What the Starbucks Barista Didn't Know When She Wrote 'Smile' on My Coffee

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Dear barista,

coffee cup that says smile!! You didn’t know me and you didn’t know my story. Most importantly, you probably didn’t know writing the simple word “smile” on my order would change my day for the better. When you look at me, you might assume I’m happy, bubbly, outgoing and full of life. But you don’t really see the complete me. You wouldn’t know that behind this plastered smile is a girl who has broken and fallen to pieces. You wouldn’t know this girl had so much self-hate, she starved herself  for over half her young life. Or that she’s tried to end her own life five times. I’m guessing you didn’t know these past few weeks, and that day particularly, had been extremely hard. You were just going about your job, unaware that writing a minuscule word on my drink would change my day and possibly my life.

Maybe you wrote “smile” on my drink because you saw the feeding tube. Or maybe you could see past my fake smile because you’ve been where I am. Either way, I’m grateful. You didn’t have to make my order special. You could have treated me like another annoying customer. But you took that extra second to add some positivity to a life that’s been filled with so much negatively lately.

You see, my day consisted of a horrible doctor’s appointment and a horrible therapy session. I was filled with hopelessness, and my suicidal thoughts were getting worse. When my anorexia is bad sometimes coffee is the only thing I can drink. But I was afraid to consume even coffee that day. If I hadn’t encountered that cup, I could have done more damage to myself that night. When I read that word, I couldn’t help but smile, literally.

A simple act of kindness can mean the world to someone. It can provide hope for the hopeless. Now I plan to pass this hope along. So barista, thank you. Thank you for turning my day around.

author smiling in her car

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

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My Breakup Letter With Anorexia

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Dear Anorexia,

When I was 12 you had a lot of control over me, and you took that control at my weakest point. I couldn’t eat without crying and shaking. I couldn’t step on a scale or look in a mirror without breaking down. Calories and fat filled my mind, and gaining weight became my biggest fear.

Anorexia, you took away so much from me — my friends, my health, my happiness and my life. You were very subtle at first, but then you quickly took full control. You are like a demon sitting on my shoulder, constantly bringing me down. Using words, food, the scale, my family and even my own self.

You told me if I was skinny I would be perfect, but didn’t let me know it was an impossible mission. Standing on the scale I cried, standing in front of the mirror I cried. Sitting in front of food put me in complete panic mode. It was never perfection I could reach.

The strive for unreachable perfection took me to some dark places. It brought me a lot of fear, anxiety and sadness. For a long time, I didn’t have hope.

Three years later, at the age of 15, I decided it was time to change. I was tired of living this way. I tried my hardest just to eat and gain weight, but I couldn’t do it. The anxiety was too strong for me to deal with on my own, so I got help from a therapist and a nutritionist. They got me to where I needed to be to gain weight and be OK with it.

At the age of 16 I’m back to a healthy weight, and have been for a week now. And I’m happy. I’m working on becoming more confident and loving my body, but it’s still a work in progress. I still face you every day.

Recovery isn’t easy by any means. You can’t just eat to get better, you have to work through a lot of difficult things. You have to work through each one of your triggers, but do it slowly so it doesn’t make the trigger worse. You have to face foods that give you a lot of fear and anxiety, but you can only do it on really good recovery days. Yes, you have to eat and yes, you have to gain weight, but recovering from an eating disorder is so much more than that: It’s learning not to be afraid of food because you need it to nourish your body. It’s being OK with gaining weight because your body needs a little bit of fat. It’s not being afraid to eat a little cake every once in awhile. It’s learning to be OK with the number on the scale. It’s learning to love your body as it is, and it’s knowing there is life after an eating disorder. Not every day in recovery is perfect, and sometimes you’ll slip into your old ways. But recovery is always getting back up. It’s being strong and choosing recovery, even though it isn’t easy.

Recovery has taught me an important thing: My worst days of recovery are better than my best days of anorexia. 

So I chose to beat you, Anorexia, before you beat me. You don’t have control over me. It’s time for me to eat without fear, get on the scale without tears and look in the mirror without breaking down. I will stand a little taller and walk a little straighter, keeping my head held high. Anorexia, you and I are done.

Love,

Alli

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The Mighty is asking its readers the following: If you could write a letter to the disability or disease you (or a loved one) face, what would you say to it? 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. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Why We Need to Talk About Postpartum Depression

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It’s a rainy Monday morning and a very pregnant woman arrives with her husband at the hospital. Today is the day she will welcome their new child into the world. She can hardly contain her excitement, but she also can’t hide her obvious worries. Despite all the birthing and breastfeeding classes, as a first-time mother she still has lots of questions. No matter how many times she was reassured her motherly instincts would kick in once the baby arrived, she felt no indication of it. All she could think about was experiencing childbirth. From the time she announced her pregnancy, every mom she knew shared their birthing horror story. All these thoughts swirled in her head as she was led back to her birthing suite.

The staff began checking her vital signs, asking questions and preparing for the forthcoming arrival. She was encouraged to walk the halls to help speed up labor and decided to peek into the nursery where they would bring the baby shortly after the birth. As she approached the window she gasped at what she saw — snakes. There were snakes in the nursery slithering inches from newborn infants. “What’s going on here?” she cried.

“It’s OK,” a nursed comforted. “We’ve had a snake infestation for years and we’ve never been able to completely eliminate the pests.”

“Why wasn’t I told of this ahead of time?” asked the now crying mother.

“No one ever talks about it, so we’ve learned to ignore the problem. Besides, who wants to hear that in birthing class, right?” she chuckled.

The mother stood stunned in front of the nursery window. The air escaped from her mouth when her husband turned to her and said, “It should be fine, just go back to the room.”

“Yes,” the nurse agreed, “very rarely will one of the snakes actually bite the newborns.”

The mother, now completely dismayed, wandered back to her room. She couldn’t understand what was happening. She certainly couldn’t have been the only one to notice the invaders. The new mom now had a choice: remain quiet or speak up. If she spoke, she wondered who would believe her and worried she would sound crazy. What if this was all in her head? So she decided to take her chances with the snakes.

This story itself may sound crazy — no one would allow snakes to roam freely in a nursery— but there is a very real problem that no one is talking about: postpartum depression (PPD). And it’s just as sly as any snake, waiting to strike and squeeze the life out of what should be a beautiful moment in a woman’s life, the birth of a child. It can strike so quickly it even interrupts the bonding experience between a mother and child. Yet, many people are still tight-lipped about PPD and some women don’t feel like they can be open about it. These women often feel brushed off, just like the mother in this story, and end up deciding to take unnecessary chances with an invader rather than speak up. This is why the discussion about PPD needs to happen. Turning a blind eye to PPD can no longer be acceptable.

I struggled with depression after my first son was born and anxiety with the subsequent three. I was fortunate to have a supportive husband and a knowledgeable family physician who worked with me when the hospital and gynecologist failed. After his birth, I had experienced unexpected complications, and by the time I was released from my six-day hospital stay on a mere couple hours sleep, I felt like I was falling apart. I couldn’t fathom taking care of a child when I felt like I couldn’t even take care of myself. I felt worthless as a mother and the overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame were crushing. My husband felt very alone as I deteriorated before him. He had no idea what he could do to help. I was a shell of myself and I couldn’t make it better.

Thankfully, I had a common sense family physician who removed me from the counterproductive medication I was given at the hospital. The physician assured me my feelings were common and in time I would feel like myself again. It took me weeks before I began to feel better. Getting the proper help and listening to my body was a must. I had to realize it was OK to open up and ask for help, but it wasn’t easy. Like many mothers, I didn’t want to admit I needed help because it felt like if I wasn’t able to care for my child, it meant I didn’t love him.

Over the years, I’ve personally witnessed other women struggle with PPD in various degrees, most more severe than my personal experience. The biggest issue I saw was the judgment these women faced. Comments like, “Shake it off,” and “You just have to get on with life,” invalidated their struggle and made them afraid to reach out. PPD has nothing to do with how strong a woman is anymore than someone dealing with physical pain. If a woman broke her leg on a icy sidewalk, she would be encouraged to seek medical care. The same woman suffering deep emotional distress cannot be asked to brush off her emotional pain and steer free of a qualified professional.

Pregnancy and childbirth are wonderful and natural, but they can also come with a price. Women experience very real hormonal and physical changes — before, during and after pregnancy — and the effects are real. With so much recognition of all the amazing things a woman’s body can do, why is there still a stigma around the emotional changes that happen during any of her body’s natural processes?

Real change about PPD needs to happen long before a women ever gets pregnant. Healthy conversations about how hormones can affect mood and cause depression need to couple with discussions explaining the physical processes of womanhood. Young women need to know they are supported and loved even when they are struggling with the real emotional effects of hormone fluctuations. So if the time comes, they can be honest and talk about how they feel.

PPD and depression are real and treatable. Seek help and discuss depression with your daughters (and sons). Please be aware of some signs of PPD:

– Feelings of anger or irritability

– Lack of interest in the baby

– Appetite and sleep disturbance

-Crying and sadness

-Feelings of guilt, shame or hopelessness

There is hope, but we have to start talking about it. We have to discuss it often and we have to support each other. When we fail to acknowledge the mere existence of PPD and depression, we are all failing.

Follow this journey on CrossRoadTrippers.

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The Powerful Reason This Girl Got the Words 'I'm Fine' Tattooed on Her Thigh

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“Dear mom and dad,” Bekah Miles’ Facebook post begins. “Please don’t kill me over this permanent choice. I want you to hear me out.”

Her “permanent choice” is a tattoo on her thigh, but the 20-year-old’s decision had nothing to do with rebelling against her parents. Instead, she’s using it to start a conversation about mental health. From an observer, her tattoo reads, “I’m fine.” From Miles’ perspective, it says, “Save me.”

“To me, it means that others see this person that seems okay, but, in reality, is not okay at all,” the post reads. “It reminds me that people who may appear happy, may be at battle with themselves.”

When she posted a picture of her tattoo on Facebook with a heartfelt explanation, it went viral. Currently, it has over 280,000 shares.

In a follow-up post, Miles said she never expected the picture to go beyond her friends and family, and encouraged others to continue spreading the message.

“Please, please, please don’t stop the conversation,” she said. “It needs to keep going.”

Read the original, viral post below: 

(Dear mom and dad, please don’t kill me over this permanent choice. I want you to hear me out.)

Today, I am coming out with something that only few of you know. I am ready to have a conversation about my mental illness.

Last year, I was diagnosed with depression. And in all honesty, I believe it was a problem for quite a while before that, but I think it just got worse to the point of hardly functioning.

So today, I got this tattoo. I feel that my leg was the best place for the meaning behind it. When everyone else sees it, they see “I’m fine,” but from my viewpoint, it reads “save me.” To me, it means that others see this person that seems okay, but, in reality, is not okay at all. It reminds me that people who may appear happy, may be at battle with themselves.

To me, depression is the days that I feel sad for no reason.
Depression is the mornings that I don’t feel capable of getting out of bed.
Depression is the sleeping too much, or sleeping too little.
Depression is the homework that I never completed, simply because I didn’t feel like I was capable.
Depression is the break downs I have over absolutely nothing.
Depression is the eating too much, or eating too little.
Depression is the nights I begin to cry because I feel so overwhelmed, even though everything is going right.
Depression is the 50 pounds I carry in my chest at all times.
Depression is the need to constantly be distracted (being on social media, playing video games, watching movies or shows, or working all the time) because I can’t trust myself with my thoughts for longer than 3 minutes.
Depression is the friendships that have suffered because of my inability to function.
Depression is the hurtful thoughts and actions I have towards myself.
Depression is the tears I have because I don’t know why I feel so worthless, when I know I should feel happy.

This is one of the most difficult things to open up about because it’s extremely hard for me to feel vulnerable…but this needs to be talked about. Mental illness is serious, but so shamed in our society. We care so much for our physical health, but hardly a thing about our mental state. And that is seriously messed up. Mental illness is not a choice and will likely hit everyone at some point in their life. If it’s such a huge issue, why aren’t we having this conversation about it?

That’s why I got this tattoo; they are great conversation starters. This forces me to talk about my own struggle, and why the awareness of it is important. You’d be surprised by how many people YOU know that struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mental illness. I may only be one person, but one can save another…and that’s all I could really ask for.

Maybe this is part of why I am so interested in psychology. I want to help people who feel the way I have—and still do—because it’s hell. And I don’t wish that upon anyone.

“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”
—Robin Williams

**Also, THANK YOU to the ones who have helped me in this battle. I would not be where I am without you.**

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The Perfect Thing My Boyfriend Said After I Told Him About My Mental Illness

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Before my boyfriend Skyler and I started dating close to two years ago, I had one annoying, persistent and anxiety-ridden question racing through my mind:

How the hell do I casually mention I have a diagnosed mental illness?

Growing up, I felt like society had groomed me to keep my mental illness to myself and “sweep it under the rug” — as if mental illness had its own unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule. But the longer Skyler and I talked, the more I realized it was becoming important for him to understand the part of me I sometimes couldn’t comprehend myself. Thinking about how to explain it gave me anxiety, considering I couldn’t predict his reaction. I was terrified of the rejection and judgment some of us are all too familiar with.

In the past, I’ve had some interesting experiences when disclosing my disability. Some immediately categorized me as “fragile”; others didn’t grasp how much mental illness can impact your life. They didn’t realize when I say depression, I’m not talking about feeling down about a bad test grade. I’m talking about the emotional equivalent to watching paint dry.

I remember a specific instance when Skyler took me to Chipotle for a date after I’d mentioned I’d never been. I almost sent myself into an anxiety attack while standing in line, inadvertently questioning every little thing. How does a fast-casual restaurant work? What do I do? What if they ask me a question and I can’t hear them? What if I accidentally drop my money without realizing and don’t realize it’s gone until I get to the register? What if my card doesn’t go through?

I struggled trying explain these things to him without receiving a judgmental response, but I knew in order to produce a successful relationship, I needed to share that part of me with him.

Recently I heard an interesting analogy I felt described me perfectly: “[Some mentally ill] individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree-burn patients. They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin. Even the slightest touch or movement can create immense suffering.”

When I was finally ready to tell him everything, it’s like a lightbulb went off. He understood me so much better and was able to piece together things he had been confused about, like why I physically can’t get out of bed on random days, or how I overanalyze the smallest thing.

He responded exactly how I needed him to: “You’re not your mental illness, I still care for you just the same, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Realistically, if I kept my depression and anxiety to myself, it would’ve made our relationship more difficult for both of us. Relationships are built upon communication and honesty. For us, we have to do a little extra legwork, but together we’ve learned to adapt. In my opinion, the journey of self-discovery is never ending. I discover new things about myself every day, and having someone to share that with and someone who loves every anxious bone in my body is worth every bump in the road.

I realized opening up to Skyler challenged me to speak up for myself. When I can’t fight by myself, he’s been there every time. He stays in bed with me all day when I’m too depressed to move. He’s come over at 4 in the morning to hold me while I cry when I can’t comprehend why I feel the way I feel. We’ve discovered when I have an anxiety attack, giving me long, hard hugs almost “squeezes” the anxiety out of me. He’s shown me I’m worth loving and loves parts of me I had a hard time accepting about myself. It gives me hope.

In retrospect, reaching out to Skyler increased my ability to ask for help and disclose my mental illness — something I should’ve never been scared to do in the first place. My relationship is my safe space free from stigma, isolation and judgment, and for that I can never be thankful enough.

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Spend 5 Minutes in the Mind of Someone Who Has Schizophrenia

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For those who have never experienced mental illness, it can be hard to imagine being in the mind of someone who has. This is especially true for illnesses like schizophrenia, characterized by hallucinations, false beliefs and a lost sense of reality. But one campaign is encouraging others to get in the mind of someone with schizophrenia — if only for five minutes — to spread awareness and understanding of what it’s like to live with a severe mental illness.

Launched by Places for People, a center that provides services for those with mental illness in St. Louis, Missouri, the Hear Our Voices campaign provides an online simulation of auditory hallucinations, similar to what individuals living with schizophrenia experience. More than 50 percent of individuals Places for People serves are living with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, according to its website.

The audio, called Mindstorm, is based on real experiences of those with schizophrenia.

Places for People suggests those who want to participate listen to the audio while doing everyday tasks like cooking dinner or walking to class. Then, participants are encouraged to share their experiences online using the hashtag #HearOurVoices.

According to its website, the goal of the campaign is to “reduce stigma around severe and persistent mental illness, specifically schizophrenia,” and “increase public empathy for individuals living with schizophrenia while providing education around the illness and other severe and persistent mental illnesses.”

If you’re interested in participating, you can listen to the audio here. If you or your family have a history of  mental illnesses or vertigo, you are advised not to participate in the stimulation.

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