How I Explore Mental Health Through My 'Bird Girls'


I am a local artist out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, currently an art major and psych minor at the University of New Mexico, and have been creating for as long as I can remember.

My Bird Girls have become a story I must tell, but it didn’t start out as having to do with mental health.

an illustration of a bird

I created my first Bird Girl with the idea that sometimes in our society women are looked at as meek. And myself being a five-foot-tall, smaller young woman, get that a lot. Women are looked at as not being good enough, smart enough or strong enough in our society sometimes, and I wanted to show that through my art that we may look weak, but we aren’t. Just like birds who can carry immensely heavy things, create beautiful nests and are really stunning creatures.

And yet, as I was working on them they became something more.

I realized I was putting my own stress, angers and anxieties into these Bird Girls, which gave me the idea to create images that can spark conversations about mental illness. Because what’s better than raising awareness through cool art? Though I am just getting started putting my work out there, I have found through meeting people randomly that so many people struggle from something, and yet our society has taught us not to speak out about it. To keep it quiet because you might be looked at differently or you might be looked at as weak. And yet, if we did speak about it, not only would we stop feeling marginalized, but we would also realize we are not alone in our struggles. Through my Bird Girls I hope to raise awareness for not only mental health, but also other important issues, but because I have struggled with anxiety myself and have watched family and friends struggle with other mental illnesses, most of the time my work comes out as such.

Here are some of my pieces and I am working hard at creating more! At the moment I am working on a piece for addiction, so keep an eye out for that! If you would like to keep up with me, see more or buy an original or a print, you can check out my website at, or through Facebook @Alexandrea.GArt or Instagram @alexandrea_gowan

I hope you enjoy my work, and that they can fill a place in your heart as they have my own.



Illustration of two birds

illustration of a woman with a bird face


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Artwork by Alex Gowan

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Please Don't Invalidate My Mental Health Because I Went to Private School


“You’ve never had to worry about money.”

“Your parents buy you whatever you want.”

“Oh don’t even get started with me.”

“You don’t know what it’s like to struggle.”

Just a few of the things I’ve heard (repeatedly) from the people in my life – people who don’t know what it’s like to go to a private school and make assumptions based on whatever media they’ve consumed. And it’s not fair. Do not invalidate my experience based on your assumptions about me.

Sure, I go to a nice school and wear a uniform, but what do you know about the life that exists within those walls? You also don’t know the toll it takes on my anxiety and how I couldn’t ask for help when it came to my depression because I knew rumors would spread around the school. And to come out and be open with mental illness would lead to bullying and stress and anxiety, on top of the existing stress and anxiety.

As much as we think we’ve advanced as a society — advanced in creating open spaces, safe spaces and reducing stigma — we’re not as far along as we think.

Because the school is so small, it’s like living in a fishbowl. The competition is fierce, the stresses are high and everything you say and do gets scrutinized, analyzed and amplified. Perhaps this was where my anxiety first began – constantly being on edge, out of fear of saying or doing the wrong things because I knew I would be judged and bullied for weeks on end.

I was anxious all the time and my friends weren’t there for support. They were just people I hung out with, who made the competition all the more serious. I was a perfectionist, I was overworked, stressed and sleep deprived.  And on top of dealing with the daily struggles with body dysmorphic disorder, I had anxiety and lived in an environment that forced me to stay “high-functioning.” There were grades to maintain and appearances to keep up.

If you haven’t lived with a mental illness, you don’t know what it’s like to experience it. You might think my life is all privilege, golf clubs and dinner parties, but you are wrong.

It’s a life of secrecy, living with shame. It’s the inability to ask for help. It’s the need to keep up appearances. It’s being forced to be “high-functioning” despite anxiety and depression. It’s a life of suppressed emotions and oppressed thoughts about mental health. It’s the inability to ask family for help because they don’t believe in mental health and shame you for being ill. It’s feeling resentment and anger, frustration and sadness each and every day without a release.

So please, don’t look down on us “private school kids” like we don’t know better. Don’t shame us for what school we went to. Don’t invalidate our mental health.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Design Pics.


We Need to Stop Calling Donald Trump 'Mentally Ill'


Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

Many people worldwide have watched the rise of Donald Trump and have either been fascinated, entertained, disgusted or horrified by his actions — or a combination of the above mentioned. Because of all the groups and individuals he has targeted throughout political career, people seem to want to know more about this controversial character. For those who can’t comprehend his seemingly impulsive behaviors and a lack of empathy, the initial reaction is to wonder what is “wrong” with the 45th president of the United States. However, it is important to refrain from claiming Donald Trump is mentally ill in order to ensure mental illness doesn’t continue to be connected to villainous personalities as a representation of the real struggles that occur when one’s mental health is affected.

The psychiatric community has been debating a rule from the 1960s called the Goldwater Rule that prevents practitioners from delivering a diagnosis to someone they have not personally seen. John Gartner, a therapist who specializes in depression and personality disorders, has labelled Donald Trump with “Malignant Narcissism” while Dr. Allen Frances, a professor at Duke University who wrote the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, says Donald Trump “[is not] mentally ill because he doesn’t suffer the distress and impairment needed to diagnose mental disorder.”

While it could be argued Trump is exhibiting symptoms from a multitude of psychiatric disorders, calling him “mentally ill” paints a heavy stroke of stigma among those who have issues surrounding mental health. He has stigmatized many individuals and groups of people, which some of his most avid supporters have praised him for. Just as his horrific comment about Mexico sending rapists and criminals contributed to a false narrative around this community, we cannot call Trump “mentally ill” because it will negatively impact the community of people struggling with mental illness. I fear social dialogue over his discrimination can easily become a debate about his mental health instead of about the clear biases he has exhibited over the years.

Every medical term in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) can be categorized under the social umbrella term of “mental illness.” If we continue to call Trump “mentally ill,” those who have experienced mental disorders ranging from trauma to trichotillomania will automatically can get lumped in with the behaviors of Donald Trump just because they are seen as “different.” For those who experience “high-functioning” mental health issues in the workplace or in school, it can be difficult to receive treatment or be taken seriously among their peers because they don’t “look” like they have a mental health difficulty.

Diagnoses are designed to pinpoint what is causing a client distress in order for it to be properly addressed with evidence-based treatments. While diagnosis can be beneficial to a person who is seeking out answers about themselves, giving someone an unwarranted diagnosis based on television appearances also opens the door to any celebrity being diagnosed for the sake of a controversial article. While many therapists are concerned about the fate of the country based on Donald Trump’s traits, I believe their concerns should have a voice in the government rather than through sensationalized media. The psychiatric community is justifiably unsettled by Trump’s behaviors now that he has the most powerful position in the world and it is understandable for them to speak out in these extreme circumstances for the sake of millions of Americans who will be (or already are) negatively affected by his actions.

There are many terms that can be used to describe Donald Trump, but “mentally ill” should not be one of them. With his dangerous rhetoric carelessly being linked to mental illness, we must remember only three to five percent of violent acts are committed by people with mental illness and they are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime. Most people with mental health afflictions aren’t dangerous people. I have a mental illness and am empathetic and do not endorse actions that hurt certain people based on their religion, gender, sexual identity or race. I understand being isolated or forgotten by society.

It may be correct to conclude there is something “wrong” with Donald Trump but it would be wrong to marginalize people with mental health difficulties with the insulting comparison to him. Comparing him  to people who have mental illnesses doesn’t show what it is really like to have a mental illness. We cannot accept it when he targets minorities with generalized terms and we can’t accept when others go astray by loosely associating him with mental illness. Instead, we must look at his behaviors, language and policies to formulate our own opinions about who is he and what he stands for.

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Lead photo via Flickr.


The Aftermath of Having Fun When You Live With a Mental Illness


Living with multiple mental illnesses, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder and avoidant personality disorder means…

Sometimes having really good times with friends, laughing a lot and pushing those million thoughts and fears racing through your head a little out of your focus and ignoring them for a while.

And then…

The second you turn around and walk through the door, you’re on your own again, and those thoughts come rushing back in.

They’re beating you down, telling you lies. They hurt and overwhelm you.

And all those fragile little positive thoughts of having fun, feeling like you’re part of something and maybe even enjoying life for a few minutes or hours, being proud of yourself for taking part in a social interaction, fall apart.

It’s even hard to remember those thoughts and how they felt.

It’s like watching your memories through a big bowl of dark, dirty, sticky oil.

You can’t see them clearly or, much less, catch them.

All the power is gone.

You’re empty. Exhausted. Paralyzed..

And other thoughts start taking control of you.

Sneaking into your mind like fog. Infiltrating every part of your brain and your heart.

And with that storm in your head of: Why…? Why…? Why…?

Little by little, you begin to question all steps of recovery you’ve reached.

You feel unworthy, separated, isolated, drowning, imprisoned, tortured, alone.

Alone. Alone. Alone.

This monster

The fear. The anxiety.

It tears you apart.

And weighs you down.

Rising again is the most difficult part of mental illness.


But if you make it once, this can be your incentive for the next time.

Don’t give up. You will learn to clean the bowl and remember your positive moments.

They are the fuel for your rocket launch.

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Thinkstock via XiXinXing


Trump Repeals Rule Limiting People With Severe Mental Illnesses From Buying Guns


On Tuesday, Donald Trump signed into law a piece of legislation which overturns an Obama-era regulation designed to prevent those with “severe mental illnesses” from buying guns. Earlier in February, both the House and the Senate voted to overturn the measure, passing it to Trump’s desk for his signature.

The Obama rule, created in response to the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, required the Social Security Administration (SSA) to report those receiving disability benefits for mental illnesses to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The rule was set to be implemented starting December 2017, and would have prevented 75,000 people from buying guns.

Since voting began to overturn the rule, many have voiced their support for and against the measure. In a speech to his fellow Senators, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) urged Republicans to uphold the measure, stating:

If you’re mentally ill, you’re probably more likely to be the victim of violence than you are to be the perpetrator of it. But we do know that in this country, given the fact that weapons are so easy to come by, people with mental illness, serious mental illness, who have an intersection with visions of violence often do great harm.

If you can’t manage your own financial affairs, how can we expect you are going to be a responsible steward of a dangerous, lethal firearm? And we’re talking about a very limited group of individuals here who, by the way, under the regulation, have due process to contest the determination.

Other lawmakers, disability groups and mental health advocates, argued the rule violated the civil rights of those living with mental illnesses. “I have been diagnosed as ‘severely mentally ill’ and to many people I shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun,” Rudy Caseres, a mental health advocate, told The Mighty. “Even though I don’t personally like guns, I see this is a civil rights issue. The restriction cast too wide a net that resulted in people who reject their diagnosis being discriminated against.”

Image credit: Michael Vadon


To My Future Boyfriend: Thank You for Understanding My Depression and Anxiety


Dear Future Boyfriend,

Hey… hey there. Um, this is going to sound weird but I’m actually not sure you’re real. I’m honestly still questioning why you continue to stick with me. There are moments, ones where you take my breath away or make me smile or cry with me, that I second-guess our entire relationship. It took so long for me to love myself enough to even think about adding another person to that list, but as soon as I got to know you I knew. People like you don’t just come along.

Thank you. Thank you for putting up with being forced to do musical theater duets in the car. Thank you for ordering pizza at 2 a.m. Thank you for holding me back when I yell at the TV when Sam and Dean from “Supernatural” do something silly Thank you for helping me remember to take my antidepressants. Thank you for comforting me when I have a terribly vivid dream. Thank you for asking me what I need when my anxiety gets the better of me. Thanks for recognizing that my “loud voice” is just a cover for an unbearable amount of nerves. Thank you for letting my ADHD finish your sentence one too many times.

You have consistently made sure that the wait staff knows about my food allergies; you always know when I need to be spirited away from a conversation with a toxic person who doesn’t understand what I’m going through. You are not perfect, and I’m not perfect, but we understand that about each other and press ahead anyways.

Thank you. For telling me when I’m being a bossy princess just because I can, and for recognizing the difference between me being a jerk and me micromanaging everything so that I feel more in control. Thank you. For letting me talk your ear off about who would win in a hypothetical fight between Captain America and Captain Marvel because I need someone to listen while my brain moves faster than my mouth does.

Thank you for recognizing the intent of – and not the content in – my words and actions first and foremost.

Whenever I meet a new group of people, sometimes — among the “favorite colors” or “weirdest foods” — comes up the question of pet peeves. My answer has been the same for a few years now – wasted or unseen potential. I am nearly religious when it comes to new opportunities. That’s both a blessing and a curse as you well know. But here’s why it matters: Please never stop seeing the potential in me.

There will be days when I will not want to get up out of bed. There will be days when I lose all focus. There will be days when I’ll chatter about nothing because I don’t know how else to handle life. And there’s where I’ll need you — to tell me it’ll be OK, to go out on a walk. To show up with mechanical pencils and a notebook so I can be creative instead of destructive. To be what I need. And in return I promise the same to you. I’m an extrovert. I thrive off of close relationships with people. There will be bad days. But there will be amazing weeks where I become like the image I’m so good at presenting (and you’re so good at seeing through). Those times will be full of adventure, of Polaroid pictures and exotic foods and pillow fights and enjoying life with someone who sees your flaws and loves you anyway.

As I’m writing this, I’m single. I’m terribly afraid of talking to guys. I think that my “loud voice” and my Marvel aficionadoness and my life in general will make me single forever. I think that I’m too much to handle. My anxiety makes me second-guess every conversation that my ADHD messed up and my depression makes me think that — because of who I am — I deserve to be alone forever.

Thank you for proving me wrong. Thank you for being as unapologetically yourself as I am when I’m with you. There are few people in this world that I trust with every single thing about myself and you’re one of them. You’re truly my greatest ally, my strongest supporter and my best friend. In the words of Captain America to his best friend, “I’m with you, ‘til the end of the line.”

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Thinkstock via Grandfailure


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