I Have OCD. This Is What It’s Like to Be in My Mind for 3 Minutes.


I’m weird, and I have OCD. It comes in many different forms. Perhaps the most famous is the ritual kind. You know, flicking light switches 10 times or your family will die… that sort of thing.

People fascinate me. Every brain is so beautiful and complex – each like its own galaxy. As a writer and director, I get to explore the brain galaxies of my characters and actors, and it’s the most thrilling thing in the world. As a fan of art, I get to delve into the brains of those who inspire me. That is everything.

I recently caught Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow on “The Late Late Show” chatting about their OCD tendencies. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel so alone. Even as I write this, I can feel the blood pulsing through my chest, pumping my heart, and I’m counting the beats. That’s how my OCD works.

The same thing that fuels those bizarre thoughts also fuels my art. I hate my OCD for distracting me from life, but I thank it for making me weird. I thank it for making Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow weird, because without the weird, we’d be without so many great films and shows.

I made this video to give people a little glimpse into my own galaxy. It’s weird and chaotic and beautiful, just like the actual galaxy that our funny little planets whip around in, dodge asteroids in, sustain and thrive in. My hope is that by watching it, others who have OCD won’t feel so alone, and they’ll learn to love their own beautiful galaxy that rests just above their shoulders.  

Unreleased song featured in the video – “Nothing Comes Easy” from Teddy Geiger.

Winner of the 2015 Audience Award in the Mental Health Channel Online Film Festival.

MHC online film festival award symbol




Why We Need to Learn the Right Way to Talk About Suicide


Writing about suicide isn’t easy. I’ve been trying for a while to write this post, but I never know where to start. Do I start with my own story? How I’ve lived in that pit of despair that causes someone to actually think that taking their life is a solution? Or do I open with the staggering suicide statistics? Like, every 40 seconds someone takes their own life?

Neither options allowed me to find the right voice to speak about something as evasive as suicide. But then, last Wednesday, I received a text message that finally gave me the voice to talk about it. And that voice is mighty pissed off.

It was 8:30 p.m., my husband and I were lounging on the sofa, catching up with our DVR, when my cellphone dinged. We have a rule that we try not to use our phones after a certain hour, unless we’re expecting news. If it had been one text, I would have ignored it. But it was the urgency of multiple incoming texts that made me break our rule.

It was my best friend. She had just found out that an acquaintance of hers had died by suicide (I didn’t know the person). She didn’t know her that well; they’d only performed together once. Her friend, who had known the woman more intimately, had told her the news, and he was devastated. My friend was in the middle of a rehearsal and couldn’t really talk, but she needed to tell someone who would understand, who could offer advice on how to console her friend.

Despite being the bastion of mental health knowledge that I am, I was at a loss and caught completely off guard. There’s no real way to prepare for the news of a suicide. Other than being there for them, listening to them and giving them a hug if they want it, there’s no real way to console a friend or family member who is dealing with this type of loss.

The absurd thing about this situation is that in the past two months, this is the third suicide victim I’ve heard of (and I’m not counting the multiple suicides covered by the media, like Leelah Alcorn). I haven’t personally known any of the victims. It’s always a friend of a friend, but the news always hits me like a punch in the stomach, knocking the wind out of me before I’m brought to tears. (I cry for the death of strangers because I feel a fellowship with people who have mental health issues and because I know that black hole of sadness all too well.)

Except Wednesday night, something was different. Maybe it was because it was my best friend who was distraught over this sudden news or maybe it was because this was the third person, but I was f*cking angry.

I was pissed off that someone was struggling so badly that they felt the need to take their life. I was pissed they were so desperate that death seemed like a better alternative than living. I was pissed that they were clearly not getting the help they needed or deserved. I was pissed that people would say how they never saw it coming. I was f*cking pissed off because suicide shouldn’t happen, but it seemed to keep happening over and over again.

Despite all the advances we’ve made in mental health awareness, suicide is still an issue shrouded in silence and secrecy. Suicide is treated like a contagious disease, as if you can catch it just by speaking its name. What if “suicide contagion” happens not because of the act itself, but because no one wants to talk about it? No one wants to talk about the fact that maybe they’ve thought about killing themselves before because it’s embarrassing and morbid. Or maybe they had a relative who died by suicide, who no one talks about anymore. Or maybe suicide just makes them feel terribly sad, even if they didn’t know the person.

There’s no easy way of talking about suicide because it’s hard to explain why someone would think killing themselves is a viable solution to their problems. As someone who has seriously thought about numerous ways to die, suicide is still hard to articulate. It’s a complex and confusing issue because it goes against one of our most basic instincts: self-preservation.

The thing is, suicide is never about wanting to die; it’s about wanting the pain to end. It’s about wanting to disappear. It’s about wanting whatever it is you’re struggling with to be over. If you’ve never battled with depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, an eating disorder or any other form of mental illness, it’s hard to understand the enduring and seemingly never ending psychic pain. It’s a pain that follows you like a shadow in your waking hours and haunts your dreams as you sleep. There is no escaping it.

Suicide is hard to talk about because of the pervading myths that surround suicide. I’m sure a researcher somewhere has done a fancy study with numbers, but I’ve been in enough social situations to know how ignorant people can be about mental health and suicide.

I was at a party this past summer when the subject of suicide, self-harm and mental health came up. I don’t know how or when the conversation started, but it was sudden and swift, and I braced myself for impact.

“They say it’s a cry for help.”

“They do it for attention.”

“Well they say you can tell a cutter from someone who really wants to die by the direction of the cuts.”

“How much of a loser do you have to be to f*ck up your own suicide?” 

“I get why people jump in front of a metro – but everyone knows taking a bottle of Advil will only make you sick.”

These comments were tossed out over wine and cheese, in front of near perfect strangers. This is the stupidity and callousness with which suicide is discussed. It was complete thoughtlessness and ignorance that dominated the conversation.

Let me demystify a few things about cutting and suicide – the two are not intrinsically linked. Just because you cut, doesn’t mean you want to end your life. Attempting suicide or self-harm are not cries for help and aren’t attention seeking behaviors. People who do these things are sick, just like someone who has cancer or diabetes, and they simply don’t know how to cope with their feelings or the world they’re living in. (The Canadian Mental Health Association has broken down more myths about suicide).

This is what I wished I had said at this party. But after bearing the weight of these words in silence, I made a quick exit in tears.

So it’s not that we shouldn’t talk about suicide because we’re afraid it’ll be contagious, but we need to know how to talk about it. We need to be sensitive to our audience. We need to be considerate of other people’s experiences. We need to be kind and understanding.

Suicide isn’t an easy subject to broach and defies all logic, but we need to talk about it or else all of these deaths will have been in vain.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

This post originally appeared on Mad Girl’s Lament.

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Why We Need to View Mental Illness the Way We View a Broken Arm


Our daughter was finally breathing rhythmically, asleep beside me as we lay on the floor of the emergency ward. Several layers of hospital blanket did little to soften the concrete. Vanessa had finally found a merciful exhaustion, after hours of struggling with the panic attacks that had brought her here.

It was Vanessa’s worst episode and her first hospitalization since she was diagnosed three years ago with mental illness — depression, anxiety and mood disorders.

We’d been assigned to the “Psych Interview Room,” possibly the only relatively quiet place in the busy, perennially overcrowded emergency ward at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, British Columbia. The space was perhaps two closets in size, with chairs but no bed, so the floor was the only option for Vanessa to find rest.

My phone was buzzing — another supposedly urgent email or text about an election campaign that seemed so distant. My voicemail full, soon my phone too would sleep, battery exhausted. It was Oct. 21, less than four weeks from the Nov. 15 election day, yet the race was not on our minds this hour.

With Vanessa asleep, my mind wandered to the times my wife and I had brought her to this emergency ward over her 23 years — the worst was a broken arm from falling off her bike. I contemplated how less-stressful a broken arm is — the X-ray shows everything, treatment is routine and predictable, the prognosis not mired with uncertainty. We laughed with her as we signed her cast. This hospital visit was nothing like that.

Every hour or so, another doctor or nurse would come in to ask new questions, as they tried to determine how Vanessa’s three-year-old diagnosis had culminated in so severe an attack. Before dawn, they sent Vanessa home, as the anxiety crisis had passed. But within hours, we were back, Vanessa’s symptoms even worse. This time, they would admit her to hospital. For the first time (sadly, not the last), Vanessa was “committed” under the Mental Health Act — her stay was now involuntary, though she wasn’t fighting it.

Three years earlier, Vanessa had joined the 1 in 5 Canadians who will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives.

Following her 2011 diagnosis, Vanessa had responded to treatment. Stabilized, she’d completed some courses at Douglas College (she was now studying psychology) and had begun to work at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) with troubled teens facing some of the same challenges she’d faced. We had seen her bright smile return. Of course, everyone knows that a diagnosis of mental illness is not something to talk about. It’s something to keep secret, perhaps particularly if your family is in public life.

Eighteen months after her diagnosis, June 2013, Vanessa felt well enough to join her mother and me at Ride Don’t Hide, a CMHA bicycle ride for mental health. A reporter recognized me after the ride and asked about the event. As I was answering, Vanessa stepped out from behind me to speak.

“He’s not telling you everything. He’s here… because of me.”

Thus began the journey. Vanessa had concluded that the only way to end the stigma of mental illness was to talk about it. She hadn’t discussed her decision with her parents, but looking back, we realize that her decision was a turning point in her recovery. Her friends could now understand what she’d been going through. She could talk about it.

And talk about it she did. She blogged, she did interviews, she spoke out about mental illness as though it were just another type of illness (which, of course, it is). She argued that the biggest barrier to effective treatment for those with mental illness was the stigma.

Ride dont hide 2014 Vanessa Richard Anna Rosa mother

A year later, my wife, Anna Rosa, and I attended Ride Don’t Hide 2014 with her, and she was all smiles. But in the months that followed, the crippling depression came back, and by October, she was struggling anew; by month-end she would be in Sherbrooke Centre, RCH’s psychiatric ward.

November — the last two weeks of the election race — and our family was struggling under enormous and crippling stress that had nothing to do with politics. We learned how hard mental illness can be on any family; I still can’t imagine what this struggle would be like for a patient alone, without family support.

We were learning a new set of acronyms for a spectrum of illnesses and a range of treatment options. We would learn the Sherbrooke Centre rules for “earning” privileges on the ward, like wearing one’s own clothes (instead of hospital pajamas) or getting access to one’s phone. As she stabilized more, Vanessa was granted short leaves to step out onto the streets for sushi with visiting friends.

And we would learn the contrasts — some of the other patients on the ward told us about how some families respond to mental illness, how secrets must be kept. Since her friends knew about her illness, Vanessa was getting visitors; other patients were alone. We would come to lament the way society views this disease.

After three weeks in hospital, Vanessa returned home. Though she suffered some setbacks in the stressful Christmas season, they were not as severe as before, and life settled down for a relatively quiet Christmas break.

Through all this, because of Vanessa’s blogs and interviews about mental illness, we received countless emails, letters and notes, from people we know and from complete strangers. People who describe the struggles a loved one — daughter, son, spouse, parent — has gone through, typically in silence. People who admitted that they themselves have a mental illness they’ve kept hidden for years because of the stigma. Reporters, CEOs, professionals, single moms. Hundreds of people who expressed their thanks to our daughter for speaking up about the stigma, for tackling it head-on.

We want to express our own thanks. Thanks to all who understood. My apologies for the hundreds of emails and congratulatory notes and best wishes to which I/we haven’t been able to respond. They lifted us from unimaginable depths, the most stressful time in the life of our family. Thank you. And thanks especially to Vanessa and her siblings.

I pray that society will one day eliminate the stigma of mental illness, so those who suffer won’t do so alone, so those who need treatment will get it, so employers will understand and accommodate, so families and friends and loved ones will know how to support someone who is simply ill.

A person shouldn’t suffer alone, in silence, for fear of being ostracized. We don’t ostracize someone with a broken arm; we sign her cast.

This column first appeared in the Tri-Cities NOW.

vanessa and Dad

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Wayne Brady Sets Out to End Stigma Surrounding Men and Mental Illness


Wayne Brady is speaking out about a personal subject to battle the stigma that surrounds men with mental illness.

Last November, the comedian spoke out about his ongoing depression. Now, he’s joined a campaign, launched in part by the organization Bring Change 2 Mind, called #StrongerThanStigma.

The rate of suicide among men has been three to four times that of women over the past 30 years, according to the campaign’s website. Men are just as vulnerable to mental health problems as women, but traditionally they’re more reluctant to seek help for fear of appearing weak. That’s why #StrongerThanStigma aims to raise awareness and encourage an increase in dialogue about the subject.

I really wish I would have spoken out earlier,” Brady says in the video below. “There is nothing like being able to shine a light on those secrets.”

Listen to Brady discuss depression and the stigma surrounding mental illness in the video below: 

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Dear Stranger Who Bought My Child a Doughnut


Dear stranger who bought my child a doughnut,

Even though it was several years ago, I can still remember you.

We were stuck in an airport due to bad weather. My children were restless. I was on my own with them, and after a hectic weekend full of visiting numerous relatives, we were all ready to be home.

And then it happened. Despite all his best efforts, my son began to experience a significant challenge. On the surface it would appear like a child having a temper tantrum. I can assure you it was much more than that. I sprung into survival mode – desperately trying to help him manage and cope. It’s not easy in those moments. Because other eyes are upon you and you wonder about the thoughts behind their stares. I knew what I had to do. My approach was different than other parents’ may be, but I knew this would work best. We spent a great deal of time getting to a calm state, and when we finally arrived, he asked for a doughnut from Tim Hortons.

The three of us walked over to the coffee kiosk, and I ordered the doughnuts. Sitting down on a bench, I felt exhausted but glad we had averted something much bigger. Until I heard “This isn’t the one I asked for.” And I knew the risk of escalation was now upon us once again. Looking up, I saw the line had grown to more than 20 people.

I gathered up the courage to approach you. You were near the front of the line. I asked if I could give you some money to buy the doughnut. You offered for me to go ahead of you in line – I declined and simply asked if you could purchase the doughnut and bring it over to us. And you did. And I could have cried. Because you did so without any looks of judgment.

I remember saying to you, “I can’t thank you enough. What things appear like on the surface aren’t always exactly what’s going on, and you have no idea how much you’ve helped us today.”

It would have been easy for you to look at me like I was the mother giving in to her misbehaved child. You could have refused to purchase the doughnut and told me to go to the end of the line. You could have allowed that look to come across your eyes that told me you disagreed. But you didn’t. And because you didn’t, you threw us a life preserver that assisted us to make it through the rest of our day.

Not long ago, I was in an airport again, waiting for my flight. There was a mom standing in line at the Tim Hortons, and her children were running around playing. Mom was calling quite loudly for the kids to come stand beside her, to no avail. Two ladies sitting behind me began to comment and said, “Well guess what she’s in for if she can’t even get her kids to listen to her now. Guess what will happen when they are teenagers.”

And I thought of you. It might have seemed like such a small thing to do for a family. But it wasn’t — it was such a big help.

I silently thanked you again, grateful it was you who was in the airport that day.

Follow this journey on Champions for Community Mental Wellness.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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Author’s Gripping Account of Her Son’s Condition Challenges How We View Mental Illness


Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 10.59.47 AM Randi Davenport is a writer based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and her story is one that parents of children with mental illness may recognize. Her son, Chase, diagnosed with autism, began showing signs of a serious mental illness by the time he reached age 14. He suffered horrifying hallucinations, became violent toward himself and even stopped recognizing his own family members. As Davenport sought treatment for Chase, doctors and specialists repeatedly told her they’d never seen anyone like him and didn’t know how to treat him. It became apparent that no one could help him.

Written with courage and unwavering love, Davenport’s memoir, The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes, tells the story of her family’s experience with mental illness and developmental disability. It gives voice to families who have endured similar struggles and had nowhere to turn. The Mighty had the chance to talk with Davenport about her writing process, what she learned about the mental health care system in the U.S., what she feels must be done to fix it and how everyone can help reduce the stigma our society has against mental illness.

Can you describe the moment when you first knew you had to write this book?

I never set out to write a book about my son’s illness. But in 2003, I was aware of a heated conversation about mental health reform in North Carolina, including everything from substance abuse, instability and mental illness. Policy makers were making their opinions known in the press about what had to be done, and I noticed there were no parents [of people with mental illnesses] making their voices heard. I decided to write a column for the local newspaper, and I’d written 100 pages when I realized this was more than a newspaper column. I still didn’t call it a book; that was too overwhelming. I don’t think I could have done it that way. I called it a project. I was doing it to offer something to the larger public, and I wanted parents’ voices to be heard. But when I’d written 600 pages, that’s when I realized I was writing a book and began to shape the pages into a manuscript.

How old was your son when he began showing signs of a psychiatric illness, and how did you initially go about getting a diagnosis for him? 

Chase began showing signs of psychosis at age 5 or 6. I took him to a child psychiatrist at a large teaching hospital in the midwest, and the doctor told me he thought Chase had atypical autism. When Chase went to hospital again at age 14, after showing more serious signs of mental illness, I asked that same doctor again what he thought it could be, and he told me he always thought Chase had childhood schizophrenia but didn’t want to say so at the time because it’s such a scary diagnosis. Chase does not have schizophrenia, but the psychiatrist should have been straight up with me from the beginning.

For much of the book, specialists were unable to diagnose the more serious psychiatric disorder that emerged when Chase was a teenager. How did this affect his treatment plans?

Chase is 27 now, and we still do not have a diagnosis. I was tasked with finding a place for him because everyone said he would need 24-hour care for the rest of his life. No doctor had ever met anyone like Chase, who had multiple symptoms that don’t lead to clear diagnosis. He hadn’t responded to anti-psychotics but insurance rules dictated that he couldn’t stay in the hospital indefinitely — nor was this the best place for him. Because he had competing diagnoses, residential facilities focused on one or another of the different treatment modalities (developmental disability, mental illness, substance abuse) couldn’t or wouldn’t take him

You and your family had to clear quite a few hurdles to find adequate treatment for Chase. Throughout that process, what did you learn about the mental health care system in the U.S. and in North Carolina specifically?

We lived in New York when Chase was little, and there was nowhere to turn to specifically to get him help. When we lived in the midwest, there wasn’t much there, either — we had the opportunity to have him removed from my house for a weekend, as a way to give us a break for a couple days, which seemed more like a punishment to me than a treatment plan. When Chase required intensive help, I quickly learned what was and wasn’t out there. Mostly, there wasn’t much. And things have only gotten worse since then. Funding for mental health has been slashed in this state, as it has been across the country. Hospitals have closed. There’s very little in the way of community housing for people with mental illnesses and many rural NC counties no longer have a psychiatrist in them. If you live in a rural county in North Carolina and have a mental health problem, you’re going to have a hard time getting help. Even families in the comparatively better-off part of the state where I live struggle to find the services they need. And just as my challenge was once finding long-term residential care for Chase, now that’s he’s done so well and needs to move to the community, I’m battling to find housing and services for him once again.

How much do these shortcomings you’ve described in the mental health care system have to do with the stigma our society has against mental illness?

Despite the fact that many families in this country are going to deal with serious mental illness at some point, the stigma attached to mental illness remains. As a culture, we still tend to view the mentally ill as suffering more from a moral failing or a character flaw than from a disease of the brain. I’ve even met parents who are very angry with their family member for getting sick and wish they would just snap out of it. And just think of the proliferation of horror films featuring a mentally ill villain–in these, mental illness becomes closely associated with extreme violence and the paranormal. Such representations enforce the idea that mental illness belongs to the evil.

How were you eventually able to find adequate treatment for Chase?

He now lives in the BART (Behaviorally Advanced Residential Treatment) unit at the Murdoch Center [in Butner, North Carolina]. It serves young men with dual psychiatric and developmental diagnoses with extreme behavioral problems. Most residents have a long history of failed placements and a history violence or crime, so Chase is different from most of the people who live there. But it’s worked well for him.

Can you describe a moment when you knew your book was helping others?

Oh, there have been so many. It was a very isolating period, when I was raising Chase. I began to connect with other people going through something similar experiences when I did readings in bookstores and on the radio. For people who do get it, it’s emotionally resonant. During a radio reading in Minnesota, a woman actually pulled over to the side of the road to call in and say, “You’re describing my son, you’re describing my life, you’re describing everything we’ve been through.” I still get emails every once in awhile from people who have had that “Oh my God, you’re telling my story” moment. I still get messages on the book’s Facebook page. There’s a lot of powerful sentiment.

How have your lives changed since your book was published in 2010?

If I were writing the book now, the ending would be: Chase is currently living without a trace of psychosis, he is holding down sheltered employment, he is working on his GED and he is ready to move from the institution where he’s lived for the past 11 years.

I published my second book last year, The End of Always, a novel that draws from a historical record of a mystery surrounding my great-grandmother’s life. One of the novel’s characters is similar to Chase, and I paint him in a much more positive light than how people with mental illnesses are typically portrayed.

How do we de-stigmatize mental illness?

I wish that every single person who encounters someone with mental illness would take a few minutes to get to know that person. They would then understand that that person is first and foremost, a person.

What advice do you have for families going through similar experiences to yours?

Don’t lose hope; you’re stronger than you think you are.

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