What This One-Word Tattoo Means to the Mental Health Community


A warrior is an individual with incredible strength who is extraordinarily brave. These individuals fight strenuous battles and endure terrible pain. Even though a warrior is strong and brave, sometimes the battles and pain they endure cause them to fall, but only for a brief moment. Warriors may fall, but they get back up and keep fighting.

We are warriors. We have insurmountable strength and are exceptionally brave. We fight a difficult battle every day, and endure pain of the mind, body and spirit. We are strong. We are brave, but sometimes the battles we fight and the pain we feel causes us to fall but only temporarily. Because we are warriors, we get back up and keep fighting.

Mental illness is our battle. We fight every day to get out of bed, take care of our bodies and protect our minds from the torpedo of emotion brought on by our mental illness. We fight for control over our lives when our mental illness tries to take that control away from us.

The battle is exhausting, and can leave us feeling weak and tired. Sometimes, the battle seems too grueling, too much for us to handle. It’s those times we warriors fall slightly and contemplate what it would mean to not have to fight anymore.

Many mental health warriors have lost their battle, and many of us sometimes wish we would. Sometimes, we just want to find an end to our suffering. Sometimes, we are too tired to be strong, too broken to be brave. We let our thoughts of giving up consume our strong and capable minds until those thoughts become a battle themselves. Then, we have to fight to stay alive. As we fight for our lives, we look to one little symbol, one small weapon, to give us hope and restore our strength.

The semicolon is our symbol of strength and hope. It is our small weapon against suicidal thoughts and ideation. The semicolon is used when an author chooses not to end a sentence. In our case, the sentence is our life, and we are the writers. We look to the semicolon to remind us we can’t end our sentence and to gain hope and inspiration through its meaning. The semicolon means keep going, don’t give up and don’t stop writing.

Tattoo that reads "warrior" My cousin’s first tattoo was the word “warrior” with the “i” replaced with a semicolon. This powerful tattoo embodies everything we are, and everything we do to fight our battle against mental illness. The word “warrior” tells us who we are and the semicolon is a simple reminder that we can’t give up or put a period at the end. It’s a reminder to keep fighting our daily battle, no matter how difficult it is or how exhausted we are. This tattoo is our symbol of strength and hope and defines us completely.

It is just one word with one tiny symbol replacing a letter. But it is inked deep into my cousin’s skin to send a message to herself and to everyone who struggles with mental illness: You are a warrior. You must not give up.

The power this tattoo holds is incredible. It means so much to those of us who struggle and defines who we are in three syllables. It encases our strength and our bravery and tells us to keep fighting our battle against mental illness. It reminds us we are warriors. We are strong individuals with extraordinary bravery, who fight a battle every day, and we win.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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Man stays peaceful in a stressful office

10 Tips for Surviving (and Thriving) With a Mental Illness in the Workplace


Navigating the workplace with a mental illness is a tough gig. As an engineer with bipolar disorder. I know how difficult it can be to make it to work every day, let alone to succeed in the workplace. It’s important to look after yourself (and to manage your illness) to survive in the workplace.

Here are some tips that have helped me:

1. Eat well.

This might seem obvious, but making sure you eat a balanced diet is really important for both your physical and mental well-being. I know when I’m having a stressful day, it’s tempting to reach for that extra coffee and a donut, but riding the sugar or caffeine high only leads to an inevitable crash in mood. If you’re anything like me and get “hangry” if you don’t eat enough, then make sure you do. You will work more efficiently if you’re in a good mood.

2. Don’t burn the candle at both ends.

At times, we all need to work long hours in order to get the job done. I used to be on call after hours and often got woken up in the night to respond to work issues, which meant I had to go to work the following day after having little to no sleep. Some people can manage well on reduced sleep, but I am not one of them.

I’ve learned over the years to know what my limits are and to take time out to rest when needed. Go to bed early if you need to or talk to your boss if you need a day off to rest up. Just make sure you get the rest you need.

3. Build up your self-confidence, and then protect it fiercely.

It can be hard to build self-confidence in yourself and your ability at work when you’ve got a mental illness. I struggle sometimes believing in my ability. In the past, I’ve seen my illness as a disadvantage or a reason to justify why I’m not good enough at my job. Here’s the thing, when you’re trying to succeed in your career, there will be people who bring you down. There will be setbacks (both professionally and personally) that can crush your self-confidence if you’re not careful.

Confidence in yourself is a powerful tool, which will help you get back up when you fall down. So take the time to build it up and then protect it. Don’t let anyone (or any setback) take it away from you. Protect it fiercely.

4. Find your person.

We all need a friend to chat with at work if we’re having a rough day, and with a mental illness, it’s even more important. Find someone at work who you can talk to if you’re struggling. It helps if this person is someone you work closely with so they can help you with any work related issues.

I’ve been lucky to have had some amazing people in my life who have supported me at work when I’ve been having tough times, including some of my managers. I know not everyone has a manager who they can confide in. However, if you do, it can make your work life so much easier, especially if you need time off or some extra flexibility.

5. Break up the day.

Taking breaks are a great way to clear your mind and to refresh your energy. I work in an office all day. So I like to take a short walk at lunchtime or to sit in a nearby park and eat my lunch while soaking up some vitamin D.

It’s easy when you’re busy to skip a break to get more work done (or so you can leave work a little earlier), but it’s a good way to manage your stress levels. If you’re like me and find it hard to take a break sometimes, then set a reminder in your calendar or schedule a meeting with yourself. Block out the time so everyone knows you’re not available.

6. Leave work at work.

This one is a tough one and something I’ve had to work on a lot over the years. I often used to take my work home directly and indirectly by ruminating over work even though I wasn’t there. I eventually realized I spend enough time at work thinking about work and worrying does not help at all.

If you struggle with this, then scheduling activities you enjoy doing for after work can be a good way to take your mind off it. I also try to not talk about work too much with my partner or friends. I try to focus on the things outside of my work life when I’m no longer at work.

7. Be careful who you trust.

It would be nice to believe all people are supportive and understanding about mental illnesses, but unfortunately, they’re not. Although most people have been supportive when I’ve shared information about my illness with them, there have been others who have used it against me.

While I am not in any way ashamed about my illness, I recognize there is still a stigma and misunderstanding surrounding the issue. Because of this, I try to be careful with who I entrust knowledge of my illness with in the workplace. The rule I use to determine if I share information or not is to ask myself, “Does it help me if I tell this person about it?” If not, then I keep it to myself.

8. Let people know what helps.

When you do tell people about your illness, it can be helpful to let them know what they can do to support you. I’ve found a lot of people I tell about my illness want to help but don’t know how. Letting people know what they can do to help is a great (and proactive) way to ensure you get the support you need and so others feel good knowing that they are helping. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as letting them know if you prefer to be given space when you’re not doing so well or that you like people to rally around you for support.

9. Exercise.

Getting regular exercise is a great way to improve your mood, reduce your stress levels and keep you physically healthy. You don’t need to run a 10k or take up CrossFit to see the benefits. Find the type of exercise that works best for you. (You might need to try a few things to see what you like.)

I like to take a yoga class and I cycle to work a couple of days a week. If I’m having a stressful time at work, I try to schedule in some extra time for exercise. It really does help keep my stress levels at a manageable level.

10. Never, ever give up.

It can be easy sometimes to want to give up. Life is hard. Work is hard. Having a mental illness is hard. You can succeed at life and in your career, if you just keep at it. Keep showing up. Keep working hard. Keep being the amazing person that you are.

Illustration of red haired woman with headphones on

Please Don't Say You're 'Dealing' With Me — Say This Instead


This is a message for anyone who has interacted with someone with a mental illness — so every single one of you. Here are some things I wish everyone knew about the way we talk about mental illnesses and those who have them. You may know someone without knowing their story, so regardless of who you’re talking to, please keep these things in mind.

The language we use when talking about mental illness can sometimes be harmful without us realizing it. For example, it upsets me is when people say they have to deal with me. The problem with “deal with” is that it makes being helped sound like some kind of burden. To me, it implies an almost instant sense of negativity. It absolutely irks me.

Feeling like a burden is a big problem for me personally, as well as many people I know who have a mental illness. It is always accompanied by a huge amount of guilt. When the words “deal with” are used, it can suggest we are “burdening” you, which is something we might have already feared.

So what words can we use instead?

One saying I like to use is “working with.” As soon as you say it, it sounds like you are now a team, united for a similar outcome. Both parties are willing to put work in and work toward a goal. The person who needs you is no longer standing alone — he or she has an ally. Having someone by your side can make everything seem easier since you are no longer doing it alone.

For example, you could say, “I am working with Sara to help with her depression” as opposed to “I have been dealing with Sara and her depression.”

Replacing the word “dealing” with the word “helping” is also good. Everyone needs help sometimes, and using a word we use every day, in all kinds of situations, can help remove some of the stigma of mental illness.

All of this is just a reminder to please choose your words wisely and keep in mind you never really know who might be in pain. If you are unsure of what may or may not be acceptable ways to approach or talk about mental health, asking someone what they feel comfortable with is always a good plan. Everyone interprets things differently and may or may not be hurt by some of the things I am.

Just keep in mind that the power of positivity can be immense, and the kinder words you use to speak with others, the kinder they may speak to themselves.

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couple hugging in hospital hallway

3 Things I Need While My Loved One Is at a Psychiatric Hospital


My husband has been hospitalized for symptoms related to his mental illness three times in the past year. Each time, I’ve fallen further into my own anxiety about how I was going to handle it all while he was away. To say I’m tired is an understatement. Managing work, kids and my husband’s care feel like a I’m juggling hot potatoes. There are several things family and friends can do to make these times of transition a bit more manageable for those whose loved ones are in crisis.

1. Be there.

Living with a loved one who has a significant mental health issue is not easy. It is very isolating, lonely and unpredictable. Offer your assistance with meals, childcare assistance and other types of care. In the past year, we’ve suffered a house fire, an unexpected move, three hospitalizations and a job change. Knowing that others are there for you in prayer and friendship is vital to getting through tough times. Just be there.

2. Offer your encouragement.

Due to the stigma surrounding mental illness, it can be very discouraging when others try to minimize your loved one’s experiences. Try offering encouragement, faith, prayer and support during times of challenge. Sometimes you may need too listen without offering advice. Allow your friend or family member to vent, cry or scream if they need to.

3. Listen without judgement.

It has been difficult for me to face I have to share our situation with my family and friends. There are times when we’ve missed important events, times when I’ve had to ask for favors I ordinarily wouldn’t ask for and times when I’ve simply needed to be shown grace by those around me because my anxiety and stress were through the roof. Having friends listen without judgement has been irreplaceable. I can not emphasis this point enough, without judgement.

I love my husband. I hope this latest hospitalization will allow him to regain control over his depression and he will develop a solid outpatient care program, which will allow him to have a better grasp on his healthcare needs. Until then, all I can do is pray things get better and take each day as it comes.

Close up of a woman's feet hanging over a hospital bed in her hospital gown and socks.

My Emergency Room Experience Was Different When I Was a Psychiatric Patient


My parents like to joke I got all of the bad genes from both sides of the family. From my dad’s side, I got my allergies, my asthma and my propensity to be a little on the heavier side. My mother’s side gave me bad teeth, weak bones and mental health problems. I have been through a lot more medically than most people my age, but in general, I like to count myself among the healthy. I am fortunate enough to have a college degree (with another one in the pipeline), a full-time job and a number of hobbies I can’t always engage in, but are still possible.

Through the years, I’ve been to my local emergency department more times than I’d care to count. My primary care office can identify me by my voice, people at my pharmacy know who I am and I’ve even gotten sidebar advertisements for AARP, probably because of all the medical information I research.

The other day, midway through a shift at work, I careened into my supervisor’s office and told her I thought I needed to leave early. I couldn’t breathe and my inhaler wasn’t helping. In the midst of an asthma attack, she took the signs seriously and whisked me to the emergency department. Two nurses promptly wheeled me into a room, and I was seen by a doctor within minutes. Medications were administered, an IV was started and consults were placed for a number of different doctors.

People from work visited me in my room, while I was waiting to be admitted to the floor. The doctor and my nurse checked on me frequently and a patient advocate volunteer stopped in my room several times to see if there was anything I needed. When I went to the floor, staff were just as attentive. My parents were allowed to come and see me immediately and they brought me my laptop, clean and comfortable clothes, and a few other things I asked for. I had a TV, a call bell to summon a nurse whenever I needed. I even had my cellphone and could text all my friends. Again, I had a private room.

Nurses and aides checked on me frequently. I saw two different doctors who went over my plan of care in detail and answered all of my questions. My meal requests were filled without question or complaint, and food and drink were always available to me. I had a thermostat in my room. As far as hospital stays, I was very comfortable and well taken care of.

I still closed my door around 9 p.m. and cried my eyes out, just as I had done when the hospitalist in the emergency department told me I was being admitted under observation.

Why was I crying? All I could think about was my previous hospital admission. Five miserable days I’d spent as an inpatient during my senior year of college. That time, it hadn’t been because of an asthma attack. During my weekly therapy appointment my counselor had gently suggested I consider going to the hospital. She was worried about me. As much as she made it sound like it was my choice, I knew it was less a suggestion and more an order. If I had said no, then I’m sure she would have sent me anyway and had me under a 72-hour involuntary hold. And rightfully so. I was suicidal. I had a plan.

I went to the hospital this time via ambulance. First though, campus police had to search me and my belongings for any weapons. I was taken to the very same hospital, but instead of a room, I was given a bed in the middle of the hallway. Someone instructed me to change out of my clothes and into some blue paper scrubs, clearly identifying the reason I was there. My belongings were taken and locked up. I sat for hours before being seen by a physician. It was several more hours until I was seen by one of the on-call psychiatrists and finally admitted.

This time, no one checked on me. No nurses stopped by. No patient advocate volunteer was assigned to me because it’s hospital policy that volunteers don’t need to interact with mental health patients. I was there for more than eight hours in my hallway bed, and no one offered me food or drink.

When I was finally transferred to the psychiatric unit, I still wasn’t allowed to have my things. I was given a brief overview of the unit and then shown to my room. I had a roommate, someone 30 years older than me, who I was only briefly introduced to be before being left alone with. I had missed dinner at that point and no one came and offered me food. I was far too exhausted and nervous to ask someone for food. Instead, I crawled into my bed and tried to fall asleep. A tech came by every 15 minutes to check on me, but at no point did one of them talk to me or ask me how I was doing.

The next morning, I asked if I could have my things. One of the techs begrudgingly obliged but told me that certain items like my deodorant, my hairbrush and my watch were to be kept locked up. If I wanted to use them, then I had to ask a staff member. I was frustrated, but I knew it had to be for safety reasons. I didn’t complain.

For the next few days, I moved like a zombie, shambling to get my medication every morning from behind a glass window. I went to groups. Outside of this, my only staff interaction came once a day when my assigned “one-to-one” would find me for a five minute conversation about my day. I saw the psychiatrist twice during my stay.

Meals were served buffet style and if you didn’t want what was being served, you could have a peanut butter and jelly or a turkey sandwich. There were three phones on the unit and they were only on during a few set hours each day. Visitors were limited. There was no TV, and little distraction outside of talking to other patients, reading, coloring or playing ping pong if you were lucky enough to get the paddles and ball.

As far as discharge came, things were never made clear. I wasn’t assigned a discharge planner, until I begged to talk to one. I didn’t even know I was being sent home until a few hours before the paperwork was processed. When the time to leave finally came, I was thrust back out into the world. No one from my part-time job had visited me. I was expected to keep up on all my school work and make up missed exams as soon as I landed back on campus. Maybe 10 people in my entire life even knew I had been in the hospital.

My rational mind understands many of the rules imposed on the psych unit were there for a reason. I still can’t wrap my mind around the way the staff treated me. I can’t wrap my mind around the profound differences between my stay for a physical reason and my stay for a mental one.

In both cases, I was very sick. I had gone to the hospital voluntarily, seeking help. I cooperated fully with what I was told, taking my medication and following the plan of care assigned to me. Still, the experiences were so vastly different and I can only assume it was because of the stigma still lingering over mental health.

It’s a stigma that makes me angry. It’s a stigma that makes me want to cry. It’s a stigma that makes me scared to put these feelings into words. Over the past few years, I’ve become more open about my personal struggles with mental illness, but it’s never met with the same reaction. It’s not as understood or as accepted and it breaks my heart. It makes me want to be a better advocate for mental illness.

It’s my hope now I will never have to spend another night as a patient in a hospital. That may not be in the cards. I’m in recovery, physically and mentally, but relapses are always possible. New problems are always possible. In the meantime, I want to spread information and equalize things.

I don’t want people in a mental health crisis to avoid going to the hospital because of past experiences. I don’t want illness of the mind to be seen as less important or less real than illness of the body. In my perfect world, I want compassion to be the same for either, and I want people to be able to reach out in times of crisis and talk to their employers, talk to their friends and families. I know it’s a world I’m not alone in wanting.

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.

woman looking out window

8 Things to Remember When You Doubt Yourself


Your confidence can be knocked in so many ways when you’re living with a mental illness. You can feel like you aren’t good enough to do anything, not even the things that you used to do or love.

Shaking out of that mindset can seem like a huge task, but it’s an important one. Even if you stop thinking negative thoughts for just minutes, taking action against them is worth doing. Here are eight things to keep in mind:

1. You are your own worst critic.

Your very own mind can be your own worst enemy. If you’re feeling low, then it can be easy to slip into a low opinion about yourself. Emotions are much more powerful than we give them credit for, yet we allow them to completely take over.

When feeling sad, frustrated, angry or anything in between, blaming yourself for those feelings is how things tend to go. This makes you feel like less of a person because it’s you that’s getting in your way of good feelings or even having a good day.

2. Small changes can lead to big changes.

However much you would like to stay in the feeling-sorry-for-yourself pit (which is probably your bed or couch, mine is either/or), the only way to get out of that pit is to get out of that pit.

Doing something small like cleaning your apartment (or even smaller like doing the dishes ) will move your body and mind out of the pit. It’s not an instant or long-term cure, but small tasks will get your self-doubting brain thinking about something else, even if it’s just for five minutes.

3. Nobody else sees you how you see yourself.

Remember you have people who love you in your life: family, friends or a significant other. And they love you for a reason. You bring something to their lives, which makes them care for you and want you to stick around. You bring value to their lives. That value is what you should try to focus on.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to somebody close to you. I bet they’ll be happy you got in touch for their help.

4. You have talents that are unique to you.

That thing that you used to do? Yep, you can still do it. If you can’t physically do it, then I bet you can do something else that’s similar. Self-doubt is the biggest killer of creativity.

Sometimes I can’t bare to put pen to paper because I feel like either a) nothing will come out or b) whatever comes out is going to be worthless. What spurs me on to get back on the writing horse is the nice things people say to me about my writing, plus the fact that I actually need my writing more than I need validation from it. It’s how I express my feelings and how I make myself feel better.

Don’t let that Negative Nelly in your head tell you that your talent isn’t worth anything anymore. Nobody can do what you can do the way that you do it.

5. Everybody’s paths are different, so stop comparing.

Easier said than done, but comparison can be such a confidence killer. When I see successful writers on Twitter, I’m green with envy at first, and then the self-doubt kicks in, telling me that my writing will never be that good nor that successful, so I should probably stop now and never publish anything again.

Comparing what your friends, family or old school friends’ lives to your own is never going to make you feel good about your own life. Believe it or not, somebody out there is always going to seem to be doing better than you. Slowly step away from Facebook, LinkedIn or any social media platform and go about your daily life as you wish to live it. You’re doing great, trust me.

6. Think about how far you have come.

There’s a very old philosophical quote that says, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” When I first read it, I realized a year or so ago I would have been so jealous of the life I lead now — I’m living in a beautiful city, in a lovely apartment with a very handsome and kind SO. How lucky am I!

Sometimes it can be really hard to appreciate the life around you, especially in this modern day and age when everyone is looking to the future and always making plans. When you’re feeling low about yourself or your life, try to remember what you dreamed of as a kid or a teenager or even just a few years ago. There will be something you have done or have now that you had always wished for when you were younger. Hold on to that.

7. Take good care of yourself.

Sometimes feeling better about yourself can be achieved by simply taking better care of yourself. It may feel like you’re not worth the effort — which as silly as that sounds, I have thought the same, too — but you very much are. Putting on a piece of clothing that makes you feel good — a dress you only wear for special occasions or t-shirt that brings back a lot of good memories — is a great start.

Taking a bath, doing your nails, putting your hair in a style that you’ve always wanted to try — they’re all good little things that will at the very least change the way you see yourself (quite literally in the mirror). Doing things for your body is a good way to go to. Yoga, walking, drinking herbal tea, cooking something delicious are all positive things you can do to nourish your insides.

8. It’s not forever.

Letting your self-doubt stir inside your head can drain your confidence and energy. Writing down all of your self-doubt may seem like you are just bringing it to a boil again, but it can help relieve yourself of all those negative thoughts.

Getting them out of your head and onto a piece of paper can feel like a weight off of your shoulders. But whatever you do, do not keep this piece of paper. This piece of paper needs to be destroyed. Tear it up. Scrunch it into a ball. (Safely) burn it. Show those bad feelings who’s boss. These thoughts won’t control you forever if you decide not to let them. It just takes that bit of courage to let them go.

However impossible it may seem, you can be in control of how you feel. It just takes a little step into the right direction for a happier mindset and a happier you.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? If you’d like to participate, please check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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