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Speak Louder Than the Stigma

The stigma surrounding mental illness is no joke. People struggling with mental illness feel isolated, ashamed, invalidated, and hopeless in a world where their condition isn’t taken seriously. There have been huge strides over the past few decades toward treating mental illness with the care it deserves, but there is still a long way to go. We who suffer from various mental illnesses often feel different from everyone, and we learn to feel shame for having an invisible illness, and the results of this can be deadly.

As long as we let ourselves give in to shame and stay silent about our experiences, the stigma isn’t going anywhere. I understand  that there are social and professional boundaries in place, and even though they are based in stigma we can’t always call our boss and say, “I can’t come in today because my depression is making me feel like I need to cut myself so I’m going to see the psychiatrist.” Things just aren’t that open yet. But someone could go up to their boss and say, “The migraine medication I’m on is making me throw up so I can’t come in today,” and no one would bat an eye. What is the difference between these two statements? They are both medical conditions.

Why is there so much shame enveloping the mental health statement especially when there are so many of us suffering from similar symptoms. How many people are not seeking help at all because they are afraid they won’t be taken seriously? I was one of those people. I’ve been invalidated and not taken seriously. I’ve had to make up the stomach viruses, fevers, and severe illnesses that would explain my missed days at work because of severe depression. I might as well have had those viruses with as bad as I felt, but I didn’t feel like I could tell the truth. And I felt every ounce of the shame that came with it.

I propose that we start speaking up. Not in a way that will make us lose our jobs – sometimes you just have to play the game to survive in this world. But when we feel shame, I propose we push through and talk about depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, whatever issues we are dealing with. Talk about the feelings we feel because we have to live with an invisible illness, about how we often feel alone. Talk about the positives (yes, there can be some) and the negatives. Basically, talk louder than the shame. Louder than the stigma. That’s the only way to fight it and break it down.

We are enough in and of ourselves, and that means that no matter who makes us feel less than or who tries to invalidate our experiences no longer has the power to change who we are. We are strong. We are not alone.

And one day, if we work hard, we can be completely shameless.

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TW – Depression Can’t Be Fixed

*TW means Trigger Warning, meaning what I’m about to say has the potential to trigger someone’s past trauma, past painful experience, or something they are struggling with. If someone is “triggered,” they can feel that pain all over again and put them in a challenging emotional or mental position. I will not censor my experiences because I can’t account for all possible triggers. However, I respect the things that people have had to go through, and I can indicate that I am about to talk about suicide; you can choose whether to keep reading or not. Please take care of yourself first.

If you need help now, call or online chat with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline now.

We need to talk about suicide because it has taken too many people from us. I have lost friends to it, and it’s hard to miss the celebrities who died from suicide: Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, Amy Buell, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain. Ugh, just making this list gives me a heavy heart. But as difficult as it is to think about, I think the prevalence of mental illness in our lives is all the reason I need to talk about it. It seems like we don’t talk about suicide until it happens to someone we know. This is more than enough for us to take it seriously!

It is important to remember that depression can’t be fixed. Mental illness can’t be fixed. I love my friends deeply, and when one of them is hurting it makes me sad. It makes me want to do something, anything, to fix it. To take my friend’s pain away. Unfortunately depression doesn’t work like that. We have to consciously love the person over the disease.

My friend called me last night and said they wanted to end it all. I’ve been in that place before myself, but it didn’t make it any easier to know how much pain my friend was feeling. They told me how much I had meant to them over the years, and that they love me. This is a friend I “met” in an online support group more than 15 years ago, so we’ve never met in person. My friend told me, “I always wish we had met in person,” and the wording stabbed at my heart. Through many many tears I said,”We still can. I love you. Please don’t kill yourself tonight.”

…And that’s all I could do.

I wanted to drive to their house, knock the bottle of booze from their hand, and just hug them until they felt better, and I might have if they didn’t live a two day drive from me. (I love dramatically knocking things out of people’s hands, too.) Personally, I have attempted suicide three times in my life, which I will get into more later, but having been there myself does not make it easier to see others go through it. However, it does give me some perspective on what can help in these moments, and what my role is as a friend. The biggest two things that help me are honesty and humor. Don’t try to protect my feelings, and don’t let me take myself too seriously.

I resisted the urge to list all the things my friend had to live for because that would be assuming I know what they find meaningful. It’s easy to project our own experiences onto people in these situations, and I wanted very much not to do that. Instead, I was honest about my feelings and my selfishness.

I said, “I know this is selfish, but I don’t want to lose you. Not today. I mean one day, yeah when you’re being a real pain in the ass we’ll talk again, but not today.” They laughed, which made me feel relieved at that moment of time I bought for them. Humor can save a life. That’s what I tell myself when I’m unable to stop making “that’s what she said” jokes, when that fad ended like four years ago, but it’s true. Depression lies to us and tricks us into taking ourselves too seriously. It robs us of perspective and keeps us locked in a dark metaphorical room, isolated from people who love us. Eventually it can make us believe that we don’t matter.

I got to talk to my friend from their dark room last night. I am scared. I’m scared that they won’t answer my text this morning. I’m disappointed that I didn’t fix them – even when I know that’s not how it works. I’m heartbroken that I even have to entertain the thought that I might lose my friend. But I told them and showed them that I love them, and that is what I could do. I hope it helped, but I don’t know if it did. I may never know, but I did try.

I perhaps have a unique perspective, and am not suggesting this as a template for anyone else’s situation. If someone is talking about wanting to kill themselves and you are uncomfortable, which, let’s be honest, you should be, you do not have to deal with it alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (I put this number in my phone and have used it) and they will help you help the person you love. Then make sure to take care of yourself, getting help dealing with the feelings that come with being in this difficult situation. Depression lies and we tend to believe the lies before we can fight it. We can’t fix it, but we can fight it.

I don’t know if my friend will answer my call today or not. I sure hope they do. My stomach is knotted with the thought that they might not. But I’m glad they reached out to me last night, I’m glad I got to say I love you, and I had the personal boundaries and wisdom to know that I didn’t have to fix them. We can’t fix something that isn’t fixable, all we can do is love it, call it a pain in the ass, and laugh at it, making the time we have on this earth a little more bearable.

Continue reading TW – Depression Can’t Be Fixed

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Thank You for Reading

Hello and thank you for joining me on new blog #7,042 of my life. I feel none of the shame and embarrassment that I’m supposed to feel after this many failures because I keep getting back up and trying again. Just like living with mental illness, getting back up after you get knocked down is the name of the game. You get knocked down a lot, and if you don’t get back up you don’t live. Sometimes you don’t live metaphorically, and sometimes you don’t live literally, biologically. I’ve been on the metaphorical side more than once. And three times I was almost on the biological side.

But here I am. I talked to a writer friend (you know who you are) today who encouraged me to start writing again about my struggles with bipolar II disorder and anxiety and dissociation. I recently went to an inpatient psychiatric hospital for the fourth time in my life, and it is the only one that left me better than when I went in. I met some great people (you know who you are), trusted the staff, and got a lot out of the therapies offered there. I want to go into more detail about this hospital experience as well as how it relates to my past hospital experiences, which were horrific and traumatic.

“Why did I keep going back if the experiences were horrible?” I heard no one ask. Nonetheless, the answer is that all I know is getting back up after I get knocked down. I am strong. I have failed, but I have found the strength to get back up. This blog will be about mental illness. I don’t have patience for stigmas. I don’t have the energy to speak in polite language. I don’t try to sugar coat my experience. If I can write about mental illness without shame, I hope to help enlighten people who don’t know what it’s like (you know who you are), or to help that one person who is still trying to find the strength to speak up. Don’t give up! Hope is out here somewhere! It gets harder before it gets better, but you can do it!

Thank you for reading. I have a lot to say.