You can show people articles and you can try to tell them how they can help, but it’s up to them to decide if they want to be helpful or not. Sometimes the depression still kind of creeps up and reminds me of things I’m scared about and all the things that I try not to think about. I’ve gotten a lot better at not letting it control me because once you do... once you let it control you, it’s debilitating and it paralyzes you. It’s terrifying because you don’t know how you’re ever going to get out of it. It’s so important to surround yourself with people who understand and people who are willing to let you take your time. I got lucky because I have my best friend and I have a support system. This depression is a monster that’s just trying to tear people apart. I want people to realize that this isn’t a joke and it’s not something to joke around about.
I’ve been on at least five different medications and they worked at first, but of course it was bad before it got good. They would work for a while but then I would start spiraling and plummeting downwards again to the point where the medication wasn’t doing anything for me and I couldn’t make myself take it because I was scared that I was just going to go back to the way I used to be. Therapy and counseling are important because it’s good to have an unbiased third party. 20
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I can talk to my mom on the phone, but she knows about my past and she has her own opinions and input. Counseling helps because you can get all of your emotions out in an honest and truthful way. Talking about mental health is the most important thing. Pretending like mental illnesses don’t exist just deepens the wound and it makes it so much more difficult for anyone to understand. Talking about your depression with people who are also living with it helps you build that support system, and talking about your depression with people who don’t know what it’s like helps build understanding. I hope people can get a sense of how to act, how to react, and how to help others. You can’t always change somebody’s
mind and you can’t always make them understand. Everybody experiences life in their own way, so don’t expect people to understand what it’s like to live with depression, but know that it doesn’t hurt to try and explain it. People shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it. I’m slowly trying to figure out what I want to do and it’s taking some time, but it’s better than being stuck somewhere being unhappy. I’ve changed my major three times and I dropped out of college, but I’m going to cosmetology school soon and I think that’ll be it. My current boyfriend is incredibly supportive, uplifting, and helpful. He doesn’t quite understand what I’m going through, but he’s not shutting me down and he’s willing to learn and work with me as it happens. If something 21
makes you happy, truly happy, then you have to go for it. There are only going to be a few things in life that make you feel that way and you shouldn’t hold yourself back from them. I realized that I deserve to be happy and I feel like I’m ready to start living my life again and focus on my mental health so I can find myself again. I’m no longer living for another person. I’m living for myself and it feels so good. I’m taking the positive steps and I’m happy to be moving forward. •
“I’m no longer living for another person. I’m living for myself and it feels so good. I’m taking the positive steps and I’m happy to be moving forward.”
PAIGE “I think our society needs to understand that General Anxiety Disorder is a real issue. There’s a difference between being an anxious person and being stressed and having an actual anxiety disorder. I wish people know how severe it can be and how much of a toll it can take on someone’s life.”
I started noticing the anxiety when I was a senior in high school. I remember the fall semester of senior year was totally normal, and then somewhere in the spring semester I noticed that every day at the same time I would feel really on edge and I never understood why. After that semester, I knew that something was wrong, but I waited a really long time to see anyone about it. I thought it was just me freaking out or having a bad day, so I never told anyone about it because I was so shy. I thought that once I was done with high school, it would go away because I attributed a lot of my anxiety to the pressure of graduating and being on the competitive dance team. I had a panic attack in class once and I could not go back into the classroom afterward. I was so nervous and I thought that people had noticed it and thought that I was different. I always thought that it was just normal to be in high school and feel this way, but when it continued after graduation I knew that something was wrong. The first person I told was my mom and she thought I was overreacting, which is not at all what
you want to hear when you’re going through something like this. I told my friend next and I remember Facetiming her and telling her “I think something is really wrong with me.” I went to the doctor for the first time for my anxiety when I was nineteen years old. They just gave me a paper about general anxiety disorder (GAD) and said, “This is probably what you have.” Now every time I go to the doctor, that GAD sheet is stapled right on top of my paperwork and I’ve memorized what it says: “generalized anxiety disorder has the symptoms of shaking, sweating, tunnel vision, dizziness, headaches, feelings of impending death, and general anxiety.” For me, I don’t think of this as an “illness” but more of an “issue.” Some days I feel fine and other days I don’t. I can go weeks at a time where nothing bothers me and then I’ll wake up one day and not want to leave the house. For me, having a mental illness means that I know I can manage, but I have to still learn how to control. I hope I can grow out of it. I hope I can learn how to control this. I don’t have anxiety when I’m alone, so I think my anxiety is tied to 25
being around people. During class presentations, I love when the lights get turned down because I feel calm and relaxed and don’t feel like anyone can really see me. But as soon as those lights come up, I feel like people can see so much more and they notice my anxiety. I know realistically that people who know about my anxiety won’t treat me differently, but in my head, I think they’re seeing me differently once they know. It used to be that standing up in front of people would give me anxiety and I was fine doing everyday things, but now it’s flip-flopped. I think that college has exposed me to presenting in front of a room full of people and being exposed to that situation over and over again has helped me move past that. But now it’s the everyday things that give me trouble. My anxiety changes– it’s not constant. You need to go to the doctor and seek help or you’ll never feel better. Don’t let your anxiety just keep building up inside of you; it’ll only get worse. Once I was medicated, I was put on different doses to figure out what would work best for me and it took a while to find the right amount. For me, taking medication and
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You have to remember that all of those times that you thought this was going to kill you, it never did and it never will. also having a therapist has helped me. Luckily for me, the first therapist I went to was perfect for me and she’s given me so many tools that I can use to calm down. Having that quiet space to talk to someone who understands and isn’t going to think that you’re crazy is important. My parents don’t really understand my anxiety disorder, so it’s hard to talk to them; their solution is “take a nap,” so it’s comforting to have that person in my therapist. When I’m starting to panic, it feels like I’m not going to able to escape the situation, but I’ve learned that I can leave and come back. I know now that I can walk out, compose myself, and come back in and no one is going to care. For me, I get this head pressure when I’m about to have an anxiety or panic attack. When I start to feel that pressure, I know I need to leave the situation or place until my head feels better. I’ve had panic attacks manifest themselves in a couple of different ways. Sometimes it comes in waves. During one panic attack, I remember sitting there and not being able
to feel my arms and that scared me. When that kind of thing happens, you start to worry that it could happen again. You start having anxiety about having anxiety and it’s a twisted cycle. You have to remember that all those times you thought this was going to kill you, it never did and it never will. I didn’t choose to have this and I wasn’t born like this. There are probably things that happened to me when I was younger that were indicators that I was going to have an anxiety disorder, which is something my therapist has been talking with me about. My therapist was explaining to me that when you’re younger, a lot of anxiety can manifest itself as sensory things like sensitivity to light, sound, or touch. I remember hating sitting in my car seat if there were any crumbs in it because I hated it and I hated having to touch it. I was scared by certain textures on my skin, and I remember that sweaters always freaked me out. Now I can’t be in large crowds. Concerts are fine because everyone’s attention is towards the stage, but I have anxiety when going to church, the grocery 26
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People need to know about this. People need to understand mental health and how severe anxiety can be.
it can take on someone’s life. People sometimes say, “I’m so anxious, I want to kill myself,” and they may not know that someone who is actually struggling with suicide may be sitting right next to them– people don’t realize the impact of their words.
store, the mall, and even walking down the hallways in-between classes. I don’t think people understand that even little things can affect people with anxiety to such a degree. People think that you can just turn it off and you can’t. Those people will never understand what it’s like. I’ve always kept my anxiety disorder as a topic between me and my close friends, but I guess I don’t really care anymore who knows.
People need to know about this. People need to understand mental health and how severe anxiety can be. Anxiety disorder is a real issue. I hear people all the time saying “Oh, I have so much anxiety today,” and I wish they knew what actual anxiety feels like. There’s a difference between being anxious and stressed and having an actual anxiety disorder. I wish people know how severe it can be and how much of a toll 27
It was that one day in high school my senior year that started it. I always try to think back to try and figure out what could’ve started it, but I can’t figure it out. I hope there’s a day where I can go back to how I was before that day in high school. I hope that I can “grow out of ” my anxiety, I really do. My therapist has told me that while there are some people who do have to live with anxiety for their entire lives and always be on medication, there are people who can control their anxiety, which gives me hope. I have hope that one day I’ll be able to control my anxiety and that helps keep me going. •
“I have hope that one day I’ll be able to control my anxiety and that helps keep me going.”
AMANDA C. “I’m a huge proponent of people going out and getting help, whether that be through medication or therapy or the combination of both. Some people think that medication is just a bandage, but if there’s a chemical imbalance, then that needs to be addressed.”
I’ve always been an anxious person, within the spectrum of what is “normal,” but I’m definitely an anxious person. I analyze every situation; I’m driven to do a great job at everything, whether it’s at school or work, and it really bugs me if I don’t well. It got really bad for me over the past year– it got bad enough where it got to the point where I was taking medication while I was working as a caseworker. The organization I was working for wasn’t understanding and supportive of what I was going through. It was my first job as a graduate, so there were all these thoughts of “Oh my God, this is my first job and I have all these bills to pay and I can’t quit and I have to stick with it.” I was crying every single night and I was freaking out all the time. That’s when I started to really realize how much of a physical toll that anxiety was taking on me. I would be crying about this situation and talking to people about it, and we were like, “Okay, realistically, it’s going to be fine and I can find another job. This is going to end and it’s not the end of the world and I have enough money in savings that if I had to be unemployed for a couple of weeks, I would be okay.” Even
after that, I would still be in that place where I felt so anxious. My chest was really tight, my heart was racing, and I couldn’t take a full breath. I started to seek help because I couldn’t get rid of those feelings and I just wanted a few seconds of relief. I’m pretty good at being able to rationalize a situation, but I’m still physically reacting as if a situation is a bigger deal than it really is. That in itself is exhausting. When you take a neurology class, they talk about your body’s flight or fight response and the nervous system and how your body is preparing you to deal with some intense conflict. Your body is using all of its resources to get you ready and you’re exhausted afterward because of that. For me, it’s like that every day, all day long for things that aren’t that big of a deal. It’s frustrating to me because, on some level, this is a physical issue that I’m living with, but I could never call into work and say, “Look, I’m really tired because I almost had a panic attack last night. Can I have the day off?” whereas if you’re physically ill and vomiting, it’s approached and responded to differently. Obviously, those are two different things, but it’s 30
frustrating. It can be a lot to deal with sometimes. Being an anxious person can be annoying to people but when you have an anxiety disorder, I feel like I’m annoying people all the time and then I become anxious about that. And that’s the thing about anxiety, it just compounds upon itself and it can make you crazy. You realize you’re doing it and you know it’s not good but you also know that you can’t stop and that makes you more anxious. It’s affected so many different areas of my life. I’ve struggled with depression in the past as well, and if I start to feel a little bit depressed or if I’m in a situation that reminds me a lot of when I was in a really significant and dark depressive episode, I start to feel anxious. I get so worried that I’ll be in that same depressed situation again and it scares me. Those two things, depression and anxiety, really go together and work against you. Looking back, I could have been diagnosed with depression at any point during my last couple years of high school. I think that the nature of high school for me was that I was constantly
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busy and I was doing a lot of things that I enjoyed. I was really into art and photography in high school and I was in those programs, so I was doing that all the time. In high school, you have to get out of bed every day. When you live with your parents, you don’t have that choice and you have to get out of bed every day. I never really got the chance to slow down. I went away to school for my first semester of college and ended up moving back home for a variety of reasons. I was dating someone here in Fort Wayne and I had friends here and I just didn’t really like my school. I knew I was happy before I left Fort Wayne so I figured I’d be happy when I
moved back. After I had moved back, he broke up with me over the phone out of nowhere and he never talked to me again. It pretty much just devolved into this absolute mess of a situation. People were fighting on the Internet and it just got so bad. That was all happening and I had just moved out into an apartment all by myself and I was in a class that didn’t have a super strong attendance policy. I was basically in this position where the most important and significant person in my life just kicked me out of nowhere and I was going through some things with two of my closest friends as well. I was in college living by myself, so I didn’t have to get out of bed, no one was making me do anything, and no one was really checking on me. I was super alone, and it got so bad 32
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so fast that I really felt that I needed to seek medical help. Once I started taking antidepressants, things did start getting better. The semester after that, I took the Abnormal Psychology class for my Psychology major and I learned things about depression. Essentially, boiling it down to it’s most basic point, to be diagnosed as depressed, you have to feel sad and hopeless and a couple more negative emotions for two weeks. It was like, “Oh, okay, that could’ve applied to me a lot of times over these past few of years.” I didn’t even realize that what I was feeling wasn’t normal. I thought that most people were sad all the time and being sad all the time was normal. Looking back, that class really blew my mind. To me, that definition of depression doesn’t seem that severe, you know? Like, to me, that seems normal to be really sad for two weeks. To me, that’s almost a failure on our education system. In college, you kind of learn more about mental health, but that’s really only if you’re taking the classes to seek it out. I think if we started teaching kids about this earlier, it would definitely create a culture of more sensitivity and understanding. These are issues that a lot of people do struggle with. There aren’t any classes in high school that really talk about it. You may have a health class or some lesson where you briefly touch on the subject, but it’s very, very basic. There’s no talking about the diagnostic criteria or anything. If I had been aware of what mental illness is, I would’ve sought help earlier and wanted to become more knowledgeable about the subject. Now, I’m very open about that stuff because I want people to understand. Some people don’t think this isn’t a real thing, but someone may have a real mental illness and they may need help, and that’s okay.
I think talking about mental health should be a more important part of the curriculum. Professors or universities talk about mental illness, I think, on the most severe level. They’ll have suicide prevention and things like that, but you can be super depressed and not want to kill yourself and you can want to kill yourself without being super depressed. It’s different for each person. There’s so much more to talk about than just those super severe issues. The only thing that you might learn about anxiety in high school is the panic attack aspect, but no one is taught about any of the other things that go along with anxiety. The
I feel like there definitely are stigmas associated with emotion. People think that sadness is such a negative emotion, but sadness can also be productive. I think a lot can come from allowing yourself to feel and explore those negative emotions instead of listening to what our culture tells us to do and ignore it and get over it. This goes into feminism at a point, but when you say the word “emotional,” a lot of people think of someone in hysterics and crying or other things that are commonly attributed to the stereotype of a woman. You know, being emotional doesn’t only mean being sad, it also can mean being angry or loud. As much as there’s a stigma against certain mental illnesses, there are definitely stigmas towards emotions as well. Just how physical illnesses are an illness, mental illnesses are an illness. This is something that affects such a large portion of our population, so it needs to be something that more people are aware of.
While women attempt suicide more often than men, men are more successful in their attempts. main “knowledge” that people have of mental illness is that depression equals being sad, anxiety means you worry a lot, bipolar disorder is something where one second you’re really nice and the next you’re really mean–which isn’t even what bipolar disorder is at all–and schizophrenia is anything else. I feel like with most people, those are the only mental illnesses that they can name. For me, anxiety isn’t about worrying. It is to an extent, but that’s not the part that interferes with my life and that misconception is frustrating. People ask me, “Well, why don’t you just stop thinking about it?” and I respond, “Well, I did stop thinking about it. I’m not actively thinking about it or worrying about it but I’m still feeling it.” You can’t just snap out of it.
There are various statistics on how mental illnesses affect men and women differently. While women attempt suicide more than men, men are more successful in their attempts. There are so many guys who would never want to admit that they’re struggling with depression and deny themselves the help that they need because being depressed isn’t “manly.” It’s different for girls because we’re raised to express our emotions and there isn’t as much shame attached to seeking help as there is for guys. I think we need to stop gendering emotion and assigning such weird ideas about emotions and masculinity. I don’t really think of being mentally ill as an identity I would have for myself. When someone refers to someone as being mentally ill, I think our minds immediately go to the very severe end of the spectrum. They think about
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Even though people may not be struggling with a physical illness, they may be dealing with the physical effects of their mental illness. someone who is institutionalized, and that’s another stigma to fight against. I don’t think I’d identify myself as having a mental illness, mainly because of the stigma that’s associated with the term. Saying that you “have” something or “are” something is different than saying “this is something that I deal with on a daily basis.” To me, that seems more active and more of a process rather than just saying, “I am mentally ill.” I’m sure everyone will have a different answer, but I think that in the most severe situations and the more someone is consumed by a mental illness, I think the more likely they’ll identify as being mentally ill. There’s so much overlap in what my personality is and what I’ve had to deal with in respect to my mental illness. Obviously, I’m sure it’s because my personality has developed alongside my anxiety and those situations, but as much as anxiety has impacted my life, it’s also shaped parts of my personality that I really like. I’m very aware and hyper-vigilant of what’s going on and I think that helps me be a better friend. It does help me do a better job at school and work because I’m concerned about
doing a good job and making sure no one is disapproving of what I’m doing. That can obviously very quickly get to a point where it’s unhealthy and you’re worrying too much, but I don’t think I’d want to have no anxiety ever. People who don’t have an anxiety disorder can still experience anxiety in a productive way. If you’re getting ready to take a test or give a speech, that level of anxiety can help you want to be better. I think that any meaningful social change starts with education. You’re raising a new generation of people who are more sensitive to mental health. In the workplace and school, I wish those places were more inclusive of people who have a mental illness, especially in regards to what constitutes as a “sick day.” I’ve noticed it more recently, and I’m not sure if it’s always been like this, but if you’re applying for or accepting a job, they have you declare a disability for chronic mental illness on a form. Even that doesn’t sound great–declaring yourself as having a chronic mental illness and that makes you disabled? People, employers, and even schools should be more cognizant that even though people may not be 34
struggling with a physical illness, they may still be dealing with the physical effects of their mental illness. People just need to be more sensitive about this issue and have more understanding. We need to change the way we speak about mental health. Certain words used to be acceptable, but now we know better and don’t use them because people have stood up and said, “This is inaccurate, offensive, and promotes a stigma.” People have these weird misconceptions of mental illnesses and we need to correct them. You know, stop calling things “bipolar” when it doesn’t refer to having bipolar disorder. There’s a misconception that “it’s not really depression if it’s brought on by a specific event.” That was something that was told to me when I wasn’t handling that breakup very well. People told me that I was just sad because my relationship had ended and I knew that wasn’t true. I couldn’t get out of bed and I was exhausted all the time even though I was sleeping all the time, and I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything. I fit all of the diagnostic criteria for depression and I knew that. Some people go through a really traumatic event, and that triggers something in them, but once they go through and process everything, they may never have a depressive episode ever again. For some other people, which I feel is a little more like myself, you have this personality that gravitates you towards dealing with certain situations in certain ways and you can be more susceptible to having a mental illness. For me, I think this is something that I will always struggle with on some level. I’m a huge proponent of people going out and getting help, whether that be through medication or therapy or the combination of both. Some people think that medication is just a bandage, but if there’s a chemical imbalance, then that needs to be addressed. For
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some people, taking medication is absolutely the best option for them. Right now, I take medication for anxiety, but it’s really on an as needed basis. There will be times when I’m at work and I’d rather not let people see that personal emotion. I’m a manager, and I don’t think it’s professional to share that much of your personal life with people that you’re in charge of. Sometimes without any reason, I’ll feel anxious at work and I know that I can get through it and I’ll be okay once the medicine kicks in; I know that I won’t spend the rest of my eight-hour shift feeling miserable.
We need to change the way we speak about mental health. When I went in to get my prescription for my anti-anxiety meds, I explained to them my situation and essentially said, “Listen, I’m a psychology major and I know how this medication works. I have my own experiences with this and I’m rational and I’m not under any illusion that my life is a disaster and everything is the worst, but I can’t make myself stop feeling this way.” That’s what the medication is for, it calms down my body physically, and that’s what I knew I needed. In my case, it doesn’t make sense for me to go to a therapist. I’m very much an advocate of analyzing your own thoughts and feelings and allowing yourself to feel them. I think on some level, that’s the only way you’re going to get through 35
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something. Obviously you don’t want to be wallowing in that forever, but when I was going through that breakup, I could’ve just pushed all of those emotions to the side and loaded up on antidepressants, but I wouldn’t have gotten through it. I had to let myself go through that emotional journey to come out on the other side. I want other people who are going through this to know that there’s no shame in getting help. I remember going into a therapist office once and thinking how weird it was and how much I didn’t want to be there and that I didn’t need to be there. I’m someone who is very consciously pro-mental health and very selfaware. People need help and there shouldn’t be any shame
in seeking that out. I take a lot of pride in doing a good job and being in control, and sometimes I have to say that I need help and know that I can’t handle everything, and there’s no shame in that. Even if it’s not a professional, talking to one person and feeling like they understand that you’re not crazy is important and it’s just super helpful to find someone to talk to talk to about this kind of stuff. I can’t talk to all of my friends about this, but I have several that I can talk to about this on a very deep level and it’s important. We look at the most severe examples of mental illnesses as the only illnesses that need treatment, and that’s not 36
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When you learn about mental health from a medical and psychological point of view, you’re more aware and conscious that this is a real thing. helpful. I think I’ve been very lowgrade depressed a lot and I obviously deal with my anxiety and for the longest time, I didn’t think that those were severe enough to get help. It wasn’t until I took a step back and started actually looking at other people and I realized I did need help. Actually looking at the criteria and the DSM-V requirements and then looking at myself made me realize what was going on. There were medical professionals saying something was wrong, and I needed to accept it. In high school, I was very into expressing myself creatively as a form of handling my emotions. I was into photojournalism and theater and show choir, and it helped me, but once I started going through everything on the most severe level, I don’t think I would’ve been able even to create anything. I think if I tried to create any piece of art that would express that I was feeling, I would’ve dissolved into tears. As much as I was allowing myself to experience the emotions on some level, it got to the point where I couldn’t do that all the time. To function as a human in society, you can’t be crying all the time, so I had to try not experience everything all the time.
I’ve done this my whole life but when my anxiety gets really bad, I pick at my skin to the point where I have scars. If I have a scab or a zit, I can’t leave it alone. If someone tells me that I’m doing it, I’ll notice and stop for a while, but then I’ll start doing it again and not even realize it. The first time I took Xanax, I didn’t want to do any of that and it was so cool. Independent of anxiety, my mom wouldn’t want me to pick at my scabs because that’s how you get scars. I remember that there used to be this jar of candy and if my mom caught be picking at my scabs she’d take a piece of candy out of the jar and at the end of the week, I’d get whatever candy was left. I was a child in kindergarten and there were already those indicators. I’m very open about a lot of stuff related to mental illness but I almost feel embarrassed to talk about that aspect of it because it’s weird and I don’t think people would really understand it that much. There will be times where I feel anxious, and without even realizing it, I’ll be picking at my skin for a half hour. I’ll realize that all that time has passed and that time has been wasted. That’s something that I’ve noticed gets worse when I get really anxious. I think 37
people would think that’s crazy and definitely attribute a negative stigma towards, so that’s another example about how anxiety isn’t just about worrying about stuff and it really affects my life in a different way too. Being a psychology major made me more aware of what’s going on and I think it’s so important to teach other people about mental health as a way of reducing stigma and creating more awareness and sensitivity. When you learn about mental health from a medical and psychological point of view, you’re more aware and conscious that this is a real thing. •
â€œI think a lot can come from allowing yourself to feel and explore those negative emotions instead of listening to what our culture tells us to do and ignore it and get over it.â€?
COURTNEY “Having a mental illness for me is like always having this annoying passenger who’s always with me. It’s always annoying me and causing problems and it’s honestly crazy to think about how there are people who don’t have that passenger and they’ll never really understand what it’s like.”
I was officially diagnosed my freshman year of high school, but at the beginning of seventh grade, I could tell that something was different. I saw my friends enjoying stuff and I just couldn’t and I didn’t really want to be around anybody. I could tell that something was different about me. When I started cutting myself, I tried to talk to one of my friends about it and she told me that it was normal and other teens were going through the same thing. I never really thought anything of it until it got really bad my freshman year. I told my parents about what was happening and they took me to Parkview Behavioral Health and I stayed there for about a week and that’s when they diagnosed me with severe depression and severe anxiety. I went back eleven days later because I was overwhelmed. Ever since then, I’ve gone to three different medical doctors for my medicine, I’m on my fourth therapist, and I’ve been on ten different medicines. After a few sessions with my psychiatrist, I’ve also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I wish I had grown up knowing about mental illness because I grew up feeling so bad about myself. I saw
all these other kids handling things fine and I couldn’t and I was so angry and confused. My parents didn’t know how to deal with it and there are still some times when they say, “There are people who have it worse than you and they’re doing just fine,” and I’m like… but they don’t have a mental illness. I feel like a lot of people don’t necessarily react differently to me after I tell them about my anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder but I don’t think they understand. They think everybody has anxiety or they think that people with depression are just sad. I have meetings with my teachers because there are days when I’m in such a panic that I can’t make it to school and they all say that they’re there to help me, but there are some days that I feel like they think I’m overreacting and that what I’m dealing with isn’t real. I had a girlfriend who left me because she couldn’t deal. A lot of people think that this is a phase that will go away and they don’t realize that it’s a serious problem. I hear people say “Oh, I’m so depressed” or “I’m so anxious today,” and it’s just like… do you really understand what you’re saying? Do you really? It’s weird to be around 40
people who don’t have a mental illness. Realizing that there are people who don’t deal with anxiety and depression and bipolar disorder is bizarre. I was talking to somebody and she was asking me for book recommendations since I’m always in the library. I asked her if she liked anything dealing with mental health and she looked at me and said, “Like, crazy people?” She wasn’t really aware of what she was saying. It’s interesting that people who don’t see it or live with it don’t think that it exists. I feel like when I say that I’m mentally ill, people tend to take it to the extreme and assume that I’m crazy. They don’t think that I have anxiety or depression; they just automatically go to “crazy.” It kind of sucks because there’s really no other way to describe myself other than mentally ill. Last semester I had a lot of anxiety and I missed a lot of school, so when finals week came around I had no idea what I was doing. I was failing three of my classes and couldn’t take it, so I overdosed and ended up in the hospital. They took me straight to Parkview Behavioral Health and it was pretty
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There’s really no other way to describe myself other than mentally ill. bad. I had threatened to kill myself before, but I had never attempted and it was really hard on everyone in my family. When I finally got out, it was around Christmas time and my mom had told everyone what had happened so they wouldn’t worry. I came home and people would come up to me and ask how I was doing and they were trying to be really gentle around me because they thought I was going to break. People don’t know how to handle it. Even my parents don’t understand how to handle it very well after four years of this. The school nurses know me by name. When I was having panic attacks last semester, they would ask me if I felt well enough to go back to class or if I needed to go home. If I needed to go home, they could excuse me with a clinic excuse so it didn’t count against me on attendance. My counselor helps me out too and we have a 504 Plan set up so I can come in half days and sometimes if I’m having a really bad episode, I can say, “I can’t finish this test right now, can I finish this test later?” and my teachers are understanding. I can either finish the test later or go into another room. I’ve been able to meet with my teachers and let them know what’s going on and they know that if I ask to go to the nurse’s office, it’s probably because I’m having a panic attack. The school seems pretty willing to make accommodations as long as I was willing to work with them and my parents were willing as well. I think the school is 42
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seeing that there are a lot of students coming in and being open about their issues and they want to help. I didn’t have the option of medicine or therapy; my doctors told me that I needed to be put on medication and go to therapy. I think it really depends on the person and the severity of the situation. For some people it’s just too big of a chemical imbalance and they really need the help of medication, but I think therapy is important too because you’re not completely reliant on meds and you’re able to set goals and talk through what’s happening. Having a mental illness is like always having this annoying passenger who’s always with me. It’s always annoying me and causing problems and it’s honestly crazy to think about how there are people who don’t have that passenger and they’ll never really understand what it’s like. There are people who can just walk up to the teacher and talk to them about the assignment where I’m just sitting there freaking out for ten minutes and analyzing everything and I’m frozen. I have to take more caution in everything I do because this passenger, this thing, it makes me do things that I don’t want to do and it makes me realize all of the things that I wish I could do but can’t. The most commonly shown mental illnesses are depression and anxiety and I feel like a lot of people are pretty apathetic when it comes to those. But when people start to talk about bipolar disorder or OCD or schizophrenia, people don’t know what to do because they don’t understand it. Because I have bipolar disorder, I can go from calm to angry really quickly and the balance just isn’t there for me and it’s hard for my mom to understand. My bipolar disorder is more on the depressive side. I don’t get a lot of highs, but when I do, I feel invincible. I feel really confident and talkative and flirty and I feel great.
But then on the other side, I don’t ever want to talk to people and my speech is affected. I’ll usually only be positive for maybe a couple of days and then be down for a couple of weeks. I don’t know how it is for everyone, but that’s how it is for me. I also have really low patience and it’s really easy for me to snap and become angry. I wish there were better ways to show that normal people have problems and it’s okay not to be okay.
It makes me realize all the things that I wish I could do but can’t.
I get panic attacks because of my anxiety and they’re the worst. I’m not even there and I can’t breathe and everything seems so overwhelming and I can’t handle anything. If anyone sees me while I’m having a panic attack, it makes it worse because I know how I look and I know I look crazy. Afterwards, it takes a lot of time to recover because those feelings stay with me. I think mental illnesses can be managed but I don’t know if they can be cured. I honestly think that for someone with a mental illness, that mental illness is a part of who they are. I think it’s something that you have to learn to live 43
with and learn how to manage it so you can live a full and normal life. If someone you know has a mental illness and you notice things around them start to pile up and get overwhelming, be there for them and try to help. If it’s a family member, maybe help them clean their room or wash their sheets for them–really anything that will help them keep moving and not drown in what’s around them. It’s also important not to pressure anyone to talk about something they’re not ready or comfortable to talk about. I know with me, I’m not good at talking about my feelings and I barely understand them myself. I know if I get behind, I’ll just stare at my work and I can’t get myself to do it because I feel overwhelmed and behind, so it’s really nice when people offer to sit with me and help me. I want to tell people that it does get better. After so many different medications and finally getting my parents to understand... it just takes time. It’s hard sometimes to keep going. Sometimes it does incapacitate me. Sometimes I’m not able to go to school or pick myself up by my bootstraps and keep going. People are pressing from one side and my depression becomes a wall and they’re just pushing me into it and it doesn’t work. This isn’t something just made up in my head and it’s a real problem and I wish people understood that. But when I was in the hospital, I started realizing all the people who were being affected by my mental illnesses. I thought about all of my teachers and the nurses and my friends. I knew that if I gave up, it would really hurt people. Even if you don’t think that you’re important–you are. You are important. Life will keep moving forward and you’ll find happiness. It’s hard to see it right now in the moment, but eventually it will all be okay. •
“You are important. Life will keep moving forward and you’ll find happiness. It’s hard to see it right now in the moment, but eventually it will all be okay.”
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NANCY “I’ve heard that mother’s who have postpartum depression aren’t strong and they’re bad mothers. I always felt that I was trying to be as strong as possible and be the best I could be, but I was also trying to overachieve and I was hurting and losing myself.”
It all started after my son Benji was born. I started having problems with breastfeeding because he wouldn’t latch on properly, so we didn’t actually form a “bond.” The day I realized I was really sick was when I was supposed to be feeding him. I would pump in the morning and feed him about an hour later, but that morning I just left him in the bed. I cried for an hour and a half, and I realized something was wrong with me. I had my husband come home from work and I told him what happened and he took off some time to stay home. There were days where I wouldn’t even want to be near the baby. A lot of people couldn’t see it because it was such a personal thing. Even though there were days that I didn’t want to be near him, I’ve always loved my son and my worst fear was for someone to take him away from me. I didn’t deliver Benji in a military hospital. When I went to talk to one of the military doctors about what I was going through, she made me feel like I was wrong... she thought I had just gone on WebMD and diagnosed myself. The
other military doctor essentially told me the same thing. He told me that I was telling him textbook symptoms and I wasn’t telling him my own experience. It was frustrating because I was telling him what I was feeling and he didn’t believe me. I never thought about killing myself or hurting Benji, but I did think about leaving him alone in the house. The doctor said that those thoughts were “normal” and that everyone has irrational thoughts that they don’t act on. He didn’t understand that it was an everyday thing for me. The irrational thoughts–what would happen if I ran my car into this tree or what would happen if I jumped off this cliff or what if I left my baby alone with my dogs and went to the mall for six hours?
When I went to the psychiatrist, I brought my baby. The psychiatrist asked me, “If you really feel like this, then why did you bring the baby?” I told him that I brought him because I didn’t have a sitter and it was just my husband and me. He questioned me and said that I must have formed a bond with the baby if I didn’t want to leave him. Of course I didn’t want to leave him. He’s my son and I didn’t want to lose him. That same conversation went on for a month until one day my husband came home from work and the house was a disaster. The dishes weren’t washed, the food from the morning hadn’t been put away, and my son hadn’t been changed from his morning diaper. I was just sitting in the living room not talking. At that point, my husband said that we needed to go somewhere to get me real help.
The doctor told me that I didn’t seem depressed, even though I told him that I wasn’t okay. I told him that the baby would cry and I wouldn’t respond. He put me on birth control instead of giving me any real help. We use military hospitals here and they’re helpful to a certain point, but they don’t believe in the same things that a lot of people do.
When we went back to Mental Health the fourth time, the psychiatrist told me that he didn’t think medication would work for me and he thought that meeting with him once a week would be better. To me, that didn’t seem very helpful. I was supposed to meet with him a sixth time, but I never went back. I went back to a primary care physician and asked
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if she could change my doctor, and she told me that “Unfortunately, the way that military hospitals work here, you have to go back to the doctor that you started with and if not, you have to start all over again.” By this time, Benji was six months old and I knew this wasn’t getting me anywhere. My husband got home one day and he brought home food that I had asked him to buy, but it wasn’t the exact food I had asked him to buy and I just blew up. I started throwing things and I told him that I was going to leave him. I told him that I didn’t care about him or the baby. I said anything I could so I could leave and get out. He was very confused because he’s never heard those things from me. I told my doctor about this and she immediately took me off the birth control. Months passed and Benji was about a year old and the postpartum depression was still affecting me. It became an everyday thing and I was like, it’s been a year, is what I’m feeling still postpartum? I wasn’t on medication or anything because none of the doctors would diagnose me, but I felt it. I felt like my child did not belong to me even though I took care of him and he came out of me. When we went back to the doctor, I told him that I didn’t feel like he was helping me and he said if I felt so strongly that they weren’t helping, then I should see a non-military doctor. My husband and I went together and we talked to the non-military doctor and I felt like that experience was worse. I felt like they wouldn’t believe me on my own. It was like they only believed me because my husband was there and he was agreeing that something was wrong, rather than just believing me, by myself, and understanding that I was trying to seek out the help that no one would give me. That doctor said the same thing to me; she said that medication wasn’t the plan she wanted for me and she wanted
to see me twice a week, but she wanted me to bring my son. I brought my son with me and we would do little things like arts and crafts. This doctor acknowledged that the bond wasn’t there because of the lack of breastfeeding. I know a lot of people don’t have my same response or reaction, but for me, breastfeeding was something I felt very strongly about. I was so determined that I was going to do it and that it was going to happen, so I think my own insecurities were what brought me down in the beginning. My doctor reminded me of all the other things I could do with him. I could take a nap with him, cuddle with him, take a bath with him, and talk with him. I could rebuild everything that I felt I didn’t have. She’s a really good friend now and she runs the playgroup that Benji is a part of. When I first started going to the playgroup, she encouraged me to come and play with Benji and watch how he was growing and actually experience it. She also told me that my house didn’t have to be clean and perfect and I didn’t have to be perfect –she said, “This isn’t The Stepford Wives, this is real life and sometimes life isn’t as perfect as you want it to be or think it is.” I’ve heard that mother’s who have postpartum depression aren’t strong and they’re bad mothers. I always felt that I was trying to be as strong as possible and be the best I could be, but I was also trying to overachieve and I was hurting and losing myself. It’s important to find somebody who will listen. You have to know that it’s not your fault. I didn’t want to confide in my husband because I didn’t want him to be afraid for me or our son’s life. I always worried about someone telling me that I couldn’t have my baby because I would hurt him. Even though I was feeling all these things, I still wanted Benji to be happy and healthy. 47
My doctors have told me that if we ever choose to have another child, I need to watch out for the symptoms a little sooner. They also told me that they don’t know if or when it’ll come back. I don’t think I ever would’ve wanted to know that I could have postpartum. That’s our fear now because we’re talking about having more children. My mom never really admitted it, but she had a lot of resentment towards us and I don’t want that for Benji. Right now, I’m pretty stable. I’m not taking medication but I’m seeing my doctor every other week instead of twice a week and it’s pretty great. Now, Benji is two and things are a lot better. Benji and I are hanging out and going out a lot– we don’t just stay home. There are still days when I don’t want to get out of bed, so I don’t, and that’s okay. We have a TV in our bedroom and we all hangout and watch TV together and we just spend our day with Benji in the bedroom and that’s okay. I feel like a lot of people don’t want to talk about postpartum depression and it’s something that’s hidden away. This is something that happens a lot and it affects a lot of families. Hayden Panettiere has just recently started talking about her postpartum depression, so who knows what other celebrity moms have gone through this? Nobody talks about it because they think they should be ashamed. This should be something that people can talk about and it shouldn’t be taboo. Everyone is afraid that women are weak and we’re not weak– women are not weak. There are things that happen to women, miscarriages and postpartum and other things, and it’s a disservice to women to not talk about them. •
RACHEL “Don’t be afraid of looking crazy. There were many times during my diagnosis that I lied to my doctors or refused help because I was afraid that if I told the truth I would sound ‘too crazy’ – which resulted in a dosey-doe around prescription drugs and otherwise easily avoided battles.”
I have post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety. I’ve gotten a lot better at hiding the anxiety and being more social, but it’s still there and can be hard. When I was first diagnosed, it was referred to as bipolar type with schizoaffective tendencies, but now with more research and the American Psychological Association revision, it’s now referred to as bipolar type schizoaffective disorder. That just means that when things get bad, I have the tendencies of both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. With the type of disorder I have, I go from one extreme emotion to another. I can be extremely down and severely depressed to being manic and happy and feeling like I can conquer the world. I also have auditory and visual hallucinations and irrational paranoia about certain things. It gets to the point where the depression is so bad that I can’t get out of bed or I’ll get so manic that I won’t eat. There are times where I’ll have such paranoia about people that I can’t do anything. It usually takes weeks to go through a cycle. Usually, I’ll go through a period of depression, then a period of normalcy, and then a
manic state, which can last months. If I’m constantly jumping from depressive to manic and back again and there’s no in-between time of normalcy, then the times between being depressed and manic get shorter and the issues of both states compound and it then becomes a daily thing where I really have to watch myself. Thankfully I haven’t had periods like that since I really started getting help. I can remember the first doctor’s appointment that I ever had because my mom decided that she couldn’t handle my emotions anymore and that was when my doctor just diagnosed me with just depression. I remember we were leaving and I turned to my mom and I said, “I don’t remember ever being happy.” I just couldn’t ever remember being happy. I could always remember not knowing what was going on, constantly being miserable, and always being shut out from everyone because everyone else was doing their own things. The first time that I tried to attempt suicide, I was thirteen years old, but I had been suicidal since I was ten. All I 48
remember of middle school is me going into a downward spiral and just falling apart. Looking back at it now, I just feel so bad for everyone around me who didn’t know what was going on because I didn’t know what was going on. There are so many instances where I wish I could go back and apologize or show them that it wasn’t me. I swear I’m not a horrible person, I just was at the time because I didn’t know what was going on or that I needed help. When I first started getting help, it was a combination of medication and therapy and I’ve been on at least fourteen different medications. For a long time, they just thought I was depressed, so they put me on eight different antidepressants. Then they put me on three different bipolar medications and then two different schizophrenic tranquilizers and then the medication that ended up working for me and not having any bad side effects was a seizure medication. The therapy and learning to cope with it is what really helped. Currently, I’m not on medication or going to see anyone, but that was something that was decided by both my therapist and me after a lot
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of discussion. We both decided that I had reached a point of self-awareness and I had built a stable enough foundation with people surrounding me that I would be okay to go off of medication and try to continue without therapy. In the beginning, I really think I needed that medication because I needed to know what being stable felt like so I could know when I wasn’t. I can recall at one point having a conversation with my therapist about hearing voices, and I remember swearing up and down that there was no way I could have schizophrenic tendencies because I didn’t hear voices. We came to this realization that I would regularly have arguments with myself in the mirror and he asked me to really focus in on those arguments and assess what was happening. A few days had passed and I started having this argument with myself while I was getting ready in the morning and I stopped myself and I realized that I hadn’t actually been talking at all. I saw me in the mirror talking and I felt like I was talking, but I wasn’t. It was at that point that I knew something was wrong because I had sworn up and down that I knew what was happening and to suddenly realize that it wasn’t was awful. I had my mom call and make an appointment for me to see my therapist the next day because I was just so distraught about it.
who have it uncontrollable or violent and that’s just not true. It would be nice if that would stop. I definitely think that educating people about mental health is super important. I know that in my high school, we knew that you could be depressed or you could be a bunch of other things that they didn’t teach you about and that wasn’t helpful. It was hard because I wanted to help my friends who were going through things but I didn’t know how to approach them because I didn’t even know how to approach what was going on with myself. I feel like the education is vital. I’m torn about my opinion about the term “mental illness.” People need to know that this is something that I cannot change about myself and it’s not something that’s my fault–it’s not anymore my fault that I have a mental illness than someone who has cancer. But at the same time, it has such a stigma with it to where people think that someone with a mental illness can’t do anything or that their illness is contagious so there’s such a misunderstanding surrounding the term. I have so many good days in a row that sometimes it’s a struggle to come to terms with my own diagnosis, but then I hit those lows and it becomes very obvious that my diagnosis is correct.
I wish people understood that even with my schizophrenic tendencies, those don’t make me crazy and I’m not out of control.
Even with my moods and everything, I never thought anything was wrong. It thought that I was smarter than other people because I saw things differently. I thought that I was so high above everybody else because I could see the good and the bad and I could accept all the negatives in the world. After a while, I realized that that was something that was definitely impairing me more than it was helping me. I wish people understood that even with my schizophrenic tendencies, those don’t make me crazy and I’m not out of control. I have hallucinations and paranoia on a daily basis, but unless I point it out, no one knows it’s happening. I was talking to a friend on campus one day about it and after she left, a man who was sitting next to us approached me and told me that I needed to stop and be sent away because it was “people like me who shoot up schools.” After that, I went home and stayed home because I didn’t feel safe. There’s this idea that having schizophrenic tendencies makes those
I try to share what I’m going through as soon as possible with a person once I feel comfortable. At some point the social anxiety or PTSD or something will get to me and it’ll affect that relationship and there will come the point where I won’t want to talk or go out or do things and I don’t want them to think that it’s because I don’t like them or am not dedicated to the friendship. For anyone who wants to actively be a friend with me, I’ve never had an issue where they treat me differently after I tell them and I’ve met a lot of really understanding people. When I’m manic, I feel dizzy and very light but at the same time I feel very strong and I feel like I could just float to the highest mountain top and conquer anything that comes my way. Financial things don’t matter and none of that stuff matters, it’s all about just getting to the end. I’m running a race and I can see the end and I’m determined to get there. When I was younger, I didn’t have money so when we talked about manic issues it was never about spending money on 50
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When the depression hits, it’s like tripping on your shoelace and hitting the asphalt.
back at what happened. It’s hard to explain my hallucinations to people. I remember when I was in middle school, I used to put safety pins behind my ears and tore my skin up because every time I looked in the mirror, my face was falling off. My eyes would get bigger and my skin was sagging and I was living with this terrifying fear that one day I would wake up and my face would be gone or I’d go to school and it would just drop off. I knew it wasn’t really happening but I was seeing it happen.
things that I didn’t need. It was mainly focused on taking on too many projects, doing too much in school, not being able to sit still in class and not being able to eat or sleep. Not sleeping can aggravate my hallucinations and moods, so sleep is very crucial but when I get manic I just keep going and going and I never sleep. I never got into the issue of managing my finances because I didn’t have money. Now I have money
so I have to address how to manage my manic spending. When the depression hits, it’s like tripping on your shoelace and hitting the asphalt. I feel sore and torn and I ache. I don’t want to open my eyes or acknowledge that anything exists or even that I exist and I just want it all just to stop. It’s so hard for me to recognize that I’m having a hallucination until I look 51
For me, social anxiety is like sitting in the bathroom and not wanting to go to class because you’re sure that everyone knows you’re not there and you’re sure they’re going to confront you when you do go to class. It’s crying alone because you can’t emotionally handle it all and that idea of someone confronting you about your absence makes you not want to even try again. The post-traumatic stress disorder is the same as the hallucinations. It’s walking down campus and catching a whiff of something and suddenly not being on campus anymore. You know you’re still on campus and you know you’re safe, but in your head and visually you’re somewhere else and it’s hard to handle.
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There was as time when I had a very deep cutting addiction and it was to the point where that if I stopped cutting I would have legitimate withdraw symptoms. Instead of trying to kill the addiction, I just transferred it into writing, which is good for my major. These scars were my last suicide attempt so I constantly have that on me; I know what these scars mean and other people don’t. I have scars down my back as far back as I could reach, scars all up my arms and down my leg. When I was younger, my dad went away for quite some time and then came back and that caused some instability. Everyone around me was freaking out and I felt like I was missing something so I was constantly trying to catch up with everybody else and that caused some emotional trauma. Then when I was seven years old, I was repeatedly raped and sexually tortured by a friend’s father and instead of
leaving the friend, I stayed with them because I didn’t want them to be alone, so that situation went on for a long time and everything spun out of control. Later there was a family struggle with another sister and another family fallout where everyone fell apart and it all just hit me again. I had tried to ignore it when I was younger, but it all happened again and it just hit me really hard. It wasn’t until after my third suicide attempt and after I started getting help that everyone found out what happened to me when I was younger. I hadn’t quite coped with everything that had happened to me, so when my sister Jessy found out, it hit me really hard and I ended up having a really rough week after that. She reacted so emotionally and I just completely shut myself down and made myself numb, which made me feel so guilty afterward because I felt like I had let her down by not telling her sooner. 52
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I think my family has a genetic disposition to mental illnesses. On my mom’s side, there are a lot of records of family members in institutions for different reasons and my mom is fairly certain that her mom, my grandma, had bipolar disorder because a lot of what I was going through threw her back to childhood instances. It’s definitely in our family and we all have our own flavor. Because my family understands and we’re all pretty open about talking what we each are going through, I talk freely with other people about it. But then people like that man on campus will just throw me back and I have to realize that there are people out there who don’t have the same support structure and that just makes me really sad. Having a support structure has been crucial for me and to know that there are people out there who don’t have that is sad. I think that mental illness is a combination of both “nature” and “nurture.” I think that it is genetic and is something that can be passed down, but how severe it is or the situations in which it comes about is more dependent on nurture. I’ve talked to my therapist about this before about how it’s very possible that one of my sisters may have bipolar disorder, but because of the severity of what happened to me when I was younger and how long it went without it being treated, that all played into catalyzing my mental illness and just making it explode. There’s been this debate of whether or not I would have been as bad as I was had all of that not happened to me. I was a drummer in the band and I was also the drummer for my first boyfriend’s band. Music, in general, is very important to me so to be able to play an instrument like that was very crucial to me. I got put on a tranquilizer and it ended up damaging a lot of neurological things. I had to do physical therapy and speech therapy, and it also
damaged my ability to play the drums. My hands don’t always move when I tell them to and the more hyped I get, the worse it gets. I’m not able to do it like I used to and the anxiety of performing would trigger it as well. Because of the tranquilizer, I also can’t dance like I had hoped I would be able to because my “left” and “right” aren’t always my “left” and “right.” I took an Intro to Dance class and I had to talk to my instructor because I was having a lot of issues– I’d tell my left foot to do something and my right foot would do it instead. Sometimes I can’t stand and have issues walking. I’ve been able to manage it, but sometimes I can’t hold a pencil so writing is difficult for me and typing is also an issue.
These scars were my last suicide attempt so I constantly have that on me; I know what these scars mean and other people don’t. The one tranquilizer resulted in neurological damage, my bipolar medication was making me gain weight, and the one tranquilizer that could have helped me wasn’t covered by my mom’s insurance. One of my medications gave me seizures, and 53
my mom really beat herself up about it because she thought that if she had better insurance then I could get be the better medication. That triggered her anxiety which triggered my dad’s depression and it was a huge cycle. Last semester there was a stint where I couldn’t even get out of bed. I would get up to go to the bathroom and that was it. Usually I can talk myself into at least changing clothes or eating and I would always get myself to work, but this was the first time that it hit me so hard that I just couldn’t. I missed two consecutive weeks of school and it was the first time I ever called off of work. I personally think that mental illnesses are just something that can be managed. I don’t know if I believe that because mine is just so severe. I was told from the get-go to not really have hope to ever be better and if anything it’ll just get worse and more severe. With depression, I don’t know if it’s possible to get to a place where you can overcome it. For me personally and a lot of other people that I know with mental illnesses, it’s a constant coping and you just have to learn how to deal with it. Sometimes you get better at handling it or better at hiding it, but I don’t know if you can get past it. You can manage it and there will come a day where you can do everything that you want to do. If you don’t think there’s anything that you want to do, there will come a day where there will be something you want to do. I can remember the first time I saw colors and that gave me a lot of hope to keep trying. You will see colors and you will enjoy things. It’s going to take a lot of work and as long as you’re dedicated enough to work on it, then it’s going to get better. I feel like awareness is so important and I feel like I’m in a unique position where I have a severe and not-so-
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It’s weird that after so long of not wanting to exist or not knowing why I exist to suddenly have a purpose and it’s so great. common variation of things, so I just think it’s important to get this story and information out to other people for the purpose of education. I’m hoping that someone will read this story or see this project and either have a realization about someone that they know or about themselves and can get help. For this really long time, I had this resolution that I was going to die at fifteen. I don’t know why that was, but that was just the number that hit me. So when I hit sixteen and I was still here, I was like “Oh. Shit.” I got stuck in this limbo of not wanting to die anymore but not knowing what to do with myself. It wasn’t until after I had graduated that my sister and I were talking about teaching English in Korea, and I realized that the only time I had been vaguely interested in anything was in English. Now nothing is getting in my way of going to Korea and teaching English as a full career. It’s so weird after so long of not wanting to exist or not knowing why I exist to suddenly have a purpose and it’s so great. 54
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At one point, my therapist had reserved a room for me at Parkview Behavioral Health because it had gotten so bad. Then my friend Dalton committed suicide. My therapist was so worried about me that he started calling my house to make sure that I was okay. It’s interesting, but I think that’s what really triggered me into wanting to get better. I can remember sitting in church and everyone had come together to talk about it. I remember sitting in the pew and being so angry because I had tried so many times to end my life and I was still here and he was gone. He tried one time and he was gone. Everyone loved Dalton and I thought nobody loved me. I thought that nobody would miss me if I was gone and everybody missed him. I was in this pool of self-loathing and then my sister, who was best friends
with his older sister and had watched him grow up, came up to me and said, “Don’t you ever make me go through this again.” That hit me so hard and that really pushed me to really try with my therapist and work to get better. My mom used to say that there are some people who come into your life just to show you something and then they leave. As horrible as it sounds, I can look back and see that Dalton died to help me. I don’t need to see it as a loss because he helped me so much. Even though he can never see what he’s done for me, all I can do is hope that what I do will make it worth it. I’m trying. Don’t be afraid of looking crazy. There were many times during my diagnosis that I lied to my doctors or refused help because I was afraid that if 55
I told the truth I would sound ‘too crazy’ –which resulted in a dosey-doe around prescription drugs and otherwise easily avoided battles. No one will be able to truly help you if they don’t know what’s really going on with you, so your best bet is to just be honest with yourself and everyone around you so they know where to start helping you. It’s scary, you might feel really crappy about it for a while, but I promise you that you are not crazy and you will not regret it after all is said and done. •
“I can remember the first time I saw colors and that gave me a lot of hope to keep trying. You will see colors and you will enjoy things. It’s going to take a lot of work and as long as you’re dedicated enough to work on it, then it’s going to get better.”
MIKE “I learned that with military members, nobody really talks about stuff like this, you know? The topic of mental illness is coming to light a lot more now and that’s good, especially for people who do need that support. I think it’s a bigger problem than people want to believe it is.”
I’ve been diagnosed with several different things. I’ve been diagnosed with depression but it never really affected me until other things happened to me. I didn’t know that I had PTSD or TBI [traumatic brain injury] until after I got home. TBI is really big in the NFL because players keep getting hit and kicked in the head, but mine’s a little different. I got blown up a few times by rockets and mortars and stuff like that. I also have ADD so they all just kind of snowball into this big mess of stuff. In the military, it’s strange because you don’t want to seem weak and if you do, it affects how you’re viewed and your career. A lot of the time you just bury it down deep and try to deal with it later on. That may not be the best thing to do, but it’s what it is. Since I got out of the military, nobody really gives a shit as far as treating me differently. Like I said, in the military it’s different. This is more of a personal journey, plus I usually don’t go around and advertise it. I’ve talked to people at the VA [Veterans Affairs] and they’ve been really helpful. If I run into other military members, you know, we always have something to
talk about. I learned that with military members, nobody really talks about stuff like this, you know? The topic of mental illness is coming to light a lot more now and that’s good, especially for people who do need that support. I think it’s a bigger problem than people want to believe it is. I was in the military and I originally wanted to be an MP, a military police officer–I didn’t want to deploy or go to combat. I’ve always been more of an artsy fartsy kind of guy and I did a lot of medical crap in high school. I was actually going to go to school for biology and chemistry to become a doctor. But I became an MP and my first assignment was in Germany and I was stationed there for three years. About the time I got there in 2002, we started training and we deployed to Iraq in 2004. We got to Iraq and it was what they call OIFII [Operation Iraqi Freedom II]. There was more fighting in OIFII in 2004 than there had basically been since WWII and Vietnam. We got there and within two weeks they sent us to Fallujah for their first offensive. We were to take the city of Fallujah so we were there to support 59
the Marine Corps. My platoon was attached to a company and as soon as we got there, there were explosions and firefighting every day. I was a gunner, so I was always stuck up on top of the truck, driving around in the middle of nowhere being shot at every day. Shit happened over there. I got injured a few times, I got blown up, I got shrapnel, and I had to shoot people. That stuff just sticks with you, especially for someone like me who didn’t want to be there in the first place. We were there for a year and that first deployment really affected me. I was pretty sure I was going to die. When you’re out there and you see death every day, you kind of accept it and you start not to care anymore and push away all of your loved ones. After I got out, that was probably the hardest part: learning how to have emotions again, how to care and how to love. I still have problems with that but I’m getting better over time. It was difficult for my kids and my marriage really suffered from it. I started self-medicating and I became a really terrible person and that’s when I had my divorce. That was probably the lowest point of the
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whole thing because I really didn’t care and I would rather have been dead. I deployed again in 2008 and went back to Iraq. With that deployment, I fully expected to die, but that deployment was completely different. It was much longer this second time and, I don’t know, it was really a mind-fuck. It’s difficult for people to understand because less than 1% of the population has ever experienced combat, so you automatically feel like a loner. How can somebody even begin to understand something like that if they haven’t been in it? Even when I talk to people at the VA and they say, “Oh, I understand, I understand,” and it’s just like, no you don’t. You’ve been a civilian your whole life and you’ve never even picked up a rifle.
to the army, but they were taken out of line and they were moved elsewhere. As soon as that happened, the rumors started and people started talking shit. I think the saddest part about it though is the amount of suicides that military members are going through. It happens all the time and I can’t tell you how many suicides I’ve been around. We had a Chaplin’s Assistant kill himself while we were down there and it was just the most random people. I’ve been suicidal in the past and I think the only reason I didn’t do it is because I have kids and they helped and grounded me.
came home and it was like, you’re over there taking care of problems and then you’re here taking care of problems. It’s focused on other Americans and other soldiers and it’s really fucked up. Murder-suicides and just nasty shit. You start getting this sick sense of humor to deal with shit. I found this guy who’d murdered his wife; he basically cut her head off and crawled into bed with her. I happened to come across it and that shit... at the time, I was making jokes about it and after that, it took me a minute and I thought “something’s fucking wrong with me if I’m making jokes about this and I need to get help.” That was a turning point for me. That shit stays with you.
It’s difficult for people to understand because less than 1% of the population has ever experienced combat, so you automatically feel like a loner. How can somebody even begin to understand something like that if they haven’t been in it?
When I got back from my first deployment, they didn’t talk about anything like this. Talking about PTSD and everything in the military has become a lot more prevalent only during these past few years. The second time I was over there they talked about it a lot more but like I said, nobody wanted to talk about it. It never really affected me while I was in the military because you have this certain mindset where you have to kick ass and take names. When you get out and you come back to real life, you realize that you’re surrounded by people who’ve never had to do anything close to that. You consider yourself a fucking murderer walking around in public and it’s strange, very strange. Back then if somebody had a problem like mental illness, they were an outcast. Not officially or technically according
Being an MP, you have your combat duties but when you come home you’re essentially a police officer. As an MP, you basically have three jobs. One’s combat, one’s keeping the infantry in order, and the other one’s being a cop. After my first deployment, I went to Georgia and I became an investigator for the Military Police investigations and some of the shit I had to do in that job was just insane. I kind of feel like my war never really ended when I 60
I’ve seen several therapists. I started seeing them about a year, year and a half before I got out of the military and when I was living in Hawaii, but I hate talking about this shit. It’s really nobody’s burden but my own and that’s life. I feel like every time I talk about it I relive it. A lot of the time I try to forget about it and get it out of my mind. I think about it every day and there’s not a day that goes by where it doesn’t affect my life. This stuff weighs on you.
Depression runs in my family so I think I get that a lot from them. But when it’s combined with other things and the thoughts, I don’t know. They had me on antidepressants for a while but I hate taking medicine so I stopped that and gave it up. I started to try and work through it on my own and I think having a positive state of mind helped more than anything. Identifying and knowing what you have too; you have to know what you have in order to fix it. I had this overwhelming feeling of regret for a really long time. There was
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Being in college has definitely helped, you know, being around like -minded individuals, learning and focusing elsewhere. I guess everything heals with time.
the regret for what I had to do to stay alive, but there was also survivor’s guilt. I felt like I should’ve fucking died out there. I can have “rock bottom” moments sometimes when I’m really drunk, or sometimes certain thoughts can trigger things. The Fourth of July is always a big day for me–all of the stuff blowing up. Memorial Day I have issues with sometimes. April 8th is the anniversary of this big ambush we were in and one of my friends got killed that day so that still messes with me. There are moments when I miss it. There are times where I’m like, “Fuck this, civilian life sucks and I’d rather be out there doing that,” and a lot of my friends feel the same way. I’d never go back, that’s just insanity, but when you’re a kid and you don’t know any better... you think you’re invincible and nothing can touch you. But now, life is good. I’ve come to terms with what I’ve done, but it’s only been within these last couple of years. Being in college has definitely helped, you know, being around like-minded individuals and learning and focusing elsewhere. I guess everything heals with time. If you need help, get it. Talk to people. Stay strong. Stay healthy. Exercise. Eat right. Drink whiskey. Keep fighting the good fight and don’t give up. • 61
“Stay strong, stay healthy, exercise, drink whiskey. If you need help, get it. Talk to people. Keep fighting the good fight and don’t give up.”
ISABELLA “It’s my go-to to put on my comedy face, so that helped hide what I was going through from a lot of people. Being the funny person and the person who always had the joke really made it possible for my mental health issues to go unnoticed for as long as they did.”
It was about three years ago when it all started. I was a freshman in high school and I was always sad but I tried not to let it bother me. People knew me as “the funny person.” There were a lot of family problems that were hidden and a lot of people didn’t know about it, so I felt very alone all the time. I had lost my parent’s and sister’s approval in regards to some life decisions and I felt like I lost their trust and that familial connection; I didn’t feel like I had any support. I also had a lot of body image issues. For one month, I would heavily restrict my eating and then the next month I would throw up after almost every meal and that was going on the entirety of my sophomore year. In the winter of that year, I started self-harming and that continued for three years. When I would get into a depressive state, typically at night, I would lay in bed and the overwhelming thoughts of “why am I here?” would start to take over. I would get really angry and all of that bottled-up emotion and anger would be released through self-harm. It only took a few long swipes against my skin to release the endorphins and calm me down. The self-harm released my anger quickly and it allowed me to
focus on something other than what I was feeling–it was really more of a distraction than anything. I just stopped about a month ago, so it’s still pretty fresh. I’m really proud of myself. I’ve been on medication for several years and I see a therapist whenever I can, but it’s hard because of my schedule. I’ve been dealing with this stuff for so long that it’s really just a part of my life now. Because it’s a constant thing, it’s hard to acknowledge it or talk about it, I think I’ve become almost numb to it now. I want to start telling my friends because I feel like I’m in a better place where I’m getting better and can share what I’ve gone through. I know that if I’m more open about my experiences, people will be able to come to me and I can maybe help someone else. It feels like someone dumped all of this shiny glitter and rainbow dust on a decaying pile of ashes. Every time someone comes by and the debris peaks through, more shiny glitter is be poured on top to build up the pile. I feel like that’s how it was for a long time. I kept trying to bury this secret under comedy 64
and laughter, and no matter how much I tried to keep my mental health issues hidden, they would always find a way to the surface. It’s my go-to to put on my comedy face, so that helped hide what I was going through. Being the funny person and the person who always had the joke made it possible for my mental health issues to go unnoticed for as long as they did. Humor is my coping mechanism, so when I do try to talk about something serious like this, people tend not to take me seriously. People just think I’m trying to be funny or make a joke and it’s hard. It’s exhausting trying to live up to this expectation that people have of me. I had a complete mental spiral and every time I think about it, it scares me. I can’t believe that it got to that point and that was my life. My parents were at a concert and I was home alone when I started thinking all of those bad thoughts. I remember starting to hyperventilate and rolling on the floor and hysterically crying. I knew at that moment that something bad was happening and if it continued, something bad was going to happen. I tried texting people, “Hey, what are you
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Humor is my coping mechanism, so when I do try to talk about something serious like this, people tend not to take me seriously.
doing? Do you want to come over?” and no one responded. I called my art teacher because she knew some of the stuff that I was going through, and on a Friday night, she drove to my house and sat on my laundry room floor with me while I had the bleach in my hand. She sat with me until my parents came home. Because I was home alone, I was wearing shorts and a tank top and everything was exposed, all of my scars, and sitting down and talking to my parents almost killed me. I knew though had I not called someone, it would have killed me. For a long time, I wasn’t honest with my doctor’s about what I was going through so I wasn’t on the medication
that I actually needed. When I finally was honest, I was able to be on the medication that helped me and I started to put forth more effort into making myself better. I realized that I had to help myself and no one was going to do that for me. I’ve really been trying to focus on making myself better. Medication definitely helped me because it helped clear the fog and allowed me to start thinking logically and start making rational decisions. 66
When people hear the term “mental illness,” they immediately think “crazy person.” That societal mindset is what makes me so ashamed to talk about my mental health issues because I know there is so much misinformation. I do realize that what I have is a problem and it’s not something that’s just going to go away. I have been living with this for years and for me, it’s just like any other broken part of your body–you need to fix it, you need to let it heal, and
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seemingly good life, you can have this mental health issue and you need the help. I hate the idea that “Oh, you’re just an emotional girl and you’ll get over it.” That’s not true. There’s no magical healing word that can just stop me from being the way I am. If you came up to me and told me that you’re really depressed, I will give you that hard love and tell you that I love you and respect you, but you need to get to a doctor and get help. I try to give as much advice as I can because I understand. Mental health itself isn’t really talked about much at my high school. You hear about the people who are actively seeking help for their mental illness and you see those same people going into the guidance counselor’s office every day. But that’s really it. We don’t talk about the people who are hiding their mental illness and we don’t talk about how serious of an issue it is.
I had to understand that this isn’t a joke.
you need to take care of it, otherwise it’s just going to keep breaking and get worse. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I have a mental illness. I had to understand that this isn’t a joke or something to be ignored. Socially, I don’t want to admit it yet because it scares me how people will perceive me and how their ideas of mental illness will cross over to their feelings about me. After I tell someone about what I’ve been going through, I’m skeptical about
how they’ll perceive me. My friends tell me that they don’t think of me as a burden, but in the back of my mind, I always think that I am. That sense of paranoia sends me on a downward spiral. I think it’s wired in my brain to think that once I open up to someone, they won’t treat me the same. People who say that having depression is only for the attention really bother me. It doesn’t matter if you have a 67
As a society, we need to stop making the topic of mental illness such a taboo and people need to stop romanticizing mental illnesses. Mental illness is a real thing and it happens to more people than you may think. I wish people knew that it’s okay to get help and having a mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of. •
“Mental illness is a real thing and it happens to more people than you may think. I wish people knew that it’s okay to get help and having a mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of.”
ANNA “He harassed me and said I was adopted because my parents didn’t want me and he accused me of lying about my sister’s death. He said, “So I hear your sister died? I bet you’re lying about that. If you’re telling the truth, I bet you caused it.”
I don’t have a reason to be depressed. I’m thankful for everything and I’m happy with my life, but for some reason I’m depressed. I have really bad anxiety to go along with that so it’s not easy. I can’t say no to people, which is really bad. I have this tendency to be like, “Yeah, sure, whatever, cool, it’s all fine, I can totally to everything,” and then it’s not fine and I can’t do everything. I was about seven when I had my first real experience with depression. From the time I was brought over here to the States up until I was about five or six, I remember being really happygo-lucky and my mom has always told me that I was a really happy kid. I loved being outdoors and being active, and I think it all started after my first bullying encounter. As I’ve gotten older, I look back and realize that it happened at a place where I should’ve felt super safe. I went to a private Christian school and I had never thought that that safe haven would be the place where I would be bullied. The first time I was bullied, I remember I had just gone into the library when an eighth grade kid walked in. He was a big burly kid and he walked up to me, pushed my friend
down, and he yelled at her and said that she was so little and so stupid. This was all happening in the library and the librarian was just sitting there, letting this all happen and not saying a word. I was trying to find out if my friend was okay and he yelled at me, “Shut up, stupid Chinese Chink.” He pantsed me, took my friend and me, shoved us in-between two couch cushions, and sat on us. The librarian did nothing. She was an authority figure and she was supposed to stop those kinds of things. After that incident, I stopped being social. I was really kind of secluded and I didn’t really have any friends. He continued to bully me for the rest of the year and no one ever stood up for me and that hurt. Even our principal at that school would harass my older brother because of his race. That first bullying incident really started a lot of psychological issues and issues with selfconfidence. My sister died from cerebral palsy when I was five years old, and after she had passed away there was a shift. As I started getting older and getting to the age that my sister was when she passed away, I remember getting progressively 71
sad and missing her because she was my sister and my best friend. Anyone in my family will tell you that we were attached at the hip. At nine years old, I was starting to miss my sister and it was around this time when my mom told me to start journaling and writing my feelings down. She thought it would help, but I started writing letters to my sister that didn’t exist anymore. At ten years old, I attempted suicide for the first time. I lived right off of the main highway and I was riding my bike with my mom walking next to me. I swerved out in front of a semi truck that was coming our way–I thought that when you turned ten, that’s when you were supposed to die. My sister was the only Korean-American that I knew and for some reason, I thought that was the logical reason behind death and I also just wasn’t happy with who I was. After that suicide attempt, my depression seemed to fade away a little bit and I was becoming more social again, but then I switched schools and I got bullied a lot. It’s like they had never seen an Asian in their entire life. There was this one kid who was in my very first class at that school and he
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got in my face and asked me if I was Asian. I obviously had to say yes, and then he said, “Oh, so you think you’re better than us?” He harassed me and said I was adopted because my parents didn’t want me and he accused me of lying about my sister’s death. He said, “So I hear your sister died? I bet you’re lying about that. If you’re telling the truth, I bet you caused it.” I went home and cried and all I wanted to do was go back to my old friends and my old school and I think that’s when my social anxiety started.
year, those two friends got so irritated with me that they turned against me. I skipped school for a week and just cried all the time because I couldn’t confront any of them.
that, I stopped writing the letters. My cousin confronted me and she cried for hours and hours. There was a specific part of the letter written for her, and she told me, “If I lose you, I have no one.” After that, there were definitely several points in high school where I still wanted to end it, but she’s the one who kept me here.
At ten years old, I attempted suicide for the first time.
I didn’t like being around other people, I didn’t like meeting new people, and I stuck around the two people that I’d known all of my life and they ultimately got annoyed because I was always around. By eighth grade
I wrote a lot of suicide letters in high school. I never went through with it and I actually think writing out my feelings in those letters helped me. There was one letter I wrote that I remember saving and hiding because I thought it was really well written and if I ever did commit suicide, that would be the letter I’d use. My cousin found it and after 72
Last April, I got my adoption papers and that sparked another depressive episode and I still don’t really know why it hit me so hard. I was thinking about my sister a lot at the time and that combined with school, dance, and teaching gave me a lot of anxiety too. My adoption was closed so I’m not allowed to have access to any names, but the papers told me my parent’s age range, height, and sex. Mine told me the shape of their faces
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and what their skin tones were. My dad’s information was all estimates but my mom’s information was all exact, so I know how old she was and where she worked and what she did. My mom was married and her husband kept cheating on her so she got fed up and left the family with the two kids she had prior to me. She ended up meeting my father while she was working as a barista and they had a one-night fling. I’m pretty sure that my dad doesn’t know that I exist. My mom was a single parent when she had me. Over there, it’s also a big “no-no” to have a child out of wedlock, but she had me anyway and I’m really grateful for that. She tried to keep me for a year while she was working and she tried hiring caretakers but ultimately she gave me to an adoption place where they then transferred me to foster care. On the
bottom of my adoption paper, the last words it says are, “She gave her up in hopes for her to have a better life.” I feel like the information that I got was enough for right now and I don’t need to know anything else at this moment.
I’ve attempted suicide several times and mental health isn’t something to take lightly. If someone tells you that they’re suicidal, you have to understand the severity of the situation and recognize that it’s not a joke.
I went to a Korean camp and that helped me a lot with my depression. I learned more about myself, where I come from, and I learned to have confidence in myself. I made a lot of friends and I was surrounded by people who understood what I had gone through. I learned not to care so much about what other people say about me.
I have an older brother who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety, ADHD, and depression, RAD (reactive attachment disorder), and paranoid schizophrenia. Growing up with a brother who had so many mental health issues, I think it would help so much if people understood what mental illnesses were actually like. My sister died from cerebral palsy, my older brother struggles with so many things, and I’m dealing with my depression and anxiety. It’s rough, but I think I’ll be okay. •
I wish people knew that none of this is for attention. I used to cut myself and I wish people knew that I never did it for the attention. I don’t want to have anxiety and I don’t want to be depressed. 73
â€œI went to a Korean camp and that helped me a lot with my depression. I learned more about myself, where I come from, and I learned to have confidence in myself.â€?
KACI “I think it needs to be talked about more, especially in education. A lot of times, teachers see their students more than their parents and a lot of times those teachers can be the positive role models in student’s lives.”
When I was little, I had a lot of anxiety but I didn’t realize that it was called anxiety. I knew that I struggled with a lot of things that other people didn’t–I couldn’t order my own food at restaurants until I was 15. I remember when I was six years old at soccer practice, they made me the captain and I broke down crying. All the captain had to do was kick-off the ball, but I didn’t know that and not knowing scared me. My friends never had those issues, so I knew there was something but I didn’t have a name for it. I wasn’t diagnosed with anxiety and depression until college. I had anxiety all through high school but it was a lot more manageable and it never really negatively affected me. My high school had a lot of structure, so it wasn’t until I entered into college that my anxiety really had an impact. I wish I would’ve known when I was younger that what I was dealing with was anxiety. My mom has depression and anxiety, it’s hereditary, so you know, thanks, mom. My great grandma actually went into such a depressive state that that’s what she died from. She used to have shock treatments and
would be in a straight jacket because no one understood it. Just knowing that that was in my history would’ve helped so I could’ve learned about it earlier and learned how to deal with it. I think the sooner you start learning how to manage it, the easier it’s going to be. When you haven’t learned how to manage anxiety and depression and you start transitioning into adulthood, it’s really hard. When you have a fear of phones and adulthood is all about calling people and making appointments and paying bills, it’s really hard. I wish I would’ve just been educated about it in general. I don’t really remember talking about it much in school. If it was talked about, it was just brushed aside as if they thought that kids were too sensitive for it. There are kids who are struggling with it and they should know about what they’re going through and they should be educated. I do think people treat me differently once they learn about my mental health. It’s not all the time and it’s usually people who are in an authoritative position. My peers are all very understanding, but I’ve noticed that when I start opening up about it to bosses or teachers, they 77
think I’m using it as an excuse and they don’t always take me seriously. I’ve heard so many times that I’m using this as an excuse or I’m lazy. With anxiety specifically, it’s irrational. I don’t like talking to people on the phone– it scares me– and even though I know it’s irrational and I know that it’s silly and nothing’s going to happen, it doesn’t make it any easier. I was telling my boyfriend Jon how I haven’t gotten my car washed because it had been so long that I couldn’t remember how it worked and it scared me. I wish people understood that mental illness doesn’t always need a trigger and it drastically affects everyday life. It could be little decisions like, do I go through the drivethru window or do I go in? I think people just assume that it’s easy to get over but it’s not. My teachers used to think that my depression was an excuse and it was always, you know, “get over it,” but you can’t. People think that depressed people are just unhappy– I’m a happy person but there are just some days where I can’t manage my mood or change my feelings.
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I had my rock bottom moment this year. I never understood how people could think that there was no other way and nowhere left to go…I don’t think you ever understand it until you yourself get to that point. You combine a lot of negative circumstances in life with depression and it’s just really hard to find your way out. The weird thing about a rock bottom is that it’s weirdly helpful because once you reach that place, you can only go up. I don’t really like the term mental illness or mentally ill because it makes me feel like there’s something really wrong with me and when struggling with any sort of mental illness, I think there’s already a certain level of self-deprecation where anyone can already feel like there’s something wrong with them. When you get labeled as mentally ill, I think that can solidify those thoughts and you think that you’re sick. There definitely needs to be more awareness and less of the feeling that this is taboo– a lot of people don’t talk about it. There needs to be more acceptance and I wish people understood that this is a legitimate problem. The more people learn about it, the easier it’s going to be to make things better. All people really need is understanding. A lot of people want a quick fix, but I want people to understand that you can’t just fix it and you really just need to be there and say, “That’s hard, I’m here for you.” It doesn’t have to be some big gesture.
get myself to class. I was getting A’s on all of my assignments but there were days that I just couldn’t do it. I lived in Garrett and I would drive to Fort Wayne for school, and even if I was just going to be two minutes late, I would start panicking. I would sit in the parking lot after thirty minutes of driving and I would want to go in but I couldn’t. I would turn around and go someplace else. When it first became an issue and I started talking to my doctor about it, I also started talking to my teachers about it and none of them took it seriously. They don’t even really consider it a disability. I was in the Education department and there
choice you can make, and I think that’s kind of hard for people to understand. I think it needs to be talked about more, especially in education. A lot of times, teachers see their students more than their parents and a lot of times those teachers can be the positive role models in student’s lives. But when I started opening up to my teachers about it, I realized that none of them understood that when I said, “I can’t,” it was because I actually couldn’t do it and it wasn’t an excuse. So I stopped talking about it. My semesters would always start out strong and as long as I was making it to every class right from the get go I was fine, but as soon as I missed that first class it became a downward spiral. I missed a class so I would feel guilty and I didn’t want to go back to class because I felt that everyone would know that I missed the class so I didn’t go again and then I felt more guilty and it doesn’t stop. The problem with not talking about it with your teachers from the beginning is that then they say, “Well, why didn’t you tell me in the beginning?” It’s hard to explain to them that every other time you’ve tried to tell anyone, you’ve just been brushed aside like it’s nothing.
I never understood how people could think that there was no other way and nowhere left to go… I don’t think you ever understand it until you yourself get to that point.
I went to school for six years and somehow have no degree whatsoever, and it was very frustrating because I would do all of the work but I couldn’t
were very strict attendance policies, which is understandable because as a teacher you have to be there. When I’m paying to be there and I’m doing all the work and the only issue is I can’t be in class, I feel like that shouldn’t be as big of an issue as it was. I know I’m missing stuff and I’m missing a lesson, but why should I be punished more for something that I can’t control? It’s not a 78
I have had so many issues with school and people don’t realize how fragile academic progress is. My first year that I was at IPFW, everything was great–I got good grades and I had no problems. Then I switched majors and I went down to Muncie. The campus is really nice, but off campus, it’s a very post-industrial town and there’s a lot of drug problems. When I lived in Muncie, I had my biggest issues. I had no reason to be depressed.
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I loved the house I was living in and I loved my roommates and my classes, but something changed and it spiraled. There were days when I didn’t feel like I could get out of bed and living became coping. I stoppws doing the things I loved. I stopped playing music, I stopped drawing, and I stopped painting and here, five years later, I’m still trying to get back into those things. When you’re just coping, you’re just getting through every day. I felt guilty because I felt like I could always be doing more but I couldn’t. There have been times that I had complete meltdowns because my depression made me feel stuck. Here I am, perfectly capable of doing the academics and I’m failing classes so I began to feel like a failure and wonder why I was even trying. In high school, I was on the honor roll and in the
National Honors Society and I was on the math team and fine arts team and just very involved. Everyone thought that I was going to get my degree and that I was going places and I was going to get a great job. It’s very hard. They say that if you don’t swim parallel to the waves, you’ll never get your head above the water and that’s what it feels like when I’m in a depressive state. I can’t breathe and I don’t feel like there’s a way out. I ended up leaving school and going to England and it was great, I wanted to live in England and I had someone there that I cared for very much. It was a simultaneous “I have to leave” and also the person who I was very close with over there just stopped talking to me. When I got back to Muncie from 79
England, I was in a place where I didn’t want to be and one of my closest friendships or relationships or whatever you want to call it had ended. That was when I started having problems with attendance and as someone who as ADHD and thrives on structure, that lack of structure was very difficult. I tried getting on ADHD medication and it really helped my focus, but then it started triggering my anxiety because even though it calmed my brain down, the medication was still a stimulant that affected my heart and cardiovascular system. When my heart started racing, I thought it was a panic attack so then that turned into an actual panic attack and it’s all just very weird. That went on for probably about a year and my grades were steadily slipping. Even though I was doing all the work, my
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I hadn’t learned yet that depression and anxiety don’t just go away when you move to a new place. attendance was the issue. I made it pretty far, I made it to my third year, but by then I was failing all of my classes and I was living in the dorms with someone I wasn’t happy with, so that’s the first time I withdrew. I had to get a medical withdraw and that was at the same time when I was diagnosed by my doctor because I had to have a paper trail. I felt that if I reset myself and started over then I would be okay to go back. And again, I started out strong and that first semester was great and I was kicking butt. I wrote a 40-page paper on special education law and was getting A’s, but that I started slipping after the second semester. I tried talking to my professors, but I felt like they didn’t care, so it got to the point of “Well if they don’t care about my education, then why should I?” I withdrew again. I came back home and I transferred to IPFW and I thought that if I was in a supportive situation with my parents, then that would be better. I hadn’t learned yet that depression and anxiety don’t just go away when you move to a new place. Even though I thought that I was in a better place, when I started going back to school I fell back into the same patterns. Again, I tried talking to my professors and my 80
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advisors but they couldn’t do anything. There’s no structure or system in place for anyone who has a mental illness. I understand that they can’t just say, “Oh it’s fine, you don’t have to come to class,” I get that. But I’m not missing class because I don’t care or I don’t want to be here, it’s because I physically and mentally can’t. Progress is fragile. I was working and living in Garrett in my own apartment and teaching in the morning. I had my babies in the morning and I would leave straight from work to go to school. I would get to class maybe two or three minutes late, but I had spoken with my professor at the beginning of the semester and let her know that I would be coming from work to class and she never said that was an issue. It wasn’t until about two weeks after the withdraw period was over and she pulls me aside after class and says, “You being late is affecting your grade.” I asked her if there was anything I could do to fix it and she said no. For me, I was like, what’s even the point of me coming to class anymore if I can’t fix anything. I asked her that and her exact words were, “I don’t know.” I had taken pride that I had made it to class every day, despite the fact that I was maybe two or three minutes late. Had she told me earlier in the semester that my tardiness was an issue, then maybe I could’ve worked on it and figured something out with my boss. Something like that, even though it was seemingly small, destroyed all of my progress. She told me there was no point in me coming to class anymore so I stopped going to that class and then I was upset so I stopped going to the rest of my classes. I tried to appeal for a late withdraw and it took until the end of the semester to even get a meeting with the professor, my mom, and myself. She flat out denied my request and said I was failing the class because of all of the missing assignments, but all of the missing assignments were missing because those
were due after the point she told me to stop coming to class. Even though my mom is someone who has struggled with depression, she’s had the tendency to be like, “Oh, you’re making excuses,” but walking out of that meeting, she said she understood and she was on my side. Because of that one little thing, I ended up failing that entire semester and was put on academic probation. Last spring semester, I was able to sign up for two classes, but living here in Fort Wayne and teaching in Garrett and going to school in Fort Wayne was exhausting so I decided that I had to
I don’t think education is designed for people with mental illness.
withdraw. Somehow there is no record of me withdrawing from my classes, so now I’ve been academically dismissed from IPFW and I owe $1,800 before I can even go back. I tried to appeal to the Dean of Students, but they said they couldn’t grant me a late withdraw because I had time to do it within the designated withdraw period. I did. I did what I was supposed to do and they don’t have a record of it. I don’t think education is designed for people with mental illness. I think that needs to change. I’m a very capable individual and I know I have the ability to do 81
these things–when I was in Muncie, I was writing lesson plans and teaching in classrooms but IPFW wanted me back in Lesson Plan Theory. I know I can do these things but I can’t get to that point because I’m not allowed to. I don’t think mental illnesses can be cured, as much as I’d like them to be. If I could just wipe everything away, I’d have my degree and I wouldn’t have all of this student debt with no career to pay it off. I think there can be better ways to deal with it and things are always evolving and getting better, so who knows? Maybe someday there will be some way to magically fix someone, but at the same time, if everyone was perfect, I don’t know if that would be a great place to live either. Even though it would make things easier, I don’t know if it can be cured and I don’t know if I’d want it to be. One of the positive sides of mental illness is that you learn a lot about yourself and you learn about perseverance and determination. I’ve been managing my anxiety and depression on a day-to-day basis and very naturally. I’ve been prescribed medicines before and I’m gonna be honest, I’m not the best at taking medicine regularly. Especially with mood stabilizers, if you don’t take them consistently then it could all get worse. I also have ADHD and I used to take medicine for that but as my anxiety got worse, my ADHD medicine affected my anxiety so now I do a lot of teas and oils. I also exercise by riding my bike and getting outside and I really like going on hikes. A lot of times with depression, you don’t want to be around people, but surrounding yourself with people helps bring you out of your self-deprecating spiral. I’ve done both therapy and medication and this is where I think everyone is different. I know people who have been very successful on medication and it works for them. It doesn’t really
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Having a mental illness for me means knowing that certain things are going to be harder for me, some days I’ll be fine with it and other days I won’t and for the rest of my life I’ll have to take things day by day.
work for me because it’s hard for me to take medication regularly and I also don’t like not feeling like myself. I know medication isn’t necessarily for me, but I think there needs to be a trial and error time and time to try things out. It’s very much a case-by-case basis and I think that’s a part of the reason mental illnesses are so hard to treat. Light medication and heavy therapy may work for someone and heavy medication and light therapy may work for another. Mental illness is also inconsistent; you can have two months straight of good days and think that everything is fine and then one day you wake up one day and it’s not fine and you think that the world is crumbling around you. It’s hard to treat, so I think just finding the right combination that
works for you is important. I’ve been doing oil blends since I was fifteen years old because that worked for me and it also helped my migraines. I researched alternative medicines and I found out things about myself and I also figured out that being in nature and being outside helped me a lot too. Having a mental illness for me means knowing that certain things are going to be harder for me, some days I’ll be fine with it and other days I won’t and for the rest of my life I’ll have to take things day by day. I’m going to have really, really good moments and there are also going to be those moments when I’m panicky for no good reason and that’s okay. I know that this is something that I can deal with. 82
In my hometown, I feel like mental illness is especially taboo. In the past two months, there have been two suicides. There’s no guarantee that had someone told them that things get better that they’d still be here, but you never know. As scary as it is, it’s important to open up and talk about it, otherwise people won’t know that you’re struggling. Find someone you trust and open up to them. If they turn out not being the person that you can talk to, find someone that you can. Everyone needs an anchor. Everyone needs to be told that they matter and that they’re cared about. You don’t have to understand it to be supportive. I don’t think that anybody who doesn’t struggle with it is ever going to fully understand.
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I’m in a good spot in my life. I really like my job and I’ve met a ton of amazing people since moving to Fort Wayne. My boyfriend Jon is wonderful and I feel very, very lucky. Even then, I still have bad days and that’s the struggle with mental illnesses. You can be in the best place in your life and still have bad days. I know that this is something I’m going to have to struggle with forever and that’s okay. Even if it’s not the way that I planned, I know I’ll get there and I’ll succeed in life. I hope that anyone else who feels like they’re unable to succeed knows that they’ll get to that point.
There will always be at least one person who cares. It might not be in your family and you might not know when you’re going to find them, but someone cares. For every person that’s ever put you down and said that what you’re going through is silly or pointless or that you just need to grow up, there’s another person who’s struggling with the same thing and can help you. It’s so hard to see when you’re in a dark place, but there are going to be better days.•
“It’s so hard to see when you’re in a dark place, but there are going to be better days.”
KALI “I wish kids had better access to real counselors and real psychiatrists at school. I feel like if schools also took it upon themselves to train their faculty better to spot the signs of someone who is mentally ill or suicidal, that would help save a lot of kids.”
I have an anxiety disorder, depression, PTSD, and OCD. I was first diagnosed with depression in my sophomore year of high school and I knew that the way that I thought about things wasn’t right; I knew that something was wrong. It finally took me attempting suicide for others to realize that something was really wrong. My parents are of the older generation where people who have mental illnesses are thought just to be “doing it for the attention.” They didn’t understand that it was a disease that I couldn’t control or stop. Prior to me attempting suicide, I was one of those stereotypical “emo” kids, so people categorized me as being emotional and “goth.” I feel like my family never really took notice of my emotional state because they just thought it was a part of my personality. The day that I was going to attempt suicide, I texted one of my friends I was going to do it and his mom saw the text message and she called the sheriff’s office. My dad, being the person that he is and thinking I was just doing this for the attention, was so pissed. They took me away in handcuffs to the sheriff’s station and my dad had to follow them
and get me. He was upset with me and thought I was wasting his time. He now knows that I have mental problems and can be unstable, but he doesn’t fully understand. My mom is trying to understand too but it’s hard. I’ve been in several really bad car accidents where there was head trauma. In one car accident, I hit my face against an old airbag and in another my head was smashed against the dashboard. I don’t think people understand that PTSD comes from trauma and those car accidents changed something in me. After I had my daughter, I had really severe postpartum depression. The postpartum depression on top of my PTSD on top of my insomnia made life really hard. There were times where I would black out and not realize that I was yelling at people and I felt like my life was devolving into this mess. I actually didn’t realize that postpartum depression ran in my family until my family told me three weeks after my daughter was born. My close friends and fiancé know what I live with, but they don’t fully understand, which can make it hard 86
to talk to them. If I’m ever having a bad day, I really try not to bring it to work with me or let it affect those around me because I don’t want to be a burden. There have been times where I’ve broken down crying at work or screamed at someone and it’s out of my control. I don’t want people to look at me and think about me differently and automatically judge me because of their perceptions of mental illness. Nobody truly knows what is going on in my mind except for me and my mind feels irrational at all times. I can go from laughing and being the happiest person ever to bawling my eyes out the next second. There are days where I want to lay in bed and not do anything and my fiancé has to force me to eat. I’ve been on numerous types of medication since being diagnosed. Medications would either not work or they would only work for a little bit and then stop. People don’t understand that medication isn’t always a complete fix. I’ve had people tell me time and time again, “You should get on this medication,” and you know, I’ve already been on that medication and it hasn’t worked. They don’t get it. I’ve even had
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A lot of people don’t understand that mental illness is real. There is so much ignorance and misinformation and I wish people would take the time to understand. a couple of doctors who were the same way where we would try a certain medication and when I told them that it wasn’t working, they would become frustrated and say “well I don’t understand why this isn’t working for you, it should work.” I’ve tried therapy, but there was one therapist in particular that really made everything worse. Every time I went, she would only focus on the idea that I didn’t have a social life. This was after I had my daughter so I wasn’t back at work yet. I didn’t have many friends, and my fiancé was always working so I was just alone taking care of my child. She only focused on that. I didn’t even have to mention it and she would constantly bring that up and make me feel worse. A lot of people don’t understand that mental illness is real. There is so much ignorance and misinformation and I wish people would take the time to understand. I also wish people who didn’t have a mental illness would stop trying to romanticize it. You don’t want this. If you don’t have a
mental illness, please don’t fake it just for the sake of attention because there are people who are truly sick and actually need help. Throwing around the words “I’m depressed” and joking about killing yourself isn’t something to treat lightly. In my experience, nobody actually cares until someone with a mental illness kills themselves or they try to kill themselves. My school started a mentor program my senior year. Each student would get paired up with on of the teachers and we would have that one-on-one relationship. We would have lunch every month as a group, but your mentor would talk to you at least once a week to touch base. My mentor was my English teacher and I thought that program was a great idea. I think that should be implemented in more schools because it gives students someone to talk to outside of their home. I’m not saying that every kid needs a mentor, but that kind of program can be beneficial to those that do. I think that if I would have had access to this kind of mentor program early on, I don’t think I would have made a lot of the decisions I 88
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I can’t just stop. This is a disease. Don’t assume that I’m doing any of this for attention because I’m not. did and I don’t think I would’ve felt so alone. I wish kids had better access to real counselors and real psychiatrists at school. I feel like if schools also took it upon themselves to train their faculty to spot the signs of suicide and mental illness, that would help save a lot of kids. I identify as having a disease. Some diseases are curable and some aren’t, you know? That’s just how it works. If someone has cancer, there are days where you feel perfectly fine and you don’t feel like you have cancer. But you still have cancer. Don’t tell someone that they’re fine and that they can just stop being depressed. If I’m having a bad day and feeling depressed and crying, someone telling me that I’m fine is just going to piss me off. I can’t just stop. This is a disease. Don’t assume that I’m doing this for attention because I’m not. I’m living with this day-by-day. The only thing that keeps me going is my little family. There are days where I want to give up and I have those bad thoughts. I haven’t found something that has truly helped me completely, but I’m on medication and I journal that helps me get out my thoughts. I know that I have to live my life and I have to just keep going forward. It’s important to let people know that you’re there for them. Don’t pressure anybody to talk to you about what’s going on– if they want to talk then they will. But just be there for them. I know for me, having someone there for me would’ve helped me so much. •
â€œI know that I have to live my life and I have to just keep going forward.â€?
AMY “When you live in a culture sadness is romanticized, you’re almost encouraged to stay sad. Sadness is familiar and as bad as it feels, you’re comfortable and you know what to expect. It’s hard to go out of your way to change the way you think and the things that you do.”
I’ve been dealing with anxiety and depression since I was about twelve years old. I’d always heard that it’s an awkward and weird time when you’re a teenager and you’re supposed to have bad feelings, but I felt like there was something really wrong. I’ve always been a perfectionist who overanalyzes everything and it got to the point where it was eating me away. I hid it for a while, mainly because I thought that what I was going through was normal “everyday” people stuff. It didn’t become a problem until I was fourteen and I started dieting and it became really unhealthy. I don’t remember exactly what I was upset about, but I remember sitting in the shower one day because I was just so overwhelmed with everything going on in my life. I went to get out of the shower and was so weak that I almost passed out. I couldn’t move and I had to sit there and rest and I knew at that point that if I kept that up, I would die. I had to think about what was making me like this and I knew that it wasn’t something that everyone dealt with. I feel like emotions can elicit physical responses. I can get so nervous that I
start shaking and I feel like I’m going to pass out and when I’m having a panic attack, my hands get clammy and I can vomit. I used to have a lot of trouble sleeping because my thoughts would be racing and I would always be exhausted. The mind controls all aspects of who a person is– if the mind is sick then the person is sick. I think if the stigmas were different, I wouldn’t have such a problem with identifying as someone with a mental illness. It’s not something that I would go up to someone when first meeting them and say, “Hi, I’m Amy and I have a mental illness.” The way that we’re raised and conditioned in society is to have all of these negative perceptions about mental illness. I don’t think that we should take away any importance or significance from the term because that’s what it is. It is a mental illness. Depression is a mental illness and I guess having depression makes me mentally ill. I think if we as a society had a better understanding of what mental illness is, how it manifests, and what it’s like to live with it, we would be better off. Also just having that general respect for one another is vital. There’s 93
a gross amount of jokes about mental illness and that creates this disrespectful culture. Media representation and portrayal is also important. I think it’s also important not to use mental illness as a crutch. If there’s a crime, a lot of times the media will immediately point to that person’s mental health. That kind of mentality and blame ties all of that person’s actions to that one particular condition, which isn’t always accurate. I think if we just took mental illnesses as seriously as we do physical illnesses, then our outlook would be a lot different. The most harmful stigma and misconception that I’ve heard is that people with a mental illness are attention seeking. If you deny someone’s condition, then there’s never going to be any progress towards someone seeking help. I don’t want to say that we need to normalize mental illnesses because we still need to recognize it as an issue, but there definitely needs to be a greater awareness. It’s not something that anyone would choose to have. People just don’t understand that this is a sickness. If someone gets diabetes, people universally understand
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that that’s a medical issue that needs treatment and can be managed. People don’t have that same outlook and perception with mental illness. There are just so many stigmas associated with it. There are a lot of people, inside and outside of the mental illness community, that believe that having a mental illness prevents someone from living their life. I don’t think you can ever say that mental illness is specifically biological or specifically environmental because I think it’s a combination of both. I don’t want to have panic attacks and I’m not going out of my way to get attention. Some people have to go through intensive therapy before they’re even able to open up to the possibility of feeling better. It’s not as easy as just forcing yourself to be happy and going out and trying new things. People who don’t have a mental illness don’t understand the impact and the toll it can take.
much later. I remember being bullied when I was a kid and it’s those societal expectations that we all pick up when we’re younger–anything different was bad. I wish people knew how much words can alter a person; we all need to understand the effects of how we treat people. So many people go without treatment and people need to know that it’s okay to seek help.
is familiar and as bad as it feels, we’re comfortable and we know what to expect. It’s hard to go out of your way to change the way you think and the things that you do. Social media has a huge impact on the romanticizing of mental illness. So many people relate to social media posts about depression and pain and there’s the idea of “beauty” that is misappropriated with those posts. It’s terrible that it’s become retro and popular to be sad. Pain isn’t beautiful. People associate this image of a shy girl with glasses who reads a lot and gets nervous when talking to people with anxiety. They have this perception of what anxiety looks like and what someone with anxiety should look like, but it’s not that. For me, it’s being so overwhelmed by my surroundings and noises that I fall into a heap on the ground and I can’t breathe. It’s the same thing with OCD. There’s a difference between liking to be organized and being overwhelmed with this need to control your surroundings.
I’ve learned that if you have a negative mindset, thenyou’re going to have negative outcomes.
I wish I would’ve been taught what is “normal” and what isn’t. I guess “normal” isn’t the right word, but maybe what emotions I should experience on a day-to-day basis and what’s something that needs to be treated and addressed. I didn’t realize I had a problem for the longest time because I just thought this was something that everyone went through. My mom struggles with anxiety and my dad struggles with depression, so being in that unstable environment kind of reinforced that idea of “this is how it’s supposed to be and this is how you’re supposed to feel.” I don’t remember being taught anything about mental illness until high school and that’s a huge problem. If you aren’t taught about mental health as a child, then you’re not going to be able to recognize it in yourself until
I think the most important thing is to focus on more than the present moment. Life is going to have its highs and it’s lows, there’s no getting around that. It depends on exactly where you draw that line of what’s normal negativity and what’s a medical issue. Sometimes on one particular day, so many things can go wrong and you have to know that your life is more than just that bad day. If you get a bad grade on a test, just know that you are still smart and capable and deserve to be here. You have to keep looking forward to the next day and try to see things from a different perspective. I’ve learned that if you have a negative mindset, then you’re going to have negative outcomes. When we live in a culture where sadness is romanticized, it’s almost as if we’re encouraged to stay sad. Sadness 94
I think it’s possible to be cured of a mental illness, but only if you’re willing to take the steps and work for it. Nobody wants to be depressed or have a mental illness, but if you’re not willing to change aspects of your life completely, you may be able to overcome it. You may have to change yourself completely. Now, some people may see that as a cure and others may think that that’s just ignoring the problem and those people are just fooling themselves. Especially when it comes to medication, I think there’s this idea of “you’re not you anymore.” Medication has had a positive effect for me, but I have another friend who has had a problem with abusing his medication. It’s so hard to make
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I don’t think I would’ve thought to go into psychiatry without having the experience that I’ve had first.
a general statement about treating something like mental illness because everybody is different. You can’t definitively say that medication is the way to go or therapy is the way to go– I personally think that both work well together. I think the medication helps balance me and I feel like there aren’t as many extremes, but I’m not going to say that medication completely cured me because I believe that my depression and anxiety are a part of who I am and a part of my personality. I definitely feel the physical symptoms
so that helped solidify that it wasn’t just all in my head. Going and speaking to a counselor or even friends has helped a lot too. Anything that you can find solace in is important. Ever since I was young, I’ve always been very connected to music. I really enjoy listening to music and singing and I found a deep peace with it. Through this whole experience, I’ve realized that I don’t want anyone else to feel this way, so I made it my goal to become a counselor. I don’t think I 95
would’ve thought to go into psychiatry without having the experience that I’ve had first. There’s something about going through it and living with a mental illness that makes you care about people and don’t want anyone to go through it alone. For me, having a mental illness helped me discover what I want to do with my life. I love talking to people and hearing their stories– it really helps me understand myself when I can understand other people. I want to be a part of this project because I think awareness is so important and having the opportunity to share my story helps raise awareness. Helping people is what I want to do as a profession and I can definitely say that this is something I’m proud to be a part of. •
â€œFor me, having a mental illness helped me discover what I wanted to do with my life. I love talking to people and hearing their storiesâ€“ it really helps me understand myself when I can understand other people.â€?
DANIEL “In the media, I think people who are depressed are portrayed as characters who self harm or try to commit suicide, and that’s not always the case. There’s this ‘typecast’ of depression. If we’re exposed more to the truth of mental illness and educated, I think that will help even more.”
I feel like I always noticed things as I was growing up; the telltale feelings of worthlessness and feeling like I was never going to measure up. Whenever I feel my lows, I don’t project my feelings and I try to hide them from my parents. My father has been sick my whole life and my mom is always stressed, so while I know they understand to a degree, I don’t want to be a burden. There was a point where I mentioned that I wanted to “end it,” but that only came up once because my dad’s brother died from a murder-suicide. That’s one of the main reasons why we don’t talk about it. It was around the beginning of my junior year at college when I was seriously talking about not wanting to live anymore and my parents told me I needed to get help. My family doctor and counselor suggested that I get treatment, but I never went to therapy or started medication. I’ve been trying to manage it on my own. I want to work and teach abroad and the countries I’m looking at still have very strong stigmas about mental illness. They believe that having a mental illness is grounds not to hire someone, especially if it’s someone who has sought treatment.
They don’t think that you’re qualified to work or teach, and that’s one of the big reasons that I haven’t been open about my depression. There’s also this idea that having a mental illness isn’t masculine and it’s not a man’s problem. The stigma that I hear the most is that my depression is in my imagination and I can just “get over it” to be happy. If there weren’t so many stigmas, I would absolutely be more open and willing to talk about my experiences. I’m an optimist at heart, so I would like to think that mental illnesses can be cured but I’m just not sure how. Talking to my friends, especially one of my friends who went through depression and attempted suicide, has been the most helpful for me. I love my parents, but their whole thing is, “You have so much to live for, can you imagine what it would put me through if you were gone?” My depression is very much tied to feelings of worthlessness, so I try to work on the areas that I see myself weak in and try to improve upon those. I think we’re slowly getting better in how our society views mental illness. Wayne Brady just recently started 98
talking about his struggles and I think it’s important for people to see that people who are living with a mental illness can still succeed. In the media, I think people who are depressed are portrayed as characters who self-harm or try to commit suicide, and that’s not always the case. There’s this “typecast” of depression. If we’re exposed more to the truth of mental illness and educated, I think that will help even more. Growing up, I had a fairly good education, but I don’t remember mental health being something that I was educated about at all. Honestly, I don’t think I learned anything about it. Even though I struggled with depression, I never knew that it was a mental illness until my later years in high school. Even though I don’t like talking about issues like this, I think it’s important to start a dialogue. I hope that people know that they’re not alone. It’s important to talk to someone. That could be your parents or your boyfriend or girlfriend or your best friend, but you have to find someone that you can trust and who will listen. You just have to keep trying and moving forward. •
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MIA “I think I offer a unique perspective about mental illness. I like to participate in projects like these to let people know that you don’t have to be medicated or go through the motions of the mental illness psychiatric facility system.”
I’m a mixed bag of mental illness goodness. I have borderline personality disorder, but I was diagnosed with that at a very young age and I think it’s changed as I’ve gotten older. I grew out of some behaviors and I had a pretty rough childhood that’s given me some posttraumatic stress and anxiety triggers. Sometimes I get bouts of depression, but that’s mostly because of the borderline personality disorder. Basically, borderline personality disorder is bipolar disorder on steroids. I have very passionate relationships that can sometimes be very toxic and I put my entire heart into things but I don’t exactly think before I act. A lot of people are very emotional and can fall into addiction, which is very common with borderline personality disorder. For me, it feels like I have bipolar disorder and depression and mania all in one. My mom put me in therapy when I was nine years old, which was probably a bad idea. My dad had died and things got crazy and my brother has Asperger’s so I had to deal with that too. I had a lot of bad reactions to things and was
sent to a boarding school for troubled teens when I was sixteen. There’s a lot of toxicity that has been a part of my life and my mental health has always taken the back burner to my real life. I’m in a lot better place now, but I’ve been dealing with this for a long time. I stopped going to therapy when my mother cut me off of her health insurance when I was seventeen. My mom and I have a very toxic relationship. I think my mom has NPD, which is narcissistic personality disorder. One time, my therapist told her that she was overbearing and she ignored me for three months. Recently, I had a really bad spurt so I went back to see my therapist from when I was younger, but I haven’t been back since then. I don’t do medicinal therapy because I had an issue with pills when I was younger so I quit all pills cold turkey. I try to manage it through something called “DBT,” which is Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I learned about DBT while in therapy and when I went to Human Services School. It’s skills that I’ve learned and practice that help me stay on the “wise mind path.” 100
With someone like me, sometimes I don’t realize when I’m being too intense or if I’m not being caring enough. Sometimes I withdraw, sometimes I’m super passionate, or sometimes I think completely with my emotional mind and I have to bring reason back into the picture; that’s what we call “wise mind,” it’s the middle balance for it all. When I make a major decision, I have to take a little bit longer because usually, my gut reaction is too intense. I have to lean back and think about situations and make a decision based on that and move forward. By the time I was eleven, I was on nine different psych pills and then I got a taste for painkillers. I would fake illness so I could get to the hospital to get morphine. I was totally addicted to pills. I think the way that America treats mental illness is very wrong; the number of pills that they put into your body makes you not “you” anymore and it can take away your personality. I was sent to a boarding school that was specifically for girls with borderline personality disorder, so I know a lot of girls who went through that.
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I’ve been writing poetry for a long time as a way to deal with my mental stuff. I do spoken word and my poetry is where I express myself and where I’m serious. I’m a very sarcastic person and I’m very funny, so oftentimes my poetry conflicts with my personality. I thought I was normal for the most part, but I realized that I would do stupid things sometimes. I got made fun of a lot and I think I was kind of weird, but a lot of that had to do with my weight. There was so much going on when I was younger outside of ‘me’ that I didn’t really pay attention to me a lot until my dad died. The first time my brother beat me up was when I was four, and that went on for eight years, so I never felt like I mattered. I didn’t really know I was being abused until I was older; I don’t think I understood what was happening until I was outside of it. I was his punching bag for eight years but the second he laid hands on my little brother, he was taken away. Three weeks before he was taken away, he held a knife to my throat and told me he was going to murder me, but as soon as he touches my little brother, he’s gone. I felt like I learned my place.
that, he would text me every hour to make sure I was okay and stuff like that. I’m the type of person who is very selfsufficient, I’m independent, and I don’t need a man, so when someone is super concerned for my mental well-being, it’s very frustrating for me. Everyone approaches things in different ways; we’re all at different levels of life. Some people need to be coddled but I’m not one of those people.
constantly go to therapy, but we all deal with our own things in different ways. Not all of us are toxic to be around. I have a lot of long-lasting relationships and friendships. I wish people understood that sometimes I need to be alone and sometimes I need to be around people. Sometimes I need for someone to understand that I’m not going to react normally to certain things and I need my time to calm down. I wish people could understand that my mental illness doesn’t affect me every single day. Sometimes you can’t tell that I have a mental illness, but it’s still there. I know how hard it is to accept people as they are, but you have to be mindful of people’s emotions.
By the time I was eleven, I was on nine different psych pills and then I got a taste for painkillers.
Some people feel like they have a moral obligation towards me once I tell them about what I’m living with, which is awkward. I had this problem with my ex-boyfriend. My mom called me and tore me apart and it was just one of our moments. Afterward, I was on Skype with him, just kind of talking, and I snapped at him because I got a flashback and I heard my mother’s voice come out of me and I started saying the same things she’d said to me over the years. I went into a fullblown panic attack and after he saw
I think that the term mental illness has a lot of stigmas attached to it. I do feel like I have a mental illness, of course, but I don’t really see myself as a borderline person. I am who I am and I’m very happy to be that person, but I’m not crippled or disabled. When I turned eighteen, my mother told me to apply for disability and I refused because I’m not disabled. She said that I couldn’t take care of myself but she had no right to tell me that. I’m not crazy and I’m not stupid, and those are stigmas that people have about people who have a mental illness. I’ve heard people say that mentally ill people live off of disability just because they’re lazy and that’s not true. I work 40 hours a week– I’m not lazy. There’s an idea that all of us are on psych pills and 101
At the boarding school, the whites were separated from the Hispanics and the Hispanics were separated from the black people–it was like prison. One of the girls I went to boarding school literally could not go a day without cutting herself. She would break the paper towel dispensers so she could slice her wrists open. There was another girl who had emergency room visit wounds all over her arms. There was a girl who was a Jesus freak all the time, but she would get into these episodes where she would try to beat up all the staff and the other girls. There was a sixteen-year-old girl there who had over thirty sexual partners and two STDs. There was another girl who was in gangs and she was super violent and psychotic. I was bigger than her, but the first day I was there she stood in front of me, looked me up and down and spit on me and I just wanted out. I’m skeptical of the American healthcare system. Places like that
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boarding school get shut down because of malpractice and the mistreatment of the patients. There are so many of them and once one closes its doors, another one opens its. There’s no supervision, no care for the patient. You go home when your insurance runs out. The staff would threaten to send us to State, which is the institution where they’d drug your food so you’d feel like and act like a zombie. These are real places that exist. I mean, they aren’t doing ice pick lobotomy’s anymore, but it’s still messed up. As a society, we need to stop overmedicating and diagnosing so young. Just because a kid is unfocused or they’ve had some trauma in their life doesn’t mean that they are mentally ill. You can make a kid mentally ill–I’m pretty sure that’s what happened to me. I was on so many psych pills for such a long time. I think a lot of what I was going through was because of my pill addiction and they diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder when I was like, eleven years old. That’s way too young to know who a person is and know what they’re going to be like. I’m actually writing a book right now. It’s a poetry compilation called “There Was Never Enough Ketchup.” It’s an allegory for life. People expect other people to make their sandwiches to their exact specifications and we get mad over something as simple as not getting enough ketchup. We could just go to the ketchup dispensers and just do it ourselves. But we expect other people to push us ahead, make us do things, have pills to make us better, be instantly gratified. We should be pushing ourselves to be better on our own. We should be making our own sandwiches. I don’t think mental illnesses can be cured. You deal with your mental illness for the rest of your life and that’s not something that’s meant to discourage people. Mental illness can be just as
crippling as a physical illness, a lot of times people just can’t see it because it’s on the inside. It’s not curable, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not manageable and it doesn’t mean that you can’t live a happy and successful life with it.
I had to make the decision on whether or not I wanted to choose life.
I lost someone to suicide for the first time in sixth grade. It was the first guy I ever had a crush on and I was shocked. I thought, “Why would somebody do that?” And then I was writing suicide journals and notes to my mother. I had to make the decision on whether or not I wanted to choose life. If somebody is struggling with mental illness, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts, they need to know that there is life outside of mental illness and there is hope and there is balance. A lot of borderline personality people that I know see life in black and white, and that’s not true because there’s a lot of gray area in life. When I meet a young girl with borderline personality disorder, I try to explain to them what crisis 102
really is. A crisis is a problematic thing or situation that you have no control over; it’s a state of unrest. Once you understand that you can have control and power, it’s easier to function. When you’re in a state of crisis, your flight or fight response kicks in and after crisis, there’s the time for intervention when your level of function can either go up or down. You can talk yourself down from a crisis before it becomes overwhelming and that’s when you can develop and move forward. For some people, a crisis is as simple as chipping a nail and for others, it’s their mother dying. For me, it was my mother telling me that we don’t have a relationship. I think I offer a unique perspective about mental illness. I like to participate in projects like these to let people know that you don’t have to be medicated or go through the motions of the mental illness psychiatric facility system. For some people, therapy isn’t as good as it is bad. I also like to spread awareness about normalizing mental illness. •
The following pages are selections of Mia’s spoken word poetry
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SPOKEN WORD POETRY BY MIA I’m in a relationship with mental illness. I wake up with mental illness. I go to bed with mental illness. When I go to visit my parents, my mental illness is what hugs me goodbye. My mental illness is always in my thoughts. Always in my prayers. Always knows the right thing to say but always blows up in my face. My mental illness tells me what to do: “Hey girl, make yourself into a fool. Lose yourself in front of everyone.” Cry. Anger. Cry. Anger. Cry. Anger. Cry. Anger. Cry. Sometimes I let my mental illness grab onto me. Use me as some kind of crutch as if there’s some ‘me’ left in the equation. I don’t know why I did it.
I don’t know why I did it.
I don’t know why I did it.
They still don’t believe me. I don’t blame them. I don’t know why I do stupid things but mental illness does. Mental illness knows everything. It knows how to let go when I’m high and grip tight when I’m low. It knows when to starve myself and it knows when to order pizza. It knows how to ignore cleaning and it knows how to clean until my fingers are raw and I can’t stand up anymore. It knows me and that scares me. I’m in an abusive relationship with mental illness, but sometimes I win the fight. When I make good decisions, when I get on with my life, when I pray instead of despise. I’m breaking up with mental illness, he’s just too much. It’s like he’s had this grip on me and it just feels like I was throwing up. I’m letting go of mental illness; it’s time to move on. I have a new guy now and his name’s God and he’s so smart. God knows how to soothe me when I do stupid things. He forgives me. He makes sense to me. He makes me see more than mental illness. When mental illness visits, God shows him the door. I don’t think God likes the way that he treats me. God loves me and protects me. I don’t see mental illness much anymore but he still follows me sometimes. He’s like a stalker in the shadows but he’s not going to come out as long as I’m with Him. See, mental illness is a coward. He boasts, be boasts, but he doesn’t get the last say about me. He doesn’t get to hurt me because I have God and he loves me.
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I have a heart like a mother lion. I’m opinionated but kind willed. I don’t want to change the world, but I do like to change minds. I’m smart when I need to be stupid. When I’m carefree, when I laugh the world goes away. but it comes back when it needs to be. Always open but carefully guarded. You see, my heart could bloom flowers in the heat of my garden. I was touched by the core of his tree but he will never truly know me until I set him free. You see, I’ve been under lock and key– knowing what it’s like to not know how to be set free but now I’m released out into the world like a venomous seed but I try not to grow weeds. You see I’ve sown the fruits of my labor. Got to know myself over words I have slaved over. I’ve turned myself into farmland instead of a minefield. Broken. Hurt. Sewn back together but still yearning to be as tight-stitched as I was before he pulled my strings. You see I’ve been working on putting on a new dress in a new land full of new fruits, but nobody to hurt my crops.
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The thing about finding yourself is sometimes you don’t find the person that you wanted. You’re a shadow of a story. Something lackluster. Something surrounded by a billion stars while you sit out there and try to count them, wishing you could be one. Everyone else’s story is more fruitful. While you struggled your whole life to be exotic maybe a star fruit. Instead you’re only a blackberry grown in someone’s grandmother’s backyard surrounded by other blackberries. When you really want to be popular. Everybody picks strawberry banana over mixed berries anyways. You’re not even sure if you want to be a smoothie at all. You’re waiting for the grandson to pick you, because maybe getting picked will change the fact that you’re a berry. Negating the fact that he’s picked berries before and he’ll pick them again. As if getting picked will make your inner workings work and make you into something else, something special. The truth is, for blackberries, we should probably stay on the vine until we’re the best juiciest most beautiful blackberry in the entire garden. Let yourself grow into a blackberry worthwhile instead of yearning to be picked while wishing you were a papaya instead.
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They hold their foot in the door. They held their food in the door, not because they wanted to be there first, but because they didn’t trust me. They didn’t trust me to use the bathroom by myself, not for 72 hours. Three days doesn’t seem like a long time until you’ve lost your entire dignity. Until you’re sitting on a toilet trying to be quiet because you know that they can hear you and you know they’re listening. This was the start of my life at Midwest and they were allowed to keep me there until somebody decided that I was ready. That person was not my mother, not myself, but it was a random therapist who I didn’t even know. I’d never met this person in my life before I stepped in that door and they were supposed to be the person who was going to dictate my future. Before I went to Midwest, my therapist assured me that it was a one to three-month stay, the first lie of many. When I stepped into the building, I found out it was actually a three-month to whenever my therapist felt like it was a good time for me to go type of stay. The first day wasn’t the scariest. The first day I saw somebody get put into a psychiatric hold. For those of you who read this and wonder what that is, I’ll give you a brief description. A psychiatric hold is perfectly legal. It’s for when somebody is out of control and needs to be detained on the ground in a rough manner by three or four people that are bigger and stronger than they are. And after you get in a hold, if you fight it you’ll get a pretty little shot in your arm or butt called ‘booty juice.’ This will make you fall asleep for up to an entire day. It’s legal to give this booty juice to six-year-olds. I saw it. The worst part though is when they get addicted to it. They want to be manhandled just to get a shot in their arm that makes them go to sleep and the staff would just call it ‘med seeking.’ The bigger problem though is when the staff was the one antagonizing the patient. Where there was a situation when a girl was getting a little upset and the staff member got into her face and I’m pretty sure the staff member threw the first punch that time. But the girl was the one who got detained. I’ve learned that this is the way things work. The first day I met the therapist who would be dictating my immediate future for the rest of my stay there. I hated her. Not just because of that but because of her demeanor. She was one of those people who’s happy, sympathetic, and she wanted you to just let out all of your feelings to her because she was the person who knew what to say. Truth is, she didn’t know what to say to me. She gave me a journal. She told me to write down my thoughts and my feelings. So I took the journal. Most the time I had to write with markers since in the unit we weren’t allowed to use pens because a lot of the girls would have stabbed each other if given the opportunity. The first thing I learned about these girls was if they weren’t angry or fighting, they were crying. That’s just the way things were. I had never seen one place with so much pain, angst, and regret before. When I looked at some of the girls, I could see into their souls; their own personal pain. There was a girl where her arms were completely covered in scars, and I’m not talking scars like the middle school eraser girls who scratch themselves with erasers. I’m talking about wounds from emergency room visits. She wanted to die. Midwest was the most morbid place I’d ever seen. So I would journal. I wrote until I couldn’t write anymore and at some points, I would get so frustrated that a marker would bleed. When one of the girls went off the handle I’d write about it. When a hold happened I’d write about it. When I had my own issues, I’d write about them. I wrote until I learned how to convey my own emotions. We weren’t allowed outside. There were no windows and I had forgotten what it was like to know what the outside was. We always traveled in lines with staff and we couldn’t go anywhere on our own. If anyone offended anyone else it was an instant fight. I’m not even a violent person, but I got so mad that I could punch people sometimes but I didn’t because I was taught self-control. I don’t know from where but I did.
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In these journals, I wrote. I think I thought of every obscenity I could and then made up some when I couldn’t find the words for what I wanted to say. I wrote everything that was on my heart. Like this one time when this girl got so into the moment of how she wanted to cut that she broke the paper towel dispenser and cut herself all over her arms so you could see the blood gushing. All I could write about in my journal was the look on her face. It was like she was a baby fawn looking into the headlights of a semi truck. I knew she’d regretted what she’d done, but she was such an addict to feeling the pain that it didn’t matter anymore. I learned a lot about addictions of all kinds when I was in Midwest. There was a girl I wrote about, a girl who was addicted to sex had to leave the room when two people were joking about STDs and loose girls. She was my best friend and I was the only person who knew she had two STDs. She knew that her lifestyle and the way she lived her life was deteriorating, but the worst part is that she didn’t want to change but she didn’t want to be judged either. I realized as I was writing that night that I didn’t need to judge her because I had issues that I didn’t want to change, issues that I was ashamed of too. It made me learn to love and respect her. I can’t recall when and I can’t tell you why, but these journals that I kept writing in, suddenly somewhere along the way started to help me. The words began to feel my pain and anger. I was suddenly able to have an outlet where I could discuss all the things that were wrong. And before I knew it I had started realizing that a lot of things were wrong. The one thing I remember most though was the foot in the bathroom door. I guess that kind of symbolizes what my life was like. I had no freedom, no rights, nothing but the right to write with a marker– I’d hurt myself with a pen. Then again anyone can hurt themselves with a pen. The way I look at those girls before I knew them and after I got to know them is completely different. I used to see them as children who didn’t know what they were doing to themselves but now I know they’re warriors. They’ve been fighting their entire lives. From the slashes and scars all over their bodies to the stories they told. The horror was still in their eyes. I could smell the fear some of these girls had towards men. No matter what, I still think I didn’t belong there. Even so, I learned a lot about life, about pain, about stories, about girls. I learned how girls that aren’t like me think. I learned to feel compassion for a girl with two personalities. I learned how to deal with a girl who’s so ingrained in her ghetto that she would’ve killed me, probably would have if I didn’t learn how to stand my ground. I learned how to sleep in the same room with a girl who went off the handles and started attacking people for no reason. The weird thing about it is, everything about this place. I was able to put myself in this perspective. I didn’t have as bad of a life as some of these girls and I learned how to empathize with them. I learned the sadistic truth about people but I learned how to embrace these girls because almost all of them had it rougher than I did. Most of all I learned how to express myself. I learned how to write a song. I learned how to understand how it feels to hurt and how to express it in words. I learned that no matter what I went through, it could always be worse. I learned that for better or worse I am who I am and I’m very thankful to be that person. In the end, I may be a mental patient who got sent to boarding school and got force-fed psychiatric pills to feel normal for years but I’m still Mia. That’s how it helped me, helped me accept myself, and I think that’s the best thing that could’ve happened. Written acceptance of a best case is really all I could ask for. Midwest wasn’t a place that I thought I’d ever need to go. I didn’t think that I’d ever need to understand people more than I did. Truthfully I was living in my own bubble. I was so selfish. After leaving and reminiscing, I feel as if this place was single-handedly the worst, scariest, most terrifying, wonderful, weird, inspiring opportunity that I’ve ever had in my life.
AMANDA M. “How do I show physically that something is wrong with my brain? Do I need to wear a sign or a special bracelet? Apparently, we’re all visual learners because if you can’t see it then there’s nothing wrong with you.”
Throughout high school, I’d always end up in the nurse’s office to just be in there and lay down. I had a lot of migraines and I was always trying to leave school. Looking back now, I realize that it was anxiety. Whenever I felt like I was starting to freak out, I would seclude myself. I had friends and stuff at school, but I pretty much kept my comments and opinions to myself. Even when I was at home, I would seclude myself in my room. I would overanalyze everything and get emotional and there were so many racing thoughts. Without knowing anything about anxiety or bipolar disorder, I could see that something was wrong. I would lash out at my mom and I had so many issues with irritability and anger. When I was eighteen years old, my mom and I started talking about going to see a doctor. Around this time I was also journaling a lot. I would journal when I was mad and I would vent into the journal. It contained a lot of anger and all of the things I hated about myself. My boyfriend had cheated on me during my first year of college, so I started taking sleeping pills. All
I did was sleep and run, sleep and run. When I was journaling, I started writing how much I hated myself and I just wished I wasn’t here. I knew that bipolar disorder ran in my family and it got to the point where it had gotten scary. I went to my family doctor and I talked to her about everything and I handed her my journal. I told her, “This is where my heads at.” She put me on two medications and referred me to a specialist. Looking back now after doing all of this research and trying to figure out how my brain works, I can see how the irritability and the lashing out wasn’t because I was from a broken family, it was because of my mind. In my art history class, we had one assignment where we had to ask someone 50 questions. They started out as “Why is the sun yellow? Why can’t we see certain colors?” but then it turned into “What am I doing here? Does so-and-so even like me? Are we even friends?” It felt like the movie The Truman Show and I felt like somebody was monitoring my life. I was so paranoid and I thought it was normal. In high school, you don’t really talk about your feelings and emotions 109
and it’s more about who’s being mean and ‘my boyfriend won’t hold my hand in the hallway’ and stupid gossip stuff like that. I didn’t even talk to my sister about what was going on with me. She knew about the lashing out, but she didn’t realize why it was happening. Now that six years have passed, she’s been trying to learn more about it and she’s trying to understand. When I was in elementary school, my mom threw a surprise birthday party for me and there are pictures of me where the bags under my eyes are down to my cheekbones and I’m holding onto my blankey. There were maybe eight girls, and I wasn’t crying or anything, but you can see how I wasn’t handling it well at all. You can see how I had no control and I felt so overwhelmed. Now that I’m able to look back at it, I’m like ‘fuck, that’s what it was.’ I didn’t want to be around that many people and my anxiety was affecting me. I only had two close friends and some acquaintances, but it was a very small circle. I’m not an introvert, but it’s just one of those things where anxiety affected my life.
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I don’t think people necessarily treat me differently, but I don’t think they believe me. I talked to my therapist and I told her that I don’t like telling people about this. My friend Julie told me that if I did decided to do therapy, it would be hard work and it would be exhausting. I’ve uncovered things that I was never really aware of, and now I have to face them. I tried to be brave last semester and tell people and let them know what’s going on, but they’d respond with, “Oh, I know about depression,” or give some stupid comparison and try to relate. I wanted to respond with, “Holy shit? You can?” But then I feel like I’m being a pussy about the entire thing and then I wonder if it’s even real. But of course it’s real, I feel like shit. If I tell people, I don’t know; I don’t think people take it seriously. What am I supposed to do? Do I need to be put on suicide watch so you guys can take me seriously? I feel like unless you’re on suicide watch or admit yourself to a hospital or you actually try to commit suicide, people don’t take you seriously. People think that, “You just have shitty days. You just don’t want to leave your house. Just go outside! Go outside and enjoy life!” It doesn’t work like that. I don’t think people necessarily treat me differently, but I don’t think they believe me. I’ve been informed by my therapist that I’m not bipolar but I’m battling bipolar. I am more than this. The first thing she said to me was that I am Amanda and I am not bipolar disorder. 110
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Sometimes after class, I’ll be walking to my car and I just let out this giant sigh because I can finally breathe again. I no longer have to act like I’m happy and I don’t have to hide anymore. I can finally go home and be by myself and not worry about having the right facial expression. When I had a panic attack in class, I just wanted to be that “crazy” bipolar person and yell at people. People were eating so loud and talking and everything was enhanced. If people are talking during class, I can’t deal. All I can do is tell myself not to snap and then I leave. I just have to leave. I remember going to Pizza Hut one day and freaking out. I went home and I didn’t want to go out anywhere because I smelled like the restaurant and that smell triggered something. Now I can actually go out to restaurants and enjoy myself. If I went to an amusement park before I was on medication, it was literally like I could hear everyone’s individual conversations and it was hell. Once I started taking my medicine, I went to an amusement park and it was so different. I heard noise, but it was just noise. It wasn’t every single noise and I wasn’t overwhelmed. I would have never been able to go to The Dash-In, it would have been hell, but because of my meds I can. I guess I didn’t feel like I was living when I was going through that. I was living this weird secluded life of hiding. Hiding is sometimes easier than doing things. This whole thing is just fucking crippling. They had to change my medication again and the list of side effects was almost every symptom of bipolar. It has the risk of increased depression, increased irritability, increased suicidal thoughts, and all of these things describe symptoms of bipolar. It’s a mood stabilizer commonly used for people who have seizures. When I was having my panic attacks at school, I went to the [Services for
Student’s with Disabilities] office and I asked if I was supposed to be checking in with them or the professors. The woman said that I needed to send in documentation and a note from the doctor. The doctors already know what I have; I’m already being treated for it and have a treatment plan. I had to keep sending e-mails and checking in with the office and all of my professors. Why can’t I just write a letter that just explains what’s going on and professors know that if I’m not in class it’s because of those things? Here’s a list of shit that I go through, pick one and any of them are more than likely what’s happening. I feel like there’s goo around my brain and I feel like shit. Why do I need to remind myself what’s happening?
The first thing she said to me was that I am Amanda and I am not bipolar disorder.
I feel like I’m wearing a dunce cap whenever I’m in the classroom and I’m being punished for missing class. I think you can only miss three or four days if you have an accommodation waiver and I’m just like yeah, four days is a joke. Every doctor’s note goes into my file so it’s all documented and teachers can look at my file but just don’t 111
understand the concept. I get that there need to be rules because people can take advantage of accommodations or whatever, but I’m seeing a therapist. I see a psychiatrist every two to three weeks. It’s not like I’m sitting at home doing nothing, I’m taking the steps to get better or to manage this for the rest of my life. I don’t need a red carpet sprawled out for me, but saying “Well, we’ll give you a little bit of lenience but hopefully you can get your shit together by next week,” isn’t helpful. I can’t control it so I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. I had to beg Fawver Wellness Clinic to give me the documentation to fill out forms for disability. Their office policy is that if you are being treated by their clinic, then you don’t need any accommodation. If I was being treated successfully and I was being “normal Amanda,” I wouldn’t want accommodation but that’s not the case. I’m a wreck. I can’t work anymore and school is the only thing I’m holding on to and I’m barely passing anything. I’m probably going to have to push graduation back another semester. They finally gave me what I needed but it took me begging to get it. I told my therapist what was happening and I asked her what I should do and if I needed a note from her to prove what I was going through. Every time I have to visit the doctor’s office, I need to get a note saying I was there. I also have to check in any time I feel like I’m struggling, so that’s another person I need to check in with. I’ll call in and tell them, “Hi, I’m Amanda and I’m feeling depressed,” and they say, “You shouldn’t be depressed, you’re on medicine.” Okay. It would obviously be so much worse if I wasn’t on medication, but the medication doesn’t cure me. The whole concept of sending e-mails and collecting notes and calling in and always reminding myself of what’s happening doesn’t make sense to me.
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Getting to class is half the battle. Sometimes I think that once I get to school I’ll feel better, but once I get there I realize I should have just stayed home and I drive an hour to get back home. A lot of my anxiety stems from my relationship with my dad. I always walked on eggshells and everything had to be perfect. If I couldn’t get first place in my age group in a 5k, then I wasn’t going to run. If I get a B on an assignment, then it’s not an A and it’s not good enough. Going to the Fawver Wellness Clinic has also helped. I thought about switching clinics when I was going through my depressive episode, but no one knows how your brain is wired and what’s lacking compared to someone without a mental illness. Unfortunately, I’ve had to go through multiple times of trial and error for medication because my brain is changing. Changing meds has had a lot of side effects. I’m tired all the time, I’m never alert and I never feel rested. Even my therapist has said I’m on a lot of medication. My therapist gives great feedback and going to her has helped a lot.
on a checklist: “Good job! You got out of bed this morning! You put your dirty clothes in the laundry!” It doesn’t work like that. I’m trying to give myself credit– it’s something I’m working on. My brain is always push, push, push and go, go, go and I feel like I need to channel that mania into focusing on school but I can’t. Sometimes I try to push myself into a mania so I can get shit done. They say that sometimes if you’re not in a mania, then you miss it.
I always walked on eggshells and everything had to be perfect.
I told my therapist about when I had a panic attack in class and she asked me what I did in that situation. I told her that I left class early, went to the coffee shop to get a giant cheese toasty and some soup, put in my headphones and listened to some golden oldies, and told myself to calm down enough to go to my six o’clock class. And that’s what I did. I went to my six o’clock class and she said, “That’s great! You should be so proud of yourself. Are you proud of yourself ? Did you tell yourself ‘good job’?” I have a hard time doing that. I feel like I don’t deserve to be congratulated for doing a normal, daily task. Things that normal people do, I feel like I have to put them
Lately, I’ve been reading books about bipolar disorder. One is written by a bipolar comedian and the other one is a “bipolar survival guide.” I’m reading those books and learning about other people’s experiences and knowing that what I’m thinking and feeling is legit. I highlight my books like crazy. Now I realize that I’m like this guy in the book. He’s like me and the things we’re going through are normal. It’s research to me, I’m trying to understand. Like, I started taking fish oil pills because I learned that I’m lacking Omega-3’s and I need amino acids. Lithium was discovered in the 1800’s, like, why didn’t anyone tell me about this? Why didn’t I know about Lithium before they put me on Latuda [antipsychotic medication] and I freaked out in Lowe’s and I felt like a squirrel that snorted cocaine off of a lit 112
wire? Fighting off the mania and having the need to binge drink and go crazy is exhausting. I realized that driving fast was a part of my mania. I know what questions to ask and hopefully, someone will have the right answers. I’ve only been on the Lithium for two weeks but so far so good. I haven’t had any side effects so I’d say it’s working like it’s supposed to. I’m taking the lowest dosage that you can take right now and I don’t feel like it’s making me worse. My doctors are pushing all these big pharmaceutical drugs on me and I feel like I’m a guinea pig. Lithium has been around the longest and obviously it’s been working the longest and we all know the side effects. I’ve been reading about Lamictal and I think it was the first drug that has come out since Lithium that’s been used as a mood stabilizer. It’s been prescribed for people who have epileptic seizures, but because of how the brain works, doctors figured out that they could use it as a mood stabilizer. The doctors put me back on Zoloft for my depression. When I went off of it, that was my decision and I really feel like they should have told me that I needed to stay on it. I was just so tired when I took it and they should’ve told me that no matter what I took, I was going to be tired and I needed to stick with it. I can’t change the past, but I should’ve stayed on it. I have ADD, and with my anxiety and bipolar, I can’t take any stimulants like Adderall to treat the ADD because it makes me irritable. I’ve tried it and it helped me stay focused, but I turned into a bitch. I take Wellbutrin, which is a non-stimulant but it still helps with memory and concentration. I can’t really drink coffee either, but I do it anyway because I’m so tired from all the other medication. When I drink
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coffee, I can slip into a mania because of the caffeine so it becomes a hamster wheel of bullshit. I have apps that remind me when to take my medication. You have to be consistent when you’re on medication, so the apps makes me feel better. There used to be times where I’d take my medicine and I’d then I’d forget if I’d taken it. If I took another one, I’d be really drugged but if I didn’t take one, I knew the next day would be horrible. What did I do? I took more. Now I have a pill organizer and the apps and I’m more organized. I’m on four medications right now, but I used to be on six or seven and it was insane. When I got to throw the other meds away it was a huge relief.
I already take so many other drugs so I got chewable gummies for my vitamins. They tell me to take Vitamin D and Zinc and B-12 so it’s so many things that I’m taking that are supposed to help. I just imagine my brain, one-half is full and the other half is smooshed down. My therapist says that Lithium is like “brain fertilizer.” I’m just imagining little sprouts growing on the side of my brain but it’s taking forever. I read an online article about war veterans putting their pill bottles in front of the White House and someone had posted a chart in the comments about medicinal marijuana strands and bipolar disorder was under the same strand column as PTSD. I think it would be great because then I wouldn’t have to take six different medications. It 113
would be controlled and it would be a certain type of weed, but I wouldn’t be filling my body with so many drugs. I shared this video on Facebook of a girl who had cancer and is wearing a head wrap. There are clips of people coming up to her and telling her “just get through it,” “I’m really tired of you complaining all the time,” “you need to stop feeling so down,” “there’s nothing really wrong with you,” and she has cancer. You wouldn’t talk to someone who has cancer like that so you shouldn’t talk to someone who has a mental illness like that either. I shared this video on Facebook and nobody commented or liked it. If I had posted some meme about working out or God, everybody would have been like “Hallelujah!” But because it was deep and about mental
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alcohol, the money goes towards mental illness programs or research. I think that’s hilarious because we’re not supposed to drink! The meds we take say we shouldn’t drink. That just doesn’t make sense and I feel like its promoting bad things. People think that bipolar people are crazy and mentally ill people kill people. They think we’ll go off on a bipolar manic episode and just go crazy and shoot things. My uncle had really severe bipolar and he did some crazy shit, but he was also abusing drugs and alcohol. I don’t think he ever sought treatment and if he did, he was still self-medicating and doing shit like that. I think those are truly the only reasons why he robbed a drug store and aimed a squirt gun at the cops so he could kill himself. He was mentally ill, but he was also on drugs and drinking. Everybody has the ability to make right and wrong decisions and it’s a lot easier to be bad than good. For the longest time, I always felt that mentally ill people were just fighting off the devil. You know, God tells you not to worry and not to have anxiety, but we’re born with this. I felt like the devil was living inside of me because I was having bad thoughts and doing bad things. I still have a conscious and I can say no to things because I have a support system and I don’t want to let people down. health, nobody wanted to see that. There might have been people who had cancer who would have been offended but fuck that. How do I show physically that something is wrong with my brain? Do I need to wear a sign or a special bracelet? Apparently, we’re all visual learners because if you can’t see it then there’s nothing wrong with you. How do you bring awareness to things? Apparently, if you’re “Daniel” from that fucking “Damn, Daniel”
video, that’s how you make something start trending and that’s how you bring awareness to a shoe brand. You have to figure out how to make mental illness a fucking trending topic and make T-shirts or some shit. We’re in the day and age where everyone has to “share” something on Facebook to get people to see it. Like, c’mon Ellen. Bring awareness to important stuff like this. There was a Purdue benefit recently that when you purchase a thing of 114
One of my friends tells me to have good thoughts and my day will be better, but it doesn’t work like that. I seclude myself because I get tired of explaining this all the time. My therapist told me that if I’m ever in a situation where I feel uncomfortable telling someone why I haven’t been in class, I can lie because they don’t need to know. I feel bad lying and I want to be honest about it and hope that people understand, but it doesn’t fucking matter to some people. It was Thursday at 4:00pm and I was
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wanted to feel better. I think everyone should know the ins and outs of their personality and also the medication they’re on and how it affects them and makes them feel.
You have to communicate what you need and how people can help you.
staring in the mirror trying not to cry while putting on makeup. All I wanted to do was die; cross that yellow line and fly into that semi and just go out. It all just sucked and then my doctor called me and told me that I could stop taking a medicine that I thought was making me worse and I was like, “Thank God.” I walked into class Thursday night and did a complete 180° and I was fine. But then I didn’t go to sleep until 3:00am and I was like, do I keep laughing and moving and enjoying life or do I try to slow it down because I’m afraid that if I keep going that fast then the light is going to go out. When’s that light gonna go out? The fear sets in and it’s like, when is this fear going to go away? I don’t know what else you would call it. “Mentally ill” just automatically makes me think of someone in a straight jacket. “Someone who has a mental illness,” I think is more appropriate? I don’t know. I don’t say that I’m mentally ill. I say that I’m living with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and ADD. I don’t know if there would be another term for it. It is what it is. I found out there’s a magazine for people who are bipolar. Who would’ve thought that there was a magazine for bipolar people? Right on the front page are questions from people and
there’s shit I have to find out on my own through a magazine. Therapy helps and my therapist helps answers my questions, but I have to find what questions to ask. You have to have to desire to figure it out. I did learn that a lot more schools are offering mental health counselors to kids who need help. I think that’s really awesome to have those counselors there because it’s not just a generalized counselor for bad behavior or whatever. They’re counselors to specifically help kids who may be dealing with mental health issues. I’m only twenty-five years old and this shit never leaves. These past five, six months has been the most bipolar I’ve ever felt. Is it ever going to go away? My friend told me that she dealt with depression for ten years. Are you telling me that this bullshit that I’m going through could last that long? If that’s the case, that sucks. That would suck. I think this can only be managed and dealt with. When I first started taking medicine, they had the dosages just way too high and I lost “Amanda.” I was numb, I didn’t have my energy or drive, and I felt drugged. They adjusted the meds after that because I didn’t want to be dependent on the drugs; I just 115
If you know someone with a mental illness, listen and research. I was trying to tell my dad about an article I read about how short-term memory loss is a real problem for people with bipolar disorder and he said, “Hmm, well I have some problems remembering things so maybe I’m a little bit bipolar.” It doesn’t really work like that. You have to be sensitive about what you say. I’m trying to do research for myself to help me and you’re saying that you may be a little bit bipolar. You’re not a little bit anything, you’re either bipolar or you’re not. If I know somebody has a mental illness, I still talk to them like a normal person. If I read anything or come across any information, I’ll pass it along and you know, try to give all the knowledge I’ve come across and all the things that have worked and haven’t worked for me. Everybody is different and everyone copes with things differently. You have to communicate what you need and how people can help you. If you don’t have a support system, there are groups you can go to and classes that you can take where people can help you and there are counselors who will talk to you. I hope that people fucking get it. I want people to see what’s happening and that mental illness is real. I hope someone can get something out of this, understand what it’s like. I want people to know my story. •
“If you don’t have a support system, there are groups you can go to and classes that you can take where people can help you and there are counselors who will talk to you.”
ELIZABETH “The only thing I ever wanted to do with my life was to make people happy because I know how it feels to not be happy. It’s so cliché now, but a lot of times the happiest person you know is going through some deep shit.”
I have spoken with a therapist and she feels very strongly that mental illness is something that I’ve been struggling with for a long time. When I was a teenager, I thought it was just my angsty teenage ways but as my friends and my family sort of grew out of that, it just never happened for me. I felt like every sideways glance thrown my way made me paranoid and it would snowball from there. I thought that people hated me, that no one wanted to be around me and that I was a terrible person. Those feelings never went away and I always wondered why.
was fifteen years old, I started cutting myself. I honestly had no idea what was happening in my head so I needed to give myself something physical to point at as, “This hurts. This is what hurts and this is what’s wrong with me.” If it’s not a physical thing that hurts, it’s very difficult for people to explain what’s wrong and for people to understand. My mom found out about my cutting and she saw it as a cry for attention rather than a cry for help, and that has caused me to struggle with a lot of relationships with friends and family and my boyfriend.
My dad was manic depressive [bipolar] and there was always the underline wondering of “which one of us kids is gonna get it?” My brother has Asperger’s Syndrome and my older brother has a lot of psychological problems. I never really got the help I needed and I think that had I gotten that help when I was younger, things would be a lot different today.
I think mental illnesses are a combination of nature and nurture. My dad left for the first time when I was seven years old. He would come home and want to be a dad for a couple years but then he’d take off again. When I first started dating, I attributed my horrible taste in men to that, but when I started dating nicer guys, I became the one who was flighty and horrible. When I was young, my brother was going through all of his diagnoses for and my other brother was going through issues as well, so my mom’s attention was always on my brothers.
A lot of people with borderline personality disorder suffer from addiction, impulsivity, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts and behavior. When I
When my dad came home, I was daddy’s girl and every time he left, it cut me just as deep as it did the time before. That wound never healed and I feel that’s where my abandonment issues started. My dad dealt with his mental issues by running away, whereas I deal with my mental disorder by bottling it up, and sometimes that has explosive repercussions and I hurt people that I care about. When I was fourteen years old, I was on an antidepressant and they told me that things would get worse before they got better, but six months in, things only kept getting worse. It got to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed and my mom took me off the medication. What fourteen-year-old kid doesn’t want to get out of bed? There were just some days where I would wake up in the morning and my first thought would be, “Why?” Having those feelings of abandonment and rage at such an early age told me that something was wrong, so I started talking to a therapist because I needed someone to definitively tell me what was wrong with me.
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doesn’t text me back in five minutes, I start obsessing and thinking, “What’s he doing? Who’s he with? Does he have my car? Does he have my daughter? What’s happening?” My disorder has a lot to do with my irrational thoughts and I have such intense mood swings. I could be having a conversation with someone and five minutes later just fly into a rage– I never plan on that happening but it just can. If a friend cancels plans, I assume that I did something wrong or that they hate me or I made them mad. Another big part of borderline personality disorder is impulsivity. That’s why a lot of people have drug or alcohol problems or issues with self-harm or are in credit card debt. Other than the rage, the impulsivity is the hardest to control. Everyone is looking for something that will relieve the pain, even if just for a little while. When I’m in the middle of an episode, I say things that are incredibly hurtful because I don’t feel like I’m getting enough of a reaction from someone. I’ll say something that I would never ever say outside of an episode and I’ll say those things just to hurt somebody. I never mean those things. The only thing I ever wanted to do with my life was to make people happy because I know how it feels to not be happy. It’s so cliché now, but a lot of times the happiest person you know is going through some deep shit. When I go to work, I try to be happy and I’m the one making the stupid dad jokes and the puns. If the girls I worked with knew what was really going on in my head, they’d have a completely different view of me.
If somebody you know or love is struggling, tell them that it’s going to be okay and be there for them.
I had teachers and friends, but I never felt like I had the support of my parents. I like to think that if we had a better relationship, more of the conventional family, I maybe would have a different life now. But you play with the hands that you’re dealt. Everybody just wants to be normal and have a clear thought in their head. My desire for clear thoughts and a clear mind feels unattainable; no matter how much meditation or how much sleep I get or how many medications I’ve been on, I can’t achieve it. One of the things that progressed my illness was meeting the man who would be my daughter’s dad. I was fifteen years old and he was incredibly abusive mentally, physically, and emotionally. Being fifteen, I was still going through all of those changes and he was my first serious relationship and he was just all around a horrible person. That didn’t do anything for my abandonment issues or my pathological need to be liked. The smallest thing to a “normal” person is blown out of proportion in my mind. I can text my boyfriend and if he
As happy as I want other people to be, I can’t always control the things I say and I hurt the people who support me the most. I want people to understand that this disorder is what causes people to hurt and people with this disorder aren’t trying to hurt anybody on purpose. I think if people understood borderline personality disorder, then there would be a lot more progress being made. I want people to know that I’m not lashing out because I’m a bad person, but because I can’t control it. There’s my logical inner voice and my borderline 120
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personality inner voice. One is trying to be reasonable and understand that I shouldn’t be upset, but then the other one is telling me that I deserved to be mad and it’s that negative voice that is always louder. Sometimes it’s like having a web browser open and onehundred tabs are all playing different songs and it’s overwhelming. You can’t shut down any of the tabs, no matter how hard you try. It’s not logical and it doesn’t make sense, but it is what it is. My boyfriend actually studied Herbal Pharmacology and when he went to college. He started studying about different vitamins and minerals, so now I’m taking a lot of those to try to help fix the imbalance in my brain. If I hadn’t had him and his help, I think I’d be ten times worse than I am today. I wouldn’t be able to hold a coherent conversation or concentrate or do half
of the things I can do today. Having somebody around to say, “I know that you can’t control this, but that doesn’t excuse your behavior,” has also kept me in check. He understands that I’m struggling right now, but he also knows that I need structure. With him putting me on the supplements and having his support has helped me a lot. Before I met him, it was really hard to have an adult relationship with somebody, especially with having my daughter. I could never figure out why I couldn’t stop myself from saying horrible things and it was so frustrating. Since I’ve been with him, things have changed for the better. I’m not saying that I’m fixed, I’m absolutely not saying that I’m cured, but things are a lot better. If you have somebody that you care about that is going through this, don’t try to one-up them with your problems 121
because I can guarantee you that that’s not what they need. I’m not saying that you have to make your life revolve around your friend or family member that’s struggling, but I’m just saying be there for them when they’re having a bad day and recognize the severity of what they’re going through. If somebody you know or love is struggling, tell them that it’s going to be okay and be there for them. People need to know that it’s okay to struggle and not be okay. Sit down and take the time to ask them how they’re doing and don’t let them get away with just “I’m fine.” A lot of people who say they’re fine aren’t really fine. A family member of mine always said that he was fine and then he took his life in December of 2014 because he was the furthest thing from fine. I’m not sick and I’m not ill, so I don’t know how I feel about the term
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“mental illness.” I feel like calling someone mentally ill is such an offensive statement to make because there are so many negative stigmas associated with it. People are so quick to judge when they hear that someone is mentally ill. I’m not crazy or psychotic or a bad person. The term “mental illness” puts a lot of people off because of that stereotype that goes along with it. Until people start being more open about mental illnesses and try to understand, there’s always going to be this prejudice and discrimination against people who have a mental illness. I am not borderline personality and I am not my mental disorder. I’m more than that and that’s not who I am. There isn’t a magic pill or medication that will make this go away. I mean, there are ways to balance things out or make us into a zombie, but I don’t think that’s a cure. If someone has cancer, there are radiation and chemotherapy treatments that can eradicate the cancer cells and cure someone, but there’s nothing like that for anyone with a mental illness. I think that if you want to cure the mental illness, you’re going to lose the person. You can’t remove someone’s brain otherwise they die. I don’t think “mentally ill” is an appropriate or fair assessment of someone who has a mental disorder. I can’t get rid of my mental illness or disorder, I can only learn how to manage and live with it. I tell people that I have a “mental imbalance,” because that’s the best way to describe it for me. Back in the day, people who had a mental illness were sent to concentration camps or psychiatric hospitals where they were experimented on and tortured and I still think some of those stigmas and ideas could still exist today. It’s very important that you learn to love yourself, no matter how hard it is or how much you think you’re not worth it. You can never, ever, ever forget that. It is so important for you to remember
that there will never be another you. For the people who love someone with this disorder, you’re going to have to be there for them and you’re going to have remind them how wonderful and unique and beautiful they are and how much they mean to you. There’s an extreme misunderstanding of selfworth with this disorder. There are days when I wake up and I feel like I’m Beyoncé but then there are some days when I feel like a pile of smashed assholes. It’s like, what’s going on? Yesterday I was Beyoncé and today I don’t even know what I am. There are a lot of days where I don’t feel like I don’t matter to anybody and those are the worst days. 122
I feel like people need to stop dismissing everything as a mental illness. There are people who are so adamant that something is wrong with them just to get the attention, and because of that, the people who actually need the help aren’t getting it. Just because you get angry sometimes, that doesn’t mean you have bipolar disorder. Just because you get sad, that doesn’t make you depressed. People need to stop thinking that having a mental illness is cool or fun because it’s not and it’s not a term that should just be thrown around. So many people suffer with this every single day. I don’t get the luxury of waking up and deciding that I no longer have anxiety and I no longer feel bad about myself.
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Everyone needs to stop glamorizing mental illnesses because there’s nothing glamorous about this. If you honestly and legitimately think that something is wrong with you, then go talk to someone about it. Don’t go and throw around terms like bipolar disorder and OCD unless you actually have those things. It’s not fun or funny to hear people make light of mental illness. There’s nothing more infuriating than hearing someone romanticize something that you struggle with every day. Every day is a constant struggle. It’s a struggle to get out of bed, get in the shower, get to work, be at work, get home from work– everything is a struggle. I’ve seen those Buzzfeed articles that say, “This will satisfy your OCD!” and it’s just a picture of organized M&M’s. There are people who can’t hold down jobs because they have to check their house lights four hundred and eighty-six times before they can leave in the morning because they have OCD. There are people who can’t go out in public because they’re absolutely petrified of people and people that they don’t know. I saw a photo of a girl on Facebook holding up a sweater that said “OCD: Obsessive Christmas Disorder,” and I don’t even have OCD but I wasn’t okay with that. It’s not cool to make light of something that people struggle with and it’s not cool to make money off of it.
them, that’s all I want. If I can help one person understand themselves better or help someone understand a loved one better, then I’ve gotten everything that I possibly could have wanted out of this. I want people to be happy and I want them to laugh and smile. When I first found out what was wrong with me, all I wanted was for someone to tell me that they understood that I was going through. I wanted someone who could say, “My brain is the same as yours and I understand.” If someone can even take one little snippet of what I’ve said and carry that with them, that’s all I can ask.
never okay, mom is going to help her through it and mom’s going to take care of it. I hope to give her the childhood she deserves and the childhood that I wanted. I think there’s an idea that people have that if someone has borderline personality disorder and a child, that child is unsafe. I don’t know about more severe cases, but I know it my case that there is no one safer in this world than my daughter. I will never direct or project my rage, self-loathing, and my sadness towards her. There is nothing in this world that I want more than for my daughter to be safe and have a healthy and balanced mind, and that’s all that any parent wants. I am very proud of the progress that I’ve made over the past five years because I was a very different person five years ago. I was very selfdestructive and very unhappy, but now that I know what’s wrong and I know better how to handle it, I feel like a completely different person. There’s hope and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and things will get better, you just have to want them to get better. It’s tough for people with mental disorders to see that. We think that it sucks today, it sucked yesterday, it’s probably going to suck tomorrow, and it’s still going to suck a year from now. We have to understand that it’s not. Nobody is going to be able to help you unless you’re willing to help yourself. No amount of medication or therapy is going to change you if you don’t want to be changed, and that’s a problem. A lot of people would rather wallow in self-pity instead of getting help, and you can’t do that with something as severe as mental disorders. It all has to start with you. •
There is nothing in this world that I want more than for my daughter to be safe and have a healthy and balanced mind, and that’s all that any parent wants.
I wanted to be a part of this project because there’s not a lot of understanding about borderline personality disorder. I hope that my story can affect at least one person. If one person reads my story and it helps
I don’t want my daughter to have the same childhood that I have. If this has genetic components, her dad is super imbalanced and there’s me, so she’s already got the deck stacked against her. I’m hoping that raising her differently and I letting her know every day how much I love her and that she’s the most wonderful part of my life will give her a chance. I hope she knows that if she’s 123
â€œIf I can help one person understand themselves better or help someone understand a loved one better, then Iâ€™ve gotten everything that I possibly could have wanted out of this.â€?
ASHLEY “Mental health is just as important as physical health. In school they have health classes where they teach you about what foods to eat and how your muscles work, but they don’t teach you about your brain and how the chemistry of your brain works.”
I think I’ve always felt like this. I think it was really bad in middle school because I got bullied. I’ve been living with depression, anxiety, OCD tendencies, and my therapist says I’m at risk for borderline personality disorder. My depression started out because of personal attacks where people would tell me all the things that they thought were wrong with me, so my self-esteem dropped and it just sort snowballed from there. I didn’t like things about my body and then I didn’t like things about my personality, which ultimately led to anorexia and bulimia. I’m not bulimic anymore, but there’s still the constant worry and obsession about what I’m eating and restricting calories and it’s all tied to my depression. When I’m having a panic attack, everything feels like it’s moving super fast and everything is shaky. My heart rate spikes and it’s like someone is punching me in the chest. It’s weird, but in The Hunger Games movie when the tracker jackers attack Katniss and the scene shows how her vision is being affected, that’s how I feel when I have a panic attack. When I’m depressed, I
just want to sleep and cry and my body feels heavy. Getting up feels like the biggest task. There was always a lot of fighting in my house when I was younger and I tried to kill myself. I remember thinking that I had no reason to be here and I was ready to take a handful of pills when my dad walked in. The next day I was like, wow, I almost killed myself; why would I do that? After that, my mom and dad forced me to go to therapy and it was then when I realized there was a problem. There’s this belief that people who commit suicide or attempt suicide are weak and don’t care about their families and that’s not true. Whatever I was going through was stronger and more painful than the thought of whatever my family would feel after I was gone. People think that these things are something I can just get over. They think that positive thinking will cure everything and that’s not true. There’s a difference between being sad and having depression. Positive thinking has its merits and it can help, but it’s not a fix. I can’t go outside and think, “Oh! 126
The sun is shining and it’s a beautiful day so I’m not depressed anymore!” There’s also this idea that people with anxiety can control it and they can “just calm down.” That’s not true. It was the same thing with my eating disorders. People didn’t understand that I couldn’t “just eat the burger.” It was an obsession. I couldn’t eat more than a certain number of calories or I’d gain 50 pounds. It’s not logical and there’s no control. I wish that people knew that I can’t just “get over it.” I can have good days and bad days, but it’s not something I can control. I have a chemical imbalance and I can’t do anything about that. There’s also a physical side to these things. When I’m having an “episode,” I can physically feel it– it’s not just in my head. Nobody with a mental illness is faking this to get attention. If someone truly has a mental illness, it’s not something that they’d exploit for attention. There needs to be more awareness brought to mental health issues. No guy or girl is going to come along and sweep you off your feet and cure
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your mental illnesses just because they love you. Yeah, it’s great to have someone to talk to who understands, but no one’s going to come along and rescue you. Having anxiety isn’t “cute” and being depressed isn’t “cute.” It’s all been romanticized. It’s not easy to pull yourself out of a dark place, but you have to do it for yourself. You have to agree to go to therapy or take medication or talk to someone. Journaling has helped me a lot. If I’m having a panic attack or feeling really depressed, I write down what I’m feeling in that moment. I can come back to it when I feel better, maybe work through some things and realize that things weren’t as bad as I thought they were. Having great friends and family surrounding and supporting you is also really
important and you have to cut out the toxic people in your life too. It definitely helps to talk to someone who has gone through the same things as you’re going through because they understand. It’s a huge step to start moving forward and towards being mentally healthy, and it’s a step someone has to take for themselves. I wish there were a different term other than “mental illness.” I don’t know, to me it just makes it seem like it’s contagious or it can be fixed. If you’re ill and have a cold, you can take some medication and it goes away, but it’s different with mental illnesses. I don’t know what different word or term to use, but I wish it were different. There are definitely 128
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I hope people realize that things get better and no one has to be alone in this.
things like medication and therapy that you can do to manage a mental illness, but I don’t think it can ever be cured. Everyone is different and I think everybody has to find what works best for them. I think there also should be some level of acceptance of what you have. Like, with my slight OCD tendencies, it’s not super detrimental to my life personally, but my room is always clean. With my anxiety, I feel like I have really good instincts and know that if something is making me anxious, then I should probably avoid that situation. Mental health is just as important as physical health. In school, they have health classes where they teach you about what foods to eat and how your muscles work, but they don’t teach you about your brain and how the chemistry of your brain works. The brain is where mental illness lives, so just like any other health class, it needs to be talked about because it falls under the umbrella of health. Honestly, they should talk about it even earlier than high school. We need to start teaching kids that just because someone has depression or anxiety or anything like that, it doesn’t make them a freak or a bad person. I know a lot of people feel like they’re alone in what they’re going through. After I came out on the other side of it, I was very open about my experience on social media. I would get tons of messages from girls on Tumblr, ask.fm, or Twitter and they would ask me for advice. Because it’s a stigma to talk about mental illnesses and eating disorders openly, people felt like they had to be anonymous and they couldn’t talk about it in person. I hope people realize that things to get better and no one has to be alone in this. • 129
â€œHaving great friends and family surrounding and supporting you is really important. You have to cut the toxic people out of your life.â€?
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DANIELLE “You are more than your mental illness–you are a human being with emotions and memories and a personality and people care about you and you can do this. I know it’s exhausting and it seems so easy to just give up, but please keep fighting. Please never stop fighting.”
I wanted to wait to write my chapter until I had a “good day,” but every time I had a “good day,” I couldn’t bring myself to write about what was going on in my head with my depression and anxiety. So, here I am, writing this on a bad day and hopefully editing on a good day. If I start from the beginning, I think a lot of what I was initially going through was anxiety. When it was happening, I didn’t know that it was called anxiety, but I can look back now and see it for what it was. I used to get overwhelmed by the littlest things and when I didn’t know how to control my emotions, I would hurt myself. I never cut myself, but I would take the flat end of a hairbrush and hit myself over and over again on the head. If my head was too sore or I really wanted to feel some release, I would slam the hairbrush against the bathroom counter until it broke. I can’t really say what triggered these outbursts, but I remember them happening the most when I was getting ready to go to school. There was always something wrong with how I looked– my hair was too frizzy, my face was too chubby, or my teeth were too crooked.
I remember clothes being a huge issue too. If a shirt was too tight or the fabric irritated my skin, I couldn’t hand it and I would start hyperventilating. I had to wear toe socks to bed every night because I couldn’t stand the feeling of my toes touching. I used to spend hours praying to god that no one in my family would die during the night; every night I would list each family member by name and worry that if I missed one, they wouldn’t be safe. I think on some level I knew that something was wrong, but I couldn’t figure it out and that’s when I started feeling depressed and angry. I was angry that I didn’t understand why I felt the way I did and I was depressed because I felt like I didn’t belong. One night, I sat on my parent’s bed and sobbed and told them that I felt like an alien and I didn’t want to be here anymore. This was all happening in elementary school through middle school, so those developmental years were really rough for me. I lost a lot of friends, my mom wasn’t home a lot because of her job, my dad was one to practice “unique punishment techniques,” and my sister was too young to really understand. I just felt alone. 132
When high school started, I really got into show choir, started making new friends and I started to find my voice. Things were going well and I felt like I had a place to belong, but then I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder. I spent so much time seeing different doctors and getting different tests done and after being in so much pain for so long, I found out that what I was going through wasn’t curable, only manageable. I spent a lot of time hating myself and resenting anyone who wasn’t in pain like I was. Also around this time, my mom had a massive stroke; I found her while she was having the stroke and that image stuck in my head for a really long time. Even with all of those things happening in high school, I think my reactions and emotions would be considered “normal” by societal standards. Being diagnosed with a chronic pain disorder and almost losing your mom is bound to make anyone deal with some level of stress, depression, or anxiety. After my freshman year of college, I think that’s the lowest I’ve ever been. I started thinking about dying a lot, not for any particular reason other than I
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just didn’t want to be here anymore. I thought about driving into traffic, sitting in my running car in the garage, taking a bunch of pills, and other stuff like that. I pulled out into traffic without looking both ways, I stared at my garage for what felt like hours, and I stood in front of a bottle of pills and thought about every possible outcome, but I never did anything. I remember thinking that I would feel so bad for whoever found me and I couldn’t bear what it would do to my family, especially my sister. I remember crying a lot and feeling so guilty and confused why I felt like this.
I needed serious help. I’ve never talked to a professional about this, but I refer to this as my first “schizophreniclike episode.” A few months after the incident, I accidentally stumbled on a Youtube video titled something like, “Auditory Hallucinations,” or “What Schizophrenia Sounds Like.” I had to turn it off almost immediately because it threw me right back to that night.
My sophomore year of college, I took an Abnormal Psychology course, and I started to learn about the different ways that anxiety and depression can manifest themselves and other forms of mental illnesses. I found out that the times when I became overwhelmed, couldn’t breathe, and started shaking and pacing, I was having a panic attack. I learned that those times where I felt like I was in a separate reality and watching myself as an out of body experience, that was called depersonalization and derealization. I wish I would have known these things before my sophomore year. I could have gotten help sooner and I wouldn’t have felt like I was constantly losing my mind.
I’m not ashamed of what I’ve gone through or who I am, but there are so many negative stigmas associated with the term that society’s image of “mentally ill” doesn’t fit with who I am.
It wasn’t long after the suicidal thoughts that I started having hallucinations. I would see things that weren’t there, I would hear noises that didn’t exist, and I started having night terrors and lucid dreams. One night, I was sleeping in my mom’s room and I sat straight up from a dead sleep and started hyperventilating; I was hearing voices and they were swirling and yelling and whispering in my head. They were all telling me to get out. It wasn’t telling me to get out of bed or get out of the house, but to get out of my body. I went into the bathroom and there was a pair of orange-handled scissors and I remember grabbing them and starting at them while the voices kept screaming at me. I looked at myself in the mirror and it didn’t look like me. I looked into my eyes and saw someone else looking back at me and I dropped the scissors and started sobbing. My mom was awake at this point and obviously worried, but all I could say was, “I don’t know what’s happening to me. I can’t stop.” I eventually calmed down, but it was after that when I knew that
I was put on a few different medications and for a while, one would help, but the negative side effects would start and I would need to switch prescriptions. After a while, I just stopped trying. I had started to feel better and I thought I would be okay, but looking back, maybe I should have gone to therapy or talked to someone. I was afraid of what someone would think about me and I think I was also afraid to find out if something was seriously wrong with me. 133
Until this year, I had no idea that you can check off “depression” as a recognized disability on an employment form. I’m considered mentally ill and saying that out loud just seems odd to me. I’m not ashamed of what I’ve gone through or who I am, but there are so many negative stigmas associated with the term that society’s image of “mentally ill” doesn’t fit with who I am. The majority of people who fall under the “umbrella” of mental illness don’t fit into our culture’s image of someone in a straight jacket without any control. My brain chemistry is off and it causes me to have prolonged periods of negative feelings and emotions that negatively impact my life. I’m 24 years old and in a successful long-term relationship, holding down two jobs, getting ready to graduate with honors and awards, and I’m mentally ill. Unless I tell someone about what I’ve been through and what I feel, people don’t know the truth because I don’t match the preconceived notions about what someone who has a mental illness should look like.
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I believe strongly that people who perpetuate the idea that positive thinking is a cure for mental illness only add to the misconceptions and stigmas surrounding mental illness. Forcing yourself to smile and have “good vibes” isn’t a treatment plan. I had finally found the medication regimen that helped me and when I was on it, I felt like the best and truest version of myself. I could talk to customers at work without constantly obsessing over what I was going to say and if my “script” was right. I wasn’t angry anymore, I felt like I laughed more, and I felt like a gigantic weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I could breathe again. After being on the medication for almost a year and finally finding stability, my insurance company decided that my mental health was too expensive and they refused to cover my medication, making my medication unaffordable. My biggest fear had always been that I would have another “schizophrenic-like episode,” and because my brain chemistry had changed so rapidly after being abruptly taken off my medication, that fear became a reality. It started with these things called “brain zaps.” I learned what they were called while researching for this project; before having a name for them I thought I was having seizures. I was experiencing imbalance, dizziness, and I felt like I was having electric-shock-like feelings in my brain. The electrified and buzzing sensations would move slowly
over my body and then violently crest at the base of my neck. My body would seize and tremor. It’s something that often happens when people stop taking antidepressants because the chemistry of the brain is changing so rapidly. I was having the brain zaps when my second episode happened. I had a lucid dream and night terror where I was being buried and suffocated and I felt like I was dying. I believed every second of it and it was real to me. The next day, I went into work and I couldn’t speak. I cried on the sales floor and I couldn’t look into the mirrors because I didn’t see myself in the reflection. I texted my boyfriend and told him that I needed to see him because I couldn’t be alone, but I couldn’t bring myself to say what was wrong. We met downtown and as I was walking to my car on the top of the parking garage, I fought to stop myself from throwing myself off of the roof. He took me to lunch and I cried into my mac and cheese and I could see the wait staff looking at me. I was so embarrassed and I wanted more than anything to stop crying, but I couldn’t. He took me home and he held me for hours until I could finally talk. I can’t remember ever crying that hard. I thought I was going crazy and 134
I thought I was going to die. I felt so pathetic and stupid, but I couldn’t stop. It took a little over a week for my brain chemistry to rebalance and for me to start feeling like myself again. I’m not currently on medication, but there are so many days where I wish I could go back on the prescription that helped me, but I’m terrified that if I have to go off of it again, I won’t be able to live through another episode. I wish I could say that mental illnesses can be cured, but I don’t think it’s possible. I believe that you can manage your symptoms and work towards feeling better, but I think a mental illness is a part of someone. Different people deal with their mental illnesses in a variety of ways, so to say that medication or therapy is 100% the way to go isn’t appropriate. For me, I know I need medication to feel my best. I know for others, they need to talk to someone and medication doesn’t help them. One treatment plan does not fit all. I believe strongly that people who perpetuate the idea that positive thinking is a cure for mental illness only add to the misconceptions and stigmas surrounding mental illness. Forcing yourself to smile and have “good
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vibes” isn’t a treatment plan. People who have a mental illness don’t get the treatment that they need and people who don’t have a mental illness think that it’s something that a person can “ just get over.” Social media and popular culture has romanticized mental illness and created a culture where being depressed and anxious is quirky and cool, and that’s bullshit. Ask anyone who is living with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or any mental illness if their illness is “cute.” Thinking I was losing my mind every day was never adorable, not having control of my temper was never cool, and crying for days was never beautiful. Having a support system has been incredibly vital to managing my mental illness. My parents try their best to understand what’s happening to me and they listen and are supportive, which is so important. I hear about so many parents who refuse to recognize their child’s mental illness or make the effort to understand and it ends up making the situation worse. My sister is always there to listen and because she’s living with her own mental illnesses, she understands what I’m going through and we can help each other work through it. My friends can see when I’m having a bad day and they’ll send me encouraging text messages and photos of cute animals. My boyfriend Sean has been my rock through all of this. It’s hard for someone who doesn’t live with this to understand, but he tries so hard and he always listens and is there for me. He helps calm me down and rationalize situations when I’m having anxiety and he knows when I need a good sea otter video or puppy photo. He also pushes me to work through my issues and focus on the good things. I hope everyone can find their own support system, whether that’s through teachers, friends, family, or with a professional. Medication can only go so far, and you never know when you’ll need your cheering section to keep you on track.
I was telling someone about my thesis project and what it was about, and one of her first questions was how and where I met the people I was interviewing. I told her my process of posting about my project on social media and meeting each person either through a Skype video chat or at a coffee shop. She laughed nervously, “Oh, good. I’m glad you did it in a public space because, you know.” I knew what she meant and I don’t think she meant any harm, but in that sentence, she proved why projects like this need to happen. The notion that “mentally ill” should be equated to “violent” is a disservice to anyone living with a mental illness. I’m not ashamed of my depression, anxiety, or episodes.
If you need help, go get it because you deserve it. You deserve to be happy and you deserve to live a happy and full life. I don’t tend to talk about it openly because of people like her, people that think I’m violent and a threat. I don’t necessarily blame her for feeling this way because that’s our current culture. Almost any mass shooting that involves a while male includes the words “mentally ill” in the headline. The most extreme forms of mental illnesses are 135
exaggerated in popular culture and that becomes the standard. Until we change the conversation about what it means to be mentally ill and encourage people to cultivate a culture of education, understanding, empathy, there will be no progress. Mental illness will continue to be a dirty term, many will continue to believe the stereotypes and stigmas, and people will continue not to seek the treatment and health that they deserve. No matter what happens or how guilty you feel or how much you hate yourself, you have to know that this isn’t your fault. It sucks to admit it, but you’re sick. Something is imbalanced in your brain and none of this is your fault. It can feel like you’re drowning and you can’t see how to claw your way back to sanity, but that feeling is temporary. It may last for days or months or years, but it is still temporary. You have no reason to be ashamed of something you cannot control. If you need help, go get it because you deserve it. You deserve to be happy and you deserve to live a good and full life, so do whatever it takes to get there. See a therapist or psychiatrist and maybe get some medication to even out the chemical imbalance going on in your head. Take up meditation or nontraditional methods with essential oils and a diet change. Remove the toxic and unsupportive people from your life and take a long vacation. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just get back to being healthy. You’re worth it. I know it’s cliché as hell and everyone says it, but it’s true. You are more than your mental illness; you are a human being with emotions and memories and a personality. People care about you and you can do this. I know it’s exhausting and it seems so much easier just to give up, but please keep fighting. Please never stop fighting. •
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CRITE RIA & I N FOR MAT I ON The following are criteria and information regarding the mental disorders referred to in this project according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5®).
ANXIETY DISORDER Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can be beneficial in some situations. It can alert us to dangers and help us prepare and pay attention. Anxiety disorders differ from normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness, and involve excessive fear or anxiety. Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect more than 25 million Americans. There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder and separation anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are treatable and a number of effective treatments are available. Treatment helps most people lead normal productive lives. Anxiety refers to anticipation of a future concern and is more associated with muscle tension and avoidance behavior. Fear is an emotional response to an immediate threat and is more associated with a fight or flight reaction – either staying to fight or leaving to escape danger. Anxiety disorders can cause people into try to avoid situations that trigger or worsen their symptoms. Job performance, school work and personal relationships can be affected. In general, for a person to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the fear or anxiety must: • Be out of proportion to the situation or age inappropriate • Last six months or longer • Hinder your ability to function normally GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER involves persistent and excessive worry that interferes with daily activities. This ongoing worry and tension may be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as restlessness, feeling on edge or easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension or problems sleeping. Often the worries focus on everyday things such as job responsibilities, family health or minor matters such as chores, car repairs, or appointments. PANIC DISORDER is recurrent panic attacks, an overwhelming combination of physical and psychological distress. Because symptoms are so severe, many people who experience a panic attack may believe they are having a heart attack or other life-threatening illness. Panic attacks may be expected, such as a response to a feared object, or unexpected, apparently occurring for no reason. The median age for onset of panic disorder is 24. Panic attacks may occur with other mental disorders such as depression or PTSD. During an attack several of these symptoms occur in combination: • Palpitations, pounding heart or rapid heart rate • Sweating • Trembling or shaking • Feeling of shortness of breath or smothering sensations • Chest pain • Feeling dizzy, light-headed or faint • Feeling of choking • Numbness or tingling • Chills or hot flashes • Nausea or abdominal pains • Feeling detached • Fear of losing control • Fear of dying 136
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SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER affects a person with significant anxiety and discomfort about being embarrassed, humiliated, rejected or looked down on in social interactions. People with this disorder will try to avoid the situation or endure it with great anxiety. Common examples are extreme fear of public speaking, meeting new people or eating/ drinking in public. The fear or anxiety causes problems with daily functioning and lasts at least six months.
BIPOLAR DISORDER Bipolar disorders are brain disorders that cause changes in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. Bipolar disorder is a category that includes three different conditions — bipolar I, bipolar II and cyclothymic disorder. People with bipolar disorders have extreme and intense emotional states that occur at distinct times, called mood episodes. These mood episodes are categorized as manic, hypomanic or depressive. Bipolar disorder can disrupt a person’s life and relationships with others, particularly with spouses and family members, and cause difficulty in working or going to school. People with bipolar I often have other mental disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an anxiety disorder or substance use disorder. The risk of suicide is significantly higher among people with bipolar disorder than among the general population. People with bipolar disorders generally have periods of normal mood as well. BIPOLAR I can cause dramatic mood swings. During a manic episode, people with bipolar I disorder may feel high and on top of the world, or uncomfortably irritable and “revved up.“ During a depressive episode they may feel sad and hopeless. There are often periods of normal moods in between these episodes. Bipolar I disorder is diagnosed when a person has a manic episode. BIPOLAR II disorder involves a person having at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode. People return to usual function between episodes. People with bipolar II often first seek treatment because of depressive symptoms, which can be severe. People with bipolar II often have other co-occurring mental illnesses such as an anxiety disorder or substance use disorder. CYCLOTHYMIC DISORDER is a milder form of bipolar disorder involving many mood swings, with hypomania and depressive symptoms that occur often and fairly constantly. People with cyclothymia experience emotional ups and downs, but with less severe symptoms than bipolar I or II. Cyclothymic disorder symptoms include the following: for at least two years, many periods of hypomanic and depressive symptoms (see above), but the symptoms do not meet the criteria for hypomanic or depressive episode; during the two-year period, the symptoms (mood swings) have lasted for at least half the time and have never stopped for more than two months. MANIC EPISODE is a period of at least one week when a person is very high spirited or irritable in an extreme way most of the day for most days, has more energy than usual and experiences at least three of the following, showing a change in behavior: • Exaggerated self-esteem or grandiosity • Less need for sleep • Talking more than usual, talking loudly and quickly • Easily distracted • Doing many activities at once, scheduling more events in a day than can be accomplished • Increased risky behavior (e.g., reckless driving, spending sprees) • Uncontrollable racing thoughts or quickly changing ideas or topics The changes are significant and clear to friends and family. Symptoms are severe enough to cause problems with work, family or social activities and responsibilities. Symptoms of a manic episode may require a person to get hospital care to stay safe. The average age for a first manic episode is 18, but it can start anytime from early childhood to later adulthood. HYPOMANIC EPISODE is similar to a manic episode but the symptoms are less severe and need only last four days in a row. Hypomanic symptoms do not lead to the major problems that mania often causes and do not require hospitalization. 137
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MAJOR DEPRESSIVE EPISODE is a period of two weeks in which a person has at least five of the following (including one of the first two): • Intense sadness or despair; feeling helpless, hopeless or worthless • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed • Feeling worthless or guilty • Sleep problems — sleeping too little or too much • Feeling restless or agitated (e.g., pacing or hand-wringing), or slowed speech or movements • Changes in appetite (increase or decrease) • Loss of energy, fatigue • Difficulty concentrating, remembering making decisions • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
DEPRESSION Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home. Depression is a real illness and help is available. With proper diagnosis and treatment, the vast majority of people with depression will overcome it. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, a first step is to see your family physician or psychiatrist. Talk about your concerns and request a thorough evaluation. This is a start to addressing mental health needs. Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include: • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much • Loss of energy or increased fatigue • Increase in restless activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech • Feeling worthless or guilty • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions • Thoughts of death or suicide • Symptoms must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression. Depression affects an estimated one in 15 adults (6.7%) in any given year. And one in six people (16.6%) will experience depression at some time in their life. Depression can strike at any time, but on average, first appears during the late teens to mid-20s. Women are more likely than men to experience depression. Some studies show that one-third of women will experience a major depressive episode in their lifetime. The death of a loved one, loss of a job or the ending of a relationship are difficult experiences for a person to endure. It is normal for feelings of sadness or grief to develop in response to such situations. Those experiencing loss often might describe themselves as being “depressed.” But sadness and depression are not the same. The grieving process is natural and unique to each individual and shares some of the same features of depression. Both grief and depression may involve intense sadness and withdrawal from usual activities. They are also different in important ways: • In grief, painful feelings come in waves, often intermixed with positive memories of the deceased. In major depression, mood and/or interest (pleasure) are decreased for most of two weeks. • In grief, self-esteem is usually maintained. In major depression, feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing are common. • For some people, the death of a loved one can bring on major depression. Losing a job or being a victim of a physical assault or a major disaster can lead to depression for some 138
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people. When grief and depression coexist, the grief is more severe and lasts longer than grief without depression. Despite some overlap between grief and depression, they are different. Distinguishing between them can help people get the help, support or treatment they need.
DISSOCIATIVE DISORDERS Dissociative disorders involve problems with memory, identity, emotion, perception, behavior and sense of self. Dissociative symptoms can potentially disrupt every area of mental functioning. Examples of dissociative symptoms include the experience of detachment or feeling as if one is outside one’s body, and loss of memory or amnesia. Dissociative disorders are frequently associated with previous experience of trauma. There are three types of dissociative disorders: • Dissociative Identity Disorder • Dissociative Amnesia • Depersonalization/Derealization disorder The Sidran Institute, which works to help people understand and cope with traumatic stress and dissociative disorders, describes the phenomenon of dissociation and the purpose it may serve as follows: “Dissociation is a disconnection between a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or sense of who he or she is. This is a normal process that everyone has experienced. Examples of mild, common dissociation include daydreaming, highway hypnosis or “getting lost” in a book or movie, all of which involve “losing touch” with awareness of one’s immediate surroundings. During a traumatic experience such as an accident, disaster or crime victimization, dissociation can help a person tolerate what might otherwise be too difficult to bear. In situations like these, a person may dissociate the memory of the place, circumstances or feelings about of the overwhelming event, mentally escaping from the fear, pain and horror. This may make it difficult to later remember the details of the experience, as reported by many disaster and accident survivors.” DISSOCIATIVE IDENTITY DISORDER is associated with overwhelming experiences, traumatic events and/or abuse that occurred in childhood. Dissociative identity disorder was previously referred to as multiple personality disorder. For people with dissociative identity disorder, the extent of problems functioning can vary widely, from minimal to significant problems. People often try to minimize the impact of their symptoms. Symptoms of dissociative identity disorder (criteria for diagnosis) include: • The existence of two or more distinct identities (or “personality states”). The distinct identities are accompanied by changes in behavior, memory and thinking. The signs and symptoms may be observed by others or reported by the individual. • Ongoing gaps in memory about everyday events, personal information and/or past traumatic events. • The symptoms cause significant distress or problems in social, occupational or other areas of functioning. In addition, the disturbance must not be a normal part of a broadly accepted cultural or religious practice. As noted in the DSM-51, in many cultures around the world, experiences of being possessed are a normal part of spiritual practice and are not dissociative disorders. The attitude and personal preferences (for example, about food, activities, clothes) of a person with dissociative identity disorder may suddenly shift and then shift back. The identities happen involuntarily, unwanted and cause distress. People with dissociative identity disorder may feel that they have suddenly become observers of their own speech and actions, or their bodies may feel different (e.g., like a small child, like the opposite gender, huge and muscular). 139
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The Sidran Institute notes that a person with dissociative identity disorder “feels as if she has within her two or more entities, each with its own way of thinking and remembering about herself and her life. It is important to keep in mind that although these alternate states may feel or appear to be very different, they are all manifestations of a single, whole person.” Other names used to describe these alternate states including “alternate personalities,” “alters,” “states of consciousness” and “identities.” DEPERSONALIZATION/DEREALIZATION DISORDER involves significant ongoing or recurring experience of one or both conditions: • Depersonalization – experiences of unreality or detachment from one’s mind, self or body. People may feel as if they are outside their bodies and watching events happening to them. • Derealization – experiences of unreality or detachment from one’s surroundings. People may feel as if things and people in the world around them are not real. • During these altered experiences the person is aware of reality and that their experience is unusual. The experience is very distressful, even though the person may appear to be unreactive or lacking emotion. Symptoms may begin in early childhood; the average age a person experiences the disorder is 16. Less than 20 percent of people with depersonalization/derealization disorder first experience symptoms after age 20. DISSOCIATIVE AMNESIA involves not being able to recall information about oneself (not normal forgetting). This amnesia is usually related to a traumatic or stressful event and may be: • Localized – unable to remember an event or period of time (most common type) • Selective – unable to remember a specific aspect of an event or some events within a period of time • Generalized – complete loss of identity and life history (rare) Dissociative amnesia is associated with having experiences of childhood trauma, and particularly with experiences of emotional abuse and emotional neglect. People may not be aware of their memory loss or may have only limited awareness. And people may minimize the importance of memory loss about a particular event or time.
OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which time people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). The repetitive behaviors, such as hand washing, checking on things or cleaning, can significantly interfere with a person’s daily activities and social interactions. Many people have focused thoughts or repeated behaviors, but these do not disrupt daily life and may add structure or make tasks easier. For people with OCD, thoughts are persistent and routines are rigid and not doing them causes great distress. Many people with OCD know or suspect their obsessions are not true; others may think they could be true (known as poor insight). Even if they know their obsessions are not true, people with OCD have a hard time keeping their focus off the obsessions or stopping the compulsions. A diagnosis of OCD requires the presence of obsession and/or compulsions that are time-consuming (more than one hour a day), cause major distress, and impair work, social or other important function. About 1.2 percent of Americans have OCD and among adults slightly more women than man are affected. OCD often begins in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood; the average age symptoms appear is 19 years old. OBSESSIONS are recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that cause distressing emotions such as anxiety or disgust. Many people with OCD recognize that the thoughts, impulses, or images are a product of their mind and are excessive or unreasonable. Yet these intrusive thoughts cannot be settled by logic or reasoning. Most people with 140
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OCD try to ignore or suppress such obsessions or offset them with some other thought or action. Typical obsessions include excessive concerns about contamination or harm, the need for symmetry or exactness, or forbidden sexual or religious thoughts. COMPULSIONS are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession. The behaviors are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or a feared situation. In the most severe cases, a constant repetition of rituals may fill the day, making a normal routine impossible. Compounding the anguish these rituals cause is the knowledge that the compulsions are irrational. Although the compulsion may bring some relief to the worry, the obsession returns and the cycle repeats over and over. Some examples of compulsions: • CLEANING to reduce the fear that germs, dirt, or chemicals will “contaminate” them some spend many hours washing themselves or cleaning their surroundings. • REPEATING to dispel anxiety, some people utter a name or phrase or repeat a behavior several times. They know these repetitions won’t actually guard against injury but fear harm will occur if the repetitions aren’t done. • CHECKING to reduce the fear of harming oneself or others by, for example, forgetting to lock the door or turn off the gas stove, some people develop checking rituals. Some people repeatedly retrace driving routes to be sure they haven’t hit anyone. • ORDERING and ARRANGING to reduce discomfort, some like to put objects, such as books in a certain order, or arrange household items “just so,” or in a symmetric fashion. • MENTAL COMPULSIONS to response to intrusive obsessive thoughts, some people silently pray or say phrases to reduce anxiety or prevent a dreaded future event.
PERSONALITY DISORDERS Personality is the way of thinking, feeling and behaving that makes a person different from other people. An individual’s personality is influenced by experiences, environment (surroundings, life situations) and inherited characteristics. A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time. There are 10 specific types of personality disorders (such as borderline personality disorder) are grouped into three categories called “clusters”. Common to all personality disorders is a long-term pattern of behavior and inner experience that differs significantly from what is expected. The pattern of experience and behavior begins by late adolescence or early adulthood, and causes distress or problems in functioning. Without treatment, the behavior and experience is inflexible and usually longlasting. The pattern is seen in at least two of these areas: • Way of • Way of • Way of • Way of
thinking about oneself and others responding emotionally relating to other people controlling one’s behavior CLUSTER A: ODD OR ECCENTRIC BEHAVIOR
PARANOID PERSONALITY DISORDER: a pattern of distrust and suspiciousness where others’ motives are seen as mean or spiteful. People with paranoid personality disorder often assume people will harm or deceive them and are reluctant to confide in others or become close to them. SCHIZOID PERSONALITY DISORDER: a pattern of detachment from social relationships and a limited range of emotional expression. A person with schizoid personality disorder typically does not seek close relationships, chooses solitary activities and appears indifferent to praise or criticism from others. SCHIZOTYPAL PERSONALITY DISORDER: a pattern of acute discomfort in close relationships, distortions in 141
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thinking or perception, and eccentric behavior. A person with schizotypal personality disorder may have odd beliefs or magical thinking, odd or peculiar behavior or speech, or may incorrectly attribute meanings to events. CLUSTER B: DRAMATIC, EMOTIONAL, OR ERRATIC BEHAVIOR ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY DISORDER: a pattern of disregarding or violating the rights of others. A person with antisocial personality disorder may not conform to social norms, may repeatedly lie or deceive others, or may act impulsively. BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER: a pattern of instability in personal relationships, emotional response, self-image and impulsivity. A person with borderline personality disorder may go to great lengths to avoid abandonment (real or perceived), have recurrent suicidal behavior, display inappropriate intense anger or have chronic feelings of emptiness. HISTRIONIC PERSONALITY DISORDER: a pattern of excessive emotion and attention seeking. A person with histrionic personality disorder may be uncomfortable when he/she is not the center of attention, consistently use physical appearance to draw attention or show rapidly shifting or exaggerated emotions. NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER: a pattern of need for admiration and lack of empathy for others. A person with narcissistic personality disorder may have a grandiose sense of self-importance, a sense of entitlement, take advantage of others or lack empathy. CLUSTER C: ANXIOUS OR FEARFUL BEHAVIOR AVOIDANT PERSONALITY DISORDER: a pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy and extreme sensitivity to criticism. A person with avoidant personality disorder may be unwilling to get involved with people unless he/she is certain of being liked, be preoccupied with being criticized or rejected, or may view himself/herself as being inferior or socially inept. DEPENDENT PERSONALITY DISORDER: a pattern of needing to be taken care of and submissive and clingy behavior. A person with dependent personality disorder may have difficulty making daily decisions without reassurance from others or may feel uncomfortable or helpless when alone because of fear of inability to take care of himself or herself. OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE PERSONALITY DISORDER: a pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism and control. A person with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder may be preoccupied with details or schedules, may work excessively to the exclusion of leisure or friendships, or may be inflexible in morality and values. (This is NOT the same as obsessive compulsive disorder)
POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD) Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault. PTSD is a real illness that causes real suffering. PTSD has been known by many names in the past, such as “shell shock” during the years of World War I and “combat fatigue” after World War II. But PTSD does not just happen to combat veterans. PTSD occurs in men and women, in people of any ethnicity, nationality or culture, and at any age. PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults, and lifetime risk for PTSD is estimated at 8.7 percent. People with PTSD continue to have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people. People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that 142
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remind them of the traumatic event, and they may have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch. A diagnosis of PTSD requires exposure to an upsetting traumatic event. However, exposure could be indirect rather than first hand. For example, PTSD could occur in an individual who learns that a close family member or friend has died accidentally or violently. Specific symptoms can vary in severity. Symptoms of PTSD fall into four categories: • Intrusive thoughts such as repeated, involuntary memories; distressing dreams; or flashbacks of the traumatic event. Flashbacks may be so vivid that people feel they are re-living the traumatic experience or seeing it before their eyes. • Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event may include avoiding people, places, activities, objects and situations that bring on distressing memories. People may try to avoid remembering or thinking about the traumatic event. They may resist talking about what happened or how they feel about it. • Negative thoughts and feelings may include ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted”); ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame; much less interest in activities previously enjoyed; or feeling detached or estranged from others. • Arousal and reactive symptoms may include being irritable and having angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive way; being easily startled; or having problems concentrating or sleeping. Many people who are exposed to a traumatic event experience symptoms like those described above in the days following the event. For a person with PTSD, however, symptoms last for at least a month and often persist for months and sometimes years. Many individuals develop symptoms within three months of the trauma, but symptoms may appear later. For people with PTSD the symptoms cause significant distress or problems functioning. PTSD often occurs with other related conditions, such as depression, substance use, memory problems and other physical and mental health problems.
SCHIZOPHRENIA Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that affects about one percent of the population. When schizophrenia is active, symptoms can include delusions, hallucinations, trouble with thinking and concentration, and lack of motivation. However, when these symptoms are treated, most people with schizophrenia will greatly improve over time. The complexity of schizophrenia may help explain why there are misconceptions about the disease. Schizophrenia does not mean split personality or multiple-personality. Most people with schizophrenia are not dangerous or violent. They also are not homeless nor do they live in hospitals. Most people with schizophrenia live with family, in group homes or on their own. Research has shown that schizophrenia affects men and women about equally but may have an earlier onset in males. Men often experience symptoms in their early 20s and women often first show signs in their late 20s and early 30s. More subtle signs may be present earlier, including troubled relationships, poor school performance and reduced motivation. Rates are similar in all ethnic groups around the world. Schizophrenia is considered a group of disorders where causes and symptoms vary considerably between individuals. When the disease is active, it can be characterized by episodes in which the patient is unable to distinguish between real and unreal experiences. As with any illness, the severity, duration and frequency of symptoms can vary; however, in persons with schizophrenia, the incidence of severe psychotic symptoms often decreases during a patient’s lifetime. Not taking medications, use of alcohol or illicit drugs, and stressful situations tend to increase symptoms. Symptoms fall into several categories: • Positive Psychotic Symptoms: Hallucinations, such as hearing voices, paranoid delusions and exaggerated or distorted perceptions, beliefs and behaviors. • Negative Symptoms: A loss or a decrease in the ability to initiate plans, speak, express emotion or find pleasure. • Disorganization Symptoms: Confused and disordered thinking and speech, trouble with logical thinking and sometimes bizarre behavior or abnormal movements. • Impaired Cognition: Problems with attention, concentration, memory and declining educational performance.
RES OU RC E S If you or someone you know is need of help, please call these numbers and visit these websites for assistance. There is no shame in seeking help and only you can take the first steps to getting better.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline | 1-800-273-8255 National Alliance on Mental Illness | 1-800-950-6264 Parkview Behavioral Health | 1-800-284-8439 The Bowen Center | 1-800-342-5653
www.psychiatry.org | www.nimh.nih.gov | www.nami.org | www.apa.org
E X P O S U R E EXPOSING THE MYTHS & REALITIES O F L I V I N G W I T H A M E N TA L I L L N E S S
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